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Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins

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    He picked up a rather worn, tooled leather wallet, which appeared to contain several quarto-sized sheets of drawing paper.
    "Mrs Harrison, I found this in one of the drawers of Dr Harrison's desk; it had probably been put away and forgotten," he said. "You can tell from the discolouration on the paper, it has lain undisturbed for many years. On opening it and seeing its contents were of a purely private nature, I put it aside. I do not believe it should be sent to Rosings with the rest of Dr Harrison's papers. I think you should have it."
    Surprised, Catherine took the case and it fell open, revealing a number of pencil sketches of herself and the children; work done a long time ago, when she was a young woman and they were very little.
    They were, some of them, rather faded, but many of the drawings retained a remarkable degree of freshness and spirit. Catherine could recall quite clearly when they had been done, over a long Summer, when Lady Catherine and her entourage had travelled to Bath, leaving the family at the Hunsford parsonage to entertain themselves. It had been a particularly happy time.
    As she extracted the drawings from the case and laid them on the desk in front of her, her eyes filled with tears. Sketching, making pen-portraits, had been her husband's only diversion from his work for the church and parish, and she had enjoyed sharing it with him.
    But, so wholehearted had been his dedication to his calling, even that innocent pastime had fallen by the wayside some years ago and she had never seen him take it up again. Nor had she seen again the delightful sketches, which he had made that Summer, until this day.
    She sighed; so concentrated was her mind upon the drawings in front of her, drawings that brought back happy memories from many Summers ago, she almost forgot Frank Burnett was in the room, until he, looking over her shoulder, said, "They are very good; Dr Harrison must have had a real gift; he has captured the expressions and attitudes of his subjects to perfection."
    Wrenched back to the present, Catherine looked up at him and said, "He had indeed; it was a pity he hid it all away, almost as though he was ashamed of it. It was just a little fun, nothing serious, yet it brought all of us a lot of pleasure at the time. I had quite forgotten about them after all these years; I must thank you very much for finding them for me."
    "Shall you have any of them framed for hanging, do you think?" he asked, adding, "They are certainly good enough."
    She thought for a while and hesitated before replying, "Yes, why not? I dare say Lilian would like one for her room, and Mama, too. Perhaps when Lilian returns from the village, we could select some of the best and have them framed."
    Mr Burnett spoke quickly. "When you do decide, I should be happy to take them into town for you and have them framed by a man who often does similar work for me. He is a fine craftsman and will do them justice, I promise you."
    Catherine thanked him again and left the study, taking the wallet and its contents with her. Before returning upstairs, she took a moment to remind him of their dinner engagement on the Sunday and received his assurance that he would be there.
    "I am looking forward to it, very much," he said.
***

If success may be judged by the satisfaction and pleasure of the participants, then the dinner party might have been judged to be completely successful.

    It was the first time they had entertained anyone at all, however simply, since moving to the Dower House. Dr Harrison's illness had precluded the possibility. Catherine was careful not to make too much of it, though.
    Lilian, conscious of the fact that Mr Adams was dining with them for the first time, paid special attention to the table linen and silverware, ensuring that everything was exactly as it should be. She had slipped out into the garden and picked a small bunch of cream roses to adorn the table and set candles at either end.
    Catherine had discussed the menu with Mrs Giles and decided upon fish and a terrine of veal and ham rather than a roast, with plenty of vegetables from the garden. She was satisfied that it provided a variety of tastes without being extravagant. She surveyed the room before going upstairs to dress for dinner and was well pleased.
    When the gentlemen arrived, both ladies had been down and waiting in the parlour for almost half an hour. Catherine, though in formal mourning, appeared remarkably well, if a little pale, while Lilian, who had taken great care with her preparations, looked very pretty indeed. Her golden hair and fresh complexion, enhanced by the glow of candlelight, were quite exceptional. Indeed, Mr Adams seemed so completely captivated, he could not leave her side even for a moment, a fact that both her mother and Mr Burnett noted, separately, but upon which neither made comment.
    At dinner, when they could drag their attention away from the excellent fare, the conversation was all about Rosings and what was planned for the estate after the fire. The accountant engaged by the Trust to ascertain the extent of the losses and recommend the best course of action for the future was still working on his figures, Mr Burnett informed them.
    "I understand that he believes there is so much damage to the West Wing, it does not warrant restoration. I think he intends to recommend that the main body of the house be restored and refurbished, and the West Wing be demolished."
    Catherine was curious. "And do you suppose the Rosings Trust will be willing to accept such a recommendation?" she asked.
    Frank Burnett was cautious. "While I am not privy to the attitudes and opinions prevailing among members of the Trust, I am inclined to think that they would see it as a practical solution. To restore the entire property would cost many thousands of pounds and to what end?" he continued, as the others listened. "I recall that much of the West Wing was devoted to displays of trophies and memorabilia of wars, collected by Sir Lewis de Bourgh and his father. Now, except for some miscellaneous pieces of armour and a few medieval artifacts that have survived the fire, that original collection has been totally lost, together with the furniture and accessories. What good would it do to restore the West Wing without any of its contents?"
    "Could not similar items be found and purchased?" asked Lilian, but Mr Adams explained that not only would that be very costly and probably impossible to do, since many of the items were exotic pieces, collected in foreign parts, but the value of the original collection could never be replicated.
    As Lilian nodded, understanding the point of the argument, Catherine said, "I do not think it would be either sensible or wise to attempt such a thing. I cannot predict what the Trust will decide, but if I were to be asked, I should tell them that what money is available should be spent not in restoration of the West Wing, or the purchase of expensive items to replace those destroyed by the fire, but in establishing a school for the children of the parish, in particular the girls of this district, who get no schooling at all. It would be a far more fitting memorial to the family of Sir Lewis and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I might even be so bold as to predict that both Jonathan Bingley and Mr Darcy, if consulted, would agree with me."
    There was a silence after she had spoken.
    Clearly, her ideas had surprised the rest of the diners, but her words and her voice had left no doubt in the minds of her companions that Catherine felt passionately about the matter. Unlike the children of the parishes of Kympton and Pemberley and, more recently, Netherfield and Longbourn, whose schools had benefitted from the generosity of Mr Darcy and Jonathan Bingley, those children on the Rosings estate had only the charity of the church to rely on for their education. Consequently, many of them received no teaching at all, except at Sunday school. It was a circumstance that Catherine and the late Dr Harrison had long regretted. Their efforts to remedy the situation had not met with success because of the intransigence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh; now, Catherine could see a way to set it right.
    Mr Burnett made the point clearly.
    "I believe I am not wrong in thinking that the de Bourghs and in particular Lady Catherine never grasped the principle that a community that is educated and enlightened makes for a better society; rather, they feared such notions would only serve to give the children of the poor ideas above their station."
    Catherine concurred. "Indeed, and while she would gladly encourage young women from the villages on the estate to enter into domestic service at Rosings as a means of improving their lives, Lady Catherine would not contribute to their education, lest they sought to rise above the status of servants. Similarly, young men could be apprenticed to artisans or employed as labourers on the estate, or be trained as footmen and butlers, but would then forfeit the right to attend a school! There is an illogicality about it which offends me deeply," she said.
    Mr Burnett declared he had seen a lot of that all over England.
    Mr Adams said he thought that was very unfair and Lilian, her eyes flashing, added that it was surely more than unfair, it was also un-Christian, for were we not taught that all children were equal in the eyes of God?
    At this, her mother smiled and said, "Ah, but there are many similar things done, which might have been considered un-Christian, such as the taking of tithes from tenants, at times when harvests were so poor they had little enough for themselves, and disallowing the taking of game, even to feed starving families.
    "Too many children went hungry while there was more than enough food around, which they were forbidden to take. I used to wonder at the heartlessness of men and women who would enjoy sumptuous meals while their tenants survived on meagre rations."
    By the time this discussion had run its course, no one wanted any more food and as the servants cleared away the dishes, Catherine rose to leave the room. They repaired to the parlour for tea and coffee, and the younger couple seemed determined to enjoy as much of each other's company as possible, leaving Mr Burnett and Mrs Harrison to entertain one another.
    Seating himself in a chair beside Catherine's, Frank Burnett asked if she had decided which of Dr Harrison's sketches were to be framed.
    "I have to be in London next week and can take them for you, if you so wish," he said.
    Catherine went to fetch the wallet of sketches, which she then laid out on a card table between them. After some discussion and upon his advice, she chose three sketches of the children. "There, I think I should like those framed—they would look well on the wall behind the landing, do you not think?" she asked.
    Mr Burnett agreed, but added, "Will you not choose one of yourself as well?" and he turned over several as he spoke. They were all well drawn, some of her alone, capturing a quality of youthful energy and freshness, that he remembered well, and others with one or all of her children, which had a different but undeniable charm of a contented and serene woman and her family.
    Catherine shook her head. "No, I do not think I should care to be framed and hung," she said with a crooked little smile. "Now, it would be different if I were dead!"
    He looked rather shocked, but persisted.
    "Would not your mother, Mrs Collins, wish to have a framed likeness of her daughter and her children? Or your sister?"
    She thought about it and hesitated, then relenting, said, "Yes, perhaps Mama would like one, and maybe Becky. All right, Mr Burnett, I shall let you choose a couple; I am not particular which; pick any that you consider might suit," she said, and went away to ask for a fresh pot of tea.
    Frank Burnett did as she asked and by the time she returned, he had set aside the sketches to be framed and replaced the rest in the wallet. When she returned, Catherine treated the subject as closed and proceeded to pour out more tea for everyone.
    Changing the subject, Frank Burnett asked, "Mrs Harrison, I do recall that you used to perform exceedingly well upon the pianoforte at Rosings. May one ask if you still play?"
    She replied without hesitation, "Not often and certainly not as well as I used to. I have had little time and no inclination recently, and without Lady Catherine to prompt me, I am probably badly out of practice."
    He looked genuinely disappointed.
    "Do you not mean to take it up again? It would be a pity to waste such a fine talent. I remember even Her Ladyship being silenced by your rendition of Mozart, one evening when we were privileged to have the company of the bishop at dinner. I cannot believe that you have lost your love of music?"
    Catherine laughed, surprised by the accuracy of his recollection.
    "Mr Burnett, you
do
have a good memory. I had quite forgotten that occasion. Well, I do still deeply love music and perhaps I shall play again—sometime in the future," she mused.
    "Please do," he said, encouraging her. "I am sure it will afford you both pleasure and comfort. I can vouch for my own enjoyment and would entreat you to practice and play again."
Catherine bit her lip, discomposed a little by the directness of his remarks.
    "Perhaps I shall and I will tell you if I succeed. Meanwhile, may one ask, Mr Burnett, if you still sing as well as you used to do?"
BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
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