Nothing of Note
28: Good, Bad and Smiling
The following day was as varied as the spring weather. Bilbo's
cough worsened, but his energy began to come back. Daisy Gamgee had
quietly come and gone in the early evening, leaving a hot supper and
breakfast fixings as well as a batch of tiny iced cakes for a
treat. He'd left a note for Daisy requesting that she let the
Gaffer know Bilbo wanted to speak with him so he was ready when there
were some muffled thumps and a polite tap at the front door to herald
his gardener. He coughed quietly a couple times, hoping to get it
over with until after the Gaffer had gone. Once his throat felt ready
to speak, he opened the door.
"Mr. Gamgee! So good of you to come so promptly."
Hamfast seemed almost apologetic to be standing at Bilbo's door and had
a hefty box at his feet. "Daisy said you'd left a note asking for me,
Mr. Baggins? Also, I've brought your books."
"Indeed I did." Bilbo knew the Gaffer was more comfortable outside than
in Bag End, so he picked up a package he had ready on the sidetable and
stepped out into the morning himself. "I have something for you too."
"For the garden, sir?"
"Well, in a way. But also for you. Personally." Bilbo passed the
package into his neighbor's hands. "If you recall, I mentioned in my
letter that I had met Mr. Ponto Baggins in Little Delving. Before I
left his good company, he gave me a lovely batch of sweet onion sets. I
would like half of them in the garden for Bag End, but I would like the
other half to go to your own garden. Would you see to it for me?"
The Gaffer paused, then smiled so that his wrinkles all deepened most
cheerfully. "I would be honored to. Thank you, Mr. Baggins. I'm sure
the Mrs. and children will be most happy to know of it."
"And I'm gratified to hear that it will cheer them." He coughed
slightly, then handed a paper packet over. "Now, I've also these most
excellent columbine seeds for my flowerbeds. I'd like them sown where
you think they will grow best as long as I can see them from the
windows. When they go to seed later this year, I would like you to keep
some of the seeds for Daisy, if she would like them. Please let her
know she is welcome to cut flowers from my gardens for your family's
table as well. She's been a great help."
"Yessir. Thank you sir."
"Now about these books..." He knelt down and tried to pick up the box.
"Ooof. You didn't carry this up here yourself, did you?" The mild
effort started him coughing, but he managed with effort to quell it.
"No sir. My older lad helped me, he's just run quick-like back home to
beat his sisters to the pancakes." The Gaffer grinned at him. "I don't
think my old joints would have done near as well."
Bilbo smiled back, then with the Gaffer's help hefted the box over the threshold.
"Now I'll let you return to your work. Thank you for coming by so
promptly! I should like to sit down with you and go over our garden
plans for this year, perhaps in a day or two? Also, you'll need to be
thinking on who shall be replacing you for a fortnight so you can take
some time off once the planting is done."
"Yessir. Thank you sir. I'll be thinking on it."
"Good day to you then."
The Gaffer touched his cap politely and slowly headed down the steps.
Bilbo slipped back inside, nudged the box across the floor until the
door could shut and rubbed his arms to try to warm up. The morning was
still a bit nippy and he hadn't thought to slip into a coat before
going out. This time of year it was always hard to tell when to start a
fire, it was so chilly in the morning but so warm later on.
He started a small fire in his study, then went to heat up some tea. It
was annoying having to stop and cough so often, but the steamy tea
helped. He added several of the tiny cakes to his tea tray and settled
down on the floor-rug of his study to sort through his newly-returned
He was lost deep in a chapter about the history of the Shire calendar
and holidays when the front bell jangled. There were times he
really wished he had someone else living there, if only to be able to
ask them to answer the door for a change. He sighed and set
aside his book with an edge of the rug folded into it to hold his
place. Brushing away cake crumbs, he coughed a couple times to
clear his throat and went to the door.
He regretted it as soon as it began to open and the unmistakable sound
of Lobelia was heard on the other side. He briefly considered
slamming it back shut and hang the consequences, but his general sense
of ingrained politeness got the better of him and it opened the rest of
"Bilbo Baggins! You look worse than ever."
"And good day to you also, Lobelia. What brings you to my doorstep today, if I might inquire?"
"To cheer you up, of course. I won't let it be said in the Shire that
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins doesn't do right by her relations. Did you
take that dose I left you? And aren't you going to invite me in or do
you expect me to just stand out here all day?"
Bilbo grimaced slightly. No doubt she would have it said in the Shire
if he left her out. "Do come in," he stepped aside as she swept past
him. "And yes, I've finished off every drop of your medicine."
That is the bottle is empty, he continued silently.
"Did you?" She looked at him sharply. "Can't see that it helped. You
are the very picture of sickness and misery, I'd say. Must be a serious
case. Here, I've brought some flowers for your sick room, and a
candle and I want my bottle back." She put a small handful of
loose blooms on the side table.
"Of course!" said Bilbo, retrieving the bottle from the shelf in the
entry. He had known this was coming, so it was rinsed and ready. He
gave it into her outstretched hand. She weighed it, then opened it and
"Well, seeing as it went over so well I'll be sure to bring you some more tomorrow. You look terrible, like death warmed over."
Bilbo tried to stifle a cough, but it came out anyway. It led to
another and to his great frustration at the ill timing of it, he was
red in the face and his eyes were watering by the time the coughs
finally stopped. Lobelia was looking slightly triumphant.
"You see? It really is too bad, at your age to be catching such an
illness. The candle has oils in it that will help clear the sickness
from your sick room, so be sure you burn it tonight. I've been
around a few seasons myself, you know, and I can tell when a hobbit is
at death's door and needs a little help."
She reached into her apron pocket and withdrew a small yellowish
candle. She set it next to the drooping flowers. "Well, aren't you
going to even thank me? Here I go to all this trouble..."
"Thank you, Lobelia. Now, good day to you." Bilbo gestured to the
still-open door and smiled a tight smile at her. She sniffed, and
turned to go.
"I'll bring you more medicine tomorrow. It's so sad to see you deteriorating so quickly."
"Yes, thank you. I do the best I can."
She looked at him oddly, but all he did was give a small bow and shut the door.
He took a deep breath of relief and regretted it when it made him cough
again. He turned and muffled it in one of his coats. No reason to give
her the satisfaction of hearing him cough again. Once was more than
enough. Leaving the flowers and candle for later disposal, he went back
to his study. It took some time to settle back into his books,
the contentment had been so completely shattered by her visit. This was
also annoying because he suspected that was exactly what she would have
wanted. He took up the poker and beat it on the burning logs, watching
the sparks fly up in showers. It helped slightly.
In the afternoon his bell rang again. Had she decided to come back so
soon? No, she had been very emphatic about 'tomorrow.' It must be
someone else. He closed his book, stretched, coughed a little and
shuffled to the door to answer it.
Daisy Gamgee stood on the step with her young brother, Samwise. She
lowered her eyes and curtsied politely. "I'm sorry to disturb you,
sir, but I'll be away later this day and wanted to be sure your supper
would be waiting for you on time. Sam wanted to come along, to cheer
you if you would like..." she apparently thought this wasn't the best
of ideas, as an older sister badgered into bringing along a young
sibling might but Bilbo smiled warmly at them both.
"Come in! Come in, it's no bother at all. I was just looking through
some books. Go right ahead." Daisy stepped in with her basket, but Sam
hesitated on the step. "Yes, you too young Samwise! Come in. It'll do
me good to have your cheerfulness alongside while your sister works.
What is it you have there?"
Sam shyly extended a flat brown square to him. "It's a book, sir.
I made it m'self, jus' for you, 'cause..." he looked at his toes.
Bilbo took it from hand and examined it. It was a child's homemade
effort, with what appeared to be two thin wood shingles for the
cover. A few sheets of light brown wrapping paper from some
market purchase had been neatly trimmed into rectangles and laced
in-between the covers to form a book.
"Because...?" prompted Bilbo.
"'Cause you're sick, and you like books and you're always nice."
"Then I shall treasure it always. Tell me, what is this?" He indicated the scrawl of charcoal on the front page of the book.
Sam blushed terribly. "I wanted it to say 'To Mr. Baggins, get well.' But...it didn't come out very good."
Bilbo considered it. "Hm. I see what you mean. Well then. I suppose
what we need to do is help you learn a few letters, shall we?"
Sam looked up at him with eyes bright with hope. "Really sir? Would you really teach me some letters?"
"Yes. Really." Bilbo laughed, even though it made him cough. "I will.
And not just some, we'll have to teach you all of them so you can
really write and spell and best of all, read. But I warn you, it can be
hard to do. It can take a long time. You may have to study them even
when you don't want to. Someday you may even have to read things you
would rather not have ever read, or go places you would rather not go.
Stories can take you to all kinds of places."
Sam looked at him with a resoluteness that seemed almost out of place
on such a young face. "I can do it. Even if it takes a long time. And I
won't be scared of any story neither."
"I believe you. Let's start with three letters today. Three very important letters. S, A and M. Come with me now..."
The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly and quickly. Sam was slow
to grasp the concepts of lettering, but eager to trace out the letters
that made his name, even if the sounds that went with them didn't make
sense to him yet. Once he had traced them well enough with
charcoal on bark, Bilbo helped him to trace the letters onto a small
bit of parchment for him to take home. His face glowed as he ran to the
kitchen to show Daisy his name. Bilbo heard her exclaim over it and
Sam's chatter of excitement.
Sam reappeared in the study doorway. "Thank you, sir! Thank you. When should I come back? For more letters, I mean?"
"Tomorrow, Sam. Come tomorrow if you're not needed to help at home. I'm
not doing much else right now so we might as well do a bit more before
the planting kicks in."
"Yessir! Thank you, sir!" He ran back toward the kitchen where Bilbo could hear Daisy's voice calling.
"We'll be heading home now, sir. Your supper will be ready in a trice,
all you need to do is give it a stir. And...oh dear, look at these poor
flowers. Sam, could you fetch me that little vase on the table there?
Put a dipper of water in it first. Thank you.... Good evening, Mr.
Baggins! Rest well."
"Good evening, Miss Gamgee and young Master Gamgee. Thank you again for
your help." Bilbo called back from the study doorway. He heard the
front door open and softly close, their voices fading away.
Bilbo went to the kitchen where he found a large, fragrant meat pudding
that as Daisy had said, only needed a little stir to keep it from being
too hot on the inside. A small loaf of bread sat warming on the stove
along with a bowl of hot peaches with spice. After enjoying his fill,
he was headed back to the study when he was distracted by Lobelia's
candle still sitting on the side table. He picked it up as he would a
dead fish and carried it out the back door. Looking around for
inspiration, he noticed the Gaffer's shovel. He quickly dug a
hole just off the edge of the garden and dropped the candle in, burying
it, then put the shovel back as it was.
He went back in, heated a good steaming bath and followed it with a
good cup of herbal tea. As he readied himself to retire for the night
he looked at his mirror and realized he was alternately frowning and
smiling as he considered the events of the day. He decided he would end
on a smile. He went to his study and retrieved the little
shingle-book. Propping it up by his bedside, he made himself think of
good things, like young Sam's eagerness to learn. It was good. It made
him smile as he blew out his lamp.