It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a son and heir.
So at least are the sentiments of all those related on both sides of the family; and there are others, besides, who might do better to keep their tongues from wagging on the fecundity or otherwise of a match.
"My dear Mrs Bennet," said Mrs Long one day to her friend, who was newly removed from Longbourn since the death of her husband, "do not you have a happy event to look forward to? I expect daily to hear news of your daughter Elizabeth and the charming Mr Darcy. I am most surprised to have heard nothing yet."
Mrs Bennet replied that she was not accustomed to hear from her daughter every day of the week.
"The news of an impending arrival in the family need only be communicated once," said Mrs Long. "Unless," she added after some reflection, "a girl is born first, and then there will need to be further communications, to be sure."
"My dear Mrs Long," said Mrs Bennet, who was accustomed to these taunts but was still unable to bear them, "I have enough to do, settling into this small house with only Mary to keep me company; and she is always in the library, as poor Mr Bennet was, when we were at Longbourn. I have no time for such speculations."
"You show all the courage in the world," replied Mrs Long; "and this is well known at Meryton. To have your home taken from you when you have many years to live yet . . ."
"And two daughters still unmarried," said Mrs Bennet, glad to find herself in a conversation more agreeable to her. "For even if Kitty does stay with my dear Jane at Barlow, and with Lizzy at Pemberley, the girl is unmarried and may return here any day now, to eat me out of house and home."
Mrs Long remarked that the entail of Longbourn to a distant male cousin, Mr Collins, had been a great misfortune to the Bennet family; and she remarked again that Mrs Bennet's fortitude and bravery in removing from her home was noted by the whole neighbourhood.
"I am very well provided for here," said Mrs Bennet, who did not care for the excessive sympathy of the neighbourhood. "Mr Darcy has been most generous, as you know, and has enabled me to buy this house. Mr Bennet, I am sorry to say, made no provision for his wife and daughters."
"To have Mr Darcy as a son-in-law must be wonderful indeed," said Mrs Long. "You must feel truly indebted to him, for none of us can see that you would have had a roof over your head if your Elizabeth had not married a man with a generous nature and ten thousand a year."
"On the contrary," cried Mrs Bennet, who again disliked the way in which Mrs Long turned the conversation, "it is Mr Darcy who must be indebted to me."
Copyright © 1993 by Emma Tennant. All rights reserved. Emma Tennant, who grew up in England and Scotland hearing about her family's connection to Jane Austen (her elder half-brother was descended from Jane Austen's brother Edward Knight), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of numerous distinguished novels.