My Dearest Catherine,
I hope this missive finds you in tolerable health and that you will not prove too distressed by the news that I am once more journeying, at my husband’s side, toward dangers unknown.
We had settled between us that we ought ere upon the side of caution. Therefore we were all insistence that Louis- Antoinette would accompany us, thereby ridding him of the opportunity to dispatch a note to his compeers. Furthermore we took the precaution of binding him to the roof of the chaise and four (dear Catherine the foolish child seemed to trust that we had done such a thing for his own safety to prevent his falling to his doom).
From such a vantage point as that he was able to direct us on. For the duration of the journey Woodville and I exchanged scarcely a word. His eyes were upon the road, (the quality of which was surprisingly agreeable) and I had fallen prey to my nerves, for we were acutely aware of the peril into which we were headed.
It was not too much longer until, from above, we heard a cry of; ” La, c’est a la gauche, la ba as la droite!” At the boy’s french words Woodville and I took the liberty of exchanging another look of significant meaning for I was accomplished enough in the modern languages to comprehend that he had just given us conflicting information. Woodville, without taking time to halt the carriage, reached from the door and, with a movement that was all dexterity, forced the child into the carriage. My husband seemed, now, quite incensed.
“Hear me well child, I am not in a humour to be trifled with. You believe that I am not well enough acquainted with foreign tongues to comprehend that you have told me that our destination lies simultaneously to the left and to the right. Now you shall either relinquish your claim that your directions are accurate, or here, before God and my wife I shall leave my mark upon you with my blade!” And to my great surprise he did indeed draw his sword and held it close to the boy’s face.
“Woodville!” Said I in shocked tones, for, after all, the scheming creature before us was but a child. However it had the desired effect upon him for he hurriedly altered his directions.
“Tis on the left Sir, the left! Pray do not deface me or I shall never marry and every chance of my future happiness shall be ruined.” And to my horror the whelp began to weep piteously. ” There is a girl for whom I have the highest regard” continued he, “for she has the complexion of cocliquot and the voice of a grenouille (evidently his masterful command of language did not extend to flattery for he had described the young lady as scarlet as a wild flower and singing like a frog). She has told me that she will be my wife if I can but grow into a man of fortune and fashion with a visage untouched by pox or blade. The coats and fortune I have already acquired, all that remains is for me to preserve my mien …”
“Oh enough of this!” I shrieked. “Your incessant crying makes me weary and is not conducive to sentiments of pity but rather vexation! I feel sure I shall draw my own blade if you do not desist!” He fell, into a reflective silence and, mercifully, soon after the coach turned sharply in the direction he asserted to be truthful.
“Thither, that is it.” Cried the boy as the carriage rounded a corner and we saw a large structure whose facade was so unfortunately unadorned that it was wholly unremarkable. Woodville, however at once recognised it.
“It is a storehouse for the East India Trading company, or was, for ten to one it has lain unused by that establishment for some months now.” Said he without withdrawing his eyes from it’s ingress.
We bid our coachman to drive past it several times as though we had not a care for that place, but were simply admiring the general splendour of our surroundings. We endeavoured, during these perambulations, to learn all we could about the the storehouse’s arrangements and possible defences.
We were, at first, greatly cheered to note that the storehouse was ill-defended. We could see fewer than half a dozen sentries placed about to safeguard it. Although we were not a numerous party I knew that Woodville shared my confidence that we could overpower such uncouth watchmen and I was all animated relief at so easy a task.
But we had not yet been presented with the chance to invent a scheme for our approach when we noted a peculiar occurrence occurring before that building. All those who walked by it hastened their pace until they advanced in a gait that conveyed nought but paranoiac terror.
After we had witnessed the eleventh traveller break into a ungainly run, our curiosity was greatly aroused. As you might imagine dear Catherine I was reluctant to enquire of Louis- Antoinette the cause of such peculiar manners (unusual even in a place as savage as this) as his answer would doubtless be riddled with such a shocking plurality of oaths and curses as to render it wholly distasteful. Fortune favoured us, however, for just as I was bracing my nerves for the boy’s speech there came another man running along the road. He was stopped in his attempt to flee from that ominous place only by the losing of his footing and falling upon the roadside, in a manner that was equally undignified and humorous, aside of the carriage.
Woodville lent form the chaise and, neglecting the dictates of convention for he did it sans introduction, quizzed the gentleman upon the subject of his fear.
“Oh Sir! There have been whispers for many a month now.” Cried the fallen fellow in tones so afeared that they were as comical as his descent to the ground. “Tis cursed as surely as though a sorcerer resided within! One need only stand before it and one becomes afflicted by the most terrible fever. And noises have been heard , Sir, Noises from within, unearthly they are, as though some dreadful clockwork instrument were being forged within the fires of hell itself!” Hither his willingness to linger in such proximity to to what he feared disappeared, he handed himself to his feet and ran forth with renewed haste.
Confess, I was greatly surprised by his folly, for he ran not from the sons of churls guarding the building with muskets and swords, but from mere superstition. Such wanton cowardice was most unfortunate in one so well grown, for he was of a height that could truthfully be called tall. I count myself among the fortunate that my own husband would never be inclined to succumb to these pusillanimous sensibilities.
Thus in the stead of evanescing from hither we drew into a darkened courtyard, halted the carriage but a short distance from our quarry in order to prepare our weapons and devise a stratagem that would best enable our furtively covert approach
I descended from the carriage and joined Woodville’s side. As he attended me in our gathering of weapons, ensuring I had about me my particular favourites, he spake in fervent haste. “Maria, it has occurred to me that we are in fact, entering a snare within a trap and that such a fate may have been Louis- Antoinette’s express intention when leading us hither.”
“You believe all he speaks to be falsehoods?” I enquired of my husband.
“In truth I am not entirely confident that our arrival here is not anticipated, and that they do not lie in wait for us. And it would be remiss indeed if I did not consider the murmurings of fever …” But hither I interrupted him.
“Henry you cannot believe it. Like as not it is but unprovable fallacy!”
“Maria, you know as well as I, rumour and gossip, no matter how scandalous , are seldom based solely upon fictitious fictions, there must be some truth within these sinister claims of peril.” Replied he. “Therefore I propose we dupe those sons of churls into believing we have bitten their bait as whole heartedly as the trout in my lake. By sending the carriage directly into their lair containing solely that wretched boy tied as though ready for the spit. T’would be the perfect ruse they shall be all be engaged in unbinding him and endeavouring to ascertain how he came to be captured, and their diversion will afford us every convenience for clandestine attack.” And with that he made for the carriage to place Louis- Antoinette back within it’s confines.
“Woodville!” Said I, quite aghast. “We cannot send the boy, for he is but a child.”
“He wilfully deceived us, he is working with our foe!” Returned he.
“I am aware of the fact Sir. However the boy cannot be more than one score and two years of age, surely you cannot believe that he truly comprehends his actions, Sir.”
“My dear, you only address me as Sir when you are exceedingly vexed with me or when I have failed to notice some new style of arranging your tresses, and you have addressed me thus twice. I am quite certain it is not the latter sense, for I have thrice admired your coiffure today and shall do so again now; Maria that pleasing interweaving of your locks becomes your features beautifully.” Said he in a gracious and conciliatory manner.
Yet despite such adulation I would not be so easily diverted. “I am exceedingly vexed with you Henry! You have become quite runaway with your feelings. One cannot simply use the child, never mind that he is the most ignoble, deceitful and precocious urchin I have ever had the misfortune to encounter and I believe his excessive face powder and pomade to have stained my gown, lord knows how. But he is altogether too young to be thus engaged I cannot allow it.” Henry made as though to counter my argumentation but I had not finished. “To prey upon him because of his youth, to send him heartlessly into the lair of the enemy simply because he has too few winters behind him. This is unaccountable of you!” At last I drew breath.
“Maria, my love, I do don’t send him on account of his youth, but because he is French.”
“Quite so!” I recalled his cadence and my resolve was very nearly weakened. “Nay, I am afraid that not even such a blemish as that could induce me to send him. I implore you Henry, send the carriage empty.
After a little deliberation Woodville grudgingly conceded. “Very well, but if I consent to this you must cease scolding me when I neglect to admire you coiffure.”
I hastily agreed but Catherine, I confess that such a compromise was painful to me, for there is little else in the world that distresses a woman more than her husband’s lack of attention to her tresses. Such affront will always lead to discord betwixt them.
“So we shall send the carriage empty, I fear we shall not have long until they discover our ploy, we shall have to act fast.”
And act fast, we shall.
Thus for now dear sister, I bid you farewell. If this be my last missive to you then, pray, take comfort in the thought I have doubtless perished with great honour and at my husband’s side.
Your affectionate sister,