FictionForest

Chapter 14

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

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During dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely
spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn,
he thought it time to have some conversation with his
guest, and therefore started a subject in which he
expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed
very fortunate in his patroness.  Lady Catherine
de Bourgh’s attention to his wishes, and consideration
for his comfort, appeared very remarkable.  Mr.
Bennet could not have chosen better.  Mr. Collins
was eloquent in her praise.  The subject elevated
him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with
a most important aspect he protested that “he
had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in
a person of rank ­such affability and condescension,
as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. 
She had been graciously pleased to approve of both
of the discourses which he had already had the honour
of preaching before her.  She had also asked him
twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only
the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille
in the evening.  Lady Catherine was reckoned proud
by many people he knew, but he had never seen
anything but affability in her.  She had always
spoken to him as she would to any other gentleman;
she made not the smallest objection to his joining
in the society of the neighbourhood nor to his leaving
the parish occasionally for a week or two, to visit
his relations.  She had even condescended to advise
him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose
with discretion; and had once paid him a visit in
his humble parsonage, where she had perfectly approved
all the alterations he had been making, and had even
vouchsafed to suggest some herself ­some
shelves in the closet upstairs.”

“That is all very proper and
civil, I am sure,” said Mrs. Bennet, “and
I dare say she is a very agreeable woman.  It is
a pity that great ladies in general are not more like
her.  Does she live near you, sir?”

“The garden in which stands
my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings
Park, her ladyship’s residence.”

“I think you said she was a
widow, sir?  Has she any family?”

“She has only one daughter,
the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Bennet,
shaking her head, “then she is better off than
many girls.  And what sort of young lady is she? 
Is she handsome?”

“She is a most charming young
lady indeed.  Lady Catherine herself says that,
in point of true beauty, Miss de Bourgh is far superior
to the handsomest of her sex, because there is that
in her features which marks the young lady of distinguished
birth.  She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution,
which has prevented her from making that progress in
many accomplishments which she could not have otherwise
failed of, as I am informed by the lady who superintended
her education, and who still resides with them. 
But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends
to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and
ponies.”

“Has she been presented? 
I do not remember her name among the ladies at court.”

“Her indifferent state of health
unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that
means, as I told Lady Catherine one day, has deprived
the British court of its brightest ornaments. 
Her ladyship seemed pleased with the idea; and you
may imagine that I am happy on every occasion to offer
those little delicate compliments which are always
acceptable to ladies.  I have more than once observed
to Lady Catherine, that her charming daughter seemed
born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank,
instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned
by her.  These are the kind of little things which
please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention
which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay.”

“You judge very properly,”
said Mr. Bennet, “and it is happy for you that
you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. 
May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed
from the impulse of the moment, or are the result
of previous study?”

“They arise chiefly from what
is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse
myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant
compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions,
I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as
possible.”

Mr. Bennet’s expectations were
fully answered.  His cousin was as absurd as he
had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest
enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute
composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional
glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.

By tea-time, however, the dose had
been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest
into the drawing-room again, and, when tea was over,
glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. 
Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced;
but, on beholding it (for everything announced it
to be from a circulating library), he started back,
and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. 
Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed.  Other
books were produced, and after some deliberation he
chose Fordyce’s Sermons.  Lydia gaped as
he opened the volume, and before he had, with very
monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted
him with: 

“Do you know, mamma, that my
uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and
if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him.  My
aunt told me so herself on Saturday.  I shall
walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and
to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.”

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters
to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended,
laid aside his book, and said: 

“I have often observed how little
young ladies are interested by books of a serious
stamp, though written solely for their benefit. 
It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can
be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. 
But I will no longer importune my young cousin.”

Then turning to Mr. Bennet, he offered
himself as his antagonist at backgammon.  Mr.
Bennet accepted the challenge, observing that he acted
very wisely in leaving the girls to their own trifling
amusements.  Mrs. Bennet and her daughters apologised
most civilly for Lydia’s interruption, and promised
that it should not occur again, if he would resume
his book; but Mr. Collins, after assuring them that
he bore his young cousin no ill-will, and should never
resent her behaviour as any affront, seated himself
at another table with Mr. Bennet, and prepared for
backgammon.

 

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