Cousins Part IV - In Which Merry Learns An In Interesting Truth

What Ted didn't know was that Merry, despite his tears and terror, was still basking in the glow of his victory over his older cousin, Berilac. Strength and size might not be on his side, but speed was his friend. Ted swung, but Merry ducked and Ted's fists landed on empty air. Then with all his might, Merry caught him amidships and knocked the breath clean out of him. An astonished Ted Sandyman doubled over and found himself flat on his back, Merry kneeling on his chest. Both hands had hold of Ted's hair and he proceeded to pound Ted's head into the ground.

A hand lifted Merry clean by the back of his shirt. Another hand hauled Ted up to his feet, although Ted was still wheezing and gulping for air. Both found themselves dangling in Frodo's grip. Frodo and Bilbo had come down the lane to see if Farmer Cotton had any beer left and if Mistress Cotton had made fresh bread.

Ted squirmed. Frodo twisted his shirt so that he couldn't get away.

"What's all this then?" Frodo demanded.

"He killed my dog!" Merry screamed.

"He's not dead!" Sam cried. He was holding Dash, who was bleeding, but still breathing.

The other two boys were trying to slink away, but Bilbo Baggins corralled them.

The shrieking attracted the congregation at the Cotton's. Merry twisted and wiggled in Frodo's grasp and keep crying, "I want my dog! I want my dog!" til Frodo had to let him go and he ran to his puppy, crying bitter tears.

Farmer Cotton had the puppy by this time and determined that the wounds while ugly, were not fatal. They'd require a little stitching, and his wife was good at sewing up torn beasts, so Mistress Cotton was assigned the task of doctoring poor Dash. Bilbo, meanwhile, was at the end of his rope with the Sandyman clan and marched Ted to the Mill. The parade was thus: Frodo Baggins hauling Ted, Bilbo with the other two boys, Sam, Merry in tears, Marigold, Ham Gamgee, Farmer Cotton and some little curious Cottons and bringing up the rear, whoever else along the way saw this drama and thought they'd join in.

Sandyman, the Miller, was used to people bringing Ted to him, usually because he had bullied their puny children. He was not amused that lately Ted was losing his fights. And when he heard that Ted had lost to a Brandybuck, well, Ted was in for a hiding.

"I don't mind if you want to berate me around town," Bilbo said. "But you leave my relations alone, do you hear?"

Sandyman was larger than Bilbo, but he was afraid of him. Bilbo, truth be told, wasn't much of a warrior, After all, he usually fainted during the most important battles during his Big Adventure. But no one knew that and all assumed that Bilbo had slain the dragon himself. What he was capable of doing to a hobbit could only be imagined.

"The boy's just got high spirits, that's all," Sandyman said in a cajoling tone. "Boys will fight from time to time."

"He set his dog on my Dash!" Merry sobbed. He wanted to go back to Cotton's to see about his pet.

"Ted wouldn't do that. He likes dogs."

"Ted surely did do that," said Sam. "I've seen him do it before. Saw him set that cur on one of the Banks's cats."

A dog that would attack other animals might soon take to attacking stock. And that bore a death sentence.

"Animal should be put away," Farmer Cotton muttered.

"Tweren't the dog's fault," said Sam boldly. "It's Ted as tells him to."

Sandyman could see he was outnumbered and outvoted. Frodo handed his son to him. The Miller's look was pure spite, but if he wanted his revenge, he couldn't see how he'd take it on this day.

"I'll pay ye if the pup dies," he said. That only brought on more tears from Merry and he ran to Frodo's arms. He had pounded Ted, but that didn't make up for the loss of his pup.

"That dog better not die," said Frodo. "If he does - so does Ted's."

Even Bilbo was astonished at this pronouncement. Frodo was not usually so vengeful, but then again, the injury had been to his cousin and where family was concerned, Bagginses, Tooks and Brandybucks were fiercely loyal. And like all hobbits, when backed into a corner, Frodo's temper could turn into something quite formidable.

The Miller took possession of Ted, who was amply rewarded for picking yet another losing fight. The Bagginses, Gamgees and Cottons returned to the farm. That he had handled an older boy definitely earned Merry a good measure of respect in Ham Gamgee's opinion and he hoped there would be no more incidents with Ted after this.

Dash was wounded but brave. They gave him a little whiskey and he was sewn up and bandaged. Merry had a split lip - one of Ted's fists had hit its mark when Merry had him on the ground, and he needed some mending as well. Soon his puppy was in his lap and Farmer Cotton hitched up his pony cart to take the lot of them back to Bagshot Row -- all armed with jars of preserves. Frodo sat on the back of the cart with Merry between his knees, the puppy in Merry's arms, and the older Gamgee girls on either side of him, still vying for his attention. Marigold thought Merry was incredibly brave Sam was very impressed. Merry had a trick or two he might like to learn.

Because it was nice out, and because Sam had been such a good worker and the reasons for his quarrels with Ted finally brought to light (Bilbo told Hamfast all about it), and because it was Merry's last night at Bag End, Master Hamfast allowed Sam to stay the night at Bag End. The boys took blankets and spread them out under the big oak tree that grew on top of the hill. They had a pitcher of milk, some cheese, bread, apples and a jar of Mistress Cotton's preserves and they lay on their backs staring at the stars and talking of nothing. Merry mentioned he had a new cousin and revealed he knew where babies came from.

"The mail carrier brings them," he said authoritatively. Sam knit his brows together. That was what he reckoned, and he said so.

"Maybe the mail carrier brings them down in Buckland but that isn't how it works up here in Hobbiton," Sam said. He sat up and explained to Merry how things were done in his part of the Shire. Merry was incredulous. It was possibly the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard in all his short life.

"You're joking."

"I am not joking. Why do you think we were taking that bull calf away from the cows?"

"Cows do this?"

Sam explained some more. Merry worked this around in his head. He had seen animals in the pastures but didn't quite understand what that activity was.

"Lawks!" he said. "What a peculiar notion!"

On the following day, Merry, clean and in his best clothes once more, was loaded into the Gamgee pony cart and he bid a reluctant farewell to his new friends. Frodo drove him back to Tookland, where his parents were still visiting their relations. They stopped at the little village of Tuckburrow to let the pony rest and wandered amongst the stall of a small, local fair. Merry had four copper pennies, two from Master Hamfast, and two from Farmer Cotton for helping with the farm chores. It was the first money he had ever earned in his life.

"What will you do with your money, Merry lad?" Frodo asked.

"I was thinking I would bring the baby a gift," Merry said. "Everyone else did." His eyes lit on a knit scarf, very fine work, made by a farmer's wife. "He's so tiny, I'll bet he's cold all the time. I'll get this scarf." It cost 3 pennies and he had 1 for himself for some candy, which he shared with Frodo.

Esmerelda was horrified to see the bandaged puppy and wounded child, but Merry was so full of chatter and adventures that maybe she could see her way clear to let him visit at Bag End again.

"I got the baby a present!" he beamed. "I earned the money all by myself. And I know where babies come from! Frodo thinks it's the letter carrier, but Sam Gamgee told me." Without hesitation, and in front of a room full of Bagginses, Banks, Boffins, Bolgers, Bracegirdles, Brandybucks, Burrows, and Tooks, he launched into a very matter of fact and accurate description of what he had learned. After a stunned silence, Saradoc Brandybuck turned to Frodo and said "Well, Frodo, my lad, I see you have spared me having to have that painful little chat. Thank you." But he didn't look very thankful. "And just who, pray tell, is Sam Gamgee?

Frodo was blushing to the roots of his hair and apologized profusely.

"Sam is my neighbor's boy - about Merry's age I should think."

"Ah. I see.'

"He's my only child, Frodo," said Esmerelda. "If I send him to you again, try to send him back unscathed. And if he comes back with more information than he went away with, try to govern what sort of information that might be."

Frodo promised he would, apologized to the assembled hobbits, (most of whom were actually very amused at Merry's little speech) kissed Merry and his parents, and left. The next day, the Brandybucks were off as well. Merry was importuned to say goodbye to his cousin, who didn't look so squishy and wrinkled. But he was sure tiny. Eglantine promised to take the scarf and present it to him at a later date. Merry hadn't much experience with babies at all, and when he want to pick up one of Pippin's hands, the tyke wrapped his fist around Merry's finger.

"There! He likes you!" said Auntie Eglantine.

"He doesn't smell funny anymore," Merry observed.

"They don't smell funny all the time, dear heart," his mother informed him. "Now kiss Pippin goodbye."

Merry leaned over the cradle and planted a kiss on Pippin's forehead and then he was off to Brandy Hall with his bandaged puppy.

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