Pippin sat on the tiny swing that hung from the oldest tree within view of his family's home, and wished his legs were long enough to touch the ground. They weren't now, and likely wouldn't be long enough until he was at least a teenager, and until he could touch the ground he couldn't push himself enough to make the swing move. Furthermore, it was a rather extensive task for Pippin to climb up on the swing by himself, made all the harder today by only having one hand to climb up with. Obviously, it was not a well-designed swing, but Pippin was not old enough to understand that yet, and his family did not mention anything about it, considering how the swing came to be.
After all, the swing had been not-very-well built by Pippin's beloved cousin Merry. When Merry had observed the tiny Pippin's happiness on the Bolger's swing, he had decided he would build one for his little cousin, and given that Merry was eleven at the time, he had actually done a reasonably good job of it. He'd simply forgotten to allow for how small Pippin was.
Sometimes one of Pippin's sisters would give him a push, but only Provinca was close enough to Pippin's age to really pay him much mind, and she was away with their mother that morning. This was just as well, because if Pippin's mother had seen him on the swing she might well have insisted his father cut the swing down at once, before Pippin fell off and injured himself. What Pippin really wanted right now was for Merry to visit, and push him until Pippin was as high as the branches and squealing with delight at a volume to rival the pigs in the pen at the bottom of the hill. But Merry had not visited in a few days, and Pippin did not understand why.
Merry's absence was another thing Pippin's family was reluctant to explain, although his parents certainly ought to have told him; besides, Pippin had eavesdropped upon them three nights earlier and heard much of their discussion. Pippin did not hear the entire conversation though, which caused him even more confusion.
Pippin had very much wanted a bit of water even though it was well past his bedtime, and since his parents already seemed very upset about something, he had resolved not to disturb them. After all, he was a big boy now and could fetch it for himself. And so he had tip-toed past the sitting room and heard what his parents said.
'I tell you, Paladin,' he heard his mother say, 'it's not at all natural, the interest he takes in our littlest one. Nearly every day he comes to play with Peregrin, and he stays with him the whole day. Doesn't spend a minute with his own family, and far too much with ours. I'd say it's high time his parents took a mind to him.'
'I would be happier if you would not criticize my sister in such a way,' his father answered a bit crossly. 'And he is my sister's child, and her only one. If he wishes to spend time with his near relatives then all the better, and certainly better than some others he could associate with.'
'But he doesn't spend time with us; he spends time with Peregrin. I'm telling you, it's not right, and now look what's happened!' his mother fretted.
'Eglantine, I assure you, I am not at all pleased by yesterday, and I will be speaking to Saradoc firstly in the morning. But the boy has no brothers or sisters, and Peregrin has no brothers. I don't find it nearly so odd as do you, boys need to play with other boys.'
'Would that they were playing! What kind of playing means I have to take my littlest to the healers? It's not right - did you hear something?'
Pippin didn't think he had made a sound, but it was possible he had. And he was quite sure this discussion was about himself, and his parents would be extremely cross if they knew he had heard them, so he quickly scampered back to his room and was back in his bed mere moments before his mother looked in on him. She seemed satisfied that Pippin had not left his bed and departed, leaving a very confused Pippin to wonder if his parents had been talking about Merry, and if so, what his parents had meant.
But it was now three days later, and still he had not seen Merry. Pippin could not remember Merry having been away for so long without first explaining why he would be gone. Really, Merry simply was always there. Pippin had been four before he even understood that Merry was not, in fact, a member of his family; Merry was there so often Pippin had naturally assumed Merry was his older brother, and discovering Merry was actually his cousin had been a huge surprise.
But it hadn't mattered a bit to Pippin; the alternative was to spend time with his sisters, and Pippin was quite certain he would not like girl things. He much preferred Merry's entertainments. Merry had taught Pippin to climb a tree and tease the farm animals and take apples from the neighbor's bins, and he had promised to teach Pippin to swim. If he had thought about it, Pippin would have been fairly sure Merry had never happened to mention these things to Pippin's parents, in fact, Merry had been quite adamant that Pippin not say a word to his parents about the swimming. Perhaps that was why they were upset, they did not want Pippin to swim.
And Merry had built a swing for him, and would come to push Pippin almost every day. But now he did not come, and Pippin was feeling quite lonely. His arm had begun to ache a bit, too, and he was beginning to feel very sorry for himself. He sniffled a bit, and thought about crying, but Merry had told him that only girls cried, so he decided he would try not to. But he wasn't very good at not crying, just like he wasn't very good at climbing trees, and soon the tears were rolling down his cheeks, and he was trying so hard to hold them back, he didn't hear the leaves rustling behind him.
"Pippin! Pippin!" a voice hissed behind him and startled him so much he nearly fell off the swing. "By the Old Took, don't fall off and break the other one! They'll surely blame me for that, too! And I couldn't bear for you to be hurt again."
Pippin just managed to hang onto the swing with one hand, and when he was certain he would not slide right off, he peered behind him. There was Merry, crouched behind a shrub just a few feet away and looking quite frightened.
"Your parents aren't around, are they?" Merry whispered. "I can't stand to have one more grownup tell me what an awful young hobbit I am. I might even begin to believe them."
"Merry!" Pippin squealed. "Oh, I missed you so! I need someone to push me, and - oh, no, my parents are away, but I expect my mother will be back any time now."
"Just my luck," Merry said softly. "The first I escaped my house in three days, and I can't stay at all - I'll wind up trapped there for months if I'm caught here."
Pippin was puzzled by Merry's odd complaints. "But why would you be trapped in your house? And who ever said you were an awful hobbit? You're my favorite hobbit, and I'll tell anyone so!"
"Yes, Pippin, I do believe you would," Merry answered. "But you're the only one who thinks so right now, I'm afraid. And I hear the pony now, it's your mother I'm sure and I must get away now. Promise me, Pippin, you won't tell anyone I was here?"
Pippin was now completely baffled. "If you wish me to, Merry, I'll say nothing."
"Good! I'll come back again, first chance that I have, I promise you Pip," Merry said, and with that he quietly scampered into the brush behind Pippin's home, out of sight and hearing of anyone at the house.
"Peregrin!" Pippin heard his mother calling for him the moment the cart arrived in front of the house, and reluctantly but carefully he climbed down from the swing and ran to the front of the house. "Peregrin, you'll be the end of me yet! You were supposed to stay in the house!" his mother scolded.
"But it's very pretty outside today," Pippin whimpered. He felt very badly when he was scolded, and it seemed to happen very often of late.
"Yes, yes it is, I suppose one of us should have stayed home with you so you could play outside," his mother sighed.
Pippin decided since he was already scolded, he might as well see what else he could say. "No one would have to stay home with me, if Merry were here," he declared. "He could have taken me outside."
"What!" his mother shrieked. "And have you hurt again? No, I simply shan't hear of it. That fool of a Brandybuck is not to set foot anywhere near this house ever again, and that is the end of it! Now get into that house!"
Pippin could not remember his mother ever having turned such colors in her face before, but he really didn't have time to think about this as he knew he had but a moment to race into the house before his behind would be swatted, and he didn't care to have his bottom hurt like his arm was beginning to. Nor did he take his time inside the house, running straight to his room and closing the door.
So that was why Merry had not been to see him; his mother had forbidden it. 'Poor Merry,' Pippin thought sadly, 'who will he play with, if he cannot come here?' Then Pippin realized, who would he play with, if Merry was not allowed? There were no other children of his age in that village of the Shire, and he'd never cared for the older children, nor they for him. Merry was his only friend. And he would never see him again. At least he doubted it.
Even worse, it was Pippin's own fault, he was certain. If he were better at climbing trees, none of this would ever have happened. He had been so sure he could climb any tree. And when Merry had remarked he thought the apple there at the high branch of the tree looked very tasty, and Pippin knew how much Merry loved apples, then Pippin had determined he would get that apple for Merry, no matter what. Merry had laughed - 'you're a little squirrel of a hobbit, Peregrin Took, if you can climb that high! I can hardly wait to see it!' - and he helped Pippin into the tree.
Pippin had laughed, too, and he had almost gotten to the branch with the apple when his foot had slipped, and he had fallen out of the tree. At the last moment Pippin had made one more try to grab the apple, but he missed, and he had fallen onto that hand. His arm had made a very odd sound rather like biting into an apple, and it had hurt very, very awfully much. But Pippin didn't remember how much his arm had hurt so much as he remembered how frightened Merry had been, and how Merry had cried even though that was a girl thing. 'Oh, Pippin, I've gone and killed you!' Merry had shrieked, and then Merry had picked him up and run straight back to Pippin's home. And Pippin's mother had been so upset that she had struck Merry across the face before she pulled Pippin away from Merry, and that was the last Pippin had seen of Merry before today.
Yes, of course it was his fault, all of it. If he could have gotten the apple without falling, everything would be perfectly all right now. 'Merry's not an awful young hobbit, I am,' Pippin whispered, and threw himself upon his pillow for a good cry, and then he went to sleep.
When Pippin awoke it was nearly dark outside. He'd slept right through luncheon, and probably supper too, but he was not hungry. He didn't deserve his lunch or supper or any other meal, he was such an awful little hobbit, and Pippin nearly cried again. He had caused so much trouble for Merry, the only hobbit who'd ever wanted to be his friend, and here he'd gone and ruined everything.
The knock on the door gave him a start, and fearing it might be his mother, Pippin didn't answer. "Pippin?" It was his sister, Provinca. "Pippin, do you want any dinner? We'll be sitting down in a moment."
"No," Pippin answered her softly. "I'm not hungry at all."
Provinca opened the door and peeked inside. "Are you sure? I've not known you to refuse a meal."
"I'm sure," Pippin said, "for I don't deserve it."
"Oh, Pip," Provinca closed the door and came to sit beside him. "Why don't you think you should have dinner? You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yes, I did. I fell, and I got Merry into trouble, and I'll never see him again, and it's all my fault," Pippin whimpered.
Provinca thought about this a moment. "Well, I suppose it is your fault, although really Pip, you're too small to blame yourself for it. You're still a baby yet."
"I am not!" Pippin sat up straight. "I'm not a baby! I'm a big boy now, Merry says so, so it's true!"
"Calm down, Pip!" Provinca was trying not to laugh at him, Pippin could tell, and he felt his ears turning red with shame. "All right then, you're not a baby. But you'll have to start acting like a grownup."
"What would a grownup do? I don't think I know," Pippin asked, his ears reddening all the more.
"Well, I think when grownups do something wrong, they say that they're sorry, and then everyone says that it's all right, and then it is all right," Provinca answered after thinking a bit.
"So if I tell Merry I'm very sorry I fell out of the tree and got him in trouble, then he can come back and visit me?" Pippin brightened a bit. Perhaps things weren't so bad after all.
"I think so," Provinca said. "I'm going to dinner. Will you come?"
"I - maybe. Maybe I will," Pippin told her, and she left. But Pippin had no intentions of going to dinner now. No, he knew what he had to do, he had to find Merry and tell him how sorry he was. Then everything would be right again. But he would have to go to Merry's home to tell him, and as he was sure his mother would never let him go, he would have to escape the house and go to Merry's without anyone knowing.
Merry had taught him how to leave the house without being seen or heard - hurrah for Merry! - but Pippin had almost never gone to Merry's house except by the road, which he could not do now without being caught. Merry had taken him a roundabout way through the trees once or twice, but not in the dark. But Pippin was sure he would remember how to get there, and he set off into the trees.
Pippin thought he must have walked for miles, and still he was not at Merry's. Indeed, he really didn't know quite where he was. He supposed he must be lost, and while he had never been lost before, he was given to believe it was a bad thing. And now he was thirsty, and hungry as well. Pippin sat on a rock to contemplate his misery, and after a few minutes he thought he heard water. He followed the sound and found himself by a large stream, the biggest one he'd ever seen, and he drank his fill happily. As he got up, he thought he saw something move a few feet away.
A frog, perhaps? Merry had once brought him a frog, he had very much liked the way it hopped and jumped, but it had escaped. Where had this frog gone? There was a splash. That must be the frog, Pippin decided, and stepped into the water, and then he went a bit further because he thought the frog had jumped away again. Then he slipped on a rock, and fell into the water, and the water ran much faster here and he could not get his feet upon the ground, and then the water was over his head and he couldn't breathe. Pippin wished Merry had gone ahead and taught him to swim, because now he really needed to know how, and he didn't, and he really wished he could breathe.