Finally, Rory had come to the last and most important part of Primula's will. This part would be tricky to execute, as it depended on the execution of Drogo's will as well. Primula had stated that, with Drogo's agreement, should they both die before Frodo came of age, he was to be cared for "by his nearest relatives."
Rory and his brothers sat back and looked at each other. Usually Primula was a very precise writer, but they had to admit that they were slightly puzzled by that phrase. Dinodas tried to remember as much as he could about the Baggins family.
"Drogo has a niece, doesn't he?" he asked.
"Dudo's daughter," Dodinas said. "I knew Dudo when we were lads. I remember he wrote to me when Daisy was born." Dodinas counted on his fingers for a moment. "She isn't quite of age yet," he said, "and I can't imagine that Dudo would want to start over with another child now that his is nearly grown."
"Dora?" Saradas asked. The other three shook their heads.
"Dora means well," Dodinas said. "But I don't think she really likes children much, for all that she tries to tell people how to raise them."
"Perhaps Primula meant for us to keep Frodo here, at Brandy Hall," Rory suggested. "After all, we are not only very near relatives, but we have been nearby all his life."
"He wouldn't have to move out of Buckland that way," Dinodas said. "He's lost so much already, he shouldn't have to leave all his friends behind, too. He just adores my Cady, and I think Cady would like to have him around for a while longer."
"Esme's taken rather an interest in him, too," Rory agreed. "I agree, his people are here, and he should stay here, at least for now. When we talk Drogo's will over with the Bagginses, we'll make it official, but I can't imagine they'd object to Frodo staying with us, at least for a few more years."
"You could put him in Saradoc and Merimac's old room," Saradas said.
"Oh, no," Rory said. "I'm not putting him anywhere. Menegilda will want to see to that herself. Speaking of which, we should go break the news to the lovely ladies."
The brothers Brandybuck stood. Rory carefully laid Primula's will away in the oak deed box and locked it. He nodded, and the foursome went in search of the Mistress of Buckland.
Menegilda was holding court in the main kitchen, rocking baby Berry with grandmotherly assurance. Nina was taking advantage of her mother-in-law's help to work idly on some mending. Esme was listlessly chopping vegetables and rabbits for a stew. It had been a long afternoon. There had been housework to do, but none of the women had felt much like doing it, and only the most basic and unavoidable of chores had gotten done. Esme felt a twinge of guilt about the dust gathering in some of the far corners of the kitchen, and she knew of several beds left unmade, but she couldn't bring herself to pick up a broom or smooth a quilt. Menegilda had not objected. Sweeping and dusting and bedmaking could wait until later.
A clanking from the cool pantry told them that Merimac and Cady had come in from the milking and were setting the milk to separate. Usually Esme or Nina would remind them to scald the milk pails afterward, but the routine words stuck in their throats. It didn't seem to matter much; Cady trotted in and retrieved the kettle without needing the reminder.
A soft tread at the doorway made them look up. Asphodel walked into the room on Peony's arm and made her way to one of the benches at the kitchen table. She sat down slowly, as if she had aged ten years during the night. Peony looked around the kitchen.
"Have you a mug of water?" she asked Esme.
"Not water," Menegilda said, glancing at Asphodel. "Esme, do show Peony where the special bottle of cordial is. Just a little," she added as Esme held the cordial bottle above the mug. Esme dribbled a little of the potent liquor into the mug and handed it to Peony, who set it in front of Asphodel. Asphodel took a sip and seemed to revive a little.
"It's funny," she said after a while. "All these years I was living in Pincup and Primmy was here, we'd go for months without seeing her. And I never worried, and I didn't mourn, for I had my own family to think about. But now she's really and truly gone, and I'll never see her whether I'm in Pincup or here, and it makes me so terrible lonely."
"We're all lonely, Del," Menegilda said. "I wonder if we shall ever truly get used to it." The women considered the question in silence.
"May we join you?" Rory, Saradas, Dodinas and Dinodas walked into the kitchen. Rory kissed Menegilda and tickled Berry a little.
"How did the reading go?" Menegilda asked.
"As well as to be expected," Rory said. "There weren't any big surprises. Most of the will was separate from Drogo's, so we can execute it immediately." He turned to Asphodel and put a hand on her arm. "Primmy wanted you to have her silver tea service," he said gently.
Asphodel stared at him, and fresh tears sprang to her eyes. She quickly turned away and covered by taking another sip of cordial. "The tea service," she said softly. "I might have known. Primmy was so proud of that tea service. I helped Ma pick it out myself, and I polished it up bright for her. I remember, whenever I visited Primmy, she'd always make an excuse to keep me until tea-time, and we'd have our tea out of that silver." Saradas sat down across from his sister and took her hands. "Why did Primmy have to die?" Asphodel asked softly.
No one could make an answer to that, and silence fell again. Rory closed his eyes, and he could see himself by the riverbank again, staring at the wet, drowned bodies of his baby sister and her husband. All of a sudden, he remembered the rocks in Primula's pockets. She had loved to collect river stones as a little child, but he couldn't remember her ever doing so after she grew up. He wondered why her pockets had been filled with stones when they found her. There were rather a lot of them, and they had weighted her dress down so. . . a horrible suspicion began to grow in Rory's mind. It was a terrible thing to think of one's sister, but Rory could not deny that it fitted. After all, the river hadn't been that treacherous, and Primula was good in boats. Perhaps Drogo had bravely, but foolishly, gone in after her. In all the fuss of the rescue attempts and the recovery, no one had thought to ask how Primula and Drogo had fallen into the river in the first place.
Rory sternly tried to banish such thoughts from his mind. It wasn't a proper thing to accuse any Hobbit of, especially when one had no better proof than two pockets full of pretty river pebbles. And yet the treacherous idea kept worming its way back in. Primula had suffered a terrible shock recently with Bluebell, and she'd been so terribly sick afterward. But he'd seen her dancing at the party, her cheeks pink and her eyes sparkling. Could Primula have fooled them all? The question would worry Rory for many years to come. However, having no proof and not wanting to cast a shadow on his sister's memory, he would never share his suspicions with a living soul, not even Menegilda.
"What is to become of Frodo?" Esme's soft question pulled Rory back to the present. He harrumphed a little to cover his woolgathering.
"The will said that he was to live with his nearest relatives," Saradas said. "We talked it over amongst ourselves, and we decided that she meant him to stay here in Brandy Hall."
"How about that, Gilda?" Rory asked. "Would you be up to taking your nephew in?"
"Would I be up to it?" Menegilda sputtered. "Why, that's the first sensible thing that's happened since the party. Of course he'll come to live here. Where else would he go, that poor boy?"
"I thought you'd say that," Rory said.
"Can we really keep him?" Esme asked excitedly. "But what about the Bagginses?"
"The Bagginses won't be prepared to take the child in on a moment's notice," Menegilda declared. "And why should he be moved all the way to Hobbiton, for goodness' sake? Saradoc, Merimac!" she called.
Saradoc and Merimac appeared at the window, still in their work smocks. Cady wandered in from the yard and stood just at the doorway. "What is it, Ma?" Merimac asked.
"When you're finished with the chores, will you please go and set up a bedstead in your old room for Frodo? He'll have that room for his own now, seeing as how you've both got your own quarters in this smial."
"What do you think of that, Cady?" Dinodas asked. "Your favorite little cousin is going to come live here for good."
"I'd like that a lot, Da," Cady said with a broad smile. "I'll help take care of him, Aunt Gilda."
"I'm counting on that," Menegilda replied. "Now then, let us tell Frodo the good news. Where is the lad?"
There was a moment of silence.
"I thought I saw him wandering around the orchard earlier," Saradoc said. "He wasn't really doing anything, and he left after a while. I'd have thought he'd be here in the kitchen cooking with you, Esme."
"He stopped by," Esme said, "and I asked him if he wanted to help with something, and he said he didn't feel like cooking. I asked him if he wanted something to eat, and he didn't want that, either. Then he wandered off, and I haven't seen him since."
"He was in our quarters about an hour ago," Peony offered. "Milo and I tried to play with him, but then Milo fell asleep, and Frodo left. I don't know where he went. I didn't see him when we came to the kitchen."
Dinodas turned to Cady. "Cady, have you seen Frodo?" he asked. "He's always tagging after you."
"No," Cady said, puzzled. "I haven't seen him all day. I was out doing chores for a long time, though."
"Well, let's go look," Rory said. "There's only so many places a lad can hide in this smial. He's probably holed up in a wardrobe somewhere." The family quickly dispersed, calling and searching and enlisting the aid of other relatives.
After half an hour, it became clear that Frodo was not to be found in Brandy Hall. Esme and Saradoc ran down to the river in a panic, but saw no sign that any lad had been there recently. They reported this to the family with a mixture of relief and anxiety.
"I should have assigned someone to keep an eye on him," Menegilda scolded herself. "A fine lot of guardians we'll make."
"We'll do fine once we find him," Rory assured her. "We're all still torn up ourselves, you know."
"Still," Menegilda persisted, "Frodo's only twelve, and he's in a very bad state right now. Who knows what he might have gotten up to?"
"If it were me, I'd want to crawl into my bed and stay there for a week," Cady said, returning from the root cellar. He paused, and an idea glimmered in his mind. "Hold on," he said. "That's it! I think I know where Frodo went!" He sprinted toward the door, but Rory caught his arm.
"Where are you off to, lad?"
"I'm going to get Frodo," Cady said. "He went home, I just know he did."
"Go find out," Rory said and released Cady.
Cady trotted down the road until he came to the little house. It was cold and dark and looked distinctly unpromising. Cady knocked at the door anyway. "Frodo!" he called. "Frodo, are you in there? It's me, Cady."
There was no answer. Cady tried the door and found it unlocked. He wandered through the house, everything still and neat, exactly the way Drogo and Primula had left it. The milk in the kitchen was growing lumpy, and green fuzz had sprouted on the bread. Cady hoped that Frodo hadn't thought to eat any of the spoiled food. In the master bedroom, Primula's hairbrush still lay on the night table, a few stray hairs caught among the bristles. Cady opened the wardrobe and batted the dresses around, but no Hobbit lad was hiding among them. Frodo's bedroom was the only untidy place in the house. The bed was rumpled, as if someone had used it recently. Cady threw back the covers, but the bed was empty. However, the rumpled bed did seem to prove that someone had been at the house recently, and that thought encouraged Cady.
He went back into the kitchen. While he was contemplating the green fuzz on the bread, he became aware of noise from the garden. It sounded like faint shouting, and Cady went outside to investigate. The garden was large, but Cady followed the sounds of the shouts, which became louder and angrier as he got nearer. Finally, down past the beehive, Cady found Frodo.
Frodo had one of his father's umbrellas, and was furiously beating and slashing at Bluebell's grave and the flowers surrounding it. Most of the flower heads and quite a bit of foliage from surrounding bushes lay at his feet. "I hate you!" he yelled. "I hate you, Bluebell! It's all your fault that Ma was so sick. Well, she's dead, and you won! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" He slashed the umbrella through the flowerbeds, and a few more mums fell at his feet.
"Frodo, what are you doing?" Cady cried. He hurried over to his enraged cousin and tore the umbrella out of his hands. "What are you ruining those flowers for? Those are your mother's flowers."
"No they're not!" Frodo declared. "They're Bluebell's flowers, and I hate her."
"How can you hate Bluebell? She's just a little dead baby."
Frodo sniffled a little. "She took my Ma and Da away."
Cady frowned in confusion. At least Frodo had calmed down enough to talk. "How did she do that?"
"Ma loved her more than me," Frodo explained. "When she was expecting, all she could talk about was the new baby. And then after Bluebell came, she got sick, and she forgot all about me. And all Da could think about was Ma. You an' Esme were the only ones that remembered me. And then Ma got better, and I thought maybe she'd start to love me again, and then she and Da went away and died! They're dead, Cady! Dead just like Bluebell! And now I haven't got a Ma, nor a Da, and Uncle Rory said he was going to take the house away, and I haven't got anything left, and it's all Bluebell's fault!" The last words dissolved into a wail. Frodo dropped to his knees and sat choking and hiccuping.
Cady was paralyzed with fear. He wished desperately that an adult would come to his rescue, someone who would know what to do with the angry, grieving child who was falling apart before his eyes. It wasn't fair, Cady thought. He'd made such a mess of taking care of Frodo already, and now Frodo had run away and had torn up the garden, and the only person there to do anything about it was Cady.
Frodo's hiccups grew louder, and he scrubbed his sleeve across his eyes. It wasn't fair, Cady knew, but there were no adults around. No one would come to help him. He was on his own with Frodo. There was only one thing Cady could think to do, and he did it. He knelt down beside Frodo and pulled his cousin into his arms.
Frodo struggled for a moment more, and then his hiccups gave way to wails, and he was crying all the tears that he hadn't cried since learning of Primula and Drogo's deaths. Cady held him awkwardly at first, then relaxed as his own tears started to come. They sat together until Frodo had cried himself out and lay with his head in Cady's lap, gasping and shuddering a little. Cady reached in his pocket, but as usual, he had misplaced his handkerchief. He settled instead for brushing Frodo's tears away with his hands.
"Cady?" Frodo mumbled.
"What is it?"
"I didn't mean what I said about Bluebell. I don't really hate her."
"I know," Cady said. "I'm glad you don't really hate her. After all, it's not really fair to blame her."
"I suppose." Frodo sat up, and his tear-streaked face shone in the fading light. "But whose fault is it, then? Did I do something bad?"
Cady shook his head. "No, Frodo," he said. "You didn't do anything bad. I don't think it's anyone's fault, really. I think. . . I think that sometimes, bad things just happen. And it's no one's fault. It's just an accident. There's good accidents, and there's bad accidents, and this was a bad accident."
"It's not fair," Frodo insisted.
"No," Cady agreed. "It's not. But you've still got something left, Frodo."
"What have I got?"
Cady smiled. "You've got all of us," he said. "You've got Uncle Rory and Aunt Gilda, you've got Esme and Saradoc and Merimac and Nina and all your aunts and uncles and cousins. . . you've even got me."
Frodo flashed a smile, but quickly grew serious. "But Cady. . . I heard Uncle Rory. I don't think I was supposed to, but I did hear. He said he was going to sell my house. I don't want that. I want my house to stay here, with my bed and my room and my toys and my glass from Cousin Bilbo. I don't want to have to go away and live under a tree."
Cady laughed. "Frodo, did that scare you?" he asked. Frodo nodded. "Well, he didn't mean it like that. He'll have to sell the house, but you can keep all your things. I came looking for you to tell you what Uncle Rory wants to do with you."
"He thought you should come and live in Brandy Hall with the rest of us. All your clothes and books and toys can come, too. Would you like to come live in Brandy Hall with me?"
"Who would take care of me?"
"We'd all take care of you, Frodo. You could have your lessons with the rest of the little cousins, and you and I could go walking whenever we wanted. Would you like that?"
Frodo considered the offer. "I think I'd like that very much," he said solemnly.
Cady looked equally solemn. "Good. I wouldn't want to see my favorite little cousin have to go live under a tree." Frodo smiled and threw his arms around Cady. Then he pulled away and surveyed the damaged garden.
"But Cady, what about the garden?" he asked. "I didn't mean to ruin it, but I don't think anyone could fix it."
Cady examined some of the abused plants. "I don't think it's that bad, Frodo," he said at last. "Look, you just ripped the leaves a little. The bluebell bulbs are still safe. If you'd like, we can dig them up, and they can move to Brandy Hall with you."
"Could we take them?" Frodo asked. "I think I'd like to have them."
"Then we'll come and get them in the morning," Cady said. "Is there anything else you want to take with you?"
Frodo stood up and looked around. "That bush," he said, pointing to a neatly pruned rosebush that had borne glorious deep pink roses in the summer. "That's Ma's favorite rosebush. Can I take that, too?"
Cady inspected the bush. It looked healthy and was reasonably compact. "I think we could get Saradoc to help us dig it up and take it in his wheelbarrow," he said. "And I'm sure Aunt Gilda would let you have a bit of flowerbed. You can plant the rosebush and put the bluebells all around it."
"Let's do that," Frodo said.
"Tomorrow," Cady told him. "Tonight you need to come back home with me. The whole family's been worried sick about you."
"Really. They're your family, too, Frodo, and they love you."
Cady was rewarded with a real smile from Frodo. Frodo slipped his grubby hand into Cady's, and together they walked back up the hill to Brandy Hall, where the lights burned in the windows to welcome them home.
Deepest thanks to all who have read and enjoyed this story. Whether or not you agreed with the choices of some of the characters, I do hope you found the story interesting.
Before I go any further, I do feel obliged to mention something. Primula's illness, postpartum depression, is a real and very serious problem that afflicts a small percentage of mothers (even those whose children survive). It is not "the baby blues." It is an aspect of depression, a crippling and potentially fatal mental illness. Postpartum depression is treatable, and should be treated every bit as vigorously as other forms of depression, as it has the same fatality rate from the same cause, suicide. That the suicide may stem from irrational thought processes does not make it any less of a danger.
Okay, I'm off the soapbox for now. One person was of the opinion that no Hobbit would consider suicide because Frodo, who had objective cause to be suicidal, did not do so. I'm not entirely convinced this is true. I think Frodo's fate is a bit of a red herring; he knew for certain, as so many suicides do not, that he had a way out of his misery. He could go to Valinor. I'm not going to debate the morality of suicide here -- I certainly don't support it, but I don't feel that I have the right to condemn it, for many reasons -- but I do think that Tolkien created in Hobbits a race of deep feeling and some psychological complexity. Everyone has a different breaking point, and Primula and Frodo are no different from anyone else in that respect.
End of heavy stuff. Thank you once again for reading. I'll see you later.