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11
Being Useful


Just then Aunt Carrie called out, "Nell, 'ave we any more soft soap? This bottle is near empty."

"There's one more bottle down cellar, Auntie," Nell said, and Greenjade could see her cheeks were visibly redder. To the others she said, "This is our laundry day. I'd almost forgot, meself. So if yer will give us yer dirty things, we can wash 'em along with our stuff."

The three travelers had brought but one change of clothes, which Radagast went to retrieve, and the two girls asked if they could see the kittens. Their mum had said they could each have one, since she'd seen a rat in the barn t'other day. Just then Maisy came up the walk, dragging a burlap bag almost as big as herself. Sméagol looked most delighted to see her.

"Wot you got there, Maisy?" Mr. Partridge asked. "You ain't runnin' away from 'ome, are yer?"

Radagast laughed. Maisy broke into a run.

"Hullo, Sméagol!" she called. "Hullo, Mr. Partridge. I brung Nildë some more woody flowers! There was lots of 'em behind old Miz Hazelbrock's house. She said to take all I wanted, she was tired o' steppin' on 'em. She don't see too good, yer know. I broke the sharp points off of a lot of 'em, but there was so many, I didn't 'ave time to do 'em all, an' Cal's mad at me so 'e wouldn't 'elp. Is Nildë's foot better?"

"That was most kind of you, Maisy," Radagast said as he came back out the front door. "And it's all right about the points, it will give Sméagol something to do for a while. Time is going to hang rather heavily on his hands, I fear. And I think Nildë is better this morning, and please tell your mother she was right about her jam. It was most delicious."

Maisy picked out a smooth cone and brought it to Nildë, then patted her head. She thumped her tail appreciatively and took the gift delicately from Maisy's hand.

"Why's Cal mad?" Gwynlen asked.

"'Cos we got in a fight an' he called me a rude name, and I told mum," Maisy said. "She wouldn't let 'im come over. 'Ow's yer ankle feelin', Sméagol?"

"Hurts," Sméagol said. "But Brown Master gives me medicines to makes it better."

"Maisy, did you 'ear what 'appened to that 'orrid Floria yesterday?" Gilda giggled.

"She said as she seen Gollum in the back'ouse," Gwynlen said giggling also. "She al'ays tries to make out like she never 'as to go, an' now she's seein' Gollum there. Ain't that daft?"

"Yes, I 'eard," Maisy said, and Greenjade noticed her cheeks getting pinker also, and he glanced sidelong at Sméagol, who kept his eyes to the front. "I gots to go now. Mum wants me 'ome. Please say hullo to Miss Nell and Mistress Carrie for me."

"Come back an' visit us, Maisy, when yer gots more time," Mr. Partridge said. "An' please give yer mum me regards."

Maisy nodded quickly, then turned and began to run.

"Nice lass," Sméagol said, almost to himself.

"Aye, she is," Radagast said. "Well. I told Greenjade we would make ourselves useful about the place, and we mean to do so. Where do we start?"

"Well," Mr. Partridge said, "the stable can use a bit o' muckin' out. One of me lads usually comes over and does it, but yer can save 'em the trouble if yer likes. Sméagol can 'elp me in me workshop. 'E won't 'ave to move around, just brush up an' hand me me tools, things like that. Yer ever do any carpenter work?"

Sméagol shook his head no, looking shamefaced. "But we helps."

"Come on, young feller," Mr. Partridge said. "Let's see what yer can do, eh? We'd best take Nildë along with us; I've a feelin' her an' the pussy might not get on so good."

Radagast pushed Sméagol's wheelchair along as Mr. Partridge led the way, then he and Greenjade repaired to the stable, Greenjade casting a glance at Nell and her aunt, who were carrying a large basket of clothes and a tub past the garden.

"Where are they going?" Greenjade asked. "Don't they wash at home?"

"I suppose they're going to the stream," Radagast said. "Well, come along."

As they paused to tie their hair back so as to have it out of their way, Radagast said, "That was most interesting, what you told of the Sea. Was it all true?"

Greenjade shrugged with a little smile, "For the most part."

Radagast chuckled. "It seems you truly cannot be content to blend in with the woodwork. That could prove to be a good thing. People in villages such as this tend to get complacent and insular, when not exposed to interesting outsiders from time to time. But please keep in mind, my friend, we are going to Mordor, and I hope you'll refrain from charming every lady you come across. A trail of broken hearts is not something we wish to leave behind us."

In the stable, where the twins were playing with the kittens, squealing and giggling and talking silly to them, and Greenjade was transfixed, remembering a time when he had watched his own children playing with the sea-creatures all about them, and wishing to give them the world for their own.

"I don't know which 'un to choose!" wailed Gwynlen. "I wish we could take 'em all! Don't you?"

"Aye," Gilda sighed, "but mum wouldn't allow it." Then she noticed the two men. "Which do y'uns think I should take?"

Radagast did not seem at all surprised at the question. He picked up first one kitten, then another, as their mother watched him curiously.

"This one," he said finally, holding up a black one with white feet. "This is your kitten, Gilda. And this--" he picked up a tawny one with a white bib-- "is Gwynlen's. Wouldn't you say?" He winked up at Greenjade. Both kittens were making a soft whirring or buzzing sound in the Wizard's hands.

"Most definitely," Greenjade said, remembering how Nell had looked at him from the doorway.

"Is mine a him or a her?" Gwynlen asked.

"Both lasses," Radagast said.

"Good," Gilda said. "I shall call mine White Shoes...no, that's silly. I'll call 'er...Blossom Feets."

"And mine is...Lovely Golden Princess Butterfly With Blue Eyes," Gwynlen said. "But I'll call 'er Butterfly fer short. 'Ullo Miss Butterfly, I'm yer mummy now! Wot yer think about that, eh?"

"Didn't Maisy act funny when we told 'er of Floria?" Gilda said as she wiggled a long straw for Blossom Feets to pounce on.

"Aye, she did," Gwynlen said. "Yer'd think she'd a' been glad, the way Florie's al'ays so mean to 'er an'--Ow! Yer little stinker, she bit me ear!"

"Think she really seen Gollum?" Gilda said.

"Prob'ly just somebody playin' tricks," Gwynlen said pulling Butterfly out of her hair. Greenjade glanced at Radagast to see his reaction, but the Wizard was stroking the mother cat and calling her his pretty lady.

The girls apologized profusely to her for taking some of her babies, promising to take good care of them. Then they embraced Radagast as though he were their granddad, although they had only just met him.

After the twins left, the two men took shovels and began their task, working up quite a sweat. Greenjade, much to his surprise, found himself enjoying it, remembering how Nell had looked at him earlier. He smiled to himself. Wouldn't it be wonderful if...no, it could never be. But his insides felt so nice and fluttery...was this being in love? Did she fancy him? She had known him but one day....

He kept his back to Radagast, feeling a strange urge to sing. And he found himself singing a song that had no meaning, for this feeling did not find voice in sea-music. It was landish, and since he knew no landish songs, he found himself inventing one. The melody was spun of a mystery, swaying like waves in a balmy wind, warm and welcoming as crystal sands in morning light, high as a volcano born of filling fire, And even so, there was sadness in it, the sadness of the iceberg shifting colors in the midnight sun, beautiful but habitable by none.

Bryllea, bryl' harthefreu
Thesalea vronta pylabani krylea
maunele thesi revalytha
zaunale plytelea........

"That is your native tongue?" Radagast asked. Greenjade started.

"It was," he said softly.

Lost, lost for a time
the sea has closed its foaming doors
and hid its wet rafters
from your rule--
blue chambers, green suns
sunken galleons, drowned continents
keening whales, laughing dolphins
mountains of fire from which isles sprang
mountains of ice in starlit noon
mounds of coral where sirens basked.
Once you held them all hungrily
the salt that glazed your face
was not from your eyes.

Mother,
oh mother
you dance high and free
with waves for your stockings
and bells 'neath your heels.
Father,
oh father
with your knees in the tide
singing to crystalled caverns
your wounds bleeding joy.
Brothers and sisters
as beads in a brave chain
my children
in pools of blessedness
Lady mine
with lifted chin
and blameful eyes
think of me
when I am sowing treasure
in a scalded land that weeps rough pearls
and never more will hear
the beckoning deathless
song of the sea.

"My name, in my native tongue, is Zylaunthaleu," he said. "'Stone of green'. My mother's was Bryseluthea--'perilous flower.'"

"I hope I will meet her someday," Radagast said.

"So do I," Greenjade said very softly. "You know...how to draw words?"

"Aye, I do."

"Perhaps you can teach me then, and I will draw a message for my mother, which you will give to her when you go to the West?"

"I would be glad to."

"You are able to send birds. Perhaps you can send a bird to carry it for..."

"I'm afraid it is too far for a bird to fly," Radagast said, "unless it be one of the great eagles, and they have all gone, I fear. I am sorry. But I would love to carry it for you."

"I can trust you...not to unseal it, nor let anyone else look at it?"

"You can trust me with your very life."

"If she is...no longer living by then, you could give it to one of my sisters, or to Northlight. I very much want you to meet him also...and...tell him of me."

At long last, they finished their work, and lay down on the straw, their hands clasped behind their heads. Greenjade felt a peculiar cleanliness, for all he was covered with straw and likely smelled of dung. So this is work, he thought. My first ever. Is this what other men feel at having accomplished something, however lowly and humble the task?

He looked at Radagast to see if he were feeling the same, and he suddenly felt an emotion that took him entirely by surprise. It was a strong fondness, mingled with respect and admiration. He wanted to do things for the old fellow, and to follow his lead, and defend him against any detractors, if such there were. He had never felt such a thing for his own father, and had to wonder if Nell had anything to do with this new emotion. It was tenderness, he realized.

About a quarter of an hour later, Radagast suggested they go weed the garden. They found the necessary tools in a little shed attached to the stable. Radagast showed Greenjade how to carefully dig up the undesirable plants, and Greenjade remembered what the Wizard had said the previous day about human nature being as a garden.

And again he thought of Nell.

"There's so much work for her here," he fretted before he could think. "She shouldn't have to be tied to this place. She's entitled to a life of her own. Like her brothers. Isn't she?"

"Sometimes it isn't a matter of what one is entitled to," Radagast said looking him in the eye in that manner that was sometimes disconcerting, yet commanding of respect. "Sometimes it's more of a matter of what needs doing. Just as with your stepfather. He was entitled to a life of his own, some would say. Yet there was something that needed doing, and he went out and did it."

Greenjade mulled this over, looking unheedingly at a dandelion he had just pulled up, and found himself thinking of Garland, wondering how she would fare in Nell's place. She wouldn't last a day, surely. Then again, most likely, some would have said the same of him.

And he began to wonder if, just possibly, he had wronged Garland....

And he wondered how she was faring now.

"I wonder how Sméagol is doing with the carpentry," Radagast said after a while.

~*~*~

As it turned out, not so well.

"'E's blessed clumsy, 'e is," Mr. Partridge said as he came from the workshop, which was in an open structure attached to the stable. The tools were kept in a locked metal shed, for they'd had thieves a time or two, he'd said. "'E hit 'is thumb twice with the hammer, and near sliced off 'is finger with a saw, then cut hisself with a chisel, and I 'ad a time gettin' 'im bandaged up. And drove at least six splinters into 'isself, all sizes, and made much fuss when I yanked 'em out of 'im. Yer'll want to see to 'im, I reckons. I set 'im to work whittlin' pegs. Seems to be all 'e's good for at the moment. What did 'e do fer 'is livin' afore yer come 'ere?"

"He was a fisher," Radagast said, glancing toward the shed where Sméagol sat hunched over, doggedly whittling at a little piece of hard wood.

"Well, per'aps we can take 'im fishin', although 'e'll 'ave to sit on the bank," Mr. Partridge said. "Me lads likely couldn't get 'im in their boat. 'At's strange, I didn't smell no fish on 'im. Most fishers, yer can smell 'em comin' a mile away."

"I believe where he comes from, one dives into the water for fish, much like an otter," Radagast said. "But I dare say he knows about casting as well. If he doesn't take to carpentry, perhaps we can put him to work in the kitchen. I'm sure he can peel potatoes and cut up carrots."

"Then we better set 'im to work now, afore he comes up missin' a finger," Mr. Partridge said, then lowered his voice. "There's somethin'...mighty queer about 'im, I must say. 'E seems to 'ave some kind o' strange secret, or some such. I never met the like of 'im afore."

"He was into some trouble once," Radagast said, "and rather than keep him in prison, I suggested he be put into my care, to help with the cleaning up of Mordor. I imagine he would rather not speak of the trouble, which involved thievery and treachery. That's why I was reluctant to take your daughter up on her hospitality. But I supposed with his leg as it is, he was extremely unlikely to cause trouble for you. I have not found him to be troublesome. And he has absolutely no desire to return to the prison in which he was confined. They were extremely cruel to him there."

"Well, yer might of explained that from the beginnin'," Mr. Partridge said frowning. "But I reckon yer right, 'e ain't likely to get up to much mischief the shape 'e's in now. An' it's good to 'ave the two of yer to 'elp out for a bit. But if it's all the same to yer, I'd just as soon not 'ave 'im with a knife in 'is 'ands when me daughter an' sister is alone with 'im, if yer know what I mean."

"We'll set him to work outside the house, on the porch perhaps," Radagast said. "We can keep an eye on him there. In the meantime, Greenjade and I need to wash up for luncheon. Our clothes are filthy, and the ladies have our only others in the wash."

"I've some that may fit yer," Mr. Partridge said. "Of course, yer friend there is taller and more narrer than meself, so they may not look so well on 'im."

"I'll be happy to take my luncheon outdoors," Greenjade spoke up.

And then out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nell and Miss Carrie coming up the road, the tub and the basket of laundry between them.

"Then again, perhaps it won't be necessary," he said smiling. Then he proposed to Radagast that they go assist the ladies in bringing in their load.

"Guess what!" Nell said as the two men came running. "We stopped at me brother Clark's, an' 'e had some old clothes that's your size. They got some patches to 'em, so's I hope yer don't mind it."

She handed him a pair of rough trousers and a sturdy-looking red shirt, neatly folded on top of the other clothes. Radagast grinned as he picked up the shirt and held it up to Greenjade.

"I'd say it's just your color," he said with a wink.

The clothes did fit pretty well, although the shirt was a bit big in the shoulders, and the red was becoming, judging from Nell's admiring look. She had stopped in at Ralf's as well, and gotten some clothes of one of his sons that she thought might fit Sméagol.

After luncheon Sméagol was set to work peeling potatoes for supper, with help from Greenjade, who managed to cut himself only once. He had Radagast to dress the cut, not wishing Nell to notice how soft and white his hands were, and how sore and raw they appeared from the unaccustomed labor. Miss Carrie put dried beans to soak, then she and Nell swept the floors and the porch, and in the afternoon the visitors got to meet Robin and Gil and their families. The twins said the kittens were making a lot of fuss, until the girls’ mum had made them take them outside. Radagast said they missed their mother, and living in a new place would take some getting used to. Then Gil's little daughter, Trilla, said she wanted a kitten too. She was just six, her brother Olly a year younger. Their mother, Jennie, looked to be about six months gone with child. She let the other children lay their ears on her belly. They would giggle and say, "It kicked me!" It seemed to bring a joyful light to Jennie’s face.

And Greenjade got to talk more of the Sea, while Trilla and Olly played with Nildë.

And later in the evening after the others had left, Jem came over. He did not look at all happy to see Greenjade.

"'Ow's yer mum, Jemmy?" Mr. Partridge asked him.

"She ain't doin' so good," the young man murmured without looking at anyone. "She's sleepin' now, so I can't stay long."

"Your aunt stays with 'er betimes, don't she?" Mr. Partridge asked.

"Aye, but she an' Mum don't get on so good," Jem said. "Ever' time Aunt Bertie leaves, Mum's in such a state, it's all I can do to get 'er calmed down again. But there's no one else but 'er sister to stay with 'er. Mum was the pretty one in 'er family an' 'er dad favored 'er, and Aunt Bertie ain't never fergot it. Sometimes Granny 'll come over, but I don't like to ask 'er. She gives me the willies, she's so old and queer. Mum says she's most an 'undred."

He and Nell went for a walk in the twilight, and Greenjade felt an emotion that was an ugly contrast to what he had been feeling that morning. He recognized it as jealousy, and wondered what to do about it. He remembered Nell saying that Jem had been wounded in such a way that he could not give her children. What did that mean? That he merely could not father young, or that he could not...? He felt too embarrassed to ask anyone.

As he lay in bed that night, he thought over the events of the day with mixed emotions.

And he looked over to Sméagol, and thought of what Mr. Partridge had said of him. And yet another strange feeling washed over him. It was similar to the sense of kinship he had felt toward the other the previous day, but something more.

"Sméagol," he found himself saying, thinking this was the first time he had spoken the name aloud. The small fellow looked at him in the dim light of the smelly tallow candle that burned low on the table between the beds, with eyes full of sadness as profound as the sea, and Greenjade nearly hated him for the feeling they imparted to him, that feeling that was all too familiar to him now, of apartness from all of humanity, of isolation and aloneness. He struggled against it, telling himself they had friends now. They were working, they were being useful, doing a good thing.

Yes, being useful...toward a humanity that would never have any use for them, a humanity that failed to recognize its benefactors and turned its back on its saviors with hostility and indifference, embracing its destroyers with joy and adoration.

Just as he himself had once done.

"Sméagol," he pressed on, nevertheless, "did you by any chance have aught to do with that lass yesterday? That incident in the backhouse? That was you, wasn't it?"

Sméagol started, and tugged at the bedding, as if to protect himself from a sudden cold wind.

"It's no matter," Greenjade laughed a little at him. "I knew it was you all along. Not to worry, I won't tell. I'm sure she had it coming to her, and it may teach her a lesson."

"We was...not in backhouse," Sméagol said defensively. "We was...in back, behind it. She did not see us. She lied. She is...bad girl."

Greenjade nodded. "Most likely. And there was no harm done, after all."

"Sméagol tells Brown Master," Sméagol said, after a moment, "tomorrow maybe. We tells 'im."

"No need, I'm sure," Greenjade said. "But if you wish, go ahead. If it will make you feel better. I think he knows already. No, I didn't tell him. I think he just knows these things."

Sméagol nodded: "Brown Master is good to us."

"Yes," Greenjade said thoughtfully. "I have to wonder why. It's not fear of the Bad Place. He'll not go there. I thought maybe it was because if he didn't take us with him, he might not get to go West. But I think there's more to it. He said he would take a message from me to my mother when he goes. That was good of him."

Sméagol sat up a little then. "He takes message...to West?"

"Aye. He said he'd even teach us to draw words. I didn't want him to see what I'd write...but now, I don't think I'd mind it so much."

"Would him...would him takes message to..." Sméagol was sitting straight up, wincing a little, but seemingly unmindful of the pain in his ankle.

"To my stepfather?" Sméagol nodded, looking away. "I'm sure he would, if you asked. What would you tell him?"

Sméagol was silent, and Greenjade was about to say he didn't have to tell if he didn't want to, when the other spoke again, looking down at his bandaged hands.

"We would tell him...that Sméagol is sorry...for biting his finger off," he said.




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