Chapter XXII:

Waiting
~ 1


The house to which Marguerite was ultimately driven, and where she presently found herself ushered up the stairs into a small, well-furnished apartment, appeared to be situated somewhere in an outlying quarter of Pairs.


The apartment consisted of three rooms - a bedroom, a sitting-room, and small cabinet de toilette - all plainly but nicely furnished. The bed looked clean and comfortable, there was a carpet on the floor, one or two pictures on the wall, an arm-chair or two, even a few books in an armoire. An old woman, dour of mien but otherwise willing and attentive, did all she could to minister to the poor wearied woman's wants. She brought up some warm milk and home-baked bread. Butter, she explained, was not obtainable these day, and the household had not seen sugar for weeks.


Marguerite, tired out and hungry, readily ate some breakfast; but what she longed for most and needed most was rest. So presently, at the gruff invitation of the old woman, she undressed and stretched her weary limbs between the sheets, with a sigh of content. Anxiety, for the moment, had to yield to the sense of well-being, and with the name of her beloved on her lips Marguerite went to sleep like a child.


When she woke, it was late afternoon. On a chair close by her bedside was some clean linen laid out, a change of stockings, clean shoes, and a gown - a perfect luxury, which made this silent and lonely house appear more like the enchanted abode of ogres or fairies than before. Marguerite rose and dressed. The linen was fine, obviously the property of a woman of refinement, whilst everything in the tiny dressing-room - a comb, hand-mirror, soap, and scented water - suggested that the delicate hand of a cultured woman had seen to their disposal. A while later, the dour attendant brought her some soup and a dish of cooked vegetables.


Every phase of the situation became more and more puzzling as time went one. Marguerite, with the sense of well-being further accentuated by the feel of warm, dry clothes and of wholesome food, had her mind free enough to think and to ponder. She had thrown open the window, and peeping out, noted that it obviously gave on the back of the house and that the view consisted of rough, uncultivated land, broken up here and there by workshops, warehouses, and timber-yards. Marguerite also noted that she was gazing out in the direction of the north-west, that the apartment wherein she found herself was on the top floor of a detached house which, judging by certain landmarks vaguely familiar, was situated somewhere outside the barrier of St. Antoine, and not very far from the Bastille and from the Arsenal.


Again she pondered. Where was she? Why was she being treated with a kindness and consideration altogether at variance with the tactics usually adopted by the enemies of the Scarlet Pimpernel? She was not in prison. She was not being starved, or threatened, or humiliated. The day wore on, and she was not confronted with one or other of those fiends who were so obviously using her as a decoy for her husband.


But though Marguerite Blakeney was not in prison, she was a prisoner. This she had ascertained five minutes after she was alone in the apartment. She could wander at will from room to room; but only in them, not out of them. The door of communication between the rooms was wide open; those that obviously gave on a landing outside were securely locked; and when a while ago the old woman had entered with the tray of food, Marguerite had caught sight of a group of men in the well-known tattered uniform of the National Guard, standing at attention in a wide, long antechamber.


Yes; she was a prisoner! She could open the windows of her apartment and inhale the soft moist air which came across the wide tract of a barren land; but these windows were thirty feet above the ground, and there was no projection in the outside wall of the house anywhere near that would afford a foothold to anything human.


Thus for twenty-four hours she was left to meditate, thrown upon her own resources, with no other company save that of her own thoughts, and they were anything but cheerful. The uncertainty of the situation soon began to prey upon her nerves. She had been calm in the morning; but as the day wore on the loneliness, the mystery, the silence, began to tell upon her courage. Soon she got to look upon the woman who waited on her as upon her jailer, and when she was alone she was for ever straining her ears to hear what the men who were guarding her door might be saying among themselves.


The next night she hardly slept.


~ 2


Twenty-four hours later she had a visiting from citizen Chauvelin.


She had been expecting that visit all along, or else a message from him. When he came she had need of all her pluck and all her determination, not to let him see the emotion which his presence caused her. Dread! Loathing! These were her predominant sensations. But dread above all; because he was dressed with scrupulous care and affected the manners and graces of a society which had long since cast him out. It was not the rough, out-at-elbows Terrorist who stood before her, the revolutionary demagogue who hits out right and left against a caste that has always spurned him and held itself aloof; it was the broken-down gentleman at war with fortune, who strives by his wits to be revenged against the buffetings of Fate and the arrogance which ostracized him as soon as he was down.


He began by asking solicitously after her well-being; hoped the journey had not over-fatigued her; humbly begged her pardon for the discomfort which a higher power compelled him to put upon her. He talked platitudes in an even, unctuous voice until Marguerite, exasperated, and her nerves on edge, curtly bade him to come to the point.


"I have come to the point, dear lady," he retorted suavely. "The point is that you should be comfortable and have no cause to complain whilst you are under this roof."


"And how long am I to remain a prisoner under it?" she asked.


"Until Sir Percy has in his turn honoured this house with his presence," he replied.


To this she made no answer for a time, but sat quite still looking at him, as if detached and indifferent. He waited for her to speak, his pale eyes, slightly mocking, fixed upon her. Then she said simply:


"I understand."


"I was quite sure you would, dear lady," he rejoined blandly. "You see, the phase of heroics is past. I will confess to you that it proved of no avail when measured against the lofty coolness of that peerless exquisite. So we over here have shed our ardour like a mantle. We, too, now are quite calm, quite unperturbed, quite content to wait. The beautiful Lady Blakeney is a guest under this roof. Well, sooner or later that most gallant of husbands will desire to approach his lady. Sooner or later he will learn that she is no longer in England. Then he will set his incomparable wits to work to find out where she is. Again, I may say that sooner or later, perhaps, even aided by us, he will know that she is here. Then he will come. Am I not right?"


Of course he was right. Sooner or later Percy would learn where she was; and then he would come. He would come to her, despite every trap set for his undoing, despite every net laid to catch him, despite danger of death that waited for him if he came.


Chauvelin said little more. In truth, the era of heroics was at an end. At an end those ominous "either - ors" that he was wont to mete out with a voice quavering with rage and lust of revenge. Now there was no alternative, no deep-laid plot save one: to wait for the Scarlet Pimpernel until he came.


In the meanwhile she, Marguerite, must remain helpless and a prisoner; she must eat and drink and sleep. She, the decoy! - who would never know when the crushing blow would fall that would mean a hundred deaths to her if it involved that of the husband whom she worshipped.


After a while, Chauvelin went away. In fact, she never knew actually when he did go. A while ago he had sat there on that upright chair, quiet, well groomed, suave of speech and bland of manner.


"Then he will come," he had said quite urbanely. "Am I not right?"


When Marguerite closed her eyes she could still see him, his mocking gaze fixed upon her, his thin, white hands folded complacently before him. And presently, as the day wore on and the shades of evening blurred one object in the room after another, the straight-backed chair, still left in its place, assumed a fantastic human shape - the shape of a meagre figure with narrow shoulders and thin, carefully be-stockinged legs. And all the faint noises around her - the occasional creaking of the furniture, the movements of the men outside her door, the soughing of the evening breeze in the foliage of the elm trees - all were merged into a thin, bland human voice, that went on repeating in a kind of thin, dreary monotone:


"Then he will come. Am I not right?"