My Dearest Catherine, I believe that I do not exaggerate when I write that as Woodville, Captain Bryson and I stood upon the threshold faced by the imposter in the footman’s guise I was so astonished at being so wholly caught out that I was quite ready to cast myself into apoplectic despair. However afore I could abandon my senses thus Woodville addressed the fellow.
“It is Lord and Lady John Smith,” said he, then he indicated Captain Bryson and continued “Robert, … Smith, he is Smith also. ” Said he after a moments hesitation. Catherine sometimes I wonder at Woodville’s inability to devise suasive names, why summoning to mind an Austen, a Bennet or even a Woodhouse is beyond him I know not.
“We are desirous to see his Lordship.” Continued he.
Upon hearing the timbres with which he spake I instantaneously knew that he too recognised the perilous selfhood of the ruffian before us. I risked a glance at his handsome visage and the furrow betwixt his brows spake as plainly as if he had turned to me and addressed me thus; “Maria, this rapscallion of a charlatan is as much a footman as I. The presence of such a fiend is all indicative that Mr Turner has commenced his scheme early. I shudder to think how little time remains to us to prevent the demise of all of England. What is more if we permit this son of a churl in a powdered wig to show us into to the parlour he shall, like as not, lead us to own our demise. Thus we must thwart him as swiftly and efficaciously as is within our power. Might I suggest the old ruse?”
My eyes had scarce left his afore I had taken a step forth and in a moment of elegant ungainliness I feigned that most loathsome of mischances, the turning of the ankle! I hastily pitched toward the dreadful churl and surprised him into courteous conduct, as he was all gentlemanly concern in catching me. His arms thus engaged, Woodville was able to cast his own about the fiends neck and, clasping him tightly whilst whispering the words “pray do not endeavour to fight it.” he caused him to fall into a stupor, quite motionless upon the floor.
The footman so well incapacitated, Captain Bryson deferred not a moment longer the signal to our footmen to advance. As he cast the delicately embroidered handkerchief bearing the words ‘Our Signal’ into the street beyond, Woodville took my hand and aided me to step over the stupefied villain. Together we reached for the weapons we had concealed about our persons. I had had the foresight to include in the design for my new gown a concealed poche within the layers of muslin, which was exactly calculated to enshroud both my duelling pistols (an engraved gift from Woodville) and a dainty sword, sans ruining the elegant line of the skirts.
Pistols raised and the footmen at our backs we proceeded through the gloaming darkness with a caution more usually associated with a young lady who has lately fallen prey to the charms of a libertine when she is asked to dance by a beau.
A peculiar quietude was settled about the house which aided only to increase our sentiments of disquieted discomposure at the notion that Turner may already be beyond cessation. We moved, as we so oft did, from parlour to parlour searching fro the villainous fiends, (Catherine, I need hardly tell you that we did not believe it to be necessary to search the kitchens or indeed any room frequented by the servants, for no fiendish churl with an ounce of self regard would utilise these parlours) leaving the footmen to guard the empty chambers in our wake
We mounted the sweeping staircase, and I confess I was all a tremor at the disconcerting lack of rustics. We had nearly reached the top quite unheeded when Captain Bryson, who had been all insistence in his pursuit of us revealed himself to be a careless fool. His tread was so heavy that, in a manner which is so usually associated with Mrs Radcliffe’s novels, it caused the stair to creak with unwelcome clamour. Woodville grew still at my side, we were both quite certain that, by and by, a band of ill bred peasants would descend upon us.
Yet, no such misfortune befell us and we were able to move betwixt the remaining parlours with considerable liberty, until we reached the library.
Catherine, as we stood before the ominously closed door of that apartment the quality of the silence seemed to alter. I turned to my husband and spake in hushed tones.
“Henry, I believe the quality of the silence has altered.”
“Indeed, Maria, you are entirely correct in your estimations. I find myself to be of the inclination that the tenebrosity, soundlessness and the sealed egress before us has all been an elaborate snare. One that we have no choice but to cast ourselves into with considerable abandon, or we shall never find Turner and the wretched weapon.”
And this we did. We cast open that parlour door and were met with a sight more terrible than you will have ever witnessed, yes Catherine worse still than Charles in his new coat. Suddenly the absence of any churls determined to cause our expiration thus far was full explicated. They were all hither. Turner’s men, all clasping rifles, were placed about the room as though they were peculiarly poorly proportioned statues placed in a long gallery. Occupying the expanse betwixt them was Lord Morley and his esteemed guests. The poor wretches had plainly been herded thither as though they were nought but cattle, and forced to sit upon the floor. More than one among the party had quite abandoned their senses and fallen prey to hysteria so severe not even the most powerful strike would stop it (sister I blush to tell you t’was not merely the women who had succumbed). I quite pitied them for being exposed to such indignity.
From the depth of the room a man stepped forth at a gait which savoured so strongly of arrogance that he could only have been Mr Turner. His visage was so plain as to render it indescribable.
“I believe I am correct in my assumption that you are Lord Woodville, and this must be your wife.” Said he regarding us with poorly veiled contempt, a look I am quite certain was reflected upon my own visage.
“Forgive so plain a want of civility Mr Turner.” Interrupted my dear husband. “But as I am nigh on certain that you, as so many other villainous fools who would consider themselves to possess illuminating sagacity, have prepared a soliloquy of some not inconsiderable length to explicate your ingenious scheme. Might I ask that you oblige us in hastily delivering a curtailed rendering that we might sooner stop you?”
Fortunately Mr Turner was all obliging consent ascent in the immediate commencement of his sermon. However he displayed a particular propensity for the timbres of his own voice, thus even his brief speech was of considerable length.
“I have felt the tremors of a revolution, Lord Woodville.” Began he. “It is all about us, from the lowest rustics to the very highest of the lords, all hankering after a utopia whither the poor are equal to the rich and we are no longer ruled by members of the aristocracy. A land without its Monarchy …”
Catherine, I had already had an elegant sufficiency of his folly; “And you are strongly desirous of creating such a land with the deuced weapon.” Said I endeavouring to hasten things as with every syllable he spake we drew closer to that fearful object reducing us all to dust.
“Heavens no!” Cried he in alarm.
Confess, I was all perplexed confusion at his declaration, for what else could he have been essaying to convey.”
“To live in such a place would be the very essence wretchedness. A Britannia without her monarch? Such a thing is unfathomable! ” Continued he “Who are we to think that we could wield such authority when His Majesty the King has been appointed by God to rule over us all. No I mean to stop these fools and their folly!” Cried he with astonishingly passionate zeal for one who so strongly resembles an aspic confection. “And as to you stopping me, well that, Sir, is laughable!”
Having concluded his speech he moved with such sudden swiftness that I was caught wholly off guard and thus was unable to prevent his seizing me and drawing his own dagger and holding it to my throat. I am ashamed to say that, despite the frequency with which I have been thus threatened, I cried out in alarmed astonishment and Woodville’s features contorted as though he too were being held at blade point.
As I stood thither entirely unable to free myself, the sharp point of the dagger causing no small amount of terror as it it pressed into my neck, severing the velvet ribbon from which Woodville’s cameo was suspended, I heard the footmen’s approaching footsteps. Foot burst through the door and sans drawing breath addressed Woodville.
“Sir, Lady Woodville’s cry was the very essence of one who has lately been entrapped, shall we …”
However what they should do was never made apparent for Turner renewed the grip upon me and turned me to face my most loyal of servants.
“You will take your leave of this place immediately, you will run from here as cowards from the battlefield or your mistress shall perish.” Said he with wicked relish.
Foot’s hesitant hesitancy was met by Woodville’s entreaty. “Foot, pray, acquiesce to his request. leave us now.”
As the footman receded from the parlour, taking with them much of my hope of escape I heard, from behind Turner, the creak of a floorboard and I became acutely aware that in the clamorous broil we had all but forgot the presence of Captain Bryson. Yet his insignificance was most advantageous for he had succeeded in passing behind Turner entirely sans notice until he once more trod too heavily. Afore Turner could incline his head far enough to see the threat behind him, the captain had delivered blow of considerable force. Turner fell to the floor with so little dignity it was very nearly amusing, and I was freed from his grasp.
It took but a moment for the Footmen to be summoned once more and they overpowered Turner’s men with considerable ease. It would seem their courage abandoned them as soon as the blow was landed upon their leader’s head.
Now that I had been returned to his arms Woodville’s composure was restored to him and he once more took command in a most becoming fashion.
“Bryson, Foot!” Cried he. “Aid these poor wretches to safety and rid as many houses as you can of their occupants for I know not if we shall succeed in stopping the weapon.”
The afore mentioned wretches were now quite apoplectic in their nervous hysteria and thus were more than a little inefficacious in their endeavours to leave and it was rendered necessary for Woodville to chaperone above one weeping gentleman out of the library.
As he did so I turned my attentions at once to the finding of the weapon and t’was but a moment later that I found myself overwhelmed with terror anew as I found it in Lord Morley’s study. I hastily came to full understand the impossibility of my plight and was nigh on robbed of my senses and for some time was unable to speak. When at last I could my sole utterance was;
“Henry my love I believe I have found it.”
Henry hastened to my side and as his eyes fell upon the abundance of powder (placed in a mound before the bureau and so voluminous in it’s quantity that I had no doubt it could bring every house in the street to the ground) I felt his last hopes flee as though they were a pair of lovers determined to elope
The weapon itself was a contrivance more complex than anything I had seen. The vials of poison, so numerous I dared not count them, shone in the candlelight. The fuse, encased in some protective layer burnt slowly towards our demise and I found myself only too familiar with the choices that remained open to us.
“Maria, perhaps if we could extinguish the fuse?”
“Nay, Henry that is an impossibility. That powder shall fall prey to the blast as surely as I fell prey to your charms. But we may yet be able to prevent it releasing it’s noxious vapour.” Said I.
“Then make haste, my love.” Said Woodville in tones of faintest hope.
“I shall need you to leave this moment.” Returned I in little more than a whisper.
“Maria, pray, of what do you speak?”
“Regard the mechanism, Henry, this weapon has been designed to cause the expiration of whomever endeavours to render it powerless. The vials cannot be separated from the deuced feculent weapon, somebody must remain with them to prevent their poisonous cloud bursting forth. I must remain hither, or London will succumb to this demon and Lord knows what harm will follow. Henry, England will fall!
As the full nature of my scheme revealed itself to Henry I saw his peculiarly blue eyes fill with grievous horror and he prepared to protest. But I was swifter than he.
“Henry, my dearest, I have known what it is to lose you. When Pravos took you, I thought I should perish. I am well enough acquainted with myself to know that it is a torment I cannot endure. To have you torn from me thus, to be destined to spend every one of my moments entirely sans you until the end of my unhappy days would be a purgatory too cruel to bear. Henry you know, you must know that by sacrificing your life to save mine you would be killing me as surely as if you had plunged the dagger into my heart with your own hand. I cannot live if you expire, nor do I care to. Now, pray take your leave of me and live.”
As I closed my speech I grasped his hands in mine one final time, I then sealed the doors betwixt us and drew closed the heavy bolts before he was offered even a moment to prevent me.
Woodville descended into enraged grief instantaneously and was all panicked alarm as he cast himself at the door endeavouring to open it.
“Maria, Nay, I entreat you! Do not do this, open this door!” Cried he in tones so full of anguish that my heart was quite broke, yet I was quite decided in resolve.
“Henry if you know my character at all you must know that I will never do that.”
Then, my poor dear Woodville, his voice weakened by the sorrow of our imminent parting attempted to outflank me with words he had never afore used; “Lady Maria Woodville, damnation to it all! You are my wife, you will obey me now woman! Open this feculent door this instant!”
But my mind would not be swayed. “Henry, I love you all the more for endeavouring to aid me but you know such a relationship has never been ours. I have never obeyed you nor shall I ever succumb to your authority as rightful master of your wife, particularly when such a thing would kill you. But know this, I shall always be your wife, your own Lady Maria Woodville. Remember me well. Now take your leave of me for if you are still thither when the blast occurs I shall be killed twice over! Adieu!”
And with that I pulled the pearl encrusted ornament from my coiffure so that my tresses fell in what I imagine was a most becoming fashion (though I cannot be certain for there was no glass in the study) and armed only with that bejewelled barrette I turned to face the devil that would claim me and leave Henry a widower; the weapon.
Catherine I dare not describe my sentiments as I stepped forth knowing I had only moments to render it safe and my dear husband had only moments in which to escape …
My Dear Mrs Cowley
I scarcely know how to commence such a missive, Catherine I know not how to express my regret and remorse in informing you that your sister, my own dearest Maria has perished.
I am full aware that her correspondence with you will render you familiar with the peril we have faced together. However yesterday, the peril was too great to overcome and Maria in an act of humbling bravery and devotion laid down her life for England, the Empire and me.
This letter to you, which she plainly wrote in her last moments, was discovered in the ruins of Lord Morley’s home and will elucidate the circumstances of her expiration better than I
My sorrow at such events is beyond even Maria’s powers of description, despite her not inconsiderable literary flair, thus I shall not endeavour to vociferate them. For no words could ever hope to do them justice. I am utterly brought to nought.
Yours in unending torment,
your brother in law and faithful servant to Maria,
Lord Henry Woodville.