Marguerite had lost her quarry somewhere in the bowels of the abbey when the rising sun cast its light through broad windows. She noted with wry humor, and a touch of fear, that her wandering had brought her to the storage areas not far from the kitchens. She began trying doors, most of which were unlocked, and most of which led to nothing more than closets. The abbey slept peacefully. The dawn’s rosy light fell full against one wall of the hallway; Margot could not help but feel hopeful that the new day would bring new chances at success.
That was when all hell broke loose.
with a colossal bang. Several minutes of silence followed, as the
echoes died away.
Nerves on edge, Marguerite crept cautiously in the direction of the noise. Just as she reached the end of the passage, however, a series of smaller bangs broke the heavy silence, followed by the rhythmic sounds of a group of men at work. A creaking noise so loud Marguerite covered her ears—that was a door opening. A sharp voice barking orders—she knew that voice! Something along her spine turned to ice, and she shivered convulsively. That was the voice of the man who wanted nothing more in the world than to kill her husband.
She backed quickly down the hall, ready to dart into a hiding place at a moment’s notice. But the rain of footsteps passed her, changed to the thunder of men mounting stairs. Moments later, terrified shrieks and men barking things in harsh voices. Marguerite panicked, darted halfway into a closet, held her breath.
Then the shrieks, the voices, the footsteps faded further from her.
She had to find that door! She had to warn Percy, if it wasn’t too late already. Keeping to the shadows, Marguerite began to inch her way downwards.
Chauvelin had all of the sisters herded into the great open area in the middle of their library. Then, he locked the doors. “Count them,” he ordered his soldiers.
The black-clad figures crowded together in one large group, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their patrolling captors. The older women pushed the younger into the center of their circle, reminding Chauvelin of nothing so much as the descriptions he’d read of a herd of elephants.
“Fourty-two!” the counters returned.
“We are missing two…how interesting.” The little man passed among the women, glancing at their faces. Some showed terror, others defiance. What struck him most was the lack of the very two he sought. “The Marquise de St. Cyr, and Lady Blakeney,” he announced to the soldiers, fury making his voice shake. “They are both missing. Find them!”
Several of the men filed from the room, casting apprehensive glances at their superior. Chauvelin heard them organizing a quick, systematic search.
Satisfied, he made the long trek back to the grotto, through the corridors chiseled geometrically from grey stone, and then the dark passages which nature had hollowed. He looked in on Blakeney, pleased to note that at least this prisoner was still tied up, either unconscious or sleeping. From there, down to the front cavern, where the aristos had by now been herded and penned like terrified sheep…
“You there!” he called to the guard in charge of them.
“Citoyen Chauvelin!” the man returned with a salute. “All prisoners accounted for.”
“Good. Then you have the Englishmen?”
“Citoyen?” the man queried with a blank look.
Would this interminable disaster never end? “The Englishmen who entered last night. The companions of the Scarlet Pimpernel!”
“We—we have everyone who was sleeping in the cavern last night. I am sure we have them here—”
Brushing the man aside in anger, Chauvelin moved to look for himself. Face after terrified face met his, or turned away in fear and loathing. A strong sense of déjà vu filled him; not one was a face he had failed to observe here before yesterday. He turned back to the guard in quiet fury. “You will meet the guillotine for this sloppy work, this utter failure. You all will! You have not succeeded in catching one of his men! The Scarlet Pimpernel may be our prisoner, but we do not hold him securely until every member of his league is in our custody, on his way to the guillotine!”
Marguerite’s nerves were strained so taut that the figure which passed her, gasping and hysterical, nearly caused her heart to stop. Precious moments passed before she registered who the blur had been. Then she turned and raced towards the woman, throwing all of her weight at the poor girl in an attempt to stop her flight.
The slight figure shrieked, pawing at her captor madly in an attempt to get free. “Angèle!” Marguerite hissed. “For the love of God, hush! You’ll get us both killed!”
“They won’t hurt me!” Angèle told her, eyes mad. “I’m working with them. I’m the one who let them in!”
Mon Dieu, she’s gone insane, Marguerite thought, glancing at the wild eyes.
Her companion would not be quieted. “Did you hear the shrieking? Oh, dear God, what have I done?” And with this, she broke down into wild sobbing.
With a sigh of extreme frustration, Marguerite half-helped, half-dragged the girl down the hallway, and into the close darkness of a storage closet. Gradually, the hysterical sobbing dwindled to gasping breaths, and then into silence. They sat that way for a long time.
“I should go to them,” Angèle announced at last. “They wouldn’t hurt me.”
Marguerite sat with her back against the door. “Take the advice of someone who knows. Now that Chauvelin has finished using you, he could not care less about your happiness. If you go to them, yours will be the first head to roll.”
“I don’t believe you!” Angèle told her with a defiance that was nearly desperate. “He promised me that if I helped him, my brother would go free!”
For the second time that hour, Marguerite’s blood froze. For the second time, her heart stopped. “Your brother?”
“My brother Edouard,” Angèle returned venomously. “Remember him? The seven-year-old child you sent to the guillotine?”
In the darkness, her voice remained perfectly steady, a testament to her self-control. “Your brother is alive?”
“Yes.” And now the sobbing threatened once more. “Ever the opportunist, Chauvelin kept the little boy, who offered him no threat, waiting for the chance to use him. Obviously, he found his chance. I saw Edouard just last night. I barely recognized him.”
The crying began again, softly, in the darkness. Angèle made just enough noise, however, that she did not hear the very soft sobs emanating from where Margot sat, face buried in her knees.
The day wore on, with no sign of any of the missing criminals. Chauvelin’s one comfort was, ironically, Sir Percy Blakeney, who still sat locked beneath the abbey. Feeling that the library, with its rows of tall shelves, presented too many hiding places, the little man had his prisoners—with the exception of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who remained under heavy guard—transferred to the spacious dining room. It was almost dinner time anyway, and he had the soldiers put the sisters who usually handled such tasks to work in the kitchen. Seating their prisoners—clergy and nobility—in the middle of the room, Chauvelin and his men took up tables along the edges, effectively blocking them all in.
“Where,” muttered one of the guards angrily, “Is that food? Name of a name, how long does it take the crones to cook one meal?”
Just then, the crones in question emerged from the kitchens, lugging large vats of stew with difficulty. Crones they were indeed—wizened, stout, bent double, so they looked like nothing so much as small, lumbering hills. They moved down the line of tables, serving out their slop to the soldiers. “Here you are,” wheezed the stooped woman who served Chauvelin. She leaned over to ladle his stew, and the agent smelled something rank. Whether it was the woman or the stew, he could not tell.
When he began eating a moment later, he became almost convinced that the smell emanated from the stew. Almost.
“It may not look pretty,” he heard one of the old women declare from across the room, “but it will improve your health, guaranteed.”
A few bites, then. He could manage a few bites. No alternative being available, all the men were soon gingerly spooning the stinking mess into their mouths.
The sisters’ eyes had gone wide at this display—all except those of the Abbess, who glared warningly at her charges. One old woman made a particularly slow round serving the prisoners, stopping altogether when a young one grabbed her wrist and urgently exclaimed, “Sister Anne!”
“Quiet!” barked one of the guards, leveling his weapon at her roughly. She lapsed into silence.
ate quickly, then went to relieve their peers so that they might also partake
of the meal and the chance to rest. Such a system kept the guards
perpetually fresh, and afforded the prisoners little chance of escape.
Men were hunted up; no one had been ambushed, luckily.
Others of their number descended to the caverns, taking food to the men who guarded the English prisoner. They had been picked for their continued vigilance; they would not be relieved.
The remainder of the soldiers trickled into the dining hall one by one, reporting to their superior as they entered. “Still no sign of them? Any of them?” Chauvelin asked sharply, cursing when each answered in the negative.
“We found the dark-haired woman, our accomplice. That is all,” reported the last to arrive.
Chauvelin nodded tersely. His beautifully designed plan was quickly becoming less and less certain. The Pimpernel’s men would play their games with smoke and mirrors, all would escape, and he would return to Paris with nothing but a group of incompetent soldiers to show for his efforts.
No! Blakeney would not slip through his fingers again! He made a quick decision. “Enough of this! Bring the English prisoner to me! This time we will take no chances. We will execute him now.”
On to Chapter 7
"Come with me and you'll ride my carousel..."