As I stood upon the darkened gallery of that villainous lair with a pistol pressed firm to my head, in a manner I feared would prove quite ruinous to my fashionable coiffure, I was overcome with every sentiment more frequently associated with shock and confusion. For I stared down the barrel and directly into my husband’s eyes. His eyes which were more usually filled with humour, now wore an expression, which, with every batt of his uncommonly long lashes spoke of a grave alteration to his character.
“Woodville?” For above half a dozen seconds this was the sole word that was within my power to utter. I then regained enough composure to say “Henry I do not understand…”
“Lower your weapon Maria.” Declared he.
“Pray Henry, what are you about?”
My entreaty was met only with silence as Henry had been flanked by two of Mr. Pravos’ men, both of whom had muskets of their own pointed at my person. Yet still I held my own side arm raised and ready.
“I recommend you lower your weapon.” My husband spoke with more malice than had ever been present in his voice. Realising how very severely outgunned I was I did as he bid. I had not moved my hand above an inch or two afore he lunged forth and knocked it from my hand.
“Come hither with me.” Said he. When I refused to move, for I had never been thus addressed by my husband, he seized my arm in a manner so devoid of civility that it was hard to believe that Henry was in fact a member of the nobility and spake; “Maria, I am not desirous of hurting but I will”
With no further ceremony he ushered me forth and down from the gallery. He did not relinquish his grasp upon my arm until I stood before Mr. Pravos himself, and even then he maintained his aim at my head.
“Mr. Pravos, I discovered her upon the gallery upon the very brink of signalling to our footmen with this.” He drew from his pocket my delicate fan which, in my confusion, I had not noticed him retrieve.
“Ah, Lady Woodville, you deduced that your husband had not perished at my hand. That would have been wasteful indeed when your husband has such desirable connections at court.”
Mr Pravos then, for the second time since I had had the misfortune of making his acquaintance, displayed that most vexing partiality towards the timbres of his own voice, as I stood before him he embarked upon a speech of no trifling length. However it would seem that for all his high esteem for himself Mr. Pravos displays little ability as a public speaker, his delivery was so wanting in eloquence or passion, I confess dearest Catherine that I became nigh on overwhelmed by ennui and had almost ceased listening entirely until he uttered the words; “And now Lord Woodville has joined us.”
“Scandalous falsehoods!” Was my impassioned cry. “Henry would never join such a band of brigands. He is a man of honour.” I continued, glancing at my husband.
“And yet here he stands with a pistol pointed at the head of his own wife.” Said Pravos with a smile, which, by every bared tooth spoke of the triumph of evil over good. “I am afraid, Lady Woodville that you are so very severely mistaken. Your husband has the greatest sympathy with our cause. He has acquiesced to aid us in our quest to rid this country of the plague that is it’s Monarchy.”
“Henry, I can scarce believe you would form an allegiance with such churls as these. I know you count the Prince among your closest friends, you have long supported the monarchy.” Although many a lady in my situation may have felt inclination towards the hysterics, I was determined to keep my head as I addressed my husband, in the hope that I might conceal the considerable turmoil his disquisition had cast me into.
“I have long believed that our gouty rulers have a positive propensity toward indulgent and opulent whimsy beyond anything rational. Such extravagance is harmful to the country and Mr. Pravos has devised a plot to remove them.” Replied Henry.
I stood and continued to listen in a silence, so very stunned that it verged upon stupefaction, to the scheme Pravos had concocted.
He meant to secure admittance to Windsor Castle for his company of fiends under the charade that they were Henry’s own footmen who had assisted my husband in saving the Prince, who was doubtless incarcerated somewhere within the assembly hall’s card rooms. Whence within the Castle’s hallowed walls they would stand before the king himself and threaten his eldest son.
“When his highness sees me with a sword to the Prince’s throat he will undoubtedly abdicated and dissolve the monarchy, rendering the country free from such oppression.” Mr Pravos then made a braying noise I took to be victorious laughter. Thus I delighted in drawing his attention to a serious flaw in his designs.
“Sir, I believe that you forget that the king is known to neither respect nor admire his son. Therefore I doubt very much that he would overthrow the crown for his sake.” Said I.
“Your Ladyship, while you may be correct in your estimation that His Highness is not particularly partial to the Prince, he is still enamoured with his wife, the Queen; the queen may be many things but she is above all a mother, she will ensure that the King saves their son” Mr. Pravos turned to Henry. “Lord Woodville, I believe we have elucidated more than could be considered prudent, now Lady Woodville must perish for she knows too much of our scheme.”
“Perish? Surely Mr Pravos it would be unwise for Maria to expire afore we can be quite certain that she is not guilty of some ruse.” Woodville spoke with fervour.
I was at once, both gratified that my husband had not underestimated my abilities for subterfuge and terrified for my footmen who had loyally followed me to Windsor and stood but a few yards from these walls. What if they were to be discovered?
However Mr Pravos scorned the notion; “Woodville, although your wife shews uncommon intelligence for a lady, she is still but a woman, what threat could she possibly pose. Now dispatch her.”
Henry placed his hand upon my shoulder and redoubled his grip upon his pistol. I, dearest sister was overcome with every sentiment usually associated with betrayal.
“Henry, my love. I beseech you. you cannot do this. you would not dispatch me, you would not be so disloyal to your country!” I attempted to reason with what little of my husband remained before me, but to no avail, he merely bade me turn toward the wall but I would not so readily submit .
“You son of a churl Henry, never has there been a more reprehensibly ignoble turncoat. You have brought to nought every thing goodly in our lives and exposed us to so cruel a fate.”
“Maria, I do not expect you to fathom it. Pray, do not make this any harder than it needs to be, turn about.” Said he again.
“Nay Henry, I will not allow such cowardice. Damn you to the deuce. If you will dispatch me you shall do so, sir, while looking me in the eye, just as you did when we spake our marriage vows.” Said I, in an attempt to sound the very essence of bravery, for this was the quality I knew Woodville had admired above all others. My heart quite breaking all the while as I continued to lour into my husband’s eyes.
“Maria do not trifle with me” He shook me by the shoulder as roughly as though I were no more than a pilferer he had caught out and forced me to turn, dislodging the elaborate chignon my hair had been woven into. However as he did so he leant his brow towards me and whispered, in a voice so genteel that were I not of his intimated acquaintance I mayn’t have heard it; “My love, tis all a shift, if you have faith in me I can succour you to survive this. Fall!”
I was all a tremble and overcome with every sentiment better suited to perplexity, I had no time to try to comprehend what had just passed betwixt us. For as he took several paces away from me and took his aim I was acutely aware of the smallest of parchment scrolls that he had pressed into my hand. yet afore I could reveal my renewed hope for Henry’s true temperament, he said, “Goodbye Madam.” and fired.
There was a moment, a meagre moment as the lead flew from the barrel when I came to understand why my husband had ruined the braided twist of my hair and what I must do. Thus as the shot soared through the air and betwixt the loosened tendrils and abraded my shoulder, I thanked heaven that Henry was so splendid a shot, and feigned the fatal blow.
I fell to the ground in a manner perfectly reminiscent of one who has lately expired from a gunshot wound and remained quite still enacting my own death.
All about me Pravos’ men leapt into action, making ready the weapons for their ambuscade of the castle.
“My felicitations, Lord Woodville. Confess I did not believe you capable of slaying your wife.” Pravos remarked as he too hastened forth to coerce the King.
I did not move until the Churls had quite fled with the Prince and my husband. I lay upon that unpolished dance floor, shaken and bleeding. I was not yet wholly in possession of sufficient composure to stand, instead I unfurled the parchment Woodville had presented me with. Written upon it in Henry’s own fair hand was the missive “My dearest Maria, I trusted that you would find me. Pray my love, I must beg your forgiveness for such wicked deception but I knew that this was the only way I could ensure that you be quite safe. You must gather the footmen and pursue us with the utmost caution and clandestineness I hope to be reunited with you afore too long. Yours always, Henry.”
Yours in a state of delight that my husband is not a treacherous wretch and redoubled terror at the peril we now face,
Lady Maria Woodville.