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|The Scarlet Pimpernel||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
PARIS: SEPTEMBER, 1792
|Page 5 of 6||
"He! la mere!" said Bibot to one of these horrible hags, "what have you got there?"
He had seen her earlier in the day, with her knitting and the whip of her cart close beside her. Now she had fastened a row of curly locks to the whip handle, all colours, from gold to silver, fair to dark, and she stroked them with her huge, bony fingers as she laughed at Bibot.
"I made friends with Madame Guillotine's lover," she said with a coarse laugh, "he cut these off for me from the heads as they rolled down. He has promised me some more to-morrow, but I don't know if I shall be at my usual place."
"Ah! how is that, la mere?" asked Bibot, who, hardened soldier that he was, could not help shuddering at the awful loathsomeness of this semblance of a woman, with her ghastly trophy on the handle of her whip.
"My grandson has got the small-pox," she said with a jerk of her thumb towards the inside of her cart, "some say it's the plague! If it is, I sha'n't be allowed to come into Paris to-morrow." At the first mention of the word small-pox, Bibot had stepped hastily backwards, and when the old hag spoke of the plague, he retreated from her as fast as he could.
"Curse you!" he muttered, whilst the whole crowd hastily avoided the cart, leaving it standing all alone in the midst of the place.
The old hag laughed.
"Curse you, citoyen, for being a coward," she said. "Bah! what a man to be afraid of sickness."
"MORBLEU! the plague!"
Everyone was awe-struck and silent, filled with horror for the loathsome malady, the one thing which still had the power to arouse terror and disgust in these savage, brutalised creatures.
"Get out with you and with your plague-stricken brood!" shouted Bibot, hoarsely.
And with another rough laugh and coarse jest, the old hag whipped up her lean nag and drove her cart out of the gate.
This incident had spoilt the afternoon. The people were terrified of these two horrible curses, the two maladies which nothing could cure, and which were the precursors of an awful and lonely death. They hung about the barricades, silent and sullen for a while, eyeing one another suspiciously, avoiding each other as if by instinct, lest the plague lurked already in their midst. Presently, as in the case of Grospierre, a captain of the guard appeared suddenly. But he was known to Bibot, and there was no fear of his turning out to be a sly Englishman in disguise.
"A cart,. . ." he shouted breathlessly, even before he had reached the gates.
"What cart?" asked Bibot, roughly.
"Driven by an old hag. . . . A covered cart. . ."
"There were a dozen. . ."
"An old hag who said her son had the plague?"
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|The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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