"Mr. Bennet, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," pronounced the young man with a warm smile, his complexion ruddy from a morning in the saddle. "Do sit down, please."
"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Bingley. Thank you." Mr. Bennet chose a chintz chair that was as familiar as the man in front of him was strange, having known the set during the reign of Netherfield's former occupants, and settled himself to be amused at the newcomer's expense. If his years had taught him to trust anything implicitly, it was that the addition of a new and eligible young person to a society was sure to be excessively diverting. "I bid you welcome to the neighborhood and offer my assistance, if I can in anyway provide it, in helping you settle."
"Thank you, Mr. Bennet, that is quite kind of you, but matters are well in hand. The greatest service you might do me was already been performed when you paid me the honor of calling," he declared enthusiastically, exposing a boyish grin.
"So word of my daughters has proceeded me, has it?" Mr. Bingley crimsoned slightly, but seeing nothing but humor in his guest's face, nodded good-naturedly in agreement. "It would be astonishing to learn that it was my company so sought in this country, and not that of five pretty maids, but as we need never put the question to the test, I'm willing to concede that the honor I impart by merely calling suffices for hospitality."
Mr. Bingley laughed, "As you should, Mr. Bennet. Surely you acknowledge that a large family of ladies is always an asset to a neighborhood?"
"Oh come now, Mr. Bingley!" Mr. Bennet shrewdly replied. "I challenge you to ask the mothers of other unmarried women that question. My answer concurs with theirs."
"I suppose I need only apply to my sister, who is rather jealous of all female company," he laughingly conceeded. "Dear me! What utter nonsense have I been proposing? I certainly should have qualified my question as pertaining to the bachelor's perspective."
"My wife would have it that you move here precisely to accommodate the neighborhood by distinguishing one of its daughters with your hand. Beware, Mr. Bingley. You will certainly be the darling of every matchmaker in Hertfordshire. Though the prospect of a society teeming with young ladies might seem, on the surface, to your taste, I am not sure your lot is so very enviable."
"Yes, Mr. Darcy, a good friend, warned me that might be the case, and of all men he certainly should know. He will be joining me here when I collect my two sisters and brother from London. An excellent man, and a far more exciting prospect for scheming mamas than my insignificant self. I plan on enjoying what company the neighborhood has to offer, Mr. Bennet, both male and female, as I am of a sociable disposition, but my chief purpose in Hertfordshire is to establish the family on a country estate, as my father had planned to before his death. Therefore, you may rest assured that my conduct will always be that of the gentleman he raised."
"Your reassurance must be appreciated by a man in my position," replied an amused Mr. Bennet. "I find your affability most refreshing. You will certainly raise quite a stir in my household, never mind how grand your Mr. Darcy may be. Forgive me if I do not share the details of our meeting with their eager ears, but I shall hear of nothing else if I do."
"Not at all. I shall look forward to meeting the entire family, sir. Will you be attending the next assembly in Meryton? Sir William Lucas was so kind as to invite my party."
"Sir William is nothing but gracious, and yes, the ladies are sure to be in attendance, though I will seize the opportunity of enjoying a quiet evening alone with my books," he smiled as he rose.
"I think you and Mr. Darcy share many tastes in common. It will be a pleasure to introduce you once he arrives, as it was making your acquaintance this morning, Mr. Bennet."
"And yours, Mr. Bingley. Welcome to the neighborhood." They parted amicable, the enthusiasm of the young man and the cynicism of the elder having done little soil the appreciation of each for the other.
As Mr. Bennet rode home to Longbourn, he reflected with a wry smile on how his wife would respond were he to tell her that not one but two unmarried gentlemen were soon to be in their midst. Such good fortune was sure to completely over set a good many of the ladies in his household, and though the accompanying fervor would try his patience, he looked forward with no small degree of anticipation to the amusement such circumstances were sure to provide. After all, other than causing a great deal of commotion, the arrival of the gentlemen was highly unlikely to alter life at Longbourn, for what had such town swells to do with his brood? Lack of fortune, while leaving the future unpredictable, certainly had its compensations. How excellent to be able to sit back and observe the follies of humanity, secure in the knowledge that one is safe from their influence!
Images borrowed from kellynch.com