Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Little Lad Lost  by Citrine

Little Lad Lost

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins drooped in her low wicker chair, feeling dull and half-asleep. All of Hobbiton was drowsing under an unusual spell of moist, early-summer heat that threatened rain, and she and Otho's relation, Posy Chubb-Baggins (oh bother, was she a cousin? A second cousin?) had planted themselves under the plum trees in the garden, hoping for a cool breeze. Posy was a plump, grey matron, well past middle age, but her voice was a high, girlish murmur that went on and on, skipping from one subject to another and Lobelia let the tide of chatter flow over her, occasionally throwing in a 'Dear, dear' or a 'How droll' to aid in conversation. Not that Posy needed much help. During all their long years of acquaintance, Lobelia had never met anyone else who could talk so much about absolutely nothing of importance-unless it was that wretched cousin of Otho's, that Bilbo creature. He'd spout foolish poetry or make a speech at the drop of a hat.

"That mad old thing," Lobelia muttered. Rather fortunately rich and lucky and long-lived, too. The plaguey little...

"Who's a mad old thing?" Posy said, the long river of her words temporarily stopped up by curiosity. She did so love good gossip

"Spider on my arm," Lobelia said, flicking off a nonexistent insect. "Thinks I'm a mountain." The dam broke, and Posy opened her mouth to speak, but Lobelia cut her off. Down in the garden something was moving in the bushes. "I say, Posy dear, do you have a cat?"

"Why no," Posy twittered. "No, no, goodness no, not now, but I did have a cat when Carlo and I first married, oh such a dear little thing with little white paws, that I named Fastolph, though I shouldn't have because it was a little puss, not a tom, so I named her Snowball after that, though she was all black otherwise, and the kittens-"

"Posy!" Lobelia said. "Hand me my umbrella, there's something alive in your gooseberries."

At this Posy gave a little shriek and jumped from her chair, but she handed Lobelia her weapon of choice before she ran to the relative safety of her back doorstep. Silly and talkative she might be, but Posy knew the voice of command when she heard it.

Lobelia hauled herself up out of her chair much more slowly, flexed her fingers around the handle of her umbrella, and casually made a subtle adjustment to her stays. The wretched things pinched, but just because a body was visiting kin didn't mean they mustn't look trim and presentable. You never knew who might come to the door, and appearances must be kept up.

Lobelia marched down the gentle slope of lawn, panting a little in the heat, then stood before the bush and prodded it with the umbrella. ":Hi, you! Come on out of there, whatever you are! Shoo! Scat!"

The bush trembled and gave out a frightened squeak. Not a cat, or a dog, then. Lobelia bent down and peered in, then suddenly dropped her weapon and thrust her arms into the bushes. There was a struggle, and Lobelia said some unladylike words. Posy shrieked again and threw her apron over her head, sure that a fox or something else awful had taken up residence in the gooseberries and was now eating Lobelia from the elbows up, but in a minute or so Lobelia straightened up, holding something squirming and pink, and quite naked.

Posy dared to peek out from behind her apron. "Is it a fox?"

"Since I'm not now torn to bits, no, you silly goose," Lobelia muttered, then held the soft, snuffling creature against her shoulder and patted its back to comfort the poor dear, since it had had a fright. She did have some experience with that sort of thing. Lobelia sighed, then said more loudly, "No, Posy dear, it appears to be a little naked baby. My word," Lobelia said. "The things one will find just laying about nowadays."


Bag End, after a nice filling luncheon and a pleasantly long collective nap to escape the noonday heat, was in an uproar: Pippin, the little babe, the darling of various Tooks, Baggins's, Gamgees, and one very distraught little Brandybuck, was missing. He had been sound asleep in his woven baby-basket, wearing nothing but his nappy, but when his older sister Pearl went to check on him, the basket was overturned and the little lad, still barely able to toddle, was gone. Tiny handprints in the dust of the doorstep told of an escape through an unwatched door, left propped open to catch the breeze. Now Eglantine was weeping in the kitchen after a frantic, hopeless search through the smial, while six-year-old Vinnie sniffled on her skirts, and twelve year old Pimpernel fanned her with an apron. Bell Gamgee, her eyes red and swollen, held her own little daughter Marigold close by her side and tried to settle the distraught 'Missus' with tea. From outside came the baying voices of Bilbo, Frodo, and Hamfast Gamgee and his two oldest sons, calling and beating the farthest bounds of Bag End's back garden. From the front of the smial came the higher and more hopeful shrieks of Pearl and Merry, and Sam Gamgee and his sisters, Daisy and May. They must spread out soon if they had no luck, Frodo and Bilbo knew, out the gate and into the roads and fields and pastures beyond, but they prayed that Pippin's small, wandering feet wouldn't have taken him as far as that. It would be all too easy for a tiny Took, no taller than a Man's shin and less the length of his boot, to become hopelessly lost, fallen into an uncovered well or rubbish pit, or snapped up by a fox or some sharp-eyed old bird of prey.


To be continued...


2. The Little Thing In Question

"Where on earth do you suppose the little thing has come from?" Posy said.

The little thing in question was sitting on Posy's kitchen table, humming and clapping his fat little hands, and looking around at the strange place he had ended up with big, curious green eyes. The smial had been so quiet and there had been no one to play with, and he was hungry and his nappy was damp. He had pouted and squeaked a little, but when no smiling faces came to look down at him, or strong hands to lift him up, he had got out of his basket all by himself, just like a big lad.

"It's a foundling, no doubt," Lobelia said. "Respectable infants aren't found naked under gooseberry bushes." She had a bowl in her hands, lifted the spoon and waved it in front of Pippin's face. Pippin immediately opened his mouth like a baby bird. It was sweet bread and sugar, nicely softened with cream, and very rich. Pippin smacked his lips appreciatively and kicked his furry feet. "Tsk, tsk, poor little pet," Lobelia clucked. "Look at him, he's starved."

"Such a pretty lad," Posy sighed. And he was, too, round and sweet as an autumn apple, with a headful of dark strawberry-blond curls, a pink rosebud of a mouth, and a dimpled smile that showed four whole teeth.

"And still unclothed," Lobelia added. "We really must get something on him before he soils your tablecloth."

Posy blushed a little. "Quite right, of course. I think I have some cloth that I was saving for a quilt that might do, in the chest in the bedroom-or did I move it to the wardrobe? Oh dear, oh dear..." Posy scurried out of the room.

Lobelia shook her head, then sighed and deposited another spoonful of pap into Pippin's eager mouth. No, he wasn't exactly a big, handsome, strapping infant, as her Lotho had been, bless him, this little babe was a bit too scrawny for good breeding, but..."You are a pretty chick, aren't you?"

Pippin tilted his head and wrinkled his nose. "Pitty?"

Lobelia chuckled."Ho ho, and a bit of a flirt as well, I see. You'll break hearts with that look some day, my lad."

The front door opened and closed. "Mother, I'm back! What is there to eat?"

"In here, Lotho my pet," Lobelia said. "And you've missed luncheon, so I've made you a plate."

Lotho ambled into the kitchen. He was a thickset, sullen looking youth of twenty-six, already growing fat through the middle, with an unfortunate red rash of pimples across his sallow cheeks. His pockets bulged with small green apples, and he held a well-gnawed core in his hand. "Quite a fuss going on down at Bag End, like an ant-hill stirred with a stick. Believe they've lost something-" He stopped short and nearly choked on a mouthful of apple. It went down the wrong way and he had to cough before he could speak. He reached out with one forefinger and gave the intruder a poke." What's this?"

Pippin's lip puckered. Lobelia gave Lotho's knuckles a gentle rap with the spoon. Lotho yelped as if stung and jerked his hand away. "Don't touch, you're all sticky."

Posy came back into the room at long last and laid a small bundle of little garments on the table. They were fine things, obviously made with love and care by a talented seamstress: A few soft white nappies, a long white baby-gown festooned with pink ribbons and embroidery, and a little matching cap. "I never could find those bits of cloth, though I looked and looked, I think I might have used them for a quilt last year, or the year before that, or perhaps the hired-girl used them as dust rags, but I was searching about and found these things that I had forgot about. I made them up, oh, ever so long ago when Carlo and I were going to have a child, but then it turned out," Posy lost her usual look of pleasant vapidity, and a shadow of sorrow crossed her face. She petted the little dress, fingering the silky ribbons. "Not."

Lobelia felt a pang of pity for her foolish old kinswoman, still wounded beyond healing by that old, old hurt. Out of all the disappointments of Lobelia's life-A dull husband appreciated rather than cherished, a marriage that didn't quite lift her up to her social expectations, a fortune snatched away by Otho's cousin's adoption of that Buckland brat, she at least had that. Lobelia patted Posy's hand. "There, there, Posy dear. Don't fret yourself." She snapped her fingers at Lotho. "Be a dear and fetch some water to heat, this little fellow needs a bath before we dress him."

"What about my luncheon?" Lotho pouted, but Lobelia raised an eyebrow and he went off muttering, rubbing his offended knuckles.

Pippin was very full, and a bit sleepy now. He didn't like that loud hobbit with the gingery hair, the one who had poked him, but this plump lady-hobbit, while not quite as soft and comforting as his Mammy, seemed rather nice. Lobelia put her bowl and spoon aside and lifted Pippin up, sitting him on her hip. Pippin rubbed his eyes with his balled-up fists, and burped.

"The little lad is full up to the very top, Lobelia!" Posy laughed and wiped his chin with the corner of her apron. "Whatever are we to do with him?"

Lobelia gave the child a speculative look. An idea was growing, and was it such a mad idea, really? Even that old fool Bilbo had managed it. There would be papers that must be drawn up to make it official, and careful rumours spread to hide the child's disreputable origins-perhaps she could say he was a child of one of her poorer Bracegirdle relations. There were certainly an enormous great lot of them up north, most with more children than the means to raise them all, and every year brought a bumper crop of new mouths to feed. She would have to hire a nursemaid, and oh, Otho would splutter a bit, and Lotho might squawk when he found out, of course, but those were all small obstacles to overcome. Pity the little fellow wasn't a girl-child, she had always fancied the idea of a sweet little girl-child to dress up and tote about, but one couldn't have everything, she supposed...

"I tell you, Posy," Lobelia said, petting Pippin's soft curls. "I believe I shall keep him."


To Be Continued

3. We Haven't Looked Everywhere

Pearl sat herself down in the dust of the road and bawled.

Frodo handed her his handkerchief. May was crying outright and hugging Daisy, while Daisy petted her hair and wibbled. Merry's chin was all a-quiver, and Sam was studying the dirt on his furry feet and wiping furiously at his eyes." Pearl, for pity's sake, stop, please, or you'll have us all wailing, and that won't do Pippin any good."

"Oh, oh," Pearl hiccupped. "I'm sorry, I'm just so tired, and it's so hot, and I just don't know where to look anymo-or-or-" She covered her face with the handkerchief and sobbed.

Frodo lifted her up and put an arm around her. Merry leaned in and rubbed his face on Frodo's waistcoat, and Frodo knuckled his curly brown head. In a few moments Frodo would be crying himself, and that wouldn't do. "There, there, we haven't looked everywhere yet." From far away, if Frodo strained his ears, he could still hear Bilbo and Hamfast and the two big lads calling and searching. They had left Bag End, headed for the patch of woodland and the Water that led down to Bywater Pool. How could one small, half-naked babe disappear so completely? Despair clutched at Frodo's heart, but he shook the feeling off. Every other hobbit in Hobbiton seemed to have vanished, hiding from the heat of the day, but someone must have seen Pippin, perhaps those children playing with a hoop and a stick, or that dame farther on hanging laundry, perhaps Pippin was curled up in someone's garden, sound asleep. "We'll just have to split up and start knocking on doors. Sam, who lives down that way?"

Sam wiped the tears and sweat from his face with his sleeve. Take him away from his birthplace and he would be as lost as if he had been sat upon the moon, but he knew every inch of Hobbiton and very nearly every hobbit in it." Well sir, down that way is a great lot of Goodbodys, and Goodchilds and Proudfeets, and some of the Widow Rumble's kin, and down that way, is some Burrowses and Grubbs and Chubbs, and Bunce's, some Brownlocks and Boffins, and old Missus Chubb-Baggins. She's nice, gave Daisy a silver penny once for bringing her laundry, but she's a bit-"Sam was about to say 'addlepated', but he heard his Dad's voice say Mind how you speak of your elders and betters, Samwise, and closed up his mouth like a miser's purse. "She's, ah, old," Sam finished.

"Right then," Frodo said, giving Pearl a last comforting pat on the back. He squeezed Merry's shoulder and prepared to marshal his troops. "It's up to us to find Pippin now. Knowing him, we've all got upset for nothing, and he's very close by right now, sitting in someone's strawberry patch and getting a stomach ache." This made them all laugh a little, just what he intended. "Sam, I want you and May to follow the road, all the way down to my Auntie Dora's if you have to, question any hobbit out and about along the way, and don't be afraid to knock on the front door of the smial and put your foot in it if you must. If any hobbit gives you trouble, just go on and I'll deal with them later. Merry, Pearl, Daisy, you're with me." Daisy knew Hobbiton, too, and Frodo would need her sense of direction.

Frodo stood still for a moment and looked at his small army: Brown-haired Daisy and May in their patched aprons, and Sam, his round, freckled face shining red with heat and full up with-hero worship, Merry and Pearl at his side, holding each other's hands and trying to be brave. His heart swelled, and he felt close to crying again, but he took a deep breath instead. How could Pippin not be found, with friends and family like this searching for him? "All right then. Let's go."


In good time the kettle of water had been heated, mixed with a pitcher of cold well-water, and poured into a large dishpan. Pippin enjoyed a bath anytime, and he splashed and crowed and covered the floor with puddles. The two old hobbit-dames were dampened from heel to crown and nearly drowned, but they successfully wrestled him out of the pan at last and rubbed him till he was rosy and dry and his hair stood up in wild whirls and spikes. Lobelia took the heavy pan of bath water to the back door and threw it out-The task would have been Lotho's, but he had mysteriously disappeared, along with his cold plate of luncheon.

Posy was fussing with the ties on the little cap when Lobelia returned. "Lobelia, do help me," Posy said, nearly in tears. "I keep putting it on, but the little lad whips it off again!" She quickly shoved it down on Pippin's head.

"No!" Pippin scowled. "Hot!" He grabbed the cap with both hands and yanked it off, this time hurling it across the room.

Lobelia laughed. "Hah, he knows his own mind, that one. Oh, leave it off, Posy, for pity's sake. It's not as though he'll catch cold today without it." The doorbell jangled suddenly, and they both jumped. Lobelia sighed heavily. Who on earth could that be, running about ringing doorbells in the hottest part of the day? "Mind the baby, Posy, I'll see who it is."

Lobelia tucked the pan under one arm and walked to the front door, in no particular rush. If it was important, they would wait. She opened the door to find two little children, a lad and a lass, standing on the doorstep. The lass seemed a bit older than the lad, but they were both as patched and scroungey a pair of ragamuffins as one could expect to see, obviously brother and sister, and dried streaks through the dust of their sunburned faces told that they'd been crying not so long ago. To think I wore these blasted stays for visitors such as this, Lobelia thought. "What do you want?"

The lass dropped a little courtesy, and her words stuttered. She had been expecting the sweetly empty smile of Mistress Posy when the door opened, not the frowning face of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. "How do you do, Missus, my name's May Gamgee, and this is my brother Samwise-"

"Good day to you, Missus," the lad said, ducking his head. Well, they were well brought up little ragamuffins, it seemed.

"You might recollect seeing us around Number Three on Bagshot Row. Please, but would you happen to have seen a very little child-"

"About so high," Sam added, holding his hand a little way off the ground. He blushed. 'Walking round without no clothes on."

"Though he might be crawling," the lass broke in again, with tears in her eyes. "He's nought but a little baby, Missus, and we've lost him-"

Posy chose to come in at that moment, Pippin in her arms. At the sight of the two familiar faces on the doorstep, Pippin clapped his hands and squealed."Oh Lobelia, I was thinking of making up a sugar-poppet for the little fellow, do you think-oh, it's the little Gamgee children! Should I put the kettle on?"

Sam jumped, and May nearly screamed. "Missus Posy! You've found him! Mister Pippin!"

Sam and May would have leaped through the doorway, had not Lobelia held them off. "Hi, what do you think you're doing!"

"It's Mister Pippin, the lost baby," Sam said. "Oh thank you, Missus, we were all that worried about him, and we're ever so grateful, but we'll be fetching him back home now-"

"Be off with you!" Lobelia said. "As if I would hand off a tender little babe to just any grubby little bread-snatcher who came to the doorstep!" She snorted. "Pippin, indeed! What sort of name is that? Named after an apple, is he? Not very likely." Secretly she wondered if perhaps these weren't actually the child's relations, come to retrieve him after he'd been thrown away in haste. Well, she'd be plagued if she'd let the lad go back to that sort of life, the poor little mite. "It's far too hot to stand here listening to your fairy tales. Go away now, or I'll have the shirriffs on you."

She closed the door in their faces and leaned against it, panting. "Beastly little things!"

Posy looked completely befuddled. "Oh dear, and they're usually such nice children, always laughing and singing, and the lass has such a good hand with the laundry, everything always ironed just so, even Carlo's handkerchiefs, and lavender put in amongst the sheets..."

Lobelia went to the window, lifted the lace curtain and peered out. Sam and May were walking away slowly. May was weeping so hard she could barely walk. Sam took one more look back over his shoulder, with such a look of fierce determination on his face that Lobelia gave a little start and drew away from the windowpane, then he grabbed May's hand and took off at a run. Good riddance.

"Bye bye?" Pippin said. His chin was beginning to quiver. Sam-lad and May-lass had been right there, and then they had gone away so quickly. He didn't understand. Shouldn't Mammy, or Pearl, or even Frodo-cousin or Merry-cousin, have come to take him home by now?

Lobelia handed Posy the dishpan and took Pippin into her arms. "Shh, pet," she said. "You're safe and sound with your Auntie Lobelia now. Posy, do fetch us a pitcher of cider from the cellar-I declare I'm parched-and I'll make up a plate of biscuits. Then we can set ourselves down in the parlour and cool off."

"Splendid idea," Posy said, already turning away. "Shall I call for Lotho?"

"Shout the smial down," Lobelia said, feeling a twinge of annoyance with her missing son. "Though I doubt he'll hear you. Heaven only knows where he's taken himself off to this time."


More to come...

4. Lotho's Bothersome Smile

Mam was in the smial, lying down with a damp, cool cloth over her eyes. Bell had put her to bed after she had fainted and wouldn't let her up again. Pimpernel and Pervinca were in Bag End's front garden. Pimpernel was squatting in the flowers, sniffling, nearly hidden by the tall ranks of daisies and poppies. Vinnie could just see the top of her red-brown head from where she was sitting on the walk. It was too hot in the sun, and Vinnie's heart ached, but she didn't want to leave 'Nell crying alone. She was only six and she didn't know what to do, other than put her thumb in her mouth for comfort, but Cousin Merry had said that it would make her teeth stick out. Vinnie stood up, struck by an idea. "Nell, do you want to play?"

"No," Nell mumbled.

Vinnie sat down again, twining her hands in her skirt. "Are you hungry?"

"No," Nell said, and a few clumps of poppies flew out, torn up by the roots and without their heads. "Leave me alone."

Nell's voice was sad, not sharp, but Vinnie felt tears fill her eyes anyway. She ducked her head and put her thumb in her mouth for a good suck-bother what Merry said, she didn't care a copper penny if her teeth stuck out-and when she looked up a big hobbit was leaning in over the gate.

Vinnie gave a little scream, and Nell popped up from the flowers. It was that Lotho. Seemed like whenever there was trouble at Bag End Lotho was there, hanging about like a cloud over a picnic.

"Good day," Nell said, and dropped a little courtesy. Mam always said to be polite to older hobbits, even if the other hobbit wasn't worth the time of day, and Nell wouldn't cross the road to strike Lotho Sackville-Baggins with a stick. Lotho was mean and a tease, and Nell had seen him push little Bolo Goodchild down in the mud once for giving him sass, and she knew he had only done it because Bolo didn't have any big brothers or sisters to hit him in the nose for it.

"Good day to you, little Tooks." He was smiling as he said it, and it was a real smile, which was bothersome. It was altogether too cheery and pleased, as if he had had a devil of a problem to solve and two teary-eyed Tooks were just the solution he'd been looking for. "Heard there was a bit of trouble here this afternoon. Tsk, tsk, is everyone quite all right?"

"Go way, Lotho," Vinnie said, clenching her small fists. "We're sad." She was a little afraid of Lotho. Vinnie was a shy little thing, and especially leery of Lotho, he was so big and bossy and loud, but if Nell could be brave, she could, too.

"Now, now, you mind your tongue, missy," Lotho said, without heat, but Nell stepped up next to Vinnie. One step through the gate and Lotho would find out that a little lass could hit just as hard and fast as a big lad.

Lotho relaxed and beamed again, completely convinced of the persuasive powers of his gleaming, toothy smile. To the two lasses, it was rather like looking into the mouth of a very happy Troll whose indigestion has just providentially cleared up, and so is about to extend an invitiation to Dinner. "Now then, lasses, I didn't come here to cause a fuss. I just thought you ought to know that my mother and Mistress Posy Chubbs-Baggins ran across a little foundling today, and it's likely that it's your missing Took." Lotho was often lazy and short-sighted, but he wasn't an absolute fool, and for all his failings in arithmetic he could still put two and two together. The soft gleam in his mother's eyes as she had looked at that naked babe meant trouble, and quite possibly a division in his inheritance if he didn't jump on the situation right quick. Oddly though, neither one of the little auburn-haired lasses seemed inclined to move, and Lotho scratched his woolly head in puzzlement. It never occurred to Lotho that they thought he was teasing them.

But there was no time to waste; his mother was a cat's whisker away from adopting the little beast. "Here, you lass!" Lotho said, pushing open the gate and clapping his hand down on Vinnie's shoulder. As his dear mother often said, where charm can make no headway, a firm hand must suffice. "Just come along and we'll settle this and bring the little lad home right now-"

Vinnie squealed in fright, and Nell's small heel came down sharply on Lotho's toe. Lotho howled and began to hop up and down, clutching his injured foot. "Ow! Ooh! Ow! You've broken it!"

Bell Gamgee heard the horrible caterwauling and came to the door. She saw what appeared to be the big Sackville-Baggins lad in the midst of some sort of fit, the two youngest Took girls cringing in his shadow. "Help! Help!" Bell wailed. "Oh, murder! He's gone mad from the sun! Missus! Come quick!"

The situation was going bad for Lotho, and getting worse. Now the young Master of Bag End appeared in the distance with his troop, coming at a run."Lotho! Unhand those children!"

"Missus Nell! Missus Vinnie!" May was flying to the rescue, skirts pulled up to her knees to give her speed, and Sam at her heels.

Lotho turned and hurled himself through the gate, the pain in his foot forgotten. Mad, they were all mad, all of them! He had done his best this day, and look what he had got for his troubles: An enraged mob of hobbits all shouting at him, an unwanted new Sackville-Baggins sibling on his immediate horizon, a bellyful of cold luncheon, and a broken toe. Lotho whimpered as he ran-a dignified whimper, he assured himself-and hobbled as far and as quickly away from Bag End as his wounds would allow. Preferably all the way to the Green Dragon and the bottom of several pints, if he could make it that far, and bother what his dear mother would say. His mother was on her own.



5. Tooks and Tea

It was much cooler in Posy's parlour, and blessedly quiet after all the excitement of the day. Posy and Lobelia sat in deep chairs in front of the cold hearth, Pippin sleeping in a basket on the floor between them. Posy was humming to herself, her knitting needles flashing as she worked. She had already finished one little bootie and the other was well on the way to completion. Lobelia sipped her mug of cider and plotted. It would be best for the little lad if she packed and left for home as soon as possible. As soon as Lotho came back she would have him fetch the pony and carriage. Perhaps she would take Posy along, too, just leave a note for Carlo when he returned, then shut up the smial and be off. It would be a nice little summer holiday for the poor pixilated dear. It would do her good to get out and about.

"Posy dear," Lobelia began, but the doorbell rang and cut her off. Lobelia put her face in her hands. "Oh, give me strength."

"Shall I get the door, Lobelia?" Posy's face brightened. "Perhaps it's those sweet little children, come back for Tea."

"I'll do it," Lobelia grunted, heaving herself up from her chair. "If it is them, they'll be getting more than Tea."

"Oh, we mustn't forget the teacakes," Posy said, and click click click, went her needles.

Lobelia sighed. Pixilated. "Yes, teacakes, as well." And a few good, solid whacks about the head and shoulders with her umbrella.

Lobelia made herself presentable and opened the door. The doorstep was overflowing with hobbits: A plump, red-faced matron with a fat girl-child clinging to her skirts, two older lasses flanked by two smaller ones like stair-steps, a stocky little lad with the look of a Brandybuck, and the nuisance children from before. That wretched Buckland orphan, the spoiler of so many of her hopes, was front and centre, and beside him was a hobbit-dame who looked ready to eat Lobelia for supper and pick her teeth with her hairpins.

Before she could open her mouth, Frodo put his hand on the door and pushed his way inside, followed by all the rest. "Lobelia, we need a word with you."

"And I'll have a few with you, barging in without so much as an invitation," Lobelia said. "Such impertinence!"

The hobbit-dame looked into the parlour, where Posy was just rising from her chair. Pippin, awakened by familiar voices, had sat up in his basket, rubbing his eyes. "Pippin!" she cried, flying forward. "My baby!"

Pippin smiled and held out his arms. He had had a nice long adventure, but he was ready to go home now. "Mammy!"

Eglantine scooped him up and covered his face with kisses. "Oh, my lamb! Never frighten Mammy like that again!"

"Thank goodness you've found him, Lobelia!" Frodo said, pressing her hand with as much gratitude as he could muster. He had decided it would be better for everyone if he glossed over what had nearly amounted to a cradle-snatching. "We were all worried sick."

The great mass of hobbits were all laughing and talking together now, Posy was twittering away to this one and that one, and Lobelia's mouth was hanging open. "This child belongs to you, Frodo Baggins?"

Frodo laughed. "Not quite! Lobelia, may I introduce you to my young cousin, Peregrin Took, son of Paladin Took of Whitwell." Lobelia looked as though she had swallowed a fly, and oh, it wasn't nice to tease, but Frodo couldn't help but grin at the look on her face. He lifted Pippin's small hand and waved it. "Say hello, Pip."

Lobelia was feeling a bit pale. A Took! What a blind old fool she had been! She should've guessed by the look of the child, and not just any Took, the child of the hobbit in line to be the Thain, if fat old Lalia and her son Ferumbras should ever get out of the way. She had nearly cradle-snatched the heir! "Ah...I...quite..."

"You've taken wonderful care of him, Lobelia, but we really should be getting back to Bag End." Frodo turned and started gathering his flock. They had poked Lobelia enough, and whatever her intentions, she and Posy had minded the baby all day. No doubt they deserved a medal. "But do come by for supper later, you and Posy both, if you'd like!"

"Oh yes, it's the least we can do, after all you've done for us," Eglantine said, with her sweetest smile. Her lost baby was in her arms again, and that was all that mattered. "Say goodbye, children."

"Goodbye! Thank you! Goodbye!" Lobelia suddenly had a little Brandybuck shaking her hand like a pumphandle, with a decidedly cheeky grin on his face, the Gamgee lad was bobbing his head, and Bell and the lasses were dropping courtesies so fast that it was making her head spin.

Some of Lobelia's composure had returned, and she could feel her face growing red. The humiliation of it all! Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, a cradle-robber! Why, Bilbo Baggins would laugh himself sick, tongues would wag, and all of Hobbiton would be talking of it! "I regret to say that I have a previous engagement," Lobelia said with cold, poisonous civility, pulling her hand from the sweaty grip of the nearest child. "So I will not be joining you for supper. If you feel any sort of reward is necessary, you may send me a bottle of Old Winyards at your earliest convenience. Good day to you."

"And to you, cousin," Frodo said, offering kindness in return. It must be a dreadful thing, to sip from such a great cup of bitterness for so long. "But the offer still stands, whenever you like."

"Humph." Lobelia grunted and swept out of the room. Posy saw the visitors to the door and stood on the doorstep for quite some time, smiling and waving her handkerchief.

When the last of them had vanished down the road, Posy sighed and closed the door. "Hasn't it been such a busy day, such a long, lovely visit? It was so nice to hear children's voices in the smial. We really should invite them back again, with the baby, of course, and oh my! The booties! I'm nearly finished and I forgot all about them, I will have to make a visit to Bag End soon and deliver them, or perhaps I could just wrap them up and put them in the post for the Tookland. What do you think, Lobelia?"

Lobelia was in her deep chair, before the cold hearth, looking down into the empty basket. She had retrieved the little ribboned cap, and as Posy watched she lifted it to her lips. It still smelled like the little Took, his sweet baby-smell, like milk and dust and sun. How warm his small weight had been in her arms, how trusting he had been to lay his soft head on her old shoulder.

Posy pushed her way into the chair beside Lobelia and handed her the handkerchief, and put her arms around her. A tear dripped off the end of Lobelia's nose. "There, there, Lobelia dear," she said. Foolish and talkative Posy might be, but she understood too well the ache of empty arms, the hurt of an empty heart. He had been such a sweet, pretty little child, and she really had wanted to keep him so very much. "There, there."


The end.

If you're looking at this, many thanks, readers and reviewers, for coming all this way with me:o) Sorry for the wait!


Home     Search     Chapter List