Mr Bennet's Call
This is my imagining of a scene omitted from P&P: in the original work, we discover that Mr Bennet paid a call upon Bingley when he teases Mrs Bennet about not being able to escape the acquaintance. I found myself wondering, what was said in that call?
“Mr Bennet, of Longbourn-house, sir,” the butler intoned, and Bingley nodded, rising from his chair behind the desk and coming around it to greet the visitor. He had heard of Bennet and Longbourn already: while not a wealthy family, apparently they were among the first in the neighbourhood and Mr Bennet was very well thought of.
“Mr Bennet, a pleasure to make your acquaintance!” Bingley strode forward, offering his hand. He saw a man of medium height and perhaps fifty years or so, with bright dark eyes glinting with intelligence from beneath shaggy grey eyebrows. “I am Charles Bingley.”
Mr Bennet assessed the young man towering over him. He was put in mind of a red setter puppy: all eagerness and over-large paws. Bingley was a friendly-looking chap, tall and lean, with a mop of reddish-blond curls and a bright smile. He was also, Bennet thought gloomily, quite good-looking enough to put any of his girls out of countenance even without Mrs Bennet’s clucking over his wealth. Well, perhaps the lad would like Jane or Kitty. Elizabeth would undoubtedly see humour in his puppyish eagerness, Mary would be appalled, and Lydia would not care because he didn’t wear a red coat.
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr Bingley,” Mr Bennet said with an answering smile, shaking hands and accepting the offered seat. “May I say that it is very good to see Netherfield occupied again?”
“It is a lovely house, is it not? And I am very much looking forward to meeting my neighbours – Sir William Lucas told me that there is to be an assembly Wednesday-next, and I most certainly plan to attend, and dance every dance – Sir William has told me, sir, that your daughters are the jewels of Hertfordshire, and I do hope that I may impose on you for introductions!”
Bennet could not help but laugh. “But of course, Mr Bingley, you are welcome to be introduced to all five of my daughters, and to dance with them all.”
“Goodness, five daughters? However do you keep them all straight?” He grinned disarmingly, and Bennet smiled.
“’Tis simple enough: let me paint a portrait of each with words, and we shall see how accurately I have described them, if you are able to correctly identify each at the assembly without being told their names.”
“Capital, an excellent game!” Bingley clapped his hands and listened intently.
“I shall start from the youngest, I think. Lydia is but fifteen and the silliest girl in Hertfordshire. At the assembly she will no doubt be running about and making a spectacle of herself, you will easily hear her before you see her. Her sister Kitty, next in age, will be following Lydia faithfully, for she is just as silly but perhaps not quite so loud. My middle girl, Mary, is quiet and bookish, or fancies herself so. If ever she starts to sing, I strongly suggest that you find an excuse to leave the room. At the assembly, she will be sitting against the wall trying to be a wallflower, but she finds it rather difficult, because like her sisters, she is a very striking girl.”
“You have not said whether they are dark-haired or fair, tall or short,” Bingley protested, thinking that so far none of them sounded to his taste, striking or not.
“Ah,” Bennet smiled, “Of my five daughters, the eldest and the youngest are blonde, and the others dark of hair. All of them are quite tall save my second-eldest, Elizabeth.” Bennet smiled at the name, and Bingley suspected that this was his favourite daughter.
“Elizabeth?” he prompted. “Dark of hair, and not so tall?”
“Quite petite, indeed,” Bennet said, nodding, “but blessed with an intellect more towering than her other four sisters put together. She is my favourite, I admit freely: many are the hours that we spend in my library debating books. Her wit is quite biting, though, and she finds great humour in the foibles of humanity – much as I do myself, I confess.”
Bennet fell silent for several moments, smiling slightly to himself, and then shook himself and glanced back at Bingley. “Where was I? Ah, yes, and after Lizzy there is Miss Bennet, my eldest, Jane. A sweeter-natured girl never walked this earth, Mr Bingley. And though I say it myself, she is as Sir William described: a jewel of the county. I do not doubt that you will identify Jane at first glance at the Assembly, sir. She will be quite clearly the most beautiful girl in the room.”
Bingley smiled. “I look forward to making the acquaintance of all your daughters, sir!”
“Prettily said, prettily said,” Bennet smiled, rising to his feet as a knock sounded at the door, “and we will see if you are able to rise to my challenge and identify them all!”
“I shall do my best,” Bingley vowed, thinking privately that even if he failed at that, being introduced to Miss Bennet sounded compensation enough.
A Mr Goulding was announced, and Bennet greeted him with a smile and a friendly handshake as he left. Bingley moved forward to greet the new arrival, his ready smile coming to his face again.