But my husband, Monsieur, said the Comtesse, whilst unshed tears seemed to veil her voice, he is in such deadly perilI would never have left him, only there were my children I was torn between my duty to him, and to them. They refused to go without me and you and your friends assured me so solemnly that my husband would be safe. But, oh! now that I am here amongst you allin this beautiful, free EnglandI think of him, flying for his life, hunted like a poor beast in such peril Ah! I should not have left him I should not have left him!
The poor woman had completely broken down; fatigue, sorrow and emotion had overmastered her rigid, aristocratic bearing. She was crying gently to herself, whilst Suzanne ran up to her and tried to kiss away her tears.
Lord Antony and Sir Andrew had said nothing to interrupt the Comtesse whilst she was speaking. There was no doubt that they felt deeply for her; their very silence testified to thatbut in every century, and ever since England has been what it is, an Englishman has always felt somewhat ashamed of his own emotion and of his own sympathy. And so the two young men said nothing, and busied themselves in trying to hide their feelings, only succeeding in looking immeasurably sheepish.
As for me, Monsieur, said Suzanne, suddenly, as she looked through a wealth of brown curls across at Sir Andrew, I trust you absolutely, and I know that you will bring my dear father safely to England, just as you brought us to-day.
This was said with so much confidence, such unuttered hope and belief, that it seemed as if by magic to dry the mothers eyes, and to bring a smile upon everybodys lips.
Nay! You shame me, Mademoiselle, replied Sir Andrew; though my life is at your service, I have been but a humble tool in the hands of our great leader, who organised and effected your escape.
He had spoken with so much warmth and vehemence that Suzannes eyes fastened upon him in undisguised wonder.
Your leader, Monsieur? said the Comtesse, eagerly. Ah! of course, you must have a leader. And I did not think of that before! But tell me where is he? I must go to him at once, and I and my children must throw ourselves at his feet, and thank him for all that he has done for us.
Alas, Madame! said Lord Antony, that is impossible.
Because the Scarlet Pimpernel works in the dark, and his identity is only known under a solemn oath of secrecy to his immediate followers.
The Scarlet Pimpernel? said Suzanne, with a merry laugh. Why! what a droll name! What is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Monsieur?
She looked at Sir Andrew with eager curiosity. The young mans face had become almost transfigured. His eyes shone with enthusiasm; hero-worship, love, admiration for his leader seemed literally to glow upon his face. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle, he said at last, is the name of a humble English wayside flower; but it is also the name chosen to hide the identity of the best and bravest man in all the world, so that he may better succeed in accomplishing the noble task he has set himself to do.
Ah, yes, here interposed the young Vicomte, I have heard speak of this Scarlet Pimpernel. A little flower red?yes! They say in Paris that every time a royalist escapes to England that devil, Foucquier- Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, receives a paper with that little flower dessinated in red upon it. Yes?
Yes, that is so, assented Lord Antony.
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