Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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Frodo looked up from the pages of his book.  Daffodils nodded in a gentle breeze, their butter faces lifted to the fresh spring sunshine.  He glanced aside to where Sam was copying out a letter to his older sister, May.  Frodo had helped him to draft it on a slate first and now the youngster was using his new pencil to transfer it to paper.

The two were sprawled on a rug, spread upon Bag End’s green roof.  The huge oak above them was not yet in full leaf so they lay in dappled shade.  Frodo had provided his student with a wooden board to work on and the youngster was locked in concentration, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth.

“Master Frodo, how do you spell that word again?”  He pointed to what appeared to Frodo to be a white smudge on the slate.

“Let me read the rest.” He accepted the slate and tried to make sense of the sentence.  “I think it’s, “Ma.  That’s ‘M’, with the two mountain tops and ‘A’ for apple.” 

Sam grinned.  “That’s it!”  He bent over the board again and Frodo returned to his book, trying to force his brain to dive back into the complex paths of Sindarin past participles.   It was some time before he surfaced once more, to find Sam watching him.

“Sorry, Master Frodo.  I didn’t mean to disturb you, but I wondered if you’d just check I’ve got this right.”

Frodo smiled, setting aside his book to reach out a hand to accept Sam’s work.  “It’s alright, Sam.  I can finish this any time.”  He accepted the sheet of paper with its carefully lined writing.

Dear May,

I hope this letter finds you well.  We are all well here.  Ma, Da, Daisy and Mari send their love and Master Frodo asks to be remembered to you.  It is Master Frodo that has helped me write this letter to you.

Tom Carter says he spoke to Halfred last week and he is well too.  We have not heard from Hamson but Ma says we will hear if anything is wrong. 

I hope you like your work and folks are being nice to you.  Master Frodo says they have a person in Great Smials called a scribe who will read this to you and send a letter back to me if you want.  I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours sincerely

Sam Gamgee.

 

Frodo handed it back with a bright smile.  “That’s lovely.  Although maybe next time you should just sign your name as, ‘Sam’.   You only really need to sign your full name if you are writing a business letter.”

Sam frowned.  “Thank you, but should I write the letter again, then?”

“No Sam.  I am quite certain that May will be more than happy to receive your letter, however you sign it,” Frodo hastened to assure him as he handed it back.  “Shall I write out the address on your slate so that you can copy it onto the envelope?”

Sam took a cloth to wipe his slate clean.  “If you don’t mind, Master Frodo, can I have a go myself?  If you say it to me I’ll spell it on my slate and you can check it, like you did with the letter.”

“Of course.  Ready?”

Sam poised his chalk above the slate.  “Right you are, sir.”

Frodo sat up to watch.  “Miss May Gamgee, care of Mistress Eglantine Took, Great Smials, Tuckborough, Tookland, West Farthing, The Shire.”  By the time Sam reached ‘West Farthing’ he was running out of room on his slate.  Hobbits were very precise about addressing correspondence correctly, being quite fond of knowing their place in the grand order of things.  When he had finished Sam handed over the slate and Frodo corrected the spelling of Tuckborough.

Sam frowned.  “Why is Tuckborough spelled different to Tookland?”

Frodo grinned.  “It happens sometimes.  Over time spellings change but not always in the same way or at the same time.  Bilbo would know best whether Tuckborough came first, or Tookland.  It is possible that in a few more generations, particularly if more hobbits learn to write, Tuckborough will eventually change to Tookborough.”

Sam’s frown did not lift.  “So, words change because more folk spell them wrong?”

Frodo chuckled.  “I think that sums it up well.  Now, come along and address your envelope so that you can run down to the post office with it before they close for the day.”

-0-

Frodo set down his basket of lettuce and radishes when he heard Sam’s call. 

“Master Frodo!  Master Frodo, sir.  May’s sent me a letter.”  The little lad was grinning broadly as he sprinted up the hill, leaping over lines of vegetable tops in complete disregard for the niceties of lane and garden gate.  Frodo had to catch him, for fear he would be bowled over if Sam did not manage to stop in time.

For a moment Sam rummaged in his breeches pocket, finally tugging free a folded envelope and thrusting it into his neighbour’s hand.  “There’s a bit in it for you an’ Mister Bilbo.”

Frodo glanced down at the envelope.  The writing was much too neat for May to have addressed it herself and he suspected that the scribe of Great Smials had penned it for her.  He offered it back to Sam.  “What message does she send?”

Sam only blinked, unused to the etiquette of letter exchange, and Frodo had to explain.  “It is not considered polite to read another’s letters unless specifically invited.  They may contain personal information or thoughts that are not appropriate for sharing.”

Sam considered for a moment.  “That’s alright.  Aint nothin’ personal in it.  You can read it, sir.”

Frodo led the way to the little bench by Bag End’s front gate and motioned for Sam to sit with him.  The letter inside the envelope was not long and his suspicion about the writer was confirmed when he read the signature at the bottom.  Frodo went back to the top, aware as he read that the scrivener had tidied up some of May’s grammar.

My Dear Little Sam,

I am so happy to hear that all are well back home.  Ma is right about Hamson.  He is probably too busy to send a letter but, why not write to him yourself?

Everyone here is nice.  You should see the big room I share with just two other lasses.  I even have my own bed and a big box to put my things in.  It has a lock and Mistress Eglantine has given me my own key for it.  I wish I could have a box like it at home to stop Daisy borrowing my stuff.  I have been given a uniform and it is so pretty.  I have two summer dresses, two winter ones and four pinafores. 

The other two lasses in my room are Primrose Bracegirdle and Bluebell Proudfoot.  They are parlour maids too and they are showing me what needs doing.  They are very kind if I get things wrong.

Please tell Mister Bilbo that I have made up the cloth he gave me into a pretty dress for best.  Please also tell Master Frodo’s that I have used his lovely cloth too.  (Bluebell says I should not tell a young gentlehobbit what clothes I made from the white cloth, as it would not be proper.)

I am going to learn my letters, Sam!  Mistress Eglantine has asked Master Noter to teach any who are interested and of course I said, ‘yes’.  Maybe soon I will be able to write my own letters.

I miss you and everyone in Hobbiton.

Yours sincerely

mAy gaMgy

(As dictated to Orman Noter.)

 

Frodo handed back the letter, hoping his face did not show the blush he felt upon reading Bluebell’s injunction.  The fine linen he had gifted to May was suited only to the most personal of garments and he had felt a little embarrassed at the time of gifting, but Bilbo had insisted that May would need shifts and the like.  He pointed out that, as he had already provided the dress fabric, Frodo would have to be the one who gave the linen.  His cheek tingled in remembrance of the kiss May had given him as she left.

“Tis a fine letter, Master Frodo, and that’s a fact.”  Sam slipped it back into its envelope and folded it carefully to return it to his pocket.

Frodo brushed away memory and smiled.  “It’s a very fine letter.  If you need help in writing your reply please don’t be afraid to ask.”

Sam frowned.  “But what shall I write, sir?  I’ve told her that we’re all well.  What else would she want to know?”

“Well, think about what May has told you in her reply.  She spoke of her room and the lasses she has met.  It’s usual to write of the things we do or the things that happen around us.  Imagine May is sitting next to you and tell her about your days, just as you used to do at the kitchen table in the evenings.”

Sam digested this advice for a while.  “But nothin’ much happens in Hobbiton and she knows all the folk here.  There ain’t nobody new to tell her of.”

Frodo grinned.  “Then maybe you can pass on some personal greetings to her from family and friends.  She may have made new friends but I expect she still misses her old ones.”

 

Dear May,

Ma and Da says they hope you are minding your manners and they are happy to know you are well.

Daisy says did you take her blue comb, because she cannot find it.  She says if you did, she will tell Ma on you.  I think she has just lost it and is cross that you have a box that you can lock and she does not.

Mari does not say much of anything but I gave her a bit of paper and a pencil and she has done you a picture.  I do not know what it is supposed to be.  Maybe you can make it out.

Master Frodo and Mister Bilbo was happy to hear that you had used the cloth and send their best regards.  Mister Bilbo also said to tell you that if you need anything else you should let him know.

Yours sincerely

Sam

 

-0-

“Dearest Sam,

Thank you for your letter and please give my love to all at home, even Daisy.

Tell Daisy that I have not got her comb.  I think she lent it to Honeysuckle Chub for the Yule Feast and she had best request its return before it disappears forever.  Marigold’s drawing is very sweet.  I do not know what it is supposed to be either but just tell her I love it and have pinned it to the wall above my bed.  Mistress Elglantine allows us to do that.

Primrose and Bluebell showed me how to set out the knives and forks and other things in the Thain’s dining room the other day.  There are lots of dining rooms here but the Thain’s is the grandest.  The walls are all wood panels like Bag End’s hall and the table will seat twenty people.  I have never seen so much cutlery (that’s knives, forks and spoons).  Every person gets nearly four knives and almost as many forks and they all have to be set out in a line at each side of their plates.  They have to be in a special order too.  I keep getting that wrong but Prim. says not to worry as it took her ages to learn.

I hope to hear from you soon,

May Gamgee

(As dictated to Orman Noter.)”

 

-0-

Dear May,

I hope his letter finds you well.  We have all had colds here.  Most of Hobbiton has had it and some have taken right poorly, but we are alright.  The only ones who have not got it so far are Mari, Master Frodo and Mr Bilbo.  Mr Bilbo does not ever seem to get poorly.  

Daisy has got her comb back from Honeysuckle.  I said she may want to say sorry for thinking you had taken it but she just sniffed, and Ma sent her out to clean the privy.

Why would anyone want so many knives and forks for one meal?  Even if there’s more than one course you can always lick them clean between.  Rich folks have some funny ideas to my mind, but do not go telling Ma that I said so.  I am not supposed to say things like that about my betters.

I hope you do not get the cold.

Yours sincerely

Sam”

 

-0-

“Dear Sam

I am writtin this in deb.  I have the cold.  But mistress Eglintin is very kind.  Give my love to Ma and Da and all.

May”

 

-0-

Dear May,

Did you write that letter on your own?  I am happy you are learning.  I was going to tell you that you spelled some of the words wrong but Master Frodo says that I should not make you feel bad when you are still learning.

He has asked me to send you this old book of his.  It is a dictionary and you use it to look up the spelling of words.  I have never understood that, becos you need to know how to spell the word to look up how to spell it.  It is good of him to send it, though, and he is going to pay the post for it.

I hope you are soon feeling better.

Sam”

 

-0-

Frodo watched Sam pulling weeds from between the carrot tops.  “Good morning, Sam.”

Sam jumped up, wiping his hands on his breeches, and Frodo could almost hear Bell Gamgee’s sigh.  “Mornin’ Sir.  Da’s gone down into Hobbiton this mornin’.  Is there somethin’ you’re wantin’?”

Frodo took a sip of his tea.  “No, Sam.  I just fancied a breath of fresh air.”  He cleared his throat.  “I think I may be coming down with that confounded cold everyone else has had.”

Sam’s young features registered concern at once.  “Should I run for the doctor?”

Frodo managed a grin.  “There’s not a lot he can do for a cold.  I’ll be alright.  When I’ve had this tea I shall take a nap.”  He fished in his pocket and used a bright red hanky to wipe his nose.  “Have you heard from May recently?”

“Not since she wrote she was in bed with a cold.  That was a couple of weeks ago now.” 

“Maybe she has been too busy to write.”

“I think that’s it, Sir.  Or maybe she’s still poorly.  Some folks have taken this cold right bad.  Are you sure you don’t need the doctor?”

Frodo managed another smile.  “I shall be better in no time.”  He headed back to the door, deciding that he really would like a nap now.  “Send my regards to May if she does write.”

Sam knelt among the carrots again.  “I will, Sir.” 

 

 




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