The morning that Jane and Elizabeth Bennet married Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy might be seen by some as the end of a story of faltering and reviving passions, a tale of petty prides and prejudices solved and resolved into a loving state of eternal bliss for all. As for the eldest sister Jane and her Mr Bingley, this was almost certain to be the case, as it was evident that their kindly hearts and mutual affection rather assured them a calm and contented domestic life with a household ordered and cheerful by any standard. Mr Bingley's social standing and fortune exceeded even Mrs Bennet's hope for her eldest daughter, and his character was such that he considered himself honoured to be loved by such a beautiful and agreeable woman as Jane. To the opinions of some that he had married beneath him Mr Bingley appeared oblivious. Jane likewise felt herself the most fortunate of women, and she bore herself with a charming modesty that disarmed all but the most mean-spirited among those assembled. The only want that the Bingleys might be feared to suffer was the liveliness that occasional disagreement may supply in a marriage.
Of the second couple, a vast deal more must be said, and indeed, in Meryton that morning, a vast deal more was being said. That they were a beautiful couple could not be gainsaid, for their dark curls and comely good looks complemented an elegant bearing. Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, however, had long since acquired the unfortunate reputation in that town of being an arrogant man with little inclination towards social delicacy; his kinder, gentler side, so recently uncovered by Miss Elizabeth Bennet, had heretofore been well disguised.
If Jane was generally considered the most beautiful of the five Bennet sisters, it was only that her sweet, complacent nature augmented a lovely but rather conventional beauty. Elizabeth was far the more interesting to lively minds. Alas for her, Meryton had more than its share of lively tongues, but a paucity of lively minds.
That her early encounters with Fitzwilliam Darcy had stirred her to anger rather than admiration was not forgotten. It is widely recognized, however, that passionate anger and passionate love are often found to run hand in hand, and Elizabeth Bennet, aided by a most extraordinary improvement in Mr Darcy's manners, had soon awakened to an earnest adoration of him that rivalled his love for her.
For the guests who wearied of the topic of the Bennet sisters, a slightly more malicious diversion offered itself in the forms of Charles Bingley's sisters: Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs Louisa Hurst. They were admired, to be sure, as their wedding finery reflected all of the benefits that superior birth and prodigious wealth may bring to a lady's wardrobe. It required only a passing glance to understand that these conceited women found nothing to their taste in Meryton.
And while some observers argued that their vanity befitted their rank, it is well known that in general, country ladies do not care to be found wanting in matters of dress or manners.
Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst were engaged in their own ruminations, which had very little reference to the opinions of those around them. As the sound of Mrs Bennet's prattling reached into the crowded church, Miss Bingley seethed, rolling her eyes.
'It is more than I can bear to be allied to that woman,' she muttered. Louisa concurred, but being slightly more prudent than her sister, laid a warning hand on her arm.
Miss Bingley was not entirely unreasonable in her censure, for Mrs Bennet was indeed a rather silly woman and, with the exception of Jane and Elizabeth, her daughters bore testimony to a careless and frivolous upbringing, benefiting little from their father's kindly good sense. As she fluttered under the good wishes of her neighbours, she whispered much too loudly, 'Oh, Mr Bennet! I knew that Jane's beauty could not be for nothing. Think of it! Who could have imagined a year ago that our daughters should marry so well?'
Mrs Bennet must be given credit for her diligence in the pursuit of Mr Bingley for Jane, but she found Mr Darcy so formidable that she scarcely dared utter his name.
Nonetheless, she found comfort in the fact that she was relieved of the difficult chore of finding a husband for Elizabeth, a daughter who often vexed and baffled her, and she was, in the end, prepared to celebrate both marriages.
Mr Bennet, as he paced about the narthex waiting for the brides to appear, was so engrossed in his own contemplation that he scarcely heard his wife's nervous chatter. He confided to his sister-in-law, an eminently more sensible and intelligent woman than his wife, 'I am worried about our Lizzy, Mrs Gardiner, that she is not totally sensible of the difficulty of a temperament such as Mr Darcy's. Although she has assured me that he is a kind and good man, I confess I see only his pride. And she has not the easy nature of her sister Jane to allow her to overlook the faults of others.'
Mrs Gardiner smiled complacently and patted his arm. 'Lizzy has undoubtedly chosen the more difficult path of the two, but I daresay, knowing her energetic spirit, that she is equal to the task. My acquaintance with Mr Darcy leads me to hope that he only wants a bit of levity to make him an excellent husband, and who better than Lizzy to supply that deficit?' Mr Bennet nodded thoughtfully and hoped that she was right.