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Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

April 13, 2015 11:25PM
Some things are easily explained. Some, not so much so. Where Mr Collins, the good revered of Hunsford is concerned, it is usually the latter case. Very occasionally though, we find him remembering who and what he is:

Chapter One.

The edge of the church graveyard at Hunsford Parsonage was bordered by a low fence. The fence had an unusual curve in it and just one tombstone stood outside of it whilst all the rest were inside its perimeter. Mr Collins had walked past it on many occasions without taking too much notice of it, but now it caught his attention because he could see an old woman standing beside it, through a gap in the trees. . She was dressed in a long black skirt and wore a brightly coloured shawl around her shoulders. He knew she was not young because her hair was silver in the sunlight and he wondered which family of his parishioners she belonged to. He removed his hat and walked around a group of beech trees preparing to greet her. As he stepped beyond the trees he started in surprise. There was no sign of the woman! He frowned and peered around him uncertainly, as the trees he had just passed were the only feature amongst the meadow for some distance all round apart from the mainly weathered tombstones. “ Hello? Hello, where are you Madam?”he called out, but only the morning quiet and birdsong were in evidence. His frown deepened as he wandered amongst the nearby tombstones then stepped over the small palings beside the solitary grave. The small, roughly cut stone marker had obviously been untended for some very considerable time and, in contrast to the area beyond the fence, no spring daffodils grew in the barren soil around it. He leaned forward and rubbed at the lichen moss on its surface then picked up a small piece of slate and scraped the moss away. Just one solitary name appeared on the granite and his eyebrows rose in surprise as he stared at the word “Charlotte” thus revealed and rather crudely scratched deeply into the stone surface.

On his way back to the parsonage - for though he usually made almost daily morning pilgrimages to visit his mentor, Lady Catherine where she resided in splendour at Rosings Park House , he had been somewhat reluctant of late to do so- Mr Collins mentally mulled over the tombstone event and wondered; should he tell his beloved Charlotte of it, or would the finding of her own name be somewhat upsetting to her. Charlotte wasn’t a particularly unusual name, and his wife not a particularly nervous person, but then again…? He decided there was no need to mention it right at that moment. His lunch was uppermost in his mind and part of the Sunday lamb joint remained uneaten as yet. The matter of the gravestone may actually have passed totally from his mind except for the fact that the following morning he saw the old woman again! This time she was seated on a nearby grave slab and again he hurried forward to greet her. Again he passed the beech trees….again she had disappeared when he stepped into view. Once more he called out several times, and once more only the quiet murmurs of nature answered him. How very strange, he thought! Who was she, and whose was the grave? He considered consulting the Parish registers and records in his vestry, but without a surname, what would he look for, and when? Who would know anything of it? The tombstone appeared very old and he had no real idea how to proceed. Maybe he would see the old lady again and she could explain? Ah, well, he had his next Sunday’s sermon to write and Charlotte would undoubtedly be missing his company, for who would not? . He shrugged, smiled and hurried homewards.

With no visit to Rosings scheduled on the next day, because nothing of note or gossip-worthy had happened, and primarily because the good lady Catherine had been in desperately low spirits ever since her nephew had married cousin Elizabeth, indeed “low-spirits” hardly described her mood which almost bordered on rage at the match, he decided on discretion over valour and chose to avoid that option. With his sermon written therefore, Mr Collins walked once more among the gravestone and across the churchyard to the perimeter fence. Something was still puzzling him. Why should just one tombstone be outside the fence perimeter? Being a man who liked neatness and precision, Mr Collins looked along the uneven fencing and decided it needed rectifying. He went off and got a spade and spent a couple of fruitful hours digging up the fence posts and re-planting them around the outside of the solitary grave. He looked at his handiwork and nodded in satisfaction before another thought struck him. Was the grave, that was now located with the rest inside the fence, on consecrated ground? Should he mention that fact to Lady Catherine? Well, maybe later when she was more herself, he decided. He would sprinkle a little Holy Water over it and utter a blessing. He was a man of the cloth after all. He did just that whilst it was in his mind and retired back to the house satisfied with his handiwork.

“Dawkins! Your family have lived around here for a long time have they not?. I wonder if you can tell me something?”
Dawkins left off grooming the curricle horse and stretched his back, glad of the break as he looked enquiringly at his employer. Mr Collins told him about his finding the solitary grave and asked if he could throw any light on the matter of who it belonged to. Dawkins shook his head but said he would ask his mother who lived in nearby Westerham but had always been a Hunsford parishioner. Mr Collins had mentioned the matter to Charlotte, his wife, but she being totally new to the area could only listen without being able to comment on the matter. In due course, Dawkins passed on the story his mother had told him, one she had heard from her own mother, now deceased. He related it thus:

“It would have happened between the years 1720-1740 as near as could be remembered. The then owner of Rosings, Sir Clarence de Bourgh, grandfather of Lady Catherine, had had an altercation with a family of Gypsies he found on his land. General consensus, according to the Dawkins account, was that they were just passing through and had but camped for a night. As one of the older women argued with the Lord of the manor she had gone too close to his horse. The animal reared and lashed out in fright knocking the woman down. She hit her head on a stone and died almost instantly. Sir Clarence was barely apologetic claiming it was but an accident, and threw money on the ground which outraged the already shocked family. The sister of the dead woman cursed Sir Clarence and he accused her of being a witch and ordered them all to leave his land. At that time Hunsford Parsonage was not owned by the de Bourghs and the local parson agreed to bury the Gypsy woman, but as her sister would not remove the curse he would not do it on consecrated ground. The woman was buried on the edge of the graveyard and the fence was moved to accommodate this and the grieving Gypsies left the area, bitterly claiming they were Christians and the woman, Charlotte Winter, should be buried as one.

Mr Collins was deeply troubled by the story. Lady Catherine’s grandfather had caused the death so bringing the matter up was now too indelicate a matter for consideration, indeed the very idea caused him to spend a couple of less than dreamless nights. He related it to Charlotte who was shocked and also of the opinion that the matter was best left alone.

Chapter Two.

Mr Collins, with a name and a rough date to work on, proceeded to peruse the parish records for the relevant dates. Despite extensive searching for twenty years each side, there was no record of Charlotte Winter, not even anyone of that surname in the parish. It was wrong. The woman had been buried in Hunsford Parsonage, his parsonage, and the records were incomplete. It was also an indication that the omission was deliberate. After much deliberation, for there were no gaps in the record, he took a sheet of paper and wrote on it:
“Charlotte Winter of no determinable age, died and was interred in Hunsford Parsonage circa1730. Cause of death was accidental and the lady was given a Christian burial. She now lies in peace. God rest her soul”
He folded the paper and inserted it in the relevant date. No one would probably see it for a long time, if ever. He closed the dusty old ledger and put it back with the rest.

The following day Mr Collins again walked around his churchyard. As he neared the fence he saw the silver-haired lady again. He raised a hand and hurried in her direction. She smiled and nodded at him as he rounded the beeches. When he got to the other side, she was once again gone. With a sigh of exasperation Mr Collins raised his hands. Why was she playing games with him? He turned and suddenly stopped and looked down in surprise. The ground around the old gravestone was surrounded by golden yellow daffodils and the rough stone was cleaned of its moss. The name “Charlotte” was quite clear on the stone.

Mr Collins never saw the old lady again. Being Mr Collins he took the matter no further in is mind.……fortunately….


Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

Jim G.MApril 13, 2015 11:25PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

Lucy J.April 16, 2015 01:41AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

Jim G.MApril 16, 2015 11:59AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

terrycgApril 14, 2015 09:44PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

laurie lApril 14, 2015 11:42AM

Mr Collins has a good heart (nfm)

LiliApril 16, 2015 01:35AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

Maria VApril 14, 2015 12:48PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

ShannaGApril 14, 2015 02:04AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. A rather strange encounter

StarryApril 14, 2015 11:38AM


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