FictionForest

Chapter 13

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“I hope, my dear,” said
Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast
the next morning, “that you have ordered a good
dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an
addition to our family party.”

“Who do you mean, my dear? 
I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless
Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in ­and
I hope my dinners are good enough for her. 
I do not believe she often sees such at home.”

“The person of whom I speak
is a gentleman, and a stranger.”

Mrs. Bennet’s eyes sparkled. 
“A gentleman and a stranger!  It is Mr.
Bingley, I am sure!  Well, I am sure I shall be
extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley.  But ­good
Lord! how unlucky!  There is not a bit of fish
to be got to-day.  Lydia, my love, ring the bell ­I
must speak to Hill this moment.”

“It is not Mr. Bingley,”
said her husband; “it is a person whom I never
saw in the whole course of my life.”

This roused a general astonishment;
and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned
by his wife and his five daughters at once.

After amusing himself some time with
their curiosity, he thus explained: 

“About a month ago I received
this letter; and about a fortnight ago I answered
it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring
early attention.  It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins,
who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this
house as soon as he pleases.”

“Oh! my dear,” cried his
wife, “I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. 
Pray do not talk of that odious man.  I do think
it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate
should be entailed away from your own children; and
I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long
ago to do something or other about it.”

Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain
to her the nature of an entail.  They had often
attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on
which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason,
and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty
of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters,
in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

“It certainly is a most iniquitous
affair,” said Mr. Bennet, “and nothing
can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting
Longbourn.  But if you will listen to his letter,
you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner
of expressing himself.”

“No, that I am sure I shall
not; and I think it is very impertinent of him to
write to you at all, and very hypocritical.  I
hate such false friends.  Why could he not keep
on quarreling with you, as his father did before him?”

“Why, indeed; he does seem to
have had some filial scruples on that head, as you
will hear.”

“Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent, 15th October.

“Dear Sir, ­

“The disagreement subsisting
between yourself and my late honoured father always
gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the
misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to
heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back
by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful
to his memory for me to be on good terms with anyone
with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance. ­’There,
Mrs. Bennet.’ ­My mind, however, is
now made up on the subject, for having received ordination
at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished
by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine
de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty
and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory
of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour
to demean myself with grateful respect towards her
ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites
and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church
of England.  As a clergyman, moreover, I feel
it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of
peace in all families within the reach of my influence;
and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present
overtures are highly commendable, and that the circumstance
of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate
will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead
you to reject the offered olive-branch.  I cannot
be otherwise than concerned at being the means of
injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise
for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to
make them every possible amends ­but of
this hereafter.  If you should have no objection
to receive me into your house, I propose myself the
satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday,
November 18th, by four o’clock, and shall probably
trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se’ennight
following, which I can do without any inconvenience,
as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional
absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman
is engaged to do the duty of the day. ­I
remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your
lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

“WILLIAM COLLINS”

“At four o’clock, therefore,
we may expect this peace-making gentleman,”
said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter.  “He
seems to be a most conscientious and polite young
man, upon my word, and I doubt not will prove a valuable
acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine should be
so indulgent as to let him come to us again.”

“There is some sense in what
he says about the girls, however, and if he is disposed
to make them any amends, I shall not be the person
to discourage him.”

“Though it is difficult,”
said Jane, “to guess in what way he can mean
to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish
is certainly to his credit.”

Elizabeth was chiefly struck by his
extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his
kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying
his parishioners whenever it were required.

“He must be an oddity, I think,”
said she.  “I cannot make him out. ­There
is something very pompous in his style. ­And
what can he mean by apologising for being next in
the entail? ­We cannot suppose he would
help it if he could. ­Could he be a sensible
man, sir?”

“No, my dear, I think not. 
I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. 
There is a mixture of servility and self-importance
in his letter, which promises well.  I am impatient
to see him.”

“In point of composition,”
said Mary, “the letter does not seem defective. 
The idea of the olive-branch perhaps is not wholly
new, yet I think it is well expressed.”

To Catherine and Lydia, neither the
letter nor its writer were in any degree interesting. 
It was next to impossible that their cousin should
come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since
they had received pleasure from the society of a man
in any other colour.  As for their mother, Mr.
Collins’s letter had done away much of her ill-will,
and she was preparing to see him with a degree of composure
which astonished her husband and daughters.

Mr. Collins was punctual to his time,
and was received with great politeness by the whole
family.  Mr. Bennet indeed said little; but the
ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed
neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to
be silent himself.  He was a tall, heavy-looking
young man of five-and-twenty.  His air was grave
and stately, and his manners were very formal. 
He had not been long seated before he complimented
Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters;
said he had heard much of their beauty, but that in
this instance fame had fallen short of the truth;
and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all
in due time disposed of in marriage.  This gallantry
was not much to the taste of some of his hearers; but
Mrs. Bennet, who quarreled with no compliments, answered
most readily.

“You are very kind, I am sure;
and I wish with all my heart it may prove so, for
else they will be destitute enough.  Things are
settled so oddly.”

“You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this
estate.”

“Ah! sir, I do indeed. 
It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must
confess.  Not that I mean to find fault with you,
for such things I know are all chance in this world. 
There is no knowing how estates will go when once
they come to be entailed.”

“I am very sensible, madam,
of the hardship to my fair cousins, and could say
much on the subject, but that I am cautious of appearing
forward and precipitate.  But I can assure the
young ladies that I come prepared to admire them. 
At present I will not say more; but, perhaps, when
we are better acquainted ­”

He was interrupted by a summons to
dinner; and the girls smiled on each other.  They
were not the only objects of Mr. Collins’s admiration. 
The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture,
were examined and praised; and his commendation of
everything would have touched Mrs. Bennet’s
heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing
it all as his own future property.  The dinner
too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged
to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency
of its cooking was owing.  But he was set right
there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity
that they were very well able to keep a good cook,
and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. 
He begged pardon for having displeased her.  In
a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended;
but he continued to apologise for about a quarter
of an hour.

 

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