‘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 today, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party.’
‘Whom do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her!
‘The person of whom I speak is a gentleman and a stranger.’
Mrs Bennet’s eyes brightened. ‘A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr Bingley, I am sure! Why, Jane, you never mentioned a word about this! But — good heavens! How unlucky! There is not a bit offish to be got today! Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to the cook immediately.’
‘It is not Mr Bingley,’ said her husband. ‘It is a person whom I have never seen in the whole of my life.’
This caused general astonishment, and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and all five of his daughters at once.
After amusing himself for some time by not answering their questions, he explained:
‘A short time ago I received a letter. It was from my cousin, Mr Collins, who, when I am dead, may put you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.’
Mr Bennet’s property was, unfortunately for his daughters, to pass by law after his death to his nearest male relative, a distant cousin.
‘Oh, my dear,’ cried his wife, ‘I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Please do not talk of that hateful man.’ It was a subject on which she could never see reason.
‘But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself:
HUNSFORD PARSONAGE NEAR WESTERHAM,
KENT 15th October
The disagreement that existed between yourself and my honoured father always caused me much anxiety, and since his death I have frequently wished for a renewal of friendship between our two branches of the family.
My mind is now made up on the subject. I have recently become a minister of the church and I have been fortunate enough to become the object of attention of the Lady Catherine de Bourgh. By her generosity I have been presented with a valuable position in this area, where I shall try to behave with grateful respect towards her.
As a churchman, I feel it to be my duty to encourage peace among all families within my influence, and for these reasons I consider that my offer of friendship is deserving of praise, and that the fact that I am heir to your property will be kindly forgiven by you.
I am troubled at being the means of harming your daughters, and beg to apologize for it, as well as to inform you of my readiness to do what is in my power to lessen the wrong done to them.
If you have no objection to receiving me into your house, I intend to visit you and your family on Monday next week, at four o’clock, and would be thankful to remain as your guest until the Saturday of the following week.
I remain, dear sir, with respectful greetings 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 a most dutiful and polite young man.’
‘There is some sense in what he says about trying to lessen the harm done to the girls,’ his wife agreed.
‘Though it is difficult,’ said Jane, ‘to guess in what way he intends to do so.’
Elizabeth was chiefly struck with his high degree of respect for Lady Catherine. As for her mother, Mr Collins’s letter had taken away much of her unfriendly feeling, and she prepared herself to see him with a calmness that astonished her husband and daughters.
Mr Collins arrived on time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr Bennet said little, but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr Collins seemed very willing to do so himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of about twenty-five. His manner was serious and his behaviour very formal. He had not been seated long before he began to offer his congratulations to Mrs Bennet on having such a fine family of daughters, and to admire their beauty. He added that he did not doubt that she would in time see them all well settled in marriage. This speech was not much to the taste of some of his hearers, but Mrs Bennet answered most readily:
‘You are very kind, sir, I am sure, and I wish with all my heart that it may be so, or they will be poor enough. These matters are settled in such a strange way.’
‘I am conscious, madam, of the injustice to your lovely daughters, but they may be sure that I have come prepared to admire them. At present I will say no more, but perhaps, when we are better acquainted…’
He was interrupted by the announcement of dinner, and the girls smiled at each other. They were not the only objects of Mr Collins’s admiration. The hall, the dining room, and all its furniture, were examined and highly praised, and his approval would have touched Mrs Bennet’s heart, if she had not believed that he was viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner, too, in its turn, was much admired, and he begged to know which of his cousins had prepared the excellent meal. But here he was corrected by Mrs Bennet, who informed him rather sharply that they could very well afford to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. She replied in a softer voice that she was not at all offended, but he continued to apologize for about a quarter of an hour.