Posted on: 2010-04-14
Mr. Collins eagerly watched and waited. Spring had sprung in Kent; although, the weather remained cold and wet. Impatient for the ground and air to warm enough for him to start planting his seeds and sets, he spent hours peering out of his study window and walking about the outer perimeter of the cottage, analyzing the climate. When at last the day arrived when the air felt comfortable and the sun shone brightly, he buttoned up his coat placed his hat on his head, and grabbed his trowel. On his way out of the house, he happened upon his wife. Ensuring that no servants skulked about, he paused to speak with her.
Rocking from heel to toe to heel, the parson cried out, "Ah, Mrs. Collins, I cannot tell you the joy I feel to once again venture forth to assist the Lord's bounty."
"I am certain you do, sir," she replied with her usual calm. "I bid you well with your gardening. Take adequate time to properly arrange all that we may benefit greatly come harvest."
"You are a good and kind wife with great understanding," he complimented. Looking about again, and seeing no maids, he leaned in to kiss his spouse. She quickly turned her head; thus, his lips landed upon her cheek. A brief hint of disappointment crossed his features, before he exhaled heavily and said, "I shall return with sufficient time to prepare for dinner, my dear."
"Very well;" she responded kindly, "now, off with you."
He smiled his ingratiating smile and stepped through the door.
Once in his garden, he lifted his eyes to the sky and his hands to his chest, and breathed in deeply. He then threw out his arms, careful to keep his grasp on his possession, and joyously called out a greeting to his surroundings, "Hello my long-missed friend. A wonderful day awaits us, one of blessings." Removing his hat and lowering his head in reverence, he muttered a brief prayer for fecundity to follow his labors and quickly set about his work. Grabbing a spade that stood in the corner near a small shed, he began to break up the winter-tamped earth. Humming a hymn as he moved about, he soon had the soil loosened and prepared for the next step.
"Life is but a circle that revolves with no end," he cantillated, "and I am but one who sees that it ne'er has cause to stop." With a skip, he stepped through the gate and walked perhaps two rods to a pile of dark, pungent material. Gouging the shovel into the mound, he lifted it and carried it back around and into the garden. As he emptied his implement, he spoke to the earth, "This shall enrich you, enabling my delicate darlings to grow strong." He made several additional trips, until little remained of the heap of manure.
He traded in the spade for a hoe, and set himself to intermixing the dung and soil, singing, over and over, a little verse he had composed in his mind as he worked:
Clear the ground and dig it up,
make the clods turn small.
Fertilize with ordure strong,
to make the seeds grow tall.
His voice rang out loudly as he continued, fascinated with his tasks. At last, pleased with his efforts, he stopped and cried, "There, that should do the trick." Placing the hoe back into the shed, he grabbed his trowel and fell to his knees in the acrid loam. Quickly, he hollowed out troughs into which he might spread the small seeds. Once he had completed this task, he began scattering the diminutive, hard bits that would, with adequate water and sunshine, and with the Creator's nod of approval, provide the beginnings of a bountiful harvest by mid-summer. Cabbage, carrots, and turnips, fell into their respective furrows. Beets, peas, and kale followed. Beans, squash, and spinach, he arranged easily while onion sets filled in, between. He covered these gently with a light coating of the rich earth, crumbling the brown, life-giving material between his fingers as he did so.
To finish things off, he scooped out another few channels in the soil and dropped in an array of flower seeds for his dear Charlotte to enjoy when they bloomed. For all the afternoon, he had spared nary a thought for his patroness; now, in honor of his wife, and as if reciting a biblical verse in one of his sermons, he chanted, "When the air warms and the fruiting occurs, she may come out to take pleasure in their heady fragrances. She may rejoice in their bright colors as they dance in the wind. She may cut them and fill the cottage with their precious blossoms, reminding all who enter of the life that eternally awaits beneath the frozen ground. She may rise up as mistress and, with their aid, cast aside gloom, for the burgeoning gift of wonder shall draw nature within. So she shall be blessed, so shall we all."
He rose and brushed the dirt from his hands, then from his breeches. "There, all planted," he said, smiling at the black ground before him. At that moment, something buzzed in his ear. Straightening, he swiped at it with his fingers. A moment later, he heard the drone again and shook his head to make it go away. When for the third time he perceived the sound, he stepped back and squinted in an attempt to discern the source. Before him, he saw a blur of green and black. "A fly? Already?" Dismayed, he sighed, muttering to himself, "It must be the manure that brings them out so early; they do love it dearly." Fluttering his arms, he attempted to make the insects move off. "Shoo, shoo, you silly botherations. Off with you, away from my hard work." He continued to flap his arms about, resembling a windmill as he did. "I'll not have your maggots eating my good seed; off with you. Be gone!"
Unbeknownst to him, his wife sat in the house gazing out the window. A cup of tea in hand, she watched him swat and flail. "Oh, Mr. Collins, you are amusing. If only Lizzy could see you as I do, she would understand the great treasure she shunned." A giggle escaped her lips. "Not that she would feel the loss, for she is much better pleased with her own prize, but I fear she will never experience the depth of merriment I am allowed to enjoy each and every day. Well, 'tis her loss and my gain."
For several minutes, she sat in her private parlor relishing her husband's antics. Then, taking a sip of her beverage, she smiled to herself, pleased with all that surrounded her, within doors and without. Releasing a contented sigh, in a satisfied tone, she spoke to her husband, knowing full-well he could not hear her, "You are truly a good man, William; I made a wise choice, for," again, she smiled, "a weed is no more than a flower in disguise."*
Come the summer, Mr. Collins' words came to truth. His seeds had grown into tall, strong, and mature plants. The cottage at Hunsford overflowed with all manner of vegetation, brought into being by the parson's diligence and care. Blossoms sat in vessels placed in each window, on each table, in every room of the house. Meals composed of the bounty of the garden filled their stomachs each night. Lavender hung in the shed, drying, for later use in closets and drawers. In the end, the best result lay in the knowledge that Mr. Collins had well pleased his wife, and this, he resolved, he would always endeavor to do.
* Quotation from James Russell Lowell (February 22, 1819 – August 12, 1891) Born a bit too late for Regency, and an American to boot. Still, the quote fit so well; I couldn't pass up the chance to use it.
A/N: I happened upon a writing challenge at NPR Books. It's part of their "Three Minute Fiction" feature. Upon reading the specifics, my muse poked its head out of hibernation and allowed this little glimpse of life at Hunsford to pop into my mind. Author Ann Patchett crafted the challenge and, among other requirements, called for using all four of the following words: "plant," "button," "trick" and "fly, in any form or tense." If you're interested, you can read more about the challenge at: NPR's Three Minute Fiction