A frantic dash through Longbourn’s halls ended triumphantly when Mrs. Bennet found her husband in the library with his head buried in one of the many books scattered about on his desk. If three-and-twenty years of marriage had taught her anything, she would have known he did not wish to be disturbed, especially at that particular moment. Alas, not being inclined to learn such lessons, the lady of the house approached him directly.
Wringing her hands in her apron, one which she donned more for show rather than functionality, for she was not inclined to do such menial tasks as housework, she cried, “Oh, Mr. Bennet!”
The gentleman did not bother to look up from his book.
“Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him once again, this time with more urgency in her voice, “you must allow me to tell you what happened at Lucas Lodge.”
His eyes trained on the page before him, he responded, “No doubt you mean to tell me which lady wore what and who shunned whom. Can it not wait just a while longer? At the very least until I finish this chapter?”
A determined matriarch whose business in life was marrying off her five daughters, she placed her hands on her hips in defiance. “It most certainly will not wait, and as it pertains to Lizzy, the one daughter to whom you are always giving preference, you will want to hear what I have to say just as eagerly as I wish to say it.”
Indeed, of Thomas Bennet’s five daughters – all of them out in society and neither of them married – his second eldest, Elizabeth, was his favorite. There was a quickness about her that none of her sisters possessed. With no sons to divert him, much less inherit his estate which was entailed to the male line, his second born child was Mr. Bennet’s greatest consolation.
Known for his dry humor and sardonic wit, the gray-haired patriarch peered over his spectacles at his wife. “Lizzy, you say?”
“I knew the mere mention of her name would command your attention.”
Mr. Bennet turned his book face down on the desk and leaned back in his chair. “Indeed, you have my undivided attention. Pray, do not keep me in suspense.”
“I have reason to hope that Lizzy has an admirer and one who happens to be from a most unexpected quarter, I might add.”
“You speak as though such a prospect comes as a surprise to you.”
“Why, I am more than surprised. I declare I am completely flabbergasted, as you, too, will be when you learn the gentleman’s identity.”
“Now that you have sufficiently prepared me to be amazed, I beg you to reveal this mystery admirer’s name?”
“It is that proud Mr. Darcy!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed with energy.
Her husband scoffed. “Surely you are mistaken for I know with certainty that Lizzy does not even like the gentleman, owing to his insulting remark the evening of the Meryton assembly—words to the effect that she is not handsome enough to tempt him, if I recall correctly.”
“Indeed, you do recall correctly. Mr. Darcy said our Lizzy was tolerable, which explains why I now find myself completely at odds over what to think or how to feel about this new development.”
“What evidence do you have to support your suspicions that the proud Mr. Darcy’s opinion of my Lizzy has changed?”
“Why, he danced with her, for one, when he might have danced with any number of single ladies in the room, including his so-called intimate friend, Miss Caroline Bingley.”
Already fatigued by his wife’s raptures, Mr. Bennet took a deep breath and blew it out just as quickly. Drawing himself up to his desk as though he meant to resume reading, he said, “Is this the sole basis for your theory?”
“There’s more. The two were seen speaking to each other on the balcony afterward. Mr. Darcy even raised our Lizzy’s hand to his lips before parting.”
Mr. Bennet arched his bushy brow. “Then, what you are saying is that Mr. Darcy is a true gentleman after all. Shall we have the banns read?”
“I did not say he offered his hand in marriage—at least not yet. But I do believe such a prospect is not beyond the realm of possibility.”
“Ah! From dislike to like, from like to matrimony so easily as that. The rapidity of the inner workings of the female mind never ceases to amaze me, especially when the future of a single gentleman of large fortune is at stake,” he said in jest, barely able to mask his amused expression.
“You may laugh at me all you like, but you will not dampen my spirits one bit. A mother knows these things after all. Mark my words; there will be not just one but two weddings at Netherfield in three months or my name is not Mrs. Francine Bennet.”
“You will pardon me, my dear, if I do not celebrate just yet, for I do not know precisely what your assertion portends. Either I will gain a son-in-law, or two, or I will not have had the pleasure of calling you my wife for the past couple decades.”
A woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper, who fancied herself as being of a nervous constitution when she was discontented, she cried, “Oh, Mr. Bennet! How you enjoy vexing me, but it simply will not do, especially today.”
“Pray, what makes today different from any other day?”
“Did I not tell you? Lizzy is expecting a gentleman caller today.” Turning on her heel, she proceeded to quit the room. Reaching for the doorknob, she looked back and faced her husband. “It is Mr. Darcy.”