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Chapter 20

MR. COLLINS was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love; for Mrs. Bennet, having dawdled about in the vestibule to watch for the end of the conference, no sooner saw Elizabeth open the door and with quick step pass her towards the staircase, than she entered the breakfast room, and congratulated both him and herself in warm terms on the happy prospect of their nearer connection. Mr. Collins received and returned these felicitations with equal pleasure, and then proceeded to relate the particulars of their interview, with the result of which he trusted he had every reason to be satisfied, since the refusal which his cousin had stedfastly given him would naturally flow from her bashful modesty and the genuine delicacy of her character.
This information, however, startled Mrs. Bennet; -- she would have been glad to be equally satisfied that her daughter had meant to encourage him by protesting against his proposals, but she dared not to believe it, and could not help saying so.

"But depend upon it, Mr. Collins," she added, "that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it myself directly. She is a very headstrong foolish girl, and does not know her own interest; but I will make her know it."

"Pardon me for interrupting you, Madam," cried Mr. Collins; "but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I know not whether she would altogether be a very desirable wife to a man in my situation, who naturally looks for happiness in the marriage state. If therefore she actually persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it were better not to force her into accepting me, because if liable to such defects of temper, she could not contribute much to my felicity."

"Sir, you quite misunderstand me," said Mrs. Bennet, alarmed. "Lizzy is only headstrong in such matters as these. In every thing else she is as good natured a girl as ever lived. I will go directly to Mr. Bennet, and we shall very soon settle it with her, I am sure."

She would not give him time to reply, but hurrying instantly to her husband, called out as she entered the library,

"Oh! Mr. Bennet, you are wanted immediately; we are all in an uproar. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr. Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her."

Mr. Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least altered by her communication.

"I have not the pleasure of understanding you," said he, when she had finished her speech. "Of what are you talking?"

"Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say that he will not have Lizzy."

"And what am I to do on the occasion? -- It seems an hopeless business."

"Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that you insist upon her marrying him."

"Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion."

Mrs. Bennet rang the bell, and Miss Elizabeth was summoned to the library.

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well -- and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, Sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is not it so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. -- Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning; but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed.

"What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, by talking in this way? You promised me to insist upon her marrying him."

"My dear," replied her husband, "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 her disappointment in her husband, did Mrs. Bennet give up the point. She talked to Elizabeth again and again; coaxed and threatened her by turns. She endeavoured to secure Jane in her interest but Jane with all possible mildness declined interfering; -- and Elizabeth, sometimes with real earnestness and sometimes with playful gaiety, replied to her attacks. Though her manner varied, however, her determination never did.

Mr. Collins, meanwhile, was meditating in solitude on what had passed. He thought too well of himself to comprehend on what motive his cousin could refuse him; and though his pride was hurt, he suffered in no other way. His regard for her was quite imaginary; and the possibility of her deserving her mother's reproach prevented his feeling any regret.

While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia, who, flying to her, 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? -- Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy, and she will not have him."

Charlotte had hardly time to answer, before they were joined by Kitty, who came to tell the same news, and no sooner had they entered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, than she likewise began on the subject, calling on Miss Lucas for her compassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy to comply with the wishes of all her family. "Pray do, my dear Miss Lucas," she 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."

Charlotte's reply was spared by the entrance of Jane and Elizabeth.

"Aye, there she comes," continued Mrs. Bennet, "looking as unconcerned as may be, and caring no more for us than if we were at York, provided she can have her own way. -- But I tell you what, Miss Lizzy, if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all -- and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father 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 any body. 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."

Her daughters listened in silence to this effusion, sensible that any attempt to reason with or sooth her would only increase the irritation. She talked on, therefore, without interruption from any of them till they were joined by Mr. Collins, who entered with an air more stately than usual, and on perceiving whom, she said to the girls,

"Now, I do insist upon it, that you, all of you, hold your tongues, and let Mr. Collins and me have a little conversation together."

Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty followed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all she could; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins, whose inquiries after herself and all her family were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking to the window and pretending not to hear. In a doleful voice Mrs. Bennet thus began the projected conversation. -- "Oh! Mr. Collins!" --

"My dear Madam," replied he, "let us be for ever silent on this point. Far be it from me," he presently continued, in a voice that marked his displeasure, "to resent the behaviour of your daughter. Resignation to inevitable evils is the duty of us all; the peculiar duty of a young man 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 her 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 Madam, by thus withdrawing my pretensions to your daughter's favour, without having paid yourself and Mr. 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 daughter'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."
 

柯林斯先生独自一个人默默地幻想着美满的姻缘,可是并没有想上多久,因为班纳特太太一直待在走廊里混时间,等着听他们俩商谈的结果,现在看见伊丽莎白开了门,匆匆忙忙走上楼去,她便马上走进饭厅,热烈地祝贺柯林斯先生,祝贺她自己,说是他们今后大有亲上加亲的希望了。柯林斯先生同样快乐地接受了她的祝贺,同时又祝贺了她一番,接着就把他跟伊丽莎白刚才的那场谈话,一五一十地讲了出来,说他有充分的理由相信,谈话的结果很令人满意,因为他的表妹虽然再三拒绝,可是那种拒绝,自然是她那羞怯淑静和娇柔细致的天性的流露。

这一消息可叫班纳特太太吓了一跳。当然,要是她的女儿果真是口头上拒绝他的求婚,骨子里却在鼓励他,那她也会同样觉得高兴的,可是她不敢这么想,而且不得不照直说了出来。

她说:“柯林斯先生,你放心吧,我会叫丽萃懂事一些的。我马上就要亲自跟她谈谈。她是个固执的傻姑娘,不明白好歹;可是我会叫她明白的。”

“对不起,让我插句嘴,太太,”柯林斯先生叫道:“要是她果真又固执又傻,那我就不知道她是否配做我理想的妻子了,因为象我这样地位的人,结婚自然是为了要幸福。这么说,如果她真拒绝我的求婚,那倒是不要勉强她好,否则,她脾气方面有了这些缺点,她对于我的幸福决不会不什么好处。”

班纳特太太吃惊地说:“先生,你完全误会了我的意思,丽萃不过在这类事情上固执些,可是遇到别的事情,她的性子再好也没有了。我马上去找班纳特先生,我们一下子就会把她这个问题谈妥的,我有把握。”

她不等他回答,便急忙跑到丈夫那儿去,一走进他的书房就嚷道:

“噢,我的好老爷,你得马上出来一下;我们闹得天翻地覆了呢。你得来劝劝丽萃跟柯林斯先生结婚,因为她赌咒发誓不要他;假如你不赶快来打个圆场,他就要改变主意,反过来不要她了。”

班纳特先生见她走进来,便从书本上抬起眼睛,安然自得、漠不关心地望着她脸上。他听了她的话,完全不动声色。

她说完以后,他便说道:“抱歉,我没有听懂你究竟说些什么。”

“我说的是柯林斯先生和丽萃的事,丽萃表示不要柯林斯先生,柯林斯先生也开始说他不要丽萃了。”

“这种事叫我有什么办法?看来是件没有指望的事。”

“你去同丽萃说说看吧。就跟她说,你非要她跟他结婚不可。”

“叫她下来吧。让我来跟她说。”

班纳特太太拉下了铃,伊丽莎白小姐给叫到书房里来了。

爸爸一见她来,便大声说:“上这儿来,孩子,我叫你来谈一件要紧的事。我听说柯林斯先生向你求婚,真有这回事吗?”伊丽莎白说,真有这回事。“很好。你把这桩婚事回绝了吗?”

“我回绝了,爸爸。”

“很好,我们现在就来谈到本题。你的妈非要你答应不可。我的好太太,可不是吗?”

“是的,否则我看也不要看到她了。”

“摆在你面前的是个很不幸的难题,你得自己去抉择,伊丽莎白。从今天起,你不和父亲成为陌路人,就要和母亲成为陌路人。要是你不嫁给柯林斯先生,你的妈就不要再见你,要是你嫁给他,我就不要再见你了。”

伊丽莎白听到了那样的开头和这样的结论,不得不笑了一笑;不过,这可苦了班纳特太太,她本以为丈夫一定会照着她的意思来对待这件事的,哪里料到反而叫她大失所望。“你这话是什么意思,我的好老爷?你事先不是答应了我,非叫她嫁给他不可吗?”

“好太太,”丈夫回答道,“我有两件事要求你帮帮忙。第一,请你允许我自由运用我自己的书房。我真巴不得早日在自己书房里图个清闲自在。”

班纳特太太虽然碰了一鼻子灰,可是并不甘心罢休。她一遍又一遍地说服伊丽莎白,一忽儿哄骗,一忽儿威胁。她想尽办法拉着吉英帮忙,可是吉英偏不愿意多管闲事,极其委婉地谢绝了。伊丽莎白应付得很好,一忽儿情意恳切,一忽儿又是嘻皮笑脸,方式尽管变来变换去,决心却始终如一。

这当儿,柯林斯先生独自把刚才的那一幕深思默想了一番。他的把自己估价太高了,因此弄不明白表妹所以拒绝他,原因究竟何在。虽说他的自尊心受到了伤害,可是他别的方面丝毫也不觉得难过。他对他的好感完全是凭空想象的,他又以为她的母亲一定会责骂她,因此心里便也不觉得有什么难受了,因为她挨她母亲的骂是活该,不必为她过意不去。

正当这一家子闹得乱纷纷的时候,夏绿蒂·卢卡斯上她们这儿来玩了。丽迪雅在大门品碰到她,立刻奔上前去凑近她跟前说道:“你来了我真高兴,这儿正闹得有趣呢!你知道今天上午发生了什么事?柯林斯先生向丽萃求婚,丽萃偏偏不肯要他。”

夏绿蒂还没来得及回答,吉蒂就走到她们跟前来了,把同样的消息报道了一遍。她们走进起坐间,只见班纳特太太正独自待在那儿,马上又和她们谈到这话题上来,要求卢卡斯小姐怜恤怜恤她老人家,劝劝她的朋友丽萃顺从全家人的意思。“求求你吧,卢卡斯小姐,”她又用苦痛的声调说道:“谁也不站在我一边,大家都故意作践我,一个个都对我狠心透顶,谁也不能体谅我的神经。”

夏绿蒂正要回答,恰巧吉英和伊丽莎白走进来了,因此没有开口。

“嘿,她来啦,”班纳特太太接下去说。“看她一脸满不在乎的神气,一些不把我们放在心上,好象是冤家对头,一任她自己独断独行。──丽萃小姐,让我老实告诉你吧;如果你一碰到人家求婚,就象这样拒绝,那你一生一世都休想弄到一个丈夫。瞧你爸爸去世以后,还有谁来养你。我是养不活你的,事先得跟你声明。从今天起,我跟你一刀两断。你知道,刚刚在书房里,我就跟你说过,我再也不要跟你说话了,瞧我说得到就做得到。我不高兴跟忤逆的女儿说话。老实说,跟谁说话都不大乐意。象我这样一个神经上有病痛的人,就没有多大的兴致说话。谁也不知道我的苦楚!不过天下事总是这样的,你嘴上不诉苦,就没有人可怜你。”

女儿们一声不响,只是听着她发牢骚。她们都明白,要是你想跟她评评理,安慰安慰她,那就等于火上加油。她唠唠叨叨往下说,女儿们没有一个来岔断她的话。最后,柯林斯先生进来了,脸上的神气比平常显得益发庄严,她一见到他,便对女儿们这样说:

“现在我要你们一个个都住嘴,让柯林斯先生跟我谈一会儿。”

伊丽莎白静悄悄地走出去了,吉英和吉蒂跟着也走了出去,只有丽迪雅站在那儿不动,正要听听他们谈些什么。夏绿蒂也没有走,先是因为柯林斯先生仔仔细细问候她和她的家庭,所以不便即走,随后又为了满足她自己的好奇心,便走到窗口,去偷听他们谈话。只听得班纳特太太开始怨声怨气地把预先准备好的一番话谈出来:“哦,柯林斯先生。”

“亲爱的太太,”柯林斯先生说,“这件事让我们再也别提了吧。我决不会怨恨令嫒这种行为。”他说到这里,声调中立刻流露出极其不愉快的意味:“我们大家都得逆来顺受,象我这样年少得志,小小年纪就得到了人家的器重,特别应该如此,我相信我一切都听天由命。即使蒙我那位美丽的表妹不弃,答应了我的求婚,或许我仍然免不了要怀疑,是否就此会获得真正的幸福,因为我一向认为,幸福一经拒绝,就不值得我们再加重视。遇到这种场合,听天由命是再好不过的办法。亲爱的太太,我这样收回了对令嫒的求婚,希望你别以为这是对您老人家和班纳特先生不恭敬的表示,别怪我没要求你们出面代我调停一下。只不过我并不是受到您拒绝,而是受到令嫒的拒绝,这一点也许值得遗憾。可是人人都难免有个阴错阳差的时候。我对于这件事始终是一片好心好意。我的目的就是要找一个可爱的伴侣,并且适当地考虑到府上的利益;假使我的态度方面有什么地方应该受到责备的话,就让我当面道个谦吧。”



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