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CHAPTER TWO – UNLOCKING THE PAST
After seeing the wives and children off, Sam, Merry and Pippin closed the door and looked at one another. It was time to tackle the task of going through the strongbox, but after their brief glimpse yesterday, they found themselves reluctant to look at the contents in detail.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Pippin said "Well, let's get to it, then. We can't put it off any longer."
Sam nodded. "'It's the job as is never started as takes longest to finish' as the Gaffer always says." But he didn't make any move toward the study door.
Merry shifted uneasily. "Perhaps we should have a bit of second breakfast first..." his voice trailed off at the look on Pippin's face.
"Merry, that's not like you," his cousin said reproachfully.
Throwing his head back, Merry replied, "Yes. Well. Then let's get to it now," and he started for the study, the other two trailing behind him. Pippin looked determined. Sam looked anxious.
Merry sat upon the settee with Sam on a chair across from him. Pippin shoved the strongbox between them, and then, perching at the edge of the settee next to Merry, he turned the key and threw back the lid.
Merry drew out the large framed Marriage Document, and handed it to Sam, who with careful reverence stood it next to his chair. Then they looked at the remaining contents of the box: there was a pouch of red cloth, closed with a drawstring, and obviously holding a number of interesting objects; there was a smaller box of plain dark wood, not more than a hand span in width; and there was a soft bundle which seemed to be tied within a cream coloured wool blanket. Pippin looked at these curiously, but Merry shook his head. "Let's deal with the papers first," he said.
Frodo had apparently taken much care with the contents. There were two bundles of papers which seemed to be legal documents, tied together carefully with red cord. And then there were bundles of letters. Most of them seemed to be tied with either blue or green ribbon, a couple of bundles were tied with red ribbon, and then a few more tied with white ribbon.
Merry's hand went in, and hovered over the legal documents, but then he reached for a bundle of the letters tied with blue ribbon.
Pippin looked at the expression on Merry’s face as he untied the ribbon around the first bundle of letters and then opened one. It reminded Pippin of the look he had seen on his cousin’s face the day Frodo had first awakened in Ithilien: a combination of profound pain and deepest joy. Merry gave an audible gulp, and then read one. He bit his lip, and with his hand shaking, he passed it to Pippin.
Pippin glanced down at a handwriting that was childish and round, on a page marred with tiny black fingerprints, and with the old and yellowing blots of tearstains. He felt tears sting his own eyes, as he glanced down at the evidence of life before he himself had ever existed:
I wish you could come home. But Da says you are home now at Bag End.
Pippin bit his own lip, and glanced at Merry, who was reading it over his shoulder with a wry smile, and tears filling his eyes.
“The spring of the year Bilbo adopted Frodo,” said Merry. “I was here, you see, when it took place, and Mum, Da and I stayed on to visit for a few days. It wasn’t until I got back home to Brandy Hall and had to face Frodo’s empty room that it really struck me. Up until then, I had rather clung to the hope that he would be back.”
Pippin reached over, took the rest of the bundle, and began to thumb through it. Then he looked inside the box. There were several more bundles, some tied with blue ribbon, others with green. Merry picked up one of the bundles tied with green ribbon, and held it out to Pippin. “Recognise the handwriting on these?”
Pippin’s jaw dropped as he looked at the spiky ill-formed letters on top of the first letter of the first bundle, and then at the still spiky, but more legible hand on top of another bundle. There were not nearly so many green-tied bundles as blue. “Those are my letters! Merry--he must have kept every single letter we ever sent to him.”
Sam had been watching them in silent sympathy. "Do you see now why I thought the things in this box had ought to go to blood kin?" He blushed. He felt as though he had been eavesdropping on family business, and heard more than he should have. "I'll leave you to it, then," he said.
Merry looked up sharply, and shook his head. "No, please stay, Sam. You may not be 'blood kin', but you are family all the same."
"Yes," put in Pippin. "These things concern you as well. And--well, I rather think Frodo would have liked you to be here when we do this." He gave Sam a wistful smile.
"Well, if you really think so--". Sam's reluctance had faded at the cousins’ earnest appeal. And Merry's statement that he was "family"--well, perhaps it was not proper, but it gave Sam a warm feeling all the same.
“Here’s some from your mum and da,” said Pippin. He handed them to Merry. “And--oh goodness! Merry, here’s one from you to *Bilbo*!” Pippin laughed. “Whatever did you have to say to him at so young an age--it says on the envelope ‘FRODO! DO NOT OPEN!!!’ What in the world did you have to say to Bilbo that you couldn’t to Frodo?”
Merry looked briefly puzzled, and then alarmed, as Pippin took it from its envelope. He started to snatch it away, but Pippin held it out of his reach.
“ ‘Dear Cousin Bilbo,
Since you get to have Frodo now you had better take good care of him…’ ”
“My word, Merry! You were just as bossy then as you are now!”
“Pippin!” Merry’s face flamed.
Sam put a hand to his mouth to hide his grin.
As Pippin kept reading, laughing at Merry’s childish spelling errors, Merry put a hand over his face to hide his embarrassment.
“ ‘If this is too much
Merry shook his head, and then finally smiled. “Well, I suppose I *hoped* it would. I’m afraid that however fond of Bilbo I was, I was also rather jealous of him for a while.” He looked rather wistful as he said that, and Pippin felt a bit remorseful for his teasing.
“Poor old Merry,” he said, “it must have been very hard for you to lose Frodo like that, when he’d been living with you all along. However lonesome I got for you when we were apart, I always knew you lived in Buckland and I lived in Tookland--it wasn’t quite the same, was it?”
“No, I suppose not. But I soon learnt how much happier he was here. And I began to trust Bilbo to take care of him.” He looked up at Sam. “And I knew you were taking care of him, too, even then. I knew I could trust you to take care of him.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “Did you really, Merry?” he asked softly. That was an awful nice thing for Merry to say. Sam knew very well how hard it was for Merry to trust Frodo to anyone else.
“Of course I did. After all, we both knew Frodo was the most splendid hobbit in the Shire.”
Sam grinned, remembering his first conversation with Merry, playing in the garden at Bag End, and finding out what they had in common. Friendship had come easy in those days, when they’d both been far too young to pay attention to things like the differences between gentry and working hobbits.
Suddenly Merry’s hand snaked out and snagged a letter. “Pip! Here’s one *you* wrote to Bilbo!
Mother says rite you and say I am sory. Look in my rum. I dident meen to but she says I better tell you to shut the windo and get the bread and jam out from under the bed.
I love you hug Frodo and Merry for me.
Your cousin Pippin’
"Oh!” Merry howled with laughter. “I remember when this letter came!”
Sam began to laugh as well. “So do I! Bilbo sent for my mother to help him with getting the ants out of the room! What a mess!”
Pippin smirked, though his face was quite as red as Merry’s had been. He gave a lop-sided grin. “I remembered that, though. I *didn’t* have to apologise to Lotho and Lobelia--and I *did* mean to do it *that* time!”
“What are you talking about, you daft Took?” asked Merry, wiping tears of laughter from the corner of one eye.
“Why, just that it gave me the idea to leave the S.-Bs a little hole-warming gift when they moved into Bag End. I left a dish of honey under the bed in Gandalf’s room, after propping the window open. I do believe I even left a jar of ants in there to get things started!”
Sam’s jaw dropped. “Mr. Pippin!” he exclaimed, forgetting in his surprise to leave the honorific off.
“Yes, I’m quite proud to say I did that just before we left to go to Crickhollow. I just wish I could have seen Lobelia’s face when she found out!”
Merry plucked out another envelope, a bit larger than the others, and addressed in a spidery old-fashioned hand, with the characteristic Buckland "y"s. "Here's one from Uncle Dinny. I'd recognize his handwriting anywhere. Do you suppose he was setting Frodo lessons?" Merry smirked. Curious, he opened it, and drew out the documents. There were two--one, a small note on a bit of nice linen stationary, and the other, in an entirely different hand, though equally familiar, written on old-fashioned classroom foolscap. Merry angled the paper so that Pippin could not see. Pippin who was still chuckling a bit over the memory of putting one over on the Sackville-Bagginses, did not notice.
"3 Winterfilth, S.R. 1405
My Dear Frodo,
I was most amused by this essay, a first attempt by my newest pupil. I thought that you would appreciate seeing it, and that it would not only amuse you, but warm your heart as well.
Your old tutor,
Merry glanced slyly at Pippin, and then began to read from the other page--
"I have a lot of family. I have my father and mother and three sisters. My father is Paladin Took, and my mother is Eglantine Took, who used to be a Banks before she married my father. My sisters are Pearl, Pimpernel and Pervinca. We call Pimpernel ‘Pimmie’ and Pervinca we call ‘Vinca’, but we just call Pearl ‘Pearl’."
"Oi!" Pippin cried sharply, trying to snatch at the paper. Merry held it back out of his way, grinning. Pippin tried to reach for it.
Just then the clock on the mantelpiece struck nine. "Lawks!" exclaimed Merry. “It’s time for second breakfast already!" He gave a reluctant look at the box, for now that they'd finally started, he did not really want to stop yet.
"Why don't I fetch us a little something in here, then?" asked Sam, starting to rise.
"No," added Pippin. "You stay put, Sam. I'll go fetch it!" Pippin was worried that Sam would not stay with them if he began to act the host. Sam would probably try to make an elaborate meal, and then insist on cleaning up after. And Pippin did not want to go on without Sam, now they'd made a good beginning. "I'm sure I can find something in your larder that will do--no need for cooking." Without waiting for Sam's agreement, he got up with alacrity, and headed for the kitchen. Behind him, he heard Merry chuckle and say "You'll have to move faster than that, Sam, if you want to keep Pippin out of a larder..."
Pippin needn't have worried. Apparently, Rose and Estella had anticipated things. On the table was a tray, covered with a tea towel. He lifted the cloth and found bread, cheese, fruit, and cold sliced ham, along with three plates. All he needed to do was put the kettle on and make the tea, which he did, whistling cheerily. He poured the hot water from the kettle into the teapot and made the tea. Then he added the teapot and teacups to the tray, and carried it back to the study. As he approached, he heard Merry and Sam laughing heartily, and he wondered what they had found while he was off in the kitchen.
He brought the tray in, and set it on a small table next to Sam's chair. "Whatever is so funny?" he asked.
Merry snorted and wiped his eyes, still chuckling. "Oh, just the letters a certain twenty year old cousin of mine wrote the year he was confined at home for the summer!"
Pippin's face flamed. "Gracious! Why would he save those? That's something I'd rather forget myself, actually!"
Sam, who was grinning, said "Mr. Frodo told me all about what happened! You gave them all such a fright. But those letters are a caution, I must say!"
Merry began to read:
"That's hardly fair!" said Pippin. But his lips were twitching with the ghost of a smile. "But, come to think of it, it *was* funny to see them jump! And Vinca let out with a word that Mother was not at all happy to hear!" He smirked now.
"What about *this* one, Merry?" said Sam.
Now Merry smirked. "As Pippin said, he had plenty of shirts. And being cross with me made him forget all about that rather disastrous meeting with Lotho and Lobelia earlier in the day."
Sam picked up one of the letters and grinned after he read it. “I remember when this one came!
Merry let out a snort of laughter. “Yes, that was a fine position you put me in, Pip. Frodo had the mail from the posthobbit and had seen your spiky excuse for handwriting on the envelope. I couldn’t stuff it into my pocket quick enough after I read it.”
Sam chuckled and shook his head at the memory. “That’s just how it was. I was bringing in a basket of strawberries for luncheon when I met Mr. Frodo coming up the walkway with the post. He allowed as how there was a letter in there for Merry from you, Pippin. I don’t know which was redder, Merry’s face after he hid your letter or them strawberries. But Mr. Frodo, he just gave one of them little knowing smiles of his and turned and went into the study with the rest of the post.”
“I’m sorry, Merry. I never meant to make things difficult for you,” said Pippin, stuffing down a chuckle of his own. “Well, I suppose that summer wasn’t all bad. I *did* learn to play the lap harp and the Tookland pipes after all.”
“I was just glad Frodo got Uncle Paladin to let me say ‘goodbye’ to you and that you learnt your lesson,” said Merry. “Why you would have ever listened to those Banks cousins of yours is still beyond me.”
There was an awkward silence between the cousins as Pippin’s face coloured as he looked down as he remembered that long ago incident.
Reading Pippin’s embarrassment and hoping to end the discussion, Sam said, “Seeing as how Mr. Freddy and the others escorted them villains out of the Shire and took them to see Strider, I reckon Pippin don’t have to worry about them cousins of his no more.”
Merry nodded. “You’re right, Sam,” and put a comforting arm around Pippin, who turned toward him and smiled briefly before picking up a few of the letters in a different stack and looking at the different handwritings on some of the those letters.
“Do you suppose some of these other folk would like their letters back? It might make a nice memento. Especially knowing Frodo had cared enough about them to keep their correspondence?” Merry flipped through several more letters. “Here are some from Freddy and a few from some of your sisters, Pippin, and--” his voice faltered briefly, “--a couple from Folco. Maybe Folco’s parents or Freddy would like those.”
There was a brief silence, and Pippin blinked and Sam shook his head sadly, as they remembered their friend, so cruelly murdered by ruffians during the Troubles. “Yes, I know they would.”
The three hobbits spent a few minutes quietly sorting through some of the correspondence from others, pausing only briefly to organise them into piles from various people. In addition to letters from Freddy Bolger and Folco Boffin, there were a few from Pippin's sisters and some of Frodo's other cousins. There was quite a stack apparently from Merry's parents, and Merry put them to one side. He wanted to look at those.
They were thoroughly absorbed in their task, and so were given quite a start when they heard the front door bang open, and the patter of running feet. Rose's voice was remonstrating--"Elanor Gamgee! You come right back out here and go through that door properly, little Miss!" And then there was Estella's warm chuckle as she said "Rose, I see what I have to look forward to as soon as mine learn how to run."
Sam stood up. "It's time for elevenses, I'm thinking. Mayhap we could all use a break?"
Pippin nodded, carefully putting aside the stack of letters he had been going through, and glancing at the tray from which they had all been nibbling. It was quite empty. "I'm getting a bit peckish again, so I daresay you're right, Sam."
Merry agreed to this. The last of the tea in his cup had gone quite cold. "I think elevenses is a *splendid* idea! And, Sam, our wives are going to want to feed us and then fill us in on all their doings this morning!"
Sam piled the cups back on the tray, and picking it up, followed Merry and Pippin out of the study and into the kitchen.
Little Perry and Frodo-lad were lying companionably on a blanket on the opposite side of the kitchen from the hearth, and little Elanor was ensconced with Wyn in one of the rocking chairs, attempting to tell the squirming baby a story. Rose and Estella had donned aprons and were bustling about the kitchen. Sam went up behind Rose and embraced her, while Merry claimed a brief kiss from Estella. Pippin watched them, chuckling, and then turned his attention to Elanor and Wyn.
It seemed like no time at all before the Gamgees, Brandybucks, and Pippin were all seated around the kitchen table enjoying a meal of fried apples and onions, three bean salad, a jar of pickles from Daisy, and Pincup sharp cheese with brown bread, with yesterday’s shortbread for dessert. As usual for hobbits, all discussion was limited to the delicious food before them, comments such as the virtues of the Pincup sharp cheese versus the Buckland Blue of which Merry was so fond. By the time Sam had returned with a pitcher of ale, Pippin was rolling the cheese into little balls as was his custom for filling up the corners.
“Daisy mentioned as how last time she saw Tom and Marigold, they said that the Gaffer had insisted on planting all the flowers in the flowerboxes, Sam. Bluebells, daisies, and marigolds, to be sure, but also some thistle and forget-me-nots,” Rose said while she poured fresh cups of tea for Estella and herself.
Sam turned from the kitchen counter where he was standing and looked his wife in surprise. “Planting the flowerboxes? Well if that don’t beat all! I don’t recollect him mentioning it to us last time Tom and Marigold brought him over for a visit. At his age and he still wants to be useful instead of letting others do for him.”
“That’s your Gaffer, Sam!” exclaimed Merry, thumping his glass of ale down on the table. “He never was one to sit idle.”
“Idle hands makes an idle heart,” quoted Sam as he reached over to the sideboard and pulled out a small, rectangular, wooden box that had been painted yellow.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Pippin, rising in excitement from his chair and going to get a closer look at the old box. Even though the yellow paint was old and chipped, a large letter “B” in blue paint could still clearly be seen on the front of the box, and there was a painting of a smial on the top--it could easily have been Bag End.
Merry had also now joined his cousin, who was opening the lid and looking inside with a peculiar smile of recognition on his face.
“Aye. It’s Mr. Bilbo’s old receipt box, all right,” said Sam with a nervous smile. “I found it here on the sideboard, just there where I got it from, when I got back after Mr. Frodo … left. I hope it’s all right that I kept it!” Sam added quickly. “Samwise, you ninnyhammer! What would your old Gaffer say! I know as how I should have said something or given it to one of you, seeing as you are kin and I ain’t, but, well …”
“No, Sam. You were right to keep it here. It is part of Bag End,” Merry interrupted before Sam could continue berating himself.
Pippin nodded and placed a gentle hand on Sam’s shoulder to reassure him. “Frodo would have wanted it that way. He wanted you to be Master of Bag End, and you can’t rightly be Master of Bag End unless you can serve Bag End food to your guests!” His eyes twinkled brightly as his face broke into a large grin.
“That’s right, cousin,” added Merry. “And the only way to cook Bag End food is to have Bag End receipts. So you see, Sam, you really must keep Bilbo’s receipt box.”
“Just remember that since our great-grandmother was a Baggins, Merry and I have a right to any receipt in that box that we want. Right, Merry?” Pippin said cheekily.
“Of course. Thank goodness for Great-Grandmum Rosa!” Merry chimed in.
Sam felt very much relieved and broke into a large grin of his own. “Any time, *Mr. Merry. Mr. Pippin*.” Merry and Pippin gave him a swift look of reproach, but smiled again when they saw the gleam of mischief in Sam’s eyes. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I reckon you’re right. Bag End just wouldn’t be the same, would it?”
“It certainly would not,” replied Merry. He reached into the box and pulled a receipt out at random and looked at it. “Cinnamon whirls! Mmm! Estella, make sure we copy this down. I haven’t had cinnamon whirls since Bilbo left! He made some for me that day Lotho knocked me to the ground and Frodo bloodied his nose for him. Ah, those cinnamon whirls were grand!”
“Forget about the cinnamon whirls, look! Bilbo’s receipt for stuffed mushrooms!” exclaimed Pippin, who was suddenly hungry again. “And here’s one for the noodles and cheese Frodo used to make! He even made it for me when I was sick to try to get me to eat.”
“I heard Mr. Bilbo once tell Mr. Frodo that that there receipt was one that Mr. Bungo used to make when Bilbo was a lad,” Sam volunteered.
“What are you going to make, Sam?” asked Pippin, the receipt for taffy apples poised in his hand.
“I was fixing to make some of Mr. Bilbo’s honeycakes. I reckoned they’d be a right treat to have with afternoon tea, especially after going through more of that strongbox of Mr. Frodo’s.”
“That’s a fine idea, Sam!” exclaimed Rose. The three hobbits turned to look at her. They had been so busy with the discovery of Bilbo’s old receipt box that they had forgotten all about Rose and Estella. “You make the honeycakes while Estella and me put the younglings down for a kip.”
While Rose and Estella took care of the four children, Sam, Merry, and Pippin prepared the honeycakes. Sam soon was sorry he had given into Pippin’s pleas to allow them to help with Bilbo’s receipt. It was not long before the entire floor of the kitchen as well as the counters, and table were covered in flour. And to make matters worse, not only had Merry and Pippin managed to cover themselves in flour, too, but they had also got some on Sam, including in his hair, despite his best efforts to avoid the flour as the two cousins acted as if they were teens again.
Still, they quickly had the lovely honeycakes set out to rise, and went to work on the kitchen. By the time they were finished, it was as clean as a whistle, beneath the amused looks of Rose and Estella. Cleaning themselves took a few moments longer, as they had to stick their heads under the pump, to emerge with wet and glistening curls.
“Now,” said Rose, as she laughingly towelled Sam’s head, “you lot shoo right on back to the study. We’ll see to putting the honeycakes in the oven when they’re ready.”
“Indeed,” said Estella, who paused in rubbing Merry’s head, to toss a dry towel at Pippin as he emerged from the water spluttering. “Rose, you’ve no idea of the mess they make at home whenever it’s their turn to cook.”
Merry gave her a buss on the cheek. “I don’t hear you complaining, my heart, when it’s time to eat!”
“Yes, Estella! And you have to admit, we always clean up!” Pippin added indignantly.
“So you do, Pip! But you’ve other tasks to see to now. So off with the three of you, and leave the rest of the kitchen to us lasses. We’ll call you when luncheon is ready!”
“I suppose,” Merry said, as they entered the study once more, “that we should look at a few of these legal documents.”
Pippin looked disappointed--those would not be nearly so interesting as the letters had proven to be, but before he could say so, Sam was nodding his agreement.
“I know what this one is.” Merry picked up a large leather folder, and opened it. While not as elaborate as the Marriage Document for Primula and Drogo, it too was lovingly calligraphed and illuminated. It was the Certificate of Adoption, when Bilbo had adopted Frodo. It was fully visible on the right-hand side of the folder, while on the left, tucked into a pocket were two other folded documents. “Frodo always kept it standing on top of his dresser, where he could see it.”
“I never noticed those before,” said Pippin, pointing to the two folded papers.
“Me neither,” said Sam.
Merry took one out and unfolded it. “This seems to be the paper Bilbo signed renouncing any interest in Frodo’s inheritances.”
Sam looked puzzled, but Pippin nodded.
Merry explained. “You know that by Shire law all the property of a minor belongs to the parents?”
“Of course. ‘Tis only proper.”
“Well, Bilbo wanted to make sure that Frodo got all that was coming to him from his parents, and he wanted to support Frodo himself. So he had this made out,” continued Merry. “Of course, I don’t think Bilbo would have touched any of Frodo’s property anyway, but by having it all taken care of legally, it would show everyone else that his motives in adopting Frodo had nothing to do with money.”
“Frodo had my father sign something similar when he gave Crickhollow to Merry and me.” Pippin glanced over at the folder. “So, what is that other document, then?”
Merry pulled it out and unfolded it, raising an eyebrow. “It seems to be a copy of Bilbo’s Will. Frodo must have placed both these in here when he packed this box.” He smiled to himself, and chuckled. “You know, that was a lot of fun, the party Bilbo threw when he adopted Frodo.”
Sam grinned. “It was at that! Remember those fireworks from old Gandalf? That was the first time I ever seen fireworks!”
“They were pretty magnificent. The food was good, too. But I remember being rather cross at having to eat in the kitchen with all the children, while Frodo was in the dining room with the grown-ups.”
“So *that* was why you was scowling so! I wondered at that--I thought mayhap as you was having to eat something you didn’t like.”
Merry chuckled. “I didn’t realise anyone noticed--especially with poor Freddy trying to hush Folco up all the time.”
At this, Sam gave a hearty laugh. “He tried real hard. But then Master Folco went and embarrassed my sister Daisy…”
Sam didn’t recollect when in all of his nine years the kitchen at Bag End had ever been so busy with a flurry of activity as his mother and Daisy scurried to take platters and bowls heaped with the finest Sam had ever seen out to the main dining room where all of the adults were eating. How he wished he could be out there to with the big folks and Frodo, though, of course, that wouldn’t be proper.
He sighed to himself at the kitchen table where all of the lads and lasses including him were seated for their meal. There was a large platter piled high with roast chicken, a deep dish filled with shepherd’s pie, and Tookland sausage rolls. Various vegetable dishes covered the table including a mushroom pudding, glazed carrots, peas and onions, herbed green beans, fried mushrooms and onions, piping hot bubble and squeak.
It just was not proper for the likes of him or his sisters, Daisy and Marigold, to be sitting at the same table as all of these gentlehobbit children and eating such fancy fare, though he couldn’t figure out why Merry looked so cross. The only thing he could reckon was that Merry was having to eat something he didn’t like. Well, that was to be expected, what with them Bucklanders being so peculiar, as his Gaffer always said.
Sam turned his attention back away from Master Frodo’s cousin and took a bite into one of the two slices of cobblestone bread he had taken. All thoughts of propriety disappeared as the buttery goodness melted in his mouth. But then his revelry in the delicious meal was disturbed as he heard Master Folco Boffin begin to speak to Master Freddy Bolger.
“That sure was a strange thing we saw this morning while we were out taking our walk around the hill, Fatty,” Master Folco began before taking another mouthful of the bubble and squeak.
Master Freddy looked like he was trying to think of what Master Folco could be meaning. Cautiously, he asked, “What thing?”
“Over by Bagshot Row. Don’t you remember? The lass who was playing with her laundry?”
Master Freddy paused and looked up at the other children at the table, his fork with the speared piece of roast chicken on it stopped halfway to his mouth. “You should be concentrating on your food, Folco.”
Sam followed Master Freddy’s gaze. Across the table from Master Freddy, Sam’s sister, Daisy was seated next to their little sister, Marigold. While six year old Marigold was happily eating, Sam noted that their big sister was not. In fact, she had gone pale and was staring wide-eyed at Master Folco.
“Aw, Fatty, don’t act like an old gaffer!” exclaimed Master Folco. “Don’t you remember? That lass who was folding all of that laundry, including the smallclothes, outdoors under a tree.”
Daisy gasped audibly and began to tremble slightly.
“Daisy? Are you well?” Sam asked her, putting the back of his hand to her forehead, the way his mother always did to him when he was ill.
“I … I’m fine, Sam,” she said in a weak voice.
“But you’re cheeks are all red!” All of the other children were now looking at Daisy except for Merry, who must really be quite cross about having to eat whatever was on his plate. The little lad couldn’t even bear to look at his plate, but instead kept glaring out the kitchen door toward where his mother, the other grown-ups, and Frodo were all eating their dinners.
“Oh, she’s fine!” Master Folco exclaimed happily. “She’s just surprised that anyone would fold her family’s smallclothes outdoors in plain view of everyone.”
“Folco…” Master Freddy said in a warning voice. It was odd; even though Master Freddy was the same age as Master Folco, Sam had the impression that Master Freddy really was the older one.
“But the funniest part was the way she was doing the folding!” continued Master Folco, totally ignoring Master Freddy as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “This lass, she must have been about sixteen, seventeen years old … anyway, this lass would dance around under the tree with all of the laundry dancing around her, bending and dipping to where the smallclothes had just been, as if she was going to swing it about, only to have the smallclothes run away from her at the last second. It was very funny!”
Daisy was blushing even redder now, and seemed to Sam to be trembling a bit.
Sam was really getting concerned about the strange way his sister was acting. But it would not be proper for him to take Daisy from the table when the meal was only half-way over and all of these gentlehobbit children were still seated at the table.
"Folco!" said Fatty desperately, "here! Why don't you try some of this mushroom pudding? You haven't tried that yet."
Folco finally allowed himself to be distracted by the food, and the conversation began to shift. Sam looked over at his older sister. "Daisy?" he asked softly.
Daisy swallowed and tried to put a smile on her face. “I’ll be all right, Sam. Best eat your food before it gets cold.” That was Daisy, always acting so grown up and bossing him around even though she was only seventeen.
“I was only trying to help!” exclaimed Sam.
“I know that, but I’m fine, really,” she said unconvincingly. Was her face perspiring?
Master Freddy seemed relieved that the conversation had switched and Master Folco was no longer speaking when …
“The thing is,” Master Freddy’s fork clanked onto his plate and he inhaled deeply. “Those clothes she was folding, not the hobbits’ smallclothes, but the other ones she was folding into her basket, they sure looked an awful lot like Frodo’s and Bilbo’s best breeches and westkits…”
Daisy looked horrified, her cheeks growing an even darker shade of red as she struggled to breathe.
Master Freddy rose quickly and put an arm underneath his cousin’s arm, forcing him to get up from the table. “Come on, Folco. I think we’ve had enough to eat. Besides, maybe we can get a peek at that table loaded with desserts. I think I saw an applesauce cake on there.”
“But Fatty! I’ve only had three helpings of everything! I haven’t even begun to fill in the corners!”
“Ah, but we want to make sure we know where all the best desserts are, don’t we?”
“Well, yes, but … I suppose you’re right, Fatty.” Master Folco quickly stuffed the rest of his third helping of mushroom pie into his mouth and followed Master Freddy out of the kitchen.
“It weren’t until a few days later that I could finally get it out of poor Daisy that she had been bringing Mr. Bilbo’s and Mr. Frodo’s laundry back to Bag End so as everything would be clean for the party, when the wind blew some of Mr. Frodo’s smallclothes out of her basket and she had to try and grab it back. But the more she grabbed at it, the more the wind carried it into the air, even a pair of Mr. Bilbo’s smallclothes, so as I reckon it looked to poor Mr. Folco like she was dancing with them smallclothes,” Sam explained.
“Frodo’s and Bilbo’s smallclothes were blowing around the Shire and I missed it?” asked Pippin. “Sometimes, it’s a real hardship to be the youngest.”
Now all three of them were laughing, when there was a tiny rap on the door, and it opened to admit little Elanor, who ran over and jumped in her father’s lap.
“Daddy! Mam says it’s time for lunch!”
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