When news reached Mrs. Bennet that Netherfield Park was to be let to a young gentleman in possession of a good fortune, she determined to make him a husband to one of her five daughters. “A single man of large fortune, four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them?” asked her husband. “The gentleman of whom you hold so high an opinion, this Mr. Bingley, has not even alighted at Meryton as yet.”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of our girls.”
Having to maintain five daughters and a wife on a modest income, Mr. Bennet was of a more practical disposition than Mrs. Bennet. “Is that his design in settling here?”
“Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.” Mrs. Bennet’s tone indicated that the matter was settled.
Mr. Bennet had no wish to visit Mr. Bingley or anyone else. He wished only to retire to the sanctity of his library, where a small parcel recently arrived awaited him. “I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go. I daresay Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you, and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls, though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others, and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humored as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”
At the mention of his youngest daughter’s name, Mr. Bennet shook his head. Although quite pretty, Lydia was a lively headstrong girl prone to a breathiness of speech and a most peculiar fondness for raising up the hems of her gowns to rub her lower half against objects and furnishings and, to the embarrassment of all parties concerned, young officers. Until recently she could be found sliding down banisters at all hours of the day and night, and only his threat of dispatching her to a nunnery finally broke her of the habit. He despaired of Lydia and for any man who would eventually take her as a wife. Neither did he maintain great hopes for the equally frivolous Catherine or the plain and pedantic Mary. That he was partial to his Elizabeth, he made no secret of. “Our daughters have none of them much to recommend them,” replied Mr. Bennet. “They are all silly and ignorant like other girls, but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
At this Mrs. Bennet launched into a tirade about her nerves, and Mr. Bennet, having been given sufficient of his wife’s ceaseless chatter about Mr. Bingley’s five thousand a year and which of his daughters should be the first to wed, departed without ceremony to his library.
Mr. Bennet settled himself before his escritoire on which rested a sealed portfolio that had arrived that morning by special post; fortunately, he had managed to collect it before Mrs. Bennet could inquire as to the nature of the dispatch. Breaking the wax seal, he removed a sheet of stiff paper, his breath quickening with anticipation as to what would shortly be revealed to him. He had secured it from a gentleman of his acquaintance in London, who consorted with the city’s more unsavory residents. It was a drawing—indeed, the first of many such drawings due to arrive, providing his contact made good on his promise, and providing that Mr. Bennet likewise made good on his timely payment of the prohibitive fee demanded of him.
The drawing displayed a nubile young woman outfitted in the manner of a horse. Unadorned of attire save for the finely tooled saddle secured to her back, she had been positioned on her haunches, presenting a pleasing rear vista to the artist who had sketched her. What made this vista all the more appealing to Mr. Bennet, however, was the fact that the subject possessed the tail of a horse as well, which had been fitted most cleverly into her hindmost region. As he surveyed the drawing in the light coming through the window, a presence began to make itself known in his breeches. All thoughts of their new neighbor Mr. Bingley and his wife’s determination to make him a son-in-law became a distant memory as Mr. Bennet unbuttoned the flap of his breeches and reached inside, his fingers encountering an object that rose up with a vigor the likes of which he had not experienced since his youth, and he grasped it firmly in his hand, eager to begin his long-neglected journey to pleasure.