Merry Gamgee was dead to the world, completely unaware that his hair was full of flowers.
He and his brothers and sisters had been out berrying and mushrooming, taking a picnic lunch with them. Pippin-lad had been sitting beside him telling a story Merry had heard before more than once, besides which Pippin had a propensity for using up about fifty words to tell what could easily have been told in ten, and so Merry had found himself getting sleepier and sleepier.
Of course he should have known better than to fall asleep with his siblings all about, for he had learned from experience what was apt to happen if he did so.
About a month previous, he and Pippin-lad had been sent to the market-place to buy some meat, and as they were coming out of the butcher-shop, they heard an unmistakable voice, that of Miss Hazel Burbage, one of the most prominent gossips of Hobbiton. She was hard of hearing, and evidently she supposed everyone else to be so as well, for she always talked very loudly, and her voice was high and shrill.
So when the brothers heard her speak of them, their ears pricked up like those of a curious hound.
Her back was to them, as she spoke to another, Mrs. Linnie Clearwater it appeared to be from the girth of her, and so she did not see the lads as they ducked behind the stall where the two elderly hobbitesses stood conversing.
The Mayor's lads are good lads, as lads go, Miss Hazel was saying. 'Tis pity they're so short on looks. With the exception, that is, of young Merry-lad. Too bad about the others.
Merry sucked in his breath and stared at his brother, who was not smiling.
Aye, but his daughters are beauties, at least the eldest, Mrs. Clearwater said. Rosie and little Goldilocks, they're pretty enough, but can't hold a candle to Miss Elanor. You know she got betrothed recently? So few suitors as she had, too. I s'pose she was over-partic'lar. That kind nearly always gets to be old maids. At least she didn't settle for that lummox of a Toby Gawkroger. Did rather well for herself, she did, after all.
Aye, Miss Hazel said, too bad about the others. And the lads. That Merry-lad is one fine-lookin' chap. The flower of the family, he is, where the lads is concerned. Too bad about the others. Even Frodo-lad. Too bad he don't even come close to his namesake.
The lads could almost hear Mrs. Clearwater nodding. I just have to wonder where he got off to. Frodo Baggins, that is. Some say as he went over the sea, but I gots me doubts. Who ever 'eard of such a thing?
I got some idea, Miss Hazel said lowering her voice a bit, but I don't feel it my place to say. One thing I don't hold with is gossip. Ye'd think some folks had naught better to do than carry tales and talk about other folks.
I couldn’t agree more, Mrs. Clearwater said with a click of her tongue.
Merry clamped his hands over his mouth, and Pippin didn't even try. And both the lads bolted with their purchase until they were out of earshot of the two hobbitesses.
After they'd had a good bellow, Pippin preceded to tease Merry-lad, who WAS acting a trifle smug.
The Flower of the Family, eh? So what sort of flower are you? A lily? A petunia? A daffy-down-dilly? Or a pink, ’cos you blush so easy. Or a vi’let, ’cos you’re so shy. Heh heh.
Too bad about you, Merry retorted as he straightened his shoulders. His face did feel plenty pink, at that.
When their dad heard of it, he laughed and remarked that if there was a flower of the family amongst the lads, it was surely Pippin, being as he was the only one who favored their mum. With the possible exception of little Tommy, the youngest, but he was too little yet to tell much about him.
Pippin-lad blushed furiously. Merry and the younger children snickered. Elanor sat with that beatific smile she always had these days, being in love and all.
Merry-lad rather envied her at times.
What a heap-load of foolishness, their mum said. Flower of the Family, indeed. Flowers grows in gardens, not families. Do you see any bees and butterflies hoverin’ about this table? Now let’s eat up and forget what them silly old biddies said. I don’t wish to hear one more word of it.
What your mum said, Sam agreed. ALL of my bairns is the Flower of the Family. There ain't a one of you'ns what's more important than the other, not a one that's any less of a blessing than the rest. Is a daisy more important than a tulip? A tulip more blessed than a morning-glory? What's looks matter anyways? You've only to look at your three eldest sisters to see how pretty your mum was in her day, and yet she chose the likes of me to wed.
Several throats were cleared. Elanor just smiled. She seemed the only one who didn't get embarrassed when their dad went on like that.
All during the next week, Merry would pause in front of the mirror when he thought no one was looking, and he’d brush and brush his light-brown curls until they glistened, and look at his face at different angles. He tried on his best suits, wishing he might ask which color suited him best, but knowing he would be teased to death if he did so.
Funny, he had scarcely ever given his clothes a thought before. He was but twenty-one years of age, and did not even think of lasses yet.
Now he was certain they thought of him.
Particularly Honeysuckle Goatcloset. Then again, she looked at all lads.
And there were her brothers. Mason, about a year older than Elanor, still trying to convince her that he was a much better catch than Fastred Fairbairn, to whom she was betrothed. And that sissy brother of his, Errol, quick enough with an insult when his big brother was about, but when alone, butter wouldn’t have melted in his prissy little mouth.
Both Mason and Errol were snappy dressers. Their dad owned the dry-goods store in Hobbiton, and they thought themselves pretty big stuff.
Merry would have to get his mum to have a new suit of clothes made for him.
But when he approached her about it--and what a time he had getting her alone--she told him, Stuff and nonsense. If he had new clothes, the others would have to have ’em too, and how could they afford that? And why should he worry about out-dressing those nobodies from Nobottle? Common cheats and bullies they were, and her sons were all far handsomer and smarter anyway. They needed no fancy clothes to prove that.
Merry was not exactly surprised.
Meanwhile word had got about, and now he had the Goatcloset boys following him about making jokes as to what sort of flower he was. Witty bastards that they were.
But one day his luck changed. It was at the Midsummer’s Day celebration. It was a very hot day, and Merry had drunk an uncommon amount of lemonade. Finally he had to duck behind a thicket, leaving Pippin-lad standing alone, and the Goatcloset lads spied him and saw their chance.
All alone, little Pipsqueak? Errol sniggered. He appeared to be in his cups--never mind that he was a bit young for it still. Did the Flower of the Family run off and weave his widdle bubber all alone? Aww, too bad.
Bugger off, Miss Nancy, Pippin snapped, then turned and spat. I don’t fight with lasses. Go put on a skirt.
Errol drew a hissy breath, and Mason gave him a little push.
Maybe he could borrow one from your idiot sister, Mason said with a triumphant smirk.
Merry knew they were both sauced. Otherwise they would never have been stupid enough to twit the Gamgee brothers with their mentally defective little sister Primrose. They had tried it long ago, and gotten four black eyes and two bloody noses along of it.
Merry could fairly hear Pippin-lad flushing scarlet, his hands clenching into powerful fists, regardless of the fact that Mason stood a full head taller than himself and a hand broader.
Then suddenly both Goatcloset lads dropped their cups, howling and sputtering, well sobered up now, drenched as they were from head to foot. Merry stepped from the thicket, buttoning up the front of his breeches and grinning.
The Flower has got good aim, what? he said beaming brighter than the Party Tree itself.
Drunk or sober, the Goatcloset lads would never mention Primrose Gamgee again. At least, not where any of her siblings could hear.
His mum tried scolding him, but he could see a proud little twinkle in her eyes all the while. And soon she lost the battle, and burst out laughing. And she said perhaps he should have that new suit of clothes after all.
He was indeed the Flower of the Family now.
Pippin was the only one not happy about it.
I was goin’ to thrash him within a inch of his life, he said. I could of took him on. I did before, remember?
I was with you then, Merry reminded him. And if I hadn’t been, we’d have been picking pieces of you up off of the ground for a week. And the same at the party. Did you see their faces? They won’t be messin’ with us again, I’ll warrant you.
And he began giggling once more at the memory of it. So did Frodo-lad and Rosie-lass, and some of the younger ones as well.
Pippin didn’t crack a smile.
Perhaps Merry-lad did get a bit unbearable after that. He was the hero of the town. Folks would clap him on his shoulder saying, Well done, me lad. Would that I’d a’ been there to see. Them Goatclosets got what was comin’ to ’em. Someone should have pissed on ’em long before this.
Honeysuckle was not the only lass who followed him about making sheep’s eyes at him.
His own little sisters would sit on his lap, sometimes fighting over whose turn it was.
And now here he was, blissfully asleep beneath the trees, blissfully unaware that his siblings had gone off leaving him there, his hair full of flowers.
He awoke slowly, as always, blinking, hearing a thrush singing high aloft. He wondered where he was, then looked groggily about. Slowly he sat up, his eyes fluttering open when he saw some tiny daisies and buttercups woven into his foot hair.
He wondered how long he had been napping here, and where the others had gone.
He looked down at the flowers in his foot hair and smiled, supposing his little sisters had done it. It was a moment before he remembered they had not come along.
Elanor had brought her sketch-book, and drawn portraits of all her siblings. Merry thought she should draw him first. She had drawn him before, of course, but not recently. Her skill had grown considerably since then, and he was certain she had not done him justice.
He did not know she was showing the others a sketch she had made of him, with his head much larger than the rest of him.
And why did you’ns come home without your brother? their mum was asking.
We didn’t want to wake him, Pippin-lad said with that innocent look that never fooled her one whit. Well, almost never. He looked so peaceful-like. Y’know? And we couldn't carry 'im. He's not exactly a lightweight...flower or no flower.
Not to worry, Mum, he knows the way home, Rosie-lass said smiling sweetly.
Well. He might as well go home...and then he saw something over in the trees. A basket.
It was full of mushrooms.
He smiled. He had just started, foggily, to wonder if whoever had put the flowers in his foot hair might have done a similar thing with the hair of his head, when he saw the basket, and it put the matter out of his mind entirely.
While at home, Pippin was asking Frodo-lad and Rosie-lass what they did with the basket of mushrooms they had picked.
I thought you took it, they both said to him.
Elanor said the same, with that beatific smile, and the others all looked at each other with that little upward whistle and wink they did whenever she had that look about her.
And out in the late afternoon sunlight, Merry was wending his way home, the basket empty, his hair full of wild roses and buttercups and bluets and anemones and daisies and wild lilies, while the Goatcloset lads lounged and smoked out front of their father’s store, looking at Merry-lad and then at each other with lifted eyebrows and sudden grins......