Pushed or Pulled? by Kathryn Ramage

When he left the study, Frodo went out through Brandy Hall's nearest front door and walked around the foot of Buck Hill. He found his aunts Melisaunte and Hilda in the small garden on the southern slope, gathering a basketful of flowers. Esmeralda was not with them.

The two ladies, like Esmeralda, were approaching the end of their middle-years; between them, they were grandmothers to all of the children in the Brandy Hall nursery, excepting Sam's. Melisaunte was the elder by ten years, but her upright bearing and long, dark ringlets gave her an ageless appearance, if not a girlish one. Hilda, on the other hand, grew plumper and more grey every year and, to Frodo's eyes, seemed smaller every time he visited the Hall.

"We were just discussing the picnic, Frodo," Hilda said as he came in through the garden gate. A picnic lunch under the willow trees that bordered the Hall lawn at the river's edge had been proposed by Merry over dinner last night. The Brandybucks both young and old, who loved parties and picnics as much as any other hobbits, had seized eagerly upon the idea and were making plans. "Esmeralda's gone to have a word with the cook about what food can best be served cold and conveniently brought out in baskets."

"And won't cause tummy-aches in the children if they go swimming right afterwards," Melisaunte added.

"Will you go swimming yourselves, Aunties?" Frodo teased them, and received laughing responses.

"Goodness, no!" cried Hilda, who was a Bracegirdle by birth. "You know very well I never learned."

"I haven't swum in years," said Melisaunte, who was from a cadet branch of the Brandybucks and had grown up near the river. "Not since my own children were no bigger than my grandsons are now. I leave that sort of amusement to you young hobbits."

After his stormy interview with Uncle Merry, Frodo took a more cautious tack with his aunts. He didn't mention the letter he'd found, but instead told them about his mother's pearls. Jewelry was naturally of interest to the ladies; they remembered Primula wearing the pearls and wondered what had became of them. Frodo described how he'd traced them, and how this foray into his family history had made him curious about his mother and father. Would they mind if he asked them what they recalled about Primula and Drogo Baggins?

No, they didn't mind at all.

"I recall their wedding very well," said Melisaunte, setting down her secateurs and basket of roses as she made herself comfortable on one of the many benches in the small garden. "Marmadas and I had been married about five years when Primula and Drogo came to live at Brandy Hall. They were married here at the Hall, you know, in that bower over there under the rhododendrons. Yes, we were living here then too. Marmadas was agent to Master Gorbadoc, as Marly is to Merry, and we were invited to move from Bucklebury soon after our marriage. Even though I didn't grow up at the Hall, I'd known your mother from girlhood, Frodo dear. She wasn't very much older than I, although she married much later. Primula was past forty that summer when she went to Hobbiton and returned betrothed to Drogo Baggins."

"And that surprised you?" asked Frodo, remembering what Uncle Merry had said about the news of the betrothal.

"Yes, indeed," said Melisaunte. "By that time, everyone thought that she would never wed. All three daughters of old Master Gorbadoc were proud and picky of their suitors, and they made quite surprising choices in the end. That is, Primula and Asphodel did. Amaranth never married, of course."

"Primula and Drogo were already married, and you were five when I came to live at the Hall as a bride, so I can't tell you anything about them before that," said Hilda. "Amaranth ruled Brandy Hall in those days. All we young wives went in terror of her, even Esme until she became Mistress."

Frodo's Aunt Amaranth had died while he was in his late twenties. She'd spent her entire life at Brandy Hall, and had acted as Mistress of the Hall for her elder brother Rorimac after his wife's death. Between Amaranth and Asphodel there had been two other brothers: Saradas, who'd been father to Hilda's late husband and grandfather to Doderic, Ilberic, and Celie; and Dodimas, Uncle Dinodas's more sociable twin. Uncle Dodi had been a famous pub visitor and keen party-goer. He'd never married; family tradition held that his heart had been broken while he was young, but Merry was convinced that he was "like us, Frodo."

"I hope you'll pardon me saying so," Hilda went on, glancing apologetically from Melisaunte to Frodo, "but you Brandybucks, especially the Hall family, have a way of making newcomers feel, well, quite like outsiders no matter how many years we've lived here. Merimac is a master at it. He barely allows that my children are Brandybucks, even though one of them or their children is almost certainly to be Master after Merry. They're half-Bracegirdle, you see, and take after me, particularly my Celie." Melisaunte patted Hilda's arm and murmured something complementary about her children. "Amaranth was just the same. But not Primula. She was wonderfully welcoming to me when I first came here, as if she knew how it was to be a stranger in a new home--although I don't see how she did know. She never lived anywhere else but here." Hilda looked to Melisaunte for confirmation of this fact.

"Primula was born at Brandy Hall," Melisaunte agreed, "and she was never away from it for more than a few weeks at a time for any part of her life. She went visiting around the Shire--Tuckborough, her sister Asphodel in Frogmorton, Hobbiton. She met Drogo there." Melisaunte turned to Hilda. "I suppose it was her friendship with Esme, who came here only a few years before you did, Hildy, and her bringing Drogo here herself that made her so sympathetic to newcomers. The Brandybucks are a closely-knit family. They have their own ways and ideas about things, and sometimes they find it hard to adjust to having new people in their old homes."

"Did they have difficulty adjusting to my father?" asked Frodo.

"You mustn't think I mean to speak ill of him," Melisaunte responded. "Drogo was a fine hobbit, kindly and good-humored and pleasant to be in company with, but he was as Bagginsey a Baggins as you'd ever see! Not at all the sort the Brandybucks would've expected Primula to choose for a husband. They didn't know quite what to make of him. Also, I believe that Primula's parents had once hoped to match her to one of our Took cousins. She was of a Tookish temperament herself, you know, and artistic, as Brandybucks sometimes are. She wrote poetry."

This piqued Frodo's interest. "Did she?"

"Don't you remember?" asked Hilda. "Why, she wrote a charming little book of nursery-rhymes she used to read to you."

That sparked a memory: He was a child in the nursery, not more than seven or eight, sitting on his bed and laughing delightedly at some ridiculous couplets his mother was reciting. "Yes..." Frodo had had no idea that she'd written that nonsense down. "Whatever happened to it?"

"I imagine it's among the old nursery things that were put away when you children were all grown," said Melisaunte. "Or else Primula tucked it away among her own books."

"It's not among the ones I have. I'll have to look for it," said Frodo. "I'll be going through some of my mother's and father's things later today, and if I find it, I'd like to have it." It would be pleasant, he thought, to read his mother's poems to Sam's children. "What else can you tell me about her and father?"

"I know that they hoped for other children, but had none," said Hilda.

"They despaired of having any at all for a time," Melisaunte added. "It was nearly five years before they anticipated your arrival, Frodo, and that was the first and only time Primula showed any sign of expecting a child, as far as I know."

"It gives me some hope for poor Dodi and Isalda," Hilda said wistfully. "They've been married four years now, and no sign of a baby yet. I think they had hope for awhile last autumn..."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Was it a miscarriage?" Frodo asked delicately.

"We aren't sure. Isalda never said she was having a baby, but there was a week or two last summer when we all thought she looked expectant, didn't we, Melisaunte? Perhaps it was all over before she was far enough along to say for sure, poor thing."

Frodo was about to redirect the course of the conversation and ask what his aunts recalled about the night of his parent's deaths, when Merry came around the slope of the hill to find him. "Frodo, there you are! I've been looking all over for you. Will you pardon us, aunties--I'd like a private word with Frodo, please."
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