12. A Good Name is Finer than Riches
'Would you like a cup of tea?' Goldi said. He turned to see her holding a mug out to him.
Taking it with mumbled thanks, he sipped at the tea, raising his eyebrows. 'It's just right,' he said. 'How did you know?'
'I remembered from when Mum and Dad had your family to tea,' she said. Her eyes were red from weeping, and he felt a pang.
'I'm that sorry about your brother,' he said.
'He didn't do it,' Goldi responded stoutly.
'I'm sure he didn't,' Hodge agreed. 'I cannot imagine Frodo, of all the hobbits I know, doing such a thing.' He hesitated, then added, 'Goldi, I owe you an apology. It was very wrong of me, what I did, and I hope you'll forgive me.'
She looked down and coloured prettily, very prettily indeed, he thought. He continued, 'It's just that... when I saw you kissing that Took, and you won't even give the lads around here the time of day...'
'I'm too young to be walking out with anyone,' Goldi said, raising her eyes to meet his. 'My mum and dad want me to wait until I'm thirty.'
'Rosie married when she was only...' he began.
'That was different,' Goldi said. He raised an eyebrow, and she bristled. 'No, it was not like that at all, she didn't marry because she had to, no matter what those idle tongues down at the Dragon might say.'
'I'm sorry,' Hodge said again. 'When I saw you being free with your kisses, I thought...'
'You thought I was following in her footsteps, that I'd get myself into a fix and have to be got out again, is that it?' she said hotly. This was not going at all the way Hodge wished.
'No,' he broke in, trying to redeem the situation. 'It's just that...'
' "Just that" what?' she demanded.
He dropped his eyes and swallowed hard, then bravely met her furious gaze. 'It's just that... I wished it was me rather than the son of the Thain,' he admitted.
This simple statement deflated her, and she sank down onto the bench next to him, staring. 'You...?' she said, and could not continue.
'It made me mad,' he said. 'That's why I did what I did. I'm sorry, Goldi, I never meant you no discourtesy.'
'Goldi!' Merry called sharply from the kitchen doorway.
She popped up from the bench again, started towards the door, turned to say breathlessly, 'I forgive you!' and turned back, hitching her skirts up to run to the door where her brother watched and waited.
Hodge smiled and settled back to sip his tea. Nice girl, that Goldi. Pretty smile she had, indeed. It was a pity about her brother. He would never have thought Frodo capable of stealing; he would have sworn that lad was as honest as the day was long in the summertime.
The waggon creaked along New Road from Bywater to Tuckborough, wheels rumbling, pony hoofs clopping briskly for all the world as if they were driving to take tea with the Thain, but for the silence of the waggon's occupants. Frodo felt his hands growing numb, and tried to ease his wrists.
'I'm sorry, lad,' Nod said quietly. 'I must have tied them too tight. Sit still a minute.' He undid the knots and retied the bonds more loosely. Frodo nodded thanks, wriggling his fingers to restore circulation.
The news spread like puffpenny seeds on a windy day; soon everyone in Hobbiton and Bywater knew that the Mayor was driving his son, bound and escorted by Shirriff Nod, towards the Great Smials. Speculation was rife; what could the lad have done?
A wild rumour circulated that he'd gone out hunting with his younger brothers and killed one of them, rather like the shooting accident a fortnight before. Quite a few lasses in the area returned home in tears, mourning either Merry or Pippin, such lively lads as they were, polite and easy on the eyes in the bargain.
It was not long before someone put two and two together, having seen the Sandymans in the waggon, and before the Shirriff and his prisoner were halfway to the Great Smials, the Mayor's eldest son been firmly branded thief, sneak and scoundrel by many of the inhabitants of Bywater and its environs.
'I cannot believe it,' the innkeeper said, polishing glasses as he got ready to serve noontide dinner to all comers.
'Shirriff wouldn't-a bound him iffen he hadn't found him guilty,' the old gaffer said stoutly, tucking a cloth into his collar, preparatory to tucking in to his dinner.
'I still cannot believe it,' the innkeeper insisted, 'not that lad, not the Mayor's son.'
'He won't be the Mayor's son much longer,' a farmer in town for market day said. 'Samwise'll never get elected again, not with a thief for a son.'
'He'll pull out of the election, I'll warrant,' another agreed.
'I'd imagine old Gaffer Gamgee is spinning in his grave at the moment,' Ches said soberly, taking his regular seat. 'Anybody seen Rusty yet? This has got to be a bad blow for the Burrows. Daughter nearly married to a thief, and all.'
'She had a narrow escape, that's for certain,' the gaffer agreed. 'I imagine he's counting his blessings.'
As a matter of fact, he wasn't. He was sitting at his kitchen table, cup of tea gone cold before him, numbly listening to the weeping of his wife and daughters. Old Mr Proudfoot's garden would be sadly neglected this day, but to be honest, Rusty Burrows wasn't thinking of the ire of his best-paying client. He was remembering instead the haunted eyes of his assistant as the Mayor's waggon bore Frodo slowly by him, when he'd walked whistling out his door to start another day.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.