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Chapter 4

Ever wondered what it would be like to become Mr Bennet, if only for a moment? Read on, imagining yourself as Mr Bennet; then, based on your knowledge of Pride & Prejudice, decide what you will do at the end of this chapter.

You have few reasons in your life to feel fortunate; but one of them is that you married the younger Gardiner sister rather than the elder. The shrieks and squawks of your wife are nothing compared to the relentless hissing of her sister; with the former, at least you can tell when she is in the vicinity, whereas the latter could slither silently into your library when you least expect it.

Your wife’s sister is married to a Mr Phillips who, after so many years of conjugal bliss, must be approaching either sainthood or senility. They live in Meryton, only one mile from your home at Longbourn; a most convenient distance for your daughters, who are usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt, and to a milliner's shop just over the way. 

The two youngest of the family are particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds are more vacant than their sisters', and when nothing better offers, a walk to Meryton is necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrive to learn some from their aunt. At present, their devotion to their aunt knows no bounds, thanks to the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it is to remain the whole winter, and Meryton is the head quarters. In the eyes of Kitty and Lydia, even Mr Bingley is worthless when opposed to the regimentals of an ensign.

After listening one morning to their effusions on this subject, you coolly observe, “From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced.”

Kitty is disconcerted, and makes no answer; but Lydia, with perfect indifference, continues to express her admiration of Captain Carter, and her hope of seeing him in the course of the day, as he is going the next morning to London.

Mrs Bennet, however, cannot let this pass without a shriek of rebuke. “I am astonished, my dear, that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own.”

“If my children are silly I must hope to be always sensible of it.”

“Yes -- but as it happens, they are all of them very clever.”

The woman is, of course, deluded; you attempt to disabuse her. “This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish.”

“My dear Mr Bennet, you must not expect such girls to have the sense of their father and mother. -- When they get to our age, I dare say they will not think about officers any more than we do. I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well -- and indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls, I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William's in his regimentals.''

At this point Mrs Bennet is interrupted by the entrance of the footman with a note for Miss Bennet; it is from Netherfield, and the servant waits for an answer. While her daughter reads, she continues eagerly, “Well, Jane, who is it from? what is it about? what does he say? Well, Jane, make haste and tell us; make haste, my love.”

Jane, ever obliging, reads the letter aloud.

“My dear Friend,
If you are not so compassionate as to dine to-day with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers. Yours ever,

Caroline Bingley.”

“With the officers!” cries Lydia. “I wonder my aunt did not tell us of that.”

“Dining out,” says her mother, “that is very unlucky.” 

Jane turns to you. “May I have the carriage, papa?”

You open your mouth to speak, but to no avail; Mrs Bennet shrieks, “No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.” Ah, the wondrous workings of the female mind. How can a mere man ever understand them?

“That would be a good scheme,” says Lizzy, “if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home.”

Lizzy may be quick-witted, but on certain matters her mother is three steps ahead of her. “Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton; and the Hursts have no horses to theirs.”

Jane dares to quibble. “I had much rather go in the coach.”

“But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr Bennet, are they not?”

“They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them,” you observe, to nobody in particular.

“But if you have got them to-day,” says Lizzy, “my mother's purpose will be answered.”

You reflect that, at times, Elizabeth can be as meddlesome as Mrs Bennet. After keeping her in suspense a little while longer, you reveal that the horses are indeed engaged on farm business. 

Poor Jane! She is obliged to go on horseback to Netherfield, and her solicitous mother attends her to the door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. These hopes are answered by a downpour within fifteen minutes of Jane’s departure. Her sisters are uneasy for her, particularly Lizzy, but her mother is delighted. The rain continues the whole evening without intermission; preventing Jane from returning home.

“This was a lucky idea of mine, indeed!'' says your dear wife, more than once, as if the credit of making it rain were all her own. It is not until the next morning, however, that she learns exactly how successfully she has contrived things. Breakfast is scarcely over when a servant from Netherfield brings a note for Elizabeth, which she reads aloud:

“My dearest Lizzy,
I find myself very unwell this morning, which, I suppose, is to be imputed to my getting wet through yesterday. My kind friends will not hear of my returning home till I am better. They insist also on my seeing Mr Jones -- therefore do not be alarmed if you should hear of his having been to me -- and excepting a sore throat and head-ache, there is not much the matter with me.
Yours, &c.”

That is so like Jane. She could be at death’s door and she would still say “there is not much the matter with me”. You are not too worried for her health, but you decide to torment Mrs Bennet about it.

“Well, my dear,” you say, “if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr Bingley, and under your orders.”

“Oh! I am not at all afraid of her dying. People do not die of little trifling colds. She will be taken good care of. As long is she stays there, it is all very well. I would go and see her, if I could have the carriage.”

“You will have to put off your show of maternal concern until tomorrow; the carriage is not to be had today.”

Elizabeth, who is no horse-woman, promptly declares that she will walk to Netherfield to see Jane.

“How can you be so silly,” cries her mother, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt! You will not be fit to be seen when you get there.”

“I shall be very fit to see Jane – which is all I want.”

“Is this a hint to me, Lizzy,” you say, “to send for the horses?”

Lizzy merely smiles. “No, indeed. I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing, when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.”

You insist on sending to the farm for the horses so that Lizzy can go to Netherfield in the carriage, or you allow her to walk.

Which would Mr Bennet choose? Click on the link above and see if you're right.

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