The Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version

X. In The Opera Box
It was one of the gala nights at Covent Garden Theatre, the first of the autumn
season in this memorable year of grace 1792.
The house was packed, both in the smart orchestra boxes and in the pit, as well
as in the more plebeian balconies and galleries above. Gluck's ORPHEUS made
a strong appeal to the more intellectual portions of the house, whilst the
fashionable women, the gaily-dressed and brilliant throng, spoke to the eye of
those who cared but little for this "latest importation from Germany."
Selina Storace had been duly applauded after her grand ARIA by her numerous
admirers; Benjamin Incledon, the acknowledged favourite of the ladies, had
received special gracious recognition from the royal box; and now the curtain
came down after the glorious finale to the second act, and the audience, which
had hung spell-bound on the magic strains of the great maestro, seemed
collectively to breathe a long sigh of satisfaction, previous to letting loose its
hundreds of waggish and frivolous tongues. In the smart orchestra boxes many
well-known faces were to be seen. Mr. Pitt, overweighted with cares of state, was
finding brief relaxation in to-night's musical treat; the Prince of Wales, jovial,
rotund, somewhat coarse and commonplace in appearance, moved about from
box to box, spending brief quarters of an hour with those of his more intimate
In Lord Grenville's box, too, a curious, interesting personality attracted
everyone's attention; a thin, small figure with shrewd, sarcastic face and deep-set
eyes, attentive to the music, keenly critical of the audience, dressed in
immaculate black, with dark hair free from any powder. Lord Grenville--Foreign
Secretary of State--paid him marked, though frigid deference.
Here and there, dotted about among distinctly English types of beauty, one or
two foreign faces stood out in marked contrast: the haughty aristocratic cast of
countenance of the many French royalist EMIGRES who, persecuted by the
relentless, revolutionary faction of their country, had found a peaceful refuge in
England. On these faces sorrow and care were deeply writ; the women
especially paid but little heed, either to the music or to the brilliant audience; no
doubt their thoughts were far away with husband, brother, son maybe, still in
peril, or lately succumbed to a cruel fate.
Among these the Comtesse de Tournay de Basserive, but lately arrived from
France, was a most conspicuous figure: dressed in deep, heavy black silk, with
only a white lace kerchief to relieve the aspect of mourning about her person, she
sat beside Lady Portarles, who was vainly trying by witty sallies and somewhat
broad jokes, to bring a smile to the Comtesse's sad mouth. Behind her sat little