The Scarlet Pimpernel was written by Baroness Emmuska Orczy and first published in 1905. This novel is the first in a series of tales that follows the fictional main character infamously known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. The story is set at the time of the French Revolution, which occurred in the latter part of the eighteenth century. This revolt involved the overthrow of the French monarchy. A notorious Englishman sympathetic to the crisis in the aristocratic ranks helped sneak French royals out of the country to safety across the English Channel. This Englishman was known by the name of the Scarlet Pimpernel because upon making a clean escape from the French patrols, he would leave a note describing the caper, and it would be signed with a red, star-shaped flower the English called a scarlet pimpernel.
As the story opens, French soldiers have had their numbers increased at the gates of the Paris because the number of French aristocrats who have made successful escapes has dramatically increased in the past several weeks. The number has grown so dramatically that a new decree has been made stating that the guards who fail to stop the aristocrats will, themselves, be forced to place their necks under the guillotine.
The guillotine is one of the French public’s greatest entertainments during these times. Crowds gather to watch the aristocratic leaders, who had once ruled their world, be led to the guillotine platform and subsequently have their heads cut off. However, in recent days, the popularity of watching the guards at the city gates find lords and ladies hiding in common horse-drawn carts has become even more appealing than the guillotine deaths. One guard, Sergeant Bibot, is known for his ability to catch aristocrats no matter what their disguise, so his station draws the biggest crowds. Bibot is already accredited with sending more than fifty aristocrats to the guillotine. His most ambitious goal, though, is to...
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To provide some local English color, the story switches to a small inn called the Fisherman’s Rest in Dover, England. The owner is a Mr. Jellyband, a jovial man in his sixties. The inn has been in the family for several generations and will next be inherited by Mr. Jellyband’s only heir, his daughter, Sally, who now works as cook and waitress.
Sally is in the kitchen, preparing for special dinner guests who are expected. The inn is very popular with local fishermen. It is close to the docks, so it is also frequented by the Scarlet Pimpernel’s men as well as the French aristocrats who have just fled from their county on the other side of the channel.
As they await the guests, Mr. Jellyband enters into a discussion with one of his patrons, Mr. Hempseed. First the two men discuss the weather, which they say is uncommonly wet for a September. However, their talk quickly turns to politics. They discuss the recent occurrences of the escaped French aristocrats who are aided by Englishmen. Mr. Hempseed believes the British should stay out of French politics. If the French people want to kill their aristocrats, Mr. Hempseed says, the English should not stop them. At this time, the popular British sentiment is often against the French, whom the British find too highly emotional and crude.
Although Jellyband does not contest this, he raises another concern—that of Hempseed’s hypocrisy. Hempseed, Jellybrand points out, has quoted the Bible in one moment and promoted murder in the next. Jellyband suggests that maybe Hempseed has been persuaded by the French revolutionists and now promotes the French people’s cause against the monarchy. When Hempseed attempts to deny this charge, Jellyband interrupts him and states that all he knows is that his own loyalty to England is steadfast and that he would never do anything to promote the French cause. He then adds that he also would recognize any French intruders who came to England and would not have anything to do with them.
At this statement, a stranger on the other side of the room calls out to Jellyband. The man declares Jellyband to be an honest friend and praises him for his sharp awareness. The stranger (who is not identified in this chapter but is described as having a sly smile on his face as he speaks) then invites Jellyband to join him in a glass of wine. Jellyband graciously accepts the offer and goes over to sit and drink at the stranger’s table. The stranger raises his cup and makes a toast to loyal Englishmen, “as we all are.” The stranger then adds that although they are loyal Englishmen, they assuredly must all admit that the wine they are drinking is one good thing that has come from France. Jellyband gives his assent, telling the stranger that this fact cannot be denied.
The scene remains the same as in the previous chapter, at Fisherman’s Rest in Dover. Sally, the owner’s daughter, announces that Sir Antony has arrived. Sir Antony is a British gentleman who is described as very friendly and especially fond of Sally. Sir Antony is one of the inn’s most favored guests. He often travels to and from France, and he stays at the inn before his numerous departures and upon his returns.
When Mr. Jellyband greets Sir Antony, he mentions the French aristocrats who are about to arrive and credits Sir Antony for saving them. Sir Antony looks around the room, and when he notices the two strangers sitting at a far table, he tells Jellyband that he should not discuss the matter in front of them. Jellyband laughs off Sir Antony’s concern, telling him that the two strangers, though new in the community, are friends, and Sir Antony should not trouble himself about them. Sir Antony feels skeptical but relents and comments about the grim look on one of the strangers’ faces. If this stranger is in business here, Antony states, it must be in the profession of an undertaker. Jellyband tells Antony he has been told that the stranger has recently become a widower. Jellyband informs Sir Antony that he can trust his evaluation of the stranger because he is an innkeeper and, therefore, a good judge of character.
When Antony asks who else might be staying at the inn that night, Jellyband tells him that there will be no one else except for Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife. Lord Antony appears to be very surprised that Lady Blakeney will be there for the night. Jellyband explains that the Blakeneys have come to say good-bye to Lady Blakeney’s brother, who is leaving for France on Sir Blakeney’s private yacht, the Day Dream.
Just as Jellyband is explaining these matters to Sir Antony, the door to the inn reopens and a party of four enters, including an older woman and her daughter and son. Sir Antony addresses the older of the two women as Comtesse (the French equivalent to the English word countess). The woman speaks English with a thick French accent. Sir Antony asks about her recent voyage. The Comtesse assures Sir Antony that the trip was not very difficult. She states that she is glad she and her children have escaped the suffering they endured while in France.
Meanwhile, a young friend of Sir Antony’s, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, stands near Suzanne, the Comtesse’s daughter. Ffoulkes appears smitten by the young woman, and she with him. When Suzanne’s mother shouts out to her to come to the table to eat, Suzanne is abruptly brought out of the spell Sir Andrew appears to have cast upon her.
The party of Sir Antony and Sir Andrew, along with the French Comtesse and her children, sit at a table and enjoy their dinner. None of them notice the two strangers across the room when one of them rises and spreads his cloak out at his sides while the other slips under the table and hides. Then the first stranger bids goodnight to the other patrons of the inn and climbs the stairs to his room. Upon the stranger’s having closed the door to the parlor, Sir Antony breathes out, “Alone, at last!” With this pronouncement, the other diners relax, not knowing that a spy is in their midst.
After the stranger leaves, the Comtesse’s son stands and proposes a toast to the king of England for allowing his family a safe refuge. Sir Andrew adds a toast to the king of France, wishing him victory over his enemies. Sir Antony suggests another toast, this one for the Comtesse’s husband, the Count of Tournay de Basserive. Antony states his hopes that they may welcome the Count to England before too many days have passed.
After this toast, the Comtesse becomes mournful. She regrets having had to leave her husband behind. She states that it was very difficult to make a choice between her husband and her children. She wanted to stay with her husband but her children would not leave without her. They had learned that all their names were on a list, and they were soon to be condemned to the guillotine. The Comtesse fears that her husband will be sentenced to death.
Sir Antony tries to assure the Comtesse that her husband will be rescued. Antony says that he and his group of men have sworn to bring the Count to safety. The Comtesse thanks Sir Antony, and Antony accepts her thanks with humility. He claims that he and his friends are merely the hands. The head, or leader, of the group is the person most responsible for their success. When the Comtesse asks for the identity of their leader, Sir Antony tells her it is a well-kept secret...
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There is a lot of tension in the dining room of the inn after the Blakeneys arrival is announced. The Comtesse immediately stands and declares that she will not stay to meet Lady Blakeney. Antony yells at Jellyband to go outside and attempt to delay Lady Blakeney from entering the inn. Jellyband is not successful. Lady Blakeney chides the innkeeper, pushing him to the side and commenting on his seeming reluctance to allow her to enter. She is freezing and wet from the rain, she tells him, and must warm herself by the fire.
Everyone in the room is surprised to hear the Comtesse order Suzanne to leave the room with her. For her part, Lady Blakeney appears pleased by the chance encounter with the Comtesse. Lady Blakeney...
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Sir Percy Blakeney is described as tall and very handsome, one of the richest men in England and extremely fashionable—but it is also said that Sir Percy is lazy and dull-witted. The whole of French and English society was astonished when the vivacious and intelligent Marguerite St. Just accepted Sir Percy’s proposal of marriage. The couple has been married for one year.
A year ago in Paris, Marguerite (then eighteen) had gathered around her the most intelligent and creative group of people who lived in France. Those who visited her home were the most clever men and the most talented women. Some say Marguerite chose Sir Percy for the riches he might bestow on her. Her closest friends, however, scoff at that idea....
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Marguerite Blakeney awaits the arrival of her brother, Armand. She walks outside the inn and looks over the banks at the ship below that will soon take him away. She will only have thirty minutes to be with him. When Armand finally comes, he tries to calm his sister’s concerns by saying he is not going very far away and will soon return. However, Marguerite knows the circumstances in France are very dangerous for Armand. Although both Armand and Marguerite supported the revolution, they believe the people who are now in control have gone too far. They are too hungry for blood and revenge.
Armand looks around to make sure no one has heard what Marguerite has said. Then he tells her she should not voice her criticism...
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Marguerite stands on the edge of the cliffs for over an hour as she watches the boat that is taking Armand away. Her thoughts wander back to her husband. She thinks about how he once loved her; she had not fully appreciated his love a year ago. She often thought of Percy’s love as being similar to the affection a dog might lavish on its owner. Still, she had enjoyed it, and now she misses it. The pain she feels in its place makes her lash out at Percy, taking advantage of every opportunity to use her wit to ridicule her husband, hoping her words might hurt him. She thinks that if he hurt, she would at least regain some of his attention. However, her plan has not worked. After a year, the two of them have only grown farther...
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After Sir Percy and Marguerite leave Dover to return home, Jellyband walks over to talk to Sir Antony and Sir Andrew, who are the only people remaining in the dining room. Jellyband confirms that everyone else is either gone or is in bed. The two young men have the room to themselves. Upon learning this, Antony and Andrew begin a private conversation.
First Antony teases Andrew about his obvious attraction for Suzanne, the daughter of the Comtesse. Andrew admits that the trip over from France was a very stimulating one for him. Antony wishes Andrew good luck in pursuing the young woman. Then the two men discuss their plans for the next few days, during which they will be involved in helping the Scarlet Pimpernel with...
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A couple of days after Armand leaves for Paris, Marguerite attends the opera, along with many of the more fashionable people of Britain. The Comtesse is present as the guest of Lady Portarles, who attempts to lighten the Comtesse’s mood. The Comtesse has heard nothing about the welfare of her husband, and she is dressed all in black as if in mourning. Lord Grenville, who is sponsoring a ball and dinner that will be held immediately following the opera, enters Lady Portarles’s box. Upon hearing of the Comtesse’s concern for her husband, he reminds her that she has been assured by the Scarlet Pimpernel’s group that they will rescue her husband. Unfortunately, Lord Grenville also reports that was recently in Paris, where he...
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Lord Grenville’s ball is one of the most popular and important occasions of the year. Everyone important desires to be there. Lord Grenville, the foreign Secretary of State, has welcomed several European dignitaries to his home before Marguerite and Lord Blakeney arrive with the most distinguished guest of all, the Prince of Wales. Chauvelin is also there. Grenville invited him to the event, but most of the guests prefer to ignore him. They know about his new government and despise it.
Chauvelin feels passionate about his beliefs that the new revolutionary government officials in France are the heroes of the common people. He looks upon all the French royalists present at the ball as prey who found a way to sneak away...
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Lord Blakeney leaves his wife alone to dance or flirt with whomever she chooses. He will spend his time at the ball telling bland jokes and playing cards. When Marguerite thinks about her husband, she wonders why it is not he who comes to her rescue. She tried to speak to him on their way from the opera to the ball, but when she realized how dull her husband was, she questioned what assistance she thought he might be able to offer. So instead of asking for his advice, she remained silent and did not open up to him about the torment she is suffering. Chauvelin has put her in a terrible place. She will either have to spy on the Scarlet Pimpernel or allow her own brother to die. If only she could have worked out a scheme with her...
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While Marguerite dances with Sir Andrew, the words from the note she read flow through her mind. The first phrase she remembers is this: “Start myself tomorrow.” The flame had obliterated the rest of the words from that line. However, there were more words at the bottom of the note. They stated that if anyone wanted to meet with the Scarlet Pimpernel, he would be in the supper room at one o’clock.
Marguerite checks the time. It is eleven. Marguerite has two hours to decide her fate, the fate of her brother, and that of the Scarlet Pimpernel. If she tells Chauvelin that the Scarlet Pimpernel will be in the supper room that night, she will surely be the cause of the Pimpernel’s death. However, if she does not tell...
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Although Marguerite cannot quite admit it to herself, she has made a decision. She cannot ever turn her back on her brother. Ever since their parents died, while Marguerite was still a young child, Armand has taken care of her. He is more than just a brother; he is her father and mother as well. The gallant hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel, will have to fend for himself. Marguerite has heard all the stories about his bold rescues and escapes from French authorities in the past, and she feels sure that the Pimpernel will be able to save himself again. As she sees it, she has no choice. She must save her brother, no matter the cost to the Pimpernel.
Marguerite has been avoiding Chauvelin for the past couple of hours, though...
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Lady Blakeney waits anxiously in the ballroom, hoping to see Chauvelin reappear. It is after one o’clock. Surely Chauvelin has by now determined the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. But she worries: if he has not done so, what does this mean for the fate of her brother?
While she waits, Lord Fancourt walks toward her. He tells her that he has found her husband. Marguerite had forgotten she had sent Lord Fancourt on an errand. Lord Blakeney was difficult to find, Fancourt tells her. Finally, though, Fancourt was able to discover Lord Blakeney in the supper room. He had fallen asleep. Fancourt says that soon Lord Blakeney will be outside with his carriage, prepared to take Lady Blakeney home.
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As they drive home, Marguerite feels temporarily relieved by the cool, October air that rushes by her face. She is glad that her husband, Sir Percy, enjoys living in the country. They own a beautiful home alongside a river that is a long drive from the clutter and stagnation of London.
As they ride along, Marguerite steals glances at her husband’s profile. In the early morning light, she catches glimpses of the image she had once had of her husband, when he had courted her and still loved her. She admires the way he drives the horses, allowing them almost full rein, running as powerfully as they desire.
Then the events of the night crash in on her again. If anyone had told her a week ago that she would...
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After dressing for bed, Marguerite stands at her bedroom window and thinks about her husband. She feels an ache in her heart and is surprised to realize that the source of the pain is not her brother but rather her husband. She discovers that she still loves him. In fact, as she takes time to reflect on the past few months, she knows she has always loved him. Percy’s traits that she found the hardest to like—his laziness, his empty laughter—are just a mask. Percy wears that mask to hide his pain, the emotional pain she has caused by not returning his love. Underneath that mask, Marguerite now understands, is a very strong, passionate, and willful man: a man she could love.
Then, just as suddenly as she reached...
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Marguerite wakes up refreshed after a brief sleep. She feels good about the day that lies before her. Suzanne, the daughter of the Comtesse and an old school friend of Marguerite’s, is coming to visit. Although the Comtesse had forbidden Suzanne to speak to her, Marguerite intentionally asked Suzanne to come visit her in front of the Prince of Wales while they all were at the ball. The Comtesse, not wanting to cause the Prince to think ill of her, had granted permission to her daughter. Marguerite is looking forward to spending a few hours with her old friend and rehashing school memories, which will not doubt take her mind off her brother and her husband.
After eating a small breakfast and while waiting for Suzanne...
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Suzanne has come to visit Marguerite. Although Marguerite is very happy to see her and to share memories of their days together at school, she is very distracted by the events of the past day and a half. Marguerite’s distraction comes to a head when she asks Suzanne if she has any news concerning her father, the Count. Suzanne tells Marguerite that they received some very encouraging news. Lord Hastings assured her that her father will soon be rescued. Rumors have suggested that the Scarlet Pimpernel is on his way to Calais to meet with her father, who is in hiding, and bring him to England to be reunited with his family.
At this announcement, everything begins to make sense to Marguerite. She had been wondering if...
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Before she leaves home, Marguerite asks the messenger about the man who gave him the letter to deliver. Marguerite learns that Chauvelin had ordered a carriage to take him to Dover. Marguerite knows that from Dover, Chauvelin would take a boat across the Channel to Calais. She must get to Calais as soon as she can. She also knows that she can not do this alone, so she heads straight for Sir Andrew’s home.
Upon finding Sir Andrew, Marguerite acknowledges that she knows that her husband is the Scarlet Pimpernel. She also tells Sir Andrew that she knows her husband is in grave danger. Without telling Sir Andrew all the details concerning how she knows this, she tells him that Chauvelin is determined to bring Sir Percy to...
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Marguerite arrives at the inn in Dover before Sir Andrew does. When she arrives alone, Mr. Jellyband is a bit concerned. His worry increases when she tells Jellyband to expect Sir Andrew in an hour or two. Jellyband thinks Marguerite is having an affair with Sir Andrew. He concludes that Marguerite is a French woman, which in his mind explains her strange behavior. Once Marguerite realizes what it must look like for her to be in Dover without her husband and meeting clandestinely with another man, she finds a few seconds of humor in her otherwise dreadful day.
When Sir Andrew reaches the inn, he has bad news for Marguerite. He has checked with the men on the dock and everyone tells him that there is no chance a boat can...
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The next morning, the storm is still blowing across the water. Sir Andrew goes to the dock but finds that with the winds so strong and the tide going out, circumstances are against their leaving Dover for several more hours at best. However, a few hours later, Andrew finds a captain of a very swift yacht who is willing to take the chance. So Marguerite and Andrew finally set sail for Calais.
The sunset is beautiful as they make their way across the Channel, though Marguerite pays little attention to the scenery. Her mind is set on finding Sir Percy as soon as she can and warning him that Chauvelin will soon be in Calais in pursuit of him. Once Marguerite and Andrew set foot on French soil, they make their way through...
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Sir Andrew continually reminds Marguerite to control her emotions and not speak so loudly because there are spies everywhere in France. Sir Andrew tells her that it is wise if they do not let Brogard know who they are looking for or why. However, Marguerite can barely control herself. She thinks that in a few minutes she will see Sir Percy, her husband, and the ordeal will be all over. Percy will be safe, and they will be able to leave France and return to British soil.
Andrew has to temper Marguerite’s joyous mood with the news that Sir Percy would never leave unless the people he has come to rescue are safe. It is not until Andrew’s words that Marguerite remembers her brother. She had become so obsessed with...
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As Marguerite waits in the attic room, she observes Brogard, the Calais innkeeper, set the table in preparation for the meal Sir Percy will soon eat. The anticipation of seeing her husband grows stronger in Marguerite, though she knows that she dare not stir even when Sir Percy arrives. Andrew has warned her not to greet Sir Percy in any public place because this might bring dangerous attention to him. Chauvelin’s spies are everywhere.
As she waits for Percy’s arrival, she suddenly hears footsteps outside. At first, her heart leaps because she believes it must be her husband. Then she is disappointed when she listens more closely. The strides are too short. Upon listening more attentively, Marguerite realizes that...
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Sir Percy enters the inn, and from what Marguerite can observe, her husband might have been taken aback upon seeing Chauvelin for only a mere six seconds. Sir Percy then casually walks over to the table and pats Chauvelin on the back. Although Marguerite had not been able to see, Chauvelin is dressed in disguise. He has a priest’s frock on and is wearing a wig. When Sir Percy immediately calls Chauvelin by name, the Frenchman chokes on the spoonful of soup he is in the process of swallowing. Percy asks Chauvelin why he is dressed in this way and kids him about his terrible wig.
Percy continues his conversation with Chauvelin, sometimes calling the man by a mispronunciation of his name just to irritate him. As her...
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Chauvelin finally is able to catch his breath and stop sneezing just as his men reach the inn. As soon as Desgas enters, Chauvelin asks Desgas if he had seen the tall British man. Desgas had not. Chauvelin has to take his misery out on someone, so he yells at Desgas, screaming that had he been five minutes earlier they would have captured the British man. However, Chauvelin recovers, as he realizes that catching the Scarlet Pimpernel in the act of defying the French government would mean his sure death. They needed to wait and catch him as Sir Percy attempts to rescue Armand and Suzanne's father. The roads were well guarded. There was no way that Sir Percy could go anywhere without being seen. They would track him. He would...
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Marguerite waits in the attic room to make sure that Chauvelin and his soldiers are outside before she creeps downstairs. She peers into the darkness outside to ensure that the soldiers are gone, then she goes outside and follows behind them as closely as she dares. She knows that Miquelon, Chauvelin’s destination, is at least nine miles ahead. She is ready for the journey even if she must make it on foot. She must go where her husband is about to meet his fate. She will try to save him. However, if she fails, at least she will be there at his side.
There is a moon in the night sky but clouds cover it, giving Marguerite enough darkness to hide along the sides of the road. She is forced to trample along the bushes and...
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Marguerite was exhausted, though this condition did not fully make an impression on her thoughts. In her mind, she was oblivious to all pain except for her longing for her husband. She had abandoned all hope of rescuing him. All she felt she had left to her was that she would see him long enough to tell him how much she loved him and how sorry she was that she had foolishly lead him to his death. Her shoes were gone and her feet were sore. Her knees buckled with each step. She and the soldiers in front of her had arrived at their destination. Marguerite felt as if she had been walking in a trance. She was not unaware of her surroundings, though. She had noticed that the cart had stopped, and Chauvelin was giving orders to someone....
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Marguerite had possibly fainted. She no longer was aware of time. When she came to, she noticed only that someone had placed her on the ground, with her back leaning against a rock. Then she heard a conversation between Chauvelin and one of his men. The fisherman's hut had been checked. There were four men inside, the soldier reported. They were all sitting by a small fire. There was no sign of the tall Englishman. His yacht was seen in the harbor, but no one knew where the small boat that would bring the men from the shore to yacht had been hidden.
After Chauvelin gave new orders, his soldier returned to the hut. Chauvelin then turned to Marguerite. He tells her that he wants to make her more comfortable, adding that...
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The singing voice came nearer and nearer to Marguerite. She knew it was her husband singing "God Save the King." She also knew that Sir Percy was walking to his death, still unaware that Chauvelin and his men were waiting for him. She could not stay quiet any longer. If she must sacrifice her brother in order to save her husband, then so be it. She could no longer remain silent. So she shouted out, calling her brother by name, imploring him to either come out of the hut shooting or to run away to the beach. He must do something, Marguerite yelled.
Chauvelin, hearing Marguerite's wails, commands one of his soldier to subdue her. Thus Marguerite is pushed to the ground and her head is covered with some kind of bag. The...
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Marguerite stirs after Chauvelin and his men are gone. She had been unconscious and did not know what had happened to her brother or her husband. For all she knew they were both dead. She was extremely exhausted, and her feet were badly damaged from the long walk without shoes. She was so tired, she did not care to move. She could stay there forever on that rocky cliff, especially if she had lost the two men whom she loved.
Then out of the darkness, she heard a distinctive cry. Someone had cursed. The tone of voice was unmistakably British and the sound was very familiar. Marguerite sensed that it was Sir Percy, but she could not tell from where the sound of the voice was coming from. She sat up and looked around. In...
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