Hercule and I had decided that he would walk the three leagues into Calais, despite the cold, which was intense, and the blizzard, which was nearly blinding, and that he would call at the post of gendarmerie at the city gates, and there see the officer in command and tell him the exact state of the case. It would then be for that officer to decide what was to be done; our responsibility as loyal citizens would be completely covered.
Hercule, you must know, had just emerged from our cabbage-patch on to the field when he was suddenly challenged:
“Qui va la?”
He gave his name. His certificate of citizenship was in his pocket; he had nothing to fear. Through the darkness and the veil of snow he had discerned a small group of men wearing the uniform of the 9th Regiment of the Line.
“Four men,” said the foremost of these, speaking quickly and commandingly, “wearing the same uniform that I and my men are wearing... have you seen them?”
“Yes,” said Hercule hurriedly.
“Where are they?”
“In the outhouse close by.”
The other suppressed a cry of triumph.
“At them, my men!” he said in a whisper, “and you, citizen, thank your stars that we have not come too late.”
“These men...” whispered Hercule. “I had my suspicions.”
“Aristocrats, citizen,” rejoined the commander of the little party, “and one of them is that cursed Englishman—the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
Already the soldiers, closely followed by Hercule, had made their way through our cabbage-patch back to the house.
The next moment they had made a bold dash for the barn. There was a great deal of shouting, a great deal of swearing and some firing, whilst Hercule and I, not a little frightened, remained in the coffee-room, anxiously awaiting events.
Presently the group of soldiers returned, not the ones who had first come, but the others. I noticed their leader, who seemed to be exceptionally tall.
He looked very cheerful, and laughed loudly as he entered the coffee-room. From the moment that I looked at his face I knew, somehow, that Hercule and I had been fooled, and that now, indeed, we stood eye to eye with that mysterious personage who is called the Scarlet Pimpernel.
I screamed, and Hercule made a dash for the door; but what could two humble and peaceful citizens do against this band of desperate men, who held their lives in their own hands? They were four and we were two, and I do believe that their leader has supernatural strength and power.
He treated us quite kindly, even though he ordered his followers to bind us down to our bed upstairs, and to tie a cloth round our mouths so that our cries could not be distinctly heard.
Neither my man nor I closed an eye all night, of course, but we heard the miscreants moving about in the coffee-room below. But they did no mischief, nor did they steal any of the food or wines.