The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Baroness Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel

I absolutely loved this book, it is now up there with my favourite reads, and I already want to read it all over again. I had read a later book in the series many years ago, which makes me a bit sad now as I already knew who the Scarlet Pimpernel was when I began this first book in the series and I wish I hadn’t known so that I could have the surprise of finding out, or be able to judge if it is fairly obvious from the start who he is.

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I absolutely loved this book, it is now up there with my favourite reads, and I already want to read it all over again. I had read a later book in the series many years ago, which makes me a bit sad now as I already knew who the Scarlet Pimpernel was when I began this first book in the series and I wish I hadn’t known so that I could have the surprise of finding out, or be able to judge if it is fairly obvious from the start who he is. 

The story begins with French guards at the gates of Paris in September 1792, they are talking about the Englishman named The Scarlet Pimpernel who has rescued hundreds of aristocrats doomed for the guillotine by Robespierre and The Committee of Public Safety, they are sharing stories of his escapades such as when he pretended to be the captain of the guards, with the rescued aristocrats disguised as soldiers, stating that The Scarlet Pimpernel was the driver of a cart earlier let through the gates with the fugitives hidden in casks, so that the guards then hurriedly waved the captain and soldiers through the gates in pursuit of the cart and they therefore escaped. As they are laughing at the other guards’ foolishness in being taken in by The Scarlet Pimpernel, a cart approaches driven by an old woman saying she has her grandson with smallpox inside the cart so the guards swiftly wave the cart through the gates as they are terrified of catching smallpox and don’t search the cart for fear of catching the deadly disease. The captain of the guards then runs up asking if the cart has been let through as it contained the fugitives Comtesse de Tournay and her two children and the driver disguised as the old woman was The Scarlet Pimpernel. The background of the Revolution is given, that the French citizens are keen to punish the aristocrats for their greed and the privations they have made the people suffer from back to the Bourbon times, so they have imprisoned King Louis and are executing aristocrats on the guillotine. The Scarlet Pimpernel regularly uses deviousness and disguises to fool the guards at the Paris city gates in order to slip through with his escapees from the guillotine and head to England, and he then sends a card with a picture of a pimpernel to the Public Prosecutor, Foucquier-Tinville, every time he rescues someone. Ooooh, I love the ingenuity of The Scarlet Pimpernel’s escapes. But omg, the whole French Revolution still seems unbelievable to me, that royals and aristocrats could be imprisoned and condemned to death without trial, that French citizens could become so bloodthirsty and vindictive. I know the privileged had behaved cruelly to the people for a long time and that times were turbulent, and this had happened in England too where we had actually executed King Charles 1st (I’ve recently read Dumas’ book Twenty Years After, which details this), which again seems unbelievable to me now, although that was 150 years earlier than this time. But the scale of these massacres during the French Revolution, and of children too, is just beyond my comprehension, and it’s difficult to understand how the population could be influenced to support this cruelty. And it makes me wonder if there was actually anyone at the time, outside of fiction, trying to rescue the people doomed to the guillotine, and if The Scarlet Pimpernel is actually based on anyone real. 

The story then goes to England and to a pub in Dover called The Fisherman’s Rest, run by Mr Jellyband and his daughter, Sally. The English are scornful of all foreigners but particularly the French, and criticise their Revolution and them imprisoning the Royal Family, whilst the English government under Pitt are reluctant to intervene in case this provokes war, stating it is up to Austria to intervene as the dethroned Queen of France is Austrian. Lord Anthony Dewhurst, son of the Duke of Exeter, and his friend Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, are members of The Scarlet Pimpernel’s League and help him bring rescued French aristocrats to this pub after sailing across the English Channel with them. They have arrived at the pub that night with some escapees, the Comtesse de Tournay and her two children, though they did not manage to rescue the husband but still hope to do so. The Comtesse de Tournay explains to the pub staff and customers that they had received a card with the Scarlet Pimpernel’s symbol on and directions for them to follow. She goes on to say bitterly that Marguerite St Just and her brother Armand St Just, known as Republicans and to believe in equality and liberty, denounced her cousin the Marquis de St Cyr and his family, resulting in the whole St Cyr family being executed. Dewhurst says Marguerite was formerly an actress, highly celebrated in French society, and is now Sir Percy Blakeney’s wife, that they have been married a year and their marriage was a surprise to both England and France, that she is the most fashionable woman in England and he is the richest man in England and an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales. He adds that Percy and his wife, who regularly travel across to France in their yacht, Day Dream, are also due to stay at this pub that night. Dewhurst and Ffoulkes then talk enthusiastically of their leader, The Scarlet Pimpernel, saying his identity is kept secret under solemn oath of his 19 followers in The League, and that they run the risks they do to rescue the French aristocrats for the sporting challenge, though they know they will be executed themselves if caught. There are two strangers in the pub listening to all this, one loudly says goodbye while the other secretly conceals himself unnoticed under the table. Percy and Marguerite arrive, she is very beautiful and fashionable and aged 25. The Comtesse de Tournay shuns her rudely, though her daughter, Suzanne, who used to be school friends with Marguerite, secretly greets her warmly. Percy is in his early 30s and very good looking and tall, but known as lazy and a fool or a fop. He had been brought up abroad after his mother was declared insane two years into her marriage with Percy’s father, Sir Algernon, the father then took the family abroad and lived there quietly, and Percy’s parents died shortly after each other so he inherited their great fortune. Oh dear, I have a bad feeling about the two strangers and what they have overheard, I’d have thought The League would have been more careful in their talk, as even though they haven’t mentioned The Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity, they have openly identified themselves as part of his League which is surely dangerous to them, although I suppose they are on English soil so feel safe there. And the way Percy speaks makes me chuckle with his ‘Zounds’ and ‘Demmed’ and ‘La’ and ‘Begad’, and his gallant and elaborate bows to his wife, and his flippant nature.

Marguerite briefly leaves the pub to meet her beloved brother, Armand, on the clifftop to say goodbye to him, as he is going back to Paris. They are very close, as their parents died when they were young, he is eight years older than her and this is his first visit to her since she married. She pleads with him to be careful, saying that Paris is such a dangerous place and that the citizens are going too far. They talk about Marguerite denouncing the St Cyr family and causing them to be sent to the guillotine, and that there were extenuating circumstances as the Marquis St Cyr had ordered Armand to be severely beaten almost to the point of death for daring to admire his daughter, and Marguerite had hated St Cyr for this and had spoken to her Revolutionary friends about it who had then searched St Cyr’s home and found correspondence with Austria and plans to overthrow the Revolution with this Austrian support so St Cyr and his wife and children were guillotined, although this was far from Marguerite’s intent and she was horrified at the result of her words and feels she was tricked by the Revolutionists to say more than she had intended as they just wanted a reason to have the family denounced. She tells Armand that she regrets that she has been unable to explain all this to Percy, who heard about her involvement from someone else and appears to now no longer love her because of it and to hold her in contempt. She tells her brother that she married Percy because she wanted to be worshipped passionately, and he seemed once to feel this. It seems to Armand that now Percy no longer worships Marguerite, she is ironically even more in love with him. Hmmm, I think it is very effective to have Armand’s experience detailed as it shows both sides of the Revolution, he has been a victim of the aristocrats’ domineering and abusive behaviour and wished for change in order to have fairness and justice, but he is also horrified at the extremes the Revolutionists have gone to and demonstrates to the reader that this wasn’t the citizens’ original intention.

After saying goodbye to Armand, Marguerite is surprised to be met outside the pub by a Frenchman she knows, Chauvelin, he was one of the strangers earlier in the pub. He asks her to aid France by helping him discover the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel, he says he has been sent to England from France for this purpose as not only are guilty aristocrats escaping punishment due to The Scarlet Pimpernel but these aristocrats when safely in England are then encouraging pity and support from the English people which could put France at risk of intervention from England. He says they wish to execute The Scarlet Pimpernel, even though they would need to apologise afterwards to England for this, as that would stop The League and its actions. Marguerite views The Scarlet Pimpernel in a noble romantic light, with his bravery in risking his life to help others and his anonymity making him mysterious, she feels this would be a man she could love and adore, in comparison with her foolish husband. She tells Chauvelin she is unlikely to hear anything of use about The Scarlet Pimpernel but that if she did then she would refuse to tell him of it.

Ffoulkes and Dewhurst stay in the bar after everyone else has gone to bed and the Blakeneys have left, they are talking about the next mission from The Scarlet Pimpernel, which is to rescue the Count de Tournay, and how risky this will be. They open a note of instructions from The Scarlet Pimpernel which they aim to destroy immediately afterwards, and they also speak of Armand as secretly being part of The League. They also talk about The Scarlet Pimpernel’s information to them that Chauvelin is in England and that he is determined to catch The Scarlet Pimpernel when he next sets foot in France. The man earlier hidden under the bench is still there listening and helps others burst in at the door and overpower Ffoulkes and Dewhurst and take the instructions from them which tells them to meet at Pere Blanchard’s hut with the fugitives. Oh god, I do hope they’re not tortured into giving away The Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity, I suspect this is something the French would do in their desperation to get this information, it surely wouldn’t seem realistic if members of The League were just released unharmed. And Armand is secretly part of The League, that’s a surprise and I imagine Marguerite doesn’t know this, and it’s even more interesting seeing as he suffered at the hands of the aristocrats and was a supporter of liberty and equality and the dispersal of power from the aristocrats and yet is now rescuing them, I wonder if he became part of The League in order to try and put right Marguerite’s mistake in having the St Cyrs family executed, or perhaps he supported the system until it escalated into these executions and this altered his belief in the system.

The Blakeneys are at the theatre. The Prime Minister, Pitt, is also there, as is Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville who has to entertain Chauvelin even though he doesn’t like him but the government feels that as yet they cannot break off diplomatic relations with France so the French agents who visit England have to be received with courtesy. Marguerite is aware that the Day Dream yacht returned from France two days ago so she knows that Armand has landed in France safely as he was being transported by that yacht. Percy leaves Marguerite alone to enjoy the music, though she cares little if he is there or not, and Chauvelin then joins her. He tells her that Ffoulkes and Dewhurst were captured as they were known to be in The League, that a letter was found on them proving that Armand is also in The League, and that another note stated that The Scarlet Pimpernel would meet Ffoulkes and Dewhurst at Lord Grenville’s ball that night so they have therefore been allowed to escape so they can speak to The Scarlet Pimpernel at the ball. Chauvelin says he knows that Marguerite is going to the ball later that evening and he tells her that she must keep watch to see who Ffoulkes and Dewhurst speak to so he can then learn the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and by doing this Armand will be allowed to go free otherwise he will face justice and be killed for being a French traitor to France. Marguerite knows she has no choice but to agree to Chauvelin’s demands. She wonders whether to confide in her husband, but then seems to reject the idea. Oooh, confide in him, or just confide in anyone!! 

Later at the ball, Marguerite sees Lord Hastings pass a note to Ffoulkes, she follows Ffoulkes and by pretending to faint and then engaging in meaningless chatter she manages to see part of the note before he destroys it. The note says that The Scarlet Pimpernel will sail himself tomorrow, and that if Ffoulkes wishes to speak to him again he will be in the supper room at 1am. Marguerite agonises and agonises about whether to betray The Scarlet Pimpernel and tell Chauvelin the contents of the note. In the end, she decides she has to save her brother and she does tell Chauvelin. Ooooh, it’s so tense to read, wondering if she will try and resist giving away the information to Chauvelin of where The Scarlet Pimpernel will be and feeling for her caught between the desire to protect her brother and to protect The Scarlet Pimpernel. Her agonies over this are written so well, I can really feel the torture she is under.

Chauvelin goes to the supper room at the appointed time to await The Scarlet Pimpernel, and finds only Percy there fast asleep. Oooh, the tension of Chauvelin going to the meeting spot was almost too much to read, I genuinely felt scared he would discover The Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity. I was also hoping The Scarlet Pimpernel had somehow been made aware of the danger, and was just playing the situation in the only possible way he could, given the altered circumstances. I also liked the description of the now empty chairs in the supper room and how these demonstrate the activities that had gone on there earlier in the evening, from two chairs pushed closely together implying people engaged in whispered flirtations, to groups of chairs together implying people sharing a joke or gossip, to single chairs by the food table implying people intent on their food, to overturned chairs implying people who have drunk too much, it’s a very clever section of writing.

When Percy and Marguerite reach their very grand home in Richmond, Marguerite tries to speak to Percy about their relationship. She explains further her denouncing the St Cyr family, saying that she never intended their deaths, that she was angry at them for what they’d done to Armand but she was tricked into talking about this, and when she realised they were to be executed she tried her utmost to prevent it. Percy asks why she didn’t tell him all this at the time, as he says that he was very ready to believe her side and to support her but that she had refused to explain anything and had just told him that if he loved her then he would need no explanation and then she had left him for several weeks. She reflects that she had felt then that he had failed the test she had placed on him to love her regardless of her actions, and she realises now that her pride at the time, feeling that she didn’t need to explain things to him and testing his trust, has caused this awful damage to their relationship, and that his continuing pride continues the damage. She also now realises that he had indeed then loved her passionately but had felt that his love was rejected by her, and it is also now obvious to her that he still cares passionately for her but is rigidly subduing this feeling as his pride won’t let him be vulnerable again so he wears a mask of coldness and lightheartedness around her as he is avoiding showing love and having her reject him again. She is determined to win back his love, as she is sure herself now that she wants no other love than his and that she loves him too. She tells him that Armand is in danger, and he assures her that he will save Armand. He waits for her to tell him more about the situation, and it is obvious that he is willing to unbend towards her if she just opens up to him, but her pride now won’t let her admit that she has sacrificed The Scarlet Pimpernel to save Armand as she can’t bear Percy to view her with contempt again as he did after learning about the St Cyr family. However, he takes this reticence on her part as her again not trusting or loving him. Percy leaves a few hours later saying he will save Armand, though doesn’t tell her how. Oh dear, they are in a mess! Wow, I’m quite blown away with the passion and rigid self-control of Percy, he just seems to simmer off the page, I can imagine readers at the time falling in love with him, he seems such a powerful man and yet vulnerable too. And grrrr, silly silly silly Marguerite with her false pride doing all this damage and throwing away his love, I could shake her! And I felt such tension wondering if Marguerite would confide in Percy about Chauvelin and Armand and ask for his help, I was willing her to do so. I’m finding it surprisingly tense to read, there I was thinking this was just a lighthearted simple book but there are loads of complex things going on here. 

Marguerite goes to Percy’s study, as his rule is that no-one goes in there so she can’t resist this opportunity to learn more about him while he is away. She sees how tidy and efficient the study is and what a lot of business papers there are, and realises that Percy is clearly an intelligent and business-like man and that he wears his mask with everyone else as he wears it with her and that he only plays the part of a stupid lazy man, and she begins to feel curious about why he does this. She then finds a ring with The Scarlet Pimpernel flower seal on it, but thinks the possession of this ring might just be Percy’s admiration of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She then speaks to her friend, Suzanne de Tournay, who tells her that The Scarlet Pimpernel left for Calais that day to bring her father home. Marguerite knows from Percy’s groom that Percy left for Calais that day too, and she suddenly realises with a shock that Percy is The Scarlet Pimpernel, and then realises too that she has put him in terrible danger. Oooh, I’m so excited that Marguerite now knows that Percy is The Scarlet Pimpernel. And again, I wish that I didn’t previously know that he was The Scarlet Pimpernel, I wonder if this reveal was a huge surprise to readers or if it was obvious from the beginning of the book. I’m wondering too if Percy was The Scarlet Pimpernel before he married Marguerite, or was it the horror of learning about the St Cyrs and Marguerite’s part in this that made him determined to atone in some way by rescuing as many others as he could, as I wondered if this too was behind Armand’s decision to become a member of The League. And I see a lot of Lord Peter Wimsey in Percy, I am now suspecting that Percy was Dorothy Sayers’ model for her character, and perhaps this contributes to why I adore Peter so much, as I quite adore Percy now too. I see so many similarities between them both, such as their complicated double personalities with them concealing who they are by playing a part in society of being foolish when they are actually extremely clever, the mask they wear to protect themselves which they let barely anyone see beyond, their desperate passionate love for their lady which they try to restrain and conceal and the effort this costs them, Percy’s tough childhood and Peter’s tough war, Percy’s gorgeous house in Richmond and Peter’s grand flat in Piccadilly, them being rich and titled and privileged but using their money and talent to help others, their love of speed with Percy’s fast sleek horses and Peter’s fast sleek Daimler named Mrs Merdle, their bravery and selflessness, although I have to admit Percy probably perhaps tops Peter with him rescuing the French from the guillotine but Peter doubtless showed great courage in the war and doubtless saves future victims by detecting murderers. They both seem all-round perfect heroes! And I fear that even though Chauvelin may not realise that Percy is The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite has now put Percy at great risk in begging him to go to France to save Armand. And I wonder if Chauvelin actually does now suspect Percy to be The Scarlet Pimpernel, it didn’t seem like he did when he found Percy sleeping in the supper room but I wonder if he later had his suspicions.

Marguerite then receives an envelope from Chauvelin containing Armand’s letter to Ffoulkes, meaning that Chauvelin is satisfied with her help and that Armand is safe, and also meaning that Chauvelin must now know the identity of The Scarlet Pimpernel and is after him. Oh no, I feel so apprehensive that Chauvelin knows about Percy.

Marguerite realises that many others are now in danger, as well as Percy, such as the Comte de Tournay and the others they are rescuing on this current mission, as well as Armand himself. She feels sure that Percy won’t abandon these people even if he was to learn of his danger, but she thinks he could perhaps devise another plan if warned in time so she decides to go to Ffoulkes to ask him to help her reach France, also determining that if she can’t save Percy then she will die there in France with him. Ffoulkes takes some convincing in order to be sure he is not being cajoled into giving away The Scarlet Pimpernel’s identity, and Marguerite has to admit to Ffoulkes that it was she who betrayed The Scarlet Pimpernel to Chauvelin, and she also admits to him that she and Percy are estranged but that she loves him and needs to save him. Ffoulkes states that it is not safe for her to travel alone to France and he insists on accompanying her, also pointing out that he will better be able to find Percy rather than trying to direct her how to find him. She agrees and is grateful to him, they decide that he will go as her servant. They travel to The Fisherman’s Rest ahead of sailing to France, but the weather is bad so they can not sail immediately, although they realise that this also means that Chauvelin will be delayed in his travel to France too. Ffoulkes helps pass the time by telling Marguerite tales of Percy’s brave rescues, and amusing her by describing Percy’s cunning disguises. Ffoulkes offers to simply kill Chauvelin as a way to avoid him capturing Percy and the others, but Marguerite says he would then be punished for murder. Oh god, it all seems so tense and so unlikely that Percy and the others will escape France safely, I have to admit I was quite tempted for Ffoulkes to simply just kill Chauvelin!

The weather eventually improves and they sail to Calais. Ffoulkes takes Marguerite to the pub that The League regularly use, called the Chat Gris, although the landlord seems not to be aware of The League’s activities. The landlord tells them that a tall Englishman was there earlier and is coming back later for his supper after he has arranged a horse and cart. Marguerite is delighted that she will soon see Percy, although Ffoulkes urges her to still be cautious as they know that Chauvelin is only an hour behind them. She discusses with Ffoulkes that the plans Chauvelin stole referred to the meeting place of Pere Blanchard’s hut where the refugees will be waiting with Armand, so to warn Percy not to go there, but Ffoulkes reminds her that even if they managed to warn Percy beforehand of this danger, he would not leave the refugees and Armand at the hut to be captured but would insist on trying to rescue them. She urges Ffoulkes to seek out Percy rather than wait for him to return to the pub, thinking the more time that Percy has to create an alternative plan the better. Ffoulkes agrees and says he will return in half hour and urges her not to reveal herself to Percy unless she is certain he is alone as there are spies everywhere, so she hides up in the loft where she can watch the bar below. She knows she can’t stop Percy from continuing on his mission but she comforts herself with the thought that at least she could convince him of her love. Chauvelin arrives at the pub disguised as a priest, with his secretary, Desgas, they talk about all the roads and beaches and cliffs being patrolled, though it seems they do not know where Pere Blanchard’s hut is. Chauvelin’s plan is that Percy will be followed to the hut so he can be seen aiding royalist fugitives and traitors and enemies of the French government, for which he can legally be put to death and can’t claim protection from England. Cheuvalin sends Desgas away to bring more troops to the pub to receive orders. Percy then arrives at the pub, singing God Save The King. He immediately greets Chauvelin, seeing through his disguise. Marguerite is full of anxiety, as she daren’t reveal herself to warn Percy and she is aware that troops are on their way and that even if Percy leaves now then the roads are patrolled and he will be followed, but she is heartened by the confident way he is acting his part and his ‘almost superhuman strength of will and marvellous ingenuity’ and the way he subtly insults Chauvelin by consistently getting his name wrong. Chauvelin seems fearful of Percy, but Marguerite guesses that Percy won’t attack him in case spies are nearby. She can then hear the soldiers approaching and is desperate with the danger Percy will shortly be in, but she then sees Percy go to the fire and quickly empty the pepper pot into his snuff box, offer it to Chauvelin who takes some and then chokes and sneezes uncontrollably and is completely helpless not being able to speak or see, while Percy calmly walks out of the room. Omg, that was soooo tense, I hardly breathed throughout all that, like Marguerite I couldn’t see how Percy could escape and I was getting so anxious for him. And I love the clever yet simple method that Percy uses to escape, and I also adore him for taking the trouble to leave some money on the table for the food too before he goes, bless him, such a moral gentleman! 

Desgas arrives and assures Chauvelin that all the roads are watched and the soldiers are under strict orders to follow any tall or stooping stranger. He also says that he’s learnt that The Scarlet Pimpernel has arranged to hire a horse and cart from a Jew named Reuben, and Chauvelin then demands that Reuben is brought to him. Desgas then returns saying that Reuben can’t be found so has presumably already set off with The Scarlet Pimpernel but that he has brought back Reuben’s friend, Benjamin, who knows about the transaction. Eeek, I am wondering if Benjamin is actually Percy. But I am just so tense with how the net seems to be tightening around Percy, this is definitely not the relaxing read I thought it would be! And I wonder how Desgas learnt that Percy hired Reuben’s horse and cart, as I imagine Percy usually covers his tracks well, or perhaps if Percy is Benjamin then this was all part of his plan to be brought to Chauvelin. And it also makes me wonder if Chauvelin has told Desgas that Percy is The Scarlet Pimpernel, and just how widely known this secret now is.

Benjamin is questioned by Chauvelin and criticises Reuben and his horse, saying his own horse is much better and that he had offered it to the Englishman, he also says the Englishman asked to go along the St Martin road. Chauvelin asks if Benjamin can direct him to Pere Blanchard’s hut but Benjamin is reluctant to do so, saying the Englishman had paid him not to share details. Chauvelin states he will pay him more and will pay him yet more again on arrival at the hut, so Benjamin then says he can take him to the hut. Benjamin goes to get his horse and cart, and Chauvelin tells Desgas to get more soldiers, saying they will capture The Scarlet Pimpernel at the hut but will first beat and torture him before handing him over to the authorities. They leave, and Marguerite quickly decides to follow them in the darkness, and she is able to keep up with the slow-moving horse, concealing herself as best she can. Omg, I can’t bear the thought of Percy possibly being beaten and tortured. And I am liking Marguerite more now for her bravery in following them, though I wonder what Ffoulkes will think when he returns to the pub and finds her gone! 

Desgas and Chauvelin go in different directions in order to fully patrol the route that The Scarlet Pimpernel has taken with Reuben’s horse. Desgas returns to Chauvelin, saying he has not seen The Scarlet Pimpernel along the cliff path he had taken but that he believes he has found Pere Blanchard’s hut as he heard two men inside the hut talking about the route they followed from the plans given to them in London. Marguerite sneaks up closer in order to hear this discussion and she feels almost total despair at the thought that there is no escape now for Percy and the fugitives, she gives up hope that he can be saved and now only wishes to tell him how she wronged and misunderstood him and then to die with him. Oh, I do hope I’m right thinking that Benjamin is Percy, surely he has to be, and if so it’s such a clever plan of his to enable him to reach the hut, as he surely couldn’t have got there otherwise with the roads being watched! Omg, it is so tense to read, I am fighting the urge to glance forward in the book just to know that Percy and everyone else survives, the author has tantalisingly dragged and dragged this scene out! 

Chauvelin and Benjamin arrive near the hut, which is set halfway down the cliff. Chauvelin then instructs his men to tie up Benjamin and gag him. Chauvelin also instructs his men, on pain of death, to keep watch on the hut but to do nothing until they see the Englishman enter the hut, as it is him they want to capture. Time passes while Marguerite agonises over what to do and decides to run to the hut in order to try and warn Armand and the others inside, but she is seen and caught and Chauvelin tells her that if she screams a warning then her brother and the others will be shot infront of her. They then hear a voice singing God Save The King. Marguerite feels she has no choice but to try and warn the approaching Percy and those in the hut, so she screams for Armand to fire, shouting that they are betrayed, and screams for Percy to fly. The soldiers then rush to open the hut but it is empty, and they then hear a boat on the water below and realise that Armand and the others must have earlier escaped the hut and headed to Percy’s yacht sat waiting on the water. They then hear the boom of a gun from the yacht, so know that Armand and the others have safely reached the yacht and are sailing away. On questioning by Chauvelin, the soldiers admit that they saw Armand and the others leave the hut about 20 minutes ago but that Chauvelin’s orders were so strict about them not doing anything until they saw the Englishman enter the hut, that they did nothing and let them go. Chauvelin realises that at least Percy can’t have reached the boat, as his men were all over the path down the cliff trying to stop Armand and the others sailing away, so Percy must still be somewhere nearby. He searches the hut and finds a discarded note from The Scarlet Pimpernel telling the others that he can’t reach them but to wait two minutes after reading this note and then leave the hut one by one and head down the cliff path to the waiting boat which will take them to the yacht, then they are to sail along the coast to the creek opposite the Chat Gris pub and to wait there for him and then pick him up. Chauvelin goes back to Benjamin, who is still tied up and appears to have been too terrified to make any effort to escape, and tells his men to beat him but not to kill him. Chauvelin goes back to Marguerite and tells her that he is leaving her there with Benjamin and will send someone tomorrow to escort her to England, that he is taking Benjamin’s horse and cart to go to the creek opposite the Chat Gris with his men to await The Scarlet Pimpernel and ensure he is caught there. Chauvelin and his men then leave. Omg, again, this is so tense! I am thinking though that it was extremely lucky that Chauvelin’s men didn’t challenge Armand and the others leaving the hut as there would have otherwise been no way they could have escaped, and I am beginning to wonder if the author may have been tempted to rely on lucky twists like this rather than well-thought out tight plotlines, but I guess Percy is used to thinking on the spot and being inventive so perhaps I can allow that he would have thought of something clever even if Chauvelin hadn’t give those orders to his men, although I honestly can’t see how they could have escaped the hut if Chauvelin had given different orders, it was extremely lucky. 

Marguerite is left there on the cliff path and she is tearful and weak and despairing, but then she hears an English voice and recognises it as Percy’s. She creeps over to look for him, and then realises that Percy is Benjamin. Phew, phew, phew, Percy was Benjamin, I am so relieved! Although I wonder how he got close enough to the hut to deliver the note.

Percy is unable to escape from his bonds, so Marguerite unties him. She begins to admit her betrayal of him to Chauvelin, but he says he knows everything and that he knew all the time what she had been driven to do. She asks if he can ever forgive her, and he says there is nothing to forgive and that her heroism and devotion more than atones for the ‘unfortunate episode at the ball’, and that he should have known what a noble heart she had and should have trusted her, which would have meant she wouldn’t have had to go through the last few hours of suffering, and that it is therefore him who needs forgiveness from her. Awww, they are going to be reunited, I’m so pleased. But I’m curious when exactly Percy knew of Marguerite’s betrayal of The Scarlet Pimpernel, he mentions the ‘unfortunate episode at the ball’ so was it when Chauvelin came to the supper room and found Percy there that he guessed she had given The Scarlet Pimpernel away, or perhaps it was at the theatre when he saw Chauvelin speaking to Marguerite, or did he see Chauvelin approach Marguerite outside The Fisherman’s Rest and suspect then what she was being forced to do, or maybe all these things suddenly came together in his mind when Marguerite told him in their garden about Armand being in danger and he then guessed that secrets had been discovered and pressure had been put on Marguerite to give information, and I guess this was why he pushed her to trust him and tell him more. I wonder too how much information he was getting from the rest of The League and how easily and safely they could update him, I presume he knew that Ffoulkes and Dewhurst had been captured and that notes were found on them which gave Chauvelin information so did he guess all the time that Chauvelin knew about Pere Blanchard’s hut as a meeting place, which then makes me wonder why he couldn’t have revised that plan, but perhaps it would have been too difficult to let the relevant people know in time, and I guess he was confident in his abilities to deal with problems in the moment and think and act quickly to get everyone safely away.

Percy explains that Ffoulkes had found him near the Chat Gris pub and told him what was happening with Chauvelin and of the danger of going to the hut, and he had then told Ffoulkes to take a circuitous route to the hut and to avoid the paths that were being watched. He then paid Reuben to hide himself and to give him clothes so he could dress as ‘Benjamin’ and to give him his horse and cart, deciding then that taking Chauvelin to the hut would be the only way for him to reach the hut himself in order to try and save Armand and the others, as the roads were all patrolled, and that travelling with Chauvelin would also enable him to be informed of Chauvelin’s developing plan. He says he knew that the French despise Jews, so Chauvelin would not come too close to ‘Benjamin’ and realise he was actually Percy. He says he had no plan for what he’d do when at the hut but had decided to leave things to chance, and he then heard Chauvelin instruct his men to watch the hut but not to do anything until they saw the Englishman arrive, and he knew they would follow these orders blindly as they had been told to do so on pain of death. So when Chauvelin and his men tied him up and left him, he managed to free his hands and write two notes, as he always carries paper and pencil with him just in case he needs it. One note told Armand and the others to sneak out of the hut one by one but also told them to sail along the coast in the other direction to the Chat Gris pub and to wait there for Percy, and also instructed them to leave the second note in the hut for Chauvelin to find which pretended they were sailing towards the Chat Gris pub. Percy then carefully crawled the short distance to the hut and pushed the notes through a crack in the hut’s wall. He says he gave Armand and the others nearly half an hour to follow his instructions and reach the boat, and he then gave his signal. Oooh, it’s all so clever, such double bluffs and double bluffs with Percy being Benjamin in order to ensure he can actually get to the area of the hut, and the false note sending Chauvelin in the wrong direction, and I guess the note also ensures that Chauvelin immediately leaves the area therefore giving Percy and Marguerite time to get away themselves. Omg, Percy is inventive and quick-witted, he is amazing! So I guess when Marguerite ran to the hut, Armand and the others were already on their way down the cliff path, and presumably out of earshot, otherwise I wonder if Armand would have felt that he had to go back to help Marguerite which would have complicated things. And I was also curious what Percy’s ‘signal’ was on the clifftop after giving Armand and the others half an hour to escape and reach the yacht and what the purpose of the signal was, I’m guessing the signal was him singing God Save The King but was it in order to make Chauvelin and his men rush the hut and realise the inhabitants had gone so they then leave the clifftop following the information in the false note therefore enabling Percy to then escape the area, rather than them sitting watching the hut all night and making it hard for Percy to then escape, and is this why he sang God Save The King when he approached the Chat Gris as he knew Chauvelin was inside and wanted him to then recognise the song later when he sang it on the clifftop and know it was Percy singing? Or was the signal to Armand that they were safe to sail away, although surely they’d have done that anyway once all were in the boat. And I’m wondering why Percy couldn’t have just run away from the area after Armand and the others had escaped, as I presume he could easily get out of the ropes, or did he need Chauvelin and his men to leave so he could rescue Marguerite, but then he’s guessing she’s going to be left there and not taken with Chauvelin. And I do wonder at Chauvelin’s men not seeing ‘Benjamin’ creeping up to the hut, but perhaps they were just watching the door of the hut and weren’t all around the hut, but again, like the orders Chauvelin gives, this is extremely lucky.

Ffoulkes then arrives at the clifftop, and they all head to the waiting boat, Percy carrying Marguerite as she is now so weak she cannot walk. He is injured from the beatings, for which he vows he will make Chauvelin pay dearly, but he tells her he submitted to the beatings as he couldn’t leave the area until he knew what was going to happen to her. Hmmm, so I guess if Marguerite wasn’t there then Percy would have immediately left the area and gone to meet the boat but he had to stay there as ‘Benjamin’, and therefore be beaten, in order to rescue her. But again, what would Percy have done if Chauvelin had taken Marguerite back in the horse and cart with him to the Chat Gris to try and intercept Percy, as she surely would have been good bait to bargain with Percy if they had intercepted him, as they hoped, at the Chat Gris pub, as presumably Chauvelin would have been within his rights to say she was punishable as a Frenchwoman under French law as she had tried to help known fugitives by screaming a warning to them on the clifftop, so he could have threatened her death to bend Percy to his will, as he’d done with Marguerite by threatening Armand’s death to bend her to his will, or was there luckily only space for two people in the cart so only Benjamin and Chauvelin on the journey there and only Desgas and Chauvelin on the way back? And I wonder when Percy became aware that Marguerite was there on the clifftop, was it when she tried to run to the hut and was captured, or had he been more alert than Chauvelin and his men and had spotted her following their horse and cart? And I’m tempted to think how convenient it was that Marguerite wasn’t hurt by Chauvelin when she ran to the hut, as otherwise I presume Percy would have then intervened to rescue her, which would have given away his disguise as ‘Benjamin’. I guess he can think quickly and he would have worked it all out, I have absolute faith in him after all, but it makes me wonder if Percy carries a weapon and would be prepared to use violence if needed, as if he’d had to reveal his identity to rescue Marguerite then I don’t see how he could have done this without the use of a weapon, as no more concealing or disguise would have been possible at that point. But also I’m thinking that Percy couldn’t have left the area earlier, as he needed to wait for Ffoulkes to arrive who was following Percy’s instructions of taking a circuitous route to the hut, otherwise Ffoulkes wouldn’t have known where to go to meet the boat, or did Percy decide this part of the plan with Ffoulkes outside the Chat Gris pub so Ffoulkes was heading along to meet the boat anyway via the hut? And wasn’t it lucky that Chauvelin didn’t order his men to kill Benjamin rather than just beat him, I can’t think that Chauvelin would have greatly respected the life of a Jew, so what would Percy have done then, and again did he have a weapon he could have defended himself with if that had happened? And I do wonder why Orczy wrote it at all with Benjamin being beaten on the clifftop, she could have just had him abandoned there tied up, was it to make Chauvelin out to be even more of a baddie, or was it for romance purposes so Marguerite had to help him as he was too injured to get out of the ropes himself? And still on the subject of Marguerite, what was Percy’s plan regarding her when she was hiding in the loft at the Chat Gris pub, as presumably Ffoulkes told him she was hiding there? Surely he couldn’t have guessed that she would decide to follow them to the hut. Was this why he firstly went to the Chat Gris pub as himself, hoping that Chauvelin wasn’t yet there, in order to speak with her and give her some instructions, but what would he have advised her to do, as if he’d told her to wait there at the pub then that would have meant he’d have had to somehow go back there from the hut to collect her, rather than sailing away with the others. Thinking about it, why did he go to the pub at all if not to try and speak to Marguerite, as it was dangerous for him and he already knew from Ffoulkes that Chauvelin had learnt their plans and was likely to be in the area, although obviously this was a great bit of tension-building with him sitting there casually chatting to Chauvelin while the soldiers approached the pub. Or had he perhaps told Ffoulkes to advise Marguerite of his plan for her, whatever it was, in case he wasn’t successful in speaking to her himself when he went to the pub, perhaps he had advised Ffoulkes to collect Marguerite and take her along with him on the circuitous route to the hut, but if so then what did Ffoulkes think when he got to the pub and found her gone, did he just decide he had to abandon her and follow Percy’s orders to make for the hut, or did he spend time searching for her? I guess it doesn’t matter, I just love thinking about all these details, and it may be that the answers are in the book and I’ve just missed them by eagerly reading on.

Percy and Marguerite are now fully reconciled, whispering their love and devotion to each other on the walk to the boat. They reach the boat where Armand and the others are waiting, and then sail to England. Later, Ffoulkes and Suzanne de Tournay are married with a huge party, which Percy and Marguerite shine at. 

Oooh, I loved loved loved this book. The ingenuity of it all and the tension was just amazing, it’s a fantastic story, and of course I just adored Sir Percy, he is wonderful. It was so much more than I thought it was going to be, more of a complicated involved story than I had originally presumed, people not being what they seem, relationships not what they appear on the surface, people’s loyalties being pulled in different directions, and the tension of secrecy and treachery all around. I’d kind of thought it would be a swashbuckling Three Musketeers kind of thing, full of escapades and fun, but it is more involved and clever and sinister than that with cruelty and double-dealing and spying, and is exciting and very tense too. I can’t wait to read all the others in the series, although I have struggled to identify quite the order in which the books were written. I think Sir Percy Leads the Band is the next one, followed by I Will Repay, and then The Elusive Pimpernel. And as mentioned earlier, this was written in a similar time and with similar themes to Dumas’ Twenty Years After which I also loved. And Sir Percy also reminds me of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, so I am tempted to read those books all over again, beginning with the first in the series, Whose Body?

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy available on Amazon
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