My dear sister,
I am certain that my last missive will have cast your sensibilities into some considerable agitation, however I fear that this letter will do very little to restore your composure.
We were upon the very brink of departing forthwith to Woodville Park, indeed my foot had nigh on crossed the threshold, when I became so acutely aware of an oversight in our scheme that it was as though I had been struck about the visage.
“Henry, I have become so acutely aware of an oversight in our scheme that it is as though I have been struck about the visage!” Said I in distress. “The Prince wishes to conceal his whereabouts, Nay?”
“Indeed, I am not at all enamoured with the notion that these vagabonds should know of my flight to Woodville Park.” Replied the prince
“Then we ought conceal them.”
“Pray of what do you speak Maria?” Enquired Woodville
“Only this, Henry, the Prince is a highly distinguishable fellow, even amongst the churls, and there exists a veritable abundance of likenesses all about the country. Therefore how do you propose we journey to the country without a single soul remarking that his highness is our travelling companion; we shall have to change horses at least once and stop to eat at a fashionable inn.” I explicated.
“Forsooth, Maria my love, you are quite veracious in your estimations. But how shall so very problematic a problem be resolved?” was my husband’s earnest enquiry. Then as no agreeable solution presented itself Henry continued, “Your Highness, you must forgive the impertinence of my suggestion but I believe you shall have to masquerade as a woman.”
Upon Woodville’s suggestion I was almost overwhelmed by those finer feminine sensibilities that so oft require an awing faint. “Woodville, dearest, pray how can you suggest such a notion so very full of impropriety?”
“Because Maria I should sooner face the aftermaths of impropriety than those of the Prince being slain. I should have thought that the frequency with which we have had to face such grave danger would have a rendered you a little more immune to the follies and vices of polite society. Now make haste and find his Highness a gown. I believe your light sprigged muslin would become our future sovereign very well.”
“Henry you have exquisite taste; for the hue of that gown is exactly calculated to complement such a complexion is his.” Was my impassioned reply.
What I had not foreseen, however, dear Catherine was what an excellent figure our monarch has, for when he reappeared elegantly robed in my gown and powdered wig I could scarce recognise him. For a man so very partial to overindulgence in fine foods and intoxicating liquors, he looks uncommonly well in the empire line.
We travelled to Woodville Park in a manner so very devoid of anything that could be considered remarkable that I shall scarce trouble myself to convey the details to you. I believe the relaying of the tedium of a journey where every comfort has been pleasingly met and the roads are above anything adequate, is an art particular to spinsters, thus I shall not indulge in it; save to say that the Prince’s true self was suspected only once by an inebriated peasant whose visage was of such vexing proportions that I was obliged to cast my eyes to the floor as he cried;
“By the love of all things gold, it be the Prince, the Prince in a comely dress.”
“You are mistaken my good fellow, this is my wife’s friend Miss Louisa Hargreaves.” Woodville assured, as he attempted to chaperone the Prince from this vagabond’s sight. However the miserable wretch was not to be so very readily silenced!
“Behold!” cried he to the coaching inn at large. “It be the Prince, The Prince himself in a flowered gown!”
The beastly peasant was beginning to invite the attentions of our fellow travellers with the rapidity of a young lady freely declaring her ardent feelings for a beau in the midst of well attended ball. I knew that I ought act decidedly. Thus as he stepped forth to address the crowd I thrust my foot before him and quite caught his ankle causing him to fall with all the elegance of rotund dowager who has overestimated her ability to quadrille.
“This churl is so intoxicated he has quite abandoned his senses.” I said in tones of some assured command. “I believe the only cure for such a state of indisposition is to incarcerate him until he is a little less nonsensical.”
As the innkeeper and several others applied themselves to the task with a zeal that befitted their status, Woodville, the Prince and I took our leave of the place.
The Carriages were soon drawing into the park and we were met with that pleasingly familiar sight of our home. Sister you will be delighted to hear that the roses you were so good as to help me choose have begun to thrive, and add a certain refined grandeur to the place. Once we were within its walls and the prince restored to his former self, we were served tea in my favoured parlour. I was quickly fortified by that elegant honey coloured beverage. We allowed only a little above five hours to pass afore we eagerly turned our attentions to the immediate peril in which we found ourselves.
“Your highness, while Woodville Park is a veritable fortress, and a most beauteous house of exceedingly pleasing proportions, these qualities are of little use if we do not act.” Said I “I believe that discovering who is at the heart of this plot must take precedence.”
“Indeed, Maria is entirely correct, even with my gun room, as handsomely stocked as it is, is of no service if we do not know our foe. Perhaps we ought alert the King, for the danger might be more easily abated If he were with us.” Woodville spoke in a fervent tone that rendered him doubly handsome in my estimation.
“Nay, that would be an impossibility.” Replied the Prince hurriedly “As you know my connexion with the king is not what it should be. He will doubtless believe I have invented the wicked subversion for my own amusement.”
It is true that the Prince is known to have a partiality for drama, particularly when centred about his person, and his credulity and overzealous inclination to find treasonous plots all about him soon became apparent.
“Besides his majesty the King’s own doubts, I disbelieve that requesting his aid would, in any fashion, ensure our safety. In truth there is many a fellow within his circle that I consider to be the very essence of untrustworthiness.”
As the Prince concluded his speech my dearest husband exchanged a glance with me that, with every flutter of his delicate lashes conveyed his concurrence with me that our friend was indeed a paranoid son of king; and that, while we should indulge him on account of his rank and circumstance, we ought perchance seek a more rational explanation before we consider formal hostilities of any kind.
“Very well, in that case may I advocate that we begin with this?” Henry drew forth from his pocket the ragged parchment which bore the ill written menacing promise to the Prince. “It is our only intimation as to whom these villains may be.”
We turned the full powers of our not inconsiderable intellects upon that parchment and could deduce very little of the writer.
“It is of little use Maria, we shall require Elizabeth’s skill. You must write to her directly and ask her to come at once” Said Woodville after four and twenty minutes of scrutiny.
“Capital notion dearest Henry! For your sister has not her equal for accomplishments anywhere in the country.” I spoke with unguarded animation which conveyed the warmth of my affections, and made all haste toward the morning room to despatch my cordial invitation to dear Elizabeth.
I had not yet walked nine and thirty paces when I observed our housekeeper Mrs D’arcey shewing a large company of peasants and towns folk through to the long gallery. I am aware, Catherine, that it is common practice for housekeepers to admit such people to the finer houses in England, and such an arrangement is no doubt beneficial to both parties concerned. However I do feel that Mrs D’arcey is munificently enough paid that she might have displayed a happier sense of timing. After all, her masters were in grave danger. I had decided that I should speak to her about such want of etiquette, when I chanced another glance at the churls with a renewed curiosity. I could not entirely place what it was about the company of visitors that unsettled me. Admittedly the ladies were certainly of displeasing countenances and the gentlemen’s boots were deep in mud. Although these things are not at all remarkable among rustics I found myself shivering as though I were caught in inclement weather sans an adequate cloak. Yet, as I looked on there was something in their air and manner of walking that spoke strongly of iniquitous intentions. Filled with dreadful fear I turned on my heel as lightly as though I were dancing the cotillion and hastened back to the drawing room and my husband.
But afore I could reach that comfortable parlour and Woodville’s side, there came from behind me a dreadful commotion. I heard poor Mrs D’arcey cry out in tones so very alarming they would be enough to shake the composure of even the most sanguine amongst us. Then with no further warning of impending doom; the unmistakable and terrible sound of gunfire! …
To be continued.