+~Life's Just Begun~+
Chapter One: The Handkerchief
"O God, our help in ages past . . ."
Isabella dutifully, if softly, sang the words of the hymn with the
rest of the congregation. She was quickly learning the customs of these
English worship services, so different from those she had attended as a
child, before the Republic had emerged to abolish Christianity. Indeed,
she was becoming more and more English every day . . . and she
considered that extremely favorable. The excesses of the Revolution had
made her ashamed of her French heritage; France was not what she
was. She was not something to be proud of anymore.
". . . Thy saints have dwelt secure . . ."
Her seat in the back was advantageous, for she could see almost
everything and everyone. Isabella was an observer. She did not mind
sitting in the back of the sanctuary with the rest of the common people;
it made it easier to watch people.
Looking then at the lords and ladies in the front, Isabella saw many
familiar faces: Lord and Lady Hastings, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes and his wife
Suzanne, Lord Tony Dewhurst, nearly all the members of the League could
be seen amongst the high-born crowd. She also saw many fellow Guild
members, not only among the elite, but in the back with the plebian
crowd as well. And far away from her, nearly on the very front bench,
she saw Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife Marguerite, undoubtedly the most
elite among the congregation. She allowed her eyes to rest on him
unconsciously in admiration. Such a brave man . . .
"Be Thou our guard while life shall last, And our eternal home."
The hymn came to a close, and Isabella silently received the
benediction before preparing to leave. As she stepped into the aisle,
her handkerchief dropped from her hand and floated down to the
floor. Embarrassed, she stooped to retrieve it. Before she could reach
it, however, another hand closed over it. Following it up, she found
herself face to face with a handsome young man, obviously an
aristocrat. She stood up nervously and curtsied to him as elegantly and
she could, not daring to speak.
"I believe this belongs to you, miss," the young man said with a
smile. Finding her voice at last, Isabella replied,
"Thank you, sir."
She did not know what to call him, and she dared not ask. She could
not trust herself to say any more than that. The two stood for a moment
in uncomfortable silence.
Isabella, you dolt, she thought, why are you still standing here? He
must think you ill-bred and presumptuous!
The young man broke the silence.
"I'm sorry, I haven't yet introduced
myself. I am Sir James Whitsfield. What is your name, miss?" he asked
with a friendly smile.
"Mademoiselle Isabella de Roche, my lord," she answered with another
"You are French, then?"
Isabella sighed sadly. "Yes, my lord."
"You do not sound very happy about that fact, mademoiselle," Sir
"If my lord would remember what France represents in these days, he
might understand why I am not proud to be considered French," Isabella
said, unaware of the bitter tone that had crept into her voice.
"Yes, mademoiselle. I see." Sir James decided it was best not to
bring up the subject again. He was pleasantly surprised at the girl's
intelligence. And for some strange reason, he could not seem to stop
looking at her face . . .
They stepped outside and watched the
congregation disperse. Isabella was too shy to speak to Sir James, but
still she did not want to leave this young man's charming presence . . .
"Do you have an escort home, mademoiselle?" he suddenly
asked. Isabella was more than surprised.
"I usually walk, my lord. It is not far."
"I would be honored if you would share my coach."
"It is not proper, my lord! My position is nowhere near your social
class. It would not be fitting for you to share your coach with a
plebian such as I," Isabella replied in shock.
And yet I want to so much . . . anything to be with him a little
while longer . . .
"Nonsense, mademoiselle. I insist. You cannot possibly think of
walking home - it is so cold today."
"But, my lord, it would not be right for you to admit a young lady to
your coach unaccompanied," Isabella reluctantly said.
"Alas, mademoiselle, you have no need for fear! My sister will
accompany us, so you will have a chaperone," he replied, almost
sadly. "So you see, you have run out of protests! You must share my
coach now, unless you would rather not?"
He looked at Isabella
"As you say, my lord."
Isabella, on her part, was quite happy with
the way the situation had turned out. It was rather cold today . . . and
she could spend a few more minutes with Sir James if she shared his
coach. She felt a strange attraction to him . . .
"Ah, there she is! Anne, you must meet Mademoiselle Isabella de
Roche. I have invited her to share our coach to take her home, as she
must walk otherwise," Sir James exclaimed as a slight young woman
approached. It seemed as though breathing took all the strength she
"Good afternoon, mademoiselle," she said softly, then pursed her lips
together. She said not a word to Isabella the rest of the afternoon.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Thank you for sharing your coach with me, my lord," Isabella said as
Sir Jams helped her down in front of the small townhouse that one of the
League members had provided for her when she was brought to England. It
was small, yes, only a few rooms where she and her friend Angele lived,
but it was another thing she was grateful to the Scarlet Pimpernel for -
one of the very reasons she joined the Guild.
"Not at all, mademoiselle. It was a pleasure - for both of us," Sir
James said quickly, glancing back at Anne. "I hope to see you again
soon. Will you, perhaps, be at Lord Hastings' ball next Thursday?" he
Isabella was astonished. He wished to see her again! Somehow she felt
this was not common politeness on his part . . .
"Yes, my lord, I will."
All the members of the Guild and League had
been invited, even those outside of the aristocracy. "Will I see you
"Most definitely, mademoiselle," he said softly, bending low to kiss
her hand, as if she were a lady. "Most definitely. Goodbye,
"Goodbye, my lord," she managed to say. She stood there, in front of
the townhouse, watching the coach drive away, then went in, meeting
Angele in the front hall.
"Cherie, what is wrong?" Angele asked, confused at the strange look
on Isabella's face.
Isabella sighed. "He is an extraordinary man, Angele . . ."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Sir James and his sister rode along in silence. Finally Anne spoke
"What were you thinking, James?" she asked quietly, in exasperation.
"What do you mean, Anne?"
"Inviting a common girl to share our coach. People will talk, James!"
Sir James sighed. Anne was a sweet girl, but she always was too
worried about appearances. "The girl is charming, Anne. Quite charming,"
he added with a little smile. "I see no disgrace in inviting her to
share our coach. We have more than enough room, and she would have had
to walk if I had not. You know how cold it is today. You might even call
it an act of charity."
Now it was Anne's turn to sigh. "It just isn't proper, James."
Sir James hadn't heard. His thoughts had wandered to the other girl
that had spoken those words, and her enchanting brown eyes . . .
Chapter 2: Caught in the Middle
Mlle. de Roche,
I would like to request your company tomorrow afternoon at three
o'clock at the Hastings home. Please be prompt.
The note was sealed with a little flower - a violet.
Isabella understood the note immediately. It was a Guild meeting, and
it was urgent. She looked around to make sure she was alone, and quickly
tossed the note into the fireplace and watched to make sure it burned
without leaving a trace. Something was seriously wrong . . .
She arrived at the house five minutes early the next day. She met the
Hastings' butler at the door.
"Bonjour, Richard," she said.
"Good afternoon, mademoiselle. I assume you know the way?"
"Yes, thank you. Don't trouble yourself - I'll go back alone."
She made her way to the parlor and took her accustomed seat in the
back. The room was full of nervous chatter. Presently Lady Hastings
stood, and the room instantly fell silent.
"My friends, we have an emergency on our hands," she began. "The
Comte de Boulete has unexpectedly been arrested in Paris. In a matter of
days, he will be sentenced to the guillotine. The League was not
expecting this; they had planned to get the Comte out of France sometime
next month. Therefore, with Lord Hastings' consent, the Pimpernel has
called an emergency League meeting to take place during our ball
tomorrow night, since all available League members will be
present. However, such a thing is not easy to hide at a crowded social
function. We must make sure this meeting goes undetected and
undisturbed. We know not what spies and informers of the Revolutionary
Government may be about, and so we can trust no one but ourselves, I am
afraid. Even a friend might be a French spy in disguise."
Lady Hastings began to give out assignments to various Guild members
- where to stand, what areas to patrol, and so forth. Isabella vaguely
wondered what her assignment would be, and whether or not she would be
able to see Sir James Whitsfield at the ball after all. Would her
assignment prevent her from doing so? Could she even trust Sir James? He
might be a spy as well, masquerading as an English lord. She saw his
face in her mind, and wondered whether that might be the face of a
traitor or revolutionary.
Pull yourself together! she told herself. You can't go through life
suspecting everyone you meet of ulterior motives. Still . . . it doesn't
pay to be careless . . .
"Mlle. de Roche," she heard Lady Hastings say, "you will act as
lookout in the hall directly opposite the stairs. From there you should
have an unobstructed view of the staircase. As the meeting is to take
place in my lord Timothy's study upstairs, anyone wishing to interrupt
or investigate that meeting then must pass you. As a signal to us all
that the meeting has begun, Timothy will go up last of all. After he
goes up to the study, you must not let anyone else ascend the stairs
until they all come back down, by ones or twos so as not to arouse any
Isabella nodded in reply. Lady Hastings then lowered her voice and
spoke more urgently.
"Isabella, you are the last of us anyone must pass to get to that
meeting. You must use any means necessary to prevent them from reaching
the study. You may have to use violence." She looked hard at Isabella in
concern. "Are you sure you can do this? If you would rather not take
this assignment, I can assign one of the men to take your place, or even
to accompany you. You don't have to do it alone."
Isabella sighed thoughtfully. It certainly would be nice not to have
to worry about carrying such a large responsibility. With a smaller
assignment she might have more time to spend with Sir James. But what
about next time? The next time she was given a big assignment, she might
not have such a cushion to fall back upon. To give this up would only be
to delay the inevitable. Sooner or later she would have to take on a
heavy responsibility such as this.
Lady Hastings trusted her. That was evident; if not, she wouldn't
have given Isabella such a large assignment in the first place. For some
reason, Isabella felt that if she shirked her duty now, she would lose
that trust. Or was it her self-respect that she would lose? Either way,
she knew what her answer must be.
"Lady Hastings, you have trusted me with this assignment. To decline
it would be to deny your authority as our leader. If you trust me this
much, I must accept it and do what I can."
Lady Hastings smiled a bit uncertainly. "All right, Isabella, if
you're sure. Now," she said, addressing the group, "you all have your
instructions. Remember to be discreet and inconspicuous. No one must
know that we are preventing people from reaching the study. I need not
tell you that secrecy is important with League members as well. When
they start to move, you can move to your positions, but do not let them
know what you are doing. Move slowly; act nonchalant. And trust no one."
Isabella looked around the room. Every face was stricken with worry,
and for once, no one spoke a word as the meeting came to a close.
Isabella absentmindedly bid farewell to Lady Hastings and left the
house. Her mind was full of musings and unanswered questions. Vaguely
she noticed that the meeting had run longer than she first thought. The
winter day was already growing dark; she guessed it to be about
four-thirty. And like the day, Isabella's mood was growing darker.
"Trust no one," Lady Hastings had said. No one meant Sir James as
well. How ironic; she finally met an Englishman outside of the Guild who
she felt she could trust, and the next thing she knew she was told not
to trust him. Can anyone in this world be trusted anymore? she
wondered. Sir James did not seem to be the traitorous kind; but, then
again, the best spies don't seem to be spies at all. Her heart wanted so
much to trust him, and yet her brain warned her to be cautious of him.
She let herself in the door of the townhouse and wearily collapsed on
the couch in the sitting room.
When did everything get so complicated? she asked herself, as she
began to sob in frustration.
It's Only Love
"Cherie, you are beautiful!"
Isabella turned from the mirror to see Angele in the doorway, smiling
appreciatively. She turned back to the mirror and took another look.
She was dressed in her very finest, a pale violet gown with delicate
embroidery on the bodice and full skirts enhanced by thick petticoats,
but she was not beautiful. However, Isabella was pleased with her
appearance. She looked refined enough to appear at a ball without
embarrassment, yet her attire clearly defined her social position as
separate from the aristocratic lords and ladies.
"Angele, you are much too kind. I am not beautiful; only just fine
enough for the Hastings' ball."
Angele frowned at her friend's
"Isabella, you are truly lucky to have Lady Hastings as your friend.
You have connections through her to the high society of London. Why,
just look--you, a common French girl, have been invited to a society
ball, where the Prince Regent himself might even be in attendance!
Sometimes I wonder if you appreciate your luck."
There's more than luck to it, Angele, Isabella thought, but of course
said nothing. Angele, as everyone else in England, knew nothing about
the Violet Guild. Isabella, when she was assigned to missions in
France, told her that she was visiting old friends in the country.
Indeed, Angele was surprised at the number of English friends Isabella
Lady Hastings is more than a connection--she is my leader, whom I would
trust with my life. Trust--that's what it is. Trust. It seemed to be
a very important word these days.
Isabella felt shaky inside. She was not a woman of the stage, but she
knew all the same that she was feeling stage fright. She was going to
play a part tonight, and there was more resting on her performance than
the approval of a fickle audience. On her shoulders were resting the
lives of twenty men, including that of the Scarlet Pimpernel himself.
It was better if she didn't think about it, or her nerves might get the
better of her.
There was a knock at the door. Angele rushed to answer it, as Isabella
attached a fine silver necklace around her neck. Angele opened the
door, and was astonished to find a man in fine evening clothes standing
on the step. She didn't know quite who he was, but she could see he was
an aristocrat, and she recognized him as the man who brought Isabella
home last Sunday.
"Good evening, mademoiselle," he said quietly and cordially. "Would you
please inquire if Mlle. de Roche is free to see Sir James Whitsfield?"
"Of--of course, my lord. Sit down, please. I'll see if she is ready."
Angele nervously showed Sir James into the small parlor, then rushed up
to Isabella's dressing room.
"Cherie, there is a Sir James Whitsfield here to see you!" she gasped.
Isabella started, alarmed. Why was he here? Was something wrong? She
rushed down to the parlor. Sir James stood when she came in.
"Yes, my lord? You came to see me?" she asked carefully.
"It is nice to see you again, mademoiselle," he said with a smile. "I
remember you said you would be attending Lord Hastings' ball tonight,
and I wondered . . ."
He hesitated for a moment, then continued
somewhat awkwardly. "Do you have an escort tonight, mademoiselle?"
"Why, no, my lord, I was going to attend with friends."
"Then, would you kindly accept my escort?" He seemed nervous. Isabella
was nervous, too, and this time not about the assignment.
"I would gladly accept your kind offer, my lord," she managed to say.
Sir James smiled, relieved. "Are you ready to leave, mademoiselle?" he
asked, offering her his arm.
"Yes, my lord," Isabella answered, in a daze, as she took it and Sir
James led her out to the carriage, smiling at her all the way. Angele
watched from the doorway, open-mouthed, as they drove away.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The ball was a glorious function. Nearly all of fashionable society was
there; why, even the Prince Regent was in attendance, as Angele had
said. But Lord and Lady Hastings were not revelling in their success
this evening. There were more pressing matters on their minds.
Isabella, for the moment at least, was blissfully happy. She didn't
even mind the stares she had earned, entering on Sir James' arm, stares
of indignation from some of the guests, stares of surprise from the
Guild members there. The only stare she seemed to care about was Sir
James'. She greeted her host and hostess with a graceful curtsey--she
had been practicing Society manners for several months, and was steadily
improving. As she did so, she gave Lady Hastings a nervous smile,
trying to assure herself of her confidence. Lady Hastings stepped
forward to kiss Isabella gently on the cheek, and whispered a single
sentence quickly into her ear.
"I believe in you, Isabella."
Dear Lady Eliza! She had instantly surmised Isabella's worries.
Isabella began to feel a little more confident, and she gave Lady
Hastings a grateful smile.
The musicians began a gavotte in the next room. Sir James turned to
"Mademoiselle de Roche, may I have the first dance?"
Isabella smiled shyly, blushing. "Of course, my lord," she said with a
Sir James led her into the dancing room, and they joined the couples in
"Mademoiselle, you are always so formal with me," he said.
"That is because of our separate social stations, my lord."
"Call me James, please, and may I call you Isabella? I would like us to
be on less formal terms."
"Why, yes, my--James, you may call me Isabella," she said nervously.
Was it possible he might feel love for her? As she was beginning to
understand she felt for him?
Calm down, Isabella! He probably just wants to be friends.
But as their conversation progressed, Isabella began to feel that Sir
James was feeling more than friendship for her. His conversation was
pleasant, more than polite. He was frank with her about his past, and
his openness led her to tell him about her past in France. He was from
a wealthy, aristocratic family, of course, and his parents died when he
was still a youth. He had no living relatives, save his sister Anne.
He met Sir Andrew Ffoulkes as a boy, and they had been friends ever
A definite plus on his side.
Isabella found herself telling him all about herself--how she had grown
up the daughter of a peasant shopkeeper, how she had embraced the
Revolution's ideals, then how she turned away in disgust when the Reign
of Terror began. She even told him how she had been saved from the
guillotine herself and brought to England.
"I've been living in our townhouse ever since," she finished as the
dance ended. "It's small, but quite comfortable. Angele and I don't
"Isabella, do you mind if we step out onto the balcony and talk?" Sir
James asked as the crowd began to grow stifling. "We could have more
privacy there, I believe."
She nodded. "It is crowded in here." Her initial shyness had melted
Out on the balcony, Isabella took in a deep breath of fresh air.
sweet the air seems! The ball room is stuffy as well as crowded."
turned to find Sir James gazing at her with clear blue eyes. She
blushed, turning away quickly. He dropped his gaze in shame.
"Forgive me, Isabella, but I do adore looking at you." He moved closer
and took her arm gently. "I can't explain it, but gazing at your beauty
makes me feel so happy."
He spoke awkwardly, as if he knew what he
wanted to say, but not how to say it. Isabella blushed a deeper red,
"Please, James, you needn't say that. I am not beautiful."
"You are beautiful to me, Isabella."
In wonder, Isabella looked up into his eyes. They were filled with a
tender light, and she instinctively knew her own eyes looked much the
same. He spoke again, more softly this time, and wth greater ease.
"Isabella, I have not known you for very long at all, but I know,
without a doubt, that I love you." Isabella was astonished, at his
boldness and his feelings.
"Is it possible, James?" she wondered aloud.
"Is what possible?" he asked, worriedly.
"Is it possible that you might feel for me the same love that I feel for
"Oh, Isabella, do you mean--"
"Yes, James. I wasn't sure at first, but now I am. I love you," she
Silently he reached downward and touched her cheek, smiling in his
gentle way. She began to cry for happiness, and he gently wiped away
the tears befroe leaning down slowly and taking her lips with his own.
The world stood still, as she allowed him to slip his arms around her
waist before she returned his kiss, holding on to him as to her very
life. The musicians in the ball room began a minuet, while Isabella and
Sir James kissed on the balcony, blissful in each other's arms, bonded
together by love.
Go To Chapters Four and Five!
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