I do not own the characters, main events or settings of these stories. They were conceived by the fertile imagination of JRR Tolkien and are now owned by his heirs and executors. I am only playing in his sandpit and hope he will forgive me the liberty.
Bilbo settled on one of the benches by the kitchen table and Bell smiled as she placed one of her best teacups before him, pouring milk and adding the strong tea. Little Samwise pushed the honey across the table and then continued to shell the large mountain of peas before him.
The master of Bag End watched in amusement as the lad rescued a large fat green caterpillar and walked gravely to the door, laying it down on the grass by the front step. It was a good job Hamfast was not around, for he would have told Samwise to kill it. In his mind, Bilbo could hear him chiding even now.
“I don’t grow vegetables for no caterpillars. I grows ‘em to feed people.”
Sam returned and continued his work and Bell reached out a hand to ruffle his curls as she finished slicing carrots. Bilbo stirred a spoonful of honey into his strong tea, careful not to use too much. He made a mental note to find a reason to send across a jar at some point. Honey was expensive and he knew that the Gamgees rarely used it in tea themselves, keeping it for cooking instead.
Wielding a small, sharp knife . . . it’s blade worn into a concave arc by years of sharpening, Bell did not look up as she spoke.
“So. How is young Master Frodo? It must have been a long trip for him from Buckland . . . him havin’ been so ill an’ all. I hope it don’t cause him to relapse. I’m surprised the doctor let him travel.” Her voice held a note of censure. But then, it always did when she talked of Buckland. Like most people in Hobbiton, she considered the folk who lived beyond the river a bit “touched”. “He should’ve been left tucked up in bed for another week at least after that influenza, if ye ask me.”
The implication of her words was not lost on the bachelor hobbit. “And you think I should have had more sense, Bell?” he asked quietly. He had been dubious, to be sure. But the doctor had offered cautious approval and Frodo had managed, although he had nodded against his uncle’s shoulder for the last two hours of the cart journey and Bilbo had shooed him straight to bed when they arrived. He had left the lad still sleeping soundly this morning.
Bell pursed her lips and started peeling onions. “Beggin’ yer pardon an’ all, Mr Bilbo. But ye’ll not be used to carin’ for young uns.” She looked towards the sink and the sound of splashing.
“Daisy, ye be sure to get all the blood clots out o’ that beast heart. I don’t want to go sticking my hand in to stuff it and coming up all bloody again, like last time.”
Daisy looked contrite. “Ma . . . I’ll do it right, this time. I ain’t never done it before last time. I’ll flush it out good. I promise.”
Bell nodded. “There’s my good lass.” She went on to start dicing onions and Bilbo noticed little Samwise wipe his eyes. Bell followed his gaze. “Why don’t ye move a bit further down the table, Sam? These onions are a mite strong.”
Sam nodded and slid himself and the peas further down the bench.
Bilbo sipped his tea. “I must admit that I wondered whether it would be safe to move Frodo. But the doctor seemed happy. And when I checked him this morning he had no sign of fever. He just seems tired.” A note of uncertainty crept into his voice. “Do you think he will be alright? Perhaps I should go and check on him again.” He made to rise and little Samwise’s eyes grew wide in alarm, but Bell’s calm voice cut the rising panic.
“Ye sit there an’ finish yer tea. If he didn’t start a fever durin’ the night he’s not goin’ to start one now. He’s young. He’ll bounce back. Youngsters usually do,” she announced sagely.
Daisy brought the cleaned heart to the table and set it in a roasting tin while her mother added the diced onions to the stuffing mix waiting nearby. She looked at Daisy for a moment, assessing. Then she pushed over the basin of sage and onion stuffing. “Here’s another job for ye, lass. Ye can stuff the heart. Make sure ye get it right down inside, mind ye.”
Daisy beamed at being entrusted with this extra responsibility. “Yes, Ma.” She took up a handful of stuffing and forced it down one of the holes widened in the top of the heart . . . her tiny hand disappearing inside as she forced the breadcrumb and suet mix down as far as she could reach.
Bell took up a larger knife and began to chop up some turnip. “Sam, lad. Will ye go to the pantry an’ fetch that little bowl of broth for me?” The turnip was firm and Bell struggled to get the large, razor sharp knife through the orange flesh.
“I put some beef broth aside for Master Frodo last night. It’s got a few vegetables in it but I’ve chopped ‘em extra fine for him. I weren’t sure how he would be feelin’. From the sound of it he’s taken no harm but he might like it anyhow.”
Sam crept carefully across the room from the pantry, a small basin held firmly between both hands. He concentrated on the sloshing liquid, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth and relinquished it to Bilbo in relief, returning to his pile of peas and popping one in his mouth as reward. Bell grinned.
Bilbo inhaled the fragrance of the broth, a very thin layer of fat crazing its surface like ice on a puddle. “I am sure Frodo will love it, Bell. The doctor said they were still having to tempt him to eat and I can think of few things more tempting than your cooking.”
Bell kept one eye on her knife as she glanced up at her guest. “I don’t know about that. Although I’ve learned a few things, bringin’ up this brood. Anyhow, yer a fair cook yerself, Mr Bilbo. The lad won’t starve, that’s for sure. Talkin’ of which . . . I think tis about time ye should be checkin’ on him. Tis an hour since ye came in.”
Bilbo’s eyes widened. “Oh my . . . that long?” He rose, hurriedly. “I should check, shouldn’t I.” His eyes fell to the basin of broth and he lifted it carefully. “He may be looking for his breakfast even now. Dear me. Some Uncle I am.” He hurried to the door and Sam rushed ahead to open it for him. “Thank you, Bell,” he called over his shoulder.
With that, he left, and Sam stood in the doorway, watching him hurry up the hill to the big smial, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new occupant.
“Samwise Gamgee . . . ye come in here and finish yer job. T’aint polite to rubberneck.”
Daisy giggled and her mother glared at her, reaching over to score the flesh of the beast heart that now lay, stuffed and ready for roasting, in the tin.
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