The silence that filled the room was deafening. No one made a sound for what seemed like an eternity. All the while, Laurel’s head was spinning. Her cousins, Tony and Miles were both League members. She should have known that something was wrong. She mentally cursed her thoughtlessness.
The sound of Lady Hastings’ voice startled her out of her reflections.
"Those who want to help attempt a rescue should return tomorrow afternoon. Anyone wishing to stay here and see to it that the remaining League members are kept safe can come with me."
Lady Hastings silently left the room and more than half of the grim-faced Guilders followed.
Laurel and the rest of those remaining sat in uneasy silence until someone finally had the sense to get up and leave. The rest followed shortly after. For the moment, the most helpful thing they could do was rest so that they would be as alert as possible the next day.
Julianna had been on the deck since sunrise waiting to disembark. Now it was mid-afternoon and she was finally stepping onto dry land and more importantly, the shores of England. She breathed in, wanting to savor the moment, but then began coughing as the very distinct odors of fish, salt, smoke, and unwashed bodies met her nose. The pier was crowded with dirty people in tattered clothing who were scurrying about like a colony of ants. It was not exactly what she had thought her first view of England would be, but at least she was finally here.
She picked up her trunk and balanced it on her shoulder with the rest of her arm curled around it and her hand resting on top. Over her shoulder she slung her two bags.
‘I probably look like a sailor,’ she thought wryly. ‘Oh well, that can’t really be helped.’
As she maneuvered confidently through the throng of people, Julianna knew that they were staring at her. She also didn’t care. She’d been stared at often enough before. True it had been for totally different reasons but staring was staring.
‘Honestly, it’s as if they’ve never seen a woman who's not too delicate to do things for herself. Now I understand why the colonies rebelled.’
As she walked further away from the pier, the stench of fish left the air.
‘This is more like it. The neat rows of townhouses, the contented people, the children merrily walking home from school, the elegant carriages just like that one that’s about to RUN ME OVER?!'
Laurel was running incredibly late, so she had urged the driver to be a quick as possible. Suddenly, when things were going almost well, the carriage lurched to a halt.
There was a bit of a commotion outside so she jumped down out of the coach to investigate.
Sprawled out right in front of the carriage was a young woman who couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen years old. Beside her was an overturned trunk plus two large carpetbags with odds and ends spilling out of them. That certainly explained the sudden stop.
"Are you all right?" Laurel asked.
"Yes, fine," the young woman replied as she started to get up.
Without warning she cried out and clutched her ankle.
"What-?" Lauren began.
"It’s nothing. Just a sprain, I think."
"Should I get you to a doctor?" Laurel suggested.
"No!" was the vehement reply, then more subdued, "No. I’ll be fine."
"At least let me take you home," Laurel offered.
"I would, but I just got here and this is my first time in England."
"Do you have relatives here?"
She shook her head and Laurel sighed. "Well, I suppose you’ll have to come with me then."
"I insist."
"Well, all right."
‘I am so good! What a performance! I really should have pursued a career on the stage!’
Things had worked out even better than Julianna herself could have planned. Her lodging problems for the time being at least, were over. True she wouldn’t be able to enjoy them as much if she was faking an injury, but at least there would be a roof over her head.
"So," the Englishwoman began, "what is your name?"
"Julianna Meredy," Julianna replied. It almost didn’t hurt to say it anymore. "Et t-.. I mean and you?"
‘That was smooth! Just blow your cover before you’re even back in Europe for an hour!’
"Laurel Pawlak."
"Pawlak? That doesn’t sound English," Julianna frowned.
"It’s not. My father was Polish," Laurel replied.
"So if you don’t have family here, what brings you to England?" Laurel inquired.
"I was born and raised in America," Julianna lied fluently. "Things have gotten rather...dull there, so I packed my bags and decided that everyone ought to see Europe at least once. So here I am."
‘Please believe it, please believe it, please believe it.’
"I take it your first impression of our lovely country was not quite what you expected?"
"Actually, it’s not THAT different from the States," Julianna commented.
"Really?" Laurel asked with interest.
"It’s just a lot more...crowded here."
"Oh," Laurel said. They were both silent until the carriage halted and Laurel broke the silence. "You will excuse me for a moment, won’t you?"
"Yes, of course," Julianna consented.
Laurel stepped out of the carriage and made her way hurriedly up Lady Hastings’ front walk. She knocked on the door and it was answered by a maid who recognized her and escorted her inside to where Lady Hastings’ and some other Guilders waited.
"Lady Hastings, may I speak to you for a moment in private please?" Laurel asked immediately.
Eliza gave her an odd look but quickly excused herself from the other Guilders.
"Well?" she asked once they were out in the hall.
"A rather strange thing happened to me on my way here," Laurel began. "I almost ran over an American visiting Europe."
"You mean ‘ran into,’ don’t you?" Lady Hastings corrected.
"Not really. I literally almost ran over her and since she didn’t know anyone here, IÖ well, I said I’d take her in."
"Where is she now?" Lady Hastings asked as she began to see where this was going.
"In the carriage. I thought during the meeting we could just leave her in one of your upstairs lounges. Since she has some sort of foot injury, she wouldn’t even be able to be anywhere near the meeting." "I suppose it couldn’t hurt," Lady Hastings sighed.
‘What’s taking so long?’ Julianna wondered impatiently. ‘Maybe she knows! What will she do?! What will I do?! No. Calm down. How could she know? Besides, even if she does know, I can handle it. Remember your philosophy. No matter what the cost, save your own skin. Heartless? Yes. Necessary? Yes, yes, yes. C’est la vie, Julienne, that’s the way things are and you can change it. You of all people should know that.’
"Terribly sorry about the wait," came the voice of her new English "friend."
"Think nothing of it," Julianna said absently.
"Right now we’re at the Hastings’ manor," Laurel began. "I have some business to attends to with Lady Hastings, but she’s agreed to let you stay in one of her lounges until she and I are through."
"This ‘Lady Hastings’ sounds very kind," Julianna commented.
‘And very suspicious.’
"She is," Laurel agreed, her face aglow with admiration which Julianna recognized immediately. She had seen that look on another very different face not so long ago.
'But why all that esteem? There is definitely more to her than meets the eye. I suppose I should probably investigate.’
"I should very much like to meet her," Julianna responded.
"Well, you shall," Laurel said. "Lean on me and you’ll be fine."
"All right," Julianna replied with a perfectly feigned grimace of pain. They made their way to the house with Julianna propped against the young Englishwoman and praying that her limp looked genuine. Once inside, they were met by a woman who Julianna assumed had to be Lady Hastings.
"Enchan-ÖPleased to meet you," Julianna greeted her.
‘Demmit, girl, what’s happening to you? You’ve got to be on guard. Stop slipping!’
"So you are the young lady who Miss Pawlak ‘ran into,’" the Lady said.
"There is a room upstairs you can stay in until Miss Pawlak is ready to take her leave. Shall I take you there?"
"Yes, please," Julianna answered with a pained look. Then, supported by the two women, she limped up the stairs and into a richly furnished room with huge windows. She sank onto a couch, marveling at how good it felt when compared to her accommodations on the ship.
‘Just like old days.’
"Is there anything we can get you?"
"No, thank you," Julianna replied. "I am quite tired and would be perfectly content to stay here undisturbed and rest."
"Very well," Lady Hastings consented. "If you do need anything though, just pull that cord and a servant will come."
Julianna barely stopped herself from saying "Merci beaucoup."
"Thank you ever so much. I am very grateful."
The two Englishwomen nodded and left.
‘I never knew the English were so gullible. Ah well, all the better for me.’
She stood up and stretched. Pretending to be injured took more out of her than she’d thought it would. She waited a few moments and then silently opened the door and slipped out. It took a while to find them, but what surprised Julianna more was that they were accompanied by at least ten other voices. She pressed her ear top the door and listened.
"-Are you mad?" an unknown voice was saying.
"It is our only possible chance tot get to the League in time," Julianna recognized the voice as Lady Hastings’.
‘What is this "League"?’
"I still say it is madness," that voice persisted. "We’d be fools-"
"Not to try," Laurel cut in. "You knew very well that there would be risks from the moment you joined the Violet Guild and yet, like all of us, you vowed to do everything in your power to make sure that the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is successful in all attempts to rescue aristocrats from that cursed revolution in France. Was your promise empty, because I know mine wasn’t. I wholeheartedly agree with Lady Hastings on this one. No matter what the risks, I for one won’t stop trying until I’m successful or I die, whichever comes first."
This speech was met with applause.
‘Well, well, well, so that’s what this is about. I underestimated you, Laurel Pawlak. You’re a much better person than I’d thought. I’m following you on this one to see exactly how this Guild of yours works.’
"We are all agreed then?" Lady Hastings spoke up over the last of the cheers. Julianna supposed they were all nodding their heads.
"Very well. We set out for France separately tomorrow."
By this time Julianna thought it would be wise to make her exit. She ran lightly through the hallway and up the stairs back to her room. Carefully smoothing her clothes and hair, she lay down on the couch and closed her eyes. A few moments later, the door opened.
‘Who could it be? Perhaps Lady Hastings, leader of the Violet Guild and loyal Guilder, Laurel Pawlak?’
A hand touched her shoulder. "Miss Meredy?" She rolled over and opened her eyes trying her best to look rather dazed and confused.
"We’re leaving," Laurel continued.
"Oh," Julianna said. "All right." She was once again supported by Laurel and Lady Hastings until she was settled on the carriage seat. The trip went by very quickly and the next thing she knew, Julianna was being escorted into a beautiful house. No, a beautiful mansion. Once inside, she was even more enchanted. It was richly furnished but still had a homey, lived in feeling about it.
‘Now this is the type of place I could live in for the rest of my life. It’s a shame I have to leave tomorrow. I suppose it will be worth it to see this "Violet Guild" in action.’
Laurel didn’t sleep at all that night and her stomach was in knots. A little before sunrise, she decided that since she was awake, she might as well get up. She quickly dressed in costume then went down into the kitchen to purloin a bit of fruit for breakfast which she ate as she went to make sure everything she had put in the carriage the night before was in order. It was, of course, so she went to see if Jacques was up yet. His sister lived in Paris, so he was always willing to make a trip there.
She found him in the kitchen doing the exact same thing she had been doing a moment ago. He finished eating and they left silently so as not to wake anyone. Once they were in the stables, Laurel breathed a little easier.
"Are you ready?" Jacques asked.
"Yes," she replied.
‘At least, as ready as I’ll ever be.’
~*~ Julianna was glad she was an early riser. If she had slept in, she would have missed Laurel’s departure all together. Lucky for her the poor girl knew nothing about sneaking around. That was one thing that out of necessity, Julianna had become very adept at. She never would have suspected that she would use this particular talent to sneak INTO France.
The whole situation was marvelously funny and she would have burst out laughing if at that very moment she had not been crouching in the back of Laurel’s carriage.
‘I just hope that she doesn’t look back here. That would be frightfully hard to explain.’
They bounced along for a few hours before stopping. Neither Laurel nor the driver got out.
‘Must be taking the ferry over the Channel,’ Julianna decided.
After a bit the carriage started up again.
‘Well, Julienne, here you are back in France, back hereÖ in FranceÖ with the FrenchÖ where they speak French.. where you were bornÖ hereÖ in FranceÖyour homeland. Great.’
Laurel’s legs were stiff by the time they finally reached the outskirts of Paris. She was glad she had thought to get in costume before leaving; it would have been too much of a hassle to do it now. She smoothed her tattered skirt and pulled her shawl around her shoulders. Jacques walked around to let her out.
"Good luck, your ladyship," he said.
"Merci, Jacques," she smiled. "You’ll be waiting here at midnight?"
"Very well. Do tell your sister I send my greetings when you get there, won’t you?" Laurel asked pleasantly. He nodded and they parted ways.
‘They’re gone!’ Julianna slowly unfolded her legs and winced. ‘This is definitely not the best way to travel.’
She climbed out and stretched her limbs for the first time in hours.
"Ow," she groaned, "Mon jambe!"
As soon as her arms and legs had lost some of their stiffness, she got on the road and made her way toward Paris.
Laurel made her way through the crowded streets of Paris with determination. She hadn’t even been stopped at the gate when she had come in. She hadn’t run into a single guard yet either which would have made her nervous if she had had space in her mind for more than thoughts of her cousins.
After a moment she ducked into the alley where she was to meet the other Guild members.
As Julianna walked through the streets, every muscle was tight with wariness and delight. Wariness because she was surrounded by her countrymen and delight because she was surrounded by her countrymen. The sound of French speech met her ears.
‘French! Wonderful, beautiful, glorious French! Not English, but pure, good, wholesome French!’
At that moment, she bumped into a surly young man who began to swear fluently at her in French. She returned the favor with a broad grin.
‘Now this is the way things are supposed to be.’
She began to scan the streets for signs of Laurel and spotted her ducking into an alley.
‘Ah, there you are. Whatever are you doing? No matter, I’ll know soon enough.’
Laurel’s eyes adjusted to the dim light of the alley. She knew immediately that something was wrong.
That was her only coherent thought before she was knocked unconscious.
"Is that the last of them?" Chauvelin asked.
"I believe so," the soldier answered.
"Good. Take her to the prison with the others."
‘Problem. PROBLEM. Oh problem. SUPREME PROBLEM!’
Julianna leaned against the wall and closed her eyes.
‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Why me? Come on, Julienne, you can walk away. You aren’t involved yet. Just walk away, you idiot. WALK AWAY! No, I can’t walk away. These people are risking their lives, they deserve my help. I have to help them, but I can’t help them. Damn. Why is it that I always have moral dilemmas when I’m in Paris?’
She sighed and rubbed her temples.
‘It’s going to be a long day.’
Laurel came to with her hands and feet tied. She opened her eyes and looked around the dimly litÖ cell?
"Is that you, Miles?" Laurel croaked.
"It is," he replied.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"I’m not exactly sure," Miles responded. "If it helps, I know we’re in a prison."
"Thank you, Mr. Information," Laurel said dryly.
"Speaking of information, Laurel, I’d like some. What the devil are you doing here?"
Laurel sighed. "It all started with Lady Hastings, she’s the one who founded the Violet GuildÖ"
Julianna figured there had to be at least a dozen soldiers guarding the prison.
‘There is no way I can get past them. It’s a shame I don’t have a dozen soldiers on my side to even the odds. Wait a second!’
A plan was beginning to form in her brain.
‘Maybe this will work.’
"Öand that’s pretty much it," Laurel concluded.
"We’re lucky to have the Violet Guild to back us up," Miles commented.
Laurel nodded. "We’ve always succeeded beforeÖ"
"Then there’s still a chance that you’ll succeed this time."
"I hope you’re right, cousin. I sincerely hope you’re right."
Julianna ran breathlessly up to the group of off-duty soldiers.
"Please, messieurs! You must help me!"
"What are you talking about, girl?" one asked.
"The Scarlet Pimpernel," she panted. "he and his League, theyÖ they took the soldiers’ uniformsÖ they’re going to escape!"
"What?!" the same one thundered. "We have to get them!"
Before they ran off and ruined her plan, Julianna stopped them. "You should change out of your uniforms or else you’ll mistake each other for them."
"Good point," he acknowledged, "but if we wait to change, they’ll get away."
"If I had the keys to the prison, I could probably hold them off until you got there," Julianna offered.
The soldier handed the keys to her. "France is in your debt, citoyenne."
With a polite nod of her head, she ran off toward the prison.
‘What gullible little fools! Now for phase two.’
Julianna unlocked the prison door and slipped inside. All of the prisoners had been gathered together for questioning.
‘How lucky for me. This will make things much easier.’
All of the soldiers and captives were in the same room; it was absolutely ideal!
"I ask you once more, where is the Scarlet Pimpernel," one of the soldiers asked.
‘Here goes nothing!’
"I am here," she thundered in a deep British accent.
"I will surrender myself to you, but you must let them go. They were merely my tools. I am the one you want. There was silence for a moment, so she continued. "If you come outside, I will give myself up in front of all of Paris."
"Very well, Pimpernel," the soldier agreed. She heard the sound of footsteps and ducked into the shadows.
‘Please, God, let this work! Let me have timed this right!’
From outside, there was a sound of swords clashing and gunshots. It had worked! Each group of soldiers thought that the other was the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
‘No time for gloating now, girl. There’s still work to be done.’
She took the dagger out of her pocket and crept into the cell where the captives were located.
‘Damn! There’s still a soldier with them. Well, you can’t have everything all of the time.’
"A girl’s work is never done," she muttered as she proceeded to stab the unsuspecting man in the throat.
"What on earth-" Lady Hastings began.
"Well," Julianna said good-naturedly, "fancy meeting you here!"
"Miss Meredy?!" Laurel squeaked.
"The one and only." Julianna bowed dramatically. "Now why don’t I remove those horrid ropes, what?" She wiped the blood off of her dagger and cut the binding which trussed each prisoner. After that, she escorted them out the back door.
Later that day, Julianna was crossing the Channel along with all of the Guild and League members she had rescued.
"What I would like to know," Laurel was saying, "is how you managed to think of such a cunning plan.
"’Twas nothing," Julianna yawned. "Just good old American ingenuity."
‘Well, not quite...'

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