Catherine, the silence that followed Mr Pravos’decalration was of both prodigious length (indeed it seemed nigh on interminable) and profundity.
T’was the king who spoke first and he was all fearful disbelief as he said “An amassment of gun powder barrels large enough to extirpate London! Surely such an amount could not exist. It is all hollow hearted disseminating, it must be!”
I looked upon Pravos’ ill humoured visage and everything about this villainous wretch, from his brow to his distinctive gait, spoke of a man capable of considerable forethought and ingenious scheming. It was with regret therefore, that I found myself to be of the decided opinion that Mr Pravos was the very personification of one in possession of a plan of contingency.
“I find myself to be of the decided opinion that Mr Pravos is the very personification of one in possession of a plot of contingency.” Said I to the king as I bowed my head and curtseyed (For decorum before the monarchy ought never be neglected no matter how ruinous a catastrophe we face); “I fear, that distasteful as it may be we have little choice but to acquiesce to his request, if we do not wish to see London burn.”
The King then wounded the refined sensibilities of his lady the Queen as he cried with great vexation: “Damn you to the deuce Pravos for having us thus cornered as though we were little more than flightless birds. You shall have your clemency, but if a single grain of that accursed powder burns I shall feel no pangs of conscience in placing the noose about your neck with my own royal hands.”
As the king summoned his Privy council, Mr Pravos smiled that malevolently wicked smile once again and spake;
“Oh Your Highness, tis no mere clemency I am desirous of. For what use is a man’s liberty if he cannot enjoy it in comfort.” Pravos spake in tones of surprising self importance for one of such little consequence. He then stood before those honourable gentleman of the privy council and proceeded in venting considerable spleen upon Woodville and their Majesties. It was quite evident from the amount of ire that he found himself to be particularly aggrieved by his station in life.
Catherine, for one who claims so very vehemently to be against all things nobility, he demanded the title of a baronet and a country estate in – Shire to rival my own Woodville Park (complete with a living that is beyond anything generous) with surprising zeal. I believe, dear sister that he has proven himself, in every way to be a man of little Principle.
No sooner had the royal decree been signed than the King demanded his side of the bargain be met.
“Mr Pravos, you have your pardon, now where is this cache?”
Pravos examined the heavy parchment of the decree as he spake. “Tis at the St Stephen’s chapel, Westminster palace.”
Sister, I am quite certain that I need not describe to you the consequences of such a declaration. All was uproar as a regiment of the militia and our own footmen were made ready with as many weapons as we could muster and dispatched a note to Major Larkin; we had concluded that now seemed as fortuitous a moment as any to relinquish command of the regiment and inform him of his wife’s fate.
Throughout this exchange I had become aware of the Queen casting her gaze over me with poorly concealed disgust; Our departure departure was, therefore, delayed by her majesty, who was all affronted horror as she said; “Lady Woodville shall be returning to Woodvile park, surely. For ladies are capable of nothing more than wifely duties.”
“Pray, with the very greatest of respect your very royal Highness, do not underestimate Lady Woodville’s abilities thus. I can assure you that she is the superior of any of any decorated man. And there is no one I would rather have at my side when facing such peril.” Was my husband’s affectionate reply.
The Queen turned and addressed me in a voice, which with every syllable shewed her displeasure “Madam, think of your reputation. I feel obliged to warn you that if you continue to conduct yourself in so unfashionable and indelicate a manner you are exposing yourself as the subject of scandalous gossip and ridicule. You shall be ruined.”
Afore I could inform her majesty that, by now, my reputation seemed but a trifling concern and I should rather accompany my husband now than receive for score and twelve invitations to society balls, Woodville stepped forth.
“Majesty.” Said he, his voice as cold as an icy wind upon a Michaelmas morn. “Allow me to remind you that it was neither the militia nor your own guards that saved you and the crown, It was my wife, and if you believe I would stand idly by and while you threaten her thus you are gravely mistaken indeed. If you wish for us to save London you will give me your personal assurances that upon our next appearance at court my wife will be afforded the same courtesy as the most celebrated of duchesses.”
He waited only long enough for the Queen to nod her assent before he turned, led me from the castle and handed me into the carriage.
The journey from Windsor to London is little more than four and twenty miles and it was wholly necessary for Pravos to accompany us, for he had placed his own men were under the strictest orders to ignite the fuse if he had not rejoined their company by noon. You would have thought, would you not, that being obliged to travel with such a sleeveen, no matter how much brocade the chaise boasts, would render the journey intolerable. However Pravos proved himself to be a master of piquet. Thus it passed pleasantly enough until one of our horses cast its shoe (you shall hardly be surprised to hear that this most unfortunate of disruptions occurred in cheap-side).
This hindrance was no trivial traveler’s ennui, Catherine, it soon proved itself to have the most dreadful concomitants, for as we reached the palace of Westminster it was later than we should fund convenient.
We made all haste as we ran, bearing our weapons, toward the chapel as fast as my skirts would permit. Yet our hopes for Elizabeth’s survival and, indeed, that of London diminished with and every one of our swift an elegant footsteps, and they well nigh died all together as we proceeded to tear down the door to the chapel only to find that cavernous room entirely devoid of Pravos’ men.
I do not know, dearest sister, if you have ever been presented with the opportunity of seeing St Stephen’s chapel, I am sure you would be quite in raptures over the beauteous sanctuary, indeed I was quite enamoured with it , and I was momentarily diverted in wondering how well the ornamentation and furnishings of that style might suit our own drawing room. This happy distraction was interrupted when I saw my husband’s features alter with vexation. Upon finding so displeasing a lack of churls he had turned, with a movement that caused his tresses to fall over his brow in a pleasing fashion, upon Pravos.
“Where is the cache, and where is my sister?” Demanded my husband with uncommon ferocity.
Mr Pravos then gave an answer so very predictable in its inevitability that I was more than a little surprised that we had not foreseen it, the crypt.
But even as we pried oped the doors of that sepulchre we knew it had gone noon and the fuse had been ignited. Upon finding that the only source of light within that stygian vault was the low, golden, phosphoresce of the fuse. All among our company was nigh on overwhelmed by the desire to abandon themselves to the hysteria. Woodville, however, succeeded in keeping his head.
“Maria, come hither with me, I have found Eliza” Said he as he made his way deeper into the crypt at a pace, which in every way reflected the sentiments of a brother in anguish.
It was at that very moment and with timing which was everything romantic, that Major bust int the crypt.
“Elizabeth!” Cried he in a fashion that revealed his partiality for the theatricals as he hastened towards her.
Catherine, my sensibilities suffered renewed pangs as I saw my sister in law, for she was in a darkened cloister of the crypt, bound to a seat with her own sash. Confess, that I found so disagreeable a use for such elegantly agreeably stuff, displayed a wanton disregard for goodly taste and high fashion. As I severed the bonds of the sash with my dagger I noted that Elizabeth’s wild eyes and coiffure were reminiscent of one who has, perhaps, read above one more of Mrs Radcliffe’s novels that can be considered wholly advisable for one so fair. While I did not believe her to be mortally wounded, I felt quite certain that we would require more than the smelling salts to return to her usual peculiar spirits.
Yet, we had not time to indulge those frailties. The fuse was entirely unremitting in it’s burning toward the mountain of barrels so prodigious large I could scarce doubt it would destroy all of London.
I was all equanimous equanimity as Mr Burney and I bent over that glass contrivance and more than a little confident in my own abilities for it was not yet even four and twenty hours since we had learned how to dispense with its brother. However as we examined it the quality of Burney’s silence full reflected my own sentiments.
“I cannot cause it to cease!” Said I in considerable distress for my life was being cast into great peril by fuse wire with alarming regularity. “While it is a beautiful little design for a mechanism it is quite unfathomable.”
Seeing that neither I nor Mr Burney (for all his clockmaking artistry) could forestall the spark, Woodville was overcome by passionate choler. Seizing Mr Pravos by his livery coat he thrust him against the wall of the vault with a force far more usually associated with an ill bred ruffian than a gentleman of such noble birth.
“You son of a churl!” Vociferated he, still refusing to unhand him. “How may we put paid to it’s progress?”
Pravos would not oblige and merely remained in contemptuous silence until Woodville, becoming increasingly infuriated shook him by his lapels and seized the royal decree crying; “This shall be of little use to you sir, for if you do not tell us how to quell it, you shall burn here among your foe!”
“You cannot. Unlike it’s kin their is no way this fuse can be extinguished. it cannot be stopped!” Pravos’ voice barely wavered as he replied.
The perturbation that fell upon all among our company as he spake, dear sister, was incommunicably inexpressible. Indeed these were the sort of tidings that would reduce many to hysteria and as it was Mr Hand took leave of his senses and did run quite mad. My thoughts, however, turned to the populace of London and our own excellent house in Grosvenor Square and with a moment of brilliance commonly attributed to men of science I found the answer.
I looked up and met my dear Henry’s gaze and knew he had fallen upon that very same scheme.
“The river!” The words flew from our lips with simultaneous harmony.
“Pray, of what do you speak?” Enquired Major Larkin as he offered his arm to Elizabeth, who had regained sufficient composure to stand.
“Only this Major, the powder cannot burn if it is wet through. The river lies at so very convenient a distance, we may yet have time to soak them as though they had fallen prey to an inclemently tempestuous downpour.” Was my reply.
The Major threw a furtive keek upon the fuse, which was burning with a rapidity that I took to be a personal slight.
“It would seem it is our sole chance to deliver the people of London. But we have not the luxury of an abundance of time.” Said the Major in such pusillanimous, recreant tones, that I was gripped by the supposition that he was experiencing a positive inclination towards retreat.
“Then might I suggest that we act with the utmost expeditious promptitude!” Woodville spoke as he seized a barrel as though it weighed no more than a feather and fled from the crypt with it held aloft.
My dear sister, we were perhaps all fortuitous good fortune that the churlish villains that were Pravos’ men had not bound these barrels together; and it was with the light-footedness of the most determined rum smugglers, that we conveyed those odiously perilous kilderkins one by one to the river’s edge and cast them into the turbid poppling waters.
I know not how much time passed as we traversed back and forth from the sepulchre. I can unequivocally assure you, Catherine, that it was the sort of fatigue inducing moil that was certainly better suited to common rustics than happy members of the gentry. T’was only the foreboding terror that the barrels could yet be ignited that kept us moving.
The travail had well nigh claimed all my thew when, I met Major Larkin at the entrance of the crypt. He had secured the door the door behind him with an air of finality that filled me with no trifling sense of trepidation that he was in the midst of some deed of deceit. However his next words chased all trepidatious sentiments from my head.
“The last cask has been removed. The infernal crypt is now perfectly empty. It is over.” Larkin addressed the company at large who lost no time in embarking upon several rousing choruses of Rule Britannia as they bore their muskets aloft and found wine from I know not where.
I sought out my dear, handsome, Henry’s side and was wholly settled upon indulging in the most exuberant celebrations, as England was once more (and in large part due to my own excellent husband) safe.
When, through the cacophony of the foot-soldier’sjubilations came the sound of a blast. The ground was all a tremor as, wholly sans forethought, my husband and I hastened toward the source of the clangour; the crypt. The doors had been thrown from there heavy stone frame and Elizabeth stood alone at the ingress.
We had not time to enquire what had hap’t happen before Major Larkin stepped from the vault, and in a voice that was the very essence of murderous chicanery said; “T’would seem I was mistaken, there was one barrel of gun powder unaccounted for. It would also seem that Mr Pravos was, by some misadventure, trapped below, and was quite unhappy in his efforts to evade the blast. He has perished.”
The Major’s eyes were as easy to read as an ill devised sermon from an ill witted parson; and one glance at those deep brown orbs, as he looked upon his wife, told me that when Pravos had committed his last unpardonable act of attempting to rob Larkin of his own dear Elizabeth, he had sealed his own fate. Major Larkin would not permit such a man to live.
“Dead? But he had a pardon from his Majesty the king.”Said my husband in a manner which led me to understand that he too doubted Pravos’ expiration was mere misadventure.
“We had best inform the king then, that the clemency hath been rendered null and void.” Said Larkin still not lifting his gaze from Elizabeth.
“Indeed.” Was Woodville’s answer as he dropped his musket, offered me his arm and led me away from that place. For there was little more that could be said or done about the matter, save for turning our backs away from the crypt and all that had come to pass and making for the carriages that still awaited us.
By the time we had reached the barouche we had settled it betwixt us that we would drive immediately into the country and take lodgings in Bath for a time. As the waters are certain to prove beneficial to nerves that have been so shockingly exposed to the most fearsome peril.
Thus I conclude my correspondence to you my dearest sister, in a state of simultaneous joy at having vanquished such deuced evil, and the greatest lassitude.
Your affectionate sister,
Lady Maria Woodville.
Post Script: Catherine, we would be greatly obliged if you would stay with us in Bath, for we intend to throw a a ball as soon as ever we have regained our fortitude and opened our house.