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Written for Marigold's Challenge 12. The story starter from which this story is built was: ‘__? What does “__” mean?’
Title: The Un-Expected Guest
The Un-Expected Guest
‘Having a baby? What does “having a baby” mean?’
Drogo’s tone was as bland as the face he turned to his panicky wife. It was not something to be spoken of in polite company, after all, not even when the evidence was all too obvious to the casual eye. At any other time Primula might have flushed at the implied rebuke, but at the moment she was too frightened. And mortified. Yes, “mortified” described her feelings perfectly.
Bilbo chuckled and patted Primula’s hand. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘but of course it’s been common knowledge for some months now. And when is the blessed event to be expected?’
Primula’s answer was drowned by the heartfelt moan that escaped her as her hands pressed hard on her protruding belly, as if she could force her body into submission to her will.
‘I’m sorry, cousin Bilbo,’ Drogo said, rising hastily. ‘It seems my wife is taken ill.’
‘What a pity,’ Bilbo said. ‘Perhaps something she ate is not agreeing with her?’
‘Perhaps,’ Drogo said, standing behind Primula and circling her with his arms. He bent to nuzzle the curls escaping the elaborately braided crown she’d taken so many pains over, what with the honour of being asked to an intimate supper with the renowned Bilbo Baggins! After all, she wanted to draw more attention to her face... than other regions. But now all her careful preparations were for naught! ‘My dear, would you like to retire?’
‘Why don’t you see your wife to the guest room whilst I pour out the brandy in the study,’ Bilbo said. ‘We can smoke and talk and sweet Prim might feel up to joining us for a little something later.’
The awful wave that had broken over her head subsided enough for her to speak once more.
‘You don’t understand!’ she said desperately. ‘I’m having a baby!’
A slight frown crossed Bilbo’s genial face. ‘I do believe we’ve covered that subject adequately,’ he said, emphasising the last word.
‘I’m having a baby—’ Primula repeated. This was a bad dream. That’s what it had to be. This could not be happening. Surely she’d waken, and it would be... yesterday, yes that would be perfect, yesterday, and this intimate birthday supper would still be something that Drogo was eagerly (and a little nervously, truth be told) anticipating. She grasped at Drogo’s hands and squeezed them—hard. Drogo took her hands in his and squeezed back much more gently than she had.
I’ll try to be a credit to you, darling, even if I’m just one of those Bucklanders from the Wilds on the wrong side of the Brandywine.
Of course you’ll be a credit to me, my love. And Bilbo’s been much farther than the Wilds of Buckland. He has no objection, I’ve noticed, to stopping over at Brandy Hall to enjoy your father’s hospitality!
Mortified. Yes, that was the word. Exactly.
‘I’m having a baby now!’ Primula managed. Honestly, had she not been wishing herself some means of disappearing on the spot, she’d have laughed at old Bilbo’s expression. But thinking of her husband, she managed a contrite look. ‘I am sorry, cousin Bilbo, but it seems...’ Another strong pain seized her and she was unable to continue her apology.
Drogo’s hands loosened and pulled away from hers. She thought perhaps he was stepping away from her, rejecting this highly inappropriate scene she was imposing on this momentous occasion, rejecting—her! Inconceivable as the thought might be... It was only after she heard the thump behind her that she realised her husband had fainted dead away.
This was not going as well as they’d hoped.
‘An invitation to supper next week!’ Drogo said, waving the letter excitedly. He waltzed into the sitting room where Primula was keeping her feet up, for her ankles were swelling alarmingly on this warm September day.
He danced around her chair, light on his feet for all his bulk, and ended with a hug and a kiss for wife and a pat on her protruding abdomen for their babe, still a month away from arrival, or so the midwife thought.
‘Really?’ Primula said, hugging him back before pushing him away to resume fanning herself. He took the fan from her and waved it so vigorously that her curls danced in the breeze—but ah, it was so refreshing! She closed her eyes to savour the feeling. ‘I’m not sure I’m able to make the journey all the way to Brandy Hall, not in this weather at least, and so close to my time... Are they sending a coach?’
‘Not to Brandy Hall, my love!’ Drogo crowed. ‘Bilbo!’
‘Bilbo!’ she echoed, sitting up straight in her chair (as best she could) and opening her eyes. ‘Do you think...?’
‘He said he would give my proposition serious thought... it has been nearly a month, dearest. If he’s invited us to supper I’m sure he must be feeling agreeable about the whole matter!’
Primula wilted, but she put on a brave face for Drogo’s sake. ‘Lovely,’ she said. ‘I hope you’ll have a very nice time, and I’ll be sitting on pins and needles the whole time until you come back and tell me all about it!’
‘But of course you’re coming!’ Drogo said.
‘How can I?’ Primula said, looking down at herself. ‘Why, I’m in no condition... it wouldn’t be seemly...’
‘The invitation specifically names the both of us,’ Drogo said stubbornly.
‘O Drogo,’ Primula said. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to go. But to fight a crowd... and if one more gaffer pats me on the stomach with a fatuous look, I... I’ll... pat him, I will, and right on the nose!’
‘An intimate supper, it says,’ Drogo replied, waving the letter under her nose. ‘No crowds to fight.’
‘Next week?’ Primula said. ‘But not on his birthday, I take it.’
‘His birthday,’ Drogo echoed. He looked at the letter again, more closely. ‘September the 22nd!’
Primula thought that this must be what her mother meant when she said she was having palpitations. She gasped for breath, and Drogo fanned her quite vigorously for a moment or two before she was able to speak. ‘His birthday,’ she whispered. ‘An intimate supper. O Drogo!’
‘It must mean the answer is “yes”!’ Drogo said. He glanced about the little room with its shabby but lovingly polished furnishings. ‘My dearest, it must be! Bilbo has considered my idea, and will agree to help us with the business!’ Soon I’ll be able to keep you in the style you were accustomed to, growing up as daughter of the Master of Buckland.
‘Let us not put the cart before the pony,’ Primula said, ever cautious. She looked down at herself again. ‘But, Drogo, an old bachelor like Bilbo...’
‘My dear,’ Drogo said breezily. ‘Bilbo’s seen the world! Surely your delicate condition is nothing to upset or embarrass the hobbit.’
‘If you say so,’ Primula said dubiously. Surely Bilbo knew of her condition, though she’d not stirred beyond the gate of their small garden for the past fortnight, grateful for the kindness of neighbouring wives who took it upon themselves to do her shopping. It would be nice to eat a meal she didn’t have to cook herself!
She winced as another of the cramps struck. They were a regular nuisance! The midwife said it was quite common, and a preparation for the baby’s coming, and likely to continue right up until the baby’s coming as a matter of fact. ‘How will I know he’s coming, for sure then?’ Primula had asked.
The midwife had only patted her shoulder with a smile. ‘You’ll know,’ was all she’d said.
Bilbo welcomed the two younger hobbits with a broad smile and genial greetings. ‘Drogo! Primula! You’re looking wonderfully well, my dear!’ He did not pat her protruding middle, for which she was grateful, but then Bilbo was a gentlehobbit and knew the proprieties. Of course, propriety dictated that she should not even be out in public, having entered her confinement in her last month of waiting, at least according to the dictates of “society”, but then... she’d left society and all its dictates behind when she’d married Drogo. Dear Drogo! His father had gambled away the family’s fortunes, thrusting his son into the working class. And work Drogo did! He was not one to live off the wealth of his wife!
‘Happy birthday, Bilbo,’ Primula said as Bilbo divested her of her shawl.
‘And many happy returns,’ Drogo added.
Bilbo chuckled, an infectious sound, as if he had a delightful secret. Truth be told, he didn’t look any older to Primula’s eyes than he had the first time he came to supper at Brandy Hall after his wondrous return from the “dead”.
‘Well now, come in, come in!’ Bilbo said, draping the shawl over his arm and beckoning them from the entryway into the smial proper. ‘Let us sit you down... would you care for a glass of sherry?’
Delicious smells wafted through the air as Drogo solicitously settled Primula in the parlour in a comfortable chair—not too low, for she might never haul herself out again!—but well-cushioned. Bilbo, without comment, pushed an ottoman into position and gently lifted her feet. She thanked him with a pretty blush.
‘Absolutely glowing, my dear,’ he said kindly, patting her cheek with a gentle hand. He was back with a small glass of cordial for her, and two glasses of sherry for himself and Drogo.
‘A toast,’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘To the newest business in the Shire! Baggins & Co.!’ He lifted his glass high as Primula gasped in wonder, tears coming to her eyes, and Drogo’s hand clasped convulsively on her shoulder.
‘Do you really mean it, cousin?’ he said, stumbling over the words. So much for being calm, urbane, making a good impression.
‘Of course I do!’ Bilbo said with a chuckle. ‘Now drink! For the luck, you know!’ Hastily they complied.
‘Baggins & Co.?’ Drogo asked. ‘Not Baggins and Baggins?’
‘I think it best, my lad, that I remain a silent partner,’ Bilbo said seriously. ‘If your suppliers hear that I’m involved they’ll charge you thrice what they charge anyone else.’
‘Ah,’ Primula said, thinking of the rumours of treasure brought back from far places.
‘It’s not that at all,’ Bilbo said, shaking a jesting finger as if he guessed her thoughts. ‘Knowing “Mad Bilbo” is a part of the business they’ll think there’s no sane head involved and they can take advantage of you. But of course there is a canny head in the business...!’ And to Primula’s delight he made a sweeping bow towards Drogo.
They moved to the formal dining room to celebrate with a festive dinner that Bilbo had cooked with his own hands. There’d be no ears to hear their business discussion. He insisted that Primula sit down at the table while he and Drogo took care of all the details of serving and clearing away.
It was as Bilbo was bringing out the grand dessert course that disaster struck.
‘I’ll just run next door and send Missus...’ Bilbo said, rising hastily from his chair, but Primula grabbed at him in panic.
‘No! Please don’t leave me!’ she said desperately. ‘I’m having a baby!’ It was all she could think of to say, for the feeling rose up in another wave, overwhelming her senses, and she thought her child might be born here at table. Perhaps appropriate, for a hobbit, but not necessarily desirable.
‘A bed’s the thing,’ Bilbo said, patting her hand and managing to disengage her gripping fingers. He turned away and bent over Drogo, patting his cheeks and calling his name, and turning, took a water goblet from the table. From the sound, though Primula wasn’t able to look around, he dashed the water into Drogo’s face. ‘He’s well out. Hit his head, perhaps, but I don’t think he’s badly hurt. Still, my dear, we cannot leave you here.’
‘No,’ Primula said, in complete agreement.
The wave broke and receded by the time Bilbo was at her side again, holding her elbow in a firm grasp, coaxing her to rise from her chair.
It was the most peculiar feeling, actually. She shuffled along as Bilbo clucked at her like a solicitous hen, lifting and pulling her along, but she stopped short in the hallway, panting like a bellows.
‘What is it, my dear?’ Bilbo said. ‘I’ve a nice bed just along here a little...’
‘Can’t...!’ Primula gasped.
‘No really,’ Bilbo said. ‘It’s no trouble at all. I always have a bed ready for guests...’
Primula’s answer was a great moan as she bent over as well as she could, holding herself. ‘He’s here!’ she said. ‘He’s coming... now!’
Bilbo muttered something under his breath, what it was Primula didn’t quite catch. It might have been Dwarvish, for all she knew, but he immediately added, ‘Then let us get you into the bed, and I’ll go ask the neighbours to fetch the midwife...’
However, forces beyond her control, and Bilbo’s for that matter, were at work. Prim’s legs wobbled under her and she crumpled to her knees.
Bilbo hauled at her arm, to no effect. ‘Well now,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Here’s a fine kettle of fish.’
Prim gave another groan and next she knew she was sitting on the carpet, leaning on her elbows, throwing her head back as an overwhelming urge seized her.
Bilbo had disappeared... no, he was burrowing under her skirts, and was chanting words of encouragement. How he knew to do what he was doing, Primula didn’t have time to ask. Perhaps later she'd consider the question, but for the present she'd just accept it as part of his mysterious past. Or not so mysterious. A mischievous, curious lad, exploring the myriad halls of the Great Smials...
In less time than it takes to tell Bilbo emerged with a wet and slippery body in his arms as a lusty cry arose from the newcomer. ‘Here we are!’ he cried cheerfully.
Primula felt an enormous sense of relief, but she was also taken with a sudden chill as she reached for the baby. ‘Oh!’ she breathed, staring into the wide eyes. The babe stopped crying and stared back.
Bilbo straightened up, unmindful of his bloody hands, and stripped off waistcoat and fine linen shirt. He wrapped the baby in the shirt, muttering about a chill, and said, ‘There now, you two get acquainted; I’ll be back presently.’
‘O you darling!’ Primula murmured as a tiny hand emerged from the wrapping. She marvelled at the perfectly formed fingernails on the miniscule fingers, and she tenderly kissed each digit in turn.
Bilbo was back as quickly as he promised, wrapping a fine woollen blanket around Primula. ‘Just a bit more for you to do, my dear,’ he said briskly, and proceeded to take care of business.
‘What’s this?’ Drogo was heard to say from the dining room doorway. ‘What’s going on?’ He was rubbing at his head and blinking as if he couldn’t credit the vision that met his eyes.
‘Well, well,’ Bilbo said, ‘you’re a little late, but come and join the party. I think you’re going to have to change the name of the business, however...’
‘You've changed your mind?’ Drogo said fuzzily. ‘Baggins and Baggins?’
‘No,’ Bilbo said complacently as he finished doing what needed done. ‘There now, dear Primula. Let us tuck you up and send for the midwife to look things over! What a wonderful birthday surprise!’
‘What to call it then?’ Drogo said, and he didn't mean the baby. In truth he had hit his head in falling, and he was having trouble getting his bearings.
‘Eh—what’s that?’ Bilbo said, looking up, and then he got up, went to Drogo, brought him to Primula’s side and sat him down upon the carpet. ‘No,’ he said, going back to his earlier comment. ‘I think you’ll have to call the business “Baggins and Son”.’
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