Bag End, The Summer of 1414
“It’s called,” Pippin paused dramatically and turned so we could better see the object on display, “a yo-yo.”
I drew my eyebrows together in study, while beside me, Berilac crouched down to better examine the small, round wooden object dangling by a string that was looped about Pippin’s forefinger.
“How does it work?” I asked.
“Like this,” Pippin said, and gave a little flick of his wrist. The object whirled back up to his palm, and then, with a second flick of Pippin’s wrist, unfurled back down to the vicinity of his knees. He then began a steady up-down motion of the object. Yo-yo.
“And you can do tricks with it!” Pippin exclaimed. “Like this one -- it’s called ‘Around the Barrel.’” He sent the yo-yo down again and instead of summoning it back up, made a strange sideways motion with his wrist. The yo-yo shot out to the side in an arc, and directly into Berilac’s ear. I silently congratulated myself at having stayed out of range.
“Ow!” Berilac said, falling over onto his rump and rubbing his ear at once. “A fine trick that is, Pip!”
“Sorry,” Pippin said hastily, and recalled the yo-yo to his hand. “It’s things like that that got them banned from Hobbiton, I suppose.”
“Banned?” Berilac asked, while I added, “Then how do you have one?”
“Frodo got it for me, before Mayor Whitfoot said no more yo-yos,” Pippin said. “But Frodo said I may keep it, so long as I do not take it outside of Bag End. He said the Mayor’s nephew hit him right in the eye with it, and while he was making a big speech. Quite annoyed, he was.”
“Nice of Frodo to get some for us,” Berilac said, still sitting on the floor in the entryway to Bag End.
“Frodo always gets me the best presents,” Pippin said, happily resuming his yo-yoing. “Besides, he was not expecting you. He’s in his study, if you want to bother to say hullo and that you’re here. And Fatty and Estella are here as well, but they have gone over to the Cottons to pay a visit. They came up with me from the Smials last week.”
“Thank you, Pip, for reminding us of our courtesy,” I said, and tossed my pack at him. “We will not keep Frodo waiting longer, especially since you will be putting our things into our rooms for us.”
“Much obliged, Pip,” Berilac said, rising from the floor and piling his pack on top of mine in Pippin’s arms.
“Hoy!” Pippin said, but we were already down the corridor.
“Oh, the yo-yo,” Frodo said with a little laugh after we had finished our hullos. He opened a drawer in his desk and inside were half a dozen more. “I thought you lads were too old to want any, but help yourselves. Don’t take them outside of Bag End, though.”
“We heard,” I said. “Will Whitfoot.” I picked up a yo-yo and set to looking it over.
“Yes,” Frodo said, his eyes twinkling. “He could not see out of that eye for the better part of a fortnight.”
“If you did not think we should want them, whatever did you buy so many for?” Berilac asked, reaching into the drawer to take one for himself.
Frodo shrugged carelessly. “I had quite a few more than this -- let’s see, I gave one both to Marigold Gamgee and to Tom Cotton, and I bought an entire lot for the Smallburrows (though Mrs. Smallburrow looked most displeased when I handed them out). I thought they would be good for birthday gifts, I suppose. And you know Pippin will lose his and need a replacement.”
I looped the end of the yo-yo around my forefinger and let it unroll itself until it dangled from the end of the string. Then I yanked my wrist to recall it to my hand. It jerked, but remained motionless.
“Here, Merry-lad,” Frodo said, and took one out of the drawer for himself. “Move your wrist like this,” and he proceeded to demonstrate quite expertly.
“Aren’t you the talent?” Berilac asked, also trying to get his yo-yo to obey his will.
“Bilbo gave me one of these when I was a tweenager,” he said. “It had been his as a boy -- I believe the Old Took had bought them from some dwarves passing through to hand out to his grandchildren. I thought they were quite out of style, but I suppose they’re one of those things that crop up every so often.”
“Well, someone’s rediscovered them,” I said, still struggling with the toy.
Frodo nodded. “Yes, Danner Woodhouse,” he said. “Though the poor hobbit won’t be selling any more around these parts. I heard he was left with quite the stock when Will put his foot down about them.”
“Thought that was ‘put his eye out,’” Berilac said cheekily, and Frodo gave him a reproachful, “Berilac.”
“Aha!” I exclaimed with satisfaction as my yo-yo finally answered my summons and landed in my palm with a satisfying smack. “I think I’m onto it now.”
“To be sure,” Berilac said, and we grinned at each other.
“Oi, those yo-yos,” Danner Woodhouse said in disgust. “The wife said, ‘Don’t make so many, what if you can’t sell as you think you can at the Fair?’ but I didn’t pay her no heed. More to my woe.” He stumped over to a cupboard and threw it open with a flourish. “You can imagine what I’m having to listen to her say nowadays.”
Inside the cupboard was a large bin, filled to the top with perfectly crafted little yo-yos. I picked one up and admired it.
“They’re work to be proud of,” I told the carpenter, and he grunted in agreement.
“Aye, kind of you to notice, Master Merry,” he said. “Seeing as how no one else is going to have the chance to.”
“How many do you have stocked here?” Berilac asked.
“Oh, couple hundred,” Danner replied. “Meant to take them to the Fair, you see. I’d only made a few at first, to sell at market day here in Hobbiton, but once I sold the first (which took a fair while, seeing as how no one knew what they was) I was out before noon. Same thing happened the next week, and the week after that, though I was making more and more. I’d say I sold more’n a hundred before Whitfoot shut me down. And without a penny to compensate for my lost business.”
“Where’d you come across them?” I asked.
“Actually, your Cousin Frodo, though not direct-like,” Danner said. “He’d had one years ago, and I think it was actually old Bilbo’s, from his childhood, in the old days. Seems Mr. Frodo had given his to Sam Gamgee when Sam was younger, and then my lass Lavender broke her left arm (and that’ll teach a lass to play roopie with lads twice her size) and was going mad with nothing to do (that one can run a father into the ground, let me tell you) and Sammie most kindly thought of his old toy and sent it home from the Dragon with me. I owe Sammie more than a drink or two for that kindness, because I never did see that lass so fixed on something. Then some of her playmates came over, so I had to make some for them to stop all the clamoring, and well -- here we are now.”
“Couple hundred, you say,” Berilac said. “How much would you say these are valued at, Mr. Woodhouse?”
“Eh?” Danner said. “What’dya mean?”
“What we mean, good sir,” I answered, sliding a friendly arm about his shoulders, “is that yo-yos are in no way banned in Buckland.”
“In no way at all,” Berilac said while Danner looked from one of us to the other.
“Not in the slightest,” I said, and gave Danner a friendly squeeze.
“Robbing us blind, he is,” Berilac groused, “and here we are, trying to help him out. No one else is going to buy those yo-yos off him.”
“That’s just the thing, Berilac,” I said. “Someone will. Someone will come visiting here in Hobbiton, and go home with this new market all sewn up for themselves. Which is why we have to buy the whole stock. We want to be the ones to set the prices, and to keep control of them for as long as possible. It’s certain someone else will start making them at some point, and there’s naught we can do about that, but before that happens, we stand to make an enormous profit. And help out Danner, of course.”
“Naturally,” Berilac said. “Well, then, we’ll need a third partner. Not even both our summer spending money put together will cover the costs, not to mention shipping them back to Buckland.”
“Frodo will lend us his cart,” I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. “He never uses it anyway. We’ll offer to take Pippin and Fredegar and Estella back with us -- Frodo’s voice already has that squawky sound and Pippin’s only been here a week. In another week, he’ll lend us anything if we’ll take him away.”
“You do realize that means we’ll actually have to take Pippin with us,” Berilac said, deadpan, and I swatted him.
“Be nice,” I admonished. “My favorite cousin, you recall. Far surpassing you, I might add.”
“Yes,” Berilac said dryly. “Shall we make him partner number three?”
“Sweet Valar, no,”I said feverently. “No, I’ve someone else in mind.”
“Have you both lost your minds?” Fredegar said. “I’m not going in on anything with the likes of you, not ever again. The two of you won’t be satisfied until the whole family is ruined. I’ve a mother and a sister to think of, you know.”
“But we are thinking of them,” I pressed. “Danner said he couldn’t keep these things in stock on market days here in Hobbiton. Think of how they will sell in Bucklebury! Just take a moment to count up the children at the Hall who would love to have one of these toys. Why, we probably could sell out just to family members! It’s an investment, Freddy, one with guaranteed returns.”
“Guaranteed returns?” Freddy said. “And what about when your da shuts us down and we’re left with a bin full of yo-yos? What shall we do then? Not even Pippin can lose that many of the silly things.”
“Well,” I coughed slightly, “we have anticipated that possibility.”
“And are planning measures to avoid it,” Berilac chimed in hastily.
Freddy looked at us hard. “You’re not planning on not telling your da, are you?” he demanded.
I laughed nervously. “Now, look, Freddy, I just don’t see as why we have to bother him with this. He’s been quite busy lately, and he told Berilac and I we could have a spot of fun this summer, seeing as how we spent the winter.”
“I’ve not forgotten how we spent the winter,” Freddy said with a scowl. “Though perhaps you’ve forgotten that I was there with you. No. No yo-yos. No playing cards. No wagering on the roopie tournament. None of it! I’m out!” And he left the room with a dramatic flourish.
After a moment’s silence, Berilac punched me in the arm. “You just had to bring up this winter, didn’t you?” he said.
“Quiet, you,” I ordered. “I’m trying to think.”
“No respect for your elders,” Berilac muttered. I ignored him and began drumming my fingers on the window sill.
“You know, lads,” said a voice from outside the window, “you might try asking me about this little venture.”
“Estella?” Berilac and I asked as one, and the upper half of her body suddenly appeared.
“What are you doing out there?” Berilac asked.
“I was cutting some flowers,” she said, “but your conversation with Freddy was so intriguing that I must admit I listened a little.”
“A little?” I asked suspiciously.
“Oh, there, now, Merry,” Estella said, and leaned her elbows against the window sill. “I’ll not give up your little schemes. Though Freddy is right, the two of you won’t be satisfied until the family is ruined.”
“It is part of our grand plan,” I agreed.
“But I just wonder why you have not thought to ask me to join up with you in the ruination of the Brandybucks,” she continued.
“You’re barely a Brandybuck, to start with,” Berilac began, and I elbowed him in the ribs. It is never polite to remind a family member just how distant their ties to one of the Shire’s great families is.
“And what kind of a contribution to the downfall of the Brandybucks do you think you can offer, Estella?” I asked politely.
“A third share,” she answered. “For a third of the profits, of course. That is the deal you were going to offer my brother, isn’t it?”
Berilac shuffled his feet uneasily but I held my ground. “That is a fair deal,” I said smoothly. “We’d need hard coin, up front.”
“I’ve got it,” she said confidently.
“And you’d have to equally partake of all the labors and duties entailed in the enterprise,” I said.
“I’ll serve you a sight better than Freddy there,” she said bluntly.
“And you’d have to not breathe a word of this to my father,” I ended.
“Nor mine,” Berilac added.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Estella said, and held out her hand. “Do we have a deal, then, my good hobbits?”
Berilac and I exchanged a glance. It is not seemly, of course, to do business with a lass, but if I may say so, Estella had always had both uncommon practical and business sense. Her father (may his memory live on) had been the head auctioneer at Whitfurrows, and a successful businesshobbit, so it was easy to see where she got it from (though poor Freddy had the business sense of a Bracegirdle). And we were in a hard spot, Berilac and I.
“It will be our pleasure, Miss Bolger,” I answered, and we shook on it.
It went swimmingly. Nat at The Scattered Hare (a forgiving hobbit, if there ever was one -- either that or he did end up on top after last winter’s playing card fiasco) let us set up shop around the back of the inn on market days, where we would not be noticed by anyone not looking for us. Because we wanted to keep the venture hushed, we were somewhat limited in marketing, but that is where Pippin proved his worth. All we had to do was send him strolling about with his yo-yo (after a firm lecture about not trying tricks he really didn’t know how to do) and the children came swarming after him like flies to honey. Not to mention all the younger tweenagers in Buckland he knows -- we sold as many toys to them as to the smaller children.
On non-market days, we did just as well, selling our stock to the youngsters at Brandy Hall out of one of the back storage rooms, where we also had the goods hidden. With every sale came a firm admonishment -- the adults were not to see the yo-yos. I knew that could not last, of course, but I did believe we could get through our supply before the older population starting seeing enough of them to wonder, and by then there would be nothing to tie us to it.
We had to sell at least half of them before we started to see a profit. Berilac, Estella and I used the proceeds from sale number 108 (the halfway mark) to toast one another inside the Hare.
Like I said, swimmingly.
Frodo has some saying about best laid plans going awry, but really, who could have foreseen those half-witted Boffin brothers dropping a box of yo-yos right in the middle of the market? And who would have guessed that Hap Goldworthy’s pony would take such fright and tear off with Hap’s cart still behind? Or that half of Hap’s lettuce crop would go flying out the back of the cart and smash to pieces before the pony was caught and calmed? Or that my father would just so happen to be at market that day, and that Hap would take his grievance up with him, and demand that the Master aid him in seeking restitution from the yo-yo vendor?
Who would have guessed that this would be the very market day that Berilac and I would spend the morning helping repair a dry stone wall in the south pasture, and then decide that the hard work of carrying and lifting all those heavy stones entitled us to a small rest before going to market to check on Estella? Or that after our small rest, we were making a grave error when we decided that it was too late it the day for it even to be worth our time, especially as Estella had the Boffins at hand to help her out?
At any rate, Berilac and I had our weary bodies sprawled upon the sofas in the third study of Brandy Hall, nibbling on pound cake and daydreaming about how we were going to spend the fruits of the summer while Uncle Mac puffed on his pipe and read through letters when Da strolled in, looking most pleased with himself.
“Hullo, lads, Mac,” he said pleasantly, and we chorused back, “Hullo!”
Then, with great ceremony, Da pulled from his jacket pocket the one item I had hoped to never see in my father’s hand -- a yo-yo.
“Why, look at this!” Da exclaimed. “Wherever did it come from?” He set it smoothly in motion, and then executed a perfect “Around the Barrel.”
“What a charming toy,” Da said. “I haven’t seen one since I was very young, and Bilbo Baggins taught me how to use his. I wonder if there’s a good market for such an item?”
Berilac hid his head beneath a cushion, but I was frozen with horror. Still reading his letters and chewing on the end of his pipe, Uncle Mac chuckled and rumbled something that sounded like, “Blockheaded idiot lads.”
“Meriadoc,” Da said, still in the same overly pleasant voice, “what do you think? Could we move such an item in the Bucklebury market?”
“Da, I can explain,” I said hastily, finally finding my voice. I ignored a small guffaw from Uncle Mac.
“What’s to explain, Merry-lad?” Da asked, now in his normal voice. “You saw a good business opportunity, you recruited partners, you hired help, and you set about making a profit. All with a perfectly harmless little toy, no matter what that pompous Will Whitfoot thinks. So, what exactly are you going to explain, Meriadoc?”
“Um,” I stalled, while Da’s eyebrows rose in inquiry. “It’s just that we, that is, I, well, it was just that . . .”
“Ah, I see the problem,” Da said. “It’s just that you’re underage, and did not obtain your father’s permission. And that you did the market master the discourtesy of not telling him that you were setting up shop. And that you misrepresented to your good Cousin Frodo what you wanted the use of his cart for. And that you willingly deceived your kind and generous parents about this entire venture. Is that what you’d like to explain, Meriadoc?”
“Yes, sir,” I said glumly.
“Do you have a good explanation?” Da asked.
“Berilac? Perhaps you can enlighten me?”
Berilac emerged from the pillow and sat despondently beside me. “No, Uncle Saradoc.”
Da looked hard at both of us, then pocketed the yo-yo. He pulled a chair over directly in front of us and sat down.
“It’s just that you thought I would say no,” he said. “Is that about right?”
“Yes, sir,” we chorused. Uncle Mac shook his head and muttered something I did not catch.
“So, even though it turns out that you weren’t doing anything wrong, you were willing to do something wrong,” Da stated.
“Yes, sir,” we said.
“Ah, lads,” Da said, and sat back in the chair. “You just don’t learn, do you?”
“I’m sorry, Da,” I said, miserable as I always was to disappoint him.
“I’m sorry, too, Uncle Saradoc,” Berilac said, and then, across the room to his father, “And to you, Da.”
“Good, good,” Uncle Mac said. “Let’s take all their profits, Saradoc. That’ll teach ‘em. We can spend it down at the Hare and the wives need never know.”
“Da!” Berilac exclaimed in dismay, and my da rolled his eyes.
“You only encourage them with that kind of talk, Mac!” he exclaimed. “Besides, I think everything is taken care of.”
“It is?” I asked fearfully. Uncle Mac’s punishments may be right to the point, but Da’s tend to be more clever.
“Oh, yes,” Da said, and looked quite satisfied. “There was a little trouble at the market today, but fortunately for you lads, you’ve got quite the capable partner in Estella Bolger. And don’t fret, I won’t trouble you about doing business with a lass, I’ve been married to Esmie for too many years to let that bother me. Any rate, I’ll let Estella tell you about today’s situation when she gets back to the Hall, but suffice it to say that there were some damages that needed to be paid, and Estella not quite having coin on hand to cover them. Fortunately for her, I was there to help out.”
“Da?” I asked, puzzled. “How does you paying some type of damage resulting from our business teach us a lesson?”
“Who said I paid the damages?” Da asked. “I did no such thing. I said I helped out Estella by making her a small loan. Now, don’t worry, the loan is strictly between Estella and myself, and you two lads aren’t responsible for it in the least. No, no responsibility for the lads who are at home eating pound cake while their business suffers a crisis at the market. But your partner has everything well in hand, and I have the utmost faith that my loan will be repaid as negotiated. So, that’s that, and it all ends well. Go talk to the market master tomorrow, please, and find a decent place to sell your wares. And no more work here at the Hall on market days -- you could have had that arrangement from the start if you’d been upfront with me. A Brandybuck minds his own shop, lads, so don’t forget that again.”
With that, Da stood up and strode toward the door. “Da,” I called, “I still don’t understand how we’ve been taught a lesson.”
“Oh, that,” Da said, pausing and turning. “Well, you do realize that now Estella has put more capital into your little business than the two of you have. In fact, Estella and I sat down and worked the figures. With her new investment, I do believe Miss Estella Bolger is now the proud owner of 52 percent of your yo-yo business, which means both you and Berilac now own 24 percent apiece. Which not only means that Estella will recoup the majority of the profits --”
“But also that she in the controlling owner of the business,” I said in horror. “Da, no, we set it up as an even, three-way partnership.”
“Which required additional investment when two of the partners had made themselves unavailable,” Da said. “You were supposed to come down to the market today, weren’t you, lads?”
As our mouths were both hanging open, we did not answer. Uncle Mac gave a soft laugh and said quietly, “Her father’s daughter, that one.”
“The standard practice here is quite clear,” Da said. “We even checked with the market master about it. As I said, I’m quite confident I’ll be seeing every penny of my loan, plus interest, as Estella would agree to take it no other way. But don’t worry, lads, you’ll still be seeing a tidy little profit. It really is too bad you did not tell me about all of this to start with, though. I would have made certain you were always available to go to market, and then you would have been on hand to split the additional investment. As things stand -- well, you’d best go talk to Estella. She has some fine ideas about expanding the business. Oh, and she fired those Boffin brothers. Smart lass. Good day, my lads,” and he strode out the door. I could hear him chuckling in the corridor -- “Yo-yos!”
“Arg!” Berilac groaned, and tossed himself back into the cushions.
“Oi,” I agreed, and slumped back myself.
“Da!” Berilac squawked. “Aren’t you going to do something about this? Don’t you even have anything to say?”
Uncle Mac set down his letters and regarded us thoughtfully. “Lads,” he said seriously, and we pricked up our ears.
“Lads,” Uncle Mac said solemnly, “never, never, do business with a lass.”
If only we’d understood the real reason why before we shook hands with Estella Bolger. But never you worry, I’ve learned my lesson about going into any kind of partnership with that particular lass, make no mistake. And Da says I never learn.
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.