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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