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El Dorado

PART III




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XXXV. The Last Phase

“Well? How is it now?”

“The last phase, I think.”

“He will yield?”

“He must.”

“Bah! you have said it yourself often enough; those English are tough.”

“It takes time to hack them to pieces, perhaps. In this case even you, citizen Chauvelin, said that it would take time. Well, it has taken just seventeen days, and now the end is in sight.”

It was close on midnight in the guardroom which gave on the innermost cell of the Conciergerie. Héron had just visited the prisoner as was his wont at this hour of the night. He had watched the changing of the guard, inspected the night-watch, questioned the sergeant in charge, and finally he had been on the point of retiring to his own new quarters in the house of Justice, in the near vicinity of the Conciergerie, when citizen Chauvelin entered the guardroom unexpectedly and detained his colleague with the peremptory question:

“How is it now?”

“If you are so near the end, citizen Héron,” he now said, sinking his voice to a whisper, “why not make a final effort and end it tonight?”

“I wish I could; the anxiety is wearing me out more’n him,” he added with a jerky movement of the head in direction of the inner cell.

“Shall I try?” rejoined Chauvelin grimly.

“Yes, an you wish.”

Citizen Héron’s long limbs were sprawling on a guardroom chair. In this low narrow room he looked like some giant whose body had been carelessly and loosely put together by a ’prentice hand in the art of manufacture. His broad shoulders were bent, probably under the weight of anxiety to which he had referred, and his head, with the lank, shaggy hair overshadowing the brow, was sunk deep down on his chest.

Chauvelin looked on his friend and associate with no small measure of contempt. He would no doubt have preferred to conclude the present difficult transaction entirely in his own way and alone; but equally there was no doubt that the Committee of Public Safety did not trust him quite so fully as it used to do before the fiasco at Calais and the blunders of Boulogne. Héron, on the other hand, enjoyed to its outermost the confidence of his colleagues; his ferocious cruelty and his callousness were well known, whilst physically, owing to his great height and bulky if loosely knit frame, he had a decided advantage over his trim and slender friend.

As far as the bringing of prisoners to trial was concerned, the chief agent of the Committee of General Security had been given a perfectly free hand by the decree of the 27th Nivôse. At first, therefore, he had experienced no difficulty when he desired to keep the Englishman in close confinement for a time without hurrying on that summary trial and condemnation which the populace had loudly demanded, and to which they felt that they were entitled to as a public holiday. The death of the Scarlet Pimpernel on the guillotine had been a spectacle promised by every demagogue who desired to purchase a few votes by holding out visions of pleasant doings to come; and during the first few days the mob of Paris was content to enjoy the delights of expectation.

But now seventeen days had gone by and still the Englishman was not being brought to trial. The pleasure-loving public was waxing impatient, and earlier this evening, when citizen Héron had shown himself in the stalls of the national theatre, he was greeted by a crowded audience with decided expressions of disapproval and open mutterings of:

“What of the Scarlet Pimpernel?”

It almost looked as if he would have to bring that accursed Englishman to the guillotine without having wrested from him the secret which he would have given a fortune to possess. Chauvelin, who had also been present at the theatre, had heard the expressions of discontent; hence his visit to his colleague at this late hour of the night.

“Shall I try?” he had queried with some impatience, and a deep sigh of satisfaction escaped his thin lips when the chief agent, wearied and discouraged, had reluctantly agreed.

“Let the men make as much noise as they like,” he added with an enigmatical smile. “The Englishman and I will want an accompaniment to our pleasant conversation.”

Héron growled a surly assent, and without another word Chauvelin turned towards the inner cell. As he stepped in he allowed the iron bar to fall into its socket behind him. Then he went farther into the room until the distant recess was fully revealed to him. His tread had been furtive and almost noiseless. Now he paused, for he had caught sight of the prisoner. For a moment he stood quite still, with hands clasped behind his back in his wonted attitude⁠—still save for a strange, involuntary twitching of his mouth, and the nervous clasping and interlocking of his fingers behind his back. He was savouring to its utmost fulsomeness the supremest joy which animal man can ever know⁠—the joy of looking on a fallen enemy.

Blakeney sat at the table with one arm resting on it, the emaciated hand tightly clutched, the body leaning forward, the eyes looking into nothingness.

For the moment he was unconscious of Chauvelin’s presence, and the latter could gaze on him to the full content of his heart.

Indeed, to all outward appearances there sat a man whom privations of every sort and kind, the want of fresh air, of proper food, above all, of rest, had worn down physically to a shadow. There was not a particle of colour in cheeks or lips, the skin was grey in hue, the eyes looked like deep caverns, wherein the glow of fever was all that was left of life.

Chauvelin looked on in silence, vaguely stirred by something that he could not define, something that right through his triumphant satisfaction, his hatred and final certainty of revenge, had roused in him a sense almost of admiration.

He gazed on the noiseless figure of the man who had endured so much for an ideal, and as he gazed it seemed to him as if the spirit no longer dwelt in the body, but hovered round in the dank, stuffy air of the narrow cell above the head of the lonely prisoner, crowning it with glory that was no longer of this earth.

Of this the looker-on was conscious despite himself, of that and of the fact that stare as he might, and with perception rendered doubly keen by hate, he could not, in spite of all, find the least trace of mental weakness in that farseeing gaze which seemed to pierce the prison walls, nor could he see that bodily weakness had tended to subdue the ruling passions.

Sir Percy Blakeney⁠—a prisoner since seventeen days in close, solitary confinement, half-starved, deprived of rest, and of that mental and physical activity which had been the very essence of life to him hitherto⁠—might be outwardly but a shadow of his former brilliant self, but nevertheless he was still that same elegant English gentleman, that prince of dandies whom Chauvelin had first met eighteen months ago at the most courtly Court in Europe. His clothes, despite constant wear and the want of attention from a scrupulous valet, still betrayed the perfection of London tailoring; he had put them on with meticulous care, they were free from the slightest particle of dust, and the filmy folds of priceless Mechlin still half-veiled the delicate whiteness of his shapely hands.

And in the pale, haggard face, in the whole pose of body and of arm, there was still the expression of that indomitable strength of will, that reckless daring, that almost insolent challenge to Fate; it was there untamed, uncrushed. Chauvelin himself could not deny to himself its presence or its force. He felt that behind that smooth brow, which looked waxlike now, the mind was still alert, scheming, plotting, striving for freedom, for conquest and for power, and rendered even doubly keen and virile by the ardour of supreme self-sacrifice.

Chauvelin now made a slight movement and suddenly Blakeney became conscious of his presence, and swift as a flash a smile lit up his wan face.

“Why! if it is not my engaging friend Monsieur Chambertin,” he said gaily.

He rose and stepped forward in the most approved fashion prescribed by the elaborate etiquette of the time. But Chauvelin smiled grimly and a look of almost animal lust gleamed in his pale eyes, for he had noted that as he rose Sir Percy had to seek the support of the table, even whilst a dull film appeared to gather over his eyes.

The gesture had been quick and cleverly disguised, but it had been there nevertheless⁠—that and the livid hue that overspread the face as if consciousness was threatening to go. All of which was sufficient still further to assure the looker-on that that mighty physical strength was giving way at last, that strength which he had hated in his enemy almost as much as he had hated the thinly veiled insolence of his manner.

“And what procures me, sir, the honour of your visit?” continued Blakeney, who had⁠—at any rate, outwardly⁠—soon recovered himself, and whose voice, though distinctly hoarse and spent, rang quite cheerfully across the dank narrow cell.

“My desire for your welfare, Sir Percy,” replied Chauvelin with equal pleasantry.

“La, sir; but have you not gratified that desire already, to an extent which leaves no room for further solicitude? But I pray you, will you not sit down?” he continued, turning back toward the table. “I was about to partake of the lavish supper which your friends have provided for me. Will you not share it, sir? You are most royally welcome, and it will mayhap remind you of that supper we shared together in Calais, eh? when you, Monsieur Chambertin, were temporarily in holy orders.”

He laughed, offering his enemy a chair, and pointed with inviting gesture to the hunk of brown bread and the mug of water which stood on the table.

“Such as it is, sir,” he said with a pleasant smile, “it is yours to command.”

Chauvelin sat down. He held his lower lip tightly between his teeth, so tightly that a few drops of blood appeared upon its narrow surface. He was making vigorous efforts to keep his temper under control, for he would not give his enemy the satisfaction of seeing him resent his insolence. He could afford to keep calm now that victory was at last in sight, now that he knew that he had but to raise a finger, and those smiling, impudent lips would be closed forever at last.

“Sir Percy,” he resumed quietly, “no doubt it affords you a certain amount of pleasure to aim your sarcastic shafts at me. I will not begrudge you that pleasure; in your present position, sir, your shafts have little or no sting.”

“And I shall have but few chances left to aim them at your charming self,” interposed Blakeney, who had drawn another chair close to the table and was now sitting opposite his enemy, with the light of the lamp falling full on his own face, as if he wished his enemy to know that he had nothing to hide, no thought, no hope, no fear.

“Exactly,” said Chauvelin dryly. “That being the case, Sir Percy, what say you to no longer wasting the few chances which are left to you for safety? The time is getting on. You are not, I imagine, quite as hopeful as you were even a week ago,⁠ ⁠… you have never been over-comfortable in this cell, why not end this unpleasant state of affairs now⁠—once and for all? You’ll not have cause to regret it. My word on it.”

Sir Percy leaned back in his chair. He yawned loudly and ostentatiously.

“I pray you, sir, forgive me,” he said. “Never have I been so d⁠⸺⁠d fatigued. I have not slept for more than a fortnight.”

“Exactly, Sir Percy. A night’s rest would do you a world of good.”

“A night, sir?” exclaimed Blakeney with what seemed like an echo of his former inimitable laugh. “La! I should want a week.”

“I am afraid we could not arrange for that, but one night would greatly refresh you.”

“You are right, sir, you are right; but those d⁠⸺⁠d fellows in the next room make so much noise.”

“I would give strict orders that perfect quietude reigned in the guardroom this night,” said Chauvelin, murmuring softly, and there was a gentle purr in his voice, “and that you were left undisturbed for several hours. I would give orders that a comforting supper be served to you at once, and that everything be done to minister to your wants.”

“That sounds d⁠⸺⁠d alluring, sir. Why did you not suggest this before?”

“You were so⁠—what shall I say⁠—so obstinate, Sir Percy?”

“Call it pigheaded, my dear Monsieur Chambertin,” retorted Blakeney gaily, “truly you would oblige me.”

“In any case you, sir, were acting in direct opposition to your own interests.”

“Therefore you came,” concluded Blakeney airily, “like the good Samaritan to take compassion on me and my troubles, and to lead me straight away to comfort, a good supper and a downy bed.”

“Admirably put, Sir Percy,” said Chauvelin blandly; “that is exactly my mission.”

“How will you set to work, Monsieur Chambertin?”

“Quite easily, if you, Sir Percy, will yield to the persuasion of my friend citizen Héron.”

“Ah!”

“Why, yes! He is anxious to know where little Capet is. A reasonable whim, you will own, considering that the disappearance of the child is causing him grave anxiety.”

“And you, Monsieur Chambertin?” queried Sir Percy with that suspicion of insolence in his manner which had the power to irritate his enemy even now. “And yourself, sir; what are your wishes in the matter?”

“Mine, Sir Percy?” retorted Chauvelin. “Mine? Why, to tell you the truth, the fate of little Capet interests me but little. Let him rot in Austria or in our prisons, I care not which. He’ll never trouble France overmuch, I imagine. The teachings of old Simon will not tend to make a leader or a king out of the puny brat whom you chose to drag out of our keeping. My wishes, sir, are the annihilation of your accursed League, and the lasting disgrace, if not the death, of its chief.”

He had spoken more hotly than he had intended, but all the pent-up rage of the past eighteen months, the recollections of Calais and of Boulogne, had all surged up again in his mind, because despite the closeness of these prison walls, despite the grim shadow of starvation and of death that beckoned so close at hand, he still encountered a pair of mocking eyes, fixed with relentless insolence upon him.

Whilst he spoke Blakeney had once more leaned forward, resting his elbows upon the table. Now he drew nearer to him the wooden platter on which reposed that very uninviting piece of dry bread. With solemn intentness he proceeded to break the bread into pieces; then he offered the platter to Chauvelin.

“I am sorry,” he said pleasantly, “that I cannot offer you more dainty fare, sir, but this is all that your friends have supplied me with today.”

He crumbled some of the dry bread in his slender fingers, then started munching the crumbs with apparent relish. He poured out some water into the mug and drank it. Then he said with a light laugh:

“Even the vinegar which that ruffian Brogard served us at Calais was preferable to this, do you not imagine so, my good Monsieur Chambertin?”

Chauvelin made no reply. Like a feline creature on the prowl, he was watching the prey that had so nearly succumbed to his talons. Blakeney’s face now was positively ghastly. The effort to speak, to laugh, to appear unconcerned, was apparently beyond his strength. His cheeks and lips were livid in hue, the skin clung like a thin layer of wax to the bones of cheek and jaw, and the heavy lids that fell over the eyes had purple patches on them like lead.

To a system in such an advanced state of exhaustion the stale water and dusty bread must have been terribly nauseating, and Chauvelin himself callous and thirsting for vengeance though he was, could hardly bear to look calmly on the martyrdom of this man whom he and his colleagues were torturing in order to gain their own ends.

An ashen hue, which seemed like the shadow of the hand of death, passed over the prisoner’s face. Chauvelin felt compelled to avert his gaze. A feeling that was almost akin to remorse had stirred a hidden chord in his heart. The feeling did not last⁠—the heart had been too long atrophied by the constantly recurring spectacles of cruelties, massacres, and wholesale hecatombs perpetrated in the past eighteen months in the name of liberty and fraternity to be capable of a sustained effort in the direction of gentleness or of pity. Any noble instinct in these revolutionaries had long ago been drowned in a whirlpool of exploits that would forever sully the records of humanity; and this keeping of a fellow-creature on the rack in order to wring from him a Judas-like betrayal was but a complement to a record of infamy that had ceased by its very magnitude to weigh upon their souls.

Chauvelin was in no way different from his colleagues; the crimes in which he had had no hand he had condoned by continuing to serve the Government that had committed them, and his ferocity in the present case was increased a thousandfold by his personal hatred for the man who had so often fooled and baffled him.

When he looked round a second or two later that ephemeral fit of remorse did its final vanishing; he had once more encountered the pleasant smile, the laughing if ashen-pale face of his unconquered foe.

“Only a passing giddiness, my dear sir,” said Sir Percy lightly. “As you were saying⁠—”

At the airily-spoken words, at the smile that accompanied them, Chauvelin had jumped to his feet. There was something almost supernatural, weird, and impish about the present situation, about this dying man who, like an impudent schoolboy, seemed to be mocking Death with his tongue in his cheek, about his laugh that appeared to find its echo in a widely yawning grave.

“In the name of God, Sir Percy,” he said roughly, as he brought his clenched fist crashing down upon the table, “this situation is intolerable. Bring it to an end tonight!”

“Why, sir?” retorted Blakeney, “methought you and your kind did not believe in God.”

“No. But you English do.”

“We do. But we do not care to hear His name on your lips.”

“Then in the name of the wife whom you love⁠—”

But even before the words had died upon his lips, Sir Percy, too, had risen to his feet.

“Have done, man⁠—have done,” he broke in hoarsely, and despite weakness, despite exhaustion and weariness, there was such a dangerous look in his hollow eyes as he leaned across the table that Chauvelin drew back a step or two, and⁠—vaguely fearful⁠—looked furtively towards the opening into the guardroom. “Have done,” he reiterated for the third time; “do not name her, or by the living God whom you dared to invoke I’ll find strength yet to smite you in the face.”

But Chauvelin, after that first moment of almost superstitious fear, had quickly recovered his sangfroid.

“Little Capet, Sir Percy,” he said, meeting the other’s threatening glance with an imperturbable smile, “tell me where to find him, and you may yet live to savour the caresses of the most beautiful woman in England.”

He had meant it as a taunt, the final turn of the thumbscrew applied to a dying man, and he had in that watchful, keen mind of his well weighed the full consequences of the taunt.

The next moment he had paid to the full the anticipated price. Sir Percy had picked up the pewter mug from the table⁠—it was half-filled with brackish water⁠—and with a hand that trembled but slightly he hurled it straight at his opponent’s face.

The heavy mug did not hit citizen Chauvelin; it went crashing against the stone wall opposite. But the water was trickling from the top of his head all down his eyes and cheeks. He shrugged his shoulders with a look of benign indulgence directed at his enemy, who had fallen back into his chair exhausted with the effort.

Then he took out his handkerchief and calmly wiped the water from his face.

“Not quite so straight a shot as you used to be, Sir Percy,” he said mockingly.

“No, sir⁠—apparently⁠—not.”

The words came out in gasps. He was like a man only partly conscious. The lips were parted, the eyes closed, the head leaning against the high back of the chair. For the space of one second Chauvelin feared that his zeal had outrun his prudence, that he had dealt a deathblow to a man in the last stage of exhaustion, where he had only wished to fan the flickering flame of life. Hastily⁠—for the seconds seemed precious⁠—he ran to the opening that led into the guardroom.

“Brandy⁠—quick!” he cried.

Héron looked up, roused from the semi-somnolence in which he had lain for the past half-hour. He disentangled his long limbs from out the guardroom chair.

“Eh?” he queried. “What is it?”

“Brandy,” reiterated Chauvelin impatiently; “the prisoner has fainted.”

“Bah!” retorted the other with a callous shrug of the shoulders, “you are not going to revive him with brandy, I imagine.”

“No. But you will, citizen Héron,” rejoined the other dryly, “for if you do not he’ll be dead in an hour!”

“Devils in hell!” exclaimed Héron, “you have not killed him? You⁠—you d⁠⸺⁠d fool!”

He was wide awake enough now; wide awake and shaking with fury. Almost foaming at the mouth and uttering volleys of the choicest oaths, he elbowed his way roughly through the groups of soldiers who were crowding round the centre table of the guardroom, smoking and throwing dice or playing cards. They made way for him as hurriedly as they could, for it was not safe to thwart the citizen agent when he was in a rage.

Héron walked across to the opening and lifted the iron bar. With scant ceremony he pushed his colleague aside and strode into the cell, whilst Chauvelin, seemingly not resenting the other’s ruffianly manners and violent language, followed close upon his heel.

In the centre of the room both men paused, and Héron turned with a surly growl to his friend.

“You vowed he would be dead in an hour,” he said reproachfully.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

“It does not look like it now certainly,” he said dryly.

Blakeney was sitting⁠—as was his wont⁠—close to the table, with one arm leaning on it, the other, tightly clenched, resting upon his knee. A ghost of a smile hovered round his lips.

“Not in an hour, citizen Héron,” he said, and his voice flow was scarce above a whisper, “nor yet in two.”

“You are a fool, man,” said Héron roughly. “You have had seventeen days of this. Are you not sick of it?”

“Heartily, my dear friend,” replied Blakeney a little more firmly.

“Seventeen days,” reiterated the other, nodding his shaggy head; “you came here on the 2nd of Pluviôse, today is the 19th.”

“The 19th Pluviôse?” interposed Sir Percy, and a strange gleam suddenly flashed in his eyes. “Demn it, sir, and in Christian parlance what may that day be?”

“The 7th of February at your service, Sir Percy,” replied Chauvelin quietly.

“I thank you, sir. In this d⁠⸺⁠d hole I had lost count of time.”

Chauvelin, unlike his rough and blundering colleague, had been watching the prisoner very closely for the last moment or two, conscious of a subtle, undefinable change that had come over the man during those few seconds while he, Chauvelin, had thought him dying. The pose was certainly the old familiar one, the head erect, the hand clenched, the eyes looking through and beyond the stone walls; but there was an air of listlessness in the stoop of the shoulders, and⁠—except for that one brief gleam just now⁠—a look of more complete weariness round the hollow eyes! To the keen watcher it appeared as if that sense of living power, of unconquered will and defiant mind was no longer there, and as if he himself need no longer fear that almost supersensual thrill which had a while ago kindled in him a vague sense of admiration⁠—almost of remorse.

Even as he gazed, Blakeney slowly turned his eyes full upon him. Chauvelin’s heart gave a triumphant bound.

With a mocking smile he met the wearied look, the pitiable appeal. His turn had come at last⁠—his turn to mock and to exult. He knew that what he was watching now was no longer the last phase of a long and noble martyrdom; it was the end⁠—the inevitable end⁠—that for which he had schemed and striven, for which he had schooled his heart to ferocity and callousness that were devilish in their intensity. It was the end indeed, the slow descent of a soul from the giddy heights of attempted self-sacrifice, where it had striven to soar for a time, until the body and the will both succumbed together and dragged it down with them into the abyss of submission and of irreparable shame.

XXXVI. Submission

Silence reigned in the narrow cell for a few moments, whilst two human jackals stood motionless over their captured prey.

A savage triumph gleamed in Chauvelin’s eyes, and even Héron, dull and brutal though he was, had become vaguely conscious of the great change that had come over the prisoner.

Blakeney, with a gesture and a sigh of hopeless exhaustion had once more rested both his elbows on the table; his head fell heavy and almost lifeless downward in his arms.

“Curse you, man!” cried Héron almost involuntarily. “Why in the name of hell did you wait so long?”

Then, as the prisoner made no reply, but only raised his head slightly, and looked on the other two men with dulled, wearied eyes, Chauvelin interposed calmly:

“More than a fortnight has been wasted in useless obstinacy, Sir Percy. Fortunately it is not too late.”

“Capet?” said Héron hoarsely, “tell us, where is Capet?”

He leaned across the table, his eyes were bloodshot with the keenness of his excitement, his voice shook with the passionate desire for the crowning triumph.

“If you’ll only not worry me,” murmured the prisoner; and the whisper came so laboriously and so low that both men were forced to bend their ears close to the scarcely moving lips; “if you will let me sleep and rest, and leave me in peace⁠—”

“The peace of the grave, man,” retorted Chauvelin roughly; “if you will only speak. Where is Capet?”

“I cannot tell you; the way is long, the road⁠—intricate.”

“Bah!”

“I’ll lead you to him, if you will give me rest.”

“We don’t want you to lead us anywhere,” growled Héron with a smothered curse; “tell us where Capet is; we’ll find him right enough.”

“I cannot explain; the way is intricate; the place off the beaten track, unknown except to me and my friends.”

Once more that shadow, which was so like the passing of the hand of Death, overspread the prisoner’s face; his head rolled back against the chair.

“He’ll die before he can speak,” muttered Chauvelin under his breath. “You usually are well provided with brandy, citizen Héron.”

The latter no longer demurred. He saw the danger as clearly as did his colleague. It had been hell’s own luck if the prisoner were to die now when he seemed ready to give in. He produced a flask from the pocket of his coat, and this he held to Blakeney’s lips.

“Beastly stuff,” murmured the latter feebly. “I think I’d sooner faint⁠—than drink.”

“Capet? where is Capet?” reiterated Héron impatiently.

“One⁠—two⁠—three hundred leagues from here. I must let one of my friends know; he’ll communicate with the others; they must be prepared,” replied the prisoner slowly.

Héron uttered a blasphemous oath.

“Where is Capet? Tell us where Capet is, or⁠—”

He was like a raging tiger that had thought to hold its prey and suddenly realised that it was being snatched from him. He raised his fist, and without doubt the next moment he would have silenced forever the lips that held the precious secret, but Chauvelin fortunately was quick enough to seize his wrist.

“Have a care, citizen,” he said peremptorily; “have a care! You called me a fool just now when you thought I had killed the prisoner. It is his secret we want first; his death can follow afterwards.”

“Yes, but not in this d⁠⸺⁠d hole,” murmured Blakeney.

“On the guillotine if you’ll speak,” cried Héron, whose exasperation was getting the better of his self-interest, “but if you’ll not speak then it shall be starvation in this hole⁠—yes, starvation,” he growled, showing a row of large and uneven teeth like those of some mongrel cur, “for I’ll have that door walled in tonight, and not another living soul shall cross this threshold again until your flesh has rotted on your bones and the rats have had their fill of you.”

The prisoner raised his head slowly, a shiver shook him as if caused by ague, and his eyes, that appeared almost sightless, now looked with a strange glance of horror on his enemy.

“I’ll die in the open,” he whispered, “not in this d⁠⸺⁠d hole.”

“Then tell us where Capet is.”

“I cannot; I wish to God I could. But I’ll take you to him, I swear I will. I’ll make my friends give him up to you. Do you think that I would not tell you now, if I could.”

Héron, whose every instinct of tyranny revolted against this thwarting of his will, would have continued to heckle the prisoner even now, had not Chauvelin suddenly interposed with an authoritative gesture.

“You’ll gain nothing this way, citizen,” he said quietly; “the man’s mind is wandering; he is probably quite unable to give you clear directions at this moment.”

“What am I to do, then?” muttered the other roughly. “He cannot live another twenty-four hours now, and would only grow more and more helpless as time went on.”

“Unless you relax your strict regime with him.”

“And if I do we’ll only prolong this situation indefinitely; and in the meanwhile how do we know that the brat is not being spirited away out of the country?”

The prisoner, with his head once more buried in his arms, had fallen into a kind of torpor, the only kind of sleep that the exhausted system would allow. With a brutal gesture Héron shook him by the shoulder.

,” he shouted, “none of that, you know. We have not settled the matter of young Capet yet.”

Then, as the prisoner made no movement, and the chief agent indulged in one of his favourite volleys of oaths, Chauvelin placed a peremptory hand on his colleague’s shoulder.

“I tell you, citizen, that this is no use,” he said firmly. “Unless you are prepared to give up all thoughts of finding Capet, you must try and curb your temper, and try diplomacy where force is sure to fail.”

“Diplomacy?” retorted the other with a sneer. “Bah! it served you well at Boulogne last autumn, did it not, citizen Chauvelin?”

“It has served me better now,” rejoined the other imperturbably. “You will own, citizen, that it is my diplomacy which has placed within your reach the ultimate hope of finding Capet.”

“H’m!” muttered the other, “you advised us to starve the prisoner. Are we any nearer to knowing his secret?”

“Yes. By a fortnight of weariness, of exhaustion and of starvation, you are nearer to it by the weakness of the man whom in his full strength you could never hope to conquer.”

“But if the cursed Englishman won’t speak, and in the meanwhile dies on my hands⁠—”

“He won’t do that if you will accede to his wish. Give him some good food now, and let him sleep till dawn.”

“And at dawn he’ll defy me again. I believe now that he has some scheme in his mind, and means to play us a trick.”

“That, I imagine, is more than likely,” retorted Chauvelin dryly; “though,” he added with a contemptuous nod of the head directed at the huddled-up figure of his once brilliant enemy, “neither mind nor body seem to me to be in a sufficiently active state just now for hatching plot or intrigue; but even if⁠—vaguely floating through his clouded mind⁠—there has sprung some little scheme for evasion, I give you my word, citizen Héron, that you can thwart him completely, and gain all that you desire, if you will only follow my advice.”

There had always been a great amount of persuasive power in citizen Chauvelin, ex-envoy of the revolutionary Government of France at the Court of St. James, and that same persuasive eloquence did not fail now in its effect on the chief agent of the Committee of General Security. The latter was made of coarser stuff than his more brilliant colleague. Chauvelin was like a wily and sleek panther that is furtive in its movements, that will lure its prey, watch it, follow it with stealthy footsteps, and only pounce on it when it is least wary, whilst Héron was more like a raging bull that tosses its head in a blind, irresponsible fashion, rushes at an obstacle without gauging its resisting powers, and allows its victim to slip from beneath its weight through the very clumsiness and brutality of its assault.

Still Chauvelin had two heavy black marks against him⁠—those of his failures at Calais and Boulogne. Héron, rendered cautious both by the deadly danger in which he stood and the sense of his own incompetence to deal with the present situation, tried to resist the other’s authority as well as his persuasion.

“Your advice was not of great use to citizen Collot last autumn at Boulogne,” he said, and spat on the ground by way of expressing both his independence and his contempt.

“Still, citizen Héron,” retorted Chauvelin with unruffled patience, “it is the best advice that you are likely to get in the present emergency. You have eyes to see, have you not? Look on your prisoner at this moment. Unless something is done, and at once, too, he will be past negotiating within the next twenty-four hours; then what will follow?”

He put his thin hand once more on his colleague’s grubby coat-sleeve, he drew him closer to himself away from the vicinity of that huddled figure, that captive lion, wrapped in a torpid somnolence that looked already so like the last long sleep.

“What will follow, citizen Héron?” he reiterated, sinking his voice to a whisper; “sooner or later some meddlesome busybody who sits in the Assembly of the Convention will get wind that little Capet is no longer in the Temple prison, that a pauper child was substituted for him, and that you, citizen Héron, together with the commissaries in charge, have thus been fooling the nation and its representatives for over a fortnight. What will follow then, think you?”

And he made an expressive gesture with his outstretched fingers across his throat.

Héron found no other answer but blasphemy.

“I’ll make that cursed Englishman speak yet,” he said with a fierce oath.

“You cannot,” retorted Chauvelin decisively. “In his present state he is incapable of it, even if he would, which also is doubtful.”

“Ah! then you do think that he still means to cheat us?”

“Yes, I do. But I also know that he is no longer in a physical state to do it. No doubt he thinks that he is. A man of that type is sure to overvalue his own strength; but look at him, citizen Héron. Surely you must see that we have nothing to fear from him now.”

Héron now was like a voracious creature that has two victims lying ready for his gluttonous jaws. He was loath to let either of them go. He hated the very thought of seeing the Englishman being led out of this narrow cell, where he had kept a watchful eye over him night and day for a fortnight, satisfied that with every day, every hour, the chances of escape became more improbable and more rare; at the same time there was the possibility of the recapture of little Capet, a possibility which made Héron’s brain reel with the delightful vista of it, and which might never come about if the prisoner remained silent to the end.

“I wish I were quite sure,” he said sullenly, “that you were body and soul in accord with me.”

“I am in accord with you, citizen Héron,” rejoined the other earnestly⁠—“body and soul in accord with you. Do you not believe that I hate this man⁠—aye! hate him with a hatred ten thousand times more strong than yours? I want his death⁠—Heaven or hell alone know how I long for that⁠—but what I long for most is his lasting disgrace. For that I have worked, citizen Héron⁠—for that I advised and helped you. When first you captured this man you wanted summarily to try him, to send him to the guillotine amidst the joy of the populace of Paris, and crowned with a splendid halo of martyrdom. That man, citizen Héron, would have baffled you, mocked you, and fooled you even on the steps of the scaffold. In the zenith of his strength and of insurmountable good luck you and all your myrmidons and all the assembled guard of Paris would have had no power over him. The day that you led him out of this cell in order to take him to trial or to the guillotine would have been that of your hopeless discomfiture. Having once walked out of this cell hale, hearty and alert, be the escort round him ever so strong, he never would have re-entered it again. Of that I am as convinced as that I am alive. I know the man; you don’t. Mine are not the only fingers through which he has slipped. Ask citizen Collot d’Herbois, ask Sergeant Bibot at the barrier of Menilmontant, ask General Santerre and his guards. They all have a tale to tell. Did I believe in God or the devil, I should also believe that this man has supernatural powers and a host of demons at his beck and call.”

“Yet you talk now of letting him walk out of this cell tomorrow?”

“He is a different man now, citizen Héron. On my advice you placed him on a regime that has counteracted the supernatural power by simple physical exhaustion, and driven to the four winds the host of demons who no doubt fled in the face of starvation.”

“If only I thought that the recapture of Capet was as vital to you as it is to me,” said Héron, still unconvinced.

“The capture of Capet is just as vital to me as it is to you,” rejoined Chauvelin earnestly, “if it is brought about through the instrumentality of the Englishman.”

He paused, looking intently on his colleague, whose shifty eyes encountered his own. Thus eye to eye the two men at last understood one another.

“Ah!” said Héron with a snort, “I think I understand.”

“I am sure that you do,” responded Chauvelin dryly. “The disgrace of this cursed Scarlet Pimpernel and his League is as vital to me, and more, as the capture of Capet is to you. That is why I showed you the way how to bring that meddlesome adventurer to his knees; that is why I will help you now both to find Capet and with his aid and to wreak what reprisals you like on him in the end.”

Héron before he spoke again cast one more look on the prisoner. The latter had not stirred; his face was hidden, but the hands, emaciated, nerveless and waxen, like those of the dead, told a more eloquent tale, mayhap, then than the eyes could do. The chief agent of the Committee of General Security walked deliberately round the table until he stood once more close beside the man from whom he longed with passionate ardour to wrest an all-important secret. With brutal, grimy hand he raised the head that lay, sunken and inert, against the table; with callous eyes he gazed attentively on the face that was then revealed to him, he looked on the waxen flesh, the hollow eyes, the bloodless lips; then he shrugged his wide shoulders, and with a laugh that surely must have caused joy in hell, he allowed the wearied head to fall back against the outstretched arms, and turned once again to his colleague.

“I think you are right, citizen Chauvelin,” he said; “there is not much supernatural power here. Let me hear your advice.”

XXXVII. Chauvelin’s Advice

Citizen Chauvelin had drawn his colleague with him to the end of the cell that was farthest away from the recess, and the table at which the prisoner was sitting.

Here the noise and hubbub that went on constantly in the guard room would effectually drown a whispered conversation. Chauvelin called to the sergeant to hand him a couple of chairs over the barrier. These he placed against the wall opposite the opening, and beckoning Héron to sit down, he did likewise, placing himself close to his colleague.

From where the two men now sat they could see both into the guardroom opposite them and into the recess at the furthermost end of the cell.

“First of all,” began Chauvelin after a while, and sinking his voice to a whisper, “let me understand you thoroughly, citizen Héron. Do you want the death of the Englishman, either today or tomorrow, either in this prison or on the guillotine? For that now is easy of accomplishment; or do you want, above all, to get hold of little Capet?”

“It is Capet I want,” growled Héron savagely under his breath. “Capet! Capet! My own neck is dependent on my finding Capet. Curse you, have I not told you that clearly enough?”

“You have told it me very clearly, citizen Héron; but I wished to make assurance doubly sure, and also make you understand that I, too, want the Englishman to betray little Capet into your hands. I want that more even than I do his death.”

“Then in the name of hell, citizen, give me your advice.”

“My advice to you, citizen Héron, is this: Give your prisoner now just a sufficiency of food to revive him⁠—he will have had a few moments’ sleep⁠—and when he has eaten, and, mayhap, drunk a glass of wine, he will, no doubt, feel a recrudescence of strength, then give him pen and ink and paper. He must, as he says, write to one of his followers, who, in his turn, I suppose, will communicate with the others, bidding them to be prepared to deliver up little Capet to us; the letter must make it clear to that crowd of English gentlemen that their beloved chief is giving up the uncrowned King of France to us in exchange for his own safety. But I think you will agree with me, citizen Héron, that it would not be over-prudent on our part to allow that same gallant crowd to be forewarned too soon of the proposed doings of their chief. Therefore, I think, we’ll explain to the prisoner that his follower, whom he will first apprise of his intentions, shall start with us tomorrow on our expedition, and accompany us until its last stage, when, if it is found necessary, he may be sent on ahead, strongly escorted of course, and with personal messages from the gallant Scarlet Pimpernel to the members of his League.”

“What will be the good of that?” broke in Héron viciously. “Do you want one of his accursed followers to be ready to give him a helping hand on the way if he tries to slip through our fingers?”

“Patience, patience, my good Héron!” rejoined Chauvelin with a placid smile. “Hear me out to the end. Time is precious. You shall offer what criticism you will when I have finished, but not before.”

“Go on, then. I listen.”

“I am not only proposing that one member of the Scarlet Pimpernel League shall accompany us tomorrow,” continued Chauvelin, “but I would also force the prisoner’s wife⁠—Marguerite Blakeney⁠—to follow in our train.”

“A woman? Bah! What for?”

“I will tell you the reason of this presently. In her case I should not let the prisoner know beforehand that she too will form a part of our expedition. Let this come as a pleasing surprise for him. She could join us on our way out of Paris.”

“How will you get hold of her?”

“Easily enough. I know where to find her. I traced her myself a few days ago to a house in the Rue de Charonne, and she is not likely to have gone away from Paris while her husband was at the Conciergerie. But this is a digression, let me proceed more consecutively. The letter, as I have said, being written tonight by the prisoner to one of his followers, I will myself see that it is delivered into the right hands. You, citizen Héron, will in the meanwhile make all arrangements for the journey. We ought to start at dawn, and we ought to be prepared, especially during the first fifty leagues of the way, against organised attack in case the Englishman leads us into an ambush.”

“Yes. He might even do that, curse him!” muttered Héron.

“He might, but it is unlikely. Still it is best to be prepared. Take a strong escort, citizen, say twenty or thirty men, picked and trained soldiers who would make short work of civilians, however well-armed they might be. There are twenty members⁠—including the chief⁠—in that Scarlet Pimpernel League, and I do not quite see how from this cell the prisoner could organise an ambuscade against us at a given time. Anyhow, that is a matter for you to decide. I have still to place before you a scheme which is a measure of safety for ourselves and our men against ambush as well as against trickery, and which I feel sure you will pronounce quite adequate.”

“Let me hear it, then!”

“The prisoner will have to travel by coach, of course. You can travel with him, if you like, and put him in irons, and thus avert all chances of his escaping on the road. But”⁠—and here Chauvelin made a long pause, which had the effect of holding his colleague’s attention still more closely⁠—“remember that we shall have his wife and one of his friends with us. Before we finally leave Paris tomorrow we will explain to the prisoner that at the first attempt to escape on his part, at the slightest suspicion that he has tricked us for his own ends or is leading us into an ambush⁠—at the slightest suspicion, I say⁠—you, citizen Héron, will order his friend first, and then Marguerite Blakeney herself, to be summarily shot before his eyes.”

Héron gave a long, low whistle. Instinctively he threw a furtive, backward glance at the prisoner, then he raised his shifty eyes to his colleague.

There was unbounded admiration expressed in them. One blackguard had met another⁠—a greater one than himself⁠—and was proud to acknowledge him as his master.

“By Lucifer, citizen Chauvelin,” he said at last, “I should never have thought of such a thing myself.”

Chauvelin put up his hand with a gesture of self-deprecation.

“I certainly think that measure ought to be adequate,” he said with a gentle air of assumed modesty, “unless you would prefer to arrest the woman and lodge her here, keeping her here as an hostage.”

“No, no!” said Héron with a gruff laugh; “that idea does not appeal to me nearly so much as the other. I should not feel so secure on the way.⁠ ⁠… I should always be thinking that that cursed woman had been allowed to escape.⁠ ⁠… No! no! I would rather keep her under my own eye⁠—just as you suggest, citizen Chauvelin⁠ ⁠… and under the prisoner’s, too,” he added with a coarse jest. “If he did not actually see her, he might be more ready to try and save himself at her expense. But, of course, he could not see her shot before his eyes. It is a perfect plan, citizen, and does you infinite credit; and if the Englishman tricked us,” he concluded with a fierce and savage oath, “and we did not find Capet at the end of the journey, I would gladly strangle his wife and his friend with my own hands.”

“A satisfaction which I would not begrudge you, citizen,” said Chauvelin dryly. “Perhaps you are right⁠ ⁠… the woman had best be kept under your own eye⁠ ⁠… the prisoner will never risk her safety on that, I would stake my life. We’ll deliver our final ‘either⁠—or’ the moment that she has joined our party, and before we start further on our way. Now, citizen Héron, you have heard my advice; are you prepared to follow it?”

“To the last letter,” replied the other.

And their two hands met in a grasp of mutual understanding⁠—two hands already indelibly stained with much innocent blood, more deeply stained now with seventeen past days of inhumanity and miserable treachery to come.

XXXVIII. Capitulation

What occurred within the inner cell of the Conciergerie prison within the next half-hour of that 16th day of Pluviôse in the year II of the Republic is, perhaps, too well known to history to need or bear overfull repetition.

Chroniclers intimate with the inner history of those infamous days have told us how the chief agent of the Committee of General Security gave orders one hour after midnight that hot soup, white bread and wine be served to the prisoner, who for close on fourteen days previously had been kept on short rations of black bread and water; the sergeant in charge of the guardroom watch for the night also received strict orders that that same prisoner was on no account to be disturbed until the hour of six in the morning, when he was to be served with anything in the way of breakfast that he might fancy.

All this we know, and also that citizen Héron, having given all necessary orders for the morning’s expedition, returned to the Conciergerie, and found his colleague Chauvelin waiting for him in the guardroom.

“Well?” he asked with febrile impatience⁠—“the prisoner?”

“He seems better and stronger,” replied Chauvelin.

“Not too well, I hope?”

“No, no, only just well enough.”

“You have seen him⁠—since his supper?”

“Only from the doorway. It seems he ate and drank hardly at all, and the sergeant had some difficulty in keeping him awake until you came.”

“Well, now for the letter,” concluded Héron with the same marked feverishness of manner which sat so curiously on his uncouth personality. “Pen, ink and paper, sergeant!” he commanded.

“On the table, in the prisoner’s cell, citizen,” replied the sergeant.

He preceded the two citizens across the guardroom to the doorway, and raised for them the iron bar, lowering it back after them.

The next moment Héron and Chauvelin were once more face to face with their prisoner.

Whether by accident or design the lamp had been so placed that as the two men approached its light fell full upon their faces, while that of the prisoner remained in shadow. He was leaning forward with both elbows on the table, his thin, tapering fingers toying with the pen and inkhorn which had been placed close to his hand.

“I trust that everything has been arranged for your comfort, Sir Percy?” Chauvelin asked with a sarcastic little smile.

“I thank you, sir,” replied Blakeney politely.

“You feel refreshed, I hope?”

“Greatly so, I assure you. But I am still demmed sleepy; and if you would kindly be brief⁠—”

“You have not changed your mind, sir?” queried Chauvelin, and a note of anxiety, which he vainly tried to conceal, quivered in his voice.

“No, my good M. Chambertin,” replied Blakeney with the same urbane courtesy, “I have not changed my mind.”

A sigh of relief escaped the lips of both the men. The prisoner certainly had spoken in a clearer and firmer voice; but whatever renewed strength wine and food had imparted to him he apparently did not mean to employ in renewed obstinacy. Chauvelin, after a moment’s pause, resumed more calmly:

“You are prepared to direct us to the place where little Capet lies hidden?”

“I am prepared to do anything, sir, to get out of this d⁠⸺⁠d hole.”

“Very well. My colleague, citizen Héron, has arranged for an escort of twenty men picked from the best regiment of the Garde de Paris to accompany us⁠—yourself, him and me⁠—to wherever you will direct us. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly, sir.”

“You must not imagine for a moment that we, on the other hand, guarantee to give you your life and freedom even if this expedition prove unsuccessful.”

“I would not venture on suggesting such a wild proposition, sir,” said Blakeney placidly.

Chauvelin looked keenly on him. There was something in the tone of that voice that he did not altogether like⁠—something that reminded him of an evening at Calais, and yet again of a day at Boulogne. He could not read the expression in the eyes, so with a quick gesture he pulled the lamp forward so that its light now fell full on the face of the prisoner.

“Ah! that is certainly better, is it not, my dear M. Chambertin?” said Sir Percy, beaming on his adversary with a pleasant smile.

His face, though still of the same ashen hue, looked serene if hopelessly wearied; the eyes seemed to mock. But this Chauvelin decided in himself must have been a trick of his own overwrought fancy. After a brief moment’s pause he resumed dryly:

“If, however, the expedition turns out successful in every way⁠—if little Capet, without much trouble to our escort, falls safe and sound into our hands⁠—if certain contingencies which I am about to tell you all fall out as we wish⁠—then, Sir Percy, I see no reason why the Government of this country should not exercise its prerogative of mercy towards you after all.”

“An exercise, my dear M. Chambertin, which must have wearied through frequent repetition,” retorted Blakeney with the same imperturbable smile.

“The contingency at present is somewhat remote; when the time comes we’ll talk this matter over.⁠ ⁠… I will make no promise⁠ ⁠… and, anyhow, we can discuss it later.”

“At present we are but wasting our valuable time over so trifling a matter.⁠ ⁠… If you’ll excuse me, sir⁠ ⁠… I am so demmed fatigued⁠—”

“Then you will be glad to have everything settled quickly, I am sure.”

“Exactly, sir.”

Héron was taking no part in the present conversation. He knew that his temper was not likely to remain within bounds, and though he had nothing but contempt for his colleague’s courtly manners, yet vaguely in his stupid, blundering way he grudgingly admitted that mayhap it was better to allow citizen Chauvelin to deal with the Englishman. There was always the danger that if his own violent temper got the better of him, he might even at this eleventh hour order this insolent prisoner to summary trial and the guillotine, and thus lose the final chance of the more important capture.

He was sprawling on a chair in his usual slouching manner with his big head sunk between his broad shoulders, his shifty, prominent eyes wandering restlessly from the face of his colleague to that of the other man.

But now he gave a grunt of impatience.

“We are wasting time, citizen Chauvelin,” he muttered. “I have still a great deal to see to if we are to start at dawn. Get the d⁠⸺⁠d letter written, and⁠—”

The rest of the phrase was lost in an indistinct and surly murmur. Chauvelin, after a shrug of the shoulders, paid no further heed to him; he turned, bland and urbane, once more to the prisoner.

“I see with pleasure, Sir Percy,” he said, “that we thoroughly understand one another. Having had a few hours’ rest you will, I know, feel quite ready for the expedition. Will you kindly indicate to me the direction in which we will have to travel?”

“Northwards all the way.”

“Towards the coast?”

“The place to which we must go is about seven leagues from the sea.”

“Our first objective then will be Beauvais, Amiens, Abbeville, Crècy, and so on?”

“Precisely.”

“As far as the forest of Boulogne, shall we say?”

“Where we shall come off the beaten track, and you will have to trust to my guidance.”

“We might go there now, Sir Percy, and leave you here.”

“You might. But you would not then find the child. Seven leagues is not far from the coast. He might slip through your fingers.”

“And my colleague Héron, being disappointed, would inevitably send you to the guillotine.”

“Quite so,” rejoined the prisoner placidly. “Methought, sir, that we had decided that I should lead this little expedition? Surely,” he added, “it is not so much the Dauphin whom you want as my share in this betrayal.”

“You are right as usual, Sir Percy. Therefore let us take that as settled. We go as far as Crècy, and thence place ourselves entirely in your hands.”

“The journey should not take more than three days, sir.”

“During which you will travel in a coach in the company of my friend Héron.”

“I could have chosen pleasanter company, sir; still, it will serve.”

“This being settled, Sir Percy. I understand that you desire to communicate with one of your followers.”

“Someone must let the others know⁠ ⁠… those who have the Dauphin in their charge.”

“Quite so. Therefore I pray you write to one of your friends that you have decided to deliver the Dauphin into our hands in exchange for your own safety.”

“You said just now that this you would not guarantee,” interposed Blakeney quietly.

“If all turns out well,” retorted Chauvelin with a show of contempt, “and if you will write the exact letter which I shall dictate, we might even give you that guarantee.”

“The quality of your mercy, sir, passes belief.”

“Then I pray you write. Which of your followers will have the honour of the communication?”

“My brother-in-law, Armand St. Just; he is still in Paris, I believe. He can let the others know.”

Chauvelin made no immediate reply. He paused awhile, hesitating. Would Sir Percy Blakeney be ready⁠—if his own safety demanded it⁠—to sacrifice the man who had betrayed him? In the momentous “either⁠—or” that was to be put to him, by-and-by, would he choose his own life and leave Armand St. Just to perish? It was not for Chauvelin⁠—or any man of his stamp⁠—to judge of what Blakeney would do under such circumstances, and had it been a question of St. Just alone, mayhap Chauvelin would have hesitated still more at the present juncture.

But the friend as hostage was only destined to be a minor leverage for the final breaking-up of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel through the disgrace of its chief. There was the wife⁠—Marguerite Blakeney⁠—sister of St. Just, joint and far more important hostage, whose very close affection for her brother might prove an additional trump card in that handful which Chauvelin already held.

Blakeney paid no heed seemingly to the other’s hesitation. He did not even look up at him, but quietly drew pen and paper towards him, and made ready to write.

“What do you wish me to say?” he asked simply.

“Will that young blackguard answer your purpose, citizen Chauvelin?” queried Héron roughly.

Obviously the same doubt had crossed his mind. Chauvelin quickly reassured him.

“Better than anyone else,” he said firmly. “Will you write at my dictation, Sir Percy?”

“I am waiting to do so, my dear sir.”

“Begin your letter as you wish, then; now continue.”

And he began to dictate slowly, watching every word as it left Blakeney’s pen.

“ ‘I cannot stand my present position any longer. Citizen Héron, and also M. Chauvelin⁠—’ Yes, Sir Percy, Chauvelin, not Chambertin⁠ ⁠… CHAUVELIN.⁠ ⁠… That is quite right⁠—‘have made this prison a perfect hell for me.’ ”

Sir Percy looked up from his writing, smiling.

“You wrong yourself, my dear M. Chambertin!” he said; “I have really been most comfortable.”

“I wish to place the matter before your friends in as indulgent a manner as I can,” retorted Chauvelin dryly.

“I thank you, sir. Pray proceed.”

“… ‘a perfect hell for me,’ ” resumed the other. “Have you that?⁠ ⁠… ‘and I have been forced to give way. Tomorrow we start from here at dawn; and I will guide citizen Héron to the place where he can find the Dauphin. But the authorities demand that one of my followers, one who has once been a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, shall accompany me on this expedition. I therefore ask you’⁠—or ‘desire you’ or ‘beg you’⁠—whichever you prefer, Sir Percy⁠ ⁠…”

“ ‘Ask you’ will do quite nicely. This is really very interesting, you know.”

“… ‘to be prepared to join the expedition. We start at dawn, and you would be required to be at the main gate of the house of Justice at six o’clock precisely. I have an assurance from the authorities that your life should be inviolate, but if you refuse to accompany me, the guillotine will await me on the morrow.’ ”

“ ‘The guillotine will await me on the morrow.’ That sounds quite cheerful, does it not, M. Chambertin?” said the prisoner, who had not evinced the slightest surprise at the wording of the letter whilst he wrote at the other’s dictation. “Do you know, I quite enjoyed writing this letter; it so reminded me of happy days in Boulogne.”

Chauvelin pressed his lips together. Truly now he felt that a retort from him would have been undignified, more especially as just at this moment there came from the guard room the sound of men’s voices talking and laughing, the occasional clang of steel, or of a heavy boot against the tiled floor, the rattling of dice, or a sudden burst of laughter⁠—sounds, in fact, that betokened the presence of a number of soldiers close by.

Chauvelin contented himself with a nod in the direction of the guardroom.

“The conditions are somewhat different now,” he said placidly, “from those that reigned in Boulogne. But will you not sign your letter, Sir Percy?”

“With pleasure, sir,” responded Blakeney, as with an elaborate flourish of the pen he appended his name to the missive.

Chauvelin was watching him with eyes that would have shamed a lynx by their keenness. He took up the completed letter, read it through very carefully, as if to find some hidden meaning behind the very words which he himself had dictated; he studied the signature, and looked vainly for a mark or a sign that might convey a different sense to that which he had intended. Finally, finding none, he folded the letter up with his own hand, and at once slipped it in the pocket of his coat.

“Take care, M. Chambertin,” said Blakeney lightly; “it will burn a hole in that elegant vest of yours.”

“It will have no time to do that, Sir Percy,” retorted Chauvelin blandly; “an you will furnish me with citizen St. Just’s present address, I will myself convey the letter to him at once.”

“At this hour of the night? Poor old Armand, he’ll be abed. But his address, sir, is No. 32, Rue de la Croix Blanche, on the first floor, the door on your right as you mount the stairs; you know the room well, citizen Chauvelin; you have been in it before. And now,” he added with a loud and ostentatious yawn, “shall we all to bed? We start at dawn, you said, and I am so d⁠⸺⁠d fatigued.”

Frankly, he did not look it now. Chauvelin himself, despite his matured plans, despite all the precautions that he meant to take for the success of this gigantic scheme, felt a sudden strange sense of fear creeping into his bones. Half an hour ago he had seen a man in what looked like the last stage of utter physical exhaustion, a hunched up figure, listless and limp, hands that twitched nervously, the face as of a dying man. Now those outward symptoms were still there certainly; the face by the light of the lamp still looked livid, the lips bloodless, the hands emaciated and waxen, but the eyes!⁠—they were still hollow, with heavy lids still purple, but in their depths there was a curious, mysterious light, a look that seemed to see something that was hidden to natural sight.

Citizen Chauvelin thought that Héron, too, must be conscious of this, but the Committee’s agent was sprawling on a chair, sucking a short-stemmed pipe, and gazing with entire animal satisfaction on the prisoner.

“The most perfect piece of work we have ever accomplished, you and I, citizen Chauvelin,” he said complacently.

“You think that everything is quite satisfactory?” asked the other with anxious stress on his words.

“Everything, of course. Now you see to the letter. I will give final orders for tomorrow, but I shall sleep in the guardroom.”

“And I on that inviting bed,” interposed the prisoner lightly, as he rose to his feet. “Your servant, citizens!”

He bowed his head slightly, and stood by the table whilst the two men prepared to go. Chauvelin took a final long look at the man whom he firmly believed he had at last brought down to abject disgrace.

Blakeney was standing erect, watching the two retreating figures⁠—one slender hand was on the table. Chauvelin saw that it was leaning rather heavily, as if for support, and that even whilst a final mocking laugh sped him and his colleague on their way, the tall figure of the conquered lion swayed like a stalwart oak that is forced to bend to the mighty fury of an all-compelling wind.

With a sigh of content Chauvelin took his colleague by the arm, and together the two men walked out of the cell.

XXXIX. Kill Him!

Two hours after midnight Armand St. Just was wakened from sleep by a peremptory pull at his bell. In these days in Paris but one meaning could as a rule be attached to such a summons at this hour of the night, and Armand, though possessed of an unconditional certificate of safety, sat up in bed, quite convinced that for some reason which would presently be explained to him he had once more been placed on the list of the “suspect,” and that his trial and condemnation on a trumped-up charge would follow in due course.

Truth to tell, he felt no fear at the prospect, and only a very little sorrow. The sorrow was not for himself; he regretted neither life nor happiness. Life had become hateful to him since happiness had fled with it on the dark wings of dishonour; sorrow such as he felt was only for Jeanne! She was very young, and would weep bitter tears. She would be unhappy, because she truly loved him, and because this would be the first cup of bitterness which life was holding out to her. But she was very young, and sorrow would not be eternal. It was better so. He, Armand St. Just, though he loved her with an intensity of passion that had been magnified and strengthened by his own overwhelming shame, had never really brought his beloved one single moment of unalloyed happiness.

From the very first day when he sat beside her in the tiny boudoir of the Square du Roule, and the heavy foot fall of Héron and his bloodhounds broke in on their first kiss, down to this hour which he believed struck his own death-knell, his love for her had brought more tears to her dear eyes than smiles to her exquisite mouth.

Her he had loved so dearly, that for her sweet sake he had sacrificed honour, friendship and truth; to free her, as he believed, from the hands of impious brutes he had done a deed that cried Cain-like for vengeance to the very throne of God. For her he had sinned, and because of that sin, even before it was committed, their love had been blighted, and happiness had never been theirs.

Now it was all over. He would pass out of her life, up the steps of the scaffold, tasting as he mounted them the most entire happiness that he had known since that awful day when he became a Judas.

The peremptory summons, once more repeated, roused him from his meditations. He lit a candle, and without troubling to slip any of his clothes on, he crossed the narrow antechamber, and opened the door that gave on the landing.

“In the name of the people!”

He had expected to hear not only those words, but also the grounding of arms and the brief command to halt. He had expected to see before him the white facings of the uniform of the Garde de Paris, and to feel himself roughly pushed back into his lodging preparatory to the search being made of all his effects and the placing of irons on his wrists.

Instead of this, it was a quiet, dry voice that said without undue harshness:

“In the name of the people!”

And instead of the uniforms, the bayonets and the scarlet caps with tricolour cockades, he was confronted by a slight, sable-clad figure, whose face, lit by the flickering light of the tallow candle, looked strangely pale and earnest.

“Citizen Chauvelin!” gasped Armand, more surprised than frightened at this unexpected apparition.

“Himself, citizen, at your service,” replied Chauvelin with his quiet, ironical manner. “I am the bearer of a letter for you from Sir Percy Blakeney. Have I your permission to enter?”

Mechanically Armand stood aside, allowing the other man to pass in. He closed the door behind his nocturnal visitor, then, taper in hand, he preceded him into the inner room.

It was the same one in which a fortnight ago a fighting lion had been brought to his knees. Now it lay wrapped in gloom, the feeble light of the candle only lighting Armand’s face and the white frill of his shirt. The young man put the taper down on the table and turned to his visitor.

“Shall I light the lamp?” he asked.

“Quite unnecessary,” replied Chauvelin curtly. “I have only a letter to deliver, and after that to ask you one brief question.”

From the pocket of his coat he drew the letter which Blakeney had written an hour ago.

“The prisoner wrote this in my presence,” he said as he handed the letter over to Armand. “Will you read it?”

Armand took it from him, and sat down close to the table; leaning forward he held the paper near the light, and began to read. He read the letter through very slowly to the end, then once again from the beginning. He was trying to do that which Chauvelin had wished to do an hour ago; he was trying to find the inner meaning which he felt must inevitably lie behind these words which Percy had written with his own hand.

That these bare words were but a blind to deceive the enemy Armand never doubted for a moment. In this he was as loyal as Marguerite would have been herself. Never for a moment did the suspicion cross his mind that Blakeney was about to play the part of a coward, but he, Armand, felt that as a faithful friend and follower he ought by instinct to know exactly what his chief intended, what he meant him to do.

Swiftly his thoughts flew back to that other letter, the one which Marguerite had given him⁠—the letter full of pity and of friendship which had brought him hope and a joy and peace which he had thought at one time that he would never know again. And suddenly one sentence in that letter stood out so clearly before his eyes that it blurred the actual, tangible ones on the paper which even now rustled in his hand.

But if at any time you receive another letter from me⁠—be its contents what they may⁠—act in accordance with the letter, but send a copy of it at once to Ffoulkes or to Marguerite.

Now everything seemed at once quite clear; his duty, his next actions, every word that he would speak to Chauvelin. Those that Percy had written to him were already indelibly graven on his memory.

Chauvelin had waited with his usual patience, silent and imperturbable, while the young man read. Now when he saw that Armand had finished, he said quietly:

“Just one question, citizen, and I need not detain you longer. But first will you kindly give me back that letter? It is a precious document which will forever remain in the archives of the nation.”

But even while he spoke Armand, with one of those quick intuitions that come in moments of acute crisis, had done just that which he felt Blakeney would wish him to do. He had held the letter close to the candle. A corner of the thin crisp paper immediately caught fire, and before Chauvelin could utter a word of anger, or make a movement to prevent the conflagration, the flames had licked up fully one half of the letter, and Armand had only just time to throw the remainder on the floor and to stamp out the blaze with his foot.

“I am sorry, citizen,” he said calmly; “an accident.”

“A useless act of devotion,” interposed Chauvelin, who already had smothered the oath that had risen to his lips. “The Scarlet Pimpernel’s actions in the present matter will not lose their merited publicity through the foolish destruction of this document.”

“I had no thought, citizen,” retorted the young man, “of commenting on the actions of my chief, or of trying to deny them that publicity which you seem to desire for them almost as much as I do.”

“More, citizen, a great deal more! The impeccable Scarlet Pimpernel, the noble and gallant English gentleman, has agreed to deliver into our hands the uncrowned King of France⁠—in exchange for his own life and freedom. Methinks that even his worst enemy would not wish for a better ending to a career of adventure, and a reputation for bravery unequalled in Europe. But no more of this, time is pressing, I must help citizen Héron with his final preparations for his journey. You, of course, citizen St. Just, will act in accordance with Sir Percy Blakeney’s wishes?”

“Of course,” replied Armand.

“You will present yourself at the main entrance of the house of Justice at six o’clock this morning.”

“I will not fail you.”

“A coach will be provided for you. You will follow the expedition as hostage for the good faith of your chief.”

“I quite understand.”

“H’m! That’s brave! You have no fear, citizen St. Just?”

“Fear of what, sir?”

“You will be a hostage in our hands, citizen; your life a guarantee that your chief has no thought of playing us false. Now I was thinking of⁠—of certain events⁠—which led to the arrest of Sir Percy Blakeney.”

“Of my treachery, you mean,” rejoined the young man calmly, even though his face had suddenly become pale as death. “Of the damnable lie wherewith you cheated me into selling my honour, and made me what I am⁠—a creature scarce fit to walk upon this earth.”

“Oh!” protested Chauvelin blandly.

“The damnable lie,” continued Armand more vehemently, “that hath made me one with Cain and the Iscariot. When you goaded me into the hellish act, Jeanne Lange was already free.”

“Free⁠—but not safe.”

“A lie, man! A lie! For which you are thrice accursed. Great God, is it not you that should have cause for fear? Methinks were I to strangle you now I should suffer less of remorse.”

“And would be rendering your ex-chief but a sorry service,” interposed Chauvelin with quiet irony. “Sir Percy Blakeney is a dying man, citizen St. Just; he’ll be a dead man at dawn if I do not put in an appearance by six o’clock this morning. This is a private understanding between citizen Héron and myself. We agreed to it before I came to see you.”

“Oh, you take care of your own miserable skin well enough! But you need not be afraid of me⁠—I take my orders from my chief, and he has not ordered me to kill you.”

“That was kind of him. Then we may count on you? You are not afraid?”

“Afraid that the Scarlet Pimpernel would leave me in the lurch because of the immeasurable wrong I have done to him?” retorted Armand, proud and defiant in the name of his chief. “No, sir, I am not afraid of that; I have spent the last fortnight in praying to God that my life might yet be given for his.”

“H’m! I think it most unlikely that your prayers will be granted, citizen; prayers, I imagine, so very seldom are; but I don’t know, I never pray myself. In your case, now, I should say that you have not the slightest chance of the Deity interfering in so pleasant a manner. Even were Sir Percy Blakeney prepared to wreak personal revenge on you, he would scarcely be so foolish as to risk the other life which we shall also hold as hostage for his good faith.”

“The other life?”

“Yes. Your sister, Lady Blakeney, will also join the expedition tomorrow. This Sir Percy does not yet know; but it will come as a pleasant surprise for him. At the slightest suspicion of false play on Sir Percy’s part, at his slightest attempt at escape, your life and that of your sister are forfeit; you will both be summarily shot before his eyes. I do not think that I need be more precise, eh, citizen St. Just?”

The young man was quivering with passion. A terrible loathing for himself, for his crime which had been the precursor of this terrible situation, filled his soul to the verge of sheer physical nausea. A red film gathered before his eyes, and through it he saw the grinning face of the inhuman monster who had planned this hideous, abominable thing. It seemed to him as if in the silence and the hush of the night, above the feeble, flickering flame that threw weird shadows around, a group of devils were surrounding him, and were shouting, “Kill him! Kill him now! Rid the earth of this hellish brute!”

No doubt if Chauvelin had exhibited the slightest sign of fear, if he had moved an inch towards the door, Armand, blind with passion, driven to madness by agonising remorse more even than by rage, would have sprung at his enemy’s throat and crushed the life out of him as he would out of a venomous beast. But the man’s calm, his immobility, recalled St. Just to himself. Reason, that had almost yielded to passion again, found strength to drive the enemy back this time, to whisper a warning, an admonition, even a reminder. Enough harm, God knows, had been done by tempestuous passion already. And God alone knew what terrible consequences its triumph now might bring in its trial, and striking on Armand’s buzzing ears Chauvelin’s words came back as a triumphant and mocking echo:

“He’ll be a dead man at dawn if I do not put in an appearance by six o’clock.”

The red film lifted, the candle flickered low, the devils vanished, only the pale face of the Terrorist gazed with gentle irony out of the gloom.

“I think that I need not detain you any longer, citizen, St. Just,” he said quietly; “you can get three or four hours’ rest yet before you need make a start, and I still have a great many things to see to. I wish you good night, citizen.”

“Good night,” murmured Armand mechanically.

He took the candle and escorted his visitor back to the door. He waited on the landing, taper in hand, while Chauvelin descended the narrow, winding stairs.

There was a light in the concierge’s lodge. No doubt the woman had struck it when the nocturnal visitor had first demanded admittance. His name and tricolour scarf of office had ensured him the full measure of her attention, and now she was evidently sitting up waiting to let him out.

St. Just, satisfied that Chauvelin had finally gone, now turned back to his own rooms.

XL. God Help Us All

He carefully locked the outer door. Then he lit the lamp, for the candle gave but a flickering light, and he had some important work to do.

Firstly, he picked up the charred fragment of the letter, and smoothed it out carefully and reverently as he would a relic. Tears had gathered in his eyes, but he was not ashamed of them, for no one saw them; but they eased his heart, and helped to strengthen his resolve. It was a mere fragment that had been spared by the flame, but Armand knew every word of the letter by heart.

He had pen, ink and paper ready to his hand, and from memory wrote out a copy of it. To this he added a covering letter from himself to Marguerite:

This⁠—which I had from Percy through the hands of Chauvelin⁠—I neither question nor understand.⁠ ⁠… He wrote the letter, and I have no thought but to obey. In his previous letter to me he enjoined me, if ever he wrote to me again, to obey him implicitly, and to communicate with you. To both these commands do I submit with a glad heart. But of this must I give you warning, little mother⁠—Chauvelin desires you also to accompany us tomorrow.⁠ ⁠… Percy does not know this yet, else he would never start. But those fiends fear that his readiness is a blind⁠ ⁠… and that he has some plan in his head for his own escape and the continued safety of the Dauphin.⁠ ⁠… This plan they hope to frustrate through holding you and me as hostages for his good faith. God only knows how gladly I would give my life for my chief⁠ ⁠… but your life, dear little mother⁠ ⁠… is sacred above all.⁠ ⁠… I think that I do right in warning you. God help us all.

Having written the letter, he sealed it, together with the copy of Percy’s letter which he had made. Then he took up the candle and went downstairs.

There was no longer any light in the concierge’s lodge, and Armand had some difficulty in making himself heard. At last the woman came to the door. She was tired and cross after two interruptions of her night’s rest, but she had a partiality for her young lodger, whose pleasant ways and easy liberality had been like a pale ray of sunshine through the squalor of everyday misery.

“It is a letter, citoyenne,” said Armand, with earnest entreaty, “for my sister. She lives in the Rue de Charonne, near the fortifications, and must have it within an hour; it is a matter of life and death to her, to me, and to another who is very dear to us both.”

The concierge threw up her hands in horror.

“Rue de Charonne, near the fortifications,” she exclaimed, “and within an hour! By the Holy Virgin, citizen, that is impossible. Who will take it? There is no way.”

“A way must be found, citoyenne,” said Armand firmly, “and at once; it is not far, and there are five golden louis waiting for the messenger!”

Five golden louis! The poor, hardworking woman’s eyes gleamed at the thought. Five louis meant food for at least two months if one was careful, and⁠—

“Give me the letter, citizen,” she said, “time to slip on a warm petticoat and a shawl, and I’ll go myself. It’s not fit for the boy to go at this hour.”

“You will bring me back a line from my sister in reply to this,” said Armand, whom circumstances had at last rendered cautious. “Bring it up to my rooms that I may give you the five louis in exchange.”

He waited while the woman slipped back into her room. She heard him speaking to her boy; the same lad who a fortnight ago had taken the treacherous letter which had lured Blakeney to the house into the fatal ambuscade that had been prepared for him. Everything reminded Armand of that awful night, every hour that he had since spent in the house had been racking torture to him. Now at last he was to leave it, and on an errand which might help to ease the load of remorse from his heart.

The woman was soon ready. Armand gave her final directions as to how to find the house; then she took the letter and promised to be very quick, and to bring back a reply from the lady.

Armand accompanied her to the door. The night was dark, a thin drizzle was falling; he stood and watched until the woman’s rapidly walking figure was lost in the misty gloom.

Then with a heavy sigh he once more went within.

XLI. When Hope Was Dead

In a small upstairs room in the Rue de Charonne, above the shop of Lucas the old-clothes dealer, Marguerite sat with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes. Armand’s letter, with its message and its warning, lay open on the table between them, and she had in her hand the sealed packet which Percy had given her just ten days ago, and which she was only to open if all hope seemed to be dead, if nothing appeared to stand any longer between that one dear life and irretrievable shame.

A small lamp placed on the table threw a feeble yellow light on the squalid, ill-furnished room, for it lacked still an hour or so before dawn. Armand’s concierge had brought her lodger’s letter, and Marguerite had quickly despatched a brief reply to him, a reply that held love and also encouragement.

Then she had summoned Sir Andrew. He never had a thought of leaving her during these days of dire trouble, and he had lodged all this while in a tiny room on the topmost floor of this house in the Rue de Charonne.

At her call he had come down very quickly, and now they sat together at the table, with the oil-lamp illumining their pale, anxious faces; she the wife and he the friend holding a consultation together in this most miserable hour that preceded the cold wintry dawn.

Outside a thin, persistent rain mixed with snow pattered against the small window panes, and an icy wind found out all the crevices in the worm-eaten woodwork that would afford it ingress to the room. But neither Marguerite nor Ffoulkes was conscious of the cold. They had wrapped their cloaks round their shoulders, and did not feel the chill currents of air that caused the lamp to flicker and to smoke.

“I can see now,” said Marguerite in that calm voice which comes so naturally in moments of infinite despair⁠—“I can see now exactly what Percy meant when he made me promise not to open this packet until it seemed to me⁠—to me and to you, Sir Andrew⁠—that he was about to play the part of a coward. A coward! Great God!” She checked the sob that had risen to her throat, and continued in the same calm manner and quiet, even voice:

“You do think with me, do you not, that the time has come, and that we must open this packet?”

“Without a doubt, Lady Blakeney,” replied Ffoulkes with equal earnestness. “I would stake my life that already a fortnight ago Blakeney had that same plan in his mind which he has now matured. Escape from that awful Conciergerie prison with all the precautions so carefully taken against it was impossible. I knew that alas! from the first. But in the open all might yet be different. I’ll not believe it that a man like Blakeney is destined to perish at the hands of those curs.”

She looked on her loyal friend with tear-dimmed eyes through which shone boundless gratitude and heartbroken sorrow.

He had spoken of a fortnight! It was ten days since she had seen Percy. It had then seemed as if death had already marked him with its grim sign. Since then she had tried to shut away from her mind the terrible visions which her anguish constantly conjured up before her of his growing weakness, of the gradual impairing of that brilliant intellect, the gradual exhaustion of that mighty physical strength.

“God bless you, Sir Andrew, for your enthusiasm and for your trust,” she said with a sad little smile; “but for you I should long ago have lost all courage, and these last ten days⁠—what a cycle of misery they represent⁠—would have been maddening but for your help and your loyalty. God knows I would have courage for everything in life, for everything save one, but just that, his death; that would be beyond my strength⁠—neither reason nor body could stand it. Therefore, I am so afraid, Sir Andrew,” she added piteously.

“Of what, Lady Blakeney?”

“That when he knows that I too am to go as hostage, as Armand says in his letter, that my life is to be guarantee for his, I am afraid that he will draw back⁠—that he will⁠—my God!” she cried with sudden fervour, “tell me what to do!”

“Shall we open the packet?” asked Ffoulkes gently, “and then just make up our minds to act exactly as Blakeney has enjoined us to do, neither more nor less, but just word for word, deed for deed, and I believe that that will be right⁠—whatever may betide⁠—in the end.”

Once more his quiet strength, his earnestness and his faith comforted her. She dried her eyes and broke open the seal. There were two separate letters in the packet, one unaddressed, obviously intended for her and Ffoulkes, the other was addressed to M. le baron Jean de Batz, 15, Rue St. Jean de Latran à Paris.

“A letter addressed to that awful Baron de Batz,” said Marguerite, looking with puzzled eyes on the paper as she turned it over and over in her hand, “to that bombastic windbag! I know him and his ways well! What can Percy have to say to him?”

Sir Andrew too looked puzzled. But neither of them had the mind to waste time in useless speculations. Marguerite unfolded the letter which was intended for her, and after a final look on her friend, whose kind face was quivering with excitement, she began slowly to read aloud:

I need not ask either of you two to trust me, knowing that you will. But I could not die inside this hole like a rat in a trap⁠—I had to try and free myself, at the worst to die in the open beneath God’s sky. You two will understand, and understanding you will trust me to the end. Send the enclosed letter at once to its address. And you, Ffoulkes, my most sincere and most loyal friend, I beg with all my soul to see to the safety of Marguerite. Armand will stay by me⁠—but you, Ffoulkes, do not leave her, stand by her. As soon as you read this letter⁠—and you will not read it until both she and you have felt that hope has fled and I myself am about to throw up the sponge⁠—try and persuade her to make for the coast as quickly as may be.⁠ ⁠… At Calais you can open up communications with the Daydream in the usual way, and embark on her at once. Let no member of the League remain on French soil one hour longer after that. Then tell the skipper to make for Le Portel⁠—the place which he knows⁠—and there to keep a sharp outlook for another three nights. After that make straight for home, for it will be no use waiting any longer. I shall not come. These measures are for Marguerite’s safety, and for you all who are in France at this moment. Comrade, I entreat you to look on these measures as on my dying wish. To de Batz I have given rendezvous at the Chapelle of the Holy Sepulchre, just outside the park of the Château d’Ourde. He will help me to save the Dauphin, and if by good luck he also helps me to save myself I shall be within seven leagues of Le Portel, and with the Liane frozen as she is I could reach the coast.

But Marguerite’s safety I leave in your hands, Ffoulkes. Would that I could look more clearly into the future, and know that those devils will not drag her into danger. Beg her to start at once for Calais immediately you have both read this. I only beg, I do not command. I know that you, Ffoulkes, will stand by her whatever she may wish to do. God’s blessing be forever on you both.

Marguerite’s voice died away in the silence that still lay over this deserted part of the great city and in this squalid house where she and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had found shelter these last ten days. The agony of mind which they had here endured, never doubting, but scarcely ever hoping, had found its culmination at last in this final message, which almost seemed to come to them from the grave.

It had been written ten days ago. A plan had then apparently formed in Percy’s mind which he had set forth during the brief half-hour’s respite which those fiends had once given him. Since then they had never given him ten consecutive minutes’ peace; since then ten days had gone by; how much power, how much vitality had gone by too on the leaden wings of all those terrible hours spent in solitude and in misery?

“We can but hope, Lady Blakeney,” said Sir Andrew Ffoulkes after a while, “that you will be allowed out of Paris; but from what Armand says⁠—”

“And Percy does not actually send me away,” she rejoined with a pathetic little smile.

“No. He cannot compel you, Lady Blakeney. You are not a member of the League.”

“Oh, yes, I am!” she retorted firmly; “and I have sworn obedience, just as all of you have done. I will go, just as he bids me, and you, Sir Andrew, you will obey him too?”

“My orders are to stand by you. That is an easy task.”

“You know where this place is?” she asked⁠—“the Château d’Ourde?”

“Oh, yes, we all know it! It is empty, and the park is a wreck; the owner fled from it at the very outbreak of the revolution; he left some kind of steward nominally in charge, a curious creature, half imbecile; the château and the chapel in the forest just outside the grounds have oft served Blakeney and all of us as a place of refuge on our way to the coast.”

“But the Dauphin is not there?” she said.

“No. According to the first letter which you brought me from Blakeney ten days ago, and on which I acted, Tony, who has charge of the Dauphin, must have crossed into Holland with his little Majesty today.”

“I understand,” she said simply. “But then⁠—this letter to de Batz?”

“Ah, there I am completely at sea! But I’ll deliver it, and at once too, only I don’t like to leave you. Will you let me get you out of Paris first? I think just before dawn it could be done. We can get the cart from Lucas, and if we could reach St. Germain before noon, I could come straight back then and deliver the letter to de Batz. This, I feel, I ought to do myself; but at Achard’s farm I would know that you were safe for a few hours.”

“I will do whatever you think right, Sir Andrew,” she said simply; “my will is bound up with Percy’s dying wish. God knows I would rather follow him now, step by step⁠—as hostage, as prisoner⁠—any way so long as I can see him, but⁠—”

She rose and turned to go, almost impassive now in that great calm born of despair.

A stranger seeing her now had thought her indifferent. She was very pale, and deep circles round her eyes told of sleepless nights and days of mental misery, but otherwise there was not the faintest outward symptom of that terrible anguish which was rending her heartstrings. Her lips did not quiver, and the source of her tears had been dried up ten days ago.

“Ten minutes and I’ll be ready, Sir Andrew,” she said. “I have but few belongings. Will you the while see Lucas about the cart?”

He did as she desired. Her calm in no way deceived him; he knew that she must be suffering keenly, and would suffer more keenly still while she would be trying to efface her own personal feelings all through that coming dreary journey to Calais.

He went to see the landlord about the horse and cart, and a quarter of an hour later Marguerite came downstairs ready to start. She found Sir Andrew in close converse with an officer of the Garde de Paris, whilst two soldiers of the same regiment were standing at the horse’s head.

When she appeared in the doorway Sir Andrew came at once up to her.

“It is just as I feared, Lady Blakeney,” he said; “this man has been sent here to take charge of you. Of course, he knows nothing beyond the fact that his orders are to convey you at once to the guardhouse of the Rue Ste. Anne, where he is to hand you over to citizen Chauvelin of the Committee of Public Safety.”

Sir Andrew could not fail to see the look of intense relief which, in the midst of all her sorrow, seemed suddenly to have lighted up the whole of Marguerite’s wan face. The thought of wending her own way to safety whilst Percy, mayhap, was fighting an uneven fight with death had been well-nigh intolerable; but she had been ready to obey without a murmur. Now Fate and the enemy himself had decided otherwise. She felt as if a load had been lifted from her heart.

“I will at once go and find de Batz,” Sir Andrew contrived to whisper hurriedly. “As soon as Percy’s letter is safely in his hands I will make my way northwards and communicate with all the members of the League, on whom the chief has so strictly enjoined to quit French soil immediately. We will proceed to Calais first and open up communication with the Daydream in the usual way. The others had best embark on board her, and the skipper shall then make for the known spot of Le Portel, of which Percy speaks in his letter. I myself will go by land to Le Portel, and thence, if I have no news of you or of the expedition, I will slowly work southwards in the direction of the Château d’Ourde. That is all that I can do. If you can contrive to let Percy or even Armand know my movements, do so by all means. I know that I shall be doing right, for, in a way, I shall be watching over you and arranging for your safety, as Blakeney begged me to do. God bless you, Lady Blakeney, and God save the Scarlet Pimpernel!”

He stooped and kissed her hand, and she intimated to the officer that she was ready. He had a hackney coach waiting for her lower down the street. To it she walked with a firm step, and as she entered it she waved a last farewell to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes.

XLII. The Guardhouse of the Rue Ste. Anne

The little cortége was turning out of the great gates of the house of Justice. It was intensely cold; a bitter northeasterly gale was blowing from across the heights of Montmartre, driving sleet and snow and half-frozen rain into the faces of the men, and finding its way up their sleeves, down their collars and round the knees of their threadbare breeches.

Armand, whose fingers were numb with the cold, could scarcely feel the reins in his hands. Chauvelin was riding close beside him, but the two men had not exchanged one word since the moment when the small troop of some twenty mounted soldiers had filed up inside the courtyard, and Chauvelin, with a curt word of command, had ordered one of the troopers to take Armand’s horse on the lead.

A hackney coach brought up the rear of the cortége, with a man riding at either door and two more following at a distance of twenty paces. Héron’s gaunt, ugly face, crowned with a battered, sugar-loaf hat, appeared from time to time at the window of the coach. He was no horseman, and, moreover, preferred to keep the prisoner closely under his own eye. The corporal had told Armand that the prisoner was with citizen Héron inside the coach⁠—in irons. Beyond that the soldiers could tell him nothing; they knew nothing of the object of this expedition. Vaguely they might have wondered in their dull minds why this particular prisoner was thus being escorted out of the Conciergerie prison with so much paraphernalia and such an air of mystery, when there were thousands of prisoners in the city and the provinces at the present moment who anon would be bundled up wholesale into carts to be dragged to the guillotine like a flock of sheep to the butchers.

But even if they wondered they made no remarks among themselves. Their faces, blue with the cold, were the perfect mirrors of their own unconquerable stolidity.

The tower clock of Notre Dame struck seven when the small cavalcade finally moved slowly out of the monumental gates. In the east the wan light of a February morning slowly struggled out of the surrounding gloom. Now the towers of many churches loomed ghostlike against the dull grey sky, and down below, on the right, the frozen river, like a smooth sheet of steel, wound its graceful curves round the islands and past the façade of the Louvres palace, whose walls looked grim and silent, like the mausoleum of the dead giants of the past.

All around the great city gave signs of awakening; the business of the day renewed its course every twenty-four hours, despite the tragedies of death and of dishonour that walked with it hand in hand. From the Place de La Révolution the intermittent roll of drums came from time to time with its muffled sound striking the ear of the passerby. Along the quay opposite an open-air camp was already astir; men, women, and children engaged in the great task of clothing and feeding the people of France, armed against tyranny, were bending to their task, even before the wintry dawn had spread its pale grey tints over the narrower streets of the city.

Armand shivered under his cloak. This silent ride beneath the leaden sky, through the veil of half-frozen rain and snow, seemed like a dream to him. And now, as the outriders of the little cavalcade turned to cross the Pont au Change, he saw spread out on his left what appeared like the living panorama of these three weeks that had just gone by. He could see the house of the Rue St. Germain l’Auxerrois where Percy had lodged before he carried through the rescue of the little Dauphin. Armand could even see the window at which the dreamer had stood, weaving noble dreams that his brilliant daring had turned into realities, until the hand of a traitor had brought him down to⁠—to what? Armand would not have dared at this moment to look back at that hideous, vulgar hackney coach wherein that proud, reckless adventurer, who had defied Fate and mocked Death, sat, in chains, beside a loathsome creature whose very propinquity was an outrage.

Now they were passing under the very house on the Quai de La Ferraille, above the saddler’s shop, the house where Marguerite had lodged ten days ago, whither Armand had come, trying to fool himself into the belief that the love of “little mother” could be deceived into blindness against his own crime. He had tried to draw a veil before those eyes which he had scarcely dared encounter, but he knew that that veil must lift one day, and then a curse would send him forth, outlawed and homeless, a wanderer on the face of the earth.

Soon as the little cortége wended its way northwards it filed out beneath the walls of the Temple prison; there was the main gate with its sentry standing at attention, there the archway with the guichet of the concierge, and beyond it the paved courtyard. Armand closed his eyes deliberately; he could not bear to look.

No wonder that he shivered and tried to draw his cloak closer around him. Every stone, every street corner was full of memories. The chill that struck to the very marrow of his bones came from no outward cause; it was the very hand of remorse that, as it passed over him, froze the blood in his veins and made the rattle of those wheels behind him sound like a hellish knell.

At last the more closely populated quarters of the city were left behind. On ahead the first section of the guard had turned into the Rue St. Anne. The houses became more sparse, intersected by narrow pieces of terrains vagues, or small weed-covered bits of kitchen garden.

Then a halt was called.

It was quite light now. As light as it would ever be beneath this leaden sky. Rain and snow still fell in gusts, driven by the blast.

Someone ordered Armand to dismount. It was probably Chauvelin. He did as he was told, and a trooper led him to the door of an irregular brick building that stood isolated on the right, extended on either side by a low wall, and surrounded by a patch of uncultivated land, which now looked like a sea of mud.

On ahead was the line of fortifications dimly outlined against the grey of the sky, and in between brown, sodden earth, with here and there a detached house, a cabbage patch, a couple of windmills deserted and desolate.

The loneliness of an unpopulated outlying quarter of the great mother city, a useless limb of her active body, an ostracised member of her vast family.

Mechanically Armand had followed the soldier to the door of the building. Here Chauvelin was standing, and bade him follow. A smell of hot coffee hung in the dark narrow passage in front. Chauvelin led the way to a room on the left.

Still that smell of hot coffee. Ever after it was associated in Armand’s mind with this awful morning in the guardhouse of the Rue Ste. Anne, when the rain and snow beat against the windows, and he stood there in the low guardroom shivering and half-numbed with cold.

There was a table in the middle of the room, and on it stood cups of hot coffee. Chauvelin bade him drink, suggesting, not unkindly, that the warm beverage would do him good. Armand advanced further into the room, and saw that there were wooden benches all round against the wall. On one of these sat his sister Marguerite.

When she saw him she made a sudden, instinctive movement to go to him, but Chauvelin interposed in his usual bland, quiet manner.

“Not just now, citizeness,” he said.

She sat down again, and Armand noted how cold and stony seemed her eyes, as if life within her was at a standstill, and a shadow that was almost like death had atrophied every emotion in her.

“I trust you have not suffered too much from the cold, Lady Blakeney,” resumed Chauvelin politely; “we ought not to have kept you waiting here for so long, but delay at departure is sometimes inevitable.”

She made no reply, only acknowledging his reiterated inquiry as to her comfort with an inclination of the head.

Armand had forced himself to swallow some coffee, and for the moment he felt less chilled. He held the cup between his two hands, and gradually some warmth crept into his bones.

“Little mother,” he said in English, “try and drink some of this, it will do you good.”

“Thank you, dear,” she replied. “I have had some. I am not cold.”

Then a door at the end of the room was pushed open, and Héron stalked in.

“Are we going to be all day in this confounded hole?” he queried roughly.

Armand, who was watching his sister very closely, saw that she started at the sight of the wretch, and seemed immediately to shrink still further within herself, whilst her eyes, suddenly luminous and dilated, rested on him like those of a captive bird upon an approaching cobra.

But Chauvelin was not to be shaken out of his suave manner.

“One moment, citizen Héron,” he said; “this coffee is very comforting. Is the prisoner with you?” he added lightly.

Héron nodded in the direction of the other room.

“In there,” he said curtly.

“Then, perhaps, if you will be so good, citizen, to invite him thither, I could explain to him his future position and our own.”

Héron muttered something between his fleshy lips, then he turned back towards the open door, solemnly spat twice on the threshold, and nodded his gaunt head once or twice in a manner which apparently was understood from within.

“No, sergeant, I don’t want you,” he said gruffly; “only the prisoner.”

A second or two later Sir Percy Blakeney stood in the doorway; his hands were behind his back, obviously handcuffed, but he held himself very erect, though it was clear that this caused him a mighty effort. As soon as he had crossed the threshold his quick glance had swept right round the room.

He saw Armand, and his eyes lit up almost imperceptibly.

Then he caught sight of Marguerite, and his pale face took on suddenly a more ashen hue.

Chauvelin was watching him with those keen, light-coloured eyes of his. Blakeney, conscious of this, made no movement, only his lips tightened, and the heavy lids fell over the hollow eyes, completely hiding their glance.

But what even the most astute, most deadly enemy could not see was that subtle message of understanding that passed at once between Marguerite and the man she loved; it was a magnetic current, intangible, invisible to all save to her and to him. She was prepared to see him, prepared to see in him all that she had feared; the weakness, the mental exhaustion, the submission to the inevitable. Therefore she had also schooled her glance to express to him all that she knew she would not be allowed to say⁠—the reassurance that she had read his last letter, that she had obeyed it to the last word, save where Fate and her enemy had interfered with regard to herself.

With a slight, imperceptible movement⁠—imperceptible to everyone save to him, she had seemed to handle a piece of paper in her kerchief, then she had nodded slowly, with her eyes⁠—steadfast, reassuring⁠—fixed upon him, and his glance gave answer that he had understood.

But Chauvelin and Héron had seen nothing of this. They were satisfied that there had been no communication between the prisoner and his wife and friend.

“You are no doubt surprised, Sir Percy,” said Chauvelin after a while, “to see Lady Blakeney here. She, as well as citizen St. Just, will accompany our expedition to the place where you will lead us. We none of us know where that place is⁠—citizen Héron and myself are entirely in your hands⁠—you might be leading us to certain death, or again to a spot where your own escape would be an easy matter to yourself. You will not be surprised, therefore, that we have thought fit to take certain precautions both against any little ambuscade which you may have prepared for us, or against your making one of those daring attempts at escape for which the noted Scarlet Pimpernel is so justly famous.”

He paused, and only Héron’s low chuckle of satisfaction broke the momentary silence that followed. Blakeney made no reply. Obviously he knew exactly what was coming. He knew Chauvelin and his ways, knew the kind of tortuous conception that would find origin in his brain; the moment that he saw Marguerite sitting there he must have guessed that Chauvelin once more desired to put her precious life in the balance of his intrigues.

“Citizen Héron is impatient, Sir Percy,” resumed Chauvelin after a while, “so I must be brief. Lady Blakeney, as well as citizen St. Just, will accompany us on this expedition to whithersoever you may lead us. They will be the hostages which we will hold against your own good faith. At the slightest suspicion⁠—a mere suspicion perhaps⁠—that you have played us false, at a hint that you have led us into an ambush, or that the whole of this expedition has been but a trick on your part to effect your own escape, or if merely our hope of finding Capet at the end of our journey is frustrated, the lives of our two hostages belong to us, and your friend and your wife will be summarily shot before your eyes.”

Outside the rain pattered against the windowpanes, the gale whistled mournfully among the stunted trees, but within this room not a sound stirred the deadly stillness of the air, and yet at this moment hatred and love, savage lust and sublime self-abnegation⁠—the most power full passions the heart of man can know⁠—held three men here enchained; each a slave to his dominant passion, each ready to stake his all for the satisfaction of his master. Héron was the first to speak.

“Well!” he said with a fierce oath, “what are we waiting for? The prisoner knows how he stands. Now we can go.”

“One moment, citizen,” interposed Chauvelin, his quiet manner contrasting strangely with his colleague’s savage mood. “You have quite understood, Sir Percy,” he continued, directly addressing the prisoner, “the conditions under which we are all of us about to proceed on this journey?”

“All of us?” said Blakeney slowly. “Are you taking it for granted then that I accept your conditions and that I am prepared to proceed on the journey?”

“If you do not proceed on the journey,” cried Héron with savage fury, “I’ll strangle that woman with my own hands⁠—now!”

Blakeney looked at him for a moment or two through half-closed lids, and it seemed then to those who knew him well, to those who loved him and to the man who hated him, that the mighty sinews almost cracked with the passionate desire to kill. Then the sunken eyes turned slowly to Marguerite, and she alone caught the look⁠—it was a mere flash, of a humble appeal for pardon.

It was all over in a second; almost immediately the tension on the pale face relaxed, and into the eyes there came that look of acceptance⁠—nearly akin to fatalism⁠—an acceptance of which the strong alone are capable, for with them it only comes in the face of the inevitable.

Now he shrugged his broad shoulders, and once more turning to Héron he said quietly:

“You leave me no option in that case. As you have remarked before, citizen Héron, why should we wait any longer? Surely we can now go.”

XLIII. The Dreary Journey

Rain! Rain! Rain! Incessant, monotonous and dreary! The wind had changed round to the southwest. It blew now in great gusts that sent weird, sighing sounds through the trees, and drove the heavy showers into the faces of the men as they rode on, with heads bent forward against the gale.

The rain-sodden bridles slipped through their hands, bringing out sores and blisters on their palms; the horses were fidgety, tossing their heads with wearying persistence as the wet trickled into their ears, or the sharp, intermittent hailstones struck their sensitive noses.

Three days of this awful monotony, varied only by the halts at wayside inns, the changing of troops at one of the guardhouses on the way, the reiterated commands given to the fresh squad before starting on the next lap of this strange, momentous way; and all the while, audible above the clatter of horses’ hoofs, the rumbling of coach-wheels⁠—two closed carriages, each drawn by a pair of sturdy horses; which were changed at every halt. A soldier on each box urged them to a good pace to keep up with the troopers, who were allowed to go at an easy canter or light jog-trot, whatever might prove easiest and least fatiguing. And from time to time Héron’s shaggy, gaunt head would appear at the window of one of the coaches, asking the way, the distance to the next city or to the nearest wayside inn; cursing the troopers, the coachman, his colleague and everyone concerned, blaspheming against the interminable length of the road, against the cold and against the wet.

Early in the evening on the second day of the journey he had met with an accident. The prisoner, who presumably was weak and weary, and not over steady on his feet, had fallen up against him as they were both about to re-enter the coach after a halt just outside Amiens, and citizen Héron had lost his footing in the slippery mud of the road. His head came in violent contact with the step, and his right temple was severely cut. Since then he had been forced to wear a bandage across the top of his face, under his sugar-loaf hat, which had added nothing to his beauty, but a great deal to the violence of his temper. He wanted to push the men on, to force the pace, to shorten the halts; but Chauvelin knew better than to allow slackness and discontent to follow in the wake of over-fatigue.

The soldiers were always well rested and well fed, and though the delay caused by long and frequent halts must have been just as irksome to him as it was to Héron, yet he bore it imperturbably, for he would have had no use on this momentous journey for a handful of men whose enthusiasm and spirit had been blown away by the roughness of the gale, or drowned in the fury of the constant downpour of rain.

Of all this Marguerite had been conscious in a vague, dreamy kind of way. She seemed to herself like the spectator in a moving panoramic drama, unable to raise a finger or to do aught to stop that final, inevitable ending, the cataclysm of sorrow and misery that awaited her, when the dreary curtain would fall on the last act, and she and all the other spectators⁠—Armand, Chauvelin, Héron, the soldiers⁠—would slowly wend their way home, leaving the principal actor behind the fallen curtain, which never would be lifted again.

After that first halt in the guardroom of the Rue Ste. Anne she had been bidden to enter a second hackney coach, which, followed the other at a distance of fifty mètres or so, and was, like that other, closely surrounded by a squad of mounted men.

Armand and Chauvelin rode in this carriage with her; all day she sat looking out on the endless monotony of the road, on the drops of rain that pattered against the window-glass, and ran down from it like a perpetual stream of tears.

There were two halts called during the day⁠—one for dinner and one midway through the afternoon⁠—when she and Armand would step out of the coach and be led⁠—always with soldiers close around them⁠—to some wayside inn, where some sort of a meal was served, where the atmosphere was close and stuffy and smelt of onion soup and of stale cheese.

Armand and Marguerite would in most cases have a room to themselves, with sentinels posted outside the door, and they would try and eat enough to keep body and soul together, for they would not allow their strength to fall away before the end of the journey was reached.

For the night halt⁠—once at Beauvais and the second night at Abbeville⁠—they were escorted to a house in the interior of the city, where they were accommodated with moderately clean lodgings. Sentinels, however, were always at their doors; they were prisoners in all but name, and had little or no privacy; for at night they were both so tired that they were glad to retire immediately, and to lie down on the hard beds that had been provided for them, even if sleep fled from their eyes, and their hearts and souls were flying through the city in search of him who filled their every thought.

Of Percy they saw little or nothing. In the daytime food was evidently brought to him in the carriage, for they did not see him get down, and on those two nights at Beauvais and Abbeville, when they caught sight of him stepping out of the coach outside the gates of the barracks, he was so surrounded by soldiers that they only saw the top of his head and his broad shoulders towering above those of the men.

Once Marguerite had put all her pride, all her dignity by, and asked citizen Chauvelin for news of her husband.

“He is well and cheerful, Lady Blakeney,” he had replied with his sarcastic smile. “Ah!” he added pleasantly, “those English are remarkable people. We, of Gallic breed, will never really understand them. Their fatalism is quite Oriental in its quiet resignation to the decree of Fate. Did you know, Lady Blakeney, that when Sir Percy was arrested he did not raise a hand. I thought, and so did my colleague, that he would have fought like a lion. And now, that he has no doubt realised that quiet submission will serve him best in the end, he is as calm on this journey as I am myself. In fact,” he concluded complacently, “whenever I have succeeded in peeping into the coach I have invariably found Sir Percy Blakeney fast asleep.”

“He⁠—” she murmured, for it was so difficult to speak to this callous wretch, who was obviously mocking her in her misery⁠—“he⁠—you⁠—you are not keeping him in irons?”

“No! Oh no!” replied Chauvelin with perfect urbanity. “You see, now that we have you, Lady Blakeney, and citizen St. Just with us we have no reason to fear that that elusive Pimpernel will spirit himself away.”

A hot retort had risen to Armand’s lips. The warm Latin blood in him rebelled against this intolerable situation, the man’s sneers in the face of Marguerite’s anguish. But her restraining, gentle hand had already pressed his. What was the use of protesting, of insulting this brute, who cared nothing for the misery which he had caused so long as he gained his own ends?

And Armand held his tongue and tried to curb his temper, tried to cultivate a little of that fatalism which Chauvelin had said was characteristic of the English. He sat beside his sister, longing to comfort her, yet feeling that his very presence near her was an outrage and a sacrilege. She spoke so seldom to him, even when they were alone, that at times the awful thought which had more than once found birth in his weary brain became crystallised and more real. Did Marguerite guess? Had she the slightest suspicion that the awful cataclysm to which they were tending with every revolution of the creaking coach-wheels had been brought about by her brother’s treacherous hand?

And when that thought had lodged itself quite snugly in his mind he began to wonder whether it would not be far more simple, far more easy, to end his miserable life in some manner that might suggest itself on the way. When the coach crossed one of those dilapidated, parapetless bridges, over abysses fifty mètres deep, it might be so easy to throw open the carriage door and to take one final jump into eternity.

So easy⁠—but so damnably cowardly.

Marguerite’s near presence quickly brought him back to himself. His life was no longer his own to do with as he pleased; it belonged to the chief whom he had betrayed, to the sister whom he must endeavour to protect.

Of Jeanne now he thought but little. He had put even the memory of her by⁠—tenderly, like a sprig of lavender pressed between the faded leaves of his own happiness. His hand was no longer fit to hold that of any pure woman⁠—his hand had on it a deep stain, immutable, like the brand of Cain.

Yet Marguerite beside him held his hand and together they looked out on that dreary, dreary road and listened to of the patter of the rain and the rumbling of the wheels of that other coach on ahead⁠—and it was all so dismal and so horrible, the rain, the soughing of the wind in the stunted trees, this landscape of mud and desolation, this eternally grey sky.

XLIV. The Halt at Crècy

“Now, then, citizen, don’t go to sleep; this is Crècy, our last halt!”

Armand woke up from his last dream. They had been moving steadily on since they left Abbeville soon after dawn; the rumble of the wheels, the swaying and rocking of the carriage, the interminable patter of the rain had lulled him into a kind of wakeful sleep.

Chauvelin had already alighted from the coach. He was helping Marguerite to descend. Armand shook the stiffness from his limbs and followed in the wake of his sister. Always those miserable soldiers round them, with their dank coats of rough blue cloth, and the red caps on their heads! Armand pulled Marguerite’s hand through his arm, and dragged her with him into the house.

The small city lay damp and grey before them; the rough pavement of the narrow street glistened with the wet, reflecting the dull, leaden sky overhead; the rain beat into the puddles; the slate-roofs shone in the cold wintry light.

This was Crècy! The last halt of the journey, so Chauvelin had said. The party had drawn rein in front of a small one-storied building that had a wooden verandah running the whole length of its front.

The usual low narrow room greeted Armand and Marguerite as they entered; the usual mildewed walls, with the colour wash flowing away in streaks from the unsympathetic beam above; the same device, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!” scribbled in charcoal above the black iron stove; the usual musty, close atmosphere, the usual smell of onion and stale cheese, the usual hard straight benches and central table with its soiled and tattered cloth.

Marguerite seemed dazed and giddy; she had been five hours in that stuffy coach with nothing to distract her thoughts except the rain-sodden landscape, on which she had ceaselessly gazed since the early dawn.

Armand led her to the bench, and she sank down on it, numb and inert, resting her elbows on the table and her head in her hands.

“If it were only all over!” she sighed involuntarily. “Armand, at times now I feel as if I were not really sane⁠—as if my reason had already given way! Tell me, do I seem mad to you at times?”

He sat down beside her and tried to chafe her little cold hands.

There was a knock at the door, and without waiting for permission Chauvelin entered the room.

“My humble apologies to you, Lady Blakeney,” he said in his usual suave manner, “but our worthy host informs me that this is the only room in which he can serve a meal. Therefore I am forced to intrude my presence upon you.”

Though he spoke with outward politeness, his tone had become more peremptory, less bland, and he did not await Marguerite’s reply before he sat down opposite to her and continued to talk airily.

“An ill-conditioned fellow, our host,” he said⁠—“quite reminds me of our friend Brogard at the Chat Gris in Calais. You remember him, Lady Blakeney?”

“My sister is giddy and overtired,” interposed Armand firmly. “I pray you, citizen, to have some regard for her.”

“All regard in the world, citizen St. Just,” protested Chauvelin jovially. “Methought that those pleasant reminiscences would cheer her. Ah! here comes the soup,” he added, as a man in blue blouse and breeches, with sabots on his feet, slouched into the room, carrying a tureen which he incontinently placed upon the table. “I feel sure that in England Lady Blakeney misses our excellent croûtes-au-pot, the glory of our bourgeois cookery⁠—Lady Blakeney, a little soup?”

“I thank you, sir,” she murmured.

“Do try and eat something, little mother,” Armand whispered in her ear; “try and keep up your strength for his sake, if not for mine.”

She turned a wan, pale face to him, and tried to smile.

“I’ll try, dear,” she said.

“You have taken bread and meat to the citizens in the coach?” Chauvelin called out to the retreating figure of mine host.

“H’m!” grunted the latter in assent.

“And see that the citizen soldiers are well fed, or there will be trouble.”

“H’m!” grunted the man again. After which he banged the door to behind him.

“Citizen Héron is loath to let the prisoner out of his sight,” explained Chauvelin lightly, “now that we have reached the last, most important stage of our journey, so he is sharing Sir Percy’s midday meal in the interior of the coach.”

He ate his soup with a relish, ostentatiously paying many small attentions to Marguerite all the time. He ordered meat for her⁠—bread, butter⁠—asked if any dainties could be got. He was apparently in the best of tempers.

After he had eaten and drunk he rose and bowed ceremoniously to her.

“Your pardon, Lady Blakeney,” he said, “but I must confer with the prisoner now, and take from him full directions for the continuance of our journey. After that I go to the guardhouse, which is some distance from here, right at the other end of the city. We pick up a fresh squad here, twenty hardened troopers from a cavalry regiment usually stationed at Abbeville. They have had work to do in this town, which is a hotbed of treachery. I must go inspect the men and the sergeant who will be in command. Citizen Héron leaves all these inspections to me; he likes to stay by his prisoner. In the meanwhile you will be escorted back to your coach, where I pray you to await my arrival, when we change guard first, then proceed on our way.”

Marguerite was longing to ask him many questions; once again she would have smothered her pride and begged for news of her husband, but Chauvelin did not wait. He hurried out of the room, and Armand and Marguerite could hear him ordering the soldiers to take them forthwith back to the coach.

As they came out of the inn they saw the other coach some fifty mètres further up the street. The horses that had done duty since leaving Abbeville had been taken out, and two soldiers in ragged shirts, and with crimson caps set jauntily over their left ear, were leading the two fresh horses along. The troopers were still mounting guard round both the coaches; they would be relieved presently.

Marguerite would have given ten years of her life at this moment for the privilege of speaking to her husband, or even of seeing him⁠—of seeing that he was well. A quick, wild plan sprang up in her mind that she would bribe the sergeant in command to grant her wish while citizen Chauvelin was absent. The man had not an unkind face, and he must be very poor⁠—people in France were very poor these days, though the rich had been robbed and luxurious homes devastated ostensibly to help the poor.

She was about to put this sudden thought into execution when Héron’s hideous face, doubly hideous now with that bandage of doubtful cleanliness cutting across his brow, appeared at the carriage window.

He cursed violently and at the top of his voice.

“What are those d⁠⸺⁠d aristos doing out there?” he shouted.

“Just getting into the coach, citizen,” replied the sergeant promptly.

And Armand and Marguerite were immediately ordered back into the coach.

Héron remained at the window for a few moments longer; he had a toothpick in his hand which he was using very freely.

“How much longer are we going to wait in this cursed hole?” he called out to the sergeant.

“Only a few moments longer, citizen. Citizen Chauvelin will be back soon with the guard.”

A quarter of an hour later the clatter of cavalry horses on the rough, uneven pavement drew Marguerite’s attention. She lowered the carriage window and looked out. Chauvelin had just returned with the new escort. He was on horseback; his horse’s bridle, since he was but an indifferent horseman, was held by one of the troopers.

Outside the inn he dismounted; evidently he had taken full command of the expedition, and scarcely referred to Héron, who spent most of his time cursing at the men or the weather when he was not lying half-asleep and partially drunk in the inside of the carriage.

The changing of the guard was now accomplished quietly and in perfect order. The new escort consisted of twenty mounted men, including a sergeant and a corporal, and of two drivers, one for each coach. The cortége now was filed up in marching order; ahead a small party of scouts, then the coach with Marguerite and Armand closely surrounded by mounted men, and at a short distance the second coach with citizen Héron and the prisoner equally well guarded.

Chauvelin superintended all the arrangements himself. He spoke for some few moments with the sergeant, also with the driver of his own coach. He went to the window of the other carriage, probably in order to consult with citizen Héron, or to take final directions from the prisoner, for Marguerite, who was watching him, saw him standing on the step and leaning well forward into the interior, whilst apparently he was taking notes on a small tablet which he had in his hand.

A small knot of idlers had congregated in the narrow street; men in blouses and boys in ragged breeches lounged against the verandah of the inn and gazed with inexpressive, stolid eyes on the soldiers, the coaches, the citizen who wore the tricolour scarf. They had seen this sort of thing before now⁠—aristos being conveyed to Paris under arrest, prisoners on their way to or from Amiens. They saw Marguerite’s pale face at the carriage window. It was not the first woman’s face they had seen under like circumstances, and there was no special interest about this aristo. They were smoking or spitting, or just lounging idly against the balustrade. Marguerite wondered if none of them had wife, sister, or mother, or child; if every sympathy, every kind of feeling in these poor wretches had been atrophied by misery or by fear.

At last everything was in order and the small party ready to start.

“Does anyone here know the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, close by the park of the Château d’Ourde?” asked Chauvelin, vaguely addressing the knot of gaffers that stood closest to him.

The men shook their heads. Some had dimly heard of the Château d’Ourde; it was some way in the interior of the forest of Boulogne, but no one knew about a chapel; people did not trouble about chapels nowadays. With the indifference so peculiar to local peasantry, these men knew no more of the surrounding country than the twelve or fifteen league circle that was within a walk of their sleepy little town.

One of the scouts on ahead turned in his saddle and spoke to citizen Chauvelin:

“I think I know the way pretty well; citizen Chauvelin,” he said; “at any rate, I know it as far as the forest of Boulogne.”

Chauvelin referred to his tablets.

“That’s good,” he said; “then when you reach the milestone that stands on this road at the confine of the forest, bear sharply to your right and skirt the wood until you see the hamlet of⁠—Le⁠—something. Le⁠—Le⁠—yes⁠—Le Crocq⁠—that’s it in the valley below.”

“I know Le Crocq, I think,” said the trooper.

“Very well, then; at that point it seems that a wide road strikes at right angles into the interior of the forest; you follow that until a stone chapel with a colonnaded porch stands before you on your left, and the walls and gates of a park on your right. That is so, is it not, Sir Percy?” he added, once more turning towards the interior of the coach.

Apparently the answer satisfied him, for he gave the quick word of command, “En avant!” then turned back towards his own coach and finally entered it.

“Do you know the Château d’Ourde, citizen St. Just?” he asked abruptly as soon as the carriage began to move.

Armand woke⁠—as was habitual with him these days⁠—from some gloomy reverie.

“Yes, citizen,” he replied. “I know it.”

“And the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre?”

“Yes. I know it too.”

Indeed, he knew the château well, and the little chapel in the forest, whither the fisher-folk from Portel and Boulogne came on a pilgrimage once a year to lay their nets on the miracle-working relic. The chapel was disused now. Since the owner of the château had fled no one had tended it, and the fisher-folk were afraid to wander out, lest their superstitious faith be counted against them by the authorities, who had abolished le bon Dieu.

But Armand had found refuge there eighteen months ago, on his way to Calais, when Percy had risked his life in order to save him⁠—Armand⁠—from death. He could have groaned aloud with the anguish of this recollection. But Marguerite’s aching nerves had thrilled at the name.

The Château d’Ourde! The Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre! That was the place which Percy had mentioned in his letter, the place where he had given rendezvous to de Batz. Sir Andrew had said that the Dauphin could not possibly be there, yet Percy was leading his enemies thither, and had given the rendezvous there to de Batz. And this despite that whatever plans, whatever hopes, had been born in his mind when he was still immured in the Conciergerie prison must have been set at naught by the clever counter plot of Chauvelin and Héron.

“At the merest suspicion that you have played us false, at a hint that you have led us into an ambush, or if merely our hopes of finding Capet at the end of the journey are frustrated, the lives of your wife and of your friend are forfeit to us, and they will both be shot before your eyes.”

With these words, with this precaution, those cunning fiends had effectually not only tied the schemer’s hands, but forced him either to deliver the child to them or to sacrifice his wife and his friend.

The impasse was so horrible that she could not face it even in her thoughts. A strange, fever-like heat coursed through her veins, yet left her hands icy-cold; she longed for, yet dreaded, the end of the journey⁠—that awful grappling with the certainty of coming death. Perhaps, after all, Percy, too, had given up all hope. Long ago he had consecrated his life to the attainment of his own ideals; and there was a vein of fatalism in him; perhaps he had resigned himself to the inevitable, and his only desire now was to give up his life, as he had said, in the open, beneath God’s sky, to draw his last breath with the storm-clouds tossed through infinity above him, and the murmur of the wind in the trees to sing him to rest.

Crècy was gradually fading into the distance, wrapped in a mantle of damp and mist. For a long while Marguerite could see the sloping slate roofs glimmering like steel in the grey afternoon light, and the quaint church tower with its beautiful lantern, through the pierced stonework of which shone patches of the leaden sky.

Then a sudden twist of the road hid the city from view; only the outlying churchyard remained in sight, with its white monuments and granite crosses, over which the dark yews, wet with the rain and shaken by the gale, sent showers of diamond-like sprays.

XLV. The Forest of Boulogne

Progress was not easy, and very slow along the muddy road; the two coaches moved along laboriously, with wheels creaking and sinking deeply from time to time in the quagmire.

When the small party finally reached the edge of the wood the greyish light of this dismal day had changed in the west to a dull reddish glow⁠—a glow that had neither brilliance nor incandescence in it; only a weird tint that hung over the horizon and turned the distance into lines of purple.

The nearness of the sea made itself already felt; there was a briny taste in the damp atmosphere, and the trees all turned their branches away in the same direction against the onslaught of the prevailing winds.

The road at this point formed a sharp fork, skirting the wood on either side, the forest lying like a black close mass of spruce and firs on the left, while the open expanse of country stretched out on the right. The southwesterly gale struck with full violence against the barrier of forest trees, bending the tall crests of the pines and causing their small dead branches to break and fall with a sharp, crisp sound like a cry of pain.

The squad had been fresh at starting; now the men had been four hours in the saddle under persistent rain and gusty wind; they were tired, and the atmosphere of the close, black forest so near the road was weighing upon their spirits.

Strange sounds came to them from out the dense network of trees⁠—the screeching of night-birds, the weird call of the owls, the swift and furtive tread of wild beasts on the prowl. The cold winter and lack of food had lured the wolves from their fastnesses⁠—hunger had emboldened them, and now, as gradually the grey light fled from the sky, dismal howls could be heard in the distance, and now and then a pair of eyes, bright with the reflection of the lurid western glow, would shine momentarily out of the darkness like tiny glowworms, and as quickly vanish away.

The men shivered⁠—more with vague superstitious fear than with cold. They would have urged their horses on, but the wheels of the coaches stuck persistently in the mud, and now and again a halt had to be called so that the spokes and axles might be cleared.

They rode on in silence. No one had a mind to speak, and the mournful soughing of the wind in the pine-trees seemed to check the words on every lip. The dull thud of hoofs in the soft road, the clang of steel bits and buckles, the snorting of the horses alone answered the wind, and also the monotonous creaking of the wheels ploughing through the ruts.

Soon the ruddy glow in the west faded into soft-toned purple and then into grey; finally that too vanished. Darkness was drawing in on every side like a wide, black mantle pulled together closer and closer overhead by invisible giant hands.

The rain still fell in a thin drizzle that soaked through caps and coats, made the bridles slimy and the saddles slippery and damp. A veil of vapour hung over the horses’ cruppers, and was rendered fuller and thicker every moment with the breath that came from their nostrils. The wind no longer blew with gusty fury⁠—its strength seemed to have been spent with the grey light of day⁠—but now and then it would still come sweeping across the open country, and dash itself upon the wall of forest trees, lashing against the horses’ ears, catching the corner of a mantle here, an ill-adjusted cap there, and wreaking its mischievous freak for a while, then with a sigh of satisfaction die, murmuring among the pines.

Suddenly there was a halt, much shouting, a volley of oaths from the drivers, and citizen Chauvelin thrust his head out of the carriage window.

“What is it?” he asked.

“The scouts, citizen,” replied the sergeant, who had been riding close to the coach door all this while; “they have returned.”

“Tell one man to come straight to me and report.”

Marguerite sat quite still. Indeed, she had almost ceased to live momentarily, for her spirit was absent from her body, which felt neither fatigue, nor cold, nor pain. But she heard the snorting of the horse close by as its rider pulled him up sharply beside the carriage door.

“Well?” said Chauvelin curtly.

“This is the crossroad, citizen,” replied the man; “it strikes straight into the wood, and the hamlet of Le Crocq lies down in the valley on the right.”

“Did you follow the road in the wood?”

“Yes, citizen. About two leagues from here there is a clearing with a small stone chapel, more like a large shrine, nestling among the trees. Opposite to it the angle of a high wall with large wrought-iron gates at the corner, and from these a wide drive leads through a park.”

“Did you turn into the drive?”

“Only a little way, citizen. We thought we had best report first that all is safe.”

“You saw no one?”

“No one.”

“The château, then, lies some distance from the gates?”

“A league or more, citizen. Close to the gates there are outhouses and stabling, the disused buildings of the home farm, I should say.”

“Good! We are on the right road, that is clear. Keep ahead with your men now, but only some two hundred mètres or so. Stay!” he added, as if on second thoughts. “Ride down to the other coach and ask the prisoner if we are on the right track.”

The rider turned his horse sharply round. Marguerite heard the clang of metal and the sound of retreating hoofs.

A few moments later the man returned.

“Yes, citizen,” he reported, “the prisoner says it is quite right. The Château d’Ourde lies a full league from its gates. This is the nearest road to the chapel and the château. He says we should reach the former in half an hour. It will be very dark in there,” he added with a significant nod in the direction of the wood.

Chauvelin made no reply, but quietly stepped out of the coach. Marguerite watched him, leaning out of the window, following his small trim figure as he pushed his way past the groups of mounted men, catching at a horse’s bit now and then, or at a bridle, making a way for himself amongst the restless, champing animals, without the slightest hesitation or fear.

Soon his retreating figure lost its sharp outline silhouetted against the evening sky. It was enfolded in the veil of vapour which was blown out of the horses’ nostrils or rising from their damp cruppers; it became more vague, almost ghostlike, through the mist and the fast-gathering gloom.

Presently a group of troopers hid him entirely from her view, but she could hear his thin, smooth voice quite clearly as he called to citizen Héron.

“We are close to the end of our journey now, citizen,” she heard him say. “If the prisoner has not played us false little Capet should be in our charge within the hour.”

A growl not unlike those that came from out the mysterious depths of the forest answered him.

“If he is not,” and Marguerite recognised the harsh tones of citizen Héron⁠—“if he is not, then two corpses will be rotting in this wood tomorrow for the wolves to feed on, and the prisoner will be on his way back to Paris with me.”

Someone laughed. It might have been one of the troopers, more callous than his comrades, but to Marguerite the laugh had a strange, familiar ring in it, the echo of something long since past and gone.

Then Chauvelin’s voice once more came clearly to her ear:

“My suggestion, citizen,” he was saying, “is that the prisoner shall now give me an order⁠—couched in whatever terms he may think necessary⁠—but a distinct order to his friends to give up Capet to me without any resistance. I could then take some of the men with me, and ride as quickly as the light will allow up to the château, and take possession of it, of Capet, and of those who are with him. We could get along faster thus. One man can give up his horse to me and continue the journey on the box of your coach. The two carriages could then follow at foot pace. But I fear that if we stick together complete darkness will overtake us and we might find ourselves obliged to pass a very uncomfortable night in this wood.”

“I won’t spend another night in this suspense⁠—it would kill me,” growled Héron to the accompaniment of one of his choicest oaths. “You must do as you think right⁠—you planned the whole of this affair⁠—see to it that it works out well in the end.”

“How many men shall I take with me? Our advance guard is here, of course.”

“I couldn’t spare you more than four more men⁠—I shall want the others to guard the prisoners.”

“Four men will be quite sufficient, with the four of the advance guard. That will leave you twelve men for guarding your prisoners, and you really only need to guard the woman⁠—her life will answer for the others.”

He had raised his voice when he said this, obviously intending that Marguerite and Armand should hear.

“Then I’ll ahead,” he continued, apparently in answer to an assent from his colleague. “Sir Percy, will you be so kind as to scribble the necessary words on these tablets?”

There was a long pause, during which Marguerite heard plainly the long and dismal cry of a night bird that, mayhap, was seeking its mate. Then Chauvelin’s voice was raised again.

“I thank you,” he said; “this certainly should be quite effectual. And now, citizen Héron, I do not think that under the circumstances we need fear an ambuscade or any kind of trickery⁠—you hold the hostages. And if by any chance I and my men are attacked, or if we encounter armed resistance at the château, I will despatch a rider back straightway to you, and⁠—well, you will know what to do.”

His voice died away, merged in the soughing of the wind, drowned by the clang of metal, of horses snorting, of men living and breathing. Marguerite felt that beside her Armand had shuddered, and that in the darkness his trembling hand had sought and found hers.

She leaned well out of the window, trying to see. The gloom had gathered more closely in, and round her the veil of vapour from the horses’ steaming cruppers hung heavily in the misty air. In front of her the straight lines of a few fir trees stood out dense and black against the greyness beyond, and between these lines purple tints of various tones and shades mingled one with the other, merging the horizon line with the sky. Here and there a more solid black patch indicated the tiny houses of the hamlet of Le Crocq far down in the valley below; from some of these houses small lights began to glimmer like blinking yellow eyes. Marguerite’s gaze, however, did not rest on the distant landscape⁠—it tried to pierce the gloom that hid her immediate surroundings; the mounted men were all round the coach⁠—more closely round her than the trees in the forest. But the horses were restless, moving all the time, and as they moved she caught glimpses of that other coach and of Chauvelin’s ghostlike figure, walking rapidly through the mist. Just for one brief moment she saw the other coach, and Héron’s head and shoulders leaning out of the window. His sugar-loaf hat was on his head, and the bandage across his brow looked like a sharp, pale streak below it.

“Do not doubt it, citizen Chauvelin,” he called out loudly in his harsh, raucous voice, “I shall know what to do; the wolves will have their meal tonight, and the guillotine will not be cheated either.”

Armand put his arm round his sister’s shoulders and gently drew her back into the carriage.

“Little mother,” he said, “if you can think of a way whereby my life would redeem Percy’s and yours, show me that way now.”

But she replied quietly and firmly:

“There is no way, Armand. If there is, it is in the hands of God.”

XLVI. Others in the Park

Chauvelin and his picked escort had in the meanwhile detached themselves from the main body of the squad. Soon the dull thud of their horses’ hoofs treading the soft ground came more softly⁠—then more softly still as they turned into the wood, and the purple shadows seemed to enfold every sound and finally to swallow them completely.

Armand and Marguerite from the depth of the carriage heard Héron’s voice ordering his own driver now to take the lead. They sat quite still and watched, and presently the other coach passed them slowly on the road, its silhouette standing out ghostly and grim for a moment against the indigo tones of the distant country.

Héron’s head, with its battered sugar-loaf hat, and the soiled bandage round the brow, was as usual out of the carriage window. He leered across at Marguerite when he saw the outline of her face framed by the window of the carriage.

“Say all the prayers you have ever known, citizeness,” he said with a loud laugh, “that my friend Chauvelin may find Capet at the château, or else you may take a last look at the open country, for you will not see the sun rise on it tomorrow. It is one or the other, you know.”

She tried not to look at him; the very sight of him filled her with horror⁠—that blotched, gaunt face of his, the fleshy lips, that hideous bandage across his face that hid one of his eyes! She tried not to see him and not to hear him laugh.

Obviously he too laboured under the stress of great excitement. So far everything had gone well; the prisoner had made no attempt at escape, and apparently did not mean to play a double game. But the crucial hour had come, and with it darkness and the mysterious depths of the forest with their weird sounds and sudden flashes of ghostly lights. They naturally wrought on the nerves of men like Héron, whose conscience might have been dormant, but whose ears were nevertheless filled with the cries of innocent victims sacrificed to their own lustful ambitions and their blind, unreasoning hates.

He gave sharp orders to the men to close up round the carriages, and then gave the curt word of command:

“En avant!”

Marguerite could but strain her ears to listen. All her senses, all her faculties had merged into that of hearing, rendering it doubly keen. It seemed to her that she could distinguish the faint sound⁠—that even as she listened grew fainter and fainter yet⁠—of Chauvelin and his squad moving away rapidly into the thickness of the wood some distance already ahead.

Close to her there was the snorting of horses, the clanging and noise of moving mounted men. Héron’s coach had taken the lead; she could hear the creaking of its wheels, the calls of the driver urging his beasts.

The diminished party was moving at foot-pace in the darkness that seemed to grow denser at every step, and through that silence which was so full of mysterious sounds.

The carriage rolled and rocked on its springs; Marguerite, giddy and overtired, lay back with closed eyes, her hand resting in that of Armand. Time, space and distance had ceased to be; only Death, the great Lord of all, had remained; he walked on ahead, scythe on skeleton shoulder, and beckoned patiently, but with a sure, grim hand.

There was another halt, the coach-wheels groaned and creaked on their axles, one or two horses reared with the sudden drawing up of the curb.

“What is it now?” came Héron’s hoarse voice through the darkness.

“It is pitch-dark, citizen,” was the response from ahead. “The drivers cannot see their horses’ ears. They wait to know if they may light their lanterns and then lead their horses.”

“They can lead their horses,” replied Héron roughly, “but I’ll have no lanterns lighted. We don’t know what fools may be lurking behind trees, hoping to put a bullet through my head⁠—or yours, sergeant⁠—we don’t want to make a lighted target of ourselves⁠—what? But let the drivers lead their horses, and one or two of you who are riding greys might dismount too and lead the way⁠—the greys would show up perhaps in this cursed blackness.”

While his orders were being carried out, he called out once more:

“Are we far now from that confounded chapel?”

“We can’t be far, citizen; the whole forest is not more than six leagues wide at any point, and we have gone two since we turned into it.”

“Hush!” Héron’s voice suddenly broke in hoarsely. “What was that? Silence, I say. Damn you⁠—can’t you hear?”

There was a hush⁠—every ear straining to listen; but the horses were not still⁠—they continued to champ their bits, to paw the ground, and to toss their heads, impatient to get on. Only now and again there would come a lull even through these sounds⁠—a second or two, mayhap, of perfect, unbroken silence⁠—and then it seemed as if right through the darkness a mysterious echo sent back those same sounds⁠—the champing of bits, the pawing of soft ground, the tossing and snorting of animals, human life that breathed far out there among the trees.

“It is citizen Chauvelin and his men,” said the sergeant after a while, and speaking in a whisper.

“Silence⁠—I want to hear,” came the curt, hoarsely-whispered command.

Once more everyone listened, the men hardly daring to breathe, clinging to their bridles and pulling on their horses’ mouths, trying to keep them still, and again through the night there came like a faint echo which seemed to throw back those sounds that indicated the presence of men and of horses not very far away.

“Yes, it must be citizen Chauvelin,” said Héron at last; but the tone of his voice sounded as if he were anxious and only half convinced; “but I thought he would be at the château by now.”

“He may have had to go at foot-pace; it is very dark, citizen Héron,” remarked the sergeant.

“En avant, then,” quoth the other; “the sooner we come up with him the better.”

And the squad of mounted men, the two coaches, the drivers and the advance section who were leading their horses slowly restarted on the way. The horses snorted, the bits and stirrups clanged, and the springs and wheels of the coaches creaked and groaned dismally as the ramshackle vehicles began once more to plough the carpet of pine-needles that lay thick upon the road.

But inside the carriage Armand and Marguerite held one another tightly by the hand.

“It is de Batz⁠—with his friends,” she whispered scarce above her breath.

“De Batz?” he asked vaguely and fearfully, for in the dark he could not see her face, and as he did not understand why she should suddenly be talking of de Batz he thought with horror that mayhap her prophecy anent herself had come true, and that her mind⁠—wearied and overwrought⁠—had become suddenly unhinged.

“Yes, de Batz,” she replied. “Percy sent him a message, through me, to meet him⁠—here. I am not mad, Armand,” she added more calmly. “Sir Andrew took Percy’s letter to de Batz the day that we started from Paris.”

“Great God!” exclaimed Armand, and instinctively, with a sense of protection, he put his arms round his sister. “Then, if Chauvelin or the squad is attacked⁠—if⁠—”

“Yes,” she said calmly; “if de Batz makes an attack on Chauvelin, or if he reaches the château first and tries to defend it, they will shoot us⁠ ⁠… Armand, and Percy.”

“But is the Dauphin at the Château d’Ourde?”

“No, no! I think not.”

“Then why should Percy have invoked the aid of de Batz? Now, when⁠—”

“I don’t know,” she murmured helplessly. “Of course, when he wrote the letter he could not guess that they would hold us as hostages. He may have thought that under cover of darkness and of an unexpected attack he might have saved himself had he been alone; but now⁠—now that you and I are here⁠—Oh! it is all so horrible, and I cannot understand it all.”

“Hark!” broke in Armand, suddenly gripping her arm more tightly.

“Halt!” rang the sergeant’s voice through the night.

This time there was no mistaking the sound; already it came from no far distance. It was the sound of a man running and panting, and now and again calling out as he ran.

For a moment there was stillness in the very air, the wind itself was hushed between two gusts, even the rain had ceased its incessant pattering. Héron’s harsh voice was raised in the stillness.

“What is it now?” he demanded.

“A runner, citizen,” replied the sergeant, “coming through the wood from the right.”

“From the right?” and the exclamation was accompanied by a volley of oaths; “the direction of the château? Chauvelin has been attacked; he is sending a messenger back to me. Sergeant⁠—sergeant, close up round that coach; guard your prisoners as you value your life, and⁠—”

The rest of his words were drowned in a yell of such violent fury that the horses, already over-nervous and fidgety, reared in mad terror, and the men had the greatest difficulty in holding them in. For a few minutes noisy confusion prevailed, until the men could quieten their quivering animals with soft words and gentle pattings.

Then the troopers obeyed, closing up round the coach wherein brother and sister sat huddled against one another.

One of the men said under his breath:

“Ah! but the citizen agent knows how to curse! One day he will break his gullet with the fury of his oaths.”

In the meanwhile the runner had come nearer, always at the same breathless speed.

The next moment he was challenged:

“Qui va là?”

“A friend!” he replied, panting and exhausted. “Where is citizen Héron?”

“Here!” came the reply in a voice hoarse with passionate excitement. “Come up, damn you. Be quick!”

“A lantern, citizen,” suggested one of the drivers.

“No⁠—no⁠—not now. Here! Where the devil are we?”

“We are close to the chapel on our left, citizen,” said the sergeant.

The runner, whose eyes were no doubt accustomed to the gloom, had drawn nearer to the carriage.

“The gates of the château,” he said, still somewhat breathlessly, “are just opposite here on the right, citizen. I have just come through them.”

“Speak up, man!” and Héron’s voice now sounded as if choked with passion. “Citizen Chauvelin sent you?”

“Yes. He bade me tell you that he has gained access to the château, and that Capet is not there.”

A series of citizen Héron’s choicest oaths interrupted the man’s speech. Then he was curtly ordered to proceed, and he resumed his report.

“Citizen Chauvelin rang at the door of the château; after a while he was admitted by an old servant, who appeared to be in charge, but the place seemed otherwise absolutely deserted⁠—only⁠—”

“Only what? Go on; what is it?”

“As we rode through the park it seemed to us as if we were being watched, and followed. We heard distinctly the sound of horses behind and around us, but we could see nothing; and now, when I ran back, again I heard. There are others in the park tonight besides us, citizen.”

There was silence after that. It seemed as if the flood of Héron’s blasphemous eloquence had spent itself at last.

“Others in the park!” And now his voice was scarcely above a whisper, hoarse and trembling. “How many? Could you see?”

“No, citizen, we could not see; but there are horsemen lurking round the château now. Citizen Chauvelin took four men into the house with him and left the others on guard outside. He bade me tell you that it might be safer to send him a few more men if you could spare them. There are a number of disused farm buildings quite close to the gates, and he suggested that all the horses be put up there for the night, and that the men come up to the château on foot; it would be quicker and safer, for the darkness is intense.”

Even while the man spoke the forest in the distance seemed to wake from its solemn silence, the wind on its wings brought sounds of life and movement different from the prowling of beasts or the screeching of night-birds. It was the furtive advance of men, the quick whispers of command, of encouragement, of the human animal preparing to attack his kind. But all in the distance still, all muffled, all furtive as yet.

“Sergeant!” It was Héron’s voice, but it too was subdued, and almost calm now; “can you see the chapel?”

“More clearly, citizen,” replied the sergeant. “It is on our left; quite a small building, I think.”

“Then dismount, and walk all round it. See that there are no windows or door in the rear.”

There was a prolonged silence, during which those distant sounds of men moving, of furtive preparations for attack, struck distinctly through the night.

Marguerite and Armand, clinging to one another, not knowing what to think, nor yet what to fear, heard the sounds mingling with those immediately round them, and Marguerite murmured under her breath:

“It is de Batz and some of his friends; but what can they do? What can Percy hope for now?”

But of Percy she could hear and see nothing. The darkness and the silence had drawn their impenetrable veil between his unseen presence and her own consciousness. She could see the coach in which he was, but Héron’s hideous personality, his head with its battered hat and soiled bandage, had seemed to obtrude itself always before her gaze, blotting out from her mind even the knowledge that Percy was there not fifty yards away from her.

So strong did this feeling grow in her that presently the awful dread seized upon her that he was no longer there; that he was dead, worn out with fatigue and illness brought on by terrible privations, or if not dead that he had swooned, that he was unconscious⁠—his spirit absent from his body. She remembered that frightful yell of rage and hate which Héron had uttered a few minutes ago. Had the brute vented his fury on his helpless, weakened prisoner, and stilled forever those lips that, mayhap, had mocked him to the last?

Marguerite could not guess. She hardly knew what to hope. Vaguely, when the thought of Percy lying dead beside his enemy floated through her aching brain, she was almost conscious of a sense of relief at the thought that at least he would be spared the pain of the final, inevitable cataclysm.

XLVII. The Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre

The sergeant’s voice broke in upon her misery.

The man had apparently done as the citizen agent had ordered, and had closely examined the little building that stood on the left⁠—a vague, black mass more dense than the surrounding gloom.

“It is all solid stone, citizen,” he said; “iron gates in front, closed but not locked, rusty key in the lock, which turns quite easily; no windows or door in the rear.”

“You are quite sure?”

“Quite certain, citizen; it is plain, solid stone at the back, and the only possible access to the interior is through the iron gate in front.”

“Good.”

Marguerite could only just hear Héron speaking to the sergeant. Darkness enveloped every form and deadened every sound. Even the harsh voice which she had learned to loathe and to dread sounded curiously subdued and unfamiliar. Héron no longer seemed inclined to storm, to rage, or to curse. The momentary danger, the thought of failure, the hope of revenge, had apparently cooled his temper, strengthened his determination, and forced his voice down to a little above a whisper. He gave his orders clearly and firmly, and the words came to Marguerite on the wings of the wind with strange distinctness, borne to her ears by the darkness itself, and the hush that lay over the wood.

“Take half a dozen men with you, sergeant,” she heard him say, “and join citizen Chauvelin at the château. You can stable your horses in the farm buildings close by, as he suggests and run to him on foot. You and your men should quickly get the best of a handful of midnight prowlers; you are well armed and they only civilians. Tell citizen Chauvelin that I in the meanwhile will take care of our prisoners. The Englishman I shall put in irons and lock up inside the chapel, with five men under the command of your corporal to guard him, the other two I will drive myself straight to Crècy with what is left of the escort. You understand?”

“Yes, citizen.”

“We may not reach Crècy until two hours after midnight, but directly I arrive I will send citizen Chauvelin further reinforcements, which, however, I hope may not necessary, but which will reach him in the early morning. Even if he is seriously attacked, he can, with fourteen men he will have with him, hold out inside the castle through the night. Tell him also that at dawn two prisoners who will be with me will be shot in the courtyard of the guardhouse at Crècy, but that whether he has got hold of Capet or not he had best pick up the Englishman in the chapel in the morning and bring him straight to Crècy, where I shall be awaiting him ready to return to Paris. You understand?”

“Yes, citizen.”

“Then repeat what I said.”

“I am to take six men with me to reinforce citizen Chauvelin now.”

“Yes.”

“And you, citizen, will drive straight back to Crècy, and will send us further reinforcements from there, which will reach us in the early morning.”

“Yes.”

“We are to hold the château against those unknown marauders if necessary until the reinforcements come from Crècy. Having routed them, we return here, pick up the Englishman whom you will have locked up in the chapel under a strong guard commanded by Corporal Cassard, and join you forthwith at Crècy.”

“This, whether citizen Chauvelin has got hold of Capet or not.”

“Yes, citizen, I understand,” concluded the sergeant imperturbably; “and I am also to tell citizen Chauvelin that the two prisoners will be shot at dawn in the courtyard of the guardhouse at Crècy.”

“Yes. That is all. Try to find the leader of the attacking party, and bring him along to Crècy with the Englishman; but unless they are in very small numbers do not trouble about the others. Now en avant; citizen Chauvelin might be glad of your help. And⁠—stay⁠—order all the men to dismount, and take the horses out of one of the coaches, then let the men you are taking with you each lead a horse, or even two, and stable them all in the farm buildings. I shall not need them, and could not spare any of my men for the work later on. Remember that, above all, silence is the order. When you are ready to start, come back to me here.”

The sergeant moved away, and Marguerite heard him transmitting the citizen agent’s orders to the soldiers. The dismounting was carried on in wonderful silence⁠—for silence had been one of the principal commands⁠—only one or two words reached her ears.

“First section and first half of second section fall in, right wheel. First section each take two horses on the lead. Quietly now there; don’t tug at his bridle⁠—let him go.”

And after that a simple report:

“All ready, citizen!”

“Good!” was the response. “Now detail your corporal and two men to come here to me, so that we may put the Englishman in irons, and take him at once to the chapel, and four men to stand guard at the doors of the other coach.”

The necessary orders were given, and after that there came the curt command:

“En avant!”

The sergeant, with his squad and all the horses, was slowly moving away in the night. The horses’ hoofs hardly made a noise on the soft carpet of pine-needles and of dead fallen leaves, but the champing of the bits was of course audible, and now and then the snorting of some poor, tired horse longing for its stable.

Somehow in Marguerite’s fevered mind this departure of a squad of men seemed like the final flitting of her last hope; the slow agony of the familiar sounds, the retreating horses and soldiers moving away amongst the shadows, took on a weird significance. Héron had given his last orders. Percy, helpless and probably unconscious, would spend the night in that dank chapel, while she and Armand would be taken back to Crècy, driven to death like some insentient animals to the slaughter.

When the grey dawn would first begin to peep through the branches of the pines Percy would be led back to Paris and the guillotine, and she and Armand will have been sacrificed to the hatred and revenge of brutes.

The end had come, and there was nothing more to be done. Struggling, fighting, scheming, could be of no avail now; but she wanted to get to her husband; she wanted to be near him now that death was so imminent both for him and for her.

She tried to envisage it all, quite calmly, just as she knew that Percy would wish her to do. The inevitable end was there, and she would not give to these callous wretches here the gratuitous spectacle of a despairing woman fighting blindly against adverse Fate.

But she wanted to go to her husband. She felt that she could face death more easily on the morrow if she could but see him once, if she could but look once more into the eyes that had mirrored so much enthusiasm, such absolute vitality and wholehearted self-sacrifice, and such an intensity of love and passion; if she could but kiss once more those lips that had smiled through life, and would smile, she knew, even in the face of death.

She tried to open the carriage door, but it was held from without, and a harsh voice cursed her, ordering her to sit still.

But she could lean out of the window and strain her eyes to see. They were by now accustomed to the gloom, the dilated pupils taking in pictures of vague forms moving like ghouls in the shadows. The other coach was not far, and she could hear Héron’s voice, still subdued and calm, and the curses of the men. But not a sound from Percy.

“I think the prisoner is unconscious,” she heard one of the men say.

“Lift him out of the carriage, then,” was Héron’s curt command; “and you go and throw open the chapel gates.”

Marguerite saw it all. The movement, the crowd of men, two vague, black forms lifting another one, which appeared heavy and inert, out of the coach, and carrying it staggering up towards the chapel.

Then the forms disappeared, swallowed up by the more dense mass of the little building, merged in with it, immovable as the stone itself.

Only a few words reached her now.

“He is unconscious.”

“Leave him there, then; he’ll not move!”

“Now close the gates!”

There was a loud clang, and Marguerite gave a piercing scream. She tore at the handle of the carriage door.

“Armand, Armand, go to him!” she cried; and all her self-control, all her enforced calm, vanished in an outburst of wild, agonising passion. “Let me get to him, Armand! This is the end; get me to him, in the name of God!”

“Stop that woman screaming,” came Héron’s voice clearly through the night. “Put her and the other prisoner in irons⁠—quick!”

But while Marguerite expended her feeble strength in a mad, pathetic effort to reach her husband, even now at this last hour, when all hope was dead and Death was so nigh, Armand had already wrenched the carriage door from the grasp of the soldier who was guarding it. He was of the South, and knew the trick of charging an unsuspecting adversary with head thrust forward like a bull inside a ring. Thus he knocked one of the soldiers down and made a quick rush for the chapel gates.

The men, attacked so suddenly and in such complete darkness, did not wait for orders. They closed in round Armand; one man drew his sabre and hacked away with it in aimless rage.

But for the moment he evaded them all, pushing his way through them, not heeding the blows that came on him from out the darkness. At last he reached the chapel. With one bound he was at the gate, his numb fingers fumbling for the lock, which he could not see.

It was a vigorous blow from Héron’s fist that brought him at last to his knees, and even then his hands did not relax their hold; they gripped the ornamental scroll of the gate, shook the gate itself in its rusty hinges, pushed and pulled with the unreasoning strength of despair. He had a sabre cut across his brow, and the blood flowed in a warm, trickling stream down his face. But of this he was unconscious; all that he wanted, all that he was striving for with agonising heartbeats and cracking sinews, was to get to his friend, who was lying in there unconscious, abandoned⁠—dead, perhaps.

“Curse you,” struck Héron’s voice close to his ear. “Cannot some of you stop this raving maniac?”

Then it was that the heavy blow on his head caused him a sensation of sickness, and he fell on his knees, still gripping the ironwork.

Stronger hands than his were forcing him to loosen his hold; blows that hurt terribly rained on his numbed fingers; he felt himself dragged away, carried like an inert mass further and further from that gate which he would have given his lifeblood to force open.

And Marguerite heard all this from the inside of the coach where she was imprisoned as effectually as was Percy’s unconscious body inside that dark chapel. She could hear the noise and scramble, and Héron’s hoarse commands, the swift sabre strokes as they cut through the air.

Already a trooper had clapped irons on her wrists, two others held the carriage doors. Now Armand was lifted back into the coach, and she could not even help to make him comfortable, though as he was lifted in she heard him feebly moaning. Then the carriage doors were banged to again.

“Do not allow either of the prisoners out again, on peril of your lives!” came with a vigorous curse from Héron.

After which there was a moment’s silence; whispered commands came spasmodically in deadened sound to her ear.

“Will the key turn?”

“Yes, citizen.”

“All secure?”

“Yes, citizen. The prisoner is groaning.”

“Let him groan.”

“The empty coach, citizen? The horses have been taken out.”

“Leave it standing where it is, then; citizen Chauvelin will need it in the morning.”

“Armand,” whispered Marguerite inside the coach, “did you see Percy?”

“It was so dark,” murmured Armand feebly; “but I saw him, just inside the gates, where they had laid him down. I heard him groaning. Oh, my God!”

“Hush, dear!” she said. “We can do nothing more, only die, as he lived, bravely and with a smile on our lips, in memory of him.”

“Number 35 is wounded, citizen,” said one of the men.

“Curse the fool who did the mischief,” was the placid response. “Leave him here with the guard.”

“How many of you are there left, then?” asked the same voice a moment later.

“Only two, citizen; if one whole section remains with me at the chapel door, and also the wounded man.”

“Two are enough for me, and five are not too many at the chapel door.” And Héron’s coarse, cruel laugh echoed against the stone walls of the little chapel. “Now then, one of you get into the coach, and the other go to the horses’ heads; and remember, Corporal Cassard, that you and your men who stay here to guard that chapel door are answerable to the whole nation with your lives for the safety of the Englishman.”

The carriage door was thrown open, and a soldier stepped in and sat down opposite Marguerite and Armand. Héron in the meanwhile was apparently scrambling up the box. Marguerite could hear him muttering curses as he groped for the reins, and finally gathered them into his hand.

The springs of the coach creaked and groaned as the vehicle slowly swung round; the wheels ploughed deeply through the soft carpet of dead leaves.

Marguerite felt Armand’s inert body leaning heavily against her shoulder.

“Are you in pain, dear?” she asked softly.

He made no reply, and she thought that he had fainted. It was better so; at least the next dreary hours would flit by for him in the blissful state of unconsciousness. Now at last the heavy carriage began to move more evenly. The soldier at the horses’ heads was stepping along at a rapid pace.

Marguerite would have given much even now to look back once more at the dense black mass, blacker and denser than any shadow that had ever descended before on God’s earth, which held between its cold, cruel walls all that she loved in the world.

But her wrists were fettered by the irons, which cut into her flesh when she moved. She could no longer lean out of the window, and she could not even hear. The whole forest was hushed, the wind was lulled to rest; wild beasts and night-birds were silent and still. And the wheels of the coach creaked in the ruts, bearing Marguerite with every turn further and further away from the man who lay helpless in the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre.

XLVIII. The Waning Moon

Armand had wakened from his attack of faintness, and brother and sister sat close to one another, shoulder touching shoulder. That sense of nearness was the one tiny spark of comfort to both of them on this dreary, dreary way.

The coach had lumbered on unceasingly since all eternity⁠—so it seemed to them both. Once there had been a brief halt, when Héron’s rough voice had ordered the soldier at the horses’ heads to climb on the box beside him, and once⁠—it had been a very little while ago⁠—a terrible cry of pain and terror had rung through the stillness of the night. Immediately after that the horses had been put at a more rapid pace, but it had seemed to Marguerite as if that one cry of pain had been repeated by several others which sounded more feeble and soon appeared to be dying away in the distance behind.

The soldier who sat opposite to them must have heard the cry too, for he jumped up, as if wakened from sleep, and put his head out of the window.

“Did you hear that cry, citizen?” he asked.

But only a curse answered him, and a peremptory command not to lose sight of the prisoners by poking his head out of the window.

“Did you hear the cry?” asked the soldier of Marguerite as he made haste to obey.

“Yes! What could it be?” she murmured.

“It seems dangerous to drive so fast in this darkness,” muttered the soldier.

After which remark he, with the stolidity peculiar to his kind, figuratively shrugged his shoulders, detaching himself, as it were, of the whole affair.

“We should be out of the forest by now,” he remarked in an undertone a little while later; “the way seemed shorter before.”

Just then the coach gave an unexpected lurch to one side, and after much groaning and creaking of axles and springs it came to a standstill, and the citizen agent was heard cursing loudly and then scrambling down from the box.

The next moment the carriage-door was pulled open from without, and the harsh voice called out peremptorily:

“Citizen soldier, here⁠—quick!⁠—quick!⁠—curse you!⁠—we’ll have one of the horses down if you don’t hurry!”

The soldier struggled to his feet; it was never good to be slow in obeying the citizen agent’s commands. He was half-asleep and no doubt numb with cold and long sitting still; to accelerate his movements he was suddenly gripped by the arm and dragged incontinently out of the coach.

Then the door was slammed to again, either by a rough hand or a sudden gust of wind, Marguerite could not tell; she heard a cry of rage and one of terror, and Héron’s raucous curses. She cowered in the corner of the carriage with Armand’s head against her shoulder, and tried to close her ears to all those hideous sounds.

Then suddenly all the sounds were hushed and all around everything became perfectly calm and still⁠—so still that at first the silence oppressed her with a vague, nameless dread. It was as if Nature herself had paused, that she might listen; and the silence became more and more absolute, until Marguerite could hear Armand’s soft, regular breathing close to her ear.

The window nearest to her was open, and as she leaned forward with that paralysing sense of oppression a breath of pure air struck full upon her nostrils and brought with it a briny taste as if from the sea.

It was not quite so dark; and there was a sense as of open country stretching out to the limits of the horizon. Overhead a vague greyish light suffused the sky, and the wind swept the clouds in great rolling banks right across that light.

Marguerite gazed upward with a more calm feeling that was akin to gratitude. That pale light, though so wan and feeble, was thrice welcome after that inky blackness wherein shadows were less dark than the lights. She watched eagerly the bank of clouds driven by the dying gale.

The light grew brighter and faintly golden, now the banks of clouds⁠—storm-tossed and fleecy⁠—raced past one another, parted and reunited like veils of unseen giant dancers waved by hands that controlled infinite space⁠—advanced and rushed and slackened speed again⁠—united and finally torn asunder to reveal the waning moon, honey-coloured and mysterious, rising as if from an invisible ocean far away.

The wan pale light spread over the wide stretch of country, throwing over it as it spread dull tones of indigo and of blue. Here and there sparse, stunted trees with fringed gaunt arms bending to prevailing winds proclaimed the neighbourhood of the sea.

Marguerite gazed on the picture which the waning moon had so suddenly revealed; but she gazed with eyes that knew not what they saw. The moon had risen on her right⁠—there lay the east⁠—and the coach must have been travelling due north, whereas Crècy⁠ ⁠…

In the absolute silence that reigned she could perceive from far, very far away, the sound of a church clock striking the midnight hour; and now it seemed to her supersensitive senses that a firm footstep was treading the soft earth, a footstep that drew nearer⁠—and then nearer still.

Nature did pause to listen. The wind was hushed, the night-birds in the forest had gone to rest. Marguerite’s heart beat so fast that its throbbings choked her, and a dizziness clouded her consciousness.

But through this state of torpor she heard the opening of the carriage door, she felt the onrush of that pure, briny air, and she felt a long, burning kiss upon her hands.

She thought then that she was really dead, and that God in His infinite love had opened to her the outer gates of Paradise.

“My love!” she murmured.

She was leaning back in the carriage and her eyes were closed, but she felt that firm fingers removed the irons from her wrists, and that a pair of warm lips were pressed there in their stead.

“There, little woman, that’s better so⁠—is it not? Now let me get hold of poor old Armand!”

It was Heaven, of course, else how could earth hold such heavenly joy?

“Percy!” exclaimed Armand in an awed voice.

“Hush, dear!” murmured Marguerite feebly; “we are in Heaven you and I⁠—”

Whereupon a ringing laugh woke the echoes of the silent night.

“In Heaven, dear heart!” And the voice had a delicious earthly ring in its wholehearted merriment. “Please God, you’ll both be at Portel with me before dawn.”

Then she was indeed forced to believe. She put out her hands and groped for him, for it was dark inside the carriage; she groped, and felt his massive shoulders leaning across the body of the coach, while his fingers busied themselves with the irons on Armand’s wrist.

“Don’t touch that brute’s filthy coat with your dainty fingers, dear heart,” he said gaily. “Great Lord! I have worn that wretch’s clothes for over two hours; I feel as if the dirt had penetrated to my bones.”

Then with that gesture so habitual to him he took her head between his two hands, and drawing her to him until the wan light from without lit up the face that he worshipped, he gazed his fill into her eyes.

She could only see the outline of his head silhouetted against the wind-tossed sky; she could not see his eyes, nor his lips, but she felt his nearness, and the happiness of that almost caused her to swoon.

“Come out into the open, my lady fair,” he murmured, and though she could not see, she could feel that he smiled; “let God’s pure air blow through your hair and round your dear head. Then, if you can walk so far, there’s a small halfway house close by here. I have knocked up the none too amiable host. You and Armand could have half an hour’s rest there before we go further on our way.”

“But you, Percy?⁠—are you safe?”

“Yes, m’dear, we are all of us safe until morning-time enough to reach Le Portel, and to be aboard the Daydream before mine amiable friend M. Chambertin has discovered his worthy colleague lying gagged and bound inside the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre. By Gad! how old Héron will curse⁠—the moment he can open his mouth!”

He half helped, half lifted her out of the carriage. The strong pure air suddenly rushing right through to her lungs made her feel faint, and she almost fell. But it was good to feel herself falling, when one pair of arms amongst the millions on the earth were there to receive her.

“Can you walk, dear heart?” he asked. “Lean well on me⁠—it is not far, and the rest will do you good.”

“But you, Percy⁠—”

He laughed, and the most complete joy of living seemed to resound through that laugh. Her arm was in his, and for one moment he stood still while his eyes swept the far reaches of the country, the mellow distance still wrapped in its mantle of indigo, still untouched by the mysterious light of the waning moon.

He pressed her arm against his heart, but his right hand was stretched out towards the black wall of the forest behind him, towards the dark crests of the pines in which the dying wind sent its last mournful sighs.

“Dear heart,” he said, and his voice quivered with the intensity of his excitement, “beyond the stretch of that wood, from far away over there, there are cries and moans of anguish that come to my ear even now. But for you, dear, I would cross that wood tonight and re-enter Paris tomorrow. But for you, dear⁠—but for you,” he reiterated earnestly as he pressed her closer to him, for a bitter cry had risen to her lips.

She went on in silence. Her happiness was great⁠—as great as was her pain. She had found him again, the man whom she worshipped, the husband whom she thought never to see again on earth. She had found him, and not even now⁠—not after those terrible weeks of misery and suffering unspeakable⁠—could she feel that love had triumphed over the wild, adventurous spirit, the reckless enthusiasm, the ardour of self-sacrifice.

XLIX. The Land of Eldorado

It seems that in the pocket of Héron’s coat there was a letter-case with some few hundred francs. It was amusing to think that the brute’s money helped to bribe the ill-tempered keeper of the halfway house to receive guests at midnight, and to ply them well with food, drink, and the shelter of a stuffy coffee-room.

Marguerite sat silently beside her husband, her hand in his. Armand, opposite to them, had both elbows on the table. He looked pale and wan, with a bandage across his forehead, and his glowing eyes were resting on his chief.

“Yes! you demmed young idiot,” said Blakeney merrily, “you nearly upset my plan in the end, with your yelling and screaming outside the chapel gates.”

“I wanted to get to you, Percy. I thought those brutes had got you there inside that building.”

“Not they!” he exclaimed. “It was my friend Héron whom they had trussed and gagged, and whom my amiable friend M. Chambertin will find in there tomorrow morning. By Gad! I would go back if only for the pleasure of hearing Héron curse when first the gag is taken from his mouth.”

“But how was it all done, Percy? And there was de Batz⁠—”

“De Batz was part of the scheme I had planned for mine own escape before I knew that those brutes meant to take Marguerite and you as hostages for my good behaviour. What I hoped then was that under cover of a tussle or a fight I could somehow or other contrive to slip through their fingers. It was a chance, and you know my belief in bald-headed Fortune, with the one solitary hair. Well, I meant to grab that hair; and at the worst I could but die in the open and not caged in that awful hole like some noxious vermin. I knew that de Batz would rise to the bait. I told him in my letter that the Dauphin would be at the Château d’Ourde this night, but that I feared the revolutionary Government had got wind of this fact, and were sending an armed escort to bring the lad away. This letter Ffoulkes took to him; I knew that he would make a vigorous effort to get the Dauphin into his hands, and that during the scuffle that one hair on Fortune’s head would for one second only, mayhap, come within my reach. I had so planned the expedition that we were bound to arrive at the forest of Boulogne by nightfall, and night is always a useful ally. But at the guardhouse of the Rue Ste. Anne I realised for the first time that those brutes had pressed me into a tighter corner than I had preconceived.”

He paused, and once again that look of recklessness swept over his face, and his eyes⁠—still hollow and circled⁠—shone with the excitement of past memories.

“I was such a weak, miserable wretch, then,” he said, in answer to Marguerite’s appeal. “I had to try and build up some strength, when⁠—Heaven forgive me for the sacrilege⁠—I had unwittingly risked your precious life, dear heart, in that blind endeavour to save mine own. By Gad! it was no easy task in that jolting vehicle with that noisome wretch beside me for sole company; yet I ate and I drank and I slept for three days and two nights, until the hour when in the darkness I struck Héron from behind, half-strangled him first, then gagged him, and finally slipped into his filthy coat and put that loathsome bandage across my head, and his battered hat above it all. The yell he gave when first I attacked him made every horse rear⁠—you must remember it⁠—the noise effectually drowned our last scuffle in the coach. Chauvelin was the only man who might have suspected what had occurred, but he had gone on ahead, and bald-headed Fortune had passed by me, and I had managed to grab its one hair. After that it was all quite easy. The sergeant and the soldiers had seen very little of Héron and nothing of me; it did not take a great effort to deceive them, and the darkness of the night was my most faithful friend. His raucous voice was not difficult to imitate, and darkness always muffles and changes every tone. Anyway, it was not likely that those loutish soldiers would even remotely suspect the trick that was being played on them. The citizen agent’s orders were promptly and implicitly obeyed. The men never even thought to wonder that after insisting on an escort of twenty he should drive off with two prisoners and only two men to guard them. If they did wonder, it was not theirs to question. Those two troopers are spending an uncomfortable night somewhere in the forest of Boulogne, each tied to a tree, and some two leagues apart one from the other. And now,” he added gaily, “en voiture, my fair lady; and you, too, Armand. ’Tis seven leagues to Le Portel, and we must be there before dawn.”

“Sir Andrew’s intention was to make for Calais first, there to open communication with the Daydream and then for Le Portel,” said Marguerite; “after that he meant to strike back for the Château d’Ourde in search of me.”

“Then we’ll still find him at Le Portel⁠—I shall know how to lay hands on him; but you two must get aboard the Daydream at once, for Ffoulkes and I can always look after ourselves.”

It was one hour after midnight when⁠—refreshed with food and rest⁠—Marguerite, Armand and Sir Percy left the halfway house. Marguerite was standing in the doorway ready to go. Percy and Armand had gone ahead to bring the coach along.

“Percy,” whispered Armand, “Marguerite does not know?”

“Of course she does not, you young fool,” retorted Percy lightly. “If you try and tell her I think I would smash your head.”

“But you⁠—” said the young man with sudden vehemence; “can you bear the sight of me? My God! when I think⁠—”

“Don’t think, my good Armand⁠—not of that anyway. Only think of the woman for whose sake you committed a crime⁠—if she is pure and good, woo her and win her⁠—not just now, for it were foolish to go back to Paris after her, but anon, when she comes to England and all these past days are forgotten⁠—then love her as much as you can, Armand. Learn your lesson of love better than I have learnt mine; do not cause Jeanne Lange those tears of anguish which my mad spirit brings to your sister’s eyes. You were right, Armand, when you said that I do not know how to love!”

But on board the Daydream, when all danger was past, Marguerite felt that he did.

END