The small party walked on in silence. It seemed to consist of a very few men of the National Guard, whom Santerre had placed under the command of the soldier who had transmitted to him the orders of the Citizen-Deputies.
Juliette and Déroulède both vaguely wondered whither they were being led; to some other prison mayhap, away from the fury of the populace. They were conscious of a sense of satisfaction at thought of being freed from that pack of raging wild beasts.
Beyond that they cared nothing.
Both felt already the shadow of death hovering over them. The supreme moment of their lives had come, and had found them side by side.
What neither fear nor remorse, sorrow nor joy, could do, that the great and mighty Shadow accomplished in a trice.
Juliette, looking death bravely in the face, held out her hand, and sought that of the man she loved.
There was not one word spoken between them, not even a murmur.
Déroulède, with the unerring instinct of his own unselfish passion, understood all that the tiny hand wished to convey to him.
In a moment everything was forgotten save the joy of this touch. Death, or the fear of death, had ceased to exist. Life was beautiful, and in the soul of these two human creatures there was perfect peace, almost perfect happiness.
With one grasp of the hand they had sought and found one another's soul. What mattered the yelling crowd, the noise and tumult of this sordid world? They had found one another, and, hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder, they had gone off wandering into the land of dreams, where dwelt neither doubt nor treachery, where there was nothing to forgive.
He no longer said: "She does not love me--would she have betrayed me else?" He felt the clinging, trustful touch of her hand, and knew that, with all her faults, her great sin and her lasting sorrow, her woman's heart, Heaven's most priceless treasure, was indeed truly his.
And she knew that he had forgiven--nay, that he had naught to forgive--for Love is sweet and tender, and judges not. Love is Love--whole, trustful, passionate. Love is perfect understanding and perfect peace.
And so they followed their escort whithersoever it chose to lead them.
Their eyes wandered aimlessly over the mist-laden landscape of this portion of deserted Paris. They had turned away from the river now, and were following the Rue des Arts. Close by on the right was the dismal little hostelry, "La Cruche Cassée," where Sir Percy Blakeney lived. Déroulède, as they neared the place, caught himself vaguely wondering what had become of his English friend.
But it would take more than the ingenuity of the Scarlet Pimpernel to get two noted prisoners out of Paris to-day. Even if--
The word of command rang out clearly and distinctly through the rain-soaked atmosphere.
Déroulède threw up his head and listened. Something strange and unaccountable in that same word of command had struck his sensitive ear.
Yet the party had halted, and there was a click as of bayonets or muskets levelled ready to fire.
All had happened in less than a few seconds. The next moment there was a loud cry:
"À moi, Déroulède! 'tis the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
A vigorous blow from an unseen hand had knocked down and extinguished the nearest street lantern.
Déroulède felt that he and Juliette were being hastily dragged under an adjoining doorway even as the cheery voice echoed along the narrow street.
Half a dozen men were struggling below in the mud, and there was a plentiful supply of honest English oaths. It looked as if the men of the National Guard had fallen upon one another, and had it not been for these same English oaths perhaps Déroulède and Juliette would have been slower to understand.
"Well done, Tony! Gadzooks, Ffoulkes, that was a smart bit of work!"
The lazy, pleasant voice was unmistakable, but, God in heaven! where did it come from?
Of one thing there could be no doubt. The two men despatched by Santerre were lying disabled on the ground, whilst three other soldiers were busy pinioning them with ropes.
What did it all mean?
"La, friend Déroulède! you had not thought, I trust, that I would leave Mademoiselle Juliette in such a demmed uncomfortable hole?"
And there, close beside Déroulède and Juliette, stood the tall figure of the Jacobin orator, the bloodthirsty Citizen Lenoir. The two young people gazed and gazed, then looked again, dumbfounded, hardly daring to trust their vision, for through the grime-covered mask of the gigantic coal-heaver a pair of merry blue eyes was regarding them with lazy amusement.
"La! I do look a miserable object, I know," said the pseudo coal-heaver at last, "but 'twas the only way to get those murderous devils to do what I wanted. A thousand pardons, mademoiselle; 'twas I brought you to such a terrible pass, but la! you are amongst friends now. Will you deign to forgive me?"
Juliette looked up. Her great, earnest eyes, now swimming in tears, sought those of the brave man who had so nobly stood by her and the man she loved.
"Blakeney--" began Déroulède.
But Sir Percy quickly interrupted him:
"Hush, man! we have but a few moments. Remember you are in Paris still, and the Lord only knows how we shall all get out of this murderous city to-night. I have said that you and mademoiselle are among friends. That is all for the moment. I had to get you together, or I should have failed. I could only succeed by subjecting you and mademoiselle to terrible indignities. Our League could plan but one rescue, and I had to adopt the best means at my command to have you condemned and led away together. Faith!" he added, with a pleasant laugh, "my friend Tinville will not be pleased when he realizes that Citizen Lenoir has dragged the Citizen-Deputies by the nose."
Whilst he spoke he had led Déroulède and Juliette into a dark and narrow room on the ground floor of the hostelry, and presently he called loudly for Brogard, the host of this uninviting abode.
"Brogard!" shouted Sir Percy. "Where is that ass Brogard? La! man," he added as Citizen Brogard, obsequious and fussy, and with pockets stuffed with English gold, came shuffling along, "where do you hide your engaging countenance? Here! another length of rope for the gallant soldiers. Bring them in here, then give them that potion down their throats, as I have prescribed. Demm it! I wish we need not have brought them along, but that devil Santerre might have been suspicious, else. They'll come to no harm, though, and can do us no mischief."
He prattled along merrily. Innately kind and chivalrous, he wished to give Déroulède and Juliette time to recover from their dazed surprise.
The transition from dull despair to buoyant hope had been so sudden: it had all happened in less than three minutes.
The scuffle had been short and sudden outside. The two soldiers of Santerre had been taken completely unawares, and the three young lieutenants of the Scarlet Pimpernel had fallen on them with such vigour that they had hardly had time to utter a cry of "Help!"
Moreover, that cry would have been useless. The night was dark and wet, and those citizens who felt ready for excitement were busy mobbing the Hall of Justice, a mile and a half away. One or two heads had appeared at the small windows of the squalid houses opposite, but it was too dark to see anything, and the scuffle had very quickly subsided.
All was silent now in the Rue des Arts, and in the grimy coffee-room of the Cruche Cassée two soldiers of the National Guard were lying bound and gagged, whilst three others were gaily laughing, and wiping their rain-soaked hands and faces.
In the midst of them all stood the tall, athletic figure of the bold adventurer who had planned this impudent coup.
"La! we've got so far, friends, haven't we?" he said cheerily, "and now for the immediate future. We must all be out of Paris to-night, or the guillotine for the lot of us to-morrow."
He spoke gaily, and with that pleasant drawl of his which was so well known in the fashionable assemblies of London; but there was a ring of earnestness in his voice, and his lieutenants looked up at him, ready to obey him in all things, but aware that danger was looming threateningly ahead.
Lord Antony Dewhurst, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, and Lord Hastings, dressed as soldiers of the National Guard, had played their part to perfection. Lord Hastings had presented the order to Santerre, and the three young bucks, at the word of command from their chief, had fallen upon and overpowered the two men whom the commandant of Paris had despatched to look after the prisoners.
So far all was well. But how to get out of Paris? Every one looked to the Scarlet Pimpernel for guidance.
Sir Percy now turned to Juliette, and with the consummate grace which the elaborate etiquette of the times demanded, he made her a courtly bow.
"Mademoiselle de Marny," he said, "allow me to conduct you to a room, which though unworthy of your presence will, nevertheless, enable you to rest quietly for a few minutes, whilst I give my friend Déroulède further advice and instructions. In the room you will find a disguise, which I pray you to don with all haste. La! they are filthy rags, I own, but your life and--and ours depend uopn your help."
Gallantly he kissed the tips of her fingers, and opened the door of an adjoining room to enable her to pass through; then he stood aside, so that her final look, as she went, might be for Déroulède.
As soon as the door had closed upon her he once more turned to the men.
"Those uniforms will not do now," he said peremptorily; "there are bundles of abominable clothes here, Tony. Will you all don them as quickly as you can? We must all look as filthy a band of sansculottes to-night as ever walked the streets of Paris."
His lazy drawl had deserted him now. He was the man of action and of thought, the bold adventurer who held the lives of his friends in the hollow of his hand.
The four men hastily obeyed. Lord Antony Dewhurst--one of the most elegant dandies of London society--had brought forth from a dank cupboard a bundle of clothes, mere rags, filthy but useful.
Within ten minutes the change was accomplished, and four dirty, slouchy figures stood confronting their chief.
"That's capital!" said Sir Percy merrily. "Now for Mademoiselle de Marny."
Hardly had he spoken when the door of the adjoining room was pushed open, and a horrible apparition stood before them. A woman in filthy bodice and skirt, with face covered in grime, her yellow hair, matted and greasy, thrust under a dirty and crumpled cap.
A shout of rapturous delight greeted this uncanny apparition.
Juliette, like the true woman she was, had found all her energy and spirits now that she felt that she had an important part to play. She woke from her dream to realize that noble friends had risked their lives for the man she loved and for her.
Of herself she did not think; she only remembered that her presence of mind, her physical and mental strength, would be needed to carry the rescue to a successful end.
Therefore with the rags of a Paris tricotteuse she had also donned her personality. She played her part valiantly, and one look at the perfection of her disguise was sufficient to assure the leader of this band of heroes that his instructions would be carried through to the letter.
Déroulède too now looked the ragged sansculotte to the life, with bare and muddy feet, frayed breeches, and shabby, black-shag spencer. The four men stood waiting together with Juliette, whilst Sir Percy gave them his final instructions.
"We'll mix with the crowd," he said, "and do all that the crowd does. It is for us to see that that unruly crowd does what we want. Mademoiselle de Marny, a thousand congratulations. I entreat you to take hold of my friend Déroulède's hand, and not to let go of it, on any pretext whatever. La! not a difficult task, I ween," he added, with his genial smile; "and yours, Déroulède, is equally easy. I enjoin you to take charge of Mademoiselle Juliette, and on no account to leave her side until we are out of Paris."
"Out of Paris!" echoed Déroulède with a troubled sigh.
"Aye!" rejoined Sir Percy boldly; "out of Paris! with a howling mob at our heels causing the authorities to take double precautions. And above all, remember, friends, that our rallying cry is the shrill call of the sea-mew thrice repeated. Follow it until you are outside the gates of Paris. Once there, listen for it again; it will lead you to freedom and safety at last. Aye! Outside Paris, by the grace of God."
The hearts of his hearers thrilled as they heard him. Who could help but follow this brave and gallant adventurer, with the magic voice and the noble bearing?
"And now en route!" said Blakeney finally, "that ass Santerre will have dispersed the pack of yelling hyenas with his cavalry by now. They'll to the Temple Prison to find their prey; we'll in their wake. À moi, friends! and remember the sea-gull's cry."
Déroulède drew Juliette's hand in his.
"We are ready," he said; "and God bless the Scarlet Pimpernel."
Then the five men, with Juliette in their midst, went out into the street once more.