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Ok, so here we go. Hopefully, you will all remember where we got to in chapter 22.
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Mrs Bennet stood behind Anne and admired how beautiful she looked. Though not as pretty as Jane, nor even as passable as Lizzy, but Anne did have the glow of a bride about her. An inner radiance that shone out, letting the world know she was in love and loved in return.
“You look very pretty child. If only your poor dear mother could see you now,” Mrs Bennet sniffed back a tear. Every mother dreamed of seeing their daughter as a bride.
Anne wanted to turn to Mrs Bennet and tell her that there was nothing poor, nor dear about her mother when she was not getting her own way. Indeed, there would have been no need for an elopement had her ‘poor dear mother’ not forbidden her to have any contact with Mr Galbraith! She would, forever, be indebted to Charlotte Collins for helping them in their courtship, and to Elizabeth Bennet for giving her the strength to defy her mother. Mother’s did not always know best, and daughters did not always need to be submissive to their mother’s, especially when you were six and twenty. Instead, she looked up at Mrs Bennet’s reflection in the mirror and told her most sincerely, how very grateful she was for all that she had done.
“Mamma,” Kitty called, “Lizzy and Jane are back, and they have brought Maria with them. Lady Lucas and Sir William will meet us at the church.”
Mrs Bennet went out to the stairwell, leaned over the railing, and shouted,
“What have I told you about shouting to me when I am upstairs, child? You are not the daughter of a fishwife, but the daughter of a gentleman! Now, tell your sisters to hurry upstairs and change their dresses.”
Only Mrs Bennet did not see the irony of her statement, but her two eldest daughters felt it keenly as they looked at the gentlemen standing with them. Exchanging a weak smile, Jane asked if they would like to stay for coffee, but both declined. Having seen the ladies safely home, Mr Bingley declared he was off to check that the church was prepared, while Mr Darcy explained that he must hurry back to Netherfield and collect the bridegroom.
“I thought I would never see this day, me, marrying Miss De Bourgh,” Angas Galbraith confided to Darcy as they shared a small brandy to toast the bride.
“I must confess, neither did I,” replied Darcy. “I knew I would never marry Anne, and the feeling was mutual. But I always thought her too…delicate, to enjoy a full marriage.”
“Aye, she is a different girl all right, to when I first met her. All the time stuck indoors, with no sunlight on her pale skin. It was no wonder she looked ill and wasted. If you do no exercise, then your muscles wither.” Angus said, the soft lilt of his accent rising to stress his point.
“Anne is almost unrecognisable since last I saw her. I believe we have you to thank for her transformation, Angus.”
Angus blushed. He was a Scotsman, where men were raised tough, and compliments were few. Yet he acknowledged the truth in Darcy’s words.
“Aye, she was not interested in going outside at first, but when I described how beautiful and full of flowers the meadows were, she wanted to see for herself. But I flat refused to take her out in the adult perambulator that Mrs Jenkins pushed her around in. It was walking or nothing! From there, it was all Anne’s doing. Every day, she took a few more steps, and as a result, her appetite got better, her muscles grew stronger and…well, you see the results yourself, Mr Darcy.”
Galbraith was a good match for Anne. He was kind and considerate of her needs and her limitations while encouraging her to strive for more. Plus, he seemed unintimidated by Anne’s mother, which was monumental in itself. When Anne was only seventeen, the son of a neighbouring gentleman wanted to court her, but Lady Catherine soon frightened him off. Anne deserved a chance at life, to see more and experience more than the four walls of her gilded cage.
“Well, I think it is time we made our move. Heaven helps us if we are late after all Mrs Bennet had arranged,” Darcy said as he put his glass on the tray and walked over to relieve Mr Galbraith of his.
“Och, she seemed fine to me. A very charming and accommodating woman.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows.
“Clearly, you have never received the sharp end of Mrs Bennet’s tongue, my friend. But that is a pleasure I would not wish on anyone.”
Darcy gave a wry smile and then clapped his hand on Galbraith’s shoulder and ushered him out into the atrium.
Waiting by the front door was the butler, who proffered the gentlemen a boutonniere each. A red one for the bridegroom, and a white one for Mr Darcy. Now correctly attired, they picked up their hats and gloves and made their way down the steps and into the carriage.
The small church that had enjoyed the patronage of the Bennet family for generations was divided from Longbourn by only a small lane. It looked resplendent as the summer sun streamed in through its stained-glass windows. The plethora of brightly coloured figure’s that made up the biblical scenes cast rainbow patterns on the whitewashed walls. Small bouquets of wildflowers hung from the end of each wooden pews, filling the chapel with a sweet-smelling scent. Resting on the crisp white linen cloth that covered the altar, were two gleaming brass candlesticks with a simple mounted cross standing between them. Resting on the lectern was the sizeable leather-bound Bible, which had been gifted to the parish over one hundred years ago.
Mr Bingley and Reverend Muir had walked around the chapel together making a final check that all was ready. A stack of Bibles and hymn books waited on the table at the entrance portal, which was guarded by a vast wooden door, four inches thick and studded with metal rivets in a design of a rose. All was ready for the arrival of the congregations, the groom, and lastly the bride.
Mrs Bennet hurried down the stairs and opened the door as wide as it could go.
“Come, girls, you walk to the church and wait in the porchway for Anne and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Only then, should you take your place in front of the bride.”
Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, all filed out of the front door. Though not before Lydia made a protest that as a married woman, and the matron of honour, she should be allowed to arrive in the carriage with Anne.
Mrs Bennet had pulled her to one side and given her a sound scolding.
“This is not your wedding, my girl. No, you saw fit to run off with Wickham and get yourself married. Now, you will walk with the others and be content to do so.”
Lydia knew from her mother’s tone that her plea had fallen on deaf ears; there was no point in arguing.
Anne slowly descended the stairs, stopping a few steps from the bottom where Colonel Fitzwilliam waited for her.
“You look beautiful, Cousin. Galbraith is a lucky man,” Richard said as he reached up and kissed her on the cheek.
“You must not make me cry, Richard, not on my wedding day.” Anne scolded playfully.
“Well, my dear,” said Mr Bennet, “it is time for us to go. Now, come, Mrs Bennet, let us make haste to the church or the bride will get there before us.” Proffering his arm, Mrs Bennet gave Anne a lingering last look as she dabbed at her eyes, and then leant heavily on Mr Bennet as they made their way to the church.
It took only two minutes for the barouche to drive from Longbourn to the church via the road and the timing was perfect. Mrs Bennet was standing with all her daughters in the porch, waiting to fuss over the bride.
Mr Bennet went to the Bennet family pew, acknowledging the guests with a nod of his head as he went. Waiting there was Mr Bingley, and sitting in the opposite front seat, was Mr Darcy and the bridegroom.
Richard waited until the bridesmaids and Lydia were in position, then held out his arm to Anne.
Anne was not nervous at all. She felt unexpectedly calm. This was it; she was getting married.
Peering inside, she saw that almost every pew was filled. It did not matter that she knew only a handful of these people, it just mattered that she was finally going to be with the man that she loved and be free of her mother’s influence.
The organ began to play a simple tune as she placed her small, pale hand on Richards’ arm. She started to walk down the aisle, keeping her focus on Reverend Muir, who now stood facing the congregation.
Darcy glanced over his shoulder at the congregation. It was good to see so many people in attendance. Many of the faces he recognised, but only a few could he name.
Seeing Anne about to start up the aisle, Darcy stood. Some people realised this was a sign that the bride was coming and a few of them turned to watch her progress, and one even let out a gasp.
The bridesmaids filed along in front of Anne and then moved to take the seats they occupied every Sunday. Lydia waited to relieve Anne of her bouquet and then joined her sister’s. Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped to the side as he waited to play his part by giving his cousin away.
Mr Galbraith stood up, gave Darcy a firm handshake and then took his rightful place beside the bride.
The music stopped, and Reverend Muir began the service.
“Dearly beloved, we 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…”
For some unknown reason, the hairs on the back of Darcy’s neck lifted from their resting place, causing an unpleasant sensation. He turned and glanced towards the end of the church, but the verger was just shutting the door. Perhaps a gust of wind, he thought. Shrugging it off, he turned back towards the Parson and again focused on the words of the service.
“First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought
up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy
Darcy looked over to the reserved area, a place of prime seats used by the leading family, and in Meryton, that family was the Bennet’s. He could see Jane was trying to listen to the ceremony, but a movement from Charles distracted her. He was beaming at her like a love-sick puppy, and Jane shyly returned his. Smile.
“…prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons
present come now to be joined. Therefore, if any man can shew any just
cause, why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now
speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”
His words were met with silence, though several of the congregation looked at each other.
Richard smiled reassuringly at Anne, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Reverend Muir looked around and then put his head down to continue.
“Err, excuse me, I wish to raise an objection.”
It was said quietly, but in the silence of the church, it resounded like a boom. Every set of eyes swivelled around and looked at the man standing at the back of the church.
The man was small in stature and dressed from head to toe in black, and by the way he fed his wide-brimmed hat through his fingers, he was also a nervous man.
Darcy was motionless and still sat facing the front of the church. He was rigid with anger. He knew that man. He knew that voice. It was…Mr Collins!