2. Bell Pays a Visit
Bell dried her hands briskly on her apron and looked at her husband. “What on earth was Mr. Bilbo thinking, leaving the boy alone and sick like that? And where has he gotten himself off to this time, anyhow?”
“He said something about going up to the North Farthing, but truth be told, Bell, Mr. Bilbo does talk so much that sometimes I don’t hear all he says. He could be up a tree in the Old Forest, for all I know. And Mr. Frodo wasn’t near so sick when he left, just sick enough not to go along, like he was ought.”
“The North Farthing!” Bell exclaimed. “Mr. Bilbo needs to remember he’s not quite the carefree bachelor anymore, and leave such silliness behind him.”
“There’s naught we can do about Mr. Bilbo now, Bell. You know his ways. Just promise me you’ll look in on that lad, when you get a chance.”
“I’ll go right now,” she said matter-of-factly, taking off her apron. She went to the front hall and put on her cloak, and pulled up the hood, for the day had an end-of-winter rawness to it, and a dreary March rain was falling.
Bell hurried up the hill to Bag End, muttering to herself about Bilbo and his flighty ways. She liked Bilbo well enough, as far as she knew him, and he had always been a good master to her husband. But she had little tolerance for anyone who was careless about children. His cousin Frodo, now at Bag End since June, was not exactly a child, but he was just barely into his tweens, and was hardly old enough to be left all by himself when feeling poorly. Bilbo was kind enough, to be sure, and it certainly wasn’t any of her business, but Bell didn’t quite consider Bilbo a suitable guardian for a boy of Frodo’s age.
Indeed, Bell thought as the March drizzle stung her face, she wasn’t sure what those Brandybucks over on the other side of the river had been thinking, putting their young relation in the care of someone with Bilbo’s reputation. Perhaps they had not concerned themselves overmuch with Frodo. He was an orphan, after all, and such was often the way with orphans. Without their own parents to watch over them, they were shunted from relation to relation, either growing up wild or withdrawn. It was sad, but not unlikely that Bilbo’s adoption of the boy had caused little stir at Brandy Hall.
Bell had been to Bag End so infrequently that she didn’t feel right going up to the front door, even though it was closest to the path. She went around to the back of the smial and let herself in through the kitchen door.
The kitchen was tidy and a low fire still burned upon the hearth—her Hamfast had seen to that. Save for the crackling of the fire, it was so quiet that she would have thought the place empty.
“Mr. Frodo?” she called out. “Mr. Frodo, sir?”
She heard, or thought she heard, a voice answer hers, but it was interrupted by a burst of wet, heavy coughing. At the sound of it, Bell rolled her eyes. “He’s sick, all right,” she muttered to herself, and took off her cloak. She thought she might be staying a while.
Bell did not know her way around Bag End, but she needed only to follow the sound of coughing down to a small study—Bilbo’s study, she assumed, where he wrote about all those adventures he claimed to have had. She found Frodo in an overstuffed chair by the fireplace; the fire was blazing and the boy had wrapped himself in a blanket, but even from the doorway Bell could see that his teeth were chattering.
“Mr. Frodo,” she said. “Begging your pardon, sir, but you don’t sound like anyone who should be out of bed.” She studied his face. “And you don’t look like one, either.” The boy’s face was drained of color save for the fever-brightness of his eyes and the bruised shadows beneath them. He had a book in his lap, which she doubted he had so much as opened, since a small collection of damp handkerchiefs was wadded up on its cover. On the table next to him sat the breakfast that her husband had prepared, apparently untouched.
“Hello, Mrs. Gamgee,” he said with a wan smile. “Hamfast told me you might stop in. It’s very kind of you, but I told him you didn’t have to. I’m all right, Mrs. Gamgee, really.”
“Mr. Frodo, you look about as far from all right as a body can get.”
He flapped a wet handkerchief at her. “It’s nothing. It’s a head cold.” Then, as if his body wished to give lie to his claim, he was suddenly doubled over by another bout of hard, phlegmy coughs.
Bell patted Frodo’s back through the episode. She did not like the thick, yellow look of the mucus that he spat into his handkerchief, nor did she like the way he seemed to labor to catch his breath between coughs. When the fit subsided, Frodo sat for a moment with his eyes closed and his hand pressed to his chest, panting for breath.
“I don’t have to ask you if that hurt,” Bell said. “You need to be in bed, Mr. Frodo, with a nice hot water bottle on your chest, not sitting up here tiring yourself out.”
He opened his eyes and looked up at her. “I’ve been in bed for three days,” he said miserably. “And I haven’t gotten any better. And I wasn’t able to go with Bilbo because of this.” A feverish shudder ran through him.
Bell brushed aside Frodo’s limp curls and laid the back of her hand on his forehead. She almost winced at the heat there. “Why, you’re positively on fire, Mr. Frodo!” she said. “You should thank your stars you didn’t go anywhere with Mr. Bilbo. What if you were out in the woods, and sick like this?”
Frodo only frowned and drew his knees up to his chest.
“All right,” she said briskly. Frodo may be the future master of Bag End, but right now he was just a sick, cranky tween and it was high time he listened to her. “You’re going straight to bed. I’ll make some tea for that cough and bring it in to you. Come on now.” She made a motion as if to help him out of the chair, but he waved her off.
“I can get out of a chair by myself, Mrs. Gamgee,” he said with a wry smile.
“Well, of course you can,” Bell responded, but she noticed the way he paused at the edge of his seat, as if needing to muster his strength before standing. She wished that Hamfast had sent her over here sooner.
When Frodo stood up, the handkerchiefs in his lap fell to the floor, and both Bell and Frodo stooped to pick them up.
“Please, I’ve got them,” he said, and then he added, “They’re not very pleasant.”
Bell had to smile at his embarrassment. “Now, Mr. Frodo. I’ve raised six children. Nothing’s going to come out of you that I’d be dainty about!”
He looked up at her. “Mrs. Gamgee!” he said, and in spite of the circumstances, the youthful mortification on his face was so comical that Bell could not help laughing out loud.
The porridge breakfast that Hamfast had made for Frodo had chilled to the point of being unsalvageable. Bell scraped it into the pail by the sink and made soft-boiled eggs and toast, and a pot of honeyed peppermint tea. Even from the kitchen, Bell could hear Frodo’s thick coughing. “The lad has no head cold,” Bell said to herself. “If it doesn’t get worse than this, he’ll be the lucky one.”
Again, she followed the sound of coughing down Bag End’s long halls to find Frodo’s room. It was a comfortable, but small-seeming room, and Bell had no doubt it would have appeared larger if Bilbo were more insistent about making Frodo tidy up his things. Indeed, almost every available surface, be it windowsill, desk, or dresser, was cluttered with books, or pens, or paper or inkpots, and the wardrobe doors stood ajar, seeming to barely hold at bay an avalanche of unfolded clothing.
Frodo was lying curled on his side, coughing until his face had reddened. Bell set the tray down next to the bed and sat Frodo up by his shoulders.
“Now, you shouldn’t be lying down with a cough like that. Sitting up is what’s best if you want to keep from wearing yourself out.” Frodo nodded as Bell stacked pillows behind his back. He sank back onto the pillows, once again with his hand upon his chest.
Bell settled the tray on Frodo’s lap and he looked at it with dismay.
“My aunts used to say you should starve a fever,” he said.
“Maybe they starve fevers over there in Buckland,” Bell answered, “But I never heard of any hobbit keeping up his health by not eating.” She gave the boy a quick sweep with her eyes. “And you certainly haven’t got much you can spare from your bones, Mr. Frodo, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I don’t mind you saying it. Everyone else does.”
“Then you’d best get started,” Bell said. She hugged her arms, feeling a chill in the room. It was the last thing Frodo needed. Hamfast had laid a fire here earlier in the morning, but now it had burned down to red embers. She knelt down in front of the fireplace and stirred up the coals, and put more wood onto them.
“How long have you been feeling poorly, Mr. Frodo?”
“I woke up with a runny nose four days ago,” he answered. “Bilbo delayed his trip to see if I’d get any better and could go with him. But I wasn’t any better the next day, and Bilbo said I should stay home and rest.”
“And where did Mr. Bilbo go?”
“To see a company of dwarves, passing through the North Farthing, near Greenfields. Friends of his, from his travels. He wanted to see them, for he didn’t know when they’d pass this way again.” Frodo sighed. “It would have been wonderful to meet them. Bilbo said I could come next time, but I don’t think there will be dwarves in the Shire for a while to come.”
Bell could hear the disappointment in Frodo’s voice. “Well, that’s the thing about a nasty bug, Mr. Frodo. It don’t care much what other plans you have.” She turned around and saw that Frodo was sipping his tea, but had not touched anything else on his tray. “Those eggs will turn to cold jelly if you don’t eat them soon, Mr. Frodo.” She sat down on the edge of his bed and folded her hands in her lap, to show that she could wait all day for him to finish his meal.
Frodo gave her a pathetic look and put a forkful of eggs into his mouth. He swallowed it with a grimace. “My throat hurts.”
“Of course it does, what with you hacking away like that. But you need to keep up your strength, and I saw you didn’t make so much as a dent in what my husband put up for you this morning.”
Bell thought that if she kept up a conversation, she could distract Frodo enough to finish eating. She looked around the room for something to talk about. “Such a lot of books!” she finally said. “My Samwise is always telling me Bag End is full of books. He’s very happy that Mr. Bilbo is learning him his letters.”
“Sam is a quick study. Bilbo is happy to do it.”
“I’m not sure what good ‘twill do him, but it can’t do him no harm, I suppose. I hope he’s no bother to you.”
“Oh no, I like having him here. He’s always excited about everything!”
Bell laughed. “Yes, that’s Sam. He’s awful fond of Mr. Bilbo. And you too, Mr. Frodo. Thinks the world of you, he does.”
Frodo smiled. “I can’t imagine why!” he said. “Sam is a good lad. He’ll always have a place here, Mrs. Gamgee, as long as Bilbo or I live here. When your husband is ready to retire, I mean.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. Frodo,” Bell said, struck by the boy’s graciousness. "It’s good to know that a new master of Bag End won’t be changing the way things are done.”
“I can hardly imagine being master of Bag End, or anything else for that matter!”
“You will, though,” Bell said. “Mr. Bilbo hasn’t any children, and he knows it’s only fitting that a Baggins should take over the place. And he does think kindly of you, from what my Hamfast tells me.”
“And I think very kindly of him,” Frodo said with a smile. He looked down at his plate, and the smile faded. “I don’t think I can eat any more,” he said. “My appetite is quite off.”
Bell saw that he had eaten half of the eggs and toast, and drunk most of his tea. She supposed this would be the most she could hope for right now. She took the tray from his lap and stood up.
“Why don’t you get some sleep then? You look just about done in, Mr. Frodo.”
“All right Mrs. Gamgee. I am tired, now that you mention it.”
“I’ll be popping over to home to fix up some luncheon, but I’ll come right back to look in on you.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Frodo said. His eyes were already closed.
After tidying up the kitchen, Bell made some more tea, to leave by Frodo’s bed if he should wake, and then went to check on him before returning home. He was sleeping. Bell leaned over him to listen to his breathing. It was not particularly labored, but she could hear a deep, watery sound in his chest that made her uncomfortable. But if she could keep Frodo in bed and warm, he should be all right.
Bell studied Frodo for a moment, in the light of the fire and the dim March afternoon. This was certainly the most she had ever seen of him, for she had little business at Bag End, and he had even less at Bagshot Row. She recalled the first time she had ever seen him, on a bright June day the summer before last, when he had come to stay with Bilbo for a while.
Frodo had shaken her hand and been terribly polite, and Bell had thought he was quite courteous, but too pale, and too thin, and too grave for a lad his age. Indeed, he had made little impression on her, save for two things. She had been struck by his eyes, which were remarkable, as blue as an autumn sky and just as bright. But she had noticed something else as well, something she could not describe quite as easily. She had sensed a faint air of sadness, and neglect, about him, and not in any aspect of his figure or clothing, for he was as tidy and well dressed as Bilbo. No, this was in the way he carried himself, and how he walked with his hands in his pockets, and the soft manner of his speech. Bell had seen this before, upon widows, and spinsters and indeed, upon orphans. It was the neglected look of those who have long come to believe that they are dear to no one.
In spite of her reservations about Bilbo, Bell had been happy when she had heard that he planned to adopt the lad. Perhaps time away from that great crowd at Brandy Hall would help to erase that air of neglect. He was too young to have such a look upon him.
Bell had not thought of Frodo again until December, a few days after Yule, the day that Bilbo had come home early from Buckland. Little Sam had gone with his father to help him warm up Bag End and prepare dinner, and Sam had come home in a state of high excitement. But it had been suppertime, and Daisy and May had been sniping at each other all day, and the roast had almost burned, and Bell had not been able to listen to Sam until she was tucking him into his bed that night.
“I saw his picture, Mummy…Mr. Frodo’s picture. Mr. Bilbo drew it and hung it right up over his desk.”
“And what did he look like?” Bell had asked smiling. Sam had long been fascinated by Bilbo, and had heard him speak so often and so fondly of his young cousin that he had grown fascinated with Frodo as well, even sight unseen. Sam had been in bed with the measles in June, and had been dreadfully disappointed when he had found out that he had missed Frodo’s brief visit.
Sam had dropped his voice to an awestruck whisper. “Just like an elf, Mummy. Dad thought I was silly to say so, but that’s just what he looked like. An elf.”
“Oh, and then you’ve seen many elves to compare him to, I suppose?”
“No, but…” Sam’s had pondered what he would say next. “He looked like I always thought an elf should look.”
“And how is that?”
“Well, his face was…not roundy. It was pointy.”
“Pointy?” Bell had asked laughing. “Like a fox, you mean? And did he have big ears?” she asked teasingly. She had reached under the covers and tickled Sam. “And did he have a big bushy tail, too?”
Sam had giggled and then, with all the gravity an eight-year-old could summon, he had said, “Now, Mummy, you’re being silly! Besides…it was just a picture of his face ,” he had added, as if Frodo was so extraordinary that the possibility of him having a tail was not entirely out of the question.
Bell had laughed again, at her serious little Sam, and she had finished tucking him in, and kissed him goodnight, and blown out the candle. Just before she had left his room, she had heard Sam murmur sleepily, “He was beautiful, Mummy.” She had paused, and smiled, and thought of the grave, pale boy that she had seen that summer, and how unusual it was that her Sam would find him beautiful.
Her two eldest daughters had certainly not shared their brother’s opinion. Daisy had been just fifteen that summer of Frodo’s first visit to Bag End, and as silly as she could have possibly been. Her little sister, May, adored her, and appeared to be following in her footsteps as far as the silliness went. A storm of giggles seemed to follow the two girls wherever they went, and Bell had become quite accustomed to the sound of it, ringing like chimes throughout Bagshot Row. On an afternoon not long after Frodo had arrived, they had burst into the kitchen, chattering like magpies and hiding their giggles behind plump hands.
“And what might you two be laughing over now?” Bell had asked. “I suppose you finally went and took a peek at this cousin of Mr. Bilbo’s that you were so curious about?”
Daisy had tossed her head dismissively and pouted. “Oh, pooh, Mum, he’s just a skinny little thing.”
“There are some as might find him fair. Takes after his mum, they say.”
“That he does,” Daisy had said with a sly glance at her sister. “In fact, he looks just like…a lass!” She and May had covered their mouths and erupted in the sort of laughter that belongs only to girls of that age: merry, and yet somehow cruel.
“Yes, Mum, it’s true!” piped May, in an obvious attempt to impress her sister. “He’s got bluuuuuuuue eyes,” she had trilled dramatically, “And loooooooong lashes, and he’s just as white as milk!” The two girls had burst into hysterics.
Bell had suddenly thought of the courteous youth that she had just met, with his blue eyes and his clinging sadness, and felt a sudden irritation with her daughters. “Now you two stop that,” she had snapped. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, making fun of someone you don’t even know. And who’s likely to be master of Bag End someday, too, and is someone you should have a little respect for, if only because he’s Mr. Bilbo’s cousin. Now out of here, both of you, and go find something useful to turn your silly heads to!”
The girls had run off with injured looks upon their faces, but just a few moments later, Bell had heard their bubbling laughter, just as merry as before.
Now as she looked at Frodo’s sleeping face, she thought that it was her youngest boy, her Sam, who had been right. Frodo was beautiful. His face had a strange angularity, the “pointiness” that Sam had seen, that was pleasing to the eye rather than harsh, perhaps because it was so different from the round faces of most boys his age. He was pale from his illness, but even in good health, Bell knew that his complexion was so fair that he hardly seemed to have grown up in the rustic wilds of Buckland. His hair, and brows and lashes were very dark, almost black, an agreeable contrast to his face, and his mouth was full, and finely shaped.
And yet, even more than his face, Bell noticed his hands, which lay crossed upon his coverlet. They were very fair in color, with long slender fingers, a scholar’s hands, as fine as porcelain. Bell placed one of her own sturdy hands over his, feeling the delicate chain of his knuckles beneath her fingertips. Suddenly, and inexplicably, Bell hoped that Frodo would never need to turn those elegant hands to anything harsher than paper and pen.
Frodo stirred and opened his eyes. “What is the time?” he asked drowsily.
“It’s one o’clock. I’ll be going home for a little while now. How do you feel?”
“Hot,” he said. “Tired.”
“Well that’s to be expected, with your fever. Sleep is the best thing in the world for you. I’ve left some tea here, if you get thirsty.”
Frodo’s eyes glanced over at the bedside table and he nodded. Bell rose to leave.
“Will you come back?” he asked.
Bell leaned over and patted the slender white hand upon the coverlet. “Of course I will, dear. Of course.”
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.