Two weeks later the constant changes in the weather from rain to sun to cold to warm to storms began to lead to folks getting sick. There were colds and ague and various degrees of the lung sickness breaking out all over Hobbiton and Bywater. I caught a nasty cough and was kept at home in bed for several days, and then my sisters and my mum caught it, too. But it was worst for my mum, and went into the lung sickness, the worst type. She was sick for weeks, and the Gaffer kept care of her something tender; so when there was work to be done up at Bag End it was me (once I was over my cold) or my brother Ham, who took time off from his prenticeship to come home and help, who would have to see to it. I could do a lot of the lesser stuff like carrying out the refuse and covering the flower beds with straw for the winter; but Ham did most of the splitting of wood and any heavy hauling.
It seemed Bag End itself would be spared, but then finally Mr. Bilbo took a cold and was in bed for three days, and Frodo took care of him well. But just as the uncle was getting better, Mr. Frodo caught it, and he caught it hard. Like my mum, it went into the lung sickness, but where my mum was weak and feverish but mostly lucid and it lingered for weeks and listening to her try to breathe was a torture, for Frodo he got a high fever and went delirious. That fever just went up and down, and finally the Gaffer told me off to go stay there in Bag End and see if I could do anything to help. I stayed in the room where Gandalf had slept when he was there, and I’d trade off sitting with Frodo while Mr. Bilbo’d fix up broth or tea or whatever medicaments the healer suggested. Mrs. Rumble would come over, too, every day, and fix a couple of meals for us, and she’d do whatever marketing needed to be done, and when we was both needed to do something else she’d sit by Frodo’s bed till one of us was able to take over again. Frodo sounded awful, and Gammer Laurel seemed to be in and out at all hours. Got so she’d just knock at the door as she was opening it to come in.
For five days I was there while the fever continued, and it was constant potions and medicaments and poultices and rubs and putting pots of water over the fire to fill the room with steam with different herbs in it to clear the humors or to soothe the lungs or to calm a cough or whatever. Finally Gammer Laurel thought of an old treatment she’d heard tell of, and she came in with some kingsfoil and put it into water to boil for vapors, and made some into tea along with willow bark and had us give it to him. Mr. Bilbo could do it all by hisself--support Frodo and get him to take the tea and all; but when it was our turn Mrs. Rumble and I figured out how to do it together. She’d hold Frodo sitting up, and I’d hold the tea to his lips and feed him sips, and she’d rub his throat to help him swallow. The combination of the steam vapors and the tea seemed to work, and finally the fever broke and he began to recover. It was the first time I ever heard of using kingsfoil as a healing herb, and the only time for a long while, till years later and Strider disappeared from our camp by Weathertop looking for some to treat Mr. Frodo’s shoulder with. But I didn’t think back to when Frodo had had the lung sickness until after we got to Rivendell.
While Frodo was sick, Mr. Bilbo and Gammer Laurel had long talks about Frodo, and it seemed to me she was listening to his chest more than to his back, while with my mum she was always listening to her back more. When the fever broke finally, she was listening to both, but as his lungs cleared it was his chest she listened to more and more, even after he stopped coughing. Each time she’d listen to his chest she’d look at Mr. Bilbo and shake her head, but she’d smile as she did it, and she told him finally, “I ain’t hearing no noise anywhere in there. I think it’s no longer a problem. They can grow out of it, you know.”
That confused me a bit, as my mum hadn’t growed out of it none, but then I didn’t realize she was really trying to make sure his heart was working right as much as his lungs being clear.
She tried kingsfoil vapors on my mum after that, and it seemed to help her some, too, and she finally began to get better, too. But both had a long convalescence, and it looked like Yule would be nowhere near the celebration for nobody that year. We could rejoice folks was starting to feel better, but fixing up our holes with greens and finding time to do a lot of special baking seemed like it was going to be too much bother, all of us was that tuckered out from being sick or nursing someone who’d been sick or both.
I don’t know when Mr. Bilbo wrote to Miss Dora Baggins and asked her if she’d come to help out, but she arrived the day after the fever broke for Frodo, and she was a tartar, let me tell you. Had me fetching and carrying and cleaning and dusting, and she went through every pantry and organized it, and went through all the linens and cleaned and pressed them and all. So many who did laundry like my sisters and mum had been sick, so there was a lot of linens all over Hobbiton and Bywater that needed caring for. Well, Miss Dora got her out a laundry kettle and had me help her do her a cleaning fire right there near the kitchen door, and she herself washed all the clothes and linens needing it in the smial. Then she found some old irons as Mr. Bilbo’s mum had used in a back storage room, and she scoured them of rust and began ironing clothes and linen on the old work table padded with towels. She knew how to clean and care for each item, and when she found several of Mr. Frodo’s shirts was missing buttons or had small tears, she tutted something fierce, and of the evenings she would sit in the parlor and have Mr. Bilbo read to us while she mended and Mr. Frodo lay on the couch drinking broth and herb teas and I brushed out cloaks and hoods and packs and hung them up neat, or carefully stacked Mr. Bilbo’s books and papers neater than he’d left them and set them orderly like on his desk and tables, or blacked the tender. I was right glad when I was allowed to go home of nights again, but I also missed being close at hand to hear if Frodo needed a glass of water. His eyes when he’d sup of it was always so grateful.
Once Bag End was sparkling again, she set out to decorate, and again she ordered me from the Gaffer as if she had all the right in the world, and I went out to the woods with her to help gather the greens. Then she had me help put them over the mantels and doors and windows, and then she took the remainders to Number 3 and had me help put them up there. Said our family did enough for her cousin and nephew, so she was going to make sure we didn’t want for a proper Yule, and then we did for the Rumbles, too! She was stern in her voice, but I learned she had a heart of gold. And there was baking going on in all three holes, and I was always carrying something from one to the other and taking other things back in return.
By Yule both Mum and Frodo was able to sit up and walk about some, but where Mr. Frodo was getting his color back and was definitely getting stronger, Mum wasn’t recovering as well. Farmer and Missus Cotton sent chicken stock and hams and apples, and Mr. Bilbo ordered some of the last of Farmer Maggot’s stock of mushrooms, and May sent over some of the strawberry preserves she’d put up in the summer, and for Yule it were a good feast for all of us whichever smial we was in. Not all the presents we’d started for one another had gotten done yet, but in the week afterwards, when a deep snow fell that kept all indoors except when the Gaffer and Ham and me went out to dig out the lane and the walks along the Row (and Mr. Bilbo helped, too--he proved right good with a shovel), we all finished up what we’d started and saw them properly distributed.
Mr. Frodo’d indeed made cookery books with Elvish and Dwarvish recipes in them for his aunts and grown up lady cousins, including his Auntie Dora; and he’d drawn portraits of his uncles and men cousins and put them in frames that Ham had made for him. He sent over a herbal, a book with pictures of plants and their names and uses, that Mr. Bilbo’d found for him to little Master Merry, and a little dog made of soft wool for the new Took cousin born just afore Yule, and he and Mr. Bilbo sent tops or Dwarf-carved pipes to the other boy cousins he wanted to remember, depending on whether they was lads or tweens, and pins to the girl cousins. And they did the same for my family, and they gave Mum and the girls lengths of fine cloth for new dresses; only they gave me a copy of a book of Elvish tales as well as a top, and Mr. Bilbo gave me a gold piece all for my own, because I’d worked so hard and helped so much when Mr. Frodo had been ill.
Mum could still knit although she was too tired to get up and do much around the hole, so she’d knit scarves and mittens for both Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo and Mr. Rumble, and a shawl for Mrs. Rumble, and a beautiful shawl in fine wools for Miss Dora Baggins, and May sent over pots of cherry conserve and Marigold pincushions she’d made for everybody, and the Gaffer gave them in Bag End and Miss Dora a bushel of his finest roots. And Mr. Bilbo sent down to him and my older brothers a fine keg of ale from Buckland, and all agreed it was a right merrier Yule than any of us had looked to have.
Only Mr. Frodo put the story I wrote for him for Yule on his bedside table, and he read it, he told me, every night; and I saw him, when we was packing when he left the Shire for good, putting that old story in the cover I’d made and decorated for him, in his saddlebags to take with him. I called it “The Elf in the Garden.” Funny to think a story I wrote is now in the Elven Lands, way west over the Sundering Sea, with him.