“Oh, Mr. Collins!” exclaimed his wife immediately upon regaining the privacy of the parsonage. “What were you thinking of? Do you not see what an ill-judged thing you have done in spreading rumors about dear Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to Lady Catherine! You might just as well have poked a hornet’s nest with a stick for the commotion you have stirred up.”
“My dear Charlotte,” Mr. Collins responded with a patronizing shake of his head, “I am surprised at you. Did you not tell me months ago that you yourself suspected some partiality on Mr. Darcy’s side?”
“Yes, I told you, but I had no intention that it should ever reach the old lady’s ears.”
“Please, my dear! Kindly remember that it is to that great lady’s bounty and beneficence we owe all the comforts we currently enjoy, and hence to her we also owe a debt of perpetual loyalty. With your suspicions now supported by your family’s information, how could I in good conscience withhold them from my noble patroness?”
“And what of your cousin Elizabeth? Does she not have an equal claim to your loyalty and consideration?”
“Hmm, yes, there is something to what you say, my dear. And I see no reason that my own relations should not also be given benefit of my help. I shall write to warn Mr. Bennet of her ladyship’s reaction to the news I supplied. Yes, yes, that is what I must do. I shall just drop a little hint to him about how to direct his daughter. I trust Cousin Elizabeth has learnt her lesson and will be more inclined to follow her good parent’s sensible advice than the last time she had an offer of marriage before her.”
“But my dear…” Charlotte’s words were lost on her husband, who was already well down the passageway to his book room by the time he completed his speech. There, he settled himself behind his desk, collected the necessary writing materials, and undertook his solemn mission.
But how to begin? That was the ticklish bit. It would be boorish to plunge directly into dispensing advice, however well intended, with no preamble. Mr. Collins flattered himself that he had far too much delicacy to do that. Better to start off with something more complimentary – perhaps a word of congratulations on the approaching nuptials of Mr. Bennet’s eldest daughter. That would serve very well. Then would come the hint for Cousin Elizabeth, and lastly his own happy news.
Had Mr. Collins canvassed the whole world, he could not have hit upon a more ridiculous notion and a less plausible suitor for Mr. Bennet’s favorite daughter. That Lizzy should be the romantic object of that proud, disagreeable man stretched the limits of credulity. Lizzy, who had been so outspoken in her pointed dislike of the man! Surely her true sentiments could not have escaped anybody’s notice. Regardless of his high opinion of himself, Mr. Darcy could not be such a fool as to contemplate approaching her.
Mr. Bennet chuckled as he pictured the scene that might ensue if the man ever tried. No doubt his high-spirited daughter would make quick work of poor Mr. Darcy. She would probably hiss like an incensed feline at his first avowal of affection, and threaten to scratch his eyes out if he ventured anywhere nearer the question than that. It would certainly be a sight to behold, one Mr. Bennet would give a tidy sum to witness for himself.
The rest of the letter was pure Mr. Collins – his obsequious attentions to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s opinions in the matter (she disapproved, not surprisingly), his not-so-subtle hints of what was due that lady’s opinion, and his intended kindness in warning the Bennets against crossing her. Then there was the bit about Charlotte’s interesting situation, the expected young “olive-branch,” which struck Mr. Bennet as being in poor taste to mention.
Finally Mr. Bennet could no longer keep these overpowering temptations to mirth for himself alone, not when his daughter would likewise appreciate the absurdities involved. Leaving the sanctuary of his library, Mr. Bennet ran straight into the person he sought.
“Lizzy,” said he, “I was going to look for you; come into my room.” She followed him thither; and her curiosity to know what he had to tell her was heightened by the supposition of its being in some manner connected with the letter he held.