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MARIGOLD’S CHALLENGE #28
A SIGHT TO REMEMBER
Pippin trailed Merry and Frodo down the main street of Tuckborough. It was far too hot in Wedmath to hurry. They were only headed to the Bouncing Bunny, after all. It was nice to have Frodo here again, at any rate. While Merry usually spent the end of summer with Pippin, Frodo was usually at Bag End. But this year his father was having a big birthday party. Paladin had not celebrated with a large party last year, when he had only held the Thainship for a year. Instead, he and Eglantine had sent for their children, and had a small family gathering. But this one was to be a big affair, with many family heads from throughout the Shire invited. Very handy having Frodo the head of the Bagginses, after all. Sometimes he could not beg off.
Merry and Frodo had nearly reached the inn, when Pippin saw a figure exit the shop doorway belonging to Miss BriarRose Goodchild, Seamstress, rather too abruptly, and closing the door rather too hard. The figure leaned back against the wall, with arms folded crossly.
The slender lass clad in lad’s breeches, with the long red braids could be no other.
Pippin called across the street. “Rusty! Rusty Cotton!”
Rusty looked up and grinned. “Well, if it isn’t Pippin Took!”
Pippin darted across the street, just as Merry and Frodo turned to look, having heard his shout. His older cousins exchanged a look, and headed in Pippin’s direction.
“Hullo, Pippin,” said Rusty, as he came over. “Fancy seeing a Took in Tookland!” She laughed, and Pippin did as well.
Pippin was starting to ask her what a *Cotton* was doing in Tuckborough when he realized his cousins stood behind him. He turned to them. “Merry, Frodo! You remember Rusty don’t you? From the fair at Michel Delving year before last? She’s cousin to Rosie and Jolly and Nibs and Nick and Tom--”*
Frodo interrupted. “Of course I remember Rusty.” He took her hand and bowed over it as though she were a fine lady. “How are you, Miss Ruby?”
Rusty was not in the least intimidated by Pippin or Merry, but the fine young Master of Bag End made her a little shy. “I’m fine, thank you, Mr. Frodo.”
“But you haven’t said what you’re doing here!” said Pippin persistently.
She made a face. “My cousin, Bramble Goodchild, is getting married next week. Mam came early to help with the wedding, and she brought me with her because she wants cousin BriarRose to make me a *dress*!” Rusty spat the last word out as though it were something vile and unspeakable. “She said I have to wear a *dress* at the wedding!”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” said Pippin sympathetically.
Merry chuckled and rolled his eyes. Most lasses loved to get new dresses, but not Rusty. “So why are you out here, and not in there?” he asked.
“Mam’s not happy with me. Cousin BriarRose made me stand about and get measured, and then they started looking at cloth. There was some nice brown and green checked stuff there, and I said I liked that, but no, Mam was looking at *pink* and Cousin BriarRose was showing her *lavender* and lace and everything, and I said it was bad enough having to wear a *dress* without it being *pink* or *lavender*! Anyway she made me come out here to wait for her.”
Frodo shook his head in amusement. “Rusty, I was taking my cousins to get some refreshment. Would you like to join us?”
Her hazel eyes went wide. “Oh, Mr. Frodo! I’d like that ever so much.” Her face fell, though and she continued, “but I don’t think Mam would let me right now.”
Frodo smiled at her. “Perhaps she will if *I* ask her.”
“Oh, *thank* you, Mr. Frodo!” She clasped her hands and bit her lip in excitement.
Pippin was bouncing on the balls of his feet, and he too wore an expression of anxious hope. He and Rusty and her brother and Nibs had a good deal of fun and a little adventure at the fair, and he was quite ready to spend some time in her company. Rusty was as much fun as any lad, and quite as adventurous as a Took.
Merry gave them a glance, and thought for a moment about teasing Pippin for liking a lass--Pip was at the age now when he usually avoided them as much as possible; but somehow Merry did not think that Rusty would take such teasing with good humor. At any rate, it was quite clear that she had made a real impression on Pippin. He would like to know her better himself.
Frodo slipped into the shop, causing the little bell over the door to tinkle.
He entered, to see the two hobbitesses bent over several bolts of fabric, in various shades of pink and purple. They looked up as he entered.
Miss BriarRose was only a little surprised to see a gentlehobbit. While most of her customers were the matrons of Tuckborough and their daughters, she had not a few gentlehobbits who came to her for such things as their shirts. They generally went to Master Egbert Goold, the tailor, for jackets and fancy weskits.
She stopped her discussion with her cousin immediately. Aster Cotton was not a paying customer--the seamstress was making the dresses as a thanks for the help being given with her sister’s wedding.
But he surprised her.
“Miss Goodchild, Mrs. Cotton,” he greeted politely. “Mrs. Cotton, do you remember me?”
“Why of course I do, Mr. Frodo! It’s very good to see you again! Are you here for the Thain’s birthday?”
“Yes, I am. I am in town today with Merry and Pippin, and of course Pippin was very pleased to see Rusty again, as they had so much fun at the fair that time.”
Mrs. Cotton’s lips tightened a little bit, but she was not going to mention her dissatisfaction with her daughter’s behavior to Mr. Frodo Baggins!
“At any rate, I was wondering if we might borrow Rusty for a while. I should like to treat her to some refreshment. And perhaps she might even be allowed to come back to the Great Smials to play with Pippin for a while? I would be glad to escort her back here after teatime.”
“Why, Mr. Frodo! That’s most kind of you--” she hesitated. She was not inclined to allow Rusty a treat after her cheekiness earlier, yet it was hard to refuse Mr. Frodo. And it was most certainly true that now they had Rusty’s measurements, it would be far easier to carry on with planning the dress without the child’s interference. And it would go hard with Rusty to miss the chance to spend time with her friend. Little Master Pippin was a sweet, polite and well-spoken child, and for all he was gentry, he didn’t make no difference betwixt high and low. Rusty might learn a bit about good manners in his company. All this passed through her mind in only a few seconds. “Yes, yes it does sound like a nice idea, if you are sure she won’t be no bother to you.”
“She’ll be no bother at all.” Frodo gave his most charming smile to both of them, and then glanced at some of the fabric on another table. His eye fell on a subdued plaid, in autumn shades of greens and browns. In a casual manner, he passed his hand over the material, and said, “What a very attractive bit of goods this is!” He studied it intently for a moment and then turned back. “Well, thank you very much, Mrs. Cotton--I’ll see that Rusty gets safely returned. Miss Goodchild--I may come speak to you later about some shirts. Good-bye.”
He went out, making certain not to look back and see if they were looking at the plaid material. He hoped that perhaps he’d done little Rusty a small favor, at least.
The four young hobbits made their way to The Leaping Hare (more commonly known as The Bouncing Bunny) and Frodo led his charges into the common room.
“Ah, Mr. Baggins!” said Master Dodd Brockhouse, the innkeeper. “What may I get for you today?”
“I’d like an ale, please, Master Dodd. And a half for my cousin Merry here--” he stopped and looked at Pippin and Rusty. “Do you want sweet cider, lemon squash or ginger beer?” he asked.
“Sweet cider,” said Pippin immediately.
“Ginger beer,” said Rusty.
“And perhaps a bowl of crisps, if you have any,” Frodo added.
Soon the promised refreshment arrived, and Pippin and Rusty applied themselves seriously, as they listened to Frodo and Merry talking.
“I cannot believe we’ve been inflicted with Sackville-Bagginses at the Great Smials,” said Merry in disgust. “Uncle Paladin told Da they’d be arriving today.”
Frodo shrugged. “Paladin could scarcely avoid inviting them. I’m sure Lotho just wants to take advantage of the chance to discuss the leaf trade.”
“At a party?” Merry asked disgustedly. “That’s so rude!”
“Since when have the S.-B.s let rudeness stop them?” said Frodo with resignation.
At the mention of Lotho, Rusty cast a glance at Pippin and winked, and Pippin bit his lip to keep from laughing. The two of them had played a very successful series of pranks on Lotho at the fair in Michel Delving.
Rusty was slightly taken aback at Frodo’s news that she would be allowed to accompany them back to the Great Smials, and even take tea there before coming back to Tuckborough. She knew her mother had been angry with her. But Mr. Frodo seemed to have talked her Mam into it.
“And where does your cousin live, Rusty?” asked Frodo, as they walked from the inn, and headed out of the town for the short walk back to Great Smials.
“Oh, Cousins BriarRose and Bramble live behind the shop. We are staying there with them until the rest of the family comes for the wedding, and then we will go out to the farm and stay there with Aunt May and Uncle Rufus.”
“May and Rufus Goodchild?” asked Frodo. “Is that Sam’s Aunt May?”
“Yes, sir. Sam’s Aunt May on the Gaffer’s side married her second cousin twice removed on Sam’s mother’s side. But Uncle Rufus is really my great-uncle on my mam’s side.”
“So, will Sam and his family be coming over for the wedding?”
“I’m sure they will, Mr. Frodo.”
The trek passed pleasantly enough with the conversation on family matters, something of which hobbits never seem to tire, young or old, and soon the Great Smials came in sight.
Rusty’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the huge sprawling smial. No wonder they called it the Great Smials! For the first time in her young life, she wished she *was* wearing a hated dress--for surely they would think her awful, coming to tea like this, clad in breeches! She looked over at Pippin nervously, but he just grinned, and she relaxed.
As they arrived, Frodo said “Oh, bother! They’re here!”
They looked up at the Great Door. A pony-trap was pulled up, and Rusty could see Lobelia and Lotho Sackville-Baggins getting out of it. She bit her lip to keep from giggling, as she remembered the last time she had seen Lotho. But when she looked at Pippin, he was scowling. Merry looked cross as well, but Mr. Frodo had a very bland look on his own face.
As they approached, they saw other hobbits. It was clear that two of them were servants--they were taking the luggage from the back of the trap.
Also there was a hobbitess, who was patiently listening to Lobelia’s complaints about the state of the roads.
“I tell you Eglantine--Paladin needs to do something about all these lazy hobbits. They should be keeping the road up far better. Why I am sure that we must have hit potholes every mile of the way! And this weather is unbearably hot!”
Lotho turned back to look at the servants. “Be careful with that travelling case you oaf! I have some very expensive bath oil in there, from far lands outside the Shire! If it breaks--”
“Lotho,” Eglantine interrupted, “I am sure that Timmon will be very careful with your luggage!” She looked over to see Frodo and the others approaching. “Why, look! Frodo, you are just in time to greet your cousin!” She cast a look of mingled apology and appeal at Frodo.
The younger ones hung back. Pippin made a movement, but Merry grabbed his elbow. “Stay where you are, Pip. We can’t abandon Frodo right now,” he whispered.
Frodo stepped up. “Well, hello, Lobelia, Lotho,” he said frostily. “I am surprised to see you here.”
Lotho glared at Frodo. “Hello, *Cousin* Frodo,” he replied, sneering. He deliberately turned back to Eglantine. “Where is the Thain?”
“Paladin is in the south garden, receiving some of our other guests. I do hope that you will join us there after you have refreshed yourselves.”
Lobelia, who had been glaring at the servants, who were struggling with a good many more pieces of luggage than a few days’ visit made necessary, turned and said, “I do most certainly need to refresh myself! The trip was a nightmare! This summer heat! It is a most inconvenient time for a party!”
Eglantine stared at this pronouncement, made in the most serious manner possible, and finally said, “Well, I am sorry that we can do nothing about the day on which Paladin was born.” She turned her attention to the younger hobbits. “Peregrin, have you brought us a guest as well?”
“Yes, Mother,” he said, as Rusty blushed to the roots of her hair. “This is Ruby Cotton. She is cousin to Miss BriarRose Goodchild, the seamstress, and has come up from Bywater to attend her cousin Bramble’s wedding. Frodo knows the Cottons from Bywater. Everyone calls her Rusty.”
Eglantine turned a smile on Rusty that was as warm and welcoming as the one to Lobelia and Lotho had been frosty. “I am very pleased to meet you, Rusty.”
Rusty bobbed her head politely. “At your service, ma’am,” she said, wishing once more that she was not in breeches. A curtsy would have been the polite thing to do, but it looked rather silly to curtsy in breeches. Perhaps her mother had a point about wearing skirts sometimes.
There was a loud throat clearing from Lotho. “Mistress Eglantine, if you do not mind, my mother is tired. Perhaps you could pay attention to the *child* some other time.”
“I am sorry, Lotho,” Eglantine said. She did not sound sorry. She turned to the two servants. “Timmon, Elbert, would you please show the Sackville-Bagginses to their rooms?”
The unwelcome guests followed the two servants, who were having a difficult time managing all the various items of luggage. Lotho was berating them loudly, and Lobelia complaining shrilly as they moved out of earshot.
Eglantine indulged herself in a rolling of eyes. She shook her head. “Frodo,” she said, “you have my sincere admiration. I do not know how you have put up with them all these years!”
Frodo chuckled. “As little as I can possibly manage, Cousin Tina. It has been easier since Otho removed the family to the Southfarthing. Poor Bilbo often had them on the doorstep, as they lived just down the Hill. But Otho couldn’t stand seeing me as Master of Bag End.”
Eglantine glanced down at Pippin and Rusty, who were listening with wide eyes, and berated herself for allowing the S.-B.s to annoy her into indiscretion. “Pippin, would you and Rusty mind going to the main kitchen, and letting Mistress Heather know that we are ready for some refreshments in the south garden?”
“Yes, Mother!” Pippin grinned. Errands to the kitchens were always devoutly to be desired. There might be treats to be found. He gestured, and Rusty trotted after him.
“That Mr. Lotho is as nasty as ever!” she said, as she followed Pippin, who was making his way unerringly through what seemed a dizzying maze of tunnels.
“He’s never anything but!” Pippin exclaimed emphatically. “He had no business to talk that way to Tim and Bert. They are *our* servants--and my parents don’t talk that way to them, nor do they let us! And the S.-B.s bother Frodo dreadfully. I don’t know why he has to have such nasty relations! I am very glad they are not blood-kin to the Tooks!”
“Remember at the fair?” Rusty asked, and soon they were re-living their triumphs over Lotho in the past.
Soon they were in the kitchen, and, having delivered the message, were rewarded with a warm berry scone apiece. As they stood off in a corner enjoying their treat, Tim and Bert entered the kitchen, scowling and grumbling.
“Even the old Mistress never called me so many names as that Lotho-person!” said Tim angrily.
“I swear,” said Bert, “if I had heard one more time about his precious expensive bottles that he had with him, I would have thrown his case on the floor and jumped up and down on it!”
“Stop complaining about the Thain’s guests!” snapped Mistress Heather, as she thrust a tray of food into Bert’s hands, and another at Tim. “You take these out to the south garden, and be quick about it.”
Rusty and Pippin followed them out, not wanting to let so much lovely food out of their sight.
Once in the garden, they soon found Merry and Frodo. But as the two were involved in adult conversations, they did not stay. Pippin determined to show Rusty around.
“You know,” said Rusty thoughtfully, “it’s a shame we couldn’t teach that Mr. Lotho another lesson.”
Pippin grinned. “Prank him?”
She shrugged. “It worked before.”
Pippin took a small tin of toffees from his pocket and opened it. “Only two left,” he said, handing her one, and putting the lid back on, he slipped the empty tin back into his pocket. “I wouldn’t mind getting Loathsome again. He’s such a nasty bit of goods!” Pippin said the last with a rather swaggering air. It was one of Merry’s favorite insults for Lotho. “What could we do? We’d have to be careful.” He looked sideways at Rusty to see if she was serious about it. Merry was his usual partner when it came to pranks. The episode at the Fair had been rather an emergency, and Rusty had come splendidly up to scratch, even if she was a lass.
Rusty was biting her lip and had rather a far-away look in her eye. Mr. Frodo had been ever so kind to her--thinking of him made her blush again--and she would love the chance to strike a blow for him against his unpleasant kinfolk. “Hmm…” she said. “he’s so proud of that special oil he has with him. Maybe we could put something else in the bottle.”
Pippin stopped, grinned, and bit his lip. This could be fun. “I think I know just the thing. Come on!”
He led the way to the edge of the garden, having to stop every so often to exchange polite greetings with this relative or that, and to introduce Rusty. She noticed that once he swerved to avoid a group of three giggling lasses, who were staring nastily at him.
“Cousin Reggie’s daughters,” he said shortly. “They are nothing but nuisances.”
In trying to avoid the lasses, Pippin failed to notice the two lads who stepped in front of him.
“Hullo, Pipsqueak,” said the larger. “So, you have a lass?” He sneered at Rusty in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable indeed.
“I have a *friend*, Cousin Clovis,” replied Pippin. He looked up past Clovis to a point beyond his shoulder. “Oh, hello, Frodo! Merry!” he said brightly.
Clovis and his brother Cado turned abruptly in alarm, only to see no one there, but by the time they turned back, Pippin and Rusty had disappeared.
Behind a hedge, Pippin said to Rusty “My Banks cousins.”
“Oh.” Rusty was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Pippin. Here he lived in this great splendid hole, bigger than a village, and he was just surrounded by unpleasant kinfolk, and having to be polite to them. Rusty found herself being ever so glad she wasn’t gentry. Of course, he did have Mr. Merry and Mr. Frodo. At the thought of Frodo, she turned to Pippin. “Are we still on for the prank?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Pippin grinning, and pointing to a sturdy garden shed that stood nearby. “I am quite sure we will find something in here that would be very interesting to put into Loathsome’s fancy bottle!”
Pippin was right. There were any number of bottles and jars filled with interesting substances--most of which they rejected as being too dangerous or unpleasant even to inflict on Lotho Sackville-Baggins.
Rusty took another one down. “What’s this?” She opened it and peered in. “Milk glue!”**
Pippin laughed. “Milk glue! That’s perfect! That jar is too large, though, to carry off.” He paused. “I know!” He took the toffee tin out of his pocket.
“Oh yes!” grinned Rusty. That is absolutely perfect!”
Pippin and Rusty slipped into the guest’s bathing room. Rusty looked about her, eyes wide at the fancy copper tub, a folding screen, a pump for water with two large buckets next to it, and large copper kettles for heating the water. Towards the center of the room was a large iron stove for heating the water. A coal bin with a coalscuttle stood next to it. The floor was stone, and sloped toward the center of the room, where a drain hole was. There was also a washstand, and there was an array of fancy bottles on it, and a small basket containing small fancy soaps.
“Which one belongs to Mr. Lotho?” Rusty asked in a whisper.
Most of the bottles and jars were grouped together on a low shelf at the back of the washstand, but there were three bottles together, next to the ewer and basin.
“Those have to be his,” said Pippin. “I don’t recognize them. The other bottles are things we keep on hand for our guests.”
The two exchanged a conspiratorial look. “It’s now or never, Pippin,” said Rusty.
He grinned. “This will teach old Loathsome a lesson.” He picked up one of the three bottles, and looked at it carefully. It was of white glass. He pulled out the stopper, and took a whiff.
“Ick! Why would anyone want to bathe in something that smells like that?” He peered in with one eye. “Looks like it’s about half full. We’ll have to pour some out first, or he will notice.” He looked over at the drain in the floor, and then walked over, squatted down, and tipped much of it out. There was a strong spicy, musky smell. Rusty bent down next to Pippin and handed him the little tin with the purloined glue. He carefully poured about half of it in, then peered into the bottle, gave a shrug, and then poured in the rest. He gave the tin back to Rusty, and she put the lid on, while he put the stopper back in the bottle and shook it up.
They looked at one another and giggled, then rose and carefully put the bottle back on the washstand.
Just as they were getting ready to exit the room, they heard voices approaching in the hallway. They looked at one another in dismay.
Pippin grabbed Rusty’s hand and pulled her along behind the folding screen just as the door opened.
Two of the serving maids entered, and one of them went over to the pump and began to fill one of the large buckets, while the other took the coalscuttle and began to fire the stove.
“Imagine! Wanting a bath this time o’ day! And it nearly teatime, too!” said the maidservant who was building up the fire.
“Well, it’s no use expecting consideration from the likes o’ them! They may be gentry, but they sure don’t act like it!” said the other, as she poured the bucketful of water into the copper tub. She filled another. “Poor Mr. Frodo, being kin to the likes o’ them!”
“*She* puts me in mind o’ the old Mistress. You wasn’t here when Mistress Lalia was alive, but she was even worse than that!”
“I can’t bear to think of it,” said the other. “I’m glad I weren’t here back then!”
“Mistress Eglantine’s ever so much nicer,” said the first, as she filled one of the kettles to put on to heat.
Pippin and Rusty stared at one another in horror. Someone was coming in to bathe! They had to get out.
“I do like Mistress Eglantine, and the Thain, too! Ever so polite spoken, the both of them with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and a smile and a kind word when the work’s done well.”
“The children are nice, too! I was a bit worrited when the Thain first come, and didn’t want them around--thought at first they must be fair spoilt brats for sure, if their parents didn’t even want them here! But they aren’t spoilt at all. And I hear tell that the true reason was that the new Thain feared that some folks would be spiteful to their young ones--*you* know the ones I mean.” She gave an expressive lift of her eyebrows.
“Well, they aren’t spoilt, but they sure try to spoil Master Pippin! He’s a caution to be sure!”
Behind the screen, Rusty put her hand to her mouth to stifle a grin, and Pippin’s face flamed. It was horrible to be eavesdropping and then hear himself spoken of.
“He is a caution, and no mistake! And the mischief he gets up to when Master Merry is here to visit! They fair drive poor Master Pippin’s sisters to distraction.”
Pippin bit his lip to stifle a groan. This was dreadful--would they never be quiet and go away?
“Well, there’s no harm in the lad, and he’s that tender-hearted. T’other day, the new little kitchen maid, Thistle Sandheaver--she’s barely twenty-one, and terribly homesick--was a-hiding in the larder to have herself a good cry, and Master Pippin came on her, and spoke nicely to her, and lent her his good handkerchief, and gave her a toffee, and told her he knew how it felt to miss her family.” She picked up the kettle which had begun to boil, and poured the hot water into the tub.
Pippin slumped down and buried his face in his knees. Rusty turned to look at him with sympathy, and not a little admiration.
“Well,” laughed the other, “that’s just what the sweet lad would do! But--” and she laughed again, “--what *I’d* like to know is what he was doing in the larder himself!”
Now both of them burst out laughing.
Suddenly, Pippin and Rusty heard the sound of the door as it burst open and hit the wall.
The last voice either of them ever wanted to hear screeched out in strident tones: “Isn’t my bath ready yet? What have you lazy wenches found to laugh over when you should be working?”
Pippin and Rusty peered through the screen. Lobelia, in a violent purple and yellow dressing gown was berating the maids.
Both of the maidservants blanched, and with a number of bobs and curtseys and “ever-so-sorry-ma’ams” they hurriedly poured the last kettle of hot water in the tub, and took themselves off.
As the maids left, with still more apologies, to the sound of Lobelia’s penetrating insults, she slammed the bathing room door and shot the bolt.
The looks Pippin and Rusty gave one another were pure terror. They were locked in with her now. What were they going to do? Looking out once more through the cracks in the screen, they saw her pick up the bottles and move them to a ledge on the wall that was near the tub. Taking one of the bottles--fortunately not the white one--she poured some of the contents into the tub. And then, the most appalling sight imaginable: she turned around, and shrugged out of the dressing gown, which she flung over the edge of the screen. One of the purple and yellow sleeves hung down, nearly tickling Pippin’s nose.
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins stood before them as naked as the day she was born.
Pippin shut his eyes tightly to close out the horrible sight, but it was burned forever in his mind. He had never seen anything so dreadful. He heard the noise of a great splashing, and realized she must have got into the tub.
A sound of rather off-key humming and more splashing, and then he felt his sleeve tugged. He opened his eyes and glanced at his companion. Rusty was looking decidedly green, possibly she felt as sick as he did. She gestured with her chin towards the crack, and plucking up his courage, Pippin risked another look.
Lobelia was immersed now up to her chin in the tub, so it was not so bad.
Then she reached up to the ledge, and took down the white bottle.
Mouthing silently, Rusty said “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Pippin nodded. He eyed the distance from the screen to the door, making note that if they crept quietly enough, they might could move from their hiding place to behind the stove without her seeing, but when they unbolted the door, she would be bound to hear and look their way. He bit his lip, and then silently pulled the dressing gown over and into his hands; then he reached out as far as he could, and plucked the coalscuttle from the bin. Then he turned, and gestured to Rusty. Slowly, keeping near the floor, they wriggled to their new hiding place, behind the stove. It was unpleasantly hot.
In the tub, Lobelia had poured some of the stuff from the white bottle into her hands, and began to try and work up a lather.
With signs and gestures, Pippin had made his plan clear to Rusty. As Lobelia leaned forward, puzzled, and looked at the stuff in her hands, and then began to struggle to get her hands apart, Pippin’s arm shot out, flinging the coalscuttle up and over her head to land in the far corner of the room.
“What was that?” Lobelia leaned forward, peering toward the direction of the clatter. “Is someone in here?” she cried shrilly.
At that instant, Rusty cast the dressing gown, which landed very neatly over the top of Lobelia’s head.
And while Lobelia began to shriek, they dashed to the door, flung back the bolt and scrambled out.
They could hear the pounding of many feet hastening towards the direction of Lobelia’s panicked shrieking. Pippin grabbed Rusty’s hand, and yanked her across the hall, and into a nearby linen closet, pulling the door shut behind them just in time.
Dropping to the floor, they sat in the dark with hearts pounding, listening to all the commotion, as dozens of hobbits raced to the rescue. This apparently only increased Lobelia’s shrieks.
After a few moments of chaos, during which Pippin could hear his mother’s voice sending away all the male hobbits, and asking someone to send for Mistress Poppy the family healer, and Lobelia alternately shrieking, wailing and angrily shouting insults and threats, the noise began to die away.
The two miscreants sat quietly for a moment, and then Pippin risked cracking the door for a peek. No one was there.
“Come on, Rusty! Follow me, or we’ll be in dreadful trouble.”
He darted down a few doors, and then opened a door on the left, which led into a small mathom room. Then he quickly threaded his way through the stacks of boxes and dusty mathoms to another door at the back of the room. He opened it into a dusty and dim short passage, and went in, Rusty treading on his heels. He counted the doors they passed on the left hand side, and at the fourth one, pulled it open. In front of the doorway stood some massive piece of furniture. Pippin dropped to the floor and wriggled beneath it, turning when he came out the other side to give Rusty a hand.
She stood up, and turned to see that they had crawled beneath a large wardrobe, and stood in a bedroom. It was stuffy and overcrowded.
“These used to be the old Mistress’ chambers,” said Pippin. “No one wants them as they are, and Mother has yet to have time to see to having them done over. No one will come in here.”
Rusty looked about in amazement, as Pippin led her through the room, and out past another smaller bedroom and a sitting room. There was another door, and he opened it. It led into another passageway which had a large round door at the end flanked with two windows to the outside. “Hurry,” he said. “we need to get out as soon as possible.
“This is a shortcut. No one except Merry and I know about it. But no one will think we could have had anything to do with that prank, because they won’t know we could get here so quickly.”
They slipped out the door, and found themselves once more in the south garden, slightly hidden by some shrubbery. Pippin dusted himself off, and Rusty did the same, and the two emerged unnoticed. There were still several groups of guests scattered about, and Rusty followed Pippin as he went to join Frodo and Merry, who were talking to a couple of older hobbitesses.
Pippin placed a kiss on the cheek of each of them. “Hullo, Auntie Primrose, Auntie Peridot! Have you met my friend Ruby Cotton? Everyone calls her Rusty.”
Merry gave Pippin a penetrating look. His younger cousin had a certain air about him that Merry recognized. He was quite sure that Pippin had been up to something. He’d get it out of him later. He looked at Rusty, and she bit her lip and blushed. He hoped Pippin had not been getting her into trouble. She seemed like a sweet little lass, and as she was cousin to the Cottons and the Gamgees, neither Frodo nor Sam would be very happy if Pippin got her into mischief.
Pippin talked to his aunts for a while, and they politely questioned Rusty about her family. They were still chatting several minutes later, when Pippin glanced up to see his parents approaching, his mother glowering, and his father looking less than amused.
They came over to where he stood, with Rusty, Merry, Frodo and his aunts.
“Peregrin,” said Paladin, “what have you been doing the last little while?”
“Well, I’ve been out here showing Rusty around the gardens, Father. Why?”
Paladin ignored the last question, and looked at Merry. “Meriadoc?”
“I’ve been with Frodo the whole time, Uncle Paladin!”
Primrose interrupted. “Pippin and his little friend have been chatting with us for some time. Is something wrong?”
Eglantine looked at her sister-in-law. “A rather dreadful prank was played on someone in the guest wing. I *am* sorry, Pippin, but I fear that you and Merry were our first suspects, since the victim was Lobelia Sackville-Baggins!” She looked at her husband. “If Pippin’s been out here with Rusty, and Merry’s been out here with Frodo the whole time, there is no way they could have been in the guest wing so short a time ago.”
Merry gave Pippin a very sharp glance.
“I fear you are right, Tina. But who else could it have been?”
Eglantine cast a glance about her at some of the other guests. “Well, it would be the sort of thing that Clovis and Cado might do. But I see them right over there with my brother, so they could not have done it either. I have no idea who else it might have been. It is not the sort of thing Reggie’s daughters would do, nor can I even begin to imagine Fatty or Folco doing such a thing, nor most of the other youngsters who are visiting.”
Paladin shook his head. “I am afraid we may never find out who the culprit is.”
“Excuse me, Cousin Paladin,” said Frodo, “but exactly what sort of prank was pulled on Lobelia.” There was a glint of amusement in Frodo’s eye.
“I am sure that the whole Shire will soon hear about it,” said Eglantine, “for everyone on that end of the Smials heard her screams and complaints. Someone went into the guest bath, and put glue in the liquid soap she uses to wash her hair, and then spied on her in her bath!” She shook her head. “Mistress Poppy is even now trying to get the glue from her hands, which are stuck together, and then will try to get her to take a calming draught!”
Frodo’s jaw dropped. Making every effort to keep a straight face, he managed to say a rather weak “Oh dear!” but it was clear he was having to make an effort not to laugh.
Seeing Frodo’s reaction was enough to set Paladin off, and he too, began to try and suppress a smile. Eglantine looked at them sternly. “It’s *not*--oh dear--” she bit her lip, and an amused glint came into her eyes, but she did not crack a smile “--it’s not funny,” she finished weakly.
“Actually,” chuckled Primrose, “it *is* rather amusing.”
“Oh my,” said Peridot. “Can you imagine what a frightful sight the poor prankster must have had?”
This was too much for Frodo, who finally had to laugh aloud. “This is dreadful of me, I know--but Lobelia in her bath? I shudder to think of it,” and he laughed even harder. The other adults soon joined in.
Pippin and Rusty, however, were not laughing at all. And Merry was too busy studying their faces to join in the fun.
“Excuse me,” said Merry, “but I haven’t spoken to Fatty yet, and I see him over there! Pip, why don’t you introduce Rusty to him?” and he took Pippin’s elbow and steered him away from the others, who were now all wiping their eyes and trying to control their laughter. Rusty followed behind, alarmed. That had been a very *knowing* glint in Mr. Merry’s eye.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Merry hissed “It *was* you, wasn‘t it? Pippin, you used the short cut!”
Pippin gulped. He had never in his life yet lied to Merry. “I can’t say,” he replied miserably.
“Meaning you dragged Rusty into it! Pippin! What were you thinking of? Frodo would have been horribly upset if you got her into trouble!”
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Merry,” Rusty interrupted, “but it was my idea!”
Merry stared at her in shock.
“Well, it was!”
“Not really--” said Pippin. “I wanted to get Lotho!”
“But the glue was my idea!” said Rusty.
“Wait a minute,” said Merry. “Lotho?” He turned a stern eye on Pippin,
“…so you see, Merry, it was *Lotho* we meant to get, and we didn’t mean to be spying at all! And I don’t think I ever want to see anything as horrid as a naked Lobelia again in my life! I wish I could remove my eyeballs!”
Rusty nodded an emphatic agreement. Merry glanced over at her with a new respect, and not a little apprehension. She was very nearly as bad as a Took for getting into trouble, apparently. He dreaded to think what it would be like if she and Pippin spent too much time together. But what a lot of pluck she had for a lass!
Just then, they heard a loud bellow: “*TOOK!*”
They turned to see a red-faced Lotho Sackville-Baggins striding angrily across the lawn towards Paladin. “*What* are you planning to do to the person who attacked my mother?” he shouted, not even waiting until he was close enough for civil speech.
Paladin turned on him frostily. “Attacked, Mr. Sackville-Baggins?”
“I don’t know what else you’d call it, gluing her hands together, throwing coalscuttles at her, spying on her!” By now he had come up to the group who had been talking, and was angrily yelling into Paladin’s face. “I demand that you punish the person responsible!”
“If I am able to determine who is responsible then most certainly I will see to it that they are suitably punished.” Paladin’s tone was cold and hard.
“I think it’s obvious who’s responsible--” He looked over and glared in Merry’s and Pippin’s direction “--that Brandybuck brat and your son were the culprits, and *you*--” he turned in Frodo’s direction “--are probably the one who put them up to it!”
Pippin blanched, and clutched at Merry’s arm. “Merry!” he hissed, “I can’t let them blame you and Frodo!”
Merry shook his head. “Calm down, Pip. You can’t get Rusty in trouble either--which you will if you confess. And Frodo and I will not be in disgrace.”
Rusty was badly frightened. She very much wanted to say “never mind about me” but the words would not come. She licked her dry lips. The three of them listened again to the adults’ conversation, for no effort was being made to keep voices down.
“Don’t be absurd, *Cousin* Lotho,” Frodo snapped. “Merry and Pippin have been here in the south garden, as any number of witnesses are willing to attest. And I most certainly would not encourage either of them to such behavior. It is hardly worth it.”
Merry turned to Pippin, with one eyebrow raised. “You see, Pip? No one would ever think that you would have any other partner in crime besides myself. And because *I’ve* been here the whole time, they assume you have as well.” He glanced at Rusty. “You are very lucky, Rusty, that most people think Pippin won’t get into trouble without me around.”
Lotho was red in the face and his eyes were bulging out. “My mother and I will not stay around to be insulted! As soon as that healer says she is up to it, we shall be leaving. We will not be staying around for any party after treatment like this!” He turned on his heel and stomped off.
Merry grinned at the two younger hobbits as they had watched from a safe distance. “Well, it looks as though you accomplished *something* good, at least! We shall say no more on it. Come on, I said we were going to introduce Rusty to Fatty…” Merry kept the two of them under his eye until it was time to go in to tea.
Tea was served in the Thain’s apartment, in the private sitting room, and there were only a few people besides Pippin’s parents and sisters there: Frodo, of course; Merry and his parents; the Aunties Primrose and Peridot; the healer, Mistress Poppy and her apprentice, Miss Larkspur Mugwort.
Mistress Poppy informed Paladin that Lobelia was feeling much better, though still vengefully angry, and that she and Lotho had vowed they would be leaving first thing in the morning.
No one seemed terribly upset at the news.
Pippin and Rusty were rather quiet. Pippin could feel Merry’s constant regard--every time he looked in Merry’s direction, their gazes met, and his older cousin flashed a warning in his grey eyes.
Pippin and his guest sat in a corner, sipping their tea, and nibbling on biscuits and cucumber sandwiches. They were not inclined to laugh or giggle over their prank. It had been a near thing, and both of them were a bit frightened still over how it might have turned out.
Pippin sighed. “Every time I close my eyes, I see--*her*.”
“I know,” muttered Rusty. “I think I might have nightmares. I may never play another prank again.”
Pippin looked over at her. “Really?”
She stopped short of saying yes, and as she looked at him, a smile started. “No, not really--but maybe for a long time,” and then she giggled.
Pippin grinned at her. “Yes, maybe a long time--but not ‘never’.”
After tea, Paladin offered Frodo the use of one of the pony-traps to take Rusty back into town, and Eglantine invited her and her family to return the next day for the Thain’s party. Overwhelmed, Rusty stammered her thanks, imagining her mother‘s reaction to the invitation.
She said good-bye when Frodo, Merry and Pippin dropped her off at her cousin’s shop, congratulating herself on a day well-spent.
And was delighted to discover that her mother and Cousin BriarRose had decided that perhaps the brown and green material would do for her dress, after all.
But neither she nor Pippin slept well that night.
* "Pippin the Protector" http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterview.asp?sid=4063&cid=15847
** "Milk glue" is what is called "casein glue". It is a milk product, and is one of the most ancient forms of glues in existence. It is as strong as modern PVA glues.
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