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Chapter 22

THE Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases, and again during the chief of the day, was Miss Lucas so kind as to listen to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth took an opportunity of thanking her. "It keeps him in good humour," said she, "and I am more obliged to you than I can express." Charlotte assured her friend of her satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid her for the little sacrifice of her time. This was very amiable, but Charlotte's kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; -- its object was nothing less than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins's addresses, by engaging them towards herself. Such was Miss Lucas's scheme; and appearances were so favourable that when they parted at night, she would have felt almost sure of success if he had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here, she did injustice to the fire and independence of his character, for it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet. He was anxious to avoid the notice of his cousins, from a conviction that if they saw him depart, they could not fail to conjecture his design, and he was not willing to have the attempt known till its success could be known likewise; for though feeling almost secure, and with reason, for Charlotte had been tolerably encouraging, he was comparatively diffident since the adventure of Wednesday. His reception however was of the most flattering kind. Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meet him accidentally in the lane. But little had she dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited her there.
In as short a time as Mr. Collins's long speeches would allow, every thing was settled between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they entered the house, he earnestly entreated her to name the day that was to make him the happiest of men; and though such a solicitation must be waved for the present, the lady felt no inclination to trifle with his happiness. The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.

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

As he was to begin his journey too early on the morrow to see any of the family, the ceremony of leave-taking was performed when the ladies moved for the night; and Mrs. Bennet, with great politeness and cordiality, said how happy they should be to see him at Longbourn again, whenever his other engagements might allow him to visit them.

"My dear Madam," he 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 Mr. Bennet, who could by no means wish for so speedy a return, immediately said,

"But is there not danger of Lady Catherine's disapprobation here, my good sir? -- You had better neglect your relations, than run the risk of offending your patroness."

"My dear sir," replied Mr. Collins, "I am particularly obliged to you for this friendly caution, and you may depend upon my not taking so material a step without her ladyship's concurrence."

"You cannot be too much on your guard. Risk any thing rather than her 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 sir, 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 Elizabeth."

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

The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but that Charlotte could encourage him, seemed almost as far from possibility as that she could encourage him herself, and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out,

"Engaged to Mr. Collins! my dear Charlotte, -- impossible!"

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

"Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza? -- Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman's good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?"

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

"I see what you are feeling," replied Charlotte, -- "you must be surprised, very much surprised, -- so lately as Mr. 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 Mr. Collins's character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."

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

这一天班纳特全家都被卢卡斯府上请去吃饭,又多蒙卢卡斯小姐一片好意,整日陪着柯林斯先生谈话。伊丽莎白利用了一个机会向她道谢。她说:“这样可以叫他精神痛快些,我对你真是说不尽的感激。”夏绿蒂说,能够替朋友效劳,非常乐意,虽然花了一点时间,却得到了很大的快慰。这真是太好了;可是夏绿蒂的好意,远非伊丽莎白所能意料;原来夏绿蒂是有意要尽量逗引柯林斯先生跟她自己谈话,免得他再去向伊丽莎白献殷勤。她这个计谋看来进行得十分顺利。晚上大家分手的时候,夏绿蒂几乎满有把握地感觉到,要不是柯林斯先生这么快就要离开哈福德郡,事情一定能成功。但是她这样的想法,未免太不了解他那如火如荼、独断独行的性格。且说第二天一大早,柯林斯就采用了相当狡猾的办法,溜出了浪博恩,赶到卢家庄来向她屈身求爱。他唯恐给表妹们碰到了,他认为,假若让她们看见他走开,那就必定会让她们猜中他的打算,而他不等到事情有了成功的把握,决不愿意让人家知道。虽说他当场看到夏绿蒂对他颇有情意,因此觉得这事十拿九稳可以成功,可是从星期三那场冒险以来,他究竟不敢太鲁莽了。不过人家倒很巴结地接待了他。卢卡斯小姐从楼上窗口看见他向她家里走来,便连忙到那条小道上去接他,又装出是偶然相逢的样子。她万万想不到,柯林斯这一次竟然给她带来了说不尽的千情万爱。

在短短的一段时间里,柯林斯先生说了多多少少的话,于是两人之间便一切都讲妥了,而且双方都很满意。一走进屋子,他就诚恳地要求她择定吉日,使他成为世界上最幸福的人,虽说这种请求,暂应该置之不理,可是这位小姐并不想要拿他的幸福当儿戏。他天生一副蠢相,求起爱来总是打动不了女人的心,女人一碰到他求爱,总是请他碰壁。卢卡斯小姐所以愿意答应他,完全是为了财产打算,至于那笔财产何年何月可以拿到手,她倒不在乎。

他们俩立刻就去请求威廉爵士夫妇加以允许,老夫妇连忙高高兴兴地答应了。他们本来没有什么嫁妆给女儿,论柯林斯先生目前的境况,真是再适合不过的一个女婿,何况他将来一定会发一笔大财。卢卡斯太太立刻带着空前未有过的兴趣,开始盘算着班纳特先生还有多少年可活;威廉爵士一口断定说,只要林斯先生一旦得到了浪博恩的财产,他夫妇俩就大有觐见皇上的希望了。总而言之,这件大事叫全家人都快活透顶。几位小女儿都满怀希望,认为这一来可以早一两年出去交际了,男孩子们再也不担心夏绿蒂会当老处女了。只有夏绿蒂本人倒相当镇定。她现在初步已经成功,还有时间去仔细考虑一番。她想了一下,大致满意。柯林斯先生固然既不通情达理,又不讨人喜爱,同他相处实在是件讨厌的事,他对她的爱也一定是空中楼阁,不过她还是要他做丈夫。虽然她对于婚姻和夫妇生活,估价都不甚高,可是,结婚到底是她一贯的目标,大凡家境不好而又受过相当教育的青年女子,总是把结婚当作仅有的一条体面的退路。尽管结婚并不一定会叫人幸福,但总算约她自己安排了一个最可靠的储藏室日后可以不致挨冻受饥。她现在就获得这样一个储藏室了。她今年二十七岁,人长得又不标致,这个储藏室当然会使她觉得无限幸运。只有一件事令人不快──那就是说,伊丽莎白·班纳特准会对这门亲事感到惊奇,而她又是一向把伊丽莎白的交情看得比什么人的交情都重要。伊丽莎白一定会诧异,说不定还要埋怨她。虽说她一经下定决心便不会动摇,然而人家非难起来一定会使她难受。于是她决定亲自把这件事告诉她,嘱咐柯林斯先生回到浪博恩吃饭的时候,不要在班纳特家里任何人面前透露一点风声。对方当然唯命是从,答应保守秘密,其实秘密是很难保守,因为他出去得太久了,一定会引起人家的好奇心,因此他一回去,大家立刻向他问长问短,他得要有几分能耐才能够遮掩过去,加上他又巴不得把此番情场得意的情况宣扬出去,因此他好容易才克制住了。

他明天一大早就要启程,来不及向大家辞行,所以当夜太太小姐们就寝的时候,大家便相互话别;班纳特太太极其诚恳、极有礼貌地说,以后他要是有便再来浪博恩,上她们那儿去玩玩,那真叫她们太高兴了。

他回答道:“亲爱的太太,承蒙邀约,不胜感激,我也正希望能领受这份盛意;请你放心,我一有空就来看你们。”

大家都吃了一惊,尤其是班纳特先生,根本不希望他马上回来,便连忙说道:

“贤侄,你不怕珈苔琳夫人不赞成吗?你最好把亲戚关系看得淡一些,免得担那么大的风险,得罪了你的女施主。”

柯林斯先生回答道:“老长辈,我非常感激你这样好心地提醒我,请你放心,这样重大的事,不得到她老人家的同意,我决不会冒昧从事。”

“多小心一些只会有益处。什么事都不要紧,可千万不能叫她老人家不高兴。要是你想到我们这儿来,而她却不高兴让你来(我觉得这是非常可能的),那么就请你安分一些,待在家里,你放心,我们决不会因此而见怪的。”

“老长辈,请相信我,蒙你这样好心地关注,真叫我感激不尽。你放心好了,你马上就会收到我一封谢函,感谢这一点,感谢我在哈福郡蒙你们对我的种种照拂。至于诸位表妹,虽然我去不了多少日子,且请恕我冒昧,就趁着现在祝她们健康幸福,连伊丽莎白表妹也不例外。”

太太小姐们便行礼如仪,辞别回房;大家听说他竟打算很快就回来,都感到惊讶。班纳特太太满以为他是打算向她的哪一个小女儿求婚,也许能劝劝曼丽去应承他。曼丽比任何姐妹都看重他的能力。他思想方面的坚定很叫她倾心;他虽然比不上她自己那样聪明,可是只要有一个象她这样的人作为榜样,鼓励他读书上进,那他一定会成为一个称心如意的伴侣。只可惜一到第二天早上,这种希望就完全破灭了。卢卡斯小姐刚一吃过早饭,就来访问,私下跟伊丽莎白把前一天的事说了出来。

早在前一两天,伊丽莎白就一度想到,柯林斯先生可能一厢情愿,自以为爱上了她这位朋友,可是,要说夏绿蒂会怂恿他,那未免太不可能,正如她自己不可能怂恿他一样,因此她现在听到这件事,不禁大为惊讶,连礼貌也不顾了,竟大声叫了起来:

“跟柯林斯先生订婚!亲爱的夏绿蒂,那怎么行!”

卢卡斯小姐乍听得这一声心直口快的责备,镇静的脸色不禁变得慌张起来,好在这也是她意料中事,因此她立刻就恢复了常态,从容不迫地说:

“你为什么这样惊奇,亲爱的伊丽莎?柯林斯先生不幸没有得到你的赏识,难道就不作兴他得到别的女人的赏识吗?”

伊丽莎白这时候已经镇定下来,便竭力克制着自己,用相当肯定的语气预祝他们俩将来良缘美满,幸福无疆。

夏绿蒂回答道:“我明白你的心思,你一定会感到奇怪,而且感到非常奇怪,因为在不久以前,柯林斯先生还在想跟你结婚。可是,只要你空下来把这事情细细地想一下,你就会赞成我的做法。你知道我不是个罗曼谛克的人,我决不是那样的人。我只希望有一个舒舒服服的家。论柯林斯先生的性格、社会关系和身份地位,我觉得跟他结了婚,也能够获得幸福,并不下于一般人结婚时所夸耀的那种幸福。”

伊丽莎白心平气和地回答道:“毫无问题。”她们俩别别扭扭地在一起待了一会儿,便和家人一块坐下。夏绿蒂没有过多久就走了;伊丽莎白独自把刚才听到的那些话仔细想了一下。这样不合适的一门亲事,真使她难受了好久。说起柯林斯先生三天之内求了两次婚,本就够稀奇了,如今竟会有人应承他,实在是更稀奇。她一向觉得,夏绿蒂关于婚姻问题方面的见解,跟她颇不一致,却不曾料想到一旦事到临头,她竟会完全不顾高尚的情操,来屈就一些世俗的利益。夏绿蒂做了柯林斯的妻子,这真是天下最丢人的事!她不仅为这样一个朋友的自取其辱、自贬身份而感到难受,而且她还十分痛心地断定,她朋友拈的这一个阄儿,决不会给她自己带来多大的幸福。



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