~ A Sampling of Letters Exchanged between 1803 and 1814 ~
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard (future Duke of Girton). September 1801, from the Girton estate, Lancashire
I expect you will be very surprised to hear from me, but Mrs. Pegwell says that I must write you every week, as you are my husband. Mrs. Pegwell is the new governess hired after my last governess disgraced herself. She ran away with the gardener’s boy. His name is Gibbon, and everyone is particularly scandalized because he was seven years younger than she.
I pointed out that seven years is precisely the distance between you and me, but your father is worried that I might have acquired the sort of romantic notions that would lead me to look approvingly on the gardeners, and so he hired Mrs. Pegwell, who looks very starched. But she has turned out to be quite spoony. She has even tried to cast a rosy light over our marriage. That has to be the sign of a true romantic, given that we married two years ago, and you haven’t been home since.
Well, this is long enough for our first communication. Please notice my signature: ever since I turned eleven years old, I have been signing my name with a flourish. Doesn’t it look splendid?
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard (future Duke of Girton). June 1804, from the Girton estate, Lancashire
You asked about Barley…don’t worry. I am still taking care of him, although he has developed a regrettable tendency to snap at the hooves of horses. He has been banished from the stables and has to live in the gardeners’ shed.
He loves to hunt for voles, and tows me across the fields, snorting frantically. Luckily he never catches anything. These days I speak only French until noon, as your father feels that my language abilities are rather stunted. I would agree with him, which means that I am quite silent until luncheon, and then talk the ear off Mrs. Pegwell. As she complains, all those thoughts spewing out at once present l’embarras des richesses!
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard, (future Duke of Girton). December 1806, from the Girton estate, Lancashire
It was terribly exciting to receive your latest letter. Do you know that it is the first of your letters that I have been able to read without your father previewing it? He even reads the notes my mother sends me. Mrs. Pegwell believes that she is nurturing our happy future, and so she has persuaded your father that our correspondence ought to be private. Since your father will not mention your name, it was quite difficult for him to present a rebuttal. Imagine a rather stout lady with a stern expression: “After all, one must remember that her ladyship (that’s me) is a married lady, and given that she is almost fifteen years old, she certainly ought to be corresponding with her husband. “Hurrah!
There is news afoot that perhaps – just perhaps – I shall be taken to London and presented to society. Oh, I hope so. I spend all day learning to be a duchess, but it seems to me that real duchesses are dancing the night away in London. And it is quite demoralizing watching my friend Lenore being fitted for gown after gown, whereas my muslins are quite good enough for the country. You probably don’t recall Lenore: she’s one of the Mortlakes, two estates over.
I heard a rumor that you are going off to fight against the French? Do write me again, because surely a wife should know first if her husband is becoming a soldier!
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard (future Duke of Girton). May 1807, from Number 14, St. James’s Square
Lenore and I were presented on this Tuesday past. Lenore did very well. Viscount Exmouth danced with her twice; her mother is so excited that she has almost ordered wedding livery. To my mind, Lenore was much happier when she was dancing with a rather lanky younger son, a Sir Denis Owen. But I must enumerate my own triumphs. Thank goodness I’m married to you, because I didn’t have to wear white or worry about the silly rules besieging Lenore, such as not dancing more than twice with the same man. Although Lenore did dance three times with Sir Denis, a fact her mama did not quite realize. I did not sit out a dance! I was terribly afraid that no one would dance with me because of my red hair – you do remember that I have red hair, don’t you? It is the most wretched misfortune. Eliza Montgomery told me that brunettes are all the rage. In fact, she doubted whether anyone would ask me to dance, given that I’m married and red-haired. She was wrong! I flirted quite deliciously until three in the morning, when my feet started to hurt so much I was like to weep. My injured toes were the gift of a splendid Cossack gentleman – a Court Platoff – who told me all about the steppes but trod on my feet while we danced.
Well, you are probably accounting me hideously boring. To tell the truth, I worry about you, Cam. Do not let Napoleon cut you into ribbons. I have grown quite fond of you, in an odd sort of way.
P.S. I am obeying your request that I address you as Cam rather than Camden, although I must say that I like Camden better. Cam sounds so geographical – like a river or a minor tributary in the Andes Mountains. In return, you must call me Gina. I cannot stand Ambrogina: such a grandeous name, as one can hardly say it without tripping on the tongue.
P.P.S. And I want to point out how dutiful I am: I have respected your wishes and not mentioned your father at all (until now, of course).
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard, (future Duke of Girton). June 1809, from the Girton estate, Lancashire.
I am so happy that you are well away from the wars and living in Greece. But I’m afraid I have some sad news for you. Poor old Barley died yesterday. I knew something was wrong because he came to find me in the middle of the day. Even to the end of his life he was a most adventuresome dog who spent the day destroying the flower beds and catching rats. He couldn’t abide being petted until evening. I was sitting in the garden and he came over to me and sat for a long time with his head on my knee. I told him that you missed him, Cam, because I know you do. But I want you to know that ever since you mentioned his love for kidney pudding, he has had a special helping every Sunday. I don’t believe he felt any pain; he died curled up in the garden in his sunny favorite spot. Even the gardeners, who all professed to loathe him because of the way he would dig up the flower beds, no matter how many times he was scolded, wept when they heard the news. We buried him behind the stables. I won’t venture to tell you your father’s response to Barley’s funeral, but I assure you that his gruffness only hides his grief at missing you, though of course he is not able to say so.
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard (future Duke of Girton). May 1810, from the Girton estate, Lancashire.
I received the darling little cupid you sent for my eighteenth birthday. He is naked, Cam! I’m afraid that I have had to secret him away, although he is so beautiful that I visit him in private. I am truly stunned that you fashioned such a beautiful thing yourself, from stone.
I do wish you would return to England now. I miss you, although I must say that you don’t know me very well. I am not a naked statue sort of person! I’m afraid that I shall be a rather dull and utilitarian duchess. Forgive me for sounding like a wet-blanket; I am having a fit of doldrums over my advanced age. Eighteen seems remarkably old for someone who is neither married nor unmarried. Would you consider returning to England and either taking up your husbandly role or…perhaps annulling our marriage?
From Ambrogina (future Duchess of Girton), to Camden William Serrard (future Duke of Girton). May 1811, from the Girton estate, Lancashire.
I am going to break one of your firmest rules and mention your father to you again, since you have not answered my last letter. I am very much afraid that he will not recover from his present illness. He has been bed-ridden for some five years now, but these days he is in a stupor most of the time, and the doctors hold out very little hope that he will recover. I know that there is a good deal of bitterness between you – I wish I could say that he has asked for you, or even spoken your name. But he is, as you know, the firmest of men. I suspect that you will disregard this letter, but I thought I ought to let you know that your father is ailing.
From Ambrogina, Duchess of Girton, to Camden William Serrard, Duke of Girton. September 1812, from the Girton estate, Lancashire
The funeral was this morning, and went very well. Considering your father’s testy nature, there was a gratifying throng of people. Your aunt Cybil had brought up the question of hiring some mourners, but my mother pointed out that your father would have loathed the notion. Luckily the church wasn’t too thin. I am exhausted, and will to bed. As I’m sure you are aware, I hope to hear news of your imminent return just as soon as you can manage. Many people feel the same, and said as much at the funeral.
From Ambrogina, Duchess of Girton, to Camden William Serrard, Duke of Girton. January 1813, from the Girton estate, Lancashire.
I thank you very much for sending me a tutor – but what on earth shall I do with him, you silly man? I think I prefer the sea turtle, which is very beautiful and unusual; I believe the village boys particularly enjoy its company. But what can I do with Mr. Wapping? Once I read your note, I confirmed to him that I have a great interest in Florentine history – which I don’t, Cam! – and he is set to begin tutoring me in Italian history next week.
But why? Why couldn’t you take care of the man’s livelihood yourself, if you wished? Why do I have to learn about Florentine history? I’m so busy, and he’s such an odd little man.
Please do write back and tell me you are making your preparations to return to this country and annul our marriage. I shall hand over the keys and Mr. Wapping with great pleasure.
From Ambrogina, Duchess of Girton, to Camden William Serrard, Duke of Girton. January 1814, from the Girton estate, Lancashire.
This will be quite short because I am most annoyed with you. You yourself wrote me that you would stay abroad only until your father died, and then you would return to annul our marriage. I know that you enjoy living in Greece, but your father passed away almost two years ago. I would not be human if I didn’t allow a bit of a peevish tone in my voice. I have turned twenty-two and am getting long in the tooth! If you don’t return in the near future, no one will offer for me once I’m free.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how often I write about Sebastian—Marquess Bonnington. At first I thought he only liked me because I am a duchess. But oh, Cam, I’m quite sure that he likes me for myself, and I am very fond of him. So, will you please return home and straighten things out?
P.S. You will be astounded by my knowledge of Florentine history. I have become quite the expert. I tried to donate Mr. Wapping to the village school, but he was very stubborn about it, and insists that you instructed him to tutor me, and no one else.
From the Duke of Girton to his Duchess. Greece, April 1814.
Lord, but you have a way with words. Almost, I am weeping at the prospect of you dwindling into old age, wearing the willow for your marquess. Almost. At any rate, I am coming home. I should follow this letter by two or three weeks. Cam.
A Note from the Author:
These letters were created in the early days of writing Duchess in Love: the dates and ages don’t work with the book as it was finally published, so please don’t try to regularize them with the book!