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72
Seeing Past the Rascal

For SpeedyHobbit for her birthday.


~~~

Seeing Past the Rascal


Frodo went over the documents before him, intensely aware of the Hobbit standing at his shoulder. A headache was already threatening to overwhelm him. Annoyed, he turned slightly to look at the elderly farmer. “Was there something specific you wished to point out to me, Mr. Brownloam?” he asked.

“No, sir, Mr. Deputy Mayor, sir.” Polo Brownloam’s voice was very stiff, reflecting the fellow’s posture. In spite of being over ninety years of age, there was no question that he was still capable of standing upright, unbent by the seasons he’d spent tending the raised beds in his gardens and glass houses in the Marish. And there was no question that the farmer looked upon the gentlehobbit Will Whitfoot had named his deputy as Mayor of the Shire with the same distaste he’d shown when Frodo was in his late teens and had been known as the Rascal of Buckland. “I only thought as to see to it as you read the whole will, is all.”

Frodo sighed as he turned over the final page and read it, at last affixing his signature in the requisite red ink. “I grieve to learn that your wife died while I was gone,” he said as he closed the document and signaled for one of the Took lawyers who assisted him in fulfilling the duties of the Mayor’s office to bring him the registry book so that he could record it. “She was, I will swear, one of the sweetest and most generous and forgiving of ladies I have ever known.”

Brownloam shrugged, his eyes bleak. “I know, Baggins,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “I miss her something terrible, I do. And for some reason as I’ll never understand in this lifetime, she thought you one of the best people as she ever knew.” He shook his head. “She wanted to leave you a bushel of hazel nuts, but we ended up with none this fall. All I’d brought in—the Gatherers and Sharers got them, and then when that Sharkey got there he ordered the trees that side of the farm cut down, and if those villains didn’t set fire to the hazel thickets around them! I’m glad as the Missus didn’t see that! It would’ve broke her heart.”

Frodo felt his expression harden. “Sam is determined to see the Shire healed, and is planning to go that way soon. I suspect that in the spring he’ll be seeing your trees and hazel thickets properly replaced. They didn’t do damage to your glass houses, did they?”

“Broke a few panes, but the damage is already being put right. My grandson—he’s seeing to it.” He paused for a moment before saying, almost grudgingly, “I suppose as it was a good thing after all as she married a Brandybuck. They do right by their own. Only, I never wanted to think of myself as being part of the Brandybucks, even by marriage.”

Frodo remembered the marriage of Violet Brownloam to Dodiroc Brandybuck, back when he was a tween, come to the Hall to attend the birthday celebration for his Aunt Menegilda, then still Mistress of Brandy Hall. “Dodi loved Violet dearly,” he said softly. “I never understood just why you thought all the lads were out to do badly by your lasses.”

“You don’t?” Polo gave the deputy Mayor a searching look, one eye squinted. “You never thought to do badly by any lass?”

Frodo felt his cheeks flush. Considering some of the things he’d imagined doing at times, back before he realized that it was due to the influence of what dwelt in his pocket, he certainly couldn’t say no to that question. “Thought is not deed, Mr. Brownloam,” he replied, and hated the prim sound of the statement once it was made.

The farmer gave a humorless laugh. “Oh, I’d think as you’ve thought of doing your own share of despoiling,” he said in a low voice, having glanced around to see that the Tooks were all intent on their own work. “After all, there was a time you and that Pearl Took were out in the Grove together during the Free Fair.”

“We were young and certain that we were in love at the time, and I assure you that we did no more than most other Hobbits our age. We kissed, mostly, and talked. Made plans for when we were married.”

“Only you didn’t marry her, did you? Once she found out what you wanted from her----”

“And just what do you suppose that I—wanted from her?” Frodo asked, his voice chilly and his tones guarded. “Oh, I wondered what it might be like to be married to her and to—to worship her with my body, as they say in Gondor. But I respected her and her family far too much to seek to go further than kisses and sitting together. We were not promised, after all.” He shook his head. “But she threw me over before we got to that point. She realized she didn’t truly love me enough to give up living in the Great Smial, not enough to come share Bag End with me and to be Missus Baggins first rather than the Thain’s daughter. We all knew by that point that it was only a matter of time before Paladin would follow Cousin Ferumbras as Thain and the Took.”

Polo Brownloam was looking at him curiously now. “You mean it? You never did more than that?”

“What more could I do?” asked Frodo. “Do you think that Pippin, young as he was at the time, was allowing us time to do anything untoward? His parents were not allowing him to go into the Grove himself, but I’m certain that they were keeping their own watch from outside to make certain that no one seeking time together in there was going too far. I mean, they admit that when they were courting and met at the Free Fair they went into the Grove themselves, and were aware that Adalgrim and Eglantine’s parents were all not far outside with their ears tuned to any sounds indicating anyone was going beyond propriety. And it was much the same when we visited at the farm in Whitwell or in the Great Smial or they were at Bag End. Pippin was always spying on the two of us when we were together. I love Pippin beyond bearing, but as a child he was a true pest at times.”

The farmer was shaking his head in wonder at the thought. “Then you never—never—did—anything? Not really?” He scratched his ear. “Who’d’ve thought it?” Suddenly his look grew intense again. “But you admit as you thought of it, though?”

“Don’t all Hobbits at least think of it? It is part of nature, after all, or so both Bilbo and Uncle Saradoc told me. And certainly it has been on Sam’s mind that he’s going to marry Rosie Cotton as soon as he feels it is decent to do so, and I doubt strongly that once they are wed they will wait any great time to consummate their marriage.”

“Well,” Mr. Brownloam began, then stopped, flushing. “Anyways,” he finally said, “I was certain that all the lads wanted my lasses for but one thing only, and I wasn’t going to let any of my daughters be forced into an—unwise—marriage. Not like----” His flush grew stronger, and suddenly Frodo realized.

Polo Brownloam and his wife had put the dessert before the meal! Now that he thought on the subject, he remembered hearing Uncle Rory and Uncle Dodinas commenting that Polo had been but twenty-nine and his bride only twenty-seven when they were married. Not many Hobbits married before they came of age, but it did happen, and usually for precisely that reason.

Well, that was certainly something to think on! But there was no question that the Brownloams had appeared to have a fairly happy marriage, and it had lasted about sixty-five years and had given them a brood of delightful (if plain) daughters and four Brandybuck grandchildren by way of Violet, not to mention the other five he’d heard tell of.

He decided it was time to put the subject to rest. “Well, I must say that you did very well for the two of you in your marriage, and I know that Violet has been very happy all these years with Dodi. Certainly he’s very happy with her. And I doubt she’d have been all that good a wife for him if she’d not seen good examples of what marriage ought to be like in her own home while growing up.”

He looked directly into Polo Brownloam’s face, and was surprised to see an odd, gentle expression in the farmer’s face, and that the old fellow’s eyes seemed uncommonly bright. “You truly think so, Mr. Frodo, sir?” Brownloam asked.

“I do,” Frodo said solemnly. “Now, your wife’s will is signed and registered, and you may file it when you have finished seeing her bequests met.”

*******


In the fall one of Farmer Maggot’s wagons appeared on the Hill a few days before Frodo’s fifty-second birthday, and one of his sons brought up two bushels of hazel nuts as well as a generous basket of mushrooms. “The nuts are from the Brownloam farm,” he told Frodo. “Old Polo said as we was to see to it as you got them safe. Says as half are from his Missus, and half from him. Says as he’ll never again think of you as just the Rascal of Buckland, Mr. Baggins, sir. Says as you growed up just fine. And my mum asked me to tell you that she’s never forgot as you called her a queen amongst Hobbits. Tickles her fancy, that does. Good day to you, Mr. Frodo, sir, and many happy returns.”

Frodo looked down at the bushels of nuts, and felt touched as he’d never thought to be at the thought of Polo Brownloam saying such a thing about him. “Well, we’d best get these into the hole now,” he said aloud, and turning he called out, “Sam!”

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