The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version

XXXIII : The English Spy
And now at last the shades of evening were drawing in thick and fast. Within the walls of
Fort Gayole the last rays of the setting sun had long ago ceased to shed their dying
radiance, and through the thick stone embrasures and the dusty panes of glass, the grey
light of dusk soon failed to penetrate.
In the large ground-floor room with its window opened upon the wide promenade of the
southern ramparts, a silence reigned which was oppressive. The air was heavy with the
fumes of the two tallow candles on the table, which smoked persistently.
Against the walls a row of figures in dark blue uniforms with scarlet facings, drab
breeches and heavy riding boots, silent and immovable, with fixed bayonets like so many
automatons lining the room all round; at some little distance from the central table and
out of the immediate circle of light, a small group composed of five soldiers in the same
blue and scarlet uniforms. One of these was Sergeant Hebert. In the centre of this group
two persons were sitting: a woman and an old man.
The Abbe Foucquet had been brought down from his prison cell a few minutes ago, and
told to watch what would go on around him, after which he would be allowed to go to his
old church of St. Joseph and ring the Angelus once more before he and his family left
Boulogne forever.
The Angelus would be the signal for the opening of all the prison gates in the town.
Everyone to-night could come and go as they pleased, and having rung the Angelus, the
abbe would be at liberty to join Francois and Felicite and their old mother, his sister,
outside the purlieus of the town.
The Abbe Foucquet did not quite understand all this, which was very rapidly and roughly
explained to him. It was such a very little while ago that he had expected to see the
innocent children mounting up those awful steps which lead to the guillotine, whilst he
himself was looking death quite near in the face, that all this talk of amnesty and of
pardon had not quite fully reached his brain.
But he was quite content that it had all been ordained by le bon Dieu, and very happy at
the thought of ringing the dearly-loved Angelus in his own old church once again. So
when he was peremptorily pushed into the room and found himself close to Marguerite,
with four or five soldiers standing round them, he quietly pulled his old rosary from his
pocket and began murmuring gentle "Paters" and "Aves" under his breath.
Beside him sat Marguerite, rigid as a statue: her cloak thrown over her shoulders, so that
its hood might hide her face. She could not now have said how that awful day had passed,
how she had managed to survive the terrible, nerve-racking suspense, the agonizing doubt
as to what was going to happen. But above all, what she had found most unendurable was
the torturing thought that in this same grim and frowning building her husband was there