32. A Curious Courtship
At first he felt self-conscious, sitting there with her steady grey eyes moving between him and her brush, but she kept up a lively conversation and soon he found himself relaxing and answering in kind.
'You have a nice smile,' she remarked one day, 'but who would know? You hardly ever use it.'
'Then how do you know?' he asked.
'I remember your face the day you and Frodo stole the pie that was cooling on the windowsill and replaced it with an empty pie pan. How you laughed at the cook's confusion!' He chuckled at the memory. 'I was right!' she exclaimed. 'Your smile is just as I remember it. You ought to use it more.'
'There hasn't been much to smile about, lately,' he admitted.
'Oh, yes, my beloved was dangerously ill, wasn't he? For someone who is supposed to be on the mend, he's about as lively as a bowl of cold porridge.'
'He hates porridge,' Merry said absently.
'I know. I think it stems from the time I put salt in the sugar bowl, he sneaked an extra spoonful or three onto his porridge, and they made him eat it all up anyhow.'
'I've never seen him sweeten his porridge!' Merry said.
She smiled brightly. 'Well, now you know why!' He couldn't help laughing again.
Estella became quite popular in the great room in the evenings. She always had a bag with her that was filled with paper and charcoal sticks. She would tell stories to an admiring circle of younger cousins, and sketches would bloom under her fingers nearly as quickly as her lips formed the tale.
Merry was drawn by a burst of laughter and came over to see what she was telling about now. He looked down at the table to see the spread-out sketches: A much younger Merry with a bright grin, covered in mud, rubbing mud into a squirming Fatty Bolger's curls. Frodo sitting on a grassy hill, reading, with a winking Pippin behind him, about to slip a frog down the back of his shirt. Frodo and Merry reaching for the pie cooling on the windowsill. Fatty and Frodo at the bottom of a tall tree, Merry halfway up, the objective of his climb a tiny Pippin near the top of the tree.
'How did you know about that? You were still in your cradle!'
'Oh, they are still telling the stories around Bridgefields. You're famous, you know.'
'Infamous is more likely.'
'Have it your way,' she grinned.
A chuckling Pansy collared Merry. 'I shall never look at you in quite the same way, cousin!' she said.
Merry looked in mock despair at Estella. 'You're ruining my reputation, you know. They'll never take me seriously around here again.'
She put her hands on her hips and regarded him sternly. 'And that is a bad thing? You take yourself entirely too seriously, I think!' Then she laughed again, and her laughter was a sweet sound that reminded him somehow of bells.
Estella leaned against Pippin, who stood beside her. Looking up, she said, 'Beloved, who is that sweet-faced lass who keeps staring at us?'
'Her name is Diamond. She's a cousin of mine, of the north-Tooks.'
'Ah! I like her looks. I am going to make her acquaintance!' Before Merry or Pippin could intervene, she had crossed the distance and taken Diamond's hands in hers.
'Hello! You have such an interesting face, may I sketch you?' She laughed at Diamond's confusion. 'I am sorry, I simply cannot help myself. My father says I was born with a charcoal stick in my hand.' Her carefree chatter disarmed Diamond, and the lass from Long Cleeve found herself drawn into the group.
'Sit here. Oh, I think we shall become best friends! Now tilt your head, so-- Perfect! Don't move!' Estella said cheerily. Under her capable hand a picture of Diamond sitting in a meadow with a lapful of wildflowers quickly emerged, and Pippin gasped at the likeness. Even in a rough charcoal sketch, she seemed about to spring from the paper.
Estella looked up suddenly and laughed. 'I have a wonderful idea!' she crowed. 'Pippin and I are to ride out on a picnic tomorrow, and we need an escort. Cousins Merimas and Pansy were to come but wouldn't it be much better if it were Merry and Diamond? My heart is set upon it, you must agree!' She tilted her chin down and smiled up through her eyelashes. 'Watch out! I am quite a matchmaker!' she teased. 'Perhaps we can have a double wedding!' The hobbits around them laughed, and Pippin smiled dutifully.
Merry took Diamond's hand. 'Well?' He asked gently. 'Are you free to go on a picnic?' At her hesitation, he smiled and said, 'I am not planning to ask you to marry me anytime soon! You are much too young!'
She returned his smile, saying, 'Only if you promise that we will have apple tart.'
He nodded solemnly. 'Oh, yes. If the cooks do not pack apple tart for our picnic I shall assign them to sweep the stables for a month!' Everyone laughed, and the evening continued convivially.
After that the four seemed to be together constantly. Diamond found herself becoming resigned to the coming match. Estella would be good for Pippin, she was a bright, cheerful, loving and easy-to-love hobbit-lass. As for Diamond, she and Merry spent much time reminiscing about Ruby and Thom and times at Long Cleeve as they rode or walked behind Pippin and Estella.
There were picnics and long walks, lazy times lounging and talking on a pile of hay in the stables, grooming the ponies, long rides, stealing into the kitchen in the wee hours of the night to cook up a mess of confectionary, and all manner of other adventures.
'I suppose it could be worse,' Pippin sighed to Merry one day as they sat in Merry's study, a rare moment alone.
'The Sackville-Bagginses could have had a daughter. They would have been rich enough to tempt the Thain,' he said morosely.
'Deliver us from the Sackville-Bagginses!' Merry said fervently.
'Oh, I think we already took care of that,' Pippin replied. He stared into the depths of the inkwell on the desk. 'You're going to need someone to take care of you when I'm gone,' he mused.
Merry started, 'Don't talk that way! It sounds as if you're planning a funeral rather than a wedding!'
'I'm sorry, Merry,' Pippin said, a rare apology coming from him. 'I didn't mean--' But Merry shook his head, holding up a hand to forestall further comment.
'I know!' Pippin said suddenly. 'Estella's right, you could always marry Diamond. She'd make you a fine wife, and you're practically a north-Took already.'
'Two wrongs won't make a right, Pippin,' Merry said softly. They sat in silence until it was time to join the family for tea.
Estella caught Diamond's hand in the great hall. 'I am so glad we have become friends,' she said cheerfully. 'This has been a wonderful visit. I hope we can see lots more of each other... Long Cleeve is not that far from Bridgefields.'
'But after you're married, won't you move to Tuckborough?'
'I suppose so,' Estella admitted thoughtfully. 'Oh, well, we can make use of the time we have and carry on a voluminous correspondence when we are parted!' Diamond couldn't help laughing even as her heart was aching for Pippin. Estella would make him a good wife, she would draw him out of himself, and--sweet revenge--she would probably drive the Thain mad with her antics.
Estella gave Diamond's hand a tug. 'Come, dear friend, I have something to show you. I have been painting again.'
'Oh, yes, I am always painting. I cannot help myself. I finish one and I simply must start another.'
The portrait of Merry had caused quite a stir in the Hall when it was unveiled on the Master's birthday. He stood, Jewel's head resting on his shoulder, one hand on the pony's cheek, looking half into the distance, a smile quirking the corners of his mouth. He looked as if he was about to take the reins, swing into the saddle, and ride off on an adventure.
'Come!' She led Diamond to her room, saying 'I usually don't let people see my work until it is completely finished, but this one is so nearly done...' She pulled the cover from the canvas.
Pippin stood holding Socks. He was not the gaunt, hollow-eyed Pippin of late, but the glowing hobbit with dancing eyes and an expression on his face that would have made his cousins check their beds for frogs.
'Who is it for?' Diamond asked curiously. 'Did you paint it for his aunt and uncle, or for his parents?'
'I painted it for you,' Estella said. At Diamond's stunned expression, she smiled. 'It is a promise, you see.'
Diamond's eyes filled with tears. 'I cannot believe this!' she gasped. 'How can you be so heartless and cruel?' She stumbled to her feet and fled the room.
Estella found her later in the great room, pouncing upon her before she could escape.
'No, stay,' Estella said, 'Do not cause a scene that would embarrass your hosts!' Diamond looked over at the Master and Mistress, sitting with her parents, listening to a group of hobbits singing in harmony.
Estella captured her hand once again. Diamond wanted to jerk her hand back, but Estella smiled her curious smile and Diamond suffered herself to be held captive.
'You didn't let me finish, earlier,' Estella said seriously.
'I don't want the painting!'
'I must admit, I never was able to get my beloved to sit still for his portrait, but it is a fair likeness, isn't it?'
Diamond simply stared at her.
Estella smiled. 'It seems as if we have hit a rock on the road of our friendship,' she said softly. 'While we have been thrown so often into each other's company, I could not help noticing that you harboured feelings for my beloved.' Diamond endured, not trusting herself to speak. 'I feared it would grieve you to hear how I plan to ill-use the poor lad, but I simply cannot help myself any longer,' Estella continued. Diamond stared, not believing her ears. How could she have so misjudged the lass?
'I hope you can forgive me my heartless cruelty some day,' Estella said. 'His father may be trying to break his spirit, but I am going to be the one to break his heart!'
'What are you talking about?' Diamond gasped.
Estella smiled oddly at her. 'I am going to jilt my poor cousin,' she said cheerfully. 'I find I simply cannot marry him!'
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.