P&P200: The Wedding Night (Charles and Jane)
This is part of a little series I’ve been writing to give new insights into Bingley and Jane. In P&P, we see Jane interacting with her family, especially Elizabeth, and we have Bingley interacting with his family and Darcy. What we don’t have much of is what these two characters say to each other. That got me to wondering – what do Jane and Bingley talk about when they’re alone? Here’s a link to the vignette just before this – Bingley and Jane Discover They Have Something in Common – which shows their developing relationship after the engagement.
The decision where to spend their wedding night had not been an easy one for the Bingleys. Clearly, staying at Netherfield would have been more familiar and comfortable for Jane, but after a few hints from Mrs. Bennet that she might need to “check” on her darling daughter, the bride-to-be decided that London seemed infinitely more attractive.
Although moving to Bingleys’ home in town meant traveling on the day of the wedding, they would have more privacy and the potential for both spending time alone and enjoying the delights of London. Caroline and the Hursts would have to choose between staying at Netherfield and moving to Hurst’s family townhouse. This option also had the distinct advantage of installing Caroline, who had so far been maintaining a thin civility toward her future relatives, in another household. Bingley secretly hoped it might set a precedent. Perhaps, she would continue to spend more of her time with the Hursts and less with her brother and his new wife although he knew in all probability that was a futile hope.
The Bingleys arrived at the townhouse early in the evening on the day of the wedding. During the long carriage ride, the groom had refrained from ravishing his bride more from sheer exhaustion than any sense of propriety, although a sleeping Jane snuggled against him had proven to be more than a small temptation. Once at the townhouse, he used up what was left of his self-control to prevent himself from seizing her and rushing up the stairs to their rooms. Although he was always concerned he might alarm Jane with his ardor, he was delighted to find she seemed equally as eager as he to be alone.
Once they had settled in, a light meal was served, but neither the bride nor the groom had much appetite for food. Bingley fed small bites to Jane urging her to keep up her strength, but both were too anxious to even taste the fine fare prepared especially for them. Finally, although slightly embarrassed at the early hour, they decided to retire for the evening and let the servants think what they will.
In Bingley’s dressing room, his valet, James, helped him untie his cravat and ease off his coat. After giving his master a quick shave, the valet assisted Bingley into a dark blue velvet dressing gown over his breeches and an open-necked linen shirt. Then James disappeared to check on Mrs. Bingley’s progress.
“Molly tells me Mrs. Bingley has completed her bath and will be ready to receive you in her bed chamber in about a quarter hour,” James reported upon his return. “Perhaps you would like another glass of brandy or some other refreshment while you wait?”
“No, but you did arrange for the champagne to be put in Mrs. Bingley’s room?”
“Oh, yes, sir, just as you requested.”
“Hmmm…very good,” Bingley answered distractedly, his thoughts already wandering into the next room.
Tugging anxiously at the belt of his dressing gown, he checked his appearance in the mirror for at least the tenth time. “How long do you think it has been?” he asked.
James gravely consulted the clock. “I believe approximately four minutes have passed since I returned, sir. Is there anything else I may do for you this evening before you retire?” the valet inquired patiently.
Bingley’s groan was almost audible. If he had not been so busy being mortified, he would have noticed James stifling a smile. Then Bingley smiled and thought, what man would not be impatient to be with the most wonderful woman in the world who by some miracle had just become his wife?
“Perhaps I will have a small brandy after all,” he replied, fidgeting yet again with his dressing gown.
Molly helped the new Mrs. Bingley into a gossamer, blue silk nightdress and matching dressing gown. Seated at the dressing table, Jane glanced in the mirror, nervously checking to make sure the neckline of the new garment revealed just the right amount of pale, delicate skin. It is rather low, she thought wondering what her husband would think. One corner of her mouth turned up as she realized he would probably be delighted. Fingering the fabric, she reveled in the soft feel of it and marveled again at how well the color of the gown set off the warm blue of her eyes. Although everyone, especially her mother, always told her how beautiful she was, she was not, in truth, overly vain or obsessed with her looks. To her, it was only important that Charles thought she was beautiful.
“Would you like me to plait your hair, Mrs. Bingley?” Molly asked politely.
“I think not this evening,” Jane replied as she combed through her long hair with her fingers.
Jane’s new ladies’ maid was a sweet, highly competent young woman whom she had selected after a half dozen interviews conducted during their recent trip to London. At first, Jane had resisted Charles’s suggestions that she engage a maid for herself. Practical country girl that she was, she thought it seemed wasteful to have someone who was wholly devoted to taking care of the needs of just one individual. After all, she had shared a maid with her sisters all her life. Neither was she comfortable with the idea of always having someone fluttering around her. Finally, Charles had persuaded her she needed someone to attend her, not because it was the done thing for proper ladies, but for more practical reasons.
“You do not have your sisters to help you any more, and while I plan to be an attentive husband, I cannot be there for you at all times.” He grinned. “Who will do up those tiny buttons at the back of your dress if I am not around?”
Jane looked down to hide the fact that she was blushing and said, “Very well, I suppose I will adjust to the idea.”
“Caroline has graciously offered to help you conduct the interviews,” she heard him reply.
For an instant, Jane’s heart sank. Then glancing up, she realized Charles was looking at her with the most impish grin on his face. Playfully, she pushed at his shoulder.
“I am sorry, sweetheart, but you are so easy to tease that I cannot resist sometimes. Would you prefer it if I…” he began, but she stopped him with a quick kiss.
Pulling back to read his face, she was delighted to see she had taken him completely by surprise.
“If you think a kiss is going to discourage me from teasing you, then you are quite mistaken. In fact, I can assure you it will have the opposite effect.”
Jane had only smiled and reached out to him again.
After dismissing Molly for the evening, she was alone and a little anxious as she waited for her husband to come to her room. Glancing at herself in the mirror yet again, she decided that something was missing. After opening the flat velvet jewelry box on her dressing table, she lovingly examined the double-strand pearl necklace Charles had given her the day before their wedding. The clasp was simply decorated with a sparkling cluster of sapphires shaped like a small, delicate flower. “Sapphires to match your eyes,” he had told her. After fastening the strands around her neck again, she rechecked her appearance in the mirror and decided the effect was perfect. The lustrous pearls lay gracefully along her collarbones setting off the creamy white of her skin.
Fingering the beads, she thought about how much finer they were than anything she had ever owned. In fact, they might just be the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Along with the necklace, he had also given her a matching bracelet, as well as pearl combs for her hair. Other women might desire flashier jewelry, but this gift was simply perfect. His choice showed just how well he knew her.
Jane picked up her brush and began to move it slowly through her hair, just as she had done hundreds of times before. Only this was different. In a few minutes, Charles — her husband — would come to her room, and they would begin their life together as man and wife. She was not scared, just a bit uncertain, if truth be told. With all the advice she had received from her family, she had some idea of what was ahead of her, but even armed with all that information, she could still feel her stomach doing a country-dance.
She only knew that every time Charles took her in his arms, her heart beat so loudly she was positive everyone could hear it in the next county. And when he kissed her — well, when he kissed her, she was never certain her legs would continue to hold her up. If that day in the little woods when she had feigned interest in gathering pinecones was a sample of the physical pleasures that were to come as husband and wife, then all would be well tonight. It had certainly been an enlightening experience to realize she could be so wholly taken over by passions she had not even known she possessed. “Trust your husband,” her aunt Gardiner had told her, and she planned to do just that.
“Come in.” Jane hoped she sounded more confident than she actually was.
Charles came and stood behind her putting his hands gently on her shoulders. Her heartbeat quickened as she felt the heat of his hands warming her skin.
“I know I should have waited in your bed chamber rather than come to your dressing room, but I was anxious to see you,” he told her.
When their eyes met in the mirror, she saw the kindness and love that was there — kindness and love, but also a deep well of emotion. Yes, she was right to have waited all those months for him. She was as certain as she had ever been of anything in her life that they were meant to be together.
“You are still wearing your pearls.”
Her fingers brushed the strands again. “I love them so much that I wanted to wear them for just a little longer.”
He smiled. “Every time I looked at you today, it was all I could do to keep myself from doing this,” he said giving a demonstration.
She shivered as his finger moved lightly along the pearls against her skin. Closing her eyes, she relished the new sensations. “I know it was just a silly whim of mine to put them on again. You may unclasp them now for me, and I will put them away,” she said, reaching for the velvet box.
“Leave them on.”
“You want me to…?” She gave him a puzzled look.
“Yes, leave them on.”
Will I soon be wearing nothing but my necklace, she wondered. Just the anticipation of what that might be like caused her to turn a rosy pink from the top of her dressing gown to the roots of her hair. She certainly hoped he could not read her mind.
“May I do that?” he asked, indicating the brush still in her hand. Moving tentatively at first, he gained confidence with each stroke. “Your hair is like a beautiful shining halo.”
“No wonder you mistook me for an angel when we first met,” said Jane with a twinkle in her eyes.
Charles smiled, but then turned more serious. Laying the brush aside, he set his hands gently on her shoulders again.
“It was not a mistake. You are my angel.” He kissed the top of her head and inhaled the scent of fresh lemons with a hint of lavender layered in.
“I am not so perfect as you might think,” Jane said softly.
Pushing her hair to one side, he exposed the delicate skin of her neck and kissed the hollow just behind her ear. Jane sighed at the touch of his lips.
“To me, you are perfect,” he whispered. The feel of his breath against her ear sent a shiver rippling through her body. Then as if overwhelmed by the intensity of the moment, he suddenly changed the subject. “Shall we have some champagne? I thought it might help us both to relax.”
Charles poured a glass and handed it to her. After her first sip of champagne, Jane giggled as the bubbles tickled her nose. Flashing her eyes at her husband over the top of the glass, she was thrilled at the reaction she evoked in him.
“I am the most fortunate man in the world. And to think I nearly lost you through my own foolishness. Sometimes, I still cannot believe you have forgiven me,” he told her.
“There was nothing to forgive,” she said, meaning every word.
“You are too good. Why is it you only ever see the best in me?”
“I am not too good,” she said, “and I see what is really important in you – your kindness, your gentleness. I know I can entrust myself to you completely, and you will always take care of me.”
Taking the glass from her hand, he set it aside.
“I can hardly believe you are mine.” Raising her to her feet, he pulled her into his arms. Jane reached around his waist and pressed her forehead against his chest.
“You are not afraid, are you?” he whispered in her ear.
Jane shook her head and mumbled against the fabric of his dressing gown. “Only a little.”
“Someone in your family told you what to expect tonight?”
“You can trust me, you know,” he said.
Leading her by the hand, Charles walked slowly into the bedchamber. Upon reaching the bed, he sat on the edge and pulled her close until she stood with his legs bracketing either side of her body. Taking her face in his hands, he placed soft kisses on her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes, her nose. Each kiss brought a tiny shiver that only encouraged him more.
“You remember how it was a few weeks ago when we were gathering pinecones?” he said.
“Oh, yes, I do. I confess I have thought of little else of late.” She reached up to run her fingers though his curly locks.
Charles groaned softly, and taking her face in his hands again, he kissed her lips. After dreaming of this moment for so long and wondering if he would somehow be disappointed when holding and kissing her this way finally became a reality, he realized he need not have worried. Although he knew Jane to be an innocent, she seemed to know instinctively how to respond. Some of his married friends at the club had warned him wives could be merely passive and submissive on their wedding nights, but that was certainly not the case with his Jane.
“Oh, my dearest angel,” he whispered. “How I love you!”
First, he lightly traced along the pearl necklace again and moving down, let his fingers follow the lacy outline at the top of her dressing gown.
Looking into the depths of her husband’s blue-green eyes, Jane imagined she was standing on a cliff, his eyes a swelling ocean that she was in danger of drowning in. When she felt Charles impatiently pulling her mouth to his again, she let herself fall.
What followed was beyond heavenly — more exploration, soft touches, and intense kisses along with much fumbling with buttons and ribbons. Finally, both her new dressing gown and nightdress were reduced to a puddle at her feet. With almost no self-consciousness at all, and just as she had imagined, Jane went to her marriage bed wearing nothing more than the golden halo of her hair and her double strand of pearls.