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Dreamflower has been posting a delightful series of chapters on Shire etiquette, as penned by Bilbo's very well-informed relative Miss Dora Baggins. A recent chapter on "The Giving of Gifts" sparked this bit of whimsy. Thanks, Dreamflower, for the spark of inspiration and for looking this over before it was posted!
And yet, I may pause here to say a Word on the Receiving of Gifts: a Gift is never to be turned away, whatever the reason. It is a Most Offensive Insult to Refuse a Gift!
Chapter 1. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
‘What is it?’ Frodo said, eyeing the furry mountain all but dwarfing his young cousin. ‘Some sort of lap robe?’
‘It’s a puppy!’ Pippin said, his tone indignant. ‘Really, Frodo, I should think that you of all people would know a puppy when you see one!’
‘Looks more like a young Oliphaunt to me,’ Merry said aside.
‘A very hairy Oliphaunt,’ Frodo agreed.
Pippin’s face was turning red, but he managed an even tone—one of the signs that he’d matured over the past half-year or so—even though the space between his words gave evidence of his perturbation. ‘It—is—a—puppy!’ he said.
‘A very large puppy,’ Merry said, and couldn’t resist adding, ‘Are you sure it’s not a pony, by chance?’
‘Merry, I should think you of all people should recognise the difference between a pony and a puppy,’ Pippin said severely, but Frodo interrupted, for he’d moved in order to be able to eye the bundle of fur from another angle.
‘From the size of those feet, it’ll be as large as a pony when it’s grown.’
‘Then Pip can ride him home!’ Merry said with a shout, while Sam, fussing over the tea tray, fixing a plate to tempt Mr. Frodo’s appetite, accompanied by the perfect cup of tea, paused in dismay.
‘I do hope we don’t have to wait until he grows up, before we’re on our way home again!’ he muttered. Far be it from him to join in the conversation with his betters, here in the privacy of the guest-house, where people weren’t falling all over themselves to bow down to him and call him “my Lord” and all sort of uncomfortable things.
But Merry heard, and turned around to advance on the tea tray, with a slap of approval for the gardener’s shoulder. ‘Well spoken, Sam!’ he said. ‘Worth saying twice!’
And when Sam blushed and shook his head, Merry repeated the sentiment for him. ‘I hope we don’t have to wait until he grows up! From the look of him, he’s just left his mum, hasn’t he? He’s much too young to be walking the length of Middle-earth, and much too big to carry!’
The pup under discussion raised a sleepy head and yawned, disclosing long, needle-sharp milk teeth. By hobbit standards, these might have made fine daggers or ice picks.
Frodo, though he did not fear dogs as a rule, was reminded of Farmer Maggot’s enormous brutes, and he shuddered.
‘But you’re taking cold, cousin,’ Pippin said, struggling a little against the weight that pinned him to the floor. ‘You ought to cuddle up with Mittens, here.’
‘Mittens!’ Merry said in astonishment. One of his aunts had had a cat by that name, a small, tidy, white-pawed, engaging creature that purred whenever someone glanced in its direction. ‘What sort of name is that? This beast ought to bear a name like “Wolf”, or “Fang”, or...’
‘Oliphaunt!’ Frodo said, accepting the cup of tea Sam brought him with a grateful look. ‘Mmm, just right, Sam, thank you.’
‘Plenty more where that came from,’ Sam said stoutly, going back to the tea tray. ‘The teapots they have here are enormous, as you know, Mr. Frodo! Even cosied, I’m not sure we’ll be able to finish it all before it goes cold.’
‘Well then, we had better get to work,’ Merry said, lifting the heavy pot with a grimace. Sam hurried to help him, and together they managed to pour out three more cups, lightening the pot appreciably. The cups, too, were man-sized, after all.
‘You know how Paladin is,’ Frodo went on. ‘He has no use for pets... every creature on the farm must earn its keep. He doesn’t want any useless animals, eating their heads off...’ he gave the “puppy” a considering look. ‘And this one looks as if he’d eat quite a bit, given half a chance.’
‘He could herd sheep,’ Merry said, and then put his cup down as he was convulsed with laughter at the image that rose in his mind. ‘The poor things would be so petrified at his appearance, they’d bunch together and never scatter nor wander.’
‘They’d probably die of fright at first glimpse,’ Frodo amended. He sat himself down on the other end of the hearthrug to enjoy the cheery blaze on the hearth, set his teacup down on the floor beside him and accepted the plate that Sam laid in his lap. ‘My,’ he said. ‘Look at that! Fresh fruit! Strawberries! Where do you think it all came from?’
‘Sunlands, Mr. Frodo, those melons; and the strawberries are from Lossarnach,’ Sam said. ‘You ought to see all the new things on offer in the market now! Minas Tirith is no longer living off stores. The siege is well and truly over with, and there’s plenty of food now, and no more soldier’s rations.’
‘The siege ought to be over by now,’ Frodo said. ‘We’ve been here a month, already.’
‘Has it been a whole month?’ Merry cried. He went over to the bench by the window. It was a simple matter to climb up on the child’s footstool that Bergil had found for them, and from there up on to the window-seat, where he stood peering out. ‘The window boxes are blooming!’ he said.
Sam nodded. He’d noticed that fact a day or two earlier. Spring, although belated, was in full force in Minas Tirith and surroundings. The Pelennor was green, except for a black patch, and farmers were in the field from before sunrise until dusk, and the stone window boxes were covered in green, with bright colours peeping out as the plants began to blossom. A late blossoming it might have been, but the people of the City rejoiced in the blooms.
‘In any event,’ Frodo said, returning to the subject at hand, ‘you cannot keep this enormous monster, Pippin. It’s just not practical.’
Pippin’s flush grew brighter, and he swallowed hard. In truth, he found the “puppy” rather difficult to manage, it weighing quite as much as he did despite its infant state. When he’d sat himself down on the hearthrug, after coming off duty, the puppy had happily bounced over to him and flopped itself down in his lap... or rather, all over his legs, nearly flattening him, and proceeded to fall asleep after a tail wag or two. He could not imagine what he’d do if the dog grew bigger—as it inevitably would.
‘I don’t really want to keep him,’ he said, though his hand went out to rub at a blanket-sized ear when the pup put its head down again with a sleepy sigh. The tail thumped again, briefly, before the snoring recommenced. ‘He’s not all that practical, I know, but...’
‘But what?’ Merry wanted to know.
‘But he was a gift!’ Pippin said miserably. ‘I have to keep him!’
Merry’s jaw fell open, and he exchanged glances with Frodo. ‘I never thought of that!’ he said. ‘O Pip, why didn’t you say so in the first place?’
‘I thought, perhaps, he followed you home,’ Frodo said. ‘I remember the last dog that followed you home, and you asking your da if you could keep him...’
‘I was only sixteen at the time,’ Pippin said, balancing the plate Sam gave him on the hairy back, where it stood at eye-level. ‘And you have to admit, it was a winsome creature.’
Pippin had a way with dogs, it must be said. One of his firmest friends in his early years had been an old sheepdog that followed him everywhere when the dog wasn’t following the sheep. The dog had been Pippin’s devoted slave, though it towered above him. Frodo had found it difficult not to laugh, to see the tiny hobbit order the dog to sit, and then lie down, and then get up and fetch a thrown stick, and then lie down again, for the enormous creature would obey every command instantly and with great enthusiasm, watching the young tyrant with adoring eyes.
The “winsome creature” had been a large, hairy and ferocious-looking mutt that might have been twin to one of Farmer Maggot’s dogs.
Paladin had persuaded his son to give the stray to a neighbouring widow, to scare away any tramping Men, who were being seen more frequently than before.
‘In any event, you’re saying this Oliphaunt was a gift?’ Merry said. He rolled his eyes and put a dramatic hand to his forehead. ‘What, Frodo, are we ever going to do? You know what Miss Dora Baggins always said...’
And the four hobbits all quoted together in the same breath, ‘...A Gift is never to be turned away, whatever the reason! It is a Most Offensive Insult to Refuse a Gift!’
‘Yes, but she also said that it was unkind to give an inappropriate gift,’ Frodo added. He set his plate aside—only half cleared, Sam saw to his regret—and arose with a brisk air. ‘As head of the family, I’ll handle the matter, Pippin. Don’t worry. All will be well.’
‘How?’ Pippin said, trying ineffectually to rise, but alas, he was firmly pinned to the floor for the duration of the pup’s nap. He’d heard that puppies sleep twenty-three out of twenty-four hours, and so he was wondering, dully, if he’d be found in dereliction of his duty on the morrow, having spent the night trapped under this furry mountain, and possibly most of the morning, even into the afternoon, up until an hour before teatime, anyhow...
‘I’m going to take a page out of Paladin’s book,’ Frodo said, and dusting his hands, he turned to Samwise. ‘Thank you, Sam, for a delicious tea. Put my plate up, will you? I wouldn’t want the babe to finish it off and upset his "little" tummy... besides which, I might feel a bit peckish when I return.’
‘I’ll be happy to, Mr. Frodo,’ Sam said, putting his own plate aside long enough to pick up Mr. Frodo’s plate. Looking around, he thought the table with its sawed-off legs rather an insufficient refuge, for the pup, standing, would tower above its surface. He settled for the window-seat, and then climbing down off the footstool hastened to his own plate, to secure it as well; but Frodo ordered him to “stay and eat and keep an eye on our two young charges,” and Merry elected to go along and keep Frodo out of trouble.
And so Sam found himself sitting down again, to finish his interrupted tea.
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