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Many Happy Returns  by Grey Wonderer

Chapter 6 "To and From"

"Now, you sit right there and donít you move. Do you understand me?" Pimpernel Took asked, firmly as she sat her younger brother down on the large sofa in their cousin Bilboís parlor.

"Yes, Nell," Pippin Took responded nodding his head and smiling up at his sister. "Iíll be good and later we get presents." This was the most important thing that would happen all day and it was the main thing on Pippinís mind just now. His dear, much older cousin, Bilbo Baggins was celebrating his one hundred and fifth birthday today. The two Tooks, along with the rest of their family, were here at Bag End for that very reason. "Itís two birthdays and so itís two presents, Nell." Pippin said, fairly trembling with excitement.

"Thatís right, love," Pimpernel said. "Now be a very good lad for me and soon it will be time for presents." She smiled at him and ran her fingers through his curls. Today was also their cousin Frodo Bagginís birthday and so Pippin was correct. There would be two presents. Young Master Frodo Baggins would be celebrating his twenty-seventh birthday today. He and Bilbo had celebrated their shared birthday with one huge party for a few years now. As hobbits gave others presents on their birthdays, both Frodo and Bilbo would be giving gifts to their guests at some point during the party.

Pimpernel smiled and walked over to chat with her two friends leaving her very excited five-year-old brother on cousin Bilboís sofa. Pimpernel had been given charge of the youngster by her older sister, Pearl only a few minutes before. Pearl had her eye on a certain party guest and he seemed to fancy her as well. Pearl had given Pippin to Pimpernel to mind so that she could spend some time with this young lad that was her current interest. Pimpernel sighed, wearily. Pearl always had her eye on someone these days and it was hardly fair. Now that Pearl was so interested in the lads, Nell often found herself in charge of Pippin at these gatherings. He was a dear, but he was a handful and at sixteen, Nell wanted to spend time with her friends, not look after Pippin.

The small lad sat still on the sofa for as long as he could manage it which was all of about thirty seconds or so and then he climbed down and began to look around for something entertaining to do. He wished that his cousin Merry were here. Merry, like everyone else that Pippin knew just now, was older, but he was ever so much fun. If Merry was in a good mood and there werenít any older lad things that he had to go do, he would play with Pippin. Pippin eased around the edge of the couch so as not to disturb his sister and her friends and started to go in search of Merry.

Nell continued talking to her friends and didnít notice that he was leaving the room. Pippin decided that this was for the best. Nell was busy with her friends and he would go and find his friend, Merry.

One of Pimpernelís friends saw him go, but he knew that Lilac Chubb wouldnít tell Nell that he was leaving. Lilac didnít like Pippin much since heíd told her that she looked like sheíd lost a tooth that one time. Lilac had a great big space in between her front teeth. It was most assuredly big enough to put another tooth in and so Pippin had just assumed that she had lost a tooth and would be getting a new one soon. He thought she would be proud of this and want to share the news so he had announced it. Maybe sheíd been too shy to say it herself and so he had thought he was helping her out a bit. He didnít understand what heíd done wrong or why she had started crying until his sister Pearl had explained to him that Lilac hadnít lost a tooth at all. She just had a very big space in between her teeth and was a bit embarrassed by it.

She cautioned Pippin not to mention it again, but it would have been nice if someone had told him not to say anything before he already had. Still, even though Lilac didnít like him much now, he did admire the space in her teeth. He thought it was very convenient. She could stick her tongue out without opening her mouth and in an effort to make amends for his earlier mistake, he had said so after Pearl had brought him back into the room to apologize. For some reason, this seemed to make things worse. Now, Lilac glared at him as he left the room, but she would not be telling Nell. Lilac liked it if Pippin left.

He smiled broadly at her, revealing that his two front teeth were currently missing, and quickly left the room. At the moment, he could stick out his tongue without opening his mouth, though he was sure that this wouldnít last. His cousin Merry had told him that new, bigger teeth would soon come in to replace the old ones. Pippin only hoped that he had room for them when they decided to show up. Pervinca, his other older sister, had told him that the new teeth would probably be nearly as big as rabbitís teeth and might even be green. He didnít know if this was true because sometimes Pervinca lied to him but if it was true, he might be able to eat carrots faster.

"Nell, can I have a penny?" Pervinca asked, tugging on Nellís skirt and interrupting her visit with her friends.

"Pervinca, canít you see Iím busy at the moment?" Pimpernel frowned, and sighed. She rolled her eyes at her friends. "Little sisters are such a trial."

"I just want one penny, Nell," Pervinca objected. "Iím not staying."

"What do you need with it?" Pimpernel asked, reaching into her dress pocket to get the lass a penny. "Donít tell me that Bilbo is charging the guests for food and drink." The other two lasses laughed and Pervinca sighed now and rolled her eyes in a fair impression of her sister.

"No, I want it so that I can play toss across with my friends," Pervinca said. "I canít find Pearl and I donít have any pennies because papa took them all." She hung her head as she spoke this last.

"Yes, well, if you hadnít tied Pippin to that rocking chair, then papa wouldnít have punished you," Pimpernel said.

"I know," Pervinca said. "I donít think papa would have been so angry if Pippin hadnít turned the chair over trying to get away. I still donít see why he wasnít in trouble. Heís the one that broke mommaís flower pot, not me." She folded her arms across her chest and looked defiantly at her sister.

"Look, Pervinca, hereís the penny," Pimpernel said. "You just take it and go play with the others."

Pervinca smiled and accepted the penny and a pat on her head from Lilac Chubb. "Darling little lass," Lilac smiled. "Hereís another penny in case you need a spare."

Pervinca smiled back at her benefactor. "Thank you, Lilac."

Pimpernel watched her sister leave and then frowned at Lilac. "I donít suppose that you were rewarding her for tormenting Pippin were you?"

"Why ever would you think such a thing, Nelly?" Lilac asked, trying to look innocent. Then Pimpernel looked over toward the sofa and smiled. She couldnít see Pippinís curly little head above the back of the sofa and so she suspected that he had laid down and gone to sleep. Now that was luck if ever sheíd had any.

________________________________

"Do you think Iíve made a mistake?" Bilbo frowned looking over at Frodo. The two of them were sitting together smoking and talking while their party guests milled about the lawn outside of Bag End enjoying the warm evening and sampling the vast array of food.

"I hope not," Frodo sighed. "I just donít know if Uncle Doc will think that Merry is old enough for a sling shot. I am very sure that Merry will love the gift. I am just worried about what his father might say."

Bilbo frowned deeper. "Yes, I am sure that Esmeralda wonít mind at all, but Saradoc might not be too happy with my choice." Bilbo had always tried to select gifts for his young cousins that he thought that they might enjoy. The trouble was he gave very little thought as to whether or not the gifts would be deemed appropriate by the childrenís parents. Last year, Bilbo had given a delighted Estella Bolger a tin whistle and her mother, after an hour of listening to the child blowing it, had given Bilbo her opinion on the subject of proper gifts for little hobbits. Bilbo shuddered at that memory and hoped that Merryís father wouldnít be too angry over the sling shot.

"Why are you sure that Esmeralda wonít mind the gift?" Frodo asked.

"Because she taught Paladin how to use one properly when they were small," Bilbo explained. "She was a very good shot and had quite an eye. Paladin was far less skilled and so she worked with him all one summer until he managed it."

Frodo grinned. "Uncle Paladin was a poor shot?" He enjoyed the image of Paladin Took getting sling shot lessons from his little sister.

"I was dreadful," Paladin laughed, coming up behind them and startling Frodo. "Esme was the sharp-shooter in the family. Donít tell me youíve gotten Merry a sling shot this year, Bilbo." Paladin frowned.

"Well, I may have," Bilbo said reluctantly.

Paladin laughed. "That should liven things up in Buckland."

___________________________________________

"What are you doing?" Pervinca demanded. "Iím telling right now!"

Pippin looked up from the pile of gifts that were now laying beside of him on the floor of Frodoís bedroom and gulped. "Vince, no, please donít tell. I was only listening to them." He got to his feet and ran over to his older sister.

"Who is suppose to be minding you?" Pervinca asked, frowning down at the five-year-old, her hands on her hips and her mouth held in a line like their father so often held his when scolding them.

Pippin shrugged his shoulders. "Iím not sure. I lost count of who it was supposed to be."

Pervinca rolled her eyes and then looked over at the gifts. "What is that little pile of paper over there?"

"Over where?" Pippin asked, following her gaze.

Pervinca walked over to a small pile of paper and pointed down at it. "Whatís that?"

Pippin walked over to join her and then squatted down next to the little pile and said. "Those were on the packages, Vince and I donít think they should have been because they are different from the wrappings. They were stuck to the sides and the tops and there was one on each of the presents. It messed them up something fierce so I thought I could help Bilbo and Frodo by taking them off while I was listening to the packages." He handed a few of the little slips of paper up to his older sister proudly. "See, they donít go with anything."

"Estella, Pearl, Dora, Esmeralda, Merry," Pervinca read as she sorted through the slips of paper and then she sucked in a deep breath and dropped them all. "Peregrin Took, these are the tags!"

"The what?" Pippin frowned, looking up at her as the little slips of paper rained down on top of him.

"These are the name tags that tell who gets what present," Pervinca moaned and she sat down on the floor beside of her little brother amid the packages and the papers. "You have taken off the tags and so now there is no way to know which present is which."

"Is that bad?" Pippin asked, suddenly worried.

"Of course it is," Pervinca said, and she pulled his ear.

"Ouch!"

"Now, when itís time to give out the gifts, there wonít be any tags and so Frodo and Bilbo wonít know who is suppose to get which gift," Pervinca announced and was rewarded with a very wide-eyed look of terror from her little brother. "Youíve spoiled it!"

Pippin began to whimper and from the doorway a voice announced. "I think it will make things more interesting."

Pervinca and Pippin looked over to see that Merry Brandybuck had entered the room and closed the door behind himself. He was grinning at the two younger children. "This could be very interesting."

Pippin sniffled. "I ruined Bilbo and Frodoís gifts, Merry."

"No, you didnít, Pip," Merry chuckled. "You just made it so they will all be surprises even for Bilbo and Frodo." He walked over and lifted the little hobbit into his arms.

"I was looking for you Merry," Pippin said, smiling now.

"Where were you looking, Pip? In those packages?" Merry teased and Pippin began to giggle.

"No, silly," Pippin said. "I was just listening to them while I waited to find you."

"Listening to them, were you?" Merry grinned. He was very familiar with Pippinís habit of shaking the presents to try and see what was inside. Pippin would pick up a gift and then shake it next to his ear and listen. The lad referred to this as listening to the presents.

"Merry, itís not very funny," Pervinca frowned. "One of these has your name on it. That means you wonít get the right gift."

Merry sat Pippin down and walked over to join Pervinca. "All we have to do is put these tags on the presents quickly and then get out of here before someone comes looking for us."

"But Pippin wonít remember which ones he took the tags off of," Pervinca objected.

"I know," Merry said. "That will be the fun part. Later, we can watch Frodo and Bilboís faces as they give out the presents. Everyone will be getting something completely different this year."

Pervinca stared at him open-mouthed. Sometimes she just didnít understand Merry at all. Pimpernel said that this was because Merry was thirteen now and becoming a teen made lads harder to understand, but Pervinca just thought that Merry was a bit crazy at times. "Now, Pip, you and Pervinca and I are going to put the tags back on the packages and then we arenít going to say a word to anyone."

Pippin nodded and began collecting the tags. If Merry said this was what they should do, then it would be alright. Merry knew everything. "But, Merry, Pippin canít read," Pervinca objected.

"Pervinca, it wonít matter," Merry smiled at her and patted her on the head. "We donít know whoís gift is whoís anyway so he has as much chance of putting the tags back correctly as you and I do."

_________________________________________

"Peregrin Took, arenít you supposed to be with Nell?" Pearl demanded as Pippin came into the kitchen followed by Merry and Pervinca.

"I donít know, Pearl," Pippin said. "Am I?"

Pearl looked exasperated. "Does Nell know where you are?"

"I donít know, Pearl," Pippin said. "I think she might if Lilac told her."

Just then Nell came frantically into the kitchen and Merry grabbed her by the arm. "Of course she knows, Pearl. I told Nell that I would look after Pippin, didnít I Nell?"

Pervinca frowned. She was sure Merry was lying, but she had no way to prove that and neither would Pearl. Pippin grinned. "See Pearl, I were Iím suppose to be. I Ďm with Merry and Nell knows it cause Merry told her so." Pervinca frowned again. Pippin believed this was true. Five year olds werenít terribly bright.

"Is something the matter, Pearl?" Nell asked, recovering herself and going along with Merryís lie. It was far better than facing Pearlís anger and besides Pippin seemed just fine so no harm done.

"I suppose not," Pearl said, reluctantly. Like Pervinca, she knew something was amiss, but like Nell, she preferred not to get into it. She was guilty of giving Pippin to Nell in the first place and so if she made too much of it, then she might also be in trouble. Her mother had warned her to watch Pippin and she hadnít exactly done that.

Just then Frodo stuck his head into the kitchen door and announced. "You should all get outside because I am going to go and get the presents now." He winked at Pippin. "You might just be surprised by what you get this year."

"You might be surprised by it too, Frodo," Pippin said, and Merry picked the lad up under his arm and headed outside snickering.

Bilbo extended a present out to Saradoc Brandybuck and smiled, "There you are. A gift for one of my favorite cousins."

Saradoc accepted the gift and grinned. "You say that to all of your cousins, Bilbo."

"I am very diplomatic," Bilbo said.

Saradoc opened his gift while everyone looked on. Merryís father held up the present in confusion and mumbled a rather confused thank you to his host while Merry tried to keep from laughing out loud. Pervinca moaned. Pippin just continued to smile brightly while Saradoc Brandybuck showed off a new set of tea towels with the letter ĎBí sewed into them.

Frodo frowned over at Bilbo and his uncle shrugged. "Must have gotten a few of these mixed up." He whispered this and then smiled at Saradoc as if heíd meant to give him Mistress Bolgerís tea towels. "Hope you like them.í

"There quite remarkable," Saradoc said, trying not to seem rude.

"Well, here, Esmeralda, this one is for you," Bilbo said and handed Merryís mum a package.

She smiled and opened it and then laughed. "Paladin, look!" she crowed and grinned at her older brother while holding aloft a new sling shot. "Want to practice later." Her eyes were twinkling and Merry had to laugh out loud.

"Now, donít laugh, Meriadoc," Esmeralda grinned. "Your mum is quite a fair shot with one of these. Thank you Bilbo! No one else would have gotten me this." She gave him a quick hug as everyone laughed.

"Will you teach me to shoot?" Merry asked his mother as Bilbo blushed with pleasure.

"I might," Esmeralda said.

"At least you had the common sense to not to give the lad one of those," Saradoc said, shaking his head.

Frodo looked over at Bilbo and grinned. "Now that was very clever, Bilbo," he whispered. "Now, they canít be angry and Merry will learn to shoot." He kept his voice low so that only Bilbo could hear.

Bilbo smiled broadly. He had no idea how that had come about but it had worked quite nicely at that. He handed the next present to Frodoís young friend, Samwise Gamgee. Sam was the son Bilboís gardener and Frodo was very fond of him. The youngster took the gift with an embarrassed thank you and started to open it.

"I canít wait to see what you have given Sam," Frodo said, quietly.

"Neither can I," Bilbo whispered back.

Sam held up his gift and grinned. "Itís a tea set!"

Now everyone was staring at Bilbo. Merry was nearly hysterical and Pervinca was in shock. Pippin clapped and laughed. "Now, Sam has his own for tea and stuff."

Sam smiled. "I donít know what to say, exceptiní thank you, Mister Bilbo."

"At his age if someone had given me a tea set, Iíd have thought of a thing or two to say," Saradoc said and Esmeralda pinched him on the arm.

"We have a tea pot and some cups, but itís not a real set like this one," Sam said, admiring the little flowered tea pot. "Now, we can have tea and have it match and all."

Relief flooded Frodoís faced and he looked at Bilbo in amazement. "I should have gone first, because now I fear my gifts will seem very boring."

Gift after gift was passed out to startled guests. Eglantine Took received a book on the history of pipeweed in the shire that had been meant for Saradoc. Paladin Took got a vest that had been intended for Fredegar Bolger. Estella Bolger got a sewing basket meant for Eglantine Took. Pearl received a box of old Toby that was meant for the mayor. Bilbo quickly explained that it was for when Pearl set up house-keeping so sheíd have the pipeweed on hand for guests. It was a very strange explanation as Pearl was, at nineteen, a long way from having a smail of her own. Before things got too awful, Saradoc offered to trade Pearl for the tea towels and things continued.

"Well, here, Merry," Bilbo said, handing his young Brandybuck relation a gift.

"What is it?" Merry asked, amused.

"He doesnít know, Merry," Pippin reminded his older cousin.

This brought chuckles all around and Saradoc leaned over to Paladin and smiled, "Bright little lad youíve got there."

"Open it, Merry," Pippin said, bouncing with excitement. Merry opened the gift to reveal a small, wooden box with some sort of carvings in the lid. Frodoís gift! Bilbo sighed.

"You got a box, Merry," Pippin frowned. This didnít seem like a very good gift to Pippin.

Frodo walked over and put an arm around Merry shoulder and said, "Itís a puzzle box, Merry. It was made by the dwarves in Dale. It has some sort of a picture on the lid and you move the tiles around to make the picture. Once you have the picture revealed, then the box will open."

"I love it!" Merry smiled. "Itís very grown up and it will be a good place to keep secret things in. Are the puzzles hard to work?" He looked up at Bilbo who was smiling a bit sadly.

"Oh, well, this one may be as it was a special one," Bilbo said, and he gave a quick glance in Frodoís direction.

Frodo smiled back at him. "I am very sure that you will be able to master it."

"What am I getting?" Pippin demanded.

"Donít know, but I suspect that youíll like it," Bilbo said and handed Pippin a present.

Pippin held it to his little ear and shook it. "Sounds the same as it did before, but I still donít know what it is."

Frodo frowned, "Before?"

Merry looked at Pippin and Pervinca made a face but the five-year-old plunged ahead. "When I was listening to them before in your room, Frodo. I remember this one because it is so big." The package was longer than Pippin was tall. "It was the biggest one there!"

Merry was biting his lower lip now and Pervincaís mouth was open again, "Open it, Pippin."

He smiled at her, "I will, Vince." He dropped down onto the grass and began to unwrap the large gift as everyone watched.

"I think I know how Sam managed to get that lovely tea set," Paladin sighed, looking over at Saradoc.

"Yes, I might have an idea as well," Saradoc said, now looking at Merry. "Iíd guess the two youngest of your lot and my one and only."

Pippin crowed in delight. "Merry! I got a walking stick! Now, I can go walking with you a Frodo cause I have my very own stick!" Pippin jumped to his feet and waved the stick about excitedly causing everyone to move out of his way.

"Oh, now that may be trouble," Esmeralda sighed.

"This from the proud owner of a new sling-shot?" Saradoc smirked.

Pervinca was more vocal, "Heíll kill someone with that!"

Pippin whirled about and just missed Merryís head with the stick.. "I will not, Vince. Itís for walking with. Bilbo has one, donít you Bilbo?" Pippin turned again and the stick just missed Frodo this time as Pippin looked up delightedly at Bilbo.

"Yes, I do," Bilbo smiled. "But, Pippin, you have to be very careful with those."

Pippin nodded and held the stick aloft, just missing Bilboís face with it. "I know."

Paladin reached over and took the walking stick from Pippinís hands and then asked, "Do you suppose that your cousin Bilbo really meant for you to have this?"

"Well, he might have," Pippin said, frowning up at his father. "I donít know for really on account of I canít read. I canít can I Vince?" He looked over at his sister.

"No, Pippin," Pervinca agreed. She was holding her own gift which had been a box of caramel candies which should have gone to Samís father.

"Meriadoc, would you like to explain?" Saradoc asked, but Frodo interrupted.

"However it came about, it was fun," Frodo said, smiling.

"Thatís true," Bilbo laughed. "I never recall being so surprised by the gifts that I had given before. Really, there was no harm done."

"I was only trying to make the packages prettier, pappa, by taking off the tags that didnít go with them in the beginning. I didnít know they were names," Pippin said. "I thought that cousin Bilboís packages just got all messed up and I was fixing them."

Bilbo picked Pippin up and ruffled his hair. "Well, I am rather glad of the help this year, Pippin. Giving gifts can be a bit boring as you know what everyone will get, but this year I rather enjoyed myself."

"I think everyone did," Frodo smiled.

"See, Vince," Pippin grinned. "I didnít mess up Bilbo and Frodoís party. It was funny just like Merry said it would be!"

Merry winced as all eyes fell on him and then Frodo hugged him. "Next year, cousin, I think we should be more traditional, but this year it was kind of amusing."

"Well, I helped," Pervinca said, not wishing to be left out now that she knew they werenít in trouble.

"I guess this wasnít really for me and I should give it back," Merry said, extending the puzzle box in Bilboís direction, sadly.

"No, Merry," Frodo smiled. "I think that one really was yours wasnít it Bilbo?"

"What? Oh, yes, yes, that was strange really how that worked out. That was really your gift, Merry," Bilbo smiled. Merryís face lit up and he pulled the box back to his chest.

"Itís the most grown up thing I ever got."

Frodo smiled at Bilbo. Just then Pippin spoke up. "Was that truly my walking stick, Bilbo?"

"Well, it was either your walking stick or I may have meant you to have the three spinning tops that I somehow gave to Frodo," Bilbo said, trying to look thoughtful.

"Would you like to trade, Pippin?" Frodo asked, showing the child the colorful tops.

"Can I still go walking with you and Merry if I donít have a stick?" Pippin asked.

"I think Merry and I would enjoy walking with you a great deal more if you didnít have a stick," Frodo smiled. "That way you can still hold our hands as we walk."

Pippin grinned and reached for the tops. "I think I would like to trade."

"And the Shire was saved," Merry said, smiling.

"Have you got the picture fixed on that box yet, Merry?" Pippin asked.

"Not yet, Pippin," Merry sighed. "Itís a grown up toy and so it will take time to sort it out."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So that puzzle box wasn't supposed to be yours then Mister Merry?" Sam said, as Merry finished his tale.

"No, but I didn't know that until much later," Merry smiled. "I was so taken with it, that Frodo wanted me to have it. It should have been his and was a special gift for him from Bilbo. For some reason, Frodo wanted me to have it."

"Knowin' Mister Frodo, I'd suspect that he could see how important it was to you," Sam said. "He always wants you and Mister Pippin to be happy."

"I know," Merry said. "I wish I had something that I could give Frodo now that would make him happy."

"I wish that too," Sam agreed.

"Don't either of you give up on him," Fredegar said, suddenly. "He has a lot to put behind him, but he's a strong spirit and I think he'll come out of it."

"I hope so, Freddy," Merry said. "We all mean to try and help him in any way that we can." They were all quiet for a minute.

"Tell me," Freddy said, changing the subject. "What did Bilbo think about Frodo giving you the puzzle box?'

"I wondered about that myself and so I asked Frodo," Merry said.

"What did he say?" Sam asked.

"He told me that he and Bilbo talked later on that evening and..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later, after everyone was either asleep or gone home, Bilbo came into Frodoís room and sat down on his bed. "I suspect that you realize that the puzzle box was a gift for you donít you?"

Frodo, who was laying under his covers and propped against his pillows smiled. "I do, but I hope you didnít mind that I let Merry keep it and that I let him think that it was his to begin with. It seemed so very important to him."

"No, lad, I donít mind," Bilbo said. "I just wanted you to know that it was made with you in mind."

"I knew the moment that I saw it," Frodo smiled and he hugged Bilbo. "I love you very much."

"And I love you too, lad," Bilbo said. "Next year, I will give you your gift before the guests arrive to help us celebrate and to make our packages look prettier." They both laughed.





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