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Frodo smiled wanly at Bilbo as he trudged through the doorway into the smial, his shoulders slumped, followed by Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda. Always in the past, he had been eager to visit Bilbo, but that was when his parents had still been alive. To come here without them—it just hurt too much.
With a sympathetic smile, Bilbo hugged him, and then greeted Sara and Esmeralda. “I’m so glad you’ve come to spend Yule with me,” he told them, as he escorted them to the sitting room. “This is a hard thing for Frodo, spending his first Yule without his parents.”
“It certainly is.” Esmeralda sighed, as she removed her cloak and hood. Saradoc and Frodo took off their cloaks and hats. For a moment, Frodo rubbed his index finger over his hat, intense pain welling up in his heart. If only his parents could have come along!
Bilbo looked at the clock and picked up two large, light-brown wicker baskets, one of which was filled to overflowing with packages. “Well, I need to go down the hill and take some Yule gifts to my tenants.” He turned to his young cousin. “Frodo, why don’t you come with me? Hamfast and Bell Gamgee had a baby last spring. I’m sure you would like to meet him.”
Frodo smiled wanly. “I think I’d like that.”
“Very well.” Bilbo turned to Saradoc and Esmeralda. “Do you object if he goes with me?”
Saradoc and Esmeralda exchanged glances. “Not at all. Run along, Frodo.” Sara gestured toward the door.
After putting on their cloaks and hats, Bilbo and Frodo left the smial and strode down Bagshot Row; at Bilbo’s urging, Frodo took the empty basket. The air felt frigid, but fortunately, there was no wind. Stars studded the velvety-black sky. “We’ll stop at the Gamgees’ first,” Bilbo told his cousin. Frodo nodded, and Bilbo wrapped an arm around the lad’s shoulder.
Minutes later, Bilbo knocked on the Gamgees’ round orange door. As it creaked open, Hamfast stepped outside, dressed in his homespun brown shirt and grey weskit. A smile creased his face at the sight of his employer. “Good evening, Mr. Bilbo! Master Frodo! Come in.”
“Hullo, Master Hamfast!” Bilbo smiled.
Frodo entered the Gamgee smial, followed by Bilbo. They found Bell in a rocking chair, rocking the baby, and the other four Gamgee children gathered in the living room. Despite the misery in his heart, Frodo smiled at the sight of the baby.
“Oh, what a splendid baby, Mistress Bell!” he said.
“Thank’ee. His name is Samwise,” Bell said, smiling back. “He’s just been suckled and burped, and he has a clean nappy, so he’s all right. Would you like to hold him, Master Frodo?”
Glancing at Bilbo, who smiled and nodded, Frodo smiled again. “I’d love to. First, though, Bilbo and I should like to give you your Yule gifts.” Setting the baskets on the table and reaching into the basket that contained the Yule gifts, he removed several packages under Bilbo’s direction and laid them on the table.
Since the Gamgees were unlettered, there were no name labels on any of the gifts. Fortunately, Bilbo was able to determine from their sizes and shapes which present went to whom; he had made sure to lay their presents at the top when he had packed the basket. At Bilbo’s direction, Hamfast opened a large package that was wrapped in waxed cloth, and it turned out to be a hock of ham. Daisy unwrapped a fairly large package and found that it was filled with candy for her and her siblings to share.
“Thank’ee, Mr. Bilbo!” she said, her eyes shining.
“And thank’ee for the ham,” Ham said gratefully.
Bilbo and Frodo began to take turns handing out the rest of the packages to the various family members, who immediately opened them (whenever it was Frodo’s turn, Bilbo told him which present to give to which Gamgee, since none of them were labelled). To Hamfast, Bilbo gave a clay pipe and a package of pipeweed. To Bell, he gave a skein of yarn and a yard of finely-woven Northfarthing wool. To the older lads, Frodo gave a pocketknife Bilbo had purchased in Bywater. To each girl, Bilbo gave a hair ribbon; to May, he also gave a rag doll. And to Sam, Frodo gave a stuffed rabbit which Bilbo had bought from the tailor’s wife in Hobbiton, who made them to sell for her pin money, as well as a teething ring that had been carved out of oak.
“Thank’ee, Mr. Bilbo,” each of the older children said; on Sam’s behalf, Bell thanked him for the stuffed rabbit and the teething ring. It gave Frodo a good feeling to know that the Gamgees would enjoy Bilbo’s gifts. He regretted that he didn’t have his own presents to give them as well.
When the final gift had been handed out, Hamfast and Belle handed Bilbo their own gifts for him. Belle gave him and Frodo a loaf of her homemade bread and a jar of homemade wild-berry jam, and Hamfast gave them a wicker basket of carrots that he had grown in his own garden.
“Thank you, Master Hamfast,” Bilbo said, his eyes shining. “Frodo and I will enjoy every bite of these gifts.”
“We sure will,” Frodo said. “Thank you.”
Bilbo laid their own gifts in the second basket that they had brought. At that moment, Frodo took baby Samwise from Bell. Sam started cooing, and Frodo spoke softly to him. “Hullo, Sam,” he said. “I’m Frodo Baggins.” Sam waved his tiny fist toward Frodo’s face, and the young hobbit laughed. Frodo kissed the baby’s soft scalp and then handed him back to Bell, his eyes shining.
“Thank you for letting me hold your baby, Mistress Bell,” he told her.
She smiled. “You’re welcome, young master. You’re welcome to come back to our smial to visit Sam again.”
Frodo exchanged a glance with Bilbo, who smiled and nodded. “I’d like that very much. Thank you,” he said. Silently, he added, I hope little Sam and his brothers and sisters never lose their parents, as I have.
“We must go now,” Bilbo said. “We have more stops to make before we return home.” Frodo nodded, and raised his hand to say good-bye.
“Bye, Mr. Bilbo. Bye, Master Frodo,” Ham said. Bilbo and Frodo left the Gamgee smial and trotted down Bagshot Row toward the Twofoot smial, with the basket dangling from Frodo’s hand once more and a lighter heart beating in his chest. With his shoulders held back and a smile on his face, Frodo glanced up at the star-studded sky. He looked forward to seeing baby Sam again!
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