For Addie and Kaylee for their birthdays. Beta by RiverOtter.
Frodo was picking up his trousers to don them and paused, his hands on the pockets. “That beast!” he said through clenched teeth. “He’s done it again!”
Merry paused with his own shirt in his hands, looking up at his older cousin. “Which beast?” he asked. “Not that foul Lotho? I thought he’d gone off to the Southfarthing with his folks.”
“He has--the only reason I felt it was safe for you and me to come down to the Water for a swim. No, not Lotho; Ted--Ted Sandyman.” He pulled a handkerchief out of the pocket and peered at it as if it somehow held the missing item before restoring it and beginning to don the trousers.
“Sandyman? You mean the miller’s lad?”
“Yes, that’s the one. He lives just over there, and loves to prowl along the waterside, of course. Almost every time I come for a swim he seems to sneak in and go through my pockets. And this time he’s taken my new striker set!”
“The one my dad gave you for his birthday?”
“Yes.” Frodo glared at the Mill. “I’m not certain which is the biggest thief; Ted, Lotho, or Lotho’s mother. Each will see something shiny and just snap it up. It’s as if I lived in the midst of a flock of particularly rude magpies.”
Merry had finished pulling on his shirt and reached for his own trousers, then paused. “My things have been gone through, too,” he said as he picked them up and checked the pockets. He looked up, angry. “The silver button from my great-grandda’s coat--it’s gone!” He felt again. “And a silver penny and four coppers,” he added.
Frodo was fastening the buttons on his redonned shirt, still looking toward the Mill thoughtfully. “This is going to have to stop,” he said after a moment. “That button--I know how much it meant to you, having that. It’s just too bad. Yes, it is going to have to stop.” He went silent, then gave a half smile that Merry hadn’t seen in years. “And I think I know what to do about it,” he added as he shrugged his braces into place.
Ted Sandyman looked out the window of his bedroom and saw splashing in the Bywater Pool. He smiled. “The fool,” he murmured to himself. “Back again, is he? Don’t seem t’learn none. An’ what’ll him have with him today, I’m wonderin’?”
He dressed and went swiftly through the low house his family lived in adjacent to the Mill, hastily catching up a pear and a sweet bun to take with him as he headed up to the place where the Baggins brat was swimming. Imagine--swimming in the Water and the Pool? But, then Baggins was half Brandybuck, too, and had spent most of his childhood in Buckland. Everyone knew that! Imagine, growing up in Buckland and swimming in the Brandywine there! Ted shivered as he walked just at the thought of it! No Hobbit who wasn’t cracked in the head swam! Just went to show how strange that Frodo was! And while he swam, Ted regularly searched the clothing the foul orphan would leave on the banks. True, Ted hadn’t come away with much recently as Baggins had apparently been thinking to empty his pockets before leaving Bag End; but yesterday there’d been quite a haul! That striker set as he’d found in Baggins’s pocket was a nice one, and would go with Ted’s own pipe right well. As for what the Brandybuck squeak had carried--well, Ted had been happy enough to relieve the lad of that much coin. It would buy him a fair amount of leaf, it would. And then there was the button he’d found, silver, if Ted didn’t miss his guess. Good chance as Lotho would like that once he got back from the Southfarthing, or maybe Lotho’s clever cousin Timono. Too bad there was but the one, though....
He was outside his own gate now, and was working his way carefully from tree to tree to the banks of the Bywater Pool where Frodo was swimming with the Brandybuck squeak--yes, both of them were out there in the water. No, neither one was looking his way. That was good! Now--to find where their clothing had been left.
He spotted a jacket lying over a pile of other clothing, then a second pile of smaller garments nearby. Ted smiled with satisfaction. If these two were so eager to have their pockets picked yet again, who was he to argue? He moved toward the piles.
“Shall I call the lads?” Saradoc Brandybuck asked as he entered the kitchen to find his cousin Bilbo contentedly stirring a pot of porridge. Sara sniffed appreciatively, noting the scent of cinnamon on the air--Bilbo’s Dwarvish connections brought many a rare spice into Bag End to the delight of his guests.
“Oh, if you would!” Bilbo didn’t bother looking up as he cast an eye toward a kettle where eggs were boiling. “But they’re not in their rooms--Frodo insisted on an early morning swim before Paladin and Lanti arrive with the lasses and young Pippin. They are down in Bywater Pool, I believe. He suggested I should have you come down to fetch them about now, actually. You should have just enough time to get there and back before I’m ready to put all on the table.”
“Gladly,” Sara assured him, gathering up a handful of cherries from the bowl in the center of the table on his way out. He turned toward the entranceway to fetch his walking stick before heading down the Hill toward the Water. Ordinarily he might leave his stick here, but the ground in the area where Frodo liked to swim was rough, and there was always the chance an adder or two might be seen there, sunning themselves as they digested meals of small frogs. The shy snake was rarely a bother in spite of being poisonous, but they were not Sara’s favorite creatures to encounter.
Humming one of Bilbo’s songs in praise of green trees and groaning tables under them, Sara went out the wicket gate and down the steps to the Lane, turning downhill toward the Bywater Road, nodding an acknowledgment to Hamfast Gamgee as he came up it from the Row, a dinner pail in his hands. “A fine morning to ye, sir!” the gardener greeted him. “The Master’s fixin’ second breakfast fer ye and yer missus, is he?”
“Indeed,” Sara answered, interrupting his singing momentarily. “And your lad?”
“I told’im not t’bother with work today, Mr. Brandybuck, sir, beggin’ yer pardon. Instead, I told ’im to head down t’the Water t’fetch home some fish, I did. Too fine a day t’keep him cooped up in the garden, and the lad always brings home a fine string fer us to have at nuncheon.” He looked up appreciatively. “Have a mind to some trout today, I do. And the growin’s slowed down, it has--little enough t’do in the gardens today.”
Sara smiled. “Well, may he have good luck, then, Master Hamfast. And may you enjoy the day as well.” With another nod he continued down his way, once again singing as he went. It was, after all, already a beautiful day, and promised to be finer as it progressed. He only hoped that the breeze kept up and kept it from growing too hot.
He was beginning to feel warm as he followed the Water down toward the Pool, and having finished his song he was now walking quietly, listening to the goldcrests gossiping in the avenue of trees, and from further off the delightful song of a red-winged blackbird from the margins of the Pool. Yes, a lovely day--until he saw the lad furtively approaching the piles of clothing Sara knew must have been left there by Frodo and Merry.
“What’s this?” Sara asked himself, and watched as the youth picked up Frodo’s jacket and began furtively rooting in its pockets. “Ah,” he murmured under his breath. “A sneak thief!” So saying, he lifted his walking stick and smacked it softly against his left palm as he went forward as quietly as only a Hobbit bent on stealth could go. Someone, he knew, was going to rue sneaking about the banks of the Pool today!
Ted Sandyman picked up the jacket and began searching its pockets. Ah--there was indeed something there, something knotted in the corner of the Baggins’s handkerchief. He quickly pulled it out, having ascertained that there was nothing else, and dropped the jacket negligently back on the pile once more. He began working at the knot, hoping to find out the nature of his prize, when suddenly he felt a blow fall on his backside.
“Ow!” he called out, taken completely by surprise. He dropped the handkerchief and its contents to grab at his behind as he turned about. The second clout caught him high on the left arm. A furious gentlehobbit was facing him, walking stick in hand.
“So,” Saradoc Brandybuck growled, reaching out and catching the miller’s lad by the collar, “you think to pilfer my nephew’s clothing do you? And have you been into Merry’s clothing as well?”
“It’s not what it looks!” Ted protested, knowing that this was a lie--that all was precisely as it appeared. “Was only fetchin’ the tidbit as Frodo asked for, is all.”
“What’s this, Mr. Brandybuck, sir?” asked another young voice. It appeared that Sam Gamgee had been following the Heir to the Master of the Hall down the road, fishing pole in hand, a length of twine to which to fasten his catch looped to his braces’ button. “What’s Ted Sandyman a-doin’, pawin’ at Master Frodo’s things?” The gardener’s lad glared at the miller’s son, the animosity he’d always held toward the older lad plain on his face. “Doin’ some more filchin’, is he?” He looked up into the eyes of his Master’s guest. “Master Merry--he told me last evenin’ as this one had been botherin’ their stuff yesterday, and took some coin from his pockets and Master Frodo’s new striker set as well.”
“Is that so?” the Brandybuck asked in an interested tone. “Sam, my lad, would you mind going to fetch this one’s father? I think as he’ll have some concerns for what his son has been doing.”
Sam set his pole against a tree before turning toward the Mill, and soon enough Miller Sandyman was standing beside Saradoc Brandybuck, glaring furiously at his son. “What’s this about you pilferin’ from the pockets o’ gentlehobbits?” the older Sandyman demanded.
“I didn’t take nothin’!” Ted protested.
“Only because I caught you when I did,” the Brandybuck declared, eyeing the knotted handkerchief lying there at the lad’s feet. “And I suppose that that handkerchief just happened to fall out of Frodo’s pocket by way of your hand, did it?”
“Him asked me t’fetch it fer him!” Ted again insisted.
But Frodo and Merry, alerted by the argument on the bank, had emerged from the Pool, Frodo grabbing a length of toweling from where he’d hung it over a branch and throwing it to his younger cousin as he took a second length for himself and pulled it over his shoulders, tossing his wet hair out of his face.
“Did not!” Merry said. “Frodo and I’ve not seen you at all until now! And we were swimming about over there, not here by the bank. How was Frodo to ask you to fetch anything to him when we were in the center of the Pool? You don’t swim, do you, to bring it out to him?”
“Swim?” demanded the miller. “And since when’s my lad goin’ t’be doin’ somethin’ so outlandish as swimming?” He returned his attention to Ted’s face, and Ted felt his spirits sink lower. No, his old dad wasn’t going to be sticking up for his own flesh and blood today!
“Now,” he said in a low, dangerous voice, “what for are you goin’ about, pinchin’ stuff from the gentry. And you been stealin’ from them?”
“No, Dad,” Ted protested, hoping his father would stick up for him anyway. “I didn’t take a thing from nobody!”
“Then turn out your pockets and let’s have a look!”
Uh oh! This was going to be bad, and Ted knew it. When he made no attempt to follow his father’s orders, the miller at last gave a wordless exclamation and did it for him, exposing the silver striker set, those of the coins he’d taken from Merry he’d not yet spent, and the silver button.
“What’s this?” the miller asked, looking at the items he’d just taken from his son. “And where’d ye come by such as these? Three coppers? I’ve not give ye pocket money fer a week, and I know as ye spent all that as I give ye then!”
“He took four coppers and a silver from me yesterday,” Merry said.
In another pocket was found a bag of pipeweed, fresh from the market in Hobbiton. “So, that’s how ye were able to be a smokin’ yer pipe last night, is it, smokin’ fine Longbottom Leaf instead of Inn’s Best like me, eh?” The miller shook his head. “Well, if’n ye’d be smokin’ fine weed like a gentlehobbit, mayhaps ye’d first see to it as ye did enough work as to earn it fair!” He took the bag of pipeweed and the other items and handed them to Saradoc Brandybuck. “Here, sir--mayhaps as ye’ll appreciate this, and mayhaps pay the lad back, like--don’t know as he’s old enough to be smokin’ pipeweed, after all. But this ain’t rightfully Ted’s.”
“But, Dad--he hit me, he did; hit me with his stick!”
“Him did, did he? And weren’t ye deservin’ it, lad, pinchin’ his kin’s things, and his son’s things? Seems t’me as ye owe some folks an apology! And ye’ll not be sittin’ down tonight, I’ll promise ye, not what ye’ll be having much in the way of time t’be sittin’ for the next week, as busy as I’ll be keepin’ ye!” He brushed away the Brandybuck’s hand, replacing in on Ted’s collar with his own. “You’ll apologize--now!”
It was humiliating, having to say, “I’m sorry,” to that Frodo Baggins, and seeing that look in the Baggins lad’s eyes, that barely expressed glimpse of the satisfaction the other young Hobbit felt.
“And it’s a right canin’ as ye’ll be knowing,” his father was promising in his ear as he led Ted away. “Shamin’ me like that afore the whole o’ Hobbiton and Bywater both!” And indeed quite a crowd had gathered, drawn from their usual early morning pursuits to investigate the drama going on by the Bywater Pool.
Ted shivered, for he knew full well that his father didn’t make such promises lightly. No, he’d not be wanting to sit for his supper--he could count on that!
Sara watched as the miller hustled his errant son away. “So, a proven thief, young Ted is, eh?” He looked at his son. “And why didn’t you tell me about the coins being stolen, Merry?”
“How could I prove it, Dad?” Merry asked simply. “If he was searched and coins were found, how could I prove it was mine?”
“Well, the button would be proof enough, I’d think,” Saradoc said. “I know you’ve been proud of it since your grandda gave it to you to remember his father by.” So saying, he handed it back to his son, along with the three copper coins. He examined the striker set before restoring it to Frodo. “I’d suggest not leaving anything of value in your pockets when you come down to swim from now on,” he added.
“Oh, I’d not intended to, but forgot the striker set yesterday,” Frodo said.
“At least he didn’t get away with this,” Sam said, scooping up the fallen handkerchief and whatever was tied into its corner.
“Oh, it would have been little enough he’d have taken this time,” Frodo said, an odd smile on his face. He took the handkerchief and worked the knot free, exposing a tiny wooden box. He carefully removed it’s small lid, and held it out to Saradoc to see. Inside was a intricately folded wad of paper. Sara pulled it out and carefully unfolded it, laughing when he read its message.
On it, in Frodo’s careful script, were written the words, Stolen from Frodo Baggins.
“Just in case I didn’t arrive in time, then?” Sara asked.
Frodo shrugged, but the little smile remained. There was no question that he was pleased with what had befallen Ted Sandyman.