Daffodil gave herself a smile as she took a last look in the mirror, and then carefully took off the old shawl and removed the brooch. She wrapped it back up, and placed it with the letter and the coin under the loose floorboard, best kept from prying eyes.
Once she crawled from under the bed, she grabbed a red handkerchief from her dresser and hung it outside her round window. She took a moment to stare out across the well-tended yard and the old oak tree that loomed over Primrose Lane, passed which grew the tall hay and then to the rolling meadow where the children of Staddle would play in the summer. The sky was bright and blue, and to the horizon the sunny day passed. Far away to the North the hills rolled in a blurry haze and then they disappeared into the distance. She crossed her arms and leaned out the window, enjoying the warm May morning breeze, and that was when she saw the rabbit. She had missed it at first, but in her mother's Spring garden two long ears sprang up, and then the largest coney Daffodil had ever seen hopped into the yard, still chewing on a cabbage leaf. It looked at the window, at her, and then at the handkerchief, and with a bounce it shot straight away from the yard, across the lane, and then bounded through the tall grass.
'Well, that was strange', thought Daffodil, as she watched until she could see the rabbit no more, and then she withdrew from the window and changed into a worn and rusty green linen shift, over which she tied a rough leather apron.
She marched from her room towards the noisy kitchen, marking with her finger in her palm her plans for the day.
"....walk all the way to the Bree-gate and back, practice my fighting with the boys, start learning my plants..." she turned into the kitchen, just expanded the month before. Josie the cook was bent over the stove, while her half-dozen siblings sat at the long oak table, eating second breakfast. She walked up to her twin brothers and unceremoniously pushed them from her seat at the head of the table and then sat down.
"Pancakes, Josie! Lots of them! I must fortify myself! For don't you know that June is but a fortnight away?", she exclaimed and then laughed, picking up a knife and fork. Josie turned and looked at the girl.
"My, that's a fine how-to-do, Miss Daffy", she said, putting a hand on a plumb hip, "you've been out of things for three days and now needing pancakes!"
The children giggled, for Daffy always made up the best games and jests, they looked to her wondering what she was up to. Josie sat a stack of pancakes in front of Daffodil, who began to wolf them down. Josie looked at her with disapproval.
"Now Miss Daffy, I know it's not my place and all, but I know for a fact that your mother wanted you in your party best today, and not in that, whatever that is."
Daffodil giggled and said,
"Well, it's for the Garden Society, isn't it? I picked my best garden outfit." She looked to her brothers and sisters and said,
"Oh my! What is a Garden Society that does not garden?"
They all giggled at the joke, except for her youngest brother, who stared at his plate and barely touched his food.
"Come now, Andy, that was funny", she said, looking at him. He didn't respond. Suddenly the other children grew silent as well.
"Well, out with it, is he sick? Whatever is the matter?"
Josie came over with another stack of pancakes and said,
"Well, if they won't say it, I will! Minding your pardon, Miss Daffy, but those Bolger boys have been up to no good!"
Daffodil sighed. The Bolger boys, again. They were a pair, those boys, less than three years apart but still bigger than most of the other hobbit children of Staddle. Daffodil remembered playing with Harry, the oldest, when she was younger, but that was before the winter that Harrifold Bolger, a teamster, had died under what some in Staddle considered most unusual circumstances, which for Hobbits meant hushed whispers and sideways glances at the Widow Bolger. There were rumors that gold was buried somewhere in the little hole that the widow and her sons shared at the crook of Primrose Lane, where the road made a wide bend. Soon after the elder Bolger's death (in truth, only the report of his death reached Staddle, as his body was said to have washed away under the icy waters of the Greyflood) folk began to shun the family. It was said that he died in the company of South-men, and that was good enough for decent hobbits to suspect and suppose all they wanted to. It wasn't long after their father's passing that the boys began to become disagreeable. Daffodil herself hadn't seen either Harry or Rorry, as little Rorriford Bolger was called, in a few months.
"What is no good?" asked Daffodil, "what trouble is there?"
"They go about with that big black mutt of theirs, Thain, scaring the little ones! Why, the other day, as I was walking by from my shopping in Bree, they threatened to sic that bag of bones on me! I ran all the way to the kitchen, I did!"
"Is that it?" asked Daffodil softly to her little brother, "did they scare you with that dog?" Andy eyes were downcast as his face began to flush and he shook his head. The other children looked down as well.
"I will not have this!", said Daffodil, raising her voice slightly, "I am eldest and while Mother and Father are out and about that means I am in charge! So, someone please tell me what is going on!"
Her younger sister Rose fidgeted and then whispered,
"They stole Andy's spinning top."
Daffodil gasped. The Bolger boys had been known for some mean pranks, but stealing? Surely not!
"They stole your toy? The one that Father got for you from Dale?" she asked of her little brother. It was a most magical top, which set to spinning as soon as one pushed on it, and while spinning whistled many merry tunes. Andy played with it every day. He began to nod and then broke out into sobs, and then the other five began sobbing as well. Daffodil looked helplessly to Josie.
"Why are you all crying?" she asked.
"Because", spurted little Andy, "they will bloody our noses for telling!"
Daffodil began to fume.
"They said that?" she asked. All of the children nodded and then Rose said,
"They said that they would bloody all of our noses!"
"Even mine?" asked Daffodil, getting madder by the second.
Rose nodded and then cried, "Even yours! I don't want my nose bloodied, Daffy!" Then all of the children began to wail, and Andy ran to his big sister and clutched at her.
"Please don't let them hurt us!", he wailed.
Daffodil gave her brother a big hug and then wiped at his tears.
"Alright, all of you, calm down now! No Underhill is going to have their nose bloodied today, but I am going to have a word with those Bolger boys, and I am going to get Andy's toy back! The nerve of those two!"
She settled back a little in her chair, so that the light that spilled from the round kitchen window fell just short of her face. Shadows formed around Daffodil, and the curls of her hair framed her face like a hood. Her voice dropped low as she spoke from the darkened corner of the kitchen.
"Those Bolger boys need to learn that we have rules in Staddle. That it is wrong to steal and to be mean to little children, and they need to learn the most important thing of all."
The children leaned close, and then Rose asked,
"What is it, Daffy?"
"That a Ranger now lives on Primrose Lane", came Daffodil's smokey reply.
The children now stared at each other wide-eyed. A Ranger!
"Who is it, Daffy? Tell us!" they demanded.
Daffodil then bounded out of the shadows, the smile on her face as bright as the morning sun.
"It's me!", she exclaimed!
"Well, what are you waiting for? I am an old man, and have no time for your falter! Come at me, if you will, for I do not sing songs of dastards!"