Learning Curve by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

Bilbo and Siggy are 18, (or 12 in Man-years).


“Very good, Bilbo.” Bungo cast his eye over the essay in his hand with approval. “Excellent work, and very neatly done as well. You may be finished for the day, son.”

“May I wait for Siggy?” He glanced with longing at his cousin Sigismond, still struggling with quill and ink.

“I think not. I am afraid Sigismond will be a while yet. Perhaps you might go out in the garden, or see if your mother needs any help in the kitchen.”

“Yes, sir,” Bilbo said dejectedly. He tried and failed to catch Siggy’s eye, as he left the room.

He had looked forward so much to this visit from his cousin. They were fast friends, and almost the same age. When Uncle Hildibrand had suggested that Sigismond could benefit from some extra tutoring from his Baggins uncle, and had arranged for Sigismond to spend the fall at Bag End, both lads had been ecstatic. A whole season in one another’s company! Siggy was to stay from the beginning of Halimath to the end of Blotmath!

However, their joy soon turned to dejection, for Bungo soon began to realize why Hildibrand had wanted the extra tutoring. Bilbo was an excellent student, and often basked in his father’s praise. Siggy, however, was an indifferent pupil, and was woefully behind in his studies. The result was that as the two lads worked under Bungo’s watchful eye, Bilbo would quickly finish his assigned work. But Sigismond would still be struggling on. And now, after a few weeks of this, it was beginning to strain the lads’ friendship.

Bilbo’s face flamed, as he recalled the day before. In an effort to mend matters with his cousin, he had deliberately made a mess of his work, spelling words wrong, blotting the ink, and putting down answers that were blatantly incorrect. He hoped that he would then have to work longer alongside his cousin.

But the plan had not worked at all the way he expected. When he handed the flawed work to his father, Bungo had simply stared at him, a knowing expression in his eyes. “I would not have thought this of you, son,” he had said, his tone of sad disappointment more cutting than any angry shouting might have been. He had simply thrown the offending work away, and said, “We’ll have no more of this.”

What was worse was that Siggy had been angry at him, and accused Bilbo of mocking him.

“You needn’t rub my face in it, that you are so much smarter than I am!”

“But I wasn’t! And I’m not! Really!”

But Siggy had turned away, and refused to talk to him the rest of the evening. And though he was speaking to him today, it was in a cold and polite tone, not like they were best friends at all. In fact, Bilbo thought Siggy might be in a fair way to hating him.

And it wasn’t fair at all. It’s not like Siggy wasn’t much better than Bilbo at a lot of things: he could run faster, climb higher, was ever so much better at games, and in thinking up pranks, and it never made Bilbo mad at him. In fact he admired his cousin immensely, and was proud to be his friend.

He sat dejectedly upon the front doorstep, and before he knew it, a great tear was trickling down his face. Angrily he rubbed it away, and gave a mighty sniff. It was going to be a mighty long fall, sharing a smial with someone who loathed him.

And he’d thought it was going to be such fun.

His birthday was in only a few days, and he’d eagerly planned the gifts he was going to give. But now, it all seem flat and uninteresting, and he didn’t care if he had a birthday or not.

The door opened behind him.

“Bilbo.” It was his father. “Let’s walk.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, unenthusiastically. He supposed his father was going to berate him. He certainly deserved it, the way he’d been acting. Slowly he stood up, and they walked down the path.

“I’ve had a word with Sigismond,” said Bungo. “I think he understands now that you were simply trying to help yesterday, and not making fun of him. It was not a very wise way to try to help, however.”

“Yes, well, I know that *now* don’t I, sir?”

“I think, however, that you *can* be of help to your cousin. Part of the reason he does not do as well as you in his lessons is that his cousin Isembard has so many students. Sigismond shares his time with at least four other cousins. You however, are my only student, or were my only student. And I hate to say this, but I do not believe that Isembard is very patient or demanding of excellence. He has tolerated sloppy work, and now Sigismond suffers from that.”

Bilbo nodded. “I told Siggy he’s just as smart as I am--maybe smarter--but I don’t think he believes me.”

Bungo smiled. “I daresay he is intelligent enough. I am thinking that I have been going about things wrong. I am not used to having two students at a time. So I am going to have you help me with him. I will give him an assignment tomorrow--*your* assignment will be to help him with his. Do not do it for him, but help him with any corrections he needs to make, and show him some of the ways you have of keeping your work organized and neat.” He looked at his son sternly. “It’s not to be a playtime--you will work, understand?”

Bilbo nodded solemnly. Anything to help Siggy, and to heal this breach between them.

For the next few days, the lessons were alternated. One day of regular lessons, with both the lads taking instruction from Bungo, and the next day they would collaborate. Siggy’s work was improving greatly in appearance, and there was some gradual improvement in content as well.

Now that Sigismond was seeing improvement himself, he was more tolerant of Bilbo’s being better at lessons. And now that he had his cousin’s help, the two lads had time for the things they had hoped to do during the visit: climbing trees, going for rambles, wading in the Water, fishing and other such pursuits.

The day before his birthday, Bungo let Bilbo off from his lessons, and spent the day working with Siggy on his own. Belladonna and Bilbo were spending the day going through the mathom rooms to find birthday gifts.

“Mama,” he said, “when I am grown, I think I will buy people new presents on my birthday!” He said this as he cast a jaundiced eye on a scarf of a rather sad shade of yellow and brown.

Belladonna laughed. “Well, when you are grown you may do so if it pleases you, although you may find the practice a bit wearing on your purse.”

Bilbo picked up a bronze paperweight in the shape of a mushroom. “Do you think Uncle Rudigar will like that?”

Belladonna suppressed a smile. “I am quite sure he will; you know how fond he is of mushrooms.” And, she thought, it should be to his taste, as it was a wedding gift from him. The idea of giving it back to him tickled her fancy. “What about something for your cousin, little Otho?”

Bilbo made a face. “Do I have to?”

His mother laughed. “I know he’s a bit of a brat, Bilbo, but he *is* your cousin.”

Bilbo picked up the rejected scarf. “Here, then.” He looked about. “I want to find that draughts set for Siggy--” He began to rummage in a corner, and then stopped. “Or maybe he would like this better now,” he said.

Belladonna raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think he would like that?”

“Well,” said Bilbo seriously, “he mightn’t a few days ago, but I think he would now.”

The next evening, Bilbo passed out the gifts as the party guests arrived, mostly Baggins relations. Tookland and Buckland were a bit far to travel for a mere child’s birthday. But Siggy, of course, was there. He hung back until the other gifts had been given.

“Here, Siggy.” Bilbo was a bit anxious. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it came to it, would Siggy really like it? It was really more of a grown-up present.

Siggy opened the package curiously, and then his face took on a look of pleased astonishment. “Oh Bilbo! This is splendid!”

Bilbo was surprised to see tears standing in his cousin’s eyes. “Do you really like it then?”

Siggy looked at the nicely carved deskset, with its porcelain inkwell, a penholder, and little cubbyholes for holding letters. “You really do think I’m smart and can do well in lessons!”


“Of course I do!” said Bilbo stoutly.

“I’ll use it right away!” said Siggy. He grinned. “And the first thing I’ll use it for is to write a thank you note to you!”
____________________________________

Between Bilbo’s encouragement, and Bungo’s patient teaching, Siggy’s lessons showed a remarkable improvement, and when his parents arrived at the end of Blotmath to pick him up, he was sorry to go. For years he used the deskset to keep up a lively correspondence with his favorite cousin, and later to correct the lessons of his own young students.





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