Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

When he left his uncle, Frodo went next door to his own cottage to have a quick wash and change out of his damp clothes, which were beginning to feel uncomfortably clammy next to his skin. There was still some time before he had to return to the Hall for dinner, and so he sat down at the kitchen table to examine the items Dinodas had given him. The letters were, as Uncle Dino had said, from his Aunt Del or his mother's friends in other parts of the Shire. None were from Iselgrim. Frodo set these aside to read through later.

He next examined the bottle. It had once been tightly corked, but the cork had since shrunk and fallen inside the bottle. There were traces of a dark, dried residue at the very bottom and along one side. Frodo sniffed, but no odor lingered except for certain mustiness. What could this have been? Medicine? Dinodas had mentioned that Drogo suffered from terrible stomach pains--a fact which Frodo didn't recall at all. Had this black syrup been used to soothe that pain. Or--a more ugly thought occurred to him--had Primula tried to poison her husband before resorting to drowning?

Last, he turned to what might be his greatest prize, or deepest disappointment: the handkerchief-wrapped object that Dinodas had found in the fireplace. His hands trembled slightly with excitement and anticipation as he unfolded the aged piece of cloth. Inside was a book. The leather front cover was badly burnt and smelled of ashes and mold, but enough remained to show Frodo that it had once had been embossed in the same style as the covers of his mother's journals. This must be the last one!

He spread the handkerchief on the table and carefully opened the fragile object on top of it. The remnants of the book's spine crumbled as he did so. Before him lay the first badly charred pages, but even on these he could detect lines of his mother's writing. With great care, Frodo began to turn through the book. The earliest months were entirely lost. The innermost pages were in better condition. The last third of the journal, which must have been against the brick wall lining the fireplace was only a little browned and singed at the edges, but these pages were blank. The light was too dim in the kitchen to read even the best pages of writing; Frodo carried the journal, still lying open on the handkerchief, out into the back garden. Here, he set it down on the grass to read it in the bright late-afternoon sunlight.

It was in June of 1397 that he found the first fully legible paragraph, and the first ominous note:

"We have gone to the cottage. Drogo can no longer keep his peace at night. He is
in such great pain. The poppy draught helps, but he fears to take too much lest it
addles his poor wits or gives him fearful dreams. The nights are the worst. He
would wake the whole Hall if we stayed on there, and Drogo fears above all that
the others might hear him and know."

This explained to Frodo why he had never heard of Drogo Baggins's pains before. He and Primula had come out to their cottage that last summer so as not to disturb the other inhabitants of Brandy Hall, nor let them see how he suffered. They hadn't wanted their son to know. This secrecy was a desire Frodo sympathized with. He never liked people to see him on his worst days. But what had been wrong with Drogo?

As he read on, he found more interesting fragments. The days of that last summer were uneventful, but the nights were a catalog of sleepless vigils as Primula sat up with her husband. At the beginning of July, she had written:

"...can't bear it. He says he will drink it all down one day. I asked if he would
leave a drop for me."

Then, about two weeks later:

"We talk of it. It seems we talk of nothing else when we are alone. Poor Drogo. I
believe he would go away tonight, but fears I would try to follow."

This reminded Frodo of the conversation Uncle Dino had partially overheard. Drogo was apparently planning to go somewhere. But where? Was he thinking of seeking treatment from some skilled healer or herbalist far away from Buckland, in order to keep his illness a secret from the family? If that was so, then why hadn't he wanted Primula to accompany him?

Had they been planning to steal away on an unannounced journey that last night, perhaps planning to cross the river to Stock? Their boat had been found near the Bucklebury Ferry dock on the far bank. Had they met with their fatal accident then, while trying to disembark there?

Something was certainly being planned between them. On the next to last page, his mother had written:

"I've thought of confiding in Esme, but do I dare? She will think it horrid and
selfish of me. It may be better if she knows no more than the others. And what
of Frodo? I can't explain such things to a child. He won't be able to understand."

There was only a single line on the next page:

"Tonight is the night Drogo intends to go--but not alone."

This was presumably the last thing his mother had ever written. From the unfinished letter to Esmeralda tucked away in the jewelry box, and this journal flung into the fire, Frodo concluded that Primula had decided not to tell anyone of their departure. She had gone out of her way to hide or destroy all the clues.

These last journal entries had given him a new picture of his parents' private lives, one that was filled with suffering and emotional distress, but in which they were firmly united against all outsiders. Even he had been kept out of their secrets until today. He'd found no mention of Iselgrim Took. Only now, Frodo believed that this wasn't a sign of his mother's circumspection. Iselgrim had nothing to do with her anymore... if indeed he ever had.

The sun was sinking low over the trees and the hour for dinner was approaching. Wrapping the journal back up with care, Frodo carried it into the cottage and placed it and the other items in a drawer in his bedroom. With his head full of new ideas, he walked swiftly down the main road toward Brandy Hall.

When he reached the Hall, he was relieved to see that he wasn't late for dinner. Most of the grown-ups had gone inside, but Melly was seated under one of the trees, keeping an eye on the older children who were running around, playing a game of tag on the grass. Sam was nowhere in sight, nor were the twins.

"Frodo!" she called out when she saw him. "I was hoping to speak to you before dinner. After you'd gone, I asked Mother what you wanted to know. She says it wasn't Aunt Primula that Iselgrim came here to see. He came to Brandy Hall to propose to Great-aunt Aramanth. Mother thinks they had some sort of understanding before he went away, but when he asked her to marry him, she refused. So you were wrong about that, Frodo."

This news didn't astonish Frodo as much as it might have an hour ago. For a moment, he tried to compose a scenario in which Iselgrim, disappointed by Amaranth's rejection, had sought comfort from her younger sister--but immediately abandoned the idea as implausible. "Yes, you're right," he conceded. "I was wrong about Iselgrim. And I think I may have gotten much more wrong than that."
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