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A Decent and Respectable Hobbit
Bilbo looked down at his new pupil with a reassuring smile. Young Drogo smiled back at him, his expression one of frank and open curiousity, rather than the usual expression of sullen dread common to most young students.
“Your father tells me that you like to read?” Fosco had asked Bilbo only last week if he could begin to tutor Drogo: “The lad’s full of questions, more than I’ve time for; I thought it would be as well to bring him to you.”
The lad nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, sir!”
“Well, then, Drogo, I think that we shall get on famously!”
“ ‘Morning, Master Drogo. Mr. Bilbo’s just come back from market. He’s up at t’ hole.” The gardener gestured in the direction of Bag End.
“Thank you, Master Holman. And who’s this?”
The old gardener grinned. “My first cousin Roper’s lad, Hamfast Gamgee, come to be my ‘prentice.”
Drogo bowed slightly. “Drogo Baggins at your service, Master Hamfast.”
Hamfast blushed, abashed. “Likewise, sir.”
“Well, Hamfast, if you listen to your cousin, you will be a fine gardener indeed!”
They watched him walk away.
“He seems a kindly sort, Cousin Holman.”
“He’s a decent and respectable young gentlehobbit, and no mistake.”
Otho glared across the crowd at Drogo and Bilbo laughing together. Cousin Drogo always stayed on Cousin Bilbo’s good side. Otho had lasted only seven months before Bilbo told his father it was hopeless.
Otho hadn’t said so then, but he agreed. Cousin Bilbo was altogether too boring and respectable-- probably why he got on so well with boring and respectable Drogo.
He realized he wasn’t the only one staring. “Miss Bracegirdle, may I fetch you some punch?”
Lobelia flushed. “Yes, please, Mr. Baggins.”
“Of course, how silly of me.”
But he noticed her eyes were still on Drogo.
The tween-aged lasses giggled as they watched the portly hobbit attempting to disembark from the ferry at Bucklebury. He looked miserable and fearful, and his complexion had a greenish cast to it.
“Who is he, Primula?” asked her Took cousin Primrose.
She grinned. “I believe he’s a Baggins connexion of Cousin Bilbo’s. Mum doesn’t know, but I overheard her talking with Menegilda Goold. He’s trying to escape from some lass in Hobbiton who’s set her cap for him .”
Her other cousin, Peridot, grinned. “There’s no accounting for taste! He looks a bit boring.”
“I don’t know--he has kind eyes.”
“Papa! They’re having Bilbo declared dead! Why?”
“Drogo, Bilbo’s been gone nearly a year! There’s no Head of the Family! The Bagginses can’t go on like this!”
“When he comes back there’ll be trouble!”
“Son, I know you were always fond of Bilbo. But he went without a word to any of the Family--with Dwarves and that pestiferous wizard! No word from him since! If he were alive he would have written!”
“It’s wrong! It’s just an excuse for Longo’s son Otho to get Bilbo’s property!”
“That’s as may be. What’s done is done.”
“You’ll see when he comes back!”
“I’m sorry Dinny. I’ve no interest whatsoever in your friend Bandigard North-took.” Primula took up her knitting, ignoring her brother’s indignant spluttering.
“Primmy! He’s a *North-took!* There are dozens of lasses who’d give their eye-teeth to have him as their escort to Yule First Night!”
She shrugged. “Then let him ask one of them. I’ve other fish to fry.”
“If you are referring to Drogo Baggins, he’s far too old for you! He thinks you’re just a child. And he never pokes his nose out of the library when he is here anyway!”
She gave a small smile. “We’ll see.”
Dora noticed changes in her brother since he’d been visiting Buckland: easily distracted, less interested in the doings of family and friends. He often went to visit Bilbo--Bilbo might be the Head of the Family, but he was scarcely respectable anymore since his return from his…journey. She made a face as the word “adventure” intruded into her thoughts.
One thing could account for Drogo’s interest in the wilds of Buckland.
“Brother, would you mind if I joined you in your visit to Buckland this time?”
Primula looked at Drogo, as he proffered the small box. “Happy birthday.” Her thirty-second birthday would fall on the morrow, so she was receiving her gifts the day before, as was proper.
She opened it. Yellow hair ribbons! A traditional gift from a lad who wished to court a lass. She stared at him, speechless.
“I asked your father’s permission to court you, and he said yes. You’ll be of age in a year--” His expression was fearful. “I thought perhaps you might return my regard?”
He always did the respectable thing.
“Oh, Drogo! I thought you would never ask!”
Drogo held his wife close as she wept, though his own eyes were dry and burning. For the second time, they had lost a little one before its time. He knew how Primula’s heart ached, how her arms felt empty--for his own heart ached, his own arms yearned for a child of their own.
Would it ever happen? Or would they spend their married lives remembering an empty cradle, and little clothes made hopefully, and never used? Should they just quit hoping?
Somehow, though, he knew in his heart that one day they would have a little one to love.
Bilbo guided three-year-old Frodo into the room, as his parents watched. The faunt grinned, hands behind his back: face shiny; hair on head and feet damp; clothes askew; traces of mud on his breeches.
"For my birfday, Mama!" He thrust out his right hand: in it, a ragged bouquet, equal parts fall garden flowers and weeds. Primula took them, hugging her lad. Bilbo saw her tears of pride.
Frodo held out his left hand--a small stone, round and shiny, striated brown, black and white. "For you, Papa!"
Drogo took it, embracing his son. "It will be precious to me always."
Frodo stood at the door, hesitant. He'd never been allowed in Papa's study before. But Drogo smiled.
"Come in, Frodo." Pushing his chair away from his desk, he patted his knee. Frodo raced onto his father's lap, and gazed at him, curious.
"Frodo, you're seven now. Your Mama tells me you know your letters and numbers."
"So it's time for you to come to me for lessons. We'll have them mornings between second breakfast and elevenses."
"Oh, Papa!" Frodo exclaimed in delight.
"We'll start with this book. Uncle Bilbo made it for me when I was your age..."
Bilbo ran his tongue over dry lips, drawing a deep breath. His arm firmly around young Frodo, who leaned into his side, dazed. Some had thought the lad too young and distraught to be at his parents‘ funeral, even drugged. But Bilbo wouldn’t have it. The child deserved to be there.
“I speak of my cousin, Drogo Baggins. Many knew him as quiet and solid, a decent, respectable hobbit who kept to himself. But I remember him as a wide-eyed youngster, eager for knowledge; I remember his love and devotion for his wife and child. I shall miss him always.”
“Master Elrond called me ‘Frodo son of Drogo’, not ‘Frodo Baggins‘.” Frodo felt numb now that the Council had ended.
Bilbo nodded. “That’s the way of Elves and Men.”
“I can’t help but wonder what my father would have thought of all this. It is scarcely respectable hobbit behaviour.”
“I think,” said Bilbo, “that he would have been appalled at the danger you are in. But I also think he would have been very proud of you as well--you are doing what needs to be done after all. And a Baggins always does his duty.”
“I miss him.”
Frodo walked the sea-strand, his toes feeling the softness of the Sun-warmed sand. The waves’ susurration and the gulls’ low cries were like Elven music.
Frodo had gone, as he often did, to the Tower where the Stone of Elostirion was kept. But now he had seen Merry and Pippin content in their retirement to Gondor, he did not think that he would go again. Soon enough, he and Sam would follow Bilbo.
Just then he spied something small and dark: a stone, round, striated with black, brown and white. He picked it up, smiling.
“I’ll see you soon, Papa."
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