My dearest sister,I hope that this letter finds you recovered from the necessity of eating my last. I had hoped that with this missive I might bring you succour with which to sooth both the bilious and nervous complaints I had induced. But I am afraid that is not to be. For even as I write this I am in the company of the very people who hunt us and my survival and that of my dear husband rests solely upon my ability to deceive the Militia.
It was not long after reaching the terrible conclusion that, if we wished to elude the false charges of treacherous treason that faced us, we must evanesce from Woodville Park, that we stood before our assembled footmen in the gun room.
When we had related all to them, I am afraid to say the room more closely resembled the close of the last ball of the season, where above one lady of seven and twenty has succumbed to the hysterics having failed once again to secure the hand of an eligible beau, than a gun room whither the occupants are readying themselves for battle.
Woodville fetched my own elegant pair of dueling pistols and aided me to secure them to my sash. By the by Catherine, you were correct in your estimations that that particular hue of sash would go exceedingly well with my eyes, indeed Woodville remarked upon that very fact as he fastened my silver dagger to the folds of organza stuff. He then led me to the yard to oversee the loading of the carriages.
As our pleasingly named footman, Mr Foot, closed the door on the barouch that would carry the footmen and a good many swords, I was once more struck by adoring admiration for the Woodville crest that was painted upon it. But such happy sentiments were soon replaced with those of a far more shocking nature.
“The crest!” cried I in tones better suited to the hushed bedside of an expiring duke. “We must rid the carriages of the crest.”
“But it is a fine representation of our noble name, is it not?” Was my husband’s contented reply.
“Nay, Woodville, you have quite misunderstood. It is not because they are a poor symbol of our heraldry that I wish them gone, quite the opposite. It is because they are so pleasingly distinguishable. How can we fly into anonymity if we do so in carriages whose ornamentation, by every elegant brushstroke, reveals their elegant occupants?”
“Damnation to it all, you are right Maria, all of England knows these carriages to belong to us.” returned Woodville. “Mr Foot, do as Lady Woodville bids and remove these crests at once.”
“Very well Sir, but they will not be half so refined sans noble design.” Said the servant in tones I found served no purpose but to cause vexation.
“Mr Foot!” cried I in a fashion perfectly befitting my aforementioned vexation. “Did you not heed your master’s words when he addressed you? We mean to evanesce from this place shrouded by the greatest secrecy, such a thing would prove an impossibility if every inebriated churl who spends his days lolling by the roadside knows whither we have fled to! Now rid the carriages of the crests afore I am forced to believe you to be a frightful simpleton.”
“Maria, my dear, I pray you would not vent your spleen thus upon Foot. The poor fellow has not been so fortunate as to be blessed with a wit that is equal to yours. He ought not be punished for it.” Was my husband’s genteel entreaty as he seized my arm to prevent it striking the infuriating footman.
I held my tongue as the carriages were hastily painted, though heaven knows I could have vociferated at the unhappy Mr Foot for upwards of five and forty minutes. Fortunately it was not long afore the carriages were all quite transformed to the plainest black hue of the gentleman’s carriage, save for my own chaise my dear sister, which I was all insistence be decorously ornamented with a red stripe, that it might look as though it were travelling at a superior speed.
But, as my husband took my hand to aid me into the carriage, I was overcome with all the finer sentiments of propriety as I realised we had not asked our most efficient housekeeper, Mrs Darcey, to close the house. Nor, sent formal word to the neighbourhood that Woodville Park would be closed while it’s occupants were abroad.
“Henry, we must close the house, for if we flee in a manner more usually associated with poachers when an overzealous gamekeeper is at their backs, it will serve only to make us seem more culpable than we are already believed to be. Thus besmirching our reputations further.” Was my anguished declaration.
“I am afraid we have not the luxurious abundance of time required for such civilities. We must fly from this place as swiftly as the hawk when it is upon it’s prey. It is not for our reputations that I fear Maria, but for our lives.”
Catherine, do not you think that my husband makes a prettily eloquent speech when he is greatly afeared that we shall soon face the hangman? Yet I was unmoved for I was now, nigh on, overwhelmed by every sentiment one usually associates with being wrongly accused of treason and was all fervent, fearful, desperation as I spake. “Nay Henry, we cannot leave our home. I will not surrender to these vagabonds! I will not be so very readily defeated. I will not endure being hunted for treason like a Frenchman who has a peculiarly revolutionary disposition!”
“You must today, my love, or we shall be hanged before the week is out.” As he spake he handed me into the carriage, took his place at my side and bade the coachman to make all haste.
It was not until the horses had been set to a fearsome gallop and we were halfway down the poplar avenue that we had, but lately, planted, that we realised, in perfect unison, that we had nowhere to go. It would not be long until word of our betrayal was all over town. There would be no door open to us, we would have no friends to help us and nowhere to turn. We were decided only that we must quit – shire by nightfall.
We passed the journey amiably, as we always did, by engaging in a most diverting game of strike the peasant. You will recall it Catherine, the game of my own invention where one must attempt to strike intoxicated rustics by throwing whatever is to hand. It was a game of a most prodigious length as Mrs Darcey had had the good sense to place a barrel of apples in the chaise for exactly that purpose. I had just struck a fellow with peculiarly irregular features and was upon the brink of marking my victory with an animated cotillion, when I noted something moving through the trees beyond. It took but four and twenty seconds to understand what it was. Thus in a manner exactly calculated to convey the acutely terrible terror that I felt, I inclined my head towards my husband and said, “Woodville.”
“”Maria?” said he. “The inclination of your head is all suggestive of the most acutely terrible terror. Pray tell, what is the matter?”
In a voice that was quite redoubled in its fearful tones I replied. “Redcoats!”
“Redcoats?” Was Henry’s repetitious response.
“Redcoats, through the trees!’ Declared I.
“Redcoats, through the trees?” Returned Woodville.
“Henry, no matter how many times you repeat it you will not make it any less true. They have found us.” I spake without withdrawing my eyes from the scarlet hued coats of the militia that approached our carriages with uncommon haste. Faced with such a sight I found that I was quite envious of your nervous constitution, for I longued to be able to cast myself into a faint of considerable profundity and abandon myself to oblivion. But no such hysterical affliction would come.
However I was all gracious gratitude to see that Woodville had regained his senses. He leant from the window and called out to the coachman.
“Mr Wheeler, make haste, the militia are nigh on upon us, you must make all haste. Maria, my dear.” Said he returning to the carriage, ready your weapons. We must be prepared to fight.
As the carriage sped on, upon a road that, it ought be noted, was of a peculiarly fine quality for such pursuits, I retrieved my pistols from my sash and held them aloft.
“Make aim Maria.” Cried Woodville as he drew his own pistols and found his red coated prey amongst the trees.
But afore he could cause the approaching soldier to expire I found myself to be in the grip violent apprehension. I grasped his arm and spoke with a fervour that I reserved for endeavouring to persuade my husband not to slay a man.
“Henry, we cannot fire upon the soldiers. We may not be guilty of treason but the very moment we dispatch a man of the king’s own militia, we shall be.”
“Maria, they mean to capture us.” Was his urgent reply.
“Henry, if we strike them down and cause the cessation of their breath we shall be running for the rest of our days. Even if we are proven innocent in the plot against the prince, we shall live as vagabonds and highwaymen and never be permitted to return to polite society.” I was all desperation in my entreaty.
“They shall take us to the tower and we should count ourselves fortunate if we face only the noose. But like as not we shall be hung, drawn and quartered. And I should rather live the rest of our days in exile together, my love, than go to my grave knowing I have allowed you to succumb to such a fate.” Said he in such impassioned tones that I was nigh on robbed of my breath.
I had yet to acquiesce to my husband’s request to fire upon the militia, when Wheeler called out from the coachman’s box.
“Lord Woodville, there are redcoats ahead. They are too numerous to number. We are quite surrounded.”
Woodville and I were as one as we glanced through the carriage’s window, and as one in our horror when our glance was met with a sight more fearful than that of a parson with an unfortunate brow, who has given himself the liberty of dancing three cotillions sans cessation. Our arrival at the turnpike was awaited by so very many soldiers that it was as though we were entering a regimental ball.
“Damnation to it all, it is an ambuscade!” Cried Henry.
“Son of a churl.” I spake with wretched vulgarity. (Catherine, you will have to forgive so shocking an outburst on my part, but when faced with upwards of three score and twenty men of the militia, all of whom are eager to have you sent to the gallows, the coarse curses of the midshipman prove more satisfactory than any of aunt Margaret’s genteel declarations). “We are outnumbered.”
“Stay your pistols my love, we shall have to defend ourselves with that far more perilous weapon, deceit.” Henry spake in tones more fearful than any I had yet known. I lowered my pistols and, as an elegantly and abundantly decorated colonel approached the carriage, I prepared to duel with falsehoods instead.
Yours upon the brink of the most scandalous untruths,
your affectionate sister, Lady Maria Woodville.