A Tribute to Bill the Pony

by Auntkimby
II 

A Tribute to Bill
After the death of Bill the Pony, Sam’s children seek to comfort their father and honor Bill’s memory.


Part I: The Passing
S.R. 1439

Samwise Gamgee knew that his beloved pony Bill was now very old. His friend Merry Brandybuck, who knew ponies well, estimated that Bill had been ten years old when they bought him in Bree (ill use and underfeeding had made him seem older), and so Bill would be a little past thirty now. For fifteen of the eighteen years that Sam had been master of Bag End, Bill the pony had been his faithful mount, but now that Bill’s back and legs were too weak and rheumatic to support his weight, only the smallest Gamgee children could climb upon Bill’s back. Sam was pleased with his new pony, a lovely little chestnut named Star that had been a gift from Merry Brandybuck for Sam’s daily ride to Michel Delving. Nevertheless, it nearly broke Sam’s heart to hear Bill whinny plaintively when he saw Sam saddle his rival’s back each morning, and Sam tried to make it up to his old friend with extra treats and currying him twice a day. “I’m sorry, Bill me dear, I truly am, but it would be no kindness for me to force you to carry me, as I’ve gained more than I care to think since we first met in Bree. I’ll make it up to you best I can though, and give you first pick of the apples and sugar, though I know that’s not much comfort to you right now, poor old thing.” He would stroke Bill’s muzzle, now white with age but still soft as down, and Bill would whinny softly in response and nip Sam’s sleeve.

Bill was a clever old fellow; he had long ago learned how to nudge the latch on his stall and slip out of the stable if one of Sam’s children forgot to close the big double doors once he or she had fed Bill and Star and Rosie’s pony Blossom. More than once, Sam had been wakened on a summer morning by Bill stretching his nose through the open window of the Best Bedroom and nuzzling his master’s neck, Sam’s side of the bed being right underneath the sill. Rosie had caught him in her vegetable garden more times than she could count and even once Bill had gotten out and wandered all the way to the Cotton farm and was placidly munching grass when the panic-stricken family finally located him hours later. However, such incidents grew increasingly fewer as Bill’s joints grew stiffer and he found keeping to his warm stall much more agreeable than adventuring. By the autumn Bill was sleeping most of his days away, and Sam watched his old friend’s decline with growing anxiety and dread. Bill had lived a long life, longer even than most ponies that had always had excellent care, but that did not make the inevitable any easier to bear for Sam. Every night after supper, he would go out to the stable and sit with Bill for an hour or longer, talking to him and petting him, wanting every moment with the loved animal that he could, for he knew they were few. Rosie and the children knew how Sam loved Bill, and they did not interrupt that time for any reason.

Finally the morning came that there was no answering whinny and stomp of a hoof when Sam entered the stable and called Bill’s name. He ran to Bill’s stall and saw the pony lying down in the straw, his food and water from the night before untouched, and there was no sign of breathing. Sam dropped to his knees with a breaking heart and pressed his ear to Bill’s chest; there was no reassuring beat within. Elanor was in the adjoining henhouse gathering the eggs when she heard her father’s cry of grief, and tears filled her eyes as she guessed the cause. She dropped her basket, ran into the stable, and wrapped her arms around him, her golden head pressed to his back, as he sat upon the stall floor and wept.

“We need to have a proper service for Bill,” Merry Gamgee declared a few days later as he and his siblings lingered over elevenses. Rosie had taken baby Robin with her to a neighbor’s after fixing the meal for her other children, and Sam was attending his mayoral duties in Michel Delving.

“What do you mean?” his brother Pippin asked. “Da buried Bill already, and I don’t think folk usually have funerals for ponies.”

“Well, Bill wasn’t just a pony,” Merry countered. “Da loved him very much, and we should do something special to comfort him. We all loved Bill too.”

Elanor stopped little Ruby from throwing a spoon before she answered softly, “I think that is a lovely idea, Merry-lad. What did you have in mind?”

His siblings all looked at him expectantly, and the dark-haired lad blushed. “Well, I’ve been thinking on it for a couple days now. I thought maybe we could write a…a tribute to Bill, about all the things he did, not only here for us but when he was with Da as part of the Fellowship. We could have a poem or song or something, but we need to make it extra special, for Bill and for Da.”

So with one accord, they put their heads together and began to make plans.

A letter addressed in childish script arrived on Sam’s desk in his office one morning three weeks later. He often received letters from admiring Shire children, but this writing looked rather familiar. He slit it open and withdrew a sheet of cream-colored stationery. The message was obviously traced in ink over penciled letters, but tears of wonder and delight filled Sam’s eyes as he read:

YOU ARE INVITED
TO A SPECIAL TRIBUTE
IN HONOR OF OUR LATE FRIEND
“BILL THE PONY”
THIS FRIDAY EVENING
AT 7 O’CLOCK
BAG END
HOBBITON
CORDIALLY YOURS,
THE GAMGEE CHILDREN

Rosie watched with moistened eyes and a trembling smile as her children raced to make the final preparations for their tribute to Bill that night. They had written to Merry Brandybuck and Peregrin Took when they first began planning to invite them and their families, and also asked if each of them would write a tribute to Bill if they were not able to come deliver it themselves. A week later, letters arrived from Brandy Hall and Great Smials accepting both the invitation and the request for a tribute. Elanor, Rosie, Merry, Pippin, Goldilocks, Primrose, Daisy and even little Hammie had been hard at work on their own offerings, and refused any help from their mother to assist with any preparations for their guests or the event itself. There was room enough at Bag End to accommodate both families, and the children took care of cleaning and preparing the guest rooms. The service would be held in the parlor, which was large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.

Sam was speechless when he arrived home at suppertime Friday evening and saw Merry and Estella and Pippin and Diamond there to greet him along with his own family. “Lor’, I-I didn’t know you were comin’!” he stammered. “The children planned somethin’ special tonight an’ I…”

“I know, dear Sam, that’s why we’re here,” Pippin told him warmly. “Your children wrote to us and asked if we would come, and we were glad to oblige. We remember old Bill well, and we wanted to be here too.”

“I didn’t know Bill mattered so much to the young ones,” Sam said as he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.

“I’m sure he did, Sam, but they’re doing this for YOU,” Merry said softly. “Come, I think Elanor and Rosie-lass’s dinner is getting cold.”


II. The Tribute: The Day the Fellowship Met Bill

Author’s Note: The children’s play act is not a perfect recreation...obviously. LOL.

The tribute began promptly at seven o’clock. The children had pulled one of the small sitting room tables to the front of the room for the speaker to stand behind and draped it with a green cloth, and Primrose had thoughtfully provided a pitcher of water and a glass in case the speaker got a dry throat or a nervous cough. There were also drawings of Bill on the walls and the table made by the children over the years, including a whimsical one Frodo-lad had drawn when he was twelve of his father sitting on Bill and Bill saying, “Oh, my back hurts.” Each hobbit present received a shiny red apple and a sugar cube, Bill’s favorite treats, distributed by Daisy while Bilbo toddled after her holding the basket. This caused Sam to reach for his handkerchief again while Rosie lovingly squeezed his arm.

Merry-lad, who was voted by his siblings to open the occasion since it had been his idea, approached the front of the room and cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlehobbits, on behalf of my brothers and sisters I welcome you to this tribute to Bill the Pony, and we are so glad you could be here...” In his nervousness he wobbled slightly and jarred the table, causing the water-filled glass to tumble onto the carpet. Elanor swiftly appeared with a hand towel to mop it up, the glass was quickly refilled, and a red-faced Merry continued his speech a moment later. “Anyway, um, we thought the best way to begin this tribute would be to recreate the day in Bree when Da and Mr. Frodo and Uncles Merry and Pippin met Bill. The parts of, ah, Frodo, Merry and Pippin will be played by me and my brothers Frodo and Pippin. We didn’t have a Sam so my brother Hamfast will play our Da, and since the next brother in line is too little to learn any lines we had to…” Merry’s voice trailed away as Daisy slipped in through the parlor door and whispered urgently in his ear. Merry groaned and said, “Hamfast needs a little, um, persuasion to come out of his room since he’s a little nervous…talk among yourselves.” He hurried from the room, and the amused adults could hear the anxious voices float down the corridor: “Hammie, come on! You know your lines, you’ll do just fine! Please, it’s only for a few minutes, and it will make Da so happy…”

Five minutes later, a slightly-puffy eyed Hamfast entered the room with an older brother steering him on either side, and the adults clapped. Merry-lad pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and comically wiped his brow, and then said, “And now…The Day That the Fellowship Met Bill.”

He retreated out into the corridor, and after a whispered consultation, Frodo-lad, Merry, Pippin and Hammie shuffled into the room looking very sad. Hammie shuffled a little too much and caught his foot on the rug, nearly knocking Pippin down.

(“I think that did happen,” Pippin the elder whispered to his cousin.

“Except you did the tripping,” Merry whispered back.)

Merry-lad sighed loudly and said, “Now all our ponies are gone! Those stupid Black Riders must have chased them away. Not to mention my Da is going to be really angry at me when I get home!” (Merry chuckled.)

“And I can’t believe there is not a single pony for sale in this whole town,” Frodo-lad declared.

“Are we going to have to walk all the time now?” Pippin-lad whined.

(“I didn’t talk like that!” Adult Pippin said in mock protest. Both Sam and Merry looked at him incredulously.)

Merry-lad cupped a hand to his ear as if listening to someone speak, and then he said excitedly, “Wait, a man named Bill Ferny has a pony for sale! Maybe he will sell it to us!”

“I hope I have enough money,” Frodo said.

Primrose, her hair pulled back tightly and wearing one of her big brother's frock coats, trooped in through the sitting room door, an angry scowl on her face and her lip sticking out far enough to serve as a shelf. In a deepened voice she proclaimed, “I’m Bill Ferny, and I don’t like you but you can look at my pony! I want lots of money for him!”

“Oh, lor’,” Sam managed as he desperately tried to restrain his laughter at the sight of his sweet little daughter trying to portray the hideous Bill Ferny. The other adults were doing the same.

A moment later, Daisy walked in dragging Bilbo’s toy wooden horse head on a stick, the torn red bridle dragging the floor.

That did it. Merry and Pippin and Sam all burst out laughing while their wives shook their heads, disapproving of their husbands’ levity.

“That’s exactly what Bill looked like, too!” Pippin choked. “I still remember the look on Frodo’s face.”

The children spoke loudly to override the adults’ laughter. Frodo-lad said, “I paid good money for that? I don’t think he’ll last outside the gates of Bree.”

They all looked at Hamfast then, who blushed deeply and swallowed hard. He stepped forward and placed a hesitant hand on the toy horse’s nose. “N-no, M-Mr. Frodo. I think there is good stuff in this pony. I can take good care of him. I think I will name him Bill.” He pretended to feed the “pony” an apple, and talked to it as he had heard his father talking to Bill. “We shall be good friends,” he said in his soft lilting voice. “Won’t we, Bill?” He stroked the horse’s head and kissed it on the nose.
There was no laughter now. A single tear trickled down Sam’s cheek.

Frodo-lad cleared his throat. “Well, we’ve spent enough time in this town, we need to be going. Come along, Merry, Pippin and Sam.” They all trailed out of the room, Hammie bringing up the rear and dragging “Bill” while “Bill Ferny” followed after them calling out mildly nasty things. Hammie reached into his pocket and gently lobbed an apple at his sister, who caught it, giggling, and took a big bite of it as she followed her siblings out of the room. So all the adults laughed again as the first part of the tribute concluded.

Merry-lad reappeared a moment later. “The next tribute will be a joint recitation by Elanor and Rosie-lass Gamgee, titled ‘A Pony Named Bill.’”