PRIDE AND PREJUDICE ‐ A HOBBIT’S (AND HIS FRIEND’S) TALE
It is a truth universally acknowledged across Middle Earth that hobbits live in holes in the ground. Not a dirty, nasty hole filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell but a perfectly round door with a brass doorknob in the exact centre opening unto a tubular tunnel with bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes, kitchens and dining rooms on the same floor, indeed on the same passage; it was a hobbit hole and that means comfort.
However little known the feelings or views of an individual moving into such a residence may be, in the minds of the surrounding families, he is considered as the rightful property of one or the other of their daughters.
“My dear Mr. Bennet”, said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Bag End is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is! For Mrs. Long’s just been there and she told me all about it”, she said excitedly.
Mr. Bennet made no reply.
“Do not you want to know who’s taken it?” she cried in impatience.
“You want to tell me and I have no objection to hearing it”, he said at last.
That was invitation enough.
“Why, you must know, that Bag End is taken by a hobbit of large fortune from across The Water; Mrs. Long says that he came down on Monday to see the place and was much delighted with it and plans to move in as soon as possible. A happy product of his inheritance, I’ve heard say.”
“What is his name?” he asked.
“Bilbo Baggins” she replied. “Single, to be sure! A single, young hobbit of fifty years in possession of a good fortune. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“Oh? How can it affect them?”
“How tiresome you can be, Mr. Bennet!” she chided him. “Why, I’m thinking of marrying one of them to him, of course!”
“Is that his design in settling here?” he continued obtusely.
“Design! Nonsense! But he may very well fall in love with one of them, in time. And that is why, Mr. Bennet, you must visit him!”
“I see no occasion to do so. You and the girls go. On second thought, it would be better if you stayed behind, my dear. Handsome as you are, Mr. Baggins may like you best of the party.”
“My dear, you flatter me. But when a woman has five grown‐up daughters to think of, her own beauty is oft the last thing on her mind. Mr. Bennet, you must indeed go and visit him. Consider your daughters and what an establishment it would be for them! Sir William and Lady Lucas, who visit no one, are determined to go, merely on that account. You simply must go because it would be impossible for us to visit him if you do not!”
“I daresay that Mr. Baggins should be happy to receive you. Rest assured that I give my hearty consent to his marrying whichever of the girls he chooses. However, do throw in a good word for my Lizzy.”
“I shall do no such thing! Lizzy is not a bit better than her sisters! Why, she isn’t half as handsome as Jane, nor half as spirited as Lydia, yet you are always giving her preference!”
“They are silly, ignorant girls for the most part, but Lizzy has a quickness about her that her sisters do not possess”, he observed.
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your children so? You delight in vexing me. Have you no compassion for my nerves?” she sniffed.
“On the contrary, my dear, I have the highest respect for your nerves. They’re old friends of mine”.
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, caprice and humour that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character; because unbeknownst to Mrs. Bennet, her husband had been infact, one of the earliest to call on Mr. Baggins.
By some curious chance, on the morning of the aforementioned clandestine visit, Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door of his yet‐to‐be residence after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his toes, when Mr. Bennet came by.
(Ah, Mr. Bennet! If one had heard even a quarter of the adventures he’s had in his days, one would need to be prepared to hear rather a remarkable tale but that’s set aside for another time. He had not been down that way under The Hill for ages, not since his friend The Old Took died; who just happened to be Mr. Baggins’ maternal grandfather.
You see, Mr. Bennet knew a great deal more about the world around him and its inhabitants than he let on.)
“Good morning”, said Bilbo earnestly and Mr. Bennet looked at him from under the brim of his shady hat.
“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
“All of them at once”, said Bilbo. “And a fine morning to have a pipe of tobacco out of doors too! If you have one about you, Sir, sit down and have a fill. There’s no hurry, we have all the day before us!”
And with that Bilbo sat down on a seat near the door, cross‐legged. Mr. Bennet took a seat next to him. “What brings you to these parts?” asked the young Baggins, blowing out smoke rings.
“Very pretty”, said Mr. Bennet following their ascent towards the blue sky, blowing out one of his own. “But I might ask you the same. What brings the grandson of the Old Took, Bilbo Baggins, away from his childhood home among maternal relations across the Water to the house his sire, Bungo Baggins built for his wife under The Hill?”
“This house came to me by way of inheritance and I fancied myself a change of scenery and some independence; one does tire of one’s relatives, you know, but my dear Sir!” remarked Bilbo in good‐natured astonishment, “How could you possibly know of this? Let me see, I don’t think I know your name?”
“You do know it, though you don’t remember that I belong to it. I have gone by many names in the past but you may just remember me as Mr. Bennet. To think that I should’ve lived to be good‐morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was a common button salesman at the door!”
“Bennet…Bennet! Good gracious me! Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those from my boyhood days! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve. Splendid! How have you fared all these years, Mr. Bennet?”
“I am pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope.” he replied “I’ve fared just as well as man would, with five daughters to speak of.”
“You must bring your charming family to the assembly I’m having next fortnight. Some friends from beyond The Shire shall be attending as well. I daresay that we shall have a jolly time!”
“Whether or not we shall a jolly time depends wholly on whether or not my family chooses to be charming on that particular evening, but I thank you for your generous invitation, nonetheless, Mr. Baggins.”
And on that note, having achieved what he came for, Mr. Bennet set off homewards, fulfilling his husbandly duty of meeting his wife’s demands even before she’s made them.
On observing his second eldest employed in trimming a hat, Mr. Bennet remarked “I hope Mr. Baggins will like the hat, Lizzy”
“We are not to know what Mr. Baggins would like, since we’re not to visit him!” said Mrs. Bennet peevishly.
“But you forget, Mama, that Mrs. Long said that she would introduce him to us, should an opportunity arose”, said Lizzy.
“I do not believe Mrs. Long will do any such thing”, her mother sniffed. “She has two nieces of her own. She is a selfish, hypocritical woman, and I have no opinion of her. Don’t cough so, Kitty! You tear my poor nerves to pieces!”
“I do not cough for my own amusement”, complained Kitty.
“I’m glad that your non‐existent opinion of Mrs. Long is of little hindrance to your daily affairs, my dear, but I believe the subject of interest here was Mr. Baggins” her father continued.
“I’m sick of Mr. Baggins”, cried his wife.
“I am sorry to hear that, why didn’t you tell me so before? Had I known, I would not have paid him a visit the day he came down to inspect Bag End. And now he’s gone and invited us all to his assembly next week. What a bother, we can’t escape his acquaintance now”.
The astonishment of the ladies was just as he wished, with his wife surpassing all in her tumultuous joy, declaring that she had expected this all the while.
“How good of you to do so, Mr. Bennet! I knew you loved your girls so! Girls, did I not say your father was too good to neglect such an acquaintance? Well, I am pleased and what a good joke too, that you should have visited him long ago and not said a word about it till now!”
“And now, Kitty may cough as much as she pleases”, said Mr. Bennet serenely.
-Sayonee Ghosh Roy