And now, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for something completely different. This week I had the great, if unusual, good fortune to interview a gentleman of the road. His name is Reynaud Ravensdale, and he’s currently in the middle of a most interesting story involving lost inheritances, unconventional love interests, and highway robbery, no less.
Well, who could possibly resist the chance to have a chat with someone so intriguing? So, without further ado, here’s what happened when the modern blogger met the eighteenth century highwayman, and his companion in crime Longface…
Ravensdale strides in, pistols in his belt, followed by a dismal looking, gap toothed companion in a battered hat with bullet holes in it. RR makes a bow, sweeping off his own hat, and stoops to kiss MB’s hand.
RR: Servant, Ma’am. (Snatches off Longface’s hat.) Sit down, Longface, stop gawping so rudely at the lady’s attire, and say nothing. Forgive my follower; he’s a little startled at your modern clothes.
MB: No need to apologise. Welcome to my blog … if you know what a “blog” is.
RR: Yes, my biographer, herself from this strange age, has told me about this “electronic communication”.
MB: First things first – what should I call you? You have several aliases, I understand. Normally I’d call you “Reynaud” or maybe “Ray” or “Ronnie” for short, but perhaps you’d regard that as being unduly informal…
RR: Permit me to say, I’d never object to familiarity in one so charming. (A little bitterly) As an Earl, I may once have been entitled to a more elevated form of address – but now “Mr Fox” will do excellently.
MB: So, Mr Fox, would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
L: (Interrupting) This may be a trap! (Looks about anxiously.)
RR: Silence, looby! Forgive that slur upon your integrity, Ma’am; I’m sure I may count upon it.
MB: You’re mixed up in a rather strange situation at present, involving a conniving cousin, injured reputations, and highway robbery, no less. How did this rather peculiar state of affairs come to pass?
RR: (Very sourly) I have no logical reason to doubt my cousin’s honour in this matter, though he is the next in line to the Earldom … But on my present wretched life as an outlaw, I have only youthful indiscretion to plead in extenuation.
L: Young hothead! He needs a wiser head to guide him, Mistress.
RR: (Taking a swipe at his head) I thought I told you not to speak? … As I was saying, three years ago, as a young Viscount and a reckless young officer of the Guards, I had a reputation for wildness and a fondness for fisticuffs and duelling. I rushed into a Meeting of Honour with a fellow Guardsman, then my guest, who had just insulted my then fiancée, Miss Toothill. He had been paying marked attentions to my little cousin Marie, of whom I’m prodigious fond. When he spoke lightly to Miss Toothill I was enraged not only on her account but on Marie’s too, and young idiot as I was, I insisted on an immediate meeting. We had both lunched well and were somewhat excited, though not in our cups; I ignored my betrothed’s pleas and rushed to the meeting place, as did my opponent.
By a grotesque accident my pistol went off, mortally wounding him, before we had begun the duel. Who would believe, given my hasty temper, that I had never intended to do more than wing him? A servant overheard me shouting that I would kill him if he said another word, and chancing to leave our employ soon after, he spread the story about assiduously.
Even my father recommended I flee; I had hopes that I might clear my name of murder, but for various reasons I couldn’t. You will wonder why I didn’t go abroad. I couldn’t bring myself to deprive myself of hope and of snatched secret meetings with Miss Toothill. So, I took to highway robbery.
You look dismayed, Ma’am, and I scarce blame you. But after all, how was being a brigand so different from the manner in which my illustrious ancestors had come by our title and lands? I never targeted women and always preyed upon the rich.
(Breathes heavily for a moment.)
Finally, Miss Toothill informed me that she wished to break off our engagement; in accordance with her parents’ wishes, she wished to bestow her hand elsewhere.
L: (Takes out a handkerchief and blows his nose very loudly) That is fair sickening, that is. I didn’t know that, Fox. And to think you’d sacrificed yourself for her—
RR: Silence! Not a word more!
(L gets up and wanders towards the door.)
MB: I understand that you recently had an encounter with a rather strong-willed young woman called Isabella Murray. It seems to have affected you rather deeply…
RR: (Draws himself back, his wide-set hazel eyes stirring) Ma’am, I am sorry that Ms Elliot had made so free with my memoirs – but yet, I did agree that she could write my biography entire, and I understand you modern ladies have highly flexible notions of discretion.
Well, I had left my band – seeking solitude to compose my tormented thoughts—
L: You did what? I thought you went to make water; we’d all been putting enough wine away.
RR: (Leaps up) Any more coarse jests before the lady, and I shall throw you out bodily!
(Longface goes out; Reynaud sits down again.)
RR: As I was saying, Ma’am, I saw one of my cohorts bully Miss Isabella and her companion, in defiance of my rules to spare all women. Even as I rushed to deal with him, she – ah, Mistress Biella, such a flashing eyed and magnificent being she is, like to some pagan goddess – had knocked him down. The brute leapt up to hit her back, and even as Flashy seized him, I arrived to give the wretched coward the drubbing he deserved.
I had thought myself proof from the power of love after – after my previous disappointment at the hands of Miss Toothill, but nothing could protect me from the onslaught the sight of this free spirit had on my heart. And that wasn’t all, Ma’am. Even as I restored the broken necklace to her that the disgusting Filthy had torn from her neck, she asked if she could address my men. I was astounded, but ordered them to hear her. She harangued us then, on not being latter day Robin Hoods.
As I particularly prided myself on generosity to the poor, this touched my pride. I thought she had made me angry enough to forget her – but after one night’s sighing and groaning, I knew myself to be in love.
MB: She’s a bit feisty, this Isabella. Not nearly as meek and unassuming as is held to be ideal in your Age. Presumably you like a woman with a bit of spirit?
RR: I think I must, Ma’am. I hadn’t met one of such a sort before. I rather wish I hadn’t met her, as my fate is sealed with hers. I’m quite enslaved.
MB: I understand you’ve hatched a rather daring plan to woo her. Is this true?
RR: Yes, I had the good luck to come across their former librarian, sacked it seems for being in his altitudes in the library. I intend to replace him, cleverly disguised with a wig and glasses. Of course, no fashionable young man wears a wig these days – but I’ll endure looking a fool for the chance of gazing on Miss Isabella. I gather Sir Wilfred and the males of the household never go near the library anyway, but my Adored One does. Even to look on her lovely face will be bliss for me.
MB: It would seem that one Lucinda Elliot has been writing a book based on your life. What do you make of that?
RR: I have only read extracts from it, Mistress Biella, but I strongly resent her satirical approach, so unbecoming in a female. Yet no doubt Miss Isabella would thoroughly approve. She gives me hope – Mistress Elliot, that is, not Isabella – that all may yet turn out happily for me. For some reason, she warned me that I needed to eat much fruit and vegetables to do what she called “building up my immune system” as she predicts that I must be badly shot before I come through my troubles. It would seem that this will help me fight off infection, according to your modern thinking. For us, vegetables are seen as fare for peasants…Well, it won’t be the first time I’ve been shot, eh, Longface?…Where has that looby gone?
MB: Speaking of literature, what kind of books do you enjoy? That’s if you have much time for reading…
RR: The choice in our age is more limited than in yours, Ma’am. I think you won’t be surprised to find out that tales of adventure were and are my chosen reading, when I can snatch some time off from my – er – other activities. The Iliad was ever a favourite of mine.
MB: Well, thanks for speaking to me today. I suppose I’d better let you go now, in case there are some brawny redcoats hot on your tail. If they ask me whether I’ve seen you, what should I say?
RR: Why, Ma’am, I would not have them trouble you – (breaks off, listening intently, then springs to press Ms Biella gently down on the floor) Beg pardon, but you must stay there as you value your life! (Dashes to window) Hold your fire, fools, there’s a lady present! Wait until I get out. Longface, where are you, you looby?! (Dashes out, drawing his pistol).
(A volley of shots and curses breaks out and dies away in the distance.)
MB: (Rising from the floor and strolling over to the window): Hmm, that was a fairly unusual interview…