Mrs Bennet began to frantically sort through Jane's wardrobe. "Where is your white dress?"
"Mama, calm yourself. It is just Mr Bingley. What I am wearing is just as agreeable." Jane said serenely, her hand clasped loosely in front of her and a smile tugged up the corners of her mouth.
"Your dress is much too plain to entertain Mr Bingley. It hardly has a stitch of lace on it. You must look your best," her mother continued and pulled out ribbons of all textures and colours unfazed by Jane's protests.
"No." Jane replied firmly as her mother held up a blue, then pink, and then a white ribbon to her dress, "Beauty is not everything. If he cannot see past that, then he is not the one for me. Mary once said, "Every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason, and exertion should always be in proportion to what is required."
Mrs Bennet looked at her eldest daughter in dismay, dropping the ribbons limply by her side.
"Now is not the time to be quoting Mary! My poor nerves! All of you are going to drive me out into the hedgerows." she wailed.
"Quiet mama. What if Mr Bingley can hear?" Jane whispered, acutely aware that Mr Bingley was only a few steps away from the front of their house.
Moments later, the faintest knock resonated throughout their entire household.
Mrs Hill immediately rushed to the front door and led Mr Charles Bingley to the drawing-room.
"Mr Bingley" Mrs Hill announced to the three youngest Bennets, who bobbed into a quick curtsy before hurrying to help her mistress with Jane.
"Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Katherine Bennet, Miss Lydia Bennet." Mr Bingley bowed albeit stiffly.
Kitty stifled her laughter at the sight of Mr Bingley. His hair was sticking in all sort of directions, and though it seemed someone made a valiant effort to tame it, he gave the impression he had come to visit immediately after waking.
"Mr Bingley." Lydia began, "What a surprise to see you in Longbourn. What brings you here?" she asked.
"I apologise for calling on your family unannounced. I was hoping to have a private audience with your sister, Miss Jane Bennet. Is she present?" the words tumbled out of his mouth so fast there was barely a space between them.
"Jane is currently preoccupied, but why do you wish to see her? My sister was heartbroken when you closed up Netherfield and left without saying goodbye. She even called upon your relatives' residence in London, and got sent away." The dangerous glint in Lydia's eyes and her defensive posture left no room to interpret her actions as an innocent statement.
Kitty's eyes became so wide it looked comical. Mary looked in shock at their youngest sister and opened her mouth to apologise to Mr Bingley for her sister's brazenness, yet shut it just as quickly.
"I am so sorry, I only found out a few days ago from my dear friend, Mr Darcy, that your sister had called on me. I can call on her tomorrow if she is not available today."
Lydia almost smirked at that remark but managed to school her expression to one of indifference at the last second. 'So, Mr Darcy is involved,' Lydia thought to herself.
"What about Miss Darcy?" she asked with a straight face.
"Excuse me, Miss Bennet, I do not follow you."
"Should we be wishing you congratulations?" Lydia continued with a twinkle in her eye.
By the bewildered expressions on Mary and Kitty's faces, it was clear that they had no idea what Lydia was talking about. Their eyes darted back and forth between the pair as if watching a fencing match.
"Your sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, told Jane that you and Miss Darcy had an understanding and were soon to be engaged," she explained.
Charles' nostrils flared and his cheeks flushed. "She what?!" he exclaimed loudly, before his shoulders slumped and he sighed, now fully aware of his sister's betrayal.
Mary could not help but feel sorry for him. The bumbling fellow almost reminded them of their idiot cousin, Mr Collins. She shot her sister an annoyed look. What was Lydia thinking in spreading lies about Charles being engaged to Mr Darcy's sister of all people? How were they going to explain themselves to Mr Darcy? What Mary did not know was that there was some truth to Lydia's words. When their eldest sister Jane became more reserved after her trip to London, Lydia made it her business to find out why. After some investigation she came across a crumpled letter, hidden in Jane's room. The contents within were about one Mr Charles Bingley and his supposed future with Miss Darcy.
"Our sincerest apologies, perhaps it was us who were mistaken," Mary said apologetically. Her face contorted into a strained smile.
Soft footsteps could be heard from upstairs, which meant one thing, Jane was on her way to meet them.
"Mr Bingley" Lydia warned, "I trust that you will keep this conversation between the four of us?" and smiled at him sweetly.
No words were spoken, but it was clear that Jane would never hear of this from Mr Bingley. The poor man was shaking in his boots.
"Relax," Lydia said taking pity of him, "You still have a chance with her," before she paused dramatically and winked as if to say, 'Your move'.
Charles barked out a nervous laugh.
Right on cue, Jane emerged in the drawing-room. Mrs Bennet nudged her forward.
"Mr Bingley" she curtsied, with a blush on her face.
"Miss Bennet" he bowed.