My Dearest Catherine,
I suspect that at the close of my last missive you were all shocked astonishment at the revelation of the voice. Confess I was quite overwhelmed by those very emotions, and had I been misfortunate enough to suffer at the hands of a constitution as frail yours I should indubitably have swooned; as it was I did not.
We stood all but motionless, held fast by the profound shock at the sound of this new, unnamed voice. My husband, Mrs Pravos and I turned in such harmonious unison it was as though we had rehearsed it for a theatrical performance, to see from whence this admission of culpability had originated. Thither, upon the threshold in an attitude of discourteous impudence, stood a boy, who can, in truth, have been little more than twelve years of age. He was of a stature so diminutive I found it to be the very essence of insolence, his coiffure surprisingly elaborate and held in place with such an abundance of pomade that it’s odour preceded him into the parlour. He wore about his face an ill pleasing smirk that conveyed, with every bared tooth, a disproportionate pride in his own person.
While my dear Woodville and I were still in a state of confusion as to the presence of this child, Mrs Pravos stepped forth in a manner indicative of familial connexion.
“You? Nay!” Gasped she as she grasped the boy’s shoulders and brought him to her side. “Pray, may I introduce my nephew and our ward Louis- Antoinette.” Then as though endeavouring to explicate the child’s preposterously risible appellation; “His mamma was not of an insurrectionary disposition.”
“It was I. I enabled the blast not my aunt, thus I beg you will leave her be.” Repeated the whelp, the timbres of his speech as French as his aunts.
“Louis- Antoinette! T’is unfathomable!” Cried Mrs Pravos in tones of vexed but despairing surprise that I believed to be quite unfeigned. “Why? Have I not schooled you well enough?”
Now, dear sister, it was my turn to be all surprised, for while I was gratified at Mrs Pravos admonishment of her ward, I was quite astounded by it. But by and by, the true cause of his mortification was made plain.
“Have not I told you a multitude of times child, that one never confesses to one’s sins, except if one is accused of a crime more grievous than the one you have committed.” She said in great choler.
“Oh aunt, your deuced council is nought but nonsensical blarney to me.” Said he as he advanced to face Woodville and me as boldly as though we had expected and been desirous of his society. “I freely admit I concealed the powder within and endeavoured to cause your expiration. But may whatever knaves of God’s rule this turbid world curse to deuce the damned feculence of a fool who said three score barrels of powder would be sufficient to end you! But that is all the provision I was afforded by them. Accursed sons of dogs!” Was his ineloquent yet passionate declaration.
Confess I was greatly shocked by the familiarity of one so young with curses so objectionable. I had every intention of chastising the boy for his excessive vulgarity and exhort him against such outbursts while in the presence of members of the gentry. However afore I could the child addressed his aunt once more.
“Besides, Aunt, you did also teach me that a man of honour ought never permit a relation, and a lady at that, to endure punishment for ones own crimes.”
At this claim to morality, dear sister I could not help but laugh, and I was gratified to see that Woodville shared my sentiments for he soon said in a voice that conveyed deepest scorn “Fye, there is nought such as honour in you!” Before continuing;
“Master Louis- Antoinette, you are plainly not the sole inventor of this scheme, thus I demand that you inform at once who your collaborationists be?”
My dear Catherine, I was growing quite weary and fatigued by the repetitious nature of such continuous enquiry as to whom is so peculiarly desirous of dispatching us. Aside from this languorous malaise, I found Louis- Antoinette’s unceasing uttered curses and execrating to be more than a little exceptionable and offensive to my sensibilities. Although I do not feel it would be proper to write the boy’s speech in it’s entirely, I shall convey to you the sentiments therein.
It would seem that Woodville was, indeed, entirely correct in his estimations that the coterie are still in existence. For young Louis- Antoinette had of late received word of our arrival and exchange with Lady Hattersley from, what he professed to be, a clandestine company of men so shrouded in terrible mystery that they appear to be wholly unknown, not only to those in their service, but to each other (Quite how such an alliance could serve it’s purpose efficaciously is wholly incalculable to me!). If one is to believe Louis- Antoinette, they communicate through letters written in a cryptic tongue which only one of my dearest Elizabeth’ accomplishments could decipher sans being granted the key to transliteration. In this missive the innonimate writer informed the wretched and well coiffed boy that they wished to draw him into their ranks on account of his uncle’s connexions with them, and have him to their bidding.
“And I was glad to to do it!” Said he in tones far more suited to a child who has assisted his mamma in some trivial matter, than to one who has acquiesced to unify himself with a band of murderous miscreants!
“I do not doubt that you were.” Rejoined my dear husband. ” And I imagine they paid you handsomely, I doubt you would have agreed so very readily if that were not the case. For one in possession of such youthful, arrogant disdain as you plainly are, would scarcely condescend to assist anyone sans such an inducement!”
“A thousand pounds, Sir! The gentlemen have rewarded me with a thousand pounds. I would have been an accursed fool indeed not to accept such a fortune.” was his prideful reply. Upon hearing of the proffered thousand pounds I was overwhelmed by sentiments of vexation of such profundity that I longed to strike Louis- Antoinette upon his heavily powdered visage!
“A thousand pounds?” Repeated I in tones of shock which my husband recognised to be severe indignation, but the boy took for admiration.
“Indeed madam, such a fortune is beyond anything generous!” Cried he in delight.
“Nay Child, I am not astounded by the offer’s munificence but rather the lack of it!” Retorted I in agitation. I turned to address my husband “Woodville, does not this strike you as intolerably little? Does not our death warrant more than a spinsters dowry? Are we not worthy of a larger bounty than this trifling pittance?” As my voice rose to the aggrieved tones I felt best suited to such a matter Woodville arranged his refined features into an expression that was all sympathy.
“Maria, my dear, while I am in perfect accord with you, I wonder if perhaps we might defer your piqued and affronted discontent until we can learn what, if anything, this lilliputian peacock knows?”
I nodded my ascent and concerted all of my efforts to pay great heed to all that was being said. An endeavour rendered simple by Louis- Antoinette’s next speech. Woodville had enquired of the boy what his part in this magnanimous bargain had been.
As he drew his elaborately brocaded waistcoat about him he declared with increasing self regard; “As I said Sir, I was to cause your incendiary expiration so I captured the mistress of the house …”
“Lady Hattersley!” I exclaimed, all thought of the injustice of my worth cast asunder. “What, pray have you done to the good woman? Where is she? If you have harmed her in any way I swear upon my honour I shall guerdon you with equal suffering!” As I stood over the unfortunate Frenchman I regretted anew my husbands decision not to arm ourselves with our usual multitude of weapons, as it was I brandished my netted purse so near to his visage and with such force, that he was forced to retreat by two paces.
“You need not be afeared Lady Woodville, She was taken from her home and conveyed to a place not far from here, where she was afforded every comfort and where she remains. She is quite unharmed, save perchance, for the adverse affects of so great a number of sugared bon-bons. For they were the only means by which she would be induced to divulge what she knew.” Said he shielding his face with his arms as though fearful that the fan I had begun to flourish could cause him some mortal wound.
“Master Louis- Antoinette, you will do me the courtesy of informing me where the poor lady is!” Said I with redoubled force. At first the child seemed so wholly averse to the notion that I feared it may be hopeless, however after a prolonged fluttering of my fan but inches from his visage, which seemed to cause unaccountable alarm in him, and the threat of a thorough striking with my slipper his resolve vanished with an abandon equaled only by that of a young lady’s decided aversion to a gentleman of little fortune when he presents her with a well penned sonnet.
“Very well. Very well. I will oblige you madam … for a price.” Said the insolent child. “If I impart such knowledge I shall need a good many gold sovereigns indeed, as upon hearing of my betrayal they shall wish me dead as vehemently as a young lady wishes for matrimony. I shall need as much gold as I can find to evade them.”
“We shall give you the sum of one hundred pounds.” Said Woodville, eager to end our dealings with the fool as hastily as was possible. However the jackanapes simply smiled his objectionable smile once more. Catherine, for an orphan his bargains were peculiarly steep. He would not consent to tell us where Lady Hattersley was until we had increased our offer five fold.
“I acquiesce!” Said he after an exchange so lengthy it was very nearly intolerable. “I shall tell you where they are!”
Catherine, do not be alarmed, we are not foolish enough to have been drawn into another ambuscade. Hither my dear Woodville and I exchanged a look which by every flutter of our lashes and arching of our brows, conveyed the fact that we ardently believed Louis- Antoinette to be capable of attempting to inform his friends within the coterie of our continuing survival and have them anticipating our arrival. But by allowing the dishonourable wretch to believe us to be all unguarded credulity we felt quite certain we could keep our advantage over the fiends that were the Coterie and travel directly to their lair. Thus we hastily summoned the carriage.
Yours in anticipation of yet more treacherous peril,
Your affectionate sister,