Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own Pride and Prejudice. Anyone who thinks I do should refer all questions to Lady Cathrine De Bourgh- she'll be more than happy to set you straight on the matter.
Darcy's patience was wearing thin. Very thin.
It was expected, of course, that one's neighbors would call to introduce themselves to a new neighbor. But if he had to listen to one more man bow and scrape and hint heavily that any offer made to their daughter could not fail to be accepted... Darcy took another swig of brandy to distract from that thought.
But really, did all these blasted mercenaries have to call on the same day? Take the current specimen, Sir William Lucas. He combined the proper blend of conceited pride and servility that Darcy commonly associated with members of his aunt's staff. Whatever point he was trying to get across was sadly muddled, as he seemed to be recommending his eldest daughter and confessing her to be in danger of becoming a plain spinster in the same breath. In fact, he seemed to say everything in the same breath; did the man even stop talking to breathe?
At last that torturous interview was over, and Sir Lucas bowed his way out. Darcy had only time to collapse on the chaise with a groan before Bingley's butler entered and announced "Mr. Bennet, from Loungbourn."
Mr. Bennet was shown into the sitting room and accepted the proffered glass of port. He was a portly, gray-haired older gentleman, with a ready smile. The two men soon learned that the old man had an even readier wit, delivered with a sharp tongue and a heavy measure of personal amusement. His conversation was humorous, and the two men found it a welcome break from the careful manners of the other neighbors.
After a quarter of an hour, Darcy felt he had the measure of the gentleman. He obviously had no daughters, at least ones of marriageable age, for he said nothing on the subject. Darcy would have thought the older man a bachelor, or possibly a widower, were it not for the fact that his conversation was sprinkled with references to "My Lizzy," whom he could only assume was the man's wife. She seemed to be a good match for the gentleman, at least in wit and intelligence.
All in all, Mr. Bennet was remarkably refreshing. He did not fawn or push either of the men towards an alliance, and was just the break Darcy needed from the matchmaking papas of the neighborhood. Those men had seen them as two wealthy, single gentlemen, perfect for this daughter or that granddaughter of theirs. Mr. Bennet seemed to understand, seeing them for what they were- two wealthy, single gentlemen who were in no hurry to marry and who were feeling rather harried by the hints and mentions of his often silly neighbors.
A half hour was pleasantly spent mocking the members of the community they had already met, warnings delivered for those they had yet to meet, and much more laughter and port than any previous visitor. Finally the man glanced at the clock over the mantelpiece. He set down his empty glass and levered himself out of the chair with a groan.
"Well, gentlemen, it was good to meet you. I'll be missed if I stay much longer, and it would quite ruin the surprise if someone were to spot me returning home." he chuckled at some private joke.
The other two rose as well, but Bingley could not help but ask "What surprise, sir? Surely there is no reason to hide a visit to your neighbors?"
"Oh, of course not! Not if you were a family with small children or only girls, or an elderly couple. In that case I would have no cause at all to conceal my visit. However..." the men had moved to the front hall, and Mr. Bennet paused a moment to thank the butler for the return of his traveling things. "as my Lizzy put it 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.'" It was said in a dry, sarcastic manner, and the men were not offended by the humorously offered sentiment. In fact, Darcy found it rather amusing in its accuracy. He was looking forward to meeting Mrs. Bennet.
"That being true, Mrs. Bennet insisted that I come, so naturally I told her I would do no such thing. Told her I'd send you a letter instead, informing you of my having five silly daughters and giving my permission that you should have your pick of the lot of them." The man chuckled again, and mounted his horse. Darcy and Bingley were quite surprised at the revelation of the silly Bennet sisters. Their father settled into the saddle with a grunt. He turned to look down at the younger men. Bingley's open-mouthed shock was apparent, slightly less so was Darcy's single raised eyebrow. Both men caught a mirthful twinkle in the older gentleman's eyes. He faced forward once more, and seemed to be deep in thought. After he was fully settled and his coat-tail properly arranged he began to speak again, as though thinking aloud.
"I did say, however, that I would put in a good word for my Lizzy. She is most decidedly not silly, as it should be, I spent enough time keeping her sticky hands off my books when she was younger." He turned back to his companions, his face more serious than during their whole conversation, though Darcy caught the mischievous twinkle in his otherwise somber eyes. "On meeting you, however, I must reconsider- you seem a nice sort of fellow, Bingley, but if you ever tried to handle my Lizzy she'd walk all over you and tie you in knots. She'd never be happy with someone so obliging. No, if you have indeed come, as my wife persists in telling me, for the express purpose of marring one of my daughters, you'd much better try for Jane. She's not as educated as my Lizzy, but she's a great deal more gentle and demure, and I've never heard a cross word from her in her life." With a final chuckle and a round of farewells, the puzzling old man departed, leaving two very confused young men in the courtyard behind him.