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11
Confounded Relatives

10. Counfounded Relatives


I ain’t said nothing yet about the reactions of the Sackville-Bagginses to the changes in Bag End, but it’s not because it didn’t happen. Oh, they found out right quick that Mr. Frodo’d come to stay as Mr. Bilbo’s ward, and they was right put out, let me tell you. Were over there within three days to look him over and all, and they plainly didn’t think well of him from the first.

He was in the front garden with the Gaffer and me, watching how the hedge was trimmed, and here they come stalking up the lane to the gate as if they belonged there and he was the unwanted guest. Missus Lobelia stopped and looked him up and down as if he was just a strange plant she was wondering if should be tossed into the compost heap or dug out and chopped up or maybe burned with the fallen leaves.

“So,” she said, “I take it you are Frodo?”

He was surprised at her tone, and I don’t know if he had any idea who she was. “I beg your pardon?” he replied.

“Silly child,” she said to her husband, and Lotho, who was following behind them, snickered. She turned back to Frodo. “I asked,” she said slow and loud, like she was talking to someone foolish or deaf, “if you are Frodo?”

“Of course I am Frodo,” he answered, and his face started to go closed up, which in time I learned to know meant he was beginning to be angry. “And whom do I have the honor of addressing, if honor it is?”

Missus Lobelia was real took aback by that, I’ll have you know. “We are the Sackville-Bagginses, young Hobbit,” she said, her nose rising in the air and her voice rising with it. “We are part of society here, whatever you might be.”

Frodo looked at her, appearing awful polite. “I see. I fear I have little idea of how to act with important folk, for the only ones I’ve known with pretensions of being important in society were my uncles, the Master and the Heir of Brandy Hall and the Thain and his Heir--, oh, and my aunts, their wives. But they were very rustic, I suppose, compared with you.” What put it into his head to give her such a speech I have no idea. But she turned first white as a dishcloth, and then redder than the apples in the orchard on the woods side of the Hill. Her mouth worked, but no words would come. “I shall go in and tell my cousin that the Quality have arrived, shall I?” And without waiting for a response he went on into the smial.

A moment later Bilbo arrived outside, his hand in his pocket fingering the things he kept there, looking both amused and wishing he were miles away at the same time. The Gaffer had continued on with his hedge trimming as if he hadn’t heard a word, but I noted he was continuing to trim the same section of hedge he’d been trimming on since their arrival, and if it went on he’d have it down to its very roots. I hit him on the kneecap and pointed to what he was doing, and he give me a look, and I knew that he was trying real hard not to laugh at the old bat. I was just glad I was working down low picking up the cuttings as fell inside, and hoped she didn’t notice I was there, even. I could see out through the branches, but I don’t think she or her menfolk could see me.

“Why, Lobelia and Otho, and dear little Lotho,” he said in that too cheerful tone he used with only these three. “I understand you’ve met my young ward for the first time since he was a little lad.”

“Oh, was that Frodo?” she asked. “Whoever he was, he was so rude as to be inexcusable. And, pray tell, what made you bring the child here?”

“He’ll soon be twenty-two, Lobelia, and is definitely not a child. He is a Baggins, and Drogo’s son and heir. Shall he be forced to remain forever in the wilderness of Buckland and not know what it means to live in the Shire proper, much less what it means to be a Baggins?”

“And who are you, pray, to teach anyone the meaning of being a Baggins, Cousin Bilbo? Or are you going to convince him that disappearing for a year at a time instead of settling down and marrying the way sensible Hobbits do is a right and proper way to live?”

Well, you can see how it was with that lot. I can’t remember how it went from there, to be exact. The Gaffer moved down the hedge a bit and continued working on trimming it back and not looking at the Sackville-Bagginses, but I could tell from the trembling of his old yellow pipe he had tucked between his teeth that it was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud. I know that Mr. Bilbo managed to say everything all polite like, but still with such double meaning it was a right insult--though if she or Otho were to repeat it it would sound perfectly innocent and friendly. Finally they left, and when they was finally out of sight, Mr. Bilbo just sort of collapsed on the ground, his back to the hedge, and pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face. “Well, now,” he said, trembling, “that was a beginning, wasn’t it?” He rose finally and said, “I do think I need some tea--some strong tea.”

The Gaffer snorted, “Better put a drop of Ponto’s home brew in it, too, Mr. Bilbo, sir. It will help with the fortifying.”

Mr. Bilbo gave him a grateful look and said, “I will undoubtedly do just that, Mr. Gamgee. Will you join me? I’ll bring it out to the garden bench by Sam’s plot, if you’d like.” They looked at each other for a second, and I saw a bit of a glow in the Gaffer’s eyes, and Mr. Bilbo nodded and said, “Well, then.”

He disappeared indoors and come out the kitchen door a few minutes later with two mugs and a plate of biscuits. The gaffer walked around there and accepted the mug and they sat down together on the bench and drank thoughtfully, side by side.

Frodo looked out just after, and looked about carefully, and mouthed at me, “Are they really gone?” When I nodded, he brought me out a glass of apple juice, and we sat down near each other on the grass and looked at each other as we drank our own drinks. I was just a lad, and he was working on becoming a grown Hobbit, but we were comrades who’d just faced down the enemy then.

That were just the beginning, though, of the war between Frodo and the Sackville-Bagginses. He changed tacks, and was just as polite as polite could be to them, but what he said could have a real bite to it for all its polite words. But he refused to allow young Lotho to be rude to him when they met in the village or near the Water. And that pipsqueak did try--oh, did he try. Frodo could freeze him out with a look, and where exactly he got that look I didn’t know, although the Thain related it to the Old Took.

When they got too rude, he’d look at them and say, as gentle as can be, “Oh, Cousin Otho, what could you ever mean? I must ask Uncle Paladin what he thinks of that,” or “Cousin Lobelia, I must share that with Aunt Menegilda and see if she agrees with that estimation,” and he’d give them his closed look but with a smile as polite as he could, and he’d turn and walk away. What could they say in return? “Oh, but I meant indeed to call you a thoughtless Brandybuck,” or “Your Uncle Bilbo is a prime fool, you know”? He was not just a Baggins, he was reminding them, but had blood ties to the Master and the Thain as well, and that could possibly lead to Repercussions. And they took thought of possible Repercussions. But it didn’t stop their attempts to blacken his name in Hobbiton.

Trouble was, though, that everybody agreed that Mr. Bilbo was an odd sort and probably half mad; but everybody liked young Frodo. He was one of the sweetest young Hobbits anyone had ever seen. The mums all wanted to feed him up and see him fill out, the dads all wanted their sons to grow up to be that respectful and handsome, the lasses thought he was all romantic, what with his folks dying when he was just a lad and now he was so good looking, and the lads all realized he was not only smart but a fount of tales and good for a race any time, and when he won he didn’t lord it over them, and when he lost he didn’t take it bad but congratulated the winner as if he’d done something special. And he’d give the teens tips, quiet like, how to do their raids so they didn’t get caught, and the tweens found he would listen and not laugh no matter what they said to him about themselves or what they hoped to do with their lives, and the lasses he’d smile at and talk to (as long as they didn’t just giggle and make moon eyes at him) as if they had brains in their heads. And the little ones just adored him, and found out he kept his pockets full of humbugs and horehound drops just for them, and he’d play Tig or tell them tales or ride them pickaback just for the asking.

Frodo was finding hisself fitting in in Hobbiton in spite of not having that many gentry folk near his age, and he was happy here. And the folks of Hobbiton knew the Sackville-Bagginses all too well, and they didn’t bother to listen to old Missus Lobelia’s gossip or Mr. Otho’s constant complaints about how that lad was rude--they’d seen Mr. Frodo Baggins, and they had never seen him rude, no, not ever! And the only lad who’d listen to Lotho was Ted Sandyman, as nasty a brat as ever was born. But not being listened to didn’t put a stop in Missus Lobelia’s stream of nastiness.

Somehow she learned that Frodo was fragile as a child, and she kept on how sad it was that such a likely lad was probably doomed not to live a long life. But the folk in Hobbiton saw how Mr. Frodo Baggins would run with their lads and his eyes would sparkle whether he won or lost, and he rarely got even a stitch in his side, and they’d raise their eyebrows so polite but so not believing. I thought at the time she was just making it all up--it wasn’t till after he left that I learned it had been the truth. And Lotho would tell how he read all the time and was lazy: and the local folk would pass by Bag End as we was harvesting apples and see him up in the trees with a bulging collecting bag and waving to them, or helping a gammer carry her purchases home from the market afore he headed home with those things he was getting for Bag End, or they’d see him keeping their little ones entranced with stories so they could get some work done without having to trip over children, or he’d hear tell of a person who’d been hurt and he’d come to their house with gifts of food from Bag End and help put up shutters or clean chimneys; and Lotho would get back looks that named him a liar without saying a word. And the dismissal of what they had to say just made Missus Lobelia that much more determined to make out Frodo was all wrong.

Mr. Frodo was also teaching other lads how to read, and such lasses as wanted to learn, too, when he and they had time. And he’d make them gifts of some of the books he copied, some picture books and some histories and some just books of riddles or tales. He was starting to draw more, and his pictures had something about them as made you smile to look at them, and those made it into his gifts. I don’t think many mums and dads realized their little ones were learning such an odd skill until they found their children with one of Mr. Frodo’s little books, reading to a younger child as he read to them, or sitting and enjoying a tale by themselves or looking at the pictures. But as he’d often stop and help a lad or lass finish a task or praise them for working hard, how could they fault him when reading wasn’t taking away from their responsibilities? And Mr. Bilbo watched with a satisfied smile as his lad settled in.

But when he was upset, oh, then it was plain. When Missus Lobelia managed to push too far, she would get the look, that look that stripped away all your pretendings and your pettiness and showed you had no shame, and then he’d just turn away from her and freeze her out. I think she got to be afraid of him a bit, myself. But, instead of becoming more careful what she said, she’d get nastier, the old cow. And if he saw someone hurting someone weaker, you’d better watch out. He’d go all white, and he’d look at them, and suddenly they’d wish they’d never thought of doing more than just telling them off. His look, when he gave it, would just set you on the wall of shame and keep you there till he turned away. Seldom said anything when he was angry, but nobody wanted to get that look. Not even young Lotho, and he had the sensibilities of an especial stupid rock.

And nobody’d better hurt an animal or a child if he was around. Don’t know who taught him to fight--maybe the teen cousins in Brandy Hall when he was a wild teen hisself--but he’d step right in and make a single blow and you’d be down on your back in the dust. And he’d pick up the animal and comfort it, or the child, and if it was an animal he’d carry it away and find a home for it, especial if it were yours to begin with. Now, he didn’t particular like dogs, especially not big dogs, but he wouldn’t stand for mistreatment no matter what kind of beast it was.

Actually, if you understand me, he didn’t really fight. Most times people just never thought of him as the fighting kind, and so when he moved in and struck they’d be took by surprise, so took they’d be knocked down with just one blow. And the only one fool enough to try to take him to the Shiriffs, old Sandyman the Miller, was surprised when the response was, “Well, whoever you was hittin’ on will get to bring you before us if you try to bring Mr. Frodo Baggins before us, don’t you know.” That shut his mouth, let me tell you.

But as long as Mr. Frodo lived in Bag End, he had to put up with the Sackville-Bagginses, same as his Uncle Bilbo, and I suspect a lot of the pages that went into the drawer in his box of stationery had to do with them.

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