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76
Fish to Fry

Written to a prompt by KGreen for B2MEM. For LilyBaggins, Lily the Hobbit, and I_O_R_H_A_E_L for their birthdays.


~~~

Fish to Fry


May Gamgee entered the kitchen of Number 3, Bagshot Row, to find her sister Daisy making a sour face over a bowl of breading and a platter of fish. “What is it, Daisy?” she asked.

“It’s these fish as Sam caught the other day down at the Water,” Daisy answered. “I was goin’ t’fry them up for our dinner, but it seems as they’ve already gone off. We’ll have t’have somethin’ else. Mayhaps some of them pork chops as Cousin Tom sent over from their farm yesterday.” She pulled the last fish out of the bowl of batter and set it on the platter. “Well, that’s a waste of good batter, and no mistake,” she sighed. “It’ll all need to go into the compost pile! Oh, and would ye see to the scones as is in the oven, May? They should be comin’ out any minute now.” With that she headed out to the compost pile to pour out the batter.

May opened the oven to check the scones, using only her apron to protect her hands. She put her hand inside the cavity to check how done they felt to be, but in pulling it out again she accidently brushed it against the door, burning herself. “Yow! Ouch, ouch! Oh, curse and bebother it! Why didn’t I use the mitt?” After slamming the oven door shut again, for the scones weren’t quite done, she hurried off to the privy, as she’d always maintained the pump there produced colder water than the one in the kitchen, intent on filling a basin and soaking the burn. As she hurried down the hall she called out, “Marigold! Take the scones out of the oven in a few minutes! They’re not quite done. And remember to use the mitt!”

Marigold didn’t come out immediately, but when she did she dragged the broad foot stool over to where she could climb upon it and reach the oven door. Mitt in hand, she carefully opened the door and stretched to peek inside. “Looks to me as if they’re done,” she commented, and carefully she pulled the tray out and set it on the flat stone on which such things were set to cool. Then she spotted the platter of fish upon the table and shook her head. “That Daisy—she knows better’n to leave the fish out!” She spread the white cloth back over the fish and carefully returned the platter to the shallow cool room off the main larder, setting it on a lower shelf she could reach easily. “There!” she said, and catching up the cat she carried it back to the room she shared with her sisters. “Come on, Strudel,” she said. “I’ll finish readin’ you that story as I was workin’ on earlier.”

Strudel meowed a protest the small lass ignored, and soon the kitchen was empty and quiet once more.

It was some time before Daisy returned to the hole carrying the bowl that had held the tainted batter. “Bless Missus Rumble, but if she didn’t keep me out there a-talkin’ till the cows come home,” she murmured to herself. “Oh, but it does look as if May saw to them fish, and the scones look a treat, they do. But why didn’t she at least start the pork chops? Well, I know as she’s workin’ on that dress to wear to the harvest dance at the farm—she’s the right to be distracted, I’m thinkin’. But Dad should be home soon, and I don’t want him to have to wait to eat.”

In moments the wide skillet was on the cooking surface, and after making certain the taters she’d peeled earlier were boiling gently, she began browning the meat. A few minutes later May came in, a bandage wrapped around her hand.

“You burnt yourself again?” Daisy enquired.

May nodded as she got out another pan and a rasher of bacon, from which she cut a few slices to pop into the pan. “You’d think by this time as I’d learn to use the mitt every time. But I do get into a hurry, don’t I?”

By the time Sam returned from Bag End the table was set, and May was pouring a pot of green beans cooked with slices of mushroom and bacon into a bowl preparatory to setting it, too, on the table along with a platter of chops, a generous basin of taters mashed with sweet cream, butter, and grated garlic and minced parsley, a basket of scones, a great bowl of mixed greens, two pots of jam, and a tub of butter.

“Where’s our dad?” Daisy asked.

“Decided to go over the Water to the Green Dragon with Daddy Twofoot,” Sam announced. “We’re to see ourselves to bed.”

Daisy sighed. “We’ll set a few chops aside for him to have once he’s home,” she decided. “Well, wash your hands well and sit yourself down. Dinner’s hot now, it is, and ready for us even if Dad’ll have his later.”

A plate with three chops, a hardy ladle of taters and another of beans, and an accompanying bowl of greens were covered with a clean cloth and placed in the cool room by May, who set them on the upper shelf since the lower ones were fairly full. Not knowing when their father was likely to return, it was decided that the cool room would be better than the warming oven, as it would only all dry out if it stayed there for any length of time. No one paid particular attention to the other covered platter on the lower shelf….

*******


It was a crashing in the kitchen that awoke Sam, and he was swiftly out of bed, drawing a well-worn wrapper about himself and headed down the passage to find out just what was going on in the hole.

He found the Gaffer there, and two copper pots lying on their sides on the floor where apparently his dad had managed to drop them as he hauled out the biggest skillet.

“What’s it you’re tryin’ to do?” Sam asked, eyeing his father.

“They left me a whole platter of them fish you caught the other day!” the Gaffer said with satisfaction. “And shush if’n you don’t want the lasses down here to share!”

Sam found himself smiling, and after seeing the two pots back to their places, he hurried about the room setting things in place so he and his dad could share a midnight meal. Neither of them paid the slightly off odor of the fish any mind….

*******


Frodo opened the side door to Bag End for the fourth time that morning, wondering where the Gaffer and Sam were lingering, much less why. He’d prepared a pot of tea for them, and a platter of Bilbo’s seed cakes. Had Bilbo been home, it was likely there would have been but three cakes each left for their gardener and his son; but Bilbo was in Michel Delving dealing with some business matter or another, and Frodo was left to play host as he wished.

Frodo wandered down the paths, but found no signs of either Hamfast or Samwise Gamgee anywhere. He was back at the north end of the hill checking out the vegetable gardens when he heard the side gate crash shut, and he hurried back toward the front of the smial only to find Sam, grey-faced and dull-eyed, almost hanging on the gatepost.

“What in Middle Earth?” Frodo demanded, frightened by the young Hobbit’s aspect.

“It’s my dad,” Sam explained. “He’s that bad—can’t keep anythin’ down this morning’, he can’t. The lasses—they’re doin’ their best to keep him in bed, and I come up to work for the both of us----”

Only it was plain that Sam wasn’t in any shape to work that day either, as he suddenly turned about and bent himself over the gate to lose whatever it was he had in his own stomach. There was nothing Frodo could do for several moments but to support the lad as best he could until the spasm was over. Finally Sam was done, and Frodo pulled him as upright as the younger Hobbit could stand, and with a hand about Sam’s shoulders he led him into Bag End and to the nearest bedroom and settled the lad into the bed there. In moments he had the kettle on again, and while the water heated he brought the basin Bilbo had set aside for any bout of illness either of them might know and placed it within reach on the chest beside the bed.

“Ginger tea for you, young Hobbit,” Frodo announced as he brought a cup of that drink into the room along with a small carafe of water and a glass to match. He helped Sam cleanse his mouth with the water before giving him a few sips to swallow, only allowing the lad to have some tea once it was plain he was able to retain the water. When Sam had half a cup of tea in him he shook his head to any more, and rolled over on his side, curling up around his sore stomach. Frodo left him to sleep as he could, and hurried down to advise Daisy, May, and Marigold that their brother was safe in bed at Bag End and to check on the Gaffer’s condition.

“It was them fish as Sam brought home the other day,” Daisy explained, obviously distressed. “I realized as them was off, and took out the batter t’pour it out on the compost heap, but May burnt herself on the oven afore she could bring out the fish, too. And Marigold was only doin’ as her was taught, puttin’ the cover back over the plate and seein’ it back into the cold room. How was anyone to suppose as our dad would think as that was what we’d put aside for his own supper? And Sam’s sick, too? Well, him did get up when he heard the Gaffer in the kitchen, it seems. And both ate of them fish as should have been thrown out instead! I suppose as both of them’ll be better by termorror. Thank you, Master Frodo, for seein’ to it as Sam’s cared for. We’re all about run off our feet seein’ to it as the Gaffer’s taken care of!”

With that Frodo was off back up the Hill to see to Sam’s welfare.

*******


“Sauce of apples, curds and whey, ginger tea, and apple juice for you today,” Frodo said as he settled the tray across Sam’s lap, once the young Hobbit indicated he felt he could do with some food in his stomach. “I have some chicken broth simmering in the kitchen for an hour from now, supposing that you can keep this down. So, you and your dad had some fish in the middle of the night, did you? Daisy had intended to have it all thrown out as it had gone off, or so she told me. But it appears that Missus Rumble saw her outside and kept her distracted enough for little Marigold to decide a platter of fish belongs in the cool room rather than on the work table. I’m so sorry you and the Gaffer both were able to eat it without realizing that it should have followed the batter onto the compost heap.”

“It was the fish as done it for us, was it?” Sam said. “Should of been able to smell as it was bad now.”

Frodo smiled. “Maybe so, but we’ve all eaten something we should have avoided, I suspect.”

Sam eyed him. “Not you, too?”

“Oh, yes, but for me it was eels from the Brandywine. Mummy wasn’t feeling particularly good that day, and I must suppose they sat out too long before they were cooked. Oh, but was I ill! Couldn’t keep anything down better than half a day.”

“And this was what them give you, was it?”

“Yes, sauce of apples, curds and whey, ginger tea, and apple juice. Standard fare for those whose stomachs are upset. Just start with a bite or two, and make certain you can keep it down before you take more. You don’t have to rush things—you have all day, and the garden shan’t suffer just because you and your dad are both kept in bed for a time. And, if you think you can handle it, I even have some ginger beer put by that you can have this evening.”

Sam sat back against the pillows the young Master had arranged for him and began with a small spoonful of curds and whey. He found he didn’t mind being ill, not with Master Frodo caring for him. Somehow, in Frodo’s care he felt safe as houses!



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