The wedding ceremony of Melilot Brandybuck and Everard Took was a more quiet affair than originally planned, since the flowers had wilted, the foods for the feast had already been eaten, and some of the guests had gone home. There was also a measure of sadness in the celebration, for Toby Clover's funeral was to be held in Tookbank that same day, and news of Mr. Clover's arrest was spreading rapidly throughout the neighborhood. But Melilot wore her beribboned dress and looked very pretty in it, and the bride's and groom's immediate families were there to see the two wed at last and then to see them off to their secluded honeymoon cottage on the far southern border of the Took lands. Since there was no day-long party to follow the morning ceremony, the newlyweds were ready to leave by midday.
After she'd made her farewells to her mother, aunts, and cousins, Melilot took Frodo's hand. "I'm sorry, Frodo, if I disappointed you."
"You haven't been a disappointment, Melly," Frodo replied. "Quite the contrary. I hope you'll have everything you wished for in your marriage."
Melly smiled. "I wouldn't have it at all if it weren't for you." She gave him a kiss on the cheek before climbing into the carriage beside her new husband, who looked a little jealous at this parting.
Once the young couple had gone, the wedding party began to break up. The last of the Tooks' guests also prepared to be on their way. There were a few matters Frodo had to see to before he and his friends could go.
He had to talk to Esmeralda. She since had been the first to ask him to look into this murder, he thought she ought to hear how his investigation had ended. Aside from Merry, Pippin, and Sam, she was the only one Frodo told the full story behind Toby's death.
"How very sad," the lady said when she learned the history of Adelard and Togold Clover. "No. It's more than sad--it's quite tragic. I remember them as boys, before I went away to Buckland to be married. I never knew 'til now how their friendship was broken up. And to think there's been so much unhappiness because of it, even to today! That poor boy dead." A flash of angry determination shone in Esmeralda's eyes. "Such things must never be allowed to happen again in our Shire."
Then she went to say goodbye to her son before the ladies from Brandy Hall departed.
Paladin had gone into Tookbank that afternoon; when he returned, Frodo met with the Thain in his study one last time while Sam was packing their bags to return to Bag End. Paladin was at his desk, studying the faded writing in a large, old, dusty-looking book, but he set it aside when Frodo came in.
"What will happen to Mr. Clover, Uncle?" Frodo asked.
"Chief Thornbreak has him in custody, as much to see that he doesn't do a harm to himself as anything else. He won't be hanged, Frodo. You may be assured of that. It's never happened in the Shire before, and I will not be the first to call for it. I'll have to pronounce some judgment on him, in the interests of justice, but I don't see how I can be as harsh as that. The whole business was his doing--it's only Toby's intervention that spared Everard from a bad beating--but Mr. Clover didn't intend for his own son to be killed. If he hadn't sought revenge against a boy who had nothing to do with it, I could feel sorry for him. I can't forget that it all began with our family." Paladin shook his head. "Toby's death seems to be more than punishment enough for what he tried to do."
"What about Fenny?"
"It's my guess he fled in fear after Toby was stabbed. Messengers have been sent out to the Chiefs in other parts of the Shire to search for him," said Paladin. "If he's found anywhere, they'll hold him and notify us. I want to hear his side of the story, and learn if he deliberately stabbed Toby or if it was entirely an accident. That will clear matters up considerably."
"And what will happen to Tansy and Tibbard? Will they be all right?" Frodo asked. "This has been an incredible shock to them. They're both underage, too young to be left by themselves at such a time."
"They won't be," Paladin promised him. "They have Clover relatives in Tookbank who've taken them in for the present, until they know how things are settled with their father. No matter how it turns out, I will look after them. They won't like it, but I rather feel that they are our family's responsibility.
"There's one last thing I think you'd be interested in, Frodo. I've heard a curious story from Sherriff Thornbreak: an aged local farmer named Ludo Twigg has left his home." Paladin watched Frodo as he spoke the name.
"Left?" Frodo echoed, surprised. "For where?"
"His family doesn't know where he's gone and they want him found, but there's every sign that he left of his own accord. He packed his bags and left the night before last." The elder hobbit was still watching Frodo. "The story caught my attention because the name of Twigg sounded familiar. I've looked it up in my father's old estate journal-" Paladin nodded to indicate the large book that lay open on his desk. "It seems that my father granted this Ludo Twigg and his brother a farm to the south of Tookbank, as a freehold, about forty years ago. He didn't note why he chose to make them such a generous gift, but I can guess. I expect Mr. Twigg's gone out of this part of the Shire for good. Perhaps that's best."
"Perhaps it is," Frodo agreed quietly. He could imagine the fear that had prompted the old hobbit's flight.
"So that's that. It's been an honor to work with you, Frodo." Paladin went with Frodo to the study door and put an arm around his back. "You've grown up to be an exceptional hobbit. This has been an ugly business from beginning to end, and you got to the heart of it. Esme didn't exaggerate in her estimation of your abilities. Pip's told me what you've done out in the Big Folk's world," he added. "I don't understand all of it about old Bilbo's ring--and I daresay Pip doesn't either--but it sounds most brave and remarkable. My boy hasn't gone wrong by being a friend of yours."
"Thank you," Frodo answered modestly, but he was very touched and gratified by this praise.
After he bade farewell to Eglantine and thanked her for making him welcome as a guest, he found Merry and Sam waiting in the front hall with the baggage. "Pippin's not ready yet," Merry reported.
Pippin joined them a few minutes later, with no luggage.
"Haven't you got your bag packed?" Merry asked him. "We'll be leaving soon."
"I won't be," Pippin said. He looked around at the others before announcing, "I've decided to stay on here. I have to settle some things with my parents. Father and I- we have so much to talk about. And Mother and Auntie Di mean to settle 'the problem' of my betrothal. So do I--in my own way, of course."
Merry grinned. "Do you want me to stay with you?" he offered.
"If you don't mind, I'd rather you didn't," Pippin answered shyly, almost apologetically. "I think I'd better do this by myself. I'm at my best, you know, when I have to stand on my own."
"Well, if you're sure you want it that way..." Merry conceded, "but I'll miss you."
"It won't be for long," Pippin promised. "I wouldn't want to miss Frodo's birthday. I'll come up and join you at Bag End in a day or two for it, but I think that, after that, I'll come back here for awhile."
There were hugs all around. Merry stayed behind a little longer, saying goodbye, then headed out after Sam and Frodo, who were already halfway to the stable.
"You aren't still upset about Melly, are you?" Frodo asked, teasing, as he and Sam went out the gate and crossed the road. Sam had been rather cool since he'd learned of Frodo's plan to propose to Melilot, and had only began to relax once the young lady had gone away. Frodo meant to bring him around. "There's no reason to worry now. She's safely married elsewhere."
"And if she wasn't, she'd be going on to Bag End with us, wouldn't she?" Sam asked back, gruffly; this point was obviously still on his mind. "She'd be staying with us, you said--but what you meant was you'd be marrying her."
"Only to keep the gossip down," Frodo explained. "There's been enough of it as it is." He took Sam's arm. "If it comforts you, I didn't intend to be a husband to her in the true sense. Melly understood that. She knew all about us."
Sam went pink. "You told her?"
"Yes, of course. It's the only decent thing to do when you propose to a girl. Look at all the trouble Everard got himself into when he didn't!" Frodo smiled. "I must say, I don't behave this way about your marrying Rose."
"No, you don't," Sam agreed reluctantly.
"There you are then! I'll always be yours, no matter who else comes into it. So stop fretting." Tall myrtle bushes flanked either side of the path to the stable; under this concealment, Frodo turned suddenly and, taking Sam by the shoulders, pressed him back against the nearest green wall of leaves for a kiss. "Besides, I promise I'll make it up to you once we're home." He planned to overcome any lingering remnants of Sam's jealousy by letting Sam feel as if he'd regained full possession of him at the earliest convenient moment. The thought was an exciting one, and it made Frodo all the more eager to be home. Sam seemed to like the idea of it too.
They were still kissing when Merry, who'd been walking quickly to catch up, nearly ran into them. Sam let go of Frodo, blushed, and mumbled something about getting the ponies.
"I'm sorry I interrupted," Merry apologized to Frodo once Sam had gone into the stable. "Are you sure I won't be in the way at Bag End?"
"Of course not!" Frodo insisted. Sam would be entirely his tonight, but come tomorrow, he would have to share again. "As a matter of fact, if Sam's going to be spending more time with Rosie Cotton, I'll be grateful for your company."
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