Note: Before you read Part Two, check out Part One!
ADVENTURES OF THREE HOBBITS
Part Two (of four): Merry and Frodo
Two easy days of walking brought Frodo to Buckland. He went south from Tighfield through Scary and Budgeford and turned east at Whitfurrows onto the East Road some ten miles from the Brandywine Bridge. This solitary walk through unfamiliar woods and fields before he reached the East Road aroused in him the same longing and anxious anticipation he sometimes felt listening to Bilbo’s stories of mountains, elves and dragons.
As Frodo approached Bucklebury he did not know that Brandy Hall was in a bit of an uproar, caused by the machinations of his young cousin Meriadoc Brandybuck. At seventeen years old Merry had used the unfortunate combination of considerable cleverness and excess idleness to concoct a plot of delinquency with some of his much younger cousins. He had organized his band of miscreants on daytime forays across the Brandywine River by way of the Bucklebury Ferry to Farmer Maggot’s farm where mushrooms, vegetables and fruits were scrumped with an audacity that soon led to his downfall. Though indeed Farmer Maggot never did discover who had been into his crops and fields for the past week Merry’s parents did. When he and the lads couldn’t adequately explain how they might have legitimately acquired their bounty, (which the smallest of them had been too young to properly conceal), the truth had come out. Pippin Took’s parents were especially put out that their littlest one had been so ill-used by the cousin he adored, and they left Brandy Hall for their home in Tuckborough just hours before Frodo arrived.
Merry’s parents had not yet settled on a punishment, partly because they were not used to disciplining their son, but primarily because they were overwhelmed by the wealth of diverse and conflicting advice from the parents of Merry’s band of thieves.
Merry was the first to greet Frodo. Being under strict orders not to leave the grounds of the Hall, but feeling that the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” might serve his purposes in delaying the passing of his sentence, he had been sitting on the stone retaining wall at the juncture of the main road and the lane leading to the front entrances to Brandy Hall when Frodo appeared round the bend of the road. With a whoop of joy he raced down the road and practically tackled Frodo to the ground in his enthusiastic welcoming embrace.
“Frodo! I didn’t know you were coming for a visit!” he exclaimed.
“Neither did I until a few days ago,” laughed Frodo, adjusting his pack that had gone askew under Merry’s assault and picking up his walking stick. He looked his young cousin up and down; the mischievous smile had not diminished in the many months it had been since he had seen Merry, but he was much grown in that brief period and had a new air of confidence about him.
When Frodo asked how he was Merry launched into a full, if rather colorful, account of his adventures and troubles, including a detailed description of the members of the conspiracy and how they were betrayed by the inexperience of the youngest member, Pippin Took.
“He was in the back garden under the walnut tree eating his share of the fruit and vegetables we’d managed to scrump,” Merry explained, “and he didn’t know it, thank goodness or he would have given me away no doubt, but I was behind the shed. Well, his mother came along and asked him where he’d got what he had, and it included those yellow plums that we don’t grow here at Brandy Hall, and a type of turnips we don’t favor here either, so she didn’t believe him when he said he’d been in the Hall garden. She also wanted to know where he’d been all day. And she raised her voice, and that was all it took, Pippin just told her everything, and named names, me first among them of course, and made it sound like he’d been dreadfully frightened when the dogs chased him, and said he’d almost fallen off the ferry on the way back, when of course he hadn’t, we’d caught him in time. So Aunt Eglantine was just outraged, and she told the parents of all the other scrumpers, and those little rascals all made it sound like it was completely my idea, that I’d forced them into it against their will and they said how frightened they all were of old Farmer Maggot, though I’ve always gotten on well enough with him, I must say.
“Well, you’ve never been caught in his crops, have you?” asked Frodo.
“No,” Merry smiled, “I’ve always made sure of that.”
“And, really, Merry, little Pippin! He’s far too young to go off doing that sort of thing, especially with all those other cousins barely older than him and with not enough sense in their own heads not to listen to their cousin Merry’s schemes!”
“Thank you very much, I must say,” exclaimed Merry. “Once he heard the plan he insisted on being included, and threatened to tell on us if he wasn’t, so I really had no choice if the expedition was to go forward.”
“You really are a menace around here, Merry,” said Frodo in exasperation.
“Its all these cousins of mine, always clamoring for something exciting to do, and looking to me to find it for them. I’m sure I would never have been so awful if it hadn’t been for their influence. And it is hard to be quiet and serious and studious with all these littler ones around.” He said this as seriously as he could and turned his face from Frodo so he couldn’t see the suppressed smile.
Frodo looked at him thoughtfully. He remembered what it had been like for him at Brandy Hall when he was Merry’s age – too much freedom and not enough guidance. And he’d had his share of run-ins with Farmer Maggot.
“So how are you being punished?” he asked finally.
“They’re still talking about it, I don’t think mum and dad want to treat me too badly but all the aunts and uncles are out for blood.” He gave a great sigh, “it’s going to be unbearable around here for a long time.”
Frodo laughed, “You are incorrigible Merry Brandybuck! I know you’re casting about for an invitation from me to take you back to Bag End! Well, all right, I will, if your parents will let me, but don’t think you’ll be getting off easy. Bilbo will have you learning Elvish and writing poetry every morning and in the afternoon he’ll make you entertain all the relatives he can’t bear who stop by unannounced.”
“Oh, that’s all right, I can handle Bilbo,” exclaimed Merry, and he gave a whoop of joy. “And we’ll have a great time together. When are you heading back? The sooner the better for me, of course.”
“I’ll be staying for almost two weeks, and we have to go back by way of Tighfield to pick up Sam Gamgee. You’ve met him before, the Gaffer’s son.”
“Gaffer Gamgee! Bilbo’s gardener who’s always spouting his own version of wisdom and going on about his gardens? Oh, yes I’ve met Samwise tagging along with him; I expect he’s growing up to be just like the Gaffer. Why’s he coming with us?” asked Merry, not bothering to hide his annoyance.
“I came across the Shire with him, and left him at his Uncle Andy’s in Tighfield, he’s working on a rope bridge for a couple of weeks, and then we’re going back to Hobbiton together when he’s done. It’s only because he was going to Tighfield that I decided to come to Brandy Hall in the first place, so you have him to thank for bringing you a savior.”
Merry enthusiasm had waned. “Well, that’s no fun having him around, I thought it would be just the two of us.”
Frodo stood up, feeling rather annoyed “I expect Sam will feel the same way, but its one of the conditions of your proposed probation, so take or leave it. Now, I’m off to see the rest of the family and no doubt be subjected to their version of your delinquency. Why did I even hope I might have a few peaceful days here?”
* * *
After much cajoling by Merry, liberally interspersed with seemingly sincere expressions of repentance and promises to behave, his parents agreed to banish him to Hobbiton. This punishment was viewed as almost too severe by many of the Brandybuck clan who felt that the queer habits of Bilbo in particular and Hobbiton in general would be unlikely to reform his behavior to any proper ways. He wisely kept secret his delight at the plan.
During the ten days before they left Merry was under a form of “house arrest”. He was not allowed off the grounds of Brandy Hall unless in the company of a grown-up (Frodo was nominally included in this category, being just two years and a bit short of it in truth), and he was not to consort with any cousin younger than twenty years (it having been decided that any hobbit of twenty or more foolish enough to be caught up in one of Merry’s schemes would learn a much needed lesson from the consequences of his actions). Finally, before he would be allowed out of his room Merry had to write letters of apology to all the cousins he had wronged and to their parents.
So it was that Frodo spent considerable time with Merry, first in his room and then escorting him off the grounds of Brandy Hall and away from the baleful looks of his relatives. On the second or third evening after his arrival he was in Merry’s room keeping him company while he finished up the last of his letters. He noticed several neatly tied bundles of letters in the desk drawer when Merry rooted around for a fresh envelope.
“Are those all mine?” he asked, both pleased and impressed that Merry had saved them.
Merry laughed, “I’ve kept every single letter you’ve written me since you went off to live with Bilbo.” He turned suddenly serious. “You’ve no idea how much I missed you, Frodo. I used to wait for the post every day for months and months after you left.”
Frodo smiled and ruffled his hair, “I had to go though, Merry, I could never be a Baggins in Buckland.” He spotted one bundle among them that was not his; the address was in a large, childish hand. “Who are those from?” he asked.
“Oh, little Pippin’s been keeping up a furious correspondence with me ever since Aunt Eglantine taught him to read and write” chuckled Merry. “He’s quite something, a Took through and through, always ready for an adventure. And you thought I was a terror when I was little!”
* * *
Frodo stayed ten days at the Hall, and he and Merry set out one fine mid-morning. Though his mother wept as she bade her only son farewell on his first journey from home without his parents Merry couldn’t stop smiling, and he didn’t think to turn and give one final wave before he disappeared from sight around the bend in the road.
Merry’s high spirits amused Frodo. For Merry the past ten days at Brandy Hall, even with his cousin’s mitigating presence, had been an almost sufficient punishment for his misdeeds. Now he could hardly contain his pleasure at finally going on his adventure across the Shire with Frodo. The countryside of the first few hours of their walk, as they made their way to the Brandywine Bridge, was familiar to Merry, and so he spent most of his time discussing all the points of interest along the way, which included, more often than not, some tale of misadventure that Merry had been involved in. In return, Frodo told Merry similar, if less colorful stories, of his own escapades as a youngster of Merry’s age in the same area. Frodo had not led a blameless youth, and in his day he had so tried Farmer Maggot’s patience with his relentless scrumping of mushrooms that he was finally beaten by him and terrorized by his dogs. But Frodo did not find this particular memory amusing and felt the tale was too similar Merry’s misdeed to be told – it might encourage rather than caution.
Once they turned north at Whitfurrows Merry was into relatively unfamiliar territory that longed to be explored. While Frodo hiked on steadily through the late afternoon Merry would race ahead to into the small woods, or dart across fields to pluck often unripe or bitter fruit from wild and untended trees. He hid behind large rocks and up in trees lining the road to ambush Frodo, and after springing his trap would run madly away with Frodo in pursuit. So their walk turned into an extended game of a combination of hide and seek, and tag.
* * *
They camped that night under a copse of trees just off the main road. It was a cool, clear evening with enough wind to keep the bugs down. The waxing half-moon low in sky cast a glow on the quiet forest and fields. Rolled snug in their blankets they talked quietly as the campfire burned low.
“How long will it take us to get to Hobbiton, do you think.” asked Merry.
“Well, about forever, if I have to stop every half hour to wrestle myself away from your grip, or wait for you to find your way out of an abandoned orchard, or to finish paddling in some little stream you’ve found.” Frodo laughed as Merry gave him a playful shove. “But if we keep on steadily we’ll be in Tighfield tomorrow afternoon, and if we head out early the next day then we may only be two more nights on the road. But I have some business to do for Bilbo in Much Hemlock that may take some time, so we might be an extra night there.”
“Why didn’t you do that on the way out” asked Merry, a bit put out by the thought of having to overnight in two small villages.
“I only learnt about it the other day. Bilbo wrote to me at Brandy Hall. I’d written and told him you were coming back with me – its only fair to forewarn him of your invasion, after all – and he wrote back about this business. Sam and I had left in such a hurry it hadn’t occurred to him before we were gone. It’s a bit of negotiation over the price of a case of very nice wine Bilbo wants. If I can settle it in an afternoon it should save him many weeks of heated correspondence, though I’m surprised he wants me to deprive him of that pleasure. “
“Did you tell him he’s to have the pleasure of being one of my gaolers? ” asked Merry wickedly.
“Yes, I told him about your crimes and your punishment,” he replied rather curtly. Frodo had at first felt uneasy by Bilbo’s comment in his letter. His condemnation had been tempered by barely disguised amusement at Merry’s audacity, but then Frodo had remembered he had not told Bilbo that Merry had drawn little Pippin into the conspiracy.
Merry sat up. “I don’t know why you’re still so annoyed about it” he said “after all, I did own up to it, and Farmer Maggot has one of the finest farms in the area, he wouldn’t miss ten times what we managed to take, so no real harm done.”
Frodo sounded unconvinced, as he said, “no, I suppose he wouldn’t.” Merry gave an exasperated sigh, prompting Frodo to sit up and explain. “Merry, Farmer Maggot isn’t as harmless as you seem to think he is. I almost wish he had caught you and then you’d know. Just you, mind, not the others – you were the one who led them into that and they followed because it was you. They weren’t old enough to properly understand the risk.”
Merry blushed and tossed another piece of wood roughly onto the fire. “They were fine” he insisted “no harm done.”
“You were lucky,” said Frodo flatly.
They sat quietly watching the fire for a few minutes and then Frodo fetched bread and jam from his pack and made them a midnight snack of toast while he finally told Merry of his last encounter with Farmer Maggot.