The Final Hurdle
As Fitzwilliam Darcy rode back to Netherfield with his friend Charles Bingley, his mind was occupied with the many contradictions that had affected his life for almost a year. He had experienced so many conflicting emotions, from curiosity, through hope, expectation, rejection, humbling surprise, renewed hope, shock, to hesitant uncertainty and finally elation, when Miss Elizabeth Bennet brought truth to his wildest fantasies by accepting his second, and more acceptable proposal.
He could not remember ever having felt so happy in his entire life. The woman he had loved so passionately for so long had at last agreed to become his wife, and he was able to anticipate the joy that their union would bring to both.
"She has consented, Bingley," he said. "Elizabeth Bennet will be my wife. Will you now wish us happy?"
Bingley was a little surprised but with only a moments hesitation said "Did you ever doubt that I would? Jane and I had considered it as a possibility, but there seemed to be no progress toward this end."
"My life has lately been so full of doubts and uncertainties, that I can take nothing for granted," said Darcy, "but to be truthful, I have feelings now that I have only imagined in my dreams."
They rode on in silence. Darcy's mind was actively considering the final hurdle. The one remaining barrier between him and complete happiness, Mr. Bennet's blessing. He had, until recently, never experienced failure, Hitherto, his consequence and status had guaranteed success at all times, but he could assume nothing here. Mr. Bennet was not like other men. Elizabeth was his favourite daughter, and he would need to be sure that they were sincerely attached, and marrying for all the right reasons. Considering the early impressions formed of him in Meryton, he began to realise that it might yet all come to naught, and the thought chilled him to the core.
He heard a sound. Bingley was talking. "When will you speak to Mr. Bennet?"
"Tomorrow" he replied. "I must talk to Elizabeth beforehand. Will you suggest another walk? The opportunity for private conversation within the house seems impossible."
"Of course Darcy," said Bingley. "I suffered a similar situation during your absence, as you can imagine." The remainder of the journey to Netherfield was completed in amicable silence. Darcy's heart was heavy with thoughts of the conversations to come.
What remained of the evening passed off in quiet contemplation. Each man being lost in their very different thoughts. The morrow arrived and both were punctual in returning to Longbourne. Bingley openly displayed his affection for Jane, whilst Darcy and Elizabeth could only exchange pointed looks, since their little secret was yet to be broadcast.
Mrs. Bennet suggested a walk to Oakham Mount, so the secret lovers set off. Once out of sight, they greeted each other in a manner more suitable to the situation. Darcy's somber mood was lightened by the mere presence of his beloved Elizabeth. A little further along the path, she smiled and asked him if he slept well. He thought for a moment, and then said "I wish to ask your father tonight, if a suitable moment should arise. Do you know what his answer may be, since thoughts of this have troubled me all night."
"His impressions of you may be colored by the opinions of others," she replied, "including mine, and formed upon your arrival in the locality. He has not the slightest idea of any of our subsequent meetings, nor of my change of sentiment towards you, neither does he know of your involvement in Lydia's marriage. However I do not think he will refuse, although I may well have some explaining to do. If he does question my feelings for you, do not be downhearted. I assure you that I love you very deeply, and have been deliriously happy since yesterday."
These few words lifted a heavy burden from Darcy's heart. There was a lingering doubt, but he felt more comfortable with the event to come, than at any other time. They walked on, happily talking of events past, present and future, until it was time to be heading back.
Immediately after their evening meal, Mr. Bennet retired to his library, closely followed by Mr. Darcy. Mr. Bennet was nonplused momentarily but soon recovered his composure and said "May I be of some assistance to you, sir?" The moment had arrived.
"Yes," said Darcy. "There is a matter upon which must speak to you, if you would spare me the time."
"Certainly," replied Mr. Bennet. "Shall we go in?"
They entered the library, and, at Mr. Bennet's suggestion, sat down. Suddenly all the apprehension flooded back into Darcy's mind. He stood, and began pacing the room, seeking to compose himself. Mr. Bennet sat in silent amusement, remembering a conversation with Bingley in the recent past, and suddenly, a notion appeared in his mind. Could it be that there was an element of truth in Mr. Collins' letter? While this idea ran through his mind, he continued to observe Darcy in silence. At length Darcy recovered, "Mr. Bennet," he said. "What I have to say is of the utmost importance to me. I am aware, sir, that you know very little of me, and also that my behaviour on first entering your society was not calculated to inspire a favorable impression, and left much to be desired, but be that as it may. Yesterday, I made an offer of marriage to your daughter Elizabeth, and, to my eternal delight, it was accepted. It has been a dream, formed almost from the beginning of our acquaintance, that one day this would happen, but until very recently I was not worthy of her, and she told me so in no uncertain terms." Darcy then related briefly, the events at Hunsford
"Since that unhappy time, I have attempted to correct the many defects in my character that Elizabeth made me aware of. I am pleased to say that she has seen the changes, and now finds me an acceptable suitor. I assure you, sir, as my wife she shall want for nothing. I am aware that this may come as a surprise to you, but let me assure you that I have come to realise that without her in my life, and by my side, there will be no happiness in the future for me."
Mr. Bennet sat in earnest contemplation. It was indeed a surprise. More like a shock to find that Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, was so familiar with his dear Lizzy, and that he loved her enough to contemplate a marriage. For a few moments there was silence. Mr. Bennet then said "I had no idea that you and Lizzy were so well known to each other. She has said little of her recent meetings with you, indeed I remember her voicing views quite contrary after you left Netherfield. If she has now accepted you, there must have been a radical change of her heart, somewhere in the past." He was again silent for a moment, and appeared to be deep in thought. Darcy could hardly draw breath, but eventually, Mr. Bennet said "very well Mr. Darcy, if she has accepted you, then you have my consent and my blessing, but I must speak to Lizzy before broadcasting the subject, if you agree."
"Thank you sir," said Darcy who was now a very relieved man. He was confident that any dissuasive arguments that her father may place in Elizabeth's mind would be outweighed by her confession of attachment to him.
"Would you be so kind as to send Lizzy to see me please?" said Mr. Bennet.
"Immediately, sir" replied Darcy. He left the library, found Elizabeth, and, while the others were preoccupied, informed her of her father's wish to speak to her. "I fear that the time for explanation is at hand," she said. Darcy only nodded. They were almost there, but she was gone longer than he expected, and in truth, some of his uncertainty came flooding back.
The evening was almost over when she returned. She displayed signs of having been crying, and this heightened Darcy's uncertainty, but she composed herself, and sat down near him. He could hardly bear the suspense, but muttered nervously "well?"
"He has accepted my explanation" she said, "and given us his blessing. I am so very happy, is it not wonderful?" She then smiled in that fashion that made him almost forget that they were in company.
Darcy could now relax. His fondest wish, most fervent dream had finally come true. He would soon marry the one woman in the world whom he loved more than life itself. "Goodnight, my love," he said." Until tomorrow."
During the ride back to Netherfield, he informed Bingley of what had transpired. Bingley was overjoyed to welcome him as a brother. "That is it," said Darcy. "After suffering many emotional upheavals during the recent weeks and months, my wildest dreams are now a reality."
They were again punctual on the morrow. Soon after their arrival at Longbourne, Mr. Bennet assembled his family, and made the announcement, and warmly welcomed Darcy into his family. Elizabeth flew into his arms, and all her sisters offered warm congratulations. When the melee had subsided, Mr. Bennet again invited Darcy to join him in the library. Darcy followed his host, curiosity filling his mind.
After a few moments Mr. Bennet invited Darcy to sit near him. "I am led to understand," he said, "that my gratitude to my brother Gardiner, for his resolution of Lydia's situation, has been misplaced. It would appear that it is you Mr. Darcy to whom I should be grateful, and let me assure you of the fact that I am. I am also desirous of discharging my financial obligation to you but would you mind informing me why you felt the need to become involved at all?"
Darcy thought for a moment. "Sir," he said, "Following the events at Hunsford , I was fortunate to meet Elizabeth when she visited my home with her aunt and uncle, and quite by accident. This meeting and subsequent events formed the basis of a new understanding between us, and also made me realise the depth of my feelings for her. I saw her immediately after she had read the letter from Jane advising her of Lydia's predicament, and she confided all the particulars to me." He then went on to inform Mr. Bennet of his dealings with Wickham, and that Elizabeth's observing his request for discretion, had prevented her from informing all her family of Wickham's true character. "Had this been known abroad," he said, "no elopement would have occurred."
"I realized then," Darcy continued, "that I was responsible for the deed, however indirectly, and that I must make amends. I must also relate that the distress on the face of the woman I loved even then was too much to bear. I was therefore resolved to rectify the situation, with Mr. Gardiner's assistance. I must tell you now that in all that was accomplished Elizabeth was foremost in my thoughts. Everything that I did was directed at the restoration of her peace of mind, and through that, the reclamation of your family's rightful place in society. As to reimbursement, may I say again that it is my considered belief that the responsibility was mine and mine alone, so I beg you not to raise the subject again. By consenting to our marriage, and welcoming me into your family, you have already given me something of greater value than anything any financial sum could obtain."
Mr. Bennet was stunned for a moment. He could not immediately comprehend what he had heard. At length he relaxed, stood up, grasped Darcy's hand and shook it vigorously. "Elizabeth was always my favourite among all my daughters." He said. "It is my hope that I may be permitted to visit her in the future." Darcy held his host's hand. "You will always be a welcome visitor in our home, sir," he said, "at your own convenience."
After a few moments, both men left the library to rejoin the others. Darcy went immediately to his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth and sat beside her. When she inquired as to the purpose of his visit with her father, he took her hands in his, and kissed them both. "My love," he said, "nothing now remains between us and eternal happiness. We have now overcome the final hurdle"
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