My Dearest Catherine,
I once again find myself begging your forgiveness for my neglectful want of correspondence. However I have had not one occasion upon which I could compose a missive to you. So I write to you now in sentiments of humble repentance for the disregard of sisterly affections that I have exposed you to.
I fervently hope that the note I entrusted to Aunt Margaret, when I dispatched her in the chaise and four to stay with you, and which did a great deal to explicate so lengthy a silence will have reached you. Though I fear that her current inclination towards the devouring of notes of so important a nature as though they were were sugared bonbons may have proved too powerful, and she doubtless consumed it afore the carriage left the park. Therefore you will indubitable be greatly shocked when you learn that I write to you now from the West Indies.
I am sufficiently familiar with your character, my dearest sister, to know that you shall be all agitated curiosity and confusion upon reading those words. Pray, allow me to full explain how the event of our departure from your happy shores came to be.
We had not been long in bath, indeed scarcely half a dozen weeks. And while we had cast ourselves into the diversions therein, taking the waters and three and thirty turns about the pump room thrice daily and sometimes oftener, we had yet to enjoy half the delights of that town. But afore we could take pleasure in the theatricals my dear Woodville was given some grievous news.
We were taking tea in the drawing room and engaged in a charming game of chance, our wager; which of the churls upon the road before the window could dispatch t’other first.
“Ten to one the fellow with the odious nose shall win, for he is plainly not afeared of great peril” Said my husband to me as he drew a handsome banknote from his breeches.
“Nay Henry!” Cried I with animated feeling. “Like as not his opponent with the sallow complexion shall prevail, for he has the advantage of stupidity.”
However, who the victor was we ne’er discovered. For at that moment we were interrupted by a footman. The fellow held aloft a silver plate which bore a heavy sealed parchment.
“Lord Woodville Sir, a message from your steward.” Said he as he approached. Woodville took the letter and at once began to read it. As he perused that page I returned my attentions to the cake before me. Catherine, our cook in Bath displays a positive inclination towards originality in all her receipts and the results are not always displeasing. By and by my dear husband raised his eyes and said in tones that I knew to be quite ominous.
“My dearest Maria, I afraid this note contains a report of a most alarming nature concerning my late Father’s plantations. I have little choice but to leave at once for the West Indies .”
Upon hearing so very distressing an address, confess, I was nigh on overwhelmed by a severe apoplexy. What could be more dreadful than my husband’s absence from my side? Such a notion robbed me so severely of my senses that I quite forgot the morsel of cake I had yet to swallow. A good deal of time passed and still I had not responded. Now it was my husband’s turn to be all alarm.
“Maria make haste and finish consuming that pastry or you shall choke and that dainty will surely dispatch you as efficaciously as a pistol shot to the heart” Cried he.
I did as he bid and found I was once more capable of speech.
“Nay my dearest Henry! This shall not be borne, for how do you believe I shall endure such a thing, to be divided from you thus? kept apart by oceans. Such a separation cannot occur!” Said I.
I continued to cast forth objections to this scheme in a voice which spake only of ardent affection for my husband. But Woodville countered them all with an eloquent rebuttal which soon made it plain that these matters of business were too complex to address by mere correspondence, and too odious to relate to you, Catherine, now or indeed ever.
However I would not be so easily swayed upon the subject of Henry being so very far from me. I concluded that I would accompany him. Despite all his protestations on account of the perils of such a journey to my health, I could see that he was greatly pleased by the notion, for his features had arranged themselves in a manner reminiscent of a lady of seven and twenty whose hand has, at last, been requested in marriage.
I assuaged his fears for me by reminding him that I had resided in the Indies, and while I was not enamoured with returning to such tropical climbs I should prefer it above any solitude. I concluded my soliloquy with an impassioned declaration that it is no more perilous to my health than it would be to his and certainly no more parlous to me than his absenteeism. All was decided and thus, we sailed.
Dear sister, as to our sea voyage, I think perhaps the least said upon that matter, the better. The captain said it was as uneventful a journey as we can hope to enjoy. I say we were fortunate not to end it in the back hole of Calcutta. I believe it is enough to say that we arrived safe, and leave the discussion thither.
I had hoped that my declaration of our safety would extend beyond our arrival, that these shores, with all their exoticism would prove to be a place of refuge; away from treasonous churls quite decided upon simultaneously dispatching me and elevating their own rank and circumstance (Catherine though we had heard no more from the Coterie they are never quite forgot and their shadow yet darkened every parlour). But I fear now that the spectre of that menace is at our heels. As soon as I had been handed down from the boat and stood upon the docks I was quite filled with sentiments of the most violent foreboding. I turned to my husband with an expression exactly calculated to convey my belief that this place was in the grip of deuced villainy and wretched devilry.
“Maria!” Said he. “The inclination of your brow suggests an ardent belief that this place is in the grip of deuced villainy and wretched devilry. Are you quite well?”
“Quite Well, Henry. But you have guessed my feelings exactly. I have fallen prey to the greatest malaise.” Was my reply.
The captain, either by accidental coincidence or by impolite design had overheard our exchange.
“Oh your Ladyship, your disquiet shall be on account of the pirates in these parts.” He addressed us with the assured authority of one who feels themselves to be better acquainted with a place than his companions. For in his eyes he was. I had not informed him with my prior connexion to that place, as, I am certain you my dear Catherine will comprehend, there are people hither that I had sooner forget. Thus we had not made our arrival generally known.
“Pirates? Are there many about these parts?” Returned I to the stupid fellow with feigned interest, for I knew full well that such a thing was not the cause of my alarm. But I concluded that this was the surest way of evading his curiosity.
“Aye, there is a good deal of piracy hither. But you need not be afeared madam for they are caught more oft than not and hanged upon the gallows quite regular, before a great crowd of peasants and gentlefolk alike. Tis monstrous good fun!” Said he with feeling.
I bowed my head and was everything charming until we had reached the sanctuary of the carriage. Whereupon I vented a great deal of spleen upon Woodville on the subject of this distasteful suggestion of diversion. By the time I had exhausted the topic we had reached the plantation.
“Oh my dear Henry!” Said I as I became aware of the cessation of movement from the carriage. “My lamentations have left us not time for a game “Strike The Peasant.”
“No matter.” Said he graciously as he handed me down, and I gazed upon the late Lord Woodville’s manor. Catherine it is thrice the size of Papa’s and twice as grand. I set about traversing betwixt the parlours in a manner, which was too reminiscent of a child playing a parlour game at michaelmas to be considered quite proper, until I was full acquainted with my lodgings. I was quite enraptured with it all, for everything has been so charmingly arranged to offer every comfort and happiness.
While many a gentleman would shew an inclination towards deferring matters of business so objectionable in nature for at least a fortnight after an arduous journey; Woodville was all assertion that he would address them at once. We had scarce finished taking our first refreshment before he sent for Mr Whitby.
Whitby was the man in whose hands the care of the plantations now rests, he entered the parlour now at a gait that seemed to convey sentiments of acutest surprise at seeing us.
“Lord Woodville, Allow me to express my sentients of acutest surprise at seeing you.” Said he.
“Surprise, why should you feel any surprise Whitby. After all you you bade me come here as swiftly as though I were pursued by the deuce.” Woodville spake in astonishment.
Whitby was equally astonished as he replied; “Bade you Sir? Nay I did not ask you to come here.”
Woodville drew from his coat pocket the letter from his steward and presented it to Whitby, who read the parchment in full before returning his eyes to my husband, the confusion upon his not disproportionate features instantaneously redoubled.
“Lord Woodville, I never sent such a missive as this. I never requested your presence. Nor did I claim that your affairs required your urgent attentions. Indeed, why would I? For the plantations do very well. They are quite thriving.” As Whitby concluded his speech, my husband and I exchanged a glance that held within it not merely our incertitude but our swelling premonition of menace.
“This letter is your hand is it not?” Woodville spake in the voice of one who wishes to have his fear found baseless.
“It is everything similar, I grant you, Sir. But that is not my hand.” Whitby assured us.
“But my Dear Woodville, if Mr Whitby did not send for you who did?” Was my fearful enquiry.
Henry turned his visage upon mine and said.
“Maria, we have been lured away from England, but why?”
I quit you now dear sister because I am no longer in sufficiently tolerable humour to continue the composition of correspondence.
Your affectionate sister,