As I stood with Woodville’s hand held in the one hand and a rifle in the other I heard the bursts of canon fire from the building’s south west side. The dissonance caused by the regiment’s best endeavours to divert the attentions of the churls caused me great pangs of aggrieved vexation.
“Pray Maria, You look as though you are suffering from pangs of aggrieved vexation.” Said Woodville.
“Indeed Henry, I am thus afflicted.”
“What is the matter?” Continued he.
“Only this; The Major’s regiment appear to have deployed the canons …” I began in tones of serious concern.
“Yes, the use of such weaponry causes me to believe we may be upon the brink of a battle of some magnitude”
“Henry it is not what the canons signify that concerns me but rather their proximity to the gazebo.” Replied I.
Sister, that Gazebo, in the spanish style, is a recent improvement to the park and I have yet to full enjoy reclining decorously beneath it on a clement afternoon. The thought of so delightful a summer retreat being destroyed prior to such enjoyment was too much to borne!
Afore Henry was able to reply however, we heard Mr. Pravos’ men return fire upon the militia. We pressed our backs more firmly to the wall and waited with our breath quite baited. While this sign that the Prince’s captors were suitably diverted shewed that our scheme was working, it also meant that we would soon be bolting directly towards the very heart of the peril.
“I believe that their attentions are now thoroughly engaged elsewhere. Maria, we ought advance.”
Woodville handed me through the library window with a refined movement far better suited to leading one’s partner to the dance floor. We crossed that handsomely panelled room and soon came to understand that the draught from the broken panes had snuffed every candle within the house. Causing an almost impenetrable darkness, broken only by a bespattering of moonlight from the abundant tall windows. As we traversed the flagstone floor I became acutely aware of the magnificent proportions of my home. Sister, the long gallery is a considerable distance from the library under such circumstances.
We had scarce reached the morning room; when there appeared ahead of us, standing in a splinter of moonlight of such iridescent beauty it cast a ethereal glow upon the gilded doors of my favoured parlour, two of Mr. Pravos’ men. We seemed in possession of some good fortune for their backs were too us and they did not hear our soft treat as we approached from behind.
Woodville stepped forth and placed his arms about one the churl’s necks as though enclosing him in the warmest of embraces, and saying “Pray, do not fight it.” quite smothered the man into insensibility; whilst I felled t’other as though he were no more than a sapling, by employing the far more feminine ploy of striking him about the head with the butt of my musket. However, here, dear Catherine, it would appear that our good fortune was annulled. For as the man fell he sent flying an ornamental urn which seemed to create a din similar to that of a cannon as it shattered.
Henry and I froze where we stood and looked at each other all aghast. The aftermath of no more than half a dozen seconds passed as horror overwhelmed us.
Then, with so little warning that it seemed to lack civility, Henry took my hand and we hastened toward the foot of the staircase. As he did so he whispered;
“Maria, it grieves me to say that such cacophony will doubtless be heard by our foe, the advantage of surprise is no longer with us. They will soon be upon us. we must make all haste and proceed with the upmost discretion to put some distance between us and this pace!”
Although we made our way as swiftly as though we were the most dedicated poachers, the very next corner led us directly into an ambuscade.
Drawing closer, at a pace that exactly matched our own, were more of Pravos’ men. Quite sans indication Henry then crossed the passageway in a manner that, with every step indicated he had a scheme for our continued survival.
“Come hither! I have a scheme for our continued survival.” Said he.
I did as he bid, and had only just reached his side when he overthrew an elegant chiffonier and we launched ourselves behind it, using it’s polished mahogany as a blockade to protect us from such unwelcome company!
We fired shot after shot towards the oncoming villains. Soon the air was thick with the spoilage and detritus as the churls ducked and the carved marble of the staircase took the impact of the blasts.
I had not been presented with the opportunity to count Pravos’ men whence he first stormed our home, however he had indubitably redoubled their numbers during the course of the fortnight; for what lay betwixt us and the Prince was, now, a veritable army.
“Forsooth, there is such a profusion, they must have anticipated our arrival!” Declared Woodville in vexation.
“Henry, it is beyond hope! What chance have we of vanquishing such an abundance of malfeasants?” I asked my husband as we took cover upon the woven oriental rug in an attempt to evade a peculiarly well aimed volley of shots. (Dearest sister, I confess I have scarcely seen ill bred fiends in possession of so true an aim.)
“Cast your aim upwards, Maria.” Said Henry as the chiffonier began to shatter into spillikins of wood.
“Pray, of what do you speak?” I replied in some confusion.
“Turn you musket upwards, and fire at the chandelier. If you bring it down upon enough of them we shall be able to run for the stairs and take the higher ground. I shall draw their fire.” Said my husband.
I believe it is such moments of brilliance that show Henry’s countenance to it’s best advantage.
I took my pistol, turned my eye upwards and pulled the trigger. With my first two shots I loosened the graceful ornament of gold and crystal. I believe one more shot would have been sufficient to cause it to plummet to the ground. I steadied my hand and fired. I was met only with the disagreeable click of the empty gun.
“Henry, My gun is entirely empty.” Said In distress.
Woodville had turned to reply when we were suddenly both nigh on overcome by the pungent odour of gunpowder. We had not time to articulate the alarm this caused, before a resounding rumble began directly above us and the very ground beneath our feet trembled.
It could not have been above half a second later that Henry, his voice full of terror, shouted “Maria take your leave!”
With a strength I did not know he possessed he impelled me away from him as a blast tore through the upper floors of Woodville Park and the ceiling began to fall.
The force of the fulmination threw me indelicately to the ground and kept me there. I covered my head with my arms as more of the plafond rained down all about me. As the last stone fell I turned to reach for my husband, but found only his absence. The fallen rafter had formed a barricade that entirely blocked the passageway; with my husband on the other side.
“Henry! Henry!” I screamed, knowing not if my husband has been quelled by the falling stone. I hastened toward the bulwark that lay betwixt us. Climbing over was an impossibility, thus I began to endeavour to dig through it.
“Henry, are you hurt?” I called in voice that, with every syllable, spoke of trepidation. I was greeted by silence.
As I began to dislodge portions of stone, I heard from beyond the wall the sound of the churls approaching to admire the destruction they had caused. My fear for Henry’s fate was heightened to the point of hysteria as I heard Mr. Pravos utter the words; “Ah lord Woodville.”
His gleeful tones were followed by a drawn out, agonised cry from Henry.
“Henry! Unhand him, you son of a churl!” I screamed in a fashion entirely devoid of propriety. My hopes of Henry’s life fading as quickly as the footsteps of Pravos and his men. My hands fumbled with the stones as I continued in my efforts in desperation.
“Lady Woodville?” The voice behind me was full of brotherly concern. I turned to see that Major Larkin had arrived with a number of his soldiers.
“Madam, Pray what is the matter?” Enquired he.
“It it Woodville. He was trapped and I fear that they…” I could not bring myself to complete my sentence, and fortunately I had no need to.
“Colonel Smith, dislodge the blockade at once.” ordered the Major, hurrying to offer me his arm, and I was glad of it, for I could scarce keep my composure. My brother in law and I stood in the most intolerable state of torment, enduring a seemingly interminable wait, until;
“Major Larkin, Sir, we have cleared a way through.” Said Colonel Smith. The major approached the aperture and I had attempted to follow him, when he spake; “Lady Woodville, stay thither.”
His timbre served only to increase my anxiety thus I kept walking. The Major may have been all swift reflex in seizing me to prevent my continuing, but even so brazen an act of incivility was not quick enough to prevent my seeing what I had dreaded.
There upon the floor, but a short distance away, his handsome visage so altered by soot and powder burns that I should scarcely have know him were it not for his beauteous blue coat, lay my poor Henry; quite dead.
… To Be Continued.