Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

"What is it?" Frodo asked once he'd excused himself to his aunts and he and Merry had walked halfway up the slope of Buck Hill to a shady grove that was out of the ladies' earshot. Farther up the hillside, just outside the nursery windows, Sam was standing with Celie, each holding a baby while the older children raced shrieking and laughing around them. They waved when they saw Merry and Frodo; Merry smiled and waved in reply, then took his cousin by the arm and led Frodo into the cover of the trees. Sam looked concerned, but the slope between them was too steep for him to come down and find out what was going on.

"Frodo, what are you up to?" Merry demanded. "I could see that Mother was upset after you left last night, and this morning I come into my study to find Uncle Merry red in the face and in as foul a humor as he's been in months. He says you've been asking him insulting questions about your mother. And what's this about a letter?

"Aunt Esme told you about the letter?"

"Only that you'd found something your mother had written. She didn't tell me what it said. Is that what's upset her so?"

Frodo nodded. "It was an upsetting thing to read, Merry. Mother wrote it to Aunt Esme on the day she and my father died, but she never finished it."

"Well, what did she say?" Merry asked impatiently. "Can I see it?"

"I took it away with me last night. It's at the cottage now. But I can tell you what it said." Frodo described the contents of the letter to his cousin. "You see now why it's so troubling to Aunt Esme and to me as well, don't you? My mother wrote as if she expected some sort of disaster to happen to her and Father."

"You mean, like a vision of their fate?"

Frodo shook his head. "No. Her first sentence was 'Tonight will be the night,' and she asked your mother to look after me. What does that suggest to you? To me, it's as if she's anticipating her own death and my father's." He confided his worst fears, "Merry, I was always told that their drowning was an accident. But what if it wasn't? What if my mother planned it? You've heard the old gossip in Hobbiton. People say that she pushed him into the Brandywine, and he pulled her in after him as he went down."

"But that's nonsense, Frodo. It's the sort of thing hobbits who know nothing about boats or rivers would say," Merry responded. "I'm not surprised that folk in Hobbiton have such silly ideas, but you know better. People drown in the Brandywine all the time--boaters and fishermen who get careless, swimmers who get caught in the currents, fools who try to cross on thin ice during the winter. We pull four or five bodies out of the river every year and, except for Berry, none of them were put there deliberately."

"What if it isn't nonsense?" asked Frodo. "I certainly don't want it to be true, but until I can understand what she meant by those words and find out what she was going to say that would shock Aunt Esme, I'm going to be afraid that that's just what happened. Right now, I can't see any other meaning that makes sense."

Merry's eyes widened. "Do you actually believe that she meant to drown your father? You think your mother a murderer?"

"I have to consider the possibility. After all, I've suspected other close and dear relatives before this for less reason, and I've got to know." He could see that Merry was shocked. "It isn't as if she's someone I feel personally close to. She's a vague memory from my childhood, that's all. Wives do kill their husbands, Merry, and husbands murder their wives. We've both seen that."

"But your own mother..."

"Why should the late Mrs. Baggins be exempt from suspicion simply because she happens to be my mother? I might feel differently if she were here now and alive, and I knew her and loved her as I do your mother."

"But since she isn't here and alive, this is nothing more than another old mystery to you," Merry huffed. "'Consider the possibility'--I've heard that before."

"You've said it before yourself, when we've investigated other murders together," Frodo rejoined.

"You don't know that there's been a murder! Until you do, I don't want Mother or the aunties upset by this. Uncle Merry either, since I have to spend so much of the day shut up in the study with him and listening to him grumble. I can't stop you investigating whatever you like--I understand why you have to do it--but unless something like a confession turns up, promise me you won't say anything more to them. Maybe you don't remember your mother very well, but they do. You won't ask them any more questions, will you, Frodo?"

Frodo understood the nature of this request. It wasn't simply that Merry felt protective of his mother, aunts, and evem his uncle and didn't want them bothered with questions; as Master of the Hall, Merry had a duty to look after the welfare of everyone in Buckland: his subjects, his tenantry, and especially his family here at the Hall. "Very well," he conceded. "May I search for more letters and journals here at the Hall? Aunt Esme said that I might. A confession of some sort might very well turn up, or else something to show that my worst fears are all a mistake."

"I hope they are," said Merry. "Search as you will, until you find what you're looking for."
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