Chapter XVIII:

Night and Morning
~ 1


Theresia waited for a moment or two at the turn of the passage, until her keen ear had told her that Bertrand was no longer on the watch and had closed the door behind him. Then she retraced her steps - on tiptoe, lest he should hear.


She found her way to the front door; it was still on the latch. She opened it and peered out into the night. The little porch was deserted, but out there on the quay a few passers-by still livened the evening with chatter or song. Theresia was on the point of steeping out of the porch, when a familiar voice hailed her softly by name:


"Citoyenne Cabarrus!"


A man, dressed in dark clothes, with high boots and sugar-loaf hat, came out from the dark angle behind the porch.


"Not here!" Theresia whispered eagerly. "Out on the quay. Wait for me there, my little Chauvelin. I'll be with you anon. I have so much to tell you!"


Silently, he did as she desired. She waited for a moment in the porch, watching the meagre figure in the dark cloak making its way across to the quay, then walking rapidly in the direction of the Pent. The moon was dazzlingly brilliant. The harbour and the distant sea glistened like diamond-studded sheets of silver. From afar there came the sound of the castle clock striking ten. The groups of passers-by had dwindled down to an occasional amorous couple strolling homewards, whispering soft nothings and gazing enraptured at the moon; or half-a-dozen sailors lolling down the quays arm in arm, on their way back to their ship, obstructing the road, yelling and singing the refrain of the newest ribald song; or perhaps a belated pedlar, weary of an unprofitable beat, wending his way dejectedly home.


One of these poor wretches - a cripple with a wooden leg and bent nearly doubt with the heavy load on his pack - paused for a moment beside the porch, held out a grimy hand to Theresia, with a pitiable cry.


"Of your charity, kind sir! Buy a little something from the pore ole man, to buy a bit of bread!"


He looked utterly woebegone, with lank grey hair blown about by the breeze and a colourless face covered with sweat, that shone like painted metal in the moon-light.


"Buy a little something, kind sir!" he went on, in a shrill, throaty voice. "I've a sick wife at 'ome, and pore little gran'childen!"


Theresia - a little frightened, and not at all charitably inclined at this hour - turned hastily away and went back into to house, whither the cripple's vigorous curses followed her.


"May Satan and all his armies-"


She shut the door on him and hastened up the passage. That cadaverous old reprobate had caused her to shudder as with the presentiment of coming evil


~ 2


With infinite precaution, Theresia peeped into the room where she had left Bertrand. She saw him lying on the sofa, fast asleep.


On the table in the middle of the room there was an old ink-horn, a pen, and few loose sheets of paper. Noiseless as a mouse, Theresia slipped into the room, sat at the table, and hurriedly wrote a few lines. Bertrand had not moved. Having written her missive, Theresia folded it carefully, and still on tiptoe, more stealthily even than before, she slipped the paper between the young man's loosely clasped fingers. Then, as soundlessly as she had come, she glided out of the room, ran down the passage, and was out in the porch once more, breathless but relieved.


Bertrand had not moved; and no one had seen her. Theresia only paused in the porch long enough to recover her breath, then, without hesitation and with rapid strides, she crossed over to the water's edge and walked along in the direction of the Pent.


Whereupon, the figure of the old cripple emerged from out the shadows. He gazed after the fast retreating figure of Theresia for a moment or two, then threw down his load, straightened out his back, and stretched out his arms from the shoulders with a sigh of content. After which amazing proceedings he gave a soft, inward chuckle, unstrapped his wooden leg, slung it with his discarded load across his broad shoulders, and turning his back upon harbour and sea, turned up the High Street and strode rapidly away.


~ 3


When Bertrand Moncrif woke, the dawn was peeping in throuhg the uncurtained window. He felt cold and stiff. It took him some time to realize where he was, to collect his scattered senses. He had been dreaming... here in this room... Theresia had been here... and she had laid her head against his breast and allowed him to soothe and comfort her. Then she said that she would come back... and he... like a fool... had fallen asleep.


He jumped up, fully awake now; and as he did so a folded scrap of paper fell out of his hand. He had not known that it was there when first he woke, and somehow it appeared to be a part of his dream. As it lay there on the sanded floor at his feet, it looked strangely ghostlike, ominous; and it was with a trembling hand that, presently, he picked it up.


Every minute now brought fuller daylight into the room; a grey, cold light, for the window faced the south-west, showing a wide stretch of the tidal harbour and the open sea beyond. The sun, not fully risen, had not yet shed warmth over the landscape, and to Bertrand this colourless dawn, the mysterious stillness which earth assumes just before it wakens to the sun's kiss, seemed inexpressibly dreary and desolate.


He went to the window and threw open the casement. Down below, a kitchen wench was busy scrubbing the flagged steps of the porch; over in the inner harbour, one or two fishing vessels were preparing to put out to sea; and from the tidal harbour, the graceful yacht which yesterday had brought him - Bertrand - and his friends safely to this land of refuge, was majestically gliding out, like a beautiful swan with gleaming wings outspread.


Controlling his apprehension, his nervousness, Bertrand at last contrived to unfold the mysterious epistle. He read the few lines that were traced with a delicate, feminine hand, and with a sigh of infinite longing and of ardent passion, he pressed the paper to his lips. Theresia had sent him a message. Finding him asleep, she had slipped it into his hand. The marvel was that he did not wake when she stooped over him, and perhaps even touched his forehead with her lips.


"A kind soul," so the message ran, "hath taken compassion on me. There was no room for me at the inn, and she has offered me a bed in her cottage, somewhere close by. I do not know where it is. I have arranged with the landlord that you shall be left undisturbed in the small room where he found one another, and where the four walls will whisper to you of me. Good night, my beloved! To-morrow you will go to London with the de Servals. I will follow later. It is better so. In London you will find me at the house of Mme de Neafchateau, a friend of my father's who lives at No. 54 in the Soho Square, and who offered me hospitality in the days when I thought I might visit London for pleasure. She will receive me now that I am poor and an exile. Come to me there. Until then my heart will feed on the memory of your kiss."


The letter was signed "Theresia."


Bertrand pressed it time and again to his lips. Never in his wildest dreams had he hoped for this; never even in those early days of rapture had he tasted such perfect bliss. The letter he hid against his breast. He was immeasurably happy, felt as if he were treading on air. The sea, the landscape, no longer looked grey and dreary. This was England, the land of the free, the land wherein he had regained his beloved. Ah, the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, while seeking ignoble vengeance against her, for sins which she never had committed, did in truth render him and her a priceless service. Theresia, courted, adulated, over in Paris, had been as far removed from Bertrand Moncrif as the stars; but here, where she was poor and lonely, a homeless refugee like himself, she turned instinctively to the faithful lover, who would gladly die to ensure her happiness.


With that letter in his possession, Bertrand felt that he could not remain indoors. He was pining for open spaces, the sea, the mountains, God's pure air - the air which she too was breathing even now. He snatched up his hat and made his way out of the little building. The kitchen wench paused in her scrubbing and looked up smiling as he ran past her, singing and shouting for joy. For Régine - the tender, loving heart that pined for him and for his love - he had not a thought. She was the past, the dull, drabby past wherein he had dwelt before he knew how glorious a thing life could be, how golden the future, how rosy that horizon far away.


By the time he reached the harbour, the sun had risen in all its glory. Way out against the translucent sky, the graceful silhouette of the schooner swayed gently in the morning breeze, her outspread sails gleaming like wings that are tinged with gold. Bertrand watched her for awhile. He thought of the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel and the hideous vengeance which he had wrought against his beloved. And the rage which possessed his soul at the thought obscured for a moment the beauty of the morning and the glory of the sky. With a gesture characteristic of his blood and of his race, he raised his fist and shook it in the direction of the distant ship.