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Eglantine accepted the basket of vegetables from her daughter and placed it next to the sink with a smile of thanks before turning back to the stove.
“Mum?” Pimpernel hesitated, and her mother glanced over her shoulder.
Pimpernel tilted her head at the door. “Pippin is playing in the garden again.”
Eglantine stopped peeling the potato she held and raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“I just thought you should know.” Pimpernel busied herself at the sink, removing carrots and onions from the basket. “Because, umm, didn’t he have a bath only an hour ago?”
Eglantine sighed. Not again. It was the third time that day and she was not looking forward to struggling with her son over taking another bath. Oh! Why couldn’t he manage to stay out of the dirt for more than a few minutes at a time? She wondered if she might get away with giving him a sponge bathing. Well, certainly not if he’d wallowed in the mess again, which was highly likely. Steeling herself for the worst, she peeked out the window.
Pippin sat in the garden next to an enormous mud puddle created by last night’s rain, with Tulip perched on his shoulder. His legs were stretched out in front of him and he kept up a stream of chatter apparently talking to his toy. She winced when he planted both hands in the murky water and splashed them up and down with a squeal of delight, causing the mud to spew and rain down on him and his knitted friend. Tulip was no longer pink, and Pippin’s fair hair looked as grey as her granda’s!
She listened to his happy chatter for a moment with a smile turning up the corners of her mouth despite her mood. Pippin was fishing in the water hole with a string tied to a stick, a fat worm dangling from a makeshift hook. A row of mud cakes and pies, dotted here and there with flowers, lined the puddle’s edge.
Pies. . .she squinted into the afternoon sun, eyes widening. Mud pies in her best baking pan!
Eglantine took a deep breath and called through the window, “Peregrin Took! What do you think you’re doing?”
Pippin twisted around at the shout, spying his mother glowering at him through the kitchen window. “Uh oh,” he told his ever present friend, “it’s never a good thing when Mum calls me by my whole name.”
Tulip sniffed and hurried to throw in her own ha’pence, telling him he should be quite used to hearing his whole name shouted. After all, it was the third time today it had happened!
Pippin grinned and had to agree.
Tulip reminded him of how much he detested taking time out for a bath while he was having so much fun. Besides, he’d got her all dirty this time and now she would have to stop having fun too, and take time for a wash.
“Hmph.” Pippin chose to ignore the last remark and waved at his mother with a cheeky grin, hoping it would soften her upset with him.
Smudges of dirt dotted his face and trailed beneath his shirt collar. Eglantine gave a slight shake of her head in dismay while her son grinned at her from between long strands of golden hair now dark with dripping mud. She couldn’t help thinking he looked like the greased piggy at the Tuckborough Free Faire last summer, although much more contented! She opened the door and gestured for him to come, nimbly catching hold of the back of his braces as he tried to scoot by her. He spun around, almost losing his balance.
“Hullo, Mum, you called me?”
“Stop right here and don’t you dare be trailing any of that mud on my clean floor,” Eglantine scolded as she steadied him on his feet. “It appears you and your wee friend need to have a meeting with a bar of soap again, and here it’s only been two hours since the last time! That is, after we wash some of that mud off of you first.” Eglantine grasped his arm and tugged him along, heading for the pump next to the barn. Pippin protested all the way.
“Gracious, you’ve enough dirt in those ears to grow a peck of potatoes!” Eglantine plunked him down on the bench next to the pump and pressed the handle vigourously a few times, then shoved a bucket underneath the spout.
“But I love mud!” Pippin jumped up and danced around in a circle, twirling Tulip in the air. “Mud, mud, glorious mud,” he sang, “It’s squishy and soft and cold and fun--”
“But sometimes it has the most splendid things inside it – look!” Pippin pulled a huge worm out of his pocket and thrust into his mother’s face. She gave a squeak of surprise and jumped back. The worm sagged, unmoving and pathetic, while it’s proud owner admired it.
Paladin poked his head around the barn door to see what the racket was about. He wanted to laugh in the worst way when he spied the state of disarray his son was in again. Instead, he strolled over to join them.
“Mercy, just look at you! What happened, boy? Did you lose a wager with Tulip and have to take a roll in the pigsty?” He scooped the fish worm out of his son’s hands and inspected it. “I think this one has seen better days, lad. You’ll need fresh ones if you’re going fishing.” Paladin tossed the worm aside and rubbed his hands on the seat of his trousers before picking up the bucket of water and sloshing some of it on the youngster’s feet.
Pippin yelped and scurried away, dropping Tulip in his haste to escape the chilly soaking. His parents shared a look of wonder.
“It seems he loves playing in water as long as dirt is included,” Eglantine sighed.
“And without the dirt he’s afraid the water will do what? Make him melt away, perhaps?” Paladin shook his head and sprinted after his son, hauling the squirming boy back tucked under one arm. He deposited Pippin feet first in the bucket and together they scrubbed and rinsed the thick soil caked on his feet and legs until Eglantine finally declared him fit for the bathtub.
“There!” She stepped back and wiped her brow with the back of her hand. “Now we can get you into some good hot soapy water and finish the job.”
“Nooo. . .” Pippin clutched a soggy Tulip to his chest and glared. “I’m as clean as I need to be! I want to go fishing and I have to find some more worms and--”
“You mean you’re as clean as you need to be to have a proper bath.” Eglantine reached for him and he ducked underneath her arm and scooted backwards.
“That was a bath!” Pippin continued backing up. “Even Tulip said so.” He waved the dirt-streaked piglet at his mother.
“That was just a practice bath, my lad. Now you’re getting the real thing, but with lots of sudsy water. Come!” Eglantine pounced on him before he could creep any further away.
“Daaa!” Pippin appealed to his father for help, fixing him with the most pitiable face he could summon.
Paladin held up both hands with a shake of his head. “I never argue with your mother when she has that determined look in her eye, boy. You and Tulip are on your own.”
“But Daaa. . .”
“Stop all that fussing, Pippin.” Eglantine placed Tulip in his arms and tugged him away, pausing only to snatch up her pie plate and cake pan, and scraped the mud off them with a show of great disgust.
Paladin waited until the door closed behind them before bursting out in laughter.
“Say Pad, what’s the matter? Is your lad allergic to water?” Old Teobald Took leaned against the pony enclosure enjoying the amusing scene while he puffed on his pipe.
“Aye, so it would seem,” Paladin chuckled and wandered over to join his cousin.
Teobald pointed towards the farmhouse with the stem of his pipe. "I seem to recall a similar scene, years ago."
"Och! Isn't it bad enough my sister is always teasing me about Pippin being so much like myself at that age? Must you start in on me too, Teo?" Paladin rolled his eyes as he tapped his own pipe against the palm of his hand.
Teobald laughed. "Well now, the truth does hurt sometimes, eh lad?"
Paladin flushed and lit his pipe. "Hmph," he grunted.
Eglantine hoisted her son into the tub wondering just how on earth anyone could protest sinking into the warm depths of the soothing water. She certainly wouldn’t mind being in her son’s place at the moment, and indulged herself in the notion of a hot bath and some peace and quiet.
Pippin howled as she applied soap to a flannel cloth and gently began to wash his face. He surprised her, abruptly flailing his hands about, sending a small waterfall cascading down the side of the tub, soaking her apron.
“Why, whatever was that all about?”
Pippin sputtered. “You got soap in my mouth! Eww, ick!” Exaggerated spitting and grimacing followed and Eglantine rolled her eyes.
“I did not get soap in your mouth, young sir.”
“Yes you did, Mum! See? Tulip saw you too!” Pippin pointed at his toy. Tulip perched on the side of the tub refusing to come any closer. “That’s why she jumped out! She was afraid you’d get soap in her mouth too!”
“Oh, mercy. Well, if I did it’s only because you’re jumping about and talking a mile a minute! And Tulip hasn’t even been in the bath with you. We’ll clean her up after you are dry.”
Pippin pouted, an impressive scowl, even for him. Tulip clucked at him from her vantage point and asked him to kindly leave her out of this argument.
“What? But Tulip. . .!”
With a sniff, Tulip reminded him whose fault it was they had both got so dirty and ended up in the bathtub yet again.
“But - you wanted to make mud cakes as much as I did! As a matter of fact, it was your idea to use Mum’s cake pan!”
Tulip begged his pardon? No indeed, the cake pan had been all his idea. She had simply suggested the pie plate but then he’d got carried away and took his mother’s best spoon and the butter pat, too.
“What? The butter pat was your idea, without a doubt. The stirring spoon was mine. You needn’t try to pretend you didn’t have a part in it. And how come you’re not taking my side?”
Eglantine listened to the one-sided conversation, shaking her head, and then realised what she’d heard. Her eyes grew wide. “My butter pat? And my good cooking spoon? Peregrin Took! Where are they? All I found were the pan and pie plate!”
“Oh, umm,” Pippin frowned, thinking. “Well, they might have got buried underneath the big birthday mud cake we were making. Remember? You saw it Mum, we put flowers on it to make it lovely and festive and--”
“Flowers,” Eglantine muttered, trying to recall what had been on the mud cake. Oh yes, little petals of purple and pink. . . “Oh! Not my violets! Tell me you didn’t pick my violets, Pippin!”
“. . .and we were about to decorate it with some of those pretty, smooth stones from the pond when you shouted at us, so maybe we lost them. Did you notice where we put them, Tulip?”
“Pippin, lad – the flowers? Which flowers did you pick?”
“Oh.” He looked up in surprise. “Those splendid, colourful ones growing next to the tool shed! They were perfect for--”
Eglantine groaned and planted a hand over his mouth, then shouted over her shoulder, “Pearl! Pimpernel! Pervinca? Is anyone about?”
A moment later Pimpernel peeked around the door. “Mum? What’s the matter?”
“Will you please go outside and have a look around in the garden where your brother was making muddies? It seems my best butter pat and my cooking spoon are buried somewhere in the muck.”
“You might need to poke around a bit,” Pippin called after his sister with a giggle.
“I’m sure Nell won’t miss the spot, Pippin, since your ‘cake’ is covered with my prize violets. Oh my, what am I going to do with you?” Eglantine scooped bathwater into a big cup and poured it over Pippin’s head to rinse the soap out of his hair, causing him to squeal in surprise.
The following week at Bag End. . .
“Why don’t you go ahead with your shopping, Tina? That’s what you came for, after all. And while you’re at it, you and Pearl stop and have tea in the village, too, yes?”
“Oh, dearest Bilbo! Are you quite sure you want to take over with Pippin? It wasn’t my intention to burden you with him today. After all, you were kind enough to invite us while the lasses and I go calling on Miss Poppy.”
“Think nothing of it, my dear. Go ahead and find something nice for dear old Poppy before your visit. Frodo and I are very capable of taking over with keeping an eye on our little cousin for the day. Aren’t we, lad?” Bilbo winked at Frodo.
“Well, if you’re certain, but we’ve only just arrived.” Eglantine looked doubtfully at the pair. Pippin was already sprinting out the back door of the smial and making a beeline for Cousin Bilbo’s garden. Oh, no. She wondered just when her son had acquired such a fascination with dirt? It was true he was a farmer’s son, but really! And, how could she do this to such a sweet old hobbit?
Pearl swept by them and took her mother’s arm on one side while Pimpernel grabbed the other. Pervinca waited on the doorstep with a grin.
“Mother, don’t look a gift pony in the mouth, as the old saying goes,” Pearl whispered. “We’ll be back in time to make supper, Cousin Bilbo,” she called, and closed the door firmly behind them.
Frodo and Bilbo shared a smirk.
“Smart lasses, all,” Bilbo laughed. “Come Frodo, let’s see what that scamp is up to.”
“I have no doubt Pippin is already busying himself and Tulip with something interesting,” Frodo said. He ran into Bilbo’s back when the older hobbit came to an abrupt halt in the doorway leading out to the garden.
“What’s wrong, Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo craned his neck to look over his shoulder and joined in Bilbo’s loud groan.
Pippin sat amongst the bright blossoms, his legs drawn up and a pot of strawberry jam tucked between his knees, his toy beside him. The youngster dipped three fingers in the sweet and stuck them in his mouth, sucking on them in sheer delight. Frodo could have sworn there was a look of disapproval on the piglet’s face.
“Why that wicked little—Pippin Took! Who told you it was all right to help yourself to a pot of my freshly made jam? Why, it’s not even cooled yet!” Bilbo called.
“Uh oh, it looks like the ants are about to join the picnic, Uncle.” Frodo pointed.
Lines of the uninvited guests were making their way along a trail of jam that Pippin had provided, but the youngster was oblivious to everything except the taste of strawberry.
Pippin turned to them; the look of cheer on his face was enough to soften even Bilbo’s irritation. He paused, hands on hips and shook his head at the wayward boy. How on earth had he managed to coat himself with half of the jam in this short time? Bilbo bellowed a single word and pointed at the smial.
Pippin shrieked and ran, leaving the tipped over pot to the ants.
Later that evening. . .
“Sing hey! For the bath at close of day,” Bilbo hummed as he set about starting supper. Eglantine and the lasses should be home any moment now, and he chuckled to himself at the thought of their surprise when they spied a squeaky-clean hobbit lad with a new interest.
“A loon is he that will not sing,” Frodo joined in the song as he helped in the kitchen.
Bilbo laughed. “And where is that little rascal now?”
“Drying off in his room. It was all I could do to get him out of the bathtub before he wrinkled up like a prune. “I’m afraid a good amount of the water got on the floor, though.”
“Mercy!” Eglantine’s voice drifted to them from the parlour, along with the sound of a slamming door and running feet.
“Mum!” Pippin ran straight into her arms with a cry of joy.
Eglantine knelt and hugged him. “Look at you, all nice and clean and in your nightshirt, too! What happened? Did Cousin Bilbo make you have a bath?”
Pippin nodded excitedly and waved Tulip under her nose. “Tulip too! Only her bath was cool and mine was hot! And I learned a new song!”
“You did?” Eglantine glanced at Bilbo.
Pippin bobbed his head.
“What on earth. . .?”
“Well, I know how he loves to sing,” Bilbo winked at her.
Pippin was hopping up and down, first on one foot, and then the other.
“My lad, if you need to use the privy then please do so,” Eglantine motioned down the hall. “Then you may tell me--”
“I don’t need to use the privy!” Pippin chortled. “I want to sing my new song!”
Eglantine glanced at her daughters, puzzled. “Whatever is he talking about?”
Pippin was tugging on her hand. “Come on, Mum!”
“Come where, Pippin?”
“To the bathroom!” He was pulling on her arm harder than ever.
“But I thought you didn’t have to use the privy?”
Pippin stopped and rolled his eyes at his mother. “I want to sing my new song for you!”
“Yes? Well, go ahead then.”
“But Cousin Bilbo says this is a very special song and it can only be sung in the bathtub!”
“What?” Eglantine followed as Pippin skipped down the hall.
“And it’s lots of fun because I get to splash the water, and pretend I’m a fountain, and. . .”
Pippin’s voice became muffled when the door slammed again and a moment later his voice rose in a loud song.
“Cousin Bilbo!” Pearl giggled. “Do you realise what you’ve done?”
Still later that evening. . .
“Do you realise what you’ve done?”
Bilbo chuckled. “Why, I’ve helped him appreciate his bath, dear Tina. That’s all.”
Eglantine sighed. “Yes, and now he’s taken three baths already this evening and he wasn’t even dirty!”
Bilbo sipped his tea and then patted her arm. “I suppose the lad is simply destined to spend many hours bathing, whether he needs it or not. At least he enjoys it now,” Bilbo lifted the cup to his lips again and muttered, “and he won’t spend the rest of his childhood covered with strawberry jam and ants.”
“A song that can be sung only while one is bathing, indeed,” Eglantine murmured and drained her cup.
“Well,” Bilbo shrugged, “it is a bath song, after all.”
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