‘I confess,’ said Mr. Collins, ‘that I should not have been at all surprised by her Ladyship’s asking us on Sunday to drink tea and spend the evening at Rosings. I rather expected, from my knowledge of her affability, that it would happen.
‘Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and daughter. I would advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest, there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.’
As the weather was fine, they had a pleasant walk of about half a mile across the park. Every park has its beauty and its prospects; and Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire.
When they ascended the steps to the hall, Elizabeth’s courage did not fail her. She had heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from any extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the mere stateliness of money and rank she thought she could witness without trepidation.
From the entrance hall, of which Mr. Collins pointed out, with a rapturous air, the fine proportion and finished ornaments, they followed the servants through an antechamber to the room where Lady Catherine and her daughter were sitting. Her Ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receive them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that the office of introduction should be hers, it was performed in a proper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks which he would have thought necessary.
Lady Catherine was a tall, large woman, with strongly-marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air was not conciliating, nor was her manner of receiving them such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank. She was not rendered formidable by silence: but whatever she said was spoken in so authoritative a tone as marked her self-importance.
When, after examining the mother, in whose countenance and deportment she soon found some resemblance of Mr. Darcy, she turned her eyes on the daughter, she could almost have joined in Maria’s astonishment at her being so thin and so small. There was neither in figure nor face any likeness between the ladies. Miss De Bourgh was pale and sickly: her features, though not plain, were insignificant; and she spoke very little. After sitting a few minutes, they were all sent to one of the windows to admire the view, Mr. Collins attending them to point out its beauties, and Lady Catherine kindly informing them that it was much better worth looking at in the summer.
The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants, and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her Ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. When the ladies returned to the drawing-room, there was little to be done but to hear Lady Catherine talk, which she did without any intermission till coffee came in, delivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved that she was not used to have her judgment controverted. Lady Catherine asked Elizabeth at different times how many sisters she had, whether they were older or younger than herself, whether any of them were likely to be married, whether they were handsome, where they had been educated, what carriage her father kept, and what had been her mother’s maiden name? Elizabeth felt all the impertinence of her questions, but answered them very composedly. Lady Catherine then observed,—
‘Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think? For your sake,’ turning to Charlotte, ‘I am glad of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family. Do you play and sing, Miss Bennet?’
‘Oh then—some time or other we shall be happy to hear you. Do your sisters play and sing?’
‘One of them does.’
‘Why did not you all learn? You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as yours. Do you draw?’
‘No, not at all.’
‘What, none of you?’
‘That is very strange. But I suppose you had no opportunity. Your mother should have taken you to town every spring for the benefit of masters.’
‘My mother would have no objection, but my father hates London.’
‘Has your governess left you?’
‘We never had any governess.’
‘No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education.’ Elizabeth could hardly help smiling, as she assured her that had not been the case.
‘Then who taught you? who attended to you? without a governess, you must have been neglected.’
‘Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle certainly might.’
‘Ay, no doubt: but that is what a governess will prevent; and if I had known your mother, I should have advised her most strenuously to engage one.
Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?’
‘Yes, ma’am, all.’
‘All! What, all five out at once? Very odd! And you only the second. The younger ones out before the elder are married! Your younger sisters must be very young?’
‘Yes, my youngest is not sixteen. Perhaps she is full young to be much in company. But, really, ma’am, I think it would be very hard upon younger sisters that they should not have their share of society and amusement, because the elder may not have the means or inclination to marry early. The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth as the first. And to be kept back on such a motive! I think it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind.’
‘Upon my word,’ said her Ladyship, ‘you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person’.
To be continued next Tuesday!