CHAPTER I PARIS: SEPTEMBER, 1792
A surging, seething
, murmuring crowd
of beings that are human
only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught
passions and by the lust of vengeance
and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade
later, a proud tyrant
raised an undying monument
to the nation
and his own vanity
During the greater part of the day the guillotine
had been kept busy at its ghastly
work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient
names, and blue blood, had paid toll
to her desire
and for fraternity
. The carnage
had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for the people to witness
, a little while before the final
closing of the barricades for the night.
And so the crowd
rushed away from the Place de la Greve and made for the various
barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight
It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They were traitors to the people of course, all of them, men, women, and children, who happened to be descendants of the great men who since the Crusades had made the glory
of France: her old NOBLESSE. Their ancestors had oppressed
the people, had crushed them under the scarlet heels of their dainty
buckled shoes, and now the people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former
masters-not beneath their heel, for they went shoeless mostly in these days-but a more effectual weight
, the knife of the guillotine
And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument
claimed its many victims-old men, young women, tiny
children until the day when it would finally demand
the head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.
But this was as it should be: were not the people now the rulers of France? Every aristocrat
was a traitor
, as his ancestors had been before him: for two hundred years now the people had sweated, and toiled, and starved, to keep a lustful court
; now the descendants of those who had helped to make those courts brilliant
had to hide
for their lives-to fly, if they wished to avoid
the tardy vengeance
of the people.
And they did try to hide
, and tried to fly: that was just the fun of the whole thing. Every afternoon before the gates closed and the market carts went out in procession
by the various
barricades, some fool of an aristo endeavoured to evade
the clutches of the Committee of Public Safety. In various
disguises, under various
pretexts, they tried to slip through
the barriers, which were so well guarded
soldiers of the Republic. Men in women's clothes, women in male attire
, children disguised in beggars' rags: there were some of all sorts: CI-DEVANT counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse foreign
feelings against the glorious
Revolution, or to raise
an army in order to liberate
prisoners in the Temple, who had once called themselves sovereigns of France.
But they were nearly always caught at the barricades, Sergeant Bibot especially at the West Gate had a wonderful
nose for scenting an aristo in the most perfect disguise
. Then, of course, the fun began. Bibot would look at his prey
as a cat looks upon the mouse, play with him, sometimes for quite a quarter
of an hour, pretend
to be hoodwinked by the disguise
, by the wigs and other bits of theatrical
make-up which hid the identity
of a CI-DEVANT noble
marquise or count.
Oh! Bibot had a keen
sense of humour, and it was well worth hanging round that West Barricade, in order to see him catch an aristo in the very act of trying to flee
from the vengeance
of the people.
Sometimes Bibot would let his prey actually
out by the gates, allowing him to think for the space of two minutes at least that he really had escaped out of Paris, and might
to reach the coast
of England in safety, but Bibot would let the unfortunate wretch
walk about ten metres towards the open country, then he would send two men after him and bring him back, stripped of his disguise
Oh! that was extremely
funny, for as often as not the fugitive
to be a woman, some proud
marchioness, who looked terribly comical
when she found herself in Bibot's clutches after all, and knew that a summary
trial would await
her the next day and after that, the fond embrace
of Madame la Guillotine.
that on this fine afternoon in September the crowd
round Bibot's gate was eager
and excited. The lust of blood grows with its satisfaction
, there is no satiety
: the crowd
had seen a hundred noble
heads fall beneath the guillotine
to-day, it wanted to make sure that it would see another hundred fall on the morrow.
Bibot was sitting on an overturned and empty cask
close by the gate of the barricade
; a small detachment
of citoyen soldiers was under his command
. The work had been very hot lately. Those cursed aristos were becoming
terrified and tried their hardest to slip out of Paris: men, women and children, whose ancestors, even in remote
ages, had served those traitorous
Bourbons, were all traitors themselves and right
food for the guillotine
. Every day Bibot had had the satisfaction
of unmasking some fugitive
royalists and sending them back to be tried by the Committee of Public Safety, presided over by that good patriot
, Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville.
Robespierre and Danton both had commended Bibot for his zeal
and Bibot was proud
of the fact
that he on his own initiative
had sent at least fifty aristos to the guillotine
But to-day all the sergeants in command
at the various
barricades had had special
orders. Recently a very great number of aristos had succeeded in escaping out of France and in reaching England safely
. There were curious
rumours about these escapes; they had become very frequent
and singularly daring
; the people's minds were becoming
strangely excited about it all. Sergeant Grospierre had been sent to the guillotine
for allowing a whole family of aristos to slip out of the North Gate under his very nose.
No one had seen these mysterious
Englishmen; as for their leader
, he was never spoken of, save with a superstitious shudder
. Citoyen Foucquier-Tinville would in the course of the day receive
of paper from some mysterious source
; sometimes he would find it in the pocket of his coat, at others it would be handed to him by someone in the crowd
, whilst he was on his way to the sitting of the Committee of Public Safety. The paper always contained a brief notice
that the band of meddlesome
Englishmen were at work, and it was always signed with a device
drawn in red-a little star-shaped flower, which we in England call the Scarlet Pimpernel. Within a few hours of the receipt
of this impudent notice
, the citoyens of the Committee of Public Safety would hear that so many royalists and aristocrats had succeeded in reaching the coast
, and were on their way to England and safety.
The guards at the gates had been doubled, the sergeants in command
had been threatened with death, whilst liberal
rewards were offered for the capture
of these daring
Englishmen. There was a sum
of five thousand francs promised to the man who laid hands on the mysterious
Everyone felt that Bibot would be that man, and Bibot allowed that belief
to take firm root
in everybody's mind
; and so, day after day, people came to watch him at the West Gate, so as to be present when he laid hands on any fugitive
aristo who perhaps might
be accompanied by that mysterious
"Bah!" he said to his trusted corporal
, "Citoyen Grospierre was a fool! Had it been me now, at that North Gate last week . . ."
Citoyen Bibot spat
on the ground to express
for his comrade
"How did it happen, citoyen?" asked the corporal
"Grospierre was at the gate, keeping good watch," began Bibot, pompously, as the crowd
closed in round him, listening eagerly to his narrative
. "We've all heard of this meddlesome
Englishman, this accursed Scarlet Pimpernel. He won't get through
MY gate, MORBLEU! unless he be the devil himself. But Grospierre was a fool. The market carts were going through
the gates; there was one laden
with casks, and driven by an old man, with a boy beside him. Grospierre was a bit drunk, but he thought
himself very clever
; he looked into the casks-most of them, at least-and saw they were empty
, and let the cart go through
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 cart 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.'"
"'After them, my men,' shouts the captain," he said after a while, "'remember
; 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
"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!"
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
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.
"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
in these savage
, brutalised creatures.
"Get out with you and with your plague
!" 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.
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
. 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
"Yes . . ."
"You have not let them go?"
"MORBLEU!" said Bibot, whose purple cheeks had suddenly
become white with fear.
"The cart contained the CI-DEVANT Comtesse de Tourney and her two children, all of them traitors and condemned to death."
"And their driver?" muttered Bibot, as a superstitious shudder
ran down his spine
"SACRE TONNERRE," said the captain, "but it is feared that it was that accursed Englishman himself-the Scarlet Pimpernel."