13 December 2018
Cheat the Guillotine!
By Chin Chin
It was the little flower which did it. There it was, engraved on the ring which fell out of the Christmas present drawer. Its significance didn’t strike me at first but then I remembered. Wasn’t it a ring like that which alerted Lady Blakeney to the fact that her husband, Sir Percy, was the Scarlet Pimpernel? How odd that something so similar should come to me now, just as the gilets jaunes are preparing to put the guillotines backup in the Place de la Concorde. It was more than odd. It was a summons. God was calling me, Chin Chin, to complete the Scarlet Pimpernel’s noble work.
You see, in a way he was a failure (the Scarlet Pimpernel, that is, not God). Yes, of course, he leapt about very bravely in disguise and saved Marquesses and Counts by the dozen, but there is no disguising that he missed the big prizes. For all his efforts and contacts he failed to save either Louis XVI or Marie Antoinette. Now was the time for me to put the record straight. France no longer has a king, but it has the next best thing, a President. It was down to me to rescue Macron from being guillotined by the Paris mob and bring him back to an English exile.
Not an easy assignment, I will grant you, but I have one or two natural advantages. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a master of disguise, so that in effect he had two identities. One moment he was himself, an elegant well-bred English aristocrat; the next he was a scruffy ill-dressed French peasant. It was by changing between the two that he managed to confuse the French authorities. Well, I could do the same thing, but the other way round. My wife often tells me that I look like a scruffy ill-dressed peasant, so a beret on my head and a little garlic on my breath and the second identity will be complete. The elegant, well-bred aristocrat is more difficult. Not that there’s anything wrong with my breeding, you understand. That is perfectly OK. I am a descendant of Adam himself. No, it’s the elegant bit which poses the problem. Still, there is the silver darts badge which I won at the Dog and Duck, so hang it round my neck, put on my best suit and with Marguerite St Juste on my arm I could easily be dining with the Prince Regent. Not that Marguerite St Juste is about any more, but nor is the Prince Regent for that matter.
So what else would I need? Well, a few aristocratic French-speaking henchmen, of course. There aren’t many of those down at the Dog and Duck, but old Bill seems to have some potential. No one can ever understand what he is saying, so, whether he is saying it in French or English would hardly matter. Also he doesn’t have any dependents so it wouldn’t matter too much if I had to cut him adrift. When you are in your 80s, a hero’s death on the guillotine intoning “It is a far, far better thing that I do…” beats most of the other options. Well, that was two of us. No doubt we could pick up more as we went along.
That is how Bill and I ended up in the bar of the Dog and Duck, fully garlicked up and with berets beside us on the table, planning how to cope with the French mob. The mark of a great leader is to listen to his subordinates so I began by asking Bill for his ideas. “A whiff of grapefruit,” he replied, “that is how Napoleon did it.”
That was certainly a poser. Napoleon was a great man and any ideas of his are good enough for me, but how many grapefruit would be required to produce the whiff? How far past their sell by date did they need to be? Even if I went to all the local foodbanks, could I get enough and would they be ready in time?
I was musing on this when the landlord broke in. Bill had said “grapeshot” not “grapefruit” so I was on the wrong track. Grapeshot, it seemed to me, would take much too long to decay. I don’t know how Napoleon managed it but it would not work for us. No, we needed something clever. Something essentially “EM”.
Then it came to me. Of course, his cushion, the one he stands on to make his speeches. I could enter his cell (can the Elysee be described as anything more at this stage?) disguised as a French upholsterer and substitute a special cushion of my own. Then as he made his final speech (“It’s a far far better thing…”) I would press the plunger and the cushion would burst open filling the room with feathers, making it impossible for anyone to see who was who. Old Bill who had slipped in beside me and is fairly short would shout “Aidez-moi! Je suis le President!” and, while the gilets jaunes seized him and dragged him off, I would scoot out with the President under my arm to a waiting boat.
Perfect! England’s honour saved and the work of the Scarlet Pimpernel completed! What I cannot understand is that Old Bill will have nothing to do with it. Perhaps he is himself a gilet jaune in disguise.