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Lord Antony Dewhurst is ‘a splendid fellow - a fine sportsman, a loyal gentleman’. The young gallant is also Percy’s close friend and a lieutenant in the League. The year is 1793 and in Nantes, France, the hunting of aristocrats goes on. And over in England, the enemy has kidnapped Lord Tony’s wife, Yvonne. It falls to the Scarlet Pimpernel to rescue her.
355 pages, with a reading time of ~5.5 hours (88,954 words), and first published in 1917. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Silence. Loneliness. Desolation.
And the darkness of late afternoon in November, when the fog from the Bristol Channel has laid its pall upon moor and valley and hill: the last grey glimmer of a wintry sunset has faded in the west: earth and sky are wrapped in the gloomy veils of oncoming night. Some little way ahead a tiny light flickers feebly.
“Surely we cannot be far now.”
“A little more patience, Mounzeer. Twenty minutes and we be there.”
“Twenty minutes, mordieu. And I have ridden since the morning. And you tell me it was not far.”
“Not far, Mounzeer. But we be not ‘orzemen either of us. We doan’t travel very fast.”
“How can I ride fast on this heavy beast? And in this satané mud. My horse is up to his knees in it. And I am wet–ah! wet to my skin in this sacré fog of yours.”
The other made no reply. Indeed he seemed little inclined for conversation: his whole attention appeared to be riveted on the business of keeping in his saddle, and holding his horse’s head turned in the direction in which he wished it to go: he was riding a yard or two ahead of his companion, and it did not need any assurance on his part that he was no horseman: he sat very loosely in his saddle, his broad shoulders bent, his head thrust forward, his knees turned out, his hands clinging alternately to the reins and to the pommel with that ludicrous inconsequent gesture peculiar to those who are wholly unaccustomed to horse exercise.
His attitude, in fact, as well as the promiscuous set of clothes which he wore–a labourer’s smock, a battered high hat, threadbare corduroys and fisherman’s boots–at once suggested the loafer, the do-nothing who hangs round the yards of half-way houses and posting inns on the chance of earning a few coppers by an easy job which does not entail too much exertion on his part and which will not take him too far from his favourite haunts. When he spoke–which was not often–the soft burr in the pronunciation of the sibilants betrayed the Westcountryman.
His companion, on the other hand, was obviously a stranger: high of stature, and broadly built, his wide shoulders and large hands and feet, his square head set upon a short thick neck, all bespoke the physique of a labouring man, whilst his town-made clothes–his heavy caped coat, admirably tailored, his buckskin breeches and boots of fine leather–suggested, if not absolutely the gentleman, at any rate one belonging to the well-to-do classes. Though obviously not quite so inexperienced in the saddle as the other man appeared to be, he did not look very much at home in the saddle either: he held himself very rigid and upright and squared his shoulders with a visible effort at seeming at ease, like a townsman out for a constitutional on the fashionable promenade of his own city, or a cavalry subaltern but lately emerged from a riding school. He spoke English quite fluently, even colloquially at times, but with a marked Gallic accent.
The road along which the two cavaliers were riding was unspeakably lonely and desolate–an offshoot from the main Bath to Weston road. It had been quite a good secondary road once. The accounts of the county administration under date 1725 go to prove that it was completed in that year at considerable expense and with stone brought over for the purpose all the way from Draycott quarries, and for twenty years after that a coach used to ply along it between Chelwood and Redhill as well as two or three carriers, and of course there was all the traffic in connexion with the Stanton markets and the Norton Fairs. But that was nigh on fifty years ago now, and somehow–once the mail-coach was discontinued–it had never seemed worth while to keep the road in decent repair. It had gone from bad to worse since then, and travelling on it these days either ahorse or afoot had become very unpleasant. It was full of ruts and crevasses and knee-deep in mud, as the stranger had very appositely remarked, and the stone parapet which bordered it on either side, and which had once given it such an air of solidity and of value, was broken down in very many places and threatened soon to disappear altogether.
The country round was as lonely and desolate as the road. And that sense of desolation seemed to pervade the very atmosphere right through the darkness which had descended on upland and valley and hill. Though nothing now could be seen through the gloom and the mist, the senses were conscious that even in broad daylight there would be nothing to see. Loneliness dwelt in the air as well as upon the moor. There were no homesteads for miles around, no cattle grazing, no pastures, no hedges, nothing–just arid wasteland with here and there a group of stunted trees or an isolated yew, and tracts of rough, coarse grass not nearly good enough for cattle to eat.