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The Elusive Pimpernel

XXIX : The National Fete
"Citizens of Boulogne, awake!"
They had not slept, only some of them had fallen into drowsy somnolence, heavy and
nerve-racking, worse indeed than any wakefulness.
Within the houses, the women too had kept the tedious vigil, listening for every sound,
dreading every bit of news, which the wind might waft in through the small, open
windows.
If one prisoner escaped, every family in Boulogne would be deprived of the bread-
winner. Therefore the women wept, and tried to remember those Paters and Aves which
the tyranny of liberty, fraternity and equality had ordered them to forget.
Broken rosaries were fetched out from neglected corners, and knees stiff with endless,
thankless toil were bent once more in prayer.
"Oh God! Good God! Do not allow that woman to flee!"
"Holy Virgin! Mother of God! Make that she should not escape!"
Some of the women went out in the early dawn to take hot soup and coffee to their men
who were watching outside the prison.
"Has anything been seen?"
"Have ye seen the woman?"
"Which room is she in?"
"Why won't they let us see her?"
"Are you sure she hath not already escaped?"
Questions and surmises went round in muffled whispers as the steaming cans were
passed round. No one had a definite answer to give, although Desire Melun declared that
he had, once during the night, caught sight of a woman's face at one of the windows
above: but as he could not describe the woman's face, nor locate with any degree of
precision the particular window at which she was supposed to have appeared, it was
unanimously decided that Desire must have been dreaming.
"Citizens of Boulogne, awake!"
 
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