Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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The summer of 1391 was hot and humid in the Shire. By harvest time the crops were dry and just waiting to be cut.  In Hobbiton Farley Brownlock and Tom Cotton set up shop in the Ivy Bush and all the local residents signed up with one or the other to help gather the harvest. 

“Now then, Hamfast.  Can I count on ye for my fields this year as usual?”  Tom Cotton poised his pencil.

“That you can, Tom.  My Bell, Daisy and May will help with the sheaves and Sam and Mari will go to gleanin’.  Ham made his mark on Tom’s list. 

“How many years is it now that ye’ve been helpin’ with the harvest?”  Tom asked as he made marks in the appropriate columns for the rest of Ham’s family.

“Well, Bell used to help when she were a bairn but my family’s been cuttin’ your wheat since me and Bell set up home on Bagshot Row.  That would be near twenty-eight year since.”  Hamfast Gamgee may not be one for writing but there was nothing wrong with his numbers.

“And I hope as how ye’ll be helpin’ fer another twenty-eight.”  Tom handed over six tokens which would entitle each member of the family to luncheon and drinks for each day worked in the fields. 

Ham pocketed the tokens and grinned.  “As long as we’re fit for it you can count on me and mine.”  With that he made way for the next in line.

-0-

“Hello love.  Did ye get signed up fer the harvest?”  Bell Gamgee leaned in to kiss her husband then bustled off to get a kettle off the hob.  “Ye’ll be wantin’ a cup of tea.”  It should have been a question but Bell knew what her husband’s answer would be so it came out as a statement.

Ham hung his cap on a peg by the door and crossed to settle into his chair, moving it a little away from the warmth of the hob on this summer’s eve.  “Aye.  I’ve signed us all up.   May can keep an eye on Sam and Mari and show them how to glean proper.”

Bell gathered up the tea things, handing over a plate with a heel of bread, some cheese and a couple of pickled onions.  “Has Tom said what day they plan to start?  Only Buttercup Rumble says there’s no sign of rain.”

Ham chuckled around of mouthful of bread and cheese.  “You can rely on Butter’s arthritis to predict any rain.  Tom’s thinkin’ of startin’ day after next.  That’ll give folks time to get themselves sorted at home.”

Bell handed him his big mug, full of thick, dark tea.  “Aye.  I’d best get started bakin’ bread and such tomorrow.  There’ll be no time once we start in the fields.”

-0-

“Ham!  Ham, love.  Wake up!” 

Bell’s voice broke through his dreams, that and her persistent shaking of his shoulders.  “What is it, Bell lass?”  He blinked and sat up as the urgency of her tone registered.  That’s when he became aware of the frightened voices of the children, almost drowned out by the sound of wind and rain.

“The wind’s blown in Sam’s bedroom window and I think there’s somethin’ wrong in the back yard.”  Bell was tugging at the laces of her bodice and Ham noticed that she had not paused to take off her nightgown, but thrown bodice and skirt over the top of it.  She thrust Ham’s breeches at him as he clambered out of bed.

“Is the lad hurt?” he asked as he tried to walk whilst pulling them on and nearly fell.

“Sam’s alright and Daisy and May are helpin’ to sweep the glass.”  They left their bedroom together and Bell pushed him toward the back door.  “Ye see what’s goin’ on out back.  I thought I heard someone cry out and there were a crash.  Arty or Harry may be hurt.”

Hamfast looked back as Daisy appeared with an old wooden tray.  “Will this be alright to cover the window, Ma?”

Giving one final push to Hamfast’s shoulders Bell bustled off to help her daughter.  “It’ll do, lass.  Did ye bring the hammer and nails?”

Daisy’s answer was lost in the howl of the wind as Hamfast stepped out of the back door of number three Bagshot Row.  He was instantly wet through to the skin as the wind flung rain at him.  For a moment, he considered going back for his cap.  The knowledge that it would be blown off before he took another step and the desperate cries of Clover Mugwort changed his mind. 

“Help.  Oh please, somebody help!”  At a hundred years old Clover was still hale but her thin voice was almost lost in the wild roaring of the storm.

Ham lifted an arm in front of his face to try and keep the driving rain from his eyes and took a couple of steps into the wide back yard shared by the three properties of Bagshot Row.  “Where are you, Clover?”

“Ham!  Over here.  By the workshop.  Quick!  He’s held fast!”

Hamfast had to lean into the wind to make any progress and almost fell when there was a sudden change of direction in the gale.  The unexpected change did have the advantage of blowing the rain away from his face so that he could now establish that Clover was on her knees in the mud before her son’s workshop.

It was clear that one of the big double doors had been ripped from its hinges and now lay in the mud but at first it was not clear to Hamfast who she was referring to.  Then he noticed that she was scrabbling beneath the edge of the fallen door, where a hand lay still in a puddle of dark water. 

Ham ran the rest of the distance, thumping to his own knees at her side.  He had to put his lips to her ear to make himself heard over the tumult, which seemed to have increased in ferocity even during those few steps.  “What happened?”

As Clover shouted her reply he began scrabbling about for a plank, anything to help him lever up the huge door.  “The bangin’ of the door woke us up so Harry came out to see to it.  But there was a strong gust that blew it clean off its hinges.”  Tears were indistinguishable in the rain but Hamfast could hear them in Clover’s voice.  “It happened so fast and took Harry with it.  I can’t lift it on my own.  Oh, please help him!”

Finally finding a stray plank Hamfast squeezed her shoulder before levering himself to his feet against the onslaught of the elements that seemed determined to keep him on his knees.  “If I get this under the door to lift it do you think you can pull him free?”

Birdlike as she was Clover took a firm grip on her son’s wrist.  “Aye.”

Even as she did so a second beefy set of arms reached in, digging another plank beneath the door next to Hamfast’s.  “I reckon ye’ll need a hand with this.”  Hamfast nodded thanks to Arty Sedgeburry then both pushed down hard on their respective levers.

It became a four-way tug of war between Clover, Hamfast, Arty and the wind.  The wind had the final say, sneaking beneath the raised door and snatching it up so suddenly that Hamfast feared it would go sailing off through the air to attack some other poor soul. In the end it only flipped the door to land it with a loud splashing thud several feet away.

The sound was soon followed by the loud wailing of Clover Mugwart as her son’s broken body was revealed at last.  Hamfast leaned down to listen at Harry’s chest but it was clear that there was no hope.  The heavy door had hit the Shire’s best carpenter with such force that his rib cage and skull had been smashed beyond any recovery.  Had he survived the initial impact he would not have done so for long. 

Arty caught Hamfast’s eye and his thought was clear.  “Tis a blessin’ in its way.”

“Stay with him while I take Clover to sit with Bell.  I’ll come back to help you move him,” Ham yelled as he wrestled Clover to her feet, curving a strong arm about her bowed shoulders to stumble with her to Number Three.

-0-

The storm which had blown in with such swift violence from the south, abated as quickly as it had arrived.  Dawn broke with an eerie silence.  Even the birds seemed subdued.

All about Hobbiton folk were boarding up windows, chopping up downed trees and rounding up stray animals.  The residents of Bagshot Row were more subdued than most.  Harry Mugworts’ body lay on the bench in his workshop and Bell Gamgee helped his mother to clean and dress him for burial, then sew him into his winding sheet.

Hamfast was dishing out fried eggs to his children when she returned.  While she hung up her cloak he poured a cup of tea and handed it over with a peck on the cheek.  Bell thanked him with a grim smile, taking a moment to look over her brood before she settled in her chair by the fire.

Clover Mugwort had gently refused any offer to stay with the Gamgees for a few days and would not hear of Bell abandoning her own family.  Bell was both surprised and proud of Daisy for offering to stay with Widow Mugwort at least until the funeral.  The tween had her faults but she was soft at heart.

The voices about the Gamgee table were quiet and May was helping a blissfully ignorant little Marigold with her food.  Bell noted that the small cut on Sam’s hand had stopped bleeding.  Her little lad was safe and, within a few weeks, she had no doubt that the scar would be unnoticeable among others from his work in the gardens with his father. 

Hamfast offered Bell a plate containing a bacon sandwich.  “Just to put you on.”  He placed his own breakfast on the table and settled on the bench closest to her.  “I’ve asked Birky Bracegirdle to start diggin’ the grave and he’ll come round to let us know when it’s done.”

Bell set aside her sandwich untasted, preferring instead to drink her tea.  “Ye should go up and check on Bag End after breakfast.  There’s no tellin’ what damage has been done, exposed as tis at the top of the hill.”

Hamfast shook his head.  “I’ve already checked.  Tis all tight and tidy.  Just a few branches tore loose from the apple tree.  Twas one of them as came through Sam’s window.  There’ll be no decent crop from it this year.  The garden’s all of a mess too.  I’ll take Sam with me and we’ll save what vegetables we can afore we start on our own plot.”

“Me and May will sort out our plot.  You just deal with Mister Bilbo’s garden,” Bell offered.

“Then you’ll need some food in you my lass,” Hamfast announced pointedly as he indicated Bell’s still untouched sandwich.  “I reckon the salad stuff will be fit only for pigs but as long as the tops haven’t been tore clean off, the root vegetables will survive.  Gather up anythin’ else that’s edible and what we can’t eat we’ll spread amongst other families.  There’ll be plenty of folk, especially down by the river, who will have nothin’.  I’ll do the same with Mr Bilbo’s stuff.”

Bell acknowledged the sense of her husband’s injunction and took a bite of her sandwich.  “I wonder if Tookborough caught it as bad as we did.”

“I hope not.  The smials down by the Water haven’t flooded this time but from what I hear it was a close-run thing.  Most have had their gardens washed away.  I’ll start handin’ out food there first.  I don’t reckon Mr Bilbo will object.  Even if he started home this mornin’ he wouldn’t be back in time to make use of it.”

Bell shook her head.  “I still don’t understand where the storm blew up from.  Buttercup usually gives warnin’ but when I spoke to her this mornin’ she said she’d felt nothin’.”

“I wondered how Buttercup had fared.  I didn’t have time to call in on my way to Birky’s.”

“She arrived at Clover’s with some bread as I was leavin’.  There’s no damage to her smial, just a fall of soot, and Rowley Proudfoot’s goin’ to see to that while Butter sits with Clover fer the mornin’.”

Hamfast took a moment as he chewed his bacon. Windows could be replaced and all his bairns were safe and well.  His eyes fell upon the small heap of tokens in the middle of the table and his heart was filled with foreboding.  “I wonder what this storm has done to the wheat.”

Harry was buried late that afternoon and most of Hobbiton turned out to say their goodbyes.  Harry was renowned throughout the Shire and even beyond for the quality of his carving, but in Hobbiton he was known best for his generosity.  He would put as much love into the construction of a solid kitchen table for the poorest smial as he would into the creation of the most intricately carved box for a wealthy client.  Many a tear was shed that afternoon.

 

 




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