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Chapter 20

Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his
successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the
vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw
Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards
the staircase, than she entered the breakfast-room, and
congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy
prospect or their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received and
returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then
proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the
result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied,
since the refusal which his cousin had steadfastly given him
would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine
delicacy of her character.

This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; she would
have been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter had
meant to encourage him by protesting against his proposals, but
she dared not believe it, and could not help saying so.

"But, depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall
be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She
is a very headstrong, foolish girl, and does not know her own
interest but I will MAKE her know it."

"Pardon me for interrupting you, madam," cried Mr. Collins;
"but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether
she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my
situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage
state. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit,
perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me,
because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not
contribute much to my felicity."

"Sir, you quite misunderstand me," said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed.
"Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everything
else she is as good-natured a girl as ever lived. I will go directly
to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her, I am
sure."

She would not give him time to reply, but hurrying instantly to
her husband, called out as she entered the library, "Oh! Mr.
Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar.
You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows
she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will
change his mind and not have HER."

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and
fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in
the least altered by her communication.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when
she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr.
Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have
Lizzy."

"And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems an hopeless
business."

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon
her marrying him."

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to
the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have
sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr.
Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth
replied that it was. "Very well-- and this offer of marriage you
have refused?"

"I have, sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists
upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day
you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will
never see you again if you do NOT marry Mr. Collins, and I will
never see you again if you DO."

Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a
beginning, but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her
husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively
disappointed.

"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, in talking this way? You
promised me to INSIST upon her marrying him."

"My dear," replied her husband, "I have two small favours to
request. First, that you will allow me the free use of my
understanding on the present occasion; and secondly, of my
room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as
may be."

Not yet, however, in spite of her disappointment in her husband,
did Mrs. Bennet give up the point. She talked to Elizabeth again
and again; coaxed and threatened her by turns. She endeavoured
to secure Jane in her interest; but Jane, with all possible
mildness, declined interfering; and Elizabeth, sometimes with
real earnestness, and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied to
her attacks. Though her manner varied, however, her
determination never did.

Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had
passed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on what
motives his cousin could refuse him; and though his pride was
hurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quite
imaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother's
reproach prevented his feeling any regret.

While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came to
spend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia,
who, flying to her, cried in a half whisper, "I am glad you are
come, for there is such fun here! What do you think has
happened this morning? Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy,
and she will not have him."

Charlotte hardly had time to answer, before they were joined by
Kitty, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had they
entered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, than
she likewise began on the subject, calling on Miss Lucas for her
compassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy to
comply with the wishes of all her family. "Pray do, my dear
Miss Lucas," she added in a melancholy tone, "for nobody is on
my side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobody
feels for my poor nerves."

Charlotte's reply was spared by the entrance of Jane and
Elizabeth.

"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking as
unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we
were at York, provided she can have her own way. But I tell
you, Miss Lizzy-- if you take it into your head to go on refusing
every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband
at all-- and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you
when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you--
and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I
told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to
you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no
pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much
pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I
do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for
talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so.
Those who do not complain are never pitied."

Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that
any attempt to reason with her or soothe her would only
increase the irritation. She talked on, therefore, without
interruption from any of them, till they were joined by Mr.
Collins, who entered the room with an air more stately than
usual, and on perceiving whom, she said to the girls, "Now, I do
insist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your tongues, and let me
and Mr. Collins have a little conversation together."

Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty
followed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all she
could; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins,
whose inquiries after herself and all her family were very minute,
and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking to the
window and pretending not to hear. In a doleful voice Mrs.
Bennet began the projected conversation: "Oh! Mr. Collins!"

"My dear madam, " replied he, "let us be for ever silent on this
point. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice that
marked his displeasure, "to resent the behaviour of your daughter.
Resignation to inevitable evils is the evil duty of us all; the
peculiar duty of a young man who has been so fortunate as I
have been in early preferment; and I trust I am resigned.
Perhaps not the less so from feeling a doubt of my positive
happiness had my fair cousin honoured me with her hand; for I
have often observed that resignation is never so perfect as when
the blessing denied begins to lose somewhat of its value in our
estimation. You will not, I hope, consider me as showing any
disrespect to your family, my dear madam, by thus withdrawing
my pretensions to your daughter's favour, without having paid
yourself and Mr. Bennet to compliment of requesting you to
interpose your authority in my behalf. My conduct may, I fear,
be objectionable in having accepted my dismission from your
daughter's lips instead of your own. But we are all liable to
error. I have certainly meant well through the whole affair. My
object has been to secure an amiable companion for myself, with
due consideration for the advantage of all your family, and if my
MANNER has been at all reprehensible, I here beg leave to
apologise."





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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