When they left Tookbank the next morning, Sam rode on ahead to Green Hill with their baggage while Frodo stopped one last time at the Thain's Hall to make his farewells. The Tooks were more cordial this morning, since his investigation had been successful, and he was now leaving. If Reg was still somewhat cool, Pearl offered her sincere thanks, and Adelard grasped his hand with real warmth. Ferdi hugged Frodo and asked him to convey "my best wishes" to Melly, and Peri kissed his cheek and said she hoped they'd be happy.
Pippin also asked Frodo to deliver a message. "Tell Merry I'll be joining him in Buckland next week. I'd come sooner, but I thought I ought to stop at home for at least a few days so that Mother doesn't think I'm abandoning my own family to go running off after him."
"She isn't still blaming us, is she?" Frodo asked him.
"Well, she's feeling better now that we know how Ev died. I don't think she'll really change her opinion about anything she said, but at least she won't go around saying it anymore. Ada and Filo have offered to take her back to High Banks with them to stay at her old family home for the summer. She hasn't been back for a visit in years, but it'll do her some good to be among Bankish-minded folks for awhile and away from us Tooks--don't you think so? I'll come away after they go. Don't worry--I won't miss your wedding!"
Once he left Tuckborough, Frodo rode on swiftly toward Green Hill. Approaching the Inn from the westward road, he could see two people sitting on the bench on the terrace above the crossroads. As he drew nearer, he perceived that they were Melly and Sam. They appeared to be engaged in a serious conversion; their heads were close together and, while Frodo was still too far away to be certain, he thought that Melly had placed her hand over Sam's.
The sound of pony's hooves on the road drew their attention. They both looked up. Melly remained seated while Sam stood and waved his hand. He remained where he was until Frodo reached the inn's dooryard, then came around from the terrace so that he could hold the pony's bridle while Frodo dismounted. Melly came as far as the low wall that divided the paved terrace from the curve of road approaching the inn's door.
"We've been talking about you," she informed Frodo. "I think we've come to an understanding."
Frodo looked from Melly to Sam, who nodded. His eyes did not leave Frodo's as he said, "I'll take your pony 'round to the stables so Mrs. Took-"
"Melly, please," she interjected.
"Melly," Sam corrected himself, "can have a word with you."
"Thank you, Sam," Melly said.
This use of first names was an encouraging sign. "You've decided then?" Frodo asked her as Sam led the pony toward the stable yard on the other side of the inn. He went through the little gate that led onto the terrace.
Melly nodded. "Mr. Gamgee--Sam--and I have had a long talk. I wanted to be certain he agreed with any plans you've made before I agreed too. You know, Frodo, I did have a great deal to consider. Marriage is no light undertaking, even between friends. It's the most binding promise a hobbit can make. I do feel rather cold and uninterested in romance right now, but I'm still young. I'm not yet forty. It's possible that I might fall in love again. What if I were to accept your proposal, on your terms, then found I wanted to marry someone else a few years later?"
"If you find you do, I won't stand in your way," Frodo assured her. "You know about the state of my health. You won't have to wait very long to be free of me and marry again."
"That's what you said the last time," Melly reminded him, "but you're still here, my dear, and in reasonably good health as far as I can tell. You don't look nearly as fragile as you did when you first came home from your travels."
"I didn't have much hope of living 'til forty then," Frodo admitted. "I still don't know if I'll see fifty, but I just might live that long."
"Oh, I've no doubt you'll live as long as that. You've outlived Evvy and Sam Gamgee's poor wife. You'll outlive us all." They had returned to the bench. Melly sat down and gazed up at him solemnly before she announced, "I'm going to tell you a secret, Frodo--something I once vowed I'd never, ever tell you. After things began to go wrong between me and Evvy, I regretted that I didn't accept your offer instead. Do you remember that night in the garden, when I kissed you? Merry tells me that you're a good kisser. I trust his judgment in such matters--he's surely kissed more boys than I have. I wouldn't know what sort of kisser you are, for myself. Whenever I've tried to kiss you, you- well, you don't quite pull back from me, but I feel no response from you either. There's nothing in it."
"I'm sorry," Frodo murmured. "I'll try to do better, if that's what you want." He sat down on the bench close beside her, as if he meant to attempt it now, but Melly put one hand on his chest to stop him.
"No." She shook her head briskly, refusing this offer. "Sometimes, I used to think that if you'd kissed me properly that night in the garden, as if you'd really meant it, then everything would've been very different. I see now that that's it precisely--if you were able to kiss me as if you mean it, then you would be different. If you were to kiss me now, I know you'd try your best but, Frodo, it shouldn't have to be so much effort. It ought to be the most natural thing in the world. It isn't an effort when you kiss Merry or Sam Gamgee, is it?"
"I made one bad mistake, and I don't want to repeat it. My husband shouldn't have to feel that he's trying very hard to do something that should be simple, if he loves me. I don't know if I'll ever marry a second time, but if I do, I'd like to marry a hobbit who loves me best of all, not someone else. That isn't unreasonable."
"No, it isn't," Frodo agreed. He was disappointed, but he couldn't blame her for making the choice she had. How could he deny her the opportunity to find fulfillment in love, when he knew very well that it was the one thing he wasn't able to give her? "All the same, I'm sorry you won't come to Bag End."
Melly smiled. "Ah, but I don't intend to refuse that! I can't marry you, Frodo, but I do hope to come to Bag End if you'll have me. Sam Gamgee and I have talked it over. I've been thinking about the Gamgee children, poor motherless little things. If I've been tempted to accept your proposal in spite of my misgivings, it's for their sake and for Addy's. He ought to have someone stand in place of his father. And so, Addy and I will come for a visit and if we find ourselves happy there, and Sam and his family are amenable and you haven't changed your mind about having us underfoot, we'll stay on."
"Melly, are you certain that's what you want to do?" he asked, surprised at this part of her decision, but understanding now why she and Sam had become so friendly. "There might be some gossip if you come to live with us and nobody's married."
"We've all withstood enough scandal not to mind a little more," Melly rejoined. "Besides, it's not as if I'm an unmarried girl with a reputation to be ruined. And it's not remarkable for a widowed sister to look after her brother's household. We're a little younger than most who do it, but I think it's a more realistic arrangement for us than to try and play at being husband and wife. Will you accept my offer, dear Frodo, on those terms?"
"Yes--yes, of course."
"Then I'll come and be an aunt to the little Gamgees, if you will be an uncle to my Addy," she declared, and held out her hand to seal the bargain. Frodo took it. "I'm going back to Buckland today with Merry to settle things at home, but you can expect us at Bag End before the month is out."
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