It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
That was why, with such imprudence, Mrs. French saw the newest single man of the neighborhood as the rightful property of her daughters.
"My dear Mr. French," the lady in question said to her husband," have you heard that someone now occupies Nolanfield Park?"
Mr. French, who was sitting in his favorite chair with his nose deep in a book replied that he had not.
"Then I see I am the first to tell you! Mrs. Superior has just been there and she told me all about it." Mrs. French, who was a portly middle-aged woman, clapped her hands with glee. She had long hoped to see Nolanfield bought by a man of fortune. It was the perfect opportunity for her girls.
However, their father, Mr. Maurice French, was not quite as taken with the idea of a new neighbor as his wife.
When no reply was forthcoming, she said, "Do you not wish to know who has taken it?"
Maurice sighed and closed his book," You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
That was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Superior says that Nolanfield has been taken by a young man of great fortune. He came down from the north on Monday and was so delighted by the house that he purchased it immediately!"
Maurice raised an eyebrow, only slightly interested in the conversation," What is his name?"
"Charming. David Charming."
"Is he married or single?"
"Oh, single, of course! He's a single man of large fortune...about four or five thousand a year! What a fine thing for our girls." Mrs. French was fluttering about the room, unable to contain her excitement.
Maurice seemed perplexed," How can it affect them?"
Mrs. French shook her head," My dear Mr. French, how can you be such a simpleton? You must realize that I am thinking of his marrying one of them!"
Maurice's brow furrowed in a mix of anger and confusion," Is that his... reason for settling here?"
"Nonsense! How can you talk so? I mean to say that it is very likely he may fall in love with one of them! You must go and speak with him as soon as he arrives."
Mr. French sank back down into his chair with a huff," I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Charming may like you the best of the party."
Mrs. French blushed," My dear, you flatter me! I once might have been called a beauty, but with five grown up daughters, I ought to not think of my own beauty over that of our girls."
"In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of in the first place."
Mrs. French ignored her husband," You simply have to call upon Mr. Charming when he comes into the neighborhood."
"I'd rather not engage myself in such matters," Maurice replied, smirking at his wife. It was no secret that he enjoyed winding her up.
"Sir, you must consider your daughters! It could be a marvelous arrangement for one of them. Sir and Lady Minor are determined to go, just for the purpose of securing their own daughters. If you do not go, it will be impossible for us to visit him!"
Mr. French flipped a page in his book," You are over-reacting, woman. I dare say Mr. Charming will be very glad to see you. If you'd like, I'll send a few lines to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever one of our daughters he chooses, though I must throw in a good word for my little Belle."
Mrs. French stamped her foot," You will do no such thing! Belle is not a bit better than the others...she's not half so handsome as Mary Margaret, nor half so good humoured as Ruby. I don't know why you're always giving her the preference!"
"They are all silly and ignorant, like other girls," Maurice insisted," But Belle has something more of a quickness than her sisters."
Mrs. French gasped at her husband," How can you abuse your children in such a way? You must take a delight in vexing me! You have no compassion for my poor nerves!"
She allowed herself to fall onto the couch, clutching at her chest.
"You mistake me, my dear. I have the highest respect for your nerves, they have been my constant companion these last twenty years."
Mrs. French glowered at him," You hateful man! You do not know what I suffer."
"But I do hope you recover, and you live to see many such men of five thousand a year move into the neighborhood," Maurice replied, still smirking in triumph.
"It will nor matter if twenty such will come, if you will not visit them," Mrs. French snapped.
"My dear, when there are twenty, I shall visit them all."
Mr. French was an odd mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and impulsiveness, that, despite being married to him for twenty odd years, Mrs. French could still not make out his character.
Her mind was less difficult to understand. Mrs. French was a woman of average intelligence, little information, and uncertain temper. The only business of her life was to get her daughters married.
As it was, Mr. French was among the earliest of those who spoke with Mr. Charming. He had always intended to visit the young man, though he assured his wife otherwise until the night after.
He entered their sitting room, happy to see that all of his family was gathered together. It would be the most opportune time to tell them of his meeting.
He addressed his favored daughter, Miss Isabelle French first. She was situated in a high-backed chair, trimming a hat.
"I do hope Mr. Charming will like your hat, Belle."
Mrs. French replied with," How are we to know what Mr. Charming likes, since we cannot visit?"
Belle, who had promptly stopped trimming her hat, cut in," Mother, you forget that we are to meet him at the assemblies. Mrs. Superior promised to introduce him."
Belle had little patience for her mother's silliness, and she did anything she could to prevent foolhardy fights between her parents.
Mrs. French chuckled disdainfully," I don't think Mrs. Superior will do any such thing. She had two nieces of her own. She is a manipulative and hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her."
Mr. French laughed at his wife's statements," I heartily agree with you, Mrs. French, which is why I am glad to find you do not depend on her serving you."
Mrs. French turned her nose up and decided not to reply, instead she began to scold Ashley, the next to youngest of her daughters for coughing.
"Ashley has no discretion in her coughs," said her father, sarcastically," She times them ill."
Ashley pulled at her hair worriedly," I do not cough for my own amusement, you know."
Ruby, the youngest and wildest of their children, sighed loudly. She enjoyed being the center of attention at all times, much like their mother," Belle, when is the next ball to be?"
Belle, who was busy with her hat, replied simply," It's but a fortnight from now."
"So it is," cried their mother," and Mrs. Superior does not come back 'till the day before, so it will be impossible for her to introduce us to Mr. Charming."
"Then, my dear," Mr. French replied," Perhaps you may have the advantage on your friend and introduce Mr. Charming to her."
"That is impossible, Mr. French! How can I introduce them if I do not know him myself? Why must you tease me?"
"I honour your circumspection. A fortnight's acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight, but if we do not venture somebody else will...and after all, Mrs. Superior and her daughters must stand their chance, and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself."
All five of the girls stared at their father. Mary Margaret, the eldest, who was known for her astounding beauty was gazing up at her father with wide-eyed amazement. Despite her strange look, she was still considered "the fairest of all" the French's daughters. Her skin was white as fresh snow and her lips were the brightest red, even when out powder and paint.
Belle, next to her sister in beauty as well as age, had a knowing smile on her face. She was the only one of Mr. French's children who could understand his strange ways. Though she was not the "fairest of them all" she was considered quite a beauty in her own right. Like Mary Margaret, she had pale skin, though not quite as perfect as her older sister's, but she also had eyes the brightest color of blue, her father often remarked upon their bewitching effects, much to Mrs. French's annoyance.
Kathryn, who was the middle child, was very plain in look and countenance. She, like her sister Belle, preferred to read and learn than to indulge in silly pastimes...but she enjoyed very little and did not have an agreeable attitude, despite her intelligence.
Their youngest two daughters, Ashley and Ruby, were both giggling at their father's declaration. Neither of them took anything very seriously, and their constant imprudence ruined their otherwise lovely features, according to Mr. French.
Mrs. French, who was as stunned as their girls, said only," This is nonsense!"
"Do you consider being introduced a nonsense, my good woman?" Mr. French cried, then turning to Kathryn," What say you, Kat? You are a young lady of extensive reading, surely you must know!"
Kathryn struggled to find words," I-er-"
Mr. French sighed," While Kathryn is thinking of a reply, let us turn our attention back to Mr. Charming."
Mrs. French stood," I am sick of Mr. Charming!" She was red in the face and her mouth was twisted in an unattractive scowl.
"If that is the case," Her husband said," Then why did you not tell me before? Had I known of your change of heart, I would not have called upon him this morning. I am afraid that now that I have visited, we will be unable to escape his acquaintance..."
The astonishment of all the ladies was just what Mr. French had wished for.
Mrs. French and her two youngest daughters were alight with un-repressed joy. They danced around, talking of what they would wear and which color bonnet best suited their eyes and height.
Kathryn merely continued to read, although her smile continued to grow the longer she read the page.
Mary Margaret turned to her sister," Belle, are you not excited? It seems we will get to meet Mr. Charming after all!"
Belle smiled at her older sister," Yes. It seems everything will work out as mother planned. Mr. Charming will surely fall in love with you at first sight, and you'll soon have five thousand a year, dear sister!"
Mary Margaret rolled her eyes," Oh, Belle, what am I supposed to do with you?"
Belle just shrugged and returned to trimming her hat, smiling to herself.