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|The Scarlet Pimpernel||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
ONE O'CLOCK PRECISELY!
|Page 2 of 5||
Perhaps--vaguely--Marguerite hoped that the daring plotter, who for so many months had baffled an army of spies, would still manage to evade Chauvelin and remain immune to the end.
She thought of all this, as she sat listening to the witty discourse of the Cabinet Minister, who, no doubt, felt that he had found in Lady Blakeney a most perfect listener. Suddenly she saw the keen, fox-like face of Chauvelin peeping through the curtained doorway.
"Lord Fancourt," she said to the Minister, "will you do me a service?"
"I am entirely at your ladyship's service," he replied gallantly.
"Will you see if my husband is still in the card-room? And if he is, will you tell him that I am very tired, and would be glad to go home soon."
The commands of a beautiful woman are binding on all mankind, even on Cabinet Ministers. Lord Fancourt prepared to obey instantly.
"I do not like to leave your ladyship alone," he said.
"Never fear. I shall be quite safe here--and, I think, undisturbed. . .but I am really tired. You know Sir Percy will drive back to Richmond. It is a long way, and we shall not--an we do not hurry--get home before daybreak."
Lord Fancourt had perforce to go.
The moment he had disappeared, Chauvelin slipped into the room, and the next instant stood calm and impassive by her side.
"You have news for me?" he said.
An icy mantle seemed to have suddenly settled round Marguerite's shoulders; though her cheeks glowed with fire, she felt chilled and numbed. Oh, Armand! will you ever know the terrible sacrifice of pride, of dignity, of womanliness a devoted sister is making for your sake?
"Nothing of importance," she said, staring mechanically before her, "but it might prove a clue. I contrived--no matter how--to detect Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in the very act of burning a paper at one of these candles, in this very room. That paper I succeeded in holding between my fingers for the space of two minutes, and to cast my eyes on it for that of ten seconds."
"Time enough to learn its contents?" asked Chauvelin, quietly.
She nodded. Then continued in the same even, mechanical tone of voice--
"In the corner of the paper there was the usual rough device of a small star-shaped flower. Above it I read two lines, everything else was scorched and blackened by the flame."
"And what were the two lines?"
Her throat seemed suddenly to have contracted. For an instant she felt that she could not speak the words, which might send a brave man to his death.
"It is lucky that the whole paper was not burned," added Chauvelin, with dry sarcasm, "for it might have fared ill with Armand St. Just. What were the two lines citoyenne?"
"One was, `I start myself to-morrow,'" she said quietly, "the other--'If you wish to speak to me, I shall be in the supper-room at one o'clock precisely.'"
Chauvelin looked up at the clock just above the mantelpiece.
"Then I have plenty of time," he said placidly.
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|The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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