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Here is part two of our short story!!!
A modern Mrs Bennet meets a time traveller or two from the original Pride & Prejudice …
By Juliet Archer and Jane Odiwe
What if Mr Collins was only pretending to be a vicar? That would explain the weird hat, for a start. A lunatic would think that was perfectly normal headgear for a man of the cloth. Once again, she wondered if it was wise to be alone with him. Pocketing her phone, she edged towards the door.
‘I don’t need any more photos – Lydia can check the church website or something if she needs more information. And I’ll send you an email about booking the date – or have you got a PA?’
‘Mrs Bennet, I am nonplussed by your mode of expression – your vocabulary is most unusual. Perhaps the unseasonal warmth of the day has addled your senses? Allow me to escort you to my humble abode where I will fetch my dear Charlotte’s smelling salts for your present relief. But we must keep out of sight of Rosings, lest Lady Catherine herself glimpses your sorry attire.’
|Charlotte marries Mr Collins|
To Cindy’s horror, he grabbed her arm and marched her out of the church. They were about to cross the lane that separated the church from the rectory, when the appearance of an old-fashioned coach, driven by four chestnut horses (such as Cindy had only ever seen on a Christmas card) and bowling along at speed, stopped them in their tracks. Much to Cindy’s relief, Mr Collins let go of her arm – but then immediately stood right in front of her, acting like a one-man human shield. Every time she tried to sidestep him, he hopped like a demented grasshopper, his arms flapping on either side as he tried in vain to hide her from sight.
‘Mr Collins, whatever are you about, my man?’ boomed a large, imperious-looking lady from the carriage window. ‘Let down the roof, Hopkins, so that I may see what is going on.’
The coachman leapt from his perch to do as he was told. Cindy was wide-eyed with wonder at the vision of the woman who was clearly in fancy dress. She’d never seen such a hat with so many feathers and decided there must be a very bald ostrich somewhere running around Kent.
‘Mr Collins, I insist upon knowing what – or rather, whom – you are failing miserably to conceal! You ought to know that I hate to be trifled with. Who is that person?’
‘A Mrs Bennet, your ladyship,’ answered Mr Collins with so low a scrape that his pancake hat fell off.
‘Bennet!’ screamed the lady. ‘That name is offensive to my ears. I am no stranger, madam, to the particulars of your family’s scandalous history. And do not think that I am unaware of your lowly connections in trade –’
Cindy was having none of this. ‘How dare you! I’ll have you know that My Dream Wedding was in the top 300 wed-sites of 2005, and on the wishlists of subscribers to Brides Third Time Around in 2007.’ She watched aghast as she was minutely scrutinised through a lorgnette on a long, gold chain.
‘Mrs Bennet, do you know who I am? Where are your manners, your obeisance?’
‘Curtsey, Mrs Bennet, pray curtsey to Lady Catherine de Bourgh,’ urged Reverend Collins in a loud whisper, his head fairly bouncing off his knee in a spectacularly low obeisance of his own.
‘I shall not be interrupted! Hear me in silence,’ roared Lady Catherine, rising to her feet, eager to have the last word. ‘Mr Collins, remove this unfortunate person at once, apparelled like a wanton in what I can only assume is de rigueur in Hertfordshire.’
‘De rigueur … this is as fashionable as it gets!’ Cindy had never quite got the hang of French even after several gîte holidays in the Dordogne. Flouncing off as fast as her Jimmy Choos would allow, her stiletto heels sinking with every awkward step into the ground, she decided she’d just about had enough for one day. No wedding or country church was worth this kind of abuse, whatever Lydia might say. She’d clearly run across the village idiot and his mother, escapees from some nightmare she’d once had. That was the curious thing – there was something familiar about them, but she couldn’t think what.
‘Mrs Bennet, please wait,’ called Mr Collins, scuttling after her like a large black-winged insect. Cindy broke into a panic-stricken trot, fumbling in her bag for her keys. He was gaining on her with every second. Where was the wretched car? She was sure she’d left it just beyond the churchyard. She dodged between the gravestones, glancing behind her as she went, but failing at the last to see the stone epitaph to Sir Lewis de Bourgh. In an unguarded moment, she caught her toe on a heavenly cherub, tripped and fell flat on her back …
‘Excuse me, Miss, are you okay? Can you hear me?’
Cindy opened her eyes. The nightmare had turned into a delicious, fantasy-filled dream. There above her was Richard Armitage’s twin brother. Well, if he had a twin and he was a vicar, she was sure he’d look exactly like the handsome man in a dog collar towering over her.
‘I fell over. I was being chased – at least, I thought I was,’ she added, lamely. Because, as far as she could tell, the mad reverend had disappeared.
‘Oh dear, I am sorry to hear that. It’s normally so quiet here, hardly a soul about.’ He offered his hand. ‘I’m David Collins, by the way.’
She’d registered the name, but it must be a coincidence, mustn’t it? ‘It was a Mr Collins that was chasing me … Reverend Collins, I thought he said.’
‘I’m the only reverend here, though I much prefer to be called David. Anyway, let me help you to your feet. Come over to the rectory and I’ll make us some tea.’
Five minutes later, Cindy was sipping Earl Grey tea from a floral cup, tucking into a plate of scones in the Georgian rectory and relating her life story. Her only injury was to her foot, which David had expertly bandaged and insisted she rest on a footstool. When she wasn’t telling the young vicar all about wedding planning and settling the arrangements for Lydia’s day, she was taking in her surroundings. It was a nice house, she thought, but it could do with a woman’s touch … She was just wondering whether he was single and might do for her daughter Katie, when she spotted a pencil drawing on the wall. Mounted in a gilt frame, a figure in a pancake hat looked at her with that same silly expression. There was no doubt in her mind.
‘That’s him!’ she shouted, leaping up and forgetting her painful toes. ‘That’s Reverend Collins!’
‘Are you sure? I think there must be some mistake.’
‘I never forget a face, and believe me, his will never be forgotten.’
‘But that Reverend Collins is long gone, I’m afraid, Cindy,’ David replied. ‘He was an ancestor of mine – with quite a history as a matter of fact. He was vicar here in the 1800s … there’s a family story that he inspired the writer, Jane Austen, but whether it’s true or not, I can’t say. Likewise, Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice had a parish in Kent and we’re not far from Westerham, so perhaps there’s something in it.’
Cindy felt most bewildered. When she came to think of it, the whole episode had been very weird. Both Mr Collins and the woman, Lady Catherine, had had a very strange, antiquated appearance. But, she couldn’t explain it. Besides, she had far more important matters on her mind. ‘Well, never mind, David. I’m so happy you can marry Lydia – though unfortunately for her, she’s already taken, if you get my meaning.’
A pause, then she asked coyly, ‘What about you? Are you single?’
David blushed to the roots of his hair. ‘Yes, I’m afraid I am.’
Cindy tried – and failed – to disguise the predatory gleam in her eyes. ‘Can’t think why, I’m sure you look very fetching in a pulpit.’ Another little pause. ‘I don’t like to boast of my own children’s beauty, David, but my Katie looks absolutely stunning in her bridesmaid’s dress … And whilst we’re on the subject of marriage, all wedding planners have a slogan above their desks. Coincidentally, Jane Austen wrote mine – very apt, I think, in this instance: “I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage”.’
She gazed at him fondly, imagining the double wedding celebrations they might have if she was quick to introduce Katie to this Richard Armitage look-alike. ‘What do you think of that, David?’
David merely smiled. ‘All unmarried vicars have a slogan above their desks too, Cindy. And mine is also from Jane Austen – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment”.’
For once, Cindy was unable to think of a reply.
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