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[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Marigold is six ( 3 ˝ in Man-years), May is thirteen (8 in Man-years), Merry is eight ( 5 in Man-years), Sam is not quite ten ( 6 ˝ in Man-years), Frodo is twenty-two (14 in Man-years) and Daisy is eighteen (12 in Man-years). And Bell is getting older by the minute…]
A MOTHER’S WORK: BELL
Bell put the struggling lass down with a shake of her head. At six, Marigold was as busy a little maid-child as Bell had ever seen--certainly much livelier than either Daisy or May had ever been at that age. Why, she’d never had to change their clothes in the middle of the day because they’d decided to explore the hearth. She looked with dismay at the room, and was glad they‘d had no fire on this warm afternoon. It didn't bear thinking of.
“Marigold Gamgee! What *were* you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, Mama. I wanted to see where the smoke goes.”
It would take a mort of scrubbing to get everything clean. “May!” she called. She’d need her daughter’s help. Daisy was over at the Widow Rumble’s place, helping the Widow and her niece to put up some pickles.
May darted in from where she had been sweeping the bedrooms.
“Yes, Ma?” Her eyes grew huge at the sight of the sooty room.
“I’ll need your help--”
Just then there was a rap on the door. Holding Marigold by one arm, she went to open it.
“Master Merry!” she exclaimed, surprised. He was up at Bag End visiting Master Frodo, and Sam had gone up to play with him this morning. He had a very distressed look on his face.
“Mistress Bell, Frodo says would you please come up? And--and don’t be mad--it’s my fault, not Sam’s--I *promise* it’s my fault! And please can you hurry?”
Something must be dreadfully wrong. With a sinking feeling, she turned to May, who was watching avidly. “Take your sister, May, and keep her with you. Go over to the Widow’s and ask Daisy to come home. Then the two of you get started on cleaning that mess. And don’t let Mari near that hearth again! I’ll be back as soon as may be!” She snatched her shawl and went out the door, where Master Merry was waiting, hopping anxiously from one foot to the other. They started briskly up The Hill. “What’s wrong, Master Merry?” she asked sternly.
“We only wanted to help, really we did. Frodo was busy, and we just wanted to get things ready so he could make luncheon. It was *my* idea to get the tea canister down--really it was--Sam didn’t want to, but I said that it would be easier for Frodo if we got it down, and I couldn’t reach, even on the chair, so Sam tried but the cupboard started to fall and then Frodo came in and grabbed it, but it’s heavy and he can’t let go or it will fall down…”
Bell’s eyes widened as she realized the problem, and she fairly flew, leaving Merry to run at her heels. Mr. Bilbo had gone into Overhill on business, and taken Hamfast with him to look at some nursery stock. He wanted to replace the apple tree that had come down in a storm over the winter. Master Frodo should have had no problem watching over the two lads, but this? Oh, she thought, please let him be strong enough to hold on…
She raced to the kitchen door, which stood wide open. The large cupboard which had stood on one wall of the kitchen was tilted at a very dangerous angle. Broken crockery and a broken chair littered the floor. Frodo, strain etched on his face, was holding the cabinet up desperately so that it wouldn’t land on Sam, whose head and shoulders peeked out beneath. He saw her, and his expression lightened. “Ma! I knew you’d come.”
She wasted no breath in answering, but went over and lent her strength to Frodo’s. They pushed it up, and Sam scrambled out. With a shove, it went back upright against the wall.
Then she glanced around at Mr. Bilbo’s kitchen. Several of the cups and saucers were smashed, but not so many were broken as she had feared. The chair *was* broken.
“Sammy, come here,” she said firmly. He came over, and she examined him thoroughly and found to her relief that he seemed to have come away without a scratch. Frodo watched with worry in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry, Mistress Bell! I didn’t know they were going to do that--I was *getting ready* to come and make them some lunch…” His voice trailed off miserably. His face was white, and his blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears. It was clear he’d had a dreadful fright--probably worse than the younger lads, who didn’t truly realize their narrow escape.
“It’s not your fault, Master Frodo. Samwise should have known better.” She fixed her son with a stern eye, and he wilted visibly. Simply showing him her anger would be a lesson to him--he took it hard when she was displeased with him. But he’d have to be punished as well.
“Please!” said Master Merry, tears in his own eyes. “It’s *my* fault! It was *my* idea!”
“And a poor idea it was, Master Merry, which is why Sam’s punishment will be a lesson to you as well. He’ll not be up to play with you the rest of this week,” she said firmly.
Merry sniffled, and wiped his hand beneath his nose. “Yes, Mistress Bell.”
Satisfied that Sam was unharmed she stood up. “Master Frodo, Sam is to help you clean up this mess, and then you must send him straight back down to Number Three. Mind you, it’s not your fault, but do remember next time you’re watching over young lads how quickly they can get into mischief.”
He smiled at her, relieved that she had said “next time”, she could tell by the look on his face. He must have been certain that she’d say he could never watch over her Sam again. But she knew, none better, how quickly children could get into things--just look at what little Mari had done this morning.
She bent down and gave Sam a peck on top of his sandy curls, and said, “Mind you, help with this, and then come straight home.”
On the way down The Hill, she shook her head. What a day for Hamfast to be gone, not to mention Mr. Bilbo. And her that busy!
She went back into Number Three, and let out a gasp at the sight that greeted her: all *three* of her daughters covered in soot, and the room looked worse than ever.
Daisy looked at her mother guiltily. “I’m sorry, Ma! Mari put the broom up the chimney afore I could stop her. She was going to clean it out.”
Marigold looked up at her mother, her teeth white in her sooty face. “Mama! You’re home! I was helping!”
Bell sighed. “Yes, chicklet, you are surely a great help.”
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