Part III C
Note: This is to remind you there is a wedding taking place far away in another time. The couples in question seem happy enough so for their sake we need not worry about the delay. If some reader is vexed by the extended procedure, my advice is simply: stop reading. I'll place an alert once the wedding is over if you are still interested then ; ). Also thank you warmly to those who keep reading and never complain. Such forbearance is to be greatly admired!!
Ever since the news about the engagements of Jane and Lizzy Bennet reached her ear, Lady Lucas had taken great care to hide even the slightest sign of envy and had been most anxious to congratulate her neighbors on this turn of events. She was truly a rather kind woman and Lydia Bennet's fate had not afforded her any of the malicious delight that was found in some quarters. On the contrary, she rejoiced with the Bennets, for blessed with daughters of her own she could well imagine the worries that might have plagued the parents of five.
Yet now she could not help but compare the wedding of Fanny Bennet's girls to that of her own Charlotte a year ago. On that occasion there had been something missing, something that had nothing to do with the number of attending guests and their consequence, or even the elegance of the barouches awaiting the newly wedded.
She could not nail it until she happened to watch Mr. Darcy's face as Lizzy Bennet was placed in his trust by her father. That expression in his eyes... ! Oh yes, of course! Love! Mr. Collins was certainly as well-meaning as his own wits would allow him and by no means unkind by common standards. But he could hardly be looked upon as the answer to a young maidens sweet dreams. And as for sincere affection ...
Dear Charlotte had assured her that she could handle her husband and that no great vexation was to be endured. But Lady Lucas knew there was no love between Lottie and her clerical husband and reminded of its existence by the happiness emanating from the young couples at the altar she pressed a hand to her chest. This was what was missing in Charlotte's marriage. For the sake of her daughter she felt a pang of regret on acknowledging the truth. Then she tried to be rational. Oh, I suppose it is more than most women can hope for.
Her thoughts wandered to Sir William. He was a generous being who never meant any harm but he was more of a boy than she would have wished. Instead of the husband she once thought she married she had got yet another son. Peering to her side she saw his heavy face beaming with excited pleasure. The sight brought a tender smile to her eyes and then she looked over at Mr. Collins whose face was solemn in a forced manner, betraying some of his pretentious nature.
He was not a cousin happily watching his young relatives getting married. He was a curate oozing from some odd notion that he was present to see that all was conducted properly; curiously convinced that but for Mr. Beresford his presence was the one of most vital importance. He had given them a woolly impression of this while they took tea in the morning room. Nobody had bothered to contradict him but Maria, who innocently asked him whether the brides and bridegrooms were not very important when a marriage was to be entered into.
Glancing over at Charlotte, Lady Lucas had both regretted and understood her reaction when she saw her daughter discreetly covering the urge to laugh behind her napkin. She looks upon her husband with ridicule already. Well, considering the relatively wealthy circumstances of Charlotte's married life she is better off in many ways than she would have been if left to the benevolence of her brothers. She is safely arrived in the haven of wedlock and now we need only worry about Maria's future. Affectionately she studied the dreamy face of her youngest daughter, then sighed and gave her attention to the ceremony.
Another lady had observed that same look on Darcy's face and when Mrs. Gardiner looked at her husband because of the thoughts it provoked in her, a discreet nod and loving smile told her that as usual he had understood her. The Gardiners shared by wordless communication the contentment to see their dear Lizzy so happily in haven at last. Madeleine Gardiner watched the dear girls and contemplated their miraculous fortune to have met two gentlemen who were honest in their regard and who were also more than able to provide for them.
While she was happy to notice Mr. Bingley's enamored glances at his bride and marveling at the togetherness that seemed to prevail between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, her mind turned to ponder that period of their acquaintance when she had been present to witness the development of their love.
She still could not help but be amazed at the coincidence of their visit to Pemberley this summer. Fully aware of her Longbourn relations' opinion on Mr. Darcy, she had teased Lizzy about her taciturn behavior as they approached the house and wondered if there was indeed any truth in her jocular remark that the beauty of the house rendered its owner a little less repulsive. But Elizabeth had in no way betrayed the extent of her association with this wealthy gentleman.
After their chance encounter it had soon been clear to her that something must have taken place during their earlier meetings to account for the apparent discrepancy between the gentleman's behavior and that of her niece.
She had been able to piece together the line of events. During their habitual Christmas visit to Longbourn her youngest nieces and her sister-in-law had given her an extremely graphic picture of the eventful autumn in Meryton. Those glorious months when Hertfordshire had been blessed by a substantial increase in the number of handsome young men. By disregarding the many references to red coats and plumed hats, she had discerned that with reference to Netherfield the one gentleman had been as admired and well thought of as the other had been despised and deprecated. And Lydia had told her most vividly how Lizzy had reacted when Wickham informed her of Mr. Darcy's actions.
Mrs. Gardiner had not met Lizzy herself until after Mr. Darcy had left Hertfordshire, but then it had been very clear where Elizabeth's sympathies were. She had certainly not been favorably disposed to him. Even after Mr. Wickham - what an odious man - had turned his interest to the dowry of Miss King, Lizzy defended his actions and pitied his fate.
Madeleine Gardiner could still remember her young relative's agitated state of mind. Her cheeks had been red and her eyes flashing with anger as she related how Mr. Wickham had been deprived of the opportunity to make a free choice of marriage. That is was all because of Mr. Darcy's lack of generosity and incomprehensible refusal to comply with his father's last wish. Probably only due to his harboring some base envy against this rival for his father's love. She had been very indignant on behalf of the agreeable officer and even more firm in her dislike of the arrogant visitor at Netherfield. Mrs. Gardiner amused herself by comparing the memory of that exasperated expression to Elizabeth's devoted face as she met her fiancͺ this morning.
However, from the moment she saw her niece in Darcy's company at Pemberley she knew that things were not the same. Something had obviously changed! There was something quite different from disdain in her niece's feelings for the young gentleman.
Mrs. Gardiner had been most pleasantly surprised herself when they were first introduced to Pemberley's master. What she had expected to meet was a man who acted haughtily and unpleasantly; a snob who had even snubbed Elizabeth once and thereby betrayed that he failed to recognize her value. But he had in fact turned out to be a nice and obliging gentleman who was completely forlorn in his admiration for their young relative.
During those few days Elizabeth had been forming a more friendly relation with him. But although there could be no reasonable doubt as to the gentleman's wishes, neither she nor Mr. Gardiner had been able to conclude what was in Lizzy's heart.
What she had not known then was that for a considerable time, Mr. Darcy had been so far from snubbing her niece that four months earlier he had actually asked her to share his life!
Madeleine Gardiner smiled slightly and shook her head when she imagined how Elizabeth must have reacted since she refused his proposal and sent such enormous wealth out of the door. Poor Mr. Darcy!
When all misunderstandings and hesitation was done with she had asked Lizzy about it. The girls had been staying at her house in London while they were buying wedding clothes and other gowns and garments for their trousseaus. One afternoon she had a long private talk with Elizabeth and several confidences had been shared. They were looking back on their Derbyshire visit and Mrs. Gardiner spoke quite frankly.
"Am I right assuming that Mr. Darcy knew he wished to marry you long before you were thus inclined, Lizzy?"
Confusion was on her niece's countenance as she hesitated, not willing to expose her beloved. Yet acknowledging that her aunt was among the few that could be trusted and who by informing her of Mr. Darcy's part in Lydia's wedding might be entitled to some return of confidence.
"He had ... that is to say, he did ... .This is something I have only mentioned to Jane and I wish for it to remain a secret. I know you always talk to my uncle but no further I beg you."
"If you would rather keep the circumstances to yourself then do so. You must not feel yourself under any obligation ..."
Elizabeth interrupted her.
"Dearest Aunt Madeleine. Had it not been for you and uncle Gardiner I might never have found my happiness! Since you are already involved in our crucial meeting and since I trust you unconditionally I have no objections to informing you. I even think it might make you think better of Mr. Darcy when you know how it all came about."
"You are aware that I spent several weeks with my friend Charlotte Collins at the Hunsford parsonage last spring? She was then recently married to my cousin Mr. Collins, whose patroness happens to be the honorable Lady Catherine De Bourgh of Rosings Park. While I was in Kent this noble lady received two distinguished visitors, her nephews Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam!"
"What an amazing coincidence, Lizzy! I suppose you spent some time in company with Mr. Darcy? How did he behave?"
"I did not notice any improvement of his manners, but in retrospect I think he could be described as ... more friendly than he had ever appeared to be in Hertfordshire!"
Lizzy's cheeks colored faintly as her way of expression enticed Mrs. Gardiner into a mischievous smile.
"I remember thinking that it might be due to the influence of his amiable cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam ... Then quite unexpectedly, he proposed to me."
"Elizabeth! Unexpectedly? ... but surely you must have noticed that he was forming a design?"
"I only laughed when Mrs. Collins mentioned the possibility of a partiality ... . I was so pitifully blinded - and not only in this respect."
"Dearest Elizabeth, you must not take all the blame. I suspect the two of you started your acquaintance somewhat awkwardly and consequently both you and Mr. Darcy had to acknowledge your mistakes. But will you let me know about that proposal?"
"It was a complete shock that he should make me an offer of marriage. I did not even like him. I despised his condescending attitude and what I thought he had done to hurt other people. Nor was his manner of address apt to enhance my regard for him. Summing it up, he expected me to be well aware of the honor bestowed upon me by his decision."
"Ohh Lizzy! This is so very unlike our gracious Mr. Darcy. Are you sure you understood him correctly?"
"I know aunt, it is certainly not like him as he is now. But by the time of this proposal ... Then the next day I got a letter from him."
"What? But Lizzy Mr. Darcy would not ... I mean it could not be considered proper. A man of such strict opinion?"
"No, he delivered it himself. We met while I was walking in the woods outside Rosings so nobody knows of its existence but Jane and you. In it he told me the truth about Mr. Wickham and ... other things."
"So, this is where you got that knowledge."
Madeleine Gardiner would not have been human if she had not wondered at those 'other things' but she was not one to force confidences.
"Did you talk to him again?"
"No. He left Kent that same day and I did not mind. I only gradually came to understand how blinded by prejudice I had been in believing everything Mr. Wickham told me because he flattered my vanity. And because Mr. Darcy insulted and snubbed me I had not believed him capable of any decency..."
"So Mr. Darcy was refused! This does explain his behavior in Derbyshire...and yours. Had you come to regret it earlier?"
"Oh no. It was not until our visit to Pemberley that I ... began to think kindly of him. He was so altered..."
"Yes, I could not understand why you had told us he was unpleasant!"
"As I have been told later, my rebuke had been attended to! The same way his letter opened my eyes, so had my harsh words made him reflect on his former principles."
"Your censure brought this change about?! Oh my dear Lizzy. This indeed speaks of love."
Elizabeth's face betrayed many feelings as she listened to her aunt.
"I know. I told you he is worth admiration and respect. He is the best man there is! I think very highly of him. I...I love him so."
She blushed and laughed in confusion since this confession could not be expected to be a surprise to Mrs. Gardiner.
"With good reason, Lizzy! If ever a man proved his love...You were right. This has made me like him even better."
A warm embrace was shared before Mrs. Gardiner rang for tea and the ladies' attention slowly turned to fashion magazines. Before long they were completely absorbed in thoughts and designs of velvet and fur...
Remembering that afternoon's outcome in the way of clothes made her bend forward to whisper in her husband's ear.
"The coat we presented Lizzy with will be just perfect today! "
"Yes, my dear. It will keep her nice and warm until her husband is allowed to take over that responsibility..."
His eyes were warm and wicked in a combination she liked very well, yet she managed to keep a straight face.
"Edward Gardiner! May I remind you that we are in church?"
He was, however, incorrigible.
"Yes, my dear,...and do you find it chilly in here. Just let me know."
"Shush, this is it. Darcy will promise to take care of her now."
She placed one hand on his sleeve to bring his attention to the altar where the vows were about to be spoken. They exchanged another smile of joy for they were both admiring the honesty and good sense of Elizabeth's future husband. They knew he had been put to a severe test and passed with credit.
Chapter III Part D
Mrs. Charlotte Collins was not in the least surprised to be attending the weddings. I think I may very likely have been the first one to see these two alliances coming over a year ago! Though Jane was too shy to know her own good, far too unobtrusive to act upon her best interest. And hence Mr. Bingley left Hertfordshire without knowing of her affection. As for Lizzy ... she has always wanted more than was reasonable to expect for destitute girls like us.
I think that if she had listened to me back at Hunsford last spring, she might probably have secured Mr. Darcy's affection sooner. I tried to tell her he was watching her and she only laughed! At Mr. Darcy! She must have been out of her senses to mock ten thousand pounds! But then Lizzy always acted upon her own conviction. She told me he hated her, but I saw no sign of hate in him! Mr. Darcy! A man born with a golden spoon in his mouth, a gentleman from an old family with such connections. A very handsome gentleman at that ... . Why would she not take the opportunity to encourage him? After all ... here she is marrying him now.
What good did this postponing do her? I tried to ask her but she only said that it allowed for her to get to know him better ... . Hmpf, I should think that would be just as easy, perhaps one might say unavoidable, if she were married to him ... .
She also claims she learned to love him. Mentioning how she did not come to do so until he proved he respected her. If that was really the case, I suppose in so proud a man it must be considered a very significant token of his love for her ... . It would be Lizzy to ask for love on top of everything else that he has got to offer. And not even his love, which was hers already last spring I am positive. But that she must also love him !
Charlotte sighed and furtively looked at her husband who certainly always ... nearly always, treated her with perfect decency. He respected her way of dealing with their household but for the times when Lady Catherine saw fit to attend to some aspect of it. He would not be at peace if she did not indulge him and obey the instructions from Rosings. If only he had not been so impressed by titles and so eager to please. She even preferred him to be a little too self-assured at times.
Mrs. Collins would perhaps have approved of some of her husband's ruminations on that account. Mr. Collins never entered the Church at Longbourn without thinking that he might one day preach in it himself. He thought his coming there would mean an improvement.
Mr. Beresford is a colleague yet I can not help noticing that he has neglected to put the finishing touch to his sermons. This needs to be done in order to suit the more distinguished visitors to his church, but he has clearly not taken the trouble. I suppose there is no one here to tell him what is expected with Sir William probably being the most prominent member of his congregation. Until Mr. Bingley arrived that is. Now Mr. Bingley must be considered, especially with respect to his associating with such noble friends as Mr. Darcy.
I know I would have performed this ceremony in a slightly different manner. Giving more emphasis to the obligations of the marital bonds and perhaps reminding my cousins that however handsome they might be, cousin Elizabeth is certainly most ... . Hrm well, their beauty can not keep them from evil, and they ought to be humbly aware of the condescension that is bestowed upon them by these gentlemen, especially upon Elizabeth by the nephew of Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
Who would have thought the aspirations of my fair cousin were aimed so high! Her astonishing rejection of my generous offer now appears in an altogether different light. Perhaps it was not a female whim after all. Perhaps she calculated with a bigger fish on her hook? How was I to know that she was planning such a conquest? I would not have believed it possible. Not that I fail to understand Mr. Darcy ... He has probably been helplessly drawn in by her allurements. Her persuasive power must be considerable since she is blessed with a most pleasing outer appearance.
Mr. Collins was very warm and he tugged uneasily at his collar that suddenly seemed to fit too tightly around his neck. Undeniably there is something of a challenge in her manner of address. I am inclined to think Lady Catherine was right as always, when she was explaining the sad outcome of this unfortunate affair speaking of arts that make a man forget his obligations ... hrm.
The mere thought of Her Ladyship was uncomfortable and the recollections of his latest audience with his patroness were most frightening. Her displeasure had found many ways to flog his humbly bowing back and even now he could hear her frosty voice spitting his name in contempt."Mr. Collins! I am amazed that you have not managed to carry out my explicit instructions and dissuaded your insignificant Hertfordshire relations from aspiring to a connection with my nephew." He twisted his face and pulled his shoulders even higher up around his head as if he was trying to protect himself from her distant wrath!
Mr. Bennet noticed that his cousin looked rather distressed and briefly wondered what strange contemplative confusion might be forming behind that sweaty brow. He was stepping back to stand beside his wife as soon as he had fulfilled his part of the ceremony by giving their daughters away. He soon forgot about Mr. Collins as he watched the beloved young women by the altar. He boggled when a memory from their infancy was suddenly very clear.
I know time is said to move quickly but I never felt it more keenly than today. It seems but yesterday they were waiting for me to take them for our daily turn about Longbourn.
He had enjoyed these peaceful hours when he was alone with his children on educational walks. For as they trotted along he encouraged them to ask him about anything they could not understand or were curious about. He applied very few restrictions only adapted his answers to their age when it seemed necessary. He also initiated conversations telling them of the things he was interested in, what he had read in books or seen during his travels as a young man.
How I miss those days! Mr. Bennet allowed his thoughts to move back in time.
Many years ago one of these necessarily rather slow and confined tours had brought them to the Longbourn church. They usually only passed by but this day Elizabeth pulled at his hand.
"May we look inside, papa?"
He turned to consult with Mrs. Stone who was polishing the handle and other pieces of brass-work on the huge door and she had no objections "as long as they did not interfere with her work". He had to hide an amused smile when, as soon as they were inside, Lizzy wanted a clarification.
"Was Mrs. Stone angry, papa? Why does she sound as if she dislikes our coming here, but wink at me with a friendly eye?"
"Lizzy, my girl, there is always more to people than meets the eye. You have to listen and observe and use your brain as well. Or you will never learn the truth about them."
So came it about that he entered this same church with his eldest daughters in a similar manner, only then he was leading by his hands two tiny girls. One fair and one dark, one serious and attentive and one who was listening with interest but who did also, from time to time, tear her hand from his grip to make her own discoveries.
He would find her standing on her toes near a picture of the apostles eagerly studying their faces or kneeling on the floor mumbling while she let her finger follow the inscriptions on an old grave.
They had been to church before on a few occasions, but only during sermons when there had been no time for questions. Both Jane and Elizabeth enjoyed the possibility of moving around freely and he could remember how they had speculated over the origin and meaning of the ancient pictures on the walls. How their innocent questions had made him explain to them the placing of the altar and the cross.
He lifted his eyes to enjoy the splendor of the vaults and smiled again at the four-year-old Elizabeth's comment when he pointed out the space under the church tower. Jane nodded as he mentioned that perhaps their human thoughts could leave the petty everyday worries more easily and concentrate on heavenly things when they were in such a grand sacred place.
But he would never forget Lizzy's childish reflection. She had been deadly serious aiming her clear eyes at him. But I think God wants there to be so much room because the angels must not hurt their wings, papa?
Her words had touched something within him. He felt as if he had been allowed a glimpse of her pure, untarnished soul. Without a word he had bent to kiss her forehead. My precious girl, I pray that your wings be never damaged.
It seemed the angels where indeed there to protect her. When they were about to leave, Prunella Stone came carrying Elizabeth and she was rather upset though she tried to conceal it.
"I found this here little Miss balancing on the back of a chair over there. I was convinced it would fall over before I got there. Said she wanted to smell the flowers! Never heard anything like it! I never saw a girl more wild and daring."
Though her words were reproachful she somehow made them appear as praise. Elizabeth did not look very ashamed for her arms were wound round the neck of the verger's wife and she gave Mrs. Stone a cuddle before she was placed back on the floor. She curtsied as she grasped her father's hand.
"Thank you for helping me down, dear sweet Mrs. Stone."
Mr. Bennet endeavored to keep a straight face while he expressed his gratitude with a bow before they left the perplexed woman.
He peeked at his wife and knew she was pleased. Fanny got her way and I grant her, it is a big relief that the girls are provided for, once I am no longer walking on earth.
Mr. Collins might not have wished to turn them out but he will soon have a family of his own to support. Apart from the fact that any help from him must be considered very near to "a fate worse than death!"
I am certainly happy for them myself. Jane and Lizzy have both managed what I did not in finding a solid relation where love seems to come naturally.
Yet, how I dread the house after they are gone. There will not be much sense spoken and although there might be less reason for disagreements with only two girls left, there will be nobody around to pour oil on the troubled waters but me.
Somewhere behind Mr. Bennet sat his neighbor of many years Sir William Lucas and he was in his element! There was nothing he liked better than an occasion for people to get together, the larger the number the better! He had been in excellent spirits ever since he opened his eyes early in the morning and was not unlike a child anticipating a celebration with games to play and sweets to gorge himself with.
He had been a slight annoyance to his family for in his eagerness he bothered them with incessant questions as to the time; whether he should give orders to have the carriage ready or if it was too early for the horses to be brought out. He was not at all aware of the vexation his interruptions occasioned. Finally Lady Lucas could take no more and reprimanded him mildly.
"Come now my dear William, if you do not stop being such a nuisance I might not put on my Brussels lace collar after all!"
His chin dropped.
"But my dearest wife! I especially wish for you to wear it! It will look so very elegant and be most befitting on such a happy occasion as the wedding of our dear neighbors' daughters."
Sir William's face looked utterly disappointed. He had brought the exquisite collar from London for Lady Lucas for he had learnt at St. James's that it was quite the thing!
Patting his arm reassuringly Lady Lucas took pity on her big boy.
"You know I am very grateful for your gift and I would like to use it today. If only you will promise to leave me in peace until I am ready."
"Uhf ohh yes, but of course. Of course, dearest! I will go hurry the girls."
Lady Lucas rolled her eyes but she said no more.
Her husband closed the door to her dressing room and was soon as merry as before. Humming to himself he proceeded down the corridor to knock on Maria's door. He was dressed in a new silk waistcoat, and whenever he passed a mirror he threw a satisfied glance at its striped pattern. Yellow and crimson did indeed lend his appearance a festive touch!
It was with sincere pleasure he admired the latticed points of the star-shaped collar on his wife's dress. Highly a la mode I would think! Sir William was in his most cheerful mood and now everything was to his satisfaction.
The church was amply decorated. Such superior arrangements are really something out of the ordinary!
The sun glittered in the windows. Even the weather is accommodating us!
There were a number of distinguished guests in church today. It is most gratifying that this splendid festivity should take place near Meryton!
The brides were stunningly lovely and their dresses so becoming. Edward Bennet's daughters always were exceedingly fine girls and on this day they are not to be equaled ... . The Longbourn princesses!
The bridegrooms added an agreeable splendor to Hertfordshire. Such pleasant manners and ...uhm such noble deportment is rarely to be seen! It is obvious that Mr. Darcy is a gentleman who belongs to the first circle!
He looked forward to the grand sight of the well-matched thoroughbreds harnessed in front of the barouches waiting outside. Further delights awaited him when they arrived at Netherfield. Although there would be no dancing there would certainly be a generous table! For someone of his gregarious and garrulous disposition any occasion that required prolonged silence was a torment. Sir William badly wanted to share his laudatory observations and was about to burst from sheer delight.
Chapter III Part E
Note: Believe it or not. They are about to leave the church when this part is over! ;-)
A person with a compassionate heart might see beyond the tiresome exterior and the all-but-amiable appearance that Fanny Bennet presented to the world.
Some questions would then be obvious. What had life done to her? Why was she so hysterically eager to have her daughters married? Why so totally lacking in propriety while completing this task? Why did she resort to physical ailments whenever life seemed too harsh? As a child, was she left entirely without the guiding hand and mind of a sensible parent?
Was her imagination too vivid or were her fears founded in reality? Was there some hearsay from her youth making an indelible impression on her young mind? What horrible fate did she foresee for her daughters? Had she been witnessing the bleak outcome of a spinster without the protection of her parents? Forced to consider the cheerless existence that awaited a deceased nobleman's daughter if her father had been unable to leave his offspring any small amount of money? Had she perchance heard the whispering gossip about the misuse of a lonely unprotected girl surrounded by ruthless men.
The attempts to find the answers to these and other questions would perhaps shed new light on a woman who proceeded through life, derided, belittled and without the sincere respect of any fellow being but her sister. For Mrs. Bennet was so unfortunate as to be misunderstood and even slighted by her own husband whose responsibility it would be to love and guide her instead of exposing her to the ridicule of their five daughters.
Since no such philanthropist has volunteered and since the aforementioned speculations must be considered a siding and not essential for the purpose of this tale I shall not mention the matter again.
And so we must content ourselves with the information that on this particular morning, Mrs. Bennet was only mildly nervous about the breakfast arrangements and altogether pleased that her elaborate hairstyle had attracted some compliments already. Even the sight of the handsome redcoat on Mr. Darcy's cousin occasioned no more than a cursory thought of Kitty.
She granted herself the right to rest from her interminable efforts of securing her daughters' future. As a matter of fact the consoling thought had entered her mind lately that even if Kitty and Mary never found a refuge in wedlock their future was by no means as grim as she had feared only a few months ago! Her happy gaze moved towards the altar to linger once again on Jane and Lizzy and she heaved a relaxed sigh. Her dear girls had done really well! I feel as if a burden was lifted from my heart!
Mary Bennet was not aware what was on her mother's mind. Nor would she have expected her to be concerned for her insignificant Mary. She would have been surprised to know Mrs. Bennet harbored any warm feelings for her. Where she sat demurely in her pew it was hard to tell that she was so closely involved in the weddings. That it was her two elder sisters who were getting married and about to leave their mutual home. She looked as if she was not actually concerned.
Over the years Mary was slowly learning that there was not much point in her stating her view. If there was someone around to listen she so often felt slighted as they laughed at her wisdom or even told her to be quiet. Her mother she supposed to be displeased because she did not look pretty and her father only shook his head when she tried to tell him what she had been reading. Therefore she had turned slightly more taciturn and silent disposed to defend her feelings by peevish retorts and now rarely betrayed willingly what she really thought.
It is only fair to mention that she spared no effort in her attempts to educate herself by reading and making music. She spent several hours a day practicing at the pianoforte and was seldom seen without a volume in her hand or under her arm. Unfortunately she was very eager to communicate any valuable truth she had come upon while reading and devoted a lot of time to copy those words of wisdom into her diary for future use. She shared the fate of a neglectful upbringing with her younger sister but she could be said to suffer the most, for Mary was not happy.
I am the plain Bennet girl ... always was. But I have a useful mind and I only wish some man would be sensible enough to recognize that. Beauty withers but a good brain is still there! Surely there must be some gentlemen aware of this. Only I could never admire a man that is not well read. Mr. Collins, now there is a man who is able to express himself with great eloquence! I had hoped he might search his wife among his cousins even after Lizzy refused him. But she probably infuriated him by her unfeeling ways. Sent him away to seek his consolation in Charlotte Lucas! Poor kind Mr. Collins to be treated thus when he offered her his heart. I will never understand what Lizzy was thinking. She was not fond of Mr. Darcy then ... Wickham perhaps but ... what is he to a clergyman? Any sensible woman would know how to chose between the two of them. I know I would ... .
Next to her sister Mary sat Catherine Bennet. If Mary looked aloof Kitty's countenance carried evidence of quite the opposite sentiments. She knew not of any event more romantic than a wedding and since it was that of her own sisters she could not help thinking that if she were lucky it might be her turn next. Mary would not be thus inclined. She does not care for dances and flirtation.
I do envy Jane! There can not be a more pleasant and good-humored husband to be had. If only he wore regimentals he would be perfect. But I wonder that Lizzy dares marry such a stern and distant gentleman. I know he is very much in love with her and that of course might make up for a lot of reservations ... and the fact that he will be able to provide anything she may ever wish for. But I am sure I would not feel comfortable with a husband of such serious disposition as Mr. Darcy. Not for all the lace in Derbyshire!
Yes, I think I would prefer a little less wealth - she giggled to herself - if that would get me a man more inclined to dancing and pleasantries. My ideal gentleman would be more like Mr. Bingley or Denny or Mr. Wickham. Though if there is any truth in what they say about him being a gamester and a womanizer prone to flirt with every pretty face I suppose Lizzy and Jane are right in saying that Lydia is not to be envied after all. Though Mama thinks the world of him and he is good-looking to be sure.
Kitty stretched her arms cautiously in front of her in order to watch how soft the velvet of her new spencer looked and how well its lilac shade matched the pattern on her gown. It would look very nice with Maria's moss green one as they stood together ....
Her friend of many years, Maria Lucas was excited to be involved in this ceremony and proud that she had been asked to pair with Kitty Bennet. They had grown closer after Lydia's marriage and since Mary had declined, the honor had fallen to her lot. She was looking forward to the moment when they were to stand on the churchyard and the brides and grooms were supposed to walk under ... she compressed her lips afraid that she would unconsciously betray their secret.
Her eyes rested on the four people at the altar. Mr. Bingley turned his golden head to smile at the beautiful Jane Bennet and Maria thought that there was every reason for the love she saw in his bride's glances. Theirs would certainly be a pleasant and friendly union.
From Jane her gaze wandered to the dark curls on Mr. Darcy's head. Maria had never shared Kitty's reticent attitude to Lizzy's fianc. She looked with admiration on the back of his blue coat and shyly compared his shoulders to Mr. Bingley's. They are very broad but then he is taller too. Maria lowered her eyes as she could feel her face get warm.
She had been secretly cherishing a romantic enthusiasm for Mr. Bingley's friend since his first appearance in Meryton. During all the indignant discussions and officious censure on behalf of his haughty demeanor Maria had kept her opinion to herself. Not that anyone asked her for it, they probably supposed her to agree with the general view of an eligible bachelor who simply refused to place himself at their disposal.
But it was not long before she thought there was something in his eyes when he believed himself unobserved. A passing glint of ... loneliness or even sadness ... as if there was something preying on his mind? She found this highly intriguing and from that day forth she did everything to solve the enigma, but talk to him herself. Her disposition was not forward and apart from rare outbursts of emotion she was a quiet girl.
On the few occasions when they were brought together by chance, Mr. Darcy was polite and kind and she had even noticed his eyes resting on her once, a faint smile on his face. She would not have known where to look or what to do if she had not noticed the distant look in them assuring her that he was thinking of someone else. This did not in any way lessen her interest in him, but instead rendered him more mysterious. Perhaps he was hiding a dark secret, some disastrous event that still haunted him and stood in the way of his attempts to find peace and happiness? She overheard conversations and paid attention to every utterance of his.
As soon as she noticed that he was pleased with Lizzy Bennet her interest had been even greater, for Elizabeth had been the younger girls ideal for many years. She would so wish to be more like Elizabeth Bennet! Not that she could ever aspire to the beauty of such clear eyes and feminine form! But if she could only become as upright and self-confident!
It would be marvelous to have the courage to say your meaning and perhaps even be respected doing so! I know Mama and Mrs. Bennet always say that men hate to be contradicted by a woman and that a girl is supposed to be pleasant and smile, to listen and even obey without a thought of her own, but ... I am not so sure. Even Papa admires Lizzy! And she is her father's favorite! As for Mr. Darcy ... he loves her well enough to marry her!
So she thought they made a fine couple and in her fanciful imagination they had been in love almost from their first meeting. Ever since their common visit to Kent in the spring she had taken every opportunity to furtively observe Lizzy Bennet especially when in his company and her own girlish dreams had been filled with Darcy-like gentlemen. Preferably a little less frightening - but just as handsome.
Now she noticed every movement of Mr. Darcy's and since her head was buzzing with romantic fantasies after that public look of affection, she could not quite understand why the bridegroom had resumed his stiff and formal appearance.
Can it be a matter of such superior behavior that comes from breeding, learning good manners and how to always hide your feelings ... ? The notion that Mr. Darcy was smoldering with passion behind his upright posture made Maria sigh.
It was impossible to disregard the fact that she was standing next to him and that her location was continuously disturbing. While the union between Mr. and Mrs. Bingley was confirmed that precious nearness provided such distractions as demanded some command from him in restricting his thoughts. The faint sound of silk rustling as she shifted her position ever so little was enough to send the blood in a hot rush through his arteries and he greedily imbibed the warmth of lavender that floated in a soft whisper against his face. No one could tell from his demeanor that behind the impeccable gentlemanly appearance was a tangle of astounded happiness, tender concern and ardent wishes.
My dearest girl! Are you tired? How I will treasure being the one allowed to offer you support in any future event of fatigue. Regrettably now is not a proper time. Again he had to direct his attention back to the proceedings. So now Bingley is a married man! The time has come for us then ... .
"Fitzwilliam Darcy, wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?"
As the Reverend Mr. Beresford read the long question, brief images of the joy she would bring to his life and indeed of the joy she had already brought him passed before his eyes. Never was there a bridegroom who spoke with deeper conviction.
When Elizabeth had likewise declared that she would love him and keep herself to him forever, Mr. Beresford caused the bridegroom to take her small hand in his. Darcy listened to the dictation of his promise and as he spoke there was a most serious timbre to his voice. The old words of the ritual were charged with the sincerity of his love as they bore his vows to her heart.
"I George Fitzwilliam Darcy take thee Elizabeth Anne Bennet to my wedded wife, ..."
Elizabeth lifted her eyes to the face that had become so infinitely dear to her. She could but barely muster her sentiments on hearing that resonant voice making such important promises. Almost too soon came her turn and she inhaled deeply. Her gaze did not flicker, but was upon him incessantly and her voice was loud and clear.
"I Elizabeth Anne Bennet take thee George Fitzwilliam Darcy to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."
He was overcome by the solemnity of the moment and the sound of her beloved voice. There was no hesitation in it, her eyes regarded him so warmly and he felt as if his chest would burst with exultant gratitude.
The parson delivered the ring unto him and Darcy cautiously placed it upon her finger and holding it there he made his next vow. Elizabeth blinked her eyes to prevent a sudden flood of emotion from manifesting itself in tears. She watched him attentively.
"WITH this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow; In the Name of the Father ..."
With a caressing stroke Darcy made sure the Ring was safe and then supported her as they knelt down together.
"Let us pray. Oh eternal God, ... send thy blessing upon these thy servants ..."
She thought he was so very serious when they were again facing each other to have their hands joined by Mr. Beresford.
"Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
He looked solemn when their voices mingled with the congregation in the psalms, yet she did catch him once furtively glancing at her.
He is my husband now! The understanding hit her forcefully. Emotions welled up inside her and her eyes stung again as tears were threatening. She swallowed hard and tried to concentrate on the streak of sunshine through the stained glass windows above the vicar's head. The colored light placed a bright pattern on the grey stones right before her feet. As she found herself imagining it to be a picture of his love in her life a smile graced her lips. She took a breath to fill her lungs and was able to rejoin the hymn singing.
A definite alteration in Darcy's manner was evident soon after the Reverend Mr. Beresford spoke the final words that pronounced them man and wife! They remained at first immobile before the altar, silently allowing the blessing to sink into their hearts and then almost gingerly permitting their eyes to meet and recognize the resort offered there.
When the congregation began to move causing a slow increase in the murmur, these signals from the world outside brought them back to the present moment. A tender smile came creeping into his eyes as Darcy spoke softly to his beloved.
"My dearest ... wife? Are those tears ...?"
She colored and, while she was searching for her handkerchief, kept looking at him through dampened lashes.
"Merely from happiness ... . Forgive me."
"No, no, I meant no ... "
He fell silent but suddenly aware of her predicament, discreetly handed her a folded linen cloth. With a grateful mumble she held it to her eyes to absorb any remaining moisture. The bridegroom watched her protectively and might even have pulled her near him but for the curious glances from a parish member who had returned to collect his wife's reticule. Darcy hemmed.
" Better tend to practical matters. Miss ... hrm Mrs. Darcy, will you permit me to escort you to where the parish register is kept."
Elizabeth beamed at her husband and whispered.
" I can not think clearly and would be most grateful for your help to proceed from here, Mr. Darcy."
He took her hand to place it on his arm.
"You can rely on my help from this day forward, Elizabeth. The help that the one ought to have of the other ... ."
Joined in spirit as well as literally the Darcys followed Jane and Bingley, who were already accompanying the parson towards a small door. They were expected to sign the parish register in the vestry. Both couples under the supervision of the kind old clergyman inscribed their names in the heavy ledger where the significant days of any congregation member were perpetuated; even Mr. Bingley devoted great care to this task. Their unions finally thus sealed, Mr. Beresford cautiously blew away the sand and with radiant benevolence offered his good wishes before they went to don capes and gloves.
Chapter III Part F
Grateful for every kind of support from Myretta, foremost - and from Bernie and Cheryl too, occasionally. Wish you all a Peaceful and Happy Holiday!
Mr. Bullock noticed that, in the course of the wedding ceremony, the crisp morning air must have been somewhat warmed up by the chary winter-sun. Cheerfully he brought the attention of the grooms to this fact but they expressed some doubt, ostentatiously stamping their feet and pulling their high collars together in order to stay warm. Bullock persisted by asking them to consider how the steam from the horses' nostrils was now only a thin haze in comparison to the thick clouds that had been belching out earlier when the gentlemen arrived from Netherfield.
Darcy's coachman was an agreeable and well liked fellow blessed with a contagious good humour and soon they were all compelled to agree it was indeed a fine day for their masters' weddings.
Although Bullock and his fellows were facing a London trip before their reward was due, they laughed in acknowledgement of the Netherfield men, suggestively winking their eyes. This was partly in anticipation of extra food and additional beer rations and also because of the inevitable jests that came to any mischievous and healthy man's mind on such a day. If the roars of laughter threatened to rise above the level of decency, Mr. Bullock took it upon him to immediately hush the jolly men with a warning nod towards the church door.
One of Bingley's footmen chose instead to exercise some tantalising devices concerning the leftovers from the wedding breakfast. He described how his wife had been partaking in the preparations and dwelled in detail on the amounts of food that, in all likelihood, would be left for the staff to gorge upon.
Another rumbling outburst of merriment was elicited when Sir William Lucas's groom informed them of the probable size of the remaining portions once his master was done. But Bingley's man would not refrain from making his infuriating point.
"Ain't that a pity that some of us won't be around to taste the delicacies, eh?"
Darkening faces on the men in Darcy's service bore evidence that his arrow had hit its target. But Bullock, broad and confident, knew how to comfort his mates.
"There is no need for alarm, lads. I happen to know that we'll get a handsome tuck-in at Netherfield before we go. As for London, Mrs. Tuddler may be a wee bit too talkative for my liking, but she is a most reliable woman and will see to it that we do not go hungry this evening, ... nor thirsty! We all know there is beer enough in the cellar at Portnam Square."
The mighty sound of organ pipes filled the air and caused the men to put an end to their deliberations. Coachmen moved to resume their positions on boxes, grooms to unfasten horses and footmen to stand in attendance near carriages as the heavy doors were opened wide allowing the congregation to pour out onto the churchyard.
Eyes were furtively dried and the consequence of this happy occasion lent some faces a meditative expression. They gathered together in small groups to share their first comments on the impressive ceremony and when the newlyweds set foot on the frosty gravel, the children started cheering and people made way for them.
It seemed the appearance of Mr. and Mrs. Bingley was rather sooner than had been expected, for Catherine Bennet and Maria Lucas had to come running while they balanced a wide green arch in their hands. It was entwined with rosemary, lavender and leaves of ivy and had been prepared in the still room at Longbourn without the brides' knowledge, but with some indispensable moral and practical assistance from Mrs. Collins.
Mary had partaken by reading to them from a volume entitled The Manifold Duties of a Pious Lady but also - when asked - by tying the countless tiny bunches of greenery together. Maria was too kind to betray her sentiments openly but Kitty was merciless the way immature siblings are prone to be and rolled her eyes on hearing how the sanctimonious female was expected to deport herself when in the company of gentlemen. They had not hindered Mary from reading aloud for her contribution certainly eased the tediousness and helped pass the hours of working on the greenery, though the entertainment was not of the kind the reader had intended.
When Charlotte Collins was present she endeavoured to spare Mary from the giggling outbursts by turning her serious gaze towards the exhilarated girls. Or, if this was in vain, she spoke in earnest to Mary about the topics brought up by her book; all was done out of kindness in an attempt to conceal the laughter her expositions would raise among their younger sisters.
Kitty experienced a flash of guilt as Charlotte's clear eyes rested on her face, but she tried to shrug it off, insolently wondering to herself, whether Mrs. Collins was used to listen to such tiresome tirades at home. She blushed to remember how Lydia had joked about Mr. Collins and his use of Fordyce's sermons as a bedside reading matter. Why would Mary take offence from hearing her titter, they usually teased each other. Why did Charlotte's eyes appear so bothering? Lydia always used to laugh at any dull reproaches! There was no peace in her heart until Kitty decided that she would be nice to Mary; finally she told her amazed sister that the preparation of the bow was more easily done thanks to the book she brought.
The couples were supposed to walk under that bow. Bingley laughed happily shrugging his shoulders to make sure he could pass without having his hat knocked off. The brides' maids were giggling as they endeavoured to catch their breath and stand more orderly, parading to hold their green triumphal arch properly when the Darcys approached. Kitty and Maria affectionately responded to Elizabeth's happy smile but were amazed to see the laughing face of the awesome bridegroom. Watching the back of her tall brother-in-law as he escorted Lizzy towards the carriage Kitty shared her observation with her friend.
"Did you see that, Maria? Mr. Frown is smiling!"
"I hardly recognised him, Kitty! He seemed very well pleased."
Maria's whispered remark was accompanied by a look of various meanings.
Miss Lucas and Kitty were not the only ones to notice the transformation in Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth watched her husband and even detected a rare dimple; his countenance was all smiling ease now.
Oh my husband! It would appear you are happy enough at the prospect of having me as your wife. Elizabeth's rapid pulse beat was sending the blood whizzing through her body. Her heart felt so light; she was inclined to laugh and cry at the same time. She knew his eyes were searching her face and she did not try to prevent her emotions from showing.
Darcy perceived and had to look elsewhere. He could not remember such a joyous moment since the days of his childhood and when he looked again at her who was the reason for it all, he was handsomely rewarded. His heart was warmed by the buoyant mirth emanating from all her being and warmer still by the glimpse of white pearls behind the rosy curve of her laughing lips. How I long to kiss her, only ... not just yet.
Another unexpected feature of the less solemn felicitations was that the young ladies, among them Miss Darcy, were throwing tiny herbs over the brides and bridegrooms for luck. To her momentary consternation Georgiana saw how she happened to adorn her new sister when a tiny sprig of rosemary got caught in the neckline of Mrs. Darcy's gown. But Elizabeth did not mind and only smiled happily into Georgiana's alarmed face.
As for Mr. Darcy he did not notice since the sparkling brightness of his wife's eyes held him captivated, until she forced herself to look elsewhere. The remnants of laughter still lingered in the corners of her mouth.
The carriage was awaiting them, the door stood open and Elizabeth ascended without her husband's help. A broad smile was still on his face as Darcy followed and seated himself next to her.
The footman had not yet closed the door when Elizabeth heard a familiar voice to her side. Mrs. Bennet had moved from Jane and Mr. Bingley to enjoy for the first time the sight of her daughter, Mrs. Darcy, in her husband's barouche. She stretched her hand up to support and congratulate Elizabeth and while she did so also admired with excited pleasure the elegance of the polished carriage, the foursome of well-fed shining horses and the grooms and footmen in their grey liveries.
Mr. Bennet was by her side and though he was not nearly as blissful as his wife was, his daughter's face offered the best proof any parent could wish for. She was obviously very happy.
It had to be some man some day! I always knew that, but I did not realise it would hurt so much. During the weeks following their betrothal Mr. Bennet had tried to come to terms with his first impressions of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth's words rang in his head. I love him now so very dearly. He is truly the best man I have ever known. His gaze moved to Darcy and he had to admit to himself that the once proud disagreeable man had improved by associating with his Lizzy. During the time of courtship he had actually behaved quite decently. Even betrayed an unexpected sense of humour. If Elizabeth could change her opinion of him so completely, it should be possible for me to do likewise. One look at her is all that is necessary! There is love written all over her face. Does this bloke understand how fortunate he is?
The cheering and waving of the guests that thronged near the carriages must have bothered one of Mr. Darcy's foursome. Probably one of the fiery geldings Byron or Burns in the front pair, for the eager white horses pulled away quite unexpectedly, causing Elizabeth to lose her balance and fall slightly backwards. There was really no harm done since she thumped against the soft upholstery of the coach seat. It only lured her into giving another of those laughs that seemed to come so easily now and on seeing her blithe face Darcy's initial worry disappeared and he forgot every idea of reprimanding Mr. Bullock.
Some of the younger guests began to run along the carriages for when Bingley's coachman saw that Darcy's barouche was leaving, he flourished the whip and urged on his pair of bay horses. The white ribbons tied into bows on the whiptails floated elegantly in the air as the carriages turned up the driveway leading from Longbourn. Again Mrs. Bennet was highly gratified as her eyes took in the grand sight.
"Oh Mr. Bennet ..."
Her sentimental and sincere exclamation - she was after all a mother goose watching two of her goslings leaving the nest - was accompanied by a waving handkerchief. Though she claimed some part in Jane's match, she also gave credit where it was due in summarising the events of the latest months.
"Three daughters married! God has been very good to us!"
Her husband had a vision of the years that lay before him. An endless line of days where there would be an increasing amount of silliness and nonsense, of such petty concerns as ribbons and lace. There would be no Jane to smooth the way of things with her gentle affability. He might of course still be able to see the absurdity of circumstances but it would not be half as amusing when there was no one there to share it. How he would miss the glint in Lizzy's eye that used to tell him she knew what he was up to. With a sigh he answered his wife.
"So it would seem. ... so it would seem."
Mr. Bennet's gaze also lingered on the disappearing coaches until the faint ache of melancholy in his heart dimmed it. He forced himself to constrict what he knew was a selfish reaction.
However, he was not the only one hiding a heavy heart on this bright morning. Miss Bingley was not all that pleased; it vexed her to no end that Eliza Bennet ... well Darcy then ... should be allowed to travel in such style. As for Mr. Darcy - her cheeks blushed when she recalled the past; where her futile hopes had brought her. Would she ever be invited to visit Pemberley again? The future did not look very bright to Caroline Bingley. She was no fool and she knew that neither her new sister nor Mrs. Darcy were likely to forget easily what her behaviour had been like, the ungraciousness of it. With a remorseful sigh, she turned to look for the Hursts' equipage.
The Longbourn estate had only just disappeared from view and they allowed their raised arms to come to rest. A silence spread in the carriage as they looked into each other's eyes. Darcy could feel the stillness and the nearness of Elizabeth filling him as he looked fixedly at her face. Now she is finally mine and I long to touch her but ... . He did not know what his wife was thinking but a tiny star dancing in her eyes fascinated him. Fearing where she might entice him to tread prematurely, he unwillingly tore himself from the spell of her gaze. When he unconsciously lowered his own just touching past her mouth and then further he discovered the delicately placed herbal decoration and his puzzled eyes moved from her neckline to her face and back.
She noticed and following the direction of his glances gave an embarrassed laugh.
"Your sister is responsible for that piece of greenery."
He arched his eyebrow.
"Several of the younger ladies were throwing herbs at us. I am sure you noticed. One just happened to get caught."
" Yes, I recall the green rain."
There was a short pause while he searched her eyes.
"Will you let me have it?"
He took her by surprise.
"Why ... yes, if you wish. Whatever for?"
"Might I enquire whether you intend to save your bouquet?"
"Yes, I am ... oh?"
"Yes, I would like to save this sprig of rosemary ... it is for memory! Remember?"
"How sad to think of Ophelia! I used to cry over her ... She never got her prince ... . Though there was a time when even Hamlet spoke beautifully ... .
He watched her shifting face and moved a little closer.
"Are you saying ... I speak beautifully, Mrs. Darcy?"
The deep sound of his eager words was near her ear.
"I am! Words of "so sweet breath composed" ..."
He was emboldened by something in her voice, her pleasurable confession to an approval of his manner of speech and the implication of a ... prince gained.
"This gift would be precious to me. Will you allow me to secure it while we are on our own, sweet Princess?"
Her cheeks reddened, but she nodded without a word and bashfully studied his expression as with baited breath he enjoyed this first intimate mark of favour as her husband. Gloved fingers took away the tiny ornament from its enchanting location and held it gingerly to his lips before they let it slip down into his pocket. His eyes had only left hers for a short moment to attend to the sprig. Now they moved to her mouth and back to mutely ask her permission. His breathing was disturbed, made irregular by the sweet excitement he sensed in her.
As he drew nearer, the warmth of her gaze welcomed him. Elizabeth waited in anticipation. I am not terribly nervous any more. This is right. He is my husband and I am utterly pleased to know that, ... so very happy. I wish he would kiss me soon. But I suppose the men on Bingley's coach can see us. He might not consider it ...
But his face was even closer now ... . Might propriety make allowances for a husband to embrace his wife ... ? She tilted her head, dizzy from the warmth of his breath against her cheek. His lips were finally upon hers, interrupting her thoughts and the sweetness of that gentle kiss was everything they could wish for ... at present. Albeit not passionate it was of substantial duration and filled with tenderness. They parted unwillingly and each could see the happiness of their own heart mirrored in the eyes of the beloved.
Elizabeth was alternately hot and cold. Despite the thin rays of sun she shivered as the December air swept against her. Mumbling his concern Darcy reached for a spare rug and placed it over her legs. With a grateful smile she pulled it even higher to warm her bare skin. He expressed his fears that she was too thinly clad, but she assured him that she could manage and would put on additional clothes soon enough for the London trip. Her reference to their joint journey made him grasp her hand and hold it firmly, while they travelled the short distance to Netherfield.
Chapter IV part A
Breakfast is served - at last! ; )
An assortment of carriages, all fairly crowded, paraded up the main road to Mr. Bingley's estate. After delivering the passengers by the entrance, each vehicle left room for the next and drove off to line the yard in front of the stables. The first coach had been sighted at Netherfield less than half an hour after the arrival of the couples - and the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet wished to supervise that the breakfast table was well-laid and make sure that Hill and Nichols had followed her instructions to the letter.
This had allowed the brides and grooms time to remove cloaks but no more than a few minutes' respite to regain whatever composure might have been lost during the ride. The Bingleys had resorted to their dressing rooms and Mr. Bennet tactfully disappeared into the library with Mary. The Darcys preferred the momentary privacy obtained in the hall and were checking appearances in front of the big mirror. Despite her attempts to stay calm there was something hectic about the way Elizabeth's hands moved to adjust her curls when Darcy came to stand behind her. He was carefully straightening his waistcoat as his eyes met hers. She wanted to lose herself in their warmth when the excited voice of her mother urged them to hurry.
"Jane! Lizzy! Please make haste! There is a carriage just arriving! Bring your bridegrooms in here."
Darcy was initially annoyed to hear that shrill voice summoning them. When will there be time for me to court my wife? We are married, yet I still have to steal a moment with her.
But Bingley was already moving down the stairs with Jane and Darcy had to admit that Mrs. Bennet was right when the sound of wheels and hooves alerted the butler who reappeared to welcome the first guests. Sending another glance towards the enchanting reflection of his bride Darcy mouthed his admiration and fleetingly stroked her hand before he pulled it under his arm.
The visitors were shown into the parlour next to the dining room where the air soon appeared to simmer with comments on the wedding arrangements and expectations of the kitchen staff's efforts. Most of the guests were probably more favourably disposed to an abundance of food than were the newly married.
A crystal chandelier was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room and beneath it stood Jane Bingley and Elizabeth Darcy with their husbands. Mrs. Bennet had advised them to make themselves available to congratulations by forming a receiving line and even the fact that Mrs. Gardiner nodded in agreement on overhearing it, could not prevent Elizabeth from viewing her bridegroom with misgivings. She was prepared to ask his forbearance but, though his composure was somewhat hard-won, her worried face made Darcy smile and speak reassuringly.
"Be not alarmed, my dear. This is how it is often done. Under the circumstances it will be perfectly endurable and I shall be near, ready to protect you from any evil attacks."
It was indeed agreeable when he submitted to protocol, graciously sharing the burden with her. In between guests - that would be, outside the protocol - he proved himself to be courteously inventive, whispering near her ear or bending his head to hear what she might wish to confide to him in return. Though the contents of this conversation would have appeared insignificant to anyone else it was filled with meaning to the participants.
If that hidden meaning was sometimes too delightful for words, Elizabeth was compelled to touch the sleeve of his blue coat. There were also moments when Darcy felt his breath was nearly taken away by the novelty of some endearing intimacy. He then saw the need for a hand to support her elbow or even - once - briefly placed against her back. His attentions brought a smile to Elizabeth's mouth and a glow to her eyes.
The Matlocks were among the first to congratulate and Her Ladyship embraced the bride with a whispered message.
"We depend upon you to take good care of him, my dear Mrs. Darcy!"
Elizabeth intended for her answer to have a mischievous touch but glanced involuntarily towards her husband and the soft expression on her face as she did so betrayed her affection.
"It will be a cumbersome duty indeed but one most willingly performed, Lady Matlock."
His Lordship let his eyes rest on that radiant face and then complimented his nephew.
"I see you have begun your carrier as a husband admirably, Darcy. Make it your object that your wife is always as happy to be by your side."
Georgiana who at first politely extended her hand to Elizabeth and began to shyly express her congratulations, suddenly flung her arms around her new sister's neck and stifled a sob as she mumbled against her gown.
"I am exceedingly happy to welcome you into our family, Mrs. Darcy."
Elizabeth was moved and embraced her warmly.
"Dearest Georgiana, I am equally happy to belong to it."
"I know you mean so much to my brother ... ."
Darcy had watched this uncharacteristic openness with amazement and his wife's sweet response with a heart overflowing. But at the mentioning of his feelings he placed his arm tenderly round his sister's shoulders and demanded half in jest half in earnest that she must let him inform his wife of this himself. Georgiana blushed and stuttered.
"Oh Fitzwilliam, forgive me. I only meant to ... "
"Yes, my dear. There is no need to ask my forgiveness!"
He kissed her trembling hand and trusted her into their aunt's care.
Elizabeth thought that she was very pleased with the attending members of her new family. She was grateful to count among their virtues sincerity softened by kindness and affection, an unwavering straightforwardness, yet tempered with tact and humour. The renewed confirmation of their acceptance, their trust in her meant that Elizabeth was able to relax.
She even realised the advantage of her mother's reception arrangement. It offered everyone an opportunity to convey their good wishes in an expedient way and once it was done, this would enable them to leave whenever they felt it convenient. No guest would feel slighted and the talkative congratulator was forced to limit his volubility when there were others waiting to have their share of the couples' attention.
Some anticipation had been building up before the doors between the rooms were finally opened to reveal that a generous buffet was awaiting them. Sir William Lucas and Mr. Hurst were among those prone to rejoice at the sight of the profuse wedding breakfast.
On the table were the results of a successful collaboration between Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Nichols. Such a variety of dishes could only be conceived by joining the culinary imagination and cookery skills of two experienced household providers. It was intended to lack for nothing, but include what the best breakfasts generally did.
Other than the meat, game birds and poultry there was tongue and ham. There was a variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast and muffins. Deep dishes were hiding eggs - poached or boiled and vegetables. Furthermore a line of silver bowls contained preserves of fruits and berries from the gardens such as stewed pippins, black currants and strawberries.
The wine cellars of Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bingley had been taxed to provide beverages of different extractions and for every taste, mild and strong. It would not have been a breakfast without coffee and tea, but there was also, to the whispering delight of Kitty and Maria Lucas, the addition of hot chocolate at one end of the table. In the middle, marking the special nature of the day and surrounded by a thick circle of greenery and rose hips, the big bride's cake was enthroned.
Mr. Hurst rubbed his hands when his eyes had finished their initial voyage of discovery.
"Nothing like a lengthy sermon to wet you appetite eh, Sir William?"
"I should think not, Mr. Hurst. Especially when the joint efforts of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Hill are before you! I never had an insufficient meal at Longbourn. What a splendid sight!"
Sir William was not in error. To own the truth her mistress had supported Hill with more than one idea. In fact Mrs. Bennet was perhaps never more to her advantage than when she was allowed to compose a menu for a large party of guests!
Sir William's response had been rumbling at first when his eyes took in the noble display. His voice was somewhat lowered as he reported his findings.
"A very fine roast Turkey, ahh and there is a brace of Woodcocks!"
Mr. Hurst looked approvingly at the big country squire and reflected that the man obviously had some sense after all, since he knew how to appreciate food. He only saw fit to enlighten him in one respect.
" I am sure the ladies you mentioned are proficient. But let me assure you that Mrs. Nichols has proved herself highly accomplished as well. Oh, look over there ... Veal Olive! What do you say Sir William, is that not a good place to start?"
The guests indulged in the pleasure of choice afforded them by the manifold delicacies. Vaguely resembling a flock of jays in a ripe cherry-tree they gathered to serve themselves from the big buffet and then fluttered off to sit informally at minor tables.
Though many gentlemen were capable of appreciating the variety of food, most ladies were quite content with one dish followed by bread and tea before they tasted the cake. On this particular day there were also a few gentlemen who had other things on their mind. Darcy had been about to forego the whole thing. That was until Colonel Fitzwilliam mischievously teased him by whispering that now might be a good time to eat for he would perhaps be otherwise occupied later on. Darcy would not have tolerated such liberty from many men but with his ears burning, he admitted to himself the truth of his cousin's brazen suggestion.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was deeply attached to his stubborn relative since the days of their childhood and the feeling was mutual. Therefore he was one of the few men close enough to be able to comprehend the radical change in Darcy's existence this alliance would bring about. He knew that there was no reserve to his commitment. When Darcy turned to inquire of Elizabeth what she would wish to eat, the colonel interfered by asking his cousin's permission to wait upon his bride.
"Can I be of assistance? Allow me to fetch a plate for your wife, Darcy! It would pain me to see the two of you separated even for such a short time."
Darcy looked perplexed but Elizabeth gave a soft laugh for she found Colonel Fitzwilliam both amiable and entertaining. Her husband was bewitched anew and answered almost playfully.
"It is true I would leave Mrs. Darcy most unwillingly. But it is also true I would not hesitate to carry out her smallest wish! What say you, my dear? Shall we grant a soldier this honour?"
The colonel bowed graciously and at Elizabeth's strict instruction brought her three crispy rashers with a tiny slice of pie and a toast with preserve of quinces. The bride was really most grateful to avoid the table for she feared the proximity of trifle and blancmange. After receiving a smile from her, Fitzwilliam turned to her groom offering him the same favour. Darcy waved his hand indicating indifference.
"I am not particular. Please get me half a portion of whatever you are having yourself, Fitzwilliam."
The colonel grinned fondly at his cousin as he handed him a plate with some splendid woodcock and a glass of claret. You are not particular? Then who is?
Allowing his sense of decorum and his knowledge of Darcy's mind to guide his judgement he did not pass on an improper message from Bingley's brother-in-law whom he had met at the buffet. The contents of Mr. Hurst's advice - occasioned by the size of Darcy's portion - were that someone ought to inform the bridegrooms that a substantial intake of food was prudent in view of the upcoming requirements on their strength.
Blissfully ignorant of this indecency, Darcy was enjoying the company of his wife. They ate absentmindedly with no further attention to the delicate dishes for they looked more often into each other's eyes than on their plates.
Darcy knew that he would soon have his wife to himself. Yet he was amazed to notice that whenever she was addressed and consequently turning her face away from him, though he knew it was out of mere politeness, he must have her look at him again. And then, when she did, her gaze carried no relief but only conduced to increase his ardour. His arms were empty and his lips tickled from their need to kiss her. He must remind himself to not sigh heavily betraying what a lovesick fool he was.
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Gardiner were in the middle of an obviously amusing conversation and though he heard that Bingley managed some cordial contributions Darcy disregarded the mocking glances and teasing hints from his cousin and spoke but rarely.
Jane and Elizabeth only smiled at each other every time their eyes met. And even Mrs. Bennet was chiefly listening, resting on her laurels you might call it, thriving on whatever credit she could discern as Lady Matlock and Mrs. Gardiner discussed the wedding gowns and the floral arrangements in such detail as betrayed earnest interest. Elizabeth dared hardly hope that this unusual complacency would last. Oh Mama! Please do not cause any embarrassment now! A short sigh escaped her and Darcy immediately reacted placing his hand lightly on her arm.
"Is anything the matter, Mrs. Darcy?"
Warmed by the concern in his voice she turned to meet his eyes.
"No nothing and my sincere hope is for things to stay that way."
He looked puzzled and as an answer to his raised brow she indicated Mrs. Bennet with a brief glance. His eyes followed hers doing the same quick movement and the grip on her arm tightened comfortingly. Wishing to relieve her fears regarding his opinion of Mrs. Bennet he was about to express his gratitude to his mother-in-law but thought better of it and decided to seek a less public moment to do so.
His subtle support had lifted Mrs. Darcy's spirits all the same and she smiled warmly at her husband, gratified to know that though he might prefer manners of a more restrained nature, he no longer objected strongly to her family. This thought made her wonder where the rest of their families were. Elizabeth's eyes swept the room and she observed her father in animated exchange with Lord Matlock. Then she found Mary conversing with Mr. and Mrs. Collins and to one side of the room saw three heads bent over chocolate cups and cake. Noticing the faint blush on Georgiana's cheeks and the liveliness of the group's interaction she deduced that Kitty was entertaining the young ladies with some silliness. She directed Darcy's attention to the girls.
"Our sisters get along very well, would you not say?"
His face assumed a tender expression as he watched Georgiana.
"I can not tell you how it pleases me to see her at ease."
They finished their meal and though they were both sensible to the atmosphere of leave-taking, found it unkind to decline when they were most eagerly persuaded by Mrs. Bennet to have a piece of bride's cake! Darcy brought coffee and two small glasses of Bingley's old port and they started nibbling at the cake. He bent forward to speak in a subdued voice.
"Mrs. Darcy, would you wish to stay much longer here? I thought we might be wise to consider our departure within the hour ... if that is agreeable to you. "
If being in your company is agreeable to me! Elizabeth looked into his dark eyes and tried to not sound too eager as she searched rational excuses to make their impending departure even sooner.
"Oh yes, I concur since the days are so short in December and I confess I am not inclined to the abundance of food and noise here. I would rather be ... "
Elizabeth was about to say 'alone with my husband', but it had an improper ring to it that made her embarrassed. Hastily finishing the sentence with regard for propriety she offered falteringly.
"That is, that we were ... on our way to town."
Darcy sensed her hesitation and from the way her eyes avoided his gaze and the heightened colour on her cheeks he deduced that he was somehow the cause. His anticipation grew stronger at her words ... would rather be ...
"My dearest wife!' he mumbled and furtively seized her hand to press it.
Continued in Section 4.
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