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Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

May 18, 2015 07:43PM
Our destinies are pre-ordained and what will be, will be; except perhaps if fate sometimes decide to take an unwelcome hand at the card table.

Chapter One.

“Mr Collins, I have had a change of mind!”

Lady Catherine laid down her Ace of Hearts on Mr Collin’s Jack, swept the cards and his and her shillings regally to her side of the Whist table, and fixed her gimlet eyes firmly upon the immediately, attentive parson. Her Ladyship nodded sagely, her gaze switching to a distant point above his head, picked up her crystal glass of elderberry wine and twirled it around by the stem. She took a minute sip and leaned back in her chair, nodding to herself. Mr Collins experienced a familiar small flutter of worry that always occurred when Lady Catherine was about to issue a decree, or cast a pearl of De Bourgh wisdom in his direction. He sensed one was about to arrive, but he forced a smile, hoping fervently that it had reached his eyes. Lady Catherine was nodding assertively and a knowing smile almost moved a lip a milimetre out of position, and suddenly a whole summer’s worth of butterflies took flight beneath Mr Collin’s clerical waistcoat. He took a nervous breath and leaned forward to display his undivided attention, at least on the surface. He steepled his fingers and widened his eyes enquiringly.

“Your Ladyship, I am quite certain whatever you have decided will benefit us all, for in my capacity as a parson, I flatter myself that..…..”

“You shall not go to visit your relations at Longboring, or wherever they reside, as we discussed, in search of a bride, amongst your no doubt admirable, but obviously lower-class cousins” Lady Catherine carried on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Yes, you shall indeed marry, but to someone who will be a far greater asset to you; indeed to any man. In short sir, you shall marry a prize beyond most mens’ wildest imaginations and dreams” .

Mr Collins’s swallowed in alarm and his eyes flicked involuntarily towards where Lady Catherine’s daughter, Anne de Bourgh, sat as unmovingly as a carboard cut-out, peering vacuously at a moth buzzing around an aspidistra plant. Mrs Jenkinson, Anne’s Jill of all trades, watched her intently, her hawk-like gaze determining that her charge was still breathing and ready to leap forth and beat the moth into instant submission should it dare to approach within a yard of Anne’s beadwork footstool. Could her Ladyship mean…? No, surely not…He took a hurried gulp of his own wine and dabbed nervously at his lips with a handkerchief. Anne de Bourgh, heiress of Rosings, tiny, fragile and doll-like as a bride for himself, a gangling tall Parson of most humble means, a man who owed his very living to her mother’s condescension and charity…Aghhh, it could not be! “ Indeed, it cannot be, she is unconcerned”, he silently reassured himself, for Anne was displaying all the interest, animation and enthusiasm of the marble clock ticking solemnly away on the chimney piece. In truth, the latter appeared the more alive of the two.

“ Yes, Mr Collins, and I’m sure I may call you William, I have decided that you shall marry.... me!

Had he not already hastily swallowed the mouthful of elderberry wine Mr Collins would undoubtedly have projected it across the table in his alarm. His eyebrows shot up and his knee almost upset the table as it began to tap out an imoromptu fandango beneath it. Lady Catherine, patriarch and mistress of all she surveyed wanted to marry him? Impossible, insupportable, nonsense, nonesense. Why, she was old enough to be his….Yes, it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possesion of a good fortune must be in want of a husband, but.....

“I realise that this will come as a complete shock to you, Mr Collins, for who would not be speechless with joy at such an offer, but you see, I have long wondered if I should have a male heir at Rosings, to help Anne, by taking away the responsibility of such an empire from her alone. You, Mr Collins, William, will help me produce such an Heir. I realise our union will be a mixture of root beer and fine champagne, common stock and almost royalty, but that cannot be helped. There are many amongst my aquaintance who would jump at the opportunity to share my fortune, and, it must be said, my bedroom, but with you I shall be more comfortable because you are a reasonable man and respect my position and authority. I cannot be held to account by some gibbering chinless wonder even if he should be aristocracy. I am my own woman, Mr Collins. I also realise I shall be accused of polluting the very shades of Rosings by my family. What Darcy and Fitzwilliam will say I know not, but since Darcy has shown Anne no attention and will undoubtedly marry some flibbertigibbet somewhere on his travels, he can hardly decry me. What, pray, do you think of that, Mr Collins?”

Since her Ladyship had totally allowed for him to be amazed, surprised, and perhaps even speechless in his joy and realization that the doors of Paradise had opened to him, his expected momentary shocked silence gave him time to recover some slight composure. Beneath the tabletop his hands gripped each other so tightly that his knuckles were almost translucent.

“Your Ladyship”, he eventually almost croaked. “I am almost lost for words. I am but a humble young man with no fortune, and you are a much older..” The sudden deep frown on her Ladyship’s countenance and the beginnings of a demonic glare made Mr Collins realized he had almost stepped into the abyss of no return…”wiser and mature woman of beauty and wealth. You are a powerful landowner and experienced in all things, indeed, had you ever learned you would have been a great proficient in almost all the arts and sports, music, fencing, croquet, show-jumping and all forms of dance, hunting, shooting, fishing, archery, Scotch-hopping, leapfrog, ……. …Why I cannot think of….”

“Yes, yes, Mr Collins”, Lady Catherine waved a hand airily, “no doubt, no doubt, but to the matter at hand, we shall take it as settled then. The wedding must be arrranged quickly, for I cannot wait to begin securing Rosing’s future. Come sir, a toast. To Lady Catherine and Sir William Collins of Rosings. How very correct and grand that sounds. You shall have a likeness taken and we will acquire a pair of Irish Wolfhounds for you. Raise your glass please, my dear; to us!”

Mr Collins wondered if the request didn’t already smack greatly of a command, but smiled weakly and raised his glass with a hand that had barely stopped doing an imitation of St Vitus Dance. Behind her Ladyship there was a “splat” sound, denoting that the foolish moth had eventually become too daring for its own good.

Chapter Two.

“Do you, Catherine De Bourgh, Lady and patroness of the noble families of Darcy and De Bourg, estate owner, farmer, magistrate and organizer of all in your numerous commands, take William, er, Collins, common parson of Hunsford Parish, as your lawful wedded husband, to direct, command, order and punish where necessary, to the best of your considerable ability? “

The Archbishop of Canterbury asked the question before a packed audience in Hunsford Chapel. Mr Collins, resplendent in new clerical finery, was dazed by the number of members of high society he had seen crowding the benches of his domain. Darcy had refused to attend, but Fitzwilliam was there and he could have sworn he glimpsed Arthur Wellesly, first Duke of Wellington alongside a host of members of the ton that included a very fine gentleman someone had whispered was George Brummel, friend of the Regent himself. The lane outside the chapel and all the way up to Rosings itself was packed with magnificent carriages, livery gleaming in the bright summer sunshine. Marquees filled the gardens awaiting the reception guests. It was all too….

“I do!”

Words that should have filled the breast of Mr Collins with happiness, somehow seemed to make the dull, flat metallic clang of the church bronze bell seem joyous by comparison. Why was he not delirious with joy and gratitude? He had just made one of the most powerful women in the country his wife. A woman of so utterly commanding a presence that she told it when to rain, daffodils grew straight up in her gardens and she could increase egg production in a hen house with just a glare at the chickens. Had he himself not witnessed a solitary magpie on the path at Rosings stop and croak “Good morning Lady Catheine, how are you today?” And now he was a man of title and status; a man of a respect normally only bestowed on the cream of aristocracy. Sir William Collins of Rosings, did that not sound truly magnificent?

“And so, my dear William, to bed!”

Even boyed by copious amounts of exotic foods and the finest of wines, Mr Collins still experienced a strong feeling of what, if he were totally truthful, could only be described as…fear as Lady Catherine, smiled winningly and removed a hat which she flicked across the room. He was totally unsurprised to see it sail straight onto a peg on a hall stand.! The reception had passed with great pomp and circumstance with all the country’s finest aristocracy crowding forth to shake his hand and offer congratulations. Surprisingly, her Ladyship had suggested they spend their wedding night at the Parsonage to escape all the inebriated revelers still socializing in Rosings House. For, as she exclaimed: “Nothing must interrupt our first comings together to produce our children!”
Somehow, the use of the plural did not inspire the sort of enthusiasm that the virginal Mr Collins might have expected. Nervously, he disrobed in the guest bedroom and donned his nightshirt. Would prayer perhaps help? Suddenly the bedroom door swung back with a crash, and there stood Lady Catherine in a fine lace nightdress. She had let her hair down and had a rose clasped in her teeth. Without a word she crossed the room and before Mr Collins realized her intent she stooped and curved an arm behind his knees. He could not help but emit a small gasp of alarm as Lady Catherine scooped him off his feet and over her shoulder with effortless ease.

“Come William, there is much work to be done!”

Quite suddenly Mr Collins was terrified. This was not what he had envisaged his wedding night to be. As he was thrown down onto the large bed he raised his arms towards her Ladyship. His intent was to ward her off. Hers was far more direct as she pushed his arms aside and dived down on top of him.

“No, this is not right. I am the man here. I will not be treated like this. No, no, let me go, unhand me madam, immediately”, he almost wailed.
Lady Catherine reached down to untie the tightly fastened nightshirt and released on of his wrists. Siezing his opportunity, he twisted away from her attentions so determinedly that he rolled straight off the bed and landed with a crash on the board floor. Outside the door the pair of Irish Wolfhounds that Lady Catherine had given him as a wedding present, set up a tremendous volley of barking.
"Come man, this is not what I expected from you."
“Keep off madam, this is not right….Get away from me”!
In his utter fright Mr Collins threshed his arms about and became entangles in Lady Catherine’s nightdress. His screeching cause more frenzied barking and….

“William, what on earth is the matter? What are you doing on the floor? Are you ill? You were screaming and threshing about and suddenly disappeared off the bed!”
Charlotte looked down in mild amazement at the sight of her husband clinging onto her nightgown from where he lay down by the side of the bed. Outside the door, Patch, the collie pup was yelping in a mixture of fright and dismay at the racket. Mr Collins had a dazed, almost terrified look on his face as he gazed around in bewilderment. Shakily, he climbed to his feet and a sudden feeling of intense relief flooded through him. He was in his own bedroom and dear Charlotte was there to comfort him. How delightful to realise he had been dreaming. Determined not to lie, yet unwilling to divulge the true content of his strange dream to his wife, he smiled in a mixture of relief and realization.
“I was having a nightmare, dear. There were lots of people around me and a strange lady attacked me. I think I was fighting her off. It was quite realistic.”
“Well, come back to bed now dear. Patch got quite upset at the noise”

“I think I’ll get a drink of milk or water first, Charlotte dear. You go back to sleep!”

Charlotte was already getting ready to resume her interrupted slumbers and just nodded as she climbed back under the sheets. Mr Collins opened the bedroom door gently and bent to stroke the dog. He pushed it away from the door and put a finger to his lips. Ah, the relief, his own house, his own creaking stairs and the closet with his beloved shelves. Darkness worried him not and there was a moon that made lighting a lamp unnecessary. In the kitchen he took a long draught of milk and poured a small amount in the pup’s saucer. Patch had scampered down after him and Mr Collins pointed at the dog bed and whispered “Go to sleep” All was well in his own little world and the nightmare was fast fading from memory. He smiled, shrugged and made his way back to bed and his dear Charlotte.

“Irish Wollfhounds, who needs them? ”

Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

Jim G.MMay 18, 2015 07:43PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

terrycgMay 21, 2015 09:09PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

Amy A-NWMay 21, 2015 05:05PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

Lucy J.May 19, 2015 05:22AM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

Shannon KMay 18, 2015 10:22PM

Re: Hunsford Tales. Queen of Hearts

ShannaGMay 18, 2015 09:06PM


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