The Humble Wayside Flower
The tumbrils were arriving.
They stretched in a long line down the street. As the carts entered the Place de la Gréve, the mob began to yell and scream. I looked at some of the faces in the first cart. On some I saw horror and fear, on others anger. Some even looked serene. But all were tired and drawn, with wide, red eyes from weeping. A pang of sadness and regret ripped through me as the first was led up to the guillotine. No matter how many times I watched it, the spectacle always made me sick inside. If only they all could be saved . . .
"À bas les aristos!" I shouted, then hunched over a little more and returned to my "knitting."
I had disguised myself as a horrible old hag, and as I sat there under the guillotine platform, I acted as loathsome as I possibly could. I even made friends with the executioner, who gave me some locks of hair from the heads of those condemned that had already been executed. Inwardly I shuddered at these repulsive gifts, but I proudly attached them to my whip handle and stroked them all day long, as innocent after innocent died under that fearsome blade. I watched for any sign of the Comtesse de Tournay and her children, but didn't really expect to see them. I knew they were already safe in the cart. If I hadn't known that, I don't think I could have endured the constant carnage of the guillotine that day.
After the last head had fallen, I made my way to the cart. As I reached it, I caught sight of Ffoulkes in his peasant's garb and gave him an anxious look. I need not have worried; I knew I could trust Andrew with my own life. He gave me a small nod of assurance before making his way out of the city. I scrambled up on the seat and maneuvered the cart into line to exit at the West Gate.
It was almost too easy. I stroked those accursed locks as I pulled up to the Gate, and watched as the hardened guard shuddered at sight of me. And when I mentioned the plague and gestured towards the inside of the cart, the entire crowd pulled away from it like ripples on a pond do from the place where a stone is dropped in. No cart ever got through that gate as fast as mine! I steadily drove the cart towards Calais, not hurrying, but not slowing down either, until I reached Fontainebleau.
Unconsciously I slowed the cart a little as I gazed on the peaceful forests of this part of France that seemed so untouched by the carnage in Paris. We had spent so many happy hours in those forests before our marriage, before I knew about how she had sent the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family to their deaths.
I never thought it of you, Marguerite! You seemed so kind and loving. Why did you change so? I was ready to trust you completely, ready to tell you everything. Why did you deceive me?
I sped up the cart ever so slightly. I had to reach Calais before long, to make sure the de Tournays were safe, then to leave for England. Besides, I had more urgent things to think about, like the French agent I had heard about earlier. With this Chauvelin in England trying to unmask us, we were going to have to be more careful about meeting in public places.
It was well into the night before I reached Calais. I had abandoned the cart when night fell, and under cover of darkness I led the Comtesse and her children through dark alleyways. We met Andrew in the preconcerted spot, and I gave him my instructions.
"Take them to the hut and keep them there tonight. Tomorrow afternoon I will send the Day Dream for you. Until then, stay out of sight and in disguise. Once out of sight of France, you can change back into normal clothes, but not before then. And listen closely: the Republican Government is sending an agent by the name of Chauvelin to England as its 'representative.' This agent has instructions to discover who the Scarlet Pimpernel is and have him kidnapped or arrested when he next sets foot on French soil. Make sure the League is notified not to talk to each other in public places, and to meet as little as possible on business, until I give word. This Chauvelin brings a whole army of spies with him, and I need a chance to test them.
"Have Dewhurst and Hastings meet me here on the second of next month, and give them these instructions. We must get the Comte de Tournay out of France." With that I handed him a sealed letter, which he took and hid among his rags. I then headed for the coast as quickly and silently as possible, while he led the de Tournays in the opposite direction, towards the lonely, deserted hut. I boarded the Day Dream and we sailed for England.