The Mystery of the Mayor's Son by Kathryn Ramage
Summary: The third Frodo Investigates! mystery. Mayor Whitfoot asks Frodo to look into his son's peculiar night-time activities.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Frodo/Sam, FPS > Sam/Frodo Characters: Frodo, Sam
Type: Mystery
Warning: None
Challenges: None
Series: Frodo Investigates!
Chapters: 8 Completed: Yes Word count: 10231 Read: 27970 Published: March 22, 2008 Updated: March 22, 2008
Story Notes:
There is no murder in this mystery (only a glimpse at the seamier side of the Shire: pony racing! gambling! hobbit hussies!). After the last two stories, and with the upcoming "Too Many Tooks," I thought I'd killed enough hobbits for awhile and caused the crime rate in the Shire to skyrocket, especially among the better families. It was time for something lighter and less bloody.

Like my previous mysteries, this story uses elements from the book, but also uses two key points from the film version of LOTR: the Shire is untouched, and the four main hobbits are all around the same age.

This story takes place in the summer of 1420 (S.R.), a few weeks after the end of "Lotho Sackville-Baggins Is Missing."

Disclaimer: The characters and overall storyline are certainly not mine. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien's estate, and I'm just playing with them to entertain myself and anyone else who likes this kind of thing. Some of the names used in this story are taken from the Baggins family tree in Appendix C, but the characterizations are mostly my own.

March 2005

The Frodo Investigates! series

1. Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage

2. Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage

3. Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage

4. Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage

5. Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage

6. Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage

7. Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage

8. Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage

Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage
"All young hobbits need some sort of occupation," said Mayor Will Whitfoot. "I daresay that's what wrong with so many of you lads these days--you want some work to do. My Lad more than most."

"Is it Lad you've come to see me about?" Frodo asked, puzzled.

He didn't know quite what to make of the impressive visitor who sat before him. Mayor Whitfoot was the largest hobbit in all the Shire, and he not only took up the whole settee, but seemed to fill Bag End's best parlor. He had apparently traveled all the way from Michel Delving to Hobbiton to call upon Frodo, "on a most personal and private matter," or so the mayor had explained when Sam had shown him into the room. Mayor Whitfoot spoke as if the matter was most urgent, and yet he seemed to have difficulty in coming to the point.

Mayor Whitfoot smiled and looked relieved at the question. "Yes, that's it exactly! I've got a job for you, Frodo Baggins."

"A job?"

"I understand you investigate mysterious happenings. That's so, isn't it?"

Frodo glanced at Sam, who was standing at the doorway behind the mayor. Was he gaining a reputation for this sort of thing? "I have conducted investigations," he admitted, "once or twice."

"It was Lad himself who told me you did. You had a hand in finding your cousin Lotho, or so I've heard tell. Now, it seems to me that investigating's as good a profession as any other for a young hobbit to take up, and one that needs a sharp wit to do properly. I've always said you were a clever lad, Frodo."

The mayor was beginning to wander from his point again. Sam asked him, "What's wrong with Mr. Aladell?"

Mayor Whitfoot turned to look at him, surprised to find that Frodo's companion was still in the room.

Frodo repeated the question, "What is the trouble with Lad, sir? You may tell us whatever you wish," he added, for the mayor was still looking at Sam. "Mr. Gamgee is the soul of discretion. I rely upon his assistance in all my investigations. I promise you that anything said here will remain in the strictest confidence."

The mayor evidently found some reassurance in Frodo's words, for he told them, "Well, Lad's been behaving very odd of late. It's his comings and goings. He's keeping secrets, and that's not like him at all. Oh, he's always been one for riding about the Shire to visit his friends, but now he's staying away at nights and won't tell us where he's been! I know he can't be going far from Michel Delving, since he's always home in time for breakfast. I've made inquiries at his favorite inn near the fair-field, where he sometimes takes lodgings if he's having a late night after the pony races, but they tell me he hasn't taken a room there in weeks. He's beginning to worry his mother, and me."

"Are you afraid he's up to something?" Frodo asked delicately. "Something... wrong?" He wasn't sure exactly what he meant to imply. Did the mayor believe that his son had committed a crime or was behaving in an outrageously scandalous fashion? It seemed unlikely.

"Not 'wrong' precisely," said Will Whitfoot. "Foolish. There's never been any harm in my Lad, but he's never had much common sense either. I'm afraid he might be spoiling the one sensible thing he's ever done."

"What's that?"

The mayor hesitated again. "Well, you must know he's been courting your cousin, Miss Angelica."

Frodo nodded. He could see why Will Whitfoot would be eager to have Angelica as a daughter-in-law. "She's a very pretty girl."

"Uncommonly pretty," the mayor agreed, "and she'll come into a good bit of money one day." It was common knowledge that Angelica was not only her parents' sole child and heir, but she was expected to receive a portion of her great-aunt Dora's property when the old lady died. "A pleasant face and a respectable fortune never did a girl any harm when the time comes for her to pick a husband but, mind you, Miss Angelica has more exceptional qualities too. It'd do my Lad a world of good to have a clever, managing sort of wife to keep him in order."

"Yes, that's certainly Angelica," said Frodo.

"I know your family doesn't approve of them courting, but I'm sure that if Lad shapes up right, they'll see he can make a decent match for her." Then the mayor frowned. "But if he's up to some mischief, especially with another girl--Well, Miss Angelica won't have another thing to do with him, and I couldn't blame her!"
Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage
That evening, Frodo waited for Merry and Pippin to return to Bag End. His cousins were spending the summer with him, but they had been away the past two days, attending the pony races at Michel Delving.

"It looks like you had a good time," he said when they came in, laughing and cheerful, just in time for dinner. "Did you see Lad Whitfoot there?"

"Yes, certainly!" said Pippin, still laughing; he didn't seem to find the question odd. "You know Lad would never miss a racing day, especially now he has a share in Milo's new pony."

Milo Burrows, who was a cousin to all three boys to one degree or another, was something of a gambler. He had gotten into deep financial trouble over a series of ill-fated wagers in the previous racing season, but had since gone into partnership with his friend Lad in the purchase of a fast pony in hopes that it would change his fortunes for the better.

"How did it go?" Frodo asked.

"The pony?" said Merry. "Fast as the wind! He won all three races Milo put him in."

"We had a wager on the first race ourselves, before anyone had seen him run," Pippin told Frodo enthusiastically. "You should've been there when he dashed out ahead of the other ponies, head and tail. Nothing could catch him! We wagered on the next two races after that, but winning them wasn't as much fun as it was that first time. You've never seen Milo so happy."

"Did you speak to them--to Lad or Milo? Have they forgiven us?"

"For suspecting them of murder?" Merry grinned. "I don't think we ever told them, not about the things we all thought after Pimple turned up dead. As for our spying and poking into everybody's secrets after he went missing... well, they don't seem to hold that against us now that nothing's come of it. After the last race was over yesterday, we bought them a round of ales to show there was no hard feelings. Lad was more forgiving than Milo."

"But I don't think either of them will tell us their secrets so easily next time," Pippin added, "if you want us to go asking them questions again. Do you, Frodo?"

"Yes, Frodo, what this all about?" asked Merry, curious also. "Why this interest in Milo and Lad? Have they done something?"

"Not Milo... I hope. It's Lad." As they went into the kitchen, where Sam was setting the table for dinner, Frodo told his cousins of the mayor's visit and the job he had agreed to undertake.

When he heard of the mayor's worst fears about Lad's mysterious absences, Merry laughed. "Another girl? Impossible! Lad wouldn't dare. Jelly'd kill him if she thought he was courting someone else."

"Did you notice Lad acting oddly?" Frodo asked. "Did he say anything about where he was going after the races last night?"

Both hobbits shook their heads. "He left the inn before it got dark outside," said Merry. "We didn't think to ask where he was going. We thought he was only going home."

"Why don't you come with us next time, Frodo--and you too, Sam?" Pippin offered. "There'll be another race at Michel Delving this coming Highday, and Lad is sure to be there. You can keep an eye on him yourself, and we'll be happy to help!"

"You'll need our help," Merry said with a teasing grin. "You would never have solved Pimple's disappearance without us. Besides, if you're going to take up investigating as a profession, you'll want to do it properly."

"I wasn't planning to," Frodo admitted, "but if people continue to turn to me to solve their puzzles for them, I don't see how I can refuse. Mayor Whitfoot is right: A young hobbit ought to have an occupation. Uncle Bilbo was once hired as a professional burglar. I suppose this is a step up for the Bagginses!"
Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage
The next afternoon, Frodo paid a call upon his Aunt Dora, who lived on the other side of Hobbiton. The old lady, his father's elder sister, doted on him and delighted in his visits, and since he felt sufficiently recovered from the travails of his quest, Frodo made an effort to see her more often. Today, however, he went for more than a cup of tea and a half-hour of listening politely to Dora's well-meant advice; he wanted to speak to the other residents of her house--to Angelica, and to Milo Burrows, whose family was staying with Dora to help look after her. He especially hoped to get on good terms with Milo. He had lost a great deal of Milo's and his wife Peony's good will during his last investigation, when he'd suspected Milo of being involved in Lotho's disappearance, but Milo was Lad's closest friend. Even if Milo could tell him nothing to explain Lad's odd behavior, Frodo knew they would have to meet each other in Michel Delving; if he wanted to be near Lad during the racing day, he would have to be in Milo's company too.

When Frodo knocked on the door, Peony answered. She smiled as she greeted him, but Frodo could see that she was not at ease.

"Aunt Dora's busy at the moment," she said as she escorted him to the parlor, "but I'm sure she'll be glad to know you're here. Please, make yourself at home, and I'll tell her you've come." Peony went out, leaving him alone in the parlor--but not for long. Her husband came in a few minutes later.

Milo looked very surprised at the visitor seated in the chair by the hearth. "Ah- Frodo," he said. "I didn't know you were here."

"I'm waiting for Aunt Dora, but I was hoping to see you too."

"Me? What for?"

"I'm thinking of going with Pippin and Merry the next time there's a pony race," Frodo explained. "I know you attend the races yourself, and I wondered if you wouldn't be glad of some company on the road to Michel Delving. Would you mind terribly if we rode over with you this coming Highday?"

"No, not at all," Milo tried to sound cheerful, but there was a wary, curious look in his eyes as he regarded his younger cousin. "You're welcome to come along if you like, but I must say that you never seemed like the type who went in for gambling, Frodo."

"I'm not," Frodo answered, "but when Pip and Merry came in last night, they sounded so excited when they talked about the fun they'd had. I've heard so much about your new pony and what a success it's been that I thought I'd like to see it run." Then he asked, "It was a great success, wasn't it, Milo? You've gotten out of your financial difficulties?"

"We're not completely out of debt yet, but I've won enough lately to pay back Lad and settle with a few other people I owe money to. Of course," Milo added dryly, "Lotho's death helped us quite a lot too... as I'm sure you're well aware." Peony had returned while her husband was speaking; at these words, she stepped close beside him and gently laid a protective hand on his arm. Was she still afraid, Frodo wondered, that he might accuse Milo of some crime?

Ducking his head abashedly, he said, "I'm very sorry, Milo, for anything I might've said or done to offend you during our- ah- troubles with Lotho. I realize now that you had nothing to do with what happened to him." In fact, he knew more than he could ever tell them--or tell anyone in the Shire!--about where Lotho had gone and how he had died. It was a secret that he, Sam, Merry, and Pippin had vowed to keep to themselves. "I hope you'll forgive me for my unjust suspicions."

At this apology, Milo relaxed a little and smiled. "Quite all right, Frodo. I know that my argument with Lotho must have looked very odd. I don't wonder that it seemed suspicious to you. And I understand that your lads' prying actually helped the shirriffs to find Lotho, so it must've done some good."

Peony looked less wary too, and Frodo asked her, "You're not angry anymore, are you?"

"No," she answered. "I'm relieved to hear you speak so, Frodo. I want to put that whole ugly business behind us."

"What ugly business is that, dear?" Aunt Dora spoke from the hallway, and looked with great interest from Peony to Milo to Frodo as she entered the parlor. "You two haven't been quarreling with Frodo, have you?"

"No, Auntie," Peony assured her quickly. "It was only a misunderstanding. It's all cleared up now."

"I'm pleased to hear it." The old lady took her favorite chair by the hearth, beside the one Frodo was sitting in. "You mustn't quarrel, my dears. I won't have it, not amongst my favorite nieces and nephews." Once she had settled in, Dora turned to give Frodo a smile and patted his hand affectionately. "We're a family, after all, and families ought to be on good terms with each other. You see how everything's been so much more peaceful since Lobelia Sackville-Baggins went back to her own folk at Hardbottle and stopped causing trouble for the Bagginses."

"How is Angelica feeling, Auntie?" Milo asked to divert Dora from her favorite topic of her old rival.

Dora shook her head sadly.

"Angelica?" asked Frodo. "Is something wrong with her?"

"The poor, dear girl hasn't been very well lately," Dora told him. "I've just seen her settled in the garden. She's been abed all morning, and I thought the sunshine and fresh air would do her good."

Frodo, who knew what it was to be ill, was immediately sympathetic, but he also wondered if Angelica were actually unwell, or only distressed. Had she heard about Lad's odd behavior, and did she know the reason for it?

After he had sat and chatted politely with Aunt Dora for awhile, Frodo suggested that he ought to pay his respects to Angelica.

Dora beamed at him. "Yes, dear boy, please do! I'm sure a visit from you will raise her spirits." Frodo knew that nothing would make Aunt Dora happier than seeing him married to Angelica, so of course she took his concern for his cousin as an encouraging sign of some tender feeling between them.

Frodo went out to the side-yard, where Angelica sat curled on a bench with her arms hugged about her. The Burrows children were playing in the field beyond the garden fence, but Angelica wasn't watching them; her eyes were set on some point in the distance, and she seemed lost in her thoughts. Angelica was a strikingly pretty girl--her flaxen curls were a rarity among hobbits, and no one else in the Baggins family except himself had such large and luminously blue eyes--but today she looked rather wan and fretful. Frodo wondered again if her indisposition was due to her sweetheart's neglecting her.

He imagined how he would feel if Sam ceased to love him, and felt a sharp, sick little pang in his stomach. He'd never much liked Angelica--he thought her a vain, spoiled, selfish girl--but right now, he was very sorry for her. He wouldn't wish for anyone to feel this way.

"Angelica, hello."

She turned and looked up, startled; she hadn't realized that anyone was there.

"How are you?" Frodo inquired. "Aunt Dora tells me you haven't been well."

"I'm fine. I'm feeling much better." One arm still hugged around herself, Angelica sat upright and scooted over, tucking her full skirts close so that Frodo could have half the bench. She smiled at him, without flirtation. Angelica didn't like Dora's hopes for their eventual marriage any better than he did. Since she had to put up with more of Dora's proddings and unsubtle hints, she used to be quite surly when Frodo visited, until she'd heard the gossip going around Hobbiton about him and Sam. Once she realized that he was no threat to her plans to marry Lad, she had begun to be more civil to him.

"I'm glad to hear it," Frodo said as he sat down beside her. "From the way Aunt Dora spoke, it sounded as if you'd been bedridden."

"Oh, it was never so bad as that! It's good of you to come by, Frodo, but surely you haven't come to ask after me."

"No," Frodo admitted, "but once I heard you were ill, I wanted to see you. I chiefly came to talk to Milo. We're going to the races with him next week."

"Oh, those pony-races!" said Angelica, with a dismissive toss of her ringlets. "I hear so much about them, I'd be glad never to see another pony, even if it meant I had to walk everywhere hereafter." Frodo took this for hyperbole; Angelica might not care for racing, but Milo had taught her how to ride, and she was as good a hand with a pony as any well-brought-up girl in the Shire. "The way Lad and Uncle Milo go on, you'd think nothing mattered more in the world. And since the season's begun again..." the sentence trailed away, and that fretful look returned.

"Lad hasn't been around Hobbiton lately," Frodo ventured.

"No," Angelica answered bluntly, "not in weeks."

"I'm certain we'll see him in Michel Delving. Is there any message I can bring him from you?"

Angelica gave him a small, tight smile. "That's sweet of you, Frodo, but no, thank you. If I want to speak to Lad, I can do so myself."

"Don't you want to speak to him? Haven't you-"

His cousin's cornflower-blue eyes went wide. "What do you know about Lad, Frodo? You haven't heard anything, have you?"

"No, I- ah-" he hesitated. He had promised the mayor that their conversation was confidential, and if Angelica did not already know what Lad was up to, then he didn't want tell her what was suspected. "I only thought that if there's trouble between you and Lad, I'd like to help. Isn't there anything I can do, Angelica?"

"Frodo, no--nothing!" she snapped impatiently and turned away. "It's nothing to do with you. Mind your own business, can't you?"

Frodo retreated. He wasn't hurt; he understood how the poor girl must feel at Lad's defection and knew that she was only trying to keep her pride.
Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage
Early on Highday morning, the four hobbits from Bag End rode over to the Old Place, where Milo was waiting for them. Just as they were about to start out on their journey to Michel Delving, Angelica emerged from the house to hand Milo a note, folded carefully into a small paper square and sealed with red wax.

"Please," she asked, "give this to Lad when you see him?" There was an anxious look in her eyes that went to Frodo's heart.

"Of course, darling," Milo promised. "I'll see that he gets it." And, tucking the note into his waistcoat pocket, he gave his niece a kiss before climbing up into his saddle. Angelica remained at the garden gate as they rode away.

"There's nothing wrong between Lad and Jelly, is there?" asked Pippin once they had ridden away from the house. "They haven't quarreled, have they?"

"Not as far as I know," Milo answered, "but I have reason to believe that their wedding plans aren't going as smoothly as Angelica would like. I expect that they've been delayed."

"Delayed, why?" Pippin pursued. "What's happened?" His cousins threw him warning glances, but he ignored them. While Frodo and Merry preferred indirect means of gaining information, Pippin favored the direct approach; they had all agreed not to question Milo openly about Lad's activities, but as long as he was willing to talk, then Pippin was ready to encourage him. "Won't her parents give her permission to marry?"

"They haven't, but that wouldn't stop Angelica," Milo laughed. "She's known all along that unless she got her parents' blessing, she'd have to abide 'til October, when she comes of age. They couldn't stop her from doing as she wished then. No, I meant that she might have to wait beyond October. Lad's finances don't look as if he's in a position to support a wife right away."

Frodo was very much surprised to hear this. "Even with your pony's winnings?" he asked. "You said you'd paid him back."

"Yes, and that's what makes me think he's in need. He was so glad of the money I gave him. And, well, Angelica's been awfully upset about something for the past week or so. She's taken to her bed, but doesn't seem to be sleeping well. She tells Aunt Dora her tummy's giving her trouble, but I think the poor girl is simply unhappy." He patted his waistcoat pocket. "Let's hope that Lad's reply to this will cheer her up."




They arrived at Michel Delving late in the morning, leaving their ponies at the nearest inn and engaging rooms for the night before they walked over to the fair-field.

The field lay beyond the eastward edge of the city, where the rolling hills of the downs ended and the land lay flat and cleared of rocks and rubble for more than a mile. Fairs were held here each autumn at harvest time, and every seven years, hobbits from all over the Shire gathered to elect their mayor. In the summer months, the field was used for pony races, as the weather and the needs of the local farmers--who had other, more important work for their ponies--permitted. Flags were placed in the grass to mark out the race course.

Milo stabled his black-and-white pony--which Frodo learned was named Fleetfoot--at the inn rather than tire it by taking it back and forth from Hobbiton between races, but the grooms at the stable informed him that Lad had already taken the pony out. When they reached the fairgrounds, Milo went off to find his friend, leaving his cousins and Sam to locate a comfortable place to sit and watch the races.

The field was already occupied by dozens of hobbits and had the happy and excited atmosphere of a festival by the time the party from Hobbiton arrived. Blankets were spread on the grass; colorful umbrellas were opened to provide shade, and improvised tents of shawls and rugs hung from the trees that bordered the edge of the field nearest the road. Kegs of ale had been rolled out from the nearby pubs and farms to be tapped, and oaken baskets filled with food had been brought along to tide the racing fanciers over during the hours until dinner-time.

After Milo had gone, the other four hobbits made their way through the crowd along the fence until they found an unoccupied patch of grass near the eastern end of the field. Sam spread out the blanket he had brought with him, and they settled down.

"We'll have a good look at the finish from here," said Pippin, "and that's the best part." He climbed up onto the fence to improve his view of the course. "We can watch the races as usual, can't we?" he asked Frodo. "We're allowed to have fun?"

"Yes," answered Frodo, "but don't forget we are here on serious business. Have your fun and place whatever bets you like, but I want you to keep an eye out for Lad too. Look for anything unusual."

"Like Mr. Lad being short of money?" suggested Sam.

"Yes, exactly! That seems to me to be very odd." Frodo had been pondering this since they'd left Hobbiton, but this was the first opportunity he and his fellow investigators had to discuss it when Milo was not around to hear.

"Lad's never wanted for money before this," said Pippin. "He gets a good allowance from his father--more than my father sends me. What could he be spending it all on?"

"Some little hussy, no doubt," Merry joked.

"Do you know any hussies, Merry?" Frodo was skeptical. Hussies were not readily found in the Shire. As far as he knew, he had never seen one.

Merry grinned. "Just wait, and we'll show you!" He glanced up at Pippin. Both of them laughed, and Frodo realized that they were thinking of someone in particular.

"Who is it?" he asked eagerly. "And why didn't you tell me about her before? How is she mixed up with Lad?"

"She isn't, not that I've heard," Merry admitted, "but if he's tangled with somebody he shouldn't be, it just might be her. I honestly can't think of any other candidates."

"Is she here now?" Frodo stood up and scanned the faces in the crowd milling around them. There were plenty of women to be seen. Few ladies of the best families attended the races, but farm-wives and daughters were as keen enthusiasts as their menfolk. Any one of them might be Merry's 'hussy.'

He spotted Lad farther down the field. Before the races, the pony owners and riders paraded their champions for the crowd to look over. Lad, who was showing off the prized black-and-white pony, had stopped to speak to a woman and girl who were leading their own shaggy brown pony. He seemed on friendly terms with them. The girl couldn't be more than twenty--far too young--but the woman was only 10 or 15 years older than Lad and rather handsome-looking.

"What about her?" Frodo leaned over Merry's head to ask. "Is that the one?"

Merry rose up on his knees to have a look, then laughed again. "The woman talking to Lad? No, that's Mrs. Broombindle, and her daughter, Myrtle."

"We met them here last week," added Pippin. "Lad introduced us. She has a farm nearby."

"Mrs..." mused Frodo. Was that Lad's secret? Was he keeping company with a married woman?

"She's a widow," said Merry, following his thoughts. "It's not like that between them--at least, I don't think it is. They have a business sort of friendship. Mrs. Broombindle's got a good eye for a pony, and Lad's bought one or two from her."

Milo, who had been wandering through the crowds in search of Lad, shouted and waved when he finally saw him. As he joined Lad, Milo took Angelica's message from his pocket and gave it to his friend before looking over the pony. Lad broke the seal and unfolded the paper. Frodo watched his face as he read: Lad's mouth popped open and his cheeks turned bright red. Frodo could imagine the sort of language Angelica would use to reproach her wayward sweetheart!

When Milo turned back to him a moment later, Lad shoved the note into his coat pocket and climbed up onto the pony. The first race was called. The spectators began to disperse.

"If we're going to wager, we have to do it now," Pippin announced, and jumped down from the fence. "There's no use in gaming amongst ourselves--we'd all bet on Milo's pony, wouldn't we?"

"Yes, of course!" said Merry. "It's a good, safe bet, and it's always best to stick by your own family." He gave a handful of coins to his cousin. "Good luck in finding someone to take the wager before they start."

"What about you, Frodo? Sam?" Pippin turned to them.

Frodo was not here for the races, but his own sense of family loyalty, and the knowledge that he had not been entirely honest with Milo about why he had wanted to come today, prompted him to dig a couple of coins out of his pockets to give to Pippin. Sam followed suit.

"I've been thinking," Merry said as Pippin darted off and the riders brought their ponies into line at the flag-marked point at the end of the racing course. "Perhaps it's not a girl after all. Have you considered that, Frodo? If Lad's short of money, maybe he's taken a job to earn a little."

"But surely he wouldn't make such an effort to keep it secret?"

"He might, if it was something his father wouldn't approve of--oh, not anything disreputable," Merry added quickly, "but work that the mayor would consider beneath his son."

Frodo nodded, understanding. The Whitfoots were not a family of old prominence, like the Tooks and Brandybucks, but one that had come up only a couple of generations ago from their farming fore-fathers; people like the mayor, who remained aware of their humble beginnings, were often more sensitive to what was fitting for their place in society than even the best families. "That is possible. He might not want his father to know if he were mucking out stables like a farm-hand." he agreed. "Angelica wouldn't like that either. She has more ambitious plans for Lad. Do you suppose-"

"Hush now," Sam warned them. "Mr. Milo's headed this way."

Frodo and Merry fell silent as Milo came over to join them. "Have you made your wagers, lads?" he asked, and at their nods, smiled. "Good! You wanted to see my pony run, Frodo--Watch him now, and you'll see quite a sight!"

That same sense of family loyalty that had prompted Frodo to bet on Milo's pony would have made him cheer it on during the race no matter what, but he found that the small amount of money he'd wagered increased his interest in the race's outcome. The pony was remarkably fast, dashing out ahead of its competitors within yards of the starting point, and maintaining its lead right to the finish. Frodo was so delighted that he bet on the next two races Fleetfoot ran in that afternoon. The pony won its second race as well, but was beaten by a swifter contender in the third.

When Frodo tried to offer his consolations to Milo, his older cousin responded with surprising equanimity, "Oh, well, Fleet can't win every race. If he always came out ahead, no one would ever wager against him, and then where would we be? He's run his best, and done very well for us."

"Are we leaving?" Frodo asked. It was now late in the afternoon. He could see that a number of hobbits in the crowd were gathering up their things and preparing to depart. Several ponies were being led away, although a few remained on the field.

"We're finished for today," Milo answered. "I have to see Fleetfoot to the stables. You can come with me back to the inn if you're tired and want to rest before dinner, but I thought I'd return for the jumpers."

"Jumpers?" echoed Frodo. "Is that another sort of race?"

Milo nodded. "There's a special course laid out at the lower end of the field where some riders set their ponies at fences to jump over them. It's rather dangerous. I wouldn't risk breaking a pony's leg or my own bones at it, but some of the younger folk enjoy the sport. Lad says there's a new rider he particularly wants to watch, and I'm rather curious to see for myself."

Frodo glanced at Sam and his cousins; he was feeling a bit tired, but they all understood the importance of keeping an eye on Lad. If he stayed on, they would remain with him. "I'd like to have a look too," he decided.

While Milo was gone, the four made arrangements for keeping Lad at the inn that evening so they could watch and follow him during the night. When Milo returned, they went together to the bottom of the fair-field, where a winding course had been laid out to cross and recross a shallow, fast-flowing stream that had cut a gully into the ground. The ponies were obviously meant to leap over the water, and short pieces of wooden fence had also been raised and logs thrown across the path to provide further obstacles.

The jumping turned out to be a most interesting sport, although it was not a race in the usual sense of the word: The ponies did not run all at once, but one at a time, taking the obstacles on the track in turn. The contest was to see how well each performed. Milo had not exaggerated the risk involved, and Frodo was alarmed more than once that somebody had taken a dangerous tumble. Several riders did tumble; the remaining spectators cried out each time someone was tossed from his saddle during a tricky leap, but the riders always seemed to land with a splash in the stream, or to fall into a muddy patch of grass, and none were seriously harmed.

The most impressive jumper--who never missed a leap--was a young girl on a shaggy brown pony. Frodo had seen them both before. "That's Myrtle Broombindle."

"Terrific, isn't she?" This was spoken by Lad, who had only just joined them. He'd barely spoken a word to them all afternoon, spending the time between races tending to the pony and chatting with the other riders. Frodo kept an eye on him, but Lad had done nothing more suspicious than occasionally speak to Mrs. Broombindle. He had been with her when Milo's party arrived at the jumping course, and only left her once Myrtle began her run. Mrs. Broombindle now stood alone at the end of the course, watching her boldly leaping daughter with a combination of motherly anxiety and pride. "She's only seventeen. I've known her from a mere chit, and she's been riding since she was so small she had to be lifted up into the saddle. Keeps her seat marvelously well, doesn't she?"

He sounded rather proud himself; it was obvious that Myrtle was the rider he had wanted particularly to see. Frodo wondered why. The girl was too young for Lad to take a romantic interest in, and Lad was thirty-eight, hardly old enough to have fathered a seventeen-year-old.

"It must be awfully nice to have a daughter," Lad said wistfully as the girl finished her course to enthusiastic applause.

Was he on such good terms with Mrs. Broombindle that he intended to become Myrtle's stepfather?

"It's not usual, is it, for a girl to ride in competition?" asked Frodo. "And one so young."

"'Tisn't usual," Milo confirmed, "but a girl Myrtle's size doesn't burden her mount the way a grown hobbit would--that's how she clears her jumps so easily. I'm sure some think it unfair for a half-grown girl to race, but if my oldest boy Mosco could ride half as well as she does, I'd bring him along to ride Fleetfoot in your place, Lad. He's only twelve and can't weigh any more than Miss Myrtle!"
Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage
After the last race was over, the weary and hungry hobbits left the fair-field and made their way to the inn for dinner. Milo had reserved a table for them when he'd brought the pony back, so they did not have to wait.

As they took their seats, Merry leaned close to Frodo and whispered, "There."

At first, Frodo had no idea what Merry was referring to. Then he saw her: a smiling, buxom, rosy-faced maid weaving her way between the tables, skillfully bearing a large platter crowded with mugs of ale and plates of food over her head with one steady hand. Frodo didn't know just what a hussy would look like; could this barmaid actually be one? "Is that...?"

Merry nodded.

"What's her name?"

"Cosy."

"Cosy?"

"It's Cowslip, really," Merry explained, "but that's what they call her."

As if to demonstrate, a group of young hobbits seated at a nearby table called out cheerful greetings of, "Cosy!" "Hoy, Cosy-lass!" and "Cosy, old girl!" as the maid approached and distributed her mugs and plates among them. Cosy laughed at their jokes, and responded to their teasing in kind. She patted one boy familiarly on the shoulder, and gave another a pinch on the cheek to the boisterous delight of all. Then, tucking the empty platter beneath one arm, she turned to the table behind her, where Merry, Frodo, and the rest of Milo's party were seated.

"Why, it's my Laddie!" she cried affectionately, and rumpled his curls. "How are you, my darlin'? We don't see so much of you about the old inn anymore 'cept on racing nights. You're mightily missed, I can tell you! And you--" she smiled at Pippin and Merry. "You boys was here last week, weren't you? I never forget a face, 'specially not when they're such handsome ones."

Cosy seemed on the friendliest terms with everyone, old acquaintance or newcomer, but Frodo could detect no special partiality for Lad. She flirted with all but Milo, who was married, and who received a polite inquiry as to the health of "your Missus and the little ones" before she noticed Frodo.

"Aren't you a pretty one!" She beamed at him. "I haven't seen you hereabouts before. What's your name, dear?"

"This is my cousin, Frodo Baggins," Milo made the introduction, "and his friend, Sam Gamgee."

"What a lot of cousins you've got, Mr. Milo! But any cousins of yours is always welcome." She gave them both a smile, but looked puzzled when Sam scowled back at her; she couldn't know that she was trespassing dangerously. "Now, what can I bring you lads for your dinner? We've got a nice mutton stew, and there's a roast joint carved up with new potatoes. What would you like, my pretty?" Cosy stepped close behind Frodo's chair. "Whatever you fancy. It ought to be special, being your first visit here."

As she leaned over him, her soft breasts pressed to the back of his neck; Frodo's eyes went wide and his face turned scarlet. Sam looked daggers at her, and Frodo reached out under the table to put a restraining hand on his arm. Sam sat still, fuming silently. He couldn't do anything else without embarrassing both Frodo and himself.

"The roast, please," Frodo's voice squeaked as he answered. "For us both." His discomfiture obviously amused Merry, Pippin, and Milo, for all three were grinning.

After Cosy had gone to get their dinner, Milo laughed and said, "Merciful stars! I never saw a barmaid's flirtings put any lad into such a state! You'd think no girl had ever cuddled up to you before."

"None has," Frodo admitted.

"Is she always like that?" asked Sam.

"You mustn't mind Cosy," said Lad. "She doesn't mean anything by it. It's just her way. She wants everybody to feel welcome." He sounded oddly complacent about his supposed secret lover flirting so openly with other boys.

"But she did take quite a fancy to Frodo," Merry teased.

"And who could blame her?" Pippin agreed gleefully. "She probably doesn't see very many lads as pretty." And both of them laughed.

"You oughtn't be so timid of girls, Frodo, even the forward ones," Milo said with a big-brotherly tone of giving advice. "I daresay it's because you've hidden away at Bag End since you returned from your adventures--and I'll wager you didn't meet many girls out there, did you?"

"A few great ladies," Frodo replied.

"Big Folk," said Milo dismissively. "It'd do you no end of good to go out about the Shire more. You're nearly six-and-thirty and it's time you thought seriously about such things. I was married at your age and on my way to becoming a father."

"Do you have a match in mind for me, Milo? Not the same girl as Aunt Dora?"

"No..." Milo laughed. "Not even if Lad weren't about!" He gave his friend a brisk pat on the arm. "But Peony might have an idea or two. And, you know, Frodo, if you found yourself a sweetheart, there wouldn't be so many of these odd stories going around about you and Sam." This only made Frodo blush anew. "At least Sam has that nice little barmaid at the Dragon he's so sweet on."

It was almost a relief when Cosy returned and this personal talk ended, even though the barmaid managed to lean in over Frodo again as she set down his mug and dinner plate.

Lad remained distracted throughout dinner, and did not join in the japery with Frodo's cousins. His eyes often wandered to the door. At last, Frodo asked him, "Are you thinking of leaving us, Lad?"

Lad jumped, startled at the question. "It is getting late," he said.

This was the cue; in accordance with their pre-arranged plans, Merry and Pippin responded to keep Lad with them.

"Late?" cried Pippin. "But the sun's barely set! The evening hasn't begun."

"Surely you're not going home?" asked Merry.

Lad opened his mouth, then shut it again quickly. After a moment, he said, "I've promised my mother I wouldn't stay out half the night and try to ride or walk home tipsy." It was a feeble excuse: Lad had only drunk two half-pints with his dinner, and he had a notably good head for ale.

"Then you might as well stay here and have another round of ales with us. We were planning to sit up 'til they closed the doors for the night," said Pippin. "After all, we've only got to go down the hallway to our beds, rather than ride all the way back to Hobbiton. Why don't you stay on too? That way, you won't come to harm. I'm sure your mother would feel much better knowing you're sleeping safely here instead of wandering the downs in the dark trying to find your way back to the Mayor's Hall."

"Yes, why don't you take a room here for tonight?" added Frodo.

"I doubt they'd have room for me," Lad answered diffidently. "The inn can be awfully crowded on a race night."

"You can share with me," Milo offered. "I've got a room to myself and you're welcome to half the bed."

Lad looked around the table from one to another. "Very well," he said. "If you all want me to, I'll stay. Let's have another round."
Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage
The room Frodo had taken for Sam and himself looked out over the inn's back door and the stable-yard; he'd requested a room on this side of the inn for this reason. Merry and Pippin were next door, and Milo and Lad across and farther down the hall.

Once he had blown out the candles and the room was in darkness, Frodo pulled the shutters closed, but left one hanging slightly ajar so that he could peek out. Then he settled down in the curve of the windowsill.

"Aren't you coming to bed?" asked Sam. He hadn't undressed, per Frodo's request, for they might have to get up and go out at a moment's notice, but he'd hoped that they would have a chance to lie down. "You ought to rest while you can. You've had a long day today, and might have a longer night ahead."

"I want to see if Lad leaves the inn," Frodo answered. "I'm certain he will after things quiet down."

"But you set Mr. Merry and Pippin to watch for 'm. They'll wake us if anything happens."

"They might not notice. They can be distracted so easily."

"By messing about, you mean."

Frodo glanced at him and smiled. "You know how they are."

"Don't I!" Sam agreed with a chuckle. "How many times d'you suppose we've had to listen to the two of 'em up half the night since they came to visit?" Since Frodo wasn't coming to bed, Sam decided to stay up with him. He went over to the window and sat down at Frodo's side in the circular sill.

"Lad only agreed to stay on here tonight because we insisted," Frodo explained. "He couldn't refuse without looking odd. I'm convinced he wasn't planning to go home, but he couldn't leave for wherever it is he spends his secret nights once we began to ask questions. He can't go now 'til Milo is asleep." He glanced out through the gap in the shutters; the empty stable-yard lay bright in the moonlight, and all was still and silent. As Sam's arms wrapped around his waist, Frodo sighed and nestled back against him. "When he does go, we'll follow, and I expect we'll have an answer to this puzzle before daybreak."

"Then this one'll be over near as soon as it began," said Sam. "As these investigations go, I'd say I like this one best so far. There isn't so much running about this time, and nought to upset you. No dead bodies. And no dangers 'cept that fast bit o' baggage hanging all over you." Frodo laughed at this. "And if it doesn't come out as Mayor Whitfoot'd like, it isn't so bad."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, what's the worst that'll happen if Mr. Lad doesn't marry Miss Angelica? If he's running about with this other girl, then maybe she's better off without 'm. She shouldn't break her heart over the likes of him. She most likely find somebody else who'd make her a decent husband soon enough."

"Maybe... but I've got to give it my best effort to see it does turn out right. I agreed to undertake this assignment for the mayor's sake, and I mean to see it through. Besides," Frodo teased, "if Angelica doesn't get her Lad, then she might decide to do as Aunt Dora wants. That 'somebody else' might be me, Sam." He twisted to smile up at his companion. "Do you think I'd make Angelica a decent husband?"

"You'd never do such a thing!"

"No..." Frodo answered. "I wouldn't. You'll be married long before I do."

Sam started and looked guilty. "I won't marry," he insisted. "Not ever."

Frodo had his doubts about this--he'd observed how downhearted Sam had been since he'd stopped going to the Green Dragon, where Rosie Cotton worked--but was in no mood to argue the point. Instead, he gave Sam a kiss and said, "Surely you agree that we have good reason to see that Angelica marries elsewhere?" Then he added, more seriously, "I honestly don't want to see her unhappy. If I can restore Lad to her, then I will. I think everyone ought to be in love, and be happy with their love. This feeling is too wonderful to go to waste."

He kissed Sam again, more slowly and deeply. When he felt one of Sam's hands steal up under his waistcoat to undo the lowest buttons of his shirt and slip inside, Frodo snuggled closer, wrapping both arms around his neck and wriggling up to sit on Sam's knee.

They were in the midst of a passionate embrace--and then Frodo nearly tumbled out of Sam's lap when the door to the adjoining room burst open and Merry came in. "Did you see?" he asked the startled pair. "Lad's gone out."

Frodo looked out the window: there was a lantern moving around within the stable. Lad emerged, leading the black-and-white pony out into the yard. "Find out where he's going," Frodo hissed to Merry as he fumbled to redo his shirt buttons. "Follow him!"

"Pip's already gone out," Merry reported. "We weren't distracted." And with that, he went out, leaving them to put themselves back into order.
Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage
When Sam and Frodo came out of the inn, Merry waiting was for them at the entrance to the stable-yard with their three ponies. "Where's Lad gone to?" Frodo asked. "And where's Pippin?"

Merry waved a hand in the direction of the road. "Lad's gone that way, out of town toward Waymoot. Pip's gone after him. I told him to go ahead and not lose sight of Lad, and we'd come after."

They got on their own ponies and rode out themselves, taking care to keep beneath the trees beside the road. As they left Michel Delving and went past the empty fair-grounds, they could see a single rider moving swiftly along ahead of them--a dark shadow-shape on the moonlit path, but they weren't sure whether it was Lad or Pippin.

After they had gone several miles toward Waymoot, the road dipped down into a gully and the woods grew thick on either side. The rider ahead was lost to sight, but the trio continued on through the darkness, until the road rose again and they spotted a flurry of white motion in the trees. As they drew closer, they saw it was Pippin, waving his arms to draw their attention.

"What's happened?" asked Merry once they were near enough to speak without shouting. "Did he see you?"

Pippin shook his head. "I stayed in the shadows, and kept this-" He plucked at the cloak wrapped about his shoulders, the one that the Lady Galadriel had given him, "pulled close to hide me. Even if Lad heard someone riding behind him, he wouldn't see me."

"Then what's happened to him?" asked Sam. "You didn't lose him, did you?"

"No! I know just where he is."

"Where?

"There's a little cottage in the woods, just down the path-" Pippin pointed to a narrow track that branched off from the main road just beyond him and wound away under the trees. "I only came back to wait for you and show you where to go. You'd never find it on your own." He turned his pony and urged it into the lane. "Come on."

The others followed him down the path, which went through the woods until it brought them out at an empty pasture; in the moonlight, they could all see that the path went on, skirting the edge of the pasture and curving around the base of a steep hill that rose on the far side.

"It's just beyond," Pippin whispered.

"We'd better stay in hiding," Frodo decided. They left their ponies in the woods to cross the pasture and climb the hill on foot.

In a hollow on the other side of the hill sat the small mound of a cottage surrounded by a circular hedge. Lad's pony was grazing on the trim little lawn within the circle. A lit lantern hung at the cottage door, and the light of at least one candle flickered within.

"Who lives here?" Frodo wondered. "Who does he come to visit?"

"I don't think there's anybody home," said Pippin. "The house was dark when Lad arrived, and he let himself in."

"Shh-!" Sam hissed. "Someone's coming!" All fell silent to hear the sound of swift hooves crossing the pasture. The four hobbits threw themselves down to hide in the bushes, and peeked out through the leaves as this new arrival rode around the hill, up the path toward the cottage. The rider appeared to be female, but her face and form were concealed by a hooded cloak--a most inappropriate garment for a warm summer night!

Lad must have heard her approach as well, for he came out to stand in the cottage doorway as the rider vaulted her pony over the gate and rode up to him. As she dropped from the saddle, Lad stepped forward to greet her. Her back was turned to the hobbits on the hill, and her face still hidden by the hood. The pair took each other's hands and leaned closer together; if she or Lad spoke, they were too far away to be heard. Hand in hand, they went inside.

"It's a secret hideaway," said Merry. "They must meet here by arrangement."

"A love-nest!" Pippin agreed eagerly. "But who could she be?"

Frodo thought of Cosy from the inn. But why would she and Lad go so far to meet when they might do so more conveniently in Michel Delving? And what about Mrs. Broombindle? Where was her farm? She might very well live nearby. Frodo had seen for himself that Myrtle Broombindle was an accomplished young rider who could easily make a jump like the one they had just witnessed. Was her mother as skilled?

"What do we do?" asked Sam.

"I don't wish to interrupt them yet," said Frodo. "Let's wait awhile, and see what happens next."
Chapter 8 by Kathryn Ramage
An hour passed, and nothing happened. The candle flickered within the cottage; once or twice, a figure passed before the window, indicating that, whatever else they were doing, the inhabitants were not abed. As the night grew cooler, Sam began to shift impatiently.

"This is ridiculous," he said at last. "You shouldn't be sitting half the night on wet grass, Frodo. You're certain to catch cold." He took Pippin's cloak to wrap Frodo up in it. "We could be asleep in a comfy bed at the inn, 'stead of hiding in the bushes watching folk who'rn't up to nothing."

"He's right," said Merry. "For all we know, they're about to settle down for the night, and we could be waiting here 'til dawn. I think we ought to go and knock on the door."

Frodo had been thinking things over during this hour of sitting and waiting, and he had formed a good idea of who was in that cottage with Lad. "All right," he conceded. "Let's go down."

They rose and went down the steep slope, Frodo leading the way. He had just gone in through the garden gate, when the cottage door opened and Lad came out. Frodo froze where he stood; with Pippin's cloak around his shoulders, he was not easy to see in the moonlight, and Lad, who was looking around for the ponies, was only a few feet away before he spotted him.

"Frodo Baggins!" Lad jumped back, startled. "What're you doing here?" Then he noticed the other three hobbits gathered at the gate. "What is this? Are you spying on us?"

"Your father asked me to find out where you were going at night," Frodo told him. "He was worried that you were seeing some disreputable girl and would spoil your chances with Angelica... only, he needn't have worried, should he?"

Lad's mouth popped open and his face reddened visibly even in the dim light--but, behind him, Frodo heard a feminine laugh. He turned to see that the girl in question was standing in the doorway. She wore her cloak with the hood up; with the light of the lantern behind her, her face was in deep shadow.

"Did he?" she asked. "Bless his heart!" The voice was extremely familiar, and when she pushed her hood back, there was no mistaking the head of flaxen ringlets that emerged.

"Angelica!" Merry and Pippin cried at once.

"I knew his mayorship was on my side!" she said. "I said he liked me, Lad, didn't I?" Then she looked over her astonished cousins. "And what are you little sneaks going to do--run off and tell my parents?"

"No," said Frodo, "although I expect they'll have to know sooner or later, if you've been married secretly."

Angelica laughed at this too. "We're not married, Frodo. Not yet. We only meet here."

"Is this your cottage, Lad?" Frodo asked him.

"It belongs to my friend, Mrs. Broombindle," Lad answered; he was still flustered but, finding himself surrounded by Angelica's kinsmen, compliant to being questioned. "I've been renting it from her since I came back from my last visit to Hobbiton, and I've had to do quite a bit of work to pay for it!"

"Helping Mrs. Broombindle," guessed Frodo.

"Yes, that's right. When my allowance ran out, I paid her by tending her ponies--it's not every night I come here. 'Gelica can't slip out that often. And I've been coaching Myrtle in her jumps."

"Against your own pony?" Merry exclaimed incredulously.

Lad had been tractable until now, but this accusation was too much for him to bear. "Fleetfoot's not in the jumping contests!" he cried, affronted. "And Myrtle doesn't run her pony in the flat races. They've never gone up against each other. What d'you take me for?"

"For a hobbit who's seeing his best friend's niece behind his back," retorted Merry. "Or does Milo know about this?"

Frodo remembered the note that Angelica had given to Milo that morning. "Does Milo know?"

"Not about this!" Lad answered. "He's only passed a few notes between us. If Milo knew 'Gelica was coming to see me here in secret, he'd take a buggy whip to me."

"And serve you right," said Merry. "It's only what you deserve, disgracing his niece."

"Oh, don't be absurd," said Angelica. "You're one to talk about disgraces, Merry Brandybuck! And don't blame Lad. If anybody's done any disgracing here, it was me. It was my idea from first to last. When Lad had to leave Hobbiton, I told him he should find a place where we could meet, and I tell him when I can come here. Do you think it's easy for me to get away?"

"Have you been sick at all, Angelica?" Frodo voiced his last suspicion.

"A bit," she admitted, "in the mornings. But that only means I can shut the door to my room all day and not be troubled. I still have to climb out the bedroom window and hope nobody will notice I've gone. I knew you were poking around when you started asking me questions. Now you know everything, what are you going to do?" While Lad looked embarrassed and guilty at being caught, Angelica stood with her hands on her hips and flung out her words with proud defiance. The young lady was not in the least ashamed. "Go ahead and tell my parents. You're right, Frodo, they'll have to know. I'd tell them the truth myself in a day or two, but I wanted Lad to be the first to hear my news. You've guessed it, haven't you? I'm going to have a baby. Lad'll have to do the honorable thing now."

"You know I will," Lad spoke up hastily. "I would've married you months ago, only..."

"Only the family wouldn't hear of it," said Frodo, understanding.

"Exactly," said Angelica. "But they can't say 'no' once they learn what's happened. They'll have to let us marry, and right away. They have no choice if they want to avoid a public scandal."

"I won't tell them," Frodo agreed. "You can--you'll know best how to give them your news." While he could imagine the uproar that would follow Angelica's announcement, he knew that, regardless of the family's reaction, they would have to yield. Angelica was right: the respectable Bagginses would do anything to avoid a scandal. "You'll have it all your own way."

At this reassurance, Angelica beamed at him. "Thank you, Frodo. You are sweet." Then she turned to take Lad's arm. "You see--I told you it would work out just as I planned. Why don't we keep the cottage another month or two? It'll make a lovely honeymoon home, although of course we'll want something larger once the baby arrives..."

As the two of them walked off together to find their ponies, the other hobbits retreated, leaving the young couple alone.

"What do we do now?" asked Sam as they went around the hill.

"Go back to the inn," said Frodo. "We can have a few hours' sleep before breakfast, and then I'll go to pay a call on Mayor Whitfoot and tell him he has no reason to worry--if Lad hasn't already told him the good news by then. He'll be pleased to know he's going to have the daughter-in-law he wants. If I tell him the great secret of Lad working for Mrs. Broombindle, he'll probably raise Lad's allowance. He'll need to in any case if Lad's to support a wife and child. I daresay Angelica will make something of Lad. She seems to have managed him efficiently up 'til now."

"She's managed quite a lot!" Merry agreed in amazement. "I wouldn't have suspected it, even of our Jelly."

"Do you suppose a lot of nice girls are really like that?" Pippin wondered. None of them knew much about girls; they were all trying to get their minds around the idea that a well-brought-up hobbit-miss like Angelica Baggins could engineer her own seeming dishonor to such effective ends.

"Angelica is a remarkable girl," Frodo said thoughtfully, "but she hasn't done anything we haven't done ourselves."

"Yes, but it's different for girls," said Pippin. "Isn't it?"

"I don't see why it should be. Angelica's only after the things all respectable girls want: to get married to the boy she's decided on and to have lots of babies. She's got exactly what she wanted, and she won't even have to wait until she's of age in October. We'll see their wedding before the end of the month." As they went into the wood to find their ponies, he stole one arm around Sam's waist and leaned on him. "It's a pity we can't solve our own difficulties as easily."
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