In chapter 22 we’re told that, the morning after a dinner at Lucas Lodge, Mr. Collins slyly slips away from Longbourn with the covert aim of proposing marriage to Charlotte Lucas. This is exactly what Charlotte has been hoping for, and, perceiving him from an upper window, she instantly sets out “to meet him accidentally in the lane.” There she is rewarded with eloquent professions of Mr. Collins’s love. (This section is full of witty narration, by the way – well worth reading again!) All that then remains is for the prospective groom to apply to her father for his consent. Here is that unwritten scene:
Wednesday, November 27, 1811
Mr. Collins could be no less satisfied with his own eloquence than with its effect. He had obtained his object and, there in the garden, the amiable Charlotte had promised to be his.
The more he had thought about it, the more certain he became that his second choice had been the right one all along, for surely Miss Lucas more closely matched his noble patroness’s description of the proper wife for him – an active, useful sort of person, able to make a small income go a good way. Yes, Lady Catherine would be well pleased.
“When is to be the day that you make me the happiest of men?” he entreated his intended as they reentered the house. “Do say it will be soon, my dear Charlotte!”
Charlotte could not help being flattered by her lover’s impatience. In truth, however, Mr. Collins was thinking as much of Lady Catherine at that moment as of herself, and of his triumph to come when he presented his very appropriate bride to that lady.
“Really, Mr. Collins,” Charlotte said in a low voice. “I have said I will be your wife and I will, but first you must do two things to satisfy what is right on the occasion.”
“Only name them, my beloved.”
“You must promise to keep our understanding a secret at Longbourn until I can break the news to the family myself.”
Though it would cost him dearly to do so, Mr. Collins dutifully agreed.
“And, of course, you must speak to my father. I am persuaded that he will make no difficulty whatsoever, but the formality must be observed.”
“Naturally!” Mr. Collins enthused, relieved that this second stipulation was more in keeping with his taste. “I would not slight your honored father for the world. I hope I do not merely flatter myself in saying that I know how it should be done, too. You can trust me, my dear Charlotte, to show him the respect and deference which are his due.”
“Very well. Do step into the library here, and I will tell my father that you are waiting to speak to him.”
Charlotte disappeared, and Mr. Collins used the next few minutes alone to arrange in his mind the fine compliments and ceremonial words he would use when Sir William Lucas appeared. It was the sort of thing a person could expect to do only once and, therefore, it must be done correctly the first time.
“Mr. Collins,” said Sir William, smiling magnanimously as he entered. “How delightful to see you again so soon! My daughter tells me it is a matter of some importance that brings you this morning. Pray, do be seated,” he invited, gesturing to the nearest chair.
Mr. Collins steadfastly declined the offer, thereby obliging his host to continue on his feet as well. “It is a matter of too much import for me to take my ease prematurely,” he said by way of explanation. “In truth, my dear sir, it is nothing less than the making of my future happiness and, if I may be so bold,” he said with an exaggerated bow meant to portray just the opposite impression, “that of your amiable daughter’s as well.”
“Indeed? How so?” asked Sir William, feigning more ignorance than what was rightfully his at that moment.
“Well may you ask. Allow me to enlighten you, sir. It is simply this. I rejoice to say that I have been so fortunate as to procure the honor of Miss Lucas’s favor, and now I humbly beseech the honor of your blessing on our union as well.”
“Dear me! This is a surprise, although not an unpleasant one, I assure you, Mr. Collins. I had thought your interest tended in a different direction. That is all.”
“How perceptive you are. While it is true that conscience compelled me to attempt some reparation to my fair cousins…”
Here, Mr. Collins was briefly interrupted by an eager Sir William, saying, “Naturally, naturally. A man of your high moral tone could do no less.”
“…I am relieved to say that I have satisfied that obligation without loss of either my dignity or my liberty.”
“Elizabeth?” guessed Sir William. A sober nod from his companion confirmed it. “Perhaps too headstrong for her own good.”
“So she had proven to be. But I harbor no ill will towards her – no, indeed I do not – for she has done me a great service in the end by freeing me to find a more affable partner elsewhere.”
Mr. Collins allowed a suspenseful pause. Having ably set the stage, he instinctively felt the time was right to begin building toward the final climax. Presently, he undertook his most stately manner and proceeded.
“My dear Sir William, a gentleman in your position – a knight of the realm and a man once distinguished by the king himself – perhaps has every right to expect more than a humble country parson for your daughter. Still, I beg leave to point out that although my suit may appear modest at first, it is not completely without merit. You know my happy connection with the noble family de Bourgh and, of course, my future prospects as regards the Longbourn estate.” Here he momentarily dropped his voice by way of an aside. “Understanding the man is a friend of yours, I will say no more about that. Still, I trust that a woman who can count these blessings among the benefits of marriage can on the whole have very little reason to repine.”
“I should think not, my dear Mr. Collins. I should think not! Indeed, I must say that I am very well pleased with the idea, and if Charlotte has agreed, I certainly will not stand in your way. Let us share the happy news with Lady Lucas at once, shall we? I think I can promise she will be as delighted as I am at the prospect. Capital, capital!”
Sir William hurried to call his wife and daughter, who had been, fortuitously, waiting not far down the corridor for just such an eventuality. Lady Lucas, having already taken a hint from Charlotte, began expounding on her joy at once and of her sanguine expectation that it would prove a most fortunate alliance on both sides.
Soon the entire Lucas household was taken into the celebration, each member quickly perceiving how having the weight of Charlotte’s impending spinsterhood off their hands would go a fair way to improving their own prospects. Charlotte herself was perhaps the most composed of the lot. Giddy excitement escaped her, but on the whole she was satisfied with her day’s work.