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Chapter 15

MR. COLLINS was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.
Having now a good house and very sufficient income, he intended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the Longbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to chuse one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by common report. This was his plan of amends -- of atonement -- for inheriting their father's estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.

His plan did not vary on seeing them. -- Miss Bennet's lovely face confirmed his views, and established all his strictest notions of what was due to seniority; and for the first evening she was his settled choice. The next morning, however, made an alteration; for in a quarter of an hour's te^te-a`-te^te with Mrs. Bennet before breakfast, a conversation beginning with his parsonage-house, and leading naturally to the avowal of his hopes that a mistress for it might be found at Longbourn, produced from her, amid very complaisant smiles and general encouragement, a caution against the very Jane he had fixed on. -- "As to her younger daughters she could not take upon her to say -- she could not positively answer -- but she did not know of any prepossession; -- her eldest daughter, she must just mention -- she felt it incumbent on her to hint, was likely to be very soon engaged."

Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth -- and it was soon done -- done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire. Elizabeth, equally next to Jane in birth and beauty, succeeded her of course.

Mrs. Bennet treasured up the hint, and trusted that she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces.

Lydia's intention of walking to Meryton was not forgotten; every sister except Mary agreed to go with her; and Mr. Collins was to attend them, at the request of Mr. Bennet, who was most anxious to get rid of him, and have his library to himself; for thither Mr. Collins had followed him after breakfast, and there he would continue, nominally engaged with one of the largest folios in the collection, but really talking to Mr. Bennet, with little cessation, of his house and garden at Hunsford. Such doings discomposed Mr. Bennet exceedingly. In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room in the house, he was used to be free from them there; his civility, therefore, was most prompt in inviting Mr. Collins to join his daughters in their walk; and Mr. Collins, being in fact much better fitted for a walker than a reader, was extremely well pleased to close his large book, and go.

In pompous nothings on his side, and civil assents on that of his cousins, their time passed till they entered Meryton. The attention of the younger ones was then no longer to be gained by him. Their eyes were immediately wandering up in the street in quest of the officers, and nothing less than a very smart bonnet indeed, or a really new muslin in a shop window, could recall them.

But the attention of every lady was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, of most gentlemanlike appearance, walking with an officer on the other side of the way. The officer was the very Mr. Denny, concerning whose return from London Lydia came to inquire, and he bowed as they passed. All were struck with the stranger's air, all wondered who he could be, and Kitty and Lydia, determined if possible to find out, led the way across the street, under pretence of wanting something in an opposite shop, and fortunately had just gained the pavement when the two gentlemen, turning back, had reached the same spot. Mr. Denny addressed them directly, and entreated permission to introduce his friend, Mr. Wickham, who had returned with him the day before from town, and he was happy to say, had accepted a commission in their corps. This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty -- a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation -- a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming; and the whole party were still standing and talking together very agreeably, when the sound of horses drew their notice, and Darcy and Bingley were seen riding down the street. On distinguishing the ladies of the group, the two gentlemen came directly towards them, and began the usual civilities. Bingley was the principal spokesman, and Miss Bennet the principal object. He was then, he said, on his way to Longbourn on purpose to inquire after her. Mr. Darcy corroborated it with a bow, and was beginning to determine not to fix his eyes on Elizabeth, when they were suddenly arrested by the sight of the stranger, and Elizabeth happening to see the countenance of both as they looked at each other, was all astonishment at the effect of the meeting. Both changed colour, one looked white, the other red. Mr. Wickham, after a few moments, touched his hat -- a salutation which Mr. Darcy just deigned to return. What could be the meaning of it? -- It was impossible to imagine; it was impossible not to long to know.

In another minute Mr. Bingley, but without seeming to have noticed what passed, took leave and rode on with his friend.

Mr. Denny and Mr. Wickham walked with the young ladies to the door of Mr. Philips's house, and then made their bows, in spite of Miss Lydia's pressing entreaties that they would come in, and even in spite of Mrs. Philips' throwing up the parlour window and loudly seconding the invitation.

Mrs. Philips was always glad to see her nieces, and the two eldest, from their recent absence, were particularly welcome, and she was eagerly expressing her surprise at their sudden return home, which, as their own carriage had not fetched them, she should have known nothing about, if she had not happened to see Mr. Jones's shop boy in the street, who had told her that they were not to send any more draughts to Netherfield because the Miss Bennets were come away, when her civility was claimed towards Mr. Collins by Jane's introduction of him. She received him with her very best politeness, which he returned with as much more, apologising for his intrusion without any previous acquaintance with her, which he could not help flattering himself, however, might be justified by his relationship to the young ladies who introduced him to her notice. Mrs. Philips was quite awed by such an excess of good breeding; but her contemplation of one stranger was soon put an end to by exclamations and inquiries about the other, of whom, however, she could only tell her nieces what they already knew, that Mr. Denny had brought him from London, and that he was to have a lieutenant's commission in the ----shire. She had been watching him the last hour, she said, as he walked up and down the street, and had Mr. Wickham appeared, Kitty and Lydia would certainly have continued the occupation, but unluckily no one passed the windows now except a few of the officers, who in comparison with the stranger, were become "stupid, disagreeable fellows." Some of them were to dine with the Philipses the next day, and their aunt promised to make her husband call on Mr. Wickham, and give him an invitation also, if the family from Longbourn would come in the evening. This was agreed to, and Mrs. Philips protested that they would have a nice comfortable noisy game of lottery tickets, and a little bit of hot supper afterwards. The prospect of such delights was very cheering, and they parted in mutual good spirits. Mr. Collins repeated his apologies in quitting the room, and was assured with unwearying civility that they were perfectly needless.

As they walked home, Elizabeth related to Jane what she had seen pass between the two gentlemen; but though Jane would have defended either or both, had they appeared to be wrong, she could no more explain such behaviour than her sister.

Mr. Collins, on his return, highly gratified Mrs. Bennet by admiring Mrs. Philips's manners and politeness. He protested that except Lady Catherine and her daughter, he had never seen a more elegant woman; for she had not only received him with the utmost civility, but had even pointedly included him in her invitation for the next evening, although utterly unknown to her before. Something he supposed might be attributed to his connection with them, but yet he had never met with so much attention in the whole course of his life.
 

柯林斯先生并不是个通情达理的人,他虽然也受过教育,也踏进了社会,但是先天的缺陷却简直没有得到什么弥补。他大部分日子是在他那守财奴的文盲父亲的教导下度过的。他也算进过大学,实际上不过照例住了几个学期,并没有结交一个有用的朋友。他的父亲管束得他十分严厉,因此他的为人本来很是谦卑,不过他本是个蠢材,现在生活又过得很优闲,当然不免自高自大,何况年纪轻轻就发了意外之财,更其自视甚高,哪里还谈得上谦卑。当时汉斯福教区有个牧师空缺,他鸿运享通,得到了咖苔琳·德·包尔夫人的提拔。他看到他的女施主地位颇高,便悉心崇拜,备加尊敬;另方面又自命不凡,自以为当上了教士,该有怎样怎样的权利,于是他一身兼有了骄傲自大和谦卑顺从的两重性格。

他现在已经有了一幢好房子,一笔可观的收入,想要结婚了。他所以要和浪博恩这家人家讲和修好,原是想要在他们府上找个太太。要是这家人家的几位小姐果真象大家所传闻的那么美丽可爱,他一定要挑选一个。这就是他所谓补偿的计划,赎罪的计划,为的是将来继承她们父亲的遗产时可以问心无愧。他认为这真是个独出心裁的办法,既极其妥善得体,又来得慷慨豪爽。

他看到这几位小姐之后,并没有变更本来的计划。一看到吉英那张可爱的脸蛋儿,他便拿定了主张,而且更加确定了他那些老式的想法,认为一切应当先娶最大的一位小姐。头一个晚上他就选中了她。不过第二天早上他又变更了主张,因为他和班纳特夫人亲亲密密地谈了一刻钟的话,开头谈谈他自己那幢牧师住宅,后来自然而然地把自己的心愿招供了出来,说是要在浪博恩找一位太太,而且要在她的令嫒们中间找一位。班纳特太太亲切地微笑着,而且一再鼓励他,不过谈到他选定了吉英,她就不免要提请他注意一下子了。“讲到我几个小女儿,我没有什么意见──当然也不能一口答应──不过我还没有听说她们有什么对象;至于我的大女儿,我可不得不提一提──我觉得有责任提醒你一下──大女儿可能很快就要订婚了。”

柯林斯先生只得撇开吉英不谈,改选伊丽莎白,一下子就选定了──就在班纳特太太拨火的那一刹那之间选定的。伊丽莎白无论是年龄,美貌,比吉英都只差一步,当然第二个就要轮到她。

班纳特太太得到这个暗示,如获至宝,她相信很快就可以嫁出两个女儿了;昨天她提都不愿意提到的这个人,现在却叫她极为重视了。

丽迪雅原说要到麦里屯支走走,她这个念头到现在还没有打消。除了曼丽之外,姐姐们都愿意跟她同去;班纳特先生为了要把柯林斯先生撵走,好让自己在书房里清净一阵,便请他也跟着她们一起去。原来柯林斯先生吃过早饭以后,就跟着他到书房来了,一直待到那时候还不想走,名义上在看他所收藏的那本大型的对开本,事实上却在滔滔不绝地跟班纳特先生大谈他自己在汉斯福的房产和花园,弄得班纳特先生心烦意乱。他平常待在书房里就是为了要图个悠闲清净。他曾经跟伊丽莎白说过,他愿意在任何一间房间里,接见愚蠢和自高自大的家伙,书房里可就不能让那些人插足了。因此他立刻恭恭敬敬地请柯林斯先生伴着他女儿们一块儿去走走,而柯林斯先生本来也只配做一个步行家,不配做一个读书人,于是非常高兴地合上书本走了。

他一路废话连篇,表妹们只得客客气气地随声附和,就这样打发着时间,来到了麦里屯。几位年纪小的表妹一到那里,就再也不去理会他了。她们的眼睛立刻对着街头看来看去,看看有没有军官们走过,此外就只有商店橱窗里的极漂亮的女帽,或者是最新式的花洋布,才能吸引她们。

不到一会儿工夫,这许多小姐都注意到一位年轻人身上去了。那人她们从来没见过,一副道地的绅士气派,正跟一个军官在街道那边散步。这位军官就是丹尼先生,丽迪雅正要打听他从伦敦回来了没有。当她们打那儿走过的时候,他鞠了一个躬。大家看到那个陌生人风度翩翩,都楞了一下,只是不知道这人是谁。吉蒂和丽迪雅决定想法子去打听,便借口要到对面铺子里去买点东西,带头走到街那边去了。也正是事有凑巧,她们刚刚走到人行道上,那两个男人也正转过身来,走到那地方。丹尼马上招呼她们,并请求她们让他把他的朋友韦翰先生介绍给她们。他说韦翰是前一天跟他一块儿从城里回来的,而且说来很高兴,韦翰已经被任命为他们团里军官。这真是再好也没有了,因为韦翰这位青年,只要穿上一身军装,便会十全十美。他的容貌举止确实讨人喜欢。他没有一处长得不漂亮,眉目清秀,身材魁梧,谈吐又十分动人。一经介绍之后,他就高高兴兴,恳恳切切地谈起话来──既恳切,又显得非常正派,而且又有分寸。他们正站在那儿谈得很投机的时候,忽然听到一阵得得的马蹄声,只见达西和彬格莱骑着马从街上过来。这新来的两位绅士看见人堆里有这几位小姐,便连忙来到她们跟前,照常寒喧了一番,带头说话的是彬格莱,他大部分的话都是对班纳特小姐说的。他说他正要赶到浪博恩去拜访她。达西证明他没有撒谎,同时鞠了个躬。达西正打算把眼睛从伊丽莎白身上移开,这时突然看到了那个陌生人。只见他们两人面面相觑,大惊失色,伊丽莎白看到这个邂逅相遇的场合,觉得很是惊奇。两个人都变了脸色,一个惨白,一个通红,过了一会儿,韦翰先生按了按帽子,达西先生勉强回了一下礼。这是什么意思呢?既叫人无从想象,又叫人不能不想去打听一下。又过了一会儿,彬格莱先生若无其事地跟她们告别了,骑着马跟他朋友管自走了。

丹呢先生和韦翰先生陪着几位年轻的小姐,走到腓力普家门口,丽迪雅小姐硬要他们进去,甚至腓力普太太也打开了窗户,大声地帮着她邀请,他们却鞠了个躬告辞而去。

腓力普太太一向喜欢看到她的侄女们,那大的两个新近不常见面,因此特别受欢迎。她恳切地说。她们姐妹俩突然回家来,真叫她非常惊奇,要不是碰巧在街上遇到钟斯医生的药铺子里那个跑街的小伙子告诉她,说是班纳特家的两位小姐都已回家了呢,这是因为她们家里没有打发马车去接她们的缘故,正当她们这样闲谈的时候,吉英向她介绍柯林斯先生,她不得不跟他寒喧几句,她极其客气地表示欢迎他,他也加倍客气地应酬她而且向她道歉,说是素昧生平,不该这么冒冒失失闯到她府上来,又说他毕竟还是非常高兴,因为介绍他的那几位年轻小姐和他还有些亲戚关系,因此他的冒昧前来也还勉强说得过去。这种过分的礼貌使腓力普太太受宠若惊。不过,正当她仔细量着这一位生客的时候,她们姐妹俩却又把另一位生客的事情,大惊小怪地提出来向她问长问短,她只得又来回答她们的话,可是她能够说给侄女儿们听的,也无非是她们早已知道了的一些情形。她说那位生客是丹尼先生刚从伦敦带来的,他将要在某某郡担任起一个中尉的职责,又说,他刚刚在街上走来走去的时候,她曾经对他望了整整一个钟头之久。这时如果韦翰先生从这儿经过,吉蒂和丽迪雅一定还要继续张望他一番;可惜现在除了几位军官之外,根本没有人从窗口走过,而这些军官们同韦翰先生一比较,都变成一些“愚蠢讨厌的家伙”了。有几个军官明天要上腓力普家里来吃饭。姨母说,倘若她们一家人明天晚上能从浪博恩赶来,那么她就要打发她的丈夫去拜访韦翰先生一次,约他也来。大家都同意了;腓力普太太说,明天要给她们来一次热闹而有趣的抓彩票的玩艺儿,玩过之后再吃一顿晚饭。想到了明天这一场欢乐真叫人兴奋,因此大家分别的时候都很快乐。柯林斯先生走出门来,又再三道谢,主人也礼貌周全地请他不必过分客气。

回家的时候,伊丽莎白一路上把刚刚亲眼看见的那两位先生之间的一幕情景说给吉英听。假使他们两人之间真有什么宿怨,吉英一定要为他们两人中间的一人辩护,或是为两人辩护,只可惜她跟她妹妹一样,对于这两个人的事情完全摸不着头脑。

柯林斯先生回来之后,大大称赞腓力普太太的殷勤好客,班纳特太太听得很满意。柯林斯说,除了咖苔琳夫人母女之外,他生平从来没见过更风雅的女人,因为他虽然和她素昧生平,她却对他礼貌周全,甚至还指明要请他明天一同去吃晚饭。他想,这件事多少应该归功于他和她们的亲戚关系。可是这样殷勤好客的事,他还是生平第一次碰到呢。



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