ON SATURDAY MORNING Elizabeth and Mr. Collins met for breakfast a few minutes before the others appeared; and he took the opportunity of paying the parting civilities which he deemed indispensably necessary.
“I know not, Miss Elizabeth,” said he, “whether Mrs. Collins has yet expressed her sense of your kindness in coming to us; but I am very certain you will not leave the house without receiving her thanks for it. The favor of your company has been much felt, I assure you. We know how little there is to tempt anyone to our humble abode. Our plain manner of living, our small rooms and few domestics, and the little we see of the world, must make Hunsford extremely dull to a young lady who has twice been to the Orient.”
Elizabeth was eager with her thanks and assurances of happiness. She had spent six weeks with great enjoyment; and the pleasure of being with Charlotte, and the kind attentions she had received, must make her feel the obliged. Mr. Collins replied:
“My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is in everything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideas between us. We seem to have been designed for each other.”
Elizabeth might have said, given Charlotte’s being stricken and Mr. Collins being himself so dreadfully unappealing in every way, that she agreed with his assessment. But she merely offered that she firmly believed and rejoiced in his domestic comforts. She was not sorry, however, to have the recital of them interrupted by the lady from whom they sprang. Poor Charlotte! It was melancholy to see her now almost entirely transformed! But she had chosen it with her eyes open. And though it wouldn’t be long before even the daft Mr. Collins would discover her condition and be forced to behead her, she did not seem to ask for compassion. Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and her ever deepening lust for tender morsels of savory brains, had not yet lost their charms.
At length the chaise arrived, the trunks were fastened on, the parcels placed within, and it was pronounced to be ready. After an affectionate parting with Charlotte, who Elizabeth knew she would never see again, they were attended to the carriage by Mr. Collins, and as they walked down the garden he was commissioning her with his best respects to Elizabeth’s family, not forgetting his thanks for the kindness he had received at Longbourn in the winter, and his compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, though unknown. He then handed her in, Maria followed, and the door was on the point of being closed, when he suddenly reminded them, with some consternation, that they had hitherto forgotten to leave any message for the ladies at Rosings.
“But,” he added, “you will of course wish to have your humble respects delivered to them, with your grateful thanks for their kindness to you while you have been here.”
Elizabeth made no objection; the door was then allowed to be shut, and the carriage drove off.
“Good gracious!” cried Maria, after a few minutes’ silence, “it seems but a day or two since we first came! And yet how many things have happened!”
“A great many indeed,” said her companion with a sigh.
“We have dined nine times at Rosings, besides drinking tea there twice! How much I shall have to tell!”
Elizabeth added privately, “And how much I shall have to conceal!”
The first ten miles of their journey were performed without the slightest bit of conversation or alarm. But when they came upon the old white church in St. Ezra Parish, Elizabeth at once recognized the scent of death in the air, and ordered the coachman to stop.
It was a grand church for so small a village, built upon a frame of shaved tree trunks, and covered with hundreds of whitewashed planks. The denizens of St. Ezra were a notoriously pious lot, and they packed the pews every Saturday and Sunday to pray for deliverance from the legions of Satan. Stained glass windows ran the length of each side, which told the story of England’s descent from peace into chaos; the last window portrayed a resurrected Christ returning to slay the last of the unmentionables, Excalibur in hand.
While the coachman and servant waited nervously with Maria, Elizabeth ascended the steps toward the church’s splintered doors, sword at the ready. The scent of death was overwhelming, and several of the stained glass windows had been shattered. Something terrible had happened here, but how recently, she knew not.
Elizabeth entered the church ready to fight, but upon perceiving the inside, she sheathed her Katana, as it could do no good here. Not now. It seemed the whole of St. Ezra Parish had barricaded themselves in the church. Bodies lay everywhere: in pews; in aisles-the tops of their skulls cracked open; every last bite of their brains scraped out, like pumpkin seeds from a jack-o’-lantern. With their Parish under attack, these people had retreated to the only safe place they knew; but it hadn’t been safe enough. The zombies had simply overwhelmed them with superior numbers and insatiable determination. Men still clutched their pitchforks. Ladies still huddled with their children. Elizabeth felt her eyes moisten as she imagined the horror of their final moments. The screams. The sight of others being torn to pieces before their eyes. The horror of being eaten alive by creatures of unspeakable evil.
A tear fell down Elizabeth’s cheek. She was quick to wipe it away, feeling somewhat ashamed that it had escaped at all.
“A house of God so defiled!” said Maria, as their journey continued. “Have these unmentionables no sense of decency?”
“They know nothing of the sort,” said Elizabeth, staring mindlessly out of the coach’s window, “and neither must we.”
With no further alarm, they reached Mr. Gardiner’s house, where they were to remain for a few days. Jane looked well, and Elizabeth had little opportunity of studying her spirits, amidst the various engagements which the kindness of her aunt had reserved for them. But Jane was to go home with her, and at Longbourn there would be leisure enough for observation.
It was not without an effort, meanwhile, that she could wait even for Longbourn, before she told her sister of Mr. Darcy’s proposals. To know that she had the power of revealing what would so exceedingly astonish Jane was such a temptation to openness as nothing could have conquered but the state of indecision in which she remained as to the extent of what she should communicate; and her fear, if she once entered on the subject, of being hurried into repeating something of Bingley which might only grieve her sister further.