Read Recollections of Rosings Online

Authors: Rebecca Ann Collins

Recollections of Rosings (7 page)

BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
5.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
    "Did you hear that, Mama? Do you not remember Mr Burnett from when you used to live at Rosings?" asked Lilian. Catherine's face was instantly covered in a deep blush, and she looked distinctly ill at ease. Unable to answer immediately, Catherine appeared to suffer some embarrassment until the gentleman himself came to her rescue.
    Coming over to pick up his cup of tea, he looked at her and then said, "It was so very long ago—some twenty years or more. I am not at all surprised that Mrs Harrison does not remember me."
    "But do you recall her?" asked Rebecca.
    Mr Burnett was unequivocal in his response. "I certainly do; she was then a very young lady—a Miss Collins, I believe, and what is more important, she was a great favourite of the late Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I think. Am I not right, Mrs Harrison?"
    Catherine was completely confused; she felt awkward and silly, like some young ingénue who had made a
faux pas
and been caught out.
    Grateful for his intervention, however, she gathered her thoughts together quickly and apologised.
    "Mr Burnett! Yes, I do remember. I am sorry, I have been much distracted lately with the fire and Dr Harrison's illness, as well as the move from the parsonage at Hunsford to this house… I cannot have been thinking clearly and my memory failed me… I did not mean to be rude… I do apologise…" She was clearly ill at ease and mortified by her lapse.
    He was very gracious indeed. "Please do not apologise, Mrs Harrison. I did not expect you to remember me at all—it has been so long and, while you are not changed a great deal, my friends who knew me then tell me I am quite unrecognisable!"
    When the others laughed, Catherine smiled too, as if recalling how he had looked those many years ago; he had not sported a beard, she thought, as he continued, "When Mr Adams mentioned that you and Dr Harrison had lately moved to the Dower House and suggested that we call on you, I was not at all hopeful that you would remember me." He paused and said lightly, to the entire party, "Librarians are not the most memorable of people—the books and artifacts they preserve are often far more worthy of recollection."
    At this, Catherine smiled, more easily this time, and Rebecca noted that Mr Burnett smiled with her; it was as if they had known one another quite well and were sharing a familiar memory after all those years.
    When she spoke again, Catherine's voice was more natural. "Be that as it may, I am truly sorry that I did not recall you at first. But let me make amends by saying here and now, that when I lived at Rosings, I found the library to be one of the most magical places in the house and spent many happy and improving hours there. I owed that experience almost entirely to your encouragement and the generosity of Her Ladyship, of course. As to being a favourite with her, I was her goddaughter and she took her responsibilities
in loco parentis
very seriously. In permitting me to remain at Rosings, my mother had clearly accepted that."
    This time it was his turn to bow and thank her for her kind words, adding that he had been exceedingly relieved to discover that the fire had not in any way damaged any part of the excellent collection of books and manuscripts in the Rosings library.
    "I think we might all say Amen to that Mr Burnett," said Mr Adams and the ladies were in complete agreement, of course.
    Before the two gentlemen departed, they were invited to dine on the following Sunday, which invitation was accepted with alacrity by both men. They claimed that they worked assiduously through the week because there was so much to do, but Sunday was different and the prospect of dining at the Dower House was too good to turn down.
    Besides, said Mr Adams cheerfully, he was sure Mr Burnett would look forward to another opportunity to exchange with Mrs Harrison their mutual recollections of Rosings Park.
    "I have heard so much about those days, when Her Ladyship held court at Rosings, I know you will have a great deal to talk about together."
    He was hoping, no doubt, thought Becky, that in being so occupied, they would allow him to spend more time with Lilian. Catherine said nothing and while Mr Burnett smiled and nodded as if in agreement with his young friend, he made no comment.
    Becky did notice that he kissed the hands of all the ladies as he took his leave. Very charming indeed, she thought, very European.
    That night, Rebecca continued her letter to Emily Courtney, detailing for her friend this most extraordinary encounter:
Thereafter, more tea and shortbread arrived and soon they were talking so
amiably together that it seemed as though they were old friends. Indeed, we now
discover that Mr Frank Burnett was Lady Catherine's archivist and librarian for
some years before leaving to pursue further studies in Europe.
During that time, my father had passed away and Mama had left
Hunsford, taking Amelia-Jane and me with her, while Cathy had accepted
Lady Catherine's invitation to live at Rosings.
    It was all the information she had been able to glean from the brief conversation she had had with her sister after the gentlemen had left. She had not been able to understand how it was that Catherine had so completely forgotten Mr Burnett and yet was able to recall in a moment his fine work in the library at Rosings those many years ago.
    It was a puzzle; one Becky was determined to solve.
***
That night, Catherine slept but little.
    Not only was Dr Harrison restless, his condition causing her some concern, but lying on the narrow day-bed in his room was not conducive to restful sleep. Awake, with her mind in some turmoil, she could not begin to concentrate her thoughts upon the here and now alone. Inevitably, after the morning's encounter, they kept returning to the time some twenty-odd years ago when she had first made the acquaintance of Mr Frank Burnett.
    She had not been entirely honest in claiming that her memory had failed her and she had no recollection at all of him when they had been introduced that morning. Catherine had not immediately recognised the tall stranger with a well-trimmed beard and thick, greying hair as the man she had known at Rosings those many years ago, yet the moment she had heard the name she had known who he was. At first, she had thought he had not appeared keen to renew the acquaintance and in her response, had sought to accommodate what she assumed were his wishes. When, however, Mr Adams had revealed his knowledge of Mr Burnett's past employment in the library, it had become clear that he had not intended to conceal his past association with Rosings at all.
    Catherine's own knowledge of Frank Burnett had begun when, after the sudden death of her father, Reverend Collins, Lady Catherine had invited her first to spend Christmas at Rosings and afterwards to accept a position as companion to her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh.
    Encouraged by her mother, she had accepted both invitations and had thus been drawn into the circle of Her Ladyship's household. It had not been an unpleasant or uncomfortable circle; indeed, it had often been for her a most beneficial one, for Lady Catherine could be both generous and kind to those she regarded with particular interest and from whom she expected and received respect and due deference. There had been however an ever-present sense of obligation, which had from time to time proved irksome and occasionally downright disagreeable.
    But Catherine had, in general, succeeded in coping with these minor inconveniences, thanks mainly to her equable temper and amenable disposition. If there had been times when it had all become too much to bear, they were few and far between.
    Undaunted by the grandeur of the mansion and the domineering presence of its owner, Catherine had set out to make the most of her time at Rosings. She had not anticipated ever having such an opportunity, and when it had presented itself, she had used it to observe and learn and in general improve considerably her knowledge and understanding of such diverse subjects as literature, history, and art not ordinarily open to a young girl in her situation.
    With Miss de Bourgh never in the best of health, frequently troubled by colds and chills, Catherine had often found herself on her own, when not required to keep Her Ladyship company, looking for ways to occupy her time. The substantial collection of paintings, trophies, and
objets d'Art
that were liberally scattered around the house was not of very great interest to her. The music room, however, was and she spent much of her time playing upon the very superior instrument there. Lady Catherine had urged her continually to practice and Catherine had been happy to comply.
    She had also visited the library, being an avid reader herself, but had found its collection and aspect rather intimidating. Its valuable and extensive collection was locked away in ornate, dark mahogany cabinets, and there had been no librarian since the death of the man who had been hired by the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh many years ago, which only increased its inaccessibility.
    However, all this had changed when, on a visit to Rosings, Lady Catherine's nephew Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy had recommended that a librarian be employed to catalogue and restore the collection, and in the course of that year a certain gentleman had been appointed to the position.
    Lately returned from Italy, Mr Frank Burnett had arrived at Rosings full of enthusiasm for his task and had proceeded to work very hard, indeed; so much so that he was rarely seen unless one visited the library.
    When Catherine had accompanied Her Ladyship on one of her visits to the library, she had been astonished to discover that Mr Burnett had transformed it from a somewhat forbidding place into a veritable treasure house of books, maps, manuscripts, and other items of interest.
    The dark cabinets had been opened up to reveal their remarkable contents and the striped blinds at the windows removed to let in more light, while reading desks and chairs had been procured from other parts of the house and placed around the spacious reading area for the benefit of anyone who might wish to read there in comfort.
    Catherine had been delighted by the change Mr Burnett had wrought, and even Lady Catherine, who had never been a frequent visitor to the library, had been impressed.
    "You have accomplished a great deal, Mr Burnett—do go on as you have begun, I am sure there is much to be done," she had said, but she did not stay long to sample the pleasures provided.
    Catherine, on the other hand, had returned later to borrow a book and found Mr Burnett helpful, if a little patronising. When asked if he would recommend a good book, he had asked, to her chagrin, how long it was since she had graduated from the schoolroom.
    Too modest to boast of her scholarly achievements, Catherine had hastily borrowed a copy of one of Mr Dickens's early works and left, feeling somewhat slighted.
    She had written to her sister Rebecca at the time, expressing her annoyance.
Insufferable man, to think I am unable to read and understand a grown-up
book! Perhaps the young ladies who inhabit the circles in which he moves are
all silly and ill-educated. I intend to show him that I am not like them at all.
On my next visit to the library I shall ask for a novel by Mr Fielding and see
how he responds!
No doubt he will be shocked and may even advise that it is not the sort of
material young persons, lately out of the schoolroom, should be reading!
Dear Becky, I wish you were here, for you would surely tell him how
widely and well read we are. He cannot be much more than twenty-five or six,
I do not think, yet he does conduct himself with the greatest degree of decorum
and speaks as though his words are so precious they should be measured out
in little portions!
I must give him credit though for the transformation he has wrought in
the library, which was once so gloomy it resembled more a museum, yet is
now become a most welcoming, pleasing place. If only the librarian were less
awesome!…
    Her next meeting with Mr Burnett had taken place not in the library, nor in one of the splendid reception rooms of Rosings, but in the garden in the midst of a downpour that had drenched them both.
    She had been sent by Lady Catherine to pick some roses for the rose bowl in the music room, which Her Ladyship insisted must always be filled with fresh blooms from the rose garden.
    "I absolutely insist upon it," she had said, handing Catherine a pair of secateurs. "I cannot abide wilting blooms in the house," and Catherine had picked up a basket and gone out to the rose garden to do her bidding.
    Having collected a number of excellent blooms in the colours she knew Lady Catherine favoured, she had been on her way back to the house when she had missed the pair of secateurs. Afraid that this would seriously displease Lady Catherine, she had set down her basket in the vestibule and raced back into the rose garden, taking a shortcut through the shrubbery, ignoring the heavy, dark clouds gathering overhead.
    It was then, as the rain began to fall, that she had almost collided with Mr Burnett, who had the protection of a large umbrella. Catherine had said nothing at first, when he had asked what she was doing racing around in the rain and did she want to catch her death of cold? Then, not wishing to appear foolish, she had confessed to losing the pair of secateurs.
BOOK: Recollections of Rosings
5.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Max: A Stepbrother Romance by Brother, Stephanie
Sentinel of Heaven by Lee, Mera Trishos
The Devil Rides Out by Paul O'Grady
Whirl by M, Jessie
Avra's God by Ann Lee Miller
Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III
The Gentlemen's Hour by Don Winslow