Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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“So, when do you go to Michel Delvin'?” Bartimus asked as he added another split log to the heap in Frodo's arms. He grinned when Frodo grunted under the extra weight.

"This only for the cooking range you know. We're not stocking up for Yule,” his companion grumbled. “And it's next week, if you must know.”

Bartimus skipped ahead to open the back door then helped stack the wood in the basket by the hearth. His grin widened. “Looking forward to it, are we?”

“Ha, ha.” The words were pronounced with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

“I'm sure I don't know why you're in such a stew over it,” Bartimus offered as he followed Frodo to the sink to wash their hands. “'tis simple enough . . . once you've taken off all your clothes. You just have to stand in the middle of the shop and get measured.”

“It's the, 'all your clothes,' bit that worries me. Will I really have to take off absolutely everything, do you think?” Frodo asked with quite genuine concern.

Bartimus had never been to a tailor himself but he'd heard stories and, whether he believed them or not, they were good fodder for teasing his friend. He pretended to consider for a moment as he dried his hands. “I expect so. I suppose tis the only way to get a good fit.”

Frodo accepted the towel and began to dry his own hands. “But in the middle of the shop, Barti? What if a lady comes in?”

His companion shrugged. “I don't suppose many ladies go to tailors, Frodo.” They both turned as Bilbo entered the kitchen.

“Hello Bartimus, lad. Thank you for helping with the firewood.”

Frodo snorted. “He didn't actually do that much.”

“I helped load you up. You carried much more that way than you would have done alone,” Bartimus declared with a much put-upon expression.

“Yes. And my shoulders and arms will be reminding me of that fact for days to come,” Frodo replied with a chuckle.

Bilbo only shook his head as he helped himself to a biscuit from the plate on the kitchen table and headed back into the hall. With a mischievous grin he called back over his shoulder, “You're a strapping lad, Frodo. You've nothing to be ashamed of in front of the ladies.”


Frodo helped himself to another mouthful of mashed potato and, having satisfied his immediate hunger, took a moment to study the tap room of the Pony and Pickle. Even as one of the better establishments in the Shire, it still carried the pervasive smell of all public houses that served food . . . beer, boiled cabbage and pipeweed. The 'P and P', as it was called locally, had originally been dug into a conveniently placed chalk bank close to the Great East Road. Over the years, however, it had expanded so that now only the stables were dug into the slope, and the tap and guest rooms were contained in a long single story wooden building set in front of the bank.

This meant that they were sitting in a long, low ceilinged room with a bar across one wall and large stone fireplaces at either end. Frodo was much relieved to find, upon entering earlier, that neither fire was lit . . . the landlord’s only concession to summer. The rafters were almost hidden by a pale haze of pipeweed, for it was cooler indoors on this scorching summer day, and most of the patrons had retreated to the relative gloom of the tap room. Raff Greenbank had made one other concession to the weather by throwing open all the windows, which Frodo considered a blessing for he could already feel damp patches developing beneath his arms. He made a mental note to wash and change his shirt before setting out for the tailor’s shop, even as another part of his mind wondered whether it would be necessary if he was expected to strip off anyway.

Across the table his uncle Bilbo was attacking a steak and kidney pie with some gusto. For all that it was high summer the patrons of the inn were a conservative lot and salad would never grace the menu of the Pony and Pickle, so Bilbo and Frodo were tucking into steak and kidney pie, mashed potato and gravy, peas and carrots.

“Will we have far to walk to the tailor?” Frodo asked with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

Bilbo chewed and swallowed before replying. “Not far. I’d say it’s about ten minutes from here. Just around the corner on the High Street.” He did not seem to sense Frodo’s trepidation, helping himself to some more peas.

Frodo took a sip of his cider and set down his knife and fork. He had been dreading this day ever since Bilbo had announced the appointment a month ago. He had never been to a proper tailor before and friends had been teasing him with images of being stripped naked and measured in very intimate places. He suspected that the tales were exaggerated but had been unable to convince himself completely, and Bilbo seemed to take a perverse delight in neither confirming nor denying the stories.

Bilbo set his cutlery upon his empty plate and dabbed his lips with a napkin. “That pie was every bit as good as I remember. Peony Greenbank has a light touch with her pastry that would rival Bell Gamgee.”

Frodo could not resist a smile. “I hope you’ve never told Mistress Gamgee that.”

Bilbo shuddered. “Goodness, no! She does our laundry and I wouldn’t want to risk her hand slipping with the starch when ironing my smalls.”

Frodo shifted uncomfortably on his stool. Of course, that could be more to do with the fact that a recent growth spurt had resulted in his breeches becoming a little snug in the inseem, the main reason for their visit to Michel Delving. “What time is our appointment?”

Bilbo studied him with a smile. “It’s in an hour. Why don’t we go and have a quick wash, and change into fresh linens? By the time we’ve done that and strolled around there, it will be time.”

Bilbo’s estimate was a little generous for within half an hour Frodo re-entered the tap room, to find his uncle waiting for him. The lad pasted on a smile and paused to take a surreptitious sniff at his armpits before joining Bilbo, who was standing at the open door while his eyes accustomed themselves to the bright sunshine outside. The older hobbit clapped Frodo on the shoulder and chuckled. “Don’t fret so. Bressingbard Bentwhistle is a capital chap. His father, Bergess, was my tailor before him.”

Michel Delving was the main town of the Shire and, as such, boasted a whole street of shops, said street being called, of course, The High Street. Folks in the Shire did not generally go in much for fancy street names. Although the original residences of the town had been dug into a group of low chalk hills, the population soon outgrew them and there were now many small low houses with turf or thatched roofs and round windows and doors.

The Bentwhistle family had lived in Michel Delving for generations, however, and their establishments were set next door to each other within a hillside. Their properties were unusual in being two storied, by the simple expedient of digging two layers into the hill. The lower level held their shops and storage areas and the families lived on the upper.

The door to one of the shops stood open to allow the free circulation of air, and a board above the two large round windows proclaimed the owner to be, “Bressingbard Bentwhistle, Outfitter to the Discerning Gentlehobbit”. Frodo followed his uncle into the dim interior and was greeted with the smell of warm wool and lavender. It took a few moments for Frodo’s eyes to adjust after the brilliance of outside, but the interior slowly came into focus.

The shop was quite small compared to the drapers next door, with shelves containing just a few bolts of fabric along the back wall and a large, immaculately polished counter along another. Several large pattern books graced a shelf above the counter and curtains completely covered the remaining wall, beyond which was heard a murmur of good natured voices. Bilbo rang a small brass hand bell that sat upon the corner of the counter.

The curtains parted instantly and a rather dapper hobbit with a broad smile and twinkling green eyes appeared. His smile widened, and he stepped up to pump Bilbo’s hand. “Bilbo! It’s good to see you again. How long has it been?”

Two brothers of more opposite temperament than Bressingbard and Hardeband Bentwhistle, Frodo could not imagine. Hardeband’s haughty attitude was thrown into sharp relief by this hobbit’s bright disposition, and the knot of tension that had been sitting in Frodo’s chest for weeks began to loosen.

Now those shining eyes shifted to Frodo as he offered his hand. “And this must be your new heir. It’s good to meet you at last, Master Frodo.”

Frodo shook Bressingbard’s warm, dry hand, hoping that the other did not notice the perspiration in his. “Just, Frodo will do, sir. And it is good to meet you, too.”

“Then you shall call me, Bressingbard.” He stood back to study Frodo from head to toe. “Hardi. has given me the fabrics and your order. My brother has his faults, but I have to give him credit for choosing the right colours for you.”

Frodo swallowed as he tried to choose the polite reply. “He was quite . . . helpful.”

Bressingbard gave a laugh that seemed to start somewhere in his feet and climb up his ample torso to shake him like an aspen in a high wind. “Hah! My brother is a pain in the backside. But he’s my brother so I love him, despite it.”

Frodo found his merry giggle at last.

“I take it he’s delivered the fabrics, then?” Bilbo asked with a broad grin.

“He has. If you’d like to come through to the fitting room, I’ll just take young Frodo’s measurements and we can decide on the style.” As Bressingbard spoke he ushered Frodo through the curtains into a small room, with another door at the back. “Will you be wanting just the one waistcoat this time for yourself, Bilbo? Hardi only brought me a length of waistcoat silk for you, and a full bolt of shirt linen for some reason.”

Bilbo settled down upon a small upright chair in the corner of the room while Bressingbard helped a suddenly reluctant Frodo remove his jacket. The tailor tutted as he saw the state of Frodo’s shirt sleeves. “I can see that some of that linen will be put to good use.”

Bilbo chuckled. “Yes. Frodo needs a couple of good shirts from that bolt and some smallclothes, but I’ll be taking the rest away with me if you don’t mind. I promised it to a neighbour.”

Bressingbard drew out a large, hardback book, opened it to a fresh page and began to write Frodo’s name at the top. “I hope you haggled well with my brother. It’s not often he gets to sell a whole bolt of linen. Once I’ve taken Frodo’s measurements I can calculate the yardage for his shirts and get Arlo to cut it.” He draped a measuring tape about his neck and led Frodo to the centre of the small room, where he began to circumnavigate the lad.

Frodo tried not to fidget but failed when it came to holding back a blush, for he was not used to such close scrutiny. Bressingbard seemed not to notice as he commented aloud. “Right shoulder slightly higher than left, but a bit of padding will fix that. It’s a common problem. Good posture otherwise.” He ran a business-like hand across Frodo’s shoulder blades. “Good straight back and a neat waist.” He grinned. “Not had time to thicken out properly yet. Give it another twenty years or so.” Bressingbard slapped his own ample but beautifully waist-coated girth. “Now, young hobbit. Have you been measured for a suit before?”

Frodo shook his head and Bressingbard chuckled. “I thought so. No doubt you’ve heard all sorts of embarrassing tales. None of them are true. You will not be required to remove any more clothing than you have now, and I have nothing more than a professional interest in your anatomy.”

Frodo blew out a large breath and behind him Bilbo winked at the tailor.

Bressingbard nodded. “I thought so. Some people seem to take a perverse delight in frightening new clients and, if you don’t mind the observation, you were standing there as taut as a fishing line with a ten pound trout.”

“Aunt Buttercup has always made my clothes in the past,” Frodo observed.

Bressingbard examined the inside of Frodo’s discarded jacket. “And a good job she’s made of the stitching I must say, but she hasn’t the knack for fitting I think, and this collar does not lie well.” He set the jacket aside and drew off his measuring tape.

“You will feel the difference when you have a properly fitted suit. Now, stand straight but comfortably, if you please.”

Frodo was surprised as the tailor began his measurements. Aunt Buttercup used to simply measure around his chest and the length of his arm but Bressingbard took what felt like dozens of measurements . . . around the chest, from centre back to shoulder, from centre back, across the shoulder and down to the wrist, from shoulder to elbow, around the neck, from nape to waist, nape to hip, under-arm to wrist, around the armhole, and the circumference of upper arm and wrist. Each measurement was entered neatly in the book and with each Frodo began to relax a little more.

Bressingbard ruled a line across the page and turned back. “Now I need to measure for your breeches.” If he noted a certain tension creep back into Frodo’s form, he made no comment. “We’ll start with the waist and hip. Please raise your hands to chest level, elbows out.”

Frodo complied and was somewhat reassured when Bressingbard stood to the side to take the measurements.

“Now, if you could just set your feet slightly apart?”

Doing as requested, Frodo was a little nervous when the tailor ran his measuring tape from waist front to waist back, between Frodo’s legs. But Bressingbard’s actions were so impersonal and deft that he began to relax again.

“How long would you like the legs, young sir? I know that Bilbo likes his to finish six inches above the floor, but it is the fashion at present to have the hem fall just below the knee. I think, with your slender shape, you would look well in the new length. You've a shapely calf that would take the shorter length.”

Frodo glanced back at Bilbo and the older hobbit just waved aside the unspoken question. “The choice is yours lad, but you’re only young once.”

Frodo’s eyes sparkled to match his grin. “Then I’d like the shorter length, please.”

Bressingbard measured from crotch to floor, outside waist to floor, crotch to knee, then made the relevant notations in his book. “That’s all the measurements for now. I have enough to cut and make the first fitting. One last question regarding the breeches. To which side do you usually dress.”

Frodo blinked. “I’m sorry?”

Bilbo chuckled. “He means, when you put it away do you lay it to the left or the right leg?”

Frodo suddenly found himself blushing furiously and was so discombobulated that he had to glance down to confirm. “Left.”

Bressingbard made a note. “One can usually tell but it’s always best to ask so that things can be properly accommodated.”

He ruled another line and then motioned Frodo to a seat. “That’s the boring stuff done. Now we get to the interesting bit.” He pulled out a huge book and placed it upon the work table before his customer and Bilbo drew his own chair closer.

The book turned out to be filled with drawings of jackets. Some came only to the waist and others almost to the knee. Some had two lines of buttons and others only one; those buttons arranged in two’s, three’s, fours and even fives. Some had turned back cuffs to reveal fancy shirt sleeves and others were trimmed with buttons or braid. Some had wide lapels and others narrow. There were even some with no lapels. Each new page required a decision and after over an hour Frodo was beginning to lose interest. Fortunately, Bilbo stepped in when his nephew’s eyes began to glaze over.

After another hour of discussion Frodo finally escaped from the small, stuffy room, to the fresh air of the shop doorway. The young hobbit took in a deep breath, wincing when he felt a stitch pop in the under-arm seem of his shirt. If all the activity of this afternoon resulted in more comfortable clothes, Frodo decided it was worth any indignity.

As though he had been reading his thoughts Bilbo spoke. “Now, that was relatively painless, wasn’t it?”

Frodo obliged him with a rueful smile. “Not nearly as bad as I was expecting.”

Bilbo grinned, slapping him on the shoulder and then leading the way back to the inn. “There’s a valuable lesson there, Frodo my lad. Don’t go worrying too much about the adventures of tomorrow. Things are invariably never as black as you imagine they will be.”

Frodo followed. It was all very well for Bilbo to say that when he had already been on such a great adventure. Frodo assumed that his own adventures were yet to come.


“Here you are, Marigold. I’ve brought you a new dolly.” Frodo held out the new toy and the youngest Gamgee accepted it with a wide grin.

“Thank you, Master Frodo.” She gathered the rag doll close and Bell Gamgee bent to examine it, frowning a little.

“Yer Aunt Petunia been sendin’ presents again? She still thinks yer a lass, then?” she asked with a chuckle.

“I’m afraid so. You should have seen the stuffed toy she sent me last month. Bilbo says it’s supposed to be an oliphaunt but I’m still not sure.”

Bell frowned. “Why has it got three eyes?”

Frodo joined her in examining the doll over Marigold’s shoulder. “I think the two blue buttons are eyes and the pink is a nose.”

“Ah. That would make that red woollen blob a mouth then.”

“I think so, but with Aunt Petunia it’s not always wise to assume.”

Bell tilted her head, perhaps hoping that a different perspective would make all clear. “She looks like she’s stickin’ her tongue out.”

“She does a bit. We could give her the benefit of the doubt and say she has a rather full bottom lip.”

Marigold was blithely ignoring this conversation, concentrating instead upon undressing her new doll and beaming with delight when she discovered that it was wearing not only a skirt but two petticoats, a pair of breeches and three pairs of knickers. When Bell raised a brow at Frodo in question he shrugged.

“Standard mode of dress for Aunt Petunia. I have known her to wear two or three dresses at once.”

They looked up as Daisy Gamgee appeared in the doorway to the bedrooms. She was wearing a rather fetching blue dress, it’s hem as yet unfinished. “Hello, Master Frodo.” She swished her full skirts. “What do you think?”

He cleared his throat, for, although Daisy Gamgee was now courting Bartimus Brockbank, she still made him feel uncomfortable. “Is that your new dress? It’s very pretty.”

“Tis the latest fashion, May says.” She deliberately tweaked the bright yellow bow at the juncture of her breasts, knowing the action would draw his eye.

Her mother had seen all this before however. “Are yer feet clean, my girl?” She bent to examine the soles that Daisy offered up, one by one, for inspection. “Up ye get then.”

Daisy stepped from bench to table-top in a flurry of petticoats that afforded Frodo an eye-level view of her shapely knees. He bent his gaze at once to the book that Sam was just opening.

Bell set her pin cushion on the table with an apologetic tilt of her head to their neighbour. “Right, lass. Where do ye want this hem turnin’? And before ye say anythin’, I’ll not turn it above the knee.”

Daisy grinned. “Tis the fashion to show an inch of petticoat, Ma. I bet all the lasses in Michel Delvin' are doing it, aren’t they Master Frodo?”

Two sets of female eyes fell upon Frodo and he wished the floor would open up and swallow him. “Erm . . . I’m afraid I didn’t notice. We didn’t have far to walk from inn to tailors,” he lied. In truth, he remembered seeing many a pretty inch of flounced petticoat, but he wasn’t about to put himself on the wrong side of Bell Gamgee.

Bell sniffed and Daisy scowled at him, so Frodo dropped his head to the book once more, noting with some relief that Sam seemed to be having difficulty with a word.

"Break it into bits, Sam.” He covered part of the word with his finger and Sam tried.”

“Ad . . . vent . . . oo . . . ree.”

“Nearly. Remember what I told you about the letter U changing its sound when there is only one letter between it and a following E, and that an E at the end of a word is usually silent?”

Sam studied for a moment then his eyes lit up in delight as he called out, “Adventure! It’s adventure. Like Mister Bilbo had.”

Frodo cringed when he heard Bell sniff again. Fortunately, she was concentrating too firmly upon providing Daisy’s new dress with a level hem, to express her strong opinion on adventuring in more detail.

“How did yer visit to the tailor go, Master Frodo?” Bell asked as she folded up and pinned the fabric.

Frodo noted that she left exposed the requested inch of lace petticoat but that the over-all length was still below the knee. “It went well, I think. I must go back for the first fitting of the suits in two weeks. My shirts should be finished by then too.”

“And very nice they’ll look, I’ve no doubt. I expect you’ll be glad to have a shirt cuff that comes down to yer wrist again,” Bell noted with a smile. “I’ve started work on my Ham’s new shirt with the material you and Mr Bilbo brought back. Tis lovely stuff.”

Frodo eyed his current shirt sleeves, which he had been forced to roll up because the cuffs were frayed and finished half way up his forearm anyway. “It will be nice, I confess.”

“Stand still, lass. If ye keep swingin’ yer skirt like that I’ll not vouch for the line of this hem. Did ye go to the privy afore ye put the dress on ‘cause yer jiggin’ about as if yer bustin’ to go.”

Daisy huffed. “Ma! I just like the way it moves is all. I aint never had a skirt with so much cloth in it.”

“Well, ye can thank yer sister, May, for that. That coin yer Da and me gave you, came from her. It paid for the extra yard and she says yer to look on it as her birthday present to ye.” She tapped Daisy’s foot when the lass began to fidget again. “So, don’t ye go spoilin’ the present by swishin’ and swashin’ while I’m tryin’ to turn the hem.”

Sam looked up. “Master Frodo, how do you spell ‘swashin’?’”

Bell tutted. “Never you mind, Samwise Gamgee. Get on with yer book learnin’. Ye’ve got enough words in that book without havin’ to learn another.” Frodo found himself on the receiving end of one of Bell Gamgee’s glares. “And I hope young Master Frodo here ain’t puttin’ any ideas in yer head about adventurin’ . . . with or without a funny U and a quiet E . . . whatever they are.”

Frodo chuckled. “I promise I’m not, Mistress Gamgee.”

Sam ducked his head to read the next line. Adventuring sounded fun to him, especially if it involved meeting elves.


It was nearly two months later and after two more visits to Michel Delving that Frodo finally got his new suits. Hearing the cart stop at the bottom of the lane, Bell Gamgee looked up from her weeding in time to see Bilbo and Frodo Baggins step down, juggling several parcels in their arms. Bell called back through the open kitchen door. “Sam! Go and help Mister Baggins with his packages.”

Sam ran out at once, popping the last of a slice of toast into his mouth as he ran, full tilt, down the lane. Bilbo gratefully relinquished some of his parcels to the youngster and was all smiles as he and Frodo reached Number Three’s garden gate.

Bell straightened, wiping her hands upon her apron as she appraised Frodo.

Rather proud of his new outfit, Frodo held out his arms to the side and performed a slow turn. When he was facing front again he asked, with a grin, “What do you think?”

Bell leaned in to examine the top stitching on a lapel then stepped back with a smile. “Tis beautiful stitchin’ and a neat fit.” Her smile widened, “Forgive me for sayin’ so, but ye were beginnin’ to look like ye’d just come up from Harbottle. Now ye look like a proper Gentlehobbit.”

Bilbo grinned proudly at his nephew. “Bres always does excellent work. What do you think of the shirt? It’s the latest style.”

Frodo obliged by popping the buttons on his fine velvet waistcoat to reveal that the shirt buttons only came half way down the front, from neck to mid chest, before they met the bottom of an inset panel. The shirt was obviously intended to be slipped on over the head.

Once more, Bell leaned closer. “The latest, ye say? I remember my great grandda wearing a shirt ye had to pull over yer head like that.” She sniffed. “These new-fangled fashions are only old ones come round again as far as I can see.”

Frodo tried not to let his disappointment show as he rebuttoned his waistcoat, but Bilbo stepped in to his defence. “After all, there are only so many things one can do to change a garment.” He gave Frodo a broad wink before continuing, “And I seem to remember a young Bell Goodchild arguing with her mother over the new-fangled style of the lacings on her wedding dress.”

Bell grinned. “I wanted cross lacin’ and Ma wanted herringbone. I’d forgot all about that.” She gave Frodo another appraisal. “Ye’ll do, lad. And that shirt do sit well with the weskit. The lasses will be fightin’ to be seen with ye at this year’s Harvest Reel.”

Frodo’s grin returned. “Thank you, Mistress Gamgee. At least I’ll be in no danger of splitting my breeches this year.”

The tale of Hamfast Gamee bursting his breeches at the Thrimidge celebration had spread far and wide in the Shire, growing in the telling. Ham took the laughter in good part but Bell had jumped in to defend her sewing skills, when someone told a version that suggested that the garment had completely disintegrated, leaving Ham stark naked in the middle of the crowded party field.

Now she rolled twinkling eyes. “Aye. One person, showin’ off his smalls to the world, is enough for the folk of Hobbiton.”

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