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Written for the occasion of Marigold's birthday, this tale stretched and stretched well beyond the day itself. The last bit was written in the wee hours of a very hot day in the middle of a heat wave, and might not be completely coherent, but all's well that ends well, or so we say around here.
Thanks for dropping by. Comments are always welcome.
Bloom of Sunshine, Bloom of Gold
Tears poured down Marigold’s cheeks, but even as she suppressed her sobs, she lifted her apron, looking for a clean bit, until she was finally able to wipe away the aggravating moisture with the barest corner. Really! There was no call to be weeping like the littlest maid pursuing lost sheep. She’d only lost the family’s prize nanny, after all, for the maddening goat had chewed through the rope when she’d taken the beast out to graze the meadows below Bag End. She would have to fall asleep, under the warm sunshine, to the tinkling of Nan’s bell, only to waken later to birdsong, and sun lowering in the sky, and no bell... and no nanny goat, heavy with young, ready to pop any day now, to Hamfast’s great anticipation.
She had cast in ever-widening circles, calling and seeking, finally finding Nan on the rocky slope leading to the Old Orchard. She’d climbed – too bad the path down the steep and rock-strewn hillside from Bag End’s orchard was some way to the side. It was hard enough, going up or down by the straggling path. Most hobbits chose to go the long way round, by the road that ran from Hobbiton up the Hill, passing the Row on its way to Overhill. Nan’s bell had tinkled an invitation as the goat pulled yet another mouthful from the wildflowers growing over and among the rocks, and Mari had tucked up her skirts and resolutely climbed, though the thought of it, if she let herself think of it, would have made her head swim.
And all the while, Nan grazed greedily, her brush of a tail sweeping back and forth in her pleasure.
At least it wasn’t wash day, and she hadn’t found the laden clothesline this time, either the Gamgees' or any of the neighbours’. Why, once Nan had eaten Mr. Bilbo’s second-best waistcoat, shiny brass buttons and all! (And a good thing it wasn’t the best, with its buttons of gold...)
Marigold had grabbed at the trailing rope, Nan lunging away in a last-minute snatch at some bright blooms, and a rock had turned under Mari’s foot, and all in the same instant of time.
So now she sat, her ankle throbbing, watching Nan disappearing over the lip of the hillside into the Old Orchard, ignoring her tearful calls. Augh!
Her only comfort was that Sam was mowing the grass in the orchard. He’d see the goat and give chase, and unless Mari saw Nan descend the rock-strewn slope once more, she could trust that her brother would capture Nan and bring her home safe.
Which was more than you could say for Marigold.
Marigold touched her ankle with a careful fingertip. Ouch! Tender to the touch, and beginning to swell. Fresh tears welled in her eyes, and these were not all tears of pain, but disappointment and frustration.
Here she was, ankle broken or strained at the very least, at the bottom of the rocky hill, rather than where she was supposed to be, and on this special day of all days! O, she'd ruin the day, she would, with her carelessness! And how disappointed they'd all be. Some part of her wanted to cry that it wasn't fair, but she knew perfectly well that the fault was all her own.
Still, it would do her no good to lie here at the bottom of the Hill while all her family were in preparations at the top. She drew a deep breath and shouted. 'Sam! Samwise!'
With a stirring of hope she heard an answering call, her brother's voice, but no, Sam was calling to Nan, and worse, his voice rapidly receded into silence.
'Sam!' she screamed at the top of her lungs, deflating in despair when no answer came on the wind. Evidently the goat had surmounted the lip of the slope and kept on going, with Samwise in hot pursuit. Who knew when he'd return? Perhaps he'd be sent down the Hill to the meadows to seek her, and of course he wouldn't find her. How would they know where to look?
She thought she'd crawl up the slope. Yes, that's what she'd do. She'd crawl over to the twisting path, and make her way on hands and knees if she had to, up the steep and rocky way and into the Old Orchard. It wouldn't be far from there to Bag End, where Mr. Frodo was likely sitting and reading. She could call for help, and he'd hear through the window. Or if she could just get to the Row, she could hobble along, steadying herself against the wall. Yes, no need to bother Mr. Frodo any. She could take care of herself.
...but any movement sent agony lancing through the injured ankle. Marigold had as much courage as any hobbit, but the pain... she could not, simply could not imagine dragging herself up that slope and across the orchard, not with that unrelenting pain! It was only bearable when she gave up the effort and sat quite still.
She bowed her head, weeping again, her tangled locks falling over her face, shielding her eyes from the glaring sun, glowering in the western sky, reminding her that it would soon be time for her family to gather in celebration, and she'd spoil it all by not being there.
She didn't know how long she sat there, lost in sorrow, but it was long enough for her face to be wet, likely blotchy though there was no looking glass at hand, and her nose clogged with the results of her tears, when a cheery voice spoke close at hand. 'Hullo! What have we here?'
She gulped, wiping hastily at her face, pulling her hair back, but at seeing young Master Brandybuck before her, his good-natured face creased with concern, she exclaimed, 'Oh!' and turned her head, trying to hide, and rose as if to flee, forgetting momentarily the cause of her predicament.
Her ankle had not forgotten, however, and it folded under her, throwing her from her feet with an agonised gasp. But strong arms caught her, and eased her to the ground, while Master Merry said, 'Steady now!' and other such practical things. He was quite practical, for a gentlehobbit, or so Hamfast maintained, and of course Mari's father should know: He was an expert on many things and not just the growing of taters, after all.
'What seems to be the trouble?' Merry said now, in her ear, for she'd buried her face in her hands in her mortification. 'Hmmm,' he went on, adding politely, 'If I may...?'
And then time seemed to stand still, for he said nothing more, and she sat quite without moving, and so did he, evidently, for she didn't hear him move, and then, hands still over her face and her hair fallen over her fingers, she nodded, and time resumed its flow.
She felt gentle fingers moving over her foot, and she bit her lip, tensing in anticipation. But the most painful part was not probed, though she heard a low whistle from the young gentlehobbit. 'Nasty,' he said under his breath, and then louder and more cheerful, 'Well now, I see what the trouble is. You've turned your ankle, it seems.'
She nodded, still hiding behind hands and hair, completely mortified to be found in this dirty, dishevelled and distressing state, and by Master Merry, of all people, who'd always had a cheerful word and a smile for her whenever he'd been visiting at Bag End.
'Well now,' he said, 'I believe I'm owing you a word of thanks.'
Thanks! Mari thought, and peeped at him from between her fingers in her startlement. He was looking at her rather anxiously, and at her peeping a hopeful smile lit his face. 'Thanks!' he said with a vigorous nod. 'After all, it's not every day I'm able to help a damsel in distress.'
Mari knew this expression, from the stories old Mr. Bilbo used to tell the little Gamgees before he went away. She swallowed hard. She was hardly a damsel. Indeed, she felt more like the cinder girl with her dirty face and filthy feet. But Master Merry was speaking once more.
'If I may...?' and he was extending his hands towards her, as if to help her to her feet. Help her he did, but when she tried to hobble along with his aid, her bad ankle crumpled under her, throwing her against him.
'Oh!' she exclaimed in distress, but it was not for herself as she ineffectually tried to brush the dust from his jacket. 'I'm that sorry, I am, Master Mer--'
'No harm done, lass,' he said kindly, sounding twice his twenty years. 'But I think we cannot go on in this way. If I may...?' And this time at her nod he put one arm around her shoulder and the other under her seat, hefting her into the air, making her gasp at his boldness. 'Beg pardon,' he grunted, for good measure.
Very polite young fellow, as Hamfast was so fond of observing.
Was that a twinkle in his eye? But Mari's face was burning, to be held in so familiar a manner, and by a gentlehobbit at that!
'We'll - just - take - the - quick - way - up,' he said, his effort putting space between his words. She was only a year younger, after all, and nearly of his size. 'No need to go the long way round, by the road.'
...for which Marigold was eminently grateful. She could just imagine the gossip, if anyone were to see him carrying her this way, much as a bride was borne over the threshold by her blushing husband after the wedding dance concluded.
'No need,' she whispered, part of her hoping that this would all be over quite sooner than later, and part of her enjoying the sensation of his tweedy jacket against her cheek, his strong arms surrounding her, his breath on her forehead as he gasped reassurances.
Partway up the slope, however, Merry stumbled on the treacherous ground. Marigold’s hands clutched at him tightly, and she couldn’t suppress a yelp as they fell – yet somehow the young gentlehobbit twisted his body so that he landed next to her, instead of on top of her. Breathless, their words tumbled out, mingling together.
I’m that sorry...!
Beg pardon, miss, I...
Marigold tried to steady her breathing, and releasing her death-hold on him, she sat up a little, wincing at the pain in her ankle, but putting on a brave face. She tried to pull her arm out from under him, but he lay still, stunned perhaps, the breath knocked out of him, and in any event, his weight pinned her arm to the ground. But she could scarcely be annoyed with him. Indeed, her concern for herself, her worry about what people might say, faded quickly in her concern for him. ‘Is it well with you, young master?’
‘Please,’ he gasped, his face pale despite the rosy flush of sunset. ‘Don’t call me that! Makes me feel ever so stiff and proper.’
Stiff and proper would be... the proper thing to be, she thought privately. It was ever so improper to be lying here with him, tucked as snug together as peas in a pod... or married hobbits abed... She blushed at the thought, but resisted pushing him away. He was hurt, after all, or so she divined from the drops of sweat on his paling brow and the way his mouth twisted before he forced it straight. It was not just the results of the effort he’d made to carry her, she thought. This is a pickle, and no mistake. Aloud, she said, ‘But you’ve gone and hurt yourself, I think.’
‘All’s well,’ he said gallantly, pushing himself to sit up, but her mouth tightened at the lie, even as she pulled her arm free and put a handspan of space between them. He gulped a little at her stern expression.
‘Beg pardon,’ he said again.
‘You’ll have it,’ she said, sitting herself a little straighter, the better to stare him down. ‘But only if you’re truthful. I cannot abide a falsehood, nor a false hobbit, neither.’
‘Just like all the Gamgees,’ Merry said, and to her surprise she saw a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. ‘As true as a tree reaching for the sun, I’ve heard it said.’
She blushed a little and ducked her head at this unexpected praise, for she’d truly not been fishing for a compliment. But he interrupted her thoughts.
‘Well, now,’ he said, ‘this is a fine fix we’re in, for certain. I seem to have twisted my knee... I’m not sure I could carry you the rest of the way.’
‘Leave me, then,’ she said. ‘You can go and knock on our door and send one of my brothers for me.’
‘Leave you!’ he said, sitting a little straighter himself, and leaving off the rubbing of the injured knee. ‘That would hardly be proper!’
‘It’s not as if there are goblins or maiden-devouring dragons about...’ she began, but he shook his head decisively.
‘Foxes,’ he said, ‘stray dogs, or even a stray Man...’
She remembered that folk in Buckland were said to be more careful, more suspicious than the usual hobbit, even to having locks on their doors! It was no wonder that the Bucklander borrowed troubles and invented worries to gnaw upon.
‘Really,’ she said. ‘I’ll be fine.’ She looked at her ankle and swallowed hard. ‘I could even crawl up the hill if I had to,’ she added bravely. ‘That is, if you’re needing me to fetch help...’
The moment the words were out of her mouth she clapped her hand over her lips, blushing furiously, but of course it was too late. She would speak her mind without thinking! It was something her mum chided her for, and here she had gone and done it right to a gentlehobbit’s face!
Any of her brothers would have scoffed at the idea of a lass going for help, as if the brother were a helpless babe.
The Brandybuck, however, simply stared in astonishment for a brief moment before throwing his head back with a peal of laughter as merry as his name.
It was Marigold’s turn to blink in astonishment, but the gentlehobbit quickly got hold of himself again, pulling out his pocket-handkerchief to wipe his face, now flushed with merriment. ‘Oh—,’ he gasped, ‘Oh, my—.’ Seeing her puzzlement, he added, still chuckling, ‘I really ought to send you off to Bag End on my account! I wish I could see Frodo’s face!’
She essayed a tentative smile, and he added, ‘That’s better.’ He picked a bright flower that lay between them, slightly crushed by their passing, and tucked the golden snippet behind her ear with a flourish. ‘You have a very nice smile,’ he informed her.
Marigold wasn’t sure how proper all this was, but in the next moment he was twisting his pocket handkerchief into a rope—a very short rope, one might say, even for an over-large handkerchief, but the twisting might have done her Uncle Andy the Roper proud, though it likely did the hanky no good—and in the next breath he’d taken her injured limb in his hand and was applying hankie to ankle.
‘What in the world?’ Marigold said. When she bent her head to peer more closely at his work, the flower threatened to slip, and so she tucked it back in place without thinking much about it. He’d slipped the cloth under the sole of her foot, brought it up and crossed it, and seemed, oddly enough, to be tying her ankle up in the process. She’d never seen the like.
‘We’ve got to give it some support,’ he said, not looking up, ‘if you’re to get yourself up the hill.’
What! she thought. Was he really going to send her off, let a lass do the rescuing? She didn’t want to think ill of him, but...
However, soon the final knot was tied, and with some difficulty it must be noted, though the gentlehobbit was patient and clever with his fingers. And then Merry, with another “Beg pardon, Miss” was levering himself to his feet, using her shoulder as a brace.
‘There now,’ he said. ‘We’ll just have you up on your feet, er, foot...’ and he tugged gently at her, and taking the hint, she somehow managed to get up onto her uninjured foot without more than a twinge, thanks to the helping hanky.
‘Have you ever watched the lads at a three-legged race?’ he said then, and brightening with understanding, she nodded.
‘Well, then,’ he said. ‘We have three good legs between us—,’ and then he blushed a little, for he was well-brought-up, you know, and so he cleared his throat and stammered something about “limbs”.
‘Three good legs,’ Marigold said in firm agreement, clutching at his arm for balance. She knew the proper term for feminine appendages was “limbs” and not “legs” but she was hardly going to stand on her dignity when she could scarcely stand at all! ‘How clever, Master Merry! I do believe...’
He rolled his eyes at the “Master” but said only, ‘Merry and Mari—we merry hobbits must stick together, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Ah, yes,’ she answered primly, clutching a little harder to attempt a small hop. ‘I do believe that it’ll work... Merry.’ The last word was added a little shyly, for it was not at all proper, but she enjoyed her reward in the brightening of his countenance.
‘Well then, right-ho!’ he said. ‘Let us get to it,’ and he leaned heavily on her shoulder just long enough for a hop of his own.
‘Hop to it!’ Marigold said, and giggled. She hardly noticed her ankle this time, as she hopped a little further up the hill.
‘If it’s good enough for rabbits...’ Merry said with a hop of his own.
‘It’s good enough for merries!’ Marigold said, blending her name and his together into a whole that made her giggle again.
‘The more the merrier!’ he agreed, and really, it is amazing that they didn’t collapse in a heap again from laughing.
Bag End was the place to stop, obviously, but when Merry pushed open the green door with a loud and hearty hail, only silence greeted him. And so he sucked in a great breath, rather like a bellows, and shouted with all that was in him (for he did not feel up to hobbling down the long hall to the study, if Frodo, immersed in some book or another, had forgotten all about supper).
But no answer came, aside from the furious barking of a dog some way down the Hill in response to Merry’s noise.
‘Well,’ he said, rubbing at the side of his nose. ‘Nobody at home, or so it seems.’
‘Number Three is not so far, now,’ Marigold ventured, and of course it was the truth. She’d rather face her father’s scolding than importune Mr. Frodo, anyhow. ‘If you’d like to stop here, Mis--, er, Merry, I’ll just make my way along...’
‘Not at all!’ Merry said stoutly. ‘Why, I’m as likely to fall over as any old stick, should you lean me against the wall and leave me! I’ll see you safe home, Miss Mari, and don’t you go being contrary now when we’ve got on so well up to now.’
Marigold blushed a little at this reminder of the nursery song. The town lads sometimes had plagued her, when she was younger, by reciting How does your garden grow? when she passed by. But one day when her father heard the taunt as they were returning from the market, he’d stopped and swung around suddenly, piercing the idlers with a sharp glance. Marigold had nearly died of mortification, right there, imagining that her father would give them the rough side of his tongue, stinging them to greater insults when she should return later on some errand.
But no, the gardener had drawn himself up and laughed instead, and answered, “Very well, indeed! Very well! You won’t find none of them cockleshells in the beds up Bagshot Row, you won’t! But pretty maids a-plenty!” And he chucked his astonished youngest daughter under the chin and said, ‘Come along, Mari-me-gold, these fine strawberry slips won’t plant themselves!’
And for some reason the rhyme never bothered her ever after. Though this was the first she’d heard of it from Master Merry... Still, his smile was so kind, she didn’t think to take offence. Instead she ducked her head and said, ‘I wouldn’t be contrary, not a bit of it.’
‘Bless you, lass,’ Merry said. ‘Then you’ll let me walk you home, I take it.’
She caught her breath a little at this, but of course he meant nothing by it. She was a gardener’s daughter, after all, and he was the heir to Buckland. ‘Of course,’ she said, very deliberately leaving off the “young master” since it distressed him. And it was more like walking out, somehow, and it did no harm to make believe, now did it?
He put his arm about her shoulders once more, and she put hers boldly—so boldly!—around his waist, and they hobbled along until they came to Number Three as bold as anything, even though her insides were a little a-tremble as they approached the door.
But the door was ajar, and she pushed it a little further, and called, and no one answered!
‘Well,’ Merry said, after she had raised her voice and called, and he’d added his own voice for good measure, and still no reply. ‘Perhaps they’ve all gone off to supper, down to your cousins the Cottons?’
‘They wouldn’t have,’ Marigold said, but the tears came unbidden to her eyes. ‘Not on such a day!’
Merry looked at the sky, but there was no thunder threatening, not in the air at least. Indeed, the evening was fine, the sky fading into deep blue and the first star peeping shyly. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we need to get that foot of yours up, before it swells into a—a pudding!’
He nodded, well satisfied, to see a smile break through the building clouds in Marigold’s countenance at his absurdity. ‘Come along!’
They hobbled into Number Three, into the entry, turning into the shadowy parlour, where the lamp had not yet been lit. Marigold caught her breath to see the table spread with the best cloth, and set with her great-grand-mum’s delicate tea cups and plates, though the pot sat cold and empty and the serving platters waited gleaming.
As for Merry, he was more concerned with settling Marigold in a well-stuffed chair and drawing up a footstool for the injured foot, to notice his surroundings, and then he busied himself undoing the handkerchief-binding, and he cluck-clucked over the swelling just as any old hen of a healer might’ve, and muttered about herbs and poultices in a way that reminded Marigold of Bilbo.
For some reason this brought her perilously close to tears. The old hobbit had been gone for months, but the low-voiced thoughts spoken aloud sounded so much like Mr. Bilbo, when he’d puttered about the shelves of his study to find something or other, while young Mari waited for her reward, a sweetmeat or some such, for having brought a basket of new-plucked strawberries, or dewy roses, or succulent peas waiting to be released from their pods. She gulped back a sob, and Merry snatched his hands away with a hasty apology. ‘Is it that painful, then? I’m so sorry...!’
‘No, no, it’s fine, really,’ Marigold hastened to assure him, but he straightened up, regaining his feet with a small grimace.
‘A cold, wet cloth, that’s the thing,’ he said. ‘You just stop there, on that chair, and I’ll be back in three shakes of a lamb’s tail.’ And making his way from chair to chair, and then with a couple of hops to reach the wall, he hobbled out of sight before she could gather her wits enough to call him back.
Merry reached the kitchen, calling a tentative greeting to any Gamgees who might be lurking there, but of course there was no one. The well-scrubbed kitchen table made the silence and emptiness of the smial all the more curious, for it groaned with good things to eat: stacks of dainty sandwiches, and plates of biscuits and scones and fruit, and even a grand cake decked with candied heart’s ease, the deep purple petals glistening with sugar. It struck Merry then, that Frodo had said something, as Merry had been going out the door for a ramble down the Hill, about being invited to Number Three for tea “in a grand style, and don’t come late, cousin, and insult their generosity!”
Merry wasn’t sure what the occasion was, for it might even have been to welcome him on his arrival at Bag End, as he’d arrived late the previous evening and no time to be greeting the neighbours. In any event, Bell Gamgee, motherly mum that she was, was always inviting Frodo and any of his cousins who happened to be stopping, to share the generous portions found at her table. She seemed to be of the opinion, before Bilbo left, that the elderly bachelor had no idea of how to feed a tween, and now that Bilbo was gone, she firmly believed that poor, abandoned Mr. Frodo could scarcely keep body and soul together, what with not keeping a proper table, and eating at the desk in his study, and oftentimes going out walking when he ought to be sitting down to a well-filled plate.
And when she wasn’t inviting Mr. Frodo and his young cousins to stop for “a bite of something”, she was leaving great smoking pies and pasties and loaves of bread and the like upon the kitchen table at Bag End.
Merry filled a basin with cool, fresh water from the bucket on the sideboard, and took up some cloths, and made his way back to the parlour, where he wrapped poor Marigold’s puffed-up ankle very gently indeed. But when he lit the lamp, he saw that she was pale, and lay limp against the chair, head leaning back and eyes closed. ‘I ought to fetch a healer,’ he said.
‘N-no,’ she said, lifting her head and opening her eyes. ‘No need.’
‘But you’re...’ he began.
Her eyes flashed then, and she said, much as she might’ve to one of her brothers, ‘I’d like to see that! Hopping down the Hill until you trip on a stone and come rolling to the bottom. And then who will it be, needs a healer?’ This fine sentiment was rather spoilt, however, by the rumble from her middle region.
...answered by a growl from Merry’s, and Marigold’s indignation dissolved into laughter, and Merry laughed right along with her. ‘In complete agreement,’ he said. ‘As it ought to be! How long has it been, since you’ve eaten? I cannot remember my last meal!’
(Which, for a tween, is not saying much. They are eating all the time, or so it seems, and thus distinguishing one meal from another must be altogether difficult.)
‘Nor I,’ Marigold said. She had brought a packet of paper-wrapped food with her to the meadow, but she didn’t remember now if she’d eaten it all, or if she’d fallen asleep only halfway through. The sun had been so warm, the breeze so refreshing, and she’d felt sleepy after the long walk down the Hill and through Hobbiton to the meadows outside of the town.
‘Right!’ Merry said, hobbling out of the room again at his best pace. It wasn’t long before he was back again, laden with a variety of edibles, and hunger and the abundance of good food soon put all other thoughts out of their minds, including wonderings as to where all the inhabitants of Bagshot Row might be.
Bell Gamgee was prostrated with worry and grief, why, she was practically carried up the Hill by her husband and eldest, with a sombre crowd in attendance. More hobbits, of course, were combing the meadows and combes and copses, even looking in the hedgerows for some further trace of the missing tween. It was a grim business. Traces had been found near a sparkling little brook that ran through a grassy meadow, not far from the foot of the Hill. Halfred, seeking his sister on the meadow to fetch her to the feast, had been the one to find Marigold’s shawl, lying in a heap by the waterside.
That was not so alarming in itself. The brook wasn’t deep enough to overwhelm a hobbit, running only ankle-deep. No, but it was the remnants of the food packet nearby, torn to pieces by some ravenous creature and scattered over the grass. Mari would never have thrown the paper on the ground; she was a thrifty lass, and would have folded the paper neatly and brought it home, and if any butter from her bread had soaked into the paper at the very least it might have been used to kindle a fire in the stove.
And the goat had come back home by herself. “Running up over the lip o’ the Hill as though very hounds were after her,” in the words of young Samwise, who’d given chase through the Old Orchard, finally catching the trailing rope and shutting Nan up safe, not long before his older brothers arrived with the Shirriff in tow.
The Shirriff had been sympathetic, standing at the door of Number Three, turning the shawl over in his hands. He’d talked quietly, hopefully even, with Hamfast, but May, standing behind her father, had cried out in so loud a lamentation that Mr. Frodo heard it through the open windows of the study of Bag End and came to investigate, and Bell had come from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a cloth, which she dropped when she saw the shawl, and the hovering hobbits’ expressions.
And then there was nothing for it but everyone had to go down the Hill to the meadow to see for themselves, and the neighbours, who’d stuck their heads out their windows and doors at May’s shriek, joined the procession, and it was quite a crowd that gathered to see the spot where the dastardly deed had been done, what ever it might have been.
‘Dogs,’ some muttered under their breath, whilst others whispered darkly about a stray Man that had been seen thereabouts, likely a tramp “up to no good”, and foxes were mentioned though a good strong tween ought not to be troubled by a fox. A wolf, perhaps, but no wolves had been seen in the area for years.
And so there was quite a crowd that came to the Gamgees’ door as darkness was falling. Far below, skirting the base of the Hill, sparks of lanterns and torches could be seen, giving an indication of the spreading search.
Daisy Gamgee, at least, had her wits about her, though the tears threatened to fall when she thought of her baby sister, lost, on this day of all days. ‘Please,’ she said tremulously, pushing the door open and turning to the crowd. ‘Please, come in and take a little something. We’ve plenty...’
All the neighbours would have come in happier hour, anyhow, having earlier been invited to a celebration. It was true. There was plenty: Dainty tea sandwiches that Bell and her older daughters had been at pains to assemble and cut and stack high on the platters in the kitchen, not to mention the scones and biscuits and sweet buns they’d baked, and the grand cake complete with pink icing, something that you didn’t see every day in the Gamgee kitchen.
‘O Mari!’ Bell sobbed, as Hamfast soothed and supported her into the smial. ‘O Mari-mine! O dearest daughter!’ It was enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most stalwart, and many surreptitiously wiped at their eyes as they removed their hats and wiped their feet on the mat before entering.
And in the next moment the distraught mum’s tears turned to laughter, and she was running forward to fall upon her dear departed youngest daughter, who had fallen asleep, replete from the tweens' feast, yes, was sound asleep in the chair, her head resting upon her hand, and young Merry Brandybuck of all hobbits asleep on the floor beside the chair, leaning his head on the chair's arm, much as if he were guarding the lass from danger!
‘Mum!’ Marigold said, bewildered and blinking, returning the hug. ‘Mum, where have you been?’
The bright flower, a little wilted by now, fell from its perch and she picked it up rather tenderly and tucked it back into place, before heartily returning to her mother's embrace, and now thoroughly awake, but still bemused as more and more hobbits crowded into the room behind her parents.
‘I might ask the same of you, young hobbit!’ Hamfast said sternly, but he could not maintain such severity in the face of his joy. Truly, he’d thought the worst, and rued the sending of his youngest daughter out alone, with only a goat for company, especially after hearing all the whispers of dogs and stray Man that he was not meant to overhear—but did.
Frodo, entering behind the Gamgees, exclaimed over Merry, and then there was a great deal of exclamation taking place in the room as more hobbits crowded in, and Marigold’s wrapped ankle was noted, and Merry’s injury was made known when he tried and failed to rise in respect for his elders’ entering the room.
There was a rising babble of voices, but somehow Frodo managed to send for the healer, and then he and Hamson between them lifted Merry to a chair, and May and Daisy were moving back and forth between kitchen and parlour and entrance--where the celebrating had spilled out into the front garden, the smial not being able to contain all the hobbits--carrying well-laden platters, and helped by some of the neighbour mums and older daughters, and the search had been called off, and folk were eating and drinking and talking and laughing and it was a party, as had been intended all along...
...and the healer came and pronounced Mari’s ankle a “bad strain” but not a break, and bound it up again, and coaxed her to drink a portion of willow-bark tea to go with her sugarplums, and Merry’s knee a “bad twist, but he’ll be right as rain in a day or two” –to Frodo’s relief, and then she sat herself down to enjoy the food Bell pressed upon her...
...and then Hamfast came, the crowd parting before him, and he and Samwise (as eldest and youngest of the family) bore the great cake between them, rolled it along on a trolley, rather, it being rather more than they could safely carry, and candles pierced the darkness (for Bell turned down the lamp before they entered the parlour) and hands began to clap along with the traditional birthday song, and how Marigold’s eyes did shine.
It was a birthday she’d remember always.
Perhaps Hamfast summed it up the best, as he was seeing the guests out, along about midnight, pumping Frodo’s hand—Halfred was wheeling Merry along to Bag End in a wheelbarrow—and thanking him for coming to the birthday feast.
All’s well that ends better, he said with a nod and a grin.
‘You can say that again,’ Frodo agreed, and so the gardener did.
All’s well that ends better.
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