Isabella barely suppressed a gasp of horror. From the moment she received the unusual note this morning, she had felt uneasy about this. It seemed her intuition had been totally correct . . .
"Lady Hastings," she managed to whisper, "what is the matter? It must be extremely urgent if you had no time to gather the Guild."
"It is, Isabella. The Scarlet Pimpernel is gone to France for the Comte de Rouche and his family. Just this morning my husband received word from Lord Tony Dewhurst, who is escorting the Comte and his family to the coast, warning Percy away from their original meeting place. It seems Chauvelin has learned about it somehow and is lying in wait for him there. Percy, however, has already left with Sir Andrew on the mission. So, Isabella, it is up to you, me, and my husband to warn them and direct them to the Rue de Conserve, where Lord Tony and the de Rouche family are waiting. We must leave for France tonight, or tomorrow night the Pimpernel walks into a trap."
Isabella nodded, silently accepting the mission. Besides the fact that she always spoke little, she felt that this was not a time for words. It was a time for action - quick, efficient action. Lady Hastings smiled as she correctly read the signal.
"Thank you, Isabella. I knew I could count on you to help us. We meet, then, at Dover, two hours before sunrise. Until then," Lady Hastings said, fervently clasping Isabella's hands in friendship.
"Until then, Lady Hastings," Isabella replied, surprised at her ladyship's familiar gesture, for she had only joined the Guild two months ago. Perhaps it was the urgency of the mission that caused Isabella to unconsciously return it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They arrived on a lonely part of the French coast some little time before dawn. Lord Hastings led the way up the cliffs, to a small, abandoned hut built almost on the side of the cliffs themselves. Only when they were all inside did he dare to speak, and then only in the softest voice possible.
"We can talk here."
Isabella looked around at the austere room. It seemed quite bare, except for a couple of rough stools and a bundle of nets in one corner.
"Where is this, may I ask?" she wondered curiously.
"We used to use this hut to hide fugitives until we could get them over the Channel," Lord Hastings explained. "The League has abandoned it since then, of necessity, but it is still one of the most deserted parts of the French coast."
"It is quite convenient for our use," said Lady Hastings, who seemed to know the hut quite as well as her husband. "Here we are the least likely to be disturbed, and Calais is only a few leagues away. Now, we need a plan. Does anyone have any ideas?"
"Lord Hastings, can you not warn Sir Percy directly?" Isabella ventured.
He shook his head sadly. "No. I'd have to wait until nightfall, and I might not be able to find him in time."
"You don't know where he is?"
"I was returning from a mission myself when this one was planned. We use different places each time to make it difficult for us to be located by the French Government. Unfortunately, it makes it difficult for us as well."
"But we do know where Lord Tony is, do we not?" Isabella asked. An idea was beginning to form in her head . . .
"Yes, we do," replied Lord Hastings, trying to discern what the shy, quiet young woman was thinking.
"Isabella, what is it?" Lady Eliza was more bold in her curiosity than her husband. "Do you have an idea? A plan, perhaps?"
"At the moment, it is only an idea. But it depends upon our knowing where the Pimpernel is going tonight. Lord Hastings, would it be too dangerous for you to find Lord Tony and ask him where the original rendezvous point is?"
Lord Hastings was quiet for a moment, amazed at the number of words Isabella had just said. He had never heard her say so much at one time before.
"We'll have to risk it," he said finally. "Without that information, we are powerless to help them."
"But where are we to get proper clothing for you?" asked Isabella in a panic, as she realized that Lord Hastings couldn't possibly walk the streets of Calais in his aristocratic clothes without attracting attention. Lord Hastings smiled and lifted a couple of loose boards in the floor of the hut. Under the boards a wealth of peasantry clothing was laid in the dirt, which only served to make them look more authentic.
"We have disguises hidden in most of these places, Mademoiselle," he said, "in case of emergency. And this, I believe, is the greatest emergency I can remember there ever being."
Isabella looked on as he chose one of the disguises, eyes wide in awe. Once again, she had underestimated the efficiency of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lord Tony Dewhurst breathed an inward sigh of relief as he recognized the series of knocks that came at the door. Returning the sequence, he admitted a man in peasant garb.
"I need to talk to you, Dewhurst," the man said quietly.
Lord Tony was surprised and confused. That voice was not the one he had been expecting and hoping to hear. He drew the man aside, where their conversation would not be overheard by the fugitives. They were frightened enough as is . . .
"Hastings?" Lord Tony whispered. "What in the . . ."
"Percy had already left with Ffoulkes by the time your note reached us," Lord Hastings interrupted, also in a whisper. "I'm doing all I can to find him, but I must know where the original meeting place is. Then perhaps I can warn him away from it."
"It's in the Rue de Maintene, number seven. But if both of us go . . ."
"No, no," whispered Lord Hastings hurriedly. "You need to stay here with them. And one is less suspicious than two."
"All right, then," Lord Tony said reluctantly. "I'll be waiting. Good luck."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lord Hastings returned to the hut to find Isabella and his wife dressed in costumes quite unsuitable for proper ladies. Isabella didn't like the idea of posing as prostitutes, but she realized there was no other way they could have freedom of movement without arousing suspicions. She only hoped nobody would try to employ her to that purpose tonight.
"It's number seven, Rue de Maintene," he said. "But are you sure I couldn't . . ."
"No, darling," Lady Hastings replied. "You would have to speak to Percy directly, and Chauvelin could then arrest you all. It's far less dangerous for us to go alone."
"You will be careful?"
Isabella felt that she was intruding into a private matter, so she withdrew to the other side of the hut, pretending to be deeply interested in the nets.
As soon as it was dark enough, Isabella and Lady Eliza made their way to the dark, deserted Rue de Maintene. There they waited in the shadows for what seemed like years, always on the lookout for the two figures taht might be Sir Percy and Sir Andrew. Finally they spotted two rough-looking citizens coming down the far side of the street. Lady Eliza motioned to Isabella, and they began to saunter towards them.
When they were only about ten yards away from the strangers, Lady Eliza said in French, loud enough for them to hear but not so that the spies waiting in the dark house would notice,
"Isn't it exciting, Marie? Citoyen Chauvelin is waiting inside that very house to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel!"
The two strangers stopped. Isabella prayed that they wouldn't go away, not yet.
"They're not going to, you know," she replied sullenly, and also in French.
"What do you mean?"
"I tried to tell them earlier that they had the wrong place, that I saw the aristos in number five Rue de Conserve, but they wouldn't listen. They laughed and said I was only a woman, what do I know? So I say, let them wait for their Scarlet Pimpernel. They will have other opportunities to catch him."
Out of the corner of her eye, Isabella saw the strangers quietly turn and leave the same way they came. She smiled in relief and satisfaction, certain that the Pimpernel had been safely warned, and she and Lady Eliza slowly left the Rue de Maintene, not hurrying until they were well out of sight of the still dark house.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lord Tony didn't venture to speak to his leader until they and the de Rouche family were safely on board the Day Dream and well out into the Channel.
"Thank God you found us," he said. "Did Hastings tell you?"
"Hastings? No."
"Then how did you know?"
Sir Percy Blakeney sighed, deep in thought. "You know what, Dewhurst?" he finally said. "Sometimes God even uses common prostitutes to His purposes . . ."

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