My Dearest Sister,
I know that you must hope that this correspondence shall bring you reports of our rescue and my happy reinstatement as mistress of my own home. I must apologise therefore that such an account is not within my power to give. I must instead provide you with the dreadfully candid veracity of my situation which has, quite truthfully redoubled in its calamitous horror.
My distress, while not wholly caused by; has been increased by our comfort having suffered greatly at the hands of our false footmen. The ill bred and villainous churls display a wanton neglect of proper servitude.
We had been at their mercy for nigh on a fortnight, yet we had never wavered in our belief that Elizabeth would have full understood the meaning of the invitation. Therefore we were in a state of acute readiness awaiting the arrival of Woodville’s sister and the Major, who would doubtless bring a great many red coats to aid our escape.
As we suffered through the anguish of yet another poorly served dinner, I was all upon tenterhooks. Then, quite suddenly nothing happened.
This lack of events greatly aroused my suspicions. The silence beyond the walls had taken on a quality that spoke of the clandestine advancement of the Major’s regiment.
One look at Henry’s visage told that he too had become aware of the deathly hush.
It is at moments such as this that I realise it is, perhaps, fortunate that I married for love and not fortune; for there exists betwixt my husband and I such an accord, that he had only to utter the words;
“Fordyce’s Sermons.” And with a swiftness that would have proved the envy of the most zealous of chaperones guarding against imprudent marriage, we rose to our feet; and in contemporaneous synchronicity, each reached for an elegant silver candelabra and inelegantly overpowered a guard.
Just then, there came from behind a cacophony of shattering glass as the regiment burst forth through the large windows (unpatriotic as windows in the French style may be, they certainly provide an excellent place from which to overthrow a siege).
However in the ensuing chaos of fulminating glass and foot soldiers we lost sight of the Prince for but an instant. It was enough however for Mr. Pravos to lay hold of his Highness and evanesce into the gloom of the passage beyond.
“The Prince, he has the Prince.” Cried Woodville.
Without allowing a single instant to pass, armed solely with some of the best silverware in all of England, and in a manner exactly calculated to show my figure to it’s best advantage, we pursued the villains.
Afore we had advanced six and thirty paces, however, we were all astonishment as a pigeon flew into our midst with so little forewarning that it shewed a displeasing lack of polite convention.
“It is a pigeon, a feathered rascal! Oh nay, I am afraid they have found my one enfeebling foible, I am afraid of such flighty creatures, they are wicked tormenters indeed!” The Major spoke with the air of a man being held against his will before a lit canon, and proceeded to quickstep about the passage with a surprisingly pleasing lightness of foot.
“Nay, Major Larkin, it is a courier pigeon. Observe the parchment tied to it’s leg. Pray, Woodville you must aid me to catch the creature.” Was my reply.
It took only above two dozen minutes to capture the bird.
“Make haste, Henry, unfurl the scroll.” said I, as I clasped that winged messenger.
Henry opened the tightly wound parchment and read the following note. “Sirs, take heed; if any of your party takes a step beyond the ballroom I shall dispatch the Prince at once. Lady Woodville shall oblige me by assuring you of the veracity of my threat. Your obliging servant, Mr. J. Pravos.”
As my husband concluded his perusal of Mr. Pravos’ missive I felt the eyes of all about me settle upon my visage. It dismayed me greatly that I had no choice but to say;
“Indeed, from what I know of Mr. Pravos he is not to be trifled with. He will indeed act upon his word and kill his Highness. we have no other course of action but to retreat.”
We had soon withdrawn from the house and stood about the rose garden, where refreshments had been laid by Elizabeth’s own footmen (for she had made the admirable decision to travel with her servants).
While our recoil was distasteful to those amongst us anxious to save our future king, it had the distinct advantage of providing a reunification betwixt dear Elizabeth and me. Whilst she was in the midst of acquainting me with every particular of her wedding tour to the continent, Henry approached with the look of one decided upon interruption.
“Forgive me for so vulgar an interruption,” commenced he; “However I have neither time not the inclination to indulge such feminine cordiality. May I remind you that they have seized the Prince, and we are his sole hope for salvation. Thus we must, as a matter of the utmost urgency formulate a plan that will ensure his expedient and safe return to our society.”
We hastily assembled around the tea table to form our stratagem.
Henry turned to his sister; “Elizabeth, we shall require as detailed a drawing of the house as is within you power to provide us with.”
Elizabeth sat before her easel and began to draw entirely from memory an exact likeness of my own dear home.
As we left her to indulge her talents we discovered that, for one so very elevated in the militia, Major Larkin displayed a positive propensity towards cowardice. He seemed quite determined to remain within the grounds in the hope that the churls may find themselves forced by inconvenience of necessity, to exit of their own accord.
“I am afraid Major that my larder is too well stocked for us to entertain such a notion.” Said I.
“Indeed, Maria is correct, while within the walls of Woodville Park they shall want for nothing, besides Mr. Pravos is ultimately desirous of killing the Prince, he is merely attempting to defer it to save his own skin. I believe a course of more decided action is needed.”
We turned to scrutinise Elizabeth’s tableau.
“Elizabeth, have you quite completed your drawing?” Was my husband’s enquiry.
“Nay Henry. the second wash has yet to dry so that I might be able to add a little gouache to lift the pallet.”
Dear Catherine, I was in raptures over her beautiful little design. Woodville, however displayed a severe want of awe towards his sister’s abilities.
“Lift the…? Damnation to it all Elizabeth, I do not recall requesting that you carry out the task in the expressive medium of watercolour … I had thought I had made it abundantly clear that celerity was of the essence!”
“Indeed, Henry but my drawing master always bade me take heed in matters of hue.” Was Elizabeth’s reply.
“That may indeed be the case,.” Woodville looked exceedingly vexed as he indicated the assembled foot soldiers who keenly awaited orders, and said; “However I do not believe this is what your drawing master had in mind when his tutelage advised such attention to the nuance of the tincture!”
“You ought consider yourself fortunate then, brother, that I chose the watercolours rather than the oils, for they would require a prodigious amount of patience!” Returned Elizabeth in agitation.
“Elizabeth, I have not the luxury of time in which to indulge the deficiencies of your character today, now pray, give me the drawing.”
And with that he grasped the drawing and laid it upon the tea table.
“I imagine they have made their camp here, it is by far the most defendable part of the house.” Henry indicated the long gallery. “Here is the scheme I proffer. We shall need to divert their attentions so that a small party can infiltrate the house undetected and take the scoundrels unawares. Major I shall need a good many of your men to draw their fire toward the south west side. Maria and I shall enter by the library…”
Upon hearing Woodville’s plan The major’s pallor turned to the exact white of my bridal gown.
“Forgive me Lord Woodville, but you cannot be suggesting that your wife engage in hostilities with us? She is, after all, an elegant female Sir.” He appeared to struggle for breath as he spoke.
“She is also an elegant comrade in arms. Maria knows the house and our foe better than any amongst your company. My wife fights with more courage and honour than any gentleman in my acquaintance; she does not leave my side, do I make myself plain?”
Henry spoke with such warmth of affection that only the existence of our wedding vows rendered it respectable, and the Major did not attempt to further rebuke Henry’s assertion of my qualities; thus I was spared from further blushes.
We were soon armed with an abundance of some of the Militia’s finest weapons (indeed I found myself to be quite enchanted by the pretty pair of pistols secured to my satin sash) and full prepared for the oncoming fray.
I stood beside my husband, by the library windows, with our muskets ready, our backs to the wall. Henry’s hand was clasped in mine as we awaited the signal. Then it came; the tumultuous clamour of gunfire from the south west side of the house.
As we glanced into each others visages we knew that the battle to retake Woodville Park had begun.
… To Be Continued.