My dearest Catherine, I must cast aside all the warmth of cordiality for, by the time this missive has reached you, you will have received word of the attempt on the life of the Prince Regent. What is still worse is that you will have heard that it was at my hand that the future king suffered. News of that kind spreads with the rapidity of the putrid throat.
I can scarcely imagine how such tidings will have afflicted your sensibilities. Indeed, I am doubtful that you will be able to rouse yourself from your nervous stupefaction long enough to read this letter at all. But I beg you would try, even if you are forced to have your chambermaid hold your eyes open to aid your perusal.
I do not write to contest my guilt, I would hope that as my sister, Catherine, you are all faithful loyalty in your belief in my innocence. Though I pray you do not vociferate your allegiance to me, lest you meet a turncoat’s fate. I write instead to assure you that I have not yet perished at the hand of an overzealous footman battling treason. Nor do I intend to. My dear husband and I were all good fortune in receiving warning of the terrible scheme.
I had descended from my bedchamber to find your note, by the by, Catherine, while I do understand that the affair of arranging our youngest sister’s marriage is a pressing one, I do not believe it justifies your sending a messenger from town with so ill humoured a note. The words ‘unless you are perishing of the putrid pustules you must answer this moment’ are never suitable address betwixt ladies of high birth, or indeed, ladies of any kind. As to bidding your messenger to stand thus, menacingly, in the doorway of my parlour until I had composed a reply that might satisfy you, well Catherine, I am quite scandalized. Particularly when the reply you seek concerns bridal posies. On that matter, although your choice of blossoms would undoubtedly look delightful, it would seem that they represent hatred, deceit and ill health respectively in plant lore. As there are still a good deal of people who set great stock by such things we might do better, for Harriet’s sake, to find some other blooms.
Yet before I had been presented with the opportunity to compose a more eloquent reply, I heard footfalls approaching, which were, with every toe, reminiscent of one in the grips of the utmost fearful desperation. I am certain, therefore that you can imagine my surprise when the parlour door was opened by a footman and my dear husband entered. For Henry seldom has so grave a tread. He flew into the room at a pace that so closely resembled a gallop that had my my poor Woodville not been wearing his blue coat, it would have rendered him quite undignified.
“Gracious Henry, you have entered the parlour in a manner that savours strongly of distress. I am all reluctance to enquire what the matter could be lest it ruin what hopes I had for a delightful day.” Said I.
“ Maria My dear.” Said he in tones of such gravity that I was half persuaded that he was succumbing to some dreadful fever, and was forced to study his complexion for upwards of seven minutes to assure myself he was well before I would allow him to continue.
“I fear that I will indeed spoil your felicity.” Continued he eventually. “Indeed, I beg that you would not stand so near the inkwell, for what I have to tell you is so shocking in nature that you may start violently and overturn it. Then I would have spoilt both your day and your gown.”
“Henry, while I am delighted by your chivalrous concern for my gown, for what wife could ask more from her husband, you have not feared that I would be plagued by such maladroit ineptitude since you told me that your cousin George meant to elope with a scullery maid. Is there to be another imprudent marriage in the family?” I enquired in tones of fearful curiosity.
“Nay, it is worse even than that.” Said he.
“Henry, there is little worse than that.” Was my ardent reply, for I remember only too well our own cousin Cecilia. I do not think I have seen hysterics to rival her mother’s, three and twenty years is a prodigious length for nervous apoplexy even in such circumstances.
“ I received a letter this very hour from my brother Captain Larkin …” Woodville continued, however hither I interrupted him.
“Larkin? Has Elizabeth …”
“Nay Maria, he did not send word of what Elizabeth thought of your little design for a table. While I am sure she would have been in raptures the momentous cruciality of what the captain had to relate meant that there was no place for such sentiments.”
“Nonsense Henry, there is always place enough for such sentiments.” I contested. Upon my words Woodville arranged his brows in a manner that only redoubled his seeming urgency.
“Maria, there has been an attempt on the Prince Regent’s life.’
Had you been in my place dear sister, I am quite certain that you would have found it wholly necessary to abandon yourself to a faint of some magnitude. However it induced no such ailment in me. Indeed it was quite the opposite.
“Henry? Is that all? What are you about arranging your brows thus when that is all? Merely an attempt? It did not succeed. We ourselves have thwarted so very many of these schemes that it scarcely seems cause for alarm when the danger has passed.”
I confess I was all relieved sentiments at hearing such trifling tidings. I swiftly turned back to my bureau and had lifted my pen once more, when Henry stepped before me in a manner that was exactly calculated to both show his figure off to it’s best advantage and to convey that that was not all.
“But Maria, that is not all.” As he spake he drew from his pocket the letter addressed, very ill, in the captain’s hand and placed it before me that I might read the dreadful letter myself.
Catherine, not even the captain’s shamefully inelegant hand could disguise the profundity of the horror that page contained.
‘My dear brother,
You must forgive my want of cordiality in writing thus, but I must inform you of the most grievous news. There has been an attempt upon the Prince Regent’s life. Do not be alarmed, mercifully his Highness did not find it necessary to expire and is quite well. But it is not the villainous, if ineffectual, endeavours to rob us of our monarch that cause me such distress; but rather the fact that the deuced sons of churls have gone to great lengths to elude culpability for such treachery. They have placed the guilt instead upon your own head and that of Lady Woodville. Indeed I do not know how they have done it but the villainous vagabonds have, in their trickery, made it irrefutably plain that you and your wife are solely responsible for the poisoning of the Prince. The proof has been shown not only to all among the officers but to his majesty the King.
I am grieved to tell you that you and your lady are wanted for treason. Even as I write officers of the militia ride to Woodville Park to seize you and bring you to the tower, where they mean to make you face the gallows. I only hope this letter can reach you before them.
I have tried to appeal to the Prince and the King but their minds are, of late, so convoluted that they too believe the charade of your culpability. Elizabeth and I are alone in our certainty that it is nought but scandalous falsehood. We long to offer you our assistance, however the villainy of such an act means that any persons who are seen to be openly aiding you shall march to the noose by your side. I must think of Elizabeth. Thus, for the present, at least, I must sever all acquaintance.
I hope that we may defeat these wretches and disprove this plot before it is too late and all is lost. But now you must flee as fast as your carriages can carry you.
Yours in agitated torment,
My dear sister, I confess that Henry was indeed all correct assumptions in assuming that I ought not stand so very near the inkwell. The very moment I had completed my perusal of the captain’s missive I felt myself start as violently as Woddville had intimated that I might. Had he not been all swift haste in seizing the well and holding it beyond my reach I would indeed have ruined my sprigged muslin.
“Henry!” Said I in tones which, by every syllable, conveyed the fact that I was nigh on robbed of my senses and my powers of speech. “I must own to it, I have been nigh on robbed of my senses and powers of speech.”
“I too am at a loss to understand it.” Was his earnest rely.
“ The whole affair is unfathomable. We are wanted for treason? Unfathomable! And as to the prince’s credulity, well that is quite unaccountable of him. For, how oft have we cast aside caution and propriety and risked our lives; nay, worse, our reputations, for his sake? Ladies of high rank and consequence do not lightly take it upon themselves to ride about the country dueling treacherous churls. He has proven himself to be a most mistrustful and imbecilic son of a king.” Was my impassioned sermon. “The king, for all his madness, can surely not be so nonsensical as to believe it. I ought ride to Windsor and …”
“Maria, pray, take heed and calm yourself my love or they shall soon be justified in their charges of treason.” Was my husband’s interjection.
But I was in no humour to be calmed, thus I took three and twenty turns about the room before continuing my vociferations. “Such a scheme savours strongly of wicked devilry, the likes of which I have never known! Who can be behind it?”
“We have no time for such musings my dear.” Woodville was all urgency in his reply. “We must heed the captain’s warning and fly from hither this moment.”
And so, my dear Catherine, it is with the greatest chagrin that we must quit our home and I must quit you. For I am quite sure that hearing your sister is attempting to elude the militia and escape the hangman will prove most detrimental to the constitution of one with so unsound a disposition.
Yours in the most tormented distress,
your affectionate sister
Lady Maria Woodville.
Post Script, I know you have often protested that devouring the letters I send induces in you a bilious attack of considerable proportions. But I must beg you to endure it. I know not who we can confide in and I have seen the way your footman looks at the letters upon your bureau. Thus, I must entreat you to endure it. Though, take care not to choke upon the paper, it is of excellent quality and might prove difficult to consume if not not accompanied by some fortified wine.