Posted on Sunday, 12 November 2006
Darcy stood at the head of the aisle, staring at his feet. He was struggling not to fidget in his impatience to have this public aspect of their marriage over. He had longed for this day for what felt like forever; now it was here, and all he wished was for it to be over and done, and he and his bride on their way to London.
He raised his head and focused his eyes upon the altar, hands clasped tightly behind his back, shoulders rigid with tension. He hated being the centre of attention, and until Elizabeth arrived he knew that every eye would be upon him. Indeed, Elizabeth had teased him mercilessly over it only the day before and even his sister had been struggling to hide her amusement at his growing discomfort.
He was aware of his cousin, Fitzwilliam, standing to his right – he could see the colour of his regimentals out of the corner of his eye, but he refused to look at him – he was, after all, responsible for Darcy’s brandy-induced headache this morning.
Just then there was a lull in the excited chatter within Longbourn church, and a breathless hush swept towards him from the now open doorway. Darcy felt the skin on the back of his neck tingle, and, ever so slowly, he turned to look down the aisle towards the couple that had just crossed the threshold. In the dimness that shrouded the doorway, it was hard to make them out as they entered, but he sighed with relief at their approach. Soon this spectacle would be over and he and Elizabeth would start their new life together.
A shaft of autumn sunlight was shining down through the stained glass windows, casting a glare upon their faces, so that even as they came nearer he was unable to read the expression upon her lovely face. Focused as he was upon her, he failed to notice that the person at her side was not her father.
At last they were stood beside him… Darcy stared intently at his bride, unsure why she was averting her face. Then he heard a voice saying his name and turned in surprise to see that her escort was not Mr Bennet but Bingley.
“What is the meaning of this?” he hissed at the moronically grinning Bingley, and then turned to face his companion as she finally lifted her face to his. With a strangled cry, Darcy beheld not the face of his beloved Elizabeth, but that of Caroline Bingley, smiling beatifically up at him.
Darcy took a step backwards in shock, stumbled and felt himself falling… falling…
“Umph!” Darcy’s eyes flew open as his back hit the floor, knocking all the breath from his body. He lay still for a second, aware that he was suffering: his head was pounding, his heart was beating as if he had just taken his horse on a fast gallop across the fields, and if he did not draw breath soon, he was certain he would die.
With a gasp he took in some much needed air and closed his eyes again in relief. Despite the rude awakening from his tumble out of the bed, he was mightily relieved to have been rescued from such a nightmare.
He lay where he had fallen for several seconds, then upon a courteous enquiry of, “Sir, do you require any assistance?” opened one eye carefully and tried to focus on the face of his valet, Grafton. Grafton was a king of discretion; although it could hardly be said to be normal to find his master flat on his back on the floor first thing in the morning, with half the bed sheets tangled around his legs, he face was a mask. Only a keen observer would have seen the spark of something like humour in the back of his eyes.
Darcy said nothing, but decided it was time he opened both eyes and faced the day. Holding out a hand, his valet grasped it and hauled him to his rather unsteady feet. With a groan Darcy put a hand to the back of his head where it had come into contact with the bedroom floor and winced as he probed his skull with his fingers.
The sound of Grafton clearing his throat made him look up, and with a sigh he walked over to the chair where the valet was poised, shaving paraphernalia in hand, ready to prepare his master for this most important of days.
“Good day to you Darcy, old chap! And how are you this fine morning?” Darcy winced as his cousin, Fitzwilliam’s, voice boomed out a greeting the moment he set foot inside the breakfast room at Netherfield Hall.
Darcy threw him a disgruntled look and headed straight for the only seat at the table not bathed in full sunlight – shadow suited his mood and his tender head. Colonel Fitzwilliam was tucking into a plate loaded with breakfast food; Darcy threw it a jaundiced look and gratefully swallowed some very hot tea, relishing the feel of the scorching liquid racing down his throat.
“So, how is the groom? Did he sleep well?”
Darcy gave this question some serious thought; had he slept well? He was not sure, in all truth, if he could remember sleeping at all… neither could he remember retiring for the night. All that he could recall was the appalling dream that he had awoken from so abruptly.
“No – I believe I can say that he did not, Fitzwilliam. That he was unconscious he does not doubt, but sleep – the sort of full and proper rest one should indulge in on the night before something as symbolic as one’s own wedding – that eluded him.”
Fitzwilliam let out a short bark of laughter. “Well, Darce, that will teach you to over-indulge with the brandy bottle!”
Darcy glared at him, but realised it only increased the pain in his head. “Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but the damage was caused not by the bottle but its contents - I merely had control of my own glass, and I was not the one refilling it.”
The Colonel was prevented from responding to this challenge by a disturbance behind him; a footman swung the double doors open and Georgiana Darcy entered, followed almost immediately by Charles Bingley. Darcy frowned; where was Jane Bingley? His friend and his wife of almost one month were seldom found apart and Darcy realised how accustomed he had become to seeing them as a pair - Bingley by himself seemed without his proper balance. Then he remembered; Jane was at Longbourn assisting her sister in her preparations. The thought of Elizabeth calmed him somewhat and he turned to greet his sister. “Good morning, Georgiana.”
Darcy finally managed his first smile of the morning as Georgiana took the seat next to him and reached out to squeeze his hand.
“How are you, brother?” she studied his face intently for a moment, then bit her lip and Darcy was sure she was struggling to restrain a smile. “I am quite certain all will be well,” she added and patted his hand lightly before turning to face the table.
Darcy pondered when it was that she became the comforter and he the one in need… then shook his head to dispel the thought, a movement that he regretted immediately as the pounding returned with full force. He closed his eyes and swallowed, no longer aware whether last night’s alcohol or this morning’s fall were responsible for his sense of hazy displacement.
“Well, Darcy, here we are! The day has finally arrived! Today you will be wed!” Bingley clapped him on the shoulders as he passed by his chair and took the one on his other side.
Darcy opened one eye briefly and glared at his friend, tempted to ask him if he had any other blindingly obvious comments to make, but bit back on the retort. The fact was, it was his wedding day and much as he dreaded the spectacle and attention that would meet him at Longbourn church later that morning, there was nothing he wanted more in life than to take Elizabeth as his wife and never have to be parted from her again.
With that thought, he opened his eyes properly, cleared his throat and applied himself once more to his now cooling tea. Aware that his cousin and Georgiana were involved in a quiet discussion to his right, he observed Bingley thoughtfully for a moment, then asked,
“Was your abandonment intentional last night, Bingley?”
He watched Bingley pretend surprise at the accusation. “Darcy! I do not understand you. Far be it from me to intrude upon a late night… discussion between close family members!”
Darcy suppressed what could only be described as a snort at this response.
“Did I not specifically instruct you not to leave me alone with Fitzwilliam? He may well be standing up with me today but he derives more amusement from my suffering than my well being. I thought I could rely upon you, my friend.”
Bingley, as he had expected, showed no sign of remorse, merely shrugging his shoulders and tucking into the laden platter that had been placed before him. The smell of fried food and, more particularly, coddled eggs, was beginning to make Darcy’s stomach spin in tandem with his head.
He drained his cup and pushed back his chair, and all three occupants of the table turned to stare at him. With a wry grimace, Darcy supposed he had best get used to being stared at today – three pairs of eyes (one amused, one sympathetic, one smug) was nothing to what he was going face later.
“I have need of some air,” he muttered, and headed for the doors; however, before he reached them they were swung inwards by the ever-present footman and Mr and Mrs Hurst swept into the room, bickering under their breath at each other.
Darcy mumbled a greeting and making a hasty bow in their general direction turned to plough through the doorway into the mercifully shaded and cool hallway, only to be brought to a sudden halt as he came face to face with Caroline Bingley.
Having last seen the woman shortly before taking a tumble from his bed, he was unable to prevent a look of horror from passing quickly across his features, accompanied by a clearly perceptible start as he stopped in his tracks. Miss Bingley narrowed her eyes at him and observed him shrewdly, responding to his belated bow with a rather regal curtsey.
“Mr Darcy! You do seem out of sorts. Are you quite well?” she exclaimed, gazing into his eyes.
Darcy swallowed and concentrated hard on mastering the urge to run as far away as possible from her. He was about to make some prosaic response before turning to leave but was forestalled by Miss Bingley suddenly grasping his forearm and leaning towards him, a fiercely intent expression upon her face.
“It is not too late, Mr Darcy; if your spirits are disturbed perhaps a postponement would atone – indeed, no one would blame you at all. It is clear that you…” her voice faltered, no doubt because she could detect the outraged look upon Darcy’s face. With a supreme effort he shook off the distasteful remnants of his dream, along with the unwelcome grip upon his arm. Tempted as he was to make a telling retort to her shameful suggestion, he took a deep breath, gave Miss Bingley a formal bow and thanked her for her concern, merely remarking that he wished for some solitude. He knew without a doubt that had he mentioned his intention of walking outside, she would have insisted upon accompanying him and that was the last thing he desired – or indeed deserved.
Darcy stood outside the church, a relatively detached observer as the guests filed into the dimness beyond the porch. His walk (along with several more cups of tea and a restoring powder courtesy of Grafton) had cleared his head somewhat and, although he was aware of his underlying sense of agitation at having to endure the curious glances and at times blatant stares of the assembling guests and local populace, he could feel his own contentment simmering below the surface.
At long last the day was here that he had at one time feared he would never see. Although the past month had been fraught with its own moments of discord, nothing in recent weeks could surpass the torment of the preceding months, from his early fascination with Elizabeth here in Hertfordshire – and his efforts to subdue it - to the pain of her refusal in Kent and the pursuant despair when he had thought never to see her again.
Darcy shook aside these unpleasant memories and focused himself upon the gathering guests, bowing in acknowledgement now and then, nodding his head briefly where required. He observed Bingley, bounding around like a recalcitrant pup, eagerly greeting the arrivals; every now and again he would spring enthusiastically up to Darcy and release a verbal barrage of adjectives that indicated his pleasure in the day, before spotting someone else to pester.
Aware that he was once again approaching, Darcy amused himself comparing this confident, smiling vision with the rather green-faced, visibly shaking Bingley he had accompanied on his own wedding day at this same church, not a full month ago.
“Splendid turn out, Darcy, absolutely splendid!”
Darcy contemplated responding this time, but before he could summon a suitable reply Bingley had veered to his left to greet Mrs Bennet and her younger daughters who had just that moment alighted from their carriage. Aware that the arrival of this carriage from Longbourn meant the bride and her father were on their way, Darcy straightened up, touched his hand once more, gingerly, to the back of his head, which still retained some soreness from its collision with the bedroom floor, and turned to enter the church.
Darcy stood at the head of the aisle, staring at his feet. He was struggling not to fidget in his impatience to have this public aspect of their marriage over. He raised his head and focused his eyes upon the altar, hands clasped tightly behind his back, shoulders tense. He was aware of his cousin, Fitzwilliam, standing to his right – he could see the colour of his regimentals out of the corner of his eye, and was about to refuse to look at him when he was overwhelmed by a strong sense of déjà vu.
Feeling his skin go cold and a constriction in his chest, Darcy was revisited by his dream in full force. Trying to control his breathing, he forced himself to break free of the sense of oppression that had befallen him. Eyes closed, he tried to remember what he had been thinking, feeling in the dream. Fitzwilliam… that was it, he was refusing to even glance at his cousin because of his drink-inspired headache. His eyes flew open. Did his head ache? Darcy stood very still for a moment, unblinking; he tried to focus on how the inside of his head actually felt. There was definitely an ache there, but it bore no similarity to one inspired by an over-consumption of liquor. No, this was most definitely the remnants of the fall that generated the bump he now sported on the back of his head.
Sighing with some relief, Darcy vowed to break free of this ridiculous fear. Forcing himself to look to his right, he met Fitzwilliam’s smugly amused expression with a wry grimace before turning back to face the altar with relief.
Just then there was a lull in the excited chatter within the church, and a breathless hush swept towards him from the now open doorway, and Darcy turned slowly to look down the aisle towards the couple that had just crossed the threshold.
Darcy’s newly found confidence that all would be well was shaken slightly, as he realised that the dimness shrouding the doorway made it as hard to make out the couple standing there as it had in his dream; with a lurch of his stomach, as they moved forward a pace to arrange themselves he suddenly realised that the man standing next to the bride was, indeed, Bingley!
Darcy wanted to cry out, to protest that this could not be real; surely he was still in his bed… when he realised there was a ripple of laughter sweeping through the congregation as Bingley hurriedly stepped forward, bowing and smiling and calling, “I do beg your pardon,” and “Pray, do excuse me,” in a loud whisper as he made his way to the pew near the front where Jane Bingley sat, smiling indulgently at her husband’s last-minute arrival inside the church.
Blinking rapidly, Darcy returned his gaze to the other end of the aisle and let out a heart-felt sigh of relief. Mr Bennet had now taken his place at his daughter’s side, and despite the shaft of autumn sunlight shining down through the stained glass windows, he could clearly see the form of Elizabeth, and as she came closer he met her sparkling eyes with his own and felt a great peace descend upon him.
At last they were stood beside him… Darcy stared lovingly down at his bride, drinking in her lovely features, smiling softly at her, all thoughts of dreams, nightmares and other such tortures far from his mind.
With a gentle clearing of his throat from Mr Bennet, Darcy’s attention snapped back into place, and acknowledging Elizabeth’s bite of her lip in an attempt to stop a laugh from escaping, turned to face the vicar and his future.
As their open landau pulled away from the church, and the sound of the best wishes and congratulations from those gathered outside were fading, Darcy turned to face Elizabeth, taking her hand in his.
“You are very beautiful, Mrs Darcy,” he said, pressing a kiss upon her palm.
Her eyes widened as they met his. “And you are very calm now, Mr Darcy,” she replied, one brow raised slightly in enquiry.
“How could I not be?” he countered, “For at last I have everything I ever hoped for.”
Elizabeth sighed deeply, her contentment evident. She squeezed his hand tightly before placing a reciprocal kiss upon his fingers, then looked up at him, her feelings written all too plainly upon her face, as she whispered, “This is, to be sure, a dream come true.”
Darcy choked back a laugh. “Indeed, it most definitely is not!”
He smiled at his wife’s evident surprise at this comment, and leaning towards her, his purpose quite clear, said softly, “Trust me in this, Elizabeth… explanations can wait.”
And closing the final gap between them, Darcy took his wife in his arms and kissed her.