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 tête-à-tête 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 entered
Meryton. The attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained by him. Their eyes were
immediately wandering up 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 offer 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 parts 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. Darcy just deigned to
return. What could be the meaning of it? It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to
In another minute Mr. Bingley, but without seeming to have noticed what passed, took leave and rode
on with his friend.
Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham walked with the young ladies to the door Mr. Philips’s house, and then
made their bows, in spite of Miss Lydia’s pressing entreaties that they would come in, and even in spite
of Mrs. Philips’s throwing up the parlour window, and loudly seconding the invitation.
Mrs. Philips was always glad to see her nieces; and the two eldest, from their recent absence, were
particularly welcome; and she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return home, which, as
their own carriage had not fetched them, she should have known nothing about if she had not happened
to see Mr. Jones’s shop-boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts
to Netherfield, because the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was claimed towards Mr.
Collins by Jane’s introduction of him. She received him with her very best politeness, which he returned
with as much more, apologising for his intrusion without any previous acquaintance with her, which he
could not help flattering himself however might be justified by his relationship to the young ladies who
introduced him to her notice. Mrs. Philips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; but her
contemplation of one stranger was soon put to an end to by exclamations and inquiries about the other, of
whom, however, she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr. Denny had brought him
from London, and that he was to have a lieutenant’s commission in the ——shire. She had been
watching him the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street, and had Mr. Wickham
appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainly have continued the occupation; but unluckily no one passed
the windows now except a few of the officers, who, in comparison with the stranger, were become
‘stupid, disagreeable fellows.’ Some of them were to dine with the Philipses the next day, and their aunt
promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham, and give him an invitation also, if the family from
Longbourn would come in the evening. This was agreed to; and Mrs. Philips protested that they would
have a nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards. The
prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they parted in mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated
his apologies in quitting the room, and assured, with unwearying civility, that they were pertectly
As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she had seen pass between the two gentlemen; but
though Jane would have defended either or both, had they appeared to be wrong, she could no more
explain such behaviour than her sister.
Mr. Collins on his return highly gratified Mrs. Bennet by admiring Mrs. Philips’s manners and
politeness. He protested that, except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seen a more elegant
woman; for she had not only received him with the utmost civility, but had even pointedly included him
in her invitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to her before. Something, he supposed
might be attributed to his connection with them, but yet he had never met with so much attention in the
whole course of his life.
AS no objection was made the young people’s engagement with their aunt, and all Mr. Collins’s scruples
of leaving Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for a single evening during his visit were most steadily resisted, the
coach conveyed him and his five cousins at a suitable hour to Meryton; and the girls had the pleasure of
hearing, as they entered the drawing-room, that Mr. Wickham had accepted their uncle’s invitation, and
was then in the house.
When this information was given, and they had all taken their seats, Mr. Collins was at leisure to look
around him and admire, and he was so much struck with the size and furniture of the apartment, that he
declared he might almost have supposed himself in the small summer breakfast parlour at Rosings; a
comparison that did not at first convey much gratification; but when Mrs. Philips understood from him
what Rosings was, and who was its proprietor, when she had listened to the description of only one of
Lady Catherine’s drawing-rooms, and found that the chimney-piece alone had cost eight hundred
pounds, she felt all the force of the compliment, and would hardly have resented a comparison with the
In describing to her all grandeur of Lady Catherine and her mansion, with occasional digressions in
praise of his own humble abode, and the improvements it was receiving, he was happily employed until
the gentlemen joined them; and he found in Mrs. Philips a very attentive listener. whose opinion of his
consequence increased with what she heard, and who was resolving to retail it all among her neighbours
as soon as she could. To the girls, who could not listen to their cousin, and who had nothing to do but to
wish for an instrument, and examine their own indifferent imitations of china on the mantelpiece, the
interval of waiting appeared very long. It was over at last, however. The gentlemen did approach: and
when Mr. Wickham walked into the room, Elizabeth felt that she had neither been seeing him before, nor
thinking of him since, with the smallest degree of unreasonable admiration. The officers of the ——shire
were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but
Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk, as they were superior to
the broad-faced stuffy uncle Philips, breathing port wine, who followed them into the room.
Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth
was the happy woman by whom he finally seated himself; and the agreeable manner in which he
immediately fell into conversation, though it was only on its being a wet night, and on the probability of
rainy season, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, most threadbare topic might be rendered
interesting by the skill of the speaker.
With such rivals for the notice of the fair as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed to sink
into insignificance; to the young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind
listener in Mrs. Philips, and was, by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin.
When the card tables were placed, he had an opportunity of obliging her, in return, by sitting down to
‘I know little of the game at present,’ said he, ‘but I shall be glad to improve myself; for in my situation
of life——’ Mrs. Philips was very thankful for his compliance but could not wait for his reason.
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