Isabella felt her heart nearly stop. The entire League? How was it possible? Why were Sir Andrew and the Pimpernel still free? Had they acted yet? Was Chauvelin setting a trap for them? Where were they now? Isabella's mind was bombarded with many panicked questions, but in the stunned silence of the room she asked only one.
"Which prison?"
Temple Prison. One of the most well-guarded in all of Paris. Isabella knew this would be the most dangerous mission the Guild had faced thus far. As much as she knew how critical it was that they act, and immediately.
Lady Hastings commenced to divide the Guild into two teams--one to protect Sir Andrew and the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the other, larger one to liberate the League. Still stunned into silence by the terrible news, there was no good-natured grumbling over small assignments among the Guild members this time. Truth be told, there were no small assignments this time. Everyone was important and their full obedience to orders was vital. Isabella was placed in the larger group, the one that would get the League out of Temple Prison. Hopefully.
"The Pimpernel and Sir Andrew are in a house in the Rue de Richelieu," Lady Hastings was telling the first group. "Chauvelin and his spies do not yet know where they are, but they will no doubt soon find out. We leave for France immediately, all of us," she hurriedly informed the Guild. "My lord Timothy's yacht lies in wait for us at Dover, and the skipper is ready to leave as soon as possible. If we leave now, we'll get to Calais just at the turn of the tide. We must not delay. All of you with carriages, take up as many as you can. You on horseback, outdistance us and inform the skipper to make everything ready for immediate departure. I will give all orders on the ship. God speed you all, my friends, and keep you safe."
They left in haste and silence. Isabella shared Lady Hastings' carriage with two or three others. She sat directly opposite her leader, silently watching her all the way. At times Lady Hastings tried in vain to sleep, at others she stared straight ahead of her with glazed eyes, her mind far away. But for most of the short journey, her eyes were closed, her hands folded, and her lips moving silently and reverently. She prayed--nobody but her and God know exactly what for, but it is for sure it bore some relevance to the safety of the Guild, the League, the Pimpernel, and her husband especially.
Sadly, Isabella gazed out the window of the carriage, and mentally added her own prayers to those Lady Hastings was offering up to God.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The sun had just set when they arrived at Dover, and the tide was on the turn. As soon as they all set foot on the ship, the skipper cast off. The Guild went down into the ship's hold to receive their specific orders.
"All of you in the first group," Lady Hastings said immediately, taking charge, "those of you that are to protect Sir Andrew and the Pimpernel, surround the house in the shadows and wait while I ascertain if they are still there. Once I give the signal that they are, keep your swords handy and permit no entrance to that house whatsoever, while I go with the second group to the Prison. We," she said, directing her attention to the second group, "will enter the Prison under the guise of soldiers, supplied each with a second uniform hidden under our clothes. We will then split up and head for the varied cells where the League members are being held."
She laid out the plan of the Prison in every detail, giving the numbers of the cells where League members were. All this information she had already obtained, before she came back to England to gather the Guild.
"Each of us will go to a different cell, telling the guards we are replacing them at their post. If they resist, use force. Do not waste time; speed and efficiency are vital. Once the other guard has left or is unconscious, enter the cell and give the occupant the extra uniform you have hidden. Tell him to put it on and follow you. If he asks you who you are, say only 'a friend.' Lead him out of the prison in this disguise and to the alley directly opposite the house. I'll make sure Timothy knows what to do from there; hopefully the others will listen to him. Leave your charge in the alley and quickly disappear to the Place de la Revolucion. Wait there in the shadows for the rest of us."
She turned again to the first group.
"Timothy will lead the others up to the front of the house. You will know it is him by the three-whistle signal he will give. Once you see the League approach the house and hear the signal, you need to remain in the shadows until you are sure they are safely with Sir Andrew and the Pimpernel in the house. Then make all haste to meet us at the Place de la Revolucion. From there we will immediately depart for Calais and England, leaving the League safe with the Pimpernel. Any questions?"
"Where are the uniforms?"
"Here," Lady Hastings said, sliding back a panel in the wall behind her to reveal a closet full of French Army uniforms. There were at least fifty of them, in various stages of cleanliness.
"Thank God Timothy believes in preparing for the worst. There are more than enough uniforms here for us and the League both. And here," she said, sliding back another panel, "is peasantry clothing for us to travel in. Everyone needs an outfit of this, but only those of us in the second group need the uniforms. Two each, remember. Now, I will get Timothy out, so that I can fill him in on the details of our plan."
She continued to rattle off names of League members to various Guilders, informing them of their cell numbers and locations. Isabella heard a few names she recognized--Sir Jeremiah Wallescourt, Armand St. Just, among others--and some she had never heard before, but she paid little heed to them. She was stricken by the overwhelming strength Lady Hastings displayed. She seemed fully in control of herself, despite the grief she must feel.
"Isabella," she heard, "you will take charge of Lord Antony Dewhurst's cell. You have your sword with you?" Lady Hastings asked. Isabella nodded, patting it unconsciously in the folds of her skirt. "Keep it handy--you may need it. His cell is number 274, down the main hall, almost at the very end, on the right.
"That is all I must say, except to wish you all God speed and good luck. We must hurry and change: we will dock on the coast in less than an hour."
Silently the Guild rose and began choosing disguises. None of them fit right on anybody, but perhaps it was better that way.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Isabella marched to the prison gate behind Lady Hastings, feeling awkward and unwieldy in the misshapen uniform over peasantry clothing. In daylight it would have been obvious to a half-blind man that she was an impostor. It was a good thing the night was dark.
Lady Hastings was in the guise of a sergeant of the guard, the rest of the Guilders behind her as regular soldiers. It was a trick the Pimpernel himself had used to get aristocrats out of Paris, but it had never been used to get *into* the prison before.
"Open the gate in the name of the Republic!" Lady Hastings shouted as they approached, signaling the others to halt. She used a deep bass voice.
"State your purpose!"
Isabella's eyes widened in fear. Obviously the guards had been warned about rescue attempts, and threatened with their lives not to let it happen. Lady Hastings, however, didn't skip a beat.
"Reinforcements sent to guard the damned English aristos. We can't be too careful with them." She spoke with authority, daring the man to speak a word against her. It worked.
"Very well, sergeant, you may pass," the guard said meekly, opening the gate at once. He was obviously afraid of Lady Hastings; a thought that would have made Isabella smile if the occasion had been less serious. Obedient as machines, they marched through the gate in formation, turned to salute Lady Hastings, then marched dutifully down the various corridors to their assigned cells.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Lady Hastings strode down the corridor to cell 218, Lord Timothy Hastings' cell. Her sergeant's uniform allowed her to take over from the guard without protests. She quietly entered the cell to find her husband seated on the floor, leaning against the wall, exhausted.
"What now?" he asked of the sergeant he saw before him.
Lord Hastings' head snapped up at the sound of his first name and scrutinized the "man's" face. He got up and embraced his wife desperately.
"Darling, you came."
"Of course I came, dearest. I couldn't leave all of you here."
"The Guild?"
"Here with me, every last member." Lady Eliza extracted the uniform from her clothing. "Put this on and follow me. I'm going to lead you to the alley opposite the Pimpernel's lodgings where, if all goes well, your comrades will also be. When they all arrive, you need to lead them to the door as a regiment of soldiers--they will all be wearing uniforms like this. Before knocking on the door, whistle three times. I've got Guilders watching the house to protect Andrew and Percy, and that is the signal by which they will know it is you. Enter the house as if going to search it, then shut the door and reveal yourselves to Percy. If anyone asks you who rescued you, the answer we are giving is 'a friend.'"
By the time Lady Eliza had finished the briefing, Lord Timothy had already put the uniform on over his own ragged costume. He gave her a kiss and said, "Let's go."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Cell 274 was guarded by a single soldier, but he was tough-looking and dangerous. Still, Isabella hoped he could be frightened into obedience, as the guard at the front gate had.
"Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!" she said in as deep a voice as she could manage as she saluted him. He returned the salute somewhat suspiciously. Obviously he had been warned and threatened with his life not to allow anybody near the prisoner.
"I am to relieve you as guard over this man, citizen soldier," she resumed, trying to sound as authoritative and confident as Lady Hastings had. He looked at her warily.
"I was told not to leave my post."
"And I was told to relieve you, citizen," she said, her tone threatening. "I have direct orders from Citoyen Chauvelin not to tolerate any resistance from anybody. Are you resisting?"
The soldier was shaken by the mention of Chauvelin. "No, no," he said hurriedly, relinquishing the post and cell keys to Isabella. They exchanged salutes and the man hurried off, most likely beginning to fear for his head.
As soon as his steps had died away, and she was sure no one was about, Isabella opened the cell door and stepped inside. Lord Tony Dewhurst looked up at the sudden sound, but quickly looked down again, seeing it was only another soldier.
"What to you want from me now?" he began to ask.
"Hush," Isabella said urgently, the tone of her voice immediately quietening him. She took the French uniform from her coat and tossed it at his feet. "Put that on and follow me without a word."
He obeyed instinctively. In a moment he had put the uniform on over his clothes.
"Who are you?" he asked cautiously before she opened the door again.
"A friend," she said simply, with a smile. "Now quiet and follow me."
The journey out through the corridors of Temple Prison seemed much longer than it had been coming in. Isabella tensed every time she and Lord Tony passed a French soldier, fearing to be stopped and questioned. But nobody seemed to take an interest in them. When they reached the front gate, the guard let them out without a word; soldiers leaving the prison to patrol the streets was quite a natural thing to see. Isabella led her charge to the prearranged meeting place, where several other men in uniform were hiding in the shadows.
I certainly hope that's the rest of the League, she thought as she wordlessly pointed for Lord Tony to join them. She sighed in relief as he recognized them, and hurried to join Lady Hastings at the Place de la Revolucion before they started to ask questions.
When Lord Tony turned to thank his rescuer, she was gone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sir Andrew looked up in alarm at the knock. He glanced over to Sir Percy, who nodded solemnly for him to answer the door.
He opened the door to see almost twenty citizen soldiers of the Republic on his doorstep. Sir Andrew felt weak; of course they would send so many to arrest the daring Scarlet Pimpernel. Yet one thought crept through his reeling senses--Why had Chauvelin himself not come?
"Bonsoir, citizens," he said quietly, opening the door wide. The soldiers swiftly entered the room and one closed the door behind them.
Closed the door--? Soldiers of the Republic never bother to close the door . . .
"Can I help you, citizens?" Sir Andrew asked meekly, thoroughly confused by the behavior of the soldiers. Sir Percy was sitting quietly and unobtrusively in the corner, cautiously studying the men in soldiers' uniforms that now began to lounge about the room wearily.
"Citizens, I do not understand--" Sir Andrew began again, trying to make some sense out of the confusion he saw before him. He was cut off by one of the soldiers.
Sir Andrew started at the sound of his own name and looked closely and scrutinizingly at the soldier who had spoken. Suddenly his face lit up with recognition.
"Hastings? But how . . ."
"Never mind that now, my friend. It doesn't matter how, anyway. Fellows, let's get out of these demmed uniforms, shall we?" Hastings said quietly.
Astonished, Sir Percy slowly stood as the eighteen men shed French uniforms to reveal the costumes he had last seen them in, before the arrest. How on earth had they all gotten out of the prison at the same time? He turned to the man nearest him.
"What happened, Dewhurst?" he asked.
"I don't know, Percy. It's hard to say, it all happened very fast. A guard came into my cell, tossed this uniform at me, and told me to put it on and follow him. I obeyed. He led me right past the guards, out of the prison and to the alley opposite this house, where the rest were waiting. They all had been similarly led out of the prison. When I turned to thank him, he was gone. Hastings took charge, leading us up to the door, and here we are."
"Who was the soldier who rescued you?"
"He didn't say, except that he was a 'friend'. And a demmed good one, I say."
A friend. Who were these "friends", who would risk their lives to rescue his men? Although Sir Percy was grateful to them, he would feel much more comfortable with the situation if he knew who they were. Confusion and uncertainty were two feelings he was not accustomed to.
"We will leave immediately," he said, addressing the entire League, together once more. "We need to get you fellows out of France before they discover your escape."
And when they all returned to London, the Guild was waiting to welcome them home.

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