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The Care and Feeding of Hobbits  by Baylor

"Well, at least try to comb it or something," Merry is saying to Pippin in exasperation. The object of his exasperation has just finished what I suppose you could call his ablutions after breakfast, or supper, or whatever you would term it when you sleep all day and walk all night, before settling down to rest. However, there is still a broad stripe of dirt across his forehead, and his hair -- the cause of Merry's consternation -- is sticking up in the front, and matted into a snarled mess in the back.

"It's fine," Pippin says dismissively, then tries to move away when Merry grabs him by the collar and begins squashing down the gnarled curls with his free hand. "Stop that!" Pippin commands, squirming, but Merry has a firm grasp on him (and seemingly some experience with restraining a wriggling Pippin) and does not relent. Finally, though, he heaves a defeated sigh and releases his now surly looking cousin.

"I think you just need a haircut," Merry says decisively.

"Merry, no one out here cares what my hair looks like," Pippin replies, now sounding somewhat exasperated himself.

I have noted before the different levels of care the hobbits put into their appearance. Merry and Frodo both do their best to stay as clean and tidy as possible, from their hair to their faces to their clothes. Sam is always careful to keep his face and hands washed, and generally runs a brush through his hair once a day, but all in all does not appear to give a lot of thought to how he looks. But Pippin, I do believe, would happily roll about in the dirt and let his hair turn into a rat's nest and never give it another thought.

Frodo has come up beside his cousins and joins Merry in looking at Pippin distastefully. "Merry's right," he says, "you need a haircut. You look disgraceful."

Pippin puts his lower lip out a little in a pout, making me choke back a sympathetic chuckle, and then reaches his hands up to mush down his wayward locks, to little avail. "You two don't look so grand yourselves, you know," he mumbles sullenly.

Merry and Frodo eye each other critically, and then nod at the same time a moment later. "Right, so we all need haircuts," Merry says. "I don't suppose we have a pair of scissors?"

Sam has been fumbling about in his pack, and at that moment he materializes beside the cousins, holding a small pair of sewing scissors. He clears his throat. "Didn't think about needing them for haircuts, but I figured they might come in handy for something," he says.

"Sam, you're just a marvel," Frodo says admiringly, and soon he is seated on the ground, with Sam standing behind him wielding the scissors. Merry stands nearby to watch, while Pippin, still sulking a bit, plops down on the ground to observe out of the corner of his eye.

There was no discussion about who would cut Frodo's hair -- Sam simply took up his place behind Frodo, and no one questioned it. I find this a curious thing, but deduce that it must have to do with social standing. I suppose that, as Frodo's servant, it is assumed that Sam will be the one to cut his hair. But I also find it curious that everyone assumed that Frodo would be the first to receive his haircut. Surely not because he is the Ringbearer?

I am watching them (Sam is very intent on the task at hand, and seems to be somewhat skilled at it) and puzzling over this turn of events, when Gandalf joins me and lights his pipe. "Frodo is the eldest cousin, you know," he comments after a moment.

I turn to him, furrowing my brow in puzzlement. "I beg your pardon?" I ask.

"That is why he gets to go first," Gandalf clarifies, answering the question I had not asked. "Next to class distinction, seniority in the family line is the most important factor in hobbit society."

"I was wondering," I replied. "They all seemed agreed on how to proceed, but I was not certain of their line of reasoning."

Gandalf puffs a bit on his pipe, before adding, "Hobbits, in general, are very concerned with social order and the proper way of doing things. Do not forget that the three cousins over there also are members of the highest echelon of hobbit society, so these habits are even more ingrained in them."

It is strange to me to think of Frodo, Merry and Pippin as elite members of their society, but I know from our conversations that this is true. In fact, if I understand correctly, Pippin will someday inherit the most important title in the Shire, and Merry an only slightly less important one. And I have long noted the markings of the upper class in their clothing, especially compared to Samwise. All three cousins wear clothing of expensive material, with detailed needlework, while Sam's clothing is plainer, served by simple, if well-done, stitching.

Sam soon declares Frodo finished, and takes care to brush off the stray hair clippings from his master's jacket before letting him stand back up. "Thank you, Sam," Frodo says, running his fingers through his now-tidier-looking locks. "I feel much more like myself now." He turns to look at Merry. "Your turn. Shall I cut it?"

Sam clears his throat. "I'd be happy to do it, Mr. Frodo, sir, that is, if Mr. Merry is willing," he says, and gives them a small, bashful smile.

Merry and Frodo both seem surprised and pleased at the offer, so it is that Merry soon has taken the seat just vacated by his cousin. This behavior I understand, coming from a society that has class distinctions and servants. Sam is Frodo's servant, not Merry's, and therefore it is not entirely appropriate for him to offer his services to another member of a higher class without his master first volunteering him to do so. But under these circumstances, it is a kindness that I am certain is appreciated by both the master and his cousin. At any rate, all three seem pleased with the arrangement, and Merry soon is looking more like the chipper young gentlehobbit I met in Rivendell.

Merry having his hair cut has enticed Pippin out of his sulk, and he joins Frodo in watching with interest. Once Sam has finished, and meticulously brushed down Merry's jacket, he hands the scissors over to Merry, who takes Sam's spot as Pippin sits down in front of him. This is all done with a number of words of thanks and meaningless comments, but again with no discussion on how next they are going to proceed. Indeed, Pippin does not even join in the conversation, just settles himself and then scrunches up his face as Merry begins to tug at the tangles in back.

"I suppose they all know that no one but Merry is allowed to cut Pippin's hair?" I say to Gandalf in a low voice.

He chortles a bit, before replying, "I dare say so, though if Merry were not here, I imagine it would fall to Frodo. But if I were the wagering type, I would say young Peregrin has only ever had his hair cut by two people, his nurse and Merry. Hobbits are quite indulgent toward their offspring, and that rapscallion is the beloved baby of both the Took and Brandybuck clans. He has never been handled with anything but the utmost care in all his life."

After watching for a bit, I decide it is just as well that someone with experience is wielding a sharp instrument near Pippin's head. He is always fairly restless, but now is doing his best to hold very still, clearly knowing better than to peeve Merry during this process. However, it seems that every so often, he cannot help himself and twitches a mite, or shifts just a little. Fortunately, something alerts Merry to each movement just before it happens, and he moves the scissors away and patiently waits for Pippin to settle again. I am absolutely fascinated by this, and even Gandalf seems to be watching with keen interest. I cannot for the life of me work out what it is that lets Merry know Pippin is about to move, and in what direction, but their motions are as choreographed as an intricate dance. I also note that Merry often combs his fingers reassuringly through Pippin's curls, an action that seems to soothe Pippin quite a bit.

Still, the youngest cousin's knees are bouncing impatiently by the time Merry declares him fit to be seen again and releases him. Once Pippin bounds up, I note that Merry has simply chopped off the gnarled mess in the back, and that Peregrin's hair is now shorter than I have ever seen it. This does not escape Pippin, either, when he reaches up to examine the result with his fingers. I hear Gandalf give a small noise that I believe is a smothered chortle.

"Merry, it's too short," Pippin complains, but Merry shakes his head at him, unperturbed.

"No, it isn't," he states. "This will keep it from getting so snarled, since you seem to have forgotten how to use a brush. It also means I won't have to cut it again for a while, so be grateful. Besides, your hair grows so quickly anyway, it will be too long again before any of the rest of ours will."

Pippin looks a little mournful as he touches what remains of his curls, but does not complain anymore, and joins his cousins in turning to look at Sam.

"Come on, then, Sam, one good turn deserves another," Merry says, holding aloft the scissors. "I'll cut yours for you."

Sam flushes red. "Oh, Mr. Merry, really, mine is fine, I'm sure. There's no need for you to do that."

"Oh, no, Sam, if I have to get all of my hair hacked off, so do you," Pippin says decisively. "Let me cut Sam's hair, Merry. I haven't had a turn yet at being barber."

This suggestion brings a look of stricken horror to the faces of the other three hobbits, and Frodo quickly pipes up to put an end to that thought. "I think not, Peregrin. I am the eldest, and I haven't had a turn yet either. I shall cut Sam's hair," he says with an amused smile.

Now Sam is practically squirming with discomfort. I understand his dilemma without Gandalf explaining it to me. It is completely inappropriate for a master to cut a servant's hair, yet if Sam refuses, he will be going against his master's wishes and will offend him. Frodo takes note of the reluctance on Sam's face, and coaxes him a bit by saying, "Come on, Sam, I promise not to butcher it. I cut Merry's many times when he was a little lad, and you know I used to cut Bilbo's for him. Come along, have a seat."

So it is with a red face that Sam slowly, reluctantly, sits down in the spot Pippin just vacated and watches as Merry turns the scissors over to Frodo. This haircut is delivered in utter silence, Sam's look of discomfort never fading. Yet it is Frodo's face I am watching. He is intent on his task, yet has the same look of tender care on his face that Merry's had while he cut Pippin's hair. Sam's devotion to Frodo is blaringly apparent to anyone spending more than a few moments in their company, yet now I can see that Frodo is no less devoted to his servant. It is a rare blessing for both master and servant to share this type of bond, and I am suddenly grateful that the Ringbearer has this good fortune. He will need every small advantage he can find before this quest is over, I suspect.

Soon Frodo is finished with his self-appointed task, and proudly examines his handiwork. "Much better," he declares, then looks about at all of his companions in satisfaction. "I do believe I recognize you all again," he says happily, then puts his fingers in Pippin's curls, tugging a bit. "Merry, these are a little short," he comments.

"I told you," Pippin mumbles, still sounding rather put out.

Merry grins good-naturedly at Frodo. "I say they are just fine, and since I am the one who will have to comb through them when they are an abysmal mess, I think I should decide how long they are."

Frodo sighs. "Very well," he replies. "I don't wish to take over that task, so I will not criticize."

"And I can comb my own hair," Pippin adds, still in an aggrieved mumble.

"Of course you can," Frodo soothes, finger-combing the locks in question until they meet his satisfaction. "Are all of you ready for bed, then?"

They all are, and soon have created the by-now-familiar mound of bedding and warm hobbit bodies, out from which I can only see the tops of four sets of now-shortened curls.

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