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 on your guard. Risk any thing 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, as well as 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
to find 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
her's, 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 that 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 her 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 all 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, connections, 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 could not have supposed it 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
<CHAPTER XXIII (23)>
ELIZABETH was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting on what she had
heard, and doubting whether she were 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 all the mischief; and the other, that she herself had been
barbarously used by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during
the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing 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
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 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.