Volume Six: containing two adventures—‘Sir Percy Leads the Band’ & ‘Mam’zelle Guillotine’
Sir Percy Blakeney is not to be taken too seriously. In late 18th century England he is little more than a man given to trivial pleasures, an aristocratic and wealthy fop, unconcerned with politics or events on the other side of the English Channel where the France of the Bourbons has been violently swept away by the zealots of revolution. What is it to Sir Percy that the ‘Reign of Terror’ has cast its shadow over all of France, or that the heads of innocents fall daily into the baskets of the guillotines of the Convention? Nothing? Well no, for Sir Percy is leading a double life with a dangerous secret identity. He is in reality the opposite of his apparently ‘true’ self. He is ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, an expert swordsman, a master of disguise, a dare-devil, quick-thinking escape artist and, together with his band of like-minded adventurers, a man on a mission to rescue those unjustly condemned to die. So successful is he in this endeavour that soon ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ is famous as an heroic defender of the weak and oppressed, and notorious as an opponent of the officers and agents of the revolution (including the dastardly Citizen Chauvelin) who are determined, at all costs, to bring him to account on the ‘national razor’. They seek him here, there and everywhere but catching ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ is quite another matter! In creating this fictional hero, Baroness Orczy (1865-1947) has given her readership a thrilling character in a unique series of historical, action-packed romps whose popularity is destined to endure. All the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ adventures have been gathered together by Leonaur in a coordinated collection of good value volumes.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Men with stentorian voices and wearing tricolour scarves round their waists toured the country in luxurious chaises and harangued the populace of towns and villages from improvised rostrums set up outside estaminets or public buildings. With impassioned words and gestures they pilloried those who had dared to own land which rightfully belonged to tillers of the soil or houses which were obviously the property of those who had built them with their own hands. The fact that some of those houses, like the château of Labat, had been built two or three hundred years ago, had nothing to do with the principle enunciated by these wine-shop orators and the impecunious Artesians were ready enough to swallow the bait cast to them by these mischiefmakers intent on fishing in troubled waters.
Everything then was made ready for the start on the morrow. The ci-devant marquise was hustled in the small hours of the morning into the diligence which stood outside the back door of the Commissariat of Police.
She was not allowed to bid goodbye to her children who had been incarcerated in a separate cell from hers. The poor woman had been gagged and trussed with cords and been rendered half unconscious by blows before the men detailed for this abominable work succeeded in getting her locked up in the diligence. Only an hour later was the gag removed from her mouth, and her arms and legs freed from the cords. When she opened her eyes, she found herself propped up in a corner of the vehicle and all around her there were a number of men who stood or sat there in stony silence, filling all the available space inside the coach. It remained at a standstill, and the only light by which Eve was able to take stock of her surroundings came from a small lantern outside. After a time, she tried to speak, asked a timid question or two but she received no answer. It would be impossible even to attempt to describe what that poor woman suffered in mind and body during the whole of that awful night.
To call her experience a nightmare would be to understate what she went through. For it was no dream. Rather was it hell upon earth. The parting from her children had been the worst of the many ordeals she had had to undergo in these past four years of anxiety and sorrow; and now, when she sat huddled in a corner of the diligence not knowing what had become of them and with those grim and silent men keeping guard over her, she thought that she had at last reached the abysmal depths of misery. In vain did she try and infuse hope into her stricken soul. In vain did she make brave efforts to keep two magic words before her mind: “Whatever happens . . .” She kept on reiterating them, forcing herself to trust and believe but alas! no longer succeeding. Surely when those brave Englishmen planed her rescue they had not anticipated this.
The dawn broke, grey and dim, and very cold. It had snowed all night. The diligence was driven round to the open Market Square in front of the main door of the commissariat, where a score of troopers from the 61st Regiment of Cavalry were already lined up. Citizeness Damiens was early on the scene, giving orders, seeing to it that every man had his arms and accoutrements in perfect condition, encouraging, admonishing, full of excitement and energy. Once she opened the door of the diligence and peeped in to have a look at the men inside, and also to gloat over her victim. She called out with a strident laugh:
“This is what it felt like, Eve de Nesle, inside a dungeon of the Bastille with nothing to dream of for sixteen years except revenge. I thought you would like to know.”
She slammed the door and turned to find herself in the embrace of André Renaud.
“That’s right, my cabbage,” he said and imprinted a smacking kiss on her neck; “don’t spare that vermin. Give it them hot and strong.”
He had arrived on the scene with another score of troopers for use as escort if required. A hooded cart into which the two young daughters of Madame de Saint-Lucque had been hustled, as their mother had been, under cover of the grey dawn was drawn up in the narrow street at the side door of the Commissariat.
The military pageant thus formed on the market place was quite imposing. Two score of troopers, the huge diligence and in the forefront an orderly holding the handsome white charger of Citizen André Renaud. The latter was in close conversation with the chief commissary. His massive arm was round Gabrielle’s neck, and every few moments his loud guffaws would ring out through the frosty air right across the market place.
A huge crowd had assembled by now and cheered the soldiers, the chief commissary and Mam’zelle Guillotine with lusty energy. The morning was raw and frosty and it was still snowing. The troopers—ill-clad and ill-shod as were most of the regiments of the Republic—were inclined to grumble. The old clock on the municipal building had just struck seven and there was talk of making a start. The chief commissary was bidding the travellers farewell and wishing them luck: Gabrielle was preparing to climb up to the box-seat of the diligence when there appeared to be some commotion at the further end of the market place. Shrill voices were heard asking hurried questions.