Dear Mr Cowley,
I hope that this missive finds you in better spirits than my last. I am aware that since the arrival of that unhappy note your poor wife Catherine, has been, as I myself have, in a state of untold anguish, scarcely recovering from one fit of nervous hysteria afore she descends into another. Such frequent faints must be proving quite a trial for all concerned. Poor Catherine has ever been at the mercy of her nerves. Though, confess, being so very entirely sans Maria has left me hankering after the happy oblivion that only feminine frailty will provide.
However Charles, I do not write today to convey sentiments of sympathy but something rather more extraordinary. Indeed what has passed has left me in a state of some considerable perplexed confusion, it is so peculiar a peculiarity that I know not quite how to elucidate upon the matter, for it is so very illogical as to render it quite celestial. Thus I have enclosed this letter in the hope that all the particulars shall be made quite plain to you and poor Catherine,
Yours in stupefaction,
Lord Henry Woodville.
My Dearest Catherine,
I know that this missive shall find you in ill health and suffering from the pangs of acutest nervous discomposure, but pray dearest sister, you must find strength enough to read this even if such a feat is accomplished only through the drinking of an entire bottle of fortified wine.
You will have been told by my dear husband that I have perished, I have say with all haste, incontestably not. He will have informed you, in tones of desperate remorse and sorrow, that the infernal powder blast had consumed me. I hasten to assure you that that is not the case. I am alive, quite alive, as alive as I have e’er been. I hope you are adequately comforted by such facts to continue with your perusal of this letter, for the circumstances surrounding my continued survival are truly rather remarkable and I believe the manner in which I shall recount it to you shall render it as thrilling as any three volume novel.
You see Catherine, nigh on a moment afore I had concluded my last missive to you I found what I so longed for; an escape.
I stood before that elevated and imposing mound of powder with those sinistrous vials each containing a poison more terrible than the last; the fuse, lit by the wicked hand of the fiendish Mr Turner, burned at a menacingly laggard pace. Each inch of spend fuse bringing me closer to my ill fated fate. Despite the dolorous nature of my parting with my beloved husband inducing within me a torment the likes of which I have never known, and hope ne’er to know again, I had but one purpose; to thwart Turner’s scheme to poison all of London. I had to disallow the vials from from being consumed in the blast.
I had made as close a study of the deuced mechanism as both time and my courage would allow and discovered that such a thing was possible. The vials were bound together as tightly as one’s waist after Michlemas when one has over succumbed to temptation and indulged in too many sweet meats, and thus could be moved efficaciously enough and guarded from the powder’s influence.
I had already settled upon the object which would best protect the delicate poison filled glass. Upon the far side of Lord Morley’s study stood a marble bust, of whom I neither know nor care. It appeared elegant enough, however the hue of the marble was all indicative of an inferior quality of carved likenesses. Such a deficiency led me to believe that the bust was not only of an ill taste oft associated with those who have longed for great circumstance and standing but shall never achieve it on account of their relations in Cheapside, it is also indicative that the bust was hollow. Thus it would provide me with a place which was exactly calculated to shield the vials.
There was but one difficulty for my scheme and that was Turner’s peculiar cruelty. This fault of character had led him to design his weapon with an unusually wicked fail-safe. High above the glass vials was suspended a canon ball. The canon ball was placed thither to ensure that anyone who might endeavour to remove the poison would only ensure they were shattered into a thousand shards, releasing there fatal innards. There would come a time, however when the canon ball would be rendered powerless by the fuse burning beyond it. Once that blue hued flame had blazed beyond my feet the vials would no longer be bound to the mechanism and I would have time only to stow them but not to flee, saving London, but not myself.
This I did. No sooner had that murderous flame passed my delicately booted toes, knowing I had but moments afore I was consumed by the thunder flash of the powder,I gathered the vials to me and bearing them aloft as though they were an infant of royal descent I made all haste towards the bust. As I placed those narrow glass cylindrical villains within the bust I saw something which at once cause me great surprise and offered me the smallest coruscate of hope.
My eye had been caught by what I had least expected to see; a small latch within the carved oaken wall of the study.
“Huzzar!” Cried I as I came to full understand the significance of so significant a thing. Catherine, it was a priest hole!
I cast open the door to that small sanctuary knowing that, ten to one, no such clandestine passage would be sufficient to prevent me from perishing in the powder blast, no matter how many members of the clergy it had saved. Never the less I ran. Catherine, I know that you believe that any gait quicker than a gentle perambulation shows a severe want of dignity, however if you were being pursued, as I was about to be, by so large a blast you too would undoubtedly cast concerns of your reputation aside and run.
The pleasingly long tails of my sash had only just crossed the threshold before the fuse burned it’s last and, with a noise akin to a thousand thunder flashes the powder was consumed by the blast and Lord Morley’s house began to fall. I knew not whither the passage led, and to be quite candid I cared not either, all the while I ran as though the very beasts of the deuce were upon my heels. All about me I could hear the masonry pitch and cascade to the ground. The flames pursued me into the passage, I soon became full aware of their terrible heat as they scorched the back of my muslin gown (Catherine I will be quite candid once more and say that I was greatly vexed that my new gown had been so decidedly spoilt by the murderous scheme of an ill bred churl)! My advancement through that unilluminated passage was greatly hindered not only by it’s crepuscular and chill nature, but also by the unwelcome fact that the ceiling was quite determined to collapse upon me. Thus I was forced to duck in order to evade the falling wreckage in a manner which was entirely sans dignity, until at last that tenebrous ingress gave way into a large subterranean chamber.
Arriving within I drew closed the heavily ornamented door and endeavoured to recapture my breath which had wholly escaped me, as the house above concluded it could no longer stand, and was all decided in it’s final collapse. The sound of it was indescribable and with a tremulous tremble the walls around shook free their charge and I was nigh on struck by an volley of indiscernible objects As the last stone fell I knew that the passage that had saved me had now entombed me.
Catherine the pangs of such a notion were much alleviated by the discovery that the chamber was a wine cellar, while it could not hope to rival that of my own dear Woodville Park, it was well enough stocked, though admittedly several of the best bottles had been ruined in the blast. From the small shard of light that fell from I know not where, it was possible to discern the finest wines. I settled upon my preferred variety and, for medicinal purposes (my nerves had suffered greatly at the hands of the blast) began.
My dear sister, I am all shame faced mortification to admit that it it was not long afore the ill-starred circumstances of my present situation quite overwhelmed me. For it was full worse than finding oneself a spinster of seven and twenty who has few charms or accomplishments upon which she can rely upon to endear her to the more generous among her family. I was Lord knows how many feet below Lord Morley’s house in a cellar few people were aware of. Above me lay the vast mound of the ruined house, as unmovable as Woodville’s excellent character, and all in my acquaintance believed me to have perished. My delight in eluding expiration vanished, for would not the fiery fate I had just escaped be preferable to perishing in my own mausoleum with nought to divert my attentions from the grief at my husband’s grief. However, as you are intimately familiar with my disposition you will know that I have not the happy ability of abandoning my senses and surrendering to the faint. Therefore, when it came, I welcomed the stupefaction of inebriation.
I know not how long such insensibility lasted, and I am certain that it was longer than can be considered respectable. but when I awoke I was greeted by a thought so dreadful that it induced in me a nervous apoplexy that would rival even yours. Catherine, it was marriage.
Not my own marriage, for that has given me nought but the greatest joyousness, but rather the possibility that my dear Henry might enter into a new state of matrimony. He was now, after all, the most eligible widower in Town. I could well imagine designing minx who would be all tender hearted in her consoling him over having so very heartily lost his wife. Yet she would not defer by long offering him her smiles and blushes. Her fine eyes and coiffure, which by every tendril, would be more elegant than my own, would prove to be everything captivating and charming and would succeed in ensnaring my dearest husband while I remain trapped hither for all eternity.
Envy may indeed be a mortal sin Catherine, however it also gives one great strength. For the very notion of that wicked harlot standing before Henry, the clergy and God and vowing to love, honour and obey him, of this beribboned and festooned coquette becoming mistress of my own Woodville Park, of her assuming my place at my husband’s side filled me with a strength that was beyond anything reasonable.
I was soon digging through those fallen timbres and stones as though I were the most overzealous of peasants tending his field of turnips. How long my endeavours took I could not say, but at long last I broke free of my stygian catacomb and burst forth into the street above. Catherine, I fear I must inform you tat the blast destroyed nigh on all of – Street, I know how fond you are of that particular part of town, though you rarely frequent it.
With what little strength I had left to me I made all haste for Grosvenor Square and Woodville House. Catherine it was not an inconsiderable distance and I confess I was more than a little inclined to take the post coach, however one look at my apparel soon put paid to such a notion. For I was entirely blackened with filth, my tresses an incomprehensibly interwoven tangle and my gown was so severely scorched it was as though your cook had endeavoured to prepare it for dinner. What was not scorched or encrusted with filth was soaked in wine of so deep a crimson I had to thrice check I had not suffered some mortal wound. Indeed so altered was my appearance that it took upwards of seven and thirty minutes to persuade Foot that it was indeed I, Lady Woodville.
Upon seeing me again I thought Woodville should take leave of his senses, for his visage altered it’s hue with such disconcerting swiftness it was as though he were a young lady who has endeavoured to elope only to be caught out by her father at Gretna.
However he did not run mad, despite his being entirely of the persuasion that I was a transcendental phantasmal being.
“Maria? Is that truly you?” Enquired he, his voice better suited to that of our ailing aunt Margaret.
“It is I Henry.” Returned I.
“But you perished in the blast.”
“Nay, Henry, there was a priest hole.”
Woodville neither needed nor wanted further elucidation, instead he shewed a most pleasing disregard for convention as he stepped forth and embraced me despite the presence of the footmen, and did not relinquish me for a length of time that could not be considered entirely proper.
His sentiments at being so very completely reunited with me I shall not relate, not only because I believe they ought remain betwixt a husband and wife so very incandescent at their reunification, but also because I am eager to ascend to my chamber and attend to my toilette.
Thus I leave you with this happiest of endings and bid you adieu for now my dearest sister,
Yours in sentiments of exultant euphoria at being once more by Henry’s side,
Your affectionate sister,
Lady Maria Woodville.