Late that afternoon, Elizabeth heard footsteps on the stairs approaching the second-floor landing. “Georgie? Is that you?” She hadn’t truly expected an answer, but she was pleased to see Georgiana amble into William’s office, which Elizabeth had borrowed while he practiced upstairs. “How were things at the school today?”
“Pretty good.” Georgiana had been up in Washington Heights for another community service session.
“Did you and Ms. Martinez talk about the grant proposal some more?” Last week, they had narrowed down some ideas for an after-school music enrichment program, supported by grant funding.
Georgiana nodded. “And she definitely wants me to help with the program, as her assistant, if she gets the grant.” She glanced down at her fingernails and then made eye contact with Elizabeth, a rare event. “I think Mamma would have liked that I’m doing this.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Will has told me how much the foundation meant to her. She’d be proud of you for getting involved in such a personal way.”
“But I know Gran won’t let me keep going up there. Will won’t like it either.”
“Let’s talk to them at dinner. First, we’ll tell them our ideas and get them excited about it, and maybe then we can get them to agree.”
Georgiana nodded, though she looked skeptical.
“And we’re going there together on Friday morning, right? To help Ms. Martinez to finalize the grant application?”
Georgiana nodded again, and this time she almost smiled.
Unfortunately, Rose flatly refused to even consider allowing Georgiana to visit the school once her community service ended, and although William didn’t say much, what he did say supported Rose. Georgiana rushed away from the dinner table in tears and didn’t answer later when Elizabeth knocked on her door.
Later that evening in William’s sitting room, Elizabeth set down the pile of real estate listings she had been trying to review with little success; all she could think of was Georgiana. “Will, can’t you talk to your grandmother about Georgie and the grant program? Being part of it would be so good for her.”
William looked up from his book. “Gran is just worried about her safety.”
“But why do you think it’s dangerous up there?”
“I don’t think it’s dangerous, exactly. But it’s so far from here—”
“It’s less than ten miles away, and Allen drives her both ways. But the main thing is, she’s a different person when she’s there. She smiles and she talks to the kids—in both English and Spanish, by the way. I really think it’s helping her to heal what’s broken inside.”
“Couldn’t we find her a program closer to home?”
“Oh, you mean for all the underprivileged children on the Upper East Side?”
“Hmm.” He smiled. “That’s almost exactly what Georgie said once.”
“Please, Will, talk to your grandmother.” Elizabeth leaned forward in her chair. “Georgie sees this as a way to connect with her mother. Certainly you of all people can understand that.”
He was silent for a moment but then shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I agree with Gran. It’s our job to protect Georgie.”
“It’s your job to help her grow into a happy, confident woman, and that’s not going very well.” Huffing a loud sigh, Elizabeth rose to her feet. “I’m going up to my room. Good night.”
He stood as well, staring at her in obvious surprise. “So early? Are you okay?”
“I’m tired and I don’t feel like talking anymore.”
“Well, then, good night,” he answered, both his tone and his expression forlorn.
Elizabeth decided she didn’t care if her sudden departure had hurt his feelings. His refusal to talk to Rose was no doubt due to snobbery—he didn’t want his sister mixing with people from other walks of life. But as she reached the doorway, she glanced back and saw him still watching her, looking dejected. She returned to him and kissed him softly. “Good night,” she said, caressing his cheek. “I love you even when I’m completely frustrated with you.”
He grinned and answered her kiss with a more enthusiastic one of his own. “I know the feeling. Good night, cara; sleep well.”
Elizabeth climbed the steps to the fifth floor. She knocked on Georgiana’s door again, but as before, there was no answer. Then she crossed through the central sitting room and paused in front of Rose’s bedroom door. She pressed her lips together and then nodded to herself. Her knock sounded far more confident than she felt.
Rose was obviously surprised to see her, but she stepped out into the sitting room when Elizabeth explained that she had something to discuss. Elizabeth seated herself in one of Rose’s Louis XV gilt armchairs, sitting as lightly as possible in a futile attempt to avoid disturbing the velvet upholstery. As always, the room made her think of a film set for a biography of Queen Victoria.
“Mrs. Darcy,” she began, investing her voice with all the confidence she could muster, “I wanted to ask you to reconsider about Georgiana and the music program up at the Washington Heights school. I think continuing up there would be a good thing for Georgie in so many ways.”
Elizabeth was about to continue, piling on as many arguments as she could, when Rose raised one hand in a “stop” gesture. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but it’s simply out of the question. I don’t like her going up there for community service, but in that regard I have no choice. I will certainly not allow her to continue to visit there once it’s no longer necessary.”
“But, Mrs. Darcy, working there is building her confidence. The people are great, and—”
“I know that you mean well, Elizabeth. And I realize that I told you this morning that you could get more involved with the foundation. But although you will be a Darcy in a few months, you are not one yet. Georgiana’s situation is complicated, and I would appreciate it if you would leave decisions about what’s best for her to her family.”
Elizabeth was angry now—Rose’s reply had been a barely polite version of “sit down and shut up”—but she forced herself to remain calm. Still, something needed to be said. “Mrs. Darcy, I know that you mean well, too. But you are crushing Georgie’s spirit. It’s true that I haven’t known her for that long, but anyone can see that she’s a very unhappy young woman. At the rate things are going, I’m afraid she’s going to rebel and do something dangerous. I hope you don’t come to regret all your restrictions.”
“We agree on that, at least. But I think I would be more likely to have regrets if I gave her the sort of freedom that allowed her to get into trouble before.” Rose paused and stood up. “If that’s all, I’ll say goodnight.”
Elizabeth blew a stream of air through her nose, scowling. She knocked on Georgiana’s door once more, but again there was no answer. Her lips pressed tightly together, she stomped down to the fourth floor. She was as angry with herself as with Rose; she had made Georgie’s situation worse by dangling the idea of continued involvement at the school in front of her. It had never occurred to her that they would refuse permission, but she should have checked first.
She entered her bedroom, shutting the door behind her with unnecessary force, and flung herself on her bed. So much for already being part of the family.
The following afternoon, Georgiana considered sneaking down to the kitchen for a snack. She hadn’t eaten anything since leaving the table halfway through dinner the previous evening. She often skipped breakfast and lunch to avoid talking to anyone. She wished Mrs. Reynolds would bring her meals to her room, but Gran had forbidden it. I don’t see why. I’m already a prisoner in this house; I might as well spend all my time locked away in my cell.
As Georgiana had predicted, Gran had refused to let her continue helping at the school. Elizabeth had done her best to argue for their plan, but without success. Gran always said that helping the less fortunate was important, but obviously she meant by writing checks and attending gala fundraisers, not by actually doing something useful.
She opened her mother’s diary. This week, while she was home for spring break, she was keeping the diary hidden under her mattress. It was safe; she wasn’t letting anyone into her room, not even Mrs. Reynolds. Georgiana was finally beginning to recognize a few Italian words, though the translation process was still arduous, and some phrases made no sense at all.
However, the language barrier wasn’t the only challenge in understanding the diary. Mamma’s handwriting was terrible, all angular lines that were hard to decipher. Even worse, she often used initials instead of names. Some of them were obvious—E for Edmund, R for Rose, W for William, and S for Sonya, though she appeared only rarely. But others were a mystery, like C, who appeared frequently. Apparently Mamma hadn’t had much time for writing, so she took frequent shortcuts. The end result was that the diary wasn’t providing much useful information.
George Wickham had been more helpful. In their frequent email correspondence over the past week and a half, he had told her wonderful stories about Mamma, especially about the summer before her death. George had visited Mamma frequently that summer. He said that she had been happy there, living on a friend’s estate in the Hamptons, far from the townhouse.
The townhouse. George had told her about that as well. It had been almost as much a prison to Mamma as it now was to Georgiana. Gran had been consistently judgmental and harsh. William had demanded Mamma’s constant attention, becoming jealous and angry if she devoted time to anyone else. He had even been jealous of Mamma’s unborn child. In other words, me. He had especially resented that Mamma didn’t take him to the Hamptons that last summer, leaving him behind in New York while Georgiana went with her.
And Father had stopped loving Mamma long ago and blamed her for turning William into, according to George, an overemotional weakling. At first that seemed an unfair assessment of William, but then Georgiana remembered his behavior the previous summer, all because he needed to take a little vacation to give his heart time to heal. George said that Father had hoped Georgiana would grow into the sort of child he had always wanted: strong and intelligent, able to lead the company, and the family, forward. But he had died before he could see his hopes realized.
Further, it had become obvious that George was the G in Mamma’s diary. George had confirmed that they were special friends, but Georgiana could sense something more than that, both in his stories and in the diary. Mamma mentioned him often, and while not everything she said made sense, her affection for him was clear. However, G had nearly disappeared from the diary for several months, reappearing right after Georgiana was born. She didn’t know what that meant, but she planned to ask.
Her stomach rumbled again, and she decided to risk the trip downstairs. Mrs. Reynolds was probably out shopping and Gran was almost never home in the afternoon, attending her latest luncheon or meeting or whatever. William was practicing in his sitting room, and Elizabeth and Sonya were out together, having lunch. They had invited Georgiana to join them, but she had refused. It might actually have been fun—well, compared to sitting at home, anyway. But she was afraid that sooner or later she would give in to temptation and confide in Elizabeth. It was essential to keep William from finding out about the emails—George had made that very clear—and Elizabeth might feel compelled to tell him. Keeping her at arm’s length was safer.
Georgiana reached the first floor and paused, surprised to hear voices coming from the library. She crept past the kitchen and stood in the hallway, listening. It was Mrs. Scofield, Gran’s motormouth friend who was staying on the fourth floor. Georgiana shrugged, bored, and turned back toward the kitchen—but she froze when she heard her mother’s name.
“Well, you know, it was quite a scandal at the time. Anna, living here under poor Rose’s roof, and all of that going on.”
All of what? She crept as close to the library doorway as she dared.
“What was the man’s name?” Georgiana didn’t recognize this voice; Mrs. Scofield must have had a friend visiting.
“Oh, dear. It’s so long ago I can’t remember. But apparently Anna was crazy about him. Can’t really blame her; I always thought Edmund was a cold fish. But to have an affair while living under her mother-in-law’s roof, when Rose had been so kind and supportive! And then Anna got pregnant. They pretended the child was Edmund’s, but he and Anna had been living apart for years, so we all knew what must have happened.”
“Why, yes, of course. The other man. Rose pretended it wasn’t true, but what other choice did she have? We all felt so sorry for her.”
“I never heard about any of this.”
“I think it all happened while you were living in London.” Mrs. Scofield laughed. “You were so absorbed in following the Royal Family back then, you weren’t paying much attention to us back at home.”
“How old is the child now?”
“About sixteen, I believe. Oh! And I just remembered the man’s first name. Of course—how could I forget? Anna named the child Georgiana. And the man’s name was George. How brazen! I mean, that was proof positive that George had to be the child’s father.”
“Georgiana? Isn’t she the granddaughter who got caught shoplifting a few months ago?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. She used to be such a sweet little girl, but lately ….” Mrs. Scofield sighed. “Rose has her hands full, that’s for sure.”
Georgiana turned away and ran down the hall, through the front door, and out onto the street. Her stomach was turning cartwheels, she could barely catch a breath, and words were screaming in her head until she couldn’t think. She had to get away, someplace where she could breathe. Where? The park. No one would find her there. Mechanically, she turned and ran toward Fifth Avenue.
“I could get used to two-hour lunches.” Sonya sipped her iced tea, a beatific smile on her face.
“Are you saying that William monitors how long you take for lunch?” Elizabeth asked. He didn’t seem like that sort of boss, but she hadn’t had many opportunities yet to observe him in business settings.
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant. He’s very relaxed about that sort of thing. Of course, he’s also relaxed about calling me in the middle of the night from another time zone.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I’ve tried to cure him of that but I think it’s hopeless.”
“It’s okay; I’m used to it.”
“What I meant,” Sonya said, “was that I don’t get out much at lunchtime. I usually just grab a bite at the house. Marcia is always happy to fix me something, bless her heart. So going out is a rare event.”
“Mrs. Reynolds is so sweet.” Elizabeth hesitated, her smile fading. “But … about the house. I wanted to get your opinion on something.”
“Finding it a little overwhelming?” Sonya paused and regarded Elizabeth, a forkful of salad poised in mid-air.
Elizabeth sighed. “It’s just … I’m not used to having so many people around. Well, actually, that’s not true. I grew up with four sisters, and since I went away to school, I’ve almost always had at least one roommate. But this is different. I feel like I’m always being watched.”
“It’s different being the new kid on the block when everybody else has lived there forever. You’re under a microscope.”
“I wish William understood,” Elizabeth said, staring at her plate. “I guess it’s hard for him to see it since he’s lived there his whole life.”
Sonya set down her fork. “Try reminding him of the reasons he decided to go to California last August. Obviously, you were a big part of it, but even before the San Francisco idea came up, he was talking about spending some time in Los Angeles, just to get away from everybody watching him.”
“That’s a good point; he told me it felt like constant surveillance. Maybe that’ll help him understand why this is so hard for me. It’s even to the point where ….” Elizabeth paused, biting her lip. She wasn’t sure how candid she should be with one of William’s employees. Still, Sonya was more than just a secretary, and she was one of the few people who might understand. “Well, for a long time now he’s wanted me to ….” Elizabeth grabbed a breath and forced herself to continue. “To sleep with him. In his bedroom.”
“And I can safely assume that he’s talking about doing more than just sleeping.”
Elizabeth didn’t respond, taking refuge in her cup of tea. She could feel her face growing warm.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but I’ve wondered how you were handling it.”
“He wants me to sneak down at night, after everyone else is in bed, so Mrs. Darcy doesn’t know. But I keep imagining somebody seeing me on the steps, either at night or the next morning. Or, worse yet, hearing something while I’m in there with him. I don’t mean that I think they’d listen at the door or anything, but, you know, someone passing by on the steps, or in a room right above or below us, might ….” Elizabeth shuddered. “I can’t stop thinking about it. William thinks I’ll feel differently after the wedding, but I’m not so sure.”
Sonya nodded again, her expression sympathetic. “The house is pretty big and spread out, and noise doesn’t travel that far, but, still, I can understand why it bothers you.”
“And it’s more than just that. I don’t want to take him away from his family—if I’d wanted that, I wouldn’t have moved here. But starting a marriage—there’s always stuff to work out. I think we need some privacy, a chance to be ‘just us.’ He thinks the third floor is private enough, but … I just don’t know.”
“Have you talked to him about living somewhere else?”
“Only once. He said he’d do it if I asked, but I know he’s hoping I won’t. He really wants us to live at the townhouse, partly because it’s his home, but mostly because of Georgie. He blames himself for what happened; he thinks if he’d been home more last fall, she wouldn’t have spent so much time with Courtney and then she would have stayed out of trouble.”
“I suppose he could be right, but there’s no way to know for sure. Besides, he needed to get away. He was a physical and emotional wreck—sick and exhausted all the time, devastated about canceling his fall schedule, and broken-hearted over you. I hate to think of the shape he’d be in now if he hadn’t gone to San Francisco. I don’t know if you realize what a big difference you’ve made in his life.”
“He’s made a big difference in my life, too.” Elizabeth’s smile was wistful. Sometimes it was hard to believe how much her life had changed since the last time she had lived in New York.
Sonya finished her salad in silence and then said, “So, how can I help with this problem?”
“You know his day-to-day schedule in New York better than I do. Is it even feasible for us to live somewhere else—someplace nearby, I mean, but not in the townhouse?”
Sonya shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I know we’ve had trouble finding you a temporary apartment, but in this case we’d be looking for a place to purchase and we’d have a bigger budget. I’m sure we could find you and William a nice apartment nearby, probably even within walking distance, so it would be easy to go back and forth on a regular basis.”
“Obviously, Mrs. Darcy wouldn’t like it.”
“No, she wouldn’t. But maybe if you explained your feelings, and if the two of you showed up at the house on a very regular basis, she’d get used to it. She really seems to be warming up to you.”
“If I talked William into moving out of the house, I’m afraid that would change in a hurry.”
“She’s not the only one who’d be disappointed. Marcia Reynolds would be crushed. But she’s mainly counting the days till the two of you have children.”
Elizabeth felt herself blushing. She busied herself with finishing her sandwich.
“As for Georgie,” Sonya continued after a short pause, “it’s hard to say how she’d react.”
Elizabeth nodded. “She’s the one who worries me the most if we move out; she and her grandmother barely speak to each other, and to leave her alone with Mrs. Darcy ….”
“Yeah. I know. And speaking of Darcy women who are warming up to you ….”
Elizabeth nodded. “Although the warming trend seems to be at the speed of a receding glacier.”
“That still puts you ahead of anybody else in the house.”
“We’ve sort of bonded over the K-12 grant program, and specifically over the school in Washington Heights. That’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. The teacher there would love for Georgie to continue on after her community service, and Georgie wants to do it, but Mrs. Darcy said no. So did William.”
“Ah, so that’s why Georgie refused our lunch invitation. I thought she’d be itching to get out of the house, even in the company of two boring adults.”
“I think it would be fantastic for her to stay involved. She’s happy when she’s there, and she’s good with the kids. But William keeps talking about protecting her, as though she’s going into a war zone, and Mrs. Darcy thinks it would give Georgie too much freedom. I don’t know, Sonya; I understand Mrs. Darcy’s concerns, but I’m afraid that if Georgie doesn’t get a little freedom, she’s going to explode.”
“I agree with you, and I’ve talked to William about it a couple of times, but I’m not surprised they rejected the idea. I think Mrs. Darcy knows she was too wrapped up in her own concerns last fall and not doing enough to keep an eye on Georgie, but now she’s overcompensating.”
“Can you think of anything I could say to change their minds? I talked to Mrs. Darcy last night and she won’t even consider it.”
“Hmm.” Sonya paused, frowning. “Maybe later this spring, when Georgie’s community service is almost over, things will have calmed down a little and you can try again. Also, assuming we give the school a grant, maybe you could sell Georgie’s involvement by saying she’d be an observer of sorts, to make sure the grant money is well spent.”
“That’s worth a try. But I wish I could do something for her now. She’s just about the loneliest girl I’ve ever seen.”
“I know. But Mrs. Darcy has made up her mind and she’s the one calling the shots.” Sonya checked her watch. “And on that cheerful note, I think we’d better get back.”
“Thanks for being such a good sounding board. I hope I didn’t embarrass you with the personal stuff.”
“I understand; it’s hard to find someone who understands how claustrophobic it can be to live in a great big house.”
As she paid for their lunches, Elizabeth pursed her lips and nodded. Sonya had summed up both her problem and Georgiana’s very succinctly.
It was late in the afternoon by the time Georgiana returned to the house. She might have slipped in unnoticed, except that she had left without her house key.
“You poor child, you look like you’re freezing!” Mrs. Reynolds exclaimed as she closed the door behind Georgiana. “You were out in just a tee shirt, no jacket?”
“I just went for a walk around the block, to get some fresh air.” Georgiana spoke rapidly, in a pleading tone. “Really, that’s all I did. Please don’t tell Gran.”
“Come into the kitchen and have a cup of tea. Or I could make you some hot chocolate.”
“No, thanks, I’m just going to go upstairs. Are you going to tell Gran?”
Mrs. Reynolds shook her head. “We’ll make it our little secret.” She hugged Georgiana, who would have resisted the embrace from anyone else, but she settled with gratitude into Mrs. Reynolds’s arms, fighting back tears.
Upstairs, Georgiana reviewed Anna’s diary, looking for entries nine months before her birth. Both E and G were mentioned frequently. She still couldn’t make sense of it, but she supposed she didn’t need to keep trying to translate. She had her answer, and so many things made sense now.
No wonder Gran hated her. She was a bastard, born to her mother and another man. She didn’t have a drop of Darcy blood. Will was only her half-brother. Richard, Aunt Eleanor, and Uncle Robert--she wasn’t related to any of them. All the Darcy pride they had worked so hard to instill in her was nothing but a big lie. They all knew it, and they had spent years filling her head with lies, nothing but lies.
And George Wickham must have been the other man … her father. She had considered this idea almost nonstop in the park. Mamma’s diary hinted at a closeness between them, and it would explain why Will hated George so much, and why they had kept George a secret from her all these years. To have a half sister who was the product of an affair! Georgiana knew that people in their social circle sometimes had affairs, despite Gran’s constant reminders that it was immoral to do so, but how often did a baby result?
But some other things didn’t make sense. Why hadn’t they kicked Mamma out of the house? Wouldn’t Gran, and certainly her father, have insisted on it? Maybe that was why Mamma had spent so much time in the Hamptons that summer. Perhaps she had planned to find a new place to live in the fall. With George, maybe? Had he loved her? She thought it possible, from the warmth of the stories he had shared.
Then Mamma had died. But if George was her father, why hadn’t she grown up with him? Had they thought that, with Mamma gone, they could hush up the scandal if they pretended Georgiana was Edmund’s daughter? Or had George simply not wanted her?
She needed a sympathetic sounding board. Once again, she was tempted to find Elizabeth and pour out her troubles. But what if Elizabeth already knew, and she was just another part of the conspiracy determined to hide the truth? No, she couldn’t take the risk. In desperation, she grabbed her phone and dialed. “Hello, Courtney?”
1 Katz’s is the deli featured in the famous “fake orgasm” scene from When Harry Met Sally. In fact, in the photo you can see a circular sign hanging from the ceiling above one of the tables. It says, “Where Harry Met Sally. Hope you have what she had. Enjoy!”
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