My dearest Sister,
I hope my letter finds you in tolerable spirits and that at least a little comfort and pleasing diversion have been within your power. I fear that this letter shall bring you neither and yet I am obliged to be quite candid about the events that passed at the Brighton assembly.
Despite our late arrival and the considerable peril we were facing I did find myself disposed to enjoy so sumptuous an affair. Everything had been arranged precisely to be conducive to the delight and pleasure of all the guests. Though I confess that my own attire was not as elegant as I should have liked. In order to conceal my pistols and sword it was necessary for my gown to be fuller about the skirt than can be considered fashionable. This difficulty was soon overcome by wearing a third feather, taken from an inebriated countess, atop my head.
As I took a turn about the room,I was all watchful attention trying to deduce which of the costumed guests was Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith. My progress around the ball-room was not yet complete whence I felt Woodville’s hand on mine.
“Maria,” Said he in a tone so low it was nigh on impossible to hear. “I have found Captain Whitley-Smith. He is over there.”
My eyes followed his toward a large party of handsomely attired men.
“The fellow dressed as the horse?” I enquired.
“Not he.” Woodville pointed discreetly. “There.”
“The one disguised as a large woman?”
“Maria, that is a woman.” Replied he.
“Then you mean the Frenchman?”
” He is that man, the one disguised as the exotic bird.” He indicated a man who’s masque protruded into the brightly painted bill of a bird from foreign lands. He had no doubt chosen such a one so as to conceal his own lack of nose.
“The footmen have the assembly hall surrounded, and Elizabeth has sent word to the maids of all the neighbouring houses to stand upon their roofs and keep watch. If they see anything they shall scream as though they have seen a bachelor in his under garments. There is nowhere for him to run! Come” As he finished speaking he took my hand and we danced our way across the ballroom as merrily as the newly married couple we were, until we were face to face with Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith who now stood alone.
It was fortunate that there was such a crush of people as to enable Woodville to grasp the bounder with not a soul noticing. Woodville placed an arm about his neck with such sudden force that Captain Whitley-Smith was taken quite by surprise.
“Pray do not fight it.” Woodville muttered into this ear. He held fast until Captain Whitley-Smith was overcome and went limp. Woodville dragged him to an empty parlour and hastily bound him to a chair.
“Quick my dear, secure the door.” My husband instructed me.
I did so immediately. Woodville stood over the form of the captain and roughly removed his masque before striking him firmly across his unfortunate visage to rouse him from his stupor.
“Sir, sir.” Woodville called. “Captain Whitley-Smith, you shall do me the honour of waking up sir.”
Upon regaining his senses the captain arrange his features into a smile that revealed only two teeth.
He looked directly at me and said, “Why Maria, we meet again.”
“You shall address my wife with civility Captain.” Woodville spoke angrily.
“Wife? Your wife. I would have thought that someone of your rank and circumstance could have secured a better wife than this.” The Captain spoke to provoke, it seemed to work for Woodville was so enraged that he struck the churl again across the face.
“I am in no humour to be trifled with Sir.” Woodville shouted “We know of your involvement in the capture of Miss Henrietta. We are also aware that you answer to His Royal Highness the prince Regent. What we wish to establish is where the poor girl is being held and why is prince involved? What possible purpose is there in capturing Lady Maria’s sister. I doubt very much it is only for the ransom sum, For the Prince is not quite destitute.”
“If you think I am going to answer you then you are a fool.” The captain soon paid for his insolence.
“Maria, my love, avert your eyes for this is not a scene suitable for female sensibilities.” Woodville addressed me kindly before turning once more to face the captain.
I obliged and amused myself admiring a delightful piece of embroidery that had been left in the room.
“You shall answer Sir.” Woodville demanded again, when the Captain made no response he continued “You have tried my patience too long.”
There was a sudden howl of pain that would have been enough to shake even the most robust constitutions. I turned to see Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith fall prey to a fit of the hysterics, such as is more usually associated with a girl who has been cruelly spurned by an admirer.
“Woodville, pray, what have you done to him?”
“The man has no stomach for pain.” Said my husband dismissively, “I merely plucked one of the hairs from his brow!”
It was another fifteen minutes before Captain Whitley-Smith had regained enough of the little intelligence he possessed, to be capable of speech.
“You may do what you like to me, I shall tell you nothing.” He gasped.
However by now my husband had lost any tolerant humour and was overwhelmed by frustration.
“Damnation to it all!” Woodville exclaimed drawing his pistol, he placed the barrel against Captain Whitley-Smith’s knee. “If you do not speak I shall fire my weapon at your knee, rendering you dependent upon a wooden limb for the rest of your days. Tell me , where is Miss Henrietta?”
The captain said nothing but looked on in a pitiful attempt at defiance.
“I assure you Captain, you do not want to press the matter. If you believe that I would suffer any turmoil of conscience in firing this weapon directly into your leg, even before a woman, then you are gravely mistaken.” Lord Woodville’s finger was upon the trigger. I was about to avert my eyes once more when I heard the Captain cry in fear.
“Very well I shall tell you, I shall tell you where she is.” He said bitterly. ” There is a coaching inn on the Brighton Road. It has fallen into disrepair. We have been holding her there.” He stopped speaking, Lord Woodville and I awaited the rest of his tale in a state of unbearable anticipation.
“Pray continue Captain.” Said Woodville. “What of the Prince?”
“The Prince has no involvement whatever in this matter!” Exclaimed Whitley-Smith.
“They merely wished to lay the blame upon him.”
“Who are they?” Demanded Woodville.
“Lord Woodville you know as well as I that if I give you that information neither you nor the men I answer to shall have any further use for me. I should be executed before the close of this ball. Nay, sir if I am to part with all I know I shall want something in return. I shall require protection, which you can offer me. Take me into your employ, as a footman in your household.” Captain Whitley-Smith spoke calmly.
“You would divulge your greatest secret merely to become a footman?” Lord Woodville asked in some confusion.
“Lord Woodville you are a man of honour, therefore if you were to give me your word that you would guard my life as keenly as if it were that of wife’s I should feel most secure under your roof.”
Upon the Captain’s words I flew into a sudden rage, drawing my own pistol I aimed it at his disproportionate brow.
“You have ruined my sister’s prospects, and Lord knows what you have done to her cheerful disposition. Because of you my aunt is at the mercy of a nervous affliction so severe there is little hope of her recovery. What leads to believe that we shall suffer your demands? I ought to dispatch you this instant!” My voice shook with passion.
“Lady Maria, if I were to perish at your hand, you will never be able to uncover the truth of this unfortunate affair, and you shall find yourselves in a state of permanent peril!” Said he.
“Maria he is right. I know that this is highly disagreeable, indeed I cannot think of complexion less suited to a footman’s powdered wig than that of Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith, but my dear time is passing with alarming haste, we must recover your sister.” said Woodville.
It grieves me to Say my dearest Catharine that we shall have to concede to his wishes. Though I am sure I need not tell you how much it vexes me to know that that vile fiend shall be under our protection!
We depart at once for the Brighton Road and I hope most ardently that my next letter shall bring you the joyous news you desire.
Yours in disgust,
Lady Maria Woodville.