Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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“Let me see those hands afore ye sit down, Sam,” Bell demanded as she set his plate on the table at the side closest to the fire.  The lad had just come back from helping his father clear snow from the garden path at Bag End and the cold air had turned his nose and ears quite purple.  Dawn had brought with it an unusually heavy fall of snow.

What a waste of time that had been . . . and Hamfast was off to Hobbiton to help Widow Rumble with her path.  Bell looked up from the sink drainer, where she was drying pots, and rubbed away some of the condensation from the window.  Within five minutes of Hamfast leaving the snow had started up again and a strong blustery wind was dashing large wet flakes against the windowpanes.  Bell hoped that her husband would soon be inside.  She knew that Buttercup would at least keep him warm with plenty of cups of hot tea once he reached her smial. 

A small tug at her apron told Bell that Sam had finished washing and she examined the sturdy little hands, turning them over to check the finger nails.  Not that Hamfast and the lads ever managed to keep their nails clean . . . but Bell insisted that they at least try.  She reached down and ruffled his hair.

“Ye’ll do.  Go eat yer elevenses.  And don’t go gobblin’ up all the bread.  Leave some for luncheon.”

Sam’s face, which had lit up at sight of the big plate of bread and butter, fell.  He tucked in nonetheless, ignoring Daisy’s snigger.  They all looked up at a tentative tap at the door.  Daisy suddenly became engrossed in her mending and Sam started to get up, but Bell put a hand on his shoulder.

May would have stood from her place by the hearth, where she was sewing a new doll for a currently napping Marigold.  Her mother waved her down as well.  “Go see who’s at the door, Daisy.”

Daisy sighed and made a big show of securing her needle and folding the cut down nightshirt she had been making over for Sam.

“Spit spot, lass.  Whoever’s there is standin’ in a blizzard,” chided Bell and Daisy jumped to obey, aware she had taken one step the wrong side of a line.  Sam ducked his head to hide a smile and May suddenly concentrated hard on her stitching, but Bell knew enough about siblings to cast a disapproving eye at each.

Daisy opened the door, admitting a flurry of snow and revealing a figure in a thick green hooded cloak.  From the depths of the big hood a light but cultured voice asked, “Good morning, Miss Daisy.  Is Mistress Gamgee at home please?”

Not used to being addressed in this manner, Daisy simply blinked and turned back to her mother for instruction.  Bell realised who it was as soon as he spoke and bustled forward, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Bless me, lass.  Invite poor Master Frodo in.  He must be half froze, standin’ on the doorstep.  And close the door proper after him.  Don’t go lettin’ in any more cold air.”

Daisy stepped back and Frodo entered quickly, turning to close the door himself, before pushing back the hood of his cloak and wiping his feet on the mat.  The young lass assessed him critically, having previously seen him only from a distance, and dismissing him at once as too skinny and pale than was proper for a hobbit, returned to her sewing.

Bell took over as hostess.  “Come in, Young Master.  Let me take yer cloak.  Ye must be froze.  Come sit by the fire.”

Frodo made to protest at first but within seconds she had unfastened his cloak, draping it over a chair to warm by the range, and shepherded him to sit on the bench beside Sam.    Frodo grinned down at the lad.  “Hello again, Sam.” 

"Mornin’ Master Frodo, sir,” Sam replied with a shy smile. 

As soon as the doctor pronounced Frodo well enough to travel after his tumble, Bilbo had escorted the lad back to Brandy Hall for a visit.  Bell suspected that they had been summoned.  They had celebrated their joint birthday in Buckland, only returning in time for the Yule festivities.  Cold weather had ensured that the Gamgees had seen little of either Baggins for some time after their return.

Frodo returned his attention to his hostess.  “Thank you, Mistress Gamgee.  I did not think to interrupt your elevenses.  Bilbo asked me to run down to enquire if you could spare any yeast.  He had intended to go into Hobbiton to buy some, but with the weather as it is . . .”

Bell set a cup of tea in front of their guest and pushed the honey pot towards him.  Frodo eyed the nearly empty pot and shook his head.  “I don’t take honey, thank you.”  His mouth dropped open.  “Oh . . . that reminds me.”  Tugging at his jacket pocket the tween pulled out a small jar, holding it out to Bell.  “Bilbo asked if you could find a use for this honey.  He bought it in Hobbiton last week but is not terribly fond of the flavour.  He usually buys from Charlie Proudfoot and it will only be wasted if we keep it.”

Bell smiled as she looked at the unbroken seal, recognising the ploy but willing to accept because she knew it was kindly meant.  Sam licked his lips as he eyed the pot.

“Thank ye, Young Master and please pass on my thanks to Mister Bilbo.  I were goin’ to bake some cakes this afternoon and this’ll come in right handy.  I’ll send Sam across with one later for yer tea.”

Frodo’s eyes lit up at the mention of cake and Bell bringing the warmth of summer sun on this bleak day.  The lad had the makings of a handsome catch for some young lass in the future.

“Yeast, did ye say? I’m sure I’ve got some in the pantry.  Let me check.”  Bell disappeared through a small door, returning a few moments later with a small covered basin.  “Did he say how much he wanted?”

Frodo nodded, the scrape of a fork on china drawing the young gentlehobbit’s eyes inexorably to the contents of Sam’s plate.  Dark eyebrows drew together in thought as he stared at the thin squares of pale cream and grey, dressed with malt vinegar and salt.  “Enough to make three loaves, he said.”

Noting the direction of his gaze, Bell considered the contents of her pantry and decided she could do without elevenses today.  “Have ye eaten elevenses?  There’s plenty of pig bag left if ye care to join Sam.”

Frodo blushed.  “Oh, thank you for the offer, but Bilbo was about to make some bacon sandwiches.”  His dark brows drew together once more.  “What is pig bag?”

For a moment Bell was surprised, and then she considered the young hobbit’s upbringing.  His diet had probably never included such items.  She knew that Mr Bilbo didn’t eat much offal, apart from kidneys and liver, and she didn’t want to even consider what those strange folks in Buckland ate.

“Why don’t ye try a mouthful?  Give him a bit of yours, Sam.”  She handed Frodo a clean fork from the draining board and Sam slid his plate towards their guest.

Frodo’s blush deepened.  “Oh, I couldn’t eat some of your elevenses, Sam.  Goodness knows but you’ve earned it with all the hard work you did this morning,” he stammered.

“T’aint no trouble, Master Frodo.  I can spare a mouthful,” Sam assured him gravely.

Frodo speared a small piece and popped it in his mouth.  It had a mild flavour . . . the grey layer a little dry and crumbly and the cream layer a chewier texture, with a thin smear of fat between.  He nodded in approval as he swallowed.  “It’s very nice.  But what is it?”

“We get it from the butcher in Hobbiton.  Tis a messy, smelly job preparin’ and cookin’ it yerself.  Tis boiled pig’s stomach, chopped up.”

The pink tinge in Frodo’s cheeks, so recently conjured by the cold weather, suddenly faded and he took a large swallow of strong tea.  “That’s interesting.”

Bell rescued the used fork, throwing it in a basin of washing up water in the sink and in her chair by the fire Daisy sniggered. 

“Daisy Gamgee, ye hold yer tongue.  Likely as not they eat different the other side of the river.  T’aint polite to laugh at a guest and I taught ye better manners.”  Bell turned back to the sink to hide her own smile.  In future, she would have to remember that the young master was squeamish about such things.  She divided her yeast and popped some in an old cup that had long since lost its handle, turning back to hand it to Frodo.

He accepted it gravely.  “Thank you.  I’d best get back, or Bilbo will have the bacon burned,” he announced, draining his teacup and rising.  Bell shook out his cloak and laid it about his shoulders, fastening the large buttons and pulling up the hood without thinking . . . treating him as one of her own.  Frodo found he quite liked it and stood still to allow her to do so.

“Now ye keep that yeast inside yer cloak and don’t let the snow at it.  Or ye’ll have bread as flat as pancakes.”

“Yes, Mistress Gamgee.  Goodbye.”

Sam ran ahead to open the door and, with a final nod of thanks, Frodo slipped out, running as fast as he could back to the warmth of Bag End.

“Well, close the door, Sam,” called Daisy, happy to be able to catch her younger brother in the same fault of which she had often been guilty.  With a last glance at Frodo’s retreating figure, Sam closed the door.

Daisy’s jibe had not been missed by her mother.  “That’ll do, Daisy.  Have ye finished that shirt yet?”

“No, Ma.”

“Well, get a move on then . . . or Sam will have grown out of it afore ye’ve finished.  And small stitches mind ye.  I’ll have none of yer cobblin’.”

Sam returned to his meal, glancing at his sister, whilst trying to hide a grin, and Daisy checked that her mother’s back was turned before sticking her tongue out at him.  May had the sense not to become involved.

“He’s a skinny one,” Daisy commented, mainly because she could see that Sam had taken a liking to the new Baggins but also because she enjoyed shocking her younger sister.  “They say he’s sickly too.  I like my lads with a bit more meat on ‘em,” she announced, boldly as May’s mouth dropped open.

Bell did not bother turning from her washing up.  “We don’t listen to nor pass on no gossip about the Baggins family, Daisy.  And I should hope that ye were not takin’ a serious interest in any lads, whatever their build, until ye come of age, young madam.”  She set the freshly washed fork on the draining board once more.  “He’s got plenty of time to fill out and he’ll be a good catch one day.  I dare say Mister Bilbo will make sure he’s well provided for.  The lad’s got a nice way with him an’ a pleasin’ face.”

At mention of Frodo being “well provided for” Daisy began to re-assess her comment.  Perhaps he would be worth her notice after all.  She would add him to the bottom of her list of potential’s.

Bell turned and caught her eldest daughter staring off into the fire.  “Daisy Gamgee, stop wool gatherin’ and start sewin’.”

“Yes, Ma.”

Her mother sighed.  Daisy was getting to that age.



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