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

May 31, 2018 08:06PM
In Part Four, it’s Christmas. I know it’s a bit odd to celebrate Christmas when summer is just beginning for us, but Sofia-Elisabete is determined to tell us her story, and it’s going to be a doozy, just you wait and see…

*******

–ooooo–


Christmas Eve having arrived, the manor-house was bedecked in evergreens, a cheerful blaze crackled and whistled in the chimney-nook of the drawing room and a yule candle of monstrous size sat on the dining table. On this special night, Lady Catherine permitted me to sit up to supper with the grown-ups, our only guests being the Collinses. The rector never spoke to me, which suited me, but nor did he allow his wife to, which bewildered me, although she would give me a warm smile whenever her husband did not attend to her.

The grown-ups toasted each other with spiced-wine, and we ate roast beef and brawn. Lady Catherine goggled at her slice of brawn before she devoured it like a horse. Methinks she loved that horrid jellied stuff, as did Mr Collins, who called himself the ‘biggest brawn eater within miles’. I, who had never eaten brawn before, found this meaty-jelly thing not to my liking, and hide it I did under the mound of potatoes on my plate. In the course of the evening, when we had retired to the drawing room, Mr Collins sang a Christmas ditty about boar’s head and brawn to torture us:

The Boar is dead,
Lo, here is his head:
What man could have done more
Than his head off to strike,
Meleager like,
And bring it as I do before?


He living spoiled
Where good men toiled,
Which made kind Ceres sorry;
But now, dead and drawn,
Is very good brawn,
And we have brought it for ye…


Lady Catherine cried ‘Enough!’ She claimed the rector’s ponderous singing had given her indigestion, and thus she ordered the carriage to take the Collinses home. One wonders, though, if the great quantity of jellied pig’s head and trotters she had consumed during dinner caused her illness.

‘Let us sit round the Christmas fire,’ suggested papai, ‘and I shall tell you a ghost story.’

‘Papai, is there a Rosings ghost?’

Lady Catherine and Annie exchanged a quick glance, and I wondered why.

‘Pooh, nonsense,’ exclaimed her ladyship. ‘Nephew, I wish to retire now.’

Papai held out his arm for her to take, and he escorted her upstairs.

Once her ladyship had gone to bed in ill-humour and ill-health, the ‘real festivities’ began; at least that’s how Annie described them. The two of us sneaked below stairs to the Servants’ Hall. There, mingling with the servants, we played bob apple, hot cockles and steal the white loaf, and we danced to the merry tune of fiddles. Oh, to be a young child again. I romped with Annie, like the hoyden I am, in the highest of spirits and lost in the enchantment of rustic revelry.

Of a sudden, a roar of chanting and clapping erupted, the reason being that papai, who had come looking for me, stood under the mistletoe, and near him stood the shy maid Betsy. You see, my papai was a great favourite with the staff, because he knew all of their names and treated them with civility. And so he obliged everyone by giving a quick kiss to the maid, who blushed to her eyes and who touched her flaming cheek where papai had kissed her. With a broad grin, papai plucked a white berry from the mistletoe as if he had won a big prize. I quick-marched to the scene, my ire heightened. ‘I shall tell mamãe you kissed Betsy,’ threatened I. Everyone laughed as if I had told a good joke.

Pierce stepped forward to the centre of the hall, where, with much urging by Mrs Buxton, he commenced to sing in a theatrical deep bass:

Come bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing,
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart’s desiring…


When the butler had done singing the ancient Christmas song, and to much applause, papai toasted everyone with a glass of ale: ‘Here’s to ye, and here’s to thee. And here’s to them that’s far away.’ I knew he pined for mamãe – she, who was far away in Scarborough. He had read to me a letter that he had written to her, begging her to reconsider and to join us at Rosings. He assured her that I would not take ill. He told her, ‘Are not life’s tempests unpredictable? But one mustn’t live his life in fear. You and I should be as one this Christmas-tide and not miles and miles apart. I beg you, Aggie. This cruel separation has crushed my heart into a million pieces, and only you can cure me and put me together again.’ He wondered if this simple, heartfelt message would change mamãe’s mind; for, she could be as headstrong as any man. I gave an inward shrug, because I doubted it would.

–ooooo–


Papai lay in bed snoring and stinking of the wicked liquor. He must have played at whist o’er liquors brisk until mid-night. Gwquaaakkkkk sk-sk k k K. Papai awoke with an abrupt start as if he had sensed my presence.

‘Good heavens! Why are you staring at me, child?’

I huffed. ‘I’m been waiting ever so long for you to wake up.’

‘Whatever for?’ Papai rubbed his sleepy eyes.

‘It’s Christmas-day.’ I leapt with joy.

‘So it is. So it is. Away with you now.’ Papai tossed the bed-clothes over his head.

‘But papai, Lady Catherine said everyone must pray at Rosings chapel before breakfast.’

Papai groaned. ‘Go and wait at the entrance of the chapel gallery. I’ll be there quicker than a hundred thoughts.’

And I waited and I waited, gathering a heap of thoughts, but papai never did come. Worried that he would be late for morning prayer and that we would be punished and made to read tracts, I bounded down the stairs to search for Annie. Once I had explained my dilemma to her, she quickly disappeared below stairs to retrieve two pots and spoons. Armed with these kitchen things, we paraded up and down the length of the passage near papai’s bedchamber, banging our pots and creating a great noise. Papai’s door flew open. He really did look like a madman with his hair standing on end.

‘Your infernal hullabaloo has given me a sudden head-ache, I thank you not!’ He slammed the door with a bang, uttering a dreadful oath and something about ‘Oh, my head, my he-e-a-a-ad.’

In Rosings chapel, we sat in the gallery, listening to Lady Catherine read prayers, while the servants sat below us, hidden from view. But I knew that some of the footmen felt poorly, as poorly as papai did, they each of them suffering from severe head-ache. I had seen them earlier this morning, looking white as ghosts. Surely they would be made to eat gruel.

Later, at breakfast, the butler set a basin of ghastly gruel before papai, who pretended to spoon it into his mouth, for he never did swallow any of it. I know this to be true, because I watched papai ever so closely and committed his devious technique to memory. I giggled into my hand when, after a few minutes, papai’s eyes closed and his head drooped forward, and whenever I pushed his head upright, it would droop again. To be sure, my childish mirth-making vexed her ladyship.

‘Fitzwilliam,’ thundered she.

Papai nearly fell from his chair. ‘Madam?’

‘You are very dull this morning.’

Papai began to stammer, willing his eyes to remain opened. ‘Yes…yes I am. You see, I…I…’

Lady Catherine rose from her chair, cutting him off. ‘Pray let us go to Christmas service.’

We obediently followed her ladyship out of doors, where papai handed his aunt into the carriage, and Annie next. He was about to hand me in, when Lady Catherine blocked my way with her walking-stick.

‘The child must sit on the box with the driver.’

Papai hesitated. ‘My lady, I fear she might catch cold and…’

‘Nephew, you must stop coddling the child,’ commanded she.

Papai sighed, and he shut the carriage door. He lifted me atop the box and thereafter mounted the box himself instead of sitting within. He placed me on his lap, wrapping me up in his great coat. ‘Quick, driver!’ he ordered the coachman. Oh, how the frosty air made me shiver. By the time we reached the church, which stood a half mile distant, I couldn’t feel my toes or my fingers. Whilst we sat in Lady Catherine’s pew, papai blew on my hands to warm them up, and Annie gave me her charcoal foot warmer. These attentions paid to me by Annie certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Lady Catherine, who cast a severe look at us.

Now, be it known, my mamãe had taught me church etiquette, particularly when I am obliged to attend service at the Church of England. I must never speak or giggle or yawn. I must never tap my feet or swing my legs while seated in the pew. I must never knit my brows or cross my eyes or twist my lips whenever I disagreed with something being said. I must pray and kneel and sing whenever everyone else did, and so forth and so be it. And that is why, when the rector, Mr Collins, ascended his pulpit where he railed against the evils of revelry and excessive drinking on Christmas eve, I sat in respectful silence, although inwardly I prayed that the rector would get on with it and finish his sermon. A hymn-singer I wished to be.

An hour had passed when a great catastrophe occurred, all because of a snore. First, it began as a low murmur – sk sk sk k k k – but then it increased to a monstrous snore. Mr Collins, with fire in his eyes, signalled for the sluggard-waker to give papai a smart rap on the head. ‘Papai,’ I whispered in his ear. I shook, I pinched, I elbowed him, but to no purpose. The sluggard-waker, being a rheumatic old man, tottered towards us, waving his long staff with brass knob in a menacing fashion. There’s nothing more frightening than a sluggard-waker, believe you me. Struck with panic, I stood before papai, determined to save him from harm, and so I stamped on his foot, using all my might. ‘Yow!’ cried he, furious at being roused from his slumber until he recalled his whereabouts.

I had no sooner caused a scene during Christmas service, than a great clamour ensued, as if the noise had escaped from a corked bottle. Babies screamed and cried, boys played and pranked, old folks hacked and blew their noses, dogs barked and howled. Apparently, some of the four-legged miscreants in the village had sneaked into the church on this holy day. The sluggard-waker, who also served as dog-whipper, lunged here and there, frightening the dogs with a stout lash, but he never did catch any of the quadrupeds, they each of them bounding away to safety.

The sluggard-waker turned his attention to the restless boys. To restore order, he tapped each naughty boy on the head using the foxtail at the other end of his long staff. Once he had silenced the two-legged miscreants, he bustled up to me – the No. 1 Miscreant – with his staff. ‘I think not,’ papai objected in his stern, officer-like manner, and he drew me to his breast to protect me. To be sure, this heightened her ladyship’s ire – she, who objected to my being coddled.

The service now concluded, her ladyship departed in a huff, and she and Annie were handed into the carriage by their footman. Mr Collins ran after them the entire way to the manor-house.

‘Papai, why is Mr Collins running?’

‘Don’t you know – the rector favours running as a form of daily exercise?’ Papai gave me a lopsided grin. ‘One can often see the rector running back and forth between the parsonage and Rosings. Why, I once won a wager that Mr Collins could beat her ladyship’s carriage to the manor-house, the rector having done so by three seconds.’

While the rector got his daily exercise, papai and I sought shelter inside the cold church to escape the drizzling rain. Mrs Collins, who took pity on us, invited us to the parsonage where we sat near a bright coal fire, drinking tea and eating gingerbread. I discovered then the goodness and kindness of Mrs Collins. She never questioned our Catholic faith. Nor did she comment on my foreign-ness or brown-ness. I got to visit her plump baby, who, on closer inspection, was a fine, jolly boy who never shed a tear, even when papai lifted him high up in the air.

The drizzle having stopped, papai and I sallied forth hand-in-hand to the manor-house. Papai, whose eyes beamed with mischief, declared it one of the best Sunday services he could remember, much better than the Sunday service when, as a boy, his pet frog, Hubbub-it, escaped from his pocket and, oh, how the ladies shrieked with terror, their powdered wigs gone askew when they had jumped in fright. I admit to being all astonishment at his remarks, having prepared myself to be punished to-day.

I squinted at him. ‘Even with the noise we made on this holy day?’

‘Oh yes. ‘Twas a first-rate hullabaloo.’

I hung my head. ‘I’m going to apologise to God for it.’

‘Well and good, but only if you’re sincere. There’s no sense in it otherwise.’ Papai squeezed my hand. ‘Ah, here comes the champion of apologisers and an insincere one at that. There’s nothing good to be said for a civility that comes so unwillingly and unnaturally.’

As we rounded a bend in the path, we came across Mr Collins, mumbling to himself. He glanced at us with a stormy brow. He thereafter nodded to papai in a gruff manner but didn’t stop to talk. Poor Mrs Collins, who awaited the return of her disagreeable husband. I wondered if the hullabaloo in church to-day would ruin her Christmas dinner. Now that I think on it, I’m sure that it did, and I’ll always feel sorry for it.

In Rosings chapel, I knelt to pray, and I gave a thousand apologies to God for being the No. 1 Miscreant at to-day’s Christmas service. ‘Dear God, I should’ve held my tongue and sat quietly, thinks I. And I should’ve let the sluggard-waker rap papai on the head for snoring, thinks I. It’s not the first time papai has fallen asleep during a sermon, believe you me. Oh, and since I know that you know, what I know, I shouldn’t have crossed my eyes three times during the sermon, thinks I.’

I felt a presence near me, the presence of another troubled soul. I turned round, hoping to find a penitent papai, when, to my surprise, I observed Lady Catherine with bowed head.

‘I pray to God to forgive us for such a scandalous Christmas service,’ uttered she in a doleful tone.

‘Mr Collins’s sermon was a very bad one,’ returned I, recalling the rector’s rant about the wild revelry on Christmas eve.

‘Impudent girl! I do not speak of the sermon, which, by-the-bye, I wrote.’

I covered my gaping mouth with my hands. ‘Oh, blunder,’ I whispered to myself.

She shook her head at me. ‘Did you not learn anything to-day about the evils of excessive drinking? Did you not witness the pernicious consequences of spirituous liquor?’

With an inward cringe, I shrugged.

She rapped the floor impatiently with her walking-stick. ‘You must stop your father from excessive drinking.’

‘But…your ladyship…I’m still a tender child, only eight years old.’

She humphed. ‘What nonsense. Why, when I was a tender eight-year-old, my dear mother had been dead for over a year, and I looked after the younger children and made them behave. Coddle them I did not.’

I opened my mouth to protest, when papai announced his presence and his wish to give me a Christmas gift. He held out his arm to his ancient aunt.

‘I suppose there is no stopping you when it comes to pampering your only child,’ grumbled she.

Papai grinned at her, and he patted her hand. He didn’t say a word and neither did she. That’s when I learnt papai’s secret and the virtue of silence that comes from holding one’s tongue. Unfortunately for me, it’s not an easy thing to learn. I fear it takes many years of practise to get it right. Papai told me afterwards that civility is the mark of a true gentleman and that no provocation whatsoever could justify any man in not being civil to every woman, rich or poor, even if she were the most despicable, the most beastly woman in the world. I have come to believe that if someone like me were a man, I would be reckoned a brute.
SubjectAuthorPosted

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

RobinElizabethMay 31, 2018 08:06PM

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

LorenaJune 06, 2018 01:04AM

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

RobinElizabethJune 08, 2018 08:54PM



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