You can probably guess by the picture where this chapter is heading!
Despite the exhaustion usually felt after the exertion of a ball, sleep did not claim Elizabeth until very late. Nevertheless, routine being a necessity to a country lady in such a household, she arose at her usual hour. Breakfast brought some relief and restoration, and she decided to take up work with her sister, Catherine, and her mother in the morning room while Jane and Lydia returned to rest, and Mary retired to her apartment for her morning studies. With the ladies at such tasks and the gentlemen likely as tired, she did not expect the intrusion that followed.
Mr. Collins came in just as Elizabeth and Kitty had finished discussing which colour to use next for their work. He immediately approached Mrs. Bennet. “I hope, my dear lady, that you will allow me a private audience with your fair daughter, Elizabeth.”
Mrs. Bennet immediately replied, “Oh, yes! Certainly! Lizzy shall have no objections at all, I am certain. Come, Kitty. I desire you upstairs.”
After gathering her wits, Elizabeth rose and called out to her mother and sister as they reached the door, “Mama, Mr. Collins can have nothing to say to me that others cannot hear. Indeed, I am going away myself in only a moment.”
“Nonsense!” Mrs. Bennet declared. “You will stay and hear Mr. Collins. I insist.”
Elizabeth paused long enough to consider it would be best to get the undoubtedly mortifying scene that would inevitably follow over with, and contained her astonishment that her mother thought such a command was in her power. She sat and was soon alone with Mr. Collins.
“Your modesty, Miss Elizabeth, has only added to your other perfections. Had you thought yourself so deserving for my addresses, it would have diminished your amiability in my eyes. Fear not, I have your mother’s permission and had settled upon you as the companion of my future life almost from my first entering this house. Before I continue with my feelings, however, I think I ought to explain why I have chosen to marry.”
Elizabeth listened with disbelief, astonishment, offence and finally amusement as Mr. Collins explained his patroness insisted he marry, and his decision to choose from amongst his cousins as befitting atonement for being next in line from the entailment. Even without consulting her feelings for the gentleman, Elizabeth had no choice but to refuse, and most succinctly.
His combined pride and prejudices were never more exposed than when he persisted, stating that ladies frequently refused men to inspire more affection. “I am by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long,” he said.
“I am not that sort of lady, if they exist, to risk my happiness in such a way! I am perfectly serious. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so. I am persuaded Lady Catherine would find me ill-qualified for the situation, and you would not wish to garner her displeasure.”
This gave him pause, but soon he rallied again. “I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy and other amiable qualifications.”
Growing exasperated Elizabeth stood and replied, “You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. The matter is settled.”
Before reaching the door, however, Mr. Collins addressed her again, “When we speak again, I am confident you will reply more favourably. I understand, due to the delicacy of your female mind, that you reply according to a custom most designed to encourage my suit.” He paused but before Elizabeth could speak he continued. “You are nearing cruelty in tormenting me and such actions have their rewards.”
A shiver ran up Elizabeth’s spine as she perceived his words had a menacing quality, but she remained firm.
“Really, Mr. Collins, you deceive yourself! How can what I have said be made into encouragement? If this be the case, then I can think of nothing that may convince you.”
A glint appeared in his eye as he replied. “You allow me to flatter myself, cousin. I know I am not unworthy and that my establishment is desirable to many women. My situation in life and connections with the family of de Bourgh, in addition to my relationship to your own, are all in my favour.” He stepped closer and said lowly, “You should consider that despite your attractions no other offer of marriage may come your way. Your portion is so small it diminishes your loveliness and amiable qualifications.” He met her eyes and spoke with a challenge in his voice. “I choose to attribute your rejection as wishing to increase my love, as is the practice of elegant females. You are not serious in your rejection of me.”
Although she turned red at his insinuations, that she was better suited for a man’s amusement than as his equal, her feelings became cold as his final words sounded like a threat. Her courage rose and, after taking a deep breath, replied. “I thank you again for the honour of your proposals, but my feelings forbid their acceptance. Can I speak plainer? I do not intend to plague you. I am a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.”
She opened the door just as he laughed. “How charming you are! I believe on your father’s authority my proposals will become quite acceptable.”
Elizabeth immediately quit the room, having no real fear that her father would support the match, and rather thought he could at last make Mr. Collins see reason. Evading her mother in the hallway, she returned to her room until summoned by her father.
“Come here, child,” he said as she entered the library. “I have heard you have refused Mr. Collins’ offer of marriage.”
“I have, Sir.”
“Your mother insists you accept.”
“Yes, or I will never see her again,” Mrs. Bennet interjected.
Elizabeth turned her eyes back to her father, expecting to see amusement in his eyes, but there was none.
“Allow me to speak with Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet.” With a raising of her chin in presumed victory, the lady left.
Elizabeth sat before her father, her stomach beginning to turn.
“On what grounds have you refused your cousin?”
“We have no affection for each other,” she began, disbelieving her father would even ask.
“He assures me in animated language the strength of his regard for you.”
“It is entirely imaginary; I am sure.”
“It is well you see that. A marriage should not begin with expectations of affection.”
“You have always given me reason to believe you highly regarded my sense. Our temperaments are ill-suited to each other. I find him ridiculous and could find no happiness with him, and I doubt he would with me.”
“The match is a prudent one and he would offer amusement, such as I have with your mother.”
“I find that such amusements are best enjoyed in small doses, or quickly pall; even you Sir have been keen enough to get Mr. Collins out of your book room for some peace. Moreover, a husband definitely has the upper hand in the case of any disharmony. Why, for example, I shudder to think what I should be permitted to read by him; he has already been lecturing us on what is and is not suitable for a lady to read. No life with him would be insufferable.”
“You cannot find me so unhappy,” he said it with a smile, but Elizabeth had witnessed the truth of her parents’ marriage.
“Nay, his manner was offensive throughout the proposal. He disparaged and insulted me at every turn. There would be no amusement when he grew to resent my lack of dowry or my irreverence in the face of his patroness. He can only be pleased with a woman that can flatter him.”
“Perhaps he needs only some encouragement of your esteem to be truly amiable.”
Elizabeth squeezed her hands tightly in her lap. “No, I cannot. Are you insisting?”
Mr. Bennet pulled his glasses from his face and rubbed his brow. “I ought to. It is in the best interest of your mother and sisters that one of you marry him.”
“Could not he be persuaded to offer for Mary? She is young but serious, and of a religious and moralistic bent; I believe she would likely accept his suit.” Even as she said it, she knew it would never be. Her shoulders slumped against the weight of the guilt she felt.
“I believe he is too proud to wish to connect himself with us now. As you said, he must be flattered.”
The two were silent for a moment. Before Mr. Bennet returned the glasses to his face, Elizabeth perceived how exhausted he appeared. His next words provoked extreme sentiments in her. “I understand his manner was offensive, and he is ridiculous, but I would caution you to think seriously about any further offer you receive, even if the mode is inelegant. I have raised you to consider reason over sentiment in marriage and, while temperaments and dispositions are more important than beauty or charm, you must realize that a person may change considerably in the course of a lifetime and, however, suitable they seem during courtship does not guarantee happiness. You are turning down an excellent chance at security and, as much as it pains me to remind you of my deficiencies; you are at his mercy should I die before each of you are settled.”
Perceiving her father would not welcome her silliness over the idle concern of his future demise, she kissed his cheek and left the room to inform Mr. Collins her father would speak with him.
Darcy arrived at Longbourn at the earliest possible hour for calls. Bingley had left for Town on business, and the Hursts and Miss Bingley were still abed when he left. He knew it was peculiar for him to call on the Bennets in this way, but he did need to speak with Mr. Bennet. No one could construe his coming as a means to see Elizabeth. As he walked up the path, he perceived Mr. Collins peering out a drawing room window. Upon seeing him, the parson fled, and Darcy feared he would be waylaid before even entering the house. His prediction proved too true.
“Mr. Darcy! How kind of you to call upon my humble relations and on a day after a ball! Did you rest adequately, sir?”
He was exhausted. He had barely recovered from his cold before dancing all night, he really ought to have slept more. “Of course, sir. I see you have as well.”
“Oh, yes. My room is very accommodating. I am fortunate indeed, to be the future master to such an estate.”
Darcy allowed the remark to pass. A home’s furnishings were hardly the mark of a good estate. He knew far too many who spent their fortunes on furnishings while the estate was poorly managed and failing. These same families would be in a bad way if they did not modify either their income or their spending. The man had rambled on while Darcy was in thought.
“And of course, we look forward to seeing you often at Rosings. My cousin Elizabeth will be a very gracious clergyman’s wife, I am sure.”
Darcy startled and repressed all manner of feeling. “Do I understand I am to wish you joy?” he asked tightly.
“It is not quite settled, yet. She is speaking with her father at the moment, who I feel will convince her of all the benefits of my offer.”
Darcy’s heart began to beat again as he realized Mr. Collins implied Elizabeth’s refusal.
“Mrs. Bennet did tell me Cousin Elizabeth was headstrong and foolish, but only on these matters. I confess it does worry me. Would Lady Catherine really approve of such failings in my wife?”
How could Lady Catherine’s approval matter in such a case? To have Elizabeth as a wife… He ceased his thought as he realized not too many days ago he had mentally declared Elizabeth unsuitable precisely because of Lady Catherine and those like her.
He chose his words wisely. “I do think my aunt would be displeased with a lady of such a forthright temperament. Surely if she persists in refusing, you would not wish her to come without choice to the marriage. Or perhaps she is too foolish for hope of improvement, if she cannot, as you say, see the benefits of your offer.”
A cough from the door drew their notice and Elizabeth stood within.
“Miss Elizabeth,” both men said in surprise.
“Mr. Collins,” Elizabeth said in a trembling voice. “My father wishes to speak with you.”
Darcy’s throat tightened. He had never been impressed with Mr. Bennet but he had not thought him so terrible as to force Elizabeth, clearly his favourite child, to marry such a ridiculous man. Was he so concerned for his family’s welfare upon his demise? If only he could offer reassurances in some way, but it was impossible. There was no intimacy between him and the family, and the only way to establish it he was far from settled on, although now it seemed an impossibility.
“I can hardly contain my joy!” Mr. Collins exclaimed and then scampered into the house.
Darcy remained and watched as Elizabeth cast her eyes into the distance. Something like slight amusement played on her lips, but her eyes made him believe she was rather unsettled.
“My congratulations,” Darcy forced himself to say to Elizabeth.
“Oh! I had forgot you were here,” she exclaimed.
“I hope my presence is not an intrusion then.”
“Of course not, only you have no reason to congratulate me.”
“Indeed!” His happiness at this was too obvious, for Elizabeth wrinkled her brow in confusion. Forcing himself to calm, he said, “So you have prevailed over your father then?”
There was the play about her lips again. Half amusement, half fear. “This time,” she muttered.
“You must not be too harsh on him. I am certain he only has your best interests in mind.”
She took a step toward the path. “If that were the case then he may have taken an interest our whole lives.” She shook her head. “You may believe me foolish to refuse an offer from Mr. Collins, but I will never give way. Nor am I so foolish as to not see my father’s failings, which I am sure you have as well.”
The reminder of her unsuitability ought to bring him relief, but now he only hated the remorse in her tone, the embarrassment he saw on her face; and the shame he knew his own actions contributed to it.
“We all have troublesome relations, Miss Elizabeth. We may even all wish our parents were wiser or more just.”
“You speak as a kindred spirit,” she said in what sounded like awe.
“Perhaps I am. I also know age does not necessarily bring wisdom, neither does parenthood. I have been the guardian for my younger sister these last five years, and yet I cannot claim to always know best for her, nor to rely on it when I stumble near it.”
“You speak in riddles again, sir.” He hesitated and she spoke again. “Nor can I believe you so deficient. Miss Darcy cannot praise you enough in her letters.”
“You have received another reply, then?”
“I believe she replies right away and her enthusiasm is catching. You shall soon be bankrupt with the cost from her post.”
“The cost! I had not thought it. I will arrange to have the letters conveyed by messenger.” As soon as he spoke, he realized his error.
Elizabeth replied with heightened colour, “I thank you, sir, but we are not so poor we cannot afford the two penny post or the occasional express. Can you never take a tease, or must you prove at each moment your superiority to us?”
“At each moment?” When had he made her or others to feel inferior? He may have thought it, but he was careful to not show it. He was raised to be a gentleman, after all.
She ignored him and stepped around him. “Oh, look! Charlotte has come!”
He turned and saw the ladies greet each other. He also noticed the look Miss Lucas gave Elizabeth upon seeing Darcy at the house.
“Excuse us, Mr. Darcy. I believe Mr. Collins is finished with my father by now, should you like to see him. I am certain the society of us ladies is not the cause for your visit.” Elizabeth brushed past him and entered the house. Miss Lucas cast a sympathetic smile over her shoulder.
He stalked in after them. His planned and orderly thoughts on what to say to Mr. Bennet, whatever they might have been, had left him entirely.