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Chapter 5

Ever wondered what it would be like to become Mr Bennet, if only for a moment? Read on, imagining yourself as Mr Bennet; then, based on your knowledge of Pride & Prejudice, decide what you will do at the end of this chapter.

Your two eldest daughters return home a few days later and you are delighted to have them back. Not so their mother, who wonders why they have bothered, and thinks Jane very stupid for risking another cold. 

Such fond musings are not long-lived, however. The next morning, you receive a letter which promises unparalleled entertainment.

“I hope, my dear,” you say to your wife at breakfast, “that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party.”

She snaps at this morsel like a hungry crocodile. “Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home.”

“The person of whom I speak, is a gentleman and a stranger.”

You are gratified by the mercenary gleam in Mrs Bennet's eye. – “A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr Bingley, I am sure. Why Jane – you never dropt a word of this; you sly thing! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr Bingley. – But – good lord! how unlucky! there is not a bit of fish to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to Hill, this moment.”

“It is not Mr. Bingley,” you say, with considerable satisfaction; “it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life.”

This rouses general astonishment; and you have the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by your wife and five daughters at once. After amusing yourself some time with their curiosity, you explain.

“About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.”

“Oh! my dear,” cries your wife, “I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.”

Jane and Elizabeth attempt to explain to her the nature of an entail. They have often attempted it before, but it is a subject on which Mrs Bennet is beyond the reach of reason; and she continues to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cares anything about.

“It certainly is a most iniquitous affair,” you sigh, “and nothing can clear Mr Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself.”

“No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it was very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could not he keep on quarrelling with you, as his father did before him?”

“Why, indeed, he does seem to have had some filial scruples on that head, as you will hear.”

“Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,
15th October.

Dear Sir,

The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.”

– “There, Mrs Bennet.”–

“My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, -- but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

William Collins.”

There is a stunned silence as you fold up the letter. “At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peacemaking gentleman,” you say. “He seems to be a most conscientious and polite young man, upon my word; and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine should be so indulgent as to let him come to us again.”

The mercenary gleam in your good lady’s eye is shining like a beacon. “There is some sense in what he says about the girls however; and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not be the person to discourage him.”

“Though it is difficult,” says Jane, “to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish is certainly to his credit.” Poor innocent Jane! It is difficult for her to guess anything that reflects badly on anyone.

Elizabeth murmurs to you that she is particularly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever required. You both laugh, and she continues in a louder tone, “He must be an oddity, I think. I cannot make him out. -- There is something very pompous in his stile. -- And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail? -- We cannot suppose he would help it, if he could. -- Can he be a sensible man, sir?”

“No, my dear; I think not,” you reply. “I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him.”

“In point of composition,” says Mary, in that pompous way of hers, “his letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed.”

To Kitty and Lydia, neither the letter nor its writer are in any degree interesting. It is next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it is now some weeks since they have received pleasure from the society of a man in any other colour. As for their mother, Mr Collins's letter has done away much of her ill-will, and she is preparing to see him with a degree of composure which you find truly astonishing.

Mr Collins is punctual to his time, and is received with great politeness by the whole family. You say very little; but the ladies are ready enough to talk, and Mr Collins seems neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He immediately compliments Mrs Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters, says he has heard much of their beauty, but that, in this instance, fame has fallen short of the truth; and adds, that he does not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage. He goes on to say that he is cautious of appearing forward and precipitate if he dwells on the matter of the entail and how he might make amends, but can assure the young ladies that he comes prepared to admire them. 

Over dinner, you think it time to have some conversation with your guest, and therefore start a subject in which you expect him to shine, by observing that he seems very fortunate in his patroness and that Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort, appear very remarkable. 

You could not have chosen better. Mr Collins is eloquent in her praise throughout two courses, ending with, “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 cannot resist saying, “You judge very properly, 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?” At this, Lizzy kicks you under the table.

Mr Collins is insensible of any ridicule. “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.”

Your expectations are fully answered. Your cousin is as absurd as you have hoped, and you listen to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Lizzy, requiring no partner in your pleasure. 

A week later, you decide that he shall accompany you and your family to the Netherfield Ball OR you decide to stay at home with him playing backgammon.

Which would Mr Bennet choose? Click on the link above and see if you're right.

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