The Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version

XI. Lord Grenville's Ball
The historic ball given by the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs--Lord
Grenville--was the most brilliant function of the year. Though the autumn season
had only just begun, everybody who was anybody had contrived to be in London
in time to be present there, and to shine at this ball, to the best of his or her
respective ability.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had promised to be present. He was
coming on presently from the opera. Lord Grenville himself had listened to the
two first acts of ORPHEUS, before preparing to receive his guests. At ten o'clock-
-an unusually late hour in those days--the grand rooms of the Foreign Office,
exquisitely decorated with exotic palms and flowers, were filled to overflowing.
One room had been set apart for dancing, and the dainty strains of the minuet
made a soft accompaniment to the gay chatter, the merry laughter of the
numerous and brilliant company.
In a smaller chamber, facing the top of the fine stairway, the distinguished host
stood ready to receive his guests. Distinguished men, beautiful women,
notabilities from every European country had already filed past him, had
exchanged the elaborate bows and curtsies with him, which the extravagant
fashion of the time demanded, and then, laughing and talking, had dispersed in
the ball, reception, and card rooms beyond.
Not far from Lord Grenville's elbow, leaning against one of the console tables,
Chauvelin, in his irreproachable black costume, was taking a quiet survey of the
brilliant throng. He noted that Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney had not yet arrived,
and his keen, pale eyes glanced quickly towards the door every time a new-
comer appeared.
He stood somewhat isolated: the envoy of the Revolutionary Government of
France was not likely to be very popular in England, at a time when the news of
the awful September massacres, and of the Reign of Terror and Anarchy, had
just begun to filtrate across the Channel.
In his official capacity he had been received courteously by his English
colleagues: Mr. Pitt had shaken him by the hand; Lord Grenville had entertained
him more than once; but the more intimate circles of London society ignored him
altogether; the women openly turned their backs upon him; the men who held no
official position refused to shake his hand.
But Chauvelin was not the man to trouble himself about these social amenities,
which he called mere incidents in his diplomatic career. He was blindly
enthusiastic for the revolutionary cause, he despised all social inequalities, and