Mr. Bennet reposed in his library after breakfast, his feet propped up on a stool and a highly enjoyable book before his nose. With the most troublesome of his daughters permanently gone from the house and the most angelic one advantageously engaged, he had little left to wish for but that the peace of his household might last. He did not expect it to, however. Just as the little tyrant across the channel could not seem to behave himself for long, so too his own wife and at least one of his offspring were bound to soon involve him in another round of hostilities.
But the interruption that particular morning came from an entirely different source, and one not at all unwelcome. It was a letter – a letter from his cousin Mr. Collins.
In the months since the renewal of their acquaintance, Mr. Bennet had come to regard Mr. Collins’s correspondence as a priceless source of amusement. He would by no means have given up the association on any grounds less consequential than the impediment that death itself would have constituted. So Mr. Bennet tossed his book aside; the newly arrived missive promised the finer entertainment.
The absurdity of the letter’s style – all affected humility and artificially formal language – was just what Mr. Bennet had come to expect. But the content was far beyond anything he had imagined.
It began predictably enough with an extravagant discourse in congratulation of the approaching nuptials of Mr. Bennet’s eldest daughter.
…You may be assured, my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins and I send our very sincere felicitations to my cousin Jane and to you, her honored parent. What a triumph for you all – especially after that most regrettable affair with your youngest daughter – that your fortunes are so quickly on the rise again. I must confess that it has astonished me exceedingly. The thing speaks in credit to Mr. Bingley, I suppose, that he is so generous as to overlook what many certainly could not have – that is, your family’s fatally tainted circumstances. He must be a gentleman of true worth, as well as being one of greater consequence than my cousin had any cause to hope for. I am sure you are all to be heartily congratulated on forming such a favorable alliance.
From these flattering and solicitous remarks, Mr. Collins moved on to his real purpose for writing, and to what was for Mr. Bennet the truly diverting portion of the letter. It seemed that the pompous clergyman had got it into his head that Mr. Darcy was violently in love with Elizabeth and meant to make her an offer.
Had Mr. Collins canvassed the whole world, he could not have hit upon a more ridiculous notion and a less plausible suitor for Mr. Bennet’s favorite daughter. That Lizzy should be the romantic object of that proud, disagreeable man stretched the limits of credulity. Lizzy, who had been so outspoken in her pointed dislike of the man! Surely her true sentiments could not have escaped anybody’s notice. Regardless of his high opinion of himself, Mr. Darcy could not be such a fool as to contemplate approaching her.
Mr. Bennet chuckled as he pictured the scene that might ensue if the man ever tried. No doubt his high-spirited daughter would make quick work of poor Mr. Darcy. She would probably hiss like an incensed feline at his first avowal of affection, and threaten to scratch his eyes out if he ventured anywhere nearer the question than that. It would certainly be a sight to behold, one Mr. Bennet would give a tidy sum to witness for himself.
The rest of the letter was pure Mr. Collins – his obsequious attentions to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s opinions in the matter (she disapproved, not surprisingly), his not-so-subtle hints of what was due that lady’s opinion, and his intended kindness in warning the Bennets against crossing her. Then there was the bit about Charlotte’s interesting situation, the expected young “olive-branch,” which struck Mr. Bennet as being in poor taste to mention.
Finally Mr. Bennet could no longer keep these overpowering temptations to mirth for himself alone, not when his daughter would likewise appreciate the absurdities involved. Leaving the sanctuary of his library, Mr. Bennet ran straight into the person he sought.
“Lizzy,” said he, “I was going to look for you; come into my room…”
by Shannon Winslow, author of The Darcys of Pemberley and Mr. Collins’s Last Supper