‘Do not mention it, my dear Eliza. it would give me immense satisfaction if I could make myself of use to you.’
Besides, I add to myself, this entreat of yours shall only work in my favour.
As I amiably assure Elizabeth that I do not mind in the slightest to relieve her of Mr Collins’ attentions, I conceal the truth that my kindness extends farther than she had any conception of. I revel in the satisfaction of being useful, of course; however, what Lizzy does not know is that this sacrifice of my time will bring me ample reward. My objective is nothing short of securing Lizzy from Mr Collins’ addresses by engaging them towards myself. It so happens that Elizabeth, too, wants to direct the miserable soul away from herself.
I bid Lizzy farewell and watch from the doorstep of Lucas Lodge until she becomes a mere speck in the distance. She had informed me that Mr Collins is expected to arrive at any moment—sent by his cousin to divert him from the sting of rejection that is due upon him. Eliza is convinced he will extend his hand to her today. Upon her refusal, he shall need a distraction. And distract him I shall do.
I ascend to the upper window that overlooks the lane and await to perceive him. I shall not make any hesitations in meeting him and making clear to him my design. I know I must be encouraging, flirtatious. As I told Eliza, one must be upfront in such matters. A lady ought to be bold and clear in her intentions. Men are such fools. They so easily understand one thing as the opposite, giving a hundred meanings to a simple look. Forget being tolerable; I ought to be forward. As forward as a respectable lady dare, of course.
One may say my advances make me appear desperate. However, I find no shame in the truth that I am. I have said it to Eliza before. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. I have never thought highly of men, nor matrimony, but marriage has always been the goal. It is, after all, the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune. At twenty-seven, with no prospects, no wealth to my name to speak of, and a swarm of young siblings to succeed me, marriage is the only recourse. I am well aware I am plain, especially when compared to the simple elegance of Jane and Lizzy. I have never before been considered handsome and do not expect to be in the future. Dying an old maid is a real threat; one I will not settle for as long as I can help it. It is simply not an option to bring the unbridled shame of having a spinster as a daughter to my parents. However uncertain marriage may be in giving me happiness, it must be a pleasant preservative for a woman such as myself. This preservative I am determined to attain.
Mr Collins, to be sure, is neither sensible nor agreeable. His society is irksome and surely any semblance of his attachment to me would be imaginary. He had eyes first for Jane and changed his tune immediately after discovering she was being sought after. He suddenly imagined himself quite taken by Lizzy. I have no doubt that my encouragement in our past encounters will direct him straight to Lucas Lodge upon Lizzy’s rejection of his hand.
Despite Mr Collins’ unappealing disposition, he receives a modest amount of wealth from the parish and is due to inherit Longbourn upon the death of Mr Bennet. I am no romantic; I never have been. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr Collins’ character, connection and situation in life, I am convinced that if I can engage his attentions, my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast.
If I manage to secure Mr Collins, I will be satisfied. The least agreeable circumstance in the business will be the reaction it will occasion to Elizabeth, whose friendship I value beyond that of any other person. It is reassuring, in a vague sense, to know that Lizzy finds Mr Collins abominable. I know, at least, that if I achieve my object, Eliza will not be disappointed or upset, so much as she will be surprised. Perhaps even betrayed. I cannot be sure, yet this is a risk I am willing to take solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment. That is what Mr Collins is to me – not a romantic interest, nor a suitor of any worth. Simply, a long-term investment for security, safety and solace. We cannot all have the doting, childish romance that Jane and Bingley are pursuing, nor what is sure to be a complex, passionate relationship between Lizzy and Darcy. Silly girl. She must be blind if she cannot see his fascination with her.
As I observe the world from the round frame of the upper window, chin propped up on my folded hands, I come to the sombre realisation that I shall never be the object of another’s affection. I am to receive my dearest friend’s cousin as a last resort, a superficial intent and a lack of choice. I may not have had grand plans to fall in love and marry, and yet, sitting by this window and awaiting my fate, I cannot help but feel remorse. I am, after all, a girl like any other, whose heart yearns to feel warm and safe, cocooned in the love of a man who has eyes only for her. What might it be like to feel the gaze of adoration fall upon oneself? Would he approach me with gentility? All soft, tender declarations of fondness? Or would his love be bold? Loud, passionate and strong enough for me to feel it echoing in my core?
I ask only certainty in my future, I remind myself, shaking my thoughts from their momentary reverie. I do not have the luxury of waiting around for a desirable prospect, nor do I have the confidence of Eliza to turn my nose up at suitable men begging my hand. Compatibility, she wants. Love, she wants. How utterly ridiculous of her. She ought to have snapped up Mr Darcy immediately, regardless of whether or not she returns his interests. Ten thousand a year, and she has the nerve to find fault in his demeanour. I need not love and eloquence from a man. I simply require the satisfaction and guarantee of a home and company. So what if the company is tiresome?
Mr Collins is awkward, pompous and mechanical in nature. But he, too, is in love with the idea of marriage itself, rather than with a person. He seeks to set an example as a clergyman and fulfil the command of his patroness, the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It may not be romantic, but I believe it to be a noble incentive for matrimony. Neither of us shall be caught up in the throes of romance, but rather, we shall have a sensible marriage. The stupidity with which Mr Collins was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance, but still, he shall be my husband. I say this with utmost conviction. Mamma and Papa will bestow their consent with joyful alacrity, I am sure. They know as well as I that Mr Collins’ present circumstances make it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they can give little fortune, and his prospects of future wealth are exceedingly fair. What more could parents ask for their child?
I look up from where my head rests on my bent knees and turn to scan the outdoors, now bathed in the golden film of a slowly setting sun. It shall be dark soon and I quite hoped to settle this matter before day’s end. I wonder—
Oh! He has arrived! I wait until the stumpy figure is close enough to the house for me to make out the dejected, yet determined, glint in his dull, black eyes. Oh yes, he is most certainly here for our common aim. We both know that by the time the sun sinks below the horizon, we shall be an engaged couple. This match shall be to the satisfaction of us both. Yes, this is the right thing to do for everyone involved.