9. Midsummer's Eve
They had talked about their husbands, and their children, and their gardens, as they always did, but now the conversation had come around to the occupants of Bag End, as it so often did in that neighborhood, especially when Bell was present. Her association with the Bagginses, through her husband, made her a prime source for information, or so the other wives believed. In truth, Bilbo had always been a quiet neighbor, and Frodo was no different; if not for his illness in March, Bell would hardly have been aware of the lad’s presence at all. If the goodwives of Hobbiton liked to entertain themselves with speculation about the Bagginses, they were welcome to it, but Bell was certain they would have found the truth most disappointing.
However, tonight they were speaking of Bilbo’s adoption of Frodo, and here was a topic about which Bell was happy to speak. A few months ago, she, along with the other wives, had scoffed at the thought of an old (and vaguely notorious) bachelor like Bilbo suddenly developing a sense of paternal duty, and she had clucked her tongue along with those ladies at the impropriety of such a youth being put in Bilbo’s care. But since Frodo’s illness she had witnessed Bilbo’s devotion to the boy each day, and had seen such love between the two that she no longer harbored even the faintest doubt of Bilbo’s suitability to be Frodo’s guardian. In fact, she could not imagine the boy in safer keeping.
“I would never have thought old Mr. Bilbo capable of it,” Mrs. Twofoot was saying. “After all the stories I’ve heard about him. Running off after dragons, and all that nonsense. Or so he likes to tell.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. Cotton nodding. “But I hear tell he’s like a true father to the boy, and waited on him hand and foot when he was so sick. Isn’t that right, Bell?”
Bell was not much of a gossip, and whatever went on within the walls of Bag End in her presence generally stayed there. But she had no qualms about confirming these rumors, for they were nothing but truth.
“Mr. Bilbo’s been as fine a guardian to Mr. Frodo as anyone could ask for. To see them together, you would think he was the lad’s own father.”
Her companions uttered soft sounds of approval.
“It makes me shiver to think what Mr. Bilbo would have done if he’d lost the boy in March,” Mrs. Twofoot said.
“Aye,” said Bell softly. “‘Twould have been a cruel blow.”
Her words did not reveal all that she believed in her heart¯that Bilbo, in spite of his remarkable longevity and haleness, would not have survived Frodo’s death. Dying of a broken heart was the stuff of storybooks, at least among hobbits it was, but Bell did believe that Bilbo would have died if he had lost his cousin, perhaps not truly from a broken heart, but certainly from grief, and guilt.
As she sat in the darkening June evening, she remembered well that Friday afternoon in March, and how Bilbo, after seeing Frodo soundly asleep again, had sat with Bell at the kitchen table and made her tell him everything that had happened, as if he had not wished to be spared any moment of Frodo’s suffering. Bell had told him what she had been able, but some events of those four long days she had discreetly kept to herself. She could not bear to burden the old hobbit with a description of Frodo’s terrible spell, and how he had screamed and begged some unseen tormentor for mercy, nor tell him of how many times the boy had asked why Bilbo was not with him, and when he would finally come. But Bilbo was a canny hobbit, and he seemed to guess at those things that Bell omitted, and when she had finished speaking, he had laid his hand on her arm, and put his head on the table, and wept.
She had spent the day with Bilbo, dictating recipes for convalescent dishes and chest rubs and syrups to him, for he hardly knew how to take care of someone so sick. Later, when she had returned home, Hamfast would tell her of the long journey with Bilbo from the North Farthing, through rain and sleet and moonless night, and how they had abandoned their exhausted ponies near Oatbarton, and gone the last twenty miles on foot, at a hurried pace, and in a grim, anxious silence. Yet Bilbo did not rest that afternoon, but had diligently written down every word of Bell’s instructions, and had asked questions and made her repeat many things, until by the end of the day he had almost been staggering with fatigue.
When Bell had imparted all of her advice to Bilbo, and had been confident that she could leave him alone, she had gone to look in on Frodo one last time. He had been sleeping quietly, his cheek turned against the white pillow. Out of habit, Bell had laid her hand on his forehead to check his temperature. His skin had been cool and dry. She had passed her hand from his forehead to his cheek and rested it there, and the bones of his face had seemed as fragile as porcelain beneath her hand. He had always been finely featured, but his illness had lent a new delicacy to his appearance; in repose, by the golden light of the candles, he had been almost faerie-like. In her mind, she had heard Sam’s fascinated voice: Just like an elf, Mummy…that’s just what he looked like. An elf.
Frodo had opened his eyes and looked at Bell and smiled.
“Are you going home now, Mrs. Gamgee?” he had asked in a soft, tired voice.
“Aye, Frodo, I am.”
“Your family must miss you. Tell them I am sorry, to have kept you so long.”
“I’m sure they understand, dear.”
“And will you say hello to Sam? Tell him that I hope he will come see me, when I’m a little better.”
“I will. And I’m sure he will. I don’t think I could stop him!”
Frodo had smiled and closed his eyes, and Bell had thought he was asleep. But he had opened his eyes again and said, “Mrs. Gamgee, can you come a little closer? I can’t sit up on my own.”
Bell had leaned towards him as if she were about to whisper in his ear. Slowly, Frodo had reached up and put his arms about her.
“Thank you, Mrs. Gamgee,” he had said, and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you for staying with me.”
Tears had come to Bell’s eyes. “Oh, Frodo,” she had said. “Dear lad. As if I could have left.”
Frodo had been so weak that even the slight effort of reaching up had made his arms tremble. Bell had held him for a moment and then settled him onto his pillows before he could further tire himself.
“I’ll come see you in the morning, Frodo,” she had said, and stroked his hair, but he had already fallen asleep.
“And how is the lad doing now, Bell?” Mrs. Cotton asked, startling Bell out of her memories.
“Oh, he’s doing rather well. He had that bit of a setback in April, but he seems to be over it now.”
In early April, Bilbo had gone out into the garden with Hamfast to discuss plans for the Spring planting. Frodo had been restless, and had thought himself well enough to get up on his own, although he had not yet attempted it without Bilbo’s help. A half an hour after Bilbo had left the boy, he had returned to find his cousin in a dead faint on the floor of the study, in front of the bookcases. Although Bilbo had carried Frodo to bed immediately, the exertion and chill the boy had suffered put him into a feverish stupor for three days, and he was weak and bedridden for another two weeks.
“He’s gotten some of his color back, at least,” Mrs. Twofoot said. “Although we all know he was hardly a ruddy lad to begin with. And thank goodness his hair has grown back!”
“Aye, that was my fault,” Bell said with a laugh. “The boy lost so much hair after his fever, as a body sometimes will, and it upset Mr. Bilbo so, that I told him to give Mr. Frodo a little trim, to even it out until it could grow back in. A little trim! I never expected him to crop the lad’s hair down to his scalp! Why, poor Mr. Frodo looked like a shorn lamb the first time I saw him!”
Indeed, when Bell had seen Frodo that morning, he had turned such a miserable look upon her, his blue eyes seeming so huge and pitiful without the frame of his hair, that she had not known whether to laugh or cry.
“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” Frodo had asked, and gingerly laid his hands upon his head.
“Oh, Frodo,” Bell had said, and then she had laughed, for she knew that this would be the easiest burden Frodo would have to bear before he was well. “‘Twill grow back”
“I suppose so,” Frodo had said. “Although I still wish Bilbo had asked you to do the job.”
“Well, bad haircuts or no,” Mrs. Cotton said, “You did well by that boy. He wouldn’t be here today if not for you, Bell.”
Bell smiled and shrugged. “I only did the best I could, no different than any of you would’ve done. If Mr. Frodo had been meant to die, he would’ve. ‘Twas more at work than my nursing. He simply wasn’t meant to go, not yet.”
Mrs. Twofoot and Mrs. Cotton nodded sagely, and Bell found herself remembering the strange dreams that had come to her during those days in March, and the things she had seen and felt on that last dreadful night, when not only Death, but many others, had seemed to watch, and wait, and wonder what would become of this boy. She had told Hamson of those things, but only briefly, and she had never spoken of them to anyone else. For the most part, she dismissed what she had dreamt and seen as the bewildered fancies of an exhausted, troubled mind. And yet sometimes those visions came back to her, and she found herself dwelling on them, and wondering.
“Well, and there’s Mr. Frodo now,” said Mrs. Cotton. “And your Sam with him, Bell. What a fine lad he’s growing up to be, as I always tell you!”
Bell smiled. In the light that spilled from her kitchen doorway, she could see Frodo, and Sam, coming up the path from Party Field. It was yet early, but Frodo still tired easily, and Sam would never have dreamt of letting Frodo walk home by himself. It always warmed Bell’s heart to see Frodo looking so well. He was still too thin, and too pale, but a fine flush of color was upon his cheeks, and his eyes were bright. And, as Mrs. Twofoot had said, his hair had grown back nicely, a full head of locks that were the glossy, near-black of a ripe chestnut. There was yet another difference about him, one that Bell had only noticed recently, but that gave her as much joy as the return of his health. That air of sadness, that look of neglect that Bell had sensed upon Frodo at their first meeting two years before, was almost gone. In time, she knew, it would be gone altogether.
“Good evening, Mrs. Twofoot, Mrs. Cotton…Mrs. Gamgee,” Frodo said, and smiled cheerfully at them all, but especially at Bell. “It’s a perfect night, isn’t it?”
“Aye, that it is, Mr. Frodo,” Bell said. “That it is.”
“And where might Mr. Bilbo this fine evening?” Mrs. Twofoot asked. “I suppose he’s down at the party, entertaining the little ones, as always?”
Frodo laughed. “Yes, I believe he is. He wanted to walk with me back to Bag End, but I told him I was already in good hands.” He smiled at Sam. “The best, as a matter of fact.”
Sam beamed at Frodo and blushed furiously. He edged up to Bell’s elbow and whispered to her. “Is it all right if I walk Mr. Frodo back to Bag End? I said that I would read to him, until he fell asleep. Is it all right, Mummy?”
She ruffled Sam’s hair affectionately. “Of course it’s all right. But don’t keep him awake. Don’t sit there chattering at the poor lad while he’s trying to sleep,” she said, and she met Frodo’s eyes and they smiled at each other.
The pair said their goodnights and set off up the hill to Bag End, and Bell noted with some amusement that Sam was already chattering away, as Frodo laughed merrily.
“Young Sam is quite dutiful to Mr. Frodo,” Mrs. Cotton said. “‘Tis a good thing, seeing as he’ll have your Hamfast’s job one day.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. Twofoot approvingly.
“Aye,” said Bell. But as she watched them melt into the darkness, Frodo and her son, Bell remembered her March dreams, and a chill seemed to steal over the summer evening, and Bell shivered, and wondered. Then it passed, and there was only the gentle blue twilight of Midsummer’s Eve and the music of Frodo and Sam’s laughter, floating on the warm night air.
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.