Home > Midsummer Night (Lady Julia Grey #3.5)

Midsummer Night (Lady Julia Grey #3.5)
Deanna Raybourn

31 December 1889

Bellmont Abbey, Sussex

My dearest niece Ophelia,

I need not tell you how sorely you were missed at Christmas. I understand your attachment to your fiancé dictated your absence, but I hope we shall see you here at Bellmont soon. Preparations are underway for the Twelfth Night play, and the usual squabbles have ensued. Your Aunt Olivia has been prevailed upon to play the villainous Turkish Knight, and she did not take it at all well when your father said it was because of her incipient moustaches. This was a calumny on his part; your Aunt Olivia’s whiskers are barely in evidence. Of course, tact never was Bellmont’s strong suit, as you well know.

But I did not take pen in hand to abuse my brother to his daughter! (I can only plead the excuse that I was assisting your Uncle Plum in his experiments with Aunt Hermia’s punch receipt in preparation for this evening’s New Year’s Eve festivities.)

When your dear mama confided you were nervous about your impending nuptials and requested each of your aunts to write a letter of advice and encouragement, I did not hesitate to take up the challenge—although it occurs to me now I might better have waited until the bright light and sober head of New Year’s Day to undertake the task. But no matter! I know your Aunt Portia means to speak frankly in her letter about the intimacies of the marriage bed, so I will draw a veil over that part of the nuptial experience except to say that whatever she tells you must be ignored entirely. She was married to an elderly man of questionable constitution, and as she prefers the company of women, I expect her experiences might charitably be described as uninformative. In my own case—well, as I said, I shall draw a veil of modesty over the marriage bed. Just remember that it is bliss, dear girl. And if it is not, he is doing something wrong and must be corrected firmly.

Ah, I am afraid your Uncle Brisbane hazarded a peek over my shoulder at that last bit and snorted. But it is entirely true. The felicity of the marriage bed depends upon mutual satisfaction. If you find your new husband lacking in this capacity, I can offer no better advice than to tell you to refer him to your Uncle Brisbane, who is uncommonly talented at—Oh, very well! Uncle Brisbane has peeked again and has insisted with unusual firmness that I cease writing in this vein altogether. I shall say no more, but if you should find yourself in need of advice, you have only to come to me and we shall arrange a nice tête-à-tête about the matter.

I was elected to write to you on the subject of all that can go awry with the wedding. The reason for this is simple—my own wedding very nearly did not happen. I do not mean my first wedding to Sir Edward Grey, requiescat in pace. That wedding went off without a hitch save your grandfather’s pointed reluctance to walk me down the aisle. There was an unseemly moment where I had to pull him as I walked backwards, but I never thought of it as an omen. Perhaps I ought to have, considering the outcome. Syphilis, infidelity, blackmail, and murder—there is a litany of marital woes to make a celibate of any right-minded girl! (Your Aunt Portia has just looked over my correspondence and spoken quite firmly about the inappropriateness of that last line. I can only say that a person’s letters ought to be private, but privacy is a scarce commodity at Bellmont Abbey. I ought to have written this in my own room, but my raven, Grim, is gently dismembering his dinner and the sight is uninspiring. Nevertheless, I shall persevere.)

Picture if you will a perfect English June, that summer of 1888. (Is it only a year and a half? It seems the whole of my life has been held within the span of those short months. All I have known of love, of pleasure, of deepest contentment is contained within them.) Brisbane and I had been two months engaged since our sojourn in Yorkshire,1 and we had seen each other precisely once since our betrothal. You know of his work as a private enquiry agent, so it will not surprise you to find that he had embarked upon a succession of cases that took him out of London. We wrote voluminous letters, but Brisbane has always preferred a more direct and physical demonstration of his affections than the written word.

In any event, Brisbane and I were betrothed and then quickly parted. I walked in a daze during those weeks, so pure was my happiness, and was content to let my sisters plan my wedding. Some while later I wrote down the events of the wedding itself, and copying them out afresh seems beyond my abilities at the moment. I detect no effects from Uncle Plum’s experiments with the punch bowl save that my hand seems curiously unable to grip the pen properly and I can only focus my eyes with the greatest of difficulties. Your Aunt Portia has suggested a wee nap might not go amiss, and so I enclose the original document, asking only that you return it when you have finished.

I hope it proves useful, my dear. I remain always,

Your loving Aunt Jul—

P.S. Dearest Ophelia, I have removed the pen from Aunt Julia’s fingers and handed her over to Uncle Brisbane to put to bed with a hot brick and something for her head when she wakes. I see from her letter she meant to send you the short manuscript she wrote some months ago, describing the events of her wedding to Brisbane. I hesitate to send it for fear it will put you off the idea of marriage entirely, but perhaps if one is prepared for the worst, all other travails will seem mild in comparison.

Your devoted aunt,

Portia

Chapter One

He is the half part of a blessed man,

Left to be finished by such as she,

And she a fair divided excellence,

Whose fullness of perfection lies in him.

—King John, II.I.437

“For God’s sake, Julia,” grumbled Portia. “It’s your wedding. Do you not even care to choose the flowers?”

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