must beg your forgiveness for the abrupt termination of my last missive was both impolite and insulting to our sisterly accord, however I am quite certain that you will agree that it added a somewhat dramatic suspense reminiscent of the great novels you so enjoy! But I shall cease this teasing now and continue with my account.
From whither we stood we could see the wall not two score and seven yards from us. Despite another large plethora of packing trunks that lay at a point in the passage that was, in truth exactly halfway down, we could quite plainly see the solid stone of the wall that held us captive. Once more we sought the only refuge present. We were as one as we cast ourselves behind those happy trunks and from thither we continued to defend ourselves.
Firing at the churls again and again, felling as many villains as we could, despite our aim being greatly and unfortunately inhibited by the doorways in which they half sheltered. Positioned as we were, facing our foe as they essayed to overpower us, we could see a peculiar commotion as more churlish rapscallions entered the passage behind those already attacking us, and we were nigh on overwhelmed by the dreadful fear that we now had little or no chance of survival now. However this new company of malfeasants, so lately arrived, shewed not the least inclination towards dispatching us. Indeed, they seemed to scarcely acknowledge our presence thither, despite the ferocious battle taking place not four and ten feet from them. Instead these men (I believe that there were just above a dozen in number, though I confess that my accomplishments in that most masculine of disciplines, arithmetic, does not extend so far as the ability to accurately count churlish fools whilst attempting to elude such an objectionable quantity of shots) hastened down the passageway behind their fighting compatriots and, opening one of the doors, entered the parlour beyond.
A man who had been at the very rear of this unpleasant procession, wearing a cloak of a hue so bold that it seemed to illuminate the tenebrous passage as though he were a candelabra lately lit by a footman, paused. In a voice as rich as that of a gentleman of the stage, he indicated my husband and me and addressed the rustics still firing their weapons in words filled with direful threat.
“Pray, hold them hither as perfectly cornered as game birds who have quite forgot how to fly, while we retrieve the weapon and away with it.”
Woodville and I exchanged a fleeting glance which was exactly calculated, by every movement of our brows, to express the aggrieved consternation we both felt at the cloaked man’s inauspicious declaration. A trepidation which was soon redoubled and accompanied by terrible pangs of minacious dread as we saw the band of brigands returning. They bore aloft betwixt them a large burden. The afore mentioned weapon, though exactly what it might be, dear Catherine, I can not say, for it was quite covered, enfolded in some heavy cloth that, in both texture and hue, proved disagreeable to me. For t’was a stuff which by it’s every interwoven thread, conveyed the portentous nature of the secret beneath.
Carrying it aloft they began to retreat from whence they had come. With an elegant and astonishingly light footed movement, the cloaked man turned upon his heel and made to follow them. Yet as he did so a shot (whose, I know not) ventured astray from the path for which it was meant and struck him, tearing his voluminous mantel, and he fell to the ground with cries and coughs so exaggerated that they ought have emanated from a widowed countess whose eldest and favoured daughter has fled to Brighton with a merchant’s son.
As the churls were momentarily diverted by his mewling we lowered ourselves to the relative safety of the ground sheltered by the cases, in order to reload our weapons. But rather than replenish his arm Woodville murmured; “Maria, we must pursue them, for whatever that weapon may be I am quite certain it is bound for some dark purpose. We cannot permit them to evanesce with it. Pray give me your weapon.”
I did as he bade and with my back pressed against the the trunks as the lead continued to rain down all about us, I watched as Woodville hastily shook the powder from our rifles and gathered the glistering mass before the trunks.
“Upon my word we run.” Said he, and a moment later he cast a spark at the powder. “Make haste Maria!” cried he as the powder took.
We ran forth towards the wall, with not a care now that it could not provide us with an escape, away from the inferno as the wooden trunks were engulfed in flames, flames which either claimed the remaining churls or caused them to flee in fear of their own expiration. It did not take long for Woodville’s scheme to work and by and by the passage beyond the fire was now entirely devoid of occupants.
Securing his empty weapon to his coat, Woodville spake with great solemnity.
“We have only our blades now Maria, we must advance with a peculiarly cautious caution from this moment forth.”
I was all fervent agreement with my dear husband as I replaced my own rifle, drew my sword from it’s sheath and took my place by his side.
Thus it was indeed with the afore mentioned peculiar and perchance over zealous caution that we did proceed back through labyrinthian entanglement that was the storehouse. Passing as we went, the cloaked fellow who still issued both the dowager’s complaints and a pale glow.
Drawn by the sounds of this fiendish company of men we found ourselves in yet more passages. These I believe may have been of a subterranean nature for both the altered quality of the light and the fact that we had descended another staircase (this one was so inelegant it was not worthy of adjectives) spake of a depth below sunlit ground. We were almost upon their heels and could see the enshrouded form of the weapon, when our ability to pass unseen evanesced as surely as a youngest daughter who is decided upon elopement, and they became aware of our presence. Rounding upon us in a manner better suited the most determined mutineers turning upon their captain, they challenged both my husband and I to a duel.
Catherine upon hearing of your younger sister being challenged thus I am quite certain you have been overcome by your finer sentiments and you will, therefore, pray, allow me to suggest that you pause in your perusal of this missive and send for some tonic to restore you, for what is to come is more shocking still.
It was not, dear sister, a duel in the common way, for they certainly did not adhere to the conventions of a gentleman’s duel; if they had, they would scarcely have challenged a woman. The battle was beyond anything ferocious, yet Woodville and I seemed to be gaining the advantage and I had permitted myself a brief moment of self congratulatory sentiment for having parried so pleasingly that it as as though I were dancing a cotillion. I was upon the point of delivering a final blow to my uncouth opponent when to my right and so near at hand that t’was more than a little disconcerting, I heard movement. Then, in a voice so devoid of any shadow of his usual genteel refinement that I knew at once something was grievously amiss, Woodville called over the cacophony of churlish cries and sword blows “Nay, Maria!”.
He leapt forward just as the unmistakable sound of pistol fire erupted from somewhere beyond. He seized me about my waist as roughly as though I were nought but a poacher, loosening my silken sash as he did so and pulled me from where I had stood as he strove to deliver me to safety. But alas, not afore the shot had struck.
Sister, I had been shot. Shot, as though I were little more than a grouse upon the moors, fired at for sport during the season.
I am all dread, my dear Catherine, to think what apoplexy will undoubtedly descend upon you when you read that I have been shot. And you may wonder at my ability to pen this missive in so elegant hand when I was so very lately fired upon. Thus allow me to assure you that the blow inflicted was neither mortal, nor to my right arm.
And upon that comforting notion I shall bid you a fond adieu for the present,
Your’s in a state of considerable distress,
Your affectionate sister,