It was not difficult to guess which way the crowd had gone; yells, hoots, and hoarse cries could be heard from the farther side of the river.
Citizen Santerre had been unable to keep the mob back until the arrival of the cavalry reinforcements. Within five minutes of the abduction of Déroulède and Juliette the crowd had broken through the line of soldiers, and had stormed the cart, only to find it empty, and the prey disappeared.
"They are safe in the Temple by now!" shouted Santerre hoarsely, in savage triumph at seeing them all baffled.
At first it seemed as if the wrath of the infuriated populace, fooled in its lust for vengeance, would vent itself agaisnt the commandant of Paris and his soldiers; for a moment even Santerre's ruddy cheeks had paled at the sudden vision of this unlooked for danger.
Then just as suddenly the cry was raised.
"To the Temple!"
"To the Temple! To the Temple!" came in ready response.
The cry was soon taken up by the entire crowd, and in less than two minutes the purlieus of the Hall of Justice were deserted, and the Pont St. Michel, then the Cité and the Pont au Change, swarmed with the rioters. Thence along the north bank of the river, and up the Rue du Temple, the people still yelling, muttering, singing the "Ça ira," and shouting: "À la lanterne! À la lanterne!"
Sir Percy Blakeney and his little band of followers had found the Pont Neuf and the adjoining streets practically deserted. A few stragglers from the crowd, soaked through with the rain, their enthusiasm damped, and their throats choked with the mist, were sulkily returning to their homes.
The desultory group of six sansculottes attracted little or no attention, and Sir Percy boldly challenged every passer-by.
"The way to the Rue du Temple, citizen?" he asked once or twice, or:
"Have they hung the traitor yet? Can you tell me, citizeness?"
A grunt or an oath were the usual replies, but no one took any further notice of the gigantic coal-heaver and his ragged friends.
At the corner of one of the cross-streets, between the Rue du Temple and the Rue des Archives, Sir Percy Blakeney suddenly turned to his followers:
"We are close to the rabble now," he said in a whisper, and speaking in English; "do you all follow the nearest stragglers, and get as soon as possible into the thickest of the crowd. We'll meet again outside the prison--and remember the sea-gull's cry."
He did not wait for an answer, and presently disappeared in the mist.
Already a few stragglers, hangers-on of the multitude, were gradually coming into view, and the yells could be distinctly heard. The mob had evidently assembled in the great square outside the prison, and was loudly demanding the object of its wrath.
The moment for cool-headed action was at hand. The Scarlet Pimpernel had planned the whole thing, but it was for his followers and for those whom he was endeavouring to rescue from certain death, to help him heart and soul.
Déroulède's grasp tightened on Juliette's little hand.
"Are you frightened, my beloved?" he whispered.
"Not whilst you are near me," she murmured in reply.
A few more minutes' walk up the Rue des Archives and they were in the thick of the crowd. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Lord Antony Dewhurst, and Lord Hastings, the three Englishmen, were in front; Déroulède and Juliette immediately behind them.
The mob itself now carried them along. A motley throng they were, soaked through with the rain, drunk with their own baffled rage, and with the brandy which they had imbibed.
Every one was shouting; the women louder than the rest; one of them was dragging the length of the rope, which might still be useful.
"Ça ira! ça ira! À la lanterne! À la lanterne! les traîtres!"
And Déroulède, holding Juliette by the hand, shouted lustily with them:
Sir Andrew Ffoulkes turned, and laughed. It was rare sport for these young bucks, and they all entered into the spirit of the situation. They all shouted "À la lanterne!" egging and encouraging those around them.
Déroulède and Juliette felt the intoxication of the adventure. They were drunk with the joy of their reunion, and seized with the wild, mad, passionate desire for freedom and for life . . . Life and love!
So they pushed and jostled on in the mud, followed the crowd, sang and yelled louder than any of them. Was not that very crowd the great bulwark of their safety?
As well have sought for the proverbial needle in the haystack, as for two escaped prisoners in this mad, heaving throng.
The large open space in front of the Temple Prison looked like one great, seething, black mass.
The darkness was almost thick here, the ground like a morass, with inches of clayey mud, which stuck to everything, whilst the spare lanterns, hung to the prison walls and beneath the portico, threw practically no light into the square.
As the little band, composed of the three Englishmen, and of Déroulède, holding Juliette by the hand, emerged into the open space, they heard a strident cry, like that of a sea-mew thrice repeated, and a hoarse voice shouting from out the darkness:
"Ma foi! I'll not believe that the prisoners are in the Temple now! It is my belief, friends, citizens, that we have been fooled once more!"
The voice, with its strange, unaccountable accent, which seemed to belong to no province of France, dominated the almost deafening noise; it penetrated through, even into the brandy-soddened minds of the mulitude, for the suggestion was received with renewed shouts of the wildest wrath.
Like one great, living seething mass the crowd literally bore down upon the huge and frowning prison. Pushing, jostling, yelling, the women screaming, the men cursing, it seemed as if that awesome day--the 14th of July--was to have its sanguinary counterpart to-night, as if the Temple were destined to share the fate of the Bastille.
Obedient to their leader's orders the three young Englishmen remained in the thick of the crowd: together with Déroulède they contrived to form a sturdy rampart round Juliette, effectually protecting her against rough buffetings.
On their right, towards the direction of Ménilmontant, the sea-mew's cry at intervals gave them strength and courage.
The foremost rank of the crowd had reached the portico of the building, and, with howls and snatches of their gutter song, were loudly clamouring for the guardian of the grim prison.
No one appeared; the great gates with their massive bars and hinges remained silent and defiant.
The crowd was becoming dangerous: whispers of the victory of the Bastille, five years ago, engendered thoughts of pillage and of arson.
Then the strident voice was heard again:
"Pardi! the prisoners are not in the Temple! The dolts have allowed them to escape, and now are afraid of the wrath of the people!"
It was strange how easily the mob assimilated this new idea. Perhaps the dark, frowning block of massive buildings had overawed them with its peaceful strength, perhaps the dripping rain and oozing clay had damped their desire for an immediate storming of the grim citadel; perhaps it was merely the human characteristic of a wish for something new, something unexpected.
Be that as it may, the cry was certainly taken up with marvellous, quick-change rapidity.
"The prisoners have escaped! The prisoners have escaped!"
Some were for proceeding with the storming of the Temple, but they were in the minority. All along, the crowd had been more inclined for private revenge than for martial deeds of valour; the Bastille had been taken by daylight; the effort might not have been so successful on a pitch-black night such as this, when one could not see one's hand before one's eyes, and the drizzling rain went through to the marrow.
"They've got through one of the barriers by now!" suggested the same voice from out the darkness.
"The barriers--the barriers!" came in sheep-like echo from the crowd.
The little group of fugitives and their friends tightened their hold on one another.
They had understood at last.
"It is for us to see that the crowd does what we want," the Scarlet Pimpernel had said.
He wanted it to take them and his friends out of Paris, and, by God! he was like to succeed.
Juliette's heart within her beat almost to choking; her strong little hand gripped Déroulède's fingers with the wild strength of a mad exultation.
Next to the man to whom she had given her love and her very soul she admired and looked up to the remarkable and noble adventurer, the high-born and exquisite dandy, who with grime-covered face, and strong limbs encased in filthy clothes, was playing the most glorious part ever enacted upon the stage.
"To the barriers--to the barriers!"
Like a herd of wild horses, driven by the whip of the herdsmen, the mob began to scatter in all directions. Not knowing what it wanted, not knowing what it would find, half forgetting the very cause and object of its wrath, it made one gigantic rush for the gates of the great city through which the prisoners were supposed to have escaped.
The three Englishmen and Déroulède, with Juliette well protected in their midst, had not joined the general onrush as yet. The crowd in the open place was still very thick, the outward-branching streets were very narrow: through these the multitude, scampering, hurrying, scurrying, like a human torrent let out of a whirlpool, rushed down headlong towards the barriers.
Up the Rue Turbigo to the Belleville gate, the Rue des Filles, and the Rue du Chemin Vert, towards Popincourt, they ran, knocking each other down, jostling the weaker ones on one side, trampling others underfoot. They were all rough, coarse creatures, accustomed to these wild bousculades, ready to pick themselves up again after any number of falls; whilst the mud was slimy and soft to tumble on, and those who did the trampling had no shoes on their feet.
They rushed out from the dark, open places, these creatures of the night, into streets darker still.
On they ran--on! on!--now in thick, heaving masses, anon in loose, straggling groups--some north, some south, some east, some west.
But it was from the east that came the sea-gull's cry.
The little band ran boldly towards the east. Down the Rue de la Republique they followed their leader's call. The crowd was very thick here; the Barrière Ménilmontant was close by, and beyond it there was the cemetery of Père Lachaise. It was the nearest gate to the Temple Prison, and the mob wanted to be up and doing, not to spend too much time running along the muddy streets and getting wet and cold, but to repeat the glorious exploits of the 14th of July, and capture the barriers of Paris by force of will rather than force of arms.
In this rushing mob the four men, with Juliette in their midst, remained quite unchallenged, mere units in an unruly crowd.
In a quarter of an hour Ménilmontant was reached.
The great gates of the city were well guarded by detachments of the National Guard, each under command of an officer. Twenty strong at most--what was that against such a throng?
Who had ever dreamed of Paris being stormed from within?
At every gate to the north and east of the city there was now a rabble some four or five thousand strong, wanting it knew not what. Every one had forgotten what it was that caused him or her to rush on so blindly, so madly, towards the nearest barrier.
But every one knew that he or she wanted to get through that barrier, to attack the soldiery, to knock down the Captain of the Guard.
And with a wild cry every city gate was stormed.
Like one huge wind-tossed wave, the populace on that memorable night of Fructidor, broke against the cordon of soldiery that vainly tried to keep it back. Men and women, drunk with brandy and exultation, shouted "Quatorze Juillet!" and amidst curses and threats demanded the opening of the gates.
The people of France would have its will.
Was it not the supreme lord and ruler of the land, the arbiter of the Fate of this great, beautiful, and maddened country?
The National Guard was powerless; the officers in command could offer but feeble resistance.
The desultory fire, which in the darkness and the pouring rain did very little harm, had the effect of further infuriating the mob.
The drizzle had turned to a deluge, a veritable heavy summer downpour, with occasional distant claps of thunder and incessant sheet-lightning, which ever and anon illuminated with its weird, fantastic flash this heaving throng, these begrimed faces, crowned with red caps of Liberty, these witchlike female creatures with wet, straggly hair and gaunt, menacing arms.
Within half an hour the people of Paris was outside its own gates.
Victory was complete. The Guard did not resist; the officers had surrendered; the great and mighty rabble had had its way.
Exultant, it swarmed around the fortifications and along the terrains vagues which it had conquered by its will.
But the downpour was continuous, and with victory came satiety--satiety coupled with wet skins, muddy feet, tired, wearied bodies, and throats parched with continual shouting.
At Ménilmontant, where the crowd had been thickest, the tempers highest, and the yells most strident, there now stretched before this tired, excited throng, the peaceful vastness of the cemetary of Père Lachaise.
The great alleys of sombre monuments, the weird cedars with their fantastic branches, like arms of a hundred ghosts, quelled and awed these hooting masses of degraded humanity.
The silent majesty of this city of the dead seemed to frown with withering scorn on the passions of the sister city.
Instinctively the rabble was cowed. The cemetery looked dark, dismal, and deserted. The flashes of lightning seemed to reveal ghostlike processions of the departed heroes of France, wandering silently amidst the tombs.
And the populace turned with a shudder away from this vast place of eternal peace.
From within the cemetery gates there was suddenly heard the sound of a sea-mew calling thrice to its mate. And five dark figures, wrapped in cloaks, gradually detached themselves from the throng, and one by one slipped into the grounds of Père Lachaise through that break in the wall which is quite close to the main entrance.
Once more the sea-gull's cry.
Those in the crowd who heard it, shivered beneath their dripping clothes. They thought it was a soul in pain risen from one of the graves, and some of the women, forgetting the last few years of godlessness, hastily crossed themselves, and muttered an invocation to the Virgin Mary.
Within the gates all was silent and at peace. The sodden earth gave forth no echo of the muffled footsteps, which slowly crept towards the massive block of stone, which covers the graves of the immortal lovers--Abélard and Helöise.