My Dearest Sister,
The captain had not long since danced away with little grace or equilibrium when Henry sharply turned the carriage about and guided the horses instead, away from the party of churls and into a street which lay quite deserted. Halting the chaise, he descended from the box and joined me. The furrow in his brow was all indicative of troubled disquietude, without need for speech on his part or mine I knew we were as one in our suspicion that the sudden capturing of so large a crew of pirates was far to coincidental a coincidence to credibly be a coincidence.
And the subsequent commotion and well attended public hanging would ensure that all the town’s folk would be happily diverted. Such things would surely prove more than a little advantageous for the churls so desirous of inconspicuous evanescing.
We were in perfect accord too as we concluded that we ought now advance with the utmost urgency toward the town square in order to investigate this most dubious act of fate.
“We are in agreement with me then.” Said Woodville with great fervour. “For what, indeed, could be the pirates purpose in venturing so close to shore; and what madness could possibly have overcome them to allow themselves to be caught so efficaciously?”
It took us only a little time to reach that part of town, for many of the streets were also devoid of their occupants. Though Catherine, we had stopped briefly to take into our employ a fellow with a trustworthy nose to drive the carriage until we could once more be reunited with our own coachman (For we could scarce proceed through the better part of town with Woodville at the reins). Upon reaching the square we were gratified to see that we had arrived ahead of the procession of townsfolk we had passed in ship street. Though Catherine, I was quite astonished that neither their inebriation, nor their ever growing numbers appeared to have hindered them, and they were advancing now at not to great a distance from us.
I descended from the carriage (in which Lady Hattersley slumbered on) with a little difficulty for the wound had rendered any exertion upon my part uncommonly painful in spite of my husband’s gracious attentions in handing me down. Having concealed my weapons once more amongst the folds of my gown, in that vexing way that causes the skirt to protrude in a manner that is no longer fashionable, we proceeded towards the great square that lay beyond the admiralty’s fort
“The Scaffolds have yet to be completed.” Said Woodville, seeing it to be so. “We have yet a little time but we must make haste to the gaol.”
Catherine, the gaol seemed to me to be peculiarly poorly guarded for a place currently affording the crudest hospitality to so large a number of pirates. Not that I lamented the fact, for it was greatly in our favour there were only two gaolers present and neither one appeared to be in possession of a complete collection of wits. Thus a simple and elegant ruse of a nature with which I had become only too familiar with was all that was necessary.
As I gave every pretence of a genteel lady’s perambulation towards one of the town’s finer houses, I feigned a faint before the doors of the gaol. However, dear Catherine, it was so lengthy a moment afore either of these guardians of villains had come to my aid, that I felt them to be far from anything gentlemanly. Therefore when they did, at length, look upon me with sentiments of concern for so delicate a creature, I had little hesitation in striking one of them atop the head with the hilt of my sword to render him insensible. Woodville, having seized t’other about the neck now held him thither, all the while whispering “Do not fight it, pray, do not fight it.” until he too was robbed of his senses. He then lifted both men as though they weighed no more than a feather and concealed them among those intoxicated fools slumbering behind the inn.
We entered the now, wholly undefended gaol. Catherine, afore you can voice your concerns for my apparent descent into lunacy, allow me to assure you that I did indeed suffer acutest pangs of trepidation upon entering a building so abundantly populated by pirates But what choice did I have? My husband and I still knew not who we could take into our confidence. Thus we had little time to indulge in such trivialities as concern for our own safety
And if, upon that frightening descent into the gaol’s deepest recesses, my resolve wavered even a little, I had only to recall to mind that sinisterly shrouded weapon and I found courage enough to continue.
We had expected that upon reaching the last step of the crudely carved staircase we would be greeted with the coarse and objectionable oaths and curses so usually associated with pirates who wish to express their displeasure at being so lately incarcerated. But we were greeted by nought but silence, save for the occasional nonsensical cries of “The stars be beauteously bright upon the horizon”.
Woodville took a lighted torch from its mounting and raised it high above his head. The phosphorous illumination cast both light and shadows all about the dungeon. Solemnly gathered in the cells before us were the pirates whose expiration was so dearly longed for by all those assembling before the gallows.
My husband stepped forth, closer to interwoven bars of iron, which by every rusted lattice denied these fiends their liberty. Raising his voice, that he might be completely understood by even the most unintelligent among them he spake.
“What is your purpose hither?” Enquired he. “Why have you come?”
The miscreant within the gaol seemed to scarce even notice our arrival let alone his words. In answer to his enquiry we received only another incomprehensible observation upon the brightness of the stars that were, at such an hour, not shining. Though this particular oration was delivered in an eloquent and pleasing rhyming couplet.
My husband recommenced his enquiries with; “What know you of Messrs Pravos and Codswollop? Are they among your acquaintance? And what of the weapon?”
Still they offered no reply worthy of this missive. Growing impatient, my husband waved the fiery torch high above his head and while the flames did indeed draw their attentions, it was not in a fashion that we would have expected.
One hundred pairs of eyes turned upon the light. The pirates were drawn to the glow as moths to the candle. With the churls standing so objectionably close to the bars of their cell and thus, to us, it was possible to see their visages. My dear Catherine, such an unfortunate sight I shall not soon forget. It was not their features that proved distressing, for they were not as unhappy as you may have expected. Indeed some amongst them could be considered well looking men. But rather the expression worn upon these features. Each one wore the same fixed yet unseeing gaze.
There was something in their eyes and manner of walking that spoke of one who has but lately been struck dumb by some unfortunate occurrence, usually the bolt of lightening.
“Forsooth.” Murmured Henry as they pressed against the lattice.
“Henry, my dear, what is the matter with them?” Was my enquiry.
“Unless I am much mistaken, they have all fallen prey to the devil’s own own poison.” Returned my husband as he settled his gaze upon me. “Maria, I shall speak quite plain. T’is the snuff.”
I was all aghast dear Catherine, for this was beyond anything I had ever seen, for while I am aware that many of the gentry indulge in the taking of the snuff I have had the misfortune to witness its effects.
While I was happily engaged in my condemnation in the weakness others, Woodville had begun to whisper to himself in earnest and fervent tones as he paced the length of the dungeon. I was able only to hear half of what he spake, and it was in such a disconnected collection of utterances that it was little more comprehensible than the pirates’ admiration of the skies. What was distinguishable was this.
“Quite unfathomable … wholly unaccountable … the snuff would explicate the ease of their capture, but why, if they had any intention of smuggling the weapon from hither for Mr Codswollop, as I believe they may, would they have taken the snuff at all? … Unless, perchance they are little more to Mr Codswollop than a ruse, a grander version of our empty carriage. Simply placed close enough to the shore for the admiralty and militia to capture … Their hanging might provide a day of festivities … T’would be the perfect diversion.”
As he continued to pace back and forth in the manner of a man who is endeavouring to comprehend the incomprehensible, I looked upon the men so drawn to the torch, for my eyes would not be averted. There was something greatly unsettling about the visages of the pirates, though I was correct in my earlier observations that, for all their putrid garments of a stuff so tattered it would have been better suited to the sweepings bucket of a kitchen maid than to a man’s chest, they did not resemble pirates.
Their eyes and features, devoid of intelligent expression though they were, seemed undeniably honourable. There was little more in them than honesty, save perchance the affects of the snuff. The filth which covered every part of them, though so disagreeably odious that it rendered such proximity greatly objectionable to one more used to the fragrance of the hot house flowers, did not appear to be ineffaceably ground into their skin with any great profundity, as is the case with the truly churlish.
As I inclined my head closer, essaying not to have need of breath on account of the putrid quality of the odour, I was suddenly gripped by a notion of such incomparable brilliance that I knew it at once to be nought but veracity. I turned to seek out Woodville’s visage and in a voice exactly calculated to convey such a thing I called my husband’s name.
Woodville, instantaneously alerted to the quality of my tone ceased pacing and replied.
“Maria, the quality of your tone seems exactly calculated to convey that you are in possession of a notion of incomparable brilliance.”
“Henry, they are not pirates!” Said I. “Oh we have been played for fools. These men are not pirates.”
Yours upon the ver brink of further elucidation,
Your affectionate sister,