New Neighbours at Netherfield
Mr Bennet was among the first of those who visited Mr Bingley. He had always intended to do so, though he continued to let his wife believe that he would not go. He finally made his intentions known in the following way.
Watching his second daughter occupied in sewing a coloured band around a hat, he suddenly addressed her with:
‘I hope Mr Bingley will like it, Lizzy.’
‘We are not in a position to know what Mr Bingley likes,’ said her mother bitterly, ‘if we are not to visit him.’
‘But you forget, mother,’ said Elizabeth, ‘that we shall meet him at the public balls, and that Mrs Long has promised to introduce him.’
‘I do not believe Mrs Long will do any such thing. She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, insincere woman, and I have no opinion of her.’
‘Neither have I,’ said Mr Bennet, ‘and I am glad to find that you do not depend on her serving you.’
Mrs Bennet would not make any reply, but, unable to control her annoyance, began complaining to one of her daughters.
‘Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty! Have a little pity on my poor nerves.’
‘Kitty lacks judgment in her coughs,’ said her father. ‘She chooses the wrong moment.’
‘I do not cough for my own amusement,’ replied Kitty. ‘When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?’
‘In two weeks from tomorrow.’
‘So it is,’ cried her mother ‘I and Mrs Long does not come back until the day before, so it will be impossible for her to introduce him, because she will not know him herself.’
‘Then, my dear, you may have the advantage of your friend, and introduce Mr Bingley to her!’
‘Impossible, Mr Bennet, impossible, when I am not acquainted with him myself. How can you be so annoying!’
‘Well, if you will not perform this duty, I will do it myself.’
The girls looked at their father. Mrs Bennet said: ‘Nonsense, nonsense! I am sick of Mr Bingley’
‘I am sorry to hear that, but why did you not tell me so before? If I had known it this morning, I certainly would not have gone to see him. It is very unlucky, but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now.’
The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished, that of Mrs Bennet being perhaps beyond the rest, though when the first excitement was over, she began to say that it was what she had expected all the time.
‘How good it was of you! I was sure you loved your girls too well to neglect such an acquaintance. Well, how pleased I am! And it is such a good joke, too, that you went this morning, and never said a word about it until now.’
‘Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose,’ said Mr Bennet, as he left the room, having had enough of his wife’s talk.
‘What an excellent father you have, girls,’ she said, when the door was shut. ‘I do not know how you will ever repay him for his kindness. At our time of life, it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintances every day, but for our dear daughters we would do anything. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr Bingley will dance with you at the next ball.’
‘Oh,’ said Lydia confidently, ‘I am not afraid. Though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.’
The rest of the evening was spent discussing how soon Mr Bingley would return Mr Bennet’s visit, and deciding when they should ask him to dinner.
All that Mrs Bennet, together with her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was not enough to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr Bingley. They were forced at last to accept the second-hand information of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. He was quite young, very good-looking, extremely agreeable, and, in addition to all this, he planned to be at the next public ball. Nothing could be more exciting!
In a few days Mr Bingley returned Mr Bennet’s visit, and sat for about ten minutes with him in the library. He had hoped to see the young ladies, of whose beauty he had heard a great deal, but he saw only the father. The ladies were more fortunate. They had the advantage of observing, from an upstairs window, that he wore a blue coat and rode a black horse.
An invitation to dinner was sent soon after, and Mrs Bennet had already planned the meal that was to show the quality of her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which changed everything. Mr Bingley found it necessary to be in London the following day, and was therefore unable to accept the honour of their invitation. Mrs Bennet was both disappointed and worried. She began to fear that he might always be flying about from one place to another, and never settled in Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quietened her fears a little by spreading the word that he had gone to London only to collect a large party for the ball, and a report soon followed that Mr Bingley would bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him. The girls were unhappy at the thought of such a large number of ladies, but were comforted to find, when the party entered the ballroom, that it was in fact made up of only five altogether: Mr Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the older one, and another young man.