The Umbrella Thief by Kathryn Ramage

"It seems we have a larger mystery on our hands than the loss of Lobelia's umbrella," Frodo announced over dinner that evening.

Normally, Sam would have sent Frodo straight to bed after his hot bath and brought dinner to him on a tray, but since today was his birthday, Frodo had dressed again in his best and joined his friends. He hadn't wanted a large party, with lots of friends and neighbors in attendance, so Sam and Rosie had planned a small and quiet celebration instead. The rarely-used dining room had been opened and the big table set with the best silver and plate. Frodo had laid his gift to each beside their plates when he'd come in.

While the rain continued to pour down outside, it could be forgotten in this cozy and comfortable room with its hearty fire and good food. But Frodo could not forget what he'd discovered today because of the rain, and Pippin's information only piqued his interest further. This was more than a search for a mislaid item; something peculiar was going on.

"At least three umbrellas-"

"Four, Frodo," Pippin reminded his cousin. "Great-Aunt Pru's has gone missing too."

"Four umbrellas, then. All disappeared in the last week--and who knows how many more have done the same, or will?"

"But who'd want to take 'em?" Sam wondered. "And why? Nobody's got a need for more'n one."

"There's our puzzle," said Frodo. "If we're to find Lobelia's and the others' missing umbrellas, we must find the answers to those questions."

"I'm certain Sancho knows more than he's telling," said Pippin. "I saw the look on his face when his grandmother said she couldn't find hers."

"It might be worthwhile to have another talk with him. I'll go with you next time, Pip, and we'll put the question to the boy directly."

"And what if we can't get Sancho to talk?" asked Pippin. "Where else do we try?"

"I've already asked Peony to find out if there are more umbrellas missing," answered Frodo. "We might do the same. Let's make a list of how many have gone--that might give me an idea of where to start looking for them."

After dinner, while Sam and Rosie cleared the table and washed up, Frodo settled in the parlor with Pippin. He wasn't to sit up too late, Sam insisted, only long enough to have a pipe and a glass of wine. While they smoked, Frodo and Pippin talked about Tuckborough, and how things had gone after he'd been there three weeks ago to meet the girl Pippin's parents had chosen for him to marry, and another girl whom no one had expected.

"You haven't been in any trouble over Di's visit, have you?" Frodo asked.

"Not at all!" his cousin replied cheerfully. "Cousin Di's visit turned out to be the best thing that could've happened. After all the Dis had gone, I told Mother I'd made my choice. If I had to marry, I was going to marry a girl I liked and could have fun with. It'd be Diantha Took, or nobody. Father took my part. He didn't mind Di nearly so much as Mother did, and he's so happy to hear I like any girl, he's not going to argue about which one I've picked out."

"But Di told me she wouldn't marry anybody," said Frodo.

Pippin grinned. "I know that, but they don't. Mother and Father would never believe a girl could refuse the next Thain, even if it's me. As long as I hold out, they won't push anybody else at me, and they'll wait indefinitely... or until Merry comes home. Isn't it wonderful?"

While he'd been speaking, Rosie had brought in a tray, bearing a decanter of the best wine and four glasses, and set it down on the table near Frodo; she looked slightly scandalized at Pippin's scheme. "Don't you ever mean to marry, Mr. Pippin?"

"I'm waiting for the perfect girl to come along. I won't do it 'til I find someone like you, Rose," Pippin replied with playful gallantry.

"That's kind of you to say," Rosie responded with a blush, "but I think you'll go looking a long whiles."

"From what Frodo's said, this Miss Diantha Took sounds like just the one for you, Mr. Pippin," Sam said as he joined them. "What if she changes her mind and says she'll have you?"

"Well, if she feels pushed to make a match, and doesn't mind a marriage between friends, why not? At least, she's someone I can live with. She knows all about Merry and me and doesn't mind, so she won't bother me, and I won't trouble her. I win either way! But I want Merry to meet her first. I wouldn't marry anybody without his approval."

Frodo poured out the wine. "What shall we toast?" he asked as he handed the glasses around. "To absent friends? To the success of our latest case?"

"To your health," said Sam. "That's the usual for such occasions."

"Very well then." Frodo raised his glass, and the others followed suit. "To my health, such as it is."

"And many birthdays more!" Sam added with a stubborn determination that refused to consider any other possibility. "Now you drink that down, Frodo, and it's off to bed with you."

Frodo finished his wine, and set the empty glass down on the tray. After thanking the others for a wonderful birthday dinner, he excused himself and left the parlor. Rosie went out after him.

"I wanted to say thank you for your gift," she said once they were in the hall that led to the bedrooms. Frodo had given her a lace-work shawl; Rosie was wearing it now around her shoulders. "'Tis lovely. Wherever did you get it?"

"It belonged to my mother," Frodo told her. "My Aunt Esme kept it for me, with the rest of my parents' things, and I asked her to send it to me for you. I thought you might like to have it."

"Oh, yes! I never saw such a pretty thing. I'll pass it on to my daughter..." She laid one hand on her belly, which was beginning to show a noticeable bulge. "Sam says he wants a boy, to name after you, but I can feel already it won't be this one." Rosie cast her eyes down shyly and fingered the fringed border of the shawl as she went on, "There's sommat more I wanted to say to you. When I first came here in the spring, I didn't think this sharing of yours would work so well as it has. I've never been happier'n I've been these last months, and that's your doing as much as Sam's." After a moment's hesitation, she added in a softer voice, "I know it's your birthday, Mr. Frodo, but I've got a present to give you all the same."

Frodo was surprised and curious. "Have you, Rosie? What is it?"

"It's this," she said, and met his eyes. "As you gave Sam to me, I can give 'm back to you. I've had a word with him--I said I don't want to see 'm again 'til breakfast-time. He's to spend this whole night with you, and not come to me."

"Oh, Rose..." The gesture touched him deeply. Since Rosie had become pregnant, Sam worried so for her that he returned to sleep in Rosie's room even on the nights he was meant to spend with Frodo. Frodo had never spoken to Rosie about this, and yet he saw now that she understood his feelings. "How very sweet of you. Are you certain you'll be all right?"

This question made Rosie smile. "You'll be fussing as much as Sam! Yes, I'll be fine. I don't know as Sam'll do it every night that's yours, 'specially when it gets close to my time, but there's no cause for him to worry as he does so early on." She gave Frodo a quick kiss on his cheek before she went down the hallway to her own bedroom. "G'night to you, Mr. Frodo."

"Good night, Rose."

The rain was still coming down hard when Frodo went to his room; he could hear it spattering with the blasts of wind on the shuttered window and hissing down the chimney while he undressed, but Sam had built up the fire to a blaze and put a firescreen on the hearth to keep out the draughts. Sam had also put a warming plate between the sheets, as Frodo discovered when he got into bed. He nudged it gingerly with his toes down to the very bottom of the bed, and put his feet on the hot spot. He wondered if Sam had done this before Rosie had had her word with him--he hoped to have something a little nicer to keep him warm tonight.

Sam came in a short time later.

"Everything's shut up for the night and safely tucked away?" Frodo asked, sitting up in bed and beaming at his friend.

"The house is all shut against the rain," reported Sam. "I left Mr. Pippin in the parlor. He would've liked to go out to the Green Dragon for a drop of ale afore closing, only I wouldn't let him have our umbrella. So he's staying in to finish off that wine instead."

Frodo laughed. "It's been a splendid birthday all around, but it's not over quite yet..." He held out his arms to Sam to invite him into bed.

Before he came over, Sam turned to close the door; with one hand on the central knob, he glanced back out into the dark corridor beyond and an expression of concern crossed his face. "I hope Rosie'll be all right by herself."

"She says she will, and you aren't to worry. Pippin's right, Sam. Rosie is a marvel. Now, come here."

Sam set aside his worries, and went to Frodo's arms. He had a gift of his own to offer, in love and the warmth of his presence in the night. Frodo couldn't have asked for his birthday to have a better ending.
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