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Chapter 19

The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Mr. Collins
made his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without
loss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to the
following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make
it distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about it in a
very orderly manner, with all the observances, which he
supposed a regular part of the business. On finding Mrs.
Bennet, Elizabeth, and one of the younger girls together, soon
after breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words: "May I
hope, madam, for your interest with your fair daughter
Elizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience
with her in the course of this morning?"

Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise,
Mrs. Bennet answered instantly, "Oh dear!-- yes-- certainly. I
am sure Lizzy will be very happy-- I am sure she can have no
objection, Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs." And, gathering
her work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabeth
called out:

"Dear madam, do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collins
must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody
need not hear. I am going away myself."

"No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are."
And upon Elizabeth's seeming really, with vexed and
embarrassed looks, about to escape, she added: "Lizzy, I
INSIST upon your staying and hearing Mr. Collins."

Elizabeth would not oppose such and injunction-- and a
moment's consideration making her also sensible that it would
be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat
down again and tried to conceal, by incessant employment the
feelings which were divided between distress and diversion.
Mrs. Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were
gone, Mr. Collins began.

"Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far
from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other
perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had
there NOT been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure
you, that I have your respected mother's permission for this
address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse,
however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my
attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as
soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion
of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings
on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state
my reasons for marrying-- and, moreover, for coming into
Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly
did."

The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being
run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing,
that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt
to stop him further, and he continued:

"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing
for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set
the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am
convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and
thirdly--which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it
is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble
lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has
she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this
subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left
Hunsford-- between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkins
was arranging Miss de Bourgh's footstool, that she said, 'Mr.
Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry.
Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for MY sake; and for
your OWN, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought
up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is
my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to
Hunsford, and I will visit her.' Allow me, by the way, to
observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and
kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the
advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners
beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I
think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with
the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite.
Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony; it
remains to be told why my views were directed towards
Longbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where I can
assure you there are many amiable young women. But the fact
is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of
your honoured father (who, however, may live many years
longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a
wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as
little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place-- which,
however, as I have already said, may not be for several years.
This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it
will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains but
for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the
violence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent,
and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I
am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one
thousand pounds in the four per cents, which will not be yours
till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be
entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent;
and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall
ever pass my lips when we are married."

It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.

"You are too hasty, sir," she cried. "You forget that I have
made no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time.
Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am
very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is
impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them."

"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave
of the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the
addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when
he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is
repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no
means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to
lead you to the altar ere long."

"Upon my word, sir," cried Elizabeth, "your hope is a rather
extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I
am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are)
who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of
being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal.
You could not make ME happy, and I am convinced that I am
the last woman in the world who could make you so. Nay, were
your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she
would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."

"Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so," said Mr.
Collins very gravely-- "but I cannot imagine that her ladyship
would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when I
have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the very
highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable
qualification."

"Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You
must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the
compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and
very rich, and by refusing you hand, do all in my power to
prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must
have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my
family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever
it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be
considered, therefore, as finally settled." And rising as she thus
spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collins not
thus addressed her:

"When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the
subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than
you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of
cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established
custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and
perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit
as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female
character."

"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "you
puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear
to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express
my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one."

"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that
your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My
reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to
me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the
establishment I can offer would be any other than highly
desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of
de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances
highly in my favour; and you should take it into further
consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by
no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be
made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all
likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable
qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not
serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to
your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the
usual practice of elegant females."

"I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that
kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man.
I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere.
I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in
your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My
feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not
consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you,
but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart."

"You are uniformly charming!" cried he, with an air of awkward
gallantry; "and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the
express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals
will not fail of being acceptable."

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would
make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew,
determined, that if he persisted in considering her repeated
refusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father,
whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be
decisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistaken for
the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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