Being the deposition of citizeness Fanny Roussell, who was brought up, together with her husband, before the Tribunal of the Revolution on a charge of treason - both being subsequently acquitted.
My name is Fanny Roussell, and I am a respectable married woman, and as good a patriot as any of you sitting there.
Aye, and I'll say it with my dying breath, though you may send me to the guillotine... as you probably will, for you are all thieves and murderers, every one of you, and you have already made up your minds that I and my man are guilty of having sheltered that accursed Englishman whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel... and of having helped him to escape.
But I'll tell you how it all happened, because, though you call me a traitor to the people of France, yet I am a true patriot and will prove it to you by telling you exactly how everything occurred, so that you may be on your guard against the cleverness of that man, who, I do believe, is a friend and confederate of the devil... else how could he have escaped that time?
Well! it was three days ago, and as bitterly cold as anything that my man and I can remember. We had no travelers staying in the house, for we are a good three leagues out of Calais, and too far for the folk who have business in or about the harbour. Only at midday the coffee-room would get full sometimes with people on their way to or from the port.
But in the evenings the place was quite deserted, and so lonely that at times we fancied that we could hear the wolves howling in the forest of St. Pierre.
It was close on eight o'clock, and my man was putting up the shutters, when suddenly we heard the tramp of feet on the road outside, and then the quick word "Halt!"
The next moment there was a peremptory knock at the door. My man opened it, and there stood four men in the uniform of the 9th Regiment of the Line... the same that is quartered at Calais. The uniform, of course, I knew well, though I did not know the men by sight.
"In the name of the People and by the order of the Committee of Public Safety!" said one of the men, who stood in the forefront, and who, I noticed, had a corporal's stripe on his left sleeve.
He held out a paper, which was covered with seals and with writing, but as neither my man nor I can read, it was no use our looking at it.
Hercule - that is my husband's name, citizens - asked the corporal what the Committee of Public Safety wanted with us poor hôteliers of a wayside inn.
"Only food and shelter for to-night for
me and my men," replied the corporal, quite civilly.
"You can rest here," said Hercule, and he pointed to the benches in the coffee-room, "and if there is any soup left in the stockpot, you are welcome to it."
Hercule, you see, is a good patriot, and he had been a soldier in his day... No! no... do not interrupt me any of you... you would only be saying that I ought to have known... but listen to the end.
"The soup we'll gladly eat," said the corporal very pleasantly. "As for shelter... well! I am afraid that this nice warm coffee-room will not exactly serve our purpose. We want a place where we can lie hidden, and at the same time keep a watch on the road. I noticed an outhouse as we came. By your leave we will sleep in there."
"As you please," said my man curtly.
He frowned as he said this, and it suddenly seemed as if some vague suspicion had crept into Hercule's mind.
The corporal, however, appeared unaware of this, for he went on quite cheerfully:
"Ah! that is excellent! Entre nous, citizen, my men and I have a desperate customer to deal with. I'll not mention his name, for I see you have guessed it already. A small red flower, what?... Well, we know that he must be making straight for the port of Calais, for he has been traced through St. Omer and Ardres. But he cannot possibly enter Calais city to-night, for we are on the watch for him. He must seek shelter somewhere for himself and any other aristocrat he may have with him, and, bar this house, there is no other place between Ardres and Calais where he can get it. The night is bitterly cold, with a snow blizzard raging round. I and my men have been detailed to watch this road, other patrols are guarding those that lead toward Boulogne and to Gravelines; but I have an idea, citizen, that our fox is making for Calais, and that to me will fall the honour of handing that tiresome scarlet flower to the Public Prosecutor en route for Madame la Guillotine."
Now I could not really tell you, citizens, what suspicions had by this time entered Hercule's head or mine; certainly what suspicions we did have were still very vague.
I prepared the soup for the men and they ate it heartily, after which my husband led the way to the outhouse where we sometimes stabled a traveler's horse when the need arose.
It is nice and dry, and always filled with warm fresh straw. The entrance into it immediately faces the road; the corporal declared that nothing would suit him and his men better.
They retired to rest apparently, but we noticed that two men remained on the watch just inside the entrance, whilst the two others curled up in the straw.
Hercule put out the lights in the coffee-room, and then he and I went upstairs - not to bed, mind you - but to have a quiet talk together over the events of the past half-hour.
The result of our talk was that ten minutes later my man quietly stole downstairs and out of the house. He did not, however, go out by the front door, but through a back way which, leading through a cabbage-patch and then across a field, cuts into the main road some two hundred mètres higher up.
Hercule and I had decided that he would walk the three leagues into Calais, despite the cold, which was intense, and the blizzard, which was nearly blinding, and that he would call at the post of gendarmerie at the city gates, and there see the officer in command and tell him the exact state of the case. It would then be for that officer to decide what was to be done; our responsibility as loyal citizens would be completely covered.
Hercule, you must know, had just emerged from our cabbage-patch on to the field when he was suddenly challenged.
"Qui va là ?"
He gave his name. His certificate of citizenship was in his pocket; he had nothing to fear. Through the darkness and the veil of snow he had discerned a small group of men wearing the uniform of the 9th Regiment of the Line.
"Four men," said the foremost of these, speaking quickly and commandingly, "wearing the same uniform that I and my men are wearing... have you seen them?"
"Yes," said Hercule hurriedly.
"Where are they?"
"In the outhouse close by."
The other suppressed a cry of triumph.
"At them, my men!" he said in a whisper, "and you, citizen, thank your stars that we have not come too late."
"These men..." whispered Hercule. "I had my suspicions."
"Aristocrats, citizen," rejoined the commander of the little party, "and one of them is that cursed Englishman - the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Already the soldiers, closely followed by Hercule, had made their way through our cabbage-patch back to the house.
The next moment they had made a bold dash for the barn. There was a great deal of shouting, a great deal of swearing and some firing, whilst Hercule and I, not a little frightened, remained in the coffee-room, anxiously awaiting events.
Presently the group of soldiers returned, not the ones who had first come, but the others. I noticed their leader, who seemed to be exceptionally tall.
He looked very cheerful, and laughed loudly as he entered the coffee-room. From the moment that I looked at his face I knew, somehow, that Hercule and I had been fooled, and that now, indeed, we stood eye to eye with that mysterious personage who is called the Scarlet Pimpernel.
I screamed, and Hercule made a dash for the door; but what could two humble and peaceful citizens do against this band of desperate men, who held their lives in their own hands? They were four and we were two, and I do believe that their leader has supernatural strength and power.
He treated us quite kindly, even though he ordered his followers to bind us down to our bed upstairs, and to tie a cloth round our mouths so that our cries could not be distinctly heard.
Neither my man nor I closed an eye all night, of course, but we heard the miscreants moving about in the coffee-room below. But they did no mischief, nor did they steal any of the food or wines.
At daybreak we heard them going out by the front door, and their footsteps disappearing toward Calais. We found their discarded uniforms lying in the coffee-room. They must have entered Calais by daylight, when the gates were opened - just like other peaceable citizens. No doubt they had forged passports, just as they had stolen uniforms.
Our maid-of-all work released us from our terrible position in the course of the morning, and we released the soldiers of the 9th Regiment of the Line, whom we found bound and gagged, some of them wounded, in the outhouse.
That same afternoon we were arrested, and here we are, ready to die if we must, but I swear that I have told you the truth, and I ask you, in the name of justice, if we have done anything wrong, and if we did not act like loyal and true citizens, even though we were pitted against an emissary of the devil?