Summary: A Frodo Investigates! Mystery. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins' umbrella has been stolen... but she is not the only victim.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Frodo/Sam, FPS > Sam/Frodo Characters: Frodo, Sam
Series: Frodo Investigates!
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes
Word count: 9249 Read: 25287
Published: March 23, 2008 Updated: March 23, 2008
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
Chapter 1 by Kathryn Ramage
"You're the last person I ever expected to call upon for help, Frodo Baggins, but since you've made a career for yourself by prying into other people's business, you may as well be of use. Someone has stolen my umbrella!"
Frodo was surprised when Lobelia Sackville-Baggins had come to visit him--that she should ask for his help was almost beyond belief. He and Lobelia had never been on good terms, not since Bilbo had adopted Frodo and made him his heir. None of the Sackville-Bagginses had ever forgiven Bilbo for leaving Bag End to him, believing that the property should by rights have gone to Lobelia's late husband Otho and son Lotho, who were nearer kin. Hostilities between them had only grown worse with Lotho's death; Lobelia had first accused Frodo of making away with her son, then had expected Frodo to clear Lotho's name. Frodo hadn't been able to do that--the truth about Lotho was more awful that any crime he'd been accused of. Lobelia, of course, was unaware of that truth and only knew that Frodo had failed her. Even though he disliked the old lady as heartily as she despised him, Frodo had always felt bad about that.
But here was a chance for reconciliation. "I'll do my best to recover it for you," he said.
"Your 'best' wasn't much good to my poor Lotho," Lobelia sniffed. "Let's see if you do better with this. Finding an umbrella shouldn't be too difficult a task."
Frodo disregarded the pointed jab in this reply. "When did you see it last, Aunt Lobelia?" he asked instead.
"The day before yesterday. I haven't been back in this part of the Shire since poor Lotho's death, but there are business matters connected to our property here that must be attended to. While I am here, I've paid calls on a few of my old neighbors. I'm sure it was stolen at one of their houses. I can say with certainty that I had it when I went into Prunella Proudfoot's house, and just as certain that it was nowhere to be found when I left Nettie Broadbelt's. Nettie was the one who suggested I come to you. She's got quite a high opinion of you, Frodo, since you found her mother's emeralds."
After this commendation, Frodo didn't dare suggest that the umbrella had been accidentally left behind somewhere. The people Lobelia had visited, however, suggested another possibility. "Who else did you visit in between," he asked, "and can you remember who was at each house?"
Lobelia's memory proved more than equal to the task. "Lila Muscote and Nettie's sister, Ruby Chubb, and her two little girls were at Nettie's house when I called," she began with her last visit, and worked backwards from there. "Before that, I was at your great aunt Prisca's--Dora and Peony and Ponto's wife Golda were there. Poppy Bolger and her husband Filibert were at her father's house when I called on old Falco. There was no one at the Proudfoots' except for Pru and Odo."
"What about their grandson?"
"That young rascal Sancho? Yes, he was about in the garden."
"And was Wilcome Chubb with his mother and sisters at Mrs. Broadbelt's?"
"I didn't see the Chubb boy." Lobelia's eyes narrowed. "You think it was the pair of them, Frodo?" Sancho and Wilcome were famous pranksters around Hobbiton.
"I think it's a good place to begin this investigation," Frodo answered.
"You may be right," Lobelia said grudgingly. "It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find those boys are behind this. The pair of them are more trouble than that wild Brandybuck cousin of yours and Peregrin Took!"
Peregrin Took, who came to Bag End later that same afternoon, had a good laugh when he heard about Lobelia's visit over dinner. "At least she can't accuse me of pinching her umbrella! I was in Tuckborough when it went missing."
Frodo was glad to see his cousin in much better spirits than he'd been the last time they'd seen each other a few weeks ago, just after Merry had left the Shire.
"Are you actually going to do as that nasty old biddy asks, Frodo?" Pippin wondered. "She's always been terribly rude to you. I think you'd've done better to tell her to go look for her old umbrella herself!"
"I wouldn't blame if you did, Frodo, after the way she spoke to you," Sam agreed. "She couldn't even ask for your help nice and polite! You shouldn't let her talk to you as she did." Sam hadn't been present during Frodo's conversation with Lobelia, but he had shown the old lady into the parlor when she'd demanded to see Frodo; he'd also lingered in the hallway outside, listening in in case Lobelia made too much of a nuisance of herself and he needed to come to Frodo's rescue.
"I know she's awful" Frodo admitted. "I don't like her any better than you do, but I can't help feeling sorry for her since Lotho died. I understand why she's so bitter and angry."
Sam rolled his eyes and Pippin grinned affectionately. It was just like Frodo to try and understand why horrible people behaved the way they did. As far as both young hobbits were concerned, there was no understanding Lobelia.
"Lotho was all she cared about," Frodo went on. "She always had grand ambitions to put him above the ordinary run of hobbits. She wanted everything for him, but she never got anything she was after in the end. Now she's lost Lotho too, and has nothing at all."
"Not even her umbrella," said Pippin with mock solemnity, and made Sam and Rosie laugh.
Frodo had to smile too. "At least, I can get that back for her."
"She won't be grateful for it if you do," his cousin pointed out.
"All the same, she's come to me and asked for my help. I mean to do what I can. Call it a gesture of goodwill on my part. Even if she wishes to carry on the battle, I don't want to go on quarreling with her for the rest of my life. This won't be a difficult case. I'm sure it's Sancho and Wilcome Chubb up to their usual tricks. You might be of help to me, Pippin, if you don't mind helping Lobelia too. I was thinking of having a word with Sancho tomorrow, but I've been invited to Aunt Dora's for a special birthday tea. I'm bringing presents for her and the Burrowses."
"And we're to have a special birthday supper tomorrow night for Mr. Frodo," Rosie told Pippin. "Nice and quiet, as he likes, just the four of us here."
"They'll be presents for all of you too," Frodo said. "Will you talk to Sancho, please, Pippin? He looks up to you as a master maker of mischiefs, and he might tell you all about it as long as he thinks you appreciate it as a good prank and doesn't realize you're helping me."
This appealed to Pippin's sense of humor. "Can you imagine Sancho's face when he finds out? That might be the best joke of all!" The thought of it made him laugh. "Very well, Frodo. I'll do it, even if it's for awful Auntie Lobelia."
Chapter 2 by Kathryn Ramage
While Frodo was at his Aunt Dora's the next day, Pippin went out in search of young Sancho Proudfoot. Frodo disapproved of the wayward boy, but Pippin was rather fond of Sancho; Sancho reminded him of himself as he'd been at that age. Pippin also sympathized with Sancho. The boy was a first cousin once removed, the grandson of Thain Paladin's elder sister Saphira, and a Took through and through. The elderly, staid Proudfoots had little idea of what to do with their wild, red-haired grandchild, except indulge him, let him run, and hope he'd grow out of it.
Pippin had expected the boy to be out somewhere with his friend Wilcome, but when he went by the Proudfoots' smial, he found Sancho was at home.
"Pip! Hullo!" Sancho had been lying in the tall grass atop the smial, but he sat up and waved when Pippin came in at the gate. "I didn't know you were here! The last I'd heard, you were shut away at Tuckborough, moping over Merry Brandybuck."
"I've come out for Frodo's birthday," Pippin answered as he climbed up the slope and sat down beside his young cousin.
"Oh, him." Sancho made a face. "I know he's your special friend, but you spend so much time with him, Pip, it's made you old before your time. He's so serious. He reads books, and he's always on a chap for having a little fun! You're not as much fun as you used to be since you've started going around with Frodo Baggins."
"I suppose I've grown up a bit, that's all," Pippin replied, and realized with some surprise that it was true. In less than two years, he would come of age. "It'll happen to you too one day, my lad."
"Not for years and years, it won't!" Sancho insisted. "I'm only seventeen."
"You'd better make the best of your tweens while they last."
"Oh, I mean to. Even if I have to give it up for awhile, I'll just wait 'til I get to be a dotty old hobbit and I can do whatever I like again."
Pippin grinned. "Like Uncle Bilbo?"
"Yes, him, and others too. Nobody minds what old hobbits do. Nobody scolds them."
"What've you been up to lately, Sancho?" Pippin didn't like asking roundabout questions, but there was no other way to bring up the subject of the stolen umbrella. "Anything good?"
The boy's face brightened with enthusiasm. "You missed out on an awful jolly time, Pip. When Will and I were in the Cotmans' orchard the other day, having our fill of apples, that big dog of theirs came running up barking. He tried to jump up into the apple tree after us... so we helped." He laughed. "We got him up onto a branch so high he couldn't climb down. Afterwards, we thought of putting some of the Cotmans' pigs up into the trees too, but the little ones were too slippery and the big ones were too heavy--and they bite hard!. So all we could do was to let 'em run about. You should've been there to see!"
Pippin listened to Sancho's recitation of his recent tricks and pranks, and laughed with genuine appreciation, for some of them were very funny. It recalled his own childhood, when all that was important to him was running about with his best friend, Merry, having fun and finding mischief to get into--before he'd seen the world beyond the Shire, fought in a war, and had his heart broken. He felt rather envious of Sancho's "years and years" of carefree youth still ahead.
But Sancho made no mention of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Perhaps in his vast catalog of naughtiness, one little umbrella wasn't worth mentioning. Pippin couldn't ask directly about it--that would only make the boy suspicious and shut him right up--but he prompted Sancho for more stories and encouraged him to tell the wildest tales, until Prunella came out to call her grandson in for tea. When she saw Pippin, she invited him in too.
The tea cakes and sandwiches were simple and plentiful, for Mrs. Proudfoot was used to providing ample food for a growing young hobbit. Between bites, Pippin told Prunella and her husband Odo all the news from Tuckborough. During tea, it began to rain.
"Oh, dear..." As she refilled the teapot, Prunella gazed out of the kitchen window and regarded the darkening clouds with dismay. "It looks like it's going settle in over Hobbiton for the rest of the day, and I was hoping to go into Bywater before the shops closed. I can't go now."
"Whyever not, dearest?" asked Odo.
"I couldn't go out in a rainstorm like this, not without my umbrella. It's been missing for days now. You haven't seen it about, have you?"
"No, Pru. You must've left it somewhere."
As his grandparents had this exchange, Sancho ducked his head over his plate of cake. They didn't see, but Pippin noticed that the boy was smirking with ill-concealed amusement.
The tea party at Dora Baggins's smial that same afternoon was a more fancy affair, but the occasion was a special one. The old lady and her niece Peony Burrows had been busy all afternoon baking a big cake, plus plenty of cream tarts and scones, to celebrate Frodo's birthday. In accordance with the hobbit custom of giving gifts on one's birthday, Frodo brought presents for his aunt and for Milo and Peony, as well as a toy for each of the four Burrows children. Everyone had a splendid time.
When it began to rain, the ladies made sympathetic remarks about Frodo's walk home. Although they didn't fuss over his health as much as Sam did, they were very much aware that he wasn't well and worried for him.
"I wouldn't like to see you catch cold, Frodo dear, when you're so susceptible," said Dora. "I'd lend you my umbrella to see you home safe and dry, but I'm afraid I've mislaid it."
"Why don't you borrow mine, Frodo?" Peony offered. When it came time for Frodo to leave, they went into the cubby beside the front door, where cold-weather clothes and gear were stored, to search through the winter cloaks.
After looking through all the shelves and piles of woolens, Peony sank back to sit on her heels with a puzzled frown. "How very odd. I was sure it was in here. Perhaps Milo or one of the children took it."
"Aunt Dora's has gone missing too," Frodo observed.
"Of course, the poor old dear's surely left hers somewhere."
"At Aunt Prisca's the other day?"
"Yes, that's the most likely place."
"Was Lobelia there too?"
"She was... How did you know, Frodo?" Peony regarded him with the same puzzled expression.
"She told me so herself when she called at Bag End yesterday." Peony laughed incredulously, and Frodo acknowledged that Lobelia's visit had come as a surprise to him too. "Tell me, Peony: do you recall whether or not Lobelia had her umbrella with her when you saw her?
"As a matter of fact, she did," answered Peony. "She always carries it with her, rain or shine. I'm sure Aunt Dora had hers with her then too. You know how old ladies are about their umbrellas. Aunt Dora says you never know when you'll need one."
"There's some wisdom in that." Frodo looked at the rain spattering on the small, round windows on either side of the front door. "I'll just have to take my chances. Peony, will you do a favor for me? Let me know if you hear of anyone else who's lost an umbrella lately."
Peony did not find this a strange request; she had helped Frodo on his investigations before, and understood without his saying so explicitly that another was afoot.
The walk from the Old Baggins Place to Bag End was barely a mile, a pleasant stroll on a nice day. In the pouring rain, the lanes were muddy and full of puddles. Frodo walked swiftly, but didn't dare run lest he slip and fall. He was halfway home when he heard the splashing footsteps of someone else coming up the lane from the Hill in the opposite direction. Then he saw a figure heading rapidly toward him, and burst into a smile. Sam had come to find him, bringing an umbrella.
When he first saw Frodo, Sam looked relieved, then he began to fret over Frodo's bedraggled condition. "You should've stayed at Miss Dora's, Frodo," he scolded as he put an arm around Frodo and brought him under the shelter of the open umbrella. "You ought've known I'd come for you."
"I'm glad you did," Frodo answered, and leaned on his friend a little; wet and miserable as he was, Sam's fussing was extremely welcome.
"I don't wonder. Look at you--soaked to the bone!" Sam brushed the droplets from Frodo's face and off the ends of the damp curls that fell on his brow and around his ears, until Frodo gave him an impulsive kiss on the corner of his mouth. "Let's get you home, quick as can be, and into a hot bath afore dinner. We can't have you taking ill on your birthday!"
Arm still around Frodo, which was also very welcome, Sam brought him back up the lane toward Bag End at a swift pace, taking care that Frodo did not step in the deeper puddles.
"Did you have a good time at Miss Dora's today?"
"Yes, very nice, and I discovered a most curious thing." Frodo closed one hand over Sam's on the umbrella's handle. "You'd best hold tight to that, Sam. Hobbiton has an umbrella thief!"
Chapter 3 by Kathryn Ramage
"It seems we have a larger mystery on our hands than the loss of Lobelia's umbrella," Frodo announced over dinner that evening.
Normally, Sam would have sent Frodo straight to bed after his hot bath and brought dinner to him on a tray, but since today was his birthday, Frodo had dressed again in his best and joined his friends. He hadn't wanted a large party, with lots of friends and neighbors in attendance, so Sam and Rosie had planned a small and quiet celebration instead. The rarely-used dining room had been opened and the big table set with the best silver and plate. Frodo had laid his gift to each beside their plates when he'd come in.
While the rain continued to pour down outside, it could be forgotten in this cozy and comfortable room with its hearty fire and good food. But Frodo could not forget what he'd discovered today because of the rain, and Pippin's information only piqued his interest further. This was more than a search for a mislaid item; something peculiar was going on.
"At least three umbrellas-"
"Four, Frodo," Pippin reminded his cousin. "Great-Aunt Pru's has gone missing too."
"Four umbrellas, then. All disappeared in the last week--and who knows how many more have done the same, or will?"
"But who'd want to take 'em?" Sam wondered. "And why? Nobody's got a need for more'n one."
"There's our puzzle," said Frodo. "If we're to find Lobelia's and the others' missing umbrellas, we must find the answers to those questions."
"I'm certain Sancho knows more than he's telling," said Pippin. "I saw the look on his face when his grandmother said she couldn't find hers."
"It might be worthwhile to have another talk with him. I'll go with you next time, Pip, and we'll put the question to the boy directly."
"And what if we can't get Sancho to talk?" asked Pippin. "Where else do we try?"
"I've already asked Peony to find out if there are more umbrellas missing," answered Frodo. "We might do the same. Let's make a list of how many have gone--that might give me an idea of where to start looking for them."
After dinner, while Sam and Rosie cleared the table and washed up, Frodo settled in the parlor with Pippin. He wasn't to sit up too late, Sam insisted, only long enough to have a pipe and a glass of wine. While they smoked, Frodo and Pippin talked about Tuckborough, and how things had gone after he'd been there three weeks ago to meet the girl Pippin's parents had chosen for him to marry, and another girl whom no one had expected.
"You haven't been in any trouble over Di's visit, have you?" Frodo asked.
"Not at all!" his cousin replied cheerfully. "Cousin Di's visit turned out to be the best thing that could've happened. After all the Dis had gone, I told Mother I'd made my choice. If I had to marry, I was going to marry a girl I liked and could have fun with. It'd be Diantha Took, or nobody. Father took my part. He didn't mind Di nearly so much as Mother did, and he's so happy to hear I like any girl, he's not going to argue about which one I've picked out."
"But Di told me she wouldn't marry anybody," said Frodo.
Pippin grinned. "I know that, but they don't. Mother and Father would never believe a girl could refuse the next Thain, even if it's me. As long as I hold out, they won't push anybody else at me, and they'll wait indefinitely... or until Merry comes home. Isn't it wonderful?"
While he'd been speaking, Rosie had brought in a tray, bearing a decanter of the best wine and four glasses, and set it down on the table near Frodo; she looked slightly scandalized at Pippin's scheme. "Don't you ever mean to marry, Mr. Pippin?"
"I'm waiting for the perfect girl to come along. I won't do it 'til I find someone like you, Rose," Pippin replied with playful gallantry.
"That's kind of you to say," Rosie responded with a blush, "but I think you'll go looking a long whiles."
"From what Frodo's said, this Miss Diantha Took sounds like just the one for you, Mr. Pippin," Sam said as he joined them. "What if she changes her mind and says she'll have you?"
"Well, if she feels pushed to make a match, and doesn't mind a marriage between friends, why not? At least, she's someone I can live with. She knows all about Merry and me and doesn't mind, so she won't bother me, and I won't trouble her. I win either way! But I want Merry to meet her first. I wouldn't marry anybody without his approval."
Frodo poured out the wine. "What shall we toast?" he asked as he handed the glasses around. "To absent friends? To the success of our latest case?"
"To your health," said Sam. "That's the usual for such occasions."
"Very well then." Frodo raised his glass, and the others followed suit. "To my health, such as it is."
"And many birthdays more!" Sam added with a stubborn determination that refused to consider any other possibility. "Now you drink that down, Frodo, and it's off to bed with you."
Frodo finished his wine, and set the empty glass down on the tray. After thanking the others for a wonderful birthday dinner, he excused himself and left the parlor. Rosie went out after him.
"I wanted to say thank you for your gift," she said once they were in the hall that led to the bedrooms. Frodo had given her a lace-work shawl; Rosie was wearing it now around her shoulders. "'Tis lovely. Wherever did you get it?"
"It belonged to my mother," Frodo told her. "My Aunt Esme kept it for me, with the rest of my parents' things, and I asked her to send it to me for you. I thought you might like to have it."
"Oh, yes! I never saw such a pretty thing. I'll pass it on to my daughter..." She laid one hand on her belly, which was beginning to show a noticeable bulge. "Sam says he wants a boy, to name after you, but I can feel already it won't be this one." Rosie cast her eyes down shyly and fingered the fringed border of the shawl as she went on, "There's sommat more I wanted to say to you. When I first came here in the spring, I didn't think this sharing of yours would work so well as it has. I've never been happier'n I've been these last months, and that's your doing as much as Sam's." After a moment's hesitation, she added in a softer voice, "I know it's your birthday, Mr. Frodo, but I've got a present to give you all the same."
Frodo was surprised and curious. "Have you, Rosie? What is it?"
"It's this," she said, and met his eyes. "As you gave Sam to me, I can give 'm back to you. I've had a word with him--I said I don't want to see 'm again 'til breakfast-time. He's to spend this whole night with you, and not come to me."
"Oh, Rose..." The gesture touched him deeply. Since Rosie had become pregnant, Sam worried so for her that he returned to sleep in Rosie's room even on the nights he was meant to spend with Frodo. Frodo had never spoken to Rosie about this, and yet he saw now that she understood his feelings. "How very sweet of you. Are you certain you'll be all right?"
This question made Rosie smile. "You'll be fussing as much as Sam! Yes, I'll be fine. I don't know as Sam'll do it every night that's yours, 'specially when it gets close to my time, but there's no cause for him to worry as he does so early on." She gave Frodo a quick kiss on his cheek before she went down the hallway to her own bedroom. "G'night to you, Mr. Frodo."
"Good night, Rose."
The rain was still coming down hard when Frodo went to his room; he could hear it spattering with the blasts of wind on the shuttered window and hissing down the chimney while he undressed, but Sam had built up the fire to a blaze and put a firescreen on the hearth to keep out the draughts. Sam had also put a warming plate between the sheets, as Frodo discovered when he got into bed. He nudged it gingerly with his toes down to the very bottom of the bed, and put his feet on the hot spot. He wondered if Sam had done this before Rosie had had her word with him--he hoped to have something a little nicer to keep him warm tonight.
Sam came in a short time later.
"Everything's shut up for the night and safely tucked away?" Frodo asked, sitting up in bed and beaming at his friend.
"The house is all shut against the rain," reported Sam. "I left Mr. Pippin in the parlor. He would've liked to go out to the Green Dragon for a drop of ale afore closing, only I wouldn't let him have our umbrella. So he's staying in to finish off that wine instead."
Frodo laughed. "It's been a splendid birthday all around, but it's not over quite yet..." He held out his arms to Sam to invite him into bed.
Before he came over, Sam turned to close the door; with one hand on the central knob, he glanced back out into the dark corridor beyond and an expression of concern crossed his face. "I hope Rosie'll be all right by herself."
"She says she will, and you aren't to worry. Pippin's right, Sam. Rosie is a marvel. Now, come here."
Sam set aside his worries, and went to Frodo's arms. He had a gift of his own to offer, in love and the warmth of his presence in the night. Frodo couldn't have asked for his birthday to have a better ending.
Chapter 4 by Kathryn Ramage
In the final week of September, autumn came into the Shire in full force. The days that followed Frodo's birthday were cool and cloudy, with frequent spatters of rain, though nothing like that first night's downpour.
With the aid of his cousins and the Gamgees, Frodo compiled a list of people who had recently lost their umbrellas: there were sixteen in all, primarily elderly ladies and a few aged gentlemen. To Frodo, such people were obviously the most likely target for this unusual thief. As Peony had noted, old hobbits liked to keep their umbrellas at hand even on sunny days--not only because "you never know when it might rain," but also because a folded umbrella served as a cane, a place to store small objects, and a prod to drive insolent young hobbits out of one's way. Elderly hobbits were also most likely to leave unattended umbrellas leaning against a wall in a front hall when they visited their neighbors, or against a shop counter, easy for a thief to carry away.
The wet weather kept many of the umbrella-less indoors during that week. Lobelia, however, was undeterred. On a soggy afternoon four days after her first visit, she returned to Bag End and demanded to see Frodo.
"Where is my umbrella, Frodo Baggins?" she asked as soon as Sam let her in. "Haven't you found it yet?"
"No, not yet," Frodo admitted. "But yours is not the only umbrella that's gone missing, Aunt Lobelia. There've been a rash of thefts in Hobbiton lately."
"So I've heard," she responded, "but that's nothing to me. I didn't engage you to find other people's missing property--I only want mine returned."
Frodo refrained from pointing out that Lobelia had not actually 'engaged' him: she hadn't paid him a penny for his work, nor even thanked him. He had agreed to do this as a kindness to her, and would regret it now if it hadn't turned up such an interesting puzzle. "I'm doing what I can," he told her with patient politeness. "But it seems to me that all these thefts must be connected. If I find one stolen umbrella, I'm certain I'll find them all, yours included, Auntie."
This explanation did not satisfy Lobelia. "If you intend to dawdle and chase after other people's umbrellas, Frodo, and hope mine will be part of the parcel, that's your business. I don't see that it does me much good. If you're no help, then it's my business to take matters into my own hands. I should've done so from the first. Sancho Proudfoot is the scoundrel, is he?"
"We don't know that for certain, Aunt Lobelia." When he and Pippin had gone to speak to Sancho again, the boy had denied knowing anything about the missing umbrellas; neither he nor Pippin believed their young cousin was telling the truth, but Sancho would not be budged.
"Well, you mayn't know, but I'll soon find out the truth of it." Lobelia rose from the chair she had taken and headed for the front hall. "I'll talk to the unruly young rascal myself--and get my umbrella out of him if he's got it!" She went out the door.
With a sigh of exasperation, Frodo grabbed his tweed coat and went after her--not to try and stop her, but to see that Sancho came to no harm and also to see if the boy would say more once Lobelia put some fear into him, as only she could.
They went around the foot of the Hill to the Proudfoot smial, which was next to Lobelia's. Sancho was in the garden, and looked alarmed as Lobelia came in through the gate. "You there, boy!" she shot out at him. "Where is it?"
"I don't know what you mean, Ma'am," Sancho answered. He looked to Frodo for assistance, but Frodo did not come to his aid.
"You know very well!" Lobelia responded. "I'll have no nonsense from you. What have you done with my umbrella?" She looked very fierce; if she'd had her umbrella with her, she would have jabbed at Sancho with it.
As the boy stammered for an answer, Prunella came out to see what all the commotion was about. "What is this? Lobelia, what are you doing, going after my Sancho?" She put an arm protectively around her grandson while Frodo tried to explain and Lobelia made her accusations, then asked the boy, "Sancho, dearest, did you take Mrs. Sackville-Baggins's umbrella?"
"I didn't, Gran," the boy replied, gazing up at her with innocently wide, blue eyes.
"Then that's that," said Prunella.
Lobelia snorted disdainfully. "You believe him?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"You were always too trusting, Pru. That boy gets around you, and he'll no doubt come to a bad end for it."
"I daresay you brought up your Lotho better-" Prunella retorted. This was an extremely sharp blow, and Lobelia felt it. With a cry of frustrated fury, she whirled out of the gate and went down the lane to her own smial; a moment later, they heard the door slam.
Once Lobelia had gone, Prunella asked Frodo, "So, you're looking into this?"
"Yes, Aunt Pru."
"Well, that's good news! There've been quite a lot of umbrellas missing lately, and someone ought to do something about it. And Lobelia thinks my Sancho..." Prunella turned back to her grandson, "Sancho, did you take her umbrella?"
"If you do, you'd best speak now," Frodo warned the boy. "Your grandmother can't keep Lobelia off you forever, you know. As long as she thinks you have her umbrella, she'll be watching for you every time you go outdoors, and lay in wait behind the hedgerows."
Sancho looked alarmed again at this prospect, but he insisted, "I don't have it, Frodo--honestly! I never touched her old umbrella, and I don't know where it is."
Chapter 5 by Kathryn Ramage
That same afternoon, Pippin paid a call on Frodo's behalf to one of the elderly gentlemen on the list.
"Yes, that's right," confirmed Mr. Falco Chubb-Baggins, who was nearly one hundred and, like Odo Proudfoot and the late Otho Sackville-Baggins, a first cousin of Bilbo's. He sat before his parlor fire with a woolen blanket around his shoulders to ward off the autumnal chill, filling the room with a haze of purplish pipeweed smoke. "I haven't seen it in a week. Now how did you get to hear such an odd bit of news, young Peregrin Took?"
"Frodo's investigating these disappearances," Pippin explained. "There've been lots of them, you see, and I'm helping him to find them."
At this, Falco's expression brightened. "Are you lads? By all accounts, Frodo's quite an expert on finding things. If you can get my umbrella back, I'll be most grateful. I've had it these fifty or sixty years, and it's an old and trusted friend. You'll know it by the falcon head carved onto the handle--a pun on my name, you might say," he finished with a chuckle, and regarded Pippin expectantly, ready to be of help.
"Frodo's asked me to go 'round and ask everyone where they went the last time they remember having their umbrellas with them, who visited them, that sort of thing. Who's been here to your house lately, sir?"
As the old hobbit launched into an account of his recent visits to friends and the Bywater shops, and a recitation of familiar names, Pippin listened patiently. He had heard this all before on his previous calls, and no doubt would again before he had been to see everyone Frodo had asked him to. He noted that Falco hadn't seen his grandnephews Wilcome and Sancho. Then Pippin heard a name he had never heard before:
"...and I saw Pum Pettygrow, of all people, at the Green Dragon last Trewsday. I asked him to come back with me here for a pipe, but he said he had other business to attend to. That was when I saw my umbrella last. I'm sure I had when I went into the Dragon, and missed it the next morning. Might've left it there."
"Pum Pettygrow?" Pippin repeated. "Who's that?"
"Oh, an old acquaintance from years gone by," said Falco. "I hadn't seen him in ages. He used to live in this part of the Shire, in a little cottage up beyond Overhill, but he's been away and only come back recently. Frodo will remember him--he used to be a great friend of Bilbo's."
Pippin mentioned the name to Frodo when he returned to Bag End and the two of them and Sam compared notes.
"Pumelo Pettygrow!" Frodo smiled at the name. "Yes, I remember him! He used to visit Uncle Bilbo when I first came to live at Bag End, and I gather long before that too."
Sam nodded. "The Gaffer always said that Mr. Pum was an odd old gent, even odder than Mr. Bilbo."
Frodo laughed. "So he was, but not in the same way, for all they were friends. Old Pumelo never went on adventures nor wrote books. He was a tinkerer."
"Metal wheels and gears and such-like," Sam interjected with a note of mistrust; he was a non-mechanical hobbit, and any mention of gears made him think of Ted Sandyman, whom he disliked intensely.
"I remember that he once gave us a marvelous little contraption," said Frodo. "You turned the wheels, and it showed you where the stars would be in the sky at any time of the night, and what phase the moon would be in, and when the sun would rise on a given day. It could even tell you when the moon would pass over the sun and cast darkness on the land at midday. An amazing toy. I think Bilbo took it away to Rivendell with him."
"Do you think he could have something to do with this?" Pippin wondered.
Frodo considered it. "He might've carried off Uncle Falco's umbrella from the Green Dragon, but I can't see him committing all these thefts. We would have heard his name before this if he'd been so much around Hobbiton. But, all the same, there must be somebody else involved in this. It can't be Sancho and Will. I don't say Sancho was telling the whole truth today, but the lads just haven't had the opportunity to be everywhere they had to be to take every umbrella that's gone."
Chapter 6 by Kathryn Ramage
The next day, they continued their investigation by visiting the latest victims of the umbrella thief: Pippin went to see Mrs. Muscote and Sam called on the Widow Rumble, who lived next door to the Gaffer, in Number 4 Bagshot Row; both ladies had joined the list the day before. Frodo returned to the Old Baggins Place.
Taking advantage of a brief patch of sunlight that afternoon, Dora had gone out on calls she hadn't dared to on the rainy days. When Frodo arrived, Peony laid out tea in the little side yard where Milo liked to smoke, since Dora wouldn't have it in the house, and the couple settled down to hear what Frodo had learned.
"There's a distinct pattern to these thefts," Frodo told Milo and Peony over their tea. "Our thief seems to prey upon the elderly. The curious thing is that you're a noteworthy exception, Peony."
She smiled. "You mean, I'm not an old lady?"
"Not yet at the umbrella-carrying age," her husband added, also smiling.
"Precisely," said Frodo. "Your umbrella only goes out when it rains. You wouldn't leave it lying about for anyone to take."
"Mine was shut up in the cloak-closet," said Peony. "I'm quite sure of that."
"Which suggests to me that someone had to go into the house and go digging for it--but they must have already had an idea of where to find it. The only other lady like you in this respect is Ruby Chubb."
Peony nodded eagerly. "Yes, that's so. Ruby didn't even know her umbrella was gone until I asked her to look for it."
"The whole thing's absurd," said Milo. "Who would want to steal eighteen umbrellas? It must be a prank of the lads."
"That's what I thought too. I've suspected Sancho Proudfoot..." Frodo gazed out at the meadow beyond the Old Place, where Peony's and Milo's seven-year-old daughter was gathering daisies with the two Chubb girls; as he watched them, an idea came to him. "Peony, do your children often play with the Chubbs?"
"Yes, of course." She followed his gaze in the direction of the three little girls. "Ruby's daughters are darlings, perfectly suitable playmates for our Myrtle."
"What about Mosco? Is he a friend of Wilcome's?" Mosco, their eldest son, was thirteen--four years younger than Sancho and Wilcome, but the difference in their ages was no more marked than between Merry and Pippin, who had been about the same ages when they'd begun to run around together in search of mischief.
"He has been playing with Will lately," Milo admitted, "more than we like, but boys will be boys."
"Oh, Frodo," Peony said in dismay, "you don't think our Mosco has a part in this?"
"I don't like to accuse anyone without proof, but Sancho and Will couldn't have done this all themselves. Where is Mosco?"
"He's been hanging about the house all morning," said Milo, "which is odd, since the wet weather's kept everyone indoors this past week. You'd think he'd want to run about in the sun while he has the chance, like the other children."
"Maybe he's been waiting for someone to come here to him," said Frodo. "They can't go carrying a load of umbrellas through the streets unnoticed. Look, there." He lifted his chin to indicate a movement in the underbrush on the hillside above the Old Place: someone was creeping through the brush toward the back of the smial, where the children's rooms were.
All three set down their tea cups at once and went to look for Mosco.
The boy was in his bedroom, handing a long, slender bundle wrapped in a blanket out the window to someone who stood outside. As the door behind him opened, Mosco turned, startled, and dropped the bundle on the floor, where it clattered loudly. At the noise, the other persons outside darted away too quickly for their faces to be seen, but one of them had notable, bright copper-colored hair.
Mosco stood gaping at his parents and Frodo, aghast. At his feet, fallen loose from the blanket he had wrapped them in, were two umbrellas.
"I presume that those belong to Mrs. Muscote and the Widow Rumble," said Frodo.
Milo took his son by the shoulders and said solemnly, "The truth now, Mosco-lad. You've been caught red-handed, and the only honorable thing to do is own up. You'll have to take those back to their owners and apologize, and the rest as well. Where are they?"
"Who put you up to this?" asked Peony. "Was it Sancho and Wilcome? We've already guessed as much, so you might as well tell us."
"I couldn't tattle on my friends," Mosco answered reluctantly.
"They aren't good friends if they've misled you into trouble," said Peony. "And stealing from old people--not to mention your own mother!--puts you into a great deal of trouble."
"Tell us," Milo repeated more firmly, "or you won't set a foot out of this house for a month, nor have a bite of dessert until next spring."
Mosco, who was not a hardened mischief-maker nor an accomplished liar, crumbled at these threats and reproaches; his eyes grew large and his lower lip quivered. "It was Will and Sancho who asked me to do it," he confessed. "They give me a farthing for every one I can get."
"Why?" asked Peony. "What do they do with them?"
"They're for the old hobbit."
"Old hobbit?" Frodo was immediately alert. "Who? What's his name?"
"I don't know," said Mosco. "That's who Sancho says they give 'em to."
Frodo left the Burrowses to give their son a good talking-to and decide on a fitting punishment for his part in the theft, and went to the Proudfoot smial to wait for Sancho. Both Odo and Prunella were at home, and Frodo had ample time to tell them how Mosco had been caught and confessed before their grandson returned.
When Sancho came in, and found Frodo there ahead of him, and his grandparents regarding him with dour expressions, he knew that the game was up.
"Mosco told his parents all he knows," said Frodo. "You lied to us yesterday, Sancho."
"I did not," the boy replied. "I never touched Old Lobelia's umbrella. I don't know where it is, just as I said! Mosco pinched it when they were at his great-aunt's, and gave it to Will. I never saw it."
"But you saw some of the others? You took your grandmother's, didn't you?"
"Nobody asked me that! I told you all the truth as you asked it."
Odo rolled his eyes. "Sancho Proudfoot, that is the worst sort of lie, and you know it! What are we going to do with you?"
"I despair of the boy," said Prunella. "Lobelia was right--and now I'll have to apologize to her!" Her tone and the reproachful gaze she gave her errant grandchild suggested that this was the one thing she would not forgive Sancho for. "I'm afraid you'll come to a bad end."
"I must know, Sancho," said Frodo. "Mosco couldn't tell me the name of the old hobbit you've been gathering these umbrellas for. Who is it?" He already had a suspicion, which Sancho's answer only confirmed.
"His name's Mr. Pettygrow."
"Pum Pettygrow?" Odo said, surprised. "I'd heard he'd come back, but what on Middle-earth does he want so many umbrellas for?"
Sancho shrugged. "He said it was an experiment. We didn't care--he gave us a penny for each one we brought him."
"And you only gave Mosco a farthing each, instead of a third share?" said Frodo. "That's hardly fair. I'm sure your grandmother's right, and you'll come to a bad end. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you turned out as badly as Lotho."
He returned home to meet Sam and Pippin and tell them what he'd learned. Sam repeated Odo's question: "What would Mr. Pumelo want with a lot of umbrellas?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," Frodo admitted. "Sancho mentioned 'an experiment,' but I don't see how umbrellas fit in with Mr. Pettygrow's tinkering with gears and wheels. Their only similarity is that they're made of metal. Maybe he's changed his line of experiments."
"Maybe he's gone dotty with old age," Pippin suggested.
"Whatever the reason is," said Frodo, "we'll find it out when we visit him to get the stolen umbrellas back." He went from the sitting room to the entry hall and took down his tweed coat.
"It looks like we're in for another storm," Sam observed, gazing warily out the open front at the dark and lowering clouds that were beginning to gather and put an end to the sunny afternoon.
"This won't wait. We ought to go and see him right away."
While Frodo put on and buttoned up his coat, Sam looked through the cloaks and outdoor wear on the pegs in the hall for Frodo's umbrella. After a search, he looked up and announced, "It's not here!"
They stared at each other, wide-eyed, and then Frodo went back into the sitting room to call to the kitchen, "Rosie, did anyone come by the house while we were out?"
"That's right, Mr. Frodo," Rosie called back. "An old gent came to the door and asked for you. He said he was a friend of old Mr. Bilbo's."
Chapter 7 by Kathryn Ramage
The rain was coming down hard by the time they reached Mr. Pettygrow's cottage on the northern end of Overhill. Rumbles of thunder were heard and lightning flashed over the hills, rapidly coming closer. The storm would soon be overhead. Frodo knocked on the door of the cottage; there was no answer. They were about to go around the cottage to look in at the windows, when Sam noticed an old hobbit standing in a nearby field, his hair blowing every which way and his open coat flapping in the wind.
"Mr. Pettygrew!" Frodo shouted to him.
Hearing his name, the old hobbit turned and grabbed a handful of wet, white hair that had blown over his eyes to pull it up and peer at the three young hobbits crossing the field toward him. As they came closer, he smiled and said pleasantly to Frodo, "Why, you're Bilbo Baggins's nephew, aren't you? I've heard about you--they say you take after your uncle. I heard you were looking for the umbrellas. That's why I came 'round to see you."
"Why? To explain?" wondered Frodo.
"I thought you'd understand."
"But you took our umbrella!" Sam protested. "Where is it?"
"Where are they all?" Pippin asked.
"There!" Mr. Pettygrow pointed to the crest of the hill above them, where the skeletal remains of seventeen stolen umbrellas--the metal frames stripped of their cloth canopies--stood rattling in the high winds, but did not blow down. They'd been skewered firmly, deeply, into the earth, with their ferules pointed skyward so that they looked like an orchard of tiny, bare trees of brass and iron. "I needed as many as I could get!"
Sam started toward the hill to get them, when a tingle ran through the soles of all their bare feet against the ground and made the hair on their toes stand on end, warning them that a lightning bolt was about to strike nearby. There was no shelter except beneath the trees--never a good idea in a thunderstorm!--so the young hobbits threw themselves down flat. A blinding light flashed over their heads, accompanied by an ear-splitting blast.
"Look, lads!" Mr. Pettygrow shouted. He had not thrown himself down, but stood over them in the pouring rain, jumping from one foot to the other, hooting with joy as he continued to point at the hill-top.
The lightning bolt had struck the umbrellas on the hill: glimmers of blue light leapt between the metal frames and there was an angry, sputtering hiss and sparks flew up from the wet grass as the lightning ran down what they now saw was a thin wire tied around the base of each umbrella; the other end, at the bottom of the hill, was fastened to an iron house-key suspended inside a very large and heavy glass jar. The key began to jerk and leap at its end of the string, and glowed with a light of its own. For a few marvelous seconds, it filled the jar with a brilliance that made the hobbits gasp and feel afraid that the glass would burst apart. Then the glow faded.
"I'll capture it yet!" cried Mr. Pettygrow.
"Capture what?" asked Frodo. "The lightning?"
"Yes! Yes!" The old hobbit was still laughing delightedly. "I've been waiting for weeks for a good storm to catch it!" The storm was passing over now, going as swiftly as it had come. They went over to the jar; Mr. Pettygrow detached the wire, which passed through a cork stopper, and carried the jar inside. "There won't be another strike tonight. Come inside, lads, and I'll tell you about it."
Mr. Pettygrow led them back to the cottage and into the kitchen. The shelves on the walls, the table, and the floor were cluttered with glass and earthenware jars, metal scraps, and less easily defined rubbish. A battered tin kettle was boiling over the fire; their host set the jar down, took up the kettle and poured the water into a teapot, which sat ready on the table amid the clutter. "You must be soaked to the bones, lads, and in need of a nice, hot cup. I always am myself when I've been out in a rainstorm."
"I fancy you've been out in quite a few lately, if this is the sort of experiment you're conducting these days," said Frodo as he gratefully accepted a mug of tea.
"That was an incredible trick!" said Pippin. "What sort of magic was that?"
"Oh, it's no magic, but a force of Nature, pure and simple," Mr. Pettygrow replied. "You've see the power of lightning--how it blasts living trees and sets them afire, and how it'll kill a hobbit where he stands."
"If he's fool enough to stand outside in a storm," said Sam, and Mr. Pettygrow chuckled.
"I daresay you're right, lad, but the risk is worthwhile. It seemed to me that such an awesome power might be put to better uses. Who knows what marvels could be produced if I could only hold that power and harness it! And so I've set about trying to catch it. Here, watch." The old hobbit opened the large glass jar and reached inside; as his fingers drew near the key, the delicate white hairs on the back of his hand and his forearm began to rise. There was a sudden, crackling sound: a spark like a tiny bolt of lightning leapt between the key and his fingertips. "There, you see! I've caught it. It's quite harmless now, but I can never keep it long. I'll learn the secret of it one day."
Pippin was enthralled, while Sam remained suspicious, as he was of all new and mechanical things, but Frodo had not forgotten their reason for coming here. "It is extremely interesting," he said, "but why umbrellas?"
"They're the perfect shape and material to draw the lightning," Mr. Pettygrow explained. "I've tried other things, in other places--tied to the tops of the tallest trees or up on rocky hills--but it must be metal. Copper is best, then iron."
"But they weren't yours to use. You stole them from other people." Frodo knew he should be angry, but Mr. Pettygrow was so cheerfully good-humored that it was impossible. He felt as if he were scolding the elderly hobbit just as Milo and Peony had scolded Mosco; Mr. Pettygrow seemed as childlike in his enthusiasm and utter disregard for the consequences of his experiment. Perhaps he had gone dotty. "You can't restore the damaged property-" When his toes touched a hard, cylindrical object on the floor, Frodo glanced down to see the familiar, knobby pine handle of Lobelia's treasured umbrella. Other umbrella handles lay nearby: the curved, carved-horn swan's head of Aunt Dora's, Falco's falcon, and his own dark, polished cherrywood hook with Bilbo's initials on it. "But you must compensate the owners."
Mr. Pettygrow chuckled again. "Lad, if I could pay for so many umbrellas, do you think I'd have to steal them? Pennies for the lads who helped me was about all my purse could stand."
"We'll have to tell the umbrellas' owners what became of them," said Frodo. "Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is certain to pay you a call. I wouldn't wish to see what'll to you happen then, but you have my sympathy. The sherriffs may also take an interest--you won't be able to carry on your experiment here."
"Oh, I'm quite used to that," said Mr. Pettygrow. "It's always the way. Give me 'til the morning, and I'll be gone, and needn't face Lobelia's wrath! I hope no one minds if I take the umbrella frames with me when I go?"
"You might as well keep them," Frodo consented. The lightning-blasted frames were beyond repair, and as long as he had them, Mr. Pettygrow wouldn't steal more from other hobbits wherever he went. "But we can at least return these." He knelt to gather up the handles, which could be refitted to new umbrellas.
As he and his friends filled their coat pockets, Mr. Pettygrow asked Frodo, "Is your uncle Bilbo still about, lad?"
"No... He's left the Shire. He went to stay with the Elves a few years ago."
"Did he? I'm sorry he's not here to see this. I think he would have enjoyed it."
Frodo had to acknowledge the truth of this. "Yes, I believe he would."
When they left the cottage, they found that the rain had passed and a cool, misty twilight was settling over the Shire. Frodo shivered and leaned closer to Sam for warmth. "Tomorrow," he said, "we'll have to go shopping for some new umbrellas."
"Will you buy one for Lobelia?" asked Pippin.
"I think I'd better, as a peace offering. We'll never have any peace otherwise."
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