Unequal Affections Vignette—The Wedding Day
After knocking, Colonel Fitzwilliam entered the room where Darcy stood before a mirror in his shirtsleeves, meticulously perfecting the folds of his cravat. “Well, old man?” he said. “Are you nervous?”
Darcy shook his head, smiling slightly.
The colonel laughed. “You always were the coldest fish in the sea.”
Their eyes met in the mirror. “Cold is not how I feel,” said Darcy simply.
Just then Mr. Bingley appeared, all eager excitement. “The carriage will be round in half an hour, Darcy! You’ve just time to drink a cup of coffee and eat something if you wish.”
“I would not count on eating a great deal during the wedding breakfast,” advised the other man.
Darcy nodded. “I will eat.” His valet approached and helped him into his coat. He smoothed the lapels, tugged on the sleeves and bottom edge, then walked over to the writing desk. Although nearly all his things were packed up and ready to be sent ahead as soon as he left for the church, he had a box sitting out which contained his correspondence, important papers and a few valuables. Reaching inside, he produced a small leather jeweller’s box.
“Is that the ring?” asked Bingley.
He nodded again, opening it to study its contents for a moment. Fitzwilliam walked over to stand at his shoulder. “That was Lady Anne’s ring, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” It comprised a rare yellow diamond, surrounded by small white diamonds on a golden band.
“Has she seen it yet?”
“No.” A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “She never even asked me what sort of ring I intended to give her. I do not believe she cares.”
“Well, she will not be disappointed with that.”
Darcy did not reply, but he had a singularly satisfied look in his eyes as he removed the ring and slipped it into an inner pocket.
They proceeded downstairs, where Darcy ate his breakfast with remarkable composure while his cousin and friend continued to watch him closely, as if expecting him to give way to nerves at any moment. When word came that the carriage was waiting he wiped his mouth, stood, checked his appearance in a nearby mirror one last time, and strode purposely across the floor, out the door and down the steps, his companions trailing behind.
“What do you think, Georgiana?” asked Elizabeth of her newest sister, who had been permitted, along with Jane, to watch her dress. Georgiana blushed at having her opinion sought, but offered it timidly.
“I think the flowers would be prettiest if you placed them here.” She moved the spray in question to a slightly different location.
Elizabeth studied her reflection. “Yes, I think you are right.”
“It does not matter what you do, Lizzy,” said Jane. “You are beautiful regardless.”
She looked at herself, eyes full of wonder and happiness and a new bashfulness. “Do you think he will feel so?”
“Of course he will!” exclaimed both ladies at once.
The door opened to admit Mrs. Bennet, looking resplendent in her own garb. “Well, Lizzy, let me look at you,” she said, and commenced an inspection, tweaking and tugging and making little sounds of approval or disapproval as she did. Elizabeth looked with laughing eyes at the others.
“I suppose you will do,” was the verdict eventually. “You will never be Jane but you are far prettier than any other girl in Hertfordshire, and I’m sure Mr. Darcy knows it.”
“Yes, Mama, I am sure he does,” she answered, suppressing a laugh. “Even if I cannot be Jane.”
Mrs. Bennet nodded her agreement before bustling off to check on her younger daughters. The three women left behind looked and each other and burst out laughing. “Dear Mama!” said Elizabeth. “I believe I may actually miss her.”
“Of course you will miss her,” said Jane. “Just as we will all miss you.”
“Ah, but we will be returning soon enough,” she twinkled back. “When a certain other expected event takes place.”
Jane smiled happily at this reference to her wedding.
In a few more minutes Jane and Georgiana went to put the finishing touches on their own toilettes, leaving Elizabeth alone for a few minutes. She cast a lingering glance around her chamber, knowing that when she came back there, it would not be as the maiden who had slept in that bed and dreamt girlish dreams for so many years. She would be a married woman, and if she ever slept here again, her husband would be with her. Smiling a whimsical smile, running a last, caressing hand over her old dresser, she left the room—and her girlhood—behind forever.
When Elizabeth came walking softly down the stairs in her bridal array, she found everyone but Lydia, Kitty and Mrs. Bennet gathered there. Her father looked at her with suspiciously misty eyes and pressed her hand.
Mr. Darcy had sent an extra carriage from Netherfield, but even so the first carriage was slightly cramped as Lydia, Kitty and Mary squeezed into one seat while Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Annesley occupied the other one. In the second carriage, Mr. Bennet, Georgiana and Jane rode with Lizzy.
The gentlemen were all waiting outside the church when they arrived, making conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Bennet’s coach disembarked first, and everyone made their greetings politely. It was on the other carriage that all eyes focused. Mr. Bennet climbed out first, and turned to assist Miss Darcy, who went immediately to her brother’s side. He took her hand and squeezed it, his eyes still fixed on the carriage door. Next, Miss Jane Bennet was helped down by her betrothed, and finally, leaning on her father’s hand, his Elizabeth, all in white, with a veil draped over her bonnet. Their eyes met across the distance and held.
Colonel Fitzwilliam tugged at his arm. “Come, Darcy we must go inside,” he whispered. “You should not be out here at all.”
Darcy shook him off. “I am hardly superstitious.” He crossed the small distance to her.
Elizabeth smiled shyly, endearingly at him, and offered him one gloved hand. The other held a small bouquet of flowers and fragrant herbs. He raised it to his lips, caressing it lightly. “My love.”
Elizabeth’s mouth deepened at the corners. “My love.”
Darcy’s throat constricted and he looked way momentarily. It had not been enough days since she first spoke that title for him to have yet grown accustomed to it.
Mr. Bennet’s presence distracted them. “Shall we go inside?”
There were not enough people to be worth filling the pews. The entire community had been invited to the celebratory breakfast afterward, but here in the church it was only family and the dearest of friends. The Phillipses sat with Mrs. Annesley, but the others just filled up the front of the sanctuary, Elizabeth’s sisters grouped behind her, Darcy’s sister and cousin together on his side, while the maid of honour and best man took the nearest positions. Mr. Bennet gave his most beloved daughter away to the man who had fairly earned her love, and even Lydia remained quiet and respectful during the short, solemn ceremony. Elizabeth hardly even blinked when he slipped the sparkling ring on her finger; there was no ring at all that mattered compared to the man standing opposite her.
When they came out they found that some local children had gathered outside, and there, too, was Sir William, with John and Maria and all the younger Lucases and even Charlotte with them, all laughing as they threw flowers and rice over the married couple.
Elizabeth had asked if they could walk home from the church, walk home as she had walked home nearly every Sunday for so much of her life. Mrs. Bennet had thought the request terribly eccentric, but Mr. Darcy had smiled as he granted it; he was not sorry for the extra minutes alone with his bride. While the others went on by carriage they strolled quietly through the sunshine, saying very little but walking very close, and when some sheltering trees provided sanctuary, who could blame them if they tarried a while, whispering and kissing, utterly happy with the world and themselves in it? It was a rosy cheeked Elizabeth and a bright-eyed Darcy who finally arrived at their wedding breakfast.
It was a loud, jolly, bustling party. Elizabeth talked with one person after another, sparkling more brightly than her wedding ring, while Darcy watched her. When Colonel Fitzwilliam, at long last extracting himself from Lydia’s clutches, appeared beside him, he spared him only a flickering glance and slight smile.
“It is good to see you so happy,” said the colonel quietly.
“It is good to be so happy.”
“I never imagined it, when we first arrived at Rosings in March.”
Darcy just shook his head.
“She will be a lot more fun at Christmas than that lady Edward married.”
Darcy gave a short bark of laughter. “Where is Georgiana?”
“Bingley and Miss Bennet have her safe. Even her shyness cannot combat their combined good will and amiability.”
He nodded. “You’ll take care of her?”
“Of course I will. Go and enjoy your wife.”
“My wife,” he murmured, and set off across the room. The crowds seemed to part almost miraculously before his tall figure; in only a few moments he had arrived at her side.
Elizabeth, flushed from heat and exertion and happiness, took his arm and smiled brilliantly at him. “You want to go.”
“I don’t wish to rush you.”
She shook her head. “I think I have talked to every person I ever knew now. The only person I have not spoken enough to is you.”
He led her towards her eldest sister. “We are ready to leave, Jane,” said Lizzy.
“Of course you are. I will go and tell my parents.” She slipped away.
“Is there anything else you need?” Darcy asked.
“I don’t think so.” She gripped his arm more firmly. “I have everything right here.”
The family goodbyes were meant to be private, but word spread quickly that the bride and groom were leaving, and by the time the carriage came around the house had disgorged its every soul onto the front porch and steps, servants included. Mr. Bennet gripped Darcy’s hand. “I could not have parted with her for anyone less worthy.”
Darcy returned his gaze without any of the old arrogance. “Thank you.”
Then it was up into the shiny new carriage, a lurch and they were moving, Longbourn’s treed drive, the shops of Meryton and the hills of Hertfordshire, all slipping, slipping past. She felt her husband’s hand pressing against hers, and his finger brushing down the side of her cheek. “You will come back again.”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.” Her eyes moved from the window to his dear face. “I love it all, but I love you more.” His arm went around her and with a deep sigh, she settled back against him. “Take me home, Fitzwilliam.”
Burying his face against her neck he whispered, “As you wish, Mrs. Darcy.”