(Note: Set in 1395 SR, so Pippin is five, Merry is 13 and Frodo is 27. Frodo has been living at Bag End for six years, but it will be six more years before Bilbo leaves the Shire.)
Bilbo was just about to pour the tea when an ear-splitting shriek cut through the peaceful afternoon quiet. It was followed in quick succession by a series of earnest howls, then abruptly changed to the unmistakable sound of a crying child.
“Good heavens!” Gandalf said. “I thought for a moment that goblins were attacking from the garden.”
“Oh, dear, that’s Peregrin,” Bilbo said, putting the teapot down and scurrying toward the door. “I’ll be back directly, Gandalf, go ahead and begin. Just let me sort the little one out, though Frodo should be minding those lads . . .” His voice disappeared out of Bag End as the door shut behind him.
Gandalf poured his tea and was just about to help himself to a biscuit when the sounds of the crying child redoubled in volume as Bilbo banged back into the kitchen through the back door. The noise was emanating from a tiny hobbit-lad in his arms, limbs locked around his elder’s waist and neck with such vigor that Bilbo seemed to be having difficulty walking.
“Now, now, Pippin, my lad, there’s no need for such racket -- don’t pinch so -- we’ll have you fixed up in half a moment and you’ll be right as rain.” As Bilbo continued to spout babble and entreaties that the child loosen his grip, he maneuvered across the room until he could perch the lad on the sideboard. He was trying to pry Pippin’s limbs away from his body when the child suddenly caught sight of Gandalf. He abruptly stopped crying and let go of Bilbo to stare at Gandalf in the frank fascination of the very young. Gandalf had arrived during his afternoon rest time, and he had been shooed outside upon waking without meeting the wizard.
“Ah, there now,” Bilbo said with relief. “Let’s see what you’ve done to yourself. Oh, look at this. Thank goodness your nurse isn’t here, she’d have my head.” The lad’s face and forearms were marked with red scratches, and his lips and fingertips were stained with what seemed to be blackberry juice.
“Let me get something to clean you up with,” Bilbo said with a sigh, then pointed an imposing finger in Pippin’s face. “Stay -- right -- there,” he commanded. The child, still staring at Gandalf with an open mouth, did not respond, but Bilbo took that as acquiescence and trotted off.
The lad and the wizard stared at one another. Gandalf reached for his pipe and lit it with a taper from the fire. “Got into the Gaffer’s blackberries, did you?” he asked Pippin as he puffed. Pippin blinked in response.
Bilbo returned with a glass bottle and a cloth. “Haven’t moved? That’s unusual,” he muttered, then continued in a cheery voice, “All right, let Cousin Bilbo make you all better. I’m just going to use a tiny bit of this --“ He poured some of the clear liquid in the bottle onto the cloth and dabbed at a scratch on Pippin’s arm.
Pippin promptly shrieked and kicked shamelessly at his elder. Bilbo began to sputter at this unexpected attack, but Gandalf hid a smile.
“So you must be young Peregrin Took,” he addressed the lad. “But my word, you are a great lad. Why, you must be eight years old.”
Pippin stopped shrieking and froze in shock. He was not a great lad, and scarcely looked four. He certainly had never been mistaken for eight. He shook his head shyly.
“No?” Gandalf asked in feigned surprise. “Then how old are you? Nine?”
Now Pippin smiled and half-hid his face in Bilbo’s waistcoat. Bilbo, never anyone’s fool, was cleaning the scratches as fast as he could before Pippin rallied. When he released an arm, Pippin stuck it out toward Gandalf with five fingers extended.
“Five?” Gandalf said in mock astonishment. “Why, you must be the grandest five-year-old hobbit-lad I’ve ever seen. I believe you shall be as tall as a dwarf when you’re grown.”
Pippin pressed his face fully into Bilbo’s waistcoat and giggled. Bilbo pried the face away to clean the scratches there, then pronounced with satisfaction, “All done! What a good, brave lad; here you go,” and he produced the toffee sweet that made him so popular with the youngsters from his jacket pocket before lifting Pippin from the sideboard and setting him on his feet.
Bilbo brushed at his waistcoat (now slightly stained with blackberry juice) and looked around a bit to assess the situation. He frowned. “Now -- yes. Where are Frodo and Merry, Pippin? They are supposed to be keeping an eye on you.”
Pippin shrugged, and Bilbo sighed. “Gandalf, please excuse me again. I’m dreadfully sorry, just let me find those lads and set them straight. They know he needs a close eye, usually very responsible lads, but lads nonetheless. Here, Pippin,” he took the child by the hand and guided him to a toy-strewn corner of the kitchen, “play with your things and be good. Don’t bother Mr. Gandalf.” Then, turning to the wizard, “I’ll be right back. He won’t be any trouble, just give him a biscuit if he is --“ And Bilbo blew out the back door. Fortunately, both guests were accustomed to being handled by Bilbo thus, and therefore unflustered by it.
Pippin sat amidst his toys but paid them no heed. Instead, he stared at the immense Big Person in Bilbo and Frodo’s kitchen. Gandalf puffed on his pipe and watched the lad out of the corner of his eye.
Feeling brave, Pippin scooted closer on his behind. The Big Person did not seem to notice, so he crept all the way over to the table. Well protected by table and chair legs, he dared to gain his feet and maneuvered very close to this fascinating Big Person. He looked up to study the craggy face and beaky nose in awe. Even the delightfully dirty grey robes were a wonder. Pippin stretched on his toes to look more closely at the long grey hair and --
“Boo!” the wizard bellowed, whipping his head around to put his face right into the hobbit-lad’s. Pippin shrieked, fell over onto his rump, and then burst into peals of delighted giggles. When he calmed and was sitting and grinning broadly at the wizard, Gandalf tamped down his pipe and set it aside.
“Are these your toys, Pippin?” he asked with a nod toward the disarray in the corner. Pippin nodded. Gandalf rose from his chair to go squat in the corner. Pippin scrambled out of the way of the immense robes, then crouched by the wizard.
Gandalf picked up an intricately carved sheep. “Oh, look at this, a little duck!” he said. Pippin giggled. Gandalf set the toy down and selected a pony. “And a cat! How charming.”
“No, that’s not a cat!” Pippin exclaimed, laughing. “It’s a pony.”
“Oh my, you are a Took,” Gandalf muttered to himself upon hearing the brogue. “A pony, is it?” he said to the lad. “I thought this was a pony,” and he picked up a goose.
“That’s the goose!” Pippin shouted, jumping up in excitement.
“Is it, now?” Gandalf asked, settling himself on the floor. “Oh my. It seems I don’t know my animals at all. Come here and help me get sorted out, would you, my lad?” And he drew a willing Pippin to his side.
Bilbo found Merry and Frodo engrossed in a game of conkers and completely unaware of Pippin’s mishap, the Gaffer’s subsequent ill mood, and Bilbo’s interrupted tea. They were appropriately apologetic, and obediently followed Bilbo back to Bag End to collect their neglected charge (and their own tea, as well).
As they approached the kitchen door, voices drifted out the open window.
“No, this is for them to eat out of, like this. So they won’t be hungry.”
“Oh, well, we can’t have hungry animals, can we? How does this suit?”
The three entered just as Pippin squealed, “Yes!” They all stopped short to stare at the scene in the corner.
Pippin was seated in Gandalf’s lap, one hand clutching the long beard, the other hand illustrating directions. The carved wooden animals were strewn in front of the pair, and now seemed to have a very comfortable stable made of a plate and some silverware. Gandalf was fussing with the inverted cover to the butter dish, now apparently designated a manger.
“And what else do we need, do you think?” Gandalf asked the child. Pippin pulled on the wizard’s beard, seemingly to help his thought process. “Um,” he said, inspecting the farm. But then he caught sight of his cousins and promptly abandoned the wizard.
“Merry!” he clamored, hurtling across the room and leaping into his cousin’s arms. Merry, long accustomed to such behavior, deftly caught him.
“Merry, you’re bad!” Pippin accused after their hug. “And you too, Frodo! Bad, bad hobbits!” he declared, leaning over from Merry’s arms to poke Frodo’s chest for emphasis.
“We’re bad? You’re not supposed to be in the Gaffer’s blackberries and you know it,” Frodo retorted. “Look at what a mess you are.” He grabbed an arm to examine the scratches, then kissed one better.
“And you’re all berry-stained and dirty,” Merry added. “We can’t have tea like this. Come on, Frodo, let’s find the soap.”
“No! No soap!” Pippin wailed, but the two older lads had him in their clutches and hauled him off to face the sore trial of washing with soap.
Bilbo approached the corner and looked down at the little farm scene. “Are those the best dishes?” he asked fearfully.
“Charming little lad, isn’t he?” Gandalf replied, getting to his feet. “Favors the Old Took, I believe.”
Bilbo sighed as he picked up the abused dishes and discovered an almost invisible nick on the plate. “Yes, he’s a handful. The lads love him dearly.” He set the scratched plate on the sideboard woefully, rubbing his thumb surreptitiously over the tiny chip. “Shall I make a fresh pot of tea, then?”
“Oh, certainly,” Gandalf replied, reclaiming his chair and lighting his pipe. “And you’d best get out some more biscuits. They seem to have all disappeared.”
“Really. How odd,” Bilbo said dryly. “I wonder how that happened?”
Gandalf’s eyes were all a-twinkle. “Must have been magic,” he said.