"I can't go so soon as that," Sam said glumly after the visitor had gone and Frodo announced that he must go away in the morning. He'd invited Sam to accompany him, even though Sam hadn't aided him in an investigation since the Strangler had terrorized Hobbiton. Nor had Sam officially resumed his duties as Chief Sherriff; Robin Smallburrows was still acting as deputy in Sam's place. "Can't you ask this Mrs. Spindlethrift to stay on a day or two more?"
"I couldn't, Sam," Frodo answered. "She doesn't like to be away from her family longer than necessary. This act of mischief affects their livelihood, especially the types of patterns Spindlethrifts' are known best for. You know their reputation as weavers as well as I do. Mr. Threadnibble speaks highly of them and recommends their cloth whenever I want something particularly fine or fancy for a new waistcoat. Angelica often praises them, and so does Pippin."
"Well, you know how partial he is to paisleys and plaids. Sometimes both at once, I'm afraid. The actual process they use to make their fancy patterns is a great secret. Mrs. Spindlethrift showed me a part of it today, the part that's being tampered with to spoil their weaving. I can't tell you very much about that--I promised I wouldn't reveal their secret to anyone and that must include you, dear Sam. But I can say that if she's right, this tampering is done deliberately, with malicious intent. To delay my investigation would give whoever's doing it more time to spoil more cloth and slow the weavers' work down even more than they already have been. They can't afford that."
Sam knew how fragile business could be for a working family and sympathized, but he had his own family difficulties to consider too. "Go tomorrow, if you have to," he conceded. "I'll follow you later on, but not 'til I find somebody to look after the little uns. Fern oughtn't be left to manage 'em day and night by herself." Fern was the nursery-maid, hired by Frodo to take care of the Gamgee children after their mother's death.
"What about Mrs. Cotton?" asked Frodo. "Can't she come and help?"
"She's still busy helping Marigold." Sam's sister had had a little boy in September. "I might ask 'em both to come stay up here while we're gone, but they've got enough to do, looking after Marigold's little uns, never mind mine too. Think of it, Frodo. Six children and most of 'em babies!"
Frodo agreed that this was too much to ask. "Why don't I ask Peony if she'd mind taking the twins?" he offered his cousin's services instead. "You know how she and Aunt Dora dote on them. I could send her a note tonight before I leave. Mrs. Parmiggen and Hazel will be here during the day to give Fern a hand if she needs it, and she can surely look after Elanor and Little Frodo during the evenings. Elanor can almost look after herself now, and help Fern with her little brother." He gave his friend an appealing look. "Please do come if you can manage it, Sam. It'd be wonderful if we could get away for a little holiday."
"But we've just had a holiday! We've been away for weeks, and only just got home again!" Sam responded with some surprise. "I hardly feel settled in."
"The children were with us most of the time in Buckland. We only had a few nights to ourselves and I wouldn't mind more time alone with you. We used to enjoy stopping at inns during our investigations. Remember? And Oatbarton has such a cozy little inn beside the mill stream." Frodo took Sam by the arm. "Can you bear to be away from them for a few days?" he asked gently.
As much as he would welcome Sam's company on this investigation, he didn't want his friend to feel anxious about being separated from the children. Frodo recalled how Sam had barely been able to let them out of his sight in the days immediately following Rosie's death. He hadn't asked Sam to come to Oatbarton with him simply for the pleasure of having time to themselves at the inn--although that certainly had its appeal. Since their return home, Frodo was determined to do all he could to keep Sam from being haunted by painful memories. Sam had emerged from the worst of his grief during their weeks away in Buckland, but they were now back at the same house where Sam had lived with Rosie for nearly five years, and where Rosie had died. Was it too soon? Another week away might give Sam a little more time to heal. But now it seemed that Sam was more reluctant to be away from his children than he was unhappy being back at Bag End. "You know they'll be in good care, my dear."
"I know," Sam said reluctantly. "Fern'll do her best, even if she isn't their mum. It's not that I'm thinking of, Frodo. The little un's've only just got home too. They need to settle in more'n I do."
"Yes, of course." Sam wasn't afraid to be away from the children, but was trying to restore some stability to their disrupted lives. While Frodo was fond of the little Gamgees, as he was of his numerous nieces and nephews, and he had taken more responsibility for their upbringing these past months, he didn't feel as intensely about them as their father did. They were not the center of his life, as they were Sam's. "You must consider them first. I understand if you want to stay at home with them instead of traveling again so soon."
"No, I'll come if I can," Sam insisted. "I'm ready to go investigating again, Frodo, as long as it doesn't concern anybody being murdered. Only, it might be a day or two."
"Very well," Frodo brought Sam's head down with one hand, and gave him a kiss on the temple. "I'll take a room at the inn beside the stream. Whenever you come, you'll find me there."
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