Pride and Prejudice for Hobbits
5. and still Wedmath
“Yes, mama, I expect so,” said Pearl. They continued walking towards the breakfast-room.
“You must suggest something you can do together, perhaps a nice walk through the grounds? We wouldn’t want him to think we are poor hosts,” Egla continued.
“Certainly, mama,” said Pearl. She suspected that he would politely decline in favour of reading a book he had discovered last night while the rest of them were playing cards, but if asking would keep her mama happy, she would ask.
Frodo was in the breakfast room by himself, reading his book, but he looked up at Egla’s cleared throat and bid them a pleasant good morning. Egla gave Pearl a significant glance.
“Oh, dear, I’ve forgotten my handkerchief!” she said suddenly. “Please excuse me!”
Pearl rolled her eyes as her mama bustled out of the room again, but she caught Frodo doing the same, and suddenly they both giggled.
“My mama is a sore trial, isn’t she?” Pearl said. She picked up a plate and began to select some pastries and cheeses.
Frodo took a very long, calm sip of his tea. He said, “I would never say something so uncharitable about a lady.”
“Well, she would like me to suggest that we take a walk this morning,” said Pearl.
“A walk would serve,” said Frodo. His eyes kept darting back towards the book, which was still open in front of him.
“Pray don’t let me distract you from your book,” Pearl said, more sharply than she intended to.
Frodo looked back at her guiltily. He glanced once more at the book, then shut it and pushed it further down the table. “I am sorry,” he said, “I am not accustomed to company over breakfast.”
“Well, it must be a very fascinating book,” said Pearl.
“Dreadfully fascinating,” said Frodo. “Did you know that your grandfather Adalgrim travelled the Shire in his youth collecting ballads that he thought related to the history and customs of the hobbits of old?”
He sounded perfectly serious, which meant, of course, that he was mad. “Ballads?” Pearl repeated faintly.
[outtake: “Yes, here’s one about two cousins who fought each other to death over a – oh, my,” said Frodo. He peered more closely at the book, fingering something in his pocket. “Oh, my.” he said again.]
“Yes, here’s one called ‘The Hundred Archers’, about –“
But Pearl never found out what ‘The Hundred Archers’ was about, because at that moment Pimmie and Vinnie entered the room, arguing about a shawl. They caught sight of Frodo and broke into embarrassed giggles. Pearl glared at them, and Frodo went back to his book.
Pearl and Frodo agreed that they would meet in the entrance hall after second breakfast to go for their walk, but when they ventured outside the door they found that it was raining.
“Too bad,” said Frodo. “Although,” he continued, “I did just finish walking from Hobbiton not three days ago.”
“Well, you’ll want to get back to your book, then,” said Pearl reluctantly. She had been looking forward to spending some time with him, mad though he was.
“I doubt your mama would like that above half,” he replied, smiling. “Is there something we might do inside?”
“Well,” said Pearl, “if you like a lot of queer old books there’s the Old Took’s room.”
“Ferdy and Odo used to tell me this room was haunted,” said Frodo with a shudder as Pearl opened the door. The old room was dusty and dark, and smelled as though it had not had a good airing in a century at least. The young hobbits were not, strictly speaking, allowed to enter the late Thain’s sanctuary, though the reason for this restriction was sometimes that it was too dusty, sometimes that it was disrespectful, and sometimes that the wood of the walls was rotten and the ceiling likely to fall in at any time. The room had been boarded up after Old Gerontius’ death by his son Isengrim and had been all but forgotten until Ferdinand Took and his cousin Odovacar Bolger had stumbled upon it while running from an irate victim of one of their pranks.
It was certainly a queer old room. It faced in to the hill-side of the Smial, and so had no window. The light from the several candles Pearl and Frodo had lit was not enough to penetrate the shadowy corners of the room. The furniture and the floor were covered with a velvety carpet of dust and papers and books remained scattered over the table, the desk, and the shelves, exactly as they had been left when the room’s inhabitant died. Several patches of thinner dust betrayed where mathoms had been pilfered by more recent visitors to the room. Some of the papers and books were covered with handprints. Pearl had only been inside the room twice. It was right off the great hall, and she passed it all the time, but somehow she always contrived to forget that it was there. When she did turn her attention towards it, it felt forbidding, as though some unseen presence would rather she paid it no mind.
“There used to be some nice old mathoms in here,” said Pearl. “There was a rock that had broken in half and had crystals on the inside, and the trappings from an old harness, of Elvish make perhaps, but I think Pip and Merry have taken most of them now.”
“Well, let us see what else we may see,” said Frodo. He brushed a layer of dust off one of the piles of books and papers. Pearl wrinkled her nose to keep from sneezing. Frodo glanced at her, then carefully opened the cover of the book on the top of the stack.
“Across the Sea and Back, being the adventures of myself, Isengar Took,” Frodo read aloud. He turned the page, scanned it quickly, then picked up the volume in both hands and sat down in the armchair by the disused fireplace, disregarding the large cloud of dust that rose from the cushion when he settled his weight on it. His eyes were glued to the book. They flicked rapidly down the first page, and he had turned to the second page before Pearl realised he was completely oblivious to her continued presence in the room.
She cleared her throat, but there was no response. “Shall I leave you to it, then?” she said.
Frodo gave a guilty start. He looked up at her, his hands still on the book in his lap. “I am very poor company, aren’t I?” he said ruefully. He laughed. “Small wonder I am said to have gone mad when I pay more mind to books than pretty girls.”
Pearl blushed, but she said “Well, if it has got old ballads in it I’m sure you are quite forgiven.” Since he seemed aware of the fact that he was thought peculiar, she saw no reason to pretend she didn’t think him so.
Frodo smiled apologetically. “It is terribly odd of me, I suppose,” he said. “But come, there are no ballads in this book. Bilbo said his uncle Isengar had gone to sea in his youth and it seems that this is his tale. ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a large family of hobbits,’” he stopped, and smiled.
“What is it?” asked Pearl.
“Well, Bilbo never told me that he had read Isengar’s tale, yet it seems clear to me now that he must have. I wonder how forgotten this room really was when Ferdy and Odo found it? ‘Hobbits are a simple folk, and most of the hobbits of this family were content to stay at home in their snug little hole,’” Frodo glanced up at Pearl. “Shall I continue?” he asked.
It was clear to Pearl that he would continue whether she wished him to or no, and it seemed that at least he had a pleasant reading voice. “I suppose you shall,” she said, “but don’t let’s continue in here. Brrr! I feel as though something is watching us and waiting for us to leave.”
After some discussion, they determined that they would read Isengar’s tale in the second best parlour. It would be sunny most of the day, and it was close enough that Pearl’s mama could feel she was adequately chaperoning them, but far enough that the ladies at their needlework in the best parlour would not be troubled by tales of adventure they had no wish to hear.
They settled at a decorous distance from one another on the sofa, with a tray of tea and seed-cakes between them. Frodo said,
“This should satisfy your mama that we are making sufficient effort to see if we will suit.”
Pearl was shocked into speechlessness. They had been dancing around the topic of her mama’s matchmaking attempts all day, but young hobbits generally did not speak so candidly of such matters.
“I am sorry,” said Frodo when he saw her face. “It was very bad of me to say that. Pray contrive to forget it!”
“Of course,” she said faintly. He opened the book across his lap and began to read again,
“’In a hole in the ground –‘”
Pearl couldn’t help but steal a sidelong glance at him. “So you have already determined that we will not suit,” she said. If he would speak so openly of it, so would she.
Frodo looked directly at her. “By all means, Pearl, if you would like a Mad Baggins for a husband, and if you wish to live your life never knowing when he will abandon you for some dangerous adventure, never to return, then of course we will suit perfectly,” he said. She couldn’t tell if he was sad, or angry, or perhaps a bit of both. She looked at him more closely. He really did seem to mean it.
“Well, can’t you have an adventure now, and then come back and marry when you’re done?” she asked.
He did not appear to have considered this possibility. He opened his mouth and closed it a few times before saying, “I don’t think adventures are something one ever plans to have. Adventures are the sort of thing that happens when Gandalf appears on the doorstep with a tale of lost treasure. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a proper adventure unless Gandalf is involved, and I never know when he is going to turn up next, so I had better wait for him, or I’m sure I shouldn’t get it right at all.”
“Oh,” was all Pearl could think of to say. Frodo was still staring out the window towards the east, though what he could see beyond the streaked and spattered pane Pearl could not imagine. “I’m sorry,” she added inadequately.
He smiled sadly. “So am I,” he said. He was silent for a moment. Then, with a visible effort at a return to good cheer, he said, “But come, let us learn of old Isengar. His adventure was at least successful enough that he returned to write of it.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.