Bat’s in One’s Belfry
Posted on 2015-03-13
Summary: The second short tale of life in Hunsford, a place not always quite as dull as may be imagined.
The summons came just as Mr Collins was sitting down to breakfast. It was early May and a beautiful sunny morning as he hummed a few bars of some ditty or other he could not quite name. Charlotte placed a large plate of grilled bacon, two fried eggs, two large pork sausages and sliced, fried tomatoes in front of him and received an adoring look as he picked up a knife and fork. He had no sooner sliced a sausage in half than a loud rap on his door-knocker caused him to look up in startled surprise.
"Who can this be so early in the day?" he asked Charlotte, who was already on her way to the door. He heard voices, hesitated then decided his sausages called for priority attention. It would be no one of importance at this early hour, he decided, possibly the baker. Charlotte returned alone in a few seconds. " Her Ladyship requires you presence at the house at your earliest convenience dear" she began, "but finish your breakfast surely" she said as he began to rise from his chair, an alarmed look on his face. "No, no, I must make haste" he mumbled trying to gulp down a mouthful of food. " It may be an emergency that calls for my attention, I must make haste!" Charlotte sighed softly, well used to "making haste" whenever Lady Catherine was mentioned, and prepared to cover the almost untouched breakfast. If her husband was to be detained for some time, lunch would not be a problem as she would warm up the breakfast. It was somewhat frustrating to her that whenever her Ladyship summoned, her William jumped like a frog poked with a willow twig. She shrugged and sighed again, but the morning was far too beautiful for low spirits and she smiled as she picked up the plates.
"Mr Collins, we seem to have some little annoyance. Are you aware that there is a broken window pane in the church bell tower". Lady Catherine's eyebrows rose in enquiry as she addressed her pastor. Mr Collins's, face already red from his hurried stroll across the park, took on a deeper hue of embarrassment as he was forced to replay negatively. "Indeed no,your Ladyship. I haven't yet been to the church this morning, but all was well when I locked up last night"
"Hmm" Lady Catherine sniffed and waved a dismissive hand . "It needs attention as soon as possible. It is but a smallish pane, but a lower one, and the gamekeeper has reported seeing Gypsy children in the woods. No doubt throwing stones is considered amusing to them. Attend to it please,Mr Collins. There is a glazier in the village and I don't want just anyone wandering around a sacred place!" She turned, her mind already occupied with other matters as Mr Collins bowed and exited backwards, smiling his delight to be entrusted with something so important as a church window pane replacement. He would, he decided, measure it up himself to speed up the job instead of the glazier having to do it. Lady Catherine expected efficiency, and there is no one quite as efficient as one's self after all. He hurried off to get Dawkins to ready his curricle whilst he went for his measuring stick.
"It seems you may have miscalculated Sir; I'm afraid it's too small!" Rowlandson, the glazier looked enquiringly at Mr Collins as he held up the pane he had cut to the reverend's measurements. It was an inch too small in width and height, the glazier realising immediately Mr Collins had forgotten the glass extended beyond the leading on the edges. " Never mind Sir, I can go back and cut another one, but it may be the day after tomorrow as I'm out of that particular glass." A stab of panic seized Mr Collins as he heard the words, then he relaxed a little. Perhaps, he thought, it being Monday, he may not see Lady Catherine in the next couple of days till the job was done. " Very well, make haste and do it as soon as possible. I shall pay you for this glass now and then Lady Catherine will only receive the bill for one pane!" Mr Rowlandson nodded in agreement and took his leave. Mr Collins was about to do likewise when the bell above him gave a succession of solemn, but exceedingly muted clangs. Mr Collins gave a puzzled frown that changed to a worried expression as he realise he was alone in the tower. Indeed, there was no one in sight anywhere near the church. He began to wonder if he had imagined the noise, when another couple of tolls sounded. It was then that he realised the bell rope was moving gently. He moved hesitantly in the direction of the steps that led upwards in the corner of the room.
"Hello, is someone up there? Mr Collin's voice emerged as a squeak and he coughed hurriedly before repeating his question in a stronger tone. Only silence and the echo of his own voice was heard in reply. Hesitantly he climbed a couple of steps and called out again. " I know someone is there. Show yourself or I'll call for the gamekeeper. He has a gun and...." His voice tailed away in the silence and some dust motes drifting lazily down in a shaft of sunlight were the only movement beside the gently swinging bell rope. Somewhere, he heard a cuckoo call and let out a sigh of relief. Of course, a bird, that's all it was. He gazed upwards at the clapper on the bell above him and his apprehension returned. It would have to be a mighty large bird to move the bronze weight of the old bell. And who had made the rope move...? His thoughts took an alarming turn and he felt himself go hot, then cold in turn as he considered them. No, in a holy place such things surely could not happen. No, indeed not! Summoning a courage that was half from terror of the unknown and half a mortal fear of what he would tell Lady Catherine, he took the last few steps with trembling legs and peered hesitantly into the bell room. Apart from a hammer and some lunch wrappers, obviously left behind by the workmen who had just completed a repair on the roof, the twelve-foot square area was completely empty. Mr Collins let out a shuddering breath and leant weakly against the ladder. Unless whoever had caused the bell to move was invisible...Hurriedly pushing aside that thought, Mr Collins made a rapid descent back to terra firma. "Just imagination" he told himself firmly, and went to lock the tower door and return to his unfinished eating.
"A Poltergeist" said Charlotte. "Good grief, what on earth makes you think that? I mean, if someone, something, had been breaking things in the Church or throwing hymn books around or something....well, that's what they do isn't it?" She gazed at her husband, eyebrows raised and an uncertain smile on her lips. "You haven't mentioned that to her Ladyship have you dear?
"Oh, Lord no. No need to mention anything at all. She'd have the Archbishop of Canterbury here before the day was out. No indeed, I shall deal with this myself. I must indulge in some serious prayer for a couple of days and also there may be other explanations, I mean, the wind for instance..." He hesitated as Charlotte raised a hand with a finger extended.
"Pardon my interruption dear, but the trees are covered in blossom and there is none at all on the ground. There is not enough wind right now to even turn the weathercock. I never heard you mention such before" She smiled and Mr Collins, albeit a trifle unwillingly, had to agree with her observation. He was obviously worried and Charlotte took pains to try to take his mind off the topic. She suggested a stroll in the sunshine and Mr Collins smiled his agreement. Dear Charlotte could always relied on to put things in proportion. They set off together across the path way and were just about to cross into the grounds of Rosings Park when a sound made them both halt. The church bell was tolling quietly. As they listened, Charlotte in real surprise, the sound occurred again then stopped. Mr Collins went quite pale. The Church was locked and the key was in his pocket. They looked at each other uncertainly, then Charlotte said, "We must go in there. There just has to be a logical explanation. I do not believe in unexplained spiritual happenings. Come, let us go and find out what it is". She strode determinedly towards the door of the tower and, faced with such courage, Mr Collins followed, but with a little less bravado. Charlotte paused outside the door and looked enquiringly at the missing window pane.
" I know what you may be thinking dear, but nine inches square is a little small, even for the smallest Gypsy child". Mr Collins smiled, albeit nervously, at his own observation, then stepped forward and hesitantly turned the large key in the old oak door.
"There is just nothing or no one here, yet I confess I did hear the bell toll. How very strange!" Charlotte looked around, poking at the sandwich wrapper with her foot. She had followed her husband's less than happy passage up into the bell tower and now stood gazing around with a completely puzzled expression on her face. The only light came from a couple of narrow openings on each wall, but it was perfectly sufficient to see that the room was absolutely devoid of anything. It did unnerve Charlotte more than slightly remembering that when they had entered the tower, the bell rope had been swinging gently in the silence. She also may have imagined a flash of red near a window slit, but when she looked out all that was to be seen was countryside. Her mind was considering her feelings when..
"Bats" Mr Collins snapped his fingers and looked at his wife with a smile that might be described as triumphant. Charlotte looked at him disbelievingly.
"There may have been bats in here that flew off through the slits when they heard us coming" Bats are not uncommon in Church towers you know, quite common in fact. Bats and belfrys are well associated with each other.!"
Charlotte didn't mean to snap but her nerves were a little taut as she almost glared at her husband. "I hardly think bats appear much on sunny afternoons dear, or can move a large bell or swing a rope.....I'm sorry dear, I don't think bats are quite...." Her voice tailed off as she realised her tone had been over sharp. Her husband was too deep in his own thoughts to have taken much notice. He did however, nod in agreement. Not bats then. They descended the steps in silence and Mr Collins went through into the Church nave and knelt in prayer at one of the pews. Charlotte considered for a moment, then joined him. They left the church and bell tower, now silent and exuding an air of peace, Mr Collins locking the door behind them. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, Charlotte even accompanying her husband when he checked and locked the church up that evening.
The following morning brought no sign of Mr Rowlandson the glazier and Mr Collins was hoping against hope that Lady Catherine would neither visit the Church or summon him for progress reports. After breakfast he left the house determined not to be troubled by the previous days events. He unlocked the bell tower, smiled in satisfaction at the silence and proceeded through to the Church itself. Tuesday was the day a woman from the village brought flowers for the church and she arrived and departed whilst Mr Collins was inside. Charlotte would come later and arrange the flowers and polish some brass as part of their duties. Mr Collins left the building and walked towards his home. He had hardly got to the end of the Church path when.....the Church bell gave several soft clangs.
Mr Collins groaned in silent agony and his heart started to pound. He returned to the bell tower and looked inside from the doorway. The bell rope was swinging gently back and forth. There was not even a breath of a breeze. Above him, the bronze bell gave two more muted tolls and was silent. Hardly daring to breathe Mr Collins walked shakily through the tower into the nave. He made the sign of the cross and almost collapsed to his knees. With a hoarse croak he mumbled a prayer then stumbled to his feet and faced the bell tower. His voice quavering in fear, he began" Begone from here thou demon. This is a house of God and thou shalt not torment the faithful with thy mischief. Leave this place, I command thee. Go forth from it now...!".He gained confidence and then a bright shaft of morning sunlight lit the ground before him. Suddenly, he felt better and took a deep breath. Nothing but the peaceful distant sounds of the countryside disturbed the quiet. He heard the cuckoo again and a bee buzzing somewhere near. "Raising his voice to a commanding shout he roared, "Depart thou foul presence. Depart and never more darken the door of my Church, Begone, begone forever!" A feeling of immense power flowed through his veins and he laughed aloud. With a last look around he took a deep breath and marched out of the building locking the door firmly behind him. He hurried home and related his actions to Charlotte, acting them out with great gusto. Still sceptical about it all, she contented herself by congratulating him and continuing to wonder what really had happened. She still had a slight unease about the whole thing. That afternoon Mr Rowlandson arrived and had acquired the glass for the window. In a short time he had cleaned out the old glass and the window was as good as new. Mr Collins paid him and with Charlotte in tow, reported to Lady Catherine that the matter was attended to. Lady Catherine was satisfied enough to invite them to stay for afternoon tea. They walked home in companionable silence and retired to their respective evening activities. The Church bell remained silent.
Wednesday morning dawned bright and early and Mr Collins was off after breakfast to practise his musical activity deep in the woods. Charlotte cleared away the breakfast dishes and decided to take a walk. Curiosity more than anything else took her past the bell tower with its newly repaired window. She stopped, looked, then looked again, her eyes opening widely. Memories of a flash of red jumped to the front of her mind as she saw a large red squirrel climb up the door lintel and pause beside the new pane. An inquisitive paw reached out and tapped the glass softly, then harder, before suddenly sensing it had a watcher and scampering hurriedly down and away. Charlotte looked after it for long seconds then raised a hand to cover her mouth. A vision of her husband's relating of his exorcism of the demonic bell ringer filled her mind as she realised that, whilst bats may not be able to ring bells or climb ropes, a large red squirrel climbing in through a broken window could do both. She remembered the remains of a sandwich left on the tower platform and a wide smile lit up her face. Her eyes sparkled and she actually giggled. Again she used a hand to suppress her laughter, but it was just too much. A loud laugh exploded from her lips and suddenly tears were running down her cheeks as the absurdity of it all unfolded before her. In seconds she was screaming with laughter and it was several minutes before she was composed enough to dry her eyes. She could never tell her husband the truth, that would be too cruel, nor could she share it with anyone, but suddenly she hoped the expression "Bats in the belfry" would never, ever be uttered in her presence.The End
Posted on 2015-03-14
Summary: Proving that haste is not always the best thing to be made.
It was the start of high summer in England. The Kentish coast basked in glorious sunshine and the war in Europe was claimed to be finally over. People talked of trips to France and a welcome sense of contentment presided. In the country parish of Hunsford by Westerham, gardeners were in great evidence everywhere, filling the air with glorious odours of newly cut grass and flora, and a multitude of bird choruses assaulted the ears in every direction . In the rectory gardens, hard by the sumptuous grounds of Rosings Park, tranquillity lay like a velvet cloak over all. Colourful butterflies flitted about the bushes, bees hummed lazily amongst the multitudes of flowers and hardly a cloud marred the almost ultramarine blue of the sky. The day was an immaculate example of nature's perfection. On such a day, what could ever be amiss, and what could possibly go wrong?
At the rear of the small but attractive stone rectory house, the Reverend William Collins put his hands together, lifted his closed eyes towards the heavens and mouthed a silent prayer of thanks for all his worldly benefits. He had just finished a hearty breakfast, cooked for him by his dear Charlotte, a woman who, as he frequently told anyone who would listen, had made him the happiest of men. Now, he was about to take full advantage of the clement climate and finish painting his garden fences. In deference to the weather he had removed his coat, rolled up his shirtsleeves and donned the new straw hat that Charlotte had bought for him. " Amen. Let us commence!" he opened his eyes, smiled broadly and picked up his brush. There was but one hour's work left and he could then clean up, have a light lunch and, together with Charlotte, make the short stroll up to the mansion that housed his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings Park, and pay his respects. They wouldn't stay too long of course, just let it be seen that he was exhibiting good manners, and, with a little luck be informed of anything new or pending in the parish. Local gossip,news of visitors, maybe even an invitation to dinner in the next couple of days? Yes, indeed, life was assuredly bountiful. He gazed around himself with satisfaction and then without conscious intent, his mind flickered temporarily to his cousin Elizabeth, now married to Lady Catherine's nephew, Mr Darcy, and settled at Pemberley in Derbyshire. To think, of all this she could have been mistress....!
"William".....the sound of Charlotte calling him quickly broke his silent reverie and he hurriedly dipped his paintbrush into the pot of green paint and waved his fingers in her direction. "Over here dear".
Lady Catherine looked at her daughter Anne and shook her head firmly. "No my dear, if you have the sniffles you will be far better just resting in the sunshine of the rear garden under a sunshade. Sitting there in the fresh air with some lemonade and a book will do you good. If you are improved by tomorrow you can drive your phaeton then. I have a purpose for it today anyway. I wish to send an old mannequin down to the village. I promised Mrs Cooper, the mantua-maker, she could have it . Williams can drive it down there in the phaeton. There is a dress already on it, but it is only an old thing. Ring the bell Mrs Jenkinson!"
" I think dearest, if you wouldn't mind too much, I'll stay home today instead of walking to Rosings. I have washing to do and I'm planning a roast for dinner later that needs my attention. I'm sure her Ladyship will understand for once". Charlotte smiled sweetly at her husband as he gave her a surprised look. " Lady Catherine is very understanding of these things and you have such a winning way that I'm sure she won't be offended"
His painting completed Mr Collins had stated his intention of taking his almost daily walk up to the mansion house. He had assumed Charlotte would accompany him. but hearing a touch of firmness in her voice, he checked his objection and nodded his head.
"Very well dear, but I must go. By the bye, I haven't seen Miss de Bourgh drive by in her little phaeton today. That is somewhat unusual. I hope all is well with her!
"Oh, I'm sure it is. We may just have missed her passing. You carry on dear and enjoy your walk". Mr Collins smiled and nodded. Charlotte was right of course. She usually was. He reached for his ash walking cane, deciding to leave his straw hat on. He thought it looked rather becoming and, well, it was summer wear, was it not? Taking a deep breath he smiled and made for the door.
Off to one side of the main drive that led up to Rosings, there was a long wooded copse that ran in the same direction as the path. It had been cultivated as a shaded walk and on its far side and somewhat below it, ran a stream bordered by a blackthorn hedge. It was a very attractive spot and also gave a haven of shade against the fierce heat of the summer sun. Mr Collins was now a countryman and a lover of nature and appreciated its beauties. He chose to walk through the copse and alongside the stream that tinkled pleasantly over rocks, rather than take the well surfaced but less attractive main pathway. He walked along swishing idly at stray stalks with his cane and humming contentedly. His eye was suddenly caught by a flash of colour on the footpath and he realised he was looking at a lady's glove. Picking it up he smiled in delight. It was obviously Anne's, dropped whilst passing in her phaeton and how pleased she would be when he informed her he had found it. Haste must be made. This was important. Thoughts of his walk now at the back of his mind he turned out of the copse and onto the main path, stepping out directly in front of Anne's phaeton on the drive. He had but time to register that she wasn't actually driving before, in his hurry, he caught his foot in a root and staggered into the pony's path. The startled animal dug in its hooves and reared up swerving to one side. Mr Collins, down on one knee had just time to hear the driver shout in alarm when, before his horrified eyes "Miss de Bourgh" went sailing out of the phaeton, bounced on the blackthorn hedge and plunged down into the stream and its rocks leaving part of her dress snagged on the brambles.
"She is dead. Miss de Bourgh is dead and I am the cause. I am her murderer. Oh Lord, what shall I do?" Mr Collins, struck almost dumb with shock and horror had let out something between a shriek and a scream and, hardly knowing what he was doing, stumbled off back into the copse the way he had come. He had no thought to approach the phaeton or see the mangled body down by the stream. That was unthinkable to him. He took recourse in the one thing he could do without further horror, he fled the scene in sheer terror. His world was ended. He had killed the daughter of his beloved patroness and now he would almost certainly hang. Lady Catherine would send private constables to seek him out and arrest him. He was doomed. His perfect world of but a short time ago collapsed around him as he stumbled unseeingly amongst the ash, yew, sycamore and oak trees in the copse. What could he tell Charlotte? Would she visit him before his trial, bring his Bible..and perhaps a salad sandwich with home-made bread and..."Stop this madness", he commanded himself, "stop, think, where can I go? Can I make my way to
Folkestone, Dover perhaps, board a ship for Australia....oh, I am undone. I have but a few shillings in my pocket and.." Suddenly, it all became too much for him and he sank down on a boulder, put his head in his hands and wept. His new straw hat slipped from his head and landed on the pathway and he reached a hand out for it, sliding off the boulder and onto the grass. In his distress he sank down and covered his head with his hands. His whole world collapsed around him in ruins.
"Mr Collins. Mr Collins sir" He shot awake and looked up at the concerned faces of two men, servants by their livery, gazing down at him where he lay in the grass. His mouth was parched and he realised he had been lying in the direct heat of the sun. He gazed fearfully up at the two men who were now helping his to his feet. He was found and they had come to arrest him. Soon the bars of a prison door would be his only view of the world.
"Charlotte" he croaked, where was his wife? Had she realised what he had done and left him to his fate? He looked at the men as one of them said "Come sir, let us get you back to the house. Your wife is there. She was concerned at your missing and alerted Lady Catherine who sent us to find you and to escort you back to Rosings"
Mr Collins gulped and tried to speak but his throat was too dry. He groaned in his agony and allowed the men to help him the short way to the house without struggling. Inside, he was led into Lady Catherine's sitting room where she waited. There were others in the room but all he saw was her beady eyes as she shook her head. She seemed remarkably composed and her expression even seemed a little concerned. Now he would hear his fate. She was not a woman who forgave folly easily. In this case......
"Mr Collins, where on earth have you been? You have been missing for hours. Williams saw you stagger off into the woods and then you seemed to disappear. Have you been out in the sun without a hat, your face is bright scarlet and your hands are green. You look like a tomato plant. Speak up man, what happened to you? "
Mr Collins shook his head. He had a blinding headache and felt sick and dizzy. What could he say in his defence? He had startled the horse and caused Miss de Bourgh to be propelled from her seat in the phaeton and catapulted over the hedge and into the rocky stream. She must have been killed instantly. An image of a piece of petticoat snagged on those razor-sharp thorns caused him to groan softly. Suddenly tears filled his eyes. He must confess and throw himself on her mother's mercy.
"It was a sheer accident your Ladyship" he croaked hoarsely. I had just found Miss de Bourgh's glove in the copse and was climbing back to the path. I didn't know she wasn't driving the phaeton until I saw Williams, and then suddenly I just saw her flying through the air. Oh, Lady Catherine, how can I ever apologise. Your poor daughter, oh forgive me your Ladyship, forgive me, forgive me!"
Lady Catherine frowned and leaned forward to peer at Mr Collins. She let out a deep breath. "He is rambling. The sun has got to him and disorientated him. Mr Collins, there is nothing the matter with Anne? She just has a cold or maybe a little hay fever, haven't you dear?. Tomorrow she will be as right as rain. Charlotte, I'm going to send you both home in my carriage and send for the physician. Mr Collins is hallucinating and...."
She broke off sharply, her eyebrows arching high on her forehead as, with an audible thud, Mr Collins fainted and fell to the floor.
Posted on 2015-03-15
"I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight."
"Charlotte, Charlotte, where are you my dear? Great news, great news!"..
Charlotte Collins let out a quiet sigh and marked her book page. It was a beautiful day and, with husband, William, gone off on one of his several-times-a-week visits to Rosings Park, she had been expecting a couple of hours of undisturbed relaxation and quiet reading in the shade of her rear garden at Hunsford Parsonage. He had, it appeared encountered something to bring him hurrying back prematurely. Knowing that his ideas of "great news" didn't always fill her with delight, sometimes even trepidation - such as the time he announced he was toying with the idea of taking up the gentleman's pastime of fencing - she gave a wry smile and rose unhurriedly to her feet. Would the great news wait until she had made tea? Apparently not, for she had no sooner stepped into the kitchen than her husband launched into his discovery.
"My dear, what do you think? Mr Collins beamed excitedly at her as he removed his coat. "We are about to hold an archery competition at Rosings to commemorate Miss de Bourgh's birthday. Originally, it was to have been an outdoor display of acrobatics, fire-eating and dancing, but apparently several of the acrobats' companions have been arrested as pick-pockets at a village fair down near Maidstone and one of the fire-eaters set the thatched roof of the inn ablaze. The archery competition was a suggestion of Mr Darcy's in a letter, when his aunt informed him of the situation. Unfortunately, he himself cannot be there, as he has much to attend to at home. What an event it will be. Lady Catherine has allowed staff and villagers to enter and the prize will be a donkey and five shillings".
Mr Collins blew out his breath and spread his hands, smiling widely. Charlotte, experiencing her first slight stab of concern at the thought of just how much the "we" involved her husband, smiled, nodded and reached for her tea pot.
"That sounds very exciting dear. Will you be involved in the, er, arrangements, in some way?" She turned towards her stove to avoid displaying any emotion at his reply, and closed her eyes in supplication that his answer would be in the negative.
"I shan't be involved in the actual arranging of the event, Lady Catherine's steward will see to that and display notices etc, but she has asked me to announce it at Church come Sunday and I will of course be on hand in my capacity of spiritual adviser and to open it with a prayer".
Charlotte nodded in relief as she poured boiling water into her teapot. His next words however, caused a silent "oh, no" to escape her lips and she suppressed a groan as he announced. " I am actually considering entering the contest. I did have a bow and arrow when younger. Archery is a fine old English tradition you know, and who has not heard of Robin Hood!"
Charlotte's smile was a little forced but she managed to inject a little neutrality into her tone. "That will have been quite some years ago though, won't it dear?
"Ah, but one does not tend to forget such skills my love. I do believe I may still have bow and arrows stored away somewhere from my days at University. I think I shall dig them out and practise a little. Yes indeed, I do believe I shall!" Mr Collins grinned widely and made a gesture that loosely resembled firing an arrow. Charlotte sighed in resignation and made a gesture that loosely resembled a pained smile, and poured the tea.
The target erected for Mr Collins to display his archery skills was the family mantua mannequin that he had once used as a practise dance partner, with rings painted on a large piece of card hung around the neck. Any fears that Charlotte had about the mannequin suffering damage very soon disappeared after half-a-dozen shots made it quite obvious that her husband would have to be pointing at right angles to have any chance of hitting the target. Her first task was persuading him that he would have more privacy to practise if he re-located the target in the very same copse he where practised playing his clarinet. Her main concern was her chickens safety and she secretly entertained a hope that her husband might eventually lose all his arrows amongst the trees. She heaved a silent sigh of relief when he agreed. The bow, the bowstrings and the arrows all came under suspicion as candidates for Mr Collin's lack of archery skills and there was a strong desire that such lack of success would eventually cause him to see sense and withdraw. It was not, however to be, for as the time of the event drew nearer, his excitement and enthusiasm knew no bounds .
Despite the lack, at least on Charlotte's part of any real romantic passion in the marriage, her husband was not in any way a bad individual. Foolish he undoubtedly was; an odd mixture of a man self-serving and servile both at the same time, he rarely showed any sign of real aggression at anyone or anything, and was far more likely to be seen exhibiting a smile rather then a scowl. Charlotte had developed a fondness for his naivety and at times, she admitted, she patronised her husband for peace sake, more motherly than wifely. What he had never developed was an ability to laugh at himself, thus, what she did not wish to see was him make himself a figure of fun at the archery tournament. It would hurt him, and in turn, herself. Presently she had no real idea how to achieve a satisfactory answer. Inspiration, she hoped, would come. Hide his bow? He would buy another. Pray for rain, he would suggest simply postponing the event. Set fire to the house..? "Oh, I must stop this. It's only an event for fun" Unfortunately, Mr Collins thought entirely the opposite. In his imagination he saw himself being applauded and awarded the prize as the village marksman. Robin Hood, pah!
"I'm improving daily dear. Today, I swear I shaved the edge of the target more than once. By the day of the competition I'll be really on form!"
Mr Collins struck a pose as he entered the house. With a quiver of arrows at his belt and carrying the bow, he had the normal appearance of someone at archery, but then, Charlotte thought, a little unkindly, the pot ornament on her mantelpiece had the appearance of a horse galloping. Neither were quite as they appeared. She forced a smile and nodded encouragingly. A thought occurred, and with it, a small ray of hope:
"Does her Ladyship approve of her minister actually taking part in this competition dear? I mean, you can't afford to have her forming wrong opinions of her spititual advisor, can you?"
" Don't make yourself uneasy my love, I already discussed that with Lady Catherine. She assures me that archery is a fine sport. Remember, it was her nephew Mr Darcy who suggested it, and he would not advise her wrongly. No, she is an admirer of the art and says that if she had ever learned she would have been a ...."
"Oh, excuse me dear, the soup is about to boil up!? Charlotte interrupted his praise of his patron, and sighed in frustration as her idea crumbled to nothingness.
"There are far more entries than I ever imagined for this competition, Mr Collins. We can't have one event lasting all day. I think we'll just have each competitor fire three arrows and the one who gets nearest the centre will win. Make sure you announce that from the pulpit on Sunday because the event is next Tuesday".
Thus Lady Catherine laid down the rules, Mr Collins made the necessary announcements and the day of Anne de Bourgh's birthday, and thus the competition, dawned bright and clear. Mr Collins rose early, bright and optimistic, Charlotte a short time later, nervous and more than a little worried. The event was not scheduled to start till noon , but Mr Collins, as a ploy to assess the opposition had marked himself as last competitor. Since she knew he would be hovering around Lady Catherine's party, Charlotte had elected to watch from behind the mark, so as she claimed, not to distract his attention from his shots. Mr Collin's attention was too fixed on his role to do more than smile and agree.
She had earlier admired the donkey that was the main prize and Mr Collins boldly declared he would win it for her. Of that she had no expectation whatsoever.
The great event began promptly at noon and it soon became apparent that a local solicitor named Edward Clyde was the probable winner. Former member of his Oxford University team, both his shots were on the edge of the centre ring. Mr Collins, possibly by divine inspiration had managed to land one arrow in the unpainted outer surround of the target. The other one caused some spectators standing a little too close to the target to scatter in alarm as it sailed wildly past them. The final round began and Edward Clyde maintained his skill level by firing his last arrow again on the edge of the centre ring. Several other got close, but none were inside his marks. Mr Collins, resplendent in his best trousers, white shirt and black waistcoat, approached the mark and solemly removed his straw hat before bowing in the direction of the watching Lady Catherine and her daughter. Charlotte wondered where his arrow would eventually land. He drew his last arrow and at last showing nervousness, coughed and almost dropped the arrow as he fumbled it onto his bowstring. He raised the bow, pulled back the string, took quavering aim and .....
Quite suddenly there was a loud braying heard and all eyes swung round to see the main prize jump forward past Mr Collins and gallop forward, pulling the young lad who was handling it along behind. At the same time a loud roar of acclaim erupted from the watchers as before the amazed eyes of all, Mr Collin's arrow was seen embedded dead centre in the target. Against all the odds he had won. The crowd cheered and he looked around almost as if he found it miraculous. Charlotte cheered loudly with the rest and rushed forward to congratulate her husband. Edward Clyde shook his head disbelievingly and walked away towards the refreshment marquee to take solace in root beer.
" I knew I could do it, I just knew my old skills were still there somewhere!" Mr Collins stood with Charlotte watching their newly acquired donkey tethered at the rear of the house grazing contentedly. He had been the centre of attention and lauded with praise from everyone including a satisfied Lady Catherine who handed him the five shillings like it was the Crown Jewels. Wined and dined he had at last escaped with Charlotte and their new acquisition. The end of a totally perfect day.
" Dear Elizabeth.
I write to betray something into your confidence. I know Mr Collins wrote to Darcy and yourself about how he won the archery competition, but now I must make a confession. It is actually one that gives me pleasure (and I confess, more than a little amusement) rather than guilt. William is no archer, quite hopeless in fact, but I couldn't see him made to look foolish before all the village. Dawkins, his man and a trusted servant, knew of my dilemma and made a suggestion. He was one time Kent archery champion and on the day of the competition he positioned himself by me and behind a tree. I had smuggled one of William's arrows out under my cloak and the lad holding the donkey was Dawkin's son. It needed clever timing but it worked perfectly. Quite where William's own arrow finished is a thing of mystery and, if ever found will just be passed off as one from the day. I cannot tell William, he would never forgive me, but I did it with a fond heart and feel no guilt in owning the donkey and the five shillings. Is that very wicked of me?
I remain your ever affectionate friend, Charlotte......"
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend................. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Posted on 2015-03-17
Summary: Charlotte incurrs a mysterious loss that creates a mystery of a drama with no actors.
"I know I had it when I sat outside this morning. I was out by the front door and just went inside to see to my baking. I was there for probably two or three minutes, and when I came back, the locket had gone. Oh William, what am I going to do? That is the one you bought me as a wedding present!"
Charlotte dabbed at her eyes and looked at her husband as she sobbed the words. Mr Collins had just returned from his morning walk and found her distraught as she gasped out her story. Her gold locket had been on a small table together with a book and a glass of water. She had gone inside for a short time, and come back to find the locket and its chain gone. Mr Collins frowned and bent to look under the table. He then picked the table up and moved it to one side. He did the same with the chairs to no avail. He even picked up the book and riffled the pages. There was no sign of the missing locket. Charlotte sank down into the wicker chair and began to cry again. Mr Collins placed a consoling arm around her shoulders, a baffled look on his face.
"There, there, my dear. There must be a simple explanation. Has anyone called here this morning, the butcher, baker.... has anyone delivered a letter?"
Charlotte shook her head. "No, no one at all. I saw Miss de Bourgh drive by down the lane earleir, but apart from the gardeners working in Lady Catherine's field I haven't seen another soul!".
Mr Collins gazed around then peered back at his wife. He hesitated and coughed a trifle nervously, before stepping back, removing his hat and scratching his head.
"A silly question, I know, and you will pardon me for asking it, but are you absolutely sure you brought the locket out here. I mean, why would you do such a thing dear?"
Charlotte dabbed her eyes with a lace handkerchief and sniffed.
"I didn't bring it out. I had it on it and took it off because I shouldn't be wearing it around the house. It was just still around my neck from last evening at Rosings. Of that, I'm absolutely certain. I recall quite clearly taking it off and placing it on the table".
Mr Collins blew out his cheeks and shook his head.
"This is a serious matter indeed. If it was there, and now it is not, it can only mean one thing. Someone has taken it and that means theft. Oh dear, her Ladyship will be furious. Theft in her very domain. It is quite unthinkable!"
As the full implication of his words sunk in, Mr Collins felt a dull ache begin in his abdomen. It wasn't just that the locket had been stolen, but that the only people in sight were the gardeners in the adjoining field and the only person to pass had been...oh, it was just too terrible to contemplate. There had to be another explanation. He also knew that if he didn't inform Lady Catherine of the matter she would be less than amused if she found out from someone else. His cheerful mood of minutes ago suddenly took a downward plunge. What to do? Should he instigate a full search of the house and area, the rear gardens? Charlotte's words came back to mind: " I recall quite clearly taking it off and placing it on the table" He sighed in frustration and dispensed the search idea. He sank down in the other wicker chair. There was nothing for it but to inform her Ladyship. He mentally ruled out all mention of Miss de Bourgh as too ridiculous to contemplate. No, make that too risky, he shuddered at the thought. Should he just forget about the loss and perhaps buy another locket? No, that wouldn't do because his dear wife would obviously be totally distraught at the very thought of not recovering her wedding present locket, especially since it contained a lock of his own hair from their wedding day. Some things were totally irreplaceable after all. No, the locket must be recovered. Lady Catherine would almost certainly claim it must be passing Gypsies, despite the fact that Charlotte was sure no one had even approached the path. Mr Collins groaned aloud at the thought of it all. Prayer seemed suddenly a desirable option.
Charlotte was distressed at the very thought of her husband even mentioning the matter to her Ladyship who would almost certainly do one of two things: either want to call out the remaining militia from the nearby Westerham and scour the countryside for Gypsy camps, or dismiss the whole thing as a matter of no consequence. The latter seemed suddenly by far the more desirable option. If only she could make Mr Collins see that.
Mr Collins sat in the sunlit kitchen as Charlotte placed his lunch before him. She herself was too upset to think about eating, but her husband insisted food was good for the brain. He would have to think deeply on the matter. Charlotte was still mortally upset and decided she needed to lie down. This was encouraged by Mr Collins whose mind was in something of an uproar. If only he could solve the mystery and find the missing locket without seeking the aid of advice of anyone, how wonderful that would be. The facts were unavoidable: Charlotte had left the locket on the table and gone inside for no more than a couple of minutes. She had heard or seen no one yet to come back to find her locket gone? The locket itself was an immovable object and there was no such thing as an invisible person. What then had happened? Again he dismissed the uncomfortable thought of discussing the matter with her Ladyship. She would surely see both himself and Charlotte at fault for being careless in some way. He would be quite happy with the matter as a talking point if they could somehow recover the locket. Was there something he had missed? Could someone have been hiding in the hedges and spied an opportunity to steal? It had to be Gypsies.
He only half-finished his lunch and pushed the plate away. Deep in thought he strolled out into the garden and surveyed the surrounding territory. It was a scene of idyllic tranquillity, with the gardeners in her Ladyship's field and the birds and butteflies the only signs of movement. He gazed around again and spied the ladder leaning against the apple tree in the garden, removing some of its fruit a task he had abandoned in favour of walking to Rosings. It would have to be done, maybe later in the day, he decided dismissively..
A sudden idea occurred to him. Perhaps from high up he may see something not obvious from ground level. With no real expectation of success he walked across and gingerely mounted the ladder. Normally his dear Charlotte would be below helping to steady his progress. Sometimes, however, a man must do what a man must do. Very cautiously he moved upwards until he could see through a large gap in the foliage. The view was splendid but showed little to help his investigation. The garden gate was closed and the surrounding hedges a little too high for easy access. The path was devoid of life right along its length in both directions. He sighed and was just about to descend when a sizeable bird's nest caught his eye. It must be the home of the magpies that were always winging around his garden. He looked closer and suddenly a beam of delight appeared on his face. There in the nest, amongst a silver spoon, a broken small egg and a bent pair of reading spectacles was....Charlotte's locket! His joy was such that he almost forgot he was on a ladder and had to make a sudden grab for a sturdy branch. Carefully removing the locket and chain from the nest he tucked it into his waistcoat pocket and descended with a heart too light for description.
"How on earth did you know to look up there? It's almost miraculous thinking to even consider such a thing. How very clever of you. How did you do it?"
Charlotte, whose delight had known no bounds, poured her husband a large glass of lemonade and sat down beside him in the sunshine. Mr Collins smiled mysteriously and said:
"It was simple in the end. When I had carefully considered ever conceivable option, I realised that apart from a divine presence, the only thing left in sight had to be the answer. The workman were too far away, no one had called here, there was no way anyone could have approached the table without being seen and, when I had discounted everything else, the only solution was....birds. It was just a case of sensible deduction and some clear thinking"
Mr Collins knew with certainty that, under the circumstances his small manipulation of the truth would not be held against him. He had, after all, solved the mystery, recovered the locket and chain and, most importantly Charlotte had his lock of hair back. A perfect solution. Now he would look forward to discussing the matter with great gusto. Much was to be said for clear thinking......
If we could but look into the future we may discover that another would share Mr Collin's views. But that is much later indeed.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stated by Sherlock Holmes"Back to Beginning
Posted on 2015-03-18
Summary: A hunting we will go. Mr Collins sets out to prove he is a man for all seasons. Charlotte covers here ears and hopes for the best.
"There. What a splendid piece of engineering, indeed it is!"
Mr Collins laid down the cloth he had been using to polish the walnut stock of the fearsome looking weapon on the table before him, a flintlock blunderbuss with a now shining brass barrel some fourteen inches long, mounted on a walnut stock with a brass trigger guard . The stock gleamed with a light coating of oil and it did look a very impressive and somewhat fearsome weapon. To Charlotte, who had just entered the room after visiting a friend nearby it was not something she was delighted to see. If an inanimate object could be said to have a look of impending trouble, the blunderbuss had such a look . She stared at it then at her husband who was beaming expectantly and gave a somewhat strained smile.
"Where on earth did you get that dear? I didn't know you had an interest in weapons. Did you buy it?
"No dear, not at all. It belonged to an employee of my fathers who used to work as a guard on a mail coach. He left it behind when he went to sea and never returned. When my father passed on I acquired it and it has been in my locker ever since. I found it again when I went to look for a pruning knife I had in there, and I cleaned it up. It came up very well"
"Ah!" Charlotte nodded non-commitedly. "Were you thinking to sell it or mount it over the fireplace dear?"
Mr Collins picked up the weapon and tucked it into his shoulder. Charlotte stepped nervously away from the barrel's direction causing her husband to smile.
"Do not be uneasy dearest, it isn't loaded yet. Sell it? No, I'll probably take it into the copse and try a few practise shots with it later. I have powder and shot to go with it!"
It was the word "yet" that caused Charlotte's heart to sink a little. Somehow the thought of her husband and such a weapon gave her a stirring of real unease. She had seen his attempts at archery and sincerely hoped that the idea of competitions associated with it would not feature in the immediate present for some considerable time. Maybe he would forget the whole thing. He was sometime prone to doing that, with ideas of the moment that passed from his memory when something else occurred. She decided premature worrying was unproductive and went off to disrobe and prepare their meal. A thought on another topic occurred to her as she was leaving the room.
"By the way dear, you haven't seen my coloured chiffon scarf have you. I hung it out to dry but now I can't find it. I hope the wind hasn't blown it away."
Mr Collins replied that he had not, and went outside to swing the blunderbuss around as he planned what fowl he would hunt down with it. Maybe he should by a gun dog? He had not, as yet, mentioned to Charlotte his real motivation for his sudden interest in the blunderbuss. No, he decided, he would postpone that discussion for a short while.
The following morning his thoughts of gun practise were shelved as he had to plan his Sunday sermon. Lady Catherine was always very complimentary about his views on topics moral in his orations from the pulpit and it was important to be heard to fight the good fight with all his might, as he often told himself. This particular Sunday he had a very topical subject in mind. He would base his sermon around hunting and shooting, for the Bible promoted such did it not? Did not Issac say unto his son Esau: "Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;", in Genesis twenty seven-three? There. That was clear enough, and Acts told Peter to "kill and eat!". and therefore hunting was a suitable subject. "Splendid". He would use that example. His reasoning was simple: Had not Lady Catherine made reference only yesterday to the fact that Tuesday of next week was the "Glorious" Twelfth"; the twelfth day of August and the first day of the official shooting calendar for all who loved game birds on their table? His patroness of course, owning an estate of considerable size, would invite all the local gentry to partake in the events of opening day in the flintlock and powder festivities of the start of the autumn and winter hunting season. Mr Collins rubbed his hands briskly together in anticipation and smiled widely. "Tally Ho"
Later in the day, the sermon duly written and, as usual, making gratuitous reference to his bountiful patroness and her kindness and benevolence towards all the parishioners - for he delighted in those little elegant compliments with which he sometimes amused himself in compiling and declaring in the right places with of course an unstudied air as possible - He experienced a small moment of deja-vu, where had he said that before?. Ah well, no matter, for it was naught but the truth
Mr Collins collected the blunderbuss and filled a bag with its ammunition. With a determined stride and humming an air he strode off in the direction of the copse. Charlotte was around the house doing something somewhere and he decided not to mention his mission. She would know soon enough of course, indeed with his very first shot she would be left in no doubt as to what he was at. She would smile fondly and wonder what delicacies he would bag for the table.
Charlotte, in direct opposition to his thinking, almost leapt out of her skin as the first thunderous crash of the blunderbuss exploded into the peaceful tranquility of the afternoon. She closed her eyes in supplication and uttered a quiet prayer that her husband would be put off by the noise and his own inability. It was a wish, not to be granted totally, at least for a time.
Mr Collins, his ears ringing and his shoulder aching from his fourth shot, shook his head to clear it and surveyed the old muslin sack he had brought along as a target and propped on a tree branch. The bag remained pristine, although the surrounding foliage seemed a little less dense. Maybe he had aimed a little high? Maybe it was the breeze that meandered playfully through the tree tops? Resolutely he reloaded the weapon, planted his feet firmly on the turf and raised the blunderbuss again. Three things occurred simultaneously: A rustle of breeze, a flash of something bright and Mr Collins pulling the trigger unconsciously. The bright object of which but a flash of green and red trespassed on the edges of memory, exploded to nothingness as the packed shot from the muzzle blew it to pieces. Mr Collins, ears ringing again, decided he would take a rest and maybe return later. He must remember to pad the area of his shoulder with something as the gun's recoil was quite strong. He gathered up his bag and set off back for the cottage.
" What is happening in the fields dear? What are the servants looking for?
Charlotte looked up from her sewing as Mr Collins entered the sitting room. She frowned at her husband's question having no knowledge of what he asked. Her husband pointed through the cottage window and she looked out to see a dozen or so of Lady Catherine's servants walking in the grounds, obviously searching for something. She rose to her feet and together they went outside. One of the servants was just on the other side of the path pushing at the hedge with a stick and Charlotte walked across to him. She came back a couple of minutes later and informed Mr Collins of the reason for the activity.
"It seems that Lady Catherine's African parrot has escaped from the house conservatory! It hasn't been seen since this morning and her Ladyship fears hawks, crows or even magpies may attack it because of its bright plumage. The colours are quite vivid and easily seen! The servants are searching everywhere but there are fears it may be long gone. William, what is the matter dear? You've gone quite pale!"
A sudden mental picture, green and red in hue, and too very awful to contemplate, appeared in Mr Collin's mind as he staggered to a garden bench and sank heavily onto it. Charlotte dashed off and came back with a glass of water, her expression concerned and fearful. Mr Collins gulped the water down and clasped a hand over his mouth, his eyes almost saucer-like. He let out a loud groan. Charlotte hovered worriedly before him as he caught his breath. His heart was racing madly and a feeling of panic washed over him. Visions of her Ladyship standing before him with accusing eyes as he sat in the village stocks flashed madly through his mind. He must compose himself. Charlotte was waiting expectantly before him.
"Oh, er, I think it may be the blunderbuss dear. The recoil is very strong indeed. Yes, I think I may have overdone things a little and hurt my shoulder. My ears are ringing quite badly too. I think I may put the gun away for a while" He took a deep breath.
Charlotte actually beamed, completely unaware of his thoughts and delighted that her wishes had come true. Maybe he would actually sell the gun? Should she mention that right now? No, she decided, it would wait. She smiled and helped her husband rise. That evening a servant from Rosings knocked at their door. Mr Collins cowered in his chair as Charlotte answered the door. He had been seen with the gun and they had come for him. His hear hammered frantically against his ribs.
"Good news dear! Charlotte smiled brightly as she came back into the room. "The parrot has been found. It had flown up into the rafters and was safe after all. ".William, are you quite sure you have recovered from this afternoon? You still look quite pale!"
"I'm absolutely fine dear. As a matter of fact I feel much better already and in the mood for some of the fine broth you made today, oh, and a hunk of your home-made bread. Yes, indeed, I feel absolutely fine now!"
The sermon on hunting was still carried out to good effect at Sunday sevice, and a notice appeared on the church notice board advertising a blunderbuss for sale. Mr Collins, on reflection, decided fishing was a pastime much more in keeping with his role as a fisher of men. Yes, indeed it was.
Charlotte's brightly multi-coloured chiffon scarf was never seen again.The End
Posted on 2015-03-19
Summary: A free trout supper courtesy of Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Defining the word "free" may be a little more complicated than it sounds.
Mrs Dawkins had become a valuable friend to Charlotte Lucas. A mother of two young boys, who attended the village school during the daytime, she took in washing from several people in the village and helped out with cleaning around the church and rectory house, whilst her husband acted as driver and part gardener to Mr Collins. It was a useful arrangement for all and also provided the ladies with an excuse to chat and discuss life in Hunsford Parish. Charlotte particularly welcomed her company when her husband made his daily inspections of the climate, the condition of the road, the progress of nature, investigation of visitors and of course, his several times a week visits to Rosings Park to pay his respects to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter. It was during such a visit that Mrs Dawkins informed Charlotte of an incident in the almost palatial grounds of the manor house. Her husband was friends with one of Lady Catherine's gamekeepers and her Ladyship had had to be informed that a rogue pike was diminishing the numbers of trout in one of the lakes in the grounds. Despite many attempts to catch it, the large predatorial fish evaded capture and continued to wreak havoc amongst the trout community. Charlotte listened to the news and gave a sudden smile. Mrs Dawkins looked enquiringly at her.
" Perhaps, if her Ladyship went out on the lake in a boat and ordered it to, the pike may just be intimidated into obeying orders and jump into a net. Either that or leave the poor trout alone under pain of banishment from the area!"
"Oh, Mrs Collins, you mustn't let anyone hear you say things like that!
Despite her alarmed tone, Mrs Dawkins raised a hand to cover her smile. Charlotte let out a peal of laughter as her imagination pictured such a scene. In seconds they were both laughing heartily.
Mr Collins arrived home in somewhat of a hurry. He bustled into the kitchen and called through to his wife, who was reading in her parlor.
"Charlotte, my dear, I must take to rod and line. There is an alarming situation taking place in Lady Catherine's trout lake! Her Ladyship has issued a statement that until a pike that has been savaging her stocks is caught, anyone from the village may fish the lake and attempt to catch it. Anyone who does will also be allowed to keep it. She has actually declared a school holiday tomorrow to enable people to attend. One of the groundsmen claims to have seen the pike and says it is as almost as big as Anne's pony. Imagine that dear! Everyone is all agog and tomorrow they'll all be up there at the lake. I think we must take sandwiches for it may be a long and exhausting day!"
Charlotte sighed at the statement, dismissing the blatant exaggeration with a head shake. She did not mention the fact that she was already aware of the news. Information gathering was, after all, a serious occupation. Ah well, it was summer and there were trees a-plenty around the lake for shade, but on the morrow she had hoped to persuade her husband to drive her in the gig to nearby Westerham to visit the shops. She sighed resignedly and went to boil the kettle. Fishing would be the order of the day.
Dawkins was a very useful and accomplished man. He knew all about most things related to country life, fishing not being the least of them. The following day he installed himself on the bank of the lake near a shady spot for the ladies and helped Mr Collins to untangle his lines and set up his rod after he had made an over-zealous cast and almost uprooted a rose bush. Both the Dawkins boys fished and it was obvious to Charlotte that they knew exactly what they were at. Her husband, ever enthusiastic and game to involve himself, had so far managed to catch two rather small trout which she put down to good fortune and help from Thomas, the twelve year old Dawkins boy, rather than her husband's angling skills. He had also caused some minor excitement claiming he had caught the "pike" before it turned out to be a small boat anchor that from its very rusty state, must, have lain in the lake for a very long time. Around about then Charlotte decided that sandwiches and lemonade for their little party would be a good idea. Peace restored, the day passed pleasantly with several catches by his nearby neighbours which, of course the lucky anglers were allowed to keep. One day's fishing would hardly diminish the large lake, after all. In the afternoon Mr Collins mood took a turn to total sunshine when he managed to land a very impressive and sizeable trout. It was approximately the size of the one young Thomas had landed some time earlier and caused Charlotte to smile delightedly. Mr Dawkins had baited the rod, but the catch was undoubtedly her husband's The day was already declared highly satisfactory and they would dine on trout.
Mr Collins was almost beside himself with pride. He puffed out his chest, decided he really was capable of landing the rogue pike, flicked his rod backwards then hurled his baited line forth with gusto. Unfortunately, the somewhat mis-directed hook snagged in Charlotte's picnic basket and only some quick, evasive action from Dawkins saved the basket, and possibly Mr Collins from landing in the lake. "Steady Mr Collins, Sir. Don't overdo it!" Mr Collins, never one to under estimate his own accomplishments declared the breeze must have affected the cast. Unabashed, he cast again and settled down to await the aquatic enemy.
No event at Rosings Park could ever be complete without some involvement from Lady Catherine. In her own way, it must be said, she had some good and charitable views towards the poor, though they did not always extend to those she considered had been created and put on the earth for the sole purpose of serving her wants and desires. Whilst the purpose of allowing people to fish in her lake and keep their catches was seen as a break in routine and work by almost everyone, they were not there for pleasure alone. It was thus that she ordered her barouche made ready and she, her daughter Anne and Mrs Jenkinson - Anne's general factotum- appeared in parasol-shaded splendour to make sure that no one was taking a summer afternoon nap instead of pike-hunting. Whilst there was rarely any animosity in her direction the rear of her carriage disappearing from view was generally preferable to that of her horses appearing on the scene. One person, ever ready to delight in the radiance of her beady gaze however, was Mr Collins. Seeing her driving by on the nearby path brought him hurriedly propping his rod and rushing forward to greet he, and inquire after the health of herself, her daughter, her horses, her aspidistra, her parrot and the tomatoes in her greenhouse. Today she was in serious mode as she lectured him on the correct use of bait and rod application. The news of the pike intruding in her lake had not been received gracefully. She had never learned of fish catching, of course, she informed him, for she had always been too busy being a lady, but her father had been a prolific disciple of the art and had once caught a fish so big.....If she herself had ever learned, she would have been, etc etc...... Mr Collins heard her out smilingly with many nods of agreement and assured her the monster would be caught and brought to task. Charlotte made a decided point of avoiding Mrs Dawkins eye as she heard this. The thought of a huge pike standing in the dock of a magistrate's court was just too outrageous to contemplate.....
"Drive on!" The imperious command signalled the end of the conversation and the regal barouche rolled on its stately way, Mr Collins avidly waving its passage.
"I have it, I have it!" It was almost four o' clock as the almost scream of triumph issued from the throat of young Thomas Dawkins and everyone within earshot stopped in their activity and hurried over. His rod was arched in a most alarming loop, almost doubled as he leaned backwards, an expression of total determination on his young face. His father hurried to his side and reached out to aid him but the youngster shook his head. "No father, let me land him, let me do it!" Mr Dawkins grinned and nodded at his son's excitement before stepping back. Mr Collins watched wide-eyed as the water a few yards out from the bank thrashed wildly and flung spray high above the surface of the lake. Suddenly the pike appeared as it leapt high in the air, clearing the water in a flash of almost metallic green and gold. It was a huge fish and brought a chorus of shocked sounds from the onlookers. It dived back into the depths and the young lad's rod was almost pulled from his grasp. Dawkins, determined his son should land the fish and, at the same time worrying the line would break was watching the water. Quite suddenly his son slipped and before he could move to aid him, was dragged down the bank and into the water as the enraged fish felt some slack in the line and charged away.
Young Dawkins disappeared beneath the lake's surface then his red curls appeared back in sight. Quite what happened next amazed everyone as they would later declare. Mr Collins reacted almost instantly and, fully clothed and still wearing his straw hat leapt out into the water and in a couple of strokes had grabbed the lad by the collar and turned back to the waiting hands of the watchers on the bank. Tall and gangly though he was, the reverend was also quite a strong man and Thomas, wet through though he was, was but a boy. He was actually still hanging determinedly onto his rod and, as he was set down, it jerked wildly and was almost torn back out of his grasp. "I have it father, I still have it" he gasped, spitting out a mouthful of lake water. To the amazement of all the pike was still on his line. This time Dawkins grasped his son firmly around his waist as the boy reeled furiously on his rod. It took a few more minutes to land the pike, but land him they did. Charlotte turned away as Dawkins clubbed the villain into submission then everyone clapped and charred as young Thomas, helped by his proud father, held up a hefty fish the length of his father's arm and one that, because of its girth, he couldn't have lifted alone .
"You should have it, Mr Collins Sir. But for you, who knows what might have happened. Take the pike and welcome. Thomas landed the fish, but if you hadn't landed the lad, Lord know...?"
Dawkins held out the monster fish towards Mr Collins, his voice serious as he uttered the words. Mr Collins looked at the villainous pike, now nothing more than a fishmonger's item, then shook his head and smiled.
"No, Thomas caught it and landed it fair and square. I was just, er, instrumental in helping landing it, shall we say?. The rebel is caught and Charlotte and I have our trout supper and that is enough a plenty"
Mr Collins experienced a warm glow, secure in the knowledge that his role in the drama would be fully related to Lady Catherine. Now, it was home and remove his wet clothing and enjoy his trout. Tomorrow was a pleasure yet to come.
William Collins, a fisher of men? Assuredly.The End
Posted on 2015-03-20
Summary: A shiny golden guinea is a desirable thing, but sometimes, strangely, reality is by far preferable to the stuff of dreams.
Sitting outside the parsonage cottage in the shade was pleasant indeed. William Collins stretched out his long legs and put his arms behind his head. It was very warm, and nothing but the sounds of nature disturbed his peace. His head had just begun to nod when Charlotte's voice disturbed his reverie.
"Oh, William, dear. Miss de Bourgh left a message from her mother whilst you were out. Lady Catherine wished you to call at Rosings about the Achbishop's forthcoming visit. She wishes to discuss it at your convenience"!
Charlotte had hardly finished saying the words before her husband jumped up and was re-donning the coat he had shortly before removed.
"Bettter to go and get it attended to. Won't be too long Dear!" He placed his hat on his head before the hall mirror and, with a smile and a wave was gone. Her Ladyship appreciated prompt attention.
To Charlotte, " at your convenience" meant just that, ie, at a time convenient to oneself. To Mr Collins it meant hasten to her Ladyship's presence with all speed. She shook her head in mild annoyance but knew argument was useless. When her Ladyship called.......
The day was warm and sunny and Mr Collins forced himself to slow to a walking pace as he approached the house. To arrive perspiring in Lady Catherine's presence would be less than desirable. A Hackney carriage, a rare sight at Rosings, was just driving away from the entrance as he approached. He mounted the steps and rang the bell on the imposing arched entrance to the manor house. A liveried servant appeared and allowed him entry. He gave a small bow and said:
"Her Ladyship has another visitor, Sir. She asks that if you arrived you wait in the conservatory. I shall convey the news that you are here!" Mr Collins nodded, smilingly and went to take a seat in the glass enclosure that housed her Ladyship's numerous exotic flora and fauna. It was very warm indeed and he hoped he would not be there too long. Through the doorway to the hall he could see a leather portmanteau with a heavy cloak on top of it. He leaned forward for a closer look and observed a military sword propped against the trunk. He frowned, then shrugged his shoulders; all would no doubt be soon revealed. He fanned himself with his hat and sat down. It was very warm and he felt drowsy. The buzz of a solitary bee was the only sound to be heard in the silence. He felt his head dropping and sat up straight. His head lowered again and....
A small sound disturbed him and he jerked awake suddenly and struggled to his feet. A bead of sweat ran down his face and he stepped to the conservatory door to escape the blanketing heat. As he did so, he almost ran into a figure just passing behind a screen outside the door. Lady Catherine stood at the entrance and jerked around in surprise. Mr Collins looked at the small figure now cloaked, who was just about to leave. His eyes opened wide and a gasp escaped his lips. Lady Catherine sighed resignedly and beckoned him forward into a side room. The visitor followed and closed the door behind him. Her Ladyship clasped her hands and studied Mr Collins thoughtfully.
"Mr Collins. I really do wish you had not seen my visitor, but now I have no choice but to take you into my confidence on a matter of the utmost importance. There is no point in subterfuge, I must introduce you to the French Emperor...Napoleon Bonaparte".
The small man, short, dark hair combed flat to his head nodded abruptly then said something sharply in French to Lady Catherine. She turned back to Mr Collins.
"Do you speak any French at all Mr Collins?" Mr Collins felt his face redden:
"Sadly, your Ladyship, I have to confess no" he almost stuttered. He was still shocked to the core to find the man England and most of Europe had been at war with for so many years standing before him at Rosings. How could this be? Was the story not that he had been captured? The Frenchman reeled off some angry words to Lady Catherine and, to Mr Collin's great surprise she answered him back in the same tongue. Lady Catherine sat down and motioned the others to do like wise. She took a deep breath and turned to Mr Collins. He tried hard not to stare at the visitor as she started to speak.
"You must be aware that the de Bourghs are of French origin Mr Collins. My dear departed Lewis was once a great friend of Napoleon's father. I am now trying to help an old family friend in his time of need until he can return to his army and re-group"
Mr Collins stared at her aghast, not truly believing what he was hearing. Bonaparte rose and came to stand over him, his expression grim. He stared fixedly at the bewildered parson then swiveled sharply back to regard Lady Catherine.
"Can this man be trusted? Can I trust him not to betray me to the British army? Is the secret of my planned re-conquest safe with him? I need to know these things. If not, I may have to kill him!
Lady Catherine raised a hand. " I am quite sure Mr Collins will betray no one. I trust him implicitly. Your secret is safe. When you return to power I hope you will remember that! Mr Collins and his wife will not go against the wishes of someone to whom they who their very living.
Napoleon nodded. He walked over to Mr Collins again and, reaching in his trouser pocket produced a golden guinea . He reached forward and placed it into Mr Collin's waistcoat pocket. Mr Collins looked at him in amazement. Bonaparte smiled and said, "It is good to know I have friends amongst the English who will support my return to power. I offer you my hand my friend. Merci Beaucoup!"
Mr Collins hauled his lanky frame from the settee and looked at Lady Catherine. A look of outrage appeared on his normally amiable countenance. He reached into his pocket and drew out the golden guinea, looked at it then reached out and grabbed the front of Bonapart's coat. He thrust the coin, not gently, under the Frenchman's nose.
"A guinea. You think I will sell my loyalty to my country for a golden guinea? Egad, Sir, what sort of an Englishman do you think I am?" He thrust the Frenchman away from him. Napoleon drew his cloak around himself and spat some words in French then turned abruptly and left the room.
Mr Collins had never before dared to stare directly at he Lady ship. He was so very upset that he amazed himself by doing so now. She returned his stare angrily.
"Do you know what you have done Mr Collins? Are you really aware of whom you have just laid hands on? You have just instigated a death-wish upon yourself and your wife. Can you live with that Sir? For the short time you have left, that is!" Verily, once Napoleon returns to power he will personally remove your heads on the guillotine!"
Mr Collins, his sudden bravado waning at her words, shook his head perplexedly. What would he do now, for indeed Lady Catherine would surely dispense with his services. He and Charlotte would be cast upon the street with nothing. No matter; the alternative was too great to consider. Commit treason against his king and country? Forsake all the things that made England great, roast beef, jugged hare, buttermilk, Sunday service, reading his Bible, daffodils and cuckoos, Charlotte's chickens..? No, he would declare Lady Catherine's treachery to the nearest army commander, magistrate, Mr Darcy...anyone. But wait, Mr Darcy was Lady Catherine's nephew. Was he too in the plot. Could anyone be trusted?
" Madam, I shall not fall in with your plans. No, no, noooooo..I am English.."
"Mr Collins, what on earth is the matter. Why are you shouting so. Are you ill?"
Lady Catherine stood before him as Mr Collins shook his head and gazed around, a puzzled frown on his face. A uniformed soldier stood behind her, not a small Frenchman but a tall heavily built man he suddenly recognized as some on he had met before. He stared owlishly in surprise at Lady Catherine's nephew, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
"Oh, your Ladyship, I do beg your pardon. I fear the heat caused me to drop off. Please forgive my rudeness....I...."
Lady Cathereine looked closely at him and shook her head. She coughed and indicated her nephew.
"Yes, yes, very well. It is very warm in here. I'm afraid I'll have to postpone our meeting about the Archbishop's visit. It isn't for two weeks anyway. Fitzwilliam decided to surprise me by not telling me he was coming to visit. I shall be tied up for a few days now but we'll see you at church on Sunday and you may bring Mrs Collins round in the evening for supper. I shall send the carriage for you. Excuse us now if you will. We have much to discuss. I'll send a man out with some water for you".
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded pleasantly and followed her out as her Ladyship swept imperiously from the room. Mr Collins, feeling somewhat dizzy, walked to the coolness of the entrance hall and a servant soon appeared with a glass of cold water. Mr Collins drank it gratefully then walked out into the fresh air. He felt a trifle foolish for falling asleep but the feeling passed as he walked down the path towards his home. A perfectly natural thing to do, surely. Memory of his dream was fast fading, all except the figure of Napoleon Bonapart, who he had only ever seen in a newspaper cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson. A golden guinea for his loyaty indeed.! A sudden thought made his fingers reach into his waistcoat pocket. He stopped in alarm as they encountered a large coin. He grabbed it out and saw, not a golden guinea but a good solid English George the Third copper penny. Looking up he saw young Thomas Dawkins about to pass him on the path.
"Afternoon Mr Collins Sir" the boy greeted him.
"Good afternoon Thomas" replied Mr Collins with a smile, flipping the penny in the air in the boy's direction. He watched the lad catch it and then suddenly gave a hearty chuckle as he strode off down the lane.
"Merci Beaucoup indeed"...
Posted on 2015-03-22
Summary: There are spirits and spirits, and the difference between them is sometimes not quite understood . One comes in a bottle, and the other....
The age old prediction of birth and death following each other occurred in Hunsford, when George Jenkins, an eighty four year old widower, passed away the same week as Mrs Jones, a parishioner, gave birth.....
Mr William Collins, as befitting his position as parson of Hunsford by Westerham, was not a drinking man. He would never have his position if he was. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, his patroness, was a strict, church-going disciplinarian in such matters. Outside of the small amount of church wine involved in his communion, he rarely took more than a glass of wine with his evening meal, an odd glass of wine socially and possibly a small tot of brandy on very special occasions. One such occasion was when Mrs Jones, a prominent member of his flock and a leading light in the Hunsford church choir, gave birth to her second child. He called at the Jones home with Charlotte to visit and announced the birth happily from his pulpit on the following Sunday. Later, the child would be baptized at a Christening ceremony. A couple of evenings later Mr Collins had called to see the Jenkins relations and dispense what comfort he could to the family on the demise of their father and grandfather. He stayed some time with the family, taking a glass of home-made wine and dispensing condolences, and dusk was fast approaching as he strolled the short walk home. By the time he reached the edge of his property, darkness had descended.
Charlotte would have some hot broth ready for his supper and he hummed to himself as he strode along. He had to pass the Jones cottage on his way and the tenant was sitting outside the house smoking his pipe. Mr Jones hailed him:
"Good evening Reverend. Lovely mild night, is it not, though I think it may rain later?"
Oh, do you believe so? I was rather hoping not. How are Mrs Jones and the new addition?
" Absolutely fine Sir. We're both delighted with young Edmund, for so we shall call him. Would you raise a glass with me in a small toast Mr Collins? . I have some vintage brandy here that my cousin brought back from his last voyage. Just a drop mind as I know you probably wish to get home!" Mr Collins hesitated, but Jones was already disappearing into the cottage and came right back with a brandy bottle and two small glasses. He poured for them both and they clinked glasses. The brandy was rich and potent and Mr Collins nodded appreciatively as the fiery liquid warmed his throat. He wished the family and child well, then once again set off on his way homeward. Deciding to forsake the path and cut across the church graveyard from whence he could see the cheerful glow of his house window, he stepped over the low fence into the hallowed ground.
He could not truly say later whether the wine and brandy affected his judgement, or whether the thought of Mr Jones's predicted rain made him hurry. Regardless, he completely forgot about the newly-dug grave that awaited George Jenkins on the morrow. With a startled cry he slipped on the mud and disappeared into the gaping hole in a tangle of legs and arms. The sides took the brunt of his fall and, with a resigned sigh and feeling slightly dizzy, he climbed to his feet, relieved to find that apart from being dishevelled and mud-stained he was unhurt. Being quite tall, his head was still below the rim of the grave aperture and he leaned back against the mud wall as he considered his position.
Edward Blake, ex mariner, local ne'r do well and frequent patron of the village inn, The Bell and Whistle, had somewhat lost his way home in his befuddled state. He would have to cut across the graveyard and the parsonage grounds to get to his cottage on the other side of both. He mumbled the words of a sea-shanty to himself as he stumbled drunkenly along. Just as Mr Collins had done some moments before, he suddenly found nothingness beneath his feet and crashed headlong into the open grave. Swearing profusely he staggered upright and gazed upwards in disbelief as he realized where he was. Suddenly, a hand tapped him on the shoulder and a voice said " You'll never get out alone. Let me help you and....."
The sound of a man screaming loudly brought Charlotte and Mr Dawkins to the doors of their respective abodes. Dawkins was holding a shotgun in one hand and a lantern in the other. The terrified running figure, jibbering in fright, was past them before either knew what was happening.
A voice called out to them and with some trepidation Dawkins walked forward and held out his lantern just in time to see the dazed-looking head of Mr Collins peering from below ground level. Charlotte let out a startled cry and Dawkins sighed and went off to find a ladder. In minutes the reverend was helped back to terra - firma with thoughts of hot broth and newly baked bread still uppermost in his mind over the rosy glow of all else.
The legend of the Hunsford Phantom was born that night, and from thence, the local graveyard was carefully avoided from the first sign of dusk. Edward Blake got many a free tot from his re-telling of the tale of his meeting, but it was mainly in the daylight hours. He suddenly began to attend church for the first time in many years. Next day, in deference to the true story reaching the ears of Lady Catherine, Dawkins and Charlotte agreed not to even mention it from that time forth. Mr Collins dismissed it from mind as nothing more than just a normality.The End
Posted on 2015-03-24
Summary: Idyllic country villages are hardly a normal venue for highwaymen. Firstly, there are no highways really near to glorify the term, in a village where everyone knows everyone else, and secondly, who would dare to commit any crime in Lady Catherine de Bourgh's domain? Who indeed?
To the citizens of the rural haven of Hunsford by Westerham, highwaymen and footpads were creatures occasionally read of in newspaper broadsheets or heard of but rarely if ever at all , in conversation. Thomas Welland, landlord of one of the local Inns claimed to have seen a highwayman hung up by Chipstead some years earlier, and Mr Jones's mariner cousin told numerous grisly tales of such when holding court in The Bell and Whistle. Mention was made of the Hunsford Phantom, for did not Edward Blake still tell of it when drunk?, but in general, tales of such were but half-believed as they never touched the lives of the community Such things only ever happened to others. The only robbery ever mentioned was when fourteen year old William Pike had stolen a bun from Mrs McGill's bakers shop and she boxed his ears and dunked him in the river for his trouble.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh was not in spirits.
"Mr Collins. A dreadful occurrence took place a few weeks ago. The coach of a local magistrate from Brasted was held up by two villains who robbed him of his watch and fob and took all his money, a gold signet ring and the contents of his satchel. Despite several volunteer constables from the area and the services of a couple of paid ones, the thieves were not brought to justice. That was bad enough, but now two instances in the last fourteen days force me to believe we have footpads and highwaymen loose in my area of jurisdiction. A private coach was held up by two men riding one horse, and on Tuesday last, the postman was waylaid and all his mail stolen in broad daylight. What value it may have been we know not, but important documents may have also been lost as well as money orders and letters of a personal nature. What is more of consequence, Mr Collins, is that these kind of people cannot be allowed to roam freely within Rosings estates and parishes. They must be apprehended and dealt with. It will not do!"
William Collins, parson of Hunsford , tenant and neighbor of Lady Catherine and on one of his regular respect calls on his patroness, nodded his agreement, albeit somewhat nervously. Lady Catherine, seeing his discomfort, raised a hand.
"Oh, don't make yourself uneasy Mr Collins. I have no wish to involve your good self in the matter in any way. I just needed to advise you to take care if you should need to venture abroad in the near future, either afoot or by carriage. I would not wish you to be attacked in such a way!"
"Oh, fear naught. I assure your Ladyship, if such varlets approached myself I would give them a good introduction to my blackthorn walking cane, indeed I would, for in my position as a clergyman I must fight all forms of evil and I...."
"Yes, yes Mr Collins. Just heed my words and, at Sunday service, be sure to issue my warnings from the pulpit. I will not have such happenings polluting the shades of Rosings!. I will not be denied; they must be caught immediately. Forewarned is forearmed and we must be ready. Pass the message boldy"
"Indeed I shall, your Ladyship, indeed I shall"
Mr Collins, his audience over, dismissed himself with a bow.
Before Sunday arrived and Mr Collins was able to dispense fire and brimstone on all members of the criminal populace, another occurrence took place that brought the matter almost to his very doorstep. The carriage of the Reverend Oliver Parsley, parson of a parish in nearby Oxted, was halted on the main Westerham Road and its occupant, on his way to visit Mr Collins himself at Hunsford was robbed of his belongings. Two masked men on one horse, one carrying a flintlock pistol, were claimed to be the perpetrators. Mr Collins was offended, her Ladyship absolutely beside herself with outrage. The incident also somewhat deflated Mr Collins because his planned sermon may now seem a little less than an early warning. He could of course possibly hope for a thunder and lightning storm to occur during service, but Lady Catherine's message would have somewhat less effect due to this latest episode. An element of closing the stable door was evident.
Charlotte, the good Mrs Collins, was duly informed that thieves and vagabonds were rampant in the area and warned to lock up her chickens securely as well as always keeping the house doors bolted after dark. Mr Collins took to patrolling around the parsonage grounds with his blackthorn stick before retiring each night -but always within sight of the house, of course. Highway robbery extended to become lane and path robbery. He also did stretching and deep-breathing exercises each morning and once almost managed three push-ups in preparation to defend his mansion. One must be vigilant and prepared. At first, Charlotte had been more than a little sceptical about the siege tactics, but the latest episode of robbery almost in their parish, had shaken her, and she held her peace. The war recently over, the local militia was being temporarily disbanded and news of the rampant highwaymen was more than a little disturbing. Mr Collins, chest out and swishing his cane at imaginary foes who he decidedly hoped would never appear - strode the ramparts with vigilant aplomb. Lady Catherine had promised constables would patrol the roads after dark till the vagabonds were apprehended. Two weeks passed by, the warnings, "better late than never" as Mr Collins declared, were dispensed and no further incidents were reported. Tobias Small discharged his shotgun at a marauding fox one night, but that was all that occurred to disturb the peace. Mr Collins reduced his nightly patrols to a quick stroll around after locking up the church and everyone relaxed.
"I may be a little late returning this evening, Charlotte, dear. The service will end at about six-thirty and, since Dawkins has his sister visiting, I'll drive the chaise myself. It's less than four miles to Oxted and I'll be home before full dark hopefully, and Dawkins will be around by then anyway!"
Charlotte was not madly enthusiastic about the idea of Mr Collins being abroad on the road in the gloaming, but he insisted there was nothing to worry about. He would take his cane, just in case. That fact did little to ease Charlotte's concern, but she waved him off in the afternoon sunshine determined not to worry over-duly. Nothing had happened for two weeks, so....
Humming an aire he liked, Mr Collins drove his merry way down the road towards Hunsford. It wasn't quite full dark and was a bright night with a cloudless sky so the rising moon lit up the area and made driving comparatively easy. He had lighted his side lamps on the gig and was half wondering what delights dear Charlotte had prepared for the evening meal as the horse clip- clopped steadily towards home. He saw a lantern glow up ahead and wondered who was abroad this evening. One of the parishioners perhaps; a constable maybe? ...
"Stand and deliver!" The words he had heard mentioned so many times of late were growled harshly at him as a horse suddenly edged out into the road in front of his gig and some twenty yards ahead. He hauled on the reins in startled surprise as he made out two figures mounted on the animal. Both had masks over the lower halves of their faces and the rear one of them was pointing a pistol at him as he slid to the ground. His own animal came to a halt almost alongside the other horse.
"Your money and your valuables, or your life!" The ominous words were almost shouted at him as Mr Collins attempted to get to his feet. His hearty was racing madly.
What happened next when the incident was related, he could hardly recall in his fright. It all happened very fast, but one of those strange flashes of memory struck him. Whoever termed highwaymen "Gentlemen of the Road" certainly didn't have these two in mind. Roughly dressed and decidedly not in fashion, they appeared uncouth louts. He stood up and the light carriage lurched. His horse shied forward and he half-rising stumbled, tripped over his feet and was pitched sideways from the vehicle and out into space. He somehow landed on his feet but staggering forward, tripped again and went into an impromptu forward roll. As he rolled forward, his long legs, thrashing the air, hit the robbers' horse directly in its belly and it in turn leapt forward in fright and charged the man with the large flintlock pistol, knocking him to the ground. The pistol discharged with a loud bang and Mr Collins, hat jammed firmly over his eyes, rose, tripped again over the robber's foot and landed with a whoosh of breath on the cursing man. A loud shout occurred and a third mounted figure rode forward into what was almost a pantomime scene. The second robber who was still on the horse and hadn't spoken a word till then, let out a roar of surprise, kicked his heels into his mount's flanks and took off in a rush into the darkness.
"Stand where you are or I'll fire. I am his majesty's constable. Stand or I'll shoot you down, I swear!" The voice had a ring of authority and Mr Collins, hat still jammed over his eyes, certainly was not going to argue.
The related story, first in court, and later in the local taverns and inns, as the constable gave his evidence, was as follows, How close it came to the truth was a matter for conjecture.
"I was patrolling the grounds besides Rosings estate when I saw a carriage and figures in the road, Your Honour . One had a lantern, another was mounted on a horse and the third turned out to be his reverence Mr Collins. As I drew close, Mr Collins, who I now know was taking his life in his hands, dived from his gig and threw himself at the mounted man. Somehow, in a display of gymnastics I've never seen the like of before, he then managed to dive on the robber with the pistol, who discharged it at him. It was later claimed that only shot was in the pistol and no ball, but that is unproveable either way. Mr Collins couldn't know that anyway. As I arrived wielding my own pistol, and took charge, Mr Collins had managed to overcome the robber and had him on the ground. When he was unmasked, this turned out to be Jem Hawkes from the village next to Hunsford. It was easily determined that the one who rode off was his brother Michael as they are a pair of drunken ne'r do wells who are always together. When their house was searched later, several items were recovered that proved their guilt. When asked what he was doing with a gold watch engraved "Anna", some legal documents and various letters, one of which was sent by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Michael Hawkes claimed the watch was his mothers, he was studying law and was also conducting a romantic liason with Lady Catherine. This claim, of course, was furiously denied by her Ladyship. His mother's name was Margaret. His brother, Jem Hawkes, claimed he had found the pistol whilst patrolling the estate looking for highwaymen. They are a pair of rogues, and, but for the bravery of Mr Collins, who claimed it all happened so fast he had little recollection of his actions, they may still be terrorizing and robbing the citizens."
As they left the court, a proud Charlotte exclaimed "William dear, you are a complete hero. A foolish one, for being so brave, but my hero nevertheless. I'm going to cook you lamb with mint sauce for supper!"
Mr Collins, determined he would not tell lies, exhibited a dignified silence. He was not a man to sell himself short however and for the next couple of weeks the plaudits, almost gracious thanks from Lady Catherine and the sheer hero-worship shown by his neighbors had him walking on clouds. The nation needs its heroes, after all.!
Posted on 2015-03-25
Summary: To fight the good fight is an on-going battle for Reverend Collins. Sometimes, however, turning the other cheek can take dubious turns to achieve its purpose.
A new Parson had arrived in Oxted, a village and parish just a few miles from that of Hunsford by Westerham. The newcomer, an imposing and sturdy man in his late thirties, had moved from the region of Portsmouth where he had been raised and ordained. He settled into the area and, in due course soon visited Rosings Park to pay his respects. Rosings was the chief estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the patroness of Hunsford parish, which lay but a half mile from the Palatial Rosings Park mansion from where her Ladyship resided and kept court over her sizeable estates and multiple charges. Hunsford church, bordered only by a lane from her Ladyships grounds, was also where Lady Catherine paid homage to the Lord. On arrival, the visitor was introduced as the reverend Zachary Wallope, a family name he hinted vaguely that had some connections with an earldom in his native area. He quickly brushed aside such lofty matters and family roots as unimportant in his mission for God's word. Lady Catherine, ever aware of her own superiority over the rest of humanity, on mention of such was most gracious in her welcome and invited her guest to take tea with herself and daughter Anne. The conversation inevitably turned to events in the home parish and its local parson whom Lady Catherine named as the Reverend William Collins. As the said Mr Collins had recently been involved in a somewhat "heroic" role in the capture of two local highwaymen, Lady Catherine was very generous in her praise of her parson and his achievements. He was declared a veritable man among men.
Within a few minutes Zachary Wallope, a man of no small belief in his own importance and a dedicated singer of self praise songs, became rather tired of such honours being bestowed on someone else and, despite never having met him, decided he didn't particularly like the Reverend William Collins. He had heard several stories from his own parishioners so had decided to call on this heroic gentleman and see for himself what such a man looked like. Was he a giant, a new Richard the Lionheart, a Duke of Wellington, a man of much respect? He needed to know and Hunsford Parsonage was but a short distance away from Rosings. Hardly worth his man driving there. He would walk and let himself be picked up in a half hour or so. He dispensed his instruction and set off down the lane.
"William dear, you have a vistor!"
Mr Collins looked up from his rhubarb bed and wiped a bead of perspiration from his brow. Despite his sun hat, the day was hot and he squinted up at the figure standing in his garden beside Charlotte. He saw a stocky, neatly-dressed man of the cloth regarding him quizzically. The man smiled, removed his hat and bowed minutely..
"Zachary Wallope, new parson of St Mary's Oxted at your service Mr Collins. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. I just visited Lady Catherine and took the opportunity to meet you before I return home!"
The Reverend Wallope saw a tall, gangly figure in shirt-sleeves, waistcoat, breeches and a large-brimmed straw hat before him. He noted the slim arms and legs and a smiling open-faced but plain man younger than himself by several years. "No Duke of Wellington here then" he thought, indeed a somewhat puny individual when compared to his own muscularity. Most likely all the tall tales were exaggerations by easily influenced folk. Mr Wallope smiled and nodded his acceptance as Charlotte brought out cold lemonade. Mr Collins was pleasant enough, and his wife gracious as she offered him lunch, but never a man to compare with the legends he had heard. Never. He extolled a few of his own achievements, almost all concerning the amount of cups and trophies he had won for boxing, until his curricle appeared in the lane and he took his leave, raising his hat and smiling benevolently as he left. Mr Collins declared him pleasant enough, Charlotte thought him pompous and rather full of himself. She went off to prepare lunch and he returned to his rhubarb.
That same afternoon Lady Catheine received another visitor, Lady Fenchurch who quite by chance had an estate in Oxted. When Lady Catherine mentioned her clerical visitor of the morning, Lady Fenchurch threw up her hands in delight.
"What a charming man Mr Wallope is. He was a very well known athlete in his youth apparently,and quite a boxing champion. He has displayed all his trophies in the vestry and lots of people call in to see them. It has quite swelled our numbers at Sunday service as the men regard him as someone of achievement. We quite expect the Archbishop to visit as he is a boxing supporter himself!"
Lady Catherine frowned sharply, then gave a tight smile that was rather more a grimace at the words. The Archbishop visiting Oxted and no mention of a visit to Rosings? This would not do; indeed it would not. Something must be done!.
"And so, Mr Collins, you must challenge this man to a boxing match and give him a good thrashing. The honour of our parish is at stake!"
Having just related the details of her conversation with Lady Fenchurch to Mr Collins, her Ladyship smiled triumphantly at her "solution" to the Archbishop's visit which she had omitted to mention so far. If Mr Collins defeated a man with all those cups, then his Grace will be sure to want to meet the man who had beaten him.
Mr Collins felt himself pale and feel slightly faint at her Ladyship's words. He, issue a challenge to a man with a room full of trophies for boxing? He, who had never boxed as much as a kipper in his life, fight a boxing champion? Was her Ladyship mad? Had the sun affected her in some way? Was she ill? He gulped and coughed to cover his confusion and....fright?
"Respectfully, your Ladyship, is it quite the done thing for men of the cloth to engage in fisticuffs? Should we not reserve fighting the good fight for evil-doing rather than sport? What might his Grace the Archbishop think?"
"You may get the opportunity to ask him, Mr Collins. Apparently his Grace is somewhat an admirers of the art of boxing." Lady Catherine smiled broadly and Mr Collins knew he would awake shortly to find it had all been a bad dream. Of course he would.
"I'm at my wits end Dawkins. I'd fight him this minute, but boxing is an art I never learned. If I had I should have been a..!" He stopped himself just in time from repeating her Ladyship's own words.." I know absolutely nothing of the art and I shall be knocked out and her Ladyship disgraced. What on earth can I do?"
"Seem to me you have a bit of a predicament, Mr Collins, Sir. I'm not quite sure what to say. I'd volunteer to fight him myself, but Lady Catherine sounds like she wants ecclesiastical blood to flow....oh, sorry Sir, I didn't mean!..."
Mr Collins had gone pale again and was feeling thoroughly miserable. Dawkins had no solution to offer right then. Later, he came back to see the parson and was looking thoughtful.
"I think you ought to let me issue the challenge Mr Collins. I may just be able to influence things a little to your advantage!" Mr Collins, unable to see anything but a death wish in any of it, nodded unhappily and considered brandy. There was nothing, not one single thing, that could be done. Reverend Wallope would rejoice in the very idea of using Mr Collins as a human punch bag and, since the challenge, although not yet made, would come from Hunsford, it couldn't be rescinded without losing face. "Hopeless" was a word very much in the mind of Mr Collins. Dawkins meanwhile, had managed to meet Reverend Wallope's driver in Westerham as they both went there for supplies. Without mentioning any challenge he declared:
" A mighty rare man is Mr Collins. Fast? I've actually seen him myself catch a fly between two willow twigs, and as for strong, well I saw him break a lump of concrete with one blow!" Dawkins told no lies, he just omitted to mention that the fly had been dead and Mr Collins had broken the concrete with a hammer. He just hoped the story would get back to Reverend Wallope and unsettle him a little. What more could he do? Indeed, what more could anyone do? Twas left to fate.
The Twelfth century Persian philosopher, Omar Khayyam, once said of fate and fortune:
"Tis all a chequer board of nights and days, where destiny with men for pieces plays
Hither and thither moves and mates and slays, And one by one back in the closet lays."
Effectively, we have little control or say of the grand scheme of things in our lives.The same fate and fortune was alive and well almost seven hundred years later in Hunsford Parish. The following day, his Grace the Archbishop paid a totally unexpected but highly welcome visit to Lady Catherine at Rosings. During dinner she said she had heard of his interest in boxing. Was it true? In reply the puzzled Archbishop claimed the opposite. He stated his aversion to all forms of brutality and thought pugilism barbaric and wondered where she had heard that? . Lady Catherine's mind raced: Was a spiteful trick being played on her by Lady Fenchurch? Was she in turn being duped by Zachary Wallope and, more to the point, had she put Mr Collins in dire straits? The following day she paid an almost unheard of early morning visit to the parsonage. Mrs Collins offered her tea, during which she repeated the Archbishop's words and thus forbade her parson from taking part in any such activity. The Archbishop's word was law. Had he issues the challenge yet? Mr Collins almost euphoric in his delight at her words, claimed he had been about to do it that day. Both were highly relieved if for rather different reasons. Dawkins, on hearing the match was off, laughed and decided no harm had been done. Reverend Wallope's ego perhaps needed a gentle stab of reality, or unreality as the case may be.
Charlotte was aghast as news of it all had been kept from her but had to listen to her husband claim he had had no fear of the outcome and that it was a pity he had been prevented from upholding the parish honour and putting Reverend Wallope firmly in his place.Wisely, she refrained from comment, just shook her head and decided the best thing to do was to make a large beef ragout and invite the Dawkins family to dinner.The End
Posted on 2015-03-25
Hunsford Parsonage near Westerham Kent.
Described thus in our modern times: Westerham is a real-life town and civil parish in the Sevenoaks district of Kent and located on the border of Kent with Greater London and the county of Surrey. It was also, in 1727, the birthplace of Major General James Wolfe, conqueror of Quebec. Hunsford parish, in Pride and Prejudice is located beside Westerham as disclosed by the Reverend Collins in his introductory letter to Mr Bennet in the novel.
As all her readers will readily acknowledge, Hunsford Parsonage, like all else in Pride and Prejudice, belongs, lock stock and barrel to Jane Austen. Like the mystical Brigadoon of a much later era, it is a place of fantasy based on her rich imagination. We know she situated it close to Westerham, an ancient small town situated between Oxted and Sevenoaks -which are approximately ten miles apart- and alongside Rosings Park, (also fictional) the sizeable estate of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and separated by just a lane from her grounds. It is stated by Mr Darcy, in a conversation with Elzabeth Bennet in the novel, to be some fifty miles or half a day's ride from the Bennet estate in Hertfordshire. The Hunsford Parsonage and residential house and church are situated here. Lady Catherine, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, is effectively, mistress of all she surveys within this realm.
The Hunsford tales are just that; rural and restricted to Hunsford and district. Mr Collins is the Parson of Hunsford and Charlotte Collins nee Lucas, is his wife. Lady Catherine and her daughter apart, any other characters in the tales are of my own imagination. Our tales then we shall keep in the vicinity of Hunsford and district and not wander too far afield, for if we lose sight of Hunsford, just like Brigadoon, we may never find it again.The End
Posted on 2015-04-02
Summary: A meeting with a new, and friendly, acquaintance is always a pleasure to be enjoyed, well, most of the time that is, providing wires are not crossed beyond mutual understanding.
Mr Collins was returning from Oxted having paid a visit to the parson there, one Zachary Wallope, a man he didn't particularly care for but he had to exhibit civility towards a fellow man of the cloth. He had suffered an over-long inspection of Parson Wallope's numerous boxing trophies and had to hear their legends, and now was driving home in his chaise with a feeling of a not particularly pleasant task completed satisfactorily. Wallope had very little in conversation that wasn't either about boxing or himself, and Mr Collins was very glad to be free of him.
The day was quite warm and pleasant for driving, and maybe he should call at the Bell and Whistle inn and take a light lunch to save Charlotte the trouble of making one? Yes, he decided he would do that, a slice of their excellent pork pie and a small jug of porter perhaps? He knew the stable boy there quite well and left his chaise and horse to his attention. Perhaps he would give him a shilling later? He arrived there and was soon seated in the large dining airy area together with the passengers of a coach bound for Sevenoaks on route to the east coast via Maidstone and Ashford ,and eventually Folkestone. The place was busy and the only seat available was at a small table occupied by a rather colourfully dressed gentlemen sitting alone. Mr Collins removed his hat and settled himself down in the vacant seat. The man wore a dark blue velvet coat and had a mustard yellow waistcoat with a large gold chain to his pocked watch. His hat was on the table and had a bright feather on one side. He was darkly sunburned like a sailor, and wore a gold ring in one ear, several rings on his fingers and he had a jug of ale and bread and cheese in front of him. He looked up and nodded. Mr Collins nodded back .
"Good morning Sir. I hope you have no objection to me joining you?" Mr Collins said pleasantly.
"Buenos Dias Señor. Bienvenida" (Good day Sir, welcome ) said the man with a beaming smile. Mr Collins smiled back a little uncertainly. "Dias", was that Latin, was he an Italian? Did he mean Deus, which is God? Ah, he's saying God go with me in Latin? . How nice!"
"Er, you too my friend. God be with you also!"
"Ah, no comprendo el Inglese señor. Yo soy Español. Tu hablas Español Señor?" ( Ah, I don't understand English sir. I am Spanish. Do you speak Spanish Senor?")
"Ah, Español." I know that word. Spanish and he has two Spanish brothers, sisters?"
"Good, good. Isn't it a nice day?"..beamed Mr Collins.
"Si Señor. Soy de Almeria. Me Llamo Juan Antonio Martin. Como te llamas?"
(Yes sir, I am from Almeria. My name is Juan Antonio Martin. What are you called?)
"Ah, yes. He has a sister called Maria, one brother called Antonio and one called Martin. Excellent, I'm understanding him easily" Mr Collins raised a hand at a table servant.
" I'm William Collins from Hunsford. I'm a parson!" He pointed at himself then his collar stock.
"He's William? Is he calling me Garcon? Is he a priest who speaks French?" The man smiled uncertainly.
"Eres un padre de la Iglesia? " (Are you a priest of the church?)
"Ah, padre, that's father. Yes, I'm English but I have no children yet. I hope to have a little, er, "olive branch" in the future with my dear Charlotte.!" Mr Collins said coyly"
"Ah, si. Me gusto mucho los olives y shallots. Hay muchos olives en España. Que ellos crecemos!"...(Ah, yes, I quite like olives and shallots. There are many olives in Spain. We grow them!")
At that point the waiter arrived and Mr Collins ordered his lunch. The stranger indicated the pork pie enquiringly.
"Es un pastel de cerdo? (Is it a pork pie?)
"Ha-ha, no. Not a pasty. It's a pork pie!"
Ah, si. Me favorito para comer es paella. Es mucho. Te gustas paella?...(My favourite food is paella. It's very good. Do you like paella?)
"Ah, favourite!. His favourite food is a pie made by Ella....who combs her hair? He seems to know a lot of women?
When his ale was put down the stranger raised his own jug and offered a salute with it.
"Salud, amor y pesetas señor!" ( Health, love and prosperity) he grinned widely and Mr Collins touched the jug with his own.
"Your health Sir. God save the King.. Are you familiar with Kent?"
"Ah, no tengo familia aqui en Kent. Ellos son en Almeria ( "Ah, no, I have no family in Kent. They're all in Almeria!") he shook his head sadly.
Oh, he doesn't know Kent but his sister Maria might?." Are you a sailor?"
The man looked puzzled at this. Mr Collins waved a hand in front of himself, supposedly imitating waves. The man's expression brightened.
"Sailor? Ah, "Azuela", an adze. ("He thinks I'm a joiner? A farmer?")
No señor, no agricultor, ha-ha, soy marinero. Soy capitan de un barco. Voy a Folkes stones?" He pulled out a roughly drawn map of the route to the coast and pointed a finger at at the port of Folkestone.
"( No sir, I'm not a farmer. Ha-ha, I'm a sailor. I am a captain of a ship. I go to Folkes tone)"
"Ah, he's a captain from Barco, wherever that is. Does he mean Barcelona? Well, he's going to Folkestone?" Very good. Are you married?" Mr Collins mentally congratulated his own understanding of the man.
"Si, si, soy marido. Me esposa es un Aleman dama. Su nombre is Arabella y tenemos tres niños!" ("Yes, yes, I am a husband. My wife is a German lady. Her name is Arabella and we have three children ")
The man pulled a locket from around his neck and clicked it open and held it out for Mr Collins to examine. It was a portrait miniature of a rather harsh looking woman with bright blonde hair.
"I think he's married to somebody from the Isle of Man and she might be an Arab? Has she got a sister called Nino? Mr Collins smiled and nodded but didn't comment. He thought the woman didn't look very like an Arab, but who knew with foreigners. The man spread his hands and his expression became serious.
" El nombre de mi Barco es 'La Marguerita' y vamos a Francais, ahora la Guerra que terminda!" (" The name of my ship is' The Marguerita' and we go to France now the war is over!")
"Is he saying he is going to France to see Marguerita from Barcelona? Guerra, is that near Calais somewhere? He's sailing from Folkestone, so it must be?
Just then a horn blew to signal that the coach was preparing to leave and alert the passengers to the fact. The man stood up and held out his hand. Mr Collins rose and took it. The man smiled widely. "Adios amigo. Con Suerte. Navageremos manana por la noche. Vaya con Dios!"
" Me go to get mananas?....bananas with notches? Mr Collins raised his eyebrows.
"He's saying goodbye sir. With luck he'll sail tomorrow night. Amigo means friend, and Mañana means 'tomorrow' in Spanish. I have some seafaring relations and know a little of the language. He says "Go with God"!" The landlord of the inn had appeared beside Mr Collins and also shook hands with the stranger. Mr Collins beamed widely.
"You also, my friend, you also.!"
Charlotte was a little surprised that Mr Collins had already taken lunch, but the cold salad would keep for later. He husband was in high good humour as he related his encounter with the foreign stranger.
"Did he speak good English dear?" she enquired.
"No, actually he spoke no English at all but I managed to understand him quite well. He's a sailor and going to Folkstone to sail for France to see somebody called Marguerita from Barcelona, which is a bit odd because he also has an Arab wife from the Isle of man. She might be called Maria, or that might be his sister and he has two brothers. Oh, and he likes pies made by someone called Ella who combs her hair. He was very well dressed and, do you know dear, he was a very nice chap but he had a lot of gold. I suspect he might be a pirate. He may be a womaniser too. He seems to know a lot of ladies.!"
He reached for the local weekly broadsheet and Charlotte frowned as she regarded the top of his head. It all sounded rather strange and confusing, but then again....
"So, will you be gardening this afternoon William" she asked.
"Mañana dear, mañana"....he replied.
Charlotte only just managed to suppress her laugh long enough to reach the door.
Posted on 2015-04-13
Summary: Some things are easily explained. Some, not so much so. Where Mr Collins, the good revered of Hunsford is concerned, it is usually the latter case. Very occasionally though, we find him remembering who and what he is.
The edge of the church graveyard at Hunsford Parsonage was bordered by a low fence. The fence had an unusual curve in it and just one tombstone stood outside of it whilst all the rest were inside its perimeter. Mr Collins had walked past it on many occasions without taking too much notice of it, but now it caught his attention because he could see an old woman standing beside it, through a gap in the trees. . She was dressed in a long black skirt and wore a brightly coloured shawl around her shoulders. He knew she was not young because her hair was silver in the sunlight and he wondered which family of his parishioners she belonged to. He removed his hat and walked around a group of beech trees preparing to greet her. As he stepped beyond the trees he started in surprise. There was no sign of the woman! He frowned and peered around him uncertainly, as the trees he had just passed were the only feature amongst the meadow for some distance all round apart from the mainly weathered tombstones. " Hello? Hello, where are you Madam?"he called out, but only the morning quiet and birdsong were in evidence. His frown deepened as he wandered amongst the nearby tombstones then stepped over the small palings beside the solitary grave. The small, roughly cut stone marker had obviously been untended for some very considerable time and, in contrast to the area beyond the fence, no spring daffodils grew in the barren soil around it. He leaned forward and rubbed at the lichen moss on its surface then picked up a small piece of slate and scraped the moss away. Just one solitary name appeared on the granite and his eyebrows rose in surprise as he stared at the word "Charlotte" thus revealed and rather crudely scratched deeply into the stone surface.
On his way back to the parsonage - for though he usually made almost daily morning pilgrimages to visit his mentor, Lady Catherine where she resided in splendour at Rosings Park House , he had been somewhat reluctant of late to do so- Mr Collins mentally mulled over the tombstone event and wondered; should he tell his beloved Charlotte of it, or would the finding of her own name be somewhat upsetting to her. Charlotte wasn't a particularly unusual name, and his wife not a particularly nervous person, but then again...? He decided there was no need to mention it right at that moment. His lunch was uppermost in his mind and part of the Sunday lamb joint remained uneaten as yet. The matter of the gravestone may actually have passed totally from his mind except for the fact that the following morning he saw the old woman again! This time she was seated on a nearby grave slab and again he hurried forward to greet her. Again he passed the beech trees....again she had disappeared when he stepped into view. Once more he called out several times, and once more only the quiet murmurs of nature answered him. How very strange, he thought! Who was she, and whose was the grave? He considered consulting the Parish registers and records in his vestry, but without a surname, what would he look for, and when? Who would know anything of it? The tombstone appeared very old and he had no real idea how to proceed. Maybe he would see the old lady again and she could explain? Ah, well, he had his next Sunday's sermon to write and Charlotte would undoubtedly be missing his company, for who would not? . He shrugged, smiled and hurried homewards.
With no visit to Rosings scheduled on the next day, because nothing of note or gossip-worthy had happened, and primarily because the good lady Catherine had been in desperately low spirits ever since her nephew had married cousin Elizabeth, indeed "low-spirits" hardly described her mood which almost bordered on rage at the match, he decided on discretion over valour and chose to avoid that option. With his sermon written therefore, Mr Collins walked once more among the gravestone and across the churchyard to the perimeter fence. Something was still puzzling him. Why should just one tombstone be outside the fence perimeter? Being a man who liked neatness and precision, Mr Collins looked along the uneven fencing and decided it needed rectifying. He went off and got a spade and spent a couple of fruitful hours digging up the fence posts and re-planting them around the outside of the solitary grave. He looked at his handiwork and nodded in satisfaction before another thought struck him. Was the grave, that was now located with the rest inside the fence, on consecrated ground? Should he mention that fact to Lady Catherine? Well, maybe later when she was more herself, he decided. He would sprinkle a little Holy Water over it and utter a blessing. He was a man of the cloth after all. He did just that whilst it was in his mind and retired back to the house satisfied with his handiwork.
"Dawkins! Your family have lived around here for a long time have they not?. I wonder if you can tell me something?"
Dawkins left off grooming the curricle horse and stretched his back, glad of the break as he looked enquiringly at his employer. Mr Collins told him about his finding the solitary grave and asked if he could throw any light on the matter of who it belonged to. Dawkins shook his head but said he would ask his mother who lived in nearby Westerham but had always been a Hunsford parishioner. Mr Collins had mentioned the matter to Charlotte, his wife, but she being totally new to the area could only listen without being able to comment on the matter. In due course, Dawkins passed on the story his mother had told him, one she had heard from her own mother, now deceased. He related it thus:
"It would have happened between the years 1720-1740 as near as could be remembered. The then owner of Rosings, Sir Clarence de Bourgh, grandfather of Lady Catherine, had had an altercation with a family of Gypsies he found on his land. General consensus, according to the Dawkins account, was that they were just passing through and had but camped for a night. As one of the older women argued with the Lord of the manor she had gone too close to his horse. The animal reared and lashed out in fright knocking the woman down. She hit her head on a stone and died almost instantly. Sir Clarence was barely apologetic claiming it was but an accident, and threw money on the ground which outraged the already shocked family. The sister of the dead woman cursed Sir Clarence and he accused her of being a witch and ordered them all to leave his land. At that time Hunsford Parsonage was not owned by the de Bourghs and the local parson agreed to bury the Gypsy woman, but as her sister would not remove the curse he would not do it on consecrated ground. The woman was buried on the edge of the graveyard and the fence was moved to accommodate this and the grieving Gypsies left the area, bitterly claiming they were Christians and the woman, Charlotte Winter, should be buried as one.
Mr Collins was deeply troubled by the story. Lady Catherine's grandfather had caused the death so bringing the matter up was now too indelicate a matter for consideration, indeed the very idea caused him to spend a couple of less than dreamless nights. He related it to Charlotte who was shocked and also of the opinion that the matter was best left alone.
Mr Collins, with a name and a rough date to work on, proceeded to peruse the parish records for the relevant dates. Despite extensive searching for twenty years each side, there was no record of Charlotte Winter, not even anyone of that surname in the parish. It was wrong. The woman had been buried in Hunsford Parsonage, his parsonage, and the records were incomplete. It was also an indication that the omission was deliberate. After much deliberation, for there were no gaps in the record, he took a sheet of paper and wrote on it:
"Charlotte Winter of no determinable age, died and was interred in Hunsford Parsonage circa1730. Cause of death was accidental and the lady was given a Christian burial. She now lies in peace. God rest her soul"
He folded the paper and inserted it in the relevant date. No one would probably see it for a long time, if ever. He closed the dusty old ledger and put it back with the rest.
The following day Mr Collins again walked around his churchyard. As he neared the fence he saw the silver-haired lady again. He raised a hand and hurried in her direction. She smiled and nodded at him as he rounded the beeches. When he got to the other side, she was once again gone. With a sigh of exasperation Mr Collins raised his hands. Why was she playing games with him? He turned and suddenly stopped and looked down in surprise. The ground around the old gravestone was surrounded by golden yellow daffodils and the rough stone was cleaned of its moss. The name "Charlotte" was quite clear on the stone.
Mr Collins never saw the old lady again. Being Mr Collins he took the matter no further in his mind.......fortunately....The End
Posted on 2015-04-28
Summary: Sometimes a question arises and what should be a reply in a sentence becomes a life story...
One evening, having consumed an enjoyable Sunday evening supper of cold, roast lamb with home-grown mint and his wife's newly baked bread, Mr Collins took the weekly single glass of port he allowed himself to his seat by the fireside. Charlotte had suggested that they dine in the rear parlour to avoid needing two fires and, since dusk had fallen and there was no possible reason to believe any of the Rosings residents or visitors would pass by his observatory headquarters in the front sitting,dining room window at that time, Mr Collins agreed happily. He was about to read a short chapter from his Bible, before retiring, when Charlotte suddenly said:
"William. I hope you will pardon my asking and not think this unseemly, but you never mention your time at university. It is an achievement to have gone there, and I appreciate your modesty, I'm sure, but which University did you attend?"
Mr Collins coughed and spluttered a little as he was just in the process of taking a sip of his port. The question took him completely by surprise as indeed he had never discussed the topic in depth with anyone, his dear wife included. His patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh had seemed quite happy that he had been a student at Cambridge, but more concerned that he agreed with absolutely everything she said - when first offering him the Hunsford parsonage position- than in hearing of his achievements. Indeed, he was so grateful to be considered that he would happily have thrown himself over a puddle for her ladyship to walk over in his gratitude. He did not, of course, mention such a thing to Charlotte, no indeed. He felt a small apprehension at his wife's question, but, well, since she wasn't going to exactly check University records, perhaps a slight harmless exaggeration was permissible? Nothing that was blatantly untrue, of course....he put down his glass and smiled fondly. He was, after all, truthfully a graduate was he not?
"My father insisted that I attend Cambridge University dear. Oxford was duly considered, but he chose the former. He himself was not totally a scholarly type, but I think he sensed a greatness and a will to learn in me!"
Mr Collins offered a silent prayer for the understatement, for his father had hardly been able write his own name and had made little or no effort to learn anything. His only concession to decency had actually been to inform his son that he would inherit an estate in Hertfordshire when the present owner, a distant cousin, passed away, and to provide him with an education of sorts. In truth, Mr Collins had hardly been classed as "alumni of the century", just about managing to complete the basic requirements of attendance and skill levels to graduate from Cambridge. He hadn't, like some, wasted his time on drink or merry-making, primarily because he didn't have the money for such idle luxuries, and his slight competences in reading and writing had mainly been acquired because any form of sporting recognition was totally beyond him and any studying was preferable to abject boredom and his only real companion had been, a bespectacled and somewhat boring bookworm named Daniel D Lion..
He had been removed sine-die from the rowing team after the careless swinging of an oar on the bank had hit a cox on the head and deposited him in the River Thames during practice. In running and field sports he had no skills, interest or stamina, indeed, during a cross-country run he was so far behind the rest that the games teacher had sent a search-party out to look for him, and after his first erratic javelin throw had almost skewered a passing porter he had also been excused rather rapidly from that. It was to the great surprise of almost everyone, not the least himself, that he actually did quite well at swimming. He even managed to earn a small bronze medal for a third place in the two-hundred metre River Thames race for novices, although, in his mind, the event had acquired the status of a cross-channel swim to France.
"My learnings at university eventually supplied the living that.... I flatter myself" he coughed.."keeps us in relative comfort here at Hunsford. Lady Catherine immediately saw in me a saviour of souls and a leader of men and promoted me ahead of the other possible candidates".- There had actually been only one other candidate whose awe and nervousness of her Ladyship had caused him to foolishly take a couple of brandies before his interview, and fall headlong down the pulpit steps during his discourse on the evils of drink. Charlotte nodded, smiled and managed to look suitably impressed. She had asked the question initially just making conversation, but her husband was now well into his stride.
"Even studying theology in the early stages, it was obvious where my future lay. I had a natural tendency for applying the Bible's teachings right from the start, and. when I first mounted those pulpit steps....I knew my vocation."
In this, Mr Collins was being absolutely truthful because it was at that time he realized fully the meaning of a "captive audience". Once in his elevated environ of the pulpit he could discourse and preach without fear of interruption and, with his audience unable to escape, something he duly did with gusto at every opportunity.
"I practiced social skills, conversation, dancing etc, rather than frittering away my time on sport, for I saw a requirement to fulfil the neglected areas of public need rather than just concentrate on my own desires. Lady Catherine obviously had great wisdom in seeing I needed a good wife, and in that there was only ever one real candidate. I refer, my dear, to your good self. We were just made for each other!"
"And if Lizzie had said yes, dearest, where would I have been then, I wonder?"
Charlotte asked the question of herself and not her husband, knowing she had actually been third choice in his search for a wife. Fortunately, she had been less swayed by ideals of romance than her fiends and her needs and wants had been of a lower order. Mr Collins could and would provide the security she may never have found in chasing dreams. Right then she preferred to not think too far ahead as to inheriting Longbourne estate as she cared sincerely for he friends who were its present inhabitants. The future would, no doubt, take care of itself. She was wondering how to end their current discourse and go off to bed. Her husband, hands clasped together was gazing skywards, wrapped in a rosy glow of his very immortality and ready to blow his own angelic trumpet a little more.
" Ah yes, I remember my time at University with pride and pleasure and a real sense of ...."
Quite suddenly a couple of logs in the fireplace collapsed with a bang scattering sparks over the hearthstone. Mr Collins jumped to his feet and reached for the fire tongs hopping around like a frog, and Charlotte, seeing her opportunity, stood up quickly.
"Amen" she intoned softly and went across to pinch out the candles with a quiet smile.
Posted on 2015-05-03
Summary: The most innocent of acts can have some rather unusual effects when mistakes occur by taking things at face value. Mr Collins will thus learn so.
"I shall use the story of the Ark for my sermon this week dear. Heavy rain is predicted soon and, with a little luck I may just get a little thunder and lightning for effect. How very fortunate that would be!"
Mr Collins chuckled loudly and Charlotte also smiled at the thought of the parishioners peering fearfully skywards as the thunder rumbled and forked lightning lit up the chapel interior. Lady Catherine would no doubt command it to stop, she thought gleefully, mentally picturing the scene. If Moses could part the Red Sea, surely a mere storm would be child's play to her Ladyship!
"A pity Lady Catherine keeps the roof in such good repair dear, or you could have a very realistic atmosphere indeed, she said, and both smiled....
It all began as an innocent act so typical of youth. Mrs King, one of the lady volunteers who helped out with church cleaning, brass polishing, candle renewing, and setting out of hymn books for Sunday service, was a lady of somewhat sharp temper. Being a spinster of the parish of Hunsford she also taught geography in the church school one day each week, but was not the most forgiving person where the young were found to be in error. For that very fact they tended to tread rather softly when she was around. On Saturday morning, young Thomas Dawkins and two of his friends had, quite by chance, found a bottle of a colourless liquid on a table outside the Bell and Whistle Inn as they passed by. Thinking it was water they felt no twinges of wrong-doing in removing it to take fishing with them. It was but a bottle of water after all....
"Urghhhh...what is it, it's awful!" Thomas Dawkins held the bottle at arms length and spat out the mouthful of the liquid he had just tasted. He sniffed at the contents and grimaced horribly. "It's not water, that's for sure, he informed his companions, I think it's some sort of bitter wine that has gone sour!"
Jem Fisher, a year older and thus more world wise, sniffed deeply at the bottle, shook his head, then nodded knowingly.
"Not wine, it's strong gin. I know because my father has some in a decanter in the kitchen!"
The three youngsters were passing through the churchyard on their way to the stream that ran through the copse beside Mr Collins's parsonage house. Edward Grimes, the youngest of the trio suddenly pointed up the lane and hissed:
"Look out, Mrs King's coming. If she catches us with drink, we're for it. No use telling her we found it, she won't believe us anyway. She'll think it is ours"
The other two made ready to run and Thomas looked worriedly at the bottle then dashed into the church and put it on one of the pews. All three of them sidled around the edge of the building and waited until the lady had gone inside. They then scuttled quietly away with more than a little relief. Mrs King duly discovered the bottle and, assuming it was a water bottle and Mr Collins had left it there, took it and placed it on the pulpit shelf beside a drinking glass already there. The dear man would need his water when preaching.....
Sunday morning arrived, and Mr Collins ascended the steps to his pulpit having almost glided down the church aisle on a rosy cloud of self -righteousness and goodwill. This was his world, his vocation. Here, he was the man in charge. He turned and looked with satisfaction at the almost full seats in his domain. Duly nodding smilingly in the direction of Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne, he cleared his throat and clasped his hands in saintly pose. The threat of summer rain had made the atmosphere heavy and he noted thankfully the bottle and glass in position on the shelf beside his Bible stand. He coughed again and began:
"Dear Bretheren. Judging by the signs, there may well be a rainstorm later. Once, many years ago, there was a rainstorm like the earth had never seen. It was told to us in Genesis, chapters six to nine, how the Lord commanded Noah to build a great Ark....a massive Ark indeed.!"
Mr Collins paused for effect and took the cork from the bottle. He kept his facial expression serious as he poured liquid into the glass and took a large mouthful. He almost spat out the fiery contents in total surprise, but was in such an exposed position that he gulped and swallowed raising a hand quickly across his mouth. His eyes watered and the liquid burned fiercely. He coughed into his hand and breathed deeply.
" The Lord told Noah the dimension he wanted the Ark to be and Noah set to and builded it. He made it out of, er, wood and it was four hundred and fifty feet long and fifteen, er fifty feet wide and thirty high and.." His mouth was burning .."and it had closets, that is compartments...and"
Mr Collins throat was afire. There was nothing for it, he had to drink something. He took another drink from his glass and it seemed suddenly not quite as fierce as before. He smiled down at Mrs King in the front row and coughed again, running a finger around inside his collar. Lady Catherine's expression was unreadable, mainly because he couldn't see her too clearly for some reason. Did he actually need real spectacles and not the plain glass ones he wore for mere effect? A sudden rumble of distant thunder broke the silence. Despite the chapel normally being cool, the air was becoming oppressively warm. He took another sip of the glass and wiped the back of his hand across his brow. Suddenly, it was hard to concentrate. Must hurry, the rains were coming....
"It had no shelves because it wasn't a house and nobody was coming to visit. When it was finished it was thirty elephants feet high and fifty giraffes wide and all the family went along too because it was really going to rain and everybody who wasn't in the Ark was going to drown. And....I need a drink..I feel!." His voice was almost a croak as he spoke. There was a small corner seat in the pulpit and Mr Collins sank into it as a sudden loud crash of thunder caused everyone to start in their seats and a loud babble of comment broke the silence. Charlotte, aghast at what she had heard and watching her husband with a wide-eyed expression saw him take another sip from his glass. Suddenly he slid off the small seat with a bump she distinctly heard from her own seat, and disappeared from view. "And the rain began to fall".. . His voice was heard, then drowned out by another almighty crash of thunder and Charlotte left her seat and went to the foot of the pulpit steps. Mr Collins was seated on the floor peering owlishly at her and she climbed in and helped him rise. As she did so she heard Lady Catherine say in a loud voice:
"I think everyone should go home. Mr Collins is obviously ill and I fear a bad storm is about to arrive on us. We shall cancel today's service and the Lord will understand. Someone help Mr Collins home please"
Charlotte felt a surge of gratitude as her Ladyship's prompt action and shook her head in bewilderment as she gazed at her husband. He was pointing at the bottle and she picked it up and also the glass. Her eyes widened as she looked around quickly then raised the bottle and sniffed it. Dawkins suddenly appeared beside her and pulled Mr Collins to his feet. Mr Collins frowned and mumbled, "Did you hear that thunder? It's about to start. Is the Ark ready? Have we got any parrots?
"Come on sir, let's get you home. You look pretty worse for wear".....
"It's a complete mystery. Mrs King swears she put a bottle of water up there that was already in the church and yet it turned out to be gin".
Mr Collins, still suffering a headache at suppertime after a lengthy nap shook his head in bewildered fashion. Charlotte, who knew he had been completely sober when leaving the house for church, for once had no answer to give and went off to get him some real water.. She could explain his condition away to her Ladyship due to heat and maybe some bad apples and wasn't particularly worried on that score. Water into wine she knew of, but water into gin? The Lord did indeed sometimes work in mysterious ways.
As Mr Dawkins discussed the incident with his wife they were also very puzzled. Mr Collins was not a drinking man and the whole issue was a mystery. Young Thomas suddenly wished it would stop raining so that he could find a reason to escape the room unnoticed.The End
Posted on 2015-05-10
Summary: Two people, thinking and working in parallel, a home and a comfortable living. What else is needed for wedded bliss? Nothing at all, claims Mr Collins...but other forces may be at work to contradict him...
Charlotte Collins heard the scratching first. She frowned and raised her eyes from her needlework; mending one of her husband's stocks. Mrs Dawkins had come to to help hang out washing and stayed to take a welcome cup of tea. She looked enquiringly as Charlotte stood up and listened for what had caught her attention. Charlotte walked and opened the door of her rear-facing parlour and looked out. She shook her head, thinking she must have imagined it and was just about to close the door again when a small yelp made her look down. She was amazed to see a tiny black and white pup sitting on her doorstep and looking up at her, head to one side. He had a mainly white face with a large black patch over one eye. He also had two button brown eyes. Charlotte was totally taken aback at the unexpected visitor but, being used to dogs from her pre-marital life, was also pleasantly surprised and smiled down at the pup. It was quite, to her, recognizable as from a collie litter, a breed she was familiar with and she soon identified it as a male animal.
"And who may you be good sir? ",she enquired, bending down to scratch the dog's head. The dog's tail wagged as it stood up and she saw it had no collar. She bent down and gathered the animal in her arms and went back inside. When she saw the pup, Mrs Dawkins let out a surprised cry.
"Oh, ma'am, I am sorry. He's from our litter and must have followed me out of the house. Our Border Collie, Meg, has had four pups but we are only keeping two of them. Mrs King, although she's sometimes sharp with children in her class, is a real animal lover and is having one pup. This fellow, we have to try and find a home for. He is eight weeks old now and is a really lively animal, too inquisitive for his own good. He jumped up and almost caught a bumble-bee yesterday, but luckily it flew off just in time or he could have been badly stung. I am sorry he followed me but I'll take him back right away!"
Charlotte smiled and waved a dismissive hand."Oh, worry not I am quite used to animals and we always had dogs at home. Here, I shall give him some milk. Does he have a name?" Charlotte asked as she put down an old saucer and poured milk into it. The pup immediately lapped up all the milk and stood looking up for more. He had a most appealing face, she thought, as she stroked his head. There was a small piece of cheese left on a plate on the table and, knowing how much her own dogs had loved it, she broke it and gave it to the pup.
"No, no name yet Ma'am, we just call him Patch for obvious reasons. Come on, you mischievous imp, let's have you back home" She gathered up the pup and Charlotte smiled and gave its head a rub.
"Goodbye Patch. I hope you find a good home".
Mr Collins duly arrived back from his intelligence-gathering visit to Rosings Park House. He informed Charlotte of the dearth of items of interest happening in the parish and deposited himself by the fireside in the parlour. No need to take up station in the front room window just then and, after his lunch he would be at work in the garden and thus well-placed to observe any comings and goings between the church and Rosings. Charlotte, already seated in her armchair, then told him of the unexpected visit from Mrs Dawkins puppy dog, earlier. Mr Collins gave a condescending smile but refrained from comment. Such items of mundane normality were of no real interest compared to the possibility of visitors coming to see Lady Catherine that he could greet on arrival in the lane. There was also the possibility that lunch would soon be on the table. Suddenly, he frowned and gazed towards the door.
"Was that something scratching, Charlotte dear, or am I hearing things? What, ...what are you smiling at?"
Charlotte didn't answer but walked over and opened the door. A small bundle of back and white fur erupted across the floor and stood gazing up at Mr Collins. Charlotte raised a hand to cover her mouth and tried to keep a straight face as she looked at her husband's amazed expression.
"This is Patch, the Dawkins pup I was telling you of dear. It looks like he has come to visit again!"
"Oh, well I think we should put him back out dear" said Mr Collins hastily," I mean, we don't know where he's been, do we? He might be trailing germs in!"
Charlotte didn't often speak sharply to her husband. Her own placid temperament, her general manners and a basic good-naturedness often kept her silent. On this occasion, the absurdity of her husband's words got the better of her and she shook her head reprovingly.
"Oh, William, do not be ridiculous please. He is an eight-week old house pup not a rabid wolf from the deepest Chiltern Hills. The poor little thing probably just wants a drink!"
Mr Collins was quite taken aback at Charlotte's tone and was immediately apologetic. He coughed and raised a placatory hand and a weak smile.
"Of course, you are right my dear. For in my position it is within the reach of my instrument to be charitable to all living creatures. Indeed it is. I shall put some water down for him!"
Charlotte took a deep breath and allowed a smile to reach her lips. Patch looked hopefully up at her. She watched Mr Collins put water in a saucer and, whilst his back was turned, surreptitiously got a small piece of cheese. She broke it up and dropped it on the floor. It hardly had time to land before the pup jumped forward eagerly and devoured it. Mr Collins put the saucer of water down, pointed at it and commanded "Drink". When the pup didn't move he repeated the command. Charlotte experienced a mental vision of Moses commanding the Red Sea to part and quickly bent down to the dog to avoid smiling "Come, Patch, good boy. Come have a drink". She dipped a finger in the water and held it out. The dog moved forward, licked her finger then lapped the water in the saucer. Mr Collins smiled benevolently and reached a hand forward gingerly to touch the dog's head with, thought Charlotte, shaking her head, all the enthusiasm of putting his hand in the fire. She picked up the pup and set off to take him the short distance home.
Twice more on the following day, the pup appeared at the Parsonage house. Charlotte was amused by it, Mr Collins not quite so. It was after the second visit that she tentatively asked if he thought they should look after the pup for a day or two until the Dawkins could find a new home for it. Mr Collins, rarely having had contact with domestic animals, was less than enthusiastic at the idea. He did not refuse to consider having the pup temporarily, but he certainly was not going out of his way to make friends with it. His main objection was the fact that Patch, being but a pup, was exceedingly playful and followed Charlotte around like a shadow. The alternative, however, was not appealing to his Christian side as it meant the animal being tied up to stop it visiting its newly found friend who gave it milk and cheese and made a fuss of it. In truth, Charlotte was more than happy with the idea of keeping him permanently because she had become very fond of him. Not wishing the matter to cause any strife, however, she reluctantly let the matter drop.
The following morning Mr Collins made the short walk up to Rosings house on one of his regular courtesy calls, and needed no great persuasion to take morning teas with Lady Catherine. Her daughter was just setting out on one of her daily drives around the estate with Mrs Jenkinson, so Mr Collins's company came as serendipitous in her eyes, if somewhat less so and somewhat contrived in his . Once seated in her regal presence, and during a break in her lecture on the benefits of correct positioning of rhubarb plants, Mr Collins mentioned the Dawkins pup that had been visiting them. He was, of course, quite prepared to hear her lady ship decry all forms of animals inside domestic residences as a deathly plague on society, and more than inclined to agree with her. To his great surprise, Lady Catherine actually smiled and leaned forward.
"A Collie pup, you say, Mr Collins. Ah, my father was a great dog-lover and was particularly fond of his Collies. My, deceased husband, Sir Lewis, also had several dogs, but his were the hunting kind, Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels etc. Of course, since he died we haven't kept them. I don't shoot, Mr Collins, although several ladies of my acquaintance have done so, but if I did, I should have been a very proficient shot, I assure you, for I have a fine eye and a natural sense of reaction. Yes indeed, I think a man with dogs has a certain air of maturity and outdoor charm. There is a portrait somewhere around of Sir Lewis with his setters and he looks the epitome of male pride and poise. A man of the country and his dogs go well together, You cannot start training pups too soon. They must understand who their master is very quickly if they are to learn obedience!"
The subject was terminated by tea arriving, and Lady Catherine asked Mr Collins what his plans were for organising the forthcoming harvest festival celebration.....
......Mr Collins gave a contented sigh as he laid down his knife and fork. His lunch of potatoes and cabbage together with the butcher's freshly delivered sausages was still a pleasant living memory as he took a sip of root beer. He coughed and steepled his fingers.
"Charlotte, my dear. I have been thinking of what you suggested about keeping the Dawkins Collie pup. It would be such a shame for it to possibly find a home where it may not be well treated. I cannot, in my position as a man of God, bear to think such a thing may occur. The souls of every living thing are my concern and that poor creature to fall into wrong hands is too pitiful to consider. I firmly believe that a man living in the country should follow the ways of nature and having a dog is surely one of them. For a man needs a certain status and can probably be judged by his behaviour towards animals. I have given it some serious thought and I think we should keep the animal. I think I should acquire a collar and leash and take his training in hand myself, for a man and his dog have long been part of rural life and I firmly believe one cannot begin training dogs too soon. What did you say it was called? "
"He, is called Patch!" replied Charlotte with a delighted smile. From beneath the table a small head peaked forth and a yelp of agreement sealed the matter. As her husband bent down to peer at the dog, Charlotte, her gaze distant, frowned slightly then nodded knowingly as realisation dawned.
"Thank you Lady Catherine" she chuckled silently...The End
Posted on 2015-05-18
Summary: Our destinies are pre-ordained and what will be, will be; except perhaps if fate sometimes decide to take an unwelcome hand at the card table.
"Mr Collins, I have had a change of mind!"
Lady Catherine laid down her Ace of Hearts on Mr Collin's Jack, swept the cards and his and her shillings regally to her side of the Whist table, and fixed her gimlet eyes firmly upon the immediately, attentive parson. Her Ladyship nodded sagely, her gaze switching to a distant point above his head, picked up her crystal glass of elderberry wine and twirled it around by the stem. She took a minute sip and leaned back in her chair, nodding to herself. Mr Collins experienced a familiar small flutter of worry that always occurred when Lady Catherine was about to issue a decree, or cast a pearl of De Bourgh wisdom in his direction. He sensed one was about to arrive, but he forced a smile, hoping fervently that it had reached his eyes. Lady Catherine was nodding assertively and a knowing smile almost moved a lip a milimetre out of position, and suddenly a whole summer's worth of butterflies took flight beneath Mr Collin's clerical waistcoat. He took a nervous breath and leaned forward to display his undivided attention, at least on the surface. He steepled his fingers and widened his eyes enquiringly.
"Your Ladyship, I am quite certain whatever you have decided will benefit us all, for in my capacity as a parson, I flatter myself that......."
"You shall not go to visit your relations at Longboring, or wherever they reside, as we discussed, in search of a bride, amongst your no doubt admirable, but obviously lower-class cousins" Lady Catherine carried on as if he hadn't spoken. "Yes, you shall indeed marry, but to someone who will be a far greater asset to you; indeed to any man. In short sir, you shall marry a prize beyond most mens' wildest imaginations and dreams" .
Mr Collins's swallowed in alarm and his eyes flicked involuntarily towards where Lady Catherine's daughter, Anne de Bourgh, sat as unmovingly as a carboard cut-out, peering vacuously at a moth buzzing around an aspidistra plant. Mrs Jenkinson, Anne's Jill of all trades, watched her intently, her hawk-like gaze determining that her charge was still breathing and ready to leap forth and beat the moth into instant submission should it dare to approach within a yard of Anne's beadwork footstool. Could her Ladyship mean...? No, surely not...He took a hurried gulp of his own wine and dabbed nervously at his lips with a handkerchief. Anne de Bourgh, heiress of Rosings, tiny, fragile and doll-like as a bride for himself, a gangling tall Parson of most humble means, a man who owed his very living to her mother's condescension and charity...Aghhh, it could not be! " Indeed, it cannot be, she is unconcerned", he silently reassured himself, for Anne was displaying all the interest, animation and enthusiasm of the marble clock ticking solemnly away on the chimney piece. In truth, the latter appeared the more alive of the two.
" Yes, Mr Collins, and I'm sure I may call you William, I have decided that you shall marry.... me!"
Had he not already hastily swallowed the mouthful of elderberry wine Mr Collins would undoubtedly have projected it across the table in his alarm. His eyebrows shot up and his knee almost upset the table as it began to tap out an imoromptu fandango beneath it. Lady Catherine, patriarch and mistress of all she surveyed wanted to marry him? Impossible, insupportable, nonsense, nonesense. Why, she was old enough to be his....Yes, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possesion of a good fortune must be in want of a husband, but.....
"I realise that this will come as a complete shock to you, Mr Collins, for who would not be speechless with joy at such an offer, but you see, I have long wondered if I should have a male heir at Rosings, to help Anne, by taking away the responsibility of such an empire from her alone. You, Mr Collins, William, will help me produce such an Heir. I realise our union will be a mixture of root beer and fine champagne, common stock and almost royalty, but that cannot be helped. There are many amongst my aquaintance who would jump at the opportunity to share my fortune, and, it must be said, my bedroom, but with you I shall be more comfortable because you are a reasonable man and respect my position and authority. I cannot be held to account by some gibbering chinless wonder even if he should be aristocracy. I am my own woman, Mr Collins. I also realise I shall be accused of polluting the very shades of Rosings by my family. What Darcy and Fitzwilliam will say I know not, but since Darcy has shown Anne no attention and will undoubtedly marry some flibbertigibbet somewhere on his travels, he can hardly decry me. What, pray, do you think of that, Mr Collins?"
Since her Ladyship had totally allowed for him to be amazed, surprised, and perhaps even speechless in his joy and realization that the doors of Paradise had opened to him, his expected momentary shocked silence gave him time to recover some slight composure. Beneath the tabletop his hands gripped each other so tightly that his knuckles were almost translucent.
"Your Ladyship", he eventually almost croaked. "I am almost lost for words. I am but a humble young man with no fortune, and you are a much older.." The sudden deep frown on her Ladyship's countenance and the beginnings of a demonic glare made Mr Collins realized he had almost stepped into the abyss of no return..."wiser and mature woman of beauty and wealth. You are a powerful landowner and experienced in all things, indeed, had you ever learned you would have been a great proficient in almost all the arts and sports, music, fencing, croquet, show-jumping and all forms of dance, hunting, shooting, fishing, archery, Scotch-hopping, leapfrog, ....... ...Why I cannot think of...."
"Yes, yes, Mr Collins", Lady Catherine waved a hand airily, "no doubt, no doubt, but to the matter at hand, we shall take it as settled then. The wedding must be arrranged quickly, for I cannot wait to begin securing Rosing's future. Come sir, a toast. To Lady Catherine and Sir William Collins of Rosings. How very correct and grand that sounds. You shall have a likeness taken and we will acquire a pair of Irish Wolfhounds for you. Raise your glass please, my dear; to us!"
Mr Collins wondered if the request didn't already smack greatly of a command, but smiled weakly and raised his glass with a hand that had barely stopped doing an imitation of St Vitus Dance. Behind her Ladyship there was a "splat" sound, denoting that the foolish moth had eventually become too daring for its own good.
"Do you, Catherine De Bourgh, Lady and patroness of the noble families of Darcy and De Bourg, estate owner, farmer, magistrate and organizer of all in your numerous commands, take William, er, Collins, common parson of Hunsford Parish, as your lawful wedded husband, to direct, command, order and punish where necessary, to the best of your considerable ability? "
The Archbishop of Canterbury asked the question before a packed audience in Hunsford Chapel. Mr Collins, resplendent in new clerical finery, was dazed by the number of members of high society he had seen crowding the benches of his domain. Darcy had refused to attend, but Fitzwilliam was there and he could have sworn he glimpsed Arthur Wellesly, first Duke of Wellington alongside a host of members of the ton that included a very fine gentleman someone had whispered was George Brummel, friend of the Regent himself. The lane outside the chapel and all the way up to Rosings itself was packed with magnificent carriages, livery gleaming in the bright summer sunshine. Marquees filled the gardens awaiting the reception guests. It was all too....
Words that should have filled the breast of Mr Collins with happiness, somehow seemed to make the dull, flat metallic clang of the church bronze bell seem joyous by comparison. Why was he not delirious with joy and gratitude? He had just made one of the most powerful women in the country his wife. A woman of so utterly commanding a presence that she told it when to rain, daffodils grew straight up in her gardens and she could increase egg production in a hen house with just a glare at the chickens. Had he himself not witnessed a solitary magpie on the path at Rosings stop and croak "Good morning Lady Catheine, how are you today?" And now he was a man of title and status; a man of a respect normally only bestowed on the cream of aristocracy. Sir William Collins of Rosings, did that not sound truly magnificent?
"And so, my dear William, to bed!"
Even boyed by copious amounts of exotic foods and the finest of wines, Mr Collins still experienced a strong feeling of what, if he were totally truthful, could only be described as...fear as Lady Catherine, smiled winningly and removed a hat which she flicked across the room. He was totally unsurprised to see it sail straight onto a peg on a hall stand.! The reception had passed with great pomp and circumstance with all the country's finest aristocracy crowding forth to shake his hand and offer congratulations. Surprisingly, her Ladyship had suggested they spend their wedding night at the Parsonage to escape all the inebriated revelers still socializing in Rosings House. For, as she exclaimed: "Nothing must interrupt our first comings together to produce our children!"
Somehow, the use of the plural did not inspire the sort of enthusiasm that the virginal Mr Collins might have expected. Nervously, he disrobed in the guest bedroom and donned his nightshirt. Would prayer perhaps help? Suddenly the bedroom door swung back with a crash, and there stood Lady Catherine in a fine lace nightdress. She had let her hair down and had a rose clasped in her teeth. Without a word she crossed the room and before Mr Collins realized her intent she stooped and curved an arm behind his knees. He could not help but emit a small gasp of alarm as Lady Catherine scooped him off his feet and over her shoulder with effortless ease.
"Come William, there is much work to be done!"
Quite suddenly Mr Collins was terrified. This was not what he had envisaged his wedding night to be. As he was thrown down onto the large bed he raised his arms towards her Ladyship. His intent was to ward her off. Hers was far more direct as she pushed his arms aside and dived down on top of him.
"No, this is not right. I am the man here. I will not be treated like this. No, no, let me go, unhand me madam, immediately", he almost wailed.
Lady Catherine reached down to untie the tightly fastened nightshirt and released on of his wrists. Siezing his opportunity, he twisted away from her attentions so determinedly that he rolled straight off the bed and landed with a crash on the board floor. Outside the door the pair of Irish Wolfhounds that Lady Catherine had given him as a wedding present, set up a tremendous volley of barking.
"Come man, this is not what I expected from you."
"Keep off madam, this is not right....Get away from me"!
In his utter fright Mr Collins threshed his arms about and became entangles in Lady Catherine's nightdress. His screeching cause more frenzied barking and....
"William, what on earth is the matter? What are you doing on the floor? Are you ill? You were screaming and threshing about and suddenly disappeared off the bed!"
Charlotte looked down in mild amazement at the sight of her husband clinging onto her nightgown from where he lay down by the side of the bed. Outside the door, Patch, the collie pup was yelping in a mixture of fright and dismay at the racket. Mr Collins had a dazed, almost terrified look on his face as he gazed around in bewilderment. Shakily, he climbed to his feet and a sudden feeling of intense relief flooded through him. He was in his own bedroom and dear Charlotte was there to comfort him. How delightful to realise he had been dreaming. Determined not to lie, yet unwilling to divulge the true content of his strange dream to his wife, he smiled in a mixture of relief and realization.
"I was having a nightmare, dear. There were lots of people around me and a strange lady attacked me. I think I was fighting her off. It was quite realistic."
"Well, come back to bed now dear. Patch got quite upset at the noise"
"I think I'll get a drink of milk or water first, Charlotte dear. You go back to sleep!"
Charlotte was already getting ready to resume her interrupted slumbers and just nodded as she climbed back under the sheets. Mr Collins opened the bedroom door gently and bent to stroke the dog. He pushed it away from the door and put a finger to his lips. Ah, the relief, his own house, his own creaking stairs and the closet with his beloved shelves. Darkness worried him not and there was a moon that made lighting a lamp unnecessary. In the kitchen he took a long draught of milk and poured a small amount in the pup's saucer. Patch had scampered down after him and Mr Collins pointed at the dog bed and whispered "Go to sleep" All was well in his own little world and the nightmare was fast fading from memory. He smiled, shrugged and made his way back to bed and his dear Charlotte.
"Irish Wollfhounds, who needs them? "The End