Volume Five: Sir Percy’s observations, a shorter adventure and 11 short stories
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.
But the little man with the tricolour scarf had snatched his hand out of Josette’s grasp. For a moment it seemed as if he was about to join the landlord in his quest after the sailor, but apparently, he thought better of it; probably he felt that it would be beneath the dignity of a Government official to chase a mudlark up and down the stairs of a tavern; besides which he well knew in his heart of hearts that no sailor or mudlark would be found inside the house. The laughter had come from outside—there must be an open window somewhere—and its ringing tone was only too familiar to this same Government official with the pale sad face and the badge of office round his waist: it came from a personage that had always proved elusive, whenever the utmost resources of his enemy’s intelligence were set to work to run him to earth.
The only thing to do now in this present crisis—for crisis it certainly would prove to be—was to think things over very carefully, to lay plans so secretly and so carefully that no power on earth could counter them. The girl, Josette Gravier, was a magnificent pawn in the game that was to follow the events of this night, just the sort of pawn that would appeal to the so-called chivalry of those damnable English spies: a decoy—what?
So the little man, whose pale face reflected something of the inward rage that tortured him at this moment, turned fiercely on the small crowd of quidnuncs who still stood about quizzing and whispering, and with a peremptory wave of the arm ordered everyone off to bed. They immediately scattered like sheep. The landlord’s wife took hold of Josette’s hand.
“Come along, little girl,” she said; “there is a nice couch in Annette’s room: you’ll sleep well on that.”
“And remember, both of you,” the little man said in the end when Josette meekly allowed herself to be led away, “that you are responsible with your lives—your lives,” he iterated emphatically, “for the safety of Citizeness Gravier.”
The man and woman both shuddered: their ruddy faces became sallow with terror. They understood the threat well enough, even though the amazing turn which the events of this night had taken was past their comprehension.
Silent and obedient the little crowd had dispersed. They all slunk back to bed, there to exchange surmises, conjectures, gossip with their respective roommates. Josette lay down on the couch in Annette’s room. She could not sleep, for her brain was working all the time and her heart still beating with the many emotions to which she had succumbed this night. There were moments when, lying here in the darkness, she doubted and feared. That was because of the tricolour sash and the authority which her friend seemed to wield. Before his appearance in this new guise of authority she had almost persuaded herself that he was intimately connected with the hero of her dreams, but there was no reconciling the badge of officialdom of the Terrorist Government with the personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Nevertheless, it was this same little man who had saved her from the ill-will of all those horrid people who said such awful things about her and threatened her with the police. It was he who had given her a solemn promise that the precious letters would be restored to her; so, what was an ignorant, unsophisticated girl like Josette Gravier to make of all these mysteries? What she did do was to turn her thoughts to Maurice. Surely le bon Dieu would not be so cruel as to snatch from her the means by which she could demand his life and liberty. Surely not at this hour when she was so near her goal.
And in a private room on the floor above, Citizen Chauvelin was pacing up and down the floor, with hands clasped tightly behind his back, his pale face set, his thin lips murmuring over and over again:
“Now then, à nous deux once more, my gallant Scarlet Pimpernel.”
After a time there came a knock at the door. In response to a peremptory “Entrez!” a rough-looking fellow in jersey and breeches undone at the knee came into the room. He had a sealed packet in his large, grimy hands, and this he handed to Chauvelin.
Neither of the men spoke for some time. The man had remained standing in the middle of the room waiting for the other to speak, while Chauvelin sat at the table, his thin delicate hands toying with the packet, his pale eyes hiding their expression of triumph behind their blue-veined lids.
The silence threatened to become oppressive. The newcomer was the first to break it. He pointed a grimy finger at the sealed packet in Chauvelin’s hand.
“That is what you wanted,” he asked, “was it not, Citizen?”
“Yes,” the other replied curtly.
“It was difficult to get. If I had known—”
“Well!” Chauvelin broke in impatiently; “the wind and rain helped you, didn’t they?”
“But if I had been caught—”
“You weren’t. So why talk about it?”
“And I injured my knee climbing down again from that cursed window,” Picard muttered with a surely glance at his employer.
“Your knee will mend,” Chauvelin rejoined curtly; “and you have earned good money.”
He gave a quiet chuckle at recollection of the night’s events. He and Picard. The open door. The open window. The draught. Josette in her shift and kirtle struggling with the door while Picard stole in at the window, and he, Chauvelin, tip—toed noiselessly back down the stairs. Yes! the whole thing had worked wonderfully well, better even than he had hoped. It had been a perfect example of concerted action.
Picard was waiting for his money. Chauvelin gave him the promised two hundred livres—a large sum in these days. The man tried to grumble, but it was no use, and after a few moments he slouched, still grumbling, out of the room.
For close on half an hour after that did Chauvelin remain sitting at the table, toying with the stolen packet. There was a lighted candle on the table, its feeble light flickered in the draught. Chauvelin’s pale, expressive eyes were fixed upon the seals. He did not break them, for it was part of the tortuous scheme which he had evolved that these seals should remain intact. He looked at them closely, wondering whose hand had fixed them there: Bastien de Croissy’s probably, who had been murdered for his pains, or else the wife’s before she entrusted the packet to Josette. The seals told him nothing, and he did not mean to break them: he laid the precious packet down on the table. Then he opened the table drawer. Out of it he took a small lump of soft wax. With the utmost care he took an impression of one of the seals: he examined his work when it was done and was satisfied that it was well done. He then returned the wax impression into the table drawer and locked it.
The stolen packet he slipped into the breast pocket of his coat, and he laid the coat under the mattress in the adjoining room. After which he went to bed.