She sat motionless, still half asleep. Frodo was in her arms, but his body was cool and lay heavily against her. The blanket she had wrapped around him was wet. She listened for his breath, but heard only birds.
It was Friday morning, and Bell knew that if her husband had found Bilbo, they would be home by afternoon. How do I tell Mr. Bilbo? she wondered sadly. He didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye to the boy.
Bell had lived near Bag End for most of her life, and yet Bilbo’s position had been so far above her own that she hardly knew him at all, except as her husband’s employer. She knew even less of Frodo, who had lived at Bag End for so short a time, and had been such a quiet, inconspicuous resident. But now her heart ached for them both, for the old hobbit who had loved Frodo as a son, and for Frodo, this orphan who had spent the last hours of his short life with none but a neighbor-lady, a near stranger, for company.
The birdsong quieted as the light grew stronger at the window. Bell sighed and sat up slowly, shifting Frodo’s limp body in her arms. And then she heard, or thought she heard, a soft breath escape Frodo’s lips.
Frodo had been so still and so cool after all the days of fever, that Bell had been certain he was dead. But she felt such hope at the small sound that she sat straight up and laid her hand over his mouth. Please, please! she thought. And through the deceptive chill of cooling sweat on his face, his lips were warm, and he was breathing.
She cradled Frodo in one arm and looked at his face in the growing daylight. He was still ashen, but the sickly luster of fever had left him. His fever had finally broken in the night, drenching him with sweat and casting him into this deep sleep, in which even his breathing had eased. Bell listened at Frodo’s chest and although the sound she heard was not healthy, he did not seem to struggle as before. He had turned the corner.
It was fortunate that Bell had held him when his fever broke, for he had soaked through her clothes, instead of the bedding, and she did not need to move him to another bed. She laid Frodo down and fetched another of Bilbo’s nightshirts from the wardrobe. As she was dressing him in the dry shirt, Frodo gave a small moan of protest at being jostled.
“I know, dear, I know,” Bell murmured. “Just another moment and you can rest quiet.”
Bell laid Frodo against the pillows and covered him warmly. As she tucked the blankets around him, Frodo’s eyes opened halfway. Bell could see that he was exhausted, but his eyes were clear.
She smiled and touched his cool cheek “Frodo,” she said. “How do you feel?”
He blinked at her several times, then answered, “Sleepy.”
“Your fever has broken, dear. You’re getting better.”
He closed his eyes and a faint smile touched his face. Bell was so happy to see it that she suddenly leaned forward and kissed him, on the forehead and the cheek, as if he had been her own child. “Are you thirsty, Frodo?”
Frodo nodded without opening his eyes. Bell poured him a cup of cool tea, left over from the night before, and he drank it in long, slow swallows. He was asleep again before the cup was empty.
Bell lit the fire and fed wood into the flames until they burned brightly. The room grew warm and cheerful. She drew back the curtains and saw that the sun was beginning to shine, for the first time in days. Winter was over, indeed.
Hamson came a little while later to see how things fared. After looking in on Frodo, they sat at the kitchen table and shared a small breakfast.
“I’ll tell you true, Mum,” Hamson said, “I didn’t expect to find but one living hobbit up here this morning. I’ve never seen anyone look so poorly as Mr. Frodo did yesterday.”
“Aye,” said Bell. “For my part, I also didn’t think the lad would see another dawn. If the fever hadn’t broken last night, I don’t think he would’ve.”
Bell and Hamson pondered this thought soberly as they sipped their tea. “And will he be well now, do you think?” Hamson asked after a while.
Bell shook her head. “He’s nowhere near to being well. He won’t be out of that bed for a long time, and he’ll need to be tended and watched. If his lungs fill up again, or the fever comes back…he’ll likely not have the strength a second time. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
They sat in silence for while. The fire popped and hissed behind them with a comforting sound. “I passed a strange night, Hamson,” Bell said quietly. “I think I was half-dreaming most of the time, or p’raps I was a bit feverish myself. There were times I thought there were people in the room, some hobbits, some big folk, tall and fair. Never seen anything like it. My mum used to tell tales of strange things happening when someone’s close to dying, but I never had cause to believe them myself.”
“You hardly slept for four days. ‘Tis no surprise you were seeing things.”
“No, I suppose it’s not. Never thought I could come up with such things to see, though. Not by myself.”
Bell woke Frodo once more that morning to give him a little warm broth. He needed to sleep, but he needed to regain his strength as well, and he would never do it on an empty stomach. He drank the broth slowly, and without complaint, and once again, was asleep by the time he had finished it. Bell placed her hand against his forehead and felt no fever.
She settled into the wing chair by the fireplace and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The sound of a door closing awakened her, and the murmur of voices in the front hall. She stood up quickly and hurried out of the room, rubbing an uncomfortable crick in her neck.
Hamfast and Bilbo were in the front hall, setting their packs on the floor. Bell felt almost faint with gratitude for the good news she had for Bilbo, but when she saw his face, the words died on her lips.
Bilbo’s seemingly perpetual youth was legendary in the Shire, indeed, he had not appeared to age a day in all the years Bell had known him, which was almost all of her life. But the past days of worry and fear had done to him what time could not, and it seemed that all of Bilbo’s many years had descended upon him at once. His hair was not white, and his face was not lined, but for the first time in Bell’s memory, Bilbo Baggins was old.
“Mr. Bilbo!” she gasped, and reached out for him.
Bilbo looked at her, and Bell imagined what he must see: his servant’s disheveled wife, her face pale with fatigue, her dress stained and crumpled, reaching out for him, as if to steady him for a shock. She would not have thought it possible, but Bilbo seemed to age further, right before her eyes.
Bilbo stared at her and his mouth worked soundlessly. Without a word, he brushed past her and hurried down the long hall to Frodo’s room.
“Mr. Bilbo!” she called after him. “Wait!”
“Bell!” Hamfast whispered behind her. “Is the boy…?”
“No,” she answered quickly, and followed Bilbo.
She found him standing in the doorway of Frodo’s room, his hand upon his heart. The room was cold and empty. A grim array of sickroom provisions still lay upon the bedside table, and the bed was stripped down to the mattress.
He looked at her, his face a mask of grief. “When?” he asked.
“Mr. Bilbo,” Bell said, and took him gently by the arm. “He’s all right. We moved him to your room.”
Bell turned him from the empty room and guided him down the hall. She brought him to the doorway of his own room. “See, Mr. Bilbo? He’s all right. His fever broke last night. You see?”
Bilbo took a long, shuddering breath and pressed his hand against his mouth. He closed his eyes for a moment and Bell saw that his hand was shaking. Her heart went out to him, and she pressed his arm. “‘Tis all right, Mr. Bilbo.”
Bilbo looked at her, then back to Frodo, as if he didn’t quite believe his own eyes. “Is he…will he be….”
“He’s as well as he can be right now, sir. He’s sleeping soundly, but I don’t think he’d mind if you woke him. He’s been asking for you, of course.”
“Of course…of course,” Bilbo whispered, and Bell saw tears in his eyes. “How could I have left?”
“You didn’t know, Mr. Bilbo. Anyone would’ve thought the lad just had a head cold. That’s probably all it was, when you left. ‘Twas wise you didn’t take him with you.” She patted him on the back.
Bilbo took her hand and pressed it. “Thank you, Mrs. Gamgee. I don’t know how to thank you.”
Bell shook her head. “‘Twas nothing at all, sir. Go sit with your lad.”
Bell watched him cross the room, and she saw that the poor hobbit’s legs were shaking as well. He had taken a terrible fright. Bilbo sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed, then reached out and took Frodo’s hands in his own. He gazed at the boy’s face. He brought Frodo’s pale hands to his mouth and kissed them, one palm, and the other, and then held them between his own.
“My dear boy…I’m so sorry,” he whispered. With a trembling hand, he caressed Frodo’s brow.
Frodo’s eyes fluttered and he opened them. He blinked sleepily at Bilbo.
“Frodo,” the old hobbit said, and his voice choked with tears.
Frodo’s eyebrows raised and he smiled at his cousin. “Don’t cry, Bilbo,” he whispered and Bilbo laughed through his tears.
“I’m glad you’re home,” Frodo said.
“I am glad too, my boy,” Bilbo said. He leaned forward and wrapped Frodo in an embrace. “I am so glad.”
Frodo laid his head on Bilbo’s shoulder and closed his eyes. A peaceful smile was upon his face.
Bell left them together. She went to the kitchen and kissed her husband and put the kettle on. It was almost teatime, after all.
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.