A Hobbit's Tale: Part I by Lillian C.
Author's Note: I was inspired to write this by a passage in Morgoth's Ring that hints at a tragic and touchingly beautiful love story. Unfortunately, it was only mentioned in Morgoth's Ring, and Tolkien never embellished it. After reading the passage, I soon noticed the parallels between that story and Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice. In this unlikely crossover, I transplanted Tolkien's story from the First Age to the Third Age and adjusted it to fit the P&P scenario. Therefore, the characters and names I have added are Jane Austenís, but everything else belongs to Tolkien!
Throughout Middle Earth, it is universally understood that hobbits, when sitting at the fireside among friends and tolerable relations, must close the day with a pipe and tobacco (Longbottom Leaf, of course!) and a good tale. At the time when the Fourth Age was yet young, the most popular tales in all the lands recounted the journey of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom or the glorious reign of King Elessar.
However, the hobbits as well as the Big Folk of Bree often remember another tale, a tale that took place during those years of tension and unrest before the War of the Ring. They alone remember it, for it was nearly lost amid the wars and darkness that arose at the end of the Third Age. (And, more importantly, it was based on a rather local occurrence.)
Here, the tale is written as the Big and Little Folk of Bree remember it:
On the outskirts of the town of Bree stood the house called Longbourn where lived the Bennet family. Though not wealthy by any means, the Bennets were highly respected among the Bree-folk, for their descendants had lived at Longbourn beyond the recollection of even the eldest of the townspeople. Some even believed that their descendants could be traced back to the first Men that wandered into the West of Middle Earth ages ago.
However, at the waning of the Third Age, the Bennets' respectability was endangered. Mr. Bennet suffered from the most pitiable condition of being the father of five daughters and no sons. Thus, the Bennets would soon sadly be no more.
What was even worse in the eyes of the Bree-folk was the fact that Longbourn was to be inherited by some outsider upon Mr. Bennet's death. Though quite accustomed to travelers from foreign regions, the Bree-folk were by no means partial to the idea of one settling permanently at one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood!
Of course, the Bennets themselves were keenly aware of the misfortune of their situation, but they, Mrs. Bennet in particular, tended to lament consequences of a different nature than those most feared by the common Bree-lander. If at least one of the five Miss Bennets did not made a profitable match before the death of the father, they would be no less than penniless and left at the mercy of a William Collins, a distant relation of Mr. Bennet's who lived in some strange land in the south. Mrs. Bennet's greatest fear was that she and her unmarried daughters would be forced to work at The Prancing Pony, her brother's inn at the heart of Bree. Her daily wails and lamentations were more than Mr. Bennet could tolerate, so he habitually sought refuge in his small library or in long walks that sometimes extended as far as the Old Forest.
Fortunately for her daughters, Mrs. Bennet was not always to be found in the depths of despair. She found the greatest comfort in her anticipations for her eldest daughter, Jane. Jane was surpassingly beautiful, as fair as an elf-maid, and her disposition was as sweet. After all, Mrs. Bennet often mused, why would great beauty be endowed to a lady if not to catch her a good husband?
For her next two daughters, Mrs. Bennet had little hope. Elizabeth, though endowed with a modest amount of beauty, had none of her elder sister's sweetness and all of her father's irony. Perhaps it might be very well for a man to have such wit, but it was not at all becoming in a lady! And poor Mary! She was as plain as any common Bree-lass and found no amusement outside a book cover, except when she played airs upon her little harp. Kitty and Lydia, the two youngest Miss Bennets, were pretty and lively girls, though they could not be compared with Jane. Their mother was certain that they at least would marry once Jane was well settled.
So poor Jane was burdened with the greater share of her mother's hopes and schemes, and she knew her mother would not rest until those hopes were gratified.
Mrs. Bennet's eyes were always open and eager. Good catches were not to be found at Bree, so when opportunity should arise, she must be ready to snatch it. And one day, an opportunity did come...
"Come girls! Not a moment is to be lost!"
Bursting from the doors of The Prancing Pony, Mrs. Bennet scurried down the streets of Bree, her two youngest daughters following close behind. Kitty and Lydia pleaded to their mother in vain for an exclamation of her excitement and haste.
"Nay, girls! Mr. Bennet must be the first to hear the news!"
Her daughters responded with an abundance of pouting and whining, neither of which abated until they reached Longbourn. Once they entered the house, Mrs. Bennet went promptly to the library and shut the door behind her. Unfortunately, it was a vain precaution. Her shrill voice was clearly heard through the door.
"Mr. Bennet! Oh, such news have I had from my brother! Netherfield is to be let! And who do you think has taken it?"
"I am no wizard! Who?"
"A man of fortune, to be sure! He must be if he is settling at Netherfield! His name is Binglorn, and he comes from the North, I believe. I have had it from my brother that-"
"Binglorn?" Mr. Bennet murmured in surprise. "Impossible!"
"Impossible? What can you mean? Do you doubt Mr. Butterbur's information?"
Mr. Bennet did not answer but seemed to become lost in his own thoughts. He remained in that state until his wife's impatience was too deafening to ignore.
"Calm yourself, my dear. I have now doubt whatsoever that Mr. Butterbur is as accurate now as he has ever been. Tell me something, though. What think you of Rangers?"
"Rangers? What have they to do with Netherfield's tenant? I leave Rangers to Kitty and Lydia, for they are quite wild for them, you know, especially when they have a good tale to tell. But I am thinking of Jane! She does not care for Rangers. Her beauty will serve her better than to win her the hearts of wanderers and riff-raffs!"
"Kitty and Lydia wild for Rangers?" Mr. Bennet mused. "Then Netherfield's new tenant is a happy change indeed!"
Mrs. Bennet never knew how to respond to her husband when he chose to be incomprehensible (which was rather often), so she resumed her relation.
"Mr. Butterbur has invited Binglorn to the dance on Saturday! Is he not clever? Binglorn will meet Jane and will most likely fall in love with her. Think of it, my dear! To have a daughter settled at Netherfield would be such a comfort!"
"Mrs. Bennet, whatever the motives that prompted Binglorn to settle at Netherfield, I can assure you that securing a wife was not one of them."
It was obvious to Mr. Bennet that his wife had ceased to attend to his remarks. She continued in the same train, prattling endlessly on the details of fabrics, ribbons, and other things that must be had before Saturday, while he tried to inconspicuously return to his book. He had no difficulty becoming engrossed despite the incessant chatter, for he had had much practice; but his concentration was at last shaken by an "OH, MR. BENNET!"
"Have you not finished, my lady?" he asked without raising his eyes from his book.
"Did you not hear me? You are planning to call, are you not?"
"Call on Binglorn! How else are we to be acquainted with him?"
"I am surprised Kitty and Lydia are not acquainted with him already."
"Well, you did say they are wild for Rangers."
"How absurd you are this evening! I do not understand you at all!"
"I am afraid you are right, my dear," Mr. Bennet replied with mock resignation. "Perhaps you had better leave me to myself until I have regained my senses."
"Indeed I shall!"
As Mr. Bennet watched his wife march from the room, his face suggested amusement. Inwardly, he was concerned by her news. He knew of Binglorn, of course, and he knew that he was in fact a Ranger, one of the Dķnedain. Friendship with the wizard, Gandalf the Grey, and a lifelong love of history and lore provided him with enough knowledge to be certain that a Ranger would not settle anywhere while the darkness in the East still thrived. This turn of his thoughts sent cold shivers down his spine. Something of great importance must be happening nearby. He wondered what in Bree or the Shire it could be.
Not that he would allow anything to take away from the amusement he would have at Mrs. Bennetís expense, but he would most definitely pay Binglorn a visit in the morning.
After some searching, Jane found her sister Elizabeth sitting quietly beside a tree on the lawn and steadfastly gazing into the sky. She smiled and shook her head at the sight, knowing Elizabeth had a strange, almost elven fondness for stars.
"Do you mind if I join you?" Jane asked softly.
"Of course not."
Jane sat beside her, and for some time, neither sister spoke. Elizabeth had eyes only for the glittering sphere above them, while Jane anxiously studied Elizabeth's face. It was during such moments as these that Jane felt most keenly how unhappy Elizabeth would be if she had to remain for the rest of her life in Bree. Her long walks, her constant thirst for news of other lands and peoples, her friendship with the wandering wizard, Gandalf: all these things bespoke the desires of her heart, but the expression that played upon her face as she watched the ascension of Ešrendil's star into the heavens was alone sufficient to reveal everything. Jane was almost afraid that Gandalf would one day spirit her sister away to some glorious adventure from which she would never return. Elizabeth felt her gaze and turned towards her with a smile.
"What would you say if I told you I sometimes wish I had been born an elf?" Elizabeth asked in a playful tone.
Jane laughed uneasily. "I would say that I had thought it would not matter what you are, as long as your destiny leads you far away from here."
"Ah, my sister knows me too well! But consider. Would you ever expect to hear an elf complain of over-taxed nerves or palpitations? Of course, I have never seen, much less heard an elf..."
"Oh dear. What has Mother done now?"
"It is what she will do that worries me. Did not Lydia inform you that a young man is to take Netherfield?"
"Yes. His name is Binglorn, I believe?"
"Yes, and he is to come to the dance on Saturday. I suspect that Mama is planning your wedding as we speak."
"Please do not be anxious for me, Elizabeth. Mama is simply very solicitous for our future welfare, and I can bear any discomfort knowing her kind intentions."
"Hmmm... The kindest intentions can lead others astray," Elizabeth remarked dryly, "but I suppose that the sooner you are well settled in a home of your own, the sooner you will be content...and safe from further embarrassment."
"I would be very content if I were the means of bringing comfort to my family."
Elizabeth looked at her sister in alarm. "Oh Jane! I fear for you when you speak so! Let not anyoneís comfort but your own be an inducement to marry! How could I be comforted if you were made unhappy for my sake?"
"You mistake me, Elizabeth. I should very much like to marry for love."
"Then do not allow anyone, including Mama, to persuade you to do otherwise!"
Jane smiled softly but did not make any promises.
As the highly anticipated dance drew near, Mrs. Bennet's anxiety rose to unbearable heights. Mr. Bennet showed no indication that he meant to pay a visit to Netherfield before Saturday, and so Mrs. Bennet despaired of his ever being introduced to her dear Jane. When Lydia and Kitty arrived home from Bree on the eve of the dance and informed their mother of Mr. Lucas's visit to Netherfield, alarm took the place of every other feeling. Mr. Lucas, a respected shopkeeper, was the father of two unwed daughters.
"Charlotte and Maria Lucas are no doubt well acquainted with Binglorn by now!" Mrs. Bennet complained to her husband.
"If so, then you needn't despair. They are agreeable girls and will be happy to introduce our daughters to their new acquaintance," Mr. Bennet replied from behind a lengthy letter he was reading.
"But what good will that do? You know how artful Mrs. Lucas can be when she spies a possible match for one of her girls! No. Binglorn is as good as lost to us by now! I will save my nerves from further affliction by putting him out of my head!"
As if to confirm her words, she pressed a handkerchief to her brow and sunk into the nearest chair. Mr. Bennet observed his wife's affectedly noble attempt to get the better of her nerves with amusement.
"I had not considered your condition when I called on Binglorn. You will have all the more difficulty forcing him from your head now. Forgive me, my dear," he said with a chuckle.
Mrs. Bennet sat upright in her chair and clasped her hands before her in a fit of rapture.
Mr. Bennet had, of course, called the very morning after he received the news, though he went with motives that were entirely dissimilar to his wife's. That visit had assured him that he need not fear for Bree at present, and it also made him aware of the fact that he alone among the Bree-landers recognized Binglorn as a Ranger. He had promised Binglorn not to reveal this knowledge, and in return, Binglorn expressed a wish of being acquainted with the Miss Bennets.
When Mr. Bennet informed his wife of the latter, she was nearly overcome. The scene that followed caused Mr. Bennet to sorely regret that he did not wait until the following evening to set Mrs. Bennet at ease.
Barliman Butterbur was happy to gratify his sister's wishes by holding frequent dances in the great upper room of The Prancing Pony, but only with the understanding that he would be excused from attending. He was, after all, a very busy man. His brother-in-law, Mr. Bennet, always excused himself as well. It was therefore the part of Mr. Lucas to play the host. Being a good-natured sort, he was content to welcome guests and ensure that every pretty lady had a dancing partner.
Kitty and Lydia were swift to find partners and join the dancers. Jane was approached by many, and Mary retired to a seat in a corner where she intended to remain for the duration of the evening. Elizabeth declined dancing at first and sought the company of her friend, Charlotte Lucas.
"I see that Netherfield's new tenant has yet to arrive," Elizabeth remarked once she joined her friend.
"It is early yet..." Charlotte fell silent when she noticed that the voices around her had been suddenly hushed.
Following the eyes of their neighbors towards the room's entrance, Elizabeth and Charlotte immediately discovered the reason for the strange silence. Binglorn had arrived, and he was not alone.
Elizabeth at first wondered at everyone's reaction. Binglorn was young, fair-featured, and pleasantly handsome. At first glance, nothing out of the ordinary was to be seen. (Indeed, nothing in his appearance would betray his affiliation with the rugged, travel-worn Rangers.)
It was when Elizabeth's eyes rested upon Binglorn's companion that she began to partake in the general astonishment. The grace and nobility of Binglorn's carriage paled in comparison to the striking figure that stood beside him. Unlike Binglorn, he was very tall, and his hair was as black as jet. In stark contrast to his alabaster complexion, his eyes were a shade of gray so dark and deep they could almost be called black, yet they glimmered with a peculiar brightness. Like stars, Elizabeth observed wistfully. He was the first man Elizabeth had seen that she would have ever called beautiful. But his was a beauty that was hard and venerable, and he had the air of both a lord and a warrior. However, his person alone was not responsible for the dumbfounded faces that encircled him, for none of the Bree-landers had ever before beheld an elf, much less a high elven lord.
Mr. Lucas was the first to recover, and he strode across the room to greet the new arrivals.
"Binglorn, you are very welcome to our little gathering here," Mr. Lucas said with a low bow.
Binglorn returned the gesture. "I thank you, Mr. Lucas. Now, allow me the pleasure of introducing you to one of my dearest friends," he paused as he gestured to his proudly aloof companion, "DarcŽ."Continue on to A Hobbit's Tale: Part 2