It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a husband.
However little known the feelings or views of such a woman may be on her first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that she is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their sons.
“My dear Mrs. Bennet,” said her husband to her one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mrs. Bennet replied that she had not.
“But it is,” returned he; “for Mr. Long has just been here, and he told me all about it.”
Mrs. Bennet made no answer.
“Do not you want to know who has taken it?” cried her husband impatiently.
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mr. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young woman of large fortune from the north of England; that she came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that she agreed with Mrs. Morris immediately; that she is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of her servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is her name?”
“Is she married or single?”
“Oh! single, my dear, to be sure! A single woman of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our boys!”
“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mrs. Bennet,” replied her husband, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of her marrying one of them.”
“Is that her design in settling here?”
“Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that she may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit her as soon as she comes.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the boys 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, Miss Bingley might like you the best of the party.”
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be any thing extraordinary now. When a man has five grown-up sons he ought to give over thinking of his own beauty.”
“In such cases, a man has not often much beauty to think of.”
“But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Miss Bingley when she comes into the neighbourhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”
“But consider your sons. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Lady Anne and Sir Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no new-comers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit her if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous surely. I dare say Miss Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure her of my hearty consent to her marrying whichever she chuses of the boys: though I must throw in a good word for my little Johnny.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Johnny is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure he is not half so handsome as Luke, nor half so good-humoured as Nicholas. But you are always giving him the preference.”
“They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied her; “they are all silly and ignorant, like other boys; but Johnny has something more of quickness than his brothers.”
“Mrs. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way! You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
“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 how I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young women of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.”
“It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”
Mrs. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make her husband understand her character. His mind was less difficult to develop. He was a man of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When he was discontented he fancied himself nervous. The business of his life was to get his boys married; its solace was visiting and news.