In which Morag keeps a journal

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

Perhaps the only thing more delectable than a peek into someone else’s correspondence is a dip into their private journal. Here is an entry penned by Morag during the events related in SILENT ON THE MOOR.

From the Journal of Morag Colquohoun

 

Sometime in April, Somewhere in Yorkshire (otherwise known as the Seething Bowels of Hell)

 Well, it is precisely as I expected, a disaster from end to end. It did not begin well. Lady B. was weeping when we left London. She made to dash away her tears, but I could see them, and all I have to say about that is if that sniffy Miss Jane thinks she is too good for Lady B., I will have something to say to her. There’s no finer person than Lady B., even if she does not like men. My friend Bet says it’s flying in the face of God to lie with another woman, but I say the world is a cold and cruel place and if a body can find someone to love, that’s good enough. That reminds me, I wonder what His man Monk is about these days? I thought I should see him when we arrived and made a point of wearing my best hat but he was nowhere to be seen, nor have I heard anyone speak of him since our arrival. ( NB: ask Her if Monk came with Him.)

Which brings me to Him, the whole reason we came into Yorkshire. I have to say, I agree with his high and mighty lordship, Her brother Bellmont. It doesn’t do for a lady to go haring off after a gentleman, even one so flighty as He is. I admit He’s a fine specimen of a man, if you fancy the dark and moody type. He reminds me of that Heathcliff fellow from the book She made me read when She decided we were coming to Yorkshire. I told Her so, and she took the book away before I could finish it. I hope it ended happily, although I cannot see how. Everyone important was dead halfway through.

I am glad I read it in part otherwise I might never have been prepared for the moor. It is a great, empty place, and one wouldn’t think such emptiness could be alarming, but it is the most frightening place I’ve ever been and I once walked the streets of Seven Dials, so nastiness isn’t nothing new to me. It is the wind, I think. It goes and goes, all the time, like a speaking voice that never says a word, but keeps talking just the same. It is enough to send a body mad, I’d warrant, and I’ve taken to stopping my ears with cotton wool to drive out the sound of it. Of course, I cannot hear Her when she calls, but that is all to the better. I’ve little enough to do here. There are no proper rooms for a lady’s maid, no private bedchamber for me, no little parlour to do my needlework. She has taken to wearing country tweeds and my greatest duty is scraping the mud from Her shoes. She does not mind the moor, but I have always said She was not quite like other Ladies. She leaves me to my reading and tending the dogs and listening to Minna chatter. (The cotton wool helps there too.)

She’s a London girl, Minna is, but I’ve seen the way her eyes follow that Mr. Godwin, and there’ll be trouble there, mark my words. He seems a nice enough lad, but I never trust a farmer. They smell of dirt and shit and their hands are never clean. Give me an honest sailor or publican any day. The finest-smelling man I know is Her father, his lordship himself. He smells of pipe tobacco and books. (Mem: Monk smells of beeswax. Why should that be?) I have just realised I wrote “shit”. Lady Hermia said I wasn’t to swear anymore and that I must give a ha’-penny to the poor box at the church if I forgot. She didn’t say nothing about writing, and if she had I would have told her it is a far sight easier to remember proper speaking when I have to speak to the quality, but writing here is like talking to Bet, and if your best friend can’t overlook a little swear word now and again, what’s the use of her? Besides, She doesn’t go to church except to listen to the music or look at the windows, so how am I to get to church to put my coin in the poor box? Perhaps with Easter coming on She will make an exception. If not, I can send the ha’-penny to Bet. She’s poor enough, I reckon, and that just means I will have passed over the part where the coin sits in church, waiting to be given. Poor Bet. I’ve told her a hundred times to leave the game, but she says it’s easy money. Easy money! I never worked harder in my life than I did as a whore. Taking care of Her is a far sight easier than trying to make enough to kip in the doss house for the night. I try not to remember it, but it is like trying to stuff too many clothes into a trunk. You can shove and shove and even try sitting down upon it, but if you’ve put too much in, it will burst open and make everything untidy. That’s how bad memories are. There are times I lie in my bed after I’ve tucked Her in, and I know I am warm and safe and none shall harm me, but still I remember. I remember the fear and the hunger and the bone-grinding sameness of it all. And that’s when I make certain Her slippers are warmed the next morning and Her bath is just as She likes it. She thinks She takes care of me, but really, I take care of Her.

 

I wasn’t certain of Her at first. I mean, She knows She is a Lady and who Her father is. That doesn’t matter to Her. She will have a conversation with me, just as civil as if I were Her equal. Curious, isn’t it? I said Bet was my best friend, but really, I think it must be Her. When I first went to Her, she was a little silly and vague. She barely noticed me. But after the master died and He came into Her life, things changed a bit. It’s as if She woke up and really saw things for the first time. Now She’s got a trick of looking right through a person, as if She can see precisely who you are. I think she’s learned that from Him, and I think that scares the devil out of Him. (NB: another ha’-penny to Bet.) He’s never met the like of Her, and why would He? There’s not another like Her, and if He were half the man  I think Him, he’d have noticed by now. Well, of course He’s noticed, a man would have to be blind and deaf not to notice Her. (She was pretty before the master died, but widowhood has been the making of Her. Lady B. has turned her out smartly, and She has a liveliness about Her that She never had before.) Still, He hasn’t done anything about it, and I begin to despair of Him. He’s no proper Scot if He cannot screw up His courage to court the woman He loves, and I think He does love Her. He’s just too daft to know it yet.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

In which Julia writes a letter

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

It’s always deliciously intriguing to peek into someone else’s correspondence. Here’s a letter Julia wrote to her aunt during the investigation published as SILENT ON THE MOOR.

From the Correspondence of Lady Julia Grey

From Grimsgave Hall, Yorkshire

Dearest Aunt Hermia,

How silly you are! I cannot imagine why Portia has embellished her letter so, but I can promise you things here in Yorkshire are not nearly so dire as she imagines. I think her quarrels with Jane have left her peevish. I do not know what you hear on that score, but I beg you to invite Jane to tea and speak firmly to her. Goodness knows I do not approve meddling in the lives of others, but something simply must be done about the pair of them.

The estate of which Brisbane has taken possession is called Grimsgrave Hall, and the name, I confess, is rather apt. It lies at the edge of the moor, where I am told there is very good hunting for grouse, although at present it is rather empty and well, moorish. It is an old house, although not nearly as old as Bellmont Abbey–17th century, I should think and in its day it must have been a handsome place. (Really, Portia ought not to have used the phrase “godforsaken pile”. It could be quite nice with a bit of fixing up.) True, one of the wings has crumbled to ruin, but I suppose that could happen to anyone. There is a pretty little pond in front of the house, and despite what Portia says, I do not believe it is stocked with the bodies of depressed housemaids who have drowned themselves. It is a bit weedy to be sure, and gives off a rank smell when the wind is blowing, which as we are on a moor is rather constant. But, as I say, we have no cause to believe it is the site of serial suicides, although that would explain why the staff are so few in number. The rooms are quite modest, we are told, since the old wing fell down, and the Hall can be kept clean with very few pairs of hands. Of course, it could use a few more hands, as the beds are a little damp, if I am to be honest, and one has to exercise caution in sitting lest great clouds of dust or colonies of spiders be disturbed. Accommodations on the whole are acceptable, if rather medieval. Portia and I are sharing, and the bedroom is furnished with a chamber pot. I shall draw a veil upon that delicate subject and leave the rest to your imagination.

The occupants of the house were a bit of a surprise, although perhaps not the “catastrophic disaster” to which Portia refers. The previous owner, a very civil elderly person called Lady Allenby, is still in residence with her daughters, Hilda–who I must own is rather nasty and says as little to us as she possibly can, preferring to occupy herself with her poultry–and Ailith, who is a little too pretty for comfort. (Did Portia really call her “angelic”? I must speak to Portia about her standards.) In any event, they are rather comfortably ensconced, at least until Brisbane fits a cottage for their use, and we do not look for them to leave for some time. The house is equipped with a very excellent cook-housekeeper, the rightly-named Mrs. Butters. She is a bustling, energetic sort of person with a very light hand for pastry. I will endeavour to secure her recipe for Scottish shortbread, as it is much crisper than Cook’s and just the thing on a brisk afternoon with a cup of tea. There is a scullery maid called Jetty, but she is a bit simple–as scullery maids so often are–and has little sense and limited  conversation. She occasionally shrieks for no reason and throws her apron over her head, but Mrs. Butters does not seem to be alarmed by this, so we have learned to continue eating our meals and ignore her. (Yes, dearest. We take our meals in the kitchen. I did say “medieval”, did I not?)

Valerius has taken it upon himself to look into the drains of the little village nearb. I cannot think it a very nice hobby, however, it keeps him happy and occupied, and with Valerius one can hardly ask for more.

I am a little alarmed about Florence. She has grown quite stout, although the trip to Yorkshire seems to have upset her. She merely picks at her food and keeps looking at me reproachfully. I suppose I ought to consign her to your care when I travel, but I thought the moorland air would be good for her. As usual, Grim has been a hardy and stalwart companion, and I have got quite accustomed to carrying him along. I only hesitate to take him on sea voyages. You know what birds are.

As for Brisbane himself, he is proving impossible as usual. I hardly know what to think, for one minute he is pleased—demonstrably pleased—to see me; the next he is quarrelsome and peevish. Perhaps you are right and he is dyspeptic. It would certainly explain a lot…

I must dash. Miss Ailith has taken me to meet an acquaintance of hers, a Gypsy woman who lives in a cottage upon the moor, and I have promised to call upon her today. She reminds me of you a little, dearest, although I cannot think why. Perhaps it is because when one is with her, there is the oddest sense that all one’s troubles are really not so terrible and that all will come right in the end. As you can tell from that bit of sentimentality, I miss you dreadfully. Do give my regards to the other ladies at the meeting of the advisory board of the Refuge for Fallen Women and give Father a kiss and Bellmont a pinch from me.

With fondest affection, I am your loving niece—

Julia

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Comments Off

In which we wander the moors

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

Today’s peek back at Lady Julia and friends leads us onto the wild, windy moors and the cast of SILENT ON THE MOOR.

Cast of Characters

Lady Julia Grey, ­an adventuresome English aristocrat

Portia, Lady Bettiscombe, her sister

Valerius March, their brother

The Earl March, their father

The Viscount Bellmont, his heir

Jane, partner to Lady Bettiscombe

Nicholas Brisbane, private inquiry agent and owner of Grimsgrave Hall

Lady Allenby, previous owner of Grimsgrave Hall

Ailith Allenby, her daughter

Hilda Allenby, also her daughter

Sir Redwall Allenby, her son (deceased)

Morag Colquohoun, maid to Lady Julia

Minna Birch, maid to Lady Bettiscombe

Mrs. Butters, cook-housekeeper at Grimsgrave Hall

Jetty, her scullery maid

Godwin Allenby,  farm manager at Grimsgrave Hall

Rosalie Smith, a Gypsy who lives on the moor

John-the-Baptist Smith, her husband

Sister Bridget, a nun

Amos Earnshaw, innkeeper

Deborah Earnshaw, his sister

Jerusha Earnshaw, also his sister

Mrs. Earnshaw, their mother

Orlando March, heir to Lord Bellmont

Lady Harriet, his fiancée

The Duke of Driffield, her father

And the pets:

 

Grim, a raven

Mr. Pugglesworth (Puggy), a Pug

Florence, an Italian greyhound and her pups

Rook, a lurcher

 And a recipe for baked mushrooms…proceed with caution!

A Recipe for Baked Mushrooms

 

In 1861, Isabella Beeton published the seminal work, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. More than just a cookery book, it offered the wife or cook-housekeeper recipes, advice, and gentle admonishment. Each recipe was given with seasonability, price, and yield so that the most discriminating home-maker could be certain of receiving good value for money. She further included suggestions for serving the various dishes, with Baked Mushrooms designated as suitable for breakfast, luncheon, or supper. It is a perfect dish for invalids, being soft and easy to digest, provided the mushrooms are fresh and wholesome. It is a favourite dish of Lady Allenby’s and this is the recipe used by Mrs. Butters at Grimsgrave Hall.

 

Baked Mushrooms

16-20 mushroom-flaps

Butter

Pepper to taste

For this mode of cooking, the mushroom-flaps are better than the buttons, and should not be too large. Cut off a portion of the stalk, peel the top, and wipe the mushrooms carefully with a piece of flannel and a little fine salt. Put them in a tin baking dish, with a very small piece of butter placed on each mushroom; sprinkle over a little pepper and let them bake for about 20 minutes, or longer should the mushrooms be very large. Have ready a very hot dish and serve with hot gravy. Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Comments Off

In which we learn a bit more about Bellmont Abbey

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

Today’s entry is a bit of history regarding Bellmont Abbey, the seat of the Earls March and Julia’s childhood home.

A Short History of Bellmont Abbey

 

Elegant and austere to modern tastes, Bellmont Abbey was constructed as a Cistercian abbey under the special patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine, newly Queen of England, and named by her to honour the beauty of its views and hilltop setting. It was Queen Eleanor who selected the site in Sussex and laid the cornerstone in 1155. She returned to preside over the dedication of the Abbey in 1172, shortly before her imprisonment by her husband, King Henry II. The Abbey again received royal attention when it sheltered the boy king, Henry III, whilst he was on progress through his lands. A serene and peaceful place, it remained under Cistercian control until the Dissolution. Although a Discalced Order, the monks at Bellmont Abbey served as shoemakers to the great and good, and it was their custom to present each monarch with a new pair of shoes upon accession. The Order was cast out of the property in 1536, mere days after the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, and the Abbey–now crown property–was given to the seventh Earl March in recognition of his service to King Henry VIII as sometime cupbearer.

This transfer of ownership marked the beginning of the most frenzied period of building activity at the Abbey since its inception. It was the intention of the Marches to retain the grand feel of the Abbey even as it was remade into both a family home and the impressive country seat of a rising dynasty of the Tudor nobility. The Earl March, dissatisfied with the plain glass favoured by the Cistercians, replaced the great windows with stained glass fenestrations depicting the most notable moments in the history of the March family. Interior walls were erected to divide the grand spaces into smaller, more comfortable family apartments, with the glorious Chapel of the Nine Altars made over into a great hall. The nave was converted to a corridor, while the original Galilee Tower was kept intact, complete with the great bell that once tolled the hours for the religious community. Above the main doors to the Abbey, the earl commissioned the March family motto–Quod habeo habeo (What I have I hold)–to be carved. Holding the lintel aloft are two great stone rabbits, the hare being the heraldic badge of the March family. The monks’ dorter was easily adapted to a family picture gallery and ladies’ wing, and portraits of the most illustrious Marches may still be seen there today. (Missing from this collection is the celebrated portrait of famed Regency beauty, Lady Desdemona March, which disappeared whilst on loan to the royal collection.) The lay brothers’ dormitory was a natural choice for conversion to a bachelors’ wing for unmarried gentlemen guests, while part of the south transept was used first for an armoury and later a billiards room. It is believed to be in this room that William Shakespeare, an occasional guest at Bellmont Abbey, staged the first reading of  Cardenio in 1612. The play was subsequently burned by the Countess March in retribution for a perceived slight in the text, and it is believed no other version of the play survives.

The property was further extended by land grants given by Queen Elizabeth in 1589 for the eighth Earl March’s role in aiding the defeat of the Armada and in 1662 by King Charles II for more intimate services rendered by Lady Lavinia March. A smaller house, the Rookery, once used by the Cistercian brothers as a dovecote, was enlarged by the family and used as a dower house. Use of it was given at the pleasure of the sitting earl, and the most famous occupant of the Rookery was Lady Julia Grey (née March), the Victorian adventuress. Coincidentally, Bellmont Abbey’s lands march alongside Greymoor, the ancestral home of Sir Edward Grey, Lady Julia’s first husband. The nearest town to Bellmont Abbey is Blessingstoke, a small and sleepy village most notable for its neo-Gothic church of St. Barnabas and annual pig-leaping festival held each April 19 on the village green.

 

 

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

In which we look back at SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

In our look back at SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY, we begin with the cast of characters:

Cast of Characters

 

Lady Julia Grey, an adventurous English aristocrat

Portia, Lady Bettiscombe, her sister

Eglamour March (Plum), her brother

Lysander March, also her brother

Violante March, his wife

Count Alessandro Fornacci, their friend

The Earl March, an English nobleman

Nicholas Brisbane, private inquiry agent and guest

Charlotte King, his fiancée

Emma Phipps, cousin to the March family

Lucy Phipps, her sister

Sir Cedric Eastley, Lucy’s fiancé

Henry Ludlow, his secretary

Hortense de Bellefleur, a guest

Lady Hermia March, sister to Earl March

Dorcas March, relation to Earl March

Reverend Francis Twickenham (Father Fly), the vicar

Lucian Snow, his curate

Aquinas, acting butler

Morag Colquohoun, maid to Lady Julia

William “IV”, a footman

Magda, a Gypsy woman

Jasper, her brother

Perdita and Tarquin, niece and nephew to Lady Julia

And the pets:

Grim, a raven

Mr. Pugglesworth (Puggy), a Pug

Florence, an Italian greyhound

Peter Simple and Christopher Sly, the cats and their kittens

Crab, the mastiff and the pups

And continue with a plum pudding recipe:

Plum Pudding

Plum pudding is a very serious matter indeed to the March family, and Christmas celebrations at Bellmont Abbey would not be complete without it. In its present form, plum pudding was created by King George III’s chef as an homage to his royal master’s fondness for English puddings. According to tradition, the proper day for preparing the pudding is the Sunday after Trinity, and the whole family ought to be assembled in the kitchen to stir in turn, youngest to eldest. One stirs from east to west in honour of the three kings. It was once the custom to use 13 ingredients to symbolise Jesus and his apostles, although charms with pagan connections are added to the mix—a ring for a future bride or bridegroom, a coin for coming wealth. One is even encouraged to make a wish upon the stir! The following recipe is taken from the very excellent Mrs. Beeton, in her original book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, and may well be the very recipe used by the Earl March’s venerable Cook.

An Unrivalled Plum-Pudding

1 ½ lb. of muscatel raisins

1 ¾ lb. of currants

1 lb. of sultana raisins

2 lbs. of finest moist sugar

2 lbs. of bread crumbs

16 eggs

2 lbs. finely-chopped suet

6 oz. of mixed candied peel

Rind of 2 lemons

1 oz. of ground nutmeg

1 oz. of ground cinnamon

½ oz. of pounded bitter almonds

¼ pint of brandy

Stone and cut up the raisins, but do not chop them; wash and dry the currants, and cut the candied peel into thin slices. Mix all the dry ingredients well together, and moisten with eggs, which should be well-beaten and strained. Stir in the brandy, and when all is thoroughly mixed, well butter and flour a stout new pudding-cloth. Put in the pudding, tie it down very tightly and closely. Boil from 6-8 hours, and serve with brandy-sauce. A few sweet almonds, blanched, may be used for a pretty garnish. Sufficient for 12 or 14 persons.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Comments Off

In which we continue to celebrate Julia Grey

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

This is a letter written from Julia to her sister Portia just before her marriage to the ill-fated Sir Edward Grey:

Somewhere in the Lake District, perhaps Ambleside?

June 1880

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,

Julia

Posted in Blog | Tagged | 2 Comments

In which we’re chatting!

Just a quick note that tonight I’m chatting at Writerspace! 9pm eastern and we’ll be talking about NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS and BONFIRE NIGHT. See you there!

Posted in Blog | Comments Off

In which we’re celebrating Julia

Since this is the month we bid farewell to Julia–at least for  now!–I thought we would celebrate with a look back at some of the exclusive extras I’ve written that aren’t available in the print books. Feel free to add your own favorite memories of Julia, Nicholas, and the gang of unruly Marches in the comments!

We begin with a few extras from SILENT IN THE GRAVE:

Cast of Characters

Lady Julia Grey, ­an adventuresome English aristocrat

Sir Edward Grey, her husband

Simon Grey, his heir

Nicholas Brisbane, private inquiry agent

Theophilus Monk, his man

Portia, Lady Bettiscombe, sister to Lady Julia

Valerius March, their brother

Beatrice, Nerissa, and Olivia, their sisters

Lady Hermia March, their aunt

The Earl March, their father

The Viscount Bellmont, his heir

Doctor Mordecai Bent, physician and friend to Nicholas Brisbane

Jane, partner to Lady Bettiscombe

Morag Colquohoun, maid to Lady Julia

Aquinas, butler at Grey House

Aunt Ursula, “the Ghoul”, houseguest at Grey House

Magda, a Gypsy laundress

Renard, valet to Sir Edward

Doctor Griggs, physician to Sir Edward

Henry and Desmond, footmen at Grey House

The Duke of Aberdour, Scottish nobleman and rogue

Mrs. Birch, a poor woman

Cassiopeia/Victoria, a prostitute

Hortense de Bellefleur, adventuress and former mistress to Nicholas Brisbane

Terese, her maid

Mrs. Lawson, landlady to Nicholas Brisbane

Reddy Phillips, gentleman about town and friend to Valerius March

Mr. Teasdale, the solicitor

Hoots, butler at March House

And the pets:

Crab, a mastiff

Mr. Pugglesworth, a Pug

A raven of mysterious origins

 

One of Julia’s new acquaintances, Hortense de Bellefleur, has a rather winning recipe for hot chocolate, just the thing for sipping while enjoying a good mystery…

Hortense de Bellefleur’s Chocolat Chaud

To make a cup each for oneself and a companion, melt four ounces finely chopped best dark chocolate into a little milk in a double boiler, whisking until smooth. When smooth and glossy as the coat of a sable, stir in two cups of heated milk. (For perfect luxury, a quarter cup of cream may be added in place of a quarter cup of the milk. This should be heated.) Stirring often, bring the chocolate to blood heat and sweeten to taste with good sugar. Pour carefully into a proper French chocolate pot, preferably Sèvres, and garnish with thickly-whipped sweetened cream and a flourish of chocolate curls. One may offer a plain butter biscuit as accompaniment.

This recipe will make two perfumed cups for an intimate tête-à-tête. To arouse the passions of a laggard lover, add a pinch of hot chile powder. To raise the spirits, a pinch of powdered cinnamon may be added, and to comfort a troubled friend, the milk may be warmed with a pod of vanilla.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

In which it’s time to go adventuring with Julia

Have you pre-ordered BONFIRE NIGHT yet, chickens? This is the fourth and final digital novella featuring our intrepid Victorian sleuth! It publishes November 3, just in time for the actual holiday of Bonfire Night. (There are currently no plans by my former publisher to release the Lady J novellas in print although two previous novellas are being prepared for audio release. I hope the rest of the Julia novellas will follow!)

As a little peek into what you’ll get with BONFIRE NIGHT, I’m posting the first five pages today!

BONFIRE NIGHT

London, 1890

Chapter One

“Julia, how did you misplace the baby? Again?” my sister asked with more than a touch of asperity.

I gave her the most dignified look I could muster under the circumstances. “I did not misplace him,” I informed her in lofty tones. “I forgot him.”  The fact that this was now the fourth time I had walked into the park with the child and left without him was mortifying—and not something my siblings would let me soon forget.

“Oh, that makes it quite all right then,” chimed in our brother Plum. I put my tongue out at him, but before I could form a suitable reply, my husband spoke.

“It’s my fault entirely,” he said, his voice silken. “Julia was generous enough to take on a case of some delicacy. She was rather preoccupied with breaking the alibi of a jewel thief.”

Plum twitched in his chair. “The Enderby case? I thought that was put to bed last week,” he protested. The theft of the Enderby opals was the most important investigation that my husband had allowed Plum to undertake on his own authority. He had been single-minded in his pursuit of the culprit—so much so that Lady Enderby’s maid had nearly been arrested for the theft after only an hour’s investigation.

I smiled sweetly at my brother. “Yes, the maid was the most obvious thief, wasn’t she? But the solution seemed a little too simple to Brisbane. He refused to have her arrested until I had spoken with her.”

Plum flushed pink to his ears and shot an accusing look at Brisbane. “It was my case,” he repeated.

“And it was mishandled,” my husband returned coolly. “The case against the girl was damning, but I was not persuaded.”

“She confessed,” Plum retorted, his jaw set stubbornly. But the more enraged he became, the calmer Brisbane remained. It was a trick I had seen him employ a thousand times, and usually upon me. Brisbane had learnt long ago the most effective way of handling any member of the March family was to remain utterly unmoved in the face of strong emotion. Goading him out of his sang-froid was one of my favourite pastimes, but my decidedly intimate methods would never work for my brother, I reflected with a delicate frisson of remembered passion.

“She confessed because she is French and therefore away from her home, her country, her friends. She told me about the accusations you lobbed at her,” I chided. “You practically called her a thief the moment you sat her down. What did you expect her to do?”

“I expected her to tell the truth,” he said.

“Careful,” Portia warned. “Plum’s getting into a pet and you know his sulking puts me off my food.”

I waved a hand. “If we have dinner at all, you may count yourselves fortunate. The workmen have moved into the kitchens and twice this week Brisbane and I have dined on bananas.”

“Why bananas?” Portia asked.

“Gift from a grateful client,” Brisbane returned. “His Excellency the ambassador of the Emir of Ranapurcha was very generous with them. We have forty pounds left.”

Portia blinked. “He gave you forty pounds of bananas?”

“You misunderstood, dearest,” I corrected. “We have forty pounds remaining. There were one hundred to begin with. Mrs. Lawson has put them into, salads, sauces, soufflés—I think at one unfortunate meal she even managed to make them into soup.”

“Do not remind me,” Brisbane put in with a curl of his handsome mouth. “It was grey.”

I went on. “But she has left us at last, bound for a peaceful retirement at her sister’s cottage in Weymouth, and we are left with a new cook and a larder full of ripe bananas.”

“That explains the smell,” Plum said. He still looked a trifle sulky, and I knew he was not over his mood. His next remark confirmed it. “So,” he said, fixing me with a gleeful look, “you were telling us about losing the baby. Again.”

I cursed him inwardly. Plum had only ever been third favourite amongst my brothers, and I was reminded why. He was always a little too quick to find my soft spots and prod them. Pointedly.

Portia sat forward, her expression avid. “Yes, I only ever forgot Jane once, and that was because I saw the most delicious first edition of Bacon’s essays in the window of a bookshop. I left her pram on the pavement without a thought.”

Plum snorted. “You’ve never pushed a pram in your life. You left the nanny is more like it.”

Portia’s gaze was glacial. “The nanny’s presence was immaterial. I still forgot the child. Although,” she added, turning to me, “I’ve never forgot her four times.”

I looked to Brisbane. “I can’t decide if she is trying to defend me or accuse me,” I told him.

“A little of both,” he decided. “She wants you to know that she sympathises with your peccadillo but would never be quite so daft as to commit it herself. At least not four times.”

“That’s very helpful,” I said with a dangerous smile. He smiled back, and there was intimacy in that smile and a promise of something delightful yet to come.

“Stop staring at your husband, Julia,” my sister instructed. “You’ve gone pink as a virgin and it’s unseemly.”

Plum spluttered into his whisky, but Brisbane remained unperturbed.

Portia turned back to me. “And you never answered Plum’s question. How did you manage to forget Jack?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. If I knew why I did it, I could stop. But it just happens. I will take him out for some air and then start wool-gathering about something. Before I know it, I’m somewhere entirely new and he’s nowhere to be found.”

“Thank God for Morag,” Plum said fervently.

“Yes, thank God for Morag,” I echoed, my voice tight. The fact that my lady’s maid had taken it upon herself to act as nanny to the child was both a godsend and the rankest betrayal. She had served me faithfully for five years, and while I would cheerfully have cut her throat a dozen times a day, I had taken her defection badly. But it had been love at first sight between Morag and the baby, and I did not have the heart to keep her from him. From the day Brisbane and I had agreed to bring up the child as our own, Morag had been there, coddling and crooning, securing the best wet nurse and jealously guarding her Little Jack as she insisted upon calling him. My only consolation was that it meant her incessant mooning over Brisbane was a thing of the past. She had transferred her affections to his tiny half-brother, the child Brisbane and I had brought into our house after we could make none of our own.

“Morag as devoted watchdog,” Portia said in a state of wonder. “It still doesn’t quite bear thinking about. What a journey she has had. Whitechapel prostitute to lady’s maid to the daughter of an earl, and now nanny to the little foundling.” My lips tightened and Portia flapped a hand. “Don’t pull a face, darling. I call Jane the Younger the same. Who would have guessed it? That we two should become mothers to other women’s children?”

“Who indeed?” I said. I put on a deliberately cheerful face. “Now, who is ready for dinner? I think the banana sandwiches must be ready by now.”

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

In which I am back!

Hello, chickens, and Happy Halloween! I’m back from a wonderful time in New York. The weather was superb, the meeting with the folks at NAL/Penguin could not have been more awesome, and I’m ready to get back to work tomorrow tackling the last round of revision of the new book before it gets turned in on November 15! I tweeted a bit about the train trip up, and here are a few things I learned from my first encounter with Amtrak:

*Book a sleeperette whenever you can. I roughed out the trip via train and plane, and–factoring in security, inconveniences, wait times, taxis, cost, etc.–figured out the train was ever so slightly better of a deal. It was almost the same price to the penny when you count the taxi fare to and from LaGuardia, and the little bit of extra time spent traveling was MORE than balanced by the privacy and luxury of a private compartment. The sleeperette is priced as a whole compartment and costs the same regardless of whether one or two of you are traveling. It also includes meals!

*If you don’t groove to eating with a table full of strangers in the dining car, the porter will bring your meals to the sleeperette.

*Yes, that is a toilet INSIDE the compartment. If you’re traveling with someone, just alternate who steps into the corridor while the other uses the facilities. There’s a shower compartment down the corridor, and other toilets in other cars if you prefer. Luckily, there is also a sink in the compartment. Oh, and while it will definitely occur to you to shut the corridor curtains before you attend to your ablutions, you might forget to shut the window curtains and you will accidentally moon Maryland. Not that I did that or anything.

*Order the cheesecake for dessert. Always order the cheesecake.

*It’s acceptable and lovely to tip your porter for the many kindly services like baggage handling and bringing your food.

*They claim they have wifi, but neither of my devices ever detected it. Be prepared to do without.

*If you book a sleeperette and you’re leaving out of Penn in NYC, you can make use of the Acela Lounge, otherwise known as the civilized place where they give you beverages and snacks and armchairs to make you comfortable until the usher comes to walk you to your train.

*Train travel is RIDICULOUSLY relaxing. I never realized quite how uptight I get when I fly. I thought it was just a generic travel thing, but no. Turns out, it’s a flying thing because everyone from TSA to the airport layout to the airlines conspire to make you miserable. Being able to pack a bag and walk straight onto a train from about twenty steps away is just a LUXURY. Also, it’s odd but I’ve never realized before how tiring it is to be completely in public with random strangers. In a sleeperette you can take off your shoes, prop your feet up, make stupid faces when you read–all the things you might hesitate to do when you’re surrounded by other travelers and trying not to be THAT PERSON. Your music can be cranked up (within reason), you can stare out the massive windows and watch the world go by, and you can stretch out–small pleasures, but important ones when you’re stuck in transit for seven hours. In short, I am now a fan.

While I was in New York, I FINALLY got my second tattoo! I’ve been wanting one for ages, but it took me a long time to find an artist I trusted to create a design. After my husband’s excellent experience at Red Rocket, I chose Erica Flannes based on her amazing portfolio. Here’s the result:

Tattoo

Photo is a little blurry because the train was moving when I took it!

Anyway, I’m back to work tomorrow on revisions–will have lots of exciting things to share in the months to come from my fabulous new pals at NAL/Penguin! In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments