“Sport, Madame la Comtesse, sport,” asserted Lord Antony, with his jovial, loud and pleasant voice; “we are a nation of sportsmen, you know, and just now it is the fashion to pull the hare from between the teeth of the hound.” – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy
So, casually and almost flippantly, does Lord Antony, a member of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s league, explain their motives for doing what they do. I have to say that I have never encountered a more superbly-written book than Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s classic The Scarlet Pimpernel. Every sentence is phrased so exquisitely; she is truly a master craftswoman. And each line draws you deeper into the beautiful yet sinister world of the Scarlet Pimpernel and his daring band.
In a nutshell, this is the story of a fictional group of English gentlemen who pull French aristocratic hares from between the teeth of French revolutionary hounds. Led by their enigmatic leader, whose nom de guerre is taken from a humble flower common along English roadsides, they risk everything to save a few lives from certain death. Every time a cursed aristo is rescued from the insatiable bloodlust of the guillotine, a scrap of paper with the signature image of a red flower finds its way into the pocket of a French official. Our hero finds a worthy antagonist in the form of Monsieur Chauvelin, a high-ranking official in the revolutionary government.
Our hero, the daring Scarlet Pimpernel, and his band of devil-may-care companions disguise their identities by playing the role of foppish aristocratic dandies. Caring only for fashion and the gaiety of court life, their ruse works so well that no one, not even the Pimpernel’s own wife, suspect their true natures. This, I think, was the most difficult aspect of their charade for Sir Percy – to allow himself to be seen as a fool even by his wife. The wife he loved dearly and was willing to die for – to know that she despised him must have been a bitter pill to swallow. And yet, for the sake of saving a few strangers from the guillotine, he was willing to endure even that. That, my friends, is true untarnished heroism and honor.