The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version

VIII : The Invitation
It was in truth a strange situation, this chance meeting between Percy Blakeney and ex-
Ambassador Chauvelin.
Marguerite looked up at her husband. She saw him shrug his broad shoulders as he first
caught sight of Chauvelin, and glance down in his usual lazy, good-humoured manner at
the shrunken figure of the silent Frenchman. The words she meant to say never crossed
her lips; she was waiting to hear what the two men would say to one another.
The instinct of the grande dame in her, the fashionable lady accustomed to the exigencies
of society, just gave her sufficient presence of mind to make the requisite low curtsey
before His Royal Highness. But the Prince, forgetting his accustomed gallantry, was also
absorbed in the little scene before him. He, too, was looking from the sable-clad figure of
Chauvelin to that of gorgeously arrayed Sir Percy. He, too, like Marguerite, was
wondering what was passing behind the low, smooth forehead of that inimitable dandy,
what behind the inscrutably good- humoured expression of those sleepy eyes.
Of the five persons thus present in the dark and stuffy booth, certainly Sir Percy Blakeney
seemed the least perturbed. He had paused just long enough to allow Chauvelin to
become fully conscious of a feeling of supreme irritation and annoyance, then he strolled
up to the ex- ambassador, with hand outstretched and the most engaging of smiles.
"Ha!" he said, with his usual half-shy, half-pleasant-tempered smile, "my engaging friend
from France! I hope, sir, that our demmed climate doth find you well and hearty to-day."
The cheerful voice seemed to ease the tension. Marguerite sighed a sigh of relief. After
all, what was more natural than that Percy with his amazing fund of pleasant
irresponsibility should thus greet the man who had once vowed to bring him to the
guillotine? Chauvelin, himself, accustomed by now to the audacious coolness of his
enemy, was scarcely taken by surprise. He bowed low to His Highness, who, vastly
amused at Blakeney's sally, was inclined to be gracious to everyone, even though the
personality of Chauvelin as a well-known leader of the regicide government was
inherently distasteful to him. But the Prince saw in the wizened little figure before him an
obvious butt for his friend Blakeney's impertinent shafts, and although historians have
been unable to assert positively whether or no George Prince of Wales knew aught of Sir
Percy's dual life, yet there is no doubt that he was always ready to enjoy a situation which
brought about the discomfiture of any of the Scarlet Pimpernel's avowed enemies.
"I, too, have not met M. Chauvelin for many a long month," said His Royal Highness
with an obvious show of irony. "And I mistake not, sir, you left my father's court
somewhat abruptly last year."