The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 27,28,29
Chapter XXVII: On the Track
Summary: On foot, Marguerite follows the Jew’s cart as the Jew leads Chauvelin to Blanchard’s hut. Chauvelin is convinced that victory over the Pimpernel is at hand, while Marguerite grieves the fact that the trap about to be sprung seems inevitable. Desgas and his soldiers bring news that they have not yet seen the tall stranger for whom Chauvelin ordered them to look, but they did spot smoke issuing from the chimney of a solitary fisherman’s hut; a half-hour later, two men entered that hut. Marguerite fears these men are Armand and the Comte de Tournay, being used as bait for the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Analysis: Marguerite returns to activity in this chapter as she follow Chauvelin “alone, at night, and on foot… though she was weary with mental fatigue and nerve strain” (p. 209)—an impressively adversarial set of circumstances in which to act, and yet she does, reminding us of the resolve and will we have seen in her previously. Orczy contrasts the struggling though determined Marguerite with the smug and self-satisfied Chuvelin, who thinks (entirely without reason, readers may well note, given that Percy has already eluded him) that his impending “capture of the audacious plotter would be the finest leaf in [his] wreath of glory” (p. 211). The omniscient narrator makes the contrast between the two pursuers of Percy (obviously for different reasons) explicit: “Never for a moment did the slightest remorse enter his heart, as to the terrible position in which he had placed the unfortunate wife, who had unconsciously betrayed her husband” (p. 211). Chauvelin’s attitude furthers the novel’s development of the theme of Fate: “The Fates grant that I may not be too late” (p. 214).
Chapter XXVIII: The Père Blanchard’s Hut
Summary: Desparing of being able to rescue Sir Percy, Marguerite follows Chauvelin and his band onto Blanchard’s hut, resisting the temptation to run ahead in one last desperate attempt to save her husband and hero. The hut is on a cliff above the shore; Marguerite sees Sir Percy’s yacht, the Day Dream, at anchor, waiting to take the Pimpernel and the rescued aristos to freedom in England, a voyage Marguerite fears the yacht will now never make. The sight of the schooner does, however, give her strength to keep going; unfortunately, she is suddenly discovered and bound and gagged by those whom she follows. Chauvelin gives orders for Marguerite to be carried to the hut.
Analysis: Marguerite again becomes more passive than active in this chapter. Although she does manage to keep up with Chauvelin and his men, she is near the end of the journey only urged on by catching sight of the Day Dream—the “sight of the schooner seemed to infuse into the poor, wearied woman the superhuman strength of despair” (p. 222)—and, of course, the “strength” of “despair” is on some level an oxymoron, since despair is the ultimate abandonment of hope. It does accurately describe Marguerite’s mental state at this point: “She had abandoned all hope of saving” her husband from Chauveln’s impending ambush (p. 216). The only other plan of action she contemplates involves stereotypically feminine behavior: “the thought flashed through her mind of uttering the piercing shrieks, which Chauvelin seemed to dread, as a possible warning” (p. 221). This is the best plan the cleverest woman in Europe could concoct? Perhaps it is this despair that accounts for the fact that the woman who was so strong and sure-footed previously now trips over a stone, leading to her capture. On the other hand, the text does give indications, as it has previously, that an inexorable destiny may be at work, naming “adverse Fate” as opposed to Marguerite’s success (p. 221) (or so she, at least, imagines).
Chapter XXIX: Trapped
Summary: Bound and gagged (as is the Jew), Marguerite is carried to just outside Blanchard’s hut. Chauvelin threatens her, before he removes the handkerchief from her mouth, that any cry from her intended to warn the Scarlet Pimpernel will instead serve as the signal for Chauvelin’s men to immediately kill her brother, Armand, who waits inside the hut, with the Comte de Tournay and two others, for the Pimpernel’s arrival. He promises that, if she remains silent, Armand will be safe. He removes the gag, and a frightened Marguerite remains silent and still, her thoughts racing. The early morning hours pass; abruptly, she hears a “strong, cheerful voice” singing “God Save the King.” Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel, is at hand.
Analysis: This brief chapter further serves to establish Chauvelin as the villain of the piece. The narrator’s words reinforce Chauvelin’s villainy—e.g., “she could almost feel those keen, pale eyes of his fixed maliciously upon her helpless form” (p. 227), a phrase that carries connotations of implied sexual violence, as well as the emotional turmoil being inflicted upon Marguerite—as does Marguerite’s reflections upon the “full horror of this terrible ‘either-or’ he was once more putting before her” (p. 227). Readers are left in no doubt that Chauvelin is a coldly calculating, manipulative individual.
Unfortunately, the chapter also serves to further undermine Marguerite as an active and vital character, for she reproaches herself largely in terms of her gender—“She could not give that signal—for she was weak, and she was a woman” (p. 228)—rather than focusing on the impossible predicament in which Chauvelin has placed her.