If Theodora gets a chance to share her correspondence, then surely Julia must. Here is a letter from Julia written to her sister, Portia, shortly before her marriage to Sir Edward Grey. It’s a little peek into life before Nicholas…
Somewhere in the Lake District, perhaps Ambleside?
My dearest Portia,
Well, Aunt Cressida and I have finally arrived at our lodgings and I can only say that I am fervently glad of it. Her notion of travel is to wander about until she sees a spot deemed suitably “picturesque”, regardless of whether the place offers any sort of acceptable hostelry. This past week alone, we have lodged in a rather ancient coaching inn, a folly, a farmhouse, and a monastery. I am not entirely certain of my facts regarding this last. It might have been a priory or even an abbey. I know there were rather a lot of curious-looking fellows in brown robes who seemed quite terrified at the sight of women and who said nothing at all. One hopes it was a vow of silence rather than horror alone that stopped their tongues. There was one quite round fellow who was permitted to talk to us, but as he seemed very keen on showing us his collection of Saxon bones, I made a point of eluding him. Really, Portia—bones! But we have come now to a very pretty inn in a very pretty village by a very pretty lake, and as it is all satisfyingly picturesque, Aunt Cressida assures me here we will remain for some days, although I do not dwell upon this thought with anything approaching real pleasure.
Of course she is, barring Aunt Hermia’s darling self, the most tolerable of our aunts, but I fear that is faint praise, and I begin to wonder if Uncle Henry threw himself from his horse during his fatal accident. Of course, that was a long time ago, and it is entirely possible that twelve years of widowhood has soured her a bit from the woman she might once have been. And I am thoroughly certain he would be surprised by the sight of her moustaches. I find it quite difficult to tear my eyes away from the whiskers on her upper lip and am often forced to turn away in a pretense of coughing. The unfortunate effect of this is that Aunt Cressida is now convinced I am suffering from some sort of wasting lung complaint, and I am not permitted to leave our lodgings without a flannel belt worn under my clothes. It itches, every bit as much as Aunt Cressida’s moustaches, which I know from personal experience as she insists upon kissing me goodnight with a firm peck to either cheek. I have attempted to put her off by observing darkly that she ought not to be so generous in her affections in light of my “lung complaint” which might well be catching, but she merely scoffs and kisses me again, so I have left off that strategy and will craft another. I find it particularly odd that she has so inspired the affections of Hoots, especially considering his daily proximity to the far handsomer and more winsome Aunt Hermia, but I suppose there is no understanding the vagaries of the servant class, and I begin to think that the whiskers themselves may be the greater part of the attraction for him. Perhaps he saw a bewhiskered lady at a travelling show when he was a lad and the impression has remained with him?
But speculating upon the affaires du Coeur of our staff are only a mild diversion compared to the much greater matter of my own marriage. I am quite happy to have left London and put the planning of the thing into Aunt Hermia’s capable hands. Heaven knows I have no desire to sit and prattle about the relative merits of lobster patties versus shrimp cakes or Mechlin lace versus Valenciennes. (I am not even entirely certain if Mechlin is a lace. It sounds rather like a shire horse, does it not? In fact, I am quite certain it is a shire horse now that I think upon it…) In any event, I am well-pleased to be out of it, but I cannot help but think this whole excursion into the Lake District was planned quite suddenly with an eye to providing me with a chance to reflect upon my decision to marry Edward and perhaps reconsider. I shan’t, of course. The marriage is eminently suitable, and Edward is really quite lovely. I have always liked him, except for the time he stole my favourite copy of Persuasion and ripped the pages out to make paper boats to race with our brothers. But he did apologise quite nicely and he did buy me a new copy, a better one, as he pointed out emphatically. It seemed unkind to remind him that the volume he destroyed had belonged to Mama. After all, the Abbey is still quite filled with her things, and I do not think he meant to make me cry.
Goodness me, whyever have I ventured down such a wandering path into our childhood? It is our future I must think of now. I shall be Edward’s wife, and I think it will be a very nice thing to be Lady Julia Grey. It sounds rather serious, don’t you think? Perhaps I will take up good works and dress soberly when I am married. I might keep cats. Cats seem like very solemn pets, I always think. (Aunt Cressida’s beloved Neoptolemus would bear out any scrutiny upon this point. She insists upon taking him everywhere on our travels in a picnic hamper that is so enormous it must be carried by a footman with the result that the cat resembles nothing so much as an eastern potentate born aloft by his minion. He has rather a disdainful air, that cat. I suspect him of reading Aristotle when we are not about.)
Yes, indeed, a cat is a solemn creature, most suitable for a married lady, for being married is a solemn thing. It means I will be cared for always, and I shall have someone to care for in return. What a lovely arrangement! Of course, as this letter is meant for your eyes and no other’s, I can confess freely that Edward is not at all what I imagined in my girlish dreams. He is very handsome, so lovely and pale with that gilt hair and those rosy lips! One might write a poem about him. But I had never imagined myself married to a man who might inspire poets unless they were the very ancient and archaic poets who told lengthy stories of epic deeds of daring and courage. Edward might inspire a sonnet to golden curls; I had rather thought I should marry a man who would be dark, with ebony hair and black eyes. I wonder whom I pictured in my mind’s eye when I thought of such things? I am very certain such a man does not exist, and even if he did, it is too late for him! Even if he were to ride upon a stamping stallion and sweep me over his saddle and off to Gretna Green, I should refuse him. I should snap my fingers and say, “Fie, sir! I am to marry Edward Grey.” And that would be the end of it. But what a lovely dream for a long midsummer evening! Oh, my dearest, the casements are open and the stars are just beginning to shimmer into being and the air is thick and heady with the scent of roses so heavy with perfume, their petals sweep the grass. It is a night for romance and fancies, and I am foolish with them. I ought to be kissing Edward’s picture, for he gave it me to keep with me when I travel, but instead I can think only of a stern face and a pair of witch-black eyes that can never be. (I blame Father. He really ought not to have permitted us to read any of the Brontës when we were girls. Too early an exposure to man such as Heathcliff can be wildly damaging to a young woman’s sensibility.)
I would write more, but it is time to waken Aunt Cressida. She cautioned me sternly against mentioning it to any of the family, but it appears she suffers terribly from some sort of secret complaint, the details of which I was too glad to be spared. The remedy is a dark liquid she carries about with her in a pretty silver flask and must be dispensed ten or twelve times a day. I thought it shockingly frequent, but I have observed that she becomes quite placid and mellow afterwards, and her spirits seem much elevated. Just last night, the dose she took before bed brought on a lively rendition of “Early One Morning” which she insisted upon my joining as a rondeau. It is not the first time we have passed an evening in song, but it seems to do her no ill as she always sleeps quite heavily afterwards. Rousing her in the mornings has become something of a trial, but I have discovered that the combination of a basin of very cold water dashed over the bed and a sharp blast from a little brass trumpet seems to do the trick rather handily. I must hurry now—the chambermaid has just brought my morning tea and a basin of water for Aunt Cressida.
Do give my love to all and I remain your most devoted sister,