Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

Once Frodo and Merry were shown to their room at the back of the Hall, they shut the door, but they could hear other members of the family in the hallway outside, calling happily to each other as they sorted out their baggage and settled into their own nearby rooms.

Merry flopped down on the bed. It was the only one in the room, but was wide enough for two to sleep in without crowding. "Aunt Eggie doesn't know it--and I certainly won't tell her!--but I don't think I've actually shared a bed with you since I was about ten years old. You don't snore, do you?"

"You know I don't." Frodo was busy putting away his things in the wardrobe and thinking of Sam as he tried to sort out which articles of clothing went where; Sam would know. He'd been careful to hang up his good shirt and suit coat, as Sam had repeatedly reminded him to do before he'd left Bag End that morning.

A loud knock startled them both--it was not on the bedroom door, but on the window casement. Pippin was crouched outside; Merry leapt up and unlatched the window to let him in.

"I'm just two rooms down," Pippin reported as he climbed in over the sill. "Dodi and Ilbie are in the one between us, and they won't carry tales."

"Your talk didn't take very long," said Merry. "Did they give you a terrible scolding?"

"No. They didn't scold... That's not why they wanted me to come home." Pippin sat down on the bed, fidgeted, then announced, "You might as well know: I'm going to be betrothed."

"To who?" Merry demanded.

"You don't know her," Pippin explained rapidly. "I don't either. We've never met. She's one of the north-Tooks, Aunt Diamanta's niece. She's only five and twenty, so it'll be years before she's old enough. I think it's Mother's idea. She and Aunt Di are old friends, and they must've been planning this for awhile. She says they'll have the girl down for a visit next summer, and won't I please come to meet her and be nice to her, and see how we get on. But, you know, it didn't seem to me that Father was pushing very hard for it. He says they won't settle anything until after that, and in any case we'll have to wait ten years before there's a wedding--that'll give me plenty of time to grow up and get over this foolishness." He gave Merry a pained and apologetic smile. "Father says that's more than fair."

"As fair as we can expect," Merry agreed. "It's certainly more understanding than my father's been. And a lot can happen in ten years. Maybe this girl will run off with somebody else."

Pippin's smile grew brighter. He held out his arms, and Merry went to him.

The window was still open; Frodo climbed out, leaving the two alone.

He stood on the northern slope of the hill, looking down into the long, wide dell--almost a valley--below. There were carefully tended kitchen patches against the back entrances of the Took smials, but the central part of the dell had been groomed into an ornamental garden with pebbled paths between flower beds, broad green swards of short-trimmed grass, climbing-rose bowers, and fruit trees that would bloom in spring. Frodo thought that Sam would love it. Long trestles and benches had been set up on the grass at the far end of the garden, and a small, circular pavilion had been set up in the middle of the lawn, for the wedding--and subsequent celebration--would be held here the day after tomorrow.

Less formal paths wound along the slopes of the hillside, leading to terraces, other, smaller gardens, and copses atop the Took's homes. Since it was more than an hour until dinner-time, Frodo decided to take a walk. He knew from his previous visits to Tuckborough that the hill eventually sloped down at its northern end at a stream that bordered the end of the dell. When he arrived at the stream, he turned onto the footpath that ran beneath the trees beside the water along the bottom end of the garden, then crossed a small wooden bridge into an empty meadow beyond.

He walked out into the meadow, following a faint, foot-trodden path through the tall grass. The path led him toward the eastern edge of the meadow and, as he passed by a grove of trees, he heard voices speaking before he was aware that anyone else was nearby.

"Can you do it, Evvy? Can you end it this way?"

"Yes, I can! I have to."

Someone emerged from the grove--a handsome dark-haired boy. Since he had just heard Everard's voice, Frodo first thought that this was his cousin, but when the boy turned, his face was visible in the fading light; Frodo could see that it was a stranger. Everard emerged a moment later.

The boy stared at Everard with wide, softly brown eyes, and said, "This isn't finished, Evvy."

"It is finished," Everard answered. "I'm sorry, but it is."

The soft brown eyes looked hurt and angry, then the boy spat, "That's what you think! You will be sorry, as sorry as I am to ever have met you. What a fool I was to trust a Took!" Then he whirled and stormed off.

"Toby-!" Everard called out, but the other boy did not turn back. Everard was about to go after him, but when he noticed Frodo standing there, under the long shadows of the trees, he stopped and blushed.

"I beg your pardon," said Frodo. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I didn't know anyone was here until it was too late. Who was that?"

"Oh, just a friend," said Everard. "A boy I know. His name's Toby Clover."

"I don't think I've met him."

"Probably not. His family aren't gentlefolk. His father's only the local butcher. You mustn't mind his manners--he sometimes loses his temper, and says things he doesn't mean. We're the best of friends, really." Everard turned to watch as Toby, who had reached the far end of the meadow, climbed over a low stone wall to reach the westward hills and head toward Tookbank. "It doesn't matter. You won't see him again."
You must login (register) to review.