The room was quiet. The china teacup lay in shards on the floor, the dark amber liquid framing the pieces. Her hands still trembled wildly and she clenched them into fists in an unsuccessful attempt to stop them. She sank onto the couch, staring into the fire through unseeing emerald eyes. The fire blazed up, its flames screaming curses at her. Why, oh why had it happened? Why, on this winter night in Paris, had her entire world been shattered? There could be no answer in the future. It was only by going into the gaping mouth of the past that her redemption could be found.

******August, 1792******

Isabelle hid deep within the shadows of Notre Dame. She slipped into the confessional, clutching the slip of paper tightly in her hand. She glanced up into the faceless form of the priest. He spoke in tones so low she could hardly hear him.

"I almost gave up on you. What happened?"

Isabelle leaned forward, her voice equally low. "I couldn't leave any sooner without attracting attention. Chauvelin is suspicious of everyone now, even me. He would have had me followed."

"I'm not surprised. Chauvelin would suspect his own shadow if it served his purpose." He had raised his voice and Isabelle suddenly realized who she was speaking to. Her hand clapped over her mouth and she stood up, hoping to dash out of the confessional with a little bit of time to spare. Instead, the first thing she saw was a Revolutionary soldier pointing a bayonet straight at her. Isabelle straightened up, leaning against the confessional. The pistol was hidden in the folds of her cloak but she did have a knife in her sleeve. Too late. Chauvelin stepped from the other end of the confessional.

"What on earth is the meaning of this?" She somehow managed to keep her voice from trembling. It echoed across the cathedral, sounding surprisingly regal. Chauvelin remained unaffected.

"My dear girl, you just gave yourself away in there. You thought you were speaking to the Pimpernel. Tell me where he is."

"I obviously don't know, considering you were in his place." Isabelle spit the words at him. She could tell Chauvelin's temper was reaching a boil.

"Answer me, Isabelle, and you will go free. If not, I will be forced to send you to the tribunal." Isabelle swallowed her fear. They couldn't dare try her for treason; she was not a citizen of France. Chauvelin caught her glance. "Don't think your nationality will save you either, ma chere. We will just apologize for an accidental deed."

Isabelle refused to answer. Chauvelin motioned to the guards and they dragged her away. The only thought running through her head was that it was not the Pimpernel she had received a letter from. It had been a member of the Guild.

Instead of the rather lightly guarded La Force, Chauvelin had Isabelle placed in a dungeon at the Temple Prison. She paced back and forth across the room, trying to figure out how on earth this sort of thing could have happened. She thought out loud, keeping her voice as low as possible.

"The letter itself was from Lady Hastings; it had to have been intercepted or . . .perhaps the messenger was a spy? No, it couldn't have been that." Isabelle sank onto the hard cot at the corner of her cell, closing her eyes. Just the day before, she had met Tony at the now-open Versailles gardens for a much-needed interlude from the Revolution. Now, here she was in the Temple Prison, the worst of all the Paris prisons since the Bastille.

The door opened and Chauvelin brought in a young boy. Isabelle stared curiously at the child and Chauvelin gave her a smile that could only be described as evil. "My dear, I shall offer you an ultimatum. Either you tell me the Pimpernel's whereabouts or you watch this child die before your eyes. He was due to be executed tomorrow; one day will not matter."

Isabelle staggered to her feet and stared Chauvelin in the eye, her own eyes blazing green fire. "For God's sake, Chauvelin, it's me you want, not the boy. He has done nothing!"

"Tell me the Pimpernel's whereabouts and I shall set him free, Isabelle. His future is in your hands." Chauvelin's hand ran down the velvety softness of the boy's cheek. The child's face was white as marble; his pale blue eyes fixed on Isabelle with a look of utter terror. "Would you condemn such a little angel, my dear? Could you possibly go on living, knowing his death was on your head?"

Isabelle closed her eyes and held out her hand for the child. "Thirty-six Rue Voltaire." The tears spilled out and ran silently down her cheeks. "Thirty-six, Rue Voltaire, I said. Now give him to me." She opened her eyes. "Give him to me!"

Chauvelin shook his head. "You are such a trusting fool, ma chere. The boy dies as scheduled and you go before the tribunal tomorrow. Don't worry, you will be seeing one another soon enough."

Isabelle sank to her knees. "At least let him stay here with me . . .until tomorrow." The child twisted away from Chauvelin's loosened grip and buried his face in Isabelle's shoulder. "I beg you, Chauvelin, if you have any semblance of a heart . . ."

"I lost my heart years ago, Isabelle. But the boy may stay with you." He turned to leave, then glanced back at her, smiling. "I daresay you will die from the same tumbril as the Pimpernel and his League." Isabelle clutched the child tighter, trying not to hear the monotonous sentence.

The little boy whimpered.

"Madame, please." She loosened her grip as Chauvelin let the cell door slam behind him. The boy looked at her. "It won't hurt, will it?"

Isabelle's voice was barely more than a gasp. "What won't hurt?"

"The Guillotine. Mama and Papa went yesterday so I will be seeing them . . .but I'm so very scared." Isabelle pulled herself back onto the cot and held the boy on her lap.

"I'm scared too, little one, but not for the same reason." Tony's face filled her mind and Isabelle felt a new wave of tears preparing to course down her face. No, she had to be brave for the child's sake.

Softly, she sang a lullaby and soon enough, the boy's steady breathing told her he was asleep. Isabelle lay him against the pillow and stared into his face.

"Oh God, how did it come to this? How did such a noble cause lead to the butchery of innocents?" She stood and walked to where the tiny window left a patch of moonlight on the stone floor. Isabelle sank to her knees. "Forgive me, please . . .forgive me." She wasn't sure whether she asked God's forgiveness or Tony's.

The mood filling the courtroom could only be described as bitter. Though many loved to watch the falling stars of the aristocracy, enjoyment could only be found by the coldest of hearts. The woman led before them was no more than a lost soul, pale and wan, not caring if the sentence was life or death. Of course it would be death; tribunals never ended otherwise.

She watched dully as Citizen Chauvelin extolled her betrayal of the sainted Republic by consorting with the Scarlet Pimpernel. *What does it matter now? Death could not come too soon.* Isabelle's temper suddenly flared. "Why must you even bother with this travesty, Chauvelin? Just send me to the Guillotine and be damned!"

The crowd hushed and Chauvelin turned to her, a smile forming on his thin lips. "Why such passion, my dear? I see no need to do away with you just yet. Perhaps we can work out a sort of . . .arrangement."

"Not to save my soul." She spoke loud enough to let her voice echo across the room. Chauvelin's face paled with rage.

"The Pimpernel was not at the Rue Voltaire last night, nor was he this morning. You lied quite convincingly, ma chere. I was impressed, especially by those well-acted tears this morning."

The very memory of that morning brought the tears pricking at the back of her eyes. He knew all too well how to wound with words. "There was no pretense in those, Chauvelin. I cried not only for the death of a child but for the death of a dream."

"Enough of this nonsense! Where is the Pimpernel?"

Isabelle smiled mockingly. "Give me one reason why I should tell you."

Chauvelin's temper faded suddenly. He leaned close to her. "Because your fiance has just been arrested under the name of the Scarlet Pimpernel. We both know he is only a member of the League but nobody else will believe me. His life hangs on a thread. I would not be the one to let it snap."

*Tony . . .here? No, of course he's lying.* Isabelle laughed harshly. "What sort of fool do you take me for, Chauvelin, that I would believe your lies for the second time?"

Chauvelin addressed the tribunal. "I suggest we continue this trial tomorrow. There is some new 'evidence' we must procure." He ignored the groans of disappointment from the more bloodthirsty spectators and dragged Isabelle from the room.

They returned to the Temple Prison but not to her cell. Instead, he led her deeper, into the very bowels of the earth where prisoners were left to die in torturous solitude. Isabelle shuddered, closing her eyes.

*Tell me he isn't here, tell me this is all a nightmare, please!*

The cell whose door he opened had one tiny slit for a window. The prisoner stood with his face pressed against it, taking deep gasps of the outside air. Isabelle drew in a breath loud enough for him to hear.

He turned . . .and her eyes widened. The first coherent thought in her head was *Thank God! He did not guess the truth.*

Chauvelin smiled and shut the door behind him. Isabelle moved forward, holding out her hand to Martin Derjeux, a man she had trusted with her very life on several occasions. He had acted as a messenger between Isabelle and both the League and the Guild . . .

"Isabelle, it wasn't your fault." She raised her head at the sound of his voice. "I was careless, I said too much."

"What did they do to you?" Her voice trembled with suppressed fury.

"Nothing too terrible. The matter was beyond my control."

*Beyond my control . . .why does that phrase ring a bell?* Isabelle frowned, trying desperately to recall where she had heard it. Then, it came to her. The note that she had received, asking her to come to the confessional in Notre Dame had mentioned a matter 'beyond my control'. The signature on the note was nearly illegible but the writing style was significantly different from any she had read before. Martin was saying something and Isabelle raised her head. "What?"

"Chauvelin plans to let you go. I heard him say so. But be careful, he will follow you closely."

Isabelle nodded numbly and turned, leaving the cell behind.

******August, 1793*******

Isabelle raised her eyes from the fire and regarded Lady Hastings. "I know who betrayed us."

The heat in Paris was stifling. Isabelle waited in the foyer of the building housing the Committee of Public Safety. Chauvelin's face caught her eye and she motioned for him to come near. She greeted him with a mocking smile.

"How much did you pay Martin Derjeux to betray me, Chauvelin?"

Chauvelin raised an eyebrow, eyes shining with reluctant admiration.

"A businessman never reveals his methods. I trust you will understand."

"Oh, I understand all too well. That is why you will find a rather unpleasant surprise waiting for you when you return home." He started and Isabelle laughed dryly. "Oh, I don't want to spoil it. Adieu, Chauvelin."

She melted back into the crowd, fingering the green vial hidden in her purse. In Florence they had called it "les larmes du Diable", tears of the devil. Martin's tears would be far less potent than these.

******************************

"And that was the end." Isabelle fell back against the tree, closing her eyes. "I had harbored the traitor myself, so it was as though I had betrayed the League."

Tony whistled through his teeth. "Thank God we moved from the Rue Voltaire. It was a thankful coincidence, Isabelle, that Percy decided to keep us in Montmartre instead. When I think of what might have happened . . ."

"Don't think about it, not ever!" The words spilled from her mouth as she grabbed his arm. "I beg you, don't remind me of what a fool I have been."

"We've all been foolish, Isabelle. Not even Percy is perfect. Had he been, we would have had you out of the Temple along with that boy and left Martin in your place. Please, don't live in the past. Let it die; we don't need it."


Return to the main Archives page
Mail the author!