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“Look! Look, she did it again!”
“Aye, she did!”
“Just what is she doing now? Move! Let me see too!”
“Don’t push, Vinca!
“Well, give me some room then, Pippin. Oh! Oh, I see! She is! She is!”
“You have to admit she is rather good at it.”
“Honestly Meriadoc! Only you would say something like that.”
“But it’s true.”
“It is true, but it’s daft! How many elderly aunts have you seen who behave like her, hmm? She’s downright absurd.”
They watched as the old hobbit strutted and preened as if acting out the role of a proud rooster. Momentarily, she turned back to her canvas and resumed her careful work. Every now and then she stopped and let loose with another loud bird call. The youngsters stared up in disbelief as Auntie’s raucous calling frightened several small robins right out of their nests and sent them scattering across the clear sky. They shared a look of wry amusement.
“Perhaps she’s acting like the bird she’s painting…you know, for effect or inspiration…or something.” Pervinca finished lamely.
Merry shook his head and chuckled.
“Oh, poor old dotty Auntie Pringle. She doesn’t even realize she’s attracting attention, now does she?” Pervinca giggled helplessly.
“How can anyone behave like that and not know how silly they are?”
“I don’t know Pip. Maybe nobody ever told her.”
“Merry. I can’t believe that. Why, she’s probably even dangerous the way she’s waving her arms and strutting about! I heard she nearly put someone’s eye out once with those long fingernails of hers. She even paints them! I could hardly believe it even though I saw it for myself.”
“She’s different all right Pip. I mean, even her name isn’t one that a proper hobbit lass would have.”
“She’s hardly a lass any more Vinca.”
“But she still has the strength in her old fingers to pinch you until you squeal!” Pervinca reached over and pinched her brother’s cheek hard.
“Oww, stop that!” He batted her hand away. “It’s bad enough she’s already done that twice today.” Pippin rubbed at his sore cheek in annoyance and glared at his sister.
“Auntie just doesn’t know when to let well enough alone.”
“No, I just don’t know when to stay out of her way!”
“Those bird calls are amazing though!” Merry grinned widely. “Oh, listen! I do believe she’s about to go through her entire litany again.”
“Honestly Merry, you sound as if you admire her. For pity’s sake, she thinks the birds are answering her!”
Merry snorted. “Oh, she does not Pip.”
“Yes she does! Didn’t you see her talking to her pet raven? She believes he speaks back, I know it! Why, she carries on a regular conversation with him. I’ve watched her. She talks to him and then listens real close. Like this.” Pippin tilted his head toward the imaginary bird on his shoulder as he parodied his aunt. “Oh, hello Pepper! And how are you today my lovely, lovely little friend?”
Merry and Pervinca roared at his antics in spite of themselves.
Pippin continued in a high-pitched voice, hamming it up even more, “What? What’s that you say my fine, feathered friend? You didn’t care for your dinner? Well, not to worry then! Mummy will find something even better for you, what do you say Pepper?”
“Oh come now Pip! She’s just having you on, that’s all. She did that because she knew you were watching.”
“No. You’re wrong Vinca. She didna see me watching, I know it for sure.”
“Did not.” Pippin stuck out his tongue and ducked when his sister pitched a pebble at him.
“Stop carrying on like that or I’m leaving.” Merry plunked down on the ground.
“It’s all very curious you realize.” Pippin lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper as he plopped down his cousin. “I heard she even speaks the raven’s own language. That’s why she makes those funny squawking sounds and walks about like a bird.”
“Sure Pip! And I bet she even grows a pair of wings and flies around with him at night.”
“I wouldna be a bit surprised.”
“Well, perhaps she talks to her bird because no one talks much to her.” Pervinca squinted up her eyes as she studied the scene thoughtfully, tugging at her bottom lip. “Perhaps she’s lonely.”
“She’s daft! Of course no one likes to talk to her, they’re afraid her strangeness is catching.”
“That’s not very nice Pip.” Merry frowned disapprovingly.
“Yes, that’s really not like you to be so mean.”
“It’s probably true enough though.” Pippin chose to ignore them as he leaned further into the bushes for a better view of his aunt’s dramatics. Pringle Took had abandoned her bird calling once more and was concentrating fiercely on her painting. She wielded her brush with the same enthusiasm she poured into everything she did. Pippin was close enough to see the garish colors his aunt was using in her picture. He wondered very briefly just what kind of a bird it was supposed to be. No doubt she fancied herself to be quite the artist! He shook his head in disgust.
“I heard she has the Second Sight.”
“Oh, of course,” Pippin retorted, his voice muffled by the thick growth. “And I’m one of the Took faeries Vinca! Can’t you see the glow all about me? I’ll sprinkle some faerie dust on you and make you do whatever I say.”
“It’s not like that Pip and you know it!” Pervinca smacked her brother smartly in the back of the head. “Da says--”
“Oww!” Pippin withdrew himself from the greenery and turned to face his sister as he rubbed at his head. “Da is just making up tales to entertain us Pervinca. That’s all.”
“I don’t know about that Pip. Uncle Paladin said it’s really so. And your mum agreed. I heard her. They think Auntie Pringle got a particularly large dose of the Second Sight, that’s why she’s so…how did they put it?” Merry wrinkled his brow. “Oh yes, sensitive they called it. She’s sensitive Pip. That’s why you should try harder not to hurt her feelings when she pinches your cheeks.”
“Merry. I don’t care how sensitive she is, I’ll escape from her clutches every chance I get. My poor cheeks are going to have blood blisters if she gets hold of me again today,” he moaned.
“I heard she hears voices too.”
“And has visions. I know. But Merry, that’s why everyone thinks she’s dotty!”
“But they call her eccentric.”
‘”That’s just to be nice. You know what they’re really thinking.”
“Well, I think she just likes to be the center of attention. She reminds me of you Pippin!”
“There’s no call to be insulting Vinca.”
“Oh! Oh, look!” Pervinca jumped up and down clapping her hands together. “Auntie’s doing her bird calls again!”
“And here comes Pepper straight away.” Merry pointed up at the sky.
A large black raven swooped gracefully by and came to perch on the old hobbit’s shoulder. He pecked at her straw hat. She murmured to him in a soothing voice before raising her head and listening intently for what appeared to be the bird’s reply.
The youngsters collapsed to the ground in a fit of giggles.
“She must be hearing her voices again.” Pippin fell backwards shaking with laughter. “Remember the time they had to pluck her out of the chimney at Brandy Hall? After she crawled up in it looking for Pepper? She was convinced he was in there talking to her, inviting her to join him in his roost!”
His merriment was contagious and they rolled on the ground clutching their sides until they could laugh no more.
“I wonder how Bilbo’s doing?” Merry sat up after a time and wiped the tears from his eyes with his sleeve. He looked back toward the party. The sound of music and laughter met his ears. “He doesn’t get on all that well with Auntie Pringle you know.”
“Oh, I doubt he’s having any trouble keeping his distance. There are certainly enough people at this party. And Frodo must be keeping him occupied. I haven’t seen him in quite some time.” Pippin placed his arms beneath his head and closed his eyes. “Even Bilbo says she’s cracked you know.”
“Bilbo chuckles when he says that Pip,” Merry reminded him.
“I know, but he really means it. He laughs to cover up how he really feels. She annoys him.”
“Probably because she has a way of breaking all his favorite knick knacks when she visits Bag End. Remember that last birthday party he had for Frodo? I think she knocked over an entire shelf of glass figurines. They were irreplaceable he said. Things he was given by his mother.”
Pervinca giggled. “Bilbo was fit to be tied.”
“And she didn’t even appear to understand what she’d done. Just like I’ve said, no compassion. And no sense either.” This last earned him another swat from his sister.
“What was that for?”
“Pip, we may think Auntie Pringle odd but we shouldn’t speak ill of her.”
Pippin sat up quickly and gaped at her. “Vinca, I wasn’t being mean! I was being truthful.”
“Well, I think we ought to--” Merry hesitated as he peered through the bushes and watched thoughtfully as his aunt carried on a lengthy conversation with the bird on her shoulder. She apparently had the raven’s full attention and Merry’s too. The old hobbit paused and looked about suspiciously. Merry was certain she was going to begin yet another diatribe with an unseen companion when she turned and began walking in their direction, an air of determination surrounding her.
“Um, Pip. Pip!” Merry drew his head out. He turned and shook his cousin’s shoulder hard as he pointed. “She’s heading straight for us! Run!”
“What?” Pippin leaped to his feet and peered through the bushes. He paled. Spinning around he clambered up the little hill. “Every hobbit for himself!”
“Or herself!” Pervinca wasn’t far behind.
The little cluster of hobbits scrambled as fast as they could back to the party that was being held in honor of their newest little cousin’s birth on the Took side of the family. Eglantine looked up in surprise. She interrupted her conversation with several of the relatives to stare at the panting children.
“Why, whatever is wrong?”
“Nothing Mum! We were just, ah…having a bit of a race to see who could get back here first. That’s all.”
Eglantine regarded her youngest with an air of appraisal. Her mothering instincts were instantly alerted but she could see nothing amiss. “Well… just you mind your manners then. All three of you now.” She looked around. “Has anyone seen Aunt Pringle?”
Pippin stifled a snort as Pervinca and Merry looked innocently around at the gathering.
“Oh here she comes now. And she’s carrying Pepper on her shoulder.” Eglantine whispered to her sister in law, “I hope the poor old thing hasn’t got too much sun. Else she’ll be having more visions than usual tonight!”
Esmeralda politely stifled a giggle. “And probably keeping everyone up with her stories and bird calls!”
Pippin had been inching away from the adults while his mother’s attention was elsewhere. He beckoned to Merry and they hurried down to the barn. Rounding the corner they ran inside and pushed the door shut before collapsing in a heap on a pile of hay.
“Whew! That was close!”
“Yes, a good deal closer than I care to think about.” Merry climbed up the mound of scratchy straw until he perched at the very top. He picked up a piece to chew on. “Pip,” he began thoughtfully, “What if Auntie Pringle really does hear voices and can see the future? Have you ever considered the possibility that she isn’t as daft as everyone thinks?”
Pippin sighed, a long drawn out sound of resignation. “If you keep talking like that I’m going to be worried about you.” Pippin had joined him and now slid down deep into the hay and leaned back, retrieving a stalk for himself. Sticking it in his mouth he chewed for a long moment while staring up at the ceiling and considering his cousin’s question. Finally he sat up straight and looked at Merry. “Do you want to know why I think she’s just daft and not some kind of a “Seerer”?”
Merry nodded. “’Course I do. I mean, if you’ve got a better explanation then let’s have it.”
Pippin sighed again and leaned further back in the hay. “A long time ago when I was just a wee lad--”
“How long are we talking here, Pip? I mean, you’re still just a wee lad--” Merry collapsed in a fit of giggles when Pippin pushed him, causing him to slide to the bottom of the hay pile. Laughing still, he climbed back up to his cousin.
“Are you ready to be serious?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
Pippin snorted. “I’m not going to tell you then.” He crossed his arms and sat back stubbornly.
Merry leaned back and once more chewed on the hay stem. He silently counted off the seconds he expected it to take for Pippin to insist on telling his story. He had almost reached ten when his little cousin piped up.
“All right, if you must know…”
Merry grinned to himself and settled in to hear the tale.
Pippin eyed him as he began, half expecting Merry to interrupt. “As I’ve said – a long time ago--”
“How old were you Pip? And where was I at the time?”
“What? Why does that matter?”
“Just because I want to know, that’s all.”
Pippin grunted in disgust. He took a deep breath summoning his scant patience. “I was about seven or eight I guess. Anyway--”
“And where was I at the time? I don’t recall this story Pip.”
“Well, it’s no wonder you don’t remember when you won’t even let me tell it!” Pippin frowned at him. Shaking his head he held up both hands to stop any further questions. “All right! You were at home, at Brandy Hall I suppose and--”
“Are you absolutely certain that’s where I was? I mean, without a doubt--”
“Merry! Stop your teasing, will you? I’m trying to be serious here.”
“You? Serious? You don’t have a serious bone in your little body.”
Pippin started to slide down the hay when Merry grabbed him chuckling, and hauled him back up.
“Sorry Pip, I just couldn’t help myself. Go ahead. Tell me why you don’t think Auntie Pringle is genuinely sensitive.”
“Hmmph! Are you quite certain now?” At Merry’s nod Pippin settled back once more. He was silent for several long moments. Merry was getting ready to poke him when Pippin began to speak at last.
“Did you ever hear the story about her falling out of the tree when she was trying to put a baby bird back into its nest?”
“Of course, everyone knows that story. Everything Auntie does seems to have to do with birds! Anyway, that incident actually made her seem more normal to me.”
“Did you know she fell on her head?”
“Well Merry, if you recall there was a dreadful flurry of hushed up talk at that time. The healers were tending to her around the clock. I heard a great deal you know, because it happened right here at the farm and this is where they kept her abed for weeks. Mum and Da were frightfully worried that she wasn’t going to pull through. I heard them say so.”
“It was a serious injury Pip. Of course they were worried. She’s lucky she didn’t break her neck.”
Pippin nodded. “Aye, they thought she had at first. Aunt Pringle was unconscious for a fair amount of time, about two or three days I believe. During that time the “sensitive” ones of the family, you know, the ones who say they have the Second Sight--”
“Like your da.”
“Yes Da, and your mum, and some of the other cousins, well they were sticking fairly close. I heard a lot of talk about how Auntie was never one of the brightest members of the Took clan to begin with, and how they were worried the fall would make her…” Pippin thought hard. “Oh, I don’t recall their exact words but they were concerned she wouldn’t be, you know, right somehow afterwards. That hitting her head would make her dumb I think is how they put it.”
“So, what else did you hear while you were doing all this eavesdropping?”
“Merry, I couldna help what came to my ears in my own smial!” He frowned. “I heard a great many things. Such as how some of them expect the Second Sight to skip a generation now and then.” Pippin’s voice suddenly became quiet and Merry had to lean in to hear him. “And Da said no, it never skips. Someone in each and every generation of Tooks always has it. And then they wondered who was going to have it in our time since they weren’t sure yet. And still aren’t, I gather.” He laughed a bit self-consciously and looked down, twisting his hands in his lap as he spoke. “My father is such a good storyteller!”
Merry watched him closely but said nothing.
Pippin looked up. “Anyhow I remember one of the cousins, I don’t recall which one, said she’d had a vision that Auntie wouldn’t be the same and that we’d have to take care of her for the rest of her life.” Pippin’s mouth twitched in a tiny grin. “I hate to admit it but I was shuddering at the thought because I was certain she’d come to live with us.”
He continued, “Auntie had been starting to talk out of her head, not the kind of things she says now, but really very odd things like how she was seeing relatives who had already passed coming through the walls, talking to her, coming to take her to the “Far Country” as she called it. And because of that my da and the others knew she wasn’t doing well.”
“Sounds like just the effect of the fall to me Pip.”
“Aye, that’s true enough. And of course she did recover. And I kept hearing that she had been changed somehow and wasn’t herself anymore. And that much was very apparent as she got well and began to act like the Auntie Pringle we know and love today.” Pippin’s tone was rueful. “Auntie Pringle was never as odd as she became after her fall. From what I’ve gathered she never heard voices or had visions before that either.” Pippin faced his cousin. “And that is why I know she’s just daft. I think the injury actually made her brighter, but very, very odd.”
Merry stared at him for a long moment. “Pippin, what is it about the Second Sight that makes you so uncomfortable? Have you experienced it?”
Pippin squirmed under his cousin’s close scrutiny. “Of course not! I told you, it’s a tale, that’s all. Like the faerie legend. A story the relatives enjoy telling at gatherings like this one. There’s nothing to it.”
“You seem awfully adamant about that.”
“Because I know I’m right.”
Merry gazed at his young cousin awhile longer. He’d discovered something that he hadn’t known for certain about his dear Pippin. Merry had suspected some time ago that he might have inherited the family “gift” because of hints his cousin had dropped. He was now convinced that Pippin knew he had the Second Sight just like his da and hadn’t been able to come to terms with it yet. In fact, it appeared he was having a fair amount of difficulty accepting it. Merry filed this knowledge away for safekeeping deciding not to pursue the subject at this time. It would be an interesting conversation when he chose to, though. And he would be there to help Pip deal with it.
The door to the barn cracked open just then and two of Pippin’s sisters poked their heads in, scanning the area. Pimpernel’s eyes lighted upon the lads atop the hay mound and she grinned, waving.
Pervinca giggled. “Pippin, Merry come quick! Auntie Pringle has fallen into the pond!”
“What?” They both came tumbling down off their perch and ran to the door.
Pimpernel held it open for them. “Yes, it seems she was pursuing some ducklings that started some gossip about her and she wanted to set them straight. I need to run inside for some towels!” She shooed them out of the barn. “Go on now and help everyone reassure her that nothing those ducklings might say could ever change the way we feel about her!”
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