My historical fiction series of two cross-generational romances in two grand families.
From the top of the stairs 3 year-old Julia Travers stares down at the tall man in the furry-collared coat as he hands her 7 year-old sister, Marjorie, a gift. Marjorie has made much of this visit all day, but Julia remains confused. Is this man God then? Marjorie says that she alone will be allowed to go down to bid him farewell as he is only HER Godfather. If God is our Father then surely this must be God. It is very confusing.
Julia sits, watching entranced, as her elder sister executes a perfect curtsey while accepting a lovely velvet box from the tall man, who may or may not be God. Their parents’ eyes are on Marjorie as she opens her gift over the man’s rather sad proclamation that it had belonged to ‘darling Margaret.’ Marjorie makes a very gushing ‘thank you.’ From Julia’s vantage point she can only see something sparkling, but clearly hears her mother say, ‘I’ll put that safely away for you, darling, until you are old enough to appreciate it.” Julia remembers getting a gift like that on her recent birthday. It wasn’t fun. The tall man bends down and kisses Marjorie’s cheek, then kisses the other and says: “For baby sister—all right?” Marjorie blushes and promises to deliver it, though Julia knows Marjorie would never kiss her unless commanded to by Nanny or one of their parents.
She watches as her father escorts the tall man out to his carriage. Julia would like to pet the man’s furry coat collar—it is just like a muff of her mother’s that she likes to hold when allowed. Her mother turns to look up the stairway at exactly the moment Nanny arrives to retrieve Marjorie. Marjorie whispers something to her mother, but is chastised. “Don’t be vulgar, Marjorie,” she says, as she slips the newly received velvet box into her other hand and out of Nanny’s sight.
When her father returns Julia and Marjorie are back out of sight in the day nursery.
Twelve year old Julia and her two-year old brother, David, have been forced to remain at home on the day of their mother’s funeral. When Julia’s father, William, climbs the stairs to the nursery to sit beside her, red eyed, holding a crumpled handkerchief, to tell her that both her mother and the new baby have died, Julia strangely feels little about her mother, but bursts into tears for the poor baby. David, her living brother, is her ‘doll’ and she adores him. Another small brother would have been lovely. In his own nightmare of grief, William mistakes her tears to be the very natural grief of a child who has just lost a beloved mother. Julia, though, has had little in the way of love or affection from Alice, so does not know why she should really miss her.
At twelve, Julia’s life is still that of the unvarying monotony of nursery and schoolroom in London, and as much time on horseback with her beloved father at Shellborne, the family’s estate in Norfolk, as possible.
As William pats her back and kisses her hair, assuring her that her mother and baby brother ae ‘in a better place,’ Julia crosses an invisible line into a sort of adulthood. It is her father who needs the reassurance—not Julia herself.
“Papa….I’m so sorry about Mummy. Will you be all right?” Like an adult tending a child, she picks up his handkerchief and dabs his eyes, then, playfully, puts it to his nose and commands in the stentorian tones of Nanny, “blow.” In spite of his grief, William Travers, Viscount Walsham, laughs and blows his nose. Julia giggles at the sound. The handkerchief returned to his pocket, William hugs his middle child tight and kisses her hair once more.
“My dear, I must send wires—and arrange for Marjorie’s return. But, if you need me, you may come down to the library. Let’s not say anything to little David yet, though. If need be, just tell him ‘Mummy is with Aunt Flora,’ he’ll soon forget anyway.”
“I’ll take care of him, Papa. When will Marjorie be home?”
“I’m not sure yet—a few days though. I believe Clive is in Milan, I’m sure he won’t mind escorting her home.” William stopped to speak to Nanny, who is dabbing her own eyes. She’s done her best to stay cheerful and protect the children until their father was strong enough to deliver the news.
By the time Marjorie returns, in the care of her Godfather, a man Julia now clearly knows is NOT God, Julia is in bed with bronchitis and David, being too small for funerals, remains out of sight in the nursery.
Marjorie, who has been at finishing school in Paris for only a few months, comes upstairs in floods of tears. Of the three Travers children, only Marjorie has had any sort of relationship with their late mother. For Marjorie, her mother’s death is life-altering.
The next morning, Julia is allowed to watch the others depart for the funeral and overhears her Grandmother arguing with her father, that “the child should be there—she’s quite well enough now, William.” But her father is in a trance-like state. The other elderly woman, the mother of Marjorie’s Godfather, says simply, “Blanche, let it go. You must think of poor William.” Julia feels jealous only that Marjorie walks out the door holding their father’s arm in the way a grown lady would—and not his hand as a child would.
At 18, Julia Travers has stunning green eyes and luxuriant copper-colored hair, and a figure any young woman would envy. At her father’s insistence she has delayed her debut to be properly presented at Court by her Grandmother, now that the war is over. Since her sister Marjorie’s marriage not long after the start of the war, Julia has been her father’s hostess at his London home. The idea of a debut seems silly to her now that she’s had several years running a home, dealing with servants and entertaining guests, but she knows she cannot get around both William and her grandmother. Currently, the household is limping along, woefully understaffed by the Spanish Influenza that is killing hundreds daily. Julia is to go home to Shellborne in hopes of escaping the disease, but there is no servant to accompany her.
At dinner that night, William pushes aside his empty plate and addresses Julia.
“Julia, with Smith ill, I’ve arranged for you to travel with a friend of mine—you met him as a child, but I don’t think you’ve seen him for a few years—my friend Clive—Lord Thurso. He’s suddenly in town on some business—I had lunch with him today at the Club. He’ll look after you and see you home to Norfolk. It’s unusual, but I certainly can’t have you traveling alone. And with this wretched influenza no one else seems healthy enough to travel. We’ll meet him at the station in the morning. Are you all packed?”
Julia, her face betraying her concern, answers with reservations. “Yes, Papa. But I don’t see why I can’t stay here with you. Who will care for you if you become ill?”
William is touched as always by truly feminine women, smiles, even though it is his younger daughter speaking. “Don’t worry about me, my dear. I’m closing the house for a while and I’ll stay at my club. Once this influenza dissipates and it’s safe for you to return, then you can look after me all you like.”
Not far away in his own Belgravia home, Lord Thurso toys with a glass of whiskey as he re-reads a favorite passage of Greek poetry, willing sleep to come. Two hours at the piano failed to exhaust him enough to sleep, so he once again turns to his beloved Cicero. Since his wife, Margaret’s, death several years ago, he’s been the token single person in the group of friends he and William have shared since childhood. The wives fuss over him, the men envy him going so far as to imagine all sorts of sexual fantasies being lived out by their bachelor friend—never suspecting he simply goes home from the Club each night to read poetry or history before going to sleep in a single bed with fine whiskey on his breath.
Clive, in turn, envies the other men their settled home lives with loving wives and children. He would still love a son of his own and regularly smarts at the idea of his nephew, Merwyn, ultimately inheriting both his title and his beloved estate, Amerberleigh.
“What was I thinking– escorting a young girl on the train to Norfolk?” Clive shakes his head, trying not to dwell on his somewhat rash decision. All those times reading thru the parable of the Good Samaritan must have softened his brain. As head of his late maternal grandfather’s investment bank, Clive is lucky to take so much time away from the office. With so many of the younger men off with influenza, he really should put off this trip. Still, William did sit up all those nights with him when Margaret died. It was a debt that was never meant to be repaid, but Clive can’t refuse William’s simple request.
Just turned 18, Julia Travers is still accustomed to a quiet life in her father’s homes both in London and in Norfolk. She’s spent not one day in school—her education having been overseen by a succession of English, Scottish, German and French Governesses. She is now poised to make her debut into society this summer. Though Julia is ahead of her peers in the womanly art of running a home, in the daytime hers is still very much the world of a privileged young lady. She’s never left her own home alone, but has always been shadowed by a servant or governess. Her secluded upbringing, hardly a-typical of her class, has left her largely ignorant of the world of men. Aside from occasional young people’s parties—all heavily chaperoned of course—she’s seldom been alone in the company of a boy aside from the sons of her father’s closest friends. Having largely grown up with them though they have never featured in her romantic day dreams, nor she in theirs. In truth, she has not fully become an adult. That will happen this summer, and the freedom it represents is the only thing attractive to her about doing ‘the Season.’
Now faced with the trip to Shellborne, Julia is trying to put off leaving for the station. ‘What on earth will I say to him? A friend of Papa’s? He’s probably old and stuffy, maybe even with hair in his ears.’ Although her father frequently mentions him, she’s not seen Lord Thurso in years and he alone among the group of friends has not been known by the honorarium “Uncle.” She shudders just thinking about him. ‘He’ll probably smell like damp wool and have bad breath. This trip will take forever. Oh Papa! What were you thinking?!’ She shakes her head and takes a final look in the mirror to put on her hat.
Her long, coppery hair has been brushed to sheen. Her cheeks glow with health highlighting her alabaster skin beautifully. Her trim figure is well displayed by the lovely new suit and coat she is wearing. She is a beautiful young woman about to turn heads all thru her first season, but she’s completely unaware of the power she has over the men she effortlessly bewitches.
“Julia!” Her impatient father barks in his typical gruff tones. “Are you coming to the train or are you going to stand there and daydream?”
“Sorry, Papa—of course I’m coming.” Julia hurriedly pins her hat in place, grabs her gloves and takes her father’s waiting arm.
They enter the car and he begins going over it all again.
“Now, my dear, as I said, Clive will be waiting for us and he’ll see you to Shellborne. I believe he’ll be staying overnight and continuing to Scotland in the morning. I expect you to be attentive, but quiet—no man likes a train journey of unending chatter. Do I make myself clear?” Lord Walsham, an official in the Ministry of Trade, is used to giving orders and having them instantly obeyed. “You brother will be joining you when school is done for the term and Marjorie and the children will be coming as well.” He looks to her for an answer.
Julia nods, a serious look confirming she has been listening attentively. “Yes, Papa. I’m sure it will all be fine. Only, I do wish…”
Her father’s eyes soften and his voice takes on a kindly tone to reassure his favorite child. “No more of that now. It’s all decided. Your Grandmother is expecting you.”
On the station platform, a rather grave looking man is waiting in an Astrakan-collared overcoat and top hat, with a malachite walking stick in hand as though Victoria was still on the throne. ‘Get a hold of yourself—a few hours on a train with a child is hardly a death sentence,’ he tells himself. He is tall, slender and distinguished-looking with his full, dark hair neatly combed back showing not even a touch of silver at the temples. His mustache is neatly clipped. But it is his eyes that immediately draw Julia to him. Amazing eyes of deep azure unlike any she has seen. “He certainly doesn’t look as old as Papa,” Julia tells herself with relief. “In fact, he’s quite handsome.” Then she realizes who he is—it’s the coat. She remembers the coat from long, long ago, and giggles, saying to herself ‘A train trip with God! That should be amusing.’
Clive, trying to keep his jaw from dropping in amazement, has just realized the gorgeous young woman with the coppery hair is the “child” he’ll be escorting: “There you are then, William.” He begins hesitantly, struggling to slow his pulse back to normal. “And, this delightful creature must be your daughter.” He removes his hat and extends a gloved hand to her.
“Julia,” He turns to his daughter. “My dear, surely you remember Lord Thurso?”
Julia smiles, trying not to meet Lord Thurso’s eyes. “It’s nice to meet you again, Lord Thurso, and so kind of you to escort me.”
She looks at him and is immediately struck by the deep blue eyes—kindly, yet sparkling in a way she’s never experienced. Unfortunately though her only memories of him are as ‘God’ when she was small and bringing Marjorie a gift that time. Her father, obviously, does not realize how little his friend has been around in recent years.
“Not at all, my dear. Shall we board?” He takes in her lithe figure, the very feminine way she moves and the amazing head of coppery hair, peeking from beneath a terribly stylish hat. Her green eyes dazzle him. Their eyes accidentally meet, but he forces himself to turn quickly away.
“Good-bye, Papa,” Julia says as she dutifully kisses his cheek.
Clive suddenly finds himself very envious of his old friend.
Clive accepts her ticket from William before taking Julia’s elbow and steering her gently toward the train. They find their compartment and arrange themselves as the train departs. Clive stows his top hat and stick in the rack and assists Julia with her things.
Julia settles in and politely takes out a book to indicate she won’t be ‘chattering’ the entire trip.
Clive smiles and begins to make pleasant conversation. “Good girl! Like to see a woman who is content with a quiet journey. I must say I’m a bit surprised—to hear your father talk you were still in the nursery.”
Julia giving him a sweet “you know how it is” look: “Fathers,” she says with an unconsciously flirtatious look and tone.
Clive chuckles and pulls out a newspaper. ‘My God she’s beautiful!’ He flicks the paper open and tries to distract himself from the vivid green eyes and amazing copper hair. ‘Get ahold of yourself old man—you ARE an old man. She’s-18? 19? Not even been presented.” Clive manfully tries to read the day’s news.
Across from him, Julia does her best to focus on the rather vapid novel she has brought along out of duty. ‘He can’t be Papa’s age! He’s….stunning? Gorgeous? Handsome anyway! Those eyes!!” She sighs unconsciously in a romantic way. Clive notices and checks from behind his paper, but puts her sigh down to the novel she is reading.
Rain soon pelts the carriage window and it becomes too dark for reading.
“Can’t see a thing—how about you?” Clive asks in a friendly off-hand manner.
Julia, giving him a sweet look, shakes her head. “I’m afraid not, it is terribly dark.”
“Shellborne –haven’t been up there in several years. Your father and I used to shoot together more, but as time has gone on we’ve managed to coordinate schedules less and less. Fine shooting up there of course—the peasants. With the war over, I hope to be back there in January. And, your Grandmother is a wonderful hostess, but I’ve traveled quite a lot in recent years. I have just sold off a tea plantation in Ceylon. The trip was so irksome and…well,…” He shakes his head “…you couldn’t care less about an old man’s business dealings I’m sure.” He smiles apologetically. “Do you enjoy travel, Miss Travers?” As an old family friend, he knows William would think nothing of him calling her ‘Julia,’ but she’s far too attractive to risk it. ‘Miss’ puts some necessary distance between them, Clive hopes.
“I couldn’t say–I never been anywhere. But, I’d love to hear more of Ceylon—it sounds so exotic.”
“Well, sometime I’ll tell you about it. Now, do you enjoy Norfolk, or are you a modern city girl?” His eyes sparkle delightfully.
Julia, heat filling her body when she accidentally meets his gaze: “Oh I much prefer the country. I love to ride and hunt. And it’s so lovely and peaceful. Soon David, my little brother, will be home from school. I’ve sort of become his mother since…” She stops realizing she’s being depressing.
“So sad—your mother was such a delightful woman. And Marjorie—my goddaughter, afraid I’ve been a negligent godfather to her. Has her husband…Edward? come thru the war?”
“Yes, thankfully, Esmond was only slightly wounded once. He’s in the City these days— something in insurance I believe. They live very near us—I enjoy going over to visit the children.”
“Your father is a lucky man. Two daughters nearby and a son, grandchildren. I envy him.”
“I’m sorry, Lord Thurso, I didn’t realize you were alone.” Of course she knew that but hopes fervently God will overlook the white lie. Her heart races to her throat: “He’s alone!”
“Yes—for ages now. Margaret died 15 years ago.” ‘Goodness—that’s about when this lovely creature was born. Get ahold of yourself, old man!’ He chides himself.
“But I wonder why you never remarried….” She looks away embarrassed at what she has just said. “Forgive me, that is certainly none of my business. I do apologize.”
Clive, waves away her unnecessary apology. “Not at all—I’ve often wondered it myself. I suppose I’m just selfish—not wanting a widow with a troop of children. I’m still always being called at the last minute to make up the numbers at dinner when some widowed sister-in-law appears. Many have been very nice, of course, but never the ‘right” one, if you know what I mean.” His thoughts race: ‘And, until today, I’ve never seen anyone as breath-taking as you, my dear.’
“I do, of course.” Julia can’t take her eyes off him. In her mind she thinks: “Like every boy I’ve ever had to dance with. Oh why do I have to be so young—he’ll never look at me as anything but a child.’
“You’re to come out this year I believe? Are you looking forward to it—it’s such a fun year for girls, I think. It certainly is for the young men who partner them to all those lovely parties and balls.” Then, to himself: ‘Please God William, invite me!’
“To tell you the truth, I’m terrified! I’m so afraid of the presentation part I’m afraid I’ll faint dead away just as I’m to curtsey to Queen Mary.” Julia laughs a little in a nervous way.
Clive gives her a sly flirtatious look. “You seem made of sterner stuff than that. And, I don’t think your Granny would take that sort of behavior, now would she? Rather fierce, your Granny. A least she was when William and I were boys.”
Julia laughs quietly. “She is that.”
“But you’ve had wonderful days of dress shopping and the like, surely that was fun? And lots of handsome young men to swoon over, I’m sure.” He gives her a sweetly questioning look. ‘Please God let them all have spots and sweat too much—she’s just the one I’ve been searching for.”
He is starting to flirt with her unconsciously, his eyes focused on hers. She is blushing delightfully and they are both clearly enjoying it all immensely.
“I don’t know about that–the young men, I mean. Some are very immature, I’ve found. The shopping was mostly fun I suppose, but oh the boring fittings!” She blushes realizing what she’s mentioned. “Forgive me.”
Clive, thanking God for the newspaper on his lap and the dark gloomy light to hide his reaction to thoughts of her in her dress fittings, tries to put her at ease. “Relax my dear—I’m perfectly aware of women’s shopping habits. I certainly paid enough bills for them, in my time. It’s a husband’s lot in life to work like a slave to maintain his beautiful wife.” His eyes never leave hers.
Julia entranced by him, but remembering her manners, apologizes. “You must think I’m very young and stupid. Do tell me about Ceylon, Lord Thurso. Tea was it you said? How interesting. What goes on at a tea plantation?”
Clive balks thinking, “Oh Christ you dirty old fool, you’ve scared her off.’ Then seeing her sincerely interested expression he preens a bit as he starts to tell her about his plantation. “Well, I’m never in residence there for long. Climate is beastly and I just don’t fancy it. No, it’s merely an investment—and a very successful one at that. But it’s a young man’s game in that climate. Really it’s just like any other business, albeit one that requires a tiresome amount of native labor and good luck in the weather like any farming venture. I’ve a tobacco farm in Nyasaland as well—much easier to deal with that climate. I was out there much of the winter once I recovered from the war—I was invalided out—bad lungs, but thankfully not due to the gas.”
“You were in the war?” Julia asks, a little astonished.
Clive, her astonishment needling a bit, replies with forced cheerfulness, ”Yes, Colonel in the Black Watch—your father wished to join his regiment in ’14, but the government wouldn’t release him from the Civil Service, so he was stuck in the Westminster.” Clive says.
“Goodness…” Julia stops herself before saying she’d always thought her father was ‘too old’ for the war.
“Now I am stupid,” Julia says. “Where is Nyasaland exactly? I assume Africa?”
Clive, relaxing now that the ship is in less emotionally dangerous waters, goes back to their conversation whole-heartedly. “Quite right—it’s where David Livingston was—surely you’ve read of him—the great missionary? It’s, in a very rough way, between Kenya and South Africa—near Rhodesia.”
“What an interesting life you have, Lord Thurso! And you must have business here as well I assume?”
“Of course, but except for the bank, those enterprises have successful managers to oversee them. I merely attend the various meetings and show up from time-to-time to keep them honest, I suppose you’d say.” He is genuinely modest, which attracts even more of Julia’s attention than his good looks or piercing blue eyes.
“And, being a friend of Papa’s I assume you hunt? And you’ve mentioned shooting.” Now it is Julia giving the flirtatious look.
Clive, taking his turn to blush stammers a bit in reply. “Of course we men are sadly predictable. I do love cricket especially. Nothing like it in the world. The best of games—another legacy of that English grandfather I’m afraid. When I was younger I played polo and of course rode Point-to-point, but like hunting, I’ve chucked it in—a few too many falls for my ancient bones to handle. I do still ride, of course, but no hunting.”
Julia taking in his endearing smile, visible even in the gloom of the compartment starts plotting, then says, “What a shame—I adore hunting. It would be lovely to have you join us. The Norfolk Hunt has a meet each year at Shellborne—but then you probably know that. Silly of me…”
“Not silly of you at all, my dear. Who knows? Maybe the doctor will finally approve it again.” His eyes crinkle at the sides as he smiles, making him even more appealing.
Julia looking up at him thru her thick eyelashes says quietly, “I shall hope for that.”