The Bennington family was not to be regarded without due respect. The Harkwood estate sat mightily on the lush hilltop with a grand driveway for the carriages (note the pluralized noun) and every day the wealthy family would gather around at the drawing room and spend hours in tea and chess.
Mr. Edward Bennington, an entrepreneur owning three factories, invested his leisure time reading the Oak Street Journal, particularly on politics and the horse races. He was a man of fifty, large belly and with a warm disposition. He was the opposite to his wife Margaret, a woman of three and forty always dressed in her party gowns and ornamented shoes. She thrived in society, exchanging gossip with a Mrs. Smith or a Mrs. Grey, and expected the members of her family to follow the same path as she.
Riches, social standing, and the public opinion dominated the air of the household. The stewards and stewardesses were all expected to move about in their duties with a manner of honor and pride that is to be observed by the mistress of the house. Mrs. Edward Bennington seized the responsibility and disciplines her four children with such manners as that.
The eldest, Maxwell – the pride and joy of the family as was his fate declared – was a university student entering graduation. He was a tall boy, brown hair up to the shoulders, striking green-coloured eyes and a smile that brings the ladies to a heavy sigh. His mother boasts eagerly every day of his becoming a well-respected deliverer of justice and hopes highly of it becoming a reality in the course of six months. Maxwell's lodgings were unfortunately situated in the city, so his visits were to be expected only thrice a month.
Second to him was Annabelle, a girl of nineteen. She was a sensible girl, often agreeable, and so much like her mother. She desired company within the wealthy and reputable society, always exceeding in her advances with the gentlemen of the country, and made sure that she was the prettiest of them all. Young Annabelle was neither witty nor rational, and yet she was her mother's blessing.
Eden on the other hand was what everyone would call the "late bloomer". Only seventeen, she desired neither parties nor jewelries, but a library with books on philosophy and mathematics, the ability to ride a horse, and a grand piano for her indulgence in music. Eden cared nothing of her mother's consistent reminders of her role as a female, yet she can never ignore Mrs. Bennington's wishes of her being married to tame her so-called "wild imaginations".
There came a day, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, when an invitation arrived for the lord of the house. Seeing that it was sealed in an envelope perfumed with lavender, Mrs. Bennington rushed to deliver it to her husband, inquiring immediately what the business was about.
"Oh do open it dear husband and let not the suspense wretch my poor heart," she remarked. "Your heart could neither be wretched nor deprived as you would have read the letter have I not been at my study reading the paper," her husband replied in honesty. He opened the invitation, read it quietly, and handed it to his wife. "Could it be? An invitation to a grand ball at Garland estate?" his wife exclaimed in utter excitement. "Mr. Foster has invited his good friend Mr. Bradley Jameson, a bachelor with a respectable background, and is inviting the Bennington family to celebrate in the welcoming on the night of Tuesday."
"As it was written my dear," her husband reminded lightly, reading his paper once again. "Surely you do not sit there indifferent of the opportunity! This may be our Annabelle's night for Mr. Jameson is a bachelor," Mrs. Bennington said, already eager to change in her best gown. "Annabelle will be delighted I am sure when she hears the news of her mother preparing her engagement night, but we cannot simply attend as our son Maxwell is returning from the university on Monday night," he reminded her. "It will simply tire the
boy." "Nonsense my love! Maxwell is a fine and energetic boy as his future profession would demand it. Oh dear husband, you must attend the ball with your girls and introduce them promptly to Mr. Jameson," Mrs. Bennington requested with a voice too sweet for her husband's senses.
At that moment, the door knocked and Eden entered with tea and croissants. She addressed them cordially and placed the tray down on the nearest table.
"Dear Eden, an invitation just arrived from Mr. Foster in Garland estate declaring the welcoming of a Mr. Jameson, a bachelor with twenty thousand pounds a year! Do tell your father it is only necessary for the futures of his daughters that we take the opportunity at once."
"I would but only for Annabelle's and my mother's delight. I do not wish to request in behalf of all of the women of Harkwood estate." "Now, now, you must not forget that it is also your future that I am working for. You cannot assume that you and your sister Charlotte will remain husband-less all throughout your lifetime. Why, it is simply outrageous and I will not have any of it!" her mother exclaimed, determined to rid her daughter of her indifference and ignorance. She crossed the room with the invitation in her hand and turned back to her husband. "So my dear, we depart for Garland estate I hope?" "Isn't Maxwell coming home soon?" Eden asked. "Yes he is, and your mother insists that your brother be attentive and energetic on the night of the party," Mr. Bennington replied. "Surely you have considered the troughs of the journey from Oxford to Stratford Mother? I'm afraid Maxwell will be too tired to be partying so soon." Eden reasoned. "Annabelle will take my reason. Eden, do send for your sister," her mother said. Her daughter bowed her head in assent and left the room.
Minutes later, the two girls along with twelve-year old Charlotte re-entered the room.
"I heard of an invitation to Garland estate is due in two days time. Is it true? Of what occasion?" the eldest of the girls asked with excitement and poise. "A Mr. Bradley Jameson my dear Annabelle! He has come to Stratford in the residence of our dear friend Mr. Foster and he is a man of wealth and respectability." "Oh! Then we must pay our respects and welcome Mr. Jameson," Annabelle agreed. "Upon my word Mother must I attend to these arrangements as well?" Charlotte intruded with annoyance. "Of course Charlotte, do not expect that you will be left behind in this empty manor while your sisters are out at Garland estate entertaining the guest of honor and his friends," her mother replied, giggling with delight. Annabelle was already in thought of what dress to wear while Eden sighed and wished to be back to her reading.
"If that will be all Mrs. Bennington, I'll expect you to be in charge from now on?" Mr. Bennington inquired. That was all it took to get Mrs. Bennington to fly out of the house and summon the carriage. Annabelle, Charlotte, and her headed off to the center to buy some necessities for the ball, while Eden remained in the house while her father took off to inspect the factory at Millworth, a town not too far away from Stratford.