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Chapter 23

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 her
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 is 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.





Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Category:
General Fiction

Social life and customs - 19th century
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