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The Elusive Pimpernel

II : A Retrospect
The room was close and dark, filled with the smoke from a defective chimney.
A tiny boudoir, once the dainty sanctum of imperious Marie Antoinette; a faint and
ghostly odour, like unto the perfume of spectres, seemed still to cling to the stained walls,
and to the torn Gobelin tapestries.
Everywhere lay the impress of a heavy and destroying hand: that of the great and glorious
Revolution.
In the mud-soiled corners of the room a few chairs, with brocaded cushions rudely torn,
leant broken and desolate against the walls. A small footstool, once gilt-legged and satin-
covered, had been overturned and roughly kicked to one side, and there it lay on its back,
like some little animal that had been hurt, stretching its broken limbs upwards, pathetic to
behold.
From the delicately wrought Buhl table the silver inlay had been harshly stripped out of
its bed of shell.
Across the Lunette, painted by Boucher and representing a chaste Diana surrounded by a
bevy of nymphs, an uncouth hand had scribbled in charcoal the device of the Revolution:
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite ou la Mort; whilst, as if to give a crowning point to the work
of destruction and to emphasise its motto, someone had decorated the portrait of Marie
Antoinette with a scarlet cap, and drawn a red and ominous line across her neck.
And at the table two men were sitting in close and eager conclave.
Between them a solitary tallow candle, unsnuffed and weirdly flickering, threw fantastic
shadows upon the walls, and illumined with fitful and uncertain light the faces of the two
men.
How different were these in character!
One, high cheek-boned, with coarse, sensuous lips, and hair elaborately and carefully
powdered; the other pale and thin-lipped, with the keen eyes of a ferret and a high
intellectual forehead, from which the sleek brown hair was smoothly brushed away.
The first of these men was Robespierre, the ruthless and incorruptible demagogue; the
other was Citizen Chauvelin, ex-ambassador of the Revolutionary Government at the
English Court.
 
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