Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

The Twigg farm was not difficult to locate. When Sam and Frodo stopped at the village of Tooksend, at the crossroads of the Tuckborough and Waymoot roads, the first cottager they asked directed them to it; the Twiggs kept a large farmstead, even if they kept to themselves. A short ride southward brought them to it.

The farm, when they reached it, appeared to be a prosperous one: the corn in the fields was tall and ripe for harvest; there were a dozen cows in the pasture, hogs in a penned yard, and chickens, geese, and ducks wandering. A rail fence bounded the property beside the road, and a wide wooden gate opened onto a private cart track that led to a barn and other outbuildings.

Sam would have preferred to go in and speak to them in Frodo's place, but Frodo insisted, "No, Sam. I think that in, this case, a relative of the Tooks will be of greater use."

He left Sam in the lane and, as he opened the gate, he was greeted by a barking dog. A moment later, a sturdy young hobbit came out of the barn and, when Frodo explained why he was there, told him that "Dad and Uncle Ludo were up t' house," and held the dog by its collar until Frodo had gone past.

Frodo went up the cart track, past the buildings and around the curve of a hill until he came to the farm-smial. Two elderly hobbits sat on a bench in the front, smoking their pipes and enjoying the sunny afternoon. One was whittling away at a stick of wood. They looked as gnarled and tough as old tree roots, but Frodo could see that they had once been large and strong like the son he had met at the gate--used to long hours of hard work in the barns and fields--but were past their prime. If they had been mature hobbits at the time when Archambalt had hired them, they must be well into their eighties by now, if not older.

The brothers seemed curious, but not wary at the sight of their visitor. The one who was whittling nodded and said, "Aft'n to ye, young sir. We don't see much of quality folk in these parts. Traveling, are ye?"

"As a matter of fact," said Frodo, "I'm staying at the Thain's Hall."

"Ah!" The old hobbit smiled. "Visiting the Tooks? Are ye one o' the family?"

"Yes, sort of." Frodo didn't know if he was addressing Largo or Ludo. "My grandmother was a Took--Mirabella Took. She was one of Old Gerontius's daughters. Frodo Baggins is my name."

The mention of his Tookish grandmother was enough for Frodo to gain the Twiggs' acceptance. Miss Mirabella was before their time, but they agreed that a grandson of a Took was always welcome on their farm.

"Are you Mr. Twigg?" Frodo asked the one who had spoken to him.

"Ludo Twigg, at yer service," the old hobbit replied. "This here is Largo, my brother. What can we do for ye, Mr. Baggins?"

"If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you a few questions... about something that happened a long time ago." He broached the subject carefully, for he thought that the Twiggs would mind very much if he went at this the wrong way. "Do you know a hobbit named Togold Clover?"

"Clover?" The brothers consulted their memories. "There's lots of Clovers in this part o' the Shire."

"He's the Tooksank butcher," Frodo prompted.

"Oh, him! Butcher Clover died awhile ago," said Largo. "We don't have no need of a butcher's services, lad. We kill and dress our own meats."

Frodo began to wonder if the elder brother hadn't grown dotty with his advanced years. "Togold Clover is the present butcher," he explained. "He took over his father's business when the old butcher died. I believe you knew him years ago, when he was a lad." He ventured further, "I've heard a story that the old Thain and some of the other gentlemen at the Hall- ah- paid you to see that he left Tookbank."

Ludo was suddenly on his guard. "Who's been carrying such tales against us?"

"Then you say it's not true?" asked Frodo.

"Not as such. Why d'ye want to go digging up summat from years ago as no one remembers?"

"I remember it. Buggers, they was!" Largo spat so vituperatively that Frodo jumped, startled, and felt the blood rush to his face. "Filthy little buggers. 'Tisn't natural, and we did right to put an end to it."

"Beg yer pardon!" Ludo exclaimed, observing their visitor's shocked expression and trying to make amends for his brother's blunder. "You mustn't mind Largo, Mr. Baggins. He means no harm. And you mind yourself with the young gent, Largo!" He slapped his brother's thigh in admonition. "How would young Thain Paladin feel if he heard such talk? Ye've heard about Mr. Peregrin Took, the Thain's own son, and that cousin o' his'n, haven't ye? Mr. Baggins here is a kin to them--isn't that so?" He turned to Frodo.

"Yes, that's so," said Frodo. "They're my good friends."

"There! Now, I say what young gents get up to amongst themselves is nobody's business but their own," Ludo went on, doing his best to appease.

"What about this business with Togold Clover?" Frodo persisted. "It did happen, didn't it, just as your brother says?"

"Ah," Ludo conceded, "I didn't mean to lie t'ye, young sir. We was told to keep our mouths shut about it, and keep 'em shut we have--'til today." He cast a withering glance at his brother. "You won't go carrying it no further, will ye? Thain Paladin'd take up against us if he heard." He was obviously very afraid that Frodo would tell. "What we did was to help the old Thain. That was one o' the common-folk getting above himself, and wanting to be put back in his proper place. It was for the best. Didn't the troublesome young Took see sense after that, and marry as his family wanted?"

Frodo wanted desperately to get away from them. He was already sick and angry after his conversation with Archambalt; he didn't want to face more of this ugliness in hobbit-kind. The worst of it was that he knew that these two were only echoing, in blunt and vulgar terms, exactly what the late Thain Adalgrim, Adelard's father, and Archambalt had believed. But he had come here for a reason, and couldn't leave until his questions had been answered.

"What I wanted to know, Mr. Twigg, is if anyone else has come to ask you about it lately--you, or any of your family?" Frodo glanced over his shoulder toward the barn, thinking of that strapping young hobbit who'd let him in.

"None," said Ludo.

"No one's asked you if one of your family might do another service for the Tooks?"

"No!" The old hobbit struggled to his feet. Frodo had evidently worn out his welcome. "Grandson of a Took or no, Mr. Baggins, I'm asking you to be off!"

Frodo was glad to leave.
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