Your excellent letter has finally caught up with us: we are now at Maraston Towers at His Grace of Humpleforth’s house-party. I am ever more persuaded that 'twas entire prudence to bring little Rollo with me, for gives me quite the finest excuse to leave the drawing-room or avoid some unwanted excursion, even tho’ there are some ladies in the company I daresay consider me most eccentrique, and even, perchance, a disciple of Rousseau. However, I am persuaded that Maurice’s fine gowns are by no means in that severity of style that the author of Emile would have approved. I wish I might have brought Cathy as well, but an infant still at breast is an easier matter to take about on visits than a bouncing girl of her years that will go explore her surroundings and get into places where she should not.
We were previously at Lord Pockinford‘s, where Biffle and I were obliged to hear a deal more about cows and dairying than we should entirely have desired, as he wished us to communicate his thoughts in the matter to Lady Jane - have you heard yet whether she and little Horatio are safe arrived in matrimonial harbour? If she has writ us, 'tis another letter that pursues us about the country.
However, 'twas not all bovine business - dear Agnes Lucas and her husband were in the company. 'Twas an entire delight to see her, so increased in confidence, both of them so well – and she whispered to me that she is in hopes of increase, and hopes to do somewhat towards filling up a rectory that positively demands a numerous brood. You will be most amuzed to learn that she and I propose a venture in authorship. Dearest Clorinda, that I hear came visit you in Hampshire beforehand, happened to mention to Agnes my essays in translating Turkish poetry, that I am no hand at all at turning into English poetry, and she was most interested in the matter, and has a very nice feeling for words, and betwixt the two of us we think we might make a nice little volume of it, though we do not intend to entitle it Songs from the Seraglio! – for Biffle, overhearing us, made the suggestion, saying 'twould be quite a sensation did we so. I said ‘twould be more like the Vice Society would bring a prosecution and we should find it burnt by the common hangman.
And on the matter of authorship, Matty dear, I wish you would think about publishing some of your charming accounts of your chickens, perchance illustrated with your delightful sketches. I read out some parts of your letter upon the topic, to a select group of friends, and this was quite the general cry.
On delightful sketches, I long to see the painting you say Raoul de Clérault has made of Deborah feeding the chickens. It cannot help but make a considerable effect. And I am glad to hear that he and his wife and child are again guests of yours. I daresay Phoebe de Clérault would not brag to you on the matter, but Papa has quite the highest esteem for her and will declare that it was a good day when he was persuaded to go into business with her over her polishes &C. She has lately shown him a powder against insects, very useful when storing items away for a prolonged period: he was most prepossessed.
Here at Maraston Towers one constantly observes that His Grace entirely doats upon dear Julia – has had one of the hot-houses turned into a little corner of Bombay with plants from those parts, and even some birds, and Julia quite delights to sit there with her mongeese - for I fear the poor creature misses the warmth of her native shore. And aside from any matter of climate, the Duke’s children behave with the chilliest civility towards her, for he never displayed the like attentiveness to their late mother: 'twas a very prudential match made up 'twixt the families in question. (This I learn from Clorinda, that has had it from Mrs Nixon, that entire compendium of scandals antient and modern.)
Another most amuzing thing. I am not sure you have ever been in company with His Grace of Humpleforth, that has many sound reforming ideas and is a great figure in anti-slavery, but has the most tiresome habits around young women of touching - tho’ not in any way that would transgress the bounds of good ton or violate modesty, so that they are oblig’d to smile and make civil does he pat them upon the arm, or put an arm about their waist, or stroke their hair &C – and paying embarrassing compliments. But I noticed that he has now almost ceased to do the like except to Julia.
I mentioned this to Clorinda, who smiled and laughed a little and said, o, I advised Her Grace to a little contrivance, with the collaboration of Lady Emily while she was visiting at Maraston Towers (there is a general supposition that there are hopes of making up a match 'twixt her and Lord South Worpley, tho’ I think they are misplaced). I told her, he will show his usual amiable fondling to her, and is she in the plot, will act as if 'tis most entirely agreeable and be most flirtatious, in some spot where you may observe them. Then, says I, later, when you are closeted with the Duke your husband, you must go show an affecting tearfulness and accuse yourself of being a wicked jealous wife, for when you saw him so cozy with Lady Emily, you were in great temptation to go slap the hussy’s face -
And now, Clorinda went on, he behaves himself a deal less annoying, even does he puff himself up about having a wife that so doats upon him as to be unreasonable jealous.
Ha, says I, I daresay we shall see some similar contrivance upon the stage quite shortly, at which she smacked me lightly with her fan and told me I was a great teaze.
I am still a little astonished that Julia seems so well pleased with this match: but after a private convocation we had I realize how very different her expectations were: no other wives, she remarked, with their jealous intrigues, scheming and spying, and no likelihood of being poisoned. And indeed one must consider that she will not in due course be required to cast herself upon her husband’s pyre, but merely to move into the very charming dower house. The lack of cordiality of the Duke’s children must seem a mere bagatelle - and indeed, they always manifest proper ton towards her. I also apprehend that the Duke does not require of her those positions that I observed in a little Hindoo book in Clorinda’s library, that she had from General Yeomans – with his years and stoutness I very much doubt he could contrive them. (Did she ever show it to you, my dear? 'Tis quite the revelation.)
Now Em is about in Society again after the period of mourning, and will no longer be obliged to keep house for her brothers now that Lord Nuttenford has married dear Rebecca, once they are returned from their wedding tour, mayhap she will finally favour one or other of her suitors, if not the Duke’s heir? The companionship of that excellent creature her cousin Miss Fenster seems to have calmed her wild ways considerable.
But I rattle on in gossip, when I should be about preparing myself to go take part in conversation among the company – after I have kissed little Rollo.
Your letters are ever exceeding welcome, even do they take so long in finding me.
My greatest regards to Jacob, and kiss Deborah and Jonathan for me.
Your affect: sister
Viola Mulcaster Little V