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The Rescue  by Lindelea

Chapter 5. A Busy Day

After quickly putting together a shelter for the chickens, Hally went to the woods that day, "as usual" -- for, as Rosemary explained to Estella after the littlest children had been put to bed for their afternoon nap, it was not a good thing to depart from "usual" with ruffians always about. However, once Parsley, Buckthorn, little Lavvy and the babe were safely asleep, she gestured to Robin and Estella to follow her to the storeroom, and to sit themselves down in the small space that was left after the ruffians had stowed away the ill-gotten gains, er, bounty.

Wondering, Estella obeyed. Rosemary turned about again, leaving the door ajar, and left them. Estella looked a question at Robin, but the lad only shrugged, and then leaned back against a stack of grain sacks and closed his eyes. Very economical, Robin was. If he was not to be sent to bed to nap with the others, he'd take his rest while he could, for his mother obviously had some employment or other in mind, just so soon as she returned.

...and return she did, with a stack of folded empty sacks draped over one arm, and carrying her sewing basket in the other hand. She put a finger to her lips and whispered, 'I've made forms in the beds; if any lurking ruffian should peek in at the windows, they'll think all of us asleep, as usual.'

Estella nodded. "As usual" had reared its head once again, and yes, if she stayed with Rosemary and the children and did not accompany Hally into the woods, the custom in the little house was for everyone to lie down after the noontide meal, for a good hour or two of rest. The pantry was windowless, and pulling the door half-shut ensured that they could not be seen from any of the windows; yet Rosemary would hear at once if one of the little ones awakened or cried out in their sleep.

Now she held up a sack, and Estella realised a demonstration was at hand. She nudged Robin with her elbow and he sat up straight and opened his eyes wide. Rosemary cut the sacking into pieces, took up a piece and folded it in half, matching the sides. She threaded a needle and proceeded to sew up the two sides, then hemmed around the mouth and held up the finished article to view. Estella gasped as she realised that the larger piece of sacking, that had in its time held perhaps an hundredweight, had yielded a small sack to begin, and a fair number by the time it had yielded up all its fabric. Robin nodded to show his understanding, reached into the sewing basket and retrieved a needle and threaded it. He nudged Estella with an elbow of his own and nodded at the sewing basket. Estella followed his example, cheeks burning that the much younger hobbit should have grasped his mother's intent so much more quickly than she had.

Rosemary cut the sacking into more pieces, handing a piece each to Robin and Estella. While they sewed, she made quick work with her shears, cutting more pieces, until quite a tidy pile sat before them, and then she threaded her own needle and began to sew. If Estella had been surprised at a lad being asked to sew, it didn't last long. She was hard pressed to keep up with Robin's quick, neat stitches; and he sewed them tiny and closely spaced into the bargain, well suited to the seam of a flour-bag, as a matter of fact. Estella had not enjoyed the sewing her grandmama had insisted on, silly things like samplers and handkerchiefs and fancy stitching, but this -- for some reason this more practical sewing gave her the feeling of contributing to the welfare of Hally and Rosemary's family, and so she bent to her work with a will. It was not too long before she was setting straight, even stitches as fine as Robin's, and not often pricking her fingers or breaking the thread.

By the time the little ones awakened, they'd accumulated a fair number of small sacks. At little Lavender's wakening cry, Rosemary rose, put her needle and thread away, and took up the newly-sewed bags, rolling them together and secreting them in a small space between the grain sacks and the wall. Estella hurried to finish her final seam, and soon she and Robin had put away their needles, secreted their sacks with the others, packed the thread back in the sewing basket, and put the basket back on its shelf near the hearth, out of reach of little fingers.

The rest of the day went "as usual", filled with chores and games and baking. It was not Rosemary's usual baking day, but she'd had so little to work with, the past two weeks, and now such bounty, it seemed a good day for catching up the larder, so to speak, and so they baked, and how they baked! There was bread, with a fine, yeasty smell -- both wholemeal and fine-sifted loaves -- and apple and cherry hand-pies made with dried fruit from the ruffians' bounty, and scones, fairy cakes, gingerbread, shortbread and other biscuits, until the table was spread full of cooling loaves and whatnot, and good smells filled the little smial.

Eventides was a jolly meal, with much feasting, and surprisingly, no ruffians appeared though the smell of baking perfumed the air outside as well as in. Hally returned to say he'd seen one or two of the fellows in the woods, but for whatever reason they hadn't returned to sample Rosie's baking, and all the better for him!

The little ones ate to their hearts' content, as did Estella, now that she knew that there was plenty in the storeroom and no one would go hungry on her account. At last the small ones were put to bed, and Rosemary returned to her baking, enough for an army of ruffians, or the entire neighbourhood, or both -- or so it seemed to Estella. Yet Hally made no comment, simply blew out the lamps, all but the watchlamps in each bedroom and in a window of the main room, before walking softly to the storeroom. He lit no lamp but set to work, from the subdued sound of it, in near darkness. Rosemary, too, worked by the dim light of hearth fire and watchlamp, and though she yawned once or twice her hands were deft as she rolled out more dough and cut shapes, and soon more good smells arose to enrich the already fragrant air.

Estella got up from her pallet before the hearth and crept to the storeroom, where it sounded as if more than one mouse were scritching amongst the grain sacks. Her eyes had adjusted well to the dim light, for she'd kept her back to the fire, and so she could see Hally in the near darkness. He was busy filling one of the smaller sacks they'd sewn that day, taking from a larger sack -- barley, she thought.

He looked up as her shadow fell over his work. 'Bed!' he whispered, even as he tied the sack shut and reached for another.

'Can I help?' Estella said in as low a tone.

Hally considered a moment, then she heard him breathe, 'Make a form of yourself with a bolster or two--that a ruffian peering in at the window would see "you" sleeping before the hearth as you have done since your arrival, and you may help me...'

She did.

They must have filled sacks until midnight, or so Estella thought, but at last the smaller sacks she and Robin and Rosemary had sewn were all full of good things, barley, wheat, flour, sugar, salt, dried fruit, a variety of foodstuffs, and stacked carefully to one side. Hally stood up and straightened his back, stretching, and Estella did, too. He stepped close to whisper in her ear.

'I'm sure Scar expected us to give the better part away to the neighbours, or he'd not've brought so much at one go, but if a ruffian should ask...'

Estella nodded, her head spinning with new thoughts, as Hally finished, 'The big sacks are too heavy for Rosemary to manage, and so I've divided some of the things for her.'

'Very handy,' she managed to murmur, and with the ghost of a chuckle he slapped her gently on the back.

'Very!' he said in return, and then, 'You'll see how handy on the morrow, I think.'

Rosemary had left off her work some time earlier, but stacks of baking on the table testified to her efforts, and the wonderful smells persisted though the smial was dark and quiet.

Estella returned the bolster and extra pillow to their proper place and rolled herself in her blankets, dropping quickly to sleep, to dream of Bilbo's farewell feast and all the variety of baking that she'd enjoyed there, on that long-ago day.

Yet there was a disquieting note, comforting as the dream festivities might be, for in the dream she followed her brother Freddy about the party, and he was following Merry, who was following Frodo, whilst ruffians lurked in the shadows with leering eyes.

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