3. Change is Resisted: Keeping the Lid On
1396-98 ~ Budgeford.
Bilbo was mistaken in his optimism. Rosamunda lived only two more summers in Budgeford before she decided to fit up the old hunting box after all. It was to be her family’s summer home.
Rosamunda had always missed the West Farthing where she had grown up. Far to the west, much of the land was open and expansive. One could stand upon the grassy mound above her family’s home near Whitwell and see in every direction. Fertile cropland owned by Paladin Took rolled away to the south, and meadows, dotted with grazing beasts, spread west and north. Wild grasslands, studded with rocky outcrops and patches of furze or scrubby trees, stretched beyond. Past that one could see the White Downs. To the east she could turn and see the densely forested western reaches of the Green Hills, pocked everywhere with the holes of hobbits, though these were hidden from the casual eye. Even the chimneys of nearby Tookbank were barely discernible amid the trees. Over all was the vast canopy of ever-changing sky. It was this country, swept by the west wind, open and broad and rolling like the Sea she had never seen but only heard of, that Rosamunda loved.
Once installed as mistress of the Bolger home at Shady Bank, however, she had learned to live in a very different sort of place.
Near the Water and the Brandywine rivers, the land was thickly timbered where fields had not been made, especially along their banks. The spot where Shady Bank was dug was very lush, even overgrown with verdure. In many ways it was beautiful. Odovacar and the children loved it. But the time came when Rosamunda felt hemmed in by its great trees and heavy shade and she disliked it, just as she disliked the weather. So close to the rivers, summers could be unbearably warm and humid. In winter, fogs and mists brought days and weeks of gloom.
She had not always felt this way. As a young lass, newly married, Rosamunda had been eager to get away from Tookland, and she had greatly enjoyed settling into her Budgeford home. It had meant coming out from under the oversight of her father, however kind he was; she had revelled in her role as mistress of her own sphere. It also had meant getting away from the bustle of the Smials, which thronged with hobbits at every time of the year. She relished Shady Bank’s quiet and privacy.
When the privacy became too great, with Odovacar, she would cross the Brandywine, and they visited at the Hall. She liked the easy familiarity of the place, for there was no expectation of familial intimacy, since she was not really one of theirs. Amid the sprawl of the Brandybucks, one so inclined might relax, observe, and enjoy oneself, without being drawn into the petty quarrels and intrigues that were inevitable in such a large dwelling of hobbits.
But, after Odovacar had died, in Shady Bank, more than anywhere else, did Rosamunda feel the depth of her loss. The Bolger home oppressed her, and she began to wish herself away.
But Bilbo was right. Her little family must continue there, at least during the greater part of the year, for the children required the society of their friends. Freddy and Estella were largely recovered from their grief and had resumed their normal routines. Brandy Hall was always full of young folk’s noise and pranks, dispelling the gloom of the darker months. It really was the best place for them.
Her children had grown ever closer to their friends in Buckland. They were over the River continually. With their friends from the Hall, Freddy and Merry would go off tramping for days. Never did they tramp east, into the Old Forest. Rosamunda would have forbidden it, if they had suggested it. Tales of ghosts and evil spirits who dwelt there, had frightened more hobbit lads than Freddy (although he would not admit it). Few grown hobbits would go near the place, and fewer children. But to the Woody End, or up to the hills of Scary, not far from the Bolger quarries, they often went.
Estella was over the River just as much, spending time with her lass-friends at the Hall. She seemed happy enough in their company, but Rosamunda knew that it was in the lads’ circle of friends that her daughter most longed to be included. But they shunned her as they ever did. She felt for her daughter, but that was the way of lads. Estella must bear it. A time would come when they might change their minds, Rosamunda would console her.
As for Rosamunda herself, she continued to stay away from the Hall, hovering only at the edges of its society. It was not because she might see Frodo there (who visited only periodically), but because her mood still was not inclined much to gaiety and gossip. When she did see Frodo, she observed that he had recovered himself admirably. He was courteous and gracious when they met, if a bit more formal. The old bid for her affection was either kept in check or was no longer felt. Perhaps he had found someone who had drawn his heart at last. And that was a good thing, was it not?
As a token of her confidence, she told him he need no longer call her, “Auntie.” The previous year, Bilbo had suggested that Frodo no longer address him as, “Uncle,” if he wished. Plain, “Bilbo,” would do. Frodo still called Bilbo, “Uncle,” now and then; it had become too ingrained a habit. But, following suit, Rosamunda suggested Frodo might call her, “Rosa,” or, “Rosamunda.” Frodo forgot, and called her, “Auntie,” many times, but, within the space of an afternoon tea, “Rosa,” she became.
Rosamunda was surprised to find how much she missed being addressed as, “Auntie,” once she no longer heard him say it. She missed the protection it afforded, certainly, for the address more distinctly distanced him from her in age and station. But, much more, it seemed to underscore the loss of their former friendship, which they both had loved so well, with all its affection so freely felt and shown.
For, she did miss Frodo’s affection, Rosamunda could admit to herself. She missed affection, generally. She felt its loss especially in Budgeford, in Shady Bank, under the brooding trees. Throughout the long months of winter, with its dreary weather, she felt the loneliness down to her bones, especially when her children were gone, which increasingly was the case.
Rosamunda was terribly excited during the time the hunting box was being made ready, wishing for the coming of summer with a yearning that made her body ache. And, when the summer came, as she had hoped, her gloom lifted. Even with the children gone to their friends, the loneliness that had oppressed her became noticeably less onerous. The land and sky seemed to draw her out of herself.
For the first time since her husband’s death, at the new cottage, Rosamunda felt truly happy.
From first sight, even the site of the new cottage had enchanted her, dug as it was into the southeast side of a grassy hill in the midst of Boffin lands, populated with Boffin sheep. There was a little copse below it, just to the side, and a spring-fed well, all of which reminded her of her childhood home. The place had come down to Odovacar through his mother’s side, a Boffin. He had used it as a sort of base, when he and his friends had gone out hunting. They would stock the little hole with gear and rations. Then, with their bows, and a pony for their gear, they would make forays west or north, towards the Downs or up to the Moors, or, closer still, into Bindbale Wood. But that was years ago, when the game had not yet moved so far off.
When Rosamunda had viewed it more carefully, she saw the hole was in considerable disrepair. Also, it was a bit too small. She had new rooms dug, so that there was a parlour and a kitchen, a bedroom for each (and one to spare), along with extra chambers further back for store.
When it was finished, it suited Rosamunda very well. Especially, she loved the light. Situated facing south-east, the light poured through the windows in the mornings, her favourite time of the day. And, when she stood outside, she could see the land stretching east and south far into the distance. Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, the prospect was especially fine. From the top of the little knoll that made the cottage’s roof, she could see far to the north and west, where sheep dotted the rolling hills. The sky at night took her breath away. And, all day, the birds sang, the wind blew, and the Water, which ran nearby, just to the west, mostly narrow and quick as it came down out of Long Cleeve and Needlehole, could just be heard when the wind dropped and everything was still.
She loved its peace and quiet, so tucked away and so private. Yet, it was just an hour’s walk over the hills to Bag End or to Hobbiton. Overhill, to the east, was even closer. Every fine day Rosamunda walked the hills, seldom seeing another living creature other than sheep, or, very rarely, a doe or faun.
She did not walk south to Hobbiton, however, except on errands or for an appointed visit. She had not forgotten her “understanding” with Bilbo. And Bilbo did not forget her, either. Regularly, he sent her gifts of wine or ham or fruit in season, as tokens of his neighbourly regard. She appreciated the way he could show marks of particular notice, without making her feel the burden of obligation. Rosamunda was comfortably off, but not rich.
Once installed at the cottage, seeing Frodo was not completely unavoidable. At local parties, or for any large event like the days of Lithe, he was sure to be there. Or (if she hadn’t already returned to Shady Bank for the winter), she would see him at the birthday party Bilbo gave for them both, every twenty-second of September. These were always very well-attended; even if Rosamunda had already gone on to Budgeford, Freddy and Estella never missed them.
But, at such occasions, there was little need for them to meet.
The few times she had seen Frodo at something smaller (such as a dinner or tea), they must interact. But, even then, he did not press her. With or without touch, his manner towards her, while warm, was restrained, as if to say, “I am all right, now.” He still might begin to make an affectionate approach, but he checked himself almost immediately.
This show of self-command commended itself to her. She told herself aloud, “There, you see? Frodo has put all that nonsense behind him.”
She might have added, “And so have I,” had she thought of it.
1399, Late summer ~ Hobbiton and Bag End.
Bilbo, however, continued to be suspicious of Rosamunda’s show of detachment. He had attended her little birthday party, just two months prior. She had just turned fifty-three. That was still a young age for a hobbit, and an unsafe age for a widow. He should know. Bilbo’s own amorous experience would have been very meagre, had there not been that attractive widow or two, back in his younger days. And, when the news of Odovacar’s sudden death had flown around the Shire, Bilbo was sure there had been certain comely widows, since grown dowdy, who had sighed, fondly remembering the rakish bachelor who once had come to call.
Now, now, Bilbo chastised himself, he was being ungenerous. And, unfair. He should not judge Rosamunda by the standard of other widows, but according to her own demonstrable behaviour. Frodo had attended Rosamunda’s June birthday party, too. In the close quarters of the cottage’s little parlour, both had behaved themselves exactly as they ought. Why should a few quite unavoidable glances give Bilbo pause? She had served refreshments, chatted attentively with her guests, and chucked their children under their chins. Frodo, very properly, had spent most of his time with the older lads and lasses, supervising the littler children playing out of doors (the cottage being much too small to hold them). There was nothing to fault in either of them that day.
At other Shire affairs, too, Bilbo had watched Rosamunda. Her behaviour was above reproach. She had grown more careful in her ways, not less, he noticed; far more careful than when she had been Odovacar’s wife. No longer did she allow herself to be drawn into easy conversation with other women’s husbands as she once had done. In the past, this had raised false expectations on the part of some hobbits, and more than a few ears were boxed at home. Matrons who saw her now nodded their approval. Still … Bilbo sensed, they continued to be wary.
And why should they not …?
Bilbo bridled at once at his own thought. It was unworthy. He was no pinch-lipped, fault-finding busy-body from Bywater, was he? No! No, indeed. He was a sensible hobbit, who based his judgments upon the facts before him. There was nothing – nothing at all that he could put his finger on that was out of the way.
On the encouraging side, Bilbo had, on a number of occasions, been pleased to note Frodo taking an obvious interest in some lass or other, an interest that actually led to something tangible. He would see Frodo slip away in the midst of a large get-together with some pretty thing; they would disappear, only to return a short time later looking flushed and breathless. These little adventures were all to the good, in Bilbo’s opinion, and did not require his notice.
However, Bilbo had been required to take notice the previous summer. During their visit to Great Smials, Adelard Took had stormed up to him in the midst of a lawn game and dragged Bilbo off to an empty pony stable to vent his fury, stamping in the muck and railing against Frodo’s outrageous behaviour just inches from Bilbo’s face. That had not been pleasant. Adelard seemed to have caught Frodo embarking upon an indiscretion with his eldest daughter. Adelard had arrived (he shouted), in the very nick of time.
When taken aside by Bilbo, Frodo admitted to taking greater liberties than were permitted, but they did not appear to Bilbo to amount to much in the end. Bilbo made his report and Adelard had been mollified. Frodo showed no sign of caring for this Took lass, nor she for him, when all was said and done.
Did this, by itself, indicate that Frodo’s affections were engaged elsewhere? No, it did not.
Yet … Bilbo could not help noticing the times – if only for an instant – when the lad’s gaze was averted, that Rosamunda’s eyes had sought out Frodo, as if against her will. He’d see Frodo glance her way, too (if he thought he might do so unobserved). Yet, again … these surreptitious looks might be put down to a lingering awkwardness between them, which would be only natural. But, considering Frodo’s continued lack of ardent attachment elsewhere, Bilbo could not help wondering. Was there, or was there not some deeper feeling that still lingered between the two?
Bilbo was highly reluctant to mention these thoughts to either of them. He worried that questioning Frodo might kindle all over again the very inclinations Bilbo wished him to put aside. That would be the very last thing he would wish! And, he had no wish to offend Rosamunda further, if he should be wrong, for he still was very fond of her.
No, better to leave it, he thought. He would simply keep his eyes open and continue to hope for the best.
Bilbo had needed to hope for the best. Just weeks earlier, near the end of July, he had seen cherished plans for Frodo’s future dashed into the dust.
Gandalf had stopped by unexpectedly, but, luckily, just for the night. The wizard had barely set off when Bilbo received his next batch of visitors, Paladin Took and his family. They were on their way to Buckland, for a brief visit to the Hall, before the corn harvest. They had brought Frodo with them, who had been visiting at the Smials. Always glad to break the journey and to visit, they stopped, as usual, with Bilbo overnight. It was a bit cramped in Bag End with all the Tooks, but they could squeeze up. Young Pippin, now nine years of age, was a bit of a nuisance, and had to be watched. Breakable objects were placed higher up, and Bilbo’s study, with its precarious piles and stacks of works in progress, was securely locked.
The Bolgers (now, so near by) were asked to join them, of course. At the very least, their presence would provide additional company for the Took children during the visit. Estella and Freddy were very well-liked by Paladin and Eglantine’s younger daughters, Pimpernel and Pervinca. Pearl, their eldest daughter, continued to dislike being made to play with her younger siblings or their friends. For the sake of peace, her parents did not press her, especially in company. Therefore, the Tooks were only too grateful when they heard Bilbo dispatching a Gamgee lass to carry the invitation to Rosamunda’s cottage.
In fact, Bilbo had his own designs for Pearl’s entertainment. Already, at only twenty-four, the lass promised to be the great beauty of her generation, almost a throwback to the renowned daughters of the Old Took (one of whom had been Bilbo’s mother). From previous parties and dinners during the year, Bilbo had noticed that, while Pearl was cool towards most, there was one towards whom she showed noticeable warmth: Frodo.
That evening, as his guests assembled in the parlour before going in to dine, it was clear to Bilbo that Pearl Took had taken a fancy to Frodo. This was excellent, indeed! He could not have wished for anything better than for his heir to ally himself with one of the Paladin’s daughters. If his older cousin Ferumbras (rarely in perfect health) should predecease him, Paladin would be the next Thain.
But, Bilbo noticed with a frown, whatever Pearl felt towards Frodo, it must have been inspired solely by the lad’s fair face, for she received no other inducements. Frodo seemed quite indifferent to her charms (and they were formidable).
For heaven’s sake, Bilbo huffed to himself, chagrined, was the lad made of stone? Discreetly, Bilbo watched their every move.
The elder Tooks also watched, Bilbo noticed, though, with equal discretion. Perhaps, they had heard of Adelard’s heated accusations about Frodo’s behaviour the previous summer. (How could they not?) Yet, they looked very keen. A match between a Took and a Baggins would be desirable to them, as well. Perhaps the angry father’s accusation had even fanned their hopes…? Certainly, it had fanned Bilbo’s, showing, as it did, that Frodo was capable of grappling an eligible lass, and not just Rosamunda Bolger.
At the thought, Bilbo glanced her way. Rosamunda was, at that moment, observing Pearl appraisingly. But her look was purely one of admiration, and Bilbo felt a little eased.
After they had supped, the weather being very fine, they all went outside to enjoy the long evening. The children scattered into the early dusk, joined by some of the Gamgee children from down the Row. Then Bilbo watched as Pearl followed Frodo (at a discreet distance), as he walked unconcerned down the lane, disappearing behind the outbuildings further down the hill as it rounded the corner.
This looked promising.
The adults, meanwhile, were gathered in and around the gardens below Bag End. Engrossed in their own conversations, they cast only occasional glances down the Row, when they heard their children’s voices lifted up on the breeze from time to time.
The dusk deepened and Rosamunda rose to leave. Gathering her children, she bid them all a fond goodnight and the three departed. The cottage was a longish walk, she explained.
None that remained realised how late it had grown, the summer twilight stretching on as it did, when all at once out of the near-darkness there echoed up the hill a burst of noise. A high, piping voice rose in squeals of laughter. Then, indecipherable shouts and shrieks of protest overwhelmed them.
Pippin was the first one up the hill, filthy, panting and sobbing. Pearl was right behind him, quickly closing the gap. When she caught him, she threw him down and gave him a pounding in full view of all and sundry. Their father was on his feet in a flash and quickly put an end to it, pulling them apart without ceremony. Both were sent to their rooms to wash themselves and then, straight to bed. No tales. And no bedtime treats.
Straggling up behind with the others, Frodo looked uncharacteristically restrained, Bilbo thought, even sullen.
Bilbo itched to know what had gone amiss.
The next morning the Tooks prepared to depart. Even at second breakfast, Bilbo had observed (with dismay) that Pearl did not once look at Frodo, nor he at her. Even as she was being handed up into the carriage, not a look or a word was exchanged.
Frodo did offer polite but subdued farewells to the rest, even to Pippin.
Although squeezed uncomfortably between his parents upon the seat of the carriage, it was Pippin, alone, who seemed to take any pleasure in the morning. He attempted to convey a sense of deep personal injury, but his eyes were full of glee.
In the end, Bilbo was chagrined to find himself left in the dark as to what might have taken place. Neither Paladin nor Eglantine had said anything to him. Later that day, when Bilbo tried to pry some explanation from Frodo, he got next to nothing. What seemed clear was that Frodo was only too happy to see the backs of all the Tooks.
On their return journey, the Tooks stopped at Bag End once again, but the behaviour of Frodo and Pearl towards each other remained indifferent. Above the averted faces of the two ‘tweens, the disappointed glances of their elders met. Nothing doing, those glances seemed to say.
The brake was loosed, the whip was cracked, and the Tooks drove away.
Note on Departures from Canon:
Rosamunda Bolger has been created from her name and dates in the Took family tree, but I changed her birth year to 1346 (instead of 1338), for the sake of the projected story's long time frame. Likewise, her husband Odovacar is fashioned from a name in the Baggins trees. No dates are specified for him so I have given him ones of my own. He is indicated in the family trees as having attended the Farewell Party of 1401 but in this story he does not.
Furthermore, in this story the Bolgers have long been frequent guests at Brandy Hall, in order that Merry, Fredegar and Frodo might plausibly have become friends. But in “A Conspiracy Unmasked,” it is mentioned that Fredegar has never before been over the Brandywine River.
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.