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Chapter 14

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servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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