"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 one only daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property."
"Ah!" cried 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 woman of distinguished
birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her making
that progress in many accomplishments which she could not otherwise have 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 myself one day, has deprived the British court
of its brightest ornament.
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
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
"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
"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
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 every thing 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, mama, that my uncle Philips 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.
<CHAPTER XV (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 rights as a rector,
made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.
Having now a good house and 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 chuse one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable
as they were represented by common report. This was his plan of 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
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 te^te-a`-te^te with Mrs. Bennet
before breakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house, and leading
naturally to the avowal of his hopes that a mistress for it might be found 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 in 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 well 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 an 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 pretence
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, and 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.