by Melody Grubb
Will the Scarlet Pimpernel keep his word? Will Jeanne keep her faith?
The Land of
By Melody M. G.
The Land of Calais
The Scarlet Pimpernel
The shore of Calais was silent. Not one living thing seemed to disturb her calmness. The sun had long before set, and darkness reigned sovereign in the city.
Nothing seemed to stir the silence, at least.
Down in the lowest, darkest part of the city, inside a small, dank shack – natural to find in that year of grace 1792—a man, by appearance a worthy citizen of the newly acclaimed Republic of France, dressed in the voluntary suit of rags and a cap with the tricolor stuck on carelessly upon his head, stood upon the rotten floorboards of the old building. Two other similarly-dressed men stood beside him, quite short compared to the first man’s considerable stature. Beside the three a young girl, dressed in more feminine-looking rags, sat upon a chair beside a rickety table on which she had laid a small childish hand. A plate of scanty provisions and a glass filled with sour wine, all stood on the table. The girl looked up with admiration and awe on the taller man, and sensing the girl’s eyes upon him, he chuckled with a sense wholly unlike that of a ordinary citizen of France.
“Gad, my girl! Your eyes are popping out of your head. You mustn’t look at me with such esteem. ‘Twas my gallant friends, here, who took out the rescue. Besides, you had better eat. We have quite a journey to the shore before dawn.” He motioned toward the plate and turned to his friends, speaking in English.
“If you leave here within half an hour you should be on the Daydream before 3 in the morning. You had better tell Hastings and St. Denys to come along. They will not be needed in France for the time being. I shall stay here and bring Monsieur de Monstre` and his family. I will meet you on the Daydream at six, if all goes well.”
“But, Percy, Chauvelin—” protested one of the two.
“La, Andrew, what of my old friend Chambertin? I should be honored to have another tête-à-tête with him,” returned the taller jovially.
“Really, Percy, one of these days they will get you, and you will be in the same pinch as you were when you rescued the Dauphin.”
Sir Percy Blakeney, Bar., his face and hands plastered with dirt and his elegant frame disgraced in rags, let out an inane laugh that woke the silent rafters from their age-old sleep.
“By gad, my dear fellow!” he cried good-humouredly, “What a dull fellow you are! No, I will forgive you this time, old lad. Zounds! What a beastly place that prison was. I myself, though I admit I am quite used to most, thought it too vile for a gentleman to live in.”
“But Percy, they know you too well now,” said the other—one of the richest men in England—Lord Anthony Dewhurst. “They saw you every day of those two weeks. Surely they would recognize you under any disguise. It is too dangerous for you to go out anymore. I read suspicion in the guard’s eyes at the gate out of Amiens, when we were disguised as vegetable carriers.”
“Very well for the guard, Tony,” rejoined Sir Percy in a more serious tone of voice, “What would happen if I retired from my duty? The de Monstre` family needs me. I cannot forsake them now— nor any of the thousands of innocents being slain like sheep daily.”
The statement was too true to be contradicted. The two most trustworthy members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel knew their chief. Even when Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had protested against his friend’s dangerous undertaking into the innermost parts of Paris where the most astute bloodhounds were on the Scarlet Pimpernel’s track, he knew too well it would be fruitless to persuade Sir Percy to abandon it. Sir Percy would go; and there was no telling if this would be his last escapade.
But such risks did not trouble Sir Percy Blakeney, the most foppish dandy in English society. For in France, he had such a will power that none were able to dissuade him from anything that would be the salvation to the innocent—not even his beautiful wife Lady Marguerite Blakeney, who, at that moment, was anxiously awaiting her husband’s return.
Thus said, Sir Percy, now as he stood in a dank and run-down scanty piece of shelter, again laughed that inane laugh that made so many high-in-office revolutionists shudder within themselves.
“Come along, Andrew,” he said as he brought his palm down on that young gentleman’s back with vigor. “You must be going. Remember, I meet you at the Daydream at six.”
With that, Sir Percy left the place before Sir Andrew or Lord Tony could make an opposition.
Fifteen minutes later the faint sound of feet treading the soft ground could be heard only by the keenest listeners; and by dawn Sir Percy’s yacht, the Daydream, had set sail upon the silent waters, drifting away from the sleeping city of Calais, bound for England.
As the sun rose on the following morn, the French girl stood upon the deck of the English schooner. Now dressed in a simple but full summer dress as she stood against the railing, her longing eyes turned toward the bit of fast-disappearing shore she knew only as home.
“Poor France,” she murmured softly, her blonde hair being blown about in the sea air and her small hands clutching the railing. “How is it that she is so blood-ridden, that I must escape from her beautiful shores as a refugee?”
“Because, unfortunately, assassins have invaded its attractive shoreline,” answered a languid voice from behind.
Turning swiftly around, the girl encountered a gentleman on the decking beside her. He was dressed in an elaborately tailored suit with shining buckled shoes and all. He smiled lazily at the French girl’s surprise.
“Do not be alarmed, Mademoiselle,” he said, assuming the most disciplined English drawing-room manners. “Be assured I have not spied on you, but have just arrived up here.”
The girl looked keenly at the English gentleman. The perfectly tailored suit, the smoothed hair, the lazy blue eyes seemed wholly unlike the dirty ragged men she had had for company in the squalid shelter earlier that morning.
Her thoughts went back to the day before when she had been rescued from a terrible death; suddenly snatched out from among bloodthirsty human wolves and taken in a seed bag to a wagon, thrown in as if a pack of potatoes, and ridden hell-for-leather out of the city gates. It had seemed so sudden, so unexpected, from her escape from the tumbrel taking her to the dreaded death, to finding herself on an English schooner that took her across the channel and to safety.
She wondered what this English, unhurried gentleman had to do with her rescue; how he had appeared on this boat taking her to his country, it was true—she could tell from his accent that he was English.
It was inevitable, then, for her to ask the question:
“Who are you?”
The gentleman’s eyes twinkled amusingly and the lazy smile did not disappear.
“Sir Percy Blakeney, at your utmost service, Mademoiselle --”
“Jeanne Andole,” she finished for him.
“Ah! How lovely a name, Mademoiselle Andole. You have just come from France, I understand? I heard you speaking of that country as your own.”
“Occupied, as you said, Monsieur, by assassins. I might have been killed at their relentless hand but for the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“The Scarlet Pimpernel!” exclaimed Sir Percy, raising a finger of recognition. “Demmed popular fellow in England, begad.”
“Indeed? Do you know who he is?”
Her innocent eyes brightened in curiosity of her anonymous savior.
“Unfortunately, his real identity is a mystery to all but his followers.”
“Ah,” she replied quietly, her eyes lowering to the ground.
“I had a message from him when I was rescued, in which he said that he would soon return to France and save my family.”
“Then your family is still in France?”
“Yes! I would not have left without them, but as it is I—”
“The Scarlet Pimpernel does not save all at once, then,” cut in Sir Percy with a light laugh.
The flippant manner of the English gentleman was not very soothing to the girl’s tried soul. She let out a sigh and turned to the sea.
“Forgive me, mademoiselle,” said Sir Percy, letting in a touch of concern into his glib tone of voice.
“I will relieve you of my company.” And with an elaborate bow, he disappeared under the deck.
The Daydream, led along by calm winds, arrived in a private port on the shores of Dover three days later.
The little “nest” was not abandoned, for Lady Blakeney sat therein eagerly awaiting her husband’s return, and also ready with comforting attentions to the ones he had rescued. Though only nine in the morning, Marguerite’s face showed no signs of sleepiness, and she had donned a light summer frock. She sat close to the window of the little cabin, looking out on the sea for close on an hour, until a white sail seemed to come up from out of the green water and slowly grow into a boat. She calmly sat a while longer until the Daydream had stopped in port and then made her way to it.
At the sight of Marguerite Sir Percy forgot everything and held her in his arms. Everything concerning adventure and France passed out of his mind for those few moments whilst the wife of the master adventurer savored those only too short sweet moments.
It was in this way that mademoiselle Andole saw the couple, as she was being led by Sir Andrew and my Lord Hastings off the schooner. Though afar off, she could see the form of the foppish gentleman whose company she had had on the yacht; as they embraced each other she guessed the woman to be his wife, who acted as though she had not seen him in months. Vaguely the questions again passed through her mind: Who was he? Why had he accompanied her on the schooner? Where had he come from? Could he possibly, perhaps, be… no! the thought was quickly suppressed as soon as it presented itself. He was too well dressed. Though her rescuers seemed to have an English accent, they looked completely different from this immaculately-dressed Sir Percy Blakeney. Her mind did not comprehend any reason… any answer… so she turned away resolutely and forgot it. She was in England now; safe from the wolves of Paris. The Scarlet Pimpernel would soon bring her family home to her, and then nothing could make her happier. She would not trouble herself about that savior’s identity.
The newly arrived émigrés from France were welcomed to all the society balls. The guests eagerly anticipated the telling of intriguing stories how the Scarlet Pimpernel, the supernatural hero, rescued the French aristocrats. At a ball given by the widow Lady Smith, the Count de Monstre` and his wife, the countess, and their two daughters were welcomed and the girls hastily told to embark upon their amazing story: how they had been led right out of the Temple prison disguised as relations of the prison janitor, how they narrowly escaped re-arrest on their way to the coast only by the strange Englishman’s supernatural powers of making them disappear into the darkness. It was all so marvelous and inhuman; but mademoiselle Andole’s story was even harder to believe.
That young woman came dressed as she had hardly been in France those troubled days; her dark hair once more powdered and her hands again immaculate and white. She was asked to recount her rescue by the Scarlet Pimpernel, and she could not but tell it before an eager audience. With bated breath they listened as she began:
“I would not be here but for the Scarlet Pimpernel, whose kind heart pitied me and rescued me from the murderous jaws of the Revolutionists in my home country,” she said solemnly, her eyes shining with gratitude as she continued, “I had been imprisoned for under two days; taken from my family, accused on mere suspicion because of the new “Law of the Suspect”. My accusation was treason against my country—which was preposterous, for I would never betray my country! But so it was… I was destined for the guillotine, or so I thought. I, along with a few other more or less wrongly-accused prisoners, was being taken to Paris to be tried, and finally executed. I chose not to think of it as I sat in the coach, my hands tied together as if I were a criminal.
“We stopped twice or three times along the way at wayside inns for a night’s rest and to eat—our only food being a piece of stale bread and a bit of old water, scarcely sufficient to keep us from fainting into an un-mature death.
It was at one of these that the captain and soldiers were replaced with new ones.
“This inn, particularly closed from the outer world, was dirty and desolate, with only a very old and bedraggled innkeeper who only grunted in answer to any question put to him. There were no other inhabitants, except the new squad of soldiers who were sitting inside the inn when we were shoved in.
“They seemed to have been waiting for our arrival, for as soon as we entered the obvious captain of them stood and saluted.
“‘Citizen Captain,’ he demanded.
“’Here, Citizen Captain,” returned the other, stepping forward and saluting.
“’You are to transfer the prisoners to our care,” commanded the first, ‘here are our orders.’ Drawing a piece of paper from his bosom, he handed it to our commander. It seemed to convince him, for he handed it back and sighed a sigh of relief as loud as he dared.
“’Very well, Citizen Captain,” he said, and turning to his soldiers, commanded them to eat and rest and prepare for the journey back to Amiens, from thence we had come.
“As usual our journey continued the next day to Paris. We were commanded to enter the coach, but roughly helped in by the soldiers. I cared not what happened, for I knew where the end would find me—tried at the tribunal and summarily guillotined. Why, then, should I care to see in what direction were going? I knew it to be Paris.
“My first sensing of something unnatural was the sound of a long, low, drawling laugh coming from the front of the carriage. It was unusual, for I had never heard a Frenchman laugh that way, especially these days when all sense of humor—except the grim humor when watching the guillotine at work—had been struck dead by the death knell of Revolutionary France. Even greater was my wonder, when looking out the window, I saw that we were going in the opposite direction, and on a lonely road other than the one we had come by. About half-way to Amiens we halted outside a small house and the mock soldiers disappeared inside, emerging once more dressed as vegetable carriers. We were told to enter a much used cart which was full of vegetables and hide ourselves under them. My head whorled, but I kept silent because my confusion was too great.
“At the gate exiting Amiens we were stopped of course, but as there was no suspicion of them being traitors, we were allowed to pass on without the cart being searched.
“I was slowly beginning to understand that we were being rescued. My fellow prisoners were awed also as we stopped at a small, squalid hut, situated far off the main road. It was there that I knew for certain that my rescuers were English. As the others who had been rescued made themselves ready to travel by foot to the coast, I ate and heard the talk of our rescuers. They were definitely English, and as I had heard of a mysterious band of Englishmen who carried out the rescue of many unfortunate Frenchmen, I knew our rescuers were the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
The story was supernatural: never had there been such an amazing happening! As another Frenchman was persuaded to tell of his adventures Jeanne took refuge in a quiet parlor.
Again her mind was in a swirl of questions which she could not answer. She was not one who took pleasure in mysteries, and therefore strove to find out why Sir Percy Blakeney should have been on a yacht sailing from France.
The other mystery which troubled her mind was the anonymity of her rescuers. Who were they? She desired ever so much to know.
From out of her lace chiffon she pulled a small piece of paper. On it was written in elegant but slightly-hastily written words:
Do not worry for your family. They will soon join you in England—you have my word of honor.
As a signature was drawn a small red star-shaped flower, by name in England, the Scarlet Pimpernel.
With a curious movement Jeanne looked closely at the words, the flourish of the pen, the paper on which they were written. The latter was dirty and grimy, and had evidence of having been torn off from a larger source.
She had found the note stuck into the skirt pocket of the dress she had put on when boarding the Daydream bound for England and safety. The dress was lain upon her bed in the yacht, ready to be clad. It was not until out on the deck before Sir Percy appeared that, distractedly putting a hand in her pocket she felt that same piece of paper.
Since then she had kept it near her heart, stuck in her chiffon, as it was the only thing she possessed pertaining to her family back in France. That simple reassurance gave her hope—that somehow her Lord was using this wonderful, kind-hearted band of Englishman to save her family from a horrible death. She knew He would guide the Scarlet Pimpernel in his rescue as He had in hers, and it seemed as if nothing could go wrong.
“Mademoiselle,” a voice broke in on her thoughts. She looked up to see the kindly face of Lord Anthony Dewhurst, and met by two fearless, gentle, and honest eyes.
“Mademoiselle, you seem to be enjoying your evening in solitude.”
“Somewhat, monsieur,” she replied respectfully, all the while noticing a particular resemblance of that voice to that of one she had heard in a run-down hut in a conversation between three Englishmen.
“Then may I assist you in enjoying it even more by inviting you to dance?” his kindly smile and extreme gentlemanly manners could not be refused, and besides, Jeanne was curious to study him more.
“Do you know who the Scarlet Pimpernel is—my rescuer?” she asked as they moved along the dance floor to the Alamone.
An odd light passed through her partner’s eyes as a smile crept over his ever-merry lips.
“Do you, mademoiselle?” he asked.
“Alas, no, monsieur. I am at great pains to find who he is. Can one who has been rescued by him be at rest in her mind until she know who it is that risked so much for her?—a man other than her own nationality at that!”
“Perhaps,” was Lord Tony’s simple reply. “Her mind will be at rest when she understands the danger of such knowledge.”
“What danger, monsieur?”
“If all who were rescued by the Scarlet Pimpernel knew his identity, the danger of his capture in France would be even greater than it is now.”
Jeanne’s keen mind guessed that Lord Tony, with his passionate and earnest opinion of the Scarlet Pimpernel, must be in the league of that mysterious one.
“You must be one of them, I know, monsieur. You were one of them who rescued me.”
Her bold remark took Lord Tony by surprise, and for the space of a few seconds he was suddenly alert, and glanced quickly around at the other dancers, but no one seemed to have heard. He did not say anything, perhaps because his mind was wondering how his confessing that he was one of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel would affect the secrecy of his leader’s identity.
In the end he spoke quite calmly, possibly because he resolved that he would guard that secret jealously and his confession would do no harm.
“I am,” he said, proudly.
“You deceive me in the identity of your leader, then,” remarked Jeanne, smiling mischievously at him.
“As I have said, mademoiselle, if every refugee from France knew who was behind the mask of my leader, the information would surely leak to the revolutionists who desire his life—however loyal the rescued are.”
Thus Jeanne could not wrest from this most loyal member of the League, the very secret that troubled her. How else, she wondered, could she find the answer? The only solution lay in the means of her brain. She would find out, she promised herself. How mush more loyal she would be to him then, if she only knew!
Sir Percy Blakeney had gone once more. Hunting was his excuse this time. His wife, the woman of fashion, Lady Blakeney, said he was sure to return in less than a week.
She herself, though in society’s eyes glad to be rid of her husband, was in truth going through mental torture. The carrier he had promised on leaving to say when he would return to her arms was her only solace. The rest of those dreary five days was spend thinking of what danger he was risking at that very moment; and then she remembered the One Who planned whether or not he would return to her alive, and she prayed her heart out begging Him to allow her husband to return safely. Nothing else—not even balls or her own garden parties were enough to take her mind off Sir Percy’s not being present at them; and the continual inquiries of—“When is Sir Percy to come back?” or “’Tis been over four days Sir Percy has been away. When shall he join us once more?” – were enough to drive her nigh crazy, and make her want to cry out: “He is in France saving lives, as you never credit him with having such a heart of pity!”
But she kept silent: only for his sake and for the sake of those whom he risked his life for. Lord Hastings remained in England, and his presence was a great comfort to Marguerite, for she knew the worries and anxieties he himself endured, which were similar to hers. He tried his best to comfort and reassure her of Sir Percy’s audacity and pluck, which would, together, certainly bring him back safe and sound—not excepting, he fervently added, the guide of the One Great Leader Whom Sir Percy named Chance, with one hair on its head, which he almost always succeeded in catching.
The day was bright and warm. A gentle breeze mocked the humidity, and therefore made it agreeable to be out of doors. A clump of birch trees in the midst of the lawn of Blakeney Manor shaded the large abode, and also some late lilies below it.
Jeanne, clad in a light summer gown and loose shawl, was coming up the drive. Her carriage was already gone round to the stables, and she could hear it’s wheels on the flag stones. As she walked she looked around at the grounds of the stately mansion: the gorgeous flowerbeds, the vine making it’s way up the walls behind them, and finally the large oak door that confronted her in all its richness and entirety.
Picking up the knocker, Jeanne let it fall two or three times and resigned herself to wait.
She was calling in response to an invitation received by the lady of this mansion; though surprised by it’s arrival in her post, the note attached sufficed to quiet her astonishment, if not only a little.
My dear Mademoiselle Andole, June, ’92
I so desire your company, if you have the time. You see, I am quite alone in this great house while Sir Percy is gone away; and as you are one of the newly arrived refugees from France—and rescued by that mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel—and I being French by birth myself, I wished to have just a little chat—if you don’t mind, that is. I am your most affectionate servant,
Lady Marguerite Blakeney.
In less than ten seconds the door was opened by a tall doorman, who sternly asked her what her business was.
“I received an invitation to a chat with Lady Blakeney,” she replied, handing him the card. Then only did his eyes soften, and he allowed her to pass with an apologetic: “Certainly, Madame — Come this way.”
On entering she was immediately greeted by Marguerite, bright and affectionate, offering any delicacy to be got. She led Jeanne into a parlor, where was set tea for two. She invited her to sit, and after providing her with a cup of tea and a plate of refreshments, Marguerite began more seriously.
“I am only too glad you came, and accepted my invitation, Jeanne. As I said in my note, I am exceedingly lonely, having nothing to do, though I do visit with my dear little friend Suzanne Flouks quite often!” she spoke pleasantly, and now paused, her shining, young eyes examining her visitor closely but not rudely. “Do you know Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, my dear?” she asked.
“No, Lady Blakeney…” replied Jeanne, but the former interrupted her.
“Pray call me Marguerite, Jeanne—you do not mind me calling you that?”
“You are too dear. You see, Jeanne, how lonely I get in this large house, which I assure you is too large for only Sir Percy and myself. That is partly why I sent for you; I also had a particular interest in you, since I was with you at the ball.”
“I greatly wonder why, milady.”
“Why, my dear Jeanne, you were rescued by the Scarlet Pimpernel, were you not?”
The question startled Jeanne, though Marguerite had mentioned that rescuer in her note, and something else startled her even more. In Marguerite’s eyes she detected something for which she could not explain.
“Yes I was,” she replied.
The other smiled pleasantly.
“I was present at the narration of your adventure; I am only curious, and wished to talk to someone who has been in France these days.” A slight lowering of the head in obvious shame showed Jeanne that Lady Blakeney was in earnest, and true to her birth-country.
“Is it as bad as many say it is?” Marguerite asked.
“Quite bad, I am afraid, milady. It seems as if it were hell itself there. It cannot be long till it will, at it’s worse, suddenly fall into nothing,” Jeanne added passionately.
“Let us all hope so!” cried Marguerite, her eyes shining with as much acute feeling. But she quickly composed herself. Jeanne next pursued the conversation about the Scarlet Pimpernel.
“Do you know anything about him?” she asked in innocent curiosity.
Lady Blakeney seemed astonished at these words, and for a moment a kind of flush swept across her young face.
“Why, no, my dear. Nothing, except that all England tries her best to find out who he is.”
“He is English, is he not?”
“So I have heard tell—by the ones rescued by him, including yourself, Jeanne!”
“Yes; their accents seemed to be English, and they spoke it, too.”
Jeanne was sure that her new friend held a secret, and kept it from her. She tried to wrest it unnoticeably from Marguerite, but, sly as she could ever be, Lady Blakeney was even slyer than Jeanne.
Therefore she gave up, and instead enjoyed the company of her new friend.
Almost as soon as Jeanne was shown out of Blakeney Manor, and the door was shut, then she heard the approaching sounds of a carriage coming up the drive. As it came into sight, Jeanne noticed it to be Sir Percy Blakeney’s.
It stopped in front of her, and that gentleman stepped out.
“Lud! If it isn’t one of the most newly arrived refugees from France!” cried he flippantly, tipping his hat in a most gentlemanly way and reaching for her hand.
“Mademoiselle Andole, if I am not mistaken?”
Jeanne replied in the affirmative, and just as she saw her own carriage approaching, she explained her presence at his estate.
“Ah?” remarked Sir Percy languidly, “yes, I do suppose she was a bit lonely here. Ah, is this your carriage? Good day, mademoiselle. I expect we shall meet with you at Sir Melville’s ball tonight? Very good!” He concluded, carefully helping her into the carriage.
As Jeanne’s carriage drove away, she saw Lady Blakeney run out of the house and the couple embraced lovingly.
Inside the carriage, her thoughts ran wild. She knew not what to think; she had thought that perhaps Lady Blakeney held a secret regarding the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel; but then when she faced Sir Percy himself a distinctive something attracted her sensitive mind. For one thing she had found out that his love for his wife was hidden; it was quite obvious at parties and balls, where he regarded her with impassability. At last she concluded, and not without enthusiasm, that Sir Percy was playing a part—he was acting as in a play. She knew only too well that Sir Percy Blakeney was at least in contact with the Scarlet Pimpernel— or even in that elusive character’s league!
As Jeanne walked through the great doors of Sir Melville’s mansion she was once more faced with rich English possessions. And as she noticed the various French families come over from France, her heart suddenly longed more than ever for her own parents and sister still in dangerous France. She wondered where the Scarlet Pimpernel was, whether he was on his way to rescuing her family, or perhaps even on his way back with them.
She wondered why she was here, living in the midst of luxury, whilst her family was perhaps at risk of death across the channel.
With a sigh she concluded that she must live and be happy for them, until they were safe in England, and had evaded the cruel clutches of their home country and were safe in her arms. A silent prayer escaped her heart, begging her Lord to hurry their rescue.
“Mademoiselle!” turning, Jeanne was greeted by Sir Percy and Marguerite.
“How do you do this fine evening?” it was Sir Percy who spoke, as he put up his eye glass and examined her gown.
“Lud! How stunning you look, Mademoiselle. Does she not, m’dear?”
“Oh, yes!” replied Marguerite, smiling fondly on them both.
“But where is your chaperone, Jeanne?” she asked. “Have you not any friends in England?”
“No, my lady. Besides yourselves, I have not. But my family is to meet me here any day.”
“Are they? Where from?”
“The Scarlet Pimpernel has sworn to me that he will save them from the horrors of France, and I have but to wait.” She felt a quiver of longing cover her body.
“Oh my! I am sure you miss them cruelly, Jeanne!” cried Marguerite avidly, laying a considerate hand on her young friend’s arm.
“Oh yes, I do. I watch for the day when they shall be here in England—safe.”
Jeanne glanced at Sir Percy, and back at his wife. Though the former held his eyeglass in one eye and his lips were on the verge of repeating some sally, she could see some look—some feeling in those lazy blue eyes that seemed wholly unlike his public character. Jeanne could not explain that look, except that it was a look of pride mingled with passion.
The look was gone in an instant, but not before her keen mind had noted it and began the work of extorting the secret from it.
At that moment Lord Tony Dewhurst appeared.
“Why, good evening, Mademoiselle!” said he jovially.
“How are you enjoying yourself?”
“Quite well, Lord Tony. You are all too kind to me, a fugitive from France,” Jeanne replied, smiling shamefacedly, though within herself she was remembering that he was one of those who had rescued her.
“Ah, nonsense!” exclaimed the worthy gentleman with a twinkle in his merry eye. He had forgotten their episode and wished not to recover it.
“Come, I will not have you thanking us too much! Do take my hand in dance.”
She readily agreed. Though there had been an uncomfortable parting between them she resolved to forget it, seeing he was wholly determined in keeping the secret. It was not a friendship she was willing to forego only for something that troubled her.
Thus she left Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney’s side cheerfully and full of conversation; but when Lord Tony brought her back to her party, she was not so merry. Something she had seen had spoiled her pleasure for the moment and made her feel suddenly insecure. In truth, she had caught notice amongst the crowd a pair of bony, malicious hands, and two steely, cruel grey eyes.
“Chauvelin!” she exclaimed within herself, as those same dangerous-looking eyes seemed to notice her and mock her alarm. As Lord Tony deposited her beside Lady Blakeney—Sir Percy had gone to play a hand of cards with His Royal Highness—she gazed with uneasiness across the room toward Citizen Chauvelin.
“Jeanne, my dear?” Marguerite inquired. “Are you well?”
“Oh—yes! Of course, milady.” Jeanne quickly turned to her friend, trying to seem unruffled.
“But what were you looking at so awkwardly, my dear?”
Jeanne was sorry Marguerite had noticed her fear, and tried to divert her attention.
“Oh, nothing, Marguerite, I—I thought I had seen my family.” She felt guilty to be telling a lie to the one who felt for her most, but told herself she surely did not want to spoil Marguerite’s evening with the site of a dangerous citizen from France. Even without knowing of him—she thought Marguerite had not any acquaintance with him—Jeanne knew the features of Chauvelin would make anyone feel uneasy.
“Ah! I do hope the Scarlet Pimpernel brings them to you very soon.”
At that moment Lord Hastings requested to dance with Marguerite, and Jeanne was left alone.
She noticed Chauvelin approaching her.
“Why, Mademoiselle Andole,” he said slowly, as he drew close to her. “How do you do this evening?”
“Quite well, ci—monsieur Chauvelin.”
A dry, rasping laugh escaped his bloodless lips.
“Quite alright to call me ‘citizen’, mademoiselle,” he said in a coarse, amused tone of voice.
Jeanne, who hated Chauvelin more than any other Revolutionist besides Robespierre, but feared him even more, gathered her scattering courage. She convinced herself not to be afraid, for, she told herself, he could do no harm to her here in England without the public knowing and doing something about it.
“I prefer ‘monsieur’,” she therefore said coldly. Chauvelin took the dart admiringly—he never flinched, but glanced toward Marguerite, who had just finished the dance with Lord Hastings and was walking toward them.
“Very well, Mademoiselle,” he said. “I will take up no more of your time.” With a slow, methodic bow and a contemptuous smile he walked away, just as the two approached. They had seen Chauvelin in conversation with Jeanne, and whispered a few hurried words to each other.
Jeanne did not notice their confidence, but was relieved when she saw them. Marguerite glanced toward Chauvelin’s retreating figure, then turning to her friend, apparently unable to know what to say, at last spoke:
“Who was that, Jeanne?”
“Monsieur Chauvelin,” replied Jeanne hesitatingly, while a shudder ran down her spine. Marguerite let out a nervous laugh, during which she glanced an entreating glance toward Lord Hastings.
“Ah, Chauvelin!” she cried pleasantly. “I have only met him once and found him very dull. He is not at all affable, indeed not! I am sure you were very bored in his company, were you not?”
“Yes,” Jeanne managed to say clearly and with a smile. But something prevented her from shaking off the inevitable feeling of hate and fear for the man who had just walked away.
An awkward silence pursued for a moment or two, until Lord Hastings rescued them, changing the subject.
“Where is Sir Percy, Lady Blakeney? Is he in the card room? I noticed he is not making everyone laugh in this room.”
Lady Blakeney joined in his chuckle and replied, “Yes, he is playing a hand—or two—of cards with His Royal Highness. I do think he is in luck, he has stayed in there so long!”
Lady Blakeney and Lord Hastings turned to join Sir Percy, offering Jeanne to come with them. But she refused, making an excuse that she would like some quiet in an empty parlor.
“You are unwell, my dear!” cried Lady Blakeney concernedly.
“Indeed not, I have only had too much ballroom atmosphere for now.”
“Would it be better if Lord Hastings called for your carriage?”
“Oh no!” replied Jeanne. “I will be well in a few moments.”
In the end Jeanne persuaded Lady Blakeney that she was well enough to stay, and so Marguerite, arm in arm with Lord Hastings and in very high spirits, went to see what luck Sir Percy was in.
Jeanne, glad to be alone, made her way to an unused parlor. She had a slight head-ache, what with the recent events of the evening. Also she wanted to allow herself time to think, for what she had seen in Sir Percy’s face more than once needed thinking about. Entering a dimly-lit parlor, where chairs disarranged marked the evidence of recent occupants, Jeanne placed herself in one with a sigh of reprieve.
Looking over the events of the time she had been in England and her rescue, she tried to piece together the puzzle that filled her mind.
“He can’t be Lord Tony,” she said reflectively. There was something about Lord Tony that wholly excluded the thought. He was a member indeed, one of those who had brought her safely across the channel, and even more had helped in deriving her from the fearsome clutches of her government; but he was not the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, but an instrument of that mysterious person—he himself had made that impression upon her.
Suddenly Jeanne was interrupted in her thoughts by a slight rustling sound which caught her ear. It was a movement of feet on the soft carpet, and as Jeanne looked toward the entrance to see who the intruder was she recognized her antagonizer from just a few minutes ago—it was Chauvelin.
“Mademoiselle,” he said dryly. Jeanne felt a shiver run her spine at the word. He dared to call her mademoiselle!
She refrained from replying, so great was her resentment toward this blood-thirsty citizen from her beloved France; for she reflected that no coldness could express her antipathy.
At her silence Chauvelin smiled coolly—a dangerous cool, that made Jeanne look away much against her will.
“I was sorry not to have had much time for conversation with you, mademoiselle,” he said finally, walking toward her slowly, as if he enjoyed taunting her with his meanness.
“I know Lady Blakeney is not so kindly disposed toward me any longer, and desired not to start a scandal on this fine evening.”
His words puzzled Jeanne, who thought that Marguerite had never even heard of Chauvelin. She asked him in the coldest voice she could muster, all the while praying to God to give her mercy.
“What do you mean—monsieur?”
“What I mean is,” said Chauvelin slowly and meditatively, “that my acquaintance with Lady Blakeney has, over the years, gone cold. I would not wish to excite your bewilderment, mademoiselle, and so I will enlighten you.”
He paused, and scrutinized Jeanne’s face for any emotion therein. Indeed, Jeanne tried her best to hide the feeling of amazement from spreading over her features. More than that, a sense of wonder of what Chauvelin spoke of as their acquaintance “going cold” possessed her and gave her an impulse to know more.
But she would not allow Chauvelin to witness her eagerness. Silently she waited, for she would not speak for fear she would give him an idea of what she felt.
She was not long in waiting.
“Indeed, mademoiselle, we have known each other for quite some years. We were friends, I suppose, until she married our gallant Sir Percy Blakeney whom you hear now.” Something in Chauvelin’s voice told Jeanne of jealousy and hate. She could hear just then, at Chauvelin’s mention, the sound of Sir Percy’s voice repeating for the hundredth time his infamous poem about the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a peal of laughter and clapping as soon as he recited the last line. Jeanne could not help but role her eyes at the devil-may-care manner of Sir Percy as she listened.
Chauvelin, though fortunately he did not catch the last look in Jeanne’s eyes, smiled bitterly at the ghost of a smile that passed over Jeanne’s face. Then he continued, weighing every ounce of his words as he spoke them.
“Sir Percy is rich, I dare say, and handsome. More than rich, for if he were only rich and not wealthy, his efforts in his joyous pastime would be futile.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jeanne, so quickly and eagerly that she blushed and turned away so as not to allow Chauvelin to see her.
“Only that it would interest you to know,” began Chauvelin, speaking his words even slower and surer, and smiling the same bitter smile all the while,
“That Sir Percy is none other than the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
The effect he had desired to make on his victim certainly paid off. Jeanne’s face at first appeared red then became suddenly white. Her eyes at first spoke of unbelief, but then they became hard and cold. She would not permit Chauvelin’s steely gray eyes to perceive that she believed him.
“It is only too true, I am afraid, mademoiselle,” she heard Chauvelin’s voice above the din of her own thoughts. “Perhaps he would not mind a small aide memoire in regards to your family back in France.” He paused once more, studying Jeanne’s face for feeling before he continued.
“For, I am sorry to inform you, your family has been arrested on charge of treason only yesterday.”
With that he stood, and without a word or bow, left Jeanne alone, a million thoughts chasing each other across her weary mind.
Jeanne, as soon as Chauvelin was out of sight, immediately let her emotions run free. Now that she was alone once more, she spoke in a whisper to herself, only this time she was in an agony of mixed feelings.
“It can’t be true! It can’t!” she told herself over and over, but to no avail. Chauvelin would be right this time, though she wanted not to believe it having heard it from those bloodless, wicked lips.
“Oh God, help me!” she cried. For some reason she was sorry she had found out what had filled her mind ever since she had been rescued by him—“Sir Percy?—the Scarlet Pimpernel?” She tried to convince herself that it was not true, that Chauvelin—for some absurd reason—had lied to her. But no; the Scarlet Pimpernel was too important a matter for Chauvelin—who, she happened to know, had once been on a very high seat in the Committee of Public Safety until an attempt to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel had lowered him considerably in his position. He would not play around with the fact of his identity. And Jeanne seemed to remember a rumor that went around in her home town—Calais—that Citizen Chauvelin held the secret to the Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity.
In bewilderment she tried to piece everything together, but it seemed too trivial to do so; for the facts stared her in the face with so much meaning that she at last gave up the attempt. Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, who stood even now joking in the other room, had written the note to her which even now she could feel close to her heart beneath her chiffon. He had promised more than a week ago in writing to bring her family safely back to England; her beloved family whom, Chauvelin had just made light to her, had been arrested and even now awaited the fate of the guillotine. And his wife, the sensitive and beautiful Lady Blakeney who had just befriended her—Jeanne had been so puzzled at the attention with which Sir Percy was treated by Marguerite. She had wondered why Marguerite looked at him with shining, proud eyes, with some secret in them that now she—Jeanne—knew.
Dared he—dared Sir Percy to stand so care-free, repeating sallies and jokes, knowing that the girl to whom he promised a safe return of her family was in sole agony of their fate? He must know that she awaited their return with bated breath. He must have seen the longing in her eyes when she told Lady Blakeney where her family was. At last Jeanne concluded that Sir Percy—the Scarlet Pimpernel—did not care so much to devote all his time to the rescue of her family.
With shaking hands Jeanne pulled out her handkerchief, hardly expecting to find any tears on her face, but there was; indeed, why should she weep? Why should she, who had desired to know the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and who now she found did not keep to his promise—why should she be sorry? His folly in forgetting about his promise would mean the death of her family; she would never see them again, because the Scarlet Pimpernel had not stayed in France and kept his promise to her. What a fool she was, she told herself, to weep in this knowledge! She knew now that which she had tried to wrest from Sir Anthony Dewhurst—and how much that knowledge would do for her! Now that she knew that the Scarlet Pimpernel would not hold to his promise she dare not waste a moment. She knew there was nothing else to do but to bring them herself—though she knew how feeble she was in that way, she knew that with the help of her Lord and with anything He chose to throw in her way—please God He would!—she would bring them home herself, albeit she died with them. How much better that would be than to live knowing they were dead!
End of Book One