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Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

March 14, 2015 08:59PM
Proving that haste is not always the best thing to be made

Chapter One.

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.

Chapter Two.

“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.

Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

Jim G.MMarch 14, 2015 08:59PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

Lucy J.March 20, 2015 04:29AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

LucieMarch 17, 2015 03:48AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

InesMarch 14, 2015 10:52PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Festina Lente.

terrycgMarch 14, 2015 10:09PM


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