My Dear Catherine,
I fear you must once again prepare yourself for something very dreadful, I had fervently wished to send you a letter better suited to the style and spirits of a woman as recently married as I. However I shall have to defer my raptures upon matrimony and the amiable qualities of my husband to another day. Grievous as it may be to a constitution as prone to biliousness as yours I must inform you that I am in a state of distress such as I have never known!
The beginning of such a detestable malady of the nerves as I am currently suffering, can be traced to the ninth morning of our sojourn. My husband and I were breakfasting upon eggs cooked in the fashionable way, when the post arrived. Foot, who of late has been quite out of sorts (I believe he is enamoured with the parson’s daughter Miss Winifred for she has a resplendent beauty about her) presented my dear Woodville with a letter in Elizabeth’s hand. As I watched Lord Woodville read, I was taken with such an eagerness to know its contents that I did not cease to pace the length of the dining room until he had replaced the letter on the table and cleared his throat.
“Well my love, Elizabeth gained significant insight from that parchment. She identified the writer to be a Captain Tobias Whitely-Smith. He sailed with the merchant Navy until three years ago when he was dismissed for setting fire to the admirals powdered wig as means of settling a gambling dispute. Since then he has fallen into disrepute amongst his peers. There are rumours of piracy and smuggling. Elizabeth has sent us a miniature of his visage that was commissioned of late.” Lord Woodville handed me the miniature and perused the note once more. “The content of the parchment was for the most part an invitation to a masque ball in Brighton. This means we now know where to find this vile fiend. we shall have to acquire an invitation to that ball somehow, that way ..” but here he stopped talking, and noticed my visage which, upon glancing at the miniature had instantly lost all it’s colour, then quite hastily taken on a most alarming red hue. I had fallen prey to the flush of recognition!
“My dear Woodville, ” My voice was little more than a whisper. “I believe I know this man. I have met him before.”
“Know him?” Enquired he.
“Indeed,” I replied. ” When I was in the East Indies, I acquired safe passage on a ship belonging to the admiralty and I am quite certain he was among the crew. He was violent and ignorant to the core but influential among the men and would happily dispatch his own mother for fine tobacco, wine of a good vintage or game when it is in season.”
“Are you certain it is he?” Asked Lord Woodville.
“Quite certain, for though the years and ocean weather have changed him greatly, they have claimed one of his eyes and half his nose. He is not so altered that I should not know him. And that brooch he wears, the cameo, he always wore about his person a likeness of the man to whom his allegiance belonged.” A sudden hope lifted my spirits. “Woodville, if we can make out the visage upon the cameo we may know for sure who has taken Henrietta. Do you recognise him?” I thrust the painting under his nose in a manner that perfectly suited my distress.
“Confess I cannot, its proportions are too miniscule.” He said “Foot, You’ve a steady hand and ability when it comes to sketching. Pray, come hither. It seems Lady Woodville has found something, if you would be so good as to recreate it on a larger scale I shall reward you with two brace of pheasant upon our return to Woodville park.”
Foot stepped forward eagerly.
“Indeed Sir,” Foot turned to address me. “And would your ladyship wish for the painting to be recreated in oils or in watercolour?”
“I see not how that matters.” I replied a little tersely.
“Well Maam,” said he infuriatingly “the oils would have a richer pigment when the work is dried …”
“Oh for the love of all things made of sprigged muslin! Whichever method is the faster!” I cried passionately.
“Watercolour is more commonly associated with haste, Maam.”
“Well then employ the watercolours, and might I perchance suggest that you hurry about it, we do not have the leisure to indulge in the reflective nature of the medium!”
Thus chastised he commenced sketching. However I confess that his slow pace had left me greatly vexed and with a strong desire to strike him across his impertinent face. Perhaps Woodville sensed this for he thanked Foot and led me aside.
“Pray my love, you must not vent your spleen upon foot thus.” He spoke in an attempt to pacify.
“Woodville, I do not require a sermon upon propriety towards the servants. The man was being a fool!” Was my bitter retort.
“What is it about this brooch that has caused you such unbearable distress?” My husband enquired.
“What disturbs my sensibilities the most is my belief that this man, Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith, claims acquaintance only with men of extreme wealth, high standing, and little conscience. These vices are always accompanied by great power. Oh Woodville, if Henrietta has been taken by a man of such character I fear she may be lost forever.”
“Then let us hope you are mistaken.” Woodville spoke earnestly.
What seemed to be a century, but could in truth have only been a very little while later Foot approached with a masterpiece, which had it not been for it’s terrifyingly discomfiting subject, would certainly have had me in raptures.
“Nay it cannot be!” Exclaimed Lord Woodville in shock, “Foot are you entirely certain this an accurate portrayal?”
“Yes sir.” Replied the servant.
“But that is the Prince Regent!” The words left me and yet I could not believe them!
I confess my dear Catherine that finding myself under circumstances of such enormous implication, I was quite at a loss for what to say or do. As no solution more agreeable presented itself, I threw myself decidedly to ground in a faint.
My state of incapacitation did not last above six hours and 23 minutes. I was revived in time to enjoy the rather delicious tea that had been served in the parlour. Whilst eating Lord Woodville and I devised a scheme exactly calculated to solve this puzzling situation.
We intend to attend this masque ball in Brighton, to simultaneously provide a pleasing diversion to a recently wed couple, and confront this brute without those to whom he answered knowing anything at all about it. Whence there we shall be able to adjourn with the fiend to an unoccupied parlour and discover from him all we need.
The journey to Brighton was not at all agreeable. Since our own carriages were destroyed we have been forced to travel by hired chaise. These carriages are almost intolerable and leave me quite out of humour. We had been in the carriage for some hours when something caught my attention.
“We are lost aren’t we?” I voiced my concern. “We have passed that inn thrice now.”
“Nay we are not lost. This is the way to the ball.” Answered Lord Woodville.
“Henry, do no tell me such scandalous falsehoods! We are Lost!” I cried.
“This is the very road I indented to take. Now pray control yourself and allow me to concentrate upon the task at hand.” Woodville spoke severely, I sighed audibly but would not be deterred. Leaning out of the carriage I cried,
“Excuse me coachman, please stop the carriage.” He did so at once and I addressed my husband. “You shall have to ask them for directions.” I said indicating a group of gentlemen.
“We do not need …”
“Henry, This shall not borne!” I exclaimed in anger.
“If you feel it is of such importance why do not you ask them for directions?” He replied.
“Do not be tiresome, you know propriety forbids me from addressing gentlemen without formal acquaintance being made. If you do not ask them this instant I shall tell Elizabeth that she is to have full authority over the refurbishment of your study, and I know you find her taste to be loathsome.” Upon my words he conceded in ill humour and we discovered that we were indeed in the wrong part of Brighton entirely.
I have used the delay to write to you, my dear sister, for I know how anxious you are for any news. We shall be arriving at the ball presently and I must end my letter, but I feel compelled to remind you, Catherine, of the perilous nature of the revelation contained in this correspondence. For if the Prince Regent truly is involved in all of this wickedness there will naturally be those willing to protect him. I therefore urge you most fervently to eat this letter whence you have read it, though its length may render a digestive tonic necessary. Catherine, speak of this affair to no one. You must display extreme caution and discretion. I shall write you again as soon as events permit, if only to recount to you the style of dress worn by society in Brighton, which I don’t doubt differs from that of London.
Yours in fear of the monarchy,
Lady Maria Woodville.
Post Script: Forgive my entrusting this message to an urchin but I felt this letter was too compromising to send in the usual way. This boy struck me as being too stupid to comprehend it and therefore posed little risk. Also his boast to me that he could run faster than the fastest horse made him quite adequate for the task. He will require paying. I think a trout or two may be sufficient.