Pride and Prejudice: A Hobbit's Tale Part IX
by Lillian C.
Chapter 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13
"Wickham!" Darcë muttered contemptuously as he watched Elizabeth's white form disappear from the Hall. When Darcë learned last fall that the man he once swore to protect had again crossed his path, little did he anticipate the extent of the damage he would cause before he returned to the shadows, though Darcë felt he should have expected it. The malice that Darcë had detected in the youth was as strong a presence in the man, and it had always been the deciding factor in all of Wickham's actions. His only hope now was that he might be able to defend himself against Wickham's accusations, whatever they may be; and if that meant exposing the entire history of his connection with him, then so be it.
Darcë stiffened when he heard the soft murmur of elven speech and laughter growing louder as Elrond and his people made their way to the Hall of Fire. The sound of their merriment was a cruel mockery to his wounded heart. Preferring not to allow the others, Georgianiel in particular, to witness his unhappiness, Darcë hastily exited the Hall through a side door and sought a place where he might write a letter in peace.
Elizabeth did not emerge from her room the next morning. Her father and Georgianiel each sent concerned messages up to her, but she would only answer that she was strangely fatigued and desired seclusion.
What she chose not to reveal was that her fatigue was due to the fact that she had wept long into the night over the events of the previous evening.
With amazement and near disbelief, Elizabeth recalled Darcë's words and the fevered looks that accompanied them. When her mind was finally able to accept their full meaning, she found that her previous view of him was entirely overthrown. That the cold and severe elf lord who had succeeded in preventing a union between his friend and her sister would seek to form one with her was incredible! On what grounds could Darcë object to Binglorn's association with Jane save her humble origins? Would not the consequences of such a union be infinitely more considerable for Darcë?
Elizabeth was not above feeling flattered by the implication of Darcë's decision to declare his feelings. In truth, she found it highly gratifying to know that she could inspire a love so strong it would compel Darcë to relinquish his immortality in exchange for a life with her. For the briefest moment, she felt compassion for him and regretted the pain her sharp refusal must have caused, but never once did she regret that her answer was a refusal, neither did she doubt that his insufferable pride would soon lessen the ardency of his feelings.
It was not until early in the afternoon that Elizabeth chose to leave her room. Desiring not to see Georgianiel just yet, she stealthily made her way to Elrond's library where she hoped she would find her father. When she reached the door she was seeking and pushed it open, a rush of air that smelled of dust and old paper brushed past her. The room was almost entirely dark save where a candle burned on a desk at the far end. The light was partially obstructed by the large chair at the desk that faced away from her. Closing the door behind her, Elizabeth stepped softly to the desk where she expected to find her father pouring over some ancient scroll.
However, the eyes that met hers when reached the chair were Darcë's, and they strangely bore no hint of surprise at her presence. Whatever his task, it seemed he had just completed it, for he was in the process of sealing what appeared to be a letter.
Before Elizabeth could say a word, Darcë hastily rose and offered her the letter saying, "Miss Bennet, do not leave just now. Please do me the honor of reading this letter."
Elizabeth accepted it in silence, and Darcë departed with a slight bow. Seeing that a considerable amount of the candle remained - Darcë had obviously replaced it shortly before her arrival - she took the seat he had vacated and tore the letter's seal. Written in small, elegant script was the following:
Miss Elizabeth Bennet,
Fear not, Lady. I entertain no notions of accosting you once more with my proposals. Rather, I seek to defend my character from the accusations you implied this evening, particularly those that relate to Wickham.
I know not the nature of your relations with Wickham, neither can I fathom what tales he has told you; but here follows a truthful account of my connection with him. Wickham's father was an honorable and valiant man, great among the Dúnedain, and I dearly valued his friendship. Sadly, his life was untimely cut short, and for the sake of our friendship, I vowed to him ere he died that I would raise his son as my own. Wickham was then but nine years old. I took him with me to my home in Mithlond, and during the years that followed, I endeavored to give Wickham all the care his father would have provided had he lived. Círdan the Shipwright, Lord of the Havens, himself took great pains with the boy, teaching him all that was necessary to follow the path of wisdom. Yet, as Wickham grew older, I began to see that our efforts were in vain. I know now that the pain of his loss had become a seed of malice sown deep into his heart. He never learned to resolve his anger and hatred but hid them within himself. As this hidden evil increasingly began to manifest itself through Wickham's words and actions, Cirdan counseled that I return him to his father's people. However, I could not bear the thought of having my friend's son - and my oath - thus cast away. I resolved instead to have him accompany me to Imladris, where I hoped his spirit would find healing through the wisdom of Master Elrond. Wickham was loath to make the journey, for reasons he refused to explain. Finding however that I was firm in my decision, he stole from his home of nine years the night before we were to leave for Imladris. For many months I searched for him, enlisting the help of the Dúnedain and people of Círdan's and Elrond's households. Long after the trail had grown cold and everyone had declared the situation hopeless, I continued the search but to no avail. For ten years, I heard nothing of Wickham. Then, Binglorn journeyed to Mithlond to personally deliver the tidings I had feared the most. Wickham was alive, but he had entered into the service of the Enemy. The further details Binglorn had learned of Wickham's condition in life left me without a doubt that he was utterly lost. It is fortunate that he never reached Imladris. I dare not imagine the evil that would come to pass if the exact location of that refuge was ever betrayed to the Enemy. Until last fall in Bree, I have learned nothing else of Wickham's doings or of his whereabouts, but the guilt of his fall is ever with me.
Master Elrond and Glorfindel can each testify to the credibility of this account. They are each only too familiar with the particulars of this history. I refer you to them if you yet have any doubts in this matter.
As to your sister and Binglorn, I will unreservedly admit to having done all I could to prevent the match. Though I will undoubtedly incur your displeasure, I will confess that I rejoice in my success.
I quickly detected Binglorn's growing partiality to Miss Bennet, but it was not until the Netherfield Ball that I realized how far his feelings had progressed. Your sister's manners were as pleasant and engaging as ever, but I could find no evidence that Binglorn's love was reciprocated. I concluded that her heart must be almost untouchable. That very evening, I confronted him, and he unabashedly declared his intentions of proposing marriage at the earliest opportunity. Informing him of your sister's apparent indifference, I persuaded him to abandon his suit and quit Netherfield. You may believe my interference to have been unwarranted, but I could not allow my friend to entrap himself within a marriage to a woman who does not love him and whose connections are, forgive me, less than desirable. Thus, I can see no fault in my actions on his behalf. However, I do apologize for any pain those actions may have caused you and your family.
To this letter, I will only add my sincere wishes for your health and happiness.
Towards the bottom of the final page, Elizabeth made out Darcë's name written in Fëanorian letters.
Elizabeth left her journal open upon the windowsill, and the pages that were visible were stained with the evidence of several feeble attempts at capturing into words the events of the last two days. Deciding after an hour or two that her efforts would not relieve her agitated heart and were more likely to distress her sister's tender sensibilities, she relinquished the task in favor of silent, but troubled meditation.
Strangely enough, what Darcë's letter had revealed about the true nature of her villain did not plague her nearly as much as what the letter had revealed about herself. She was overcome with shame as she reflected upon the blindness caused by her prejudice. Recollections that had formerly convinced her of Darcë's guilt resurfaced with new clarity, and she blushed to think of her naiveté. Jane and Charlotte both had had reservations about Wickham's story, and she wondered that she had paid them so little heed, being only too willing to lend an ear to anyone with something evil to say of Darcë, even the acquaintance of a day. However, despite her current better knowledge, Elizabeth still could not regret the manner of her refusal of Darcë's hand. She believed his abominable pride and his ill usage of Jane and Binglorn did merit its warmth.
Elizabeth looked towards the windowsill where the journal lay open to reveal her sad handiwork. A poor substitute for a sister's comfort, she thought bitterly as she closed it.
A slight noise outside her door followed by a timid knock brought Elizabeth out of her dark reverie. She reluctantly left her seat by the window and opened the door just enough for her to peer out into the hall. Georgianiel stood there bearing a small tray.
"I hope you are better. I have brought you some dinner. Your father does not believe you have eaten anything all day," Georgianiel said as she observed Elizabeth's face with concern.
"I believe you are right," Elizabeth said, surprise evident in her voice. "You were very kind to think of me. Please come in."
Elizabeth's response seemed to ease some of the tension in Georgianiel's countenance, and she entered her room with her usual bright smile.
"I have missed our walks, Elizabeth. It has been two days since you have been outdoors. That alone is sufficient to prove you have not been well. How do you feel now?"
"Hungry, now that you have reminded me!"
Georgianiel laughed lightly and said, "Ah Elizabeth, you would make a sorry hobbit. You should have seen dear Bilbo's distress when he heard you had forgotten at least three consecutive meals!"
Elizabeth shook her head. "He would be surprised at how easy it is to do."
Georgianiel frowned at her friend's seriousness. "What has happened, Elizabeth? Has it anything to do with Darcë?"
She found the change in Elizabeth's facial expression as she heard Darcë's name an adequate answer to both questions.
"Why would you believe that?" Elizabeth asked, obviously unaware of how much her face betrayed.
"Because he has just told Master Elrond and me of his intention to depart for Mithlond in the morning, though he had planned to remain for some time!" Georgianiel stated plainly. Her voice was steady, but Elizabeth did not miss the tears that began to fill her eyes. "Neither I nor Elrond could imagine a reason for this sudden change, and Darcë was not willing to explain the matter. It is not like Darcë to act rashly, so I can only that assume something dreadful has happened."
"I am sorry," Elizabeth whispered as she turned away. "It is all my fault."
"How so, Elizabeth?" Georgianiel asked.
Elizabeth colored and dared not reply. She had apparently not expected to be overheard.
"Elizabeth, if you can shed any light on this matter-"
"I am afraid I cannot. Forgive me," Elizabeth said firmly.
The tension that had existed between them moments before returned, and Elizabeth was sorry for it, but she was not ready to speak openly of her cares. Sensing Elizabeth's need for solitude, Georgianiel took her leave but not before exacting from her a promise for a walk the following morning.
"After he departs, your presence will be necessary to keep me from excesses of sorrow," Georgianiel said with a wry smile as she closed the door.
Mr. Bennet was greatly relieved the following morning when his daughter joined him for breakfast. She appeared wan and fatigued, but her eyes twinkled almost as merrily as before. Bilbo, who sat on one side of Mr. Bennet, would not be relieved until he saw Elizabeth eating, and he persistently had generous helpings of various foods added to her plate. After all, it was beyond the old hobbit's ability to comprehend how one could survive a whole day in Elrond's house without repast. Mr. Bennet chuckled as he observed the growing mountain on Elizabeth's plate and listened to her vain protests.
"We have had a bit of news this morning Elizabeth," Mr. Bennet began with a teasing smile. Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably. "It seems that your favorite has fled the countryside. He must have found you to be too formidable an opponent, eh? Well, well. I suppose I should have warned him, but one would expect a person of his stature to be able to fend for himself."
"And who are you referring to as my favorite, Sir?" Elizabeth inquired with what nonchalance she could muster.
"You know perfectly well of whom I am speaking! Your tall, dark, brooding elf! You know, the one in whose company you have taken such great pleasure." Elizabeth forced herself to laugh lightly at her father's taunts. "Ah, I knew you would be tragically affected by the news. You need not fear, though. Darcës are to be had in abundance here."
"I assure you, Father, that one was quite enough for me. And Mr. Baggins! Two slices of ham are also quite enough. I do not need a third and fourth!"
Fortunately, Georgianiel arrived and rescued her friend from her Father's teasing and Bilbo's solicitous attentions on behalf of her appetite. As Georgianiel led the way to the gardens, Elizabeth found her manner to be much less despondent than she had expected. She sang prettily as she walked and greeted everyone they encountered with a smile.
Finally Elizabeth could tolerate it no longer and asked, "Georgianiel, why this sudden cheerfulness? Has something happened?"
"Yes. I have news!" she exclaimed. "A small company is to travel to the Havens in September, and I will be of the party!"
"I see," Elizabeth said with a sympathetic smile. "Then you will soon be reunited with your kinsman."
Georgianiel frowned slightly. "Yes, but he will not be expecting me. Darcë left before sunrise this morning, a few hours before I learned of the company and made my decision. But that is not all, Elizabeth! Our company will pass close to your home along the way, and when it does, I want you to join our party. I have taken the liberty of suggesting the idea to your father, and he readily gave his consent."
"To the Havens? To Mithlond?" Elizabeth trembled as the possible consequences of such a scheme flashed through her mind. It would surely not be prudent for her to journey to his home. Would it not give him the wrong impression of her intentions? "I do not think I can "
"Please, Elizabeth, do consent!" Georgianiel pleaded. "If you do not, I fear our parting here in Imladris will be forever, for I will soon follow my kindred into the West."
Georgianiel looked upon her so earnestly that Elizabeth had not the power to refuse, and the idea that she would never again see her delightful elf friend greatly depressed her. Thus, Elizabeth gave her consent and hid her misgivings deep within her heart.