Citizen Santerne had been unable to keep the mob back until the arrival of the cavalry reinforcements. Within five minutes of the abduction of Deroulede and Juliette the crowd had broken through the line of soldiers, and had stormed the cart, only to find it empty, and the prey dissappeared.
“They are safe in the Temple by now!” shouted Santerne hoarsely, in savage triumph at seeing them all baffled.
At first it seemed as if the wrath of the infuriated populace, fooled in its lust for vengeance, would vent itself against the commandant of Paris and his soldiers; for a moment even Santerre’s ruddy cheeks had paled at the sudden vision of this unlooked for danger.
Then just as suddenly the cry was raised.
“To the Temple!”
“To the Temple! To the Temple!” came in ready response.
The cry was soon taken up by the entire crowd, and in less than two minutes the purlieus of the Hall of Justice were deserted, and the Pont St Michel, then the Cite and the Pont au Change, swarmed with the rioters. Thence along the north bank of the river, and up the Rue du Temple, the people still yelling, muttering, singing the “Ca ira,” and shouting: “A la lanterne! A la lanterne!”
Sir Percy Blakeney and his little band of followers had found the Pont Neuf and the adjoining streets practically deserted. A few stragglers from the crowd, soaked through with the rain, their enthusiasm damped, and their throats choked with the mist, were sulkily returning to their homes.
The desultory group of six sansculottes attracted little or no attention, and Sir Percy boldly challenged every passer-by.
“The way to the Rue du Temple, citizen?” he asked once or twice, or:
“Have they hung the traitor yet? Can you tell me, citizeness?”
A grunt or an oath were the usual replies, but no one took any further notice of the gigantic coal-heaver and his ragged friends.
At the corner of one of the cross streets, between the Rue du Temple and the Rue des Archives, Sir Percy Blakeney suddenly turned to his followers:
“We are close to the rabble now,” he said in a whisper, and speaking in English; “do you all follow the nearest stragglers, and get as soon as possible into the thickest of the crowd. We’ll meet again outside the prison—and remember the sea-gull’s cry.”
He did not wait for an answer, and presently disappeared in the mist.
Already a few stragglers, hangers-on of the multitude, were gradually coming into view, and the yells could be distinctly heard. The mob had evidently assembled in the great square outside the prison, and was loudly demanding the object of its wrath.
The moment for cool-headed action was at hand. The Scarlet Pimpernel had planned the whole thing, but it was for his followers and for those, whom he was endeavouring to rescue from certain death, to help him heart and soul.