They all looked a merry, even a happy party, as they sat round
the table; Sir Andrew Foulkes and Lord Antony Dewhurst, two typical
good-looking, well-born and well-bred Englishmen of that year
of grace 1792, and the aristocratic French comtesse with her two
children, who had just escaped from such dire perils, and found
a safe retreat at last on the shores of protecting England.
In the corner the two strangers had apparently finished their
game; one of them arose, and standing with his back to the merry
company at the table, he adjusted with much with much deliberation
his large triple caped coat. As he did so, he gave one quick glance
all around him. Everyone was busy laughing and chatting, and he
murmured the words "All safe!": his companion then, with the alertness
borne of long practice, slipped on to his knees in a moment, and
the next had crept noiselessly under the oak bench. The stranger
then, with a loud "Good-night," quietly walked out of the coffee-room.
Not one of those at the supper table had noticed this curious
and silent ! Mammanoeuvre, but when the stranger finally closed
the door of the coffee-room behind him, they all instinctively
sighed a sigh of relief.
"Alone, at last!" said Lord Antony, jovially.
Then the young Vicomte de Tournay rose, glass in hand, and with
the graceful affection peculiar to the times, he raised it aloft,
and said in broken English,--
"To His Majesty George Three of England. God bless him for his
hospitality to us all, poor exiles from France."
"His Majesty the King!" echoed Lord Antony and Sir Andrew as
they drank loyally to the toast.
"To His Majesty King Louis of France," added Sir Andrew, with
solemnity. "May God protect him, and give him victory over his
Everyone rose and drank this toast in silence. The fate of the
unfortunate King of France, then a prisoner of his own people,
seemed to cast a gloom even over Mr. Jellyband's pleasant countenance.
"And to M. le Comte de Tournay de Basserive," said Lord Antony,
merrily. "May we welcome him in England before many days are over."
"Ah, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, as with a slightly trembling
hand she conveyed her glass to her lips, "I scarcely dare to hope."
But already Lord Antony had served out the soup, and for the
next few moments all conversation ceased, while Jellyband and
Sally handed round the plates and everyone began to eat.
"Faith, Madame!" said Lord Antony, after a while, "mine was
no idle toast; seeing yourself, Mademoiselle Suzanne and my friend
the Vicomte safely in England now, surely you must feel reasurred
as to the fate of Monsieur le Comte."
"Ah, Monsieur," replied the Comtesse, with a heavy sigh, "I
trust in God--I can but pray--and hope. . ."
"Aye, Madame!" here interposed Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, "trust in
God by all means, but believe also a little in your English friends,
who have sworn to bring the Count safely across the Channel, even
as they have brought you to-day."
"Indeed, indeed, Monsieur," she replied, "I have the fullest
confidence in you and your friends. Your fame, I assure you, has
spread throughout the whole of France. The way some of my own
friends have escaped from the clutches of that awful revolutionary
tribunal was nothing short of a miracle--and all done by you and
"We were but the hands, Madame la Comtesse. . ."
"But my husband, Monsieur," said the Comtesse, whilst unshed
tears seemed to veil her voice, "he is in such deadly peril--I
would never have left him, only. . .there were my children. .
.I was torn between my duty to him, and to them. They refused
to go without me. . .and you and your friends assured me so solemnly
that my husband would be safe. But, oh! now that I am here--amongst
you all--in this beautiful, free England--I think of him, flying
for his life, hunted like a poor beast. . .in such peril. . .Ah!
I should not have left him. . .I should not have left him!. .
The poor woman had completely broken down; fatigue, sorrow and
emotion had overmastered her rigid, aristocratic bearing. She
was crying gently to herself, whilst Suzanne ran up to her and
tried to kiss away her tears.
Lord Antony and Sir Andrew had said nothing to interrupt the
Comtesse whilst she was speaking. There was no doubt that they
felt deeply for her; their very silence testified to that--but
in every century, and ever since England has been what it is,
an Englishman has always felt somewhat ashamed of his own emotion
and of his own sympathy. And so the two young men said nothing,
and busied themselves in trying to hide their feelings, only succeeding
in looking immeasurably sheepish.
"As for me, Monsieur," said Suzanne, suddenly, as she looked
through a wealth of brown curls across at Sir Andrew, "I trust
you absolutely, and I know that you will bring my dear
father safely to England, just as you brought us to-day."
This was said with so much confidence, such unuttered hope and
belief, that it seemed as if by magic to dry the mother's eyes,
and to bring a smile upon everybody's lips.
"Nay! You shame me, Mademoiselle," replied Sir Andrew; "though
my life is at your service, I have been but a humble tool in the
hands of our great leader, who organised and effected your escape."
He had spoken with so much warmth and vehemence that Suzanne's
eyes fastened upon him in undisguised wonder.
"Your leader, Monsieur?" said the Comtesse, eagerly. "Ah! of
course, you must have a leader. And I did not think of that before!
But tell me where is he? I must go to him at once, and I and my
children must throw ourselves at his feet, and thank him for all
that he has done for us."
"Alas, Madame!" said Lord Antony, "that is impossible."
"Because the Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity
is only known under the solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate
"The Scarlet Pimpernel?" said Suzanne, with a merry laugh. "Why!
what a droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?"
She looked at Sir Andrew with eager curiosity. The young man's
face had become almost transfigured. His eyes shone with enthusiasm;
hero-worship, love, admiration for his leader seemed literally
to glow upon his face. "The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle,"
he said at last "is the name of a humble English wayside flower;
but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best
and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed
in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do."
"Ah, yes," here interposed the young Vicomte, "I have heard
speak of this Scarlet Pimpernel. A little flower--red?--yes! They
say in Paris that every time a royalist escapes to England that
devil, Foucquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, receives a paper
with that little flower dessinated in red upon it. . . . Yes?"
"Yes, that is so," assented Lord Antony.
"Then he will have received one such paper to-day?"
"Oh! I wonder what he will say!" said Suzanne, merrily. "I have
heard that the picture of that little red flower is the only thing
that frightens him."
"Faith, then," said Sir Andrew, "he will have many more opportunities
of studying the shape of that small scarlet flower."
"Ah, monsieur," sighed the Comtesse, "it all sounds like a romance,
and I cannot understand it all."
"Why should you try, Madame?"
"But, tell me, why should your leader--why should you all--spend
your money and risk your lives--for it is your lives you risk,
Messieurs, when you set foot in France--and all for us French
men and women, who are nothing to you?"
"Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport," asserted Lord Antony, with
his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; "we are a nation of sportsmen,
you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from
between the teeth of the hound."
"Ah, no, no, not sport only, Monsieur. . .you have a more noble
motive, I am sure for the good work you do."
"Faith, Madame, I would like you to find it then. . .as for
me, I vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have
yet encountered.--Hair-breath escapes. . .the devil's own risks!--Tally
ho!--and away we go!"
But the Comtesse shook her head, still incredulously. To her
it seemed preposterous that these young men and their great leader,
all of them rich, probably wellborn, and young, should for no
other motive than sport, run the terrible risks, which she knew
they were constantly doing. Their nationality, once they had set
foot in France, would be no safeguard to them. Anyone found harbouring
or assisting suspected royalists would be ruthlessly condemned
and summarily executed, whatever his nationality might be. And
this band of young Englishmen had, to her own knowledge, bearded
the implacable and bloodthirsty tribunal of the Revolution, within
the very walls of Paris itself, and had snatched away condemned
victims, almost from the very foot of the guillotine. With a shudder,
she recalled the events of the last few days, her escape from
Paris with her two children, all three of them hidden beneath
the hood of a rickety cart, and lying amidst a heap of turnips
and cabbages, not daring to breathe, whilst the mob howled, "A
la lanterne les aristos!" at the awful West Barricade.
It had all occurred in such a miraculous way; she and her husband
had understood that they had been placed on the list of "suspected
persons," which meant that their trial and death were but a matter
of days--of hours, perhaps.
Then came the hope of salvation; the mysterious epistle, signed
with the enigmatical scarlet device; the clear, peremptory directions;
the parting from the Comte de Tournay, which had torn the poor
wife's heart in two; the hope of reunion; the flight with her
two children; the covered cart; that awful hag driving it, who
looked like some horrible evil demon, with the ghastly trophy
on her whip handle!
The Comtesse looked round at the quaint, old-fashioned English
inn, the peace of this land of civil and religious liberty, and
she closed her eyes to shut out the haunting vision of that West
Barricade, and of the mob retreating panic-stricken when the old
hag spoke of the plague.
Every moment under that cart she expected recognition, arrest,
herself and her children tried and condemned, and these young
Englishmen, under the guidance of their brave and mysterious leader,
had risked their lives to save them all, as they had already saved
scores of other innocent people.
And all only for sport? Impossible! Suzanne's eyes as she sought
those of Sir Andrew plainly told him that she thought that he
at any rate rescued his fellowmen from terrible and unmerited
death, through a higher and nobler motive than his friend would
have her believe.
"How many are there in your brave league, Monsieur?" she asked
"Twenty all told, Mademoiselle," he replied, "one to command,
and nineteen to obey. All of us Englishmen, and all pledged to
the same cause--to obey our leader and to rescue the innocent."
"May God protect you all, Messieurs," said the Comtesse, fervently.
"He had done that so far, Madame."
"It is wonderful to me, wonderful!--That you should all be so
brave, so devoted to your fellowmen--yet you are English!--and
in France treachery is rife--all in the name of liberty and fraternity."
"The women even, in France, have been more bitter against us
aristocrats than the men," said the Vicomte, with a sigh.
"Ah, yes," added the Comtesse, while a look of haughty disdain
and intense bitterness shot through her melancholy eyes, "There
was that woman, Marguerite St. Just for instance. She denounced
the Marquis de St. Cyr and all his family to the awful tribunal
of the Terror."
"Marguerite St. Just?" said Lord Antony, as he shot a quick
and apprehensive glance across at Sir Andrew.
"Marguerite St. Just?--Surely. . ."
"Yes!" replied the Comtesse, "surely you know her. She was a
leading actress of the Comedie Francaise, and she married an Englishman
lately. You must know her--"
"Know her?" said Lord Antony. "Know Lady Blakeney--the most
fashionable woman in London--the wife of the richest man in England?
Of course, we all know Lady Blakeney."
"She was a school-fellow of mine at the convent in Paris," interposed
Suzanne, "and we came over to England together to learn your language.
I was very fond of Marguerite, and I cannot believe that she ever
did anything so wicked."
"It certainly seems incredible," said Sir Andrew. "You say that
she actually denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr? Why should she
have done such a thing? Surely there must be some mistake--"
"No mistake is possible, Monsieur," rejoined the Comtesse, coldly.
"Marguerite St. Just's brother is a noted republican. There was
some talk of a family feud between him and my cousin, the Marquis
de St. Cyr. The St. Justs' are quite plebeian, and the republican
government employs many spies. I assure you there is no mistake.
. . . You had not heard this story?"
"Faith, Madame, I did hear some vague rumours of it, but in
England no one would credit it. . . . Sir Percy Blakeney, her
husband, is a very wealthy man, of high social position, the intimate
friend of the Prince of Wales. . .and Lady Blakeney leads both
fashion and society in London."
"That may be, Monsieur, and we shall, of course, lead a very
quiet life in England, but I pray god that while I remain in this
beautiful country, I may never meet Marguerite St. Just."
The proverbial wet-blanket seemed to have fallen over the merry
little company gathered round the table. Suzanne looked sad and
silent; Sir Andrew fidgeted uneasily with his fork, whilst the
Comtesse, encased in the plate-armour of her aristocratic prejudices,
sat, rigid and unbending, in her straight-backed chair. As for
Lord Antony, he looked extremely uncomfortable, and glanced once
or twice apprehensively towards Jellyband, who looked just as
uncomfortable as himself.
"At what time do you expect Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney?" he
contrived to whisper unobserved, to mine host.
"Any moment, my lord," whispered Jellyband in reply.
Even as he spoke, a distant clatter was heard of an approaching
coach; louder and louder it grew, one or two shouts became distinguishable,
then the rattle of horses' hoofs on the uneven cobble stones,
and the next moment a stable boy had thrown open the coffee-room
door and rushed in excitedly.
"Sir Percy Blakeney and my lady," he shouted at the top of his
voice, "they're just arriving."
And with more shouting, jingling of harness, and iron hoofs
upon the stones, a magnificent coach, drawn by four superb bays,
had halted outside the porch of "The Fisherman's Rest."
to Chapter 5 - MARGUERITE
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