My dearest Catherine,
I hope this letter finds you well. However as I am still in the indies, in a state of great danger and word from you has yet to reach me. I know not if my missives prior the last found you in good health, nor indeed any of the letters I have dispatched since our arrival here. Therefore you must allow me to express my most fervent hopes that you are quite well and in tolerable spirits.
When last I wrote I was in a carriage driven by my own husband and travelling at a pace so alarming that I was glad you were not present to witness it, for I am familiar enough with you to know that such a pace would have brought about a nervous seizure of magnificent proportions.
I drew the pistols from their cache beneath couch of the coach and began to load a pair each for both Woodville and I. I know as I write this, dear Catherine, that you will be all astonishment at such an alteration to the carriage. However my husband and I have found ourselves under threat so very regular that we deemed it prudent to go nowhere sans them. Indeed I would go so far as to recommend that you have Charles place them within your own barouche, for there are highwaymen enough in your part of the country and should a fiend halt you, you too may be desirous of a loaded pistol.
Having readied every weapon I had to hand (I had too, for good measure, leant from the window and sharpened the swords upon the speeding wheels of the carriage), I reclined once more and with a tentative trepidation, examined my delicately bound shoulder. Woodville’s neckcloth was now of a scarlet hue as the blood had not yet ceased to flow. I had refrained from drawing Henry’s flask of fortified wine again and, in truth Catherine, it had had little effect in alleviating the pain. Once again I found myself regretting that neither Woodville nor I have ever acquired that most self indulgent of vices, the laudanum.
While I believe that we were everything fortunate when we reached the end of that subterranean road, nigh on four miles from whence it had begun, having encountered not one solitary churl, the lack of ambuscade did mean that we were forced to draw the unhappy conclusion that we had indubitably lost them. We arose from the tunnel in a part of town I have never been inclined to visit. Catherine, t’was Ship Street. I know you are all too familiar with this place from our dear Papa’s partiality for the cards, thus I know I need not describe to you the repugnant nature of the churls who reside hither. I am sure you will also remember the great many carriages, wagons and flurries of commotion in the general way that occur on account of the place’s proximity to the docks.
Dearest sister, as I looked upon the scene beyond the carriage window I was nigh on overwhelmed with despair. For amid this tumult of activity, the streets alive with merchants and peasants alike, I knew that our hopes of finding the churls we sought could be little higher than a woman who is rapidly approaching her eighth and twentieth birthday has of ever finding a husband.
The unfavourable odds were rendered worse by the knowledge that, having not seen the churls flee, we knew not what their carriage looked like nor indeed, if they rode in one at all, little more than we knew whither they had headed.
From the coachman’s box my husband spake in a voice which was quite perfectly calculated to, by way of every other syllable, convey his disappointment and despair at having so very decidedly lost our quarry; and every pause he took for breath during his soliloquy expressed to me that he was all vexed confusion and knew not how we ought proceed in our search for these fiends.
“Maria, my love, I am quite overcome by sentiments of disappointed despair at having so very decidedly lost our quarry. Confess I am all vexed confusion for I know not how to proceed in our search for these fiends.”
I, as his lady, was all sympathetic sympathy and found myself partaking in these same sentiments. Henry had slowed the carriage and we travelled now through these busy streets at a pace usually associates with taking one’s phaeton and ponies for a tour about one’s park after one has been truly enraged by the parson’s sermon at matins.
Our search for any hint of those we hunted was now wholly futile; though we were greatly desirous of taking the rash and unrefined action of halting, at that very moment, all the carriages and tradesmen in the street, by standing before them, weapons held aloft and vociferating as loudly as was within our power; “Cease and desist what you are about! For there are in your midst the most despicable band of ruffians, who are in possession of an equally despicable weapon. For the love of the King they must be stopped!”
However we feared that so very public a declaration may expose us to the dual perils of a further unexpected attack from the churls (who were, like as not, concealed all about us) and that of becoming the subject of gossip and ridicule. Our fear of the latter, for I believe we both may have willingly risked the prior, dissuaded us from our impulsion and we turned the carriage from Ship street and, with a vague inclination towards a continued perusal of this part of town, unfavourable and objectionable though it proved to a woman of my standing, in the hope that we may recognise the wagon bearing the weapon. Fur surely there can not be above one shrouded weapon of irregular proportions in so sinister a cloth, being conveyed through the streets.
Yet as we rounded another corner and into -ton Street (I shall not mortify you Catherine by recounting the name, as it is a place that shall only rouse in you memories of Papa’s shocking conduct when he gambled a fool’s hand, and I am all too aware of the unhappy recollections we both have of that particular game of cards. I believe Mamma’s spirits were ne’er full restored after that. But what woman can forget their husband’s attempts to exchange them for a purse of guineas?). Further thought of our ill fated search was, however, momentarily driven from our minds. We had trotted into the afore referred to street and thus, into what appeared to be uproar.
The street, despite the earliness of the hour, for it was only a little past sunrise, was so very full of people that we might have stepped into the ornate ballroom of Lady Knight, were it not for the fact that the crowd all about us were not members of the refined gentry that frequents such rooms. Indeed the crush of people, so great we had been forced to halt the carriage, appeared to be formed almost entirely of ill featured rustics. I leant from the window and called to my husband; “Henry, are the peasants revolting?”
“Are not they always?” Came his jesting reply. “But nay, this unrest appears not to be of a revolutionary nature. In fact I would wager it is quite the opposite. They seem all to be in the grasp of some feverish celebration.
Woodville was all correctness in his estimations, the cacophony of calls issuing from the crowd were not those of anger, but joy. My confusion grew to anxiety and I was all zealous eagerness to discover the cause of such public revelry. Had our recent escapade led us to forget the King’s birthday? Had a prince been born? Were we failing in our patriotic duties and disregarding the crown? I expressed my concerns to Woodville who was immediately all obliging in his endeavours to relieve them.
“Maria, that is a quandary easily resolved.” Said he, and turning his head to the crowd he cried; “Good day my good fellow!”
His calls were so very shocking to the refined sensibilities of a lady of my rank that this address succeeded where a shot wound to the shoulder had failed, and I was nigh overcome by a nervous seizure.
“Henry! Have you taken leave of your senses?” Cried I, concluding that abandoning myself to oblivion now would be sheer folly and thus fighting the temptation. “You are a gentleman of high birth and consequence, you dine with kings! You cannot neglect polite convention, you are honour bound to uphold such etiquette! What can you be about, shouting at a churl as though you were no more than an urchin upon the side of the road and begging for a crust?”
“Maria, calm yourself. Do you truly believe these rustics to be capable of comprehending such rules of conduct? And aside from that fact their current state of intoxication will indubitably affect their recollection of both their acquaintances and the events of the day. Furthermore, my dear, they shall, given that I have the reins, take me for a mere uncouth coachman.” And with these words he turned his attentions once more to the crowd that danced the quickstep all about us.
“My good fellow.” Recommenced he with , I am ashamed to say, sounded akin to the rustics own misarticulated and ineloquent cadences. “What is the meaning of such frolics? What hath occasioned this most exuberant attempt at dancing?”
A man in a coat of a fine hue and quality which spake of a captain in the merchant navy, obliged Woodville by turning to answer him, and I was greatly unsurprised to note that he was indeed a captain. Catherine, t’was the very captain whose vessel had conveyed us hither.
“Have you not heard?” Returned he, his features, already disagreeable, were rendered doubly so by their having been arranged into an expression of unbecoming glee. I was acutely aware too that Woodville had been all veracity in his assertion that they would be too intoxicated to recall our presence.
“The Royal Navy have captured a vessel that sails under the pirates colours. They took for prisoners a whole crew. That is above one hundred men all bound for the noose! So large a public hanging has scarcely been seen since 1783 when fifty sea dogs were caught as they endeavoured to flee in the rum barrels. But this be twice as many! What happy fortune has favoured the Navy?”
What fortune indeed, thought I as my every suspicious sentiment was piqued most acutely. Having reflected happily upon the root of his delight the captain said; “Think on those delights.”
However such a thought brought no delight to me, only further trepidation, and it is in the midst of such sentiments that I bid you farewell Catherine,
Your affectionate Sister