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[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Frodo is nine ( 6 in Man-years). Primula knows her husband, brother and nephews are all of age, even if they don’t act like it…]
The clock on the wall, a gift from Drogo’s cousin Bilbo, whirred and clicked. The little doors opened, and the tiny Dwarf popped out and struck the bell with his miniscule hammer. Eleven strokes. Primula sighed, put down her knitting, and made her way to Drogo’s study.
“G-E-R-O-N-T-I-U-Eth” came a childish voice.
Drogo chuckled, and Frodo frowned. “It’th not funny, Papa!” There was an intake of breath, and then Frodo said forcefully “Gerontiussssss!”
Primula, peeking through the open door stifled her laughter, as Drogo wiped his face. Frodo had recently lost two front teeth, and was very frustrated by his consequent lisp. When he concentrated very hard, he could still produce the “s” sound, but the result was usually a spray of spittle, with no front teeth to contain it.
“I see,” she said sternly, “that the two of you have lost track of time over lessons again. Rory and Gilda expect us to elevenses, you know, and we are already late!”
Now she laughed at the way they scrambled. Being late for a meal was no small thing for a hobbit. Luckily, her brother’s apartment was only a short distance down the sloped passage from their own.
Still, she needn’t have worried. They had not yet begun to eat, though the food was ready on the sideboard in the Master’s private dining room. Rory’s older son Saradoc and his wife Esmeralda had yet to show up. Merimac was standing by the sideboard, and attempting to snatch a scone, only to be foiled by a slap from his mother’s hand.
“Merimac Brandybuck! You are no growing lad; we’ll wait till all are here!” said Menegilda sternly. She turned to the new arrivals. “Good morning, Primula, Drogo! How are you today, Frodo?” she asked, reaching down.
He gave her a hug. “I’m fine, Auntie Gilda!” He paused, “Oh, and how are you?”
She hugged him back firmly. “I am very fine indeed, Frodo. Especially now that you are here!”
He grinned “Tho--I mean *SO* we can eat?”
She blinked, and used a finger to wipe her eye, “Almost! But we still must wait for--ah! Here they are now!”
Saradoc and Esmeralda entered hand in hand, with apologies, but no explanations, for their lateness. At Gilda’s arched eyebrow, both of them blushed fiercely, and the other adults all chuckled knowingly. Frodo looked puzzled. “What’th tho funny?” he demanded.
Merimac swooped him up, tickling. “It’s very funny, don’t you think, for Sara to be late for a meal?”
Frodo stopped his squirming and giggling, and said in an unsatisfied tone, “If you thay tho, Uncle Mac!” For he used the courtesy titles with his adult cousins.
“I *do* ‘thay tho’, little Frodo-worm!”
“I’m not a worm!” was the indignant response.
“You thquirm like a worm!” He tickled the lad once more.
“*Thtop that!” Frodo squealed.
“ ‘Thtop what?”
Frodo took a very deep breath. “SSSSStop ssssaying that!” he said forcefully.
Merimac put his cousin down abruptly, and took out a handkerchief to wipe his face. The laughter in the room was all directed at him now. He shook his head ruefully. Bested by a nine-year-old!
Primula openly grinned. Frodo had not necessarily meant to spray his cousin’s face, but it was quite funny to see.
“That’s enough,” said Rory. “We shouldn’t let the food get cold.”
Soon they were all seated round the table busily eating. Primula kept an eye on Frodo’s plate, making sure he took some of the meats and vegetables on the sideboard, and did not load up with only sweets or mushrooms. He was quite greedy, especially, for mushrooms, and had to be reminded not to get more than his fair share. He was also going through a bit of a growth spurt--she noticed him taking his plate back for fourths, and smiled to herself. It was wonderful to see him with such an appetite.
Meanwhile she was conversing with Esmeralda, on her other side. Sara and Esme had been married nearly three years now, and she and Primula had become very good friends. She knew Esme’s older sisters much better of course--Primrose and Peridot had been her best friends all her life, after all, though she saw them much less often now they were grown. She gave a tiny sigh at the thought of their eldest sister Pearl, who’d been killed in a fall from a pony long ago, and then shook the melancholy thoughts away.
The two were discussing a bit of knitted lace Primrose had sent her sister, which Esmeralda was wearing at her throat. It was in a pattern Primula was unfamiliar with, and she wondered if Primrose would send it to her.
Just then, one of the maidservants came in with the post. There were several letters for the Master and Mistress, a letter for Merimac--Primula spotted the handwriting, and his blush as he took it--it must be from Linda Proudfoot. There was a rather thick one for Drogo, clearly from his sister Dora--she wrote to him twice a week, long letters filled with advice and gossip. And there was a package from Hobbiton, addressed to “Master Frodo Baggins”. What had Bilbo sent now?
The others looked curiously, as Frodo grinned eagerly and grasped the package. “It’s not their birthday,” said Rory, puzzled. Bilbo was more than generous on birthdays and at Yule.
Drogo chuckled. “I’m afraid Cousin Bilbo likes to do the unexpected. He’s very fond of Frodo for some strange reason,” he chortled here at the indignant looks from his wife and child. He was fond of teasing. “so he sends the lad gifts sometimes for no particular reason at all.”
“Can I--I mean, may I open it, Papa?”
Drogo nodded, and Primula said “Take it away from the table, Frodo. If you are quite finished eating, you may open it.”
Frodo gave a briefly conflicted glance at his plate, and quickly popped the last mushroom into his mouth. Then, taking the package, he hopped down from the table and carried it over by the hearth, and began the process of taking off the string and brown paper that covered it.
There was a wooden box, and a letter lay atop it. Frodo picked it up, and Drogo got up from the table and went over to sit on the floor by his son. “What does it say, Frodo?”
With a look of intense concentration, Frodo read the spidery handwriting aloud.
I had planned for you to receive thith--*this*--gift for Yule. But it--*was*--not delivered in time. Thinthe--*since*--it arrived, I could not wait for another Yule for you to have it. I hope that you enjoy playing with it, my lad, and will tell me of all the Adventureth--*Adventures*--you have with it when I--*see*--you again.
I had planned for you to receive thith--*this*--gift for Yule. But it--*was*--not delivered in time. Thinthe--*since*--it arrived, I could not wait for another Yule for you to have it. I hope that you enjoy playing with it, my lad, and will tell me of all the Adventureth--*Adventures*--you have with it when I--*see*--you again.
With an exclamation of anticipation, Frodo lifted the lid, and his blue eyes grew huge. “Oh my!” he said. He reached in and took out a small figure--a tiny hobbit. Drogo reached in and took out another figure, a small Dwarf. While Frodo examined the little hobbit, which bore an uncanny resemblance to his beloved Uncle Bilbo, Drogo reached in a pulled out a Dragon. It was cunningly constructed of bronze, with a suitable fierce expression. A large key was mounted in the side, and Drogo turned it a few times. The dragon’s wings flapped back and forth, it waved its long neck, and the mechanical “whirr” sounded much like a subdued roar.
Primula grinned. The rapt look on both Frodo’s and Drogo’s face was identical. She turned to say something to her brother, and realized he, too, wore an expression of fascination. In fact, her nephews did as well.
“What else is in the box?” asked Merimac, getting up and going over to join Frodo and Drogo. He reached in and began to pull out tiny Dwarves--thirteen of them.
“Good heavens!” said Rory. “Did he send the whole story?”
Drogo put the Dragon down, which was immediately picked up by Merimac. He reached in again. “Here’s three Trolls!”
As if drawn by a lodestone, Saradoc and Rory got up and joined the others on the floor. Frodo stood back, his eyes wide, as his father and uncles plundered the box. (“Bless me! Here are some Elves!” “Look at the goblins!” “Ugly things, aren’t they?” “I wonder if they really looked like that?” “Are there any giant spiders?” “No. Pity.” “Look, the sofa pillow would make an excellent Lonely Mountain!” “Is Gandalf in there? Aha! There he is!”)
Primula watched in amazement, and her eye was caught by Frodo, who stood watching the adults with a perplexed expression. While he would be only too happy for them to play with him, this *was* *his* present! But they were grown-ups--how could he say anything? All of this was obvious in the look of appeal he cast to his mother.
She looked at Gilda, who was on the verge of laughing openly, and Esme, who looked rather astonished at the sight of her husband on the floor like a lad of ten.
Primula cleared her throat loudly, and all of the males looked up at her. “I really think, lads, that you can’t have much of an Adventure without the Burglar!”
Guiltily they looked at Frodo, and Drogo had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry, son! You have the Burglar--you shall have to direct us in this Adventure!”
That was all the invitation Frodo needed, and he sat down happily. “Well, see, Papa--they have to start over here. The hearth can be the Shire…”
Primula shook her head, and exchanged a knowing look with Gilda. Esme leaned over, and whispered “Do they ever grow up?”
Menegilda grinned. “Not when there are shiny new toys about.”
Primula just smiled and watched her two children--husband and son--playing so nicely with the other lads.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Marigold is six ( 3 ˝ in Man-years), May is thirteen (8 in Man-years), Merry is eight ( 5 in Man-years), Sam is not quite ten ( 6 ˝ in Man-years), Frodo is twenty-two (14 in Man-years) and Daisy is eighteen (12 in Man-years). And Bell is getting older by the minute…]
A MOTHER’S WORK: BELL
Bell put the struggling lass down with a shake of her head. At six, Marigold was as busy a little maid-child as Bell had ever seen--certainly much livelier than either Daisy or May had ever been at that age. Why, she’d never had to change their clothes in the middle of the day because they’d decided to explore the hearth. She looked with dismay at the room, and was glad they‘d had no fire on this warm afternoon. It didn't bear thinking of.
“Marigold Gamgee! What *were* you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, Mama. I wanted to see where the smoke goes.”
It would take a mort of scrubbing to get everything clean. “May!” she called. She’d need her daughter’s help. Daisy was over at the Widow Rumble’s place, helping the Widow and her niece to put up some pickles.
May darted in from where she had been sweeping the bedrooms.
“Yes, Ma?” Her eyes grew huge at the sight of the sooty room.
“I’ll need your help--”
Just then there was a rap on the door. Holding Marigold by one arm, she went to open it.
“Master Merry!” she exclaimed, surprised. He was up at Bag End visiting Master Frodo, and Sam had gone up to play with him this morning. He had a very distressed look on his face.
“Mistress Bell, Frodo says would you please come up? And--and don’t be mad--it’s my fault, not Sam’s--I *promise* it’s my fault! And please can you hurry?”
Something must be dreadfully wrong. With a sinking feeling, she turned to May, who was watching avidly. “Take your sister, May, and keep her with you. Go over to the Widow’s and ask Daisy to come home. Then the two of you get started on cleaning that mess. And don’t let Mari near that hearth again! I’ll be back as soon as may be!” She snatched her shawl and went out the door, where Master Merry was waiting, hopping anxiously from one foot to the other. They started briskly up The Hill. “What’s wrong, Master Merry?” she asked sternly.
“We only wanted to help, really we did. Frodo was busy, and we just wanted to get things ready so he could make luncheon. It was *my* idea to get the tea canister down--really it was--Sam didn’t want to, but I said that it would be easier for Frodo if we got it down, and I couldn’t reach, even on the chair, so Sam tried but the cupboard started to fall and then Frodo came in and grabbed it, but it’s heavy and he can’t let go or it will fall down…”
Bell’s eyes widened as she realized the problem, and she fairly flew, leaving Merry to run at her heels. Mr. Bilbo had gone into Overhill on business, and taken Hamfast with him to look at some nursery stock. He wanted to replace the apple tree that had come down in a storm over the winter. Master Frodo should have had no problem watching over the two lads, but this? Oh, she thought, please let him be strong enough to hold on…
She raced to the kitchen door, which stood wide open. The large cupboard which had stood on one wall of the kitchen was tilted at a very dangerous angle. Broken crockery and a broken chair littered the floor. Frodo, strain etched on his face, was holding the cabinet up desperately so that it wouldn’t land on Sam, whose head and shoulders peeked out beneath. He saw her, and his expression lightened. “Ma! I knew you’d come.”
She wasted no breath in answering, but went over and lent her strength to Frodo’s. They pushed it up, and Sam scrambled out. With a shove, it went back upright against the wall.
Then she glanced around at Mr. Bilbo’s kitchen. Several of the cups and saucers were smashed, but not so many were broken as she had feared. The chair *was* broken.
“Sammy, come here,” she said firmly. He came over, and she examined him thoroughly and found to her relief that he seemed to have come away without a scratch. Frodo watched with worry in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Mistress Bell! I didn’t know they were going to do that--I was *getting ready* to come and make them some lunch…” His voice trailed off miserably. His face was white, and his blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears. It was clear he’d had a dreadful fright--probably worse than the younger lads, who didn’t truly realize their narrow escape.
“It’s not your fault, Master Frodo. Samwise should have known better.” She fixed her son with a stern eye, and he wilted visibly. Simply showing him her anger would be a lesson to him--he took it hard when she was displeased with him. But he’d have to be punished as well.
“Please!” said Master Merry, tears in his own eyes. “It’s *my* fault! It was *my* idea!”
“And a poor idea it was, Master Merry, which is why Sam’s punishment will be a lesson to you as well. He’ll not be up to play with you the rest of this week,” she said firmly.
Merry sniffled, and wiped his hand beneath his nose. “Yes, Mistress Bell.”
Satisfied that Sam was unharmed she stood up. “Master Frodo, Sam is to help you clean up this mess, and then you must send him straight back down to Number Three. Mind you, it’s not your fault, but do remember next time you’re watching over young lads how quickly they can get into mischief.”
He smiled at her, relieved that she had said “next time”, she could tell by the look on his face. He must have been certain that she’d say he could never watch over her Sam again. But she knew, none better, how quickly children could get into things--just look at what little Mari had done this morning.
She bent down and gave Sam a peck on top of his sandy curls, and said, “Mind you, help with this, and then come straight home.”
On the way down The Hill, she shook her head. What a day for Hamfast to be gone, not to mention Mr. Bilbo. And her that busy!
She went back into Number Three, and let out a gasp at the sight that greeted her: all *three* of her daughters covered in soot, and the room looked worse than ever.
Daisy looked at her mother guiltily. “I’m sorry, Ma! Mari put the broom up the chimney afore I could stop her. She was going to clean it out.”
Marigold looked up at her mother, her teeth white in her sooty face. “Mama! You’re home! I was helping!”
Bell sighed. “Yes, chicklet, you are surely a great help.”
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Frodo is 19 (12 ˝ in Man-years) and Merry is 6 ( 3 ˝ in Man-years) though Esmeralda is beginning to think he‘s getting younger instead of older…
“Mummy! Where’s Frodo?” Merry tugged anxiously at his mother’s skirts.
“He’s having his lessons with Uncle Dinny, Merry. You know that.”
Merry followed her closely. If she were to stop abruptly, she might tread on him. “When will Da get home?” he asked plaintively.
“Your Da’s gone to Haysend, to help your grandfather with some important things. He will not be back until very late tonight. You will probably be abed already.” She carefully did *not* remind him that she had told him this several times already.
“Can I stay awake until he gets home?”
For a moment, she was tempted. But the thought of how cranky he’d be on the morrow, and how distraught he would become if his father were unexpectedly delayed, made her steel her resolve. “No, Merry. But I will tell him to wake you up and tell you when he gets here.”
The lower lip quivered, and the grey eyes filled with tears. He put his little fists up and rubbed his eyes.
“Merry, why don’t you go and find Beri and some of the other lads? It’s a nice day--you should be outside playing in the sunshine.”
“No, Mummy. I want to stay with you until Frodo gets back.”
Esmeralda sighed, and sitting down in her armchair, she took Merry in her lap. He snuggled up, and--something he’d not done since he was four--stuck his thumb in his mouth. She pet him for a while, pondering. She knew what was causing this babyish behavior, though she was uncertain how to deal with it. Merry’s nursemaid Dahlia had left several days ago to get married.
At the time, he had seemed to deal with it well, and though he had issued an invitation to Dahlia’s betrothed to “come live with us”, he had seemed to understand when they had explained that Dahlia needed to go back to her family home at Whitfurrow, and to live with her new husband in *his* hole. And he had cheerfully bid them farewell, and even given them the gift of his beloved silver spoon, the one he’d had as a Naming Day gift from his Took grandparents, whom he could not remember. Adalgrim had died before Merry’s first Yule, and Periwinkle had followed only two years later.
But the next day, he could scarcely bear to let any of his family out of his sight. When he was with his mother, he constantly asked her about Frodo and his father. And Sara confided that when he had taken Merry in to Bucklebury one morning, the lad had been anxious to return home to his mother the whole time. He did seem to relax a bit with Frodo, but he still wanted reassurance that everyone was still home and had not left him.
Just then, the apartment door flew open, and Frodo came in excitedly. Merry leapt from his mother’s lap, and ran to Frodo, who scooped him up. Esmeralda looked at her ward inquiringly. “Frodo, you were to be at lessons until luncheon.”
“Uncle Dinny allowed me to leave early, as Marroc had not finished his essay, and he wished to work with him alone.” Frodo grinned, and let Merry down to the floor. “Guess what!”
“What is it, Frodo-lad?” She wondered what had him so excited.
Frodo pulled a letter from his pocket. “I got a letter from Cousin Calla! She will be back tomorrow or the next day! I can begin my art lessons again!” He handed the letter to Esmeralda with one hand, and curled his fingers around Merry’s questing hand with the other. “See, Aunt Esme?”
She opened the letter, which was decorated with delicately rendered ink sketches along the margins, and was written in an impeccable calligraphic hand:
I am glad to tell you that by the time you receive this, I will be well on my way home. In fact, I should be back about two weeks from my writing of this.
I’ve completed my commission for the North-tooks, and have had a nice little sketching tour here in Long Cleeve, but I am quite ready to be home in Buckland once more.
I look forward to starting your lessons up again. I hope that you have been busy with your sketchbook while I was gone.
“Why, Frodo, that’s wonderful! I know you’ve missed your lessons very much,” said Esmeralda.
“No!” said Merry, suddenly and petulantly. “You have *enough* lessons, Frodo!”
Frodo looked both shocked and stricken by this outburst. “Oh, Merry!” he said, distressed.
“Meriadoc Brandybuck! That is a very unkind thing to say! You know that Frodo loves his lessons!”
Merry pouted, and muttered.
“Say it so that we can hear, young hobbit!” said Esmeralda, appalled at this unexpected outburst.
“He loves his lessons more than me!”
Frodo went down on one knee. “Merry! That’s not true!” His blue eyes filled with tears, and Merry relented at once.
“I’m sorry, Frodo! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!” He hugged Frodo tightly, and suddenly began to weep as though his heart would break. Frodo cast a look of appeal at Esmeralda.
“Come here, my lads,” she said gently, holding out her arms to embrace them both.
She took Merry upon her lap once more, and looked at Frodo’s own stricken face. “Frodo, dear, fetch me a wet flannel, please,” she said calmly. It would give Frodo time to calm down and wash his own face.
A moment later he returned, and Esmeralda attended to Merry’s tears.
“I’m sorry, Mummy! I am,” he said mournfully.
She shook her head. He was clearly puzzled by his own behavior.
“Merry, I think you are missing Dahlia, aren’t you?”
He gave a little hiccup, and then looked up at her, surprised. Then he nodded. “She went away.”
“Yes, she did.” Esmeralda had not realized how hard Merry would take his nursemaid’s leaving. Although he’d been very fond of her, he’d always preferred Frodo’s attentions or those of his own mother, as was proper. But of course he had loved Dahlia--she had been a presence in his life since he was born, and he had an affectionate nature.
“Sprout?” said Frodo, putting his hand on Merry’s, “I have an idea. Would you like me to help you write a letter to Dahlia? And I can make a picture for you to put in with it.”
Merry bit his lip. “You aren’t cross with me ‘cause I was bad?”
“No, sprout. How could I be cross when you are sorry?” Merry’s face lit up, and he gave Frodo a watery smile.
“I’d like to write a letter if you help.”
Frodo jumped up. “Well, I will go and fetch the parchment and pens, then!” and he scurried off to his room.
Merry hugged his mother. “I’m sorry I was bad, Mummy.”
“I know, my Merry. I love you.”
“I love you, too. You are the best Mummy ever.”
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Pearl is seventeen (11 in Man-years), Pimpernel is 13 (8 in Man-years) Pervinca is seven (4 ˝ in Man-years) and Pippin is two and a half (about 16 months in Man-years) Eglantine finds herself counting each and every one of those years...
A MOTHER’S WORK: EGLANTINE
Eglantine rolled her eyes, and looking up from her task of changing Pippin’s nappy yet again (why *had* Paladin allowed the baby to eat all those fresh plums, anyway? *He* ought to be the one changing *these* nappies!) called out “What is it now, Pimmie?”
“Pervinca has my new doll!”
Vinca darted into the room, past her protesting sister, and holding the new doll precariously by one arm. “Pimmie wasn’t sharing!”
“Pervinca Took, give the doll back to your sister. It is her new birthday present from the Aunties. And be careful with it. If you break it, I will make you explain to Aunt Primrose what you did.”
Vinca’s eyes grew wide with horror, and she handed the doll back to her sister quickly. She certainly did not want to have to tell Aunt Primrose about her misbehavior.
She walked over to her baby brother. “He smells bad.” She wrinkled up her nose.
Eglantine looked at her daughter with amusement. “He smells no worse than you did when I had to change *your* nappies!”
Vinca made a face. “Ew!” Pimpernel was solicitously looking over her doll, making sure that nothing had been marred.
Pippin all clean and changed now giggled and reached for his mother, who picked him up. He laughed, and it made his sisters laugh as well--his good cheer was infectious. From his mother’s arms, he reached down to Pervinca, trying to grasp her curls, but with the quickness born of experience, she ducked her head, and reached her hand up instead.
Just then there was a call from the direction of the kitchen. “Mistress Eglantine!”
Eglantine’s brow rose in surprise; their cook, Buttercup, sounded distressed. She headed quickly for the kitchen, with Pippin in her arms and her two younger daughters at her heels.
There was a smell of scorching, and she entered to find Pearl in tears, and Buttercup, the cook looking distressed. “I’m so sorry Mistress,” said Buttercup, sounding forlorn. She pointed at the cake on the table, sadly fallen in the middle, and shrugged, as Pearl indicated a pot of scorched stew.
Pearl sniffed. “It’s my fault, Mother! I was supposed to keep watch on the stew! Buttercup told me to move it off the fire as soon as it started to boil, but she was getting the cake out of the oven…”
Pimpernel gave a little shriek. “My birthday cake! It’s ruined!” She looked at Eglantine. “Mother! What will we do?”
Eglantine shook her head. “First things first. Pearl, I know you didn’t mean to scorch the stew. We’ll have something else for luncheon. Take your little brother. Pimmie don’t worry about the cake; you lasses go with your sister now. Pearl take them out to play--I’ll call you when luncheon is ready.”
They left reluctantly, Pearl still sniffing, and Pimmie still bemoaning the state of her birthday cake.
Buttercup was shaking her head. “I’m ever so sorry, Mistress! I was just taking the cake out of the oven, and I had to put it down quicklike, and it just fell.” She looked very distressed--she was an excellent cook, and she never had disasters like this, not in all the time she had worked for the Tooks.
“Pearl was wool-gathering again, wasn’t she?”
“She’s at that age, Mistress--not too far off from being a tween.”
“Well, I don’t suppose she’ll be doing that in the kitchen again. I‘m sure she‘s learned her lesson.” A young hobbit would take spoiling food hard. Eglantine shook her head at the smell in the pot. “How’s the larder? Can we make a cold luncheon?”
“Yes, ma’am. There’s some ham. And a nice bit of Michel Delving cheese. And I baked extra bread this morning, what with the guests coming for tea. And I brought in some greens from the garden this morning; rocket and lettuce and some carrots--I could make a salad…”
Eglantine nodded. Luncheon would be just fine. “Well, we’ll whip up some cream, and get out the brambleberry preserves and no one will be able to tell that the cake fell.”
Just then Pervinca came darting into the kitchen. “Mother--do we have any more clean nappies? Pippin’s stinky again!”
There were indeed a couple of clean nappies still on the line, fortunately.
Pippin was cleaned up once more. Eglantine took the metal bucket full of soiled nappies out to the laundry shed. But she did not have time to tackle laundry today. But she was going to *have* to see to some of those nappies. She lit the boiler, and Pearl and Pimpernel went to the pump with buckets. Plums!
Pervinca entertained Pippin in the back garden as Eglantine, Pearl and Pimpernel saw to washing and hanging a couple of dozen clean nappies. It was a clear warm day in early autumn--it should not take them long to dry in the sunshine.
As Paladin came up from the barns, where they had been seeing to the last of the harvest, he looked in surprise at the activity. “Laundry? But it’s not Sunday!”
The glare he received from his wife startled him. What had he done wrong now?
“Lasses!” called Eglantine, “take your little brother in and watch him for a while. It’s almost time for luncheon.”
Oh dear! thought Paladin. I *did* do something wrong.
As soon as the children had vanished, she turned to him sternly. “Paladin Took, why in all Middle-earth did you allow Pippin to eat all those plums?
He blinked. “Tina, he *loves* plums! He was having so much fun eating them…”
“And it never occurred to you to wonder about his digestion?”
“But…” Oh. He looked at the nappies hanging on the line. Oh dear.
“After luncheon, *you* will watch after Pippin for a while! I have to help Pimpernel get ready for our guests and prepare her presents! Primrose and Peridot and Ferdinand and his children will all be here before tea. Sparrow will see to anything that still needs doing in the barn!” Sparrow Tunnelly was their farmhand, and Buttercup‘s younger brother.
Just then they were interrupted by a shriek of rage, and the lasses’ cry of “Moootherrr!”
Shaking her head, she headed inside, with Paladin at her heels.
The shouting was coming from the lasses’ room. They could hear Pimpernel yelling at Pippin, and Pippin’s wails.
“What is going on?” said Eglantine crossly, as they entered the room.
“Look!” said Pimpernel. “They’re ruined!” She held out a soggy handful of what had once been bright hair-ribbons, the gift she had the day before from Pearl. The colors had run together, and they were indeed ruined.
Pearl was holding Pippin, whose face was a riot of color: all round his mouth, blue, yellow, pink and green. Seeing his parents, he stopped his tears, and grinned at them. His usually pearly teeth were purple, as was his tongue.
“He got hold of Pimmie’s hair-ribbons, Mother! And then he *sucked* on them!” said Pervinca, in the smug tone of an older sister telling on a younger brother.
“So I see,” said Eglantine dryly.
Luncheon had been a rather quiet affair, except for Pippin who played with his slice of ham as much as he ate, and then sat in his high chair singing wordless nonsense. His face, though well-scrubbed, still bore traces of yellow and pink and blue. But the lasses were subdued, and Paladin was treading warily, lest he raise his wife’s ire. Now that it had been brought to his attention, he should have realized that it was not a good idea to allow the baby to eat his fill of fresh plums.
When they had finished eating, Eglantine said, “Now Paladin, Pimpernel and I have some party business to attend to. So you can watch over the others for me for a while.”
Paladin gave her a look, which she returned cooly, but he did not argue.
“Pimmie, dear, come with me.” Eglantine led her middle daughter away.
Pimpernel followed her mother into her parents’ room and went over to sit on their bed, where Eglantine had placed the mathoms that the two of them had selected the day before.
“Now,” said Eglantine, “we’ll put aside the things you have to send to Brandy Hall and Bag End. There were bookmarks for cousins Bilbo and Frodo, and a picture Pimmie had drawn for Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme, and a little story she had written for Merry. Eglantine would see to getting them in the post later.
They looked at the other presents chosen for the family members who would be there that evening: a small vase for Aunt Primrose; a handkerchief for Aunt Peridot; a small leaf pouch for Uncle Ferdinand. For Cousin Ferdi, a small leather ball, and for Cousin Donnabella, a small carved box.
She’d found a string of blue glass beads for Pearl, and one of her own lace collars for Pervinca. For Pippin there was a small box of wooden blocks which she had outgrown. And for her father, she and her mother had agreed on a nice scarf of green wool.
“Now, Pimmie, you can help me wrap them,” Eglantine went to the lower drawer and drew out the lengths of fabric scraps that she kept for such purpose along with some inexpensive ribbons for tying the packages up with. The two sat there and began to wrap the gifts in a companionable silence. After a few moments, Eglantine smiled at her. “You know, just about this exact time, thirteen years ago, Mistress Poppy and I were welcoming you into the world.”
Pimpernel’s eyes grew wide. “Really, Mother?”
“Yes, lambkin.” She gave Pimpernel a brief hug.
“Mother? Did--did I hurt you much? I remember, Pippin hurt you a lot. It was scary. Was it just because he was a lad?”
Eglantine looked startled at the question, and then, putting an arm around Pimpernel, drew her close. “All babies hurt their mothers some when they are being born. But it is quite worth it to have our very own new little one to love. As to Pippin, he did not hurt me any more than you lasses did, though it was for longer. We were trying to keep him from being born, you see, for it was too early. But he was ready then, and no stopping him.”
“I’m glad he was all right, Mother, even if he does slobber on my ribbons and make messes. I love him.” She gave her mother another hug. “And I love you, too! I’m glad that you had me.”
“Why, so am I, dearling, so am I.”
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: Bilbo and Sigismond are nine--or six in Man-years. Belladonna is not sure if they will survive to be ten…)
A MOTHER’S WORK: BELLADONNA
Belladonna sighed, and took up her quill. She was going to have to be a bit circumspect. Her brother Hildibrand would probably find the true events to be amusing. His far more staid and conventional Bunce wife, Myrtle, would not.
“My Dear Hildibrand and Myrtle,
Bilbo could not have been more pleased that you allowed little Sigismond to come back to Bag End with us. The two of them are enjoying their visit immensely, and are finding many ways to have fun together…”
Many more ways to have fun than Bilbo could ever have thought of by himself, anyway.
“The first day, they went berrying, and brought home quite a bounty; I was able to make blackberry crumble for supper, much to their delight…”
And she and Bungo had been up with them both much of the night, dosing them with ginger tea, for they failed to mention that they had already eaten more berries than they actually brought home, and then spent the night with tummy-aches.
“Then on Highday morning, Bungo took them down to the Water to go fishing. I am sorry to say they had no luck catching fish, but they enjoyed themselves splendidly all the same…”
And came home dripping wet, as they had managed to fall in, and had to be hauled out by an exasperated Bungo, who had a trout on his line at the time it happened. Of course, he lost the fish.
“Sigismond’s loose front tooth came out that morning, and I hope that you do not object to the fact that Bungo rewarded him for it with a farthing. It is a Baggins custom to give children a farthing for each milk-tooth they lose. Your son was quite surprised, but I was at pains to remind him that this was not a Took custom and that he could not expect such a reward when he was at home.”
Perhaps, thought Belladonna, that had been her mistake. Sigismond had immediately grasped her point, but not quite in the way she had intended.
After luncheon, Bilbo and Sigismond had gone back out to play. Bungo had gone to his study to work on the household accounts, and she had taken up some of her mending. The only sound to be heard in the smial was the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece and the light breeze that stirred the curtains, bringing in the early summer fragrance of the lilacs and pinks in the garden.
So Belladonna had been quite surprised to suddenly hear a smart rapping at the kitchen door. Puzzled, she had put down the little pair of Bilbo’s breeches she had been mending and gone to answer.
She threw open the door, and stared in stunned consternation at the sight before her: their gardener, Tam Goodchild, had each lad by an ear. Bilbo and Sigismond looked up at her cheerfully--in spite of the fact that each of them was sporting a split and bloody lip.
“I’m sorry, Mistress Baggins,” said the gardener, with a look of sincere distress, “but I found ‘em pounding away at each other down by the well.”
“Lads!” she exclaimed, completely shocked. “I cannot believe that you were *fighting*!” And this was true. Hobbit children almost never came to blows, and Bilbo and Sigismond were such good friends, she could not begin to imagine what would cause them to do such a thing.
“We weren’t, Mama!” said Bilbo.
“No, Aunt Bella, we weren’t fighting!”
“I seen ‘em,” repeated Tam.
She looked at Tam, who looked very hurt at the children’s disclaimer. “I know you did, Master Tam, and I am so very sorry that you had to deal with my son and my nephew so. Thank you.”
He nodded solemnly, and then turned a stern gaze down to the lads. “Kin-folk shouldn’t be a-fighting, Master Bilbo,” he said quietly, before he turned and went away back to his work.
“But, Mama--” Bilbo protested.
“Not another word from you, Bilbo Baggins! Or you either Sigismond Took! We will let your *father* deal with this!”
Bungo had looked down at the little miscreants glumly. “Not only were the two of you fighting, and were caught in the act, but you continue to lie about it. Bilbo, I am sorely disappointed in you. And Sigismond, all I can say is that we will be forced to cut your visit short…”
“Papa! No!” cried Bilbo. “Please don’t make Siggy go home!” He clutched at his cousin as though he thought he would vanish in an instant.
“Uncle Bungo! Yes, we were hitting, but we *weren’t* fighting, really, really--we *weren’t*!”
Belladonna and her husband exchanged puzzled looks. What on earth was going on? The children seemed perfectly sincere; perhaps they had been *playing* at fighting? The two of them had been enthralled at the tale of a famous Elven fighter that Bungo had read to them.
“If you weren’t fighting, what *were* you doing, then?”
Bilbo grinned, and then winced and put a hand to his rapidly bruising mouth. “We were just trying to knock our teeth out!”
“Yes, Uncle Bungo! We thought it would be good to have some farthings when we go with Auntie to the market tomorrow! And besides--I wanted Bilbo to knock all of mine out before I go home, or I won’t *get* any more farthings!”
The look of shock on her husband’s face was priceless. Belladonna had to fight down the urge to burst out in laughter.
She had left her flustered husband to explain that only teeth which fell out naturally qualified for a farthing, and gone to the kitchen where she had laughed hysterically, until the tears ran down her face.
Now she continued her letter.
“The lads did misbehave just a bit. However, Bungo has given them essays. After they spent the morning writing about the importance of teeth in eating properly, I have no doubt that they have learned their lesson.”
Just then she heard the front door to Bag End slam, and heard the patter of little feet running towards the study.
“Mama! Siggy fell from the roof-tree and has a bump on his head!”
It was with an lovely feeling of contented exhaustion that Adamanta turned her face to her youngest, contentedly suckling a meal at her breast. "Well, young Isengar, how do you find the world?" she murmured. "Is it as good a place as you thought it might be, since you were in such a hurry to enter it?" He'd been nearly three weeks early, not so early as had his younger sister Mirabella, who had worried all of them dreadfully. But he had certainly not taken his time as had Isumbras, who had been nearly two weeks late. She chuckled as she recalled Gerontius' wry remark that his third child had missed ninety-eight meals at the start and had been trying to catch up ever since.
And her heart gave a lurch as it always did at the thought of little Hildigard, carried off far too young by the spotted fever. He had not lived even long enough to bring her the first flowers of faunthood.
Then there were her other "Hildis"-- she had decided that was not a good prefix for a lad's name: all three of them were impetuous, rushing headlong into whatever presented itself. Why Hildigrim was only twenty-two and already making eyes at the lasses! It had scarcely been a week since Hildifons had been caught attempting to scrump cousin Prospero's prize-winning tomatoes and only two days since Hildibrand had to be rescued from the top of a tree by his ever-patient older brother Isenbard, who finally lost patience and had applied his own punishment to his younger brother.
Isembold and Isenbard both took after the Chubb side of the family. They were solid and dependable lads, but there was no denying that they lacked a certain "something" that set the Tooks apart as a clan. Adamanta was glad at least some of her children had something of her in them. Her middle daughter Donnamira also seemed to favor the Chubbs-- she was much more settled and less flighty than her older and younger sisters. She dreaded the day that Bella and Mira entered their tweens. Not only were the two of them likely to get into any scrape that a lad could think of, but she had a feeling that it was going to be hard to keep the suitors at bay as well.
Although, she thought with a smile, Gerontius was unlikely to brook a lot of nonsense of that sort with his daughters, who all three were the apple of his eye.
The two of them had most certainly not intended such a large family. But one child seemed to follow another with an ease that shocked Adamanta's own family. Chubbs generally tended to have "only children" or two or three at most. And even the Tooks were seldom so prolific as she and Gerontius had been. But this latest one had been more difficult. She was not so young as she used to be, and she and Gerontius had agreed he would be the last. "Let us end with an even dozen," he had said with a smile, and she had agreed for she knew how worried he had been this time.
There was a tap on her door. She wondered who it was this time-- there had been a steady stream of family and friends today wishing the new little one a welcome.
"Come in!" she called.
The door opened to reveal the cheerful face of her eldest, Isengrim. "Hello, Mother," he said. He came in, bearing a great sheaf of flowers, bright with colour: roses and peonies, sweet peas, daylilies and others, bringing in a waft of floral scent that was heady. "If you recall, it is thirty years ago today that you brought me into the world. And I thought I would bring you my gift now, and thank you for this wonderful gift you gave me: a new brother!"
He bent over, and with one arm, took up little Isengar, and placed the flowers in his mother's arms, and then bent to receive her kiss on his cheek.
"Silly child!" she said with a grin. "Of course I would not forget your birthday! But now you will have to share it." She looked at the huge armfull of flowers. "And you just had to bring these in here without a vase!" she exclaimed, but with a twinkle in her eye.
Isengrim chuckled. "It's quite all right, Mother. I've already asked your chambermaid to bring a vase."
"Clever lad! Isengar, you could do worse than to follow your big brother's example!"
Isengar, being held with expert ease over his big brother's shoulder responded with a contented burp.
I meant to post this yesterday, but did not get the chance! So here's a belated Mother's Day Gift, a new chapter of "A Mother's Work"!
Rating: G Summary: Even in Gondor, a mother's work is never done.
[Author's Notes: Robin is two (about 13-14 months old in "Man-years"; Elanor is twenty-one (about 13 ˝ in "Man-years). Rose is feeling every bit of her age.
Part of this story is based on my ficlet "A: Like an Antagonistic Arwen"-Lady Haleth is a young woman of fifteen.
The visit to Minas Tirith in S.R. 1442 is canon. Elanor accompanied her parents, though it is not said the others did, and Tolman Gamgee appears to have been born there. That Robin might have also gone is a guess on my part.]
A Mother's Work: Rose
"Good morning, Liniel. Thank you!" Rosie availed herself of the warm wash water, lightly scented with lavender, and watched out of the corner of one eye as the woman took one of the loose frocks Rose had taken to wearing as she neared the end of this pregnancy, out of the wardrobe for her. It still made her uncomfortable to be waited on hand and foot by servants, but that was the way of things when visiting with Kings and Queens, as Sam had been to some pains to make her understand, and Minas Tirith was far more formal than Annuminas. She suffered Liniel to help her into the frock and asked, "Where are Sam and Robin?"
"Lord Samwise is with the King. Your son is in the garden with Nerwen," she said. Nerwen was the other maidservant assigned to them. "He is not happy."
Once dressed, Rosie left the bedroom and passed through the attached sitting room. Unlike the bedroom, the furniture was a mixture of both "big" and "small" furniture. The double glass doors that led out to the garden were well over twice the size of hobbit doors, and rectangular as well. But the doorknobs were small and set low in the doors.
"Do you wish your breakfast brought to you in the garden, Mistress Rose?"
"Yes, thank you, Liniel!" Rosie answered as she opened the door to let herself out. No sooner did it crack open than she could hear a shrill little voice:
Rosie shook her head in amusement and called: " 'Morning, Robin-a-bobbin!"
Both maidservant and baby looked over and smiled, Nerwen in relief, and little Robin in delight. Robin wriggled down from Nerwen's lap and began rapidly crawling in his mother's direction.
Rosie scooped him up and bestowed a kiss on top of his head. But she drew back as his little fingers headed straight to her bodice. "No, Robby!"
"No, Robby," she repeated. She glanced over where Nerwen watched sympathetically, and went over to her to sit beside her on the bench. Just then Liniel came out carrying a tray. Rosie was really very hungry, and was delighted to see that in addition to the big bowl of frumenty, there was a plate of cut up fruits and another of sliced bread and butter. Little Robby was soon distracted by slices of oranges and peaches, leaving his mother the chance to eat her breakfast in peace.
Soon enough, the baby, sated and sticky, was curled beneath her feet. She knew his wish to nurse had not been hunger, but a longing for that particular closeness between them. She sighed. Usually by the time she was weaning a child, her milk was beginning to dry up anyway, but with the new little one coming any time now, it would be a comfort for herself as well. Still, it had to be done; she needed to be able to feed the new babe, after all, and Robby needed to learn to share his mama.
While the baby slept, Rosie had a nice chat with the two maidservants about their families. Liniel had two little ones of her own and a husband in the Tower Guard; Nerwen was betrothed to a journeyman woodwright and deep in plans for her wedding. This led to a discussion of weddings in the Shire, and questions about Rosie's family. Such personal informality would have been unthinkable when the Gamgees had first arrived, but Rosie's warmth had overcome the maidservants' propriety and now they could enjoy such conversation.
Rosie recounted the tale of a small disaster caused by Merry-lad and Pippin-lad. The two had been listening to Sam's tale of their adventure with Tom Bombadil, and decided to surprise their mother by honouring her the way Tom did Goldberry. They'd managed to cull some water lilies from the Bywater pool. Then they'd filled an old washtub from the kitchen pump. However, they'd failed to take into account how difficult it would be for two small lads to carry a tub filled with water from the kitchen to the parlour, where Rose sat, unsuspectingly doing some mending. Struggling with the tub, half carrying, half dragging it, they had only come halfway to their goal when the inevitable happened, and the whole thing tipped, spilling a river on the flagstone hallway. Merry-lad had wrenched his wrist trying to hold on, and the edge of the tub had landed on Pippin-lad's foot. But their tears had been because their surprise for their mother had been spoiled.
"Merry-lad kept saying 'It seemed like a good idea', and it was all Sam and I could do to keep stern faces. It took forever to mop up the mess!"
Liniel and Nerwen were struggling to keep their laughter down, so as not to wake the sleeping Robin, when they were interrupted by a page.
"Lady Rose," the boy bowed, which made Rosie blush, "the Queen would like you to attend her now. She said to tell you it is quite important."
Rose stood as quickly as she could, and accepted the page's arm to escort her, all the while wondering what the Queen wanted. But she did not ask the child, knowing he would not answer.
He led her to the Queen's solarium and announced her, then bowed and left the room closing the door.
Rosie's heart sank. Only the Queen and Elanor were there, the Queen comforting Elanor, whose eyes and nose were red with weeping. Disregarding all protocol, Rose swept into the room and Elanor darted into her embrace with a sob. "Oh Rose-mum!"
Rosie patted her on the back with, "There, there, dearling!" while looking over her daughter's shoulder with an enquiring look at the Queen. To her surprise, Arwen's expression was one of shame.
"I am sorry, Rose. I have only just discovered that another of my handmaidens, Lady Haleth, has been tormenting Elanor for days. I overheard her unkind remarks this morning." She sighed. "Elanor had said nothing about it. I failed you and Sam."
Elanor turned suddenly, wiping her tears with the back of her hand, and looked at the Queen with surprise. "Failed?"
"I should have known," said Arwen.
Rosie shook her head. "You couldn't know if Elanor did not speak up." She looked her daughter in the eye, and though she already suspected the answer, asked, "Why didn't you tell the Queen, or your dad, or me?"
"I didn't want to worry you. It was just silly things; nothing important..."
"Oh, lass!" Rosie smoothed Elanor's hair, "of course it was important if it made you unhappy!"
"At first I thought she was just jesting with me, and I was hoping we'd be friends and then when I saw she really did not like me..."
"Lady Haleth will be dealt with," Arwen said firmly. "I will not have a bully attending me."
"Oh!" Elanor said, stricken. "You won't send her away, will you?"
Rosie and the Queen exchanged a look, and Rosie led Elanor over to a nearby footstool, for really, she needed to sit down. There was plenty of room to pull her daughter down next to her.
"Elanor, don't you want her to be punished? She will never learn better if this is allowed to pass."
"But...it seems to me as if I oughtn't to want anything bad to happen to her. Sending her away would be a dreadful disgrace for her."
"Doesn't she deserve to be sent away?"
"Maybe; but well, I keep thinking of how Uncle Frodo was in the tales. He didn't send Gollum away and Gollum deserved it."
Rosie embraced her child fiercely. "You are quite right, sweetheart. Your Uncle Frodo was like that. He forgave a lot of people what didn't deserve it." She drew back and looked her in the eye. "But when you forgive someone, you have to mean it. And even if you forgive her, it's not up to you what happens. That's the Queen's decision. I agree with her about bullies—she can't have that sort of thing around." Rosie schooled her expression to mild sternness. "Can you forgive her and really mean it?"
Elanor looked down at her toes. "I think so."
"Well, I think you need to be more certain. You go wash your face, and comb your hair and think about it a little, and when you decide, you tell the Queen. And then you let the Queen decide what to do about it all. Can you do that?"
Elanor nodded, and Rose embraced her daughter once more. "There's a good lass! Now off with you to wash those tears from your pretty face." She kissed her daughter, and shooed her away, and Elanor turned to go the chamber assigned to her. She turned to see Arwen staring at her, and she blushed under the Queen's regard.
"You are such a wise mother," Arwen said. "I hope I shall do half so well as you when I have children."
Rosie smiled. "I am quite sure..." she broke off at a certain feeling that she knew all too well. "Ooh!"
"My lady, I think my time is coming..."
Arwen nodded. "I think you are right." She stood, and before Rosie knew what was happening she found herself swept up in the Queen's surprisingly strong arms like a faunt. Arwen went to the door and passed through, telling the page: "Run and fetch the King and Lord Samwise. Tell them Lady Rose is about to give birth."
In the end, it was the easiest birth Rosie had save for Primrose (who had slipped out quite suddenly with almost no warning at all) and a few hours later, she introduced little Tolman to his father, sister and brother.
Little Robby looked quite confused to see his mother feeding this interloper, but Sam distracted him with a rusk of honey-bread. "You are a big brother now, Robin-a-bobbin!"
Elanor leaned down and kissed her mother on the brow. "I decided I can and mean it, Rose-mum. I'll tell the Queen." She stood up and grinned. "And I'll write a letter home and tell them all about our new brother!"
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