The Scarlet Pimpernel
I. Paris: September, 1792
A surging, seething, murmuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for
to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile
passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time
before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a
decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation's glory
and his own vanity.
During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at its ghastly
work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient names, and
blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for liberty and for fraternity. The carnage
had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more
interesting sights for the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of
the barricades for the night.
And so the crowd rushed away from the Place de la Greve and made for the
various barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight.
It was to be seen every day, for those aristos were such fools! They were traitors
to the people of course, all of them, men, women, and children, who happened to
be descendants of the great men who since the Crusades had made the glory of
France: her old NOBLESSE. Their ancestors had oppressed the people, had
crushed them under the scarlet heels of their dainty buckled shoes, and now the
people had become the rulers of France and crushed their former masters--not
beneath their heel, for they went shoeless mostly in these days--but a more
effectual weight, the knife of the guillotine.
And daily, hourly, the hideous instrument of torture claimed its many victims--old
men, young women, tiny children until the day when it would finally demand the
head of a King and of a beautiful young Queen.
But this was as it should be: were not the people now the rulers of France? Every
aristocrat was a traitor, as his ancestors had been before him: for two hundred
years now the people had sweated, and toiled, and starved, to keep a lustful
court in lavish extravagance; now the descendants of those who had helped to
make those courts brilliant had to hide for their lives--to fly, if they wished to avoid
the tardy vengeance of the people.
And they did try to hide, and tried to fly: that was just the fun of the whole thing.
Every afternoon before the gates closed and the market carts went out in
procession by the various barricades, some fool of an aristo endeavoured to
evade the clutches of the Committee of Public Safety. In various disguises, under