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The leaves had already turned, the colours giving the wood the appearance of being ablaze. But Bungo had no thought to admire them; he was paying little attention to the scenery. He was cold and miserable, and thoroughly frightened. She had told him to "stop hovering" and "it's not time yet!" and finally, bluntly, "Go away!" So he had reluctantly gone from her side.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to come to the Great Smials at this time. Belladonna's ancestral home often brought out a side of her that he could not understand. At home, she was cheerful, calm and level-headed. Here, it seemed, she would get caught up in all sorts of family dramas. But when she had begged to go for a visit while there was still time, he could not deny her.
He stopped as his tramp through the trees brought him to the edge of the pond. It was stocked with perch and other fish, and was a nice spot for a bit of angling. Often enougn he had been here with one of his brothers-in-law or his father-in-law to wet a line. But today it was deserted, which suited his mood just fine.
He picked up a stone, and chucked it into the center and watched as the water rippled outward. It unsettled him when she was unsettled.
He could not help but recall that their courtship had not gone so smoothly as he had hoped. Like a stone in a pond, things had caused ripples and disturbances in the course of their love...
They had done well in the beginning. He had written her faithfully, and she had answered his letters. They had seen one another at various family functions from time to time, and it had always brought a thrill to his heart when they saw one another again.
But then they had their first quarrel. It had been eight years ago, but it was still as fresh in his memory as if it had just happened.
Although Belladonna had three years still until she came of age, they were officially a courting couple, with her parents' blessing. For the first time, he had invited her home to his parents' hole for Yule. His mother had been cordial, his father a bit more reserved but kind; however some of his other relations were less than agreeable. His younger brother Longo's nose was out of joint, and he kept making remarks about how he was quite sure she was used to finer things; and every time his aunt got the chance, she brought up an old family scandal-- always speaking to someone else, just loudly enough that Belladonna could overhear. It was unpleasant and uncomfortable, and he could tell her patience was getting frayed, and finally he had lost his own temper and attempted to defend her.
Apparently that had been a mistake, for she took offense. She told him she had done nothing for which she needed to be defended, and that if she did need defending she could do it herself, thank you! She returned home abruptly, and for months she would not answer his letters, and avoided him when family gathers were inevitable. He heard wild tales about her, that she'd gone off with her sister Mirabella into the Old Forest overnight; that she'd gone off adventuring with that old conjuror Gandalf; that she had swarms of suitors.
One day when Longo was being rather more snide than usual, Bungo left the room abruptly. He had to avoid losing his temper with his brother, and it was getting more and more tempting to poke him in the nose-- not at all the action of a respectable gentlehobbit!
Walking around to the east side of The Hill, he ascended it. A large oak grew on the crown of The Hill, and the view was spectacular. The Baggins family owned the entire hill of course, and Bungo often wondered why they had chosen to build the family hole in the gentler slope on the west side, not even midway up. This was truly a much better place for a smial.
An idea came to him, like a bolt from the blue. But he could not act on it until he knew what Gerontius thought about him.
He went home, and told his father he was going away for a day or two, to sort things out one way or another. His father was relieved to hear it. So Bungo packed a valise and headed off to Tuckborough. According to Rosa, Belladonna was still in Buckland, so he had no fear of running into her.
He nearly changed his mind when he came to knock on the Great Door. The Tooks always intimidated him, and especially the Old Took, who had a knowing glint in his eye and who kept his large clan in order by the force of his very considerable personality. But Bungo had to know if he should make another attempt to win Bella's hand, or if he should step back and allow her to go on her own way without him. Her father's opinion was the key.
When he was shown into the Thain's study, Gerontius was standing with his back to the door, staring out the window. "Hullo, Bungo," he said without turning. "I was beginning to wonder if you would ever decide to press your claim."
"Sir?" Bungo was confused. This was not quite how he'd imagined the conversation beginning.
The Old Took turned and looked at him, and with an effort, Bungo managed not to quail under his intense green-eyed stare. "You had my permission to court Bella long ago. Yet you seem to be dragging your feet."
"She told me not to bother her. She returned my letters. She avoided me. She went off to Buckland."
"And you did not persist, which made her think you did not care."
"Oh." Bungo sighed. "I thought..." he stopped and sighed once more.
"You thought that she was still angry, and you wanted to wait until she was not." Gerontius moved to sit behind his massive desk, and waved a hand. "Sit down, lad."
"Lasses can be very contrary, Bungo. They often say what they do not mean, and expect that we will somehow know what they do mean, if we 'really love' them. If we cannot read their minds, they take offense."
"Is it too late for me, sir? I do still love her more than anything. I mean to prove it to her."
"I will build a hole for the two of us, so she will not have to live with my family, for one thing. My parents like her well enough, but the others, I am afraid, do not have a good opinion of your family."
Gerontius did not take offense. "Tooks are not quite such respectable hobbits as the Bagginses. The disappearance of two of my sons and the fact that another of my sons got ahead of himself with your cousin does not help our case."
"How will your father feel about this? You are his heir and future Head of the Bagginses."
"He wishes to see me wed, and he knows that for me it is Belladonna or no one. He will not object. And I do not have to live in his hole to be Head of the Bagginses."
Gerontius leaned back in his chair, and pursed his lips. "If I were not very well aware that Bella still loves you, and that for her as well, it is you or no one, I would not make the proposal I am about to make."
Bungo felt hope spring up in his heart. It looked as though the Thain was on his side. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I will advance Belladonna's dowry to you for the constructing and digging of this hole. I will take it on faith that the two of you will mend things between you. Spare no expense in making a smial that my daughter will be comfortable living in; but do not reveal to anyone except your parents what I have done."
Bungo was stunned. He had put enough aside himself to make a comfortable hole for the two of them-- but now! Oh, now the possibilities crowded his mind! "Sir!" he said in heartfelt gratitude.
"Don't thank me yet. When the hole is built, we will plan the wedding. In the meantime, you have to win my daughter back. She is already on the way back from Buckland. I believe that you might catch her staying at The Oak and Thorn in Pincup."
Bungo rode as quickly as he dared. He was not an accomplished rider, and the pony was hired. But perhaps his urgency communicated itself to his mount, for the journey to Pincup went swiftly by, and it was sometime between teatime and supper when he had arrived in front of the inn. He was tired, sore, and stiff. He dismounted, and unfastened his valise from the saddle, and watched the young stablehobbit go off with the pony. Then he took a deep breath. What if she still refused to see him?
He turned, and was surprised to see her standing in the doorway of the inn, staring. Suddenly, she gave a wordless cry, and ran to him, flinging herself into his arms tearfully. "Oh, oh Bungo! I'm sorry I was so unkind! Please say you forgive me!"
"You've nothing to be sorry for, Bella. I should have been more understanding."
She sniffled into his waistcoat. "No, no it was all my fault!"
He patted her on the back. "I'm sure I was to blame, dear..."
She drew back indignantly, and suddenly he had a sinking feeling they were about to quarrel again, when she gave a mighty sniff, and then began to laugh. "Not very clever of us, to begin first off with another quarrel about who was to blame!"
He pulled her close again, and laughed himself. "No, I don't suppose it is. Perhaps we can start over. Belladonna Took, I have your father's blessing. May I court you?"
"Yes, Bungo Baggins, you may!" She stepped back and took his arm.
They had gone into the inn, where she was staying with Mirabella and some of the Brandybuck relations who had been escorting the Took sisters home, and they all took supper together. Afterwards, the others withdrew to their rooms, and he and Bella had sat together in the common room and talked for hours about their future and about the new hole.
Work began on it immediately, in spite of Longo's jealous jeers at his brother's "folly", and six months after Belladonna came of age, they celebrated their wedding in the Hobbiton Party Field. The two of them were able to honeymoon in the brand new smial dubbed "Bag End"-- a bit of a joke from Bungo's youngest brother, Bingo, and yet strangely appropriate. Belladonna had been delighted with it as a name from the instant she heard it, which naturally commended itself to Bungo.
The two had settled nicely into Hobbiton life, and Belladonna took quickly to being mistress of her own hole. Rowan Gammidge, wife of the rope-maker, came in twice a week to help with the cleaning, and took the laundry away with her. Otherwise, Bella enjoyed taking care of her hole herself.
Then came the joyous news they were to be parents, and they had been so pleased and excited.
Yet as the months drew on, Bella had grown homesick for Tookland, and she began to speak of missing her family. If only they had stayed at home. But he could not deny her wish to see her mother at a time like this. If only they had taken the longer way round, instead of that bumpy post-road, but she had been too impatient. And now she was quite shaken up, and blaming him for her discomfiture!
He tossed another pebble in, and then jumped with a start at the voice behind him.
Bungo turned to see his father-in-law standing there. "What is it?" he asked.
"You are wanted. It seems this little Baggins has suddenly decided to be impatient to enter the world."
"Why didn't you say so?" he said, somewhat illogically, as he began to hurry back, all his annoyance with his wife forgotten in his worry.
Gerontius chuckled. "I've been through this twelve times. It never gets any easier."
Bungo shuddered. Twelve times! He could scarcely imagine it, though he knew very well it was so.
Hours later, he wondered miserably if he should not simply have stayed out by the pond, for all the good he was doing. He had seen her only briefly before he had been sent away by her mother Adamanta, the healer Mistress Matilda, and the midwife Mistress Posy. Now he sat in a room crowded with his brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and various and sundry cousins-in-law, each of whom had stories of births to tell in detail. Every so often, he would wince at the sound of Bella's muffled cries. He could not even pace the room for fear of bumping into one of the numerous Tooks!
Suddenly there was a cry of a different sort: a babe's cry. There was a sudden silence, and then a sudden eruption of Tookish cheers, as Bungo's back was slapped in congratulations. But he just stood, stunned. How was his Bella?
The door opened, and Adamanta stood there, smiling, and his heart lifted. "Bungo, you have a son. Mother and child are well. Come in and meet your lad."
He entered the room cautiously. She lay in the bed, pale, her curls damp with the exertions of her labour. But she was smiling at him. He moved to her side, and then noticed the bundle on her arm, wrapped in the pale green blanket traditional for lads.
He bent and dropped a kiss on her brow, and then looked at the baby. Soft downy brown curls, a wrinkled red face, and sleepy blue eyes met his gaze.
He glanced over at his wife, who giggled and said, "I don't believe 'Bertha' is at all suitable. So I suppose it will have to be the other name we decided on."
He grinned. His son. "Hello, Bilbo Baggins," he said.
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