“Why does he smell bad?” Merry, all of 8, leaned on the arm of the chair in which his mother sat. Estella Brandybuck was rocking the latest addition to her brother’s family. After three girls, Paladin Took, next in line to be Thain of the Tooks of the Great Smials, had his own son and heir. The wee mite was nestled in a blanket and Merry thought he looked all squished and wrinkly.
“His nappy needs changing, that’s why,” Estella said. “Frodo, here. Take this. You’re good at this.”
Frodo Baggins had made the fatal mistake of entering the chamber where the baby’s mother, Eglantine Took, very elegant in a lace bed jacket, was receiving lady callers and close friends. The Great Smials were flooded with guests – relations, near relations, friends, nodding acquaintances and total strangers – all there to congratulate Paladin on the birth of Peregrin, and to partake of the munificence of his table in celebration thereof.
Frodo and his guardian, Bilbo Baggins, had come down from Bag End. They were in the relations category and welcome to go where they would, even into the mother’s rooms, where each had been warmly welcomed, and Frodo elected to stay and visit a while longer with Estella. Frodo felt a close bond with Estella and her husband, Saradoc. They had been exceptionally kind to him when his parents died, and he had lived with them in their rooms at Brandy Hall. When Meriadoc was born, Frodo found himself a not unwilling child minder, for it made him feel like part of a family. But changing diapers had been and still was, very off putting.
“Eww!” Merry wrinkled his nose. With a sigh, Frodo had relieved Estella of the very ripe little Peregrine and was making him presentable. “Do all babies do that?” Merry wondered.
“You did,” Frodo laughed. “And much more pungent I might add.”
“Did you change me?”
“More times than I like to think.” Frodo liked children just fine – a long as they could be handed back to their parents. He saw now why Bilbo was a bachelor.
Eglantine’s chambers were crammed with women, including her three daughters. Any one of them were more than capable of changing a diaper, but Frodo had found that lasses were very impressed if a lad knew his way around a baby and it was often worth a kiss on the cheek or a glass of wine or a tea cake if he demonstrated this talent. The other gentlemen, including Bilbo, Thain-in-Residence Ferumbras III, Paladin, and Paladin’s brother in law, Saradoc Brandybuck, were in the drawing rooms, smoking their pipes and drinking brandy. Frodo had slipped in to pay his respects and was being rewarded with tea and sandwiches for his diaper changing skills by the oldest Took girl, 15 year old Pearl.
The sisters cooed over the baby. Frodo wondered why it was people reserved such idiotic sounds and syllables for babies and puppies.
“His cheeks are just like little apples!” Pearl exclaimed. “Like a little Pippin!”
The other two girls took up the cry. “Pippin” he became from that day forth.
Frodo resumed his chair. Merry stood by his shoulder. Frodo had been his first playmate and had taught him his letters. When Frodo moved to Hobbiton the prior year, Merry was devastated and wanted to go with him. But Mummy and Daddy promised he could visit when he was old enough, so he looked forward to that, asking them at regular intervals was he old enough to go up to stay for a few days at Bag End? The answer was usually no.
“Does everyone get all silly over babies?” Merry wondered. Frodo put his arm around Merry and made him sit on his lap.
“Very silly,” he said. “All of Buckland lost its collective mind when you were born.”
“Is he my first cousin?”
“Your first cousin on your mother’s side. He’ll be the Thain one day and you’ll be the Master of Buckland, after old Rory and your father, of course.”
“And what are you, Fro? Will you be someone like that?” Merry called him Fro, but as a child it came out “Fwo” until Merry could pronounce his `r’s.
“I’m afraid not, Merry. I’ll just be Frodo Baggins. Come on – let’s join the fellows, shall we?”
Taking Merry’s hand, he led him to the drawing rooms where the gentlemen were. Hobbits are very enthusiastic about their children and Merry found himself passed around, his hand shook, his hair ruffled , his age inquired of, and did he know his letters. He finally wound up on his father’s lap where Saradoc sat with such luminaries as Thain Ferumbras, Paladin, and Bilbo Baggins.
The Bilbo Baggins. THE with a capitol THE Bilbo Baggins, he of the dwarves and wizard and elves and dragons and gold Baggins. Merry had met him a time or two but was still very much in awe of this bold adventurer. The bold adventurer looked terribly ordinary, in a well made, embroidered waistcoat. This was the fellow who had adopted Frodo and taken him away from Buckland, so Merry wasn’t entirely sure if he should like Bilbo or not.
“I remember you, Merry lad!” Bilbo beamed. “Do you remember me?”
His fingers in his mouth, Merry nodded but said nothing.
“And what do you think of your little cousin?” Bilbo wondered.
“He smells funny,” Merry ventured. The fellows all laughed heartily.
“Then we are thankful for the ladies who see to those sorts of things.”
“Fro changed his nappy.”
Bilbo raised an eyebrow at Frodo who shrugged. Saradoc slapped him on the shoulder.
“I told you not to go in there,” he said “A wise hobbit does not venture where he is outnumbered by babies and ladies.” By way of response, Frodo merely saluted Saradoc with the remains of the sandwich Pearl had given him.
“They feed you if you’re nice to them,” he said. Everyone laughed again.
“Our Frodo will make a suitable husband one day,” said Bilbo. “A hobbit that will change a diaper can have his pick and choose of any lass he likes!”
“I have three girls that will need to be disposed of one of these days,” Paladin said over his pipe. “Pearl might suit you, young Frodo.”
Frodo held up his hands in protest. “You do me too great an honor!” he said. “I would not be worthy of such a treasure.”
This brought on more laughter and earned Frodo a glass of wine from Ferumbras’ own hands.
`And he’s a bold deceiver to boot!” said the Thain. “The girls like a smooth talking hobbit!”
Merry was awestruck to be part of this company, even if he was only a small part perched on his father’s knee. He was Saradoc’s only child, to the bitter disappointment of both his parents who had wanted a large brood. Like all hobbit children, he was thoroughly spoiled, coddled, yelled at and chastised, but never struck. Like all Brandybucks he had a bold, inquisitive nature.
“Well, Frodo lad, I think we’d best be getting back up to Hobbiton,” said Bilbo. “It’s a long way and I promised Ham Gamgee I’d return his pony and cart before nightfall.” Bilbo did not keep ponies, but sometimes borrowed the handy little beast belonging to his neighbor. “I hate to leave such an august company.” And here he raised his glass to the other gentlehobbits. “But Master Gamgee will have need of his pony and cart tomorrow.”
“Papa?” Merry turned an earnest face to his father. “Can I go stay with Fro and Mr. Bilbo?”
Saradoc, as is the way of all parents, did not hear his son’s question the first time.
“Bilbo, you must come to Buckland more often and steal more of my relations from us,” said old Rorimac, the current Master of Buckland. “We are overcrowded at Brandy Hall.”
“Papa,” Merry said, “Am I old enough to go visit Frodo up in Hobbiton?”
Bilbo waved off old Rory and said. “Frodo is trouble enough,” he said. “I rue the day I ever took him in.” But of course he was only joking, as the warm tone in his voice would indicate.
“I want to go with them!” The room fell silent at the sound of Merry’s raised voice.
“Meriadoc, don’t shout,” said Saradoc.
“You weren’t listening to me.”
“What is it you want?”
“I want to go visit Frodo and Mr. Bilbo up in Hobbiton.”
“You will one day.”
“I want to go today. Aren’t I old enough yet?”
Saradoc looked at Frodo, who looked at Bilbo.
“Why not?” said Bilbo. “I’ll give him back in a few days. Frodo can mind him. What do you say, Frodo? Our first houseguest.”
“I’d like that. He can play with Master Gamgee’s boy, Sam.”
Saradoc shook his head. “I don’t mind, but his mother might not like it!”
Clapping his hands in glee, Merry dashed off to ask his mother. It took a little wheedling, for Esmerelda was loathe to part with her treasure, but Bilbo and Frodo were safe enough. It was a very excited Merry who came back to the sitting room to announce he was going to Hobbiton.
“And can I bring my puppy?” Merry’s terrier puppy was playing in the front hall with a pile of other Took pet dogs.
“Bring whatever you like, Master Merry,” said Bilbo and he stood up and bowed to his new guest, then to the others. They took their leave, and gathering up Merry and the puppy, Bilbo and Frodo put him on the pony cart between them and headed off home.