The Elusive Pimpernel
XXX : The Procession
The grandfathers of the present generation of Boulonnese remembered the great day of
the National Fete, when all Boulogne, for twenty- four hours, went crazy with joy. So
many families had fathers, brothers, sons, languishing in prison under some charge of
treason, real or imaginary; so many had dear ones for whom already the guillotine
loomed ahead, that the feast on this memorable day of September, 1793, was one of
never- to-be-forgotten relief and thanksgiving.
The weather all day had been exceptionally fine. After that glorious sunrise, the sky had
remained all day clad in its gorgeous mantle of blue and the sun had continued to smile
benignly on the many varied doings of this gay, little seaport town. When it began to sink
slowly towards the West a few little fluffy clouds appeared on the horizon, and from a
distance, although the sky remained clear and blue, the sea looked quite dark and slaty
against the brilliance of the firmament.
Gradually, as the splendour of the sunset gave place to the delicate purple and grey tints
of evening, the little fluffy clouds merged themselves into denser masses, and these too
soon became absorbed in the great, billowy banks which the southwesterly wind was
By the time that the last grey streak of dusk vanished in the West, the whole sky looked
heavy with clouds, and the evening set in, threatening and dark.
But this by no means mitigated the anticipation of pleasure to come. On the contrary, the
fast-gathering gloom was hailed with delight, since it would surely help to show off the
coloured lights of the lanthorns, and give additional value to the glow of the torches.
Of a truth 'twas a motley throng which began to assemble on the Place de la
Senechaussee, just as the old bell of the Beffroi tolled the hour of six. Men, women and
children in ragged finery, Pierrots with neck frills and floured faces, hideous masks of
impossible beasts roughly besmeared in crude colours. There were gaily-coloured
dominoes, blue, green, pink and purple, harlequins combining all the colours of the
rainbow in one tight-fitting garment, and Columbines with short, tarlatan skirts, beneath
which peeped bare feet and ankles. There were judges' perruqes, and soldiers' helmets of
past generations, tall Normandy caps adorned with hundreds of streaming ribbons, and
powdered headgear which recalled the glories of Versailles.
Everything was torn and dirty, the dominoes were in rags, the Pierrot frills, mostly made
up of paper, already hung in strips over the wearers' shoulders. But what mattered that?
The crowd pushed and jolted, shouted and laughed, the girls screamed as the men
snatched a kiss here and there from willing or unwilling lips, or stole an arm round a
gaily accoutred waist. The spirit of Old King Carnival was in the evening air--a spirit just
awakened from a long Rip van Winkle-like sleep.