As in a dream, Marguerite followed on; the web
was drawing more and more tightly every moment round the beloved
life, which had become dearer than all.
To see her husband once again, to tell him how
she had suffered, how much she had wronged, and how little understood
him, had become now her only aim.
She had abandoned all hope of saving him: she
saw him gradually hemmed in on all sides, and, in despair, she
gazed round her into the darkness, and wondered whence he would
presently come, to fall into the death-trap which his relentless
enemy had prepared for him.
The distant roar of the waves now made her shudder;
the occasional dismal cry of an owl, or a sea-gull, filled her
with unspeakable horror.
She thought of the ravenous beasts--in human
shape--who lay in wait for their prey, and destroyed them, as
mercilessly as any hungry wolf, for the satisfaction of their
own appetite of hate.
Marguerite was not afraid of the darkness, she
only feared that man, on ahead, who was sitting at the bottom
of a rough wooden cart, nursing thoughts of vengeance, which would
have made the very demons in hell chuckle with delight.
Her feet were sore.
Her knees shook under her, from sheer bodily
For days now she had lived in a wild turmoil
of excitement; she had not had a quiet rest for three nights;
now, she had walked on a slippery road for nearly two hours, and
yet her determination never swerved for a moment.
She would see her husband, tell him all, and,
if he was ready to forgive the crime, which she had committed
in her blind ignorance, she would yet have the happiness of dying
by his side.
She must have walked on almost in a trance, instinct
alone keeping her up, and guiding her in the wake of the enemy,
when suddenly her ears, attuned to the slightest sound, by that
same blind instinct, told her that the cart had stopped, and that
the soldiers had halted.
They had come to their destination.
No doubt on the right, somewhere close ahead,
was the footpath that led to the edge of the cliff and to the
Heedless of any risks, she crept up quite close
up to where Chauvelin stood, surrounded by his little troop: he
had descended from the cart, and was giving some orders to the
These she wanted to hear: what little chance
she yet had, of being useful to Percy, consisted in hearing absolutely
every word of his enemy's plans.
The spot where all the party had halted must have
lain some eight hundred meters from the coast; the sound of the
sea came only very faintly, as from a distance.
Chauvelin and Desgas, followed by the soldiers,
had turned off sharply to the right of the road, apparently on
to the footpath, which led to the cliffs.
The Jew had remained on the road, with his cart
Marguerite, with infinite caution, and literally
crawling on her hands and knees, had also turned off to the right:
to accomplish this she had to creep through the rough, low shrubs,
trying to make as little noise as possible as she went along,
tearing her face and hands against the dry twigs, intent only
upon hearing without being seen or heard.
Fortunately--as is usual in this part of France--the
footpath was bordered by a low rough hedge, beyond which was a
dry ditch, filled with coarse grass.
In this Marguerite managed to find shelter; she
was quite hidden from view, yet could contrive to get within three
yards of where Chauvelin stood, giving orders to his men.
"Now," he was saying in a low and peremptory whisper,
"where is the Pere Blanchard's hut?"
"About eight hundred meters from here, along the
footpath," said the soldier who had lately been directing the
party, "and half-way down the cliff."
You shall lead us.
Before we begin to descend the cliff, you shall
creep down to the hut, as noiselessly as possible, and ascertain
if the traitor royalists are there?
Do you understand?"
"I understand, citoyen."
"Now listen very attentively, all of you," continued
Chauvelin, impressively, and addressing the soldiers collectively,
"for after this we may not be able to exchange another word, so
remember every syllable I utter, as if your very lives depended
on your memory.
Perhaps they do," he added drily.
"We listen, citoyen," said Desgas, "and a soldier
of the Republic never forgets an order."
"You, who have crept up to the hut, will try to
peep inside. If an Englishman is there with those traitors, a
man who is tall above the average, or who stoops as if he would
disguise his height, then give a sharp, quick whistle as a signal
to your comrades.
All of you," he added, once more speaking to
the soldiers collectively, "then quickly surround and rush into
the hut, and each seize one of the men there, before they have
time to draw their firearms; if any of them struggle, shoot at
their legs or arms, but on no account kill the tall man.
Do you understand?"
"We understand, citoyen."
"The man who is tall above the average is probably
also strong above the average; it will take four or five of you
at least to overpower him."
There was a little pause, then Chauvelin continued,--
"If the royalist traitors are still alone, which
is more than likely to be the case, then warn your comrades who
are lying in wait there, and all of you creep and take cover behind
the rocks and boulders round the hut, and wait there, in dead
silence, until the tall Englishman arrives; then only rush the
hut, when he is safely within its doors.
But remember that you must be as silent as the
wolf is at night, when he prowls around the pens.
I do not wish those royalists to be on the alert--the
firing of a pistol, a shriek or call on their part would be sufficient,
perhaps, to warn the tall personage to keep clear of the cliffs,
and of the hut, and," he added emphatically, "it is the tall Englishman
whom it is your duty to capture tonight."
"You shall be implicitly obeyed, citoyen."
"Then get along as noiselessly as possible, and
I will follow you."
"What about the Jew, citoyen?" asked Desgas, as
silently like noiseless shadows, one by one the soldiers began
to creep along the rough and narrow footpath.
"Ah, yes; I had forgotten about the Jew," said
Chauvelin, and, turning towards the Jew, he called him peremptorily.
"Here, you. . .Aaron, Moses, Abraham, or whatever
your confounded name may be," he said to the old man, who had
quietly stood beside his lean nag, as far away from the soldiers
"Benjamin Rosenbaum, so it please your Honour,"
he replied humbly.
"It does not please me to hear your voice, but
it does please me to give you certain orders, which you will find
it wise to obey."
"So it please your Honour. . ."
"Hold your confounded tongue.
You shall stay here, do you hear? with your horse
and cart until our return.
You are on no account to utter the faintest sound,
or to even breathe louder than you can help; nor are you, on any
consideration whatever, to leave your post, until I give you orders
to do so.
Do you understand?"
"But your Honour--" protested the Jew pitiably.
"There is no question of `but' or of any argument,"
said Chauvelin, in a tone that made the timid old man tremble
from heat to foot.
"If, when I return, I do not find you here, I
most solemnly assure you that, wherever you may try to hide yourself,
I can find you, and that punishment swift, sure and terrible,
will sooner or later overtake you.
Do you hear me?"
"But your Excellency. . ."
"I said, do you hear me?"
The soldiers had all crept away; the three men
stood alone together in the dark and lonely road, with Marguerite
there, behind the hedge, listening to Chauvelin's orders, as she
would to her own death sentence.
"I heard your Honour," protested the Jew again,
while he tried to draw nearer to Chauvelin, "and I swear by Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob that I would obey your Honour most absolutely,
and that I would not move from this place until your Honour once
more deigned to shed the light of your countenance upon your humble
servant; but remember, your Honour, I am a poor man; my nerves
are not as strong as those of a young soldier.
If midnight marauders should come prowling round
this lonely road, I might scream or run in my fright!
And is my life to be forfeit, is some terrible
punishment to come on my poor old head for that which I cannot
The Jew seemed in real distress; he was shaking
from head to foot. Clearly he was not the man to be left by himself
on this lonely road. The man spoke truly; he might unwittingly,
in sheer terror, utter the shriek that might prove a warning to
the wily Scarlet Pimpernel.
Chauvelin reflected for a moment.
"Will your horse and cart be safe alone, here,
do you think?" he asked roughly.
"I fancy, citoyen," here interposed Desgas, "that
they will be safer without that dirty, cowardly Jew than with
There seems no doubt that, if he gets scared,
he will either make a bolt of it, or shriek his head off."
"But what am I to do with the brute?"
"Will you send him back to Calais, citoyen?"
"No, for we shall want him to drive back the wounded
presently," said Chauvelin, with grim significance.
There was a pause again--Desgas waiting for the
decision of his chief, and the old Jew whining beside his nag.
"Well, you lazy, lumbering old coward," said Chauvelin
at last, "you had better shuffle along behind us.
Here, Citoyen Desgas, tie this handkerchief tightly
round the fellow's mouth."
Chauvelin handed a scarf to Desgas, who solemnly
began winding it round the Jew's mouth.
Meekly Benjamin Rosenbaum allowed himself to
be gagged; he, evidently, preferred this uncomfortable state to
that of being left alone, on the dark St. Martin Road.
Then the three men fell in line.
"Quick!" said Chauvelin, impatiently, "we have
already wasted much valuable time."
And the firm footsteps of Chauvelin and Desgas,
the shuffling gait of the old Jew, soon died away along the footpath.
Marguerite had not lost a single one of Chauvelin's
words of command.
Her every nerve was strained to completely grasp
the situation first, then to make a final appeal to those wits
which had so often been called the sharpest in Europe, and which
alone might be of service now.
Certainly the situation was desperate enough;
a tiny band of unsuspecting men, quietly awaiting the arrival
of their rescuer, who was equally unconscious of the trap laid
for them all.
It seemed so horrible, this net, as it were drawn
in a circle, at dead of night, on a lonely beach, round a few
defenceless men, defenceless because they were tricked and unsuspecting;
of these one was the husband she idolised, another the brother
She vaguely wondered who the others were, who
were also calmly waiting for the Scarlet Pimpernel, while death
lurked behind every boulder of the cliffs.
For the moment she could do nothing but follow
the soldiers and Chauvelin.
She feared to lose her way, or she would have
rushed forward and found that wooden hut, and perhaps been in
time to warn the fugitives and their brave deliverer yet.
For a second, the thought flashed through her
mind of uttering the piercing shrieks, which Chauvelin seemed
to dread, as a possible warning to the Scarlet Pimpernel and his
friends--in the wild hope that they would hear, and have yet time
to escape before it was too late.
But she did not know if her shrieks would reach
the ears of the doomed men.
Her effort might be premature, and she would
never be allowed to make another.
Her mouth would be securely gagged, like that
of the Jew, and she, a helpless prisoner in the hands of Chauvelin's
Like a ghost she flitted noiselessly behind that
hedge: she had taken her shoes off, and her stockings were by
now torn off her feet.
She felt neither soreness nor weariness; indomitable
will to reach her husband in spite of adverse Fate, and of a cunning
enemy, killed all sense of bodily pain within her, and rendered
her instincts doubly acute.
She heard nothing save the soft and measured footsteps
of Percy's enemies on in front; she saw nothing but--in her mind's
eye--that wooden hut, and he, her husband, walking blindly to
Suddenly, those same keen instincts within her
made her pause in her mad haste, and cower still further within
the shadow of the hedge.
The moon, which had proved a friend to her by
remaining hidden behind a bank of clouds, now emerged in all the
glory of an early autumn night, and in a moment flooded the weird
and lonely landscape with a rush of brilliant light.
There, not two hundred metres ahead, was the edge
of the cliff, and below, stretching far away to free and happy
England, the sea rolled on smoothly and peaceably.
Marguerite's gaze rested for an instant on the
brilliant, silvery waters; and as she gazed, her heart, which
had been numb with pain for all these hours, seemed to soften
and distend, and her eyes filled with hot tears: not three miles
away, with white sails set, a graceful schooner lay in wait.
Marguerite had guessed rather than recognized
It was the DAY DREAM, Percy's favourite yacht,
and all her crew of British sailors: her white sails, glistening
in the moonlight, seemed to convey a message to Marguerite of
joy and hope, which yet she feared could never be.
She waited there, out at sea, waited for her
master, like a beautiful white bird all ready to take flight,
and he would never reach her, never see her smooth deck again,
never gaze any more on the white cliffs of England, the land of
liberty and of hope.
The sight of the schooner seemed to infuse into
the poor, wearied woman the superhuman strength of despair.
There was the edge of the cliff, and some way
below was the hut, where presently, her husband would meet his
But the moon was out: she could see her way now:
she would see the hut from a distance, run to it, rouse them all,
warn them at any rate to be prepared and to sell their lives dearly,
rather than be caught like so many rats in a hole.
She stumbled on behind the hedge in the low, thick
grass of the ditch.
She must have run on very fast, and had outdistanced
Chauvelin and Desgas, for presently she reached the edge of the
cliff, and heard their footsteps distinctly behind her.
But only a very few yards away, and now the moonlight
was full upon her, her figure must have been distinctly silhouetted
against the silvery background of the sea.
Only for a moment, though; the next she had cowered,
like some animal doubled up within itself.
She peeped down the great rugged cliffs--the
descent would be easy enough, as they were not precipitous, and
the great boulders afforded plenty of foothold. Suddenly, as she
grazed, she saw at some little distance on her left, and about
midway down the cliffs, a rough wooden construction, through the
wall of which a tiny red light glimmered like a beacon.
Her very heart seemed to stand still, the eagerness
of joy was so great that it felt like an awful pain.
She could not gauge how distant the hut was, but
without hesitation she began the steep descent, creeping from
boulder to boulder, caring nothing for the enemy behind, or for
the soldiers, who evidently had all taken cover since the tall
Englishman had not yet appeared.
On she pressed, forgetting the deadly foe on her
track, running, stumbling, foot-sore, half-dazed, but still on.
. .When, suddenly, a crevice, or stone, or slippery bit of rock,
threw her violently to the ground.
She struggled again to her feet, and started
running forward once more to give them that timely warning, to
beg them to flee before he came, and to tell him to keep away--away
from this death-trap--away from this awful doom.
But now she realised that other steps, quicker
than her own, were already close at her heels. The next instant
a hand dragged at her skirt, and she was down on her knees again,
whilst something was wound round her mouth to prevent her uttering
Bewildered, half frantic with the bitterness of
disappointment, she looked round her helplessly, and, bending
down quite close to her, she saw through the mist, which seemed
to gather round her, a pair of keen, malicious eyes, which appeared
to her excited brain to have a weird, supernatural green light
in them. She lay in the shadow of a great boulder; Chauvelin could
not see her features, but he passed his thin, white fingers over
"A woman!" he whispered, "by all the Saints in
"We cannot let her loose, that's certain," he
muttered to himself. "I wonder now. . ."
Suddenly he paused, after a few moment of deadly
silence, he gave forth a long, low, curious chuckle, while once
again Marguerite felt, with a horrible shudder, his thin fingers
wandering over her face.
"Dear me! dear me!" he whispered, with affected
gallantry, "this is indeed a charming surprise," and Marguerite
felt her resistless hand raised to Chauvelin's thin, mocking lips.
The situation was indeed grotesque, had it not
been at the same time so fearfully tragic: the poor, weary woman,
broken in spirit, and half frantic with the bitterness of her
disappointment, receiving on her knees the BANAL gallantries of
her deadly enemy.
Her senses were leaving her; half choked with
the tight grip round her mouth, she had no strength to move or
to utter the faintest sound.
The excitement which all along had kept up her
delicate body seemed at once to have subsided, and the feeling
of blank despair to have completely paralyzed her brain and nerves.
Chauvelin must have given some directions, which
she was too dazed to hear, for she felt herself lifted from off
her feet: the bandage round her mouth was made more secure, and
a pair of strong arms carried her towards that tiny, red light,
on ahead, which she had looked upon as a beacon and the last faint
glimmer of hope.
to Chapter 29 - TRAPPED
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