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Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins

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    Catherine agreed, though Rebecca noted that she seemed to do so with reluctance and sadness, promising to ensure that her husband did not overtire himself. Rebecca could not help wondering if she would succeed; she knew her brother-in-law to be a most determined man, with a tendency to declare that he intended to do something and proceed to do just that despite the advice to the contrary of all those around him.
    Her own husband, Anthony Tate, had often been aggravated by the rather patronising tone Dr Harrison adopted and had warned Rebecca that he could not be expected to defer to him on every occasion simply because he was a clergyman.
    "He pontificates on a variety of subjects as though they were matters of church doctrine rather than commonplace issues affecting ordinary people in society; his manner suggests that he expects everyone in the room to agree with him, while in reality few of us do," he'd said.
    Dr Harrison and Catherine's marriage to him had become the subject of frequent comment in their home.
    "I cannot comprehend why she married him," Mr Tate had said, "he is quite the most boring clergyman I have known. He has a number of predictable opinions from which he cannot be moved, no matter how strong the arguments may be to the contrary—yet your sister Catherine is a woman of intelligence and common sense. I cannot account for her having accepted him."
    Neither could Becky, who had always respected her sister's independence and judgment. She had regarded Dr Harrison as an upright and respectable clergyman, which he undoubtedly was, but had to agree with her husband that he was far from being an interesting or dynamic one. In fact he was rather dull.
    Yet, Catherine had never complained or even hinted that their union had been anything but happy. Their three children were all pleasant, well-educated young persons and seemed to love both their parents.
    Becky could not make it out at all.
    There was, of course, the fact that Catherine had been almost twenty-nine when the then incumbent at Hunsford, with the enthusiastic blessing of his patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had made an offer for her hand. Her sister had accepted him; their mother had given her consent and announced their engagement to the family.
    Rebecca recalled their wedding at Rosings—it had been quite a grand affair, hosted by Lady Catherine herself. It had seemed to her at the time that the bridal couple had very little say in the matter—everything had been organised by Lady Catherine's efficient staff—and most of the guests, apart from their immediate families, had been members of Lady Catherine's favoured circle. Yet, as she recalled, none of this had seemed to impress or worry Catherine, whose calmness and singular lack of excitement on the day had amazed her sisters. Young Amelia-Jane had been quite vocal about it.
    It was late and the fire had gone out behind the grate when Becky, having exhausted her review of times past, finally went to bed, still dissatisfied.
***

On the morrow just as they were finishing breakfast, they heard brisk footsteps in the lane, which stopped at the gate, and then a knock on the front door. Lilian went to look out of the window, and when the maid came in to announce that Mr Adams had arrived and was waiting in the parlour, she left the room immediately.

    Rebecca looked across at her sister, but Catherine seemed absorbed in the application of some honey on her toast. It was some time before she finished her breakfast and went into the parlour to join the young couple, who seemed quite happily ensconced in there, Rebecca had noted.
    Mr Adams, a good-looking man of perhaps twenty-six or twenty-seven years, always elegantly but never overdressed and very well mannered at all times, rose as the ladies entered. Neither he nor Lilian appeared at all put out by their entrance, a fact that caused Becky to speculate that they were either mere indifferent acquaintances or that her sister already knew of the status of their relationship and had approved of it.
    Reasonably confident that it could not be the first, she assumed the latter to be true. Determined to discover if this was the case, she planned to talk to her sister when they had a moment in private to speak of such matters.
    However, this did not eventuate—not that morning, nor for a few days afterwards—for that afternoon Dr Harrison suffered a relapse and his condition worsened considerably. A servant was dispatched forthwith to fetch Dr Whitelaw and a message sent to Mr Benson to request his immediate assistance.
    Catherine was run off her feet trying to attend upon her husband and, while Becky tried her best to assist with household work, it was left to Lilian to comfort her mother.
    Later that evening, while Dr Harrison was resting and the ladies were in the parlour, Mr Adams arrived. He had heard the news from Benson, he said.
    "I came as soon as I heard. Is there anything I can do? An errand I can undertake or a message I might deliver?"
    He was clearly sympathetic and eager to help, but Catherine did not wish to impose upon him. She thanked him and said, "Mr Benson has been very helpful and Dr Whitelaw will call again tomorrow morning, so we are being very well looked after."
    But Rebecca did notice that Lilian rose and went to stand at the bay window, where she was joined by Mr Adams, and they stood together for a long while, looking out at the darkening scene.
    Since there was little to be seen except the familiar garden and the lane beyond, it was obvious that they wished to speak privately. A few words were exchanged, too soft for Rebecca to make out; plainly he was trying to alleviate her distress with comforting words. Before he took his leave, Mr Adams came to where Catherine was seated and said good night, promising to call in again tomorrow to enquire after Dr Harrison's health and see if there was anything he could do to be of assistance to the family.
    Catherine and Lilian both thanked him, and Lilian accompanied him to the door, where once again they stood talking together awhile, before he finally left the house.
    This time Becky could not remain silent.
    "Young Mr Adams seems a very pleasant gentleman," she remarked, adding, "He has such an open countenance, no airs and affectations at all."
    Her sister answered without looking up from her needlework.
    "Yes indeed, he is quite free of pretensions."
    Becky pressed on, "And he seems both thoughtful and considerate."
    "Hmmm, he certainly is that," was Catherine's only response.
    Lilian's return to the room prevented her aunt from pursuing the subject of Mr Adams's good nature any further, but by now she was convinced that this young man was either forming an attachment to her niece, which her mother approved of, or they had already reached an understanding but would not speak of it publicly because of Dr Harrison's indisposition.
    It was quite plausible, she thought, that Mr Adams had not as yet been able, because of the fire at Rosings and Dr Harrison's seizure, to make a formal offer of marriage, but she was quite certain the couple were in love or at least on the verge of being so.
    Rebecca was baffled, however, by her sister's silence on the subject.
    Unwilling to press Catherine further at this time, she kept her counsel, observing the pair closely whenever she could. Ever since the unhappy end of her daughter's marriage to Julian Darcy, Becky Tate had become painfully aware of the risks attendant upon young couples entering into matrimony. Her niece and goddaughter Lilian's happiness was dear to her heart, and Becky was determined that another mistake would not be made.
    This was made clear when she wrote to her friend Emily Courtney, who had recently moved from the rectory at Kympton to occupy her late parents' home at Oakleigh, and in her letter, was quite candid in her assessment of the situation—as she saw it—between Lilian and young Mr Adams.
She wrote that night:

My dear Emily,

You must forgive the long delay in responding to your last, but with the
disaster at Rosings followed by the ill health of my brother-in-law Dr
Harrison, I have had to hasten to my dear sister's side and have had little
time to write to anyone.
I assume you have heard the worst from Lizzie and Mr Darcy, to whom
no doubt Jonathan Bingley would have reported, but, Emily, no words can
describe the terrible devastation we see here.
However, all is not gloom and doom, for here at Hunsford we are
witnessing the beginning of what may be a new romance, I think.
My young niece Lilian, who is very pretty but also quite a sensible girl,
seems to have caught the attention of a certain Mr John Adams, the curator of
the Rosings estate. I could not say this for certain, because my dear sister has
said not a word of the matter to me, but one would have to be blind not to see
there is some understanding between them.
He visits, ostensibly to enquire after the health of her father and offer to
run errands for her mother, but I am not deceived, for his eyes follow Lilian
around and he agrees with almost everything she says. This is not as strange
as it may seem for she is a particularly intelligent and practical young person
with a wisdom beyond her tender years.
However, of Mr Adams I am able to tell you very little.
He is very personable and good looking, but we know nothing of his anteced
ents, or the extent of his fortune or the lack of it. This is of particular importance
at this time, because were Dr Harrison to retire on account of ill health, he, his
wife, and daughter would have to live on his annuity and it will be absolutely
imperative that Lilian marries a man who can support her and assist her parents
if need be. Whether Mr Adams can do so on his present income is uncertain,
and if he has other means, we know nothing of it.
Now, I should have thought it was the sort of matter that would concern
my sister, yet try as I might, I cannot get a word out of her about either of
them.
It is certainly rather vexing, Emily dear, that one has to remain in igno
rance, for Lilian is not just my niece—Mr Tate and I are her godparents, and
I do feel responsible for her.
    There was more to tell, but time was short and she concluded with the promise that she would observe the young couple carefully and perhaps if an opportunity arose, she would ask her niece directly what the situation was between herself and Mr Adams. Promising to communicate forthwith with her friend, she dispatched her letter with the usual affectionate felicitations.
***
On reading Rebecca's letter, Emily Courtney sighed.
    She wished her friend would not intervene in the lives of her sister and her niece. Emily was well aware of Becky Tate's propensity for observing and interpreting the circumstances of other people's lives; it was never maliciously done, but it had often placed her at risk of being misunderstood and resented by both family and friends.
    "But Becky will never change," said Emily as she put the letter away, hoping without much hope that something would occur to thwart her scheme.
    For a variety of reasons, the opportunity to do as she had promised she would did not arise for several days. Rebecca felt greatly put upon as every member of her sister's family appeared to frustrate her intention to discover more about Mr Adams and his association with Lilian.
    The gentleman himself had to go to London in order to submit a catalogue of items salvaged from the ashes of the fires at Rosings to a specialist at the British Museum. Lilian was called upon to sit with her father for most of the day, while her mother concluded the preparations for their removal to the Dower House. Dr Harrison, while a fastidious man, was not a difficult patient and was very appreciative of his daughter's kindness in reading to him, often until he was too tired to concentrate or the light was too poor for her to continue.
    Lilian, being the youngest in the family, had enjoyed a closer relationship with her parents than either of her siblings and found no hardship in her present role of carer and comforter. Besides, she had noted her aunt observing her whenever Mr Adams called and was well aware that she was keen to speak with her on such matters, and was glad to be able to avoid a private inquisition.
    Dr Whitelaw, on his daily visit to his patient, had finally convinced Dr Harrison that he would never be fit enough to return to all of his parish duties, and Catherine, having spoken with her husband, had obtained his reluctant consent to the move to the Dower House. Despite his sense of frustration, Dr Harrison was sufficiently practical to comprehend that his condition was unlikely to improve in the near future and it was in the best interests of himself and his family that they accept the very generous offer of accommodation from the Rosings Trust.
    Catherine believed furthermore that the sooner they moved, the better would be her husband's chances of recovery.
    "Once he is got away from the parsonage, which is to him a constant reminder of all the duties he cannot perform, I am confident he will make progress," she had said, and Becky, though she was not as certain of this outcome, had to agree. Whereupon Mr Benson was consulted, a date fixed in a fortnight's time, and preparations were immediately afoot.
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