Pride and Prejudice: A Hobbit's Tale Part VI
by Lillian C.
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Elizabeth was so flustered by Darcë's unexpected application that she murmured her thanks without quite knowing what she was about. Darcë, considering this sufficient encouragement, held aloft his hand, and Elizabeth reluctantly accepted it, as no reasonable forms of refusal came to mind. She flushed with vexation when she saw how her hand trembled as it was enveloped by his larger one.
Charlotte, who observed this exchange with calculating eyes, was determined to keep to her conclusions, however much her friend may protest. After all, it has surely happened before, Charlotte thought. I am fairly certain I heard a tale somewhere of such an affair.
And so, once more that evening, the unfortunate Elizabeth found herself on the dance floor without any expectation that she would spend the minutes that would follow in a pleasant manner. Of course, she did not expect that Darcë would prove to be the clumsy oaf that her former partner had been. In fact, when the music began, he led her through the first steps and turns with the natural grace of a well-practiced dancer. Elizabeth almost admitted to herself that she was pleasantly surprised. However, this easy grace was all that Darcë had to recommend him as a dance partner, for he seemed determined to proceed without saying a word.
His partner endured his silence as long as she could (which was not very long) be fore she said, "I believe I once heard you say you did not enjoy balls."
"I admit that, as a rule, I do not. However, it does not necessarily follow that I would never take pleasure in a dance."
"Then, I may assume that your apparent mastery of the art of dancing proceeds from experience after all?" Elizabeth inquired with an arch smile.
"I have attended my fair share of dances, Miss Bennet, but perhaps it is the superior skill of one's partner that is the means of affecting one's own skill as a dancer."
Elizabeth, confused at his gallantry, said, "Your flattery is in vain, my lord. As I have already been informed of your true nature, I can sincerely say that it does not become you."
Darcë's expression darkened considerably, leaving Elizabeth without a doubt that he understood whom her informer was. Elizabeth decided venture further.
"My sisters and I have lately been fortunate to meet one who claims to be an old acquaintance of yours."
When Darcë did not respond, she said, "Oddly enough, we took him for a Ranger at first. He made it clear, however, that he is not of the Rangers, though perhaps it should have been otherwise. Indeed, I could not help feeling pity for his plight, made desperate because he placed his confidence here it was not deserved."
Darcë frowned and said, "I hope it is with the utmost care that you choose where to place your confidence, for the world is inhabited by many who would deceive."
"True," Elizabeth observed, vexed at his insinuation, "and I pride myself in my ability to find them out."
"Then you are fortunate, Miss Bennet," Darcë curtly replied.
They finished the dance in thoughtful silence, each wishing to say more but neither daring to do so, and parted with mutual dissatisfaction; but the heart of Darcë would not allow him to be displeased with Elizabeth, and his anger was directed towards another.
When Darcë returned Elizabeth to Charlotte's side, the latter asked asked, "Well, dear, was the experience as wretched as you anticipated?"
Elizabeth looked at Charlotte thoughtfully and said, "Truthfully, I do not know. I know not what to make of him most of the time. It does not matter though. I shall not make the mistake of agreeing to dance with him again."
Charlotte sighed wearily and led the way to the dining hall, as supper had just been announced.
At supper, Mr. Collins once again made his way to Elizabeth's side and procured a seat next to her at the table, an arrangement that left Elizabeth without an appetite. Charlotte was kind enough to sit on Elizabeth's other side and attempt to divert his attentions from Elizabeth.
During the brief moments when Mr. Collins was not pestering her, Elizabeth regarded her elder sister who was seated further down the table at Binglorn's right. Mrs. Bennet unluckily noticed this as well and did not scruple making known her hopes in a most audible fashion. Elizabeth, who being seated across from her could hear her boasts with perfect clarity, vainly tried to steer her mother towards another topic of conversation. Her mother would not understand her, though. What was worse was that Darcë had chosen the seat next to Mrs. Bennet. Though he appeared not to listen, Elizabeth did not mistake the distaste that shone in his eyes. Thankfully, Jane and Binglorn were too much engaged with each other to notice.
Lydia was the one who eventually disturbed the pair. She sprung upon them with Kitty following close behind.
"What are you two talking of so secretly?" Lydia demanded.
Jane and Binglorn's faces simultaneously turned a deep shade of red. Jane looked down in shame, but Binglorn soon recovered and said, "Good evening, Miss Lydia. I hope you are enjoying yourself!"
"Not at all! Kitty and I have not been able to find our dear Wickham anywhere! I know he must have been invited, so where have you hidden him? Our sister, Elizabeth has especially been hoping to see him!"
Upon hearing the latter, Darcë abruptly rose from the table and quitted the room. His exit was witnessed by few, however, as most eyes were directed towards the head of the table.
"I do apologize, Miss Lydia, but Wickham could not be found when sought for. Perhaps it would please you to hear some music? I am sure my elven friends would be willing to delight us once more with a song!"
Lydia was at once appeased, for she delighted in any opportunity for dancing, and she promptly left Binglorn in search of a partner.
Strangely enough, the music that soon began was not the lovely melodies that had previously enchanted their ears but strains of some simple ballad accompanied by a voice that painfully labored to reach the heights of a soprano. With the deepest mortification, Elizabeth and Jane found themselves familiar with the air and turned to see that their sister Mary, upon hearing a request for music, had hurried ahead of the elven minstrels, seized one of their harps and was playing upon it. The elves appeared not to know whether to be offended at Mary's impertinence or take pity on her sad lack of talent.
Elizabeth felt that she had reached the limit of what she could endure. Her younger sisters seemed absolutely determined to expose themselves. Her mother was of course oblivious to the impropriety of her sisters' actions, and her father appeared to be merely amused by them. Therefore, she could do little more than sit and watch the people around her laugh at her family's expense.
Outside, Mary's singing reached Darcë's ears, but he remarkably failed to notice it. He was preoccupied with his own internal struggle. He had made more than one discovery that evening that called for quick action.
After hearing Mrs. Bennet's comments, he had made a point of watching Binglorn and Miss Bennet together, and he came to the conclusion that it seemed likely his friend would soon enmesh himself in a difficult situation. Darcë did not intend to allow that to happen.
Darcë was also concerned with the danger his own feelings would pose to himself if he did not make a decision soon. He had long since admitted to himself the extent of his regard for Elizabeth Bennet, but this admittance did nothing to lessen his fear of it. As he gazed upward at Eärendil's star, his face assumed a look of grim determination. His decision was made.
As one would expect of the night following a ball, most of Longbourn's inhabitants were still asleep long after the sun had risen. Mr. Bennet, ever the early riser, savored this rare occasion of peace and quiet with a favorite book and a sip of his treasured miruvor. His morning passed so agreeably that he fancied he might not object to many more balls in the future. All the same, he welcomed his second eldest daughter with a warm smile when she entered his library and intruded upon his solitude. It is often seen, though, that the best of things are of short duration, and the companionable silence of father and daughter was no exception.
"ELIZABETH! ELIZABETH! YOU ARE WANTED IMMEDIATELY! Oh, where has that wretched girl hid herself? ELIZABETH!"
Mr. Bennet listened to his wife's shrieking with an air of calm, but he turned to Elizabeth with pleading eyes and said, "My dear, do go see if you can put a stop to that noise."
Elizabeth frowned in annoyance and left the security of her father's library.
"I will be here if I am needed," Mr. Bennet called after her (quite unnecessarily, of course).
Following her mother's cries into the drawing room, Elizabeth came face to face with her and Mr. Collins, each wearing a self-satisfied smile. She looked between the two suspiciously and regretted not following her first instinct of ignoring her mother's summons and escaping outdoors. Mrs. Bennet took her daughters hands and kissed her cheek.
"My dear, dear girl. I want you to sit here and listen to what Mr. Collins has to say to you."
Elizabeth watched with dismay as her mother turned to leave the room and called, "Mama, you need not leave! Mr. Collins cannot have- "
"Hush, silly girl, and stay where you are!" Mrs. Bennet commanded as she shut the door behind her.
Sighing deeply, Elizabeth turned to face Mr. Collins. The trepidation she felt as she stood alone to receive the addresses of the most odious of men was no doubt comparable to what Fingolfin, the High Elven King of old, felt upon daring to face Morgoth himself. But unlike that mighty warrior, Elizabeth was left unarmed and could only sit resignedly and await her doom.
"Miss Elizabeth, my dear cousin," Mr. Collins began, "you cannot but have noticed the fervent regard I have felt for you from the first moment - er, almost from the first moment of having met you; and considering how I am to inherit your father's estate, I think it most prudent that we marry. Lord Saruman the White himself recommended that I choose a wife from among the ladies of Longbourn and promised to welcome her with honor should I choose to bring her to Isengard. With such great considerations, your prospects as my wife, I flatter myself, are infinitely superior to all others you may have, therefore I am certain you will not hesitate to accept my hand."
The face of Mr. Collins' beloved had become an alarming shade of red by the time he completed his speech, but what he took to be the lovely blush of modesty was actually the affect of a great deal of suppressed laughter. As Elizabeth was in no condition to give a verbal response, Mr. Collins believed himself answered in the affirmative and proceeded to congratulate himself on the success of his suit.
"Dear Elizabeth, you are quite as intelligent as you are beautiful, as is evident by your choice in my favor!" Mr. Collins gushed as he took her hand. "That being decided, I will now relate the good news to your worthy parents!"
Elizabeth lost all sense of amusement in the situation when she saw how pitifully convinced Mr. Collins was of his victory over her heart.
"Sir!" Elizabeth called before he had left the room. "You are a bit hasty, as I have yet to make an answer! I thank you for your proposal, but I cannot accept it."
Unfortunately, this firm refusal did not seem to make an impression on the man, for he turned to regard her with a knowing smile saying, "Your feigned reluctance is most charming, my dear, though I hope it will be dispelled ere we meet at the alter!"
"You grossly misunderstand me, sir! Please take my refusal seriously, for I meant every word! Though I do not doubt your respectability, I cannot -I will not- accept your hand!"
"Nay, dearest, I understand! And may I say that your feminine modesty does your great credit. You will be a great asset to me, and I daresay Lord Saruman will applaud my choice!"
Feeling her temper rise at Mr. Collins' persistent absurdity, Elizabeth fled his presence in disgust and returned to the library where she found her father much as she had left him.
"I thank you, child. I have not heard a peep in the last five minutes at least," Mr. Bennet said as he turned a page in his book.
Though by no means a particularly intelligent sort, Mrs. Bennet found it less difficult than Mr. Collins to believe that Elizabeth had refused his proposal. Her ire upon discovering it reached the ears of every living creature within a ten-mile range of Longbourn and actually convinced a certain few that an army of Ring Wraiths was upon them. (If it had been so, it may be said that the situation would not have been as dire. After all, a Ring Wraith habitually prefers to attack in the dead of night in some dark, lonely place; and a Mrs. Bennet would just as soon attack in broad daylight as any other time, as long as an eligible bachelor was within reach!)
It did not take long after Mr. Collins was convinced of the hopelessness of his suit for him to come to the conclusion that his dear Lord Saruman the White surely could not be getting on without him. Within a day following this realization, Mr. Collins was hastening south upon his unfortunate steed, and a majority of the Bennet family was breathing sighs of relief. Thus, Saruman's cunning plan to rid himself of one of his more officious servants came to naught.
(Of course the reader familiar with Jane Austen's story will note that Mr. Collins' marital fate -or lack thereof- is a significant change. I am sorry, but I just could not do what Jane Austen did to poor Charlotte!)
A week had passed since the Netherfield Ball when Kitty and Lydia returned from an afternoon in town with the news that Binglorn and Darcë had left the region with no intention of returning in the near future. Most everyone was surprised and disturbed at the news, for different reasons. Elizabeth was pained for Jane's sake. Though Jane strove to conceal her feelings, Elizabeth was convinced her sister was deeply hurt that Binglorn had left without a word. Mrs. Bennet, of course, could be counted on to lament the loss of any prospective suitor. But more than anyone else, Mr. Bennet was uneasy about the abrupt departure, and when Kitty and Lydia had finished their tale, he retired to his library to write some letters.
"Everyone is leaving Bree these days! There have been no Rangers since before the ball!" Kitty whined.
"And there has been no word from Wickham," Lydia said as she eyed Elizabeth thoughtfully, "unless Elizabeth knows something we do not!"
Elizabeth chose to ignore this comment and went upstairs in search of Jane, who had disappeared when Binglorn's departure was first revealed. She tapped lightly upon Jane's door and received permission to enter.
"How are you, Jane?" Elizabeth asked tenderly.
"It matters not, Elizabeth," she whispered. "I shall be well and content, as I was before. Please do not be concerned for my sake. If I was mistaken about Binglorn's feelings, then I am to blame for it. And I believe I was mistaken."
"I do not believe that!" Elizabeth cried. "It cannot be doubted that Binglorn is very much in love with you! If anything, it is Darcë who has convinced him to leave, no doubt having had enough of lowly mortals. I am sure that once Binglorn has learned not to rely so much on the opinion of his friend, he will realize his mistake and return."
Jane regarded her sister sadly and said, "So you are still determined to think the worst of Binglorn's friend? I simply cannot imagine him as the villain you described. Well, whatever the part he has played, his intentions could not have been wrong."
Elizabeth sighed in exasperation. "Believe what you will, Jane. There can be no real harm in believing the best of everyone. I would have you know that I often envy you this."
Jane answered with a soft smile but turned away to hide the tears that had been threatening to reveal themselves. Elizabeth took the hint and bade her sister goodnight.
Summer reached Eriador soon after, but it offered no encouragement for the hopes that had been formed in the spring. Tidings of Binglorn never came, and Mrs. Bennet began once more to fret over the desolate futures of her daughters. Jane maintained her cheerful countenance as well as she could, but Elizabeth could always sense her inner melancholy. Elizabeth herself had to contend with her own disappointment. Wickham never returned to Bree. Though the acquaintance of less than a day, she could not forget the favorable impression he had made on her. She tried to lift her spirits with hopes that Wickham's fortune may take a turn for the better. With the disappearance of all the prospective suitors near Bree, the Rangers seemed to have disappeared as well. Thus, Kitty and Lydia became quite as quarrelsome as their mother and bemoaned the lack of diversion in their lives. Mary was perhaps the only one blessed with a heart unaffected by the dark moods that had infected Longbourn, for she found many opportunities for sermonizing to her younger sisters.
Mr. Bennet was not about to endure his wife's despondence any more than necessary and deemed that the time was right to go on an extended adventure. Months earlier, Gandalf had extended an invitation to him to go to Rivendell, and he had yet to accept. In view of recent events related to Binglorn and the Rangers (and not to mention the high concentration of female emotions that had pervaded his house), he thought it prudent to take Gandalf and Master Elrond up on their offer at once.
And I think I will at last take pity on poor Elizabeth by taking her along. She has played the part of the provincial country lass long enough, and it never became her, Mr. Bennet considered with a chuckle.