Nothing of Note

by Primula

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 books.

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 the way.

"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 sniffed.

"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.' 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.