Error in Judgment

Summary: What if Darcy danced with Jane and Bingley danced with Elizabeth at the Meryton Assembly? Would our favorite couples find their way to each other? Fair Warning: OOC Alert!

Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Jane Austen.

Chapter 1: Dance

The dancing came to an abrupt halt and a hush fell over the room as the newcomers entered the Meryton Assembly. Many rumors had been circulated throughout the neighborhood about the party – there were to be seven gentlemen; the gentlemen were all said to be handsome and unmarried; the gentlemen were said to be men of fortune from London; the gentleman were said to be looking for wives; the number of gentlemen inexplicably rose to twelve. As the party entered the room, there were three gentlemen and two elegantly dressed ladies. The dancing quickly resumed and the locals clamored for invitations to the newcomers.

Mr. Charles Bingley had just moved into Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire County and had made the acquaintance of only a few neighbors before returning to London to gather his party and bring them back to his new residence. Bingley was a young man of three and twenty years and was said to be quite good natured. As he entered the assembly with his party, he approached Sir William Lucas, greeted him warmly and requested introductions to the other guests. Accompanying him were his elder sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hurst of London, his unmarried sister Miss Caroline Bingley and his closest friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.

~~oo~~

Fitzwilliam Darcy entered the Meryton assembly and was disheartened to hear the whispers as he passed by the crowd: 'Ten thousand a year' was repeated among the local residents. He expected this type of treatment in London; the match-making mothers were eager to introduce him to their unmarried daughters in hopes of a fortuitous marriage. He hoped he could escape such treatment in the country but it seemed that his reputation preceded him and he would enjoy no anonymity here in Hertfordshire. Introductions began and he was instantly struck by the irresistible beauty of one of the Bennet sisters. Miss Jane Bennet was as beautiful as any of the London ladies he had met, although she most likely did not enjoy the wealth that the London ladies did. Wasting no time after making her acquaintance, he immediately addressed her: "Miss Bennet, if you are free, may I have the next dance?" he inquired. She accepted with a small curtsey and he escorted her to the dance floor. As they danced, he was struck by her resemblance to his sister, Georgiana. They had the same coloring and same shy smile. He knew that Georgiana was hoping for a sister; perhaps Miss Bennet…. "No Darcy," he chided himself, "you have just met the woman." He resolved to simply enjoy her smiles and her dancing this evening.

~~oo~~

Bingley was delighted to make the acquaintance of the Bennet family; Mr. Bennet, whom he had previously met upon his arrival in Hertfordshire, was not in attendance this evening, but he now met Mrs. Bennet and her five daughters. He noticed that the eldest sister was quite beautiful; she had an angelic countenance, with blonde hair, blue eyes and a charming smile. When he gazed at her, she had blushed prettily; he found her demeanor simply enchanting. He was about to ask her to dance when his friend Darcy stepped forward to request a dance. He stood by and watched as she accepted and Darcy escorted her to the dance floor.

Bingley was disappointed but deferred to his friend who had been his trusted mentor since his university days at Cambridge. Wasting no time, he requested a dance from the next eldest Bennet sister and was graciously accepted. Miss Elizabeth was a lively, enthusiastic dance partner; she smiled cheerfully as they danced and he enjoyed himself immensely.

After the first set, the sisters were escorted back to their mother and the gentlemen paused a moment later for a brief discussion: "I have never met so many pleasant girls in my life! And many of them are uncommonly pretty!" Bingley exclaimed.

"Indeed, Miss Bennet is the most handsome girl in the room," Darcy observed.

"All of the Bennet sisters are pretty and Miss Elizabeth is an excellent dancer," Bingley observed. "I am delighted to make the acquaintance of such amiable people." He danced every set that evening and was sorely disappointed when the evening ended so early; he resolved to hold a ball at Netherfield so the dancing could continue well into the morning hours.

~~oo~~

Mrs. Bennet was pleased beyond all imaginings that her daughters had fared so well at the assembly that evening. When she arrived home at Longbourn that night, she swelled with pride as she relayed every detail to her husband. "Oh my dear Mr. Bennet, what a splendid evening we have had! You should be exceedingly proud of our daughters, they were so admired; Mr. Darcy danced with Jane twice and Mr. Bingley danced with Lizzy twice!" she exclaimed with enthusiasm.

Balls and dancing were quite possibly Mr. Bennet's least favorite activities: "If they had any compassion for me they would have sprained their ankles during the first set," he muttered.

Mrs. Bennet could not be diverted from her raptures: "Just think of it; two such handsome and distinguished gentlemen dancing with your daughters, Mr. Bennet! Everyone commented on it! Such grand compliments, indeed!" she gushed.

Mr. Bennet was not as amazed by the attention his daughters had garnered: "Why should they not compliment the most beautiful girls in the county?" he asked blandly.

"Mr. Bingley's sisters were so elegantly dressed in the latest fashions from London; we are very fortunate to have such elegance in our midst, to be sure," Mrs. Bennet prattled on.

Mr. Bennet grumbled under his breath: "I have no use for London fashions."

"Mr. Darcy is such a distinguished gentleman; so handsome and tall; ten thousand a year and likely more! He danced with our Jane for the first set! Then he danced the next set with Miss Bingley; such an elegant lady, she is. It is quite likely that she has set her cap for Mr. Darcy; it vexed me so to see him stand up with her. Certainly he could not admire her, despite her elegance, for she never smiles. Then he danced with the other Bingley sister, but she is married so there is no danger there. He sat out the next set, even though there were plenty of girls without partners, but he next danced with Lizzy, even though she is not as pretty as Jane. Then he danced the Boulanger with Jane again. I am so pleased, I must say," she exclaimed, exceedingly proud of her daughter's accomplishments.

"He was wise to dance with Jane and Lizzy but I wish he had not danced half so much," he complained while his daughters giggled merrily at his grumpy response to their mother's enthusiastic banter.

"And Mr. Bingley has five thousand a year! He was exceptionally amiable; he danced every set and seemed to be quite disappointed that the evening had come to an end so early. He danced the first set with Miss Lucas and I was sorely displeased to see him stand up with such an unattractive girl," she criticized.

Her two eldest daughters were affronted by her insult: "Mama! You should not speak so of our dear Charlotte!" Lizzy loudly protested.

"I beg of you, Madame," her husband complained, hoping to be released from any further details of the evening.

"I assure you, Mr. Bennet, there shall be a wedding here in Hertfordshire very soon! Mr. Darcy was quite taken with our Jane! And why should he not be! She is the jewel of the county!" she exclaimed while her husband grumbled under his breath.

~~oo~~

Later that night, Jane and Lizzy discussed their impressions of the evening and the newcomers: "Mr. Darcy is such a fine gentleman, Lizzy! Did you notice his eyes? So blue and so intense!" Jane whispered to her sister.

"I did notice and I believe he also noticed your blue eyes. Mama is already planning the wedding!" Lizzy teased.

"Oh, Lizzy! We have only just met!" she said with a giggle. "But I was very flattered by his asking for a second dance! I did not expect such a compliment," she told her sister.

"Of course, he should compliment the most beautiful girl in the room! It is his obligation as the most handsome man in the room!" Lizzy teased her sister.

"He is indeed handsome but Mr. Bingley is handsome, as well! And he paid you the same compliment by dancing with you twice!" she observed.

"Yes, it was a very nice compliment," Lizzy agreed. "He is so amiable and an excellent dance partner," she observed.

"I was very impressed with his sisters," Jane told her.

Lizzy could not agree: "Were you? Their manners were not equal to his," she noted.

"That was my first impression as well, but upon further acquaintance, I think they shall be very pleasant neighbors," Jane replied in her usual amiable manner.

Lizzy listened quietly as Jane praised the Bingley sisters; Jane was not prone to finding fault with anyone but Lizzy found the sisters to be quite proud and disagreeable. She kept her opinion to herself for she knew that her sister would scold her for being so critical but she considered herself quite skilled at judging a person's character; the Bingley sisters had proven themselves to be conceited by their private discussions when they thought no one was observing them.

~~oo~~

That night at Netherfield, Bingley expressed his pleasure with the evening, having made the acquaintance of his neighbors and finding them so amiable and hospitable. He enjoyed the company of Miss Elizabeth and looked forward to seeing her again. His sisters found her only tolerable with a poor sense of fashion, but agreed that she did have a lively personality and seemed to be quite intelligent.

Caroline Bingley gave her brother leave to like Miss Elizabeth; he had admired many simpletons in London and having an intelligent admirer of short duration might do her brother good. She sincerely hoped that their presence in Hertfordshire would be of short duration. She found the inhabitants of the country to be quite uncivilized. However, it was Mr. Darcy's attentions to Miss Bennet that gave her cause for alarm. She had long held the desire to capture the gentleman's attention herself and his display this evening further strengthened her resolve. She openly agreed that Jane Bennet was beautiful and quite amiable, but found her to be a simpleton, lacking in accomplishments. She silently resolved to emphasize her own accomplishments to Mr. Darcy; he would certainly acknowledge that her accomplishments were more suited to the future mistress of Pemberley than any country chit with a pretty face. The best place to do that, of course, was in London. Hopefully, her brother would quickly tire of the slow pace here in the country and agree to return to Town.

Darcy was relieved that the evening was spent so pleasantly; he had been dreading the evening. Balls were usually filled with matchmaking mothers and this evening was no exception; however, he found Miss Bennet to be unpretentious and nothing like Caroline Bingley. Caroline's designs on him were unmistakable, but there was no possibility of a match with her; she was far too proud and arrogant. Miss Bennet had proven herself to be modest and unassuming; a trait he considered far more attractive than the women of London who only wore the latest fashions and disparaged anyone who did not follow the latest fashion trends.

(Author's Note: Dialogue and text were generously borrowed from the masterpiece: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813.)