Chapter II B
I am not sure who invented the name Madeleine for Mrs. Gardiner so I can not ask the writer's permission. Is there not a story on her childhood ... ?
The dusk made the ride back to Netherfield somewhat perilous. They did, however, keep to the main road from a wish to avoid branches hanging down and treacherous holes in the ground, so the attention required could hardly account for their silence. It was not until they entered through the gates to Netherfield Park that Bingley saw fit to shout with contentment.
"It is such a relief to see those gate-posts! I fear it is going to be pitch-dark before long!"
He fell silent and once more only the sound of horses hooves was heard until his happiness and satisfaction overflowed.
"Damned fine evening! There can be no pair of sisters more agreeable and handsome, no father in law more amusing and ... I am sure Mrs. Bennet means well. Darcy, I consider us most fortunate in our choice of brides."
There was no reply to his ramblings. He turned in the saddle to try to discern his friend's face and made another attempt.
"Darcy! What is on your mind, man?"
A ripple of self-irony passed over the lips of his companion.
"What would you conjecture to be on my mind, Bingley?"
The irony did not affect the happiness of Netherfield's owner as he let his eyes sweep with satisfaction over the facade and indulged in a small fantasy, imagining how it would be to return home like this and have Jane waiting for him inside.
"Well, tomorrow I should think ... your wedding ... your bride! At least that is what is taking up my own thoughts."
Elizabeth! Yes, she is constantly on my mind and how I can make her happy. Whether I have had enough foresight to plan the beginning of our wedded life so that it will in every way be suited to please her.
He nodded and smiled as he dismounted and left the reins to the groom.
"Yes Bingley, brilliant deduction; my thoughts are on the same subjects."
Politely referring to the hour, Darcy declined an offer of a drink and with an indulgent and affectionate smile wished his voluble host a good night. Whereupon they exchanged a doubtful glance, both being in some doubt regarding the amount of rest it would afford and hence with a sheepish grin, slapped each other on the back, before they parted.
The reason for his wish to retire was not really an overwhelming fatigue. Rather a great demand for some seclusion and silence.
When he had undressed and got himself ready for bed, his valet wanted a short conference on the choice of waistcoats. Darcy stood in the doorway to the dressing-room, leaning against the doorpost and contemplating the selection on display. He had decided long ago with the approval of his fiancͺe, that he would wear his blue jacket. His eyes lingered on an intricate black and blue pattern, but it seemed somehow more fit for a visit to the theatre. Although he was certainly most particular about his wedding outfit, other matters craved his attention. He stifled a yawn and glanced at Lowell.
"What is your advise?"
"I think something calm would be in accordance with the sanctuary, but with some liveliness to it. If I may suggest this pattern, sir? Is it not a pleasing combination of dark gray and a silver shade? Dignified, yet far from dull. Most befitting on such a joyous day, sir."
"The gray one! So be it! Very good, then ... and you will have my bath ready at 8 o'clock. Oh, and please remind Mr. Bullock, that he is supposed to collect Miss Bennet's trunks at Longbourn in the morning. I take it, that will be all, Lowell? Good night."
Sleep evading him, Darcy lay in bed, staring up into the dark canopy and contemplating the few days since his return to Hertfordshire. What was it that had induced him to capitulate, and by fully acknowledging the power of their mutual physical attraction abandon his former caution and even some of his restraint in her company? He tried to list the reasons.
The persuasion of the dammed up emotions that separation denoted had certainly contributed.
So had the fact that the time of their engagement neared its end, that only a couple of days remained before the rituals of church and society would sanctify and sanction their love in all its manifestations.
Then there was the continuously growing understanding between their minds from the first days of their betrothal and the initial tentative efforts, through the augmented degree of intimacy in their communications, soon to be founded on trust and shared confidences up to the heartfelt devotion of the present day.
Now she was closer to him than he had ever deemed conceivable that any woman - or indeed, any living soul - would ever be. Yet she and I have only just started our life together and I have every hope that we might in time get as closely united as were my parents.
When he had allowed himself and Elizabeth the increased physical nearness, he had also realized, that although probably inexperienced, she was fully capable ... he smiled at a cherished memory ... well, as capable as he himself, to master her heart, or rather the less proper impulses caused by its inclination, her attachment to him. He sighed.
On that field near Longbourn it was thanks to her, that he did not overstep every boundary. He had been in a red blaze of desire, prepared to give in to her intoxicating power.
He was embarrassed that he had failed to bear in mind what he was in reality so very sensible of, that his fiancͺe was an adult, intelligent woman, his equal. He had been so used to his protective attitude during the years as guardian of Georgiana. He heaved another sigh. There is still much for me to learn. Pride appears in various guises.
His thoughts dealt happily with those valued moments of nearness and passion he had spent in her presence those passed days. He remembered how she looked when he came over to her at the pianoforte. An enthusiastic group had gathered around her to express their gratitude for the agreeable performance. ... That was yesterday evening ...
After listening to Sir William Lucas" benevolent but ludicrous civilities, he had left to approach the performer. He abandoned Lady Matlock without remorse, fully aware that she was a person more than apt to deal with the follies of her fellow man.
He had stayed back until the other guests were done complimenting his fiancͺe and was then offered the pleasure of her eyes concentrating on him, again sending him those fascinating messages that were bound to bring additional heat to his ardor. Her mouth of course only spoke of such things that were perfectly adequate for a social gathering, but in connection with her subtle glances, the meaning of her words sometimes seemed to be coded.
Her gloves had been removed earlier, when she was about to play and now she only had time to put one back on, before he promptly seized her bare hand. Holding back his fervor he delivered the appropriate thanks and politely raised her hand to his lips.
"I am indebted to you for providing me with this delightful musical interlude, Miss Bennet. Please accept my most heartfelt gratitude."
This first utterance was delivered in a normal pitch of conversation, but even after he had brushed his lips against it, he would not let go of her hand. He was drawn into the alluring depths of her dark eyes while his thumb furtively caressed her skin.
"No glove? One kiss would not suffice if we were but alone, Miss Bennet. I would wish to be lavish with my kisses on this hand ... this arm."
His voice was low, he only intended for her to hear and the passion betrayed by its intensity brought a deep blush to her cheeks. He had time to enjoy that sweet effect of his audacity but briefly, before his chest was hit by an unexpected riposte. The wound occasioned by it meant no small delight as she retorted with that in her voice which rendered him dumbfounded with a pounding heart.
It was only what could be expected, that she should reprimand him on his enterprise, but the manner in which she did it ! As if her voice caressed him, while he could detect in her suddenly veiled eyes and discern behind her repartee, a glowing wish to submit ... not only her hand to him. He pressed his nails into the flesh of one clenched fist hoping the self-inflicted pain would help him control his ardor and balance the pleasure derived from the soft fingers he had enclosed within his other hand.
"Mr Darcy, I must beg you to release my hand before its improper situation attracts any unwanted attention. Alas, as we are both aware, when in polite society it is not only my own wishes that have to be considered ... If that were the case, you would be most welcome to keep it ... .
Her voice trailed off. He did not look at her face, but complied with her request without delay. His now empty hand was unknowingly clasping the edge of the pianoforte, squeezing its polished framework as he mutely watched while she pulled the other glove back on her hand. On seeing her move to leave the chair he composed himself and offered his support.
The suspense of the evening was beginning to wear on his mind. In the consciousness of their being so closely watched, the fact that real privacy was impossible seemed to preclude meaningful conversation of any length between them. The indisputable truth that they both wanted more from each other than the situation allowed was not new to him. But he was overcome by weariness, beginning to feel that the evening might as well be over, for that would bring the next day closer would it not? As they slowly walked towards some empty seats near their aunts, he studied her face from the side and realized she seemed more quiet than was her habit.
"Are you tired, Miss Bennet?"
She glanced up at him when she heard the concern in his voice.
"Perhaps, ... a little."
She bit her lip and again looked swiftly into his eyes. He saw distress in hers before she averted them and it made him stop to search her face and whisper.
"I sincerely hope I have not offended you, my love."
"No, you have not. It is just ... , I find it very frustrating to not be able to speak sincerely, from my heart."
He was not really amazed to hear they were of one mind.
"I concur. A little while ago my thoughts were the same. I wish it were in my power to do something about it. This has not been an altogether peaceful evening has it?"
"Not really, no!"
There was a sigh mingling in her little laugh. He looked tenderly down on the small hand that was resting near the crook of his arm and placed his hand briefly on top of it. Resolutely pushing his own qualms aside, he endeavored to set her mind at rest.
"Courage, my dear! I will find you a place somewhere peaceful and furnish you with refreshments. What would you like? Can I get you a glass of wine?"
Rebecca Fitzwilliam and Madeleine Gardiner had been engrossed in an animated conversation on the merits of Miss Elizabeth Bennet; an appraisal where, much to the surprise of Lady Matlock, even Miss Darcy shyly added some eager pieces of opinion. Now they were very pleased to welcome the object of their recent discourse.
"Miss Bennet! Thank you for the vivacious musical divertimento! Perhaps I can tell you now that I had some doubts after Darcy's commendation. Now I am happy to own that he was right; listening to your performance is very pleasant.
I have been enjoying some spoken divertimentos as well, for I have made the most charming acquaintances tonight beside yourself. Mr. Bennet was kindly feeding my curiosity with his delightful characterizations of your neighbors and now Mrs. Gardiner has taken it upon her self to modulate his influence on my wicked imagination. Is that not so, my dear Mrs. Gardiner?"
Elizabeth met the eyes of her aunt and smiled when she understood that she was perfectly at ease in her present company. With a polite mumble, she gracefully accepted the compliments and sank down on the chair her fiancͺ pulled forward next to Miss Darcy.
Convinced that he had secured the comfort of both, he almost fled from her nearness in pursuit of Lord Matlock who was gone to fetch some fruit and wine for the ladies. He was able to regain most of his composure in the soothing company of grapes and apples and while he waited for the footman to pour the wine, looked back towards the group of ladies reflecting that it was gratifying indeed, to see them all get on so well.
"What would we do without them, Darcy?"
The voice came quite unexpectedly from behind.
"Ehrm, My Lord? Without them?"
"Yes, you nitwit! Without them! Where were we, if we had them not? And I am not referring to mankind and the procreation of the species! Nor the sense of loss if they were gone. But simply asking you to consider the barren cheerless life that would be yours, if they had never existed. Without Georgiana , without your aunt ... not to mention if there were no Miss Bennet! And I without Rebecca Fitzwilliam!"
"It would be drab and dull, indeed."
Darcy conceded, amused by His Lordships devotion to his own scenario.
"Imagine the lack of glow! What it would be like if you were always reduced to the members at White's and never released from the ramblings of after dinner companions, boasting of their latest prey on the fields or in the boudoirs. A horrible perspective!
Rolling up his eyes and cautiously lowering his voice the earl prevented any overhearing of his less decent pronouncement.
Darcy could not resist a comment on the lack of logic. A devilish glint was in his eye as he picked up the wine glasses.
"Would there be boudoirs, My Lord?"
"Do not be niggling, Darcy! You got the general idea ..., the Ladies are the Salt of the Earth, as truly as I am standing here! Kindly descry that I have not stooped to mention their being softer to the touch and more beguiling to the eye."
He twisted his moustache into a dashing angle, before he accompanied his nephew back to the ladies.
The words of his uncle still rang in his ears as he pulled a pillow more comfortably under his neck. Yes salt is a necessity. Contemplating the earl's frightening nightmare, he silently added words to formulate his fear in the face of it. Without her there would be no joy, no love, no aim, no zest! Insupportable, inconceivable, a gaping emptiness.
Lately it had become increasingly difficult to say good night to her. Something inside him objected, signaling that it was wrong for them to part. He needed her presence. She belonged by his side. He quite simply did not like that she was at a distance, that he did not know if she was safe.
He smiled thinking of the nonetheless agreeable end of their evening. He had escorted her to Mr. Gardiner's couch which was waiting to bring her back to Longbourn. There had been no further privacy after that moment at the pianoforte until they were granted those minutes in the winter darkness. Another stolen moment, glances and smiles collected to warm his heart until he saw her next.
Yesterday she even managed to give him "One to keep", sheltered by the winter night and the carriage! The childish game had become dear to them, but the palm kisses were rarely bestowed. He had been holding her hand protected by the secrecy of her wide cloak; then watched her eyes turn black and lustrous as she unexpectedly brought his hand to her lips. She saw to it that the hastily endowed kiss was secured by his fingers. Her endearing action had provoked a quickening pulse and a tender smile. Before he had time to repay the caress, they were interrupted. But he really thought they might not ever have been able to part voluntarily.
He sighed and stretched his body. After tomorrow we shall no more be parted.
The thought of the upcoming ceremony in church and their becoming a lawfully wedded couple brought a smile to his face. Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, my wife ... By this time tomorrow we will be at Portnam Square ... . Yet another major intake of air heaved his chest.
Then his mind turned to the conversation he had with his uncle. He was relieved that he had been spared a thorough lecture on wedlock. It would have been embarrassing indeed.
Once more his meandering made him send a thankful thought to Countess de Gercourt. Without the distant meeting with her, his life might have taken another direction.
He had witnessed some of his fellow students from Cambridge entering into precipitous marriages, founded on nothing but infatuation. Had he himself not been aware of the elusive nature of such initially overwhelming sentiments, their pitiful fate might have been his. He shuddered. On one occasion he had even tried to caution his friend without success. The truth soon presented itself, yet what remained to be done but adjust to the grim reality. He could not imagine what it must be like to live your life at the side of a stranger, someone whom you were perhaps not even able to respect
He was pleased to know he had some experience, enough for him to understand how to be careful with his young wife. He wished to make her happy and he feared the first private encounter must be of vital importance. Convinced that his bride was ignorant as to the particulars of wedlock, he reckoned the whole responsibility rested with him. But in spite of his confidence, he admitted to himself, that the thought of Elizabeth in his arms was disquieting
She had this ability to amaze him, he was never absolutely certain, whether he was in control or about to lose it, when she was near. I love the way she intrigues me. How I long for her. He placed one arm over his eyes to concentrate on making her beloved features appear before him, but it was hard. He could see her eyes, then her mouth but when he tried to fill in the rest her image eluded him completely.
The tenderness she awoke in him, her presence in well-nigh his every thought, was so altogether different from what he once felt. However pleasant the amorous memories, he knew there was no comparison. He had never loved a woman with body and soul before. He knew Elizabeth meant everything to him, and although his hunger for her kisses and his yearning to find solace in her arms was at times consuming, the thought of her inspired so much more. He felt this urge to protect her and provide for her.
He had been reminded last evening. While his body was shaken by carnal desire, through the tumult of his being, the sight of her bewilderment, that weary expression ... had appealed to another part of him. His soul? The needs of his body had faded away and he was again aware of this commanding wish to share her thoughts and see to her smallest, most trivial need. He strove to be near her in every sense, not just physically. Although his recent visit had placed an emphasis on that aspect of their love.
While he found it difficult to sleep, he sought his memory for poetry and placed her face in every poem.
Now is my time to Plucke the fruite and taste the pleasure, Youthfull Lordings of delight, Whil'st occasion ... ? hmm, whil'st ... Feede your fancies and your sight ... .
He became silent as he recalled the sad end of the verse. Joy and pleasure is there none. But only momentarily. Oh loveliest Elizabeth, how you feede my sight!
Even as he left his bed to find a glass of water fragments came to mind. Enchantress, what rapture enflames my soul ... when I reflect upon ... thy beauty!
As was his habit he walked over to the window, glass in hand and mumbled to himself while staring out into the night.
Woe betide you, Fitzwilliam Darcy were you ever to squander the gift that has been given you.
Chapter II part C
The early morning light had been filtering through the curtains of Elizabeth's bedroom for more than an hour now and still there was no sign of her awakening. Unless the apparent uneasiness of her slumber might be thus interpreted. Luckily she had been lost in a deep, dreamless repose most of the night, but the dawn had brought her mind closer to consciousness. She moved from one position to the next as if she was trying in vain to find comfort. Her arms were suddenly thrown to her sides, then they reached for the pillow to bring it near her face as she nestled under the cover; the gray woolen blanket was impatiently thrown aside, but the morning chill soon made her search for it again. Likewise the occasional mumbling and sighing revealed that her mind was no more at ease than was her body.
It was the eagerly snorting horses and the quiet mumbling sound of an unfamiliar dull voice that made her sit up in bed with a start! The maid had spared no pains so all of her thick hair had been carefully set with cotton ribbons last night. Startled out of her sleep and with the pink ribbons dotted in her chestnut curls she looked like a little girl as she stole out of bed and tiptoed to the window.
Cautiously peeking from behind the curtain she watched Mr. Bullock's stout figure emerging from the house with some of her trunks in his hands. Her gaze eagerly moved to the carriage but it was only one of Bingley's carts and she was abashed at her own irrational disappointment. It was not as if its owner might be expected so why should she wish for Mr. Darcy's carriage? Probably his luggage was already loaded on the big black covered coach, which would make it inconvenient to take it on even this short detour and back! They were to start their journey from Netherfield after breakfast ... the horses had better be spared for the London trip ... .She felt suddenly faint and her hand grasped the fabric neglectfully wrinkling the cotton. What time is it? What am I thinking? Standing here as if this was just any day ... . She shuddered where she was on the cold floor and became aware of a chill creeping up from her bare feet.
On returning to her bed for slippers and robe her eye was caught by a volume on her bedside table and she hurried over to collect it and then to open the door slightly and was pleased to see Sarah approaching in the hallway.
"Good morning , Miss Elizabeth!"
"Yes, good morning, Sarah; would you please make sure that this book gets a place somewhere among my things. I see the carriage from Netherfield is come to fetch the luggage, already. Is it so late?"
"Certainly Miss. Let me take it downstairs. No, it is not late. It is only half past seven and I just came to tell you your bath will be ready in five minutes."
The whole morning was spent in some sort of trance. She could not quite believe this was the day she had been looking forward to for so long. Where she sat opposite Jane listlessly trying to eat something from the tray Hill had prepared for them, she did not feel particularly happy. If anything she felt faintly indisposed; it was a cold unpleasant sort of morning, she shivered and tried to hide her feet in the blanket that Hill had tucked around her as soon as she complained about the temperature in the room.
Pleased to be the object of Hill's motherly attentions Elizabeth had heaved a sigh when she was wrapped up in the blanket and inhaled the scents that she always associated with the tidy Mrs. Hill. It was the smell of her clean, minutely ironed apron mingled with the faint aroma of peppermint tea, that suddenly made Elizabeth's mind travel back through the years. Affectionately remembering the comfort when she was a little girl and allowed to climb up into Hill's capacious lap and cry her heart out over some childish misfortune. She gave in and placed her cheek for a second against the bosom of her old friend. She longed to be comforted and reassured by her unwavering emanation of confidence and warmth. I am not sure I feel mature enough to get married, today!
"Oh Hill. I am going to miss you!"
The faithful housekeeper, who had been in the family's service since shortly before Jane was born, stroked Elizabeth's untidy locks and blinked a tear away. She always knew what was proper and had proved invaluable to the Bennet family during the years, never opening her mouth to feed the Meryton gossip, although she certainly had access to more of that article than any other servant in Hertfordshire. Now she allowed herself a regression to the familiarity of the relation she once had with the little clear-eyed tomboy that used to whirl round Longbourn brightening her days so many years ago.
" Yes Miss Lizzy! This place will be very silent without you. You must promise me you will come and visit with that handsome husband of yours."
A warmth spread over Elizabeth's cheeks at the reminder, as she laughed and fondly embraced her cherished friend.
"Yes Hill! I shall talk him into it, trust me."
Again she reflected on this woman's importance to her, especially in former years, before she and Jane came of age and became able to assist each other coping with the various problems in everyday life. For the last five years they had substituted the support of a mother.
It was not that they doubted Mrs. Bennet's affection for her daughters, she loved them all, although perhaps not to the same extent. She wanted what was best for them and always acted accordingly. The only trouble being that her judgement very seldom matched her good intentions.
Mrs Bennet had made a short visit to see to her daughters and offer them the benefit of her advice in any matter that might arise. She had effected intimate chats with both of them earlier, one at a time and Jane had listened obediently and in every way conducted herself as could be expected from a young bride.
Elizabeth, however, had not seemed inclined to hear her out, no matter how she instructed her on a wife's duties, with special reference to the consequence of her future husband; emphasizing that she must always comply with Mr. Darcy's wishes and bend to his will. She could not believe her ears, when Elizabeth burst out laughing and informed her that, although she thought highly of her future husband's discernment, she would never yield to foolishness from anyone and that she intended to use her own sense, before she acted. Vaguely aware that her daughter was finally slipping out of her control, Fanny Bennet now turned to practicality. Gratified by her discovery of a subject where her authority ought not to be called in question and anxious about Elizabeth's untouched plate, she urged her to eat or else ... . She vividly depicted the horrible scenes that were to be expected.
"You might very likely faint from hunger ... in church even ... and how would that make me look in the eyes of the gentlemen. ... and all the other guests! As if you were not properly attended to and fed. We can have none of that! Oh my nerves are impossible today ... not that it is to be wondered at when there is so much responsibility on my shoulders! I hardly got any rest tonight, but for the short moments when I dozed off, so worried was I, that anything might go wrong. And it is not as if there was any help to be had, now my hair needs attention. Where is that girl ... ? Saraaaah!!"
Those ramblings were not calculated to offset a bride's nervous tension, yet the exaggerated nature of her mother's misgivings called forth a sparkle of Elizabeth's usual good spirits.
"Were I to faint at the sight of him, I think Mr. Darcy would realize his blame and hurry to lift his pale bride from the cold stones of the church's floor and insist upon it that I had a chair put forward to support my frail appearance. I might even be so weak that I could barely whisper yes to him when the vicar put the question. Mr. Darcy might be forced to kneel at my feet to hear me accept him! Do you not agree Jane?"
Jane giggled, grateful that Lizzy managed to take some strain from the moment, but Mrs. Bennet shook her head so that all her sausage-like curlers were jumping and the ribbon ends that secured them fluttered in despair.
"Oh Lizzy, you are as silly as ever! No one would believe you are to be married to a man of such prominence this very day. How are you ever going to manage the responsibilities as mistress of a great estate, if you insist on carrying on like that? Does Mr. Darcy really approve of such nonsense?"
After some more fussing about the food, Mrs. Bennet saw fit to leave with Sarah in her wake for she figured the maid should begin to comb her hair. The intricate hairdressing she wanted would in all likeliness require some time. It was conceived by Mrs. Phillips and herself after extensive studies of several fashion plates and intended to strike the assembled guests with amazement. Eyes widening and smiles hidden behind handkerchiefs would later prove that she was quite successful in attaining her goal despite the discreet efforts of the sensible Sarah!
When the door closed behind her mother, Elizabeth answered her last question softly.
"Yes he does approve ... very much so ... ."
She looked dreamily out through the window, her gaze followed the way where Mr. Bullock had transported her belongings little more than an hour ago. She was about to leave her father's house, where she had spent twenty years of her life and quite happily too.
She stared hard at the old trees where the driveway took a turn, which was where she last saw Mr. Darcy. That is she saw the square shoulders of his back, his characteristic upright carriage. Could there possibly be another gentleman as well poised on horseback? From yesterday evening she remembered the look in his eyes, the almost palpable tension in the room and the relief to be finally alone with him; the excitement as he came near, his tenderness, how she longed to stay in his embrace. Yes, she was convinced that he loved her, silliness and all.
This was also the road the barouches would carry Jane and herself with their husbands from church to Netherfield and the awaiting wedding breakfast. She smiled in anticipation.
But there had been a passing anxiety yesterday, as she studied his serious countenance. What was the reason for that, had she seen another glimpse of that stranger? The passionate one she met on that field, who at first did not listen to her, who did not even seem to hear her! I do not really know him all that well.
She felt as if she had been indulging in romantic conceptions, imagining her future by his side would be completely her own dreamed up existence. He had spoiled her by listening to her smallest desire and during the time of their betrothal had more often than not tried to arrange matters according to her wishes. Surely this was only the way of an enamoured fiancͺ. What would it be like to be his wife?
Even Hill was distressed by the somewhat excited state of her normally rational ward and finally could not refrain from an attempt to wheedle her into enjoying some of the food.
"You must eat something, Miss Elizabeth. But I suppose your eggs are cold by now. Shall I get you something warm, ... a bowl of broth? I reckon you are going to need all your strength today. If you pardon my saying so, strong emotions can be very exhausting."
Jane was bravely chewing and sipping her tea, as always complying with her mother's wishes. Elizabeth watched the model comportment of her sister, silently envied her inconceivable composure and sighed with resignation to the incontestable truth of the kind remark. The mere thought of broth however brought an unpleasant sensation to her stomach and rendered her face pale.
"I admit you have a point, dear Hill. But please, nothing as rich as broth."
She cut her ham and lukewarm egg scramble into small pieces and by nibbling at them and looking out the window to distract her thoughts, she managed to get some of it down with the help of big gulps of tea. Now and then her eyes met Jane's and the mixed expression of alarm and happiness in them seemed to mirror her own feelings so well, it finally made her laugh.
"Oh, Jane! What will become of us? Shall we be able to behave ourselves this morning do you think?"
Her sister's face wore a soothing expression when she got up to put her arm around Lizzy's shoulders doing her best to offer her comfort.
"Lizzy, whenever I fear I will not be able to make it in the church with all those people present, I remind myself, Charles will be there. The minute I picture him, I feel so calm. You have only got to think of Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth smiled and admitted that this thought held a comforting potential indeed. However she would not have put tranquillity first were she to list the sentiments that gentleman evoked in her. She glanced at Jane, briefly wondering if Mr. Bingley was anything like her own fiancͺ in private. Then the sight of Jane's neat coiffure all set made her nervous as she met her own face in the mirror.
"How come your hair is already in perfect order while mine looks a complete mess, Jane?"
"Thats because I had my bath while you were still in bed, sweet sleepyhead. When it was your turn in the tub, Sarah had time to do my hair before Mama woke up and came to claim her. Would you like me to help you?"
"Oh no, Jane! I am sure you have other things on your mind. There is still plenty of time. Why can I not make myself realize that? I can not explain why I am so fidgety."
Chapter II part D
With my thanks for thoughtful and discreet help from The Walking Thesaurus :D
From the moment she cautiously opened her dark eyes on the morning of her wedding day, she had been contemplating her future and some thoughts were most unexpected. The weeks of her engagement had been spent light-heartedly in Mr. Darcy's company or else in happy expectations of their next encounter. If she had taken the time to wonder at her continuous euphoria, she had referred it to a sense of security somewhere in the back of her mind; to the assurance of having met the only man whom she could love and respect.
Now all of a sudden, most inconveniently on this very morning, she had been afflicted with doubts, not of her feelings but of her own capacity. Would she be up to what was expected from her. What he expected from her? Would she make him a good wife?
She did love him, but would that be enough? He had such superior knowledge, was certainly well educated, a former student at Cambridge for several years. She was quite convinced he had not spent his time there merely partaking in pleasures and sports the way some young men were reported to do. Perhaps he would find her lacking? Oh, if he is displeased what shall I do? I must not rattle along, nor speak without previous reflection.
She allowed her thoughts to leap without restraint and it was not beneficial to her self-esteem. When she was finally too distressed to sit still, she got up to pace the room wringing her cold hands and sighing out loud. Jane looked up from her diary to give her sister a worried look.
"Lizzy my dear! What is disturbing you? Try to calm yourself! Think of Mr. Darcy!'
"I am thinking of him, Jane! Will he be regretting his choice once I arrive at Pemberley and begin to behave improperly, betraying my ignorance and saying the wrong things?'
"No never! He loves you too much, dearest Lizzy!'
"Oh, that's true, thank you, Jane! I nearly forgot ... . He does love me.'
She heaved a sigh of relief but her remaining distress manifested itself in a startled cry, when there was a knock at the door. The next moment it opened to admit the upstairs maid. Sarah was finally done with Mrs. Bennet and by now most eager to assist her sweet young ladies.
"Would you like for me to comb your hair, Miss Elizabeth?
"Oh thank you, Sarah, yes. Though I am still satisfied to be Miss Lizzy. I was beginning to worry that I would be compelled to wear a big hideous cap in order to cover my tangled hair! More of a haystack than an appropriate wedding hairstyle, ... somehow lacking in solemnity!'
Sarah gave a subdued giggle and then led Elizabeth to the chair in front of the mirror. She had been prone to call the betrothed miss by her full name lately, out of respect for the grandeur she was about to enjoy after marrying the wealthy and awe-inspiring Mr. Darcy.
"No, that is out of the question, Miss Lizzy. That lace bonnet is going to look ever so lovely on your dark hair. I think we should perhaps allow for some curls to hang a little lower, what do you say?'
While she gently began to undo the ribbons and release the curls, she looked into Elizabeth's eyes in search of her opinion.
"I have perfect confidence in you Sarah, just as long as you make me look sufficiently wonderful. Mr. Darcy can not be permitted to regret his choice; he must not wish he were about to marry the oldest Miss Bennet. He must not be able to take his eyes off me as we walk towards him.'
The girl did not know if she was allowed to laugh, but one glance at Jane's smiling lips convinced her that this morning silliness was almost decreed. So with another chuckle Sarah promised she would do her best to comply with this wish. As she studied the glowing face and the sparkling eyes in the mirror before her, she thought the goal was well within reach and began her work filled with confidence.
By united efforts and with the greatest care, Sarah and Hill had pulled the gown over her head. While the girl was busy tying ribbons, fastening the intricately hidden hooks and eyes and buttoning together its heavy folds, Elizabeth studied her reflection.
The creamy hue of the thick silk was complimentary to her complexion. She ran her hand over the long narrow sleeve and reflected that she liked the simplicity of the embroidery that adorned its square neckline. Twisting and turning she tried to get a glimpse of the double fold in the back of her skirt and then admired the small covered buttons in the front. Her face then assumed an air of serenity as she pondered the reason for her elegance. I think he might approve.
When Hill looked at the delightful young woman before her, she was struck by the unaffected dignity that was suddenly emanating from her ward and in order to stifle an unseemly tiny exclamation placed her hand over her mouth. She said with composure.
" It is the most beautiful gown.'
"Now Miss Lizzy you have to be very careful sitting down, yet it will be necessary so I can put the veil and bonnet on properly. They must not be blown off. I understand open carriages are to be used since the sun is out?'
Sarah was possessed with the gravity of the moment and proud of her responsible task. It showed on her serious face while she helped Elizabeth avoid wrinkles by pushing the chair slowly forward. She fastened the thin starched tulle bonnet with pins to have the brim frame Elizabeth's face and arranged the veil so that it fell from the back of the bonnet and left her face and the curls round her ears free. While Sarah fixed the tendril of orange blossom buds on her bonnet, Elizabeth admired the delicate embroidery and recalled when she first saw the veil.
There was a history to it which she had been told by her fiancͺ the day he brought it with him to Longbourn. The silk veil had belonged to the Darcy family for nearly two hundred years and had been traditionally used by generations of family brides. When he shyly produced the parcel from his big coat pocket, his face was both eager and vulnerable. They went into the empty morning room where he handed it to her, hesitantly asking her to open it.
Elizabeth removed the lid of the tiny box, lifted out and carefully unfolded the linen cloth that was wrapped around the veil for protection. Before her admiring eyes was the most precious piece of fine artistry. Responding to her excited inquiry, he informed her that according to tradition this ancient handicraft emanated from a nunnery in the south of France.
His behavior was a puzzling mixture of preoccupied interest and keen watchfulness and she was both intrigued and moved by his uncharacteristic demeanor.
She could understand his state of mind better but was not less affected, when he spoke again. While on pretence of studying a copper-plate engraving on the wall, he told her that the last time the veil was in use it had been floating around the head of his mother when the then earl of Matlock gave her away to George Darcy. Ever since that day it had been carefully preserved and tucked away, only on rare occasion taken out to be admired until he had requested of Mrs. Reynolds that she send it to London.
In a low unstable voice he asked if she would consider wearing it to please him. Her heart started to pound very hard for she was greatly moved to hear him speak in this manner and so happy that he should wish it. Carefully putting the piece of silk down she turned to look into his eyes.
"You must not doubt my wish to please you, Fitzwilliam. I shall feel honored knowing your mother wore it before me. It will make our wedding ceremony very special. Was her hair dark? My love, will you not tell me of her?'
It was obvious that he was affected by sad memories and she wanted him to know that she understood. He made a movement to ward off her approach and his face closed.
"I do not think this is the right time, Elizabeth.'
She stepped near him and ran her fingers over his brow. With some trepidation she soothed him gently.
"As you wish. Soon we will have plenty of time to talk, but I would want to smooth out that worried wrinkle. Of course you miss her, but will you not allow me to share ..., to help you endure the sense of loss. Please do not shut me out from your heart.'
The back of her fingers brushed his cheek and when he closed his eyes her fingertips softly stroked his eyelids.
"Fitzwilliam, this is me, Elizabeth, your wife to be.'
He drew a deep breath and with the trembling exhalation whispered above her ear, as he pulled her near. His voice was strained and husky with emotion.
"Mother's hair was dark brown but not as curly as yours. I know she would have wished for you to wear her veil. As far as that other matter is concerned, never forget your place is within my heart, so how could I possibly shut you out. Dearest Elizabeth!'
She raised herself up on her toes to kiss his chin, then placed her head against his shoulder mumbling affectionately.
"Thank you, my love. It is a place most dear to me where I wish to remain always.'
His arms enfolded her and he moved his mouth slowly back and forth against her hair while he enjoyed the comfort of her warmth. For some time they endeavored to neglect the different sounds from the adjoining rooms. Elizabeth soon saw fit to pull back and he released her although with some small signs of discontent that made her give his hand a tender caress.
"Now let me admire that beautiful veil more closely?'
She found that the thinly woven white silk was inset with sparse lace embroideries and trimmed with a minutely sewn hemstitch. Darcy observed how carefully her small hands held it up near a window and his face softened to see the delighted expression spreading over her face as she watched the daylight shimmering through the delicate pattern.
"Oh I can scarce believe it will always be so easy to please you. In this case I shall please myself equally! It is the most exquisite embroidery I ever saw, Fitzwilliam, as thin as a spider's web.'
At first his rejoinder was accompanied by a thoughtful expression then a glitter surfaced in his dark eyes.
"I think if you are pleased so will I be, dearest. Did you say spider's web? How very appropriate, my fair maiden. This is how fairies generally dress, is it not?'
When she twisted her feet into the soft satin slippers she threw a glance at the gray sky and reflected that if there was any snow at all their thin soles would be soaked in no time. Then she smiled at her own practicality and giving in to her more coquettish trait admitted that they were very neat shoes indeed. I am not supposed to go for a walk today am I? Just over to the church and then a few steps out to the carriage afterwards ... when we are married ... . She moved towards the mirror and stared searchingly at her image. She looked pretty enough, but what was behind that presentable facade? Would it suffice? Would she make him a good wife? With a soft sigh she passed a finger over her eyebrows and turned to carefully pick up her bouquet and walk towards the door.
They met in the hall on their way downstairs and both sisters stopped to stare at each other. Jane resembled an airborne being in her soft white dress.
"Oh, Elizabeth Bennet! You are beautiful!'
"Jane, ... there is something sublime about you! Your are the vision of an angel that has descended on a cloud.'
"But Lizzy you look both lovely and ... dignified!'
"Do I indeed! I hope it will strengthen my confidence, Jane! Feel my hands, they are like ice.'
Chapter III part A
It was as if the happy nature of the alliances about to be sealed tinged the atmosphere in the sanctuary with indomitable life and lifted the spirits of most of the guests by lending human existence a glorified light.
The frame of mind of those present could hardly escape this influence and the mother of the brides made a concession which offered substantial proof thereof. She admitted to herself that the enterprise of having her eldest daughters married seemed to be near a successful conclusion. If only the wedding breakfast would suffice to satisfy her distinguished guests, she was indeed ready to consider the entire celebration safely realized.
A few weeks ago Mrs. Bennet, who seldom failed to find a reason for anxiety, had regretted that her daughters were to be married when the Longbourn garden was deprived of most of its splendor. Revealing in every cause for her nerves to be alerted, with ill-disguised enthusiasm seizing almost any opportunity to make a display of her alleged frailty, she had pestered her entourage on this account.
As a response to these indefatigable and recurrent lamentations, Elizabeth had suggested that the seasonal scarceness of flowers be compensated by the addition of some herbs as well as the blooming contributions from the hothouse. This thought had been most favorably looked upon by both the rector and the warden and, more importantly, had met with the approval of the verger's wife. The resolute Mrs. Prunella Stone was very particular in such matters and could have been expected to make an uncalled for but relentless statement regarding what she saw fit to place in her church! Nobody wanted her to be in a bad temper, for this might be detected in subtle things as the flowers being slightly wilted from a lack of water; the candles of a quality that tended to stain the visitors with dripping wax or the church being freezing cold from excessive airing. Needless to say the verger was at her command. But much like everyone else in Meryton she had never had reason to think ill of Jane and since Elizabeth's self-esteem reminded her of her own, she had always had a soft spot for 'Squire Bennet's dark-haired lass'. Consequently she partook in the preparations wholeheartedly.
Despite the time of year there was now a hint of growth, of all the riches of earth, in the modest church at Longbourn. A lavish arrangement of winter roses and glossy green box could be admired at the altar; mixed armfuls of belated clematis and dried aromatic plants such as purple mint and lavender were placed near the entrance and on both sides of the aisle in front of the congregation. In places all over the sanctuary minor bouquets of red chrysanthemum brightened the dusk.
When she entered under the vault of the church's doorway on her father's arm Elizabeth felt that she left behind her the frozen winter morning as she was met by such exuberant verdure. The glowing warmth of the candles helped, spreading the delicate scents. Even in the church porch the familiar fragrances began to exert their soothing effect on her agitated mind. She would never be able to look back on her wedding day without remembering how the ceremony was permeated by bands of faint herbal perfumes.
The pews were filled and, as the brides walked up the aisle, well known faces were slowly turning to smile admiringly or affectionately. Elizabeth thought that perhaps it would not be proper for her to search for her bridegroom at once, so she glanced fleetingly over the congregation and near the altar to let her eyes linger on kind old Mr. Beresford. His clerical collar and airy brushed back hair formed two white points of aim for her stray gaze. With downcast eyes she then studied the toes of her elegant satin slippers until they had brought her halfway up the path. By then something compelled her to look up and as she obeyed this inspiration she found herself gazing into the eyes of Mr. Darcy.
There he stood, tall and serious, the reason for her simmering joy and he was waiting for her! The warm wave of happiness that washed through her at this sight removed all her worries and hesitation. Her feet hardly touched the ground. She was cold no more and the glow in his eyes brought a smile to her face. After that initial effluence of love, he turned grave, as if adjusting to the solemnity of the occasion. When Mr. Bennet halted with his daughters near the bridegrooms her curtsey was reciprocated with a ceremonious bow before Darcy stepped forward to take her hand.
The increasing noise outside, and after that, the slight commotion near the church door informed the gentlemen that their brides were arrived and as they rose to their feet, Bingley ventured an excited look at his friend which was responded to by a small smile of affinity. Darcy resolutely tried to master his nervous anticipation as he glanced towards the entrance.
When he saw her, slowly approaching him by her father's side, his throat felt constricted and his eyes stung with emotion. Her appearance was all softness and lightness as she glided along on Mr. Bennet's arm. The realization that his dream was coming true, that his dearest wish for so many months was about to be fulfilled nearly made his equanimity falter. This adorable creature has consented to become my wife! An immature impulse to run to her and lift her in his arms was instantly and indignantly rejected. He told himself he ought to be ashamed to entertain such thoughts in this sacred place and concentrated his gaze on the pale oval of her face.
At first she would not look at him! He sent his affectionate thoughts to her, willed her to hear his silent entreaty and so finally induced her to aim her serious eyes in his direction.
Then Elizabeth was before him and he moved to receive her hand from her father. He performed a bow, awe-struck now he saw her closely and found that the transparency of the veil lent her an almost angelic air. Her face lit with a delightful smile and she granted him a gaze filled with confidence as she placed her hand in his.
Again that big lump of emotion threatened to suffocate him. I must never hurt her. Please God, see to it that I do not fail her. He had to swallow and then composed himself enough to escort her the few remaining steps until they were standing side by side, facing the altar and ready to hear the reverend Mr. Beresford speak the prefatory phrases.
" Dearly beloved! We are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together ... this Man and this Woman ... "
The rector looked at Bingley and Jane and paused before his gaze moved to rest on Darcy and Elizabeth as he continued.
".. and this Man and this Woman ... in holy Matrimony"
Elizabeth! That is you and me ...
".. instituted by God in the time of man's innocence signifying unto us the mystical union that..."
He could discern the endearing sound of her breathing.
"..and therefore is not by any to be enterprised lightly or wantonly ..."
The awareness of her person next to his elbow was enough to affect him.
".. to satisfy man's carnal lusts and appetites ..."
One glance and I will be captivated, lost, drawn into her spell ... .
"but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God ..."
He dared not look at her for fear of being distracted. He wished to give his full attention to the ancient words of the ceremony, to fully understand the significance of the promises he was about to give.
"duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained."
The causes ... simply that my whole existence will be filled with meaning with her by my side.
"Thirdly, for the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other both in prosperity and in adversity ... "
Yes! She is to be near me .... always. From this day forward! Present to share my concerns as I shall be honoured if she allows me to know her thoughts; I have hope she will look upon me as a friend as well as her husband.
".. Into which holy estate these persons here present come now to be joined."
He had known for some time now and yet the parson's words brought it out in letters of fire. Fitzwilliam Darcy, you are to marry the most coveted woman on earth.
Jane and Bingley were to be married first. Darcy did not really listen for his thoughts were concentrating on this very important occasion in his own life. He ventured one glance to where Elizabeth was standing by his left side.
Most likely every single one on entering a church has his or her own experience. If the reason is as special as the attendance of a wedding this becomes even more true. Whether you are married yourself or not, this is the kind of celebration that is sure to evoke many thoughts. The guests present to witness the ceremony when Mr. Bennet of Longbourn gave his eldest daughters away were no exceptions and their reactions were diverse indeed.
To Miss Georgiana Darcy this was a very happy day! No other knew better than her what this marriage meant to her brother. In her own withdrawn and cautious manner she had been most eagerly attempting to follow every twist and turn in the development of his acquaintance with Miss Bennet. Although she had only been granted the society of Elizabeth for a few days, she had taken an instant liking to her and, after realizing her importance to Darcy, had striven to gather as much information as he would allow her. The puzzling circumstances of Miss Bennet's sudden departure and the fact that her brother left with such short notice on the morrow after the cancelled dinner engagement, had served to further nourish her imagination.
During Darcy's stay in London she had led Mr. Bingley to talk of the Bennet family. It had not taken much ingenuity on her side for he seemed only to happy to dwell on the memories of the time he had spent on his estate. When asked if he was planning a repetition of this autumn hunting expedition his face brightened visibly.
'I am indeed, Miss Darcy and I have also as good as exacted a promise from Darcy, that he will be part of the company.'
If Bingley gave every impression of treasuring the association with his Netherfield neighbors it appeared that his sisters were not equally pleased by their recollections. Yet the less civil remarks of Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst had added to her understanding of the events in Hertfordshire when Darcy did first meet Miss Elizabeth.
After their engagement she had learnt some more from her brother's letters and meeting him these last days she had been able to ascertain his happiness. There had been times when she had despaired of his ever getting married - or worse - feared that he would settle for a marriage of convenience. All on her own she had been suffering the anguish of her apprehensions about the outcome in the latter case. But this was all in the past now! Her eyes hastened from the stern face of Miss Bingley over to Elizabeth Bennet whose soft profile she could watch from her place. With a deep sigh of contentment and relief she directed her attention to the beautiful ceremony.
The morning chill made Lady Matlock pull her shawl tighter together. Her attentive husband leaned forward to inquire if he should have a hot brick fetched from the coach. She shook her head in smiling refusal and mouthed, 'Do not fuss!' but his gesture although designed to warm her feet had instead warmed her heart and she looked approvingly around.
A very neat little church and so tastefully decorated. She dared a guess that Elizabeth Bennet had a finger in this and was pleased by every evidence of her being exactly the wife Darcy needed. Since there was genuine love between her nephew and his young lady and a sensible head on the girl, she was confident that everything else would be sorted out in good time. I must remember to write to her and encourage her to use me for advisor. Although Miss Bennet appears to be undaunted and able to find a way I suspect she will find herself up against some trial or other before long. I am pleased that she can turn to the excellent Mrs. Reynolds but she should not be her sole confidant once she assumes the responsibility as mistress of Pemberley. No doubt Darcy will do his utmost to assist and guide her but, after all, he is only a man. She smiled mischievously. I should think the duty falls upon me ... upon Gerald and me to counteract any malevolence that might come their way from Rosings. I will never understand how Catherine could turn out so very differently! That Gerald and Anne should have a sister who lacks all of their sense and amiability ... . Glancing affectionately towards the earl she noticed that her husband sat staring over at their nephew.
His lordship's thoughts did indeed circle around Darcy and also around his eldest son who had married two years ago. Another wedding! The nuptial ceremony appeals to my sentimental side but I am not equally fond of the way they make you aware of time catching up. How very recent it seems: that day when I was myself anxiously trampling the floor in Matlock Chapel; probably wearing the stones down as I awaited the moment when Rebecca was entrusted to me in all her loveliness. He sighed. Oh yes Darcy, how well I can imagine your sentiments! A tumult of high and low the only common element being the overpowering love for your Elizabeth!
And was it not yesterday that I was telling three young lads about King Richard Lionheart and his knights on the holy crusade ... I can picture Edward, Richard and Fitzwilliam on the floor in front of the fire, their lanky bodies sprawling in every direction and their attentive eyes hanging on my lips. He sighed again, thereby attracting the attention of his wife who placed her hand lightly on his arm. Lord Matlock tilted his head to whisper.
'First Edward and now Fitz! Whereto did the years disappear?'
The duchess patted his arm comfortingly.
'I know Gerald, and then I do not know!'
The cryptic reply and her tiny smile supplied balm for his heart and his eyes signaled affectionate gratitude.
In another pew near the Matlocks sat one displeased and unhappy lady. Miss Bingley could not really believe she had to live through this nightmare. Though she had become reconciled to the idea of Charles' marriage to Jane Bennet, the fact that Mr. Darcy had lowered himself to marry a country nobody still gave her repeated moments of anguish. I suppose she looks tolerable enough when she gets dressed up but I fail to see that there is anything extraordinary about her. She has him snared now however and even gentlemen seem to forget their family obligations when there is a promise of ... I would not have thought Darcy was as weak as other men ... . Well, no doubt his interest will soon fade a way and then he will be stuck with a wife who knows absolutely nothing about being mistress or hostess of a great estate! Whereas I have been brought up to behave, move and talk exactly as a very accomplished lady should ... .
Her thoughts were interrupted as she noticed her sister's searching gaze and she experienced humiliation. She did not like that Louisa knew the full extent of her past folly. That her behavior towards the haughty friend of their brother had been adjusted to futile aspirations was something she rather wished to forget. In everything, she had conformed to the fact that she was in such hopes of receiving an offer from him. How had she come to think that she might be foremost on his mind when he would select the mistress of Pemberley one day?
Biting her lip in frustration and embarrassment she tried to shake off the less flattering recollections by seeking an alternative occupation for her thoughts. Her eyes traveled over the other guests and when they fell on Mr. Collins, she snorted as she viewed the ridiculous member of Eliza Bennet's family. She would perhaps have been amazed to know to what extent his thoughts were similar to her own ... .
Mrs Hurst guessed her sister's discomfort from the manner in which Caroline sought to avoid her gaze of pity. With some relief she decided that she should give her full attention to the ceremonial sight before her eyes. To own the truth Louisa Hurst was sick and tired of the prolonged story of her sister's scheming. She had been in a state of worry since the day she first heard of Mr. Darcy's engagement to Eliza Bennet. As was her habit she had tried to keep a watchful eye on her younger sister, for she knew the full extent of the hopes Caroline had placed in their brother's close acquaintance with Mr. Darcy.
She had not found those expectations too unfounded herself, considering their frequent opportunities to associate with the wealthy master of Pemberley. Until last autumn, Mr. Darcy's obvious lack of interest in any other woman had served to strengthen her resolve in assisting Caroline as much as she could. Even last autumn in Hertfordshire, his professed opinion that Charles' infatuation with the oldest sister was most inconvenient and that several other members of the Bennet family must be regarded as highly unwanted relations had given them an altogether wrong impression. His actions and attitude had led them to believe that he would never look upon the younger Bennet sister as anything but a fairly pleasant diversion. His inclination to involve himself in animated conversations with Elizabeth Bennet had been observed but regarded as a whim while he was temporarily away from his own sphere.
Given the outcome of it all, their occasional trepidation had apparently been justified. There could be no other explanation than an irresistible attraction on Mr. Darcy's side. As time passed even such a self-sufficient, disorderly and unpredictable person as Eliza Bennet must have seen what was in it for her if she played her cards well.
Louisa Hurst had examined the events at Netherfield and later at Pemberley and as she compared Eliza Bennet's manner of addressing Darcy, from the conceited impropriety in Hertfordshire to the infinitely more female behavior in Derbyshire everything indicated that this must have been the case. She recalled that the alteration in Miss Bennet's attitude had struck her, although at first she had attributed it to the splendor and magnificence of Mr. Darcy's way of life. Surely the grandeur of Pemberley must render even such impertinent outspokenness mute.
But in retrospect the attentions their host had shown his female guest and the unusual demure manner in which Miss Bennet had often responded to them could be construed in a different light. Could there really be sincere affection between them? The thought was new to her but something stirred within her as she witnessed the look exchanged between bride and bridegroom.
Mr Hurst tried to find a comfortable position on the wooden bench. That dreary old gluepot Beresford, this morning he has got something to really put his teeth into. Marrying two couples with one stone! I only hope that will not make his tirades twice as long. He stifled his smile and the propensity to yawn that seemed to beset him whenever he had to listen to a lengthy speech. He peered at his wife for he knew she did not approve of unpolished behavior and in doing so noticed a blush on her cheeks. A faint memory from his own wedding alerted him to the extent that he gave her hand a hasty squeeze.
With no small amount of surprise did Mrs. Hurst look at her husband, gratified to see the slight wink of his eye. She did not withdraw her hand but instead rewarded him with a heightened color and fluttering eyelashes. Her skilful performance added fuel to the process that had already started in the back of Mr. Hurst's mind. He even allowed his imagination to move beyond the anticipated pleasures of the wedding breakfast and began to calculate the time required to return to his house in Grosvenor Square that same evening.
For once his thoughts and those of his wife were very similar, for Mrs. Hurst had proceeded from her supervision of her sister's demeanor, via the romantic scenes that took place before her eyes, to some more private reflections.
Chapter III Part B
Note! I should have paid my tribute to The Life & Time Board where I learn a lot and to Caroline who helped me understand better the English church and what flowers might be available at the time. I always owe gratitude to the editing and word discussions performed by Ms Robens and this time Ms Sneed saved me from a fatal error of time! this said here is another rumination. This wedding is going to take forever ... ;-)
When there is a wedding about everybody's imagination is quite frequently turned to other matches that might possibly be formed in the wash of the event. Luckily for the gentleman, nobody knew to what extent Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had been observing the demeanor of Miss Caroline Bingley. Not only in church but also during these last couple of days when they had both been guests at Netherfield.
His cousin could not spare much time to spend with him for he was, as Fitzwilliam had concluded very soon after watching him in the company of his fianc»e, completely besotted and incapable of speaking two words of sense in a row. From a lack of any other diversion the colonel had given some thought to Miss Bingley's state of mind and initially wondered if she felt dethroned. From an interest in human nature he had endeavored to imagine himself in her place. Before, during and after supper, whenever his eyes had happened upon Bingley's unmarried sister there had been something about her to puzzle him. Her face had expressed politeness if she spoke and an appropriate amount of interest when she was spoken to. As soon as she believed herself to be unobserved however, the focus of her eyes had disappeared and they seemed to be aiming somewhere far away from the room. Alerted by her slightly wrinkled up forehead and deducing from the way she pursed her lips Fitzwilliam believed he had found traces of unease - perhaps even torment. He was aware she had been acting as hostess during her brother's earlier stay at Netherfield and now he would be single no more. But Mr. Bingley and his sister usually spent the entire season in London and then they had always stayed with the Hursts where their sister was in charge, so he discarded that reason. On closer observation he noticed that her glances were more often directed at Darcy and his fianc»e than towards her brother and Miss Bennet. What had provided him with the decisive clue two nights before, was a glance exchanged between himself and Miss Bingley after Elizabeth Bennet's performance at the pianoforte. He came from complimenting the fair performer and while searching for a place to sit his eyes briefly met Caroline Bingley's. Affected by the pain in them and discreetly following their flickering direction he found the cause of her distress.
Miss Bennet was pulling her gloves back on and her sole companion was now her fianc». At a cursory glance there was nothing remarkable about a young gentleman waiting to escort his lady, but then he registered the subtle details. His cousin apparently supported himself by a clasping grip on the instrument and apart from the heightened color on her cheeks, there was something agitated about her movements as Miss Bennet arranged the sheets of music. Glances, postures, the whispering communication, everything betrayed that the atmosphere between them was so charged it was almost palpable. He felt he was intruding on a private moment and averted his eyes to study Miss Bingley again. He could tell that she had seen what he saw and was hurt by it. That was when it dawned on him. That there might be truth in something Darcy once mentioned.
He recalled one of the rare occasions late at night when, after several bottles from the Pemberley wine cellar and one exquisite glass of Darcy's best French cognac, his normally secretive cousin had overstepped the rules of propriety. They had retired to sit by the fireplace in the library and with the assistance of more than one glass of whisky Darcy had eventually been as intoxicated as to actually discuss the fascinating subject of women quite openly.
Normally he would partake in such debates by smiles and grunts; certainly never by giving his honest opinion on the lady in question. But this evening about two years ago he confided to Fitzwilliam what insupportable burden he considered the unabashed attentions of some ladies. That he felt such a loathing for the never-ending shameless flattery conducted by wearisome mothers who tried to force their daughters upon him. Most unlike his ordinary behavior he even lowered himself to some ill-disposed derision.
"You know that unpleasant wife of Lord Meddlinton?"
"I do indeed. Is she not to be shunned by every male under forty-five?"
A grim smile passed over Darcy's face as he placed his long legs on the footstool and strengthened himself with a mouthful before he gave his laconic concurrence.
"Is she not always planning the future of her sheep?"
"Exactly so and the other week I barely escaped an appointment as shepherd."
Fitzwilliam nearly poured whisky in his lungs but as soon as he could manage for repeated outbursts of coughing and laughing he exclaimed.
"You did what, Darcy?"
"Uhum you heard me. I am sorry you do not approve of the malt. Would you have me send for something else? Perhaps you would prefer some tea? Or a bowl of gruel?"
The colonel was arrived at a stage where he could no longer speak because he was brought to such exaggerated heights of mirth by the dry remarks of his companion. The superfluity of beverages promoted the effect and was most likely to blame for the silly pictures flashing in his head. If he closed his eyes he saw Darcy leaning on a shepherd's staff and surrounded by lambs with female faces. Fitzwilliam was moaning with laughter and waved indistinctly to persuade his cousin to cease fire.
"Am I to interpret those odd gestures as an indication of an answer in the negative? Are you absolutely certain? Well then, if you say so, but you could have fooled me!
The colonel's whimpering sounds were barely intelligible.
"Uhhhu Good God, Darcy, I am ...oouh on the brink of collapse here."
But from the depths of the winged armchair opposite him, interspersed with grunting, came a continued tale of the maltreatment a so called polite society saw fit to expose defenseless bachelors to.
"There was this minor ball arranged at Croydon House. Lady Meddlinton is among their inner circle and I was so unfortunate as to be placed next to that neighing daughter of hers - though come to think of it she ought to be bleating!"
"Darcy, have mercy! Is this the one that always wears glaring pink?"
"I could not tell. It quite escapes my notice how Miss Eludine cares to dress ... . On this unhappy occasion I was busy thinking of my defense."
"Come on Darcy, were you not enjoying Miss Ellendine's company? If I remember correctly the ... landscape offers a view full of variety ... Or were your eyes smarting from the brilliancy of her gown?"
"It was rather a case of my ears smarting from the brilliancy of her conversation."
"She is not very bright I grant you. But I guess you frightened the poor girl out of whatever wit she has got."
"I think I behaved in as civil a manner as could be expected. But it is frightfully difficult for me to express an opinion on the behavior of children I have never met. Or to feign an interest in what the ladies present wore the other week at Lord Grenville's! How am I supposed to disregard the fact that a lady keeps winking her eye whenever she speaks?"
"So you did notice that! But you are not supposed to disregard it, man! Perhaps there is hope for you after all, cousin!"
"I assure you it gave me little pleasure and only enhanced my wish to elude Eludine ... ."
This had been Darcy's attitude to female attention for years and at times Colonel Fitzwilliam had been inclined to understand his parents" worries when they feared that there might never be another mistress at Pemberley in their lifetime.
Even later on that particular autumn night they had been strolling along the dark alleys of the park in an attempt to clear their heads before retiring. Darcy had long since tired of his own malice and their conversation had turned from obtrusive ladies to the plans for the next days hunting.
Now he surprised his cousin by returning to the former topic.
"There must be desirable ladies somewhere. Are we supposed to search all over England ? Where will I find the woman whom I can respect ... and love? Where do you expect to find one? Can you tell me, Fitzwilliam?"
"It is odd coming from you Darcy! You move in London society where all the suitable young ladies are presented and you are welcome everywhere. You just have to take your pick ... whereas I might be equally welcome to associate and perhaps not exactly slighted, but my choice is much more limited because I have to take into consideration the size of dowries."
"London, yes. I suppose you are right. There are a few whose conversation is sensible enough, even interesting ... but then ... "
Fitzwilliam tried to discern Darcy's features but his cousin's face was disappearing in the shadows under the old witch-elms.
"I would not wish for wife a woman who does not affect me more than does a writing desk. I might as well marry ... my cousin Anne or ... Mrs. Reynolds. Is this asking too much in your opinion?"
The colonel stifled a low chuckle.
" Poor Anne ... I suppose the ladies mentioned are kind and intelligent, but would you not need a healthier or a younger one to bear you children Darcy!"
There was a mumbled curse and the sound of a stone forcefully kicked.
"Do not remind me of that! I hate the implications of breeding material and cattle purchase!"
"With you as bull or stallion ... ?"
He regretted his words as soon as he spoke them.
"Sorry Darcy! A slip of the tongue. Blame it on the evening's excesses! Now if you accept my apology, allow me to say: no indeed! You are not asking too much and I totally agree. I always feel sad when I witness the indifference between husband and wife in marriages of convenience. So is there none of the London flowers that has been able to catch your eye?"
"Why is it that the ones that appeal to the animal within are never able to express themselves with any degree of intelligence? It is no joke, Fitzwilliam! Though I would deem my ... carnal appetite to be equal to most men's, it neither outweighs the need to yawn when I hear boring ramblings nor the urge to cover my ears to avoid the screams of excitement over any utterance of mine, however insignificant."
Darcy had admitted earlier that because Bingley had no mother he could more easily endure the company of his sisters. Now he complained that after the elder got married he feared there might be some expectations of Miss Caroline's. That although he had never said or done anything to encourage such ideas, her hints had turned more intensified and were trying his patience. Fitzwilliam expressed his astonishment.
"Is she not intelligent and well educated? I seem to recall you told me of her wit."
"True. I confess there was a time when her acerbity amused me. But lately I have found her lacking ... I suspect she has got no heart. This might be the reason why Georgiana is slightly uncomfortable in her presence. Besides she is too eager to please!"
" She failed to win Georgiana? That is serious indeed! I understand she is not likely to find the key to your heart then ... ."
" Her brother is a close friend of mine, but she will never be anything but his sister. Now tell me what treasures you have been hiding from me. Is there someone awaiting your return to town?"
So this is why Miss Bingley has been so distressed lately! She would have wished to be in Miss Bennet's shoes today and I would not have been very much opposed to taking Darcy's place. I fear some of us here present are not as happy as could be expected at a nuptial celebration. I myself feel some disappointment though I must admit completely without reason for I could never afford to marry 100 pounds a year.
He sighed at his mercenary thoughts and then smiled as he gazed over at the couples. With Darcy's former bitterness refreshed in his memory it was amazing to consider the happiness that filled him now. It had been apparent in his recent letters where he informed his cousin that he had been fortunate enough to win the lady of his heart, praising Elizabeth Bennet to the skies and expressing his wish that some of his close family be present during the ceremony ... .
It is enough to move a hardened old soldier's heart, the way these two gaze at each other. Darcy has done it. How come this man can get away with the kind of misbehavior he applied himself to in Kent and still end up with the most ... ravishing prize. Miss Bennet is doubtlessly something out of the ordinary. One might come to this conclusion simply by studying those intriguing eyelashes, her beguiling smile and that soft figure, but when she opens her sweet mouth ... now that is when her true value becomes apparent. With a wife like her, who needs to seek entertaining conversation at his club? If there are five such women in all of Europe I would be surprised, and now behold who is about to marry her! My reserved and taciturn cousin who never showed any particular inclination to seek the company of the fair sex. Darcy, old boy, if I were not so fond of you I would be very envious.
Continued in Section 3.
© 1998 Copyright held by author