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Consequences of a Fall  by Dreamflower

†CHAPTER 9

Hyacinth looked about the room. It was the best room in the house. She sighed; her brother didnít even live in a smial, it had to be a house. Was there anything here for Euphorbia to find fault with? She wished she dared do something disturbing to the room, that would escape her sister-in-lawís notice, and yet would inconvenience the guest. But it would not be wise. She had to remember that if her brother should cast her out, she had nowhere else to go.

Guest. Humph.

Merry was dozing lightly in the chair next to Pippinís bed, holding Pippinís hand lightly clasped in his.

It had been a difficult night. Pippin had been restless and in pain, and too warm, even with no cover but the light linen bedsheet. Yet when he had fitfully thrown it off in his sleep, he had shivered with a chill.

The willow-bark tea did seem to help a little with the pain, but it seemed to have little effect on the fiery heat emanating from his skin. Mistress Hollyhock had said it was not quite the same as a normal fever, as the un-burned portions of his body were cool and clammy.

She had also insisted that Pippin drink a good deal of the tangy mint tonic she had mixed up for him before. But when Pippinís bladder was full, and Merry helped him use the chamber pot a few hours past midnight, Pippin had complained of pain.

This worried Merry, although the healer had said it might happen. He had settled his young cousin back in the bed, and ever so gently applied more of the soothing lotion she had left. Then both of them had dropped into uneasy sleep.

The door cracked open, and Merry sat up instantly.

"Hullo, Aunt Tina," he said. "I am very much afraid he had a rough night." Merry sighed, and brushed away some of Pippinís curls from the pale forehead. The young hobbitís hair was damp and sweaty.

Eglantine entered with a tray. "I brought a bit of first breakfast for you, Merry, and some juice for Pippin."

"He didnít sleep much," Merry said apologetically. "And Iím not hungry-"

But just then he caught the smells emanating from the tray, and his stomach rumbled.

Eglantine smiled. "I think maybe you might be, lad. Thereís tea, and currant scones and butter and honey and porridge with cinnamon."

Merry allowed himself to be persuaded and ate hungrily. His aunt put the juice to one side, and went over to look at her son. She started to pull the sheet up to cover Pippin.

"He canít seem to bear it, Aunt Tina. He keeps throwing it off."

She sighed, and looked down helplessly at her little son, pausing to brush her hand lightly over his head. "Your parents want you to come back to them and get some rest, Merry. You can return after youíve had a nap."

Merry nodded, resigned. He had long ago learned that if he insisted on staying with Pippin without a break when Pippin was ill, that the only result was to get himself banned from the sickroom altogether. "Youíll call me if he needs me?"

"Of course I will."

___________________________________________

Hyacinth was returning from the main kitchen, where she had gone to consult with the head cook over tonightís feast. She had often filled in when Lalia did not wish to be bothered with certain domestic matters, and there was no reason for her to stop now. She spotted Rosamunda Bolger bustling along.

"Rosamunda!" she called, "My dear, how are you?"

"I am doing tolerably well, thank you, Hyacinth," she said politely. "Have you heard the news?"

"Why, no!" Hyacinth exclaimed avidly, expecting to hear a repetition of the gossip about Pearl.

"Itís young Peregrin, Paladinís youngest. The poor child is *dreadfully* ill." Her voice dropped slightly and she shuddered. Children were so susceptible, she thought, thinking of Freddy and Estella.

"Ill?" Hyacinth made sure her voice contained none of the glee she felt. "Whatever could be wrong? I saw the child at the funeral yesterday, and he seemed to be fine."

"Well, Pimpernel and Pervinca came to see us yesterday at teatime, to ask if Fredegar or Estella had seen the lad after luncheon. We later came to find out heíd been playing atop the roof, and had fallen asleep in the sun. He was horribly sunburned."

Hyacinthís hopes fell. A mere sunburn would not be fatal.

She and Rosamunda chatted a bit longer, and the gossip about Pearl did come up. Hyacinth made sure of that.

"Did you hear," she said mildly, testing her listener, "that the Thain has banned Pearl from the feast tonight, as she is under suspicion?" Her tone affected slight concern.

Rosamunda shook her head. "What balderdash! Why Pearl would never do a thing like that on purpose! I suppose that Cousin Ferumbras wants to make sure that the accident was not her fault, either. I certainly hope for her sake it was not, for that would be a dreadful burden for a young lass to bear, the rest of her days."

"As you say," agreed Hyacinth, though she was a bit disappointed in Rosamundaís reaction. Rosamunda Bolger was the closest thing she had to a friend, as they were in agreement about a good many things, such as the importance of appearances. If even Rosamunda couldnít believe Pearl was guilty, Hyacinth had a lot of work to do.

Rosamunda went on her way, and Hyacinth stood looking thoughtful. Perhaps the information about Peregrinís illness would be useful.

_________________________________________

Ferumbras had hoped to speak to Paladin at second breakfast, a meal usually taken by guests in the main dining hall. But he did not see any of the Whitwell Tooks there, which was surprising.

When he had finished his second plateful of bacon, ham, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and mushrooms, toast and bilberry jam, he made his way to the guest wing, and to the chambers the family used when they came.

He was surprised when his knock on the door was answered by one of the younger girls--Pimpernel, he thought her name was.

"Oh." Her eyes went wide. She†paused in surprise,†and then gave a belated polite bob of her head, and hesitantly said "Cousin Ferumbras! Erm, come in." Turning to look back over her shoulder she called softly "Father! Father?"

Paladin came to the door. He looked tired and somber. Ferumbras wondered if it was the worry over Pearl. But he found his cousinís first words confusing.

"I suppose you heard about Pippin? Itís painful, but not so serious as all that."

"Er, no. I hadnít heard. Is there something wrong with the little lad?" Peregrin was a child he *did* remember. The little chap was hard to forget. When the lad was a mere faunt, he had literally run into the Thain in town one day with not a stitch of clothing on. Ferumbras remembered the young Brandybuck lad had been chasing after him. He shook his head. He hoped nothing was seriously wrong--the little oneís health had been precarious from time to time.

"He has a very painful sunburn that has made him ill, and will keep him abed for a few days."

"Ah." Ferumbras nodded sagely, although in truth he had never been sunburned and found it hard to imagine such a thing making one ill. "I came because I need to have a word with you regarding Pearl."

Paladinís face immediately took on a hard and guarded look. "Come and have a seat. I shall call Eglantine."

They went into the sitting room. Young Baggins was there, talking earnestly to the youngest daughter.

"Frodo?" said Paladin.

He stood up immediately, and with a courtly nod, acknowledged Ferumbras.

"Frodo, would you very much mind taking Pimmie and Vinca and sitting with Pippin for a few minutes? Cousin Ferumbras wishes to discuss a matter of business."

Frodo raised an elegant brow, and gave a polite nod and murmur of farewell to the Thain. Then he extended one arm to little Pervinca, as though she were a young lady to be escorted in to dine. He reached the other hand out to Pimpernel, who took it and clung to it a bit. For some reason, Frodo found it sad that the children were intimidated by Ferumbras.

By the time the three exited the sitting room, both lasses were smiling at something Frodo had said. Ferumbras watched him leave with a touch of envy. The Baggins always seemed to have such an easy way with folk, young or old. He was going to be formidable as he got older.

The Thain took the large seat next to the fireplace. Paladin and Eglantine both sat on the very edge of the settee, as though they both might spring up at any moment in defense of their daughter. Ferumbras pursed his lips. Sometimes he found it difficult to understand the protectiveness of parents--he had not yet said or proposed anything to which they could object, indeed, heíd said nothing at all, at least, not yet.

Finally, Paladin spoke. "You said you wanted to discuss Pearlís situation."

Ferumbras nodded. "I know that you have heard the talk. I do not want you to think for one moment that I believe a word of it, and if Iíd been able to discover the original source, I would have put a stop to it immediately. But you know how hard it is to pin anything like that down."

Both of them nodded, cautiously.

"I have asked Reggie to find out in exhaustive detail *exactly* what happened, and how, and I expect that his report will absolve Pearl entirely. But in the meantime, she should be shielded from the talk."

"We agree," said Eglantine. "That is why she has been staying with Primrose and Peridot, and keeping out of sight for the most part."

"Very well, then. You will not object when I tell you that it is best that she not attend the feast of my accession as The Took tonight?"

Paladin raised a brow. "Will that not cause even more talk?" ...for every Took who possibly could be there would be expected to be there. If Pearl were not present it might cause speculation that she really was under suspicion.

Ferumbras shrugged. He was aware that Pearlís absence could be construed as a result of disapproval, but it was better than putting the lass under the kind of scrutiny she would invite by her presence.

"Someone has to stay with Pippin," said Eglantine. "Heís not to be left alone, and he certainly cannot attend the feast. If Pearl is staying with him, that will be a reasonable enough explanation."

The Thain raised an appreciative brow. Very astute. When Paladin became Thain in his turn, Eglantine would be a very good asset to her husband. "Very well," he said, "thatís all settled then. May I give my regards to the poor little lad before I take my leave?"

_________________________________________________

In the servantsí quarters, Reggie knocked on the door of one of the maids' rooms.

The door cracked open cautiously, and then more widely. "Mr. Reggie," said the maidservant in surprise.

Reggie nodded. "Blossom, is Begonia here?" for these were the quarters shared by Mistress Lalia's former chambermaid.

"Yes, sir." She turned her head. "Begonia? Mr. Reggie is wanting a word wií ye."





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