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This story was written for a Yuletide compilation by gayalondiel for New Year's 2005, and cut by half in considering space. It appears here in its entirety.
A Very "Pippin" Yule
Merry Brandybuck? Merry!
Merry straightened at the sharp, joyous call, suddenly awake after the long, long coach ride. Pulling away from his mother’s hand, he turned away from the face of the Great Smials with its beckoning brightly-lit windows, promising warmth and food, baths and rest.
A small figure stood in the main entrance to the stables.
‘Ferdi?’ Merry shouted, incredulous. ‘Ferdi Took?’
The small figure broke into a run. Merry met him halfway across the yard. Their collision threw both lads to the icy stones, laughing and wrestling for the best hold.
‘Merry, you son of a Bucklander!’ little Ferdibrand was chortling. ‘What ever are you doing here?’
‘Ferdi, you son of a Took—!’ Merry was answering in kind, when a firm hand took him by the ear.
‘Enough of that, young hobbit,’ his mother staid sternly. ‘I don’t know what’s got into you, but...’
‘But I was only—!’ Merry’s protest fell on deaf ears, and he was marched across the yard and into the Smials without further ado, all the way to the Master’s private apartments, straight to the bath room, where his mouth was washed out with soap. This was promising to be the worst Yule Merry had ever known in his short life!
‘And don’t ever let me catch you...’ Esmeralda was saying, when her husband cleared his throat in the doorway.
‘Sarry-love,’ Esmeralda began, but Saradoc only said mildly, ‘Visitor, m’love.’
‘I’m not exactly ready to receive anyone,’ Esmeralda said wryly, thrusting a flannel at her wriggling son and trying to keep a straight face as he wiped assiduously at his tongue. O it wasn’t funny, but the face he made! Esmeralda remembered the taste of soap, and repressed a shudder, feeling sudden sympathy. Still, a taste of soap was much better than what might happen, should a Took hear a Brandybuck use that particular epithet!
‘I think you had better receive this Took,’ Saradoc said.
Esmeralda released Merry’s ear and brushed at her clothes. Was it Mistress Lalia? It was conceivable that the Mistress herself would greet them upon their arrival, though not likely. If so, perhaps Esmeralda had tendered rather more of an insult to the Mistress than her young son, just now.
To her relief, she saw young Ferdibrand’s uncle, “Old Ferdi”, sitting at his ease in the parlour. He rose at once with a bow and a grin.
‘Ally, ‘tis good to see you back in civilised parts again.’
‘Ferdi, impossible as always,’ she answered.
‘I thought I’d intercede for the lad, who was only answering in kind,’ "Old" Ferdi began, but at the sight of her face he shook his head. ‘Too late, I fear. Tried, found guilty and sentence carried out already?’
‘Washed his mouth out with soap,’ Esmeralda admitted. ‘He cannot be saying such—!’
‘He didn’t realise,’ "Old" Ferdi said quietly. ‘Don’t be too hard on the lad.’
Esmeralda put her hands on her hips, her Tookish temper rising. ‘He is the son of the heir to Buckland. He has to...’
‘Quite a mouthful, to describe such a little chap,’ "Old" Ferdi said. ‘Really, Ally, all who heard realised...’
‘All who heard?’ Esmeralda said in consternation. How many apologies were in order, and what if the news came to Mistress Lalia’s ears?
‘Only myself, Dinny, and a stable hand,’ "Old" Ferdi said, ‘not counting the lads of course. And young Ferdi understands, now, that what he said was wrong.’ Without the soap in the mouth, however. "Old" Ferdi’s brother Ferdinand was more a believer in stimulating deeper thought with a well-placed swat or two where his young son usually sat down, than in spoiling a youngster’s appetite with soap.
‘Lalia,’ Esmeralda said faintly, and "Old" Ferdi moved to put his arms around her.
‘Steady on, cousin,’ he said, as if speaking to one of the ponies he trained. ‘I know it unnerves you to be under Lalia’s eye, but Tom isn’t one to carry tales to the Mistress, and neither am I.’
Saradoc cleared his throat, and "Old" Ferdi released Esmeralda, saying, ‘You know she really ought to have married me.’
‘Well, I stole her away from you, and that’s the end of it,’ Saradoc said easily. ‘I’ll buy you a pint if you’ll drop the matter and promise not to bring me before the Shirriff for thievery.’
‘Done,’ "Old" Ferdi said, and twinkled sympathetically at Merry, standing at his father’s side. ‘Well, lad, I’m afraid you cannot lift a pint yet, at your age, but perhaps a sweet will help the taste?’
He put a hand into his pocket, coming out with a red-and-white-striped stick. ‘A Yuletide treat for the ponies,’ he said. ‘If I break it into small pieces it’ll go far. They like it better than carrots, perhaps because they only get it once in the year.’
He broke a piece from the candy and put it into Merry’s hand. The lad was wide-eyed, for while he always got candy at Yuletide, it was always on Last Day, a gift from Father Yule, and not a day before!
Merry popped it at once into his mouth, and Saradoc laughed while Esmeralda smiled ruefully. ‘I like it better than carrots, too,’ Merry said. All the adults laughed at that.
Merry was put to bed shortly after. His mother had relented and fed him a light supper, rather than making him go to bed on water rations with the taste of soap in his mouth. The candy had helped quite a lot, and the soup and hearty bread took the rest of the nasty taste away.
Next morning he was up early. As soon as he emerged from the Master’s suite, Ferdibrand Took pounced on him. ‘Merry!’
‘Ferdi,’ he said, cautiously, looking about, but the young Took simply pounded him on the back.
‘What are you doing here? You’re no Took!’
‘No, but my mother is,’ Merry said. ‘When Lalia called the convocation, she called all Tooks to come who could come.’
‘That’s why the Bolgers came!’ said Ferdi in sudden enlightenment. ‘We always have Yule at Budge Hall, always! I was wondering why we all had to come to the Great Smials instead!’ He looked puzzled. ‘But Auntie Rosa isn’t a Took anymore, she’s a Bolger, and your mother...’
‘O she’s still a Took, all right,’ Merry said, rubbing at the memory of his smarting ear. ‘You can take the Took out of Tookland, they say, but you can’t...’ He broke off suddenly, hoping no one had heard this Bucklandish proverb.
‘No matter,’ Ferdi said in one of his lightning changes of subject. He pulled at Merry’s hand. ‘We’ll have such good times, having you here! You’ve never played “I hide and you seek me” at the Smials, have you? It’s so grand to see you again, and not have to wait until summer at Whittacres!’
Every summer Ferdi’s family visited Paladin Took’s farm for a month or more, as did Merry’s, and the lads had become fast friends during the overlapping weeks.
And so the friends had a glorious time of it over the next day or two, playing, eating, sneaking treats from the kitchens, eating, getting underfoot, in the midst of the decorating tweens, eating, listening to stories, and all the other pleasant recreations that happen when large families congregate for holidays.
Ferdi was in close pursuit of Merry, leaning forward, shouting in triumph, when suddenly the Brandybuck changed directions, causing his pursuer to skid and fall on the stones.
Merry didn’t seen his friend fall; he was too busy greeting the arriving tween.
‘Frodo!’ he cried. ‘Frodo-Frodo-Frodo-Frodo-Frodo!’
At the last repetition he reached the two travellers, launching himself into the air, to be caught by the laughing tween.
‘Merry!’ Frodo said in kind. ‘Merry-Merry-Merry!’ He lifted the little hobbit high above his head. ‘My how you’ve grown! You’re taller than I am!’
With not a little difficulty, the travellers and their newly-added baggage made their way through the game of chase that swirled through the yard like a drift of leaves before a brisk breeze, up the steps to the Grand Door and into the Great Smials.
At the howl from the fallen little hobbit, “Old” Ferdi came from the stables where he’d been chatting with the stable master, and scooped up his nephew, jollying him into laughter in short order. Little Ferdi was soon ready to get down to resume the game, but ran into unexpected trouble.
‘I was about to fetch you in any event,’ his uncle said. ‘Your parents are called upon to dance attendance on the Mistress at tea this afternoon, and so I must dunk you in the pony trough and be sure you wash behind your ears!’
‘In the pony trough!’ little Ferdi said in dismay. He could see his breath on the wintry air!
‘I could make it a bath, if you prefer, but the trough is handier,’ "Old" Ferdi said. His nephew clung fiercely to his shirt, however, as uncle hovered him over the trough, and so uncle, laughing, suddenly squeezed the little hobbit in a tight hug. ‘O very well!’ he said. ‘A bath it shall be. But only if you promise to splash more water on the floor than you do on me!’
Because the game of chase was still swirling about the yard, Ferdi didn’t notice Merry’s absence.
Tea with Mistress Lalia was perishing dull, and worse, Merry and Ferdi had to be on their best behaviour. They were not close enough to kick one another under table, with the heads of so many families descended from the Old Took there at the head table. They had to content themselves with making faces at each other when the adults were otherwise occupied. Merry thought to himself that tea in the nursery would have been preferable to having to sit with the other “heirs”.
Halfway through tea there was a flurry in the entrance to the great room, and Paladin Took was hurrying to stand and bow before Mistress and Thain, apologies tumbling from his lips.
‘Waggon broke down?’ Thain Ferumbras said, rising to offer his hand to the breathless hobbit. ‘I hope your family wasn’t stranded in the chill for too long!’
‘With that tiny babe and all,’ Lalia said, not so pleasantly, with a significant nudge and look for her unmarried and heirless son. ‘I do hope that none has taken harm!’
‘Beg pardon, Mistress, and they’ll be along shortly,’ Paladin said with another bow. Lalia graciously indicated the places laid for himself and wife, and he nodded, moved to the door, and stood waiting until an equally breathless Eglantine appeared, hastily washed and changed out of her travelling clothes and into her best for this occasion. She bore a blanketed bundle, tiny Peregrin, Paladin’s heir.
Paladin and Eglantine moved forward to present themselves before Mistress and Thain. Lalia cooed, and Eglantine was obliged to hand the sleeping babe over to the Mistress for proper admiring. Lalia said all the proper things in too-high and too-bright a voice, and the drowsy babe’s eyes opened wide, as if seeing for the first time that he’d been handed over to a stranger. His little face crumpled alarmingly, and he began to wail. Eglantine hastily reclaimed her son, jiggling and soothing, and peace was restored.
‘Good lungs on that one,’ the Thain said equably. The latecomers found their places and tea resumed, dull as ever to the end, not even rescued by the spectacle of Eglantine balancing babe and teacup, for Paladin took the bundle from her early on that she might enjoy the lavish tea. With all the heads of families and their heirs in attendance, there was a great deal of grown-up talk that was of no interest to the younger ones present. Such a trial!
After being on their best behaviour under such trying circumstances, of course the lads were disagreeable once they were released to don warm clothes for the next event on this day of celebration. A disagreement broke out at once over Paladin’s heir, of all things!
‘He’s my special cousin!’ Merry maintained. ‘Frodo said so!’
‘And what would a Baggins know about anything?’ Ferdi shot back. ‘Pippin’s father is my father’s special cousin! They’re more brothers than cousins...’
‘So?’ Merry challenged.
‘Well, I’ll be his big brother then, which is better than only-a-cousin,’ Ferdi said.
‘You cannot do that!’ Merry said in outrage.
‘Come-come, now,’ Thain Ferumbras said behind them. ‘No fisticuffs! Not on Last Day, certainly! You’ll bring bad luck in the New Year! Not to mention, Father Yule is due to arrive at any moment, bringing treats to good little lads and lasses!’
He put a broad hand on each back and propelled Merry and Ferdi before him, and soon they had joined a throng on their way out to the yard, where torches had been lit in the dimming of the short winter day. Suddenly a faint jingling of bells was heard, and a shout went up.
‘He’s coming! He’s coming!’ There was much excitement and cheering, especially from the younger set.
A gaily-painted waggon, drawn by white ponies bedecked with ribbons and bells, drove into the yard, driven by a hobbit-sized figure with blackened face and fierce expression. Another hobbit-sized figure sat at his side, but this one was beaming of countenance, and unlike a hobbit he bore a beard as snowy white as the finest combed wool. Rich was his clothing and well-padded was his figure. His voice boomed out in greetings as he jumped down from the waggon seat.
‘Happy Yule! Happy Yule to all!’
Of course the crowd returned the greeting in a shout.
The grim-faced helper set the brake and jumped down, took up a bag filled with switches, and began to prowl the edges of the crowd, looking for naughty children to chastise. Finding none, he moved to the waggon and lifted out the first of many bulky sacks, bulging with promise, and brought it to Father Yule.
The august old fellow cleared his throat and withdrew from under his coat a list, a long, long list that unrolled until the end trailed upon the stones of the courtyard. ‘Pearl, Pimpernel, Pervinca, and Peregrin Took!’ he intoned. If his voice resembled the steward’s, certainly no one took notice.
Pearl looked up uncertainly at her parents. ‘Go on, my dear,’ Eglantine whispered, giving her eldest a push. Holding hands, the three young sisters stepped forward.
‘You were late to tea,’ the jolly old hobbit said. When the littlest lass showed alarming signs of bursting into tears, he added hastily, ‘but all is forgiven, of course, for you could hardly help the waggon breaking down. I only meant to say I’m glad you came in time for my visit! I have so very much to do this night, you know, to bring treats to all the good children of the Shire. There were so many this year! I would have hated to miss you, somewhere between hearth and Smials!’
He pulled a knitted cap from his sack and handed it to the youngest with a flourish. ‘The fruit of your labours!’ he said grandly. The opening of the cap gapped to show apples and nuts and wrapped sweets tucked in here and there. Pimpernel and Pearl eagerly accepted their own caps, and Father Yule piled another atop Pearl’s. ‘For that little brother of yours,’ he said in a conspiratorial manner. ‘I’m sure he’ll be happy to share what he cannot manage!’
Peering at his list, he said, ‘Meriadoc Brandybuck!’
Pearl, Pimpernel and Pervinca hastily returned to their parents as Merry stepped forth.
Father Yule pursed his lips and nodded his head solemnly as he read. ‘It says here that you are reluctant to eat good liver when it is placed before you!’
There was no such thing as “good” liver, but Merry wasn’t about to say so. ‘I’m sorry, Father Yule,’ he said, bowing his head.
‘Don’t give him sweets,’ the helper snarled. ‘Let us give him liver instead! It’s good for him!’
‘Hmmm,’ Father Yule said, and Merry’s heart sank as the old hobbit appeared to be giving this suggestion serious thought. ‘No,’ he said at last, ‘I’m afraid I didn’t bring any liver with me this trip. Perhaps next year.’ He lifted another well-stuffed cap from his bag and put it into Merry’s hand. It was weighty and satisfyingly plump, and Merry’s mouth watered at the fat apple he saw peeking from the opening. ‘Eat all the liver you’re given over the coming year, without complaint, and I’ll look for you next year!’
‘Yes, Father Yule,’ Merry promised, and stepped back as more young hobbits were called to stand forth.
Merry was allowed to eat that juicy apple before he was tucked into bed, and best of all Frodo was there to tell him a bedtime story, before the tween went off to the great hall for the rest of the celebrations. Merry would have to wait until he was older to take part in the late-night feasting and dancing, the roasting of mushrooms and bacon over the Yule log while the old year burned away, the noisemaking to scare away bad luck and wandering wights, the shout to welcome the return of Light after the darkening of the world, showering the “First Foot” with gifts to promote prosperity in the newly arrived year, and all the other traditions the Shire-folk observed.
Next day it was First Day, and of course the little hobbits were bright and cheerful after their night’s sleep. The adults were rather less so, and one of the difficulties of the day was keeping the little ones out of the great room where a grand mountain of gifts was growing. Servants bore several trunks from the Brandybucks’ apartments, trunks that Merry had caught a glimpse of during the packing-up, bright paper and curling ribbons. He followed through the bustling tunnels all the way to the great room, where he was denied entrance, along with several other young hobbits, but not before he caught a glimpse of the tantalising mountain within.
‘Teatime, young hobbits!’ a jovial servant said, shooing them away. ‘We’ll gather in the great room at teatime to enjoy the blessings promised by the New Year. Teatime and not before!’
The large doors were firmly shut, and the little hobbits stared at the door in vain for a time, at a loss, feeling that teatime would never come, before a group of tweens swooped upon them and organised a grand game of “I hide and you seek me” in the winding and branching tunnels of the Great Smials.
Merry kept returning to the great room as a moth is drawn to the candle, hoping for a glimpse of the bright promise within. One of these times he met Ferdi, evidently with the same purpose. Luck was with them this time, for one of the doors opened slightly, showing a flustered Pearl. ‘O Merry!’ she cried, seeing the lads. ‘I’m that glad to see you!’
She looked about, but no one was to be seen. Preparations had been concluded some time before, and Eglantine had volunteered to stand watch over the presents, her eldest daughter happy to help. The great room was growing dim and shadowy as the light from the high windows began to fade. The lamps had not yet been lit, though noise and laughter was to be heard from the kitchens on the far side of the enormous hall as final preparations were made for tea. Silver gleamed at the ready-laid places on the snowy tablecloths, and platters of food were covered with dampened cloths that bulged with promise. It seemed that teatime must be at hand. Indeed, the young hobbits heard calls echoing in the tunnels, mothers summoning young ones to wash and change in final preparation for the festive gathering.
‘I’m glad to see you,’ Pearl repeated. ‘Mum went to fetch something, and hasn’t come back, and I need to...’ she bit her lip and blushed, then rushed on. ‘In any event, could you come in and watch over Pippin? He’s asleep on a blanket, and I don’t want to waken him, taking him up, and I don’t want to leave him...’
‘I’ll be happy to!’ Merry said promptly, and Ferdi chimed in to say he’d help.
‘O good,’ Pearl said, and scurried away.
The lads crept into the great room and eased the tall door closed behind them, hardly able to believe their good fortune.
Dutifully they went at once to look at the peaceful babe, but Pippin didn’t seem to need much watching, and so they turned to the mountain of presents in the centre of the room. Merry saw some familiar paper, part-way up, and he pointed. ‘Those are ours!’ he said proudly.
‘They’re not!’ Ferdi countered. ‘I saw my mother wrapping that present particularly! It’s a doll for my sister!’
‘I’ll prove it to you!’ Merry said, and moved with purpose towards the towering heap.
‘What’re you doing?’ the younger hobbit hissed, but his cousin merely smiled in a superior manner.
‘Merry!’ Ferdi warned.
‘I’m climbing a mountain,’ Merry said. ‘Look! I’m Bilbo!’
‘And I’m a dwarf,’ Ferdi said sceptically, but his eyes lighted as the game caught his imagination, and as the carefully-stacked presents didn’t tumble down at once under Merry’s assault. He stepped forward to join the wondrous climb. ‘Bet I can beat you to the top!’
‘Bet you cannot!’ Merry retorted, and the race was on. It was a cautious race, of course, for a pile of presents is not quite so easy to climb as a precipice.
Unknown to the lads, baby Pippin had wakened and was looking about himself in wonder. Where was Mother? She’d just been here a moment ago. He opened his mouth, to send up a demanding wail, when motion caught his eye.
He’d noticed the bright paper and ribbons earlier, but sister Pearl had kept him happily occupied in games of peek-boo and other delights. Now no sister was nearby to distract him. The papers were not quite so bright in the dimming light, but ribbons still glinted in a fascinating way.
He’d learned to roll over recently, much to the delight of his sisters. The first time he’d rolled from tummy-to-back, Pearl had clapped her hands and called the rest of the family to see this new achievement. She’d placed him on his tummy once more and encouraged him to roll—which he did! Again and again he demonstrated his new skill, laughing into the doting faces above him, until Eglantine finally put a stop to the game, to nurse him and put him down for a nap to recover from his exertions.
Rolling from back-to-tummy was a little more difficult, but at last he mastered the trick. He lifted his little head and strained towards the bright ribbons, so tantalisingly close. Lifting arms and legs from the floor, he rocked on his round little tummy but came no closer. He was ready to wail his frustration when a bright idea struck him.
It was no work at all, really, to roll from tummy-to-back again, and he was that much closer to the prize! Working at it for all he was worth, soon he’d rolled to the bottom of the pile and was able to grasp the nearest curling ribbons, pulling them to his mouth in an ecstasy of delighted exploration... when there was a shout of alarm, and a shower of paper and ribbon and boxes around him.
A cook’s assistant was there at once, picking up Merry and scolding like a magpie. ‘How did you get in here, and what do you think you’re doing?’
Upon discovering Ferdi amongst the wreck her fury was doubled. With a young hobbit ear in each hand, the cook’s assistant dragged the recreants to the door and cast them out with a stern warning not to return until teatime! And they had better make good use of the time, and wash!
Pippin had been startled by the noise and confusion, and though he’d been ready to cry, he was overcome by curiosity and excitement to be surrounded by so many bright ribbons, and enticing paper that crumpled and tore with satisfying sounds and sensations! He rolled a little further into the fallen heap and found himself enveloped in softness. He rolled once more, wrapping the softness round himself, and pulling the soft folds of the lovely knitted shawl against his cheek with one hand, he found his mouth with the thumb of the other hand and resumed his interrupted nap.
Servants moved into the great room to light the lamps and try to undo as much of the damage as could be undone in the short time before the Tooks would assemble. Tumbled packages were righted, crooked ribbons were smoothed, torn paper hastily pasted together. A lovely knitted shawl was tucked back into the box that had fallen over, the box put right-side-up, the top of the box replaced and a new ribbon tied in place.
Eglantine found Pearl just coming out of the rooms assigned them. ‘There you are!’ she said briskly, pulling a brush from her bag and going over her eldest daughter’s curls. ‘I went back to the great room and you weren’t there! But of course...’ She was interrupted before she could congratulate her daughter on bringing the babe back to their rooms, to sleep in a cradle under a servant’s watchful eye while the rest of the family celebrated at the festive tea. (And of course Pearl, hearing that her mother had been back to the great room, thought as well that Pippin had been taken up and brought to his cradle...)
‘Eglantine! Pearl! Paladin sent me to find you...’ Esmeralda Brandybuck said, swooping upon them and taking their arms. ‘Come along now; the bells have rung already and tea’s about to begin. It wouldn’t do to be late two days in a row, and no waggon to blame this time!’ They joined the last of the stragglers on their way to the great room, and indeed had barely taken their places when Mistress Lalia swept into the room on her son’s arm.
‘Well now!’ Lalia said grandly, after being bowed to by all the guests. ‘Let the feast begin!’
The little hobbits, of course, could scarcely eat for excitement, seeing the somewhat lopsided mountain of presents in the centre of the room. Their elders, however, made sure that the platters of sandwiches and fresh and pickled fruit and vegetables and cakes and biscuits were well-apportioned before the mountain could be mined for its riches.
At last, after an eternity of eating, it was time. Thain Ferumbras rose from his seat and moved to the mountain. Taking up an armload of packages, he began to call out names, and hobbits came forth to claim their prizes and carry them back to their places. The presents would be distributed, a time-consuming process, and all would be opened at once when the last gift found its owner, prolonging the agonies the young hobbits were suffering.
Mistress Lalia laughed at the large box her son carried to the head table and set before her. ‘My goodness!’ she said. ‘You’ve brought me the largest present!’
‘And the heaviest!’ Ferumbras said. ‘It seems to have put on weight since I wrapped it up for you! Perhaps little fairies have added their treasure!’
The Mistress smiled broadly and hauled herself to her feet. Breathless the little hobbits waited. ‘Cousins!’ Lalia said grandly. ‘May the New Year bring to all peace, prosperity, and plenty!’
‘And plenty!’ the gathered hobbits echoed, and as one they began to tear away paper (if younger) or carefully loosen the paper from their presents so that it might be folded and stored away to be used again (if older).
There were murmurs of appreciation and exclamations of delight all around the room.
At the head table, Mistress Lalia lifted the lid from the large box and said, ‘Ah, but you spoil me, Ferumbras! Her eyes feasted on the snowy shawl even as her hands caressed the softness. ‘This must be wool from Paladin’s sheep, for there is none finer in all the Shire!’
‘Paladin’s sheep indeed,’ Ferumbras said, even as Paladin uttered his thanks for the compliment.
Reaching further to lift the shawl from its wrappings, Lalia remarked, ‘But there is treasure within, indeed! What have you done, my clever lad? Wrapped up something... but what...?’
She lifted the shawl and the folds fell away to reveal the blinking baby, who rewarded her with a bright smile. Lalia was no stranger to Pippin now; she’d been at some pains to make friends with this little one over the course of a morning spent with Eglantine, charming babe that he was as well as heir to Paladin, who might be Thain someday, if Ferumbras continued a bachelor...
‘Well now!’ she said in astonishment. ‘What’s this?’
Little Pippin crowed his delight and reached to pat the soft wrinkled cheek.
‘Treasure indeed!’ Ferumbras laughed, while Paladin and Eglantine stared, open-mouthed. ‘You weren’t thinking of giving the lad away, were you?’
‘I—I—I don’t know how—’ Eglantine began, but Pippin, hearing his mother’s voice, turned and held out his arms to her with a little chirrup of joy.
Of course she rose to go to her little one, taking him from the Mistress with a stammered apology.
‘No need to apologise!’ Lalia said brightly. ‘Why, it’s the nicest Yuletide surprise I’ve ever had!’
They never did discover which tween was responsible for the prank, for all disclaimed responsibility with perfect seriousness. (Quite a few suspected that young Frodo Baggins, who'd had a reputation as one of the worst young rascals in Buckland before Bilbo had rescued him from the Wilderland and brought him back to civilised parts; but he'd been in the company of Bilbo for much of the afternoon, and under Mistress Lalia's eye, as a matter of fact. Still, a number of people thought he might have managed it somehow.) No harm was done, and it put Mistress Lalia into a good mood for the rest of the day, and so one may suppose that it really didn't matter.
And a happy Yuletide was had by all.
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