My Dearest Sister,
I shall once more have to beg your forgiveness, for I am become aware I greatly lack the literary accomplishments necessary to thoroughly describe to you the torment one feels when one has been struck in one’s shoulder by the lead of a pistol.
Allow me simply to say that it is beyond anything that you will ever have encountered (yes Catherine, it is worse even than the occasion when you fell from the carriage, and afore you protest at my words my dear sister, I shall remind you that the carriage in question was neither moving nor a fashionably high sprung barouche variety. Thus you could not have suffered any real injury, despite all your claims that it induced a brain fever).
I had been so happily engaged in duelling the poorly proportioned churl before me, that I had wholly failed to notice this wicked, deuced villain approaching from t’other direction. He had fired just as Woodville had leapt forth to shield me, and his aim had been true. And now I swooned in my dear husband’s arms, and I am quite ashamed to confess my dear sister, that I indulged in that feminine frailty that has so long eluded me. Catherine, I fainted. Yet this longed for oblivion, so welcome to the suffering was vexingly short. Indeed it lasted scarcely longer than a flutter of my eyelids. Thus when I awoke I was still clasped in Henry’s arms and still acutely aware of the churls all about us. Who were eagerly seizing the opportunity of unhindered escape presented to them by my husband’s attentions to me. Amid cries of “Leave them! They know not who we are and we have little time left to us!” from their leader, they fled.
“Maria? Maria? Nay Maria!” Were my poor husband’s vociferations as he essayed to rouse me from my stupefaction. “Maria, pray, answer me! Do not neglect me thus!” With every second syllable his tone conveyed his fears for me and his own early widowerhood.
“I am well Henry, quite well.” Replied I, though even to my own ears my voice seemed to be better suited to an inebriated parlour maid. As I could not yet stand sans his arms, Woodville aided me to the ground and I reclined against the passage wall with surprising dignity for one so very nearly mortally wounded. I lay upon the ground and my breath evaded capture as the butterfly evades the net.
Kneeling at my side, Henry began to scrutinise the laceration upon my shoulder, from which the blood did flow with what can only be described as a vulgar haste. To divert my attentions from the pain caused by the hole in my shoulder, yes Catherine, the shot appeared to have left a whole hole in my flesh, I cast my thoughts elsewhere and they had soon settled upon the churls and there weapon. This did little to alleviate the affliction caused by the pistol. Trepidatious perturbation rose anew in me and I swiftly lifted my gaze to meet Henry’s and said, my voice that was all a tremor with pain and sentiment; “Henry this is folly, they have the weapon. You must pursue them. You must stop them. It is unaccountable of you remain hither with me.”” I endeavoured to push him from me but he would not withdraw his gaze from me and when he replied he did so with all the fervour of ardent adoration.
“Upon my honour, I could never leave you! That would be unaccountable of me, to depart from your side for even a moment. Fie Maria, what a notion! What Folly. You are my wife, not some lowly intoxicated foot soldier! Now, pray, take this and remain quite still.” As he spake he had drawn from my netted purse my smelling salts and from his own coat the small silver flask I had presented to him as a gift (you will recall the which Catherine, it bears the inscription in Latin which you had great difficulty in transliterating and thus believed to be a collection of profane oaths on my part, when truth it spoke of little more than a memory shared betwixt myself and my husband) and gave me both. I administered both the liquor and salts as he continued to examine my shoulder.
“We are fortunate indeed Maria.” Said he in timbres of great relief. “The lead hath passed straight through, I am quite certain it is not a fatal blow. However we ought summon an apothecary this moment for the leeches shall indubitably be required …”
But hither I interrupted him with the force given to me by the fortified wine.
“Nay, Henry we have not the time to summon such a personage. We must not allow them to evade us. We must leave this place.” Said I, and as I did I endeavoured to raise myself a little from the ground. This effort did little save for redoubling the pain in my shoulder, and I could see at once that my husband was torn betwixt sending for the apothecary and his gallipot and my own preference of pursuing the villains to Lord knows where. At length he said;
“Very well, if you are quite certain such a thing can be deferred for the present, I shall bind it.” And this he did swiftly and efficaciously using a good deal of stuff from my own gown and yet another of his neck cloths.
“Now I beg you, remain hither” Continued he when he had finished tending my wound and administered more fortified wine to both me and him. “You must regain both a little composure and fortitude, while you do so I shall see if I can deduce to where they have flown.”
He rose to his feet and took his leave from the place where I had fallen. But scarcely any time had passed afore he was once more within my company. His visage was rendered peculiarly handsome, as it so often is, by the pleasing disarrangement of his curls and the expression of deepest vexation which adorned it.
“They have gone, disappeared as though they were nought but ethereal spirits in a three volume novel.” His frustration was quite plain, yet it did not distress me for I suddenly had recalled something and with the self gratifying astonishment of those who have recalled some significant fact said; “The cloaked fellow! I believe he did not perish in the skirmish. He may yet be of some assistance.”
“He fell in the passages above did he not?” Returned Woodville, as I nodded I was all surprise that Woodville did not appear to find this as pleasing as I did, instead his features became overcast by the shadow of gravest concern. “Maria that is no trifling distance. I cannot leave you here alone, reposing thus, for fear the fiends should return. Do you think you are able to walk?” Enquired he.
I knew not whether I could but I was in accord with Woodville that remaining here in a manner reminiscent of a flightless bird before the hunter, was as perilous to my health as endeavouring to move. Therefore I assured him that I like as not I had regained the desired fortitude. Woodville handed me to my feet with genteel and refined attentions for I soon discovered that the pain was still very great indeed, despite another dose of both wine and salts. Catherine, I believe that Laudanum, or perchance the snuff would be the only cures to such grievous pangs. Woodville offered me his arm and we advance in a fashion that would have looked equally well in a ballroom in town as it did hither, in the tenebrous dark of the storehouse.
Returning to the passage, whither the mantle wearing gentleman had fallen, we discovered to our delight that I was correct in my estimation that the fellow had not perished, but lay still, on the ground in a manner that displayed so great a want of dignity and propriety that I longed to avert my eyes. His continued wauls, which were in a tongue so incomprehensible I doubted that even Elizabeth would have understood them, led me to understand that he was nonsensical but not insensible.
“Maria, my dear, pray, might I have your salts?” Enquired Henry as he knelt before the fiend, whose cloak seemed to produce a phosphorescent glow where he lay.
“My salts?” repeated I as I came to understand that my husband intended to employ them to revive him. Dear sister I found that I was all resentful disquietude at such a notion, particularly as I was now heavily reliant upon the salts to keep from taking leave of my own senses, and I made my feelings quite plain.
“Henry I confess that I am all resentful disquietude at such a notion. To share my smelling salts with so unworthy a churl as this.”
“My dear,” replied he “it is not on account of his worthiness that I propose their use but rather due to the necessity to learn all he knows.”
With a look which I believe exactly conveyed my resentful sentiments I conceded and pulled them once more from my netted purse. As he was roused, the cloaked fool became aware of Woodville at his side and already demanding answers about the weapon, where it had been taken, under whose employ were those who had it and everything of that nature. After the seventh such enquiry his sensibilities had returned and he said in tones of plain disgust; “What vulgar conduct is this Sir? To put such very direct questions to me sans any introduction being made.”
This did nought but enrage my husband, who seized the fellow by his poorly hued cloak and said in a voice, which was in timbres little above a ladies whisper but in tone was as menacing as the most sincerely meant commination.
“You son of a churl, you will attend to this, you companions have lately fled with a weapon with Lord know what dreadful powers intended for Lord knows what dark purpose and worse still they fired upon my wife, she is gravely wounded and now I am vexed …” Hither Woodville placed his own features within such shocking proximity to the churls that I was afforded the happy diversion of making a study and comparison of their profiles. As I listed to my self Woodville’s numerous advantages he continued.
“I am in no humour to indulge in the trivial formalities of formal acquaintance, and upon my honour Sir, if you do not answer all my enquiries willingly and eloquently you shall suffer the consequences of my wrath.” To further place emphasis upon the fact that he was not in jest Woodville placed his hand ‘neath the fellow’s chin and tickled him. The cloaked fellow (forgive me Catherine for as you can see we knew not his name therefore he shall continue to be referred to thus, for his face was so un-extraordinary that it failed entirely to give him a distinguishing feature) began at once to scream impetuously and hysterically until at last, in a tone of terror he assented
“Very well, I shall tell you” Gasped he in tones so dramatically suspenseful that it seems only fitting that I end my letter hither Catherine. For continuing when so natural a punctuation has been reached would be both vulgar and unnecessary.
Thus I bid you once more the fondest of adieus,
Your affectionate sister,