The Ties of Family
The knock at the front door was insistent, and Bilbo could perhaps be forgiven if he appeared annoyed as he went to answer it, leaving his guests at the kitchen table where they were enjoying second breakfast, little Frodo involved in eating a slice of slightly chewy bacon. Afar off they could hear the front door opened, and the excited voice of a lad, the now pleased reply of their cousin. In a moment he was back, leading young Dando Grubbs, who worked as a hand on cousin Fortumbald Boffin’s farm, which he worked alongside his brother Hildibras and cousin Ira.
Bilbo’s expression was very pleased. “Fortumbald’s sent us word--Ivy gave birth this morning at dawn--a lovely little lass.” He set another place at the table and indicated the lad should join them, pouring him out a cup of cider.
Drogo smiled. “How wonderful! We are going to have to go see, won’t we, Primula?”
“Of course, love. Frodo, dearling, don’t take more than you can chew with your mouth closed. Shall we start after the meal, then? We should drive over, don’t you think, Bilbo? Overhill is a bit far yet for Frodo to walk.”
Bilbo finished rapidly and hurried off to the center of Hobbiton to retrieve Drogo and Primula’s cart from the stable at the Ivy Bush, and as soon as young Frodo was freshly dressed they started off for the farm the other side of Overhill.
So it was that the first time Narcissa Boffin saw Frodo Baggins was the day of her birth, as the small lad, three and a half years old, lifted high in Bilbo’s arms, looked down on the tiny figure held in those of Ivy Boffin’s, an infant who returned his examination.
The next time she knew she saw Frodo Baggins was the day on which her cousin Folco was born to Hildibras and Wisteria. Frodo was now six and a half, and she was three; all came to Hildibras’s smial to see the bairn which had been born in the wee hours of the morning, and Narcissa and Frodo shared a stool as they examined their new, mutual cousin. Afterward the two of them ran through the garden surrounding the hole until Bilbo, Drogo, and Primula Baggins were ready to return to Bag End.
Drogo and Primula Baggins returned for Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday in September, and both Boffin families attended the joint party; but that was the last time Primula agreed to come near Hobbiton or allow her son there, anywhere within sight of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who had been telling horrible tales regarding mother and son.
After that Narcissa saw Frodo primarily at the Free Fair held at Midsummer in Michel Delving, usually in the company of his parents or Bilbo Baggins--until the year his parents died. That year he didn’t come to the Free Fair at all; the next year he accompanied Esmeralda and Saradoc Brandybuck, but stayed at their sides or in the company of others of his Brandybuck relatives the whole time they were at the Fair.
After that he usually rode with other children to the Fair in the back of one of the big farm wagons owned by the folk of Brandy Hall; but where most of his fellows would scatter as soon as they were allowed to leap from the back of the wagon, Frodo would dutifully wait for one of his adult cousins to take responsibility for him. While there he might be allowed to spend some time with old Bilbo; but most of the time Saradoc, Esmeralda, Master Rory, or Mistress Menegilda would have the lad in tow, usually keeping a strict eye on his activities.
The second year after his parents’ deaths Frodo carried with him his infant cousin Merry, to whom he was obviously devoted; the following year he was surrounded by the youngest of the Hall bairns, for whom he appeared to be almost totally responsible. At last Bilbo set several lasses from the Hall in charge of the little ones and took Frodo off with him for a time; but when Menegilda realized the lad had been relieved of his responsibilities she made a point of seeking him out and making him resume them as soon as possible.
The following year, somehow, Frodo had slipped his leash. He was running with the other teens from the Hall near his age this year, all working at appearing tough and wild. Rumor had it Frodo had become one of the leaders of the Hall lads gangs, and that he was masterminding the most daring raids of farms, smokehouses, dairies, and glasshouses throughout the Marish. Certainly the farmers watched the passing of the group of about seven teens with suspicion in their eyes, and several watched Frodo with especial care. Still, some of the food booths that year came up unexpectedly short of supplies, and Narcissa herself had found Frodo’s gang behind the cattle tent, finishing up an impromptu feast, Frodo feeding bites of apple to little Meriadoc Brandybuck. When he caught Narcissa’s eye, he gave her a defiant look and turned back to his friends.
This state of affairs went on for two more summers--and then suddenly Frodo was back under the thumb of Mistress Menegilda and Esmeralda again, his expression sad and wary, his attitude resigned and meek. Again he was responsible for the youngest of the Hall bairns, including Merry, and Bilbo Baggins appeared very concerned as he watched after him. The following year, when Frodo was twenty and Narcissa had just turned seventeen, Bilbo insisted that Frodo be given at least a couple hours to himself at the Fair, and reluctantly Esmeralda had agreed.
The dancing was beginning when Frodo, accompanied by Merry, found himself behind the ale tent which stood on one side of the dancing ground with a number of other teens and tweens around the age of twenty. Soon would start the Husbandmen’s dance, a special dance done solely by the menfolk of the Shire, one which started out slowly but in which the tempo increased in each of its seven repetitions until it became quite wild.
Isumbard Took and Lotho Sackville-Baggins were facing each other down. “I bet you can’t keep up,” Lotho was saying to the Took.
“I bet I can,” Isumbard replied. “I doubt you, however, could keep up for the first three rounds.”
Ferdibrand Took gave Lotho a disparaging look. “He’s been practicing, and will probably dance with the menfolk next year, he’s so good.”
“Well, I’ve been practicing as well,” Lotho boasted. “My dad is the best dancer in the Hobbiton area.”
“Even Uncle Bilbo is better than your da,” another Took insisted, “and he’s almost a hundred.”
Lotho’s face darkened. “That’s what you say. He’s getting old and decrepit now.”
At that Frodo’s face became set. “You have the nerve to call Bilbo Baggins decrepit, do you? He could outdance your father any day, and I can outdance you, whoever you are!”
“Could you, Brandybuck?”
“I am not a Brandybuck save by my father having married one. My dad danced the Husbandmen’s dance every year here at the Free Fair, and was always considered one of the best, alongside Uncle Bilbo.”
“I bet you can’t make it two rounds!”
“I bet I can make it through every one of them.”
“You ready to put your goods where your mouth is? What are you willing to wager?”
“I have seven silver Shire pennies I’ll wager. You?”
Lotho was taken aback at that, for he’d never had so much wealth in his life. Finally he pulled a fancy pocket knife out of his trousers and held it out. "This,” he said.
Isumbard looked at both with a sniff and produced his pocket watch. “I’ll wager this, then,” he said.
“Worth too much,” Frodo said, shaking his head. “Have something else--a steel pen or something like? Thain Ferumbras would be terribly upset if you lost one of the Great Smial’s heirlooms in a wager.”
Isumbard had to agree, and at last he, too, produced a pocket knife, a considerably nicer one than the one Lotho had wagered, although it didn’t have as many blades. The three of them set their wagers in a circle Ferdibrand Took drew on the ground with a stick, and they began to line up. Several of the others in the group also lined up as the musicians out on the dancing ground began to play the introduction to the dance, and all set their hands on their hips.
Lotho didn’t make it three rounds before he was missing steps and slapping his thigh when he ought to have been slapping the sole of his left foot. Ferdibrand Took made it into the fourth repetition, Reginard Took began to falter in the fifth round, Brendilac Brandybuck faltered at the end of the fifth round, and most of the rest didn’t make it through the sixth. Finally in the seventh repetition Isumbard stumbled twice, although he recovered well. Only Frodo Baggins made it through to the end of the seventh round without a single misstep or error, and he’d managed to add a couple of flourishes that enhanced his performance.
When the music finally stopped, Frodo didn’t even appear winded. His eyes were bright with pleasure, his naturally pale face flushed with exertion, his mouth smiling, his head held high.
Reginard shook his head, laughing. “Well, Bard, looks as if Cousin Frodo now is the owner of two pocket knives.”
“He won fairly,” Isumbard agreed with grudging respect. “You’re definitely as good as your da was, Baggins.”
Frodo gave a nod as he leaned over the circle and pocketed the seven coins and two knives that lay there. Lotho stood, angry and frustrated, watching as he saw his knife disappear into the other lad’s trousers pocket. That was a Baggins, was it? How on earth had he managed to win the contest? Rumor was that he had a weak heart, after all, if he was indeed Frodo Baggins--his ma had told him so. Yet there was nothing in Frodo’s stance that indicated he had such a thing--he wasn’t showing any sign he was tired by the dance, while many of the gentlehobbits on the other side of the tent wall were fortifying themselves after dancing the same dance. Frodo then gave a small bow to the group and wandered off to the dancing area, joining in with the group dancing several times.
Two of the lasses who’d been watching behind the ale tent lost their hearts to Frodo Baggins that day, though, Pearl Took and Narcissa Boffin, both caught by the competence and grace the young Hobbit showed and that joyful smile at the end of the dance. Narcissa never recovered hers as long as Frodo remained in the Shire.