Chapter VI
The Scarlet Pimpernel

I

Instinct kept him away from the more frequented streets -- and instinct after awhile drew him in the direction of his friend's house at the corner of The Circus. Sir Percy Blakeney had not gone out fortunately: the lacquey who opened the door to my lord Tony stared astonished and almost paralyzed for the moment at the extraordinary appearance of his lordship. Rain dropped down from the brim of his hat on to his shoulders: his boots were muddy to the knees, his clothes wringing wet. His eyes were wild and hazy and there was a curious tremor round his mouth.

The lacquey declared with a knowing wink afterwards that his lordship must 'ave been drinkin'!

But at the moment his sense of duty urged him to show my lord -- who was his master's friend-- into the library, whatever condition he was in. He took his dripping coat and hat from him and marshalled him across the large, square hall.

Sir Percy Blakeney was sitting at his desk, writing, when Lord Tony was shown in. He looked up and at once rose and went to his friend.

'Sit down, Tony,' he said quietly, 'while I get you some brandy.'

He forced the young man down gently into a chair in front of the fire and threw another log into the blaze. Then from a cupboard he fetched a flask of brandy and a glass, poured some out and held it to Tony's lips. The latter drank -- unresisting-- like a child. Then as some warmth penetrated into his bones, he leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. Blakeney waited quietly, sitting down opposite to him, until his friend should be able to speak.

'And after all that you told me on Monday night!' were the first words which came from Tony's quivering lips, 'and the letter you sent me over on Tuesday! Oh! I was prepared to mistrust Martin-Roget. Why! I never allowed her out of my sight! . . . But her father! . . . How could I guess?'

'Can you tell me exactly what happened?'

Lord Tony drew himself up, and staring vacantly into the fire told his friend the events of the past four days. On Wednesday the courier with M. de Kernogan's letter, breathing kindness and forgiveness. On Thursday his arrival and seeming ill-health, on Friday his departure with Yvonne. Tony spoke quite calmly. He had never been anything but calm since first, in the house of Laura Place, he had received that awful blow.

'I ought to have know,' he concluded dully, 'I ought to have guessed. Especially since you warned me.'

'I warned you that Martin-Roget was not the man he pretended to be,' said Blakeney gently, 'I warned you against him. But I too failed to suspect the duc de Kernogan. We are Britishers, you and I, my dear Tony,' he added with a quaint little laugh, 'our minds will never be quite equal to the tortuous ways of these Latin races. But we are not going to waste time now talking about the past. We have got to find your wife before those brutes have time to wreak their devilries against her.'

'On the high seas . . . on the way to Holland. . . thence to Coblentz . . ' murmured Tony, 'I have not yet shown you the duc's letter to me.'

He drew from his pocket the crumpled, damp piece of paper on which the ink had run into patches and blotches, and which had become almost undecipherable now. Sir Percy took it from him and read it through:

'The duc de Kernogan and Lady Anthony Dewhurst are not on their way to Holland and to Coblentz,' he said quietly as he handed the letter back to Lord Tony.

'Not on their way to Holland?' queried the young man with a puzzled frown. 'What do you mean?'

Blakeney drew his chair closer to his friend: a marvellous and subtle change had suddenly taken place in his individuality. Only a few moments ago he was the polished, elegant man of the world, then the kindly and understanding friend -- self-contained, reserved, with a perfect manner redolent of sympathy and dignity. Suddenly all that was changed. His manner was still perfect and outwardly calm, his gestures scarce, his speech deliberate, but the compelling power of the leader -- which is the birthright of such men-- glowed and sparkled now in his deep-set eyes: the spirit of adventure and reckless daring was awake -- insistent and rampant-- and subtle effluvia of enthusiasm and audacity emanated from his entire personality.

Sir Percy Blakeney had sunk his individuality in that of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

'I mean,' he said, returning his friend's anxious look with one that was inspiring in its unshakable confidence, 'I mean that on Monday last, the night before your wedding -- when I urged you to obtain Yvonne de Kernogan's consent to an immediate marriage-- I had followed Martin-Roget to a place called 'The Bottom Inn' on Goblin Combe -- a place well known to every smuggler in the country.'

'You, Percy!' exclaimed Tony in amazement.

'Yes, I,' laughed the other lightly. 'Why not? I had had my suspicions of him for some time. As luck would have it he started off on the Monday afternoon by hired coach to Chelwood. I followed. From Chelwood he wanted to go on to Redhill: but the roads were axle deep in mud, and evening was gathering in very fast. Nobody would take him. He wanted a horse and a guide. I was on the spot -- as disreputable a barloafer as you ever saw in your life. I offered to take him. He had no choice. He had to take me. No one else had offered. I took him to the Bottom Inn. there he met our esteemed friend M. Chauvelin. . .'

'Chauvelin!' cried Tony, suddenly roused from the dull apathy of his immeasurable grief, at sound of that name which recalled so many exciting adventures, such mad, wild, hair-breadth escapes. 'Chauvelin! What in the world is he doing here in England?'

'Brewing mischief, of course,' replied Blakeney dryly. 'In disgrace, discredited, a marked man-- what you will-- my friend M. Chauvelin has still an infinite capacity for mischief. Through the interstices of a badly fastened shutter I heard two blackguards devising infinite devilry. That is why, Tony,' he added, 'I urged an immediate marriage as the only real protection for Yvonne de Kernogan against those blackguards.'

'Would to God you had been more explicit,' exclaimed Tony with a bitter sigh.

'Would to God I had,' rejoined the other, 'but there was so little time, with licences and what not all to arrange for, and less than an hour to do it in. And would you have suspected the Duc himself of such execrable duplicity even if you had known, as I did then, that the so-called Martin-Roget hath name Adet, and that he matures thoughts of deadly revenge against the duc de Kernogan and his daughter?'

'Martin-Roget? the banker-- the exiled royalist who. . . .'

'He may be a banker now . . . but he certainly is no royalist -- he is the son of a peasant who was unjustly put to death four years ago by the duc de Kernogan.'

'Ye gods!'

'He came over to England plentifully supplied with money -- I could not gather if the money is his or if it has been entrusted to him by the revolutionary government for purposes of spying and corruption -- but he came to England in order to ingratiate himself with the duc de Kernogan and his daughter, and then to lure them back to France, for what purpose you may well imagine.'

'Good God, man . . . you can't mean . . .?'

'He has chartered a smuggler's craft -- or rather Chauvelin has done it for him. Her name is the Hollandia, her master hath name Kuyper. She was to be in Portishead harbour on the last day of November: all her papers in order. Cargo of West India sugar, destination Amsterdam, consignee some Mynheer over there. But Martin-Roget, or whatever his name may be, and no doubt our friend Chauvelin too, were to be aboard her, and also M. le duc de Kernogan and his daughter. And the Hollandia is to put into Le Croisic for Nantes, whose revolutionary proconsul, that infamous Carrier, is of course Chauvelin's bosom friend.'

Sir Percy Blakeney finished speaking. Lord Tony had listened to him quietly and in silence: now he rose and turned resolutely to his friend. There was no longer any trace in him of that stunned apathy which had been the primary result of the terrible blow. His young face was still almost unrecognizable from the lines of grief and horror which marred its habitual fresh, boyish look. He looked twenty years older than he had done a few hours ago, but there was also in his whole attitude now the virility of more mature manhood, its determination and unswerving purpose.

'And what can I do now?' he asked simply, knowing that he could trust his friend and leader with what he held dearest in all the world. 'Without you, Blakeney, I am of course impotent and lost. I haven't the head to think. I haven't sufficient brains to pit against those cunning devils. But if you will help me. . .'

Then he checked himself abruptly, and the look of hopeless despair once moe crept into his eyes.

'I am mad, Percy,' he said with a self-deprecating shrug of the shoulders, 'gone crazy with grief, I suppose, or I shouldn't talk of asking your help, of risking your life in my cause.'

'Tony, if you talk that rubbish, I shall be forced to punch your head,' retorted Blakeney with his light laugh. 'Why man,' he added gaily, 'can't you see that I am aching to have at my old friend Chauvelin again.'

And indeed the zest of adventure, the zest to fight, never dormant, was glowing with compelling vigour now in those lazy eyes of his which were resting with such kindliness upon his stricken friend. 'Go home, Tony!' he added, 'go you rascal, and collect what things you want, while I send for Hastings and Ffoulkes, and see that four good horses are ready for us within the hour. To-night we sleep at Portishead, Tony. The Day Dream is lying off there, ready to sail at any hour of the day or night. The Hollandia has twenty-four hours' start of us, alas! and we cannot overtake her now: but we'll be in Nantes ere those devils can do much mischief: and once in Nantes! . . . Why, Tony man! think of the glorious escapes we've had together, you and I! Think of the gay, mad rides across the north of France, with half-fainting women and swooning children across our saddlebows! Think of the day when we smuggled the de Tournais out of Calais harbour, the day we snatched Juliette Déroulède and her Paul out of the tumbril and tore across Paris with that howling mob at our heels! Think! think, Tony! of all the happiest, merriest moments of your life and they will seem dull and lifeless beside what is in store for you, when with your dear wife's arms clinging round your neck, we'll fly along the quay of Nantes on the road to liberty! Ah, Tony lad! were it not for the anxiety which I know is gnawing at your heart, I would count this, one of the happiest hours of my happy life!'

He was so full of enthusiasm, so full of vitality, that life itself seemed to emanage from him and to communicate itself to the very atmosphere around. Hope lit up my lord Tony's wan face: he believed in his friend as mediaeval ascetics believed in the saints whom they adored. Enthusiasm had crept into his veins, dull despair fell away from him like a mantle.

'God bless you, Percy,' he exclaimed as his firm and loyal hand grasped that of the leader whom he revered.

'Nay!' retorted Blakeney with sudden gravity. 'He hath done that already. Pray for His help to-day, lad, as you have never prayed before.'