The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version

VIII. The Traitor
Not one of them had really trusted him for some time now. Heaven and his conscience
alone knew what had changed my Lord Kulmsted from a loyal friend and keen sportsman
into a surly and dissatisfied adherent-- adherent only in name.
Some say that lack of money had embittered him. He was a confirmed gambler, and had
been losing over-heavily of late; and the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel demanded
sacrifices of money at times from its members, as well as of life if the need arose. Others
averred that jealousy against the chief had outweighed Kulmsted's honesty. Certain it is
that his oath of fealty to the League had long ago been broken in the spirit. Treachery
hovered in the air.
But the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, with that indomitable optimism of his, and almost
maddening insouciance, either did not believe in Kulmsted's disloyalty or chose not to
heed it.
He even asked him to join the present expedition--one of the most dangerous undertaken
by the League for some time, and which had for its object the rescue of some women of
the late unfortunate Marie Antoinette's household: maids and faithful servants, ruthlessly
condemned to die for their tender adherence to a martyred queen. And yet eighteen pairs
of faithful lips had murmured words of warning.
It was towards the end of November, 1793. The rain was beating down in a monotonous
drip, drip, drip on to the roof of a derelict house in the Rue Berthier. The wan light of a
cold winter's morning peeped in through the curtainless window and touched with its
weird grey brush the pallid face of a young girl--a mere child--who sat in a dejected
attitude on a rickety chair, with elbows leaning on the rough deal table before her, and
thin, grimy fingers wandering with pathetic futility to her tearful eyes.
In the farther angle of the room a tall figure in dark clothes was made one, by the still
lingering gloom, with the dense shadows beyond.
"We have starved," said the girl, with rebellious tears. "Father and I and the boys are
miserable enough, God knows; but we have always been honest."
From out the shadows in that dark corner of the room there came the sound of an oath
quickly suppressed.
"Honest!" exclaimed the man, with a harsh, mocking laugh, which made the girl wince as
if with physical pain. "Is it honest to harbour the enemies of your country? Is it honest---"
But quickly he checked himself, biting his lips with vexation, feeling that his present
tactics were not like to gain the day.