Nobody in the quartier could quite recollect
when it was that the new Public Letter-Writer first set up business
at the angle formed by the Quai des Augustins and the Rue Dauphine,
immediately facing the Pont Neuf; but there he certainly was on
the 28th day of February, 1763, when Agnes, with eyes swollen
with tears, a market basket on her arm and a look of dreary despair
on her young face, turned that self-same angle on her way to the
Pont Neuf, and nearly fell over the rickety construction with
sheltered him and his stock-in-trade.
"Oh, mon Dieu! citizen Lepine, I had no idea you were here," she exclaimed as soon as s she had recovered her balance.
"Nor I, citizeness, that I should have the pleasure of seeing you this morning," he retorted.
"But you were always at the other corner
of the Pont Neuf," she argued.
"So I was," he replied.,"so I was. But I thought I would like a change. The Fanbourg St. Michael appealed to me; most of my clients came to me from this side of the river-all those on the other side seem to know how to read and write."
"I was just going over to see you," she remarked.
"You, citizeness," he exclaimed in unfeigned surprise, "what should procure a poor public writer the honor of--"
"Hush, in God's name!" broke in the young girl quickly, as she cast a rapid, furtive glance up and down the quai and the narrow streets which converged at this angle.
She was dressed in the humblest and poorest of clothes, her skimpy shawl round her shoulders could scarce protect her against the cold of this cruel winter's morning; her hair was entirely hidden beneath a frilled and starched cap, and her feet were encased in coarse worsted stockings, but her hands were delicate and fine, and her face had that nobility of feature and look of patient resignation in the midst of overwhelming sorrow which proclaimed a lofty refinement both of soul and mind.
The old Letter-Writer was surveying the pathetic young figure before him through his huge horn-rimmed spectacles, and she smiled at him through her fast-gathering tears. He used to have his pitch at the angle of the Pont Neuf, and whenever Agnes had walked past it she had nodded to him and bidden him "Good morrow!" He had at times done little commissions for her and gone on errands when she needed a messenger; today, in the midst of her despair, she had suddenly thought of him and that rumor credited him with certain knowledge which she would give her all to possess.
She had sallied forth this morning with the express purpose of speaking to him; but now suddenly she felt afraid, and stood looking at him for a moment or two, hesitating, wondering if she dared tell him--one never knew these days into what terrible pitfall an ill-considered word might lead one.
A scarecrow he was, that old Public Letter-Writer, more like a great, gaunt bird then a human being, with those spectacles of his, and his long, very sparse and very lanky fringe of a beard which fell from his cheeks and chin and down his chest for all the world like a crumpled gray bib. He was wrapped from head to foot in a caped coat which had once been green in color, but was now of many hues not usually seen in rainbows. He wore his coat all buttoned down the front like a dressing-gown, and below the hem there peeped out a pair of very large feet encased in boots which had never been a pair. He sat upon a rickety, straw-bottomed chair under an improvised awning which was made up of four poles and a bit of sacking. He had a table in front of him-a table partially and very insecurely propped up by a bundle of old papers and books, since no two of its four legs were completely whole--and on the table there was a neckless bottle half-filled with ink, a few sheets of paper and a couple of quill pens.
The young girl's hesitation had indeed not lasted more then a few seconds.
Furtively, like a young creature terrified
of lurking enemies, she once more glanced to right and left of
her and down the two streets and the river bank, for Paris was
full of spies these days, human bloodhounds ready for a few sous
to sell their fellow-creatures' lives. It was middle morning now,
and a few passers-by were hurrying along wrapped to the nose in
mufflers, for the weather was bitterly cold.
Agnes waited until there was no one in sight, then she leaned forward over hte table and whispered under her breath:
"They say, citizen, that you alone in Paris know the whereabouts of the English milor'-of him who is called the Scarlet Pimpernel.."
"Hush-sh-sh!" said the old man, quickly, for just at that moment two men had gone by, in ragged coats and torn breeches, who had leered at Agnes and her neat cap and skirt as they passed. Now they had turned the angle of the street and the old man, too, sank his voice to a whisper.
"I know nothing of any Englishman," he muttered.
"Yes, you do," she rejoined insistently.
"When poor Antoine Carre was somewhere in hiding and threatened
with arrest, and his mother dared not write to him lest her letter
be intercepted, she spoke to you about the English milor', and
the English milor' found Antoine Carre and took him and his mother
safely out of France. Mme. Carre is my godmother....I saw her
the very night when she went to meet the English milor' at his
commands. I know all that happened then...I know that you were
"And if I was," he muttered sullenly as he fiddled with his pen and paper, "maybe I've had cause to regret it since. For a week after the Carre episode I dared not show my face in the streets of Paris; for nigh on a fortnight I dared not ply my trade...I have only just ventured to again set up business. I am not going to risk my old neck again in a hurry..."
"It is a matter of life and death," urged Agnes as once more the tears rushed to her pleading eyes and the look of misery settled again upon her face.
"Your life, citizeness?" queried the old man, "or that of citizen-deputy Fabrice?"
"Hush!" she broke in again ,as a look of real terror now overspread her face. Then she added under her breath:
"I know that Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines is fiancee to the citizen-deputy Arnould Fabrice," rejoined the old man quietly, " and that it is Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines who is speaking with me now."
"You have known all along?"
"Ever since mademoiselle first tripped past me at the angle of the Pont Neuf, dressed in winsey kirtle and wearing sabots on her feet......"
"But how," she murmured, puzzled, not a little frightened, for his knowledge might prove dangerous to her. She was of gentle birth, and as such an object of suspicion to the Government of the Republic and of hte Terror: her mother was hopeless cripple, unable to move: this, together with her love for Arnould Fabrice, had kept Agnes de Lucines in France these days, even though she was in hourly peril of arrest.
"Tell me what has happened," the old man said, unheeding her last anxious query. "Perhaps I can help..."
"Oh! you cannot--the English milor can and will if only we could know where he is. I thought of him the moment I received that awful man's letter--and then I thought of you..."
"Tell me about the letter--quickly," he interrupted her with some impatience. "I'll be writing something--but talk away, I shall hear every word. But for God's sake be as brief as you can."
He drew some paper nearer to him and dipped his pen in the ink. He appeared to be writing under her dictation. Thin, flaky snow had begun to fall and settled in a smooth white carpet upon the frozen ground and the footsteps of the passers-by sounded muffled as they hurried along. Only the lapping of the water of the sluggish river close by broke the absolute stillness of the air. Agnes de Lucienne's pale face looked ethereal in this framework of white which covered her shoulders and the shawl crossed over her bosom: only her eyes, dark, appealing, filled with a glow of immeasurable despair, appeared tensely human and alive.
"I had a letter this morning," she whispered, speaking very rapidly, "from citizen Heriot--that awful man--you know him?"
"He used to be valet in the service of deputy Fabrice. Now h e too is a member of the National Assembly...he is arrogant and cruel and vile. He hates Arnould Fabrice and he professes himself passionately in love with me."
"Yes, yes!" murmured the old man,"but the letter?"
"It came this morning. In it he says that he has in his possession a number of old letters, documents and manuscripts which are quite enough to send deputy Fabrice to the guillotine. He threatens to place all those papers before the Committee of Public Safety...unless I..."
She paused, and a deep blush, partly of shame, partly of wrath, suffused her pale cheeks.
"Unless you accept his grimy hand in marriage," concluded the old man dryly.
Her eyes gave him answer. With pathetic insistence she tried now to glean a ray of hope from the old scarecrow's inscrutable face. But he was bending over his writings, his fingers were blue with cold, his great shoulders were stooping to his task.
"Citizen," she pleaded.
"Hush!" he muttered, "no more now. The very snowflakes are made up of whispers that may reach those bloodhounds yet. The English milor' shall know of this. He will send you a message if he thinks fit."
"Not another word, in God's name! Pay me five sous for this letter and pray heaven you have not been watched."
She shivered and drew her shawl closer round her shoulders, then she counted out five sous with elaborate care and laid them upon the table. The old man took the coins. He blew into his fingers, which looked paralyzed with cold. The snow lay over everything now; the rough awning had not protected him or his wares. Agnes turned to go. The last she saw of him, as she went up the Rue Dauphine, was one broad shoulder still bending over the table, and clad in the shabby, caped coat covered with snow like an old Santa Claus.
It was half an hour before noon, and citizen-deputy Heriot was preparing to go out to the small tavern round the corner where he habitually took his dejeuner . Citizen Rondeau, who for the consideration of ten sous a day looked up after Heriot's paltry creature-comforts, was busy tidying up the squalid apartment which the latter occupied on the top floor of a lodging-house in the Rue Cocatrice. The apartment consisted of three rooms leading out of one another; firstly there was was a dark and narrow antichambre wherein slept the aforesaid citizen-servant; then came a sitting room sparsely furnished with a few chairs, a centre table and an iron stove, and finally there was the bedroom wherein the most conspicuous object was a large oak chest clamped with wide iron hinges and a massive writing desk; the bed and a very primitive washstand were in an alcove at the farther end of the room and partially hidden by a tapestry curtain.
At exactly half-past seven that morning there came a peremptory knock at the door of the antichambre, and as Rondeau was busy in the bedroom, Heriot went himself to see who his unexpected visitor might be. On the landing outside stood an extraordinary-looking individual--more like a tall and animated scarecrow then a man--who in a tremulous voice asked if he might speak with citizen Heriot.
"That is my name," said the deputy gruffly; "what do you want?"
He would have liked to slam the door in the old scarecrow's face, but the latter, with the boldness which sometimes besets the timid, had already stepped into the antichambre and was now quietly sauntering through the next room to the one beyond. Heriot, being a representative of the people and a social democrat of hte most advanced type, was supposed to be accessible to everyone who desired speech with him. Though muttering sundry curses, he thought it best not to go against his usual practice, and after a moment's hesitation he followed his unwelcome visitor.
The latter was in the sitting-room by this time; he had drawn a chair close to the table and sat down with the air of one who has a perfect right to be where he is; as soon as Heriot entered he said placidly:
"I would desire to speak alone with the citizen-deputy."
And Heriot, after an other slight hesitation,
ordered Rondeau to close the bedroom door.
"Keep your ears open in case I call," he added significantly.
"You are cautious, citizen," merely remarked the visitor with a smile.
To this Heriot vouchsafed no reply. He, too, drew a chair forward and sat opposite his visitor, then he asked abruptly:
"Your name and quality?"
"My name is Lepine at your service," said the old man "and by profession I write letters at the rate of five sous or so, according to the length, for those who are not able to do it for themselves."
"Your business with me?" queried Heriot curtly.
"To offer you two thousand francs for the letters which you stole from deputy Fabrice when you were his valet," replied Lepine with perfect calm.
In a moment Heriot was on his feet, jumping up as if he had been stung; his pale, short-sighted eyes narrowed until they were mere slits, and through them he darted a quick, suspicious look at the extraordinary out-at-elbows figure before him. Then he threw back his head and laughed til the tears streamed down his cheeks and his sides began to ache.
"This is a farce, I presume, citizen,' he said when he had recovered something of his composure.
"No farce, citizen," replied Lepine calmly. "The money is at your disposal whenever you care to bring the letters to my pitch at the angle of the Rue Dauphine and the Quai des Augustins, where I carry on my business."
"Whose money is it? Agnes de Lucines', or did that fool Fabrice send you?"
"No one sent me, citizen. The money is mine--a few savings I possess--I honor citizen Fabrice--I would wish to do him service by purchasing certain letters from you."
Then as Heriot, moody and sullen, remained silent and began pacing up and down the long, bare floor of hte room, Lepine added persuasively,"Well! what do you say? Two thousand francs for a packet of letters--not a bad bargain in these hard times."
"Get out of this room," was Heriot's
fierce and sudden reply.'
"Get out of this room!"
"As you please," said Lepine, as he, too, rose form his chair. "But before I go, citizen Heriot," he added, speaking very quietly, "let me tell you one thing. Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines would far sooner cut off her right hand then let hers touch it for even one instant. Neither she nor deputy Fabrice would ever purchase their lives at such a price."
"And who are you--you mangy old scarecrow?" retorted Heriot, who was getting beside himself with rage, "that you should assert these things? What are these people to you, or you to them, that you should interfere in their affairs?"
"Your question is beyond the point, citizen," said Lepine blandly; "I am here to propose a bargain. Had you not better agree to it?"
"Never!" reiterated Heriot emphatically.
"Two thousand francs," reiterated the old man imperturbably.
"Not if you offered me two hundred thousand," retorted the other fiercely. "Go and tell that to those who sent you. Tell them that I--Heriot--would look upon a fortune as mere dross against the delight of seeing that man Fabrice, whom I hate beyond everything in earth or hell, mount up the steps to guillotine. Tell them that I know that Agnes de Lucines loathes me, that I know that she loves him. But you are wrong, citizen Lepine," he continued, speaking more and more calmly as his passions of hatred and of love seemed more and more to hold him in their grip; "you are wrong if you think that she will not strike a bargain with me in order to save the life of Fabrice, whom she loves. Agnes de Lucines will be my wife within the month, or Arnould Fabrice's head will fall under the guillotine, and you, my interfering friend, may go to the devil, if you please."
"That would be but a tame proceeding, citizen, after my visit to you," said the old man with unruffled sangfroid. "But let me, in my turn, assure you of this, citizen Heriot," he added, "that Mlle. de Lucines will never be your wife, that Arnould Fabrice will not end his valuable life under the guillotine--and that you will never be allowed to use against him the cowardly and stolen weapon which you possess.
Heriot laughed--a low, cynical laugh--and shrugged his thin shoulders:
"And who will prevent me, I pray you?" he asked.
The old man made no immediate reply, but he came just a step or two closer to the citzien-deputy and, suddenly drawing himself up to his full height, he looked for one brief moment down upon hte mean and sordid figure of the ex-valet. To Heriot it seemed as if the whole man had become transfigured: the shabby old scarecrow looked all of a sudden like a brilliant and powerful personality; from his eyes there flashed down a look of supreme contempt of and of supreme pride, and Heriot--unable to understand this metamorphosis which was more apparent to his inner consciousness then his outward sight--felt his knees shake under him and all the blood rush back to his heart in an agony of superstitious terror.
From somewhere there came to his ear the sound of two words: "I will!" in reply to his own defiant query. Surely those words uttered by a man conscious of power and strength could never have been spoken by the dilapidated old scarecrow who earned a precarious living by writing letters for ignorant folk.
But before he could recover some semblance
of presence of mind citizen Lepine had gone, and only a loud and
merry laugh seemed to echo through the squalid room.
Heriot shook off the remnant of his own senseless terror; he tore open the door of the bedroom and shouted to Rondeau, who truly was thinking that the citizen-deputy had gone mad:
"After him!-after him! Quick! curse you!"
"After whom?" gasped the man.
"The man who was here just now-an aristo."
"I saw no one--but the Public Letter-Writer, old Lepine--I know him well--"
"Curse you for a fool!" shouted Heriot savagely, "the man who was here was that cursed Englishman--the one whom they call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Run after him--stop him, I say!"
"Too late, citizen," said the other placidly; "whoever was here before is certainly half-way down the street by now."
"No use, Ffoulkes," said Sir Percy Blakeney to his friend half an hour later, "the man's passions of hatred and desire are greater then his greed."
The two men were sitting together in one of
Sir Percy Blakeney's man lodgings--the one in the Rue des Petits
Peres--and Sir Percy had just put Sir Andrew Ffoulkes au fait
with the whole sad story of Arnould Fabrice's danger and Agnes
de Lucines' despair.
"You could do nothing with the brute, then?" queried Sir Andrew.
"Nothing," replied Blakeney. "He
refused all bribes, and violence would not have helped me, for
what I wanted was not to knock him down, but to get hold of hte
"Well, after all, he might have sold you the letters and then denounced Fabrice just the same."
"No, without actual proofs he could not do that. Arnould Fabrice is not a man against whom a mere denunciation would suffice. He has the grudging respect of every faction in the National Assembly. Nothing but irrefutable proof would prevail against him--and bring him to the guillotine."
"Why not get Fabrice and Mlle. de Lucines safely over to England?"
"Fabric would not come. He is not of the
stuff that emigres are made of. He is not an aristocrat; he is
a republican by conviction, and a demmed honest one at that. He
would scorn to run away, and Agnes de Lucines would not go without
"Then what can we do?"
"Filch those letters from that brute Heriot," said Blakeney calmly.
"House-breaking, you mean!" commented Sir Andrew Ffoulkes dryly.
"Petty theft, shall we say?" retorted Sir Percy. "I can bribe the lout who has charge of Heriot's rooms to introduce us into his master's sanctum this evening when the National Assembly is sitting and the citizen-deputy safely out of the way."
And then the two men--one of whom was the most intimate friend of the Prince of Wales and the acknowledged darling of London society--thereupon fell to discussing plans for surreptitiously entering a man's rooms and committing larceny, which in normal times would entail, if discovered, a long term of imprisonment, but which, in these days, in Paris, and perpetrated against a member of the National Assembly, would certainly be punished by death.
Citizen Rondeau, whose business it was to look after the creature comforts of deputy Heriot, was standing in the antichambre facing the two visitors whom he had just introduced into his master's apartments, and idly turning a couple of gold coins over and over between his grimy fingers.
"And mind, you are to see nothing and hear nothing of what goes on in the next room," said the taller of the two strangers; "and when we go there'll be another couple of loius for you. Is that understood?"
"Yes! it's understood," grunted Rondeau sullenly; "but I am running great risks. The citizen-deputy sometimes returns at ten o'clock, but sometimes at nine....I never know."
"It is now seven," rejoined the other; "we'll be gone long before nine."
"Well," said Rondeau surlily, "I go out now for my supper. I'll return in half an hour, but at half-past eight you must clear out."
Then he added with a sneer:
"Citizens Lesgros and Desgas usually come back with deputy Heriot of nights, and citizens Jeanniot and Bompard come in from next door for a game of cards. You wouldn't stand much chance if you were caught here."
"Not with you to backup so formidable a quintet of stalwarts," assented the tall visitor gaily. "But we won't trouble about that just now. We have a couple of hours before us in which to do all tha we want. So au revoir, friend Rondeau...two more loius for your complaisance, remember,when we have accomplished our purpose."
Rondeau muttered something more, but the two strangers paid no further heed to him; they had already walked into the next room, leaving Rondeau in the antichambre. Sir Percy Blakeney did not pause in the sitting-room, where an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling threw a feeble circle of light above the centre table. He went straight through to the bedroom. Here, too, a small lamp was burning which only lit up a small portion of the room--the writing desk and the oak chest--leaving the corners and the alcove, with its partially drawn curtains, in complete shadow.
Blakeney pointed to the oak chest and to the desk.
"You tackle the chest, Ffoulkes, and I will go for hte desk," he said quietly,a s soon as he had taken a rapid survey of hte room. "You have your tools?"
Ffoulkes nodded, and anon in this squalid room, ill-lit, ill-ventiliated, barely furnished, was presented one of hte most curious spectacles of these strange and troubles times: two English gentlemen, the acknowledged dandies of London drawing-rooms, busy picking locks and filing hinges like any common house-thieves.
Neither of them spoke, and a strange hush fell over the room--a hush only broken by the click of metal against metal, and the deep breathing of the two men bending to their task. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes was working with a file on the paddocks of hte oak chest, and Sir Percy Blakeney, with a bunch of skeleton keys, was opening the drawers of the writing desk. These, when finally opened, revealed nothing of any importance; but when anon Sir Andrew was able to lift hte lid of the oak chest, he disclosed an innumerable quantity of papers and documents tied up in n neat bundles, docketed and piled up in rows and tiers to the very top of the desk.
"Quick to work, Ffoulkes," said Blakeney, as in response to his friend's call he drew a chair forward and, seating himself beside hte chest, started on the task of looking through the hundreds of bundles. "It will take us all of our time to look through these."
Together now the two men set to work--methodically and quietly--piling up on the floor beside them the bundles of papers which they had already examined, and delving into the oak chest for others. No sound was heard save the crackling of crisp paper and an occasional ejaculation form either of them when they came upon some proof or other of Heriot's propensity for blackmail.
"Agnes de Lucines is not the only one whom this brute is terrorizing," murmured Blakeney once between his teeth; "I marvel that the man ever feels safe, alone in these lodgings, with none but that weak-kneed Rondeau to protect him. He must have scores of enemies in this city who would gladly put a dagger in his heart or a bullet through his back."
They had been at work for close on half an hour when an exclamation of triumph, quickly smothered, escaped Sir Percy's lips.
"By Gad, Ffoulkes!" he said, "I believe I have got what we want!"
With quick, capable hands he turned over a bundle which he had just extracted from the chest. Rapidly he glanced through them. "I have them, Ffoulkes," he reiterated more emphatically as he put the bundle in his pocket; "now everything back in its place, and--"
Suddenly he paused, his slender hand up to his lips, his head turned toward the door, an expression of tense expectancy in every line of is face.
"Quick, Ffoulkes," he whispered," everything back into the chest, and the lid down."
"What ears you have," murmured Ffoulkes as he obeyed rapidly and without question. "I heard nothing."
Blakeney went toe door and bent his head to listen.
"Three men coming up the stairs," he said; "they are on the landing now."
"Have we time to rush them?"
"No chance! They are at the door. Two more men have joined them, and I can distinguish Rondeau's voice, too."
"The quintet," murmured Sir Andrew. "We are caught like two rats in a trap."
Even as he spoke the opening of the outside door could be distinctly heard, then the confused murmur of many voices. Already Blakeney and Ffoulkes had with perfect presence of mind put the finishing touches to the tidying of hte room--put the chairs straight, shut down the lid of oak chest, closed all the drawers of the desk.
"Nothing but good luck can save us now," whispered Blakeney as he lowered the wick of hte lamp. "Quick now," he added, "behind that tapestry in the alcove and trust to our stars."
Securely hidden for the moment behind the curtains in the dark recess of the alcove, the two men waited. The door leading into the sitting room was ajar, and they could hear Heriot and his friends making merry irruption into the place. From out of hte confusion of general conversation they soon gathered that the debates in the Chamber had been so dull and uninteresting that, at a given signal, the little party had decided to adjourn to Heriot's rooms for their habitual game of cards. They could also hear Heriot calling to Rondeau to bring bottles and glasses, and vaguely they marveled what Rondeau's attitude might be like at this moment. Was he brazening out the situation, or was he sick with terror?
Suddenly Heriot's voice came out more distinctly.
"Make yourselves at home, friends," he was saying; "here are cards, dominoes, and wine. I must leave you to yourselves for ten minutes whilst I write an important letter."
"All right, but don't be long," came in merry response.
"Not longer then I can help," rejoined Heriot. "I want my revenge against Bompard, remember. He did fleece me last night."
"Hurry on, then," said one of the men. "I'll play Desgas that return game of dominoes until then."
"Ten minutes and I'll be back," concluded Heriot.
He pushed open the bedroom door, The light within was very dim. The two men hidden behind the tapestry could hear him moving about the room muttering curses to himself. Presently the light of the lamp was shifted from one end of the room to the other.
Through the opening between the two curtains Blakeney could just see Heriot's back as he placed the lamp at a convenient angle upon his desk, divested himself of his overcoat and muffler, then sat down and drew pen and paper close to him. He was leaning forward, his elbow resting on the table, his fingers fidgeting with his long, lank hair. He had closed the door when he entered, and from the other room now the voices of his friends sounded confused and muffled. Now and then an exclamation: "Double!" "Je........tiens!" "Cinq-deux!" an oath, a laugh, the click of glasses and bottles came out more clearly; but hte rest of the time these sounds were more like a droning accompaniment to the scraping of Heriot's pen upon the paper when he finally began to write his letter.
Two minutes went by and then two more. The scratching of Heriot's pen became more rapid as he appeared to be more completely immersed in his work. Behind the curtain the two men had been waiting: Blakeney ready to act, Ffoulkes equally ready to interpret the slightest signal from his chief.
The next minute Blakeney had stolen out of the alcove, and his two hands--so slender and elegant looking, and yet with a grip of steel--had fastened themselves upon Heriot's mouth, smothering the cry that had been half-uttered. Ffoulkes was ready to complete the work of rendering the man helpless: one handkerchief made an efficient gag, another tied the ankles securely. Heriot's own coat-sleeves supplied the handcuffs, and the blankets off the bed tied around his legs rendered him powerless to move. Then the two men lifted this inert mass on to the bed, and Ffoulkes whispered anxiously: "Now, what next?"
Heriot's overcoat, hat and muffler lay upon
a chair. Sir Percy, placing a warning finger upon his lips, quickly
divested himself of his own coat, slipped that of Heriot on, twisted
the muffler round his neck, hunched up his shoulders, and murmuring:
"Now for a bit of luck!" once more lowered the light
of hte lamp and went to the door.
"Rondeau!" he called. "Hey, Rondeau!" And Sir Percy himself was surprised at the marvelous way in which he had caught the very inflection of Heriot's voice.
"Hey, Rondeau!" came from one of the players at the table, "the citizen-deputy is calling you!"
They were all sitting around the table: two men intent upon their game of dominoes, the other two watching with equal intentness. Rondeau came shuffling out of the antichambre. His face, by the dim light of hte oil lamp, looked jaundiced with fear.
"Rondeau, you fool, where are you?" called Blakeney once again.
The next moment Rondeau had entered the room. No need for a signal or order this time. Ffoulkes knew by instinct what his chief's bold scheme would mean to both of them if it succeeded. He retired into the darkest corner of hte room as Rondeau shuffled across to the writing desk. It was all done in a moment. In less time then it had taken to bind and gag Heriot, his henchman was laid out on the floor, his coat had been taken off him, and he was tied into a mummy-like bundle with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes elegant coat fastened securely round his arms and chest. It had all been done in silence. The men in the next room were noisy and intent on their game; the slight scuffle, the quickly smothered cries had remained unheeded.
"Now, what next?" queried Sir Andrew Ffoulkes once more.
"The impudence of the devil, my good Ffoulkes," replied Blakeney in a whisper, "and may our stars not play us false. Now let me make you look as like Rondeau as possible-there! Slip on the coat-now your hair over your forehead--your coat collar up--your knees bent--that's better!" he added as he surveyed the transformation which a few deft strokes had made in Sir Andrew Ffoulkes appearance. "Now all you have to do is shuffle across the room--here's your prototype's handkerchief--of dubious cleanliness, it is true, but it will serve--blow your nose as you cross the room, it will hide your face. They'll not heed you--keep in the shadows and God guard you--I'll follow in a moment or two...but don't wait for me."
He opened the door, and before Sir Andrew could protest his chief had pushed him out into the room where the four men were still intent on their game. Through the open door Sir Percy now watched his friend who, keeping well within the shadows, shuffled quietly across the room. The next moment Sir Andrew was through and into the antichambre. Blakeney's acutely sensitive ears caught the sound of the opening of the outer door. He waited for a while, then he drew out of his pocket the bundle of letters which he had risked so much to obtain. There they were neatly docketed and marked: "The affairs of Arnould Fabrice."
Well! if he got away tonight Agnes de Lucines would be happy and free from the importunities of that brute Heriot; after that he must persuade her and Fabrice to go to England and to freedom.
For the moment his own safety was terribly in jeopardy; one false move--one look from those players round the table....Bah! even then----!
With an inward laugh he pushed open the door once more and stepped into the room. For the moment no one noticed him; the game was at its most palpitating stage; four shaggy heads met beneath the lamp and four pairs of eyes were gazing with rapt attention upon the intricate maze of the dominoes.
Blakeney walked quietly across the room; he was just midway and on a level with the centre table when a voice was suddenly raised from that tense group beneath the lamp: "Is it thou, friend Heriot?"
Then one of the men looked up and stared, and another did likewise and exclaimed: "It is not Heriot!"
In a moment all was confusion, but confusion was the very essence of those hair-breadth escapes and desperate adventures which were as the breath of his nostrils to the Scarlet Pimpernel. Before those four men had time to jump to their feet or to realize that something was wrong with their friend Heriot, he had run across the room, his hand was on the knob of the door--the door that led to the antichambre and freedom.
Bompard, Desgas, Jeanniot, Legros were at his heels, but he tore open the door, bounded across the threshold, and slammed it to with such a vigorous bang that those on the other side were brought to a momentary halt. That moment meant life and liberty to Blakeney; already he had crossed the antichambre. Quite coolly quietly now he took out the key from the inner side of the main door and slipped it to the outside. The next second--even as the four men rushed helter-skelter into the antichambre he was out on the landing and had turned hte key in the door.
His prisoners were safely locked in--in Heriot's apartments--and Sir Percy Blakeney, calmly and without haste, was descending the stairs of the house in the Rue Cocatrice.
The next morning Agnes de Lucines received, through an anonymous messenger, the packet of letters which would so gravely have compromised Arnould Fabrice. Though the weather was more inclement then ever, she ran out into the streets, determined to seek out the old Public Letter-Writer and thank him for his mediation with the English milor' who surely had done this noble action.
But the old scarecrow had disappeared.