Chapter I Posted on Thursday, 3 June 1999
The day was hot, and Dawkins wiped the sweat from his brow as he sat in the chaise outside Rosings waiting for his master Mr. Collins to arrive. He had always thought himself a man of great patience, but lately even his even temperament had been stretched to the limit. Since his master's cousin had married the nephew of the right honourable Lady Catherine De Bourgh, there was never any peace among his household. Mr. Collins was more than unusually anxious, and instead of being inclined to fret over every little thing, would simply storm and rage about for hours with unceasing furor, claiming that since her Ladyship was vexed they would all go to ruin and it was the curse of his existence to have such trying relations.
How his wife bore it all Dawkins knew not; he was a simple man, and he knew his place well, so he never ventured a word of sympathy to Mrs. Collins, however sorely he was sometimes tempted. It did seem to him at times that she cast Dawkins a look of sheer exasperation as her husband drove away--but for the most part she was happily preoccupied with her coming bundle of joy, and Dawkins thanked his Maker for that.
Not that it helped his plight any. He was very deep in thought, his head propped on his chin, attempting to drive out the oppressive, sweltering heat when Mr. Collins insipid whine shattered his reverie.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, do have a care, Dawkins, no one wants to see you lolling about like that. Quick, before Lady Catherine sees you!" Dawkins knew very well Lady Catherine never saw Mr. Collins to the door, assuming he could manage very well on his own--but he held his peace and assisted the frumpy clergyman into the carriage. A sigh escaped him as Mr. Collins fussed and grumbled that he had smudged his new waistcloth.
They were to drive some miles north that afternoon to visit a neighboring family whose mother was lately suffering from fever. Dawkins knew well how much Collins hated these sorts of visits--he was a veritable hypochondriac, and each such visit to a sickhouse insured two days of complaints and worried rants about the certainty that he had caught something and would shortly be in his grave. Still, he held it his Christian duty to be of service to those in need, and although Dawkins thought often that the service rendered would be much greater if he stayed home, Collins never hesitated to venture forth into the den of sickness, armed only with a Bible and an armor of piety as thick, surely, as that gentleman's balding head...
Chapter II Posted on Thursday, 3 June 1999
Dawkins tried to push such uncharitable thoughts out of his mind as they drove along the dusty lane towards what Mr. Collins referred to as "the moratorium." "For," he said with a grave air, "it surely will not be long now. Poor Mr. Sotherby is in a fine mess now. Well, bless his soul, it will all be over soon for him."
"But Mas'r Collins, sir, I was under the impression it was the missus what was sick."
"What?" said Collins impatiently.
"Well, sir, t'aint Mr. Sotherby what's sick, it's his wife--she's had the chills and the ague for pretty near a fortnight now."
"Oh." Mr. Collins' eyelids fluttered in exasperation. "Well, it's no matter, for everyone knows Mr. Sotherby drinks. And his poor wife--bless her heart, what she must suffer. Rest assured, Dawkins, I will condole with her on her grievous affliction."
"Which one, sir?" Dawkins could not resist asking. "Her sickness or her husband?"
This question inexplicably threw Mr. Collins into a tizzy of displeasure. "What on earth do you mean, 'which one?'" he crowed. "Why, Dawkins, kindly practice some sort of decorum, or else I shall have to dismiss you from my service."
"I meant no disrespect, sir," Dawkins ventured, but he got no further.
"To think that a servant of a clergyman of my standing--one so closely associated with Rosings Park and all its illustrious inhabitants should display such a crude, ill-mannered..."
Collins ranted on for half a mile before he finally calmed down enough to talk at an intelligible rate. In the interim, Dawkins, though feigning utter oblivion, had been inwardly broiling with indignation. There was no way for a poor man to exact his revenge. And yet... as they rounded a turn in the road they came across a charming bridge over a small but bubbly creek. Dawkins contemplated things for a moment, and then, just as his master had finally ceased rambling on about the necessity of a servant to exhibit the utmost forms of courtesy at all times, the buggy slowed to an uncertain halt.
Dawkins lowered his cap and squinted, scratched his head. "What? What is it, man?" demanded Collins.
"Well, sir, it looks as though--do forgive me, but I b'lieve one of our horses has caught a limp." He stepped down and went around to one of the two tired and sweaty roans who had been clipping along at a good pace. They were excessively bored, and snuffed the dusty ground for clover or something lush and green, while Dawkins pretended to examine the forefoot of one, apparently brooding over it to discern any cracks or injuries to the hoof. Collins sat craning his squatty neck for a moment, and then burst out, "What's wrong? They look perfectly fine to me."
"No, sir, I do believe this one's gone to the bad," called Dawkins. "Right shame for him to go lame on us all of a sudden."
"Lame?" crowed Mr. Collins. "I beg your pardon, sir, that horse was seen to by Lady Catherine's groomsman herself only a sennight ago. You must be mistaken."
Dawkins cast him a shrewd, quick glance, and said modestly, "See for yourself."
It was the strangest and most unexpected accident that when Mr. Collins stood to step down from the buggy, the horse nearest Dawkins should suddenly fright, rear up with a startled whinny, and careen to the left so suddenly that Collins, just as he was about to disembark, was pitched with a shout head over heels into the crystal clear, lively brook below. And it was even stranger that the grass snake that had been the cause of the ruckus, should suddenly disappear right back where it had originated from, the deep right pocket of Dawkins' coveralls.
The servant hopped into the buggy and looked about him with an air of astonishment. "Mr. Collins? Sir? Where did you go??"
"I'm here, you bungling fool!" screeched Mr. Collins. "The water! Help! I'll catch my death--hurry and get me out of here!"
Dawkins stared at the road, the buggy, the brook, the grassy bank, all in wide-eyed and unseeing amazement. "Well, I'll be," he muttered after a moment more of calling and searching for Mr. Collins. "He's been taken up! God bless you, Mr. Collins! Today you've been rewarded for all your kindnesses. Gone, like a thief in the night. Lord, what will Mrs. Collins say!" And sputtering thanks to heaven and a thousand expressions of incredulity, Dawkins and his trusty team rode on their slow, cheerful way, while Mr. Collins spluttered and splashed noisily in the stream below.
Safely out of sight of the brook, Dawkins reached into the pocket of his overalls and brought out his pet, a harmless garter snake that curled up in his palm as if knowledgeable of the service to humanity it had recently rendered. "There's a good friend, Elizabeth," Dawkins chuckled as he drove on. "You do your namesake proud."
The End. :)