Mr. Bennet was among the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley … though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid, she had no knowledge of it. Pride and Prejudice – Chapter 1
Early October 1811
Despite his insistence that he would not call on the newest member of the Meryton neighborhood, Mr. Bennet had always intended to pay a call on Mr. Bingley. After all, they were near neighbors, and if his cows were to wander on to the man’s property, he hoped to encounter a friendly face when he arrived at Netherfield Park with an apology for any inconvenience as a result of bovine trespass.
From intelligence he had received in the village, Mr. Bennet knew that each morning before breakfast, Mr. Bingley enjoyed a ride in the park on an excellent stallion that was sparking as much comment in the village as its rider–as least from the male population. He knew that if he arrived at Netherfield Park at approximately 9:30, Mr. Bingley would still be in the park on his mount, and he would have sufficient time to make his own inquiries about Netherfield’s new master.
As hoped, it was Buttons, who had served the previous owners of the manor house as its butler, who opened the door. Following an exchange of knowing looks, Buttons directed Mr. Bennet to the study, explaining that Mr. Bingley was expected within the half hour.
Mr. Bennet began by paying Meryton’s newest resident a compliment. “If Mr. Bingley has opted to retain the services of the Darlingtons’ servants, then I already know him to be a man of good sense.”
“Mr. Bingley is a man of sense,” Buttons agreed, “but as for how long I’ll have this position, there’s no telling.”
“Why is that, Buttons?”
“When Mr. Morrow, the agent, told me that Mr. Bingley wanted to retain my services, as well as the wife’s as his cook, I reckoned all the servants would get called back.” Buttons shook his head. “But that didn’t happen. Then the gentleman, Mr. Bingley that is, told me only this morning that he’s off to London to fetch his sisters and that one of them will keep house for him. Nothing was said about any additional servants or even keeping the present ones on. All that will depend on the sister—a Miss Caroline Bingley as were. But for the time, I’m serving a kind man, and I’m content with that.”
After commiserating with Buttons over the vagaries of serving a new master, Thomas Bennet got to the reason for his visit. “So, tell me, Buttons, what is this Mr. Bingley like?”
“I knew that was why you come whilst Mr. Bingley is out in the park riding,” Buttons said with a smile. “There isn’t a family in the parish what isn’t curious about every particular pertaining to Mr. Bingley right down to the blacking he uses on his boots.”
“No surprise there—what with the imbalance in the resident population.”
“What imbalance is that?” Buttons asked.
“Too many unmarried daughters and not enough gentlemen. I can account for five of them myself.”
With a knowing nod, as Buttons had two daughters of his own, the butler shared with Mr. Bennet that Mr. Bingley was of a most amiable disposition, but seemed unsure of his position as lord of the manor.
“Word about the village is that he inherited a large fortune from his father’s businesses in the North and has never had a house of his own. For guidance, he looks to his friend, Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire, the grandson of an earl. Night and day, those two are—Mr. Bingley being rather informal in the way he goes about things whilst Mr. Darcy looks as if he sleeps standing up–stiff as a post that one is. But rumor has it that he is one of the richest men in England.”
“I am happy to hear that Mr. Bingley has a mentor—and a rich one at that—but a man of wealth and rank will have no interest in my daughters. Besides, I was charged by Mrs. Bennet to find out everything I could about Mr. Bingley. My girls are very keen to know if the man dances.”
Buttons again nodded. “Only this morning, the gentleman specifically mentioned that he enjoyed dancing and that it was his intention to attend every dance whilst in the country.”
“Well, then my business is done here!” Mr. Bennet said, pretending to rise. If Mr. Bingley attends the assembly, he will most certainly fall in love with one of my daughters. That will make Mrs. Bennet happy, and peace will reign at Longbourn.”
“Mr. B., I wouldn’t count my chickens before they’re hatched. As determined as your missus is to have her daughters married, Mrs. Bennet isn’t the only one looking to have a daughter take up residence at Netherfield.”
Any additional information would have to wait as the sound of hooves on gravel could be heard on the drive, signaling the return of Mr. Bingley.
* * *
“I hope you have not been waiting too long. I have no wish to inconvenience anyone,” Mr. Bingley said after introductions had been made. “Of course, there was no way for you to know that I ride every morning.”
“Mr. Bingley, there is very little about you that is not published abroad for the perusal of all and sundry. I can assure you that whatever home you enter in the shire, you will find your favorite wine stocked in the wine cupboard.”
Bingley laughed at the comment. “And why is that?”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man must be in want of a wife. The truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of one or other of their daughters.”
Bingley scratched his head. “This comes as news to me.”
“Then you are fortunate that I called so that I could enlighten you—or warn you—whichever way you choose to view the matter.”
Bingley looked perplexed.
“Allow me to explain. In the country, there are fewer entertainments than in Town, and you, sir, are a much needed diversion for all those families with daughters of a certain age, one of whom you will most certainly wish to marry.”
“I do confess that I take much pleasure in the country, and I have it on good authority that there are many attractive ladies hereabouts with a fondness for dancing, an amusement I greatly enjoy. As to the matter of marriage, I cannot say.”
“You need not say or do anything, Mr. Bingley. It will all be said and done for you.”
“Mr. Bennet, you are possessed of an extraordinary wit—”
“…and five daughters.”
Bingley laughed out loud. “I am happy to call you neighbor, sir.”
“I hope you feel the same way after the assembly. Now, as to the matter of bovine trespass, on occasion…”
I would love to read your comments. “Mr. Bingley Returns Mr. Bennet’s Call” will be posted on July 30. Hope you come back.