Mr. Frodo did his share, and more than his share, of walking the baby. She wasn't more than three or four weeks old when she started getting real cranky in the afternoons, just when I was starting supper. She wasn't hungry nor she wasn't wet, neither – she was just cranky, and nothing would satisfy her but to be walked, just at the time of day when I couldn't do it.
She was lying in the big cradle one afternoon, screaming like someone was poking her with pins, while I tried to finish cutting up a chicken so's I could get it on to cook and pick her up. It's a poor idea to try and hurry while you're boning a chicken. The knife slipped and gashed me good, and I had to drop everything to wash the cut and try to stop the bleeding, and all the time Elanor shrieked herself into a frenzy.
"Be quiet, for mercy sake!" I finally snapped at her, and I'm ashamed to say my voice was pretty near as loud as hers. "I'll pick you up soon's I get this cut bandaged – now hush!"
About then Mr. Frodo walked in. "What's the matter with the baby?" he asked, and I could've sunk through the floor, I was so mortified. If I couldn't keep one baby quiet, without disturbing the master at his writing, all the way down the passage in his study!
I was still trying to stop the bleeding – I'd sliced myself pretty deep – and he went and picked her up, wrapping her blanket around her and cuddling her in his arms.
"There, Elanor, what's the matter? Is no one taking care of you today?" He came over to see what I was doing.
"Good heavens, Rose, what have you done to yourself? I'd better call Sam!"
"No, Mr. Frodo, don't bother him. It's stopped bleeding; let me bandage it up and I'll be fine. Hold her just a minute more, would you, sir?"
Elanor had quit crying at finding herself picked up. She snuggled against his chest and looked ready to fall asleep.
"Is she hungry?" He went to sit down, but her eyes flew open and she gave a little wail of protest. He straightened up quick and walked her over to the window. "No, Elanor, don't cry! Look out the window, that's a good lass. Look at the sunset – it's as pink as your baby lips, did you know that?" He bent his head and kissed the tip of her nose, and she blinked.
"She's not hungry; she just ate. Mum says it's colic – she just cries for an hour or so every afternoon. I wish she'd pick some other time of day – just when I'm trying to cook!"
He shook his head at me, looking perplexed. "I've never been around babies much. What is that? Isn't there something you can do for it?" I reached to take Elly from him, but he turned his shoulder to me. "Let me hold her awhile, Rose. She's quiet now, and I haven't had much chance to hold her."
"Well, you can hold her any time you like, Mr. Frodo, except when she's feeding. Every afternoon about this time would be good!" I was teasing, meaning it for a joke, but he jumped at the idea like I'd offered him a present.
"Would that be a help to you, Rose? If I take her while you're making supper? Is there anything we can do about the – colic, did you say? Sounds like a pony!"
I had to laugh at that. "I guess it's not so serious in babies, Mr. Frodo! Just makes 'em cry. I tried her on some chamomile tea, but I can't say it did much for her. Mostly she just wants to be walked around, till she falls asleep. I could bind her to me with a shawl, but I'm nervous about doing that, when I'm working round the fire."
"No, no, don't do that! Not when you're cooking. I can walk her, Rose. It'll give us a chance to get to know each other, won't it, Elanor?"
He bounced her a little in his arms, looking into her face, and she peered up at him in the near-sighted way of babies. And from that day on, he'd appear in the kitchen as soon as she began to cry in the afternoon, as if he'd been listening for her.
He'd take her to the window, commenting on the weather for her benefit, and pass the time of day with me for a few minutes. Then he'd carry her away out of the kitchen, all around the smial, from room to room. I could hear him talking to her as he went down the passage – and he never talked baby talk, neither; he spoke to her like she was a child of many summers, well able to understand him.
"Let's go in the parlour today, Elanor. I want to introduce you to Bilbo."
That gave me pause for a moment, I can tell you, till I remembered the big portrait of Bilbo that hung in the parlour! All the same, I dried my hands and followed softly after them, to watch from the doorway. Frodo carried her over to the portrait and held her so she was facing it.
"There now, that's my uncle Bilbo. Well, cousin, actually, to be strictly accurate. But I called him Uncle, and if he were here and you knew how to talk yet, Elanor, he'd tell you to do the same. And then he'd tell you stories, wonderful stories, like he used to tell me when I was a little lad."
He sighed and fell silent, and I thought suddenly that I had no business being there, eavesdropping on him. I tiptoed back to the kitchen, hoping he hadn't heard me. He sounded sad, and lonely for Bilbo. But he looked cheerful enough when he came to supper an hour later, and I thought maybe Elanor was a comfort to him.
He was writing all day long now, and I guess he needed some comfort. By the conversation round the supper table, he'd got to some bad parts of the story, and the nightmares were coming several times a week.
We hadn't never started school again after Yule. First he was gone to Buckland till near the end of January, and when he got back, he worried that it would be too much for me, all that cooking, with the baby so near. By the time I was up and around after the birth, stout enough that we could've started again, it was well into spring and the lads were needed in garden and field. It was too bad, for the school had been good for him – it cheered him up, being around the lads. And it seemed like it troubled him, too, that their learning was interrupted so much.
"Can't be helped, Mr. Frodo," Sam told him. "You done a lot, just getting them here to learn their letters and how to write a little. We can start up again once the crops are in. If we only do ten weeks a year, it's still more school than Hobbiton ever had before."
Frodo sighed. "You're right, of course. But it's not enough. When you're Mayor, Sam –"
Marigold was there that day – she came a couple of times a week to help with the laundry and heavy work (and get her share of cuddling her baby niece). She interrupted with a laugh.
"When Sam is Mayor, Mr. Frodo?!"
I thought Sam would pull her up sharp for being rude to the master, but he only nodded.
"You need to get that bee out of your bonnet, Mr. Frodo, and that's a fact. Gamgees don't become Mayor of the Shire. Gamgees are gardeners and ropemakers and farmhands. You better think about running for Mayor yourself, one of these days, when old Will retires. The Shire'd be in good hands, it would, with you for Mayor, and Pippin for Thain, and Mr. Merry the Master of Buckland."
"I've done my time as Mayor, Sam." He was looking at Sam as if he meant a lot more than he was saying. "It'll be you or none of us, I'm afraid. And when you're Mayor, you'll need to get more schools going, all over the Shire. You might be keeping an eye open, even now, for possible schoolmasters. Fosco would make a good one."
Sam thought about that. "Aye, he would, at that. He knows a lot of your stories, and he's getting good schooling, out there in Buckland." He grinned. "You might keep that in mind, when you're Mayor, Mr. Frodo."
We'd been talking over noon dinner, and we were about done. Sam and Mr. Frodo went back to their work, in garden and study, and Mari and I started clearing up.
"Do you read those books, really, Rose?" Mari nodded toward the kitchen bookcase.
"Sometimes," I admitted. "I did a lot of reading before the baby came – I don't have so much time, now! There's even a cookery book there, Mari, and a book of herbs for healing – it's not just tales, not at all."
"Your Da was pretty proud of you, learning to read. Tom, too. They think you're about the smartest lass around."
She sounded wistful, and I had a sudden idea. "Would you like to learn how, Mari? I could teach you."
"Do you think I could, really? Is it hard?" She giggled. "I'd like to surprise Tom, let him see I'm smart, too…!"
"It's not hard, and I was helping Fosco, so I'm sure I could teach you. Come on, hurry up with the dishes, and we'll start before Elanor wakes up from her nap."
And that's how I started teaching Marigold. We kept it secret for a long time, till one day Mr. Frodo came out to the kitchen for a snack and caught us at it. Mari knew all her letters by then, and I was writing sentences on one of the school slates for her to read and copy. We had our backs to the passage, and we were concentrating so hard, we never heard him come in.
"The hen is in the pen. The cat ate the fat hen." I heard his quiet voice behind me, reading, and a sudden laugh. "Having trouble with your chickens, are you, Rosie?"
Mari jumped like she'd been stung by a bee, and covered her slate with her arms. I guess maybe she thought Mr. Frodo wouldn't approve of her reading – a lass, and a Gamgee at that. She didn't know him very well, even as much as she'd been at Bag End – it was hard for her to get past the idea that he was gentry. But I knew he wouldn't mind; in fact, he'd be delighted. He would've been glad to have every hobbit in the Shire reading.
I hadn't thought about it, but it hit me in that moment that it was as much for Mr. Frodo, as for Mari's own sake, that I'd been teaching her. I smiled up at him.
"The chickens are fine, Mr. Frodo. In fact, we've got extras – chicken pot pie for dinner tomorrow. Mari wants to surprise my brother with her reading, so you won't tell, will you?"
He put a finger to his lips. "An army of orcs wouldn't drag the secret from me. Does Sam know?"
"No, Mr. Frodo – don't tell him, please! He'd only tease me," Mari said quickly.
"Not a word, Marigold, on my honour!" He met her eyes with a smile, and after a moment she dimpled back at him. Friends, now. See, Mari, Mr. Frodo is a good sort, even if he is Master of Bag End.
But he had the last word, later that night. Sam had already gone to our room and I was banking the kitchen fire for the night, when Frodo came bringing his empty mug from the study. He'd gone back to work for an hour, after our evening reading time. He came over where I was kneeling by the fireplace and rested his hand on my head.
"What a comfort you are, Rosie! I worry myself half to death because the lads aren't getting their schooling, and all the time you're teaching Marigold! You're a treasure, lass, more than all Bilbo's gold."
I craned my neck to look up at him. "I knew you'd like for her to learn, Mr. Frodo. And someday she'll teach her children, you know – she's that proud to be learning –"
He nodded. "Yes. It will spread, little by little, like the ripples when you drop a stone in a pool. Thank you, Rose."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.