My dearest Catherine,
I must first beg your forgiveness for my abundant use of exclamation marks in this correspondence, however there is no punctuation as well calculated to convey the nature of what has passed!
Following the odious Captain Whitley-Smith’s confession at the ball, Woodville and I determined to make all haste in departing to the coaching inn to rescue our poor Henrietta, who must by now be in desperate need of a new gown. Fashions have changed so since she was taken, Sister, I believe her to still be wearing green silk!
We unbound the Captain, and were progressing as silently as our costumes would allow along one of the assembly hall’s darkened empty corridors. Despite the knowledge that we would by and by be throwing ourselves once more into the face of grave danger, I could not help but notice how well my husband looked in his blue coat. However I had not yet composed myself, when we heard footsteps approaching.
“Those are not our footmen.” Said Woodville. “That is the sound of an ill fitting, inexpensive boot.”
Before we could conceal ourselves amongst the shadows twelve men all carrying muskets descended upon us!
Woodville seized Captain Whitley-Smith holding him before his person as though he were a shield, and prepared to fire at the men.
“Lower your pistols!” the largest man spoke with an intolerable French accent. “Pray place your weapons upon the floor!”
As no agreeable alternative presented itself I conceded in ill humour. Woodville however did not surrender at once. To my utter shock the Frenchman then proceeded to show an absolute want of decency and disregard for propriety, seizing me from behind and holding his weapon to my temple, thus disarranging my curls in a most infuriating manner!
“Unhand me, you vile creature! How dare you treat me thus!” I cried, truly grieved by the situation.
“Lord Woodville, if you do not relinquish Captain Whitley-Smith and your weapon it is your wife that shall suffer!” The Frenchman spoke again.
“You son of a churl!” Said Woodville in deepest vexation, he dropped his pistol to the ground with great reluctance and lessened his hold on Captain Tobias Whitley-Smith.
The Captain instantly took command.
“Monsieur Canard,” Said he to the Frenchman “It would seem that Lord and Lady Woodville have discovered a little more about our affairs than I find altogether pleasing. I think it would be prudent to extend our hospitality to them, thus preventing them from throwing our next scheme into jeopardy. I doubt that his footman will feel their absence too severely. I believe he is engaged at present in dancing with a Miss Winifred, who it would appear, is in possession of all the amiable qualities so often associated with ladies of consequence.”
Denouncing him as a liar was an impossibility, for Miss Winifred was a most charming young woman, but I was overwhelmed by a desire to strike his unfortunate visage! A delight denied to me as the despicable Monsieur Canard had bound our hands behind our backs. We were taken to an awaiting carriage where a dark hood was thrown over my head, which I am certain was most unbecoming to my figure.
The carriage departed and travelled in all swiftness across the town of Brighton. My spirits were in an acute state of despair and vexation. However it was possible to overhear some of the private interview passing between Monsieur Canard and the Captain.
“I lately received a letter from our master, he wishes us to bring Lady Maria and her husband to directly to him.” Said Monsieur Canard, his French accent causing me great agitation.
“What is the haste in the matter?” Enquired the Captain.
“Her marriage has severely vexed Mr. William Harris, and he is eager that all should be accomplished before the opening of the London season.” Upon the Frenchman’s words a chill of some magnitude settled about me.
“Maria, the quality of your silence indicates that something in what has just passed has caused you distress. Pray what is the matter my dear?” Asked my husband from beneath his hood.
“My dearest Woodville, it is that name William Harris that troubles me deeply. I am afraid that it renders the events of the past few weeks much clearer. Forsooth! How could I have been so foolish!” I said with some emotion.
“Maria of what do you speak?” Asked he.
“I am acquainted with Mr Harris, sadly better acquainted than is agreeable to me. When I was but fifteen years old he asked for my hand in marriage. I refused him, indeed I spurned his attentions with spirit, for how could any woman feel the least enamoured to a man with such a partiality for wearing mauve! I confess, however, that my conduct was lacking in all that could be considered genteel. He was pride itself and it would seem that he did not overcome my refusal in a rational manner.” Said I.
“Does he mean to kill you?” Woodville whispered.
“Worse,” I replied “he means to ruin me!”
Before Lord Woodville could respond the carriage turned sharply to the left, then to the right and to the left once more, then came to an abrupt halt. We were taken indoors once more, I could discern little more from the carpet underfoot than that we were in an establishment of some superiority. Yet I as unprepared for the surprise that awaited me whence my hood was removed. My husband and I had been brought to a room that could only be situated in the Prince’s newly built “Pavillion”! The lavish furnishings and expense of the window dressings, it must be said dear sister, do reflect the Prince’s inclination toward opulent vulgarity.
“Monsieur Canard, you know what you are about, take Lord Woodville to the Blue Room and begin.” Said a voice I instantly knew to be that of Mr Harris!
The Frenchman obliged and took poor Woodville from the parlour.
“Mr Harris, pray what is the purpose of such …” I began but was interrupted by Mr. Harris with an unforgivable lack of civility.
“Lady Maria, I was a respectable man, until you tormented me with your refusal. But that is of little consequence now, for I am resolved upon dreadful revenge!” He spoke calmly, caressing his abundant mustachios, which were in a fashion more suited to a Spaniard “I had hoped to merely convince you to elope with me, however your recent marriage put paid to such a notion, I have had to alter my scheme. Maria here is what you shall do, you will compose a letter, a plea for help, in which you shall say that the prince is the one responsible for the capture of both you and your sister. The letter shall be dispatched and it shall lead to the ruin of your family’s reputation in society and that of the Prince!”
“What grudge could you possible bear against the Prince, Mr. Harris?” I asked staring at the oriental rug, I had been forced to avert my eyes as his complexion was a most inexplicable purple.
“I have been in France of late and they have the most original ideas about the Monarchy, confess, I found such opinions very refreshing … Then whence you are spurned by everyone of your acquaintance you will elope with me to France!” Concluded he.
“Sir you must know that I would sooner expire this instant than agree to such a plot!” I cried in defiance.
“I am aware of it, but you see Maria it is not you who will perish, it is your husband.” As the wretched fiend spoke he opened a door that revealed Woodville in utter anguish, for Monsieur Canard stood before him reading Fordyce’s sermon’s! Then Mr. Harris displayed a pleasing lightness of foot as he danced across the room to another door behind which sat Henrietta! Our poor dear sister, who’s un-coiffed hair reflected her piteous state of affliction. I had no opportunity to call out to her before he had closed the door!
“Your sister has been reading Udolpho, I believe she has perused it seven times now. You know as well as I the affect of such a novel upon the fragile sensibilities of a young woman! Allow me to be quite candid with you Maria, the only way to secure the lives of both Henrietta and your husband is to concede.” At these words he left the room and a footman brought some light refreshment.
I took three turns about the room and followed these with five glasses of the fortified wine and I could still see no possible escape from this dilemma, for it was not merely my own reputation that lay in the balance but that of the Prince! I was quite settled upon surrendering myself into an apoplexy of nervous fever whence the parlour door was opened by none other than Foot. I have never been so glad to be in the society of a servant! Foot was accompanied by Miss Winifred, who’s eyes had been brightened by the excitement of the evening.
“Lady Woodville,” Said he “the maids upon the roof fell prey to the hysterics, we knew you had been taken. We have come to rescue you!”
To Be Contined …