I guess we hadn't been home from the Fair more than three or four days, when we had another visitor – and this one I won't never forget, not if I live to be a hundred and ten.
School was starting the next day, and I was washing the lads' slates, dusty from lying on a pantry shelf since back before Yule. Mr. Frodo was looking through the kitchen bookcase for beginning reading books that he could use with the lads. And suddenly Sam came charging into the kitchen, looking like something had happened and he was trying hard to keep calm.
"Mr. Frodo, you have a visitor. I put him in the parlour, sir." He went right up to Frodo and looked him over critically. "You might want to have a quick wash, Master, before you go in there. I can see we need to dust them books more often."
Frodo put down the book he was looking at, and I jumped to get him a basin of clean water. "Who is it, Sam?" he asked.
"Don't know his name, sir, but he's come from Rivendell. He's an Elf."
"Rivendell!" Mr. Frodo looked alarmed, and I never saw anyone get washed and combed as fast as he did, his hand shaking so he could hardly drag the comb through his hair. He took a last, quick look in the kitchen glass and went down the passage with his face set and shoulders braced like he feared the worst.
"What have we got, Rosie, that we can serve them? Not tea, not for an Elf. I'd better bring up some wine." Sam disappeared down cellar, and I ducked into the pantry.
An Elf at Bag End! What on earth did they eat? Not seedcake – it would go well with wine, but it wasn't special enough for such company. I'd made cherry tarts for school tomorrow, and walnut crumbles for our tea today; they would have to do.
Sam carried in the tray when Frodo rang and came back looking relieved. He wrapped his arms round me and leaned his cheek against my hair.
"That was a scare, right enough, Rosie. I was afraid he'd come to bring word that Mr. Bilbo was – gone." He sighed deep and held me close.
"Guess it scared Mr. Frodo, too. What did he come for, Sam?"
Sam grinned. "Now. how would I know that, lass? But Mr. Frodo's having a pleasant visit, seemingly; he was laughing at something when I went in. Looked like he had a letter; maybe that's all he come for, to deliver it."
We didn't see much of the Elf, as it turned out. Mr. Frodo had Sam set their dinner out on the little gateleg table in his study, and he served it himself. Sam let me go in later to clear away the dishes ("I've never seen an Elf, Sam – you've seen plenty, now let me have a chance!") but Mr. Frodo and his guest were outside strolling round the garden in the moonlight.
Sam looked in once more before bedtime to see if they needed anything, and just as he reached the door he heard the Elf say, "Elrond sends you word." Frodo looked up then and saw him in the doorway.
"Come in, Sam, and meet our guest. Galend is new to Rivendell; that's why you didn't recognize him," he said. "Galend, this is Master Samwise, my companion on the Quest. Apart from him, I fear it would have had a far different ending."
The Elf rose and bowed deeply to Sam, and he was still red-faced and flustered when he got back to the kitchen. "Now how do you say 'how-do-ye-do' after an introduction like that, I ask you, Rosie?"
He was embarrassed, for true, and yet I think he was pleased, deep down. Not being a fool, he knew well enough, Sam did, that without him the Quest must have failed. "It took both of us, Rosie, it did indeed," he told me once. "Without me, he'd a died afore he ever got to the Mountain – but apart from him, we wouldn't've never set out at all. For certain I wouldn't've stood up in Rivendell and offered to take the Ring to Mordor!"
"Well, but isn't that exactly what you did do, Sam?"
"No. Not to take the Ring, nor go to Mordor neither. What I said was, I wouldn't leave Mr. Frodo. 'Twas him decided where we were going."
I thought probably we'd put off the start of school, since Mr. Frodo had a guest, but it wasn't necessary. Galend left just after dawn – and he didn't say no to a hot mug of tea before he left, and some seedcake and fresh raspberries, as well. They took their breakfast by the kitchen fire, like Mr. Frodo always did, so I finally got a look at him.
He was tall, of course. Tall and slim, like a young birch – and graceful, too, like a birch – but he looked strong, as well, as if he'd know how to handle the sword at his side. His hair was long and straight, so silky looking that I wished I dared touch it. And his face – well, now I understood why Sam always said Mr. Frodo had an Elven look to him.
They didn't talk much. Mr. Frodo introduced me, and even got Elanor out of her cradle, brought her over for the Elf to see. He held out a long, slender finger to her, and she grabbed hold and brought it to her mouth, then looked up at him and crowed. Elanor was always at her best, first thing in the morning, and Galend seemed taken with her. He had a nice smile, I'll say that for him.
Soon as they'd finished eating, they went outside. Mr. Frodo was gone perhaps half an hour, and he came back alone.
"He didn't stay long, Mr. Frodo," I said. Sam and I were having our breakfast, a bit more substantial than seedcake and raspberries. I got up to fill a plate for Frodo, and he poured himself another mug of tea.
"No, he only came to bring me a letter from Bilbo."
Sam looked up. "And is he well, Mr. Frodo?"
"Yes, he's well. I wrote him soon after Elanor's birth, and he sends his best to the Gamgee family, young and old." He turned the subject. "Are you ready to start cooking for a crowd again, Rosie? The lads should be here soon."
There were ten lads this term – Balco's Da had been talking up how useful it was, Balco being lettered. His brother Bingo was among the pupils, but Balco himself didn't return – his father figured he had as much learning as he needed, now he could keep accounts for the smithy. But a number of other families had decided it was worth the trouble to send their youngsters, and four of our old pupils had returned as well.
"And Balco wanted to come," Bingo announced over elevenses. "He says you tell the best stories, Mr. Frodo, and he told me I better remember them, if I know what's good for me, and tell him when I get home!"
Mr. Frodo grinned. "Well, you'd better listen carefully then, Bingo. I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Balco, myself."
School went on as it had before, the four lads who already knew how to read helping the others learn their letters, then reading with Mr. Frodo while the new pupils practiced writing on their slates. After a few days, Frodo set them playing chess against each other while he was teaching the new lads. And before dinner, every day, they all settled down together to listen to his stories.
After the lads left each afternoon, Frodo went back to work on his book. He didn't stop for afternoon tea, but had me bring it in the study for him, and he went back to his desk again after supper while Sam and I washed up. The summer evenings were long, and he worked while the light lasted, finally coming outside in the dusk, to sit with us in the garden and rock Elanor to sleep in his arms.
"No more reading to us, Mr. Frodo?" I asked one night.
He looked up from where he was watching the baby sleep. He often held her long after she dropped off, his expression peaceful as he gazed into her face, his rocking chair grating against the stone flags, back and forth.
"Do you miss it, Rosie? But you can read yourself, now."
"It was nice, though, listening. Only it's too dark to see out here, and in the kitchen it's too warm."
"Will you tell us a tale, Mr. Frodo?" Sam spoke from the shadows. "You know enough of them by heart."
So that night, and many nights after, he told us stories – not about the Elves, this time, or great deeds in the outer world, but hobbit stories. Old Bullroarer lived again in his tales, tall enough to ride a horse, leading the Shire against the orcs. Marco and Blanco crossed the Brandywine and laid claim to the Shire, and hobbit bowmen set out to the aid of the King at Norbury, in his last battle against the Witch-king. The first Thain was chosen, and the first Brandybuck crossed the river in the other direction and began excavating Brandy Hall. Hobbits starved in the Days of Dearth, and fought white wolves that came out of the north and crossed the frozen river, but the Shire survived. A thousand years of hobbit history passed before our eyes, brought to life by Frodo's quiet voice.
The weeks went by, sunny and hot, and the newest pupils learned their letters and got so they could read a little. Sam and I were called in once again for end-of-school exercises, and the four who had been with us from the beginning had each written out one of Mr. Frodo's stories, which they read aloud. School was over and harvest begun, and Mr. Pippin came to visit.
I don't think Mr. Frodo was expecting him. Pippin and Merry had been visiting Mr. Merry's family in Brandy Hall – the deep holes there were cooler than the Crickhollow house, in this hot weather – and now Mr. Pippin was on his way to the Great Smials to spend a few weeks with his family. You couldn't really say Hobbiton was "on the way" to the Smials, but close enough.
He said he wanted to check on Frodo, make sure he wasn't working too hard, and I do believe that was partly why he came. But he didn't seem any too happy to be going to the Smials – rumor had it the Thain was a hard father to him, never mind if he was a Knight of Gondor and hero of Bywater. I think he came to Mr. Frodo to steady himself, before he went home.
He brought four bottles of the "Hall's finest", carefully wrapped, slung behind his saddle. Brandy Hall came by its name honestly, and he and Mr. Frodo sat up late that first night, talking over their glasses. I got up for a drink of water near midnight, and there were still soft voices coming from the study.
Mr. Pippin slept late next morning, but Mr. Frodo was in his usual place at breakfast, and then went straight to his book. After luncheon, Pippin near dragged him out for a ride round the countryside.
"When were you last outside, Frodo? You're as pale as a mushroom; don't you ever go out at all?"
"Of course I do, every night when it cools down a bit. Don't nag, Pippin."
"In the dark." Mr. Pippin sounded like he'd suspected as much. "You'd better show your face in daylight a bit more, cousin, or they'll be sending a Shirriff to Bag End to see what's become of you! I stopped for a pint at the Green Dragon, coming here, and the proprietor said he hadn't seen you since last winter, and wanted to know if you were ill. You know how hobbits are for gossip."
Frodo grimaced, then smiled. "All right, Pippin. Come along, the mushroom will venture out into the sun – anything to keep you happy, cousin!"
"Oh, well, in that case, come to the Smials with me for a fortnight!"
Mr. Frodo chuckled and rapped the back of his head – he had to reach up to do it; Mr. Pippin was more than a head taller than he was. "Don't push your luck, Pippin."
They went off laughing to saddle the ponies, and I wished, not for the first time, that Mr. Pippin would just move into Bag End and stay. He had a lightness of spirit that was contagious, and Frodo always brightened in his presence.
He brightened even more at Pippin's news. True to his word, Merry had started a school in Buckland and then for good measure, another one in the Marish. Both schools were flourishing, nearly twenty pupils in all. The Buckland school had had two terms already, and the one in the Marish had just finished its first.
"Oh aye, they're a likely set of lads, both places. We go once or twice a fortnight, both of us -- teach them chess, and a bit of fencing with wooden swords. Merry's ordered some proper foils for them – should be ready for the winter term."
"There now, Mr. Frodo, you see? All your worry about the lads' learning – and there's three new schools, after all!" Sam grinned at him across the breakfast table, and Frodo chuckled.
"You're right, Sam. There's no need to fear for the Shire, not with hobbits like you and Rose and my cousins to look out for its future." Sam turned to spear another slice of ham, and Frodo winked at me. Sam still didn't know that Marigold could read now.
All too soon, Mr. Pippin had to leave, and Mr. Frodo returned to his study. He wasn't quite so pale, now – Pippin had drawn him out into the sunshine every day, the week he was with us, and he'd got a bit of color in his cheeks. But when he came out to noon dinner, the day Pippin left, he looked uncommon tired, and I wondered if the visit had done him any lasting good.