The Elusive Pimpernel HTML version

XI : The Challenge
It all occurred just before midnight, in one of the smaller rooms, which lead in enfilade
from the principal ballroom.
Dancing had been going on for some time, but the evening was close, and there seemed
to be a growing desire on the part of Lady Blakeney's guests to wander desultorily
through the gardens and glasshouses, or sit about where some measure of coolness could
be obtained.
There was a rumour that a new and charming French artiste was to sing a few peculiarly
ravishing songs, unheard in England before. Close to the main ballroom was the octagon
music-room which was brilliantly illuminated, and in which a large number of chairs had
been obviously disposed for the comfort of an audience. Into this room many of the
guests had already assembled. It was quite clear that a chamber-concert- -select and
attractive as were all Lady Blakeney's entertainments--was in contemplation.
Marguerite herself, released for a moment from her constant duties near her royal guests,
had strolled through the smaller rooms, accompanied by Juliette, in order to search for
Mademoiselle Candeille and to suggest the commencement of the improvised concert.
Desiree Candeille had kept herself very much aloof throughout the evening, only talking
to the one or two gentlemen whom her hostess had presented to her on her arrival, and
with M. Chauvelin always in close attendance upon her every movement.
Presently, when dancing began, she retired to a small boudoir, and there sat down,
demurely waiting, until Lady Blakeney should require her services.
When Marguerite and Juliette Marny entered the little room, she rose and came forward a
few steps.
"I am ready, Madame," she said pleasantly, "whenever you wish me to begin. I have
thought out a short programme,--shall I start with the gay or the sentimental songs?"
But before Marguerite had time to utter a reply, she felt her arm nervously clutched by a
hot and trembling hand.
"Who ... who is this woman?" murmured Juliette Marny close to her ear.
The young girl looked pale and very agitated, and her large eyes were fixed in
unmistakable wrath upon the French actress before her. A little startled, not
understanding Juliette's attitude, Marguerite tried to reply lightly: