Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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The table was full; and a line of bottoms filled the benches on either side.  But there were three empty spaces.

Bell stood at the range, stirring a small pan, with Sam watching closely.  She fished out the chicken giblets, leaving them on a small plate that Daisy provided.  Bell forked up the tiny liver and offered it to a pleasantly surprised Sam, who chewed it delightedly.  That titbit was usually reserved for his Da but Sam would have to wait for his dinner until he had run his errand, so Bell knew that her husband would not object on this occasion.  There was, after all, no sacrifice greater to a young hobbit than to ask him to delay eating when food was on the table.

Bell left the pan to bubble and, with two large forks, lifted the roasted chicken onto a serving plate, which Daisy laid before her Da, following it with basins of piping hot vegetables.  Meanwhile, Bell added the meat juices from the roasting tin to the giblet broth.  She handed Sam a cup of white liquid.

“I’ve another job for ye, lad.  This is flour and water.  I want ye to trickle it very slowly into the gravy as I stir.  Do ye think ye can do that?”

Sam swallowed the last of the tiny liver.  “Yes Ma.”  Behind him he could hear plates being filled and knew that his Da was making sure that there would be one ready for him when he returned from Bag End.

Bell began to stir the broth briskly and Sam trickled the flour paste in very slowly, watching in fascination as the broth thickened and turned a pale toffee colour, the fat from the roast forming sparkling lace curtains on its surface.  Her family was firmly convinced that Bell Gamgee made the best gravy in the Shire.

“Well done, lad.  Now fetch me that little dish of mashed potato and we’ll pour some of this over it for Master Frodo.”  Sam obliged, his mouth watering as he watched the golden liquid being spooned over a little mound of creamy mashed potato.  There were those who argued that Bell Gamgee also made the creamiest mashed potatoes in the Shire . . . adding milk, butter and pepper and mashing them until they were smooth as silk.  If those arguers all belonged to her own family it mattered little to Bell.

Daisy bustled up with a jug and the rest of the contents of the pan were used to fill it.  Bell set the bowl of potato and gravy on a couple of tea towels spread out on the wooden draining board, waiting.  Sam covered the bowl with a plate and Bell wrapped it all carefully in the towels to keep it warm.

“Off ye go, then, Sam.  Quick as ye can so it stays hot, but don’t go trippin’.  One broken arm on the Hill is more than enough.”  She ushered Sam out of the door and watched a moment as the lad set off at a quick walk towards Bag End.

She returned to the table as May began to cut up the chicken in little Marigold’s dish.  Collecting Sam’s filled plate, she covered it with a bowl and set it atop a pan of boiling water to keep warm.  If she knew Sam he would probably wish to get his first look at Bag End’s newest occupant.

Daisy snorted as her mother sat.  “Fancy breakin’ an arm.  What was he doin’ up a tree, anyway?  No sensible hobbit should be climbin’ trees.”

It was her father who answered firmly.  “Taint none of your business to ask and taint none of your place to comment on the doin's of your betters, Daisy Gamgee.  You remember your place, my girl.  The Baggins’ have always done well by this family.  ‘Tis the wages Mr Baggins’ pays me that’s put this meal in front of you and don’t you forget it . . . and he pays above the goin’ rate for the job.  Young Master Frodo deserves the same respect.”

Daisy offered a properly contrite, “Yes, Da.” 


Sam rang the bell by the big green door and it was opened within moments by Mister Bilbo Baggins.

“Hello Sam.  Is that the potato from your mother?”  He made to take it from Sam but the young hobbit relinquished it very reluctantly.

“Could I visit Master Frodo for a bit? . . . I won’t stay too long.  I expect he’s not feelin’ very well at the minute.”

“I’m sure he’d love to see a new face, but won’t your supper be getting cold?”

“It’s alright.  Ma said she’d keep it warm for me.”

Bilbo considered for a moment.  Sam was much younger than Frodo but he was a quiet and thoughtful lad, much like the younger Baggins.  Perhaps he would help to take Frodo’s mind off the pain until Bilbo could make up the tea the doctor had left.

“Very well, Sam.  You can take in the tray.  He’ll be more likely to eat if you’re there.  The doctor says he’ll be feeling right as ninepence by tomorrow but he’s a tad feverish at the moment and it’s making his stomach a bit offish.  You may be better at tempting him than I.”

He led the way to the kitchen, where he unwrapped the dish and placed it on a small tray with an equally small bowl of custard.  Bilbo inhaled approvingly.  “I do believe your mother makes the best gravy I have ever tasted.”

“Yes sir.  She does,” affirmed Sam, quite willing to agree the merits of his mother’s cooking.

Bilbo took up the tray and led the way to Frodo’s bedroom where the lad was sitting propped up by several pillows.  His right arm was in a sling, made from one of Bilbo’s expensive silk scarves, and Sam could see the hard outline of splints beneath the fabric.  The left wrist also sported a light bandage.  An open book lay upon the lad’s lap, although when they entered the room his eyes were closed.  He opened them when he heard their footsteps.

Pain had turned Frodo’s complexion almost grey and the eyes were clouded but Sam found himself looking into wide eyes the blue of summer skies, set in a fine boned face and framed with curls the colour of roasted chestnuts.  He almost imagined that this was one of Mr Bilbo’s elves, and for a moment he was struck dumb.    

Bilbo smiled.  “Here we are Frodo, lad.  Some nice smooth mashed potato with gravy, courtesy of Mistress Gamgee, and a little custard . . . nothing too heavy on your stomach.  And here’s young Sam Gamgee to help you with it.”  Bilbo set the tray on his nephew’s lap as Sam stretched up to grab the book.

Frodo looked at the tray listlessly.  “I’m not very hungry, really, Uncle.”

“Nonsense lad.  The doctor said you couldn’t take the pain medicine on an empty stomach so eat up while I go and get it ready,” Bilbo replied . . . his tone brooking no further argument on the matter.  As he left he handed Sam a spoon.  “He has trouble managing with his left hand . . . sprained the wrist.  You’ll have to feed him.”  He left quickly, closing the door firmly behind him.

Sam looked about.  There was a chair by the bed but he was too small to be able to reach Frodo’s mouth from there.  Ever practical, he shrugged his shoulders and clambered onto the big bed, sinking into the soft feather mattress.  He wished his own bed were as soft as this.  He would never want to get up again.  Frodo winced a little as the movement jostled him.

“Sorry, Master Frodo.”

 “It’s alright, Sam.”

 Sam dipped his spoon in the potato and held it to Frodo’s lips.  At first he thought the older hobbit was going to refuse but, after a moment, pale lips parted and took the proffered morsel. 

Frodo blinked in surprise.  The potato was as smooth as could be; not a lump to be found.  And it tasted of butter, with a slight edge of salt.  The gravy was smooth too, mildly flavoured with chicken.  It slid down his throat with little effort and his tender stomach showed no signs of rejecting it.  When Sam offered another spoonful there was no further hesitation.

“I feel such an idiot, having to be fed like a baby,” Frodo confessed between mouthfuls. 

“My Ma says there’s nothin’ to be ashamed of in acceptin’ help when you need it.  You can’t help it, and you’ve got to eat,” Sam announced, sagely.

Frodo smiled in spite of his pain.  The arm was throbbing, his wrist ached and the combination of that, with a mild fever, was also making his head ache.  But Sam was trying hard not to jostle him, now that he had managed to get onto the bed, and he was keeping his voice quiet, as though he knew.

The stomach, which had been complaining only a few minutes ago, was now settling.  Perhaps Bilbo had been right and hunger, rather than fever, had caused the discomfort there.  He had not eaten since first breakfast and had been in too much pain to bother over much about anything else until the doctor had set his arm.

Sam could stand it no longer.  Despite his Da’s words curiosity got the better of him and he could not resist.  “Would you mind if I asked a question, Master Frodo?”

“No Sam.  What is it?”

“Why was you climbin’ a tree?”

Frodo suppressed a wince as he chuckled, wondering how many times he would have to answer that question.  “It’s a habit I got into when I lived at Brandy Hall.  I like to read but the Hall was so busy that I was always getting interrupted.  I discovered that if I climbed a tree I could be out of sight and enjoy my book in peace.  It’s not a problem here, of course, but old habits die hard.”

Sam nodded.  “Will you be stoppin’ climbin’ trees in future, then?”

Frodo thought for a moment.  “I don’t know, Sam.  I quite like it . . . you can see so much more of the world from the top of a tree and I would so like to explore that world one day.  I wonder if that is why Big Folk travel so much . . . because they can see farther than us and want to go and visit the places that they can see.”

His helper absorbed that piece of information and filed it for future reference as he moved on to attack the custard.  They were nearly finished when Bilbo returned with two cups.

As he crossed the room Bilbo took in the scene.  Sam was settled on the bed, facing Frodo, offering him the last mouthful of custard.  Both bowls were empty and Frodo was resting comfortably against his pillows.  Some of the dullness about his eyes had gone, he was smiling gently and his face did not look as ashen.  It seemed that Sam Gamgee was good for him.  Perhaps he would pass on to Frodo the task of teaching Sam his letters.

“Here we are, lad.  This is the willow bark tea and some milk to wash it down.  Two big swallows and the medicine will be gone.” He handed over the smaller of the cups to Sam, who put it to Frodo’s lips at once, tipping in the suggested large mouthful.  Frodo’s eyes widened and he swallowed quickly, his mouth turning down at the corners in an involuntary grimace.  Sam gave him no time to pause as he delivered the second mouthful.  He had been given this tea once when he broke a finger and he knew it tasted very bitter.  As soon as it was swallowed Bilbo handed Sam the milk and Frodo drank it greedily, desperate to be rid of the horrible taste of the medicine.

“Well done, Frodo,” Bilbo praised.  “Now let’s get this tray out of the way and you can take a little nap.”  He removed the empty tray and Sam clambered down as gently as he could.   The older Baggins helped Frodo scoot down beneath the covers, tucking them under his chin as soon as he was comfortable.  Blue eyes closed and Bilbo signalled for Sam to follow him from the room.  Frodo was exhausted by pain and shock and the willow bark tea would ease him enough to let him sleep now.

As they reached the door a small voice whispered, “Thank you, Sam.  And please tell your mother that she makes the best mashed potato and gravy I’ve ever tasted.”

Sam blushed.  “I will, Mr Frodo, and I hope as how you’re feelin’ better soon.”


Bell and Daisy were washing and May was drying the pots when Sam got home.  Hamfast was playing with Marigold on the floor by the fire.

His Ma brought the warmed meal to the table and Sam tucked in.  “Mr Frodo says to thank you and that you make the best mashed potato and gravy he’s ever tasted,” Sam reported.

Bell preened a little, although all she said was, “Well, he’s probably never had proper mashed potato and giblet gravy, livin’ the wrong side of the river as he was.  But I’m pleased he liked ‘em.”

“How’s he doin’?” asked Sam’s Da.

“He’s broken his right arm an’ hurt the left but the doctor says he’ll be right as ninepence tomorrow.  Mr Bilbo gave him some of that horrible willow bark tea and he was goin’ to sleep when I left.”

Bell nodded approvingly.  “Sleep and good food’s the best thing for him.  I’ll send ye across with some sweet potato puddin’ tomorrow.  That’ll set him right.”

Sam grinned.  Oh yes.  Ma’s sweet potato puddin’ would set anyone right, and if they were lucky, they would all get a taste of it.



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