Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

When Frodo returned to his room, the window was open and Merry was in alone, reclining on the bed and smoking his pipe. "Did Pip go?" Frodo asked.

"He's having a nap before dinner," answered Merry. "It's been a long, miserable day for all of us."

"Did he tell you what was upsetting him?"

"No," Merry said shortly, "Not really. Asking him only made it worse. Pip can be obnoxious and thoughtless, but for all that, he's as sensitive as you are when it strikes him. It must have struck him all of a sudden when we were talking about which of his family might be a murderer. It wouldn't surprise me if he had a bad turn over this before you do."

"We've all had to face suspecting our dearest relatives," Frodo said. He had spent more than one bad night over that himself. "None of us likes it."

"Yes, but it's harder for Pip this time. He's closer to everybody involved, and it isn't a game anymore. I think he's afraid." He looked up at Frodo. "Do you suppose he's learned something about one of them--about somebody he cares for, Pearl, maybe, or Uncle Addy--and he doesn't want to tell us? You'd think he'd at least tell me."

Frodo had to smile at this; he'd said something very like it once. "You've kept secrets yourself, Merry, when it might've gotten you hanged," he reminded his cousin.

"Yes, but that was different. I was protecting Melly!" Merry looked over him. "Where've you been, Frodo?"

"In the garden, talking to Melly as a matter of fact. It's been a miserable day for her too." He saw his cousin's eyes flicker to the tear-dampened patch on his shirt. "I didn't have a handkerchief with me," he explained. "I gave mine to Evvy earlier today. When she started crying, I didn't know what to do." Frodo dropped from his perch in the windowsill to sit down on the cushioned seat immediately beneath. "Merry," he ventured, "have you ever been kissed by a girl?"

"Once or twice..." Merry, who had been leaning back propped on one elbow, sat upright. "Melly kissed you?"

Frodo nodded.

"I suppose it was only a matter of time before some girl threw herself at you," Merry said in a contemplative tone. "You're a nice-looking boy, sweet, sympathetic. But I'm surprised it should be Melly. Before or after the crying?"

"Before. Just before."

"Your intentions had better be honorable, Frodo. That girl is like a sister to me."

"Don't tease, Merry. You know I'm in love with someone else, and so is she."

"To a boy who's been beastly to her. Evvy's behaved like a swine, to her and to Toby too. Aunt Melisaunte's right. He couldn't be honest with either of them, and serve him right if Melly has nothing more to do with him. She might very well do better with you. Why don't you marry her, Frodo?"

Frodo laughed nervously. "You are joking, Merry! I thought you said it wasn't fair for people like you and me, feeling the way we do about girls, to marry anybody?"

"It isn't, not if you lie about it as Evvy did. But if you tell a girl the truth and she knows before she agrees to anything, that'd be all right. Like Rosie and Sam. Rosie's going into it with her eyes open about you and Sam, isn't she? No nasty surprises about where her husband will be spending half his nights?"

"She knows, but she's only agreed to put up with it because she wants Sam and can't get him any other way. Melly wouldn't have me under those conditions, not after Everard. It's a ridiculous idea."

Merry's mouth dropped open, and then he laughed in amazement. "Frodo, are you actually thinking about it?"

"Shut up, Merry." Frodo's face was very red as he turned to climb back out the window.

He knew that Merry was only teasing him about marrying Melly, but the fact was that he was seriously considering it.

When he reached the bottom of the hill, he walked through the shrubbery to the edge of the central lawn. From there, he could see that the pavilion was unoccupied. Melilot had gone. Frodo sank down onto the grass with a sigh and, for the first time in his life, he thought about a girl.

He had agreed to take up this investigation primarily to help Melly. To have her wedding postponed under such scandalous circumstances must have been difficult enough for the poor girl--but then to add the pain and humiliation of being cast off by Everard in the sight of half the family! Frodo couldn't help feeling great compassion and a certain protectiveness for her. He still wanted to help. When he'd sat beside her in the pavilion tonight, he'd only meant to offer whatever comfort he could, but that kiss had thrown him into confusion.

He wasn't in love with her--he'd never been able to love any girl in that way--but he was fonder of Melly than any of his other girl-cousins. It would be easier if he could offer her the haven of his home, as he had welcomed Merry and Pippin during their troubles; they might live together comfortably at Bag End on brother-and-sister terms, but he knew that the rest of the Shire wouldn't see it in that light. The gossip would be worse than anything that was whispered about him and Sam. He couldn't subject Melilot to another scandal after this and the awful events of this past spring at Brandy Hall that had cost her a sister.

He'd never considered marriage, but most of his relatives would say that he was of an age to start thinking of it, thirty-six next week. If he was to marry, why not a cousin he liked very much and got along with? He agreed with Merry that it was fundamentally dishonest to marry when you couldn't give a wife everything in the way of love, or love-making, that she had a right to expect. But what if the truth was laid out plainly beforehand, and a marriage agreed upon for other reasons?

He was planning to create a household for three. Why not make it four?

What would Melilot say if he told her about Sam? After Everard, she might not understand, but at least he wouldn't be deceiving her about his intentions. And how would Sam respond when Frodo told him? He knew how jealous Sam could be, but if he didn't object to Sam's marriage to Rosie, then surely Sam could have no reasonable objection to his marrying too? Oh, Sam would make a fuss at first, but Frodo thought he would be able to bring him around. The whole matter would require some delicate explanations, and some extremely careful arrangements.

If he hesitated, it was for the same reason he couldn't ask Sam to spend his life taking care of him: He was ill, and was never going to be well again. There was an empty little ache that never went away, never forgotten even on his best days, a tiny, raw, sore spot at the core of his being like a wound that would not heal. There was nothing he could do about it. He might have many years before the inevitable end... but the end was inevitable.

But perhaps that might be an advantage in this case? He couldn't ask a girl he was fond of to bind herself to him in a loveless marriage for the rest of her life, but for five years, or ten? For that time, he could give her a respectable retreat from this scandal, and let her recover from Everard's treatment of her. She would very likely be left a wealthy widow with every prospect in the world, free to find another husband if she wanted one, while she was still young. Would Melly be willing to accept such an unusual offer?


He was startled at hearing the voice of the very person he was thinking of suddenly nearby.

"Am I interrupting?" Melilot asked as she stepped closer. "You looked lost in thought."

"No, it's quite all right. What is it, Melly?"

"I've been looking all over for you. I was afraid you'd gone in, and I wanted to talk to you before dinner. I thought we ought to, after what happened earlier."

Frodo blushed, and was glad it was too dark for Melilot to see him. "I've been-ah- thinking about that too. I was hoping to speak to you, Melly. There are a few things you ought to know about me-"

"Wait, Frodo, please." Melilot knelt at his side and laid a hand on his arm. "May I go first? I wanted to say that I'm sorry. I shouldn't have flung myself at you. I misunderstood. The way you were speaking, the things you said, I thought you meant-" she laughed. "I got it completely wrong. The instant I kissed you, I knew that it was a mistake. I wasn't the one you were thinking of. You've been so kind, but that's all it is, isn't it? Kindness."

"You are very dear to me, Melly," he told her.

"I'm glad." She took his hand. "I made such a fool of myself tonight. I didn't want things to become awkward between us. You're one of my favorite cousins." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then asked, "What were you going to tell me, Frodo?"

"Oh, nothing. It wasn't important." He couldn't do it, not after what she'd just said. He hadn't seen before how she'd interpreted his attempts to console her, mistaken his words of sympathy for a declaration of love. Although she had since realized her mistake, she wouldn't understand an offer of marriage from him now; even if he were completely honest, she might always be wanting more from him, that kind of love he couldn't give. It wouldn't be fair.

They both heard Melisaunte's voice from within the Thain's Hall, calling her daughter's name.

"Mother must be worried frantic," said Melly. "I've been missing for hours. I'd better go and tell her I'm fine, and make myself presentable before dinner. I must look a fright." And she rose and went in.

Frodo didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. He did not follow Melilot into the house immediately, but wandered up the slope, past his window, until he came to the top of the hill. From there, he could see down across the lawn, trees, and hedges in the front of the Hall, to the stable on the far side of the road. Someone was within; he could see the flicker of a lantern moving in the darkness. A late guest? Perhaps Uncle Saradoc had come to join his family after all.

The late arrival emerged from the stable and headed toward the Thain's Hall. When he recognized the familiar silhouette, Frodo's heart leapt and began to beat wildly. He flew down the front of the hill and raced to greet the visitor at the gate.

"Sam! I'm so glad you've come!" Frodo threw his arms around his startled lover, who had not been expecting to encounter him so soon. He gave Sam a kiss, then said, "But you shouldn't have."

"I couldn't sit at Bag End once I heard about this mess," Sam told him. "The minute Robin Smallburrows told me there was a murder at Tuckborough, I knew you'd be in the middle of it. I thought you might need me."

"Oh, I do. But didn't Rosie mind your coming?"

"She saw why I had to come, and didn't say no to it."

Frodo beamed at him and, arm in arm, they walked toward the front door of the Thain's Hall.
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