Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

Frodo had brought Sam and the Gamgee children to Buckland for a long-promised summer holiday. They'd been planning it since the spring, but Frodo had delayed the trip until after his Aunt Dora's one-hundred-and-first birthday party in June, and the wedding of his friend Thimula Bracegirdle. He'd paid off the servants for two months, shut up Bag End, and left the keys in care of Sam's sister Marigold so that someone could come in to sweep and dust occasionally. Frodo didn't expect to return home again until his own birthday in September. He and Sam had hired a carriage and filled it with baggage and small children, then traveled slowly until they reached Brandy Hall.

Pippin had offered them the cottage at Crickhollow while he was staying with his family in Tuckborough, but Frodo instead chose another cottage on the Hall grounds, the one that his cousin Celie had occupied with her first husband. This cottage was much closer to the Hall than Crickhollow, and one of the bedrooms was already furnished as a nursery; they had only to move another small bed in. Although Frodo called on his family at Brandy Hall every day, and Merry gave them a standing invitation to come to luncheon, tea, or dinner whenever they felt like it, they had a house to themselves. The surroundings were quiet, for only one of the other nearby cottages was occupied. Frodo's uncle Dinodas had the cottage next door. His cousins Doderic and Isalda, who lived in the cottage named Ivysmial farther up the lane, had gone with Pippin to Tuckborough to visit Isalda's father.

They had now been in Buckland for nearly a week. Sam's children were having a marvelous time, and were delighted to find a whole new group of "cousins" to play with. In addition to Melly's little boy, Aderic, there were Celie's two sons and the baby girl she'd given birth to at midwinter, and the head nursery-maid Milli's own son Jem. With so many children in the Brandy Hall nursery, Milli was now in charge of a trio of maidservants and Sam need never worry about leaving his own four small children unattended. There was always someone to look after them, and some of the Brandybucks were quite amenable to being addressed as Auntie or Uncle by the little Gamgees.

Frodo's chief reason for this holiday was his hope that getting away from the places that reminded Sam of Rosie would help his friend to recover from his grief at her death. But he also had a personal errand of his own to perform while they were here, as he'd mentioned to Melly that afternoon. Now that he, Sam, and the children had settled in comfortably, Frodo thought it was time to pursue this errand.

That evening after a dinner that included the trout Sam and Merry had brought back from their fishing expedition, he sought out Merry's mother, Lady Esmeralda. Esmeralda was just past seventy, but she still had long strawberry-blonde curls and a girlish air about her. Like her son, she also had something of the Tookish mischievous spirit, which Frodo thought had blossomed again since her widowhood.

"Aunt Esme," he asked, "do you know what happened to the pearls that belonged to my mother?"

Esmeralda looked surprised at the question. "Why, fancy you remembering them, Frodo!"

"I don't, not in the least," Frodo answered. "I don't think I've ever set eyes on them, but I've heard about them recently, and wondered what had become of them. It seemed odd to me that such a valuable family heirloom could disappear. I hoped that they might belong to me. If they do, I'd like to find them and take them with me."

Earlier that summer, during his investigation of the theft of some pearls belonging to his Aunt Prisca Baggins, he'd learned the history of that necklace and discovered that there were two others like it. The Old Took, Frodo's great-grandfather, had given pearl necklaces to each of his three daughters: Belladonna's was now in the possession of Pippin's eldest sister; Donnamira's had gone to her son, who had given it to Prisca Baggins as a betrothal gift; Mirabella, Frodo's grandmother, had left hers to one of her daughters. Frodo's preliminary inquiries led him to believe that this necklace had come to his mother.

"I asked Aunt Del when we stopped in Budgeford last week," he told Esmeralda. "I thought she might've been given them by her mother, but she told me that her elder sister received them from Grandmamma Mirabella, and Aunt Amaranth gave them to Mother."

"Yes, that right," Esmeralda confirmed. "Amaranth gave them to Primmie on her sixtieth birthday--Amaranth's birthday, not Primula's. Primula was carrying you at the time, so she must have been eight-and-forty. Have you never heard the tale, Frodo? Of course you remember your Aunt Amaranth, but she was an old lady by the time you knew her--as old as I am now! They used to say that she was the prettiest of Master Rorimac's daughters, and took the most after Grandmother Mirabella, who was a remarkable beauty, but Asphodel and Primula were striking girls too. They had all sorts of offers from lads all over the Shire. Del married Rufus Burrows, as you know, and your mother wed Drogo Baggins, but Amaranth refused every proposal of marriage that came her way. Too proud, some said, and others that she'd never been asked by the one she truly wanted. Well, whatever the reason, at sixty she was still unwed. At her birthday that year, she announced that she would never have a daughter of her own, but that she wanted her treasures kept in the family. She would give her most treasured possession to Primmie to give to the child she was about to have if it was a girl--or, if it was a boy, to set them aside for him to give to his bride on his wedding day."

"That's not likely," Frodo laughed. He'd heard much the same story from Aunt Asphodel, although not with so much detail. Aunt Del confirmed that she'd never had the pearls, but her own pride and reluctance to speak a word against her spendthrift late husband had led her to gloss over the reasons why the eldest sister had chosen the youngest as a safer prospect for keeping the pearls in the family instead of the next in age. Amaranth must have been afraid that if she gave anything of great value to Asphodel, it would be sold to pay off her husband's debts. Aunt Del and Uncle Rufus had had to sell so many things, even their home in Frogmorton.

"Well, you were a boy, Frodo dear, and Primmie never had a daughter," Esmeralda concluded. "Your mother wore the pearls herself for awhile, then set them aside for you. She left you all that sort of thing in her will. But why on earth do you want them? You say you've no plans to marry and give them to a bride--and I would be more astonished to learn that you did, my love. But you couldn't possibly wear them yourself."

Frodo laughed again. "I don't want them for myself. I'd like to give them to my Aunt Dora at my birthday. She wants a string of pearls very badly, and I thought it would make her happy if I could give her these."

"How very sweet of you!"

Frodo had thought the matter over carefully. He planned to lend the pearls to Dora for her lifetime on the condition that she leave them to his niece, Myrtle Burrows. That seemed appropriate; Myrtle was Asphodel's granddaughter, so the pearls would remain in the family just as his late aunt Amaranth had wanted. If Myrtle lent them to her mother until she was old enough to wear them herself, then that would make Peony happy too. "Where are they now?" he asked. "Aunt Del thought that you might know where they've gone."

Esmeralda thought about this for a moment. "They're locked up safely here at the Hall. After she died, I put Primula's jewelry box and other things away for you... somewhere. My goodness, it's nearly been thirty years! I hope we'll be able to find them!"

In spite of her declared uncertainty about what she'd done with the things his mother had left him, Esmeralda found the jewelry box within the hour locked in a drawer of a small cabinet in one of her many dressing rooms, one she used now for storage. She then left Frodo alone to go through his mother's belongings. The key to the jewelry box was in the lock, and the string of pearls was in the first velvet bag he opened. Even in the light of a single candle left on top of the chest-of-drawers behind him, the iridescent beads gleamed rosy pink and felt warm as they lay in his hand, almost as if they were living things.

Frodo decided to leave the necklace where it was for the time being. It had been safe here for thirty years and would be safe here for a few weeks more. He would take the whole box with him when he returned to Hobbiton. In other compartments of the box in other little velvet bags were several more very pretty pieces of jewelry. He knew little about the value of gemstones, but some of these pieces looked quite expensive: diamonds, emeralds, a ruby ring. He would have to decide what to do with these later.

As he lifted a shimmering necklace up to examine it, it caught the edge of the box's velvet lining and pulled it slightly away to reveal a folded piece of paper tucked beneath. Frodo immediately lost interest in the jewelry; this was more intriguing. He extracted the paper and unfolded it. It appeared to be an unfinished letter. The ink had faded to a rusty brown, and he had to rise and hold it immediately under the light of the candle to read it:

August 17, 1397 SR

Dearest Esme-

Tonight will be the night. It's been decided and there's no turning back now. You'll only find this after the fact.

I entrust Frodo to your care, for I know you love him almost as if he were your own child and will treat him no differently from your son. You must explain it all to him once he is old enough to understand. But how, my love, can I explain it to you?

What I have to tell you will shock you. Have you never suspected? I've been so careful to conceal the truth, especially from the boy, but I've often wondered if you didn't-

The letter broke off there. Although he'd seen few samples of it before, Frodo felt sure that this was his mother's handwriting. It definitely wasn't his father's, and who else would consign him to Esmeralda's care? Who else would tuck this note away in his mother's jewelry box?

A more important question followed: Why was his mother writing to ask Esmeralda to look after him? This letter was a most extraordinary document, especially with respect to the date at the top. Primula Baggins had written it on the day that both she and Drogo had drowned.
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