"However did you hear about that so soon?" Frodo wondered.
"It's all the talk here, even more'n Mr. Everard's death--though they're saying it's all of a piece." Sam looked from Frodo to Melly to little Aderic, who was still clinging to Frodo's hand, and his eyes widened in alarm. "You haven't gone and got married already?"
"No, of course not! Ev's funeral was only a few hours ago. Nothing's been decided yet," Frodo told him. "Melly hasn't accepted my offer." He could see that Sam was relieved to hear this at least.
"And might never, until Frodo's talked to you and has your approval, Mr. Gamgee," Melly added.
"That's very kind of you, Mrs. Took," Sam said respectfully, "but it's his say whether or not he wants you for his wife."
"Since part of Frodo's idea is that I should care for your children, it's no good if I come to live at Bag End and only bring discord," Melly answered. Sam looked puzzled.
The innkeeper emerged--not from the public room, but through the door that led to the stables. He didn't seem surprised to see that there were customers waiting for him. "Welcome back, Mr. Baggins," he said with a bow to Frodo. "And you must be Missus Took."
His foreknowledge was explained when Merry and Pippin soon followed from the stables along with two lads bringing Melly's baggage. When the two cousins saw Sam, they greeted him quickly and announced that they were going to have an ale before dinner, "while you talk things over," then disappeared into the common room.
"I'll leave you as well." Melly retrieved her son's hand from Frodo's and went with the innkeeper to make arrangements about a room for her son and herself and to order dinner for six in the private dining room.
While Mr. Greenlee showed Melly and Addy to their room, Frodo and Sam went into the common room to seek a table in an inconspicuous corner, although Frodo already felt quite conspicuous. His presence was immediately noticed and numerous pairs of curious eyes were upon him. There was only one other place to go; taking Sam by the arm, Frodo guided him across the room and out through the door near the bar, which led onto a small, stone-paved terrace on the western side of the inn. A low stone wall surrounded the paved area, and a gate opened onto a path that led around to the front of the inn or down to the crossroads. Fortunately, no one had come out to enjoy their ale at the benches or tables here; it was a fine evening, but growing slightly chilly now that the sun had set. They could talk privately without being overheard.
Frodo hadn't been looking forward to this conversation, but he'd known from the first that it would have to be done. If no one else understood his reasons for proposing to Melly, he had to be sure that Sam did and accepted it. Melly was right; none of them could be happy living at Bag End if Sam resented her presence.
"What's going on?" Sam asked him once Frodo had shut the door to the inn behind them. "That lot in there've been saying that you asked Mrs. Took to marry you before her husband was hardly cold. That looks like it's so, since both you and Mrs. Took admit it is. But some're saying you asked her knowing she murdered her husband, so as to protect her. And some're saying you helped get him out o' the way so you could marry her yourself."
"What rubbish!" Frodo exclaimed. "Melly had no part in her husband's death--that's been proved, though I suppose that news hasn't gotten here yet." Merry and Pippin would surely be telling the local hobbits about it now. He hoped that Melly would never learn that the gossip was as bad as it had been in Tookbank. At least, Mr. Greenlee had received her courteously. "I never thought of proposing to Melly until after Everard was dead."
"Oh, I know that's all bunk." Sam waved his hand to dismiss the more outrageous rumors. "But why'd you go and ask her then? What's this about her looking after my little uns?"
"Well, that was part of my reason. You knew I intended to invite her to come to Bag End this summer. I thought that if she and Addy found they were happy with us, I'd ask her to stay. We've discussed this more than once."
"You never said anything about marriage!" Sam sputtered.
"She wasn't available to be married, not when Everard was still alive. Now, I can make a more formal offer to her."
Sam was still upset, but he was trying not to shout. Raised voices might be heard by those within the inn. "What're you thinking of, Frodo?" he asked in a lowered voice. "We only just- well- There's naught to stand between us now, even if I never wanted to be free of poor Rosie this way. So why d'you want to go and marry Mrs. Took? You don't want to be rid of me?"
"No, of course not! You know that isn't so. I want her to join our household. I made it all very clear to her, Sam."
This didn't make Sam any more pleased. "We're not going to be sharing, are we?" he asked. "I won't go through that all over again."
Frodo sat down on one of the benches at the far end of the terrace. "I didn't object to you marrying Rosie," he repeated the argument he'd made to Merry. "You remember--I encouraged it. I wanted you to be happy and saw that you couldn't be without her. I knew how you loved her."
Only a little light shone through the round windows on either side of the inn door, but Sam leaned closer to Frodo until their noses almost touched and searched his eyes intently. "D'you love her like that, Frodo?" he asked in a whisper, as if he dreaded the answer. "I've seen for a long time that you liked her, as much as you ever liked any girl."
"No," Frodo answered honestly after giving the question serious consideration. "I don't love her, not in that same way. I care very much for her. There isn't a woman more dear to me, except for perhaps Aunt Esme and Aunt Dora--but my feelings for her aren't quite the same as what I feel for them either! Nor is it what I feel for you, dear Sam." He took Sam's hand and raised it to hold the palm against his cheek. "All the same, there's never been another girl I ever thought about marrying, and I suppose neither Melly or I have ever forgotten that. I've told you how we grew up together at Brandy Hall, how close that makes us. If I do love Melly, it's because she's like a sister."
"I don't know as I'd want to marry a girl who was like one o' my sisters," said Sam.
Frodo had to smile. "I suppose I might feel differently myself if I were like other hobbits and sought an ordinary marriage." He briefly squeezed the hand he was still holding. "I want you to be certain that you understand that, Sam--if Melly does accept, we won't be the usual sort of husband and wife. I told her that I'd only try it if she wanted another child. I don't think she'll take up that particular offer in any case. She thought it was funny."
"I can't say as I blame her. It's a funny thing to tell somebody when you're asking to marry 'em." But this information obviously came as a great relief to Sam. "Then there won't be any sharing?" he asked.
"And she's still thinking of marrying you, after that?"
"She's considering my offer, just I've explained it to you. I hope you don't mind too much, Sam. I only decided upon it this morning, when I saw how alone and hopeless she felt. There was no time to consult you."
"I don't see how I can mind much," Sam conceded, "not if it's as you say."
"It'll be just as I've said. You do like Melly," Frodo went on, encouraged by Sam's signs of acquiescence. "And she likes your children. And her son likes me. I don't see any reason why we all can't get on very well together-"
He stopped abruptly when someone rapped on the other side of the door. Sam whirled and Frodo jumped to his feet, both expecting an unwanted intrusion, but it was only Pippin, telling them that dinner was ready whenever they were.
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