(Isabella opens the door to the study and precedes you inside. The room is dark and severe, with large furniture and lines of bookcases along the walls. You sit in an overstuffed chair, facing the desk, behind which Isabella seats herself.)
In that case, friend, you are to be trusted with our--my husband's and mine, that is--most guarded secret. I came into possession of this secret first, so I shall give you the narrative. It begins more than a year ago, in the late fall of 1792.
A few weeks after my miraculous rescue from Paris, I was invited to visit with my old schoolfriend Marguerite St. Just, now Lady Marguerite Blakeney, at her home in Richmond. When I arrived, I found that Suzanne was also there. I smiled my congratulations to her, since she had only just recently been married to Sir Andrew. We had tea together and conversed about old times in the convent school, like old friends do. But I was uneasy all the while. The last I had heard of Marguerite was the incident of her denunciation of the Marquis de St. Cyr to the Tribunal, after which he and his family were condemned and executed. Since then, I had thought of her in a much different light. How she had changed since our school days! And then when I come to see her in her English home, she shows no sign of the ardent republican she once was. It was all most confusing. Ah, well . . . she always was a consummate actress . . .
"Isabella, dear," Suzanne said softly, "I'm still curious about how you managed to get out of France. The last I heard, you had been arrested; then, suddenly, you were here. However did it happen?" she asked.
I related to her the entire narrative which you already have heard; that of my arrest, rescue, and new life.
"I am still mystified about the Scarlet Pimpernel's motive in rescuing me. However, I am deeply grateful to him for his heroism, and if I were a man, I would not hesitate in looking to join his brave League," I ended, looking with a small measure of defiance at Marguerite, whom I felt would not agree with my admiration for the Pimpernel. To my surprise, she was not looking at me in displeasure or anger. In fact, she was not looking at me at all. She was looking at Suzanne, who returned the look, almost as if they were holding a silent and secret conversation. This lasted only for a moment, then our pleasant conversation resumed. But the significance of that look haunted me for many days.
A month or so later, I received a most curious note by courier. It bore a seal in purple wax, the image of a small violet, and was unsigned. Its only message was a simple two sentences.
Dear prospective Guilder,
Kindly meet me at the Hastings home at 3:00 in the afternoon of November 23. Come alone.
Its only signature was the same image of a violet, in purple ink. On the afternoon specified, I warily stepped down from the coach in front of the Hastings home, staring at the large brick house. The note was so ambiguous; I hardly knew why I had come at all. But I was there, and I might as well go inside. I nervously rang the bell, and a maid showed me into the parlor. Presently a woman came in to meet me; I instantly knew her to be Lady Hastings. Without a word I handed her the note. She glanced at it and smiled, inviting me to sit down.
"So," she said, "you are interested in joining the Violet Guild?"
"The Violet Guild?" I asked, puzzled. "I do not understand . . ."
"The Violet Guild," she explained, "is an organization of men and women devoted to helping and protecting the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, without their knowledge of course, for they are men, too proud to accept help from women. We help them in every way we can, and we often succeed."
"And you wish me to join this organization?"
"I would be honored if you would."
I thought for a moment, torn between joining because of my convictions, or refusing because of the danger. It wasn't a very hard decision to make.
"I would be honored to join, Lady Hastings."
"You must take an oath of loyalty," Lady Hastings said, taking my hands in hers. "Do you hereby swear, by all you hold sacred and in the presence of God, to help and protect the members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and their leader, and to follow them in the pursuit of their noble cause?"
"I swear," I said fervently, though I was aware that my voice shook.
"Do you swear to be faithful and loyal to the Violet Guild, and to never betray it no matter what the cost?"
"Do you swear never to disclose the existence of the Guild to anyone, especially to the members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, to preserve the secrecy of the Guild?"
A smile lit up Lady Hastings' face. "Welcome to the Violet Guild, Isabella de Roche," she said warmly. (I had forgotten to tell you that de Roche was my maiden name. At this time I had not yet met James.) "Lady Blakeney and Lady Ffoulkes were right about you."
"Wait--Lady Blakeney and Lady Ffoulkes? You mean Suzanne and Marguerite . . ."
"Yes. You must know that it was they who petitioned for your rescue. They informed me of your strong admiration for the League's work. My note to you was a test to see if you were in earnest. You passed the test."
"I thought Marguerite was in sympathy with the revolutionary leaders. I didn't think she would ever join an organization so set against the Revolution," I mused.
Lady Hastings' face became set in a serious expression almost immediately. "You will understand when you learn the last bit of information you must know. But first: Do you hereby swear never to disclose the name of the Scarlet Pimpernel to anyone, unless you are absolutely sure they are a member of the Guild, as you value your life?"
I drew in my breath. My heart beat fast, and when I spoke my voice shook even more than before. "I swear."
"Good," Lady Hastings replied. "You must know who the Scarlet Pimpernel is, so that you may better protect him. And remember, none of the members of the League (save my husband, Lord Timothy Hastings) know anything about the Guild or its existence. You must only communicate with Guild members through sealed letters, marked with the sign of the violet."
I nodded somberly and nervously, totally unprepared for what followed.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel," Lady Hastings said quietly, "is Sir Percy Blakeney."
I was silent for a full fifteen minutes. Sir Percy Blakeney? I had only seen him occasionally, at certain balls, but all of London knew that he was a hopeless idiot, the richest man in England but an inane fool. How could such a man be the ingenious, daring, resourceful Scarlet Pimpernel? Unless . . .
"He plays the part consummately well, don't you think?" Lady Hastings finally said to break the silence. "My dear, are you still with us?"
"Yes, yes . . ." I murmured faintly. "Sir Percy Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel. I would never have guessed . . ."
"Exactly. In English society, he plays the part of an inane fool so well that no one would ever guess. In fact, were such a thing to be suggested among most of society, it would cause the loudest laughter of any amusing story ever told."
"And Marguerite must know! That is why she is so different now . . ."
"Yes. It is her husband whom we are sworn to protect, and it is Suzanne's husband whom we are to protect as well. Without their knowledge, the entire League of the Scarlet Pimpernel have a rearguard to help and protect them in their times of trouble. We are that rearguard."
And so we are. With the Guild, I have been able to repay the Scarlet Pimpernel for his kindnesses to me and to all other French men and women whom he has rescued. And I am not the only one; friend, there are now over fifty members in our secret Guild. If you feel the same as I, and you wish to join us in our mission, I advise you to visit Lady Hastings. If you are sincere and devoted, I'm sure she'll be glad for you to join.
(Suddenly a knock comes at the door. Isabella rises and bids the intruder enter. You turn to see a man dressed in fine, but not ostentatious clothes, enter the study. He is of medium height and build, with sandy brown hair and piercing blue eyes; really, a very normal-looking specimen of English aristocracy. His breeches are fawn-colored, his shirt pristinely white, his waistcoat a light gold with stripes of darker gold running vertically across it, and his coat is navy blue. He approaches Isabella and gives her a tender, loving kiss, even though to do so in the presence of company is quite unconventional. It is obvious that they love each other very much. The man then turns to you.)
::Man:: My dear, Robert told me we had a visitor . . .
::Isabella:: Oh, yes. My friend, may I present Sir James Whitsfield, my husband. I'm sure he will have much to speak with you about . . .
(Isabella gives Sir James a slight nod, indicating that you know about the Guild.)
::Sir James:: Ah! Yes, I must tell you my side of the story, what? Isabella, you haven't already got that far, have you?
::Isabella:: No, dearest. I haven't; I left you that honor.
::Sir James:: Then, friend, if you wish, we can take a stroll in the garden while I tell one of the most pleasant stories I know. It is quite lonely out there; the secret parts of our conversation will be heeded by no one.
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