The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 30,31

Chapter XXX: The Schooner

Summary: Ultimately unable to stay silent, Marguerite screams out a warning to Armand. She then swoons, falling unconscious. Chauvelin barges into the hut—which, seemingly inexplicably, they find empty! The soldiers who were guarding it from outside remind Chauvelin that he ordered them not to strike until a tall Englishman came to join the men inside; no such stranger ever arrived. The sergeant even volunteers that he followed his orders such to the letter that he heard the men stealing away long before Marguerite ever screamed. In the distance, they hear the Day Dream setting sail for England. A frustrated and angry Chauvelin realizes, however, that the Pimpernel himself may yet be in Calais; he could not possibly have had time to reach the boat since he was heard singing. Inside the hut, Chauvelin finds a note detailing the Pimpernel’s plans, telling them that he cannot join them safely, ordering them to set out on the schooner, and stating that he will be at the creek opposite the Chat Gris. Banking on the fact that his and his men’s knowledge of their native soil is greater than that of the Englishman’s, Chauvelin orders that the Pimpernel be intercepted. Meanwhile, he orders that the Jew be beaten for having failed to deliver the Pimpernel to him, as he had promised he could. When Marguerite revives, she does not know what has transpired; Chauvelin leaves her with a mocking request that she remember him to her husband.

Analysis: This chapter presents yet another incident of the Scarlet Pimpernel outwitting his enemy—although, in truth, Chauvelin has, ironically, also outwitted himself, in giving overly specific orders to his men: “You ordered us to wait, citoyen, until the tall Englishman arrived and joined the four men in the hut. No one came” (p. 232). The humor of the situation is designed to increase readers’ enjoyment in the escapade, and succeeds on that level; the furious, fuming Chauvelin joins a long literary tradition of villains who are unwittingly outwitted by a clever, superior adversary. Unfortunately, Chauvelin’s wrath takes an especially ugly turn during the whipping and beating of Benjamin Rosenbaum. Not some ugly stereotypes of Jews appear here—Rosenbaum swears once more by Abraham, for instance, lightly invoking the name of Israel’s patriarch (p. 238)—the text does at this point seem to have some explicit awareness that Chauvelin is in the wrong to abuse this man.

Chapter XXXI: The Escape

Summary: Once Chauvelin and his men have departed, leaving Marguerite and Benjamin Rosenbaum behind, “Rosenbaum” reveals himself to be none other than Sir Percy, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Marguerite begs his forgiveness, but Sir Percy praises her heroism and devotion to him and, in fact, apologizes to her for not having trusted her sooner. He explains his ruse as “the Jew” to her—he wanted to keep a close eye on Chauvelin, once it became apparent he would not be able to elude his pursuer—and tells Marguerite that Armand, de Tournay and the others are safely aboard the Day Dream, making their way to England and liberty; he was able to scrawl and slip them two notes, “under the very noses of the soldiers,”—one with false instructions to leave him behind at the Chat Gris and intercepted as planned by Chauvelin, the other instructing his rescue targets to make their way to the schooner. He also reveals that Sir Andrew Ffoulkes (about whom Marguerite, to her horror, had completely forgotten) is on his way to them by a roundabout route. Once Ffoulkes arrives, the trio does not return to Calais, but meets the Day Dream’s boat, confident that Chauvelin has been set on the wrong trail. Carried in her husband’s strong arms, a weary Marguerite enjoys a cheerful trip to the rendezvous, where a joyous reunion with Armand awaits. A “postscript” sentence alerts readers to the fact that Chauvelin was never again seen at London social functions, presumably having been removed by the French government from his post on account of his failure to capture the elusive and daring Scarlet Pimpernel.

Analysis: The revelation that “Benjamin Rosenbaum” is, in actuality, Sir Percy—and thus the Scarlet Pimpernel—is a major one, dramatically satisfying and masterfully handled by Orczy (even if some attentive readers may have guessed at the nature of the truth earlier). Even in Sir Percy’s unmasking, however, anti-Semitic sentiment goes unchallenged: “I must look a disgusting object,” says Percy as he removes “the disfiguring wig and curls” (p. 246) Readers will have to decide for themselves whether or to what degree the surprising revelation offsets the negative stereotypes of Jews that Percy, in his disguise, has perpetuated (it may be, for example, that he does not share the French officers’ anti-Semitism on which he traded to ensure his successful subterfuge: “They so loathe a Jew, that they never come nearer than a couple of yards of him, and begad! I fancy that I contrived to make myself look about as loathsome an object as it is possible to conceive,” p. 247). The remainder of the chapter provides a rapid dénouement. The text again, at least implicitly, invites readers to consider the role of Fate (e.g., “I thought that Fate and I were going to work together after all,” p. 248), and provides a “happy ending” in which not only are Armand and the Tournay men rescued but also Marguerite and Sir Percy are given a renewed sense of love in their relationship. How appropriate, then, does the name of Sir Percy’s schooner become, for the success of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mission must seem like a dream, indeed: “…joy for those who had endured so much suffering…” (p. 252). Order is restored and right prevails, and the stage is set for the many future adventures Baroness Orczy would pen of the Scarlet Pimpernel.