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Chapter 29

Mr. Collins's triumph, in consequence of this invitation, was
complete. The power of displaying the grandeur of his patroness
to his wondering visitors, and of letting them see her civility
towards himself and his wife, was exactly what he had wished
for; and that an opportunity of doing it should be given so soon,
was such an instance of Lady Catherine's condescension, as he
knew not how to admire enough.

"I confess," said he, "that I should not have been at all surprised
by her ladyship's asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the
evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of
her affability, that it would happen. But who could have
foreseen such an attention as this? Who could have imagined
that we should receive an invitation to dine there (an invitation,
moreover, including the whole party) so immediately after your
arrival!"

"I am the less surprised at what has happened," replied Sir
William, "from that knowledge of what the manners of the great
really are, which my situation in life has allowed me to acquire.
About the court, such instances of elegant breeding are not
uncommon."

Scarcely anything was talked of the whole day or next morning
but their visit to Rosings. Mr. Collins was carefully instructing
them in what they were to expect, that the sight of such rooms,
so many servants, and so splendid a dinner, might not wholly
overpower them.

When the ladies were separating for the toilette. Her said to
Elizabeth--

"Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your
apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of
dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I would
advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior
to the rest-- there is no occasion for anything more. Lady
Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply
dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved."

While they were dressing, he came two or three times to their
different doors, to recommend their being quick, as Lady
Catherine very much objected to be kept waiting for her dinner.
Such formidable accounts of her ladyship, and her manner of
living, quite frightened Maria Lucas who had been little used to
company, and she looked forward to her introduction at Rosings
with as much apprehension as her father had done to his
presentation at St. James's.

As the weather was fine, they had a pleasant walk of about half a
mile across the park. Every park has its beauty and its
prospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though
she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the
scene to inspire, and was but slightly affected by his enumeration
of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the
glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.

When they ascended the steps to the hall, Maria's alarm was
every moment increasing, and even Sir William did not look
perfectly calm. Elizabeth's courage did not fail her. She had
heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from any
extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the mere
stateliness of money or rank she thought she could witness
without trepidation.

From the entrance-hall, of which Mr. Collins pointed out, with a
rapturous air, the fine proportion and the finished ornaments,
they followed the servants through an ante-chamber, to the room
where Lady Catherine, her daughter, and Mrs. Jenkinson were
sitting. Her ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receive
them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that the
office of introduction should be hers, it was performed in a
proper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks which
he would have thought necessary.

In spite of having been at St. James's Sir William was so
completely awed by the grandeur surrounding him, that he had
but just courage enough to make a very low bow, and take his
seat without saying a word; and his daughter, frightened almost
out of her senses, sat on the edge of her chair, not knowing
which way to look. Elizabeth found herself quite equal to the
scene, and could observe the three ladies before her composedly.
Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked
features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was
not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as
to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not
rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she said was
spoken in so authoritative a tone, as marked her self-importance,
and brought Mr. Wickham immediately to Elizabeth's mind; and
from the observation of the day altogether, she believed Lady
Catherine to be exactly what he represented.

When, after examining the mother, in whose countenance and
deportment she soon found some resemblance of Mr. Darcy,
she turned her eyes on the daughter, she could almost have
joined in Maria's astonishment at her being so thin and so small.
There was neither in figure nor face any likeness between the
ladies. Miss de Bourgh was pale and sickly; her features, though
not plain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little, except in
a low voice, to Mrs. Jenkinson, in whose appearance there was
nothing remarkable, and who was entirely engaged in listening to
what she said, and placing a screen in the proper direction before
her eyes.

After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent to one of the
windows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to
point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them
that it was much better worth looking at in the summer.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the
servants and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had
promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at
the bottom of the table, by her ladyship's desire, and looked as if
he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. He carved, and
ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was
commended, first by him and then by Sir William, who was now
enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, in a
manner which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could bear.
But Lady Catherine seemed gratified by their excessive
admiration, and gave most gracious smiles, especially when any
dish on the table proved a novelty to them. The party did not
supply much conversation. Elizabeth was ready to speak
whenever there was an opening, but she was seated between
Charlotte and Miss de Bourgh-- the former of whom was
engaged in listening to Lady Catherine, and the latter said not a
word to her all dinner-time. Miss Jenkinson was chiefly
employed in watching how little Miss de Bourgh ate, pressing
her to try some other dish, and fearing she was indisposed.
Maria thought speaking out of the question, and the gentlemen
did nothing but eat and admire.

When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was little
to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did
without any intermission till coffee came in, delivering her
opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner, as proved that
she was not used to have her judgement controverted. She
inquired into Charlotte's domestic concerns familiarly and
minutely, gave her a great deal of advice as to the management
of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so
small a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of her
cows and her poultry. Elizabeth found that nothing was beneath
this great lady's attention, which could furnish her with an
occasion of dictating to others. In the intervals of her discourse
with Mrs. Collins, she addressed a variety of questions to Maria
and Elizabeth, but especially to the latter, of whose connections
she knew the least, and who she observed to Mrs. Collins was a
very genteel, pretty kind of girl. She asked her, at different
times, how many sisters she had, whether they were older or
younger than herself, whether any of them were likely to be
married, whether they were handsome, where they had been
educated, what carriage her father kept, and what had been her
mother's maiden name? Elizabeth felt all the impertinence of her
questions but answered them very composedly. Lady Catherine
then observed,

"Your father's estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. For
your sake," turning to Charlotte, "I am glad of it; but otherwise I
see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was
not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh's family. Do you
play and sing, Miss Bennet?"

"A little."

"Oh! then-- some time or other we shall be happy to hear you.
Our instrument is a capital one, probably superior to---- You
shall try it some day. Do your sisters play and sing?"

"One of them does."

"Why did not you all learn? You ought all to have learned. The
Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income
as yours. Do you draw?"

"No, not at all."

"What, none of you?"

"Not one."

"That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity.
Your mother should have taken you to town every spring for the
benefit of masters."

"My mother would have had no objection, but my father hates
London."

"Has your governess left you?"

"We never had any governess."

"No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought
up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.
Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education."

Elizabeth could hardly help smiling as she assured her that had
not been the case.

"Then, who taught you? who attended to you? Without a
governess, you must have been neglected."

"Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of us
as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always
encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary.
Those who chose to be idle, certainly might."

"Aye, no doubt; but that is what a governess will prevent, and if
I had known your mother, I should have advised her most
strenuously to engage one. I always say that nothing is to be
done in education without steady and regular instruction, and
nobody but a governess can give it. It is wonderful how many
families I have been the means of supplying in that way. I am
always glad to get a young person well placed out. Four nieces
of Mrs. Jenkinson are most delightfully situated through my
means; and it was but the other day that I recommended another
young person, who was merely accidentally mentioned to me,
and the family are quite delighted with her. Mrs. Collins, did I
tell you of Lady Metcalf's calling yesterday to thank me? She
finds Miss Pope a treasure. 'Lady Catherine,' said she, 'you
have given me a treasure.' Are any of your younger sisters out,
Miss Bennet?"

"Yes, ma'am, all."

"All! What, all five out at once? Very odd! And you only the
second. The younger ones out before the elder ones are
married! Your younger sisters must be very young?"

"Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps SHE is full young to
be much in company. But really, ma'am, I think it would be
very hard upon younger sisters, that they should not have their
share of society and amusement, because the elder may not have
the means or inclination to marry early. The last-born has as
good a right to the pleasures of youth at the first. And to be
kept back on SUCH a motive! I think it would not be very likely
to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind."

"Upon my word," said her ladyship, "you give your opinion very
decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?"

"With three younger sisters grown up," replied Elizabeth,
smiling, "your ladyship can hardly expect me to own it."

Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct
answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature
who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified
impertinence.

"You cannot be more than twenty, I am sure, therefore you need
not conceal your age."

"I am not one-and-twenty."

When the gentlemen had joined them, and tea was over, the
card-tables were placed. Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr.
and Mrs. Collins sat down to quadrille; and as Miss de Bourgh
chose to play at cassino, the two girls had the honour of
assisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party. Their table was
superlatively stupid. Scarcely a syllable was uttered that did not
relate to the game, except when Mrs. Jenkinson expressed her
fears of Miss de Bourgh's being too hot or too cold, or having
too much or too little light. A great deal more passed at the
other table. Lady Catherine was generally speaking-- stating the
mistakes of the three others, or relating some anecdote of
herself. Mr. Collins was employed in agreeing to everything her
ladyship said, thanking her for every fish he won, and
apologising if he thought he won too many. Sir William did not
say much. He was storing his memory with anecdotes and noble
names.

When Lady Catherine and her daughter had played as long as
they chose, the tables were broken up, the carriage was offered
to Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted and immediately ordered.
The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine
determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.
From these instructions they were summoned by the arrival of
the coach; and with many speeches of thankfulness on Mr.
Collins's side and as many bows on Sir William's they departed.
As soon as they had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called
on by her cousin to give her opinion of all that she had seen at
Rosings, which, for Charlotte's sake, she made more favourable
than it really was. But her commendation, though costing her
some trouble, could by no means satisfy Mr. Collins, and he was
very soon obliged to take her ladyship's praise into his own
hands.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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