3. An Uncommon Child
“How is the boy?” he asked.
“The boy is sick, Ham, right sick. ‘Tis a very good thing you sent me over there.”
“Should we send for the physician?”
“I’ll have Daisy run down and fetch him for this afternoon, or first thing tomorrow morning. The lad has a rattle in his chest, and I don’t like the sound of it.”
“Do you think he should be alone up there?” Hamfast asked.
“No,” Bell answered, tying on her apron. “I think I should go and stay with him, at least until his fever breaks. Left to himself, he’ll be sitting up in that study like I found him, and not eating a thing, neither. Ham…did Mr. Bilbo say when he’d be getting back?”
“No, but ‘tis a good two days on a pony to get to the North Farthing, three days in nasty weather like this. He’s probably there by now, but I can’t imagine he’s going to turn right around and come back. I expect he’ll be gone another four days or so, at the least.”
“You might need to ride up there and fetch him,” Bell said. “Fetch him home.”
“Is it so grim as that?”
“No, but there’s no knowing what will happen in a few days. I don’t think Mr. Bilbo would want to be away, if he knew the lad was sick. ‘Twould be best to have him home, for Mr. Frodo’s sake, too.”
“I should start today, do you think?”
“No, not yet. We’ll wait for the physician and then…we’ll think on what to do after that.” Bell sighed. She had much to think about, and she didn’t want to make the wrong decision. She would wait for the physician before sending for Bilbo, and she would tend to practical matters in the meantime. “Go out to the henhouse and wring a chicken for me. I’d like to make a broth for Mr. Frodo.”
Bell set herself to preparing a luncheon for her family. She was standing at the sink when she felt a small tug on her skirts.
“Sam…what is it?
“Is Mr. Frodo sick? Dad says you’re going to stay with him at Bag End.”
“Yes, Sam, Mr. Frodo is sick. He just needs some looking after.”
“Can I come with you? To look after, I mean?”
“No, Sam. Mr. Frodo needs rest and quiet, he won’t be able to sit up and read with you.”
Sam drew his brows together. “I wouldn’t be no bother to him, Mummy. I’ll keep him company. He needs company, what with Mr. Bilbo not home. And I’ll read to him, and I’ll keep the fire going, and I’ll help him get better.”
“But…” Sam clutched Bell’s sleeve. “I want to look after him, too. Dad says that will probably be my job one day, anyway. Mr. Frodo won’t mind…he won’t mind if I…if I start the job early, so to speak. I’ll make myself useful. Please, Mummy.”
Bell wiped her hands on the towel and then crouched down to Sam’s level. She looked at him for a moment, at his earnest face and his wide, nut-brown eyes, so full of concern. Of all her children, Bell understood Sam the least. He was as happy as any of his siblings, and just as simple and easy to please. But he had a strange seriousness about him, and a way of looking at things that her other children did not share. At times, he seemed older than his years, and far more thoughtful. It was this, this difference in him, that made him spend long summer afternoons in Bilbo’s musty study, hunched over his copy book while his brothers and sisters played in the sunlight; it was this that made him see beauty in the plain pencil drawing of a sad-eyed youth. His father worried that the boy had his head in the clouds, and hoped he would grow out of it. Bell worried about Sam as well, but she also delighted in his difference, and often wondered how two hobbits as plain and ordinary as Hamfast Gamgee and herself could have produced such an uncommon child. She loved all her children equally, as all mothers do, but in her secret heart, Bell kept a little space that was just for her youngest boy, her Samwise.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” she said to him with a smile. “I know you want to see Mr. Frodo, but you can’t go over there just now. I don’t know what Mr. Frodo’s got, and I don’t want you getting sick. And he’s in bed right now, sleeping, and needs to sleep. He wouldn’t even be awake when you were there. I’ll tell him you’re thinking of him, though, and you can come see him just as soon as he’s feeling better.”
Sam looked crestfallen. “Will you tell me, Mummy, just as soon as he starts to feel better?”
“Of course I will, Sam.”
“And will you tell him that Sam says hello and hope he feels better right soon? Just like that?”
“Just like that. Yes, Sam.”
Sam’s face brightened and he put his arms around Bell’s neck and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Mummy!”
“Well, you’re welcome Sam,” Bell said, and hugged him. She straightened up and said, “Now go find Daisy. I have an errand for her to run for me. Go on.”
It was late afternoon when Bell made her way back up the hill to Bag End, carrying a plucked chicken in a sack for Frodo’s dinner. The physician had said he could not come until tomorrow morning, and Bell hoped she would find the boy no worse than she had left him.
Bag End was in shadow when she entered, and very quiet. At least he isn’t coughing himself sick, Bell thought. Surely, that was a good sign.
Frodo’s room was dim except for the last bit of daylight at the window and the faint glow of the embers on the hearth. Frodo was propped up on his pillows, and seemed to be deeply asleep, yet even from across the room, Bell could hear the watery rattle of his breathing. She lit a candle to have a look at him. When she came to his bedside, she saw that the chamber pot had been pulled out from underneath the bed, and she was dismayed to find the remains of his small breakfast in it.
“I’m sorry,” Frodo said. Bell had been so certain he was asleep that she jumped at the sound of his voice. “I couldn’t keep it down. I did try.”
Bell set the pot back on the floor and sat on the edge of Frodo’s bed. In spite of having slept most of the afternoon, he looked even paler than before, with a feverish bewilderment in his eyes.
“I know you tried, Mr. Frodo. Maybe the egg was too heavy for you. I’m going to make you some nice light broth. How does that sound?”
From the look that passed across Frodo’s face, it appeared to sound nauseating, but he forced a smile and said, “That would be nice.”
She laid her hand on the back of Frodo’s neck. “You’re warmer than before. I think your temperature’s gone up. Sometimes that happens, at the end of the day.”
“It has been worse in the evenings,” he said, and Bell wondered how sick Frodo had really been, these past few nights that he had spent by himself. She felt another twinge of censure against Bilbo as she imagined Frodo lying alone and feverish, in this place that was still so new to him.
“How’s your chest?”
“It aches. It hurts to breathe. Coughing makes it worse.”
“Well, the physician’s coming tomorrow morning, first thing. You’ll be up and about in no time.”
Frodo smiled and closed his eyes.
Bell picked up the chamber pot from the floor and rose. “I’ll fix you some tea. You must be thirsty. Maybe you’d like a bit of toast, or a dry biscuit, Mr. Frodo?”
He opened his eyes and smiled at her. “No, tea is fine. I don’t think I can eat right now.” His eyes fell upon the chamber pot in her hand. “Mrs. Gamgee?”
“Yes, Mr. Frodo?”
“Given the situation, I think that just ‘Frodo’ will be fine. There’s no sense in being…what did you call it? Dainty?”
Bell smiled. “Well all right then,” she said. “It’ll be just plain ‘Frodo.’ At least ‘twill be as long as I’m carrying your chamber pot about.”
Frodo laughed at that and then winced, as though it pained him. He let his head fall back onto his pillows and closed his eyes.
That bit of laughter was the evening’s last moment of levity. By the time the broth was ready, Frodo had fallen into such a listless stupor that he was barely able to hold his spoon and indeed, by the end of the meal, Bell needed to feed him herself.
She prepared hot water bottles for his chest, and cool compresses for his head, but he was irritable and confused and pushed them off, again and again. He seemed to be in awful pain when he coughed, even worse than he had been in the morning, and it took him long minutes to recover from each bout.
Bell resorted to an old family method to quiet his cough and help him sleep, a cup of strong chamomile tea, heavily laced with honey and brandy. The brandy in Bilbo’s pantry was rich and dark as syrup, and stored in a crystal bottle of such exquisite and unusual craft that Bell was almost timid to touch it. She wondered where Bilbo could have gotten it, for such elegant glasswork did not come from the Shire, nor did such rare liquor.
Wherever it had come from, it was certainly potent, for Frodo finally quieted and fell asleep. Bell sighed with relief and, after making sure the boy was securely tucked in, she stretched out to sleep on the little bed in the unused room next to Frodo’s.
In her light sleep, Bell walked in a dark place, a narrow passage of rock. Sheer cliffs rose up on either side of her, to what terrible heights she could not imagine. She saw the red glow of fire ahead, and felt a scorching heat upon her face and arms. ‘Tis the fever, she thought. We must bring down the fever. Suddenly, the rocky passage opened before her, and she found herself on a great cliff, above a valley of fire. At the edge of the cliff, far ahead of her, she saw a slight, delicate figure silhouetted against a wall of flame, and she began to run towards it. Frodo! she tried to call out, but the name that came to her lips was not Frodo’s but that of her youngest son. “Sam!” she shrieked desperately. “Samwise!”
Bell awoke with a start, her son’s name in her throat. Frodo was coughing in the next room, a horrible, choking sound, and Bell shook off the remnants of the dream, and went to see to him.
Author's Note: Karen Wynn Fonstad's wonderful "The Atlas of Middle Earth" claims that the distance from Bag End to the town of Greenfields, in the North Farthing, is approximately 75 miles. Bilbo has gone to somewhere in the North Farthing "near Greenfields," so I'm imagining that he's about 60 miles from home. Assuming that a pony can travel at about a good pace of 4 miles per hour, it would take one-and-a-half to two days to get to the North Farthing, depending upon how many hours Bilbo rode per day, and another one-and-a-half to two days to return.
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.