We travelled towards London at a pace that was in truth quite alarming. However Woodville and I passed the time amicably by enjoying a game of “Scandalise The Gentry”, a diversion which can only be indulged in whence travelling in a Barouche as opposed to the Chaise as it involves calling out to members of the genteel ranks in scandalous jest about their most unfortunate features and then concealing ourselves before they can identify us.
The dinner hour was not entirely out when we arrived in town, which was already overrun with loyal peasants all eager to glimpse the Royal couple upon the morrow. This was an inconvenience on two accounts; first because churls on the whole have an altogether unpleasant odour, secondly the size of the crowd would render concealment far easier for the villains!
We found our way to Captain Faye’s residence in town and halted the carriage in the square which was quite sans occupants. Woodville stood regarding the house, all it’s parlour windows in darkness, with a look of deepest concern knotted across his brow.
“Woodville, my dear, you have a look of deepest concern knotted across your brow, pray what is the matter?” I enquired.
“Does not the sheer silence of the silence communicate to you that there something terribly amiss here.” Said he, not yet lifting his eyes from the house.
On reflection I was inclined to agree.
“We must advance with the utmost caution, Maria remain close to me and keep your weapon raised.” Continued he.
We approached with a stealth that would have made us the envy of the most notorious highwaymen and entered the house, which was a well proportioned home with every desirable comfort associated with a gentleman’s home. I was attempting to give closer scrutiny to a sampler upon the wall which had been embroidered in a particularly elegant hand when we heard a cry of agony from the scullery. Our current position provided us with an excellent view of said room and it was therefore with a sensation of not disproportionate terror that we saw poor Captain Faye bound to a chair. A fearsome villain, who wore a coat of yellow hue that made him look jaundiced, stood over him.
Upon hearing another cry of agony I enquired,
“What in the name of all things of an empire line are they doing to him?”
“They are tickling him with the white feather of cowardice!” Replied Woodville in a tone that suggested profound disgust. “We must save him!” He continued. Yet before we could settle upon a decisive action the unfortunate villain ceased tickling the captain and spoke.
“Tell me this instant, with whom did you share your suspicions of the plot? … With whom?” Said he.
“Upon my honour, I have not spoken to a soul!” Cried the Captain in anguish.
“Falsehoods, you speak only falsehoods! If you do not tell me I shall dispatch you good sir, without even challenging you to a duel first, for I care nothing of your honour!” Said the villain raising a duelling pistol. I had but an instant to take aim and I hesitated for but a moment.
I pulled the trigger of my riffle and cause the villain to perish before he could carry out his threat!
The captain turned in gleeful surprise as Woodville unbound him.
“My good Captain, are you quite well?” Asked my husband.
“I am, and may I offer you my sincere gratitude, however there is something I must tell you before we engage in cordial exchange. Woodville I fear this conspiracy extends beyond the militia and into parliament itself, for the militia’s influence does not spread far enough to have intercepted my post!” Said the captain.
“This is grave indeed, but Maria had feared as much, what was it you wished to enquire of the captain my dear?” I did not reply, so Woodville turned to me and continued, “Maria?”
“Henry, I am afraid I have not yet been introduced to the captain and cannot address him without such a formality being observed.” Said I with some feeling.
“Indeed Woodville, for no matter how grave the peril we must never fail to uphold polite convention.” The Captain spoke earnestly.
“Forgive my neglectful oversight, it was intolerable. Captain Faye, may I present my wife Lady Maria Woodville.” Woodville performed the introduction.
“A pleasure, Ma’am.”
“Captain,” I spoke now with an eagerness suited to the delicacy of the situation. “I wished to enquire whether it was conceivable that any members of parliament would be involved in such a plot.”
“I had hoped not.” Said he “However I found this among the possessions of one of my foot soldiers.” The captain showed us a piece of poor quality paper upon which several lines had been scrawled. “It is indistinguishable save for these three names, Mc Donald, White and Peterson, all members of Parliament.”
Before the implications of such a note could be fully appreciated the parlour door was thrown open by a footman and Elizabeth entered at a pace indicative of troubling discoveries. She full neglected etiquette and embarked in conversation thus.
“Brother, I have discovered the nature of the threat! It is Influenza!”
“Elizabeth, forgive me, but could you speak plainly?” Said Woodville.
“I believe they have constructed a weapon that will release Influenza, which when deployed would cause the whole congregation to succumb to terrible fever!”
Upon her words my nerves fluttered as though they danced the cotillion, and had my husband not been standing but three and ten inches from my side I should certainly have fallen to the ground in a truly girlish fashion. As it was he presented me his arm and I held it until my strength and senses were restored.
“Are you quite certain?” Demanded Henry.
“There is no doubt whatever.” Replied his sister. ” This correspondence betwixt Mr. Peterson and an unknown acquaintance confirms the scheme. Also there has been an unaccountably high number of unseasonable cases of influenza about these parts given the clement weather we have enjoyed of late.” Continued she.
“Pray, Elizabeth did you just speak the name of Peterson?” I enquired.
” I did.”
Woodville seemed shaken into immediate action. “Elizabeth,” said he “take this note and see what you can make out, and I shall need to view both a list of guests in attendance at tomorrow’s service and the seating plan.” Woodville was all authority in speaking to his sister. “Maria we must make haste to apprehend this Peterson fellow, for he is plainly involved.” He was about to leave whence he recalled something.
” Elizabeth I shall also require from you as much gossip about this unpleasant fellow as is within your power to acquire.”
“Henry, I believe you overestimate my abilities, for how can you expect me to perform three urgent directions at once?” Enquired Elizabeth in a tone that revealed burdened resentment.
“Elizabeth , we have not the time to indulge the follies and vices of your character, and you would undoubtedly manage to accomplish these tasks if you were to cease your lamenting.” Woodville severe outburst thus completed, we left taking Captain Faye with us.
We journeyed to Peterson’s home in Westminster, which was a rather imposing affair with a miniature lime walk and other recent improvements ornamenting it. Woodville and I took no chances and armed ourselves with a duelling pistol and sword apiece as the footmen surrounded the house. Night had fallen whence we entered in complete silence. We moved from parlour to parlour searching for Peterson until we heard the unmistakable noise belonging to a man attempting to elude capture.
We advanced in an elegant manner, and we were not yet in the drawing room whence there came the most disagreeable sound of an ambush! My eyes (of a blue most complimentary to my complexion) became adjusted to the poor light in time to see Mr. Peterson protected by two footmen in livery that was disadvantageous to their figures. Both footmen instantly pointed their weapons at our heads.
“Lower your weapons.” Demanded the largest footman.
Like poachers caught by a game keeper we found escape was an impossibility. I resorted to the only happy alternative within my power, deception!
Feigning a sudden onset of a dangerous nervous fever I threw myself to the ground. The footmen were all chivalrous concern that they had caused such a catastrophe to so delicate a creature, thus diverted they were powerless to our attack. I wielded my weapon and brought it decidedly down upon the largest footman’s head, rendering him quite senseless and Woodville did much the same to t’other. My husband then seized Peterson and began binding him to a chair.
“Unhand me Sir, you shall unhand me this instant.” Peterson cried in voice one would more commonly associate with an ailing woman.
“Pray attend to this, I know that you are involved in a treasonous plot. This alone is enough for me to dispatch you at my earliest convenience, If you do not wish to perish this moment you shall answer what I ask of you. Do you comprehend me?” was Woodville’s reply.
Peterson was silenced and Woodville lost not a moment in before enquiring where the Influenza weapon was.
Peterson, however was a member of parliament to his core, for he spoke handsomely for upwards of thirty minutes without managing to answer the question Woodville had clearly placed before him.
My husband took me to one side of the parlour and said.
“Maria, despite his politician’s promise of candour and honesty, I fear he has no intention whatever of answering plainly! Might I prevail upon you to search for anything that may aid our quest. I believe I may need to be more forceful.”
I left the parlour, took a turn about the library before advancing to the gentleman’s study . I was eagerly engaged in searching through the bureau whence my attention was caught by a an object I concluded to be decidedly sinister. It was composed primarily of a glass bell upended over a lace handkerchief delicately embroidered with the word “INFLUENZA”!
As realisation rushed over me, much as cold rain might, I called to Woodville in a voice that was indicative of terror with every syllable.
“Maria, Every syllable was indicative of terror, pray, what is the matter?” Said he, hastening to my side.
“Woodville I believe I have discovered a the Influenza weapon.” I replied. As we examined the complex apparatus before us we became acutely aware of an hour glass that formed part of the weapon. The sand was above two thirds gone. I knew instantaneously that whence the sand was full through, the glass bell would break and the Influenza upon the handkerchief would thus be released. I turned to Woodville.
“Henry,” said I, “If my arithmetic is correct we had nigh on five minutes until this calamity occurs!” …
To be continued.