Having just come back from beautiful Derbyshire with my head full of my favourite places, here I am blogging about them a little more.
Deep into the heart of Derbyshire countryside, there is a delightful house with over 300 years of history: Sudbury Hall, now in the custody of the National Trust. As the guidebook informs the avid visitor, it is “largely the creation of George Vernon (1635/6 – 1702), ‘a prudent young man, sober and active’, as he was described by a contemporary [and very handsome too, as described by me :) ]. He succeeded to the estate in 1660 and almost immediately began to rebuild the old manor house of his ancestors, probably to his own designs.”
Hundreds of years down the line, it still boasts exquisite Louis Laguerre murals and painted ceilings, Grinling Gibbons carvings and the sparkling and flowery work of plasterers such as Bradbury and Pettifer.
At every visit – and there were many, and hopefully many more – all sorts of details catch my eye and I squirrel them away, to be woven into the tapestry at some later point in time. The artistry of the carvings in the drawing room. The table set for a delightfully intimate dinner in the small dining room. The beautiful crayon sketch in the narrow hallway between the Queen’s Bedroom and the Porch Room, that could so easily be a lovingly-drawn likeness of a suitor or a brother. I know this is not the case, but one can dream.
So I still dream as I look at the portraits displayed in the house and imagine them to be the ancestors of Pemberley’s master (who incidentally can also be described as a prudent young man, sober and active, who had succeeded to his estate at an early age and gave it his best).
The portrait of a stern-looking gentleman with proud patrician features could easily be Mr Darcy’s grandfather, who had married for love in his early youth, hoping for a ‘lifetime of felicity, in all human calculation’. The beautiful young woman in a dark velvet dress, smiling from underneath a hat bedecked with feathers, could be his first wife. The pretty but placidly resigned lady in a different portrait (much smaller than the other one) could be the woman he married for duty to his lineage and estate, when the love of his life was taken from him. And as she strolls with her husband and new sister and learns from them about the life stories behind the portraits, Elizabeth Darcy might muse whether the grandfather’s solemn features would still have been devoid of warmth and feeling in his fiftieth year, had his first wife lived...
And, months down the line, the parallel might become unbearably striking when times of anguish and peril revisit the Darcys. Or at least that was the inspiration for this fragment from Chapter 18 of my first novel,'From This Day Forward – The Darcys of Pemberley’.
The dark hearse…
Fitzwilliam’s stony countenance, without life, without tears…
The long mournful procession going through the gates…
It is done…
It is over…
And there is nothing left…
Nothing at all…
Sobs, pitiful, broken sobs got through to her, and Georgiana awoke – drenched in cold sweats and in a flood of tears – to find they were her own.
“A nightmare,” she said aloud, to reassure – to persuade herself, and then again: “A nightmare!”
She sat up, still shaking, and got out of bed.
She had to see.
She had to be certain.
She donned her robe and tied the sash with trembling hands.
She did not light a candle – the moonlight would suffice.
She walked down the corridor and turned sharply at the end, towards Elizabeth’s bedchamber. She pushed the door open slowly, noiselessly, and only by a fraction.
And what she saw within tore at her heart.
Fitzwilliam was sitting in a chair by the bedside, his countenance as haggard and ashen as in her dreadful dream. He was holding Elizabeth’s hand, cradling it, without words, without tears.
And the mute despair in his eyes was devastating.
She turned to look towards the bed and waited, until the barely perceptible rise and fall of Elizabeth’s chest, with every breath, gave her the desperately needed answer. She withdrew and returned to her room, slowly, and very quietly. And bent to her knees, and prayed.
She prayed for her sister to survive.
For if Elizabeth did not, she knew not how her brother would.
* * * *
Quiet footsteps, eerily quiet, drew him from his trance.
He looked up – and followed.
The ghostly sound faded as he reached the eastern staircase and he took the steps two at a time, down to the bottom, where he had found her. A madman’s quest for he knew not what pushed him to the gallery. In the light of the moon, from her portrait, his grandfather’s first wife looked down upon him with the deepest compassion.
He dug his fingers in his hair.
A long, dry sob racked his chest as he pounded the frame of the unfortunate woman’s likeness, and broken gilt plaster fell to the floor.
He covered his mouth with his fist, stifling the groan.
And ran out of the deathly silent room, chased by his demons.
* * * *
If you think this was not exactly the lightest of blog-posts for a bright Sunday morning – or worse still, for a wet one ;) – and because I personally can’t bear angst unless I know the tale ends well, I have to assure you this one does too. I think all love stories deserve happy endings. Especially those involving Elizabeth and Mr Darcy who, to me, are the most romantic couple of them all.
Thanks for coming to Derbyshire with me. If you would like to see what else I might have dreamed up about the master and mistress of Pemberley, please follow the links.
Amazon links: Books by Joana Starnes on Amazon.com
Books by Joana Starnes on Amazon.co.uk