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Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Two)

May 25, 2018 03:50PM
Sofia-Elisabete, the illegitimate child of Colonel Fitzwilliam, is a little firecracker with a true heart and an irrepressible spirit. In this novella, Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost, Sofia-Elisabete recollects her visit to Rosings when she was eight years old. What happens when she and Lady Catherine clash? Who is the naughty ghost that plagues our little girl? How does Colonel Fitzwilliam help his daughter navigate the prejudices of this world?

In Part Two, Sofia-Elisabete’s troubles begin…

*******

–ooooo–


Papai once said that there’s nothing worse than human suffering. But what troubled him are those people who don’t honestly feel any sympathy for the downtrodden or those in need or those brought low in spirit. He explained to me that there are people who simply deny that sadness exists. There are people who simply don’t want to be bothered with misery. And there are people who blame others for things that are out of their control, such as the weather.

No thanks to the severe drought during the summer, the bad harvests of wheat, barley, oats, hops, peas and beans made the country-folk here desperate. Papai had gone out again with the land agent to inspect more tenant farms, and he would not return until night-fall ‘deuced tired’, as he would say, and in a sombre mood, muttering to himself, ‘Lady Catherine would starve a saint.’ But he turned gentleman whenever he spoke with his ancient aunt. He reminded her of the violent bread riots two years ago, appealing to her Christian goodness and generosity to purchase quarten-loaves of wheaten bread to divide up amongst the tenants so that they wouldn’t suffer this winter, and only then would her ladyship reluctantly agree to his plan, which he wisely described to her as an investment in her farmlands.

How proud I am of my dear papai and his big, first-rate heart. You see, I know how it feels to starve, and what it means to cry when the pangs of hunger gnaw at your belly. During my foundling days in Portugal, we children would take turns eating – one day I would be fed, the next day I would be made to fast. Only then could the nuns stretch out the meagre supply of food on hand at the convent. Alas, every month a poor child or two, or three, died from starvation or disease. We placed the dead in an open shell and adorned them with wild jonquils ere the sexton buried them in a common grave. Even now, with my belly full of tea and cakes and all sorts of good things, the ghosts of those children still haunt me.

One afternoon, under a cold, cloudless sky, Annie and I drove to Hunsford in her low phaeton pulled by two pied ponies, the plan being to call at the parsonage to deliver up a pot of bone soup that Lady Catherine had condescended to give to the poor. Annie explained to me her rules. Rule No. 1: She never alighted from the phaeton, unless, of course, the rector was from home, calling on his parishioners to torture them with his stupid speeches. Rule No. 2: If she had the great misfortune to visit while he was at home, she never spoke to him for more than exactly five minutes. Those were her rules, and deviate from those rules we must not, or we shall suffer the consequences dearly, ever so dearly.

‘Why would we suffer, Annie?’

‘Why?’ Annie gave a shudder. ‘Because everything the rector says is stuff and nonsense. The man is a stuffmonger. I pray he is gone out.’

But it was not to be. The rector had not left his wife at home alone. On the approach to the parsonage, we espied the rector standing guard near the garden-gate, wildly waving a birch rod at two little boys dressed in threadbare clothes that had been patched a dozen times. ‘Away with you urchins,’ thundered he. ‘What an ungodly sight you are.’ Upon seeing us, his angry countenance turned very pale, and he summoned up a fawning smile. I sighed inwardly, because now we couldn’t visit Mrs Collins and her baby. Those were the rules.

‘Good morning, Mr Collins.’

‘How do you do, Miss de Bourgh? How healthy you look to-day, the way the sunbeam lights up your complexion…’

Annie thrust the pot of bone soup into his hands. ‘Mr Collins, I have come on an important mission to help the poor.’

‘Oh yes, let us help the poor. How noble, how kind, how good you are.’ He laid the pot on the ground without another thought.

Annie motioned to me. ‘Mr Collins, this is my cousin, Sofia-Elisabete Fitzwilliam.’

He turned to me with a grave, sour look, as if I were a big brown bug that he must needs squash.

I gave a slight nod to the rector, not knowing how much to say to him, given Annie’s strict rules, but I had this feeling that no matter what I said, he would pay me no heed.

‘Miss Fitzwilliam, is it then?’ He drew up to his full height with his nose turned up, giving himself airs. ‘I shall see you and your father in church on Christmas Day. How shocked was I when I learnt of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s conversion upon his marriage to a Papist. And he, a second son of an earl. Impossible, says I. Papists you may be, but not for long. I shall set you to rights by shining a light on the true Church of Christ…’

‘I love God,’ remarked I, willing myself not to clench my fists. ‘“God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”’

‘Mr Collins, you must include that passage from the Bible in your sermon. Her ladyship would be pleased.’ Annie cracked her whip, and away we went.

Annie mentioned that we should spend some time with her mamma, who seemed out of sorts to-day. She suspected that her ladyship was greatly annoyed that her daughter had a new, young companion, making her ladyship feel ancient and discarded. ‘Cruel youth!’ Lady Catherine would call after us whenever we cousins sneaked away to do a bit of hoydening instead of attending to her.

We tiptoed into the blue sitting room where Lady Catherine sat slumped in her chair, snoring in a most peculiar fashion. After each snore, she would blow a puff of air as if she were a sleep bubble machine. I giggled into my hand, when, of a sudden, her ladyship gave a loud snort, and she flapped her lips like an old cart-horse. Now, half-awake, she fixed her big glassy eyes upon us.

‘Daughter, you have come home at last,’ muttered she.

Annie grasped her ladyship’s outstretched hand. ‘Yes, mamma.’

‘Oh, how I suffer from head-ache. Do bring my mint drops.’

‘Yes, mamma,’ replied the dutiful daughter.

I followed Annie below stairs to the pastry-room where glass-boxes containing tiny white pebbles sat in a cupboard. She explained that Les Anis de Flavigny – citron, rose, violet, mint, anis – came from France. These white pebbles took six months to make, they being coated many times with sugar syrup, each coat needing to dry before another coat could be added. ‘Mint relieves head-ache,’ advised she, and she placed a mint pebble onto my tongue. Mmm! How sweet it was. As soon as she looked away, I eagerly thrust my tiny hand into each of the glass-boxes one by one, and I hid the sugary booty in my pinafore pocket. O, ho! Robin Hood I would be, giving out candies to the poor and hungry children.

At tea-time, papai joined us, which pleased her ladyship, because he always entertained her with many a lively tale in exchange for a cup of milky, sugary tea, which he hated, and seed cake, which he loved. While he gobbled up another slice of cake, the stout housekeeper, Mrs Buxton, appeared, and she whispered something urgent to her mistress. Papai gave me a curious look. I swallowed hard, for no doubt he and everyone else saw the letters G-U-I-L-T-Y branded on my forehead. Methinks Robin Hood would run for it. Alas, I was stuck in my chair, weighed down with a sense of doom.

‘Heaven and earth!’ Lady Catherine turned a deep crimson. ‘Someone has plundered my medicinal drops. Mrs Buxton has interrogated the staff, and none have confessed the crime.’

Annie gaped at her ladyship. ‘The Les Anis de Flavigny drops have gone missing, mamma?’

‘Ay, ay! The last two people seen in the pastry-room were you and your little brown companion.’

‘Oh, mamma, how could you accuse us of such a thing?’

Papai cleared his throat. ‘Sofia-Elisabete, did you take the medicinal drops?

‘No, papai.’ Would God forgive my lie since it was for a noble cause? In my secret soul, I knew He would not, and thus I became seized with a fit of hiccups.

‘No? What’s that in your pinafore pocket?’

I shrugged.

‘Empty your pocket,’ papai commanded me.

I reluctantly did as I was told. I piled the white pebbles on the tea-table.

‘Well, I never!’ Lady Catherine rapped the floor with her walking-stick.

Annie gasped. ‘Bless me!’

‘Are those not the medicinal drops?’ Papai cast me a stern look.

I shook my head and twisted my hands together. ‘I do believe it’s candy (hiccup), papai.’

‘Deceitful girl!’ cried Lady Catherine.

Papai was beside himself with vexation. ‘What have you done, child?’

‘I’m going to be (hiccup) Robin Hood and give the candy to the hungry children (hiccup),’ explained I.

‘Oh, thief! You are nothing but a common outlaw.’ Her ladyship glowered at me. ‘And now these drops are spoilt and not fit to consume. You have soiled them with your nasty fingers. I should have known better than to let my Anne associate with a miscreant like you.’

Hot tears filled my eyes, and so I took to my heels. I had not gone more than five steps, than I spun round. With a foolish, childish resolve, I marched back to the tea-table. I scooped up the precious candy pebbles, and I tossed them into my pocket, it having occurred to me that if they were spoilt, well, then, seeing how they were mine now, I should give them to the poor children as planned.

‘Shameless girl!’ Her ladyship’s fury knew no bounds.

Papai grumbled, he having lost his patience with me. ‘To the nursery you go, where you’ll stay for ever.’

‘But papai…’

‘Now go and do my bidding,’ ordered he in a severe tone.

I took to my heels once more, bound for the dreaded nursery in the attic, which turned out to be a storage room with a closet where a bed had been made up. I shut myself up in my closet, and there I wept, and when I was not bemoaning my bad luck in being found out, I feasted on some of the white pebble candy in defiance of Lady Catherine. Unkind, unfeeling woman! She would starve a saint. She would deny a sugar treat to a poor, hungry child. Oh, how I wished my mamãe could save me from this ogress, this Lady Catherine. But mamãe was far, far away in Scarborough.

Having heard papai’s step in the nursery, I gulped down the candy in my mouth. The door of the closet burst open, and there stood papai with a grim face. His countenance softened at the sight of my face bathed in tears, until he caught me trying to hide the candy in my hand. ‘I see you’ve supped already,’ he drily observed. He confiscated what remained of my loot, wrapping it up in his pocket-handkerchief.

‘Tomorrow, you shall apologise to Lady Catherine,’ commanded he.

‘I’m not sorry for it,’ declared I, stubborn as ever. ‘I shan’t apologise to her, I shan’t.’

‘If you don’t apologise, she will summon the rector, Mr Collins, and you shall spend hours and hours praying on your knees in Rosings chapel, and the two of us shall be forced to read anti-Catholic tracts with that dolt of a man.’ Papai tugged at his cravat, and I realised then how bad things were for him because of what I had done.

‘What a double dunce!’

‘I’ve heard it said that Mr Collins prides himself on having the best, the biggest birch rod in the parish.’ Papai arched his brow at me. ‘What will it be then? Lady Catherine or Mr Collins and his birch rod?’

‘Her ladyship,’ mumbled I, admitting defeat.

‘In the morning, we shall seek an audience with our benevolent and noble lady. She will undoubtedly give us a tract to read about the pernicious effects of drinking, but we shall hide ourselves in the study and read aloud a more enlightened tract by Father O instead, understand?’

I nodded in reply. Father O’Shaughnessy, or Father O as we affectionately called him, conducted the Catholic service each month in Scarborough, and my papai had a great regard for this religious man who was known for his wisdom and quick wit. Oh, how I missed Father O and how he always called me Soofia-Eee in the Irish way and how no one could sing or play a fife better than him. In Scarborough, our beloved town, the people worshipped peacefully, whether they be Baptist or Quaker or Roman Catholic, &c.

‘Papai, why do you like Lady Catherine when she’s a grumpy old lady?’

‘Well, an age ago,’ began he, ‘when I was a young rascal, I got into a heap of trouble. How so very lost I was in those days. My father came to London where I ran riot, his intent being to cast me off, and thus I sought shelter at Rosings. Lady Catherine persuaded my father to purchase a commission for me in the army. She thought it would be the making of me, and it was. And if I had not fought the French in Portugal, I would never have created you, and you would not have been born.’

I knew not what to say; for, in my mind, a heroine Lady Catherine was not. So I blessed papai in Portuguese, kissing his hand. ‘A bênção meu papai.’ He, in turn, kissed my forehead and bid me good-night.

I thought about my being born and how I had no choice in the matter. No one asked me if I wished to be born. No one asked me if I wished to be abandoned in the foundling turnbox wheel when my natural mother didn’t want me as a bebê. Why, then, should I thank the snappish Lady Catherine for helping me to be born to poverty and misery and loneliness? It took me nearly four years to find my real father – my best beloved papai.

I closed my eyes, my thoughts tumbling to nothing. The dustman had no sooner come for me, than something cold and prickly brushed against my cheek. I awoke, quite startled. I clutched at the bed-clothes, my eyes as round as saucers. A ghostly shadow slid side to side on the wall near me, and I shuddered to think that Rosings was haunted. Surely my mind played tricks when I heard its ghostly moan, but little did I know then a shadow had been cast of something to come. That night, at the moonlight hour, my belly ached from the candy I had eaten.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Two)

RobinElizabethMay 25, 2018 03:50PM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Two)

LorenaMay 27, 2018 05:02AM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Two)

RobinElizabethMay 28, 2018 02:38PM

Re: Twelfth-Night Cake & the Rosings Ghost: A Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam Tale (Part Two)

DorisMay 26, 2018 09:20AM



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