Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

Frodo had only been inside his uncle's cottage a few times before; to be invited in was a rare privilege, and Dinodas was especially fond of him. People whom Dinodas disliked were never allowed past the garden gate. Dinodas's sitting room matched the one in the cottage that Frodo was sharing with the Gamgees, but it was less well-kept and seemed smaller, for it was filled with fifty or sixty years' worth of the old hobbit's accumulated possessions. Books were stacked atop every piece of furniture with a flat surface. The tall satchel in which his uncle stored his golfing clubs was propped behind the door, and stray clubs and balls were underfoot.

Frodo brushed off the seat of the settee and sat down. '"What did you want to show me, Uncle?"

"That cottage has been sitting empty for thirty years," Dinodas told him, and sank into his favorite chair before the unlit fireplace. "It's an eyesore and I'm sick of the sight of it. After poor Primmie and your father died, I would often ask Rory, then after he passed on, my nephew Saradoc, what they meant to do about it. It ought've been kept up and not left to fall into ruins, but they said it wasn't wanted. There are enough other cottages along the lane for family to come live in when they want to get away from the Hall--Crickhollow, Ivysmial, Riverside. They didn't say so, but they also thought it wasn't worth the trouble of keeping up the one cottage nobody would care to stay in. No one has, you know, after Primmie and Drogo. It's not as if they died there, but I expect it has sad memories for the family at the Hall--the older folk, I mean. You young ones don't remember them."

"No, Uncle," Frodo said, and waited patiently for Dinodas to get to the point.

"It has sad memories for me too. I think of poor Primmie and her husband every time I look at it, and I see it every day. It ought to be pulled down and some flowers planted over the spot. You might mention it to Merry, now he's Master."

Frodo promised that he would.

"The thing is, Frodo-lad, that if you've come looking for whatever your parents left behind, there's nothing over there for you to find now."

"How do you know that, Uncle?"

"I've looked myself. There were some furnishings left behind, but after the cottage sat empty for about ten years, I knew nothing would ever be done about them. So one day, I went over and forced the lock on the kitchen door to go in and have a look around. I wanted to see if anything was worth salvaging before it all rotted away. That oak cabinet there--" Uncle Dino gestured toward a squat, black object in the far corner. "That came from the cottage, and so did the table in the kitchen and a few other bits and pieces that only wanted some repair or polishing up. But I daresay it isn't those you're interested in."

"No," Frodo agreed. "I was looking for papers--a book. Did you find anything like that?"

"I found some papers in that cabinet. They're still there now. They look like rubbish, but might be important. I didn't like to throw them out, but didn't know what else to do with them. I didn't think they were any business of Rory's. If they were anybody's rightful property, they were yours, but you'd gone off to live with cousin Bilbo by then. I decided it was best to keep them, in case you came looking for them someday. And here you are..." The old hobbit rose and crossed the room. After he moved a stack of books aside, he pressed on the decoratively carved top panel of the oak cabinet; the lid sprang up, revealing a shallow drawer beneath. In it lay a small packet of letters tied with a faded ribbon. Dinodas handed these to Frodo. "They're letters from Del and some friends of your mother's. She must've received them in her last days."

They weren't the journal he was looking for, but Frodo accepted the letters gratefully. He saw that there were two other objects in the drawer: a small, empty bottle, and something wrapped in a yellowed handkerchief. "What are those, Uncle?" he asked. "May I have them too?"

"If you like. That bottle was in the same drawer as the letters when I first found it. The other was in the fireplace."

"In the fireplace?"

"In their bedroom. It looked like it'd been tossed in and got stuck between the grate and the wall. It's a bit charred around the edges and was lying in the damp for ages afterwards. Take care!" Dinodas urged as Frodo reached for the handkerchief-wrapped object. "It'll likely fall apart in your hands. It was a book of some sort, so maybe it's the one you were looking for. From what I could read of the pages that weren't damaged, it was written in Primmie's hand."

Frodo didn't dare to examine the fragile object right now, for fear it would turn out to be something else. Making sure that the handkerchief was securely around its contents, he carefully placed it in his jacket pocket along with the packet of letters and the bottle. "Thank you, Uncle Dino. I'm sure these will be terribly interesting. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about my parents?" he ventured. He knew that he was once again stretching the boundaries of his promise to Merry, but in this case, it seemed that his uncle could tell him something that no one else in the family was able to. "You must've seen a great deal of them when they stayed in their cottage during the summers, especially that last summer?"

"Well," Dinodas let out a puff of breath as he sat down again in his favorite chair. "I saw them go in and out a lot, but we didn't always stop to chat. Sometimes after she first married, Primmie would come in and fuss that my home was a wreck, so I didn't ask her in much after that. When I took up golf, Drogo tried to play it with me, but it got to be too tiring for him. I'll tell you something, Frodo-lad." His uncle fixed him with an eye twinkling with mischief. "You're old enough now to know about such goings-on. I used to see them in that meadow out back sometimes on hot summer nights. Your mother leading him by the hand. I didn't spy--that wouldn't be decent, not on my own sister--but I could hear her laughing. Primmie was always a girl who liked her fun."

Frodo blushed, partly because of the possibility that Uncle Dino had seen him and Sam going out into the meadow, and also because his first thought was that he may well have been conceived in that same clearing amid the trees. A moment later, common sense took hold; born in September, he'd been conceived at midwinter. Not even the most adventurous hobbit would try to make love outdoors at that time of year. But who exactly had Dino seen his mother with--Drogo or Iselgrim?

"So they were a happy couple. Did you ever know them to quarrel?" he asked, knowing that he was now truly on dangerous ground.

But Dinodas received the question without offense. "Not that I heard. My hearing was fine thirty years ago. I could hear raised voices half a mile away, never mind across the lane. No, I never heard them shouting at each other. But sometimes I heard your father weep."

"My father?" Frodo repeated incredulously.

His uncle nodded. "Sobbing and crying out in the night. It'd wake me up. `Twas terrible to hear at times. When I asked Primmie about it, she said that Drogo suffered from monstrous stomach pains. Well, that was no surprise, considering the way he ate, but it never seemed to get any better. Wait, Frodo--now I think on it, they might've been having a quarrel the last time I saw them, that last night."

Frodo was alert. "That last night? Were they here at their cottage that last night, Uncle? But I thought they went straight to the boathouse after dinner at the Hall."

"I couldn't say about that, lad, but they did come here," Dinodas said firmly. "I saw them. They were just leaving their cottage and going off down the lane toward the high road and the river. They didn't shout, but Drogo seemed to be in a great state. He wanted to go by himself, but Primmie meant to go with him. I remember he said to her, 'You don't have to do this, Prim.' I couldn't hear what she said in reply, for her voice was so soft, but she had her way. She always did. She wrapped that poor Baggins fellow 'round her little finger. In the end, they went off together arm in arm. Can you call that a quarrel? It doesn't strike me as such, but it was an odd thing to be talking over if they were just going out for a row on the river. When I heard later what'd happened to them, I wondered if they'd meant to go somewhere special that night and never got there."
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