A Hobbit's Tale: Part II by Lillian C.
"An elf at Bree?!"
"They say he is a great lord come from the havens in the West."
"And he is one of Binglorn's closest friends."
"Is not his raiment very grand? He must have wondrous riches of his own!"
"What a pity for our young ladies that he is an elf!"
If Darcë felt any discomfort at being the object of such scrutiny, his countenance did not betray it. As he walked with slow precision along the length of the great room and observed the dancers, his face remained impassive save during those brief moments when the slightest hint of disdain distorted his features. It was soon perceived that, not only was he disinclined to dance, but that he also repulsed every attempt to draw him into conversation. To Elizabeth who observed his movements with curiosity, Darcë seemed to feel himself in every way above his company.
Binglorn, on the other hand, mingled with ease and open friendliness among the Bree-landers. People soon declared him infinitely more agreeable than Darcë, and he made Mrs. Bennet very happy by singling out Jane to be his first dancing partner. Though Elizabeth herself opted to join that dance as well, she was able to divert enough attention from the steps and her partner to see that Binglorn and Jane were more than pleased with one another. Mrs. Bennet, of course, detected this also and did not scruple to share her instantly inflated hopes with Mrs. Lucas and any other matron who had the patience to listen.
And so the evening progressed. Darcë continued to be inscrutable and distant, and his proud demeanor was quick to transform his earlier popularity into general dislike. Binglorn remained in good humor, dancing with the younger Miss Bennets and the Lucas sisters and finally escorting Jane to the dance floor once again.
He did spare a few moments from his partners to accost Darcë, seeing that his friend took no delight in the festivities and did not try to make himself agreeable.
"Darcë, will you not dance just once? It pains me to see you so withdrawn!"
"Would you have me be so familiar with such company as this?" Darcë asked incredulously. "You need not concern yourself with me. I have been busily employed during the past hour trying to fathom how I allowed you to persuade me to come here."
Elizabeth, who sat close by, heard the exchange and feared Darcë's words would affront Binglorn. She was pleasantly surprised at the sound of Binglorn's laughter.
"Ah, Darcë! A whole hour? You should have approached me at once for an answer!"
"And what would it have been?" Darcë asked, his voice, for the first time that evening, lightened by amusement.
"That you delight in humoring me, of course! However, all jesting aside, I would have you enjoy yourself this evening. We are not in Rivendell, to be sure, but I daresay there are a great many fair maids present who would make amiable dance partners!"
"One fair maid, you mean," Darcë replied with a nod in Jane's direction.
"Yes, she is all loveliness! One could fancy her an elf-maid! But look there! Miss Elizabeth Bennet, her sister, is very lovely too, and I found her to be quite pleasant-spirited when I had the honor of dancing with her."
Darcë studied Elizabeth a moment and promptly withdrew his gaze when her inquisitive eyes met his own.
"She might be tolerable according to mortal standards, but she is hardly worth a second glance from one whose eyes are accustomed to beauty of a much grander scale. I am in no mood to humor you this time, Binglorn, so I suggest you return to your fair partner."
Elizabeth stiffened at this evidence of supercilious disdain, but innate good humor conquered in the end. She rose from her seat and strode past Darcë to find her friend Charlotte, laughter all the while threatening to escape her lips. Finding Charlotte, she immediately related the great insult she had received from the elf-lord whose eyes, unbeknownst to her, closely followed her every movement. The lighthearted laughter that arose from the whisperings of the pair was enough to ease Darcë's concern at being overheard, though it was not as kind to his pride.
Darcë spoke little as he returned with Binglorn to Netherfield after the dance. Binglorn left little to be said, anyhow. He spoke tirelessly of his delight in his new situation (however temporary it may prove to be) and of the charms of the young ladies of Bree, particularly those of Jane Bennet. Darcë attended to little of what Binglorn said, so absorbed was he in his own thoughts. As they drew near to the gates of Netherfield, Binglorn noticed his friend's thoughtful silence and realized he had been in that state since they left The Prancing Pony.
"Come, old friend. What is the subject of your reverie?"
This sudden inquiry unsettled Darcë, and he hesitated before answering. He certainly had no desire to reveal the true subject of his thoughts.
"Could the minds of mortals possibly fathom elvish thoughts?" he asked.
Binglorn shook his head. "You have lately been rather hard on us poor mortals, Darcë. Are you weary of my company now?"
"No, my friend. Forgive me. I was simply evading your question. I had been thinking of...the people we encountered at Bree. I thought them very strange, very rustic."
"And you do not like them."
"I spoke not so, but can you expect me to be comfortable among them?" Darcë sighed. "I have had few dealings with mortal Men. I hardly know what to make of them most of the time."
"Nonsense! You have known me for many years."
Darcë smiled slightly. "Young one, my life has been long, longer than you could comprehend. I have endured through many ages of the world. The years that seem so long to you are as the blink of an eye to me."
"You seem sad. I have noticed that your spirits have often been depressed of late."
"I am weary of life and weary of this world," Darcë replied with a shrug. "Nothing is left for me in Middle Earth, yet I have no desire to sail into the West. My heart does not hear the call of the sea as the hearts of other elves do. In the First Age of the world when I followed my lord Fëanor from our ancient home in the West, the lands of Middle Earth spread before us, unconquered and endless in their possibilities; but by the end of that age, our kingdoms crumbled beneath our feet. My kindred perished, as did the cursed House of Fëanor that I served. Indeed, I am the last of the Fëanorians. To be a lone survivor is a sad condition."
Binglorn pondered Darcë's words, wishing that for a moment he could understand the melancholy that was as constant to his friend as his shadow. "Is death, then, your only refuge?"
"No! It is the fate of the elves to dwell within the circles of the world until the End, whether their spirits be housed in flesh or no. Only one of the elves has truly died."
Binglorn did not ask for an explanation, for he knew of whom Darcë spoke. Any Ranger would have known. Long ago, it was Lúthien Tinúviel who became a mortal and died the death of a mortal, all because she loved a mortal. Thus her spirit, with the spirit of her beloved, was allowed to escape from the world.
Elizabeth arose earlier than her sisters the next morning and went downstairs to find her father (which was no difficulty).
"Good morning, Father!" she greeted cheerily as she opened the door to Mr. Bennet’s library.
"Good morning to you, my dear. Did you enjoy the dance?" Mr. Bennet inquired with a little more curiosity than he usually felt on such occasions.
"It was certainly a very interesting evening. There was much to be observed by the satirical eye," Elizabeth replied thoughtfully. "The others enjoyed themselves quite well. Kitty and Lydia never lacked dancing partners. Mary was content to keep company with her intellect and danced not at all. Jane danced with Binglorn among others…"
"Indeed? And how did you all find Binglorn?"
"Not at all like I expected. He was very amiable and made himself at home in a moment. One would think he had lived in Bree his whole life. I believe Jane was very pleased with him, and he with her."
"Yes, your mother apprised me of that detail last night. But you say nothing of yourself."
Elizabeth, regarding her father with eyes that scintillated with secret merriment, only laughed heartily in reply and eased herself into the chair that faced his desk.
Mr. Bennet raised an eyebrow and asked, "Surely you were not forced to keep company with Mary’s intellect as well? Had you any partners?"
"Oh, I had a sufficient number of dancing partners, at least enough to discourage Lydia’s taunts. Would that Mary had been so fortunate! However, if you are determined to know all, then you had better ask with whom I did not dance."
"Enlighten me, then!"
"I had my first encounter with an elf last night and had the honor of being slighted by him! It seems I cannot boast the wondrous sort of beauty to which he is accustomed, so dancing with me was out of the question. I pity elves. To have senses so numbed by great beauty that they can no longer enjoy the world can hardly be tolerable."
Mr. Bennet listened to his daughter’s relation with an intense interest. "An elf at Bree — and at the dance? It is unheard of!"
"He was quite of your opinion, I am sure. He came with Binglorn. More importantly, he is reputedly an elf lord of high lineage and has a mighty fortune hidden somewhere. Of course, I gave as much credit to the latter as I would any information I receive from the ever-reliable matrons of Bree. As for the former, Darcë’s appearance and manners were sufficient proof."
"Darcë did you say?" Mr. Bennet asked suddenly.
"Yes. You are not acquainted with him?" Elizabeth would truly not be surprised if he were, given her father’s many travels and exceptional knowledge of elves.
"No, but I know of him. And does Darcë currently reside with Binglorn?"
"I would assume so. They left the dance together."
Mr. Bennet paused thoughtfully and closed the book he had been reading.
"Considering your account of Darcë and what we have both seen of Binglorn’s pleasant temper, they must have a very…interesting friendship," Mr. Bennet mused.
A soft knock at the door prevented Elizabeth from responding, and she turned to see Jane peeking in the room.
"I thought I would find you here, Elizabeth. Good morning, Father."
"Come in, Jane. What is this I hear about your monopolizing Binglorn at the dance?" Mr. Bennet inquired with affected gravity.
Jane blushed deeply and, with a look, begged Elizabeth’s intervention.
"Father, you are very mean. Binglorn monopolized her," Elizabeth said, favoring Jane with a teasing smile.
"Binglorn’s manners were pleasing and wholly irreproachable. I am sure he would do no such thing," Jane put in shyly.
"Of course not, my dear," Mr. Bennet responded kindly with a wink in Elizabeth’s direction.
At that moment, the three were startled by the sound of doors rapidly opening and closing upstairs. Mrs. Bennet’s "MRS. UNDERHILL! YOU ARE WANTED IMMEDIATLEY!" filtered through the ceiling and wrenched their ears. Mrs. Underhill was the longtime housekeeper of Longbourn and was always at odds with her mistress because of her reluctance to ascend to the upper floor. (She was, after all, a hobbit.) Many of Mrs. Bennet’s nervous episodes arose from this difficulty.
"Your mother is up and about early today," Mr. Bennet observed with an irritable sigh.
"Which means she is feeling unusually industrious for some reason or another. I advise you to be cautious, Jane," Elizabeth added.
Elizabeth’s scruples were well founded. Shortly after, Mrs. Bennet burst upon the three in a great fluster of haste and urgency. Seeing her mother equipped with Jane’s cloak and a basket, Elizabeth quickly began to surmise her mother’s intentions.
"Apples Jane! I have just spoken to Mrs. Underhill about it. Oh, we are in dreadful need of them!" Mrs. Bennet declared.
Elizabeth stepped to the window and looked out with concern. "Mama, are apples so urgent that Jane should walk almost to Netherfield and chance being caught in the rain?"
Mrs. Bennet joined her daughter at the window, and an absurd expression of eagerness alighted upon her features as she gazed at the sky.
"Well, the weather does look as if it might turn bleak…Jane, you must go at once! But take your time. The apples will not be wanted till supper."
"I will go, Mama," Elizabeth offered. "Jane has only just risen."
"No you will not, girl! You are not nearly as gentle as Jane and would bruise the apples. Besides, there is nothing for you at Netherfield."
Mr. Bennet chuckled and said, "My dear, the subtlety of your endeavors never ceases to amaze me. Now, do continue this elsewhere. I would like to continue my book undisturbed."
Elizabeth looked pleadingly at her father but to no avail. He had already absorbed himself in his book. With a quiet sigh, Jane wrapped her cloak about her and accepted her mother’s basket. Elizabeth could barely contain her frustration as she watched her sister disappear over the hill towards Netherfield.
"Well Mrs. Bennet. I congratulate you on the success of your scheme," Mr. Bennet said at the breakfast table as he helped himself to the sausage. "Jane has not only turned her ankle but has caught a nasty cold as well. She will no doubt be laid up at Netherfield for at least a week."
"I only hope she will make what she can of it. It is a pity about the apples though…" Mrs. Bennet replied thoughtfully.
Elizabeth shook her head disgustedly and said, "Mama, I intend to go to Netherfield immediately after breakfast. It is not fitting that Jane should be so long at Netherfield alone, and she would wish for my company."
"Walk three miles in the mud? I think not," was Mrs. Bennet’s answer.
"I will not be kept from going. Anyhow, I do not mind the distance. The weather is fine, and I will be less harmed by mud than Jane was by rain."
Mrs. Bennet shrugged. "If you are so determined, I shan’t stop you."
"Lydia and I will walk you as far as Bree, Elizabeth," Kitty offered with a sly glance towards Lydia. "We intend to call upon Uncle Butterbur."
Elizabeth observed the silent exchange with amusement. Despite what she knew of her younger sisters’ true motives, she accepted the offer gratefully. The three set off soon after breakfast.
As soon as the rooftops of the town came into view, Lydia clasped Kitty’s hand, and the two ran giggling towards the gate. Elizabeth, shaking her head at her sisters’ giddiness, continued on her own way. She soon found herself immensely enjoying the walk without an endless stream of chatter.
Hopping over fences and leaping over streams and puddles of rainwater, Elizabeth became warm despite the cool crispness of the air and her cheeks were reddened. She shook her head as she approached the grove of apple trees that bordered Netherfield. Poor Jane! she thought bitterly. As Elizabeth stopped within the grove to survey the area where her sister met with misfortune, she pulled back the hood of her cloak allowing her dark curls to escape and dance about her cheeks with the wind.
It was then that Darcë spied her, for he had felt a strange longing to walk about in the morning sun and had strolled idly to the apple grove where Binglorn had found Miss Bennet the day before. Upon seeing Elizabeth, he briefly wondered that another Miss Bennet should be found at that location. In any case, Darcë took full advantage of the opportunity to observe her without being seen and studied her features with an admiration he had not felt at the dance. Her blushing cheeks and dark ringlets were pretty enough, but it was her eyes in particular that fascinated him. He was surprised that he had not noticed them previously. One could be forever lost in those starry depths… — he berated himself before he indulged further in that thought.
Darcë noticed Miss Bennet’s figure suddenly stiffen and turn sharply towards him.
"Miss Bennet," he stated by way of greeting.
"Darcë," she replied coldly. "I have come to see my sister."
"Quite a long walk for a lady on such an errand," Darcë observed with a barely concealed smile.
Not being disposed to converse with the proud elf lord, Elizabeth simply replied, "Would you be so kind as to take me to my sister?"
Darcë curtly bowed in assent and led Elizabeth the remaining distance to Netherfield.Continue on to A Hobbit's Tale: Part III
Return to A Hobbit's Tale: Part I