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Foreword

There has of late years crept so much confusion into the mind of the student as well as of the general reader as to the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel with that of the Gascon Royalist plotter known to history as the Baron de Batz, that the time seems opportune for setting all doubts on that subject at rest.

The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is in no way whatever connected with that of the Baron de Batz, and even superficial reflection will soon bring the mind to the conclusion that great fundamental differences existed in these two men, in their personality, in their character, and, above all, in their aims.

According to one or two enthusiastic historians, the Baron de Batz was the chief agent in a vast network of conspiracy, entirely supported by foreign money⁠—both English and Austrian⁠—and which had for its object the overthrow of the Republican Government and the restoration of the monarchy in France.

In order to attain this political goal, it is averred that he set himself the task of pitting the members of the revolutionary Government one against the other, and bringing hatred and dissensions amongst them, until the cry of “Traitor!” resounded from one end of the Assembly of the Convention to the other, and the Assembly itself became as one vast den of wild beasts wherein wolves and hyenas devoured one another and, still unsatiated, licked their streaming jaws hungering for more prey.

Those same enthusiastic historians, who have a firm belief in the so-called “Foreign Conspiracy,” ascribe every important event of the Great Revolution⁠—be that event the downfall of the Girondins, the escape of the Dauphin from the Temple, or the death of Robespierre⁠—to the intrigues of Baron de Batz. He it was, so they say, who egged the Jacobins on against the Mountain, Robespierre against Danton, Hébert against Robespierre. He it was who instigated the massacres of September, the atrocities of Nantes, the horrors of Thermidor, the sacrileges, the noyades: all with the view of causing every section of the National Assembly to vie with the other in excesses and in cruelty, until the makers of the Revolution, satiated with their own lust, turned on one another, and Sardanapalus-like buried themselves and their orgies in the vast hecatomb of a self-consumed anarchy.

Whether the power thus ascribed to Baron de Batz by his historians is real or imaginary it is not the purpose of this preface to investigate. Its sole object is to point out the difference between the career of this plotter and that of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Baron de Batz himself was an adventurer without substance, save that which he derived from abroad. He was one of those men who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing themselves headlong in the seething cauldron of internal politics.

Though he made several attempts at rescuing King Louis first, and then the Queen and Royal Family from prison and from death, he never succeeded, as we know, in any of these undertakings, and he never once so much as attempted the rescue of other equally innocent, if not quite so distinguished, victims of the most bloodthirsty revolution that has ever shaken the foundations of the civilised world.

Nay more; when on the 29th Prairial those unfortunate men and women were condemned and executed for alleged complicity in the so-called “Foreign Conspiracy,” de Batz, who is universally admitted to have been the head and prime-mover of that conspiracy⁠—if, indeed, conspiracy there was⁠—never made either the slightest attempt to rescue his confederates from the guillotine, or at least the offer to perish by their side if he could not succeed in saving them.

And when we remember that the martyrs of the 29th Prairial included women like Grandmaison, the devoted friend of de Batz, the beautiful Émilie de St. Amaranthe, little Cécile Renault⁠—a mere child not sixteen years of age⁠—also men like Michonis and Roussell, faithful servants of de Batz, the Baron de Lézardière, and the Comte de St. Maurice, his friends, we no longer can have the slightest doubt that the Gascon plotter and the English gentleman are indeed two very different persons.

The latter’s aims were absolutely nonpolitical. He never intrigued for the restoration of the monarchy, or even for the overthrow of that Republic which he loathed.

His only concern was the rescue of the innocent, the stretching out of a saving hand to those unfortunate creatures who had fallen into the nets spread out for them by their fellow-men; by those who⁠—godless, lawless, penniless themselves⁠—had sworn to exterminate all those who clung to their belongings, to their religion, and to their beliefs.

The Scarlet Pimpernel did not take it upon himself to punish the guilty; his care was solely of the helpless and of the innocent.

For this aim he risked his life every time that he set foot on French soil, for it he sacrificed his fortune, and even his personal happiness, and to it he devoted his entire existence.

Moreover, whereas the French plotter is said to have had confederates even in the Assembly of the Convention, confederates who were sufficiently influential and powerful to secure his own immunity, the Englishman when he was bent on his errands of mercy had the whole of France against him.

The Baron de Batz was a man who never justified either his own ambitions or even his existence; the Scarlet Pimpernel was a personality of whom an entire nation might justly be proud.






El Dorado

PART I



I. In the Théâtre National

And yet people found the opportunity to amuse themselves, to dance and to go to the theatre, to enjoy music and open-air cafés and promenades in the Palais Royal.

New fashions in dress made their appearance, milliners produced fresh “creations,” and jewellers were not idle. A grim sense of humour, born of the very intensity of ever-present danger, had dubbed the cut of certain tunics “tête tranchée,” or a favourite ragoût was called “à la guillotine.”

On three evenings only during the past memorable four and a half years did the theatres close their doors, and these evenings were the ones immediately following that terrible 2nd of September⁠—the day of the butchery outside the Abbaye prison, when Paris herself was aghast with horror, and the cries of the massacred might have drowned the calls of the audience whose hands upraised for plaudits would still be dripping with blood.

On all other evenings of these same four and a half years the theatres in the Rue de Richelieu, in the Palais Royal, the Luxembourg, and others, had raised their curtains and taken money at their doors. The same audience that earlier in the day had whiled away the time by witnessing the ever-recurrent dramas of the Place de la Révolution assembled here in the evenings and filled stalls, boxes, and tiers, laughing over the satires of Voltaire or weeping over the sentimental tragedies of persecuted Romeos and innocent Juliets.

Death knocked at so many doors these days! He was so constant a guest in the houses of relatives and friends that those who had merely shaken him by the hand, those on whom he had smiled, and whom he, still smiling, had passed indulgently by, looked on him with that subtle contempt born of familiarity, shrugged their shoulders at his passage, and envisaged his probable visit on the morrow with lighthearted indifference.

Paris⁠—despite the horrors that had stained her walls⁠—had remained a city of pleasure, and the knife of the guillotine did scarce descend more often than did the drop-scenes on the stage.

On this bitterly cold evening of the 27th Nivôse, in the second year of the Republic⁠—or, as we of the old style still persist in calling it, the 16th of January, 1794⁠—the auditorium of the Théâtre National was filled with a very brilliant company.

The appearance of a favourite actress in the part of one of Molière’s volatile heroines had brought pleasure-loving Paris to witness this revival of Le Misanthrope, with new scenery, dresses, and the aforesaid charming actress to add piquancy to the master’s mordant wit.

The Moniteur, which so impartially chronicles the events of those times, tells us under that date that the Assembly of the Convention voted on that same day a new law giving fuller power to its spies, enabling them to effect domiciliary searches at their discretion without previous reference to the Committee of General Security, authorising them to proceed against all enemies of public happiness, to send them to prison at their own discretion, and assuring them the sum of thirty-five livres “for every piece of game thus beaten up for the guillotine.” Under that same date the Moniteur also puts it on record that the Théâtre National was filled to its utmost capacity for the revival of the late citoyen Molière’s comedy.

The Assembly of the Convention having voted the new law which placed the lives of thousands at the mercy of a few human bloodhounds, adjourned its sitting and proceeded to the Rue de Richelieu.

Already the house was full when the fathers of the people made their way to the seats which had been reserved for them. An awed hush descended on the throng as one by one the men whose very names inspired horror and dread filed in through the narrow gangways of the stalls or took their places in the tiny boxes around.

Citizen Robespierre’s neatly bewigged head soon appeared in one of these; his bosom friend St. Just was with him, and also his sister Charlotte. Danton, like a big, shaggy-coated lion, elbowed his way into the stalls, whilst Sauterre, the handsome butcher and idol of the people of Paris, was loudly acclaimed as his huge frame, gorgeously clad in the uniform of the National Guard, was sighted on one of the tiers above.

The public in the parterre and in the galleries whispered excitedly; the awe-inspiring names flew about hither and thither on the wings of the overheated air. Women craned their necks to catch sight of heads which mayhap on the morrow would roll into the gruesome basket at the foot of the guillotine.

In one of the tiny avant-scène boxes two men had taken their seats long before the bulk of the audience had begun to assemble in the house. The inside of the box was in complete darkness, and the narrow opening which allowed but a sorry view of one side of the stage helped to conceal rather than display the occupants.

The younger one of these two men appeared to be something of a stranger in Paris, for as the public men and the well-known members of the Government began to arrive he often turned to his companion for information regarding these notorious personalities.

“Tell me, de Batz,” he said, calling the other’s attention to a group of men who had just entered the house, “that creature there in the green coat⁠—with his hand up to his face now⁠—who is he?”

“Where? Which do you mean?”

“There! He looks this way now, and he has a playbill in his hand. The man with the protruding chin and the convex forehead, a face like a marmoset, and eyes like a jackal. What?”

The other leaned over the edge of the box, and his small, restless eyes wandered over the now closely-packed auditorium.

“Oh!” he said as soon as he recognised the face which his friend had pointed out to him, “that is citizen Foucquier-Tinville.”

“The Public Prosecutor?”

“Himself. And Héron is the man next to him.”

“Héron?” said the younger man interrogatively.

“Yes. He is chief agent to the Committee of General Security now.”

“What does that mean?”

Both leaned back in their chairs, and their sombrely-clad figures were once more merged in the gloom of the narrow box. Instinctively, since the name of the Public Prosecutor had been mentioned between them, they had allowed their voices to sink to a whisper.

The older man⁠—a stoutish, florid-looking individual, with small, keen eyes, and skin pitted with smallpox⁠—shrugged his shoulders at his friend’s question, and then said with an air of contemptuous indifference:

“It means, my good St. Just, that these two men whom you see down there, calmly conning the programme of this evening’s entertainment, and preparing to enjoy themselves tonight in the company of the late M. de Molière, are two hellhounds as powerful as they are cunning.”

“Yes, yes,” said St. Just, and much against his will a slight shudder ran through his slim figure as he spoke. “Foucquier-Tinville I know; I know his cunning, and I know his power⁠—but the other?”

“The other?” retorted de Batz lightly. “Héron? Let me tell you, my friend, that even the might and lust of that damned Public Prosecutor pale before the power of Héron!”

“But how? I do not understand.”

“Ah! you have been in England so long, you lucky dog, and though no doubt the main plot of our hideous tragedy has reached your ken, you have no cognisance of the actors who play the principal parts on this arena flooded with blood and carpeted with hate. They come and go, these actors, my good St. Just⁠—they come and go. Marat is already the man of yesterday, Robespierre is the man of tomorrow. Today we still have Danton and Foucquier-Tinville; we still have Père Duchesne, and your own good cousin Antoine St. Just, but Héron and his like are with us always.”

“Spies, of course?”

“Spies,” assented the other. “And what spies! Were you present at the sitting of the Assembly today?”

“I was. I heard the new decree which already has passed into law. Ah! I tell you, friend, that we do not let the grass grow under our feet these days. Robespierre wakes up one morning with a whim; by the afternoon that whim has become law, passed by a servile body of men too terrified to run counter to his will, fearful lest they be accused of moderation or of humanity⁠—the greatest crimes that can be committed nowadays.”

“But Danton?”

“Ah! Danton? He would wish to stem the tide that his own passions have let loose; to muzzle the raging beasts whose fangs he himself has sharpened. I told you that Danton is still the man of today; tomorrow he will be accused of moderation. Danton and moderation!⁠—ye gods! Eh? Danton, who thought the guillotine too slow in its work, and armed thirty soldiers with swords, so that thirty heads might fall at one and the same time. Danton, friend, will perish tomorrow accused of treachery against the Revolution, of moderation towards her enemies; and curs like Héron will feast on the blood of lions like Danton and his crowd.”

He paused a moment, for he dared not raise his voice, and his whispers were being drowned by the noise in the auditorium. The curtain, timed to be raised at eight o’clock, was still down, though it was close on half-past, and the public was growing impatient. There was loud stamping of feet, and a few shrill whistles of disapproval proceeded from the gallery.

“If Héron gets impatient,” said de Batz lightly, when the noise had momentarily subsided, “the manager of this theatre and mayhap his leading actor and actress will spend an unpleasant day tomorrow.”

“Always Héron!” said St. Just, with a contemptuous smile.

“Yes, my friend,” rejoined the other imperturbably, “always Héron. And he has even obtained a longer lease of existence this afternoon.”

“By the new decree?”

“Yes. The new decree. The agents of the Committee of General Security, of whom Héron is the chief, have from today powers of domiciliary search; they have full powers to proceed against all enemies of public welfare. Isn’t that beautifully vague? And they have absolute discretion; everyone may become an enemy of public welfare, either by spending too much money or by spending too little, by laughing today or crying tomorrow, by mourning for one dead relative or rejoicing over the execution of another. He may be a bad example to the public by the cleanliness of his person or by the filth upon his clothes, he may offend by walking today and by riding in a carriage next week; the agents of the Committee of General Security shall alone decide what constitutes enmity against public welfare. All prisons are to be opened at their bidding to receive those whom they choose to denounce; they have henceforth the right to examine prisoners privately and without witnesses, and to send them to trial without further warrants; their duty is clear⁠—they must ‘beat up game for the guillotine.’ Thus is the decree worded; they must furnish the Public Prosecutor with work to do, the tribunals with victims to condemn, the Place de la Révolution with death-scenes to amuse the people, and for their work they will be rewarded thirty-five livres for every head that falls under the guillotine. Ah! if Héron and his like and his myrmidons work hard and well they can make a comfortable income of four or five thousand livres a week. We are getting on, friend St. Just⁠—we are getting on.”

He had not raised his voice while he spoke, nor in the recounting of such inhuman monstrosity, such vile and bloodthirsty conspiracy against the liberty, the dignity, the very life of an entire nation, did he appear to feel the slightest indignation; rather did a tone of amusement and even of triumph strike through his speech; and now he laughed good-humouredly like an indulgent parent who is watching the naturally cruel antics of a spoilt boy.

“Then from this hell let loose upon earth,” exclaimed St. Just hotly, “must we rescue those who refuse to ride upon this tide of blood.”

His cheeks were glowing, his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. He looked very young and very eager. Armand St. Just, the brother of Lady Blakeney, had something of the refined beauty of his lovely sister, but the features⁠—though manly⁠—had not the latent strength expressed in them which characterised every line of Marguerite’s exquisite face. The forehead suggested a dreamer rather than a thinker, the blue-grey eyes were those of an idealist rather than of a man of action.

De Batz’s keen piercing eyes had no doubt noted this, even whilst he gazed at his young friend with that same look of good-humoured indulgence which seemed habitual to him.

“We have to think of the future, my good St. Just,” he said after a slight pause, and speaking slowly and decisively, like a father rebuking a hotheaded child, “not of the present. What are a few lives worth beside the great principles which we have at stake?”

“The restoration of the monarchy⁠—I know,” retorted St. Just, still unsobered, “but, in the meanwhile⁠—”

“In the meanwhile,” rejoined de Batz earnestly, “every victim to the lust of these men is a step towards the restoration of law and order⁠—that is to say, of the monarchy. It is only through these violent excesses perpetrated in its name that the nation will realise how it is being fooled by a set of men who have only their own power and their own advancement in view, and who imagine that the only way to that power is over the dead bodies of those who stand in their way. Once the nation is sickened by these orgies of ambition and of hate, it will turn against these savage brutes, and gladly acclaim the restoration of all that they are striving to destroy. This is our only hope for the future, and, believe me, friend, that every head snatched from the guillotine by your romantic hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is a stone laid for the consolidation of this infamous Republic.”

“I’ll not believe it,” protested St. Just emphatically.

De Batz, with a gesture of contempt indicative also of complete self-satisfaction and unalterable self-belief, shrugged his broad shoulders. His short fat fingers, covered with rings, beat a tattoo upon the ledge of the box.

Obviously, he was ready with a retort. His young friend’s attitude irritated even more than it amused him. But he said nothing for the moment, waiting while the traditional three knocks on the floor of the stage proclaimed the rise of the curtain. The growing impatience of the audience subsided as if by magic at the welcome call; everybody settled down again comfortably in their seats, they gave up the contemplation of the fathers of the people, and turned their full attention to the actors on the boards.

II. Widely Divergent Aims

This was Armand S. Just’s first visit to Paris since that memorable day when first he decided to sever his connection from the Republican party, of which he and his beautiful sister Marguerite had at one time been amongst the most noble, most enthusiastic followers. Already a year and a half ago the excesses of the party had horrified him, and that was long before they had degenerated into the sickening orgies which were culminating today in wholesale massacres and bloody hecatombs of innocent victims.

With the death of Mirabeau the moderate Republicans, whose sole and entirely pure aim had been to free the people of France from the autocratic tyranny of the Bourbons, saw the power go from their clean hands to the grimy ones of lustful demagogues, who knew no law save their own passions of bitter hatred against all classes that were not as self-seeking, as ferocious as themselves.

It was no longer a question of a fight for political and religious liberty only, but one of class against class, man against man, and let the weaker look to himself. The weaker had proved himself to be, firstly, the man of property and substance, then the law-abiding citizen, lastly the man of action who had obtained for the people that very same liberty of thought and of belief which soon became so terribly misused.

Armand St. Just, one of the apostles of liberty, fraternity, and equality, soon found that the most savage excesses of tyranny were being perpetrated in the name of those same ideals which he had worshipped.

His sister Marguerite, happily married in England, was the final temptation which caused him to quit the country the destinies of which he no longer could help to control. The spark of enthusiasm which he and the followers of Mirabeau had tried to kindle in the hearts of an oppressed people had turned to raging tongues of unquenchable flames. The taking of the Bastille had been the prelude to the massacres of September, and even the horror of these had since paled beside the holocausts of today.

Armand, saved from the swift vengeance of the revolutionaries by the devotion of the Scarlet Pimpernel, crossed over to England and enrolled himself under the banner of the heroic chief. But he had been unable hitherto to be an active member of the League. The chief was loath to allow him to run foolhardy risks. The St. Justs⁠—both Marguerite and Armand⁠—were still very well-known in Paris. Marguerite was not a woman easily forgotten, and her marriage with an English “aristo” did not please those republican circles who had looked upon her as their queen. Armand’s secession from his party into the ranks of the émigrés had singled him out for special reprisals, if and whenever he could be got hold of, and both brother and sister had an unusually bitter enemy in their cousin Antoine St. Just⁠—once an aspirant to Marguerite’s hand, and now a servile adherent and imitator of Robespierre, whose ferocious cruelty he tried to emulate with a view to ingratiating himself with the most powerful man of the day.

Nothing would have pleased Antoine St. Just more than the opportunity of showing his zeal and his patriotism by denouncing his own kith and kin to the Tribunal of the Terror, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, whose own slender fingers were held on the pulse of that reckless revolution, had no wish to sacrifice Armand’s life deliberately, or even to expose it to unnecessary dangers.

Thus it was that more than a year had gone by before Armand St. Just⁠—an enthusiastic member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel⁠—was able to do aught for its service. He had chafed under the enforced restraint placed upon him by the prudence of his chief, when, indeed, he was longing to risk his life with the comrades whom he loved and beside the leader whom he revered.

At last, in the beginning of ’94 he persuaded Blakeney to allow him to join the next expedition to France. What the principal aim of that expedition was the members of the League did not know as yet, but what they did know was that perils⁠—graver even than hitherto⁠—would attend them on their way.

The circumstances had become very different of late. At first the impenetrable mystery which had surrounded the personality of the chief had been a full measure of safety, but now one tiny corner of that veil of mystery had been lifted by two rough pairs of hands at least; Chauvelin, ex-ambassador at the English Court, was no longer in any doubt as to the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, whilst Collot d’Herbois had seen him at Boulogne, and had there been effectually foiled by him.

Four months had gone by since that day, and the Scarlet Pimpernel was hardly ever out of France now; the massacres in Paris and in the provinces had multiplied with appalling rapidity, the necessity for the selfless devotion of that small band of heroes had become daily, hourly more pressing. They rallied round their chief with unbounded enthusiasm, and let it be admitted at once that the sporting instinct⁠—inherent in these English gentlemen⁠—made them all the more keen, all the more eager now that the dangers which beset their expeditions were increased tenfold.

At a word from the beloved leader, these young men⁠—the spoilt darlings of society⁠—would leave the gaieties, the pleasures, the luxuries of London or of Bath, and, taking their lives in their hands, they placed them, together with their fortunes, and even their good names, at the service of the innocent and helpless victims of merciless tyranny. The married men⁠—Ffoulkes, my Lord Hastings, Sir Jeremiah Wallescourt⁠—left wife and children at a call from the chief, at the cry of the wretched. Armand⁠—unattached and enthusiastic⁠—had the right to demand that he should no longer be left behind.

He had only been away a little over fifteen months, and yet he found Paris a different city from the one he had left immediately after the terrible massacres of September. An air of grim loneliness seemed to hang over her despite the crowds that thronged her streets; the men whom he was wont to meet in public places fifteen months ago⁠—friends and political allies⁠—were no longer to be seen; strange faces surrounded him on every side⁠—sullen, glowering faces, all wearing a certain air of horrified surprise and of vague, terrified wonder, as if life had become one awful puzzle, the answer to which must be found in the brief interval between the swift passages of death.

Armand St. Just, having settled his few simple belongings in the squalid lodgings which had been assigned to him, had started out after dark to wander somewhat aimlessly through the streets. Instinctively he seemed to be searching for a familiar face, someone who would come to him out of that merry past which he had spent with Marguerite in their pretty apartment in the Rue St. Honoré.

For an hour he wandered thus and met no one whom he knew. At times it appeared to him as if he did recognise a face or figure that passed him swiftly by in the gloom, but even before he could fully make up his mind to that, the face or figure had already disappeared, gliding furtively down some narrow unlighted by-street, without turning to look to right or left, as if dreading fuller recognition. Armand felt a total stranger in his own native city.

The terrible hours of the execution on the Place de la Révolution were fortunately over, the tumbrils no longer rattled along the uneven pavements, nor did the death-cry of the unfortunate victims resound through the deserted streets. Armand was, on this first day of his arrival, spared the sight of this degradation of the once lovely city; but her desolation, her general appearance of shamefaced indigence and of cruel aloofness struck a chill in the young man’s heart.

It was no wonder, therefore, when anon he was wending his way slowly back to his lodging he was accosted by a pleasant, cheerful voice, that he responded to it with alacrity. The voice, of a smooth, oily timbre, as if the owner kept it well greased for purposes of amiable speech, was like an echo of the past, when jolly, irresponsible Baron de Batz, erstwhile officer of the Guard in the service of the late King, and since then known to be the most inveterate conspirator for the restoration of the monarchy, used to amuse Marguerite by his vapid, senseless plans for the overthrow of the newly-risen power of the people.

Armand was quite glad to meet him, and when de Batz suggested that a good talk over old times would be vastly agreeable, the younger man gladly acceded. The two men, though certainly not mistrustful of one another, did not seem to care to reveal to each other the place where they lodged. De Batz at once proposed the avant-scène box of one of the theatres as being the safest place where old friends could talk without fear of spying eyes or ears.

“There is no place so safe or so private nowadays, believe me, my young friend,” he said, “I have tried every sort of nook and cranny in this accursed town, now riddled with spies, and I have come to the conclusion that a small avant-scène box is the most perfect den of privacy there is in the entire city. The voices of the actors on the stage and the hum among the audience in the house will effectually drown all individual conversation to every ear save the one for whom it is intended.”

It is not difficult to persuade a young man who feels lonely and somewhat forlorn in a large city to while away an evening in the companionship of a cheerful talker, and de Batz was essentially good company. His vapourings had always been amusing, but Armand now gave him credit for more seriousness of purpose; and though the chief had warned him against picking up acquaintances in Paris, the young man felt that that restriction would certainly not apply to a man like de Batz, whose hot partisanship of the Royalist cause and harebrained schemes for its restoration must make him at one with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Armand accepted the other’s cordial invitation. He, too, felt that he would indeed be safer from observation in a crowded theatre than in the streets. Among a closely packed throng bent on amusement the sombrely-clad figure of a young man, with the appearance of a student or of a journalist, would easily pass unperceived.

But somehow, after the first ten minutes spent in de Batz’ company within the gloomy shelter of the small avant-scène box, Armand already repented of the impulse which had prompted him to come to the theatre tonight, and to renew acquaintanceship with the ex-officer of the late King’s Guard. Though he knew de Batz to be an ardent Royalist, and even an active adherent of the monarchy, he was soon conscious of a vague sense of mistrust of this pompous, self-complacent individual, whose every utterance breathed selfish aims rather than devotion to a forlorn cause.

Therefore, when the curtain rose at last on the first act of Molière’s witty comedy, St. Just turned deliberately towards the stage and tried to interest himself in the wordy quarrel between Philinte and Alceste.

But this attitude on the part of the younger man did not seem to suit his newly-found friend. It was clear that de Batz did not consider the topic of conversation by any means exhausted, and that it had been more with a view to a discussion like the present interrupted one that he had invited St. Just to come to the theatre with him tonight, rather than for the purpose of witnessing Mlle. Lange’s debut in the part of Célimène.

The presence of St. Just in Paris had as a matter of fact astonished de Batz not a little, and had set his intriguing brain busy on conjectures. It was in order to turn these conjectures into certainties that he had desired private talk with the young man.

He waited silently now for a moment or two, his keen, small eyes resting with evident anxiety on Armand’s averted head, his fingers still beating the impatient tattoo upon the velvet-covered cushion of the box. Then at the first movement of St. Just towards him he was ready in an instant to reopen the subject under discussion.

With a quick nod of his head he called his young friend’s attention back to the men in the auditorium.

“Your good cousin Antoine St. Just is hand and glove with Robespierre now,” he said. “When you left Paris more than a year ago you could afford to despise him as an empty-headed windbag; now, if you desire to remain in France, you will have to fear him as a power and a menace.”

“Yes, I knew that he had taken to herding with the wolves,” rejoined Armand lightly. “At one time he was in love with my sister. I thank God that she never cared for him.”

“They say that he herds with the wolves because of this disappointment,” said de Batz. “The whole pack is made up of men who have been disappointed, and who have nothing more to lose. When all these wolves will have devoured one another, then and then only can we hope for the restoration of the monarchy in France. And they will not turn on one another whilst prey for their greed lies ready to their jaws. Your friend the Scarlet Pimpernel should feed this bloody revolution of ours rather than starve it, if indeed he hates it as he seems to do.”

His restless eyes peered with eager interrogation into those of the younger man. He paused as if waiting for a reply; then, as St. Just remained silent, he reiterated slowly, almost in the tones of a challenge:

“If indeed he hates this bloodthirsty revolution of ours as he seems to do.”

The reiteration implied a doubt. In a moment St. Just’s loyalty was up in arms.

“The Scarlet Pimpernel,” he said, “cares naught for your political aims. The work of mercy that he does, he does for justice and for humanity.”

“And for sport,” said de Batz with a sneer, “so I’ve been told.”

“He is English,” assented St. Just, “and as such will never own to sentiment. Whatever be the motive, look at the result!

“Yes! a few lives stolen from the guillotine.”

“Women and children⁠—innocent victims⁠—would have perished but for his devotion.”

“The more innocent they were, the more helpless, the more pitiable, the louder would their blood have cried for reprisals against the wild beasts who sent them to their death.”

St. Just made no reply. It was obviously useless to attempt to argue with this man, whose political aims were as far apart from those of the Scarlet Pimpernel as was the North Pole from the South.

“If any of you have influence over that hotheaded leader of yours,” continued de Batz, unabashed by the silence of his friend, “I wish to God you would exert it now.”

“In what way?” queried St. Just, smiling in spite of himself at the thought of his or anyone else’s control over Blakeney and his plans.

It was de Batz’ turn to be silent. He paused for a moment or two, then he asked abruptly:

“Your Scarlet Pimpernel is in Paris now, is he not?”

“I cannot tell you,” replied Armand.

“Bah! there is no necessity to fence with me, my friend. The moment I set eyes on you this afternoon I knew that you had not come to Paris alone.”

“You are mistaken, my good de Batz,” rejoined the young man earnestly; “I came to Paris alone.”

“Clever parrying, on my word⁠—but wholly wasted on my unbelieving ears. Did I not note at once that you did not seem overpleased today when I accosted you?”

“Again you are mistaken. I was very pleased to meet you, for I had felt singularly lonely all day, and was glad to shake a friend by the hand. What you took for displeasure was only surprise.”

“Surprise? Ah, yes! I don’t wonder that you were surprised to see me walking unmolested and openly in the streets of Paris⁠—whereas you had heard of me as a dangerous conspirator, eh?⁠—and as a man who has the entire police of his country at his heels⁠—on whose head there is a price⁠—what?”

“I knew that you had made several noble efforts to rescue the unfortunate King and Queen from the hands of these brutes.”

“All of which efforts were unsuccessful,” assented de Batz imperturbably, “every one of them having been either betrayed by some d⁠⸺⁠d confederate or ferreted out by some astute spy eager for gain. Yes, my friend, I made several efforts to rescue King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette from the scaffold, and every time I was foiled, and yet here I am, you see, unscathed and free. I walk about the streets boldly, and talk to my friends as I meet them.”

“You are lucky,” said St. Just, not without a tinge of sarcasm.

“I have been prudent,” retorted de Batz. “I have taken the trouble to make friends there where I thought I needed them most⁠—the mammon of unrighteousness, you know⁠—what?”

And he laughed a broad, thick laugh of perfect self-satisfaction.

“Yes, I know,” rejoined St. Just, with the tone of sarcasm still more apparent in his voice now. “You have Austrian money at your disposal.”

“Any amount,” said the other complacently, “and a great deal of it sticks to the grimy fingers of these patriotic makers of revolutions. Thus do I ensure my own safety. I buy it with the Emperor’s money, and thus am I able to work for the restoration of the monarchy in France.”

Again St. Just was silent. What could he say? Instinctively now, as the fleshy personality of the Gascon Royalist seemed to spread itself out and to fill the tiny box with his ambitious schemes and his far-reaching plans, Armand’s thoughts flew back to that other plotter, the man with the pure and simple aims, the man whose slender fingers had never handled alien gold, but were ever there ready stretched out to the helpless and the weak, whilst his thoughts were only of the help that he might give them, but never of his own safety.

De Batz, however, seemed blandly unconscious of any such disparaging thoughts in the mind of his young friend, for he continued quite amiably, even though a note of anxiety seemed to make itself felt now in his smooth voice:

“We advance slowly, but step by step, my good St. Just,” he said. “I have not been able to save the monarchy in the person of the King or the Queen, but I may yet do it in the person of the Dauphin.”

“The Dauphin,” murmured St. Just involuntarily.

That involuntary murmur, scarcely audible, so soft was it, seemed in some way to satisfy de Batz, for the keenness of his gaze relaxed, and his fat fingers ceased their nervous, intermittent tattoo on the ledge of the box.

“Yes! the Dauphin,” he said, nodding his head as if in answer to his own thoughts, “or rather, let me say, the reigning King of France⁠—Louis XVII, by the grace of God⁠—the most precious life at present upon the whole of this earth.”

“You are right there, friend de Batz,” assented Armand fervently, “the most precious life, as you say, and one that must be saved at all costs.”

“Yes,” said de Batz calmly, “but not by your friend the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Why not?”

Scarce were those two little words out of St. Just’s mouth than he repented of them. He bit his lip, and with a dark frown upon his face he turned almost defiantly towards his friend.

But de Batz smiled with easy bonhomie.

“Ah, friend Armand,” he said, “you were not cut out for diplomacy, nor yet for intrigue. So then,” he added more seriously, “that gallant hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel, has hopes of rescuing our young King from the clutches of Simon the cobbler and of the herd of hyenas on the watch for his attenuated little corpse, eh?”

“I did not say that,” retorted St. Just sullenly.

“No. But I say it. Nay! nay! do not blame yourself, my over-loyal young friend. Could I, or anyone else, doubt for a moment that sooner or later your romantic hero would turn his attention to the most pathetic sight in the whole of Europe⁠—the child-martyr in the Temple prison? The wonder were to me if the Scarlet Pimpernel ignored our little King altogether for the sake of his subjects. No, no; do not think for a moment that you have betrayed your friend’s secret to me. When I met you so luckily today I guessed at once that you were here under the banner of the enigmatical little red flower, and, thus guessing, I even went a step further in my conjecture. The Scarlet Pimpernel is in Paris now in the hope of rescuing Louis XVII from the Temple prison.”

“If that is so, you must not only rejoice but should be able to help.”

“And yet, my friend, I do neither the one now nor mean to do the other in the future,” said de Batz placidly. “I happen to be a Frenchman, you see.”

“What has that to do with such a question?”

“Everything; though you, Armand, despite that you are a Frenchman too, do not look through my spectacles. Louis XVII is King of France, my good St. Just; he must owe his freedom and his life to us Frenchmen, and to no one else.”

“That is sheer madness, man,” retorted Armand. “Would you have the child perish for the sake of your own selfish ideas?”

“You may call them selfish if you will; all patriotism is in a measure selfish. What does the rest of the world care if we are a republic or a monarchy, an oligarchy or hopeless anarchy? We work for ourselves and to please ourselves, and I for one will not brook foreign interference.”

“Yet you work with foreign money!”

“That is another matter. I cannot get money in France, so I get it where I can; but I can arrange for the escape of Louis XVII from the Temple Prison, and to us Royalists of France should belong the honour and glory of having saved our King.”

For the third time now St. Just allowed the conversation to drop; he was gazing wide-eyed, almost appalled at this impudent display of well-nigh ferocious selfishness and vanity. De Batz, smiling and complacent, was leaning back in his chair, looking at his young friend with perfect contentment expressed in every line of his pockmarked face and in the very attitude of his well-fed body. It was easy enough now to understand the remarkable immunity which this man was enjoying, despite the many foolhardy plots which he hatched, and which had up to now invariably come to naught.

A regular braggart and empty windbag, he had taken but one good care, and that was of his own skin. Unlike other less fortunate Royalists of France, he neither fought in the country nor braved dangers in town. He played a safer game⁠—crossed the frontier and constituted himself agent of Austria; he succeeded in gaining the Emperor’s money for the good of the Royalist cause, and for his own most especial benefit.

Even a less astute man of the world than was Armand St. Just would easily have guessed that de Batz’ desire to be the only instrument in the rescue of the poor little Dauphin from the Temple was not actuated by patriotism, but solely by greed. Obviously there was a rich reward waiting for him in Vienna the day that he brought Louis XVII safely into Austrian territory; that reward he would miss if a meddlesome Englishman interfered in this affair. Whether in this wrangle he risked the life of the child-King or not mattered to him not at all. It was de Batz who was to get the reward, and whose welfare and prosperity mattered more than the most precious life in Europe.

III. The Demon Chance

St. Just would have given much to be back in his lonely squalid lodgings now. Too late did he realise how wise had been the dictum which had warned him against making or renewing friendships in France.

Men had changed with the times. How terribly they had changed! Personal safety had become a fetish with most⁠—a goal so difficult to attain that it had to be fought for and striven for, even at the expense of humanity and of self-respect.

Selfishness⁠—the mere, cold-blooded insistence for self-advancement⁠—ruled supreme. De Batz, surfeited with foreign money, used it firstly to ensure his own immunity, scattering it to right and left to still the ambition of the Public Prosecutor or to satisfy the greed of innumerable spies.

What was left over he used for the purpose of pitting the bloodthirsty demagogues one against the other, making of the National Assembly a gigantic bear-den, wherein wild beasts could rend one another limb from limb.

In the meanwhile, what cared he⁠—he said it himself⁠—whether hundreds of innocent martyrs perished miserably and uselessly? They were the necessary food whereby the Revolution was to be satiated and de Batz’ schemes enabled to mature. The most precious life in Europe even was only to be saved if its price went to swell the pockets of de Batz, or to further his future ambitions.

Times had indeed changed an entire nation. St. Just felt as sickened with this self-seeking Royalist as he did with the savage brutes who struck to right or left for their own delectation. He was meditating immediate flight back to his lodgings, with a hope of finding there a word for him from the chief⁠—a word to remind him that men did live nowadays who had other aims besides their own advancement⁠—other ideals besides the deification of self.

The curtain had descended on the first act, and traditionally, as the works of M. de Molière demanded it, the three knocks were heard again without any interval. St. Just rose ready with a pretext for parting with his friend. The curtain was being slowly drawn up on the second act, and disclosed Alceste in wrathful conversation with Célimène.

Alceste’s opening speech is short. Whilst the actor spoke it Armand had his back to the stage; with hand outstretched, he was murmuring what he hoped would prove a polite excuse for thus leaving his amiable host while the entertainment had only just begun.

De Batz⁠—vexed and impatient⁠—had not by any means finished with his friend yet. He thought that his specious arguments⁠—delivered with boundless conviction⁠—had made some impression on the mind of the young man. That impression, however, he desired to deepen, and whilst Armand was worrying his brain to find a plausible excuse for going away, de Batz was racking his to find one for keeping him here.

Then it was that the wayward demon Chance intervened. Had St. Just risen but two minutes earlier, had his active mind suggested the desired excuse more readily, who knows what unspeakable sorrow, what heartrending misery, what terrible shame might have been spared both him and those for whom he cared? Those two minutes⁠—did he but know it⁠—decided the whole course of his future life. The excuse hovered on his lips, de Batz reluctantly was preparing to bid him goodbye, when Célimène, speaking commonplace words enough in answer to her quarrelsome lover, caused him to drop the hand which he was holding out to his friend and to turn back towards the stage.

It was an exquisite voice that had spoken⁠—a voice mellow and tender, with deep tones in it that betrayed latent power. The voice had caused Armand to look, the lips that spoke forged the first tiny link of that chain which riveted him forever after to the speaker.

It is difficult to say if such a thing really exists as love at first sight. Poets and romancists will have us believe that it does; idealists swear by it as being the only true love worthy of the name.

I do not know if I am prepared to admit their theory with regard to Armand St. Just. Mlle. Lange’s exquisite voice certainly had charmed him to the extent of making him forget his mistrust of de Batz and his desire to get away. Mechanically almost he sat down again, and leaning both elbows on the edge of the box, he rested his chin in his hand, and listened. The words which the late M. de Molière puts into the mouth of Célimène are trite and flippant enough, yet every time that Mlle. Lange’s lips moved Armand watched her, entranced.

There, no doubt, the matter would have ended: a young man fascinated by a pretty woman on the stage⁠—’tis a small matter, and one from which there doth not often spring a weary trail of tragic circumstances. Armand, who had a passion for music, would have worshipped at the shrine of Mlle. Lange’s perfect voice until the curtain came down on the last act, had not his friend de Batz seen the keen enchantment which the actress had produced on the young enthusiast.

Now de Batz was a man who never allowed an opportunity to slip by, if that opportunity led towards the furtherance of his own desires. He did not want to lose sight of Armand just yet, and here the good demon Chance had given him an opportunity for obtaining what he wanted.

He waited quietly until the fall of the curtain at the end of Act II; then, as Armand, with a sigh of delight, leaned back in his chair, and closing his eyes appeared to be living the last half-hour all over again, de Batz remarked with well-assumed indifference:

“Mlle. Lange is a promising young actress. Do you not think so, my friend?”

“She has a perfect voice⁠—it was exquisite melody to the ear,” replied Armand. “I was conscious of little else.”

“She is a beautiful woman, nevertheless,” continued de Batz with a smile. “During the next act, my good St. Just, I would suggest that you open your eyes as well as your ears.”

Armand did as he was bidden. The whole appearance of Mlle. Lange seemed in harmony with her voice. She was not very tall, but eminently graceful, with a small, oval face and slender, almost childlike figure, which appeared still more so above the wide hoops and draped panniers of the fashions of Molière’s time.

Whether she was beautiful or not the young man hardly knew. Measured by certain standards, she certainly was not so, for her mouth was not small, and her nose anything but classical in outline. But the eyes were brown, and they had that half-veiled look in them⁠—shaded with long lashes that seemed to make a perpetual tender appeal to the masculine heart: the lips, too, were full and moist, and the teeth dazzling white. Yes!⁠—on the whole we might easily say that she was exquisite, even though we did not admit that she was beautiful.

Painter David has made a sketch of her; we have all seen it at the Musée Carnavalet, and all wondered why that charming, if irregular, little face made such an impression of sadness.

There are five acts in Le Misanthrope, during which Célimène is almost constantly on the stage. At the end of the fourth act de Batz said casually to his friend:

“I have the honour of personal acquaintanceship with Mlle. Lange. An you care for an introduction to her, we can go round to the greenroom after the play.”

Did prudence then whisper, “Desist”? Did loyalty to the leader murmur, “Obey”? It were indeed difficult to say. Armand St. Just was not five-and-twenty, and Mlle. Lange’s melodious voice spoke louder than the whisperings of prudence or even than the call of duty.

He thanked de Batz warmly, and during the last half-hour, while the misanthropical lover spurned repentant Célimène, he was conscious of a curious sensation of impatience, a tingling of his nerves, a wild, mad longing to hear those full moist lips pronounce his name, and have those large brown eyes throw their half-veiled look into his own.

IV. Mademoiselle Lange

The greenroom was crowded when de Batz and St. Just arrived there after the performance. The older man cast a hasty glance through the open door. The crowd did not suit his purpose, and he dragged his companion hurriedly away from the contemplation of Mlle. Lange, sitting in a far corner of the room, surrounded by an admiring throng, and by innumerable floral tributes offered to her beauty and to her success.

De Batz without a word led the way back towards the stage. Here, by the dim light of tallow candles fixed in sconces against the surrounding walls, the scene-shifters were busy moving drop-scenes, back cloths and wings, and paid no heed to the two men who strolled slowly up and down silently, each wrapped in his own thoughts.

Armand walked with his hands buried in his breeches pockets, his head bent forward on his chest; but every now and again he threw quick, apprehensive glances round him whenever a firm step echoed along the empty stage or a voice rang clearly through the now deserted theatre.

“Are we wise to wait here?” he asked, speaking to himself rather than to his companion.

He was not anxious about his own safety; but the words of de Batz had impressed themselves upon his mind: “Héron and his spies we have always with us.”

From the greenroom a separate foyer and exit led directly out into the street. Gradually the sound of many voices, the loud laughter and occasional snatches of song which for the past half-hour had proceeded from that part of the house, became more subdued and more rare. One by one the friends of the artists were leaving the theatre, after having paid the usual banal compliments to those whom they favoured, or presented the accustomed offering of flowers to the brightest star of the night.

The actors were the first to retire, then the older actresses, the ones who could no longer command a court of admirers round them. They all filed out of the greenroom and crossed the stage to where, at the back, a narrow, rickety wooden stairs led to their so-called dressing-rooms⁠—tiny, dark cubicles, ill-lighted, unventilated, where some half-dozen of the lesser stars tumbled over one another while removing wigs and greasepaint.

Armand and de Batz watched this exodus, both with equal impatience. Mlle. Lange was the last to leave the greenroom. For some time, since the crowd had become thinner round her, Armand had contrived to catch glimpses of her slight, elegant figure. A short passage led from the stage to the greenroom door, which was wide open, and at the corner of this passage the young man had paused from time to time in his walk, gazing with earnest admiration at the dainty outline of the young girl’s head, with its wig of powdered curls that seemed scarcely whiter than the creamy brilliance of her skin.

De Batz did not watch Mlle. Lange beyond casting impatient looks in the direction of the crowd that prevented her leaving the greenroom. He did watch Armand, however⁠—noted his eager look, his brisk and alert movements, the obvious glances of admiration which he cast in the direction of the young actress, and this seemed to afford him a considerable amount of contentment.

The best part of an hour had gone by since the fall of the curtain before Mlle. Lange finally dismissed her many admirers, and de Batz had the satisfaction of seeing her running down the passage, turning back occasionally in order to bid gay “good nights” to the loiterers who were loath to part from her. She was a child in all her movements, quite unconscious of self or of her own charms, but frankly delighted with her success. She was still dressed in the ridiculous hoops and panniers pertaining to her part, and the powdered peruke hid the charm of her own hair; the costume gave a certain stilted air to her unaffected personality, which, by this very sense of contrast, was essentially fascinating.

In her arms she held a huge sheaf of sweet-scented narcissi, the spoils of some favoured spot far away in the South. Armand thought that never in his life had he seen anything so winsome or so charming.

Having at last said the positively final adieu, Mlle. Lange with a happy little sigh turned to run down the passage.

She came face to face with Armand, and gave a sudden little gasp of terror. It was not good these days to come on any loiterer unawares.

But already de Batz had quickly joined his friend, and his smooth, pleasant voice, and podgy, beringed hand extended towards Mlle. Lange, were sufficient to reassure her.

“You were so surrounded in the greenroom, mademoiselle,” he said courteously, “I did not venture to press in among the crowd of your admirers. Yet I had the great wish to present my respectful congratulations in person.”

“Ah! c’est ce cher de Batz!” exclaimed mademoiselle gaily, in that exquisitely rippling voice of hers. “And where in the world do you spring from, my friend?

“Hush-sh-sh!” he whispered, holding her small bemittened hand in his, and putting one finger to his lips with an urgent entreaty for discretion; “not my name, I beg of you, fair one.”

“Bah!” she retorted lightly, even though her full lips trembled now as she spoke and belied her very words. “You need have no fear whilst you are in this part of the house. It is an understood thing that the Committee of General Security does not send its spies behind the curtain of a theatre. Why, if all of us actors and actresses were sent to the guillotine there would be no play on the morrow. Artistes are not replaceable in a few hours; those that are in existence must perforce be spared, or the citizens who govern us now would not know where to spend their evenings.”

But though she spoke so airily and with her accustomed gaiety, it was easily perceived that even on this childish mind the dangers which beset everyone these days had already imprinted their mark of suspicion and of caution.

“Come into my dressing-room,” she said. “I must not tarry here any longer, for they will be putting out the lights. But I have a room to myself, and we can talk there quite agreeably.”

She led the way across the stage towards the wooden stairs. Armand, who during this brief colloquy between his friend and the young girl had kept discreetly in the background, felt undecided what to do. But at a peremptory sign from de Batz he, too, turned in the wake of the gay little lady, who ran swiftly up the rickety steps, humming snatches of popular songs the while, and not turning to see if indeed the two men were following her.

She had the sheaf of narcissi still in her arms, and the door of her tiny dressing-room being open, she ran straight in and threw the flowers down in a confused, sweet-scented mass upon the small table that stood at one end of the room, littered with pots and bottles, letters, mirrors, powder-puffs, silk stockings, and cambric handkerchiefs.

Then she turned and faced the two men, a merry look of unalterable gaiety dancing in her eyes.

“Shut the door, mon ami,” she said to de Batz, “and after that sit down where you can, so long as it is not on my most precious pot of unguent or a box of costliest powder.”

While de Batz did as he was told, she turned to Armand and said with a pretty tone of interrogation in her melodious voice:

“Monsieur?”

“St. Just, at your service, mademoiselle,” said Armand, bowing very low in the most approved style obtaining at the English Court.

“St. Just?” she repeated, a look of puzzlement in her brown eyes. “Surely⁠—”

“A kinsman of citizen St. Just, whom no doubt you know, mademoiselle,” he exclaimed.

“My friend Armand St. Just,” interposed de Batz, “is practically a newcomer in Paris. He lives in England habitually.”

“In England?” she exclaimed. “Oh! do tell me all about England. I would love to go there. Perhaps I may have to go some day. Oh! do sit down, de Batz,” she continued, talking rather volubly, even as a delicate blush heightened the colour in her cheeks under the look of obvious admiration from Armand St. Just’s expressive eyes.

She swept a handful of delicate cambric and silk from off a chair, making room for de Batz’ portly figure. Then she sat upon the sofa, and with an inviting gesture and a call from the eyes she bade Armand sit down next to her. She leaned back against the cushions, and the table being close by, she stretched out a hand and once more took up the bunch of narcissi, and while she talked to Armand she held the snow-white blooms quite close to her face⁠—so close, in fact, that he could not see her mouth and chin, only her dark eyes shone across at him over the heads of the blossoms.

“Tell me all about England,” she reiterated, settling herself down among the cushions like a spoilt child who is about to listen to an oft-told favourite story.

Armand was vexed that de Batz was sitting there. He felt he could have told this dainty little lady quite a good deal about England if only his pompous, fat friend would have had the good sense to go away.

As it was, he felt unusually timid and gauche, not quite knowing what to say, a fact which seemed to amuse Mlle. Lange not a little.

“I am very fond of England,” he said lamely; “my sister is married to an Englishman, and I myself have taken up my permanent residence there.”

“Among the society of émigrés?” she queried.

Then, as Armand made no reply, de Batz interposed quickly:

“Oh! you need not fear to admit it, my good Armand; Mademoiselle Lange, has many friends among the émigrés⁠—have you not, mademoiselle?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied lightly; “I have friends everywhere. Their political views have nothing to do with me. Artistes, I think, should have naught to do with politics. You see, citizen St. Just, I never inquired of you what were your views. Your name and kinship would proclaim you a partisan of citizen Robespierre, yet I find you in the company of M. de Batz; and you tell me that you live in England.”

“He is no partisan of citizen Robespierre,” again interposed de Batz; “in fact, mademoiselle, I may safely tell you, I think, that my friend has but one ideal on this earth, whom he has set up in a shrine, and whom he worships with all the ardour of a Christian for his God.”

“How romantic!” she said, and she looked straight at Armand. “Tell me, monsieur, is your ideal a woman or a man?”

His look answered her, even before he boldly spoke the two words:

“A woman.”

She took a deep draught of sweet, intoxicating scent from the narcissi, and his gaze once more brought blushes to her cheeks. De Batz’ good-humoured laugh helped her to hide this unwonted access of confusion.

“That was well turned, friend Armand,” he said lightly; “but I assure you, mademoiselle, that before I brought him here tonight his ideal was a man.”

“A man!” she exclaimed, with a contemptuous little pout. “Who was it?”

“I know no other name for him but that of a small, insignificant flower⁠—the Scarlet Pimpernel,” replied de Batz.

“The Scarlet Pimpernel!” she ejaculated, dropping the flowers suddenly, and gazing on Armand with wide, wondering eyes. “And do you know him, monsieur?”

He was frowning despite himself, despite the delight which he felt at sitting so close to this charming little lady, and feeling that in a measure his presence and his personality interested her. But he felt irritated with de Batz, and angered at what he considered the latter’s indiscretion. To him the very name of his leader was almost a sacred one; he was one of those enthusiastic devotees who only care to name the idol of their dreams with bated breath, and only in the ears of those who would understand and sympathise.

Again he felt that if only he could have been alone with mademoiselle he could have told her all about the Scarlet Pimpernel, knowing that in her he would find a ready listener, a helping and a loving heart; but as it was he merely replied tamely enough:

“Yes, mademoiselle, I do know him.”

“You have seen him?” she queried eagerly; “spoken to him?”

“Yes.”

“Oh! do tell me all about him. You know quite a number of us in France have the greatest possible admiration for your national hero. We know, of course, that he is an enemy of our Government⁠—but, oh! we feel that he is not an enemy of France because of that. We are a nation of heroes, too, monsieur,” she added with a pretty, proud toss of the head; “we can appreciate bravery and resource, and we love the mystery that surrounds the personality of your Scarlet Pimpernel. But since you know him, monsieur, tell me what is he like?”

Armand was smiling again. He was yielding himself up wholly to the charm which emanated from this young girl’s entire being, from her gaiety and her unaffectedness, her enthusiasm, and that obvious artistic temperament which caused her to feel every sensation with superlative keenness and thoroughness.

“What is he like?” she insisted.

“That, mademoiselle,” he replied, “I am not at liberty to tell you.”

“Not at liberty to tell me!” she exclaimed; “but monsieur, if I command you⁠—”

“At risk of falling forever under the ban of your displeasure, mademoiselle, I would still remain silent on that subject.”

She gazed on him with obvious astonishment. It was quite an unusual thing for this spoilt darling of an admiring public to be thus openly thwarted in her whims.

“How tiresome and pedantic!” she said, with a shrug of her pretty shoulders and a moue of discontent. “And, oh! how ungallant! You have learnt ugly, English ways, monsieur; for there, I am told, men hold their womenkind in very scant esteem. There!” she added, turning with a mock air of hopelessness towards de Batz, “am I not a most unlucky woman? For the past two years I have used my best endeavours to catch sight of that interesting Scarlet Pimpernel; here do I meet monsieur, who actually knows him (so he says), and he is so ungallant that he even refuses to satisfy the first cravings of my just curiosity.”

“Citizen St. Just will tell you nothing now, mademoiselle,” rejoined de Batz with his good-humoured laugh; “it is my presence, I assure you, which is setting a seal upon his lips. He is, believe me, aching to confide in you, to share in your enthusiasm, and to see your beautiful eyes glowing in response to his ardour when he describes to you the exploits of that prince of heroes. En tête-à-tête one day, you will, I know, worm every secret out of my discreet friend Armand.”

Mademoiselle made no comment on this⁠—that is to say, no audible comment⁠—but she buried the whole of her face for a few seconds among the flowers, and Armand from amongst those flowers caught sight of a pair of very bright brown eyes which shone on him with a puzzled look.

She said nothing more about the Scarlet Pimpernel or about England just then, but after awhile she began talking of more indifferent subjects: the state of the weather, the price of food, the discomforts of her own house, now that the servants had been put on perfect equality with their masters.

Armand soon gathered that the burning questions of the day, the horrors of massacres, the raging turmoil of politics, had not affected her very deeply as yet. She had not troubled her pretty head very much about the social and humanitarian aspect of the present seething revolution. She did not really wish to think about it at all. An artiste to her fingertips, she was spending her young life in earnest work, striving to attain perfection in her art, absorbed in study during the day, and in the expression of what she had learnt in the evenings.

The terrors of the guillotine affected her a little, but somewhat vaguely still. She had not realised that any dangers could assail her whilst she worked for the artistic delectation of the public.

It was not that she did not understand what went on around her, but that her artistic temperament and her environment had kept her aloof from it all. The horrors of the Place de la Révolution made her shudder, but only in the same way as the tragedies of M. Racine or of Sophocles which she had studied caused her to shudder, and she had exactly the same sympathy for poor Queen Marie Antoinette as she had for Mary Stuart, and shed as many tears for King Louis as she did for Polyeucte.

Once de Batz mentioned the Dauphin, but mademoiselle put up her hand quickly and said in a trembling voice, whilst the tears gathered in her eyes:

“Do not speak of the child to me, de Batz. What can I, a lonely, hardworking woman, do to help him? I try not to think of him, for if I did, knowing my own helplessness, I feel that I could hate my countrymen, and speak my bitter hatred of them across the footlights; which would be more than foolish,” she added naively, “for it would not help the child, and I should be sent to the guillotine. But oh! sometimes I feel that I would gladly die if only that poor little child-martyr were restored to those who love him and given back once more to joy and happiness. But they would not take my life for his, I am afraid,” she concluded, smiling through her tears. “My life is of no value in comparison with his.”

Soon after this she dismissed her two visitors. De Batz, well content with the result of this evening’s entertainment, wore an urbane, bland smile on his rubicund face. Armand, somewhat serious and not a little in love, made the hand-kiss with which he took his leave last as long as he could.

“You will come and see me again, citizen St. Just?” she asked after that preliminary leave-taking.

“At your service, mademoiselle,” he replied with alacrity.

“How long do you stay in Paris?”

“I may be called away at any time.”

“Well, then, come tomorrow. I shall be free towards four o’clock. Square du Roule. You cannot miss the house. Anyone there will tell you where lives citizeness Lange.”

“At your service, mademoiselle,” he replied.

The words sounded empty and meaningless, but his eyes, as they took final leave of her, spoke the gratitude and the joy which he felt.

V. The Temple Prison

It was close on midnight when the two friends finally parted company outside the doors of the theatre. The night air struck with biting keenness against them when they emerged from the stuffy, overheated building, and both wrapped their caped cloaks tightly round their shoulders. Armand⁠—more than ever now⁠—was anxious to rid himself of de Batz. The Gascon’s platitudes irritated him beyond the bounds of forbearance, and he wanted to be alone, so that he might think over the events of this night, the chief event being a little lady with an enchanting voice and the most fascinating brown eyes he had ever seen.

Self-reproach, too, was fighting a fairly even fight with the excitement that had been called up by that same pair of brown eyes. Armand for the past four or five hours had acted in direct opposition to the earnest advice given to him by his chief; he had renewed one friendship which had been far better left in oblivion, and he had made an acquaintance which already was leading him along a path that he felt sure his comrade would disapprove. But the path was so profusely strewn with scented narcissi that Armand’s sensitive conscience was quickly lulled to rest by the intoxicating fragrance.

Looking neither to right nor left, he made his way very quickly up the Rue Richelieu towards the Montmartre quarter, where he lodged.

De Batz stood and watched him for as long as the dim lights of the street lamps illumined his slim, soberly-clad figure; then he turned on his heel and walked off in the opposite direction.

His florid, pockmarked face wore an air of contentment not altogether unmixed with a kind of spiteful triumph.

“So, my pretty Scarlet Pimpernel,” he muttered between his closed lips, “you wish to meddle in my affairs, to have for yourself and your friends the credit and glory of snatching the golden prize from the clutches of these murderous brutes. Well, we shall see! We shall see which is the wiliest⁠—the French ferret or the English fox.”

He walked deliberately away from the busy part of the town, turning his back on the river, stepping out briskly straight before him, and swinging his gold-beaded cane as he walked.

The streets which he had to traverse were silent and deserted, save occasionally where a drinking or an eating house had its swing-doors still invitingly open. From these places, as de Batz strode rapidly by, came sounds of loud voices, rendered raucous by outdoor oratory; volleys of oaths hurled irreverently in the midst of impassioned speeches; interruptions from rowdy audiences that vied with the speaker in invectives and blasphemies; wordy war-fares that ended in noisy vituperations; accusations hurled through the air heavy with tobacco smoke and the fumes of cheap wines and of raw spirits.

De Batz took no heed of these as he passed, anxious only that the crowd of eating-house politicians did not, as often was its wont, turn out pêle-mêle into the street, and settle its quarrel by the weight of fists. He did not wish to be embroiled in a street fight, which invariably ended in denunciations and arrests, and was glad when presently he had left the purlieus of the Palais Royal behind him, and could strike on his left toward the lonely Faubourg du Temple.

From the dim distance far away came at intervals the mournful sound of a roll of muffled drums, half veiled by the intervening hubbub of the busy night life of the great city. It proceeded from the Place de la Révolution, where a company of the National Guard were on night watch round the guillotine. The dull, intermittent notes of the drum came as a reminder to the free people of France that the watchdog of a vengeful revolution was alert night and day, never sleeping, ever wakeful, “beating up game for the guillotine,” as the new decree framed today by the Government of the people had ordered that it should do.

From time to time now the silence of this lonely street was broken by a sudden cry of terror, followed by the clash of arms, the inevitable volley of oaths, the call for help, the final moan of anguish. They were the ever-recurring brief tragedies which told of denunciations, of domiciliary search, of sudden arrests, of an agonising desire for life and for freedom⁠—for life under these same horrible conditions of brutality and of servitude, for freedom to breathe, if only a day or two longer, this air, polluted by filth and by blood.

De Batz, hardened to these scenes, paid no heed to them. He had heard it so often, that cry in the night, followed by deathlike silence; it came from comfortable bourgeois houses, from squalid lodgings, or lonely cul-de-sac, wherever some hunted quarry was run to earth by the newly-organised spies of the Committee of General Security.

Five and thirty livres for every head that falls trunkless into the basket at the foot of the guillotine! Five and thirty pieces of silver, now as then, the price of innocent blood. Every cry in the night, every call for help, meant game for the guillotine, and five and thirty livres in the hands of a Judas.

And de Batz walked on unmoved by what he saw and heard, swinging his cane and looking satisfied. Now he struck into the Place de la Victoire, and looked on one of the open-air camps that had recently been established where men, women, and children were working to provide arms and accoutrements for the Republican army that was fighting the whole of Europe.

The people of France were up in arms against tyranny; and on the open places of their mighty city they were encamped day and night forging those arms which were destined to make them free, and in the meantime were bending under a yoke of tyranny more complete, more grinding and absolute than any that the most despotic kings had ever dared to inflict.

Here by the light of resin torches, at this late hour of the night, raw lads were being drilled into soldiers, half-naked under the cutting blast of the north wind, their knees shaking under them, their arms and legs blue with cold, their stomachs empty, and their teeth chattering with fear; women were sewing shirts for the great improvised army, with eyes straining to see the stitches by the flickering light of the torches, their throats parched with the continual inhaling of smoke-laden air; even children, with weak, clumsy little fingers, were picking rags to be woven into cloth again⁠—all, all these slaves were working far into the night, tired, hungry, and cold, but working unceasingly, as the country had demanded it: “the people of France in arms against tyranny!” The people of France had to set to work to make arms, to clothe the soldiers, the defenders of the people’s liberty.

And from this crowd of people⁠—men, women, and children⁠—there came scarcely a sound, save raucous whispers, a moan or a sigh quickly suppressed. A grim silence reigned in this thickly-peopled camp; only the crackling of the torches broke that silence now and then, or the flapping of canvas in the wintry gale. They worked on sullen, desperate, and starving, with no hope of payment save the miserable rations wrung from poor tradespeople or miserable farmers, as wretched, as oppressed as themselves; no hope of payment, only fear of punishment, for that was ever present.

The people of France in arms against tyranny were not allowed to forget that grim taskmaster with the two great hands stretched upwards, holding the knife which descended mercilessly, indiscriminately on necks that did not bend willingly to the task.

A grim look of gratified desire had spread over de Batz’ face as he skirted the open-air camp. Let them toil, let them groan, let them starve! The more these clouts suffer, the more brutal the heel that grinds them down, the sooner will the Emperor’s money accomplish its work, the sooner will these wretches be clamoring for the monarchy, which would mean a rich reward in de Batz’ pockets.

To him everything now was for the best: the tyranny, the brutality, the massacres. He gloated in the holocausts with as much satisfaction as did the most bloodthirsty Jacobin in the Convention. He would with his own hands have wielded the guillotine that worked too slowly for his ends. Let that end justify the means, was his motto. What matter if the future King of France walked up to his throne over steps made of headless corpses and rendered slippery with the blood of martyrs?

The ground beneath de Batz’ feet was hard and white with the frost. Overhead the pale, wintry moon looked down serene and placid on this giant city wallowing in an ocean of misery.

There, had been but little snow as yet this year, and the cold was intense. On his right now the Cimetière des SS. Innocents lay peaceful and still beneath the wan light of the moon. A thin covering of snow lay evenly alike on grass mounds and smooth stones. Here and there a broken cross with chipped arms still held pathetically outstretched, as if in a final appeal for human love, bore mute testimony to senseless excesses and spiteful desire for destruction.

But here within the precincts of the dwelling of the eternal Master a solemn silence reigned; only the cold north wind shook the branches of the yew, causing them to send forth a melancholy sigh into the night, and to shed a shower of tiny crystals of snow like the frozen tears of the dead.

And round the precincts of the lonely graveyard, and down narrow streets or open places, the night watchmen went their rounds, lantern in hand, and every five minutes their monotonous call rang clearly out in the night:

“Sleep, citizens! everything is quiet and at peace!”

* * * * *

We may take it that de Batz did not philosophise overmuch on what went on around him. He had walked swiftly up the Rue St. Martin, then turning sharply to his right he found himself beneath the tall, frowning walls of the Temple prison, the grim guardian of so many secrets, such terrible despair, such unspeakable tragedies.

Here, too, as in the Place de la Révolution, an intermittent roll of muffled drums proclaimed the ever-watchful presence of the National Guard. But with that exception not a sound stirred round the grim and stately edifice; there were no cries, no calls, no appeals around its walls. All the crying and wailing was shut in by the massive stone that told no tales.

Dim and flickering lights shone behind several of the small windows in the façade of the huge labyrinthine building. Without any hesitation de Batz turned down the Rue du Temple, and soon found himself in front of the main gates which gave on the courtyard beyond. The sentinel challenged him, but he had the password, and explained that he desired to have speech with citizen Héron.

With a surly gesture the guard pointed to the heavy bell-pull up against the gate, and de Batz pulled it with all his might. The long clang of the brazen bell echoed and reechoed round the solid stone walls. Anon a tiny judas in the gate was cautiously pushed open, and a peremptory voice once again challenged the midnight intruder.

De Batz, more peremptorily this time, asked for citizen Héron, with whom he had immediate and important business, and a glimmer of a piece of silver which he held up close to the judas secured him the necessary admittance.

The massive gates slowly swung open on their creaking hinges, and as de Batz passed beneath the archway they closed again behind him.

The concierge’s lodge was immediately on his left. Again he was challenged, and again gave the password. But his face was apparently known here, for no serious hindrance to proceed was put in his way.

A man, whose wide, lean frame was but ill-covered by a threadbare coat and ragged breeches, and with soleless shoes on his feet, was told off to direct the citoyen to citizen Héron’s rooms. The man walked slowly along with bent knees and arched spine, and shuffled his feet as he walked; the bunch of keys which he carried rattled ominously in his long, grimy hands; the passages were badly lighted, and he also carried a lantern to guide himself on the way.

Closely followed by de Batz, he soon turned into the central corridor, which is open to the sky above, and was spectrally alight now with flagstones and walls gleaming beneath the silvery sheen of the moon, and throwing back the fantastic elongated shadows of the two men as they walked.

On the left, heavily barred windows gave on the corridor, as did here and there the massive oaken doors, with their gigantic hinges and bolts, on the steps of which squatted groups of soldiers wrapped in their cloaks, with wild, suspicious eyes beneath their capotes, peering at the midnight visitor as he passed.

There was no thought of silence here. The very walls seemed alive with sounds, groans and tears, loud wails and murmured prayers; they exuded from the stones and trembled on the frost-laden air.

Occasionally at one of the windows a pair of white hands would appear, grasping the heavy iron bar, trying to shake it in its socket, and mayhap, above the hands, the dim vision of a haggard face, a man’s or a woman’s, trying to get a glimpse of the outside world, a final look at the sky, before the last journey to the place of death tomorrow. Then one of the soldiers, with a loud, angry oath, would struggle to his feet, and with the butt-end of his gun strike at the thin, wan fingers till their hold on the iron bar relaxed, and the pallid face beyond would sink back into the darkness with a desperate cry of pain.

A quick, impatient sigh escaped de Batz’ lips. He had skirted the wide courtyard in the wake of his guide, and from where he was he could see the great central tower, with its tiny windows lighted from within, the grim walls behind which the descendant of the world’s conquerors, the bearer of the proudest name in Europe, and wearer of its most ancient crown, had spent the last days of his brilliant life in abject shame, sorrow, and degradation. The memory had swiftly surged up before him of that night when he all but rescued King Louis and his family from this same miserable prison: the guard had been bribed, the keeper corrupted, everything had been prepared, save the reckoning with the one irresponsible factor⁠—chance!

He had failed then and had tried again, and again had failed; a fortune had been his reward if he had succeeded. He had failed, but even now, when his footsteps echoed along the flagged courtyard, over which an unfortunate King and Queen had walked on their way to their last ignominious Calvary, he hugged himself with the satisfying thought that where he had failed at least no one else had succeeded.

Whether that meddlesome English adventurer, who called himself the Scarlet Pimpernel, had planned the rescue of King Louis or of Queen Marie Antoinette at any time or not⁠—that he did not know; but on one point at least he was more than ever determined, and that was that no power on earth should snatch from him the golden prize offered by Austria for the rescue of the little Dauphin.

“I would sooner see the child perish, if I cannot save him myself,” was the burning thought in this man’s tortuous brain. “And let that accursed Englishman look to himself and to his d⁠⸺⁠d confederates,” he added, muttering a fierce oath beneath his breath.

A winding, narrow stone stair, another length or two of corridor, and his guide’s shuffling footsteps paused beside a low iron-studded door let into the solid stone. De Batz dismissed his ill-clothed guide and pulled the iron bell-handle which hung beside the door.

The bell gave forth a dull and broken clang, which seemed like an echo of the wails of sorrow that peopled the huge building with their weird and monotonous sounds.

De Batz⁠—a thoroughly unimaginative person⁠—waited patiently beside the door until it was opened from within, and he was confronted by a tall stooping figure, wearing a greasy coat of snuff-brown cloth, and holding high above his head a lantern that threw its feeble light on de Batz’ jovial face and form.

“It is even I, citizen Héron,” he said, breaking in swiftly on the other’s ejaculation of astonishment, which threatened to send his name echoing the whole length of corridors and passages, until round every corner of the labyrinthine house of sorrow the murmur would be borne on the wings of the cold night breeze: “Citizen Héron is in parley with ci-devant Baron de Batz!”

A fact which would have been equally unpleasant for both these worthies.

“Enter!” said Héron curtly.

He banged the heavy door to behind his visitor; and de Batz, who seemed to know his way about the place, walked straight across the narrow landing to where a smaller door stood invitingly open.

He stepped boldly in, the while citizen Héron put the lantern down on the floor of the couloir, and then followed his nocturnal visitor into the room.

VI. The Committee’s Agent

It was a narrow, ill-ventilated place, with but one barred window that gave on the courtyard. An evil-smelling lamp hung by a chain from the grimy ceiling, and in a corner of the room a tiny iron stove shed more unpleasant vapour than warm glow around.

There was but little furniture: two or three chairs, a table which was littered with papers, and a corner-cupboard⁠—the open doors of which revealed a miscellaneous collection⁠—bundles of papers, a tin saucepan, a piece of cold sausage, and a couple of pistols. The fumes of stale tobacco-smoke hovered in the air, and mingled most unpleasantly with those of the lamp above, and of the mildew that penetrated through the walls just below the roof.

Héron pointed to one of the chairs, and then sat down on the other, close to the table, on which he rested his elbow. He picked up a short-stemmed pipe, which he had evidently laid aside at the sound of the bell, and having taken several deliberate long-drawn puffs from it, he said abruptly:

“Well, what is it now?”

In the meanwhile de Batz had made himself as much at home in this uncomfortable room as he possibly could. He had deposited his hat and cloak on one rickety rush-bottomed chair, and drawn another close to the fire. He sat down with one leg crossed over the other, his podgy beringed hand wandering with loving gentleness down the length of his shapely calf.

He was nothing if not complacent, and his complacency seemed highly to irritate his friend Héron.

“Well, what is it?” reiterated the latter, drawing his visitor’s attention roughly to himself by banging his fist on the table. “Out with it! What do you want? Why have you come at this hour of the night⁠—to compromise me, I suppose⁠—bring your own d⁠⸺⁠d neck and mine into the same noose⁠—what?”

“Easy, easy, my friend,” responded de Batz imperturbably; “waste not so much time in idle talk. Why do I usually come to see you? Surely you have had no cause to complain hitherto of the unprofitableness of my visits to you?”

“They will have to be still more profitable to me in the future,” growled the other across the table. “I have more power now.”

“I know you have,” said de Batz suavely. “The new decree? What? You may denounce whom you please, search whom you please, arrest whom you please, and send whom you please to the Supreme Tribunal without giving them the slightest chance of escape.”

“Is it in order to tell me all this that you have come to see me at this hour of the night?” queried Héron with a sneer.

“No; I came at this hour of the night because I surmised that in the future you and your hellhounds would be so busy all day ‘beating up game for the guillotine’ that the only time you would have at the disposal of your friends would be the late hours of the night. I saw you at the theatre a couple of hours ago, friend Héron; I didn’t think to find you yet abed.”

“Well, what do you want?”

“Rather,” retorted de Batz blandly, “shall we say, what do you want, citizen Héron?”

“For what?

“For my continued immunity at the hands of yourself and your pack?”

Héron pushed his chair brusquely aside and strode across the narrow room deliberately facing the portly figure of de Batz, who with head slightly inclined on one side, his small eyes narrowed till they appeared mere slits in his pockmarked face, was steadily and quite placidly contemplating this inhuman monster who had this very day been given uncontrolled power over hundreds of thousands of human lives.

Héron was one of those tall men who look mean in spite of their height. His head was small and narrow, and his hair, which was sparse and lank, fell in untidy strands across his forehead. He stooped slightly from the neck, and his chest, though wide, was hollow between the shoulders. But his legs were big and bony, slightly bent at the knees, like those of an ill-conditioned horse.

The face was thin and the cheeks sunken; the eyes, very large and prominent, had a look in them of cold and ferocious cruelty, a look which contrasted strangely with the weakness and petty greed apparent in the mouth, which was flabby, with full, very red lips, and chin that sloped away to the long thin neck.

Even at this moment as he gazed on de Batz the greed and the cruelty in him were fighting one of those battles the issue of which is always uncertain in men of his stamp.

“I don’t know,” he said slowly, “that I am prepared to treat with you any longer. You are an intolerable bit of vermin that has annoyed the Committee of General Security for over two years now. It would be excessively pleasant to crush you once and for all, as one would a buzzing fly.”

“Pleasant, perhaps, but immeasurably foolish,” rejoined de Batz coolly; “you would only get thirty-five livres for my head, and I offer you ten times that amount for the selfsame commodity.”

“I know, I know; but the whole thing has become too dangerous.”

“Why? I am very modest. I don’t ask a great deal. Let your hounds keep off my scent.”

“You have too many d⁠⸺⁠d confederates.”

“Oh! Never mind about the others. I am not bargaining about them. Let them look after themselves.”

“Every time we get a batch of them, one or the other denounces you.”

“Under torture, I know,” rejoined de Batz placidly, holding his podgy hands to the warm glow of the fire. “For you have started torture in your house of Justice now, eh, friend Héron? You and your friend the Public Prosecutor have gone the whole gamut of devilry⁠—eh?”

“What’s that to you?” retorted the other gruffly.

“Oh, nothing, nothing! I was even proposing to pay you three thousand five hundred livres for the privilege of taking no further interest in what goes on inside this prison!”

“Three thousand five hundred!” ejaculated Héron involuntarily, and this time even his eyes lost their cruelty; they joined issue with the mouth in an expression of hungering avarice.

“Two little zeros added to the thirty-five, which is all you would get for handing me over to your accursed Tribunal,” said de Batz, and, as if thoughtlessly, his hand wandered to the inner pocket of his coat, and a slight rustle as of thin crisp paper brought drops of moisture to the lips of Héron.

“Leave me alone for three weeks and the money is yours,” concluded de Batz pleasantly.

There was silence in the room now. Through the narrow barred window the steely rays of the moon fought with the dim yellow light of the oil lamp, and lit up the pale face of the Committee’s agent with its lines of cruelty in sharp conflict with those of greed.

“Well! is it a bargain?” asked de Batz at last in his usual smooth, oily voice, as he half drew from out his pocket that tempting little bundle of crisp printed paper. “You have only to give me the usual receipt for the money and it is yours.”

Héron gave a vicious snarl.

“It is dangerous, I tell you. That receipt, if it falls into some cursed meddler’s hands, would send me straight to the guillotine.”

“The receipt could only fall into alien hands,” rejoined de Batz blandly, “if I happened to be arrested, and even in that case they could but fall into those of the chief agent of the Committee of General Security, and he hath name Héron. You must take some risks, my friend. I take them too. We are each in the other’s hands. The bargain is quite fair.”

For a moment or two longer Héron appeared to be hesitating whilst de Batz watched him with keen intentness. He had no doubt himself as to the issue. He had tried most of these patriots in his own golden crucible, and had weighed their patriotism against Austrian money, and had never found the latter wanting.

He had not been here tonight if he were not quite sure. This inveterate conspirator in the Royalist cause never took personal risks. He looked on Héron now, smiling to himself the while with perfect satisfaction.

“Very well,” said the Committee’s agent with sudden decision, “I’ll take the money. But on one condition.”

“What is it?”

“That you leave little Capet alone.”

“The Dauphin!”

“Call him what you like,” said Héron, taking a step nearer to de Batz, and from his great height glowering down in fierce hatred and rage upon his accomplice; “call the young devil what you like, but leave us to deal with him.”

“To kill him, you mean? Well, how can I prevent it, my friend?”

“You and your like are always plotting to get him out of here. I won’t have it. I tell you I won’t have it. If the brat disappears I am a dead man. Robespierre and his gang have told me as much. So you leave him alone, or I’ll not raise a finger to help you, but will lay my own hands on your accursed neck.”

He looked so ferocious and so merciless then, that despite himself, the selfish adventurer, the careless self-seeking intriguer, shuddered with a quick wave of unreasoning terror. He turned away from Héron’s piercing gaze, the gaze of a hyena whose prey is being snatched from beneath its nails. For a moment he stared thoughtfully into the fire.

He heard the other man’s heavy footsteps cross and re-cross the narrow room, and was conscious of the long curved shadow creeping up the mildewed wall or retreating down upon the carpetless floor.

Suddenly, without any warning he felt a grip upon his shoulder. He gave a start and almost uttered a cry of alarm which caused Héron to laugh. The Committee’s agent was vastly amused at his friend’s obvious access of fear. There was nothing that he liked better than that he should inspire dread in the hearts of all those with whom he came in contact.

“I am just going on my usual nocturnal round,” he said abruptly. “Come with me, citizen de Batz.”

A certain grim humour was apparent in his face as he proffered this invitation, which sounded like a rough command. As de Batz seemed to hesitate he nodded peremptorily to him to follow. Already he had gone into the hall and picked up his lantern. From beneath his waistcoat he drew forth a bunch of keys, which he rattled impatiently, calling to his friend to come.

“Come, citizen,” he said roughly. “I wish to show you the one treasure in this house which your d⁠⸺⁠d fingers must not touch.”

Mechanically de Batz rose at last. He tried to be master of the terror which was invading his very bones. He would not own to himself even that he was afraid, and almost audibly he kept murmuring to himself that he had no cause for fear.

Héron would never touch him. The spy’s avarice, his greed of money were a perfect safeguard for any man who had the control of millions, and Héron knew, of course, that he could make of this inveterate plotter a comfortable source of revenue for himself. Three weeks would soon be over, and fresh bargains could be made time and again, while de Batz was alive and free.

Héron was still waiting at the door, even whilst de Batz wondered what this nocturnal visitation would reveal to him of atrocity and of outrage. He made a final effort to master his nervousness, wrapped his cloak tightly around him, and followed his host out of the room.

VII. The Most Precious Life in Europe

Once more he was being led through the interminable corridors of the gigantic building. Once more from the narrow, barred windows close by him he heard the heartbreaking sighs, the moans, the curses which spoke of tragedies that he could only guess.

Héron was walking on ahead of him, preceding him by some fifty mètres or so, his long legs covering the distances more rapidly than de Batz could follow them. The latter knew his way well about the old prison. Few men in Paris possessed that accurate knowledge of its intricate passages and its network of cells and halls which de Batz had acquired after close and persevering study.

He himself could have led Héron to the doors of the tower where the little Dauphin was being kept imprisoned, but unfortunately he did not possess the keys that would open all the doors which led to it. There were sentinels at every gate, groups of soldiers at each end of every corridor, the great⁠—now empty⁠—courtyards, thronged with prisoners in the daytime, were alive with soldiery even now. Some walked up and down with fixed bayonet on shoulder, others sat in groups on the stone copings or squatted on the ground, smoking or playing cards, but all of them were alert and watchful.

Héron was recognised everywhere the moment he appeared, and though in these days of equality no one presented arms, nevertheless every guard stood aside to let him pass, or when necessary opened a gate for the powerful chief agent of the Committee of General Security.

Indeed, de Batz had no keys such as these to open the way for him to the presence of the martyred little King.

Thus the two men wended their way on in silence, one preceding the other. De Batz walked leisurely, thoughtfully, taking stock of everything he saw⁠—the gates, the barriers, the positions of sentinels and warders, of everything in fact that might prove a help or a hindrance presently, when the great enterprise would be hazarded. At last⁠—still in the wake of Héron⁠—he found himself once more behind the main entrance gate, underneath the archway on which gave the guichet of the concierge.

Here, too, there seemed to be an unnecessary number of soldiers: two were doing sentinel outside the guichet, but there were others in a file against the wall.

Héron rapped with his keys against the door of the concierge’s lodge, then, as it was not immediately opened from within, he pushed it open with his foot.

“The concierge?” he queried peremptorily.

From a corner of the small panelled room there came a grunt and a reply:

“Gone to bed, quoi!”

The man who previously had guided de Batz to Héron’s door slowly struggled to his feet. He had been squatting somewhere in the gloom, and had been roused by Héron’s rough command. He slouched forward now still carrying a boot in one hand and a blacking brush in the other.

“Take this lantern, then,” said the chief agent with a snarl directed at the sleeping concierge, “and come along. Why are you still here?” he added, as if in afterthought.

“The citizen concierge was not satisfied with the way I had done his boots,” muttered the man, with an evil leer as he spat contemptuously on the floor; “an aristo, quoi? A hell of a place this⁠ ⁠… twenty cells to sweep out every day⁠ ⁠… and boots to clean for every aristo of a concierge or warder who demands it.⁠ ⁠… Is that work for a free born patriot, I ask?”

“Well, if you are not satisfied, citoyen Dupont,” retorted Héron dryly, “you may go when you like, you know there are plenty of others ready to do your work⁠ ⁠…”

“Nineteen hours a day, and nineteen sous by way of payment.⁠ ⁠… I have had fourteen days of this convict work⁠ ⁠…”

He continued to mutter under his breath, whilst Héron, paying no further heed to him, turned abruptly towards a group of soldiers stationed outside.

“En avant, corporal!” he said; “bring four men with you⁠ ⁠… we go up to the tower.”

The small procession was formed. On ahead the lantern-bearer, with arched spine and shaking knees, dragging shuffling footsteps along the corridor, then the corporal with two of his soldiers, then Héron closely followed by de Batz, and finally two more soldiers bringing up the rear.

Héron had given the bunch of keys to the man Dupont. The latter, on ahead, holding the lantern aloft, opened one gate after another. At each gate he waited for the little procession to file through, then he re-locked the gate and passed on.

Up two or three flights of winding stairs set in the solid stone, and the final heavy door was reached.

De Batz was meditating. Héron’s precautions for the safeguarding of the most precious life in Europe were more complete than he had anticipated. What lavish liberality would be required! what superhuman ingenuity and boundless courage in order to break down all the barriers that had been set up round that young life that flickered inside this grim tower!

Of these three requisites the corpulent, complacent intriguer possessed only the first in a considerable degree. He could be exceedingly liberal with the foreign money which he had at his disposal. As for courage and ingenuity, he believed that he possessed both, but these qualities had not served him in very good stead in the attempts which he had made at different times to rescue the unfortunate members of the Royal Family from prison. His overwhelming egotism would not admit for a moment that in ingenuity and pluck the Scarlet Pimpernel and his English followers could outdo him, but he did wish to make quite sure that they would not interfere with him in the highly remunerative work of saving the Dauphin.

Héron’s impatient call roused him from these meditations. The little party had come to a halt outside a massive iron-studded door.

At a sign from the chief agent the soldiers stood at attention. He then called de Batz and the lantern-bearer to him.

He took a key from his breeches pocket, and with his own hand unlocked the massive door. He curtly ordered the lantern-bearer and de Batz to go through, then he himself went in, and finally once more re-locked the door behind him, the soldiers remaining on guard on the landing outside.

Now the three men were standing in a square antechamber, dank and dark, devoid of furniture save for a large cupboard that filled the whole of one wall; the others, mildewed and stained, were covered with a greyish paper, which here and there hung away in strips.

Héron crossed this antechamber, and with his knuckles rapped against a small door opposite.

Holà!” he shouted, “Simon, mon vieux, tu es là?”

From the inner room came the sound of voices, a man’s and a woman’s, and now, as if in response to Héron’s call, the shrill tones of a child. There was some shuffling, too, of footsteps, and some pushing about of furniture, then the door was opened, and a gruff voice invited the belated visitors to enter.

The atmosphere in this further room was so thick that at first de Batz was only conscious of the evil smells that pervaded it; smells which were made up of the fumes of tobacco, of burning coke, of a smoky lamp, and of stale food, and mingling through it all the pungent odour of raw spirits.

Héron had stepped briskly in, closely followed by de Batz. The man Dupont with a mutter of satisfaction put down his lantern and curled himself up in a corner of the antechamber. His interest in the spectacle so favoured by citizen Héron had apparently been exhausted by constant repetition.

De Batz looked round him with keen curiosity with which disgust was ready enough to mingle.

The room itself might have been a large one; it was almost impossible to judge of its size, so crammed was it with heavy and light furniture of every conceivable shape and type. There was a monumental wooden bedstead in one corner, a huge sofa covered in black horsehair in another. A large table stood in the centre of the room, and there were at least four capacious armchairs round it. There were wardrobes and cabinets, a diminutive washstand and a huge pier-glass, there were innumerable boxes and packing-cases, cane-bottomed chairs and what-nots everywhere. The place looked like a depot for secondhand furniture.

In the midst of all the litter de Batz at last became conscious of two people who stood staring at him and at Héron. He saw a man before him, somewhat fleshy of build, with smooth, mouse-coloured hair brushed away from a central parting, and ending in a heavy curl above each ear; the eyes were wide open and pale in colour, the lips unusually thick and with a marked downward droop. Close beside him stood a youngish-looking woman, whose unwieldy bulk, however, and pallid skin revealed the sedentary life and the ravages of ill-health.

Both appeared to regard Héron with a certain amount of awe, and de Batz with a vast measure of curiosity.

Suddenly the woman stood aside, and in the far corner of the room there was displayed to the Gascon Royalist’s cold, calculating gaze the pathetic figure of the uncrowned King of France.

“How is it Capet is not yet in bed?” queried Héron as soon as he caught sight of the child.

“He wouldn’t say his prayers this evening,” replied Simon with a coarse laugh, “and wouldn’t drink his medicine. Bah!” he added with a snarl, “this is a place for dogs and not for human folk.”

“If you are not satisfied, mon vieux,” retorted Héron curtly, “you can send in your resignation when you like. There are plenty who will be glad of the place.”

The ex-cobbler gave another surly growl and expectorated on the floor in the direction where stood the child.

“Little vermin,” he said, “he is more trouble than man or woman can bear.”

The boy in the meanwhile seemed to take but little notice of the vulgar insults put upon him by his guardian. He stood, a quaint, impassive little figure, more interested apparently in de Batz, who was a stranger to him, than in the three others whom he knew. De Batz noted that the child looked well nourished, and that he was warmly clad in a rough woollen shirt and cloth breeches, with coarse grey stockings and thick shoes; but he also saw that the clothes were indescribably filthy, as were the child’s hands and face. The golden curls, among which a young and queenly mother had once loved to pass her slender perfumed fingers, now hung bedraggled, greasy, and lank round the little face, from the lines of which every trace of dignity and of simplicity had long since been erased.

There was no look of the martyr about this child now, even though, mayhap, his small back had often smarted under his vulgar tutor’s rough blows; rather did the pale young face wear the air of sullen indifference, and an abject desire to please, which would have appeared heartbreaking to any spectator less self-seeking and egotistic than was this Gascon conspirator.

Madame Simon had called him to her while her man and the citizen Héron were talking, and the child went readily enough, without any sign of fear. She took the corner of her coarse dirty apron in her hand, and wiped the boy’s mouth and face with it.

“I can’t keep him clean,” she said with an apologetic shrug of the shoulders and a look at de Batz. “There now,” she added, speaking once more to the child, “drink like a good boy, and say your lesson to please maman, and then you shall go to bed.”

She took a glass from the table, which was filled with a clear liquid that de Batz at first took to be water, and held it to the boy’s lips. He turned his head away and began to whimper.

“Is the medicine very nasty?” queried de Batz.

Mon Dieu! but no, citizen,” exclaimed the woman, “it is good strong eau-de-vie, the best that can be procured. Capet likes it really⁠—don’t you, Capet? It makes you happy and cheerful, and sleep well of nights. Why, you had a glassful yesterday and enjoyed it. Take it now,” she added in a quick whisper, seeing that Simon and Héron were in close conversation together; “you know it makes papa angry if you don’t have at least half a glass now and then.”

The child wavered for a moment longer, making a quaint little grimace of distaste. But at last he seemed to make up his mind that it was wisest to yield over so small a matter, and he took the glass from Madame Simon.

And thus did de Batz see the descendant of St. Louis quaffing a glass of raw spirit at the bidding of a rough cobbler’s wife, whom he called by the fond and foolish name sacred to childhood, maman!

Selfish egoist though he was, de Batz turned away in loathing.

Simon had watched the little scene with obvious satisfaction. He chuckled audibly when the child drank the spirit, and called Héron’s attention to him, whilst a look of triumph lit up his wide, pale eyes.

“And now, mon petit,” he said jovially, “let the citizen hear you say your prayers!”

He winked toward de Batz, evidently anticipating a good deal of enjoyment for the visitor from what was coming. From a heap of litter in a corner of the room he fetched out a greasy red bonnet adorned with a tricolour cockade, and a soiled and tattered flag, which had once been white, and had golden fleur-de-lys embroidered upon it.

The cap he set on the child’s head, and the flag he threw upon the floor.

“Now, Capet⁠—your prayers!” he said with another chuckle of amusement.

All his movements were rough, and his speech almost ostentatiously coarse. He banged against the furniture as he moved about the room, kicking a footstool out of the way or knocking over a chair. De Batz instinctively thought of the perfumed stillness of the rooms at Versailles, of the army of elegant highborn ladies who had ministered to the wants of this child, who stood there now before him, a cap on his yellow hair, and his shoulder held up to his ear with that gesture of careless indifference peculiar to children when they are sullen or uncared for.

Obediently, quite mechanically it seemed, the boy trod on the flag which Henri IV had borne before him at Ivry, and le Roi Soleil had flaunted in the face of the armies of Europe. The son of the Bourbons was spitting on their flag, and wiping his shoes upon its tattered folds. With shrill cracked voice he sang the Carmagnole, “Ça ira! ça ira! les aristos à la lanterne!” until de Batz himself felt inclined to stop his ears and to rush from the place in horror.

Louis XVII, whom the hearts of many had proclaimed King of France by the grace of God, the child of the Bourbons, the eldest son of the Church, was stepping a vulgar dance over the flag of St. Louis, which he had been taught to defile. His pale cheeks glowed as he danced, his eyes shone with the unnatural light kindled in them by the intoxicating liquor; with one slender hand he waved the red cap with the tricolour cockade, and shouted “Vive la République!

Madame Simon was clapping her hands, looking on the child with obvious pride, and a kind of rough maternal affection. Simon was gazing on Héron for approval, and the latter nodded his head, murmuring words of encouragement and of praise.

“Thy catechism now, Capet⁠—thy catechism,” shouted Simon in a hoarse voice.

The boy stood at attention, cap on head, hands on his hips, legs wide apart, and feet firmly planted on the fleur-de-lys, the glory of his forefathers.

“Thy name?” queried Simon.

“Louis Capet,” replied the child in a clear, high-pitched voice.

“What art thou?”

“A citizen of the Republic of France.”

“What was thy father?”

“Louis Capet, ci-devant king, a tyrant who perished by the will of the people!”

“What was thy mother?”

“A ⸻.”

De Batz involuntarily uttered a cry of horror. Whatever the man’s private character was, he had been born a gentleman, and his every instinct revolted against what he saw and heard. The scene had positively sickened him. He turned precipitately towards the door.

“How now, citizen?” queried the Committee’s agent with a sneer. “Are you not satisfied with what you see?”

“Mayhap the citizen would like to see Capet sitting in a golden chair,” interposed Simon the cobbler with a sneer, “and me and my wife kneeling and kissing his hand⁠—what?”

“ ’Tis the heat of the room,” stammered de Batz, who was fumbling with the lock of the door; “my head began to swim.”

“Spit on their accursed flag, then, like a good patriot, like Capet,” retorted Simon gruffly. “Here, Capet, my son,” he added, pulling the boy by the arm with a rough gesture, “get thee to bed; thou art quite drunk enough to satisfy any good Republican.”

By way of a caress he tweaked the boy’s ear and gave him a prod in the back with his bent knee. He was not wilfully unkind, for just now he was not angry with the lad; rather was he vastly amused with the effect Capet’s prayer and Capet’s recital of his catechism had had on the visitor.

As to the lad, the intensity of excitement in him was immediately followed by an overwhelming desire for sleep. Without any preliminary of undressing or of washing, he tumbled, just as he was, on to the sofa. Madame Simon, with quite pleasing solicitude, arranged a pillow under his head, and the very next moment the child was fast asleep.

“ ’Tis well, citoyen Simon,” said Héron in his turn, going towards the door. “I’ll report favourably on you to the Committee of Public Security. As for the citoyenne, she had best be more careful,” he added, turning to the woman Simon with a snarl on his evil face. “There was no cause to arrange a pillow under the head of that vermin’s spawn. Many good patriots have no pillows to put under their heads. Take that pillow away; and I don’t like the shoes on the brat’s feet; sabots are quite good enough.”

Citoyenne Simon made no reply. Some sort of retort had apparently hovered on her lips, but had been checked, even before it was uttered, by a peremptory look from her husband. Simon the cobbler, snarling in speech but obsequious in manner, prepared to accompany the citizen agent to the door.

De Batz was taking a last look at the sleeping child; the uncrowned King of France was wrapped in a drunken sleep, with the last spoken insult upon his dead mother still hovering on his childish lips.

VIII. Arcades Ambo

“That is the way we conduct our affairs, citizen,” said Héron gruffly, as he once more led his guest back into his office.

It was his turn to be complacent now. De Batz, for once in his life cowed by what he had seen, still wore a look of horror and disgust upon his florid face.

“What devils you all are!” he said at last.

“We are good patriots,” retorted Héron, “and the tyrant’s spawn leads but the life that hundreds of thousands of children led whilst his father oppressed the people. Nay! what am I saying? He leads a far better, far happier life. He gets plenty to eat and plenty of warm clothes. Thousands of innocent children, who have not the crimes of a despot father upon their conscience, have to starve whilst he grows fat.”

The leer in his face was so evil that once more de Batz felt that eerie feeling of terror creeping into his bones. Here were cruelty and bloodthirsty ferocity personified to their utmost extent. At thought of the Bourbons, or of all those whom he considered had been in the past the oppressors of the people, Héron was nothing but a wild and ravenous beast, hungering for revenge, longing to bury his talons and his fangs into the body of those whose heels had once pressed on his own neck.

And de Batz knew that even with millions or countless money at his command he could not purchase from this carnivorous brute the life and liberty of the son of King Louis. No amount of bribery would accomplish that; it would have to be ingenuity pitted against animal force, the wiliness of the fox against the power of the wolf.

Even now Héron was darting savagely suspicious looks upon him.

“I shall get rid of the Simons,” he said; “there’s something in that woman’s face which I don’t trust. They shall go within the next few hours, or as soon as I can lay my hands upon a better patriot than that mealymouthed cobbler. And it will be better not to have a woman about the place. Let me see⁠—today is Thursday, or else Friday morning. By Sunday I’ll get those Simons out of the place. Methought I saw you ogling that woman,” he added, bringing his bony fist crashing down on the table so that papers, pen, and inkhorn rattled loudly; “and if I thought that you⁠—”

De Batz thought it well at this point to finger once more nonchalantly the bundle of crisp paper in the pocket of his coat.

“Only on that one condition,” reiterated Héron in a hoarse voice; “if you try to get at Capet, I’ll drag you to the Tribunal with my own hands.”

“Always presuming that you can get me, my friend,” murmured de Batz, who was gradually regaining his accustomed composure.

Already his active mind was busily at work. One or two things which he had noted in connection with his visit to the Dauphin’s prison had struck him as possibly useful in his schemes. But he was disappointed that Héron was getting rid of the Simons. The woman might have been very useful and more easily got at than a man. The avarice of the French bourgeoise would have proved a promising factor. But this, of course, would now be out of the question. At the same time it was not because Héron raved and stormed and uttered cries like a hyena that he, de Batz, meant to give up an enterprise which, if successful, would place millions into his own pocket.

As for that meddling Englishman, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and his crackbrained followers, they must be effectually swept out of the way first of all. De Batz felt that they were the real, the most likely hindrance to his schemes. He himself would have to go very cautiously to work, since apparently Héron would not allow him to purchase immunity for himself in that one matter, and whilst he was laying his plans with necessary deliberation so as to ensure his own safety, that accursed Scarlet Pimpernel would mayhap snatch the golden prize from the Temple prison right under his very nose.

When he thought of that the Gascon Royalist felt just as vindictive as did the chief agent of the Committee of General Security.

While these thoughts were coursing through de Batz’ head, Héron had been indulging in a volley of vituperation.

“If that little vermin escapes,” he said, “my life will not be worth an hour’s purchase. In twenty-four hours I am a dead man, thrown to the guillotine like those dogs of aristocrats! You say I am a night-bird, citizen. I tell you that I do not sleep night or day thinking of that brat and the means to keep him safely under my hand. I have never trusted those Simons⁠—”

“Not trusted them!” exclaimed de Batz; “surely you could not find anywhere more inhuman monsters!”

“Inhuman monsters?” snarled Héron. “Bah! they don’t do their business thoroughly; we want the tyrant’s spawn to become a true Republican and a patriot⁠—aye! to make of him such a one that even if you and your cursed confederates got him by some hellish chance, he would be no use to you as a king, a tyrant to set above the people, to set up in your Versailles, your Louvre, to eat off golden plates and wear satin clothes. You have seen the brat! By the time he is a man he should forget how to eat save with his fingers, and get roaring drunk every night. That’s what we want!⁠—to make him so that he shall be no use to you, even if you did get him away; but you shall not! You shall not, not if I have to strangle him with my own hands.”

He picked up his short-stemmed pipe and pulled savagely at it for awhile. De Batz was meditating.

“My friend,” he said after a little while, “you are agitating yourself quite unnecessarily, and gravely jeopardising your prospects of getting a comfortable little income through keeping your fingers off my person. Who said I wanted to meddle with the child?”

“You had best not,” growled Héron.

“Exactly. You have said that before. But do you not think that you would be far wiser, instead of directing your undivided attention to my unworthy self, to turn your thoughts a little to one whom, believe me, you have far greater cause to fear?”

“Who is that?”

“The Englishman.”

“You mean the man they call the Scarlet Pimpernel?”

“Himself. Have you not suffered from his activity, friend Héron? I fancy that citizen Chauvelin and citizen Collot would have quite a tale to tell about him.”

“They ought both to have been guillotined for that blunder last autumn at Boulogne.”

“Take care that the same accusation be not laid at your door this year, my friend,” commented de Batz placidly.

“Bah!”

“The Scarlet Pimpernel is in Paris even now.”

“The devil he is!”

“And on what errand, think you?”

There was a moment’s silence, and then de Batz continued with slow and dramatic emphasis:

“That of rescuing your most precious prisoner from the Temple.”

“How do you know?” Héron queried savagely.

“I guessed.”

“How?”

“I saw a man in the Théâtre National today⁠ ⁠…”

“Well?”

“Who is a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“D⁠⸺ him! Where can I find him?”

“Will you sign a receipt for the three thousand five hundred livres, which I am pining to hand over to you, my friend, and I will tell you?”

“Where’s the money?”

“In my pocket.”

Without further words Héron dragged the inkhorn and a sheet of paper towards him, took up a pen, and wrote a few words rapidly in a loose, scrawly hand. He strewed sand over the writing, then handed it across the table to de Batz.

“Will that do?” he asked briefly.

The other was reading the note through carefully.

“I see you only grant me a fortnight,” he remarked casually.

“For that amount of money it is sufficient. If you want an extension you must pay more.”

“So be it,” assented de Batz coolly, as he folded the paper across. “On the whole a fortnight’s immunity in France these days is quite a pleasant respite. And I prefer to keep in touch with you, friend Héron. I’ll call on you again this day fortnight.”

He took out a letter-case from his pocket. Out of this he drew a packet of banknotes, which he laid on the table in front of Héron, then he placed the receipt carefully into the letter-case, and this back into his pocket.

Héron in the meanwhile was counting over the banknotes. The light of ferocity had entirely gone from his eyes; momentarily the whole expression of the face was one of satisfied greed.

“Well!” he said at last when he had assured himself that the number of notes was quite correct, and he had transferred the bundle of crisp papers into an inner pocket of his coat⁠—“well, what about your friend?”

“I knew him years ago,” rejoined de Batz coolly; “he is a kinsman of citizen St. Just. I know that he is one of the confederates of the Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Where does he lodge?”

“That is for you to find out. I saw him at the theatre, and afterwards in the greenroom; he was making himself agreeable to the citizeness Lange. I heard him ask for leave to call on her tomorrow at four o’clock. You know where she lodges, of course!”

He watched Héron while the latter scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper, then he quietly rose to go. He took up his cloak and once again wrapped it round his shoulders. There was nothing more to be said, and he was anxious to go.

The leave-taking between the two men was neither cordial nor more than barely courteous. De Batz nodded to Héron, who escorted him to the outside door of his lodging, and there called loudly to a soldier who was doing sentinel at the further end of the corridor.

“Show this citizen the way to the guichet,” he said curtly. “Good night, citizen,” he added finally, nodding to de Batz.

Ten minutes later the Gascon once more found himself in the Rue du Temple between the great outer walls of the prison and the silent little church and convent of St. Elizabeth. He looked up to where in the central tower a small grated window lighted from within showed the place where the last of the Bourbons was being taught to desecrate the traditions of his race, at the bidding of a mender of shoes⁠—a naval officer cashiered for misconduct and fraud.

Such is human nature in its self-satisfied complacency that de Batz, calmly ignoring the vile part which he himself had played in the last quarter of an hour of his interview with the Committee’s agent, found it in him to think of Héron with loathing, and even of the cobbler Simon with disgust.

Then with a self-righteous sense of duty performed, and an indifferent shrug of the shoulders, he dismissed Héron from his mind.

“That meddlesome Scarlet Pimpernel will find his hands overfull tomorrow, and mayhap will not interfere in my affairs for some time to come,” he mused; “meseems that that will be the first time that a member of his precious League has come within the clutches of such unpleasant people as the sleuthhounds of my friend Héron!”

IX. What Love Can Do

“Yesterday you were unkind and ungallant. How could I smile when you seemed so stern?”

“Yesterday I was not alone with you. How could I say what lay next my heart, when indifferent ears could catch the words that were meant only for you?”

“Ah, monsieur, do they teach you in England how to make pretty speeches?”

“No, mademoiselle, that is an instinct that comes into birth by the fire of a woman’s eyes.”

Mademoiselle Lange was sitting upon a small sofa of antique design, with cushions covered in faded silks heaped round her pretty head. Armand thought that she looked like that carved cameo which his sister Marguerite possessed.

He himself sat on a low chair at some distance from her. He had brought her a large bunch of early violets, for he knew that she was fond of flowers, and these lay upon her lap, against the opalescent grey of her gown.

She seemed a little nervous and agitated, his obvious admiration bringing a ready blush to her cheeks.

The room itself appeared to Armand to be a perfect frame for the charming picture which she presented. The furniture in it was small and old; tiny tables of antique Vernis-Martin, softly faded tapestries, a pale-toned Aubusson carpet. Everything mellow and in a measure pathetic. Mademoiselle Lange, who was an orphan, lived alone under the duennaship of a middle-aged relative, a penniless hanger-on of the successful young actress, who acted as her chaperone, housekeeper, and maid, and kept unseemly or overbold gallants at bay.

She told Armand all about her early life, her childhood in the backshop of Maitre Mézière, the jeweller, who was a relative of her mother’s; of her desire for an artistic career, her struggles with the middle-class prejudices of her relations, her bold defiance of them, and final independence.

She made no secret of her humble origin, her want of education in those days; on the contrary, she was proud of what she had accomplished for herself. She was only twenty years of age, and already held a leading place in the artistic world of Paris.

Armand listened to her chatter, interested in everything she said, questioning her with sympathy and discretion. She asked him a good deal about himself, and about his beautiful sister Marguerite, who, of course, had been the most brilliant star in that most brilliant constellation, the Comédie Française. She had never seen Marguerite St. Just act, but, of course, Paris still rang with her praises, and all art-lovers regretted that she should have married and left them to mourn for her.

Thus the conversation drifted naturally back to England. Mademoiselle professed a vast interest in the citizen’s country of adoption.

“I had always,” she said, “thought it an ugly country, with the noise and bustle of industrial life going on everywhere, and smoke and fog to cover the landscape and to stunt the trees.”

“Then, in future, mademoiselle,” he replied, “must you think of it as one carpeted with verdure, where in the spring the orchard trees covered with delicate blossom would speak to you of fairyland, where the dewy grass stretches its velvety surface in the shadow of ancient monumental oaks, and ivy-covered towers rear their stately crowns to the sky.”

“And the Scarlet Pimpernel? Tell me about him, monsieur.”

“Ah, mademoiselle, what can I tell you that you do not already know? The Scarlet Pimpernel is a man who has devoted his entire existence to the benefit of suffering mankind. He has but one thought, and that is for those who need him; he hears but one sound⁠—the cry of the oppressed.”

“But they do say, monsieur, that philanthropy plays but a sorry part in your hero’s schemes. They aver that he looks on his own efforts and the adventures through which he goes only in the light of sport.”

“Like all Englishmen, mademoiselle, the Scarlet Pimpernel is a little ashamed of sentiment. He would deny its very existence with his lips, even whilst his noble heart brimmed over with it. Sport? Well! mayhap the sporting instinct is as keen as that of charity⁠—the race for lives, the tussle for the rescue of human creatures, the throwing of a life on the hazard of a die.”

“They fear him in France, monsieur. He has saved so many whose death had been decreed by the Committee of Public Safety.”

“Please God, he will save many yet.”

“Ah, monsieur, the poor little boy in the Temple prison!”

“He has your sympathy, mademoiselle?”

“Of every right-minded woman in France, monsieur. Oh!” she added with a pretty gesture of enthusiasm, clasping her hands together, and looking at Armand with large eyes filled with tears, “if your noble Scarlet Pimpernel will do aught to save that poor innocent lamb, I would indeed bless him in my heart, and help him with all my humble might if I could.”

“May God’s saints bless you for those words, mademoiselle,” he said, whilst, carried away by her beauty, her charm, her perfect femininity, he stooped towards her until his knee touched the carpet at her feet. “I had begun to lose my belief in my poor misguided country, to think all men in France vile, and all women base. I could thank you on my knees for your sweet words of sympathy, for the expression of tender motherliness that came into your eyes when you spoke of the poor forsaken Dauphin in the Temple.”

She did not restrain her tears; with her they came very easily, just as with a child, and as they gathered in her eyes and rolled down her fresh cheeks they in no way marred the charm of her face. One hand lay in her lap fingering a diminutive bit of cambric, which from time to time she pressed to her eyes. The other she had almost unconsciously yielded to Armand.

The scent of the violets filled the room. It seemed to emanate from her, a fitting attribute of her young, wholly unsophisticated girlhood. The citizen was goodly to look at; he was kneeling at her feet, and his lips were pressed against her hand.

Armand was young and he was an idealist. I do not for a moment imagine that just at this moment he was deeply in love. The stronger feeling had not yet risen up in him; it came later when tragedy encompassed him and brought passion to sudden maturity. Just now he was merely yielding himself up to the intoxicating moment, with all the abandonment, all the enthusiasm of the Latin race. There was no reason why he should not bend the knee before this exquisite little cameo, that by its very presence was giving him an hour of perfect pleasure and of aesthetic joy.

Outside the world continued its hideous, relentless way; men butchered one another, fought and hated. Here in this small old-world salon, with its faded satins and bits of ivory-tinted lace, the outer universe had never really penetrated. It was a tiny world⁠—quite apart from the rest of mankind, perfectly peaceful and absolutely beautiful.

If Armand had been allowed to depart from here now, without having been the cause as well as the chief actor in the events that followed, no doubt that Mademoiselle Lange would always have remained a charming memory with him, an exquisite bouquet of violets pressed reverently between the leaves of a favourite book of poems, and the scent of spring flowers would in after years have ever brought her dainty picture to his mind.

He was murmuring pretty words of endearment; carried away by emotion, his arm stole round her waist; he felt that if another tear came like a dewdrop rolling down her cheek he must kiss it away at its very source. Passion was not sweeping them off their feet⁠—not yet, for they were very young, and life had not as yet presented to them its most unsolvable problem.

But they yielded to one another, to the springtime of their life, calling for Love, which would come presently hand in hand with his grim attendant, Sorrow.

Even as Armand’s glowing face was at last lifted up to hers asking with mute lips for that first kiss which she already was prepared to give, there came the loud noise of men’s heavy footsteps tramping up the old oak stairs, then some shouting, a woman’s cry, and the next moment Madame Belhomme, trembling, wide-eyed, and in obvious terror, came rushing into the room.

“Jeanne! Jeanne! My child! It is awful! It is awful! Mon Dieu⁠—mon Dieu! What is to become of us?”

She was moaning and lamenting even as she ran in, and now she threw her apron over her face and sank into a chair, continuing her moaning and her lamentations.

Neither Mademoiselle nor Armand had stirred. They remained like graven images, he on one knee, she with large eyes fixed upon his face. They had neither of them looked on the old woman; they seemed even now unconscious of her presence. But their ears had caught the sound of that measured tramp of feet up the stairs of the old house, and the halt upon the landing; they had heard the brief words of command:

“Open, in the name of the people!”

They knew quite well what it all meant; they had not wandered so far in the realms of romance that reality⁠—the grim, horrible reality of the moment⁠—had not the power to bring them back to earth.

That peremptory call to open in the name of the people was the prologue these days to a drama which had but two concluding acts: arrest, which was a certainty; the guillotine, which was more than probable. Jeanne and Armand, these two young people who but a moment ago had tentatively lifted the veil of life, looked straight into each other’s eyes and saw the hand of death interposed between them: they looked straight into each other’s eyes and knew that nothing but the hand of death would part them now. Love had come with its attendant, Sorrow; but he had come with no uncertain footsteps. Jeanne looked on the man before her, and he bent his head to imprint a glowing kiss upon her hand.

“Aunt Marie!”

It was Jeanne Lange who spoke, but her voice was no longer that of an irresponsible child; it was firm, steady and hard. Though she spoke to the old woman, she did not look at her; her luminous brown eyes rested on the bowed head of Armand St. Just.

“Aunt Marie!” she repeated more peremptorily, for the old woman, with her apron over her head, was still moaning, and unconscious of all save an overmastering fear.

“Open, in the name of the people!” came in a loud harsh voice once more from the other side of the front door.

“Aunt Marie, as you value your life and mine, pull yourself together,” said Jeanne firmly.

“What shall we do? Oh! what shall we do?” moaned Madame Belhomme. But she had dragged the apron away from her face, and was looking with some puzzlement at meek, gentle little Jeanne, who had suddenly become so strange, so dictatorial, all unlike her habitual somewhat diffident self.

“You need not have the slightest fear, Aunt Marie, if you will only do as I tell you,” resumed Jeanne quietly; “if you give way to fear, we are all of us undone. As you value your life and mine,” she now repeated authoritatively, “pull yourself together, and do as I tell you.”

The girl’s firmness, her perfect quietude had the desired effect. Madame Belhomme, though still shaken up with sobs of terror, made a great effort to master herself; she stood up, smoothed down her apron, passed her hand over her ruffled hair, and said in a quaking voice:

“What do you think we had better do?”

“Go quietly to the door and open it.”

“But⁠—the soldiers⁠—”

“If you do not open quietly they will force the door open within the next two minutes,” interposed Jeanne calmly. “Go quietly and open the door. Try and hide your fears, grumble in an audible voice at being interrupted in your cooking, and tell the soldiers at once that they will find mademoiselle in the boudoir. Go, for God’s sake!” she added, whilst suppressed emotion suddenly made her young voice vibrate; “go, before they break open that door!”

Madame Belhomme, impressed and cowed, obeyed like an automaton. She turned and marched fairly straight out of the room. It was not a minute too soon. From outside had already come the third and final summons:

“Open, in the name of the people!”

After that a crowbar would break open the door.

Madame Belhomme’s heavy footsteps were heard crossing the antechamber. Armand still knelt at Jeanne’s feet, holding her trembling little hand in his.

“A love-scene,” she whispered rapidly, “a love-scene⁠—quick⁠—do you know one?”

And even as he had tried to rise she held him back, down on his knees.

He thought that fear was making her distracted.

“Mademoiselle⁠—” he murmured, trying to soothe her.

“Try and understand,” she said with wonderful calm, “and do as I tell you. Aunt Marie has obeyed. Will you do likewise?”

“To the death!” he whispered eagerly.

“Then a love-scene,” she entreated. “Surely you know one. Rodrigue and Chimene! Surely⁠—surely,” she urged, even as tears of anguish rose into her eyes, “you must⁠—you must, or, if not that, something else. Quick! The very seconds are precious!”

They were indeed! Madame Belhomme, obedient as a frightened dog, had gone to the door and opened it; even her well-feigned grumblings could now be heard and the rough interrogations from the soldiery.

“Citizeness Lange!” said a gruff voice.

“In her boudoir, quoi!”

Madame Belhomme, braced up apparently by fear, was playing her part remarkably well.

“Bothering good citizens! On baking day, too!” she went on grumbling and muttering.

“Oh, think⁠—think!” murmured Jeanne now in an agonised whisper, her hot little hand grasping his so tightly that her nails were driven into his flesh. “You must know something that will do⁠—anything⁠—for dear life’s sake.⁠ ⁠… Armand!”

His name⁠—in the tense excitement of this terrible moment⁠—had escaped her lips.

All in a flash of sudden intuition he understood what she wanted, and even as the door of the boudoir was thrown violently open Armand⁠—still on his knees, but with one hand pressed to his heart, the other stretched upwards to the ceiling in the most approved dramatic style, was loudly declaiming:

“Pour venger son honneur il perdit son amour,
Pour venger sa maitresse il a quitté le jour!”

Whereupon Mademoiselle Lange feigned the most perfect impatience.

“No, no, my good cousin,” she said with a pretty moue of disdain, “that will never do! You must not thus emphasise the end of every line; the verses should flow more evenly, as thus.⁠ ⁠…”

Héron had paused at the door. It was he who had thrown it open⁠—he who, followed by a couple of his sleuthhounds, had thought to find here the man denounced by de Batz as being one of the followers of that irrepressible Scarlet Pimpernel. The obviously Parisian intonation of the man kneeling in front of citizeness Lange in an attitude no ways suggestive of personal admiration, and coolly reciting verses out of a play, had somewhat taken him aback.

“What does this mean?” he asked gruffly, striding forward into the room and glaring first at mademoiselle, then at Armand.

Mademoiselle gave a little cry of surprise.

“Why, if it isn’t citizen Héron!” she cried, jumping up with a dainty movement of coquetry and embarrassment. “Why did not Aunt Marie announce you?⁠ ⁠… It is indeed remiss of her, but she is so ill-tempered on baking days I dare not even rebuke her. Won’t you sit down, citizen Héron? And you, cousin,” she added, looking down airily on Armand, “I pray you maintain no longer that foolish attitude.”

The febrileness of her manner, the glow in her cheeks were easily attributable to natural shyness in face of this unexpected visit. Héron, completely bewildered by this little scene, which was so unlike what he expected, and so unlike those to which he was accustomed in the exercise of his horrible duties, was practically speechless before the little lady who continued to prattle along in a simple, unaffected manner.

“Cousin,” she said to Armand, who in the meanwhile had risen to his knees, “this is citizen Héron, of whom you have heard me speak. My cousin Belhomme,” she continued, once more turning to Héron, “is fresh from the country, citizen. He hails from Orléans, where he has played leading parts in the tragedies of the late citizen Corneille. But, ah me! I fear that he will find Paris audiences vastly more critical than the good Orléanese. Did you hear him, citizen, declaiming those beautiful verses just now? He was murdering them, say I⁠—yes, murdering them⁠—the gaby!”

Then only did it seem as if she realised that there was something amiss, that citizen Héron had come to visit her, not as an admirer of her talent who would wish to pay his respects to a successful actress, but as a person to be looked on with dread.

She gave a quaint, nervous little laugh, and murmured in the tones of a frightened child:

“La, citizen, how glum you look! I thought you had come to compliment me on my latest success. I saw you at the theatre last night, though you did not afterwards come to see me in the greenroom. Why! I had a regular ovation! Look at my flowers!” she added more gaily, pointing to several bouquets in vases about the room. “Citizen Danton brought me the violets himself, and citizen Santerre the narcissi, and that laurel wreath⁠—is it not charming?⁠—that was a tribute from citizen Robespierre himself.”

She was so artless, so simple, and so natural that Héron was completely taken off his usual mental balance. He had expected to find the usual setting to the dramatic episodes which he was wont to conduct⁠—screaming women, a man either at bay, sword in hand, or hiding in a linen cupboard or up a chimney.

Now everything puzzled him. De Batz⁠—he was quite sure⁠—had spoken of an Englishman, a follower of the Scarlet Pimpernel; every thinking French patriot knew that all the followers of the Scarlet Pimpernel were Englishmen with red hair and prominent teeth, whereas this man.⁠ ⁠…

Armand⁠—who deadly danger had primed in his improvised role⁠—was striding up and down the room declaiming with ever-varying intonations:

“Joignez tous vos efforts contre un espoir si doux
Pour en venir à bout, c’est trop peu que de vous.”

“No! no!” said mademoiselle impatiently; “you must not make that ugly pause midway in the last line: ‘pour en venir à bout, c’est trop peu que de vous!’ ”

She mimicked Armand’s diction so quaintly, imitating his stride, his awkward gesture, and his faulty phraseology with such funny exaggeration that Héron laughed in spite of himself.

“So that is a cousin from Orléans, is it?” he asked, throwing his lanky body into an armchair, which creaked dismally under his weight.

“Yes! a regular gaby⁠—what?” she said archly. “Now, citizen Héron, you must stay and take coffee with me. Aunt Marie will be bringing it in directly. Hector,” she added, turning to Armand, “come down from the clouds and ask Aunt Marie to be quick.”

This certainly was the first time in the whole of his experience that Héron had been asked to stay and drink coffee with the quarry he was hunting down. Mademoiselle’s innocent little ways, her desire for the prolongation of his visit, further addled his brain. De Batz had undoubtedly spoken of an Englishman, and the cousin from Orléans was certainly a Frenchman every inch of him.

Perhaps had the denunciation come from anyone else but de Batz, Héron might have acted and thought more circumspectly; but, of course, the chief agent of the Committee of General Security was more suspicious of the man from whom he took a heavy bribe than of anyone else in France. The thought had suddenly crossed his mind that mayhap de Batz had sent him on a fool’s errand in order to get him safely out of the way of the Temple prison at a given hour of the day.

The thought took shape, crystallised, caused him to see a rapid vision of de Batz sneaking into his lodgings and stealing his keys, the guard being slack, careless, inattentive, allowing the adventurer to pass barriers that should have been closed against all comers.

Now Héron was sure of it; it was all a conspiracy invented by de Batz. He had forgotten all about his theories that a man under arrest is always safer than a man that is free. Had his brain been quite normal, and not obsessed, as it always was now by thoughts of the Dauphin’s escape from prison, no doubt he would have been more suspicious of Armand, but all his worst suspicions were directed against de Batz. Armand seemed to him just a fool, an actor quoi? and so obviously not an Englishman.

He jumped to his feet, curtly declining mademoiselle’s offers of hospitality. He wanted to get away at once. Actors and actresses were always, by tacit consent of the authorities, more immune than the rest of the community. They provided the only amusement in the intervals of the horrible scenes around the scaffolds; they were irresponsible, harmless creatures who did not meddle in politics.

Jeanne the while was gaily prattling on, her luminous eyes fixed upon the all-powerful enemy, striving to read his thoughts, to understand what went on behind those cruel, prominent eyes, the chances that Armand had of safety and of life.

She knew, of course, that the visit was directed against Armand⁠—someone had betrayed him, that odious de Batz mayhap⁠—and she was fighting for Armand’s safety, for his life. Her armoury consisted of her presence of mind, her cool courage, her self-control; she used all these weapons for his sake, though at times she felt as if the strain on her nerves would snap the thread of life in her. The effort seemed more than she could bear.

But she kept up her part, rallying Héron for the shortness of his visit, begging him to tarry for another five minutes at least, throwing out⁠—with subtle feminine intuition⁠—just those very hints anent little Capet’s safety that were most calculated to send him flying back towards the Temple.

“I felt so honoured last night, citizen,” she said coquettishly, “that you even forgot little Capet in order to come and watch my debut as Célimène.”

“Forget him!” retorted Héron, smothering a curse, “I never forget the vermin. I must go back to him; there are too many cats nosing round my mouse. Good day to you, citizeness. I ought to have brought flowers, I know; but I am a busy man⁠—a harassed man.”

Je te crois,” she said with a grave nod of the head; “but do come to the theatre tonight. I am playing Camille⁠—such a fine part! one of my greatest successes.”

“Yes, yes, I’ll come⁠—mayhap, mayhap⁠—but I’ll go now⁠—glad to have seen you, citizeness. Where does your cousin lodge?” he asked abruptly.

“Here,” she replied boldly, on the spur of the moment.

“Good. Let him report himself tomorrow morning at the Conciergerie, and get his certificate of safety. It is a new decree, and you should have one, too.”

“Very well, then. Hector and I will come together, and perhaps Aunt Marie will come too. Don’t send us to maman guillotine yet awhile, citizen,” she said lightly; “you will never get such another Camille, nor yet so good a Célimène.”

She was gay, artless to the last. She accompanied Héron to the door herself, chaffing him about his escort.

“You are an aristo, citizen,” she said, gazing with well-feigned admiration on the two sleuthhounds who stood in wait in the anteroom; “it makes me proud to see so many citizens at my door. Come and see me play Camille⁠—come tonight, and don’t forget the greenroom door⁠—it will always be kept invitingly open for you.”

She bobbed him a curtsey, and he walked out, closely followed by his two men; then at last she closed the door behind them. She stood there for a while, her ear glued against the massive panels, listening for their measured tread down the oak staircase. At last it rang more sharply against the flagstones of the courtyard below; then she was satisfied that they had gone, and went slowly back to the boudoir.

X. Shadows

The tension on her nerves relaxed; there was the inevitable reaction. Her knees were shaking under her, and she literally staggered into the room.

But Armand was already near her, down on both his knees this time, his arms clasping the delicate form that swayed like the slender stems of narcissi in the breeze.

“Oh! you must go out of Paris at once⁠—at once,” she said through sobs which no longer would be kept back.

“He’ll return⁠—I know that he will return⁠—and you will not be safe until you are back in England.”

But he could not think of himself or of anything in the future. He had forgotten Héron, Paris, the world; he could only think of her.

“I owe my life to you!” he murmured. “Oh, how beautiful you are⁠—how brave! How I love you!”

It seemed that he had always loved her, from the moment that first in his boyish heart he had set up an ideal to worship, and then, last night, in the box of the theatre⁠—he had his back turned toward the stage, and was ready to go⁠—her voice had called him back; it had held him spellbound; her voice, and also her eyes.⁠ ⁠… He did not know then that it was Love which then and there had enchained him. Oh, how foolish he had been! for now he knew that he had loved her with all his might, with all his soul, from the very instant that his eyes had rested upon her.

He babbled along⁠—incoherently⁠—in the intervals of covering her hands and the hem of her gown with kisses. He stooped right down to the ground and kissed the arch of her instep; he had become a devotee worshipping at the shrine of his saint, who had performed a great and a wonderful miracle.

Armand the idealist had found his ideal in a woman. That was the great miracle which the woman herself had performed for him. He found in her all that he had admired most, all that he had admired in the leader who hitherto had been the only personification of his ideal. But Jeanne possessed all those qualities which had roused his enthusiasm in the noble hero whom he revered. Her pluck, her ingenuity, her calm devotion which had averted the threatened danger from him!

What had he done that she should have risked her own sweet life for his sake?

But Jeanne did not know. She could not tell. Her nerves now were somewhat unstrung, and the tears that always came so readily to her eyes flowed quite unchecked. She could not very well move, for he held her knees imprisoned in his arms, but she was quite content to remain like this, and to yield her hands to him so that he might cover them with kisses.

Indeed, she did not know at what precise moment love for him had been born in her heart. Last night, perhaps⁠ ⁠… she could not say⁠ ⁠… but when they parted she felt that she must see him again⁠ ⁠… and then today⁠ ⁠… perhaps it was the scent of the violets⁠ ⁠… they were so exquisitely sweet⁠ ⁠… perhaps it was his enthusiasm and his talk about England⁠ ⁠… but when Héron came she knew that she must save Armand’s life at all cost⁠ ⁠… that she would die if they dragged him away to prison.

Thus these two children philosophised, trying to understand the mystery of the birth of Love. But they were only children; they did not really understand. Passion was sweeping them off their feet, because a common danger had bound them irrevocably to one another. The womanly instinct to save and to protect had given the young girl strength to bear a difficult part, and now she loved him for the dangers from which she had rescued him, and he loved her because she had risked her life for him.

The hours sped on; there was so much to say, so much that was exquisite to listen to. The shades of evening were gathering fast; the room, with its pale-toned hangings and faded tapestries, was sinking into the arms of gloom. Aunt Marie was no doubt too terrified to stir out of her kitchen; she did not bring the lamps, but the darkness suited Armand’s mood, and Jeanne was glad that the gloaming effectually hid the perpetual blush in her cheeks.

In the evening air the dying flowers sent their heady fragrance around. Armand was intoxicated with the perfume of violets that clung to Jeanne’s fingers, with the touch of her satin gown that brushed his cheek, with the murmur of her voice that quivered through her tears.

No noise from the ugly outer world reached this secluded spot. In the tiny square outside a street lamp had been lighted, and its feeble rays came peeping in through the lace curtains at the window. They caught the dainty silhouette of the young girl, playing with the loose tendrils of her hair around her forehead, and outlining with a thin band of light the contour of neck and shoulder, making the satin of her gown shimmer with an opalescent glow.

Armand rose from his knees. Her eyes were calling to him, her lips were ready to yield.

Tu m’aimes?” he whispered.

And like a tired child she sank upon his breast.

He kissed her hair, her eyes, her lips; her skin was fragrant as the flowers of spring, the tears on her cheeks glistened like morning dew.

* * * * *

Aunt Marie came in at last, carrying the lamp. She found them sitting side by side, like two children, hand in hand, mute with the eloquence which comes from boundless love. They were under a spell, forgetting even that they lived, knowing nothing except that they loved.

The lamp broke the spell, and Aunt Marie’s still trembling voice:

“Oh, my dear! how did you manage to rid yourself of those brutes?”

But she asked no other question, even when the lamp showed up quite clearly the glowing cheeks of Jeanne and the ardent eyes of Armand. In her heart, long since atrophied, there were a few memories, carefully put away in a secret cell, and those memories caused the old woman to understand.

Neither Jeanne nor Armand noticed what she did; the spell had been broken, but the dream lingered on; they did not see Aunt Marie putting the room tidy, and then quietly tiptoeing out by the door.

But through the dream, reality was struggling for recognition. After Armand had asked for the hundredth time: “Tu m’aimes?” and Jeanne for the hundredth time had replied mutely with her eyes, her fears for him suddenly returned.

Something had awakened her from her trance⁠—a heavy footstep, mayhap, in the street below, the distant roll of a drum, or only the clash of steel saucepans in Aunt Marie’s kitchen. But suddenly Jeanne was alert, and with her alertness came terror for the beloved.

“Your life,” she said⁠—for he had called her his life just then, “your life⁠—and I was forgetting that it is still in danger⁠ ⁠… your dear, your precious life!”

“Doubly dear now,” he replied, “since I owe it to you.”

“Then I pray you, I entreat you, guard it well for my sake⁠—make all haste to leave Paris⁠ ⁠… oh, this I beg of you!” she continued more earnestly, seeing the look of demur in his eyes; “every hour you spend in it brings danger nearer to your door.”

“I could not leave Paris while you are here.”

“But I am safe here,” she urged; “quite, quite safe, I assure you. I am only a poor actress, and the Government takes no heed of us mimes. Men must be amused, even between the intervals of killing one another. Indeed, indeed, I should be far safer here now, waiting quietly for awhile, while you make preparations to go⁠ ⁠… My hasty departure at this moment would bring disaster on us both.”

There was logic in what she said. And yet how could he leave her? now that he had found this perfect woman⁠—this realisation of his highest ideals, how could he go and leave her in this awful Paris, with brutes like Héron forcing their hideous personality into her sacred presence, threatening that very life he would gladly give his own to keep inviolate?

“Listen, sweetheart,” he said after awhile, when presently reason struggled back for first place in his mind. “Will you allow me to consult with my chief, with the Scarlet Pimpernel, who is in Paris at the present moment? I am under his orders; I could not leave France just now. My life, my entire person are at his disposal. I and my comrades are here under his orders, for a great undertaking which he has not yet unfolded to us, but which I firmly believe is framed for the rescue of the Dauphin from the Temple.”

She gave an involuntary exclamation of horror.

“No, no!” she said quickly and earnestly; “as far as you are concerned, Armand, that has now become an impossibility. Someone has betrayed you, and you are henceforth a marked man. I think that odious de Batz had a hand in Héron’s visit of this afternoon. We succeeded in putting these spies off the scent, but only for a moment⁠ ⁠… within a few hours⁠—less perhaps⁠—Héron will repent him of his carelessness; he’ll come back⁠—I know that he will come back. He may leave me, personally, alone; but he will be on your track; he’ll drag you to the Conciergerie to report yourself, and there your true name and history are bound to come to light. If you succeed in evading him, he will still be on your track. If the Scarlet Pimpernel keeps you in Paris now, your death will be at his door.”

Her voice had become quite hard and trenchant as she said these last words; womanlike, she was already prepared to hate the man whose mysterious personality she had hitherto admired, now that the life and safety of Armand appeared to depend on the will of that elusive hero.

“You must not be afraid for me, Jeanne,” he urged. “The Scarlet Pimpernel cares for all his followers; he would never allow me to run unnecessary risks.”

She was unconvinced, almost jealous now of his enthusiasm for that unknown man. Already she had taken full possession of Armand; she had purchased his life, and he had given her his love. She would share neither treasure with that nameless leader who held Armand’s allegiance.

“It is only for a little while, sweetheart,” he reiterated again and again. “I could not, anyhow, leave Paris whilst I feel that you are here, maybe in danger. The thought would be horrible. I should go mad if I had to leave you.”

Then he talked again of England, of his life there, of the happiness and peace that were in store for them both.

“We will go to England together,” he whispered, “and there we will be happy together, you and I. We will have a tiny house among the Kentish hills, and its walls will be covered with honeysuckle and roses. At the back of the house there will be an orchard, and in May, when the fruit-blossom is fading and soft spring breezes blow among the trees, showers of sweet-scented petals will envelop us as we walk along, falling on us like fragrant snow. You will come, sweetheart, will you not?”

“If you still wish it, Armand,” she murmured.

Still wish it! He would gladly go tomorrow if she would come with him. But, of course, that could not be arranged. She had her contract to fulfil at the theatre, then there would be her house and furniture to dispose of, and there was Aunt Marie.⁠ ⁠… But, of course, Aunt Marie would come too.⁠ ⁠… She thought that she could get away some time before the spring; and he swore that he could not leave Paris until she came with him.

It seemed a terrible deadlock, for she could not bear to think of him alone in those awful Paris streets, where she knew that spies would always be tracking him. She had no illusions as to the impression which she had made on Héron; she knew that it could only be a momentary one, and that Armand would henceforth be in daily, hourly danger.

At last she promised him that she would take the advice of his chief; they would both be guided by what he said. Armand would confide in him tonight, and if it could be arranged she would hurry on her preparations and, mayhap, be ready to join him in a week.

“In the meanwhile, that cruel man must not risk your dear life,” she said. “Remember, Armand, your life belongs to me. Oh, I could hate him for the love you bear him!”

“Sh⁠—sh⁠—sh!” he said earnestly. “Dear heart, you must not speak like that of the man whom, next to your perfect self, I love most upon earth.”

“You think of him more than of me. I shall scarce live until I know that you are safely out of Paris.”

Though it was horrible to part, yet it was best, perhaps, that he should go back to his lodgings now, in case Héron sent his spies back to her door, and since he meant to consult with his chief. She had a vague hope that if the mysterious hero was indeed the noble-hearted man whom Armand represented him to be, surely he would take compassion on the anxiety of a sorrowing woman, and release the man she loved from bondage.

This thought pleased her and gave her hope. She even urged Armand now to go.

“When may I see you tomorrow?” he asked.

“But it will be so dangerous to meet,” she argued.

“I must see you. I could not live through the day without seeing you.”

“The theatre is the safest place.”

“I could not wait till the evening. May I not come here?”

“No, no. Héron’s spies may be about.”

“Where then?”

She thought it over for a moment.

“At the stage-door of the theatre at one o’clock,” she said at last. “We shall have finished rehearsal. Slip into the guichet of the concierge. I will tell him to admit you, and send my dresser to meet you there; she will bring you along to my room, where we shall be undisturbed for at least half an hour.”

He had perforce to be content with that, though he would so much rather have seen her here again, where the faded tapestries and soft-toned hangings made such a perfect background for her delicate charm. He had every intention of confiding in Blakeney, and of asking his help for getting Jeanne out of Paris as quickly as may be.

Thus this perfect hour was past; the most pure, the fullest of joy that these two young people were ever destined to know. Perhaps they felt within themselves the consciousness that their great love would rise anon to yet greater, fuller perfection when Fate had crowned it with his halo of sorrow. Perhaps, too, it was that consciousness that gave to their kisses now the solemnity of a last farewell.

XI. The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel

Armand never could say definitely afterwards whither he went when he left the Square du Roule that evening. No doubt he wandered about the streets for some time in an absent, mechanical way, paying no heed to the passersby, none to the direction in which he was going.

His mind was full of Jeanne, her beauty, her courage, her attitude in face of the hideous bloodhound who had come to pollute that charming old-world boudoir by his loathsome presence. He recalled every word she uttered, every gesture she made.

He was a man in love for the first time⁠—wholly, irremediably in love.

I suppose that it was the pangs of hunger that first recalled him to himself. It was close on eight o’clock now, and he had fed on his imaginings⁠—first on anticipation, then on realisation, and lastly on memory⁠—during the best part of the day. Now he awoke from his daydream to find himself tired and hungry, but fortunately not very far from that quarter of Paris where food is easily obtainable.

He was somewhere near the Madeleine⁠—a quarter he knew well. Soon he saw in front of him a small eating-house which looked fairly clean and orderly. He pushed open its swing-door, and seeing an empty table in a secluded part of the room, he sat down and ordered some supper.

The place made no impression upon his memory. He could not have told you an hour later where it was situated, who had served him, what he had eaten, or what other persons were present in the dining-room at the time that he himself entered it.

Having eaten, however, he felt more like his normal self⁠—more conscious of his actions. When he finally left the eating-house, he realised, for instance, that it was very cold⁠—a fact of which he had for the past few hours been totally unaware. The snow was falling in thin close flakes, and a biting northeasterly wind was blowing those flakes into his face and down his collar. He wrapped his cloak tightly around him. It was a good step yet to Blakeney’s lodgings, where he knew that he was expected.

He struck quickly into the Rue St. Honoré, avoiding the great open places where the grim horrors of this magnificent city in revolt against civilisation were displayed in all their grim nakedness⁠—on the Place de la Révolution the guillotine, on the Carrousel the open-air camps of workers under the lash of slave-drivers more cruel than the uncivilised brutes of the Far West.

And Armand had to think of Jeanne in the midst of all these horrors. She was still a petted actress today, but who could tell if on the morrow the terrible law of the “suspect” would not reach her in order to drag her before a tribunal that knew no mercy, and whose sole justice was a condemnation?

The young man hurried on; he was anxious to be among his own comrades, to hear his chief’s pleasant voice, to feel assured that by all the sacred laws of friendship Jeanne henceforth would become the special care of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league.

Blakeney lodged in a small house situated on the Quai de l’École, at the back of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, from whence he had a clear and uninterrupted view across the river, as far as the irregular block of buildings of the Châtelet prison and the house of Justice.

The same tower-clock that two centuries ago had tolled the signal for the massacre of the Huguenots was even now striking nine. Armand slipped through the half-open porte-cochère, crossed the narrow dark courtyard, and ran up two flights of winding stone stairs. At the top of these, a door on his right allowed a thin streak of light to filtrate between its two folds. An iron bell handle hung beside it; Armand gave it a pull.

Two minutes later he was amongst his friends. He heaved a great sigh of content and relief. The very atmosphere here seemed to be different. As far as the lodging itself was concerned, it was as bare, as devoid of comfort as those sort of places⁠—so-called chambres garnies⁠—usually were in these days. The chairs looked rickety and uninviting, the sofa was of black horsehair, the carpet was threadbare, and in places in actual holes; but there was a certain something in the air which revealed, in the midst of all this squalor, the presence of a man of fastidious taste.

To begin with, the place was spotlessly clean; the stove, highly polished, gave forth a pleasing warm glow, even whilst the window, slightly open, allowed a modicum of fresh air to enter the room. In a rough earthenware jug on the table stood a large bunch of Christmas roses, and to the educated nostril the slight scent of perfumes that hovered in the air was doubly pleasing after the fetid air of the narrow streets.

Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was there, also my Lord Tony, and Lord Hastings. They greeted Armand with wholehearted cheeriness.

“Where is Blakeney?” asked the young man as soon as he had shaken his friends by the hand.

“Present!” came in loud, pleasant accents from the door of an inner room on the right.

And there he stood under the lintel of the door, the man against whom was raised the giant hand of an entire nation⁠—the man for whose head the revolutionary government of France would gladly pay out all the savings of its Treasury⁠—the man whom human bloodhounds were tracking, hot on the scent⁠—for whom the nets of a bitter revenge and relentless reprisals were constantly being spread.

Was he unconscious of it, or merely careless? His closest friend, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, could not say. Certain it is that, as he now appeared before Armand, picturesque as ever in perfectly tailored clothes, with priceless lace at throat and wrists, his slender fingers holding an enamelled snuffbox and a handkerchief of delicate cambric, his whole personality that of a dandy rather than a man of action, it seemed impossible to connect him with the foolhardy escapades which had set one nation glowing with enthusiasm and another clamouring for revenge.

But it was the magnetism that emanated from him that could not be denied; the light that now and then, swift as summer lightning, flashed out from the depths of the blue eyes usually veiled by heavy, lazy lids, the sudden tightening of firm lips, the setting of the square jaw, which in a moment⁠—but only for the space of a second⁠—transformed the entire face, and revealed the born leader of men.

Just now there was none of that in the debonair, easygoing man of the world who advanced to meet his friend. Armand went quickly up to him, glad to grasp his hand, slightly troubled with remorse, no doubt, at the recollection of his adventure of today. It almost seemed to him that from beneath his half-closed lids Blakeney had shot a quick inquiring glance upon him. The quick flash seemed to light up the young man’s soul from within, and to reveal it, naked, to his friend.

It was all over in a moment, and Armand thought that mayhap his conscience had played him a trick: there was nothing apparent in him⁠—of this he was sure⁠—that could possibly divulge his secret just yet.

“I am rather late, I fear,” he said. “I wandered about the streets in the late afternoon and lost my way in the dark. I hope I have not kept you all waiting.”

They all pulled chairs closely round the fire, except Blakeney, who preferred to stand. He waited awhile until they were all comfortably settled, and all ready to listen, then:

“It is about the Dauphin,” he said abruptly without further preamble.

They understood. All of them had guessed it, almost before the summons came that had brought them to Paris two days ago. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had left his young wife because of that, and Armand had demanded it as a right to join hands in this noble work. Blakeney had not left France for over three months now. Backwards and forwards between Paris, or Nantes, or Orléans to the coast, where his friends would meet him to receive those unfortunates whom one man’s wholehearted devotion had rescued from death; backwards and forwards into the very hearts of those cities wherein an army of sleuthhounds were on his track, and the guillotine was stretching out her arms to catch the foolhardy adventurer.

Now it was about the Dauphin. They all waited, breathless and eager, the fire of a noble enthusiasm burning in their hearts. They waited in silence, their eyes fixed on the leader, lest one single word from him should fail to reach their ears.

The full magnetism of the man was apparent now. As he held these four men at this moment, he could have held a crowd. The man of the world⁠—the fastidious dandy⁠—had shed his mask; there stood the leader, calm, serene in the very face of the most deadly danger that had ever encompassed any man, looking that danger fully in the face, not striving to belittle it or to exaggerate it, but weighing it in the balance with what there was to accomplish: the rescue of a martyred, innocent child from the hands of fiends who were destroying his very soul even more completely than his body.

“Everything, I think, is prepared,” resumed Sir Percy after a slight pause. “The Simons have been summarily dismissed; I learned that today. They remove from the Temple on Sunday next, the nineteenth. Obviously that is the one day most likely to help us in our operations. As far as I am concerned, I cannot make any hard-and-fast plans. Chance at the last moment will have to dictate. But from every one of you I must have cooperation, and it can only be by your following my directions implicitly that we can even remotely hope to succeed.”

He crossed and recrossed the room once or twice before he spoke again, pausing now and again in his walk in front of a large map of Paris and its environs that hung upon the wall, his tall figure erect, his hands behind his back, his eyes fixed before him as if he saw right through the walls of this squalid room, and across the darkness that overhung the city, through the grim bastions of the mighty building far away, where the descendant of an hundred kings lived at the mercy of human fiends who worked for his abasement.

The man’s face now was that of a seer and a visionary; the firm lines were set and rigid as those of an image carved in stone⁠—the statue of heart-whole devotion, with the self-imposed task beckoning sternly to follow, there where lurked danger and death.

“The way, I think, in which we could best succeed would be this,” he resumed after a while, sitting now on the edge of the table and directly facing his four friends. The light from the lamp which stood upon the table behind him fell full upon those four glowing faces fixed eagerly upon him, but he himself was in shadow, a massive silhouette broadly cut out against the light-coloured map on the wall beyond.

“I remain here, of course, until Sunday,” he said, “and will closely watch my opportunity, when I can with the greatest amount of safety enter the Temple building and take possession of the child. I shall, of course choose the moment when the Simons are actually on the move, with their successors probably coming in at about the same time. God alone knows,” he added earnestly, “how I shall contrive to get possession of the child; at the moment I am just as much in the dark about that as you are.”

He paused a moment, and suddenly his grave face seemed flooded with sunshine, a kind of lazy merriment danced in his eyes, effacing all trace of solemnity within them.

“La!” he said lightly, “on one point I am not at all in the dark, and that is that His Majesty King Louis XVII will come out of that ugly house in my company next Sunday, the nineteenth day of January in this year of grace seventeen hundred and ninety-four; and this, too, do I know⁠—that those murderous blackguards shall not lay hands on me whilst that precious burden is in my keeping. So I pray you, my good Armand, do not look so glum,” he added with his pleasant, merry laugh; “you’ll need all your wits about you to help us in our undertaking.”

“What do you wish me to do, Percy?” said the young man simply.

“In one moment I will tell you. I want you all to understand the situation first. The child will be out of the Temple on Sunday, but at what hour I know not. The later it will be the better would it suit my purpose, for I cannot get him out of Paris before evening with any chance of safety. Here we must risk nothing; the child is far better off as he is now than he would be if he were dragged back after an abortive attempt at rescue. But at this hour of the night, between nine and ten o’clock, I can arrange to get him out of Paris by the Villette gate, and that is where I want you, Ffoulkes, and you, Tony, to be, with some kind of covered cart, yourselves in any disguise your ingenuity will suggest. Here are a few certificates of safety; I have been making a collection of them for some time, as they are always useful.”

He dived into the wide pocket of his coat and drew forth a number of cards, greasy, much-fingered documents of the usual pattern which the Committee of General Security delivered to the free citizens of the new republic, and without which no one could enter or leave any town or country commune without being detained as “suspect.” He glanced at them and handed them over to Ffoulkes.

“Choose your own identity for the occasion, my good friend,” he said lightly; “and you too, Tony. You may be stonemasons or coal-carriers, chimney-sweeps or farm-labourers, I care not which so long as you look sufficiently grimy and wretched to be unrecognisable, and so long as you can procure a cart without arousing suspicions, and can wait for me punctually at the appointed spot.”

Ffoulkes turned over the cards, and with a laugh handed them over to Lord Tony. The two fastidious gentlemen discussed for awhile the respective merits of a chimney-sweep’s uniform as against that of a coal-carrier.

“You can carry more grime if you are a sweep,” suggested Blakeney; “and if the soot gets into your eyes it does not make them smart like coal does.”

“But soot adheres more closely,” argued Tony solemnly, “and I know that we shan’t get a bath for at least a week afterwards.”

“Certainly you won’t, you sybarite!” asserted Sir Percy with a laugh.

“After a week soot might become permanent,” mused Sir Andrew, wondering what, under the circumstance, my lady would say to him.

“If you are both so fastidious,” retorted Blakeney, shrugging his broad shoulders, “I’ll turn one of you into a reddleman, and the other into a dyer. Then one of you will be bright scarlet to the end of his days, as the reddle never comes off the skin at all, and the other will have to soak in turpentine before the dye will consent to move.⁠ ⁠… In either case⁠ ⁠… oh, my dear Tony!⁠ ⁠… the smell.⁠ ⁠…”

He laughed like a schoolboy in anticipation of a prank, and held his scented handkerchief to his nose. My Lord Hastings chuckled audibly, and Tony punched him for this unseemly display of mirth.

Armand watched the little scene in utter amazement. He had been in England over a year, and yet he could not understand these Englishmen. Surely they were the queerest, most inconsequent people in the world. Here were these men, who were engaged at this very moment in an enterprise which for cool-headed courage and foolhardy daring had probably no parallel in history. They were literally taking their lives in their hands, in all probability facing certain death; and yet they now sat chaffing and fighting like a crowd of third-form schoolboys, talking utter, silly nonsense, and making foolish jokes that would have shamed a Frenchman in his teens. Vaguely he wondered what fat, pompous de Batz would think of this discussion if he could overhear it. His contempt, no doubt, for the Scarlet Pimpernel and his followers would be increased tenfold.

Then at last the question of the disguise was effectually dismissed. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Anthony Dewhurst had settled their differences of opinion by solemnly agreeing to represent two over-grimy and overheated coal-heavers. They chose two certificates of safety that were made out in the names of Jean Lepetit and Achille Grospierre, labourers.

“Though you don’t look at all like an Achille, Tony,” was Blakeney’s parting shot to his friend.

Then without any transition from this schoolboy nonsense to the serious business of the moment, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes said abruptly:

“Tell us exactly, Blakeney, where you will want the cart to stand on Sunday.”

Blakeney rose and turned to the map against the wall, Ffoulkes and Tony following him. They stood close to his elbow whilst his slender, nervy hand wandered along the shiny surface of the varnished paper. At last he placed his finger on one spot.

“Here you see,” he said, “is the Villette gate. Just outside it a narrow street on the right leads down in the direction of the canal. It is just at the bottom of that narrow street at its junction with the towpath there that I want you two and the cart to be. It had better be a coal-car by the way; they will be unloading coal close by there tomorrow,” he added with one of his sudden irrepressible outbursts of merriment. “You and Tony can exercise your muscles coal-heaving, and incidentally make yourselves known in the neighbourhood as good if somewhat grimy patriots.”

“We had better take up our parts at once then,” said Tony. “I’ll take a fond farewell of my clean shirt tonight.”

“Yes, you will not see one again for some time, my good Tony. After your hard day’s work tomorrow you will have to sleep either inside your cart, if you have already secured one, or under the arches of the canal bridge, if you have not.”

“I hope you have an equally pleasant prospect for Hastings,” was my Lord Tony’s grim comment.

It was easy to see that he was as happy as a schoolboy about to start for a holiday. Lord Tony was a true sportsman. Perhaps there was in him less sentiment for the heroic work which he did under the guidance of his chief than an inherent passion for dangerous adventures. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, on the other hand, thought perhaps a little less of the adventure, but a great deal of the martyred child in the Temple. He was just as buoyant, just as keen as his friend, but the leaven of sentiment raised his sporting instincts to perhaps a higher plane of self-devotion.

“Well, now, to recapitulate,” he said, in turn following with his finger the indicated route on the map. “Tony and I and the coal-cart will await you on this spot, at the corner of the towpath on Sunday evening at nine o’clock.”

“And your signal, Blakeney?” asked Tony.

“The usual one,” replied Sir Percy, “the seamew’s cry thrice repeated at brief intervals. But now,” he continued, turning to Armand and Hastings, who had taken no part in the discussion hitherto, “I want your help a little further afield.”

“I thought so,” nodded Hastings.

“The coal-cart, with its usual miserable nag, will carry us a distance of fifteen or sixteen kilometres, but no more. My purpose is to cut along the north of the city, and to reach St. Germain, the nearest point where we can secure good mounts. There is a farmer just outside the commune; his name is Achard. He has excellent horses, which I have borrowed before now; we shall want five, of course, and he has one powerful beast that will do for me, as I shall have, in addition to my own weight, which is considerable, to take the child with me on the pillion. Now you, Hastings and Armand, will have to start early tomorrow morning, leave Paris by the Neuilly gate, and from there make your way to St. Germain by any conveyance you can contrive to obtain. At St. Germain you must at once find Achard’s farm; disguised as labourers you will not arouse suspicion by so doing. You will find the farmer quite amenable to money, and you must secure the best horses you can get for our own use, and, if possible, the powerful mount I spoke of just now. You are both excellent horsemen, therefore I selected you amongst the others for this special errand, for you two, with the five horses, will have to come and meet our coal-cart some seventeen kilometres out of St. Germain, to where the first signpost indicates the road to Courbevoie. Some two hundred mètres down this road on the right there is a small spinney, which will afford splendid shelter for yourselves and your horses. We hope to be there at about one o’clock after midnight of Monday morning. Now, is all that quite clear, and are you both satisfied?”

“It is quite clear,” exclaimed Hastings placidly; “but I, for one, am not at all satisfied.”

“And why not?”

“Because it is all too easy. We get none of the danger.”

“Oho! I thought that you would bring that argument forward, you incorrigible grumbler,” laughed Sir Percy good-humouredly. “Let me tell you that if you start tomorrow from Paris in that spirit you will run your head and Armand’s into a noose long before you reach the gate of Neuilly. I cannot allow either of you to cover your faces with too much grime; an honest farm labourer should not look over-dirty, and your chances of being discovered and detained are, at the outset, far greater than those which Ffoulkes and Tony will run⁠—”

Armand had said nothing during this time. While Blakeney was unfolding his plan for him and for Lord Hastings⁠—a plan which practically was a command⁠—he had sat with his arms folded across his chest, his head sunk upon his breast. When Blakeney had asked if they were satisfied, he had taken no part in Hastings’ protest nor responded to his leader’s good-humoured banter.

Though he did not look up even now, yet he felt that Percy’s eyes were fixed upon him, and they seemed to scorch into his soul. He made a great effort to appear eager like the others, and yet from the first a chill had struck at his heart. He could not leave Paris before he had seen Jeanne.

He looked up suddenly, trying to seem unconcerned; he even looked his chief fully in the face.

“When ought we to leave Paris?” he asked calmly.

“You must leave at daybreak,” replied Blakeney with a slight, almost imperceptible emphasis on the word of command. “When the gates are first opened, and the work-people go to and fro at their work, that is the safest hour. And you must be at St. Germain as soon as may be, or the farmer may not have a sufficiency of horses available at a moment’s notice. I want you to be spokesman with Achard, so that Hastings’ British accent should not betray you both. Also you might not get a conveyance for St. Germain immediately. We must think of every eventuality, Armand. There is so much at stake.”

Armand made no further comment just then. But the others looked astonished. Armand had but asked a simple question, and Blakeney’s reply seemed almost like a rebuke⁠—so circumstantial too, and so explanatory. He was so used to being obeyed at a word, so accustomed that the merest wish, the slightest hint from him was understood by his band of devoted followers, that the long explanation of his orders which he gave to Armand struck them all with a strange sense of unpleasant surprise.

Hastings was the first to break the spell that seemed to have fallen over the party.

“We leave at daybreak, of course,” he said, “as soon as the gates are open. We can, I know, get one of the carriers to give us a lift as far as St. Germain. There, how do we find Achard?”

“He is a well-known farmer,” replied Blakeney. “You have but to ask.”

“Good. Then we bespeak five horses for the next day, find lodgings in the village that night, and make a fresh start back towards Paris in the evening of Sunday. Is that right?”

“Yes. One of you will have two horses on the lead, the other one. Pack some fodder on the empty saddles and start at about ten o’clock. Ride straight along the main road, as if you were making back for Paris, until you come to four crossroads with a signpost pointing to Courbevoie. Turn down there and go along the road until you meet a close spinney of fir-trees on your right. Make for the interior of that. It gives splendid shelter, and you can dismount there and give the horses a feed. We’ll join you one hour after midnight. The night will be dark, I hope, and the moon anyhow will be on the wane.”

“I think I understand. Anyhow, it’s not difficult, and we’ll be as careful as may be.”

“You will have to keep your heads clear, both of you,” concluded Blakeney.

He was looking at Armand as he said this; but the young man had not made a movement during this brief colloquy between Hastings and the chief. He still sat with arms folded, his head falling on his breast.

Silence had fallen on them all. They all sat round the fire buried in thought. Through the open window there came from the quay beyond the hum of life in the open-air camp; the tramp of the sentinels around it, the words of command from the drill-sergeant, and through it all the moaning of the wind and the beating of the sleet against the windowpanes.

A whole world of wretchedness was expressed by those sounds! Blakeney gave a quick, impatient sigh, and going to the window he pushed it further open, and just then there came from afar the muffled roll of drums, and from below the watchman’s cry that seemed such dire mockery:

“Sleep, citizens! Everything is safe and peaceful.”

“Sound advice,” said Blakeney lightly. “Shall we also go to sleep? What say you all⁠—eh?”

He had with that sudden rapidity characteristic of his every action, already thrown off the serious air which he had worn a moment ago when giving instructions to Hastings. His usual debonair manner was on him once again, his laziness, his careless insouciance. He was even at this moment deeply engaged in flicking off a grain of dust from the immaculate Mechlin ruff at his wrist. The heavy lids had fallen over the telltale eyes as if weighted with fatigue, the mouth appeared ready for the laugh which never was absent from it very long.

It was only Ffoulkes’s devoted eyes that were sharp enough to pierce the mask of lighthearted gaiety which enveloped the soul of his leader at the present moment. He saw⁠—for the first time in all the years that he had known Blakeney⁠—a frown across the habitually smooth brow, and though the lips were parted for a laugh, the lines round mouth and chin were hard and set.

With that intuition born of wholehearted friendship Sir Andrew guessed what troubled Percy. He had caught the look which the latter had thrown on Armand, and knew that some explanation would have to pass between the two men before they parted tonight. Therefore he gave the signal for the breaking up of the meeting.

“There is nothing more to say, is there, Blakeney?” he asked.

“No, my good fellow, nothing,” replied Sir Percy. “I do not know how you all feel, but I am demmed fatigued.”

“What about the rags for tomorrow?” queried Hastings.

“You know where to find them. In the room below. Ffoulkes has the key. Wigs and all are there. But don’t use false hair if you can help it⁠—it is apt to shift in a scrimmage.”

He spoke jerkily, more curtly than was his wont. Hastings and Tony thought that he was tired. They rose to say good night. Then the three men went away together, Armand remaining behind.

XII. What Love Is

“Well, now, Armand, what is it?” asked Blakeney, the moment the footsteps of his friends had died away down the stone stairs, and their voices had ceased to echo in the distance.

“You guessed, then, that there was⁠ ⁠… something?” said the younger man, after a slight hesitation.

“Of course.”

Armand rose, pushing the chair away from him with an impatient nervy gesture. Burying his hands in the pockets of his breeches, he began striding up and down the room, a dark, troubled expression in his face, a deep frown between his eyes.

Blakeney had once more taken up his favourite position, sitting on the corner of the table, his broad shoulders interposed between the lamp and the rest of the room. He was apparently taking no notice of Armand, but only intent on the delicate operation of polishing his nails.

Suddenly the young man paused in his restless walk and stood in front of his friend⁠—an earnest, solemn, determined figure.

“Blakeney,” he said, “I cannot leave Paris tomorrow.”

Sir Percy made no reply. He was contemplating the polish which he had just succeeded in producing on his thumbnail.

“I must stay here for a while longer,” continued Armand firmly. “I may not be able to return to England for some weeks. You have the three others here to help you in your enterprise outside Paris. I am entirely at your service within the compass of its walls.”

Still no comment from Blakeney, not a look from beneath the fallen lids. Armand continued, with a slight tone of impatience apparent in his voice:

“You must want someone to help you here on Sunday. I am entirely at your service⁠ ⁠… here or anywhere in Paris⁠ ⁠… but I cannot leave this city⁠ ⁠… at any rate, not just yet.⁠ ⁠…”

Blakeney was apparently satisfied at last with the result of his polishing operations. He rose, gave a slight yawn, and turned toward the door.

“Good night, my dear fellow,” he said pleasantly; “it is time we were all abed. I am so demmed fatigued.”

“Percy!” exclaimed the young man hotly.

“Eh? What is it?” queried the other lazily.

“You are not going to leave me like this⁠—without a word?”

“I have said a great many words, my good fellow. I have said ‘good night,’ and remarked that I was demmed fatigued.”

He was standing beside the door which led to his bedroom, and now he pushed it open with his hand.

“Percy, you cannot go and leave me like this!” reiterated Armand with rapidly growing irritation.

“Like what, my dear fellow?” queried Sir Percy with good-humoured impatience.

“Without a word⁠—without a sign. What have I done that you should treat me like a child, unworthy even of attention?”

Blakeney had turned back and was now facing him, towering above the slight figure of the younger man. His face had lost none of its gracious air, and beneath their heavy lids his eyes looked down not unkindly on his friend.

“Would you have preferred it, Armand,” he said quietly, “if I had said the word that your ears have heard even though my lips have not uttered it?”

“I don’t understand,” murmured Armand defiantly.

“What sign would you have had me make?” continued Sir Percy, his pleasant voice falling calm and mellow on the younger man’s supersensitive consciousness: “That of branding you, Marguerite’s brother, as a liar and a cheat?”

“Blakeney!” retorted the other, as with flaming cheeks and wrathful eyes he took a menacing step toward his friend; “had any man but you dared to speak such words to me⁠—”

“I pray to God, Armand, that no man but I has the right to speak them.”

“You have no right.”

“Every right, my friend. Do I not hold your oath?⁠ ⁠… Are you not prepared to break it?”

“I’ll not break my oath to you. I’ll serve and help you in every way you can command⁠ ⁠… my life I’ll give to the cause⁠ ⁠… give me the most dangerous⁠—the most difficult task to perform.⁠ ⁠… I’ll do it⁠—I’ll do it gladly.”

“I have given you an over-difficult and dangerous task.”

“Bah! To leave Paris in order to engage horses, while you and the others do all the work. That is neither difficult nor dangerous.”

“It will be difficult for you, Armand, because your head is not sufficiently cool to foresee serious eventualities and to prepare against them. It is dangerous, because you are a man in love, and a man in love is apt to run his head⁠—and that of his friends⁠—blindly into a noose.”

“Who told you that I was in love?”

“You yourself, my good fellow. Had you not told me so at the outset,” he continued, still speaking very quietly and deliberately and never raising his voice, “I would even now be standing over you, dog-whip in hand, to thrash you as a defaulting coward and a perjurer.⁠ ⁠… Bah!” he added with a return to his habitual bonhomie, “I would no doubt even have lost my temper with you. Which would have been purposeless and excessively bad form. Eh?”

A violent retort had sprung to Armand’s lips. But fortunately at that very moment his eyes, glowing with anger, caught those of Blakeney fixed with lazy good-nature upon his. Something of that irresistible dignity which pervaded the whole personality of the man checked Armand’s hotheaded words on his lips.

“I cannot leave Paris tomorrow,” he reiterated more calmly.

“Because you have arranged to see her again?”

“Because she saved my life today, and is herself in danger.”

“She is in no danger,” said Blakeney simply, “since she saved the life of my friend.”

“Percy!”

The cry was wrung from Armand St. Just’s very soul. Despite the tumult of passion which was raging in his heart, he was conscious again of the magnetic power which bound so many to this man’s service. The words he had said⁠—simple though they were⁠—had sent a thrill through Armand’s veins. He felt himself disarmed. His resistance fell before the subtle strength of an unbendable will; nothing remained in his heart but an overwhelming sense of shame and of impotence.

He sank into a chair and rested his elbows on the table, burying his face in his hands. Blakeney went up to him and placed a kindly hand upon his shoulder.

“The difficult task, Armand,” he said gently.

“Percy, cannot you release me? She saved my life. I have not thanked her yet.”

“There will be time for thanks later, Armand. Just now over yonder the son of kings is being done to death by savage brutes.”

“I would not hinder you if I stayed.”

“God knows you have hindered us enough already.”

“How?”

“You say she saved your life⁠ ⁠… then you were in danger⁠ ⁠… Héron and his spies have been on your track; your track leads to mine, and I have sworn to save the Dauphin from the hands of thieves.⁠ ⁠… A man in love, Armand, is a deadly danger among us.⁠ ⁠… Therefore at daybreak you must leave Paris with Hastings on your difficult and dangerous task.”

“And if I refuse?” retorted Armand.

“My good fellow,” said Blakeney earnestly, “in that admirable lexicon which the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel has compiled for itself there is no such word as refuse.”

“But if I do refuse?” persisted the other.

“You would be offering a tainted name and tarnished honour to the woman you pretend to love.”

“And you insist upon my obedience?”

“By the oath which I hold from you.”

“But this is cruel⁠—inhuman!”

“Honour, my good Armand, is often cruel and seldom human. He is a godlike taskmaster, and we who call ourselves men are all of us his slaves.”

“The tyranny comes from you alone. You could release me an you would.”

“And to gratify the selfish desire of immature passion, you would wish to see me jeopardise the life of those who place infinite trust in me.”

“God knows how you have gained their allegiance, Blakeney. To me now you are selfish and callous.”

“There is the difficult task you craved for, Armand,” was all the answer that Blakeney made to the taunt⁠—“to obey a leader whom you no longer trust.”

But this Armand could not brook. He had spoken hotly, impetuously, smarting under the discipline which thwarted his desire, but his heart was loyal to the chief whom he had reverenced for so long.

“Forgive me, Percy,” he said humbly; “I am distracted. I don’t think I quite realised what I was saying. I trust you, of course⁠ ⁠… implicitly⁠ ⁠… and you need not even fear⁠ ⁠… I shall not break my oath, though your orders now seem to me needlessly callous and selfish.⁠ ⁠… I will obey⁠ ⁠… you need not be afraid.”

“I was not afraid of that, my good fellow.”

“Of course, you do not understand⁠ ⁠… you cannot. To you, your honour, the task which you have set yourself, has been your only fetish.⁠ ⁠… Love in its true sense does not exist for you.⁠ ⁠… I see it now⁠ ⁠… you do not know what it is to love.”

Blakeney made no reply for the moment. He stood in the centre of the room, with the yellow light of the lamp falling full now upon his tall powerful frame, immaculately dressed in perfectly-tailored clothes, upon his long, slender hands half hidden by filmy lace, and upon his face, across which at this moment a heavy strand of curly hair threw a curious shadow. At Armand’s words his lips had imperceptibly tightened, his eyes had narrowed as if they tried to see something that was beyond the range of their focus.

Across the smooth brow the strange shadow made by the hair seemed to find a reflex from within. Perhaps the reckless adventurer, the careless gambler with life and liberty, saw through the walls of this squalid room, across the wide, icebound river, and beyond even the gloomy pile of buildings opposite, a cool, shady garden at Richmond, a velvety lawn sweeping down to the river’s edge, a bower of clematis and roses, with a carved stone seat half covered with moss. There sat an exquisitely beautiful woman with great sad eyes fixed on the far-distant horizon. The setting sun was throwing a halo of gold all round her hair, her white hands were clasped idly on her lap.

She gazed out beyond the river, beyond the sunset, toward an unseen bourne of peace and happiness, and her lovely face had in it a look of utter hopelessness and of sublime self-abnegation. The air was still. It was late autumn, and all around her the russet leaves of beech and chestnut fell with a melancholy hush-sh-sh about her feet.

She was alone, and from time to time heavy tears gathered in her eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks.

Suddenly a sigh escaped the man’s tightly-pressed lips. With a strange gesture, wholly unusual to him, he passed his hand right across his eyes.

“Mayhap you are right, Armand,” he said quietly; “mayhap I do not know what it is to love.”

Armand turned to go. There was nothing more to be said. He knew Percy well enough by now to realise the finality of his pronouncements. His heart felt sore, but he was too proud to show his hurt again to a man who did not understand. All thoughts of disobedience he had put resolutely aside; he had never meant to break his oath. All that he had hoped to do was to persuade Percy to release him from it for awhile.

That by leaving Paris he risked to lose Jeanne he was quite convinced, but it is nevertheless a true fact that in spite of this he did not withdraw his love and trust from his chief. He was under the influence of that same magnetism which enchained all his comrades to the will of this man; and though his enthusiasm for the great cause had somewhat waned, his allegiance to its leader was no longer tottering.

But he would not trust himself to speak again on the subject.

“I will find the others downstairs,” was all he said, “and will arrange with Hastings for tomorrow. Good night, Percy.”

“Good night, my dear fellow. By the way, you have not told me yet who she is.”

“Her name is Jeanne Lange,” said St. Just half reluctantly. He had not meant to divulge his secret quite so fully as yet.

“The young actress at the Théâtre National?”

“Yes. Do you know her?”

“Only by name.”

“She is beautiful, Percy, and she is an angel.⁠ ⁠… Think of my sister Marguerite⁠ ⁠… she, too, was an actress.⁠ ⁠… Good night, Percy.”

“Good night.”

The two men grasped one another by the hand. Armand’s eyes proffered a last desperate appeal. But Blakeney’s eyes were impassive and unrelenting, and Armand with a quick sigh finally took his leave.

For a long while after he had gone Blakeney stood silent and motionless in the middle of the room. Armand’s last words lingered in his ear:

“Think of Marguerite!”

The walls had fallen away from around him⁠—the window, the river below, the Temple prison had all faded away, merged in the chaos of his thoughts.

Now he was no longer in Paris; he heard nothing of the horrors that even at this hour of the night were raging around him; he did not hear the call of murdered victims, of innocent women and children crying for help; he did not see the descendant of St. Louis, with a red cap on his baby head, stamping on the fleur-de-lys, and heaping insults on the memory of his mother. All that had faded into nothingness.

He was in the garden at Richmond, and Marguerite was sitting on the stone seat, with branches of the rambler roses twining themselves in her hair.

He was sitting on the ground at her feet, his head pillowed in her lap, lazily dreaming whilst at his feet the river wound its graceful curves beneath overhanging willows and tall stately elms.

A swan came sailing majestically down the stream, and Marguerite, with idle, delicate hands, threw some crumbs of bread into the water. Then she laughed, for she was quite happy, and anon she stooped, and he felt the fragrance of her lips as she bent over him and savoured the perfect sweetness of her caress. She was happy because her husband was by her side. He had done with adventures, with risking his life for others’ sake. He was living only for her.

The man, the dreamer, the idealist that lurked behind the adventurous soul, lived an exquisite dream as he gazed upon that vision. He closed his eyes so that it might last all the longer, so that through the open window opposite he should not see the great gloomy walls of the labyrinthine building packed to overflowing with innocent men, women, and children waiting patiently and with a smile on their lips for a cruel and unmerited death; so that he should not see even through the vista of houses and of streets that grim Temple prison far away, and the light in one of the tower windows, which illumined the final martyrdom of a boy-king.

Thus he stood for fully five minutes, with eyes deliberately closed and lips tightly set. Then the neighbouring tower-clock of St. Germain l’Auxerrois slowly tolled the hour of midnight. Blakeney woke from his dream. The walls of his lodging were once more around him, and through the window the ruddy light of some torch in the street below fought with that of the lamp.

He went deliberately up to the window and looked out into the night. On the quay, a little to the left, the outdoor camp was just breaking up for the night. The people of France in arms against tyranny were allowed to put away their work for the day and to go to their miserable homes to gather rest in sleep for the morrow. A band of soldiers, rough and brutal in their movements, were hustling the women and children. The little ones, weary, sleepy, and cold, seemed too dazed to move. One woman had two little children clinging to her skirts; a soldier suddenly seized one of them by the shoulders and pushed it along roughly in front of him to get it out of the way. The woman struck at the soldier in a stupid, senseless, useless way, and then gathered her trembling chicks under her wing, trying to look defiant.

In a moment she was surrounded. Two soldiers seized her, and two more dragged the children away from her. She screamed and the children cried, the soldiers swore and struck out right and left with their bayonets. There was a general melee, calls of agony rent the air, rough oaths drowned the shouts of the helpless. Some women, panic-stricken, started to run.

And Blakeney from his window looked down upon the scene. He no longer saw the garden at Richmond, the lazily-flowing river, the bowers of roses; even the sweet face of Marguerite, sad and lonely, appeared dim and far away.

He looked across the icebound river, past the quay where rough soldiers were brutalising a number of wretched defenceless women, to that grim Châtelet prison, where tiny lights shining here and there behind barred windows told the sad tale of weary vigils, of watches through the night, when dawn would bring martyrdom and death.

And it was not Marguerite’s blue eyes that beckoned to him now, it was not her lips that called, but the wan face of a child with matted curls hanging above a greasy forehead, and small hands covered in grime that had once been fondled by a Queen.

The adventurer in him had chased away the dream.

“While there is life in me I’ll cheat those brutes of prey,” he murmured.

XIII. Then Everything Was Dark

The night that Armand St. Just spent tossing about on a hard, narrow bed was the most miserable, agonising one he had ever passed in his life. A kind of fever ran through him, causing his teeth to chatter and the veins in his temples to throb until he thought that they must burst.

Physically he certainly was ill; the mental strain caused by two great conflicting passions had attacked his bodily strength, and whilst his brain and heart fought their battles together, his aching limbs found no repose.

His love for Jeanne! His loyalty to the man to whom he owed his life, and to whom he had sworn allegiance and implicit obedience!

These superacute feelings seemed to be tearing at his very heartstrings, until he felt that he could no longer lie on the miserable palliasse which in these squalid lodgings did duty for a bed.

He rose long before daybreak, with tired back and burning eyes, but unconscious of any pain save that which tore at his heart.

The weather, fortunately, was not quite so cold⁠—a sudden and very rapid thaw had set in; and when after a hurried toilet Armand, carrying a bundle under his arm, emerged into the street, the mild south wind struck pleasantly on his face.

It was then pitch dark. The street lamps had been extinguished long ago, and the feeble January sun had not yet tinged with pale colour the heavy clouds that hung over the sky.

The streets of the great city were absolutely deserted at this hour. It lay, peaceful and still, wrapped in its mantle of gloom. A thin rain was falling, and Armand’s feet, as he began to descend the heights of Montmartre, sank ankle deep in the mud of the road. There was but scanty attempt at pavements in this outlying quarter of the town, and Armand had much ado to keep his footing on the uneven and intermittent stones that did duty for roads in these parts. But this discomfort did not trouble him just now. One thought⁠—and one alone⁠—was clear in his mind: he must see Jeanne before he left Paris.

He did not pause to think how he could accomplish that at this hour of the day. All he knew was that he must obey his chief, and that he must see Jeanne. He would see her, explain to her that he must leave Paris immediately, and beg her to make her preparations quickly, so that she might meet him as soon as maybe, and accompany him to England straight away.

He did not feel that he was being disloyal by trying to see Jeanne. He had thrown prudence to the winds, not realising that his imprudence would and did jeopardise, not only the success of his chief’s plans, but also his life and that of his friends. He had before parting from Hastings last night arranged to meet him in the neighbourhood of the Neuilly Gate at seven o’clock; it was only six now. There was plenty of time for him to rouse the concierge at the house of the Square du Roule, to see Jeanne for a few moments, to slip into Madame Belhomme’s kitchen, and there into the labourer’s clothes which he was carrying in the bundle under his arm, and to be at the gate at the appointed hour.

The Square du Roule is shut off from the Rue St. Honoré, on which it abuts, by tall iron gates, which a few years ago, when the secluded little square was a fashionable quarter of the city, used to be kept closed at night, with a watchman in uniform to intercept midnight prowlers. Now these gates had been rudely torn away from their sockets, the iron had been sold for the benefit of the ever-empty Treasury, and no one cared if the homeless, the starving, or the evildoer found shelter under the porticoes of the houses, from whence wealthy or aristocratic owners had long since thought it wise to flee.

No one challenged Armand when he turned into the square, and though the darkness was intense, he made his way fairly straight for the house where lodged Mademoiselle Lange.

So far he had been wonderfully lucky. The foolhardiness with which he had exposed his life and that of his friends by wandering about the streets of Paris at this hour without any attempt at disguise, though carrying one under his arm, had not met with the untoward fate which it undoubtedly deserved. The darkness of the night and the thin sheet of rain as it fell had effectually wrapped his progress through the lonely streets in their beneficent mantle of gloom; the soft mud below had drowned the echo of his footsteps. If spies were on his track, as Jeanne had feared and Blakeney prophesied, he had certainly succeeded in evading them.

He pulled the concierge’s bell, and the latch of the outer door, manipulated from within, duly sprang open in response. He entered, and from the lodge the concierge’s voice emerging, muffled from the depths of pillows and blankets, challenged him with an oath directed at the unseemliness of the hour.

“Mademoiselle Lange,” said Armand boldly, as without hesitation he walked quickly past the lodge making straight for the stairs.

It seemed to him that from the concierge’s room loud vituperations followed him, but he took no notice of these; only a short flight of stairs and one more door separated him from Jeanne.

He did not pause to think that she would in all probability be still in bed, that he might have some difficulty in rousing Madame Belhomme, that the latter might not even care to admit him; nor did he reflect on the glaring imprudence of his actions. He wanted to see Jeanne, and she was the other side of that wall.

, citizen! Holà! Here! Curse you! Where are you?” came in a gruff voice to him from below.

He had mounted the stairs, and was now on the landing just outside Jeanne’s door. He pulled the bell-handle, and heard the pleasing echo of the bell that would presently wake Madame Belhomme and bring her to the door.

“Citizen! Holà! Curse you for an aristo! What are you doing there?”

The concierge, a stout, elderly man, wrapped in a blanket, his feet thrust in slippers, and carrying a guttering tallow candle, had appeared upon the landing.

He held the candle up so that its feeble flickering rays fell on Armand’s pale face, and on the damp cloak which fell away from his shoulders.

“What are you doing there?” reiterated the concierge with another oath from his prolific vocabulary.

“As you see, citizen,” replied Armand politely, “I am ringing Mademoiselle Lange’s front door bell.”

“At this hour of the morning?” queried the man with a sneer.

“I desire to see her.”

“Then you have come to the wrong house, citizen,” said the concierge with a rude laugh.

“The wrong house? What do you mean?” stammered Armand, a little bewildered.

“She is not here⁠—quoi!” retorted the concierge, who now turned deliberately on his heel. “Go and look for her, citizen; it’ll take you some time to find her.”

He shuffled off in the direction of the stairs. Armand was vainly trying to shake himself free from a sudden, an awful sense of horror.

He gave another vigorous pull at the bell, then with one bound he overtook the concierge, who was preparing to descend the stairs, and gripped him peremptorily by the arm.

“Where is Mademoiselle Lange?” he asked.

His voice sounded quite strange in his own ear; his throat felt parched, and he had to moisten his lips with his tongue before he was able to speak.

“Arrested,” replied the man.

“Arrested? When? Where? How?”

“When⁠—late yesterday evening. Where?⁠—here in her room. How?⁠—by the agents of the Committee of General Security. She and the old woman! Basta! that’s all I know. Now I am going back to bed, and you clear out of the house. You are making a disturbance, and I shall be reprimanded. I ask you, is this a decent time for rousing honest patriots out of their morning sleep?”

He shook his arm free from Armand’s grasp and once more began to descend.

Armand stood on the landing like a man who has been stunned by a blow on the head. His limbs were paralysed. He could not for the moment have moved or spoken if his life had depended on a sign or on a word. His brain was reeling, and he had to steady himself with his hand against the wall or he would have fallen headlong on the floor. He had lived in a whirl of excitement for the past twenty-four hours; his nerves during that time had been kept at straining point. Passion, joy, happiness, deadly danger, and moral fights had worn his mental endurance threadbare; want of proper food and a sleepless night had almost thrown his physical balance out of gear. This blow came at a moment when he was least able to bear it.

Jeanne had been arrested! Jeanne was in the hands of those brutes, whom he, Armand, had regarded yesterday with insurmountable loathing! Jeanne was in prison⁠—she was arrested⁠—she would be tried, condemned, and all because of him!

The thought was so awful that it brought him to the verge of mania. He watched as in a dream the form of the concierge shuffling his way down the oak staircase; his portly figure assumed Gargantuan proportions, the candle which he carried looked like the dancing flames of hell, through which grinning faces, hideous and contortioned, mocked at him and leered.

Then suddenly everything was dark. The light had disappeared round the bend of the stairs; grinning faces and ghoulish visions vanished; he only saw Jeanne, his dainty, exquisite Jeanne, in the hands of those brutes. He saw her as he had seen a year and a half ago the victims of those bloodthirsty wretches being dragged before a tribunal that was but a mockery of justice; he heard the quick interrogatory, and the responses from her perfect lips, that exquisite voice of hers veiled by tones of anguish. He heard the condemnation, the rattle of the tumbril on the ill-paved streets⁠—saw her there with hands clasped together, her eyes⁠—

Great God! he was really going mad!

Like a wild creature driven forth he started to run down the stairs, past the concierge, who was just entering his lodge, and who now turned in surly anger to watch this man running away like a lunatic or a fool, out by the front door and into the street. In a moment he was out of the little square; then like a hunted hare he still ran down the Rue St. Honoré, along its narrow, interminable length. His hat had fallen from his head, his hair was wild all round his face, the rain weighted the cloak upon his shoulders; but still he ran.

His feet made no noise on the muddy pavement. He ran on and on, his elbows pressed to his sides, panting, quivering, intent but upon one thing⁠—the goal which he had set himself to reach.

Jeanne was arrested. He did not know where to look for her, but he did know whither he wanted to go now as swiftly as his legs would carry him.

It was still dark, but Armand St. Just was a born Parisian, and he knew every inch of this quarter, where he and Marguerite had years ago lived. Down the Rue St. Honoré, he had reached the bottom of the interminably long street at last. He had kept just a sufficiency of reason⁠—or was it merely blind instinct?⁠—to avoid the places where the night patrols of the National Guard might be on the watch. He avoided the Place du Carrousel, also the quay, and struck sharply to his right until he reached the façade of St. Germain l’Auxerrois.

Another effort; round the corner, and there was the house at last. He was like the hunted creature now that has run to earth. Up the two flights of stone stairs, and then the pull at the bell; a moment of tense anxiety, whilst panting, gasping, almost choked with the sustained effort and the strain of the past half-hour, he leaned against the wall, striving not to fall.

Then the well-known firm step across the rooms beyond, the open door, the hand upon his shoulder.

After that he remembered nothing more.

XIV. The Chief

He had not actually fainted, but the exertion of that long run had rendered him partially unconscious. He knew now that he was safe, that he was sitting in Blakeney’s room, and that something hot and vivifying was being poured down his throat.

“Percy, they have arrested her!” he said, panting, as soon as speech returned to his paralysed tongue.

“All right. Don’t talk now. Wait till you are better.”

With infinite care and gentleness Blakeney arranged some cushions under Armand’s head, turned the sofa towards the fire, and anon brought his friend a cup of hot coffee, which the latter drank with avidity.

He was really too exhausted to speak. He had contrived to tell Blakeney, and now Blakeney knew, so everything would be all right. The inevitable reaction was asserting itself; the muscles had relaxed, the nerves were numbed, and Armand lay back on the sofa with eyes half closed, unable to move, yet feeling his strength gradually returning to him, his vitality asserting itself, all the feverish excitement of the past twenty-four hours yielding at last to a calmer mood.

Through his half-closed eyes he could see his brother-in-law moving about the room. Blakeney was fully dressed. In a sleepy kind of way Armand wondered if he had been to bed at all; certainly his clothes set on him with their usual well-tailored perfection, and there was no suggestion in his brisk step and alert movements that he had passed a sleepless night.

Now he was standing by the open window. Armand, from where he lay, could see his broad shoulders sharply outlined against the grey background of the hazy winter dawn. A wan light was just creeping up from the east over the city; the noises of the streets below came distinctly to Armand’s ear.

He roused himself with one vigorous effort from his lethargy, feeling quite ashamed of himself and of this breakdown of his nervous system. He looked with frank admiration on Sir Percy, who stood immovable and silent by the window⁠—a perfect tower of strength, serene and impassive, yet kindly in distress.

“Percy,” said the young man, “I ran all the way from the top of the Rue St. Honoré. I was only breathless. I am quite all right. May I tell you all about it?”

Without a word Blakeney closed the window and came across to the sofa; he sat down beside Armand, and to all outward appearances he was nothing now but a kind and sympathetic listener to a friend’s tale of woe. Not a line in his face or a look in his eyes betrayed the thoughts of the leader who had been thwarted at the outset of a dangerous enterprise, or of the man, accustomed to command, who had been so flagrantly disobeyed.

Armand, unconscious of all save of Jeanne and of her immediate need, put an eager hand on Percy’s arm.

“Héron and his hellhounds went back to her lodgings last night,” he said, speaking as if he were still a little out of breath. “They hoped to get me, no doubt; not finding me there, they took her. Oh, my God!”

It was the first time that he had put the whole terrible circumstance into words, and it seemed to gain in reality by the recounting. The agony of mind which he endured was almost unbearable; he hid his face in his hands lest Percy should see how terribly he suffered.

“I knew that,” said Blakeney quietly. Armand looked up in surprise.

“How? When did you know it?” he stammered.

“Last night when you left me. I went down to the Square du Roule. I arrived there just too late.”

“Percy!” exclaimed Armand, whose pale face had suddenly flushed scarlet, “you did that?⁠—last night you⁠—”

“Of course,” interposed the other calmly; “had I not promised you to keep watch over her? When I heard the news it was already too late to make further inquiries, but when you arrived just now I was on the point of starting out, in order to find out in what prison Mademoiselle Lange is being detained. I shall have to go soon, Armand, before the guard is changed at the Temple and the Tuileries. This is the safest time, and God knows we are all of us sufficiently compromised already.”

The flush of shame deepened in St. Just’s cheek. There had not been a hint of reproach in the voice of his chief, and the eyes which regarded him now from beneath the half-closed lids showed nothing but lazy bonhomie.

In a moment now Armand realised all the harm which his recklessness had done, was still doing to the work of the League. Every one of his actions since his arrival in Paris two days ago had jeopardised a plan or endangered a life: his friendship with de Batz, his connection with Mademoiselle Lange, his visit to her yesterday afternoon, the repetition of it this morning, culminating in that wild run through the streets of Paris, when at any moment a spy lurking round a corner might either have barred his way, or, worse still, have followed him to Blakeney’s door. Armand, without a thought of anyone save of his beloved, might easily this morning have brought an agent of the Committee of General Security face to face with his chief.

“Percy,” he murmured, “can you ever forgive me?”

“Pshaw, man!” retorted Blakeney lightly; “there is naught to forgive, only a great deal that should no longer be forgotten; your duty to the others, for instance, your obedience, and your honour.”

“I was mad, Percy. Oh! if you only could understand what she means to me!”

Blakeney laughed, his own lighthearted careless laugh, which so often before now had helped to hide what he really felt from the eyes of the indifferent, and even from those of his friends.

“No! no!” he said lightly, “we agreed last night, did we not? that in matters of sentiment I am a cold-blooded fish. But will you at any rate concede that I am a man of my word? Did I not pledge it last night that Mademoiselle Lange would be safe? I foresaw her arrest the moment I heard your story. I hoped that I might reach her before that brute Héron’s return; unfortunately he forestalled me by less than half an hour. Mademoiselle Lange has been arrested, Armand; but why should you not trust me on that account? Have we not succeeded, I and the others, in worse cases than this one? They mean no harm to Jeanne Lange,” he added emphatically; “I give you my word on that. They only want her as a decoy. It is you they want. You through her, and me through you. I pledge you my honour that she will be safe. You must try and trust me, Armand. It is much to ask, I know, for you will have to trust me with what is most precious in the world to you; and you will have to obey me blindly, or I shall not be able to keep my word.”

“What do you wish me to do?”

“Firstly, you must be outside Paris within the hour. Every minute that you spend inside the city now is full of danger⁠—oh, no! not for you,” added Blakeney, checking with a good-humoured gesture Armand’s words of protestation, “danger for the others⁠—and for our scheme tomorrow.”

“How can I go to St. Germain, Percy, knowing that she⁠—”

“Is under my charge?” interposed the other calmly. “That should not be so very difficult. Come,” he added, placing a kindly hand on the other’s shoulder, “you shall not find me such an inhuman monster after all. But I must think of the others, you see, and of the child whom I have sworn to save. But I won’t send you as far as St. Germain. Go down to the room below and find a good bundle of rough clothes that will serve you as a disguise, for I imagine that you have lost those which you had on the landing or the stairs of the house in the Square du Roule. In a tin box with the clothes downstairs you will find the packet of miscellaneous certificates of safety. Take an appropriate one, and then start out immediately for Villette. You understand?”

“Yes, yes!” said Armand eagerly. “You want me to join Ffoulkes and Tony.”

“Yes! You’ll find them probably unloading coal by the canal. Try and get private speech with them as early as may be, and tell Tony to set out at once for St. Germain, and to join Hastings there, instead of you, whilst you take his place with Ffoulkes.”

“Yes, I understand; but how will Tony reach St. Germain?”

“La, my good fellow,” said Blakeney gaily, “you may safely trust Tony to go where I send him. Do you but do as I tell you, and leave him to look after himself. And now,” he added, speaking more earnestly, “the sooner you get out of Paris the better it will be for us all. As you see, I am only sending you to La Villette, because it is not so far, but that I can keep in personal touch with you. Remain close to the gates for an hour after nightfall. I will contrive before they close to bring you news of Mademoiselle Lange.”

Armand said no more. The sense of shame in him deepened with every word spoken by his chief. He felt how untrustworthy he had been, how undeserving of the selfless devotion which Percy was showing him even now. The words of gratitude died on his lips; he knew that they would be unwelcome. These Englishmen were so devoid of sentiment, he thought, and his brother-in-law, with all his unselfish and heroic deeds, was, he felt, absolutely callous in matters of the heart.

But Armand was a noble-minded man, and with the true sporting instinct in him, despite the fact that he was a creature of nerves, highly strung and imaginative. He could give ungrudging admiration to his chief, even whilst giving himself up entirely to the sentiment for Jeanne.

He tried to imbue himself with the same spirit that actuated my Lord Tony and the other members of the League. How gladly would he have chaffed and made senseless schoolboy jokes like those which⁠—in face of their hazardous enterprise and the dangers which they all ran⁠—had horrified him so much last night.

But somehow he knew that jokes from him would not ring true. How could he smile when his heart was brimming over with his love for Jeanne, and with solicitude on her account? He felt that Percy was regarding him with a kind of indulgent amusement; there was a look of suppressed merriment in the depths of those lazy blue eyes.

So he braced up his nerves, trying his best to look cool and unconcerned, but he could not altogether hide from his friend the burning anxiety which was threatening to break his heart.

“I have given you my word, Armand,” said Blakeney in answer to the unspoken prayer; “cannot you try and trust me⁠—as the others do? Then with sudden transition he pointed to the map behind him.

“Remember the gate of Villette, and the corner by the towpath. Join Ffoulkes as soon as may be and send Tony on his way, and wait for news of Mademoiselle Lange some time tonight.”

“God bless you, Percy!” said Armand involuntarily. “Goodbye!”

“Goodbye, my dear fellow. Slip on your disguise as quickly as you can, and be out of the house in a quarter of an hour.”

He accompanied Armand through the anteroom, and finally closed the door on him. Then he went back to his room and walked up to the window, which he threw open to the humid morning air. Now that he was alone the look of trouble on his face deepened to a dark, anxious frown, and as he looked out across the river a sigh of bitter impatience and disappointment escaped his lips.

XV. The Gate of La Villette

And now the shades of evening had long since yielded to those of night. The gate of La Villette, at the northeast corner of the city, was about to close. Armand, dressed in the rough clothes of a labouring man, was leaning against a low wall at the angle of the narrow street which abuts on the canal at its further end; from this point of vantage he could command a view of the gate and of the life and bustle around it.

He was dog-tired. After the emotions of the past twenty-four hours, a day’s hard manual toil to which he was unaccustomed had caused him to ache in every limb. As soon as he had arrived at the canal wharf in the early morning he had obtained the kind of casual work that ruled about here, and soon was told off to unload a cargo of coal which had arrived by barge overnight. He had set-to with a will, half hoping to kill his anxiety by dint of heavy bodily exertion. During the course of the morning he had suddenly become aware of Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and of Lord Anthony Dewhurst working not far away from him, and as fine a pair of coal-heavers as any shipper could desire.

It was not very difficult in the midst of the noise and activity that reigned all about the wharf for the three men to exchange a few words together, and Armand soon communicated the chief’s new instructions to my Lord Tony, who effectually slipped away from his work some time during the day. Armand did not even see him go, it had all been so neatly done.

Just before five o’clock in the afternoon the labourers were paid off. It was then too dark to continue work. Armand would have liked to talk to Sir Andrew, if only for a moment. He felt lonely and desperately anxious. He had hoped to tire out his nerves as well as his body, but in this he had not succeeded. As soon as he had given up his tools, his brain began to work again more busily than ever. It followed Percy in his peregrinations through the city, trying to discover where those brutes were keeping Jeanne.

That task had suddenly loomed up before Armand’s mind with all its terrible difficulties. How could Percy⁠—a marked man if ever there was one⁠—go from prison to prison to inquire about Jeanne? The very idea seemed preposterous. Armand ought never to have consented to such an insensate plan. The more he thought of it, the more impossible did it seem that Blakeney could find anything out.

Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was nowhere to be seen. St. Just wandered about in the dark, lonely streets of this outlying quarter vainly trying to find the friend in whom he could confide, who, no doubt, would reassure him as to Blakeney’s probable movements in Paris. Then as the hour approached for the closing of the city gates Armand took up his stand at an angle of the street from whence he could see both the gate on one side of him and the thin line of the canal intersecting the street at its further end.

Unless Percy came within the next five minutes the gates would be closed and the difficulties of crossing the barrier would be increased a hundredfold. The market gardeners with their covered carts filed out of the gate one by one; the labourers on foot were returning to their homes; there was a group of stonemasons, a few road-makers, also a number of beggars, ragged and filthy, who herded somewhere in the neighbourhood of the canal.

In every form, under every disguise, Armand hoped to discover Percy. He could not stand still for very long, but strode up and down the road that skirts the fortifications at this point.

There were a good many idlers about at this hour; some men who had finished their work, and meant to spend an hour or so in one of the drinking shops that abounded in the neighbourhood of the wharf; others who liked to gather a small knot of listeners around them, whilst they discoursed on the politics of the day, or rather raged against the Convention, which was all made up of traitors to the people’s welfare.

Armand, trying manfully to play his part, joined one of the groups that stood gaping round a street orator. He shouted with the best of them, waved his cap in the air, and applauded or hissed in unison with the majority. But his eyes never wandered for long away from the gate whence Percy must come now at any moment⁠—now or not at all.

At what precise moment the awful doubt took birth in his mind the young man could not afterwards have said. Perhaps it was when he heard the roll of drums proclaiming the closing of the gates, and witnessed the changing of the guard.

Percy had not come. He could not come now, and he (Armand) would have the night to face without news of Jeanne. Something, of course, had detained Percy; perhaps he had been unable to get definite information about Jeanne; perhaps the information which he had obtained was too terrible to communicate.

If only Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had been there, and Armand had had someone to talk to, perhaps then he would have found sufficient strength of mind to wait with outward patience, even though his nerves were on the rack.

Darkness closed in around him, and with the darkness came the full return of the phantoms that had assailed him in the house of the Square du Roule when first he had heard of Jeanne’s arrest. The open place facing the gate had transformed itself into the Place de la Révolution, the tall rough post that held a flickering oil lamp had become the gaunt arm of the guillotine, the feeble light of the lamp was the knife that gleamed with the reflection of a crimson light.

And Armand saw himself, as in a vision, one of a vast and noisy throng⁠—they were all pressing round him so that he could not move; they were brandishing caps and tricolour flags, also pitchforks and scythes. He had seen such a crowd four years ago rushing towards the Bastille. Now they were all assembled here around him and around the guillotine.

Suddenly a distant rattle caught his subconscious ear: the rattle of wheels on rough cobblestones. Immediately the crowd began to cheer and to shout; some sang the “Ça ira!” and others screamed:

Les aristos! à la lanterne! a mort! a mort! les aristos!

He saw it all quite plainly, for the darkness had vanished, and the vision was more vivid than even reality could have been. The rattle of wheels grew louder, and presently the cart debouched on the open place.

Men and women sat huddled up in the cart; but in the midst of them a woman stood, and her eyes were fixed upon Armand. She wore her pale-grey satin gown, and a white kerchief was folded across her bosom. Her brown hair fell in loose soft curls all round her head. She looked exactly like the exquisite cameo which Marguerite used to wear. Her hands were tied with cords behind her back, but between her fingers she held a small bunch of violets.

Armand saw it all. It was, of course, a vision, and he knew that it was one, but he believed that the vision was prophetic. No thought of the chief whom he had sworn to trust and to obey came to chase away these imaginings of his fevered fancy. He saw Jeanne, and only Jeanne, standing on the tumbril and being led to the guillotine. Sir Andrew was not there, and Percy had not come. Armand believed that a direct message had come to him from heaven to save his beloved.

Therefore he forgot his promise⁠—his oath; he forgot those very things which the leader had entreated him to remember⁠—his duty to the others, his loyalty, his obedience. Jeanne had first claim on him. It were the act of a coward to remain in safety whilst she was in such deadly danger.

Now he blamed himself severely for having quitted Paris. Even Percy must have thought him a coward for obeying quite so readily. Maybe the command had been but a test of his courage, of the strength of his love for Jeanne.

A hundred conjectures flashed through his brain; a hundred plans presented themselves to his mind. It was not for Percy, who did not know her, to save Jeanne or to guard her. That task was Armand’s, who worshipped her, and who would gladly die beside her if he failed to rescue her from threatened death.

Resolution was not slow in coming. A tower clock inside the city struck the hour of six, and still no sign of Percy.

Armand, his certificate of safety in his hand, walked boldly up to the gate.

The guard challenged him, but he presented the certificate. There was an agonising moment when the card was taken from him, and he was detained in the guardroom while it was being examined by the sergeant in command.

But the certificate was in good order, and Armand, covered in coal-dust, with the perspiration streaming down his face, did certainly not look like an aristocrat in disguise. It was never very difficult to enter the great city; if one wished to put one’s head in the lion’s mouth, one was welcome to do so; the difficulty came when the lion thought fit to close his jaws.

Armand, after five minutes of tense anxiety, was allowed to cross the barrier, but his certificate of safety was detained. He would have to get another from the Committee of General Security before he would be allowed to leave Paris again.

The lion had thought fit to close his jaws.

XVI. The Weary Search

Blakeney was not at his lodgings when Armand arrived there that evening, nor did he return, whilst the young man haunted the precincts of St. Germain l’Auxerrois and wandered along the quays hours and hours at a stretch, until he nearly dropped under the portico of a house, and realised that if he loitered longer he might lose consciousness completely, and be unable on the morrow to be of service to Jeanne.

He dragged his weary footsteps back to his own lodgings on the heights of Montmartre. He had not found Percy, he had no news of Jeanne; it seemed as if hell itself could hold no worse tortures than this intolerable suspense.

He threw himself down on the narrow palliasse and, tired nature asserting herself, at last fell into a heavy, dreamless torpor, like the sleep of a drunkard, deep but without the beneficent aid of rest.

It was broad daylight when he awoke. The pale light of a damp, wintry morning filtered through the grimy panes of the window. Armand jumped out of bed, aching of limb but resolute of mind. There was no doubt that Percy had failed in discovering Jeanne’s whereabouts; but where a mere friend had failed a lover was more likely to succeed.

The rough clothes which he had worn yesterday were the only ones he had. They would, of course, serve his purpose better than his own, which he had left at Blakeney’s lodgings yesterday. In half an hour he was dressed, looking a fairly good imitation of a labourer out of work.

He went to a humble eating house of which he knew, and there, having ordered some hot coffee with a hunk of bread, he set himself to think.

It was quite a usual thing these days for relatives and friends of prisoners to go wandering about from prison to prison to find out where the loved ones happened to be detained. The prisons were overfull just now; convents, monasteries, and public institutions had all been requisitioned by the Government for the housing of the hundreds of so-called traitors who had been arrested on the barest suspicion, or at the mere denunciation of an evil-wisher.

There were the Abbaye and the Luxembourg, the erstwhile convents of the Visitation and the Sacré-Coeur, the cloister of the Oratorians, the Salpêtrière, and the St. Lazare hospitals, and there was, of course, the Temple, and, lastly, the Conciergerie, to which those prisoners were brought whose trial would take place within the next few days, and whose condemnation was practically assured.

Persons under arrest at some of the other prisons did sometimes come out of them alive, but the Conciergerie was only the antechamber of the guillotine.

Therefore Armand’s idea was to visit the Conciergerie first. The sooner he could reassure himself that Jeanne was not in immediate danger the better would he be able to endure the agony of that heartbreaking search, that knocking at every door in the hope of finding his beloved.

If Jeanne was not in the Conciergerie, then there might be some hope that she was only being temporarily detained, and through Armand’s excited brain there had already flashed the thought that mayhap the Committee of General Security would release her if he gave himself up.

These thoughts, and the making of plans, fortified him mentally and physically; he even made a great effort to eat and drink, knowing that his bodily strength must endure if it was going to be of service to Jeanne.

He reached the Quai de l’Horloge soon after nine. The grim, irregular walls of the Châtelet and the house of Justice loomed from out the mantle of mist that lay on the river banks. Armand skirted the square clock-tower, and passed through the monumental gateways of the house of Justice.

He knew that his best way to the prison would be through the halls and corridors of the Tribunal, to which the public had access whenever the court was sitting. The sittings began at ten, and already the usual crowd of idlers were assembling⁠—men and women who apparently had no other occupation save to come day after day to this theatre of horrors and watch the different acts of the heartrending dramas that were enacted here with a kind of awful monotony.

Armand mingled with the crowd that stood about the courtyard, and anon moved slowly up the gigantic flight of stone steps, talking lightly on indifferent subjects. There was quite a goodly sprinkling of workingmen amongst this crowd, and Armand in his toil-stained clothes attracted no attention.

Suddenly a word reached his ear⁠—just a name flippantly spoken by spiteful lips⁠—and it changed the whole trend of his thoughts. Since he had risen that morning he had thought of nothing but of Jeanne, and⁠—in connection with her⁠—of Percy and his vain quest of her. Now that name spoken by someone unknown brought his mind back to more definite thoughts of his chief.

“Capet!” the name⁠—intended as an insult, but actually merely irrelevant⁠—whereby the uncrowned little King of France was designated by the revolutionary party.

Armand suddenly recollected that today was Sunday, the 19th of January. He had lost count of days and of dates lately, but the name, “Capet,” had brought everything back: the child in the Temple; the conference in Blakeney’s lodgings; the plans for the rescue of the boy. That was to take place today⁠—Sunday, the 19th. The Simons would be moving from the Temple, at what hour Blakeney did not know, but it would be today, and he would be watching his opportunity.

Now Armand understood everything; a great wave of bitterness swept over his soul. Percy had forgotten Jeanne! He was busy thinking of the child in the Temple, and whilst Armand had been eating out his heart with anxiety, the Scarlet Pimpernel, true only to his mission, and impatient of all sentiment that interfered with his schemes, had left Jeanne to pay with her life for the safety of the uncrowned King.

But the bitterness did not last long; on the contrary, a kind of wild exultation took its place. If Percy had forgotten, then Armand could stand by Jeanne alone. It was better so! He would save the loved one; it was his duty and his right to work for her sake. Never for a moment did he doubt that he could save her, that his life would be readily accepted in exchange for hers.

The crowd around him was moving up the monumental steps, and Armand went with the crowd. It lacked but a few minutes to ten now; soon the court would begin to sit. In the olden days, when he was studying for the law, Armand had often wandered about at will along the corridors of the house of Justice. He knew exactly where the different prisons were situated about the buildings, and how to reach the courtyards where the prisoners took their daily exercise.

To watch those aristos who were awaiting trial and death taking their recreation in these courtyards had become one of the sights of Paris. Country cousins on a visit to the city were brought hither for entertainment. Tall iron gates stood between the public and the prisoners, and a row of sentinels guarded these gates; but if one was enterprising and eager to see, one could glue one’s nose against the ironwork and watch the ci-devant aristocrats in threadbare clothes trying to cheat their horror of death by acting a farce of lightheartedness which their wan faces and tear-dimmed eyes effectually belied.

All this Armand knew, and on this he counted. For a little while he joined the crowd in the Salle des Pas Perdus, and wandered idly up and down the majestic colonnaded hall. He even at one time formed part of the throng that watched one of those quick tragedies that were enacted within the great chamber of the court. A number of prisoners brought in, in a batch; hurried interrogations, interrupted answers, a quick indictment, monstrous in its flaring injustice, spoken by Foucquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor, and listened to in all seriousness by men who dared to call themselves judges of their fellows.

The accused had walked down the Champs Élysées without wearing a tricolour cockade; the other had invested some savings in an English industrial enterprise; yet another had sold public funds, causing them to depreciate rather suddenly in the market!

Sometimes from one of these unfortunates led thus wantonly to butchery there would come an excited protest, or from a woman screams of agonised entreaty. But these were quickly silenced by rough blows from the butt-ends of muskets, and condemnations⁠—wholesale sentences of death⁠—were quickly passed amidst the cheers of the spectators and the howls of derision from infamous jury and judge.

Oh! the mockery of it all⁠—the awful, the hideous ignominy, the blot of shame that would forever sully the historic name of France. Armand, sickened with horror, could not bear more than a few minutes of this monstrous spectacle. The same fate might even now be awaiting Jeanne. Among the next batch of victims to this sacrilegious butchery he might suddenly spy his beloved with her pale face and cheeks stained with her tears.

He fled from the great chamber, keeping just a sufficiency of presence of mind to join a knot of idlers who were drifting leisurely towards the corridors. He followed in their wake and soon found himself in the long Galerie des Prisonniers, along the flagstones of which two days ago de Batz had followed his guide towards the lodgings of Héron.

On his left now were the arcades shut off from the courtyard beyond by heavy iron gates. Through the ironwork Armand caught sight of a number of women walking or sitting in the courtyard. He heard a man next to him explaining to his friend that these were the female prisoners who would be brought to trial that day, and he felt that his heart must burst at the thought that mayhap Jeanne would be among them.

He elbowed his way cautiously to the front rank. Soon he found himself beside a sentinel who, with a good-humoured jest, made way for him that he might watch the aristos. Armand leaned against the grating, and his every sense was concentrated in that of sight.

At first he could scarcely distinguish one woman from another amongst the crowd that thronged the courtyard, and the close ironwork hindered his view considerably. The women looked almost like phantoms in the grey misty air, gliding slowly along with noiseless tread on the flagstones.

Presently, however, his eyes, which mayhap were somewhat dim with tears, became more accustomed to the hazy grey light and the moving figures that looked so like shadows. He could distinguish isolated groups now, women and girls sitting together under the colonnaded arcades, some reading, others busy, with trembling fingers, patching and darning a poor, torn gown. Then there were others who were actually chatting and laughing together, and⁠—oh, the pity of it! the pity and the shame!⁠—a few children, shrieking with delight, were playing hide and seek in and out amongst the columns.

And, between them all, in and out like the children at play, unseen, yet familiar to all, the spectre of Death, scythe and hourglass in hand, wandered, majestic and sure.

Armand’s very soul was in his eyes. So far he had not yet caught sight of his beloved, and slowly⁠—very slowly⁠—a ray of hope was filtering through the darkness of his despair.

The sentinel, who had stood aside for him, chaffed him for his intentness.

“Have you a sweetheart among these aristos, citizen?” he asked. “You seem to be devouring them with your eyes.”

Armand, with his rough clothes soiled with coal-dust, his face grimy and streaked with sweat, certainly looked to have but little in common with the ci-devant aristos who formed the hulk of the groups in the courtyard. He looked up; the soldier was regarding him with obvious amusement, and at sight of Armand’s wild, anxious eyes he gave vent to a coarse jest.

“Have I made a shrewd guess, citizen?” he said. “Is she among that lot?”

“I do not know where she is,” said Armand almost involuntarily.

“Then why don’t you find out?” queried the soldier.

The man was not speaking altogether unkindly. Armand, devoured with the maddening desire to know, threw the last fragment of prudence to the wind. He assumed a more careless air, trying to look as like a country bumpkin in love as he could.

“I would like to find out,” he said, “but I don’t know where to inquire. My sweetheart has certainly left her home,” he added lightly; “some say that she has been false to me, but I think that, mayhap, she has been arrested.”

“Well, then, you gaby,” said the soldier good-humouredly, “go straight to La Tournelle; you know where it is?”

Armand knew well enough, but thought it more prudent to keep up the air of the ignorant lout.

“Straight down that first corridor on your right,” explained the other, pointing in the direction which he had indicated, “you will find the guichet of La Tournelle exactly opposite to you. Ask the concierge for the register of female prisoners⁠—every freeborn citizen of the Republic has the right to inspect prison registers. It is a new decree framed for safeguarding the liberty of the people. But if you do not press half a livre in the hand of the concierge,” he added, speaking confidentially, “you will find that the register will not be quite ready for your inspection.”

“Half a livre!” exclaimed Armand, striving to play his part to the end. “How can a poor devil of a labourer have half a livre to give away?”

“Well! a few sous will do in that case; a few sous are always welcome these hard times.”

Armand took the hint, and as the crowd had drifted away momentarily to a further portion of the corridor, he contrived to press a few copper coins into the hand of the obliging soldier.

Of course, he knew his way to La Tournelle, and he would have covered the distance that separated him from the guichet there with steps flying like the wind, but, commending himself for his own prudence, he walked as slowly as he could along the interminable corridor, past the several minor courts of justice, and skirting the courtyard where the male prisoners took their exercise.

At last, having struck sharply to his left and ascended a short flight of stairs, he found himself in front of the guichet⁠—a narrow wooden box, wherein the clerk in charge of the prison registers sat nominally at the disposal of the citizens of this free republic.

But to Armand’s almost overwhelming chagrin he found the place entirely deserted. The guichet was closed down; there was not a soul in sight. The disappointment was doubly keen, coming as it did in the wake of hope that had refused to be gainsaid. Armand himself did not realise how sanguine he had been until he discovered that he must wait and wait again⁠—wait for hours, all day mayhap, before he could get definite news of Jeanne.

He wandered aimlessly in the vicinity of that silent, deserted, cruel spot, where a closed trapdoor seemed to shut off all his hopes of a speedy sight of Jeanne. He inquired of the first sentinels whom he came across at what hour the clerk of the registers would be back at his post; the soldiers shrugged their shoulders and could give no information. Then began Armand’s aimless wanderings round La Tournelle, his fruitless inquiries, his wild, excited search for the hidebound official who was keeping from him the knowledge of Jeanne.

He went back to his sentinel well-wisher by the women’s courtyard, but found neither consolation nor encouragement there.

“It is not the hour⁠—quoi?” the soldier remarked with laconic philosophy.

It apparently was not the hour when the prison registers were placed at the disposal of the public. After much fruitless inquiry, Armand at last was informed by a bon bourgeois, who was wandering about the house of Justice and who seemed to know its multifarious rules, that the prison registers all over Paris could only be consulted by the public between the hours of six and seven in the evening.

There was nothing for it but to wait. Armand, whose temples were throbbing, who was footsore, hungry, and wretched, could gain nothing by continuing his aimless wanderings through the labyrinthine building. For close upon another hour he stood with his face glued against the ironwork which separated him from the female prisoners’ courtyard. Once it seemed to him as if from its further end he caught the sound of that exquisitely melodious voice which had rung forever in his ear since that memorable evening when Jeanne’s dainty footsteps had first crossed the path of his destiny. He strained his eyes to look in the direction whence the voice had come, but the centre of the courtyard was planted with a small garden of shrubs, and Armand could not see across it. At last, driven forth like a wandering and lost soul, he turned back and out into the streets. The air was mild and damp. The sharp thaw had persisted through the day, and a thin, misty rain was falling and converting the ill-paved roads into seas of mud.

But of this Armand was wholly unconscious. He walked along the quay holding his cap in his hand, so that the mild south wind should cool his burning forehead.

How he contrived to kill those long, weary hours he could not afterwards have said. Once he felt very hungry, and turned almost mechanically into an eating-house, and tried to eat and drink. But most of the day he wandered through the streets, restlessly, unceasingly, feeling neither chill nor fatigue. The hour before six o’clock found him on the Quai de l’Horloge in the shadow of the great towers of the Hall of Justice, listening for the clang of the clock that would sound the hour of his deliverance from this agonising torture of suspense.

He found his way to La Tournelle without any hesitation. There before him was the wooden box, with its guichet open at last, and two stands upon its ledge, on which were placed two huge leather-bound books.

Though Armand was nearly an hour before the appointed time, he saw when he arrived a number of people standing round the guichet. Two soldiers were there keeping guard and forcing the patient, long-suffering inquirers to stand in a queue, each waiting his or her turn at the books.

It was a curious crowd that stood there, in single file, as if waiting at the door of the cheaper part of a theatre; men in substantial cloth clothes, and others in ragged blouse and breeches; there were a few women, too, with black shawls on their shoulders and kerchiefs round their wan, tear-stained faces.

They were all silent and absorbed, submissive under the rough handling of the soldiery, humble and deferential when anon the clerk of the registers entered his box, and prepared to place those fateful books at the disposal of those who had lost a loved one⁠—father, brother, mother, or wife⁠—and had come to search through those cruel pages.

From inside his box the clerk disputed every inquirer’s right to consult the books; he made as many difficulties as he could, demanding the production of certificates of safety, or permits from the section. He was as insolent as he dared, and Armand from where he stood could see that a continuous if somewhat thin stream of coppers flowed from the hands of the inquirers into those of the official.

It was quite dark in the passage where the long queue continued to swell with amazing rapidity. Only on the ledge in front of the guichet there was a guttering tallow candle at the disposal of the inquirers.

Now it was Armand’s turn at last. By this time his heart was beating so strongly and so rapidly that he could not have trusted himself to speak. He fumbled in his pocket, and without unnecessary preliminaries he produced a small piece of silver, and pushed it towards the clerk, then he seized on the register marked “Femmes” with voracious avidity.

The clerk had with stolid indifference pocketed the half-livre; he looked on Armand over a pair of large bone-rimmed spectacles, with the air of an old hawk that sees a helpless bird and yet is too satiated to eat. He was apparently vastly amused at Armand’s trembling hands, and the clumsy, aimless way with which he fingered the book and held up the tallow candle.

“What date?” he asked curtly in a piping voice.

“What date?” reiterated Armand vaguely.

“What day and hour was she arrested?” said the man, thrusting his beak-like nose closer to Armand’s face. Evidently the piece of silver had done its work well; he meant to be helpful to this country lout.

“On Friday evening,” murmured the young man.

The clerk’s hands did not in character gainsay the rest of his appearance; they were long and thin, with nails that resembled the talons of a hawk. Armand watched them fascinated as from above they turned over rapidly the pages of the book; then one long, grimy finger pointed to a row of names down a column.

“If she is here,” said the man curtly, “her name should be amongst these.”

Armand’s vision was blurred. He could scarcely see. The row of names was dancing a wild dance in front of his eyes; perspiration stood out on his forehead, and his breath came in quick, stertorous gasps.

He never knew afterwards whether he actually saw Jeanne’s name there in the book, or whether his fevered brain was playing his aching senses a cruel and mocking trick. Certain it is that suddenly amongst a row of indifferent names hers suddenly stood clearly on the page, and to him it seemed as if the letters were writ out in blood.

582. Belhomme, Louise, aged sixty. Discharged.

And just below, the other entry:

583. Lange, Jeanne, aged twenty, actress. Square du Roule No. 5. Suspected of harbouring traitors and ci-devants. Transferred 29th Nivôse to the Temple, cell 29.

He saw nothing more, for suddenly it seemed to him as if someone held a vivid scarlet veil in front of his eyes, whilst a hundred claw-like hands were tearing at his heart and at his throat.

“Clear out now! it is my turn⁠—what? Are you going to stand there all night?”

A rough voice seemed to be speaking these words; rough hands apparently were pushing him out of the way, and someone snatched the candle out of his hand; but nothing was real. He stumbled over a corner of a loose flagstone, and would have fallen, but something seemed to catch hold of him and to lead him away for a little distance, until a breath of cold air blew upon his face.

This brought him back to his senses.

Jeanne was a prisoner in the Temple; then his place was in the prison of the Temple, too. It could not be very difficult to run one’s head into the noose that caught so many necks these days. A few cries of “Vive le roi!” or “À bas la république!” and more than one prison door would gape invitingly to receive another guest.

The hot blood had rushed into Armand’s head. He did not see clearly before him, nor did he hear distinctly. There was a buzzing in his ears as of myriads of mocking birds’ wings, and there was a veil in front of his eyes⁠—a veil through which he saw faces and forms flitting ghostlike in the gloom, men and women jostling or being jostled, soldiers, sentinels; then long, interminable corridors, more crowd and more soldiers, winding stairs, courtyards and gates; finally the open street, the quay, and the river beyond.

An incessant hammering went on in his temples, and that veil never lifted from before his eyes. Now it was lurid and red, as if stained with blood; anon it was white like a shroud but it was always there.

Through it he saw the Pont-au-Change, which he crossed, then far down on the Quai de l’École to the left the corner house behind St. Germain l’Auxerrois, where Blakeney lodged⁠—Blakeney, who for the sake of a stranger had forgotten all about his comrade and Jeanne.

Through it he saw the network of streets which separated him from the neighbourhood of the Temple, the gardens of ruined habitations, the closely-shuttered and barred windows of ducal houses, then the mean streets, the crowded drinking bars, the tumble-down shops with their dilapidated awnings.

He saw with eyes that did not see, heard the tumult of daily life round him with ears that did not hear. Jeanne was in the Temple prison, and when its grim gates closed finally for the night, he⁠—Armand, her chevalier, her lover, her defender⁠—would be within its walls as near to cell No. 29 as bribery, entreaty, promises would help him to attain.

Ah! there at last loomed the great building, the pointed bastions cut through the surrounding gloom as with a sable knife.

Armand reached the gate; the sentinels challenged him; he replied:

Vive le roi!” shouting wildly like one who is drunk.

He was hatless, and his clothes were saturated with moisture. He tried to pass, but crossed bayonets barred the way. Still he shouted:

Vive le roi!” and “À bas la république!

Allons! the fellow is drunk!” said one of the soldiers.

Armand fought like a madman; he wanted to reach that gate. He shouted, he laughed, and he cried, until one of the soldiers in a fit of rage struck him heavily on the head.

Armand fell backwards, stunned by the blow; his foot slipped on the wet pavement. Was he indeed drunk, or was he dreaming? He put his hand up to his forehead; it was wet, but whether with the rain or with blood he did not know; but for the space of one second he tried to collect his scattered wits.

“Citizen St. Just!” said a quiet voice at his elbow.

Then, as he looked round dazed, feeling a firm, pleasant grip on his arm, the same quiet voice continued calmly:

“Perhaps you do not remember me, citizen St. Just. I had not the honour of the same close friendship with you as I had with your charming sister. My name is Chauvelin. Can I be of any service to you?”

XVII. Chauvelin

Chauvelin! The presence of this man here at this moment made the events of the past few days seem more absolutely like a dream. Chauvelin!⁠—the most deadly enemy he, Armand, and his sister Marguerite had in the world. Chauvelin!⁠—the evil genius that presided over the Secret Service of the Republic. Chauvelin⁠—the aristocrat turned revolutionary, the diplomat turned spy, the baffled enemy of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

He stood there vaguely outlined in the gloom by the feeble rays of an oil lamp fixed into the wall just above. The moisture on his sable clothes glistened in the flickering light like a thin veil of crystal; it clung to the rim of his hat, to the folds of his cloak; the ruffles at his throat and wrist hung limp and soiled.

He had released Armand’s arm, and held his hands now underneath his cloak; his pale, deep-set eyes rested gravely on the younger man’s face.

“I had an idea, somehow,” continued Chauvelin calmly, “that you and I would meet during your sojourn in Paris. I heard from my friend Héron that you had been in the city; he, unfortunately, lost your track almost as soon as he had found it, and I, too, had begun to fear that our mutual and ever enigmatical friend, the Scarlet Pimpernel, had spirited you away, which would have been a great disappointment to me.”

Now he once more took hold of Armand by the elbow, but quite gently, more like a comrade who is glad to have met another, and is preparing to enjoy a pleasant conversation for a while. He led the way back to the gate, the sentinel saluting at sight of the tricolour scarf which was visible underneath his cloak. Under the stone rampart Chauvelin paused.

It was quiet and private here. The group of soldiers stood at the further end of the archway, but they were out of hearing, and their forms were only vaguely discernible in the surrounding darkness.

Armand had followed his enemy mechanically like one bewitched and irresponsible for his actions. When Chauvelin paused he too stood still, not because of the grip on his arm, but because of that curious numbing of his will.

Vague, confused thoughts were floating through his brain, the most dominant one among them being that Fate had effectually ordained everything for the best. Here was Chauvelin, a man who hated him, who, of course, would wish to see him dead. Well, surely it must be an easier matter now to barter his own life for that of Jeanne; she had only been arrested on suspicion of harbouring him, who was a known traitor to the Republic; then, with his capture and speedy death, her supposed guilt would, he hoped, be forgiven. These people could have no ill-will against her, and actors and actresses were always leniently dealt with when possible. Then surely, surely, he could serve Jeanne best by his own arrest and condemnation, than by working to rescue her from prison.

In the meanwhile Chauvelin shook the damp from off his cloak, talking all the time in his own peculiar, gently ironical manner.

“Lady Blakeney?” he was saying⁠—“I hope that she is well!”

“I thank you, sir,” murmured Armand mechanically.

“And my dear friend, Sir Percy Blakeney? I had hoped to meet him in Paris. Ah! but no doubt he has been busy⁠—very busy; but I live in hopes⁠—I live in hopes. See how kindly Chance has treated me,” he continued in the same bland and mocking tones. “I was taking a stroll in these parts, scarce hoping to meet a friend, when, passing the postern-gate of this charming hostelry, whom should I see but my amiable friend St. Just striving to gain admission. But, la! here am I talking of myself, and I am not reassured as to your state of health. You felt faint just now, did you not? The air about this building is very dank and close. I hope you feel better now. Command me, pray, if I can be of service to you in any way.”

Whilst Chauvelin talked he had drawn Armand after him into the lodge of the concierge. The young man now made a great effort to pull himself vigorously together and to steady his nerves.

He had his wish. He was inside the Temple prison now, not far from Jeanne, and though his enemy was older and less vigorous than himself, and the door of the concierge’s lodge stood wide open, he knew that he was indeed as effectually a prisoner already as if the door of one of the numerous cells in this gigantic building had been bolted and barred upon him.

This knowledge helped him to recover his complete presence of mind. No thought of fighting or trying to escape his fate entered his head for a moment. It had been useless probably, and undoubtedly it was better so. If he only could see Jeanne, and assure himself that she would be safe in consequence of his own arrest, then, indeed, life could hold no greater happiness for him.

Above all now he wanted to be cool and calculating, to curb the excitement which the Latin blood in him called forth at every mention of the loved one’s name. He tried to think of Percy, of his calmness, his easy banter with an enemy; he resolved to act as Percy would act under these circumstances.

Firstly, he steadied his voice, and drew his well-knit, slim figure upright. He called to mind all his friends in England, with their rigid manners, their impassiveness in the face of trying situations. There was Lord Tony, for instance, always ready with some boyish joke, with boyish impertinence always hovering on his tongue. Armand tried to emulate Lord Tony’s manner, and to borrow something of Percy’s calm impudence.

“Citizen Chauvelin,” he said, as soon as he felt quite sure of the steadiness of his voice and the calmness of his manner, “I wonder if you are quite certain that that light grip which you have on my arm is sufficient to keep me here walking quietly by your side instead of knocking you down, as I certainly feel inclined to do, for I am a younger, more vigorous man than you.”

“H’m!” said Chauvelin, who made pretence to ponder over this difficult problem; “like you, citizen St. Just, I wonder⁠—”

“It could easily be done, you know.”

“Fairly easily,” rejoined the other; “but there is the guard; it is numerous and strong in this building, and⁠—”

“The gloom would help me; it is dark in the corridors, and a desperate man takes risks, remember⁠—”

“Quite so! And you, citizen St. Just, are a desperate man just now.”

“My sister Marguerite is not here, citizen Chauvelin. You cannot barter my life for that of your enemy.”

“No! no! no!” rejoined Chauvelin blandly; “not for that of my enemy, I know, but⁠—”

Armand caught at his words like a drowning man at a reed.

“For hers!” he exclaimed.

“For hers?” queried the other with obvious puzzlement.

“Mademoiselle Lange,” continued Armand with all the egoistic ardour of the lover who believes that the attention of the entire world is concentrated upon his beloved.

“Mademoiselle Lange! You will set her free now that I am in your power.”

Chauvelin smiled, his usual suave, enigmatical smile.

“Ah, yes!” he said. “Mademoiselle Lange. I had forgotten.”

“Forgotten, man?⁠—forgotten that those murderous dogs have arrested her?⁠—the best, the purest, this vile, degraded country has ever produced. She sheltered me one day just for an hour. I am a traitor to the Republic⁠—I own it. I’ll make full confession; but she knew nothing of this. I deceived her; she is quite innocent, you understand? I’ll make full confession, but you must set her free.”

He had gradually worked himself up again to a state of feverish excitement. Through the darkness which hung about in this small room he tried to peer in Chauvelin’s impassive face.

“Easy, easy, my young friend,” said the other placidly; “you seem to imagine that I have something to do with the arrest of the lady in whom you take so deep an interest. You forget that now I am but a discredited servant of the Republic whom I failed to serve in her need. My life is only granted me out of pity for my efforts, which were genuine if not successful. I have no power to set anyone free.”

“Nor to arrest me now, in that case!” retorted Armand.

Chauvelin paused a moment before he replied with a deprecating smile:

“Only to denounce you, perhaps. I am still an agent of the Committee of General Security.”

“Then all is for the best!” exclaimed St. Just eagerly. “You shall denounce me to the Committee. They will be glad of my arrest, I assure you. I have been a marked man for some time. I had intended to evade arrest and to work for the rescue of Mademoiselle Lange; but I will give up all thought of that⁠—I will deliver myself into your hands absolutely; nay, more, I will give you my most solemn word of honour that not only will I make no attempt at escape, but that I will not allow anyone to help me to do so. I will be a passive and willing prisoner if you, on the other hand, will effect Mademoiselle Lange’s release.”

“H’m!” mused Chauvelin again, “it sounds feasible.”

“It does! it does!” rejoined Armand, whose excitement was at fever-pitch. “My arrest, my condemnation, my death, will be of vast deal more importance to you than that of a young and innocent girl against whom unlikely charges would have to be tricked up, and whose acquittal mayhap public feeling might demand. As for me, I shall be an easy prey; my known counterrevolutionary principles, my sister’s marriage with a foreigner⁠—”

“Your connection with the Scarlet Pimpernel,” suggested Chauvelin blandly.

“Quite so. I should not defend myself⁠—”

“And your enigmatical friend would not attempt your rescue. C’est entendu,” said Chauvelin with his wonted blandness. “Then, my dear, enthusiastic young friend, shall we adjourn to the office of my colleague, citizen Héron, who is chief agent of the Committee of General Security, and will receive your⁠—did you say confession?⁠—and note the conditions under which you place yourself absolutely in the hands of the Public Prosecutor and subsequently of the executioner. Is that it?”

Armand was too full of schemes, too full of thoughts of Jeanne to note the tone of quiet irony with which Chauvelin had been speaking all along. With the unreasoning egoism of youth he was quite convinced that his own arrest, his own affairs were as important to this entire nation in revolution as they were to himself. At moments like these it is difficult to envisage a desperate situation clearly, and to a young man in love the fate of the beloved never seems desperate whilst he himself is alive and ready for every sacrifice for her sake. “My life for hers” is the sublime if often foolish battle-cry that has so often resulted in wholesale destruction. Armand at this moment, when he fondly believed that he was making a bargain with the most astute, most unscrupulous spy this revolutionary Government had in its pay⁠—Armand just then had absolutely forgotten his chief, his friends, the league of mercy and help to which he belonged.

Enthusiasm and the spirit of self-sacrifice were carrying him away. He watched his enemy with glowing eyes as one who looks on the arbiter of his fate.

Chauvelin, without another word, beckoned to him to follow. He led the way out of the lodge, then, turning sharply to his left, he reached the wide quadrangle with the covered passage running right round it, the same which de Batz had traversed two evenings ago when he went to visit Héron.

Armand, with a light heart and springy step, followed him as if he were going to a feast where he would meet Jeanne, where he would kneel at her feet, kiss her hands, and lead her triumphantly to freedom and to happiness.

XVIII. The Removal

Chauvelin no longer made any pretence to hold Armand by the arm. By temperament as well as by profession a spy, there was one subject at least which he had mastered thoroughly: that was the study of human nature. Though occasionally an exceptionally complex mental organisation baffled him⁠—as in the case of Sir Percy Blakeney⁠—he prided himself, and justly, too, on reading natures like that of Armand St. Just as he would an open book.

The excitable disposition of the Latin races he knew out and out; he knew exactly how far a sentimental situation would lead a young Frenchman like Armand, who was by disposition chivalrous, and by temperament essentially passionate. Above all things, he knew when and how far he could trust a man to do either a sublime action or an essentially foolish one.

Therefore he walked along contentedly now, not even looking back to see whether St. Just was following him. He knew that he did.

His thoughts only dwelt on the young enthusiast⁠—in his mind he called him the young fool⁠—in order to weigh in the balance the mighty possibilities that would accrue from the present sequence of events. The fixed idea ever working in the man’s scheming brain had already transformed a vague belief into a certainty. That the Scarlet Pimpernel was in Paris at the present moment Chauvelin had now become convinced. How far he could turn the capture of Armand St. Just to the triumph of his own ends remained to be seen.

But this he did know: the Scarlet Pimpernel⁠—the man whom he had learned to know, to dread, and even in a grudging manner to admire⁠—was not like to leave one of his followers in the lurch. Marguerite’s brother in the Temple would be the surest decoy for the elusive meddler who still, and in spite of all care and precaution, continued to baffle the army of spies set upon his track.

Chauvelin could hear Armand’s light, elastic footsteps resounding behind him on the flagstones. A world of intoxicating possibilities surged up before him. Ambition, which two successive dire failures had atrophied in his breast, once more rose up buoyant and hopeful. Once he had sworn to lay the Scarlet Pimpernel by the heels, and that oath was not yet wholly forgotten; it had lain dormant after the catastrophe of Boulogne, but with the sight of Armand St. Just it had reawakened and confronted him again with the strength of a likely fulfilment.

The courtyard looked gloomy and deserted. The thin drizzle which still fell from a persistently leaden sky effectually held every outline of masonry, of column, or of gate hidden as beneath a shroud. The corridor which skirted it all round was ill-lighted save by an occasional oil-lamp fixed in the wall.

But Chauvelin knew his way well. Héron’s lodgings gave on the second courtyard, the Square du Nazaret, and the way thither led past the main square tower, in the top floor of which the uncrowned King of France eked out his miserable existence as the plaything of a rough cobbler and his wife.

Just beneath its frowning bastions Chauvelin turned back towards Armand. He pointed with a careless hand upwards to the central tower.

“We have got little Capet in there,” he said dryly. “Your chivalrous Scarlet Pimpernel has not ventured in these precincts yet, you see.”

Armand was silent. He had no difficulty in looking unconcerned; his thoughts were so full of Jeanne that he cared but little at this moment for any Bourbon king or for the destinies of France.

Now the two men reached the postern gate. A couple of sentinels were standing by, but the gate itself was open, and from within there came the sound of bustle and of noise, of a good deal of swearing, and also of loud laughter.

The guardroom gave on the left of the gate, and the laughter came from there. It was brilliantly lighted, and Armand, peering in, in the wake of Chauvelin, could see groups of soldiers sitting and standing about. There was a table in the centre of the room, and on it a number of jugs and pewter mugs, packets of cards, and overturned boxes of dice.

But the bustle did not come from the guardroom; it came from the landing and the stone stairs beyond.

Chauvelin, apparently curious, had passed through the gate, and Armand followed him. The light from the open door of the guardroom cut sharply across the landing, making the gloom beyond appear more dense and almost solid. From out the darkness, fitfully intersected by a lantern apparently carried to and fro, moving figures loomed out ghostlike and weirdly gigantic. Soon Armand distinguished a number of large objects that encumbered the landing, and as he and Chauvelin left the sharp light of the guardroom behind them, he could see that the large objects were pieces of furniture of every shape and size; a wooden bedstead⁠—dismantled⁠—leaned against the wall, a black horsehair sofa blocked the way to the tower stairs, and there were numberless chairs and several tables piled one on the top of the other.

In the midst of this litter a stout, flabby-cheeked man stood, apparently giving directions as to its removal to persons at present unseen.

Holà, Papa Simon!” exclaimed Chauvelin jovially; “moving out today? What?”

“Yes, thank the Lord!⁠—if there be a Lord!” retorted the other curtly. “Is that you, citizen Chauvelin?”

“In person, citizen. I did not know you were leaving quite so soon. Is citizen Héron anywhere about?”

“Just left,” replied Simon. “He had a last look at Capet just before my wife locked the brat up in the inner room. Now he’s gone back to his lodgings.”

A man carrying a chest, empty of its drawers, on his back now came stumbling down the tower staircase. Madame Simon followed close on his heels, steadying the chest with one hand.

“We had better begin to load up the cart,” she called to her husband in a high-pitched querulous voice; “the corridor is getting too much encumbered.”

She looked suspiciously at Chauvelin and at Armand, and when she encountered the former’s bland, unconcerned gaze she suddenly shivered and drew her black shawl closer round her shoulders.

“Bah!” she said, “I shall be glad to get out of this Godforsaken hole. I hate the very sight of these walls.”

“Indeed, the citizeness does not look over robust in health,” said Chauvelin with studied politeness. “The stay in the tower did not, mayhap, bring forth all the fruits of prosperity which she had anticipated.”

The woman eyed him with dark suspicion lurking in her hollow eyes.

“I don’t know what you mean, citizen,” she said with a shrug of her wide shoulders.

“Oh! I meant nothing,” rejoined Chauvelin, smiling. “I am so interested in your removal; busy man as I am, it has amused me to watch you. Whom have you got to help you with the furniture?”

“Dupont, the man-of-all-work, from the concierge,” said Simon curtly. “Citizen Héron would not allow anyone to come in from the outside.”

“Rightly too. Have the new commissaries come yet?”

“Only citizen Cochefer. He is waiting upstairs for the others.”

“And Capet?”

“He is all safe. Citizen Héron came to see him, and then he told me to lock the little vermin up in the inner room. Citizen Cochefer had just arrived by that time, and he has remained in charge.”

During all this while the man with the chest on his back was waiting for orders. Bent nearly double, he was grumbling audibly at his uncomfortable position.

“Does the citizen want to break my back?” he muttered. “We had best get along⁠—quoi?”

He asked if he should begin to carry the furniture out into the street.

“Two sous have I got to pay every ten minutes to the lad who holds my nag,” he said, muttering under his breath; “we shall be all night at this rate.”

“Begin to load then,” commanded Simon gruffly. “Here!⁠—begin with this sofa.”

“You’ll have to give me a hand with that,” said the man. “Wait a bit; I’ll just see that everything is all right in the cart. I’ll be back directly.”

“Take something with you then as you are going down,” said Madame Simon in her querulous voice.

The man picked up a basket of linen that stood in the angle by the door. He hoisted it on his back and shuffled away with it across the landing and out through the gate.

“How did Capet like parting from his papa and maman?” asked Chauvelin with a laugh.

“H’m!” growled Simon laconically. “He will find out soon enough how well off he was under our care.”

“Have the other commissaries come yet?”

“No. But they will be here directly. Citizen Cochefer is upstairs mounting guard over Capet.”

“Well, goodbye, Papa Simon,” concluded Chauvelin jovially. “Citizeness, your servant!”

He bowed with unconcealed irony to the cobbler’s wife, and nodded to Simon, who expressed by a volley of motley oaths his exact feelings with regard to all the agents of the Committee of General Security.

“Six months of this penal servitude have we had,” he said roughly, “and no thanks or pension. I would as soon serve a ci-devant aristo as your accursed Committee.”

The man Dupont had returned. Stolidly, after the fashion of his kind, he commenced the removal of citizen Simon’s goods. He seemed a clumsy enough creature, and Simon and his wife had to do most of the work themselves.

Chauvelin watched the moving forms for a while, then he shrugged his shoulders with a laugh of indifference, and turned on his heel.

XIX. It Is About the Dauphin

Héron was not at his lodgings when, at last, after vigorous pulls at the bell, a great deal of waiting and much cursing, Chauvelin, closely followed by Armand, was introduced in the chief agent’s office.

The soldier who acted as servant said that citizen Héron had gone out to sup, but would surely be home again by eight o’clock. Armand by this time was so dazed with fatigue that he sank on a chair like a log, and remained there staring into the fire, unconscious of the flight of time.

Anon Héron came home. He nodded to Chauvelin, and threw but a cursory glance on Armand.

“Five minutes, citizen,” he said, with a rough attempt at an apology. “I am sorry to keep you waiting, but the new commissaries have arrived who are to take charge of Capet. The Simons have just gone, and I want to assure myself that everything is all right in the Tower. Cochefer has been in charge, but I like to cast an eye over the brat every day myself.”

He went out again, slamming the door behind him. His heavy footsteps were heard treading the flagstones of the corridor, and gradually dying away in the distance. Armand had paid no heed either to his entrance or to his exit. He was only conscious of an intense weariness, and would at this moment gladly have laid his head on the scaffold if on it he could find rest.

A white-faced clock on the wall ticked off the seconds one by one. From the street below came the muffled sounds of wheeled traffic on the soft mud of the road; it was raining more heavily now, and from time to time a gust of wind rattled the small windows in their dilapidated frames, or hurled a shower of heavy drops against the panes.

The heat from the stove had made Armand drowsy; his head fell forward on his chest. Chauvelin, with his hands held behind his back, paced ceaselessly up and down the narrow room.

Suddenly Armand started⁠—wide awake now. Hurried footsteps on the flagstones outside, a hoarse shout, a banging of heavy doors, and the next moment Héron stood once more on the threshold of the room. Armand, with wide-opened eyes, gazed on him in wonder. The whole appearance of the man had changed. He looked ten years older, with lank, dishevelled hair hanging matted over a moist forehead, the cheeks ashen-white, the full lips bloodless and hanging, flabby and parted, displaying both rows of yellow teeth that shook against each other. The whole figure looked bowed, as if shrunk within itself.

Chauvelin had paused in his restless walk. He gazed on his colleague, a frown of puzzlement on his pale, set face.

“Capet!” he exclaimed, as soon as he had taken in every detail of Héron’s altered appearance, and seen the look of wild terror that literally distorted his face.

Héron could not speak; his teeth were chattering in his mouth, and his tongue seemed paralysed. Chauvelin went up to him. He was several inches shorter than his colleague, but at this moment he seemed to be towering over him like an avenging spirit. He placed a firm hand on the other’s bowed shoulders.

“Capet has gone⁠—is that it?” he queried peremptorily.

The look of terror increased in Héron’s eyes, giving its mute reply.

“How? When?”

But for the moment the man was speechless. An almost maniacal fear seemed to hold him in its grip. With an impatient oath Chauvelin turned away from him.

“Brandy!” he said curtly, speaking to Armand.

A bottle and glass were found in the cupboard. It was St. Just who poured out the brandy and held it to Héron’s lips. Chauvelin was once more pacing up and down the room in angry impatience.

“Pull yourself together, man,” he said roughly after a while, “and try and tell me what has occurred.”

Héron had sunk into a chair. He passed a trembling hand once or twice over his forehead.

“Capet has disappeared,” he murmured; “he must have been spirited away while the Simons were moving their furniture. That accursed Cochefer was completely taken in.”

Héron spoke in a toneless voice, hardly above a whisper, and like one whose throat is dry and mouth parched. But the brandy had revived him somewhat, and his eyes lost their former glassy look.

“How?” asked Chauvelin curtly.

“I was just leaving the Tower when he arrived. I spoke to him at the door. I had seen Capet safely installed in the room, and gave orders to the woman Simon to let citizen Cochefer have a look at him, too, and then to lock up the brat in the inner room and install Cochefer in the antechamber on guard. I stood talking to Cochefer for a few moments in the antechamber. The woman Simon and the man-of-all-work, Dupont⁠—whom I know well⁠—were busy with the furniture. There could not have been anyone else concealed about the place⁠—that I’ll swear. Cochefer, after he took leave of me, went straight into the room; he found the woman Simon in the act of turning the key in the door of the inner chamber. ‘I have locked Capet in there,’ she said, giving the key to Cochefer; ‘he will be quite safe until tonight; when the other commissaries come.’ ”

“Didn’t Cochefer go into the room and ascertain whether the woman was lying?”

“Yes, he did! He made the woman reopen the door and peeped in over her shoulder. She said the child was asleep. He vows that he saw the child lying fully dressed on a rug in the further corner of the room. The room, of course, was quite empty of furniture and only lighted by one candle, but there was the rug and the child asleep on it. Cochefer swears he saw him, and now⁠—when I went up⁠—”

“Well?”

“The commissaries were all there⁠—Cochefer and Lasnière, Lorinet and Legrand. We went into the inner room, and I had a candle in my hand. We saw the child lying on the rug, just as Cochefer had seen him, and for a while we took no notice of it. Then someone⁠—I think it was Lorinet⁠—went to have a closer look at the brat. He took up the candle and went up to the rug. Then he gave a cry, and we all gathered round him. The sleeping child was only a bundle of hair and of clothes, a dummy⁠—what?”

There was silence now in the narrow room, while the white-faced clock continued to tick off each succeeding second of time. Héron had once more buried his head in his hands; a trembling⁠—like an attack of ague⁠—shook his wide, bony shoulders. Armand had listened to the narrative with glowing eyes and a beating heart. The details which the two Terrorists here could not probably understand he had already added to the picture which his mind had conjured up.

He was back in thought now in the small lodging in the rear of St. Germain l’Auxerrois; Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was there, and my Lord Tony and Hastings, and a man was striding up and down the room, looking out into the great space beyond the river with the eyes of a seer, and a firm voice said abruptly:

“It is about the Dauphin!”

“Have you any suspicions?” asked Chauvelin now, pausing in his walk beside Héron, and once more placing a firm, peremptory hand on his colleague’s shoulder.

“Suspicions!” exclaimed the chief agent with a loud oath. “Suspicions! Certainties, you mean. The man sat here but two days ago, in that very chair, and bragged of what he would do. I told him then that if he interfered with Capet I would wring his neck with my own hands.”

And his long, talon-like fingers, with their sharp, grimy nails, closed and unclosed like those of feline creatures when they hold the coveted prey.

“Of whom do you speak?” queried Chauvelin curtly.

“Of whom? Of whom but that accursed de Batz? His pockets are bulging with Austrian money, with which, no doubt, he has bribed the Simons and Cochefer and the sentinels⁠—”

“And Lorinet and Lasniere and you,” interposed Chauvelin dryly.

“It is false!” roared Héron, who already at the suggestion was foaming at the mouth, and had jumped up from his chair, standing at bay as if prepared to fight for his life.

“False, is it?” retorted Chauvelin calmly; “then be not so quick, friend Héron, in slashing out with senseless denunciations right and left. You’ll gain nothing by denouncing anyone just now. This is too intricate a matter to be dealt with a sledgehammer. Is anyone up in the Tower at this moment?” he asked in quiet, businesslike tones.

“Yes. Cochefer and the others are still there. They are making wild schemes to cover their treachery. Cochefer is aware of his own danger, and Lasniere and the others know that they arrived at the Tower several hours too late. They are all at fault, and they know it. As for that de Batz,” he continued with a voice rendered raucous with bitter passion, “I swore to him two days ago that he should not escape me if he meddled with Capet. I’m on his track already. I’ll have him before the hour of midnight, and I’ll torture him⁠—yes! I’ll torture him⁠—the Tribunal shall give me leave. We have a dark cell down below here where my men know how to apply tortures worse than the rack⁠—where they know just how to prolong life long enough to make it unendurable. I’ll torture him! I’ll torture him!”

But Chauvelin abruptly silenced the wretch with a curt command; then, without another word, he walked straight out of the room.

In thought Armand followed him. The wild desire was suddenly born in him to run away at this moment, while Héron, wrapped in his own meditations, was paying no heed to him. Chauvelin’s footsteps had long ago died away in the distance; it was a long way to the upper floor of the Tower, and some time would be spent, too, in interrogating the commissaries. This was Armand’s opportunity. After all, if he were free himself he might more effectually help to rescue Jeanne. He knew, too, now where to join his leader. The corner of the street by the canal, where Sir Andrew Ffoulkes would be waiting with the coal-cart; then there was the spinney on the road to St. Germain. Armand hoped that, with good luck, he might yet overtake his comrades, tell them of Jeanne’s plight, and entreat them to work for her rescue.

He had forgotten that now he had no certificate of safety, that undoubtedly he would be stopped at the gates at this hour of the night; that his conduct proving suspect he would in all probability he detained, and, mayhap, be brought back to this selfsame place within an hour. He had forgotten all that, for the primeval instinct for freedom had suddenly been aroused. He rose softly from his chair and crossed the room. Héron paid no attention to him. Now he had traversed the antechamber and unlatched the outer door.

Immediately a couple of bayonets were crossed in front of him, two more further on ahead scintillated feebly in the flickering light. Chauvelin had taken his precautions. There was no doubt that Armand St. Just was effectually a prisoner now.

With a sigh of disappointment he went back to his place beside the fire. Héron had not even moved whilst he had made this futile attempt at escape. Five minutes later Chauvelin re-entered the room.

XX. The Certificate of Safety

“You can leave de Batz and his gang alone, citizen Héron,” said Chauvelin, as soon as he had closed the door behind him; “he had nothing to do with the escape of the Dauphin.”

Héron growled out a few words of incredulity. But Chauvelin shrugged his shoulders and looked with unutterable contempt on his colleague. Armand, who was watching him closely, saw that in his hand he held a small piece of paper, which he had crushed into a shapeless mass.

“Do not waste your time, citizen,” he said, “in raging against an empty windbag. Arrest de Batz if you like, or leave him alone an you please⁠—we have nothing to fear from that braggart.”

With nervous, slightly shaking fingers he set to work to smooth out the scrap of paper which he held. His hot hands had soiled it and pounded it until it was a mere rag and the writing on it illegible. But, such as it was, he threw it down with a blasphemous oath on the desk in front of Héron’s eyes.

“It is that accursed Englishman who has been at work again,” he said more calmly; “I guessed it the moment I heard your story. Set your whole army of sleuthhounds on his track, citizen; you’ll need them all.”

Héron picked up the scrap of torn paper and tried to decipher the writing on it by the light from the lamp. He seemed almost dazed now with the awful catastrophe that had befallen him, and the fear that his own wretched life would have to pay the penalty for the disappearance of the child.

As for Armand⁠—even in the midst of his own troubles, and of his own anxiety for Jeanne, he felt a proud exultation in his heart. The Scarlet Pimpernel had succeeded; Percy had not failed in his self-imposed undertaking. Chauvelin, whose piercing eyes were fixed on him at that moment, smiled with contemptuous irony.

“As you will find your hands overfull for the next few hours, citizen Héron,” he said, speaking to his colleague and nodding in the direction of Armand, “I’ll not trouble you with the voluntary confession this young citizen desired to make to you. All I need tell you is that he is an adherent of the Scarlet Pimpernel⁠—I believe one of his most faithful, most trusted officers.”

Héron roused himself from the maze of gloomy thoughts that were again paralysing his tongue. He turned bleary, wild eyes on Armand.

“We have got one of them, then?” he murmured incoherently, babbling like a drunken man.

“M’yes!” replied Chauvelin lightly; “but it is too late now for a formal denunciation and arrest. He cannot leave Paris anyhow, and all that your men need to do is to keep a close lookout on him. But I should send him home tonight if I were you.”

Héron muttered something more, which, however, Armand did not understand. Chauvelin’s words were still ringing in his ear. Was he, then, to be set free tonight? Free in a measure, of course, since spies were to be set to watch him⁠—but free, nevertheless? He could not understand Chauvelin’s attitude, and his own self-love was not a little wounded at the thought that he was of such little account that these men could afford to give him even this provisional freedom. And, of course, there was still Jeanne.

“I must, therefore, bid you good night, citizen,” Chauvelin was saying in his bland, gently ironical manner. “You will be glad to return to your lodgings. As you see, the chief agent of the Committee of General Security is too much occupied just now to accept the sacrifice of your life which you were prepared so generously to offer him.”

“I do not understand you, citizen,” retorted Armand coldly, “nor do I desire indulgence at your hands. You have arrested an innocent woman on the trumped-up charge that she was harbouring me. I came here tonight to give myself up to justice so that she might be set free.”

“But the hour is somewhat late, citizen,” rejoined Chauvelin urbanely. “The lady in whom you take so fervent an interest is no doubt asleep in her cell at this hour. It would not be fitting to disturb her now. She might not find shelter before morning, and the weather is quite exceptionally unpropitious.”

“Then, sir,” said Armand, a little bewildered, “am I to understand that if I hold myself at your disposition Mademoiselle Lange will be set free as early tomorrow morning as may be?”

“No doubt, sir⁠—no doubt,” replied Chauvelin with more than his accustomed blandness; “if you will hold yourself entirely at our disposition, Mademoiselle Lange will be set free tomorrow. I think that we can safely promise that, citizen Héron, can we not?” he added, turning to his colleague.

But Héron, overcome with the stress of emotions, could only murmur vague, unintelligible words.

“Your word on that, citizen Chauvelin?” asked Armand.

“My word on it an you will accept it.”

“No, I will not do that. Give me an unconditional certificate of safety and I will believe you.”

“Of what use were that to you?” asked Chauvelin.

“I believe my capture to be of more importance to you than that of Mademoiselle Lange,” said Armand quietly. “I will use the certificate of safety for myself or one of my friends if you break your word to me anent Mademoiselle Lange.”

“H’m! the reasoning is not illogical, citizen,” said Chauvelin, whilst a curious smile played round the corners of his thin lips. “You are quite right. You are a more valuable asset to us than the charming lady who, I hope, will for many a day and year to come delight pleasure-loving Paris with her talent and her grace.”

“Amen to that, citizen,” said Armand fervently.

“Well, it will all depend on you, sir! Here,” he added, coolly running over some papers on Héron’s desk until he found what he wanted, “is an absolutely unconditional certificate of safety. The Committee of General Security issue very few of these. It is worth the cost of a human life. At no barrier or gate of any city can such a certificate be disregarded, nor even can it be detained. Allow me to hand it to you, citizen, as a pledge of my own good faith.”

Smiling, urbane, with a curious look that almost expressed amusement lurking in his shrewd, pale eyes, Chauvelin handed the momentous document to Armand.

The young man studied it very carefully before he slipped it into the inner pocket of his coat.

“How soon shall I have news of Mademoiselle Lange?” he asked finally.

“In the course of tomorrow. I myself will call on you and redeem that precious document in person. You, on the other hand, will hold yourself at my disposition. That’s understood, is it not?”

“I shall not fail you. My lodgings are⁠—”

“Oh! do not trouble,” interposed Chauvelin, with a polite bow; “we can find that out for ourselves.”

Héron had taken no part in this colloquy. Now that Armand prepared to go he made no attempt to detain him, or to question his colleague’s actions. He sat by the table like a log; his mind was obviously a blank to all else save to his own terrors engendered by the events of this night.

With bleary, half-veiled eyes he followed Armand’s progress through the room, and seemed unaware of the loud slamming of the outside door. Chauvelin had escorted the young man past the first line of sentry, then he took cordial leave of him.

“Your certificate will, you will find, open every gate to you. Good night, citizen. A demain.

“Good night.”

Armand’s slim figure disappeared in the gloom. Chauvelin watched him for a few moments until even his footsteps had died away in the distance; then he turned back towards Héron’s lodgings.

À nous deux,” he muttered between tightly clenched teeth; “à nous deux once more, my enigmatical Scarlet Pimpernel.”

XXI. Back to Paris

It was an exceptionally dark night, and the rain was falling in torrents. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, wrapped in a piece of sacking, had taken shelter right underneath the coal-cart; even then he was getting wet through to the skin.

He had worked hard for two days coal-heaving, and the night before he had found a cheap, squalid lodging where at any rate he was protected from the inclemencies of the weather; but tonight he was expecting Blakeney at the appointed hour and place. He had secured a cart of the ordinary ramshackle pattern used for carrying coal. Unfortunately there were no covered ones to be obtained in the neighbourhood, and equally unfortunately the thaw had set in with a blustering wind and driving rain, which made waiting in the open air for hours at a stretch and in complete darkness excessively unpleasant.

But for all these discomforts Sir Andrew Ffoulkes cared not one jot. In England, in his magnificent Suffolk home, he was a confirmed sybarite, in whose service every description of comfort and luxury had to be enrolled. Here tonight in the rough and tattered clothes of a coal-heaver, drenched to the skin, and crouching under the body of a cart that hardly sheltered him from the rain, he was as happy as a schoolboy out for a holiday.

Happy, but vaguely anxious.

He had no means of ascertaining the time. So many of the church-bells and clock towers had been silenced recently that not one of those welcome sounds penetrated to the dreary desolation of this canal wharf, with its abandoned carts standing ghostlike in a row. Darkness had set in very early in the afternoon, and the heavers had given up work soon after four o’clock.

For about an hour after that a certain animation had still reigned round the wharf, men crossing and going, one or two of the barges moving in or out alongside the quay. But for some time now darkness and silence had been the masters in this desolate spot, and that time had seemed to Sir Andrew an eternity. He had hobbled and tethered his horse, and stretched himself out at full length under the cart. Now and again he had crawled out from under this uncomfortable shelter and walked up and down in ankle-deep mud, trying to restore circulation in his stiffened limbs; now and again a kind of torpor had come over him, and he had fallen into a brief and restless sleep. He would at this moment have given half his fortune for knowledge of the exact time.

But through all this weary waiting he was never for a moment in doubt. Unlike Armand St. Just, he had the simplest, most perfect faith in his chief. He had been Blakeney’s constant companion in all these adventures for close upon four years now; the thought of failure, however vague, never once entered his mind.

He was only anxious for his chief’s welfare. He knew that he would succeed, but he would have liked to have spared him much of the physical fatigue and the nerve-racking strain of these hours that lay between the daring deed and the hope of safety. Therefore he was conscious of an acute tingling of his nerves, which went on even during the brief patches of fitful sleep, and through the numbness that invaded his whole body while the hours dragged wearily and slowly along.

Then, quite suddenly, he felt wakeful and alert; quite a while⁠—even before he heard the welcome signal⁠—he knew, with a curious, subtle sense of magnetism, that the hour had come, and that his chief was somewhere near by, not very far.

Then he heard the cry⁠—a seamew’s call⁠—repeated thrice at intervals, and five minutes later something loomed out of the darkness quite close to the hind wheels of the cart.

“Hist! Ffoulkes!” came in a soft whisper, scarce louder than the wind.

“Present!” came in quick response.

“Here, help me to lift the child into the cart. He is asleep, and has been a dead weight on my arm for close on an hour now. Have you a dry bit of sacking or something to lay him on?”

“Not very dry, I am afraid.”

With tender care the two men lifted the sleeping little King of France into the rickety cart. Blakeney laid his cloak over him, and listened for awhile to the slow regular breathing of the child.

“St. Just is not here⁠—you know that?” said Sir Andrew after a while.

“Yes, I knew it,” replied Blakeney curtly.

It was characteristic of these two men that not a word about the adventure itself, about the terrible risks and dangers of the past few hours, was exchanged between them. The child was here and was safe, and Blakeney knew the whereabouts of St. Just⁠—that was enough for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, the most devoted follower, the most perfect friend the Scarlet Pimpernel would ever know.

Ffoulkes now went to the horse, detached the nosebag, and undid the nooses of the hobble and of the tether.

“Will you get in now, Blakeney?” he said; “we are ready.”

And in unbroken silence they both got into the cart; Blakeney sitting on its floor beside the child, and Ffoulkes gathering the reins in his hands.

The wheels of the cart and the slow jog-trot of the horse made scarcely any noise in the mud of the roads, what noise they did make was effectually drowned by the soughing of the wind in the bare branches of the stunted acacia trees that edged the towpath along the line of the canal.

Sir Andrew had studied the topography of this desolate neighbourhood well during the past twenty-four hours; he knew of a detour that would enable him to avoid the La Villette gate and the neighbourhood of the fortifications, and yet bring him out soon on the road leading to St. Germain.

Once he turned to ask Blakeney the time.

“It must be close on ten now,” replied Sir Percy. “Push your nag along, old man. Tony and Hastings will be waiting for us.”

It was very difficult to see clearly even a mètre or two ahead, but the road was a straight one, and the old nag seemed to know it almost as well and better than her driver. She shambled along at her own pace, covering the ground very slowly for Ffoulkes’s burning impatience. Once or twice he had to get down and lead her over a rough piece of ground. They passed several groups of dismal, squalid houses, in some of which a dim light still burned, and as they skirted St. Ouen the church clock slowly tolled the hour of midnight.

But for the greater part of the way derelict, uncultivated spaces of terrains vagues, and a few isolated houses lay between the road and the fortifications of the city. The darkness of the night, the late hour, the soughing of the wind, were all in favour of the adventurers; and a coal-cart slowly trudging along in this neighbourhood, with two labourers sitting in it, was the least likely of any vehicle to attract attention.

Past Clichy, they had to cross the river by the rickety wooden bridge that was unsafe even in broad daylight. They were not far from their destination now. Half a dozen kilometres further on they would be leaving Courbevoie on their left, and then the signpost would come in sight. After that the spinney just off the road, and the welcome presence of Tony, Hastings, and the horses. Ffoulkes got down in order to make sure of the way. He walked at the horse’s head now, fearful lest he missed the crossroads and the signpost.

The horse was getting overtired; it had covered fifteen kilometres, and it was close on three o’clock of Monday morning.

Another hour went by in absolute silence. Ffoulkes and Blakeney took turns at the horse’s head. Then at last they reached the crossroads; even through the darkness the signpost showed white against the surrounding gloom.

“This looks like it,” murmured Sir Andrew. He turned the horse’s head sharply towards the left, down a narrower road, and leaving the signpost behind him. He walked slowly along for another quarter of an hour, then Blakeney called a halt.

“The spinney must be sharp on our right now,” he said.

He got down from the cart, and while Ffoulkes remained beside the horse, he plunged into the gloom. A moment later the cry of the seamew rang out three times into the air. It was answered almost immediately.

The spinney lay on the right of the road. Soon the soft sounds that to a trained ear invariably betray the presence of a number of horses reached Ffoulkes’ straining senses. He took his old nag out of the shafts, and the shabby harness from off her, then he turned her out on the piece of waste land that faced the spinney. Someone would find her in the morning, her and the cart with the shabby harness laid in it, and, having wondered if all these things had perchance dropped down from heaven, would quietly appropriate them, and mayhap thank much-maligned heaven for its gift.

Blakeney in the meanwhile had lifted the sleeping child out of the cart. Then he called to Sir Andrew and led the way across the road and into the spinney.

Five minutes later Hastings received the uncrowned King of France in his arms.

Unlike Ffoulkes, my Lord Tony wanted to hear all about the adventure of this afternoon. A thorough sportsman, he loved a good story of hairbreadth escapes, of dangers cleverly avoided, risks taken and conquered.

“Just in ten words, Blakeney,” he urged entreatingly; “how did you actually get the boy away?”

Sir Percy laughed⁠—despite himself⁠—at the young man’s eagerness.

“Next time we meet, Tony,” he begged; “I am so demmed fatigued, and there’s this beastly rain⁠—”

“No, no⁠—now! while Hastings sees to the horses. I could not exist long without knowing, and we are well sheltered from the rain under this tree.”

“Well, then, since you will have it,” he began with a laugh, which despite the weariness and anxiety of the past twenty-four hours had forced itself to his lips, “I have been sweeper and man-of-all-work at the Temple for the past few weeks, you must know⁠—”

“No!” ejaculated my Lord Tony lustily. “By gum!”

“Indeed, you old sybarite, whilst you were enjoying yourself heaving coal on the canal wharf, I was scrubbing floors, lighting fires, and doing a number of odd jobs for a lot of demmed murdering villains, and”⁠—he added under his breath⁠—“incidentally, too, for our league. Whenever I had an hour or two off duty I spent them in my lodgings, and asked you all to come and meet me there.”

“By Gad, Blakeney! Then the day before yesterday?⁠—when we all met⁠—”

“I had just had a bath⁠—sorely needed, I can tell you. I had been cleaning boots half the day, but I had heard that the Simons were removing from the Temple on the Sunday, and had obtained an order from them to help them shift their furniture.”

“Cleaning boots!” murmured my Lord Tony with a chuckle. “Well! and then?”

“Well, then everything worked out splendidly. You see by that time I was a well-known figure in the Temple. Héron knew me well. I used to be his lantern-bearer when at nights he visited that poor mite in his prison. It was ‘Dupont, here! Dupont there!’ all day long. ‘Light the fire in the office, Dupont! Dupont, brush my coat! Dupont, fetch me a light!’ When the Simons wanted to move their household goods they called loudly for Dupont. I got a covered laundry cart, and I brought a dummy with me to substitute for the child. Simon himself knew nothing of this, but Madame was in my pay. The dummy was just splendid, with real hair on its head; Madame helped me to substitute it for the child; we laid it on the sofa and covered it over with a rug, even while those brutes Héron and Cochefer were on the landing outside, and we stuffed His Majesty the King of France into a linen basket. The room was badly lighted, and anyone would have been deceived. No one was suspicious of that type of trickery, so it went off splendidly. I moved the furniture of the Simons out of the Tower. His Majesty King Louis XVII was still concealed in the linen basket. I drove the Simons to their new lodgings⁠—the man still suspects nothing⁠—and there I helped them to unload the furniture⁠—with the exception of the linen basket, of course. After that I drove my laundry cart to a house I knew of and collected a number of linen baskets, which I had arranged should be in readiness for me. Thus loaded up I left Paris by the Vincennes gate, and drove as far as Bagnolet, where there is no road except past the octroi, where the officials might have proved unpleasant. So I lifted His Majesty out of the basket and we walked on hand in hand in the darkness and the rain until the poor little feet gave out. Then the little fellow⁠—who has been wonderfully plucky throughout, indeed, more a Capet than a Bourbon⁠—snuggled up in my arms and went fast asleep, and⁠—and⁠—well, I think that’s all, for here we are, you see.”

“But if Madame Simon had not been amenable to bribery?” suggested Lord Tony after a moment’s silence.

“Then I should have had to think of something else.”

“If during the removal of the furniture Héron had remained resolutely in the room?”

“Then, again, I should have had to think of something else; but remember that in life there is always one supreme moment when Chance⁠—who is credited to have but one hair on her head⁠—stands by you for a brief space of time; sometimes that space is infinitesimal⁠—one minute, a few seconds⁠—just the time to seize Chance by that one hair. So I pray you all give me no credit in this or any other matter in which we all work together, but the quickness of seizing Chance by the hair during the brief moment when she stands by my side. If Madame Simon had been un-amenable, if Héron had remained in the room all the time, if Cochefer had had two looks at the dummy instead of one⁠—well, then, something else would have helped me, something would have occurred; something⁠—I know not what⁠—but surely something which Chance meant to be on our side, if only we were quick enough to seize it⁠—and so you see how simple it all is.”

So simple, in fact, that it was sublime. The daring, the pluck, the ingenuity and, above all, the superhuman heroism and endurance which rendered the hearers of this simple narrative, simply told, dumb with admiration.

Their thoughts now were beyond verbal expression.

“How soon was the hue and cry for the child about the streets?” asked Tony, after a moment’s silence.

“It was not out when I left the gates of Paris,” said Blakeney meditatively; “so quietly has the news of the escape been kept, that I am wondering what devilry that brute Héron can be after. And now no more chattering,” he continued lightly; “all to horse, and you, Hastings, have a care. The destinies of France, mayhap, will be lying asleep in your arms.”

“But you, Blakeney?” exclaimed the three men almost simultaneously.

“I am not going with you. I entrust the child to you. For God’s sake guard him well! Ride with him to Mantes. You should arrive there at about ten o’clock. One of you then go straight to No. 9 Rue la Tour. Ring the bell; an old man will answer it. Say the one word to him, ‘Enfant’; he will reply, ‘De roi!’ Give him the child, and may Heaven bless you all for the help you have given me this night!”

“But you, Blakeney?” reiterated Tony with a note of deep anxiety in his fresh young voice.

“I am straight for Paris,” he said quietly.

“Impossible!”

“Therefore feasible.”

“But why? Percy, in the name of Heaven, do you realise what you are doing?”

“Perfectly.”

“They’ll not leave a stone unturned to find you⁠—they know by now, believe me, that your hand did this trick.”

“I know that.”

“And yet you mean to go back?”

“And yet I am going back.”

“Blakeney!”

“It’s no use, Tony. Armand is in Paris. I saw him in the corridor of the Temple prison in the company of Chauvelin.”

“Great God!” exclaimed Lord Hastings.

The others were silent. What was the use of arguing? One of themselves was in danger. Armand St. Just, the brother of Marguerite Blakeney! Was it likely that Percy would leave him in the lurch.

“One of us will stay with you, of course?” asked Sir Andrew after awhile.

“Yes! I want Hastings and Tony to take the child to Mantes, then to make all possible haste for Calais, and there to keep in close touch with the Daydream; the skipper will contrive to open communication. Tell him to remain in Calais waters. I hope I may have need of him soon.

“And now to horse, both of you,” he added gaily. “Hastings, when you are ready, I will hand up the child to you. He will be quite safe on the pillion with a strap round him and you.”

Nothing more was said after that. The orders were given, there was nothing to do but to obey; and the uncrowned King of France was not yet out of danger. Hastings and Tony led two of the horses out of the spinney; at the roadside they mounted, and then the little lad for whose sake so much heroism, such selfless devotion had been expended, was hoisted up, still half asleep, on the pillion in front of my Lord Hastings.

“Keep your arm round him,” admonished Blakeney; “your horse looks quiet enough. But put on speed as far as Mantes, and may Heaven guard you both!”

The two men pressed their heels to their horses’ flanks, the beasts snorted and pawed the ground anxious to start. There were a few whispered farewells, two loyal hands were stretched out at the last, eager to grasp the leader’s hand.

Then horses and riders disappeared in the utter darkness which comes before the dawn.

Blakeney and Ffoulkes stood side by side in silence for as long as the pawing of hoofs in the mud could reach their ears, then Ffoulkes asked abruptly:

“What do you want me to do, Blakeney?”

“Well, for the present, my dear fellow, I want you to take one of the three horses we have left in the spinney, and put him into the shafts of our old friend the coal-cart; then I am afraid that you must go back the way we came.”

“Yes?”

“Continue to heave coal on the canal wharf by La Villette; it is the best way to avoid attention. After your day’s work keep your cart and horse in readiness against my arrival, at the same spot where you were last night. If after having waited for me like this for three consecutive nights you neither see nor hear anything from me, go back to England and tell Marguerite that in giving my life for her brother I gave it for her!”

“Blakeney⁠—!”

“I spoke differently to what I usually do, is that it?” he interposed, placing his firm hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I am degenerating, Ffoulkes⁠—that’s what it is. Pay no heed to it. I suppose that carrying that sleeping child in my arms last night softened some nerves in my body. I was so infinitely sorry for the poor mite, and vaguely wondered if I had not saved it from one misery only to plunge it in another. There was such a fateful look on that wan little face, as if destiny had already writ its veto there against happiness. It came on me then how futile were our actions, if God chooses to interpose His will between us and our desires.”

Almost as he left off speaking the rain ceased to patter down against the puddles in the road. Overhead the clouds flew by at terrific speed, driven along by the blustering wind. It was less dark now, and Sir Andrew, peering through the gloom, could see his leader’s face. It was singularly pale and hard, and the deep-set lazy eyes had in them just that fateful look which he himself had spoken of just now.

“You are anxious about Armand, Percy?” asked Ffoulkes softly.

“Yes. He should have trusted me, as I had trusted him. He missed me at the Villette gate on Friday, and without a thought left me⁠—left us all in the lurch; he threw himself into the lion’s jaws, thinking that he could help the girl he loved. I knew that I could save her. She is in comparative safety even now. The old woman, Madame Belhomme, had been freely released the day after her arrest, but Jeanne Lange is still in the house in the Rue de Charonne. You know it, Ffoulkes. I got her there early this morning. It was easy for me, of course: ‘Holà, Dupont! my boots, Dupont!’ ‘One moment, citizen, my daughter⁠—’ ‘Curse thy daughter, bring me my boots!’ and Jeanne Lange walked out of the Temple prison her hand in that of that lout Dupont.”

“But Armand does not know that she is in the Rue de Charonne?”

“No. I have not seen him since that early morning on Saturday when he came to tell me that she had been arrested. Having sworn that he would obey me, he went to meet you and Tony at La Villette, but returned to Paris a few hours later, and drew the undivided attention of all the committees on Jeanne Lange by his senseless, foolish inquiries. But for his action throughout the whole of yesterday I could have smuggled Jeanne out of Paris, got her to join you at Villette, or Hastings in St. Germain. But the barriers were being closely watched for her, and I had the Dauphin to think of. She is in comparative safety; the people in the Rue de Charonne are friendly for the moment; but for how long? Who knows? I must look after her of course. And Armand! Poor old Armand! The lion’s jaws have snapped over him, and they hold him tight. Chauvelin and his gang are using him as a decoy to trap me, of course. All that had not happened if Armand had trusted me.”

He sighed a quick sigh of impatience, almost of regret. Ffoulkes was the one man who could guess the bitter disappointment that this had meant. Percy had longed to be back in England soon, back to Marguerite, to a few days of unalloyed happiness and a few days of peace.

Now Armand’s actions had retarded all that; they were a deliberate bar to the future as it had been mapped out by a man who foresaw everything, who was prepared for every eventuality.

In this case, too, he had been prepared, but not for the want of trust which had brought on disobedience akin to disloyalty. That absolutely unforeseen eventuality had changed Blakeney’s usual irresponsible gaiety into a consciousness of the inevitable, of the inexorable decrees of Fate.

With an anxious sigh, Sir Andrew turned away from his chief and went back to the spinney to select for his own purpose one of the three horses which Hastings and Tony had unavoidably left behind.

“And you, Blakeney⁠—how will you go back to that awful Paris?” he said, when he had made his choice and was once more back beside Percy.

“I don’t know yet,” replied Blakeney, “but it would not be safe to ride. I’ll reach one of the gates on this side of the city and contrive to slip in somehow. I have a certificate of safety in my pocket in case I need it.

“We’ll leave the horses here,” he said presently, whilst he was helping Sir Andrew to put the horse in the shafts of the coal-cart; “they cannot come to much harm. Some poor devil might steal them, in order to escape from those vile brutes in the city. If so, God speed him, say I. I’ll compensate my friend the farmer of St. Germain for their loss at an early opportunity. And now, goodbye, my dear fellow! Some time tonight, if possible, you shall hear direct news of me⁠—if not, then tomorrow or the day after that. Goodbye, and Heaven guard you!”

“God guard you, Blakeney!” said Sir Andrew fervently.

He jumped into the cart and gathered up the reins. His heart was heavy as lead, and a strange mist had gathered in his eyes, blurring the last dim vision which he had of his chief standing all alone in the gloom, his broad, magnificent figure looking almost weirdly erect and defiant, his head thrown back, and his kind, lazy eyes watching the final departure of his most faithful comrade and friend.

XXII. Of That There Could Be No Question

Blakeney had more than one pied-à-terre in Paris, and never stayed longer than two or three days in any of these. It was not difficult for a single man, be he labourer or bourgeois, to obtain a night’s lodging, even in these most troublous times, and in any quarter of Paris, provided the rent⁠—out of all proportion to the comfort and accommodation given⁠—was paid ungrudgingly and in advance.

Emigration and, above all, the enormous death-roll of the past eighteen months, had emptied the apartment houses of the great city, and those who had rooms to let were only too glad of a lodger, always providing they were not in danger of being worried by the committees of their section.

The laws framed by these same committees now demanded that all keepers of lodging or apartment houses should within twenty-four hours give notice at the bureau of their individual sections of the advent of new lodgers, together with a description of the personal appearance of such lodgers, and an indication of their presumed civil status and occupation. But there was a margin of twenty-four hours, which could on pressure be extended to forty-eight, and, therefore, anyone could obtain shelter for forty-eight hours, and have no questions asked, provided he or she was willing to pay the exorbitant sum usually asked under the circumstances.

Thus Blakeney had no difficulty in securing what lodgings he wanted when he once more found himself inside Paris at somewhere about noon of that same Monday.

The thought of Hastings and Tony speeding on towards Mantes with the royal child safely held in Hastings’ arms had kept his spirits buoyant and caused him for a while to forget the terrible peril in which Armand St. Just’s thoughtless egoism had placed them both.

Blakeney was a man of abnormal physique and iron nerve, else he could never have endured the fatigues of the past twenty-four hours, from the moment when on the Sunday afternoon he began to play his part of furniture-remover at the Temple, to that when at last on Monday at noon he succeeded in persuading the sergeant at the Maillot gate that he was an honest stonemason residing at Neuilly, who was come to Paris in search of work.

After that matters became more simple. Terribly footsore, though he would never have admitted it, hungry and weary, he turned into an unpretentious eating-house and ordered some dinner. The place when he entered was occupied mostly by labourers and workmen, dressed very much as he was himself, and quite as grimy as he had become after having driven about for hours in a laundry-cart and in a coal-cart, and having walked twelve kilometres, some of which he had covered whilst carrying a sleeping child in his arms.

Thus, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., the friend and companion of the Prince of Wales, the most fastidious fop the salons of London and Bath had ever seen, was in no way distinguishable outwardly from the tattered, half-starved, dirty, and out-at-elbows products of this fraternising and equalising Republic.

He was so hungry that the ill-cooked, badly-served meal tempted him to eat; and he ate on in silence, seemingly more interested in boiled beef than in the conversation that went on around him. But he would not have been the keen and daring adventurer that he was if he did not all the while keep his ears open for any fragment of news that the desultory talk of his fellow-diners was likely to yield to him.

Politics were, of course, discussed; the tyranny of the sections, the slavery that this free Republic had brought on its citizens. The names of the chief personages of the day were all mentioned in turns: Focquier-Tinville, Santerre, Danton, Robespierre. Héron and his sleuthhounds were spoken of with execrations quickly suppressed, but of little Capet not one word.

Blakeney could not help but infer that Chauvelin, Héron and the commissaries in charge were keeping the escape of the child a secret for as long as they could.

He could hear nothing of Armand’s fate, of course. The arrest⁠—if arrest there had been⁠—was not like to be bruited abroad just now. Blakeney having last seen Armand in Chauvelin’s company, whilst he himself was moving the Simons’ furniture, could not for a moment doubt that the young man was imprisoned⁠—unless, indeed, he was being allowed a certain measure of freedom, whilst his every step was being spied on, so that he might act as a decoy for his chief.

At thought of that all weariness seemed to vanish from Blakeney’s powerful frame. He set his lips firmly together, and once again the light of irresponsible gaiety danced in his eyes.

He had been in as tight a corner as this before now; at Boulogne his beautiful Marguerite had been used as a decoy, and twenty-four hours later he had held her in his arms on board his yacht the Daydream. As he would have put it in his own forcible language:

“Those d⁠⸺⁠d murderers have not got me yet.”

The battle mayhap would this time be against greater odds than before, but Blakeney had no fear that they would prove overwhelming.

There was in life but one odd that was overwhelming, and that was treachery.

But of that there could be no question.

In the afternoon Blakeney started off in search of lodgings for the night. He found what would suit him in the Rue de l’Arcade, which was equally far from the House of Justice as it was from his former lodgings. Here he would be safe for at least twenty-four hours, after which he might have to shift again. But for the moment the landlord of the miserable apartment was over-willing to make no fuss and ask no questions, for the sake of the money which this aristo in disguise dispensed with a lavish hand.

Having taken possession of his new quarters and snatched a few hours of sound, well-deserved rest, until the time when the shades of evening and the darkness of the streets would make progress through the city somewhat more safe, Blakeney sallied forth at about six o’clock having a threefold object in view.

Primarily, of course, the threefold object was concentrated on Armand. There was the possibility of finding out at the young man’s lodgings in Montmartre what had become of him; then there were the usual inquiries that could be made from the registers of the various prisons; and, thirdly, there was the chance that Armand had succeeded in sending some kind of message to Blakeney’s former lodgings in the Rue St. Germain l’Auxerrois.

On the whole, Sir Percy decided to leave the prison registers alone for the present. If Armand had been actually arrested, he would almost certainly be confined in the Châtelet prison, where he would be closer to hand for all the interrogatories to which, no doubt, he would be subjected.

Blakeney set his teeth and murmured a good, sound, British oath when he thought of those interrogatories. Armand St. Just, highly strung, a dreamer and a bundle of nerves⁠—how he would suffer under the mental rack of questions and cross-questions, cleverly-laid traps to catch information from him unawares!

His next objective, then, was Armand’s former lodging, and from six o’clock until close upon eight Sir Percy haunted the slopes of Montmartre, and more especially the neighbourhood of the Rue de la Croix Blanche, where Armand had lodged these former days. At the house itself he could not inquire as yet; obviously it would not have been safe; tomorrow, perhaps, when he knew more, but not tonight. His keen eyes had already spied at least two figures clothed in the rags of out-of-work labourers like himself, who had hung with suspicious persistence in this same neighbourhood, and who during the two hours that he had been in observation had never strayed out of sight of the house in the Rue de la Croix Blanche.

That these were two spies on the watch was, of course, obvious; but whether they were on the watch for St. Just or for some other unfortunate wretch it was at this stage impossible to conjecture.

Then, as from the Tour des Dames close by the clock solemnly struck the hour of eight, and Blakeney prepared to wend his way back to another part of the city, he suddenly saw Armand walking slowly up the street.

The young man did not look either to right or left; he held his head forward on his chest, and his hands were hidden underneath his cloak. When he passed immediately under one of the street lamps Blakeney caught sight of his face; it was pale and drawn. Then he turned his head, and for the space of two seconds his eyes across the narrow street encountered those of his chief. He had the presence of mind not to make a sign or to utter a sound; he was obviously being followed, but in that brief moment Sir Percy had seen in the young man’s eyes a look that reminded him of a hunted creature.

“What have those brutes been up to with him, I wonder?” he muttered between clenched teeth.

Armand soon disappeared under the doorway of the same house where he had been lodging all along. Even as he did so Blakeney saw the two spies gather together like a pair of slimy lizards, and whisper excitedly one to another. A third man, who obviously had been dogging Armand’s footsteps, came up and joined them after a while.

Blakeney could have sworn loudly and lustily, had it been possible to do so without attracting attention. The whole of Armand’s history in the past twenty-four hours was perfectly clear to him. The young man had been made free that he might prove a decoy for more important game.

His every step was being watched, and he still thought Jeanne Lange in immediate danger of death. The look of despair in his face proclaimed these two facts, and Blakeney’s heart ached for the mental torture which his friend was enduring. He longed to let Armand know that the woman he loved was in comparative safety.

Jeanne Lange first, and then Armand himself; and the odds would be very heavy against the Scarlet Pimpernel! But that Marguerite should not have to mourn an only brother, of that Sir Percy made oath.

He now turned his steps towards his own former lodgings by St. Germain l’Auxerrois. It was just possible that Armand had succeeded in leaving a message there for him. It was, of course, equally possible that when he did so Héron’s men had watched his movements, and that spies would be stationed there, too, on the watch.

But that risk must, of course, be run. Blakeney’s former lodging was the one place that Armand would know of to which he could send a message to his chief, if he wanted to do so. Of course, the unfortunate young man could not have known until just now that Percy would come back to Paris, but he might guess it, or wish it, or only vaguely hope for it; he might want to send a message, he might long to communicate with his brother-in-law, and, perhaps, feel sure that the latter would not leave him in the lurch.

With that thought in his mind, Sir Percy was not likely to give up the attempt to ascertain for himself whether Armand had tried to communicate with him or not. As for spies⁠—well, he had dodged some of them often enough in his time⁠—the risks that he ran tonight were no worse than the ones to which he had so successfully run counter in the Temple yesterday.

Still keeping up the slouchy gait peculiar to the out-at-elbows working man of the day, hugging the houses as he walked along the streets, Blakeney made slow progress across the city. But at last he reached the façade of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, and turning sharply to his right he soon came in sight of the house which he had only quitted twenty-four hours ago.

We all know that house⁠—all of us who are familiar with the Paris of those terrible days. It stands quite detached⁠—a vast quadrangle, facing the Quai de l’École and the river, backing on the Rue St. Germain l’Auxerrois, and shouldering the Carrefour des Trois Maries. The porte-cochère, so-called, is but a narrow doorway, and is actually situated in the Rue St. Germain l’Auxerrois.

Blakeney made his way cautiously right round the house; he peered up and down the quay, and his keen eyes tried to pierce the dense gloom that hung at the corners of the Pont Neuf immediately opposite. Soon he assured himself that for the present, at any rate, the house was not being watched.

Armand presumably had not yet left a message for him here; but he might do so at any time now that he knew that his chief was in Paris and on the lookout for him.

Blakeney made up his mind to keep this house in sight. This art of watching he had acquired to a masterly extent, and could have taught Héron’s watchdogs a remarkable lesson in it. At night, of course, it was a comparatively easy task. There were a good many unlighted doorways along the quay, whilst a street lamp was fixed on a bracket in the wall of the very house which he kept in observation.

Finding temporary shelter under various doorways, or against the dank walls of the houses, Blakeney set himself resolutely to a few hours’ weary waiting. A thin, drizzly rain fell with unpleasant persistence, like a damp mist, and the thin blouse which he wore soon became wet through and clung hard and chilly to his shoulders.

It was close on midnight when at last he thought it best to give up his watch and to go back to his lodgings for a few hours’ sleep; but at seven o’clock the next morning he was back again at his post.

The porte-cochère of his former lodging-house was not yet open; he took up his stand close beside it. His woollen cap pulled well over his forehead, the grime cleverly plastered on his hair and face, his lower jaw thrust forward, his eyes looking lifeless and bleary, all gave him an expression of sly villainy, whilst the short clay pipe struck at a sharp angle in his mouth, his hands thrust into the pockets of his ragged breeches, and his bare feet in the mud of the road, gave the final touch to his representation of an out-of-work, ill-conditioned, and supremely discontented loafer.

He had not very long to wait. Soon the porte-cochère of the house was opened, and the concierge came out with his broom, making a show of cleaning the pavement in front of the door. Five minutes later a lad, whose clothes consisted entirely of rags, and whose feet and head were bare, came rapidly up the street from the quay, and walked along looking at the houses as he went, as if trying to decipher their number. The cold grey dawn was just breaking, dreary and damp, as all the past days had been. Blakeney watched the lad as he approached, the small, naked feet falling noiselessly on the cobblestones of the road. When the boy was quite close to him and to the house, Blakeney shifted his position and took the pipe out of his mouth.

“Up early, my son!” he said gruffly.

“Yes,” said the pale-faced little creature; “I have a message to deliver at No. 9 Rue St. Germain l’Auxerrois. It must be somewhere near here.”

“It is. You can give me the message.”

“Oh, no, citizen!” said the lad, into whose pale, circled eyes a look of terror had quickly appeared. “It is for one of the lodgers in No. 9. I must give it to him.”

With an instinct which he somehow felt could not err at this moment, Blakeney knew that the message was one from Armand to himself; a written message, too, since⁠—instinctively when he spoke⁠—the boy clutched at his thin shirt, as if trying to guard something precious that had been entrusted to him.

“I will deliver the message myself, sonny,” said Blakeney gruffly. “I know the citizen for whom it is intended. He would not like the concierge to see it.”

“Oh! I would not give it to the concierge,” said the boy. “I would take it upstairs myself.”

“My son,” retorted Blakeney, “let me tell you this. You are going to give that message up to me and I will put five whole livres into your hand.”

Blakeney, with all his sympathy aroused for this poor pale-faced lad, put on the airs of a ruffianly bully. He did not wish that message to be taken indoors by the lad, for the concierge might get hold of it, despite the boy’s protests and tears, and after that Blakeney would perforce have to disclose himself before it would be given up to him. During the past week the concierge had been very amenable to bribery. Whatever suspicions he had had about his lodger he had kept to himself for the sake of the money which he received; but it was impossible to gauge any man’s trend of thought these days from one hour to the next. Something⁠—for aught Blakeney knew⁠—might have occurred in the past twenty-four hours to change an amiable and accommodating lodging-house keeper into a surly or dangerous spy.

Fortunately, the concierge had once more gone within; there was no one abroad, and if there were, no one probably would take any notice of a burly ruffian browbeating a child.

Allons!” he said gruffly, “give me the letter, or that five livres goes back into my pocket.”

“Five livres!” exclaimed the child with pathetic eagerness. “Oh, citizen!”

The thin little hand fumbled under the rags, but it reappeared again empty, whilst a faint blush spread over the hollow cheeks.

“The other citizen also gave me five livres,” he said humbly. “He lodges in the house where my mother is concierge. It is in the Rue de la Croix Blanche. He has been very kind to my mother. I would rather do as he bade me.”

“Bless the lad,” murmured Blakeney under his breath; “his loyalty redeems many a crime of this Godforsaken city. Now I suppose I shall have to bully him, after all.”

He took his hand out of his breeches pocket; between two very dirty fingers he held a piece of gold. The other hand he placed quite roughly on the lad’s chest.

“Give me the letter,” he said harshly, “or⁠—”

He pulled at the ragged blouse, and a scrap of soiled paper soon fell into his hand. The lad began to cry.

“Here,” said Blakeney, thrusting the piece of gold into the thin small palm, “take this home to your mother, and tell your lodger that a big, rough man took the letter away from you by force. Now run, before I kick you out of the way.”

The lad, terrified out of his poor wits, did not wait for further commands; he took to his heels and ran, his small hand clutching the piece of gold. Soon he had disappeared round the corner of the street.

Blakeney did not at once read the paper; he thrust it quickly into his breeches pocket and slouched away slowly down the street, and thence across the Place du Carrousel, in the direction of his new lodgings in the Rue de l’Arcade.

It was only when he found himself alone in the narrow, squalid room which he was occupying that he took the scrap of paper from his pocket and read it slowly through. It said:

Percy, you cannot forgive me, nor can I ever forgive myself, but if you only knew what I have suffered for the past two days you would, I think, try and forgive. I am free and yet a prisoner; my every footstep is dogged. What they ultimately mean to do with me I do not know. And when I think of Jeanne I long for the power to end mine own miserable existence. Percy! she is still in the hands of those fiends.⁠ ⁠… I saw the prison register; her name written there has been like a burning brand on my heart ever since. She was still in prison the day that you left Paris; tomorrow, tonight mayhap, they will try her, condemn her, torture her, and I dare not go to see you, for I would only be bringing spies to your door. But will you come to me, Percy? It should be safe in the hours of the night, and the concierge is devoted to me. Tonight at ten o’clock she will leave the porte-cochère unlatched. If you find it so, and if on the ledge of the window immediately on your left as you enter you find a candle alight, and beside it a scrap of paper with your initials S. P. traced on it, then it will be quite safe for you to come up to my room. It is on the second landing⁠—a door on your right⁠—that too I will leave on the latch. But in the name of the woman you love best in all the world come at once to me then, and bear in mind, Percy, that the woman I love is threatened with immediate death, and that I am powerless to save her. Indeed, believe me, I would gladly die even now but for the thought of Jeanne, whom I should be leaving in the hands of those fiends. For God’s sake, Percy, remember that Jeanne is all the world to me.

“Poor old Armand,” murmured Blakeney with a kindly smile directed at the absent friend, “he won’t trust me even now. He won’t trust his Jeanne in my hands. Well,” he added after a while, “after all, I would not entrust Marguerite to anybody else either.”

XXIII. The Overwhelming Odds

At half-past ten that same evening, Blakeney, still clad in a workman’s tattered clothes, his feet bare so that he could tread the streets unheard, turned into the Rue de la Croix Blanche.

The porte-cochère of the house where Armand lodged had been left on the latch; not a soul was in sight. Peering cautiously round, he slipped into the house. On the ledge of the window, immediately on his left when he entered, a candle was left burning, and beside it there was a scrap of paper with the initials S. P. roughly traced in pencil. No one challenged him as he noiselessly glided past it, and up the narrow stairs that led to the upper floor. Here, too, on the second landing the door on the right had been left on the latch. He pushed it open and entered.

As is usual even in the meanest lodgings in Paris houses, a small antechamber gave between the front door and the main room. When Percy entered the antechamber was unlighted, but the door into the inner room beyond was ajar. Blakeney approached it with noiseless tread, and gently pushed it open.

That very instant he knew that the game was up; he heard the footsteps closing up behind him, saw Armand, deathly pale, leaning against the wall in the room in front of him, and Chauvelin and Héron standing guard over him.

The next moment the room and the antechamber were literally alive with soldiers⁠—twenty of them to arrest one man.

It was characteristic of that man that when hands were laid on him from every side he threw back his head and laughed⁠—laughed mirthfully, light-heartedly, and the first words that escaped his lips were:

“Well, I am d⁠⸺⁠d!”

“The odds are against you, Sir Percy,” said Chauvelin to him in English, whilst Héron at the further end of the room was growling like a contented beast.

“By the Lord, sir,” said Percy with perfect sangfroid, “I do believe that for the moment they are.”

“Have done, my men⁠—have done!” he added, turning good-humouredly to the soldiers round him. “I never fight against overwhelming odds. Twenty to one, eh? I could lay four of you out easily enough, perhaps even six, but what then?”

But a kind of savage lust seemed to have rendered these men temporarily mad, and they were being egged on by Héron. The mysterious Englishman, about whom so many eerie tales were told! Well, he had supernatural powers, and twenty to one might be nothing to him if the devil was on his side. Therefore a blow on his forearm with the butt-end of a bayonet was useful for disabling his right hand, and soon the left arm with a dislocated shoulder hung limp by his side. Then he was bound with cords.

The vein of luck had given out. The gambler had staked more than usual and had lost; but he knew how to lose, just as he had always known how to win.

“Those d⁠⸺⁠d brutes are trussing me like a fowl,” he murmured with irrepressible gaiety at the last.

Then the wrench on his bruised arms as they were pulled roughly back by the cords caused the veil of unconsciousness to gather over his eyes.

“And Jeanne was safe, Armand,” he shouted with a last desperate effort; “those devils have lied to you and tricked you into this⁠ ⁠… Since yesterday she is out of prison⁠ ⁠… in the house⁠ ⁠… you know.⁠ ⁠…”

After that he lost consciousness.

* * * * *

And this occurred on Tuesday, January 21st, in the year 1794, or, in accordance with the new calendar, on the 2nd Pluviôse, year II of the Republic.

It is chronicled in the Moniteur of the 3rd Pluviôse that, “on the previous evening, at half-past ten of the clock, the Englishman known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, who for three years has conspired against the safety of the Republic, was arrested through the patriotic exertions of citizen Chauvelin, and conveyed to the Conciergerie, where he now lies⁠—sick, but closely guarded. Long live the Republic!”