The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version
XI. A Battle Of Wits
What had happened was this:
Tournefort, one of the ablest of the many sleuth-hounds employed by the Committee of
Public Safety, was out during that awful storm on the night of the twenty-fifth. The rain
came down as if it had been poured out of buckets, and Tournefort took shelter under the
portico of a tall, dilapidated-looking house somewhere at the back of St. Lazare. The
night was, of course, pitch dark, and the howling of the wind and beating of the rain
effectually drowned every other sound.
Tournefort, chilled to the marrow, had at first cowered in the angle of the door, as far
away from the draught as he could. But presently he spied the glimmer of a tiny light
some little way up on his left, and taking this to come from the concierge's lodge, he went
cautiously along the passage intending to ask for better shelter against the fury of the
elements than the rickety front door afforded.
Tournefort, you must remember, was always on the best terms with every concierge in
Paris. They were, as it were, his subordinates; without their help he never could have
carried on his unavowable profession quite so successfully. And they, in their turn, found
it to their advantage to earn the good-will of that army of spies, which the Revolutionary
Government kept in its service, for the tracking down of all those unfortunates who had
not given complete adhesion to their tyrannical and murderous policy.
Therefore, in this instance, Tournefort felt no hesitation in claiming the hospitality of the
concierge of the squalid house wherein he found himself. He went boldly up to the lodge.
His hand was already on the latch, when certain sounds which proceeded from the
interior of the lodge caused him to pause and to bend his ear in order to listen. It was
Tournefort's metier to listen. What had arrested his attention was the sound of a man's
voice, saying in a tone of deep respect:
"Bien, Madame la Comtesse, we'll do our best."
No wonder that the servant of the Committee of Public Safety remained at attention, no
longer thought of the storm or felt the cold blast chilling him to the marrow. Here was a
wholly unexpected piece of good luck. "Madame la Comtesse!" Peste! There were not
many such left in Paris these days. Unfortunately, the tempest of the wind and the rain
made such a din that it was difficult to catch every sound which came from the interior of
the lodge. All that Tournefort caught definitely were a few fragments of conversation.
"My good M. Bertin..." came at one time from a woman's voice. "Truly I do not know
why you should do all this for me."
And then again: "All I possess in the world now are my diamonds. They alone stand
between my children and utter destitution."