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Chapter 14

DURING dinner, Mr. Bennet scarcely spoke at all; but when the servants were withdrawn, he thought it time to have some conversation with his guest, and therefore started a subject in which he expected him to shine, by observing that he seemed very fortunate in his patroness. Lady Catherine de Bourgh's attention to his wishes, and consideration for his comfort, appeared very remarkable. Mr. Bennet could not have chosen better. Mr. Collins was eloquent in her praise. The subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner, and with a most important aspect he protested that he had never in his life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank -- such affability and condescension, as he had himself experienced from Lady Catherine. She had been graciously pleased to approve of both the discourses which he had already had the honour of preaching before her. She had also asked him twice to dine at Rosings, and had sent for him only the Saturday before, to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening. Lady Catherine was reckoned proud by many people he knew, but he had never seen any thing but affability in her. She had always spoken to him as she would to any other gentleman; she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood, nor to his leaving his parish occasionally for a week or two, to visit his relations. She had even condescended to advise him to marry as soon as he could, provided he chose with discretion; and had once paid him a visit in his humble parsonage; where she had perfectly approved all the alterations he had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself, -- some shelves in the closets up stairs.
"That is all very proper and civil I am sure," said Mrs. Bennet, "and I dare say she is a very agreeable woman. It is a pity that great ladies in general are not more like her. Does she live near you, sir?"
"The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship's residence."

"I think you said she was a widow, sir? has she any family?"

"She has one only daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property."

"Ah!" cried Mrs. Bennet, shaking her head, "then she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? is she handsome?"

"She is a most charming young lady indeed. Lady Catherine herself says that in point of true beauty, Miss De Bourgh is far superior to the handsomest of her sex; because there is that in her features which marks the young woman of distinguished birth. She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not otherwise have failed of; as I am informed by the lady who superintended her education, and who still resides with them. But she is perfectly amiable, and often condescends to drive by my humble abode in her little phaeton and ponies."

"Has she been presented? I do not remember her name among the ladies at court."

"Her indifferent state of health unhappily prevents her being in town; and by that means, as I told Lady Catherine myself one day, has deprived the British court of its brightest ornament. Her ladyship seemed pleased with the idea, and you may imagine that I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies. I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. -- These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."

"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, "and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?"

"They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."

Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and, except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. -- Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. -- Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with,

"Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard, and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town."

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said,

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; -- for certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin."

Then turning to Mr. Bennet, he offered himself as his antagonist at backgammon. Mr. Bennet accepted the challenge, observing that he acted very wisely in leaving the girls to their own trifling amusements. Mrs. Bennet and her daughters apologised most civilly for Lydia's interruption, and promised that it should not occur again, if he would resume his book; but Mr. Collins, after assuring them that he bore his young cousin no ill will, and should never resent her behaviour as any affront, seated himself at another table with Mr. Bennet, and prepared for backgammon.
 

吃饭的时候,班纳特先生几乎一句话也没有说;可是等到佣人们走开以后,他就想道,现在可以跟这位客人谈谈了。他料想到,如果一开头就谈到咖苔琳夫人身上去,这位贵客一定会笑逐颜开的,于是他便拿这个话题做开场白,说是柯林斯先生有了那样一个女施主,真是幸运极了,又说咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人对他这样言听计从,而且极其周到地照顾到他生活方面的安适,真是十分难得。班纳特先生这个话题选得再好也没有了。柯林斯先生果然滔滔不绝地赞美起那位夫人来。这个问题一谈开了头,他本来的那种严肃态度便显得更严肃了,他带着非常自负的神气说,他一辈子也没有看到过任何有身价地位的人,能够象咖苔琳夫人那样的有德行,那样的亲切谦和。他很荣幸,曾经当着她的面讲过两次道,多蒙夫人垂爱,对他那两次讲道赞美不绝。夫人曾经请他到罗新斯去吃过两次饭,上星期六晚上还请他到她家里去打过“夸锥”。据他所知,多少人都认为咖苔琳夫人为人骄傲,可是他只觉得亲切。她平常跟他攀谈起来,总是把他当作一个有身份的人看待。她丝毫不反对他和邻居们来往,也不反对他偶而离开教区一两个星期,去拜望拜望亲友们。多蒙她体恤下情,曾经亲自劝他及早结婚,只要他能够谨慎选择对象。她还到他的寒舍去拜访过一次,对于他住宅所有经过他整修过的地方都十分赞成,并且蒙她亲自赐予指示,叫他把楼上的璧橱添置几个架子。

班纳特太太说:“我相信这一切都做得很得体,很有礼貌,我看她一定是个和颜悦色的女人。可惜一般贵夫人们都比不上她。她住的地方离你很近吗,先生?”

“寒舍那个花园跟她老夫人住的罗新斯花园,只隔着一条胡同。”

“你说她是个寡妇吗,先生?她还有家属吗?”

“她只有一个女儿,──也就是罗新斯的继承人,将来可以继承到非常大的一笔遗产呢。”

“嗳呀,”班纳特太太听得叫了起来,一面又摇了摇头。“那么,她比多少姑娘们都福气她。她是怎样的一位小姐?长得漂亮吗?”

“她真是个极可爱的姑娘。咖苔琳夫人自己也说过,讲到真正的漂亮,德·包尔小姐要胜过天下最漂亮的女性;因为她眉清目秀,与众不同,一看上去就知道她出身高贵。她本来可以多才多艺,只可惜她体质欠佳,没有进修,否则她一定琴棋书画样样通晓,这话是她女教师说给我听的,那教师现在还跟她们母女住在一起。她的确是可爱透顶,常常不拘名份,乘着她那辆小马车光临寒舍。”

“她觐见过皇上吗?在进过宫的仕女们中,我好象没有听见过她的名字。”

“不幸她身体柔弱,不能过京城去,正如我有一天跟咖苔琳夫人所说的,这实在使得英国的宫庭里损失了一件最明媚的装璜;她老人家对我这种说法很是满意。你们可以想象得到,在任何场合下,我都乐于说几句巧妙的恭维话,叫一般太太小姐们听得高兴。我跟咖苔琳夫人说过好多次,她的美丽的小姐是一位天生的公爵夫人,将来不管嫁给哪一位公爵姑爷,不论那位姑爷地位有多高,非但不会增加小姐的体面,反而要让小姐来为他争光。这些话都叫她老人家听得高兴极了,我总觉得我应该在这方面特别留意。”

班纳特先生说:“你说得很恰当,你既然有这种才能,能够非常巧妙地捧人家的场,这对于你自己也会有好处。我是否可以请教你一下,你这种讨人喜欢的奉承话,是临时想起来的呢,还是老早想好了的?”

“大半是看临时的情形想起来的;不过有时候我也自己跟自己打趣,预先想好一些很好的小恭维话,平常有机会就拿来应用,而且临说的时候,总是要装出是自然流露出来的。”

班纳特先生果然料想得完全正确,他这位表侄确实象他所想象的那样荒谬,他听得非常有趣,不过表面上却竭力保持镇静,除了偶而朝着伊丽莎白望一眼以外,他并不需要别人来分享他这份愉快。

不过到吃茶的时候,这一场罪总算受完了。班纳特先生高高兴兴地把客人带到会客室里,等到茶喝完了,他又高高兴兴地邀请他朗诵点什么给他的太太和小姐们听。柯林斯先生立刻就答应了,于是她们就拿了一本书给他,可是一看到那本书(因为那本书一眼就可以看出是从流通图书馆借来的)他就吃惊得往后一退,连忙声明他从来不读小说,请求她们原谅。吉蒂对他瞪着眼,丽迪雅叫起来了。于是她们另外拿了几本书来,他仔细考虑了一下以后,选了一本弗迪斯的《讲道集》。他一摊开那本书,丽迪雅不禁目瞪口呆,等到他那么单调无味,一本正经地刚要读完三页的时候,丽迪雅赶快岔断了他:

“妈妈,你知不知道腓力普姨爹要解雇李却?要是他真的要解雇他,弗斯脱上校一定愿意雇他。这是星期六那一天姨爹亲自告诉我的。我打算明天上麦里屯去多了解一些情况,顺便问问他们,丹尼先生什么时候从城里回来。”

两个姐姐都吩咐丽迪雅住嘴;柯林斯先生非常生气,放下了书本,说道:

“我老是看到年轻的小姐们对正经书不感兴趣,不过这些书完全是为了她们的好处写的。老实说,这不能不叫我惊奇,因为对她们最有利益的事情,当然莫过于圣哲的教训。可是我也不愿意勉强我那年轻的表妹。”

于是他转过身来要求班纳特先生跟他玩“贝加梦”,班纳特先生一面答应了他,一面说,这倒是个聪明的办法,还是让这些女孩子们去搞她们自己的小玩艺吧。班纳特太太和她五个女儿极有礼貌地向他道歉,请他原谅丽迪雅打断了他朗诵对书,并且说,他要是重新把那本书读下去,她保证决不会有同样的事件发生。柯林斯先生请她们不要介意,说是他一点儿也不怪表妹,决不会认为她冒犯了他而把她怀恨在心。他解释过以后,就跟班纳特先生坐到另一张桌子上去,准备玩“贝加梦”。



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