Ramsgate, Kent, 24 June, 1811
William Collins was restless. After sending the letter to Mr. Darcy earlier that day he could not stop worrying. Elizabeth, of course, had told him that all would be well. Nothing untoward would happen and Mr. Darcy would be sure to arrive on the morrow and it would see to his sister. He knew she was right, but he could still not sleep. His wife did not say it, but she was exhausted and needed her rest. The child he believed she carried taxed her strength.
Thus, not wishing to upset her, he told her to rest and that he would take a walk. After all, walking was beneficial exercise.
Unable to let the matter lie, Collins headed towards the place he knew Miss Darcy and her companion to reside. He found a spot where he could watch – discreetly. Sure enough, within fifteen minutes of his vigil, his patience was rewarded as he spied the man called Wickham exit the building. Mr. Wickham had a pleased expression on his face and he walked away, whistling some tune Collins recognized, but could not name.
Collins acted on the urge to follow the man, at some distance so as not to alert, and soon found himself outside an inn. He could not help himself and after waiting a few minutes, went inside. Looking around, he spotted his prey at a table, a barmaid on his lap. Disgusted and alarmed, Collins turned away and went to the bar to order a pint. Receiving it, he found a place to sit where he could observe the comings and goings and drink his beer. For the next while, as he nursed his drink, he kept his head down. He did not have to look to see where Wickham was, he heard the woman’s laughter and the man’s teasing.
As Collins was finishing the last of his beverage, he saw the man and the wench get up and walk up the stairs together. Collins had no doubt about where they were going or what they were going to do when they got there.
Deciding that there was nothing left to do but leave, he paid for his drink and left. He had intended to go back to Elizabeth, but decided against it, feeling a bit the effects of his unaccustomed to pint. A walk along the pier would clear his head. The sound of the sea seemed to calm him unlike anything but his sweet wife’s touch.
Thus he made his way to the seaside and continued out into the harbor on the stone walkway. As we walked along the pier, his well-worn boots slipped on a wet patch of rock and as his tried to right himself, his reactions were slow and his toe caught on an uneven spot on the ground. Before he knew it, he was falling until his head struck a stone and he knew no more.
“William” and unknown voice gently called to him. “William,” it came again, louder this time. He opened his eyes and it was daylight. A man and a woman he had never set eyes on before were in front of him and he was standing on the beach.
It was daytime.
“William, I am George and this is Anne. We have come to take you Home.”
“Thank you, but I need to go and find my wife. She must be frantic that I did not come back last night.”
“We will take you. Come.”
He tried to ignore them and go back to his inn, but he could not. Instead he followed them towards a crowd of people. What were they all doing? What was he doing? One moment they were walking towards the people and the next moment they had passed through them all and were standing next to a wagon. In the back lay a man.
“What is this?” he demanded of her companions, extremely upset.
The man named George answered calmly. “That is you, William, or rather your mortal vessel you once inhabited. Last night when you fell and hit your head you ended up falling into the sea. I am sorry, but you drowned.”
“No. NO! This is not real. This must be a dream.”
“I wish it were, but it is not,” said George, his voice full of sympathy. “You are spirit now, just as are we.”
Horrified ,William stepped away from them. They suddenly were outside the circle of the living. “You are ghosts,” he whispered.
“We are spirits.” Anne answered him, her voice calm . “No one can see us and we will not be here long. We told you, we have come to take you Home.”
“I want to see my wife,” demanded Collins. “I want to wake up and find myself in bed next to my wife!”
The woman smiled sadly. “I know. I did too when I died and had to leave George behind.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?”
“We told you, we are George and Anne and we have come to take you Home.”
“Why you, why not just take me to heaven right now. Why can I not wake up!” William was feeling more helpless.
“We were sent as a reward for service. Some are given one last gift of knowledge before they pass completely over. We are here to give that to you. We were chosen because it too concerns us.”
“I do not understand.” No, he did not.
“You will, soon.” George answered.
“There he is, George!” Anne sounded almost joyful, the antithesis of how William felt. They were standing on the other side of the crowd now. William saw a man rush by. “How he has grown!”
George touched William’s shoulder. “Come, Collins, we have much to see and not a lot of time to see it.”
In a blink of an eye they stood next to the young man they saw and a young woman Collins recognized. They were embracing.
“Georgiana is a young woman, now, George. Yet Fitzwilliam dwarfs her.”
In an instant Collins knew who the identity of the man. “Darcy? That it my patroness’s niece and nephew, and you must be Lady Anne and George Darcy!?!?”
“Those were our names in that life and those are our children. Anne has not seen them in a long time.”
William finally accepted it. “I am really dead.”
“Yes, you are.”
“But who will protect my family? Why did I have to die now?” The man who preached about life and death on Sundays was heartbroken.
“Come, we have much to see and little time to do it. We must go Home soon.”
“Take me to see Elizabeth, please!” he begged.
The couple smiled. “That is where we are going next.”
In another blink of an eye they were at Longbourn. Collins gasped as his saw his wife, now obviously with child. He saw his son William on a swing being pushed by none other than Fitzwilliam Darcy.
“They have finally met. Oh, George.”
Collins looked on the tableaux with regret. His son was growing up and another man was where he should have been, pushing the swing.
“You would have been at Rosing now, William, had you not died,” Anne reminded him.
Of course. Still the yearning for what would never be was strong.
They stood in a church now. William knew enough to recognize it was a funeral.
“Who has died?”
“Mr. Bennet. He passed on suddenly and joined his wife in their reward.”
“Mrs. Bennet is dead as well?”
“She died the day after your daughter was born.”
“I have a daughter,” he said in awe, forgetting to mourn being dead. “I hope she will have her mother’s fine eyes. Can I see her?”
“Yes, we have more to see and little time left to do it.”
And then they were someplace William had no knowledge of where.
“Pemberley,” Anne sighed.
A carriage was in the driveway to the magnificent house. William’s heart leapt with joy when he saw his family. They all looked well.
“She has come. Come, we have more to see.”
“Yes, I know and little time left to see it. But can we not wait for a few minutes? Let me watch until they enter the house.”
They remained until only the servants were outside and then they stood off to the side of some church. William knew they were in London and he knew this was a wedding.
They watched as his wife became another’s.
“He will take care of her?” William asked at the same time Anne asked “She will make him happy?”
“Yes,” they all answered together.
“We have one more place to see, and then we will go Home.”
Inside the parish church of Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth stood holding a newborn child.
“He has a son,” Anne cried, over joyed.
“Your line will continue,” William said to George. They watched the rest of the service. George and Anne were delighted. William was at last assuaged. His children were growing, Elizabeth was happy and the man who had taken his place obviously adored her.
“It is time for us to go Home, William. Thank you for keeping Elizabeth safe until it was time for her to meet our son. We shall see you There.”
“Wait, you said we were going Home next.”
“Anne and I are. Your reward is not complete. Ours is. We will meet again soon in Eternity.”
They were gone and William saw he was back at Longbourn Church. Elizabeth and Darcy were there as well, though much older. Around them sat six children. One was Henrietta. She did have her mother’s eyes, as well as the rest of her mother’s beauty. He looked to the front and saw two young men standing there. William! His son was now a young man, as was Johnathon! The music started and William Collins realized that there was a young woman walking toward the alter, her eyes on his eldest son. He was nearly overcome with emotion. His son was getting married and he could see the love for him in the young woman’s eyes. A momentary stab of pain hit him, for her knew his Elizabeth had never looked on him that way. That look was reserved for the reserved man at her side. The one who could not take his eyes off of her as she watched their son – all three of theirs – pledge his troth to the young lady.
He finally understood the reward. He could go Home knowing that those he loved were alive and well and would be happy, and the woman he loved, whom he knew married him for the love of her family, was given the gift of love she too deserved. At last William Collins was content.
And then, in the blink of an eye, he was Home.