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The Rescue  by Lindelea

Chapter 8. Left Behind

The rest of the afternoon went “as usual” so far as Estella could tell. There seemed to be no difference from the ironing day of the previous week, except of course for the hidden visitor in the parents’ bedroom. Estella marvelled more than once at how Rosemary managed to keep Ferdi’s presence a secret, even from the children. In point of fact, she did not see elevenses or the noontide meal or tea delivered, though she was certain Rosemary would not let her brother go hungry.

Though she would have liked some time to think, to ponder quietly, “as usual” would not allow for such. No, she must do whatever chores Rosemary assigned, she must chaff Robin and be chaffed in her turn, she must play and run races and tickle the little ones and haul wood and water and take her turn at holding the baby or soothing a weeping Parsley when the little lass scraped her knee. She must greet Hally with a cheerful shout, along with the other children, when he came home for midday dinner. She must lie herself down for a nap after the meal, and help to set the table for tea, and feed and shut up the chickens, and milk one of the goats while Robin milked the other…

In short, it was a busy, “usual” day, except for a visit by Scar and Three-fingers, shortly after Hally took himself off, whistling, with his axe on his shoulder. They brought another waggonload of supplies, this time sacks of onions, potatoes, dried beans and rice, barrels of carrots in sand, and dried beef and smoked fish.

Halloo the house! came Scar’s rough call, which Estella had learned was his usual greeting when he visited on a day other than Rosemary’s baking day. Of course, it was more properly a smial and not a house, but none of the hobbits was about to correct him.

Rosemary started up, flatiron in hand, with a quickly stifled exclamation. She assumed a smile and carolled, ‘Visitors!’ She moved to put the flatiron safely on its stand, picked up little Lavender from the floor, settling her on her hip, and took little Buckthorn’s hand, for she did not dare leave the little ones unguarded with a fire burning on the hearth. ‘Come, let us greet them!’

Estella, Robin, and Parsley arose from the simple game they’d been playing, involving pebbles and a game board scratched on the hearthstones with the blackened end of a stick. It wasn’t baking day, not yet, and yet the ruffians were here again! Of course, Rosemary and Hally played the “as usual” game at all times, recognising that the ruffians could come at any time. But knowing and seeing were two very different things, indeed.

‘Rosie,’ Scar said, with a casual bow and tip of his hat. ‘We brought you a lot of supplies, we did, the other day, but we found we had a bit of “extra” after this day’s work, and… seeing as how you never hesitate to share what’s in the pot, well, we thought we’d bring something for the pot, if you take my meaning…’

‘O Scar!’ Rosemary said, clapping her hands in evident delight. ‘You didn’t have to! You shouldn’t have!’ Perhaps Estella was the only one to catch the well-concealed dismay and the truth in the words.

‘Well,’ the ruffian said, shuffling his feet. ‘Well, we… we’ve eaten enough o’ your good cookery…’

‘And plenty more where that came from!’ Rosemary said brightly, and Estella marvelled at her bravery.

‘We’ll just put these away for you,’ Scar said, hefting a heavy-laden sack onto his shoulder. ‘Taters, we brought, and onions and carrots, and more, for some more of that good soup you make…’

‘And fresh-baked bread to go along with it, that’ll be just the thing,’ Three-fingers said, lifting another bag.

Belatedly recalled to herself, Rosemary swung the front door wide. ‘Come in, come in!’ she said, and lifted a corner of her apron to her eye, to wipe away a tear, and if her hand shook a little, the Men merely thought it was more emotion than anything else.

Scar didn’t say anything about the pantry being slightly less full than he’d left it. He was no fool; though Rosemary had gifted the ruffians with several bags of fresh-baked goods, he knew she would not have used up quite so many supplies as were missing from the lot. He simply nodded to himself. They’d already given a part of it away to their relatives, he figured, maybe even that poor family, far back in the back of the Woody End, who had sent Twig to Hally and Rosemary to relieve themselves of another mouth to feed.

Scar and Three-fingers manhandled the barrels of carrots, salted beef, and fish, rolling them in through the door and across the floor to the pantry, and carried in the sacks of other supplies. When they were done, the pantry was full to near-bursting. Rosemary thanked them over and again as they worked, and pressed sweet biscuits and mugs of tea on both when they were finished.

Estella did not look at the bedroom door, which remained ajar, though she was sorely tempted. She elected to go outside instead, stand by the heads of the ponies hitched to the waggon, and feed them wisps of grass that she pulled in the yard, patting their noses in apology when they stretched out their necks for more. She did not want to take any chances of one of the ruffians following a stray glance, and deciding to investigate the bedroom.

She noticed that Rosemary stayed busy shepherding the ruffians back and forth, and holding tight to the little ones that they might not get underfoot. Robin and Parsley, not knowing their uncle was hiding in the bedroom, could not betray him by action or word, and so they helped by holding the doors open, Robin on the door into the smial, and Parsley holding the pantry door. Scar gravely thanked the little lass each time he came through, a fact Estella found strangely touching.

At last the waggon was unloaded, the ruffians finished the last of their tea and biscuits, and they bade Rosemary and the children farewell. ‘And our best to Hally!’ Three-fingers shouted.

‘I’ll be sure to tell him,’ Rosemary said. ‘And thanks, thanks, and more thanks for your kindness and care!’

Gathered from some poor hobbit family, Estella grumbled to herself, but she kept a smile fixed on her face and waved as wildly as Robin. The two “lads” had a waving contest, as it were, waving both hands, and Robin lifting one foot to wave it as well. The ruffians chuckled as they drove away, and that was a good thing, or so Rosemary told the children when the Men were well away.

***

Hally laughed aloud at his children’s cheers and shouts, as he emerged from the Wood at teatime. As a matter of course, the children were waiting and watching at his “usual” times for returning. Estella wondered if he looked at her rather searchingly on his second return this day, though the look was but momentary, gone so quickly as he laid down his axe to catch up Buckthorn and throw the tot up into the air, shrieking with delight.

He sobered slightly when Robin and Parsley excitedly told him of the ruffians’ visit, caught Rosemary’s glance, and chuckled. ‘Well, now,’ he said. ‘That’s fine! D’you think it was Three-fingers’ birthday, that he should shower us with such presents?’

‘And p’rhaps it was Scar’s, the last time?’ Robin said.

‘Or Mossy’s,’ Parsley added, not to be left out.

They drank their tea accompanied by delicious biscuits, they did the washing up, the aforementioned “after tea but before eventides” chores were completed, and the family sat down to the eventide meal. While the ruffians’ visit was a favourite topic at that meal, Estella knew there would be no discussion of their other visitor, but she rather hoped the parents would say something to prepare the children for her departure, some plausible explanation. From what Estella had been able to observe, Rosemary had imparted all the news and gossip of the past few weeks over the course of the day, in the guise of keeping the little ones occupied.

Ferdi had gathered all the news fit to gather this time, she thought, and likely would be departing this very night. Would he take her with him? Would the parents explain her departure? No explanation was forthcoming, neither at the meal, nor as they sat around the hearth after washing-up, while Hally told the bedtime story. Estella felt a shock of disappointment as the children were tucked up in their beds, and still no explanation.

‘And to bed with you, young Twig,’ Rosemary said with a meaningful look. ‘Growing lads need their sleep!’

‘But—‘ Estella started to say, and then her shoulders slumped with a sigh, and she picked up her bedding and spread it before the hearth. She would play the game by the rules the Bolgers had set forth, she would show Ferdi that she was trustworthy, even if he had determined to leave her behind.

She would, even if it meant she must play the role of Twig to perfection for the remainder of her life, to the end of her days.

Which, considering the danger inherent in the task Hally and Rosemary had chosen, might come sooner rather than later. She could only hope for the best, and play the game to the best of her ability, and always be braced for the worst...

And perhaps, next time Ferdibrand came, or the time after, or some time after, he'd find her worthy.

In the meantime, she'd do what she could to lighten Rosemary's load. It was the least she could do.





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