(Isabella leads you from the parlor into the front sitting room, where she begins to tell her story.)
At the first, like most of my family's peers, I embraced the ideals of the Revolution as a great progress, and looked forward to happier days for all. But then, as I'm sure you know, things took a horrible and violent turn. When what I had seen as bright and idealistic turned dark, corrupt, and unthinkably bloody, I turned away from the Revolution and began looking for a way out of France. But it was September of 1792 by then, too late for me to be able to just pick up and leave. My changed sympathies inevitably came to the ears of the so-called government, and I was arrested for treason against the Republic. Days later, I was put through a mockery of a trial and condemned to die on the guillotine. I thought all was lost and began to prepare myself to depart this world. Yet the day before my execution was to take place, a ragged, poor old man came to my cell and gave me rags to put on. He told me to follow him without a word, and I did as I was told; I had begun to realize what was happening. The kind man led me right out of the prison under the guards' very noses, and put me in a cart.
"Hide under the hay. You will be safe now," he said in a trembling voice, like an old man would.
"Thank you, monsieur," I whispered. "Please, I am forever in your debt. Who are you?"
He smiled, took my hand, and kissed it gently. "Mademoiselle, you will know soon. Quickly, hide yourself." He gave a signal to the driver, a man dressed in much the same way as he, but younger, and the cart drove off. Only when we were safely out of Paris and into the countryside did I notice the paper in my hand. The man had left it there when he kissed it. Cautiously and with trembling hands I opened the note, which was written in French. I could just read it in the light that filtered through the hay.
Mademoiselle, you are now on your way to England where you will find we have made all the necessary arrangements for your stay. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, who drives this cart, will be more than willing to answer any questions you might have once you are on your way across the Channel. A London townhouse is prepared for you, with clothes in the English fashion, and you will find any one of us willing to escort you to society balls and garden parties. Fear not for your future, and remember you have English friends.
At the very bottom was the symbol of a little red flower that I could just see in the dim light. The Scarlet Pimpernel! I had heard of him, in fact everyone in Paris knew of the mysterious phantom. While my former friends and family acquaintances shuddered at the name in fear, I had come to look on it as a beacon of hope for the unjustly imprisoned aristocrats who were innocent of any crime beyond descent. But I had never hoped for escape myself by his hand, for I was only a plebian, a common French girl! Why would he have rescued me? Suddenly the cart stopped on the side of the road, and the man got down from the box. I ventured to poke my head out from the hay, and found that he was holding his hand out to help me out of the cart. I took it gratefully, for I was a bit unsteady on my feet.
"You must be Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, my lord," I whispered as he led me to a carriage, hidden in a wooded area. He looked at me in surprise and alarm, and I held out the note wordlessly.
"Oh, so he told you my name, mademoiselle," he said with a sigh of relief. "Forgive my reaction, but I was afraid all Paris knew what I looked like without a bath." He laughed quietly, and I smiled. He was obviously trying to put me at ease. We had reached the carriage, and Sir Andrew gave a signal. Immediately another man dressed in rags appeared.
"Everything ready to leave, Tony?" he asked. The man called Tony grinned.
"Of course. I've been waiting all day long." He noticed me and bowed. "Mademoiselle, if you will just step into the carriage, we can get on our way. It's dark enough now."
"Thank you, monsieur," I said as Tony helped me to enter the carriage. Sir Andrew followed. Soon we were moving again.
"Mademoiselle, we are now on our way to a safe house where you can change into some more appropriate clothing of the English fashion. You will pose as an English lady and I as your escort, and thus we will pass through Calais without disturbance."
"Please, monsieur, may I ask you a question?" I asked quietly.
"Of course, mademoiselle."
"Why did you and your friends save me? I know who you are; you are that brave League of the Scarlet Pimpernel who have saved so many, and the kind old man who led me out of prison was your gallant leader himself. But I am no aristocrat. Why did you choose to save me?"
He smiled. "I'm afraid I cannot give you a direct answer. Nobody knows the ways of our chief except himself. But I can say that you have influential friends in London who have pleaded your case . . ."
"Influential friends, monsieur? I have none to my knowledge . . . who are these friends?"
"Perhaps you remember from childhood, your days at the convent school . . . Suzanne de Tournay and Marguerite St. Just . . ."
I gasped. Suzanne and Marguerite? They had been two of my dearest friends in the school. We had not seen each other in years, though. Marguerite had embraced the Revolution even more fervently than I in its early days, and it was said that it was she who had denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family to their deaths. But she had also married well, I heard . . . to an Englishman last year . . . I heard no more of her after that. Suzanne I knew somewhat more about. She had remained in Paris with her family when it was most dangerous for her, with her noble blood. The de Tournays had been placed on the suspect list early in September, and everyone expected their arrest quite soon. But they had disappeared from Paris not long before I myself was arrested. Apparently, she made it all the way to England . . . and by the agency of the same Scarlet Pimpernel! How wonderful it all was!
And so, about sunset on the next day, October 17, 1792, I stepped off a boat and onto the soil of England, the country that has since become my second mother and my home. I was escorted to London, where I found that the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel had truly made all the preparations for me; I was given a small but comfortable townhouse, a wardrobe of English clothes that were of the latest fashion and yet not ostentatious, and even a maid of all work who soon became a good friend, Angele. I soon had a visit from my school-friends Marguerite and Suzanne, and then I began to understand why they were so "influential", as Sir Andrew had said. Marguerite was the wife of the most wealthy and influential gentleman in all of London Society, Sir Percy Blakeney. Why, she was even a friend to the Princess of Wales. Suzanne was betrothed to be married to Sir Andrew himself in the next few months.
I see by your face that you are amazed by my tale; and so I was when I took the time to reflect on what had happened. I felt eternally grateful to the brave men of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel for my rescue, and I still do. If I had been a man, I might have voiced my eagerness to help them in their cause to someone . . . but women are not suitable for such work in this day and age. But I did want to help them, to repay them for their actions on my behalf and on the behalf of all those innocents they have saved.
If you will only step with me into the study for a moment, we'll find the atmosphere more appropriate to the next part of my story. It's very serious, you see. So serious, in fact, that you must give me your most solemn word of secrecy concerning what I say to you hereafter. Do you so swear now?
No, I can't swear that, I'm afraid.
Return to the parlor
Back to the main page