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|The Scarlet Pimpernel||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
ON THE TRACK
|Page 3 of 5||
"You are sure of the road?"
"As sure as I am of the presence of those ten gold pieces in the noble Excellency's pockets, which I trust will presently be mine."
"As soon as I have shaken hands with my friend the tall stranger, they will certainly be yours."
"Hark, what was that?" said the Jew suddenly.
Through the stillness, which had been absolute, there could now be heard distinctly the sound of horses' hoofs on the muddy road.
"They are soldiers," he added in an awed whisper.
"Stop a moment, I want to hear," said Chauvelin.
Marguerite had also heard the sound of galloping hoofs, coming towards the cart and towards herself. For some time she had been on the alert thinking that Desgas and his squad would soon overtake them, but these came from the opposite direction, presumably from Miquelon. The darkness lent her sufficient cover. She had perceived that the cart had stopped, and with utmost caution, treading noiselessly on the soft road, she crept a little nearer.
Her heart was beating fast, she was trembling in every limb; already she had guessed what news these mounted men would bring. "Every stranger on these roads or on the beach must be shadowed, especially if he be tall or stoops as if he would disguise his height; when sighted a mounted messenger must at once ride back and report." Those had been Chauvelin's orders. Had then the tall stranger been sighted, and was this the mounted messenger, come to bring the great news, that the hunted hare had run its head into the noose at last?"
Marguerite, realizing that the cart had come to a standstill, managed to slip nearer to it in the darkness; she crept close up, hoping to get within earshot, to hear what the messenger had to say.
She heard the quick words of challenge--
"Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite!" then Chauvelin's quick query:--
Two men on horseback had halted beside the vehicle.
Marguerite could see them silhouetted against the midnight sky. She could hear their voices, and the snorting of their horses, and now, behind her, some little distance off, the regular and measured tread of a body of advancing men: Desgas and his soldiers.
There had been a long pause, during which, no doubt, Chauvelin satisfied the men as to his identity, for presently, questions and answers followed each other in quick succession.
"You have seen the stranger?" asked Chauvelin, eagerly.
"No, citoyen, we have seen no tall stranger; we came by the edge of the cliff."
"Less than a quarter of a league beyond Miquelon, we came across a rough construction of wood, which looked like the hut of a fisherman, where he might keep his tools and nets. When we first sighted it, it seemed to be empty, and, at first we thought that there was nothing suspicious about, until we saw some smoke issuing through an aperture at the side. I dismounted and crept close to it. It was then empty, but in one corner of the hut, there was a charcoal fire, and a couple of stools were also in the hut. I consulted with my comrades, and we decided that they should take cover with the horses, well out of sight, and that I should remain on the watch, which I did."
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|The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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