Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, which will debut later this summer, is a Pride and Prejudice sequel told from Georgiana’s perspective, meant to go hand-in-hand with my earlier novel The Darcys of Pemberley. While I’ve been impatiently awaiting it’s release, I have enjoyed sharing a few excerpts with you here at Austen Variations! (See dates 3/23, 3/30, 4/27 and a related post 5/20 The Enigmatic Miss Darcy). Although the upcoming book focuses on life after P&P, I selected the few flashback scenes for these posts, figuring everybody can relate to these and also to avoid spoilers.
Today’s episode is as much about Mr. Darcy as his sister. Although this book features Georgiana, including her recollections of events that shaped her life and character, she shares a common history (as well as a connected future) with Mr. Darcy himself. In this scene, she tells the story of when their father died – something that would have a profound impact on them both.
I was twelve at the time, and William and I had been away visiting our Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin de Bourgh when we received the urgent summons. My brother, to whom the message was addressed, told me only that Papa was ill and wanted us home.
As a child who had already lost one parent to illness, it took no more than those few words to mightily alarm me. My fears were further awakened by what I observed in my brother’s demeanor. He had grown quite pale and there was a grim, hardened set to his mouth. Plus, his haste to be gone told me there was no time to lose.
Looking back, I can more fully appreciate what William must have been feeling. He cared deeply for our father and would miss him. But beyond the grief, he must have felt the inescapable weight of responsibility shifting even then onto his young shoulders.
We left immediately, and all the way home I fretted over what I would find when we arrived. I thought of Papa and pleaded with God that he would not be taken from me. Although Papa had never been overly demonstrative of his affection nor indulgent with his time, I knew that I was loved. And I believed that I was safe so long as my stalwart father was there to watch over my world. He seemed so strong, so confident, so immovable that it defied logic that he could be defeated by something as insubstantial as an illness one could not even see. And yet in my heart, I feared the worst.
After silently pondering these things for more than a day as we rode side by side in the carriage, I looked up at my brother. With tears already pooling in my eyes, I asked him, “Is Papa going to die?”
I could see the sadness in his own eyes as William stroked my hair, waiting as long as possible before delivering the blow. “I am sorry, Geegee. I wish I could spare you, but yes, I believe he is going to die. That is what the medical men who have been attending him predict. We will find out the truth soon enough. In the meantime, we must prepare ourselves but also continue to hope for the best. Understand?”
I nodded and blinked, which sent the unshed tears rolling down my cheeks at last. William put his arm about my shoulders and drew me closer. He spent the rest of our journey alternately trying to comfort and distract me. It was he who the same day first pointed out to me that charming village I have so admired ever since, suggesting it looked as if it might have come out of one of the fairy stories I still liked to read. Even this could not make me long forget what lay ahead however.
Upon our arrival to Pemberley, we were told that Papa was very weak but still alive, and so we went directly to his bedside. To this day I can remember how strangely diminished he looked lying there, almost shrunken into himself and at least ten years older than when I had last seen him. Gone, seemingly overnight, were his robust physique and his larger-than-life presence, both stolen away by some murdering sickness which the doctors could neither clearly diagnose nor cure.
“Come here and kiss me, my child,” this man, whom I barely recognized as my father, said in an unfamiliar, raspy voice.
My courage faltered and, as I so often did, I looked to William for reassurance. He nodded and sent me forward with a gentle nudge. I dutifully kissed Papa on the forehead and then focused my attention on his eyes, where he seemed most like his former self.
“You are a good girl,” he said, “and I have always been proud of you, Georgiana. You must learn to listen to your brother now, though. He will look after you when I am gone.”
“Yes, Papa,” I managed through my tears. Papa then turned to William and I gave way.
“I am glad you have come in time, son,” he said, a note of relief sounding in his words. “It is a heavy mantle I must now pass on to you, but one I am confident you are able to bear.”
“Father, I am grieved, grieved and afraid,” said William, his voice faltering. He was on one knee at the bedside, holding my father’s hand in both of his.
“You mustn’t fear for me or for yourself either. I am going to join your mother, and you… Well, you are ready to come out from behind my shadow. I have taught you all that I know, so you are fully equipped to assume your place as master of Pemberley. Take as much care superintending it as I know you will with your sister. It is a living, breathing thing with many souls dependent on its continuing to prosper.”
William waited silently while Papa gathered enough strength to speak again.
“I tell you nothing new, my son. These things you have understood from your youth. I am only pleased to have been given this last chance to encourage you… and to see my children’s faces again.”
These were Papa’s final words. After looking once more with watery eyes from my brother to myself and back again, his lids closed, he presently fell into unconsciousness, and soon afterward breathed his last.
I fled the room as soon as it was over to seek comfort in Mrs. Reynolds’s arms, but William remained more than an hour longer. When he finally emerged, he looked haggard, as if he had been through a brutal battle and barely survived. I believe during that time he had fought against and finally come to terms with the new realities of his situation – not only Papa’s death but also the end of his own life as he had known it. Nothing would ever be the same for him again. Although William had never been frivolous, now any carefree feelings were gone. At three-and-twenty, he was suddenly responsible for not only the care of a younger sibling but also the management of a small empire.
My life had changed too, but not so severely. I had merely lost my father; William had lost his youth and his freedom as well that day. A less conscientious person might not have allowed his new responsibilities to bind him. In fact, I have heard of cases where the opposite was true – a young man, suddenly finding himself in charge of his father’s riches, runs amok and ruins his family. My brother is cut of much sturdier cloth, fortunately. He took his new position seriously, so seriously that I rarely heard him laugh or saw him being playful after that – not until he met Elizabeth, at least. That finally revived him.
William has fulfilled his responsibility to me very admirably. No one could have asked for a more caring and conscientious brother to watch over her growing up. And yet, I still miss my father, even after all the years that have passed. Time has eased the pain, but I still grieve. I still remember, even when I did not wish to.
I did not wish to now, and yet despite my best efforts to the contrary, my thoughts had come full circle; after briefly taking a more cheerful turn, they had run back to contemplating calamity again – the dark despair of when I returned home to find my father dying. What would I find at Pemberley this time, I wondered? I prayed God I was wrong, but my every instinct told me it would be something equally harrowing.
I’ve always felt that Darcy’s reserve and serious nature grew, at least in part, from the heavy responsibility he was obliged to take on so young. What do you think? Would he have been a different sort of man if his father had lived? If so, would we still admire him as much as we do?