Elizabeth and I stood in the parlour. I in a state of fevered agitation and she still grasping the villains’ wretched note in her hand. A look of vexation and marital disharmony spread across her pretty features.
“Curses to it all Maria! If the Major shall not believe us what is to be done?” Said she in despair.
I did not answer her immediately for I was suddenly gripped by the formulation of a scheme of some brilliance.
“Maria, the depth of your silence indicates that you are in possession of a scheme of unrivalled brilliance, may I enquire what it is?” Asked she.
“Pray close the door Elizabeth, I am not enamoured with the notion of what I am about to propose being overheard.”
As she rejoined me I lowered my voice to soft timbres of light summer’s breeze. “Are you able to imitate your husbands hand?”
“Indeed, I oft write letters on his behalf, the Major is the most ill mannered correspondent. Why?”
“I am afraid you must prepare yourself for something very shocking.” Was my answer “I suggest that we administer a munificent dose of the apothecary’s sleeping draft to him in his tea. Then whence he is slumbering you can compose an order to the regiment of Windsor to surround the churls lair and await …” But here she would listen no longer.
“Maria, what you advocate; forgery, to usurp the Major’s command, and take control of the militia thus, it is treachery. He is my husband, I cannot acquiesce.” Said she in shocked disbelief. She took half a dozen steps toward the parlour door. I swiftly barred her exit.
While I may not hold the advantage of height over Elizabeth, I am her elder by a full twelve month, thus she did not part with convention, and remained in the room.
“Elizabeth, my dear husband, your brother is alive and we are his only hope of remaining so. The Major will not listen to reason. His current inaction is tantamount to cowardice. If we allow him to continue in so poltroon a fashion Henry and the Prince shall indubitably perish in the most cruel way imaginable and the monarchy shall be cast into disarray. Do you believe you are quite prepared to live with that?”
She hesitated but three and twenty seconds longer. “Nay … very well, I will assist you.”
“We must make haste then, fetch the elixir and I shall ring for tea to be served in the study.”
We soon had our ploy pleasingly arranged and were quite at our leisure as we settled ourselves in that handsome room, and were all cordial civility when the major joined us. As Elizabeth stood to provide her husband with his cup she drew from the sleeve of her sprigged muslin gown a diminutive glass vial, I watched her administer the draught with a movement so subtly swift it was, perhaps, better suited to a cut purse than a lady of such consequence.
“Your tea, dearest husband.” said she in a voice so devoid of culpability that not even the most paranoiac amongst us would have suspected her of subterfuge. The major accepted the beverage and and eagerly drank.
The affects were almost instantaneous. Major Larkin gave a small cough and fairly swooned as he fell into the most profound of stupors at our feed. Together we arranged him on the chaise and hastened to the bureau.
Taking pen in hand Elizabeth took down my dictated commands to Windsor’s finest regiment in a hand that exactly matched her husband’s; She had replicated the flourish upon the I in a way that spoke of true accomplishment, indeed as I admired her endeavours to forge her husband’s military orders I was reminded that in securing Elizabeth’s hand Major Larkin had truly married above his station.
I had scarcely completed the passage where we would command the militia to secretly surround Mr Pravos refuge, permitting no one within half a mile of that place, when there was a knock at the study door.
We froze in terror as though we were poachers who had been discovered by a gamekeeper in their attempts to away with a stag.
“Major Larkin Sir.” Colonel Smith stood just beyond the parlour door.
“Elizabeth, you must tell him the major is indisposed.” Said I.
She rose and opened the door no more than half an inch in order to inform the colonel that the Major was asleep.
“Asleep?!” Said he with some anguish, “Is he quite well?”
“Oh yes, quite well, I thank you. I believe that such spontaneous slumbers are all the fashion on the continent.” Said she as serenely as though she spoke nought but the truth. “Now I beg you would allow him to rest, need I remind you, colonel, that his beloved brother in law is very lately late?” And with no further attempt to pacify the colonel she closed the door and returned to finish our felonious activities. As she tended to the sealing of the scroll I sketched as true a likeness of Mr Pravos as my abilities would allow (Sister, I am aware that it’s qualities would have been far superior had it been drawn by your fair hand, as it was I felt I had captured the wicked glint of his eye).
We allowed only little time to indulge in a further cup of tea and some fancy cakes before we entrusted the scroll to a foot-soldier, who was seemingly ill witted enough to believe that my voice, thinly disguised by projecting it through my own cupped hands behind the door, was that of his officer, and dispatched him to Windsor as fast as his feet would allow. We then proceeded with considerable promptitude to gather my footmen, who would accompany us into the affray. Taking the Major’s own regiment was an impossibility, dear Catherine, for I felt quite certain that our ability to continue our subterfuge of impersonating Major Larkin, would undoubtedly not extend beyond his handwriting and voice.
“Lady Woodville while I greatly admire your spirit, the consequences for such expropriation shall be grave indeed.” Said foot, my aptly named and most exceedingly capable head footman as I concluded my elucidation of most of what had come to pass.
“Foot, I do not doubt that you are correct, but I would rather face the gallows, than live the rest of my days a widow, knowing that I sat by and did nought to save my husband.” Was my impassioned response.
“Very well Madam, but might I be so bold as to suggest that our confluence be at the folly, that way yourself and Mrs Larkin shall be able to depart via the subterranean passage unheeded by the major.”
“You think of everything Foot.” Said I.
As Elizabeth and I traversed that sunken pathway we met with so coincidental a coincidence that it’s timing was surely better suited to a novel. For when my poor companion turned her ankle she fell directly upon a folio that appeared to contain almost every particular of the treasonous churls plot. Although at first the parchment within seemed incomprehensible, Elizabeth employed her code wheel once more to discover that those wretched brutes had set their sights upon Windsor Castle itself. They meant to imbue that fortress and lay threat to the His Majesty the King.
“But surely the castle is one of the most fearfully guarded places in all England, they could not easily gain admittance?” Said I in incredulous disbelief.
“Maria, they refer here to a man of two masters, I believe there may be one among their company well enough acquainted with both king and castle to secure ingress.”
“Oh, nay. We shall have to make all haste Elizabeth if we are to have any hope of reaching His Majesty in time.” We gathered our skirts about us and ran as fast as convention would permit down that gloomy passageway.
I was not disappointed in my servants, they displayed the utmost loyalty in their expedient loading of the weapons into the Barouches and phaetons, while Elizabeth and I had beed completing our toilette and packed our trunks with the gowns we believed would be best suited to such a journey. As we burst forth from the folly the carriages were already awaiting us. Once ensconced in the Barouche Elizabeth drew her writing box onto her lap and sent a further missive to the regiment, this time instructing them that, considering the contents of the folio, they ought turn their attention wholly to surrounding the Castle and protecting the king.
The journey to Windsor was as unremarkable as those journey’s in one’s own Barouche oft are, and due to the superior quality of the roads in our part of the country it was not long afore we had reached Windsor and Pravos’ haven, which proved to be an assembly hall which had fallen idle.
Full aware of the considerable Peril we faced without the regiment’s presence at our side, I wasted little time in commanding my footmen into place.
“Lady Woodville, are you quite certain it is wise for you to advance alone?” Enquired Foot as he aided me to secure my numerous weapons about my person, including my own highly decorous musket.
“Indeed Foot, I believe I have the advantage of a slight figure, I shall be able to pass through the adjoining attics unseen, thus gaining the benefit of an excellent view. Upon my signal, (I had devised a complex flutter of my fan That I could perform before a window, which under different circumstances could have been construed as flirtation, however, here it very plainly signalled that the time was upon them to advance) and only upon it should you advance with the footmen.” Said I as I approached the building.
Inside the building all was crepuscular shadows, I trod furtively through the attics until I was on the gallery above them. Below me I could see Pravos and his men gathering weapons so numerous they were indicative of a violent and imminent battle.
Concluding this was the time for reinforcements, I reached for my fan, but before I could claim it in my grasp I heard a step behind me. Quite instinctively I raised my weapon but afore I could take aim I felt the barrel of a pistol press into my temple.
“Lower the weapon Maria.” The man spoke in timbres so familiar that I felt an unseasonal chill. I turned to face my assailant and was met with those eyes of so peculiar a blue, the dark tendrils of hair, that beauteous face;
To Be Continued.