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|The Scarlet Pimpernel||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
PARIS: SEPTEMBER, 1792
|Page 4 of 6||
A murmur of wrath and contempt went round the group of ill-clad wretches, who crowded round Citoyen Bibot.
"Half an hour later," continued the sergeant, "up comes a captain of the guard with a squad of some dozen soldiers with him. `Has a car gone through?' he asks of Grospierre, breathlessly. `Yes,' says Grospierre, `not half an hour ago.' `And you have let them escape,' shouts the captain furiously. `You'll go to the guillotine for this, citoyen sergeant! that cart held concealed the CI-DEVANT Duc de Chalis and all his family!' `What!' thunders Grospierre, aghast. `Aye! and the driver was none other than that cursed Englishman, the Scarlet Pimpernel.'"
A howl of execration greeted this tale. Citoyen Grospierre had paid for his blunder on the guillotine, but what a fool! oh! what a fool!
Bibot was laughing so much at his own tale that it was some time before he could continue.
"`After them, my men,' shouts the captain," he said after a while, "`remember the reward; after them, they cannot have gone far!' And with that he rushes through the gate followed by his dozen soldiers."
"But it was too late!" shouted the crowd, excitedly.
"They never got them!"
"Curse that Grospierre for his folly!"
"He deserved his fate!"
"Fancy not examining those casks properly!"
But these sallies seemed to amuse Citoyen Bibot exceedingly; he laughed until his sides ached, and the tears streamed down his cheeks.
"Nay, nay!" he said at last, "those aristos weren't in the cart; the driver was not the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
"No! The captain of the guard was that damned Englishman in disguise, and everyone of his soldiers aristos!" The crowd this time said nothing: the story certainly savoured of the supernatural, and though the Republic had abolished God, it had not quite succeeded in killing the fear of the supernatural in the hearts of the people. Truly that Englishman must be the devil himself.
The sun was sinking low down in the west. Bibot prepared himself to close the gates.
"EN AVANT The carts," he said.
Some dozen covered carts were drawn up in a row, ready to leave town, in order to fetch the produce from the country close by, for market the next morning. They were mostly well known to Bibot, as they went through his gate twice every day on their way to and from the town. He spoke to one or two of their drivers--mostly women--and was at great pains to examine the inside of the carts.
"You never know," he would say, "and I'm not going to be caught like that fool Grospierre."
The women who drove the carts usually spent their day on the Place de la Greve, beneath the platform of the guillotine, knitting and gossiping, whilst they watched the rows of tumbrils arriving with the victims the Reign of Terror claimed every day. It was great fun to see the aristos arriving for the reception of Madame la Guillotine, and the places close by the platform were very much sought after. Bibot, during the day, had been on duty on the Place. He recognized most of the old hats, "tricotteuses," as they were called, who sat there and knitted, whilst head after head fell beneath the knife, and they themselves got quite bespattered with the blood of those cursed aristos.
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|The Scarlet Pimpernel
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
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