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Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins

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    Jonathan, having conferred with both gentlemen, asked if the ladies wished to see inside.
    "Yes," said Catherine and Lilian together.
    Whilst warning them that it was far too hazardous to enter certain parts of the building, where beams and walls were in danger of collapsing and shards of glass lay everywhere, Mr Benson conducted the party through the main courtyard into the vestibule and let them see some of the devastation wrought by the fire within the house.
    Many areas had been completely destroyed.
    Equally, Mr Adams was at pains to show them how the entire East Wing had been preserved by being cut off from the fire.
    "We were most fortunate in the weather on that night… there was very little wind and what there was blew from east to west, thereby pushing the flames away from the courtyard and fountain, protecting the East Wing. Some rain on the following day helped douse the remaining fires, but it was, alas, too late to save the main building and the West Wing, which held many of Sir Lewis de Bourgh's trophies," Mr Adams was explaining, when Lilian, no longer able to hold back her feelings, burst into tears.
    Catherine, though distraught herself, remained for the most part calm and collected, understanding her daughter's distress. As a child she had explored every nook and cranny of Rosings. A particular favourite of her father's patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she had been permitted certain privileges at Rosings, making it a special place.
    To Lilian likewise, coming from the modest parsonage at Hunsford, where she was the youngest of three children, permission to wander at will among the treasures of Rosings had added a touch of magic to her otherwise prosaic childhood. Now, much of it was gone.
    Jonathan suggested that the ladies return to Hunsford and rest awhile after the strain of their journey. He asked if Mr Benson would arrange for him to be accommodated at the house and was happy to hear that rooms had been prepared for him in the East Wing.
    He did not realise, however, that there was still another shock in store for them, though of a somewhat different kind.
    Catherine and Lilian had gone out into the courtyard, still in earnest conversation with the manager Mr Benson, who had been one of the first on the scene after the fire had been discovered. Following some yards behind, Mr Adams pulled Jonathan back to tell him that Dr Harrison had suffered a heart attack on the night of the fire and was confined to bed at the parsonage at Hunsford, with a nurse in charge.
    Speaking in a low voice, he explained, "He worked as hard as the rest of us, never sparing himself, and no one knew he had suffered severe palpitations until one of the men found him gasping for breath and rushed to summon Dr Whitelaw, who fortuitously was also present, helping me save some of the precious books from Sir Lewis de Bourgh's study."
    In a voice that betrayed his genuine fears, he added, "Mr Bingley, had he not been here, I dread to think what might have occurred."
    Jonathan was anxious to discover how seriously ill Dr Harrison was. "What has Dr Whitelaw prescribed for him?" he asked.
    "Complete rest and daily medication. I know he calls at the parsonage twice a day and has asked the nurse to summon him if there is any change in Dr Harrison's condition. I should perhaps explain that Dr Harrison expressly forbade me to send word of his affliction to Mr Darcy, lest Mrs Harrison be even more distressed by the news. He insisted that he would tell her himself and explain that it was only a temporary indisposition."
    "And is it? What is Dr Whitelaw's prognosis?" asked Jonathan.
    "While I am not privy to the detail of it, Mr Bingley, as a friend of the family and with a particular interest in Miss Lilian, I did inquire on their behalf. Dr Whitelaw revealed that Dr Harrison has been in indifferent health for several years. I believe he has carried a heavy load of work since the rector at the parish of Lower Apsley retired. The exertion and stress he was under on account of the fire may well have been the last straw, so to speak. However, Dr Whitelaw hopes that with rest and careful nursing, he may recover to live comfortably for a few more years."
    Mr Adams spoke with a degree of concern and understanding that did him great credit, a fact that Jonathan Bingley did not fail to notice.
    He shook his head. He could scarce believe what he was hearing. Catherine Harrison would have to cope with two profound calamities at once.
    Jonathan had great respect and affection for her, having once been married
to her younger sister, Amelia-Jane. Catherine had supported him through the tribulation and trauma of a failing marriage, the loss of two infant children, and finally, tragically, the death in a most horrific accident of his young wife. He knew she was a woman of strength and compassion. Jonathan had valued both qualities then and was confident of her ability to deal with and survive her family's present misfortunes.
    Having first reassured Mr Adams that Mr Harrison would not learn how he had discovered the truth about his illness, Jonathan set out to join the ladies and accompany them to the parsonage at Hunsford. He was determined to do everything possible to assist Catherine and her daughter, who might now be left to cope alone.
***
    Arriving at the parsonage, they were met by two grim-faced servants, clearly unable to conceal their concern. Catherine assumed they were still suffering from the shock of the fire at Rosings, as indeed was she. But when she saw the housekeeper in tears, she began to worry.
    "Mrs Giles, what is it?" she asked and then, as Lilian ran towards the stairs, the nurse came out of the bedroom and Catherine knew without a word being said that Dr Harrison must be very ill indeed.
    As Jonathan stood helpless in the hall, mother and daughter rushed up the stairs and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the nurse persuaded them not to enter the main bedroom, where she said Dr Harrison was asleep after taking his medication. Dr Whitelaw had visited his patient that morning, she said. Jonathan could not hear everything that was said, but her tone, though gentle, was firm as she urged them to return with her to the parlour where she would explain everything.
    As they did so, Mrs Giles went to fetch the tea tray, and Jonathan followed them into the parlour. The arrival shortly afterwards of Dr Whitelaw for his usual afternoon visit to his patient afforded them an opportunity to discover the facts about Dr Harrison's condition.
***

In his letter to his wife Anna, Jonathan provided some detail of what had occurred but could in no way convey either the full extent of the ravages of the fire nor the dismay he had felt at learning of Dr Harrison's condition.

It is impossible to describe the devastation we have seen here,
he wrote.

Rosings as I knew it, and we have seen it often, is no more. Only one section
of the grand mansion—the East Wing—remains, spared by the merest chance
from the fire. The rest, all those splendid rooms, their rich furnishings and
accessories, are reduced to a smoking ruin.
Even the great park seems scorched and bereft of its beauty. Poor
Catherine and Lilian are both distraught; this place has been home to them for
all of their lives. But, dearest, that is not all they must bear, for since arriving
here, we have learned from Mr Adams and had confirmed by Dr Whitelaw
that Dr Harrison, while trying to help salvage some of the treasures from the
fire, suffered a severe heart attack. He is now confined to bed.
It is surely the very worst thing that could have befallen this family at this
time, for Catherine and her young daughter Lilian are alone here and must
fend for themselves. Their only son is a midshipman in the Navy, sailing
somewhere between Southampton and the West Indies, while their elder
daughter lives in India, where her husband is chaplain to some regiment or
other, keeping order in the colony! Obviously, they cannot be much comfort or
help to their mother at this time.
Fortunately, they are not entirely without friends, because Mr Benson, the
manager, is a kind and reliable man, and there is also the young curator, Mr
Adams, who I think has formed an attachment for Lilian and seems ready to
do all he can to assist them. I intend to speak with both these gentlemen and
ascertain what needs be done to help Catherine and her daughter—for they will
need much help and advice at least until Dr Harrison is on the way to recovery.
If he were not to recover sufficiently to carry on as incumbent at Hunsford,
the family will have to move from the parsonage into other accommodation on
the estate or elsewhere. Where will they go? This is not immediately clear to
me, and I shall need to discuss it with Mr Darcy if and when the need arises.
I shall write to Mr Darcy and also to Becky Tate, but I doubt anyone
can provide us with an answer immediately. The Rosings Park Trust will
probably have to decide. It is, I am sure you will agree, dearest Anna, a most
unfortunate situation, very distressing indeed for Catherine and young Lilian,
who seems totally desolated by the catastrophe…
    When Anna Bingley took her husband's letter to Elizabeth, she was so grieved, she could not say anything for a while. Catherine Harrison was the eldest daughter of her oldest and dearest friend, Charlotte Lucas. Elizabeth could imagine how Charlotte would feel when all these matters became known to her, as they must very soon. While it was unlikely that Charlotte, having endured the patronage of Her Ladyship for many years, would have quite the same feelings as her eldest daughter, Elizabeth was certain she would be deeply shocked by the destruction of Rosings.
    Presently Elizabeth stood up and said, "I shall go to Mr Darcy at once and ask him if there is anything that can be done for them."
    "Perhaps the Trust will consider letting them stay on at Hunsford for some time?" suggested Anna hopefully and Elizabeth was inclined to agree.
    But, on speaking with her husband, Elizabeth was disappointed to learn this was not very likely, since the parish of Hunsford, being the largest living on the Rosings estate, would need an active incumbent.
    "Particularly so, because Mr Harrison has been serving the parish of Lower Apsley as well for some months, and it would not be possible to leave both positions vacant for too long," Mr Darcy explained.
    He did say, however, that he intended to urge Jonathan Bingley to persuade the Trust to let the Harrisons have one of the vacant houses on the estate, if and when a new incumbent was appointed to Hunsford.
    "My aunt, Lady Catherine, would have wished it; she was exceedingly fond of Catherine, considered her one of her own family, and regarded Mr Harrison with great respect. It would not be in the spirit of her will to leave them without a place to live, especially if Dr Harrison does not make a complete recovery."
    Seeing his wife's anxious expression, he sought to reassure her.
    "You must not worry, my dear, let me assure you we
will
find a way to help them."
    Elizabeth returned to Anna in much better spirits, confident that their husbands together would find some means to ensure that Catherine and her family were not abandoned as a result of the destruction of Rosings.
Chapter Two
Jonathan Bingley took the news to Catherine that the Rosings Trust would wait a month or more, to allow time for Dr Harrison to recover, before deciding upon the appointment of another incumbent to the living at Hunsford.
    Furthermore, he said, if it became necessary due to continuing ill health for Dr Harrison to retire, the family would be offered the Dower House as a residence, for whatever time they needed to make their own arrangements.
    This suggestion, said Jonathan, had come directly from Mr Darcy, in view of Dr Harrison's long service to the parish and the late Lady Catherine de Bourgh's particular affection for Mrs Harrison.
    The suggestion, he said, had been accepted without question by the Trust.
    For Jonathan it was an especially poignant subject, because when he had been Lady Catherine's manager and lived on the Rosings estate with his wife Amelia-Jane, the Dower House had been their home too. Small in comparison with Rosings, it was an elegant and comfortable residence nonetheless, and he recalled it with a mixture of nostalgia and sadness.
    He noted however that Catherine was clearly pleased and having ensured that she had thanked him sufficiently and asked that her gratitude be conveyed to Mr Darcy and the Trust, she hurried upstairs to tell her husband of the offer. Dr Harrison, though he continued to insist that he would soon be well enough to resume his parish duties, was relieved to hear the news. Quite clearly, he too had been anxious about the future of his wife and young daughter.
    Later that night, Catherine wrote to her sister, Rebecca Tate, telling her how much she appreciated the offer of the Dower House, and though she tried bravely to suggest that it may not be necessary, because Dr Harrison may yet recover fully, Becky could read between the lines.
    There was not a very great chance of Dr Harrison making a complete recovery. Furthermore, she had also received that week a letter from Mr Jonathan Bingley, in which he had made it quite clear that Catherine would need both help and comfort in the days ahead.
BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
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