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Little Lad Lost  by Citrine


2. The Little Thing In Question

"Where on earth do you suppose the little thing has come from?" Posy said.

The little thing in question was sitting on Posy's kitchen table, humming and clapping his fat little hands, and looking around at the strange place he had ended up with big, curious green eyes. The smial had been so quiet and there had been no one to play with, and he was hungry and his nappy was damp. He had pouted and squeaked a little, but when no smiling faces came to look down at him, or strong hands to lift him up, he had got out of his basket all by himself, just like a big lad.

"It's a foundling, no doubt," Lobelia said. "Respectable infants aren't found naked under gooseberry bushes." She had a bowl in her hands, lifted the spoon and waved it in front of Pippin's face. Pippin immediately opened his mouth like a baby bird. It was sweet bread and sugar, nicely softened with cream, and very rich. Pippin smacked his lips appreciatively and kicked his furry feet. "Tsk, tsk, poor little pet," Lobelia clucked. "Look at him, he's starved."

"Such a pretty lad," Posy sighed. And he was, too, round and sweet as an autumn apple, with a headful of dark strawberry-blond curls, a pink rosebud of a mouth, and a dimpled smile that showed four whole teeth.

"And still unclothed," Lobelia added. "We really must get something on him before he soils your tablecloth."

Posy blushed a little. "Quite right, of course. I think I have some cloth that I was saving for a quilt that might do, in the chest in the bedroom-or did I move it to the wardrobe? Oh dear, oh dear..." Posy scurried out of the room.

Lobelia shook her head, then sighed and deposited another spoonful of pap into Pippin's eager mouth. No, he wasn't exactly a big, handsome, strapping infant, as her Lotho had been, bless him, this little babe was a bit too scrawny for good breeding, but..."You are a pretty chick, aren't you?"

Pippin tilted his head and wrinkled his nose. "Pitty?"

Lobelia chuckled."Ho ho, and a bit of a flirt as well, I see. You'll break hearts with that look some day, my lad."

The front door opened and closed. "Mother, I'm back! What is there to eat?"

"In here, Lotho my pet," Lobelia said. "And you've missed luncheon, so I've made you a plate."

Lotho ambled into the kitchen. He was a thickset, sullen looking youth of twenty-six, already growing fat through the middle, with an unfortunate red rash of pimples across his sallow cheeks. His pockets bulged with small green apples, and he held a well-gnawed core in his hand. "Quite a fuss going on down at Bag End, like an ant-hill stirred with a stick. Believe they've lost something-" He stopped short and nearly choked on a mouthful of apple. It went down the wrong way and he had to cough before he could speak. He reached out with one forefinger and gave the intruder a poke." What's this?"

Pippin's lip puckered. Lobelia gave Lotho's knuckles a gentle rap with the spoon. Lotho yelped as if stung and jerked his hand away. "Don't touch, you're all sticky."

Posy came back into the room at long last and laid a small bundle of little garments on the table. They were fine things, obviously made with love and care by a talented seamstress: A few soft white nappies, a long white baby-gown festooned with pink ribbons and embroidery, and a little matching cap. "I never could find those bits of cloth, though I looked and looked, I think I might have used them for a quilt last year, or the year before that, or perhaps the hired-girl used them as dust rags, but I was searching about and found these things that I had forgot about. I made them up, oh, ever so long ago when Carlo and I were going to have a child, but then it turned out," Posy lost her usual look of pleasant vapidity, and a shadow of sorrow crossed her face. She petted the little dress, fingering the silky ribbons. "Not."

Lobelia felt a pang of pity for her foolish old kinswoman, still wounded beyond healing by that old, old hurt. Out of all the disappointments of Lobelia's life-A dull husband appreciated rather than cherished, a marriage that didn't quite lift her up to her social expectations, a fortune snatched away by Otho's cousin's adoption of that Buckland brat, she at least had that. Lobelia patted Posy's hand. "There, there, Posy dear. Don't fret yourself." She snapped her fingers at Lotho. "Be a dear and fetch some water to heat, this little fellow needs a bath before we dress him."

"What about my luncheon?" Lotho pouted, but Lobelia raised an eyebrow and he went off muttering, rubbing his offended knuckles.

Pippin was very full, and a bit sleepy now. He didn't like that loud hobbit with the gingery hair, the one who had poked him, but this plump lady-hobbit, while not quite as soft and comforting as his Mammy, seemed rather nice. Lobelia put her bowl and spoon aside and lifted Pippin up, sitting him on her hip. Pippin rubbed his eyes with his balled-up fists, and burped.

"The little lad is full up to the very top, Lobelia!" Posy laughed and wiped his chin with the corner of her apron. "Whatever are we to do with him?"

Lobelia gave the child a speculative look. An idea was growing, and was it such a mad idea, really? Even that old fool Bilbo had managed it. There would be papers that must be drawn up to make it official, and careful rumours spread to hide the child's disreputable origins-perhaps she could say he was a child of one of her poorer Bracegirdle relations. There were certainly an enormous great lot of them up north, most with more children than the means to raise them all, and every year brought a bumper crop of new mouths to feed. She would have to hire a nursemaid, and oh, Otho would splutter a bit, and Lotho might squawk when he found out, of course, but those were all small obstacles to overcome. Pity the little fellow wasn't a girl-child, she had always fancied the idea of a sweet little girl-child to dress up and tote about, but one couldn't have everything, she supposed...

"I tell you, Posy," Lobelia said, petting Pippin's soft curls. "I believe I shall keep him."


To Be Continued

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