She did not know how long she was thus carried
along, she had lost all notion of time and space, and for a few
seconds tired nature, mercifully, deprived her of consciousness.
When she once more realised her state, she felt
that she was placed with some degree of comfort upon a man's coat,
with her back resting against a fragment of rock. The moon was
hidden again behind some clouds, and the darkness seemed in comparison
more intense. The sea was roaring some two hundred feet below
her, and on looking all round she could no longer see any vestige
of the tiny glimmer of red light.
That the end of the journey had been reached,
she gathered from the fact that she heard rapid questions and
answers spoken in a whisper quite close to her.
"There are four men in there, citoyen; they are
sitting by the fire, and seem to be waiting quietly."
"Nearly two o'clock."
"Coming in quickly."
"Obviously an English one, lying some three kilometers
out. But we cannot see her boat."
"Have the men taken cover?"
"They will not blunder?"
"They will not stir until the tall Englishman
comes, then they will surround and overpower the five men."
"Right. And the lady?"
"Still dazed, I fancy. She's close beside you,
"And the Jew?"
"He's gagged, and his legs strapped together.
He cannot move or scream."
"Good. Then have your gun ready, in case you
want it. Get close to the hut and leave me to look after the lady."
Desgas evidently obeyed, for Marguerite heard
him creeping away along the stony cliff, then she felt that a
pair of warm, thin, talon-like hands took hold of both her own,
and held them in a grip of steel.
"Before that handkerchief is removed from your
pretty mouth, fair lady," whispered Chauvelin close to her ear,
"I think it right to give you one small word of warning. What
has procured me the honour of being followed across the Channel
by so charming a companion, I cannot, of course, conceive, but,
if I mistake it not, the purpose of this flattering attention
is not one that would commend itself to my vanity and I think
that I am right in surmising, moreover, that the first sound which
your pretty lips would utter, as soon as the cruel gag is removed,
would be one that would prove a warning to the cunning fox, which
I have been at such pains to track to his lair."
He paused a moment, while the steel-like grasp
seemed to tighten round her waist; then he resumed in the same
"Inside that hut, if again I am not mistaken,
your brother, Armand St. Just, waits with that traitor de Tournay,
and two other men unknown to you, for the arrival of the mysterious
rescuer, whose identity has for so long puzzled our Committee
of Public Safety--the audacious Scarlet Pimpernel. No doubt if
you scream, if there is a scuffle here, if shots are fired, it
is more than likely that the same long legs that brought this
scarlet enigma here, will as quickly take him to some place of
safety. The purpose then, for which I have travelled all these
miles, will remain unaccomplished. On the other hand it only rests
with yourself that your brother--Armand--shall be free to go off
with you to-night if you like, to England, or any other place
Marguerite could not utter a sound, as the handkerchief
was would very tightly round her mouth, but Chauvelin was peering
through the darkness very closely into her face; no doubt too
her hand gave a responsive appeal to his last suggestion, for
presently he continued:--
"What I want you to do to ensure Armand's safety
is a very simple thing, dear lady."
"What is it?" Marguerite's hand seemed to convey
to his, in response.
"To remain--on this spot, without uttering a
sound, until I give you leave to speak. Ah! but I think you will
obey," he added, with that funny dry chuckle of his as Marguerite's
whole figure seemed to stiffen, in defiance of this order, "for
let me tell you that if you scream, nay! if you utter one sound,
or attempt to move from here, my men--there are thirty of them
about--will seize St. Just, de Tournay, and their two friends,
and shoot them here--by my orders--before your eyes."
Marguerite had listened to her implacable enemy's
speech with ever-increasing terror. Numbed with physical pain,
she yet had sufficient mental vitality in her to realize the full
horror of this terrible "either--or" he was once more putting
before her; "either--or" ten thousand times more appalling and
horrible, that the one he had suggested to her that fatal night
at the ball.
This time it meant that she should keep still,
and allow the husband she worshipped to walk unconsciously to
his death, or that she should, by trying to give him a word of
warning, which perhaps might even be unavailing, actually give
the signal for her own brother's death, and that of three other
She could not see Chauvelin, but she could almost
feel those keen, pale eyes of his fixed maliciously upon her helpless
form, and his hurried, whispered words reached her ear, as the
death-knell of her last faint, lingering hope.
"Nay, fair lady," he added urbanely, "you can
have no interest in anyone save in St. Just, and all you need
do for his safety is to remain where you are, and to keep silent.
My men have strict orders to spare him in every way. As for that
enigmatic Scarlet Pimpernel, what is he to you? Believe me, no
warning from you could possibly save him. And now dear lady, let
me remove this unpleasant coercion, which has been placed before
your pretty mouth. You see I wish you to be perfectly free, in
the choice which you are about to make."
Her thoughts in a whirl, her temples aching,
her nerves paralyzed, her body numb with pain, Marguerite sat
there, in the darkness which surrounded her as with a pall. From
where she sat she could not see the sea, but she heard the incessant
mournful murmur of the incoming tide, which spoke of her dead
hopes, her lost love, the husband she had with her own hand betrayed,
and sent to his death.
Chauvelin removed he handkerchief from her mouth.
She certainly did not scream: at that moment, she had no strength
to do anything but barely to hold herself upright, and to force
herself to think.
Oh! think! think! think! of what she should do.
The minutes flew on; in this awful stillness she could not tell
how fast or how slowly; she heard nothing, she saw nothing: she
did not feel the sweet-smelling autumn air, scented with the briny
odour of the sea, she no longer heard the murmur of the waves,
the occasional rattling of a pebble, as it rolled down some steep
incline. More and more unreal did the whole situation seem. It
was impossible that she, Marguerite Blakeney, the queen of London
society, should actually be sitting here on this bit of lonely
coast, in the middle of the night, side by side with a most bitter
enemy; and oh! it was not possible that somewhere, not many hundred
feet away perhaps, from where she stood, the being she had once
despised, but who now, in every moment of this weird, dreamlike
life, became more and more dear--it was not possible that HE was
unconsciously, even now walking to his doom, whilst she did nothing
to save him.
Why did she not with unearthly screams, that
would re-echo from one end of the lonely beach to the other, send
out a warning to him to desist, to retrace his steps, for death
lurked here whilst he advanced? Once or twice the screams rose
to her throat--as if my instinct: then, before her eyes there
stood the awful alternative: her brother and those three men shot
before her eyes, practically by her orders: she their murderer.
Oh! that fiend in human shape, next to her, knew
human--female--nature well. He had played upon her feelings as
a skilful musician plays upon an instrument. He had gauged her
very thoughts to a nicety.
She could not give that signal--for she was weak,
and she was a woman. How could she deliberately order Armand to
be shot before her eyes, to have his dear blood upon her head,
he dying perhaps with a curse on her, upon his lips. And little
Suzanne's father, too! he, and old man; and the others!--oh! it
was all too, too horrible.
Wait! wait! wait! how long? The early morning
hours sped on, and yet it was not dawn: the sea continued its
incessant mournful murmur, the autumnal breeze sighed gently in
the night: the lonely beach was silent, even as the grave.
Suddenly from somewhere, not very far away, a
cheerful, strong voice was heard singing "God save the King!"
to Chapter 30 - THE SCHOONER
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