When it was discovered by the respectable inhabitants of Hobbiton that Mr. Frodo Baggins had indeed left the Shire for good, tongues began to wag once again in 'The Ivy Bush'. The various oddities of the Baggins family – particularly their history of friendship with Gandalf the Grey, and Bilbo's legendary disappearance – were brought up frequently at the old wooden tables; and old Hamfast Gamgee, much to his secret delight, spent several comfortable evenings surrounded by a curious and attentive audience.
'It's strange, that's what it is,' he declared, leaning back comfortably with a full tankard clutched between his gnarled hands. 'Mr. Frodo says he's going to settle down in Buckland, and sells Bag-End to those Sackville-Bagginses, and then he just vanishes into thin air!'
'Ah, but it's no stranger than what old Mr. Bilbo did,' said Totho Hornblower. 'And at the same age too, no less. Though his second disappearance was stranger.'
'It was that Gandalf,' said Sandyman the Miller, shaking his head wisely. 'His fireworks are grand, and couldn't no one say otherwise, but there have been some mighty odd stories about him, from what I hear. He's a conjurer, and we'll find it was Gandalf spirited Frodo away, same as old Mr. Bilbo, you mark my words.'
The Gaffer shook his head. 'I mark them. But Mr. Bilbo liked wandering, and my Sam says he often spoke of going on another adventure.'
"What business has any Hobbit going on adventures, though?' asked Old Noakes. 'It ain't natural, and trouble always comes of it.'
A chorus of muttered agreements broke out, and the matter seemed settled; but the Gaffer lit his pipe and leaned back contemplatively. 'Mr. Bilbo was always a nice, gentlemanly hobbit. If he hadn't kept on having outlandish folk visiting, dwarves and the like, he might have settled down, and Mr. Frodo might have too.'
'Maybe Frodo went off to find Mr. Bilbo,' said a rather young Took, who seemed quite unconcerned by the whole affair. Old Noakes eyed the young hobbit's pint of ale with a look of stern disapproval in his eyes, but made no reply.
'Maybe he did,' said Sandyman, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. 'And maybe Meriadoc Brandybuck and that Peregrin Took went off with him, but I wouldn't 'ave expected your boy Samwise to have gone off like that.'
'He's got plenty of good hobbit-sense, my lad has,' retorted the Gaffer, his dislike of the miller confirmed. 'And if he went off without a word like that, he had his reasons. Look at what happened to Fredegar Bolger.'
'What did happen to old Fatty?' asked the young Took, leaning forward eagerly. The Tooks were known for their love of exploring and of strange stories, two things generally frowned upon by their Hobbiton neighbors. Old Noakes' look of disapproval grew stronger, and he huffed under his breath, but the cause of his censure ignored him cheerfully.
'No one rightly knows,' said Milo Burrows. 'There were strange goings-on at the house in Crickhollow, though – folk are still talking about it over there, my cousin Primrose says. She wrote me a letter last week.' He held up the letter in question and waved it.
'Didn't answer it yet, did you?' said the old Gaffer with a knowing look, and several of those around the table laughed. Milo never answered letters.
Milo pretended not to have heard. 'Primrose says the house was attackted by something out of the Old Forest.'
'Attackted!' exclaimed the young Took excitedly, and he finished off his ale in one long draught. He thumped the wooden mug down and said, 'Was it trees, like in the old stories?'
'It warn't trees,' said Milo.
'It might have been! Esmerelda Brandybuck, my second cousin on my mother's side (Esmerelda's father being Rory Brandybuck, uncle to my mother through marriage) told me how the trees once attacked over the Hedge. But the hobbits made a huge bonfire, and burned all the land east of the Hedge.'
'That's an old bogey-story,' said Sandyman.
There's a gate in the Hedge, and Esmerelda showed me where the trees had been burned - and there's still a wide space there, with no plants in it at all,' replied the young Took triumphantly.
The other hobbits were silent for a moment, digesting this.
'Well, the Old Forest's strange, and no two ways about it,' admitted the miller. 'But what cause would trees have to attack Mr. Frodo's house?'
'It warn't trees,' insisted Milo Burrows, folding his letter up. 'Primrose said that Fatty Bolger didn't know what it was, but it warn't trees.'
'Maybe he imagined it,' suggested the Gaffer, chewing thoughtfully at his pipe and resting his elbows on the table. 'Meaning no harm to Fredegar Bolger, but he was never a particularly steady lad, if you take my meaning. He might have dreamt or imagined some enemy, him being alone that night and all.'
'Well, he didn't,' said Milo. 'Or at least the Brandybucks didn't think so. They blew the Horn-call of Buckland, Primrose says.'
'The Horn-call!' said Old Noakes. 'That hasn't been blown since the white wolves came over the river!' He shook his head.
'And Mr. Frodo must have gone into the Old Forest,' said Totho Hornblower. 'I have it direct from Farmer Maggot, him that lives down the road from the Bucklebury Ferry, that they – meaning Frodo, and Samwise, and Peregrin Took – crossed the river the very night before the attack!'
'And no one's seen 'em since, nor young Merry Brandybuck, neither,' said Old Noakes glumly.
Sandyman set his empty mug down with an air of finality. 'Well, that's what comes of taking up with strange folk and heading off into the Old Forest, where no one has business being, and that's a fact. I'm off, friends!'
He left, swinging the door shut behind him, and the remaining hobbits watched his departure. At last the Gaffer spoke again, as though to himself: 'I'm sure Mr. Frodo had his reasons and all, but I still wish they hadn't gone through the Forest. It's a dangerous place, it is.'