4. Growing Up in Brandy Hall
When Missus Esmeralda found she was to have a babe, she didn’t want Frodo to know, for she had lost other babes already; but you can’t keep such news quiet in a place like Brandy Hall, when the Heir’s Lady is with child, and of course Frodo found out. He was very excited over it all, it seems, and when the babe was due they couldn’t get him to leave the smial the way she’d intended, for he intended to know this baby from the time it was born. They had a time of it, Mr. Saradoc told me, trying to keep the boy out from underfoot, but he kept sneaking into the rooms around where Missus Esmeralda was having her confinement. Mr. Saradoc finally said to leave him there, as there seemed no way to keep him out, but the worry was that the excitement would make him take a spell again. It appeared, however, that he was indeed growing out of his problem. He was one of the first to greet the new lad, and was tickled pink with what he called his “brother-cousin.” From what I hear tell he was as devoted to the babe as Mr. Bilbo was to hisself, and he would gladly walk the babe around and around the smial when it was fretful, would devise toys for its amusement, play peep-and-see-me for hours with it, and once little Merry was able to keep his feet for more than a few moments worked on teaching him to walk. Once he could toddle, Merry would follow Frodo everywhere.
It was probably a good thing he had the babe to care for, for Frodo wasn’t allowed to do so many things. Wasn’t allowed to run much with the other bigger boys in or out of the Smial for fear they would make him do too much and it’d be hard on his heart; wasn’t allowed to play much with the littler ones for they might be too rowdy for his heart; wasn’t allowed to ride a pony for fear he’d lose control of it and it would be too much for his heart, wasn’t allowed to wander far from the smial for fear he’d go too far and his heart might take a turn, wasn’t allowed to work the whole day during the harvests for fear he might tire hisself.... You can see how it was. Many a lad would’ve been utterly spoiled from such coddling; but Mr. Frodo, he didn’t cotton to it. Felt he should be allowed to do his own share. Felt shamed because he wasn’t allowed to do, wasn’t allowed to play, wasn’t allowed to work.
Mr. Bilbo would meet with all his younger cousins pretty regular, always had gifts for them, delighted them with his stories of giant spiders and dragons and Dwarves and Elves’ halls and all, but his favorite was Frodo. As Frodo got older and didn’t have no more spells, Mr. Bilbo got more and more annoyed at how the lad was being treated, for he felt they was protecting him too much, and would drive him away.
When he was reaching sixteen, Frodo just rebelled something awful. They’d never told him why they didn’t let him do things, and he thought it was only because they felt sorry for him because he’d lost his folks and all. He started slipping out of the Hall at times and joining the other lads near his age.
Raiding the farms around the Marish is what a lot of the bigger teens in Buckland do regular like. They’ll sneak into the fields and steal taters or carrots, maybe hit the smoking sheds and cut off a bit of bacon or ham, dip into the cool houses for some butter or cream, into the glass houses where the winter strawberries is grown--what all of us have always done when we was teens. We’d do it here, too; and we’d take what we’d stole out to the places in the woods where teens will go, or to the old empty Underhill place on the outskirts of Hobbiton, and we’d have us a feast. Teens seem to get awful hungry, more so than when we’re little lads and lasses, or when we get to be tweens.
Frodo, maybe because he hadn’t been allowed to do so much for so long, got to be real involved in the field raidings in the Marish, and would plan some of the most daring thefts of all. The other lads stood in awe of him. Maybe it was because he was so smart--he was the smartest of the lads in Buckland even then; but he could plan things so no one would get caught by the farmers. He’d get some of the younger lads to play decoy, and then when the farmers and their goodwives was distracted trying to help some little lad who’s kitty had somehow gotten stuck in one of their apple trees, Mr. Frodo and his mates would be in the back fields picking baskets of raspberries as fast as they could. Or an older lad’s pony cart would lose a wheel at the entrance to the lane of a farm just as the farmer would be heading out to milk his cows, and by the time he’d helped reset the wheel and seat the linchpin, the lads from the Hall would have stripped the milk from the best cows in the herd. Or while a likely lad was offering the farmer and his wife the pick of a litter of puppies, the other lads would be raiding the mushroom patch. Mr. Frodo was that devious.
It was the mushrooms as led to his downfall, though. Best mushrooms that grow in the whole Shire, both old Mr. Bilbo and Frodo said many a time, grow on the old Maggot farm. Farmer Maggot was constantly having to defend his stand of prize mushrooms from the boys, and not just the teens from Brandy Hall. But I guess my Mr. Frodo was the worstest of the lot. Had as true a passion for mushrooms as any Hobbit as ever was, and then some. He’d sneak over to the Maggot’s mushroom patch every chance he got, and he’d grab a good number each time. Got seen there several times, he did, and the last time Farmer Maggot actually caught him in the act. He’d set a careful watch on the patch and this time hadn’t fallen for the decoy one of the other lads had tried--left one of his oldest sons to deal with that. The Farmer hisself was actually hiding by the mushroom patch, and he let Frodo sneak in and start picking some of the mushrooms afore he sneaked up on him and caught him with a half a small bag. That was when he smacked Mr. Frodo across his bottom with his walking stick, and threatened him with his dogs. That finally broke Frodo of his mushroom raiding, I guess, as the farmer also went over across to Buckland to have a talk with old Mr. Rory and Mr. Saradoc and all.
He’d set the dogs to chase Frodo off his place, and it appears to have scared Frodo real bad. Where Frodo went afterwards no one can say, but Mr. Merry remembers that day, how Frodo had sneaked off just after dawn and wouldn’t let him come with him or nothing. It was not long after noon when Farmer Maggot arrived at the Hall with his complaints about that Baggins boy of theirs; but Frodo didn’t show up till near dark. He was real white when he tried sneaking into the smial through one of the delivery doors near the kitchens, and the cook who caught him was concerned, for he seemed sort of clumsy or something. She thought at first he was getting ready to raid the first pantry, for that was just near where he was coming in; and there was a birthday feast planned for the next day, and they’d been filling that pantry all day with cakes and sweets; she was keeping a tight watch for fear the teens would raid the treats and leave nothing for the party. She wasn’t so sure once she’d caught him that he was intending to raid that pantry, but she was becoming concerned, for he didn’t seem right somehow. She took him to the Master’s study, and Mr. Rory was about to give him a strict lecture when he looked at the lad’s face and saw it was all off color. He sent him to bed, instead, and made out it was for punishment, but then he got Missus Menegilda to go see to him. Frodo wouldn’t say much of nothing to her, I guess; but as he looked only a bit pale by then and his pulse was steady--he wouldn’t let her listen to his chest--she couldn’t be sure whether or no he’d had another spell. She told him he’d been way too bold with the Maggot’s mushrooms and that he was to be punished for what he’d stole, but that the Master was so upset he didn’t want to deal with him till the next day. Then she had some special tea made up for him and had Missus Esmeralda take it to him and make sure he drank it--had some herbs in it to strengthen his heart, although nobody told him that at the time.
They made him work in their own garden and the glass houses after that for a good month, part as punishment, but more to keep an eye on him. He knew he’d been caught fair and square stealing and he deserved to be punished--told me about it when we were in Rivendell after he started feeling better. He said it weren’t so awful bad as punishments go, and that they’d told him the stripe on his backside from Maggot’s stick and the scare from the dogs was almost punishment enough, but he needed to learn discipline. I guess they didn’t tell him that they was trying to make sure he didn’t stress his heart too much. He was just glad he was being allowed to do something for the Hall--it were almost the first time they allowed him proper work to do--oh, he got lessons and all, but those was easy for him. The other lads around his age all had tasks to do for the Hall--every week some of them had to work in the stables grooming the beasts, or in the gardens and fields scaring crows and other birds, or helping the gardeners or the farmers, or driving the horses during harvesting, or gleaning--the types of jobs lads can do easy, you know. Usually when a lad from the Hall got caught raiding at a time when raiding was not good, or if he was taking so much it was a strain on the farmer or goodwife he was raiding from, he’d get sent to the kitchen to turn spits and scour pots, or to the stables to muck out for a week or two, or to the smithy to work the bellows for a while to remind him to not get too greedy. So I can see where Frodo felt it wasn’t such a bad punishment to work at weeding and potting and trimming the edges of the gardens, even though that was usually just a regular task for a Hobbit teen his age.
But when the month was over, they started keeping him close again. He told me that if it hadn’t been for little Merry he’d have gone mad--he was that bored and feeling useless. Couldn’t go out--couldn’t play with the other lads--wasn’t allowed a regular task except to keep an eye on the younger children.
One good thing, I guess, was that old Mr. Rory did listen when the healer told him to let the boy to swim. They did live near the Brandywine, after all, and swimming was a skill most of the lads and even many of the lasses learned, as it could be right dangerous if they slipped into the river and had no idea how to float even. Mr. Rory hisself had taught Frodo how to swim when he was just a tiny thing, and as a lad Frodo had always been happy with water, till his folks drownded. Mr. Saradoc told me that usually Missus Primula could swim fine, but it’s a lot harder when wearing skirts and petticoats and all; and that when they finally found her body it looked like there was a nasty bump on her head. Said it looked like she’d tried to come up from the bottom of the river, but in the dark bumped her head on the boat and stunned herself, and that was why she drownded.
Now, swimming was nothing I ever learned how to do, although I’ll have my own bairns taught it. I member following Mr. Frodo out into the water when he tried to leave the Fellowship on his own, and how helpless I felt when I sank in the water and almost drownded myself. I don’t want my children to not be able to save themselves or to be as helpless as their old dad, after all.
Frodo was something graceful in the water, all the folk at Brandy Hall who remember his time there tell me. Missus Esmerelda has told me that even though he didn’t get afraid of the river after his folks died, Frodo did respect it more, was more cautious--just not afraid cautious. After he came to Bag End he’d take me to one part of the Water as was a bit deeper than the rest, and he’d swim there and I’d just watch. Oh, I’d paddle in the water when it was right hot, or wade in the streams and the like. But I was that afraid of water deeper than my knees--not even Frodo could make me go deeper than that, other than the time when he tried to leave me behind at Amon Hen. I’d watch him, though, and was amazed. He didn’t have no fear at all of water--would swim as graceful as an otter; would suddenly disappear here and then surface way over there, shaking his hair out of his eyes as he’d come up laughing with delight. But, he never took chances in the water; and that did give him something to do in the summer at Brandy Hall--he was charged with watching the other children when they were swimming and teaching the little ones. He was right good at it, I guess, and stopped more than one lad as old as him or older from doing something right stupid as would endanger hisself or a littler one.
But when winter came, there wasn’t nothing they’d let him do cepting minding the bairns, and he started getting pale and withdrawn. The healer who’d married the Brandybuck wife finally got right perturbed after watching this year after year, as he couldn’t get them to see they was not letting the lad exercise or have any real responsibility, and he felt this was very bad for him. It would be better in the summertime, but when the swimming in the river was over, Frodo’d get even more quiet and withdrawn than ever. Finally he wrote a letter to Mr. Rory, and sent a copy to the Thain hisself as well as another copy to Mr. Bilbo. It was that, it seems, as made Mr. Bilbo decide that it was time to take Frodo in hand and bring him to Bag End. It was the Master’s copy of that letter that Mr. Merry brought to me that day.