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Chapter 21. In which adults don't listen when they ought
But it seemed little Ferdi was not improved by a night's sleep. When the dawning Sun peeped in through the windows, her eyes bright and her cheeks rosy, she beheld a weeping Stelliana, holding her little lad in her arms, rocking him gently and imploring him to speak to her.
Ferdinand stood helplessly by, opening and closing his hands as if seeking some employment, something to do to help the situation.
'Now, now, what do we have here?' the old healer said, bustling into the room. 'Come now, Mistress, you're frightening the little tyke with your carrying on!'
Stelliana gulped at this and sat up a little, but little Ferdi never moved nor made a sound. His eyes were tightly closed, his arms hugging his drawn-up legs.
'Come now,' Sweetbriar crooned, sitting herself down beside the distraught mother. She held out her arms. 'Come now,' she repeated, and managed to transfer the lad to her own lap, gently stroking the tousled head.
'All's well, Ferdi lad. All's well. Frodo's head hurts him, but he's managing some sort of breakfast, and Merry spoke a few words, but a little ago. He asked how you were, and what would he say if I told him?'
But Ferdi did not move. Sweetbriar began to rock, slowly, and hummed a soothing tune.
At her little brother's lack of response, young Rosemary crept from the room, her fist jammed tight in her mouth, tears brimming.
Anxious Pearl and Pimpernel pounced. 'Well?' they whispered, with eager dread.
'He doesn't know us,' Rosemary sobbed, and the two engulfed her between them, a comforting embrace.
'Doesn't know you?' Pearl said. 'Did he look up into your faces and ask who you are?'
Rosemary shook her head. 'No, he doesn't even look,' she said brokenly. 'He's rolled into a ball, and he won't move or speak, as if he's a hedgehog and we're his deadly enemies... as if he's not here, and safe... Mum's afraid he's lost his wits and won't find them again!'
But Pimpernel had seized on the word safe.
Pearl, seeing the look on her younger sister's face, said, 'What is it, Nell?'
'His blanket,' Pimpernel said vaguely. 'What about his blanket?'
'His blanket?' Pearl was confused.
But Rosemary blinked. 'No...' she said slowly, thinking hard, and then she shook her head, hitting herself on the thigh with a fistful of annoyance. 'Silly of me, but no, he's not... He doesn't have his blanket.'
'Nell?' Pearl said.
Pimpernel was matter of fact. 'How can he be safe without his blanket?' she said. 'I'm surprised none of the grownups thought of it first.'
She marched into the room to tell the grownups exactly what she was thinking, and found herself marched right out again by Ferdinand. He told her in hushed tones that now was not the time, and to go off and play now, or do her chores, or eat breakfast, or something, but that Ferdi needed peace and quiet and he wasn't going to get it with a little lass chattering away.
Pimpernel huffed as the door closed behind her.
Pearl was already off to the parlour, to search and see if the special blanket might have been dropped there, or kicked under the furniture, or something.
'I'll look,' Rosemary whispered, and eased the door open a crack. Her father, seeing her, did not shut her out, but he did put his finger to his lips. She nodded and crept into the room. Tears pricked at her eyes, to see her little brother lying, just lying there in the healer's embrace, while old Sweetbriar murmured reassurances, echoed brokenly by Stelliana.
Pearl returned to an indignant Pimpernel, spreading empty hands. 'Not in the parlour, nor the kitchen,' she said. Rosemary emerged from the guest room and shook her head.
'The yard, then,' Pimpernel answered. 'Or it might have been picked up and put in another room by mistake. The washing?'
They split up to search the smial, for it would be faster that way, as well as less noticeable to adults, who might shoo them out altogether if they were thought to be making nuisances of themselves. Pearl tiptoed into Frodo's room, where Bilbo was chatting pleasantly and tendering spoonfuls of scrambled eggs and chopped ham. At the old hobbit's inquiring look, she said, 'Just checking.'
She made a circuit of the room, ducked down on the far side of the bed to lift the coverlet and peer under the bed. Not even a speck of dust; her mother was a thorough hole-keeper.
'Is there anything I can help you with?' Bilbo said. 'Missing something?'
'Mmm,' Pearl said non-committally. 'You haven't seen a little blue blanket anywhere here, have you?'
'Blue blanket,' Bilbo echoed, met Frodo's gaze, and shook his head. 'None around here,' he said. 'But there are plenty of blankets in the press; I saw them when I tucked up Frodo-lad, here, to make sure he was warmly enough covered.'
'Thanks,' Pearl said. She looked in the press, but of course Ferdi's blanket wouldn't have been put away there, dirty as it must have been after his adventures.
Looking to Frodo, she said, 'You look a sight.'
'Had a bit of a tiff with a tree,' Frodo said. She was glad to hear him sounding almost like himself.
'Who won?' she said.
'Who d'you think?' Frodo retorted, and then winced and lifted a hand to his head.
'Come now, lad, finish your breakfast, and then I think you're for another nap,' Bilbo said.
Pearl moved toward the door, but turned back to ask, as if it had just occurred to her, 'So where did you find them? How far had they wandered?'
'Far enough,' Bilbo said. 'Halfway to the Lonely Mountain, at least as far as a faunt would make it out.'
'They were on a far journey, for sure,' Frodo said, but he wisely refrained from nodding agreement. 'It's a good thing the stream didn't carry them away.' He shivered a little at this, and blinked, and swallowed hard, but then Bilbo brought a spoonful of eggs to his mouth and he was back in the present moment once more.
'Stream,' Pearl said, and at Bilbo's warning look she turned the subject. 'But you didn't find them there.'
'No, it was the copse,' Frodo said through a mouthful. 'On the far side of the sheep meadow,' he added, after swallowing.
'They were hiding in a hollow log,' Bilbo said. 'Come now, lad, just a few more spoonfuls... Pearl, my dear, we'll tell you all the tale of their finding after Frodo's had a bit more rest.'
She nodded at this broad hint. She thought she knew the place, especially after listening to bits and pieces that emerged from the babble of the rescuers, gulping at their mugs of tea and comparing stories about how young Merry had undoubtedly thrown himself into the path of an attacking fox to give little Ferdi a hope of escape.
She met Pimpernel and Rosemary in the hallway. 'Not waiting for the laundering,' Pimpernel said, 'nor in the kitchen, nor the study, nor...' and Rosemary's words tumbled over hers, describing all the other places in the smial where Ferdi's blanket wasn't.
'Not anywhere about,' Pearl concluded.
'Twouldn't be in the barn or byre,' Pimpernel said, 'and I looked all about the yard, but unless it's totally mud you'd see the blue standing out from the ground.'
'Well, then,' Pearl said.
'Nothing else for it,' Pimpernel replied.
'Nothing else for what?' Rosemary said, confused.
'We have to go off, go to where the lads were found, and search from there all along the way here,' Pimpernel said. 'He'd've taken the blanket with him, especially if they were on a journey to the Lonely Mountain or some such.'
'All along the way here?' Pearl said. 'That could be miles of searching—how do we even know what path they wandered?'
'Can you think of any better plan?' Pimpernel said, jutting out her jaw.
That's my Nell, jutting-out jaw and all.
Hush! We're just getting to the good part!
Yes, Nell, tell on!
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