The Gentlemen's Singles
10 July 2013. Pounds and Prejudice
A single man from the north, who is widely reported to be proud and disagreeable, comes to London and wins £1.6 million in the Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles. We can only speculate how this would have been received in the Bennet household two hundred years ago …
"My dear Mr Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard the news?"
Mr Bennet replied that he had not.
"A little village in the less fashionable part of London," returned she, "has been holding a sporting championship for single gentlemen, something to do with a game called tennis. The first prize of over a million pounds has been won by someone of our acquaintance – Mr Murray-Darcy!"
"Mr Murray-Darcy? We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man, but that signifies nothing in sport.” Mr Bennet cocked his head on one side, as if struck by a remarkable idea. "If they ever introduce a championship for single ladies, I ought to throw in a good word for my little Lizzy. She scampers about the countryside as it is – all she lacks is a racquet and ball to occupy her."
Mrs Bennet was not to be deterred. "Do not you want to know my opinion of Mr Murray-Darcy?"
"You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it."
This was invitation enough.
"Why, my dear, you must know, he is not really as proud or unpleasant as the reports in general circulation suggest. Indeed, I now have it on very good authority – Mrs Long’s cook’s niece – that he is utterly charming. And he will shortly be travelling through Hertfordshire, when he returns to his estate in the north. What a fine thing that will be for our girls!"
"How so? how can it affect them?"
"My dear Mr Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of him marrying one of them. It is simply a matter of throwing them in his path."
"A risky business, if his carriage is hurtling at speed along the Great North Road."
"What a ridiculous notion! I was thinking more of having them grouped prettily to the side, at the mercy of a highwayman. That should do the trick."
Mr Bennet blinked in disbelief. "Have you taken leave of your senses? Let us consider the facts. First, his family seat – McPemberley – is in Scotland, a wild country even further north than Newcastle. I would not have my Lizzy settled so far from us."
"Lizzy? nonsense, Mr Murray-Darcy will never marry her. She is not a bit better than the other girls; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference."
"Second," Mr Bennet continued, unperturbed, "you seem to have completely overturned your former opinion of him. I recall you relating his shocking rudeness at the Meryton assembly. How did you describe him? ‘A most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing.’ You much preferred the more amiable qualities of Mr Federer-Bingley."
"That is as may be, but Mr Federer-Bingley has apparently acquitted himself very ill in the single gentlemen’s championship. We can only assume that he is no longer a gentleman."
"And certainly not single," added Mr Bennet, with a wry smile. "For I have recently learned that he has a wife and children tucked away in Switzerland … But let us return to Mr Murray-Darcy. I am afraid that he could never marry one of our girls –"
"You are mistaken, Mr Bennet!" Mrs Bennet bridled at such presumption. "Why, a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife –"
"My dear," said Mr Bennet gravely, "if you pursue Mr Murray-Darcy as a future son-in-law, I fear for your nerves. On the few occasions you have met him, his disdainful manner has reduced you to petrified silence." He gave a profound sigh of something like regret. "Would that I could do the same!"
In the end, however, Mr Bennet’s fears for his wife’s nerves proved groundless. Unbeknown to him, the single gentlemen’s champion had already met his match – and at some considerable distance from any tennis court.
For Mr Murray-Darcy had been defeated in a love-game by none other than Miss Lizzy Bennet, and was intent on winning her hand in marriage. And, despite all reports to the contrary, he was ultimately revealed to be the kindest, most generous of men. He even supported Mrs Bennet’s attempts to organise a tennis championship at Meryton, by donating a first prize that surpassed Wimbledon’s.
If he knew that her sole purpose was to entice many more rich young men into the neighbourhood, in order that they might marry her remaining daughters, he was too diplomatic – or disdainful – to say so.
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