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It wasn’t right for someone of her station, and she knew it. He was a gentlehobbit that deserved the word, and he had never meant her any harm, after all. And if her foolish feelings wouldn’t keep getting in the way, maybe she’d get used to him the way everyone else was. But they didn’t, and so Rosie was forced to admit it: she did not like Mr. Frodo, and she did not like Mr. Frodo staying in her home and messing everything up.
And it was silly and it was selfish, and it went against the order of things, but she didn’t care. He should have been the one to remove to New Row, direct all the work for his house, and Sam should have stayed with her. It’d start making up for all the time he’d been away, and maybe he’d even get around to asking her.
She’d been sure he was going to ask her that spring—two years ago, it was now! But suddenly in the middle of it he clammed up, and though he was as tender and loving and heart-warmingly, bashfully handsome as he had always been, there was something different to him and she had got worried.
Of course, she understood it all now, for he told her when he finally returned that it was then that he had learned of his Master’s quest—his “job to do,” as he put it—and business always had to come before pleasure.
But he had taken his sweet time in getting back! And she knew he would’ve grieved if he hadn’t gone, and from what she understood the world would have been a lot worse off if he hadn’t—not that she was terribly surprised by this—but it still hurt that he had left without so much as a “by your leave.” And Mr. Frodo had just gone along with it, as if he were the only person in the whole Shire that had a claim on Sam. She supposed it was his right, but a little apology wouldn’t hurt. What if Sam hadn’t come back?
But she couldn’t say anything about it, because she knew it was wrong, and he was a gentlehobbit and she a farmer’s daughter, and if Sam ever found out he’d get ever so upset because his Master was very dear to him. So she sulked and avoided Mr. Frodo (which was not difficult; though he was always courteous and kind he tended to stay shut up in the guest room if no one needed him), and everything would have gone fine had he not taken ill.
She kept away from him for all of the first day, always managing to be right in the middle of something else when it was time to deliver a meal to him, but Mother noticed, and when teatime on the second day rolled around the tray was actually forced into her hands.
“I know that you’re still upset with Mr. Frodo,” Mrs. Cotton said, “but it’s very rude to treat a guest so and I won’t countenance it. So in you go, and be a good hostess or I will make sure you regret it.” She sighed and did her mother’s bidding, though she was a grown hobbit and by rights should be married by now.
He was sitting up in bed, a pillow propped up behind his back, reading one of those books of his. His scarred hand stood out against the leather of the binding, and as she tiptoed in she could not help but stare.
Averting her eyes before he noticed, she set the tea tray on the table beside his bed, and was about to slip out again when she remembered her manners and her mother’s injunction.
“Your tea’s here, Mr. Frodo,” she said, in as cheery a voice as she could muster.
Startled out of whatever he had been reading, he snapped the book shut and tucked his hand under the covers.
“Thank you, Rose,” he said, favouring her with a smile.
She wanted to leave, but instead she spoke to him, regretting each word as it slipped from her lips. “And how are you feeling today?”
“Much better. I told your father it was just a one-day spell, but no one here seems to believe me. Better to be safe and stay in bed, though. And you?”
“I’m doing very well, sir, thanks for asking.”
There was a brief pause, and Rosie felt herself go all tense. “I suppose I’d better go now. Is there anything else you need?”
“Actually, yes,” he said. “Would you mind sitting down and staying with me for a bit? It gets a bit lonely in here at times.”
“Humour me,” he said.
So, after a brief, longing look at the door, she pulled up a chair and sat down next to him while he poured his tea.
“Well,” he said after a few minutes of uneasy silence, “out with it.”
“You’re upset about something, and I have the nagging suspicion that it’s me. Not that I blame you, of course,” he added. “I’m afraid I’ve made your life very difficult these past couple of years.”
Rosie did not know how to respond to such frankness, so she looked down and twisted her hands in her skirts, saying nothing.
“I am sorry, if it helps.”
“It doesn’t,” she muttered, and immediately went bright red. If Mother could see her now, talking back to a gentlehobbit as nice as Mr. Frodo…
“Rose, I wish for there to be no rancour between us. We may be unalike in all other respects, but we do have one thing in common: we both love, and are beloved of, one of the best hobbits in the Shire. And it isn’t right for us to be set at odds with one another, for his sake as much as our own.”
“Then maybe you should’ve thought about that before—” She cut off, reddening again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo. I shouldn’t be speaking to you this way.”
“Before…” he said gently, pressing her to continue.
“No, I won’t say it. ‘Tain’t proper, and it hardly matters anyhow.”
He laid a hand—the left one, she noticed—on her arm. “It does indeed matter, if it involves you. I should hate to see a fair lass grieving, knowing that I am the cause and yet unable to help, especially when she is so very dear to someone I love. I may not be well acquainted with you, Miss Cotton, but to know that my Sam chose you out of all the other fine young lasses that might have caught his eye tells me you must be very special indeed.”
There was genuine concern in his eyes, and she wished he’d stop looking so sincere about the whole thing so that she could just blow up at him like a teakettle and be done with it.
“And you needn’t be concerned about propriety either; I learned long ago that it is highly overrated. Better to have it out quickly.”
She sighed, but the will to scream at him and rail against her cruel fate was gone. “Why does he have to be your Sam?” she finally said, quietly. “Why can’t he be mine, too?”
“He is, Rose,” said Frodo earnestly.
“Well, he doesn’t act like it.”
“He will when he has the time.”
“When he has the time! Hah! He’s never had the time, not since—” She paused again, but Frodo motioned for her to continue. “Not since you took him away.”
She looked up into his eyes, expecting to see some sort of rebuke in them, but there was nothing.
“And I know I shouldn’t be angry about it, because as he said he had a job to do, and if he hadn’t gone he’d have been beside himself, and he was needed out there, with you. But he could have died, and no one even told me what was going on, or asked me if I cared about it—not that what I would’ve said would’ve made a difference. I was just left by the wayside while he was off with you gentry having adventures, and I couldn’t even say anything about it because he hadn’t spoken, and he hadn’t spoken precisely because of that! He could’ve died out there, Mr. Frodo, and I wouldn’t even have known!
“Well, I would have, but I didn’t know that at the time. I knew when he was coming back, you see—when all the danger was gone. I’d never bought into that ‘lost in the Old Forest’ tripe, I knew his job was bigger than that, and then I knew, last March, that everything was all right.
“But it took him so long to get back after that! I’d’ve thought for sure that he’d rush home for me, but…”
“I’m afraid I am partly to blame for that,” said Frodo. “Well, for the rest of it as well, though it really couldn’t be helped; but he’s a hero out there and if we’d just headed back all of the people would have been dreadfully disappointed. And we did delay, too, for the King’s wedding, and then for my uncle, and I think we had all forgotten that life was going on without us.”
She sighed at this.
“Not that he ever forgot you, Rose. But I am sorry that we got back so late. We didn’t know about the Troubles or anything, you see, and—well, what’s done is done. I should like to make amends for it as best as I can.”
“Well, the sentiment’s very nice, Mr. Frodo, but I don’t see how you can do anything to help.”
“For one thing, I can promise not to take him away from you again.”
“That’d be nice,” she said with a weak smile.
“Well, except perhaps for one journey. Hopefully not. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t last long and he’d be in no danger. I’ll give you plenty of warning.”
“For another, I can strongly suggest to him when he’s back that he take a break from all his labours, just for a few days, and then while he’s here get my cousins to come over and take me on a fishing trip when he isn’t looking.”
“I’ve had him all to myself for a whole year; I think it’s only fair that you get some time with him alone, without him poking his head in my room every few minutes just to see that I’m well. If you bake some cakes for him I think we’ll consider the thing a done deal. But all that’s really just common courtesy to a lass who’s been slighted by circumstance. What I would truly like to do is see both of you happy. Rose Cotton, how would you like to be mistress of Bag End?”
“What?” Thoughts whirled through her head. He’d been talking about Sam and how much Sam loved her; what he was saying now made no sense. Surely he couldn’t mean—
“Peace! I meant it not that way. I’ve been turning the idea in my head for so long that I’ve quite forgotten that no one else knows it. Rose, I am adopting Sam as my heir, and when my home is prepared I will ask him to share it with me. I extend that invitation to you, to do with the hole and most all that is in it as you please, for such time when you are his wife.”
Rosie was stunned. Letting her in as cook, in the servant’s quarters, this she could understand; but giving her charge over all and sundry as if she were a lady?
He chuckled. “I told you I did not hold much with propriety. At any rate you must agree with me that Sam deserves far better than what he has had for most of his life.”
“I know, but—” She stopped, realizing how foolish she would sound. He was right, after all. “But he hasn’t even asked me, yet.”
“And what about you? There isn’t some lady waiting for you to marry her?”
“Me?” A faraway look came into his eye. “No, I shall never wed.” After a few more moments of melancholy reflection he brightened. “Which is why you’d be in charge of making sure that the hole has all of the comforts that a couple needs. I’m afraid it’s been a long time since Bag End has had any females to take charge, and though it has the room for it I hardly think it’d be conducive to family life at the moment.”
“Plenty of room, Rosie.” He smiled and patted her hand. “And I have enough to ensure that all will be well provided for.”
She hesitantly smiled back. Poor Mr. Frodo—he really was going out of his way to say he was sorry!
He sat up and stretched, only just noticing that his tea was only half drunk and it had gotten quite cold. He set the unfinished tray on the floor. “If you still have the time for it, Rose, I just thought of something I need to show you, before Sam gets back. Could you get up and open that chest over there?”
She did as he bade her; inside it was page after page of writing, tied into bundles with bits of string. “I can’t read, sir,” she said.
“You will,” he replied, not in a commanding sort of way, but rather as if he simply knew that eventually it would be the case and that was that. “Bring the top bundle over here.” She did so, going so far as to untie it for him in case his injury made it difficult.
“These are my notes of what we all did when we were abroad. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot already, and you’ll hear more still, but I want you to tell you a few things now, when we don’t have Sam standing in the corner protesting. Because I guarantee that you’ll never hear the full extent of his heroics from him.”
An hour later Mother came in to remind Rosie that she was neglecting all of her other work.
“I’m sorry, Mum; he’s been telling me about Sam.”
Mrs. Cotton smiled at this, but nonetheless collected the tea tray from the floor and shooed Rosie out of the room. On the way back she stole one last glance at Mr. Frodo, who was looking over his notes with an abstract air, and she thought that she just might be beginning to understand just what Sam saw in him.
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