A wedding is the romantic scene of choice for C. P. Odom. It is from his book, Pride, Prejudice, & Secrets, and it is a beautiful choice!
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
— Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian
Saturday, May 2, 1812: Longbourn, Hertfordshire
Thomas Bennet told himself he would not shed a single tear as he stepped inside the Longbourn chapel with his favourite daughter on his arm. He had delegated the shedding of tears to his wife, who was equipped with three handkerchiefs as well as her salts, for she had declared herself near to swooning before leaving Longbourn. But even if he kept his eyes dry, the thought of today being the last day Elizabeth would call Longbourn home was painful.
The memory of Darcy’s invitation to visit “any time you please” and stay “as long as you like” was dear to him, and he tried to vow he would not abuse the privilege and only visit occasionally with tolerable intervals between visits. He was much afraid, however, that he was engaged in pretence since he was not sure he could stay away. He already knew he was going to miss his Lizzy dreadfully.
And despite my apprehension, she is dressed most elegantly for the occasion, he thought as they walked toward the small gathering of family, a few friends, and several curious neighbours. Though both Lizzy and I tried to restrain my wife’s fixation on wedding clothes, at least Mrs. Bennet ensured that the best dresses were prepared first, so Lizzy could wear one today.
The dress in question was of fine white muslin, a colour he still found uncommon, though both his wife and sister Gardiner assured all that white was becoming increasingly fashionable for weddings. Over Elizabeth’s shoulders was a fine, silk shawl with delicately embroidered roses, a gift from Lady Matlock, and fresh flowers decorated her hair and her new bonnet. Her gown had long sleeves, and though all the other ladies wore gloves, she did not, for Darcy would be slipping a ring on her finger at the culmination of the ceremony.
When Mr. Bennet married, his bride was dressed much more practically in a gown of dark brown and a simple, everyday bonnet. But times change, he lamented. I suppose allowances have to be made for both Darcy’s fortune and the honour of having a peer of the realm, his lady, and two of his sons in attendance. That singular happening is likely the reason for the half-dozen curious observers!
Those eminent personages stood with the group around Reverend Thompson. Darcy’s friend Bingley and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam stood beside the groom while Charlotte and Georgiana waited to attend Lizzy, both wearing smiles of complete happiness.
Mr. Bennet was less happy when he saw his two youngest daughters behind his wife. Their complaints had been vocal and open when informed they would not stand up with their sister, but, having witnessed the salutary effect of exerting himself to quell his wife’s complaints, he was equally pleased when that approach produced equivalent results with these two silly girls.
I should have been that forceful earlier and more often, he thought regretfully, but I might as well be honest and admit I am afflicted with an incurable case of laziness of the will.
He had no more time for introspection, for he and Elizabeth had reached the waiting group, and he stopped with his daughter on Darcy’s left so both bride and groom faced Reverend Thompson. That worthy personage, beaming broadly, glanced about and lifted his prayer book, reading the sacred words inscribed in the hearts of most of those present:
“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 in Holy matrimony, which is an honourable estate instituted of God…”
Elizabeth Bennet let the familiar, yet somehow completely new and never-before-comprehended words flow around her and enter her very soul, knowing this moment could never be repeated as long as she lived. She would never again be an innocent about to enter the state of wedlock for the first time.
She was especially grateful that she was going to that state fully willing and not just because she could not bring herself to cry off an unwanted engagement. She had much for which to be grateful, and she looked up admiringly at the tall man beside her who had been the pivotal figure in every part of her transition.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was also in an uplifted state but for not quite the same reasons. He had never doubted this moment would come once he resolved the doubts in his mind, but his gratitude was more basic. Remembering her illness and especially the day he returned to Kent to retrieve her, his heartfelt thankfulness was for Elizabeth’s life. He hoped never again to feel the terror inspired by his aunt’s misguided attempt to eject his betrothed from her parsonage.
However, he firmly put such thoughts aside as the reverend put Elizabeth’s hand in his and led him in saying, “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, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
Darcy looked down at Elizabeth as he responded, “I will,” and she returned his smile of happiness in full measure before it was her turn. She listened to the reverend’s charge to obey, serve, love, honour, and keep her new husband for all of her days and answered quietly but joyfully in her light soprano, “I will.”
It never occurred to Darcy to look for reservations in her words, and in the event, he saw none, for Elizabeth was completely comfortable with her choices. She was nothing if not determined when she made up her mind, and it required clear evidence that her decision was wrong before she would even contemplate reconsidering a decision made—something on the order of learning that Mr. Wickham blatantly and maliciously lied to her. Whether it was a fault or a virtue, she neither knew nor cared. In fact, she would not even think on the topic for an instant. It was simply the way she was, and she was perfectly happy with Fitzwilliam Darcy, faults and strengths, as the ceremony continued.
Darcy responded in his turn and she followed, until finally Richard laid the ring in the prayer book and the reverend handed it to Darcy, who said, “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.”
With these words, Darcy slid the ring on Elizabeth’s fourth finger, and it seemed to him that his heart swelled until he could scarcely breathe. Indeed, his reaction was so marked that Elizabeth leaned close and whispered, “Breathe, my love, breathe!”
Her words broke the spell that gripped him, and he managed a rasping breath and a shaky smile before he knelt beside Elizabeth and the reverend began the prayer, finally leading to the words that both of them felt reverberate through them: “For as much as Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam have consented together in Holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God…”
The rest of the ceremony passed, not quite in a dream but without anything more than automatic responses from Elizabeth and Darcy, for their eyes scarcely left each other’s.
Elizabeth did not feel the forceful near-seizure that overtook her husband before he slid the ring on her finger, yet she was conscious that she was a new and different person from that moment forward. She was wife to this most complex man, he was her husband, and she could feel him inside her. She knew she could; it was not an illusion. She fancied she could even feel his heart beating, and he hers. Each was part of the other in a way she never anticipated, and she wondered whether she could explain it to another woman. Not Charlotte, she regretfully knew, even though she loved her dearly, nor her mother. But possibly Jane, for she suspected her sister felt much the same when Captain Fitzwilliam slid his ring on her finger.
She cast a surreptitious look at her ring and marvelled at the way it fit her finger perfectly. How did that come about? she wondered. I know there was never a fitting, so how did he know? And it is a ring as appropriate to his fortune as his house, elegant without being ornate. Simple, heavy, high-quality gold. And it is not new; could it possibly be his mother’s? This ring suits me perfectly. Did he know that? Or is it coincidence? If coincidence, a happy one, for which I am grateful.
Eventually, the ceremony was complete, and she and Darcy took Holy Communion together. Then, all ceremonials complete, friends and family crowded about, offering noisy congratulations and embraces. Mrs. Bennet fulfilled her duty to her husband by shedding tears enough for both of them, and she was even forced to resort to her salts when she felt herself near to swooning for happiness at having a second daughter even more advantageously married than her sister. Her Aunt Phillips was effusive in her congratulations, trying her best not to be vulgar and, as usual, coming up short of the mark. Her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner offered their congratulations in their usual pleasing manner, confirming their intention to stop by Pemberley during their summer trip to the Lakes. Lady Matlock embraced her with all the grace and civility she would have expected from such a grand lady while Bingley, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Lord Matlock congratulated Darcy enthusiastically.
It is all, Elizabeth thought in amusement, so dreadfully normal, both the good and the bad.
But further contemplation had to wait, since people were moving out of the chapel, and suddenly Darcy was at her side, offering his arm, and Reverend Thompson waited by the registry, the last task before they could leave. Darcy signed first, then handed her the pen, and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy signed “Elizabeth Bennet,” a name that actually was no longer hers.
Already, seeing her name on paper, it seemed unreal, as belonging to a time in the distant past. The present was the handsome face with the dark eyes and broad smile, which at one time, she would have flatly denied being possible. But now she gladly gave no further thought to what she left behind with her maiden name in the registry, and she took her husband’s arm and left the church to board the black coach in preparation for setting out on what, from that point forward, would be her genuine life.
What do you think about that touching scene? Wasn’t it lovely? I could feel Mr. Bennet’s pain as he struggled to keep his tears in check. He was losing his favorite daughter after all. Thank you, Colin, for sharing this scene.
A Most Civil Proposal, Pride, Prejudice, & Secrets, and Consequences are available as audiobooks. You can find them on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Perilous Siege and A Covenant of Marriage will be available soon. Watch for them in the next few months.