Posted on 2012-06-08
"This is an evening of wonders, indeed! And so, Darcy did everything: made up the match, gave the money, paid the fellow's debts, and got him his commission! So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy. Had it been your uncle's doing, I must and would have paid him; but these violent young lovers carry everything their own way. I shall offer to pay him to-morrow; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the matter."
"Mrs. Bennet," her husband called out, "When the young lovers return, will you please send Mr. Darcy in to see me?"
"Of course, Mr. Bennet; but, you do mean to be kind to him; yes? Heaven knows how Lizzy has managed to secure such a rich man with that tongue of hers, but now that she has, I would not ruin our good fortune and have you chasing him away with your teasing manner!"
"Mrs. Bennet, if some squeamish youth is unable to bear the brunt of a joke or two, we have no need of him." At his wife's alarmed expression, he relented, "You may rest your nerves at ease, my dear; my business with Mr. Darcy is not to try his humor."
"Very well Mr. Bennet."
Not half an hour later, from his window, Mr. Bennet spied the forms of his eldest daughters nearing the house on the arms of their betrothed. He felt true happiness, with perhaps, just a twinge of envy, while observing their apparent joy. Jane and her Mr. Bingley were both smiling as they always did; but Lizzy, as her fiancé looked down on her, was laughing, her eyes alit with unadulterated delight. He saw her blush as Darcy kissed her hand before releasing it. As he watched, he was forced to admit, Mr. Darcy was a good man, perhaps the best of men; Lizzy would certainly be well cared for - much better than he had done as her father, he bitterly reflected. Having witnessed such an open display of affection between the two, he could no longer doubt Lizzy's confidence in her choice, but he still held some small fear that she would one day come to regret it; nevertheless, he had given his consent to both, so all that remained was to hope and pray for their happiness.
Sighing, he turned his thoughts to another daughter, and the reason for his awaited appointment with Mr. Darcy. Lydia was impetuous, foolish, and headstrong; but, she was also very young, and at fifteen years old, had chained herself to a life with little hope for future happiness. By the time she was discovered with Mr. Wickham, there was no other choice but to make them marry. Mr. Bennet felt his failings as a father; not only had he been unsuccessful in protecting his daughter, it had taken the influence of another to bring about the union, undesirable as it was. And now, instead of being of service to his daughter, he was prepared to allow this young man to shoulder the responsibility. Though he often retreated behind a mask of humor, he felt the shame his paternal neglect, most keenly. He was not one to dwell long upon errors however; the impression would pass away soon enough.
"Mr. Bennet?" a low, but firm voice interrupted him, "You wished to see me?"
Lost in an intellectual drift, he at first failed to take note of the young man peering into the study. "Ah, Mr. Darcy, come in; do sit down."
"Just Darcy, please," he requested as he took a seat.
"Very well; then you must call me Bennet."
"With all due respect, sir, you are to be my wife's father; I would not feel comfortable in doing so."
"If you insist, sir; I have enough to quarrel with you about already. There's no need to add more kindling."
"Sir?" he asked, clearly perplexed.
"I have come to learn that I have you to thank for the restoration of my youngest daughter's reputation."
Darcy's immediate response was to examine his shoes, and shift slightly in his seat. At length, he replied, "I had rather hoped that my involvement in the affair would be kept silent."
Mr. Bennet was suddenly struck by the humility in the young man before him; yes, humility. Mr. Darcy, who had been condemned by the people thereabouts - his favored daughter included - for his apparent excess of pride, was now, unable to meet the eye of an insignificant country gentleman. Unfamiliar as he was with the sensation, Mr. Bennet found himself eager to set another at ease.
"You may rest assured that the knowledge has not gone beyond Lizzy and myself, Darcy. She did inform me that you had wished to remain anonymous, and I would be content to let it be so, but I have been remiss enough in my duties; you must allow me to express my gratitude, and to repay you."
"I am sorry sir; I cannot."
He challenged Mr. Bennet with the fiery glint of arrogance that the town of Meryton had been accustomed to. Returning to familiar ground freed the older man from his own anxiety, so he sat back to enjoy a jest at Mr. Darcy's expense.
"Cannot what, sir? For I assure you, if I wish to express my gratitude, you can have nothing to say of it." At this, Mr. Darcy colored, ever so slightly, "However," he continued, "if you wish to hamper my attempt to repay you, that is another issue altogether."
"Mr. Bennet; I have known of Wickham's habits for far too long, and kept silent. Had I exposed him for what he was, he would not have been able to impose himself on the people here. I shall not pretend that relieving Miss Elizabeth of her state of misery did not add on to my further inducements; but I acted not with hope or expectation of her regard, but only with the knowledge that I was in a position to undo an evil that I had unwittingly allowed."
"And I am grateful for your intervention. Still," Mr. Bennet persisted, however feebly, "you must allow me to bear the financial responsibility."
Darcy defiantly looked his future father-in-law in the eye, and replied, "I would not wish to start our relationship with any animosity between us, but I assure you, I will not yield."
"My word, you are determined," he chuckled, "It is for the best; you will need to be if you are to marry my Lizzy."
Darcy laughed - a very little - as he responded, "As I well know; otherwise, I might have admitted defeat months ago."
The surprise on the man's face clearly indicated he was unaware of Darcy's first proposal; the knowledge of which, the younger would have been satisfied in keeping to himself, but he had unintentionally revealed enough that there was now no other choice but to disclose some details of his early acquaintance with Elizabeth.
"Um…yes; well, she refused me the first time I asked for her hand."
Mr. Bennet was, at first, speechless with astonishment, but soon fell into a fit of laughter. Darcy bore it as best he could, a single raised brow being the only hint of irritation.
"So that is what she meant - she said she knew your affections were not the work of a moment." Shaking his head, Mr. Bennet simply added, "Only Elizabeth."
"I'll confess that I was not amused at the time," Darcy said with a slight smile, "but I can now appreciate the irony in having fallen in love with the one woman who was not favorably inclined toward me, or at the very least, towards Pemberley."
"No, indeed," Mr. Bennet agreed, "My Lizzy was never impressed by the trappings of wealth. I do remember something of her former opinions; I imagine she did not take kindly to your proposal then."
"Not at all," Darcy admitted with a rueful chuckle, "She gave me a set down I'm not likely to forget." At Mr. Bennet's bemused expression, he added, "I believe I am a better man for it."
"When did this all happen?"
"In April; when she and I were both in Kent. We parted on poor terms, of course, but when I happened upon her with her aunt and uncle in Derbyshire, I endeavored to show her I had taken her reproofs to heart. When I saw that her feelings had softened towards me, I thought, perhaps - but then - well, it matters not; what's done is done."
Here he was interrupted; Mr. Bennet saw the young man was clearly uncomfortable expressing his feelings, and was no more at ease himself, "Ah, yes; well, in the end, you are amply rewarded for your sufferings," he concluded.
"Yes, exactly;" Mr. Darcy breathed, his relief evident, "so pray do not speak to me again of repayment."
Mr. Bennet would not have admitted that he had already laid the issue to rest, so he merely nodded his assent before saying, "It is a bad business; though there was nothing for it, they had to marry; still, I cannot help but feel some concern for my daughter's future felicity, however foolish she may be. Tell me; exactly how well do you know Wickham?"
"Well enough to assure you, your concern is not without foundation."
Mr. Bennet sighed, "Then it is worse than I thought."
Darcy was not one to dissemble, or to deliver honeyed versions of the truth. "Wickham is not an honorable man," he acknowledged, "However, I have structured the agreement in such a manner as to ensure that he will treat his wife well enough; her happiness, I cannot be so certain of." He exhaled heavily, "Would to heaven that I had said something sooner and prevented this all!"
"Nonsense, Darcy; you take too much upon yourself. The fault is mine - and I feel it as I ought - but never mind that; there is nothing to be done." A lengthy pause followed, after which, Mr. Bennet said, "Forgive the impertinence, but I am curious to know how it came to be that your father never learned of Wickham's, shall I say, less admirable qualities. He was the son of your father's steward, I believe," At Darcy's nod, he continued, "You seem to be an intelligent man, so I imagine your father must have been as well, so how did it escape him?"
Darcy was taken aback by the turn of the conversation, but as he knew Elizabeth to be a studier of character, he was not terribly surprised to find her father holding a similar interest.
"I have asked myself the same question many times over the years, Mr. Bennet; it wasn't until after my father's death that I found some answers in the writings of Plato."
"A fellow philosopher, are you? Better and better! Tell me; what light does Plato shed on the subject?"
"You are familiar with 'The Allegory of the Cave'?"
As Mr. Bennet rarely had the occasion to speak to anyone of sense, save Elizabeth, the subject rendered him unusually animated, lighting his eyes in a manner reminiscent of his favorite daughter. "Yes, of course, a masterful piece; Plato argues that society resists radical changes by likening the phenomenon to the uncomfortable sensation one experiences when moving from total darkness to bright light; yes, I know the work, but I fail to see the connection."
"I do believe the same principle applies in studies of human nature," Darcy explained, "My father, intelligent as he was in other matters, was blinded by his love for George Wickham, and therefore kept himself in the dark. What he saw of Wickham was merely shadows, as those that are seen in the cave, and he accepted those shadows as the true person. You have seen firsthand, I believe, Wickham's uncommon ability to please."
"Yes, I grant you that; go on."
"My father was once exposed to Wickham's true character - as one who comes out of Plato's cave faces the bright light - and he rejected this reality. I suppose, it was far too painful to believe that this young man, who he looked on almost as his own, could be capable of dissolute behavior."
"What had he done?" a clearly intrigued Mr. Bennet asked as he leaned forward.
"Shortly after his own father died, Wickham was caught in a compromising position with a servant's daughter. It is, unfortunately, not so uncommon an occurrence among the gentry, and my father chose to dismiss it as a youthful indiscretion and a reaction to his grief. As the years went on, each time I tried to hint of Wickham's increasingly deplorable behavior, Father would become angry with me, as does a prisoner of a cave when forced back into the light. I, however, had spent more time outside of the cave where Wickham lurked in shadows, and had slowly been exposed to enough of his true nature over time that I was no longer fooled by him. Out of respect for my father's feelings, and later, of concern for my sister, who had also been misled by him, I no longer tried to warn others. Clearly, I would have judged better had I acted differently."
"Darcy, enough; do not blame yourself. You did what any man in your position would have done, and the past cannot be changed."
"Think on the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure," Mr. Darcy murmured, with a slight smile.
"Lizzy has been giving you advice, has she?"
"I thought it apt."
"Indeed," Mr. Bennet agreed, "You know, she warned me not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton," he sighed. "How I wish I had listened."
Mr. Bennet was obviously remorseful over having disregarded his daughter's advice, and as there was nothing useful Mr. Darcy could say in response to the father's admission of neglect, he struggled to form a fitting reply.
He finally settled on saying, "I have the greatest appreciation for Miss Elizabeth's mind."
M. Darcy's future father in law could not but be pleased with such a response.
"Mr. Darcy," said he, "I was very much surprised by your application for Lizzy's hand yesterday, and though you were sufficiently eloquent on the nature of your affections, I must admit, I was not persuaded that hers were what they should be. In truth, I questioned your suitability; you see - I could not bear to see Lizzy, of all my daughters, trapped in a marriage where she and her partner are unable to appreciate and respect one another; but after speaking to her at length, it was clear to me that she returns your sentiments in full, and in speaking with you today, I can see that the two of you are very well matched - in intellect as well as affection. I am glad to see that my trust has not been misplaced."
"I would hope that I never give you cause to feel otherwise."
"Indeed, Mr. Darcy, I sincerely doubt you ever will; and believe me, knowing this will give me great comfort on the day which I must give her away to you; you must know she is very precious to me."
"I do; I can well understand why." Mr. Bennet did not miss the tenderness in Darcy's expression when he spoke of Elizabeth, and he suddenly felt a bit overwrought, so therefore returned to humor to distract him from melancholy thoughts.
"I should hope so," he replied drolly, with a barely restrained roll of the eyes, "You are, after all, the one leading her to the altar; and I have kept you away from her for too long. Lizzy will not thank me for holding you captive in my study. Go on, then."
Darcy, surprising himself, was rather amused in having been summarily dismissed in such a manner. No man had dared to do so before - excepting perhaps his own father; somehow, it seemed fitting that Elizabeth's father would; so with a small shake of the head, he took Mr. Bennet's advice, and did as he was told.
Mr. Bennet, meanwhile, had much to think of.
He had fully expected Mr. Darcy to come in and play the role of the violent young lover. Imperious, yes; but he had been prepared for some ranting and storming all the same. Instead, the young man who sat before him brought quiet, yet steady resolve, and thoughtful discourse. He may not have sung a litany of praises, as Bingley might have done, or simpered and smirked, as would Wickham, but his overwhelming love for Lizzy was evident in his eyes each time her name passed between them. Mr. Bennet allowed his worries, on behalf of this daughter, anyway, to lay to rest.
In the weeks that followed, his estimation of Lizzy's betrothed only improved. The only thing this son-in-law was wanting, now that he no longer stalked morosely about in company, was a folly or two worthy of ridicule, Mr. Bennet thought to himself. For this reason alone, he decided, Wickham would remain his favorite, but he believed he would like Lizzy's husband quite as well as Jane's.The End