London’s high society gathers at Covent Garden Theatre for a staging of Orpheus, where Lord Grenville, the head of the Secretary of State, has a private box. Chauvelin is his guest this evening, and the French agent has already taken his seat. Lord Grenville loiters outside the box and notices all the English eyes staring at his guest. The Comtesse de Tournay and her children approach, as well as Lady Portarles, a member of British high society. They all stop and politely converse, and it isn’t long before they are talking about France.
Everyone is staring at Chauvelin because they can’t believe that this murderer of aristocrats is a guest in Lord Grenville’s private opera box. Orczy is openly critical of the English government’s hesitancy to interfere on behalf of the French aristocrats, but she implies that welcoming the French agent and entertaining him is even worse. Refusing to help the aristocrats is one thing, but welcoming their executioners is quite another.
“Ah, Monsieur,” the Comtesse cries, “and my poor husband still in that awful country.” Lord Grenville assures the Comtesse that the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men will get the Comte out soon enough. “Ah!” he says, “if I were but a few years younger…” Lady Portarles cuts him off. “La, man!” she says, “you are still young enough to turn your back on that French scarecrow that sits enthroned in your box to-night.” Lord Grenville wishes he could turn his back on Chauvelin, but he is a government representative, and diplomacy forbids it. Lady Portarles cries, “you don’t call those bloodthirsty ruffians over there a government, do you?”
Here, Orczy’s implies that the British government should have simply turned their backs on France. The republic wants to be a free and independent country, which can’t happen if other countries refuse to accept and acknowledge them. While ignoring the French Republic hardly saves aristocrats, at least it doesn’t encourage their violent behavior, which entertaining Chauvelin in a private opera box certainly does.
“I am sure,” the Comtesse says, “that if this Chauvelin wishes to do us mischief, he will find a faithful ally in Lady Blakeney.” Lady Portarles gasps. “Will you please explain to Madame la Comtesse that she is acting like a fool?” Lady Portarles asks Lord Grenville. She tells the Comtesse that regardless of what Lady Blakeney did or said in France, in England she is Sir Percy’s wife and deserves respect. “In your position here in England, Madame,” Lady Portarles says, “you cannot afford to put on the hoity-toity airs you French aristocrats are so fond of.”
Lady Portarles’s defense of Lady Blakeney is ridiculous, and Orczy implies that society should be more critical of Lady Blakeney’s past. Marguerite has innocent blood on her hands in the form of the Marquis’s family, and to excuse this simply because she has money and status is immoral.
Lord Grenville returns to his opera box just as Sir Percy and Lady Blakeney arrive. Sir Percy mingles with the crowd, and Chauvelin watches as Lady Blakeney makes her way to her private box. Once she is seated, Chauvelin excuses himself and makes his way toward Marguerite. He knocks on the door, and Marguerite cries out. “You frightened me. Your presence is entirely inopportune,” she says. She tells him that she will be at Lord Grenville’s ball later and will speak with him there. “Your brother, St. Just, is in peril,” Chauvelin says.
Chauvelin watches Lady Blakeney like a hawk, and he seems to enjoy making her sweat. Orczy portrays Chauvelin as a detestable and evil man, and as an agent of the French government, he represents the entire republic by extension. This thus reflects Orczy’s distaste for the revolution and her support of the aristocracy—she portrays nearly every French character in a negative way.
Chauvelin tells Lady Blakeney about his recent attack on Sir Andrew and Lord Anthony. Several letters and important papers were found among Sir Andrew’s things, including a letter from Armand St. Just, which proves him “to be not only in sympathy with the enemies of France, but actually a helper, if not a member” of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league of men. Chauvelin tells Lady Blakeney that she can “win a free pardon for Armand” by doing him “a small service.
Armand’s betrayal amounts to treason, and he will most certainly be sent to the guillotine. Since Marguerite refused to help Chauvelin based on her love for her country, he relies on her love for Armand instead. Marguerite’s feelings for her brother make her moral convictions more difficult to adhere to.
One of the letters in Sir Andrew’s possession had been signed with a small drawing of a Scarlet Pimpernel and claimed that the writer would “be at G.’s ball.” Chauvelin smiles. “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Lady Blakeney says, “and G.’s ball means Grenville’s ball…” Chauvelin nods. He simply wants Lady Blakeney to watch for him tonight—look for anything or anyone suspicious—and report back to him. Then, Chauvelin will pardon St. Just and give Lady Blakeney the damning letter. “It does seem simple, doesn’t it?” Lady Blakeney says.
Marguerite is rationalizing what she is about to do. If she finds the Scarlet Pimpernel and turns him over to Chauvelin, the Scarlet Pimpernel will surely die but Armand will be saved. Marguerite doesn’t want to admit this to herself, so she considers her role “simple,” and therefore less serious or significant. Surely just keeping an eye out for anything suspicious cannot amount to the loss of one’s life—but Lady Blakeney’s question to herself implies that it can.