The Importance of Being Emma
by Will Darcy
Naturally, nowhere else in England compares to Pemberley. But Ashridge, an estate in Hertfordshire that once belonged to the Duke of Bridgewater, is almost my second home.
Like Pemberley, it has an elegance of architecture and setting that helps me to think and talk more elegantly – or so I tell myself. Very appropriate, since it's a world-renowned business school. And I'll never forget my first visit there some years ago - not so much for the teaching, although the Leadership course I attended was exemplary, but for a conversation about a painting.
You see, I love art - whether expressed through words, music, or brush strokes on canvas. And Ashridge has a little gem by famous eighteenth-century portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, entitled 'A child asleep'. When I first saw it, I had no intention of having any children myself; where in the world was there a woman who would make me want that sort of commitment? I now realise how much I had to learn.
Back then, however, there was only one child that this painting brought to mind: my sister Georgie. I was in my teens when she was born, and could remember her vividly - so happy and biddable. In that respect, she'd hardly changed ...
Behind me, a man's voice interrupted my thoughts. 'Good God, that's just like Emma!'
I turned to him, eyebrows raised but my mood mellow. 'Your daughter?'
He shook his head. 'More of a little sister, although not so little now.'
'We must be secretly related then, because this is the spitting image of my little sister when she was a baby.'
The man - Mark Knightley, according to his name badge - gave a good-natured laugh. Instinctively, I decided that he could be a good friend - and I always trust my instincts. 'They're adorable at that age, aren't they?' he said.
'Especially when they're asleep,' I added dryly.
He laughed again, then frowned. 'But they're not adorable for long. The last time I called Emma my little sister' she ran away. She isn't actually my sister, I just think of her like that.' I detected a slight flush under his tan, as if something was troubling him. He went on, 'We used to get along brilliantly until - well, I found out recently that she had a teenage crush on me. Very embarrassing.'
'The crush - or finding out about it?'
'Both.' He cleared his throat. 'But she's a sensible girl, I'm sure we'll soon be back to normal.' A pause. 'Not that I've seen her much since it happened - and, anyway, I'm about to move to India.'
Little did I know that Georgie, fifteen years old at the time, was harbouring a teenage crush of her own - one that would have far-reaching effects. While the little incident between Mark and Emma had caused a rift that he only discovered years later.
This is their story ...
Darcy & Friends
Did you know - 'It is a truth universally acknowledged' that all Jane Austen's heroes have strong connections with Darcy's story? That's why Juliet's series of Jane Austen modernisations is called 'Darcy & Friends'.
At the start of each book is a Foreword by Will Darcy highlighting his connection with this particular hero:
by Will Darcy
A magazine headline, circled in black ink: ‘Never forgive, never forget’. You can tell a lot from what’s on a person’s desk …
Some years ago, just before I met Elizabeth, I took my sister Georgie to Australia for a much-needed holiday. She was going through a particularly difficult time; so, when she showed a spark of her previous passion for saving the planet, I encouraged it in every possible way.
During a brief visit to Melbourne I discovered that there was an expert in marine conservation based at the local university, a Dr Rick Wentworth. I sent him an email, using the pretext of possible interest from the Pemberley Foundation in his Save the Sea Dragons campaign – although I usually avoid the ‘grand benefactor’ act at all costs. When I received a terse and somewhat begrudging invitation to meet in his office, I immediately pictured an old, cross, bespectacled nerd.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. He turned out to be young, charming and, judging from Georgie’s sharp intake of breath, very easy on the female eye. And he was English, with a northern accent that had apparently resisted all attempts
He even apologised for the tone of his invitation. He told us that, with his work attracting more and more media attention, he’d become wary of requests like mine. This led to a brief discussion about the drawbacks of being a modern celebrity, especially a reluctant one.
As we talked, I realised that he was meticulous about his research – and not just on sea dragons. I’d given him no indication of my sister’s troubles and had taken the necessary steps to gag the press, although inevitably some details had leaked out. Yet I sensed he knew – and understood – what she’d been through …
So I watched in genuine admiration as he drew Georgie out of her dark shell into the wider world, if only for an hour. He held us both spellbound with stirring tales of battles against natural elements and man-made disasters, often in the form of short-sighted bureaucracy, and showed us stunning footage of the fragile creatures he was fighting to protect. Of the man himself I learned very little – until we got up to leave.
At this point he scrawled his personal email address on a piece of paper and handed it to a blushing Georgie, urging her to get in touch with any questions. That in itself made me warm to him and decide on a generous donation from the Foundation for his campaign – an unusual instance of my heart ruling my head.
But the piece of paper had been hiding something on his desk, a magazine article with a big bold headline. A headline that obviously had a greater significance because he’d drawn a brutal black ring round it: ‘Never forgive, never forget.’
They were words I could relate to completely. Except that I was thinking of the man who’d broken my sister’s heart, whereas he – as I discovered much later into our friendship – was thinking of the girl who’d broken his.
Although neither of us knew it then, their paths would cross when he wrote a book and, despite some misgivings, visited England to promote it.
This is their story …
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