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Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins

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BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
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    "I took the liberty, then, of approaching Mr Jamison, the new rector of Hunsford, and to my relief he was exceedingly obliging. He urged me to search the parish files and even his own office. I did as he suggested and lo and behold, there they were. You see them here—a complete set of plans for a parish school to be built on a piece of common land behind the church hall."
    Catherine had been listening in silence, her eyes bright with excitement.
    "Mr Burnett, that is excellent news," she said in a whisper.
    "Indeed it is, and even better is the news that Mr Jamison the rector is just as enthusiastic about the project as you are."
    "Is he?" She could not believe this good fortune.
    "He has long been, he admitted to me, a convert to the idea of educating the children of the parish and in fact undertook such a venture in Southampton, where he used to serve prior to his transfer to Hunsford. I believe you will find him a most useful ally."
    "I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear this. I must thank you for the work you have done, I do appreciate it very much." She was eager to make him understand that his efforts on her behalf were not taken for granted.
    But he was equally keen to assure her that it had all been done willingly and with pleasure, for as he said, "I am entirely in sympathy with your desire to set up a parish school and educate the children of this estate. Mr Bingley has mentioned to me that such a project was once thwarted, and he hopes very much that this time the Trust will accept it. He believes that the lack of a decent education will deprive many British children of their birthright in what is an increasingly competitive society. I agree—in Europe, particularly in Germany, the state spends large sums of money on educating their young, yet we in England seem content to leave it to charity."
    To Catherine's ears, this was sweet music. "Then, if you were called upon to advise the Trust on our scheme for a parish school, may I assume your advice will favour us?" she asked and his answer was unequivocal, "Certainly, I could not do otherwise."
    The arrival of Mr Adams, while it did not necessarily end the conversation, changed its direction somewhat; but for Catherine the evening was perfection itself. Nothing could dull her pleasure. If only the Trust would now approve her project and allow her to implement the late Dr Harrison's plans, she thought, she could not ask for more.
    As for Mr Burnett, she saw him now in a new light; not just as the man whose amiable nature and genuine erudition had brought her much to enjoy but as a valuable ally in the most important cause she had adopted in all her life.
Chapter Sixteen
As Summer waned into Autumn, Lilian and Mr Adams became increasingly preoccupied with their wedding plans, spending every available hour together, leaving Catherine to organise her campaign for the parish school with the assistance of the rector Mr Jamison and Frank Burnett.
    The week preceding the meeting of the Rosings Trust was a busy one. While Mr Darcy was being represented by Jonathan Bingley, who would occupy a room in the surviving wing of the great house as he did on all his visits to the estate, Colonel Fitzwilliam was sending his wife Caroline to attend the meeting on his behalf, and she had written to ask if she might stay at the Dower House with Catherine.
    Delighted to agree, for Caroline was loved and welcomed everywhere, Catherine nevertheless found herself overwhelmed with a myriad of tasks. Unwilling to appear inhospitable, she had instructed her housekeeper Mrs Giles on every particular of their guest's accommodation and comfort, but found she still had her hands full with paperwork for her presentation to the Trust. There was no one she could appeal to for assistance save Mr Burnett and, having collected together all her material and scribbled down a plethora of notes, she summoned up the courage to go over to Rosings and approach him in his office there.
    As she walked, she ran through in her mind what she would say to him when she got there. It was quite a straightforward appeal; she decided to say simply, "Mr Burnett, all I need is to have someone who is conversant with the procedure of meetings of this nature advise me on the presentation of the facts and figures pertaining to my project. I am not at liberty to appeal to Jonathan Bingley because he represents a trustee himself. Mr Adams, apart from being preoccupied with his wedding plans, is not sufficiently familiar with all of the matters relating to the parish school, nor is Mr Jamison, who is new to the parish. If you could help me…"
    As she pondered her words, and his probable response, Catherine found she had reached the house and, going directly up the stairs to the floor where his work-rooms were situated, she knocked twice and entered the room. Mr Burnett was not in the room, but since the door had been left unlocked, she assumed he could not have been far, probably somewhere in the building attending to a matter of some importance and no doubt he would return soon, she thought. The urgency of her own cause allowed her to believe that it would be best if she remained in the room to await his return rather than go out to seek him.
    Catherine had only ever visited this part of the house since the fire with Lilian and Mr Adams. She had never been in this room before.
    At first glance, she was struck by the tidiness of the room and the orderly manner in which were arranged rows of files and books on shelves along one wall of the room. Beside a large desk stood a glass-fronted bookcase well stocked with volumes of various sizes.
    Seating herself at some distance from the desk, she waited, but he did not come. Restless and a little anxious, she rose and looked out of the window, then wandered over to the bookcase, hoping to see some title with which she was familiar. She saw none; they were all books relating to his work—the conservation and preservation of rare books, artworks, and antiquities in many parts of the world.
    She was about to return to the window when a picture on one of the shelves caught her eye and, on closer examination, made her catch her breath, as she recognised a framed drawing of herself.
    It was one of the drawings from her late husband's collection, that Mr Burnett had brought to her attention and from which they had together selected a few to be framed for her family. Yet, here was one of herself alone, framed in silver and placed in his book case, in such a position that only a person standing directly in front of the cabinet or seated at the desk could see it clearly enough to recognise the subject.
    There was only one possible conclusion. Mr Burnett must have taken one of the drawings himself and had it framed.
    Confused, Catherine did not know what she should do. If she stayed in the room until he returned, he would have no doubt that she had seen it and that being the case, would probably expect her to question him about it.
    If she did not, he might assume the need for some explanation on his part, there would be embarrassment and awkwardness—she had no doubt of it—and just at this time, when she needed his help so badly, it would be the very worst thing!
    It would not do.
    Deciding quickly that retreat would be the best strategy, Catherine left the room and hurried downstairs to find one of the servants. She found a young boy working in one of the rooms and asked if he could find Mr Burnett and give him a message.
    "He is in the West Wing, ma'am, with the restorers. Shall I tell him you're here, ma'am?" the boy asked.
    "No, no, don't do that. He is probably busy. I don't wish to disturb him. I'll give you a note. Take it to him and say it is urgent. That will do."
    So saying, she extracted a sheet of paper from her folder and hastily scribbled a short note, requesting his help in a matter relating to the school. If he was free to call at the house that afternoon, it would be much appreciated, she wrote.
    The boy took it, and as he made his way towards the West Wing, Catherine slipped quickly out of the building and hurried home.
    As she walked through the grounds, her mind was beset with a new conundrum. She wondered what was about to happen to her hitherto tranquil existence. The sight of her picture framed in silver, sitting in his cabinet, had thrown her into a state of confusion, for which she was singularly unprepared. She could not decide if she was flattered, pleased, or angry. She was certainly perplexed and discomfited.
    After the initial shock, however, the more she thought about it, the more it seemed that pleasure rather than annoyance dominated her sensations. Catherine had not experienced such feelings in many years and was scarcely able to recognise them for what they were.
    In this perturbed state of mind, she spent the afternoon trying to put in order all the information she had gathered together for the meeting of the trustees, but her thoughts would not settle on anything, wandering over and over again to the same topic. It was deeply frustrating, for she knew not how it could be resolved. She had questions for which she could see no way of obtaining answers without admitting to having been to Mr Burnett's room at Rosings that morning. It was not the kind of situation in which she usually found herself.
    She was further discomposed by the fact that he did not appear to have received her note, for he neither came, nor sent any message of explanation. Catherine was not happy and spent the afternoon in a state of turmoil, a condition that was quite unfamiliar to her.
    Later that evening, soon after they had risen from the dinner table, the door bell rang and the maid admitted Mr Burnett into the parlour. Lilian was tired and begged to be excused, leaving her mother to greet their visitor.
    Asking for coffee to be served in the parlour, Catherine went to meet him.
    Rising from his chair, he apologised for the lateness of the hour. "Mrs Harrison, I am truly sorry I could not come earlier, but we have had a minor crisis in the West Wing; a crumbling piece of masonry was dislodged by a workman and fell onto one of the lads working below," he explained.
    Catherine looked alarmed. "He is not badly hurt, I hope?" she asked.
    "No, just a little bruised and sore and rather shaken. But I had to take him into the village and have the apothecary look at him. I did receive your note earlier in the day and I am sorry I could not respond sooner."
    Catherine brushed aside his apologies. "Pray do not apologise, Mr Burnett, I am very sorry about the boy. I hope your prompt action has helped lessen the pain of any injury he may have suffered."
    Reassuring her very quickly on that score, he went on to ask how he might be of assistance. "I assumed it must be urgent else you would not have come to Rosings in search of me. How can I help?"
    When Catherine explained, he was most obliging; listened carefully to her request, perused her notes, and offered to take them away and prepare for her a brief but cogent summary, which she could use to convince the members of the Trust of the rightness of her cause.
    "I need do no more than list all the facts and figures for you; your own commitment and personal enthusiasm for the project will do the rest. Mr Bingley will be here in a day or two to take a tour of the estate before the meeting of the trustees; he is firmly on your side," he said encouragingly.
    "And so is Caroline Fitzwilliam, who will represent Colonel Fitzwilliam. I doubt she will need persuading," said Catherine in response. "Caroline and her sister Emily have done much good work supporting the parish schools at Kympton and Pemberley. Their efforts over the last decade have achieved admirable results for the children of those villages. I am aware that Mr Darcy is very appreciative of their work and he supports my plans for a school at Hunsford. If he had had his way, we should have had one already."
    Mr Burnett agreed and added that he hoped the Trust would be persuaded.
***
    When Mr Burnett left that night, promising to return with her material in time for the meeting, Catherine was confident that he had no indication that she had been in his office earlier that day. There had been no trace of awkwardness in his manner and she was relieved, indeed, at not having to confront the matters that might have arisen from such a discovery. It may have caused embarrassment and constrained their efforts to achieve what was a most valuable goal.
    She turned her mind to preparations for Caroline Fitzwilliam's visit. Jonathan Bingley had already accepted an invitation to dine with them, as had Mr Adams. She had sent a note to the rector Mr Jamison and had just that evening extended the invitation to Mr Burnett as well.
    Consulting Mrs Giles, she planned the meal, which she hoped would be a pleasant prelude to a successful meeting with the Trust on the following day. Mrs Giles had assured her that a meal for seven would present no problems for the cook and her staff; they were fortunate to have a wide variety of fresh produce readily available from the garden and the village.
    Catherine looked forward to the day, determined to enjoy it. Yet, one thing disturbed her equanimity. She could not rest for wondering why, if Mr Burnett had taken the drawing for himself and had it framed, he had not mentioned it to her?
    Could it be that he harboured some affection for her, which he did not wish to reveal? If this was the case, what could his intentions be? Did he expect never to speak to her of his feelings?
BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
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