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Chapter 6. Cover Up
Rose was still gulping and apologizing, and Frodo said, 'Sam, come here a moment.'
Sam came over. He found if he looked down it was easier. He felt Frodo's hand grasp his arm. 'She's in shock, Sam. Take her to the kitchen, get her a cup of tea with lots of honey.'
'Yes, Mr Frodo,' Sam said, not looking up, and heard his master sigh. He gathered his courage and forced himself to focus on where Frodo's eyes ought to be. The invisible hand tightened on his arm, then released him. He escorted Rose to the kitchen and followed the instructions he'd been given. For a miracle the babe had not been roused by the commotion, but still slept peacefully in the cradle.
Samwise sat with Rose until she'd gotten a whole cup down and her breathing had steadied. 'I'm sorry,' she said again, 'I didn't mean to, I was just so startled.'
'Rose,' he soothed.
'No,' she said, still upset. 'What must Mr Frodo think of me? How could I have been so thoughtless and cruel?' He saw that she was blaming herself for her unthinking fear, and he gently squeezed her hand.
'Mr Frodo understands,' he said, but she shook her head, raising haunted eyes to his.
'O Sam, what if he thinks he has to go away? What if he thinks that he mustn't stay around, that he has to go off alone for fear of distressing people?'
Thunderstruck, Samwise stared at his wife. He hadn't thought of that. He patted Rose's hand and got up from the table.
'I'll be right back, love,' he said.
Going back to the bedroom, he found the broken crockery had been cleared away, the floor wiped up. Frodo was dressed, to gloves and boots. His master's apologetic tone greeted him. 'I'm afraid I can't do much about the rest of me.'
'O Mr Frodo,' he breathed, at a loss for words.
'That tears it, Sam. I'll have to become a hermit, hide away here at Bag End for the rest of my life, saying "not at home" to all relatives and callers. I only hope it's not too much to inflict my condition on you and Rose.'
'Surely there's something to be done!' Sam protested.
He could hear Frodo's sad smile in his voice. 'I'm open to suggestions.'
Rose spoke from the doorway behind Sam. 'I have an idea, Mr Frodo,' she said softly.
'Yes, Rose,' Frodo asked gently, as if afraid of startling her into flight.
She stepped forward, a basket hanging from her arm. 'Sit you down on the bed, Mr Frodo, I'd like to try something.'
She moved to his side, took a bandage roll from the basket, began to gently wrap it around Frodo's neck where the shirt ended, working her way up and over his face. She wrapped a double layer of material over his entire face, excepting the eyes, where she left only a thin layer of fabric. 'Can you see through it?' she asked.
'Yes,' Frodo's voice came. 'It's a bit like looking through a fog.'
'Perhaps if we can get some fabric that's more loosely woven,' Rose mused. She fastened off the bandage and stepped back. 'Well, Mr Frodo, you have a head again. You look as if you're terribly accident prone, but it's a whole lot better than no head at all.' For a wonder, Frodo laughed at her joke, lame as it was.
Rose dug in her basket again, taking out a shapeless felt hat. 'Here, put this on; let's see what it looks like.' Frodo clapped the hat on his head. Rose surveyed the effect critically, then said, 'You know, in the winter, with that hat and muffled up in a scarf, one would hardly know the difference.'
Frodo took her hands in his gloved ones. 'Rose,' he said seriously. 'You're a miracle worker. You've given me hope.'
Sam added his affirmation, and Rose blushed. 'You're welcome, Mr Frodo,' she said. 'I only wish it could be more.'
She stepped back again to get a better look at her handiwork. 'You'll have to take it off to eat, I think,' she mused, 'but at least you can get out of the house if you wish, and you can receive visitors.'
'What'll we tell them?' Sam asked.
'Tell them I'm pursuing the beautification of the Shire, and this is my first step.'
'Covering your face?' Rose gasped, and then began giggling. Sam had to chuckle, and Frodo's laughter sounded from behind the bandages.
When the laughter died down, Sam said, 'I can think of a few more faces needing covering,' and they were off again.
Frodo was concentrating on a map he was re-drawing after the first had not satisfied him, and so when the knocking came at the door, he ignored it. Rose had gone to the Cotton farm with baby Elanor, and Sam was out on forestry business. If no one answered the door, the visitor would assume no one to be home. Frodo certainly wasn't going to answer the door. Sam had put the word around Hobbiton that Frodo had gone off somewhere on a visit to relatives. It was easier that way.
The sound of Merry's voice behind him startled Frodo into marring the careful line he was drawing. 'So, cousin, it's not enough to wear gloves in the house, but now you've taken to wearing a hat, too?'
Merry stopped short in shock as his cousin turned around. Frodo's face was completely covered in bandages. What horrifying thing had happened? He hadn't heard of any catastrophic fires lately. Surely any accident so terrible would have carried news, even all the way to Buckland.
'It's all right, Merry,' Frodo said kindly, putting down his pen and getting up from the desk. He walked over to Merry, took him by the arm and guided him to a chair. Merry allowed himself to be seated, mind reeling.
'I suppose it had to come out sooner or later,' Frodo added.
Merry opened his mouth to ask what, but no words came.
'I'm all right, Merry,' Frodo said reassuringly.
Merry found his voice. 'You don't look all right!' he said.
'You don't know the half of it,' Frodo replied.
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