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Chapter 13

"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 and 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 in 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 otherwise than be 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. Thee 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. Collin'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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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