A ghost wandered the passages beneath the abbey. Like most ghosts, she wore a white nightgown and slippers which made no noise as she tread through the close caves. Her long, dark hair cascaded down her back in disarray—she made quite the picture. The ghost carried her own light, a lantern far too big for her slight form. From time to time, she stumbled, and it swung, casting wild, demonic shadows against the walls and ceiling. Then she would start with terror and proceed more carefully than before.
Now, she inched down a particularly close passage, and the slime from the dank, living rocks coated her robe. The passage itself was dark, but a light shone from the room just ahead…
She paused. She had done this many times before. In a voice barely above a whisper, she cried, “Edouard!”
Silence met her.
She ventured a bit closer, called a bit louder, “Edouard!”
This time, something clamped down violently on her arm, and her shriek of terror went careening off the cavern walls. The something whirled her around to face him.
She’d dropped the lantern, but in its ruddy glow, his shrewd features appeared all too plainly. “Citoyen Chauvelin!” she feigned relief. “I’ve been looking for you for hours!”
He had made no attempt to silence her, but neither did he let go of her arm. “Yes,” he returned dryly, almost pleasantly. “I could hear you calling for me. Tell me,” and he shook her a bit, “What are you playing at, little citizeness?”
She kept her fear under control admirably, schooling herself. “I—I’m playing at exactly what you told me to, Citoyen,” she returned a touch defiantly.
“That’s strange.” He released her. “I don’t recall instructing you to reveal Marguerite Blakeney’s identity.”
“I don’t recall you forbidding it,” she returned.
“No, my dear,” he said in a tone of infinite patience. “But by attempting to hinder her, you’ve done nothing but help her deliver her message to the Abbess. You wouldn’t want to help that traitor, now would you?”
“Good. Because I’m afraid that if she escapes the guillotine, your brother will not. Are we clear, Marquise?”
She said nothing.
“You’d best pick up your lantern, now.”
She did so, galvanized into action. “Edouard! You said I could see him, Chauvelin. You said you would bring him here! I will not work for you a second longer if I cannot see him!”
“And so you shall, Mademoiselle. So you shall. If you will just follow me—” And with a mock-gallant bow towards her, he led the way into the softly-lit cavern ahead.
In some medieval time, these caves must have served as a rather humane dungeon. Half of the room had been partitioned off with bars, now rusting. In the back corner of that cell, asleep on a pallet, lay a small boy.
“Edouard! Let me see him!” shrieked Angèle, plastering herself against the corroded bars of the prison. At a nod from Chauvelin, one of the boy’s guards unlocked the gate, and she rushed to him.
He’d started to stir already from the commotion, but he must have been shocked upon reaching full consciousness to find himself pressed in the arms of a hysterical young woman. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and stared at her quizzically.
Angèle, for her part, now held him at arms’ length to examine him. Edouard was dark of hair and eyes, like his sister, but his skin was almost preternaturally pale. He had just passed his ninth birthday, but looked no bigger than a six-year-old. She froze at the look upon his face. “Edouard, mon cheri, don’t you know me?”
He cocked his head to the side for a few moments to better examine her, then asked in the voice of one ready to accept absolutely anything, “Angèle?”
“Yes! Cheri,” she rocked him against her once more, and this time, he climbed onto her lap, and his small arms fastened about her neck in a grip which nearly squeezed the breath from her.
“Ange! I though for sure they sliced your head off, like Maman and Papa!”
“No, little brother,” she whispered in his ear. “They will not, and you will not stay here much longer. Tomorrow, Monsieur Chauvelin will let you out, and we will go together to England. We will be happy together!”
But the child’s face had closed to her again. “Do—do you understand? Edouard?” she asked, her voice conveying a world of confusion and hurt.
“No,” he told her bluntly. “Angèle, why are you helping that man? He killed Maman and Papa and Jean!”
“Shh!” she hissed. “I know, mon coeur. But what he asks from me is not so much, and if I do it, we will go free, together.”
“He’s a bad man,” Edouard stated, with the solemnity only managed by small boys who find themselves at the head of a household. “Angèle, you should go away from here, now. You should go through the mountains and get as far away as you can.”
“Citoyenne!” Chauvelin called, waiting respectfully at the mouth of the dark passage. “You will need your sleep tonight. Remember, you will be very tired by the time morning dawns.”
“Not without you,” Angèle told Edouard in a hushed voice. Brother and sister held each other tightly once more. “Be safe, little one.”
“Be safe,” he replied.
At the mouth of the cave, Chauvelin made a move to accompany her. “I can find my way back,” she told him haughtily. And, hoisting her lantern, the once-again-ghostly figure of Angèle de St. Cyr disappeared into the darkness as a single, diminishing point of light.
Chauvelin trailed her halfway down the passage before standing to stare after her. She would play her role—of this, he had no doubt. He had long been a master of manipulating women through their loved ones, and Angèle would prove no more a challenge than the others—
—even if, from time to time, one of those others turned on him, and forced him to use more extreme measures.
No, the real trick would not be trapping Blakeney’s men and his wife. The real trick was to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, that slippery devil who slid neatly from his every trap, even as it closed in a vise-grip around him.
Blakeney was here. He would never have let Lady Blakeney come without accompanying her himself, and the members of his band would never disobey an order by allowing her to come along without their leader’s permission.
He needed only to be sure that he had the Pimpernel cornered—then Mlle. de St. Cyr could close the trap.
“My dear Shovelin!” an obnoxiously pleasant voice interrupted his musings. “Fancy meeting you in a cozy hideaway such as this! Sink me! I had no thought that I would encounter such a dear old friend on my midnight stroll, else I would have freshened myself up more for the occasion.”
The sound of a match being struck and the accompanying pinprick of light were replaced by the diffused glow of a lantern, which cast itself upon the elegantly handsome face of Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart.
Name of a dog! Would the obnoxious oaf never cease to show up at the most inopportune times? There was no telling how much he might have overheard—the threats against Angèle, even her conversation with the child.
Then again, a clever man could turn the most disadvantageous of situations into a great advantage, with a little ingenuity.
“My dear Pimpernel!” Chauvelin greeted his enemy loudly. “On the contrary, I am merely here to do my job, to fulfill my duty to the state. It was you I did not expect to encounter. After all, what sort of English gentleman, even if he is a known adventurer and criminal, brings his wife back into danger so close upon the heels of her recuperation? I trust Lady Blakeney feels quite well after the last bout of injuries you let her be subjected to?”
Blakeney effected an enormous yawn. “I do believe all this exertion in one night has exhausted me, Monsieur Chaubertin. If you will excuse me—er—I trust you could point the way back—?“
He got no further in his playacting, for one of Edouard’s guards, upon hearing the conversation, had snuck up behind the gentleman, and very quietly, very efficiently, hit him over the head.
“Tie him,” Chauvelin ordered. “Lock him in one of the cells. Appoint guards!”
Right on schedule, the trap had closed.
Marguerite Blakeney awoke to a cold and protesting body. The grey, pre-dawn light streamed in through a small window, casting everything in a paler shade of freezing.
It took a moment for memory to sink in. What was she supposed to do next? Something…
Ah, yes. Get a message to Percy. Here, I trust your ingenuity, my darling, he’d said. She would have to tell him she’d failed.
If Percy were here, he would advise her to crawl into the bed and get what few hours real sleep she could manage. But the pristine bed looked so cold and uninviting that instead, Marguerite stood and stretched and paced the room, putting her brain to work even as she rubbed half-frozen fingers vigorously together in an attempt to warm them.
The chances of finding one of the doors the Abbess had mentioned, a door which led to the grotto, were very slim. However, Marguerite’s other option consisted of marching down the hillside, banging on the cavern door, and demanding to speak to her husband. It lacked something in subtlety. The wide kitchens, she knew from her tour the previous evening, spanned most of the lower levels of the complex. They would be by far the most likely place to hold an entrance to the caverns, if she could discover how to unlock it and let herself in. Marguerite resolved to try.
Slipping quietly from her room, she paced left down the hallway, ending up at the broad foyer to the chapel. From here, she should be able to reconstruct the route to the kitchens.
She was debating between two passages when soft footsteps alerted her that someone approached. Darting into the shadow of an arch which hung over the chapel, she watched as the robed and grime-covered figure of the Marquise de St. Cyr paced woodenly through the middle of the foyer and down a corridor, looking neither left nor right.
The message to Percy could, after all, wait a bit longer. Curious, Marguerite slipped silently from her hiding place and followed her small compatriot down the first of many winding passages.
Angèle had long since abandoned the ability to think. All she knew was doing. If she just kept doing, mechanically, until nothing remained to do, she would have her brother back, and they would be able to rest. Even her desire for vengeance dulled somewhat before her overwhelming need for peace in which to rest. She turned expertly to her right…then paused before a choice of three entrances. She’d found the small, barred passage through the left one the night before. Which had Chauvelin, with his infinite network of spies, instructed her to use? Choosing the middle, she proceeded.
Here was the furnace room; she’d made the right choice. And there it stood—the massive door, barred from the inside, which marked the largest gateway between the lower caverns and the upper sanctuary. She paused before it, her conscience forcing her mind back into full working capacity. Could she do this? Could she betray so many innocent people, for her own selfish desire to have a loved one back? She wasn’t sure…
Desperation reasserted itself. She was sure that she could never leave Edouard to die. The bar was too heavy for her, but dawn approached quickly, and she’d given her word…
It took three back-breaking tries before, putting her whole weight beneath the bar, Angèle managed to heft it upwards and outwards. She scurried quickly out of the way. It fell to the ground with a noise to wake the dead; gasping in fright, she rushed into the shadows and waited for someone to come see what all the commotion was about.
The sisters’ rooms were far away, and they were used to the odd noises of the furnaces being filled and lit every morning. Angèle crouched paralyzed for what seemed hours, what was actually only minutes, and still no one came. She crept silently away from her handiwork, and went to find a place to hide.
On to Chapter 6
"Come out into the open, my lady fair..."