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Chapter 29

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

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Mr. Collins’s triumph, in consequence
of this invitation, was complete.  The power of
displaying the grandeur of his patroness to his wondering
visitors, and of letting them see her civility towards
himself and his wife, was exactly what he had wished
for; and that an opportunity of doing it should be
given so soon, was such an instance of Lady Catherine’s
condescension, as he knew not how to admire enough.

“I confess,” said he,
“that I should not have been at all surprised
by her ladyship’s asking us on Sunday to drink
tea and spend the evening at Rosings.  I rather
expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that
it would happen.  But who could have foreseen
such an attention as this?  Who could have imagined
that we should receive an invitation to dine there
(an invitation, moreover, including the whole party)
so immediately after your arrival!”

“I am the less surprised at
what has happened,” replied Sir William, “from
that knowledge of what the manners of the great really
are, which my situation in life has allowed me to
acquire.  About the court, such instances of elegant
breeding are not uncommon.”

Scarcely anything was talked of the
whole day or next morning but their visit to Rosings. 
Mr. Collins was carefully instructing them in what
they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms,
so many servants, and so splendid a dinner, might
not wholly overpower them.

When the ladies were separating for
the toilette, he said to Elizabeth ­

“Do not make yourself uneasy,
my dear cousin, about your apparel.  Lady Catherine
is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us
which becomes herself and her daughter.  I would
advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes
is superior to the rest ­there is no occasion
for anything more.  Lady Catherine will not think
the worse of you for being simply dressed.  She
likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.”

While they were dressing, he came
two or three times to their different doors, to recommend
their being quick, as Lady Catherine very much objected
to be kept waiting for her dinner.  Such formidable
accounts of her ladyship, and her manner of living,
quite frightened Maria Lucas who had been little used
to company, and she looked forward to her introduction
at Rosings with as much apprehension as her father
had done to his presentation at St. James’s.

As the weather was fine, they had
a pleasant walk of about half a mile across the park. 
Every park has its beauty and its prospects; and Elizabeth
saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be
in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene
to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumeration
of the windows in front of the house, and his relation
of what the glazing altogether had originally cost
Sir Lewis de Bourgh.

When they ascended the steps to the
hall, Maria’s alarm was every moment increasing,
and even Sir William did not look perfectly calm. 
Elizabeth’s courage did not fail her.  She
had heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her
awful from any extraordinary talents or miraculous
virtue, and the mere stateliness of money or rank she
thought she could witness without trepidation.

From the entrance-hall, of which Mr.
Collins pointed out, with a rapturous air, the fine
proportion and the finished ornaments, they followed
the servants through an ante-chamber, to the room where
Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson were
sitting.  Her ladyship, with great condescension,
arose to receive them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled
it with her husband that the office of introduction
should be hers, it was performed in a proper manner,
without any of those apologies and thanks which he
would have thought necessary.

In spite of having been at St. James’s
Sir William was so completely awed by the grandeur
surrounding him, that he had but just courage enough
to make a very low bow, and take his seat without saying
a word; and his daughter, frightened almost out of
her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing
which way to look.  Elizabeth found herself quite
equal to the scene, and could observe the three ladies
before her composedly.  Lady Catherine was a tall,
large woman, with strongly-marked features, which
might once have been handsome.  Her air was not
conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them
such as to make her visitors forget their inferior
rank.  She was not rendered formidable by silence;
but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative
a tone, as marked her self-importance, and brought
Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth’s mind;
and from the observation of the day altogether, she
believed Lady Catherine to be exactly what he represented.

When, after examining the mother,
in whose countenance and deportment she soon found
some resemblance of Mr. Darcy, she turned her eyes
on the daughter, she could almost have joined in Maria’s
astonishment at her being so thin and so small. 
There was neither in figure nor face any likeness
between the ladies.  Miss de Bourgh was pale and
sickly; her features, though not plain, were insignificant;
and she spoke very little, except in a low voice,
to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there was nothing
remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening
to what she said, and placing a screen in the proper
direction before her eyes.

After sitting a few minutes, they
were all sent to one of the windows to admire the
view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties,
and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was
much better worth looking at in the summer.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome,
and there were all the servants and all the articles
of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he
had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom
of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and
looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing
greater.  He carved, and ate, and praised with
delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended,
first by him and then by Sir William, who was now
enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said,
in a manner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine
could bear.  But Lady Catherine seemed gratified
by their excessive admiration, and gave most gracious
smiles, especially when any dish on the table proved
a novelty to them.  The party did not supply much
conversation.  Elizabeth was ready to speak whenever
there was an opening, but she was seated between Charlotte
and Miss de Bourgh ­the former of whom was
engaged in listening to Lady Catherine, and the latter
said not a word to her all dinner-time.  Mrs.
Jenkinson was chiefly employed in watching how little
Miss de Bourgh ate, pressing her to try some other
dish, and fearing she was indisposed.  Maria thought
speaking out of the question, and the gentlemen did
nothing but eat and admire.

When the ladies returned to the drawing-room,
there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine
talk, which she did without any intermission till
coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject
in so decisive a manner, as proved that she was not
used to have her judgement controverted.  She
inquired into Charlotte’s domestic concerns
familiarly and minutely, gave her a great deal of advice
as to the management of them all; told her how everything
ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers,
and instructed her as to the care of her cows and
her poultry.  Elizabeth found that nothing was
beneath this great lady’s attention, which could
furnish her with an occasion of dictating to others. 
In the intervals of her discourse with Mrs. Collins,
she addressed a variety of questions to Maria and
Elizabeth, but especially to the latter, of whose connections
she knew the least, and who she observed to Mrs. Collins
was a very genteel, pretty kind of girl.  She
asked her, at different times, how many sisters she
had, whether they were older or younger than herself,
whether any of them were likely to be married, whether
they were handsome, where they had been educated,
what carriage her father kept, and what had been her
mother’s maiden name?  Elizabeth felt all
the impertinence of her questions but answered them
very composedly.  Lady Catherine then observed,

“Your father’s estate
is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think.  For your
sake,” turning to Charlotte, “I am glad
of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing
estates from the female line.  It was not thought
necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family. 
Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?”

“A little.”

“Oh! then ­some time
or other we shall be happy to hear you.  Our instrument
is a capital one, probably superior to ­You
shall try it some day.  Do your sisters play and
sing?”

“One of them does.”

“Why did not you all learn? 
You ought all to have learned.  The Miss Webbs
all play, and their father has not so good an income
as yours.  Do you draw?”

“No, not at all.”

“What, none of you?”

“Not one.”

“That is very strange. 
But I suppose you had no opportunity.  Your mother
should have taken you to town every spring for the
benefit of masters.”

“My mother would have had no objection, but
my father hates London.”

“Has your governess left you?”

“We never had any governess.”

“No governess!  How was
that possible?  Five daughters brought up at home
without a governess!  I never heard of such a thing. 
Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education.”

Elizabeth could hardly help smiling
as she assured her that had not been the case.

“Then, who taught you? who attended
to you?  Without a governess, you must have been
neglected.”

“Compared with some families,
I believe we were; but such of us as wished to learn
never wanted the means.  We were always encouraged
to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. 
Those who chose to be idle, certainly might.”

“Aye, no doubt; but that is
what a governess will prevent, and if I had known
your mother, I should have advised her most strenuously
to engage one.  I always say that nothing is to
be done in education without steady and regular instruction,
and nobody but a governess can give it.  It is
wonderful how many families I have been the means of
supplying in that way.  I am always glad to get
a young person well placed out.  Four nieces of
Mrs. Jenkinson are most delightfully situated through
my means; and it was but the other day that I recommended
another young person, who was merely accidentally
mentioned to me, and the family are quite delighted
with her.  Mrs. Collins, did I tell you of Lady
Metcalf’s calling yesterday to thank me? 
She finds Miss Pope a treasure.  ’Lady Catherine,’
said she, ‘you have given me a treasure.’ 
Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?”

“Yes, ma’am, all.”

“All!  What, all five out
at once?  Very odd!  And you only the second. 
The younger ones out before the elder ones are married! 
Your younger sisters must be very young?”

“Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. 
Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. 
But really, ma’am, I think it would be very hard
upon younger sisters, that they should not have their
share of society and amusement, because the elder
may not have the means or inclination to marry early. 
The last-born has as good a right to the pleasures
of youth at the first.  And to be kept back on
such a motive!  I think it would not be
very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy
of mind.”

“Upon my word,” said her
ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly
for so young a person.  Pray, what is your age?”

“With three younger sisters
grown up,” replied Elizabeth, smiling, “your
ladyship can hardly expect me to own it.”

Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished
at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected
herself to be the first creature who had ever dared
to trifle with so much dignified impertinence.

“You cannot be more than twenty,
I am sure, therefore you need not conceal your age.”

“I am not one-and-twenty.”

When the gentlemen had joined them,
and tea was over, the card-tables were placed. 
Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins
sat down to quadrille; and as Miss de Bourgh chose
to play at cassino, the two girls had the honour of
assisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party. 
Their table was superlatively stupid.  Scarcely
a syllable was uttered that did not relate to the
game, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed her fears
of Miss de Bourgh’s being too hot or too cold,
or having too much or too little light.  A great
deal more passed at the other table.  Lady Catherine
was generally speaking ­stating the mistakes
of the three others, or relating some anecdote of herself. 
Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to everything
her ladyship said, thanking her for every fish he
won, and apologising if he thought he won too many. 
Sir William did not say much.  He was storing his
memory with anecdotes and noble names.

When Lady Catherine and her daughter
had played as long as they chose, the tables were
broken up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins,
gratefully accepted and immediately ordered.  The
party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine
determine what weather they were to have on the morrow. 
From these instructions they were summoned by the
arrival of the coach; and with many speeches of thankfulness
on Mr. Collins’s side and as many bows on Sir
William’s they departed.  As soon as they
had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called on by
her cousin to give her opinion of all that she had
seen at Rosings, which, for Charlotte’s sake,
she made more favourable than it really was.  But
her commendation, though costing her some trouble,
could by no means satisfy Mr. Collins, and he was
very soon obliged to take her ladyship’s praise
into his own hands.

 

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