Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

Once they returned to the Thain's Hall, Frodo found Paladin in his study, and repeated the story Tibbard and Tansy had told him.

"Is it true, Uncle?" he asked. "Did this horrible thing actually happen between the Clovers and the Tooks years ago?"

"Oh, it's true, to the family's everlasting shame," Paladin did not look at Frodo as he answered. "And it wasn't so long ago."

"Then you do know about it?"

"I know about it. How could I ever forget? It's the reason why neither Adelard nor I wanted to interfere with Evvy's friendship with Toby, as much as it troubled us."

"Uncle Adelard? Evvy's father-?" Frodo began to understand.

Paladin nodded. "And Toby's father, Togold Clover. You've guessed that already, haven't you, Frodo?"

"I wondered. I knew that Mr. Clover left Tookbank when he was young, and was away for many years." But Frodo had asked Sam to make inquiries about any gossip or scandals involving the Clover family, no matter how old the stories might be. "Will you tell me, Uncle, what truly happened? The Clovers know only a part of the story. I'd like to hear it all."

"I was only a young lad myself at the time," Paladin began. "I'd been betrothed to Eglantine Banks, a girl from a highly respectable family, and it was arranged that Adelard should marry her sister, Evaline. But Adelard wouldn't agree to it. He was too attached to Togold to think of giving him up."

"'All the lads play, but some take it more seriously than others,'" Frodo repeated what Ferdi had told him yesterday.

"Yes, exactly," said Paladin. "And so my father and Adelard's father and Uncle Archambalt arranged it. Togold was... driven away. He fled Tookbank and only returned after his father had died. He'd married some Northfarthing girl and had children of his own by then. I know very well how he hates the Tooks. I can't blame him--he has good reason to, after what was done to him. And I can't stop him from talking about us as he does, or poisoning his children's minds to hate us in the same way. To try would only prove that he's absolutely right in what he says. All I can do is prove him wrong by seeing that such things are not permitted to happen while I am Thain. If a Took has committed this crime, he mustn't be allowed to get away with it."

Thain Adalgrim and Adelard's father Flambard had both died years ago. "Is it Great-Uncle Archambalt?" Frodo asked. "Is that what you were afraid of when you asked me to investigate--that he's done the same again... or that someone else in the family has? And this time it's gone too far."

"It went too far the last time, if you ask me. But, yes, I was afraid it was so. If it became widely known, it would be a disaster for the family. The common folk here look up to the Tooks. They give us the authority to be lords over them because they believe we know what's right. Above all, a Thain must be seen to be just to his people. To learn that the Tooks--including the last Thain, my father!--hired a gang of ruffians to beat a Tookbank boy would destroy their trust in us. And if it's happened again, now that I am Thain..." He shook his head in dismay. "I hoped that if you learned the truth of the matter before the sherriffs did, I might be able to tend to it privately. It does look as if my worst fears are true: it's been done again, and I can't think who else could be responsible."

"Adelard?" Frodo guessed.

"No!" Paladin rejected the idea. "Not Adelard. He's been my best friend since we were boys, almost a brother. I can see how this tragedy has brought that other incident back to him afresh. He feels it almost as if Toby were his father all over again. He would never hurt his own son in the same way as he'd been hurt." He paused, then added, "Any more than I would hurt Pip. Do you realize, Frodo, that I haven't seen my son but once in the past two years? And even now that he's home again, he does all he can to avoid me."

It occurred to Frodo that he had spent more time during this visit in Thain Paladin's company than Pippin had. "If he's avoiding you, it's because he's afraid," he told Paladin. "He thinks you must be furious with him, because of... well, Merry."

"I'm not angry with him! Oh, I was, at first," Paladin admitted. "It was a scandal when the boys had themselves talked about, but I see that trying to force them apart before they're ready won't do any good. I remember how it was with Addy, and I won't see that repeated. Pippin's only thirty, so there's still lots of time. This is something most lads go through, and then grow out of when they find the right girl. At least, Pip's had the good sense--though I'd never have expected good sense from him!--to keep it in the family, not like Evvy with the Clover boy."

"I think you'll find that Pippin has more common sense than you give him credit for," Frodo replied. "And he can be responsible, if you give him a chance. He's done some truly remarkable things out in the Big Folk's world. If you knew..." Was it possible that Pippin's father didn't know? Had he heard about their adventures? "You oughtn't have spoken slightingly of his uniform when he first came home. It hurt Pippin terribly. He was so proud of his service to the King, and was so looking forward to showing you."

"His uniform?" Paladin looked surprised. "You mean that black velvet tunic he wore the last time he was here? Is that what that was? He never said."

"It's the uniform worn by the Guard of the Citadel in the King's city of Minas Tirith," Frodo informed him. "Pippin served as page to the old Steward Denethor, and afterwards to King Aragorn. He fought very bravely during the siege upon the city--by himself. Merry and I weren't with him. The young steward owes his life to Pippin."

"I had no idea..." Paladin murmured.

"Ask him to tell you about his adventures. I think he'd want you to know he's done something you'd approve of."

When he left Paladin, Frodo went next door to Adelard's house. The garden door to the study was open and when he ventured in, he found Adelard in his comfortable chair by the hearth, busy whittling a half-finished figure, which appeared to be a leaping deer. Frodo recalled that Everard had said his father carved woodwork when he had something on his mind, and that Adelard had been brooding lately. "Uncle Adelard?"

Adelard looked up and, realizing that he had a visitor, set his work aside. "Ah, Frodo lad! Come to ask questions for yourself this time, instead of sending Pip?" He tried to sound as if he were joking, but he was wary; Frodo could see it.

"Yes, Uncle. I thought I'd better. It's rather personal." He stepped into the room and shut the door. "I've come to ask about your friendship with Togold Clover when you were lads, and how it ended."

Adelard stared at him, then bowed his head. "So that's come out at last." He sounded dismayed, but resigned. "I knew it must, eventually, but I've been dreading this. Did Pippin put you on to it? He told you what I said about Archambalt?"

Was that what Pippin was keeping from them? "No, it wasn't Pippin," Frodo replied. "It was Toby Clover's brother and sister who first told me the story, with no names. When I asked Uncle Paladin, he told me the rest. He's afraid that the same thing has happened again with Toby."

"So am I, Frodo. So am I." Adelard lifted his eyes to the young hobbit. "Have you spoken to anyone else about this? Do my children know?"

"No," Frodo reassured him. "I'm certain they don't."

"I'm glad of that, at least. It'd be too great a shock to them, to realize how their mother and I were married. I wanted to talk to Everard before his wedding, to be certain that he was marrying Melly for the right reasons. Poor Evvy," his father sighed. "The lad's weeping, heartbroken, and I don't know if it's for Melly's sake or Toby's. I didn't want him to feel pushed into this marriage, as I'd been, but I delayed too long. I... procrastinated." Adelard's head dropped again. "I was afraid to say that I was speaking from my own experience. It's a hard thing to tell your child that the marriage that made him was an unhappy one. I never blamed Evaline. It wasn't her fault. She never knew how our marriage had been arranged, and I did my best for her. No one can say I didn't do my proper duty as a husband--not after five children--but I never loved her as I ought to, and I sometimes wonder if she felt that.

"It's a terrible thing, Frodo, to fall in love with the wrong person--the wrong sex, the wrong social position. Everything wrong, and there's nothing you can do. It's the worst thing in the world. You can't possibly know."

He sounded so utterly ashamed that Frodo's heart went out to him. On an impulse, he said, "I do know. Uncle Addy, believe me, please. I am sympathetic."

Adelard lifted his head and met Frodo's eyes. "Are you?"

Frodo nodded. "You probably haven't heard the gossip down here in Tuckborough, but there's been quite a lot of it around Hobbiton--about me and my friend, Sam. He's a gardener's son, and a gardener himself." But Frodo wasn't here to talk about his own situation, similar as it was to his uncle's; Adelard would meet Sam soon enough and understand. "I won't tell anyone," he promised, "except for Pippin and Merry. They're privileged to all my secrets, and I think Pippin would be heartened to know. He's so fond of you."

"And still will be, after this?" Adelard gave him a small, wry smile. "I'm fond of him too. Pip's a good lad--full of mischief, but he's good-hearted. There's no harm in him. We haven't had a Took quite so Tookish in the family in a long time! Things are different these days, for boys who fall in love with each other. At least, they can talk about it. We couldn't even speak of it when I was a lad. Pip and Merry have done that, and I'm proud of them. They have a courage that I never did. If I had, I might've gone after Togold when I learned what had happened to him. I should have, but I was too afraid. I thought that they might do the same to me if I didn't behave myself. I agreed to do whatever my father and Uncle Adalgrim wanted."

"Can I ask?" said Frodo. "Do you know who beat Mr. Clover when he was a boy?"

"We could never find out. Archambalt protected them. He was the one who arranged it all--did Paladin tell you that? But even after my father and Pal's father were gone, he wouldn't tell us who he had hired, not even under the threat of exile. He went. You can be sure if I had known their names or where I could find them, I would have..." Adelard stopped and shook his head. "I like to think I'd have killed them, or served them out in kind for what they did to Togold, but I don't have the nerve for it. At least, I would have told Pal, and he would have seen them punished."
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