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Chapter 15

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature
had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest
part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an
illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of
the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without
forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which
his father had brought him up had given him originally great
humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by
the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the
consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A
fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de
Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect
which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his
patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his
authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him
altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness,
self-importance and humility.

Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, he
intended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the
Longbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to choose
one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable
as they were represented by common report. This was his plan
off amends-- of atonement-- for inheriting their father's estate;
and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and
suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his
own part.

His plan did not vary on seeing them. Miss Bennet's lovely face
confirmed his views, and established all his strictest notions of
what was due to seniority; and for the first evening SHE was his
settled choice. The next morning, however, made an alteration;
for in a quarter of an hour's tete-a-tete with Mrs. Bennet before
breakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house,
and leading naturally to the avowal of his hopes, that a mistress
might be found for it at Longbourn, produced from her, amid
very complaisant smiles and general encouragement, a caution
against the very Jane he had fixed on. "As to her YOUNGER
daughters, she could not take upon her to say-- she could not
positively answer-- but she did not KNOW of any prepossession;
her ELDEST daughter, she must just mention-- she felt it
incumbent on her to hint, was likely to be very soon engaged."

Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth-- and it
was soon done-- done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire.
Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeeded
her of course.

Mrs. Bennet treasured up the hint, and trusted that she might
soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could
not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good
graces.

Lydia's intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten;
every sister except Mary agreed to go with her; and Mr. Collins
was to attend them, at the request of Mr. Bennet, who was most
anxious to get rid of him, and have his library to himself; for
thither Mr. Collins had followed him after breakfast; and there he
would continue, nominally engaged with one of the largest folios
in the collection, but really talking to Mr. Bennet, with little
cessation, of his house and garden at Hunsford. Such doings
discomposed Mr. Bennet exceedingly. In his library he had been
always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as
he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other
room of the house, he was used to be free from them there; his
civility, therefore, was most prompt in inviting Mr. Collins to
join his daughters in their walk; and Mr. Collins, being in fact
much better fitted for a walker than a reader, was extremely
pleased to close his large book, and go.

In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that of his
cousins, their time passed till they entered Meryton. The
attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained by
him. Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street in
quest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnet
indeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recall
them.

But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man,
whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike
appearance, walking with another officer on the other side of the
way. The officer was the very Mr. Denny concerning whose
return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as
they passed. All were struck with the stranger's air, all
wondered who he could be; and Kitty and Lydia, determined if
possible to find out, led the way across the street, under pretense
of wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately had
just gained the pavement when the two gentlemen, turning back,
had reached the same spot. Mr. Denny addressed them directly,
and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham,
who had returned with him the day before from town, and he
was happy to say had accepted a commission in their corps.
This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only
regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance
was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a
fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. The
introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of
conversation-- a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and
unassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talking
together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their
notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street.
On distinguishing the ladies of the group, the two gentlemen
came directly towards them, and began the usual civilities.
Bingley was the principal spokesman, and Miss Bennet the
principal object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbourn
on purpose to inquire after her. Mr. Darcy corroborated it with
a bow, an was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on
Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the
stranger, and Elizabeth happening to see the countenance of
both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the
effect of the meeting. Both changed colour, one looked white,
the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his
hat-- a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What
could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it was
impossible not to long to know.

In another minute, Mr. Bingley, but without seeming to have
noticed what passed, took leave and rode on with his friend.

Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham walked with the young ladies to
the door of Mr. Phillip's house, and then made their bows, in
spite of Miss Lydia's pressing entreaties that they should come
in, and even in spite of Mrs. Phillips throwing up the parlour
window and loudly seconding the invitation.

Mrs. Phillips was always glad to see her nieces; and the two
eldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, and
she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return
home, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, she
should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to
see Mr. Jones's shop-boy in the street, who had told her that
they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because
the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was
claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him. She
received him with her very best politeness, which he returned
with as much more, apologising for his intrusion, without any
previous acquaintance with her, which he could not help
flattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationship
to the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs.
Phillips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; but
her contemplation of one stranger was soon put to an end by
exclamations and inquiries about the other; of whom, however,
she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr.
Denny had brought him from London, and that he was to have a
lieutenant's commission in the ----shire. She had been watching
him the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street,
and had Mr. Wickham appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainly
have continued the occupation, but unluckily no one passed
windows now except a few of the officers, who, in comparison
with the stranger, were become "stupid, disagreeable fellows."
Some of them were to dine with the Phillipses the next day, and
their aunt promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham,
and give him an invitation also, if the family from Longbourn
would come in the evening. This was agreed to, and Mrs.
Phillips protested that they would have a nice comfortable noisy
game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards.
The prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they parted
in mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated his apologies in
quitting the room, and was assured with unwearying civility that
they were perfectly needless.

As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she had
seen pass between the two gentlemen; but though Jane would
have defended either or both, had they appeared to be in the
wrong, she could no more explain such behaviour than her sister.

Mr. Collins on his return highly gratified Mrs. Bennet by
admiring Mrs. Phillips's manners and politeness. He protested
that, except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seen
a more elegant woman; for she had not only received him with
the utmost civility, but even pointedly included him in her
invitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to her
before. Something, he supposed, might be attributed to his
connection with them, but yet he had never met with so much
attention in the whole course of his life.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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