My dearest Catherine,
I am quite aware that you will be all a flutter to know what I had deduced, thus I shall defer my elucidations but a moment in order to enquire after your health? I do hope it is in an agreeable state.
I stood in that darkened dungeon amid the odours and mewls of theses pretenders, for pirates they indubitably were not. In the still dancing light of the torch I saw Woodville’s complexion alter from the handsome hue I so ardently adore to one akin to parchment that has been allowed to be faded by the sun.
“Maria, of what do you speak?” Enquired he with such urgency that it was as though he enquired after a most beloved relation who has lately suffered a hunting accident.
“Only this Henry, these men are charlatans. They are no more culpable of piracy than you or I, and aside from the fact that not one among them has been branded as a pirate …” But hither I stopped, for my eye had been drawn to an object of pale hue which lay but half concealed behind the gaoler’s bureau. I stooped to retrieve it as Woodville spake.
“Pray Maria, be quite candid.”
I reached forward for what had captured my attentions and soon held within my grasp a sailor’s powdered wig.
“Henry, these men are sailors with the merchant navy.” I presented him with the powdered wig as I spake.
“The merchant navy?” Was the sole repetition within his capabilities.
“Indeed my dear. These gentlemen must be the crew of some vessel sailing under the colours of the merchant navy.”
It was not long afore my dear husband full comprehended and shared my ardent feelings that we, and all those in the square, had been fooled as wholly as a young lady who has been duped into falling in love with a libertine of ill repute.
You see my dearest Catherine I believe that the fiendish churls who have constructed that weapon of unknown devilry, had taken into their employ a true band pirates. Pirates of vicious nature and such a want of moral integrity that they would, like as not, agree to barter away the lives of their own wives if they felt it would provide them with sufficient gold or intoxicating liquor. These dogs of the sea, once handsomely paid, had captured the crew before us and removed them from their own ship, where they allowed the pitiable fellows to succumb, with decided abandon, to the ill effects of nervous apoplexy and the snuff. Then these deuced and wretched miscreants would have exchanged both clothes and places with the sailors, and taken on the guise of honourable fellows of the merchant navy. Then, upon a ship commandeered with deception and villainy, would have sailed into port to secretly collect the weapon, while the true sailors were left upon the pirates vessel,in an acute and perplexed nervous malady far more usually afforded to sailors who have been caught in the doldrums with nought for sustenance save for rum and soured milk.
These poor, wretched and intoxicated fellows before me would have been wholly unaware of the peril that would face them as they sat upon those accursed decks while the sinistrous Jolly Roger flew high above them and the ship floated unheeded into the path of a naval frigate. Once thither they would be captured, tried and executed at the end of the hangman’s noose, for acts of treachery they had not committed.
T’was this much anticipated slaying of many that would provide the perfect opportunity for the confounded churls to entrust the weapons to the pirates, who would then be at liberty to convey it to wherever they so chose.
Upon the close of my elucidations my husband’s reply was all earnest fervour.
“Forsooth my dear, your suppositions, drawn as they are from such fantastical guesswork, savour so strongly of sound judgement that I am of the decided opinion that they can be nought but veracity and exactitude.”
I was all gratification that Woodville was so very eager to trust my every thought, for as you are doubtless aware dear sister, so oft on such occasions the unhappy diviner of the enemy’s wicked schemes is seldom so easily believed. But rather their perfect deductions are met with little more than hostility and mockery. They are exiled from the confidences of their friends and compatriots, they are left with little choice but to pursue their notion, which they know instinctively to be wholly correct in a clandestine manner. Ten to one, this will lead to their being cruelly incriminated, until they have put an end to the menace they face and restored their own reputation to its former glory in an act of spectacular self sacrifice and apparently hopeless heroism. I was fortunate, therefore, to not be among their number.
No sooner than my husband had made plain his faith in my assertions, we were forming a scheme to make our way as swiftly as was within our power to the docks, alerting both the militia and the admiralty to the presence of the enshrouded weapon.
However as we turned to take our leave of the dungeon, we were reminded of the presence of the sailors by a mournful rhyming couplet upon the subject of the disadvantages of having a wooden leg, that was being recited by the same poetically inclined soul who had delivered the earlier sonnet to the stars. Catherine, while the fellow may have been lacking in the refined vocabulary and literary ability of Lord Byron, there was something in his air and manner of delivery that rendered the the simple ode quite charming. While we had not quite forgot the hundred gentlemen incarcerated but a few feet from us (allow me to assure you the odour disallowed such neglect) we had perhaps forgotten the calamitous severity of their predicament.
The couplet’s seventh repetition was wholly sufficient to remind us that, despite the exceedingly pressing problem of the weapon’s imminent departure from these tropical shores and the very little time we were therefore afforded to avert this disastrous disaster, we could not abandon these men to the terrible and fatal fate which awaited them. So it was in unison that our gaze left the vacant visages of the men, for we had been momentarily and pleasingly diverted by the recital, and to each other.
As one we said “We must save them!”
Catherine, I am quite certain that as you read this you too are become plainly aware of the the difficulty of how such a thing might be arranged. For one does not simply open the heavily bolted doors of the gaol and walk through the streets with one hundred ill dressed and benumbed gentlemen in one’s wake; that would be folly. Confess, Catherine, that the prospect of such a task proved more than a little daunting.
“Woodville, my dear, enabling the evanescence of one hundred prisoners of the crown is a grave crime indeed, and perchance one that would lead to our own incarceration. Could we not simply return for them when we have found the churls we seek. Then we shall be able to prove the innocence of these men before the eyes of both the law and God.” Said I in earnest.
“While that would doubtless be preferable we cannot know where that quest will lead us, nor how much time remains until they are led from hither to their place of execution. I fear we have not the time to indulge our finer sentiments or partiality towards honourable justice. I am afraid that we must act now.” Said he, then with redoubled fervour, his fixed look never leaving my eyes, he continued. ” Maria, if we stand by, if we do not act, then we may as well drop the noose ourselves.”
His tresses fell forwards forwards in a manner that leant such honourable conviction to his tone that I was quite powerless to do anything save concur heartily. Though I took the liberty of casting forth my doubts.
“But we are quite alone, we have no footmen, no carriages. How can such a thing be done?”
After but a moment Woodville glanced about the dungeon and then asked me; “Maria, pray, how swiftly can you sew?” Confess I was all astounded incredulity. Feelings I did not essay to conceal when I answered this enquiry.
“What are you about, asking such questions? For while I grant you our engagement was not of the lengthy variety which so usually affords the betrothed time to acquaint each other with even the most trifling accomplishments, nor has such an opportunity presented itself since our marriage. Not that it is customary for a husband to interest himself in such things. But, truly, this seems a most peculiar time to satisfy your curiosity about your wife’s abilities.” Catherine I spoke with such haste that it was not until now that Woodville could make plain his motives.
“Nay, I do not enquire in order to satisfy any such curiosity, because I believe myself to be perfectly acquainted with your character and all the qualities I consider to be of any consequence in a wife. I enquire on account of those.” Hither he indicated an assemblage of what appeared to be sacks. The cloth was of so uninteresting a hue that it scarcely deserves description, and I am sure, dear Catherine, that you are quite familiar with such stuff.
The mound was of magnificent proportions. Afore I could wonder at it’s purpose hither in a dungeon, Woodville had continued in a manner that was all indicative of one who had, in the work of but a moment of thought, invented a scheme that is at once lunacy and brilliance, and if fortune was at our side might enable us to arrange it all so that the sailor’s escape may pass off with very little inconvenience to ourselves.
However, sister, for all his assertions of it’s superlative nature, when first he explicated it I was nigh on overcome by a desire to denounce him as a madman. But instead I was simply aghast as I said: “You overestimate my abilities. Such a thing cannot be done.”
Catherine, he wished me to take all that sack cloth and fashion monks habits, for he had recalled to mind two nun’s habits the Prince had in his possession for the express purpose of eluding curious eyes.
“Henry, that is above one hundred robes. There is not time enough for this endeavour.”
“Maria you must try, dressing them thus is sure to be their sole chance of escape.”
“Very well.” Returned I, for what else could I say?
I quit you as I reflect upon the magnificent task,
Your affectionate sister,