The town of Tuckborough was primarily built into the southern side of a long U-shaped ridge of a hill. The main road curved around the foot of the hill before passing into the tunnel that led to the neighboring village of Tookbank. The Thain's Hall, at the southern-most point of this curve, was not as large nor grand an establishment as Brandy Hall in Buckland, but it was impressive in its own way. The main door was a circle of the finest oak, richly carved, with hinges and knob of polished brass.
As the Brandybuck ladies disembarked from their carriage, Thain Paladin Took and Lady Eglantine, Pippin's parents, came out to welcome them. They were a handsome couple: Paladin was more trim than a hobbit of his age and prosperity was normally expected to be, with fox-red hair that was turning gray at the crown and temples. His wife, a Banks by birth, was half a head taller than he, with dark chestnut hair held back from her face by two golden combs.
They greeted Esmeralda first, for she was not only the highest-ranked personage among their guests, but was Paladin's younger and favorite sister. And, even though Frodo had accompanied his aunt to the door, the Thain and Lady paid their respects to Melisaunte and Hilda next, as was befitting, before turning to him.
"Frodo, dear lad, how good of you to come." Eglantine took both his hands and bestowed another kiss. Paladin patted his shoulder and added his own words of welcome. "And Merry Brandybuck." The lady's smile grew stiff and frozen as Merry came forward. "Welcome to the Hall."
"Didn't Pippin come with you boys-? Ah, there he is." Paladin looked across the lawn to find his son hanging back by the carriage, helping Doderic and Ilberic hand down the luggage. "Never mind that, lads!" he called out to them. "The porters will take care of those bags. Come along!"
"Yes, please, come in, all of you," Eglantine added. "We were hoping you'd arrive by tea-time. There are refreshments in the drawing-room. Much of the family is already there--they'll be so happy to see you."
She led them to the drawing-room, which was already crowded with Tooks: The bridegroom, Everard, and his elder brother Reginard stood with their father Adelard. Their sisters, Ada, Flora, and Isalda, were in a giggling group around the tea-table at the center of the room with a cousin, Ferdibrand, and two of Pippin's sisters, Pimpernel and Pervinca; Pim was ginger-haired like Pippin, and Peri strawberry-curled. The other three girls were brunettes, and Ferdi's tow-head was bright among them as he leaned close to whisper in their ears and made them laugh. Pippin's eldest sister, Pearl, took after her mother with her dark chestnut hair; she and Reginard had married over a year ago and had an infant son, Peveril, whom Pearl sat dandling in the window-nook. Old Archambalt, from another branch of the family, sat in a chair by the fire conversing with an elegantly dressed lady.
As the Brandybucks entered the room, vociferous cries of welcome rose from the gathered Tooks, and the elegant lady rose from her seat with a cry of delight, "Esme! Darling!" She came forward to embrace Esmeralda affectionately. This was Diamanta, Paladin's and Esmeralda's elder sister, who had married into the North-Tooks and had not been home in over twenty years. "How wonderful you look! So lovely--no different from the young girl who attended me at my own wedding. And Melisaunte and Hilda, dears, I would know you anywhere."
"I daresay we haven't changed so much, Diamanta, but you won't know our boys at all," said Hilda. "You haven't seen them since they were small. These two are my sons--Doderic, the eldest, and this is Ilberic." She gestured to bring them forward to be presented to their aunt. "The fair-headed lad is Esme's Merry. And this Frodo Baggins."
"Baggins?" Diamanta murmured and regarded Frodo as if she wondered how someone who was neither a Took nor Brandybuck could possibly have found his way into their midst.
"Primula's son," Esmeralda explained. "You remember."
"Oh, yes. Yes, of course. I can see the resemblance. You look very much your mother, my lad." The lady gave him a warmer smile of welcome, then looked around the room. "And where is Peregrin?"
Pippin had come in with the other boys, but after saying hello to his favorite uncle Adelard, then stopping at the tea-table to greet Pim and Peri and his cousins, and to grab a seed-cake, he had gone over to see his new nephew. He sat with Pearl, practically hiding in the window-seat behind a potted fern. He wasn't avoiding Diamanta as much as trying to stay out of his parents' sight.
"What about Melly?" Doderic asked, to divert attention. "Where is she?"
"In her room next door," Ada reported with a giggle. "She's been shut away there since the morning. She bought yards of ribbon yesterday to trim her bridal dress, and she's been cutting them into lengths to sew on."
"But she ought to come in soon," added Pim. "She must have heard the carriage."
Melilot did come in a few minutes later. She was a small, plump, pretty girl with large brown eyes and brunette curls, and Frodo thought she looked more rosy-cheeked and certainly much happier than she'd been when he'd last seen her during the family tragedy at Brandy Hall that spring. He felt shy at seeing her again--he was afraid that she blamed him for how his first investigation into the death of their cousin Berilac had ended--but when Melly noticed him after hugging her mother Melisaunte and aunts, she smiled and said, "Frodo! I was hoping you'd come." She took his uninjured hand and gave the fingers a squeeze.
After greeting her family, Melilot went over to Everard and, with a whisper and playful tug on his sleeve, drew him away from his father and brother. Reginard joined his wife at the window. Great-Uncle Archambalt offered Adelard the chair Diamanta had vacated, but Adelard refused it and instead went around to the other side of the tea-table.
"It's been a very long time since we've had so much of the family together," said Eglantine. "I'm sorry to see that Celandine and Merimas didn't come with you."
"Celie's expecting her baby next month--her first, you know--and I'm afraid she's having a difficult time of it, poor dear," Hilda explained. "She didn't feel up to the journey, and Merimas has stayed with her."
"And what about Father?" Merry asked his mother. "Isn't he coming?" He sounded very hopeful that it was so.
"Your father's been detained," Esmeralda answered. "He and your Uncle Merry hope to come later, in time for the wedding."
Frodo met Merry's eyes and gave him a small, encouraging smile. It wouldn't be so bad if Merry had to be in his father's company for only one day. Poor Pippin, on the other hand, was in the midst of his whole, enormous family.
Old Gerontius Took had fathered twelve children; all of the hobbits present--with the exception of Hilda, who was born a Bracegirdle--were descended from at least one of this prolific brood. Branches of the Took family were spread all over the Shire, although most of them remained in the Southfarthing in and around Tuckborough. The Thain's Hall was the principle residence of the Thain himself, but only his immediate family lived there, for the Tooks of Tuckborough were far too numerous to fit into one house. Adelard and his five children occupied the smial next to the Thain's Hall, connected to it by tunnels; Ferdi and his parents lived in another smial in the same hill, and more Tooks made their homes on the opposite side of the road.
After the guests had refreshed themselves with a cup of tea and a bite to eat, Eglantine announced, "We have rooms ready for you all. I'm sure you'd like to rest and wash up before dinner. The porters will show you up. Pippin-" she plucked her son out of his hiding place with a glance, "your bedroom has been kept just as you left it. Doderic, Ilberic, we've put you two together, and Merry, dear, you and Frodo won't mind sharing, will you?" she asked pointedly. "I'm afraid we're rather crowded with so many visitors."
"No, Aunt Eglantine," said Merry, "that's quite all right. I've bedded with Frodo before."
Dodi and Ilbie grinned, and Frodo tried to suppress a surprised laugh.
Eglantine's expression did not change as she answered, "Good. Then you boys will be comfortable."
As they left the drawing room, Pippin tried to slip out among the other boys, but his father said, "Wait a moment, Pip. We'd like to have a word with you."
Pippin cast an anxious glance at Merry, but there was no help for it; he had to obey the summons. Paladin held open the door to his study, across the hall from the drawing room, and gestured for his son to enter. Pippin ducked his head and went in. His parents followed. The door shut. Frodo and Merry went with the party from Brandy Hall to their rooms.
"Poor old Pip," said Ilbie. "I expect he's in for as awful a time as Uncle Saradoc gave you when you came home, Merry."
"It can't be as bad as that," Merry replied. "His father can't have him locked up 'til he behaves himself. At least, I hope he doesn't try it."
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