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El Dorado

27.
In The Conciergerie
Marguerite, accompanied by Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, walked rapidly along the quay.
It lacked ten minutes to the half hour; the night was dark and bitterly cold. Snow
was still falling in sparse, thin flakes, and lay like a crisp and glittering mantle
over the parapets of the bridges and the grim towers of the Chatelet prison.
They walked on silently now. All that they had wanted to say to one another had
been said inside the squalid room of their lodgings when Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
had come home and learned that Chauvelin had been.
"They are killing him by inches, Sir Andrew," had been the heartrending cry
which burst from Marguerite's oppressed heart as soon as her hands rested in
the kindly ones of her best friend. "Is there aught that we can do?"
There was, of course, very little that could be done. One or two fine steel files
which Sir Andrew gave her to conceal beneath the folds of her kerchief; also a
tiny dagger with sharp, poisoned blade, which for a moment she held in her hand
hesitating, her eyes filling with tears, her heart throbbing with unspeakable
sorrow.
Then slowly--very slowly--she raised the small, death-dealing instrument to her
lips, and reverently kissed the narrow blade.
"If it must be!" she murmured, "God in His mercy will forgive!"
She sheathed the dagger, and this, too, she hid in the folds of her gown.
"Can you think of anything else, Sir Andrew, that he might want?" she asked. "I
have money in plenty, in case those soldiers--"
Sir Andrew sighed, and turned away from her so as to hide the hopelessness
which he felt. Since three days now be had been exhausting every conceivable
means of getting at the prison guard with bribery and corruption. But Chauvelin
and his friends had taken excellent precautions. The prison of the Conciergerie,
situated as it was in the very heart of the labyrinthine and complicated structure
of the Chatelet and the house of Justice, and isolated from every other group of
cells in the building, was inaccessible save from one narrow doorway which gave
on the guard-room first, and thence on the inner cell beyond. Just as all attempts
to rescue the late unfortunate Queen from that prison had failed, so now every
attempt to reach the imprisoned Scarlet Pimpernel was equally doomed to bitter
disappointment.
The guard-room was filled with soldiers day and night; the windows of the inner
cell, heavily barred, were too small to admit of the passage of a human body, and
they were raised twenty feet from the corridor below. Sir Andrew had stood in the
corridor two days ago, he bad looked on the window behind which he knew that
his friend must be eating out his noble heart in a longing for liberty, and he had
realised then that every effort at help from the outside was foredoomed to failure.
"Courage, Lady Blakeney," he said to Marguerite, when anon they had crossed
the Pont au Change, and were wending their way slowly along the Rue de la
Barillerie; "remember our proud dictum: the Scarlet Pimpernel never fails! and
also this, that whatever messages Blakeney gives you for us, whatever he
wishes us to do, we are to a man ready to do it, and to give our lives for our chief.
 
 
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