Letter To Judith

19th century

Dearest Judith,

I know you may not read this letter for fear that I am writing to shower you with bitter accusations. I assure you that I simply could not hold a grudge against you for much longer, as justified as my anger may be. I do not have any negative motive for I have been deeply troubled since our family dispute and I know you believe me to be against you, but I am not. Oh dearest sister, I must reveal to you that I believe the fault is yours and not Mama's but I beg of you to keep reading and not to throw this parchment in the crackling flames of your London fireplace, for I have penned this with much difficulty and my thoughts have been rather hesitant if I am to be honest. I would’ve hoped that our correspondence would begin on your part, with an apology but I have now waited for over four years for my relief to be able to pardon you but my forgiveness cannot be granted without you atoning for your actions. I have not forgiven you sister, and I do not intend to quite yet for your decisions left me shattered for many months and have, to a great extent, worsened our mother’s mental insecurity.  I do however, wish for you to come and visit us in Derbyshire, for at least a fortnight so that we may catch up on these many lost months. I know you must be silently urging me to tell you of our family’s well-being. Well Judith, I am afraid that the news may not enlighten you but I am not one to hide the truth from my loved ones. Mother is very unwell, unstable mentally and emotionally, always fretting about one thing or another. Just the other day, she had been weeping for an unreasonable amount of time and she called out your name whilst in a troubled phase of unsatisfying sleep. You are in every one her dreams, and though she does not utter a word about you to any member of the family, I have frequently noticed that, when she gets a faraway look in her eyes that instantly become glassy with tears, she is trying to remember your good-humoured speech, your elegant silhouette, your chirping laugh. All of it is a fading memory for us all and she is grasping on to it as if though her very life depends on it. You must fill that vacancy in her, for she is giving up and letting her emotions get the better of her. Only you can save our dear Mamma and if you have a good heart, you will do so.
Our father is even more absorbed with his many books and research on the human brain as he was before your departure. His need to understand humanity in the utmost detail has obliged him to think of nothing else. He hardly sleeps and eats less than what is good for him. He is oblivious to our mother and speaks very scarcely. When he does talk, he addresses himself only to Cecilia and I. I am so very worried for him and for our sisters, who have nobody to hold them together.
Cecilia is as fragile as ever. As the eldest, she feels it is her responsibility to care for our sisters and it is slowly deteriorating her. She has focused on nothing else for the past three and a half years and as agreeable as she may be, her social connections are awfully pitiful. She does not know how to act around men anymore and is nervous and unable to express her intelligent opinions in full clarity. She does not dare offend anyone, and as sweet as she may be, her timidity has become absolute inhibition and a constant self-consciousness that will not get her the husband she most definitely deserves. She only expresses her true self around the youngest of our sisters, Isobel.

·         Isobel is very ill. You know she’s always been a sickly child but this past year her feverish fits have become more and more frequent. They come weekly and every time she suffers from wheezing breaths and cold perspirations, we fear that her weakened body will not be able to live through her illness but she has done nothing but surprise us with her inner strength. She misses you dearly, Judith, and her courage comes from the faith that we will be a family once again. You have always cherished every hair on Isobel’s head, I know you have. Has that changed, my dear sister? She is a tinted pale, her skin is pasty and as sensitive as her failing lungs. I prefer not to be subtle on subjects that are utterly severe: Izzy’s precious life is fighting for more time but the truth is that death is approaching her with every passing day and there is nothing we can do to push this determined fatality away from our beloved sister. It is plausible that, if you come home, you may be a reassurance to her and either prevent her from becoming sicker or at the very least you could be the person that would allow her to face death calmly without that anxiety and that terror of facing the unknown alone, or partially so.
   As for Bianca she is as conceited and proud as ever, not even making the effort to acknowledge any topic of conversation that does not suit her eccentric tastes. She is ignorant to our new neighbour's idle chitchat and keeps herself occupied with dress fittings and jewellry. She is friends with Miss Cunning, our plain and dull second cousin that silently listens to Bianca's displays of pure arrogance without uttering a word about herself. Bianca is properly convinced that everyone's attention is meant for her since she is the second youngest and that isobel is too unwell to do anything but sleep. She doesn't seem to understand that Isobel suffers and needs our support and attention so that she may not feel a certain sense of solitude that could make her slip deeper into disease.
Our sister that has changed the most is definitely Phoebe. I know you remember her to be full of energy and bubbling with ideas. Things have changed drastically since your departure and our amiable Phoebe has been truly miserable. All that for a foolish romance that broke her heart. She was in love with a man that I would describe as fairly handsome, if it were not for a certain cruelty, a sadistic look in his deep, black eyes. This young gentleman led her to believe he felt strongly for her but he married a rich, sophisticated woman and left Phoebe standing alone in a field of dying grass.  The story is a long one and not very pleasant at that. Our  dear sister was left alone and abandoned. The adoration she had felt so deeply could not just vanish, as much as I wish it would have. This unrequited love affair left her permanently saddened and her kindly words were replaced by a cold silence. She has plunged herself in books and lost all of her friends. Love is such an awful thing, it ruined her in ways you cannot imagine! She will not hear talk of men and marriage and has sworn to me many times she will never be able to settle down with anyone ever again. I know you do not think of me as someone who gives up on others but I must admit defeat. I have failed to remove her from this position of isolation in which she finds herself because I find it impossible to do so. You are the only one that can connect with our sisters that are desperately in need of your guidance. Phoebe has lost so much love. She always received praise for her eyes, so blue and alive but the flare they once possessed has disappeared. Can you imagine Pheobe without that light in her eyes? Can you, Judith?

I will tell you of Gretchen, and I am hoping that you have not forgotten the maid that helped Mamma raise you! She is in a dreadful state. I have never seen her in this way. Do you remember her daughter Marie, such a sweet and amiable  child. Well just over a year ago, Gretchen had gone all the way to Cambridge to visit some relatives and had left her daughter in the care of her uncle, Sir Edmund Grind. Mr. Grind had a heart attack and died
in his drawing room whilst Marie had gone to buy some eggs and flour. She hurried on home because the skies felt threatening. Indeed, a violent storm was near. The door was locked and poor little Marie did not have any possible way of entering the house. The summer storms came creeping in and floods of rain fell upon little Marie. She caught a terrible cold and fortunately, she did survive but her mother lost the dearest brother she had. She is still mourning and has become rather impolite and ill-mannered. I hope she will soon portray the warmth she once had.

We have a new cook, who puts together wonders. Each supper is looked forward to and she keeps us well-fed and more than satisfied.

The only other being in our house I can tell you of is Stuart the cat. He is spoiled and as joyous as a cat can be.

I suppose you must be wondering how I am. Well, I must say I miss you terribly and am rather lonely, even with Janice around. In the past three years, I received as many as four marriage proposals, that I refused without hesitation. Two of the men were somewhat legitimate but lacked liveliness and I felt no love towards them. The other two were absurd and foolish. I am tired of not finding a man worthy of my love and as self-centred as it may sound, that is how I feel. I hope to find love somewhere far away from Derbyshire, where I have all too many troubles to focus on my heart.
Now you must know that this is difficult for me to ask, but I shall do so nonetheless.
I am asking you to come, with your child to visit us at the countryhouse. You must after all that I have told you. Your presence is necessary for us all.
Dearest Jude, how are you coping? Are you looked down upon with shock and disdain? How is little Nicholas? Is he happy? Auntie Clarisse has not told me much about him and I long to know my nephew.
Oh sweet Judith, I wish you great health and happiness.
You must reassure me with a reply at the very least. You owe me that much.
I love you dearly sister, never forget that.
Yours truly,

Emily quickened her pace as she made her way down to the post. It was a walk of over two miles and very tiring for inactive young ladies but Emily was used to the effort, as she went down to the town area twice a week to buy bread and marmalade and to post a letter to her auntie every fortnight. Indeed, her aunt Clarisse was to come to the Crawford country house to-morrow to visit them, as she did every three months or so. When she did visit, Emily's mamma would lock herself in her chambers and refuse to see her younger sister. It was most embarassing for the Crawford girls for their mamma to be so wholly impolite to their dear auntie. Their uncle did not come often, about every twelvemonth. "He is far too busy with the management of his many london estates and with Nicholas..." Clarisse had murmured quickly. She was evidently uncomfortable with the subject of Judith and nobody inquired about the matter. They were all too torn between their mother and sister and had made the decision of keeping peace in the house without mentioning the subject.
Now they were all preparing for their aunt's arrival. They set up the good china and went to buy some herbal tea bags. Cecilia, with a bit of help from the exhausted Isobel made dough for the scones she was planning to make and begged Phoebe to make strawberry jam. Emily came home with fresh bread and marmalade for today's breakfast and with a sharp glance at Bianca, who was sprawled on the velvet couch, asked her sisters to save some marmalade for their Auntie's arrival so that she would not have to return into town.
Their mother limped into the kitchen, complaining that her thighs were terribly weary and that she had a disturbing headache.
"Dearest Cecilia, Emily, Phoebe,Bianca and Isobel. I am so very tired and will keep to my chambers for the day. I may visit the market to-morrow and take a stroll in the country. Cecilia, Phoebe, would you care to come with me?" Questioned Mrs Crawford in an expectant tone.
Cecilia stepped up to protect her sisters from their Mama's wrath.
"Mamma, have you forgotten that our dearest aunt is to come and pay her third visit this year? You ought to stay and have tea with your fine sister. Do you not wish to know how she is doing? And Judith...."
"Do not utter that name in this household!" Shrieked Mrs  Crawford. "I prefer to visit the market place but I must say, I am very disappointed that you will not come with me!"
Emily stepped in, silencing her reproachful mother.
"Mamma, I must say that I am surprised that with this much pleading, you will not pay your respects to sweet Clarisse and that you-"
"Sweet! Do not call my demonic sister a sweetling for she is far from it. Now, Cecilia, there is a gentleman that has just arrived in Derbyshire and Mrs Jenkins has told me that he has over seven thousand pounds a year! What a dizzying amount of money! You know I do not care for his wealth but you must marry a man that we can call somewhat rich. Do not scare him away with your worrying social awkwardness, as you have a tendency to do so with worthy men. Do tell your father to  get us a formal introduction with this man. I believe he is known as Patrick Vickery. What a lovely name!"
"Mamma, I could not allow myself such an excursion. Who will care for Isobel? And Bianca?"
"Oh I'm sure Emily can care for Izzy. And as for Bianca, she is now sixteen and not a child anymore. She can very well care for herself. Can you not Bianca?"
With a reluctant signal of the head, Bianca spoke in an irritated manner: "yes I believe I am mature enough to care for myself but I am at an age where I require attention and need for others to listen to me and so if Cecilia is gone, Emily is with Isobel and Phoebe is all too independent, I shall have no one. I am afraid that I must proclaim Cece's presence."
"Nonsense!" cried Mrs Crawford "you will keep yourself occupied with Julie-Anne Cunning.  Cecilia will plan a nice luncheon with her papa and Mr Vickery at the house and the rest of us will be otherwise occupied. Emily will be with Isobel in her bedchambers and she will have luncheon with Mr Vickery and Cecilia whilst Gretchen leaves her housework and cares for Isobel for a couple of hours. Bianca, I will arrange for you to stay a week at the Cunnings and will order the carriage for you. It is after all, over five miles away... Phoebe, you will come and walk in the park with me and we will spend the afternoon at my brother's cottage. I am sure their son is hoping to see you again."
"I do not wish to communicate in any way with males who wish to think of me as a woman they could be engaged to. But for dear Cecilia's sake, I shall do what you ask of me. Cece, I truly hope your heart stays intact..."
"Alright then, all is settled. Your Papa shall call upon Mr Vickery and arrange for luncheon next week. Phoebe, I heard he has a younger brother of about your age. He is twenty in years, and you will be nineteen in a fortnight! What a perfect combination-"
"I will not hear of it" Phoebe cut her off coldly and excused herself to dwell in the library.
Emily was afraid of answering back to her mother's pestering:
"Come along now Cece, shall we go and convince papa to arrange a meal with this mysterious gentleman?"
"Yes of course Emmy. Mama do be so kind as to excuse us."
"Hurry along now darling and do not come out of that office till the luncheon is organised!"

Alice Bellan