My Dearest Catherine,
I hope this letter finds you well and full recovered from your nervous fever, how shocking that so very severe a case of the hysterics could be brought about by over exertion at the piano forte.
You will have awoken to find our younger Sister Harriet in your drawing room bearing this very note, and I apologise for so very surprising a surprise. However my dear husband Woodville and I must quit town almost instantaneously as our presence is required elsewhere in matters of some urgency. We are once again in the greatest peril.
It is consequently, impossible for us to remain for the entirety of Harriet’s first season. I can scarce keep her with me, I am certain you will agree that a chaperone who finds herself in no trifling danger is of little use to a young lady in search of a suitable husband. Thus I must now entrust her to your care.
My dear Catherine, allow me quickly to reassure you that despite my being forced to abandon some of my sisterly duties I have by no means neglected them all. Harriet is now quite “out” in society.
I am aware that I had promised you as full and thrilling an account of Harriet’s first ball, as I am able to compose. However for reasons of expediency (indeed we are closing the house at Grosvenor Square and awaiting the carriages as I write) I ought defer such indulgence.
All that is within my power to say, is that it all began while we were pleasantly engaged in enjoying Harriet’s first public ball. Sister she did exceedingly well. You need not have fretted that being taken captive by fiendish brutes, as she was at the age of fifteen and forced to read such vulgar books as “The Mysteries Of Udolpho” would have meant her bloom was quite gone. In fact I feel that such trials have improved her character and temper so much as to make her the envy of many an ambitious mamma. Furthermore I do not believe that her peculiar refusal to communicate, save for the writing of notes upon pretty paper, harmed her in the estimations of the gentlemen. Indeed quite the opposite is true; it did much to recommend her. I find that men on the whole do not care for women to voice their opinions too liberally, and as Harriet has always been an irrational creature I believe her loss of speech has proved a favourable alteration.
I had taken a turn about the ballroom, which was arranged in a manner so perfectly calculated to delight, that several chaperones had thrown themselves into nervous seizures. I hastened back to my own dear Woodville, for I was quite in raptures over some candelabras I had discovered. Yet afore I could convey my assertions that I could not allow a single day to pass before I had secured the very same for our own establishment, I was interrupted by none other than the Prince Regent. My dear Catherine I am aware that upon reading of the Prince’s arrival amongst our party, and his incivility (for only those truly neglectful of polite convention would interrupt a wife trying to convince her husband to make an expensive purchase) you may be tempted to succumb to a splendid faint, but I beg that you continue your perusal for the Prince had good reason to behave abhorrently. I must also remind you that we have on above occasion saved our future sovereigns life, thus we are, happily, acquainted enough that he was free to approach us in a manner, which, with every step of his left foot was highly indicative of one in the grasp of severe mistrust.
“Lord Woodville.” Said he to my dear Henry.
Despite the amicable warmth of Woodville’s bow and my curtsey before him, which I performed in a manner exactly calculated to please the monarchy, the Prince’s brow did not unfurrow. I knew directly that he brought tidings of the upmost gravity.
“Lord Woodville, Lady Woodville, I am afraid I bring tidings of the upmost gravity.” The Prince spoke in such eloquent yet fearful tones that Woodville was all alarm and concern.
“Lord Woodville you must not look so very distressed, I am not at all desirous that anyone should discover the subject upon which we converse. Pray might you both feign interest in the dancing couples?” Continued the Prince.
I instantly turned my eyes toward our own Harriet who was dancing with one of the handsomest beaus I have ever had the good fortune to see. Dear sister, it would seem there is nothing like the necessity of running for one’s life to improve the quickstep: Harriet did quite fly across the ballroom. The Prince continued to address us in hushed timbres.
“My dear friends, I am afraid that since I have been in town I have heard whisperings and rumours of the most redoubtable kind.”
“Indeed Your Highness, we too have become privy to the reports that Lady Weston-Somersby’s daughter intends to elope with a baker’s son.” Replied my husband, in animated whispers.
“Nay Lord Woodville it is not to these claims that I elude.” The prince glanced about him as he spoke as though fearful that the pleasing floral arrangements by which we stood might be hearing our words. “I believe I am in imminent peril, there is a plot against me!”
“Indeed, that is no idle gossip!” Said I in such astonishment that I quite forgot to address him in the polite fashion demanded by convention. “Are you quite certain?”
“I regret, madam that I am. I received this note but two hours ago.” The Prince unfurled a parchment upon which, in writing so ill formed it was scarce worthy of the hand of a churl, appeared this singular phrase, ‘You are in imminent peril, there be a plot against you!’
“That seems entirely conclusive Sire.” Woodville spoke with fervour and he examined the threatening letter and placing it in his own pocket.
“I am being watched every waking moment, even as we speak I know that I am the focus of many a wicked eye.” The prince was in some considerable torment as he looked all about him. I followed his gaze and noted with sudden alarm that there was above one woman in our company who was far too ill proportioned to be considered a lady of elevated rank. It was beyond doubt that these were the emissaries to which the prince referred.
“I must beg, Lord Woodville that you assist me in my attempt to escape this ominous threat, for I know not how long I can remain unscathed sans aid from such friends as yourselves.” Whispered he.
“We must flee without further delay your Highness, I shall summon the carriage.” Was Woodville’s impassioned reply.
“Dearest Henry, such a hasty leave taking is bound to make us the subject of speculation and gossip. However, I could quite easily cast myself into a nervous hysteria to excuse our departure; it would be the work of but a moment.”
“Forgive me my dear, but the faint savours strongly of contrivance. I think you had best turn your ankle in the quadrille.” Woodville extended his hand to me and led me toward the other couples who were just commencing there pretty dance.
We moved gracefully about together for a time until I was all good fortune in finding my neighbour to be an uncouth fellow with an unfortunate nose. It was therefore above anything easy and convenient to hastily slip my own foot beneath his stout boot, and make the calamity seem quite a matter of mere misfortune. I stumbled elegantly, and was caught by Woodville who aided me toward a chaise. From thither, affecting anxiety at my injury, the prince declared in tones of regal concern.
“Lady Woodville you are hurt, the carriage had best be summoned this moment to convey you home, I shall relay the unfortunate event to your sister and accompany her myself.”
Our scheme was swiftly achieved with very little inconvenience or conspicuous behaviour on our part, and we were soon ensconced within our drawing room making arrangements for our removal to the country; the prince concurs that Woodville Manor is the most agreeable house in all the county in which to conceal ourselves and discover who means to dispatch him.
And Now, Dear sister I must finish my letter, for the footman has assured me that Harriet has concluded the packing of her trunk. Quite why it takes her above an hour and a half to place her wretched gowns into her travelling valise I cannot fathom, but she is all insistence they must be folded and arranged in fashion so incomprehensible that the maid has had to recommence the task at least a dozen times.
Yours in a state of anxious anticipation,
Lady Maria Woodville.
Post Script: You were entirely correct in your estimation that lace trimmed muslin gown would prove the most complimentary to Harriet’s figure, as was the headdress you sent her (five blanched plumes were indeed sufficient).