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|The Scarlet Pimpernel||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
|Page 3 of 5||
Forgetting the fact that she was only very lightly clad in a morning wrap, and that her hair lay loosely about her shoulders, she flew down the stairs, right through the hall towards the front door.
It was as usual barred and bolted, for the indoor servants were not yet up; but her keen ears had detected the sound of voices and the pawing of a horse's hoof against the flag-stones.
With nervous, trembling fingers Marguerite undid the bolts one by one, bruising her hands, hurting her nails, for the locks were heavy and stiff. But she did not care; her whole frame shook with anxiety at the very thought that she might be too late; that he might have gone without her seeing him and bidding him "God-speed!"
At last, she had turned the key and thrown open the door. Her ears had not deceived her. A groom was standing close by holding a couple of horses; one of these was Sultan, Sir Percy's favourite and swiftest horse, saddled ready for a journey.
The next moment Sir Percy himself appeared round the further corner of the house and came quickly towards the horses. He had changed his gorgeous ball costume, but was as usual irreproachably and richly apparelled in a suit of fine cloth, with lace jabot and ruffles, high top-boots, and riding breeches.
Marguerite went forward a few steps. He looked up and saw her. A slight frown appeared between his eyes.
"You are going?" she said quickly and feverishly. "Whither?"
"As I have had the honour of informing your ladyship, urgent, most unexpected business calls me to the North this morning," he said, in his usual cold, drawly manner.
"But. . .your guests to-morrow. . ."
"I have prayed your ladyship to offer my humble excuses to His Royal Highness. You are such a perfect hostess, I do not think I shall be missed."
"But surely you might have waited for your journey. . .until after our water-party. . ." she said, still speaking quickly and nervously. "Surely this business is not so urgent. . .and you said nothing about it--just now."
"My business, as I had the honour to tell you, Madame, is as unexpected as it is urgent. . . . May I therefore crave your permission to go. . . . Can I do aught for you in town?. . .on my way back?"
"No. . .no. . .thanks. . .nothing. . .But you will be back soon?"
"Before the end of the week?"
"I cannot say."
He was evidently trying to get away, whilst she was straining every nerve to keep him back for a moment or two.
"Percy," she said, "will you not tell me why you go to-day? Surely I, as your wife, have the right to know. You have NOT been called away to the North. I know it. There were no letters, no couriers from there before we left for the opera last night, and nothing was waiting for you when we returned from the ball. . . . You are NOT going to the North, I feel convinced. . . . There is some mystery. . .and. . ."
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|The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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