FictionForest

Chapter 23

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

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Elizabeth was sitting with her mother
and sisters, reflecting on what she had heard, and
doubting whether she was authorised to mention it,
when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by his
daughter, to announce her engagement to the family. 
With many compliments to them, and much self-gratulation
on the prospect of a connection between the houses,
he unfolded the matter ­to an audience not
merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mrs. Bennet,
with more perseverance than politeness, protested
he must be entirely mistaken; and Lydia, always unguarded
and often uncivil, boisterously exclaimed: 

“Good Lord!  Sir William,
how can you tell such a story?  Do not you know
that Mr. Collins wants to marry Lizzy?”

Nothing less than the complaisance
of a courtier could have borne without anger such
treatment; but Sir William’s good breeding carried
him through it all; and though he begged leave to be
positive as to the truth of his information, he listened
to all their impertinence with the most forbearing
courtesy.

Elizabeth, feeling it incumbent on
her to relieve him from so unpleasant a situation,
now put herself forward to confirm his account, by
mentioning her prior knowledge of it from Charlotte
herself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations
of her mother and sisters by the earnestness of her
congratulations to Sir William, in which she was readily
joined by Jane, and by making a variety of remarks
on the happiness that might be expected from the match,
the excellent character of Mr. Collins, and the convenient
distance of Hunsford from London.

Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered
to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but
no sooner had he left them than her feelings found
a rapid vent.  In the first place, she persisted
in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly,
she was very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken
in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be
happy together; and fourthly, that the match might
be broken off.  Two inferences, however, were
plainly deduced from the whole:  one, that Elizabeth
was the real cause of the mischief; and the other that
she herself had been barbarously misused by them all;
and on these two points she principally dwelt during
the rest of the day.  Nothing could console and
nothing could appease her.  Nor did that day wear
out her resentment.  A week elapsed before she
could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month
passed away before she could speak to Sir William
or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were
gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.

Mr. Bennet’s emotions were much
more tranquil on the occasion, and such as he did
experience he pronounced to be of a most agreeable
sort; for it gratified him, he said, to discover that
Charlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerably
sensible, was as foolish as his wife, and more foolish
than his daughter!

Jane confessed herself a little surprised
at the match; but she said less of her astonishment
than of her earnest desire for their happiness; nor
could Elizabeth persuade her to consider it as improbable. 
Kitty and Lydia were far from envying Miss Lucas,
for Mr. Collins was only a clergyman; and it affected
them in no other way than as a piece of news to spread
at Meryton.

Lady Lucas could not be insensible
of triumph on being able to retort on Mrs. Bennet
the comfort of having a daughter well married; and
she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual
to say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet’s
sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been
enough to drive happiness away.

Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there
was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on
the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no
real confidence could ever subsist between them again. 
Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn with
fonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and
delicacy she was sure her opinion could never be shaken,
and for whose happiness she grew daily more anxious,
as Bingley had now been gone a week and nothing more
was heard of his return.

Jane had sent Caroline an early answer
to her letter, and was counting the days till she
might reasonably hope to hear again.  The promised
letter of thanks from Mr. Collins arrived on Tuesday,
addressed to their father, and written with all the
solemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth’s
abode in the family might have prompted.  After
discharging his conscience on that head, he proceeded
to inform them, with many rapturous expressions, of
his happiness in having obtained the affection of
their amiable neighbour, Miss Lucas, and then explained
that it was merely with the view of enjoying her society
that he had been so ready to close with their kind
wish of seeing him again at Longbourn, whither he
hoped to be able to return on Monday fortnight; for
Lady Catherine, he added, so heartily approved his
marriage, that she wished it to take place as soon
as possible, which he trusted would be an unanswerable
argument with his amiable Charlotte to name an early
day for making him the happiest of men.

Mr. Collins’s return into Hertfordshire
was no longer a matter of pleasure to Mrs. Bennet. 
On the contrary, she was as much disposed to complain
of it as her husband.  It was very strange that
he should come to Longbourn instead of to Lucas Lodge;
it was also very inconvenient and exceedingly troublesome. 
She hated having visitors in the house while her health
was so indifferent, and lovers were of all people the
most disagreeable.  Such were the gentle murmurs
of Mrs. Bennet, and they gave way only to the greater
distress of Mr. Bingley’s continued absence.

Neither Jane nor Elizabeth were comfortable
on this subject.  Day after day passed away without
bringing any other tidings of him than the report
which shortly prevailed in Meryton of his coming no
more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report which
highly incensed Mrs. Bennet, and which she never failed
to contradict as a most scandalous falsehood.

Even Elizabeth began to fear ­not
that Bingley was indifferent ­but that his
sisters would be successful in keeping him away. 
Unwilling as she was to admit an idea so destructive
of Jane’s happiness, and so dishonorable to
the stability of her lover, she could not prevent its
frequently occurring.  The united efforts of his
two unfeeling sisters and of his overpowering friend,
assisted by the attractions of Miss Darcy and the
amusements of London might be too much, she feared,
for the strength of his attachment.

As for Jane, her anxiety under
this suspense was, of course, more painful than Elizabeth’s,
but whatever she felt she was desirous of concealing,
and between herself and Elizabeth, therefore, the subject
was never alluded to.  But as no such delicacy
restrained her mother, an hour seldom passed in which
she did not talk of Bingley, express her impatience
for his arrival, or even require Jane to confess that
if he did not come back she would think herself very
ill used.  It needed all Jane’s steady mildness
to bear these attacks with tolerable tranquillity.

Mr. Collins returned most punctually
on Monday fortnight, but his reception at Longbourn
was not quite so gracious as it had been on his first
introduction.  He was too happy, however, to need
much attention; and luckily for the others, the business
of love-making relieved them from a great deal of
his company.  The chief of every day was spent
by him at Lucas Lodge, and he sometimes returned to
Longbourn only in time to make an apology for his
absence before the family went to bed.

Mrs. Bennet was really in a most pitiable
state.  The very mention of anything concerning
the match threw her into an agony of ill-humour, and
wherever she went she was sure of hearing it talked
of.  The sight of Miss Lucas was odious to her. 
As her successor in that house, she regarded her with
jealous abhorrence.  Whenever Charlotte came to
see them, she concluded her to be anticipating the
hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low
voice to Mr. Collins, was convinced that they were
talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn
herself and her daughters out of the house, as soon
as Mr. Bennet were dead.  She complained bitterly
of all this to her husband.

“Indeed, Mr. Bennet,”
said she, “it is very hard to think that Charlotte
Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I
should be forced to make way for her, and live
to see her take her place in it!”

“My dear, do not give way to
such gloomy thoughts.  Let us hope for better
things.  Let us flatter ourselves that I may be
the survivor.”

This was not very consoling to Mrs.
Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer,
she went on as before.

“I cannot bear to think that
they should have all this estate.  If it was not
for the entail, I should not mind it.”

“What should not you mind?”

“I should not mind anything at all.”

“Let us be thankful that you
are preserved from a state of such insensibility.”

“I never can be thankful, Mr.
Bennet, for anything about the entail.  How anyone
could have the conscience to entail away an estate
from one’s own daughters, I cannot understand;
and all for the sake of Mr. Collins too!  Why
should he have it more than anybody else?”

“I leave it to yourself to determine,”
said Mr. Bennet.

 

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