Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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“Be sure and put them books back as ye found ‘em, Daisy.   Mr Bilbo won’t thank ye for losing one if he’s in the middle of readin’ it.”  Bell Gamgee swiped her damp duster along the bedroom mantelpiece, tutting as she turned it over to examine it, before rearranging to a clean bit to make another pass.

Her daughter scowled but did as instructed; carefully replacing the pile she had dumped on the counterpane in order to polish the bedside cabinet.  Her mother nodded approval as she stepped over to collect the tin of beeswax and polishing cloth.  “Ye’ve done a good job there, lass.  I can see my face in that.  Mind ye, buffing aint a chore when furniture’s got as many layers of polish as Mr Bilbo’s.  He told me some of these pieces came with his Ma from Great Smials in Tookborough.”

Daisy beamed at the praise, then scowled again as she realised there was still the chair in the corner to be tackled.  She hated chairs.  All those stretcher thingies between the legs at the bottom seemed to be there for the sole purpose of collecting dust.  Her Da had once explained patiently that they were there to stop the chair legs splaying when a body sat on them.  But Daisy was of the opinion that they had been invented just to make her life difficult.  With a huff she dropped to her knees and set too with the dusting cloth.

The room had smelled of books and dust, pipe weed and Mr Bilbo’s cologne when they entered an hour before.  Now the tickling smell of dust had been replaced with the sweet clean scent of beeswax and lavender polish.  They were nearly finished in here and then they were to move on to Master Frodo’s room.  Daisy was curious to find out what it looked like.  He’d come up from Buckland after all.   And they were odd down there.  She wondered if he had any boots because she’d heard tales that folks down there wore them.  Daisy had never seen boots.

Her musings were interrupted by the slap of running feet and her youngest brother, Sam, burst into the room, clutching Mr Bilbo’s chamber pot in both hands.  He came to a skidding halt at a glare from his Ma.

“Samwise Gamgee, what did I tell ye about runnin’ with Mr Bilbo’s things?”

Sam hung his head, although having done so he suddenly found himself fascinated anew by the ring of blue dragons, chasing each other about the rim of the pot.  He pulled himself back swiftly enough to mumble an apology.  “Sorry Ma.”  And he could sense, rather than hear, his older sister sniggering in the corner.

Having issued her censure, however, Bell nodded.  “Let me see it then, lad.  Not that it needed much cleanin’.  That’s one thing Mr Bilbo is very clear about.  Cleans ‘em out himself every morning’.  There’s not many posh folks as does that.”

Sam filed away that bit of information as he held up the pot proudly for inspection.  His Da had given him his very own workspace outside the back door, with buckets of water, cloths and cleaning stuffs.  And there he sat, cross-legged, cleaning whatever Ma or Daisy brought him.   Mr Bilbo’s chamber pot had already been sparkling but Ma had insisted that it was better to clean everything, just in case.  “In case of what?” he had wondered.  But Sam had set too, with a little bit of salt on a damp cloth first.  Then white vinegar and water.  He had grown quite fond of the blue dragons by the time he had rinsed and polished with a dry cloth . . . a scrap of his Ma’s old petticoat.

Sam held his breath as Bell’s eyes narrowed.  She made great show of turning the pot this way and that in the light from the open window and running her fingers around the inside.  After what seemed an age to her little son, Bell handed it back with a smile.  “Well done.  Put it back now.”

Sam made to slide it under the bed but his Ma tutted.  “No lad.  In that cupboard under the washstand.”  His eyes widened at the idea that there could be a piece of furniture specially made to house a po.  Crossing to the corner washstand Sam opened the door to discover that, sure enough, it was the perfect size.  It was with some sense of reverence that he replaced the po and closed the door; standing to stare for a moment.   His own po was brown earthenware, had a chip in the rim and was kept under the bed.  Never in his wildest imaginings had he considered that there would be a piece of furniture specifically made to house such an item.  He had an auntie who always called hers a “guzunder” which seemed to Sam an eminently practical name for an item that goes under the bed.  Did Mister Bilbo call his a “guzinto”?

His gaze travelled up the stand to take in the fine white marble top, the little porcelain dish with its lemon scented soap, and the matching dragon laced wash basin and jug.  To one side was a rail, over which was draped the finest white towel he had ever seen.  Oh, it wasn’t the whiteness that took him.  His Ma had the whitest whites in Hobbiton in his opinion.  It was the soft fluffy look of it.  Checking his ma wasn’t watching; Sam wiped a hand on his breaches and reached out a finger to stroke it.  Yes.  It was as soft as it looked and he crushed a handful experimentally.  As soon as he released it the fluffy material sprung open with not a crease left behind.  The towels they used at home were of thickly woven linen with not a “fluff” in sight.

With a quick glance over his shoulder to ensure Ma had not seen him, Sam skipped from the room to return to his workplace and Master Frodo’s po.  Bell only smiled as she continued to buff polish on the mantelpiece with a fresh rag.

Bell and Daisy worked silently for some minutes more, passing cloths and polish tin between them in the easy rhythm of those much used to the task.  As they were reaching the end of their toil there was a sound of loud puffing.  “Watch out for them cloakpegs,” announced the arrival of Hamfast and Cousin Holman.  Sure enough, the two appeared in the doorway with one of Mr Bilbo’s best rugs rolled up on their shoulders.

“In front of the hearth, if ye please,” instructed Bell as she stepped out of the way.

“I don’t hold with all these carpets.  A good earth floor, or wood, is good enough for most folk,” announced Holman as they dropped the offending item and began to unroll it.

“Other way round,” instructed Bell and the two rolled eyes at each other as they took opposing corners and spun it about. 

“Well, they do hold a lot of dust it seems,” replied Da as they straightened it.  His wife was not about to argue that point.  Beating carpets was a hot and dirty job and she sighed as she considered the bath she was going to have to heat water for later.  Ham’s face was grey with dust, except where perspiration had tracked clean lines on his flushed forehead.  And there were deep circles of sweat under the arms on both hobbit’s shirts.  Looking at them Bell decided she’d better let Holman share the bath, before sending him home to his wife, Daffy.   Mayhap she should also send him home with a fresh loaf in apology for the laundering of that shirt.

Daisy was replacing the last of the cleaning stuffs in Ma’s pretty storage box.  “They’re nice ‘neath your toes, though,” she announced as she ran an appreciative foot across the brightly coloured pile.

Her father scowled.  “Don’t you go gettin’ ideas, my lass.  Folks like us can’t afford carpets.”  Daisy ducked her head, lips pursed mutinously, but did not dare to contradict her Da.  If all else failed, mayhap she could marry someone with a carpet.  Daisy considered for a moment more.  If it came down to carpet or love what would she choose?

Bell changed the subject.  “Have ye more to tackle?”

Ham and Holman turned to leave.  “Just the one, thank goodness; the one for Master Frodo’s room.  You said as how you were doin’ that one last,” her husband called over his shoulder. 

“I hope it rains later,” Holman could be heard to comment as they disappeared down the hallway.  “Or that vegetable plot will have to be watered tomorrow.  Aint never seen a grey cabbage afore.”

Ham’s voice was fading as he replied.  “Aye, well. Tis better a grey garden than grey windows if we’d done it at the front of the smial.  I don’t fancy cleaning all that glass again.”

“An’ that’s another thing.  All them windows in a smial aint natural,” was the last comment Bell and Daisy heard.

Bell stood in the middle of the room and turned a slow circle.  “I do think we’ve finally finished in here.  Now there’s just Master Frodo’s room and we’re done.  An’ a good job too with the masters due back from Buckland tomorrow.”  She stepped aside to close the window and tweak a curtain.  It was hard work, but Bell quite enjoyed spring cleaning.  But it made it much easier when Bag End was empty and Bilbo and Frodo had obliged her by visiting relatives for a week.

Daisy picked up the cleaning box, eager to see inside Master Frodo’s room at last but her Ma reached to snag it from her grasp.

“I can fettle the last room alone.  Ye get home and set the copper boiling.  Yer Da and Uncle will need a bath when they’re finished or all we’ll be doin’ is movin’ Mr Bilbo’s muck over to our smial instead.”

Daisy pouted.  “But Ma.  We could do it a lot faster with two and still have time to boil the copper,” she wheedled.  “An’ I aint never seen inside Master Frodo’s room since he moved in.”

Bell drew her lips into a thin line.  “Aye.  I know.  An’ t’aint right for a maid to see inside a lad’s bedroom.  So ye be setting off back now.”

“But I’ve seen my brother’s room afore,” the lass argued. 

Her Ma only pointed at the doorway.  “I know yer game, my girl.  Yer settin’ yer sights too high an’ tis time ye came down from the clouds and dug yer feet in the good soil where they belong.  Ye could do worse than Will Brownfoot.  He’s comin’ courtin’ tomorrow, aint he?” 

Daisy could scarce prevent her feet stomping as she left the room and Bell allowed herself a quiet laugh as she heard her daughters muttered comment from the front door.

“Aye.  But I’m guessin’ he’s no carpets and no cupboard for his po neither.”


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