The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version
XXVIII : The Midnight Watch
Boulogne had gone through many phases, in its own languid and sleepy way, whilst the
great upheaval of a gigantic revolution shook other cities of France to their very
At first the little town had held somnolently aloof, and whilst Lyons and Tours conspired
and rebelled, whilst Marseilles and Toulon opened their ports to the English and Dunkirk
was ready to surrender to the allied forces, she had gazed through half-closed eyes at all
the turmoil, and then quietly turned over and gone to sleep again.
Boulogne fished and mended nets, built boats and manufactured boots with placid
content, whilst France murdered her king and butchered her citizens.
The initial noise of the great revolution was only wafted on the southerly breezes from
Paris to the little seaport towns of Northern France, and lost much of its volume and
power in this aerial transit: the fisher folk were too poor to worry about the dethronement
of kings: the struggle for daily existence, the perils and hardships of deep-sea fishing
engrossed all the faculties they possessed.
As for the burghers and merchants of the town, they were at first content with reading an
occasional article in the "Gazette de Paris" or the "Gazette des Tribunaux," brought hither
by one or other of the many travellers who crossed the city on their way to the harbour.
They were interested in these articles, at times even comfortably horrified at the doings in
Paris, the executions and the tumbrils, but on the whole they liked the idea that the
country was in future to be governed by duly chosen representatives of the people, rather
than be a prey to the despotism of kings, and they were really quite pleased to see the
tricolour flag hoisted on the old Beffroi, there where the snow-white standard of the
Bourbons had erstwhile flaunted its golden fleur-de-lis in the glare of the midday sun.
The worthy burgesses of Boulogne were ready to shout: "Vive la Republique!" with the
same cheerful and raucous Normandy accent as they had lately shouted "Dieu protege le
The first awakening from this happy torpor came when that tent was put up on the
landing stage in the harbour. Officials, dressed in shabby uniforms and wearing tricolour
cockades and scarves, were now quartered in Town Hall, and repaired daily to that
roughly erected tent, accompanied by so many soldiers from the garrison.
There installed, they busied themselves with examining carefully the passports of all
those who desired to leave or enter Boulogne. Fisher-folk who had dwelt in the city--
father and son and grandfather and many generations before that--and had come and gone
in and out of their own boats as they pleased, were now stopped as they beached their
craft and made to give an account of themselves to these officials from Paris.