The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Miss Collins made her declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without loss of time, as her leave of absence extended only to the following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to herself even at the moment, she set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observances which she supposed a regular part of the business. On finding Mr. Bennet, Jonathan, and one of the younger boys together, soon after breakfast, she addressed the father in these words: “May I hope, sir, for your interest with your fair son Jonathan, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience with him in the course of the morning?”
Before Jonathan had time for anything but a blush of surprise, Mr. Bennet instantly answered, “Oh dear! Yes—certainly. I am sure Johnny will be very happy—I am sure he can have no objection. Come, Willie, I want you up stairs.” And gathering his work together, he was hastening away, when Jonathan called out—
“Dear sir, do not go. I beg you will not go. Miss Collins must excuse me. She can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.”
“No, no, nonsense, Johnny. I desire you will stay where you are.” And upon Jonathan’s seeming really, with vexed and embarrassed looks, about to escape, he added, “Johnny, I insist upon your staying and hearing Miss Collins.”
Jonathan would not oppose such an injunction—and a moment’s consideration making him also sensible that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, he sat down again, and tried to conceal, by incessant employment, the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion. Mr. Bennet and Willie walked off, and as soon as they were gone Miss Collins began.
“Believe me, my dear Mr. Jonathan, 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 father’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 way with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertforshire with the design of selecting a husband, as I certainly did.”
The idea of Miss Collins, with all her solemn composure, being run away with by her feelings, made Jonathan so near laughing that he could not use the short pause she allowed in any attempt to stop her farther, and she continued—
“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergywoman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in her parish; secondly, that I am convinced 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 gentleman whom I have the honour of calling patron. Twice has he condescended to give me his opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mr. Jenkinson was arranging young Mr. de Bourgh’s footstool—that he said, ‘ Miss Collins, you must marry. A clergywoman like you must marry.—Chuse properly, chuse a gentleman for my sake; and for your own, let him 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 man as soon as you can, bring him to Hunsford, and I will visit him.’ Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Sir Edmund de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find his manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to him, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which his rank will inevitably excite. Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony; it remains to be told why my views were directed to Longbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where, I assure you, there are many amiable young men. But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured mother (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to chuse a husband from among her sons, 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 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 mother, 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 you father’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 her now.
“You are too hasty, ma’am,” he cried. “You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without farther 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 decline them.”
“I am not now to learn,” replied Miss Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young gentlemen to reject the addresses of the woman whom they secretly mean to accept, when she 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, ma’am,” cried Jonathan, “your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young gentlemen (if such young gentlemen 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 man in the world who would make you so. Nay, were your friend Sir Edmund to know me, I am persuaded he would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”
“Were it certain that Sir Edmund would think so,” said Miss Collins very gravely—“but I cannot imagine that his lordship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing him again, I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualifications.’
“Indeed, Miss 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 your 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 he thus spoke, he would have quitted the room, had not Miss Collins thus addressed him—
“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this 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 woman 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 male character.”
“Really, Miss Collins,” cried Jonathan 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 may 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 farther 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 chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant males.”
“I do assure you, ma’am, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable woman. 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 male, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from his heart.”
“You are uniformly charming!” cried she, 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 willful self-deception Jonathan would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; determined, if she persisted in considering his repeated refusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to his mother, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as must be decisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant male.