Posted on 2011-10-31
The carriage rattled along the road, sprays of mud flying with every jolt of the wheels in the rutted path. Flung from side to side of the compartment, William Collins was nonetheless inordinately pleased with all that life had brought him thus far. Less than a year before he would have been hard pressed to consider his existence as satisfying in the smallest way. Well, apart from the very lucrative sponsorship of his benefactress, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
No, a year earlier he had been charged with finding a partner, a wife, a mother for his future children and he had travelled as far as Hertfordshire, to the home of his cousin, to choose from amongst that man's five daughters. Through a deep and heartfelt sense of duty had William Collins gone, for those same five young women had nothing in the way of prospects and he felt it only right and just to offer one of them the stability and honour of a solid future, bearing his name and the distinction of Mistress of Longbourn when their father eventually passed away.
Had the silly chit not summarily rejected his good offer, though? What foolishness was in her head to make such a choice? Softening momentarily, Collins admitted to himself that his subsequent reaction was not entirely charitable in light of his original goal, but at this late date it was hardly worth reprimanding himself upon it. He had, in the end, chosen eminently well and even Lady Catherine found no fault with Mrs. Collins, the former Charlotte Lucas.
Yes, he had done well.. and the ensuing months bore even greater fruit.
Mr and Mrs Collins were now firmly ensconced at Longbourn due to the untimely and unfortunate demise of his cousin, Mr Bennet; the result of a heart attack suffered during the stress of rescuing a wayward daughter from the clutches of loathsome lothario by the name of Wickham. The actual rescue had not taken place, unfortunately. It was the effort involved in the attempt that caused Mr Bennet to succumb. With great pleasure did Mr Collins then assume the stewardship of Longbourn estate, the then inhabitants of which were given due notice to evacuate before he arrived with his wife in the full bloom of expectation.
Pausing in his ruminations to reflect upon the entreaties he had heard at the time, the goodly pastor recalled that Mrs Bennet had been most grieved by the events. Her laments, wailing and insults upon his good name had been most distasteful to witness. Collins had been forced to complete the changes though a proxy, concerned for his own physical safety and for the sanity of the widow. Lady Catherine had been most supportive, offering advice on how to deal with troublesome tenants. That had been excessively helpful and, in employing her suggestions, quite successful as well.
Shortly after taking up residence in his new home, the Rev. Collins was astonished to hear the reports of a most unexpected and tragic occurrence which would affect him more than anyone could have believed possible. Far away, in the northern reaches of Derbyshire, the nephew of his illustrious benefactress had been suddenly and inexplicably taken from this earthly existence in a bizarre and still unexplained drowning. How this had come to pass, nobody could fathom. The despair of all who knew the late, young Mr Darcy had sunk the entire county to depths of unreachable woe. Lady Catherine herself was besot by such waves of grief that she locked herself and her daughter away in her rooms, rewrote her will to leave Rosings Park to Mr Collins and his wife, and spoke not one word since. The servants slipped trays of food and drink through a small portal constructed especially for that purpose and that was the only contact Lady Catherine had with the outside world.
Mr Collins knew not what to make of all that had occurred.
When he arrived at Pemberley during that first winter following Mr Darcy's death, it was for the express purpose of enquiring after Miss Darcy, at the behest of her aunt. The young lady was understandably overwrought with the loss of her brother, for she had no other immediate family. Colonel Fitzwilliam, a cousin who had shared guardianship of the underage girl with her late brother, was unfortunately out of the country on His Majesty's business and would not even learn of his cousin's drowning until several more months had passed. The postal service on the continent had suffered terrible disruptions in the political upheaval at the time.
Thus Miss Darcy had clung to the comforts only her personal apartments could offer, although there were unpleasant rumours that she had taken to roaming the grounds at night, a practice the late Mr Darcy had reportedly adopted the summer before his demise, purportedly due to the pains afforded by a broken heart. Such darkly romantic tales were easily waived by Mr Collins, for he put little stock in fantasies of that nature. He preferred to believe in more concrete explanations for behavioural absurdities. A bout of mental instability, subsequently supported by his aunt's actions, was the more reasonable conclusion and perhaps also behind the circumstances of his drowning. Not quite the accident that the remaining family would prefer to be considered the truth of the matter.
Nevertheless, Miss Darcy exhibited a similar affliction if her self-confinement was any indication. Quite frankly, Mr Collins could not care one whit about any of them but for the fact that by some strange quirk of fate he had become fourth on the list of heirs to Pemberley. With Darcy's passing the property and fortunes were entrusted to Miss Darcy. As she was underage, Colonel Fitzwilliam became the sole guardian and trustee in this matter. Completely unaware of the need for his return, the good Colonel remained absent long into the next year. Lady Catherine, next on the list, had relinquished her obligation in favour of her own heir, lately appointed, and thus the Rev William Collins was currently en route to Pemberley to assume his responsibilities; overseeing the running of the estate which had been too long neglected after the former Master's death.
He suspected there would be all manner of deceits uncovered. The servants would naturally have taken advantage in the absence of any supervision. It would be a miracle if any silverware remained on the property!
Mr Collins took his charge most seriously. He would make every effort to restore Miss Darcy to her former affability, the house to grandeur and whatever could be done to bring the Darcy name back into good repute; after all, there remained questions as to how Mr Darcy had come to be drowned in the first place. So many versions of the tale abounded, some believable and some most fantastic in nature. The involvement of magical sea creatures was a highly unlikely scenario.
The instant of his arrival there appeared a mob of servants upon the doorstep, more curious than respectful. Who, they wondered, was this stooped and comical character landing amongst them? What did he want?
"Where is Mrs Reynolds?" cried the pastor, his eyes scanning the faces before him. "I say, where is she? Come out at once."
Nary a one stepped forward for, unbeknownst to Mr Collins, a plague of horrendous nature had gripped the countryside earlier in the year, laying claim to Pemberley's Housekeeper and leaving a void in the management of the household. Eventually one young maid bravely spoke up.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but Mrs Reynolds died back before spring." She was forced to take a step apart from her comrades as Mr Collins' eyes bored into her. "Weren't nobody to take her place."
A sigh escaped his lips. "No Housekeeper?" He was actually afraid to step through the doors and into the hall for who knew what state the interior of the house would be in. Dozens of faces watched his reaction in silence. Finally he said, "Announce me to Miss Darcy, then, and where is Mr... Mr... um.. the steward? I must see him at once, too."
The servants began to shuffle away, nothing more to observe in this scene. It was the same old story, people came and people went, always asking for Miss Darcy or Mr Stewart and not a minute to spare in order to hear the complaints of the commoners. It was only to be expected, however. Everything had changed for the worse since Mr Darcy had been found, bloated and face down in the pond.
In the front parlour, where Mr Collins had been ushered, the furniture was draped in Holland covers. He ran a finger over the surface of the nearest one, a cloud of dust rising in its wake. One loud sneeze and a larger cloud exploded with the rush of air and mucus that was expelled. The good reverend discreetly wiped his nose on a doily half hidden beneath a cover on the table next to him. The room was dark, fortunately, so the maid that he did not know was there could not see what he had done.
"Mr Collins?" The tentative voice from the doorway spoke in tones of resignation rather than enquiry.
"Ah yes," he said, spinning around to face the pale and sombre young lady who was staring through him rather than at him. "Miss Darcy, how delightful to see you again. How have been keeping?" It was a pointless question for her listlessness was the answer in itself. "I understand that there is a bit of a dilemma with the household staff."
"Yes," she replied tiredly, barely disguising a grimace as the man bowed so low that his nose almost scraped the marble floor. "It is of no importance, however. I require very little and the staff that remains can see to my needs quite adequately." She made a dismissive gesture with one hand.
The good Reverend was not to be so easily derailed from his mission, however. "Surely the presence of a reliable housekeeper to manage the servants would be beneficial."
She licked her lips and answered him somewhat vaguely. Mr Collins felt the necessity of pursuing his course and pressed his arguments.
The 'interview' with Miss Darcy had concluded, and not altogether to his satisfaction, for Miss Darcy had a most unsettling look in her fine eyes. Her hair, it was almost wild! Her teeth were tolerable, but those pointy canines were most disturbing. He was also alarmed at the manner in which she advanced on him and she only stopped as he retreated to the light of the open window where he had to stand in the heat and endure her lecture. Once she left the room, Collins took up a doily, meaning to wipe the sweat from his brow. This was unfortunate since he had forgotten the use to which he had previously put that unfortunate piece of fabric.
Even Collins' dulled sensibilities were not proof to the moist evidence of his previous phlegmish exploits and he had to run gagging from the house, gasping for breath.
The master of Pemberley, desperate to quell the queasiness of a disturbed stomach looked round for something for his present relief. His eyes alighted upon a pond in the distance, and he decided that this might be an excellent means of taking his mind off his problems. Thus, as is the tradition with the Masters of Pemberley, he dove, or should one say flopped into the cooling waters of the pond. For those gentle readers imagining that this might be the end of the Pastor of Memberley , no such tragic ending eventuated. As Collins submerged, oil seeped from his pores in vast amounts, and a black slick started spreading over the pond. Ducks and swans too slow to move were covered in a black slime, fish started to float to the surface as oxygen depleted in the epilimnion, and plants started to yellow with the diminution of light to the lower depths.
Unaware of the environmental catastrophe, Collins heaved himself from the pond and walked back to the house. While there is much in the past year to give him great satisfaction, he realises that there is a great deal wrong. The house is sorely in need of a housekeeper, the grounds are ill kempt, and something about that pond does not look right now he reflected on it.
As he dript his way toward the house, pondering, a smirk slid its way over his face. Why had he not thought of this before?
Inside, he hastened to the master's study, and there, dipping a quill into an unfortunate inkwell, wrote:
The Tragically Widowed Mrs Bennet,
and Her Indigent Daughters.
Somewhere near Meryton
My Dear Mrs Bennet,
As I am full of (blot) tian charity, I am prepared to extend my most merciful generosity to you and your most undeserving daughters, especially that one Elizardbreath or whatever her name is who must by now be regretting her most injudicious decision last year. Despite the stupidity of your late husband (of whom I will not speak ill despite his being responsible for your current state), I am prepared to offer you the position of housekeeper at my new estate of Pemberley in Derbyshire. Of course, your daughters will also be looked after, should they choose to become maids here, except for the fallen (blot) of course.
Should you wish to take up the position, you will need to apply here in person, at the back door naturally. Of course my generosity cannot extend to the payment of a coach, so you will have to make your way as you can.
There is no need to express your gratitude to my selfless kindness. However, I will expect you here within the week.
Yours etc etc
Pastor of Memberley
Of course, reflected Collins, his disinterested generosity surely would be rewarded by the gratitude of the Bennet daughters. Well, at least that was what he was assured to be the case in the various gothic novels he had read while at Cambridge.
A week later, and Collins was coming back in his carriage from Lambton. Things had not gone well in the meanwhile. Miss Darcy was acting very, very strangely. Several times she had been wandering around at night and servants were disappearing. Those that were left were not coping with the needs of the estate either. I mean what was the steward thinking of when he sent an illiterate farmhand to replace the brass letters fallen down from the sign at the gate? Pemberley was now gone, and the letters put back at the best guess of the farmhand read "Ply em beer". The pond had a score of dead ducks and a hundredweight of dead smelly fish, and some rather smelly long haired people round it claiming they were trying to save the wildlife? What a disaster.
As if that were not all, Miss Darcy had taken it upon herself to remodel the kitchens. There were now no ovens there, and when he had asked her what she was doing, she replied that she was merely waiting for a special order from a reputable firm. In the mean time, he would just have to eat raw meat, just as she was doing. This was most unsatisfactory. At least when Mrs Bennet arrived, he would get something substantial to eat.
Collins idly watched as his carriage passed by a group of six women trudging toward the estate. He noted that one of them was tolerable, he supposed, and her eyes were brightened by the exercise. He would not mind< I>her for a maid he thought. His mood was a little further lightened when the carriage lurched through a puddle and gave them a drenching, and one of them, cried "Oh my poor nerves Jane. Where are my salts?" He reflected that the poor would always be with us, fortunately, and smirked.
Georgiana Darcy glided down the hallway, pausing outside the door of Mr Collins. She made a face as the sound of loud snoring could be heard through the four inch oak panel. Otherwise the house was quiet. Very quiet. Soundless, in fact. Not even the great clock at the end of the corridor could be heard as it had not been wound since the body of Mr Darcy was found more almost a year ago. For many of Pemberley's inhabitants, time had come to a standstill with his death.
The snoring continued and so did Miss Darcy's ruminations.
She had to admit that the addition of a new housekeeper and several new maids had been an excellent idea. The current complement had been dwindling and some new blood was certainly welcome. They may not have been particularly skilled in their tasks, and on first appearance at the door had been mistaken for beggars, but after a quick wash and changed into the household uniforms their potential was clear.
Georgiana glanced up and down the hallway before she turned the handle of the door and quietly slipped into the room. The snoring was much louder and she was forced to halt a moment, grabbing two small doilies from a nearby table and stuffing them into her ears, before advancing further.
Mr. Collins suddenly snorted, his body rolling over to the right and his lips making a smacking sound as he mumbled unintelligibly in his sleep. Georgiana grimaced, her courage dipping briefly. With a resolution rooted in survival instinct she pressed on, however.
The morning sun sent a bright sliver of light creeping across the ceiling of the attic rooms. The musty linen curtains did little to darken the rooms and the five new maids housed in the uppermost reaches of Pemberley now huddled under their blankets to shield themselves from the unwelcome presence.
Another night had passed in these new surroundings, in this new life they had entered.
When they had first arrived at Pemberley, muddied with the filth from the road, it was with great surprise that Miss Darcy herself had welcomed them warmly in the dark hall. It was a bit of puzzling that the window coverings had been drawn tightly closed at the time, denying any hint of the outside world, but very shortly the reasons became evident. At first there was fear, particularly from Lydia, who was by far the most excitable of them, but even she soon saw the benefits of what Miss Darcy offered. Mary was reluctant to the very end, her book clutched firmly to her bosom and muttering quotes from the sermons contained within. However, it was all for naught as the rest of her sisters were eventually won over and proved too much for Mary to fend off.
Their mother was also persuaded to join them in short order, happy to leave the drudgery of housekeeping to others and firmly convinced that sun never did any good for one's complexion, only making it brown.
The only blot on this otherwise perfect existence was the unfortunate side effect, discovered after the act, that Mr. Collins could exact some sort of revenge posthumously and without any effort on his part. Alas, poor Miss Darcy suffered a terrible attack of indigestion but by far the worst complication was yet to be remedied. A congestion of thick oils and hardening cholesterol had blocked the passages necessary for her continued acquisition of sustenance. The hunt was on for the only professional capable of reversing this obstruction.
Herbie the Dental Surgeon must be found!The End