And the speaker, a short, thick-set man with sparse black hair plastered over a greasy forehead, his shirt open at the neck, revealing a powerful chest and rough, hairy skin, spat in ostentatious contempt upon the floor.
“Therefore will we not boast of his capture yet, citizen Roger,” resumed Robespierre imperturbably. “I tell you where the Englishman is. Do you look to it that he does not escape.”
The heat in the room had become intolerable. From the grimy ceiling an oil-lamp, flickering low, threw lurid, ruddy lights on tricolour cockades, on hands that seemed red with the blood of innocent victims of lust and hate, and on faces glowing with desire and with anticipated savage triumph.
“Who is the informer?” asked Roger at last.
“A girl,” replied Robespierre curtly. “Yvonne Lebeau, by name; she and her family live by begging. There are a blind father and two boys; they herd together at night in the derelict house in the Rue Berthier. Five Englishmen have been in hiding there these past few days. One of them is their leader. The girl believes him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“Why has she not spoken of this before?” muttered one of the crowd, with some scepticism.
“Frightened, I suppose. Or the Englishman paid her to hold her tongue.”
“Where is the girl now?”
“I am sending her straight home, a little ahead of us. Her presence should reassure the Englishman whilst we make ready to surround the house. In the meanwhile, I have sent special messengers to every gate of Paris with strict orders to the guard not to allow anyone out of the city until further orders from the Committee of Public Safety. And now,” he added, throwing back his head with a gesture of proud challenge, “citizens, which of you will go man-hunting to-night?”
This time the strident roar of savage exultation was loud and deep enough to shake the flickering lamp upon its chain.
A brief discussion of plans followed, and Roger—he with the broad, hairy chest and that gleam of hatred for ever lurking in his deep-set, shifty eyes—was chosen the leader of the party.
Thirty determined and well-armed patriots set out against one man, who mayhap had supernatural powers. There would, no doubt, be some aristocrats, too, in hiding in the derelict house—the girl Lebeau, it seems, had spoken of a woman and two children. Bah! These would not count. It would be thirty to one, so let the Scarlet Pimpernel look to himself.
From the towers of Notre Dame the big bell struck the hour of six, as thirty men in ragged shirts and torn breeches, shivering beneath a cold November drizzle, began slowly to wend their way towards the Rue Berthier.
They walked on in silence, not heeding the cold or the rain, but with eyes fixed in the direction of their goal, and nostrils quivering in the evening air with the distant scent of blood.