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The adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel:

by Baroness Orczy


HEAVENS above, the indignation! The entire commune of Bordet was outraged: its rampant patriotism was stirred to its depths.

  Think of it! That abominable gang of English desperadoes had been at work in the region. Aye! within a stone's throw of Bordet itself. For Bordet is an important commune, look you! Situated less than half a dozen leagues from Paris, and possessing a fine château which might be termed a stronghold, it had the proud distinction of having harboured important prisoners at different times--aristos, awaiting condemnation and death--when the great prisons of the capital were, mayhap, over-full, or it was thought more expedient to erect a guillotine on the spot.

  Thus it was that the ci-devant Bishop of Chenonceaux--a man of eighty who should have known better than to defy the law--and the equally old Curé de Venelle had been incarcerated in Fort St. Arc, and it was from there, and on the very eve of the arrival of Mme la Guillotine and her attendant executioner on a visit to Bordet, that those two old calotins were spirited away under the very nose of Citizen Sergeant Renault, one of the shrewdest soldiers in the department and more keen after spies than a terrier is after rats.

  Sergeant Renault was soundly rebuked for what was mercifully termed his carelessness, and he was ordered off to defy Holland to rejoin his regiment, there to expiate his misdemeanour by fighting against the English. And good luck to him, if he came home with all his fingers and toes and the tip still on his nose. The authorities in Paris, on the other hand, despatched a special officer down to Bordet to take over the command of the detachment of National Guard stationed at Fort St. Arc, as well as to supervise the organization of the police in the district.

  Now, if the English spies dared to show their ugly faces in Bordet they would have to deal with Citizen Papillon--a very different man to that fool Renault, whose popularity and reputation had effectually gone down with him. A day or two after the arrival of Papillon, a batch of prisoners were brought to Fort St. Arc: ci-devant priests--contumacious ones, so 'twas understood--from villages over Orléans way, whose crimes against the new laws regulating the administration of religion were too many to enumerate. No wonder that the authorities in Paris required a man of Papillon's shrewdness and enthusiasm to guard these against the possible interference of that master-spy--the mysterious Englishman, known throughout the country as the Scarlet Pimpernel.

  Papillon, sitting in state in the Taverne des Trois Rats, surrounded by an admiring crowd of citizens, gave it as his opinion that not the devil himself--so be it there was a devil--could spirit the aristos out of St. Arc.

  "And look you," he went on sententiously, "look you, citizens all! It has come to my ears, that there are those among you who, for filthy lucre, have actually lent a hand to those abominable English spies in their treacherous devices against the security of the State. Now, let me tell you this: if I catch any man of you thus trafficking with those devils I will shoot him on sight like a dog!"

  And he looked so fierce when he said this, and rolled his eyes so ferociously that many a man felt an icy shiver coursing down his spine.

  "Therefore," concluded Citizen Papillon, "if any one of you here know aught of the doings of that gang of malefactors, or of the place of their abode, let him come forward now like a man, and a patriot, and impart such information to me."

  There was silence after that--silence all the more remarkable as the Taverne des Trois Rats was densely packed with men, all of whom hung spellbound on the irascible sergeant's lips. Citizen Papillon, having delivered himself of such sound patriotic principles, proceeded to quench his thirst, and whilst he did so, the silence gradually broke, firstly into a soft murmur, then into louder whispering; finally a few words were distinguishable above a general hum which sounded now like the buzzing inside a beehive.

  "Tell him, Citizen Chapeau!" one or two men kept on repeating in a hoarse whisper. "It is thy duty to tell."

  Thus admonished and egged on too by sundry prods from persuasive elbows and fists, a tall, ungainly youth slowly worked his way in and out of the forest of tables, chair, and intervening humanity, until he came within a few feet of the redoubtable Papillon, where he remained standing, obviously timid and undecided.

  "Well, Citizen, what is it?" the Sergeant condescended to say in an encouraging tone of voice.

  "It is--it is that--" the youth answered. Then he suddenly blurted out the whole astounding fact: "It is that I know where the English spies have their night quarters!" he said.

  "What?" And Sergeant Papillon nearly fell off his chair, so staggered and excited was he. He appeared quite speechless for the moment, nor did Chapeau say anything more: his courage had once more sunk into his sabots. Then someone volunteered the remark:

  "Citizen Glapeau lives on the outskirts of the commune. His father is a mender of boats."

  "Well, what of that?" Papillon demanded.

  "My father and I have seen strange forms of late prowling about the river bank o' nights," Chapeau said with a swift if transitory return to courage.

  Papillon, with characteristic keenness, seized upon these scanty facts, and within a few minutes had dragged from the timid Chapeau all the information he needed.

  Chapeau's story was simple enough. Close to the river bank, not a quarter of a league from his father's hut, there was a derelict cottage. Citizen Papillon would not know it, as he was a stranger in these parts, but everyone in Bordet knew the place and could go to it blindfolded. Eh bien! Chapeau could swear he had seen vague forms moving about inside the cottage and, in fact--in fact--well, he himself had taken wine and food there once or twice--oh, certainly not more than twice--at the command of a tall foreigner, who might have been an Englishman.

  This was neither the place nor the time to deal with Chapeau's misdemeanour in the matter of parleying with and feeding the enemies of the country. Sergeant Papillon for the nonce contented himself with admonishing the delinquent and frightening him into a state bordering on imbecility. After which he turned to his subordinate, Corporal Joly, and fell to whispering with him. It was understood that measures were being taken for a nocturnal expedition against the English spies, and after awhile the agitated throng fled out of the Taverne des Trois Rats and men returned to their homes to ponder over the events which were about to plunge the peaceful commune of Bordet into a veritable hurricane of excitement.



  The derelict cottage which stood with its back to the towpath had no roof; only two of its outside walls were whole, the others, built of mud and stone, had partially fallen in. Inside, the place was littered with debris of plaster and of lath: the front door had gone, leaving a wide, shapeless gap in its place: the inside walls were partly demolished, and there was no trace of any staircase.

  In the shelter of these ruins vague forms were moving. The night was dark and very still after the rain. The moon was up, but invisible behind a thin veiling of clouds which tempered her light into a grey half-tone that lay over the river like a ghost-like pall and made the shadows appear almost solid upon the banks. The miscellaneous noises which during the day filled the immediate neighbourhood of the towpath with life and animation had long since died away: all sounds were stilled in the direction of the boat-mender's workshop some two hundred mètres away. All that could be heard now was the soughing of the night-breeze through the reeds or the monotonous drip-drip of lingering raindrops from the branches of the willow trees. Even the waterfowl and tiny, prowling beasts were at rest, and the lazy river made no sound as she lapped her flat banks with silent somnolence.

  The men who were sheltering in the derelict cottage did not speak. They were of the type whom a life of adventure and of deadly perils constantly affronted, had endorsed with the capacity for perfect quietude and protracted silences. It is only the idle and shallow-witted who are for ever restless and discursive. Of time, they took no count: the whole of the night was before them, with its every moment mapped out for action and for thought.

  Then suddenly one of them spoke:

  "They should be here by now," he said in a soft whisper, scarce distinguishable from the soughing of the wind among the rushes, "unless the worthy Papillon has changed his mind. You'll have to hold them a good quarter of an hour when they do come," he added, with a pleasant laugh.

  A happy chuckle came in response to this command.

  He who had first spoken straightened out his tall figure and gazed above the low parapet of broken masonry toward the remote distance where the solid, irregular pile of Fort St. Arc stood out spectral, almost weird, against the midnight sky.

  "When Ffoulkes and I have done our work," he resumed after awhile, "we'll meet as arranged. I don't know how many of us there will be, but we'll do our best."

  "I believe that my information is correct," another voice put in quietly. "There are half a dozen old priests shut up in the topmost story of the tower they call Duchesse Anne."

  "Nothing could be better," the chief went on, "as the tower is close to the river and very easy of access. I wonder, now," he added thoughtfully, "why they chose it."

  "I wondered, too," the other assented. "It seems the prisoners were moved in there yesterday."

  "Well, so long as we have the boats . . ."

  "We have two: and Hastings is in charge of them, in the backwater just below the Venelle woods."

  "Then there is nothing more to arrange," the chief concluded, "and so long as you, Tony, and Holte can keep that fool Papillon and his detachment off our hands until they are too tired to do more mischief, Ffoulkes and I will have ample time for our work and should certainly be at the back-water before dawn."

  Before any of the others could give reply, however, he gave a peremptory: "Hush!" then added quickly: "Here they are! Come, Ffoulkes!"

  To any but a practised ear, the silence of the night was still unbroken: only such men as these, whose senses were keyed up to the presence of danger, like the beasts in the desert or jungle, could have perceived that soft and subtle sound of men stirring far away. A detachment of the National Guard was in truth moving forward stealthily along the towpath and the adjacent fields from the direction of Bordet: their thinly-shod feet made no noise on the soft, rain-sodden earth. They crept along, their backs bent nearly double, they carried their muskets in their hands and each man had a pistol in his belt.

  In the derelict cottage all was silence again. Of the four men who had been there, two had gone. These two were also creeping along under cover of the darkness, but their way lay in the direction of Bordet. They appeared as one with the shadows of the night, which enveloped them as in a shroud. At times they crawled flat on their faces, like reptiles in the ditches, at others they flitted like spectres across an intervening field.

  When, after awhile, the body of Papillon's men was in their rear, they struck boldly across to the towpath, and thereafter, with elbows held to their sides, swiftly and with measured tread they ran along towards Fort St. Arc. At a distance of some two hundred mètres from the pile they halted. A spinney composed of alders, birch, and ash gave them shelter; the undergrowth below hid them from view.

  "What disgusting objects we must look," one of the men said with a quaint, happy laugh. "I vow that confounded mud has even got into my teeth."

  He drew a scented handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped his face and hands.

  "I wonder," he said, musing, "if it is possible for any man to be quite such a fool as Papillon appears. Well, we shall see."

  The other, in the meanwhile, had groped his way to a dense portion in the undergrowth, whence after some searching in the dark, he brought out a bundle of clothes.

  "Hastings has not failed us," he said simply. "And the others will be waiting in the Venelle woods."

  Whereupon the two men proceeded to divest themselves of the rough and mud-stained garments which they were wearing, and to don the clothes which their friend had laid ready for them. These consisted of uniforms of the National Guard, a disguise oft affected by members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel: blue coats with red facings, white breeches and high, black gaiters reaching above the knee, all very much worn and stained.

  "Excellent!" the taller of the two men said when he had fastened the last button. "Now, Ffoulkes, remember! You wait below until I give the signal. You have the rope, of course?"

  He did not wait for a reply, but started to walk at a quick pace towards the fort. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Bart., one of the smartest exquisites in London, followed close on his heels, with a heavy-knotted rope wound around his person.

  Everything had been pre-arranged. Within a few minutes the two men had reached the edge of the spinney, and the irregular pile of the old fort, with the tower known as the Duchesse Anne in the foreground, rose grim and majestic above them. The Duchesse Anne was an irregular heptagonal tower surmounted by a battlement. There were only two small windows, one above the other, in the façade which fronted the spinney: they were perched high up, close to the battlemented room; one of these windows, the lower one of the two, showed a dim light.

  Above it, to the immediate left, there was a square, flat projection which might have served as a look-out place or a concealing closet. A tiny window was cut into its face. To the right and left of the tower, the irregular roofs and battlements of the fort, some of them in ruins, all of them obviously neglected and disused, rose in irregular masses against the sky. Shallow, rocky slopes, covered with rough grasses and shrubs, led up to the foot of the fort, save where these had been cut into to form a bridge that led to the main entrance portal. The night had become very dark. Heavy clouds were rolling in from the south-west, completely obliterating the moon, and a few heavy raindrops had begun to fall.

  Sir Andrew Ffoulkes now wound the knotted rope around his chief's body, and a minute later the latter began his ascent of the slopes. Immediately the darkness swallowed him up. Sir Percy Blakeney, one of the most powerful athletes of his time, was possessed of almost abnormal physique and was as agile as a cat. To him the climbing of a rough, stone wall did not present the slightest difficulty. Here, a century-old ivy and a stout iron pipe gave him all the help he needed. Within five minutes he was on a level with the lower of the two windows--the one which showed a dim light, like a sleepy, half-open eye, through the darkness clinging with one hand to the ivy and with the other to a stone projection, he peeped in through the window. It was innocent of glass. One bar of iron divided it vertically in two, leaving, so Sir Percy ascertained at once, sufficient space for the passage of a human body. The room on which it gave was large and bare. Blakeney, for the space of a second or two, thought it was empty. He seized the iron bar and limbed upon the sill; this gave him a commanding view of the room. It was innocent of furniture, save for one chair, and in the corner, on a level with the window, a table.

  In front of this table, kneeling upon the floor, and with their heads buried in their hands, six men were kneeling. Sir Percy could only see their backs, clad in black soutanes, shiny at the seams, threadbare across the shoulders, and the worn soles of their shoes. The men were praying. One of them was reciting a Litany: the others gave the responses.

  Without another thought, Sir Percy Blakeney threw one shapely leg over the window-sill, then the other, and dropped gently down into the room.

  In one moment the six men were on their feet, with a loud cry of triumph which had nothing priestly in its ring, and through which one voice, hoarse with excitement, rang out commanding and distinct.

  "My gallant Scarlet Pimpernel, so then we meet at last!"



  In less time than that of a heart-beat Sir Percy realized the magnitude of the trap which had been laid for him. In less than one second he saw himself surrounded; at a call from his first assailants, half a dozen more men had rushed into the room; he felt a dozen pairs of hands laid about his person and heard the cries of exultation and the shouts of derision. He saw the pale eyes of his arch-enemy Chauvelin glistening with triumphant malice as they met his own across the room.

  A dozen pairs of hands! No wonder that Chauvelin called to him with a complacent grin.

  "I think we have fairly caught you this time, eh, my fine gentleman!"

  He looked so evil just then, so cruel and withal so triumphant that Blakeney's imperturbable humour got the better of his grim sense of danger. He threw back his head and a loud, merry peal of laughter woke the echoes of the old fort.

  "By Gad!" he said lightly. "I verily believe, sir, that you have."

  They thought that he meant to sell his life dearly; one or two of them raised the butt-ends of their pistols, ready to strike the struggling lion on the head. But that struggle was brief. Just once he freed himself from them all. Just once did he send one or two of his assailants, with a mighty blow of his powerful fists, sprawling, half-senseless, against the wall. Just once did Hébert--Hébert who had a heavy score to settle against the Scarlet Pimpernel--raise a knife, and would have dealt a death-blow to the fighting giant in the back, but it was Chauvelin himself who struck the would-be assassin such a heavy blow on the wrist with his pistol, that the knife fell with a clatter to the ground.

  "You fool," he said with a snarl, "this is not the time to kill him."

  At that same moment Blakeney raised his hand, and before anyone could intervene he flung something white and heavy with unerring precision and lightning rapidity through the window. But what was one man's strength--even if it be almost superhuman--against the weight of numbers?

  "You are caught, my fine Scarlet Pimpernel!" Chauvelin kept on repeating in a shrill, excited voice, and rubbed his thin, claw-like hands complacently one against the other "You are caught at last and this time . . ."

  He left the sentence uncompleted, but there was a world of vengeful malice in those unspoken words. Quickly enough the end came. One man used the butt-end of his pistol and struck at the lion from behind. The blow caught him at the back of the head and for a moment his senses reeled: whereupon they got him down flat upon the table and tied him to it with the knotted rope which he had about him.

  Even through half-swooning senses, he was aware of Chauvelin's thin, colourless face thrust close to his own.

  "Fairly caught, eh, my gallant Pimpernel?" the Terrorist whispered with a malicious chortle; "there are four calotins in the room above and you have fallen like a bird into my trap this time."

  "Aye! and been trussed like a fowl," Sir Percy gave cool reply. "The last time you trussed me like this was on the sands off Calais. On that occasion too you had donned clerical garb, my friend. 'Tis all of good augury."

  Chauvelin laughed; he felt secure at last. No more bargaining with the Scarlet Pimpernel, no more parleyings. The guillotine here in the courtyard of the fort as soon as it could be brought down from Paris. He would send a courier for it at once. In less than twelve hours, it could be here. In the meanwhile, unless indeed supernatural agencies were at work, there was no fear that this trussed bundle of anguished humanity could escape out of this trap.

  Blakeney securely tied to the table, with several mètres of rope wound about his body, was as helpless as his most bitter enemy could have wished. For the nonce he seemed to have lost consciousness. He lay quite still, with eyes closed, and slender hands--the hands of an idealist and of an exquisite--hanging limp and nerveless from the wrist.

  That was the last vision which Chauvelin had of him as he finally went out of the room in the wake of his friends. They took the lantern away with them and left the captured giant in darkness. After which they filed out through the door and pushed the heavy bolts home. Even so half a dozen men were left on guard outside: the others quietly went their way, satisfied.



  How long Sir Percy remained thus pinioned in total darkness, he could not have told you. Time for him had ceased to be. That he had not been altogether blind to the possibility of this danger was proved by the fact that he had a message ready for Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, in his pocket, carefully weighted with a disc of lead. It contained less than half a dozen words and was characteristic both of the man and of his friends, in whom he trusted. The words were "Am helpless. Wait for signal." This message he had succeeded in flinging out of the window before he had been finally overpowered. He was quite convinced in his own mind that if Sir Andrew received the missile, nothing short of death itself would move him from his post. He would watch and wait.

  All that prescience could accomplish had therefore been done; from henceforth luck, indomitable will and untiring pluck could alone save this reckless adventurer from the consequence of his own daring.

  Indomitable will and pluck--the pluck to wait and to remain quiescent at this moment when the husbanding of strength perhaps meant ultimate safety. He did not struggle, nor did he waste his energies, great as they were, in futile attempts to free himself from his bonds. The men, who had set the cunning trap, were not likely to have bungled over the tying of knots; therefore Blakeney, pinioned and helpless, was content to wait and to watch--to watch for this swift passage of fortune--the quaint, old saying in which he had so often professed belief: "Of fortune the wayward god with the one hair upon his bald pate, the one hair which he, who is bold may seize and therewith enchain the god to his chariot."

  He waited and listened. No sound came from the other side of the door: the soldiers on guard were probably asleep; but overhead men were stirring; shuffling footsteps moved to and fro across the floor. The old calotins were watching and praying, and he who had set out to rescue them lay like an insentient log, the victim of a clumsy feint. At thought of this Sir Percy swore inwardly, and his fine, sensitive lips broke into a self-deprecating smile.

  But presently he fell asleep.

  When he awoke, he did so because the darkness about him had become less dense. The moon had tom a rent in her mantle of clouds: she peeped in through the window; a shaft of her pale, cold light lay along the floor.

  Pinioned as he was, Sir Percy could not do more than slightly raise his head and turn his eyes so as to search with cat-like glance the remotest angles of his prison. Then suddenly his roaming eyes alighted upon an object which lay on the floor just beneath the window. A knife! the one wherewith Hébert had tried to stab him and which Chauvelin had knocked out of his colleague's hand. There it had lain all this while--an unseen salvation.

  Strength? of course it required strength! and pluck and determination! But here was a man who had all three in a more than a human degree. Tied to the table, his arms and legs helpless, he had just his powerful shoulders as a leverage, and to a certain extent his elbows. With their aid he started first a gentle oscillating movement of the table, which was a rickety one, the floor being old too, made of deal planks roughly put together and very uneven. Gradually by regular pressure first with one shoulder and elbow, then with the other, the table rocked more and more: presently it tottered, partly swung back again, staggered again and finally came down with a terrific clatter on the floor, bearing its human burden with it to the ground. A broken arm, leg, or shoulder? Perhaps! The adventurer would not think of that! If he did not succeed in getting out of this, he would be no worse off with a broken limb than he had been before. And there was always the chance! At this moment it meant life to him and to others.

  The fraças had, of course, roused the soldiers on guard. Sir Percy lying prone now, with the table on top of him, heard them stirring the other side of the door. Anon the bolts were pushed open, the heavy latch lifted. The chance! my God, the chance! The chance of what those miserable soldiers would do when they found the prisoner in such a precarious position. And then there was the knife! My God, do not let them see that knife . . . and guess! Blakeney lying there, half-numb with the fall, bruised more than he knew, could just perceive its dim outline in the penumbra less than half a dozen feel: away. There followed a couple of minutes of suspense more agonizing perhaps than any through which the bold Scarlet Pimpernel had gone through this night. He heard the footsteps of the soldiers entering the room. One, two, three of them. One came up close to him, and laughed. Then the others laughed too. No doubt, the mysterious Englishman, endowed by popular superstition with supernatural powers, looked mightily ridiculous, lying there upon his face with table legs towering above him. Obviously the soldiers thought so too, looked upon his plight as a huge joke, and laughed and laughed; one of them adding to the joke by kicking the pinioned foe. Then they all retired, and went back to their interrupted sleep. Blakeney heard the violent closing of the door, the grating of the heavy bolts in their socket, then nothing more.

  The knife still lay there on the ground, not half a dozen feet away, and the moon once more veiled her light behind a bank of grey clouds.

  To drag himself along the ground with scarcely any noise was still a difficult task, but it was not a superhuman one. Slowly, painfully but surely Blakeney soon lessened the distance between himself and that weapon of salvation. Five minutes later his hand had closed on the knife, and he was rubbing its edge against that portion of the rope which he was able to reach. The labour was arduous and time was speeding on. Darkness had once more become absolute: through the open window there came the scent of moisture, and the faint sound of dripping rain upon the ivy-leaves. A distant church-clock struck three--two hours then before the break of dawn!--two hours and there was such a lot more to be done.

  A quarter of an hour later the first piece of rope had given way, and the slow process of disentangling it had begun. It required an infinity of patience and above all absolute noiselessness. But it was done in time. At last the prisoner was free from the rope and he was able gently to crawl away from under the table. A moment later he was at the window peering out in the darkness. A thin drizzle was falling, and the soft, moist air of early morning cooled his burning forehead.

  "By God!" he murmured to himself. "May I never be in so tight a hole again. All my compliments, my good M. Chauvelin. The trap was magnificently laid. But I was a fool to fall into it. I wonder if there is anyone down there now----"

  Leaning out of the window, he detached a small piece of loose mortar from the outside wall and let it fall into the depth below. At once his keen ear detected the sound of men stirring down there, sitting up, mayhap, to listen, or merely turning over in their sleep.

  "They've left nothing to chance," he murmured with a good-humoured chuckle. Fortunately, when his enemies brought him down they had not searched through his pockets, so now from an inner one he took a pencil and a tablet, and, blindly, for the darkness was complete, he wrote a long message to his friend. When he had finished, he listened for a moment; no sound now came from below; whereupon he gave a gentle call, like the melancholy hooting of an owl. It was answered immediately from out of the midst of the spinney, and Blakeney then flung the second message to Sir Andrew--a message of instructions, on the fulfilment of which depended not so much his own life, as that of four helpless, innocent priests.

  After which he wound the precious, knotted rope once more around his person, threw one leg over the sill, and, a moment later, started to climb once more up the side of the ancient, ivy-covered wall.



  Midnight had struck at the church tower of Ste Cunégonde when Sergeant Papillon returned from his expedition to the derelict cottage. After a siege lasting over a quarter of an hour, during which those satané Englishmen had kept up a wild fusillade from the ruined house and succeeded in putting half a dozen of Papillon's best men hors de combat, the Sergeant had given the order to charge, and the men had, indeed, boldly rushed into the place--only to find the cottage entirely deserted! It was scoured in every nook and cranny, but not a sign of human life could there be found, nothing but the usual heap of debris, the litter of broken laths, of masonry and scrap-iron. The Englishmen had vanished as if the earth had swallowed them up. Indeed, the silence and desolation appeared spectral and terrifying. And it was in very truth the earth that had swallowed up those mad Englishmen. They must have crept through a disused drain which gave from a back room of the cottage direct into the bank of the river. Here they must have lain perdu half-in and half-out of the water, hidden by the reeds, until the soldiers were busy searching the cottage, when no doubt they made their way, under cover of the reeds, and along the bank to a place of safety.

  Papillon had been obliged to leave the wounded in the derelict cottage and had returned somewhat crestfallen, glad to find that his discomfiture was not counted against him. In very truth he could not guess that his expedition had succeeded over-well in its object, which was to throw dust in the eyes of that astute Scarlet Pimpernel by persuading him that here were a lot of louts and fools whom it was mighty easy to hoodwink. Since then the mysterious Englishman had been captured and was now lying a helpless prisoner in one of the topmost rooms of the Duchesse Anne. There was nothing to fear from him. The English spy, completely helpless, was so well guarded, that not a host of his hobgoblins could trick his warders now. A dozen men outside his door, he himself little more than an insentient log, and a good watch at the foot of the tower! What cabalistic power was there to free him from it all? Chauvelin, Hébert and the other Terrorists--all members of the Committee of Public Safety, who looked strangely out of the picture in their clerical garb, with the tricolour sash peeping out beneath their soutanes--finally retired satisfied, leaving Papillon and the men whom he had brought back with him on duty in the guard-room for the night. They would be relieved one hour before break of dawn.

  It all occurred when the church-clock of Ste Cunégonde was striking four. Some of the soldiers had been relieving the tedium of the night by playing dominoes, others by recounting the legendary adventures which popular belief ascribed to the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. All around, the place was still. It was good to think of that turbulent Englishman lying so still and helpless in the room above. Then suddenly the voice of the sentry rang with a quick challenge through the silence of the night. It was immediately followed by the sharp report of a musket-shot, and before Papillon and his men could collect their somewhat sleepy senses the passage and vestibule outside the guard-room, as well as the courtyard beyond, were filled with awesome sounds of men shouting, of hoarse commands, of cries, objurgations and curses. Papillon stepped out of the guard-room. In a moment the confused hubbub was changed into the one terrifying phrase repeated by a number of rushing, gesticulating men: "The Englishman has escaped!"

  "Where? How?"

  But nobody could say for certain. The facts appeared to be that the sentry at the bridge-head had heard a sound, and seen a man running from the direction of the river. Both the sentinels fired, but in the darkness they missed their man. Just then the detachment of National Guard, who had come from their headquarters at Bordet to relieve Papillon, came into view at the bridge-head. With them was one of the members of the Committee of Public Safety, still in his clerical garb and with the tricolour scarf gleaming beneath his soutane. He shouted a peremptory order: "After him, Citizen Soldiers! or by Satan your heads shall pay for it, if the Englishman escapes!" This order the sentry dared not disobey, seeing whence it came, and both the men immediately gave chase, aided by those who had been on guard at the foot of Duchesse Anne.

  But beyond that no one knew anything definite, and presently the question was raised: "Had the Englishman really escaped?"

  This, Sergeant Papillon set out immediately to ascertain. A winding stone staircase leads from the vestibule into the tower. He went up, followed by his own men, while the relief guard remained in the vestibule.

  No sooner, however, had the last of the Sergeant's men disappeared round the bend of the stairs, than these newcomers silently and without haste filed out of the vestibule, crossed the narrow courtyard, the entrance portal and the bridge, and a minute later had disappeared amidst the undergrowth of the spinney. Stealthily, warily, but with unerring certainty they made their way through the thick scrub, striking inland first then immediately behind St. Arc and back toward the river. They had thus walked in a complete semi-circle around the fort, and reached that portion of it which consists of a hollow, ruined tower rising sheer out of the water and abutting on the battlemented roof of the main building.

  "Now," said one of the men in a quick whisper, "we should soon be seeing Blakeney up there, and those poor old priests being lowered by him from the roof."

  Hardly were the words out of his mouth than the melancholy cry of an owl came softly sounding from the battlements above.

  "And here he is! God bless him!" came fervently as if in unison from the hearts of the others.

  Blakeney had succeeded in the task which he had set out to do. He had climbed into the room under the roof where four unfortunate priests had been imprisoned, preparatory to their being sent to death, for the crime of adhering to their religion and administering it in the way they believed the Divine Master had taught them to do. Their gallant rescuer had soon found a means of breaking through the ceiling and getting out upon the roof. With the help of the table, the chairs, and the precious rope, he contrived to aid these four unfortunates to escape from their hideous prison. They were sturdy country-folk, these old priests, and did not shrink from perilous adventure, encouraged as they were by a kindly voice and helped along by a sure and firm hand.

  And whilst the Duchesse Anne tower, the staircases, vestibule and courtyard of the fort were singing from end to end with shouts, and words of command, with curses and derisive laughter, the Scarlet Pimpernel, in a remote corner of the fort which the tumult and confusion had not yet reached carefully lowered his four old protégés down from the roof into the arms of his friends. Quietly he did it, without haste and without delay, but aided by the members of his league not one whit less devoted, less resourceful than he. There were just five minutes in which the work of rescue had to be done; after which the confusion and the search would spread to this lonely spot, and the noble act of self-sacrifice would have been offered up in vain.

  But it was all accomplished in the time, and soon the little party, under cover of that darkest moment which comes just before the dawn, were speeding up the river bank toward the Venelle woods, where in a lonely backwater one of their gallant band of heroes was waiting for them with the boats.

  The chief was the last to step into the boat, and as the others began to row, and the four old priests reverently whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, he looked with eyes curiously filled with regret on the grim pile that stood out vaguely silhouetted against the dark sky.

  "By Gad!" he murmured with an entirely happy little laugh. "I would not have missed this night's adventure for a fortune. I am quite sorry to go."


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