The Scarlet Pimpernel: Chapter 7,8

Chapter VII: The Secret Orchard

Summary: Marguerite bids a tearful farewell to her brother, Armand, before he boards Sir Percy’s yacht, the Day Dream, to return to France. Despite his sister’s misgivings—indeed, despite his own—Armand feels he cannot abandon his native land in this dark hour. He knows that Marguerite is unhappy in her marriage to Sir Percy, and asks her if her husband knows about her part in the arrest of the Marquis de St. Cyr (the incident over which the Comtesse is so angry at Marguerite, Ch. IV). Marguerite confirms that she told Sir Percy about her involovement, but only after he had heard about her actions from others; he does not view the (as yet unspecified) circumstances as “extenuating,” as she and Armand do. The two reluctantly part, leaving much of their innermost thoughts and feelings unspoken.
Analysis: Armand and Marguerite share an extremely close and intense brother-sister relationship—owing, in part, to the fact that their parents died when the siblings were young—but in the months since her marriage to Sir Percy, and before Armand’s current (and first) visit to England, some distance has crept in between them. The narrator symbolizes this distance by stating that “the same deep, intense love was still there, on both sides, but each now seemed to have a secret orchard, into which the other dared not penetrate” (p. 59)—hence the title of this chapter. We learn also in this chapter of the strained relationship between Marguerite and Sir Percy. Despite the jovial way in which “the biggest fool in England” (as Marguerite calls her spouse) acts in public, in private “he has the most compete contempt for his wife” (p. 57), owing to her involvement in the arrest and eventual execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family. Armand insists that the circumstances exonerate his sister from blame—he believes Marguerite “had been young, misguided, ill-advised, perhaps” (p. 58)—but, according to Marguerite, Sir Percy does not share that view. His “ineradicable pride” in his own long and noble family line prevents him from understanding, let alone forgiving, Marguerite’s actions (p. 58). Marguerite tells Armand that she married Sir Percy because of his whole-hearted devotion to, even worship of, her: “it has always seemed to me that it must be heavenly to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly… worshipped, in fact” (p. 57). Now, however, such blind adoration is no longer there, and Marguerite is, Armand senses, “bereft of illusions, bereft of all those golden and fantastic dreams, which should have made her youth one long, perpetual holiday” (p. 57). The chapter ends on a bleak and ominous (if melodramatic) note, with Marguerite feeling trapped in her loveless marriage to a fool and Armand risking danger to go back to “that awful Paris” (p. 54) in the midst of its bloody revolutionary convulsions. Both brother and sister were themselves revolutionaries, once—“we have the same thoughts, the same enthusiasm for liberty and equality” (p. 54)—but the revolution has gone wrong. The public social disorder mirrors, perhaps, the domestic disorder of Marguerite’s personal life: both have spun out of her control.

Chapter VIII: The Accredited Agent

Summary: Armand Chauvelin (the stranger who had drunk with Jellyband inside the tavern; cf. Ch. II) approaches Marguerite as she watches the Day Dream set sail for France, as she is reflecting on her inadvertent betrayal of the Marquis de St. Cyr to the revolutionaries, and also on Sir Percy’s resulting coldness and indifference to her. Chauvelin and Marguerite knew each other in France. Chauvelin now asks her to help him discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel so that Chauvelin may disrupt his noble-rescuing enterprise. Marguerite admires the idealism and bravery of the Pimpernel and his followers, so she is reluctant to agree to help; Chauvelin assures her she will be rendering her mother country a true service. Marguerite does not agree to help Chauvelin, but does promise to speak with him again in London.

Analysis: This chapter establishes Marguerite’s backstory. Readers learn the circumstances under which she unwittingly handed the Marquis de St. Cyr over to the revolutionaries: a “few thoughtless words” about his “treasonable correspondence” with the Austrian government (p. 62), motivated only by her dislike of the Marquis because her brother Armand’s affectionate attentions to the Marquis’ daughter had been spurned, led to the arrest and execution of the nobleman and his family. The incident highlights the class tensions that ran, deeply and strongly, beneath French society in the 18th century. The Marquis, we are told, was “full of the pride and arrogant prejudices of his estate” (p. 61), whereas Marguerite and Armand, in contrast, “adopted with the enthusiasm of their years [i.e., their youth] the Utopian doctrines of the Revolution” in its early phases (pp. 61-62).The chapter also traffics heavily in irony. Marguerite reflects with what seems a genuine grief over her loveless marriage to Sir Percy, who formerly adored her—“Now they had drifted quite apart, and Sir Percy seemed to have laid aside his love for her, as he would an ill-fitting glove” (p. 62)—and is enraptured by not only the actual deeds of but also the idea of the Scarlet Pimpernel: although she “had but little real sympathy with those haughty French aristocrats” (p. 67), she admires the “mysterious hero” (p. 68) who saves them from the guillotine. Given Sir Percy’s secret identity, her “romantic imagination” toward the Pimpernel is rich with irony (p. 68). Orczy has not yet revealed her titular hero’s true identity, but she telegraphs it for attentive readers to discern when she places the “two” men in close proximity in Marguerite’s thoughts: “The mysterious hero had vanished, and, not twenty yards away from her, a man was drinking and laughing, to whom she had sworn faith and loyalty” (p. 68). It would be as though Lois Lane were married to Clark Kent without knowing he was really Superman.