“Mr. Collins, you look well this morning! I trust that your accommodation was to your liking?” Mrs. Bennet asked, full of smiles for her guest.
“Indeed, my dear Mrs. Bennet. I am well rested thanks to your hospitality.”
“I do hope that we did not tire you out by asking you to read,” Mrs. Bennet said.
“Oh, no! I could read from Fordyce’s Sermons all evening,” said Mr. Collins. “They are so instructive and uplifting. And how intently my cousins listened! It is a credit to you to have raised such pious girls. Why, I thought dear Lydia might float away, so intense was her look of devotion to our Creator!”
Elizabeth barely restrained herself from snorting. Lydia had watched their cousin intently, but Elizabeth knew that it had nothing to do with piety. Lydia was simply incapable of comporting herself around a handsome man.
Elizabeth observed Mr. Collins as he and her mother continued speaking. He certainly was handsome—almost too handsome. There was very little character in his face, just perfectly sculpted features. She had to admit that she had found him pleasing to look at when he arrived, but that impression was dispelled as soon as he began his raptures over his patroness. Mr. Collins was every bit as silly as Mr. Bennet had hoped for—perhaps even more so. Elizabeth’s plan was to simply enjoy the spectacle until Mr. Collins proposed to whichever of her silly sisters he decided on.
She had noticed that Mr. Collins’ conversation at dinner seemed to have the opposite effect on her sister, Mary. Mary had not been interested in Mr. Collins in the slightest until dinner. As the meal progressed, Elizabeth saw that her sister was paying an increasing amount of attention to Mr. Collins. By the end of the meal, Mary seemed quite as smitten as Lydia and Kitty, although rather less noisy about it.
Elizabeth smiled to herself as she thought of it. Kitty and Lydia were interested in Mr. Collins because he was so very handsome, regardless of his personality. Mary would never have her head turned simply by the way a man looked. However, a man who spoke of God and recited Fordyce’s Sermons? That was a man that Mary could admire.
Mr. Collins had clearly come to Longbourn looking for a wife. However, Elizabeth suspected that he was entirely ignorant of the fact that he was currently the hunted, rather than the hunter. Three sets of eyes followed where he went, each girl hoping that she would emerge the victor of Mr. Collins’ heart.
Mrs. Bennet seemed quite as keen as any of her daughters to know who Mr. Collins would choose. In fact, with the way Mrs. Bennet laughed and fluttered about, one might be forgiven for assuming that she was pursuing a suitor as well. Mr. Collins would certainly find himself occupied for the entirety of his stay.
“What a lovely day!” said Mrs. Bennet, looking outside. “Mr. Collins, why do we not take a walk about the property? That way you may see more of the estate, and enjoy the company of your cousins.”
“That is a capital idea!” said Mr. Collins. “I told Lady Catherine that I would return with a full description of the estate, so this allows me to keep my word to that fine lady.”
“I am certain that she would be deeply disturbed if you were not to keep your word in this instance,” said Elizabeth with mock seriousness. She heard a snort behind her and did not dare to turn and make eye contact with her father.
“Yes, my dear cousin, I do believe that you are correct,” said Mr. Collins, entirely misreading her tone. “You concern for others speaks highly of your character.”
He bowed, then looked up and locked eyes with her. Elizabeth realized, quite too late, that she had made herself a target of Mr. Collins’ attention. She cursed her quick tongue, as well as her inability to restrain it when necessary. She counseled herself to be less forthcoming with her wit, at least while Mr. Collins was around. The man seemed entirely incapable of understanding a joke.
Luckily, Lydia, upset at not being in the midst of the conversation, swept in to save Elizabeth.
“Mr. Collins, do escort me outside,” she said, taking his arm. “For I do so love the out of doors. It is quite my favorite thing.”
Elizabeth refrained from commenting on this, and commended herself for her newly-found restraint.
“Well then, my dear cousin,” Mr. Collins said, favoring Lydia with a bright smile, “let us go.”
Kitty scurried after them. Elizabeth looked at Jane and nodded her head for Jane to go with Mr. Collins, Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth then found Mary, who had the mistaken idea that she would not be going on the walk.
“Come now, Mary, Mr. Collins expressed a desire to speak with each of the Bennet girls. Could you deny him that request? It certainly does not seem charitable of you.”
Elizabeth could see that Mary was beginning to waver.
“You do not want Mr. Collins to think that you are ill and rush back to check on you, do you? I know that you would not wish to interfere with his walk like that.”
Mary finally allowed that she would go on the walk, but only for Mr. Collins’ sake. Elizabeth managed to switch out Mary’s normal cape, which was quite worn, for the better-quality one that Mary usually reserved for Sundays.
With Elizabeth hurrying Mary along, the girls quickly caught up to the rest of their party.
“….and, would you believe, she was more interested in speaking of the upcoming meeting room dance than she was in listening to my sermon?” Mr. Collins was saying.
Lydia turned towards him and placed a hand on her chest. “My goodness, Mr. Collins, how could she have been so interested in earthly pursuits when you were preaching the word of God?”
Mr. Collins smiled at his cousin again. “You understand me completely, my dear. What an upstanding and pious young lady you have raised, Mrs. Bennet!”
Mrs. Bennet returned his smile. “Yes, it has often been remarked that Lydia is the most reverential of my daughters.”
At this, Elizabeth could no longer maintain her countenance, and stopped for a moment, pleading a coughing fit, until she could regain control over her frantic laughter.
As Elizabeth returned to the group, she noticed that Mr. Collins was staring appreciatively at Jane.
Well, the man is obviously not blind, thought Elizabeth grimly.
What man would not want Jane? However, Elizabeth could not risk Mr. Collins proposing to Jane before Mr. Bingley got a chance. The best way to keep that from happening, as Elizabeth could see the situation, was to mention Mr. Bingley and hope that one of the more foolish members of her family would latch on to it as a point of discussion.
“Lydia, have you decided which dress you will wear to Mr. Bingley’s ball?” asked Elizabeth, trying her best to sound innocent.
“Well, I have my eye on one of Kitty’s. It looks far better on me than it does on her,” said Lydia, ignoring Kitty’s glare. “Mama, do you not think that it is selfish of her not to share the dress?”
Before Mrs. Bennet could respond, Mr. Collins asked the question that Elizabeth was hoping for. “Who is Mr. Bingley?”
Kitty took the opportunity to answer before Lydia could continue dominating the conversation. “Why, he is the gentleman who has let Netherfield Hall. He is terribly nice and quite handsome, and you ought to witness how much he admires Jane!”
Mr. Collins’ eyes cut to Jane. “I did not realize. Is there a formal connection between you?”
“Not as of yet,” Mrs. Bennet responded, “but we expect one in the very near future. Why, Mr. Collins, of course you must attend the ball with us!”
“You can dance with me!” cried Lydia.
“And me!” said Kitty, not about to be outdone.
Mr. Collins smiled. “Why, it should be my great privilege to dance with each of my cousins. But perhaps Miss Elizabeth would be willing to save me the first dance?”
Elizabeth had no idea how to respond. It appeared that, by saving Jane, she had made herself Mr. Collins’ next target. She smiled weakly at her cousin, and kept her mouth shut for the remainder of the walk, lest she accidentally injure herself once again.