The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version
XXIII The Hostage
Chauvelin, without speaking, extended his hand out towards the city as if to invite
Marguerite to gaze upon it.
She was quite unconscious what hour of the night it might be, but it must have been late,
for the little town, encircled by the stony arms of its forts, seemed asleep. The moon, now
slowly sinking in the west, edged the towers and spires with filmy lines of silver. To the
right Marguerite caught sight of the frowning Beffroi, which even as she gazed out began
tolling its heavy bell. It sounded like the tocsin, dull and muffled. After ten strokes it was
Ten o'clock! At this hour in far-off England, in fashionable London, the play was just
over, crowds of gaily dressed men and women poured out of the open gates of the
theatres calling loudly for attendant or chaise. Thence to balls or routs, gaily fluttering
like so many butterflies, brilliant and irresponsible. ...
And in England also, in the beautiful gardens of her Richmond home, ofttimes at ten
o'clock she had wandered alone with Percy, when he was at home, and the spirit of
adventure in him momentarily laid to rest. Then, when the night was very dark and the air
heavy with the scent of roses and lilies, she lay quiescent in his arms in that little arbour
beside the river. The rhythmic lapping of the waves was the only sound that stirred the
balmy air. He seldom spoke then, for his voice would shake whenever he uttered a word:
but his impenetrable armour of flippancy was pierced through and he did not speak
because his lips were pressed to hers, and his love had soared beyond the domain of
A shudder of intense mental pain went through her now as she gazed on the sleeping city,
and sweet memories of the past turned to bitterness in this agonizing present. One by one
as the moon gradually disappeared behind a bank of clouds, the towers of Boulogne were
merged in the gloom. In front of her far, far away, beyond the flat sand dunes, the sea
seemed to be calling to her with a ghostly and melancholy moan.
The window was on the ground floor of the Fort, and gave direct onto the wide and shady
walk which runs along the crest of the city walls; from where she stood Marguerite was
looking straight along the ramparts, some thirty metres wide at this point, flanked on
either side by the granite balustrade, and adorned with a double row of ancient elms
stunted and twisted into grotesque shapes by the persistent action of the wind.
"These wide ramparts are a peculiarity of this city..." said a voice close to her ear, "at
times of peace they form an agreeable promenade under the shade of the trees, and a
delightful meeting-place for lovers ... or enemies. ..."
The sound brought her back to the ugly realities of the present: the rose- scented garden
at Richmond, the lazily flowing river, the tender memories which for that brief moment