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 am sure my dinners are good enough for her, since she is an unmarried woman of seven-and-twenty, and as such should expect little more than a crust of bread washed down with a cup of loneliness.”
“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! 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, you senseless old cur,” said her husband; “it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life.”
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. 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, “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!”
Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain that all five of them were capable of fending for themselves; that they could make tolerable fortunes as bodyguards, assassins, or mercenaries if need be. 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.”
Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,
The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness. He was a great warrior, as you once were, and I know he looked with fondness upon the days when both of you fought side by side-back when the strange plague was but an isolated inconvenience. Since his passing, 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 my father had once vowed to castrate. My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having entered the priesthood, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh…
“Heavens!” cried Elizabeth, “He works for Lady Catherine!” “Let me finish,” said Mr. Bennet, sternly.
… whose skill with blade and musket are unmatched, and who has slain more unmentionables than any woman known. As a clergyman, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families. 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 following. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,
“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, and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially in light of his association with Lady Catherine.
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 short, fat 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 could hardly wait to see a display of their legendary fighting skill.
“You are very kind, I am sure; but I should rather see them with husbands than muskets, 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.”
“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 was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cookery was owing.
Briefly forgetting her manners, Mary grabbed her fork and leapt from her chair onto the table. Lydia, who was seated nearest her, grabbed her ankle before she could dive at Mr. Collins and, presumably, stab him about the head and neck for such an insult. Jane and Elizabeth turned away so Mr. Collins would not see them laughing.
He was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters were too busy training to be bothered with the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased Mary. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.