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Consequences of a Fall  by Dreamflower

CHAPTER 11

Hyacinth took the pruning knife from the hook near the back door, and a basket that was kept beside the step, and walked around to the front garden. The chrysanthemums there were in full bloom, a lovely display.

Her lip curled. The cutting bed was around to the side of the little house. She pursed her lips. It was only a petty thing, and no doubt Euphorbia would have something to say about it when she discovered it, but that would be unlikely to happen before tomorrow. She would cut the flowers here, and if her sister-in-law complained, she would just pretend not to understand what difference it madeÖ

"Da, do I have to go? Maynít I stay with Pearl and Pippin?" Merry looked crossly at his favorite yellow weskit, and picked at an imaginary spot on it.

"No, son. We need to be there. Not only are we representing your Grandfather Rory, but we have Took blood as well. We should honor Ferumbras."

Merry looked troubled. "Da, I donít mean to be difficult. I really donít. But I donít much feel like honoring Cousin Ferumbras. Itís not fair that he banned Pearl from the feast. I--" he stopped for a moment, for it was a hard thing for any hobbit to admit to about any blood relation, and he didnít wish to anger his father, but he wanted help to understand. "I donít care much for the Thain. I donít really respect him much. He always let his mother run everything. And she was cruel. I feel like all this is just putting on a show." Lalia at least, was *not* even remotely a blood relation.

Saradoc shook his head. Many fathers would simply have lectured their sons about the propriety of things, but Saradoc was glad that Merry wished to look beyond the appearances. He sighed.

"Itís true, Merry-lad, that we do have to put on a show of solidarity. For one thing, we donít want to make things more difficult than they already are for your Uncle Paladin. But there is more to this than that. While the gossip is that Pearl was banned because sheís under suspicion--" and wouldnít Saradoc give a good deal to know who had *started* that rumor "--itís mainly to protect her from the stares and the speculation. And donít judge the Thain too harshly for the way he let Lalia run things. He may have been Thain for the Shire, but she *was* the Took and head of the family. And hard as it may be to realize, but she *was* his mother."

Merry looked a bit abashed at that. "I suppose," he said "but Iíd much rather sit with Pippin."

Saradoc chuckled. "Youíd much rather sit with Pippin anyway, son."

Merry looked up at his fatherís twinkling grey eyes, so like his own, and his lips twitched in a hint of a smile as well. "Maybe it wonít be too dire." A brighter thought struck him ). "May I sit with Frodo?" Since Pippin had been ill, he had been let off his punishment--for now. His father had told him that when they returned to Buckland, he would find another penalty.

Saradoc laughed. "Impudent rascal! If Frodo will have you!"

Merry grinned smugly as he slipped into his jacket and straightened the lapels. As if there were any question of that!.

His father looked him over. "Well, shall we see if we pass your motherís inspection?"

______________________________________________

Eglantine thought Pearl was looking a good deal better than the tween had, the last time she had seen her daughter. It was quite clear that Pearl, at least, did not much care why she wasnít going to the feast, as long as she did not have to do so. Right now the lass did not feel like being anywhere she would have to worry about folk looking at her and talking about her.

"Pippin is getting restless. Also, blisters have formed on his back and shoulders where the worst of the burns are. Mistress Hollyhock left some lotion, and if he complains of itching, that should soothe him. But be very gentle in applying it. She said that the blisters should not be broken if it can be avoided. Sheís hoping the lotion will dry them up somewhat."

"Heís not in so much pain as he was," she added, "but heís still hurting some, and is still running a fever off and on. The healer left some willow-bark if he needs it."

"Yes, mother."

Eglantine gave her daughter a kiss, and shooed her into her brotherís room. "Peregrin!"

"Yes, Mother?" he asked.

"You will mind Pearl tonight, I hope."

He nodded, and Eglantine leaned over to kiss him as well. "One of the servants will bring you both a tray--and you are to have just what we are having at the feast, so you wonít be missing anything."

Giving her oldest and youngest children a fond look, she left them to themselves", and went to be sure that Pimpernel and Pervinca were ready to go.

_______________________________________

Hyacinth looked at the three frocks she had taken from her wardrobe, trying to decide which one to wear to the feast tonight. She had been quite busy today--a word here and a word there with a number of hobbits--Bracegirdles and Boffins and Goldworthys and Chubbs--sheíd avoided Tooks and Brandybucks of course, as well as the Bolgers and the Proudfoots--they were far too close to the Tooks. And of course, the only Baggins there was Frodo. She might have made an ally of Lobelia, but Otho did not like to go anywhere he was forced to watch Frodo acting as family head. That was a ridiculous farce anyway--the lad was barely out of his tweens himself.

Still, she flattered herself that she had made progress in her plan of disgracing young Pearl. It would be only a short step from there to the childís father--surely he would not put up with much more of this. He was bound to lose his temper with the Thain soon, and then if the situation were properly managed Ferumbras could be led to disown Paladin, leaving the way free for Reggie. She sighed. It really looked as though her chance at finally becoming the Thainís lady was nearly in her grasp.

She looked once more at the frocks. The grey. Definitely the grey. The yellow did not flatter her very well, and the green was far too cheerful. They had, after all, only buried Lalia yesterday.

Yes, the grey, with purple hair ribbons and her amethyst beads.

________________________________________________

Begonia sighed. She had been Laliaís chambermaid for a long time. And as her mistress had not been popular among the servants, neither had she. The chambermaid had only a few friends among her fellow servants, who had bothered to know her for herself, and not simply as the one who conveyed Laliaís imperative and arbitrary orders.

She had lived a long time at the Great Smials. She had not been back to her home west of Little Delving since her father died fifteen years ago. She still had a sister and a couple of cousins living there, but not much family else. And she had heard that her nephew, apprenticed to a blacksmith in Pincup, had wed his masterís daughter, and settled there. What was she going to do now, without her mistress? It was true, Mistress Lalia had been hard, hard and cold. But Begonia had been used to her ways, and knew how to manage her. She was not sure that she would ever be suitable for another mistress.

And there was the cloud of Mistress Laliaís death hanging over her as well. Although, she could not understand why, opinion seemed to be settled on blaming poor young Miss Pearl.

_________________________________________________

"Pippin, stop it, dear. Mother said you mustnít try to scratch or rub--youíll break the blisters."

"But Pearl! It *itches*! And itís un*com*fortable."

"Here, let me rub some of this lotion on you." She took up the bottle, and poured some of the creamy liquid into her hand.

"Oooh! Thatís cold!"

"Iím sorry, Pippin."

"No, it feels *good*!" He gave a great sigh, and relaxed, as she gently rubbed the lotion on. His back still was pink and warm to the touch, but it had lost that angry red color.

She drew one finger down one of the little white stripes left by his braces down to the center of his back, where they crossed to make an "X", and he gave a little shudder. "Pearl, that tickles," he giggled.

She finished up by rubbing in the last of the lotion.

"Is that all?" he asked, disappointed.

"Iím afraid so, Pip. And I mustnít rub any more, or it will make things worse."

He heaved a great sigh, and gave her a wide-eyed glance over his shoulder, tracing a wrinkle in the pillow with his own finger. "Pearl?"

"Yes, Pip?"

"Iím sorry you have to miss the feast to stay with me."

"Oh, Pippin! I donít mind, my dear! And really, you are not the only reason Iím missing the feast."

"What do you mean?" He nearly turned over in his surprise.

"Well, Mother told me that you know of some of the talk going around?"

He looked at her indignantly. "Amethyst said some *wicked* things about you! I knew they werenít true! But Mother had said I was to pretend not to hear. But thatís all right--Merry got her for you!"

Pearl chuckled, and longed to give her staunch little defender a hug. "I heard about what Merry did." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "And you know what? I am glad he did, for she deserved it. I am only sorry he landed in trouble for it."

"Me, too!" He wriggled a bit, for he was itching again. "Iím hungry, Pearl."

She laughed. "Itís almost that time. They should be bringing us a tray soon, and you can sit up to eat."

And just then there was a knock on the outer door. "Ah," she said. "Thereís our supper now!"

In just a few moments, she wheeled a tea trolley in, laden with all sorts of wonderful things.

Pippinís face lit up. "I smell mushrooms!"

Pearl grinned at him. "So do I, little brother." Really it was pleasanter here, and the company was undeniably superior. "So do I."

____________________________________________________________

The meal had finally ended, with Ferumbras giving a rather long and boring speech about the honor of the Tooks. Merry had indeed been able to sit by Frodo, and now that the meal was over, Frodo made sure the tween was staying by his side. Saradoc wanted to make sure that Merry was not once more tempted to defend his cousins, the way he had two days before.

"Frodo, if I have to pretend to smile one more time when someone asks me how Ďpoor Pearlí is doing, I shall scream."

"No, Merry, you will *not* scream. You will act and speak pleasantly, while you just *imagine* how the person would look with that bowl of trifle upended over her head--or his as the case may be. But you shanít *do* anything about it."

Merry looked at his cousinís blue eyes, twinkling with mischief. "But it would be so satisfying to do just that."

"True. But as you canít do it to *everyone* who deserves it, it would be unfair to favor only one person so." He suppressed a chuckle, and said, "Look sharp--here comes Petunia Bracegirdle."

Hyacinth glanced over at the Brandybuck party. She intended to have words sooner or later with their brat Meriadoc about his mistreatment of her daughter. But not while he was under the Bagginsí wing. Sheíd been the recipient of one of his icy glares in the past, over some off-hand remark about Peregrin. It was not an experience she cared to repeat.

___________________________________________________

Pippin finished the last bite of his custard, and swirled his finger in the bit of strawberry sauce. It was not so good as the custard their cook Buttercup made back at Whitwell, but it was very good nonetheless, and drank down the last of the milk in his mug, and gave a satisfied belch.

"Pippin!" Pearl reproved.

"Excuse me," he said, with a cheeky grin.

"Now itís time for your medicine, Pip."

He made a face, but took the cup she stirred for him, and drank it down. Pearl watched amazed. *Something* had happened at Bag End last spring, she was sure, the way he took his medicine like a lamb now. She shook her head, and as he settled once more on his stomach, she tenderly drew the cool sheet up over him.

"Gínight, Pearl," he said, as she blew out the lamp. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Pippin."





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