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4
The Heart of the Matter

3. The Heart of the Matter


Frodo was born right here in Hobbiton, he was. His mum and dad lived near Bag End, in Number Five, Bagshot Row. It was one of the first smials dug this side of the Hill, the traditional home of the Bagginses. Mr. Bilbo’s dad was born there. It were the biggest of the holes in the Row--four bedrooms, two parlors, two kitchens, five larders, two pantries. Right nice place. Frodo come early, and was tiny when he was born. Old Widow Rumble, who lives in Number Four, next door to us at Number Three, and who likes to take care of the Gaffer, told me about that time. She was prenticed to a midwife for a while, but she didn’t have the heart to do that work. Every time the baby would start pushing its way out of the womb and she was there to see, she’d become sick, and her mistress finally told her that she wasn’t never going to make a midwife as the last thing she generally saw in the delivery of a baby was the sides of the bowl she was retching into. Widow Rumble says she never regretted having her prenticeship terminated--she loves babies, but not the birthing of them, so she worked as a nurse to several families over the years, even after she was married to Mr. Rumble. Helped raise any number of other people’s children over the years, she did.

Widow Rumble had quit trying to learn midwifery afore Missus Primula come to her time, but she was friends still with her former mistress, and she loved hearing tales of the birthings, so her mistress would stop by afterwards and tell her all about it. As long as she wasn’t seeing it with her own eyes, she was eager to know all the details.

When her mistress came by after little Frodo’s birth, she was solemn and her lips thin and tight. Said the birth was easy enough, but only because since it was so early the baby was quite small and thin. Said the baby was blue at first, and it took quite a bit of time to get it to start breathing on its own. Finally it coughed out a bit of stuff, and then it started breathing more normal and its color started showing up on its cheeks and all. She said it wasn’t a good sign to be so blue when born, as it’s a sign the breath isn’t getting where it needs to go. She also said that it was probably just as well that Missus Primula had told her she wasn’t sure she’d want to have more children, as it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to carry another child to term. In the healer’s records at Brandybuck Hall, Mr. Merry found that she lost two more there, both born at least three months too soon, so looks like the midwife here were right on that one.

Now, Missus Primula was a Brandybuck, and she’d been brought up in Brandy Hall; so living on her own was sort of lonely for her. Mr. Bilbo loved his cousins and had been in and out of Number Five frequently since Mr. Drogo and she got married and settled there, but I guess it weren’t the same as knowing that you could just walk down a passage and be sure of finding someone to gossip with. Having only Mr. Bilbo nearby as family just wasn’t the same, I guess--oh, there was Missus Lobelia and Mr. Otho, but that just wasn’t quite the same neither, don’t you know. If I’d have had to put up with that lot as family like they and Mr. Bilbo and Frodo had to do, I think I’d have dug me a new chamber in toward the center of the Hill, and caved in the passage to it so as to keep them away from me. They were right horrid in those days, those Sackville-Bagginses.

Anyway, when the baby was about a year old, Missus Primula talked Mr. Drogo into moving them back to Buckland. He didn’t want to live in the Hall, at least not at first; thought it would be too crowded. So Mr. Drogo found them a comfortable place near the Brandywine River, not far from the Hall. I guess when they bought it Mr. Drogo thought he’d got hisself quite a bargain, for it was quite cheap. Didn’t realize what he’d got his family into, Mr. Drogo didn’t--turns out this hole was in the flood plain, and every few years it would get flooded out when the spring rains were heavier than usual. Plain foolish, if you ask me, not finding out what could have induced folks to sell a nice place like that so cheap. When Mr. Bilbo found out about it, I guess he just shook his head at the lack of sense of some folks.

Old Mr. Bilbo, he doted on little Frodo. I guess he were often in and out, and that he learned how to dress the baby and to change it’s nappies and all. And little Frodo seems to have liked his grown-up cousin quite a bit in return. When Mr. Drogo decided to move his family to Buckland, Mr. Bilbo was devastated. The baby seemed to miss his Uncle Bilbo from the moment they settled in the new hole, and according to the Gaffer there weren’t no question Mr. Bilbo missed that baby! He’d go over to Buckland regular, he would, and he’d take it presents and all, and stay for a few days to help with things, and he’d take the baby out on his rambles. Once little Frodo could walk by hisself, he’d toddle after his Uncle Bilbo all over Buckland, and Mr. Bilbo would show him everything and all. And I guess sometimes Mr. Drogo and Missus Primula would come with him here to Bag End, but they stopped that when Frodo was about seven or so--the Sackville-Bagginses was getting right jealous of Mr. Bilbo’s care for his cousin Drogo and his family and was raising quite a fuss at the time, and it got to the point Missus Primula couldn’t face the constant rumors that Lobelia was putting out on her and refused to come back at all--and I can’t hardly blame her.

A year after that, after the third time the hole by the Brandywine flooded, they moved smial again--bought a new hole in Whitfurrow. From the healer’s records Mr. Merry found in Brandy Hall, that appears to have been just after they lost another babe, and the healer noted the midwife had said this one was a girlchild, and that he’d had to give Missus Primula medicine for the sadness after. But there was one more note about Mr. Frodo--about how he went into a faint when he heard his mother crying out in grief when the baby came so very soon and was dead when it was born. The healer was worried about the little boy, that this wasn’t right. He was called over by Mr. Drogo, who was right upset, what with losing another babe and his wife weeping her heart out and his son gone all faint. By the time the healer got there Frodo was awake and seemed better, but was all too pale; the healer examined him, or tried to. Even then Frodo was a very private child, and didn’t like no one touching his body if it wasn’t necessary, and he got so stiff when the healer tried to listen to his chest at last the healer gave up, but he wrote that he’d ordered valerian tea for the child three times a day, valerian tea with a small infusion of St. John’s wort.

But it seems Missus Primula wasn’t all too happy in Whitfurrow, neither, and they’d visit Brandy Hall right regular. She and Mr. Drogo would go there to stay for weeks at a time, and they’d often go out in those boats the Master keeps there. I member my Gaffer telling me when I was little about what happened the last time they were there, how they went out in one of them boats after supper, but somehow the boat tipped in the river, and they both drownded. The Gaffer could tell it right proper, he could, and put in all kinds of details, like when they found the bodies there was weeds in their hairs and fishes were swimming in and out of their mouths and all. Now I know that a lot of that was just his stories like, but when I was a little lad it spooked me proper. Then he’d caution me, “And let that be a lesson to you, Sammy my lad--Hobbits just shouldn’t ought to mess around with boats. It just ain’t natural, going about on the water, it ain’t. Don’t be no ninnyhammer, and leave them boats alone.” And for years that’s just what I did!

It was then, when Frodo, who was just a lad of twelve, got white and fainted again, and then wouldn’t talk at all when he came to, not for hours. They was sure it was just grief, they was--at first, at least; but then they changed their minds. My Gaffer told me that Mr. Bilbo went for the funeral, and that when he came home he was right upset. Of course, that was only natural, as Mr. Drogo was about the only relative in the Baggins clan who treated him with respect, and they’d been right close and all, and he did love both of them a lot, Mr. Bilbo had. But there was something about Mr. Frodo that had him real upset, too, though he’d never say what it was.

Some folks had assumed he’d bring the boy back to Bag End with him as his ward--after all, he was Mr. Baggins of Bag End, and was now the head of the Baggins family; and certainly, for all his Took and Brandybuck blood, Frodo was still a Baggins. Mr. Merry has asked his mum about why Frodo stayed in Brandy Hall instead, and she told him they convinced Mr. Bilbo that it would be better if the boy had someone to stand as a mother for him, and that as he--meaning Mr. Bilbo-- wasn’t seen as respectable by most of the Shire folk, it would reflect bad on the boy to be raised by him.

But it seems that that was when they first got wind of the fact that there was something not quite right with Frodo’s heart. Budgie Smallfoot, whose dad was a healer for some of the Boffinses, has explained to me how the heart is put together--seems there are rooms in it with doors between that only are supposed to open one way to let the blood through. Sometimes, though, the doors don’t seal right, and a bit of the blood can slip backwards, and the heart will make a slushy sound when you listen to the chest. There’s been several of the Boffinses who have had this problem, though it’s rarely seen in most of the rest of the Shire. When this shows up in a Hobbit child, usually it doesn’t mean a lot, and Budgie says that such children usually don’t have the sound once they get bigger, that in growing up the child’s heart fixes itself, or the doors just fit better or something.

But sometimes, especially when the child is worried or really scared or upset, when the heart beats faster, the doors will slip worse, and then the blood will slip backwards worse, and for some reason it works against breathing somehow, and the child will often faint. This is what I don’t quite understand, and Budgie can’t seem to get it through my head how the heart does with breathing. Maybe it’s just that he don’t know, or I’m just too lacking to understand--I’m not sure which is right.

Mr. Budgie says, though, that sometimes when folk get older, especially it seems if you’re real old or a Boffins, sometimes this will start happening in a grownup Hobbit, and then it can be real bad. This can be the sign the person’s heart is failing, and the person will probably die sooner rather than later, especially if they end up going through a bad patch. The heart will stop sounding just a bit slushy, but will start sounding really slushy more and more of the time, and the feet will start swelling, and other parts, inside the chest, will start swelling, too, and it can get right hard to breathe or move. People will feel like they just can’t take a breath at all, or like they’re out of breath after just a bit of moving.

When the person is a child, as long as it’s just a bit slushy just part of the time, apparently it isn’t too worrisome. He says that exercise, as long as it’s sensible and not too strenuous, can help even things out, make the heart stronger. He says that walking is really good for the heart, as it keeps things moving but isn’t too hard on you. He agrees with what the healer said in that letter Mr. Merry brought to me.

Now, Mr. Saradoc Brandybuck’s mum was a healer, too--only, I think Missus Menegilda was more a midwife than a full healer. But being the Master’s wife, she was often busy with family duties; so when another of the healers who had prenticed with a healer for the Boffinses married one of the Brandybucks as lived in Brandy Hall, they were glad to hear he’d agreed to live in the Hall with his new wife, as there would be someone able to be on duty when Missus Menegilda had to do with Hall business. He was the one who attended Frodo just after he found out his parents was dead. While Frodo was still fainted away, he listened to his chest and heard that noise in Frodo’s heartbeat. He told them about the slushy sound, that as Frodo was still just a lad there was a good chance he’d grow out of it still, but that it might still be a problem when he grew up. He told them that Frodo needed to eat lots of green vegetables and fish and chicken and other fowl, and about exercising regularly, and about not allowing things to get him too upset.

Apparently they decided that going to the funeral would make him too upset, but he was even more upset that they’d left him out of it all, so finally Mr. Bilbo took him to the funeral after all, and I understand Missus Esmeralda was fit to be tied. She told Mr. Merry that Frodo was all still and quiet during the funeral, and all pale, but composed. After, I understand there was a row with Mr. Bilbo over why he had brought the boy anyway, and Mr. Bilbo tried to tell them that not bringing him was the crueler thing as he was tearing hisself in two, not knowing what was happening, but Missus Esmeralda was having none of it.

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