On the way home from Bilbo Baggins’s disappearance, Narcissa Boffin could not feel any too upset. Frodo had danced with her that day and evening--had danced with her four times! He had even spoken and laughed with her, which hadn’t happened for years--not since he was twenty-five and had begun to return the attentions of Pearl Took. They’d talked when they were little ones, had played together. They’d talked when she was a teen. They’d laughed then. But once Frodo had decided he was in love with Pearl all other lasses had appeared to disappear from his attention.
Narcissa had known from the start that Pearl would not continue to love Frodo as he deserved--how she knew this she couldn’t say; but she knew it, somehow realized that one day the very thing about Frodo Baggins that made him so special would drive Pearl from him. When it had happened Narcissa was the only person who wasn’t surprised. What did surprise her was how angry she felt when it happened. Here Pearl Took was, throwing over the best lad in the entire Shire and not being honest as to why she was doing so; and not telling him what had changed for her. Narcissa ought to have felt vindicated by Pearl’s change of heart, but instead she was furious with the lass for hurting Frodo so.
So, Narcissa had waited, knowing Frodo would take time to have his heart heal so he could look at another. She had waited, waited in sight of him so he could be aware of her. And tonight that waiting had finally brought fruit.
Ivy Boffin saw the joy in her daughter’s face, and smiled. Narcissa had been in love with Frodo for so long--it was good to think that at last the young Hobbit was able to see that love and begin to respond to it. Ivy would be happy to have Frodo as her daughter’s husband. She’d make certain that Frodo was invited to the party being thrown to mark the completion of the smial for their cousin Cortlo and his wife Sapphira. It would give Frodo more of a chance to realize just how much Narcissa glowed just to see him in the same room.
But when it came, the party was a failure. Frodo smiled at Narcissa when he saw her, but it wasn’t the smile which admired how pretty she was or how her gown flattered her; it was the same smile he gave to Folco! It was the same with all the lasses and older Hobbitesses who attended--all were treated with precisely the same courtesy he showed their menfolk. He danced several times, but not constantly as he had always done before. He seemed to prefer sitting and talking, nursing his mug of ale and smoking his pipe, watching the others enjoy themselves while ignoring the chance to have the same enjoyment himself.
Nor did things get better over time--if anything, they got worse. As the months passed, Frodo paid less and less attention to the lasses. He was as polite as ever to them, but he didn’t appear to notice when a lass smiled at him, not even to be embarrassed as had happened when he was still a lad. He didn’t look after them as they walked by, which even when he was in love with Pearl he’d still done. He had simply become blind to sensuality, it appeared, and no one could understand why.
It was after Frodo’s thirty-ninth birthday party that Folco and Ivy talked, Ivy complaining about how blind Frodo had become to Narcissa’s devotion to him. Finally Folco shook his head. “We were talking about that after the party was over,” he explained. “Freddie was shaking his head, and asked why Frodo danced so infrequently. He at first looked at Freddie and shrugged, and said that he just didn’t seem to notice the lasses any more, then said something strange. He said he missed being able to appreciate how lovely a lass was, that even when he was concentrating on trying to see such beauty it would just slip away. And there was real regret in his eyes, Aunt Ivy.”
Ivy sighed--she’d certainly seen the same in her daughter all these years. Not since Narcissa was seventeen had she been able to see any other lad than Frodo Baggins; and she certainly was oblivious to the gentlehobbits who pursued her now.
As time continued to unroll the situation didn’t change. Narcissa would quietly haunt the footsteps of Frodo Baggins throughout Hobbiton and Bywater; and he would be polite but totally incapable of seeing her devotion. It came to a head when Frodo was forty-two, when Iris Baggins, at a meeting to plan activities for the Free Fair, asked that Frodo not be invited to dance the Husbandmen’s Dance that year. “It’s a travesty--all his dancing seems to do is to get the lasses all back in love with him again, but then he never looks at any of them as if they were special or anything.”
“No one ever thought of not inviting Bilbo Baggins to dance,” pointed out her husband Ponto. “He didn’t give any lasses looks after he came back from his adventure, you know.”
“But no lass or Hobbitess in her right mind even looked twice at Bilbo,” Ivy Boffin pointed out. “It’s not the same with Frodo--Narcissa has been dying for a look from him for years, and it’s as if she were just another of the lads instead. It’s been killing her heart slowly since he came of age.” When the others at the planning dinner agreed, Will Whitfoot sighed, for he had to admit they were right.
If Frodo was hurt not to dance with the others that year, he hid it, although he was a bit quieter that year. He watched after the others his age, saw them with their wives, husbands, children, and his face was filled with clearly perceived regret. But he watched the dancing with appreciation, then went off to tell stories to the children, his face lighting up with pleasure as he told his tales, then watched with envy as, sated with the images he’d filled them with, the children would rush away to share their delight with their parents.
Will made a point of approaching Frodo at that moment, that moment when the envy was clear in his eyes. “You’d make a good father,” Will commented. “Why don’t you marry and settle down, start that family you so obviously want?”
Frodo looked at him, and for the first time Will could clearly see the frustration in his face. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Will,” he returned. “But I can’t seem to see lasses any more, not as I once did. And it tears a hole in my heart every time I realize this. I want to marry and to have children. I’ve always wanted it. That I can’t seem to see a lass--it’s not right!”
Will, who had never thought such a thing would be possible for any Hobbit, looked at Frodo with confusion.
The next to approach him, and only minutes later, were Eglantine Took and Esmeralda Brandybuck, both full of righteous anger. “The nerve!” Eglantine said through clenched teeth. “Why did they exclude you this year, Frodo? You are the best dancer in the entire Shire, and they didn’t have you dance the Husbandmen’s dance?”
All he could do was shrug. “I don’t know, Aunt Eglantine.” He took a deep breath. “There’s no reason to become angry on my part--I’m not hurt any. Maybe I wasn’t asked to dance because--because I’m not a husband.”
Esmeralda gave a snort. “Neither was Bilbo a husband, and they certainly asked him every year until he left the Shire. In spite of his age, he could keep up all that time.”
“As it is, I barely dance at all any more,” Frodo said.
“Well,” Esmeralda said, giving him an evaluative look, “it certainly isn’t because of lack of interest in you. After all, you are still the most eligible bachelor in the Shire. Why don’t you go and ask someone to dance with you? You know Narcissa Boffin would give anything to have you give her any attention at all.”
He sighed. “I know, Aunt, and I can’t say why I can’t seem to notice unless I pay attention--but it just seems harder and harder to pay attention like that any more. It’s driving me crazy, Aunt Esme, not being able to see a lovely lass as a lovely lass any more, and there’s no question Narcissa is lovely. But when I start out to approach her, or any other, it’s as if there were someone taking me by the hand and leading me off elsewhere, filling me with thoughts on how I must speak to Merry about this or Uncle Paladin about that or Will Whitfoot about something else; and by the time I realize I’ve just been distracted again, the time isn’t right any more, or someone else has her.
“It’s so odd--I get the feeling someone is standing behind me, watching me when this happens, watching me and laughing at me. You know I don’t want to stay unmarried. You know how much I’ve wanted to have a wife and children.”
Eglantine and Esmeralda just looked at one another. Never had either heard any such statement from anyone before, and certainly not from Frodo. At that moment they both stopped, and looked surprised as a farm family walked by, a small lass and lad following closely behind them. Eglantine watched with shock. “Who are those with Emro and Lilac? They don’t have any children!”
Esmeralda was looking closely at the lad. “He looks so much like you when you were a little one,” she commented to Frodo.
Frodo was alert. “Are those Emro and Lilac Gravelly?” he asked, his eyes fascinated.
“Yes,” Eglantine answered. “Why?”
Frodo took a deep breath. “It’s a private matter, Aunt Eglantine.” There was a hint of anger in his eyes, and a look of longing. His cousins looked at one another, intrigued, but it was obvious he had no intention of discussing the matter any further. They asked him if he’d join them for luncheon and he agreed, finally abandoning the place where he’d sat telling his stories.
Once they were gone, Narcissa came out from behind the tent wall where she’d been sitting and listening, and looked after him, bemused by the idea he actually thought of her as lovely. If he thought of her as lovely, then why couldn’t he see her when she was right in front of him? Her frustration grew even deeper.