She had been talking with Jem earlier in the evening, she explained to Greenjade.
"Yer do care fer 'im, don't yer, Nell?" Jem had asked her most unexpectedly, as he caught her looking Greenjade's way.
"I...I s'pose I do, somewhat," she had to answer. There was no lying to him, she realized. "But...I care for yer more."
"Do yer?" Jem looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Nay. Yer only say that to be kind. It's yer way. Yer in love with 'im, ain't yer?"
She looked directly at him then. "I don't say it to be kind," she said. "It's true. I care for him also. At first I thought...that he reminded me of Harry, some'at. Not so much now. But I care for him in me way. And I care for you also, Jem. Yer a rock to me, yer true and steady and strong, yer a comfort and a rest, that I can lean on and ever feel safe and protected. Him, he's different. He's excitin' and dark, and a mystery and a trouble. I couldn't feel safe with him. I couldn't depend on him like I do with you. I think I'm in love with both of yer. But yer the one I trust."
"I told yer that yer didn't 'ave to wed me if yer don't want," he said. She caught his hand.
"But I do want," she said choking up a little. "He's leavin' tomorrow, and I won't see him again after that. He'll be someone to remember, and no more. That's as it should be. I'll have his child perhaps. That'll be good enough for me."
"Will it?" Jem said pressing her fingers a bit tightly, but she did not wince. "Yer won't be lookin' out yer winder from time to time, longin' after him, regrettin' that yer didn't foller him into Mordor? If that's what yer wants to do, then do it. I wouldn't 'old yer back."
"It's not what I want to do, yer know that, Jem," she said sniffling. "I couldn't go off and leave you and me family and friends behind, to abide in a strange land fer all me days, even to be with 'im. I must choose, and I make me choice. There's ladies in the legends as went off with their lovers, forsakin' all that they knew and loved, but I ain't them. Nobody'll be singin' songs and ballads of Nell Partridge. I weren't made for legend. I won't be dyin' of grief when my man is struck down before me. I'll be here, and when I die, that'll be the end of it. And that's all right with me. I'm content to be just Nell Whitflor, abidin' in this land for all me days by yer side, doin' me work, enjoyin' the things of life, and the rest of it."
"I want yer 'ere," Jem said, "heaven knows. But I want yer to be 'appy also. Seems I carn't 'ave it both ways. Yer not ordinary, Nell. Yer smart, and strong, and yer likes to find out new things, make discoveries, and such. And yer'll be content to abide 'ere where folks don't do that sort of thing?"
"But I can find out new things and make discoveries here, Jem. Haven't I been doin' just that? And now that I can read books and such, I'll be doin' more of it. Radagast has arranged it so our school will grow and we'll have more books, maybe even a library and such. It's true I can't go back to bein' what I was afore they come here. But it's also true I can keep on bein' what I've become arfter they've gone."
Nell and Greenjade went out back of the house to sit on the bench at the edge of the back garden to talk undisturbed.
"I didn't quite believe yer at the first," she explained as dusk slowly fell and the crickets began their evening song unheeded. They sat without touching, a world of space in the nine or ten inches between their hips. "I thought yer was tryin' to pull my leg, or some such. It frightened me, I ain't sure why. But...is it true?"
"Aye, it is," Greenjade said. He saw no point in lying to her; she would see through such now. Small wonder she couldn't trust him. "I'm sorry we had to keep it from you. But..."
"That's all right, Greenjade. I can see why yer did."
"Well, I don't suppose it matters any more, now that we're going tomorrow. You may tell the others if you like. But I would ask you to wait until after we're gone."
"I don't think I'll do that. It might frighten the little uns, to know they've been talkin' to the real Gollum all along. They might have nightmares over it. Better I should keep it to meself. I can do that, well enough. And when yer come to think on it, he's NOT the real Gollum. He's just Sméagol now. I've seen that. But I misdoubt me that the young uns's mothers would see it that way."
"You know," Greenjade looked directly at Nell for the first time during this interchange, "I think perhaps the truth should be made known. Maybe not right away, but it should be made known, just as the story of the Ring was made known. Not that it's just as important--far from it. But it IS important, I think, to have it known, because it shows that people are capable of changing and turning from evil. And that there are consequences of not turning. And that there are higher powers that can be turned to. And that sometimes the fallen should be lifted, rather than cast out, and guided to a better way."
"So the Ringbearer really is yer...stepdad?" Nell sounded still the slightest bit disbelieving.
"Aye, and now I feel honored along of it," Greenjade said, at the same time with a twinge of guilt, thinking of the Book hidden in his feather tick. Well, he would return it on the morrow...or leave it with Nell, who would return it for him if he asked her. The thought gave him another stab of pain, to think of parting with it. Could he do that now? "I never met him, save through the Book, and never shall save in the next life. Yet I feel as if I know him now. He made intercession for me, out of love for my mother. I spent time in a horrible place, where I knew ceaseless torment, and would to this day, but for him. It no longer matters much to me why he did it; he did it and that is what matters. My mate, Garland, abides there now. I did not see her, but the Lord of the Afterworld told me she was there. I would have her out if it were within my power."
"Perhaps it is," Nell said, reaching out to touch his hand. A shudder went through him at the pressure of her fingers, but he did not pull away. "Do yer think it's possible? That you could make intercession for her just as he did for you?"
"I don't see how," Greenjade said morosely. "I'm not as good and noble as he was. Far from it. I've done much that was...unthinkable. Even now, I'm not good for much. I've done good chiefly out of fear of the consequences. Even tonight...I was going to do all in my power to persuade you to go to Mordor with me. I see now that I cannot. If I were to do so, there would be no chance for Garland...none whatsoever."
"You care for her that much?" Nell looked at him with wide eyes. He saw wonder, and not dismay in them.
"Well," Greenjade said, surprised at himself, "it's not so much that I want to be with her. We did not get on when we were together. It was as much my fault as hers--more so, but she was not guiltless either. I just wish to bring her out of that place, simply because it is so horrible and I do not wish her there. If I could simply wish her out of there and back where she was, that would be enough. But I suppose that is not possible; she would have to be with me, or not at all. And I doubt she would want to be, either. I did not treat her well. I dare say she would have gone to that place simply to ensure that I would be there and would suffer worse than she. But I would have her out, just the same. And perhaps abide with her in an attempt to atone for past wrongs. I discussed this with Radagast, and he says it is possible. That he himself would make intercession on her behalf, but that most likely, she would have to live as a mortal, just as I do. And that she would have little choice but to go with me, if it were to happen. And that I would have to do my part. And so I do. But know that I would choose you, if it were within my power."
"I was goin' to say, when I approached yer," she said, wiping a tear away from her left eye, "that I was ready to go to Mordor with yer. Even though I told Jem I wouldn't. I said that to him, when I was alone with him, but then seein' yer, and talking with yer...I felt I couldn't abide here without yer. But I know now I can do it. If'n yer can give me up to have Garland out and safe once more, if yer can sacrifice so much on behalf of her...well, I can do likewise. Why shouldn't I? Don't Jem deserve the best? I'm scarcely that, but I can do this much for him. I'll never forget yer, Greenjade."
He brought her hand to his lips.
"Will you do one last thing for me, Nell?" he asked as he pressed her hand to his bosom. "I was supposed to take the Book to the post today to have it mailed back. But I did not feel I could part with it yet. I felt I should go mad, if I were to send it back so soon. Still...it's the right thing to do, and I cannot go on deceiving Radagast this way. So if I leave it with you, will you mail it back for me?"
"Of course I will," she said. "Lay it on the table next to me bed, and consider it done."
He laid his hand over hers for a long moment and held it to his cheek. He was about to ask her to tarry with him one last time. She would do it, he knew. And not regret it. But if he were resolved to have Garland out of that place, he would have to begin doing his part now. This minute.
He remembered the stage show on the first day he had come to the village, the chap in white, and the rakish one in red and black, their comic battle over the shepherdess in the green flower hat. And he released her hand, lying so warm and yielding in his, as the babe had lain in his arms a short time ago.
"Thank you, my darling Nell," he whispered.