It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
At least, this was Mrs. Bennet’s claim while the family gathered in the foyer to wish Mr. Bennet safe travels. Straightening his coat lapels, she kissed the whiskers of his recently shaven face while simultaneously ushering him out the door. “Netherfield Park is let at last and it is hardly two kilometers down the road. Off with you!”
“My dear, you’ve hardly given reason,” he stated mildly. His stark bluish grey eyes flicked to his second offspring’s while his wife was occupied.
“Oh but I have!” she defended.
“And what is his name?” Mr. Bennet guessed.
“Bingley!” she chimed.
“Is he married or single?”
“Single, to be sure!”
“I can never be sure, dear.”
She swatted his chest. “He is for one of our daughters, certainly. A single man of large fortune: four or five thousand a year! What a fine thing for our girls.”
"Not all of them at once, I hope?" her husband remarked.
“I hope you don’t mean to insinuate young men are collectible things, mama,” James Bennet intercepted from where he leaned against the parlor doorway with the eldest, Jane. Mr. Bennet smiled softly.
She gave him a smirk. “With four daughters to take care of, my Lizzy, I will collect as many as I can.”
She turned back to her husband while he asked, “Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design!” she huffed. “Nonsense, how can you talk so? But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
“I see no occasion for that,” he harrumphed mildly, wielding his walking cap. “You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr. Bingley might like you the best of the party.”
James and Jane exchanged smiles while the youngest, Lydia and Katherine giggled profusely. The middle daughter, Mary, sat in the window seat reading and giving all appearances of ignoring them albeit for her occasional glances.
Their mother fanned herself against the late summer heat. “My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five—I mean four, sorry Lizzy, love, your middle name is a curse upon you.”
James cast his grey eyes to the ceiling, gently shaking his head while his mother continued, “When a woman has four grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
"In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of,” Mr. Bennet commented dryly, earning snorts of mirth from his eldest children behind their hands.
Mrs. Bennet’s mind was on a singular track. “But my dear, you must go and see Mr. Bingley when he comes into the neighborhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you,” her husband smarted.
“But consider your daughters! Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, and you know they rarely visit newcomers. You must go or it will be impossible for us to visit him otherwise.”
“You are over scrupulous surely. I daresay Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls. I’ll even throw in a good word for our Lizzy. If Mr. Bingley has a half-penny of humour worth exploring, he will enjoy the scheme.”
Color rose in Mrs. Bennet’s cheeks. “I desire you will do no such thing. Jamie is not a bit better than the others, and I am sure he is not so half so handsome as Jane—”
“Thank you for thinking so highly of me, mama,” he quipped. His fair sister Jane rubbed his arm.
Mrs. Bennet spared a consoling glance over her shoulder. “Oh my love, you know you are precious to me but this is a matter of four against one.” She turned back to her husband. “And no one is half so good humoured as Lydia. You are always giving him the preference. Did I marry such a typical Englishman?”
Mr. Bennet tucked a flyaway curl of ash brown hair behind her ear. “I fear there is everything typical about me, my dear, as there is with my children. They have none of them much to recommend them. To the urban breed, they are all silly and ignorant girls. It should be a light to our lives that Jamie has something more of a quickness than his sisters. I haven’t any idea from where he got it.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves,” she exclaimed while slapping the cap upon his head.
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
“Ah, you do not know what I suffer!” she proclaimed. Her son leaned his head against the doorframe behind her, and Jane put her own upon his shoulder.
Mr. Bennet opened the iron-ribbed door to allow a fresh breeze into the room. “But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighborhood.”
“It will be no use to us if twenty such should come!” she retorted. “Since you will not visit them!”
He straightened his cap. “Depend upon it, my life-love, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all, as I already have this one.”
Wife and daughters perked their heads up. James smiled softly while Mr. Bennet grinned, the man so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, with reserve and caprice that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. “When is the next ball of Meryton expected, Lizzy?”
“Tomorrow fortnight,” was the reply.
With glistening eyes she pulled him in for a kiss before just as quickly slapping his chest. Her mind was less difficult. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.
Once their temperaments had been set to rights, Mr. Bennet stood straight and announced to his family, “Well who would join me for a stroll into town, since I’ve been swept from my own home?”
Even Mary rushed to find her shoes.