Too Many Tooks by Kathryn Ramage

"'Filthy buggers'!" Merry laughed. "Did they really say that?" He sat at the foot of the bed, rocking with laughter at Frodo's report of his conversation with the Twigg brothers. Sam and Pippin had gone very red in the face at Frodo's tale.

"One of them did," said Frodo, "and it wasn't funny, Merry. It was awful." Speaking of Archambalt and the Twiggs had made him feel sick all over again.

"Poor Frodo," Merry said with more sympathy, and reached over to give his cousin a hug. "I know, it sounds funny to me to hear of it, but it must've been horrible for you, having to stand there and listen to them spew that bile, knowing they'd've said just the same about you."

"You have Mr. Ludo Twigg's approval," Sam retorted.

"That's true," replied Merry, "at least by way of fear. I don't think he would've dared to say anything against the Thain's own son and heir, and risk Frodo carrying tales back to Uncle Paladin. I expect he's done all he can to avoid Uncle Paladin's notice."

"I'm tempted to go and tell him. They were as repulsive a pair of hobbits as I've ever met, except for Archambalt... and the others who put them up to it." Frodo added this last part hesitantly, knowing that one of the others was Pippin's and Merry's grandfather. To his relief, they did not take offense.

"I was only eight years old when Grandfather died," said Pippin. "I barely remember him, and I wasn't particularly fond of him. It's not as if it's Father."

"These Twiggs are so old," Merry observed. "They couldn't have done it this time, could they?"

Frodo shook his head. "I can't see it. Largo seems quite senile, and Ludo's too afraid of being found out by Uncle Paladin. Even if he was willing to repeat his service to the Tooks, he'd never dare risk it now. And neither of them would be a match for a fit young hobbit like Toby Clover."

"One of 'em had that son who let you in," said Sam. "What about him?"

"It's possible. There might be any number of other young lads around the farm I didn't see. Someone might have approached and hired one of them." But Frodo realized even as he spoke that this was a faint prospect. They had followed their clues to a blind end; the investigation could go no further along these lines. Where could they go next? Was there anywhere left to go?
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