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Fashion Statements  by Grey Wonderer

Once again I have borrowed some Hobbits from Tolkien to tell a short story. This time, I have also played with the time line a bit. This story takes place when Merry is 27, Frodo is 41, and Pippin is 19 so Bilbo should have left the Shire 8 years before. In this story, Bilbo has not left as of yet because I needed him. So if you are doing the math and discover that Bilbo is a bit late in leaving, please forgive me. I know he should be gone, but I just had to do it. As always any suggestions will be welcome. This story, needless to say is AU thanks to Bilbo's presence.

Chapter 1 Party Clothes

"Explain to me again why we are going to this thing?" Merry groaned. The Brandybuck was stretched out on the bed in Frodoís room and he showed little sign of moving. In fact, he looked quite comfortable.

"Because, you retched, complaining, lazy lad, they are family and it is a family party," Frodo laughed as Merry held his nose and pretended to smell something foul.

"I donít mind that they are family, but they simply canít throw a party without getting me into trouble or boring me out of my mind!" Merry said still holding his nose so that he sounded as if he had a terrible cold. "Why do you suppose that is?" He said this last having let go of his nose.

"Maybe you just arenít a good party guest?" Frodo shrugged. He turned his back on Merry and began trying to select a vest to wear that evening.

Merry sighed. "At least it will be over by this time tomorrow. Oh, and I am a wonderful party guest if it is a decent party."

"Honestly, Merry. Youíd think we were going to take you out somewhere and beat you! Itís a party and there will be lasses there you know. You might find one that you can stand and that can stand you," Frodo teased. His cousin had no trouble finding and interesting the young lasses of the Shire. Since Merry had become interested in the lasses, they had seemed to follow him around at these parties. Merry usually had his pick of them.

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"I canít wear this thing!" Pervinca wailed holding up a red frock with small white dots on it. "I will be laughed at by everyone at the party!"

"Thatís really nothing new, Vince," Pippin grinned, sitting down on his sisterís bed.

"Pippin! Behave or go away," Pearl said, in that stern motherly voice that she could use quite well. "Darling, you donít really have much choice do you?" Pearl asked her younger sister.

"Sure she does, Pearl. She could just not go," Pippin smiled and leaned back on the bed.

"One more word, Pippin and I am going to see to it that you have to eat without any teeth!" Pervinca growled leaning over her younger brother and waving a fist in his face. This seemed to work much better than Pearlís method. Pervinca had hit Pippin before and the memory of it made him pause. Pearl was less of a threat when it came down to it. The nineteen-year-old lad knew how to get on Pearlís good side but as far as he knew, Pervinca didnít have a good side.

"Mother is not being fair! This looks like something that an old maid would wear to tea right before dying." Pervinca sighed hanging the dress in question from the top of her wardrobe. Pervinca put her hands on her hips and glared at the dress. At twenty-four she was becoming quite a fair looking lass, but she still had the manners of a spoiled child.

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"This looks quite wonderful on you my lad," Bilbo was saying as Merry tried not to laugh at his older cousin.

"Are you sure it isnít too big, Uncle?" Frodo suggested in a hopeful tone.

"Why nonsense, lad. It fits you quite well. Donít you think it looks quite stylish, Merry?" Bilbo said turning to Merry who was now sitting on the bed grinning.

"I really do, Bilbo," Merry agreed and Frodo shot him a look of death from behind Bilboís back.

"Maybe Merry should wear this waistcoat then. After all I am quite sure that you only have the one." Frodo suggested and as Bilbo turned to Frodo, Merryís eyes widened in horror. Letís see you charm the lasses of the Shire in this Frodo thought.

"Iím afraid that it wonít fit Merry. He is a bit too stout for it," Bilbo said.

"Stout?" Merry frowned and proceeded to stand and look down at his stomach. He was not stout, he was just a proper Brandybuck and the Brandybucks were sturdy.

Frodo grinned as he watched Merry preening and trying to determine if there was any truth in what Bilbo had said. Bilboís next words wiped the smile right off of Frodoís face. "It is nice of you to want to share with your cousin, Frodo my lad, but it would please me a great deal to have you wear one of my treasured old waistcoats."

"Then I shall be honored to do so," Frodo said. He tried to sound honored in spite of the fact that he felt as if heíd been cursed. The waistcoat was quite awful and he would probably frighten ponies if he stood too near them, never mind lasses. No he was going to be spending the evening in a very dark corner hoping no one noticed him much. He would have to wear it as he couldnít hurt Bilbo, but he wouldnít enjoy it.

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"Now, Pervinca, you know that it will hurt Aunt Opalís feelings if you didnít wear it. You have no choice," Pearl said, trying to sound sympathetic.

"Well, why did she make me a frock with such a high neck line? It has a ruffled collar that will completely hide, well, hide everything," Pervinca groaned as she looked down at her chest then over at her older sister.

"I doubt anything will hide all of that, Vince," Pippin grinned, sitting up on the bed.

"Donít you have anything at all to do?" Pervinca demanded. "I mean didnít some member of the family make you something dreadful to wear to this dance?"

"Nope. Guess Iím not anyoneís favorite," Pippin sighed, trying to look hurt and failing.

"Well, it is probably because youíre so skinny that they didnít think youíd look good in much of anything," Pervinca suggested.

"I am not skinny!" Pippin objected, standing and looking at himself in his sisterís mirror.

Pearl smiled and Pervinca was now in charge. "You could slide through the slats in a picket fence, Pippin!" Pervinca said, "Without touching the posts."

"I could not and thatís not very nice," Pippin growled. This would have been true had he not been the one to start all of this by torturing his older sister first. As it was, she had every right to get even if she could. Calling Pippin skinny was just the way too. He was quite sensitive about being so thin.

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"You could have helped me you know," Frodo hissed at Merry after Bilbo had left the room.

"What would be the fun in that?" Merry grinned. "Besides, he was going to get you all along. You know you never can refuse him anything."

"Well, itís just that he has been so good to me and he really doesnít ask for much in return," Frodo explained.

"Well, then you should be honored to wear a brightly flowered waistcoat that was hand stitched by Bilboís mother to the Tookís boring party," Merry said, patting Frodo on the shoulder.

"Get away from me you stout hobbit," Frodo returned.

Merry frowned. "Frodo do you really think Iím too heavy?" Merry was looking at himself in the mirror now.

Frodo smiled. "No, Merry, Iím only teasing." Frodo enjoyed teasing Merry but he didnít want to make the lad self-conscious before the dance. He would find a way to get even for Merryís lack of support on this waistcoat issue later.

"What are you wearing?" Frodo asked suddenly trying to change the subject.

"Well, whatever it is no one will notice once they get a gander at that," Merry smiled, patting Frodo on the vwaistcoat. "You just better hope Sam doesnít see you in it and try to water you. He might mistake you for a flower garden." Merry smirked.

"I take it back. You are very stout. In fact, if you were any stouter youíd look like some sort of melon with a head!" Frodo shot back. "I do look like a flower garden donít I?"

"A very ugly flower garden, Iím afraid," Merry nodded.

Chapter 2 Alterations

"Iíll just have to make the best of this," Pervinca sighed, running her hands down the length of the skirt, "But I think Iím going to have to hem it a bit or it will be too long. What do you think, Pearl?"

"I think you should fold it and try to make a hat of it," Pippin responded.

"You are not Pearl," Pervinca declared.

"Also, you arenít helping very much, Pippin," Pearl said. "You know, you may find yourself in a similar situation some day. Father has some perfectly dreadful looking jackets and one day you just might grow into them."

Pippinís eyes widened. "Iíve seen those jackets. For once, I really hope I donít grow much."

"Well, if you want to get any help later on, then you should be nice to Pervinca. After all, she is the seamstress in this family and you might need a bit of help at some point."

"He doesnít care that I shall look like a fool," Pervinca said in an overly dramatic tone.

"I do too, Vince. Iím sorry," Pippin said and he genuinely was. Pippin could be the very devil at times but he did love his sisters dearly, even Pervinca. "What can I do to help?"

Pervinca and Pearl turned to each other and smiled.

"Oops!" Pippin knew he was in trouble from the looks on their faces. Just how much trouble remained to be seen.

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Frodo managed to avoid the waistcoat during the wagon ride to Tuckborough. He, with Merryís help, convinced Bilbo that the dust from the road might ruin it; therefore he shouldnít wear the waistcoat to travel in. At least no one in Hobbiton would see him in it. Who was he kidding? There would be hobbits from all over the Shire at the Tookís party.

"So, do you suppose Estella Bolger will be coming?" Merry asked trying to sound casual.

"Oh, I suppose she might, but what will you do about Fredergar?" Frodo asked. "You know he isnít fond of the idea of you spending time with his little sister."

"I know and heís supposed to be my friend. Wonder why he doesnít want me to talk to Estella?" Merry frowned.

"Because heís your friend and heís seen you with lasses before," Frodo grinned. "After all, she is his sister."

"I guess so. Still, I do kind of fancy her. But maybe there will be some other lasses that are whatís the word, buxom maybe?" Merry smiled.

"Yes, that would be the word," Bilbo sighed. Young hobbit lads were quite silly at this age. Merry would probably do something quite unfortunate at this party if not watched closely. Frodo was a fine lad, but there was also a chance that he would do something silly too. Besides, when the lasses got a taste of the Baggins charm and a look at that waistcoat, Frodo would have to run to stay ahead of his female admirers.

Frodo laughed at Merry. "So you want a lass with a bit of bounce?"

Merry grinned. "More than a bit if possible. Iíd like a lass with a good solid waist and one that fills out her frock nicely. I donít want to spend the night dancing with someone built like a walking stick."

"I suspect that you shall find a willing partner or two," Frodo said.

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"This isnít fair, you know," Pippin objected.

"Just hold still while we hem this thing," Pearl mumbled, her mouth full of pins.

Poor Pippin was standing on top of a foot stool in the middle of the room in Pervincaís ugly dress. He had been drafted as dress makerís dummy and this wasnít the first time. His sisters were always doing stuff like this to him. Why oh why did he have so many sisters? Three was far too many and all of them were older and much pushier. It just wasnít fair.

"Yes, hold still, Pippin or this will take longer," Pervinca warned. "It is very lucky that you are nearly the same size as me."

"Lucky for who?" Pippin asked, folding his arms across his chest.

"Put your arms down to your sides. It changes the length of the dress when you do that," Pervinca ordered. She was always giving orders. Pippin dropped his arms and sighed.

"Maybe I will take the waist in a bit," Pervinca said. She grinned at her little brother who looked quite silly in the red frock. She would look almost as silly but at least she will fill out the top of the bodice. "Pippin, you simply have no hips."

"Iím not supposed to! Iím a lad, remember?" He hoped they did remember. Sometimes when they were all here for weeks on end and his sisters were his only company, he had trouble convincing them that he didnít like some of the things that they did. He never should have let them talk him into this!

"What on earth are you doing in here?" Pimpernel laughed as she came in.

"Shut the door," Pippin frowned, turning slightly pink with embarrassment at having yet another sister see him in Vinceís dress.

"Oh, Pippin, you look darling!" Nell purred.

"I do not," Pippin said folding his arms again and getting a chorus of "Pippin put your arms down!" From Pearl and Pervinca.

There he stood in a room full of sisters in a bright red frock with a very itchy collar and a skirt that flounced all around even when he stood still. They had insisted that he remove his shirt and then once they had put the dress on over his head, they had demanded his trousers! He found that he was a bit cool as the air moved under the skirt. How did lasses wear these things?

"Arenít we about through?" Pippin demanded. He was tired of standing still.

"No, we are not," Pervinca said, sternly. "I have decided to take it in a bit here in the back."

"Careful, Pervinca, you know you arenít as thin as Pippin. You might get it too tight," Nell warned.

"Yes, be careful, Vince. I think itís tight enough," Pippin put in.

"What do you know about frocks, Pippin?" Pervinca asked.

"Well, a wee bit more than I want to," Pippin sighed, looking down at the dress.

"All those dots!" Nell said, shaking her head ruefully.

"Yes and I canít do anything about them," Pervinca sighed.

"Well, all of you had better get a move on as it is getting rather late and the guests will arrive soon," Nell said. "That was what I came in here to tell you but I was mesmerized by Pippinís beauty and unable to think straight."

The lasses laughed and Pippin fidgeted and turned bright red. "Thatís not funny, Nell."

"Pervinca, if you donít need me, I think I will go and get ready then," Pearl said.

"Iíll be fine," Pervinca assured her older sister.

"Oy, I might want to get ready," Pippin reminded them.

"You are a lad. It takes you almost no time to get ready," Nell said as she and Pearl headed for the door and out into the hall.

"If Iím a lad, then why am I wearing this frock?" Pippin moaned.

"You said you would help, now hold still," Pervinca said. As she was behind him, Pippin could not see the evil grin on his older sisterís face.

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Chapter 3††††††† Hide!†††††††††††

Well, so you finally made it," Paladin Took greeted them in the front hall as they entered Tuckborough. Merry always found it a bit too formal. Everything here was made of something breakable. How had Pippin managed to grow up around all of this glass-wear? How was there any of this glass-wear left? Merry supposed that because Pippinís family lived at Whitwell most of the time, some of this stuff had been saved, but still he wondered.

"My, donít you lads look all grown up?" Paladin smiled.

"Yes, well, youíve seen nothing as of yet," Bilbo said proudly as Frodoís heart went into his throat. "Wait until Frodo puts on his vest for the evening."

Paladin looked interested. "Oh, something new?"

"No, very old actually. A bit of a family heirloom if you will," Bilbo said, brimming with pride. Frodo saw Merry trying to hold off a bout of the giggles and gave him a warning look.

"Why donít we go and see if we can find Pippin?" Frodo suggested.

"Oh, heíll be down in a bit. His sisters are probably trying to get him into something suitable for this evening," Paladin said, waving a hand.

Frodo watched as Merry frowned. Merry thought that Pippinís sisters took too much interest in the ladís manners and clothes. If left unchecked, they would make an affected little sissy out of his Pip. Frodo, on the other hand thought that it might be quite nice to have a house full of adoring sisters. As an only child, he always felt he was missing something. Merry, on the other hand, was the perfect only child. He had no use for sisters and he had adopted Pippin and Frodo as substitute brothers so he was happy. Still, at times, Frodo envied Pippin.

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Pervinca smiled and stood. She admired her handiwork. She was a very talented seamstress after all and this was some of her best work! Right under Pearlís nose too! That made it even better. Now, it was going to become better still. "Turn around here, Pippin."

Pippin turned slowly on the wobbly stool and faced his sister who was standing there, smiling. It was that funny smile that she usually got when she was up to something. This was not a good sign. "What did you do?" Pippin demanded.

"Why I did exactly what I said I was going to do and you were a very big help, little brother," Pervinca said, putting her hands behind her back and swaying with pride.

"I was?" Pippin asked, feeling like his stomach might roll over. No, she was up to something.

As if on cue, Pervinca moved over to the bed, picked up Pippinís trousers and started for the door.

"Oy! What are you doing?" Pippin demanded in a quavering voice.

"Teaching you a lesson and getting out of wearing that silly frock all at the same time!" His older sister explained as she opened the door a bit.

"Vince, this isnít funny! Give me my trousers!" Pippin roared. "What did you do to this dress?"

He reached around to try and get the buttons lose, but was having trouble reaching them. Also when he tried to unfasten them, they didnít seem to move. He was starting to panic. "Vincia!"

"I am a very good seamstress, Pip squeak! In fact I think I have gone and sewed you right into that party dress," she smiled, wickedly.

Pippin started to move forward and tipped the stool over landing soundly on his rump on the floor. The red frock spread itself around him like a fan. "Vincia, Iím telling if you donít get me out of this now!"

"Fine, you do that, Pip. You come out of this room in that frock with a house full of guests and you tell." She was grinning so broadly now that she looked as if her face might split.

"Vincia! Please, donít leave me in this!" Pippin wailed and got to his feet. He would tackle her and demand that she get†him out of this†dress! As he moved toward her, she stuck her head out into the hall and called out, "Hullo, Frodo, Merry. So glad that you could come. Have you seen Pippin yet?"

Pippin changed course and dove under Pervincaís bed. He couldnít let Frodo and Merry see him in this thing. Merry would never let him forget this. The teasing would be unbearable. He would have to stay hidden.

Smiling, Pervinca walked out into the empty hall. Pippin was so easy to fool. It was almost a shame. Almost.

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Frodo was standing with his back to the wall of the greatball room at Tuckborough and hoping that no one he knew would see him. The vest looked dreadful. He really did look like a flower garden! Bilbo had drug him about showing off the vest and regaling anyone he could locate with tales of his dear mother who had been a Took. Frodo sighed. Merry was right. None of the Tooks had any taste. Bilboís mother couldnít help it as she had been a Took.

"Do you suppose that Bilbo was beaten up a great deal as a lad?" Merry asked.

"I would guess that he was if he dressed like this all of the time," Frodo answered.

"Iím going to go and get something to eat and maybe check for Estella. You want to come?" Merry asked.

"Iím not risking it. I think Iíll just try to stay out of sight," Frodo said, backing closer to the wall. "Oh, and Merry?"

"Yes, Frodo?"

"If you run into Pippin, donít tell him where I am," Frodo said, nervously.

"Right you are, Frodo. He might like the vest and want to show you off," Merry grinned.

"I will get even with you†for all of this, Merry," Frodo warned.

"I know, but frankly itís too much fun teasing you to worry about the payback part just now," Merry winked and walked toward the crowd near the table. Frodo found a small curtained off alcove and slipped into it.

---------------------------------------------------


Pippin crawled out from under Pervincaís bed and caught sigh of himself in the mirror. This was just awful! He looked like an idiot! Here he was a prisoner in this evil red frock. Somewhere there was food and music and Merry and Frodo, but he had to stay out of sight. He was starting to get hungry and that was clouding his judgment a bit.

This part of the smial would be empty now as everyone would be at the party so he might be able to get out of this room and , and , then what? Where could he go like this? He had to get help with this dress and he had to get revenge on Pervinca! If he could make it to one of the small hallways and get to the party area, he might be able to find Frodo or Merry. No, he didnít want them to see him in this, but at least he could count on them, after a bit of teasing to get him out of it. If anyone sees me, I will never live this down, though. The dress makes me look like a lass, but this is still my face and my hair. I can't go out because someone will recognize me.

Pippin sank onto the bed to think. The dress was a bit too tight and he noticed for the first time that it had a huge bow in the back! Lovely! Wait, what was that? Something on the dresser had caught his eye. He got up to inspect it and found that it was a big straw hat with some sort of red berries around the rim and a red bow that tired under the chin. Pippin picked the hat up and tried it on. It hid most of his hair and at the right angle it hid his face! If he put this thing on and tied it and then kept his head down, he might be able to go and get help. If he could find his mum, she would purely kill Pervinca for dressing him like a lass. She would also kill Pervinca for not wearing this dress! Pippin didnít blame his sister for not wanting to wear this thing. It was rather ugly and uncomfortable, but this was a rather nice hat. Pippin what are you thinking?

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Frodo watched Merry flirt and dance from his hidden corner. He was having a dreadful time, but he was safe from prying eyes. If only he had just had the nerve to tell Bilbo how he felt! Yes if only you had decided to break his heart, then you would be dancing with the lasses also. No, he had done the right thing no matter how painful it had been. Everyone that Bilbo had showed him off to had also been polite. Paladin Took and Saradoc Brandybuck had both nearly laughed, Frodo was sure, but each had managed not to in the final minutes.

Frodo saw Merry go gliding by with Estella Bolger and knew that at least one hobbit was having a good time at this party. That was very ironic as Merry was the one that had been dreading this thing. Frodo had been looking forward to it until Bilbo had decided to gift him with the flowered vest. Frodo supposed that Bilbo was also having a good time reminiscing about his dear mother and showing off her stitching at Frodoís expense. Yes, Bilbo and Merry were quite happy.

On the other hand, Fatty Bolger didnít look at all pleased. Frodo noticed that Fatty had been watching Merry and Estella for some time now. Fatty would split them up if he could and probably soon. If he hadnít been wearing this vest, Frodo would have gone out and gladly run interference for Merry and Estella, but as it was, Merry was on his own.†

Chapter 4 Close To The Vest

"Wonder where Frodoís got to?" Bilbo frowned surveying the room.

Beside him, Saradoc smiled and said, "If heís smart, heís found somewhere to hide."

"Oh, well, he," Bilbo fumbled confused by Saradocís remark. "Hide?"

"Yes, if I were dressed like a May garden, I think Iíd be hiding now," Saradoc said.

"Are you insulting the waistcoat that my dear mother made?" Bilbo said, turning slightly red and glaring up at Saradoc. Merryís father was a very imposing hobbit, but Bilbo Baggins had fought off dragons and trolls and giant spiders so Saradoc didnít frighten him in the least.

"Yes, Bilbo, I am afraid that I am doing just that," Saradoc sighed and put his arm around the older Hobbitís shoulders. "You see, I think that Frodo is just being nice. I believe that the lad is dying of embarrassment even as we speak."

"Why whatever would make you think that? Everyone says that it is a lovely waistcoat. You even said as much. Now you seem to be insinuating that it is something to be ashamed of," Bilbo frowned.

"Do you remember when you got that waistcoat?" Saradoc asked.

"Why of course I do! I may be old, but Iím not feeble," Bilbo retorted. "Why my mother made it for me on the occasion of my twentieth birthday as a gift. I was a bit stouter than Frodo is by the time I was his age, but at twenty, I think my Took side was still in charge of my weight." The Tooks were normally a bit taller and thinner than other hobbits.

"And did you wear it to the party or did she give it to you after the party?" Saradoc prodded.

"Why she gave it to for the party. I remember that she presented it to me and that she was so proud of the work that she had put into it," Bilbo reflected. Saradoc could tell that the old hobbit was remembering his mother and he almost stopped what he was about to do. For Frodoís sake, he felt he had to go forward.

"And you were thrilled to receive such a well-thought-out and beautiful gift. You couldnít wait to show it off," Saradoc said, looking at Bilbo who was becoming a bit pale now.

"Thatís right. I, oh dear," Bilbo moaned. "I believe that I spent most of my twentieth birthday hiding from the lads that were teasing me. Your father told me that I looked like an embroider sofa cushion in it!"

Saradoc smiled and nodded. "Things made with love by those we love can sometimes be dreadfully ugly, canít they?"

"Oh, poor Frodo!" Bilbo sighed. "Maybe I am a bit feeble after all. I have to find him and tell him to take that dreadful thing off before he misses the entire party."

"If I were you, Iíd look in very dark corners and maybe the pantry," Saradoc suggested.

______________________________

Chapter 5 Merry's Partners

Frodo managed to duck back into the corner just as Bilbo went by. That was close! He knew that his uncle was looking for him and he felt guilty for hiding from him, but he simply couldnít stand to be paraded about the room in this waistcoat!

Just now an interesting conversation was taking place near his corner and it was loud enough for him to hear. Normally, he wouldnít eavesdrop but he had nothing else to do so maybe he could pick up some interesting gossip for the Gaffer. Gaffer Hamfast Gamgee did like a good rumor.

His aunt Eglantine was angry with his cousin Pervinca about something. Eglantine Took had a firm hold on her youngest daughter's arm and was whispering. Frodo almost laughed. That must be where Pippin gets it. His young cousin couldnít whisper. It sounded like a whisper, but was at near full volume. Eglantine was doing that sort of a whisper now.

"You better have an excellent reason for upsetting your Aunt Opal, Pervinca Took!"

"Momma, keep your voice down, someone will hear you," Pervinca hissed back also too loudly. Frodo sighed. It must be a family problem. None of them could whisper apparently and none of them seemed to realize that they werenít whispering. Amazing!

"Well, where is that dress and why donít you have it on?"

The real answer would get her killed so Pervinca decided to fib a bit. "Well, you should speak to Pippin about that!"

"What has your little brother to do with this?" Eglantine asked, her voice a bit louder now.

"He was supposed to be standing still while I hemmed it and he-" Pervinca got no further than this as her mother interrupted.

"Pervinca! You didnít put that dress on Pippin!" Frodo had to smother a laugh. This was priceless. He was so sorry that Merry was missing this. Pippin in a dress! Sort of like putting a bonnet on a puppy! Poor Pip!

"Only to hem it, but he ruined it," Pervinca sniffed as thought this hurt her deeply. "He is probably somewhere hiding right now."

"What did he do?" Eglantine demanded to know in a now normal tone of voice.

"He was squirming about so that he ripped the waist and I just didnít have time to repair it, Momma," Pervinca lied masterfully. Eglantine wrapped her arm around her devious daughter, completely taken in and the two walked out of ear shot.

Frodo laughed softly. This explained Pippinís absence from the party. He was in trouble yet again and was hiding from his mother. Looks like somebody is going to get a serious punishment.

________________________________________

Pippin was quite proud of himself. He had made it to the far ballroom door without seeing a single hobbit! Now he was outside of a room full of them. All he had to do was locate his mum or in desperation, Merry or Frodo or maybe Pearl! He was becoming desperate too. The dress was a bit itchy around the collar and the waist and he was very tired of all of this! Also, the hat kept slipping to one side. He guessed there was a trick to tying these ribbon things but he didnít know it.

Pippin peeked out from under the hat and scanned the room for help. He saw his mum, but she had Pervinca in tow and they were leaving the room at the far side. Maybe mum would kill Pervinca for not wearing the dress! That would be worth seeing if only he could get across the room, but that would be impossible. No, heíd just have to hear about it later which would be almost as good.

Suddenly, he saw Merry! He was dancing with Estella Bolger. No wait, Fatty was stepping between them and waltzing away with Estelle. Fatty had cut in! Now was his chance. Merry needed a dance partner and he was about to get one. Pippin you have sunk to a new low!

Merry was standing there was his mouth open. "Fatty!" Just as he had decided to confront the Bolger lad, someone streaked out of the hall doorway and into his arms. He felt himself being pulled back toward the doorway but he resisted. The bold lass was wearing a hat! He couldnít see her face and she was much too thin, but the hat intrigued him.

"Easy there, lass. You wanted to dance, so letís dance," Merry said, pulling his new admirer onto the dance floor. She was a bit reluctant, but he was stronger and the music was in his favor. She must have lost her nerve, but he would help her find it. He wanted a look under the hat!

Merry noticed Frodo watching from the alcove and he grinned as if to say, look snagged another one! Poor Frodo, spending the party in the corner would be worse than dancing with one of the Bracegirdle lasses! Pippin had got stuck with one at the last party and she was twice his size and uglier than a mule in the mud!

"So, are you going to tell me your name or are you going to keep me in suspense?" Merry asked his new dancing partner as he pulled her close and led her expertly through a complex dance step. She was, at least, a good dancer. That would help make up for other shortcomings a bit.

__________________________

Frodo!" It was Bilboís voice and Frodo knew he was caught.

"Oh, there you are!" Frodo turned the tables. Make Bilbo think heíd been looking for him.

Bilbo smiled. "Are you having a good time, my lad?"

"Oh, yes and everyone just loves the waistcoat." Frodo lied, though not very well.

"Oh, really? Who?" Bilbo asked.

"Ah, well, you know, e-everyone," Frodo stammered.

"I know," Bilbo said. Frodo heaved a small sigh of relief. Bilbo thought that everyone loved the waistcoat. He hated to lie, but it was far better than hurting his uncleís feeling.

"No, I know that you donít like the waistcoat, my lad," Bilbo smiled and squeezed Frodoís shoulder.

"How, I mean itís not that I donít like it, itís just not the sort of thing, well," Frodo gave up. "Merry told you didnít he?"

"No, but you are close to the mark. Seems the apple doesnít fall far from the tree. Saradoc figured it out," Bilbo smiled. He reached over and removed the waistcoat from Frodo. "Now, why donít we go and get a bit to eat and then you can dance with some of the lasses before your cousin takes them all."

"Yes, he has one Iíve never seen now," Frodo said, pointing to Merry and his partner as they moved gracefully across the dance floor.

"Hullo, Frodo lad. Bilbo," Saradoc smiled walking over to them. "Frodo, I thought Merry was interested in the Bolger lass."

"Thatís what I thought also, Uncle Saradoc, but Fatty broke in on that and now Merry has a new partner," Frodo smiled at Saradoc.

"Tell your uncle thank you Frodo," Bilbo grinned. "You know you want to."

"Thank you," Frodo smiled over at Saradoc and at that moment Paladin Took joined them.

__________________________________________

"Well, you do have a name donít you?" Merry said, and he tried to bend down to peek under the hat, but his partner ducked.

"For a lass that waylaid me, you certainly have gotten shy," Merry laughed. He found it oddly attractive. It drew him to this new lass. Maybe Estella Bolger wasnít the only lass for him.

"Donít be angry, Merry and try not to laugh," Pippinís voice said weakly. Merry found himself looking around to try and locate the source and then suddenly he knew.

"Pippin if that is you under that hat, you are a dead hobbit child," Merry hissed. "Look at me."

Pippin lifted his head and let his eyes meet Merryís. "Merry, I can explain."

"I doubt that. I seriously doubt that." Merry glared at him and stopped dancing. The two of them were standing in the center of the dance floor not moving. Pippin had lowered his head.

"I can explain. Vince sewed me into her frock. Then she dared me to leave her room and I had to get out of this only I canít and so I put on this hat and came to find you or Frodo or my mum. Honest, Merry, "Pippin said. "I wasnít trying to fool you. It isnít a joke and I never thought it would be funny! I just want to get out of this frock!"

Paladin frowned, "What do you suppose Merry and his little lass are up to?"

"I have no idea," Saradoc admitted, "But it looks as if they are having a bit of a row right there on the dance floor."

"Frodo lad, are you all right?" Bilbo asked. Frodo was staring intently at Merry and the lass in the hat. He looked as if he were studying them.

"No, it canít be," Frodo murmured.

"Sorry?" Bilbo was confused. Saradoc and Paladin were now watching Merry and the Lass to see if they could get an idea of what Frodo was seeing. Frodo had the advantage, however. Had heard Pervinca and Eglantine taking earlier and some how he thought that Merryís new lass might just be Merryís favorite cousin! Frodo was grinning now.

Out on the dance floor, Fatty Bolger was approaching Merry with an unfriendly look in his eyes. "Merry Brandybuck, I want to have a word with you."

Everyone was watching now. Everyone except Pippin who had lowered his head and was trying desperately to look very small. Usually the little Took was trying to look taller than he was but now, he was hoping that a board in the flooring would slide back and he would fall into the lower levels of the Smial and disappear! Merry was suddenly nervous too.

Thinking fast, Merry wrapped his arm around Pippin's waist and whispered, "Dance." He then began leading them toward the far end of the room. "Sorry Fatty, but Iím busy at the moment."

"Merry, where are we -" Pippin began in his Tookish whisper which had Fatty craning his neck to hear, but Merry leaned forward, put his hand over Pippinís mouth and kissed the back of his own hand. From Fattyís perspective, it would look as if Merry were planting a kiss on his partnerís lips and not his own hand!

Frodo was doubling over with laughter! Bilbo looked at him in confusion and at that moment, Merry got close enough for Saradoc to grab him by the back of his collar and drag him over to them. Pippin was caught in the process as Merry still had his hand over the Tookís mouth.

"Oh, my, Merryís lass has very large feet doesnít she?" Bilbo whispered to Paladin. Large feet on a female hobbit were not considered to be a good thing.

"I recognize those feet," Paladin moaned, and put his head down.

"Come here," Saradoc said, firmly steering Merry toward him. In an effort to get free, Merry let go of Pippin and the little Took fell flat on his face on the floor.

There was a collective awwwww, from the dance floor and Pippin begin trying to right himself but he was having trouble with the skirt.

Paladin sighed and pulled his only son to his feet. Pippin came dangerously close to losing the hat, but managed to put a hand on it and hold it in place.

"Nice dress, Pip," Frodo said.

"Howíd you know it was me?" Pippin wondered looking up at Frodo.

"Keep your head down," Merry hissed. "You'll get us both laughed right out of the smial."

"Iím guessing that this is quite a story," Saradoc laughed.

Merry blushed. "I had nothing to do with this."

"I think the best thing to do is to retire to a quiet room and hear this interesting tale," Bilbo recommended, "before anyone else realizes what is happening."

Chapter 6 Explanations

"But, father, he deserved it! I was only paying him back for the way he teased me!" Pervinca Took was whining. The minute that she had seen the men go into the study with someone in Pervincaís dress, Eglantine had hauled her daughter in there to get to the bottom of things.

All the while that Pervinca was pleading her case, Pippin was pulling at the collar on the dress and squirming. While he was enjoying his sisterís plight, his own situation was becoming quite uncomfortable. The itching was worse. "Stand still or youíll tear that dress," his mother commanded.

"But mum, it itches something fierce!" Pippin complained. Beside of him, Merry reached over and began to rub his cousinís back. It helped some, but not enough. "Mum, please?" Pippin tried.

"Eglantine, will you get the lad out of that frock?" Paladin groaned.

"Yes, dear."

"Discreetly, Eglantine. The fewer folks that know about this, the better." Paladin looked as if he might want to hide for a while and Frodo felt sorry for him. Hiding wasnít a great deal of fun.

"Pervinca, you will come along and I will have a bit of a surprise for you young lady!" Eglantine said, sternly.

"Mum, I hardly think she deserves a surprise," Pippin objected, as his mother lead him and his sister from the room.

Paladin sighed. "Not one word, Saradoc," he warned.

Saradoc grinned. "I wouldn't dream of saying anything about Pippinís frock, Paladin. After all, my son was dancing with him." He looked over at Merry who blushed furiously and began to object.

"Well, I didnít know it was him!í

"That was quite clear when you were grinning like an idiot at me and looking quite pleased with your new conquest," Frodo smiled.

"Frodo!" Merry growled.

"Oh, really?" Saradoc grinned.

"It was that darn hat," Merry said.

"What?" Paladin wondered.

"Well, the way he kept hiding behind that hat, well, it was kind of interesting. I must like hats on lasses because that was what I was, well, I did think he was a lass you know!" Merry said.

"Oh, yes, you were completely fooled," Frodo offered in a helpful voice. "From where I was standing, I thought you were going to be very proud of yourself for quite some time for having danced with this one."

"Frodo," Merry moaned.

"I'm just trying to help you sort it all out, Merry," Frodo said.

"Well, quit helping me," Merry pleaded.

"Now, we are even, cousin," Frodo grinned.

Chapter 7†††† Crime and Punishment

"How you feeling, Pip?" Merry asked as he entered Pippinís bedroom along with Frodo.

"Better, but it still itches!" Pippin sighed, scratching at his neck which was covered in tiny, red welts. "The healer says Iím allergic to something that Vinceís dress is made from."

Merry smiled and shook his head. "This is it and I am giving you fair warning in front of Frodo, Pip." Merry said sitting down on the bed.

"Fair warning 'bout what Merry?" Pippin asked. He was scratching at his waist now.

"I am never coming to another one of this Took parties!" Merry declared. "There I have said it and I am glad."

"I didnít have a very good time either, Merry, but we have to keep trying," Pippin said, as he squirmed a bit and scratched at his arm which Frodo noticed was also broken out.

"Why do we have to keep trying, Pip? I mean do you really want to go through something like this again next year? Remember the bees, Pip? Remember he year that you and I got stung and the year that the table collapsed and the cake fell on my, well, you remember. How can you suggest that we keep trying?" Merry asked, running a hand through Pippins hair.

"Well, I have to you know and it will be awfully lonely without you and Frodo," Pippin smiled at his older cousins.

"It pains me to do it, but I will be here again next year Pippin," Frodo assured him and Pippin smiled.

"Thank you, Frodo. Come on, Merry. You did get to dance with Estella Bolger and folks at least think you were dancing with another lass," Pippin grinned.

"I donít want to talk about that, Pippin," Merry growled.

Pippin nodded and scratched his other arm. The poor hobbit was miserable. Pippin sank back into the covers and yawned, still scratching. "They gave me something for this itching and they put something in my bath, but I donít think itís working very good."

"Give it time." Frodo suggested. "Youíll probably be fine by morning."

"I hope so," Pippin sighed.

"Well, tell us," Merry prodded.

"Tell you what?" Pippin frowned.

"What did they do to Pervinca?" Merry asked.

Pippin yawned and scratched and then yawned again. It was obvious that he had been given something to make him sleep. "Youíll know when you see her at breakfast tomorrow." Pippin said between yawns and then drifted off to sleep.

___________________________________________

As Frodo and Merry turned the corner in the hall on their way to their own beds, they ran into Paladin Took.

"Hullo, Uncle," Merry said, head down and still feeling†embarrassed†about†dancing with Pippin.

"Just on our way to bed and we stopped in to check on Pippin," Frodo said.

"How is he?" Paladin asked.

"He fell asleep while we were there, but he has quite a rash and is very itchy from something in the material of that dress," Frodo explained.

Paladin sighed. "Gentlemen, I need your help."

"How so, Uncle?" Frodo asked and Merry looked up curiously.

"We have to keep that lad away from his sisters for a while before they completely ruin him."

"I have thought that too." Merry agreed before Paladin could get a breath.

"Good, because I am hoping to send Pippin to Buckland to spend a month or so. You will look out for him wonít you, Merry?" Paladin asked.

"Of course." Merry said. He was pleased to be getting Pippin for a while without the lasses. He knew that Pippin would be pleased also.

"Oh, and Merry?" Paladin said, as he turned to go, "I am not under any circumstances letting him take that hat with him."

Merry groaned and Frodo broke into a laugh. "You are evil, Frodo Baggins."

"Yes, but so are you, Merry. Pippin is the sweet one, remember?" Frodo smiled.

________________________________________

The next morning Pippin was less itchy and able to come to breakfast. The healer said that it might take a couple of days for the rash to go away, but it was already much improved.

As the three lads were devouring their breakfasts, Pearl and Pervinca entered and sat down and Merry and Frodo had to smile. Pearl gave them warning looks in a protective older sister way so neither of them said anything. Pervincia had her head down and was looking very glum. She was wearing the red party dress with the white dots. It seems that Eglantine Took felt that the punishment should fit the crime and Pervinca had been sentenced to wear the evil red dress for an entire week!

They ate in silence until finally Pervinca spoke. "Pippin?"

"Yes?" Pippin looked up from his breakfast at his sister.

"I am sorry about the rash at least," Pervinca offered. It was as close to an apology as she was likely to come and Pippin smiled.

"Itís better, Vince," Pippin said, "Besides, now father is worried that you lasses are ruining me and so he is letting me spend the whole month with Merry at Buckland!" Pippin grinned even wider.

"It seems that I did you a bit of a favor then," Pervinca smiled and Merry choked on his eggs.

"Oh, yes, Vince," Pippin agreed. "But next time, show me how to tie the bow on the hat. I couldnít quite get that bit."

"I think father is right," Pearl groaned.

Pippin grinned. "Iím teasing, Pearl. The next time I want a hat without a bow." He laughed at his sister's expressions.

"Honestly, Pippin," Pearl said.

"Vince?" Pippin said, suddenly.

"Yes?"

"You do seem to fill it out a bit better at the top than I did," Pippin grinned wickedly at his sister.

Frodo and Merry hid their†smirks as best they could.

"You best watch. You have to come home sometime," Pervinca reminded him.

_______________________________________________

As they were leaving for Buckland, Merry and Frodo watched as Pippin went over to his mother and had a long talk with her which left her kissing his cheek and shaking her head in disbelief.

Once they were in the wagon, Frodo turned to Pippin and asked. "What did you say to your mother just now?"

"Oh, well, I just told her that I thought it would be good if she didnít make Vince wear that frock," Pippin said, shyly.

"What? You mean you tried to get her out of her punishment after all she put you through?" Merry was thunder-struck.

"Well, she is my sister, Merry," Pippin said, simply. "Besides, I sort of did something that I might not should have done just before we left. I think I might be regretting it a wee bit now."

Frodo and Merry exchanged looks. In the front seat of the pony cart, Bilbo and Saradoc also exchanged looks and waited.

"What did you do?" Merry asked.

"Well, I put something from the barn in her bed," Pippin said and then looked down, grinning.

"What?" Frodo and Merry asked trying to rush their little cousin along.

"I shouldnít tell in front of Uncle Saradoc and Uncle Bilbo or they might take me home to face the music." Pippin said.

"Iím sorry lad, but if you are saying anything, we canít hear it up here. Noise from the ponies and all," Bilbo yelled back and Frodo grinned. He loved Bilbo. This was why he had been willing to wear that†ridiculous vest.

"I put a few wee mice in her bed," Pippin admitted.

"How many?" Frodo asked wonderingly.

"Think it was eight, but†it might have been nine in all. Hard to count mice," Pippin informed his cousin.

"We might hear the screams all the way in Buckland," Merry laughed.

The End





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