I stood with Captain Faye’s gun levelled at my elegant coiffure and found myself to be as frozen as though an inclement and unseasonable snow fall had descended upon my head. I was rendered incapable of a response more articulate than,
“ I beg you pardon? Captain, I do not understand.”
“Lady Maria lower your weapon!” Then speaking to the churl before us, “Baker, has all been accomplished?”
“Yes Sir, I have removed five and twenty minutes worth of sand from the weapon.” Was Baker’s reply.
“Very good. Pray, the two of you ready the carriage, I shall be there presently.” Said Captain Faye as he stood beside me still pointing his weapon at my head in what must have been an unbecoming fashion. Upon Captain Faye’s words the two men departed to prepare for their escape. I turned to my captor with my visage arranged into an expression I was confident conveyed the depth of my betrayal.
“Captain, this is unfathomable!” Said I. he looked at me in a manner I found to be pretentious.
“Then allow me render it as clear as that magnificent jewel about your neck.” He glanced down an the diamond I wore at that moment, as you know it is a specimen of a beauteous quality and there is no better example of clarity. “I am indeed aiding those who wish to dispatch the monarchy, there is the devil in the sovereignty!”
I found myself entirely perplexed by his sentiment.
“In the King?” I asked
“In all of them, we ought follow America’s lead and rid ourselves of such an indulgence as a King and Queen. They are quite out of fashion these days.” he continued in this manner until I had ceased both to listen or to care, however his tone begun to cause me great irritation and I found myself compelled to scream,
“You treasonous churl!”
It would appear that he took my words in bad part because any wisp of patient inclination he had afore felt vanished and he bid me to kneel. Feeling that perhaps I may need a little aid to prevent the Captain dispatching me forthwith I called for my husband but before I had uttered his name for the second time I found that I was ceased as roughly as though I was a poacher apprehended by a vigilant game keeper.
“Unhand me Sir, such a horrifying lack of propriety.” I said.
“Do not attempt to lecture me upon propriety madam, such a sermon would be feeble indeed from your lips. A woman who conducts herself as you do, wielding a weapon as though you were a man, can have no pretence at respectability. You Maria are a dissembler, a whited sepulcher. Now upon your knees.”
I could see no escape and got upon my knees however I was not beyond the lowly ploy of delay.”
“We confided in you, you are Woodville’s closest friend I believed you to be a gentleman!“ I said in an attempt to express my sentiment of treachery. Captain Faye had suddenly become as silent as the grave and I knew that his finger must undoubtedly be upon the trigger of his pistol. I waited in a state of heightened dread and fear that could only be matched by the previous time I had found myself upon my knees at the mercy of a despicable cowardly fiend. I reflected that such incidents had become disagreeably frequent.
It was above five minutes before I realised I was still alive and was continuing to reflect upon the regularity upon which my life has been threatened with surprising leisure, I turned and found my confusion increase when I saw that Captain Faye had gone, he had left me alive and fled. It was then that I heard Woodville ascending the stairs behind me, I knew it was my husband for he has a distinctive third step of his right foot.
“Woodville,” I gasped “Woodville, it was Faye, he was the one, the rogue, all this time!”
“Maria, my dear please speak more candidly.” Said Woodville in some confusion.
“It was Faye, this has been his scheme all along. He has played us all for fools, he has had us trusting in his character, like naïve debutants trusts an eloquently spoken libertine!” Said I.
“Son of a churl!” was my husband’s vexed response. “I shall dispatch him this instant!”
Woodville turned and tried to hasten away with his weapon in hand.
“Nay, Woodville, there is no time to avenge such betrayal. They removed much of the sand from the weapon, we have nigh on a moment to stop this catastrophe. I shall signal to the footmen to seize him before he can get too far.”
As Woodville turned his attention to the weapon, unfurling the plans Elizabeth had discovered at Peterson’s house, I drew from my pocket a handkerchief and began embroidering it with the words “PRAY CEASE FAYE, FOR HE IS THE CULPRIT!” As I threw the elegant work from the window, entrusting our loyal servants to apprehend the vagabond churl who had so nearly disarranged my composure by dispatching me, my husband cried in frustration.
“It has not worked!” Said he. “The mechanism is more complex than it’s predecessor, it will not desist.”
The sudden inescapability of our peril was almost overwhelming and yet I saw what I thought might be an agreeable alternative, that we ought carry the terrifying object and run as fast as my gown will allow, we could throw it into the Thames to destroy it!
“We have not the time!” Replied Woodville “ Burn it, we must set it alight and burn each of these deuced hankies at once! But Maria you must get everyone to take leave of this place.”
“Henry how shall such a thing be managed? What shall I say to them?” I enquired as I became acutely aware that my dear husband had asked me to empty the building of the monarchy and parliament in the midst of the Prince’s marriage ceremony.
“Maria, tell them anything, tell them the French are here!” Said Woodville.
I had turned and was verging upon dancing forward, for the music had recommenced and I was taken with my adoration for the cotillion once more, when the jeopardy that faced Woodville presented itself with the force of a highwayman landing upon a coach to capture its occupants and I found the notion of parting from my dearest husband was a notion that was intolerable. My reluctance was evidently poorly concealed because Woodville said with tones of the utmost desperation. “Pray take your leave of me. I will join you by and by … upon my honour I will.”
With a final glance at my dear husband I fled and it was not long before I found myself in the knave of the abbey once more. Overcoming my timidity as I faced their Majesties I said
“Your Majesties, ladies and gentlemen, pray forgive this vulgar and uncouth interruption but the French are coming!”
My abrupt ill mannered outburst was met with silence that was reminiscent of the quiet that meets an admiral whence he announces the ship is sinking, it was instantly followed by a level of hysteria I had not afore witnessed where cries of “THE FRENCH ARE COMING” came from above one member of the royal family, and I believe a verse of “Rule Britania” was discernable from the congregation. As I ran from the abbey amongst the crowd ensuring that every member of Parliament or person of royal descent had escaped I saw Elizabeth and Mr. Hand hastening forwards to assist me.
“Lady Woodville, Pray are you well? … But where is lord Woodville?” Enquired Hand.
“ The only way to prevent the Influenza from escaping was to burn the wretched thing. He remained behind to start the fire, he ought be with us soon.” Said I, however upon my words I noticed a look fall upon their faces that seemed to convey their doubt in my earnest assurances. I turned and chanced a glance at the Abbey and was met with a sight of such horrific magnitude that I screamed with a considerable lack of delicacy.
The Abbey doors were secured and from inside a mighty blaze was distinguishable, flames began to escape from the windows and roof. My senses abandoned me and had Elizabeth and Mr. Hand not restrained me with a severe want of decorum I should have run forthwith into the burning mess that was the Abbey for the only thing that occupied my mind was the impending expiration of my dear Woodville. Their grasps were suddenly not substantial and I broke free from their restraint, but as I ran forward with a haste suited to a cowards retreat, a blast came from behind the Abbey’s doors. The force of flash threw me to the ground and I found I was not instantly able to stand. Hand came to my aid.
“Lady Woodville,” Said Hand as he handed me to my feet and tried to move me away from the fire. “Pray accept my humble apologies but I fear there is nought that can be done for him now. He has in all likelihood perished, however he did so gallantly. His sacrifice has saved the monarchy and government.”
But what cared I for gallant sacrifice if my husband had expired so wickedly. I wished I could abandon myself to the blissful indulgence of oblivion, I longed to succumb to a nervous faint but no such fit would seize me. Instead I endured the agony of watching as the Abbey was consumed by flame, as was my hope for Henry’s survival.
I was hardly aware that it was now rendered necessary for Mr. Hand to aid me by offering his arm. My eyes would not be torn from the sight before me as another fiery blow brought about the collapse of the eastern side. It could be borne no longer, I turned away from the Abbey.
I was attempting to regain my senses by accepting some intoxicating liquor from an inebriated peasant in the crowd whence a cry was heard from the Prince.
“Upon my word, what is that?” Said his royal highness.
The murmur was continued from all amongst us until …
“Nay it is an impossibility!” Said Elizabeth, “It is Henry!” Continued she in atone that was indicative by every syllable of miraculous and heroic events. I turned eagerly and was met with a sight that rivalled the most elegant and abundant ballroom. For emerging from the Abbey was Woodville, in a state of disreputable and unclean undress, sister he was in his shirt sleeves!
He was so darkened by soot that had I not been so acutely aware it was my husband I should undoubtedly have believed him to be a coal merchant. And yet he seemed remarkably unscathed for though his gait was indicative of pain, every third step revealed that he was not mortally wounded.
It was with a sense of indescribable joyous relief that I disregarded every convention of polite society and ran forth to embrace him with no pretence at propriety (despite the presence of the monarchy!) I cared not that they looked on in scandalised horror, nor that my reputation would unquestionably suffer from such an open display of affection. It was some time before Henry felt the inclination to speak.
“The Influenza was undoubtedly destroyed in the fire.” Said he. “And Captain Faye expired with indecent haste.” My husband must have seen my sentiments of confusion upon my visage for he continued,
“He saw the footmen and decided that the most prudent course of action was in fact to return to the very heart of an Abbey that was burning all about us. It is over!”
Dearest Catherine, my husband’s judgement was sound as ever for the catastrophe and disastrous peril was indeed averted and all the flamboyant danger was at an end!
Sister, I must once again offer you my sincere apologies for harming your delicate sensibilities thus with my ostentatious and extravagant description of such distressing jeopardy. Perhaps upon reaching the close of this letter you may feel it desirous to use your smelling salts and nerve tonic, however I hope you are sufficiently recovered to attend our ball at Woodville park in honour of the continued survival of the king.
Yours in joyful escape from early widowhood,