Chapter Two: The Many Providences of a Nunnery Veil
by Lady Alexis Cassadine
Realizing their helplessness in the Place de la Greve, Lady
led her quarry into a ramshackle building just around the corner.
looked to be the remnants of a large storage building of some
sort, but now
the empty doorway and broken window panes revealed, as though in
the charred identification of a ravaging fire.
It was black as pitch inside, and the air hung rank with the scent
wood. Isabella wrinkled her nose in disgust as Lady Hastings,
with the aid of
the moonlight spilling from a hole in the thatched roof, drew a
a rickety shelf and lit a candle.
Isabella noted that Lady Hastings' face, now entirely illuminated
as she held
the candle before her, looked fiercely drawn and upset; no doubt
the news from
the alley spy had come as quite a bitter shock.
Turning, the Guild leader beckoned her two young friends into an
room at the rear of the narrow building, a room where no moonlight
quarter to penetrate. The candlelight revealed, as the trio
passed into the
maw of the chamber, a room much more intact than that in the
the fire had not consumed as much here. Enormous barrels and
cluttered the floor about the legs of a lopsided wooden table
lantern and a folded map. It was to this table that Lady Hastings
Phillipe closed the back room door, or, what was left of it,
behind him and
took a seat on one of four barrels encircling the table, motioning
Isabella to do the same.
"I must say that your news provides an unexpected twist to our
Lady Hastings, seating herself and shakily lighting the lantern in
of the table. "It's time for a bit of reformation, I'm afraid."
"So you brought us to Paris to help the Scarlet Pimpernel with his
in the morning," Phillipe thought aloud, keeping his voice barely
whisper. "What are we to do now that they expect it?"
Lady Hastings glanced at Phillipe, arched one fine eyebrow, and
"That's precisely what I'd like to know!"
Isabella looked dejectedly at the floor as Lady Hastings turned
and closed one
cold hand over hers.
"Don't you fret, my dear. Without knowing what you've learned, we
have fallen into a very, very well-laid trap. It's only your
that alley that is going to save us all."
Isabella jolted her head up in shock...it almost sounded as though
Hastings was grateful to her for toppling into that man's trap!
She opened to mouth to protest, but one burning glance from
the words in her throat.
"Won't you tell us, Lady Hastings," Phillipe began, "what exactly
Pimpernel plans to do this morning? There must be a way to get
Lady Hastings took a deep breath and cast a furtive glance into
over both shoulders. Then, nodding in satisfaciton, she leaned
forward a bit
to tell her story.
"Very well. The Scarlet Pimpernel and his
made plans to watch the Temple Prison just after dawn, in
disguise, of course,
and rescue the Marquis de Vauche and his two young sons as they
out to be executed. His exact method is unknown to me. All I
know is that,
if what that man in the alley said holds true, there will be a
laid for the Pimpernel and, as he does not expect it, I daresay
there is the
likelihood that he will be caught. At all costs, it is our duty
in the Violet
Guild to prevent this from happening."
"But how?" Isabella whispered, terrified by the prospect that it
was up to the
three of them to save the entire League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
Lady Hastings looked her companions over carefully.
what we have
three hours to decide."
Then, spreading the map of the Temple Prison and surrounding
them, Lady Hastings set to constructing a plan.
An hour later, the working trio had thrown out the vague trappings
of a few
separate ideas. It was already clear that there was no way to
Pimpernel's rescue plan unless the Guilders themselves moved to
Marquis and his sons...but that would require entry into the
The risks seemed to outnumber the stars, as did the complications!
"We could use disguises, then," Phillipe was saying, stifling a
yawn. "We could disguise ourselves as soldiers, or---"
"Yes, but there's only three of us!" Isabella broke in, still a
Lady Hastings scratched a vague trail on the map with one
there are three of us, but only two of us will be able to get into
The last will have to remain outside to escort the Marquis and his
Percy's lodgings at Rue St. Anne."
Phillipe's head snapped up suddenly. "Then you know where he is?
don't you just send a messenger there immediately, and tell Sir
Percy to call
the whole thing off?!"
"I'm afraid you don't understand," said Lady Hastings, shaking her
"Sir Percy doesn't know we exist. As the Violet Guild, I mean.
know we exist. Do you really think he would trust, or even
accept, a note
from anyone but a dear friend in Paris?"
Phillipe opened his
mouth to argue,
only to be cut off by Lady Hastings' persistent rebuke.
courier risks everything. We musn't trust anyone. And you
yourself said that
the streets are carefully watched! That's why ourselves we must
Sunrise. Probably only two hours away by now...Phillipe noted in
"Well, let's go back to the idea of disguises," Isabella motioned,
twisting a dark lock of her hair about two fingers. A long pause
pondered. At last, she shrugged emphatically and shook her head,
right. We haven't any disguises!"
Phillipe was a little surprised to see Lady Hastings smile a
little, take the
candle in her hand, and rise from the table in silence. Four eyes
her slight frame as she moved towards the darkest corner of the
picking her delicate way over the broken wood and like debris that
the floor, until at last the candlelight unhid the shape of a
door, hitherto concealed by the night. Lady Hastings paused for a
seemed to search the walls for something. Then, apparently
finding what she
sought (a small item that looked like a key), she turned and
opened the door,
drawing twin gasps from the lips of her two companions. There, in
darkness, was a closet stocked full of wigs, costumes, and
disguises of all
sorts, hung in layers on a row of pegs in the wall.
Smiling faintly, Lady Hastings replaced the key to its hook on the
set to explaining.
"This back room was once used by Sir Percy and the League
themselves, until the fire. It was in this room that they plotted a
of their last-minute schemes. We have all the disguises we need right
Isabella smiled and nodded slowly in understanding.
"And the fire? How
"My husband, Lord Timothy Hastings, of course, told me that the Bounders
staged the fire themselves, to avoid suspicion by the French authorites.
were afraid that, since they were using the deserted building so
that time, the authorites would notice and begin watching them. So they
it and found a new rendez-vous point, on the Rue St. Anne. This supply
here," and she indicated the closet, "was kept locked here for
"Like this one," Phillipe added.
Rising from the table and discarding her heavy cloak, Isabella moved
"Well, I suppose we should all have a look."
The sun crested in a daze of splendour far more glorious than ought to
been allotted to a day like this, where the Place de la Greve grovelled
the morning cold and waited for the executions to commence.
Paris was waking; slow, sluggish, and weary at the close of a restless
evening, for evenings in Paris were always restless...these were the
the Terror, after all.
At the sideyard entry of the Temple Prison, a guard tore his wistful
from the sunrise and saw three figures approaching. Blinking, he raised
musket and tried to look formidable.
Squinting into the breaking sunlight, his eyes noted the foremost
first. It looked to be clad in the robes of a prioress, or senior nun,
Catholic or Benedictine church, and seemed to wobble rather than walk,
stationed easily on the stomach. Then, the soldier's eyes bulged as he
the figure's stoutness; it seemed to him that he had seen houses with
volume! Pardieu, the woman was huge! Even more so when compared to the
slight figures flanking her, nuns of lesser station, perhaps, both of
small and fragile in build. All three wore their faces veiled, as all
of the cloister, at that time, were required to do when seen out in the
Out of perfunctory respect, the soldier bowed his head a little as the
ladies drew near; he was even more shocked by the central woman's size
"We've come to pray with the prisoners this morning," said the central
the apparent prioress, speaking in a voice that was quite nasal and far
"I'm sorry, mesdames," the soldier answered, contorting his mouth to
laughing. Beneath the gauze veil, the woman's face was as unbelievable
size; her nose was large enough to be indecent. Thank the Lord, the
thought to himself, that such women become nuns and have to wear veils.
one is allowed into the Temple Prison at this hour."
The prioress stomped her feet and looked abhorred. "But...but...we've
sent all the way from the convent of Rue Petit-Picpus! Shall we go all
way back without our morning penitence?"
The soldier jerked upright in attention. Petit-Picpus! Although he was
simple soldier and knew very little of religion, he knew that the
nuns of Petit-Picpus were among the most holy in the nation. They were
religious that they were all, with the exception of the central nun, now
undoubtedly a high-stationed prioress, sentenced to a lifetime vow of
never ate meat, slept on straw mats at all times of the year, and never
took baths. He gulped as he realized that his soul could be damned to
hell---or worse---if he didn't let them in.
Still, out of sense of duty, he attempted a brief protest. "But my
The soldier nearly leapt three feet backwards as the prioress spread her
in a wild arc and brought them down again clasped in prayer. Seeing her
actions, the two lesser sisters bowed their heads and likewise folded
"Oh, Lord!" the great prioress sang out to the sky, her voice throbbing
dramatic and grand vibrato, "please take pity on this foolish, simple
spare him from the flames! Help him, rather, to see the folly of his
and, by Your majestic hand, turn from them!"
"Let him turn from them," the two smaller nuns chanted in unison.
The soldier felt a bitter chill run along his spine as each of his
superstitions aroused themselves.
"Lord, I pray You will not condemn this pitiful man's soul merely
stands in our noble way of of pleasing You, Lord of the Universe! I beg
direct his step from the way of Evil as he stands now, preventing our
ventures with his thanklessly-granted authority!"
"Forgive his thanklessly-granted authority," the nuns chanted.
One of the lesser nuns caught the soldier casting frantic glances about
sideyard, as though he expected to be struck down by lightning at any
"I pray Thee, Heavenly Father, save him and let not the clutches of
fall upon him and his ignorance of You and reluctance to---"
"Pardon, mesdames," the soldier interjected, his brow beaded with cold
"but I just remembered that the rules have been changed. You may enter
prison freely, and with my escort."
The prioress, seemingly satisfied, silenced her wailings and stared at
Then a brief smile crept serenely over her homely face. She looked to
once more and cried, very loudly, "Thank you, Lord!"
The soldier grimaced shyly. "Come then, I'll lead you to the
Bustling past him, and barely squeezing herself through the door as she
so, the largest nun made the sign of the cross wildly in the air and
"Bless you, my son."
The soldier blushed a bit and followed her down
hallway, signalling to another sentry up ahead to take his place at the
doorway. He didn't notice Lady Hastings, in disguise, of course,
herself from the trio of nuns and making her silent way back to the
to wait eagerly for the return of her victorious quarry.
Once the guard had led them to the main area of the prison, he left
company prompty, apparently still embarassed by his odd encounter in the
sideyard. The remaining two nuns were glad of his departure, and set to
Phillipe, disguised immaculately as the huge prioress, moved quickly to
the nearest prisoners and asked where the Marquis de Vauche could be
Absently, the man pointed to the furthermost corner of the room, where
sat a very handsome, if very sad-looking, man, probably in his early
and two young boys, one asleep in his knee, the other on his shoulder.
looked to be very close in age.
Isabella felt a tremendous lump forming in her throat. There were
everywhere, with wide eyes, torn clothes and dirty faces, some crying,
most asleep on their parents' laps. And the poor parents...to have to sit
helplessly and wait for themselves and their children to be lead to
deaths...everywhere, through the mask of her nunnery veil, she saw
silks and shredded laces where once had been divine finery, dishveled
filthy, distorted faces where once had been grace and beauty, and
and lips where smiles had once danced and laughter had rippled the air.
and now, she saw only condemnation and profound misery. Misery, and the
prevailing, warning presence of death...
Phillipe motioned to her, and staggered, gathering his weight in his
once more, to the corner harboring the shattered-looking Marquis de
The Marquis gazed forlornly up at them as they approached; not a trace
mirth touched his expression, unlike the soldier at the sideyard door.
waited patiently for the faux prioress to speak.
"We've come to pray with you, sir," said Phillipe in a low, soothing
that woke one of the boys from his faint sleep. "If you would come with
the back of the prison..?"
and he gestured to a dark room in the rear of the main chamber, where
prisoners were, once every two weeks, allowed to go to confession, at
insistence of the Catholic church.
The Marquis followed the direction of the hand wordlessly, then returned
gaze to that of the prioress.
"I'm afraid there would be little object to that, madame," he said, in a
broken voice that plunged deep into Isabella's already-softened heart.
boys and I are to be led from here today."
Phillipe sadly noted that the Marquis directly avoided using any words
articulate than "led from here" for the benefit of the two young
stirring about him.
"Perhaps, but if you will keep faith and come with us to the
you shall be saved."
The Marquis took a moment to tousle the dark hair of the boy on his
then rose slowly, wearily, and moved to the rear of the chamber.
Phillipe and Isabella, casting stray glances over their shoulders,
The confessionary door closed with a discreet "click" and Phillipe
address the Marquis seriously.
"Come," he said, lifting his robes, much to the utter shock of the
and detaching from his belt the bundle of straw and additional nun
that had made him so enormous in the first place. "Put this on."
The Marquis accepted the nun costume in incredulous shock. "What---what
the meaning of this?" he asked quietly.
Isabella laid a gentle hand on his arm.
"Don't be afraid. We've been
get you out of here today."
"And...and my boys?" the Marquis asked desperately, his voice suddenly
"Come here, children," Phillipe said, bending down with ease now that
cumbersome belly had been removed. "We're going to take you away from
The Marquis, at last deciding that these two visitors knew what they
doing, turned to clad himself in the nun's costume as Isabella moved
to help the boys. The latter thought she heard the older man murmur a
of tearfully beautiful prayers to heaven.
Ever so gently, she lifted the first child, who looked to be no more
or three, and secured his hands into two loops on Phillipe's belt, until
could hang there quite easily, with his knees drawn up to his chest and
feet settled in a pair of stirrups attached to the special belt,
very morning from stable accessories by Phillipe himself. Next, his
older brother was attached in the same manner, giggling a bit at the odd
position in which they both found themselves.
The giggles increased when the Marquis turned round; Isabella was just
him drape the veil over his face as the boys recognized their father in
women's clothing. The Marquis shushed them promptly.
Isabella knelt then and placed a trembling hand on each of the boys'
"Now then, children, there is only one way for us to get out you of
that is for you to be competely silent until we tell you that it is
The boys nodded absently and giggled a little.
Isabella cast an uncertain glance at the veiled Marquis.
Nodding, the man knelt in the hay and turned to his children, his face
unsmiling. Isabella removed the veil to produce a more serious effect.
"Boys, you listen to me. Not a word until our friends here tell you
is safe. Not a single sound. You want to get out of here, don't you?"
The boys nodded feverishly.
"Very well then. Not a sound."
The boys were silent as Phillipe dropped the folds of his padded black
over the boys' heads and shifted his weight. Isabella helped him to
the shape of his belly as the Marquis looked on with wondering eyes.
"Let's get out of here then," Isabella said, and, replacing the Marquis'
over his still-awed face, she turned the handle of the confessionary
prepared to go back into the fire.
Only a few heads turned as the trio abandonned the confessionary, and
only turned back again in the next instant. The only guards to be found
the spreading chamber were cluttered near the main entryway, chatting
paying less than no attention to the movements of the three
ladies in black.
As the three of them drew up close to the doorway, the soldier from the
beginning of the venture looked them over with curiousity.
"Finished so soon, mesdames? Haven't you any more prayers for the day?"
"There is little praying to be done here, sir," said Phillipe the
once more assuming that same cranky, nasal tone. "These people are all
doomed, are they not?"
"Well...yes, of course," said the soldier, throwing his shoulders back
pride at recalling the misguided import of his occupation. "They're all
wretched aristocrats. We all know the city will be better off without
Phillipe held back a viscious urge to attack the guard for such
remembering the silent children clinging to his waist, fully dependent
discretion of his actions, he restrained himself and departed down the
with a forced and pretentious "harumph!"
A couple of the soldiers snickered a little as Phillipe attempted to
himself and his generous padding once more through the prison door.
The sentry from the sideyard hushed them frantically, and attempted to
explain the consequences of teasing a lady of God so, only receiving a
of riotous laughter for his efforts. Indignant, he turned to escort the
from the prison in silence.
Isabella, Phillipe, and the Marquis crossed the sideyard with the weight
the soldier's gaze upon them. They felt him thinking...three had gone
three had gone out again. Perfect. With any luck, there would be no
suspicion, until later that morning when the Marquis de Vauche and his
children were found missing...
The carriage hired by Lady Hastings, now replaced in her usual garments,
waited just ahead, placed at the corner just out of the sight of the
the Temple. Isabella, her heart heavy as lead with the memory of all she had
seen in the grim prison, found herself falling a step behind her
companions. Pensive, she couldn't seem tear her thoughts away from the
sorrow, the infinite humiliation and--- Only the rattle of an
approaching carriage brought her back to reality. A black carriage,
drawn by two equally black horses, was headed straight for her. She
dodged the wheels effortlessly, turning to watch the carriage reel to
the side, and, as she did, something there in the darkness of the
vehicle made her blood run like winter rain. The man from the alley! He
sat there, in the carriage, with the bearing of a king, looking out at
her...their eyes met for only a second... Isabella recognized him in a
heartbeat; the little she had seen of him in the alley seemed forever
engraved into her mind, and she felt that she could have identified his
lean features anywhere. Fortunately, by the providence of the veil, he
didn't seem to recognize her. Or did he..? Then, the face was gone, but
she watched in horror as the carriage slowed to a halt in the sideyard
of the Temple Prison. She took a furtive glance over her
shoulder...Phillipe, by this time, was on his way a few dozen paces
ahead; he had quickened his step with the appearance of the speeding
A sudden urge drove her to act against her every conviction; instead of
following Phillipe, as she knew she should have done, she hid herself
behind a vacant cart in the sideyard to watch the antics of the men in
the carriage, removing her nun's robes, habit, and veil and concealing
them beneath the very handy cart. She knew not why she removed them,
now standing clad in the new lavendar gown she had purchased before her
journey to France...she only assumed that it would be easier to make a
hasty escape without the cumbersome outer garments... Just in case, of
course, a very hasty escape was called for...
The first to step forth
was a soldier, clad in
the same intimidating red, white, and blue of the new Republic. The
next was a lackey of some sort, clad in very simple black-and-white
lower-class garb, who stepped down from the carriage to hold the door
open for the next to disembark. The soldier at the Temple door
approached the carriage and opened his mouth to speak...Isabella leaned
forth, ears attentive.
"The Temple does not open for another half-hour,
The next man to emerge from the carriage, clad head
to foot in solid black broadcloth but for the Republic ribbon pinned to
his lapel, the man from the alley, answered at the sound of his name.
"The governor of the Prison expects me."
That voice! Chauvelin. That
most wretched of names... Isabella turned to flee in terror...the air
flew from her lungs in a rush as her body collided with those of two
French soldiers, the both of them far taller, stronger, meaner, and more
fluently armed than she. Thus, she didn't even attempt to fight as they
took her arms and marched her, scarcely holding off a fit of hysteria,
into the darkness of Citizen Chauvelin's black shadow on the cobblestone
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