Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and self-discipline, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. And when she was nervous—as she was nearly all the time since the first outbreak of the strange plague in her youth—she sought solace in the comfort of the traditions which now seemed mere trifles to others.
The business of Mr. Bennet's life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs. Bennet's was to get them married.
MR. BENNET WAS AMONG the earliest of those who waited on Mr. Bingley. He had always intended to visit him, though to the last always assuring his wife that he should not go; and till the evening after the visit was paid she had no knowledge of it. It was then disclosed in the following manner. Observing his second daughter employed in carving the Bennet crest in the handle of a new sword, he suddenly addressed her with: "I hope Mr. Bingley will like it, Lizzy."
"We are not in a way to know what Mr. Bingley likes," said her mother resentfully, "since we are not to visit."
"But you forget, mamma," said Elizabeth, "that we shall meet him at the next ball."
Mrs. Bennet deigned not to make any reply, but, unable to contain herself, began scolding one of her daughters.
"Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven's sake! You sound as if you have been stricken!"
"Mother! What a dreadful thing to say, with so many zombies about!" replied Kitty fretfully.
"When is your next ball to be, Lizzy?"
"Aye, so it is," cried her mother, "and it will be impossible to introduce him, since we shall not know him ourselves. Oh, how I wish I had never heard the name Bingley!"
"I am sorry to hear that," said Mr. Bennet. "If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on 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 perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.
"How good it was in you, my dear Mr. Bennet! But I knew I should persuade you at last. 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 should have gone this morning and never said a word about it till now."
"Do not mistake my indulgence for a relaxation in discipline," said Mr. Bennet. "The girls shall continue their training as ever—Bingley or no Bingley."
"Of course, of course!" cried Mrs. Bennet. "They shall be as deadly as they are fetching!" "Now, Kitty, you may cough as much as you choose," said Mr. Bennet; and, as he spoke, he left the room, fatigued with the raptures of his wife.
"What an excellent father you have, girls!" said she, when the door was shut. "Such joys are scarce since the good Lord saw fit to shut the gates of Hell and doom the dead to walk amongst us. Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say Mr. Bingley will dance with you at the next ball."