A quarter of an hour later Citizen-Commandant Fleury was at last ushered into the presence of the proconsul and received upon his truly innocent head the full torrent of the despot's wrath. But Martin-Roget had listened to the counsels of prudence: for obvious reasons he desired to avoid any personal contact for the moment with Carrier, whom fear of the English spies had made into a more abject and more craven tyrant than ever before. At the same time he thought it wisest to try and pacify the brute by sending him the ten thousand francs--the bribe agreed upon for his help in the undertaking which had culminated in such a disastrous failure.
At the self-same hour whilst Carrier--fuming and swearing--was for the hundredth time uttering that furious "How?" which for the hundredth time had remained unanswered, two men were taking leave of one another at the small postern gate which gives on the cemetery of Ste-Anne. The taller and younger of the two had just dropped a heavy purse into the hand of the other. The latter stooped and kissed the kindly hand.
"Milor'," he said, "I swear to you most solemnly that Monsieur le Duc de Kernogan will rest in peace in hallowed ground. Monsieur le Curé de Vertou--ah! he is a saint and a brave man, milor'--comes over whenever he can prudently do so and reads the offices for the dead--over those who have died as Christians, and there is a piece of consecrated ground out here in the open which those fiends of Terrorists have not discovered yet."
"And you will bury Monsieur le Duc immediately," admonished the younger man, "and apprise Monsieur le Curé of what has happened."
"Aye! aye! I'll do that, milor', within the hour. Though Monsieur le Duc was never a very kind master to me in the past, I cannot forget that I served him and his family for over thirty years as coachman. I drove Mademoiselle Yvonne in the first pony-cart she ever possessed. I drove her--ah! that was a bitter day!--her and Monsieur le Duc when they left Kernogan never to return. I drove Mademoiselle Yvonne on that memorable night when a crowd of miserable peasants attacked her coach, and that brute Pierre Adet started to lead a rabble against the château. That was the beginning of things, milor'. God alone knows what has happened to Pierre Adet. His father Jean was hanged by order of Monsieur le Duc. Now monsieur le Duc is destined to lie in a forgotten grave. I serve this abominable Republic by digging graves for her victims. I would be happier, I think, if I knew what had become of Mademoiselle Yvonne."
"Mademoiselle Yvonne is my wife, old friend," said the younger man softly. "Please God she has years of happiness before her, if I succeed in making her forget all that she has suffered."
"Amen to that, milor'!" rejoined the man fervently. "Then I pray you tell the noble lady to rest assured. Jean-Marie--her old coachman whom she used to trust implicitly in the past--will see that Monsieur le Duc de Kernogan is buried as a gentleman and a Christian should be."
"You are not running too great a risk by this, I hope, my good Jean-Marie," quoth Lord Tony gently.
"No greater risk, milor'," replied Jean-Marie earnestly, "than the one which you ran by carrying my old master's dead body on your shoulders through the streets of Nantes."
"Bah! that was simple enough," said the younger man, "the hue and cry is after higher quarry to-night. Pray God the hounds have not run the noble game to earth."
Even as he spoke there came from far away through the darkness the sound of a fast trotting pair of horses and the rumble of coach-wheels on the unpaved road.
"There they are, thank God!" exclaimed Lord Tony, and the tremor in his voice alone betrayed the torturing anxiety which he had been enduring, ever since he had seen the last both of his adored young wife and of his gallant chief in the squalid tap-room of the Rat Mort.
With the dead body of Yvonne's father on his back he had quietly worked his way out of the tavern in the wake of his chief. He had his orders, and for the members of that gallant League of the Scarlet Pimpernel there was no such word as "disobedience" and no such word as "fail." Through the darkness and through the tortuous streets of Nantes Lord Anthony Dewhurst--the young and wealthy exquisite, the hero of an hundred fêtes and galas in Bath, in London--staggered under the weight of a burden imposed upon him only by his loyalty and a noble sense of self-prescribed discipline--and that burden the dead body of the man who had done him an unforgivable wrong. Without a thought of revolt he had obeyed--and risked his life and worse in the obedience.
The darkness of the night was his faithful handmaiden, and the excitement of the chase after the other quarry had fortunately drawn every possible enemy from his track. He had set his teeth and accomplished his task, and even the deathly anxiety for the wife whom he idolized had been crushed, under the iron heel of a grim resolve. Now his work was done, and from far away he heard the rattle of the coach-wheels which were bringing his beloved nearer and nearer to him.
Five minutes longer and the coach came to a halt. A cheery voice called out gaily:
"Tony! are you there?"
"Percy!" exclaimed the young man.
Already he knew that all was well. The gallant leader, the loyal and loving friend, had taxed every resource of a boundlessly fertile brain in order to win yet another wreath of immortal laurels for the League which he commanded, and the very tone of his merry voice proclaimed the triumph which had crowned his daring scheme.
The next moment Yvonne lay in the arms of her dear milor'. He had stepped into the carriage, even while Sir Percy climbed nimbly on the box and took the reins from the bewildered coachman's hands.
"Citizen Proconsul . . ." murmured the latter, who of a truth thought that he was dreaming.
"Get off the box, you old noodle," quoth the pseudo-proconsul peremptorily. "Thou and thy friend the postilion will remain here in the road, and on the morrow you'll explain to whomsoever it may concern that the English spy made a murderous attack on you both and left you half dead outside the postern gate of the cemetery of Ste-Anne. Here," he added as he threw a purse down to the two men--who, half-dazed and overcome by superstitious fear, had indeed scrambled down, one from his box, the other from his horse--"there's a hundred francs for each of you in there, and mind you drink to the health of the English spy and the confusion of your brutish proconsul."
There was no time to lose: the horses--still very fresh--were fretting to start.
"Where do we pick up Hastings and Ffoulkes?" asked Sir Percy Blakeney finally as he turned toward the interior of the barouche, the hood of which hid its occupants from view.
At the corner of the Rue de Gigan," came the quick answer. "It is only two hundred metres from the city gate. They are on the look out for you."
"Ffoulkes shall be postilion," rejoined Sir Percy with a laugh, "and Hastings sit beside me on the box. And you will see how at the city gate and all along the route soldiers of the guard will salute the equipage of the all-powerful proconsul of Nantes. By Gad!" he added under his breath, "I've never had a merrier time in all my live--not even when . . ."
He clicked his tongue and gave the horses their heads--and soon the coachman and the postilion and Jean-Marie the gravedigger of the cemetery of Ste-Anne were left gaping out into the night in the direction where the barouche had so quickly disappeared.
"Now for Le Croisic and the Day-Dream," signed the daring adventurer contentedly," . . . and for Marguerite!" he added wistfully.
Under the hood of the barouche Yvonne, wearied but immeasurably happy, was doing her best to answer all her dear milor's impassioned questions and to give him a fairly clear account of that terrible chase and flight through the streets of the Isle Feydeau.
"Ah, milor', how can I tell you what I felt when I realized that I was being carried along in the arms of the valiant Scarlet Pimpernel? A word from him and I understood. After that I tried to be both resourceful and brave. When the chase after us was at its hottest we slipped into a ruined and deserted house. In a room at the back there were several bundles of what looked like old clothes. "This is my store-house," milor' said to me; "now that we have reached it we can just make long noses at the whole pack of bloodhounds." He made me slip into some boy's clothes which he gave me, and whilst I donned these he disappeared. When he returned I truly did not recognize him. He looked horrible, and his voice . . .! After a moment or two he laughed, and then I knew him. He explained to me the rôle which I was to play, and I did my best to obey him in everything. But oh! I hardly lived while we once more emerged into the open street and then turned into the great Place which was full--oh full!--of people. I felt that at every moment we might be suspected. Figure to yourself, my dear milor' . . ."
What Yvonne Dewhurst was about to say next will never be recorded. My lord Tony had closed her lips with a kiss.