Huge apologies for the long, long delay. I'm afraid the muses were being stubbornly silent! Thank you so much to everyone who read and reviewed! I really appreciate it! :-)
"The Early Adventures of Fwo And Unga Bee"
Chapter 4 "Adventures in the Garden...and Beyond"
"Adventures in the Garden...and Beyond"
Elevenses had been a simple affair of cheese toast and left over apple tarts, but Bilbo counted the meal as a raving success not only because it had been nourishing and satisfying to both himself and his small nephew, but also because nothing (and, more importantly, no one) had been burned in the process of its preparation. After the two of them were completely sated and had sat for a while in blissful fullness, Bilbo decided a turn about the garden might do the two slightly overstuffed Baggins' a bit of good.
"Come, Frodo lad." He said, taking his small nephew by the hand and helping him down from his chair. "Let's you and I go for a walk outside, shall we?"
At the word 'outside' Frodo's cherubic face lit up and he hurried to slide down from the chair and hurry his small feet toward the door.
Bilbo caught his nephew gently by the arm before he could get too far. "Just a moment, Frodo. We have to get your coat on you first. It's sunny but there's still a bit of chill in the air when the wind blows." Bilbo explained.
The captured lad made a small noise of protest as his coat was mentioned. "No, Unga Bee! No toat. Nah' told." The toddler declared, crossing his arms over his chest stubbornly.
"Frodo." Bilbo said calmly, giving his obstinate nephew a stern look. "If you want to go outside I'm afraid you must wear your coat."
"Bu', Unga Bee! No wike toat! Toat too big! Toat too hot an'-..." Frodo began to protest again.
His uncle who had always been credited with passing on to him the very stubborness he was now displaying cut him off mid-whine however.
"Frodo!" Bilbo's voice was still calm but much more commanding now. "It looks as if you don't want to go out after all. Very well, then. I suppose we can spend the rest of the afternoon indoors. Though, it is a shame, wasting all that beautiful sunshine. But...since that's how you want it, apparently..." Bilbo pretended indifference as he watched his nephew's face, which was becoming more of a study in disappointment by the word.
Frodo looked up at his Uncle plaintively, small hands tugging at his uncle's breeks beseechingly. "Oh, pwease, Unga Bee!" He cried. "Pwease doe ou'si'e! Wan' pway! Wan' see shunshi'e! Pwease!" The toddler plead, employing (intentionally or unintentionally, Bilbo couldn't be sure) every charm and enchantment in his considerable arsenal, from big, innocent blue eyes threatening to spill tears at any moment to the rosy lower lip which was protruding alarmingly.
Bilbo tilted his head back slightly as he gazed down at his nephew, schooling his face to lines of doubting and uncertainty. To Frodo, the time seemed interminable as he waited for his uncle to answer. Finally after a long gaze into Frodo's pleading face, Bilbo saw his nephew could take it no more.
"Well..." He started, still studying the hobbit-toddler intently. "Will you wear you coat for uncle Bilbo?" He challenged.
A momentary look of disagreement passed over Frodo's small face, but seeing his uncle meant business, the hobbit toddler acquiesced. "'Es, Unga Bee. Fwo weaw toat." He agreed looking none to happy about it.
"Well all right, then!" Bilbo smiled and began leading Frodo to the coat peg in the front hall.
Bilbo retrieved the diminutive garment from its peg, admiring for a moment the obvious work and loving attention to detail Primula had obviously put into making it. The coat was made of a sturdy, tightly woven material of lightweight wool in richest midnight blue. It had a slightly nubbly feel on the outside, but the inside was lined with warm, soft flannel. A row of tiny stars, rendered in silver thread decorated the edges of both arm cuffs. Bilbo grinned at the sight of the stars, knowing that Prim often called her son her 'little star-light'. As Bilbo carefully guided his nephew's arms through the sleeves he noticed Frodo had been right on one point at least. The coat was a bit over-sized and the owner's small fingers barely peeked from the ends of the sleeves. Primula had no doubt made it that way so that it would last longer, and at the rate Frodo was growing he could well understand why.
Frodo made only slight noises and expressions of displeasure as his uncle dropped down on one knee to help him on with his coat. Meekly he submitted to having his arms threaded gently through the sleeves, but when his uncle made to fasten up the big, silver buttons he spoke up once more.
"No bu'on, pwease, Unga Bee?" He asked in a tiny voice.
Bilbo pursed his lips slightly, but glancing out the window noted that it was very sunny and the coat seemed very warmly constructed. With a slight grin tugging at the corners of his mouth, Bilbo sighed and tried to sound exasperated.
"Very well, then. No buttons." Bilbo said, rising to his feet once more.
Frodo grinned and giggled and clapped his hands. "He-he! No bu'ons!" He laughed as though his uncle had just given him all the Shire on a silver platter.
"But," Bilbo interrupted his nephew's infectious levity for just a moment. "You must tell uncle Bilbo if you begin to feel cold, all right?" Bilbo asked, touching Frodo's nose lightly with one finger.
Nodding hugely, Frodo answered, "'Es, Unga Bee." And grinned winningly up at his uncle.
"Come on, then." Bilbo said with a chuckle, pulling his own coat from the peg and sliding into its warmth.
No more invitation was needed and Frodo headed skipping for the front door.
"No-no, lad. Not out that way." Bilbo said, using a gentle hand to turn his nephew in the opposite direction.
He didn't mention the reason for wanting to use the back door was that he didn't want Frodo to get accustomed to going out the front as the road was just a stone's skip beyond it, and in his experience, roads and curious hobbit toddlers just did not a good combination make. Bilbo hoped Frodo wouldn't be leaving the smial at all without his accompaniment, but he was well aware of how quickly a little one like Frodo could slip by you. At least if he got out the back door it led only to the harmless back garden, which was gated on the front end and thickly hedged on all other sides.
"We'll use the back door - much better for sneaking up on the Gaffer, don't you know?" Bilbo gave his nephew a conspirital wink, as he bent down to Frodo's height to whisper this last.
"Dappah? Wha' a 'dappah' Unga Bee?" Frodo asked toddling after his uncle through the smial to the back door.
"The "GaFFer" is my gardener, Frodo-lad." Bilbo emphasized the "G" and "F" sounds slowly for Frodo's sake. "He takes care of all Uncle Bilbo's flowers and fruits and vegetables. His name is Ham, but everyone calls him "Gaffer Gamgee". Bilbo explained to the hobbit toddler clinging to his hand as they made their way down the slightly dark corridor.
"Gavah Gam-zee." Frodo tried to say the words properly. Then, after a moment of thinking about the Gaffer and his given name, piped up. "Ham! Fwo wike ham! Ham yummy! Habe ham fo' wunch, Unga Bee?" Frodo looked up at his uncle grinning hopefully.
They were just reaching the door as Bilbo chuckled, "We'll see, my lad. We'll see."
The sun was at her zenith, being after all, high noon as the pair stepped outside the back door. Two pairs of Baggins blue eyes squinted in the sudden brightness after the dimness of the hall. Bilbo placed a hand above his eyes and peered about the back garden in search of the Gaffer and spotted him in the far back corner, working over the potatoes, it would appear.
As soon as his eyes had adjusted to the light, Frodo began looking about, fascinated by everything, as only the very young can be. Everywhere his eyes looked, they saw beauty and life and growing things. The fresh smell of the newly upturned earth mingling with the pungent smell of recently trimmed verge delighted his nose, which from his small height was still quite close to the ground. His downy-furred toes, which were still quite soft and sensitive for a hobbit, dug gently into the soft turf.
"Hehe!!" He giggled. "Tah-pet! Dus' wike Unga Bee!" Frodo grinned remembering having called his uncle a carpet earlier that very morning.
Bilbo chuckled at the observation. "Yes, I suppose the turf is rather carpet like - which I am not, dear boy!" The older hobbit said trying to look annoyed, but fooling no one.
Frodo let go his uncle's hand and frolicked upon the turf as much as his inexperienced legs would allow. Walking without assistance was a very recently acquired skill for Frodo and one he was still busy honing to perfection - the skipping and running he was now attempting presented a new challenge still. Bilbo mused that it was a good thing Frodo's little bottom was no further from the ground than it was or it might be quite damaged by the end of a day, what with the number of times the boy lost his balance as he tottered about.
After Frodo had landed on his bottom a half a dozen times or so, Bilbo decide it might be better to take the lad back in hand and stroll him down the little path that wound its way through his back garden. The path was a sensory experience in itself as one traveled its length. Together, Bilbo and the Gaffer had designed it to be so. Carefully they had selected the flowers and plants, shrubs and small trees that would border the walk. Light and shade and fragrance were given as much consideration as color and variety and size. Even early in the spring as it still was, the small, winding path offered many delights to both the eyes and nose.
"Come, Frodo-lad." Bilbo called, extending his hand down to his nephew. "Let's have a walk, hm?"
Frodo managed to only fall once as he covered the short distance across the turf that separated him from his uncle. Bilbo watched him carefully to make sure he hadn't hurt himself but Frodo seemed to be quite accustomed to falling and was very adept at catching himself it seemed. As he picked himself up from the turf, Frodo inspected the heels and palms of his hands that had taken the impact of his latest fall, then brushed them together to dust the grass from them. When his bouncing steps had led him finally back to his uncle his small, plump hand was placed trustingly into Bilbo's and the toddler grinned up at his uncle, eager to see on what kind of adventure he was about to lead him.
Frodo was full of chatter and questions as he and his uncle made their leisurely way down the path. Countless times he stopped to point a small finger and ask, "Wha' dis, Unga Bee?" of this flower or that. Exclamations of "Pwetty!" and "Mmmm! 'Mell dood!" could also be heard at short intervals as he discovered each new delight. At one point along the path, Frodo's small height gave him just the right perspective to see a cocoon, attached securely to a small tree trunk.
"Wook! Wha' is, Unga Bee?" The hobbit toddler asked, his eyes wide, small finger poised just about to poke at the mysterious white blob.
Bilbo caught the little hand just in time. "No-no, lad. Mustn't poke at it. There's a baby butterfly inside!" Bilbo explained, bending down to have a better look.
Frodo gave his uncle a quizzical and nearly skeptical look. "Bebe bu'fwy?" He asked. "'Ou sure, Unga Bee?"
"Yes, lad! I'm quite sure." Bilbo laughed.
Frodo studied this new mystery intently, bending to look at it from every angle. "Why, Unga Bee?" He asked.
"It's a cocoon, dear boy." Bilbo began to explain but was interrupted by more of his nephew's curiosity.
"Tah-toon? Wha' dat?" Frodo asked.
"A CoCoon," Bilbo pronounced each syllable slowly. "Is a kind of blanket a caterpillar spins when it's ready to transform into a butterfly." He explained and was rather proud of how simple he had made it.
Frodo however, was only more confused. "Tattapiwwah in cooooo-cooooon?" Frodo's brows knit together both with his confusion as well as his concentration on trying to pronounce the word correctly. His lips were a perfect "O" shape as he tried with mighty effort to make it come out right.
"Well, yes." Bilbo answered trying hard not to laugh at his nephew's unintentionally comic expression.
"Bu' 'ou say was bebe bu'fwy?" The toddler said almost accusingly.
"And it is, lad." Bilbo assured him. "Or, at least, it will be when it's finished being all wrapped up." He tried to explain again.
"How, Unga Bee? How tatapiwwah be bu'fwy?" Frodo tried hard to make sense of it all.
Bilbo began to wish his nephew had been a bit taller and might have missed seeing the cocoon. The tried again.
"Well, you see lad, all butterflies start out as caterpillars. Then, when it's time, they spin a web of silk, like you see here and they wrap themselves up in it all nice and snug and settle in for a long, long rest. While the caterpillar is resting all warm and snug inside his silk covering, a kind of magical thing starts to happen, and he changes and grows big, beautiful wings! When he's all done changing into a butterfly, he'll come out of his cocoon and fly away." Bilbo finished his explanation to Frodo, whose eyes were wide and shining.
"Oh." Was the only response Frodo could manage, so enchanted was he with the notion.
He looked for several more moments at the cocoon, then, took his uncle's hand and they started off down the path once more. By and by they came to an outlet in the path that led them up the hill to where the Gaffer was still industriously working over the potatoes.
"Hullo, Gaffer! Beautiful day, eh?" Bilbo called out a greeting.
"Aye! That i'tis, sir!" The Gaffer answered his employer back good-naturedly.
Wiping his hands on a rag he retrieved from a back pocket, the gardener met the pair halfway. Frodo clung tightly to his uncle's hand and stayed close about his leg as the Gaffer approached. When they were face to face, the gardener bent slightly forward toward the toddler.
"And who might this be, Mr. Bilbo, sir. Not my replacement, I hope." The Gaffer joked.
Frodo gazed shyly up through his thick, dark lashes at this jolly man. Perhaps he wasn't someone to be frightened of. Perhaps - but he still held tightly to his uncle's hand.
"Ham Gamgee, this is my nephew, Frodo Baggins. Frodo, this is my gardener, Ham Gamgee. Can you say a proper hello to him, lad?" Bilbo jiggled his nephew's hand gently.
"'Lo Mistah Gam-zee. Fwo Baddins a' 'ou subitice an' 'ou famwy." Frodo bowed and greeted the Gaffer very properly, taking extra pains to try to say the name correctly. He certainly was getting lots of practice at making greetings the way his mother had been teaching him, he thought.
"Why, hullo to you as well, Master Baggins. Very fine to meet you indeed. Welcome to Hobbiton." The Gaffer grinned hugely, clearly impressed at the toddler's very formal greeting.
Frodo grinned shyly up at the Gaffer, then, when the grin was returned in extra measure, he let his eyes drift back to the ground.
"My that's a fine lad you've got there, Mr. Bilbo, sir. Don't know when I've seen such good manners on one s'young. How old is he?" The Gaffer asked as Frodo glowed under the complement.
"Thank you, Ham. I have rather a high opinion of him, myself." Bilbo answered, disentangling his hand from Frodo's so that he could stroke the toddler's head affectionately. The dark curls were warm from the sun and silky under Bilbo's hand. "He's just a little over a year and a half, but smart as one twice that, in my estimation." Bilbo went on, feeling a grin pull his nephew's softly rounded cheek where his hand now rested and gently caressed.
"Aye. Thought as much, and I can see you're right. A smart one he is!" Ham Gamgee grinned down at the toddler who was now grinning openly back at him.
The two adult hobbits then launched into a conversation regarding the planting of the potatoes which interested Frodo not at all. They slowly made their way back up the slope to the potato patch where the potatoey conversation continued in earnest. From his newfound height upon the slope of the hill, Frodo gazed down in wonder at all of Hobbiton spread out before him like one of his mother's patchwork quilts. The labors of spring planting created patches of different shades ranging from sandy brown, to dusky purple, to sweetest tender green. Far off, Frodo could see the glittering shimmer of a windy stream decorating the land like a festive ribbon, and even further off, the little lake into which it fed. Smials and small houses peppered the land, each one sending up a little wisp of smoke from its chimney and occasionally an occupant from its door to scurry about, looking to Frodo like a little ant from his lofty view. Way off, almost further than his eyes could see, misty mountains rose up like a ghostly backdrop, reaching up to meet the blue sky. Frodo wondered what was beyond those mountains.
As Frodo stood gazing out into the distance, something caught his eye in his immediate foreground. Something colorful and swift on delicate wings. A butterfly! Frodo's eyes were danced from here to there as it fluttered about before him, seeming to invite him to follow. It seemed to want to go everywhere, and all at once. Finally, it made up it's mind to light upon a tiny flower that Frodo hadn't noticed before, hidden as it was beneath the blades of grass. Frodo stared in fascination as the beautiful wings beat ever so slowly while the butterfly seemed to be drinking something it found deep within the flower. Slowly Frodo ventured forward to have a closer look. When he stood directly over the butterfly and it made no move to fly away from him, he crouched down on his haunches, studying the creature with his little head cocked to one side. Bilbo, still in the thick of his conversation looked around briefly to see where his nephew had gotten off to and finding him safe in the grass, smiled and turned his full attention back to Ham.
From his now closer range, Frodo could see traces of the caterpillar this butterfly had most surely once been. Inside each of the wings, the body was still long and slender like a caterpillar and even seemed to have a bit of a 'fuzziness' to it. Tiny feelers probed the flower, seeking more of whatever it was drinking. The toddler wondered if the butterfly's 'fur' would feel as soft and wonderfully cool and smooth as Mr. Peeper's had under his hand. Frodo's face was a mask of concentration, his tongue coming out to help, as he slowly extended one finger to touch the tiny creature. The butterfly teased him and let him get within a hair's width before flittering away.
Shocked at the creature's sudden disappearance, Frodo rose from his crouched stance and looked almost wildly about. Where had it gone? Just as he was asking himself the question, the answer fluttered by, right before his face. Clearly this butterfly was playing some kind of game with him and wished to be chased. Frodo stumbled after it, tripping every few feet (and always just at the moment when Frodo thought he had the creature!) as the butterfly led him on a twisting, turning, topsy-turvy chase. Not to be put off that easily however, the pursuing toddler got back up after each and every fall and continued on his quest. After several moments, his determination paid off and the butterfly landed once more, this time upon a thick vine of honeysuckle, heavy with yellow and white blossoms. Perhaps it was tired, Frodo thought. He certainly was. Frodo was close enough to touch once more, and this time, eye to eye with the creature as it clung to the vine that was just at Frodo's head level. Once more, the little finger was extended toward the butterfly, and once more, it found no purchase as the colorful wings batted it away at the last moment. This time however, it did not go very far. Instead of fluttering away to other parts of the garden, the butterfly seemed to find a new perch upon which to rest her wings. She was very tired after being pursued and the tip of her pursuer's nose seemed like as good a place as any to take a breather.
A sharp intake of air was the only response the surprised toddler could manage as the butterfly landed squarely and neatly on the end of his little button of a nose. Frodo's mouth gaped open in his shock and his eyes were huge and staring. He couldn't seem to help himself as each one of his eyes crossed toward the tip of his nose to where the creature perched. Suddenly, it seemed there were not one but two butterflies! From such close range, Frodo could indeed see the tiny hairs that covered the butterfly's body, as well as its beautiful wings. The tiny feelers and eyes, which Frodo now could see, seemed huge. Frodo drew in another sharp breath and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them again, the creature was still there, but there was only one once more. Butterfly shifted her grip, moving up a little higher on the bridge of Frodo's nose. Her tiny feet felt a bit prickly but did not hurt at she moved. Frodo, on the other hand was so stunned he couldn't move. Seeming to study him as he and been studying her, Butterfly's feelers probed and searched, tickling her subject in the process. Her wings, which seemed to Frodo to be quite huge from his close vantage point, beat slowly, covering his eyes on the down beat, as she felt of first his nose, then his eyebrow. The sensitive feelers felt of each fine and delicate hair, seeming to wonder if it was perhaps another caterpillar of some sort. All this investigating tickled enormously and Frodo giggled in spite of himself, startling the unfortunate Butterfly. As quickly as she had landed, she took off again.
A tiny cry escaped Frodo's lips as she lifted off. "Wai'! Tome bag, Bu'fwy!" He called, following her flitting, fluttering motions with his eyes. Toward the honeysuckle vine she flew and Frodo thought she would light there again, but she fluttered up and over it instead. Through the trees she went and before Frodo could think about what he was doing, he followed her, pressing his way through the vine and between the hedges it had draped itself over. This took quite a bit of maneuvering as the space between the hedges was quite narrow and if Frodo had been one bit bigger, he wouldn't have gotten through. Frodo didn't even notice when his coat caught upon a branch and pulled off his back somewhere along the way, so intent was he on finding Butterfly once more.
Bilbo and the gaffer had exhausted the topic of potatoes and moved on to the possibility of milk-feeding pumpkins later on in the season when Bilbo discovered his nephew missing. It had only been a moment ago that he had last seen the lad, crouched in the grass, inspecting something he'd found there. Now however, as he looked back to the same spot, Frodo was no where to be found.
"Ham, do you see my lad anywhere about?" Bilbo interrupted his gardener's description of the milk-feeding process and expected results, as he began to turn about the yard, searching with his eyes for any sign of his nephew's whereabouts.
The gardener joined his employer in the visual sweep of the immediate area. "No, now that you say, I don't, I"m afraid." Ham Gamgee declared. "Don't worry, though. Lad couldn't 'a gotten far. He was right there not more'n a minute ago." The Gaffer said comfortingly and gestured toward the area where Frodo had been crouched such a short while ago.
"Yes. Surely you're right." Bilbo sounded about as sure as he felt.
"He must be around here somewhere close. Those little legs'a his couldn't 'a carried him too far." The Gaffer said, again seeing his employer's distress. "Let's just walk about a bit and call for him and he's bound to turn up quick. You take the left side'a the garden; I'll take the right. Just holler when you find 'im."
Bilbo nodded agreement and set off toward the left as the Gaffer had suggested calling his nephew's name and looking about behind trees and bushes. On the other side of the garden, he could hear the gaffer doing the same.
"Frodo-lad! Fro-DO!" Bilbo called. "Where are you, lad? Please answer Uncle Bilbo."
Bilbo had covered nearly the entire left end of the garden and was on the edge of panic when he finally spotted it. At first, it blended in with the white and yellow blossoms of the honeysuckle vine, but as he moved toward it and the sun caught it, the tiny silver stars glinted at him like a beacon. Bilbo ran the last few steps to where he had spotted what looked suspiciously like Frodo's jacket sleeve caught upon the hedge.
"Ham!" Bilbo yelled across the garden. "Ham, I think I've found something."
Under cover of the trees, it was quite a bit dimmer and cooler than it had been in the garden and Frodo squinted to spot his new friend. He wandered around a bit, circling this tree and that, tripping occasionally on the tree roots that seemed to have been scattered about just for that purpose. Finally, in a patch of sunshine, lit upon a small white blossom, Frodo spotted Butterfly. As quickly as his little legs would carry him, he made his way to where she was.
"Bu'fwy! Why 'ou fwy 'way?" He scolded.
No reply but the steady, soft beat of her wings.
Just as Frodo got close enough to gather her up on his finger, she fluttered off again. This time he kept his eyes on her the whole way, giving chase as best as he could with all those tree roots in the way. Before he knew it though, Frodo ran out of trees. That is, he came to the edge of the small wood he had been in and stepped out into clear sunshine once more. There was long cool grass beneath his feet so thick that the morning's dew still had not burned completely off and it felt damp as he tread upon it. Below him, down a small slope, the twisting road was stretched out, heading to who knew where.
"The lad's coat." Gaffer Gamgee declared as he drew up to where his employer was disentangling it from vines and branches. "Well, he can't be far separated from it. Reckon he's on the other side'a these hedges?" The gardener asked.
"I wondered that myself, Ham, but I don't see how anyone, even one so small as Frodo could have gotten between this hedgerow." Bilbo answered looking perplexedly at the hedges.
To Bilbo's surprise, Ham Gamgee laughed. "Begging your pardon, sir, but if there's one thing I've learned with havin' a little'un in the house it's that they can get into some places you'd never think they could and faster than you'd believe, too! I still find little Hamson in some of the durnedest places you can think of - and him a big boy of three now!"
"You think so?" Bilbo asked still looking at the hedge and wondering how so much as a cat could slip through.
"Think it'd be worth havin' a look, any row." The gaffer grinned slightly.
"Well, what's the quickest way in? I don't think I'll be going in the same way Frodo did!" Bilbo said looking at the tiny opening.
"There's a small space up in the back corner where one'a the hedges didn't take off when I transplanted 'em. I think we can squeeze through there." The gaffer gestured toward the opening he was referring to.
"Well let's go then. My lad's in there somewhere - and from the looks of it, without his coat." Bilbo's heart was in his eyes as he clutched the little garment and strode determinedly toward the opening in the hedgerow.
Butterfly flittered around his head for a moment, seeming to dance and play. Frodo thought she might light on his nose again, but she took off so quickly, and soared so high, he could hardly keep his eyes on her. Butterfly couldn't seem to decide exactly which way to go and for a moment, Frodo watched her simply flutter back and forth above him. He reached his hands as high as he could, trying desperately to touch her and draw her back to him, but even if he had been a hobbit full-grown, he wouldn't have had the needed height.
"Bu'fwy! Wai'! No fwy 'way! 'Tay heah!" Frodo called to her.
In seeming answer to his call, Butterfly dropped down once more, bobbing and swaying before Frodo's face. She studied him for another moment, watching his eyes light up and crinkle at the edges when his smile came. Then, as quickly as she had come, she was gone again, soaring out over the grassy slope and above the dusty road beyond toward the misted mountains in the far distance. Butterfly was already too far to hear him as he called out to her again, running after her on his inexperienced small feet, down the dew slick slope.
Frodo was thinking of nothing but Butterfly as he took off after her. He was only a few steps into his chase when his right foot slide ahead of him on a patch of the dewy grass, his left tried hard to catch him, but it was his left knee that actually took the impact of the fall. Frodo didn't even have time to register the pain of his full weight coming down all on one small knee as, being a bit 'top-heavy' as most toddlers are, he further lost his balance and began toppling forward, head-first, torso and lower limbs following, down the hill, into the grass. Again and again he tried to use his hands and arms to catch himself, but he was caught, inescapably in the force of plain old gravity. Even if he had had the skills to count, he couldn't have named the number of times he flipped before finally coming over the edge of the bank and landing squarely on his back with a "thud" in the middle of the well packed earth of the road.
Bilbo and the gaffer wandered about in the dimness of the small wood for a good while before deciding that if Frodo had been here at all, he wasn't here now. Bilbo saw a few places where leaves had been disturbed that could have been evidence of his nephew's recent visit, but it could have just as easily been from a rabbit or squirrel or other small woodland creature. If Frodo had been here, clearly he had either found his way back out and was now somewhere alone and probably frightened or, even worse to Bilbo's mind, had wandered even further into the dimness of the wood. Bilbo eyed the thick undergrowth that dominated the interior of the wood, searching for signs of his nephew. Silently, he and Ham began poking and prodding at the thick crop of weeds looking for anything that might lend them a clue. Nothing was to be found. Not a hair, not a stray thread, not even a tiny footprint gave away the whereabouts of the missing child.
After exhausting the undergrowth in the immediate area and finding nothing, Ham turned his eyes toward the direction of the road.
"Mayhap he didn't go further into the woods a'tall, Mr. Bilbo. Could be he went out that'a way." He said, pointing in the direction of the road, and where he knew the wood came to an end.
"Exactly what I was thinking." Bilbo said soberly. "Let's go."
For a moment, he just lay there, too stunned to move, to breathless to cry. He looked up at the big, blue sky, watching carefully to see if it would stay where it was, as seconds earlier it had shone itself, only to be replaced with grass and rocks and sticks in the next instance. After several seconds of the world staying still, Frodo decided that perhaps it was safe to try drawing a breath and as soon as he had, he began to whimper softly. It was all he could manage at first, with all his wind knocked out as it was. But as he regained control and filled his lungs, the whimper became a real cry with real tears that rolled from his eyes down the sides of his cheeks into his ears and hair as he lay on his back upon the road. As he lay there crying, he took stock of himself and discovered that many parts of his body hurt, but more than that, he was scared. And, he suddenly noticed, he seemed to have lost his coat somewhere along the way and now he was truly missing it as the spring wind blew chill upon his skin, now damp from the dewy grass he had tumbled through.
Slowly, Frodo sat up and blinked several times as the world seemed to rock and sway and movement sent little slivers of pain in places that hadn't felt it before. He had never been in such a situation as this. As he looked frantically around him, he realized he didn't know where he was nor how to get back to any familiar place. Though he had been on that same road just several hours ago, Frodo had been asleep in his mothers arms when they had arrived and so, he had no memory before waking up in his Uncle's den. He was lost. Frodo sobbed deeper at the thought. He was also aware suddenly of how very alone he was. The only sounds he could hear were his own sobs. The longer he sat crying, the more frightened he became. What if he was never found, he wondered wildly. Or worse, what if he who ever did find him was a terrible person who did not like little hobbit boys - especially ones who wandered away as he had done. Suddenly, Frodo felt very naughty. He hadn't meant to be, of course. He had only meant to catch Butterfly. She was very far away from here now he supposed. Frodo sobbed all the harder.
Suddenly, the rhythm of his crying was broken by a sound coming toward him. He stopped crying as best he could, scrubbing at his teary eyes with the backs of his small, dirty fists. He held his breath as he listened. Footsteps! Coming right for him, from down the road. As scared as he was of being lost and alone, he was even more scared of whoever that might be coming in his direction. So he scrambled up as quickly as he could and looked around for some place he could hide. The best he could find on this empty road was the ditch he had tumbled over on his way down. Quickly he scrambled into it and tried to hide himself behind a patch of grass as best he could.
"Well, I know I heard crying coming from this direction, didn't you Hamson?" A woman's voice approached.
A voice, belonging to a child answered her back. "Yes, Mumma. Me, too."
Before Frodo could wonder who they were, they were standing right in front of where he was (he hoped!) hidden. It was a woman and a small hobbit boy and they looked around and down the road as they tried to work out from where and whom the crying had come.
"Hmph!" The woman huffed. "I declare, you 'n me both must be a bit off our nuts today, Ham. There's no one here. Come on then, I've got to get that laundry hung as I came out intenedin' to do." She said to the small boy beside her who simply looked up at her and made to follow her as she turned on her heel to go.
Just when Frodo thought he had escaped discovery, the boy suddenly stopped and pointed right to where Frodo was hiding. "Look, Mum! The grass has eyes! Blue ones!" He declared.
The woman stopped and stooped to peer down to where her son was pointing. Sure enough when Bell Gamgee brushed back the stems of grass growing along the edge of the ditch she was confronted by a pair of enormous, frightened blue eyes, very bright and shining with tears.
"Oh, my!" Bell drew in a sharp breath as the tiny hobbit lad tried in vain to back up from her, but was stopped by the bank behind him.
Her own small boy had come to stand at her side, peeking around the bulk of her skirts to what kind of a creature she had found. It was a baby! It's face was dirty and it looked like he always did after he'd been crying with red eyes and streaks of tears. The dark hair it had on it's head was rumpled, even for a hobbit and it had pieces of grass and sticks poking out of it at odd directions. The little thing was croutched down low and it looked very frightened as it peered up at them through it's long, damp eyelashes. It, or Ham decided looking at the way it was dressed, 'he' seemed to be trying to croutch down even smaller as they continued to look at him. The baby trembled and Ham saw that one of his little elbows was bleeding a bit.
"Oh! I think it's hurt, mum!" Ham said, pointing at the small wound.
"I see. Don't point, Hamsom. 'Tisn't polite." She said in a very calm voice as she knelt down before the little one who was still making an attempt at hiding, pulling at the blades of grass with his small, grubby fingers to better cover himself.
"Now, then." Bell Gamgee said gently. "Who might you be, little one? Where did you come from, hm?" Her voice was extra soft as she spoke to the child who was obviously frightened and from the looks of it, at least a little bit injured.
Frodo's chest hitched as he tried to hold back a sob. Other than that, Bell got no answer.
"My name's Bell and this is my son Hamson." She said, reaching to pick up the toddler. She half expected the lad to protest in his fright, but he said nothing, only trembled harder as she lifted him gently from the ditch. "Come on, now." She continued talking in her soft, soothing voice. "Come along, Hamson." She said to the child at her side who followed obediently.
All the way back to Number Three Bell Gamgee spoke quietly to the little one in her arms, seeking to comfort and sooth his obvious distress. He gazed at her with stunned, unsure eyes and said nothing beyond the occasional hiccupping sob.
Frodo studied her closely as she spoke and carried him - somewhere. She was soft as his body was held against hers and she wore her hair somewhat like Mummy did. The eyes she turned on him were gentle and kind. Perhaps she didn't mean to harm him after all. He was so weary and worn and sore from his fall that he laid his head against her shoulder in spite of himself.
"Aww! Poor darling lamb!" Bell crooned, hugging him gently and rubbing the small back. "Poor, poor little lad." She said and did not stop him when the boy's little thumb found its way to his mouth. He was trying to comfort himself and she wasn't about to stop him - no matter how grubby the thumb was.
Bilbo and his gardener stooped and ducked to avoid the low branches of trees. They also had to keep their eyes sharply upon the ground as tree roots and broken twigs were scattered about so as to seem intent on tripping a hobbit. Finally, they came to the edge of the wood and the grassy clearing that lead down to the road. Nothing. At least, no hobbit lad was to be found here.
The two hobbits looked carefully about them, taking in any clues their surroundings might hold.
"Look'a there, Mr. Bilbo, sir!" Ham said excitedly as he pointed at the recently trod upon dewy grass.
"Someone's definitely been here recently - and it would nearly have to be my lad. But where is he now?" Bilbo asked looking worriedly down the long and winding road.
"One way to find out, sir. Mayhap he made it down the slope then found 'es way back to Bag End. Tell ye what. Why don't you go back to Bag End and see if he might'a went back there, an' I'll go th'other way an' see if anybody in that direction may'a seen 'im." The Gaffer instructed.
Being that Bilbo could think of no better plan, he did as Ham suggested and making his way down the slippery slope and turned his feet back toward Bag End with a heavy heart.
By the time they got back to Number Three, Frodo's eyelids were drooping and Bell was sure the only thing keeping him awake were the occasional hiccups brought on by all his crying. Entering the smial, Bell passed through the dimness of the front room and right into the much brighter, airy kitchen. The little lad in her arms seemed cold and damp and the kitchen was always warmer than the rest of the house.
"Ham, could you go get a clean towel outt'a the pantry for Mum, please." Bell asked and watched her son hurry off to do just that.
When he brought it back to her, she spread it out upon the kitchen table and sat the drowsy toddler down on top of it. Instantly he was wide awake once more and taking in his surroundings with his big, worried eyes.
"It's all right, darling. No one's going to harm you. We're just going to take care of you and try to figure out where you belong, all right?" She asked.
Frodo nodded and hiccupped again. At least she knew he understood her. Now if he could just talk and tell her who he was and who he belonged to. She most certainly didn't recognize the lad as any of her neighbor's children. Was he abandoned by someone? Bell found it hard to believe that anyone would willingly let go of a baby as lovely as this one. The child was beautiful, despite the tear-streaked face and rumpled hair and clothes. But who had let him out to be lost - and without so much as a coat on a windy day like today! Bell certainly did think she might have a word or two to say to whom ever it was who was so careless with their child.
Bell's hands were gentle as she began looking over the baby's little body.
"Is 'e all right mum? 'E's not bad 'urt is 'e?" Hamson asked worriedly, his eyes barely able to peer above the table at the little lad they had found.
"I don't think he's too bad, but I aim to find out for sure." Bell winked at her son.
"Can we keep 'im, do ye think?" Ham asked. He had been wishing lately that he had a baby brother or sister to play with. This one seemed like a fine enough choice.
"Well I should think his family would have a thing or two to say about it if we did!" Bell answered. "I think they'll be wanting him back, Hamson. They're probably frantic looking for him right now."
Ham thought for a moment. "If they don't want 'im back can we keep 'im?" The child asked, smiling at the baby on the table who was still looking more than a little frightened.
"If they don't want him, I think we best to cross that bridge when we come to it." Bell smiled at her son.
Gently Ham held between two fingers one of the little pink toes that were curled against the pads of the tiniest foot he'd ever seen on a hobbit. It was soft too. He ran his fingers through the downy hair on the tops of the diminutive feet.
"Oh, mum! He's got some scratches on the tops of his feet as well." Ham cried.
"I know son, I saw them. They're not to serious, though." Bell answered, continuing her examination.
His elbow was bleeding a bit just as Ham had said, but the cut didn't seem to be deep or serious, more of a scrape or scrub, really. His left knee was sporting a similar injury. Bell gently unbuttoned his shirt and felt gently of the little ribs and collarbones, but, to her relief found injuries no more serious than bruises. Quickly she dressed him again as cold chills had risen on his skin as soon as she had undressed him. She didn't want the boy getting a chill on top of everything else.
"Well, it looks like you'll be all right. Nothing seems broken, any road." Bell tried to sound cheerful. "Now, can you tell me your mum's name, little one? I'm sure she must be missing you by now.
Frodo looked at the woman who so far had been only kind to him. Maybe he could risk speaking to her. He thought about her question. Mum's name? Mum's name? Why, she was only...
"Mum-mee!" Frodo said, his voice small and unsure.
Bell looked at him and smiled. Well, of course! Children didn't call their mums and dads by their given names and one as small as this child clearly was wouldn't even know his mum had a name other than "Mummy", in all likelihood.
"Oh! Dear me! What was I thinking? Of course!" Bell said, laughing at herself. She tried a different question. "Do you know where your mummy is, child?"
"Pah-dee" Frodo said.
Bell looked quizzical for a moment, trying to work out what he could mean. She turned the syllables over and over in her mind. Finally it came to her what he was trying to say. Party. His mum had gone to a party. Bell glowered inside. This child's mother had gone to a party and left him all alone?!? What was Middle Earth coming to, she wondered?
"You're mummy's gone to a party?" She asked, not letting her emotion show on her face.
"Did she leave you behind at home alone?" Bell asked, barely able to conceal her growing anger at this clearly negligent mother.
"No - 'tay wiv Unga Bee!" Frodo answered shaking his head.
Bell's mind ran in circles as she tried to solve this new riddle. She ran down the list of both her near neighbors and far and could come up with no name that sounded remotely like "Ungabee". Oh, dear. This might be harder than she thought.
Bilbo ran to the front door of Bag End and turned the knob. Drat it! He had locked it in order to keep Frodo in - and now it was keeping him out. Not to be outsmarted by a door lock, Bilbo made his way around to the garden gate and let himself in. He gave the back garden another cursory visual sweep before entering through the back door. Not even giving his eyes time to adjust to the dimness within, Bilbo sat about looking for any signs of Frodo. He called out his name, running from room to room, looking in places he didn't even think Frodo could or would go - for he had learned at least one thing of hobbit toddlers this afternoon.
The Gaffer burst through the door of Number Three calling out his wife's name. His walk down the road in the opposite direction of Bag End had turned up nothing. It was as if the child had simply...disappeared.
As Bilbo was searching the smial, including closets and pantries and under beds, a thought occurred to him. A terrible thought. Suppose Frodo had found the Ring. Suppose he had found it and put it on! They'd never find him if that was the case. Hurriedly Bilbo ran to his study and the desk drawer where he always kept the ring. He was nearly afraid to open it for fear he would find it missing. He argued with himself over the possibility of the idea. Surely Frodo wouldn't have managed to climb upon the high chair to get to the drawer and the Ring. On the other hand, Bilbo wouldn't have thought he could have slipped through the garden hedge either, but he clearly had. Determinedly Bilbo pulled open the drawer, sighing with relief as the Ring glinted up at him.
"Bell! Bell!" The Gaffer called.
"I'm in here, Ham! In the kitchen." Bell called to her husband. She couldn't wait to see the look on his face when he saw what she'd found.
She heard his steps moving nearer, heavy and hurried they sounded.
"Bell, there's a child missin'. It's Mr. Bilbo's nephew and -" Ham Gamgee drew up short as he entered the kitchen and saw the toddler sitting atop his table being tended to by his own wife.
"Does 'e look anythin' like this, then?" Bell asked, grinning at her husband's bemused expression.
"Frodo! By crackin'! Bilbo's nigh worried sick about you, lad! He'll be happy to see you safe, I can tell you that." Ham exclaimed coming over to have a better look at the lad. "He is alright, ain't 'e, Bell. Bilbo'd go all to pieces were anything the matter with him."
Hearing his Uncle's name, Frodo called out excitedly. "Unga Bee! Pwease! Unga Bee!"
Ah! So that's who "Ungabee" was, Bell thought, then answered her husband's question. "Oh, I expect he's all right mostly. Got a few cuts and bruises here and there. Took a tumble down the slope from the looks'a things. Nothing serious, though, thank goodness." Bell said, stroking the still dirty, tear streaked cheek gently. "Nothing a good bath and a bit'a pettin' and pamperin' won't take care of."
"Well thank the lucky stars! Let's get 'im back to his rightful owner, then." Ham said, reaching to take the lad, but fell short as his wife who smiled at him mischeviously lifted the toddler.
"I expect t'was me as found 'im. Let me be the one to get the satisfaction 'a givin' 'im back." She laughed, drawing the little one into her arms again and wrapping the toweling around him like a blanket.
A small voice and pull at her skirt stopped her exit from the kitchen. "Does this mean we don't get to keep him then?" Hamson asked, his eyes and voice sorrowful.
"Yes, son. I'm afraid it does. But don't you worry. You're baby brother or sister will come along soon enough. And more than you bargain for, I'll wager!" Bell grinned and winked at her little boy who was playing with the baby's foot once more.
He sighed. "All right then. But you and Da gotta get me one soon! I'll be all grown up and too old to play soon!" The boy declared.
Everyone but Hamson and Frodo were laughing as they left to take Frodo back to the one to whom he belonged.
Bilbo lit the candle then began his descent into the cellar. The exterior door he had found was still latched, but as his nephew had turned up nowhere else, he was forced to consider the possibility. The steps were steep and narrow and a bit un-even in places. His heart clenched at the thought of Frodo trying to maneuver them on his unsteady little legs. He half feared finding the babe at the bottom, twisted and broken from a fall.
The Gamgee family made their way back to Bag End in short order, thinking of the anguish Mr. Bilbo must be going through not knowing where his nephew was. They knocked at he front door, but no answer came, and thinking to simply go in (for Bell said the baby needed to have his wounds cleaned soon before the dirt set up an infection), they turned the knob, but found it locked. Through the garden gate they went, and in the smial through the back door. Entering, they began immediately to call out to Bilbo as they made their way down the dim corridor.
"Mr. Bilbo?" The Gaffer called.
His call was immediately answered, though it sounded faint and far away. "Gaffer? Is that you?" Bilbo called back.
Before the gardener could answer, Frodo on hearing his uncle's voice called out frantically. "Unga Bee?!? Unga Bee!!"
"Frodo?!?" Bilbo's voice came up to them from the cellar.
"Unga Bee! Un-ga BEE!!" Frodo yelled as loud as he could, looking about wildly to find his uncle.
The group, which had by this point made its way to the kitchen waited and listened. Shortly they heard a small crash, and then the sound of running feet. "Frodo-lad! I'm coming, my boy! I'm coming!" Bilbo called breathlessly as he ran up the cellar steps.
Frodo bounced precariously in Bell's arms as he continued yelling. "Unga Bee! Unga Bee! Wheah 'ou at?"
Bilbo burst through the cellar door (which was located inside the pantry), and made his hasty way through the pantry and into the kitchen.
Upon seeing his uncle, Frodo began to cry once more, holding out his arms toward him and leaning his body to be received as his Bilbo neared him. It was hard to say who was more eager for the reunion as Bilbo ran to Bell and caught the baby up in his arms, hugging him close.
"Frodo! Ah, my little lad! My Frodo! You're safe!" He cried closing his eyes pressing kisses into his nephew's hair as he held him tightly to him.
Frodo continued to cry from both the excitement as well as relief.
"I was so worried for you!" Bilbo exclaimed pulling back a bit to look at Frodo. "So afraid something terrible might have happened. I'm so glad you're safe. Oh! Frodo." Bilbo's face was stern now. "Lad! Don't ever scare Uncle Bilbo like that again." He said, then added softly. "My heart can't take it." Frodo was caught up in a tight embrace once more.
"Me towwy, Unga Bee! Bu'fwy fwy 'way! Dot wost!" Frodo cried, burying his face in Bilbo's neck. "Me no do a'din! Me towwy Unga Bee." The baby was weeping once more.
Bilbo immediately regretted his stern tone earlier as his heart was broken by the apology.
"Oh, no! No! No! Shhh!" He crooned gently, planting kisses on the soft little neck. "I'm sorry, Frodo-lad. It's Uncle Bilbo's fault. He should have been watching you more closely. Shhh, now. It's all right. You're here now and no harm's done, thank goodness." Bilbo comforted, cuddling him close.
Frodo continued to cry but it was softer now as his flooding emotions began to ebb.
"Mr. Bilbo, sir." Bell interrupted softly. "The child is all right, but he does have a few bumps and cuts that'll need seeing after. Do you need some help, do you think?"
"Oh, dear. I was so relieved at having Frodo found, I didn't even think to really look at him. Nothing serious, you say?" Bilbo asked worriedly.
"Nah. Leastwise, nothing a good cleansing and a bit of petting and attention won't take care of. Just scrapes and bruises mostly. I'll help if you think you need it." She offered.
"Thank you, Bell. I think I can manage though." Bilbo answered.
"Well, we best to be going then and let you get to seeing about him, then." She smiled. "Come along, Hamson."
"Coming, Mum." he answered, looking a bit regretfully at the baby in Bilbo's arms. He hoped his Mum and Da would get him that baby brother or sister soon.
"I don't believe I've said, thank you - for finding him and bringing him back I mean." Bilbo suddenly remembered.
Bell simply smiled. "Twas no trouble a'tall, Mr. Bilbo, sir. 'Twas my pleasure." She said, running a light hand over the baby's dirty but silky cheek. "Pleased to meet you little one. Come back and see us soon, now." Bell smiled softly.
Bilbo whispered something to Frodo, who suddenly lifted his head and smiled back. Waving one small hand he called out to Bell. "Tank 'ou, Miz-uz Beww! Bye-bye!" He waved.
"Bye-bye, darling!" She grinned hugely.
With that, the Gamgees were gone.
"Now then, lad. Let's see what kinds of things that hillside did to my Frodo, hm?" Bilbo smiled gently at his nephew who was now sitting on the kitchen table on another clean towel, a basin of water beside him and a small arsenal of herbs and medicines from Bilbo's pantry beside that.
Gently Bilbo undressed the toddler, down to just his small-clothes and began to inspect his little patient. Head to toe Bilbo worked, looking for any injuries that might need addressing. With warm water, a bit of mild soap, a soft cloth and a very gently hand, Bilbo set about un-earthing his nephew's face, which was still streaked with dirt and tears. He was relieved to find only one small bruise just beneath Frodo's hairline. It didn't look bad, so he decided to just leave it alone.
As his uncle worked, Frodo began telling him all about "Bu'fwy" and how he had come to be lost. The tale was just winding down as Bilbo had finished his cleaning and tending. Frodo had submitted to having his "boo-boos" tended as well as could be expected, though he had come to dread the disinfecting agent his uncle insisted must be applied to any areas that had a scrape, cut or scratch.
"There! That's good enough for now, I expect." Bilbo declared. "Though, we'll give you a real, proper bath in a tub later on. I suspect you might find a bit more dirt and grime to get into before bed-time." He grinned.
Frodo had begun to shiver slightly sitting as he was in near nakedness. Hastily Bilbo wrapped a clean towel around him and, mindful of his many boo-boos, picked him up gently and carried him back to the parlor by the by the fireplace where a fire was blazing merrily.
"We can get you dressed shortly. Let's just warm you by the fire for now, hm?" Bilbo asked.
Frodo leaned close to his uncle's chest, the heat of the fire feeling good on his naked skin. He drew his arms under him and against his Uncle's chest so that they could be warm too.
"Here we go lad. Let's wrap you up all tight, shall we?" Bilbo asked, securing the thick towel around his little lad. "All tight like a cocoon!" He smiled at his nephew who grinned drowsily back.
Frodo did look rather cocoon-like wrapped tightly in the white towel. He yawned hugely, gazing dreamily into the dancing flames.
"Unga Bee?" He asked softly.
"Yes, my lad?" Bilbo answered.
"Will my coooo-coooon ma'e me gwow wings?" The toddler asked seriously.
Bilbo grinned softly. "I don't know, lad. Do you want it too?" he asked, wrapping his arms tightly around his sleepy nephew and leaning back in the chair.
"No. No wan' wings." He said.
"No? You don't want wings? It might be exciting to have wings." Bilbo pointed out.
"Bu', bu'fwy fwy 'way." Frodo answered simply.
"And you wouldn't want to fly away?" Bilbo asked, idly stroking the silky dark curls at his nephew's nape.
"No. No fwy 'way. 'Tay!" Frodo yawned again.
"Not quite ready to be a butterfly and fly away just yet, hm?" His uncle asked as he watched the eyelids droop.
"No. 'Tay heah." Frodo's eyes were barely open, his voice growing fainter and fainter. "Be Unga Bee's tattapiwwah fo' now." And with that, he was asleep, wrapped in his "coooo-coooon" in the safety of his uncle's arms.
Bilbo chuckled softly and hugged his sleeping nephew tighter.
"One day, lad." He whispered. "You will want wings. But for now, I'm glad to have my little caterpillar."
Bilbo put his own weary feet up on the ottoman by the fire, dropping off into dreams where he and his nephew soared and adventured together on bright, beautiful butterfly wings.