The Scarlet Pimpernel HTML version

XIII. Either--Or?
The few words which Marguerite Blakeney had managed to read on the half-
scorched piece of paper, seemed literally to be the words of Fate. "Start myself
tomorrow. . . ." This she had read quite distinctly; then came a blur caused by the
smoke of the candle, which obliterated the next few words; but, right at the
bottom, there was another sentence, like letters of fire, before her mental vision,
"If you wish to speak to me again I shall be in the supper-room at one o'clock
precisely." The whole was signed with the hastily-scrawled little device--a tiny
star-shaped flower, which had become so familiar to her.
One o'clock precisely! It was now close upon eleven, the last minuet was being
danced, with Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and beautiful Lady Blakeney leading the
couples, through its delicate and intricate figures.
Close upon eleven! the hands of the handsome Louis XV. clock upon its ormolu
bracket seemed to move along with maddening rapidity. Two hours more, and
her fate and that of Armand would be sealed. In two hours she must make up her
mind whether she will keep the knowledge so cunningly gained to herself, and
leave her brother to his fate, or whether she will wilfully betray a brave man,
whose life was devoted to his fellow-men, who was noble, generous, and above
all, unsuspecting. It seemed a horrible thing to do. But then, there was Armand!
Armand, too, was noble and brave, Armand, too, was unsuspecting. And Armand
loved her, would have willingly trusted his life in her hands, and now, when she
could save him from death, she hesitated. Oh! it was monstrous; her brother's
kind, gentle face, so full of love for her, seemed to be looking reproachfully at
her. "You might have saved me, Margot!" he seemed to say to her, "and you
chose the life of a stranger, a man you do not know, whom you have never seen,
and preferred that he should be safe, whilst you sent me to the guillotine!"
All these conflicting thoughts raged through Marguerite's brain, while, with a
smile upon her lips, she glided through the graceful mazes of the minuet. She
noted--with that acute sense of hers--that she had succeeded in completely
allaying Sir Andrew's fears. Her self-control had been absolutely perfect--she was
a finer actress at this moment, and throughout the whole of this minuet, than she
had ever been upon the boards of the Comedie Francaise; but then, a beloved
brother's life had not depended upon her histrionic powers.
She was too clever to overdo her part, and made no further allusions to the
supposed BILLET DOUX, which had caused Sir Andrew Ffoulkes such an
agonising five minutes. She watched his anxiety melting away under her sunny
smile, and soon perceived that, whatever doubt may have crossed his mind at
the moment, she had, by the time the last bars of the minuet had been played,
succeeded in completely dispelling it; he never realised in what a fever of