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A CONSPIRACY OF HOBBITS
Pippin Took was angry, puzzled and curious; a dangerous combination.
He had looked forward to the arrival of numerous relations at the Great Smials to celebrate the birth of his sister Pimpernel’s second child. He’d not seen his cousin Merry in weeks, nor his cousin Frodo in a couple of months.
But they had been here for two days already and he’d yet to have a conversation alone with Merry, almost as if his Brandybuck cousin was avoiding him. And then he’d gone for a walk with his Baggins cousin this morning only to find that Frodo was distracted and pensive. He’d keep stopping to pat trees, and once he looked at the view down the Green Hills and muttered “I wonder if I shall ever look at this valley again,” a statement that Pippin found alarming and strange. Well. Stranger than usual for Frodo, anyway. He was beginning to have a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
But not for nothing was he a Took. Nobody could beat the Tooks for deviousness or determination, which explained why he was hiding under Merry’s guest room window and eavesdropping for all he was worth.
“You will watch after him, won’t you, Fatty?” Merry’s voice was wistful and plaintive.
“Merry, you have to be joking!” Fatty Bolger’s voice sounded more alarmed than anything else. “Pippin doesn’t even like me. He thinks I’m dull as ditchwater without an original thought in my head. I’m the last person he’d let watch after him.”
From his vantage point behind a bush, Pippin’s eyebrows climbed. He’d no idea Fatty was intelligent enough to know what he thought of him, and so accurately, too.
Merry’s voice moved nearer the window and Pippin huddled down more.
“Pip will never forgive me, you know. I’m going to be breaking all kinds of promises.” Merry’s voice cracked, and Pippin could tell he was on the verge of tears. He’d feel sorry for him if he weren’t too busy being annoyed--and curious.
Fatty muttered something that he couldn’t hear, undoubtedly meant to be soothing.
“It’s just that I never thought I’d have to choose between them. But I can’t let Frodo go into this kind of danger without me, and I can’t take Pip into this kind of danger with me.”
And now he knew.
It explained everything: the looks, the hints, the sudden silences, the awkward changes of subject--
Fatty’s voice again “What makes you think Frodo isn’t going to feel exactly the same about you as you do about Pip? He’s not going to want to take you for the very same reason.” Pippin’s opinion of Fatty’s intelligence went up another notch.
“Of course he won’t” came Merry’s reply. He sounded perfectly miserable. Served him right. “Why else would I have to sneak around behind his back like this and spy on him? I’ll wait until he’s almost ready to leave, and then I tell him, not ask him. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to follow them until he and Sam have gone too far to send me back.”
Sounded like a very good plan, thought Pippin, only I will have to spy on Frodo and Merry. But he’d learned one thing already. Frodo’s gardener Samwise Gamgee was in on it, too.
“Well, I shall be glad to help all I can in the sneaking and spying department, and in planning your escape. But all the same, I’m glad you don’t expect me to come along.” Fatty gave a rueful laugh.
“Oh, Fatty, that’s the only reason I can ask your help. I know I don’t have to worry about you wanting to come along.” Merry laughed also, but it sounded forced. “I don’t look forward to this myself. This is not the kind of adventure I always thought to have one day. I’m more than a little frightened. But I have to protect Frodo. I just wish I had a chance to make Pip understand.”
“Well, avoiding him is just going to make him suspicious, Merry. I think you’d better make an effort to act more natural around him; Pip’s young, but you know he’s no fool even if he is a Took. And speaking of acting natural, we don’t want to be late for luncheon, do we?”
Merry’s reply was lost as he moved away from the window, but apparently he agreed with last sentence since Pippin could hear them moving away and the door open and shut. He waited for a second, and then uncurled himself from behind the bush and brushed himself off. Apparently, Fatty was no fool either, even if he was a stodgy old Bolger. This gave him the beginnings of an idea.
In the large dining hall he spotted Merry. He was over in a corner, apparently having a conversation with Folco Boffin, but his eyes were on Frodo, who was on the other side of the room doting over Pimpernel’s newest arrival, little Alyssum Goodbody. In fact, he looked as though he was staring holes into Frodo, and Pippin wondered that his older cousin had not noticed he was being watched with such intent regard.
Pippin sidled down the room, keeping out of Merry’s view, and came silently up behind him. “Hullo, Merry, Hullo Folco.” He had the satisfaction of seeing Merry jump. He grinned to himself. As long as he could keep one step ahead of Merry, this little game could be fun--especially since he knew he was playing it, and Merry did not.
“Pippin, where did you pop out from?”
“I live here, remember? You know, if I didn’t know better, cousin, I’d think you were trying to avoid me.”
Folco laughed. “Now that’s funny! You two are joined at the hip. Everybody knows that.” This earned him a reproachful stare from Merry and an annoyed one from Pippin.
“Pip, I don’t know what in the world would give you an idea like that.” No one but Pippin, or maybe Frodo, would have noticed the slight squeak in his voice, or that he used too many words to answer. Yes, indeed, cousin Merry had a guilty conscience. Good. Plan on sneaking away without his Pip, would he?
Merry’s eyes once more strayed in Frodo’s direction, and this time Pippin let his gaze follow. “You know, Merry, I went for a walk with Frodo this morning. He was acting very odd.”
“How could you tell?” said Folco, trying to be witty. This time he got a glare from both Took and Brandybuck. “All right! All right! I can tell I’m not wanted.”
As Folco walked off in disgust, wondering how he’d managed to offend them, Merry turned to Pippin. “What do you mean by odd?”
“He didn’t seem interested in singing or even talking to me. He kept talking to himself, saying things like ‘I wonder if I’ll ever go this way again?’ and ‘Will I ever see this place anymore?’ You don’t suppose he’s sick, do you?” Pippin widened his eyes and feigned worry, and then turned his gaze on Frodo again.
“No, no, not at all” Merry assured him. “I’m sure he’s not sick.”
“Well, that’s good, he had me worried. You know how he is.” Of course both the younger hobbits were staring at Frodo again, and now he finally noticed. He turned his eyes on them from across the room and looked puzzled.
Pippin looked back at Merry. “Maybe we should try to wangle an invitation to Bag End when he leaves here.”
Merry’s eyes widened with a hint of panic, but his voice was calm. “Do you think so?”
“Why, yes, Merry. We usually spend a few weeks at Bag End in the spring, and maybe we can find out what’s troubling him. You can get away, can’t you?”
“Yes--yes, you’re perfectly right, Pip. I’ll talk to Frodo this afternoon.”
Pippin watched the panic drain from Merry’s eyes, to be replaced with speculation. Well, he had him now. And once they got to Bag End, he could keep an eye on both of them at once.
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