In 1792, during the French Revolution, twenty English aristocrats—"one to command, and nineteen to obey"—form a secret society to save their French counterparts from the guillotine. No one knows who they are, but the leader signs his nots with a small red flower, a scarlet pimpernel. A fictional and wishful creation of the author, who was forced to leave her native Hungary as a young woman due to fear of a peasant rebellion, The Scarlet Pimpernel,
first produced as a play in 1903, and its sequels made the fortunes of the Baroness.
Paris: September 1792: A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where, a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation’s glory and his own vanity. During the greater part of the day the guillotine had been kept busy at its ghastly work: all that France had boasted of in the past centuries, of ancient names, and blue blood, had paid toll to her desire for liberty and for fraternity. The carnage had only ceased at this late hour of the day because there were other more interesting sights for the people to witness, a little while before the final closing of the barricades for the night. And so the crowd rushed away from the Place de la Grève and made for the various barricades in order to watch this interesting and amusing sight.