Bilbo smiled to himself. It was something of a sight.
Eglantine sitting upright surrounded by bright white sheets and pillows, that blissful smile on her face that only new mothers could show, holding the tiny baby in her arms. He was tiny indeed, little Peregrin, being a good three weeks early. But his blue eyes were huge, even bigger than it was usually the way with babies—Bilbo had seen a lot of children being born—and he even grew a bit of dark brown down on his head.
Then the look in Merry's eyes as he stood beside the bed, holding Frodo's hand, his gaze fixed intently on the baby boy in his aunt's arms.
And above all, the way Frodo was watching the scene, with a tiny smile that hadn't left his lips ever since they had entered the room. He looked happy—Bilbo knew how much his nephew loved children—but there also seemed to be a hint of sadness showing in his bright blue eyes, hanging around the corners of his mouth.
"Do you want to hold him, Merry?" asked Eglantine.
"Yes," Merry whispered reverentially. Frodo helped him sit onto the bed and accept the three-day-old baby into his arms.
"Eglantine," said Frodo, "why did you name him Peregrin?"
"Well," she said, "we remembered those old stories of Peregrin the Traveller—have you heard of them?"
"I think I have come across the name once or twice, but I don't know any story about him," said Frodo, his eyes wandering over to Bilbo.
Bilbo raised his eyebrows. "Don't you remember the old hobbit and the elven hunters?"
Frodo looked at him clueless. Then his face lit up. "You mean the hobbit that tricked the elves by making sounds like a hog?"
"Yes, that's him," said Bilbo. "That's old Peregrin."
"Well I never," said Frodo. "You used to tell me that story when I was five or so, didn't you?"
"You couldn't get enough of it," said Bilbo with a grin. "Every time I came to visit you at Brandy Hall, I couldn't get a decent word with your father before I had told you the tale of the Old Hobbit and the Hunters."
"I don't know any Peregrin stories," Merry put in.
"I'll tell you the one with the hunters tonight," said Frodo.
Just then, Peregrin let out a high wail. Merry started and watched his little cousin's face anxiously.
"What's the matter with you, darling?" Eglantine asked and bent over Merry to pat Peregrin's cheek. "You can't be hungry. You've just eaten."
"Will you take him back?" Merry asked her.
"No, no," she said. "Rock him a little and see how he likes that."
Merry began to move the baby back and forth, a little awkwardly at first, but once he had found a steady rhythm, Peregrin quieted down instantly.
"Well done, Merry-lad," said Eglantine. "He just wanted your attention. I think I'll call you whenever he is in a bad mood. Now you keep him for a while and take care of him." She crawled out from underneath the blankets. "I need to go somewhere urgent."
"Let me help you, my dear," said Bilbo, walking over and offering his arm to her, but she declined it.
"I'm all right, thank you, Bilbo" she said, pulling straight her nightgown. "I've slept like a log for hours last night, except for that once when Peregrin wanted me to get up, and I should be able to do a few steps on my own now. You can't accompany me all the way anyway." She grinned and reached for her dressing gown, and Bilbo rejoiced to see that she was very much herself again. It had been a difficult birth, and according to what Pal had told him, Eglantine had been more worn out than at any of her previous deliveries. She was, after all, fifty-seven years old—not yet too old to conceive, but getting closer to an age when having children became more difficult and risky for women.
When Eglantine reached the door, it went open and Pimpernel hopped in.
"Have you put the shirts away like I told you, Nellie?" her mother asked.
"Yes," said Pimpernel obediently. "May I stay with the baby now?"
Eglantine smiled. "Yes, you may." She quickly hugged her daughter to herself. "I'll be back in a minute."
"Take your time," called Pimpernel as the door closed. She sprang over to the bed where Merry was holding Peregrin in his arms like a very precious, fragile object.
"You're doing very well, Merry," she said, nodding in approval.
Peregrin obviously agreed with her. He was lying perfectly still in Merry's arms, not making a sound and looking a bit sleepy.
"You're holding him the right way," said Pimpernel, nodding. "Always keep the head up, Mum says."
Merry smiled proudly at her. "Frodo showed me."
The door opened again and Pearl came in. She was walking with a certain dignity, not bouncing like her little sister, but there was a similar kind of spring to her step as she quickly covered the distance between the door and the bed. She was quite a beauty even at such an early age, with large eyes, long lashes, shiny dark-brown hair and fine features, and Bilbo had to smile again at the way the girl reminded him so much of her Aunt Esme, not only in looks.
"Hello, little Peregrin!" she said, tickling the baby's chin. He just looked at her with his huge eyes. "What do you think of him, Frodo?"
"What would he think of him?" said Pimpernel, rolling her eyes. "There has never been a sweeter baby before; has there, Frodo?"
"With the exception of these two beauties that he's got for sisters," said Frodo, "and our remarkable young cousin here, I do not think so."
Pimpernel giggled. "Frodo!" she squeaked. Pearl turned bright red and gave Frodo a glowing look. Bilbo had to be careful to keep the chuckle inside that was building up in his chest. How old was this girl? Fourteen? Fifteen?
"I love his eyes," said Pearl dreamily, looking down on her little brother. "Were our eyes that blue when we were born?"
"Yes," said Frodo. "Well, almost."
Her mouth twisted just a trifle. Bilbo wondered if she had expected a different answer. "Well," she continued in the same soft tone. There was still a touch of red left on her cheeks, which made her look even prettier. "His eyes won't stay that way either. It's a pity, that is."
Then she looked up as if she had suddenly remembered something. "Nellie," she said. "Grandma is calling for us. I believe she wants us to help write the letters to Brandy Hall and Longbottom and Needlehole. And all the Bankses need to be notified, of course."
"Oh no," said Nellie, drawing a pout. "We'll have to write the same letter about fifty times again." She stood up. "We'll be back with you as soon as we can get ourselves free," she said.
"Now you go and be a couple of good lasses and help your poor old grandmother," said Frodo, half-smiling, half-admonishing. "You know how much trouble writing gives her, with her eyes as weak as they are."
"Yes," said Pimpernel with a sigh. "Poor Granny."
Pearl eyed Frodo. "Isn't it boring to always have to be a good girl."
Bilbo didn't quite know whether to be shocked or amused at the look she gave his nephew, who was after all seven years older than her. This child was something of an early starter!
When she turned, their eyes met. It seemed like she had forgotten that Bilbo was there, but she didn't show the faintest sign of bashfulness. Esme, Bilbo thought. She's got so much of Esme.
"Tell your granny I shall pay her a visit a little later," he said.
"Yes, Uncle Bilbo," said Pearl.
When the girls had gone, Bilbo sat down on the bed beside Merry. He took one little hand of Peregrin's into his and looked at the tiny fingers, which appeared even smaller in relation to his own fully grown hands. The size of a newborn's fingers was still a marvel to Bilbo after all these years.
Merry giggled happily. "His hand is smaller than your finger!" he stated.
"Yes," said Bilbo, "but it's going to grow faster than you can bat an eyelid."
"I'll have to visit him very often, so he doesn't grow out on me," said Merry.
"Yes, we shall," said Frodo. "Both of us. I don't want to miss out either."
Merry suddenly looked up at Frodo. "Can I show him how to eat his food with a fork and knife, the way you did with me?"
"It will be a while before he is ready for that, but yes, you can," said Frodo, smiling fondly at him. Now the sadness was there again in his eyes. Why so melancholy, Frodo-lad? You've got your whole life before you, and this is what it is like. You've got to view it from the right angle.
Merry bent down and laid his cheek onto the baby's head. "His hair is so soft," he said. "But it isn't really a lot of hair. It will grow, won't it?"
"Just like everything else about him, yes," said Bilbo.
"Can I show him how to draw a house?" said Merry. Bilbo knew that he had just recently learned something about perspective and angle from Frodo. "I'll teach him to swim. But only when he is old and strong enough. And I'll tell him all the stories about the elf-maiden and the man, and about the dwarf who sat on his treasure. I'll show him how to steal blackberries from Farmer Maggot's hedge—"
"What's this you're telling me?" said Bilbo and leaned down to look Merry in the eye.
"Um…" said Merry, shrinking back from Bilbo's stare.
But Bilbo chuckled. "I don't doubt that Maggot would give you baskets full of blackberries if you asked nicely. I don't think you have to go through so much trouble and steal them."
Merry nodded, looking like he wasn't sure whether this had been a reproach or a command.
And Bilbo whispered in his ear: "I know it's much more fun to steal them. But don't tell your mummy I said that!"
Merry gave a chortling laugh. "Uncle Bilbo!"
Bilbo patted his shoulder. It was this kind of Uncle Bilbo that gave him the deepest joy to hear from his little relatives.
"When will he walk?" Merry asked Frodo.
"That will be at least a year from now," Frodo answered. "Probably a bit longer."
"More than a year?" Merry asked, disappointment in his face. "Well, I'll teach him that, too, so he won't have to wait so long."
The door opened and Eglantine came back in. "Thank you for taking such good care, Merry," she said. "Now I think we should put him in his cradle. He's getting tired, see."
Peregrin's eyes were half-closed by now. Merry handed him over to his mother, who laid him down inside the cradle that Bilbo had seen all the baby's sisters lying in. It was woven like a basket and fixed to the ceiling on four solid strings, something that Eglantine must have seen during a visit to Brandy Hall, where the children had been swinging on the ceiling for centuries past. Merry and Frodo stood beside the cradle and watched Peregrin, while Eglantine shooed Bilbo off the bed and started straightening out the sheets. Bilbo gave her a hand.
"Where is your Pervinca?" he asked. "I haven't seen her today."
Eglantine sighed. "I don't know. She's probably in the garden or in the stable, I don't know. She's jealous, you know."
"Really?" Bilbo raised his eyebrows. Jealousy had not been a problem with either Pearl or Pimpernel.
"What does that mean, jealous?" Merry had turned around and was sending a questioning look at them. "I thought it means that I want a pony like Beri had for Uncle Mac's birthday."
Eglantine smiled. "It does mean something like that. It means you want something that another has."
"And what does Vinca want?" asked Merry. "And who has it?"
"Well—" Eglantine looked at Bilbo. Help! her eyes were saying.
"Well, Merry," he said, "in your cousin's case it means that she has been the youngest in the family for five years. Everyone always looked after her, Pearl, Nellie, Aunt Eglantine and Uncle Pal."
"And I," said Merry.
"And you," said Bilbo with a smile. "And now that Peregrin is born, he is the youngest child in the family, and everybody has to take care of him, so Paladin and Eglantine cannot look after Pervinca that much anymore."
"Is she angry about that?" asked Merry.
"Yes," said Bilbo. "She thinks that her parents like Peregrin more than her, but she wants them to like only her. That is jealousy."
Merry contemplated that for a moment. "How stupid of her," he said, shaking his head in disapproval. "Why shouldn't you like her anymore? Everybody likes her. Or don't you, Aunt Eglantine?"
She looked at him. "Of course we do," she said, then quickly lowered her eyes and beat a pillow into shape.
"She doesn't need to be taken care of like a baby," said Merry, turning back to Peregrin in the cradle. "She must learn to look after herself."
"And she will," said Bilbo.
"After a time," Frodo added. "Come on, Merry. Let's go outside and let Peregrin get his sleep." He took Merry's hand.
"Do babies always sleep so much?" Merry asked.
"Yes," said Frodo. "You know, everything they see is new for them, and having to take in all the new things can be quite exhausting for such a small hobbit."
They went over to the door. "We'll be in the garden, Bilbo," said Frodo.
"All right," said Bilbo. "I'll see you later."
The door closed, and he was left alone with Eglantine and the baby. She sat down on a stool beside the crib and started gently swinging Peregrin back and forth. "Go on, Bilbo," she said, without looking up from her child, "sing one of your songs."
Bilbo walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. Peregrin heaved a sigh, his eyes showed not much more than slits by now. Well, Peregrin, thought Bilbo, I wonder what path they've chosen for you to take. Will you be happy? Will you be stupid or bright? Will you have an adventure some day, like your namesake, or like I?
And Bilbo began to sing softly. It was a song that he had not sung to a child before, but considering the unusual name that Eglantine and Paladin had given their son, he thought it appropriate to choose an unusual song for a lullaby.
"Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are your feet,
Still round the corner you may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but you alone.
Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
Let them pass! Let them pass!
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though you pass them by today,
Tomorrow you may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the moon or to the sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
The world behind and home ahead,
You'll wander back to home and bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!"
When he had finished, Peregrin was fast asleep.
The song is, of course, the Walking Song from the chapter "Three Is Company" in The Fellowship of the Ring. It is stated there that the words were made by Bilbo.