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O The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night  by Lindelea

Chapter 4. In which a young hobbit contemplates the unfairness of life in general and his life in particular

‘It’s not fair!’ young Merry fumed, sitting down hard enough on the bed to produce a satisfying bounce, but of course it was wasted on both the young hobbits sitting there, for they were contemplating other delights now forbidden them.

‘Not fair,’ echoed the younger lad in a miserable whimper, followed by a sniff. Merry, casting a look in little Ferdi’s direction, saw a face quite as woebegone as his own, and worse. His cousin’s chin was quivering, and tears threatened to spill.

Come now, I was not such a babe as all that!

O but you were, sorry to say, cousin—it must be remembered that you were quite a little lad at the time, barely out of gowns...

Poor little fellow, I feel quite sorry for him...

You stay out of it, Pip! You were still a twinkle in your da’s eyes, at the time...!

Never mind, what happened next in the story? Do tell on!

Yes, do!

I shall, if only my baby cousins will stop interrupting me...


You see? At it again, I’m sorry to say... Now, where was I?

‘I’ll be happy to fetch more apple tart, Mum!’ Pearl carolled, her voice carrying clearly down the hallway from where the rest of the family were at tea, and her tinkling laugh followed. ‘At this rate, we’ll eat up all that was baked today, and have none left for the morrow!’

‘You don’t have to shout,’ Merry muttered, though he suspected that Pearl was speaking to be heard by more than just the merry hobbits gathered around the tea table. Apple tart was Merry’s particular favourite.

‘Not fair,’ he said again, but he said it low, for he certainly did not want his voice to carry as Pearl’s had. He was in enough hot water as it was—and it wasn’t fair!

He and Ferdi had to go without tea treats (they’d been allowed all the bread-and-butter they wanted, with a cup of cambric tea each, taken in the kitchen while the rest of the family celebrated in high style in the parlour, good table linens and all, as if to rub the lads’ noses in their disgrace. And then Ferdi had upset his mug of tea all over the table and himself and Merry, and at the resulting outcry Pearl and Rosemary had come to escort the lads to the bedroom, where they were forcibly put into clean, dry clothes (perhaps their fourth set of the day) and told to lie down on the bed for a nap.

After Pearl and Rosemary were well gone, of course, the lads sat up. It was the least they could do to show their defiance.

‘If my father were here,’ Merry began again. He’d said it several times already. It had a lovely sound.

‘If my father...’ little Ferdi echoed, and Merry rounded on him.

‘Your father is here!’ he said bitterly. ‘But your mum has him so wound around her least finger that he wouldn’t take our part, no not at all! Just said a little bread-and-butter wouldn’t hurt us, and we were likely wearied anyhow from our “great adventure”, and could use a nap...!’

Ferdi hung his head. ‘He was sorry,’ he lisped. ‘Auntie Aggie’s pretties...’

‘Well, Pearl and Nell and Rose had no business taking the pretties in the first place!’ Merry snapped. ‘ ‘Twasn’t our fault they were spoilt in the pigsty...’

‘Well it was, rather,’ Ferdi said, unexpectedly firm. He was the one, after all, who’d rolled in the mud with the pigs. And he’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, apple tart or no apple tart.

‘Then fine!’ Merry said, glaring at his little cousin. ‘You take your punishment, but don’t drag me into it!’

Seems to me over the years, he’s been dragged “into it” a lot by his younger cousins…

Hush, Pip, don’t interrupt when he’s just got going again...!

Poetic justice, perhaps, for his having dragged Frodo “into it” in his turn...


‘I just wish my father were here,’ Merry said again. ‘He’d set things right, he would!’

Ferdi sighed heavily and then thrust two comforting fingers into his mouth, mumbling around the impediments. ‘He’d take one look at Auntie Aggie’s red eyes, and he’d heap your plate high with bread-and-butter, he would!’

Merry began to re-think his half-formed resolution to go and find his father, no matter how far away the hobbit might be (all he had to do was follow the road that ran past the farm from Whitwell to Waymoot and beyond), to plead his case and at least find equal punishment for the lasses who’d begun the affair. Eglantine had been devastated at the loss of so much finery—the lasses had taken all they could find from her sewing-box, and it was a cruel blow indeed, as she’d just bought her supplies for all the sewing for the coming year, with the proceeds of the fleeces Paladin had sold at market last week.

It had been decreed that punishment enough for the lasses would be to wear their frocks plain until next year’s sale of fleece. Not even their best frocks would sport the slightest amount of ribbon or lace or pretty trim. Dismal wails had greeted this pronouncement, and Merry had heard Pearl and Pimpernel whispering that they’d take it up with Paladin when he came home, and surely he’d see reason.

The lasses didn’t seem to realise that they’d doomed their mother to the same fate when they’d spoilt the family’s supply of finery, nor that their father likely wouldn’t have the coin to spare for more.

Merry, somehow, had grasped this fact, overhearing Stelliana and Ferdinand talking to Rosemary. Stelliana, of course, of the wealthy Bolgers, could afford any frills or furbelows her heart desired, for herself or her little daughter—and Rosemary, when she wasn’t following father and uncle about in their pony-training, was often dressed like a little princess to suit her mother’s taste. It had been a terrible blow for the proud Bolger to hear her husband pronounce that Rosemary must share in her cousins’ disgrace, and wear plain and unadorned frocks for the coming year, including the high festivities of Yuletide. (And Rosemary, boyish as she was, didn’t seem to mind half so much as her mother... it was hardly a punishment at all, as Ferdi observed in his innocent outspoken way, and it was hardly fair that he should be scolded for speaking his mind!)

‘Well someone ought to set things aright!’ Merry said. ‘At the very least, the lasses should bear as much blame as we do! More, really!’ To him, the lack of apple tart far outweighed plain dressing. But then, he was a lad, and more likely to think of his insides than his outsides.

He sat, fuming, a while longer, and then sat up straight, exclaiming, ‘I’ve got it!’

Ferdi, who’d fallen asleep, jerked awake and rubbed at his eyes with his fists. ‘Got what?’ he said with a wide yawn.

‘I know who can help us!’ Merry said, bouncing on the bed in his excitement. Quite a satisfying bounce it was, and in appreciation, he bounced a few more times, causing Ferdi to chortle with glee and add a few bounces of his own.

‘The king?’ Ferdi chirped brightly.

‘Silly Took!’ Merry said, slapping Ferdi on the back and standing to his feet for some proper bouncing. ‘There’s no king!’

I beg to differ.

Present company excepted. Now, where was I...?

It didn’t even matter that Pearl came down the hallway, full of wrath at being sent away from the tea table to deal with the unseemly noises coming from the bedroom. Merry hardly heard the scolding, and didn’t mind at all that he was sent to lay his head upon one pillow, and Ferdi to the other pillow, and that Pearl laid herself down, grumbling, between the two of them with a stern admonition to “Be quiet! Not another word! Do you hear? Or else Uncle Dinny will come down himself to deal with the two of you!”

He didn’t even mind that Ferdi fell asleep again fairly quickly, and that Pearl did too, their light snores mixing in a harmony of sorts.

He blinked away sleep and put his hands behind his head, splaying his elbows to the side. He had a lot of thinking to do.

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