It was not to be, however, and dinner came far too soon to suit Kitty’s feelings. The first thing she did at dinner was to offer her congratulations to Lizzy. Her thanks were drowned out by Lydia.
“What are you congratulating her for? She’s not the one who slaved over children all summer.”
“Neither did you,” her father said acerbically. “Mary and Kitty undertook the bulk of the duties there. And she is congratulating Lizzy on her engagement.”
“Lizzy? Engaged? Who would want to marry her?”
“Mr Darcy, of course,” her mother said sharply. As if anyone could object to one of her daughters! “You had better be on your best behaviour tomorrow, girls! Now, Madeleine, I understand from her letter that you spent quite some time with the Countess of Matlock?”
The entire table stopped talking at that. Lizzy tried valiantly to hide her amusement at her father’s gobsmacked expression, but not even Jane could repress a smile.
“Yes Fanny,” Mrs Gardiner answered sedately. “I do hope you will be kind enough to let her assist.”
“Oh yes, I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to have only sons! Now, she suggested that as they only want a three month engagement that it’s most sensible for me to take care of everything here and for the two of you to handle anything that needs to be done in town.”
“That is very sensible and I would be happy to help.”
“Wonderful! I must admit I did wonder how to plan everything and manage all the wedding clothes as well, but with the Countess of Matlock to assist me, all shall be well.”
Lizzy rolled her eyes and resigned herself to hearing those words multiple times a day until the wedding. Mary wondered at the similarity between her mother and Mr Collins, considering that he was her father’s relative. They spoke mostly of wedding matters over dinner, and Kitty made Lizzy retell the story of the proposal as she had not yet heard it. As Lizzy would quite happily talk of Darcy all day she obliged them all.
Lydia sulked the whole way through the meal. Not only did they ignore all her efforts to change the subject, but she had to hear them all praising Lizzy to the skies. Even Kitty had defected, which Lydia was determined to punish her for. She had always wanted to be the first to marry and to have it be Lizzy of all her sisters was pouring salt on her wounds. Nobody paid her the slightest bit of attention even when the ladies withdrew. It was galling. And then her aunt made it even worse.
“Now, there was some argument over who would be visiting where for the season, but we would like to have Mary with us for at least part of it.”
Mary was thrilled, though she knew the invitation was coming, as it meant they’d be working on publishing her novel! Kitty was stoic, as she too knew the invitation was coming. She hoped that Mary would enjoy herself.
“Why Mary?” Lydia asked loudly. “You should ask me. Mary won’t enjoy it at all, after all, she doesn’t know how to have fun.”
“Don’t be silly, Lydia,” her mother said to everyone’s surprise. “Everyone thinks her plain because they only see her with the rest of you. In London they’ll probably think her quite pretty enough.”
Mary blushed, Kitty looked horrified, Jane distressed, and Lizzy amused. Lydia pouted.
“I think, Lydia, you would be the one who would not enjoy staying with us. London society is much stricter than here and a girl your age wouldn’t be invited to balls or parties.”
“That’s probably for the best,” Lizzy said. “I’m sure there are far more rogues trying to take advantage of naive girls in town.”
Mrs Bennet nodded, making a note to ask the Countess of Matlock about it, and turned the conversation to Mr Darcy’s dinner preferences.
The next morning saw a carriage arrive at Longbourn long before most of the family were up. Marianne alighted and was quickly met by Lizzy. She handed over a note for Jane, which Lizzy gave to Mrs Hill. They soon embarked on their walk, arguing over which poet best described the beauties they were seeing.
Jane was next to appear downstairs, but went back up after reading her letter.
“Kitty! Wake up!”
“What? Jane? What time is it?”
“It is early yet, but Elinor said that since Georgiana demands the musical Bennet, I am to bring the artistic one.”
Kitty sat up immediately. “Truly?”
“Read it yourself,” Jane said, handing the note over.
She did and was promptly replaced by a hurricane as she tried to ready herself as quickly as possible. So it was that when Mary came down to breakfast, she found Jane sedately sipping her tea and Kitty unable to sit still.
“Good morning sisters,” Mary said. “I did not expect to see either of you so early this morning.”
“Oh, Mary! Isn’t is wonderful!”
“I do not know. What is this ‘it’?”
“Elinor has asked Kitty and I to join the party at Netherfield today. While you play we shall be drawing.”
“I can’t wait!”
“I should say that Kitty will be drawing, as I have not yet mastered even the simplest of Elinor’s lessons.”
“And, of course, you are so excited you wish to leave at once.”
“You should eat something first, of course, but I hope you will be quick. I want to be gone before Lydia arises.”
Mary scowled at the thought of her youngest sister and set about her breakfast. The girls did not tarry long and were soon ensconced in the carriage and on their way to Netherfield. They were warmly welcomed and spent a fair portion of time with the entire group They all wished to get to know the younger Bennets.
Kitty’s enthusiasm had not abated and Elinor soon rewarded her patience by taking the younger girl off to the conservatory.
“I would not normally start with plants, as they can be rather difficult to get quite right, but I think you have a natural talent and will have no trouble.”
Kitty did not agree with this assessment of her skill, but was too abashed to say so. She need not have worried. Elinor kept an eye on her and, in between frequent praises, discussed techniques of shading, angles of light, and other things that Kitty found fascinating and Jane did not care to comprehend. They were mostly left alone by the others.
Colonel Brandon came with some regularity and eventually commandeered a table and worked beside them. Jane had expected the General to be with them, as she knew how much pleasure he got from watching Elinor draw. He, however, had joined Darcy on a ride. He knew Darcy hoped to meet up with Elizabeth, which would leave poor Marianne to her own devices. Knowing that Elinor still worried over Marianne, despite admitting it to be largely unnecessary, he would watch over her. Elinor had been pleased when he told her what he intended and he was rather inattentive to both his cousin and his horse as he dwelt on the way she had looked at him.
Georgiana and Mary were in the music room with Mrs Hurst, who was taking Marianne’s part while she walked with Lizzy. Only Anne remained abovestairs, resting. Three days in a carriage had exhausted her, despite the improvement increased exercise had made to her health. She hoped to be able to attend the dinner at Longbourn that night, and so sent her apologies to the guests.
The rest helped and she was able to go to dinner. The party was large and she felt some uneasiness, but as most of the people present were ones she knew, she soon relaxed. Marianne, Mary, and Georgiana were talking about music, Mr Bennet, Mr Darcy, and Lizzy were talking about chess, or politics, or something. Mrs Hurst and Mrs Gardiner were attempting to keep Mrs Bennet from saying anything untoward and not succeeding terribly well as her mind could not be distracted from Lizzy’s engagement, or the fact that Jane and Mr Bingley had been reunited. While some of her comments were not to Anne’s taste, and most should not have been spoken aloud at all, Anne could see that they were all caused by the woman’s love of and concern for her daughters. She was seated near Elinor and Kitty, and so was able to join in their talk of drawing, and was pleased to find another beginner.
Lydia had seated herself between Mr Bingley and General Fitzwilliam and was indefatigable in attempting to convince the former to agree to stay long enough to hold another ball, and trying to dazzle the latter with her charms. Mrs Bennet had been most pleased to meet the Countess of Matlock’s younger son, who had volunteered to transport any letters or messages to her in town, and did not miss the looks he occasionally gave to Miss Lydia. He was often surprised and occasionally disgusted. She assumed that he was used to the more sophisticated society in town and that Lydia was too young and unpolished to be in company there. She determined to give her youngest a hint later that evening.
The General was mostly paying attention to Elinor’s conversation, only interjecting to suggest that Anne might like to hire a drawing master in town. Both cousins noticed the wistful expression that plan elicited from Miss Kitty. Being utterly incapable of refusing a lady anything, Mr Bingley found himself entirely monopolised by Miss Lydia. He explained to her a number of times why he could not stay longer in the neighbourhood and that he could therefore not host a ball, but she ignored it all. She declared that his business was not nearly as important as he said, certainly not as important as her need to dance with a man like the General, that, really, he must want to have some fun after spending all that time with the dreadfully dull Darcy, and he could even dance with Jane again. In fact, given that Lizzy had somehow convinced Darcy to marry her, he was obligated to host an engagement ball. Taking pity on the poor man, Colonel Brandon contrived to begin discussing estate management.
“How very boring! I wouldn’t think a Colonel would usually be so dull, but I suppose you are very old and have forgotten how to enjoy things.”
Unfortunately she said this in a brief moment of silence and the entire table heard. All her family were too shocked to say anything, but Colonel Brandon was prepared.
“Quiet now, Miss Lydia, the grown-ups are talking,” he said before turning back to Mr Bingley.
Mr Bennet could barely contain his laughter. Mrs Bennet decided that Lydia was definitely not ready for London -- insulting such a nice man with his own estate and everything! She remembered how Lizzy had praised her for taking such good care of her daughters when the regiment had been stationed in Meryton. She’d rather enjoyed having the daughter most like her husband compliment her and think well of her. Lizzy looked horrified, Mr Darcy was grave, and the General was shocked. She knew what she needed to do.
When the ladies withdrew, Lydia was sent to her room. She did not go quietly. The entire household heard the screaming. The noise stopped abruptly, which many wondered at.
Elizabeth had hung back, wanting to admonish Lydia herself. She was pleased her mother was doing the right thing and just as shocked by the reaction. Unable to contain herself, she had slapped her sister.
“How dare you speak to Mama that way! Apologise at once and do as you’re told!”
In response, Lydia glared at her sister and ran up the stairs to her room.
“I’m sorry Mama, I should not have struck her.”
“Why would she say such awful things to me?”
“For the same reason I did when you punished me for getting my new dress soiled in the stables. She does not understand that you’re acting in her best interest.”
“You were eight! A child!”
“What does that say about Lydia?”
“Perhaps we should put her in the nursery with her cousins?”
Lizzy laughed. “Oh Mama! That will only make her angrier. But you must do something. Why, she didn’t even apologise!”
“Well, I don’t know what would be appropriate. But we’ll have to worry about that later, we’re neglecting our guests.”
They went to join the other ladies in the drawing room, Mrs Bennet reflecting on how pleasant it was to have Lizzy look at her that way and not just her father. And it didn’t matter if she didn’t know what to do, Lizzy was very clever and would think of something. It was Colonel Brandon who gave Mrs Bennet the solution when he apologised for the way he’d spoken to her daughter. He had not realised that she was out. The solution was so very obvious. She should not be out.
After the guests had left -- with many plans made for the following day -- she spoke to her husband about it. He agreed that Lydia clearly did not know how to behave in polite company and promised his wife his support on the matter. She informed the housekeeper, who relayed the news to the rest of the staff.
Lydia was most put out the next morning, when she was awoken at the inhuman hour of half past eight and summoned to breakfast. She sulked through it and was even more displeased by being taken into her father’s study afterwards.
“Now, Lydia, you have shown yourself to be a badly behaved child. Your mother and I have decided to treat you in the way that you behave. Until you prove to us that you are able and willing to behave properly, you will not be allowed in company.”
“What?! That’s not fair! Mama! Tell him it’s not fair!”
“It was not fair for you to scream such abuse at me last night, but you did it anyway. This is perfectly fair. If you want to be treated like a lady then you must act like one.”
Lydia stormed out of the room and went to find Kitty. It took rather longer than expected, as she was in the still room with Jane and Lizzy
“What are you doing in here, Kitty? Come, I want to talk to you.”
“I’m learning what the duties of an estate’s mistress are.”
“What for? We shall marry wealthy men and have servants for that.”
“You’re not out, Lydia, I don’t think you have any comprehension of what men want in their wives.”
Lydia flushed angrily. “Kitty! That’s not true! Mama and Papa are only doing this because Lizzy is jealous of me.”
Her sisters laughed at her.
She stamped her foot. “I know more about men than all the rest of you put together! I wager I’ll be the first to marry, see if I don’t!”
She flounced out of the room in high dudgeon.
“Poor Lydia,” Jane said. “It must be very hard for her.”
“She brought it on herself,” Lizzy answered, and they turned their attention back to their task.
Lydia did not return to the house. She knew quite well how to get a man to marry her, she just had to pick one. She rather liked the idea of marrying a General, and his father was an Earl, so she’d outrank all her family! Now she just had to find him.
It did not take long. The gentlemen were out riding and she flung herself to the ground near their path and began sobbing loudly. Naturally, they stopped.
“Miss Lydia?” Bingley asked. “Whatever is the matter?”
“I’ve turned my ankle. I’ve tried to walk on it but it’s too painful.”
“Oh dear. Well, we are very close to Longbourn, I’m sure we can see you home safely.”
They muttered amongst themselves quietly, while she continued to sob, carefully lifting her skirts above her ankles in what she thought was a seductive manner.
“Miss Lydia,” a deep voice said, and she looked up at Darcy. “I’m going to have to lift you onto the horse as you cannot stand.”
She agreed with alacrity and excessive gratitude. She’d planned on the General, but stealing her sister’s fiance would be a real coup. It was only once he’d placed her on the horse that she noticed that all the other gentlemen had dismounted as well. She sat atop Mr Darcy’s horse seething in frustration as they walked her home.
They did not offer to assist her in dismounting when they reached Longbourn. They sent a servant for her parents and openly discussed how they’d found her with them. Mrs Bennet went to examine her at once. Having had Lizzy for a daughter she had some experience with twisted ankles.
“There’s nothing the matter with you, Lydia. Why your ankle is not even bruised, there’s no swelling at all.”
Mr Bennet eyed the gentlemen and said stiffly, “I wonder why the child lied.”
“Too lazy to walk home, I wager. You could have told the gentlemen you were tired, they would have helped you even if you weren’t injured.”
“Your naivete still astounds me, Mrs Bennet,” was her husband’s only response. “Ah, Hill. Escort Miss Lydia to her chamber. She will not be leaving it again today.”
Once more there was screaming and tears. Mr Bennet excused himself and dragged her away.
“I don’t know what’s got into her,” Mrs Bennet said.
“Oh, the baby is always rather spoilt, Mrs Bennet. Just ask my mother what I was like at that age! Discipline is all that’s needed,” the General assured her.
Darcy snorted, knowing full well that at that age all his cousin had been interested in was fencing, shooting, and tales of battle.
The gentlemen continued their ride while the Bennets attempted to discipline their daughter. She did not see that she had done anything wrong, but even her mother was against her.
The ladies from Netherfield called a bit later. They wished to accompany the Bennet girls on their calls. Anne particularly wished to meet the rest of Charlotte’s family, so their first call was to Lucas Lodge. Mrs Bennet was pleased to be seen with so many lovely young ladies, and even more pleased to be able to tell all her acquaintance of Lizzy’s engagement.
Lydia’s absence was mentioned by almost everyone, as her not taking the opportunity to visit was unheard of. Mrs Bennet sedately explained that she had shown she was not yet ready to be out and turned the conversation back to her preferred topic. By the end of the day all of Meryton and its surrounding estates were aware of Mrs Bennet’s correspondence with the Countess of Matlock, Mr Darcy’s aunt, who would be assisting her with some of the wedding plans.
Mrs Hurst spent the visits expressing her regrets at their sudden departure last winter -- she told them Caroline had suddenly taken ill -- and explaining that they were only here for a few days due to Miss de Bourgh’s frailty, but that they intended to be back in a month or so, when they would hope to undertake more engagements. She even went so far as to suggest that if Elizabeth could convince Mr Darcy to consent, they would like to host an engagement ball on their return. Naturally all the young ladies begged Lizzy to do whatever it took. She simply laughed and said that she did not think he would have any grounds to object as Lady Matlock was planning a ball to celebrate their marriage in town in the New Year.