Miss Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of her successful love; for Mr. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Jonathan open the door and with quick step pass him towards the staircase, than he entered the breakfast-room, and congratulated both her and himself in warm terms on the happy prospect of their nearer connexion. Miss Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the result of which she trusted she had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which her cousin had stedfastly given her would naturally flow from his bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of his character.
This information, however, startled Mr. Bennet; he would have been glad to be equally satisfied that his son had meant to encourage her by protesting against her proposals, but he dared not to believe it, and could not help saying so.
“But depend upon it, Miss Collins,” he added, “that Johnny shall be brought to reason. I will speak to him about it myself directly. He is a very headstrong, foolish boy, and does not know his own interest; but I will make him know it.”
“Pardon me for interrupting you, sir,” cried Miss Collins; “but if he is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether he would altogether be a very desirable husband to a woman in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state. If, therefore, he actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force him into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, he could not contribute much to my felicity.”
“Ma’am, you quite misunderstand me,” said Mr. Bennet, alarmed. “Johnny is only headstrong in such matters as these. In everything else he is as good-natured a boy as ever lived. I will go directly to Mrs. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with him, I am sure.”
He would not give her time to reply, but hurrying instantly to his wife, called out as he entered the library. “Oh! Mrs. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Johnny marry Miss Collins, for he vows he will not have her, and if you do not make haste she will change her mind and not have him.”
Mrs. Bennet raised her eyes from her book as he entered, and fixed them on his face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by his communication.
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you,” said she, when he had finished his speech. “Of what are you talking?”
“Of Miss Collins and Johnny. Johnny declares he will not have Miss Collins, and Miss Collins begins to say that she will not have Johnny.”
“And what am I to do on the occasion?—It seems an hopeless business.”
“Speak to Johnny about it yourself. Tell him that you insist upon his marrying her.”
“Let him be called down. He shall hear my opinion.”
Mr. Bennet rang the bell, and Mr. Jonathan was summoned to the library.
“Come here, child,” cried his mother as he appeared. “I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Miss Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?” Jonathan replied that it was. “Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?”
“I have, ma’am.”
“Very well. We now come to the point. Your father insists upon your accepting it. Is not it so Mr. Bennet?”
“Yes, or I will never see him again.”
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Jonathan. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your father will never see you again if you do not marry Miss Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Jonathan could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning; but Mr. Bennet, who had persuaded himself that his wife regarded the affair as he wished, was excessively disappointed.
“What do you mean, Mrs. Bennet, by talking in this way? You promised me to insist upon his marrying her.”
“My dear,” replied his wife, “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 his disappointment in his wife, did Mr. Bennet give up the point. He talked to Jonathan again and again; coaxed and threatened him by turns. He endeavoured to secure Luke in his interest; but Luke, with all possible mildness, declined interfering; and Jonathan, sometimes with real earnestness, and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied to his attacks. Though his manner varied, however, his determination never did.
Miss Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had passed. She thought too well of herself to comprehend on what motive her cousin could refuse her; and though her pride was hurt, she suffered in no other way. Her regard for him was quite imaginary; and the possibility of his deserving his father’s reproach prevented her feeling any regret.
While the family were in this confusion, Christopher Lucas came to spend the day with them. He was met in the vestibule by Nicholas, who, flying to him, 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?—Miss Collins has made an offer to Johnny, and he will not have her.”
Christopher had hardly time to answer before they were joined by Willie, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had they entered the breakfast-room, where Mr. Bennet was alone, than he likewise began on the subject, calling on Mr. Lucas for his compassion, and entreating him to persuade his friend Johnny to comply with the wishes of all her family. “Pray do, my dear Mr. Lucas,” he 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.”
Christopher’s reply was spared by the entrance of Luke and Jonathan.
“Ay, there he comes,” continued Mr. Bennet, “looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided he can have his own way. But I tell you what, Mr. Johnny—if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a wife at all—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your mother 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.”
His sons listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that any attempt to reason with or sooth him would only increase the irritation. He talked on, therefore, without interruption from any of them, till they were joined by Miss Collins, who entered with an air more stately than usual, and on perceiving whom, he said to the boys, “Now, I do insist upon it, that you, all of you hold your tongues, and let Miss Collins and me have a little conversation together.”
Jonathan passed quietly out of the room, Luke and Willie followed, but Nicholas stood his ground, determined to hear all he could; and Christopher, detained first by the civility of Miss Collins, whose inquiries after himself and all his family were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied himself with walking to the window and pretending not to hear. In a doleful voice Mr. Bennet thus began the projected conversation:—“Oh! Miss Collins!”
“My dear sir,” replied she, “let us be for ever silent on this point. Far be it from me,” she presently continued, in a voice that marked her displeasure, “to resent the behavior of your son. Resignation to inevitable evils is the duty of us all; the peculiar duty of a young woman 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 his 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 shewing any disrespect to your family, my dear sir, by thus withdrawing my pretensions to your son’s favour, without having paid yourself and Mrs. Bennet the 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 son’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.”