Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet indeed said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. – Pride and Prejudice – Chapter 13
November 18, 1811
After re-reading the letter from Mr. Collins, the son of her father’s estranged cousin, Lizzy was uneasy. She agreed with her father when he described the man as a mixture of servility and self-importance—an unusual combination if ever there was one—but that description was their only point of agreement. Although her father was prepared to be entertained by his cousin, this was the same man who held the future of the Bennet women in his hands. After her father’s death, and with little notice, William Collins could turn the whole family out on to the road and take possession of Longbourn and its contents. His visit should not be taken lightly.
After learning of the parson’s visit, Lizzy had hoped that Mr. Collins, who would benefit from the terms of the entail, would be sensible, but if his letter was any indication, that was not to be the case. At the very least, he was an oddity. And what did he mean when he wrote that he was offering the Bennet family an olive branch? What form would that olive branch take?
Upon his arrival, the newly ordained Mr. Collins was greeted with great civility by all, including Mrs. Bennet, especially after he had complimented her on the beauty of her daughters: “I have heard much of their beauty, but that, in this instance, fame had fallen short of the truth.” In Lizzy’s mind, the praise was excessive and puzzling. From whom would he have heard such a report? As far as Lizzy knew, the parson had never before visited Hertfordshire. To Lizzy’s mind, if anything fell short of the truth, it was Mr. Collins’s acclamation. During dinner, whilst listening to Mr. Collins pontificate on various subjects, most particularly his esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lizzy stifled a laugh as she thought about various travelers discussing the beauty of the Bennet sisters on the roads between Hertfordshire and Kent. With the absurdity of that notion in mind, she decided to take her father’s advice and enjoy the parson’s visit.
On that first evening of the curate’s visit, as the two eldest Bennet daughters prepared for bed, Lizzy asked her sister what she thought of Mr. Collins. She found that Jane, too, was puzzled. “I wonder what he means when he says that it is his intention to admire us? In what way shall he accomplish that?”
“Perhaps he will treat us with the same deference he employs when in the company of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He will flatter us with delicacy by suggesting elegant compliments sprinkled about at appropriate times.”
“‘Why Miss Bennet, I noticed how daintily you walk. You practically glide.””
“Lizzy, do be serious.”
“‘Miss Elizabeth, I could not help but notice how you cut your meat into tiny morsels so that they fit perfectly on your fork and slide so elegantly into your mouth.’”
Although Jane laughed, she chided her sister for being unkind.
“Chastise me if you must, but I find the man ridiculous. Although Papa is pleased by the absurdity of his pronouncements, Mr. Collins is actually quite tedious. He does not even read novels.”
“He certainly would not be the only person to look down on those who do.”
“I think his lack of interest in anything other than religious treatises shows an absence of imagination and intelligence.”
In nodding, Jane acknowledged that she did as well. “However, we must be considerate. Not only is he our father’s cousin, but he is also the heir to Longbourn. I would like to think that when Papa dies, he will be kind to us by allowing us to stay in our home.”
Lizzy could see that that was the best approach to a man with a good education but little understanding. “You are wiser than I am, Jane. I am too quick to speak my mind without taking into consideration the effects of what I say. I should hold my breath to cool my porridge.”
“I do not think you have to worry too much about saying the wrong thing as Mr. Collins rarely stops talking, and when he does, he does not listen to what is being said.”
“Now you are being unkind.”
“Not unkind, just truthful,” Jane said as she placed the hairbrush on the table. But then a look of alarm crossed her face. “Lizzy, please tell me that Mr. Collins did not come to Longbourn with the intention of finding a wife.”
The concern on Lizzy’s face matched that of Jane’s, but then she smiled. “Fortunately, being the second eldest and less blessed as far as beauty is concerned, I have nothing to worry about. However, you—”
“Do not even think about finishing that sentence,” Jane warned her.
“I wonder if Mr. Bingley knew that he had competition for your affection if he would immediately propose marriage.”
“And I wonder when you are going to hold your breath to cool your porridge,” Jane said before snuffing out the candle. As she climbed into bed, she warned Lizzy, “Not another word about Mr. Collins and me, Lizzy, or you will be the one to be teased. I shall tell Mr. Collins that I suffer from an incurable disease and that he should make you the object of his affection.”
“What is that you are saying, Jane? I cannot understand you. I am already half asleep.”
Thank you for reading my vignette. Your comments are always welcome.
General news: The third (and final) short story, in what I am calling the Pemberley series, will be released this Friday on Austen Variations. It is called Darcy and Elizabeth – Answered Prayers. Here is the blurb:
Although four months have passed since Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection of his marriage proposal, Fitzwilliam Darcy has yet to come to grips with the idea of a future devoid of the company of Elizabeth Bennet. Riding through the rain to reach Pemberley, Darcy arrives at his home with his mood as gloomy as the weather. When he discovers that Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle are touring the gardens, he decides to use the approaching storm as a way to keep Elizabeth at Pemberley. It is his last chance to convince the woman he loves that he is a man worthy of her affection. Will he succeed?
The other two short stores are Darcy and Elizabeth – Lost in Love and Darcy and Elizabeth – Behind Pemberley’s Walls.
The fifth book in the Patrick Shea Mystery Series, Murder by Moonlighting, will be released sometime this month. This series has nothing to do with Jane Austen, but an Austenite did write it. 😉