The Elusive Pimpernel
XVII : Boulogne
During the journey Marguerite had not much leisure to think. The discomforts and petty
miseries incidental on cheap travelling had the very welcome effect of making her forget,
for the time being, the soul- rendering crisis through which she was now passing.
For, of necessity, she had to travel at the cheap rate, among the crowd of poorer
passengers who were herded aft the packet boat, leaning up against one another, sitting
on bundles and packages of all kinds; that part of the deck, reeking with the smell of tar
and sea-water, damp, squally and stuffy, was an abomination of hideous discomfort to the
dainty, fastidious lady of fashion, yet she almost welcomed the intolerable propinquity,
the cold douches of salt water, which every now and then wetted her through and
through, for it was the consequent sense of physical wretchedness that helped her to
forget the intolerable anguish of her mind.
And among these poorer travellers she felt secure from observation. No one took much
notice of her. She looked just like one of the herd, and in the huddled-up little figure, in
the dark bedraggled clothes, no one would for a moment have recognized the dazzling
personality of Lady Blakeney.
Drawing her hood well over her head, she sat in a secluded corner of the deck, upon the
little black valise which contained the few belongings she had brought with her. Her
cloak and dress, now mud-stained and dank with splashings of salt-water, attracted no
one's attention. There was a keen northeasterly breeze, cold and penetrating, but
favourable to a rapid crossing. Marguerite, who had gone through several hours of weary
travelling by coach, before she had embarked at Dover in the late afternoon, was
unspeakably tired. She had watched the golden sunset out at sea until her eyes were
burning with pain, and as the dazzling crimson and orange and purple gave place to the
soft grey tones of evening, she descried the round cupola of the church of Our Lady of
Boulogne against the dull background of the sky.
After that her mind became a blank. A sort of torpor fell over her sense: she was wakeful
and yet half-asleep, unconscious of everything around her, seeing nothing but the distant
massive towers of old Boulogne churches gradually detaching themselves one by one
from out the fast gathering gloom.
The town seemed like a dream city, a creation of some morbid imagination, presented to
her mind's eye as the city of sorrow and death.
When the boat finally scraped her sides along the rough wooden jetty, Marguerite felt as
if she were forcibly awakened. She was numb and stiff and thought she must have fallen
asleep during the last half hour of the journey. Everything round her was dark. The sky
was overcast, and the night seemed unusually sombre. Figures were moving all around
her, there was noise and confusion of voices, and a general pushing and shouting which
seemed strangely weird in this gloom. Here among the poorer passengers, there had not