Mrs. Bennet was in a state of agitation. As if her attempts to encourage Jane and Mr. Bingley were not enough to thoroughly engage her time, Mr. Bennet had announced that a Mr. Collins would be visiting. Mrs. Bennet had no use for Mr. Collins, whom she considered to be a discourteous upstart determined to see the Bennet girls disinherited. Nonetheless, Mr. Collins was arriving, and Mrs. Bennet refused to allow him to see Longbourn at any other than its very best.
Elizabeth Bennet watched her mother bustle about, instructing the maids and checking with the cook. Elizabeth considered extending an offer to help, but she knew her mother well enough to realize that such an offer might only serve to turn Mrs. Bennet’s ire on her. While Elizabeth sometimes enjoyed vexing her easily-excited mother, it seemed not to be the best time to do so.
“Lord, all this disturbance for a man that we care not one whit for!” exclaimed Elizabeth’s sister Lydia. “I should hate to see what it will be like when a man visits whose opinion Mama actually cares about!”
“Any men in particular?” Elizabeth teased her sister. Lydia and their other sister, Kitty, were as of late quite fixed on the presence of the militia in the nearby village of Meryton. The two girls spent nearly all of their time talking about officers, dressing to attract officers, and traveling to the village to speak with officers. Elizabeth was frankly surprised that Lydia even noticed that their mother was agitated.
“Laugh all you want, Lizzy. We shall see which of us finds a husband first,” said Lydia, making a face at her sister.
“I cannot imagine a man who would not be captivated by such a countenance,” Elizabeth replied archly.
“Nor can I,” said Lydia, and danced off.
Elizabeth’s laughter was interrupted by the announcement of a carriage arriving. In spite of Lydia’s previous protest, Elizabeth knew that her sisters were quite as curious as she to see Mr. Collins, and she quickly informed them of his arrival.
Elizabeth then stopped in her father’s study to tell him that their guest was arriving. Mr. Bennet’s eyes sparkled with the news. Mr. Collins’ letter hinted at a degree of foolish ostentation, and Mr. Bennet very much hoped to see this same attitude in the man himself. Few things delighted Mr. Bennet more than other people’s foolishness, and Mr. Collins promised to be quite foolish indeed.
The Bennets went outside to meet their guest. The carriage stopped and the door opened. A tall man stepped out. His brown curls appeared to be perfectly tousled, and drew the eye downwards towards a proud, Roman nose. His lips were full, and his chin was perfectly sculpted. Mr. Collins was, in short, one of the most handsome men that Elizabeth had ever seen.
She glanced to the right and saw that Kitty and Lydia were staring at Mr. Collins with matching shocked looks. Mary seemed unconcerned, and Jane wore the placid expression that always graced her lovely face.
Mrs. Bennet had the same amazed look as her youngest daughters.
“Mr. Collins,” said Mr. Bennet. “Welcome to Longbourn.”
Mr. Collins bowed deeply. “Thank you, sir.”
“Allow me to introduce my wife, Mrs. Bennet.”
“Mrs. Bennet,” said Mr. Collins, in a low, melodious voice. “I cannot tell you the depth of my appreciation for your hospitality.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, Mr. Collins,” said Mrs. Bennet in a faint voice. “We are so pleased to make your acquaintance. These are my girls.”
She introduced her daughters, and each of them curtsied to their cousin. Kitty and Lydia still wore shocked expressions, unable to draw their eyes away from Mr. Collins. Elizabeth noticed that Mr. Collins’ eyes lingered on Jane. Well, all that proved is that his eyesight was perfectly good. What man would not fall in love with Jane upon introduction? Elizabeth mused that Mr. Collins was due for a disappointment when he learned of Jane’s fondness for Mr. Bingley.
Mr. Collins was invited inside, and the family followed. Elizabeth saw a bit of disappointment in her father’s eyes, and took his arm.
“Mr. Collins cannot be pleasing to everyone, can he, Papa?” she whispered with a smile.
Her father patted her hand. “Give him time, Lizzy,” he said. “He is still the foolish man who wrote that letter, regardless of how charming your silly sisters might find him.”
With that, they followed the others back into the house.
It had been an odd afternoon. Lydia and Kitty seemed to be wherever Mr. Collins was, although they behaved as if it was a great coincidence. Mr. Bennet kept casting expectant glances towards Mr. Collins, who had managed to be perfectly well-behaved since he arrived. And a particular light gleamed in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes every time she glanced in Mr. Collins’ direction. Elizabeth was interested to see how everyone would behave at dinner.
Mr. Bennet was quite interested in engaging Mr. Collins in order to determine the man’s character. Towards this end, he broached a topic that he was certain Mr. Collins would prove anxious to speak of: his patroness.
“You mentioned Lady Catherine de Bourgh in your letter, sir,” said Mr. Bennet. “I am unfortunate enough to have never made the acquaintance of the lady. Do tell us of her.”
The light that appeared in Mr. Collins’ eyes made it clear that Mr. Bennet had chosen the topic well. “What is there to say that would do Lady Catherine de Bourgh credit?” cried Mr. Collins. “She is the most affable person whom I have ever had the pleasure to meet. And to meet such a gracious person who is of such elevated rank! If only all people were as agreeable as Lady Catherine, what a fine society it might be!”
Mr. Bennet agreed that Lady Catherine sounded like a fine person.
“She is quite superior,” Mr. Collins agreed. “Some consider her proud, but I have never seen such a thing. Certainly, she behaves in a way that is appropriate for her rank, but I think that statement to be quite disingenuous. Is not a lady allowed to have pride in the quality of her character?”
“She certainly sounds like a fine lady,” said Mrs. Bennet. “Do you live nearby her?”
“Only a lane separates the parsonage from the fine estate of Rosings Park,” said Mr. Collins. “Indeed, it is so nearby that I often see Lady Catherine and her daughter Miss Anne de Bourgh riding by in their carriages. I have twice been invited to dine with these two great ladies, and I can assure you that their manners are even more fine than one might expect from such great ladies.”
“Does she have any other children?” inquired Mrs. Bennet.
“Miss de Bourgh is an only child, and the heiress to all of Rosing Park and the connected lands.”
“Certainly she is fortunate for that!” said Mrs. Bennet. “Many girls do not have their own property to precede them. Has she been presented? I admit I do not recognize her name.”
“Alas, Miss de Bourgh is of a sickly constitution, so she has not been presented,” said Mr. Collins. “That is to the benefit of the other young ladies; if Miss de Bourgh were to be presented, she would so far outshine the other girls that it would scarcely be just.”
Mr. Collins was beginning to speaking more rapidly, and Mr. Bennet sensed that the time was ripe to encourage his guest.
“I wonder that such great ladies could spare you,” Mr. Bennet said, an astonished look on her face.
“Oh, Lady Catherine is very generous in allowing me time to visit with my family,” said Mr. Collins, his eyes shining. “And she has also mentioned how greatly it would please her for me to take a wife.”
The Bennet girls shared looks amongst themselves. The joining of Mr. Collins’ statements lay bare the reason for his visit, and Elizabeth could tell that her younger sisters intended to make full use of this knowledge. Indeed, Lydia’s eyelashes, which had already been fluttering at an impressive rate, redoubled their efforts upon hearing Mr. Collins speak of matrimony.
“Ah, a man in want of a wife,” said Mr. Bennet, leaning back in his chair.
“It would greatly please Lady Catherine if I were to find a fine woman to make my wife,” said Mr. Collins. “Fortunately for me, I possess the ability to provide those elegant little compliments that ladies find so pleasing.”
“How fascinating,” said Mr. Bennet. “Are these particular attentions studied, or do they arise from the impulse of the moment?”
“I will admit that I have always had a particular talent in speaking with ladies,” said Mr. Collins, favoring his cousins with a bright smile. “Perhaps it is the light of my soul that people find so pleasing.”
“No, I do not think that is it,” Lydia whispered to Kitty, earning her a stern look from Jane.
The remainder of the meal passed. Mr. Bennet was pleased with the degree of foolishness Mr. Collins showed. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were pleased with the decoration Mr. Collins provided to the table. And Elizabeth was pleased that Mr. Collins had put her family in such high spirits. If she had only been able to see into the near future, she would have been much less pleased at the arrival of her cousin.