Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

The next morning, Frodo walked over to the Hall. He only spoke briefly with Esmeralda before he went up to the old dressing room to retrieve the rest of his mother's journals; Esmeralda and the other ladies were busy preparing for the picnic to be held at midday. He also stopped at the door to Merry's study for a moment to tell his cousin about his plans to spend the morning searching.

Merry shook his head ruefully at Frodo's persistence in pursuing the ideas he'd expressed the night before, but made no objection. "I still think it's nonsense, Frodo, but I don't suppose you'll be happy until you settle it for yourself one way or the other."

Uncle Merry, who was also in the study, made a grumbling noise of agreement.

Once he'd taken the journals from their box, Frodo sat down on the dressing-room floor and began reading about the year before his birth. It was during that summer that Iselgrim Took returned to the Shire and visited his Brandybuck cousins. As far as Frodo could tell, Iselgrim hadn't come particularly to see Primula. She wrote that she was happy to see him safely home again and that she and the others enjoyed hearing tales of the adventures he and his brothers had had during their years away. According to Primula, Iselgrim visited Brandy Hall two more times that year, during October and then at Yuletide, but she recorded no illicit trysts on either occasion. She had danced with Iselgrim at the Tatters celebration in Newbury--that was all.

Frodo went immediately on to the next year. After this Yuletide visit, Primula didn't mention Iselgrim again. Was there nothing to tell, or had she simply been too cautious to put her secrets down on paper? In the middle of February, she wrote, "At last, a child is coming! I feel sure of it this time." Was this simply a natural expression of relief and joy from a woman who had long wanted a baby and finally had her wish, or one of exultation that she'd conceived a child with her lover after trying for so long with her husband? Frodo detected no note of disquiet about the circumstances of her baby's conception, nor had she hesitated to tell her husband. When she did tell Drogo and her family a few days later, Primula reported that they were all delighted by her news.

She'd made no entry on September 21, being otherwise occupied. On the 22nd, she had wrote, "The baby, a boy, was born last night. He's a funny little pink thing, but Mother says he'll grow up to be handsome. Drogo says he's the image of me."

If there had been a love-affair, it looked as if it'd been a brief one that Primula hadn't allowed to disrupt her marriage. If Iselgrim were in fact his father, Primula had never acknowledged it in writing by even the slightest allusion, and she was content to let Drogo believe that her son was also his. The two had apparently gone on placidly together, giving the appearance of a happy family for many years. The change--if there'd been a change--had only come near the end.

Frodo then skimmed through the earlier journals to search for entries concerning his mother's visit to Hobbiton. She had stayed at Bag End for three weeks. Bilbo was no more interested in Hobbiton society then than he'd been when Frodo had lived with him many years later, but his pretty Brandybuck cousin was eagerly received by all the prominent local gentry and Primula wrote of her various visits to their homes for dinner and tea parties. Frodo also found confirmation that Primula and Bilbo had talked about their Took cousins' travels and wondered where in the wide world beyond the Shire Iselgrim and his brothers might be, but with characteristic circumspection, she didn't actually say that this was the reason why she had come to see Bilbo.

He was just reading about Primula's introduction to Drogo Baggins ("Took tea with Bilbo's cousins, Dora and Drogo, at their home beyond the Hill. Drogo seems like a pleasant fellow, but shy of ladies."), when he heard a soft patter of bare feet on the wooden floorboards of the nested rooms between the chambers Esmeralda occupied and the one he was in.

"Frodo, hullo!" Melilot called out to him. "Where are you?"

Frodo called out in reply. After a moment, his cousin's ringletted head popped in at the doorway.

"Ah, there you are! I've been looking all over the Hall for you. I didn't even realize you were here until I saw Sam Gamgee and his children out on the lawn. Merry told me you were hiding up in here, gooing through your parents' things..." She looked around the cluttered little room filled with boxes, trunks, and wardrobes, then at Frodo seated in the midst of it all, surrounded by stacks of books. "And so you are. What is it you're looking for?"

"I'm trying to find out something about mother and my- er- father," Frodo replied and set down the journal he'd been reading.

"I hope you find it soon. We've barely seen you the last few days. I don't think I've spoken more than a half-dozen words to you since we went out on the river. You've spent all your time hunting up old diaries and poems, and running off to Budgeford without telling anyone." As Melly regarded him, her expression grew more solemn. "Frodo, what's going on? There's something more behind this than a sudden interest in family history. If it were only that, Uncle Merry wouldn't come to a boil whenever he hears your name, and Merry wouldn't have rolled his eyes when he told me where you'd gone, as if he thought you were behaving oddly--that is, more oddly than you usually do."

"There is something," Frodo conceded, "but Merry's asked me not to talk about it with anyone at the Hall. I made a promise not to upset the ladies."

"Oh, bosh!" said his cousin. "Merry Brandybuck has no right to say what I can and cannot hear. I may live in his house, but he certainly isn't my master!" She sat down on a box near Frodo and confided, "I begin to believe that Great-Aunt Del has the right idea of it. It's better not to live under a Master's dominion. I've been thinking of taking Addy and going off to live in some little smial of our own somewhere, away from Brandy Hall. If Great-Aunt Del can live on such terms, then so can I. I have a little money of my own, and Addy's grandfather sends him part of the income from Everard's property every quarter. That's plenty for just the two of us."

"Have you heard from Everard at all since he ran off?" Frodo asked, preferring to pursue this topic of conversation rather than answer Melly's question.

"Yes, once," answered Melly. "He sent me a letter a couple of months ago. He and Tibby Clover are living in some place called Overshire. I'd never heard of it, but Merry says it's up on the northernmost border. Evvy said that he was hoping to return home one day soon if the Tooks would let him and, if he did, would I let him see Addy?"

"Would you?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't. No matter what's wrong between me and Evvy, he is Addy's father and has a right to see his son. I wrote back that I would bring Addy to Tuckborough if Everard came there. But I hope that that Tibby won't be with him. He always seemed like a nasty and unpleasant little creature to me. I never understood what Evvy saw in him."

"Tibby looks like his brother, Toby," said Frodo.

Melly grimaced at this unwelcome truth; Everard had been in love with Toby Clover before he'd married her and had never really gotten over Toby's death.

Frodo had hoped that asking about Melly's own personal concerns would distract her, but she hadn't forgotten what she'd wanted to find out from him. "What is this mystery of yours, Frodo?" she asked. "You can tell me. Never mind what Merry says about upsetting ladies--if he makes a fuss, I'll tell him a thing or two."

Frodo couldn't help smiling. "Very well then, though you may think I'm as mad as Merry does once you hear. It all began right here in this room, when I was looking through my mother's jewelry box for her pearls. I found them, but I found something else too, an old letter that made me have some- well- unpleasant ideas." He told Melly everything that had followed this discovery, including the conversation he'd had with Merry last night.

"Well," Melly said thoughtfully once he'd finished. "Yes, I can certainly see how that would disturb you. I wouldn't want to think such awful things about my own mother."

"It's impossible to think anything improper of Aunt Melisaunte."

"True. I suppose it's easier to believe terrible things of people you don't really know--but you've never had difficulty in suspecting the people closest to you, Frodo. It's very like you. Is that what you were looking for?" Melly looked over the journals scattered around him. "Is there proof that this other hobbit is actually your father? Do you know now whether or not it's true?"

Frodo shook his head. "Mother would never write anything so indiscreet in her journals. Iselgrim was here at the right time for my conception, but it's impossible to tell what happened between them at that time. I'm not even absolutely certain that they were ever lovers."

"Poor Frodo! It must be horrible for you, suspecting and not knowing," Melly said sympathetically. "If it were me, not sure who my father was or what my mother might've done, I couldn't rest `til I knew. Is there no other way you can find out? Is there any way I can help?"

Frodo was surprised but heartened to find that Melly was more understanding of his reasons for pursuing this investigation than Merry or Sam had been. "Would you, Melly?" he responded eagerly to her offer. "Can you ask your mother what she remembers of Iselgrim Took? She's been here longer than Aunt Esme or Aunt Hilda. She was living at the Hall when he visited and she must surely remember him. You don't need to ask if she saw anything improper between him and my mother--it'd only upset her, and I promised Merry I wouldn't. But all the same, don't let Merry find out! He'll only blame me for bringing you into this."

"I'm not afraid of Merry," Melly responded, but she agreed to do as he asked. From some distant part of the Hall, they could hear voices calling. Melly rose and held out her hand. "Can you leave this for awhile, Frodo? It's nearly lunch-time, and no one wants you to miss the picnic."
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