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by Emma Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel Novels THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL THE TRIUMPH OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL THE WAY OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL ELDORADO I WILL REPAY LORD TONY'S WIFE SIR PERCY HITS BACK SIR PERCY LEADS THE BAND MAM'ZELLE GUILLOTINEOmnibus Volumes THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL OMNIBUS THE GALLANT PIMPERNEL OMNIBUS (Each over 1000 pages)Other Books NO GREATER LOVE THE DIVINE FOLLY THE UNCROWNED KING THE TURBULENT DUCHESS A SPY OF NAPOLEON A JOYOUS ADVENTURE BLUE EYES AND GREY SKIN O' MY TOOTH THE CELESTIAL CITY THE HONOURABLE JIM THE EMPEROR'S CANDLESTICKS BY THE GODS BELOVED BEAU BROCADE A SON OF THE PEOPLE THE TANGLED SKEIN THE OLD MAN IN THE CORNER THE NEST OF THE SPARROWHAWK
The Hall of the Pas Perdus, the precincts of the House of Justice, the corridors, the bureaux of the various officials, judges and advocates were all thronged that day as they had been during all the week, ever since Tuesday when the first question was put to the vote: "Is Louis Capet guilty of conspiring against liberty?" Louis Capet! otherwise Louis XVI, descendant of a long line of kings of the Grand Monarque of Saint Louis, himself the anointed, the crowned King of France! And now! Arraigned at the bar before his fellow-men, before his one-time devoted subjects, or supposedly devoted, standing before them like any criminal, accused not of murder, or forgery or theft, but of conspiring against liberty.
A king on his trial! And for his life! Let there be no doubt about that. It is a matter of life or death for the King of France. There has been talk, endless talk and debate in the Hall of Justice ever since the eleventh day of December—over a month ago now when Louis first appeared before the bar of the Convention. Fifty-seven questions were put to the accused. "Louis Capet, didst thou do this, that or the other? Didst thou conspire against liberty?" Louis to all the questions gave the simple reply: "No! I did not do that, nor did I do the other. If I did, it was in accordance with the then existing laws of France."
A king on his trial! Heavens above, what a stupendous event! One that had only occurred once before in history—a hundred and fifty years ago when Charles I, King of England, stood at the bar before his people and Parliament, accused by them of conspiring against their liberty. The end of that was regicide. And now once again a king stood before his people accused of conspiring against their liberty. What the end would be, no one doubted for a moment. The paramount significance of the tragedy, the vital importance of what was at stake was reflected in the grave demeanour of the crowd that gathered day after day inside the precincts of the House of Justice. Men of all ages, of all creeds, of every kind of political opinion foregathered in the Salle des Pas Perdus, waited mostly in silence for scraps of news that came filtering through from the hall where a king—once their King—was standing his trial.
They waited for news, longing to see the end of this nerve-racking suspense, yet dreading to hear what the end would be.
On the Monday evening, one month after the opening of this momentous trial, the fifty-seven questions were finally disposed of. Advocate Barrére in a three-hours' speech, summed up the case and then invited Louis Capet to withdraw. And Louis the unfortunate, once Louis XVI, King of France, now just Louis Capet, was taken back to the Temple Prison where, separated from his wife and children, he could do nothing but await with patience and resignation the final issue of his judges' deliberations, and assist his legal counsels in the preparation of his defence.
And on Tuesday the 15th of January, 1793, the question of whether a King of France was guilty or not guilty of conspiracy was put to the vote. Not one question but three questions were put forward, each to be voted on separately and by every one of the seven hundred and forty-nine members of the National Convention. Is Louis Capet guilty of conspiring against liberty? Shall the sentence pronounced by the National Convention be final, or shall appeal be made to the people? If Louis Capet be found guilty what punishment should be meted out to him? The first two questions were disposed of on the Tuesday. By midday Louis Capet had been voted guilty by an immense majority. The second question took rather longer; the afternoon wore on, the shades of a midwinter evening blotted out the outside world and spread its gloomy mantle over this assembly of men, gathered here to indict their King and to pronounce sentence upon him. It was midnight before the voting on this second question was ended. By a majority of two to one the House decided that its verdict shall be final and that no appeal shall be made to the people. Such an appeal would mean civil war, cry the Extremists, the loud and turbulent Patriots, while the Moderates, the Girondins will have it that the people must not be ignored. But they are outvoted two to one and at the close of this memorable Tuesday, Louis Capet stands definitely guilty of conspiring against the liberty of the people and whatever sentence the National Convention may pronounce upon him shall be final, without appeal.
The loud and turbulent Patriots are full of hope. Marat, the people's friend, has apostrophied them from his bed of sickness, lashed them with his biting tongue: "O crowd of chatterers, can you not act?" And they are going to act. Let the third question be put to the vote, and the whole world shall see that Patriots can act as well as talk. So on this Wednesday, January 16th, 1793, they muster up in full force and swarm over the floors of the Salle des Pas Perdus, and of the corridors and committee rooms of the House of Justice. But somehow they are no longer turbulent now. Certain of triumph they appear almost overawed by the immensity of the tragedy which they have brought to a head.
Beyond the precincts of the Hall of Justice, the whole of Paris stands on the tiptoe of expectation. It is a raw midwinter day. The city is wrapped in a grey fog, through which every sound of voice or traffic comes muffled, as if emitted through cotton-wool. Like the noisy elements inside the hall, the people of Paris wait in silence, hushed into a kind of grim stupefaction at this stupendous thing which is going on inside there, and which they, in a measure, have brought about.
In the hall itself the seven hundred and forty-nine deputies are all at their posts. After some talk and "orders of the day" put forward by one Patriot or another, Danton's proposal that the Convention shall sit in permanent session till the whole business of Louis Capet is finished and done with, is passed by a substantial majority. After which the voting on the third question begins. It is close on eight o'clock in the evening. The ushers in loud shrill voices call up the deputies by name and constituency, one by one: summon each one to mount the tribune and say, on his soul and conscience, what punishment shall be meted out to the accused. And one by one seven hundred and forty-nine men then mounted the tribune, said their say, justified their verdict and recorded their vote. The whole of that night and subsequent days and nights, from Wednesday evening until Friday afternoon, the procedure went on. Evening faded into night, night yielded to day and day to night again while a king's life hung in the balance. In the grey light of day, through the weary hours of the night, the three portentous words came muffled through the thin curtain of fog which pervaded the hall and dimmed the feeble flickering light of candles. Death! Banishment! Imprisonment till peace with the rest of Europe be signed. The word that came most often from the tribune was death, though often tempered with weak recommendations for mercy; but all day Thursday and most of Friday the balance trembled between banishment and death. Some of the votes were never in doubt, Robespierre's for instance, or that of Danton who disdained to justify his verdict; he stood only for one minute on the tribune, just long enough to say curtly: "La Mort sans phrases!" then resumed his seat, folded his arms and went quietly to sleep. "Death without so much talk!" Why talk? Louis Capet has got to die, so why argue?
Was there ever so strange a proceeding? Eye-witnesses, men like Sieyès and Roland have described the scene as one of the most remarkable ever witnessed in the history of the Revolution, and the moment when Philippe d'Orléans, now nicknamed Philippe Egalité, and own kinsman of the accused, boldly voted death on his soul and conscience, the most tense in any history. A strange proceeding indeed! Philippe d'Orléans the traitor, the profligate, casting his vote against his kinsman; and up in the galleries among a privileged crowd a number of smartly dressed ladies, flaunting their laces and tricolour cockades and munching chocolates, while the honourable deputies who had already recorded their votes came to entertain them with small talk and bring them ices and refreshments. Some have cards and pins and prick down the deaths or banishments or imprisonments as they occur, something like race-cards on which with many a giggle they record their bets. Here in the galleries there is quite an element of fashion. No gloom here, no sense of foreboding or impending tragedy. Smart ladies! the beautiful Téroigne de Méricourt, the austere Madame Roland, the youthful Teresia Cabarrus.
At dusk on Friday evening the voting was done. The secretaries sorted the papers and made the count. When this was over President Vergniaud demanded silence. And in a hush so profound that the rustle of a silk dress up in the gallery caused everyone to give a start, he made the solemn declaration: "In the name of the Convention I declare that the punishment it pronounces on Louis Capet is that of death."
Scarcely were the words out of the President's mouth than the King's advocates came running in. They lodged a protest in his name. They demanded delay and appeal to the people. The latter was promptly rejected—unanimously. Appeal to the people had been put to the vote last Tuesday, and been definitely settled then. Delay might be granted, but for the moment nothing more could be done. Everyone was sick to death of the whole thing. Nerve-racked. To-morrow should decide.
And it did. Delay or no delay? Patriots said "No." Philippe d'Orléans, kinsman of the accused, said "No!" A few said "Yes!" But finally, during the small hours of Sunday morning, that point—perhaps the grimmest of the lot—was also settled. "No delay! Death within twenty-four hours." The final count showed a majority of seventy.
The Minister of Justice was sent to the Temple to break the news to the accused. To his credit be it said that he did not like the errand. "What a horrible business!" he was heard to say. But Louis received the news calmly, as a king should. He asked for a delay of three days to prepare himself for death, also for a confessor. The latter request was granted on condition that the confessor should be a man of the Convention's own choosing: but not delay. The verdict had been: "Death within twenty-four hours." There could be no question of respite.
Paris that Sunday morning woke to the news and was appalled. It had been expected, but there are events in this world that are expected, that are known to be certain to come, and yet when they do come they cause stupefaction. And Paris was stupefied. The Extremists rejoiced: the rowdy elements went about shouting "Vive la Liberté!" waving tricolour flags, carrying spikes crowned with red caps, but Paris as a whole did not respond. It pondered over the verdict, and shuddered at the murder of Lepelletier the deputy who had put forward the proposal: "No delay! Death within twenty-four hours!" His proposal had been carried by a majority of seventy. It was then two o'clock in the morning, and he went on to Février's in the Palais Royal to get some supper. He had finished eating and was paying his bill, when he was suddenly attacked by an unknown man, said to have once belonged to the King's Guard, who plunged a dagger in the deputy's breast shouting: "Regicide! take that!" and in the confusion that ensued made good his escape. And the six hundred and ninety-six deputies who had voted for death without a recommendation for mercy shut themselves up in the apartments, being in fear of their lives.
The cafés and restaurants on the other hand did a roaring trade all that day, Sunday. Paris, though stupefied, had to be fed, and did feed too, and talked only in whispers—but talked nevertheless. Groups lingered over their coffee and Fine, and said the few things that were safe to say, in view of those turbulent Patriots who proclaimed every man, woman or child to be a traitor who showed any sympathy for the "conspirator" Louis Capet. There was also talk of war. England ... Spain. Especially England, with Burke demanding sanctions against the regicide Republic. It could only be a matter of days now before she declared war. She had been itching to do so ever since Louis Capet had been deprived of his throne. Ambassador Chauvelin was still in London, but soon he would be recalled and his papers handed courteously to him, for undoubtedly war was imminent. English families residing in France were preparing to leave the country.
But a good many stayed on: men in business, journalists or merely idlers. They mostly dined at Février's in the Palais Royal, the restaurant à la mode, where those deputies who were most in the public eye could always be met with on a Sunday. Robespierre and his friend Desmoulins, the elegant Saint-Just, President Vergniaud and others dined there regularly and foreign newspaper correspondents frequented the place in the hope of picking up bits of gossip for their journals. On this particular Sunday there were about a dozen strangers gathered round the large table in the centre, where a somewhat meagre dinner was being served in view of the existing shortage of provisions and the penury that already stalked the countryside and more particularly the cities. But in spite of the meagreness of the fare, good temper was not lacking round the board where the strangers were sitting. Most of them were English and they tackled the scraggy meat and thin wine put before them, with the happy-go-lucky tolerance that is so essentially English.
"What say you to beef with mustard?" one of the men quoted while he struggled with a tough piece of boiled pork garnished with haricot beans.
"I like it passing well," his neighbour completed the quotation, "but for the moment I have a fancy for a Lancashire hot-pot, such as my old lady makes at home."
"Well!" broke in a man obviously from the north, "Sunday at my home is the day for haggis, and with a wineglassful of good Scotch whisky poured over it, I tell you my friends..."
Two men were sitting together at a table close by. One of them said, speaking in French and with a contemptuous shrug:
"These English! Their one subject of conversation is food."
The other, without commenting on this, merely remarked:
"You understand English then, Monsieur le Baron?"
"Yes. Don't you?"
"I never had any lessons," the other replied vaguely.
The two men were a strange contrast both in appearance and in speech. The one who had been addressed as Monsieur le Baron—it was not yet a crime to use a title in Republican France—was short and broad-shouldered. He had a florid face, sensual lips and prominent eyes. He spoke French with a hardly perceptible guttural accent, which to a sensitive ear might have betrayed his German or Austrian origin. His manner and way of speaking were abrupt and fussy: his short, fat hands with the spatulated fingers were for ever fidgeting with something, making bread pellets or drumming with obvious nervosity on the table. The other was tall, above the average at any rate in this country: his speech was deliberate, almost pedantic in its purity of expression like a professor delivering a lecture at the Sorbonne: his hands, though slender, betrayed unusual strength. He scarcely ever moved them. Both men were very simply dressed, in black coats and cloth breeches, but while Monsieur le Baron's coat fitted him where it touched, the other's complete suit was nothing short of a masterpiece of the tailor's art.
Just then there rose a general clatter in the room: chairs scraping against the tiled floor, calls for hats and coats, comprehensive leave-takings, and more or less noisy exodus through the swing-doors. Robespierre and Desmoulins as they went out passed the time of day with Monsieur le Baron.
"Eh bien, de Batz," Robespierre said to him with a laugh, "I have won my bet, haven't I? Louis Capet has got his deserts."
De Batz shrugged his fat shoulders.
"Not yet," he retorted dryly.
When those two had gone, and were immediately followed by Vergniaud and St. Just, he who was called de Batz leaned back in his chair and gave a deep sigh of relief.
"Ah!" he said, "the air is purer now that filthy crowd has gone."
"You appeared to be on quite friendly terms with Monsieur Robespierre anyway," the other remarked with a cool smile.
"Appearances are often deceptive, my dear Professor," De Batz retorted.
"Now take your case. I first met you at a meeting of the Jacobin Club, or was it the Feuillants? I forget which of those pestiferous gatherings you honoured with your presence; but anyway, had I only judged by appearances I would have avoided you like the plague, like I avoid that dirty crowd of assassins...."
"But you were there yourself, Monsieur le Baron," the Professor observed.
"I went out of curiosity, my friend, as you did and as a number of respectable-looking people did also. I sized up those respectable people very quickly. I had no use for them. They were just the sort of nincompoops whom Danton's oratory soon turns into potential regicides. But I accosted you that evening because I saw that you were different."
"Your cultured speech and the cleanliness of your collar."
"You flatter me, sir."
"We talked of many things at first, if you remember. We touched on philosophy and on the poets, on English rhetoric and Italian art: and I went home that night convinced that I had met a kindred spirit, whom I hoped to meet again. When you entered this place an hour ago, and honoured me by allowing me to sit at your table, I felt that Chance had been benign to me."
"Again you flatter me, sir."
The room in the meanwhile had soon become deserted. There remained only de Batz and the Professor at one table, and in the farther corner a group of three men, two of whom were playing dominoes and the third reading a newspaper. De Batz's restless eyes took a quick survey of the room, then he leaned over the table and fixed his gaze on the other's placid face.
"I propose to flatter you still more, my friend," he said, sinking his voice to a whisper. "Nay! I may say to honour you...."
"By asking you to help me...."
"To do what?"
"To save the King."
"A heavy task, sir."
"But not impossible. Listen. I have five hundred friends who will be posted to-morrow in different houses along the route between the Temple and the Place de la Révolution. At a signal from me, they will rush the carriage in which only His Majesty and his confessor will be sitting, they will drag the King out of it, and in the mêlée smuggle him into a house close by, all the inhabitants of which are in my pay. You are silent, sir?" de Batz went on, his thick guttural voice hoarse with emotion. "Of what are you thinking?" he added impatiently, seeing that the other remained impassive, almost motionless.
"Of General Santerre," the Professor replied, "and his eighty thousand armed men. Are they also in your pay?"
"Eighty thousand?" de Batz rejoined with a sneer: "Bah!"
"Do you doubt the figure?"
"No! I do not. I know all about Santerre and his eighty thousand armed men, his bristling cannon that are already being set up on the Place de la Révolution, and his cannoneers who will stand by with match burning. But you must take surprise into consideration. The unexpected. The sudden panic. The men off their guard. As a matter of fact I could tell you of things that occurred before my very eyes when that daredevil Englishman whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel snatched condemned prisoners from the very tumbrils that took them to execution. Surely you know about that?"
"I do," the Professor put in quietly, "but I don't suppose that those tumbrils were escorted by eighty thousand armed men. There is such a thing in this world as the impossible, you know, Monsieur le Baron: things that are beyond man's power to effect."
"Then you won't help me?"
"You have not yet told me what you want me to do."
"I am not going to ask you to risk your life," de Batz said, trying to keep the suspicion of a sneer out of his tone. "There are five hundred of us for that, and one more or less wouldn't make any difference to our chance of success. But there is one little matter in which you could render our cause a signal service, and incidentally help to save His Majesty the King."
"What may that be, sir?"
A pause, after which Batz resumed with seeming irrelevance:
"There is an Irish priest, the Abbé Edgeworth, you have met him perhaps?"
"Yes! I know him."
"He is known by renown to the King. The Convention, as perhaps you are aware, has acceded to His Majesty's desire for a confessor, but those inhuman brutes have made it a condition that that confessor shall be of their own choosing. We know what that means. Some apostate priest whose presence would distress and perhaps unnerve His Majesty when he will have need of all his courage. You agree with me?"
"Equally, of course, we want someone to be by the side of His Majesty during that harrowing drive from the Temple, and to prepare and encourage him for the coup which we are contemplating.
"The Abbé Edgeworth is the man we want for this mission. His loyalty is unquestioned, so is his courage. Cléry, the King's devoted valet, has tried to get in touch with him, and so have His Majesty's advocates, but they failed to find him. He is hiding somewhere in Paris, that we know. Until fairly recently he was a lecturer at the Sorbonne. I understand that you too, Monsieur le Professeur, have graced that seat of learning. Anyway, I thought that you might make enquiries in that direction. If you succeed," de Batz concluded, his voice thick with excitement, "you will have done your share in saving our King."
There was a moment's pause while de Batz, taking out his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his moist hands and his forehead which was streaming with perspiration. Seeing that the Professor still sat silent and impassive he said, with obvious impatience:
"Surely you are not hesitating, Monsieur le Professeur! A little thing like that! And for such a cause! I would scour Paris myself, only that my hands are full. And my five hundred adherents——"
"You should apply to one of them, Monsieur le Baron," the other broke in quietly.
Monsieur le Baron gave a jump.
"You don't mean to say that you hesitate?" he uttered in a hoarse whisper.
"I do more than that, Monsieur le Baron. I refuse."
"Refuse? ... ref——"
De Batz was choking. His passed his thick finger round the edge of his cravat.
"Refuse what?" he queried, trying to speak calmly.
"To lend a hand in dragging the Abbé Edgeworth into this affair."
De Batz was striving to control his temper: under his breath he muttered the words "Poltroon! Coward!" once or twice. Aloud he said:
"You are afraid?"
"I am a man of peace," the Professor replied.
"I don't believe it," de Batz protested. "No man with decent feeling in him would refuse to render this service. Good God, man! you are not risking your life, not like I and my friends are willing to do. You can help us, I know. You must have a reason—a valid reason—for refusing to do so. As I say, you wouldn't be risking your life——"
"Not mine, but that of an innocent and a good man."
"What the devil do you mean?"
"You are proposing to throw the Abbé Edgeworth to the wolves."
"I am not. I am proposing to give him the chance of doing his bit in the work of saving the life of his King. He will thank me on his knees for this."
"He probably would, for he is of the stuff that martyrs are made. But I will not help you to send him to his death."
With that he rose, ready to go, and reached for his hat and coat. They hung on a peg just above de Batz's head, and de Batz made no movement to get out of the way.
"Don't go, man," he said earnestly, "not yet. Listen to me. You don't understand. It is all perfectly easy. In less than an hour I shall know who the apostate priest is whom the Convention are sending to His Majesty. I know all those fellows. Most of them are in my pay. They are useful, if distinctly dirty, tool. To substitute our abbé for the man chosen by the Convention will entail no risk, present no difficulties, and will cost me less than the price of a good dinner. Now what do you say?"
"What I said before," the other rejoined firmly. "Whoever accompanies Louis XVI to the guillotine, if he be other than the one chosen by the Convention, will be a marked man. His life will not be worth twelve hours' purchase!"
"The guillotine? The guillotine?" de Batz retorted hotly. "Who talks of the guillotine and of Louis XVI in one breath? I tell you, man, that our King will never mount the steps of the guillotine. There are five hundred of us worth a hundred thousand of Santerre's armed men who will drag him out of the clutches of those assassins."
"May I have my coat?" was the Professor's quiet rejoinder.
His calmness brought de Batz's temper to boiling point. He jumped to his feet, snatched down the Professor's coat from its peg and threw it down with a vicious snarl on the nearest chair. The Professor, seemingly quite unperturbed, picked it up, put it on and with a polite "Au revoir, Monsieur le Baron!" to which the latter did not deign to respond, he walked quietly out of the restaurant.
It was about an hour or two later. In a sparsely furnished room on the second floor of an apartment house in the Rue du Bac five men had met: four of them were sitting about on more or less rickety chairs, while the fifth stood by the window, gazing out into the dusk and on the gloomy outlook of the narrow street. He was tall above the average, was this individual, still dressed in the black, well-tailored suit which he had worn during his dinner in company with the Austrian Baron at Février's, and which suggested a professional man: a professor perhaps, at the university.
The outlook through the window was indeed gloomy. But outside depression did not apparently weigh on the spirits of the men. There was no look of despondency on their faces, rather the reverse, they looked eager and excited, and the back of the tall man in black with the broad shoulders and narrow hips suggested energy rather than dejection. After a time he turned away from the window and found a perch on the edge of a broken-down truckle bed that stood in a corner of the room.
"Well!" he began addressing the others collectively, "you heard what that madman said?"
"Most of it," one of them replied.
"He has a crack-brained scheme of stirring up five hundred madcaps into shouting and rushing the carriage in which the King will be driven from prison to the scaffold. Five hundred lunatics egged on by that candidate for Bedlam, trying to reach that carriage which will be escorted by eighty thousand armed men! It would be ludicrous if it were not so tragic."
"One wonders," remarked one of them, "who those wretched five hundred are."
"Young royalists," the other replied, "all of them known to the Committees. As a matter of fact I happen to know that most of them, if not all, will receive a visit from the police during the early hours of the morning, and will not be allowed to leave their apartments till after the execution of the King."
"Heavens, man!" the eldest of the four men exclaimed, "how did you know that?"
"It was quite simple, my dear fellow, and quite easy. The crowd filed out as you know directly the final verdict was proclaimed. It was three o'clock in the morning. Everybody there was almost delirious with excitement. No one took notice of anybody else. The President and the other judges went into the refreshment-room which is reserved for them. You know the one I mean. It is in the Tour de César, at the back of the Hall of Justice. It has no door, only an archway. There was still quite a crowd moving along the corridors. I got as near the archway as I could, and I heard Vergniaud give the order that every inhabitant of the city, known to have royalist or even moderate tendencies, must be under police surveillance in their own apartments until midday."
"Percy, you are wonderful!" the young man exclaimed fervently.
"Tony, you are an idiot!" the other retorted with a laugh.
"Then we may take it that our Austrian friend's scheme will just fizzle out like a damp squib?"
"You had never thought, had you, Blakeney, that we...."
"God forbid!" Sir Percy broke in emphatically. "I wouldn't risk your precious lives in what common sense tells me is an impossible scheme. It may be quixotic. I dare say it is; but what in Heaven's name does that megalomaniac hope to accomplish? To break through a cordon of troops ten deep? Folly, of course! But even supposing he and his five hundred did succeed in approaching the carriage, what do they hope to do afterwards! Do they propose to fight the entire garrison of the city which is a hundred and thirty thousand strong? Does he imagine for a moment that the entire population of Paris will rise as one man and suddenly take up the cause of kingship? Folly, of course! Folly of the worst type, because the first outcome of a hand-to-hand fight in the streets would be the murder of the King in the open street by some unknown hand. Isn't that so?"
They all agreed. Their chief was not in the habit of talking lengthily on any point. That he did so on this occasion was proof of how keenly he felt about the whole thing. Did he wish to justify before these devoted followers of his, his inaction with regard to the condemned King? I do not think so. He was accustomed to blind obedience—that was indeed the factor that held the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel so indissolubly together—and three of the four men who were here with him to-day, Lord Anthony Dewhurst, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and Lord Hastings, were his most enthusiastic followers.
Be that as it may, he did speak lengthily on this occasion, and placed before his friends a clear exposé of the situation on the morrow as far as any attempt at rescuing the King was concerned. But there was something more. The others knew there was something else coming, or their chief would not have given them the almost imperceptible signal when he left the restaurant to wait for him in this squalid apartment, which had for some time been their accustomed meeting place. They waited in silence and presently Sir Percy spoke again:
"Putting, therefore, aside the question of the King whose fate, of course, horrifies us all, the man we have got to think of now is that unfortunate priest whom de Batz wants to drag forcibly into this scheme, and who will surely lose his head if our League does not intervene."
"The Abbé Edgeworth?" one of them said.
"Exactly. Edgeworth is of Irish extraction, which adds to our interest in him. Still! that isn't the point. He is a very good man, who has worked unremittingly in the slums of Paris. Anyway, we are not going to throw him to the wolves, are we?"
They all nodded assent. And Ffoulkes added: "Of course not if you say so, Percy."
"I shall know towards morning whether de Batz has arranged to substitute him for the man whom the Convention has chosen as confessor for the King. As soon as I do get definite information about that I will get in touch with you. We will take our stand at seven o'clock on the Place de la Révolution, at the angle of the Rue Egalité which used to be the Rue Royale. That will be the nearest point we can get to the guillotine. After the King's head has fallen there will be an immense commotion in the crowd and a rush for those horrible souvenirs which the executioner will sell to the highest bidder. It makes one's gorge rise even to think of that. But it will be our opportunity. Between the five of us we'll soon get hold of Edgeworth and get him to safety."
"Where do you think of taking him?" Lord Tony asked.
"To Choisy. You remember the Levets?"
"Of course. I like old Levet. He is a sportsman."
"I like him too," Sir Andrew added, "and I am terribly sorry for the poor old mother. I don't mind the girl either, but I don't trust that sweetheart of hers."
"Which one?" Blakeney queried with a smile. "Pretty little Blanche Levet has quite a number."
"Ffoulkes means that doctor fellow," here interposed the youngest of the three men, Lord St. John Devinne, who had sat silently and obviously morose up to now, taking no part in the conversation between his chief and his other friends. He was a good-looking, tall young man of the usual high-bred English type, and could have been called decidedly handsome but for a certain look of obstinacy coupled with weakness, which lurked in his grey eyes and was accentuated by the somewhat effeminate curve of his lips.
"Pradel isn't a bad sort really," Sir Andrew responded. "Perhaps a little to fond of spouting about Liberté, Égalité, and all the rest of it."
"I can't stand the brute," Devinne muttered sullenly. "He is always talking and arguing and telling the unwashed crowds what fine fellows they really are, if only they knew it, and what good times they are going to have in the future."
He shrugged and added with bitter contempt:
"Liberté? Égalité? What consummate rot!"
"Well!" Sir Percy interposed in his quiet, incisive voice, "isn't there just something to be said for it? The under-dog has had a pretty bad time in France. He is snarling now, and biting. But Pradel—I know him—is an intellectual, he will never be an assassin."
Devinne shrugged again and murmured: "I am not so sure about that." While Lord Tony broke in with his cheery laugh and said:
"I'll tell you what's the matter with our friend Pradel."
"What?" Sir Andrew asked.
"He is in love."
"Of course. With little Blanche Levet."
"Not he. He is in love with Cécile de la Rodière."
This was received with derision and incredulity.
"What rubbish!" Sir Andrew said.
"Not really?" Hastings queried.
But Blakeney assented: "I am afraid it's true." While Devinne broke in hotly:
"He wouldn't dare!"
"There's nothing very daring in being in love, my dear fellow," Sir Percy remarked dryly.
"Then why did you say you were afraid it was true," the other retorted.
"Because that sort of thing invariably leads to trouble even in these days."
"Can you see Madame la Marquise," was Sir Andrew Ffoulkes' somewhat bitter comment on the situation, "and her son François, if they should happen to find out that the village doctor is in love with Mademoiselle de la Rodière?"
"I can," Devinne remarked spitefully. "There would be the good old story, which I must say has something to be said for it: a sound thrashing for Monsieur Pradel at the hands of Monsieur le Marquis, and..."
He paused, and a dark flush spread over his good-looking face. Chancing to look up he had met his chief's glance which rested upon him with an expression that was difficult to define. It was good-humoured, pitying, slightly sarcastic, and, anyway, reduced the obstinate young man to silence.
There was silence for a moment or two. Somehow Lord St. John Devinne's attitude, his curt argument with the chief, seemed to have thrown a kind of damper on the eagerness of the others. Blakeney after a time consulted his watch and then said very quietly:
"It is time we got back to business."
At once they were ready to listen. The word "business" meant so much to them: excitement, adventure, the spice of their lives. Only Devinne remained silent and sullen, never once looking up in the direction of his chief.
"Listen, you fellows," Blakeney now resumed in his firm, most authoritative tone, "if you hear nothing from me between now and to-morrow morning, it will mean that they have roped in that unfortunate abbé. Well! we are not going to allow that. He is a splendid chap, who does a great deal of good work among the poor, and if he allows himself to be roped in, it will be from an exaggerated sense of duty. Anyway, if you don't hear from me, we'll meet, as I said, at seven o'clock sharp at the angle of the Rue Égalité and the Place de la Révolution. After that, all you'll have to do will be to stick to me as closely as you can, and if we get separated we meet again at Choisy. Make yourselves look as demmed a set of ruffians as you can. That shouldn't be difficult."
Again he paused before concluding:
"If on the other hand, the King is not to be accompanied to the scaffold by the Abbé Edgeworth, I will bring or send word to you here, not later than five o'clock in the morning. Remember that my orders to you all for the night are: don't get yourselves caught. If you do, there will be trouble for us all."
The others smiled. He then nodded to them, said briefly: "That is all. Good night! Bless you!" and the next moment was gone. The others listened intently for a while, trying to catch the sound of his footsteps down the stone staircase, but none came, and they went over to the window, and looked out into the street. Through the fog and driving sleet they could just perceive the tall figure of their chief as he went across the road and then disappeared in the night. With one accord three gallant English gentlemen murmured a fervent: "God guard him!" But Devinne still remained silent, and after a little while went out of the room.
Lord Tony said, speaking to both the others:
"Do you trust that fellow Devinne?" and then added emphatically: "I do not."
My Lord Hastings shook his head thoughtfully.
"I wonder what is the matter with him."
"I can tell you that," Lord Tony observed. "He is in love with Mademoiselle de la Rodière. He met her in Paris five years ago, before all this revolutionary trouble had begun. Her mother and, of course, her brother won't hear of her marrying a foreigner, any more than a village doctor, and Devinne, you know, is a queer-tempered fellow. He cannot really look on that fellow Pradel as a serious rival, and yet, as you could see just now, he absolutely hates him and vents his spleen upon him. His attitude to the chief I call unpardonable. That is why I do not trust him."
Whereupon Sir Andrew murmured under his breath: "If we have a traitor in the camp, then God help the lot of us."
The streets of Paris on that morning were silent as the grave: only at the gate of the Temple prison, when the King stepped out into the street, accompanied by the Abbé Edgeworth, and entered the carriage that was waiting for him, were there a few feeble cries of "Mercy! Mercy!" uttered mostly by women. No other sound came from the crowd that had assembled round the Temple gate. All along the route too, there was silence. No one dared speak or utter a cry of compassion, for every man was in terror of his neighbour, who might denounce him as a traitor to the Republic. The windows of all the houses were closed, and no face was to be seen at them, peering out into the street. Eighty thousand men at arms stood aligned, between the prison and the Place de la Révolution, where the guillotine awaited the royal victim of this glorious revolution. Through that cordon no man or body could break, and at every street corner cannons bristled and the cannoneers stood waiting with match burning, silent and motionless like stone statues rather than men. Nor was there sound of wheel traffic along the streets, only the rumble of one carriage, in which sat the descendant of sixteen kings about to die a shameful death by the sentence of his people. Louis sat in the carriage listening to Abbé Edgeworth who read out to him the Prayers for the Dying.
At the angle of the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle and the Rue de la Lune on a hillock made up of debris from recent excavations, a short stout, florid man was standing, wrapped in a dark cape. It was the Baron de Batz. He had been standing here for the past three hours, trying vainly to keep himself warm by stamping his feet on the frozen ground. Two hours ago a couple of young men came down the narrow Rue de la Lune and joined the lonely watcher. There was some whispered conversation between the three of them, after which they all remained silent at their post, and from the height on which they stood, they scanned the crowd to right and left of them with ever increasing anxiety. But there was no sign of any of the five hundred accomplices who were to aid de Batz in his crazy scheme of saving the King. As a matter of fact de Batz didn't know that in the early hours of the morning most of those five hundred had been roused from sleep by peremptory knocks at their door. A couple of gendarmes had then entered their apartment with orders to keep them under observation, and not to allow them outside their houses until past midday. De Batz and the two friends who were with him now had spent the night talking and scheming in a tavern on the Boulevard and thus escaped this domiciliary visit. They could not understand what had happened, and as time went on they fell to cursing their fellow-conspirators for their treachery or cowardice. Time went on, leaden-footed but inexorable. From the direction of the Temple prison there had already come the ominous sound of the roll of drums, soon followed by the rumble of carriage wheels.
Fog and sleet blurred the distant outline of the Boulevard but soon through the vaporous mist de Batz and his friends could perceive the vanguard of the military cortège. First the mounted gendarmerie, barring the whole width of the street, then the grenadiers of the National Guard, then the artillery, followed by the drummers, and finally the carriage itself, hermetically closed with shutters against the windows, and round it and behind it more and more troops, more cannon and drummers and grenadiers. De Batz and his friends saw the march past. Luckily for them their five hundred adherents were not there to shout and wave their arms and attempt to break through a cordon of soldiery stronger than any that had ever marched through the streets of a city before. The three men were soon submerged in the crowd that moved and surged in the direction of the Place de la Révolution.
Here in front of the guillotine the carriage came to a halt. The Place de la Révolution behind the troops was crowded with idlers who were trying to get a view of the awe-inspiring spectacle. It was a great thing to see a king on trial for his life. It was a still greater thing to see him die.
The carriage door was opened. General Santerre commanded a general beating of drums as the King of France mounted the steps of the guillotine. The Abbé Edgeworth was close beside his King, still murmuring the Prayers for the Dying.
It was all over in a moment. Louis tried to say a few words to his people protesting his innocence, but Santerre cried "Tambours!" once more and the roll of drums drowned those last words of the dying monarch. The axe fell. There were shouts of "Vive la République!" there were caps raised on bayonets, hats were waved, and an excited crowd made a rush for the scaffold as the executioner held up the dead monarch's head. Handkerchiefs were dipped in the blood. Locks of hair were cut off the head and sold by the executioner for pieces of silver. There followed half an hour of frantic excitement, during which men shrieked and women screamed, men tumbled over one another trying to rush up the steps of the guillotine, and were hurled down again by the executioner and his aides, while missiles of every kind flew over the heads of this singing, waving, tumultuous mob. The din was incessant and drowned the intermittent roll of drums and the shouts of command from the officers to the soldiery.
And throughout all this uproar the Abbé Edgeworth remained on his knees, on the spot where last he had had a sight of his King, and had urged this son of St. Louis to mount serenely up to heaven. He paid no attention to all the wild screaming and roaring, or to the occasional cries: "À la lanterne le calotin!" which were hurled threateningly at his calm kneeling figure.
"À mot le calotin!" came at one time with a roar like that of an unchained bull, quite close to his ear.
"Non, à moi!"
"À moi! à moi!"
It just went through the abbé's mind that some in the crowd were thirsting for his blood, that they would presently drag him to the guillotine, and that he would be sent to his death in just the same way as his King had been. But the thought did not frighten him. He went on mumbling his prayers, until suddenly he felt himself seized round the shoulders and lifted off his knees, while a frantic crowd still cried: "À lanterne le calotin!" in the intervals of roaring with laughter.