Pippin examined with interest the stack of miniature bricks Absalom had on display in the small building that lay along one side of the brick works in Tuckborough. “You say your daughter suggested you make these?” he asked.
“Yes--for the makin’ of houses for poppets,” Abso agreed. “She loves to build small houses for her dollies, she does, and the lasses what she plays with have all begun to do the same. It’s begun to be rather a fashion, it has--and lately it’s the dads to them lasses as is doin’ most of the buildin’.”
“Their fathers?” Pippin’s brows rose and his eyes widened with interest.
“Oh, yes, it is. The lasses, they’ll start with the buildin’, and next as they knows their dads is there, lookin’ on and offerin’ advice, and then startin’ in to help until they’ve took right over. And if’n there ain’t a right competition to see as which can make the fanciest of little houses! They’ll go out and cut fine wheatstraw for thatch, and have their wives use their finest cloth to make curtains and all, and the whole family’ll start makin’ the furniture for them. They get right elaborate, they do. Want to see as how they come out? Let me show you the ones as my lass has done.” So saying, he led the Thain’s son out of the shop building and across the yard toward the gate into his garden and the neat, cheerful Hobbit house his family inhabited.
An extra bedroom off to the far side of the house contained the collection of small houses that had been built with tiny bricks such as those Pippin had been examining. “This is the first as she built, and she did all the walls herself, she did,” the brickmaker said proudly. “I built the form for the thatched roof meself, I did, so’s it lifts right off. There’s a catch here and--and here.” There were two snicks, and he was able to raise the roof and set it aside so they could look right down into the construction.
It was a small cottage with rooms divided by thin wall partitions made from fine laths. Pebbles had been grouted together to build a cooking hearth and chimney in one corner; a simple table and two small wooden chairs sat in the kitchen area, and a bedstead was in one of the back rooms. Absalom demonstrated how the mattress sat on a webbing of fine string woven between the side rails of the bed in imitation of most real bedsteads. Pippin was enchanted. And the other three houses in the collection were each more elaborate than the last, the final one appearing to be a copy of Absalom’s own house. “I’ll admit as the wife’n me helped a great deal with this one,” the brickmaker said proudly.
When Pippin left the yard with his report for his father on bricks available for repairs to various buildings within the Tooklands he also took a supply of the small bricks with him and had more ordered so he could try his own hand at this new fashion.
There were nights when Peregrin Took didn’t sleep well, nights when nightmares threatened or refused to allow him to sleep; nights when he’d awake after a dream of Frodo to find his lashes wet and his pillow damp; nights when impending storms made him restless and brought to mind clashing armies; nights when he relived the fall of a stone down the well in Moria that turned into Gandalf’s fall from the broken bridge of Khazad-dûm, or the desperate crawl away from battling orcs and Riders into Fangorn Forest, or when his imagination showed him the pale, emaciated face of his older cousin lying as if dead on piles of the finest featherbeds sent out from Minas Tirith itself, with only the slowest of pulses and shallowest rise and fall of his chest to show he ought not to be lying instead on a bier.
On such nights Pippin found the presence of the small bricks gave him a much needed diversion. Instead of having visions of flames in the Hallows he could focus on how he would hang the round front door--green, of course. When he found the memories of peering into the palantir disturbed his sleep he could turn his mind to the patterns made as he carefully laid the bricks and considered the materials he would use to construct the interior walls. He collected wood shavings from the carpenters’ shed and planned how he could use them as shakes for the roof rather than dwell on those last few moments of consciousness when he lay under the troll, and he found thinking on what he would use to indicate the floors was preferable to remembering his last sight of Boromir son of Denethor, shot with arrows.
“What is it that keeps your rooms lit at all times of the night?” Pearl asked one afternoon.
“A project,” he answered her; but it took little enough persuasion on her part to convince him to allow her to see it.
“Oh, how sweet,” she said, delighted. “Will you furnish it?”
“I’d like to,” he admitted, “But right now I’ve only been considering how to put it together.”
It was built on a foundation of a long slab of wood he’d found also in the carpenters’ shed. He wasn’t certain what it might have been intended to be, but it had had several holes bored through it on one end; he placed the house beyond those holes with the front door toward them. He had the front entrance way completed, and the parlor, study, dining room, and kitchen largely done.
“It looks a lot like the house we lived in there on the farm in Whitwell,” she noted.
“I know. But it’s not quite the same.”
“I have a small Dwarf-carved box that would do for the chest by the Master’s chair,” she said thoughtfully. “A hair clip Bard purchased for me at the Free Fair came in it.”
“And I have a balsam pillow Pervinca gave me years ago to put in with my handkerchiefs that could do for a mattress,” he said.
In time all three of his sisters were involved with the project, and Maligar, who liked working with wood, was crafting the frames for chairs and beds, bookcases, wardrobes, and dressing tables. Pimpernel crocheted round and oval rugs for certain floors, found a rough, narrow length of green wool to use as a runner down the passageway, and with very fine thread and her most slender hook created lace curtains for the windows. Ferdi found an old circular box whose top became the front door, and whose hinges ended up being used on the wardrobe for the master bed room. An old wooden tub for butter became the tub in the bathing room, and a metal pepper mill served as the boiler. Pervinca produced doll dishes carved of wood that Frodo had given her for Yule when she was a bairn to set on the kitchen dresser, and a ceramic salt cellar became the sink.
It took several months before all were convinced that the little house was complete, with its cheerfully painted green door and a brass bead as a doorknob, flakes of isinglass for the window panes, entranceway floored with pieces of a broken tile, three carefully appointed bedrooms, two larders and small cool room, study, parlor, and dining room, privy and bathing room.
The desk in the study had been definitely patterned after that in Bag End, complete with a small piece of parchment on its surface and a tiny inkstand made of different kinds of beads on metal fastenings turned upside down in order to serve as legs with smaller beads for lids. Each room had is own fireplace and chimney piece, and the chimneypot for the kitchen had been copied from those for the Great Smial itself.
Pervinca, Pearl, and Pimpernel came to see the small house once it was finished. “It is beautiful, little brother,” Pervinca said. “What will you do with it? Put it in the play room for the smaller children?”
“Oh, he wouldn’t!” Pimpernel objected, dismayed. “The little ones--they’d ruin it! They’d pull off the curtains and break the hinges on the doors right away! Keep it here in your rooms, and give it to Diamond when you marry!”
Suddenly Pippin smiled his familiar, mischievous grin. “No, I’ve thought of the perfect ones who will treasure it most.”
Pearl examined her brother’s face. “You going to give it to Sam, then?”
He looked at her, surprised. “To Elanor, really. But how did you guess?”
She shrugged, but there was a look of regret on her face. “Do you think I’ve not noted that almost every time you’ve spent time working on this it’s been after someone’s been speaking of Frodo, or after something’s happened to bring your journey again to mind, Peregrin Took? You, Merry, and Sam--the three of you are all still out there, part of you; and none of you is ever likely to fully heal from him being gone. And where you used to watch out for Frodo, now you and Merry watch and cherish Sam, perhaps because he’s what’s left to you of Frodo here in the Shire now.”
He looked down at her, put his hand on the side of her face. “You’ve become so discerning, Pearl. Yes, we’re all still torn, but nowhere as much as he was. He tried so hard to fit back into life here, but the Ring and the journey took too much from him.”
“At least now, he’s probably alive and well,” Pearl sighed.
He nodded. “I believe so, Pearl, and able to be happy again.” He leaned forward and gently kissed her cheek, then looked back to the house. “He would have been delighted with this, and I have thought of the perfect way to give this to Elanor.” The grin reappeared. “Oh, yes, I’ll give this to Elanor in a way that will engage Sam’s interest as well. Rosie will just laugh, but for Sam and Elanor--they will always see it with a bit of wonder, I’d think.” His smile gentled but broadened as he brushed his fingertip across the paint on the green door.
He timed the journey to Hobbiton just right, choosing the day Sam and Rosie had driven to the Cottons’ farm to spend a few days with Rosie’s family before she must face her confinement with her third child. The great slab of wood sat in the tilt of the trap he’d driven, and from the gardeners for the Great Smial he brought some plants with the tiniest of flowers available to plant around the house when it was placed. “We’ll take it into the house and place it in the formal parlor--the one they never use. Rosie’s spoken of turning it into a play room for the children,” he explained to Pervinca’s husband Maligar Bolger, who’d come with him to help carry the structure up the steps to Bag End itself. “I’ll have to fetch in dirt to place on the plank, and set the pots of flowers in the holes,” he said as they approached the great green door--only the door was locked. That wouldn’t have been a problem at one time, for Pippin had long ago had a copy of the key made for his own use; but the lock had been replaced when Sam had the smial restored, and he’d not as yet given copies of the keys to anyone else save Frodo himself, who’d returned his own copy before he took ship.
“Well, are we going to have to take it back to the Great Smial again, then?” Maligar asked.
“No, I won’t do that,” Pippin said. “We’ll set it here on the bench and check the back door.”
The back door, too, was locked, but as they went back toward the front of the smial Pippin stopped, looking at the place where usually Sam planted sunflowers, those having been a favorite of Bilbo’s. The small plot had been cleared and the ground cultivated, and it looked to be just big enough....
“Ooh, this is wonderful!” said a childish voice, startling both gentlehobbits. A small lass had apparently followed them through the picket gate in the hedge, and stood by the little Hobbit house. She’d gently pushed open the green door and was peering in through it. “But the sofa’s fallen over! How can you set it up right?”
“Cyclamen Proudfoot!” exclaimed Pippin, one hand clutched to his chest. “I didn’t know you were here!”
“I saw you with the wee house, and wanted to see it better. That’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Well, of course. But you won’t be telling Sam who brought it.”
“Where are you going to put it?”
“Well, we were going to put it in the formal parlor, but I’ve changed my mind. Although I might have to dig up some seeds if Sam’s already planted his sunflowers, and I’m not certain where I’d plant them again.”
“Oh, he didn’t get them planted yet--he was going to, but he had to stop. There were some problems with the green grocer he had to deal with.”
“Good. This would be a better place than inside, and would cause even more wonder. Come on, Maligar!”
It took a time to get the slab properly placed, and they were able to easily cover it with the very soil they were displacing as they settled it into the former flower bed. Maligar fetched the small flat of tiny flowers and the pots of miniature roses, and Cyclamen brought trowels from Sam’s own shed to use in the planting. It took time to get everything just right, but as sunset came they at last pulled back, smiling at their handiwork.
A layer of soil now lay over the slab on which the house had been built, and small alyssum plants were now planted near its walls, while miniature roses now bloomed on each side of the walk, one of carefully poured sand leading from the stone slab stoop to the edge of the wood. Pippin had carefully lifted off the roof so they could set the furniture inside to rights and hang the two tiny cloaks his niece Pansy had sewn on the hooks over the bench in the entranceway. A walking stick leaned against the wall in the corner, and there was what appeared to be an umbrella in the brass thimble that served as an umbrella stand.
A few garments also crafted by Pansy hung in the wardrobes, along with finely hemmed squares of flannel as extra blankets and carefully folded cambric handkerchiefs to serve as sheets and pillow shams on the shelves. There were even little books that Pansy’s brother Isumbrand and their cousin Piper had made on the shelves in the study, and a miniature copy of Bilbo’s map, complete with red dragon, hanging over the fireplace there. A miniature picture of Frodo done by Pimpernel hung in one room, and another that was supposed to be Sam, Rosie, Elanor, and Frodo-lad hung over the mantel in the parlor. An old watch once carried by Grandda Adalgrim had been carefully slipped inside a wooden case so it could serve as a mantel clock. Strawflowers and baby’s breath were set into miniature vases that Pippin’s mother had found in one of the mathom rooms and placed throughout the house, and over the kitchen hearth hung a kettle-shaped toothpick holder that had been Gammer Blossom’s, donated now by the Thain himself. Pimpernel had even managed to make a crazy quilt to cover the bed in the master bedroom.
“It’s so beautiful,” Cyclamen breathed, looking down into it one last time as Pippin and Maligar prepared to replace the roof section.
“Yes--we intended to make it look as if it was really lived in,” Pippin said, looking at the wooden dog he’d set before the parlor hearth. Drogo Baggins had carved and painted that dog for Frodo, along with a number of farm animals; Frodo had given it and the remaining animals to Merry, and Merry had passed it on to Pippin. Now it was coming home again, he thought, smiling as he nodded to Maligar and they set the roof into place and he fastened the catches he’d fixed into it to allow it to be secured in place.
“I wish I could live in it,” sighed Cyclamen. “All it needs is a fire in one of the fireplaces and maybe some candles....”
“Well, that wouldn’t do,” Pippin said, “for if they flared it could burn the insides and the roof. But I did fix it so we could have smoke from the chimney.” He produced a small smudge from his pocket. “I had our orchardist make up about thirty of these from what we use when it freezes just as the apple blossoms start to set to keep from losing the crop. See the wick here?” He pulled out his striker set and soon had the wick lit, then dropped the small packet into the kitchen chimney pot. Soon a steady stream of smoke rose from it, as if a fire burned in the kitchen cooking hearth.
“That’s wonderful!” Cyclamen was obviously most impressed.
“Could you put one of these in the chimney and light it as soon as you realize Sam and Rosie are on their way home, do you think, Cyclamen? And maybe put one in it a few times in the morning without being seen? It would so enchant Elanor, I think.”
With the lass’s agreement, the two gentlehobbits made ready to leave. “Now, I’m counting on you to be secret about this, and not let Sam and the family know where it came from. And if you could spy to watch their reactions and tell us about it when we come for a visit the next time, I’d truly appreciate it.’
“Oh, I promise,” Cyclamen smiled. “I want to see how they like it, too!”
Sam pulled the trap they’d rented from the Green Dragon to a halt at the bottom of the stair up to Bag End. “Well, we’re back,” he said over his shoulder to his daughter, who knelt behind him in the tilt. He set the brake and climbed out, lifted Elanor down, accepted a drowsy Frodo Lad from Rosie before aiding her down, then turned to follow his wife up to the picket gate. Elanor squeezed by them and ran into the front garden. “I’m going to see if my nasturtiums have started growing yet,” she announced as she ran down the garden path toward the small plot her dad had given her for her own.
Her parents watched after her. “I think as I was about the same way,” Sam commented fondly. He set his son down on his feet. “You’ll need to follow after your mum while I fetch the hampers, dearling, for you’re too heavy for her to carry right now. And don’t pout! Don’t want your gaffer to call you a ninnyhammer, do you?”
The child shook his head with great seriousness, and Sam had to suppress a grin. “No--not a ninnyhammer,” the lad announced.
Just then Elanor reappeared, pulling at her dad’s trousers. “Dad!” she said, breathlessly. “Daddy--come quick--someone’s moved into the garden! And there’s smoke from the chimbly! Mummy--come see! Did you mean to grow a house ’stead of the sunflowers, Daddy? How’d you do it? Did you have to plant a brick? And someone must live there, if the kitchen fire’s going, right?”
Sam looked up at the top of the smial, and saw no signs of smoke from the chimney pots there, then shared a confused look with his wife. Elanor gave a disgusted sigh. “Not there--the little Hobbit house what growed where the sunflowers go! Come see!” She gave her father’s trousers another pull before grabbing at his hand. Totally mystified, Sam followed after her, trailed by Rosie and Frodo-lad, until they reached the plot where the sunflowers had always been planted, and there they stopped, looking at the perfect little Hobbit house that stood there, a line of smoke rising from a chimney. “Will it keep growing, do you think, Daddy?” she asked, sounding a bit worried. “There’s not enough room for it, I think, if it tries.”
Sam knelt down as carefully as he could. It stood about a foot high, and was about long enough to have three bedrooms. The knob on the green door didn’t turn; he pushed on the door and it opened inward, and peering in he saw the bench and the little cloaks hanging on the pegs, the umbrella stand with the handle sticking out of it, the walking stick in the far corner; the parlor almost across from the door. The windows had tiny staples on them, allowing him to pull each one open so they could peer inside and see that each room was furnished.
“I never!” breathed Rosie. “It’s perfect, Sam-love!”
“There’s cloaks!” Elanor said excitedly, “real cloaks! See, Sam-dad?”
The parlor was set up much like that of Bag End, save for the window that looked out toward the flower bed by the smial’s study window. The rest of the house was mostly different from the real Bag End, but there were enough features they could see that were plainly copied from the smial and its furnishings that Sam realized whoever had done this was very familiar with the place.
“How did they get the furniture inside?” Elanor asked.
“I have no idea, sweetling,” Rosie answered. “It’s a right marvel, it is.”
Sam was examining it from every side, smiling as he noted the detail--the painted walls in all the rooms, the map and books in the study, the tiny knitted shawl over the back of the Master’s chair in the parlor and the second one across the arms of the rocking chair in the kitchen, the dog by the hearth and dishes on the dresser, the mug set by the inkstand on the desk as if the Master had just left it.... He felt a single tear escape, then Rosie, who’d been peering into a bedroom, tapped his shoulder. “Look,” she said.
Inside hung a portrait, and he smiled through his tears to see and recognize it. “Oh, bless me,” he murmured. “And bless him! Look, Elanorellë--your Uncle Frodo!”
“Uncle Frodo? Do you mean he can stay here when he comes to visit us, and we just missed him?”
Cyclamen, watching from one of the weak places in the hedge, smiled. Mr. Pippin, she knew, was going to be most pleased.