At the top of the Rue Berthier the party halted. On ahead—some two hundred metres farther—Yvonne Lebeau’s little figure, with her ragged skirt pulled over her head and her bare feet pattering in the mud, was seen crossing one of those intermittent patches of light formed by occasional flickering street lamps, and then was swallowed up once more by the inky blackness beyond.
The Rue Berthier is a long, narrow, ill-paved and ill-lighted street, composed of low and irregular houses, which abut on the line of fortifications at the back, and are therefore absolutely inaccessible save from the front.
Midway down the street a derelict house rears ghostly debris of roofs and chimney-stacks upward to the sky. A tiny square of yellow light, blinking like a giant eye through a curtainless window, pierced the wall of the house. Roger pointed to that light.
“That,” he said, “is the quarry where our fox has run to earth.”
No one said anything; but the dank night air seemed suddenly alive with all the passions of hate let loose by thirty beating hearts.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, who had tricked them, mocked them, fooled them so often, was there, not two hundred metres away; and they were thirty to one, and all determined and desperate.
The darkness was intense.
Silently now the party approached the house, then again they halted, within sixty metres of it.
The whisper could scarce be heard, so low was it, like the sighing of the wind through a misty veil.
“Who is it?” came in quick challenge from Roger.
“Is he there?” was the eager whispered query.
“Not yet. But he may come at any moment. If he saw a crowd round the house, mayhap he would not come.”
“He cannot see a crowd. The night is as dark as pitch.”
“He can see in the darkest night,” and the girl’s voice sank to an awed whisper, “and he can hear through a stone wall.”
Instinctively, Roger shuddered. The superstitious fear which the mysterious personality of the Scarlet Pimpernel evoked in the heart of every Terrorist had suddenly seized this man in its grip.
Try as he would, he did not feel as valiant as he had done when first he emerged at the head of his party from under the portico of the Cordeliers Club, and it was with none too steady a voice that he ordered the girl roughly back to the house. Then he turned once more to his men.
The plan of action had been decided on in the Club, under the presidency of Robespierre; it only remained to carry the plans through with success.
From the side of the fortifications there was, of course, nothing to fear. In accordance with military regulations, the walls of the houses there rose sheer from the ground without doors or windows, whilst the broken-down parapets and dilapidated roofs towered forty feet above the ground.