Sam had put on his nightshirt and was lying in bed, but he wasn't asleep. While Frodo prepared to undress at the foot of the bed, he told his friend about his conversation with Mr. Brundle.
"We could question Mrs. Brundle about it, but it mayn't be worth the trouble. She'll only tell the same tale as her husband, whether or not it's true. But perhaps someone else who was in the Bullroarer's Head that evening can tell when Rudmer came in or went out? There's another task for you, Sam, after you've been to see Rudmer Thursk. And why not ask him about his comings and goings at the inn while you're talking to him?" Frodo had removed his coat and waistcoat and, as he carried them to the wardrobe to hang them up, noticed that the coat's black velvet collar was looking somewhat threadbare. "I'll need to see Mr. Threadnibble about making a new black coat for me when we get home."
"You ought've kept that one for best," Sam said drowsily, "and not go riding about in it."
"I don't normally use it for riding," said Frodo, "but I left Tuckborough this afternoon directly after Everard's funeral and there was no opportunity to change. I do try to keep this one for best, but it's the one I always wear for funerals. I've worn it to every one I've attended since Berilac's." There'd been many funerals since then; it was part of his work to attend them. He hung up the coat and shut the wardrobe door.
Sam had lit a small fire to ward off the chill of the room before getting into bed so that Frodo could comfortably dispense with his own nightshirt; once he'd stripped off his shirt, trousers, and small-clothes, and piled them on the same chair near the hearth where Sam had placed his, he climbed into bed. It was warm beneath the blankets. Frodo snuggled closer to the source of that warmth and wrapped both arms around Sam from behind. Following the unexpected news of his plans to marry, he felt he must make it up to Sam and reassure him that it wouldn't change anything between them. Sam responded to this embrace by twisting around until he managed to slip one hand beneath Frodo's torso, around to the small of his bare back, then drew Frodo down, breastbone against his shoulder.
"What'd your betrothed say if she saw you doing this?" he asked after a kiss.
The question might've troubled Frodo if he'd detected a note of jealousy behind it. But there was a hint of smile on the corner of Sam's lips; he was teasing.
"She isn't my betrothed--not yet, and may never be," Frodo answered. "She hasn't given me her answer. And I did tell you, she knows how it is between you and me. It was only right I tell her all about myself before she made her choice. I've gone too far with you to keep secrets from anyone any longer." He gave Sam another kiss, then nuzzled the curve of his jaw. "I must say how pleased I am that you're taking this so well, dear Sam. I know that my proposal to Melly came as quite a surprise and you've a right to be upset about it."
"It might've happened before," Sam replied philosophically. "Don't I know that you could've married anybody you liked since you came of age?"
"Surely not 'anybody,'" Frodo scoffed at the idea that he was such a magnificent catch. "What girl would've wanted to marry me?"
"You might've married Angelica, like Miss Dora wanted you to."
"No chance of that!" Frodo exclaimed, laughing. He was still lying half on Sam's chest, braced on one forearm. "We hated the sight of each other all the time Aunt Dora was trying her hardest to push us together. She wouldn't have had me if I'd begged her."
"If you'd begged and meant it, she'd've taken you," Sam said, to Frodo's astonishment. "I think if you'd once looked at 'Gelica like a pretty girl expects boys to look at her, she wouldn't've minded Miss Dora's pushing so much."
This was something Frodo had never considered. In those days, he'd only thought of his cousin Angelica as a vain, spoiled, selfish girl; even if he'd been disposed to notice pretty girls, she wasn't a girl he would've chosen to pay attention to. Though they'd become better friends since then, he still couldn't imagine being married to her. "No, not Angelica," he declared. "Who else?"
"There's Thimula. Old Mrs. Sackville-Baggins put it in her will that she was to marry you."
"Aunt Lobelia's will wasn't valid on that point," Frodo replied. "She couldn't leave me a house I already owned on the condition that I marry a woman I barely knew. And Thimula barely knew me. I doubt she would've taken me just to have a home at Bag End. Aunt Lobelia left her quite enough property without it and, besides, she had her eye on Rubar Chinhold, poor thing."
Sam went on to the next prospective bride. "Blanca Budling."
"Look at that red-headed, freckly Uphill-Took lad she did marry! Why wouldn't she pick you over the likes of him if you gave her a chance to? If you ask me, she wouldn't've minded if you did try to kiss her that once, like Miss Dedona thought you were going to when you took her off to ask her questions. You might've married the richest girl in the whole Shire and had all the tea you'd ever want."
This made Frodo laugh again. "That would be a great inducement to marry, Sam."
"And what about that other Uphill-Took cousin of yours--Miss Randa?"
"Randa did make me an offer," Frodo admitted. "But she would've wanted me to live at Uphill Hall with her and help to manage her family's property. It would've been just the same if I'd married a great tea heiress like Blanca. Even if I could be a proper husband in other respects, I could never have been the sort of helpmeet that such women really need. I hope Randa does find the right lad to stand by her one day, like Blanca did."
"Then there's Mrs. Took, back when she was still Miss Melilot and you asked her the first time," Sam said. "She might've accepted you then. She almost did."
"Yes," Frodo agreed reluctantly. "I might've married Melly years ago. It would've spared her a great deal of trouble, but we mightn't have had such a nice little boy for a son."
"So you had plenty of chances to wed if you wanted to," Sam concluded.
"And you've kept count of every one of them!"
"You don't notice women in that way, Frodo, so you think they don't notice you," Sam told him. "But I can tell you they do. Lots of 'em do."
Frodo acknowledged that there was some truth to this; he was never aware of women's interest in him unless they practically flung themselves at him, to his utter confusion and embarrassment. "What if they do?" he asked lightly in reply. "Even if I did notice them, my dearest Sam, it wouldn't have made any difference between us." He pecked the tip of Sam's nose affectionately. "Melly won't now. There'll simply be a lady and another little boy living at Bag End with us."
"There'll be some changes," Sam responded seriously. "It won't be like it was with Rosie. If you marry Mrs. Took and adopt her little boy, they'll have rights."
"I have thought of that, Sam." Frodo sat upright, tucking the blanket around his hips. "If we marry, of course I'll make proper provision for Melly and little Addy. You won't mind sharing in that respect, will you?" He knew that Sam was never comfortable discussing his will nor the fact that, even though his health had improved greatly since Queen Arwen had given him her talisman, he didn't expect to remain on Middle Earth long enough to grow old; nevertheless, the thought was obviously on Sam's mind and had to be discussed. "I've left Bag End to you and your children. If I have a wife and step-son, they'll naturally have a claim to it as well. I don't imagine that Melly will throw you out of the house after I'm gone, and I hope you won't behave that badly to her either."
Sam made a snorting sound as he tried not to laugh.
"Then you agree that it won't come to anything so ridiculous?" Frodo said, smiling. "I'm certain that whatever arrangements I make, they'll be fair to everybody and won't cause a quarrel. And the matter may resolve itself in the end."
"How d'you mean?"
"Addy might fall in love with one of the girls once they're grown. I'll follow Auntie's example and leave Bag End to him and Nel--or to him and little Rosie--on the condition they marry. Perhaps my matchmaking will come to a better end than hers."
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