Longbourn’s master turned the page of the thick tome in his hand—a rare first edition his brother-in-law happened to procure for him in London—and chuckled at the passage he was reading. With a smile, he leaned forward to grasp his tea cup, raising the painted china to his lips and taking a slow sip as wisps and curls of steam unfurled from its shallow depths. A flash of vibrant colour drew his eyes to the window, and Mr. Bennet shook his head with amusement.
The weather was unseasonably crisp that morning, but apparently not so much as to prevent his second daughter from escaping the confines of the house for her early morning constitutional. Elizabeth had never been one to sit idly inside with her squeamish mother and sisters when the pull of wooded paths, lush meadows, and bubbling streams beckoned her so emphatically toward adventure. Though her mother never approved of Elizabeth’s vigorous habit, Mr. Bennet had not the heart to dissuade her from something she clearly loved, or the temporary freedom it afforded her, and so turned a blind eye to Elizabeth’s forays and a deaf ear to Mrs. Bennet’s complaints.
It was but a moment later that he heard the front door open and the distinct click of the lock as it closed, followed by muffled footsteps in the hall. A soft knock sounded upon the door to his library, and the gentleman laid aside his book. “Come in, Lizzy,” he called, linking his fingers upon his stomach as he reclined in his chair.
The door opened to reveal his second daughter, whose dark tresses, and even darker eyes, belied the natural lightness of her disposition. Her lively intelligence and sharp wit had long since earned her the title of his favourite, though he was willing to concede that Jane had perhaps a bit more sense than his three youngest daughters. With Elizabeth, though, Mr. Bennet could always count on being entertained with keen observations and sensible conversation, two attributes he had ignored when choosing his wife, but, in hindsight, heartily wished he had not.
“Good morning, Papa.”
Mr. Bennet’s astute eyes noticed his daughter’s flushed countenance and the mud-stained hem of her skirts. “Good morning, my dear,” he said with a wry turn of his mouth. “I see that you have already been out this morning, scampering through the countryside in the chilled air while your sisters, though far from sensible, stayed at home to indulge in more respectable pursuits. Tell me, were you perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse of the infamous Mr. Bingley on your rambles, for you know your two youngest sisters would never forgive you if you were to meet with him first?”
Elizabeth grinned. “No, sir. Unlike Kitty and Lydia, I believe I can wait until the assembly to see him. No doubt, making my acquaintance in the middle of a muddy field would leave Mr. Bingley with a very poor impression of me, indeed!”
“I would say so,” her father replied, “and I daresay your affectionate mother would never find it within her heart to forgive you.”
“True,” Elizabeth laughed. “True.”
A loud bang was heard above stairs, and then a clatter, closely followed by shrill voices raised in argument, his wife’s amongst them. Mr. Bennet repressed a weary oath and rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Nothing at all, I am afraid, that does not involve engaging your mother’s attention so that I might read my book in peace,” he replied, his tone equally light.
Another bang echoed through the house, and the master of Loungbourn straightened in his chair, leaning forward to pat his daughter’s hand affectionately. “As much as I enjoy our chats, Lizzy, I am certain your less sagacious sisters are anxious to plague you with questions for which you will have no answers they truly wish to hear. Off with you now,” he sighed, “before they all come below stairs and disrupt the quietude of my sanctuary.”
Elizabeth did as she was bid and left him, but Mr. Bennet had no sooner resumed his reading than he was interrupted a second time. “Enter,” he cried, his patience fraying.
Longbourn’s butler, Mr. Hill, entered the room and presented his master with an elegant calling card. Mr. Bennet accepted it with a frown, but upon reading it his countenance brightened. Motioning for Mr. Hill to usher his guest into the library, he cast his book aside and stood, straightening his coats in anticipation.
A moment later the door was thrown open and his guest announced.
“Mr. Bingley,” Mr. Bennet said politely as the door closed behind Netherfield’s new master, “to what do I owe such an honour this morning?”
Mr. Bingley was all smiles as he returned his host’s greeting, bowing cordially in turn. “I have been meaning to re-pay your visit far earlier than this date, Mr. Bennet, but regret that certain matters at Netherfield have taken up much of my time over the last several days. I suppose such demands come with the territory of owning an estate and I will grow used to them in time, but confess I am much more inclined at the moment to acquaint myself with all of my new neighbours. How do you do?”
Mr. Bennet inclined his head with a chuckle. “That you will, sir; that you will. You find me well this morning, Mr. Bingley. Have a seat.” He motioned to one of two chairs situated in front of his desk, and then reclaimed his own. “I understand from my steward that there are some issues with drainage on the far side of the Netherfield estate. I hope they will not prove too troublesome for you come spring.”
Mr. Bingley smiled pleasantly. “With any hope we will have it all in check before year’s end. I have ridden out with my steward, Mr. Middlebrook, every day this week and, before I took possession of the place, consulted a very great friend of mine who owns a vast estate in the north. He is excessively clever in his management of his own affairs, and so I begged his assistance with mine. Between them, Darcy and Mr. Middlebrook have come up with some very interesting solutions to the problem at hand; of course, at the moment I cannot seem to recall much of their complicated proposals, or their detailed instructions regarding which parcels need to be cleared and which need to be filled with any degree of clarity. I am afraid it is all Greek to me.”
Mr. Bennet chuckled. The young man before him might do nicely for one of his younger daughters, or even Jane, but he could tell by Mr. Bingley’s simple, nonchalant attitude that he was likely to have little luck holding Lizzy’s interest for long. For a woman, his second daughter was far too intelligent and discerning for her own good. Like Lizzy, Mr. Bingley had a cheerful disposition, to be sure, but apparently possessed little in the way of substance regarding more serious matters, and Mr. Bennet doubted any man, even one as agreeable as Mr. Bingley, would appreciate the merit of having a wife who proved more clever than he was.
“Fear not, sir,” Longbourn’s master said. “I have enough on my plate with my own fields, and so will leave my inquiries until another time. If you are ever in need of assistance, though, I hope you will not hesitate to ask for it. With a wife and five daughters, I assure you I will welcome any intelligent thoughts you have to communicate.”
Mr. Bingley’s eyes lit up at the mention of Mr. Bennet’s daughters. “And how is your family, Mr. Bennet?” he asked, his expression eager as he leaned forward in his chair. “The weather has been very fine—perfect for walking out in the afternoon. I trust they are all in good health?”
And here we arrive at the heart of the matter, Mr. Bennet thought, his lips quirking with amusement. God help the man if my wife was right in assuming he wants a wife! Deciding to have a bit of fun with his neighbour, the elder man steepled his fingers beneath his chin and said evenly, “I assume they are all as well as ever. When I last saw them at breakfast they appeared to have arms and legs enough between them.”
Mr. Bingley’s mouth fell open before he quickly snapped it shut, a look of half-laughing alarm on his face. He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. “Ah. Yes. Well, that is excellent news, indeed. I had the pleasure of receiving a visit from Sir William Lucas yesterday, and he was quite generous in his praise. He assured me that all of your daughters are very lovely, especially the two eldest.”
Mr. Bennet lowered his head and smirked. “Yes, well, it is Jane, my eldest, who is the most handsome of the bunch, but as for the three youngest, I suppose you will have to judge for yourself as to whether their beauty is consolation enough for being several of the silliest girls in England; though, I must put in a good word for my Lizzy. I find she has a fair bit more sense than the rest.”
It was clear by the return of the shocked expression upon his face that Mr. Bingley hardly knew how to react to this statement by their father, and so remained silent, his mouth opening and closing several times before smartly abandoning any attempt at a reply. Mr. Bennet took pity on him, however, and engaged him with talk of the surrounding area for several more minutes until Mr. Bingley finally rose to take his leave. They parted with the assurance that Netherfield’s master would return to dine with the Bennets on the morrow; a prospect that Mr. Bennet knew would please his anxious wife and curious daughters exceedingly.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed my first offering for the Austen Authors P&P200 Project. Thank you so much for reading! If you’d like to read more of my writing, please visit my website.