Three days later, the sun rose, bright and clear, over a morning on which everything would change. In just a few hours, she would leave the name of Bennet behind forever—her sons would not even bear the name—and she would cleave to her husband. Somehow, in the midst of all the turmoil and trial, despite Mr. Darcy's statements otherwise, it never seemed all would come together for this day to actually arrive.
But it had and it did and now she stood on the precipice between past and future, all she wanted to leave behind and all she anticipated going forward. Though the past was—well ghastly in so many ways—it led her to this place and for that, she would be grateful.
The maid came in to do her hair. She was a sweet, gentle girl, eager to please, niece to the housekeeper. Though she dressed hair well, her greatest strength was her ability to talk or not, as suited her mistress. Today, she simply hummed a sweet tune under her breath as she pinned and tucked and curled. She had previously mentioned her love of the country, so perhaps she might come to Pemberley when they left town. It would be nice to have a familiar face there.
"Are you pleased?" The maid stepped back and tilted her head to and fro.
"Yes, I hardly recognize myself with all you have done." Elizabeth patted her curls. "I do not know how you manage to make this look so easily managed."
"Thank you, madam." The maid smiled though she clearly tried to maintain a more proper decorum. "Would you care for some chocolate and a bite to eat before you dress?"
"Yes, that is an excellent idea." More because it offered her a few more moments alone than because she desired anything to eat.
The maid curtsied and disappeared.
At least Elizabeth's reflection looked composed and confident. That was something for which to be grateful. The Earl of Matlock did not need to see how nervous she was.
The door peeked open and the maid slipped in, followed by Georgiana.
"I hope you do not mind. I just had to see you for a moment." Georgiana bit her lip and shrugged.
"You are always welcome. Have some chocolate with me."
The maid pulled a small chair close to Elizabeth's dressing table and Georgiana sat down.
"You look very beautiful this morning."
"Thank you. Would you like Letty to do your hair this morning? She is quite finished with mine."
"Oh no, I could not—"
"Letty, attend Miss Darcy when we have finished our chocolate."
The maid curtsied. "Shall I return to help you dress?"
"No, I expect my aunt will be here to do that soon. Help Miss Darcy with that as well."
"Yes, madam." With a final curtsey, Letty ducked out.
"Are you nervous having so many people in the house today, Georgiana?" Elizabeth sipped her chocolate.
Georgiana looked at her feet. "A little. Uncle and Aunt Matlock always make me a little uneasy. But I know most everyone so well that makes it easier."
Elizabeth squeezed her hand. "Good. I would not have you uncomfortable on my account."
"I am very glad you will be my sister, you know." Georgiana set her cup aside. She pressed her hands together and held them to her mouth, rocking slightly. "I never thanked you for telling me about Mr. Wickham."
"And I never told you how proud I was of you for confronting him as you did."
"Your brother told me. He is proud of you, too."
"But I was such a fool!"
"No, a fool does not learn from her mistakes."
Georgiana blinked, a hopeful glimmer in her eyes. "Will your youngest sister be here today?"
"No. Though my aunt believes she is becoming more aware of her folly, neither of us trusts her not to engage in another outburst. Today is not the day for it."
"I like your aunt very well. And she is a very clever seamstress. Your dress is so beautiful."
"I know it is not the kind of finery that would be expected—"
"Does that bother you?"
Elizabeth rose and walked to the armoire where her dress hung. She ran her fingers down the exquisite lace Aunt Gardiner had given her. "No, it is exactly what I would have chosen for myself. But I do not wish to be an embarrassment—"
Georgiana rushed to her side. "You could never be an embarrassment to us. That is the purview of Uncle Matlock's family. Richard's sisters and brothers…" she shuddered.
"Still, I am glad to be wed here, in the house, away from prying eyes and those would seek to find fault."
"I hope I will be able to do the same someday."
"I am sure you will." She kissed Georgiana's cheek. "Go enjoy Letty's attentions and tell her of how wonderful Pemberley is while you do. I am hoping to bring her with us when we go."
"Oh! I think that a splendid idea! She does not like town at all."
The door clicked closed.
It truly was a blessing not to have to travel to the church. No one unwelcome would disturb them today. That was the greatest gift Fitzwilliam might have given her.
Someone scratched at the door.
"Come in, Jane."
She was already dressed, in her favorite pale blue gown, hair arranged with flowers. Jane was so beautiful, anyone would pale in comparison.
No, Fitzwilliam would scold her for comparing herself to Jane. It was his opinion that mattered to her and he had called Jane pretty but not handsome enough to tempt him. Granted, it was difficult to believe, but the look in his eyes when he held her was difficult to deny.
"Your hair is already done." Jane bit her upper lip and looked away.
"I am sorry… I did not think…"
"You are upset with me."
"No, I am not. I understand, truly I do. Not so long ago I would have been unwilling to risk Mama's and Papa's ire."
Jane sank down on the bed. "You must think me very weak."
"No. Not at all. I fear I am too hard." Elizabeth stepped closer. "And I think you do as well."
"I do not know what I think right now. I do not know what I should think."
The door swung open and Aunt Gardiner swept in. "You should think of how you might serve your sister's happiness this day."
"Truly, Jane, it is her wedding day and you should not judge what means by which she chooses to be happy. She is completely right to exclude those who have caused her so much pain. Today is for Elizabeth, for this one morning, leave your feelings aside."
Elizabeth gulped. Aunt Gardiner was never so harsh, especially not with Jane. Her eyes burned. "It is all right—"
Aunt turned to her, hands firmly on her hips. "No, my dear girl, it is not. You are too accustomed to sacrificing your happiness to the convenience of others. And today of all days I will not have it."
Jane rose and sniffled. "She is right, Lizzy. I am being selfish, please forgive me."
"Of course." She took Jane's hand. "Think no more of it." Of course she would. Jane would have a very long struggle with all of this, but Aunt was right, it was not for today.
"Let us get you dressed, Lizzy, it is nearly time." Aunt took her dress from the armoire.
It took only a few minutes to finish her transformation from just plain Elizabeth to bride. A glance in the looking glass took her breath away. She really was about to marry Mr. Darcy.
Jane kissed her cheek and hurried downstairs to make sure everything was ready.
Aunt Gardiner stood just behind her and her reflection regarded Elizabeth. "Was I too harsh with Jane?"
"No, I am just not accustomed to any finding fault with her."
"Neither is she, I think. It will be difficult for her as she begins to move in society. There are always those who will criticize. I think you will find it much easier to weather those storms than she. I will help her as I can. They will mix much more in my own circles than in yours."
"I am sure she will be glad of it."
"Think no more on that, tell me about you. Are you anxious? Is there anything I can do for you?"
As if she had not done enough already. "Only promise me you will come to us at Pemberley this summer."
"You could hardly keep us away. Come, it is time. Your uncle is waiting."
He met them at the top of the stairs.
"I will see if they are ready for you." Aunt hurried away.
Uncle placed her hand in his arm. "You are certain about this Lizzy?"
"I had to ask, you know. I think very well of Darcy, as you are well aware, But, my dear, should anything go amiss, know that you will always have a home with us. I would not have signed the settlement if I did not feel sure of him, but—"
"I would not have agreed had I not been certain of him. But I will remember. I promise." She rose on tip toes and kissed his cheek.
Aunt reappeared. "All is ready."
Uncle escorted her down to the drawing room.
Familiar faces dotted the room: the Gardiner children, Georgiana, Col. Fitzwilliam, Jane and Mr. Bingley. A finely dressed couple who favored the colonel and Lady Catherine sat front and center—that must be the earl and his wife. Behind them a wane, gaunt skeleton upon whom an expensive suit hung. The viscount. Two couples beside him must be his siblings and their spouses.
The vicar stood at the front of the room, Darcy beside him.
His jaw dropped and he caressed her with his gaze. Had even the Bard spoken so eloquently with all his words? Could he have even expressed half what had been conveyed across the room for all to see? Heat rose in her cheeks.
Jane saw it too. She blushed and turned aside ever so slightly. Poor dear, intensity of any sort made her uncomfortable. She would never know the soul nurturing power of it.
Uncle tucked her hand in Darcy's arm. His finger's covered hers, radiating a heat equaled by the longing in his eyes. This man was her completion, her strength and her refuge.
"I will," she whispered and he slipped the ring on her finger.
The vicar presented them, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.
Darcy claimed her arm again and escorted her out. Mrs. Gardiner would assist Georgiana in her role as hostess for the next few minutes. Strict propriety demanded they should stay, but he could not tolerate even another moment more in company.
He could not speak on the infinite walk to his study, the one place no one would dare intrude. Surely she understood, if he had less to stay, he might be able to speak, but he did not dare now.
The door shut behind them and she was in his arms, warm and soft. It was not a dream, she was there with him and the unfamiliar weight of the ring on his finger promised this was not for only a moment, but a life time.
There was something he wanted to say, needed to say, but her fragrance overwhelmed him, driving every word from his mind and leaving him only able to press his lips to hers in a desperate attempt to speak what he could not utter.
She understood, as she always did, and melted into him assuring him all was right in the world.
"So Mr. Darcy, what say you of married life?" She snuggled a little closer.
"Entirely too full of other people." He kissed her again, until they had to part to breathe.
"Which is why Georgiana is going to stay with the Matlocks and Jane the Gardiners for the next several days."
"They are? I knew nothing—"
"Of course not! What surprise would there be if you knew?"
"I made the arrangements."
"You know me so well, Mrs. Darcy."
"Not nearly well enough, Mr. Darcy."