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53
A Little Surreptitious Reading

For the Master's Birthday, and for that of Nimue8 and Imhiriel as well. Enjoy!


~~~

A Little Surreptitious Reading


“Are you all right, dearling?” Aunt Dora asked Frodo as she set two mugs down on the piecrust table beside the sofa on which he lay. He had pillows under his head, a colorful woolwork blanket that his mother had hooked for Bilbo back when she was newly married to Drogo and the two of them lived together down in Number 5 on the Row, and a book in his hands that he’d been reading from.

“I’m doing very well, Aunt,” he answered her with a smile. “I am feeling much better, now that the fever is done with and the heaviness is gone from my chest.”

“You do look much better, I must say,” she said. “Well, here is a mug of chicken broth and a second one of a rosehip tisane steeped with kingsfoil. I know that my mother used to drink kingsfoil tea when we were younger. She swore it was a sovereign remedy for headache and humors of the stomach. I know that she used to steep the leaves in steaming water if we were ill—she said that it cleared the air nicely and promoted more rapid healing. Certainly Mistress Chubb found it the only remedy that appeared to aid you to recover from the lung sickness, although she admits it’s not the most favored remedy there is. Tell me, lad, are you comfortable? Are you warm enough? I could bring another blanket….”

Frodo laughed. “I don’t need another blanket. The fire is almost roaring, and Bilbo saw to it I’m wearing his heaviest and warmest nightshirt as well as my new dressing gown. And this blanket is quite warm—my mother made it well. I’m just glad to finally be able to see another part of the hole rather than just my bedroom. I have been so glad to feel better at long last, Aunt Dora, and to be allowed to get up and move about a bit. In here or in the study at least I don’t feel all closed off from the rest of Bag End. Thank you for the broth and the tisane—they are most welcome. Now—weren’t you planning to make your famous apple fritters for afters for dinner tonight? I’ve been looking forward to them for days.”

Dora smiled. There was no question that the lad could flatter her, and she lapped it up as a cat would a dish of cream. And how could she deny that sweet smile anything? He so reminded her of his father when Drogo was young. Drogo, too, could melt her heart with his smile, even after he’d just filled her bath with frog spawn! She was just turning to go back to the kitchen when the bell rang, indicating someone was at the door.

Minutes later she was knocking at the door to Bilbo’s study. “Bilbo—it’s Angelica, Ponto and Iris’s lass. Had you promised to go over to their smial today?”

Bilbo looked up, surprised. “Go to Ponto’s? But I wasn’t to go to Ponto’s until the Highday!”

“It is the Highday, Bilbo Baggins.”

“Is it really? I’d been certain it was Mersday. How in Middle Earth have I managed to lose an entire day that way? Oh, well, I suppose I’d best be off—Ponto wanted me to help him decant his mash brew today.” So saying, Bilbo rose hastily, rather threw his quill toward the inkstand, and hurried off to his room to change his waistcoat and run a quick brush through the hair on his head and feet before setting off across the village for Ponto and Iris’s place.

Dora shuddered. Ponto’s mash brew was famous—or, to be more accurate, infamous—amongst the gentlehobbits living in the region of the Hill. She was certain that every family in the area had tales to tell of what odd things had been done by those under the influence of that mash brew! She only hoped that Bilbo would not agree to bring any back home to Bag End with him—impressionable young Hobbits such as Frodo should not come into contact with such potentially lethal drink!

She turned her gaze on the quill Bilbo had so thoughtlessly tossed aside. Tut, tut—that would never do! He ought to have wiped it carefully and set it in the tray for the inkstand, of course. Well, she would do that for him now. Not that he would be likely to notice, she thought as she picked up the scrap of cloth he’d used for this service in the past.

It was quickly obvious why he’d been particularly careless with this quill—it was all but worn out, and she saw that he had a new one ready for when he resumed his writing. He’d not put the book away, she noticed. It was a beautiful thing, she thought, with that brilliant red cover and the eight-pointed star and monogram of BB embossed into it in silver foil. He must intend to write a good deal, considering how thick the thing was. Out of curiosity she opened the cover. Why, he’d not even tied the laces! As she turned the first few pages she found the working title—A Hobbit’s Tale. Now, if that wasn’t just like Bilbo! She smiled unconsciously and turned to the first page of text….

*******


Frodo awoke to find the hole quiet. The book he’d been reading had slipped off his chest and was lying closed upon the floor by the sofa. The room now felt a bit cool, and he noted that the fire had begun to die back. He was surprised that Aunt Dora hadn’t been through in the last while to stir it back up and put on another log. He didn’t hear her in the kitchen, and was rather disappointed not to smell the scent of her apple fritters cooking. Had she changed her mind and decided they’d be too heavy on his stomach after all?

Then he heard the front door close, and realized that Bilbo must have just returned from Cousin Ponto’s. He rather hoped that Bilbo had brought home some of Ponto’s home brew, as he’d heard a good deal about how strong it was, and he was curious to sample at least a swallow or two—once he was decidedly well, of course. He heard Bilbo humming to himself as he hung his cloak and scarf on the pegs in the hallway, and a moment later the older Hobbit appeared in the doorway to the parlor, giving Frodo an approving glance. “Just awoke, I notice. You’ll find yourself drifting off suddenly for the first few days at least. You were quite ill, you know.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that, Uncle,” Frodo said.

“The fire’s dying down. Hmm—your aunt isn’t usually so inattentive.”

“I’ve not heard anything from her for a time, so I wonder if possibly she’s gone to take a nap herself,” Frodo said thoughtfully. “I’ll miss her when she goes off home again.”

“As will I, although you’re not to tell her that, my dear boy. It’s been nice to have her capable help these last few weeks, I’ll admit, particularly as Bell Gamgee has not been well enough to come up and help as might be needed. I’d not realized how much I’ve come to depend on the Gamgees, really. One nice thing, however, will be again finding whatever it was I was using last where I was using it instead of put away where it belongs.” They both laughed, and Bilbo headed down the passage toward the kitchen and bedrooms.

Dora was not to be found in either place. Had she perhaps gone down to offer her assistance to Hamfast, then? Surely not, though—her cloak and other winter outer garments still had been hanging in the entranceway when he came in, and he’d not seen any footprints save for his and Angelica’s from when they’d left together on his approach to the green-painted door of the smial. Then, where was Dora Baggins?

He returned to the study, memories of the cast-aside quill he intended to dispose of in mind, and he opened the door.

***


Frodo had sat up and was leaning down to pick up the book he’d been reading when he heard two indignant voices raised.

“What are you doing here in my study, reading my book? I’ve told both you and Frodo—this is not ready to be read as yet!”

“Do you mean, Bilbo Baggins, that you didn’t even invite those Dwarves into your home—they just showed up at the door and entered as if they were expected? You never told me that! And was it due to them that Aunt Belladonna’s prize teapot got a chip in the base? I remember how very proud she was of that teapot, after all! Why, Uncle Isumbras brought it back all of the way from Bree for a wedding present for her and Uncle Bungo. She told me that it was made for Men. What was wrong with those Dwarves? Had they no sense of decorum at all?”

Frodo found himself laughing so hard he began coughing.



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