EVERY OBJECT in the next day’s journey was new and interesting to Elizabeth. With a new coachman and twice their original number of musket men, they hastened to Hunsford. Once arrived (their journey happily uneventful), every eye was in search of the Parsonage, and every turning expected to bring it in view. Rosings Park was their boundary on one side. Elizabeth smiled at the recollection of all that she had heard of its inhabitants.
At length the Parsonage was discernible. The garden sloping to the road, the house standing in it, the green pales, and the laurel hedge, everything declared they were arriving. Elizabeth felt at once relaxed, for there had been no reports of zombies in Hunsford for years. Many attributed this to the presence of Lady Catherine-so great a slayer that the stricken dared not venture too close to her home.
Mr. Collins and Charlotte appeared at the door, and the carriage stopped at the small gate which led by a short gravel walk to the house, amidst the nods and smiles of the whole party. In a moment they were all out of the chaise, rejoicing at the sight of each other. But when Mrs. Collins welcomed Elizabeth, the latter was greatly distressed by the appearance of the former. It had been months since she had seen Charlotte, and kind months they had not been, for her friend’s skin was now quite gray and marked with sores, and her speech appallingly laboured. That none of the others noticed this, Elizabeth attributed to their stupidity-particularly Mr. Collins, who apparently had no idea that his wife was three-quarters dead.
They were taken into the house; and as soon as they were in the parlour, Mr. Collins welcomed them a second time, with ostentatious formality to his humble abode, and punctually repeated all his wife’s offers of refreshment.
Elizabeth was prepared to see him in his glory; and she could not help in fancying that in displaying the good proportion of the room, its aspect and its furniture, he addressed himself particularly to her, as if wishing to make her feel what she had lost in refusing him. But though everything seemed neat and comfortable, she was not able to gratify him by any sigh of repentance. After sitting long enough to admire every article of furniture in the room, Mr. Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden. To work in this garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired Charlotte’s efforts to talk of the healthfulness of the exercise, even though it was quite difficult to understand her.
From his garden, Mr. Collins would have led them round his two meadows; but the ladies, not having shoes to encounter the remains of a white frost, turned back; and while Sir William accompanied him, Charlotte took her sister and friend over the house. It was rather small, but well built and convenient. Though she was pleased to see her friend comfortably settled, there was a grief about the whole affair, for Charlotte would not long be able to enjoy her happiness.
She had already learnt that Lady Catherine was still in the country. It was spoken of again while they were at dinner, when Mr. Collins joining in, observed:
“Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship’s carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship’s carriages, for she has several.”
“Wady Caferine very respectable… sensible woman,” groaned Charlotte, “and most attentive nay-bah.”
“Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference.”
As dinner continued in this manner, Elizabeth’s eye was continually drawn to Charlotte, who hovered over her plate, using a spoon to shovel goose meat and gravy in the general direction of her mouth, with limited success. As she did, one of the sores beneath her eye burst, sending a trickle of bloody pus down her cheek and into her mouth. Apparently, she found the added flavor agreeable, for it only increased the frequency of her spoonfuls. Elizabeth, however, could not help but vomit ever so slightly into her handkerchief.
The rest of the evening was spent chiefly in talking over Hertfordshire news, and telling again what had already been written; and when it closed, Elizabeth, in the solitude of her chamber, had to meditate upon Charlotte’s worsening condition, and how no one-even Lady Catherine, supposed to be the greatest of all zombie slayers-had noticed it.
About the middle of the next day, as she was in her room getting ready for a walk, a sudden noise below seemed to speak the whole house in confusion; and, after listening a moment, she heard somebody running upstairs in a violent hurry, and calling loudly after her. Elizabeth grabbed her Katana, opened the door, and met Maria in the landing place, who cried out:
“Oh, my dear Eliza! Pray make haste and come into the dining room, for there is such a sight to be seen! I will not tell you what it is. Make haste, and come down this moment.”
Maria would tell her nothing more, and down they ran into the dining-room, which fronted the lane, in quest of this wonder. It was merely two ladies stopping in a low carriage at the garden gate.
“And is this all?” cried Elizabeth. “I expected at least a dozen unmentionables, and here is nothing but Lady Catherine and her daughter.”
“La! My dear,” said Maria, quite shocked at the mistake, “it is not Lady Catherine. The old lady is Mrs. Jenkinson, who lives with them; the other is Miss de Bourgh. Only look at her. She is quite a little creature. Who would have thought that she could be so thin and small?”
“She is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind. Why does she not come in?”
“Oh, Charlotte says she hardly ever does. It is the greatest of favours when Miss de Bourgh comes in.”
“I like her appearance,” said Elizabeth, struck with other ideas. “She looks sickly and cross. Yes, she will do for Mr. Darcy very well. She will make him a very proper wife.”
Mr. Collins and Charlotte were both standing at the gate in conversation with the ladies; and Sir William, to Elizabeth’s high diversion, was stationed in the doorway, in earnest contemplation of the greatness before him, and constantly bowing whenever Miss de Bourgh looked that way.
At length there was nothing more to be said; the ladies drove on, and the others returned into the house. Mr. Collins no sooner saw the two girls than he began to congratulate them on their good fortune, for he informed them that the whole party was asked to dine at Rosings the next day. Apparently overcome with excitement, Charlotte dropped to the ground and began stuffing handfuls of crisp autumn leaves in her mouth.