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Wee Ones  by cathleen


Chapter Three

“Oh mercy, Esmie – that was brilliant,” Eglantine chuckled. She’d just returned to the kitchen after tucking Pippin into bed for his nap. Sapphire was placing the teapot on the table while Esmeralda set out the cups. Eglantine laughed again. “Why, that reminded me of something Pad would do! Thank goodness Merry has his cousin settled securely beside him or Pippin would never have agreed to rest.”

“Yes, my son can be rather creative when it comes to the younger children,” Esmeralda laughed quietly. In her mind’s eye she replayed the earlier scene, then added, “particularly the part about Tulip wanting Pippin to mind her.”  All of them broke into peals of laughter.

“How lovely of him to give his mother and her guests an hour of peace and quiet whilst the little ones snooze,” Eglantine said, with a wink.

“I’ll see to my lad before I join you for tea,” Sapphire said as she set about preparing a tray for Sancho. “Apparently he hasn’t made up his mind about what he wants to do, but he certainly must be hungry by now.” She sighed. “I had hoped the rumbling of an empty stomach would persuade him to come out of his room and start working things out with Pippin.”

“Well,” Esmeralda rummaged through a drawer as she spoke, sounding a bit distracted, “you go ahead and we’ll wait for you to return before pouring. Delphinium is going to join us when she’s finished seeing to her own little ones. Oh! Where are my silver teaspoons?” She frowned as she pushed aside other items. “Ah, here they are, well, some of them at least. Why, that makes two gone missing this week and one disappeared last week! I wonder what on earth. . .” Esmeralda continued muttering to herself while she poked through the silverware.

Eglantine laid a soothing hand on Sapphire’s shoulder. “Don’t you worry Sapphy, if they haven’t settled their differences by tonight, then we’ll have a talk with them both together. But children have a way of working things out on their own, so I doubt that will even be necessary.”

“Oh, but he can be so stubborn!” Sapphire shook her head. “You’ve no idea what he puts me through at times.”

Eglantine’s eyes widened in surprise and she threw back her head and laughed. “My dear, surely you jest? My lad has moments when he’s so persistent in his convictions he drives me to distraction. And that’s how we got into the present situation, isn’t it?”

Sapphire smiled. “You’re right, of course. But I do feel dreadful that my child has chosen a visit like this to display such behaviour.” Sapphire picked up the tray. “I’ll return shortly.”

Eglantine watched her leave before turning back to her sister-in-law. Esmeralda was still inspecting the silverware. “Oh, whatever are you going on about, Esmie?” She hurried over to her side and peered into the open drawer.

“I think someone’s been playing a prank on me. First one thing and then another keeps going missing.” She continued to search through the utensils. “Just like poor Tulip.” Suddenly realising what she’d said, Esmeralda straightened up and looked at Eglantine, her brow furrowing.

“Hmm, silver teaspoons, you say? And what else?”

Esmeralda hesitated. “Well. . .one of my best pearl earrings. And my silver thimble, the one my mother gave me. Some of my other sewing bobs, too. Oh, and old Roridoc’s gold watch fob went missing just last week. I recall because he raised such a fuss about it. He thought one of the children had hidden it just to see how long it would take him to find it. But, not one of them was willing to own up to it.”

“All bright, shiny items, eh?” Eglantine pondered, hands resting on her hips.


“Where are we?” Sancho’s voice had fallen to a whisper and he squeezed Paladin’s hand a little tighter than was necessary. They had been walking for some time now and there was something rather spooky about the dimly lit surroundings. Everything was silent; it was as if they were completely alone in the great Hall.

Paladin glanced down at the youngster with a smile. “We’re in one of the oldest tunnels of Brandy Hall, lad. The part that was dug first, and a very long time ago at that.” He stopped, squinting into the shadows. “As a matter of fact, I haven’t been this way myself in many a year.”

“We aren’t lost, are we?” Sancho peered into the gloom as they neared the end of the corridor. A slight draft raised dusty specks of grime to swirl about in the air like sullied snowflakes. He shivered. “It’s cold, too.”

“What? No, of course we’re not lost. Why, I spent many a happy hour exploring here when I was young and I know it as well as the back of my hand.” Paladin lifted the lamp he carried a little higher and glanced into the left corridor, then the right.

“Were you alone? I don’t think I’d like to be all the way down here by myself. It would be rather unsettling.” Sancho furrowed his brow, realising what he’d blurted out. “Umm, you won’t tell Pippin I said that?”

Paladin shook his head, appearing solemn. “Your secret is safe with me, boy. Most assuredly. Come,” he inclined his head to the left and tugged on Sancho’s hand, “we’re almost there.”

“Where exactly is ‘there’?” Sancho glanced about, unconsciously pressing closer to Paladin’s side. “It’s spooky here.”

“Aye, I know it can seem that way to youngsters like yourself. And that’s good because it keeps wee lads and lasses from wandering places where they can easily get lost. Ah,” Paladin paused again and pointed. “Here we are at last.” The door was cracked open and although the light was weak Sancho could see the room overflowed with untold amounts of curious items. He looked up, his eyes questioning.

“Oh, ‘tis a mathom room, lad. Surely you’ve seen one?”

“Well, yes, but the one in our smial is much smaller.”

“Oh. Well, you never know when such things may be useful again, after all. And in a place as big as Brandy Hall there are many hobbits contributing to its contents.” Paladin stuck his head around the doorjamb and whistled. “It appears a great deal more has been added since I last visited.”

Sancho peeked around from behind Paladin’s leg. “You could get lost in there,” he breathed, and then sneezed twice. Paladin chuckled, ruffling the youth’s hair fondly.

“Aye, true enough, a little one might indeed lose his way. That’s why no young ones are allowed to come here alone.”

Sancho scrubbed his sleeve across his nose and sniffed. “But why are we here? Is this where Tulip has been hidden away?”

“Not exactly hidden. But I do believe we’re headed in the right direction.” Paladin pointed at the floor.

For the first time Sancho noticed that someone, or something, had visited here recently. His eyes followed the path of swirled dust across the room to the place where it disappeared underneath a dilapidated couch. Frowning, the youngster got down on one knee to peer into the dark recesses.

“Well, what do you think about this mystery, lad? Do you have any ideas?”

Sancho sank down onto both knees, studying the area. Finally he ventured, “It looks as if something has been pulled along the floor,” he pointed, “here, and over there.”

“Aye, it does at that.” Paladin knelt beside him. “So, what do you think is going on?”

“Oh!” Sancho’s voice rose. “I can see tracks of some sort!” Sancho scurried along on his knees, his excitement growing, and Paladin followed suit. It wasn’t long before both of them were coated with dust and grime from one end to the other. “But what. . .? These are odd footprints. They’re tiny and they look like they have sharp toes. Or claws.” Sancho examined the floorboards closely then lay down on his belly and scooted under the couch. “I don’t see anything else, though. . .” His voice was muffled and Paladin chuckled when Sancho released another series of vigorous sneezes.

“You might try breathing through your mouth and not your nose for the time being.” The youngster gave a sudden squeal of surprise and banged his head hard on the bottom of the couch in his haste to retreat. Paladin winced and leaned down to peer underneath. “Are you all right, lad?”

Sancho finished backing out and sat up. He shoved his prize at the older hobbit, grinning from ear to ear. “Look what I found!”

Paladin retrieved the bit of jewelry that dangled from Sancho’s fingers and held it up. “Why, isn’t this the charm that was given to Tulip for Esmeralda’s birthday?” He chuckled, “Yes, I’m sure it is. I recall Esmie saying that Pippin’s knitted friend shouldn’t be left out of the gifting.”

“Aye, and Pip put it on a bit of thread last night and Tulip was wearing it when we went to bed! I know, because I saw her when Pippin came out of the privy.” He paused and rolled his eyes. “Tulip goes everywhere with him.”

Paladin laughed at the expression on Sancho’s face. “Well, this is indeed a new wrinkle in our mystery. Hmm, now if Tulip dropped it when she was pig-napped perhaps she was trying to leave us a clue where to come look for her? What do you think?”

Sancho wrinkled his forehead. “But. . .how did you know to look here, in the mathom room?”

“Let’s just say I’ve had my suspicions over the last few days that Brandy Hall might have a wee thief.” He tilted his head at the youngster and his voice took on a conspiratorial tone, “I heard there have been any number of small items gone missing over the last few weeks. In particular, brightly coloured or shiny things such as buttons, and coins.” He held up the miniature charm that was missing its string. “And jewelry. A silver sugar spoon or two. Even old Roridoc’s best watch fob!”

Sancho shrugged. “So? What does that have to do with Tulip going missing?”

“Ah, now just think about it, lad. Do you know of any creature that likes to snatch up anything and everything it finds and hide it away?”

Sancho thought hard, then shook his head. “No.”

Paladin laughed as he got to his feet and extended his hand. “It always leaves something in return, too. Come, and I’ll show you how to find such a wee beastie.” Paladin turned in a semi-circle, studying the floor of the room. Finally he pointed. “Let’s search over there.” They moved to the wall on the opposite side of the couch and explored the length of the baseboards and all around the nearby furniture on their hands and knees, poking through the odds and ends of accumulated treasures.

“What are we looking for?” Sancho whispered.

“More tracks, more disturbed dust, perhaps another bit or bob of something or other. . .ah! Here we are!” Paladin held up a piece of tattered thread. “This is what Pippin strung the charm on, I’m sure of it.” Sancho eyed it doubtfully. Paladin crawled along the edge of the cavernous room, carefully weaving in and out and around the discarded items that were in his way. At last he stopped and with a tilt of his head considered a straw hat that had been cast aside into a corner. The brim appeared as if it had been nibbled on, and the pink ribbon that had at one time encircled it lay in shredded pieces next to a fancy, overstuffed divan. Paladin turned to Sancho with a wink. “Well? What do you suppose did that, hmm?”

Slow understanding spread across the youth’s face and his dark eyes sparkled. “A mouse? Perhaps a rat?”

“A packrat, boy. Have you never heard of one?” Sancho shook his head. Paladin sat back on his heels and grinned. “I’m not surprised, if truth be told. There aren’t that many of them to be found in Buckland. They’re a curious little beast with a love for all things shiny--”

“Like Auntie Pringle’s raven?” Sancho interrupted, thinking of the eccentric Pringle Took and the bird that so often travelled around on her shoulder.

“Well, similar to that, aye. But a packrat tends to leave something in place of whatever it stole. Most likely because he dropped whatever it was that he was carrying in favour of the new bob he found.”

“But, how are we supposed to find Tulip?”

Paladin laughed and patted the youngster on his shoulder. “My guess is that yonder packrat pulled our wee Tulip away by the thread holding the charm around her neck, the jewelry being all he really wanted, you see. And then the thread got broken and he made off with his treasure leaving our knitted friend somewhere along the path he took. So what we need to do is follow the trail we seem to have found and I’ll wager Tulip will turn up sooner, rather than later. At least we can hope it’s to be sooner because I don’t think my ears can tolerate another day of listening to Peregrin wail over his lost friend!” Sancho giggled and Paladin shook his finger at him in mock sternness. “And don’t you dare tell him I said that if you want me to keep your secret, aye?” Sancho nodded enthusiastically.

“All right, then let’s have a look underneath that hat.” Paladin lifted the bonnet cautiously but found nothing. “Hmph!” He rocked back on his heels and blew out a breath before scanning the area again. “Well--”

“LOOK!” Sancho shrieked, gesturing wildly at the divan. Paladin stared at the flowery cushions moving just slightly as something pushed on them from underneath. Sancho had already rushed to the couch and was busy pressing back to see what would happen.

A high-pitched squeak met their ears before a sharp nose poked itself out of the hole in the old couch, and then immediately pulled back. Sancho looked underneath and his face lit up. In triumph, he withdrew a very dusty knitted piglet, sans charm and the tiny scarf Pearl had made for her.

“Ah ha! Found you at last!” he crowed, waving her frantically under Paladin’s nose. Dust flew in every direction and this time Paladin sneezed.

“Ahem,” he managed to grunt, struggling to clear his throat. “Well now, good for you, my lad.” He brushed absently at the grime on his shirt. “Let’s see what else is in that nest, eh?” He lifted the pillow and the small, brown rodent scurried away with another squeak. The packrat paused by the wall and turned back seeming to scowl at them for disturbing her comfortable home. Both laughed as the little thief clambered away. She darted easily between some loose floorboards and was gone.


“Sancho?” Sapphire knocked lightly on the door before pushing it open with her hip. “Dear, I know you--” She took in the rumpled bedclothes and the squashed up pillow in the middle of the bed with a frown. “Why that little rascal!” Sapphire spun and headed back towards the kitchen.

She arrived to find the room filled with excited conversation. Her son was waving the missing toy around while he chattered, and Paladin was dumping an armful of items on the table. She hurried over as Esmeralda plucked up one of the silver teaspoons with a frown, brushing at the dirt clinging to it and wrinkling her nose in obvious distaste. Eglantine was laughing along with her husband as they examined the odd accumulation of belongings. Sancho spied his mother and rushed to her side, holding out the dusty piglet.

“Mum, look! I found her! I found Tulip! Umm,” he looked at Paladin shyly, “I mean, we found her.”

“I see that.” She knelt and placed her arms around him. “And here I was getting ready to go look for you so I could scold you for leaving your room without permission.”

“Oh! Oh. . .umm, well--”

“You can scold me instead, Sapphy,” Paladin interrupted, ruffling the youngster’s curls. “I thought it would be all right if I asked Sancho to accompany me down to the mathom room so he could help me rescue poor Tulip. Seeing as how the lad got blamed for the mischief when he didn’t do it, I thought ‘twould be nice if he was the one who retrieved her and got her back to Pippin.”

Sancho grinned up at his mother and Sapphire couldn’t resist a smile. She pulled her son into a big hug and then stood to face Paladin. “Thank you. I think that was indeed entirely appropriate. But – how did you know where to look?”

“Yes, Pad, do tell us how you found Pippin’s toy,” Esmeralda looked from the piglet who wasn’t so pink at the moment, to the heap of stuff her brother had deposited on the table. She reached for a rag and held it under the hand pump at the sink. “Meanwhile, it looks like Tulip could use a bath, and the both of you too! But she’ll have to settle for having her face washed so I can clean up the rest of this mess first.”

Paladin grinned. “I recalled what I’d been hearing the last few days about all the items going missing--”

Eglantine snorted delicately. “Was it what I’m thinking, Pad?”

He nodded. “I haven’t seen a packrat in a very long time, but obviously there are still some around! It seems the beastie took a liking to the charm Tulip was wearing and stole her away practically from under Pippin’s nose.”

“I told him I didn’t do it,” Sancho piped up.

“Aye, as you’d told him.” Paladin nodded.

“I think this was an important lesson about why one should never jump to conclusions,” Eglantine said. “I’m going to wake Pippin now so you may give him the good news yourself, Sancho lad.” She put her arm around the boy and drew him along. “Come with me!”


Later that evening the private apartments in Brandy Hall were growing quiet as little ones were being prepared for sleep with warm baths and flannel nightshirts. With a freshly groomed piglet clutched to his chest, Pippin went in search of his friend before his mother spied him and insisted he get into bed.

“What are you looking at?” Sancho scowled at the face peeking around the door of his room.

“May I come in?”

“Why? So you can accuse me of pinching something else?” Sancho pulled the blankets up to his chin and turned to stare at the wall. Pippin slipped in the room and perched on the foot of the bed, placing Tulip between them with great care. He watched Sancho intently until his friend finally twisted around to face him. “What? Stop staring at me!”

“I know you didn’t take Tulip.”

“I told you that. Why wouldn’t you believe me when I said so?”

Pippin’s face was serious. “I’m sorry for what I said.”

“You are? How come?”

“Because I hurt your feelings and I didn’t mean to. I was just upset and worried about what happened to Tulip.”

“Hmph.” Sancho sat up straighter and folded his arms. “Sounds like an excuse to me.”

Pippin frowned. “No it isn’t. I was still annoyed at you, though. For getting us all in trouble yesterday.” *

Sancho held up a hand in protest. “Wait a minute, Pip. I thought we sorted that out already. You’re the one who broke the flowerpot.”

“Because you were grabbing Tulip away from me! And you kept teasing me about her, so why wouldn’t I think you did it went she went missing?”

“Because I said I didn’t! I don’t tell lies.”

“I know.” Pippin’s face reddened slightly. “I said I was sorry. Can we be friends again?”

“Well. . .” Sancho studied the earnest face intently. Finally he heaved a sigh. “I suppose if we’re going to I should tell you, umm. . .” Pippin looked at him curiously. “Ah,” Sancho stammered, his cheeks flushing. “The truth is I did think about taking Tulip--”

“WHAT?” Pippin’s eyes narrowed. “You were going to take her? How could you!”

“But I didn’t do it!”

“Well, why would you even think about it?”

“Oh, only for a jest, that’s all. I thought it would be amusing--”

“You thought it would be amusing to steal Tulip away from me?” Pippin’s voice rose along with the colour staining his cheeks.

“Pip, ‘steal’ is such a harsh word. I thought of it as borrowing her, and then only to have a bit of fun with you.”

“Sancho Proudfoot, how dare you--”

Sancho interrupted, his expression growing sad. “But I didn’t realise you’d get so upset. When I saw how you reacted I actually felt bad for you. . . that is until you got me into trouble with my mother! Anyway, you hurt my feelings and after that I didn’t care how much howling you did.”

Pippin snorted, choosing to ignore the remark. “Tulip told me the whole story and she had to admit her adventure was rather exciting, being carried off by a huge packrat, and all, even though she was sorry I was so worried, but of course there wasn’t anything she could do to let me know she was all right so she had to wait to be found.”

Sancho stared at his friend, feeling curiously breathless with Pippin’s nonstop chatter. He was about to speak when Pippin quickly resumed, “And we’re both very pleased that my da and you went looking for her and found her straight away!”

Pippin held the stuffed toy up to his ear for a moment and then smiled. “She says she’s happy we both learned our lessons, as well.”

“Are you jesting with me, Pippin Took?” Sancho rolled his dark eyes at the ceiling.

“No.” Pippin grinned. “And she hopes we don’t get angry with each other again—what?” Pippin held Tulip to his ear another time. “Oh! Right. Tulip says she knows she’d be asking too much for us to neverget upset with each other again, but still, she’s hoping the rest of our visit will be a pleasant one.” He giggled into his hand. “And Tulip says she doesn’t ever want to find herself standing in the corner again!”

Sancho rolled his eyes once more. “Then perhaps she’d best not go about with you all the time!” He gave a small shake of his head, but remained interested just the same. “Well? So what else did she have to say?”

“I’m not telling you everything she said. She says you might do something naughty and get in trouble if I tell.”

“Oh, she does, does she? Why is she so worried about what happens to me?”

“Because she doesn’t like to see anyone in trouble, of course! That’s why she looks out for me.” Pippin giggled and picked up his toy. “She says I keep her busy every minute that I’m awake and even sometimes when I’m asleep. Why don’t you have a stuffed friend?”

The remark caught Sancho completely off guard. “I. . .I. . .don’t know.”

“Wouldn’t you like to have one?”

“Well. . .” Sancho thought about the secret he had shared and wondered if he should go ahead and tell Pippin before Teriadoc Brandybuck used it to embarrass him like he had a habit of doing? He struggled with the decision for a moment, and then finally in a soft voice, admitted, “Yes, I wish I had a stuffed friend too.” He grimaced, feeling his cheeks flush. He certainly didn’t want to ruin his reputation of being a bold lad who wasn’t particularly concerned with what others thought about his mischief (much to his mother’s chagrin).

Sancho thought he might have made a mistake when he noticed the twinkling in Pippin’s eyes and quickly rose to his own defense. “But I don’t need a stuffed animal like you seem to!”

It was Pippin’s turn to roll his eyes and he knew that what Tulip had been saying was quite true. It seemed that Sancho needed a friend, and a stuffed one alone would not be enough. But it would be a start! “Come on.” He tugged on Sancho’s arm with a grin.

Sancho eyed him suspiciously. “Where?”

“Come on,” Pippin insisted, tugging harder until the other youngster finally relented. He linked his free arm with Sancho’s and started for the door, all the while hugging Tulip to his chest.

“Where are we going, Pip?”

“To see my mum.”

“What for?”

“So we can ask her to make you a special friend too, just like she made Tulip for me!”

“But that’ll be embarrassing,” Sancho muttered.

“Come on!” Pippin tugged harder and Tulip leant him a hoof in the effort. It seemed an uneasy, but enduring friendship was already in the making.

A/N: I realise the packrat is American, however I thought it fit perfectly for this story and I was unable to find a UK equivalent. If anyone knows of one I’d appreciate hearing about it!

*Reference to my story “Partners in Crime” that takes place on the same visit.




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