My Dear Sister,
I believe that I have now recovered sufficient composure to continue with my recounting of events.
My husband and I stood in that parlour for what seemed an interminable amount of time, with little passing betwixt us save for our fearful dread. The arrival of that letter was no mere mischance with the post. For while the West Indies are in great need of a Penny Post, that missive was no misunderstanding. It was meant to reach us.
It was become irrefutably, incontestably plain that we had been drawn thousands of miles from our home to this farthest corner of the earth upon wholly false pretences. We paced about the room in the most aggrieved agitation, our minds were all activity as were tried to understand it.
“It is nonsensical! They must have known I should discover their scheme as soon as I spake to Mr Whitby.” Said Woodvile as he took another turn before the window.
“Undoubtedly they would have counted upon the usual languor of gentlemen of great wealth to have delayed your speaking to Whitby for several weeks. For I am certain that many others would not have been so prompt in addressing their affairs. Though, It would matter not when you learned it.” Returned I with the greatest melancholy. “For now we are here we are quite cut off. We have few acquaintances. Our true friends and our own Footmen are all at so vast a distance from us now. Word between England and ourselves would travel so very slowly as to render it wholly impossible for us to warn them, or they us of any peril. Whomever they be they wished to sequester us and Henry, I fear they have succeeded.”
Hither my husband stepped forward and took both my hands in his. “Nay Maria, it is unaccountable of you to give up thus. Such surrender is not in your character.” Said he. “We must do all we can to stop these sons of churls whatever their plots may be.”
It is nigh on impossible, dear sister, to look into Woodville’s eyes, of so peculiar a blue, and not feel one’s spirits regain a little buoyancy. They were further helped by his launching into the beginnings of a scheme which held all the promise of brilliance.
“Admittedly we have not our company of footmen with their manifold accomplishments. But we are not yet without recourses. We have at our disposal a town whose populous is formed of those of fortune, rank and idleness, who are all longing for the comfort and conventions of their own english society. And what, pray, does every idle englishman exchange daily?”
As I looked deep into his visage I knew the answer. “Idle gossip.”
“Indeed.” Said he. “We shall have before us such shocking gossip and scandalous rumour; within which shall be concealed the truth. We must away at once. However I suggest we shall be more efficacious if we do so separately. Confidences are more frequently shared with one singular soul.”
It was soon settled between us that Henry would pay some calls to the neighbouring gentlemen and I would traverse the town to the assembly rooms where an abundance of frivolous women were sure to found. My dear sister, The town is the same as before we quitted it. It would seem that it is not only the architects and the seamstresses here that the styles of London have yet to reach (The waistlines are truly worn so low it is as though I have been returned to the year of my first ball); but the quality of the gossip.
I had been in the assembly rooms for some not inconsiderable time and had yielded very little other than the knowledge that a Miss Ventham (a stranger of very little consequence in a gown of an unfortunate hue) had secured the hand of Mr Baines, despite her shrewish appearance, and where one might acquire some sprigged muslin without parting with too many shillings. I was upon the point of despair and was quite decided upon returning home when I saw her. Catherine, I knew it was she, for there are not two such silhouettes in the world. Lady Hattersley. The good woman has not altered in either countenance or stature since our infancy.
I hastened over to her, drawn by the dual attractions of her unusual ability to collect the secrets of others, and the delight of relating to her the news of our marriages. Do you recall the lady’s efforts on that score?
Standing before her I curtseyed in my usual way. “Lady Hattersley.” Said I with animated warmth.
“Miss Maria,” Cried she in tones of delighted surprise. “Or Lady Woodville as you are now to be addressed.” As she saw the look of perplexed incomprehension upon my face she waved her finger before it in her usual way. “I know all about your union to Lord Woodville you see. And delighted I was too. Such an advantageous match. He so handsome and rich and you so accomplished.”
She then embarked upon a speech of prodigious passion about how peculiar it was that Henry’s father had a plantation in the same place as we had resided and yet we had remained relative strangers until my return to England, and Aunt Margaret, when we had the good fortune to call one another neighbours. Her words were peppered with a good many particulars about my affairs and I did wonder at her knowing so much. For I have not written to a soul save my relations in England, and I know that you have long severed all your acquaintances in this place.
At length my curiosity overcame me and I was forced to enquire how such things were come to be so generally known.
“Oh I do not wonder at your being vexed my dear, for is not half the joy of being wed, being at liberty to tell ones friends in person?” I have rarely heard so stupid a sentiment pon the values of matrimony but decided to hold my tongue, in the hope that she might continue; and continue she did. “It was She who told me. Oh they are but lately removed to the neighbourhood. She and her husband claimed to be acquaintances of yours. Though I confess I was shocked to hear it for they are undoubtedly tradespeople. Though quite charming in their ways, despite her being french. He sailed from the continent not six months gone now, left his lady hither. But they were desirous to know about you and their friend Lord Woodville, his connexion to the town, if he was ever inclined to returned, everything of that nature. Well, I flatter myself that I was well enough acquainted with old Lord Woodville to count him among my friends. So I was vastly happy to oblige them.”
The more she spake the more the sentiments of inequitude, which had not left me since our arrival, grew. Who was this charming couple with such unquenchably overzealous curiosity?
“But Lady, Hattersley, who are they? What is their name?” I demanded with little politeness.
“Pravos. Though they’ve no title.” Her reply filled me with a terrific and unseasonable chill, for was this not the name of the fellow who had tried so very lately to dispatch the Monarchy? “And now my dear lady Woodville, I must take my leave of you for I am bound to Mrs Fortescue’s. But I shall call upon you on the morrow, to be sure I will, and I shall bring our mutual friend. Fie what a time we shall have!”
With a dignified movement for one so heavily robbed she hurried away. Bound as I was by polite convention I could not pursue her to quiz the lady farther upon the matter. My sole choice was to return to my husband as fast as my skirts and the carriage would allow.
“Pravos? Pravos and his wife were here? And enquiring so very publicly about us. And they avouched that we were friends? That is beyond anything shocking!” Was Henry’s response when I had recounted every word Lady Hattersley and I had spoken.
I was reclining upon a chaise with a glass of fortified wine, for the afternoon’s events and the stifling air of my temporary home had afflicted my nerves intolerably, as Woodville spoke. “Maria, we must summon the carriage to take us to her home this moment!”
“Henry, such a thing would be the essence of impropriety. Would you expose us as the subject of the most malicious talk thus?” I cried in tones of disapproval.
“I would if it would mean you would not be forced to receive calls from the wife of a man who has on more than one occasion tried to rob you of your life.” Was his earnest reply.
“Even if that is the case, such a thing is beyond possible. Lady Hattersley is in attendance of Mrs Fortescue, and from what I recall their’s is a partiality for intoxicating liquor better suited to a common rustic. I believe upon her return she shall be incapable of sensible thought.” Said I as I rang for another glass of the fortified wine.
“Very well, but we shall defer our journey only until the morning.” Said he ringing for his own port.
At the appointed hour my dear husband and I were before Hattersley Lodge waiting to be received by the butler, or even a footman. But we were greeted by neither. As we stood upon that threshold we agreed that the house seemed altogether too lacking in personages of any kind, to be wholly natural.
Slowly and cautiously we advanced as though our intention was to purloin everything within. The door’s handle turned readily enough and we entered. We took a turn about the rooms, but each was as empty as the last. The house was entirely devoid of people. It’s silence altogether too decided.
Upon our return to the drawing room Woodville’s elegantly booted foot encountered a fine silken threat which had been drawn taught across our path. Where the thread lead I could not say. But no sooner had my husband’s foot disturbed it than a low silibating sound was audible.
Turning his face to me Woodville whispered with urgency; “Something is amiss.”
He glanced over his shoulder and his peculiarly hued eyes filled with the expression I have, of late, come to associate with mortal peril. Sans explication nor elucidation he seized me about the waist, holding me close to him and leapt through the closed sash window, shattering the glass as we went.
As the wooden casement was reduced to splinters by the force of our departure, I could just discern the first reverberations of explosions. I felt myself land with a severe want of elegance in the shrubbery below.
Woodville had time only to say; “Take heed. Stay hither.” and keep me upon the ground covering our heads with his arms, afore the force of flash took hold. From within the hollows of the house the tremulous rumbles grew and Hattersley lodge was all but consumed in a fiery flash.
Yours in a state of the utmost, nigh on incomprehensible, shock.
Your affectionate sister,