Have pony, will travel.
Bob, the stable-working hobbit at The Prancing Pony (ha, fitting), has found the only pony for sale in Bree, but it’s Bill Ferny’s, and starved. Yes, that Bill Ferny, who probably snitched on our hobbit friends. Frodo thinks it might be a trick, but Aragorn believes that they don’t have any other choice. In the end, Butterbur offers to pay Ferny’s high price, begrudgingly, and also gives Merry more money for the loss of their five ponies. However, Butterbur ultimately wins. After the five ponies were set free, they escaped to the Downs, and came to Tom Bombadil. After hearing of Frodo’s troubles in Bree, Tom eventually sends the ponies off to Butterbur, where they work for him in the future.
In the meantime, Butterbur has to deal with the other angry travelers, who are upset about their own horses being lost. The southerners argue, but realize that one of their own, who had been talking with Bill Ferny the previous night, has disappeared.
Why should we hate Bill Ferny? Let us count the ways:
1) He mistreats his pony! The thing is underfed and weak, although apparently doesn’t look like dropping dead anytime soon.
2) He’s making money by playing both sides! He was undoubtedly compensated for information about Frodo, as we’ve seen earlier that the Ringwraiths were offering payment. He also charges an exorbitant amount for his pony, because he knows the bind that the hobbits are in. Boo, sir!
Thankfully, there are people like Tom Bombadil who send ponies back to their rightful owners, free of charge, and feed them. Who does that? Not Bill Ferny.
Some insight into the Middle-earth economy: Bill Ferny wants twelve silver pennies for the pony, which is thought to be three times its value. Butterbur pays for it, and also gives Merry eighteen more pennies. Though Butterbur is said to be rich by Bree standards, thirty silver pennies is a “sore blow” to his coffers. So, now you know a little more about value in this world!
Because, you know, I care about that.
“The southern travellers had lost several horses and blamed the innkeeper loudly, until it became known that one of their own number had also disappeared in the…”