FictionForest

Chapter 22

Jane AustenAug 15, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The Bennets were engaged to dine with
the Lucases and again during the chief of the day
was Miss Lucas so kind as to listen to Mr. Collins. 
Elizabeth took an opportunity of thanking her. 
“It keeps him in good humour,” said she,
“and I am more obliged to you than I can express.” 
Charlotte assured her friend of her satisfaction in
being useful, and that it amply repaid her for the
little sacrifice of her time.  This was very amiable,
but Charlotte’s kindness extended farther than
Elizabeth had any conception of; its object was nothing
else than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins’s
addresses, by engaging them towards herself. 
Such was Miss Lucas’s scheme; and appearances
were so favourable, that when they parted at night,
she would have felt almost secure of success if he
had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. 
But here she did injustice to the fire and independence
of his character, for it led him to escape out of
Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness,
and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her
feet.  He was anxious to avoid the notice of his
cousins, from a conviction that if they saw him depart,
they could not fail to conjecture his design, and
he was not willing to have the attempt known till
its success might be known likewise; for though feeling
almost secure, and with reason, for Charlotte had
been tolerably encouraging, he was comparatively diffident
since the adventure of Wednesday.  His reception,
however, was of the most flattering kind.  Miss
Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked
towards the house, and instantly set out to meet him
accidentally in the lane.  But little had she
dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited
her there.

In as short a time as Mr. Collins’s
long speeches would allow, everything was settled
between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they
entered the house he earnestly entreated her to name
the day that was to make him the happiest of men;
and though such a solicitation must be waived for
the present, the lady felt no inclination to trifle
with his happiness.  The stupidity with which
he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship
from any charm that could make a woman wish for its
continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely
from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment,
cared not how soon that establishment were gained.

Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily
applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed
with a most joyful alacrity.  Mr. Collins’s
present circumstances made it a most eligible match
for their daughter, to whom they could give little
fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly
fair.  Lady Lucas began directly to calculate,
with more interest than the matter had ever excited
before, how many years longer Mr. Bennet was likely
to live; and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion,
that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of
the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient
that both he and his wife should make their appearance
at St. James’s.  The whole family, in short,
were properly overjoyed on the occasion.  The younger
girls formed hopes of coming out a year or
two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and
the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s
dying an old maid.  Charlotte herself was tolerably
composed.  She had gained her point, and had time
to consider of it.  Her reflections were in general
satisfactory.  Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither
sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and
his attachment to her must be imaginary.  But
still he would be her husband.  Without thinking
highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always
been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated
young women of small fortune, and however uncertain
of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative
from want.  This preservative she had now obtained;
and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever
been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. 
The least agreeable circumstance in the business was
the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet,
whose friendship she valued beyond that of any other
person.  Elizabeth would wonder, and probably
would blame her; and though her resolution was not
to be shaken, her feelings must be hurt by such a
disapprobation.  She resolved to give her the
information herself, and therefore charged Mr. Collins,
when he returned to Longbourn to dinner, to drop no
hint of what had passed before any of the family. 
A promise of secrecy was of course very dutifully
given, but it could not be kept without difficulty;
for the curiosity excited by his long absence burst
forth in such very direct questions on his return
as required some ingenuity to evade, and he was at
the same time exercising great self-denial, for he
was longing to publish his prosperous love.

As he was to begin his journey too
early on the morrow to see any of the family, the
ceremony of leave-taking was performed when the ladies
moved for the night; and Mrs. Bennet, with great politeness
and cordiality, said how happy they should be to see
him at Longbourn again, whenever his engagements might
allow him to visit them.

“My dear madam,” he replied,
“this invitation is particularly gratifying,
because it is what I have been hoping to receive; and
you may be very certain that I shall avail myself of
it as soon as possible.”

They were all astonished; and Mr.
Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a
return, immediately said: 

“But is there not danger of
Lady Catherine’s disapprobation here, my good
sir?  You had better neglect your relations than
run the risk of offending your patroness.”

“My dear sir,” replied
Mr. Collins, “I am particularly obliged to you
for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon
my not taking so material a step without her ladyship’s
concurrence.”

“You cannot be too much upon
your guard.  Risk anything rather than her displeasure;
and if you find it likely to be raised by your coming
to us again, which I should think exceedingly probable,
stay quietly at home, and be satisfied that we
shall take no offence.”

“Believe me, my dear sir, my
gratitude is warmly excited by such affectionate attention;
and depend upon it, you will speedily receive from
me a letter of thanks for this, and for every other
mark of your regard during my stay in Hertfordshire. 
As for my fair cousins, though my absence may not
be long enough to render it necessary, I shall now
take the liberty of wishing them health and happiness,
not excepting my cousin Elizabeth.”

With proper civilities the ladies
then withdrew; all of them equally surprised that
he meditated a quick return.  Mrs. Bennet wished
to understand by it that he thought of paying his
addresses to one of her younger girls, and Mary might
have been prevailed on to accept him.  She rated
his abilities much higher than any of the others; there
was a solidity in his reflections which often struck
her, and though by no means so clever as herself,
she thought that if encouraged to read and improve
himself by such an example as hers, he might become
a very agreeable companion.  But on the following
morning, every hope of this kind was done away. 
Miss Lucas called soon after breakfast, and in a private
conference with Elizabeth related the event of the
day before.

The possibility of Mr. Collins’s
fancying himself in love with her friend had once
occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but
that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as
far from possibility as she could encourage him herself,
and her astonishment was consequently so great as
to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she
could not help crying out: 

“Engaged to Mr. Collins!  My dear Charlotte ­impossible!”

The steady countenance which Miss
Lucas had commanded in telling her story, gave way
to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct
a reproach; though, as it was no more than she expected,
she soon regained her composure, and calmly replied: 

“Why should you be surprised,
my dear Eliza?  Do you think it incredible that
Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s
good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed
with you?”

But Elizabeth had now recollected
herself, and making a strong effort for it, was able
to assure with tolerable firmness that the prospect
of their relationship was highly grateful to her,
and that she wished her all imaginable happiness.

“I see what you are feeling,”
replied Charlotte.  “You must be surprised,
very much surprised ­so lately as Mr. Collins
was wishing to marry you.  But when you have had
time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied
with what I have done.  I am not romantic, you
know; I never was.  I ask only a comfortable home;
and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection,
and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance
of happiness with him is as fair as most people can
boast on entering the marriage state.”

Elizabeth quietly answered “Undoubtedly;”
and after an awkward pause, they returned to the rest
of the family.  Charlotte did not stay much longer,
and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she
had heard.  It was a long time before she became
at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. 
The strangeness of Mr. Collins’s making two offers
of marriage within three days was nothing in comparison
of his being now accepted.  She had always felt
that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not
exactly like her own, but she had not supposed it to
be possible that, when called into action, she would
have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. 
Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating
picture!  And to the pang of a friend disgracing
herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing
conviction that it was impossible for that friend
to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

 

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