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Chapter 13

"I HOPE my dear," said Mr. Bennet to his wife as they were at breakfast the next morning, "that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."
"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home."

"The person of whom I speak, is a gentleman and a stranger."

Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled. -- "A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure. Why Jane -- you never dropt a word of this; you sly thing! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. -- But -- good lord! how unlucky! there is not a bit of fish to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to Hill, this moment."

"It is not Mr. Bingley," said her husband; "it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life."

This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and five daughters at once.

After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained. "About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases."

"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it."

Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason; and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

"It certainly is a most iniquitous affair," said Mr. Bennet, "and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself."

"No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it was very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could not he keep on quarrelling with you, as his father did before him?"

"Why, indeed, he does seem to have had some filial scruples on that head, as you will hear."

"Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,

15th October.

DEAR SIR,

THE disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance." -- "There, Mrs. Bennet." -- "My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, -- but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

WILLIAM COLLINS."

"At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peacemaking gentleman," said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter. "He seems to be a most conscientious and polite young man, upon my word; and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine should be so indulgent as to let him come to us again."

"There is some sense in what he says about the girls however; and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not be the person to discourage him."

"Though it is difficult," said Jane, "to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish is certainly to his credit."

Elizabeth was chiefly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever it were required.

"He must be an oddity, I think," said she. "I cannot make him out. -- There is something very pompous in his stile. -- And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail? -- We cannot suppose he would help it, if he could. -- Can he be a sensible man, sir?"

"No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him."

"In point of composition," said Mary, "his letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed."

To Catherine and Lydia, neither the letter nor its writer were in any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of a man in any other colour. As for their mother, Mr. Collins's letter had done away much of her ill-will, and she was preparing to see him with a degree of composure which astonished her husband and daughters.

Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet, indeed, said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He was a tall, heavy looking young man of five and twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters, said he had heard much of their beauty, but that, in this instance, fame had fallen short of the truth; and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers, but Mrs. Bennet who quarrelled with no compliments, answered most readily,

"You are very kind, sir, I am sure; and I wish with all my heart it may prove so; for else they will be destitute enough. Things are settled so oddly."

"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."

"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must confess. Not that I mean to find fault with you, for such things, I know, are all chance in this world. There is no knowing how estates will go when once they come to be entailed."

"I am very sensible, madam, of the hardship to my fair cousins, -- and could say much on the subject, but that I am cautious of appearing forward and precipitate. But I can assure the young ladies that I come prepared to admire them. At present I will not say more, but perhaps when we are better acquainted --"

He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls smiled on each other. They were not the only objects of Mr. Collins's admiration. The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture were examined and praised; and his commendation of every thing would have touched Mrs. Bennet's heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner too, in its turn, was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins, the excellence of its cookery was owing. But here he was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.
 

第二天吃过早饭的时候,班纳特先生对他的太太说:“我的好太太,我希望你今天的午饭准备得好一些,因为我预料今天一定有客人来。”

“你指的是那一位客人,我的好老爷?我一些也不知道有谁要来,除非夏绿蒂·卢卡斯碰巧会来看我们,我觉得拿我们平常的饭餐招待她也够好了。我不相信她在家里经常吃得这么好。”

“我所说到的这位客人是位男宾,又是个生客。”

班纳特太太的眼睛闪亮了起来。“一位男宾又是一位生客!那准是彬格莱先生,没有错。──哦,吉英,你从来没出过半点儿风声,你这个狡猾的东西!──嘿,彬格莱先生要来,真叫我太高兴啦。可是──老天爷呀!运气真不好,今天连一点儿鱼也买不着。──丽迪雅宝贝儿,代我按一按铃。我要马上吩咐希尔一下。”

她的丈夫连忙说:“并不是彬格莱先生要来;说起这位客人,我一生都没见过他。”

这句话叫全家都吃了一惊。他的太太和五个女儿立刻迫切地追问他,使他颇为高兴。

拿他太太和女儿们的好奇心打趣了一阵以后,他便原原本本地说:“大约在一个月以前,我就收到了一封信,两星期以前我写了回信,因为我觉得这是件相当伤脑筋的事,得趁早留意。信是我的表侄柯林斯先生寄来的。我死了以后,这位表侄可以高兴什么时候把你们撵出这所屋子,就什么时候撵出去。”“噢,天啊,”他的太太叫起来了。“听你提起这件事我就受不了。请你别谈那个讨厌的家伙吧。你自己的产业不能让自己的孩子继承,却要让别人来继承,这是世界上最难堪的事。如果我是你,一定早就想出办法来补救这个问题啦。”

吉英和伊丽莎白设法把继承权的问题跟她解释了一下。其实她们一直没法跟她解释,可是这个问题跟她是讲不明白的。她老是破口大骂,说是自己的产业不能由五个亲生女儿继承,却白白送给一个和她们毫不相干的人,这实在是太不合情理。

“这的确是一最不公道的事,”班纳特先生说,“柯林斯先生要继承浪博恩的产业,他这桩罪过是洗也洗不清的。不过,要是你听听他这封信里所说的话,那你就会心肠软一些,因为他这番表明心迹还算不错。”

“不,我相信我绝对不会心软下来;我觉得他写信给你真是既没有礼貌,又非常虚伪。我恨这种虚伪的朋友。他为什么不象他的爸爸那样跟你吵得不可开交呢?”

“哦,真的,他对这个问题,好象也有些为了顾全孝道,犹豫不决,且让我把信读给你们听吧:

亲爱的长者:

以前你为先父之间曾有些芥蒂,这一直使我感到不安。自先父不幸弃世以来,我常常想到要弥补这个裂痕;但我一时犹豫,没有这样做,怕的是先父生前既然对阁下唯恐仇视不及,而我今天却来与阁下修好,这未免有辱先人。──“注意听呀,我的好太太。”──不过目前我对此事已经拿定主张,因为我已在复活节那天受了圣职。多蒙故刘威斯·德·包尔公爵的孀妻咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人宠礼有加,恩惠并施,提拔我担任该教区的教士,此后可以勉尽厥诚,恭待夫人左右,奉行英国教会所规定的一切仪节,这真是拜三生不幸。况且以一个教士的身份来说,我觉得我有责任尽我之所及,使家家户户得以敦穆亲谊,促进友好。因此我自信这番好意一定会受到你的重视,而有关我继承浪博恩产权一事,你也可不必介意。并请接受我献上的这一枝橄榄枝。我这样侵犯了诸位令媛的利益,真是深感不安,万分抱歉,但请你放心,我极愿给她们一切可能的补偿,此事容待以后详谈。如果你不反对我踵门拜候,我建议于十一月十八是,星期一,四点钟前来拜谒,甚或在府上叨扰至下星期六为止。这对于我毫无不便之处,因为咖苔琳夫人决不会反对我星期日偶而离开教堂一下,只消有另一个教士主持这一天的事怀就行了。敬向尊夫人及诸位令媛致候。

你的祝福者和朋友威廉·柯林斯

十月十五日写于威斯特汉附近的肯特郡汉斯福村

“那么,四点钟的时候,这位息事宁人的先生就要来啦,”班纳特先生一边把信折好,一边说。“他倒是个很有良心、很有礼貌的青年,一定是的;我相信他一定会成为一个值得器重的朋友,只要咖苔琳夫人能够开开恩,让他以后再上我们这儿来,那更好啦。”

“他讲到我们女儿们的那几句话,倒还说得不错;要是他果真打算设法补偿,我倒不反对。”

吉英说:“他说要给我们补偿,我们虽然猜不出他究竟是什么意思,可是他这一片好意也的确难得。”

伊丽莎白听到他对咖苔琳夫人尊敬得那么出奇,而且他竟那么好心好意,随时替他自己教区里的居民行洗礼,主持婚礼和丧礼,不觉大为吃惊。

“我看他一定是个古怪人,”她说。“我真弄不懂他。他的文笔似乎有些浮夸。他所谓因为继承了我们的产权而感到万分抱歉,这话是什么意思呢?即使这件事可以取消,我们也不要以为他就肯取消,他是个头脑清楚的人吗,爸爸?”

“不,宝贝,我想他不会是的。我完全认为他是恰恰相反。从他信里那种既谦卑又自大的口气上就可以看得出来。我倒真想见见他。”

曼丽说:“就文章而论,他的信倒好象写得没有什么毛病。橄榄枝这种说法虽然并不新颖,可是我觉得用得倒很恰当。”

在咖苔琳和丽迪雅看来,无论是那封信也好,写信的人也好,都没有一点儿意思。反正她们觉得她们的表兄绝不会穿着“红制服”来,而这几个星期以来,穿其他任何颜色的衣服的人,她们都不乐意结交。至于她们的母亲,原来的一般怨气已经被柯林斯先生一封信打消了不少,她倒准备相当平心静气地会见他,这使得她的丈夫和女儿们都觉得非常奇怪。

柯林斯先生准时来了,全家都非常客气地接待他,班纳特先生简直没有说什么话;可是太太和几位小姐都十分愿意畅谈一下,而柯林斯先生本人好象既不需要人家鼓励他多说话,也不打算不说话。他是个二十五岁的青年,高高的个儿,望上去很肥胖,他的气派端庄而堂皇,又很拘泥礼节。他刚一坐下来就恭维班纳特太太福气好,养了这么多好女儿,他说,早就听到人们对她们美貌赞扬备至,今天一见面,才知道她们的美貌远远超过了她们的名声;他又说,他相信小姐们到时候都会结下美满良缘。他这些奉承话,人家真不大爱听,只有班纳特太太,没有哪句恭维话听不下去,于是极其干脆地回答道:

“我相信你是个好心肠的人,先生;我一心希望能如你的金口,否则她们就不堪设想了。事情实在摆布得太古怪啦。”

“你大概是说产业的继承权问题吧。”

“唉,先生,我的确是说到这方面。你得承认,这对于我可怜的女儿们真是件不幸的事。我并不想怪你,因为我也知道,世界上这一类的事完全靠命运。一个人的产业一旦要限定继承人,那你就无从知道它会落到谁的手里去。”

“太太,我深深知道,这件事苦了表妹们,我在这个问题上有很多意见,一时却不敢莽撞冒失。可是我可以向年轻的小姐们保证,我上这儿来,就是为了要向她们表示我的敬慕。目前我也不打算多说,或许等到将来我们相处得更熟一些的时候──”

主人家请他吃午饭了,于是他的话不得不被打断。小姐们彼此相视而笑。柯林斯先生所爱慕的才不光光是她们呢。他把客厅、饭厅、以及屋子里所有的家具,都仔细看了一遍,赞美了一番。班纳特太太本当听到他赞美一句,心里就得意一阵,怎奈她也想到,他原来是把这些东西都看作他自己未来的财产,因此她又非常难受。连一顿午饭也蒙他称赏不置,他请求主人告诉他,究竟是哪位表妹烧得这一手好菜。班纳特太太听到他这句话,不禁把他指责了一番。她相当不客气地跟他说,她们家里现在还雇得起一个象样的厨子,根本用不到女儿们过问厨房里的事。他请求她原谅,不要见怪。于是她用柔和的声调说,她根本没有怪他,可是他却接接连连地道歉了一刻钟之久。



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