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The Neighbourly Thing To Do  by Baggins Babe

February 1430 SR

       "Well, I never thought she'd do it!" Rose's voice, as she entered the smial after a trip to Hobbiton market.

       "Never thought who would do what?"

       Frodo was preparing lunch, helped by Ellie and Frodo-lad. Rosie-lass was keeping her younger brother occupied and the baby was noisily calling for his food and banging his hands on his chair. Frodo moved calmly amid the chaos, directing his two assistants and tickling the baby whenever he walked past the high chair.

       "Ivy Sandyman. She's finally left Ted - she's staying with her sister out near Budge Ford. They must be a bit cramped in that cottage but Moss could hardly turn her away after begging her to come back for so long."

       "Did she bring the children?" Frodo lifted a cottage pie out of the oven. "Ellie, will you call Sam-dad in, please Petal. Lunch is ready."

       "Yes. Young Teddy is staying with Jeb. He wants to learn a miller's trade and Jeb's pleased because he has no son of his own to pass it on to. The lad says he wants to be a proper miller, not like his da. Lily, Will and Violet are with their mother. I gather Ted went too far in one of his drunken rages and Ivy feared he'd killed Teddy. Threw him across the room and he hit his back on the corner of the table. He was passing blood in his water for three days. When Ted flung out of the house, she went for a healer. The poor lad was only trying to defend his mother."

       "Poor boy. What about the others?" Sam was in the doorway, having overheard most of his wife's explanation.

       "They're all shaken by it. Young Lily's a nervous wreck and they all have their fair share of bruises, even little Violet."

       "She's no older than Ellie!" Frodo cried in disgust.

       "I know. And now she's so terrified of men she won't even go near her uncle. Ivy just sits and cries all day, worrying about putting her sister out, and what the old biddies in Hobbiton will say. She needs to move into a place of her own but where could she find one?"

       "Hmmmm," said Frodo thoughtfully. Sam looked at him and grinned.

       "You're thinking about old Daddy's place down at the Row." The Gaffer's old friend and neighbour had died the previous autumn.

       "How do you always know what I'm thinking? Yes, Daddy's family all have places of their own so they don't need it. I think I'll pay Mrs. Sandyman a visit and see if she'd like to move in."

       "She'll be stubborn and insist on paying proper rent," said Rose. "She'll take in mending and do dressmaking, I expect. I seem to remember she was very talented at it. Although it will take time for her to make much money from it. She has nothing - Ted certainly didn't give her much. Foxglove Sandybanks said they came away with only the clothes they were wearing and those not fit to clean the house in."

       "Of course. I'll just charge a very low rent. Not much point having wealth if you can't do something useful with it."

       Frodo moved swiftly to forestall the baby as he tried to hurl his spoon on the floor. "Don't do that, squirt. Let me find a dish and we'll get you fed before things turn ugly."

                                                                         ************

       The following day was overcast but dry and not too cold so Sam allowed Frodo to go out. He contrived to look extremely disapproving when Frodo disdained a scarf, but he was pleased to see that he was wearing a weskit, jacket and his Elven cloak. Even Elanor made clicking noises with her tongue.

       He allowed Strider to amble down the hill, where a group of children were playing. Little Tansy Bunce trotted up to him, her hair flying.

       "May I stroke your pony, Mr.Baggins?" She clasped her hands and gazed up at him, her grubby little face alight with health and happiness and her petticoats rumpled.

       "Yes, of course you may, dear child. He's a friendly old lad." Strider lowered his head gently to allow the little hobbit lass to stroke his nose. He whickered softly and she giggled as his whiskers tickled her hand.

       The other children joined her, keeping quiet as Master Samwise had taught them in his talks. Strider was an affable pony and he was used to clamorous children. Frodo was delighted to see that all the children were thriving. Since Sam and the Lady had blessed the Shire there had been few illnesses and no child deaths.

       "Do you think you'll be coming to the school when it opens?" Frodo asked them. They nodded, eyes wide.

       "My da says it's time I learned my letters and figurin' and the like. What else will we learn, do you think, sir?"

       "Well, I have been asked to teach you something of the history of Middle-earth and the other races, now that the Shire is dealing with the outside world. Samwise will teach you about growing things, and I believe Mistress Tunnelly will talk about simple household healing. Perhaps when the time comes to learn archery and metalwork, my friends Legolas and Gimli will come and speak to you. We shall see."

       "Why can't we start now?" they asked, impatient to begin. Frodo laughed.

       "The school is not yet finished. The roof is on now, and Sam will plant up hanging baskets and tubs to make it beautiful. Books and slates are needed, and then we shall open. Soon, my dears. Soon"

       He rode through Hobbiton and Bywater, pausing briefly to speak to all who greeted him. He could see the respect in their eyes, and although it sometimes made him a little uncomfortable, he no longer felt waves of anxiety and self-loathing, as he had done before his illness.

       The idea of schools in the Shire had been discussed for some time and, despite some opposition, the first one was now being built between Hobbiton and Bywater. Gilly Rumble and Amethyst Proudfoot would run it and teach the basic things while he and others would share their knowledge and skills. Elanor and Frodo-lad were very excited. Ellie had been astonished to learn that some children did not know their letters, even those older than her. She could even write a little Elvish and was very proud of the fact that she had written a letter to the Queen in Sindarin, and been praised for it.

       He stopped for an early lunch at The Floating Log, which he had not visited since their return to the Shire after the Quest. He found it magnificently restored and enjoyed a fine ale, bread, cheese and pie with a selection of pickles. Strider was equally well supplied, and they went on their way refeshed.

       Between Frogmorton and Whitfurrows stood a little cottage Frodo knew very well, although for a long time he could not bring himself to look at it, much less pay a visit. It was where he had lived with his parents until the ill-fated trip to Buckland, and for years afterwards it stood empty and desolate, although in good repair. Two years after Bilbo's departure he had made a decision. He did not need it but perhaps a deserving family did. Sam's sister Daisy was about to be married and her husband was to take on a smallholding near Frogmorton. It seemed obvious. He offered the happy couple the tenancy and the rent was paid in high quality seed vegetables for Bag End. The cottage was well-cared for and lived in and everyone was happy.

       Daisy Brown was outside, beating rugs, when she glanced up at the sound of hooves. "Mister Frodo! What on earth are you doing all the way out here? Sorry, that was nosey of me, but I am nosey. Sam actually let you out?" Of Sam's three sisters, Daisy was most like her father, with a quick wit and a sharp tongue.

       Frodo laughed. "He wasn't too pleased, particularly when I declined a scarf. Gave me a very wounded look to make me feel guilty. And, in answer to your question, I'm off to Budge Ford to visit Mrs.Sandyman and see if she'd like to move into New Row."

       "I heard she was back. She should have left that brute years ago. If my Ned ever raised a hand to me I'd lay him out!" She brandished her carpet beater for emphasis and Frodo hid a grin. Ned would never say boo to a goose, never mind hit his formidable wife. "If she's got half an ounce of sense she'll accept the offer. Lovely cozy little places - nearly as nice as this. I think Ivy Sandyman has more sense than that husband of hers - fool has no more brains than a potato! And what little he did have has been addled with too much drink. I'm surprised his liver's lasted this far."

       Frodo bit his lip but failed to stop the smile. "I'm so glad you're happy here. Nice to see the place full of children and laughter, a proper home, as it should be."

       "It's nice to see you with roses in your cheeks again, out and about. Sam's like an old mother hen, isn't he?"

       "Yes he is. It's almost as though I'm one of the children. And Ellie has started doing it too - offering me a scarf, telling me to fasten my coat, handing me mittens if I poke my head outside the door. I'm being fussed to death, and yet I can't really complain because I know they do it out of love."

       "He was born carin', our Sam. Took after Mum with bairns and animals, and Da when it came to plants. Reckon you won't change him now."

        "Nor would I wish to. Sam cares for everything. It's why he followed me into danger, why he stayed around when my life was threatened, braved orcs, fought spiders and dragged me up a mountain - and half way back down again afterwards. He never stops caring for those he loves."

       "When he was no more than a faunt he'd find baby birds and try to look after them and cry when they died. He's a heart as big as the Shire right enough."

                                                                         *************

       Moss Deepburrow was more than a little startled to see Mr.Frodo Baggins on her doorstep, dressed in fine velvet suit and a silk waistcoat, with his pony tethered to the gatepost and quietly grazing the verge. She eyed him curiously and stepped aside to invite him in, puzzled as to why he wished to speak to her sister.

       Ivy Sandyman entered the kitchen, her posture indicative of tension and wary despair. She looked haggard, pale and lined and there was a good deal of greenish-yellow bruising round her left eye. The clear marks of gripping fingers were visible on her left arm. Her daughter Lily, a sallow, nervous girl of about nineteen, helped her mother to a chair and glanced mournfully at Frodo, clearly expecting disaster. Will, a slight lad of sixteen with his right wrist in a sling, stood in front of them, the man of the house defending his womenfolk. Somewhere behind the group was Violet, hiding in her mother's skirts.

       "Mr.Baggins? There.........there's no trouble........is there?"

       Oh dear, Frodo thought. Aloud he said, "No, no, Mrs.Sandyman. No trouble at all." He paused as Moss placed a teapot and cups on the table before scurrying out of the room.

       Ivy studied at her visitor. Ted had always despised 'the Brandybuck' or 'that cracked Baggins' just as he loathed 'the jumped-up gardener' Sam Gamgee, but neither hobbit had ever done him any harm as far as she could tell. Mr.Baggins had beautiful manners and spoke nicely to her whenever she had seen him. For years after his return she had watched him grow weaker and more frail, until she was sure he would not last another summer. He could barely walk as far as New Row sometimes, and once she had seen him sitting on a wall because he obviously could not continue. Sam Gamgee had walked down the hill and helped him home. She never saw him after that, because Ted made his decision to leave the Shire rather than endure the gardener as Mayor. She had heard that he had made a miraculous recovery and had been oddly glad. When the Captains read the King's letter to the citizens of Bree she listened and believed it, despite Ted's declaration that it was all a lot of nonsense. He looked little changed from the hobbit who had left the Shire more than ten years before unless one looked at the eyes, which had obviously seen too much, but he had colour in his cheeks and looked hale enough. She was a seamstress who recognised the quality of the material in his clothes and wondered what it might be like to stitch such fine cloth.

       "How are you?" he asked her, sounding genuinely interested. "I can see you've been through  ........ difficult times." She thought she might cry.

       "I ain't goin' to lie, Mr.Baggins. I ain't goin' to say I walked into a door, or tripped over a rug. Told that lie far too often. Ted hit me - about once a week when we first married and more often than that in the last years. Hit the children too, and I should have left him years ago but I was frightened. It's a big step and the goodwives of Hobbiton would have a deal to say about it, I daresay. He was always a bully. Bullied me into..........you know...........and when I told him I was goin' to have a child he went crazy. Said it was all my fault. My brother and Da had to threaten him afore he married me, and he always said I'd trapped him." She snorted. "As if he was such a catch!"

       "Ma!" Lily remonstrated, embarrassed at her mother's honesty.

       "No, Lily-girl, it's time we told the truth. Mr.Baggins is no fool." She turned back to Frodo. "He bullied you often enough until you blacked his eye for him. You know what he's like." Frodo nodded.

       "I gather you're looking for somewhere to live."

       "Can't stay here for ever. Moss and Gull have been wonderful, but they've a family of their own and we're too squashed for comfort. I ain't lookin' for charity - I can take in sewin' and mendin'." She lifted her chin defiantly.

       "Yes, of course. The reason I've called is because..........." He looked down at his hands. He disliked mentioning his wealth or possessions and hated to sound as though he was boasting. "I........old Daddy Twofoot's place has been empty for some months. His family have their own homes, and I wondered if you'd like it."

       There was a long pause. Ivy's mouth fell open in astonishment and for a moment no-one spoke. Then Lily and Will leapt up.

       "Oh Ma! Can we? Oh please say yes!"

       Frodo thought that Lily was quite a pretty lass when she smiled. Will was jumping around the way Pippin did when he was excited. He glanced down as a small face peered from behind Ivy's skirts for a moment and vanished again, though a little hand tugged on the skirt to indicate that Violet shared the view of her siblings.

       "I doubt you'll find the rent onerous, and you don't need to worry about it until you're settled and on your feet, as it were."

       Ivy found a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. "Well............I suppose it would do no harm to see the place. I'm not makin' any promises, mind!" she added to her children as they danced about.

       "No, of course not. There's no obligation." Frodo poured tea for them all and then filled a cup with apple juice for Violet, who had crept out again.

       Ivy watched, intrigued. Violet hid from strangers, particularly men, and never normally emerged at all. She edged a little closer to the visitor, her expression wary but entranced. Mr.Baggins gave no sign that he had noticed the child at first, just carried on pouring tea and adding milk, calm as you please.

       "When would you like to come and see Number 2 New Row?" he queried, passing Mrs.Sandyman a cup.

       "Gull goes into Hobbiton market on Hevensday with the cart and I 'spect he wouldn't mind dropping us off."

       "That sounds fine. You can always call at Bag End when you arrive." Mrs.Sandyman's over-awed expression told him that was not really a possibility. "But if I stroll down there for ten-o-clock that should be about right?" Ivy nodded.

       Violet was now standing only a few inches away, sucking her thumb, looking up at Frodo. He smiled. She dropped her gaze for several seconds then raised her eyes to his again. He smiled, she looked away. This went on for some minutes, then she took her thumb out of her mouth.

       "You're not like my da," she observed.

       Thankfully, Frodo thought wryly. "No, my dear, I'm not. But you are like your nameflower, aren't you? A very shy little violet." She ducked her head and smiled, rolling one foot on top of the other.

       "What about it, Vi? A nice new house to live in." Lily addressed the child, who nodded, grinning gappily round her thumb.

       "Wonder what Teddy'll say when he finds out?" Will wondered.

       "I can call at the Mill and see Teddy. I'm sure Jeb won't mind him having an hour off to look at the place with you."

       "That would be very kind of you, Mr.Baggins. Thank you for thinkin' of us. I'm........not used to kindness.....so you'll have to forgive me if I don't put things as well as I'd like."

       "I understand. Don't give it another thought."

       "You're nice," Violet lisped, appearing suddenly at Frodo's knee. She peered up into his face and then stared down at his maimed right hand. "Where's your finger?"

       "Violet1 You shouldn't ask such things. I'm sorry......"

       "Please don't worry, Mrs.Sandyman. I don't mind these days." He reached out to reassure the child, whose lip trembled at her mother's ire. "My finger was bitten off, sweetling, before you were born."

       "By a monster?" Her eyes were round with wonder.

       "No, just a very sad and miserable creature who had lived too long and suffered too much. How old are you, little one?"

       "Eight," Violet sniffed. "'m nine in Forelithe."

       "Almost as old as Ellie. She's nine next month. Perhaps you'll be playmates if you move back to Hobbiton, eh?" He held out a small cake and she took it carefully.

       "Fank you, Mr Baggins," she whispered. Then, "Is Ellie nice? Will I like her?"

       "I think you'll like her. She's a sweet child, very kind-hearted." He stood. "I should be heading back, or Sam will send out a search party." To his surprise, Mrs.Sandyman laughed.

       "He and Mistress Rose look after you very well."

       "He has saved my life several times and no-one could be better looked after than I am. I know Ted thought little of those two but I hope you and the children will come to realise that he was mistaken, as you come to know them better. I look forward to seeing you on Hevensday. Good-bye."

       They all saw him to the door and waved as he turned the pony and set off for Hobbiton. Then they rushed off to tell Moss what had happened.

                                                                         **************

       Hevensday saw Ivy Sandyman and her family walking up the hill. Frodo and Teddy had arrived some minutes earlier and while they waited Teddy found himself telling their prospective landlord more than he had told anyone about life in Bree.

       "Da was never all that nice even when he was sober, but when he's drunk he's like................It's as though something takes him over and it isn't even him any more. You can't reason with him, and he has such strength when he's drunk. I tried to stop him and he nearly killed me."

       "Do you still have any pain or trouble passing water?"

       "Not now, sir. Frightened me when I saw blood though."

       "I imagine it would. If you ever have any pain or other problems you are to see Doctor Bindlimb, do you hear? He can put it on my bill."

       "I thought old Doctor Aldo had retired, sir." Teddy ran his hand along the top of the gate to Number 2.

       "Yes he has. His son has taken over. Porto is an adventurous hobbit - I sometimes wonder if he has Took blood. He went to Minas Tirith to study at the Houses of Healing, and has now returned to take over from his father. I'm not sure what the Shire-folk make of him with his 'new-fangled' ways, but he is a fine doctor. I'm sure he learned much from the King himself while he was in Gondor."

       "Thank you very much, sir. You've been very kind to us. Ma was in such a taking about finding somewhere to live and I know she wanted to stay in Hobbiton."

       "It seemed logical - this place is empty and you needed somewhere to live. They're cozy little holes - brick lined as we used the bricks from all the sheds built by Lotho and Saruman's henchmen."

       "Was he the wizard - the one they called Sharkey?"

       "Yes. The name came from the orcish sharku meaning old man. He was once among the great, more powerful than Gandalf, but he fell because he discovered a taste for power.Those who crave power should never be allowed to have it, lad. The only leaders worth having are those who do not seek it - people like our King and dear old Sam, and the Thain of course."

       "The King sounds a fine sort. I'd like to see him myself. Da used to snarl that it was all moonshine, and that we don't need a king, but I think a good king is better than no king at all."

       "That is a very sensible view, and one day perhaps you will meet King Elessar and see why all those who know him come to love him. Ah, here comes your family." Frodo smiled as he watched the four figures hurrying along.

       New Row was everything Ivy and her family had dreamed of. The smial was not large but it was comfortable with a warm security which she and her family sorely needed. They ran about exclaiming at the large fireplaces, comfy nooks and the shiny kitchen stove, which was a great improvement on the broken down thing Ivy had been expected to cook on in Bree.

       "Oh! The beds are still here!" she said, surprised.

       "Daddy's children all had more than enough beds and mattresses. The kitchen table is staying too."

       "I was worried about what we were going to sleep on. How wonderful! I managed to bring a few things back with me - foolish little keepsakes and things my mother gave me - but we couldn't carry much. I've no pots and pans......."

       "We have more pots and pans than we know what to do with at Bag End. I'll ask Rose to sort some out."

       "Mr Baggins?" Ivy took a deep breath and asked the question which had been in her mind since his visit to her sister's.

       "Yes?" He gazed at her with those discerning blue eyes.

       "Why are you bein' so kind to us? I......I mean......Ted was never very nice to you or Master Samwise - in fact he was downright rude - and I hardly know you.............."

       "It seemed the neighbourly thing to do. You were in need and I have the means to help. To do less would be selfish."

       "Well I fink you're nice!" Violet flung her arms round Frodo's legs in an impulsive gesture.

       "Thank you, little flower. And I hope you'll all be very happy here."

       "Reckon we all think you're nice, Mr Baggins, said Will shyly, and the others nodded. Frodo blushed, which Ivy and Lily thought rather touching.

       It was arranged that they would move in the following week. Frodo watched Violet skipping down the hill as the family walked back to the mill to visit Jeb and Floss. He felt ridiculously cheerful as he watched them; this had been very worthwhile.

                                                                          ************

       Gull Deepburrow and his friend unloaded Ivy's possessions from the cart and carried them into the front garden of number.2 New Row. Teddy and Will hefted bags and placed them by the front door before waving their uncle off with thanks.

       "Oh, today's the day, is it? Welcome back to Hobbiton, Mrs.Sandyman." May Shortburrow, Sam's sister, popped her head out of the door of number 3, where she lived with her husband and children, having moved back after the Gaffer's death

       Ivy was moved by this friendly greeting. "Call me Ivy, please. And thank you for your kindness."

       "Well then, welcome back, Ivy. Call me May. We're going to be neighbours and I always think it's nice if you can be on friendly terms with your neighbours. If you need anything, just knock." She smiled and returned indoors for her wash basket.

       "Oh this is so much friendlier than Bree!" Lily cried. "Whyever did we leave?"

       "Because your Da refused to live in the Shire once Master Gamgee became the Mayor. He's never had any time for him although from what I hear, Master Samwise is loved by almost everyone else and held in high esteem by the King himself."

       Ivy became aware that she was being watched through the gate. Two children stood there, a boy and a girl. The little girl was about Violet's age, but self-possessed in a way Violet would never be. She was wearing a pretty apple-green dress and a spotless white pinafore, with lace-edged petticoats peeping out below the hem. Her hair was the colour of sunlight, curls tumbling down her back and framing a heart-shaped face. She had a sweet, rosebud mouth, a pointed chin and extraordinary eyes of an uncanny blue-green Ivy had never seen before. For a moment she thought the child was an Elfling, but the abundant foothair dispelled that idea. The lad beside her was all hobbit, and there was no doubting his paternity. He looked like a miniature Master Samwise, from the top of his wheaten curls and freckled snub nose to his sturdy shoulders and all the way down to his broad, well-covered feet. He wore a cream shirt and dark blue trousers, and a small pair of trimmers protruded from his pocket.

       "Good morning, Mrs Sandyman," the little girl said politely. "I'm Elanor Gamgee and this is my brother Frodo."

       How strange to think of another hobbit called Frodo, Ivy thought. She realised that, although the girl spoke with a Shire lilt, she pronounced her words crisply, rather like Mr Baggins, who must be quite an influence on any children sharing his house.

       "Uncle Frodo asked me to give you the key, and there's a letter from Mum. We hope you'll be very happy here, don't we, Fro?"

       The lad nodded. "That rose bush needs pruning, Ma'am. I'd be happy to help with any gardening, and Da said if there's anything you need, just call at Bag End."

       Ivy looked quite bemused. "Thank you. And thank your parents and unc..........er......Mr Baggins for me."

       "We will. Mum explains things in her note." The two opened the gate to number 3 and went inside to visit their aunt May and several cousins.

       Ivy opened the front door and the children rushed inside, whooping with glee. The first thing she noticed was the vase of flowers on the table - bright daffodils and wallflowers - and that every surface was free from dust. She opened the envelope and read Rose Gamgee's flowing script. For a farmer's daughter she wrote beautifully, but Ivy remembered that the Cotton and Gamgee children had all learned their letters from Mr Bilbo Baggins, and later from Mr Frodo himself.

       Dear Mrs, Sandyman,

      I hope you'll be very happy at No.2. I've been in this morning and dusted and tidied a bit, and I thought the flowers would cheer things up.

       There's a few things in the larder - tea, milk, bread, butter, honey, vegetables - and I've left a big pot of stew on the stove as I doubt you'll have time to do much cooking or shopping today, what with moving in and arranging things. Please accept these as a little gift to greet you in your new home.The stove is lit, and I've put the pots and pans you need on the shelf in the kitchen, and some plates and cutlery too.

       If there is anything you need, please don't hesitate to call at Bag End. Good neighbours help one another and I'm sure you'd do the same for me if our situations were reversed.

       With best wishes,

             Rose Gamgee.

       Ivy Sandyman looked up and saw her own amazement mirrored in the faces of her children.

       "Ma, there's stuff in the larder! Tea an' bread an' honey an' taters!"

       "Did Mistress Gamgee put them there, Ma?"

       "Yes, she says in her letter that it is a gift to welcome us. She guessed we'd have no time to get to market today. There's a big pot of stew too."

       "They say she's the best cook in the Shire! She cooked for the King!" Teddy looked at his mother. "She sends jam and pickles and cakes all the way to Gondor for the King's own table."

       "Well, it looks as though we're going to eat like the King, at least for today."

                                                                          ************

       For a several hours they all carried in small items of furniture and linen and spent time arranging them to everyone's satisfaction. The smell of stew pervaded the smial and despite bread and honey at lunchtime, they were all ravenous by mid-afternoon. May Gamgee knocked as they were tidying.

       "I was baking this morning and thought an extra dish of bread pudding wouldn't come amiss." She handed over a large dish covered in a tea towel, the smell of warm bread pudding wafting up, spicy and comforting. "Do you have everything you need? I know Rose was in this morning."

       "Thank you, yes. Mistress Rose has been very kind. Everyone has, though I don't know what we've done to deserve it.........."

       "Folks are neighbourly round here - and Rose is a sweetheart. She's always kind and sympathetic. Hello little 'un!" she said to Violet, who peeped round her mother's skirt.

       "She's very shy at the moment."

       "I hear she was rather taken with our Mister Frodo?"

       "He really has a gift with children. She never talks to men these days - not even her uncle Gull - but she came out and talked to him, and when we came to see the place last week she ran up and hugged him. Never seen anyone as gentle as him with a scared child."

       "He's a dear soul. Took to our Sam when they first met. He was not quite twelve and Sam about four months, and I've never seen a lad so good with babies." May turned her head at a sound in her own smial. "Hobson Shortburrow! If you're pinching those jam tarts again you'll feel my hand!" She rolled her eyes at Ivy, who laughed, and hurried indoors to deal with the miscreant.

       Violet was on the verge outside, talking shyly with Ellie Gamgee.

       "Do you like dolls?" Ellie asked as the two little girls sat on the fence, swinging their feet lightly against the flowers.

       Violet looked sad. "My Da threw my dolly on the fire. She was called Tulip, an' she used to be Lily's. She was all burnt." She scrubbed at a tear with the back of her hand.

       "That's terrible!" Ellie looked aghast. "My Sam-dad would never do that. Nor Uncle Frodo neither."

       "My Da's not kind," Violet confided. "He shouts and hits us. Does your Da hit you?"

       "Never! Mum gives us a little smack sometimes but Da never does. He hates it. He tells us stories and so does Uncle Fro, and they teach us all sorts of things. Never really seen Sam-dad get cross."

       "I wish he was my da. Mr Baggins is nice too."

                                                                          ************

       When Violet went in for dinner, Ellie walked home, climbed into the comfort of Sam's lap and burst into tears of rage.

       "It's not fair! He threw her dolly in the fire. What a horrid thing to do!" She clung to her father. "Why did he do that?"

       "Because he's a horrid hobbit," muttered Sam. "Fancy doing that to his little lass. I'll bet she only had the one doll too." Ellie nodded.

       "I'm afraid that is what can happen when people drink too much and their bitterness and resentment build up. I'm sorry to say that Ted blames everyone for his predicament, except himself." Frodo reached over and stroked the child's hair.

       Ellie dimpled at her father and uncle as a thought occurred to her. "I've got more dolls than I can ever play with, and some are probably lonely. Do you think Vi would like it if I let her choose some of mine for her own?"

       "I think that is a very sweet and generous idea, and I'm sure little Vi would be beside herself." Sam kissed his daughter.

       "Elanorelle, you are the most generous child, and I think Violet will be your friend forever." Frodo wrapped his arms round her as she scrambled into his lap.

       "I'll go and look for some nice ones!" she cried, and ran off to the bedroom to sort through her toybox.

                                                                         ************

       "For me?" Violet looked dumbfounded. "For my own?" Ellie nodded, and was very surprised when Vi flung her arms round her new friend and kissed her on the cheek.

       Violet pondered for a long time before making her choice of a good sized rag doll in a pink and white dress. She clutched the doll and beamed at Ellie.

       "Choose another one or two. I have lots." Ellie held out more for Violet's inspection, and they giggled together as she chose a smaller rag doll and a brown velvet and wool dog. She had never had so many toys.

       Ivy Sandyman watched them through the window, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She remembered her little daughter's heart-broken sobbing the night Ted flung the doll into the flames, and she was touched beyond belief at the thoughtful kindness of one small hobbit child. Perhaps this new life in Hobbiton would not be so difficult after all. At least they had good neighbours.

 





        

        

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