The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version

IV. The Old Scarecrow
Nobody in the quartier could quite recollect when it was that the new Public Letter-
Writer first set up in business at the angle formed by the Quai des Augustins and the Rue
Dauphine, immediately facing the Pont Neuf; but there he certainly was on the 28th day
of February, 1793, when Agnes, with eyes swollen with tears, a market basket on her
arm, and a look of dreary despair on her young face, turned that selfsame angle on her
way to the Pont Neuf, and nearly fell over the rickety construction which sheltered him
and his stock-in-trade.
"Oh, mon Dieu! citizen Lepine, I had no idea you were here," she exclaimed as soon as
she had recovered her balance.
"Nor I, citizeness, that I should have the pleasure of seeing you this morning," he
"But you were always at the other corner of the Pont Neuf," she argued.
"So I was," he replied, "so I was. But I thought I would like a change. The Faubourg St.
Michel appealed to me; most of my clients came to me from this side of the river--all
those on the other side seem to know how to read and write."
"I was just going over to see you," she remarked.
"You, citizeness," he exclaimed in unfeigned surprise, "what should procure a poor
public writer the honour of--"
"Hush, in God's name!" broke in the young girl quickly as she cast a rapid, furtive glance
up and down the quai and the narrow streets which converged at this angle.
She was dressed in the humblest and poorest of clothes, her skimpy shawl round her
shoulders could scarce protect her against the cold of this cruel winter's morning; her hair
was entirely hidden beneath a frilled and starched cap, and her feet were encased in
coarse worsted stockings and sabots, but her hands were delicate and fine, and her face
had that nobility of feature and look of patient resignation in the midst of overwhelming
sorrow which proclaimed a lofty refinement both of soul and of mind.
The old Letter-Writer was surveying the pathetic young figure before him through his
huge horn-rimmed spectacles, and she smiled on him through her fast-gathering tears. He
used to have his pitch at the angle of the Pont Neuf, and whenever Agnes had walked past
it, she had nodded to him and bidden him "Good morrow!" He had at times done little
commissions for her and gone on errands when she needed a messenger; to-day, in the
midst of her despair, she had suddenly thought of him and that rumour credited him with
certain knowledge which she would give her all to possess.