1. The Perils of Knowing One's Dinner
For RabidSamFan and DianaMarich for their birthdays.
The Perils of Knowing One's Dinner
Frodo, newly returned from Michel Delving to his refurbished home of Bag End, was just in the process of hanging up his cloak when the bell over the front door jangled raucously, and then the door burst open before he even managed to turn around to face it. What Frodo saw as he eyed the figure in the doorway was the backside of an unusually tall Hobbit against the lowering Sun to the west, but for the moment he could not tell whether he was looking at Merry or Pippin. It had to be one or the other, considering the fact that the head nearly brushed the top of the door. Whichever it was appeared to be carrying in something rather awkward, something that made the most suspicious noises. Frodo had heard such noises before, back in his days in Brandy Hall. He rolled his eyes ceilingward. "Peregrin Took," he hazarded, "are you really bringing chickens in here?"
Pippin turned toward him. He was carrying what appeared to be rather a flimsy crate, and it had to be holding several chicks, considering the cheeping and chirping escaping it. "Sorry, but could you close the door, Frodo?" he asked. "My hands are a bit full at the moment. I was returning to the Great Smial from the South-farthing, where Merry and I had been checking out reports of sightings of a big Man or two, and decided to come through Overhill. Suddenly I'm being hailed, and it turns out to be Gustis Grubb."
"Gustis? What did he want?" Frodo asked as he saw the door shut.
"He wanted to send this crate to you, that's what he wanted. And a blessed nuisance it's been, trying to carry it on ponyback. Jewel was not happy to have it there, and appears to have objected primarily to the smell. Where should I put it?"
"If I'm correct in deducing it is full of chicks, nowhere in here," Frodo said firmly. "I have no desire to have anywhere within Bag End smelling of chickens. And why is Gustis sending me chickens? I thought that the Big Men and the Gatherers and Sharers had pretty much depleted most of the stocks of chickens throughout the West- and East-farthings."
Pippin, obviously frustrated, set the crate on the floor. Forestalling Frodo's intended objections, he raised a hand and shook his head. "I have to set it down at least for a moment, Frodo Baggins," he said. "It's deucedly awkward! You can have no idea!" He sighed, bringing out a pocket handkerchief from his trousers pocket and wiping his face. "As for why Gustis is sending these to you, it appears to be in thanks."
"In thanks for what?" Frodo said, eyeing the crate with obvious anguish for the state of the floor under it.
"Apparently for advising so many not to agree to any loans offered by Lotho. He had been considering accepting one Lotho was offering him in order to rebuild his barn, but changed his mind after you spoke out at that last meeting of the Family Heads you attended. Have you any idea as to why he'd have been there, by the way?"
"He wasn't there that I remember, but he's pretty tight with his cousin Grupo in Bywater, who was there with the Grubb party. So, at least a few people listened to me."
"So it would seem."
"But how did he manage to have so many chicks to spare?"
"You know that small ridge at the back of his property? Well, it seems that he dug his bolt hole back there, and none of the Gatherers and Sharers or the Big Men ever found it. He'd send his lad Golly out with as many hens as he could gather in a hurry whenever he heard that the Gatherers and Sharers were headed his way, and they kept their favorite rooster there all the time. So, he managed to save a fair number of his flock. Since the rooster has been allowed to return to the pens he's been very, very busy, so there have been a fair number of chicks hatched this spring. And Gustis decided that you deserve at least a few." Pippin leaned down to remove the top of the crate. "It appears he's sent you at least eight pullets and a cockerel."
"And what am I to do with chickens?" Frodo asked.
"They look like they will be good layers—you could keep them for fresh eggs."
"But I have no pens!"
Pippin shook his head. "Pens are easy enough to put up, and Sam would welcome the droppings for the gardens, and the vegetable garden in particular. But you could just let them roam free and pen them up at night—that's what we often did with our chickens out on the farm."
Frodo shuddered. "As I remember all too well. Sparky used to attack me every time I went out the back door to fetch in extra water for your mum."
Pippin laughed. "Sparky was the meanest rooster we ever had. You had to know how to handle him if you didn't want to get raked or pecked."
"And I remember how the chickens ate every seedling in your father's prize tomato patch that one year he was determined to grow a bigger tomato than Farmer Maggot could bring to the Free Fair. Sam would not be happy to have chickens denuding the kitchen garden."
Pippin cocked his head. "I suppose not. So, raise them for the pot instead."
Frodo threw up his hands. "For the pot? Do you think I could eat a chicken I knew personally? Really, Peregrin Took!"
"It's easy—you don't give them proper names. You name them things like Breastmeat. Then it's easier to enjoy them when they go on the table. Besides, I didn't notice you saying no when Mum served up Sparky that one Highday you were there."
Frodo glared. "I didn't know it wasSparky, if you will remember. Didn't know it was a chicken I knew until I went out to help Pearl gather the eggs and I found I didn't have to brain the evil creature with the egg basket to get into the hen house. When I realized that we'd eaten him the night before I almost lost my first breakfast! Not that this long discussion of nasty roosters long gone makes it any easier to decide what to do with these creatures!" He gave the chicks within the crate a despairing glance as they stared up at him and cheeped loudly.
The door behind them opened, and Sam entered. "Hello, Frodo, Pippin. Well, I just got back from Frogmorton, and the saplings we planted there are growin' a right treat, I must say," he commented as he hung his cloak from the second peg from the left, which for some reason he favored. "And what have we here?" he asked, looking down into the crate where it lay near the toes of the two other Hobbits. "Chicks? What are chicks doin' here inside Bag End?"
"A gift to me from Gustis Grubb," Frodo explained. "He seems to think that I deserve them for warning him off accepting a loan from Lotho."
Sam searched his Master's face. "Don't seem as you're any too pleased to get them, if I might say so as perhaps shouldn't."
"I'm not. We don't have anywhere to keep them, after all, and I cannot imagine you'd want them in the gardens."
"I wouldn't," Sam agreed. "They eat ever'thing as tries to grow, chickens do, as well as whatever bugs as they can lay their beaks on. No, best thing for these would be to see if the Cottons would keep them for us. What do you think about that for a plan?"
Frodo looked hopeful for the first time since Pippin had brought the crate into the hole. "Do you think they would, Sam?"
"I'd hope so. None of theirs survived the gatherin' and sharin', after all. They'd be glad to care for them in return for some of the eggs, I'd think. Grubb's chickens have always been good layers, considerin' how often he won the award for most eggs produced by a single hen all those years at the Free Fair."
Frodo gave a sigh of relief. "That would give them a good place to live with good people looking after them, at least. Would you take them out there for me and ask Tom and Lily if they'd do so for me, please, Sam?"
"Gladly! And undoubtedly they'll give us a fair number of chickens for the table in time. Why, I think that I'll name that little speckled one Drumstick right now! Come on, Pippin, and we'll go out there right away to ask."
As Pippin fitted the lid back over the crate before Sam lifted it easily, he saw Frodo again shuddering at the idea of possibly eating a chicken he'd once known, and he suppressed his laughter as he followed the gardener out the door and closed it behind them.