He stood at the door, shivering in the cold wind as he looked down the Hill toward the Party Field, seeing the proud shape of the small mallorn tree growing there, shining faintly in the dusk. The silver trunk and golden leaves reassured him, glowing against the dark storm clouds moving over the Shire like a memory of the many campfires they’d kindled and by which they’d warmed themselves.
Did his Master have the comfort of mellyrn there in the Elven lands? He hoped so. Was it cold there? Did the Elves burn great logs in their homes, or light bonfires on the white sands between First and Second Yule? Was Frodo at a party tonight, or quietly tucked up in his rooms, wherever they might be?
Or was the grey ship still upon the Sea? Did Frodo look up from the deck to smile at the Hunter’s constellation, or perhaps a soft sunset turning the clouds to gold and purple? So many questions…. And he suspected neither of the two individuals left in Middle Earth who could answer his questions would do so, even if Lord Glorfindel or the Brown Wizard were here and not elsewhere in Middle Earth about their own business.
He and Rosie had only just returned from dinner at Green Hall with Griffo and Daisy Boffin and their other guests. Daisy had wanted to let the two of them know that she and her husband greatly appreciated what Sam and Rosie had done for her cousin Frodo, and that she honored them as his chosen heirs. Sam’s own sister Daisy and her husband Moro Burrows had taken Elanor for Second Yule, and had promised to bring her back home tonight; and so Sam found himself a bit at loose ends, restless and finding himself wanting—wanting his beloved Master back again.
Back? You’d want him back, knowing that if he did return he’d like be sick to the death, if he was still alive, that is? That horrible Ring as that Sauron had made—It had done Its work right well, It had, scouring the heart right out of the one as had carried It. It hadn’t been able to totally take him till the very last, and even then Gollum had taken It so quick It hadn’t been able to make certain of Its victory, praise to the Powers and Creator for the mercy of it. But Frodo certainly hadn’t known a good deal of ease or joy last Yule. He’d been appreciative enough for what everyone else had done to decorate Bag End and provide Yule feasts and meals to remember for years to come; and his appreciation for the gifts given him and his gladness that his own gifts were well received was obvious to all. He’d done all he could to know the joy of the year’s renewal. How was any to know as t’was Mr. Frodo’s last Yule in the Shire?
Sam was turning about, ready to go in and stoke up the fire in the parlor while Rosie finished laying out a few treats to share with Daisy and Moro when they came, when he spotted a figure moving up the lane toward him from Hobbiton. It was a Hobbitess Sam failed to recognize, a young lady, he thought. She was carrying a lantern and a string bag swinging from her wrist in the wind in which a package could be seen, a package wrapped in heavy brown paper. But what would a strange Hobbitess be doing bringing a package to Bag End? So, he waited with the door kept slightly open until at last she turned up the steps, opened the gate, and made her way up to the door.
“Master Gamgee?” she called, before she’d made it all the way up to the stoop.
“Yes,” he answered, “and do come in, for the night looks to go stormy on us, it does.”
“Yes, it’s quite the wind,” she replied as she climbed the last two steps. “I was by earlier, but no one was at home, and so I went back to my cousin’s house in Hobbiton. They sent a lad from the Ivy Bush to tell me you’d returned, so I fetched the package to bring to you. I know my mum had wished it brought to you tonight.”
Sam held open the door for her, then took the lantern while she set the bag on the wooden settle so she could divest herself of her cloak and knitted bonnet and scarves. She was indeed a young one, probably still a tween, he judged now that he could see her properly. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I fear as I don’t know you. Samwise Gamgee, at your service, and this,” he said as he turned to hold out his hand to Rosie as she came down the hall with a tray filled with things for tea, “is my wife Rosie.”
“Glad to meet you again, Master Gamgee, Mistress,” she responded as she again took the bag into her arms. “I met you years ago when you were but a lad and I was a little lass come with my mum and dad to see my cousin Albin Grubb in the village. I’m Beaulah Grubb, you see, at the service of you and your family. But it was on account of my mum I wanted to come by today of all days. She was Dahlia Tunnely years ago before she married my dad, you understand.”
“Sorry, but I fear as I don’t member the name, although I think as I member you, back the year as the storm come through and blew the roof off the Grange Hall.”
“Oh, yes, that was it.” She allowed her host and hostess to lead her into the parlor and see her seated on the settle by the fire, where she set the bag down with the package leaning back against her knee.
“At least you had but a short walk this even,” Rosie commented as she set the tray down on the chest by the Master’s chair. “We was expectin’ Sam’s sister, so we was ready for company at any odds. Would you like one or two spoons of sugar in your tea?”
“One, thanks, and but a spot of milk, if you’d be so kind.” Miss Grubb accepted the mug with a proper smile of enjoyment. “Oh, but this is good. It has rose hips added? My mum said as it was always good to have rose hips in ones tea during the winter—always said Mistress Menegilda told her that when she worked at Brandy Hall.”
Sam straightened. “Then your mum worked at Brandy Hall back when my Mr. Frodo was still livin’ there, did she?”
She nodded, her pleasant face beaming. “Oh, yes. She served as nursemaid to Master Merry when he was a bairn, she did, although she always said Master Frodo did as much to help care for the bairn as herself. She was quite taken with both of them, Master Merry being such a pleasant baby, and Master Frodo always being so devoted to him. That first Yule she had to stay at the Hall during the holiday, the bairn being so small yet and Mr. Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda having so many calls on their company as the Heir and his Lady, you see. She was feeling quite homesick and, she told us more than once, very sorry for herself, when all of a sudden Master Frodo appeared back in the nursery with the bairn and asked her to hold him for a bit so he could fetch her his gift for her. She was right touched, him thinking of her that day, and it made her feel loads better, or so she said.”
She reached down to lift up the package that she’d brought, now working the string bag off of it as she continued her story. “This is what he gave her. She’s always kept in touch with the folk of Brandy Hall, and especially Mr. Merry. She still has a very soft spot in her heart for him, you see. And Mr. Merry’s always given her the news of how life’s been for him and his cousins, especially his cousins Frodo and Pippin. When we learned the four of you had left the Shire Mum was most disturbed and frightened for you all, especially when it was learned you’d gone out through the Old Forest. She heard so many stories about the Old Forest when she worked there in Brandy Hall, of course, and they had her terrified. Then the Time of Troubles began, and….” She didn’t finish.
The package was now free of the bag, and she held it, looking at it thoughtfully. Finally she said, “This hung in the parlor always, for she was right proud of it. No one bothered it when the Gatherers and Sharers came, for it was obviously of no value to anyone save us. Then you Travelers came back and the ruffians were chased out, and then everything was being set right. They’d taken my dad’s silver studs and my mum’s promise necklace, and deputy Mayor Frodo found them and sent them back again with a letter apologizing for how much pain the loss of them must have caused. That meant a great deal to us, for we hadn’t much of any value besides our furniture, you see.”
Her pleasant face was going rather sad now as she contemplated the package. “Mr. Merry told Mum that Frodo wasn’t as well as he ought to have been--that he was badly wounded out there and never completely recovered. Then there was a letter by the post in October saying Mr. Frodo had left the Shire for good this time, and that he’d left you two and your family Bag End. He said that Mr. Frodo had been ill, and had been growing more so; that if he didn’t go he’d probably have faded swiftly. The thought of Mr. Frodo possibly dying horrified Mum, it did. In the letter he sent at Yule Mr. Merry explained that Mr. Frodo had gone with the Elves and old Mr. Bilbo. Mum was that surprised, learning old Mr. Bilbo was still alive. He explained that they both were being given the healing they needed—that they’d been badly scarred by a legacy they’d both received, and the Elves hoped to set it right. Mum said she saw an Elf once when she worked at Brandy Hall, for one had come to a field where she and Mr. Bilbo had taken little Master Merry and Master Frodo and some of the other little ones to have a picnic, and one came out of the woods to speak to old Mr. Baggins. She was took by the sight of the Elf, and she said that Master Frodo was right entranced, his face shining like the stars with surprise and delight and awe. She did like Master Frodo, you see.”
At Sam’s nod of understanding, she shook herself slightly. “Anyway, she asked me to bring this to you. She knew from all of Mr. Merry’s letters that he thinks the world of you two, and that he’s right glad Mr. Frodo adopted you as his heirs. She thought you would appreciate this if anyone would, and hoped you’d accept it to show how glad she was you’d cared for him before he left.”
Sam glanced briefly at Rosie, who nodded her own encouragement. Somewhat tentatively he accepted the parcel from her, then held it close. A picture, then, one in a frame. He nodded, took a deep breath, and carefully unknotted the string with which the package was tied, finally unfolding the paper gently after handing the carefully balled twine to his wife.
As the paper finally slipped off his lap to the floor he looked at it—a watercolor painting of a young lass holding a bairn—and the baby was plainly an infant Meriadoc Brandybuck. Sam looked up at her, his eyes wide with surprise and appreciation. “The lass is your mum, then?”
“Oh, yes, it’s my mum as she looked when she worked for the Brandybucks. Do you like it?”
Sam’s heaviness of spirit was slipping away as he examined the picture. “He was but a young thing then, and already quite gifted,” he commented. “Mostly he did drawings, although he left us some paintings, you know.” He pulled the picture close to his breast as he looked up to meet her eyes again. “Miss Grubb, you can’t know just how much this means to me. It’s as if he left me a special Yule gift hisself. Thank you so much, and be certain as you tell your mum a special thanks also.”
She nodded and smiled once more. “Yes, she thought you’d like it, Master Gamgee. It will ease her heart to know she was right. She’s getting old herself, of course, and we have no idea how much longer she’ll stay with us. But she thought, as close as it appeared the two of you were from the letters she received from Mr. Merry, that you’d like this. She sent another of the gifts Master Merry and Master Frodo gave her to Brandy Hall for his own gift, you see.”
Sam nodded again, then straightened as the bell rang announcing the arrival of his sister, her husband, and Elanor.
It was an hour later that the four guests went on their way, returning to their own Second Yule celebrations. Sam and Rosie saw them off gladly, then after fastening the door after them turned to the cleaning up.
“Where will you hang that?” Rosie asked with a nod to the picture.
Sam smiled. “In the nursery. Just seems the right place for it, don’t you know.”
She laughed. “Yes, the right place for it indeed, Sam my own. And it brings him that much closer tonight, I think, knowin’ as he painted it and it’s been loved all these years. I doubt as Master Frodo ever understood as just how much as all kinds of folks loved him and membered him with joy, you know.”
Sam shook his head. “No, always was far too modest, he was. But he left his mark on the Shire as much as on the rest of Middle Earth. I’ll have to write Strider and let him know about as how this picture come home to Bag End.” And with Elanor in one arm and the picture held high on the other side, he headed down the smial, back toward the nursery to see both properly bestowed for the night.