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Chapter 23

ELIZABETH was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting on what she had heard, and doubting whether she were authorised to mention it, when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by his daughter to announce her engagement to the family. With many compliments to them, and much self-gratulation on the prospect of a connection between the houses, he unfolded the matter, -- to an audience not merely wondering, but incredulous; for Mrs. Bennet, with more perseverance than politeness, protested he must be entirely mistaken, and Lydia, always unguarded and often uncivil, boisterously exclaimed,
"Good Lord! Sir William, how can you tell such a story? -- Do not you know that Mr. Collins wants to marry Lizzy?"

Nothing less than the complaisance of a courtier could have borne without anger such treatment; but Sir William's good breeding carried him through it all; and though he begged leave to be positive as to the truth of his information, he listened to all their impertinence with the most forbearing courtesy.

Elizabeth, feeling it incumbent on her to relieve him from so unpleasant a situation, now put herself forward to confirm his account, by mentioning her prior knowledge of it from Charlotte herself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations of her mother and sisters, by the earnestness of her congratulations to Sir William, in which she was readily joined by Jane, and by making a variety of remarks on the happiness that might be expected from the match, the excellent character of Mr. Collins, and the convenient distance of Hunsford from London.

Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left them than her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole; one, that Elizabeth was the real cause of all the mischief; and the other, that she herself had been barbarously used by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing appease her. -- Nor did that day wear out her resentment. A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.

Mr. Bennet's emotions were much more tranquil on the occasion, and such as he did experience he pronounced to be of a most agreeable sort; for it gratified him, he said, to discover that Charlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerably sensible, was as foolish as his wife, and more foolish than his daughter!

Jane confessed herself a little surprised at the match; but she said less of her astonishment than of her earnest desire for their happiness; nor could Elizabeth persuade her to consider it as improbable. Kitty and Lydia were far from envying Miss Lucas, for Mr. Collins was only a clergyman; and it affected them in no other way than as a piece of news to spread at Meryton.

Lady Lucas could not be insensible of triumph on being able to retort on Mrs. Bennet the comfort of having a daughter well married; and she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual to say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet's sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happiness away.

Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again. Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn with fonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and delicacy she was sure her opinion could never be shaken, and for whose happiness she grew daily more anxious, as Bingley had now been gone a week, and nothing was heard of his return.

Jane had sent Caroline an early answer to her letter, and was counting the days till she might reasonably hope to hear again. The promised letter of thanks from Mr. Collins arrived on Tuesday, addressed to their father, and written with all the solemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth's abode in the family might have prompted. After discharging his conscience on that head, he proceeded to inform them, with many rapturous expressions, of his happiness in having obtained the affection of their amiable neighbour, Miss Lucas, and then explained that it was merely with the view of enjoying her society that he had been so ready to close with their kind wish of seeing him again at Longbourn, whither he hoped to be able to return on Monday fortnight; for Lady Catherine, he added, so heartily approved his marriage, that she wished it to take place as soon as possible, which he trusted would be an unanswerable argument with his amiable Charlotte to name an early day for making him the happiest of men.

Mr. Collins's return into Hertfordshire was no longer a matter of pleasure to Mrs. Bennet. On the contrary, she was as much disposed to complain of it as her husband. -- It was very strange that he should come to Longbourn instead of to Lucas Lodge; it was also very inconvenient and exceedingly troublesome. -- She hated having visitors in the house while her health was so indifferent, and lovers were of all people the most disagreeable. Such were the gentle murmurs of Mrs. Bennet, and they gave way only to the greater distress of Mr. Bingley's continued absence.

Neither Jane nor Elizabeth were comfortable on this subject. Day after day passed away without bringing any other tidings of him than the report which shortly prevailed in Meryton of his coming no more to Netherfield the whole winter; a report which highly incensed Mrs. Bennet, and which she never failed to contradict as a most scandalous falsehood.

Even Elizabeth began to fear -- not that Bingley was indifferent -- but that his sisters would be successful in keeping him away. Unwilling as she was to admit an idea so destructive of Jane's happiness, and so dishonourable to the stability of her lover, she could not prevent its frequently recurring. The united efforts of his two unfeeling sisters and of his overpowering friend, assisted by the attractions of Miss Darcy and the amusements of London, might be too much, she feared, for the strength of his attachment.

As for Jane, her anxiety under this suspence was, of course, more painful than Elizabeth's; but whatever she felt she was desirous of concealing, and between herself and Elizabeth, therefore, the subject was never alluded to. But as no such delicacy restrained her mother, an hour seldom passed in which she did not talk of Bingley, express her impatience for his arrival, or even require Jane to confess that if he did not come back, she should think herself very ill used. It needed all Jane's steady mildness to bear these attacks with tolerable tranquillity.

Mr. Collins returned most punctually on the Monday fortnight, but his reception at Longbourn was not quite so gracious as it had been on his first introduction. He was too happy, however, to need much attention; and luckily for the others, the business of love-making relieved them from a great deal of his company. The chief of every day was spent by him at Lucas Lodge, and he sometimes returned to Longbourn only in time to make an apology for his absence before the family went to bed.

Mrs. Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The very mention of any thing concerning the match threw her into an agony of ill humour, and wherever she went she was sure of hearing it talked of. The sight of Miss Lucas was odious to her. As her successor in that house, she regarded her with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Charlotte came to see them she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr. Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly of all this to her husband.

"Indeed, Mr. Bennet," said she, "it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take my place in it!"

"My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor."

This was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet, and, therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before,

"I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate, If it was not for the entail I should not mind it."

"What should not you mind?"

"I should not mind any thing at all."

"Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility."

"I never can be thankful, Mr. Bennet, for any thing about the entail. How any one could have the conscience to entail away an estate from one's own daughters I cannot understand; and all for the sake of Mr. Collins too! -- Why should he have it more than anybody else?"

"I leave it to yourself to determine," said Mr. Bennet.
 

伊丽莎白正跟母亲和姐妹坐在一起,回想刚才所听到的那件事,决不定是否可以把它告诉大家,就在这时候,威廉·卢卡斯爵士来了。他是受了女儿的拜托,前来班府上宣布她订婚的消息。他一面叙述这件事,一面又大大地恭维了太太小姐们一阵,说是两家能结上亲,他真感到荣幸。班府上的人听了,不仅感到惊异,而且不相信真有这回事。班纳特太太再也顾不得礼貌,竟一口咬定他弄错了。丽迪雅一向又任性又撒野,不由得叫道:

“天哪!威廉爵士,你怎么会说出这番话来?你不知道柯林斯先生要娶丽萃吗?”

遇到这种情形,只有象朝廷大臣那样能够逆来顺受的人,才不会生气,好在威廉爵士颇有素养,竟没有把它当一回事,虽然他要求她们相信他说的是实话,可是他却使出了极大的忍耐功夫,满有礼貌地听着她们无理的谈吐。

伊丽莎白觉得自己有责任帮助他来打开这种僵局,于是挺身而出,证明他说的实话,说是刚刚已经听到夏绿蒂本人谈起过了。为了尽力使母亲和妹妹们不再大惊小怪,她便诚恳地向威廉爵士道喜,吉英马上也替她帮腔,又用种种话来说明这门婚姻是何等幸福,柯林斯先生品格又非常好,汉斯福和伦敦相隔不远往返方便。

班纳特太太在威廉爵士面前,实在气得说不出话;可是他一走,她那一肚子牢骚便马上发泄出来。第一,她坚决不相信这回事;第二,她断定柯林斯先生受了骗;第三,她相信这一对夫妇决不会幸福;第四,这门亲事可能会破裂。不过她却从整个事件上简单地得出了两个结论──一个是:这场笑话全都是伊丽莎白一手造成的;另一个是,她自己受尽了大家的欺负虐待;在那一整天里,她所谈的大都是这两点。随便怎么也安慰不了她,随便怎么也平不了她的气。直到晚上,怨愤依然没有消散。她见到伊丽莎白就骂,一直骂了一个星期之久。她同威廉爵士或卢卡斯太太说起话来,总是粗声粗气,一直过了一个月才好起来;至于夏绿蒂,她竟过了好几个月才宽恕了她。

对班纳特先生说来,这件事反而使他心情上益发洒脱,据他说,这次所经过的一切,真使他精神上舒服到极点。他说,他本以为夏绿蒂·卢卡斯相当懂事,哪知道她简直跟他太太一样蠢,比起他的女儿来就更要蠢了,他实在觉得高兴!

吉英也承认这门婚姻有些奇怪,可是她嘴上并没说什么,反而诚恳地祝他们俩幸福。虽然伊丽莎白再三剖白给她听,她却始终以为这门婚姻未必一定不会幸福。吉蒂和丽迪雅根本不羡慕卢卡斯小姐,因为柯林斯先生不过是个传教士而已;这件事根本影响不了她们,除非把它当作一件新闻,带到麦里屯去传播一下。

再说到卢卡斯太太,她既然也有一个女儿获得了美满的姻缘,自然衷心快慰,因而也不会不想到趁此去向班纳特太太反唇相讥一下。于是她拜望浪博恩的次数比往常更加频繁,说是她如今多么高兴,不过班纳特太太满脸恶相,满口的毒话,也足够叫她扫兴的了。

伊丽莎白和夏绿蒂之间从此竟有了一层隔膜,彼此不便提到这桩事。伊丽莎白断定她们俩再也不会象从前那样推心置腹。她既然在夏绿蒂身上失望,便越发亲切地关注到自己姐姐身上来。她深信姐姐为人正直,作风优雅,她这种看法决不会动摇。她关心姐姐的幸福一天比一天来得迫切,因为彬格莱先生已经走了一个星期,却没有听到一点儿她要回来的消息。

吉英很早就给珈罗琳写了回信,现在正在数着日子,看看还得过多少天才可以又接到她的信。柯林斯先生事先答应写来的那封谢函星期二就收到了,信是写给她们父亲的,信上说了多少感激的话,看他那种过甚其辞的语气,就好象在他们府上叨光了一年似的。他在这方面表示了歉意以后,便用了多少欢天喜地的措辞,告诉他们说,他已经有幸获得他们的芳邻卢卡斯小姐的欢心了,他接着又说,为了要去看看他的心上人,他可以趁便来看看他们,免得辜负他们善意的期望,希望能在两个礼拜以后的星期一到达浪博恩;他又说,珈苔琳夫人衷心地赞成他赶快结婚,并且希望愈早愈好,他相信他那位心上人夏绿蒂决不会反对及早定出佳期,使他成为天下最幸福的人。对班纳特太太说来,柯林斯先生的重返浪博恩,如今并不是什么叫人快意的事了。她反而跟她丈夫一样地大为抱怨。说也奇怪,柯林斯不去卢家庄,却要来到浪搏恩,这真是既不方便,又太麻烦。她现在正当健康失调,因此非常讨厌客人上门,何况这些痴情种子都是很讨厌的人。班纳特太太成天嘀咕着这些事,除非想到彬格莱一直不回来而使她感到更大的痛苦时,她方才住口。

吉英跟伊丽莎白都为这个问题大感不安。一天又一天,听不到一点关于他的消息,只听得麦里屯纷纷传言,说他今冬再也不会上尼日斐花园来了,班纳特太太听得非常生气,总是加以驳斥,说那是诬蔑性的谣言。

连伊丽莎白也开始恐惧起来了,她并不是怕彬格莱薄情,而是怕他的姐妹们真的绊住了他。尽管她不愿意有这种想法,因为这种想法对于吉英的幸福既有不利,对于吉英心上人的忠贞,也未免是一种侮辱,可是她还是往往禁不住要这样想。他那两位无情无义的姐妹,和那位足以制服他的朋友同心协力,再加上达西小姐的窈窕妩媚,以及伦敦的声色娱乐,纵使他果真对她念念不忘,恐怕也挣脱不了那个圈套。

至于吉英,她在这种动荡不安的情况下,自然比伊丽莎白更加感到焦虑,可是她总不愿意把自己的心事暴露出来,所以她和伊丽莎白一直没有提到这件事。偏偏她母亲不能体贴她的苦衷,过不了一个钟头就要提到彬格莱,说是等待他回来实在等待心焦,甚至硬要吉英承认──要是彬格莱果真不回来,那她一定会觉得自己受了薄情的亏待。幸亏吉英临事从容不迫,柔和镇定,好容易才忍受了她这些谗言诽语。

柯林斯先生在两个礼拜以后的星期一准时到达,可是浪搏恩却不象他初来时那样热烈地欢迎他了。他实在高兴不过也用不着别人献殷勤。这真是主人家走运,多亏他恋爱成了功,这才使别人能够清闲下来,不必再去跟他周旋。他每天把大部分时间消磨在卢家庄,一直挨到卢府上快要睡觉的时候,才回到浪搏恩来,向大家道歉一声,请大家原谅他终日未归。

班纳特太太着实可怜。只要一提到那门亲事,她就会不高兴,而且随便她走到那儿,她总会听到人们谈起这件事。她一看到卢卡斯小姐就觉得讨厌。一想到卢卡斯小姐将来有一天会接替她做这幢屋子里的主妇,她就益发嫉妒和厌恶。每逢夏绿蒂来看她们,她总以为人家是来考察情况,看看还要过多少时候就可以搬进来住;每逢夏绿蒂跟柯林斯先生低声说话的时候,她就以为他们是在谈论浪搏恩的家产,是在计议一俟班纳特先生去世以后,就要把她和她的几个女儿撵出去。她把这些伤心事都说给她丈夫听。

她说:“我的好老爷,夏绿蒂·卢卡斯迟早要做这屋子里的主妇,我却非得让她不可,眼睁睁看着她来接替我的位置,这可叫我受不了!”

“我的好太太,别去想这些伤心事吧。我们不妨从好的方面去想。说不定我比你的寿命还要长,我们姑且就这样来安慰自己吧。”

可是这些话安慰不了班纳特太太,因此她非但没有回答,反而象刚才一样地诉苦下去。

“我一想到所有的产业都得落到他们手里,就受不了。要不是为了继承权的问题,我才不在乎呢。”

“你不在乎什么?”

“什么我都不在乎。”

“让我们谢天谢地,你头脑还没有不清楚到这种地步。”

“我的好老爷,凡是有关继承权的事,我决不会谢天谢地的。随便哪个人,怎么肯昧着良心,不把财产遗传给自己的女儿们?我真弄不懂,何况一切都是为了柯林斯先生的缘故!为什么偏偏要他享有这份遗产?”

“我让你自己去想吧。”班纳特先生说。



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