Gunfire! Dearest Catherine, Gunfire within the walls of my own Woodville Park. As the sparks rained down from the Muskets in a manner reminiscent of the most intemperate of April showers, my first thoughts were of my husband. Though surrounded, as I was, by malfeasants I had little hope of returning to him; but as his wife I was obliged to allay his fears that I had expired and persuade him to flee.
“Henry. I am obliged to allay your fears of my expiration and persuade you to flee!”
As I vociferated I was aware of my poor Housekeeper, Mrs D’arcey, falling to the ground in the grip of a nervous seizure of magnificent proportions. I feared that not even her robust constitution could tolerate such scandalising stupefaction. I was full of anxious concern for my poor servant, for she is the most loyal of creatures; indeed you know as well as I how many times the good woman has made an additional place at dinner on the shortest of notice and with very little objection. I turned and ran, as fast as my gown would allow, towards the unfortunate lady who was strewn across the floor with a shocking want of dignity. Yet before I could reach her, one of the vagabonds fired a shot with calamitous accuracy and brought down a gloriously elaborate chandelier. I threw myself to the ground and covered my visage, in a manner most insulting to my standing, to best avoid the shards of broken of crystal that soared through the air as the ornate candelabrum shattered. It fell with a deafening sound, far better suited to a large tree as it is felled, the candles were snuffed and we were thrown into impenetrable darkness.
All about me in that gloaming blackness was the sound of inexpensively shod feet hastening forth upon some pre decided villainy.
Arms manifested themselves from the tenebrous gloom, seizing my shoulders with a severe lack ceremony, and forcefully drawing me towards the parlour from whence I had come. Said parlour and its occupants had been cast into dreadful confusion; Henry was being bound to a chair by two stout miscreants while above half a dozen more stood about the room. He seemed, happily, unharmed, though more than a little provoked by such brutality in his own abode. Then I cast my eyes downward;
“Oh, Nay! Henry, the Prince. He has perished, we have failed!” I cried, for his Highness was lying sprawled across the floor as lifeless as a game bird after an excellent day’s shooting.
“Nay Maria, do not be affeared , he is not deceased; he merely threw himself into a splendid faint with decided abandon.” Henry reassured me.
I looked down at the Prince once more and found that my relief at his continued existence was met with agitation. For his supine recumbence had disarranged the oriental rug in a most vexing fashion. Which I believe, dearest Catherine, displayed a most troubling want of propriety for someone so very royal.
I scarce had time to calm my nerves, I have made a constant habit of carrying about my person smelling sats of some not inconsiderable strength, when one of the ne’er do wells stepped into the room; Dear Sister I took him to be the leader of this company for he not only wore a coat of a sombre hue, he also spoke with a tone which with every third syllable spoke of an authoritative nature. I was not mistaken;
“Lady Woodville, I am the leader of this company …” The defiant churl approached and addressed me directly and with so little pretence at civility, for we had not been formally introduced. I was shocked into silence. A state that proved favourable to my captor for he proceeded to reveal a partiality for the melodic tones of his own voice and an inclination toward arrogant menologies. He embarked upon a soliloquy of such prodigious length that I should have found it nigh on impossible to give sufficient heed to it, had it not been for his surprising excellent diction. I have neither the time nor the humour to relay the whole of it in a canonical manner, it is enough to say, that within his speech he laid plain his scheme with surprising candour for one so dishonest.
When I found my powers of speech to be quite restored I decided that his want of civility negated the necessity of polite convention;
“You intend to kill the Prince then; Well that is scarcely a surprise, a note was sent to his Highness where the very same threat was made. Though at least the writer had the good fortune to count brevity amongst his qualities.”
Woodville’s muffled gasp revealed him to be all astonishment, however I felt that any peasant who would restrain my dearest husband in such a manner ought not be accorded the niceties of better conversation.
The man’s pride seemed unwounded by my address as he continued;
“Oh, Lady Woodville, that note, while brief, served its purpose. It ensured that you all retreated here. And while the Prince’s death will be the outcome of our little intrigue, I shall not be the one to kill him.” Said he with a smile that spoke of malice and ,perhaps, hunger.
“And the ball, what is the purpose of my throwing a ball?” I enquired, for, dear Catherine, the fellow has asked me to throw a ball for all amongst our acquaintance.
“The ball will provide a perfectly splendid place for the deed. For when so very many ladies and gentlemen of consequence are so happily diverted they shall be disinclined to notice an unhappy accident. The Prince might well fall upon the stairs, get a fish bone caught in his throat or perhaps he shall find that the punch, so prettily laid out in a crystal bowl, will interfere with his gouty complaints with ruinous and instantaneous effect.” He spoke with an inelegant and disquieting relish. “A murder could not pass off anywhere so well as a ball; and with so little inconvenience or disruption to both the victim and the culprit The assassin shall be able to pass through wholly unnoticed.”
As he concluded his speech I became aware of two inadequacies in his scheme, The first he cast aside with this reply.
“Lady Woodville, the fact that it happens to be the height of the London season and all of society is engaged elsewhere, is of trifling consequence. After all, your ball shall boast the presence of the Prince.”
I wished to dispute the matter but found it was an impossibility, his judgement was sound. I expressed the second weakness with more confidence; “Sir even with a ball as crowded as you anticipate allow me to remind you that you are not of our intimate acquaintance, it is oversight indeed to believe that any amongst your company shall be able to eliminate the Prince and still ‘pass through wholly unnoticed’. you shall be suspected at once”
“Madam, we misunderstand each other. The guilty party shall not be one of my company.” He allowed himself a pause of such magnitude, that the tension within the parlour became wholly similar to one of the death bed of a despised but wealthy relation. “It will be you. You shall kill the Prince, Lady Woodville.”
Sister, had I been in possession of your nervous temperament I should undoubtedly have been overcome upon hearing his words, As it was, I faced that vagabond and replied as calmly as though I were enquiring as to the health of an ailing aunt.
“And what, pray Sir, leads you to believe I could be induced into such an act?”
“I believe this would.” Said he, and with that he inclined his head towards a fiendish accomplice.
The man raised his hand and struck Woodville across his handsome visage with such force that the chair to which he was bound fell sidewards. all efforts to run toward my poor husband were prevented by the displeasing grasp of the leaders arm upon my own wrist.
“I am confident you will prove obliging, Lady Woodville, as it your husband who shall suffer for any impetuousness in your character.”
I watched as the son of churl proceeded to raise the chair back up shewing Woodville to have suffered a wound from the blow and his coiffed locks had been vexingly mussed. Yet he settled his gaze upon me in a manner exactly calculated to convey the defiance he felt towards the ill bred rustics; and that he wished me not to surrender to so very treasouness a plot.
“I shall not acquiesce to such a request.” Said I
“Well that is a dismaying response.” He bowed his head once more and this time the ruffian raised a pistol and held it squarely to Woodville’s brow.
“Dispatch him.” Were his only words.
I am not usually of a nervous disposition, yet upon seeing own dearest Henry upon the very brink of expiration, I longed for nothing more than allow myself to be overwhelmed by an attack of the hysterics; and sink into oblivion. But instead, as my remaining composure was shattered I screamed “Nay! Not Henry! Do not kill him! Pray do not slay him! I shall do as you ask!”
… To Be Continued.