1. Unfair

Waymeet, Westfarthing, Astron, 1344

It had been Violet’s idea.

While the others wrung their hands and railed at her for her foolishness, Lobelia’s sister-in-law-to-be was silent, thinking hard. Lobelia watched Violet think because it was better than listening to her mother and father and brother and sisters scold. After what seemed a long while, but was probably just a few minutes, Violet had looked her full in face, and had smiled. She walked over and took the young lass’ hands in her own, and kissed Lobelia on the cheek.

‘It will be all right, sister, you will see. I have a plan.’

Hardbottle, Eastfarthing, Thrimidge, 1345

Lobelia sighed to herself and tried not to brood as she walked near the Brandywine. It had been a good plan and she was terribly grateful to Violet. Even so, it was all so unfair. No, not unfair. Deserved, you wicked girl. You brought this on yourself, and should count yourself lucky that you may show your face at all. Lobelia was not convinced. Hargo and Violet had each other and the child to show about – and they did so at every opportunity – while she had to wait in the shadows until she was more than a bit of an old maid and fit only for a husband who was not so picky. That was the price for her foolishness.

Mother sniffed that it was better than she deserved, especially considering all that Hargo and Violet had done for her. They had moved up their wedding, and allowed a few rumors to get about, with winks and nods about eager young folk. When their baby arrived a scarce seven months after the wedding, all the old hens had clucked among themselves, but the little girl was so delightful and the parents so proud, that none had the heart to be too cruel in their gossip. None paid attention to the little sister who had not been seen overly much during those last few months.

She kicked a stone out of the path and watched it skitter down the bank into the river where it disappeared with a satisfying “plop”.  I will not disappear, no matter how much people might wish it. Mother and Father had both told her to stay out of sight while the Bagginses were visiting. Longo Baggins has come to call to discuss leather with Father, and had brought his pleasant, if a bit distracted, wife, Camellia, and their son, Otho. They were staying at The Blue Heron, a small inn run by a Bracegirdle cousin, while they were in Hardbottle, then were going to pay a call on Longo’s sister, Belba, up in Scary. Lobelia found another rock and kicked it with particular venom, liking the way it sailed out over the river before dropping into the depths.

‘Miss Bracegirdle? Miss Lobelia?’ She turned at the call, and saw Otho Baggins walking briskly towards her. Her heart sank, and she scowled at him. He did not appear to notice, smiling genially at her as he approached. Otho was thought by some the plainest and least accomplished of all the Baggins cousins, though most allowed that he was still quite a bit better than the average Hobbit. When compared to his older, adventurous, (and thoroughly disreputable) oldest cousin, Bilbo, it was clear to Lobelia that Otho was much the finer of the two, though probably not so handsome. And haven’t you but had enough of those fair Baggins faces, stupid girl? Bilbo Baggins is exactly the kind of husband you are going to end up with – old, queer and mad as mad can be. Though it was rumored that he was wealthier than the Took since his adventure. There was no point in hoping for a respectable fellow like Otho.

‘Would you mind some company, Miss Lobelia?’ Otho asked when he was close enough to speak normally. ‘I saw you walking along and thought a stroll by the river is a mighty nice thing, but nicer with someone to talk to.’ He smiled and waited for her answer.

‘Have you really nothing better to do than trail after a girl?’ Lobelia tartly replied. Otho’s smile wavered a bit. ‘I thought you were here with your father to do some business, not lollygag about, practicing your flirting.’ Otho’s smile was definitely gone by this point. He frowned a little and stared at the ground between them, then looked up with a polite, serious expression.

‘Now, Miss Bracegirdle, I don’t see as there is any call to be short with me for asking a civil question.’ Lobelia felt her cheeks start to burn at the gentle reproof. ‘If you are not of a mind for company, or if you would not ever be of a mind for my own company, be kind enough to say so, plain and polite, and I will not bother you.’

Lobelia stared back at the young fellow, trying to see any deceit or disdain. She could not find any. She stiffly inclined her head and said, ‘Pray forgive my sharp-tongue. You were being a proper gentlehobbit.’ He smiled shyly.

‘Forgiveness granted, of course, Miss Lobelia. I ask for yours in return for having been more forward than I should. Let me ask you again – would you be so kind as to allow me to accompany you on your walk? If you wish not for a companion, I shall go on my way without complaint.’

Mother would not approve. She had been quite clear that she expected Lobelia to stay away from all men unless properly chaperoned. “You will need to be beyond reproach from now on, you hussy! If you bring a hint of shame on this family, you will not be allowed out of your room until you are an old woman!” It was not fair. The other girls in Hardbottle could flirt all they wished, and even kiss their beaus right in front of everyone, and no one thought anything of it. And they would marry as they pleased, even if they did not behave respectably, for their young men were men seeking a wife, not simply a dalliance. It was not fair, and she was not going to listen.

‘Yes, Mister Baggins, I would be honored to have your company while I walk.’ Otho grinned widely, and offered her his arm with a flourish. She looped her arm around his, letting her hand rest lightly on the crook of his elbow. They began to walk slowly along the path. He was a considerate gentlehobbit and allowed her to stay on the smooth center while he negotiated the rough tussocks at the side. They walked in silence for ten minutes or so, until Otho cleared his throat.

‘You did ask me a fair question, Miss Lobelia.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You asked if I didn’t have some more pressing business than walking with you.’

She gave him a side-long, suspicious look. ‘And?’ To her surprise, his cheeks turned a little pink, and he had to hem and haw a few times before he could get any words out.

‘Well, strictly speaking, Miss Bracegirdle, no, I, I don’t have more pressing business. Father has finished up his business and released me to spend my time as I please now.’

‘I see. Business is done and now you are off to try your luck with the local girls, is that it?’ She pulled her arm out of his and crossed them over her chest. He’s just here to try to fool with you, silly girl. She wondered if he had heard a whisper or a rumor, and had decided to see what he could win from the local tart. Perhaps Mother was right, and it was best to avoid these young fellows, and avoid being humiliated. She stopped and glared at him.

Otho stuck his hands in his pockets and shook his head. ‘That’s not it at all, Miss Bracegirdle. It is not the local girls I want to talk to. My business here isn’t with Mister Bracegirdle, either, though my father’s is. My business here is with you.’

She curled a scornful lip. ‘Is that so? Well, there is no business I care to conduct with a Baggins!’ She turned on her heel and began to march off. Otho grabbed her arm, bringing her to a halt. Lobelia looked pointedly at his hand on her arm, then stared at him until he let go of her. She liked seeing him back down. Lobelia put her hands on her hips and waited to see what pitiful excuse this Baggins would come up with.

 ‘I am sorry, I said that badly,’ Otho began. ‘I meant to say that I’ve come to Hardbottle specifically to speak with you, and it’s not business and it’s not flirting either.’ He met her eyes and held them. ‘Miss Bracegirdle, I very sincerely ask for your permission to pay court to you. I would have asked as much as two years ago, when I came of age, but my father said I should wait to go courting until this year. I have been waiting two years to ask you this.’

Lobelia wanted to cry. This was too unfair for words. As proper a young fellow as a girl could wish, and he had wished for her for two years. But he’d not wish for you now, if he knew. That he would ask showed that he did not know. Perhaps he needn’t ever know. No, that could not be. The one thing Violet and Mother had agreed upon in this whole sorry mess was any husband would have to be told before hand, and why she would have to settle on a man who would take such a woman. She shook her head violently.

‘My father would not permit it.’

Otho nodded a little. ‘I know. I asked him if he’d allow me, and he said he was of no mind to do so.’ 

‘So, if Father has already said “no,” why are you asking me?’

‘Because I want you to know what my intentions are.’ His cheeks were bright pink now, but his gaze did not waver. ‘When your father will permit it, if you are agreeable, Miss Bracegirdle, then I intend to pay court to you.’ He gently reach out and took one of her hands, though he did not step nearer. ‘I intend, with your permission, to have you as my wife.’

Lobelia thought her heart was going to break with bitterness. Everything she could ever want was standing before her: a respectable fellow of a prominent family, pledging himself to her without a reservation. She did not want to know what his face would look like were he to know the truth. He must not know. She pulled her hand out of his.

‘And you are so certain that you are, of course, someone I would care to have as husband? Such presumption!’ His face fell, and Lobelia felt both satisfied and wicked for having hurt him so.

‘Yes, Miss Bracegirdle, yes, I am indeed presumptuous. But I plead your indulgence for that presumption! I cannot help being a foolish fellow when I see you. I lost my heart to you when I saw you at the Harvest feast in Scary near three years back, when we were visiting with my aunt and uncle. You were too young, and my father forbade me to speak. I have waited all this time and I shall wait as long as you wish, but say at the least that you will hear my suit?’

‘No. No, it cannot be. I am sorry Mister Baggins. I am of no mind to be a wife to anyone,’ she stammered, stunned at this revelation. She had been such a silly goose back then, she had hardly noticed Otho, though now that she thought about it, he had asked her to dance more than the other men and had always seemed to be about. This was just horrible. No, it was worse than horrible. Why had Otho never said a word?

‘Well, you are yet so young, Miss Lobelia, I am not surprised you should say such,’ Otho replied, ‘but I said I would wait, and I shall. I am quite sincere. I fancy no one else and I am content to wait.’

‘Then you are a fool, because it shall never happen!’ she snapped. She would not let her heart be won, so that it might be broken again. And why does he so strongly press his suit to a girl who has said no? He just seeks to fool you, and fool with you. He means not a word of it. ‘Fine words! For what in truth are you waiting? I detest you importuning, sweet-tongued Baggins. I’ll have naught more to do with you!’ No more. Not again.

Otho’s face became stern, even a bit angry, and Lobelia was nervous. He looked off, across the river, and drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then he looked back at her and said firmly, ‘My intentions are as I have said. I am not like the one who wronged you.’

Lobelia slapped him as hard as she could, and stormed away, humiliated. She had not gone thirty yards before Otho grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her around. She fought against him, slapping and kicking, wanting him to go away and leave her to her misery, but he held her at arm’s length and would not let go. Eventually she stopped. She could not help a few tears that escaped, but kept herself from crying.

‘How do you know?’

‘It does not matter, and does not bear repeating. I just do.’

‘And who else knows? Are there any who do not?’

‘Only your family, myself and him. I told him I’d cut out his tongue if he ever breathed word.’ Otho said this with such vehemence Lobelia believed it. His face softened. ‘Please, Miss Bracegirdle, Lobelia, I am an honorable fellow. I wish for all to be quite proper.’

She laughed wildly. ‘Proper? You want things proper? How can they possibly be proper? There is nothing proper left! You’d marry a wanton with a bastard and call it proper?’

Otho did not reply until her sobbing laughter was under control. ‘I think some propriety is much needed, Miss Bracegirdle. I wish I had spoken long before, and made clear to all that you were for me and no other, so none would have thought to take advantage of a young and tender heart. I would make of you a proper wife. If it is your wish, your child shall not be fatherless.’

Lobelia stood very still, and Otho let go her arms. They stood silent for a long minute, while she studied him. She carefully neatened her clothes and patted her hair to make sure it was in place. She folded her hands in front of her, and said, ‘Mister Baggins, thank you for explaining your intentions. I fear I shall have to ask you to leave me now. I have much to consider.’ Otho took a step away and bowed quite formally.

‘As you request, Miss Bracegirdle. I will be returning to the inn. I believe my parents and I shall be dining at your home this evening. I hope I shall see you then. Until this evening, Miss Bracegirdle.’ He bowed again less deeply, and strode away.

Lobelia slowly walked back to the smial, thinking. It was terribly unfair. She had not flirted or fooled more than the other girls she knew, but had been unwise in the man she chose. He went about as he wished, while she had to hide and pretend and wait. Mother wished her to live in shame until she was a withered old maid, while Violet would have more babes of her own. A fine young man asked for her and said he did not care, but whispers in the wrong places by envious people could ruin that. A single drunken mistake, and she was to be miserable all the rest of her life, here in miserable Hardbottle. But, if she was far away from Hardbottle…

Once home, she went to the nursery. Violet was there, tending the baby. Lobelia took the child and let her daughter nurse. She and Violet chatted about nothing afterwards, while Lobelia rocked the baby to sleep. For an hour she cradled the girl and tried out different names upon the sleeping babe. The one she had suited her best, Lobelia decided.

She went to change for supper, though she knew it was expected that she would stay in her room while the guests were there. She dressed in her second-nicest dress, and took great care that her hair was fixed just so. Her mother glared at her when she walked into the parlor after the Bagginses had arrived, but could not say anything. Father also looked at her sternly and indicated with a small tip of his head that she was to leave. She ignored them. Otho smiled sweetly at her, and she walked over to take his arm.

‘Mother, Father, I have news. This afternoon, Mister Baggins asked me to marry him. My answer is “yes.” ’ Her parents gaped, while Otho beamed and took up her hand to kiss it.

Things were going to be fair after all.


Author Notes:

Otho is 35 years old in this story (1310 – 1412).

Lobelia’s birth date is never given, but she is more than 100 when she dies in 1420, so she has to have been born no later than 1320. I have assigned her a birth date of 1316, which makes her 27, quite a bit short of her majority and six years younger than the usual marriage age for Hobbits.

When Bilbo returns from his adventure in 1342, Otho would have been 32, and Lobelia only 26, far too young to be married. I believe the Sackville-Bagginses who were measuring Bag End at that time to have been Otho’s parents, Longo and Camellia Baggins, and that Otho and Lobelia inherited the family disdain for Bilbo, along with the purloined silver.


Comments may be left here