The Mystery of the Mayor's Son 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.
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