9. Chapter Eight
The icing on the cake came when Lalia announced over supper, three days before the great day, that her health could not possibly support the strain of a trip to Hobbiton, and that therefore she would not be attending. All the older relatives in the dining hall made conventional noises of sympathy while keeping their eyes on their plates, since they knew “health” actually meant “weight”, but the younger set could not be so discreet. Pearl and Merry traded a look of such open delight that both Eglantine and Esmeralda clucked disapprovingly.
“Children, can you not make your joy so apparent?” murmured Esmeralda.
“Yes, because we still have to live with Lalia even if she’s absent from the party!” Eglantine hissed anxiously.
“Sorry, Mama,” said Pearl in false apology.
“And so am I,” said Merry defiantly, “but only if she saw us, since we all know how much more fun things are without her—” Esmeralda quelled her rebellious son with a sharp gesture.
“Enough, Meriadoc!” She gave Lalia a wary glance as the matriarch shuffled by their table with oliphaunt-like dignity. Merry froze, then spoke again as Lalia disappeared through the doors.
“Can I leave the table now, Mother?”
“Me too, Mama,” added Pearl.
“Yes, you can,” said their mothers in unison. Merry and Pearl bolted away, chattering happily about their good luck and all their previous tensions forgotten. As they fled, Esmeralda muttered, “It’s shameful to admit how right they are, isn’t it?” A tiny smile escaped her. “It will be a relief not to have Lalia there—she’s always like a black crow at any party.”
Eglantine made a face. “You needn’t tell me that—try living with her full time, since she has no sense of humor.” She giggled. “Maybe it’s true she was cursed by that long-ago fairy wife of the first Took when Fortinbras was mad enough to marry her!”
“Oh, really, Tina!” said Esmeralda with a laugh. “You’re as bad as the children sometimes! Let’s just hope Lalia doesn’t change her mind at the last minute, because then Pearl and Merry will misbehave for certain in order to needle her.”
Esmeralda got her wish when Lalia confirmed her absence the night before the party. The next morning, Pearl awoke to sunlight and birdsong, her eyes shining with eager anticipation as she listened to the thrush outside her window. Today is the day, and I’m seeing Frodo again. Could anything be more perfect? She lay there for a while longer, wishing it was Frodo beside her at this very moment instead of her snoring sister, who still was sharing Pearl’s room to allow the Brandybucks space on the upper floor. Her ears picked up the sounds of a waking household; she sat up, drawing her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. Time to get up if I want a nice long bath, or the hot water will be all gone.
She prodded Pimmie. “Come on, Pimpernel,” she said, deliberately using the full name Pimmie hated. “We need to head down to the bathing rooms if we’re going to beat everybody else.”
Pimmie groaned and buried her face into her pillow as she reluctantly awakened. “What time is it? You know, not everyone is as vain as you are. I’d rather sleep for a while if you don’t mind. Can’t think of anybody I want to impress that badly.”
“What, nobody?” said Pearl in mock disbelief.
“Oh, please—the only lad worth bothering with is Frodo, and he’s yours.”
“Not going to steal him?”
“Not likely! I know a lost cause when I see one. Now go away.” Pimmie attempted to pull Pearl’s pillow over her head, but Pearl snatched it and tossed it to the floor.
“Sam Gamgee will be there. You told me once you thought he was rather handsome and awfully sweet.”
“And so I did. But he’s too bashful for words, not to mention he’s too hopelessly lower-class for Mama’s tastes.”
“You’re not marrying him, dolt, but just wanting to have a bit of fun.”
“Does he want to have fun?”
“He will if you make an effort for once—you’re as pretty as I am when you do try,” said Pearl coaxingly. “Come on, Pimmie.”
“Be honest—you need help with your hair, don’t you?”
“That too, but I’ll help you with yours.”
Pimmie emitted a deep sigh and turned over. “Oh, all right, you win.” Pearl bounded out of the bed, grabbed her robe and bag of bath things, and threw Pimmie’s robe and bag down beside her grumbling sister.
“Well, are you coming downstairs, or not?” asked Pearl impatiently.
“Yes—don’t push me!”
Pearl herded a yawning Pimmie down the back flight of steps near their bedroom and up the hallway that led to the baths. When they stepped into the women’s side, they discovered maids bustling about heating water, filling tubs and laying out fresh towels. A few other family members were already bathing, including Lilac, submerged to her neck in steaming bubbles. Pearl called out cheerfully, “So you’re up early to make yourself beautiful too, Cousin Lilac?”
“Wicked child! It takes more than a bath to pretty me up now. Be glad I didn’t make you help me into this tub.”
“Better you than Aunt Lalia,” said Pearl daringly.
“Away with you!” Lilac shook her head, laughing merrily. “There are two tubs in the corner for you and Pimmie.”
The girls quickly disrobed and climbed in, Pearl clutching a large bar of soap. As she began to wash, Pimmie sniffed at the air and looked at her sister in shock.
“That’s the special cinnamon milk soap Mama keeps locked away, isn’t it? How did you get that?”
“Shhh—lifted the key to her chest when she was playing cards last night. Don’t tell, will you?” Pearl glanced over at Lilac furtively.
“No, I won’t, but Mama will smell it, and take your head off when it’s all gone and she can’t get the cinnamon to make more. You know how hard it is to find.”
“It’ll be worth it—I want to look my best for Frodo.”
“As ever,” said Pimmie dryly. They both fell silent as they concentrated on washing up, scrubbing their hair with the rich soap until everything glistened and pouring pitchers of water over each other so all the suds were rinsed out. Dried and refreshed, they robed themselves again and headed back to their room, only to bump into their mother and aunt as they arrived.
“Oh, good, you girls did get up early!” exclaimed Eglantine. “I was afraid you were still asleep—your father wants to leave by seven if we’re to be in Hobbiton by lunchtime. I had Bluebell take some breakfast trays up.”
“Thank you, Mama, and we’ll be ready,” promised Pearl. She and Pimmie darted down the hall and up the stairs.
“Well, that was a close call, wasn’t it?” Pimmie said tartly.
“Hush up. Come on, let’s eat, and then we’ll work on our hair.”
They hastily ate their breakfast while sitting at the open window, letting the sun dry out their hair. They then began pinning up each other’s curls, with Pearl forcing Pimmie to redo her hairdo five times over before she professed herself satisfied. She then drew out a little pot she had hidden under the bed and dabbed pink cream on her lips.
“Lip salve? You really do want to flaunt your tail feathers today, don’t you?”
“I promised Frodo quite a garden of delights in that letter I put in his bag of books, which means I have to look perfect.”
“You sent him a love letter? Lovely. Better hope Merry doesn’t get hold of it, or the whole Shire will know what you plan on doing with him.”
“And if that happens, Merry knows he dies, so I’m not too concerned, sis. Now let’s get dressed.”
Pimmie’s dress was a dark gold with green trim, while Pearl’s was a shimmering sky blue. After they buttoned each other into their party finery, Pearl reached into the cupboard and whipped out a blue waistcoat that laced up in the front, the feminine match to the one she had helped make for Frodo. She pulled the ribbons ruthlessly, forcing her bosom further out of her plunging neckline. Pimmie whistled.
“What are you doing? Aiming to compete with Cousin Melilot, or that brat Angelica Baggins?”
“They can’t begin to compete with me, and you know that!” Pearl studied her reflection in the mirror with a critical eye. “Not quite perfect, but close. Now for the jewelry—” She put on the earrings Frodo had given her, with the pearl strand she had worn the night of the dinner as well. Just as she turned to the mirror again, the clock in the hall struck the hour, and their father’s voice rang out from below.
“Pearl, Pimpernel, move! We are leaving!”
They scurried downstairs, rushing to the Great Door and arriving breathless. Paladin looked at his daughters in mingled pride and irritation.
“You both are lovely, which you should be after taking so much time to prepare. Now get in the carriage!”
Pearl and Pimmie scrambled in and sat down beside Eglantine. Lilac and Pervinca sat opposite. Pearl asked, “Where’s Pippin?”
“He’s riding with the Brandybucks,” said Eglantine. Pearl leaned out the window and waved at the carriage beside theirs.
Pippin grinned and waved back. “Hello, Pearl! See, I’m riding with Merry today!”
“Yes, I see.”
“And I see you took forever like you always do, Pearly-girl,” called Merry.
“Don’t start, Merry, or I swear you’ll pay—”
“You both will pay if you don’t behave at the party!” snapped Eglantine. Paladin climbed in then, slammed the carriage door shut, and rapped on the roof.
“Let’s go!” he shouted.
The carriage lurched forward with a crack of the coachman’s whip. Pearl and Pimmie exchanged smiles. “Here we go,” Pearl murmured, her eagerness surging up every time the wheels turned. And I hope you’re ready for me, Frodo, she thought, because if you’re not, you’ll be very, very sorry . . .
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.