It started out just like any other morning. My family was seated around the table sharing in the morning meal, save for Mary. Mary was playing the pianoforte, as usual. With how much she played, one would expect her to be a master of the instrument, however she still needed much practice. Mother told Mary to please stop playing, and suddenly the only sounds were the smacking of lips and pouring of tea. Breakfast was a very casual affair in the Bennett home, as I assumed was true of most everyone, save perhaps the ridiculously rich such as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy.
I barely managed to stifle a giggle as I thought about what breakfast would likely be like in the Darcy household. I wondered if there would be any sound at all. Perhaps Mr. Darcy had mastered the art of eating silently.
I heard the creaking of our stairs, but choose to ignore it, knowing that the only person it could be was our guest, Mr. Collins. I didn't care much for Mr. Collins—he talked far too much and said too little. It was quite sad, really. He was trying to behave as gentlemanly as possible, but, for one reason or another, he always seemed to overdo it to the point of becoming rude.
Mr. Collins cleared his throat, and our family disregarded the sound, continuing to feast, although I do suspect that I saw Mary look over with interest for a moment. But I must have been imagining things; Mr. Collins never said anything remotely interesting.
"Mrs. Bennett," Mr. Collins said after a moment. "I was hoping, if it would not trouble you, that I might solicit a private audience with Miss Elizabeth in the course of the morning."
I hardly had sufficient time to blush in surprise before my mother was already answering Mr. Collins. "Oh, yes, certainly! Lizzie will be very happy, indeed." I most certainly would not be; but sadly, I could not point that out without appearing very unladylike. "Everyone, out." Mother stood and began shooing everyone from the room. "Mr. Collins would like a private audience with your sister." I was sure that everyone was well aware of what was happening next, and I so desired for them all to stay.
"No, no, wait, please. I beg you; Mr. Collins can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear."
"No, no, nonsense, Lizzie," Mother said. "I desire you will stay where you are."
"Lizzie," Mother interrupted. "I insist upon your staying and listening to Mr. Collins. Everyone else to the drawing room." Oh, now that was not all fair, my mother knew that I could not oppose such an injunction. Nevertheless, I held onto my elder sister's hand firmly.
"Jane. Jane. Please, don't—."
But Mother pulled Jane from my grasp and led her out of the room behind everyone else. I turned to the only one left besides Mr. Collins and myself. "Papa, stay," I begged quietly. Yet he, too, left the room; my closest ally had abandoned me to the mercy of Mr. Collins. There was naught left to do but remain and listen to him.
Mr. Collins held out a small, pink flower to me, almost as some sort of peace offering. I hesitated a moment, then reached out and took it from him, holding the delicate object carefully in my hand. I offered a weak smile, though I instantly regretted this action as he begun to speak. He seemed so much nicer when he was not talking.
"Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections." I admit I did like hearing that I had perfections, thus I did attempt to continue listening to him, but I soon found my mind wandering as he prattled on. He never spoke this long without interruption, though that was partially my fault—I could think of nothing to interject into his speech.
"I am sure my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken." My heart pounded in apprehension of the imminent proposal, of which my entire family was already aware was approaching. "Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life."
I was not entire sure that this was true (actually I was quite certain this was not), but it was nice to think that someone may, perhaps, prefer myself to my sister Jane. She was much more beautiful than I, so much so that one glance seemed to make men fall for her instantly and, just as rapidly, forget about me.
Mr. Collins cleared his throat nervously. "But before I am run away with my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying." I briefly considered interrupting him, but took too long in my indecision and he continued. "Firstly, that it is the duty of a clergyman to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add greatly to my happiness. And thirdly, that it is at the urging of my esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine, that I select a wife."
"Perhaps you should have stopped at the first two reasons, Mr. Collins," I commented. I flushed at my disrespect, staring determinedly at the flower in my hands.. I did not like hearing that Mr. Collins was asking me to marry him because his "esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine" desired him to.
My comment seemed to throw Mr. Collins completely off-balance, his prepared dialogue suddenly slipping from his mind. "My object…the reason I came to Longbourn was to choose from among Mr. Bennett's daughters…"
Even though sections of his speech were still passing over his lips, Mr. Collins was giving me the oddest of looks and seemed to be completely unaware that he was still speaking. He apparently did not know me well if he knew that I often had difficulty controlling my tongue.
He suddenly dropped onto one knee, surprising me greatly, seeing as he had not yet made one comment about how he was to inherit the estate or any other such discourteous (however true) comments. Had my sharp tongue really shaken him that greatly?
"Nothing remains but for me to assure you in the most animated and hopefully attractive language of the violence of my affections. You are just the sort of gentlewoman that Lady Catherine de Brough, and myself when it comes to it, would wish for me to marry. Your modesty, your economy, your many other amiable qualities…your beauty…"
I quite nearly laughed. Never had anyone (save my father) described me as being beautiful; it was always Jane who obtained that particular compliment. I hardly noticed that Mr. Collins had continued listing my agreeable attributes, of which I was sure it was impossible for me to have so many, until he said, "…your wit…"
Was that what had thrown Mr. Collins so off balance? The cleverness behind my rude remark? I thought this possibility over in my mind so thoroughly that it took several moments for me to realize that Mr. Collins had discontinued his discourse.
I had been planning to reject Mr. Collins as soon as he allowed me to speak—I had even thought of a little speech of my own to give to show him how dearly I meant it. However, I was now the one thrown off balance. I glanced at one of the doors to the room, knowing that my sisters and mother were on the other side with their ears to the door. Any other of my sisters would have never turned down a rejection under such circumstances; I, on the other hand, would. But now, I wasn't so sure.
From what I could tell, Mr. Collins was actually impressed with my brief show of discourtesy toward him. He would likely be the only man who was not driven away by my wit if this was true. Something else that surprised me was how his demeanor had altered when I had interrupted him. For once, he was not speaking—instead, he was gazing up at me silently with wide eyes, appearing tremendously apprehensive, as though realizing that my answer may not be the one he wanted to hear.
"Sir, I am honored by your proposal, but I regret that I must decline it," I said with much less intensely than I had originally intended.
Mr. Collins looked down and spoke softly. "I know ladies do not seek to seem to eager…that it is usual for young ladies to reject a man whom they secretly plan to accept."
"Mr. Collins, I am serious."
"My dear cousin, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage shall ever be made to you; thus I must conclude that you seek to increase my love by suspense according to the usual practice of elegant females."
"Mr. Collins, I am not that sort of female." But Mr. Collins did make a good point—I could not be certain that he or any other man would propose to me. Whilst I would be content to end up an old maid, my family, most specifically Mother, would never forgive me if I did so.
"Miss Elizabeth, please do me the honor of accepting my hand."
"I—." I paused and took a deep breath. I had once insisted that I would only be persuaded to marry by true love; but even then I had been certain that I would never find it. I should think of my family, as much as I would have rather forgotten them for the moment.
Knowing full well that I was likely going to regret this action for the rest of my life, I slowly nodded my head. "Yes."