Written for the September 2008 Challenge: "Young and Old"
Author's Chapter Notes:
August Challenge: 8/11/08 “Point of View”
“A Matter of Perspective”
The birthday celebration for wee Holly Took had been going splendidly. The sounds of laughter from the youngest relations as they darted about playing tag could be heard above the chatting of the adults still seated around the tables in the yard. The last of the cake had just been polished off. Pearl Took emerged from the family’s farmhouse with a fresh pot of tea and placed it on the table between her mother and her aunt. Esmeralda gave her niece a glance with a twinkle in her eye and Pearl smiled back.
The day was lovely, the weather perfect, and it looked like everyone was having a fine time. Little Holly had been a sickly infant and it was wonderful to see her now healthy and giggling, her chubby cheeks glowing with colour, eyes wide with the wonders of her second birthday. Esmeralda sighed happily. It had all been so worth the extra effort. Holly’s mother caught her eye and Peony Took mouthed a ‘thank you’ to her elder cousin. Esmie nodded and gave her a wink.
Pearl headed for the spot where her sister was trying to teach a game of cat’s cradle with a ball of wool to three eager youngsters. Teriadoc Brandybuck, Rosemary Took, and Poppy Chubb all huddled closer together while Pimpernel explained what she was doing. She was seated in the shade of one of the farm’s many oak trees, her hands entwined in the yarn, her captive audience gathered around, leaning in to watch every move her nimble fingers made. Pearl lowered herself tailor-fashion next to Teriadoc. The child flashed her a playful grin and turned her attention immediately back to Nell.
“Our lads have been awfully quiet since they tore through here awhile ago.” Esmeralda glanced around the farmyard. “I wonder just what they’re about at the moment?”
“I wouldn’t fret too much. At least they’re being quiet.” Eglantine paused and titled her head, considering what she’d said, and then laughed out loud.
Esmeralda grinned back at her. “I wondered how long it would take you to realise what you’d said.”
“Oh, perhaps they’re simply talking over their little spying episode. Or taking a nap in the hay.”
“You may be right. No doubt they think they had a rather close call when Auntie came striding up the meadow in their direction. Little rascals!” Esmeralda settled back into her chair and rolled her eyes. “They think dear Pringle doesn’t have any idea they were watching her through the bushes. They don’t understand so many things about their aunt yet. All they see is someone acting a bit differently than other folks.”
“Aye, particularly my Pippin. I do believe Auntie’s ways frighten him sometimes and that’s why he avoids her. He has a great deal to learn.”
“That, and the fact she has a fondness for pinching his cheeks until they glow,” Esmeralda chuckled.
“There’s no doubt her accident did change her just a wee bit. But not as much as some folks seem to think. Ah well, perhaps Pad and I need to be having a talk with our youngest. If we could answer some questions for him he might feel better about being around her. I don’t want his curiosity to get further out of hand and I don’t intend to close my eyes to what he and Vinca did today. I don’t want them to hurt Auntie’s feelings.”
“Yes, and Merry too. Perhaps we should sit them down and have a chat later? Help them to understand more about their aunt.”
“Excellent plan. Oh! There goes the old dear now. I’m going to have a word with her. I’ll be back shortly.”
Esmeralda watched her sister-in-law cross the yard calling out to Aunt Pringle. She laughed at the comical hobbitess when Pringle stopped to consider Eglantine with a look of surprise; her great raven Pepper was perched firmly on one shoulder, paintbrush dangling from her hand. In the other she clutched a half-eaten biscuit she’d snatched off the table when she passed them. She reminded Esmie of a youngster at times, both in her manner and appearance. She wondered, not for the first time, exactly what went on in Pringle’s mind when she was speaking to her pet as if she truly believed the creature was answering her. She understood the children’s mystification. Since the time when she was a small child, Esmeralda had always been fascinated by Aunt Pringle’s antics. Every time she’d visited she’d felt drawn to her, spending every possible moment with her aunt and whatever pet Pringle had brought along. Auntie had allowed her to help with the care of numerous animals and birds, and had taught her a great deal about them.
There was another reason she’d felt so much kinship with this particular relative, and she pondered that now. The thought had never occurred to her before, but now she wondered if the thing she found most compelling about Aunt Pringle had anything to do with her nephew’s reluctance to be in their aunt’s presence? But that might mean…Esmie thought hard. It made sense, though. She made up her mind to keep a keener eye on Pippin and Pringle whenever they interacted. And speaking of which, just where had those boys run off to? Esmeralda rose and headed in the direction of the hay barn.
“Look!” Teriadoc shrieked, tugging on Pearl’s sleeve and pointing. The lasses all twisted around, then laughed hysterically.
Petunia was a new mama, her clutch of eggs recently hatched, and now she proudly marched her flock down the path leading to the pond, each one following obediently in line behind the other. The smallest one, which Pippin had named ‘Quackers’, rushed along a few feet behind the others, flapping his wings and making tiny quacking sounds as he struggled to keep up. The parade of wee fowls had caught the attention of the other partygoers and they were chuckling and nudging each other. But it wasn’t the ducklings that caused their mirth. Aunt Pringle was trotting along behind them shaking her finger and reproaching them in her high-pitched voice.
“It seems Auntie is upset with Petunia and her little family,” Pimpernel mused.
Pearl looked at her sister with a raised brow. “Did I just hear Auntie call them tittle-tattles?”
Pimpernel nodded, placing a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. “Oh mercy, gossiping ducks.”
Pearl shot to her feet in alarm. “But she’s not slowing down, Nell. I think she’s going to fall in the water!”
Pearl darted after the odd procession, arriving just ahead of Great Aunties Garnet and Opal. Pimpernel joined them, the youngsters on her heels. Auntie Pringle slid down the bank after the ducklings, which were already making their escape across the water. Petunia’s indignant quacks filled the air. Pringle plopped into the pond causing a giant splash that soaked the bystanders and tossed pondweed in every direction.
“Yuck!” Pervinca shuddered in disgust, picking the dripping weeds from her long hair.
They could hear Eglantine’s shout of alarm in the distance as Pearl bent to help pull the elderly hobbitess from the cool pond waters, and ease her gently onto the grass. Peels of merry laughter tumbled from Aunt Pringle’s lips. Meanwhile, more of the gathering had heard the commotion and come to see what had happened. The elderly hobbit’s laughter was infectious and it wasn’t long before many of the onlookers joined in.
“Nell, go fetch some towels please!” Eglantine was placing her shawl around Pringle’s shoulders.
“Tina, you mustn’t fuss now! I am quite all right and the day is warm,” Aunt Pringle protested.
“You’ll catch your death, dear. We need to get you dried off right away.” Eglantine ignored her protests and continued fussing over her.
Pringle rolled her eyes skyward, obviously disgusted. “My death? Dearest Tina, it’s surely hot enough to roast a goose out here today! You really must stop exaggerating.”
“And you’re not exactly a spring chicken anymore, Auntie,” Eglantine reminded her as she tucked the shawl firmly around her aunt’s shoulders.
“Whew! That was close,” Pippin snickered as they fell inside the door of the hay barn.
Merry climbed up the mound of scratchy straw piled in the corner and perched at the very top. He picked up a piece to chew on. “Pip,” he began thoughtfully, “What if Auntie Pringle really does hear voices and see the future? Have you ever considered the possibility that she really isn’t as silly as some folks think?”
Pippin sighed, a long drawn out sound of resignation as he joined his cousin and slid down deep into the sweet smelling straw, retrieving a stalk for himself. He chewed on it for a while, staring up at the ceiling while considering Merry’s question. “Do you want to know why I think she’s just daft and not some kind of a seer?”
“A long time ago when I was just a wee lad--” Pippin began.
“How long are you talking about, Pip? I mean, you’re still just a wee lad--” Merry collapsed in a fit of giggles and Pippin shoved him, causing him to slide to the bottom of the hay pile. Still laughing, he scrambled back up. His young cousin frowned down his nose at him looking so grim that it caused Merry to laugh all the harder.
“Are you ready to be serious?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
Pippin snorted. “Fine. I’m not going to tell you then.” He crossed his arms and leaned back.
Merry silently counted off the seconds he expected it to take for Pippin to insist on telling his story. He had almost reached ten when his little cousin piped up.
“All right, if you must know…”
“As I said, a long time ago--”
“How old were you Pip? And where was I at the time?”
“What? Why does that matter?”
“I want to know, that’s all.”
Pippin grunted in disgust. “I was about seven or eight I think. Anyway…”
“Where was I at the time? I don’t recall this story.”
“Well, it’s no wonder you don’t remember when you won’t even let me tell it,” Pippin grumbled. “Anyway, you were at home I suppose, and--”
“Are you absolutely certain that’s where I was? I mean, without a doubt…?”
“Merry! Stop your jesting, will you please? I’m trying to be serious.”
“You? You don’t have a serious bone in your little body.”
“I’m leaving!” Pippin exploded, and started to slide off the hay mound.
Merry snatched him back by the collar, chuckling. “I’m sorry Pip. Go ahead and tell me why you don’t think Auntie Pringle is genuinely sensitive.”
“Hmph, are you quite certain you want to hear?” At Merry’s nod Pippin settled back into his perch again. He remained quiet for several long moments and Merry was about to poke him when Pippin began to speak at last.
“Did you ever hear the story about her falling out of the tree when she was trying to put a baby bird back into its nest?”
“Of course, everyone knows that story.”
Esmeralda slipped into the barn through the crack of the half open door. It seemed quiet enough. Perhaps the boys hadn’t come this way after all? She paused, listening, and was turning to go look elsewhere when she heard her nephew’s voice pipe up. Pippin sounded more solemn than usual and Esmeralda froze, straining her ears to catch every word.
“Did you know she fell on her head?”
“There was a dreadful flurry of hushed up talk at that time. The healers tended her around the clock. I heard a great deal you know, because it happened here and this is where they kept her abed for weeks. Mum and Da were frightfully worried that she wasn’t going to pull through. I heard them say so.”
“I remember my parents talking about it too. It was a serious injury so of course they were worried. She’s lucky she didn’t break her neck.”
Ah, the tale about Aunt Pringle’s accident. Esmie couldn’t help herself. She held her breath and listened hard as the quiet conversation drifted downward to where she stood obscured in the shadows by the door.
Pippin nodded. “They thought she had at first. Aunt Pringle was unconscious for a fair amount of time, about two or three days I believe. During that time the sensitive ones in the family--”
“Like your da.”
“Yes, Da and Aunt Esmie, and some of the other cousins. They were staying close by at all times. I heard a lot of talk. They were worried the fall would make her…” Pippin thought hard. “I don’t recall their exact words but they were concerned she wouldn’t be, you know, quite herself afterwards. They said hitting her head could make her ‘simple’, I think that’s how they put it.”
“So, what else did you hear while you were eavesdropping?”
“Well, I couldn’t help what came to my ears in my own home,” Pippin huffed. “But I heard a great many things. Like how some of them expect the Took Sight to skip a generation now and then.” Pippin’s voice suddenly got quieter and Merry had to lean in to hear him. “And Da said no, it never skips. Someone in each and every generation always has it. And then they wondered who was going to turn out to have it in our time.” He laughed a little nervously and looked down, twisting his hands in his lap as he spoke. “My father is such a good storyteller.” Pippin looked up. “Anyhow, I remember one of the cousins, I don’t recall which one, said she had the feeling they’d have to take care of Auntie for the rest of her life.” Pippin’s mouth twitched in a tiny grin. “I don’t like to admit it but I was shaking at the thought because I was certain she’d come to live with us.”
Esmeralda stifled a chuckle as she detected the embarrassment in Pippin’s voice. Poor lad! He really did feel guilty about some of the feelings he was experiencing.
“Auntie had been talking out of her head, not like the stuff she says now, but really very odd things like how she saw relatives who had already passed talking to her, coming to take her to the “Far Country” as she called it. She wasn’t doing well at all. Everything about what was happening frightened me so.”
“It sounds like it was just the effect of the fall,” Merry tugged thoughtfully at his lower lip.
“Aye, that’s true enough. Of course she did recover and it was apparent to everyone she wasn’t quite the same.” Pippin’s tone was rueful. “Auntie Pringle was never as odd before she fell out of the big oak. I’ve been told she never heard voices or had visions before that either. So that’s why I think she’s simply daft and not anything more mysterious than that.” Pippin settled back into the straw with a sigh and a shrug. He dug deep into his pocket drawing out the old coin* he frequently carried for good luck and ran his fingers over the surface. The silver circle glinted in the bright beam of light that filtered down through the loft. It was mostly worn smooth, but some of the raised areas were still discernible.
Merry peered at Pippin as the youngster toyed with the coin. “What is it about the stories that make you so uncomfortable? Have you experienced something?”
Pippin squirmed under his cousin’s close scrutiny. “Of course not. I told you, it’s a tale, that’s all, like the faerie legend. A story the family enjoys telling at gatherings like this one. There’s nothing to it.”
“You seem awfully adamant about that.”
“Because I know I’m right.”
Merry gazed at his young cousin with an strange expression and Esmeralda was certain her son had discovered something he hadn’t known about his little cousin, but it was something she had realised all along. The odd way Pippin seemed to know things, take them for granted, even, without thinking twice. Pippin had the gift of Sight just like his father. Like she herself. But he didn’t understand it yet. In fact, it appeared he was having a fair amount of difficulty with the notion.
Perhaps that was why he had such a hard time being around Aunt Pringle? Esmie watched knowingly as her Merry filed this awareness away for safekeeping. It would no doubt be an interesting conversation for the cousins one day. She smiled, not for the first time, amused by their conversation. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop; but when she heard the topic of their discussion she simply couldn’t help herself.
The door to the barn creaked and more sunlight spilled in. Esmie twisted around in surprise as two of the lasses poked their heads in, scanning the area. Pimpernel grinned when she spotted her aunt. Esmie winked at her conspiratorially and gestured them closer. She pointed at Pippin and Merry atop the hay mound deep in conversation.
“I feel guilty for listening in, but I happened upon them having a rather serious sounding chat and I didn’t want to interrupt,” she whispered. “And now I’m in somewhat of a fix!”
Pervinca giggled. “I can remedy that.” She hopped out into view and called to them in a loud voice, “Pippin, Merry come quick! Auntie Pringle has fallen into the pond!”
“What? Oh mercy, is she all right?” Esmeralda pressed a hand to her mouth.
The boys tumbled down from their perch with the same exclamation and sprinted for the door. Merry tossed a curious look in his mother’s direction, but Esmeralda only smiled.
Pimpernel held the big door open. “Oh, she’s quite all right. It seems she was pursuing some ducklings that started some gossip about her and she wanted to set them straight. I need to run inside for some towels.” She shooed the youngsters out of the barn. “Go on now and help reassure her that nothing those ducklings might say could change the way we feel about her!”
Esmeralda hoisted up her skirts and dashed after the children. They reached the pond to find Auntie Pringle sprawled on the grass next to the water, clutching at her sides as she giggled helplessly at the spectators. She was batting Eglantine’s hands away as the frustrated hobbit tried to get her to keep the shawl on.
A little audience stood about somewhat at a loss for words and it was all Esmie could do to keep from rolling her eyes. This was so like Auntie to turn what others thought was a grim situation into something humorous. Some of the people were gaping at her in obvious surprise and a couple others turned away with a polite mutter. The children giggled right along with her, which only added to her mirth. Garnet and Opal appeared suitably scandalized by Pringle’s frolics and were whispering about their feelings amongst a cluster of the eldest hobbits. Saradoc coughed into his hand to hide his amusement but Paladin didn’t hesitate to roll his eyes and shake his head.
Esmie scurried over and knelt beside Eglantine. “Aunt Pringle! Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“I am quite drenched, dear, that’s what I am,” she declared before bursting into laughter once more. “Oh! those wicked ducklings, whatever shall I do with them? This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled their tricks on me, don’t you know!”
Pippin stood back from everyone, Merry at his side. His mouth hung open forming a perfect ‘O’. He stole a glance at his cousin and seeing Merry’s huge grin, Pippin relaxed and shrugged his shoulders. He began to smile too. Pimpernel nudged them both out of the way as she rushed between them, spilling towels out of her arms as she ran by.
Esmeralda watched the sleeping forms of her son and nephew for several moments before pulling the door to Pippin’s room shut once more. With a shake of her head she proceeded to the kitchen where Eglantine was taking the pot of tea off the stove.
Esmie slid into a chair with a sigh. “Everyone is tucked in at last. I think Auntie will have a good night’s sleep. After all her frolicking today she must be exhausted.”
“That’s good.” Eglantine joined her. “It certainly was a lovely party.”
“Yes indeed.” Esmeralda was quiet for a moment, thinking. “Tina? Do you think many folk realise Auntie is nowhere near as dotty as she makes herself out to be?”
Eglantine paused in stirring the sugar into her tea. She wrinkled her brow. “I’m not sure. Nobody says all that much. I think after her accident everyone was just so relieved she was going to be all right they overlook her eccentricities even more easily than they did before. Why do you ask?”
“No reason in particular.” Esmeralda murmured. She gazed out the kitchen window, noting the silver orb rising in the night sky. She adored a full moon on a summer’s evening. ‘Twas all the better to think by. And she would keep her thoughts to herself until some other day.