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Little Lad Lost  by Citrine

5. Tooks and Tea

It was much cooler in Posy's parlour, and blessedly quiet after all the excitement of the day. Posy and Lobelia sat in deep chairs in front of the cold hearth, Pippin sleeping in a basket on the floor between them. Posy was humming to herself, her knitting needles flashing as she worked. She had already finished one little bootie and the other was well on the way to completion. Lobelia sipped her mug of cider and plotted. It would be best for the little lad if she packed and left for home as soon as possible. As soon as Lotho came back she would have him fetch the pony and carriage. Perhaps she would take Posy along, too, just leave a note for Carlo when he returned, then shut up the smial and be off. It would be a nice little summer holiday for the poor pixilated dear. It would do her good to get out and about.

"Posy dear," Lobelia began, but the doorbell rang and cut her off. Lobelia put her face in her hands. "Oh, give me strength."

"Shall I get the door, Lobelia?" Posy's face brightened. "Perhaps it's those sweet little children, come back for Tea."

"I'll do it," Lobelia grunted, heaving herself up from her chair. "If it is them, they'll be getting more than Tea."

"Oh, we mustn't forget the teacakes," Posy said, and click click click, went her needles.

Lobelia sighed. Pixilated. "Yes, teacakes, as well." And a few good, solid whacks about the head and shoulders with her umbrella.

Lobelia made herself presentable and opened the door. The doorstep was overflowing with hobbits: A plump, red-faced matron with a fat girl-child clinging to her skirts, two older lasses flanked by two smaller ones like stair-steps, a stocky little lad with the look of a Brandybuck, and the nuisance children from before. That wretched Buckland orphan, the spoiler of so many of her hopes, was front and centre, and beside him was a hobbit-dame who looked ready to eat Lobelia for supper and pick her teeth with her hairpins.

Before she could open her mouth, Frodo put his hand on the door and pushed his way inside, followed by all the rest. "Lobelia, we need a word with you."

"And I'll have a few with you, barging in without so much as an invitation," Lobelia said. "Such impertinence!"

The hobbit-dame looked into the parlour, where Posy was just rising from her chair. Pippin, awakened by familiar voices, had sat up in his basket, rubbing his eyes. "Pippin!" she cried, flying forward. "My baby!"

Pippin smiled and held out his arms. He had had a nice long adventure, but he was ready to go home now. "Mammy!"

Eglantine scooped him up and covered his face with kisses. "Oh, my lamb! Never frighten Mammy like that again!"

"Thank goodness you've found him, Lobelia!" Frodo said, pressing her hand with as much gratitude as he could muster. He had decided it would be better for everyone if he glossed over what had nearly amounted to a cradle-snatching. "We were all worried sick."

The great mass of hobbits were all laughing and talking together now, Posy was twittering away to this one and that one, and Lobelia's mouth was hanging open. "This child belongs to you, Frodo Baggins?"

Frodo laughed. "Not quite! Lobelia, may I introduce you to my young cousin, Peregrin Took, son of Paladin Took of Whitwell." Lobelia looked as though she had swallowed a fly, and oh, it wasn't nice to tease, but Frodo couldn't help but grin at the look on her face. He lifted Pippin's small hand and waved it. "Say hello, Pip."

Lobelia was feeling a bit pale. A Took! What a blind old fool she had been! She should've guessed by the look of the child, and not just any Took, the child of the hobbit in line to be the Thain, if fat old Lalia and her son Ferumbras should ever get out of the way. She had nearly cradle-snatched the heir! "Ah...I...quite..."

"You've taken wonderful care of him, Lobelia, but we really should be getting back to Bag End." Frodo turned and started gathering his flock. They had poked Lobelia enough, and whatever her intentions, she and Posy had minded the baby all day. No doubt they deserved a medal. "But do come by for supper later, you and Posy both, if you'd like!"

"Oh yes, it's the least we can do, after all you've done for us," Eglantine said, with her sweetest smile. Her lost baby was in her arms again, and that was all that mattered. "Say goodbye, children."

"Goodbye! Thank you! Goodbye!" Lobelia suddenly had a little Brandybuck shaking her hand like a pumphandle, with a decidedly cheeky grin on his face, the Gamgee lad was bobbing his head, and Bell and the lasses were dropping courtesies so fast that it was making her head spin.

Some of Lobelia's composure had returned, and she could feel her face growing red. The humiliation of it all! Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, a cradle-robber! Why, Bilbo Baggins would laugh himself sick, tongues would wag, and all of Hobbiton would be talking of it! "I regret to say that I have a previous engagement," Lobelia said with cold, poisonous civility, pulling her hand from the sweaty grip of the nearest child. "So I will not be joining you for supper. If you feel any sort of reward is necessary, you may send me a bottle of Old Winyards at your earliest convenience. Good day to you."

"And to you, cousin," Frodo said, offering kindness in return. It must be a dreadful thing, to sip from such a great cup of bitterness for so long. "But the offer still stands, whenever you like."

"Humph." Lobelia grunted and swept out of the room. Posy saw the visitors to the door and stood on the doorstep for quite some time, smiling and waving her handkerchief.

When the last of them had vanished down the road, Posy sighed and closed the door. "Hasn't it been such a busy day, such a long, lovely visit? It was so nice to hear children's voices in the smial. We really should invite them back again, with the baby, of course, and oh my! The booties! I'm nearly finished and I forgot all about them, I will have to make a visit to Bag End soon and deliver them, or perhaps I could just wrap them up and put them in the post for the Tookland. What do you think, Lobelia?"

Lobelia was in her deep chair, before the cold hearth, looking down into the empty basket. She had retrieved the little ribboned cap, and as Posy watched she lifted it to her lips. It still smelled like the little Took, his sweet baby-smell, like milk and dust and sun. How warm his small weight had been in her arms, how trusting he had been to lay his soft head on her old shoulder.

Posy pushed her way into the chair beside Lobelia and handed her the handkerchief, and put her arms around her. A tear dripped off the end of Lobelia's nose. "There, there, Lobelia dear," she said. Foolish and talkative Posy might be, but she understood too well the ache of empty arms, the hurt of an empty heart. He had been such a sweet, pretty little child, and she really had wanted to keep him so very much. "There, there."


The end.

If you're looking at this, many thanks, readers and reviewers, for coming all this way with me:o) Sorry for the wait!


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