4. Hamfast's Errand
The physician came just after breakfast. He looked in Frodo’s eyes, and down Frodo’s throat; he knocked on his back and listened to him breathe, he knocked on his chest and listened to him breathe again; he examined the thick clots of phlegm that Frodo coughed up at his request.
It was impolite to discuss a diagnosis in front of the patient, so the physician took Bell by the arm and steered her out of the room, as Frodo followed them with his eyes.
“The lad has pneumonia, and he’s probably had it for a while without knowing it.”
Bell had expected this diagnosis, although she had hoped she was wrong. Her stomach turned when she heard the word, for she knew how little could be done. “Yesterday, he said he’d been sick for four days already.”
“Aye, and I suspect he wasn’t telling Mr. Bilbo how sick he was. It’s a good thing Mr. Bilbo didn’t take the boy off tramping with him…being out in the cold and wet with his lungs like this would have been the death of him.”
“He’s looking very poorly,” Bell said.
The physician nodded. “If he’s only been sick for four days, or five now, he’s declined faster than he ought. But he’s young, and in good health otherwise.” He patted Bell on the shoulder. “He’ll pull through. I’ll bring some ointment over this afternoon…you should rub it on his back and chest three times a day to help him breathe, more if he needs it. Have him sit over boiling water with a towel on his head…that’ll help clear the phlegm out of his chest. Don’t give him anything to stop the cough. He needs to bring up that nasty business in his lungs. Do you still have the cups I gave you when May had scarlet fever last year?”
“Yes, they’re at home.”
“If his fever goes up this afternoon, do a cupping on him, just about half a dozen to start. That should bring it down. You can sponge him off with cool water if his fever goes high, but make sure the room is warm before you do it, so he won’t catch a chill. Keep enough liquids in him so the fever doesn’t dry him out, and give him light things to eat…broth, apple sauce, toast.” The physician smiled reassuringly. “There’s not much you can’t handle, Mrs. Gamgee. I know he’s in good hands.”
Bell thanked the physician and walked him to the door. “I’ll come back this afternoon with that ointment, and I’ll stop by tomorrow morning to check on the boy. He might be feeling a bit better by then.”
Bell returned to Frodo’s room. He looked at her anxiously, his blue eyes wide and fever-bright in his pale face.
“What does he say it is?” Frodo asked.
“It’s pneumonia, Frodo.”
Frodo considered this for a moment. “Am I going to be all right?”
Bell smiled. “Of course you are! You just need to stay in bed and rest for a while.”
“When will I feel better?” he asked, then added, “I feel much better than I did last night.”
“Most folk who are sick like you are feel a bit better in the mornings,” Bell said, and reached behind Frodo to straighten his pillows. “Something about the morning air, I suppose. But you’ve got a little ways to go. We’ll have to bring that fever down, and clear your lungs up.” Bell patted Frodo on the arm and smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Frodo. We’ll take good care of you.”
Frodo smiled back at her faintly. “I’m almost glad Bilbo isn’t here,” he said. “I’m sure he would think it was something he had done, or didn’t do, or that the air on this side of the river isn’t good for me or some nonsense.”
Bell had to smile at the image that came to her mind of Bilbo as a nervous father. She had to admit, it was admirable for the old bachelor to take on such a responsibility, after so many years of looking only after himself, although Bell suspected he still didn’t know quite what he had gotten himself into.
“Now that you mention Mr. Bilbo, Frodo, I was thinking of asking Hamfast to run up and fetch him. I think he’d want to be with you…I think ‘twould be good for you too.”
Frodo shook his head. “Up to the North Farthing? I wouldn’t send him all the way up there on my account! Bilbo will be home by Sunday, unless he’s delayed somehow…that’s just five days from now. I’ll probably be hale and hearty by then.”
“All right, Frodo. But do let me know if you change your mind. ‘Tis no trouble.”
“Why don’t you try to get some sleep now? You were up half the night with that cough.”
“And you were, too,” Frodo said with a smile.
“But I’m not the patient. You need your rest more than I do.”
“All right, Mrs. Gamgee.”
Bell drew the curtains halfway so the light would not disturb Frodo, and stoked the fire. Before she left, she laid her hand on the boy’s forehead. He was still far warmer than he should be, and she hoped the fever would come down soon. There was nothing worse than fever to wear out a body.
Bell ran a comforting hand through the boy’s dark hair, and a smile crossed his face.
“Thank you, Mrs. Gamgee,” he said sleepily.
“You’re welcome, lad,” she whispered, and then left him to his rest.
Hamfast came in the early evening to bring a load of firewood, and found Bell at the kitchen table, drinking a hurried cup of tea. Her face was drawn with fatigue.
“You’d best be taking that pony up to Greenfields tomorrow,” she said, as soon as Hamfast came through the door.
“What’s happened? When you stopped by for the cups this afternoon, you said the boy was sleeping.”
“Aye, and he was. But he woke up in a frightful state. Fever gone so high he was half out of his wits. Asked me where Mr. Bilbo was, at least three times.”
“Shall I fetch the physician?”
“I don’t see what he can do that I can’t. He’ll be back tomorrow morning, at any rate.”
Hamfast ran his hand through his hair in worry. “Should I start for the North Farthing now, do you think?”
Bell shook her head. “You won’t get far in the middle of the night, with no moon, and those clouds over the stars. But tomorrow, Ham, at first light.”
“I only hope I can find Mr. Bilbo, and that he hasn’t wandered off somewhere else.”
Hamfast and Bell went to Frodo’s room. Only fire lit the room, for the fever had made Frodo’s eyes ache. Frodo lay against his pillows, a compress over his eyes and forehead, breathing heavily through his mouth. His arms lay limply over his lap.
“Gracious, Bell, he sounds like he’s under water!” Ham whispered.
“It’s his lungs…his lungs are full of liquid.”
Bell leaned over Frodo and lifted the compress. She smoothed the wet curls back from his forehead. His eyes opened and he stared up at her.
“How are you feeling, Frodo dear?”
He did not answer, but his eyes roved about the room, landing on Bell’s husband. “Who is this?” he asked, and then lifted his head and stared at Hamfast. “Who are you?”
Hamfast looked confounded, and Bell answered soothingly, “That’s just my Hamfast, you know him, dear. He’s your Mr. Bilbo’s servant. Little Samwise’s father.”
“Where is Bilbo? Why isn’t he here?” Frodo asked anxiously, and Bell’s eyes met her husband’s. Hamfast shook his head in dismay.
Bell sat on the edge of the bed and took Frodo’s hand. “Bilbo’s gone away dear, remember? He’ll be home soon. ‘Twill be all right.”
“But it’s so dark…” Frodo said and then a harsh round of coughing stopped his words. Bell raised the boy and held a cloth to his mouth while rubbing his back.
“Spit it out, Frodo,” she said softly, and Frodo obediently coughed a wad of mucus into Bell’s hand.
Hamfast looked in the cloth for a moment before Bell folded it. “That’s pus in his lungs,” he said. “At least he’s clearing it out.”
“Aye,” said Bell. “But there’s always more, and the cough is only draining him, and not letting him sleep.”
The coughing had exhausted Frodo. Dazed, he laid his head against Bell’s shoulder and closed his eyes, fighting to regain his breath.
“Bilbo?” he said, and Bell shushed him gently.
“I’ll set out at first light,” Hamfast said.
At six in the morning, Bell heard the front door open, and footsteps come down the hall. She recognized her husband’s step, and went to the door of Frodo’s bedroom to meet him.
A steady, freezing drizzle was falling, and Hamfast was dressed for it, wearing his oiled raincoat over layers of woolens. Bell took him by the arm and led him away from Frodo’s room so they wouldn’t disturb the boy.
“Is he any better?”
“No, but he’s no worse. He slept a little, I think, but I couldn’t tell if he slept or if ‘twas his mind wandering. The fever’s just as bad.”
“‘Tis a fine thing to have happen to the poor lad, when he just moved here. Mr. Bilbo was so happy about it, too. ‘Twas all he talked about.”
“Let’s hope he’s just at the worst part of it, and he’ll turn the corner soon. He’s young enough to fight this yet, although I don’t know how much more of that fever he can take.”
Hamfast sighed. “I don’t know what Mr. Bilbo will do if…”
“Let’s not think of that yet.”
“Aye,” he said, and buttoned his coat. “I’ll be riding straight through today, so I should get to the North Farthing tomorrow afternoon. With luck, I’ll find Mr. Bilbo straight away, and we’ll be back Friday afternoon, or evening at the latest. I’ve asked Hamson to come and check on you, make sure you have everything you need.”
“What about Sam and the girls?”
“Hamson and Daisy should be able to tend to things for a few days. Sam is right upset about Mr. Frodo. He was begging me last night to bring him up here.”
“Thank goodness you didn’t. I don’t know what Sam would do if he saw Frodo in such a state. He’s awful fond of the lad.”
“Aye, almost too fond, I think.” He pulled his collar up. “I’ll see you Friday, then. Take care of that boy.”
Bell put her arms around her husband in a quick embrace. “Be careful, Ham,” she said. “And be quick.”
The physician arrived several hours later and frowned when he saw Frodo’s condition. Frodo was awake now, but lethargic, and shivering from fever in spite of the blankets draped over his shoulders and lap. He unfolded the boy’s blankets and listened to his chest.
“It’s worse than yesterday,” he said. “He’s not coughing as much as he was, is he?”
“No, but I was hoping that meant he’d improved some.”
The physician stood up briskly. “No, it means his body is getting to weak to fight. We will have to try to clear his lungs. Have you done this before?”
“No,” Bell answered, not sure what he meant.
“We must force him to clear his lungs. Otherwise, he’ll drown in them. Let me show you.”
The physician unwound Frodo’s blankets. Frodo shuddered at being exposed, and his eyes looked up beseechingly to Bell. “What is he doing? What does he want?”
“It’s all right, dear. He’s trying to help you.”
The physician turned Frodo onto his stomach, laying his head near the edge of the bed. Frodo was now wide awake, and his brows were drawn together in anxiety.
“Mrs. Gamgee!” Frodo cried, and Bell’s heart was filled with pity. She knelt down by the bed and placed her palm against his cheek. “Don’t worry, Frodo. You’ll feel better after this,” she assured him, though she was not sure of it herself.
“Mrs. Gamgee,” the physician said, and Bell looked up at him. “When you do this yourself, you should hold your hands like this.” He held his hands up, the palms flat. “And then strike him hard and quick, right between the shoulder blades, like this.”
Before Bell could say anything, the physician began to pound on Frodo’s back with a fast, rhythmic stroke. Frodo’s eyes flew open even wider and then he squeezed them shut in pain. His breath escaped him in wounded gasps. He clenched his teeth and clutched at the bedsheet beneath him.
“Stop, stop!” Bell cried. The physician stopped, and for a moment the only sound in the room was Frodo’s harsh panting. Bell looked at Frodo. Sweat and tears were running down his face.
“Mrs. Gamgee, please…that hurts…don’t let him…”
Bell looked up at the physician. “Is this really necessary?” she asked. “You can see how it pains him.”
“It’s the best way to clear fluid from the lungs, when the patient cannot do it for himself. I know it’s unpleasant for the lad, but he must endure it.”
Bell looked back to Frodo. His eyes were open, and filled with tears. “Mrs. Gamgee…” he sobbed.
“I’m sorry, Frodo dear. I know it hurts. But ‘twill only hurt for a little while, and then you’ll be able to breathe a bit easier. ‘Twill be all right, dear. I’ll hold your hand.”
Frodo looked at her miserably, then closed his eyes and nodded. Bell eased Frodo’s hand from the bedsheet and laced her stout fingers through his slender ones. She placed her other hand on his forehead.
“Are you ready, Frodo?” she asked quietly, and the boy nodded without opening his eyes.
Bell tightened her grip on Frodo’s hand. She looked up at the physician and nodded, and then looked away.
Frodo was so spent following this treatment that he fell into an exhausted sleep. The physician’s efforts had yielded a moderate amount of dark phlegm, which in Bell’s opinion, was hardly worth the suffering the boy had endured.
“You will need to do that for him every two hours,” the physician said as she walked him to the door.
“Every two hours! He cannot bear that! You’ve seen him!”
“Mrs. Gamgee, the only chance now is to keep his lungs as clear as we can, and hope that the fever will break. You must make sure he drinks…tea, if he can hold it, hot water and honey if he can’t. Keep using the ointment on him, too, for it will keep his chest and back warm, and help him breathe a little. I’ll come back this afternoon and check on him again.”
Bell was too tired and distressed to thank the physician. She merely closed the door upon his back as soon as his feet had stepped onto the porch.
Bell walked back to Frodo’s room and stood in the doorway. The boy was still asleep, and for this at least, Bell was grateful. She dreaded having to wake him for another painful treatment.
She went to the kitchen to make a pot of tea. Her hands were shaking, whether from fatigue or fear she could not tell. She had nursed her six children through a vast array of illnesses, everything from measles to toothaches, but never once had any of them been as sick as this lad. Never once had she feared for any of their lives.
She thought of her husband, out on the road, and of Bilbo, so far away from home, oblivious to his young ward’s peril. It was a dreadful, dreadful situation: the worst she had ever known.
Bell sat at the kitchen table while the water boiled. Suddenly, she recalled her strange dream from two nights before, and it filled her with foreboding. Bell’s mother had believed in the prophetic nature of dreams, and had been well respected and sought after by the neighbors for her skill at interpreting their nighttime visions. Bell had never thought that she had inherited her mother’s gift, and indeed, she had always suspected that her mother’s “gift” had been nothing more than an observant eye and a perceptive mind. But now she thought of her dream, of Frodo’s slight figure against a wall of flame in a place of terrible menace, and she wondered if she had not received a vision, a foretelling of his imminent death. She remembered the puzzling ending of the dream, how she had tried to call to Frodo, but had called for Sam instead, and wondered why her son should have been in the dream. Perhaps because he was so attached to Frodo, and she knew how greatly he would be saddened by Frodo’s death.
Bell tried to shake such grim thoughts from her mind. She rose and took the kettle from the hob.
It was almost midnight. Bell walked down the dark hall from Bag End’s kitchen, with her only light the faint glow of candles in Frodo’s room. She walked slowly, holding a wide basin of cool water in her arms.
She set the basin down on the bedside table. Frodo’s eyes opened and he watched her as she wrung a cloth out in the basin. The cool sound of falling water filled the room.
She leaned over and brushed the boy’s curls back and wiped the cloth over his face. He closed his eyes gratefully.
Four times this day she had beaten on Frodo’s back, as the physician had taught her. Each time, he had produced a little phlegm, but the last time, he had vomited the bit of tea and broth he had managed to swallow for dinner, and Bell had resolved that Frodo had borne enough for one day.
She gently rolled up Frodo’s sleeves and washed the insides of his arms, his wrists and his palms, the slender white fingers that had so caught her notice the other day.
The physician had returned in the afternoon, and had been disappointed in the boy’s state. He had suggested that if Frodo did not begin to show signs of improvement, they should attempt to drain his lungs by puncturing them with a needle. Bell had been appalled. She could not stomach the idea of anyone sticking pins into this poor boy, no doubt causing him to die of a festering wound before the pneumonia could take him. Upon her questioning, the physician had finally admitted that this remedy had worked only once, in his knowledge. Bell had decided that the physician did not need to make any more calls at Bag End.
Bell unbuttoned Frodo’s nightshirt and washed his throat and chest. He opened his eyes halfway and Bell looked into them. He was still desperately feverish, but for the moment, he seemed lucid.
“Mrs. Gamgee,” he said softly.
“When is Bilbo coming?”
“As soon as he can, Frodo. On Friday, Hamfast said.”
“And what day is today?”
“It is early Thursday morning.”
Frodo blinked wearily, and his mind seemed to drift. Bell wished that she could hold him to the present, could keep him from slipping into delirium, at least for a little while.
“Frodo,” she said, “How long have you known Bilbo?”
Frodo looked at her and smiled weakly. “All my life. I remember him…always. Even before my parents died.”
“You must care for him a great deal.”
“Mmm…I do. When my parents died, he came to see me, and stayed with me for a long time. I don’t think I would have…I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed again, if he hadn’t come.”
“Did he tell you then, that he wanted to adopt you?”
Frodo smiled again. “Yes…I thought he was joking. Or trying to cheer me up. But now…here I am.”
Bell sat Frodo up and lifted his nightshirt so that she could wash his back. Even in the candlelight, she could see the bruises from the day’s treatment, and she touched him very gently.
Frodo continued to speak, in a soft, tired voice. “Bilbo said…‘Now we can celebrate our birthdays together, my lad.’ He was so excited, even more than I was, I think.”
“But you were happy to come?”
“Oh, of course.”
“And do you miss Brandy Hall? And all your relations?”
“I miss my Aunt Esmeralda sometimes. Her son, Meriadoc…Merry. He was sad when I left. But I’ve been very happy to be here. Bilbo is…” He trailed off for a moment, then said simply, “I love him dearly.”
Bell settled Frodo back against the pillows and buttoned his nightshirt. She drew the blankets up around him.
“It will be hard on him,” Frodo said quietly. “If he comes home, and I am…gone. When I have only just gotten here, after all.”
Bell stroked his cheek. “Don’t worry, Frodo. Bilbo will come home tomorrow. You will not be gone. This is your home. You will get better. You will be master of Bag End, and you’ll marry and you’ll fill all these rooms with children. And you’ll live here a long, long time, and be very happy.”
Frodo closed his eyes. “That would be nice,” he said, and fell asleep.
Bell held Frodo’s hand for a little while, until she was certain he was truly asleep. Then she picked up the basin and brought it to the kitchen. She sat down at the kitchen table, and gazed into the fire. Bell was not one to question the workings of fate, but it seemed wrong, terribly wrong, that this child, this orphaned boy, should have to leave the world when he was so close to finding a place in it.
Bell put her head in her hands and wept.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.