Chapter 22

The Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases, and again during the chief of the day, was Mr. Lucas so kind as to listen to Miss Collins. Jonathan took an opportunity of thanking him. “It keeps her in good humour,” said he, “and I am more obliged to you than I can express.” Christopher assured his friend of his satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid him for the little sacrifice of his time. This was very amiable, but Christopher’s kindness extended farther than Jonathan had any conception of;—its object was nothing else than to secure him from any return of Miss Collins’s addresses, by engaging them towards himself. Such was Mr. Lucas’s scheme; and appearances were so favourable, that when they parted at night he would have felt almost sure of success if she had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here he did injustice to the fire and independence of her character, for it led her to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw herself at his feet. She was anxious to avoid the notice of her cousins, from a conviction that if they saw her depart, they could not fail to conjecture her design, and she was not willing to have the attempt known till its success could be known likewise; for though feeling almost secure, and with reason, for Christopher had been tolerably encouraging, she was comparatively diffident since the adventure of Wednesday. Her reception, however, was of the most flattering kind. Mr. Lucas perceived her from an upper window as she walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meet her accidentally in the lane. But little had he dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited him there.

In as short a time as Miss Collins’s long speeches would allow, everything was settled between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they entered the house she earnestly entreated him to name the day that was to make her the happiest of women; and though such a solicitation must be waved for the present, the gentleman felt no inclination to trifle with her happiness. The stupidity with which she was favoured by nature must guard her courtship from any charm that could make a man wish for its continuance; and Mr. Lucas, who accepted her solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.

Lady Anne and Sir Henry were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Miss Collins’s present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their son, to whom they could give little fortune; and her prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Sir Henry began directly to calculate, with more interest than the matter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mrs. Bennet was likely to live; and Lady Anne gave it as her decided opinion that, whenever Miss Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both she and her husband should make their appearance at St. James’s. The whole family, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger boys formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the girls were relieved from their apprehension of Christopher’s dying an old bachelor. Christopher himself was tolerably composed. He had gained his point, and had time to consider of it. His reflections were in general satisfactory. Miss Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; her society was irksome, and her attachment to him must be imaginary. But still she would be his wife. Without thinking highly either of women or of matrimony, marriage had always been his object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young men of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative he had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, he felt all the good luck of it. The least agreeable circumstance in the business was the surprise it must occasion to Jonathan Bennet, whose friendship he valued beyond that of any other person. Jonathan would wonder, and probably would blame him; and though his resolution was not to be shaken, his feelings must be hurt by such disapprobation. He resolved to give him the information himself, and therefore charged Miss Collins, when she 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 her long absence burst forth in such very direct questions on her return as required some ingenuity to evade, and she was at the same time exercising great self-denial, for she was longing to publish her prosperous love.

As she was to begin her journey too early on the morrow to see any of the family, the ceremony of leavetaking was performed when the gentlemen moved for the night; and Mr. Bennet, with great politeness and cordiality, said how happy they should be to see her at Longbourn again, whenever her other engagements might allow her to visit them.

“My dear sir,” she 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 Mrs. Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a return, immediately said—

“But is there not danger of Sir Edmund’s disapprobation here, my good ma’am? You had better neglect your relations than run the risk of offending your patron.”

“My dear lady,” replied Miss Collins, “I am particularly obliged to you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my not taking so material a step without his lordship’s concurrence.”

“You cannot be too much on your guard. Risk anything rather than his 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 lady, 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, as well as 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 Jonathan.”

With proper civilities the gentlemen then withdrew; all of them equally surprised to find that she meditated a quick return. Mr. Bennet wished to understand by it that she thought of paying her addresses to one of his younger boys, and Frances might have been prevailed on to accept her. He rated her abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in her reflections which often struck him, and though by no means so clever as himself, he thought that if encouraged to read and improve herself by such an example as his, she might become a very agreeable companion. But on the following morning, every hope of this kind was done away. Mr. Lucas called soon after breakfast, and in a private conference with Jonathan related the event of the day before.

The possibility of Miss Collins’s fancying herself in love with his friend had once occurred to Jonathan within the last day or two; but that Christopher could encourage her seemed almost as far from possibility as that he could encourage her himself, and his astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and he could not help crying out—

“Engaged to Miss Collins? my dear Christopher, impossible!”

The steady countenance which Mr. Lucas had commanded in telling his story, gave way to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more than he expected, he soon regained his composure, and calmly replied—

“Why should you be surprised, my dear Johnny? Do you think it incredible that Miss Collins should be able to procure any man’s good opinion, because she was not so happy as to succeed with you?”

But Jonathan had now recollected himself, and making a strong effort for it, was able to assure him with tolerable firmness that the prospect of their relationship was highly grateful to him, and that he wished him all imaginable happiness.

“I see what you are feeling,” replied Christopher; “you must be surprised, very much surprised—so lately as Miss Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it all 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 Miss Collins’s character, connexions, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with her is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”

Jonathan quietly answered “Undoubtedly”; and after an awkward pause they returned to the rest of the family. Jonathan did not stay much longer, and Jonathan was then left to reflect on what he had heard. It was a long time before he became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Miss Collins’s making two offers of marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of her being now accepted. He had always felt that Christopher’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like his own, but he could not have supposed it possible that, when called into action, he would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Christopher the husband of Miss Collins was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing himself and sunk in his esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot he had chosen.

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