Chapter 42

Lizzy sat at the breakfast table, reading the morning news to her father. Her breakfast sat untouched before her. She struggled to keep her voice steady as she read, but the look on her father's face left no doubt, she was not fooling him.

"Mr. Darcy to see you, sir," Wallace announced

"Such an early riser." Mr. Bennet clucked his tongue. His lips turned up at the corner. "You do not know his purpose at such an early call, do you, dear? Send him back to us, Wallace."

Lizzy sipped her coffee, her hands trembling. "He is not prone to disguise, Papa. I am sure he will not keep his purpose from you."

"You do seem in a much better humor this morning. I imagine that late night walk of yours did you no end of good." He saluted her with his coffee cup.

"It was not a walk, Papa." She bowed her head, cheeks flaming. "It was a ride."

His jaw dropped. "Tell me you did not…the stallion?" His cup landed hard on the table.

She hid her face in her hands. "I am surprised you did not already know."

"I fell asleep before I heard the barn door open. I only awakened when you returned. That front door has a horrible squeak to it, you know." He sighed and rubbed his forehead. His face shaped into a severe expression. "Child, do you understand how dangerous that is? I swear if you were not already a grown woman, I would—"

"Do not fear, sir, I made certain that she was safe." Darcy's rich voice filled the room.

"Of course, now I see." He turned over his shoulder and beckoned Darcy in brusquely. "Another clandestine meeting with no chaperones, in the dead of the night." He dropped his hands loudly on the table. The fork left on his plate rattled. "What were you thinking? I assume better sense from you, Lizzy. I am most disappointed—in both of you."

"I am sorry, Papa/" She bit her lip and peeked up. Her eyes flickered between her father and Darcy. "I was not thinking much last night." She pushed back form the table and rose. She strode to stand beside Darcy. "I could no longer breathe in my room, and I had to go out. When we got to the field, Toppur found his running partner. The two of them ran themselves to exhaustion. We had to allow them to rest before we could return." She shrugged and bit her lip.

"When I took my stallion out, I had no expectation that she—"

"No, of course you did not." Bennet turned in his chair to face them. "No man in his right mind would expect to find a young woman out alone on a horse no one else can ride. Lizzy, whatever am I going to do with you?" He huffed and raked his hair. "I have only just reconciled myself to the knowledge that you will ride that beast, but this is taking my good graces too far. You cannot continue this way. You must attend to propriety and your reputation to some minimal degree. You leave me no choice. I must sell that blasted horse since you cannot control yourself."

"Perhaps, sir, it is time to turn her management over to someone else." Darcy's lips twitched.

"Excuse me!" Lizzy's eyes bulged, and she drew a deep breath. "What do you think you are—"

Bennet's lips twitched into a wry smile. He tipped his head. "Perhaps you are correct, sir." He turned toward Lizzy briefly. "She has become quite a handful for an old man like myself to manage."

"I would consider taking her off your hands, sir." Darcy crossed his arms.

"Take me off his hands! What are you talking about! How can you speak so?" Lizzy drew herself up very tall.

"She is a very unruly girl, you understand." Bennet rose and stepped toward them. His eye twitched in something like a wink at Darcy. "Are you really prepared to handle such a creature."

"I have a great deal of land on my estate. There would be plenty of space for her to run wild. A filly needs to have plenty of room to stretch her legs." Darcy ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek.

"That is entirely true. I believe it is possible my estate is not large enough to contain such a high strung, obstinate creature."

"Papa!" Lizzy glared at Darcy, then at her father. Her foot tapped a tattoo on the floorboards, not unlike Toppur's hooves.

Darcy chuckled and enveloped her hands in his. "Mr. Bennet, last night your daughter finally consented to be my wife at long last. Will you give us your blessings?"

She looking into his eyes and could not speak. When he looked at her that way, she could only swallow hard, her breath shallow and heart racing.

"It is about time. I am relieved to give you my blessings. You have had them for months, after all. After your escapade of last night, I was quite certain I was just going to have to force you to marry." He chuckled happily. "I dare say you have agreed to this, Lizzy, of your own free will?"

"Yes, Papa, I have, most happily." She smiled brilliantly at Darcy.

Darcy dropped her hands. He circled her waist with his hands and bent to kiss her. She tilted her head up and closed her eyes, lost in the feeling of his warm lips. Time slowed, marked only by the pressure of his fingertips and lips.

Mr. Bennet cleared his throat. "I might remind you that I am in the room with you and I do not need to see to know what you are doing. Besides, you are not yet married."

"You are already requiring us to marry, so what further danger have I to be concerned with?" Darcy winked.

Lizzy leaned forward to kiss her father's cheek.

Mr. Bennet scowled, his forehead wrinkling. "When are you planning your nuptials? It seems unwise for you to wait too long."

"I was thinking about tomorrow," Darcy replied.

"Very funny," Mr. Bennet folded his lips into a frown. "I am entirely serious." He reached for his chair. It took him a moment to find it and sit again. He raked his hair again. "Neither of you appears to have the decorum or restraint to wait for this wedding. I insist we not leave this room without a date set."

"I was being entirely serious." Darcy sat down and pulled Lizzy into his lap. "There is a wedding planned tomorrow. I do not see why we cannot—"

Bennet squeezed his temples. "Would you please take this matter seriously? I understand your levity, but enough is enough. You rich young men are accustomed to getting your way, but there are certain things that take time. To start with, the banns must be read."

"I acquired a special license before I came here. We do not need to wait on having banns read." Darcy reached into his coat and produced a stack of papers.

"There is a settlement that must be prepared and approved."

"I have already done that as well. I met with my solicitor before leaving for the continent, and he had it ready for me on my return."

Lizzy rolled her eyes and shook her head. Darcy shrugged.

"Before you had her agreement?" Bennet dragged his hand down his face.

"I was certain I would win her approval."

"You are a very bold man, Mr. Darcy."

"A lesser man would not have won her hand."

"Nor have her sitting on his lap right in front of her father." Bennet drummed his fingers on the table and scowled.

Lizzy's cheeks burned, but she made no move to remove herself from her perch.

"Stallions are not known for subtlety." Darcy's brow quirked as he looked down at Lizzy.

She giggled into his chest.

Mr. Bennet grumbled. "Assuming I approve your settlement, which I have not yet and do not promise I will, there is still a matter of a dress, which, though I know little of such matters, I am certain one cannot be crafted so swiftly."

"Miss Darcy had a dress made for me by her modiste in honor of her wedding. Jane declared it to be far too fine for me to merely stand up with her. I should be pleased to be married in that." Lizzy said softly. She slipped off Darcy's lap, stood beside her father, and laid her hand on his shoulder.

"If I were a suspicious man, I would think that you both had this fully planned out while you were in London. But since you had no impediment from me, there was no reason for such subterfuge." He smiled a little weakly and placed his hand over hers. "Seriously, my dear, do you really wish to have such a hurried affair? You deserve to have the very best I can give you. I fear this may be so much less than you deserve."

"Jane and I had talked about a double wedding before I left for Kent." Lizzy sandwiched his hand with hers.

"I am afraid of what else will happen if we wait a moment longer than necessary. " Darcy chuckled, leaning toward them. Worried lines appeared beside his eyes.

Mr. Bennet swallowed hard. "I have been preparing myself to lose you, Lizzy, but I am not sure I am prepared to do so tomorrow."

Lizzy looked sadly at Darcy and drew a breath to speak.

"But I will not allow you to postpone on my account. I cannot be that selfish with you. It has taken you far too long to come to this resolution, and I will not stand in your way. Read me the settlement papers and if I agree, then you may find Jane and see how she reacts to all this."

Darcy handed her the papers. "I want you to see this as well, Elizabeth. I think you should read this to him."

"And sit in your chair this time as well, dear, I find your other sitting arrangement a bit too distracting for my liking. I have allowed you far too much latitude, even if you are to be married tomorrow. I expect you to conduct yourselves properly, now."

"Yes, Papa." She sat down as primly as she could and unfolded the papers.

Even a man of Mr. Bennet's humor could find nothing to joke about in the generous settlement Mr. Darcy offered his daughter. The papers were signed, and Jane, summoned.

A light snow fell during the night and continued to drift down daintily after sunrise. The fluffy white powder dusted the landscape with just enough glitter to leave Jane and Elizabeth gasping at the beauty.

Their friends gasped too when they saw not one bride, but two, emerge from the carriage. Mrs. Philips and Lady Lucas immediately confronted Mr. Bennet.

"I thought Lizzy was to stand up with her sister!" Mrs. Philips said, leaning very close to Mr. Bennet.

"But she looks as much the bride as her sister. How could you allow her to do such a thing to Jane! This is so unlike her. Lizzy is such a considerate girl. All that time in London has done her no favors at all. You should have stopped her." Lady Lucas's foot tapped the stone floor in an anxious rhythm. "People will gossip so over this, and it will not appear well for Lizzy at all."

"She looks the part of a bride because she is one, ladies. We are to have a double wedding this morning." Mr. Bennet struggled to suppress his smile.

"A double wedding? How on earth is that possible? Who is marrying her, and more importantly, why?" Mrs. Phillips shared a worried look with Lady Lucas. "What has she done?"

"She has caused a very worthy man to fall in love with her." Mr. Bennet snorted, his eyes narrowing.

"Who on earth—" Mrs. Phillips began.

"I do not like your tone, madam," he snapped.

"Please forgive us, sir, but this has taken us quite by surprise. You must allow that it is highly irregular. Pray tell, who is the groom?" Lady Lucas said in her most soothing tones.

"I suppose you will know soon enough." He huffed and turned his face away. "She is to marry Mr. Darcy."

"You must be joking! Mr. Darcy to marry our Lizzy? How can that be?" Mrs. Phillips looked incredulously at Mr. Bennet.

"Because he has exceptional taste, madam." Mr. Bennet frowned. He heard the sounds of a carriage approaching and passengers disembarking.

"Mr. Bennet!" Bingley called and hurried toward them.

"Very good! Have you Darcy with you?" Mr. Bennet turned toward Bingely's voice.

"Indeed I am, sir." Darcy said, suddenly at Mr Bennet's elbow.

"I wish to have a word with you both." Mr. Bennet grasped Darcy's arm.

Darcy led them to a still corner of the church.

"I hardly have to tell either of you gentlemen that you are marrying the finest girls in all of England." Bennet straightened his coat.

"No, indeed you do not." Bingley smiled broadly.

"I would not agree to surrender them to men any less deserving than yourselves."

Darcy tugged at his neck cloth.

"I am proud to call you my sons, and I shall expect you to always be worthy of that title. Since God did not give me sons of my own to raise, I shall be thankful for the fine men that did the job of raising you."

"Thank you, sir." Bingley squirmed.

"I cannot take their places, but I would be pleased to be called 'father' by you, none the less." He clapped their shoulders. "Now that is as sentimental as a man my age can possibly be expected to ever be." He chuckled.

Bingley and Darcy laughed.

"You know you are always welcome at Pemberley—"

"And Netherfield, as well." Bingley nodded enthusiastically.

"I count on it, and I am sure I will you will live to regret your generosity." His scarred eye twitched in a wink-like expression. "Now, Darcy, take me to the vicar. I imagine he is getting impatient to start."

Darcy nodded to Bingley and then guided Mr. Bennet to the vicar. Darcy took his place at the front of the church, and Bingley joined him.

A few moments later Mr. Bennet walked both Lizzy and Jane to the front of the church. Darcy and Bingley stepped forward, and he placed Jane's hand in Bingley's and Lizzy's in Darcy's.

Jane and Elizabeth's eyes were bright as they stood beside their grooms and listened to the vicar's voice:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman and this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church;

it is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

Wilt thou have this Woman tobe? thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

Together Bingley and Darcy replied, "I will."

The vicar turned to the sisters.

Wilt thou have this Man to be? thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

Jane swallowed hard and whispered, "I will." Tears trickled down her cheek. Unable to stop himself, Bingley caught them on his finger.

Elizabeth drew a steady breath and began to speak but was halted by the intensity of Darcy's gaze. She lost herself in his attention for a long moment. Finally he winked at her, and she remembered her words. "I will."

The next few moments were a blur until she felt him slip a ring on her finger.

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, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Darcy guided her to kneel with him before the vicar.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this Man and this Woman, whom we bless in thy Name; and maythey? ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ,? our Lord. Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Forasmuch as they have consented together in holy Wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Mr. Bennet slipped his hand in his pocket and fingered the mobcap he had tucked there, whispering, "Fanny, my dear, God has been very good to us."