A Looming Disaster by Kathryn Ramage

"'The hooks is made of brass and long as a grone hobits arm from elbo to fingerend,'" Frodo read aloud as he and Sam sat in the private dining room having breakfast late the next morning. Since he'd been up half the night decoding the message contained in the cards, Frodo had slept in, then spent some time making up for it to Sam before they'd come out of their room. "'Make them thin as nedles so as to pass throo the holes in the cards with a fine bend at one end to catch the threds. The hooks must pass thru the holes and not catch on them else they tir the cards. The other ends is set in a board as has plenty of ply and give to it. Set them in rows haf an inch apart as many as neded to weve the patern.' Do you know what this is, Sam?"

Sam shook his head.

"It's a set of instructions, describing how to build a Spindlethrift loom--quite precise instructions, though they aren't complete. There's nothing about how to make these cards. I suppose that sending samples of the cards themselves is instruction enough, or else he's sent away part of his message to Michel Delving already."

"He," Sam caught the pronoun. "Then it isn't one o' the daughters?"

"Oh, no. There's only one person who could have done this," Frodo replied. "Only one Spindlethrift knows enough about the looms to provide such detailed information and can send what he knows in this particular way."

Frodo had mentioned three male hobbits last night and only one Spindlethrift, so Sam had no difficulty in deducing which one he was referring to. "It's that old uncle, isn't it?"

"Exactly, although I can only guess at why he's chosen to give away his family's secret." Frodo set down the decoded message and explained, "I said last night that I found some of his behavior peculiar. Jacimbo Spindlethrift first drew my curiosity when I realized he was trying to seem more ignorant than he truly was. When he told me about his work with the looms, he spoke as if he were merely repeating the tasks his father had taught him without understanding them, but that wasn't so. He understood his craft very well. His family betrayed that fact several times. He implied that when he made cards for the looms, he was simply repeating the original patterns his father created years ago. But two of his nieces spend their days designing new patterns. Surely he must be capable of creating new cards to weave these patterns. There's no one else who can do it! Another of the Spindlethrift daughters told me plainly that only a mechanically-minded hobbit like her grandfather or uncle would be able to describe the looms' workings. So he's as clever in that respect as his father, though from the moment we met, he wished me to believe that he wasn't. I wondered at that, but even when I learned about the weavers from Michel Delving trying to lure members of the family there to work with them and teach them how build their looms, I didn't suspect Jacimbo above any of the others."

Sam smiled. "Not 'til I told you what Angelica told me?"

"No, dear Sam, not until then." Frodo returned the smile. "I mightn't have solved this puzzle if you hadn't come. When you said that these other weavers were going to use looms like the Spindlethrifts', I realized that someone must've given the family secret away. None of them had gone to Michel Delving, but any one among them might easily have written instructions down and sent them through the mail if they possessed the knowledge. Most of them told me they didn't have that knowledge. They could've been lying, of course, but the type of work most of them suggests that they'd have no reason to know. Jacimbo certainly does have the necessary skills. He vociferously denied that the rival weavers had made an offer to him, when I asked him about it last night." Frodo laughed. "Actually, he told me that they never asked him to come away with them. I believe that is true. Whatever offer they made him, he never meant to leave his home here.

"Last night, I realized that the person who'd given the weavers in Michel Delving information about the Spindlethrifts' looms didn't need to write anything down. A letter to Michel Delving might be discovered before it was sent, and betray the writer's plans," Frodo went on. "The Spindlethrifts would certainly recognize Jacimbo's style of writing. Once I saw that, I also saw the explanation for the problem that brought me here: those very cards that I was examining last night. Mrs. Spindlethrift thought someone was using them to sabotage her weavers' work, but that wasn't why they were made. They were never meant to be used on the looms, you see."

Since he couldn't tell Sam exactly how the cards worked on the looms, Frodo knew that Sam didn't see at all, but his friend was doing his best to follow this explanation even if he didn't fully understand the details. Sam nodded anyway.

"Instead of taking the risk of sending written instructions, Jacimbo worked out a code by which he could create and send messages and not draw attention to himself. I suppose he meant to send the cards to Michel Delving in packets. If they were intercepted, they would reveal nothing. But once the cards were received by the rival weavers, they could be read like a letter. Jacimbo could make his coded cards whenever he chose and leave them in his workroom. If anyone saw him, it would look as if he were doing his usual work. He alone had the opportunity to do that. He keeps the machine that makes the cards closely guarded. Mulbina as his apprentice might be able to do it as well, but I have to exclude her because of the part she did end up playing in this. She inadvertently gave her uncle's plan away by giving the weavers the coded cards.

"I don't know exactly how it came about, but I guess that Jacimbo misplaced the last batch of cards he was making. He was searching for them all day today. When Mulbina couldn't find them, she looked around the workroom until she found the coded cards in a drawer and naturally mistook them for the loom-cards. Jacimbo never meant for her to see them. By the time he realized what had happened, it was too late for him to retrieve them. The wrong cards had already gone to the weavers and were being used in the looms. He could only feign bewilderment and indignation with the rest of his family when the inevitable flaws began to turn up in the weavers' work."

"But why did he do it?" Sam asked. "Why'd he want to spoil the family business? You said you could guess."

"Well, it is only my guess, Sam. Take it as you will. Jacimbo is an aged hobbit, preparing to leave off his life's work. He has no sons of his own to carry on that work, as his father left him and his brother to carry on. I believe he sees himself as the last of the true Spindlethrifts. I told you that he dislikes his sister-in-law, and he doesn't hold women in high regard, even his nieces. He doesn't like the idea of even a competent spinster or weaver like Jemina or Pristina managing the family business. If the Spindlethrift mill becomes Nutleys', I imagine it's the same to him as seeing it pass on to other hands anyway. So when these weavers from Michel Delving made their offer, he thought that he might as well make some money out of his father's looms before he retired from his work at the mill. He sold them the secret. Well, perhaps we'll find out the truth from Jacimbo himself. I expect he'll try to deny it at first, but I do have this message to confront him with. He can't deny that. He'll have to confess to what he's done sooner or later."

"Is that what you're going to do now--go confront him?"

"Yes, I'm going the mill. If you're finished with your breakfast, come with me." Frodo rose from his seat and tucked the decoded message into his waistcoat pocket. "I'll show this to Jacimbo and tell him that I know. No matter what he has to say to it, I then must tell Mrs. Spindlethrift. She'll deal with him in her own way. I don't know what she'll do." At the door, Frodo paused. "What can she do? In spite of it all, the damage has been done. The secret of the looms is as much his as hers, and there's nothing to stop him from writing to the rival weavers now. He might even be persuaded to fly to them once his family learns what he's done. They'll never forgive him."

As they left the inn and headed toward the weaving mill, Frodo added, "The one thing I can't forgive Jacimbo for is laying the blame for this on his poor, hapless niece. At least, Miss Mulbina will be happy to know that she isn't at fault. She'll even have a chance to work at the loom-cards again, and learn more quickly about them than her uncle allowed her before. With Jacimbo on his way out one way or another, someone has to learn how to manage those looms if the Spindlethrifts don't want to face a worse disaster."
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