Pride and Prejudice: A Hobbits Tale Part V
by Lilian C.
Chapter 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13
The large supper Mr. Butterbur had prepared proved to be a smaller affair than expected. Upon spying the younger Bennet girls, the few dwarves at The Prancing Pony that evening opted not to join. They had little to fear anyhow. Kitty and Lydia's attentions would not be diverted from their charming Ranger.
When dinner was served, the girls (and Mr. Collins) were vexed to find that Wickham had chosen the seat next to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth noticed this, she was glad for the opportunity to speak to the man without her sisters' incessant prodding.
"Your sisters are very eager for stories, Miss Bennet, and I was hard pressed to satisfy them," Wickham said to Elizabeth in a low voice.
She chuckled and replied, "Yes, I am well acquainted with their passions, which is why I admire you so much at this moment. Your escape from their clutches must have been no easy feat!"
Wickham laughed softly. "And I was amused by their hasty, and I must say ironic, assumption that I am a Ranger. I am regrettably not of their number, but perhaps I should have been," he said with a wistful smile.
Elizabeth eyed him with curiosity but chose not to inquire into his meaning. "Please excuse my sisters, sir. I am afraid they tend to be very impertinent among company."
"I found them to be amiable, though, as I find all the people of Bree."
"I am glad to hear it. Most people who venture here are of your opinion," Elizabeth said with a slight frown.
Wickham studied her a moment and casually said, "Your sisters related to me much of the current affairs of Bree, and I found one piece of information to be particularly interesting: that a lord of Elves is residing nearby at Netherfield. Have you seen him?"
"Yes, I have seen much of him. Darcë is his name, but a man called Binglorn is the one who has actually taken the house-" Elizabeth noticed Wickham start upon hearing the name of the elf lord, "Do you know of either of them?"
"I know Darcë very well. He was a dear friend of my father when he lived."
Elizabeth looked at Wickham in surprise and was much relieved that she had not declared her unfavorable opinion of the elf lord. She wondered how his father could have become a 'dear friend' of the proud Darcë. "And was this great friendship between Darcë and your father extended to you?"
"No, unfortunately. In fact he has done me great wrong," Wickham gravely replied.
Elizabeth gasped in surprise. "Has he? To tell the truth, I found him to be proud and disagreeable, but I never imagined that- "
"That he would be capable of an act of malice?" Wickham smiled grimly. "Many of his kind are, you know. His kindred in particular. One should not be fooled by their fair semblance."
Elizabeth frowned thoughtfully, finding Wickham's account of Elves to be at odds with her father's; but she could not forget that her own observations of Darcë's behavior supported Wickham's statements.
"Forgive my boldness, but may I ask what wrong Darcë has done you?" Elizabeth asked cautiously.
Wickham did not respond at first, as the servers were just entering with the food. When the table had been laid he said quietly, "There is nothing to forgive. It is probably better that you know of this. My father was a Ranger, and he lived in Imladris, or Rivendell, as it is often called. When I was but a lad, he was mortally injured while pursuing a band of orcs in the mountains. Darcë was with him at the last, and before he died, my father exacted from him a promise that he would look after me and see to it that I was made a Ranger. Though for a while Darcë kept his promise, I found him to be a cold and distant guardian. Perhaps he resented me because his promise kept him from returning to his home at the Havens. I never knew for certain. Whatever the reason for his indifference, I was not prepared for what came to pass a decade later."
"What happened?" Elizabeth inquired breathlessly.
"Darcë accompanied me on my first and only journey with the Rangers. I was eighteen at the time. Our company was small because our errand was not pressing; but this proved ill, for a large company of orcs came upon us at unawares, and we were easily overcome. Our comrades for the most part were slaughtered. Darcë fled with the few remaining survivors - abandoning me in the process. At first I feared that my father's fate would be mine, but chance was kind and I escaped. I did not stray far from the area, though, for I yet had hope that Darcë would return for me. He did not. When at last I found my way back to Imladris, I was not welcomed. I soon discovered that Darcë had turned Master Elrond and all the people against me. So, as you may have guessed, I henceforth had to make my own way in the world."
Elizabeth could not speak for some time, so shocked was she at Wickham's tale. She never expected that her ill opinion of Darcë would be so confirmed.
At last she said, "Malicious does not begin to describe the evils Darcë has done you! I wonder that you could be so calm when the villain is so near!"
Wickham shrugged and said, "For the sake of my father's memory, I cannot think of vengeance. But I do not ask to be pitied! My present situation is prosperous, and I now find myself in the most agreeable society I have ever met."
Elizabeth comprehended his meaning and favored him with a sincere, sympathetic smile. Kitty and Lydia looked upon the two with envy, and Mr. Collins disconsolately picked at his food, occasionally throwing what he hoped were threatening glares in Wickham's direction.
That evening, Elizabeth confided to Jane all that Wickham had told her. Jane offered her usual attentive ear but was not as ready as her sister to condemn Binglorn's dearest friend.
"Elizabeth, consider. Wickham is an acquaintance of but a day," Jane admonished. "Is it wise to so hastily place your trust in his claims?"
"If you had heard him speak, you would believe as I do!" Elizabeth protested. "The grief I saw in his eyes when he spoke of the loss of his father and of Darcë's betrayal could not have been affected!"
"No, I cannot believe that Binglorn would befriend himself to a person capable of such meanness - or that any elf could be so cruel at all!"
"Wickham does not find the latter so difficult to believe, and neither do I. Darcë's behavior confirms it."
Jane sighed helplessly at her sister's obstinacy. "Well, say what you will. I cannot think so ill of Darcë, but neither will I choose to think ill of Wickham. I believe some unfortunate misunderstanding must have occurred to cause the severance of their connection."
Elizabeth helplessly sighed in her turn, having expected no less of her gentle sister.
Smiling at the serious, determined expression upon Elizabeth's face, Jane embraced her sister and bade her return to bed. Deep within, Jane knew that no amount of wise counsel would dissuade Elizabeth from holding fast to her opinions, and that time and experience alone would soften them.
The day following Elizabeth's encounter with Wickham brought Binglorn and Darcë to Longbourn with a personal invitation to the Netherfield Ball. Naturally, their arrival caused an uproar that forced Mr. Bennet into hiding. Mrs. Bennet's happiness on the occasion would have been complete save that Jane had chosen to wear one of her older frocks that day.
Elizabeth had been out walking when man and elf had arrived, and she returned to the house just as tea was being served. Lydia, who was the first to see her when she entered the drawing room, said in a raised voice, "Oh Binglorn! Do invite our dear Wickham to your ball! Elizabeth will certainly come if you can ensure his attendance! Will she not Kitty?"
Kitty sputtered over her tea while Elizabeth and Jane blushed at their sister's impropriety. Elizabeth glanced at Darcë in time to see his features considerably darken at the mention of Wickham, but she turned away at once when his keen eyes met hers.
"I will see what I can do, Miss Lydia," Binglorn replied uncertainly, looking questioningly towards his friend.
After Binglorn and Darcë had taken their leave, Elizabeth and Jane severely scolded their youngest sister, and Mary occasionally recited a proverb, but to no avail. They were rewarded with little more than bouts of giggles.
"I myself will take great pleasure in this event," Mr. Collins said, "for Binglorn appears to be a worthy, respectable fellow and his friend a most noble character indeed! I am sure that Lord Saruman would not object to my cultivating such acquaintances. And, I flatter myself, I will prove to be a worthy partner for all my fair cousins!"
Lydia immediately ceased her giggling and exchanged a look of pure horror with Kitty. Elizabeth began to partake of their feelings when she saw Mr. Collins purposely make his way to her side.
"I will now take the opportunity of claiming your hand, my dear Cousin Elizabeth, for the first dance!" he declared as he grasped her hands with a grotesque simper.
Having the image of her being led onto the dance floor by Mr. Collins vivid in her mind, Elizabeth wished desperately that Binglorn would see to it that Wickham was invited to the ball. But then, she reasoned that Darcë would surely keep Binglorn from doing so, therefore any hope that she might enjoy the evening would be futile.
Allowing for the possibility that she was mistaken and that she might be destined to be Wickham's dance partner that evening, Elizabeth dressed with great care for the ball. She had selected an ivory gown, as Jane often commented that she looked very well in that color, and had her dark curls pulled up with ribbon and strands of delicate white blossoms. Unfortunately, Mr. Collins noticed this and did not scruple to assume that her pains were for his sake. After Mrs. Bennet had approved the dress of each of her daughters and had thrice ordered Jane to change her gown, the Bennet family set out for Netherfield.
As their carriage entered the gates of Netherfield, Elizabeth looked out and saw the house and surrounding trees lit with a multitude of gold and silver lamps. People dressed in their finest frocks milled about the grounds, the sound of their laughter a gentle accompaniment to the night wind.
Mr. Bennet looked upon the scene as well and smiled.
"Darcë procured those lamps, I imagine," he whispered to Elizabeth. "It was his kindred who first developed the art of their construction."
Elizabeth nodded mutely in response to her father's information. She really had no desire to sully the evening with a discussion of his attributes.
Binglorn hailed them immediately when they entered the great hall, and Elizabeth was pleased to see that Jane received the majority of his attentions. In fact, Binglorn seemed to forget that a steady stream of guests followed the Bennets and escorted Jane to the ballroom.
At that moment, Mr. Collins reminded Elizabeth of his odious presence by unceremoniously taking her arm and following Binglorn and Jane. Elizabeth did not attend to his recitation of compliments, her attention instead being employed with the search for Wickham. Though she had frequently counseled herself that his presence was unlikely, she was nonetheless disappointed when she did not see him; and Mr. Collins did not lift her spirits by insisting on being her partner throughout the evening.
At least I do not see Darcë anywhere. He probably managed to excuse himself from the affair. So much the better, I doubt I could be even remotely civil to him this evening, she thought morosely.
But Darcë was present; and in spite of all the objections he continually forced himself to consider, his eyes could not stray away from the vision in white that had appeared on the opposite side of the ballroom. Indeed, her image had never ceased to accost him ever since he first beheld her at the Bree assembly. It was with a lesser extent of feeling that he regarded the man at her side. Darcë had much ado to keep himself from extricating her - in a proper manner, of course - from his grasp, but Mr. Butterbur fortunately approached them and did the deed himself.
"I have a reason for claiming your attention, Niece, but for the life of me, I cannot remember it!" Mr. Butterbur said. "It has to do with that one fellow the Ranger "
"Wickham?" Elizabeth asked eagerly.
"The very name I was trying to think of! But why did I think of him? Oh, how am I to know? I tell you, it has been a hard week, and I should have known better than to accept Binglorn's invitation! What has a busy man like myself to do at a ball? I usually leave such affairs to your mother. She has a greater affinity for them. Why does that cousin of your father's hang about so officiously? Surely you're too smart a girl to encourage the likes of him!"
"But Uncle, what of Wickham?"
"Wickham? The Ranger? Oh, of course, the message! It at last comes to me! I am to give you and your sisters his apologies as he has been prevented from attending the ball. He shan't miss much, I dare say, though you girls do look very well this evening; but then you hardly need a fancy dress to appear lovely. It is a good thing that you all inherited your mother's looks. I do not believe you would have faired so well otherwise! There goes that man again! Sir, do you have some business with us?"
Mr. Collins appeared quite taken aback at Mr. Butterbur's abrupt address and said, "Dear sir! Pardon my intrusion, but your niece has most kindly bestowed upon myself the honor of her hand for the first dance, and I seek to claim it."
Mr. Butterbur looked uncertainly from his niece to the simpering little man before him and shook his head. "I suppose it is no business of mine whom my nieces choose to dance with!"
Mr. Collins bowed low and proceeded to lead a very sullen Elizabeth to the line of dancers that was forming in the center of the room. As she turned to face her partner, Elizabeth saw Darcë for the first time, and her cheeks crimsoned in anger. Her only consolation at that time was seeing that Jane and Binglorn would lead the first dance.
Then, all her emotions fell away as the loveliest sounds Elizabeth had ever heard drifted through the ballroom and mingled with the forming line of dancers. She turned in astonishment towards the music's source and beheld a quintet of elven minstrels. Not even her newly formed prejudice against their kind prevented her from being momentarily lost in the enchantment of their art.
But not even the most skilled elven minstrels could keep Elizabeth from noticing Mr. Collins' foot upon her own. From that moment, all notions of enchantment were quite lost upon her as she was pushed and pulled through all the steps of the dance. When the painful experience finally ended, Elizabeth noticed with dismay that the hem of her frock was torn.
Well, perhaps I look enough of a casualty to discourage Mr. Collins from demanding a second dance, Elizabeth thought as she made her way to where Charlotte Lucas stood. She breathed a sigh of relief as she turned and saw that Mr. Collins was engaged with Mary a good distance away.
"My dear Elizabeth," Charlotte whispered, "what were you dancing with?"
"A distant cousin of my father's as well as the man who will inherit Longbourn," Elizabeth replied with a scowl.
"And he is trying to attach himself to you," Charlotte observed thoughtfully. "Does he know he has a rival?"
"Rival? What are you talking about? When considering the likes of Mr. Collins, anyone could be considered a rival!"
Charlotte laughed at her friend's rejoinder and whispered, "Hush, Elizabeth! Speak more softly! The person in question is just behind us!"
With a dramatic movement, Elizabeth turned on her heel and then laughed heartily upon seeing to whom Charlotte was alluding.
"Dear Charlotte! I am in desperate need of amusement this evening, so pray tell me what led you to conclude that I have an admirer in one who considers me only tolerable."
"I will have you know that I considered his unfortunate remark before I came to my conclusion," Charlotte insisted with a teasing smile, "and I found it hard to believe that any noble, cultured being would wish to spend such an abundance of time gazing at what he thinks is only tolerable!"
Elizabeth shrugged. "He delights in finding fault with others, and I must be the object of his disdain for the evening. Besides, you have not considered everything, because you do not know everything there is to consider!"
"What do you mean?"
In a lowered voice, Elizabeth related to her friend all that Wickham had revealed to her, enumerating every particular that made Darcë appear to the most disadvantage. Charlotte's face became gradually more solemn as she listened to her.
"Wickham's tale is shocking, but how can you be certain it is not no more than a tale? Darcë is less a stranger here than Wickham. Should we not give Darcë the benefit of the doubt?" Charlotte asked.
Elizabeth sighed in frustration. "You speak as Jane did. If Darcë can contradict it, then so be it! Until then, my opinions of both are fixed."
Elizabeth jumped at the sound of her name and looked up to see the subject of her and Charlotte's debate standing before them. Elizabeth curtsied in acknowledgement of the elf lord while ignoring Charlotte's pointed look.
"I would be very happy if you would join me for the next dance, Miss Bennet," Darcë said with a smile Charlotte did not doubt was genuine.
By Lillian C.