“I as the Governor, followed by one of my guards...”
“To go whither?”
“I have the right to come and go as I please.”
“I’ faith! so you have, but ’one of your guards’—eh? Wrapped to the eyes in a long mantle to hide the female figure beneath. I have been in Paris but a few hours, and yet already I have realised that there is not one demmed citizen within its walls, who does not at this moment suspect some other demmed citizen of conniving at the Queen’s escape. Even the sparrows on the house-tops are objects of suspicion. No figure wrapped in a mantle will from this day forth leave Paris unchallenged.”
“But you yourself, friend?” suggested Deroulede. “You think you can quit Paris unrecognised—then why not the Queen?”
“Because she is a woman, and has been a queen. She has nerves, poor soul, and weaknesses of body and of mind now. Alas for her! Alas for France! who wreaks such idle vengeance on so poor an enemy? Can you take hold of Marie Antoinette by the shoulders, shove her into the bottom of a cart and pile sacks of potatoes on the top of her? I did that to the Comtesse de Tournai and her daughter, as stiff-necked a pair of French aristocrats as ever deserved the guillotine for their insane prejudices. But can you do it to Marie Antoinette? She’d rebuke you publicly, and betray herself and you in a flash, sooner than submit to a loss of dignity.”
“But would you leave her to her fate?”
“Ah! there’s the trouble, friend. Do you think you need appeal to the sense of chivalry of my league? We are still twenty strong, and heart and soul in sympathy with your mad schemes. The poor, poor Queen! But you are bound to fail, and then who will help you all, if we too are put out of the way?”
“We should succeed if you helped us. At one time you used proudly to say: ‘The League of The Scarlet Pimpernel has never failed.’”
“Because it attempted nothing which it could not accomplish. But, la! since you put me on my mettle—Demm it all! I’ll have to think about it!”
And he laughed that funny, somewhat inane laugh of his, which had deceived the clever men of two countries as to his real personality.
Deroulede went up to the heavy oak desk which occupied a conspicuous place in the centre of one of the walls. He unlocked it and drew forth a bundle of papers.
“Will you look through these?” he asked, handing them to Sir Percy Blakeney.
“What are they?”
“Different schemes I have drawn up, in case my original plan should not succeed.”
“Burn them, my friend,” said Blakeney laconically. “Have you not yet learned the lesson of never putting your hand to paper?”
“I can’t burn these. You see, I shall not be able to have long conversations with Marie Antoinette. I must give her my suggestions in writing, that she may study them and not fail me, through lack of knowledge of her part.”