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Chapter 22

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 herself 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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