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Summary: Merry’s nursemaid is feeling a bit homesick on the holidays…
(Frodo is 15 and Merry is 10 months or 9 years and about 7 months in Man-years).
Dahlia was feeling a bit lonesome. She’d come to Brandy Hall, from her home in Whitfurrows, to be in service there. She’d thought that she would just be a serving maid, or perhaps an undercook in the kitchen. But when Mistress Brandybuck heard that Dahlia had experience caring for her younger brothers and sisters, she had suggested to the young Mistress, Mistress Esmeralda, that Dahlia might work out as little Master Meriadoc’s nursemaid.
And so she had. He was a bonny babe, she thought him. He had big grey eyes twinkling with joy, that followed a body all round the room. And he was seldom cross or fussy, save when he was teething, and he often crowed with squeals of laughter that made her feel happy just to listen to. She thought he was well named, for he really was merry by nature. She had grown quite fond of him.
And Mistress Esmeralda and Mr. Saradoc were ever so kind, though Dahlia thought she’d never get used to them trying to treat her like family. They was gentry, after all, and Mr. Saradoc the Son of the Hall and Heir to the Master, so it wasn’t really proper. But she thought it was better than if they were unkind or demanding, as she had heard some masters might be.
But it was poor little Master Frodo who made her life ever so much easier. He just doted on wee Master Merry. He often would help her with changing the babe’s nappies or feeding him. He was happy to carry the baby around, talking to him and playing with him.
At first, Dahlia had tried to stop him. He was only a little lad himself after all--he’d only just turned fifteen on his birthday. And he was gentry--nephew to Master Rorimac, and Mr. Saradoc’s first cousin, for all he was a Baggins. It made her feel at times as though she was shirking her work, when he would insist on taking care of Master Merry himself.
But then Mistress Esmeralda had explained things to Dahlia--how the lad’s parents had drowned and he was an orphan, poor thing, and that he’d been ever so sorrowful and still grieving, till Master Merry had been born. The mistress told Dahlia that she should let Master Frodo help as much as he was of a mind to, as long as it gave him joy, for they’d been ever so worried about him. Now she and Master Frodo had things worked out between them, and he would be at her side as he helped her. And of course, sometimes he had to be shooed off to his lessons with Mr. Dinodas, his uncle. And every so often, Mr. Saradoc or Mistress Esmeralda would tell him to go outside and get some fresh air and exercise. So it still left plenty for Dahlia to do.
But it was Yule.
And she missed her family.
The master and mistress had explained to her that after this year, she’d be free to go home for the holidays, but Master Merry was still too young this year.
Yet she might as well have gone home, for all she’d had to do. Yesterday had been First Yule, and it was the day for family--so once she’d dressed Master Merry and all, his parents and Master Frodo had taken the baby off with them to the Master’s apartment, where all the Brandybucks would be gathered. Master Frodo was ever so excited, because his Baggins uncle, Mr. Bilbo Baggins that was, who everybody in the Shire knew about--that had gone off and had an Adventure many years ago--had arrived. Dahlia had met him once or twice now, and he seemed ever so jolly and kind. She blushed to think how some folks she knew called him “Mad Baggins”. Why he weren’t no more mad than she was!
So she’d been alone in the Son of the Hall’s apartment the livelong day, with naught to do but a little bit of mending.
Today was supposed to be the day for the friends and acquaintances to call, and for the servants to have their holiday. But Dahlia didn’t know too many of the other servants yet, as she spent most of her time in the apartment. She’d struck up a bit of a friendship with one of the maidservants, Yarrow Bunce. But Yarrow had gone to Stock to be with her own family.
So now, here she was, alone again, and not even any mending to do. It was almost enough to make her want to weep--though she knew what her mother would say to that: “Tears don’t mend nothing, and just get the pillows wet.” Her mam was very practical that way, and good hobbit-sense it was, too.
Just then, the door opened, and Master Frodo came in, with Master Merry on his hip. Dahlia startled, for she had thought they were with Mr. Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda, gone to visit friends at Bucklebury.
“I’m that surprised to see you here, Master Frodo! Is aught wrong?”
He laughed and bounced Merry upon his hip, making the baby squeal with joy. “No, nothing is wrong. But it’s second Yule.” He said that as if she would know what he meant.
“Will you hold Merry, please?” he asked, handing the baby to her. She took the little one, and chuckled to herself. Only Master Frodo would think to ask the nursemaid so politely to do her job!
Frodo dashed off to his own little room, the other side of the master and mistresses’ room. She’d been a bit surprised that he’d been given a windowless room, but then Mistress Esmeralda confided that sometimes he wandered at night, and so this way they could keep an eye out for him leaving his room.
Master Merry turned his eyes on Dahlia, and burbled and blew a few bubbles from the side of his mouth as he cooed. He reached up to try and grab her hair, and she laughed at him. He made her feel much better.
Just then, Frodo came out. He had a small package in his hand. “I know Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme have already given you a gift, but this is from me, to thank you for taking such good care of my Merry!”
Dahlia gasped, and unbidden tears sprang to her eyes, though she blinked them away.
Frodo reached over, and handed her the package as he took his little cousin from her arms. “I hope you like it!”
Dahlia blushed, and untied the string that held the wrapping of muslin. “Oh, Master Frodo!”
In a rather crooked frame was a small watercolor painting. It was clearly done by a child, and yet the subject was quite recognizable--it was Dahlia herself, with Merry on her knee.
Frodo was watching her anxiously. “Do you like it?” he asked hopefully. “Cousin Margulas helped me make the frame.”
“Why, it’s the beautifullest picture I ever got!” she exclaimed sincerely and truthfully. No one had ever given her one before, but even if they had, it would not have touched her heart more.
Merry squirmed about in Frodo’s arms, and looked her way happily. “Meh!” he babbled.
Frodo giggled. “I think maybe he is telling you Merry Yule, Dahlia!”
She reached out an arm and embraced him, baby and all. “I think maybe you’re right Master Frodo.
These stories take place after this one:
WAITING FOR BILBO--It’s a cold morning in Foreyule, and it’s time for Bilbo to arrive at Brandy Hall…
BRANDY HALL ON FIRST YULE, S.R. 1388--A typical Yule at Brandy Hall (takes place a few days after the one above)
IN FROM THE COLD--A Yuletime journey to Buckland by Bilbo and Frodo takes a serious turn…
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