Sophie Turner has written this exclusive excerpt for Just Jane 1813 readers, which contains a letter written by Matthew Stanton to Miss Georgiana Darcy. If you’ve already enjoyed her book “A Constant Love,” this is a special treat for readers to savor, as Ms. Turner prepares to release the next book in her series, which is titled “A Change of Legacies.” I hope you love reading this as much as I did when Sophie sent it my way!
He kept thinking that if he blinked, it would not be there again when he opened his eyes. The ship presently hull-down in Matthew Stanton’s spyglass was almost certainly a French seventy-four, and one with no consorts visible. He could not bring himself to fully believe it was real, and kept waiting for it to disappear, for him to look about his ship and find his crew wondering what madness had seized their captain, to beat to quarters over nothing.
It was still, perhaps, madness. They had the weather-gage, thankfully, so it was his choice to fight, and he prayed it was the right one. He surveyed the movement of the clouds, still thick and grey in the sky; the Jupiter’s speed, eight knots, when last the log had been thrown; the choppy state of the waves in the Bay of Biscay; the movement of his crew about the ship.
No, it was not madness. It was possible, to take this ship with a fifty-gun ship. Possible, but not probable. In order to have any hope at all, one most critical thing would need to go in his favour: the French ship could not have a crew well-practiced in gunnery, not when she would already have the larger guns. His own crew had been steadily drilled down the channel, and although their rate of fire and their accuracy was not yet what it had been on the Caroline, it was far better than what should be expected from a ship newly out of port.
He studied the countenances of his men, now, and found mostly sober gravity, rather than the piratical zeal they had shown for most of the Caroline’s prizes. Yet he found no reluctance, no fear, and wondered whether this was due more to general belief in British naval superiority, or trust in him, that he had judged the contest properly. Some of these men, some of these faces he studied, would die today, and it was his responsibility to ensure it was as few of them as possible.
And to ensure victory, of course. This ship on the horizon was the culmination of everything he has wanted in his career, in his life, the honour he had sought in the last war and been denied. He was reminded, then, painfully, that this French ship was no longer everything he wanted in life.
Georgiana, dearest Georgiana.
He had only to think of her to feel the way she pulled at his heart, to regret once again the way he had left things with her, and yet he felt that what he had done was the right thing. To make her an offer at that time, to press her into a decision he was by no means sure she was ready to make, to attempt to bind her heart when this engagement before him was what he wished to achieve, would have been to enact a most cruel measure on the young lady he loved, painfully.
Georgiana was his best bower anchor, left to rest in England, providing his strongest tie back to that place, and yet there was no certainty she would still be there when he returned. Even if he did survive this battle, there was no telling how long this resumption of war would last, and how long the Jupiter would remain commissioned. Viscount Burnley, thankfully, was no longer courting her, but she was a handsome, tremendously accomplished young woman with a large dowry, and there could be no doubting that there would be others. So he had, perhaps, left her behind for good when he had taken leave of her.
Unless she returned his affections, and remained constant to him. In moments of hope, which he did not allow himself too frequently, he thought of how she had come to say good-bye to him, before he had left London. He could not bring himself to believe it, at the time, and yet her wishing for his safety, her grasping of his hand – even that she had left her family in what must have been an abrupt manner – did indicate at least some attachment.
Still, he felt he had done the right thing, and thought he might not have doubted himself over it so much, if Andrew had not proposed to Catherine Bennet on that same day. Yet the situation was very different, for Andrew and Miss Bennet – they were of similar temperament, and part of that temperament was an openness in showing their affections. Andrew had been intending to ask for her hand for better than a week, almost certain of what her response would be, and had only been prevented from it because he could not apply to her father, first. Andrew had been perhaps overly concerned about asking a gentleman’s daughter for her hand, so much so that he had wanted to ensure consent would be given, afraid of raising her hopes and then dashing them.
At least in that, Matthew had no concerns, for he and Georgiana Darcy were completely compatible, so far as fortune and family were concerned. He could not help but think back, now, and wish he had gone about things better, but he had not sought love upon his return to England, and he had not expected it to find him, to seize him in the way it had. He had never been a talkative man, and indeed it was in part her own sweet shyness that had captured his heart. But his natural reserve and the startling depth of emotion he had felt towards her had been exacerbated by his being almost paralysed by jealousy – he had not known himself capable of the depth of jealousy he had felt towards Viscount Burnley, until that first moment he had felt it.
This war was his second chance at honour in his career, but it had dashed his chances, when it came to love. Once he had learned of Viscount Burnley’s departure from town, he had thought he would have at least the remainder of the season ahead of him, to call on her, to see over time if she returned his affections. Napoleon’s escape had been the end of this plan, and now all the time that should have been his belonged to other suitors, other young men who would applaud her playing, who would dance with her.
Matthew shook his head. He needed to put Georgiana behind him, for now. He could not go into this battle distracted by thoughts of her, when he had responsibility for this ship, and three hundred and sixty-three lives.
It was then he determined to write to her, to take his love, write it down, fold it up, and give it over to Campbell for safekeeping, so that he could focus fully on the tremendous task at hand. If she did not return his affections, he would experience no mortification over his admission; he would be dead when the letter was given over to her, and at least she would know she had been loved, something he hoped would bolster the confidence of a young lady of her shyness. If she did return his affections, however, and he did not have a chance to tell her of them, at least she would know, that he had loved her.
The letter would need to be written quickly, but he found Hawke had already prepared his writing things, in the great cabin – usually, he would write to his uncle, at such a time – and so he could begin as soon as he was seated. He thought of her again as he knew her best, going to the front of Lady Tonbridge’s music room, with that slight demureness to her countenance. It made him ache at the thought of losing his chance at a life with her, one way or the other.
“If you do care, Georgiana, and you receive this, I am so very sorry,” he thought, and began to write.
“My Dearest Georgiana,
“I realise the impropriety of addressing you so, and of writing to you at all, but Dearest Georgiana is what you have been to me for so long, I can hardly think of anything else at such a time.
“As I write this, we have the weather-gage (perhaps Campbell may explain what this means to you, when he delivers this) over a French seventy-four, and attempting an attack on a ship of such superior force may well be the last foolish thing I ever do in my life. Yet I know it is the proper course. The conditions are right, and I trust my crew, although they may not have been together long – I believe in them, and I hope that if you are reading this, it is following the successful capture of the ship by HMS Jupiter, wherein the captain of the Jupiter somehow came to meet his end, and not the horrible alternative.
“This is not what I wished to write to you about, however. The simple truth of things, Georgiana, is that I love you, and if I do survive this engagement, there is nothing I would wish for more than to have a chance to win your heart. If you are reading this letter, then please accept my sincerest apologies for laying such a heavy burden on you, but I must let you know that I love you, that I have for much of our acquaintance. I suppose if I had the same courage in love that I did in war, I should have told you so long ago, but I love you so deeply I could hardly speak of it, and you must know this is my greatest regret.
“I ask of nothing from you but to know that you were loved, and to forgive me for not telling you thus when you might at least have had an opportunity to respond. Please do not let this be an obstruction to you – do not spend a moment more in mourning than you would for any other friend. I would wish for your happiness more than anything else in this world, and the next.
Thank you to Sophie Turner, for writing this exclusive letter for Just Jane 1813 readers and for sharing this romantic side of Matthew Stanton with us. It’s just so lovely to read this private correspondence between Matthew and Georgiana that we weren’t privy to in the book.
Please also feel free to check out this Pinterest Board, at Just Jane 1813, titled “Austen at War: Love is a Battlefield,” which highlights a lot of images, articles and amazing facts surrounding the events in the books I’ll review this week.