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Little Lad Lost  by Citrine

4. Lotho's Bothersome Smile

Mam was in the smial, lying down with a damp, cool cloth over her eyes. Bell had put her to bed after she had fainted and wouldn't let her up again. Pimpernel and Pervinca were in Bag End's front garden. Pimpernel was squatting in the flowers, sniffling, nearly hidden by the tall ranks of daisies and poppies. Vinnie could just see the top of her red-brown head from where she was sitting on the walk. It was too hot in the sun, and Vinnie's heart ached, but she didn't want to leave 'Nell crying alone. She was only six and she didn't know what to do, other than put her thumb in her mouth for comfort, but Cousin Merry had said that it would make her teeth stick out. Vinnie stood up, struck by an idea. "Nell, do you want to play?"

"No," Nell mumbled.

Vinnie sat down again, twining her hands in her skirt. "Are you hungry?"

"No," Nell said, and a few clumps of poppies flew out, torn up by the roots and without their heads. "Leave me alone."

Nell's voice was sad, not sharp, but Vinnie felt tears fill her eyes anyway. She ducked her head and put her thumb in her mouth for a good suck-bother what Merry said, she didn't care a copper penny if her teeth stuck out-and when she looked up a big hobbit was leaning in over the gate.

Vinnie gave a little scream, and Nell popped up from the flowers. It was that Lotho. Seemed like whenever there was trouble at Bag End Lotho was there, hanging about like a cloud over a picnic.

"Good day," Nell said, and dropped a little courtesy. Mam always said to be polite to older hobbits, even if the other hobbit wasn't worth the time of day, and Nell wouldn't cross the road to strike Lotho Sackville-Baggins with a stick. Lotho was mean and a tease, and Nell had seen him push little Bolo Goodchild down in the mud once for giving him sass, and she knew he had only done it because Bolo didn't have any big brothers or sisters to hit him in the nose for it.

"Good day to you, little Tooks." He was smiling as he said it, and it was a real smile, which was bothersome. It was altogether too cheery and pleased, as if he had had a devil of a problem to solve and two teary-eyed Tooks were just the solution he'd been looking for. "Heard there was a bit of trouble here this afternoon. Tsk, tsk, is everyone quite all right?"

"Go way, Lotho," Vinnie said, clenching her small fists. "We're sad." She was a little afraid of Lotho. Vinnie was a shy little thing, and especially leery of Lotho, he was so big and bossy and loud, but if Nell could be brave, she could, too.

"Now, now, you mind your tongue, missy," Lotho said, without heat, but Nell stepped up next to Vinnie. One step through the gate and Lotho would find out that a little lass could hit just as hard and fast as a big lad.

Lotho relaxed and beamed again, completely convinced of the persuasive powers of his gleaming, toothy smile. To the two lasses, it was rather like looking into the mouth of a very happy Troll whose indigestion has just providentially cleared up, and so is about to extend an invitiation to Dinner. "Now then, lasses, I didn't come here to cause a fuss. I just thought you ought to know that my mother and Mistress Posy Chubbs-Baggins ran across a little foundling today, and it's likely that it's your missing Took." Lotho was often lazy and short-sighted, but he wasn't an absolute fool, and for all his failings in arithmetic he could still put two and two together. The soft gleam in his mother's eyes as she had looked at that naked babe meant trouble, and quite possibly a division in his inheritance if he didn't jump on the situation right quick. Oddly though, neither one of the little auburn-haired lasses seemed inclined to move, and Lotho scratched his woolly head in puzzlement. It never occurred to Lotho that they thought he was teasing them.

But there was no time to waste; his mother was a cat's whisker away from adopting the little beast. "Here, you lass!" Lotho said, pushing open the gate and clapping his hand down on Vinnie's shoulder. As his dear mother often said, where charm can make no headway, a firm hand must suffice. "Just come along and we'll settle this and bring the little lad home right now-"

Vinnie squealed in fright, and Nell's small heel came down sharply on Lotho's toe. Lotho howled and began to hop up and down, clutching his injured foot. "Ow! Ooh! Ow! You've broken it!"

Bell Gamgee heard the horrible caterwauling and came to the door. She saw what appeared to be the big Sackville-Baggins lad in the midst of some sort of fit, the two youngest Took girls cringing in his shadow. "Help! Help!" Bell wailed. "Oh, murder! He's gone mad from the sun! Missus! Come quick!"

The situation was going bad for Lotho, and getting worse. Now the young Master of Bag End appeared in the distance with his troop, coming at a run."Lotho! Unhand those children!"

"Missus Nell! Missus Vinnie!" May was flying to the rescue, skirts pulled up to her knees to give her speed, and Sam at her heels.

Lotho turned and hurled himself through the gate, the pain in his foot forgotten. Mad, they were all mad, all of them! He had done his best this day, and look what he had got for his troubles: An enraged mob of hobbits all shouting at him, an unwanted new Sackville-Baggins sibling on his immediate horizon, a bellyful of cold luncheon, and a broken toe. Lotho whimpered as he ran-a dignified whimper, he assured himself-and hobbled as far and as quickly away from Bag End as his wounds would allow. Preferably all the way to the Green Dragon and the bottom of several pints, if he could make it that far, and bother what his dear mother would say. His mother was on her own.



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