Thanks for the inspiration, Dreamflower!
Dora Baggins looked on her nephew and her cousin with approval. Today, at least, these two indeed appeared the Master of Bag End and his adopted heir--each attired neatly in good cloth; no fraying on Frodo’s cuffs; all buttons present, accounted for, and properly fastened on Bilbo’s waistcoat; collars neatly folded over; Frodo’s dark curls at least obviously recently brushed. Perhaps the wine-colored brocade of Bilbo’s waistcoat was more ostentatious than good taste called for, and she suspected that Frodo had a book of Elvish poetry tucked into the rear pocket of his trousers that would be causing an unsightly bulge if one looked at him from an unfortunate angle; but when all was said and done the two of them were worthwhile acknowledging as her relatives.
"You tell me that all are indeed ready?" she asked, feeling even more pleasure in their company at present.
"Well, of course, Dora dear," Bilbo assured her. "We finished binding the last of them this morning. Frodo, be a good lad and go fetch the lot."
"Certainly, Uncle," the younger Hobbit said as he turned toward the storage room where he and Bilbo worked on adding bindings to the books they copied and prepared for inclusion in libraries around the Shire.
"I must say," Dora said as she watched the tween hurrying off obediently and noted her guess about him having a book tucked into his pocket had indeed been accurate, "you’ve done wonders with the child, Bilbo. Color in his cheeks, his eyes bright and observant, some weight at last on his bones, his expression cheerful, his attitude alert and biddable—he’s becoming a Hobbit of substance, you know."
"I told you he had it in him, did I not?" Bilbo answered smugly. "Ah, yes, he’s my dear boy, and was well worth bringing here from Buckland."
"Well, I must say that he’s a polite lad, far more so than some I could mention," Dora commented. "I had the mischance to nearly stumble across Lotho on my way here, and I’ll tell you I mean that literally—quite literally, in fact. The foul child was kneeling down behind my gate with a mirror upon the ground so fixed that it could reflect back to him what could be seen under the skirts of the lasses passing by. I didn’t see him until I’d trod upon his leg, and the resulting scream was quite unnerving. He leapt up, and the words that he uttered forth—I’m certain that had Lobelia heard them even she would have been ashamed of him, for not even she could have doubted he was the source of them. Now, young Lotho—there’s a prime example of what comes from spoiling a child, you know. I’m quite ashamed to have him accounted a Baggins, for he’s far more a Sackville and a Bracegirdle."
"Oh, I can’t help but agree," Bilbo said as he saw her into the most comfortable chair in the room after his own and brought over the tea trolley so she could do the honors for them. "That is precisely why I decided that I should prepare Frodo to follow me, you know. Intelligent, compassionate, far too responsible for his own good—he’ll do us proud when his time comes—mark my words."
"At least he behaves now with decorum, far more than does young Pimple," she said. "And he’s polishing up so nicely indeed. There’s little enough to show for the years he ran so wild there in Buckland…."
"Dora, must you keep harking back to that? You must realize—Gilda’s insistence on treating him as if he were made of the most fragile of glass was driving the poor lad to distraction. He was discouraged from all sports save swimming and walking out with me, which alone the other healers were able to convince her would strengthen his heart; he wasn’t given responsibilities appropriate to his age or activities enough to release his nervous energy. When the only skills he was allowed to exercise were his cleverness and inventiveness, of course he was likely to become the rascal of Buckland as a result."
"You’re certain his heart is quite recovered?"
"Dora, you were here much of the time while he was recovering from the lung sickness last fall—Laurel is quite certain he’s long outgrown the whispering, and should not be restricted from any physical activity. I watched him last summer, allowed to play at ball down on the field below the Hill and running at races and all—he’s all the better for having normal exercise now. And I’ll be seeing to it he is taught to ride soon. It was a mean trick to have him there amongst some of the best ponies in the whole of the Shire and keep him from learning to ride."
"Not that Buckland is properly part of the Shire, after all," she muttered darkly. For Dora Baggins the proper eastern boundary to their land was the Brandywine rather than the High Hay and the Old Forest.
"I saw Sandyman the Miller yesterday," she said, changing the subject as she handed him his cup of tea. "Was coming out of the Ivy Bush, already deep in his cups in spite of it being mid-afternoon. I’ll be wagering his wife and poor young Ted were suffering for it last night."
"Dora Baggins—you would wager? You, the writer of such a book as you’ve just had young Frodo and me a-copying out for you? Really, my dear cousin—you astound me!"
Dora flushed prettily—Bilbo had always felt that was one of her most attractive features, how she looked when she colored. It was really too bad, he’d always felt, that she’d never accepted any of the suitors who’d looked her way when she was younger. And Dora, who knew her cousin all too well at times, had a good idea of what he was thinking of her right now, for he’d never been shy of expressing it when the two of them had been more youthful companions. "You know precisely what I meant, Bilbo Baggins. Speaking of rapscallions—the Shire has never seen such a one as you. Between you and Sigismund Took you must have managed to scandalize the entire family in your time."
"Back before I began hiding behind my Baggins sensibilities, you mean?" He shook his head. "I was far, far too stodgy once I approached coming of age. I truly needed a wizard and thirteen Dwarves to shake me out of my rigid respectability." He gave her a thorough examination. "What happened to us, Dora, that in the end neither of us found someone we felt worthwhile marrying? This book of yours—it’s quite full of highly worthwhile observations and all. You’d have made a wonderful wife and mother, you know."
"And considering how well you’re doing by young Frodo, you’d have made an excellent father. You ought to have had a full brood of seven or eight about you, Bilbo Baggins. That you’d have to wait to this late date to find yourself raising a child, and doing it so well, is amazing and a waste of your talents."
"I so wish Drogo and Primula had managed to keep the others, too," Bilbo murmured. "I’d have taken in all five of them years ago if they had, I think. Primmie used to say that as delightful as it was raising Frodo, it would have been even more so had they managed to have more living children. You should have seen him then, Dora, when he was there with his parents in Buckland and then in Whitfurrow. Always active, his eyes alight with cheerfulness and delight, full of the most interesting questions."
"At least he’s past that," she sighed. "Really, the things the child would ask when he was young! ‘Do you know, Auntie Dora, if the stars shine also when the sun is out but we can’t see them for her light? Do you think a sheep likes or hates being sheered?’ How was anyone to answer such questions, do you think?"
Bilbo laughed as Frodo returned with the books in hand and set them on the drum table beside her chair. "Here, Aunt Dora—but be careful, for the glue of these two with the green bindings is not completely set as yet. They were the last ones I bound this morning. I’m sorry they must be bound in green, but we were out of the oxblood leather with which we bound the rest."
Dora took up one of those bound in the reddish brown and opened it. Frodo had copied this, she realized, for the script was clear and beautiful and remarkably graceful. There were her words in that lovely script…. She smiled in satisfaction. She set it down and picked up the next. This held the original manuscript, she realized. The next one was in Bilbo’s hand, a bit on the spidery side, she’d always felt.
Each was properly finished and had been copied with a minimum of scrapes or blots, and she was well pleased as she set down the last and poured out a cup of tea for Frodo and presented it to him. "These are very nicely done, dearling," she told him fondly. "Very nicely done indeed. I am well pleased. And to have them finished by such a fine specimen of decorum as you’ve become is very satisfying. I’m certain that our various relatives I’ve decided to gift them to will be suitably impressed."
"I’m so glad they meet with your approval, Aunt," Frodo assured her. "And I hope you’ll never be ashamed of me in the future."
"Well, other than your lamentable habit of stuffing books into your rear pockets I’ve found almost nothing to criticize you about, Frodo dear." She ate a cake and finished her tea. "Did you enjoy copying this book?"
He carefully swallowed his biscuit before answering, "Oh, yes, Auntie Dora. It was a wonderful work to copy. So much of it is common Hobbit sense, I think, and I believe Aunt Esme and Aunt Lanti will love the copies you’ve had prepared for them."
"Which part did you appreciate most?" she asked.
"Oh, but it was all so good…." Frodo sought rescue by his uncle, but Bilbo was wisely keeping his own attention on the biscuit he was methodically eating by taking small bites all about the center. Left on his own, Frodo quickly thought about all the sections. What she’d written about raising children had been interesting only inasmuch as it confirmed much he’d noted of how his relatives in Brandy Hall generally kept control of their own offspring; Dora’s assertion that Hobbits needed to be guided by courtesy and kindness appeared self-evident in Frodo’s eyes, while her blunt statement that Hobbits needed to be predictable he felt to be appalling. He took a deep breath, then remembered that her own advice was that proper conversation for a meal should be focused on the meal itself, and his lip twitched. He realized Bilbo was now watching him surreptitiously from the corner of his eye, and decided to take a jibe at his guardian as punishment for leaving him to his own devices in answering the question.
"I think the section on meals was best, Aunt Dora, and particularly on proper attire and behavior for them. I’d not truly thought on it, you know, just how slovenly it is to appear at first or second breakfast in one’s dressing gown; nor how rude it is to read at a meal, or to speak with one’s mouth full." He opened his blue eyes to their most innocent extent, patently ignoring the spluttered laugh Bilbo was seeking to suppress.
Dora was most gratified. Ah, yes, she thought, Frodo had indeed taken it all to heart, particularly if he realized the bachelor lifestyle affected by his Uncle Bilbo wasn’t always particularly decorous. "That is wonderful, dearling," she told him. "How very responsible of you to focus on that section."
She failed to note when Bilbo elbowed Frodo’s ribs while Frodo kept a self-righteous expression on his face in response to her praise.
At last tea was finished, and Frodo escaped to the kitchen with the tray of used dishes, and Dora carefully lifted the stack of slim volumes. "You’ll send me the bill for the copying and binding on Quarter Day?" she asked, referring to the day in mid-season when such accounts were usually settled.
"Certainly, my dearest cousin," Bilbo assured her. "And if we can do anything else, please let me know."
Feeling well pleased, Dora Baggins accepted Bilbo’s aid to resettle her bonnet and shawl, arranged her stack of books in her basket, and set off for her home in Hobbiton proper.
That night she went through the stack again, and began deciding which copy would go to which intended recipient. The one in green copied by Frodo would go to Eglantine Took, she decided, while the one in the darkest oxblood copied by Bilbo would go to Mistress Lalia in the Great Smial, who after all wouldn’t bother reading it but would be highly insulted not to get a copy. Methodically she ticked off in her mind the other intended recipients, then realized she’d forgotten the other individual she’d originally intended to give one to—Ivy Boffin. She very much liked Ivy and her daughter Narcissa—not to see a copy go to them would be a terrible injustice, she thought. Well, in the morning she’d pop by Bag End and speak to Bilbo about it and have one more copy made—and, considering how smitten by Frodo young Narcissa was, she’d insist that Frodo do the copying of this one. Ivy would appreciate the practical advice on manners, and Narcissa would read it, she knew, just to rejoice to see Frodo’s writing. With a smile, Dora Baggins extracted the original from the stack of finished volumes, and set it on the side table in the entranceway ready for her to take with her in the morning.
"Morning," Bilbo said as Frodo, attired in his striped dressing gown over his favorite worn nightshirt from Brandy Hall, stumbled into the kitchen for elevenses and sat down at the table. "You were up quite late, you know."
"I found one word in the book I was reading in Sindarin whose meaning I was having difficulty with, Uncle Bilbo. I think I went through about every Elvish dictionary and glossary you have trying to pin it down." Frodo gave a profound yawn which he didn’t cover, as by this time both hands were involved in buttering a piece of toast Bilbo had just taken from the fork and set before him. "Have we any of May Gamgee’s currant jam?" he added, hopefully.
"On the shelf there," Bilbo told him, indicating the location with a casual wave of his hand. "What word was it?"
"Well, I’m not certain if it’s truly Sindarin in nature. I suspect it might indeed be Quenya. It’s estel, which you’d always told me meant hope. However, from the context of the word it appears to have a deeper meaning than just hope, for one wouldn’t use it, for example, in translating the sentence I hope to see my friend next week. Nor have I as yet seen it used in any statement such as It was his great hope to be allowed to follow his father as lord of their people."
"Very astute of you, Frodo," Bilbo responded approvingly. "Let me go off and get one of the commentaries on the use of languages sent by Lord Erestor of Imladris."
In minutes Bilbo was back with three volumes that he set on the edge of the table. Frodo had taken over the watch on the potatoes being fried with bits of bacon and onion while his uncle absented himself from the kitchen, and he now lifted the skillet from the fire and set it on a folded towel on the table with a large wooden spoon thrust into it so they could serve themselves.
Bilbo himself was also still attired in his own dressing gown, although he’d managed to put on a pair of trousers under his nightshirt, the braces at the moment slapping at his upper legs as he’d not yet pulled them over his shoulders. The older Hobbit served himself some of the potatoes from the skillet, popped a large bite into his mouth, and opened the topmost volume. After several minutes of leafing back and forth through it, he finally found the section he’d been searching for, and not bothering to fully swallow what he had in his mouth he began reading aloud.
"Mornin’, Miss Dora," Hamfast Gamgee welcomed Mr. Bilbo’s cousin as she entered the gate. "Come to see the Master, have you?"
"Yes, both Bilbo and young Master Frodo as well," Dora assured him. "Are they in?"
"Yes, back in the kitchen from what as I could tell when I come by there a few minutes past," the Gaffer answered her. "Eatin’ their ’levenses, they was. Tell you what, Mistress, why’nt you just go back along the path like and knock on the kitchen door, and they won’t have to leave their food to get cold, like, as they come to the front."
Dora thought briefly, then gave the gardener a bright smile. "Very practical, Master Hamfast," she said. "Yes, I’ll do just that, I think."
She smiled as she walked down the garden path toward the back door to the hole, remembering the section of her book that Frodo had indicated was his favorite. Frodo had specifically stated he’d been impressed by her noting that appearing at breakfast, particularly second breakfast, in ones dressing gown was slovenly. She looked forward to seeing him again as neatly dressed as he’d been the previous day. She noted young Sam kneeling by the kitchen garden weeding between the rows of herbs, and smiled at the lad. He knuckled his forehead in response, leaving a small dirty spot on it from his work, and she suppressed an amused smile, nodded graciously, and went on.
She heard the two voices raised, both excited and growing more so as each tried to force the other to listen. "Now it says here…." Frodo’s voice began as Bilbo’s noted,
"According to this…."
Now, good manners dictated that one coming to visit others should knock at the door and await admittance by the inhabitants of the home being visited. However, this time something compelled Dora to go against those good manners she’d so assiduously urged on others for years, and she turned the knob and went in….
There at the table sat Frodo and Bilbo, the former’s dressing gown not even tied neatly, revealing the most disreputable nightshirt it had ever been her misfortune to see, worn and with a seam between yolk and front that gaped open for a good two and a half inches, the fabric rubbed shiny and thin; the latter seated sideways on his side of the table, one foot up on the bench beside him and a book resting against his knee, braces dangling, wearing an old dressing gown that must have been given him at least forty years previous of a most unsuitable rose color, now faded and dirty looking. Neither had brushed hair on head or feet—indeed as he spoke and read from the book laid by his plate, pages held down by the butter dish, Frodo was running his left hand repeatedly through his hair and making it stand right up, while in his right hand he held a piece of toast dripping in currant jam, jam that at the moment was splattering the table cloth.
At the opening of the door Bilbo went quiet as, startled, he turned, his eyes widening under his tousled silver-gilt curls, his lips thinning in dismay at having been caught so attired. Frodo, blithely unaware as yet, continued on, rattling off in a loud tone a series of words and syllables she must assume were Elvish of some kind, pausing only most briefly between phrases to take a large bite of his toast and continuing on before he’d had a chance to chew, much less clear his mouth.
A skillet of fried potatoes and other unidentified foodstuffs lay somewhat askew on a hastily folded tea cloth, with not a decent serving spoon but a worn wooden one she could swear she remembered having seen used by Aunt Belladonna when that worthy Hobbitess was mistress of this smial. The cloth decorating the table was damp around the milk jug, and stained under the second jug of apple juice, as it was around the half-empty glass sitting by Frodo’s plate, the rim marred by greasy mouth prints and adhered crumbs.
Frodo, obviously focused on what he was reading, went on to the end, then looked up triumphantly as if he’d proved a hard-contested point, smiling broadly until he realized Bilbo wasn’t paying him the least attention, then paling far beyond his usual as he realized they were no longer alone in the smial. She looked at the blanched lips and the flaming cheeks and felt a surge of satisfaction. Well, at least he was well aware of the impropriety of his appearance.
"Well," Dora Baggins pronounced stentoriously into the now heavy silence, "I see for myself just how much of an impression my book has truly made on the two of you!"
Years later, Dora, still recovering from the shock of the flash that had accompanied Bilbo’s disappearance that night, sat examining the face of her nephew as he fended off the intrusive questions and offended (and offensive) comments of those approaching him for answers, and saw that Frodo was doing his best to hide his grief, was being unfailingly polite and—and kind—as he dredged up answers and acknowledgments to the concerns and protests offered him.
He was most neatly dressed in a brown suit over a green, figured waistcoat, a waistcoat as rich as any worn by Bilbo in the past—if in far better taste. His hair had been neatly brushed, but not even Dora could fault him as he began running his fingers through it with growing agitation as the questions failed to stop, as the others failed to realize that Frodo was as upset as any of them.
Then his cousins Meriadoc and Peregrin moved in to offer him some protection; and she saw Samwise Gamgee speaking to the uncertain servers, apparently indicating they were to pass out so far withheld cakes and ale to distract the guests, before he moved to intercept a most vociferous Odo Proudfoot and offer the old Hobbit a courteous suggestion that he come by in the morning to meet with Master Frodo, who was obviously overwhelmed with the questions he’d already been fielding. Even young Pippin was managing, in spite of his extreme youth, to distract those moving in on his Baggins cousin, reminding them that politeness demanded they give Frodo time himself to be accustomed to the new state of things. Something in the eyes of Paladin Took’s son made adults take the child seriously, and they began to fall back, clotting into groups to discuss the happenings of the evening amongst themselves.
Apparently something in Dora’s expression reassured Meriadoc Brandybuck and led Samwise Gamgee to step aside as she approached her nephew.
The wariness she’d not seen in the lad’s eyes in years could be detected in them now as he watched her approach. But instead of berating him, she reached out her arms and hugged him in comfort, murmuring into his ear, "Sweetling, I want you to know that throughout the night you have behaved yourself with only the utmost of decorum."
She felt him melt against her in relief, and he hugged her fiercely for a moment. Then, as she pulled away, he looked into her eyes and she could see the tears he was keeping most carefully under control and not allowing to fall. "I love you, too, Auntie Dora," he said very quietly as their eyes met. "I love you so very much. Thank you." And he gave her his brilliant smile, causing her heart to lift.
As she finally retreated to her remaining brother’s side and she realized he, too, was intent on approaching their nephew, she whispered, "Be kind, Dudo—be very kind, please."
He gave her a look, and then the briefest of nods of understanding. After all, his late wife Camellia had also been a recipient of a copy of her book.