The Scarlet Pimpernel
XXXI. The Escape
Marguerite listened--half-dazed as she was--to the fast-retreating, firm footsteps
of the four men.
All nature was so still that she, lying with her ear close to the ground, could
distinctly trace the sound of their tread, as they ultimately turned into the road,
and presently the faint echo of the old cart-wheels, the halting gait of the lean
nag, told her that her enemy was a quarter of a league away. How long she lay
there she knew not. She had lost count of time; dreamily she looked up at the
moonlit sky, and listened to the monotonous roll of the waves.
The invigorating scent of the sea was nectar to her wearied body, the immensity
of the lonely cliffs was silent and dreamlike. Her brain only remained conscious of
its ceaseless, its intolerable torture of uncertainty.
She did not know!--
She did not know whether Percy was even now, at this moment, in the hands of
the soldiers of the Republic, enduring--as she had done herself--the gibes and
jeers of his malicious enemy. She did not know, on the other hand, whether
Armand's lifeless body did not lie there, in the hut, whilst Percy had escaped,
only to hear that his wife's hands had guided the human bloodhounds to the
murder of Armand and his friends.
The physical pain of utter weariness was so great, that she hoped confidently her
tired body could rest here for ever, after all the turmoil, the passion, and the
intrigues of the last few days--here, beneath that clear sky, within sound of the
sea, and with this balmy autumn breeze whispering to her a last lullaby. All was
so solitary, so silent, like unto dreamland. Even the last faint echo of the distant
cart had long ago died away, afar.
Suddenly . . . a sound . . . the strangest, undoubtedly, that these lonely cliffs of
France had ever heard, broke the silent solemnity of the shore.
So strange a sound was it that the gentle breeze ceased to murmur, the tiny
pebbles to roll down the steep incline! So strange, that Marguerite, wearied,
overwrought as she was, thought that the beneficial unconsciousness of the
approach of death was playing her half-sleeping senses a weird and elusive trick.
It was the sound of a good, solid, absolutely British "Damn!"