Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

After their large picnic lunch, the gentlehobbits of Brandy Hall had satisfied their appetites until dinner with only a little tea. There wasn't a drop left, Hilda informed Frodo apologetically when he entered the drawing room, but it wouldn't be long before they all went in to their dinner.

"Have you been out-of-doors, Frodo?" she asked him. "Everyone thought you'd gone back to your reading. Your friend Mr. Gamgee was looking for you before he took his little ones up to the nursery for their naps."

"I have been reading," Frodo answered, "but not here at the Hall. I went to that old, empty cottage to see if I could find anything my parent might've left there."

Esmeralda looked surprised that he made this announcement so publicly, not only in front of Hilda and Melisaunte, but in the hearing of Merry and his uncle Merimac, who were also in the room. "And did you?" she asked. Esmeralda wasn't the only one who appeared interested in his answer.

"Yes, Aunt. I found the journal. It's in very bad condition. I could read very little of it, but from what I did read, I discovered something rather curious. I hope that you--that all of you who remember my parents--can help me." Merimac made a sound of impatience. Merry was regarding him with concern, but Frodo felt that what he had to ask was important and would not be distressing for his relatives to answer. At least, it wouldn't be as distressing as some of the questions he might have asked them. "Tell me: Was my father ill?"

"What do you mean?" asked Merimac. "I don't think I ever saw Drogo Baggins ill abed in all the years that he lived here." The other agreed that Drogo was always a hearty hobbit.

"Are you sure of that? From some of the things my mother wrote that summer, I believe he was seriously ill. He was in great pain during the last months of his life. He was taking poppy-syrup regularly." Frodo looked around the room at all his aunts and uncle, then focused on Esmeralda. "Mother wrote that she wondered if you might've suspected her shocking news. You didn't, Auntie, but if you look back now, could it be possible? If I say 'Drogo Baggins was ill,' is there anything you remember from those days, and see it differently now? Something perhaps that might've seemed odd then, but makes sense now in light of that?"

"I never saw him ill, Frodo, and never suspected such a thing, but he and Primmie did keep to themselves that summer," answered Esmeralda. "They never missed meals at the Hall, but they would go off after dinner and we wouldn't see them again until breakfast. Even when they were here at the Hall, they spent much of the day in their rooms."

"Now you mention it," Hilda said eagerly, "your father wasn't eating as well as he used to. I never saw a hobbit who could take in so much at one sitting!"

"But not at the end?" asked Frodo. "Did he lose weight?"

"Perhaps a little, but he was such a very big hobbit to begin with. I didn't honestly notice."

"Did he look more pale than usual? Did he seem out-of-sorts?"

"His temper was shorter," said Merimac, almost reluctant to provide even this much information.

"Yes, that's so," Melisaunte agreed. "He snapped at you and Merry one day for making too much noise while you were playing. He was immediately sorry for it, but I'd never heard him speak that way before. He was usually such a jolly and even-tempered hobbit. But it was a remarkably hot summer, and heat tends to make some people irritable. At least, that's what I thought at the time. Primmie and he went off to sleep at their cottage soon afterwards. She said it was cooler there."

"What is all this about, Frodo?" demanded Merimac. "First you ask questions about your parents' accident, and now it's some secret illness. It's odd, even for you. What's behind it?"

"I can tell you now, if Merry will allow me to." He glanced at his cousin; Merry was still watching him cautiously, but nodded to release him from his promise. "It all began when I found a strange letter my mother had written on the day she and my father died--strange, because it suggested that she was expecting some sort of disaster to befall them." He didn't have the letter with him, but he had read it over so many times in the last few days that he could recite the key phrases from memory. As he did so, Aunt Hilda let out a mouse-like squeak, and Merimac looked furious, as if he didn't believe a word of it and would storm out of the room if Frodo went on... but he stayed.

"You see now why I didn't mention it before," Frodo concluded. "It disturbed me when I first read it, and Aunt Esme too when I showed it to her. Merry asked me not to distress anyone else with it until I'd learned what Mother meant by it."

"And have you?" Merry asked.

"I think I have. Mother's last journal, and some things that Uncle Dino's told me, have given me enough of the story to see what must have happened. Both she and my father were anxious to keep his illness a secret from you--and from me as well. That's what she must have meant by being so careful to conceal the truth."

"But what about those predictions of disaster?" asked Melisaunte. "Leaving you in Esme's care, as if she knew that she and Drogo weren't going to be here themselves?"

"That sounded ominous to me too, Auntie, at first," said Frodo, "but I understand it now." He looked at the hobbits around him and hesitated a moment before he plunged on with his explanation, "I believe that she and Father were planning to steal away secretly to consult an expert healer. She'd done what she could to ease my father's pain with the common potions every woman in the Shire knows how to brew, but they weren't enough. They had to seek help elsewhere, but they didn't want anyone to know where they were going. They pretended that that night was no different from any other. They said they were merely going out for a moonlight row on the river--they couldn't have taken a boat from the boathouse without it being noticed. But once they left the Hall, they went to their cottage. Uncle Dino saw them. Perhaps they wanted to gather up a few things for their journey. Since they expected to be away for some time, Mother wrote her letter to Aunt Esme, but never finished it for some reason. Then they set out in their boat, and it must have been while they were crossing the river that they had their accident."

The older hobbits had been hanging breathlessly on his words. At this last, they all relaxed and let out sighs of relief. Only Merry looked unconvinced.

"So you do believe it was an accident after all?" asked Esmeralda. "I've been so worried, thinking such odd and awful things."

"I'm sure of it now, Auntie," Frodo assured her. "I can't say precisely what happened. Father may have had a bad spasm of pain while they were in the boat, and tipped it over. I don't suppose we'll ever know. But I have explained that peculiar letter of Mother's to my own satisfaction--and to yours too, I hope. You needn't let it trouble you again."

"Both of you have too much imagination," Merimac told them. "It comes from the Tooks, this dreaming and making up wild stories out of nothing. I'm sorry to learn that Drogo was ill--especially for poor Primmie's sake--but I could've told you first and last that their accident was an accident and saved you a lot of worry and bother."

Melly brought the children in then to shepherd them up to the nursery for their dinner, and Sam, Celie, and Marly soon came down from the nursery for theirs. The residents of Brandy Hall and their guests went into the dining-room and talked of happier subjects.
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