1. Drawn From Life
“Merry. Must you stand just there? You’re blocking out the light.”
Well, thought Merry, I am certainly back in Bag End. I’ve not even washed my face yet after a night-long walk, and already I’m being ordered around by a scribbling tweenager.
“Of course, Pippin,” he smiled, and stepped sidewise by perhaps three inches. Pippin raised a stern eyebrow, so Merry gave an exaggerated sigh and wandered over to the door into the hall. He turned back to watch for a while.
Skritch skritch. Skritch skritch.
Pippin’s nimble little fingers stroked the charcoal restlessly against his page, the lines emerging from the paper like the pattern of the ground after a thaw. Or so Merry assumed. All he could actually see of the new masterpiece was his cousin’s left hand pressed firmly down beside it to prevent anybody looking.
“Are you going to show us what you’ve done so far?” asked Folco Boffin, who stood well clear of Pippin’s light, propped against a bookcase with an amused expression.
“No, not yet,” said Pippin, his gaze fixed on the small arrangement of fruit, plates and ornaments that he had spread out on the little oak table in front of him. With showy deliberation he held his right hand out at arm’s length and measured the scale of one of the apples, before resuming his labours.
Skritch skritch. Skritch skritch. Skritchy-skritch.
“I hope you’ve got permission to make this mess all over Frodo’s second-best parlour,” interjected Fatty. “And I don’t think you should be wearing your yellow waistcoat when you’re using charcoal. You’ll get it all over yourself, and then poor Sam will have to do your laundry twice more before you go back to the Smials.”
“You’re casting a shadow on the plums, Fredegar” said Pippin, mildly. “And on Bilbo’s oliphaunts. Look, why can’t you go and bother Frodo or something? That goes for all of you. I’m working.”
Folco laughed and strode from the room, clapping Fatty on the shoulder as he went. Fatty scowled but followed loyally in his wake.
Merry leaned against the doorframe and watched them go. He smiled a little. But turning back to Pippin he found the young hobbit was already hunched back over his work, paying him no attention at all.
“I’ll say goodbye for now then, Pippin,” said Merry. At this point, he recalled, he would usually say something wry and mocking, which would bring forth at the very least a chuckle, and probably a conversation too. But his head was oddly empty of words.
Pippin appeared to notice a very slight smudge of charcoal on his left hand, drew a handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed it clean. He blew on the paper in front of him, then turned to Merry and beamed at him.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said, “things will be much more fun.” But then he turned back to his page and his drawing and those silly black sticks of his, and Merry wandered off to his guest room feeling strangely despondent.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hello Merry!” said Frodo. “Careful, there are papers all over the floor. Would you mind moving a little to your left?”
Merry obliged, and, peering further into the study, discovered that Frodo was putting the finishing touches to an inked, large-scale version of one of Bilbo’s maps, presumably intended as a birthday present for one of the elderly members of the family. This was characteristic. And today, rather irritating.
“How was the walk?” asked Frodo, picking his way carefully across the room, between old books, documents and half-empty cups of tea. “Have you fellows had breakfast yet? I can see you’ve washed and changed.”
“Oh, the walk was lovely,” said Merry, absently. “Rather cloudy though, and misty in the early hours. Fatty swore he could see the Sickle but Folco and I could barely make out the moon so we think he was making it up. Frodo, when was the last time you let Sam in here to tidy?”
Frodo appeared to ponder this.
“Last Wednesday, I think. Why, do you think it could do with a dust?”
Merry laughed. “You’re impossible, cousin. I’m not too young to remember you clearing this room up after Bilbo, and now look at it!”
“Well, I’m older now, Merry,” said Frodo. And for just a moment his eyes seemed to drift off somewhere else. Merry felt a rush of anxiety.
But in an instant Frodo recovered himself, and he fixed Merry with a thoughtful smile. “Well now,” he said, “I’ve hardly had a chance to speak to you since you arrived yesterday. How is everyone at the Hall?”
“Oh, fine, fine. The harvest has been excellent so far. Surprisingly good, actually. The surplus looks set to be more than we’ve had for five years or more.” He paused. There was always much to tell about the goings on in Buckland, but amusing anecdotes from family he remembered was what Frodo was after, and at 7.30 in the morning after a night-ramble, however pleasant, Merry’s memory was dry. “I’ll tell you more over breakfast if you like.” He cleared his throat. “How are preparations for the party?”
“Oh, well enough. It won’t be a spectacular occasion, I’m afraid. Well, it never has been since…”
“But still, it should be pleasant. Folco and Fatty have been a great help, and Pippin too when he hasn’t been up to his eyeballs in charcoal dust and paints! And Sam is a blessing. Don’t know what I’d do without him.” Frodo picked up one of his abandoned teacups, looked inside it and made a face. “I think this has whelped.”
Merry laughed. “I’m sorry I can’t be much help this year. Oh, and before I forget, Mother sends her apologies. She would have liked to see you. And to drink Bilbo’s health. She’s one of the few who still does.”
“I know, Merry. Things are difficult at this time of year. I’m just grateful that the family were able to spare you for a few days. It wouldn’t be the same without you, you know.”
Merry gave a half-hearted smile, which he tried to lift into a grin, but probably came out more as a grimace.
“Anyway, did I gather that you still haven’t had breakfast?”
“All too true, I’m afraid.”
“Merry, my dear cousin, you are definitely slipping. Fatty and Folco aren’t with you. And assuming you haven’t left them in a field somewhere...”
“You know, the idea did occur to me…”
“I think you and I had better go and make ourselves something before they eat it all.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Oy, watch it Merry, I can’t concentrate on this with you looming up behind me!” said Folco Boffin.
The scene was a strange one. Folco had taken up one of the smaller internal bedrooms usually shut up or used as an extension to Bag End’s copious wine cellar. One third of the room he had partitioned with a large wooden frame, and on the frame he had hung several pieces of Frodo’s best white paper, marked out with regular lines and stuck together into one large sheet, and behind the frame he had installed a bright lamp on a stool, and between the lamp and the paper sat Fatty Bolger. His face was an increasingly impatient silhouette in profile. Folco was tracing the outline on the paper with some of the same sort of charcoal that Pippin had been using earlier in the morning.
Merry had seen Folco do this before, of course, for Pippin’s sister Pearl and Fatty’s sister Estella, among others. Once he had finished he would copy the silhouette on a tiny scale - Merry didn’t know how he did that - and have it set on a pendant or a watch-case. Who exactly wanted Fatty’s portrait Merry didn’t know. Estella, he assumed. Poor Fatty didn’t have even as many admirers as himself, nor was he currently showing much interest in any of the lasses in Budgeford, Tuckborough, Hobbiton or anywhere else for that matter. Perhaps Folco was just practising on his friend. If so he had chosen a poor subject, for Fatty had barely stopped fidgeting and complaining since Merry had entered the room, and from the tired reproves this provoked from Folco, he suspected it had been going on for rather longer than that.
“Anyway,” said Folco, resuming work on Fatty’s nose as Merry withdrew a few paces backwards, “what’s all this about young Pippin?”
“I was just wondering if you knew whenabouts he started doing so much drawing?” asked Merry. “He never... I hadn’t gathered.”
Folco tutted irritably and with one elegant stroke of his charcoal traced Fatty’s forehead from brow to hairline. “Well he’s always been running around with paper and a pencil, since he was ever so small. You know that better than me.”
“I do. But I’ve never seen him turn his attention to it so seriously. And, well, you fellows have all been together here for the past week and I only got here yesterday. So I wanted to know...”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Merry!” said Folco at last. “Why don’t you ask him? For what it’s worth, no, he hasn’t spent all of the past week covering Frodo’s second-best parlour in charcoal dust. Whatever Frodo may claim. But once or twice when it’s been a fine afternoon but Fatty and I have stayed inside he’s dragged Bilbo’s mother’s old easel up on to the Hill and sketched there, or squatted on the flower beds drawing the garden, or even disappeared off until sunset and come back with a watercolour of some of the fields near Bywater.”
“When he first arrived he got Sam Gamgee to let him paint his portrait,” said Fatty, leaning forward to poke his head around the wooden frame, to Folco’s deep disgust. “Pip’s sending to Michel Delving to have it framed and everything, so that Frodo can give it to Sam’s Gaffer when his birthday comes around.” He giggled suddenly. “Poor Pippin must have used up so much red on Sam’s blushes there won’t be any left for the autumn leaves.”
“It’s true,” said Folco, motioning crossly to Fatty to resume his earlier position. After a pause he added, “Pippin’s really rather good, you know. From what I’ve seen these aren’t childish drawings, or even the kind of amateurish trinkets I cook up. He’s got a real talent.” The outline of Fatty’s hair began to appear on the paper. “I for one would assume he’s been working on his drawing and his painting for a while now. Still,” he concluded, leaning back to inspect his handiwork, “the sheer single-mindedness he’s displayed today is certainly different. And commendable.”
“And he didn’t even get charcoal on his clothes,” added Fatty, often reluctant to let this kind of issue go.
Merry deflated a little, and perched on the arm of a rather battered armchair in the corner of the room. “What I really don’t understand,” he said, slowly, “is – well, that he’s taking it seriously at all. And going off on his own! I’ve never known Pippin so self-sufficient before.”
Folco shrugged awkwardly and started outlining Fatty’s neck. Merry didn’t blame him. Sensible as he’d always thought Folco, and much as he enjoyed his company, neither of them found it easy to open up to the other, and even this level of intimacy was evidently a little challenging.
Yet after a minute Folco surprised him, talking quietly as he corrected certain areas of Fatty’s neck and chin. “Pippin’s always been a lot more serious than he lets on,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised that he’s finally prepared to act like it.”
“Pippin’s never serious,” replied Merry. “He hates being serious. Even when he seems serious it’s from trying not to laugh. And he’s been the terror of the Tookland since I was so young I can scarcely remember it. You know this.”
“No, Merry,” said Fatty’s voice, kindly. “Pervinca Took has been the terror of the Tookland since you were so young that you really can’t remember it. Pippin just tags along, like a good younger brother should.”
“And I daresay he’s been mischievous on his own account and in his own way too,” added Folco, going over a few of the lines. “Climbing the wrong trees, disturbing the bees’ nests, playing truant from his lessons, that kind of thing. And he’s impertinent beyond belief and there’s no denying it. But that’s hardly reason to act like it’s so strange that he’s finally found something he can focus on. Which he has, and I for one am glad of it.”
Fatty poked his around the screen yet again. “Face it, Merry, the only proper tear-away in your family for the past two generations was Frodo. None of the rest of you comes close. You’re all terrible disappointments to him, and Pippin no less than you, my friend. The Tooks and Brandybucks are slowing down. You’ll have to leave things to the Boffins and Bolgers now.”
Merry spluttered incoherently, feeling absurdly insulted not on his own behalf, but on Pippin’s.
“Look, Merry,” said Folco at last, “the real problem here is that you’ve hardly spent any time with Pippin in the last three years. You don’t know him anymore, and I daresay you didn’t know him four years ago as well as you think you did. You’ve always enjoyed the idea of him as some kind of rebel, and you’re seeing things that just aren’t there.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” said Merry, vaguely. He bit his lip. “Look, I’m off to have a lie-down. For some reason I can’t keep going all day after a night-time walk anymore. And I don’t want to miss luncheon. I’ll see you fellows later.”
He slipped out of the room quietly, fighting a headache and a ridiculous urge to cry.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Hello, Mr Merry!” said Sam. “Oh, I’m awfully sorry, sir, but would you mind sticking to the paths for a bit? It’s just that in this heat keeping the grass green is a job of work, and I do want the garden looking its best for the party.”
“Not at all, Sam!” said Merry, walking as softly as he could over the fragile lawn to the wobbly line of paving next to the largest flower bed. Sam was crouched almost on the soil, digging in with a trowel. “Do you mind me being here, by the way? I don’t want to disturb you if you need to concentrate.”
“Oh no, that’s fine, Mr Merry, sir,” said Sam. “This is easy work and it’s nice to have some company. If you don’t mind me working around you.”
He was planting the spring bulbs, a cheery mixture of crocuses, snowdrops and - what were they? Narcissi, by the looks of things. There was a diminishing pile of them by his feet.
“May I help, Sam?” asked Merry.
Sam glanced at him, surprised, but then smiled and wrinkled his nose. “Thank you, Mr Merry, that would be very kind,” he said. “Erm, could you bring me a few more of them crocus bulbs from the wheelbarrow over there,” he pointed. “That would ever so helpful. You know which ones they are, I take it?”
“I think so,” said Merry. The wheelbarrow was standing on the path in the full sunlight. It was hot to the touch. “Are these right?” he asked, waving a couple at Sam.
Sam nodded. “Thank you very much, sir,” he said, as Merry brought a large handful of the crocus bulbs to him. “I was nearly out of them. I’m trying to plant a mix of the flowers that looks all nat’ral, see? But of course it takes the right balance of bulbs to make it look like that.”
Merry stared at him. “Why, you’re an artist, Sam!” he said.
Sam blinked, and then laughed. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, Mr Merry!” he exclaimed, but he was blushing, and fighting a grin.
Merry brought Sam another handful of bulbs and then sat beside him as the gardener smoothed down the soil over what would, come the spring, become a snowdrop.
“I’m not an artist,” said Merry suddenly, and immediately wished he hadn’t, even as he found himself continuing. “And everyone else here is. Isn’t that odd? Well, except maybe Fatty, but he’s never minded about things like that, and even he makes those pretty shapes with napkins to entertain the children at dinner parties.” He took a breath and brought his voice under control. “I would have no idea where to put those bulbs of yours. I know which ones are which because I used to help my mother with her flower garden as a boy, but if I tried to make decisions about where the plants went then they just ended up looking wrong somehow. Pippin’s so…” he broke off, ashamed and astonished to find himself biting back tears for the second time that day.
Sam carried on with his planting, his brow furrowed in intense concentration. Merry had a despondent impression that the gardener was ignoring him, but he was wrong.
“It seems to me, Mr Merry sir,” said Sam, “that you’re the best judge of what’s art and what isn’t that I’ve ever met. Barring Mr Frodo, of course. And Mr Bilbo too, when he used to live here. I’ve heard what you’ve said in times past about Mr Frodo’s maps, and Mr Boffin’s sill-oo-ett things and so on, and they’ve always sounded… I don’t know, sir. Like you know what you’re talking about as well as they do. Like you enjoy what they do better’n anyone. I know Mr Frodo for one values it beyond anything. And what you say about your mother’s garden, begging your pardon, makes me think it even more.”
“Well, there you go, Sam,” said Merry, trying to laugh despite the tightness of his throat. “You must be an artist if I say so. I know what I’m talking about.”
Sam smiled kindly at him. “I reckon that understanding and liking what the others do is a kind of art too, Mr Merry. And I reckon also that if you din’t have your head so caught up with everyone else’s stuff, then maybe you’d find it easier to do things yourself. Maybe you know what you want pictures and such to look like and you’re worried you won’t manage it.” He blushed again. “I remember when old Mr Bilbo was learning me my letters, I so wanted to be the quickest and best student he’d ever had, it made me too scared to sit at my books and try. Took me a sight longer than it would have done thanks to that, I think. But that was just me being a forward child, as you might say, and I’d rather that it stayed between you and me.”
“Of course, Sam,” said Merry.
“Mr Merry…” began Sam, and then he looked away.
“I’m… please don’t think I’m rude, sir. But are you sure that it’s really Mr Pippin’s charcoaling that’s bothering you?”
Merry glanced at him sharply, but Sam’s face was still turned aside.
“I don’t know, Sam,” he admitted. “I honestly don’t know.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Hang on, Merry – left a bit! no, right. Down there... ow! Did you just scratch me or something?”
“Honestly, Frodo, one could get the idea that you don’t trust me,” said Merry, trying not to smile. “Even Grandpa Rory used to get me to rub Mum’s cold lotion into his sunburn. He said I had the gentlest touch of any hobbit in Buckland.” He took another splodge of cream from the worn pot beside him. “If it feels like I’m scratching you that’s because your right shoulder is absolutely roasted. Even your freckles have burned. And there are at least three times as many of those as there were last time I saw you without your shirt. What have you been up to, Frodo? Fatty and Folco told me that you’ve stayed in most of the past week, so I clearly can’t blame them.”
“Well Fatty and Folco are wrong,” said Frodo, gritting his teeth as Merry proceeded on to his left shoulder. “I went for an all-day hike the day before yesterday. Those lazy-bones were too busy resting in the garden and bothering Sam to notice me.”
“So of course you stripped off your shirt because it was getting too hot,” said Merry. “Frodo you really are...”
“It burned me through the shirt!” insisted Frodo, visibly wincing. “I think there must be red-head in the Bagginses somewhere. And I always thought that Lotho was pure Sackville!” he winced again.
“Well now,” said Merry, lightly throwing Frodo’s shirt back to him and smiling at him a little, “this will teach you to go for day-long hikes in August and get burned when you have relatives staying. It’s not at all polite. You should have waited for the others.”
“I’m allowed to go walking by myself, Merry,” said Frodo, crossly.
“Yes, of course you are,” said Merry, puzzled by the reaction. Then suddenly put a hand to his head, stricken by an image of how very, very far Frodo could walk away from them all if he had a mind. Now pulling his shirt on with an unbecomingly sulky air, the dear old hobbit looked as though he were already miles away from Bag End and the things of home. Miles away even from the Shire. Miles and miles and uncounted miles away from his foolish young cousin, still trying to pretend he did not pine for days when Frodo Baggins was the elder brother to make up for all those elder brothers of which early graves had robbed him, and Meriadoc Brandybuck was allowed to be a child, careless and companionable, and did not have to work and think and neglect his friends and be serious and solemn and make Buckland thrive as never before because otherwise his father’s failures would count for something and people would know...
And then were was a hand on his shoulder, and Frodo was guiding him to an armchair, and looking into his face with passionate concern in those weary brown eyes. And Merry noticed that in own eyes the tears were blossoming, running down his own face, even on to his neck and inside his shirt. Stranger still, he was sobbing. Frodo crouched beside him, and waited.
“I’m tired,” said Merry at last. “It’s hard, Frodo. Very hard. And it’s been so long. I hardly know Pippin anymore, let alone Folco and Fatty, and it’s all my fault. Or...” and for an instance he nearly spoke his fears for Frodo aloud, but some wisdom stronger than himself prevented it. Sobs were safer, and anyway here again they came. And Frodo gathered him into his arms, just as if they were still brothers in Buckland, brothers of the Brandywine despite the gap in their ages, and even old Bilbo Baggins and young Peregrin Took were nothing in comparison.
“I know,” soothed Frodo. “I know. And,” he added, passing Merry one of those beautiful handkerchiefs that had once belonged to Bilbo, “so does Pippin. I told him. Don’t fret, Merry. He cares about you far more than you think he does. He even knows what very few hobbits apart from you and I and your mother know: why you are seen working in the fields or visiting the tenants every day of the year, and missing festivities to tot up the accounts in Brandy Hall, when your father was known to be abed and senseless an hour before. And why you will only drink small ale except at parties, and not much that’s stronger even then, and why you make up for it by consuming half the pipeweed in the Eastfarthing. And why you will never wager money on even the smallest trifle. And why you neglect friends who until old Rory died were the dearest thing on earth to you.”
Merry gripped the arms of the chair, suddenly nauseous. But Frodo’s voice was persistent, and gentle.
“Merry, we know. Well,” he added, a trifle awkwardly, “not Folco so much. But Pippin, Fatty and I: we know. And we understand. And we think the world of you for doing what you do for Buckland. Though remind me to have a word with you after supper about the art of delegating. I’m not much good at it myself, but...”
Merry gave half a chuckle and tried to smile. “I’m dreadful at it,” he admitted. “Some of my cousins – Berilac, for instance – would be happy to do more, I know. But I’m afraid. I see them drinking and I wonder which of them…” he stopped himself. That way lay things he could never say, not even to himself. Better to change the subject. “Why not Folco, incidentally?”
“Why tell Fatty but not Folco? He’s always seemed pretty steady – steadier than Fatty at least. And I know him just as well as I know Fatty, probably almost as well as I know Pippin these days.”
“If you think that then you certainly don’t know Fatty that well. Folco is steady, and reliable, you’re right. But Fatty…” he pondered. “Fatty is something else. Don’t underestimate him. He’s been horribly spoiled all his life and he plays the fool because he finds it easier than relying on himself. But he’s worth something, and one day Master Fredegar Bolger will realise that. And so will his parents and his sister, and Folco, and all. I hope I’m there when it happens. It will be wonderful.”
Merry chewed his lip awkwardly. “Frodo, I’ve been a terrible idiot.”
“Well, that doesn’t surprise me,” said Frodo. “In general, do you mean, or specifically today?”
Merry snorted, then shook his head as though clearing cobwebs from his brain.
“I keep getting upset. About Pippin, and, well, you know. That our friendship isn’t what it once was. Only I’ve been convincing myself that the problem is really jealousy of his drawing abilities – all your drawing abilities – or frustration that he isn’t quite the young scamp that I always wanted him to be. That kind of thing. And of course the one thing that I could have done that might have helped is taken him aside and talked to him, and that’s the one thing I haven’t done. I’ve talked to everyone else.” He put a hand over his face, and then smiled. “As I said. A terrible idiot.”
Frodo leaned forward and squeezed Merry’s shoulder. “Yes, Merry,” he said. “You really are an idiot.”
But there was a grin in his voice, and Merry found himself smiling too.
Frodo stood up. “Pippin gave me something to give to you,” he said. “Actually his exact words were: please give this to my silly old cousin when he finally comes to his senses. So, here you are.”
He reached behind his desk and pulled out a large board folder, held together tenuously with a frayed blue ribbon and almost leaking paper.
“It’s Pippin’s portfolio,” said Frodo. “Pippin’s sisters and I are only allowed to look through it if he’s looking over our shoulders. Fatty and Folco have been shown specific drawings, but no more. And no one else knows about it. He says you’re to take it to your room and open it there, and look to your heart’s content. You can give it back to him tomorrow or the next day.”
Merry could not speak. He took the portfolio and stood still, moved beyond words.
“There’s another, smaller folder inside it,” said Frodo. “Or perhaps more of an envelope. I haven’t seen it. I only know about it because Pippin told me earlier today. It contains pictures that Pippin has never shown to anybody, and that you’re to tell no one about. Not even me. He says… don’t start, Merry. He says that he hopes you like them.”
* * * * *
“Ah, Merry, there you are. Gosh, you really have found the most perfect place to be.”
“Have I, Pip?”
The most perfect place to be was a patch of grass on The Hill above Bag End, one of the few not dried up in the August heat. During the morning it caught the edge of the shadow cast by Bilbo’s party tree and this, it seemed, was enough. From here much of Hobbiton and Bywater were visible. Over the fields to the west the sun was setting. A delicate, rosy-pink sunset. A Hobbiton sunset, thought Merry. Picture-perfect. I miss Buckland.
Approximately five seconds later he sneezed. Pippin was tickling his nose with a grass stem.
Pippin chuckled. Then he said, “Have you got a light? I think Fatty has stolen my flint.”
Merry rolled his eyes, then sat up and drew his tinder box from his jacket pocket. Pippin took it gratefully.
They lit their pipes in silence, and Merry propped himself back on his elbows. The sunset was darkening, accompanied by a smattering of small clouds. Not just rosy now. In places the sky was almost green.
“Now that’s more like it,” said Pippin, pointing with his pipe at the sky. “Sometimes I think all of Hobbiton’s in this rather dull haze of prettiness. But that’s a fine sunset. Worthy of the best you can see from the hills near Tuckborough. Not a bad view for it either.” He began to stare intently at the sunset and the village spread before them much as old Grandpa Rory would have examined a prize bull. “I might try and sketch from here tomorrow. I can’t mix colours like those quite yet, but I bet I could with the new oils Frodo’s promised me for his birthday. Then I could buy a big, big, big piece of canvas from Blund’s in Michel Delving and make a project of it. A proper oil painting from The Hill!” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “What do you think? If I get it finished by my next birthday it could be a present. For Frodo, maybe – or for you.” He took an earnest puff on his pipe and looked at Merry, his eyes alight and his face almost beautiful with unguarded enthusiasm. “Or perhaps you’d prefer something of Buckland?”
Merry heard himself muttered something vaguely appreciative, as Pippin turned back to peer once more at the steadily darkening sunset, puffing again on his pipe with the abstracted air of a hobbit three times his age. Or even five times his age. The air of Bilbo, in fact.
And then Merry drew upon his own pipe, and began to laugh.
Pippin started, and turned around angrily. “What?” he demanded.
Merry tried not to smile but there it came again. He touched his young cousin’s arm. “Poor Pippin,” he said. “I’m terribly sorry. I’m not laughing at you. Just at the world, or the world as it is this evening, or something. I’ve spent all day feeling bad about things, and now I don’t. I really don’t. And,” he added, suddenly tired of being serious, “Frodo’s spent the whole of supper telling me about this incredible thing he calls delegating, and talking to me in this wise learned way as though he hadn’t spent the whole of his time in Buckland stealing vegetables, playing terrible pranks on unsuspecting relatives, and trying to lead me astray. I wouldn’t mind but half of what he says makes a great deal of sense. Oh, and I’d love you to.”
“To what?” asked Pippin.
“Paint me a view of Buckland. It would mean a great deal to me. Somehow I’ve given up seeing it as beautiful. Let me see it through your eyes, Pip.”
Pippin nodded, but then frowned. “I don’t suppose you looked at that big portfolio thing of mine, did you? Frodo mentioned that he would pass it on to you but, well. I wasn’t sure that you’d be interested.”
Merry turned to his companion, feeling the smile drain from his own face. “Why do you say that?”
Pippin shrugged. “I don’t know. Perhaps because I was afraid that you wouldn’t and I don’t like being disappointed.”
Merry took a long pull at his pipe. “I’ve disappointed you a lot in recent years, haven’t I, Pippin.” It wasn’t really a question. Pippin stared straight ahead and seemed to ponder it for a moment.
“I know it’s not your fault, Merry,” he said at last. “It’s because of Uncle Saradoc and… and things. Frodo has spoken to me about it. Quite a few times, actually. And I love you for doing what you do, and working so hard and keeping Buckland going and never once complaining. But I wish you did complain,” he added, flushing. “It’s not fair. And I can’t help feeling a bit hurt about seeing so little of you for so long. I can’t help it. I miss you.”
“Yes, I know,” said Merry. Then he turned to face Pippin, almost fiercely. “Your portfolio is incredible, Pippin. I thought the others were exaggerating when they said how good you are. It’s quite extraordinary. If you weren’t your father’s son I’d be fighting half the wealthy families in the Shire for who got to be your patron. It’s a shame in a way that you’ll never be able to do it as more than a hobby. You’re one of the most gifted artists of your generation.”
Pippin blushed. “There was a large envelope in the portfolio. For your eyes only. Two sets of paintings, one in oils and one in watercolour. Did… did Frodo give you those?”
“Yes, he did,” said Merry, softly.
The envelope had not contained Pippin’s best work, but what Merry had found within had still been strikingly good. And astonishing. Mostly Pippin drew from life. There was no way that the secret paintings had been. There were dragons, forests, mountains, monsters. Glorious, outrageous creations that filled the canvas. Intricate designs full of strange and improbable shapes that somehow twisted into a recognisable image. Illustrations from Bilbo’s stories and poems, landscapes of fairytale that Merry had never fully imagined, realised before him on the page. How Pippin had visualised them so richly Merry could not guess. They were beautiful, bewildering, brilliant…
“Well I would like to tell you what I think about those pictures, Pippin,” he said, “but you’d get far too big-headed. So I shan’t.”
“I’ll assume then that you think they’re masterpieces and that I’m a genius,” smiled Pippin.
It was growing dark, and colder. Below them the villagers of Hobbiton were lighting their lamps. Merry refilled his pipe.
“One day Frodo’s going to go after Bilbo,” said Pippin suddenly. His voice was only a murmur but in the evening hush it sounded loud as a bell. “You know that, don’t you.”
Merry stared at him. “Yes, Pippin” he said, hoarsely. “Yes, I do know that.”
“Are you and I going to let him go off alone?”
Merry saw again in his mind Frodo travelling alone, travelling so far, far away from them all. He shivered. “No. No, we’re not,” he said, with growing resolution. “Not alone. Is that what the pictures are about, Peregrin?” he asked.
There was a pause, and then Pippin spoke again. “Fatty’s reliable, you know.”
Merry pondered this. “So Frodo told me. I believe Sam is too.”
“Yes,” said Pippin, “yes, I suppose he is.”
Merry was cold, and tired. One night’s walking in the company of friends had exhausted him. And what he could possibly be good for in a long adventure he could not imagine.
He stood up. “When he goes,” he said. “When Frodo goes we will go too. All of us. Wherever the road leads us, we’ll follow it with him.”
He could just make out Pippin crinkling his eyes. “Well, Merry,” he said, “I think that’s settled.”
And so it was. And so they walked down the Hill together, into the light and warmth and laughter of Frodo’s kitchen, at 9 o’clock in the evening on the 20th of September in the year 1413 of the Shire Reckoning.