Jane Bennet startled as she heard her sister Elizabeth shriek. Hurrying to their shared bedchamber, the eldest Bennet sister beheld her sibling looking in chagrin at the gown she had planned to wear that night to the assembly.
“Lizzy, what is the matter?”
“The ribbon has been removed from my gown, and the neckline was torn in the process.”
The two sisters looked at each other and with one accord said, “Lydia.”
Again, as one, the two women left the room and headed down the hallway to their youngest sister’s bedroom.
“Lydia,” Elizabeth growled as she walked into the room without knocking.
Approaching her sister, Lizzy yanked the ribbon from her sister’s hands.
“That is mine.”
“So? I wanted it. It looks better on my gown than it does yours.”
“It is my ribbon, Lydia. Not Kitty’s, not Mary’s, not Jane’s, not yours, but mine. I am tired of you taking items that you want without permission. That is nothing but stealing.”
“La, Lizzy. You are so proper. I’m your sister. You owe me.”
“Tell me, Lydia, just why do I owe you?” Elizabeth glared at her sibling.
“I’m your youngest sister. You need to spoil me and grant anything I wish as I am the prettiest of us all.” With that, Lydia grabbed the ribbon back from Elizabeth.
There was fire in Elizabeth’s eyes as she tore the ribbon from Lydia’s hands and then slapped her hard across the face.
Lydia cried out and cupped her cheek where there was a bright red handprint.
“Now, Miss Spoiled Brat, I will tell you how things really are. Number one, you are already spoiled, and that is not a good thing. Number two, you are not the prettiest of us all. Jane is. Number three, my things are my things to keep and not have you pilfer. Number four, you are a thief. Number five, you will cause ruin to the whole family if you continue with your improper ways.”
“Elizabeth Bennet, what is going on here?”
“Mama, Lydia stole the ribbon off my dress and ruined the neckline in the process. I can’t wear my new gown tonight and will have to wear one from two years ago.”
“Elizabeth, Lydia doesn’t steal. She just borrows things from you girls.”
“No, she doesn’t, Mama. Because we never see them again unless we take them back.”
“Elizabeth, did you strike your sister?” The Bennet matriarch had a look of horror on her face, and her mouth dropped open.
The second eldest sister blushed at her mother’s comment while Jane spoke up.
“Mama, Lydia has deserved being slapped for a long time. She has stolen ribbons, bonnets, and even under clothing from all of us at one time or another simply because she wants something that one of us has. Kitty is the one who has suffered the most, but Lizzy has suffered as well. Now her dress for tonight is ruined.”
“Oh, dear.” Mrs. Bennet stopped and pondered for a moment. But as she was not very bright and favored Lydia over all the other daughters, she continued to make excuses for her youngest. “Since your dress is ruined, Lizzy, you might as well let Lydia have the ribbon. Tomorrow you can go to Meryton and buy another, and we’ll see if your gown can be repaired. Tonight, you’ll just have to wear your older gown.”
Stamping her foot, Elizabeth cried, “Mama, I will not let her have my ribbon. It accomplishes nothing and merely shows approval of her actions.”
All the while, Lydia was smirking at her older sister. Then she held her hand out for the ribbon.
“No, I will not give you my ribbon. And if you ever come into my room again without permission, I will slap you again.”
“Oh, you are so cruel, Lizzy.” And tears began to fall from Lydia’s eyes.
“See what you have done, Lizzy. You have hurt your sister.”
“I mean what I say, Mama. If she enters my room without my permission again, she will regret it. I will give her more reasons for tears.”
“Elizabeth Bennet, I will not…
“What is going on here?”
Thomas Bennet had run up the stairs after hearing all the caterwauling that was going on, and Mary and Kitty had appeared in the hallway wondering what was happening.
All the women were silent as they faced the man of the house.
“Well?” he demanded.
Elizabeth spoke up first. “Lydia entered my bedchamber earlier without permission, ripped the ribbon off my new gown, and ruined the neckline so that I am unable to wear it tonight.”
“Lydia, is that true?” asked her father.
“Oh, Papa. Lizzy is so dramatic. I was merely borrowing the ribbon.”
Bennet closed his eyes and pursed his lips. “You were borrowing a ribbon off a finished gown?”
Elizabeth smiled when Lydia at least had the grace to blush.
“Mr. Bennet, Lydia meant no harm. After all, she is the youngest, and it’s hard to be in such a position when the other girls get more privileges, and she is receiving less.”
With a stern face, her husband said, “Mrs. Bennet, privileges and new things are earned by obedience and proper conduct. Our youngest seems to be abusing the freedom she has been given by being allowed to come out at fifteen. Perhaps she needs to stay home tonight instead of going to the assembly where she might embarrass us all.”
As Mr. Bennet turned to leave the presence of six women, Lydia began to wail, and Mrs. Bennet followed him.
“Thomas, you can’t make Lydia stay home. The assembly tonight is special since the last two were rained out.”
Mr. Bennet just waved his hand to indicate he would not relent, but Mrs. Bennet followed him into his library and shut the door.
As Jane joined Elizabeth in their bedroom, she noticed that her sister’s eyes were shiny with tears.
“Are you well, Lizzy?”
“No, I’m not. I shouldn’t have allowed Lydia’s theft to upset me so.”
“Perhaps not, but I can understand why her pilfering prompted such a drastic action. I wonder if she’ll think twice in the future before…”
“I doubt it. Mama has let her do anything and everything she has ever demanded since the nursery, and now she has no respect for others’ rights or property. I fear, that soon, Lydia will be so selfish that she will do something that will ruin us all. When younger, I was occasionally referred to as a hoyden, but I soon realized my conduct was not showing love to the rest of my family, and I have endeavored to change my ways. I never want to harm my parents or sisters in any manner simply because I covet something held by another.”
“You are wiser than Lydia and are certainly being more judicious than Mama. I just wish Papa would stick to his word when doling out discipline to Lydia. I fear that Mama will browbeat him into allowing her to go to the assembly tonight, and that if she attends, she will embarrass us all.”
“Let us hope that he does not change his mind. We all will suffer if he does.”
As they talked, both girls quickly dressed and arranged each other’s hair. Jane and Elizabeth had lost time to dress more slowly when they had to confront their youngest sister and yet knew that their mother would soon be ready to leave.
Both young ladies startled when Mrs. Bennet stuck her head in the door.
“Girls, girls, hurry up. We will be late otherwise, and I promised Lady Lucas I would speak with her upon arrival at the assembly.”
“Lydia, Kitty, and Mary come downstairs immediately.” Their mother proceeded to bustle down the hall and then descend the stairway to make sure that Hill had ordered the family carriage.
Elizabeth and Jane just looked at each other and grimaced. The result of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s discussion was that Lydia Bennet would be attending the assembly as her father, the only male in a household of women, would always take the easy way out.
Without speaking, both young ladies determined to keep an eye on their youngest sister lest she spoil the whole evening for everyone.
One last check in the mirror and both were ready to go down the stairs themselves. Grabbing their wraps, they hurried to catch up to their mother at the Bennet carriage, and all were soon on their way to the assembly hall.
As it so happened, as the ladies descended their carriage, the first set had already begun. Gay music filtered out the front doors of the assembly hall, and the happy voices and clapping hands of those inside could be heard beyond the entrance.
Lydia made sure she was the first to arrive inside, and she squealed with delight to find that the men of the militia were in attendance. “Kitty, Kitty, Mr. Denny and that handsome Captain Carter are both here. I plan to dance all evening long.”
“Oh, and I plan too as well.”
Although the youngest, Lydia led her older sister Kitty as to their adventures. If there was mischief afoot, Lydia had instigated it, and Kitty would submissively follow her lead. If they got in trouble for their actions, Lydia would blame Kitty as she was the eldest and should have had better sense to become involved in something of which their parents would disapprove.
“Mama, Kitty and Lydia are flirting with the officers, and Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long are looking disapprovingly at them.”
“Jane, there is nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting. Lydia and Kitty are just young and enjoying the evening. Besides a little bit of flirting is how I won your father.” With that, Mrs. Bennet turned and hurried toward Lady Lucas to enquire about the latest tenant at Netherfield. A young man of large fortune had leased it and was to attend tonight’s assembly with twelve young ladies and six young men from London, and she was bound and determined that her girls would meet all the men in order to find husbands. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet was a nonsensical woman with only one thought on her mind: marry off all her daughters to rich men so that one of them would ensure that Mrs. Bennet was not thrown into the hedgerows when Mr. Bennet left this mortal coil. Despite him being in good health and taking steps to live a long life, his wife was determined that he would probably pass within the next fortnight. With their home, Longbourn, entailed to a distant cousin whom her husband hated, Mrs. Bennet was firmly convinced the cousin would throw all the Bennet woman out of their home to shift for themselves. And with Mr. Bennet being more than a bit indolent concerning his income and caring for his girls’ futures, Mrs. Bennet’s fears were understandable.
“Lady Lucas, Lady Lucas, have you heard if the Netherfield party is to attend tonight?”
“Mrs. Bennet, do not get your feathers ruffled. I have been assured that Mr. Bingley and the Netherfield party will attend tonight. I heard that there will be several young men and women with him including his two sisters and a brother-in-law. Sir William verified this earlier today.”
“Oh, but there will be several women with them? I hoped only Mr. Bingley’s sisters would be attending. My daughters must meet Mr. Bingley and any of the other men with him. I hope they are unattached. Mr. Bingley surely will fall in love with my Jane. She is the loveliest lady in the county.”
“Now, now, Mrs. Bennet. We all know that Jane is lovely, but she is also past her majority. Why has she not married before now?”
Mrs. Bennet raised her eyebrows and bristled at her friend. “Lady Lucas, you know she has had several young men interested in courting her, but all failed to follow through which was to Jane’s favor as she was not in love with any of them. She is determined to marry only for the greatest love…and I despair she will never marry at all if she continues to be too selective.”
Lady Lucas just smiled, and although she was Fanny Bennet’s friend, she also knew that at least one of the young men had run from Jane because of her grasping, determined mother. Mrs. Bennet was unaware that she was the cause of her eldest daughter’s single status and would have been shocked if she had been apprised of it. However, if she had been made aware, she probably would not have changed her approach to any young man who showed interest in any of her daughters. Although Mr. Bennet had married a great beauty, he rued the day that he had found one with an empty head. The only redeeming thing he had found about his wife was that she did love her daughters and wanted the best for them.
It was in the middle of a lively set of Tythe Pig when a small party of finely dressed individuals entered the assembly hall. Elizabeth and Jane looked up as the music wound to a stop and all turned to observe the newcomers. Sir William Lucas was immediately at the entrance to welcome the three men and two women.
“Mr. Bingley, it is so good to see you and your family and guest this evening. I hope you will enjoy the dancing and meeting some of the local families. We have a close community here, but visitors are always welcome. Let me introduce you to some of the families when this dance is completed.”
“Thank you, Sir William. We appreciate your warm welcome. Perhaps we can get some punch before the introductions.”
Although Mr. Bingley was taller than most, he was not as tall as his guest, Mr. Darcy. Where Mr. Darcy was very dark in coloring and very haughty in countenance, Mr. Bingley was ginger-haired and all smiles. He loved to dance and looked forward to meeting some of the young ladies of the neighborhood. However, of the entire party, he was the only one who looked happy to be there.
The two ladies were fashionably dressed but frowned and looked upon all the audience with disdain. The third man, Mr. Hurst, who turned out to be the eldest sister’s husband, yawned and just looked bored until he spied the punch bowl and proceeded to test the refreshments to see if they lived up to his standards.
For the moment, the dance recommenced and proceeded until the end and was roundly applauded at the finish. As those in Mr. Bingley’s party had gotten refreshments and had no interest in the introductions, Mr. Bingley was the only one to stand with Sir William. And Mrs. Bennet made sure that she and her daughters were the first to meet the handsome young man.
“Mr. Bingley, may I introduce you to Mrs. Bennet and her lovely daughters Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Catherine, and Miss Lydia.”
Mr. Bingley’s chest swelled, and he grinned from ear to ear as he laid eyes on the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. Forgetting to acknowledge the others, he turned and bowed to Miss Bennet and asked her if she was free for the next set to which Jane said ‘yes’ and then blushed prettily.
Finally remembering his manners, Bingley bowed and acknowledged Mrs. Bennet and the rest of her girls. However, Jane’s mother did not take offense. She had recognized Bingley’s interest in her eldest and was more than pleased. She began thinking about when the marriage could occur and how many would attend the wedding breakfast. In a matter of minutes, she was seeing her dreams for her eldest daughter come true and her own future being secured by a wealthy son-in-law.
At the back of the room and near the refreshment table, Bingley’s party stood apart and conversed among themselves.
Darcy had rolled his eyes when Bingley was being introduced to the Bennets. He had taken one look at Mrs. Bennet and thought he recognized the mother bear type who would not only protect her daughters but would also do everything in her power to see that they married well. He had endured that type of woman ever since entering the marriage mart. The Ton in London was comprised of grasping shrews who bred the same and were willing to even help their daughters to compromise wealthy men to ensure marriages to those with money and power. He himself had managed to avoid three attempts at compromise by the skin of his teeth. Ever since the first attempt, he had learned to keep his guest room doors locked and his valet always close by especially late into the night. Determined not to be a victim, he also decided he would never allow himself to be found in a compromise. He would never marry anyone who attempted such a thing either.
Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas, Sir William and Lady Lucas’ eldest daughter, had sat out the last few sets and were back a short way from the Netherfield party. Both women were a bit shocked when Mr. Bingley began encouraging Mr. Darcy to dance.
“Come, Darcy. I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Mr. Bingley, “for a kingdom. Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” Mr. Darcy turned and stared until he caught Elizabeth’s eye.
“Bingley, she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
“Darcy, lower your voice.”
“Why should I? It should be plain to everyone that I am in no mood to dance this evening.”
Bingley rolled his eyes. “Your insulting comment was probably heard by several of the participants around us including Miss Elizabeth,” said he with a quieter voice.
Darcy just shook his head while Elizabeth Bennet rose to her feet.
“Eliza, just ignore him. He is not worth the effort.”
Elizabeth just smiled at her childhood friend, and Charlotte knew they were in trouble.
Unfortunately, Charlotte Lucas’ attempt to stop her friend was ineffective as Elizabeth kept walking toward the Netherfield men.
When the two women drew nigh to Darcy and Bingley, Elizabeth stopped her friend with a tug to her arm.
Elizabeth then proceeded to smile at Mr. Darcy and beginning at his head, she perused him from head to toe.
Elizabeth’s smile grew even wider. “Yes, very handsome.”
“Eliza…” Charlotte spoke through gritted teeth and tugged on her friend’s arm.
The second eldest Bennet daughter continued to ignore her friend’s distress.
“Yes, very handsome. I don’t believe I have ever seen such a handsome set of men’s clothes before. They must be from the best tailor in London. Even the dancing shoes have a spit polish shine to them. Yes, very handsome, I must say.”
“Eliza…” Charlotte was getting frantic rapidly as she knew her friend was preparing for the coup de grâce.
“However, the male who is wearing them is really not…not handsome enough to tempt me to dance.”
Charlotte felt she would swoon at any minute if Elizabeth didn’t close her mouth.
“Charlotte, I find that after sitting out two sets, to allow other young women an opportunity to dance tonight since there is such a dearth of men because of Napoleon’s antics, that I am rather thirsty. Earlier, your father was praising the punch as being the best we have ever had at an assembly, and I suggest that we try some. Come, my friend.”
Although Charlotte was about to tear at her hair in vexation of Elizabeth’s comments, she just sighed in resignation, and the two young women headed toward the refreshment area.
Charles Bingley guffawed and turned to his very irritated friend.
“Darce, you deserved that a thousand times over,” and Bingley doubled over in laughter.
“Quiet, Bingley,” said a ruffled Darcy.
Consequently, all the gossips sitting close by who heard Miss Elizabeth’s comments concerning the haughty Mr. Darcy proceeded to spread the word throughout the assembly for the remainder of the evening. The result was continual pockets of laughter throughout the hall with individuals looking towards the red-faced visitor.
To Caroline Bingley’s chagrin, Darcy was embarrassed enough by all the whispers around him that he left the assembly early, returned to Netherfield, and sent the carriage back to the assembly hall for Bingley and the rest of his family.
He was not missed by anyone except those from his own party.
Copyright © Gianna Thomas, 2022