[Author’s note: Quotations in italics are from FOTR, Book I, Ch. 4: “A Shortcut to Mushrooms”.]
Frodo was emphatic: he simply did not want to go to “The Golden Perch”.
Pippin wondered why Frodo had objected so strongly.
In truth, it wasn’t so much what Pippin might do that worried Frodo. The fact was, Frodo had a good many friends who lived in the farmlands down in the Marish. He was afraid he might run into one of them at the inn who would insist on buying them all a pinto or two, and they’d end up staying longer than they should, reminiscing about old times. Frodo knew they had to be especially careful now with the Black Rider in close pursuit; he had to keep his wits about him. He felt the best thing to do was to cut straight across country, and stay as far away from civilization as possible. It would be a relief when they finally reached Crickhollow that evening.
The “shortcut” did not go as smoothly as planned, however. Frodo wished he’d listened to Pippin and not veered so far to the south. He should have remembered that the direction he was leeding them in would take them right onto old Farmer Maggot’s land. He didn’t have the energy to face this fellow today, not with everything else weighing on his mind. He tried to make the other two believe that the only reason he was afraid of Maggot was because the farmer had caught him stealing mushrooms, but he wasn’t a very good liar. The other two saw right through him. It was clear there was more to the story than he was letting on. In truth, he had an even greater reason for fearing Maggot, but as it was he thought it best to keep that to himself. He’d actually paid a visit to Maggot’s farm years after his mushroom caper. This time, however, mushrooms had been the last thing on his mind.
There was an awkward silence as the hobbits stood at the gate. Then suddenly Pippin remembered that Maggot also had three daughters, and being all too aware of his cousin’s reputation with the lasses, quickly put two and two together. Frodo could tell by the way Pippin laughed that he guessed what part of the story Frodo had left out. He gave Pippin a wry smile. Reluctantly, he followed the other two through the gate.
Frodo thought back to an afternoon in June, some years after his run-in with Maggot over the mushrooms, when he had come back to Brandy Hall for a visit. He and some friends were down by the river fishing, and he struck up a conversation with one of them, who happened to be one of Maggot’s sons. Frodo had an ulterior motive, of course. He was at that age when lasses were about the only thing he could think about, and he’d had his eye on Maggot’s eldest daughter, Ivy, ever since he’d seen her at the harvest festival a few months earlier. Ivy was quite a pretty young thing. She was just coming into womanhood, and the boys were already buzzing around her like bees to honey. Of course, Maggot always kept them at bay. He made sure anyone who came courting minded their manners, or he took a stick to them.
Frodo, on the other hand, while he could be quite charming (and was reputed to be quite wealthy), was also considered odd, and had always been a troublemaker. And of course, Maggot already had it in for him. He’d told his daughter to stay away from Frodo after he saw the two of them kissing at the harvest festival.
Frodo was still afraid of the farmer, but he was in his reckless tweens and was feeling particularly rebellious that day. Besides, he’d learned from Maggot’s son that Ivy had been asking about him, so he decided he would try to figure out a way to sneak past the age without being seen.
As Frodo followed Sam an Pippin past the fields, he remembered stopping to pick wildflowers from the meadow for Ivy. The place was starting to look familiar to him. He clearly remembered hiding in the rye field across from Maggot’s gate. He’d seen the farmer come out to tend the fields. Slowly, Frodo got up and crept stealthily toward the gate. Just when he’d gotten up the courage to reach out and open the latch, there came a shout from behind him. It was Maggot.
Now, nearly twenty-five years later, Frodo tensed when they saw Maggot appear in the lane ahead of them. He felt very nervous about meeting the farmer again. He could hardly believe it when Maggot actually invited them into his house. Frodo didn’t relish the idea of sitting face to face with Maggot, but he couldn’t think of any way of getting out of it. Besides, it sounded as though the farmer had some news of some importance; Frodo had a feeling it had something to do with him.
He didn’t want to call attention to himself, but given that there were three huge dogs right in front of him, the largest one ready to lunge at him at a moment’s notice, he felt he had to say something.
The farmer laughed. “They won’t harm you – not unless I tell ’em to.”
This actually made Frodo even more anxious. Maggot obviously hadn’t recognized him right away, but if he were to suddenly remember him he might have a change of heart. It was lucky, Frodo thought to himself now, that the dogs hadn’t been anywhere about that afternoon Maggot caught him trying to sneak past the gate to see Ivy, or he really might have told them to eat Frodo. He remembered the wrath in the farmer’s eyes. Apparently Maggot had forgotten one of his tools and had come back to the house. He had explicitly told Frodo to stay off his property, and yet there the little rascal stood with a boquet of flowers in his hand. It was all too obvious to the farmer what that mischievous young Frodo was up to. “Stay away from my daughter, Baggins!” bellowed the farmer. Mrs. Maggot came to the cage to see what was wrong. Frodo quickly dropped the flowers, turned, and went dashing across the fields, making a beeline for the Ferry. He wasn’t about to take another beating! Maggot considered going after him, but Mrs. Maggot was able to calm him down, reminding him he’d done the same thing when he was Frodo’s age. Reluctantly, the farmer shook his head and went about his business. “That lad is headed for trouble,” he said to his wife, “mark my words.” Mrs Maggot laughed softly to herself. Meanwhile, Frodo stopped for a moment, turned and looked back to the farmhouse. He considered trying to see ivy again, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk. He didn’t really feel too strongly for her one way or the other. Besides, there were plenty of other lasses out there. He decided it was best to stay off Maggot’s land altogether from now on. He turned and dashed off again.
Now, here he was, almost twenty-five years later, standing with Maggot in front of his gate. “Mr. Frodo Baggins,” Pippin said. “You may not remember him, but he used to live at Brandy Hall.” At the name Baggins the farmer started, and gave Frodo a sharp glance.
Frodo stood there nervously. He’d actually expected more of a reaction than this. Perhaps Maggot had forgotten about his most recent visit.
Farmer Maggot took him by the arm. “Well, if that isn’t queerer than ever?” he exclaimed. “Mr. Baggins, is it? Come inside! We must have a talk.”
Now Frodo thought he heard an edge creeping up in the farmer’s voice.
Maggot’s parlor seemed dark in contrast to the bright afternoon sunlight. After his eyes had adjusted to the dimply lit room, Frodo glanced quickly around for any sign of Ivy, but she was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she’d married and moved out by now. It would be awkward seeing her again now, even after all these years. Frodo took a seat in a chair with carven wooden armrests on the left of the fireplace, right up against a barrel that smelled of cider. Maggot took a seat right across from him on a bench beside to a low table. The huge dog called wolf came and lay at Frodo’s feet. The whole time that Mrs. Maggot was bustling in and out of the room, she was looking at Frodo. She obviously remembered him quite well. Frodo stroked the dogs fur, trying not to seem nervous. It seemed to him that Maggot looked at him for an especially long time before turning his gaze to the other two.
Sam sensed how anxious Frodo was. This struck him as odd; he didn’t think Maggot would hold a grudge this long over mushrooms, though he barely knew the farmer.
The hobbits were worried the farmer would be upset with them for trespassing over his property, but he didn’t seem too concerned about that.
“You have leave to walk over my land, if you have a mind, Mr. Perigrin,” he said. “And you, Mr. Baggins, though I daresay you still like mushrooms.”
Frodo thought he heard a hint of sarcasm in the farmer’s voice.
Maggot laughed. “Ah yes,” he said. “I recognized the name. I recollect the time when young Frodo Baggins was one of the worst rascals of Buckland. But it wasn’t mushrooms I was thinking of.”
Frodo had guessed that, of course.
But then the farmer said, “I had just heard the name Baggins before you turned up. What do you think that funny customer asked me?”
This took Frodo by surprise. Apparently there really was something more pressing on the farmer’s mind. They listened intently to Maggots account of the strange visitor who had been by earlier. They had just missed him, apparently. To Frodo’s relief, Maggot made no mention of Ivy. At least that was one less thing he had to worry about. The farmer’s news was unsettling, however. From his description, this visitor sounded like the same shady character they’d encountered back near Woody End. If it was, he’d managed to ask practically everyone from Hobbiton to Buckland of Frodo’s whereabouts. Frodo wondered if this was the same rider they’d seen this morning; he was pretty sure there was more than one about. Somehow he doubted the rider would have followed through on his promise to bring gold if Maggot had given him any useful information. He knew any servant of the Enemy could not be trusted. He found it difficult now to sit and listen to all that Maggot was telling them. The farmer could be a bit long winded. Still, Frodo sat politely and at least tried not to seem impatient.
“When I heard you had left the Brandybucks and gone off to that old Mr. Bilbo,” Maggot was saying, “I said that you were going to find trouble.” Maggot shook his head in disapproval. He kept up with the gossip from all four Farthings, of course, and there were some strange rumors floating around about Bilbo. Folks were concerned that some of Bilbo’s odd habits would have a bad influence on young Frodo. Word had it that Bell Gamgee (the Gaffer’s late wife) had been kind enough to look in on them from time to time, and that Bilbo came to rely on her quite a bit. “Mark my words,” Maggot continued, “this all comes of those strange doings of Mr. Bilbo’s.”
Eventually Frodo saw a chance to politely excuse himself, explaining that they were in a hurry. As he was saying goodbye, he finally got up the courage to look the farmer in the eyes. Maggot must have seen how awkward Frodo felt, for he laughed again, this time with a touch of sympathy in his voice. Frodo was surprised by Maggot’s invitation to stay for supper. Maybe the old fellow was mellowing, Frodo thought to himself. He still felt a little uncomfortable, but he knew it would be wise to wait and let Maggot drive them to the Ferry after supper rather than risk making the journey on foot.
He was chagrined, however, when all three of Maggot’s daughters came to join them at the table. Ivy shoot Frodo a sour look from across the table; she still remembered waiting for him to come see her that summer, but he’d never shown up. Frodo looked back at her with guilt and apology. He felt bad that he hadn’t gotten up the nerve to come back and try again to get past the gate. Now that he saw her up close, however, he wasn’t surprised none of the local hobbits had asked for her hand in matrimony. Indeed she was not the sight she used to be, having put on quite a bit around the middle. There was a slight feeling of tension at the table, but at least the food was good.
Sam noticed the exchange between Frodo and Ivy, and suddenly had a feeling why his master had been so nervous earlier. Frodo did have a way with the lasses – he’d even courted Sam’s younger sister Marigold briefly. Well, not really courted – they used to go for walks together while Frodo read to her from his book of poetry, and she had become quite infatuated with him. Perhaps this was why Frodo hadn’t wanted to tell Sam about his experience with Ivy. This had been a someone sensitive issue between the two of them, and maybe Frodo was afraid that hearing about a romance he’d had with another girl would strike a nerve. He knew how pretective Sam was of his younger sister.
That was one of the things Sam loved about his master. He was always so caring and thoughtful of others’ feelings. Sam laughed quietly to himself as he thought about his sister and Frodo. He always knew that what they had would never blossom into love. Besides, Rosie Cotton’s older brother was courting Marigold now.
The hobbits felt pleasantly contented after the meal. As the farmer was getting the team hitched up, Mrs. Maggot came out to see them off. As they drove off, she handed a covered basket to her husband. Frodo wished Maggot’s small team of ponies would travel faster. He was anxious to get to the Ferry. Trying to get his mind on something else, he thought about Ivy again. Looking bak on things, he realized now that he he never would have made a suitable beau for her, even if he’d lived closer. He’d always been much too fickle. Sure, he’d had an occasional romance, but he was too free a soul to settle down with any one girl. Besides, since he’d started visiting the elves, he’d begun losing interest in lasses and that sort of thing, and had become very quiet and reclusive in recent years, spending most of his time by the fireplace reading.
He was so caught up in his memories that he didn’t even notice when they pulled up to the turnoff leading to the landing. Pippin had to nudge him to let him know they’d arrived. He pulled himself up and was preparing to jump down, but the sound of horses’ hoofs immediately brought his mind back to his present danger. He was greatly relieved to hear Merry’s voice. He’d been certain it was one of the Black Riders.
Maggot didn’t stay long to talk. He seemed to sense something rather forboding about the whole situation, and was in a bit of a hurry to get home. The mists from the river did give the night a sort of creepy feel to it. The lights from Maggot’s waggon vanished quickly into the dusk, but the hobbits lingered briefly at the entrance to the Ferry and listened to the creak of the waggon wheels grow fainter and fainter, until all about was silent. The four of them stood there for a moment in quiet reflection. Frodo felt some degree of relief despite all the other troublesome events of the day. He was glad to finally be able to bury the hatchet with old Maggot. It was a shame, he thought to himself, that he was leaving the Shire now, probably for good.
In his hand he held the basket Mrs. Maggot had handed to her husband. It turned out she had prepared a little peace offering. Frodo knew they would be be having a second supper at Crickhollow now – he never could say no to mushrooms.