A Hobbit's Tale: Part III by Lillian C.
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Binglorn received Elizabeth with mingled surprise and pleasure and promptly conducted her to the guestroom where Mrs. Reynolds was tending Jane. Mrs. Reynolds was a pleasant-natured, elderly woman whom Binglorn had sent for from Bree to act as housekeeper at Netherfield. She greeted Elizabeth kindly and left the sisters to themselves.
For some reason he could not fathom, Darcë felt uneasy knowing that Elizabeth Bennet was to stay for a while at Netherfield. Of course, he saw her rarely, for she kept mostly to her sister's room. He could only suppose that his uneasiness originated from the awkwardness of their first encounter. Whatever the reason, his pulse unaccountably quickened the moment he heard a sound at the door and saw Elizabeth enter the drawing room that evening.
Binglorn welcomed her among them with his customary cordiality and immediately inquired after Jane's health. Elizabeth was pleased to give him a positive answer.
"Pray, sit down, Miss Bennet, then perhaps we can persuade Darcë here to some storytelling. He knows a great many exciting tales, if you can persuade him to share them!" Binglorn said.
"Binglorn, I despise storytelling. You know it very well," Darcë replied.
"Why should you," Elizabeth asked with curiosity, "if you have an eager audience and a good tale? That is all that is required of the average Bree-lander to become an adept storyteller, which would explain, of course, why there are no secrets in Bree."
"No secrets in Bree?" Binglorn mused. "I thank you for the warning! We had better mind ourselves, Darcë!"
"You despise storytelling as well then, do you not Miss Bennet?" Darcë inquired with a slight smile.
Elizabeth eyed him thoughtfully, almost warily, for a moment and replied, "In this town, I suppose I do."
"But for reasons entirely different from my own," Darcë observed. "For me, to relate stories of the past is to relive the feelings concomitant with them. Such is the curse of an elvish memory."
"And my reason is that I do not desire to hear what the people of this town have to tell. Within such a limited sphere, it could only be gossip."
"I am not familiar with the term, but I understand you."
"Do you?" Elizabeth replied archly.
"You mean that the interests of the people of Bree are exclusively related to domestic concerns and that your attention would not easily be engaged by them."
"You are partially correct, but you failed to mention that the domestic concerns of others are what chiefly interest them."
Darcë leaned forward slightly in his chair and asked, "Then what interests you, Miss Bennet?"
Surprised by the directness of the query, Elizabeth knew not at first how to respond. She briefly wondered if he was mocking her. Darcë studied her intently, waiting for a response. Binglorn looked back and forth between the two with an amused expression and returned to his papers, as he did not expect a good tale to arise anytime soon from this conversation.
"I suppose I am generally more eager to hear of other peoples and regions of the world," Elizabeth hesitantly replied.
"I thought as much," Darcë said softly.
Elizabeth grew uncomfortable under the elf lord's steady gaze and wondered if he found something amiss in her person. If that were all, she would not be anxious about it. He most likely would not look upon anything from the world of mortal men without detecting some flaw.
Sensing her discomfort, Darcë rose from his seat to look out the window. Elizabeth soon after excused herself for the evening to see about her sister. Darcë observed her exit with a regret he did not understand. He never thought he would take such interest in any of the Bree-landers, much less that cheeky Bree-lass with her pert remarks, her sparkling eyes… Darcë groaned inwardly at himself.
During the times of the day when Jane slept, Elizabeth often sought refuge from the sickroom in long walks. She found the grounds of Netherfield delightful and particularly enjoyed the numerous groves of trees that surrounded the house. Autumn was at its loveliest, and Elizabeth lamented her sister's confinement all the more because of it.
It would seem that Darcë found equal enjoyment outdoors, for Elizabeth met him more than once during her ramblings. She would not take such a thing amiss save that he always chose to continue his walks by her side. Her only consolation during those times was that he spoke little. Whenever he did venture to make some inquiry she would offer little more than one or two words in response. Whether he took offense at her coldness she knew not, but truthfully, she liked him too little to care.
One afternoon upon such an occasion, Darcë was peculiarly talkative and seemed to wish to draw her into a conversation. Elizabeth concealed her annoyance as best as she was able, for Binglorn's sake, and attempted to be receptive to Darcë's efforts.
"Whenever you talk of some aspect of your life here, I detect a certain weariness in your voice and manner. Do I err in assuming you are not content?" Darcë asked.
Elizabeth felt immediate irritation at his presumption but all the more at his precision. "Oh, if I seem so, then I must check myself. I am determined to be content with whatever life presents me. But I suppose my resolution would prove to be rather difficult if life will never present me a path that leads far from Bree."
"Be glad at least that you know what will cure your discontentment. Would that I were so fortunate," Darcë sighed.
Elizabeth felt at once that she could suggest a few things but did not dare to do so, as she felt her impertinence must have some limits. She smiled mischievously instead.
"What amuses you, Miss Bennet?"
Immediately smothering her smile, Elizabeth glanced cautiously towards her companion, but his face only bespoke curiosity and mild amusement. "Please do not mind my whims. I tend to find sources of diversion in any situation. Even in Bree. For that reason, I might always find my home at least tolerable, and I can survive with what is tolerable."
Darcë only laughed in reply and Elizabeth wondered at the sound, for she had never thought him capable of such a conspicuous form of merriment. She resisted the temptation to demand the source of his own amusement and found it to be surprisingly difficult.
As if reading her thoughts, Darcë immediately sought to explain his mirth. "I simply admire with what subtlety you move from a subject that causes you discomfort. Did you know that Binglorn intends to host a dance at Netherfield after your sister has recovered?"
Now Elizabeth laughed in her turn and said, "No, I did not. My younger sisters will be very pleased at the prospect of a ball. May I ask what prompted him to think of it?"
"He certainly did not receive the idea from me, as I take little pleasure in such things. I have no doubt that the idea sprung from his own merry disposition."
Stealing a glance at the elf lord, Elizabeth was surprised to see him smile fondly as he spoke of his friend. I wonder if I shall ever be able to make out his character, Elizabeth thought to herself with a shake of her head.
Four days had passed without a single word from Netherfield, and Mrs. Bennet quickly became impatient to learn of Jane's progress with Binglorn. Whether she gave a thought to the progression of Jane's recovery is debatable. With her two youngest daughters in tow, she set out to Netherfield in the Bennets' buggy to relieve her curiosity on the matter.
With a great flourish and fluster, Mrs. Bennet made her entrance at Netherfield and insisted upon seeing her dear Jane at once. Binglorn was happy to welcome Miss Bennet's relations into his home, and Darcë was angry with himself for not having thought to take refuge in the garden when he heard someone coming up the drive.
Elizabeth escorted the trio upstairs. A half-hour later, Elizabeth led her mother and sisters to the drawing room where Binglorn and Darcë were waiting for them.
"I hope you found your daughter to be improving, Mrs. Bennet," Binglorn said pleasantly.
"I am afraid that I found her quite unwell, sir. It pains me greatly to see such a sweet creature suffer so keenly! It will be at least a week before I can think of moving her!"
"Of course!" Binglorn exclaimed.
Elizabeth tried to reason with her mother, "Mama, I tell you she has truly improved. In only a couple of days, she will be-"
"No more of your impertinence child! I know what I am about! And I am determined that you will accompany us home today, for I have no doubt that you have been behaving as wildly here as you are apt to do at home! Jane will mend very well without you!"
Elizabeth turned away to hide her blushing face. Binglorn was rendered speechless. The younger Miss Bennets snickered and whispered amongst themselves.
Darcë stood to his full height and gazed intently at Mrs. Bennet. "I am afraid that will not do, Mrs. Bennet," he said. "Miss Bennet has made it very clear that she does not want to be parted from Miss Elizabeth. Considering her condition, perhaps it would be better to honor her wishes."
The authority of his voice, his great stature, and the nobility of his appearance combined to overcome any objections Mrs. Bennet may have dared to utter.
Binglorn quickly stepped in and said, "Mrs. Bennet, we have taken great pleasure in Miss Elizabeth's presence here. I must second my friend's insistence that she remain with her sister."
Mrs. Bennet curtsied and said, "You are very gracious, sir, but do not hesitate to send her home when she becomes too troublesome!"
After her mother returned to Longbourn, Elizabeth immediately sought release of her vexation in a long and rigorous walk, being careful to choose a path she did not normally frequent. Her mother's habitual thoughtlessness and impropriety were often a source of discomfort to her and Jane, but to have those faults so grossly exposed was almost more than she could bear.
Elizabeth was also surprised by Darcë's unexpected intervention on her behalf. Why he of all people should seek to prolong her visit was beyond her comprehension. She concluded that he really believed her presence would speed Jane's recovery and thus shorten their stay at Netherfield.
As soon as she became too fatigued to harbor her storming emotions, she returned to the house and kept at her sister's bedside until the following morning.
Continue on to Part 4!