First Summer in Bag End
“You’ve heard the latest on Bilbo Baggins, haven’t you?” asked his cousin Peony Burrows. “He’s finally done his duty by his cousin Drogo and has taken young Frodo as his ward. I must say, it’s about time--the lazy soul has let the poor lad languish there in Buckland long enough! And the word is the lad has become the scourge of Buckland and the Marish, for he’s become involved in all kinds of doings--far too smart by half for his own good; and not enough supervision. But, then, what else is to be expected from Brandy Hall, so far off there on the wrong side of the Brandywine?”
Iris Baggins sighed as she looked at her husband’s younger sister. Peony would have to start talking about Bilbo and young Frodo--and right in front of Lobelia, too. Lobelia wasn’t supposed to be at this sewing party, for she hadn’t been invited--or at least not by Iris. However, Peony had decided back when Lobelia first married Otho and came to Hobbiton to attach herself to the old harridan, perhaps hoping close association would keep Lobelia’s poisonous tongue still about Peony’s and Milo’s business; and it was Peony who’d let slip to Lobelia that there was a sewing party going on today for the sake of Olo and Mira Proudfoot, who’s fourth child was due at any time now. Now, here she was, sitting there with that nasty little smirk on her face, that smirk that always made Iris itch to smack it away, ready to bring back all the accusations regarding Primula’s alleged betrayal of her husband.
Iris wasn’t at all certain how the talk had ever gained credence by anyone. As an infant Frodo had been the spitting image of his own father Drogo as well as his grandfather Fosco Baggins. Now that he was twenty-one he was so reminiscent of Fosco that many who remembered the lad’s grandfather as a tween insisted they could easily have been twins. He was slender, as his grandfather had been, with the fair complexion, aquiline nose, and long, dark lashes from his dad and grandfather that the lasses of the Shire all envied for themselves. His wide brow may have come from the Brandybuck side of the family, the clear blue eyes from his mother, and the stubborn set to his mouth may have been that seen in his cousin Bilbo and in their Took grandparents; but the love of dancing and the grace of his movements were typical Baggins heritage through Drogo, Fosco, and Largo, right back to Balbo himself. He certainly didn’t look much like Bilbo, whose shorter stature and sardonic wit were more typical of his Took uncles and Grubb forebears. Even Frodo’s nature was for the most part similar to that of the Bolgers--except when he became angry, at which time it was apparent that old Gerontius Took was definitely his great-grandfather. Let him and Bilbo both go Took angry, and then and only then there was no telling the two of them apart--except for Bilbo’s barbed words compared to Frodo’s stony silence. Both of them could give the Old Took’s Look with equally devastating effect, better than any other of his descendants since Old Gerontius himself; and they each had more than full measure of Baggins stubbornness besides.
Iris suddenly had an idea. Excusing herself, she went to her sewing room to fetch her other basket of embroidery threads, and slipped into the bedroom and quickly found the portrait Ruby had commissioned of her husband when Fosco and she had their first anniversary. Smiling, she slipped it into the basket, and carried the basket back out into the parlor, settling it between herself and Lobelia. Ordinarily she would never have done such a thing, as Lobelia was always swift to help herself to other people’s threads and materials; but in this case she wanted to have the busybody herself find the portrait.
It didn’t take particularly long. Almost as soon as the basket was set on the floor Lobelia was rummaging in it, looking for, she said, just the right shade of gold. She quickly found the picture and brought it out, her smirk growing more pronounced. “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t realize you were so fond of Frodo that you would have his portrait.”
Keeping her own face studiously innocent, Iris looked at her as if terribly surprised. “What are you talking about?” she asked. “I don’t have any portraits of Frodo--I don’t think anyone has ever done one of him in fact.”
Lobelia held out the picture, and it was Peony who recognized it. “Oh,” Peony said without thinking, “that’s Fosco’s picture, isn’t it? Yes, there it is, right there at the bottom--Fosco Baggins, 1298. How did it end up in your embroidery thread basket, Iris dear?”
“The cat must have knocked it off the dresser,” Iris suggested. As no one else could dispute this, the matter was dropped. But the smirk had fled Lobelia’s face as all within the room had a good chance to see just whom Frodo Baggins most resembled. Iris was very glad for Ruby’s gift to her husband’s father.
Somehow the picture ended up by young Narcissa Boffin, who was attending with her mother Ivy. Iris saw the lass looking at it closely several times during the duration of the party, and recognized the signs--Frodo had already made a conquest, whether he knew it or not.
Young Frodo was at Bag End for five days before he accompanied Bilbo into the village for the first time. Oh, there was no question he was Fosco’s grandson, although he was even more slender than his grandfather had been. He was quite a contrast to Bilbo--taller, his hair a very dark chestnut, his long, aquiline nose, the cleft to his chin, his hands with their long, slender fingers, his oh, so blue eyes, the wary, rather apologetic expression on his face. Right now, however, his expression was beginning to give way to annoyance. “I don’t really need new clothes, Uncle. I brought plenty.”
Bilbo did not stop. “Yes, you brought plenty, plenty that shout ‘hooligan from Brandy Hall.’ However, you are not a hooligan and no longer live in Buckland. You are once again a Baggins, dwelling in Bag End in Hobbiton. And, as I expect you to be taken seriously, that means you, my dear boy, need to look the part.”
“I am not a boy, Uncle Bilbo--I am a Hobbit lad, not a child of Men.”
Bilbo did stop now, turned and looked up into his ward’s face. “One thing you need to accept, Frodo, is that you are the equal or better of any mortal youth there is, Man, Dwarf, or Hobbit.” His face and voice were deadly earnest, and Frodo was impressed in spite of himself. “I’ll admit I’ve not seen much in the way of children among Men or Dwarves, but what little I have seen indicates you are as fully worthy of respect as the greatest of them. You are intelligent, sensitive, and caring. I will call you boy or lad equally, Frodo Baggins, so you’d best get used to it.”
Feeling confused and intrigued by Bilbo’s pronouncement, Frodo stopped arguing and followed his older cousin into the tailor’s shop. Narcissa Boffin, who had been sitting, reading, on one of the benches on the edge of the Common, watched after them with interest.
Certainly the Frodo Baggins who appeared at the Free Fair was quite a different sight than the one seen there the last nine years. Dressed in fawn trousers, vest of gold linen and jacket the color of the earliest spring leaves, Frodo was impressive; and when he lined up with those taking part in the Husbandmen’s dance along with his uncle and his cousin Isumbard, he stood proudly; he made not a single misstep throughout the whole seven rounds, and at the end was not even winded but stood tall with a smile on his face that lit the hearts of the lasses who looked on.
Narcissa could certainly hear them talking about Frodo afterwards. Hyacinth Tunnely was absolutely gushing. “Oh, but Frodo Baggins was the best of the lot--so graceful, so talented, so handsome!”
“Even Isumbard Took wasn’t as good,” agreed her cousin Bluebell Chubbs. “And he danced with me twice afterwards!” Her voice was smug.
“He danced with about every lass who stood nearby once or twice, including me,” pointed out Pervinca Took, who was enough younger that the older lasses didn’t bother to take her seriously.
Pearl Took just smiled that superior smile that was so maddening. “Well, he danced with me thrice, and I intend he should continue to dance most with me,” she said with a toss of her head.
“You’re making Isumbard plenty jealous, you know,” her sister Pervinca pointed out. “He worships the ground you stand on.”
“But I can see Isumbard all winter long when we are in the Great Smial,” Pearl pointed out. “How often do we get to see Cousin Frodo?”
“You never paid that much attention to him before when Aunt Esmeralda and Uncle Saradoc would bring him to the farm or to the Smial for Yule, or when we went to the Hall to visit.”
“I’m not a little one any more, Vinca.”
Primrose Underhill, who lived near Whitfurrow on the farm her father and his brothers cultivated, sighed. “He’s not giving any of us any more attention than the rest, you know.”
Narcissa nodded her agreement and wandered out of the portion of the Council Hole set aside for the use of the womenfolk who wanted to dress their hair where the lasses had gathered, and decided to seek Frodo out for herself.
Frodo was with young Sam Gamgee, whose father Hamfast, better known as the Gaffer for his constant line of advice and aphorisms for the rest of the Shirefolk, served as gardener at Bag End. Of the six children he and Bell had produced, it looked as if Sam was the most likely to follow his father’s way. All of the children had an equal love of growing things, but Hal preferred seeing plants start, doing orchard work and glasshouse work, and had joined his cousin Barnabus in the Northfarthing in starting one of the largest nurseries in the entire Shire, while young Ham had been apprenticed as a roper with their uncle Andy in Tighfield.
Frodo and young Sam were examining the carving work of a shepherd from the hills area of the far Westfarthing, who spent much of his time while his flock was feeding busy with whittling. Ferdibrand Took was coming along and saw them, and smiled. “Cousin Frodo!” he called. “I knew last year you’d soon be up there dancing with the menfolk with Isumbard and Uncle Bilbo! You were superb!”
Spots of pink flushed on Frodo’s cheeks, while Sam smiled proudly. “It’s little enough, Ferdibrand,” Frodo answered him. “I’ve always loved dancing, you know, and would dance about the hole with my mum when I was young and my Dad would play his flute. Dad began teaching me the Husbandmen’s dance when I was but ten, and said he looked forward to having me dance it alongside him one day.”
“Well, he’d have been proud of you today--that’s certain.”
“Thanks--thank you very much.”
“What are you up to right now?”
“Just wandering about a bit with Sam here. Have you met Samwise Gamgee?”
“Minding him, are you?”
“No, not really, actually--he’s quite responsible in his own right. His dad is Uncle Bilbo’s gardener, and Sam is his dad’s helper. And a marvel with the flowers the both of them are.” Sam flushed, but his expression was quite pleased. “It’s just that it’s nicer to go about the fairgrounds with someone, if you understand me, and we find we both like much the same things.”
Ferdibrand smiled and addressed Sam. “Do you mind, Sam, if I join the two of you? I’ve not seen a lot of my cousin here for some time, you know.”
Again, Sam flushed. “It’s all right with me, but then it’s not for me to say, Mr. Took, sir.”
“Just call me Ferdibrand--I’m a long ways from coming of age, you know.”
Sam looked uncomfortable. “I couldn’t do that, Mr. Ferdibrand, sir, for the Gaffer’d have my ears if’n he heard me.”
“I fear he’s right on that one, Ferdi,” Frodo agreed. “He’s quite the one for insisting his children use proper address, the Gaffer is.”
Ferdi shrugged. “Well, I suppose Mr. Ferdibrand will have to do.”
Frodo indicated the table where the woodcarvings lay. “We were admiring these, Ferdi. Master Stock here is quite gifted.”
The three of them examined the carvings together, comparing them and complimenting them, the shepherd smiling broadly at the praise. Frodo kept looking at one bird in particular, then finally turned away with regret. Together they wandered away, talking now of how Frodo liked living in Hobbiton and the Westfarthing. Narcissa watched them walk off, then stepped up to the table herself. She looked particularly at the bird Frodo favored--it was charming, but Master Stock wanted more than she could afford for it. But she did buy a butterfly clip he’d carved, and then walked along the way the three had taken.
Narcissa in this way shadowed Frodo for most of the day, watching from nearby most of the time. None of them appeared to notice her. When they came across Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck, young Merry attached himself to the party, seemingly overjoyed to find himself able to be with his older cousin once more, holding Frodo’s hand but not interrupting the two older lads. Yet both Ferdi and Frodo seemed content to have the two young ones with them, even including them in the talk when they could. They were relaxed and happy enough.
Then Frodo was seen by a group of young teens from Brandy Hall, who came hurrying up to greet Frodo, several of them demanding a story from him. It was near the dancing ground, which was full right now of younger ones who’d been involved in the greased pig chase. Frodo was obviously accustomed to such demands, but looked apologetically at his cousin. “Do you mind, Ferdi? I was always telling them tales when I lived in Brandy Hall, you know.”
“Go ahead, Frodo. I’m always game for a tale myself.”
Reassured, Frodo sat on an empty barrel which had been brought out of the ale tent and indicated the younger ones should sit on the ground. Other children, seeing some entertainment was in the offing, began to join them, and soon there was a sizable crowd around them. Frodo didn’t seem to mind the size of the group, but was querying his Brandybuck cousins on what kind of tale they wanted.
“Tell about Cousin Bilbo and the trolls,” demanded Saromac Brandybuck. With the agreement of many of the others, Frodo finally began.
No one noticed Narcissa sitting on another barrel at the back of the crowd, which continued to grow as Frodo told the story. That Frodo was talented in this quickly became apparent, and the number of adults who stood about the edges of the audience was surprising, as intent on the tale being told and the animated face of the tale spinner as their children were. As the young tween described Bilbo deciding to steal the troll’s belt purse, they grew intent, and laughed when Frodo imitated the squeaking voice the purse had as it advised its owner it was being taken. By the time all thirteen Dwarves had been popped into sacks no one else within hearing was saying a word, and all were intently listening as he recreated the argument on how these prizes ought to have been cooked. When at last the argument lasted long enough for the Sun to rise and turn the trolls to stone all were thrilled with delight, which turned to laughter as Gandalf’s part in the argument was revealed.
The tale over at last, Frodo rose. One of the children from Michel Delving started to protest, until a child from the Hall explained, “No, that’s the rule--one story at a time.”
Frodo laughed. “Glad you remember that, Cally. Now, we wish you all a good day.” So saying, he rose and nodded to Ferdi, Sam, and Merry, and the four headed off to check in with Bilbo.
“You have a rule?” Ferdibrand asked.
“Actually, it was Uncle Rory who made it--one story at a time, and usually only one a day. Otherwise no one would leave me alone, and none of us would get our chores done. All the adults in the Hall saw to it that the rule was enforced.”
As they found Bilbo, Sam’s parents came by and collected their son for a time, and Merry was called back to go with his parents and a group of younger cousins. Soon Narcissa had lost sight of Ferdibrand and Frodo in the crowd, finding them about an hour later eating pasties together while they talked. Isumbard joined them briefly, then went off with other older cousins; Folco found them, and then they were joined by Fatty Bolger for a time; then the two younger cousins went off to find Fatty’s parents. When the dancing resumed Ferdi and Frodo joined in again, and Narcissa found herself dancing with each, her heart racing when she danced with Frodo.