Rose stood in the dim hallway outside Georgiana’s bedroom, standing absolutely still and willing herself to knock. What am I so afraid of?
Nonsense. I’m not afraid. That’s absurd.
But she was afraid, and she knew it. It was humbling to realize that she had no idea how to talk to her granddaughter.
Half an hour ago, she had finally decided to consult Elizabeth, who seemed to understand Georgiana better than anyone else. And no wonder—they were little more than ten years apart in age. But Elizabeth hadn’t answered Rose’s knock on the guest bedroom door.
Next, Rose had gone downstairs, hoping to find Elizabeth in William’s study; instead, she found the room dark and empty. Most likely, they were together behind William’s closed bedroom door. Obviously, disturbing them there was out of the question.
And so Rose found herself standing alone in the dim fifth-floor hallway, seeking the courage to knock on Georgiana’s door.
Suddenly, the door opened and weak light filtered out. Georgiana peered out, frowning. “Gran? Is that you?”
Rose cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“I heard someone out here, but I thought it was Lizzy.”
Rose half expected Georgiana to slam the door, having discovered her mistake, but instead the girl lingered in the doorway. “Are you okay?” Georgiana asked. “You look really tired.”
“I’m fine,” Rose replied, “though, yes, I am a little tired.” But that wasn’t what mattered now. “Can we talk? And I mean really talk. Not ‘dumb, boring small talk,’ or whatever you called it yesterday.”
Georgiana blinked and her eyes widened. “Um … okay, I guess so.” She glanced behind her, and when she turned back she wore what Rose could only describe as a prolonged wince. “Do you … want to come in? There’s really nowhere to sit except on the bed.” She glanced behind her again.
“Let’s go to the sitting room instead.”
Georgiana nodded, clearly relieved. “Sure, if you want.”
Once there, among her favorite antiques and prized mementos, Rose felt on surer footing. She seated herself in her favorite armchair, ornately carved in walnut by a Victorian cabinet maker. The blue damask upholstery was fading a bit, but she loved it too much to replace it.
At first, Georgiana seemed to be heading for a sofa halfway across the room, but then the girl altered her course and plopped into a rose-colored velvet armchair located just a few feet away. Rose suddenly had a flash of memory: a much smaller Georgiana, her legs swinging well above the ground, her feet shod in patent leather Mary Janes and frilly white socks. How things had changed since then.
She cleared her throat. “I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday before you left the tea room. After your arrest, I didn’t question you closely about why you shoplifted because, quite simply, I wanted it to be that girl’s fault, and for you to have been the victim of her influence.”
“I know.” Georgiana glanced down at her hands, biting her lip.
“And I know that today people talk openly about things like that; it seems that nothing is off limits. Heavens, I understand that people even go on television and discuss the most appalling subjects. No doubt I seem hopelessly old-fashioned to you, but I was raised differently. There were things one simply didn’t discuss.”
“And you were ashamed to have a criminal in the family, so it was easier to believe I was just too weak to resist Courtney’s influence.”
“That was not the reason,” Rose said, her tone sharper than she intended. She took a breath and continued in a softer voice. “Georgiana, are you aware that you just told me how I feel, instead of asking? The very thing you complained about yesterday?”
“But that’s different because ….” Georgiana began in an aggrieved tone. She fell silent, staring at her hands again. “Okay,” she muttered after a short silence, “I guess it’s kind of the same.”
“We both tend to make assumptions about the other’s feelings instead of asking questions.”
“And since we don’t understand each other very well, we’re prone to making mistakes.”
Georgiana didn’t speak; her nod was very slight, but Rose saw it. “I will try to stop doing that,” Rose continued, “if you will promise to do the same.”
“Okay. Yeah.” Georgiana looked up. “But if you weren’t ashamed, why was it so important for it to be all Courtney’s fault?”
Rose took a long breath before she answered, assembling her thoughts. She glanced at the side table, which held her Chippendale tea caddy, a treasured 75th birthday gift from her grandchildren. It had been such a happy day, and a much simpler time. “According to your lawyer, if we could establish that you were pushed into it as a result of peer pressure, the judge might show leniency. I was terribly worried about what might happen to you otherwise.”
“Like, if they sent me to juvie or something?”
Rose cringed at the word “juvie,” but then nodded. “Precisely. We were all worried about that.”
“Okay, I get that.” Georgiana sat forward slightly. “After all, that’s why Courtney’s father made her blame everything on me. But like I said yesterday, it wasn’t all Courtney. I wanted to do it because it was exciting. I mean, I was really scared at first. Courtney did have to talk me into doing it the first time.”
“Then why did you do it, that first time, given how scared you were?”
Georgiana sighed and shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me.” Rose was surprised to hear herself say those words. Ordinarily, she accepted a conversation partner’s reluctance to answer and changed the subject.
After a short silence, Georgiana shrugged. “Okay, whatever. Courtney was so cool, and I really liked her. I wanted her to like me, and I wanted to be cool like her.”
“I can remember emulating the popular girls in school.” Rose also remembered other girls it would have been dangerous to emulate. “What is it about Courtney that makes her so … cool?”
Georgiana furrowed her brow, and then shrugged. “She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. She believes the rules don’t apply to her, so she does what she wants, even if her parents tell her not to … especially if her stepmother tells her not to. And she’s not afraid of anything or anyone.”
This was exactly what Rose had feared. “I can see the appeal in that, in the short term. But most rules exist for good reasons—out of fairness to others, or for a person’s own well-being. Her sort of attitude can lead to very selfish and reckless behavior … like stealing.”
Georgiana sighed loudly but otherwise didn’t respond.
“I do understand, though, wanting to be like someone you admire. And peer pressure has been around … probably since the dawn of time.”
“But you don’t get it.” Georgiana leaned forward in her chair and raised her voice. “You don’t understand how hard it is today. It’s nothing like the olden days, when you were my age. It was so much easier then.”
“It’s true that I don’t know what it’s like growing up now, but every generation has its challenges.”
“Oh, yeah? What was so hard for you?”
Rose gritted her teeth at Georgiana’s insolent tone, but she decided to disregard the girl’s incivility in pursuit of the greater good. “First, there was the Depression. I assume you’ve studied it in history class?”
“Not really; I have US History next year. But I know a lot of people were really poor all of a sudden and it lasted a lot of years. But not your family, right? You probably had lots of money.”
Rose’s family had weathered the Depression well enough, thanks largely to her mother’s iron grip on the household finances. It had meant doing without many luxuries, but they had never needed to worry about food, clothing, or having a solid roof over their heads. “We got along better than most,” she said, nodding. “Some of my friends’ families lost everything. That happened to my best friend when I was seven or eight. She and her parents left town to live with her grandparents. I never saw her again.”
“Oh.” Georgiana wore a thoughtful frown.
“Did you know that some people lived in Central Park, in little huts, because they’d lost their homes?”
“They built them out of salvaged bricks, stones, pieces of tin … whatever they could find.”
“Wow.” Georgiana frowned and stared across the room. “I didn’t know that. Like, with dirt floors?”
“Some probably were; others might have had cardboard or old rugs they could use.”
“That would really suck … I mean, be terrible.”
“And then came the war.”
“World War II. Many of the same things people couldn’t afford during the Depression, we couldn’t get during the war. Things were rationed—you needed coupons to get things like gasoline, nylon, silk, butter, sugar … lots of things. We had to find alternatives. But everyone did it, because it was a way to help win the war.”
Georgiana glanced at the ceiling for a moment and then shrugged. “But at least you didn’t have to go and fight.”
“That’s true.” And the war had actually helped Rose’s family in one sense: her father’s business had prospered. But that hadn’t kept heartache at bay. “However, several boys I knew went to war, and some of them never came home. My brother Edmund, your great-uncle, died in France. Your father was named after him.”
“I didn’t even know I had a great-uncle.” Georgiana was silent for a moment, and then asked, “Did you have a boyfriend? Did he have to go and fight, too?”
Rose hadn’t been prepared for this question, and she wasn’t sure what to say. She was doing her best to be candid with Georgiana, but on some topics she was entitled to privacy.
“I’m sorry. I was thinking about something. I’ll be right back.” Her decision made, Rose went to her bedroom and retrieved a small envelope from her nightstand drawer. She returned and handed it to Georgiana. “This was Brian.”
Georgiana opened the envelope and withdrew a small, faded photo. Rose closed her eyes, seeing every detail. He wore his Navy uniform in the photo, looking just as handsome as he had the day he kissed her goodbye for the last time.
“What happened to him?”
Rose opened her eyes, drawn out of her reverie. “He died in the Pacific.”
Georgiana sucked in a sharp breath. “Oh, wow. Were you guys really serious?”
“We had what people used to call an understanding. When he came home, he was going to ask my parents’ permission to marry me.”
“But then he didn’t come home. That’s so sad.”
Rose had heard the news from Brian’s mother, and they had cried together, embracing each other. At home, though, her mother had encouraged her to keep her emotions in check, to move on from Brian, of whom she had never approved. Rose had cried in secret after that.
“Oh,” Georgiana breathed. “I’m really sorry. I never knew any of this.” She returned the photo to its envelope and handed it to Rose. “And you kept his photo all these years.”
“I think you always hold a place in your heart for your first love.”
“But you loved Grandfather, right?” Georgiana gazed at Rose’s wedding photo, sitting on the table beside her, its silver frame polished as always to a high sheen.
“Yes, of course.”
“Why didn’t he have to go to war?”
“He did, after we were married. He was in Europe when your father was born.”
“Did he know about Brian?”
“No. This is the first time I’ve talked about him in more than 50 years.”
Rose had still been in mourning when, at her mother’s insistence, she had accepted an invitation to the opera from young William Henry Darcy. They had met at a party her mother had pushed her to attend. His interest in her had been obvious from the start.
Despite his youth, he held the reins of his family’s large business due to his father’s recent death. Her mother had stressed the young man’s bright prospects and sterling reputation, combined with the unimpeachable social standing and great wealth of the Darcys. Surely, her mother remarked, Rose must realize how lucky she was; what a compliment, that the Darcy heir would seek her company!
Even though her heart had rebelled at the thought, Rose had known that her mother was right. At that time, the veneer of new money clinging to their family had not yet worn away. Her grandfather’s small manufacturing concern had begun to grow only a few decades earlier, due to lucrative government contracts during the first World War that propelled them into the ranks of the nouveau riche. William Henry Darcy was among the most eligible bachelors in New York, and young enough to be in no hurry to marry. The daughters of many prominent families would have been only too happy to be seen on his arm. Yet, against all odds, he had fallen in love with Rose Palmer.
In time, she had come to love him, for he was a kind and generous man, and her initial reverence for his family never abated. On their wedding day, in addition to her marriage vows, she had promised herself to uphold the illustrious family name she had just acquired, and to preserve both the family’s future and its past. She had kept that promise for the past sixty years despite the many challenges: Eleanor’s abrupt and heartbreaking departure, Edmund’s unfortunate marriage in Italy, young William’s critical illness and surgery so soon after her husband’s untimely death, and the deaths of her son and daughter-in-law within three years of each other, leaving two orphaned children behind. But through it all, the Darcy family had survived—perhaps not unscathed, but they had endured.
But at what cost? It was a question Rose rarely allowed herself to ponder. Eleanor had deserted the family for over a decade before returning—in body, if not truly in spirit. Anna had lived a miserable life at the townhouse, with her son as her only solace. Rose, forced to choose between her son and her grandson, had all but lost Edmund years before his death.
William, at least, was a bright spot: in good health now, and preparing to marry the woman he loved. Further, Elizabeth had shown immense strength and resilience in the recent crisis. They would be happy, Rose was convinced. But William was headed for happiness in marriage only because he had rejected her advice. She hadn’t understood what he needed. Elizabeth had told her so, last Thanksgiving, but Rose had refused to believe that she could be so utterly out of touch.
Now, Georgiana was in crisis, raising disturbing echoes of Eleanor’s teen years, and Rose hadn’t the slightest idea what to do about it.
She looked up and saw Georgiana’s bemused expression. “I’m sorry, my dear. I’ve been wool gathering. I’ve been thinking about how important the family is to me. In a way, I’ve been the keeper of the Darcy name now for over fifty years.”
“But you’re not even a Darcy … by birth, I mean. Just by marriage.”
“That makes it all the more important, like being the keeper of the Olympic flame, perhaps. I suppose things like a family name and legacy don’t seem important to a young person. But as you get older, you begin to see the value.”
Georgiana shrugged. “Maybe.”
“And I suppose that part of my reaction to your arrest had to do with the family’s reputation. I wish I could tell you that wasn’t true, but ….” Rose pressed her lips together. She hadn’t intended to go quite that far.
But Georgiana looked strangely relieved. “Thank you for finally admitting it. I mean, if I were you and my granddaughter was running around stealing, I’d be embarrassed. I wouldn’t want any of my friends finding out about it. But everybody just kept pretending they weren’t ashamed of me.”
“Those aren’t quite the same thing. Am I embarrassed that you stole things? Yes, I am. But that’s different from being ashamed of you.”
“Huh?” Georgiana wrinkled her nose and frowned. “Sounds the same to me.”
Rose took a deep breath. She had scarcely admitted to herself what she was about to say. “I blamed myself when you were arrested. I was upset that I didn’t take better care of you. You were in a terrible situation that I enabled by leaving you on your own too much. And I should have known better; I wasn’t free to roam the city alone at your age.”
“But times are different now. That’s what I’ve been saying.”
“I know. Girls aren’t sheltered today the way they were when I was fifteen. But it became obvious that I’d relaxed the reins too much, and you paid the price for my mistake.”
Georgiana picked up a brass coaster from the table beside her chair and rubbed her finger over its surface. She studied it as she spoke. “But we mostly shoplifted right after school, on the way home. So unless Allen had driven me everywhere, it wouldn’t have mattered how much you watched me.”
“Nonetheless, it seemed obvious that you needed more supervision. However, more than one family member has suggested to me that I may have gone somewhat overboard with the restrictions I imposed.”
Georgiana rolled her eyes, her lips compressed in a tight line. “That’s for sure. It made me feel like I was a criminal and couldn’t do anything right.”
Rose paused, staring at her favorite photo of Anna and William on a nearby table. Anna would have known how to protect Georgiana without stifling her. Or would she? Anna had sheltered William to excess, causing him to become secretive about his love for running, and perhaps about other things as well. Perhaps she and Anna shared this failing. “I never meant for you to feel that way. But I was afraid that something even worse might happen if things continued as they had been.”
“I know. Lizzy and I talked about it, and I kind of understand. She got me to think about how I’d feel if I had a granddaughter who got into trouble.”
“You seem very comfortable with Elizabeth.”
“She understands stuff about me, and she’s good at helping me to figure things out. I’m really glad she’s marrying Will. I was wrong about her at first.”
“So was I.” For the third time in their conversation, Rose was surprised at the words coming out of her mouth.
“I was going to say that, but I was afraid you’d get mad.”
Georgiana’s face was carefully composed, but Rose noted a glint of humor in the girl’s eyes. She smiled in return; Eleanor had told her more than once that she didn’t do it often enough. “We have a lot more to talk about, but it’s getting late. I think this was a good start.” She began to rise to her feet, her hands gripping the arms of the chair.
“Wait … I mean, please wait.” Georgiana was leaning forward, her gaze earnest.
“I have one more question. For now, I mean.”
Rose nodded in a practiced, dignified gesture that always made her feel strong.
“Why did you stop taking me to the Plaza for tea? You stopped before the shoplifting thing, so I know that wasn’t the reason.”
“Hmm.” Rose wasn’t sure of the answer. Their tradition had slipped away without her conscious awareness. “I suppose I got the impression that you weren’t interested anymore. As a little girl, you considered it a special treat to dress up and eat cucumber sandwiches, but I thought you’d be bored. You usually seem bored when you’re with adults.”
Georgiana wrinkled her nose. “Well, a lot of times I am bored, because you drone on about things I don’t care about. But … well, okay, I’ll say it. Sometimes I act a lot more bored than I am, just because … oh, I don’t know. Just because.”
“You might be surprised how intimidating you are when you do that.”
“So I scare you? A little, at least?” Georgiana wore a tiny smirk.
“You scare me sometimes, too. A lot of times. And then I don’t know what to say to you.”
“Then we have something in common.”
They rose to their feet. Rose’s arthritic knees had stiffened during their talk, and she stood slowly, but she didn’t allow the discomfort to show on her face. Their eyes met, and after a moment’s hesitation, Georgiana leaned forward and planted a kiss on Rose’s cheek. Before Georgiana could draw back, Rose placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders and returned the kiss. “Good night, dear.”
She watched Georgiana leave the room, her long-legged stride reminiscent of William’s, and she smiled again. She wouldn’t delude herself into imagining everything would be simple from now on, but at least it was a start. As she had done her whole adult life, she would put one foot in front of the other, keep calm, and carry on.
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