or, Memoirs of a Young Hobbit of Pleasure
Being the Adventures of a young Hobbit of the Shire, in the City of Osgiliath, in the Days of that great Conflict among Nations, now styl'd, the War of the Ring. Containing a full Account of his Captivity in a House of ill Fame, and his daring Rescue from the Same. With the secret Histories of several Persons of that Time, including Captain Faramir of Gondor, and some surprising Explanations of that Gentleman's mysterious Behaviour, never before made Publick. By Mrs. Maria-Susannah Cleland
Edited, with notes and an introduction by Teasel
Table of Letters
Letter the First In which the fair Halfling appears among us; mysterious Behaviour of Captain Faramir.
Letter the Second A startling Encounter in the secret Passage; the fair Halfling wakes; Mr. Peters' fiendish Plan.
Letter the Third In which the fair Halfling commences the History of his Lovers; an Encounter between him and his cousin Ledo.
Letter the Fourth In which the fair Halfling concludes the sad Tale of his Lovers; the strange Fate of Ledo; the tragic Obstacle between the Halfling and his one true Love.
Letter the Fifth In which the Identity of our caprine Friend is question'd; intriguing Elvish Customs are explain'd; the fair Halfling reaches a dreadful Conclusion concerning the Fate of his Sam, and takes a rash Action in Consequence.
Letter the Fifth-and-a-Half In which our caprine Friend meets an appalling Fate; a dearly lov'd Friend of the Halfling appears among us at last; the Halfling's Curse is explain'd; and Sauron's most fearsome Weapon is mention'd.
Letter the Fifth-and-Three-Quarters In which the fair Halfling is subjected to an Auction of the most shocking Kind; impulsive Actions of Captain Faramir and a Pot of Honey.
Letter the Sixth In which the Auction is complete; a mysterious Identity is reveal'd; heroick Actions of Mr. Peters; Captain Faramir, the fair Halfling, and Sam find Happiness at last.
The History is at last complete; no additional Letters will be forthcoming.
WARNING: The Tale concerns Passions uniting Gentlemen with other Gentlemen, with Ladies, and in a single unfortunate Instance, with a Goat of indeterminate Gender. Those squick'd by a Love between Gentlemen of different Species may be displeased by some short Episodes in the earlier part of the Tale; while those dismay'd by Loves between Hobbits will be greatly disappointed by the Tale's affecting Conclusion.
Those Readers, who find the Language of this Warning in itself displeasing, will not find that it improves in the Tale itself, and are earnestly advis'd, to seek elsewhere for their reading Pleasure.
DISCLAIMER: The Characters in this History have, alas! long been the Property of Others; no base material Gains have been obtain'd by the humble Authoress, who writes solely for Love of the Persons describ'd therein.
Like other great turning points in the history of scholarship, the discovery of this manuscript was the product of both diligence and happy chance. While Westron studies have been a passion of mine for many years, they could not have been further from my mind when this manuscript first came to my attention. It was instead in the course of my research on quite another matter -- eighteenth-century British whey production -- that I discovered the manuscript in the rare book room of a major American university.
Little did I know what scholarly delights lay before me when a bundle of old papers fell out of the long-unopened thirteenth volume of Haywood's British Dairywoman and Miscellany. Upon examination the contents of the packet proved mostly to be what one might expect: random bits of eighteenth-century ephemera, of little interest to any but the most obsessive collector -- laundry bills, pawn-shop receipts, torn pages from old almanacs, and the birth certificate of one Richard Savage. But the collection did contain one gem: seven hundred or so loose sheets of paper, closely written on both sides in cramped, tiny handwriting. At the top of the first sheet was inscribed a title so amazing that I could hardly believe my eyes:
Elegant Extracts from the Red-Book of the Westmarch, for the special Use of the Ladies. Translated from the Westron, with Notes and Divers Reflections upon Moral and Critical Subjects, by Mrs. Maria-Susannah Cleland.
I was of course immediately aware of the significance of my find and was eager to investigate it further. As it happened, the entire manuscript somehow fell into my handbag when I left the rare book room through a little-known emergency exit in the back. Thus I have been able to examine the manuscript in the comfort of my home over a period of several months.
As I'd originally suspected, the manuscript represents the earliest known English translation from the Red Book. Although the scholarly world owes an immense debt of gratitude to Professor Tolkien for his labour in the field of Westron studies, one can only lament the decision of the Tolkien estate to seal his copy of the Red Book in a safe at the bottom of the North Sea. This somewhat intemperate course of action has left later scholars with few, if any opportunities to extend his work, or even to check its accuracy, as his copy was the last extant in Europe (apart from the possibly apocryphal Fredonian manuscript, which has been missing since the Second World War).
Yet here, now, in 2003, we have at last what looks to be an extremely competent translation from a scholar who had full access to the Duke of Norfolk's copy of the Red Book. This copy was destroyed by the fire at Worksop Manor in 1761, but in Maria-Susannah Cleland's translation of it we now have a hitherto unimagined scholarly resource that will, I am confident, turn the world of Westron studies upside down.
Many aspects of Cleland's translation will be extremely surprising to students of Professor Tolkien's work, most notably the ending to the long section of the Red Book that Tolkien published as The Lord of the Rings. Cleland's ending differs from Professor Tolkien's in several key respects. Indeed, my work with her text has made me suspect that Tolkien's ending has no genuine source in the Red Book at all, but is a fabrication of his own.
But since a fuller treatment of this matter will shortly be published elsewhere, I shall refer interested readers to my forthcoming article in the June 2004 issue of Palpitations: British Women's Writing in Eighteenth-Century Europe. For the present, I offer as an example of Cleland's work a short episode that Professor Tolkien chose not to include at all. The reasons for Tolkien's omission are unknown. It is notable, however, that this episode treats a key moment in the romance between two of the main characters, a romance that he largely ignored or suppressed.
One can only speculate on the motives that led a scholar of Tolkien's sterling qualities to distort his source material to this extent. Quite possibly Tolkien believed that conservative readers in mid-twentieth century Britain would be shocked by a literary work that concluded with blissful unions among no fewer than four pairs of male characters, one pair of female characters, and a threesome consisting of an Ent, a giant spider, and a goat.
Cleland had fewer such qualms, as the narrative reproduced below will begin to show. A few words about Maria-Susannah Cleland will serve to conclude this introduction. She is of course the older sister of the famous John Cleland, whose Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (also known as "Fanny Hill") has long been considered one of the classics of erotic literature.
While Maria-Susannah's work is considerably less graphic than her brother's, in keeping with the tastes of her genteel female audience, it is also much less judgmental on the subject of diverse sexual practices. John Cleland's work condemns outright even something so widespread as homosexuality, and it is difficult to imagine how shocked he would have been by, for example, the role of the goat in his sister's translations, or by the mess-hall scene in Minas Tirith (not reproduced here) in which young Pippin is used as a condiments tray.
The manuscript reproduced below will, I trust, prove to be of interest both to lovers of Tolkien and to scholars of eighteenth-century literature. I must admit, however, that casual Tolkien enthusiasts may find the text somewhat heavy going, since I have done nothing to modernise Cleland's language, sentence structure, capitalization, or punctuation. I would advise readers unfamiliar with such language to consult her brother John's work Fanny Hill. This book -- quite apart from being one of the hottest stories ever written -- can provide twentieth-century readers with a crash course in the glories of eighteenth-century prose, a part of our linguistic heritage that Tolkien despised, but that had its own strange beauty nonetheless.
April 1, 2003
Letter the First
Minas Ithil, 1 Viresse, Fourth Age 65
My dear Madam,
I write to you now to give you undeniable Proof that I consider your least Wish to be a Command. For although my Modesty shudders at the Remembrance of the earlier Part of my Life, I can hardly withstand such gentle but persistent Inquiries as you have made in your last twelve Letters, concerning several scandalous Episodes of my younger Days.
'Tis true that I am among the few Persons still living who can recall the secret History of the fair Halfling of the North, Frodo Baggins. This Frodo is justly celebrated through all Gondor as the Saviour of Middle-earth, but then, alas! he was but a single lost Traveller, and his wanderings in the City of Osgiliath proved near Fatal to the Success of his Quest and to the Hopes of us all.
My Narration shall also reveal much concerning our wise and gallant Prince Faramir of Ithilien in his Youth. For at that Time some Parts of his Behaviour mystified many in his Service, and the full Explanation of his strange Actions has never been made Publick.
And I am sure, Madam, that a Lady of your tender Feelings will not take it amiss, if I now and then stray from the strictly Politick part of my Tale to relate how Cupid's Darts were fired even in the ruin'd Streets of our besieg'd City. Many Songs have been Sung of the great Passion uniting Frodo to the Halfling who accompanied him, a Servant of his House, yet the Master of his Heart. But it has been forgot that this Passion came so near to fading unrequited and unfulfill'd, and that it might have perished indeed if not for the Events I am about to relate.
And 'twas also at this Time of great Fear and Peril that Prince Faramir, then but a Captain in the Armies of Gondor, discover'd Love in the most unlikely Place imaginable, a Love which has ever after burn'd with a Flame so bright as to make him a standing Example of Happiness to Mankind.
Before I begin, Madam, I must beg your Indulgence and take but a Moment to assure you (lest you have any Doubts upon this Score), that every Word of my Relation shall be the plain Truth, either as I saw it with my own Eyes or as I heard it thereafter from those concerned.
And at no Time shall I ever festoon my Tale with strain'd Metaphor, lengthy Simile, obscure Catachresis, nor any of those other hateful Figures of Speech so current among our fashionable Authors of Minas Tirith. For I hold as a sacred Maxim, what you have so often told me, that Truth shines the brightest in her Nakedness, and that the elaborate Dress in which some Authors clothe her merely hides her greatest Beauties from the Reader's curious Eye.
Nor shall I distract or dismay you with those tedious Digressions, such as Histories of unimportant Persons, Reflections upon moral Subjects, sallies of feeble Wit, or Remarks upon literary Criticism, all of which Flummeries act like so much Lard, clogging the free Flow and Movement of the Story, and adding much to that nasty Thing which you and I both, Madam, so greatly abhor: an uncouth and unnecessary Prolixity in a Tale.
But to my story -- You must know, that at the time when Gondor and all the lands of Men were under Seige by the Creatures of the Dark Lord, that our fair Country of Ithilien was then nothing like it is now in these happier Days. Now the blessings of Peace smile upon the Land; then the God of War strode angry across it; now Ithilien is a Garden; then it was a Wilderness; now it basks in the Light of Gondor; then it lay in the shadow of Mordor. Nay, Ithilien itself had been long abandon'd by all decent Folk, and was the abode of foul Wraiths and of the wretched Things who served them. No Men would have walked those haunted Woods were it not for the Courage of the soldiery of Gondor. Led by the young Captain Faramir, their Daring knew no Bounds, for in frequent Raids they harried the Enemy even to the very Gates of the City of the Wraiths.
Yet even the greatest Courage will falter with constant and unvarying Exercise; and no Soldier, however bold his Spirit, will continue in the same happy Condition without occasional Rest. And so it was that Captain Faramir and his men would oft resort to the city of Osgiliath and to such Recreations as that Place could afford.
A Lady of your tender Years, Madam, would scarce credit me were I to describe in any Detail the shocking State of the City at that Time. For an unending series of Wars had reduced much of it to Rubble, and in Truth that Place had been near to deserted for a long Tale of Years. Yet its great Conveniency had led the Soldiers to use it as a Base, and whither the Soldiers went, other Persons would follow, so that the various Needs of these active and vigorous Men might best be served.
Captain Faramir was justly celebrated for the anxious Care he devoted to his Men, and he extended his Protection to any who served them in some humble Office; whether to provide wholesome and delicious Food, or to tend their various articles of Dress, or to repair their Weaponry.
'Tis hardly a matter of surprise, then, that the House wherein I was at that Time employed flourished under Captain Faramir's beneficent Rule, for a Gentleman of his Wisdom and Discretion could not but acknowledge that the humblest Soldier in the Army deserves, and may indeed require, an occasional Evening of Dalliance with some Lady or fair Youth, one whose Modesty will not forbid the poor weary Man to prosecute his Love even to the farthest Point of Tenderness.
In short, Madam (for one of your great Innocence may not entirely comprehend my meaning), I was employed in that Place, along with many other excellent Ladies, fair Youths, and a fine well-grown Goat, to provide Pleasure to any Customer of the House, accepting in Return only those modest Fees required to keep the House in good Order, as well as the occasional trifling Gift: viz., Silks, Satins, any old bit of Gold, or Jewels not too small, that our generous Swains might be inspired by Gratitude to provide.
And on this Topic you must permit me a brief Digression. In these Days of Peace there are Ladies, more noted for their Elegancy than their Candour, who condemn such a Mode of Life in the strongest Terms. You will pardon me, Madam, when I say, that such Ladies have taken Thoughtlessness to its lowest Pitch; for none should judge such a Choice without knowing the Circumstances that led to't. Many among us had resorted to this mode of Life only when all our Friends were lost to the Horrors of War. Such indeed was my Case. For my Father lost his Life in the Service of his Country, and my Mother and Sisters -- but soft, I will not dwell upon Griefs long past.
Suffice it to say, I was thrown upon my Wits at the Age of sixteen, with no Money, Prospects, or Possessions, and naught save my Beauty to make my Way in the World. In wild romantick Tales, the fair Heroine would die of Grief rather than trouble herself to earn her Bread. But it is a plain Fact that while Breath continues, one must find some Way to live, nay and to laugh as well, though what Men call one's Virtue is gone.
But to my Tale -- Let me hasten to assure you, Madam, that by the time of my Story, sometime in my eighteenth Year, (1) I had found in this way of Life much to console me, for in the Company of the Ladies I found some Recompense for the loss of my Sisters. Many Ladies and Youths of that House were of good Family (tho' the Goat, I believe, was of but common Stock), and the common Practices of the House were design'd to encourage the most genteel Sociability among us.
For when the Hours of our Labour were passed, 'twas the general Custom of the Ladies to retire to a common Room in the back of the House, the fair Youths having another such reserved to them in a distant Quarter, and the Goat being housed in a Shed hard by. Our Chamber was provided only with those poor Scraps that our little Establishment could afford in a City at War; for there was scarce any Furnishing, save perhaps eight or ten soft Couches and Armchairs well upholster'd in heavy Silk. The Floor was the plainest Wood, covered only with a Few thick Carpets woven in the colourful Designs of the Haradrim. The Windows let in the Chill, save when we closed the velvet Curtains to hide our Bower from prying Eyes. The Walls were quite bare, save for some five or six curious Pictures depicting amorous Scenes, and some Few Tapestries embroider'd in the simplest Designs in gold and silver Thread. And scarce any Refreshment was to be had, unless it were a little Tea, fresh Bread with Butter, some jellied Fruits, six or seven kinds of Cheese, and a scant assortment of Brandies and Cordials. Though these last were never touch'd upon by any of the Ladies, all of whom were abstemious almost to a Fault, save when any one or another among us was moved by some strong Emotion: in which Case 'twas understood to be a sisterly Duty for all the Others to keep her Company, though merely in a sociable Way.
Despite the Poverty of our Surroundings, however, we none of us lost Heart, but sought ways to Console each other in our Sorrows by seeking out rational forms of Amusement.
An elaborately carved wood Cabinet contained several Hundreds of Books in the Languages of both Men and Elves; nay, and in that of the Dwarves as well. While this last is a most difficult Tongue for Strangers to Learn, I assure you Madam, that it is one well worth your Study. For 'tis little known how exquisitely the Dwarvish poets describe the Arts of Love. Indeed their Treatises on that Subject are most curious, for the Dwarves are a remarkably clever and inventive Race, and have applied their Talents to Pleasure with as much Earnestness and Success as to any other Endeavour.
Oft, then, we Ladies would pass the time in Reading, or in learning those Languages contain'd in our Books; and when these Resources had been Exhausted, many of the Ladies took up the Pen themselves, and wrote, for their own Pleasure and those of the Others, many Tales of Adventure and Intrigue in which the warmer Passions played no small Part.
It is not therefore to be wonder'd that on that fateful Night when my Tale begins, the Ladies of the House were engag'd in those learned Pursuits I have just described. The Evening was a notable one, for we had just obtain'd, at great Trouble and Expense to ourselves, the latest amorous Volume by a Dwarvish Author much admir'd among us. One of the Ladies was reading aloud from his most enlightening Work, tho' the Harmony of our little Society was somewhat disturb'd by a small Dispute which had arisen concerning one of the Engravings with which the Work was adorn'd.
For one of the Ladies maintain'd, in a Tone that would brook no Disagreement, that the Position depicted therein was not possible to sustain, or at least not for the great length of Time asserted by the Dwarvish author. In Response to which, another Fair Disputant replied that the first was in Error, for some of the Dwarves were quite flexible, and became more so in the Course amorous Play. And this Lady further declare'd that she had discover'd the true Source of her Opponent's Error, in that, she held the Illustration in Question upside-down.
The first Lady had just opened her Lips to make some impolitick Retort, when of a sudden, from a Door leading to a back Entrance to the House, we heard a loud importunate Pounding. Many of the Ladies trembled at the very Sound, for our Customers met with us in quite another Place, and no other Visitors could be expected at such a late Hour. In those dangerous Days, once the Shades of Evening had drawn across the Sky, few wander'd abroad in the city Streets, for Fear of the Creatures of the Enemy.
At length the lovely Amelia,(2) one of the sweetest Ladies and much beloved by all the others, spoke, though in a voice somewhat strain'd with Emotion. "Perchance," said she, "'tis some weary Traveller, fled to this our fair City from some distant Province now attack'd by the Enemy. "Twould be an act of Kindness, Ladies, to grant Entrance to such desperate Need."
"That may be so," quoth another. "But 'tis said that the Spies of the Enemy have many Guises, some foul and some fair. And how are we know whether such poor Refugees are indeed what they seem?" And many of the other Ladies nodded Agreement to this reasonable Question, for the Speaker, the learned Clarissa, was justly celebrated for her Wisdom and Discretion, and had thus obtain'd a great Authority among us. (3)
But another of the Ladies rose from her Couch and paced about Room, exclaiming with some Impatience, "Whether they be Friends or Foes, they knock with such Violence that we could make but little Resistance, should they seek to enter by Force. The Question is not, should we permit them Entry, but how shall we defend ourselves, when once they stand within our Walls?"
And with that, she withdrew from her Petticoats a sharp Stiletto, wherewith she oft arm'd herself against the many Dangers that attended our Way of Life.
Several other of the Ladies gasped, yet for a Moment none offer'd an Argument against these Remarks. For this Speaker, the fair Seleta, rarely said a Word in Company, but Lurked here and there among us. And on those rare Occasions when she broke her Silence, the other Ladies took some little Time to recover from their Surprise. (4) But for myself, Madam, I must confess that her infrequent Remarks, however hasty and uncouth they might have been, oft came closest to expressing the Feelings of my own Heart.
"Perchance -- " the peaceable Amelia began with some Trepidation, but she was interrupted by a redoubled Pounding upon the Door, echoing throughout our Chamber with such a Force that the Chandelier -- for so we call'd our most curious Lantern wrought of elvish Crystal -- shook where it hung with a Sound like the Chiming of many Bells.
"Lady save us!" cried Amelia.
"Open!" came a Voice from without the Door, "in the name of Captain Faramir!"
At the Sound of this well-loved Name, one of the Ladies rush'd to the Window -- and in Truth, Madam, I know not why it never enter'd our Heads to do this before -- and cried "'Tis he indeed!"
At this Seleta lowered her Stiletto (tho' still she kept it near at Hand) and withdrew to her Couch, whilst several other Ladies made hasty Adjustments to their Hair and Dress. Meanwhile Clarissa stepped briskly to the Door and flung it open, revealing our gallant Captain in the Entrance.
'Tis hard indeed, Madam, in these latter Years, when our Prince of Ithilien is so much praised for his Justice, his Wisdom, and his Courage, to recollect that in those Days, Captain Faramir would present to the curious Eye an Impression of quite another Kind, to wit, a near overpowering Sense of his great Beauty. He was at that Time in his six and thirtieth Year, a mere Youth in the reckoning of the Men of Numenor, and in his Face there linger'd still some Traces of the Boy that he had been. His Hair fell about his Face in soft Ringlets like spun Gold, a Colour most unusual in one of his Family, and yet one that no Lady could find it in her Heart to dislike. His Eyes were the grey of storm-toss'd Seas, darkening when strong Feeling clouded his Brow. His Nose -- 'tis true, Madam, that his Nose was called large by some, but most agreed that 'twas noble, as befitted one of his great Station. And his Mouth -- while some said his Lips were over-full and his Mouth more generous than fair, there were many amongst us who found that Mouth bewitching indeed, like a late Rose of Autumn one single Hour past its most perfect Bloom, in that Moment when the wild Excess of its Beauty has been touch'd by the first Shadow of its own Decay. Let the fashionable Connoisseur, slave to a false Idea of Elegance, declare the flower's Petals overblown! Any Lady with Tastes form'd by the dictates of Nature will reply, that the Fragrance of such a Blossom is sweeter than any other.
And yet I know not how it was, Madam, but on this Night I was struck in my Heart (and the other Ladies afterwards said they felt the same) with the Notion that much was amiss in that Face we all knew. For the Captain's Countenance was stern; he frown'd most fiercely; he spoke not a Word in greeting, but stood glowering in the Door, as if we Ladies were his worst Enemies rather than profess'd Admirers who waved our Kerchiefs and cheered whenever he chanced to pass our House in the Street.
"Madam," he said to Clarissa, who curtseyed before him, "I would enter this House."
"Sir," quoth she, "you are most welcome."
Before she could add another Word he crossed the Threshold, forcing her indeed to skip out of his Way as he strode forward, followed by five or six of his Men. They all of them bore Burdens of the strangest Kind: viz., several large padlocked Chests, and some great heavy Thing taller than the height of two Men, which proved on Examination to be one of the fine Carpets of the Haradrim, rolled up and bound with heavy Ropes. All these the Men placed in the room's darkest Corners, paying not the slightest Heed to the Ladies who scrambled aside to let them pass.
When almost all these mysterious Packages had been stowed away, the Captain stood in the center of the Room bearing one last Burden in his Arms, tho' it was so closely wrapp'd in Cloaks and Blankets that we none of us could see what it was. "Madam," said he, "I would speak with your Master."
At this several of the Ladies exchanged Glances but hesitated to speak, for it was not clear to whom the Captain address'd this Remark. For he seemed to see none of us, but gaz'd down at the Burden he carried, like one in a Trance, or under some Spell. So strange was his Manner, and so very far from his usual mild Courtesy, that several among us began to wonder whether naught but some strange Magick could account for this Change.
At length Clarissa spoke. "Sir," quoth she, "if by our Master you mean Mr. Peters, at this late Hour he would be retir'd to his Bedchamber, but I can send some Girl to fetch him if you desire."
"I do so desire," murmured the Captain, still gazing half-distracted upon his Burden.
At this Time several among the younger Ladies withdrew quietly behind our older and wiser Friends, for we had no Wish to run the Errand propos'd, however much we might have desired to oblige Clarissa in ordinary Affairs. For this Mr. Peters, whom the Captain call'd our Master, did indeed own the House wherein we were employ'd. While our Gratitude to him was great -- for 'twas he who had permitted the Formation of our little Community -- he was a Man of strange Moods and sudden Changes of Mind. And tho' his Place of Business was devoted to Love, some among of the Ladies had come to believe that it was of late the Violence of War, the Shock of Battle, and the Craft of Political Intrigue that engag'd his Passions most deeply. And much as they lov'd him, these Ladies feared he might at any Moment sacrifice us for the Sake of his darling Pursuits. Yet others insisted, that only his attention to the Arts of War could allow the House to Flourish, because the Nature of the Times demanded such. And others still declar'd, that his most puzzling Actions were but a Feint, that his Heart was Kindness itself, and that we had but to trust him and all would be well in the End.
He was, in short, for us the cause of great Speculation and a Figure near as much dreaded as belov'd. You may thus imagine, Madam, my Relief when Clarissa chose some other young Lady to fetch him from his Sleep.
"Sir," quoth Clarissa when the Girl was gone, "I doubt not but that Mr. Peters will soon be among us. In the mean Time, will you take some small Refreshment? For surely, Sir, you must be weary, having borne such Burdens over Distance, and done so in this foul Darkness that hides the Enemy's Creatures from all but the most attentive Watchfulness and Care."
On hearing such kind Words, the Captain at last spar'd her a Glance. "Foul indeed is the Darkness," quoth he, "and great has been our Labour in keeping it at Bay. For we have been in Battle against the Haradrim not six Hours since, and these Burdens you see before you are the Spoils of Combat, bought with much Blood and Pain."
"Sir," said Clarissa, "you have our Gratitude, and that of all the Citizens of Gondor." And to this Remark the other Ladies murmur'd their heartfelt Agreement.
"Then show it," quoth the Captain, "and keep secret what Things you see here. For they concern the most urgent Matters of State, far beyond the Understanding of simple Women such as yourselves."
At that moment there was a Noise, from the Corner of the Room where Seleta stood, like unto a Pan of warm Milk boiling over upon a hot Stove. But before the Captain could turn to investigate the Source of this Sound, Clarissa said, in a mild Tone which yet did not entirely conceal her sense of Injury, "You may, Sir, depend upon our Discretion, in all those Matters regarding our country's Safety."
"I depend upon nothing," cried he, "save what the Sword can win, and therefore I say to you" -- and here the Captain swept the Room with a most fearsome Glare -- "that your Silence will be ensured by your Solitude, for you will be imprisoned within this Chamber whilst it is necessary for these Things to be kept here. And should any among you speak one Word to Outsiders, or attempt to Escape, you will instantly be put to the Sword, and three of your Friends with you."
The Silence with which this Declaration was met was perhaps more profound and unbroken than that which existed before the world's Creation, when all was dark and empty. And indeed, Madam, mere Words could never have express'd the Pain we felt, not merely at being subject to such a Threat, but at hearing such Language from one whom, until that Moment, we had all of us so extravagantly admir'd.
'Twas Seleta who first gather'd Breath to speak, and I scarce know, Madam, whether she would have stabb'd the Captain through the Heart with no Thought to the Consequence, or waited first, to deliver herself of a few choice Remarks before committing such a rash Act. But in the Event, both the Captain's Safety and her own were miraculously preserved, when we all of us were surprised by a soft Sound coming from the Burden in his Arms. And we realized to our Astonishment that the thing he carried was no Chest or Carpet, but a living Being, and one, furthermore, that seem'd near to waking from some Fit or Slumber that previously had possess'd it.
The Captain, on hearing this Sound, seem'd to forget us, and indeed to forget all Things save the Creature held close in his Arms. Pushing to one Side a young Lady who stood too near, he strode to the nearest Couch and knelt before it, setting down the Creature with all imaginable Care. And as he did so, the Cloak fell from the Creature's face and neck, and at last he lay expos'd to our View.
Hushed be every ruder Breath. Madam, if your Attention has perchance for one or two Moments stray'd in the Course of this my Narration, I implore you to put aside all other Letters -- to shut your Ears against the Chatter of your Friends -- to cease your idle Surfing, to abandon List and Archive, nay, to cast AIM itself aside -- and compose yourself to listen. For lo! adorn'd with all the Charms in which Nature can array him, bedecked with Beauty, Sprightliness, Innocence, Modesty, and Tenderness, breathing Sweetness from his rosy Lips, and darting brightness from his sparkling Eyes, the lovely Frodo comes. (5)
Nay, Madam, 'tis not what you think; that Part of my Story lies far ahead. Here I mean only this: 'twas indeed at this Moment -- sweet lady Elbereth! on the eighth Page of my Letter! but better Late, as they say, than not at all -- that first I beheld the Hero of my Tale. Such Loveliness in living Thing I had never seen before nor imagined in my Mind. There he lay, his Face tumbled o'er with tousled Curls dark as the hushed velvet Sky of Midnight. His Eyes were closed, their Lashes resting glossy black against soft Skin that united the most exquisite Colours of the Lily and the Rose. His curved Lips were parted in the heavy Breath of Sleep -- and never, Madam, since the Elves first woke beneath the Stars and smiled at the Beauty above them, did any Lips cry out so plain, that they must be cover'd at once with Kisses, or the first Purpose of their Creation would be set at naught.
No sooner was this fair Apparition set before us, than the entire Room was filled with a soft rushing Sound, like a sweet Zephyr blowing gentle from the West, for as each Lady in the Room look'd upon this loveliest of Creatures, she sighed, and with a rustling of Petticoats took a Step or two Toward him, half-aware.
"Oh, such Beauty!" sighed Amelia.
"Indeed," said the judicious Clarissa, "he is fair; fairer, I deem, than most."
"Sweet Lady," quoth Seleta, "but he's hot."
And by some of the Ladies this last Remark was judged wanting in Seriousness. But even as Seleta spoke, she turn'd her Face hastily away, and one or two Ladies noted, that she wiped a Tear from her Eye. And greatly did they wonder at this Change in her Demeanour. For whenever, in the Past, some one of the Ladies chanced to speak of Love as a serious Matter, she had laughed, and call'd Love a mere Fancy, a Bubble, a Toy cast by the Valar upon Middle-earth to amuse Men and to stupefy those they deceived. Yet this Day showed that it is the Heart most careless in its imagined Freedom, that finds itself in Chains of Adamant at Last.
A Lesson, Madam, to which I oft have call'd your Attention to no Avail; but you are young, and Youth must ever discover for itself what Age has suffer'd long Ago.
But scarce had we observ'd this Change in Seleta's Heart, when the fair Creature on the Couch stirr'd once more. He moan'd most piteously, as if he felt some Pain, and a Frown marred the perfect Smoothness of his alabaster Brow. His Eyelids flutter'd for some Moments until they open'd full, and oh, what a brave new World was spread before us then! -- So many Songs have been sung of those Eyes, and yet I despair, Madam, of finding any Way to communicate an adequate Idea of their Beauty. For I know of no Words in the Languages of Men or Elves -- nay, not even in that of the Dwarves, those supreme Artisans of Love -- to express what then we saw for the first Time. Many among us stood in silent Astonishment at the Thought that a living Creature walk'd among us upon Middle-earth, who yet bore upon his Person two such sparkling Portions of the Heaven that the Valar have placed above us as the Habitation of Light.
Or to put it in plain Westron: his Eyes, Madam, were blue. And I could wish you no greater Happiness in your Life than that you should one day see their equal.
And yet those Eyes, it soon became apparent, saw naught truly as yet, for the Creature thrashed from side to side, and looked about him, yet blankly, without ever Resting upon any one Object. The Captain seemed most distress'd by this Behaviour, and endeavoured to sooth the creature's Agony by smoothing a Hand through his Curls and loosening the Cloak at his Throat. To these Ministrations the Creature seem'd to respond, for his Convulsions first slowed, and then ceased altogether. His Eyes drifted shut until their blue Tint was nearly hid by feather-soft Lashes. But before they shut entirely he grasped the Captain's hand in his own, press'd it to his Lips, and at last clasp'd it to his heaving Breast, as if he wish'd nothing more than to cling to it for ever.
The Captain, who of late had seem'd so fierce to us all, submitted to these Familiarities with nary a harsh Word, nay, without so much as a Frown to reprove the Affront to his Dignity. The Reason for this extraordinary Complaisancy became immediately apparent, when he leaned over the fair Captive in his Arms like one Fascinated, drawing ever closer with the Creature's every passing Breath, until at last his Lips hover'd so close to the Sweetness beneath him that the slightest Motion would draw them into a Kiss. And indeed I know not how, but the next Moment brought their Mouths together in a tender yielding Pressure, to which the Creature seem'd by no means averse, for he arched his Back, and wrapped an Arm around the Captain's Neck, and open'd his lips at the soft Urging of the One who held him.
But the exquisite Sight of their Union vanished as the Captain's golden Curls fell forward to mingle with the dark ones on the Cushion beneath, hiding the Faces of the Lovers from the Ladies. In despite of our great Curiosity, and our advantageous Positions only a few Feet away from the oblivious Pair, we knew Nothing of what pass'd between 'em, but that the Kiss lasted for some Moments.
At last however the Captain drew back, and gaz'd down in Wonder. The Creature meantime sank with a Gasp back into the Couch, his Eyes now shut fast. Once more he pulled the Captain's Hand toward his Lips. But alas! his previous Fit overtook him, and the Hand fell at once from his weak and nerveless Grasp. In that last sweet moment before he was claim'd by Sleep, he drew a deep Breath, and said, in a soft Moan that spoke most Plainly of Desire --
The Effect of these Words upon the Captain may easily be guess'd at. And here, Madam, you must permit me to make some Reflexions on this unfortunate Episode. I most earnestly commend to your Attention, in Affairs of the Heart, the Use of such fond Endearments as dearest, darling, sweetling, and my love. 'Tis true that the Generality of Mankind dismiss such Words as mere airy Nothings, but their Value is beyond all Calculation, in preventing little Confusions of this Kind. For Madam, a Lady may on occasion find that the Youth in her Arms and the Youth in her Thoughts are two different Persons entirely. And in such a Case, she may experience no small Embarrassment, if at the Height of Passion she should chance to call the one by the Name of the other. Yet if every Youth is dearest, such Accidents may be avoided, and a Lady may safely express the depth of her Tenderness without being oblig'd to specify its Object.
It was doubtless the creature's Illness which prevented him from taking such a sensible Precaution. The Captain, however, seem'd indisposed to make Allowances for his Lover's sad State, for he scowl'd at the Name of this Sam as he might at the Name of the Dark Lord himself. With an Exclamation of Fury he stood. His Chest heaved, his Hands curl'd into Fists at his Sides, and his entire Body trembled, as if he scarce could restrain himself from Violence. One or two of the Ladies cried out, for so angry did he seem, that we feared for the Life of the Creature whom he had held in his Arms not a Moment before.
But at length the worst of this Storm of Passion pass'd, and he sufficiently master'd himself, to turn from the cause of his Anger. He look'd to Amelia, who chance'd to stand the nearest, and so affrighted was she that she stepp'd back half a Pace.
"Madam," quoth he, in a low Tone near to a Growl, "I will have you know, that this Creature is a Prisoner of Gondor. And as there is -- that is, I say," -- and here the Captain appeared to Pause in thought -- "some little Inconveniency, at present, in the Chambers generally reserved for the Purposes of Justice, I have resolv'd, that he is to stay in this Room until he is call'd for."
We all of us wonder'd greatly, that the Captain, whose Scrupulousness in the Cause of Justice was so well known, should propose such an irregular Proceeding, as to keep a Prisoner in a House such as ours.
But the Mind of fair Amelia ran upon quite a different Question. "Sir," quoth she, "should we not fetch a Healer to succour this fair Creature in whatever strange Malady has reduced him to this sad Condition?"
"Nay, Madam," he returned, "there is naught for the Healers to do: for this Malady lies beyond their Skill. A Shock has been inflicted upon him by the foul Nazgul you have seen poisoning the Skies in past Days."
Here all the Ladies gasp'd in Horror, for these Nazgul were perchance the most vile of the Terrors to which the Enemy had subjected us of late. But the Captain took not the least Notice of our Fear. "The Creature shall recover," said he, "if our past Experience is any Guide. When he does so, give him Food and Water, but he is not to leave this Place, any more than you are, nor to call for Help, nor seek his Friends."
Amelia curtsey'd her Acquiescence, which in Truth she could hardly withhold. And yet her kind Heart could not forbear from making some further Inquiry. "If you please," said she, "what is this Creature? And why does he merit such Treatment? 'Tis true that the Dangers of the Times prescribe all manner of reasonable Precaution, and yet to my Mind, dear Sir" -- and here she sigh'd, and look'd at the Creature with a Compound of Longing and Wonder -- "he does not look evil."
"That is not for a Woman such as you to determine," said the Captain, "and I would advise you to submit to the Judgment of your Betters in this and other matters. Not look evil! Perhaps not, but evil comes in many forms. For this is a perian, a Halfling of the North -- "
"A Halfling!" cried the learned Clarissa, and some of the other Ladies exclaim'd as well. We had read of this distant Northern race in some of our Books, although I must confess, Madam, that many of the Ladies had dismissed them as them a mere Story told to amuse Children. 'Twas difficult to believe, even with the Creature there before us, that a Halfling had truly come forth from the old Tales to walk upon the Earth, or, in this case, to lie upon the Couch. And 'tis certain that no Tale of the Halflings had once mentioned that they were anything like so Fair as this Paragon of Loveliness.
The Captain's Certitude, however, persuaded us all. "Just so," he return'd, "and if, Madam, you know aught of them, then you know they have no Business in the fair Fields of Ithilien where we found this one of late, and that any who wander there, must be suspected of Spying at the very least."
"But Sir -- " Clarissa began.
"Silence!" the Captain cried, in a Voice of Thunder. "Must I listen to the Mewling of impertinent Women?" The Captain's Men, who had stood watchful throughout this Scene, stepp'd forward, and we fear'd that Clarissa might pay some dreadful Price for her Boldness.
If such a Price was to be paid, however, it would not be demanded just yet, for the Captain strode to the Door, and his Men follow'd. As he stood on the Threshold, he paus'd to make one last Remark. "I go," said he, "to seek your Master, as one who can accept rational Instruction in this matter, and he will tell you in turn what Gondor requires of you. For now, all you need know, is this: should any one of you try to escape, or aid this Criminal in trying to do so, the Attempt will be met with Instant Death!"
And with that, he swept from the Room. The Door slamm'd behind him, and we all heard the Key turn in the Lock.
The Halfling stirr'd once more on the Couch. "Sam," he moaned, in a Voice that would melt a Heart of Stone, or make Dragons weep. But now the Walls of our House and multitudes of armed Men of Gondor lay between him and what was so evidently the fondest Desire of his Heart. He was a Prisoner of a Captain changed beyond all Recognition. As indeed were we all, facing a Morrow that would bring an uncertain Fate.
§ § §
But what that Morrow brought, Madam, must be the Theme of another Letter; for I feel that I have tried your patience quite long enough with this one. Please give my kindest regards to your dear Mother; and if you wish to hear the Conclusion to this my Tale, you may rest assured, that I shall oblige you at the earliest possible Opportunity. Believe me, Madam, in this Matter as in all others I shall ever be,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Notes to Letter the First
1. Cleland follows eighteenth-century custom here and refers to someone who is seventeen as being "in her eighteenth year." (You start counting from zero, just as we do today when we call the year 2003 part of "the twenty-first century.") Return to story
2. For her female characters, Maria-Susannah Cleland obviously abandoned any attempt to use Westron names (perhaps feeling that they would be strange to an eighteenth century readership) and substituted names that would have been familiar from popular contemporary literature. Amelia, of course, is the titular heroine of Henry Fielding's 1751 novel. Return to story
3. Clarissa is the titular heroine of Samuel Richardson's novel, which is either one of the most fascinating character studies ever written or the longest rapefic ever written, depending on your point of view. Return to story
4. Here we have a clue to one of most intriguing literary puzzles of the eighteenth century. Seleta was of course the heroine of Samuel Johnson's Seleta, or, the Slave to Pleasure (1759), a potboiler romance he wrote in two days in order to pay for that part of his mother's funeral expenses not covered by Rasselas. Unfortunately this fascinating early text has been lost. It did not sell well, and in his later life Johnson destroyed all the copies he could find, for the romance had been widely criticized on the grounds that its heroine was "not drawn from Nature." While Johnson meant to portray Seleta as a prostitute in a highly romanticized version of Minas Tirith, most critics saw her as nothing more than a mouthpiece for Johnson's own ideas on various philosophical and literary subjects. If Mrs. Cleland had access to a copy of this work and modeled her heroine on Johnson's, then Frodo Hill may become an crucial source text in Johnsonian as well as Westron studies, offering key insights into Johnson's otherwise unpublished views on the events of the Third Age. Return to story
5. Here Mrs. Cleland has borrowed a line or two from Fielding (Tom Jones, 1749), and certainly if she had to plagiarize she could have chosen no better source. All my researches have told me nothing, however, of what she meant by "AIM." Return to story
Letter the Second
Minas Ithil, 15 Viresse, Fourth Age 65
My dear Madam,
I thank you, Madam, for your great Kindness in your last five Letters, in importuning me with such Earnestness to continue the Tale of Frodo Baggins's many Adventures in the City of Osgiliath. And indeed, you are to be congratulated on possessing such a Passion for the History of your Country.
For alas! too many Ladies of your tender Years care nothing for the Past, and Matters of the greatest Seriousness make less Impression on the airy Substance of their Minds than the butterfly Trivialities of the Moment: viz., the latest Fashions, or billet-doux from poor infatuated Youths, or idle Stories concerning the Romances of strolling Players. But to a superior Mind such as yours, Madam, all Gossip is but a Noise, and Datalounge a mere Nothing; the spirit of Calumny shall crawl abash'd at your Feet, and the siren Song of Teen People fall upon deaf Ears. (1)
But a Curiosity concerning the great Events of History is quite another Matter, and Heaven forbid that I should discourage you in such an innocent and disinterested Pursuit. I shall therefore continue my Tale, and shall not forebear offering, on occasion, those useful Reflexions, which your dear Mother has told me were by far the most valuable Parts of my previous Letter. For the Study of History is suited above all others to foster both the Brilliance of your Intellect and the Purity of your Morals.
And so to my Tale. In my last Letter I explain'd how the fair Halfling Frodo Baggins had been bound -- helpless, but not unwilling -- to a Table, his arms tied above his Head at the Wrists, his Breath coming in sharp Gasps whilst there travelled, down his naked heaving Breast, the Tongues of --
But soft, I see that I have lost my Place in my Notes, and skipp'd to quite another part of the Tale. Or nay, 'tis another Tale entirely from about the same Time, the Hero of which is not Frodo at all, but a distant Cousin of his. I must implore your Pardon, Madam, and can only Plead as my Excuse, that my Mind is so overcome by the Greatness of my Theme, that at Times it staggers beneath the awful Burden. I may thus be prone to one or two such Errors in the Course of this my Narration.
To continue: in my last Letter, I explain'd, how our little Community of Ladies had most unaccountably been imprison'd in our own House, along with a poor unfortunate Halfling, his name as yet unknown to us. For some Minutes after the Door had been lock'd we stood amaz'd, unsure of what to do; and for the first Time in my Tenure at that House, not a single Lady amongst us had a Word to say.
But at last, a Sound was heard, like unto a Wind, born as a distant Murmuring amid the Peaks of far-off Mountains, then of a sudden gathering Strength, and Power, until it drives all Things before it in a Rush of Thunder, as every Lady in the Room commenced Speaking at the same Time.
So great was the Confusion caus'd by this unexampled auditory Phenomenon that I know not what sage and doubtless valuable Reflexions were made. At length, however, one of the Ladies determin'd that her Feelings were in such violent Disarray as to require the calming and beneficent Effects of the Brandy with which our Bower was fortunately well supplied. To the other Ladies her Plan seem'd the product of Reason and good Sense. Within a very few Moments some Degree of Order had been achiev'd, as the restorative Powers of this marvellous Fluid took hold.
And since the brilliant Clarissa opined that the poor Halfling's Cure might perchance be more speedily effected by this Means, one of the Ladies cradled his lovely Head in her Lap, whilst another poured a generous Portion of the Brandy down his Throat. And all the Ladies were greatly cheer'd when the sweet Sufferer down'd his Medicine with scarce any Choking to speak of, and a most pleasing Colour crept into his lovely sleeping Visage. So delighted were the Ladies by Clarissa's Sagacity, that another Round of the Brandy was felt to be Essential for the purpose of Honouring her with a Toast, during which an appreciative Speech detailing her many sterling Qualities was spoken by the fair Amelia with great Eloquence and Feeling, to the Applause of All.
Yet the Seriousness of our Situation could by no Means be denied. "Alas!" Amelia at length exclaim'd, casting her bright Eyes toward the Heavens as she drain'd the last Drop from her Flagon. "Who amongst us would have dreamt, but one short Hour since, that we should be imprison'd in this Chamber with no means of Egress, save the front Door, the back Door, the north Window, the east Window, the bathing Chamber, and the secret Passage?"
And the other Ladies concurred that this was a Circumstance both surprising and unwelcome.
"And yet," said the wise Clarissa, taking a well-measured Swig from the Bottle in her Hand, "it may be that some one amongst these Exits hath escaped the Malice of our Enemies. Is't possible, that one or two of them hath been through some Inadvertency left unattended?"
Several of the Ladies leapt at once to discover the Answer to this astute Question. Yet soon they declar'd, to the Sorrow of us all, that the Front and Back Doors were both lock'd. The Windows were too high off the Ground to make Escape thro' them a practicable Matter, and what is more, the Alley beneath them was lined with sharp Spikes, install'd some Years before by the foresighted Mr. Peters. For he wish'd to prevent any Customer of the House from attempting an over-hasty Departure which might prevent him from paying his Fee. As for the bathing Chamber, it had but a single Door, that one leading from our own Room, with both Light and Air supplied by a Skylight well out of our Reach, being a full twenty Feet off the Floor.
"It seems, then, Ladies," quoth Clarissa, when this sad News had been reported, "that we are imprison'd indeed, and must await the Will and Pleasure of our Captors."
"Alas!" said Amelia, and several of the other Ladies join'd her in this Exclamation of Dismay. And it was determined among them, that to lessen the Shock of their Disappointment it would be necessary to have further Recourse to the Brandy.
But at this Moment Seleta stood, tossing aside an empty Flask with a rapid Motion of her Wrist. "But what," she inquired, "of the secret Passage?"
"Speak of it not!" said Amelia with a shudder, "for it is dark, and close, and we know not whither it leads."
" Madam, I must confess that you surprise me," cried Seleta, "for I would have imagin'd that at some point in the Past, you would have given more Thought to a Matter so likely to be crucial to our Health and Safety."
"But, my Dear," interposed Clarissa with great Patience, "if we knew whither the secret Passage led, 'twould no longer be a Secret."
To this Remark Seleta gave at first no Answer, but paced back and forth with Symptoms of no inconsiderable Agitation: viz., she snapp'd open her Fan, and waved it with such Vigour that she disarranged the Coiffures of several Ladies who stood by. At length she snapp'd it shut again so hard that it quite flew from her Hand.
"Madam," quoth she as she bent to retrieve it, "your Logic is impeccable, as always, but I cannot but wonder, if at this Turn in our Affairs it might be better to sacrifice the Thrill of Secrecy for the Possibility of a Quick Escape. For I find, on the most careful Consideration of the Matter, that the Romance of domestic Architecture holds for me less Appeal than the Survival of my Person, and that on the whole, I would prefer the slight Inconveniency of a close Passage to the Agony of Death at Sword's-point."
And it seem'd to some of the Ladies that they detected in her Manner some few Notes of Sarcasm not conducive to the continued Harmony of our little Society. Two of the younger Ladies then declar'd that they would brave the secret Passage, arm'd only with their Courage and a single Candle. Their Sacrifice to the Cause of Peace was much praised by all the others, who encouraged them in their Endeavours by offering them another portion of the Brandy before they undertook a Task of such Peril.
And since these Ladies had already partaken of this refreshing Beverage several times, their Daring knew no bounds, and they declar'd that they cared not a Fig for Danger, and that they laughed at Darkness. And laugh indeed they did for some Moments, and with such Violence, that they could not keep their Candle lit. They laugh'd, as well, as they sought without Success to open the Panel wherein the Entrance to the secret Passage lay conceal'd; and they laugh'd, when Clarissa most kindly open'd it for them; and they laugh'd, too, as they contorted themselves so as to fit within an Opening no more than two Foot high. But even in this they at last succeeded, despite a certain degree of Inattention that seem'd to have overcome them in their Fit of Mirth. For these particular Ladies had most faithfully practic'd the Exercises recommended by Dwarvish Authors, to make their Persons more flexible.
When at last they had gone, several among the Ladies bethought themselves once more of the Comfort of their poor unfortunate Guest, who still lay upon the Couch, his Head in the Lap of the Lady who had play'd such an important Role in the Administration of his Medicine. And since that Moment, she had heroically resisted all Suggestions that she quit her Post, and had taken little Part in the urgent Conferences that swirl'd around her, but had instead made herself useful, by running her Fingers continually thro' the Halfling's soft Curls. For doubtlessly she felt that he might in this gentle Manner be waken'd.
Yet her efforts were of no Avail, and to some of the Ladies the Halfling's continued Slumber seem'd a matter of the gravest Concern. For as Seleta observ'd, the Noise in the Room in the past half Hour ought to have been enough to wake the Dead. But for some Moments the Relevance of this Remark to the question of the Halfling's Health was lost, as several Ladies instead began a spirited Debate on the great Inconveniencies that might be brought about by such a Resurrection of the Departed as Seleta had mention'd. Several among the Ladies inquired whether, in the Case of a sudden Reappearance of the Dead among us, the natural Joy of a Reunion with lost dear ones could possibly counterbalance the great and natural Surprise such an Eventuality would cause. Other Ladies of a more technical turn of Mind were concern'd with the tremendous Confusion that would ensue regarding Questions of Ownership and legal Title. And one Lady had just launch'd into a most intriguing and detailed Dissertation regarding the Law of Primogeniture, when the fair Amelia sigh'd, and said, "Surely, our sweet Prisoner should have stirr'd by now. Is there aught else we can do to aid him?"
"'Tis said," one of the younger Ladies suggested, "that in many Instances of this Kind, Success hath been achieved by Means of a healthful and refreshing Bath."
"Indeed," cried another, "the Blessings of Union with the Lord of Waters can hardly be overestimated, in returning the Disordered Humours to their natural State of Balance and Purity."
And the other Ladies at once concurr'd that this Suggestion seem'd both pious and practical. But the fair Amelia nearly dash'd the Hopes this had rais'd, when she pointed out an Obstacle that stood in the Way of this most ingenious Plan of a Bath, to wit: the Halfling's Clothes.
"Perchance," quoth Seleta, "'tis our Duty to remove them."
"Indeed," said Amelia with some small Hesitation, "the Halfling's labour'd Breathing would doubtless be eas'd, were we to relieve him of the Encumbrance presented by his Shirt."
"Nay Madam," quoth Seleta, "you meet me but half-way, for if he were to be immersed wholly in Water whilst still clad in any Manner, the Damage caus'd by the resultant Dampness and Weight so close to his tender Skin could scarce be calculated."
"Surely, Madam, you are not suggesting that we must strip this poor defenceless Creature of every Shred of his Clothing?" Amelia demanded with some Heat. "That we expose to View all that soft Flesh, of which we can now see only the smallest Portion? That the graceful outlines of his Figure should be reveal'd, which the curious Eye can now trace only with the greatest Difficulty thro' these intervening Layers of Cloak and Breeches? That thus stripp'd, he should lie before us in the careless Attitude of Sleep, whilst his Modesty can take no Alarm at his Situation, and he cannot conceal, even by Means of the ineffectual Interposition of his slender Hand, those sweetest of all of nature's Treasures?
"Indeed, Madam," quote Seleta, "you have taken my Meaning exactly."
A short Pause ensued as we all of us, within the innermost Chambers of our Thoughts, earnestly consider'd this Idea and examin'd it closely from every possible Angle. At length the fair Amelia spoke. "Perhaps," quoth she, "'tis our Duty, indeed."
"Indeed it is, my Dears," concurred the grave Clarissa. "And greatly am I hearten'd, Ladies, to see you refuse to let an ill-applied Modesty blind you to the Claims of good Sense and true Charity. To me the Conclusion is irresistible that we should be most derelict in our Duty toward a suffering fellow Creature, if within the next two Minutes he be not utterly naked."
And so great was Clarissa's influence among us that several of the Ladies succeeded in overcoming their Repugnance toward the hateful Task before them, and rush'd forward at once to perform it, being prevented only when each found her Way block'd by some one of the others. There follow'd a Dispute, the Details of which I shall pass over. For Peace was very shortly restored, and the Wounds suffered by several of the Ladies, whilst this Matter of Precedence was settled, were not Mortal, nor likely to cause any lasting Harm, nor produce any Scars, or at least none in very obvious Places.
At the last, however, 'twas Amelia whose soft Fingers were thought best to undertake the Task of removing the Halfling's shirt, whilst Clarissa busied herself about his Breeches. But just as she touch'd the Lacings of this most interesting Garment, we were all of us startl'd by a most alarming Noise from the Direction of the secret Passage. Wild Screams rent the Air, intermix'd with a dreadful Sound, which was all the more fearsome, as we none of us could imagine what it might be. No Dragon startl'd by the Theft of its Gold, no Orc impal'd upon a Spear and left for Dead, no Lady dismay'd by an ill-punctuated Tale, could possibly produce a Sound more calculated to chill the Soul and fill the Heart with Dread than the one we then heard.
"Lady preserve us!" cried Amelia.
And in truth, Madam, I knew not whether Terror or Pity was uppermost in my Mind at that Time, for it did not seem possible that the Ladies in the Passage, who in truth were no more than Girls my own Age, could survive whatever Calamity had befallen them. For when they fac'd the Danger, they must both have been so befuddl'd by Drink as to be incapable of overcoming a Difficulty of even the most modest Degree: viz., the mending of a favourite Gown, or the nursing of a dearly loved Pet, or the sad Necessity of calculating their quarterly Taxes.
Yet no Time was granted us to evolve a Plan for their Rescue, for the Door from the Passage burst open from the Inside, and out Popp'd the first Lady, her face flush'd, her Eyes wild with Fear, her Clothes torn and in disarray, her Hair falling in loose Ringlets about her face.
"It -- " she exclaim'd.
But before she could complete this sagacious Reflexion on her present Circumstance, the other Lady tumbl'd down on top of her, and for a Moment they crawl'd over each other in their haste to escape whatever Thing it was that pursued them.
"Heaven be praised, they are safe!" cried Clarissa, diving with the most exquisite Grace into a large Wardrobe as far as from the Passage as possible.
"But alas! What Thing lurks behind them?" said Amelia, as she skipp'd, with a Rapidity that astonish'd us All, to a secure Place behind the largest Couch in the Room.
"For the love of the Lady," cried Seleta, "lock the damn Door!"
And at this moment, Madam, you must permit me a short Digression. I have not conceal'd from your Notice that the Language used by Seleta on this Occasion departed in some Respects from that strict Purity which, as your dear Mother has often told you, always distinguishes the Speech of a true Lady.
To appear before the Publick with such an Expression on one's Tongue may not be quite so dreadful as certain other Offences: viz., the Corruption of a Child, the Murder of an Innocent, or the Writing of a Songfic. But a true Lady will nevertheless search thro' her Memory for some alternate Means of communicating her Sentiments. My Devotion to the Cause of Truth has compell'd me to record Seleta's precise Words in this single Instance. But nothing, Madam, could be further from my Mind than to imply that this Sort of Behaviour may ever be fully excus'd, even when, as at this particular Instance, the Speaker is inwardly persuaded that she faces certain Death within a very few Moments.
To forestall, then, the odious Insinuation, that I wish to promote this Style of Language, I shall in future refrain from writing out any such Epithets as may occur in the course of my Tale, and shall content myself with representing them by Means of a Dash, thus: -----.
But to my Tale. We all of us noted to our Horror that each of the Ladies thought that another had carried the fair Halfling to Safety, and he now lay fully expos'd to whatever Thing might emerge from the Passage. And of the two or three Ladies who had been in the Vicinity of the Door, not one evinced the slightest Intention of remaining there for that Period of Time essential to the Action of Locking it.
"Silly ------------ing ----------s!" Seleta exclaim'd. "May you be --------ed by the -------- of a ----------- until you barely can --------- in a pot!"
"Madam," came the muffled Voice of Clarissa from within the Wardrobe, "I most earnestly advise you to moderate your Language, and recollect that there are younger Ladies present."
"Indeed, Madam," said Amelia, her dulcet Tones floating gently up from behind the Couch, "I must confess that I cannot see the Necessity -- "
"Oh -------- you all!" cried Seleta. And with a Scream of Rage most dreadful to hear, she drew her Stiletto from her Bosom, and lunged boldly toward the fateful Passage. But alas! -- she was too late, for we saw to our Dismay, that the Door flung open. Then all was a Blur of Noise and Motion, in which Seleta's screams and the hoarse Cries of some Monster were combin'd in Cacophony of Horror. We could see naught but the Tangle of Seleta's skirts with the sharp Horns and hairy Limbs of an Opponent moving too quickly to be discern'd. Her Stiletto wav'd thro' the Air, but to no Avail, for she could get no Purchase, until at Last there appear'd before our astonish'd Eyes the appalling Spectacle of Seleta prone upon the Floor, quite vanquish'd: pinn'd, writhing and helpless, beneath her Antagonist. For there upon her Chest there rear'd in Triumph -- the Goat!
The Ladies gaz'd upon them for some Moments in utter Silence, which the Goat eventually broke, for it gloried in its Victory with a Bleating so loud it might have been heard in the next Street.
"----------," quoth Seleta.
At this Juncture it must be confess'd, that there were some among the Ladies so ungenerous as to snigger at Seleta's Predicament. But both Peace and Seleta's Dignity were soon restor'd, for Clarissa emerged from her Wardrobe, and Amelia from behind her Couch, and shortly thereafter Seleta once again assum'd the upright Posture of a rational Creature. For the brilliant Clarissa succeeded in coaxing the Goat away with a well-timed Offer of Brandy, a Beverage of which this Creature was inordinately Fond.
But once it had enjoy'd this Libation, we were much puzzl'd as to what to do with the Creature. For all Efforts to Capture it failed. It skipp'd about the Room in our Defiance, and leapt nimbly among the Chests that Captain Faramir's Men had left. And to our great Disquiet, no Manner of Persuasion that we tried, viz., Screaming and Pulling at its Hair, would in the Least dissuade it from chewing upon the large roll'd-up Carpet that was not the least valuable Item of the Captain's in our Keeping. Tho' our Displeasure was quite obvious, it stretch'd out its Neck, put back its Ears, and stood firm, continuing to Chew with the clear and fix'd Purpose of an Animal that intends to continue in its present Course until the Seas dry and the Heavens fall.
For its Mettle was high, and its Anger at the young Ladies who had disturb'd it had by no means subsided. They had earlier found, (so they told us), that the secret Passage led but to the Goat's Shed, which occupied the largest Part of a Courtyard embowel'd within innermost part of the House. The only other Exit from this Courtyard was lock'd, which Circumstance left the Ladies quite without Hope.
Most dismay'd had they been to find themselves there, for altho' it was exposed to the outer Air, 'twas most Dreary, and not at all the sort of Place where we any of us would wish to turn for Refuge or conceal our fair Guest, not if a band of Orcs were the Pursuers. It was remarkable of this Courtyard that not the smallest Blade of Grass grew between the Paving-stones, nay, nor even the slightest bit of Moss commonly found in such Places. For not a single living Thing would grow within the dark Dominion of the Goat.
'Twas perchance for this Reason that the Creature, having made its daring Escape, seem'd Eager to remain in our Chambers, however ill-suited they were to the Care and Maintenance of Livestock. For to our great Distress, there was naught we could do or say to encourage it to return to its Shed. And very shortly Fate interven'd in such a Way as to make the Goat's Departure even less likely than before. For just as we had despair'd of our Attempts to drag it back to the Passage, the Goat startl'd, like one struck by lightning. Its Eyes widened, its Mouth hung open, it stood trembling in ev'ry Limb, and it stared like one possess'd at somewhat across the Room.
Following the direction of the animal's Gaze, we at once determin'd that its Attention had been attracted by the fair slumbering Halfling in our midst. And indeed, with a single emphatic Bleat the Goat leapt from the Chest where it stood, and gambolled to the Halfing's Couch. It settled itself at once beside on the Floor below, and plac'd its Chin upon the Halfling's Lap. Gently it butted at his Hand, until the Halfing, doubtless following some inner Instinct, commenced scratching it between the Ears.
And heavens, Madam! I can scarce describe the Look of Extasy upon the Face of the Goat, at being touch'd in such an intimate Manner by a Being, the very Sight of whom had clearly pierced the uttermost Depth of its caprine Soul. It close'd its Eyes, and submitted utterly to these soft Caresses, allowing even such gentle Touches as these to push hither and thither the fearsome horned Head that had, of late, been so Obdurately under the Control of its own Will. With an Expression of ineffable Pleasure it bleated quietly, punctuating these Effusions every now and again with a soft Snort of Joy.
And thus, Madam, we see that even the most irate Disposition may finally be conquer'd by Love: for it is the will of Elbereth that each Creature should be united to each by Bonds of Affection, which only the evilest of Beings would for any Reason wish to throw off.
Many of the Ladies thought this Behaviour merely confirm'd their already high Opinion of the Goat's Intelligence and good Taste. But not all were pleas'd by this Turn of Events. Tho' Seleta laugh'd heartily in a Corner, Amelia look'd puzzled, and Clarissa frown'd, and said some Words to the Effect, that her heart misgave her to see a Love between Members of two Species so very different, a Love which seem'd Objectionable for Reasons too numerous to be mention'd.
Still, it was perchance the Influence of this Force of Love -- the strongest Power that the Valar hath granted us, in combating the Forces of Evil -- that accounted for what happened next. For to our very great Joy, the Halfling at last stirr'd, quite of his own Accord, without the Aid of Brandy or any other Substance, whether natural or magical. His Eyelids fluttered, and at last they opened, and in a clear voice he spoke.
"Where am I? And what is the Time?" quoth he.
Instantly the Goat was forgot by All, saving perhaps Itself, and our sole Thought was to Minister to the Halfling's Comfort. 'Twas Clarissa who gently inform'd him, that while he was, like all of us, alas! a Prisoner, he was by no means in any immediate Peril, and indeed, was to consider himself as surrounded only by Friends. He nonetheless show'd great Concern at this News, and wish'd to know whether any other Creature like himself had been captured along with him. To this Question we could give him no certain Answer, and at that he seem'd most distress'd. We all at once suppos'd that the other Halfing he so long'd for was in fact the mysterious Sam of whom he had earlier spoken in such impassion'd Terms.
Great as our Curiousity was to learn more of this lucky Recipient of the fair Halfing's Love, we determin'd among us, by an unspoken Agreement, that to ask the Halfling to speak of such Matters now would only distress him in his current delicate state of Health. Fortunately the fair Amelia hit upon a suitable Distraction, for she inquir'd whether he was at all Hungry. And he gravely replied that he thought it not impossible, if Food were put before him, that he might eat of it.
At this several of the Ladies leapt into Action, and very shortly the Halfling had been supplied with such Food as could be had in a City long under Siege; being only a light Collation of Tea, Brandy, spiced Apples, honeyed Cakes, a large Wheel of Cheese, and the better part of a Chicken lightly roasted and Dressed with Pepper and Sage. All of which he ate with a Speed and Relish astonishing in a Creature so small. And when the Ladies noted that he was looking about for more, they offer'd him another Chicken, which he accepted and consumed within the Space of a very few Minutes.
These Signs of a return to Health greatly cheer'd us all, most particularly the Goat: for this Animal had never left its dear one's Side. And so great was the power of the Love that burn'd in its hairy Breast, that it did not even attempt, or only some three or four Times, to nibble upon the Foodstuffs meant for the fair Object of its Affections.
Scarce had the Halfling finished his well-deserv'd Meal when the front Door open'd, and in came Mr. Peters. Most happy were the Ladies at first to see the Owner of the House at last, for we saw him as a possible Means of Deliverance from our Ordeal. We therefore cluster'd round him, and ask'd a thousand Questions, regarding the Fate of the Halfling, and ourselves. But I must confess, Madam, that his Replies seem'd to us most unsatisfactory, for he could tell us only that Captain Faramir had most urgently requested, or indeed commanded, that the Halfling be kept here, and that the Secresy necessary in his Case made it imperative that we be imprison'd as well.
"I am sorry, my Dears," quoth he, "but I can do Nothing, for as you know we are entirely Dependent upon the Captain's good Will. Indeed, the whole Matter is a great Inconvenience to me, for the House will lose much Custom thereby, and that Expense will not be Inconsiderable." And he then commenced grumbling about Taxes, and Overhead, and other such Matters. He was soon cheer'd, however, when Clarissa suggested that much of the Shortfall might be made up, if some three or four of us were to meet in Private with trusted Clients. And for some time the two of them busied themselves over tallying Figures, at the end of which Mr. Peters' mood had lightened considerably.
But this ray of Sunshine in the pecuniary Darkness soon flicker'd and died, for no sooner did Mr. Peters cast his Eyes upon the Halfling, than he saw the Remains of the very considerable Feast to which he had just been treated. "By Aule's Anvil!" he cried, "what Profligacy is this? The Captain warn'd me that Creatures such as this Halfling eat rather more than might be expected, but this! Why, the Creature hath just devour'd three times his own Weight in luxurious Foodstuffs! We shall all be quite impoverish'd if he remains among us longer than two Days. This is a Greed unparallel'd in the Annals of Appetite!"
The Halfling most humbly apologized for his Behaviour, and said that he had not intended to cause the least Inconveniency to his kind Hosts, but had eaten so freely, only because such a Meal would be consider'd as a light Luncheon in his own Country.
"Tears of Nienna!" Mr. Peters exclaim'd. "Well, it matters not what the Captain hath said. I cannot permit a House that I have built up with such Care to be brought to Ruin on your Account. If you are to stay here, Halfling, then like these Ladies, you must earn your Keep and meet with Clients in Private."
"Happily will I do anything that might help such generous Hosts defray the Expenses associated with my stay," said the Halfling. "You need only tell me, Sir, what Business it is that you and these kind Ladies do here, and I shall in turn do my best to assist you."
At this Mr. Peters chuckl'd. "You mean to say you do not know? Well, these Ladies that you see are what we term here in Gondor, Women of Pleasure."
"Indeed," quoth the Halfling with the greatest Politeness; and it was quite Evident that he had no more Notion of what was meant by this Expression, than if Mr. Peters had spoken it in Dwarvish.
"I mean," Mr. Peters explain'd, "that they are Ladies of the Night."
"Vampires?" inquired the Halfling, showing for the first Time a certain Degree of Unease.
"Nay, Sir," said Mr. Peters with some Impatience, "they are Votaries of Venus; they are Emissaries of Love; they are fair Ministers to the Amatory Impulse -- " (2)
"What he means, Sir," quoth Seleta from her Corner, "is that we are all of us -------s."
A moment of Silence follow'd this blunt Remark. And Madam, I will confess that for the first Time in some Months, I felt some Degree of Shame regarding my Profession. My rational Mind had long believ'd that this Choice was by no means the Worst I might have made as I was then circumstanc'd. Yet somewhat about this Halfling made me anxious for his good Opinion. Like many of the other Ladies, I fear'd that he might condemn such a Choice as ours, and be both shock'd and horrified at the Suggestion that he should make the same Choice himself.
The Halfling glanced about the Room, looking from one to the other of us. At this Moment he happen'd to catch my Eye, and to my great Astonishment, he smil'd. He then turned to Mr. Peters. "I can think," he declar'd, "of no Profession more sublimely generous, nor one so wholly devoted to the Happiness of Others."
And the Relief that I and some of the other younger Ladies felt is not to be describ'd. It is all very well to assert, with the Boldness of Youth, that one stands free and independent of the World's Opinion; but in Truth, Madam, the Opinion of the best part of it is not to be disdain'd, nor should it be, by any Person who retains the least Degree of Feeling and self-Respect.
But the Halfling's great Kindness and Esteem for us could not conceal his Trepidation regarding his own immediate Fate. "Despite my great Reverence for this Calling," quoth he, "I must protest, Sir, that I am unworthy of the Honour you propose. For -- " and here the Halfling cast down his Eyes, and his fair Face was suffused with Blushes, "Your Customers would find little Satisfaction, I fear, in my Endeavours, for I must confess -- " and the Halfling's voice sank to a Murmur so low that we all strain'd to hear it -- "that I am an utter Stranger, Sir, to the Arts of Love."
"Mercy on us!" cried Amelia. "A Virgin!"
"A Choice hardly to be condemn'd," declar'd Clarissa, "for a Creature in whom the finest Feeling and most exquisite Virtue are so plainly united."
To this Seleta said Nothing, but twisted her Stiletto in her Hands, and look'd most sharply at Mr. Peters from the Corners of her Eyes. And indeed, Madam, the dark Suspicions that she must have been revolving in her Mind were instantly confirm'd by the unabash'd Glee with which Mr. Peters greeted the Halfling's Confession.
"A Virgin!" quoth he. "Now there is a Commodity as rare as Mithril, and even more Valuable. By Tulkas's Horn! We shall soon make up this Shortfall, and better than that! This Virginity shall be sold before the Night is out! And then, Sir, I assure you, you may have all the Chicken you please, and welcome to it. Indeed," and here he cackl'd at his own Wit, "you shall yourself be the --"
"-- surely, Sir," Amelia interpos'd, "there are not any, among our regular trusted Clients, so heartless as to purchase such a Thing from one unwilling?"
"As to unwilling, the Halfling hath just declar'd himself to be willing, or do you assume, Madam, that I have grown either deaf or forgetful?" said Mr. Peters very hastily, not pausing to give the Halfling or anyone else any Time to revisit this Question now that the Nature of the House's Business had been made clear. "And as to which of our Customers might do such a thing, well, Madam, I have not been in this Business these thirty years and learn'd nothing of Men's Hearts. It is quite evident to me that Captain Faramir would pay any Sum to make the Purchase, once given the Opportunity. He and several of his Men have engag'd to return within two Hours to see to the Spoils of Battle they have left in our Keeping. Surely the Captain will think it only fair that I should be recompens'd for both my Trouble and Cost, by the Auctioning off of a Commodity so much in the way of my regular Business."
"I fail to understand," quoth Clarissa, "why the Captain should permit you to sell to him the Virginity of his own Prisoner."
And to all of us this Inquiry seem'd an astute one, but Mr. Peters had a quick Answer. "A wise question, Madam," quoth he, "and one that shows both your Acuity in Questions of Property, and your Ignorance of the human Heart. Seeds of Yavanna! Many Men such as the Captain require some Excuse to pursue their fondest Desires, and it matters not if that Excuse is transcendently silly. For they can only indulge their Passions if they throw some Sop to their Reason, and what Sop that may be, in Truth matters not."
"Yet surely that very Reason will prevent them from following such a rash course of Action," quoth Clarissa. "For Reason is the crowning Jewel with which the Valar have adorn'd our Minds, and it may illuminate for us the most sublime Mysteries of the Universe, if we will but let it."
To this noble Sentiment all the Ladies nodded Agreement, but Mr. Peters responded with a loud Guffaw. "Reason, indeed!" cried he. "Reason, forsooth! Only think, Madam, what a convenient Thing it is to be a Reasonable Creature! For it enables us to find or make a Reason, for anything we have a Mind to do." (3)
Still chuckling, he left the Room, and locked the Door behind him.
And on Mr. Peters' abrupt Departure, we were all of us left in a state of great Agitation and Suspense. For such Coldness as Mr. Peters had just shown to the Cause of Truth and Justice seem'd greatly different from the Warmth and Kindness with which he previously had Treated us all. And we wonder'd whether the Captain, even changed as he was, could indeed be so cruel as to do what Mr. Peters proposed. And we wondered, too, whether all Chance of Escape was indeed barr'd to us.
And most of all we wonder'd by what strange Fate it was possible, that this Halfling, a Creature so fair that the very Stars must pause in their Courses to behold him, could for his entire Life have remain'd a Virgin. To most us it seem'd that this Fact contradicted all that we knew of the Wiles of Men. For unless the Halfling had lived all his Life in some dark Hole in the Ground, we could not have been the first to be near dumbstruck by his Beauty. There must surely have been Many, in the Past, who did their Uttermost to obtain whatever they wish'd from this Creature who was not only fair, but amiable almost to a fault.
§ § §
But the Answers to these Questions, and most particularly this last, must wait until another Letter, for I see that this one hath already gone on much longer than I had planned. Please thank your dear Mother for the lovely Mushrooms from her Kitchen-Garden; I hope, Madam, that you and she have found some small Recompense for that Gift in this Continuation of my Tale. I assure you, that if you wish, I shall indeed relate more of Frodo Baggins's Adventures just as soon as the Press of very urgent Business permits. For I am as always, Madam,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Notes to Letter the Second
1. Datalounge was a fashionable London coffeehouse notorious for scandal from the 1730s through the 1770s. "Alas!" a young Edmund Burke declared, "if 'tis true that my Lord Rockingham's Treasury Bill hath been the general Talk amongst the Gentlemen of Datalounge, then 'tis scarce possible that the Motion shall be carried" (Burke's Letters, XXIV, 326 n. 15 et passim). As Tolkien did not translate this portion of the Red Book, it is not known to what Third Age equivalent Mrs. Cleland was referring with this eighteenth-century analogue. Back to story
2. It is not known which of the Valar Mrs. Cleland was translating as "Venus." Back to story
3. Mrs. Cleland here paraphrases a famous remark of Ben Franklin's. Back to story
Letter the Third
Minas Ithil, 15 Lotesse, Fourth Age 65
My dear Madam,
I am touch'd to the Heart at the great Concern you have shown, in these last Weeks, for my State of Health; for in your last fifteen Letters, you have never fail'd to inquire after it with the greatest Solicitude. Rest assur'd, Madam, that I have never been in better Spirits, and that my long-continued Silence is merely a Consequence of the pressing Business mention'd in my last.
And let me hasten to add, that those malicious Rumours you mention, to the Effect that I have during all this Time been engag'd in idle Dalliance with an innocent Youth, have not the least Foundation in Truth, or scarce any to speak of. For the Youth in Question is not so young as he appears, or at the least, no younger than I was at his Age. Nor can he without the grossest Abuse of Terms be call'd innocent, nor were we at any Time idle.
Refresh'd by this most invigorating Interlude, I am happy to comply with your Request that I continue my Tale. I am deeply moved, as well, by the great Tenderness you display'd toward its Hero, when you observ'd, as you did, I believe, some seven or eight Times, that 'twas a great Pity that the Ladies of the House never achieved their virtuous Purpose of reviving the Halfling by means of a Bath. Your Anxiety in this matter does Credit both to your Education and to the spontaneous untutor'd Feelings of your Heart, and I know your dear Mother must be infinitely reassured by this evidence of a Passion for personal Hygiene.
For what could be of greater Importance to a Lady than Cleanliness? If her Linen is less than perfectly White, what matters if her Heart is Pure? If the Bed of her sweet Repose is left in Disarray, what matters if her Thoughts are composed? If her fair Face is marr'd by excess Oil, what matters her Wit, or her Candour, or her Virtue? Your Soul knows the Answers to these Questions, and whispers them in your lovely Ear in the darkest watches of the Night. And I know, Madam, that engraved in your Heart in Letters of Fire is that greatest Maxim of the Elves, that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, as well as those thoughtful Addenda of the Dwarves, that Cleanliness is a little to the left of Modesty, kitty-corner to Temperance, and but a few Degrees North-west of the Ability to ask Directions from Strangers while Lost.
Greatly would I wish to seize an Opportunity to inculcate Principles of such Importance to your Health and Morals, by depicting within this my Tale an undying Memorial to the Genius of Sanitation. But I cannot, Madam, do any such Thing, for I am prevented by a higher Power: viz., my Love of Truth. For alas! although I acknowledge that a Bath would have been of the greatest imaginable Value, we had not the Time to pursue the Matter. And rather than claim otherwise, I must bow, silent and weeping, before the stern Dictates of the most excruciating Exactitude.
Thus I cannot say, whilst the Halfling was dry and fully Clothed, that he swoon'd before us wet and Naked. Nor can I say, when his Shirt was button'd quite to his Neck, that beneath the smooth Skin of his Chest the Muscles shudder'd as he enter'd the steaming Pool, or that from those full and rosy Lips there came a soft Sigh of Ease and Pleasure. Nor can I say, when his Legs were fully covered by his Breeches, that upon the creamy Flesh of his Thighs, tiny Droplets gleamed brighter than a thousand Stars, and quiver'd like a summer evening's Sky seen thro' a haze of Heat. Nor, when his under-Linens had been untouch'd by any Hand other than his own, can I say -- but I shall not belabour the Point with superfluous Examples, when I am sure my Meaning is quite Plain.
But to my Tale -- You may imagine, Madam, our dismay when we learn'd that the innocent Creature we had taken to our Bosoms was to meet such a dreadful Fate in only a few short Hours. For a few Moments we were all of us too shock'd to speak, until at last the Heart of one of the younger Ladies could bear the Silence no Longer, but sought its Ease in that Balm of the unquiet Spirit: viz., a lengthy Plaint upon the Horrors of one's present Circumstance:
"Alas!" cried she, "to think, sweet Sir, that all our Endeavours to protect you from Captain Faramir's Fury should Prove in Vain; to think, that your sweetest Treasure, your Virginity, should be sold with no regard to your Will; to think, that you should be hoisted before hungry Eyes, like a mere Thing, nay like a Joint of Beef, cook'd and dress'd for the Table, there instantly to be devour'd by the slavering Jaws of . . .
"Thank you, my Dear," interpos'd Clarissa, "you have, with your usual Acuity, summarized the Situation very nicely. But perhaps there is somewhat we may yet do to promote the Comfort of our Guest, and Ease a Mind troubl'd by the Prospect of an immediate Future that is, perhaps, uncertain?"
To this kind Inquiry, the Halfling, who had grown rather pale during the first Lady's Speech, offer'd his Thanks, and said that more of the Brandy would be most welcome. Six or seven Ladies leapt with Alacrity to assist him, and some few Moments thereafter, he was once again enshrin'd upon the Couch, having down'd two or three Goblets of Brandy in rapid Succession. As his Cheeks were still less rosy than one might wish, we offer'd him further Refreshment, which he gratefully accepted, and in short order he consum'd some few Scraps that one of the Ladies had prepar'd on a Samovar in the back of the Room: viz., a rich Broth of Onions, Herbs, and Bread, cover'd o'er with a thick and bubbling Layer of melted Cheese. He was then prevail'd upon to accept in addition a fine Pudding made of a good firm Suet Crust, spread o'er with a Mixture of golden Syrup, Milk, chopped Fruits, Currants, Raisins, and candied Peel, the Whole being then roll'd, bak'd, and well drench'd in hot spiced Treacle. (1)
Having finish'd this meagre Meal, and sopp'd up the last remaining Drop of the Sauce with some few hot butter'd Scones, and furthermore wash'd these last down with another Goblet of Brandy, the Halfling look'd somewhat more cheer'd and refresh'd. At this Time Clarissa and Amelia exchang'd a significant Glance, and their Thoughts were full as Apparent as if they had spoken them the aloud: viz., that if the Halfling were now left to his own morose Reflections, he would become a Prey to Fears, and Anxieties, and Self-Tormentings, which, tho' wholly natural in his present Situation, had this small Disadvantage: viz., they would do him no Good whatever. It was doubtless for this Reason that Amelia then spoke.
"Dear Sir," quoth she, "altho' the Circumstances of your Stay among us are not at all what I would have wish'd, I must confess that I cannot bring myself to regret entirely your Presence in this House. For we Ladies receive so few Visitors from other Lands and Countries, who might distract us from our Loneliness, and edify us with Information regarding the Manners and Customs of the other Peoples of Middle-earth."
The Halfling rewarded this Speech with a most beneficent Smile, at which Point several of the younger Ladies found it essential to sit upon the nearest Chair, or even upon the Floor if no suitable Furniture were within their Reach. For when this sweet Expression danc'd across the Halfling's Face, it became Apparent that his Cheek was graced with a Dimple of no small Degree of Charm, and there were among us many who felt that such a Spectacle could be fully appreciated only from a recumbent Position.
Fortunately the Halfling did not seem to notice the abrupt Collapse of half the Ladies in the Room, for he said only that he would be most happy to tell us anything we wish'd to know regarding the far-off Country of his Birth. "For, Madam," he said with a Sigh, "'twould ease my Heart indeed to speak of this Place. Tho' I fear that I never shall see it again, it will always live in my Soul as a Memory of Sunshine, even when the Darkness falls coldest about me, and the Burden of my Errand in these Lands drags upon my Spirit."
And at these Words the Halfling's Looks grew so cheerless -- nay, far more so, than at any Talk of Captain Faramir's plans -- that we instantly resolv'd, to distract him from whatever Horror it was that he contemplated, with just such a Conversation as he propos'd.
"Sir," said Amelia, "you must, then, forgive my Inquisitiveness, if the first Question I ask is one most natural to a Lady in my Profession." And here she paus'd. "Tho' now that I come to the Point," she added, some few Moments later, "I find, that I can scarce think of a Way to inquire, just how it is -- that is, why -- or how -- or for what Reason, after so long a Tale of Years . . . " and here she stopp'd, and blush'd, and seem'd quite incapable of going on.
"Nay, dearest Amelia," quoth Clarissa very hastily, "we must allow for the delicate Sensibilities of our Guest. Stars of Elbereth, my Dear! Do you really believe, for one so circumstanced as this Halfling is now, that the ordinary Rules of Decorum would permit us to ask a Question so blunt, so common, so gross?"
"Madam," inquir'd Seleta very gravely, "just what Question is it that you mean?"
"Really, my Dear," quoth Clarissa, "methinks the Brandy hath turn'd your Head, that you should not at once perceive the Abyss of Impropriety which so nearly open'd at Amelia's feet. Why, she was within Half a Breath of inquiring just how it is that this Halfling, a Being so exquisitely beautiful that he would put the very Light of the Silmarils to shame, should, at his Age, have remain'd so long touch'd not by the Hand of Man; -- nay, nor by the hand of Woman either; -- nay" -- quoth she, with a politick Glance at the Halfling's caprine Admirer -- "nor by the hoof of Goat; nor by the relevant Appendage of any Creature whatsoever, living or dead, or undead, or yet to be born -- "
And here Clarissa sank into the soft Depths of the nearest Armchair, so exhausted was she, by her Labour in constructing this extraordinary Sentence (yet a Labour that sinks to nothing, Madam, in Comparison with my own, in punctuating it). There she sat panting half a Moment, whilst several of the other Ladies cool'd her fever'd brow with most accommodating Waves of their Fans. "In short," Clarissa continued at last, when some Breath and Alertness had returned to her, "dear Amelia nearly ask'd why it is that this fairest and most amiable of Beings should, at his Time of Life, remain a Virgin."
"Indeed," quoth Seleta, "that would be a blunt Question, and I am most grateful, Madam, that you did not ask it."
"Indeed," concurr'd Clarissa, with a look of great Innocency, that would have suggested, to any who did not know her well, that she had not the slightest Notion of Seleta's true Meaning.
"You have accomplish'd, Madam," Seleta continued, "a very Triumph of Taciturnity! And this Moment shall forever be remember'd, as an Epoch in the long unspoken History of Discretion."
"Doubtless, Madam, you are correct," quoth Amelia with a Smile into her Fan.
"Nay -- " Seleta began, but her valuable Observations were interrupted by the Voice of the Halfling himself; at which Point the three Ladies shar'd among themselves a conspiratorial Smile.
"Indeed, Ladies," cried the Halfling, downing another Goblet of Brandy, "while your great Concern for my Delicacy testifies most powerfully to your own, I must assure you that it is unnecessary. For I find -- " and here the Halfling paus'd to take another Swallow of the fiery Liquid in his Glass. "I find, I know not how, that my Heart, which has long meditated upon this very Subject in Silence, yearns to unburden itself at last. I find in myself a strong Urge to communicate, to such sympathetic Ears as your own, the secret Fate that has marked me out from my Fellows, and doom'd me to an Abstinence so total that the like of it has never been seen in this or any other Age."
"Abstinence! Utter Abstinence!" Amelia exclaim'd in Horror. "Surely not, Sir! Surely the Valar could not be so unfeeling, as to doom a Creature so gentle and so lovely as yourself to the Horrors of Loneliness?"
"Nay, it cannot be so," said Clarissa with great Kindness. "'Tis certain, Sir, that Time will resolve all, though you have not, perchance, yet found the right Person to capture your Heart and to entwine your Spirit with his own. But the Passion you so greatly deserve shall follow in the footsteps of Love, as surely as the sweet Fruits of Summer follow the Blossoms of Spring."
"Love!" cried the Halfling, and we could not but note some Bitterness in his Tone. "You should know, Madam, that my Heart was captur'd long ago, and by one who deserves every last Particle of Adoration that is mine to give; nay, and then twice as much again, before his true Worth would be acknowledged. But alas! he is utterly Ignorant of my Feelings. And ever I would have him so, for to entrap him in my Fate would be to destroy him, and that, Ladies, would most certainly destroy me as well."
And it seem'd to all of us a near Certainty that the Person of whom he spoke with such great Feeling was the Sam whose name had earlier escap'd his unwilling Lips. The great Curiosity we felt so overwhelm'd several of the Ladies that they could scarce refrain from the most profound Sighs of Longing. "Oh, sweet Sir!" breathed one of the younger Ladies from her Position on the Floor, "do, do tell us more!"
"Indeed, Sir," quoth Clarissa, "it would help us greatly, in our Effort to judge your Case, if you would explain it at somewhat greater Length."
"And in Detail," added Amelia, "Sir, spare it not, for it is often the Details, in cases such as this, that enable the Listener to comprehend the Motives and Feelings of the Persons concerned."
"And omit not the Descriptions," Seleta advis'd, "for it is essential, if we are to take your Meaning fully, that we behold each Event in our Minds' Eye as a Picture. Nay, but more: a Picture with Scent, and Sound, and Sweetness, as if the great Sensorium of Nature were embowered in Language and spread before us."
"I know not," cried the Halfling, "whether the simple Words of my Mother Tongue have even Half the expressive Force to do as you wish." But on seeing the Looks of Disappointment on some of the fair Faces around him, the Halfling seem'd to relent. "Ladies," quoth he, "I will do my Best."
With that, around the Couch where the Halfling sat, each of the Ladies gather'd her Skirts beneath her and settled into a comfortable Position, until he was quite surrounded by the lovely and expectant Eyes of his Admirers. Into the place of Honour beside him lept the Goat, who laid its Head at his Feet, and gaz'd upon him with a most Feeling Expression, as if the Sorrow in the Halfling's Tale were so Great, that a mere Brute could not but be Struck to the very Marrow, and e'en the insensate Mountains and Seas of Middle-earth must come closer to listen.
The Tale of Frodo Hill
"My Name," quoth the Halfling, "is Frodo B- . . . that is to say, Frodo Uhhhn -- "
But here the Halfling cough'd suddenly, as the Goat attempted to scramble into his Lap. A brief Period of Confusion ensued, as several Ladies combin'd their Efforts to persuade the Goat to return to his previous Position at the Halfling's Feet. This Interruption being done with, most of us Ladies were left with an Impression of his Name quite different not only from the real one, but from the Pseudonym which, we later learned, he had earlier been advis'd to adopt.
"Frodo Hill," sighed Amelia. "A most lovely Name, Sir."
"Indeed, yes," quoth the Halfling, "though in Truth I have never considered -- but very well, Madam, I am glad it is Pleasing in your Ears."
And here he blush'd so profusely that it would have been at once apparent to a Child of five Years that the Name he had given was not his own. Yet to me, Madam, this Blush was like unto a Seal vouchsafing the Truth of the Remainder of his Tale; for it declar'd him at once a Being to whom the least Falsehood, even one necessitated by the common Dictates of Prudence, was a Thing utterly hateful, so much so, that he could not but manifest his Revulsion in the secret Language of the Heart that we can do so little to control.
"My country lies far to the North and West," the Halfling continued, "a green Haven of Loveliness, where my People have for many Generations dwelt in Peace. Halfling I have heard you call me, and to Men the Name must seem a just Description, but we call ourselves Hobbits, for we estimate the Value of Things according to our own Names and Ways, and know little of the great World beyond our Borders. For we have a saying among us: Trouble not with Matters outside your own Hole."
"Your Hole?" inquir'd one of the younger Ladies. "Then do your People live thus?"
"A most sensible Manner of Living," quoth Amelia, "for a Domicile thus constructed would have several distinct Advantages in the way of Conveniency, not the least of which, is the complete Protection it would provide from all Possibility of Damage from Hail."
"Madam, I thank you," quoth the Halfling, "and altho' I have never consider'd the Matter in that Way, I am quite Sure it is the Case. To continue: Bless'd with the Shelter of my Paternal Hole, my Youth was unmarr'd by Trouble or Pain, or Hail, or any other Meteorological Phenomena of Note. I thoughtlessly enjoy'd the Love and Esteem of Parents uncommonly Kind: nay, extraordinarily so even in my Country, where the Love of Parent for Child and Kin for Kin is great indeed. Sweetly they indulg'd the Freaks and Sports of my often madcap Youth.
"And I must confess, Ladies, that such Indulgence was often necessary, for I did little to govern my Desires. These Desires were as yet what the World calls innocent -- a Passion for Mushrooms being yet the strongest -- but my Readiness to go to any Length to satisfy them must surely have given my dear Parents much Anxiety with regard to my Future.
"Yet this Future was one they were never to see, for they were both of them in one dreadful Moment lost to me, while I was but a Lad in my Teens.
At this Time the Room grew so Silent, that almost we could hear the Beating of our own Hearts. For altho' the Halfling's Voice never waver'd and he shed no Tear, there was somewhat in his determin'd Joviality like the excess Caution of a Traveller who skirts a dark Pit that he knows to lie in his Path. And I was not the only Lady in the Room who knew from sad Experience what it was to face such Sorrow at such an Age, and to endure it ever after. We knew full well, then, that his dry Eyes testified not to a cold Heart, but to the slow Lessening of Grief that Time, combin'd with Fortitude, can bring.
So mov'd was I by this Part of the Halfling's Narration that I could not forebear speaking before all the Company. "Alas!" quoth I, "then were you left an Orphan, to make your way alone thro' the cruel World?"
"Nay, my Dear," quoth the Halfling, "that may be the Custom in your Country, but it is not in mine; for no Hobbit-child can ever be alone while even a single Hobbit lives who calls him Kin. I was well car'd for by several of my Relations, until at last I was formally adopted by my Cousin Bilbo, a Gentlehobbit of many great Talents, the greatest of which, perhaps, was his Genius for Friendship. For a Friend he was indeed to me, and the dearest -- save one only -- that ever I have known. Uncle Bilbo -- "
"Your pardon, Sir," quoth Clarissa, whose great Passion for Precision was well known among us, "but was this Bilbo your Uncle, or your Cousin?"
"Madam, that is a most intriguing Question," quoth the Halfling, "and the Answer to it is my Uncle, tho' the Reasons may not be apparent to those without the Passion for Genealogy that distinguishes my own People. For my dear Mother's Mother, Mirabella Took, was full Sister to the fabulous Belladonna, who was Mother to Bilbo. And on the other Side, my dear Father's Grandfather Largo B . . . -- that is to say, Largo Hill, was Brother to Mungo, the Father of Bungo, the Father of Bilbo.
"Thus Bilbo might loosely be styl'd my Cousin -- but, Madam, you must know that the language of my People includes Names for precise Degrees of Kinship not much noted in the Genealogies of Men. In our Tongue, the word Uncle may signify, as it does in yours, the brother of my mother, or the brother of my father. But by a strange Coincidence it may also refer to any Hobbit who is at the same time one's maternal Grandmother's Sister's Child and one's paternal Great-Grandfather's Brother's Grandchild."
At this Time a soft Noise arose in various Parts of the Room, but it was not noted by Clarissa, who said, "Indeed, Sir, that is most curious. For we would call the same Person, one's first and second Cousin, once remov'd either way." (2)
"How wonderfully Various are the Customs of the free Peoples!" the Halfling exclaim'd, above the Sound that grew ever in Volume as he spoke. "For I would have you know, that the word Aunt has among us a most curious Meaning, tho' one used only in the most low and scurrilous Jests. For we have a Saying among us, that an Aunt is the Result of Intermarriage between a Hobbit and a . . ."
But here he was interrupted, as the Sound had attain'd such a Volume that he could not speak without Shouting. For it was the Sound of most vigorous Snores from some of the younger Ladies, upon whom these Genealogical Disquisitions had the same Effect as a Lullaby, or as the soft and sibilant Murmurings of the distant Sea. With the greatest imaginable Tact and Consideration, therefore, the Halfling resum'd his Tale at a Point more calculated to retain their Attention.
"Fond as I was of my dear Uncle," he declar'd, "I was rapidly reaching the Age when Thoughts of true Passion began to stir within me. My Days were pass'd in inchoate Longings, my Nights were plagued by strange Dreams of Desire. Each Dawn would find me alone in a solitary Bed, wrung with Pleasure and tormented by Shame. But far more Painful than this torment of the Body were the new Needs that clamour'd to be Satisfied in the innermost Sanctum of my Soul. I long'd -- oh! Ladies, how greatly I long'd -- to enjoy perfect Union with another; to find one other Heart with whom mine could beat in perfect Sympathy.
"And so I wander'd thro' the Country round my Uncle's Hole in that phantasmagorical Delirium of a Love that had yet to find an Object. It seem'd to me, in this State that approach'd so near to Madness, that each Pair of bright Eyes that I saw might belong to the Paragon that I sought. Each Time I chanc'd to meet another Hobbit-lad of tolerable Attractiveness, I could not but wonder whether this were the one with whom I was destin'd to find Happiness.
"Such was my Case one fateful summer Morning in my eighteenth Year, when I left my Uncle's Hole for a Journey across Country of some Days. I had inform'd my kind Uncle that it was my Intention to seek certain rare Wildflowers that grew only beyond the White Downs in the Westfarthing. In actual Fact, however, my Purpose was quite different. For the Place I sought was well-known among the Hobbit-Youth of three Farthings: 'twas a Grove not far from the Village of Tighfield, wherein lay a small Pool of Water, distinguish'd not for its Beauty, nor for its Salutary qualities, but for certain mystick Properties it was rumour'd to possess. For it was said among us, that merely by looking into the Pool, one's fondest Wish would be granted, if one were to speak it aloud."
"Pshaw!" exclaim'd Seleta at once.
"Madam," Amelia interpos'd, "pray tell me, how the Word that you have just ejaculated with such Force, might be spell'd? For I must confess that this is a Thing I have always wonder'd."
"Nay, Madam," quoth Seleta, "we will address Questions of Orthography at some other Time, when we have both the Leisure and the Patience to do so: a Time, I might add, that will no doubt be quite distant from this one. At the present Moment, I would merely like to note the Absurdity of believing, in an Age as advanc'd as our own, that an insensate Thing can grant Wishes."
"You were not ask'd for your Opinion, my Dear," Clarissa said mildly, "'tho' I must confess, now that you have mention'd it, that such a Notion runs utterly contrary to Reason. I should hope, my dear Sir, that you do not intend to tell us a Tale that might mislead the younger Ladies among us as to the Probabilities of Nature."
"May all the Valar forbid, Madam," the Halfling return'd, "that I should with but a single Word deviate from the narrow and arduous path of Truth, a path, which by its very Nature, must conform with all imaginable Strictness to the Dictates of good Sense and Good Taste! Nay: for the Sequel of my Tale will show beyond doubt, that the Wish I made was uttered in vain, and that the power of granting Wishes might with equal Truth be ascrib'd to this very Goat we see before us, chewing upon the Upholstery in such a diligent Manner."
This last Observation occasioning some Consternation among us, a short Pause ensued, whilst the Goat was supplied with a more appropriate object for its Ruminations, at which point the Halfling resum'd his Tale.
"The Wish then uppermost in my Mind," quoth he, "may easily be guess'd at. When I reach'd the Pool, I cast the Pack off my back, and loosen'd my Shirt, the close Confines of which had become too warm in the course of a Journey undertaken in the Heat of the summer Sun."
"A wise Precaution," Amelia exclaim'd, "for those articles of Clothing design'd to protect us from the Chills of Winter, are most unsuitable in almost any other Circumstance."
"Indeed," quoth Seleta, "I would go so far as to say, that a Shirt, particularly when worn by yourself, Sir, is a Thing which cannot be too quickly remov'd."
"That may well be so, Madam, but in this Case, I left it on, for my Business in that place was to my Mind so urgent that I could do little more but undo the first two or three Buttons. With some Bashfulness I look'd about me, for I must own that I was sufficiently aware of the Foolishness of my Errand not to wish to be seen engag'd in it by another. But the Grove wherein the Pool was plac'd seem'd deserted of all but the Birds in the Trees, whose mournful Cries encourag'd the Feelings of Sadness and Hope that struggl'd in my youthful Breast. Therefore I cast myself down by the Edge of the Pool, and spake my Piece, foolish tho' it was:
"'O Valar,' cried I, 'or whatever Powers for Good preside over this fair Pool, hear my Prayer. For there is a Thing that I would ask of you, tho' I can offer in return no more than what is already yours: a whole Life dedicated to your Service. But grant me one Wish: I ask for Love, the Love of one Hobbit only; a Love that will overflow in my Heart for one who will love me in return; a Love that will support us in whatever future Trials you bid us bear; a Love that will always -- '
"But this Effusion of youthful Ideals, which I confess that I now blush to recall, was interrupted by a loud Noise not far from where I lay. Imagine, Ladies, my Horror when I saw that in the midst of the Pool there splash'd most furiously a small Hobbit Faunt of not more than five Years. It at once became evident, from his strangl'd cries, that he could not Swim. His Situation was one of some Danger, for altho' the Pool stood only two Foot deep, the Faunt stood at perhaps half that, and his Struggles were so very ineffectual that he soon would have perish'd without Aid. That Aid I unhesitatingly provided; I dove into the Pool and bore him away, a Task which his Struggles made rather more difficult than it needed to be. For he kick'd me in the Ear so hard that I bore the bruise for some Days afterwards.
"Nevertheless I brought him to the Shore, and there dropp'd him with, I must confess, some small Exasperation and no little Pain. There he lay gasping at my Feet for some Moments, and seem'd hardly worth the Trouble he had cost me. For I had come to the Pool to indulge the most romantick Longings of my Heart, only to find this young Creature, who look'd like nothing so much as a drown'd Rat.
"On recovering his Breath, however, the Child also recover'd both his Gratitude and his Manners. For he thank'd me most profusely, and declar'd, that I was the most wonderful Hobbit in Tighfield, nay, in the entire Westfarthing, and that he lov'd me quite as much as his Mother -- or, if not quite so well as that, then very nearly -- and that when he grew up we should be Married, and have many Children, and live in a Hole of our own, with a bit of Garden besides.
"With such pretty childish Prattle as this he amus'd me for some Moments, and made me laugh as well at my own Fancies. For I saw that my own Words of a short Time before had been just as ridiculous as his. Thus may we see in the artless speech of a Child a Mirror of our own Desires, one that strips them of the proud Illusions and false Splendours wherewith we deck them, in the secret Chamber of the Imagination.
"'Very well, little Fauntling,' quoth I at last, picking up the squirming Child in my Arms, 'I shall be married to you and no other, if you would have it so, but first let us find your Mother and see what she has to say of our Plans.'
"And I then began to turn away from the Pool to bear the Faunt back to the Village whence he came, but was startl'd by a deep, rich Voice behind me, full of a teasing Kindness and of scarce suppress'd Laughter.
"'Nay, Frodo,' quoth this unexpected Intruder, 'Such Loveliness as yours must not be thrown away, even in Jest, upon one too young to enjoy it.'
I whirl'd around in Dismay, and at once recognized to my Astonishment a Hobbit of most questionable Reputation, one known in all the surrounding Country for his frequent Amours with Hobbit-lads much younger than himself. For there stood before me Ledo Boffin, a distant Cousin of mine. (3) And to return to our previous Discussion, I will here say, that Cousin he must be call'd, since my Great-grandfather was Brother to his, and Relations thus set back Three Generations, in which the Ties of Blood occur only on one Side of the Family, are among us --"
"Prithee Sir," quoth Seleta, "some of the younger Ladies cannot long endure the Anxiety of Suspense; the Genealogical Niceties may, perhaps, be fully explor'd on another Occasion."
"Madam," quoth the Halfling, "I would never, thro' any Actions of my own, voluntarily ask you to endure Anxiety of any kind. To continue, then, my Tale: I tried to answer my Cousin as best I could, but was puzzl'd to find the Words, as I did not myself know whether his own were in Jest or in Earnest. Nor was I entirely resolv'd in my own Mind as to whether his Attentions to me were unwelcome, or otherwise. For altho' this Ledo was some years my senior, it could not be denied that he was as sturdy and handsome a Hobbit in the Prime of Life as ever I had seen. And tho' it was true, that I could not bring myself to imagine him as a Companion for Life, it had on one or two Occasions occurr'd to me that he might make a very pleasant Companion for an Evening.
"It was thus most difficult to recollect my idealistic Resolutions in favour of perfect Love, or to pretend a State of utter Indifference in his Presence, when his dark Eyes were sparkling with Amusement, and when I was quite unable to prevent myself from noticing the Breadth of his Shoulders, or the firm Muscles of his bare Fore-arms. Indeed I will confess, that those Shoulders, and several other Aspects of his Person, had figur'd in many of my Dreams of late, and in a Manner by no Means unpleasing.
"I was thus mortified to discover, after some Moments had pass'd, that my conflicting Desires to say first one Thing, and then Another, had resulted in my not saying anything at All. And at this Ledo threw his handsome Head back and laugh'd, and then took a Step or two Closer to me.
"'Don't you touch him!' growl'd the Faunt in my Arms, in a Tone whose Violence quite shock'd me, 'he is Mine, and Mine only, and if you try any Thing, I will -- '
"'Do not waste my Time and Yours with the Nonsense of this Tot,' quoth Ledo, and in one smooth motion he seized the Child and roll'd him gently onto a nearby Bed of Moss. There the Child, who was more surpris'd than hurt, gave one Squawk of Surprise and look'd at me inquiringly.
"'All is well, little one, and if you will wait just one Moment . . .' quoth I, meaning to continue, by taking the Child back to the Village in Despite of Ledo's growing Hilarity.
"To my Surprise, the Child burst into Tears, picked himself up off the Ground, and ran away as fast as his Legs could carry him. But Ledo gave me no Time to feel either Relief over the Child's Safety or Sorrow over his Discomfiture. 'Frodo,' quoth he with a Smile, above the Sound of the Child's rapidly receding Screams, 'I must confess, that I heard your Plaint just now.'
"At this News I could scarce conceal my Blushes. 'I dare say, Sir, that you think me extremely foolish.'
"'Nay, Frodo,' cried he, 'while the perfect Love you long for, is more the fantastical Creation of idle Poets, than a Thing found in sober Truth, you must not repine to find yourself wishing for it at your Age. For yours is but a common Malady of Youth. Yet it is a Malady, thank the Valar, for which there is a simple Medicine, and one, I assure you, that can be most delightful: or it will be, my dear Frodo, if you entrust the Care of your Illness wholly to me.'
"And with that he rak'd me with a Gaze that made me shiver and blush all at once; tho' I could not believe there was aught in me to attract a discerning Eye such as his own. For I shall put Modesty aside and say, that tho' I felt that I could not be call'd entirely Plain, yet my late Soujourn into the Pool had left me in a Dishevell'd Condition, one that could hardly resemble the Perfection in Hobbit Form that I knew he was wont to pursue."
At this remark several of the Ladies laugh'd behind their Fans, and the Halfling look'd puzzl'd, and said, "Indeed, you are quite right, in that I must have presented a most Comic Spectacle."
"Perhaps, Sir, you are correct," quoth Seleta. "What indeed would such a Gentlehobbit see in you, as you were then circumstanced? For there you stood before him, a Hobbit in the first full Bloom of your Youth and Beauty . . ."
" . . . your damp Curls tousl'd and flung careless over your Face," continued Amelia, "shedding drops of Water that glided down the petal-soft skin of your Cheeks, only to settle, by a Force well-nigh irresistible, in a Corner of those sweet Lips, until their gentle Tickling in such a sensitive Spot caus'd you to lick them away . . . "
" . . . your Chest, what is more, still heaving from your recent Exertions," quoth Clarissa, "and from your Consciousness of his Eyes upon you, a Consciousness which deepen'd your Blushes with every passing Moment, until the whole of your Neck and Face was suffus'd with a Warmth and Colour that would put to Shame the first Sunrise of the first Spring of Arda . . ."
"Aye," quoth Amelia, "and let us not forget, the effect of the Water upon your Garments. Surely they now adhered most closely to every part of your Body. And it would be difficult, even for a Connoisseur of Beauty so season'd as this Ledo, to say whether your Shirt, already half-unbutton'd, did more to conceal your Person, or to reveal it in a Manner more enticing even than mere Nakedness. For the damp Cloth would be render'd almost completely translucent, and would cling to the pale warm Flesh beneath. You were, no doubt, most excruciatingly aware of this Fact, but each Change in Position that you made, in a vain Effort to be less expos'd to his View, would merely shift the woven Fabric against your Skin, twisting it even more tightly about your trembling Form, and showing him new Beauties that before had been hidden. Thus the Eyes of the fortunate Ledo could trace each Curve and Shadow of your Form: the sinuous Rise and Fall of the Muscles of your Arms, the line of your Collarbone, the soft curve of your Belly, the gentle indentation of your Navel: and from thence he could follow the line of silky Hair that would draw his Gaze irresistibly downwards, where it would meet the Cloth of your Breeches, and be lost amid the swelling Treasures suggested by that wet, tight, but unfortunately more opaque Material."
"Not," Seleta put in, "that Ledo would mourn overmuch at even such a Loss as this, for if his Eye travell'd again but a little upward, he could not fail to see the scare perceptible Swelling of the muscles defining your Chest, and the crown of it all, those twin dark Aureoles so very sensitive to the slightest Touch, both of them at that moment almost painfully stiffening beneath the Stimulus of your lover's warm Gaze. And their deep Colour would scarce be misted over by the pale Shirt that brushed so gently against them, just as Rose-petals, burnt for Incense upon the Altar of Beauty, would be first darken'd by the Fire, then half-obscured in the sweet Smoke made by their own scorching Heat. "
A brief Silence ensued, as most of the Ladies in the Room cross'd their Legs.
"Indeed," quoth the Halfling.
"Sir," quoth Seleta, "it is a Miracle that he took Notice of you at all."
"I am sure, Ladies, that there is great Truth in whatever it is that you are Saying," the Halfling said, with a Look of some Bewilderment. "But -- but -- Incense?" (and here he looked at Seleta most doubtfully). "But -- to return -- to -- be that as it may: I found to my Shame that I had not a Word to say. But it seem'd that Ledo requir'd none: for he stepp'd forward, looking deep into my Eyes without speaking, and unfasten'd one of the remaining Buttons of my Shirt. When I offer'd no Resistance beyond a slight Shiver, his deft Fingers undid another, and then another, until very shortly the Shirt hung loose about me, and he laid a Hand on each Side and proceeded to slide the wet Fabric slowly off my Shoulders, never once Permitting my Gaze to stray from his own -- at which Point, however, he paused, tilted his Head to one Side, and with a gentle Smile said, 'Yes?'
"My Heart was hammering so hard in my Chest, that I felt I might be shaken to Bits, and somewhat deep within me whisper'd that it wanted something more than this charming Gentlehobbit ever could give. But so hot burn'd the Fire in my Body, that both Fear and Conscience must fly before it. 'Twas scarce my own Voice, but the Voice of Desire itself, that sigh'd at last the single Word that would seal my Fate: 'Please.'
"Ledo laugh'd, and with a rapid Motion stripp'd the Shirt from my Body and cast it upon the Ground beside us. His strong Hands soon fell warm and heavy upon my Shoulders, and I gasp'd, expecting he would kiss me, but he did nothing of the kind. Instead he bent his Head, until his Lips hovered over my Chest. Over it, but not upon it: for tho' I could feel his Breath, he would by no means touch me, but paused just above my Skin.
"This blissful Torment continued until I thought I should go mad. At last I could bear it no longer, but moan'd deep within my Throat, and strain'd forward frantically against the Hands that held me fast. At that Moment I would have been willing to do any Thing just to feel his Mouth against me.
"'Ah, patience, my Love,' quoth he, and I felt the soft Vibration of these Words just over one of those delicate Aureoles you have mention'd. And oh, sweet Mercy! but the Fire kindl'd in that tender Place shot like Lightning to my Loins. I cried out, and struggl'd once more to move forward against the cruel Restraint of his Grasp. His Laughter rumbled low in his Chest as he murmur'd, As you wish. So enflam'd was I that I could not gaze upon him, but flung my Head back, panting with a Desire I could no longer control, praying that my burning Flesh . . . "
§ § §
Madam, here I owe you my most humble Apologies, for I find, that I have quite misplaced the Notes that would enable me to continue this my Tale, and my most diligent Efforts have been unable to Discover, where they might be. And without these Notes I can by no means hazard a Guess as to what will happen next.
For tho' it is my hazy Recollection, that the Halfling was burden'd with his Virginity for a full thirty-two Years after the Time of this Episode, it does not seem at all likely, to judge from the Papers before me, that this Condition could possibly have persisted for a Period longer than two Minutes. I do believe that the Halfling waited for the Love of his faithful Sam, but must admit that at Present it certainly does appear, that he was at this Point quite willing, nay, eager, to accept in its Stead a good Boffin.
But this Quandary may doubtless be best resolv'd at another Time, for the fair Youth I mention'd at the beginning of this Letter will be visiting me very shortly. He may very well be able to assist me in my Search, for he has proven remarkably Adept at many small Tasks he has been asked to perform in my Boudoir.
Please give my kindest Regards to your dear Mother, and let her know, that I think her quite Right in the Dispute that has of late arisen between you. It pains me to say that I think you were wrong to listen to those young Ladies who call themselves your Friends, when they told you, that they disliked the Shape of your Ears. Your Ears, my dearest Girl, are lovely, tho' it is true that they are indeed different from those of your Schoolmates.
Nevertheless, you should not take your Friends' most rash and thoughtless Advice, that you attempt to transform these exquisite Features with the Potion that you have recently purchas'd from a travelling Band of Dwarves. For such cosmetic Experiments always end in Tears -- particularly when they involve Dwarvish Potions, for the Effects of the Dwarves' Amorous Craft upon other Races are unpredictable at best. I once knew a Lady who, in a similar Situation, found herself three Weeks later united for Life to an Eggplant of more than ordinary Size -- but that is another Tale, for another Time.
I look forward, then, to hearing from you, that you have replac'd your Friends, rather than your Ears. And you may rest assur'd, Madam, that I will continue this my Tale, just as soon as it is practicable to do so. For I am ever,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Notes to Letter the Third
A note on punctuation: Eighteenth-century printers used several methods to punctuate inset stories like the one Frodo tells in this chapter. I have chosen the one that I hope will be the least complicated. Paragraphs in his story begin with a double quotation. Speeches within his story are marked off with single quotations. If Frodo continues his story from one paragraph to another, there is no closing double quote at the end of the first paragraph, and there is an opening double quote at the beginning of the next one. Considering that one of the alternatives was to put the whole thing in italics, I think this system is relatively easy on the eyes.
1. Curiously, the recipe Mrs. Cleland gives here survived from the Third Age until at least the nineteenth century; it may be found in cookbooks of the latter period as Tadcaster Pudding. This suggests of course the existence of an unbroken culinary oral tradition from a period of which almost all written records have been lost. See my forthcoming article in the July 2004 issue of Annals of European Cookery, "Mother Tongues: Oral Transmission of Culinary Knowledge(s) from the Third Age." Mrs. Cleland must have been relying on this oral tradition rather than the text of the Red Book itself, for it is of course entirely anachronistic for her to claim that the crust of the pudding was made with suet. We know from sources too numerous to mention that in Elvish cuisine, as well as in the Numenorean gustatory traditions descended from it, all baking was done with a mixture of lard and butter (Elves having no reason to worry about cholesterol). This fact accounts for the marvelous restorative powers of the lembas that Professor Tolkien mentions so often in his works, without, alas, giving the recipe. Back to story
2. It can be seen here that Professor Tolkien is guilty of taking one or two short cuts in his own translation from the hobbitish dialect of Westron in which the Red Book was originally written. Strictly speaking Bilbo should have been called Frodo's "uncle" throughout. My understanding is that this error has been corrected in a recent popular adaptation of Professor Tolkien's work. Back to story
3. I am delighted to report that Maria-Susannah Cleland includes amid her papers a one hundred-page index showing the interrelationships among all hobbits living at the end of the Third Age, using a special form of calculus that she developed for the purpose. Ledo Boffin appears in this index, though he is not, for reasons that will become obvious, listed as a guest at Bilbo's party. This stupendous work of scholarship will offer an invaluable supplement to the tiny sampling of the available material that Professor Tolkien offered in his Appendix C; though I must admit that the material is so complex that it will not really be useful until it can be put into digital form. I have been reliably informed that will take the computing power of over 1300 state of the art processors with a combined memory of several hundred terabytes to determine, for example, the number of common relatives shared by any random Took and any random Brandybuck. Thus far my attempts to apply for an NEH grant for this desperately needed electronic resource have not met with success. Back to story
Letter the Fourth
Minas Ithil, 7 Narie, Fourth Age 65
I thank you for those helpful Hints and Suggestions, in your last two-and-twenty Letters, for keeping my Papers in better Order. For this is an Object toward which all sensible Persons must perpetually strive, and its Attainment would, among its many other Advantages, permit me to continue my Tale in that Spirit of Accuracy which you have by this Time come to expect, yea, and to demand.
Yet I cannot agree when you exclaim with such Violence that through this little Inadvertency of mine, the Tale broke off at its most interesting Part. And I wonder, indeed, what your dear Mother would think if she knew you had demanded in such plain Language that I give you a full Account of all that transpir'd between Frodo Baggins and his more experienced Paramour, sparing not the slightest Detail that my Recollection, my Notes, or even my Imagination can afford.
Surely, Madam, such a Request is hardly consistent with the Purity of your Heart? Heaven forfend that I should despoil that Innocency I have so long admir'd, or sully your Imagination with Visions of Sighs, and heaving Breasts, and Moans, and yielding Flesh lightly beaded with Sweat, and soft smooth Thighs straining against silk Sheets, or any other Nonsense of that kind. Madam, I assure you: rather would I fling down my Pen at once and forever, than permit my poor Writings to occlude that Light of Virtue that has hitherto shone from your every Utterance like the Gleam of a distant Star.
For mine is a Tale penetrated to its nethermost Parts by the firmest Sense of Morality. And thus here shall you find not the slightest Allusion to those extraordinary Practices so celebrated among the jaded Rakes of Minas Tirith. I shall say nothing of Mirrors hung over a Bed to reflect the writhing Forms beneath, nor of Harnesses, nor Blindfolds, nor the yielding rubber Tarp, nor the swinging Trapeze. For you are most fortunate, Madam, still to be embalm'd in the salubrious Ignorance that knows Nothing of these Dwarvish Fripperies.
From such Thoughts, Madam, I shall do everything in my Power to defend you, for were these pernicious Notions ever to be introduced in the fair Garden of your Mind, they surely would spread like some vile and noxious Weed. The least Hint of such Things would choke the very Life from those tender Blossoms of Innocency that adorn your Soul, Blossoms that your dear Mother and I have long sought to encircle in the protective Mulch of our Rectitude, and to nourish with the wholesome Manure of constant moral Instruction.
But to my Tale. -- At the Conclusion of my previous Letter I related how the beauteous Halfling, Frodo Baggins, had entranced us all with a Story of his Youth, speaking of the Time when he stood wholly at the Mercy of his Cousin Ledo, a Gentlehobbit whose Charm was exceeded only by his Wiles. Frodo had just reached that Point in his Tale when he trembl'd upon the very Brink of a most sudden and welcome Change in his Condition -- when he paus'd, and took several more large Swallows of the Brandy in his Goblet.
For some Time the Ladies waited, so Breathless with Anticipation that not a Sound could be heard, unless it were two or three of those sudden fits of Coughing, and Sneezing, and indeed Choking that seem always to afflict some One among a Circle of Listeners at just those Moments of greatest Suspense.
But at last the fair Halfling seem'd to recover much of his Composure, and continued. "My very Soul was on Fire," quoth he, "with a Craving for Ledo's Touch more powerful than any I had heretofore experienced. No Hunger, no Thirst, no Desire of any Kind, had so overwhelm'd my Spirit and defeated so completely, within the space of five Minutes, all the lavish Instruction given to me by my kind Relations to prepare me against just such an Eventuality as this. You may imagine, therefore, my Surprise, and indeed Shock, when -- "
Yet at this Juncture we were all of us most alarm'd when there caroll'd forth from the Person of one of the younger Ladies a most curious and grating Sound, as if she had conceal'd in her Bosom a dyspeptic Songbird. The Halfling jump'd perhaps half a Foot in the Air, and gazed at the Lady in Question with Horror and Concern.
At this Noise Seleta twitch'd like one prick'd with a Pin, and fix'd the younger Lady with a fearsome Glare, whereupon the Girl assum'd an Expression of conscious Guilt. Tremblingly she withdrew from its Place of Concealment a gleaming Elvish Device, the shrill Ringing of which was most piercing to the Ear. Despite its many vile Properties this Thing had long been dear to the girl's Heart. For by some wondrous Art of the Elves, to whom Time and Distance are mere Nothings, it permitted her to maintain a constant Stream of Communication with some ten or twenty of her most intimate Friends.
I must acknowledge, however, that not all among us were as enamour'd of this Elvish Art as she. "Madam," quoth Seleta, as the young Lady fumbled ineffectually with her noisome Object, "there may very well be one or two others in Middle-earth, besides yourself, with some Curiosity as to what you and your Friends have to say, but I must confess, that I am not one of them. Indeed I would infinitely prefer at this Time to endure a Recitation of Orcish epic Poesie -- a mere two Lines of which, as hath been universally acknowledged among Scholars of the Subject, would be sufficient to fell an Ox at ten Paces. All this, Madam, and much more would I suffer, rather than hear once again the banal Facts of a Life as uninteresting as your own. Therefore I implore you, in the Name of whatever Divinities are comprehensible to a Mind as small as yours, to TURN THAT ------ THING OFF!"
At this the young Lady burst into Tears, and so overcome was she in her Distress that she became wholly incapable of operating her shrilling Device. Some moments of Chaos ensued, as the kind-hearted Amelia comforted the weeping Girl, but none could tell how to end a Ringing so irksome that even the sweet-natured Halfling began to betray the merest Hint of a Frown upon his fair Features.
It fell to the wise Clarissa to find some Means of silencing the Device, which for some few Moments baffl'd even an Ingenuity as great as her own. Yet after some Thought on the Matter, she resorted to the desperate but clever Expedient of offering the Thing to the Goat, who at once Consum'd it with every Symptom of Pleasure. For some few Moments a strangely muffled Sound could yet be heard emanating from the Creature's innermost Depths. And most strange it was, to see the Goat curl'd upon the Couch, still gazing up at the Idol of its Heart, and ringing all the while.
At length the fair Halfling, plainly concern'd for the Health of his Admirer, offer'd it some Brandy from his own Goblet, which the infatuated Creature lapp'd at most eagerly. No immediate Effect of this Treatment was apparent, but at last, with a look of the most profound Contentment and Love, the Creature burp'd, whereupon the shrill Ringing at once ceased, and all the Ladies broke into the most heartfelt Applause. Seleta in particular declar'd that the Halfling's kindness knew no Bounds, and that in a Crisis Clarissa's Sagacity would Triumph over any Council of the so-called Wise and Great.
When at last this Commotion subsided, and all the Ladies resum'd their Places once more, the Halfling continued his Tale: "Riven as I was with Need," quoth he, "you may imagine my Shock when instead of the Touch I so craved, I felt a rushing Wind that nearly knocked me off my Feet, and the Heavens above me grew dark. For a moment I believ'd myself so overcome with Desire that Reason had left me. Amidst the Flurry of Thoughts engender'd by this Sensation, I recollect no small Degree of Shame at how weak and silly I must have seem'd to my Cousin, as well as a distinct Annoyance, that my imminent Loss of Consciousness -- which now seem'd all but inevitable -- would Deprive me of such a splendid Opportunity to relieve the sweet Torment of an Appetite that for so long had swell'd in my Soul, in my Breast, and in my . . . and elsewhere.
"But tho' I indeed found myself prone upon the Pool's verdant Shore, no interval of Insensibility ensued, for I shortly was all too aware that my unfortunate Cousin struggl'd with some Monster that had descended upon him from the Skies. With both Hands he struck out blindly against a whirling Mass of White above his Head. But this unequal Combat ended almost before it began, as two vast webbed Limbs reach'd forth and enfolded him in a Grasp he could by no Means escape.
"'Frodo!' cried he, in a tone whose Desperation touch'd my Heart as none of his Caresses had done. But his Plea was in Vain; I could do naught to oppose an Occurrence so sudden and shocking. With another Rush of Wind, Ledo was gone. I stood solitary by the silent Pool, gazing into the cloudless Skies as my Cousin was born away to an unknown Fate. For he was held fast in the massive Feet of a Creature so Large that my astonish'd Mind could not at first take in its Shape or Measure, but which proved, after a few Moments had pass'd, to be the rapidly receding Form of an immense Swan."
For some Moments we Ladies sat quiet as we consider'd this most surprising Turn in the Halfing's Tale.
"A Swan," quoth Clarissa, with an Appearance of much Thought.
"Indeed," quoth Amelia, " during any amorous Encounter, it is difficult to Imagine a third Party less welcome than a Bird of any Size."
"Unless," one of the younger Ladies supplied, "such a Creature might be persuaded, in an extraordinary Instance of Generosity, to part with some few of the Feathers wherewith its soft Breast is adorn'd. For have not the Dwarves recommended the frequent and early Application of Feathers as a means of magnifying those pleasing Sensations so common in amorous Play?"
"Aye," quoth another, "and during Acts of particular Strenuousness, how oft doth the Enthusiasm of the Participants greatly exceed their Flexibility and Fitness! In such a common Case as this, such Persons may easily be supported by Pillows enlarged with the softest and most yielding of the avian Materials you have mention'd."
"Doubtless, Madam, that is true," cried Seleta, "and much that is mysterious might be explain'd by the Dwarvish Preference for Stuffing the Pillows of Love with the flocculent Accoutrements of the avian Tribe. For I have often wonder'd why the Dwarves refer, in their Language, to one particular amorous Act with the Expression, going down."
But this learned and instructive Colloquy among the Ladies was abruptly halted when one of them, thro' some strange Inadvertence, pour'd hot Tea down Seleta's dress, whilst another, in an odd Moment of Thoughtlessness, dropp'd upon Seleta's Foot the large Anvil that graced our well-supplied Bower.
When Seleta's Screams had ceased and some Degree of Order had been restor'd, the Halfling continued his Tale. "For some Time," quoth he, "I lay motionless in the Glade, too shocked even to Weep, and indeed I wonder'd whether the whole Event were not some strange Dream. But this Hope was soon dash'd, for as I rose to my Feet I discover'd on the Ground about me seven Feathers, each as white as Snow and as long as my Arm --"
"Seven Feathers, you say?" interpos'd Clarissa, and greatly were we surprised at this Interruption, so unlike her was it to engage in any Behaviour that might in the least Respect conform to a Description of Rudeness. "My dear Sir," quoth she, "are you quite sure of the Number? Seven Feathers, no more and no less?"
"Madam," said the Halfling very gravely, "I am sure: for I counted them many Times, both at that Moment and often thereafter. For I bore the Feathers back with me to my dear Uncle's hole, and for many Years would examine them in odd Intervals of Grief, as the only Remembrance left to me of a Cousin whom I could not but recollect with fondness."
"Indeed," quoth Clarissa. With great Curiosity we all of us waited for her to Explain her Interest in this Detail of the Halfling's Narration, but she said Nothing. Instead she frown'd to herself in some Fit of Abstraction, until she realized with a Start that the Eyes of all the Company were upon her, and said, "Your pardon, Sir: pray continue."
Thus invited, the Halfling resum'd his Tale once more. -- "Despite my Bewilderment I stumbl'd back to my Uncle's Hole, where such was my Confusion that I stammer'd out the whole Story to him, neither sparing nor excusing the Role of my own Lust in leading my dear Cousin to his Doom.
"My Uncle listen'd with great Patience to all I had to say, and examin'd the Feathers most closely. To my Surprise, however, at the Tale's sad Conclusion he did not condemn me as I had feared, nor express the least Degree of Distress at Ledo's strange Fate, but toss'd the Feathers in the Air and laughed heartily. 'My dear Boy,' he said at last, when once he had got the better of his Mirth, 'pray forgive me: you have had a bad Fright, and were you but a year or two older I would be comforting you with a Beverage much stronger than Tea. But Ledo! Ah, by the Mountain of Manwe, now I believe that there might after all be some Justice in Middle-earth! Have you any Notion, my dearest Frodo, how many Hobbit-lads he hath surpris'd at that Pool?'
"At this question I blush'd, for I must confess it had never occurr'd to me, that our Meeting had been anything but an unhappy Chance. But my Uncle's Words put my Cousin's Behaviour in a new and most unflattering Light.
"My Face must have shown my Dismay, for Bilbo patted my Hand. 'Oh,' quoth he, 'Ledo has never meant anything but to give a Lad as much Pleasure as he receives, and the usefulness of such an Episode cannot be denied. Many's the Lad who hath discover'd, when once he found himself in the Arms of one who truly loved him, how very Convenient it is when at least one Lad in a Bed has some Notion of what to do. But Ledo! Aye, he's a Charmer, but one who knows not when to stop, and for nigh on twenty Years he hath done as he wills, whether the Lad in question takes it lightly or no. In this Way he hath broken many a young Heart, where there's a Heart to be broken. And that would have been your Case, my Boy, or such is my Guess. For you've a Heart and to spare, and it would all too easily have come to trouble itself in an Affair that you thought only the Business of some other Part of your Body.'
"Fond as I was of my dear Uncle, I believe I would have preferr'd to sink thro' the Earth rather than discuss such Particulars with him. I thus betook myself to that most precious Resort of Youth in conversation with Age, and changed the Subject. 'But Bilbo,' quoth I, 'whatever hath become of our Cousin?'
"'To judge by these Feathers,' quoth my Uncle, 'he hath been taken by the Swans of Ulmo. Much hath been sung, in the Lore of the Elves, of these mighty Servants of the Lord of Waters. There are some Hobbits -- those whose common Sense is perhaps greater than their Wisdom -- who say that such Creatures are naught but Fictions of the dim Past. But I assure you, my Boy, that they are quite real, as real as the Eagles I met on my Journey, and a great Colony of them dwells beyond the Blue Mountains by the Gulf of Lune. They have little to do with Hobbits as a Rule. Yet on Occasion, it is true, they will take unto themselves some Hobbit who strikes their fancy, and fly with him back to their Nests, where, I assure you, the Hobbit is most assiduously cared for, if only he prove willing to provide some few Services in return.'
"'What sorts of Services, Uncle?' I inquir'd.
"But my Uncle seem'd for a Time lost in Thought. 'Ah!' said he at last, as if in a sort of Dream, 'the Elves have said it best --
A sudden Blow: the great Wings beating still
Above the staggering Boy, his Thighs caressed
By the dark Webs, his Nape caught in its Bill,
It holds his helpless Breast upon its Breast.
How can those terrified vague Fingers push
The feather'd Glory from his loosening Thighs? (1)
"But in the midst of this most interesting Recitation, my Uncle chanced to catch my Eye, and stopp'd at once. 'I shall tell you the rest of the Poem,' quoth he, 'in some nine or ten Years, when your Elvish is somewhat improved. In the meantime, all you need know is that Ledo is more than capable of performing, aye, and with great Skill, those Services his new Masters will require of him. If past Experience is any Guide, he will have a happy Life, tho' a somewhat surprising one. And most of the Hobbit Servants taken in this way have been return'd, after some twenty or thirty Years have pass'd, with naught but the most affectionate Memories of their late Masters, and no ill Effects of their Sojourn, apart from a most unaccountable Aversion to Omelettes.'
"'Bilbo!' cried I, for the Meaning of his Remarks had begun to penetrate even a Mind as innocent as my own, 'do you really mean to say -- '
"'What I mean to say, young Frodo,' he said, with a look most Severe, 'is this: what did you think you were doing at that Pool?' And here I found to my Dismay that I was not the only one capable of changing the Subject. My Uncle reminded me, at some Length, that I had scarce reach'd my eighteenth Year, and that I was far too young to go gallivanting about the Country, wandering whithersoever I chanced to be led by my -- and here, Ladies, he used an Expression that I fear I cannot employ in mixed Company . . ."
"By your ------?" inquire'd Seleta.
"Indeed, yes, Madam," quoth the Halfling with a blush.
"I thought as much," quoth she. "An incisive Thinker, your Uncle, and one whose Advice you would have done well to heed."
"I did indeed, Madam, though I must confess that my Uncle left me no Choice: I was to be confin'd, he declared, to our Hole and its Gardens until such time as my Judgement kept pace with my Beauty. I fought this Decision less vigorously than I might have done, for after my shocking Experience I was for some Time loath to leave the Safety of our Hole. Thus for a full three Years my Uncle enforc'd this Edict with such success that many in our Village believed me return'd to the Country of my Birth. Great indeed was the surprise of some of our closest Relations, when some of these Restrictions were lifted and I once again appear'd before the Publick as a Resident of our Hole and my Uncle's Heir. (2)
"In truth by this Time my Uncle was pleas'd to have me abroad more often, for he was frequently visited by his Friends and Acquaintances among the Dwarves, and for Reasons not clear to me, my Uncle always shut me in my Room on these Occasions. I know not what Offense I had committed in his Eyes, for the Dwarves themselves seem'd always perfectly friendly, and oft expressed a Wish to meet with me alone, that they might show to me some Things which, they said, would interest me greatly. And I always found it most surprising, that Dwarves of such Age and Experience would find it worth their While to speak with an mere unform'd Youth such as myself."
"Sir," cried Clarissa, "it doth not surprise me at all: but did the Dwarves ever succeed in engaging you in such a private Conversation as they propos'd?"
"Nay, Madam," quoth the Halfling, "so assiduous was my Uncle's Care of me, that I never once escaped his Diligence within the confines of his Hole. But at last, as I have said, in my twenty-first Year he set me Free, saying that even an old Fellow such as himself needed some Privacy. He further observ'd, that if I remain'd in my Bath so continuously as had become my Habit, I would become as wrinkl'd as an old Prune, and that I must now seek whatever Advantages I had obtain'd therein, in some other Place. He caution'd me only to remember that where a Hobbit-Lad of my Appearance and Bearing was concern'd, most Hobbits would want only one Thing; but since that Thing was evidently the one Thing that I myself so plainly needed and desired, I could look forward to a Decade or so of great Happiness. He finally noted, that he greatly wish'd, at the end of that Time, to enter once more into Discourse with me, as at that Point I would have a much greater Chance of articulating a rational Observation, or at least of completing a Sentence, without falling into some little Trance, squirming like an Eel, and rushing off to take yet another Bath.
"Arm'd with these Words of Wisdom, I was now free to wander thro' my beloved Country at will."
Here the Halfling paus'd for a Time, and seem'd lost in Thought, and did Nothing for some Moments but heave the most profound Sighs.
"Sir," Amelia eventually inquir'd, "it would seem that there lies within the Chambers of your Memory somewhat that grieves you. Yet surely, this part of your Tale should be the Happiest? For the Idylls of a carefree Youth have long been the sweetest Subjects of Song and Story. Tell us not, Sir, tell us not, that aught untoward happen'd to your dear Uncle -- "
"Nay, Madam," quoth the Halfling, "my dear Uncle hath ever been the smiling Child of Fortune, and he still lives in the greatest Peace and Comfort, dearly loved by all who know him. Greatly do I rejoice in his Happiness, which offers me much Solace for the Fact that I have found none of my own. For it was at this Time that I discover'd that the Episode with Ledo was no Freak of Chance, as both my Uncle and I had assum'd, but the first Proof of a dark Fate that hath pursued me from my Youth until this Day.
"For no matter how I tried, and no matter how assiduously I was courted by Hobbit-lads who seem'd most eager to partake of my Charms, never once did I succeed even in obtaining so much as a Kiss, before some strange Twist of Fate interven'd, and my would-be Lover was snatch'd from me in Circumstances just as terrifying as they were mysterious. My dear Cousin Rocco, when first his Lips came within an Inch of my own, was swept away by a sudden Storm, and found some three Days later having completely lost his Memory. A few Weeks later this Horror was repeated. My dear Cousin Bulco, after a Courtship of some sixteen Minutes, was entwin'd in my Arms beneath a Bush, when he was attack'd by Turtles and chas'd to his native Country in another Farthing."
"An alarming Fate!" exclaim'd Amelia. "For the wrath of a Turtle can be most Fearsome when once its Passions are rous'd, despite its having no Claws, nor any Teeth to speak of, nor the Ability to run at any Speed greater than several Feet per Hour."
"Indeed, Madam, that is true," quoth the Halfling, "and yet it was poor Bulco's Fate to earn the Enmity of just such dreadful Creatures as these. So scarr'd was he by this Experience that he refus'd all Intercourse with even the most peaceable Turtles thereafter, nay, even in the finest Soup his Relations could Devise.
"To continue, however, my Catalogue of Woe, another Cousin of mine, but one I shall never call dear, surpris'd me one Evening in the Road, and most peremptorily demanded that I accompany him to a more secluded Spot. When I refus'd, he would not take no for an Answer, and attempted to insinuate his Hand in my Breeches, whereupon a Patch of Quicksand at once open'd at his Feet, and swallow'd him entirely before he could so much as scream. And it was thus that my cousin Lotho became the Heir to his Branch of our Family, the Sackville-Hills, for 'twas his elder brother Blotho who disappeared in this way. This Blotho never was seen again, to my great Relief and to the Relief, as well, of many young Hobbit-lads and lasses in the surrounding Country.
More grievous to me by far was the Fate of my dear Cousin Amoco. He pursued me for nearly a Month, praising my Beauty and Virtue in the most moving Poems of his own Composition, many of which I can recite to this Day -- "
"Pray, Sir," Seleta interrupted, "do not trouble yourself to share such Matter with us, for we have had one Verse already, and that is more than enough, methinks, for any Tale."
And here she frown'd most severely at some of the younger Ladies, including myself, for her little Prejudices in this Matter were well known. It is true that Seleta greatly enjoyed the amusing Verse of several of the Ladies. Indeed she once had laugh'd so hard at a comic Epic by one of the greatest Geniuses among us, the fair Persica, that she fell from her Chair and sprain'd some three of her Fingers, declaring the Injury more than recompens'd by the Pleasure she had receiv'd from an Entertainment at once so rational and so witty. (3)
But apart from such delightful Exceptions as these, the very Mention of Metre, or of Rhyme, or of that dread Thing, Scansion, was sufficient to make Seleta break into an alarming Rash that swell'd her Face to three Times its normal Size. Indeed on one memorable Occasion, when I had thought myself most Ingenious for interweaving, amidst a Sentimental Tale of my own devising, the Words of a popular Song, Seleta in a fit of Rage had flung my Tale into the Fire. In response to my Tears and Pleas, she had said only this: that she would infinitely prefer to find in her Porridge a Snail, or in her Bed a Cave-troll, or in our Chamber a Portrait of Dogs playing Poker, rather than to have her delicate Senses be assail'd once more, within one of my Stories, by an unexpected and uncall'd-for Eruption of Verse.
We all of us trembl'd at the Thought that Seleta would show some similar Discourtesy to our fair Guest, but the Halfling seem'd glad to accede to her Wishes, ungently phrased though they may have been. "I shall not, then, recite the many Verses that Amoco whisper'd for so long in my willing Ear; suffice it say, that he had obtain'd my eager Consent several Weeks before he thought proper to inquire as to my Feelings in the Matter. For my dear Cousin's Face and Person were so very Striking that in Truth I scarce paid mind to a Word he said, and would have had him in a Moment, if only he would have ceased his poetic Effusions long enough to permit me to communicate this important Fact.
"But alas! when once we came to an Understanding, Amoco too fell Victim to the peculiar Fate that dogged my every Footstep. For one bright Morning in Spring, when the mild Breezes about us were heavy with the Fragrance of Primrose and Lilac, and the very Hills echoed with the delightful Harmonies of those sweet Musicians of the Sky . . . "
"There was an Orchestra, perhaps, hung suspended from the Trees, for the Amusement of chance Passers-by?" one of the younger Ladies inquired with a puzzled Frown.
"Nay, Madam," quoth the Halfling with a blush, "I only meant to say, that we were at that Moment quite surrounded by Songbirds."
" How curious are the Wonders of your Country!" the young Lady exclaim'd. "Birds that play upon musical Instruments!"
"Nay, Madam," quoth the Halfling, whose Face was now a most striking Shade of Crimson, "they were chirping."
The young Lady look'd at her Feet, and said Nothing; at Length Clarissa patted the Hand of the disconcerted Halfling, and said, "My dear Sir, I am sure that the great Beauty of their Chirping was full worthy of even such an elaborate Periphrasis as you just devis'd."
"Indeed, Madam, it was," quoth the Halfling, "but at the Time this Beauty was to me less an Object of Interest than Amoco's; for in the midst of one of his Perorations, I stopp'd him with a Finger to his Lips, and pull'd him toward me. It seem'd then that everything we had most devoutly wish'd would very shortly be granted to us, were it not for a fatal Circumstance that occurr'd in the very next Instant. For an elderly Gentleman chanc'd to pass us on the Road, and inquir'd as he did, what was the Time. 'Silence, old man!' exclaim'd Amoco with some Impatience, 'can you not see that we are busy?'
"'Busy, indeed!' quoth the Gentleman, fairly bristling in his Rage. 'Silence, forsooth! I shall teach you to be silent, since it seems the Gift of Language hath been given you, for no better Purpose than to heap Insults upon the Heads of those older and wiser than yourself!'
"At the sound of these Threats I started in Amoco's Arms, and look'd at the Gentleman more closely. Most horrified was I to discover, from his Dress and Bearing, that he was one of the wandering Wizards who often pass'd thro' our Country. 'Kind Sir!' I exclaim'd, hoping by my own belated Courtesy to forestall whatever Vengeance the Wizard mediated against my dear Cousin, 'please, I beg of you!'
"But my Intervention was too late, for Amoco vanished utterly, leaving behind him only his Clothes, which for half an Instant stood empty where his Body had been, before falling in a Heap upon the Earth. With a cry of Horror I knelt and pick'd up the Shirt that so lately had contain'd the pleasing Form of my Lover, only to find that somewhat struggl'd within it. The Cloth twitch'd and stirr'd for some Time, before at last there emerged from its depths a large Frog, gazing upon me with a most miserable Expression.
"'There is your Friend,' quoth the Wizard, and you must be sure to look after him, until one of my Colleagues should chance to pass this Way and undo the Spell. For I assure you, young Hobbit, that I have not the slightest Intention of ever doing so myself. Now be so good as to look at your pocket-Watch, and answer my original Question.'
"'Sir,' I answered, as best I could whilst I was so sick at Heart, and whilst the cold Body of the Frog hopp'd disconsolately to the Comfort of my Bosom, 'we have not such a Thing as a pocket-Watch in our Country, though my Uncle hath told me of such Marvels among the Dwarves; if you wish to consult such a Device, you must seek them out in the Mountains to the East.' (4)
"'That shall I do,' quoth the Wizard calmly, and he proceeded on his Way, whistling as he went a Tune most popular in the lower Sort of Tavern.
" With my Heart breaking, I carried the Frog back to our Hole. Once I was safe in my own Garden, my Courage quite deserted me: I fell to my Knees, clutch'd the Frog to my heaving Breast, and wept. The violence of my Grief was not ameliorated when our Gardener, an older Hobbit of a somewhat irascible Disposition, pass'd by, took in the Scene at a Glance, and shook his hoary Head, muttering, 'Lost another one, eh?'
"For my Misfortunes in Love had by this Time become the Talk of the Village, and many Parents of likely Lads had taken to locking them indoors when I chanc'd to pass by. This old Gaffer's distinct Lack of Sympathy was, I fear, all too Typical of the general Feeling against me, and I thought, as I watched him walk off to weed a bed of Petunias, that no Hobbit had ever been so unfortunate as I, nor so doom'd ever to be alone. So I continued to kneel, and grieve over my Lover's amphibian Form, whilst the Tears streamed down my Face.
"At length, however, these Tears were wip'd from my Cheeks by a Handkerchief that felt none too clean. I turn'd my Attention from the Frog, and saw before me the sparkling brown Eyes of the Gardener's youngest son, a likely Lad of perhaps eight Years. 'Don't you take on so, Mr. Frodo,' quoth he. 'All will be well in the End, for what Magic hath done, Magic can undo as well. All's you need is the Patience to wait, if you take my Meaning.'
And I knew not why, but at this Kindness from a Child my Heart grew stronger, and the World seem'd not quite so dark a Place as it had before. 'Thank you, Sam,' quoth I . . . "
But at the sound of this Name, several of the younger Ladies squeal'd so loud, that Clarissa's Goblet shatter'd in her Hand. "I know! I know!" quoth one, "this surely is the very Sam you have been seeking, now appearing for the first Time in this your Narration, in the Guise of an adorable Child!"
"Nay, thou Fool, 'tis not the first Time," quoth another, "for surely this Child is the same as the one he met earlier at the enchanted Pool. For 'tis an infallible Rule of Composition, that when an unusual Character such as a Child is once introduced, there is no need to multiply Instances. The Form and Structure of a Tale will be much improv'd, if the Tale's dramatic Functions are perform'd by a Group of Characters sufficiently small to permit the Reader to recall their Names without the Assistance of a Secretary."
"Indeed, that is true," quoth a third, "and greatly do I wish, that the Halfling had observ'd this Law in relating the Tale of his Lovers. If I mistake me not there have been four already -- "
"Five," quoth a fourth Lady, who was keeping a constant Tally, "if you count Blotho."
"Madam, I do not," quoth a fifth, "for he was a Rapist, not a Lover; but be that as it may, I must confess, that my Head is spinning with all these Names."
"Ladies!" Clarissa exclaim'd with great Sternness. "I beg you to recollect that the Halfling is not relating to us an idle Tale, compos'd to wile away the weary Hours between one Client and the next. He is instead reporting the true History of his own Life. In Life it is permissible, and indeed common, for all kinds of Improbabilities to take Place, which would disgrace the Pen of even the most careless Author of Fiction. The Halfling thus may have four Lovers, or a dozen, or a hundred. Tho' I must confess, that were the Number of his Lovers too great, and were they to continue in their most distressing Tendency to disappear, it seems that the Halfling's Country would very rapidly become a Desert so depopulated that one could only with great Difficulty assemble a tolerably large Party at Cards.
"But be that as it may, it would behoove you all to remember that many Persons, in the course of common Life, become acquainted with more than one Child, and even with more than one Individual named Sam. I implore you, therefore, to end this futile and repulsive Practice of Guessing at the Ending before the Halfling's Tale is complete, for it is most discourteous to him, and quite spoils the Suspense for the rest of us."
At these Words, which were perhaps the Harshest we any of us had heard Clarissa utter, the young Ladies hung their Heads, and murmur'd their Apologies to the Halfling and to the Company at large. This Courtesy the Halfling accepted with Grace, for he smil'd, and was Generous enough to say, that while Clarissa's elegant Disquisition upon the fine Distinctions between History and Fiction had been most illuminating, and would for the Remainder of his Days be remember'd by him as a shining Example of Wit and Learning, nevertheless, as it happen'd, many of the young Ladies' surmises were quite Correct.
"Altho' I am most fond of Children," quoth he, "and have known many of them in a Family as large as my own, this Child was indeed the same one I had met by the Pool, for he had an Uncle in Tighfield with whom he often stayed. And while I am sure there are many other Sams in the wide World, it is true, that this Sam is the same Sam as the Sam I seek -- tho' I am not sure," he added with a Frown, "how you knew of that, for I thought I had not mentioned his Name before this Point in my Story."
"Never mind that, my dear Sir," quoth Clarissa, who most plainly thought that now was not the Time to tell the Halfling all that had pass'd between him and Captain Faramir earlier in the Evening. "Now that your Hero has entered at last under his proper Name, we are all of us most anxious that you continue your Tale."
"Indeed, Madam, that Tale is almost at its Conclusion," quoth the Halfling. "With the help of Sam, who proved most Knowledgeable at this Kind of Thing, I found a good Home for Amoco on a Lily-Pad in the back Garden. And there he sat most mournfully for some Months, gazing at me with great Longing whenever I chanc'd to pass by. Oft would I sit by the Pond and recite to him some of the beautiful Poems he had compos'd in my Honour, and I could tell by the Look in his glassy Eyes that he long'd to reciprocate in Kind. But alas! the Wizard's curse had condemn'd him to Silence, and he could but croak his Love.
"This sad State of Affairs continued for some Time, tho' my Loneliness was somewhat lighten'd by the faithful Sam. 'Tis true that he was kept too busy by his Family to spend much Time in our Hole, and such Time as he could give was spent entirely with my Uncle, who had most kindly consented to educate him. But there was not a single Morning, from that day Forward, when I did not wake to some little Gift meant to Cheer my Heart, most often from among the Flowers it was the Child's Duty to attend. Tho' we scarce ever spoke in those Days, I never from that Moment believed, as I had come to do before, that my Misfortunes marked me as one utterly unfitted to the Company of Others. For the Child's unwavering Trust in me made me somewhat more willing to trust myself.
"It cannot be denied, however, that despite this constant but distant Affection, I was wholly alone, saving the Company of an increasingly unhappy Frog. At last to my tremendous Relief, a Wizard of my Uncle's Acquaintance happen'd to visit, and most kindly revers'd the Spell, tho' not without laughing most heartily at my Discomfiture. 'Let this be a Lesson to you, Frodo-lad,' quoth he, 'not to meddle in the Affairs of Wizards, for -- or perhaps you did not know that we Wizards have Affairs?'
"I know not what Answer I mumbled, but the Wizard was so pleas'd with his own Wit that he seem'd not to care. Amoco was promptly return'd to his grieving Family, who forbad him to see me, and indeed kept him close to Home for some Years. For they were most anxious to conceal from their curious Neighbors the Taste he had develop'd, during the time of his unfortunate Enchantment, for eating Flies.
"For a Year or two after this I was alone. My dear Uncle assur'd me that all my Misfortunes thus far must surely be naught but a Chain of unhappy Coincidences, and that I not only could, but should, seek a Lover as soon as possible. 'My dear Boy,' quoth he, 'it is not natural for a Hobbit of your Years to resort to the Bath quite so often, unless in the Company of another Hobbit or two. Why, when I was your Age, young Flambard Took and I had master'd the first twenty-three Positions recommended in the Dwarvish Craft of Love, and we only neglected the twenty-fourth, when he sprain'd his Back in a most untimely Tumble out of the Trapeze. Young Flambard had a most amusing Trick . . ."
"But at this Point in my Uncle's well-meant Lecture I fled his Company, for like other normal Persons, whenever one of my Elders chanced to speak of his Youth, I went into a Daze, my Mind ceas'd to Function, and all Language dwindl'd at once to a mere Noise.
"But what my Uncle's Advice could not accomplish, Nature brought about with little Fuss, for when I became acquainted with my dear Cousin Windward, all Caution fled, and I knew naught but Desire for this last and sweetest of all my Lovers. For quite apart from his great Beauty, which drew me like a Dragon to a Hoard of Gold, Windward shar'd with me a Taste for Tales of Adventure and far-away Lands. Oft would we revel in such nonsensical Prattle far into the long summer Afternoons. We would meet in the Privacy afforded by a nearby Field, and talk and laugh as the Shadows lengthened over the waving Barley.
"One fateful Day when we met thus, I said to him, 'Do you think we ever shall see those Wonders that now we know only thro' Tales? For I confess I do not know whether I shall ever find the Courage to leave our Country, however great my Curiosity regarding other Lands and Peoples.'
"At this Windward laugh'd. 'As for Courage,' quoth he, 'I trust I shall find it when I need it. And I hope, dear Frodo,' he added, 'that you might find it as well, with me by your Side.' With that he brush'd a Curl away from my Face, and oh, I felt then that all my Fears meant Nothing, and that a World of Wonders lay open to me only a Heartbeat away. I smil'd as he pull'd me close, but then, alas! -- "
"Bears!" suggested one of the younger Ladies.
"Wolves!" offer'd another.
"Accountants!" propos'd a third.
"Trolls, AND Salesmen!" cried a forth, "I am quite sure of it. Do tell us, Sir, if your Lover is to be completely dismembered within the next few Moments, for I am mightily squeamish about such a Turn in a Tale, and could not support it with any degree of Calm, unless I were permitted to fortify my Weakness with another Glass of Brandy."
"Alas! dear Ladies!" quoth the Halfling, "it was neither Wolves nor Bears that took my Lover from me, but something far worse. For as my Eye chanc'd to be drawn beyond Windward's Face, I notice'd to my extreme Surprise that we were not alone as I had thought. For there tower'd above my Lover the wholly unexpected Sight of a giant four-masted Ship, riding fast before the Wind and boldly flying the Flag of the Jolly Roger: in short, Ladies, the Field had been invaded by Pirates.
"Without further ado they lowered a Boat and row'd to the place where we stood, paralyzed with Fear and Shock, and they snatch'd my weeping Lover from my Arms. Never, Ladies, shall I forget the Melancholy in the Voice of Windward as he bade me farewell from the Quarterdeck of the great Ship, begging me to spread the News of his sad Fate, to comfort his Family, and to feed his Cat."
For some moments the Ladies consider'd this Matter.
"It was always my Impression," quoth Clarissa, consulting a great Map that hung upon one Wall of our Bower, "that the Country of the Halflings lies more than thirty leagues from the Sea."
"Indeed, Madam," quoth the Halfling, "that is true, but I was informed by the Pirate Captain, as they took my Sweetheart away, that they were lost. And before they departed, they ask'd me to direct them to the Gulf of Lune, tho' to my Sorrow I could not assist them, being wholly Ignorant of a Way suitable for a Ship of that Size."
"Very lost they must have been," quoth the fair Amelia in a voice of Wonder, "to have steered such a great Ship a full hundred miles Inland."
"Sir," quoth Seleta, "with Sorrow I say it, but say it I must: these are without a doubt, the worst Pirates I have ever seen."
"Madam, I think not," quoth the Halfling, "much as it pains me to disagree with you on any Subject. To me it seems evident that these were Seamen of great skill, who nevertheless found themselves the unwitting Instruments of my angry Fate. For only an Event such as this, so very distant from the common Way of Things; only an Event travelling so far beyond the Realm of the Probable as to dwindle to a mere Speck, toss'd in the spinning Darkness of eternal Chaos -- in short, Madam, only this Appearance of Pirates on Dry Land, could persuade me that I had indeed been marked by Fate for another, harder Road besides the flowery Paths of Love. Not the soft Whisper of Devotion, nor the wild Cry of Passion; not the sweet Embrace of a Lover, nor the elaborate Contortions of a Threesome; -- none of this, none of this would I ever know. For it was clear to me at last, that any Lover who so much as touch'd me would instantly be doom'd.
"When I return'd that Night to my Uncle's Hole, weary and sick at Heart, he took one Look at my slumped Shoulders and sad Expression, and handed me some Towels and a Bar of Soap.
'My dear Boy,' quoth he, 'I am so sorry. And be sure to rinse the Tub when you are done.' From that Day to this, he hath never once encourag'd me to find a Lover, or indeed discuss'd the Matter with me ever again.
"It seem'd to me then, that Life could not bring me a Day when I would know greater Sorrow. And yet such a Day lay in Store, tho' it did not arrive for some Years. I determined within myself that if it was indeed my Fate to be alone, I should not repine, but teach myself to desire only those Things within my Reach. Thus to attend me in my Loneliness I purchas'd a rubber Duck, and otherwise immersed myself wholly in those intellectual Pursuits that I might indulge in the uttermost Solitude.
My dear Uncle endeavoured to persuade me to take some Interest in his own Hobby, which was the Translation of elvish Poesie, but I must own, that despite some little talent for Mimicry, I never progress'd very far in that Study. For the Names in the elvish Legends sounded to me all the Same, and those great if chaste Passions, with which the Tales of that People are so full, merely serv'd to remind me of all that I had lost.
"Still I found Ways to amuse myself, for the boy Sam encourag'd me in a Hobby that I found most fascinating, which was the Collecting of Stamps: a most difficult Study, but one offering many Rewards to the diligent Student, if he will but stick to it. (5) For many Years this delightful and innocent Pursuit absorb'd all the Passion that I could not give to other Hobbits. Many were the Evenings when Sam would find me slump'd over my Desk, having fallen asleep whilst musing over Intaglio and Selvage, Watermarks and Backprints, Paquebots and Albinos. I would wake to find a Blanket over my Shoulders and Sam with a Cup of warm Milk in his Hands. He would gaze with some Disapproval upon my Glue-stain'd Fingers, and inform me in no uncertain Terms that I should seek my Bed.
"It was on just such an Evening in my thirty-second Year, that the final Blow fell upon my already wounded Heart. I know not what it was that made me on that Night discover what I should have known long before. When Sam came to wake me and I stood to go to my lonely Bed, I realiz'd that I was looking not down, but up into those warm brown Eyes. For he was taller than me now, and broader about the Shoulders, and, come to think on't, as well-muscled as a prize Bull. Perceiving all these Things in a Flash of Insight, I realized of a Sudden that the Boy Sam was a Boy no longer.
For a Moment I sorrow'd as at a Loss, for I had cherish'd the Hobbit-lad who for so long had been wholly devoted to me. This tall Creature seem'd for an Instant to be some Stranger who had taken his Place. I could not think of what to say. But he did not expect me to speak, for he threw the Blanket around my Shoulders as always, and it occurr'd to me for the first Time that for many Years he had not slept, so that he might ensure that I would.
"'Sam,' quoth I, 'you spoil me.'
"'Sir,' quoth he, 'don't be daft.'
"He smiled, and oh, what a Smile it was. If all the World were turn'd to Sweetness, and distill'd into a Hobbit's Face, I could not have lov'd him more."
After the Halfling spoke these last Words, the Room was silent, except for a slight Sound of Rustling, as several of the Ladies brought their Handkerchiefs to their Eyes. For some Moments we sat thus, making no Query of the Halfling, who seem'd lost in a Memory that supplied him, for Reasons not as yet clear to us, with far less Happiness than Pain.
At last the kind-hearted Amelia reach'd forth, and gently touched the Halfling's Hand. "Dear Sir," quoth she. "You need tell us nothing more, if you do not wish it. But I must own that I do not entirely comprehend the Implications of your Tale. This Sam, by your own Admission, hath lov'd you from the Time of his Childhood. Moreover it seems to me, from my very considerable Experience of the Hearts of Men, that this continuing Love shone forth in his every Action, and that the slightest Indication on your Part, of your change in Feeling, would at once have led him to share with you not only his Bed, but his Heart, and indeed his very Life. Why, in that Case, do you feel such Anguish at this Recollection? For it seems that Sam was your Companion until a very short Time ago, and that even now, were you to find him once more, as I have no doubt that you will, the least Advance from you would meet with the warmest possible Reception."
"Madam," quoth he, "do you not see the dreadful and inescapable Conclusion toward which my whole Narration hath been tending? Sam loves me, that I know; I am not so entirely lacking in Sense or Wit as not to have realized this. Whether that Love would so easily lead us to a Bed, or indeed to any other Place employ'd for the purpose of amorous Congress, is a Matter I have never thought fit to investigate. For has not my Narration proven, beyond the least Shadow of a Doubt, that the first Touch of my Lips would condemn Sam to some Fate too horrible even for me to comprehend?
"And the present Moment seems to me of all Times the very worst for attempting such an Experiment with the Hobbit I love. Ladies, I must tell you, that our Business in these Parts involves a Matter of no small Danger. If in my own Country my Lovers could be abducted by Swans, engulf'd by Storms, attack'd by Turtles, swallow'd by Quicksand, transform'd into amphibious Forms of Life, and kidnapp'd by Pirates in the midst of a Field of Barley, then what, pray tell, would become of Sam if I were to do so much as to kiss his Fingertips on the very Doorstep of the Dark Lord?"
To me at Least the Halfling's Argument seem'd unanswerable, and my Heart was overcome with Grief, that a Creature so amiable could be enmesh'd in so vile a Chain of Events. But of a Sudden the fair Amelia ask'd a Question, that cast an entirely new Light upon the Halfling's Circumstances.
"If," quoth she, "'your every Lover hath suffer'd a most surprising Catastrophe before he even could kiss you, then why is't, that we all saw Captain Faramir kiss you not two Hours ago upon this very Couch, and yet suffer no ill Effects?"
To this Question the Halfling at first express'd a great deal of Surprise, for he remember'd nothing of this Matter, tho' he at length confess'd that he could recollect a most delicious Dream involving Sam, a Bed made entirely of Clouds, a Bottle of lavender Oil, and some Sort of a Harness. Beyond these few Hints he express'd great Unwillingness, despite our Pleas, to go into further Detail. For the whole Thing, he thought, was naught but an idle Fiction of his dreaming Mind.
"I assure you, Sir," quoth Amelia, "that there was some Grain of Truth to it, for the Captain kiss'd you for quite some Time."
"With Tongues?" quoth the Halfling.
"Indeed," said the fair Amelia, and the other Ladies added their Assurances, that such had been the Case.
"And to think," exclaim'd the Halfling with what seem'd a great Deal of Bitterness, "that I was asleep at the Time! But -- " and here he seem'd to recollect himself, "be that as it may, I certainly have not the slightest Interest in kissing a Person, of whom my sole Recollection, is his picking me up in the midst of a great Battle, and blindfolding me, and tying me up."
"There hath been many a worse Foundation for a Relationship," Seleta observ'd.
"To me," said Amelia, ignoring this last Remark, "it seems that the most important Question is not who kiss'd you, but why anyone succeeded in kissing you at all?"
At last Clarissa stood, with a most kindly Smile. "My dears," quoth she, "I believe I have the Answer to this Mystery, and it is an Answer, dear Sir, that will permit you to attain what your Heart has so long desir'd. It seems to me now, when once all hath been explain'd, as I trust it shortly will, that the best Thing we might do is to lay this whole Matter before the Captain."
"Madam," quoth Seleta, with a vigorous Wave of her Fan, "need I remind you that Mr. Peters, whose Judgement of human Nature is, tho' cynical, frequently accurate, firmly believes that Captain Faramir is prepar'd to purchase the Halfling's Virginity?"
"I listen'd to Mr. Peters' remarks with great Care and Attention," quoth Clarissa, "and he seem'd to me perfectly Correct in saying that Captain Faramir hath a great Passion for the Halfling, and that such a Passion may lead a Man to do many a foolish Thing that he would afterwards regret. But stars of Elbereth! While Desire can influence a Mind, it doth not change Light into Darkness, or Darkness into Light. It is a powerful Thing, but that Power affects different Natures in different Ways. And Captain Faramir's Nature is known to us all. He is a good Man, one of the best in Gondor, which is saying a great Deal. And when we see him Next, his Passion will have had some Opportunity to subside. It seems to me that if we lay before him this Halfling's sad Tale, it could not but wake all the latent Sympathy in his Nature. Desire hath not so complete a Dominion over a good Man's Heart, that he cannot conquer it, when once his better Feelings are brought to Life."
At the end of this inspiring Speech, there were many among us who felt Hope blossom in our Hearts for the first Time since Captain Faramir's Men pounded upon our Door. For if Clarissa could explain how the Halfling and his Love might be united, and if Captain Faramir could be persuaded moreover to permit such a Thing, then there seem'd nothing more to be wish'd for -- apart, that is, from a few remaining Desiderata, viz, the Presence of the missing Sam, a complete Victory against the Forces of Darkness, and an abrupt Reduction in the Rate of Taxation.
But just as several Ladies gather'd Breath to express their Complete Accord with Clarissa's Sentiments, a most clamorous Noise was heard in the back of the Room, for the Carpet of the Haradrim, which Captain Faramir's Men had left leaning against a Wall, crash'd suddenly to the Floor. Several Ladies gasp'd in surprise, but at first we thought nothing untoward had occurr'd. Yet the Carpet, having thus fallen, was not done with its Attempts at Motion, for it began to roll vigorously back and forth across the Floor, an action most alarming in an Object previously thought to be both inanimate and insensate.
"Perchance," quoth one of the Ladies, "'tis one of those Carpets I have heard tell of, that hath, at the Command of its Master, the Power of Flight."
This seem'd a perfectly reasonable Explanation, until the very next Instant, when the Carpet, not content with its previous Actions, abruptly sneez'd.
We all of us wonder'd at this extraordinary Example of Respiration in a domestic Object. At last the Halfling leapt off his Couch, much to the alarm of the Goat, which bleated in Dismay. Ignoring this Sign of Concern from his Admirer, the Halfling most bravely cross'd the Room to examine this new Marvel.
"Ladies," quoth he, "we are not alone."
§ § §
I fear, dear Madam, that I must defer the answers to many Questions until my next Letter, for this one hath clearly gone on far too long. I beg of you therefore, to await until my next, for the Explanation of the Captain's continued Safety, after he had committed an action so rash as kissing the Halfling, as well as a full Elucidation of the Carpet's mysterious Behaviour.
Please send my kindest Wishes to your dear Mother, and tell her that I am most pleas'd to hear, that she hath succeeded in impounding the Dwarvish Potion you had purchased for the Purpose of changing the Shape of your Ears. For I hope to prove to you, my dearest Girl, before the end of this my Tale, just how lovely pointed Ears can be, to those capable of appreciating them. As always, darling Child, I remain,
You humble obedient Servant,
§ § §
Notes to Letter the Fourth
1. Colleagues of mine specializing in twentieth-century poetry have assured me that this remarkable Elvish verse has been closely copied by William Butler Yeats. If this is true, it provides yet another invaluable piece of evidence that Maria-Susannah's text was up until the early years of the twentieth century much more widely circulated than scholars have previously thought. Back to story
2. It is perhaps this lengthy imprisonment in Bag End that accounts for Professor Tolkien's misleading and inaccurate assertion, on the first page of The Fellowship of the Ring, that Bilbo did not adopt Frodo until Bilbo was ninety-nine and Frodo twenty-one. I am indebted to the scholarly researches of Lullenny for exposing this discrepancy between Professor Tolkien's fanciful work of the imagination and Mrs. Cleland's more reliable translation. Back to story
3. The most diligent researches have failed to turn up the name Persica in any eighteenth-century literary text; Mrs. Cleveland refers perhaps to the heroine of a novel now lost, or perhaps to an allegorical figure in some long-vanished agricultural treatise (for "Persica" of course means "peach tree" in Latin). Back to story
4. Here Mrs. Cleland once more offers an explanation for an apparent anachronism that has puzzled Westron scholars for many years. Back to story
5. Professor Tolkien's failure to mention this hobby, and his concomitant suggestion that Frodo took rather more interest in Elvish than he in fact did, may perhaps be attributed to Tolkien's own passion for linguistics; the Professor perhaps could not comprehend why a hobbit as intelligent as Frodo would favour philately over philology. Back to story
Letter the Fifth
Minas Ithil, 28 Urime, Fourth Age 65
My dear Madam,
I thank you for your kind Enquiries, in your last three-and-forty Letters, as to whether my long-continued Silence hath some distressing Cause, viz., my sudden Death, or Dismemberment, or a Palsy of the Limbs, or a long-festering Hangnail. I assure you, Madam, that not only are my Health and Spirits good, but, what is of even greater Importance to an Author, my Nails remain as ever in that state of Perfection so conducive to Literary Composition.
Nay, no Failure of personal Grooming accounts for my Silence, but a Heart overburden'd by conscious Guilt. For these Letters hath reach'd the Point of a Profound Crisis in the Halfling's Affairs, and I know not, Madam, whether it will be Possible for me any longer to satisfy the conflicting Demands of perfect Truth and strict Morality. So tormented have been my Nerves by this Prospect, that for a Time I scarce wish'd to Live. Indeed, so profound hath been my Gloom, that I have for the past eight Weeks kept almost entirely to my Chambers, emerging only for those small Diversions presented by a Mode of Life as retir'd as my own; viz. Meetings of literary Societies, Exhibitions of Elvish Ceramics, some few theatrical Performances, several mask'd Balls, a Day at the Races, a Night at the Opera, and all seven Games of the all-Gondor major league Brumble Championship.
At last, however, my Courage hath been somewhat restor'd, and I feel, if not equal to my painful Task, at least somewhat resign'd to it. I can only hope, Madam, that this Epistle will have no untoward Effects upon a Spirit as Sensitive as yours, and I earnestly recommend, that you prepare yourself for the Reading of the Tale with just those Prophylactics against excessive Ardour that I hath employed in the Writing of it: viz., several fine linen Handkerchiefs, a goodly supply of Brandy, and a charming Youth near at Hand. Only thus might you ease those turbulent Motions of the Soul that Literature so oft arouses in impressionable Persons, whilst the simple Tune of this my Narration rises to a mighty Cadenza of Passion.
At the Moment when my Tale recommences, the fair Halfing had just finish'd recounting his Misfortunes in Love. Yet these dire Events had been nearly forgot, for it had become evident, that the Carpet brought to our Chamber by Captain Faramir, was by no Means destitute of Life, and the Halfling, whose Courage was as great as his Beauty, had boldly taken a Stand beside the Invader. Many of us trembl'd at the Thought, that he might at any Moment be attack'd by this most terrifying of Textiles, perchance to be smother'd in its fell Fibres until naught was left of him but a Hobbit Pile.
But just as the Halfling began the Contest by prodding at the Carpet with his Toe, the Door to our Chamber burst open, and in walk'd Mr. Peters. "My Dears -- " quoth he, but broke off at once with an Exclamation of Dismay. With no Regard to any Person in the Room, he strode at once to the Spot where the Halfling stood, and heav'd him up by the Collar, examining him with ev'ry Symptom of Horror and Indignation.
"Streams of Osse!" he exclaim'd, "what Nonsense is this? Did I not tell you, Halfling, scarce two Hours ago, that you were to pay for the heavy Charges you have amass'd at my House, by the prompt Sale of your Virginity? And yet I find you in no Way prepar'd for this important Event. You are so Filthy, Sirrah, that I am sure the Captain would purchase a Sow in her Trough before he would so much as look at you. Faugh! Bah! Pish!"
"Sir," interposed the fair Amelia, whose great Curiosity regarding Matters orthographic hath oft been noted in this History, "if you would be so good as to Spell the antepenultimate Ejaculation with which you have favour'd us --"
"Faugh!" exclaim'd Mr. Peters once more, without deigning to take Notice of Amelia's just and reasonable Request. "What Excuse can there be for such a gross Violation of ev'ry Principle of Cleanliness? Have I not, at the greatest personal Expense, provided to the Ladies of this Society the most elaborate bathing Chamber east of the Anduin? I am griev'd," continu'd he, with a fearsome Glare about the Room, "that the Ladies who have so long been shelter'd in this House, would do as little to bestir themselves on an Occasion so crucial to our financial Survival, as if you all of you labour'd under the Delusion, that Silver falleth from the Sky like Rain, and Gold beateth down like the Rays of the Sun."
"Sir," quoth Seleta, with a languid Wave of her Fan, "for myself, I see naught in the Halfling to provoke the least Objection from any Gentleman of Taste and Discernment."
"What!" cried Mr. Peters. "Madam, I know you to be of a satryick Bent, but must protest that you take your Jest too far in this Case. For the Halfling's Curls are muss'd; his Clothes are in the greatest Disarray; his Shirt is half-open and in several Places torn; his Skin is flushed and bedew'd with Sweat; his Eyes are bright with the Effects of too much Wine, . . " -- yet here he broke off abruptly, and look'd with a more critical Eye at the fair Creature twisting in his Grip.
"Indeed, Sir," quoth Seleta with the greatest Tranquillity, "it is just as I said."
At this Time Mr. Peters rock'd back upon his Heels, made a harrumphing Noise, and lower'd his beauteous Captive to the Ground; not without further rumpling the Halfing's already tousel'd Curls, and forcibly removing a Button or two from his Shirt. "Perchance --" quoth he, but whatever wise Observation he would have made, was cut off by an indignant Bleating from behind him.
For the Goat, ever an Advocate for the Halfling who had so utterly conquered its Heart, had leapt from its Couch, and now paw'd at the Ground, roll'd its Eyes, and snorted in a most menacing Manner: in short, it evinc'd every Sign of Anger at Mr. Peters' rude Treatment of its Darling.
I must own, Madam, that several among us fear'd much for the continued Safety of the Gentleman who, though not without Faults, had long nourish'd and defended our little Society. Doubtful tho' some of us were, as to the Purity of this Gentleman's Intentions, we none of us could find it in our Hearts, to wish to see him fall Victim to Caprine Wrath: particularly in our own Chamber, where the Streams of Blood resulting from such an unequal Conflict would form such unpleasant and ineradicable Stains.
Yet this resourceful Gentleman evinced not the slightest Discomfiture in the Face of Peril, for without any Ceremony whatever he seiz'd the Creature by its Ear and dragg'd it to a secluded Corner, where he secur'd it to a Table-leg by means of an ornate jewel'd Collar we had none us of previously noted. His remarks on this Occasion were the very last Thing that we any of us expected. "Golden hooves of Nahar!" cried he, as the Creature mourn'd its departed Liberty with helpless Bleats of Protest. "What Goat is this?"
We all of us star'd at him in Wonder, and I was not the only one among us to suppose, that the Strain of Keeping of a House such as ours in such difficult Times had at long last affected his Wits. For Mr. Peters had been intimately acquainted with this Animal for many Years, and had just seen it taking its Ease among us in his earlier Visit to our Chamber. "Sir," quoth the judicious Clarissa at length, "this Goat hath been employ'd so long among us, that its Contributions to the Harmony and Well-being of this Society exceed those of the rest of us combin'd; I must own myself surpris'd, Sir, that you should even for a Moment be so deaf to the Appeal of Gratitude, as to forget all that this superior Animal hath meant to our House."
And to many of us it seemed as if Effrontery itself must fall abash'd before the noble Sentiments that Clarissa had so eloquently express'd. Yet Mr. Peters apparently thought otherwise. "Madam," quoth he, "as you know, my Respect for your Wisdom knows no bounds, but you will forgive me if I ask, whether some sudden incapacitating Illness hath struck you blind and stol'n your Wits. For the Goat who hath serv'd this House to such great Acclaim, hath been all this Evening employ'd in a private Chamber upon the third Floor, where it hath been much occupied in amorous Acts with a large Badger and a travelling Band of Dwarves. Indeed, I have all this Time been seeing to the incessant Demands of this Party for all Manner of luxurious Niceties: a large Mess of Taters and Onions, a continual Flow of Ale, a Trampoline, and a Supply of curling-Papers for the Badger."
This News astonish'd us all, for it made us Suspect, that the Creature we had trusted so close to the Halfling was perchance an Impostor. "What Goat, then, is this," cried the fair Amelia, "that hath invaded the innermost Recesses of our Bower with so little Ceremony, nay, without even a Letter of Introduction or a business Card in its favour?"
"That, Madam, is a Question that you must answer among yourselves; for myself, I know not why, or how, or for what secret Purpose, you have summon'd this Caprine Unknown into the Privacy of your lock'd Chambers. When first I laid Eyes on the Creature earlier this Night, I assum'd, that you had somehow unearth'd a new Recruit for our little Society, and admir'd such Evidence of Diligence in the Cause of our mutual Prosperity. Tho' if all of you Ladies instead believ'd, that this Goat is the same as the one that hath been your esteem'd Colleague for so many Years, I must own, that the Mistake is only natural. For it is a Miracle how each Animal resembles the other in ev'ry particular, saving only, that our Goat hath curl'd horns, whilst this Creature's horns are quite straight; ours hath ears that stand up like a Cat's, whilst these Ears flop like a Spaniel's. Then, too, there is the Matter of Colour, for our Goat is Grey, whilst this is Brown; nor should I omit the surprising Fact, that our Goat is quite three times the Size of this one. Apart from these Minute Distinctions, however, too Fine to be observ'd by any but the most exacting Eye, the two Creatures are identical in ev'ry possible way, and resemble each other just as much, as the Apple doth the Orange, as the Sparrow doth the Hawk, as the Spreading Oak doth the Concept of Social Justice, as . . .
"Sir," quoth the wise Clarissa, "you have made your Point; indeed, I believe you have made it quite some Time ago, and to belabour it further would waste Words upon small Matter. I must own, Sir, that without the assistance my Spectacles, I could not distinguish between this Goat and a four-posted Bed."
"As for myself," quoth the gentle Amelia, "I thought the Goat appear'd unwell, but did not wish to mention the Matter, for fear of wounding its Feelings."
At this Moment we younger Ladies look'd to Seleta, for we all of us were so possess'd by the idea of her Cleverness, that we could not imagine how she could make such an Error.
"As for myself," quoth Seleta, "my sole Excuse is this: in the Course of Reading many Tales, I have become much accustom'd to sudden and violent Transformations in an individual's Appearance, Manner, and Character, whether such Metamorphoses are demanded by the Exigencies of the Plot, or imposed by the Author's Forgetfulness. So little do I expect the Principle of Continuity to be observ'd in a Tale, that I can no longer be much surpris'd to see it violated in Life as well. Such Variations in Color and Size as you have mention'd, Sir, are mere Nothings, in Comparison to the universal Flux and Change that Literature hath long taught me to expect."
To this wise Speech we younger Ladies nodded Agreement, and we all of us blam'd our present Confusion upon the poor Narrative Construction prevalent in Tales penn'd by several Ladies who chanced not to be present.
"Perchance, Ladies," quoth Mr. Peters, "you need a new Hobby."
"I can think of no Pursuit," Amelia protested with some Spirit, "more Rational and Elegant than the Belles-Lettres, at once the Father of Wit, the Mother of the finer Feelings, the Brother of Equanimity, the Sister of Perceptiveness, the Guardian-at-Law of Eloquence, the Second Cousin of apt Comparison . . ."
"Indeed, my dear," quoth Clarissa, "you have spoken my Sentiments exactly, but now is not, I deem, the best Time to elaborate upon this Theme in any Detail. For to me the key Question in all this Affair is the one, dearest Madam, that you have with your usual Perspicacity raised, to wit: what Goat is this? For we found this amiable Creature penn'd in the very Place where our erstwhile Colleague hath been wont to pass its Hours of Leisure."
"Hounds of Orome!" cried Mr. Peters. "Do you think I have nothing better to do, than keep a constant Account of the Comings and Goings of the Inhabitants of a Barnyard? Am I a Goatherd? Am I a Farmer? Am I a Maker of Cheese? Am I a Purveyor of fine Fabrics to the Gentry?"
"No, Sir," quoth Seleta, "we are all well aware, that you are a . . ."
But Mr. Peters was too occupied by his own Thoughts to wait for Seleta to complete her own. "I have it!" quoth he. "This Creature must surely be none other than the Goat that Captain Faramir brought to this House along with the other Spoils of Battle; the Evening hath been so full of Bustle and Hurry, that the Matter quite ran out of my Head. But now the Mystery is resolv'd, and a lucky Chance it is indeed to have such a fine Animal among us this Night. Nay, I shall go farther: 'tis plainly another Instance of the Mercy the Valar have shown to this House. For the Party of Dwarves upstairs hath been demanding another Goat this past Hour, and hath sworn their Pleasure to be only half-complete without one. Anvil of Aule! May the Blessings of all the Valar shower upon our gallant Captain, for had I known, that the quartering of Prisoners would bring such Profit, I would have clamor'd for the Privilege long ago."
At this Time, Mr. Peters reach'd toward the Goat, plainly intending to lead this innocent Creature away, all unawares, to a Fate that some would call worse than Death. But the Goat responded to his Advances with ev'ry symptom of Alarm. The Collar round its Neck would not permit it to flee, but it twirl'd about the Table-Leg until it was entirely hid, making a Sanctuary of the Furniture meant to be its Prison. Thus protected from the immediate Threat of Assault, with great Vigour it proceeded to run, or so we all assum'd: for all we could see was the Table clattering wildly across the Room.
"Stop at once, thou miscreant!" cried Mr. Peters, "that Table is a most valuable Antique!" But his Words were wasted on the empty Air: and tho' he dived for his Quarry with an Energy surprising in so Rotund a Gentleman, his Effort was to no avail: for the Table tripp'd hither and thither like a mad Thing, knocking several of the Ladies to the Ground in its Progress round the Room, until at last it made for the open Passage to the bathing Chamber and disappear'd.
"Stars of Elbereth!" exlaim'd Clarissa in Horror, "if the Goat should fall into the Water! Bound as it is to a Table, it should most infallibly -- "
But her Words were interrupted by a loud Splash from the Chamber adjacent, at which Time, we all of us shrieked in Terror, and several of the Ladies could only give Expression to their Feelings, by Swooning in Attitudes both moving and picturesque.
So griev'd was the fair Amelia, that she could not forbear interrupting her Swoon to declaim upon the Horror of what she had seen. "Who among us would imagine," cried she from her Place on the Floor, "that such a useful and elegant Piece of Furniture, engraved as it was with a curious Picture depicting the Amours of Turin and Beleg in fine Cloisonne, should prove the Bane of such an excellent Creature! Who could imagine . . ."
"Your Pardon, Madam," interposed a Voice from above her, and with a Squeak of Surprise she look'd up, only to see the Halfling boldly leap o'er her prone Form as he ran toward the bathing Chamber. And we none of us doubted for a Moment that it was the Halfling's Intention to give Succour to the affectionate Creature that had so unreservedly given him its Heart.
Without pausing for a moment's Consultation or Discussion, we all of us rose as one Woman and ran to the Chamber, tho' this rare Unanmity of Purpose led to some small Embarrassment, as some five-and-twenty Ladies and Mr. Peters attempted to pass thro' the same Doorway at one Time. A minor Dispute ensued, at the end of which, the Victors enter'd the Chamber with all due Decorum, while their defeated Friends remain'd behind to bind up their Wounds as best they could.
When at last we enter'd the Chamber we hardly knew what to expect, tho' some among us whisper'd of our Hopes, that whether the Goat chanced to live or die, we should yet see the fair Halfling wholly immers'd in that liquid Medium, which might display his Charms to their best Advantage. Indeed, several of the younger Ladies dar'd to hope that the Halfling would have had Time to remove at least one of his Garments before attempting the Rescue of his Admirer from a watery Grave.
But alas! these Ladies were doom'd to Disappointment. For when we enter'd the Chamber we found the Halfling still fully cloth'd, and so far was he from being Immers'd in the limpid Stream, that he was not wet, nay, not even mildly damp. Under the firm Guardianship of Clarissa he stood beside the largest and deepest of the Pools that the Chamber contain'd.
You should know, Madam, that the Water in this Chamber constantly flow'd from a hot Spring deep in the Earth below us. Thus even at this late Hour, when no Servants were present to tend the Baths, such a Pool would present a Hazard to any Person not a Master of the aqueous Element, for there was never a Moment in the Day when the Baths were not perfectly Full, as many a drunken Customer had in the Past found to his Dismay. And greatly we fear'd, that the Goat had made the same Discovery before any could come to its Aid.
On this Occasion, however, all ran quite contrary to our Expectations. For what should greet our astonish'd Eyes, but the Sight of the Table, bobbing topside-down in the Water, with one of its Legs broken quite off. 'Twas perhaps this Accident, so fatal to the Table's Pretensions to either Elegance or Functionality, that had sav'd the Life of the Goat, which swam about the Bath with ev'ry Evidence of Enjoyment.
We could not long enjoy this gratifying Spectacle, for Mr. Peters came huffing up behind us and push'd thro' to the front of the Crowd. "Ladies!" cried he, "What is this Goat doing in my Bath?"
"Sir," quoth Seleta, "I believe it is doing the Backstroke."
Mr. Peters responded to this Observation, with naught but a Look of Disdain.
But his Displeasure was doom'd to live and die unremark'd, for the Attention of the Ladies was fix'd upon the Goat. "Nay Madam," quoth one of the younger Ladies, "'tis not the Backstroke at all. Observe, if you will, the Grace with which this most talented of Animals lifteth one Limb to the Front, then down, then to the side, then to the back, then centre-changes its Limbs to recommence the Motion on the other Side. If I mistake me not, 'tis the very Motion, term'd by the Elves, the Grand Rond de Jambe en L'air."
"Well, ----------- me, Madam," quoth Seleta, "if for once in your Life, you stand not upon the right Side of a Question."
For some Moments we all of us could do no more than gaze in Wonder, as the Goat dove quite to the Bottom of the Pool. With great Precipitancy it shot Upwards and spun onto its Back. From this recumbent Position, the surprisingly buoyant Creature first spread all four of its Limbs outward, and then slowly bent them inwards, to the Point at which its gracefully turn'd Hooves just touch'd in the Shape of a four-pointed Star. At this Time we could not forbear from bursting into Applause at such a supreme Instance of that Manoeuvre term'd by the Elves, the Grand Plie en Haut.
Pleas'd, no Doubt, at the kind Reception its Efforts had receiv'd, the Goat exhibited a number of other elegant Manoeuvres, viz., the Passe, the Jette, the Degage, and the Pas de Chat, all of which left us quite Certain that the Goat, however limited its Experience in the Arts practic'd in our House, was nevertheless an Adept at that marvellous Art of the Elves that so few Mortals have seen: the Water-Ballet.
In our Books, we had read many Tales of the great Perfection to which the Elves, bless'd with the infinite Leisure of Immortality, had brought this extraordinary Art. Greatly had we long'd to see the Performances of such fabled Practitioners as Elrond and Glorfindel. Mighty Elf-Lords were they of great Power, and lo! they were fair, and their Eyes shone, and their bathing-Costumes were of fallen Leaves. In their Teeth they were wont to bear flaming Torches as they sprang from the restless Waves, whilst three dozen Elf-maidens swam at their Feet, in a Formation like unto the Device of the House of Fingolfin. (1)
You may imagine, Madam, how delightful it was for Ladies as retir'd from the World as ourselves to have an Opportunity to view such a fine Display, tho' the sole Performer was but a Goat. Yet Mr. Peters did not give us Leisure to enjoy this Spectacle for very long.
"Come, Ladies," quoth he, "the Night is no longer young, and I must insist that this Goat be remov'd from the Pool at once. For if the Goat will not serve Dwarves in the Manner I have mentioned, I cannot in good Conscience promise, that it will not instead be made to serve them in some other Way, as for Example, in a Stew, or a Soup, or a fine Ragout."
At this shocking Speech several among the Ladies gasp'd, and we all of wonder'd, that so kindly a Gentleman as Mr. Peters should make such a Proposal. "Sir," quoth the Halfling, "this Inhumanity does your Profession no great Credit."
"Prithee, Sirrah!" cried Mr. Peters, "do not presume to judge Motives you cannot as yet understand; 'tis my Duty to entertain such Customers as attend this House, in the Manner that will best amuse 'em. Thus I should advise you, Halfling, to remove this Animal from the Pool forthwith, or to persuade it to leave of its own Accord, else you shall infallibly see it dwindle from a living Creature to a mere Ingredient."
Most piteous at this Moment was the Plight of the Halfling, as we all of us could see; for 'twas a Peculiarity of the Creature's Beauty, that his mobile Features spake plainly the Content of his Thoughts. Thus in the Twist of the Halfling's alabaster Brow we could clearly see his Anguish: for he was forced to commit what would seem like Treachery to a poor trusting Creature, tho' this Treachery were the only Means by which its Life might be preserv'd. Nonetheless, in despite of these Repinings, the Halfling quickly did as he was bid, for he could do no other.
"Come," quoth he, kneeling by the shallow side of the Pool and extending his Hand, "come to Master."
The Goat fix'd him with a doubtful Look, and its Eyes roll'd in some Confusion, but so great was the Power of Love within its Breast, that it swam to the Halfling, scrambl'd from the Pool, and gaz'd upward in Adoration -- only to find its Collar seized by Mr. Peters. It buck'd mightily, and bleated in Protest, but could by no Means escape. (2)
"Sir," quoth the wise Clarissa, "I implore you to reconsider your Designs upon this Animal. For this Goat's Virtue is writ in its ev'ry Feature, and I have never before known you to take into your Employment, a Person or Creature wholly unwilling. Moreover, Sir, I must confess, that I could see neither Sense nor Reason in your Plan to make the Goat into a Stew, for it was always my Understanding, tho' this Matter is little spoken of in Elvish Lore, that all Dwarves are Vegetarians." (3)
"Indeed, Madam, they are," quoth Mr. Peters, still clinging for dear Life to the bucking Goat, "but my empty Threat hath had the Effect intended, and so all is Well. As for the other Matter, the Dwarves can be most Persuasive with a timid Virgin, and we may not know until we try, what hidden Passions . . ."
But his Disquisition was quite cut off, when the Goat, not content with its spirited Attempts at Escape, began without Warning to ring.
"Music of the Ainur!" quoth Mr. Peters. "What foul Noise is this?"
We all of us recollected the elvish Device that the Goat had swallow'd earlier in the Evening, and wonder'd greatly at the Strength of a Magick, that could continue to Function for so long in so unpromising a Place. But before we could explain this extraordinary Phenomenon to Mr. Peters, the young Lady to whom the Device belong'd shov'd her way to the Front of the Throng of Ladies. "Sir," cried she with great Eagerness, "I humbly beg your Pardon, but I believe, that the Call may be for me . . ."
"Sir," quoth Clarissa, "permit me to Explain." Thus, whilst the young Lady's Friends pull'd her Back, and urgently counsel'd her against taking a Call at such an unseasonable Time, and whilst other Ladies silenc'd the Goat with a timely Application of Brandy, Clarissa elucidated the Mystery to Mr. Peters, tho' he was plainly Displeas'd by the Relation.
"Well, then," quoth he, "that's the End on't; the Creature can by no Means be employ'd among us. For there is nothing so startling to a Gentleman seeking the Pleasures of Caprine Love, than a sudden Noise. The Creature must remain with you Ladies until such Time, as its present Illness passes, in a Manner of Speaking."
Here Mr. Peters laugh'd heartily, tho' when none of the Ladies join'd him in his Mirth, he soon fix'd the Halfling with a most calculating Eye. "We must," quoth he, "therefore seek to recoup our Losses in this Matter from the sale of the Halfling himself. Therefore I counsel you, Sir, to make ready for the Auction, by appearing as dishevell'd as you may. "Indeed," continued he, with a dreamy Look in his Eye, "'tis a great Shame there are not two of you, for 'twould make the Fortune of this House if I could sell two such charming Creatures. If the Captain would give half of Gondor to have you, as I feel sure he shall, 'tis certain he would throw the other Half into the Bargain if he could have a Threesome. For 'tis an infallible Saying of the Dwarves, that while Two is a goodly Company, Three is a major transnational Corporation headquarter'd in a tax Haven upon some fair tropical Isle."
"I must confess, dear Sir," quoth Clarissa, "that this Saying hath always been obscure to me."
"To me, Madam," quoth Mr. Peters in brisk Answer, " the Meaning is as Dark as the Armpit of the Lord of Mordor, but it hath a good Sound, which is more than sufficient for the Purposes of Aphorism."
And on this Note of Wisdom, he left us, but not without the strongest Injunctions that the Halfling be made ready for Sale, an Event which would take place within the half hour.
As we sadly return'd to our Bower to bemoan this dread Transaction, only the Goat remain'd in any sort of Spirits, for its Dip in the Pool had greatly refresh'd it. To our Distress it seem'd to sense Nothing of our Gloom, but gamboll'd cheerfully at the Halfing's Side. As it was quite wet through, this Action scatter'd drops of Water upon the Ladies' Dresses, as well as on those few small Scraps of Silk and Cloth-of-Gold wherewith we enliv'd the Poverty of our dismal Surroundings. After the most strenuous Protests from several Ladies, the Goat at length suffer'd itself to be led to a dry Place before the Fire. There the Halfling, as if in Apology for the dubious Part he had perform'd by the Bath, fed it Lumps of Sugar, and pour'd for this discerning Creature a Glass of our best Brandy, not without pouring yet another for his own Use in this Time of Trial.
"Alas!" cried Amelia, gazing upon this wholesome Picture, "if only there were some effectual Means, by which the Halfling's Innocency might be preserv'd!"
"Madam," quoth another Lady from the Back of the Room, "while I applaud your charitable Sentiments, I cannot entirely share them. For our gallant Captain is the very Heart and Soul of the Nation, and one who hath moreover stood for some Time as the sole Bulwark between the us and the Forces of Darkness. And were his Courage at any Time to fail, doubtless the Enemy would be held at Bay by his Beauty alone; for so hot is he, that at his ev'ry Step the very Cobblestones beneath his Feet must sigh with Pleasure. In a Circumstance such as this, I must confess, I cannot see what any rational Creature would find repellent in his Embraces."
"Madam," quoth Amelia gravely, "I hope you do not propose, that the Halfling should forsake the Love of his Life, merely on Account of a Beauty that would make the Earth move, and would awaken amorous Sentiments in a Block of Ice?"
"But Madam -- "
"Dear Ladies!" the Halfling exclaim'd. "Prithee do not quarrel on my Account. I should hate to see the Peace of so amiable and harmonious a Society disturb'd, over so small a Matter as myself."
"My dear Sir!" cried Clarissa, "tho' your Stature, perhaps, has some Tendency toward the Diminutive, you are no small Matter. For as the Beauty of a Verse is not to be judg'd by its Length; nor the Quality of a Feast, by the Quantity of Food provided; nor the Worth of a Lady's Tale, by the Size of her Calligraphy; so the Flame of a sentient Spirit is not to be judg'd by a Feature so wholly beside the Point, as the mere Bulk occupied by its earthly Vessel. Size matters not, save in professional Wrestling and certain Acts of Love, wherein it is of course critical: but if you take Care to avoid these two Activities, and remain both a Pacifist and a Virgin until the End of your Days, then your Worth, Sir, will never be question'd, at least among the discerning Portion of Mankind."
We all of us much admir'd the Wisdom of Clarissa's eloquent Speech, but for some Reason unknown to us it seem'd to do little to ease the Halfling's Forebodings. With his Legs tuck'd beneath him, he sat quiet before the Fire, furrow'd his Brow, and for some Moments said Nothing. At the last he spake. "Truly," quoth he, looking at no one among us, "it seemeth to me, that no Hobbit of Sense could require such a Sacrifice as strict Chastity from your Captain, when he has so long, tho' at a great Distance, defended our Country and all of Middle-Earth against our common Enemy. Nor do I see, now that I think on't, why I should be making such a Fuss and a Bother about Nothing. For what is this Virginity worth?"
Here the Halfling threw back his lovely Head to take a Swallow from his Glass: and the Heat from this Fiery Liquid burn'd bright in the Blush upon his Cheeks. "Greatly would I long," quoth he, "to Surrender this Burden as a Gift to one who long hath held me dear: to one who might, perchance, cherish it as the greatest Treasure he could receive. But at present this seems impossible, for he is lost to me, and he would in the Event fall Victim to that Curse that robb'd me of my other Lovers. And even were that not the Case, 'tis possible he would little value the Gift. For tho' I have felt inwardly persuaded of his Love, it may be that for long Years I have been lost in a Delusion, and that the Seeds of my Adoration hath fall'n upon the stony Ground of his Indifference."
At this Time, Madam, I could not help but Note, that the roll'd up Carpet which had earlier caus'd us such great Alarm, commenc'd a violent Motion during the latter Portion of the Halfling's speech. But before I could open my Lips to speak, Clarissa interpos'd thus --
"Sir," quoth she with great concern, "do not imagine for one Moment that your Virtue has no worth --"
"As to my Virtue, Madam, worth it has none," quoth the Halfling very hastily, "save to make me a standing Jest among all my Acquaintance. By all the Valar, I value it less than a Shoelace! And it must be said, that I owe to your Captain a Debt so great, that I should hesitate to deny him any Thing he might ask in the Way of Repayment. 'Tis true that he took me Prisoner, but 'twas in the Heat of Battle, when all was Confusion, and indeed when I stood in some considerable Peril. For a Charge of those terrible Creatures, the Oliphaunts, had well-nigh trampl'd me, and tho' some Warrior of the Haradrim had for the moment snatch'd me to Safety, 'twas doubtless for the sole Purpose of making me his Captive."
"My dear Sir!" cried one of the younger Ladies, "were you indeed a Captive of this most fearsome of Peoples? Then your Peril was great indeed. For 'tis said, that all their Time is devoted to evolving fiendish new Torments to visit upon innocent Prisoners taken in War."
"Indeed, Madam," quoth Seleta, "I oft have heard such Rumours, and think them entirely true, for what else might these People have to do, in those brief Intervals not occupied by other Matters, such as the raising of Crops, the building of Houses, the Education of their Children, and those trivial Fancies by which we know 'em best, viz, their Art, Poetry, Musick, and Scholarship?" Here with a wave of her Fan she indicated the many fine Works of the Haradrim that grac'd our Bower: Carpets of the most elaborate Design, an Epic Poem ten thousand verses long, six or seven musical Instruments, an ingenious Device for predicting the Hour of a solar Eclipse, and some four or five dozen Treatises upon the higher Mathematics.
"I know not the Answer, Madam, to these Riddles," quoth the Halfling. "What the Customs of this bold Warrior's People might be, I had not the Opportunity to Discover: for as he carried me away in his Arms, one of those Monsters of the Enemy, the Nazgul, swoop'd down upon us from the Sky. At that Moment, for the second Time within a Period of five Minutes, I believ'd all to be lost: the World grew dark, and blindly I clung to my Captor. In the next Instant, thought I, the foul Reek of the Monster's Breath would engulf us both, and thus I -- I -- that is, I know not what mad Thing I did, in the Tumult of the Moment.
"Suffice it to say, that the Death I expected came not. The Sounds of clashing Swords and flying Arrows were everywhere about us, and I felt myself pull'd from my Captor's Embrace. Before me appear'd the Face of a Man most fair to look upon, and in my Ears rang the cry of "Captain Faramir!" But I had no Time to think upon these Things; for the Screams of the Nazgul's Beasts quite ripp'd through my Body, and I fell into a Swoon. Yet I judge from subsequent Events, that this fair Gentleman was your gallant Captain indeed, and that to him I owe my Life."
On hearing this Tale, several of the Ladies who long had been particular Admirers of the Captain, commenc'd whispering among themselves, that while Sam was doubtless a fine Lad, he had long since lost his Chance. And they added, that in such romantick Circumstances as the Halfing had just describ'd, a spark of Love may be born that oft will grow into a Flame.
To these tender-hearted Partisans of the Captain's Hopes, what the Halfling next said doubtless seem'd most Propitious. "Nay," cried he, draining his Glass with a swift Gesture, "I am resolv'd: I shall give myself to this Captain freely; it is indeed the least I owe him, and such a Return for his Goodness cannot be dishonourable to myself. And if the Strength of his powerful Embrace should overwhelm me, I shall cheerfully endure it, for he is a goodly -- that is, a most just and equitable Man, if your account of him be true. For surely the most effectual Method of allaying his Passion is to permit him to indulge it. And once his Senses are restor'd -- once he has taken his Pleasure -- once he has cast my trembling Form upon the Bed of Passion, or perchance the Couch, or the Floor, or the Wall, and done with me all that his Ardour demands -- once, I say, he hath penetrated the very Core of my Being with the Excesses of his Lust, and exhausted ev'ry Means of Gratification, ev'ry Avenue of Enjoyment, ev'ry luxurious Refinement upon simple Appetite that the Ingenuity of Mankind hath devis'd -- then, ah then, if he is all you say, he shall free me to pursue, abandon'd and alone, my fateful Errand."
Words cannot adequately describe the Fire in the Halfling's Visage as he made this impassion'd Speech: his Chest heav'd, his Breath came in Gasps, and a wild Light of Desperation shone in his Eye. The Goat bleated in Alarm to see him thus distracted, and so appall'd were we by the Sight, that few among us noted the Carpet rocking frantically in the Corner. I am quite sure, Madam, that such an unusual Occurrence would sooner or later have come to the Attention of such keenly observant Ladies, had not Clarissa hastily spoken.
"No, no, no, my dear Sir," cried she, "I implore you not to pursue such a rash Course, for you have made a fatal Error in your Calculations, in assuming, that the Captain is immune to the Fate that took your earlier Lovers from your Arms."
"Madam," quoth the Halfling with some Confusion, "I have not the Pleasure of understanding you."
"No more do I," quoth the fair Amelia. "My dear Madam, you have several times dropp'd a Hint, that you understand something of the Nature of the Halfling's curse, and indeed, I am quite sure that you possess a Superiority of Knowledge, a Vastness of Comprehension, and a Quickness of Thought, that suit you better than any living Being for the Unravelling of this Mystery. I implore you, therefore, to enlighten us, for the Captain may enter at any Moment, and Grave indeed would be his Peril, if his apparent Immunity to the Curse should prove a mere Deception."
"Call it not a Curse, Madam!" cried Clarissa, "'tis the Valar's Blessing upon this fair and deserving Creature. My dear Sir, it is my firm Belief, that ev'ry Happenstance of your Life hath been determin'd by the by the Spell cast upon you at the magick Pool."
"A magick Pool?" inquir'd Amelia. "But dear Madam, on ev'ry possible Occasion you have maintain'd, that the Charms of Superstition are Delusions of the Idle and the Vain. Our every Action must submit to the Operations of a sublime Law, viz., Cause and Effect: tho' some few Exceptions are granted to the Arts of the Elves, the Interventions of the Valar, and the mystick Powers of young raven-hair'd Girls transported suddenly to Middle-earth."
"My dear," quoth Clarissa, "your Skepticism does you great Credit, or it would, did not the overwhelming Weight of the Evidence put you so entirely in the Wrong. For never so clearly as in this Case, hath the Agency of the Valar, or rather of one Vala in particular, been so strongly manifested in a Series of wondrous yet Explicable Actions. The infallible Signs of this Vala's Interest in the Halfling are the Seven Feathers that fell to his feet, when his first Lover was born away by Swans; for precisely such Feathers, from just such Creatures, were the Signs by which Ulmo, the mighty Lord of Waters, mark'd Tuor for an extraordinary Fate."
"Alas!" cried the Halfling, "then the Nature of my Curse is dire indeed! Perchance I have been fortunate that Virginity was the only Cost impos'd upon me, for 'twas Tuor who married his own Sister, and who perish'd at the last by his own Hand."
"Nay, Sir," quoth Clarissa, "your Memory of the great Elvish Epics is playing you false. 'Twas Turin, not Tuor, who unwittingly suffer'd the Horrors of an incestuous Union."
"Indeed, Madam, I beg your pardon," quoth the Halfling with some Relief. "But now the proper Tale comes to mind: 'twas Tuor who founded the hidden City of Gondolin, only to be betray'd, when his treacherous Nephew suffer'd the Pangs of unrequited Love for his only Daughter. Alas! that Ulmo should mark me out for a Fate so Tragic as an amorous Discord among my closest Kin!"
"No, no, Sir," quoth Clarissa, "once again you have confus'd two Persons with similar Names; for the Elvish King of whom you speak was Turgon, not Tuor."
"Madam, I apologize," quoth the Halfling, "But at last my Mind hath dredg'd the true Tale from the nethermost Pit of my Memory. For Tuor was not a Person at all, but a City nigh unto the blessed Realm of Valinor: a City, moreover, inhabited entirely by giant Fish, who there took Refuge from the fearsome Salads wherein they so oft were serv'd."
"Nay, Sir: perchance you are thinking of Tuna, a fair Hill that stood in just such a blessed Situation, tho' I must confess, Sir, that I have not heard any Tale, of its being inhabited by Members of the finny Tribe."
On hearing this Answer, the Halfling blush'd profusely, and star'd at the Floor, and mumbl'd Words to the Effect, that the Names sounded to him all the same, and that perchance the Time he had spent in the Collecting of Stamps, might have been put to better Use had he instead sought to improve his Elvish, as his dear Uncle oft had urged him to do.
"Put your Heart at Ease, my dear Sir," quoth Clarissa. "It is never too late for so sublime a Study as this. For the Tale of Tuor is both diverting and instructive, and its profound Moral is worthy of your extended Consideration."
At this Time Clarissa eagerly remov'd from her Reticule a large Sheaf of closely written Papers, as well as some roll'd up Maps and a Genealogical chart of the third House of the Edain. But as she clear'd her Throat to begin, she was interrupted by Seleta, who observed, that the Night was waning fast, and that the full Tale might wait until such Time as we might contemplate its Beauty at our Leisure.
"Far be it from me, Madam," quoth Clarissa, returning her Papers to her Reticule and shutting this curious Container with a loud Snap, "to waste this Society's Time, by expatiating at too great a Length upon the unexampl'd Fate that hath rul'd this Halfling's Life for the past two-and-thirty Years. I shall merely say, that the Seven Swan's Feathers were the very same Token, wherewith Ulmo Lord of Waters chose the Hero Tuor to seek out the hidden City of Gondolin, and to lead its People to Safety. Indeed, my dear Sir, in the Tale you have related, this characteristick Handiwork of the Lord of Waters may be seen at ev'ry Point. The Swans of Ulmo took your first Lover, a Storm of Water the second. The third Lover was chas'd by aquatic Creatures, whilst the Fourth was transform'd to one. The Fifth was taken to Sea under most unusual Circumstances, and to complete the Tally, the loathsome Blotho was swallow'd by Quicksand, that is to say, by a sudden admixture of Earth with the very Element over which Ulmo hath Dominion. In each Case, in the same Instant that any Person attempted to engage you in amorous Conduct, he met with some watery Doom. What clearer Sign could there be, that you have been chosen by Ulmo for an Achievement of high Renown?"
At the Conclusion of Clarissa's brilliant Observations, we many of us exclaim'd at the hermeneutic Genius that could find the common Element in Fates so disparate. Yet the gentle-hearted Amelia could not refrain from expressing her Sorrow that the Marks of Ulmo's Favour should take such a disagreeable Form. "I cannot but wonder," quoth she, "for what Purpose Ulmo would demand of his Favourite so grim and unsociable a Virtue as strict Chastity? For the Career of no Hero is complete, unless after his Labours he found a Dynasty, and I know not how this might be done, if the Hero is as Innocent of Love as a Child of three Years."
"That, Madam, is easily explain'd," quoth Clarissa, "if, that is, I do not trespass overmuch upon the Company's Time, each Moment of which, I have recently been told, is more precious to the Ladies of this Assembly than the sweat-drench'd Handkerchiefs of the Prince of Mirkwood."
At the Mention of such precious Relics of this fam'd elvish Beauty, several younger Ladies commenc'd a Squealing so loud that it shook the Windows. But several among the less impressionable Part of the Company instantly reassured Clarissa, that nothing would be more welcome to them than additional Remarks of hers upon any subject she pleas'd. Yet just as she open'd her lips to begin, we were all of startl'd by a low Cry from the Halfling, a Cry which sounded for all the World, as if he had just lost all that was most dear to him.
"Dear Sir!" exclaim'd Clarissa. "Are you in Pain?"
"Do you feel the Symptoms of some sudden Illness?" another Lady inquired.
"Hath your financial Portfolio unexpectedly declined in Value?" ask'd a third.
"Ladies," quoth the Halfling, "I am a Fool. A Fool! For what I most dreaded has come to pass, and through my own Carelessness and inexcusable Ignorance. Surely, Madam, I have long known the divers Facts that your quick Wit has so cleverly reduc'd to a single shining Principle of Interpretation. Thus what you have told me makes me sure that I have sinn'd against the one who loves me best, and that he too has fall'n Victim to the Wrath of Ulmo."
"Surely, Sir," cried Amelia, "you cannot have Reason to believe, that your Sam has met with some hydrological Disaster?"
"He has," quoth the Halfling, "he infallibly has, and the Fault is mine alone, for I shatter'd the Resolution of Decades in the Panic of a single foolish Moment. Dear Ladies, I must confess, that when I told you the Tale of the Battle, I did not tell you all. For before I was taken captive, I enjoy'd the usual Companionship of Sam, my dearest and most faithful of Hobbits. But when first we saw the Oliphaunts bearing down upon us, we both of us felt quite Sure, that our Lives would end beneath the mighty Feet of these battle-madden'd Creatures. I am asham'd to say, that all Thoughts fled save those of my Sam. Nay, just as the Mariner in storm-toss'd Seas will cast off his precious Cargo, that he might save his despairing Companions; just as the Shield-Maiden in Battle will abandon all Hope of Life, that she might defend her wounded Kin; just as the Lady at a one-hour Sale will toss aside the finest Silk, that she might yet afford the perfect Handbag; so my Mind, in the Tumult of its Passion, found it had Room for but one Idea: and that Idea, was that I could not die with the strongest Feelings of my Soul unexpress'd.
"Thus I resolv'd to kiss him. At that very Moment I was taken by the Haradrim Warrior, but not, alas! before I had touch'd the Hem of Sam's Cloak with my Lips."
"Surely, Sir," quoth Seleta, "that doth not Count; for a Cloak is a mere Appurtenance, not an essential Aspect of your Lover's Nature. It is a Thing that may be cast aside at Will, like an old Purse, or a dull Friend, or a set of Opinions no longer Fashionable."
"I know not," Clarissa said doubtfully, "whether the Principle just mention'd be true, but I assure you, dear Sir, that what you call the Curse does not apply to your Sam. For --"
But so Powerful were the Sentiments animating the Halfling's Breast, that he could not forebear their Expression, tho' such a Course committed him to the undreamt of Rudeness of interrupting a Lady. "Nay, Ladies!" cried he. "Do not Waste your Breath in meaningless Reassurances! Do not torment me with a World of Imaginings, when the real Consequence of my Selfishness lies before me!"
"Dear Sir!" cried Amelia, "whatever can you mean?"
In Response to this Question the Halfling was silent, but he lifted a trembling Arm, and with a profound Sigh, a Sigh that threatened to exhale his very Soul from his Body, he pointed toward -- the Goat!
I must confess, Madam, that so Shocking was the Proposal being put before us, that at first I could by no means take it in, and knew not what the Halfling might mean by such a Gesture. Yet at once there flash'd before my Mind the dreadful Insight, that the Halfing believ'd the Goat to be his Sam, transform'd into this new Shape by the Operation of Ulmo's Curse. The Idea at first seem'd too extraordinary to be true, but a Number of confirming Circumstances suddenly occurr'd to me: viz., the constant Affection the Goat had shown; its Origins as a Prisoner from the very same Battle where Sam had last been seen; and its great Skill at the Water-Ballet, an Art dear to the Heart of Ulmo, but not one previously known to have attracted any caprine Practioners.
In truth, Madam, many of the other Ladies seem'd to have reach'd such dreadful and inescapable Conclusions as mine, for the Chamber echoed with our Gasps.
"Twas Clarissa alone, who seem'd untouched by the general Confusion. "Nay, my dear Sir," quoth she, "it cannot be so; Sam would suffer nothing from your Embraces; if you would only permit me to explain . . ."
But so deep was the Halfling's Grief, that he seem'd not to hear her; he shed no Tear, but star'd at the Goat, and in a quiet but tremulous Voice he spake a solemn Plaint. The Sorrow of his Verse was greatly increased by the Fact that the Goat, clearly perceiving its Lover's Anguish, bleated piteously at the Terminus of the most affecting Lines: (4)
Forever curs'd be this detested Day, [Bleat]
Which snatch'd by best, my favourite Sam away!
Happy! Ah, ten time happy, had I been,
If Fandom-wank these Eyes had never seen! [Bleat]
What mov'd my Mind from Hobbiton to roam?
O, had I stay'd, collecting Stamps at home! [Bleat bleat]
'Twas this . . . (5)
"Nay, Sir," Seleta exclaim'd, "do not carry on thus; above all, not in Verse, for your own Sake and for ours."
"Prithee, dear Sir," quoth the sweet-natured Amelia, with an angry Glance at Seleta for her most unseasonable Interruption, "do not Grieve. For while the Metamorphosis of one's Lover into a Goat, is an Event most unusual and unlook'd for, it cannot be so dreadful as other more common Casualties of Life, viz., the determined Opposition of a Lover's Family, an unexpected Diminution in his Affections, or a sudden Change in his political Party.
"Only consider, dear Sir!" continued she. "What matters the Form your Lover is encas'd in? For your Love is no mere carnal Thing, no mere Motion of the body. Nay! It is a Union of Spirits that goes beyond the murmuring of soft Words in your Ear, the Touch of his Lips upon yours. What matters it, that you never shall feel the gentle Insinuation of his Hand beneath your Clothes, that you never shall Taste the soft Hollow at the base of his Throat? Nay: bless'd by his lasting and steadfast Affection, you shall not mourn the Loss of his naked Flesh against yours. You shall not long for his wordless Murmurings of Desire; you shall not yearn for the silken Feel of his Lips kissing a relentless Line down your trembling Form. You shall not crave the Sensation of those same Lips enveloping the inflam'd Part that most aches for his Touch. Nay: your chaste Sentiments of mutual Admiration and Respect shall more than compensate for the moist Warmth of his Tongue upon you: at first merely teasing, slowly encircling the sensitive Tip of the swollen Flesh, but then, in Response to your Pleas and Cries, gradually increasing the Speed, the Pressure, the Heat. Nay: bless'd with the lifetime Companionship of this innocent Animal, you shall never for an instant miss the Sensation of your Sam pressing down upon your Hips to restrain your desperate Thrusting, whilst . . .
"My dear," quoth Clarissa, who for some Time had been attempting without Success to attract Amelia's Attention, "will you have some more Brandy?" Without waiting for an Answer she forcibly pour'd a Portion of this nourishing Liquid down the Throat of her surpris'd Friend, meanwhile whispering in her Ear some Remark we could not overhear, but that perchance touch'd on the Effect that the fair Amelia's Observations were having upon her virginal Auditor.
Indeed the Halfling seem'd little comforted by her Speech: his Eyes were glaz'd, his Breathing fast, his Skin hot and flush'd. In ev'ry Way he display'd not the rational Mastery of his Passions that Amelia had hoped to encourage, but the impulsive Ardour of a Being driven to a State of Distraction by prolong'd Torment, a Torment from which he could foresee no possible Means of Escape.
Yet the low measure'd Tone in which he spoke seem'd at first to belie his wild Demeanour. "Madam," quoth he, "I am sure you are Correct. What matters this Transformation, indeed? For tho' Sam, as you have noted in such Detail, no longer bears the Form I have come to love, yet he is still my Sam. And if the Valar, for reasons I confess I cannot understand, have seen fit to deny me the Pleasure of his Love in Hobbit-Form, that doth not mean, I can have no Pleasure at all. One Pleasure indeed doth remain to me. I am resolv'd to take it."
"Precisely!" cried Amelia with a pleas'd Expression.
"Nay, my dear Sir!" exclaim'd Seleta, who had more quickly penetrated the Halfling's Meaning. Quickly she rose from her Place and darted toward him, but alas! she tripp'd over the mysterious Carpet, which during the past several Moments had roll'd back and forth with such Violence as to overturn a Plant-stand and several small Stools.
With Seleta sprawl'd helpless o'er this errant Fabric, no Obstacle stood between the Halfling and his Desire, for the Goat lay close by the Halfling's Side, and moreover it gaz'd upon the Halfling with a Love so Plain that an Orc would have wept with Joy to see it. The Halfling sank low over his caprine Admirer, reach'd out with a tentative Hand. With some Hesitation he tangled his Fingers in the damp Hair on the Goat's face. Slowly he drew a great Breath, and seem'd to gather his Courage with it, for he gaz'd deep into the brown Eyes beneath him, and lean'd forward until his tender Lips were mere Inches from the Goat's.
At this Time, Madam, it cannot be amiss for me to submit to your Attention a few brief moral Reflexions.
The better Portion of Mankind affirms that Love is a Blessing, and most Persons would call a Kiss a better Thing than outright Murder. Yet it is a surprising Fact, that few will permit Others to go their own Way, or to pursue this Blessing in the Manner they best prefer. Precisely that Person or Practice that is most sure to quicken Desire in one, will annihilate it in another. Tastes in Love outnumber the Fish in the Sea, and the Stars in the Heavens; nay, they are more Various than the Excuses of a faithless Beau discover'd in mid-afternoon, half-dress'd, with his Lady's most intimate Friend and a Flock of Geese. But those who admit this Principle as a general Rule oft disregard it in particular Cases, and condemn the most inoffensive of their fellow Creatures on the sole Ground, that such-and-such a One indulges in one of their Squicks.
Only consider, dear Madam, as an Instance of this strange Propensity to meddle in the Pleasures of others, the eternal Conflict between those who prefer Position Seventeen in the Dwarvish Craft of Love, and those for whom Position Twenty-four seems the most wholesome and natural. Between these Foes -- the first, stern Partisans of the Trampoline, and the second, unyielding Acolytes of the Trapeze -- it seems no Peace shall ever be made. The least of the Damage that each Side hath done to the other, hath been the Invention of those harsh and offensive Names of Bouncer and Swinger: Words that I trust, Madam, you agree can have no Place in polite Conversation. So intractable an Enmity subsists between the Parties, that the palace Guard of Minas Tirith oft hath been force'd to intervene in arm'd Conflicts among 'em, and Blood hath been shed, when the Partisans of Position Thirty-Two have join'd the fray, arm'd with the fearsome Blanc-Manges of their favourite Practice.
Dearest Girl: a generous Heart such as yours surely must wish for an immediate End to this Strife, and dream as I do of a World in which Trampoline, Trapeze, and Blanc-mange resolve into a single harmonious Chord in the divine Musick of Love. And if there truly stirs within your Breast such a disinterested Desire for the Happiness of your fellow-Creatures, then I know, dear Madam, you will not be one whit dismay'd to hear, that the Halfling at this Time plainly long'd for nothing more than to engage the Goat is a passionate and lasting Kiss, with all the Sequels that naturally would follow such an Action.
There they sat before the Fire. The flickering orange Glow of the Flame danc'd in the Halfling's bright Eyes, and play'd across the damp glossy Hide of the Goat. Curls of Steam rose from this Creature as it dried, and the resulting Moisture clung to the Halfling's petal-soft Skin in infinitesimal Droplets that glitter'd in the Light. The Lovers drew ever closer; but just as their Union seem'd inevitable, the Halfling falter'd. "Can it be?" quoth he. "Can it truly be?"
He did not draw back, but neither did he move forward, and to many among us it seem'd that the fascinated Pair would for the Remainder of the Evening hang suspended a mere half a Breath apart. Yet we reckon'd without the Goat: for this adoring Creature could no longer bear the Torment of further Suspense. Thus it strain'd its graceful Neck upward, rais'd its hairy Chin, and parted its Lips: until at last, with a soft huffling Noise clearly expressive of transcendent Pleasure, it lick'd the infatuated Halfling on the Nose.
"Oh," quoth the Halfling, "Sam?"
§ § §
Dear Madam, I shall be happy to reveal, whether the charming Creature that took such a Liberty with the Halfling's previously inviolable Person, was or was not his Sam. But I fear such a Revelation must wait until my next Letter. For I am call'd away to a most urgent Series of Engagements: those with my Manicurist, my Masseur, and the Gentleman who styles my Hair. As none of these Professionals will tolerate Tardiness in any Form, or the least Deviation from their establish'd Schedules, I must abandon my Pen for the Day.
Please send my kindest regards to your dear Mother, and inform her, that I have sent off her Parcels to her Family by carrier Eagle, as she requested. For tho' this Use of Prince Faramir's courier-Service may be deem'd frivolous by the severer Sort of Moralist, the Prince himself, so long a Stranger to the Country of his Childhood, hath good Reason to know the Feelings of an Immigrant from a distant Land. Were her Case put to him, he would, I feel sure, conclude, that however dearly she may love her adopted City of Minas Tirith, her tender Heart should never cease to cherish the fair green Country of her birth.
And on this Subject I must implore you, dear Madam, to turn a deaf Ear to the Rumours and scurrilous Lies about that Place that some of your Friends, with more Love of Scandal than of Truth, have whisper'd in your too-impressionable Ears. For if my Tale reveals naught Else, dearest Madam, it is that your Mother's Country is well worthy of her Love, and of yours.
In this as in all other Matters, I remain, my dearest Girl,
Your most humble obedient Servant,
Notes to Letter the Fifth
1This section on Elvish customs may seem like a pointless digression, but Mrs. Cleland was almost certainly attempting to accommodate her work to the conditions of the eighteenth-century book trade. It was widely believed that the editors of the most influential scholarly publication thought no article complete unless it contained some reference to Elves. Whether this belief was well founded or not, it caused nervous authors throughout the world to insert gratuitous Elvish references in their work for hundreds of years. For further references see my article, "Uncle Vanyar: the Persistence of Quendiphilia in Czarist Russia," (forthcoming in Comparative Third Age Studies, Autumn 2004). Back to the story.
2 This painful episode is the only part of the entire Osgiliath affair that Professor Tolkien saw fit to include in his adaptation of the Red Book. He transferred the action to Henneth Annun, and assigned the role of the Goat to his interpolated character "Gollum," but the basic sequence of events may still be discerned in Tolkien's "The Forbidden Pool." It is difficult to know what to make of such wholesale changes to the source text. Possibly Professor Tolkien believed that the Goat would seem more sympathetic if he made it more like a hobbit in appearance, but the addition of Gollum forced Tolkien to change the narrative in other ways, most notably in its culmination at Mount Doom. Back to story
3 Professor Tolkien shows us dwarves eating meat on several occasions, but I have found nothing in Maria-Susannah Cleland's more complete text to support this inference on his part. Indeed, this little-known fact does much to explain why the Dwarvish waybread, cram, was so inferior to the Elvish recipe, lembas. As explained in an earlier note, lembas was prepared with a mixture of butter and lard; cram was made with safflower oil. Back to story.
4 In the translation of this moving poem, Mrs. Cleland seems to have adapted a few lines from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, just as Pope in his own text was stealing from a slashy speech in Homer. It is interesting to speculate on whether Homer in turn had access to the Third Age source translated here; if so, then the Red Book is being plagiarized at three removes for its own translation. Back to story
5 It cannot be an accident that in her adaptation of Pope Mrs. Cleland included a teasing reference to Fandom-wank, a wildly popular eighteenth-century scandal sheet. Pope vilified in the magazine in public as "a Destroyer of Reputations and a Carbuncle upon the Face of the Nation." It was, however, common knowledge in the literary world that Pope was Fandom-wank's most frequent anonymous contributor. Back to story
Letter the Fifth and a Half
Minas Ithil, 16 Yavannie, Fourth Age 65
My dear Madam,
I thank you for your Inquiries into the State of my Health, and for the generous Impulse that led you to share my Letters among such of your Friends as you thought would find 'em amusing. For the true Tale of Frodo Baggins should be made known to all who enjoy the Blessings of this our happy Age, that they might admire the Goodness that saved Gondor, the Courage that battled Mordor, and the Beauty that render'd all who beheld it as senseless and speechless as Molluscs attending a Lecture upon analytick Philosophy.
Endow'd with such a Hero, my Tale is above all others calculated for the moral Improvement of its Readers. Thus I am griev'd, but not surpris'd, to hear that several among the young Ladies of your Acquaintance experienc'd those violent Reactions to the Tale that have so distress'd you. For they have opined, that the Poor Halfling hath been tormented far longer than unsupported Nature can bear; that he must, in the Name of all that is Good, find Happiness in his Sweetheart's Arms; and that above all, the Tale should just get on with it already.
Dear Madam, a Heart as tender as yours must be Troubled at having introduc'd such a Topic of Dispute among your general Acquaintance. I must protest, however, that their Complaints lack that solid Foundation in Truth and Morality upon which any Principle of true Criticism must stand.
For my Tale is no light Romance, no Toy in Words, no effervescent Froth of Language meant solely to bestir the Passions. I have not the least Intention for any Reader of mine to idle away her Days as a mere Voluptuary, lying, perchance, with Book in Hand, upon a petal-strewn Couch in a warm half-shaded Bower. For in such a suspicious Location what might she do, but revel in some blissful Dream of the Senses? What might she do but wish the World away, until the stirring of Leaves in the Breeze about her would be transmuted, in her Phantasy, to the Rustle of the Hero's Shirt dropping from his firm and fragrant Flesh?
Nay: dismiss all such Fancies from your Mind: for my Tale is a History, and a History, furthermore, of a Hero bound to the arduous Path of Virtue. Dear Madam, it is to the Palace of Felicity that such a Path inevitably leads, but the Route is oft a circuitous one, and forces the dutiful Traveller to pass thro' Places little celebrated as Destinations for the Tourist: viz, the dark Cave of Loneliness, the dry Desert of Chastity, the tangl'd Wood of personal Finance, and the heaving, torturous Seas of Baths with one's rubber Duck.
But to my Tale. Whilst the fair Halfling, Frodo Baggins, travel'd indeed on the Road to Happiness, he stood now upon that Road's most dismal Point. For he had only a few Moments before undergone the profound Shock of Discovering, as he believ'd, that the Lord of Waters had transform'd his Sam to a Goat. Overwhelm'd with Grief at this surprising Turn of Events, he had suffer'd the adoring Animal to take the Liberty of licking him on the Nose.
Many among us trembled to see such a Wound inflicted upon the Halfling's Chastity, the Purity of which had previously dazzl'd the astonish'd Eye, like unto that vast expanse of gleaming Whiteness that covers o'er the Earth with the first untrodden Snow of Winter. But alas! now he was fall'n! For a Nose once lick'd can ne'er return to its virgin State. The moral Stain of such a Corruption can ne'er be erased, nay, not by the Towels of Elves, nor by the Loofahs of the Dwarves. By the stern Moralist the Victim of such a Pollution must be cast weeping into the Streets, forever a sad Exile from the Ranks of such among his Brethren as have taken better Care to preserve their Nasal Integrity.
'Tis perhaps Fortunate that the Halfling had no Time to reflect upon the certain Consequences of his Misdeed. For as he star'd uncertain into the Eyes of Goat, a cold Wind arose from all parts of the Room at once, and swept among us with a howling Noise. The Curtains billow'd forth from the Windows; the Tapestries flapp'd Wildly upon the Walls; the Chandelier swung from the Ceiling; the Ladies' Dresses and Coiffures whipp'd about in Disarray. Loose Papers flew from the Tables where we had left 'em and flutter'd thro' the air, and one Lady was greatly surpris'd, when from across the Room she was struck in the Face by a flying Wig.
To our Amazement a mysterious Vapour arose at the same Time, a sudden Fog that stirr'd and writhed like a pot of Milk a-boil. Shap'd by the wild Action of the Wind, this Fog twisted into the most fearsome Shapes, until at last the whole of it gather'd in an ominous roiling Cloud that stretched from the Ceiling almost to the Floor, hovering menacingly o'er the hapless Head of -- the Goat!
All this occur'd before we had Time to do so much as scream. Yet just as full Half of the Ladies drew Breath to give Vent to their feelings in this Fashion, the Wind died away, and all was as before. Many of us took this Moment to catch our Breath, to arrange our Dresses and our Hair, and to look courteously aside as the Wig was retriev'd by its Owner. Yet to our Dismay the dark Cloud persisted in lurking o'er the Head of the unsuspecting Goat, and a social Embarrassment such as this was most difficult to ignore even by a Company as unfailingly polite and considerate as our own. The Halfling, just as surpris'd as the rest of us, star'd up at the Cloud in wonder, and at length ventur'd to reach up with one Hand, as if to touch this extraordinary Apparition.
"Sweet Lady Elbereth!" exclaim'd Clarissa, "do not, my dear Sir, attempt so rash an Experiment!"
"Touch it not!" cried Amelia. "Only think, dear Sir: you know not where it hath been!"
"-----------," quoth Seleta, "but you're high maintenance at Times," and suiting her Actions to her Words, she seized the curious Halfling in her Arms and dragg'd him away to the comparative Safety of a nearby Armchair, where several other Ladies, indignant at not having thought of this Expedient themselves, forcibly detatch'd her from his charming Person.
For a few Moments we all of us gaz'd at the Goat in silence, quite unable to imagine a discreet Way of bringing to its Attention the moist Encumbrance with which it had so recently been burden'd. Unaware of any Threat, it gaz'd longingly toward the Halfling: but its peaceful Contemplation was quite broken off, when above its Head there sounded a Crack of Thunder, and from the Cloud there fell a drenching Shower of Rain.
Several of the Ladies nearby jump'd back and twitch'd their Skirts away from this Downpour, yet further Flight proved unnecessary, as the Rain fell only within the Goat's immediate Proximity. The Goat was not so fortunate: tho' it scrambl'd to its Feet, bleating with Annoyance, and attempted to flee the Water, it could by no means escape, but was followed about by the Rain wherever it attempted to Hide.
"Merciful heavens!" quoth the fair Amelia. "What extraordinary Weather for this Time of the Year!"
"Indeed," quoth Seleta, "one would have expected Snow at such a Season as this. But only consider, Madam, how much this more temperate Form of Precipitation would have benefited our Crops, had we only thought to plant some within the previously arid Confines of our Parlour."
At this Time several of the more philosophical Ladies commenc'd a lively Discussion of the Merits of Seleta's Plan. One Lady in particular maintain'd, that with proper Management and the Conversion of the Bathing-chamber into a Green-house, we could raise our own Foodstuffs within three Years, and enter into a profitable Trade with the Rohirrim in less than a Decade. Most unfortunately the details of this utopian Scheme remain'd unsettl'd, for the Ladies could not agree, as to whether the sitting Area before the Fire should lie fallow in alternate Years, or else be planted in turn with Wheat, Barley, Turnips, and Clover. Yet before this important Dispute could be resolv'd, the learned Clarissa drew the Ladies' wandering Attention back to our present Circumstance.
"Alas, Ladies!" cried she, "I fear this sudden Storm is no natural Occurrence!"
"Madam, your Discernment is the Wonder of this and ev'ry other Age," Seleta declar'd, "and it is sure to be celebrated in Song and Story long after we are in our Graves."
"I know! I know!" quoth one of the younger Ladies, "'tis the Wrath of the Lord of Waters, striking down this fine Animal in Revenge for its Boldness in taking such a Familiarity with the Halfling's Person!"
"Indeed, my Dear," quoth Clarissa with a beneficent Smile upon her young Pupil, "you are correct. "And this plain Action of Ulmo before our very Eyes proves as well . . ."
At this Time Clarissa was unfortunately forc'd to pause in her philosophical Disquisition, for the Purpose of leaping to Safety. For the Goat had become increasingly discontent with its Lot, and ran hither and thither in a vain Attempt to flee the Wind, the Rain, and the alarming Flashes of Lightning wherewith it was plagu'd. It soon became Apparent, that while the Rain might bring about just those Improvements in our Domestick Oeconomy that many of the Ladies had propos'd, the Lightning could not by even the most sanguine among us be considered as in any way an Advantage. For quite apart from the most unflattering Glare it cast upon the Ladies' Complexions, it wrought Havoc amongst our few poor Possessions, shattering delicate Objets d'Art and starting small Fires whithersoever the Goat chanc'd to go.
Several of the Ladies impatiently propos'd that this inconvenient Animal be flung at once into one of the Baths; but Seleta insisted with great Urgency that this Plan would be impracticable, unless our Purpose was the immediate Parboiling of the Goat in a Conflagration that would doubtless kill us all. Yet we were sadly depriv'd of her learned Explanation of the basic Principles of Conduction, for the unhappy Object of this Debate made a Noise more like unto a Scream than any we had heard it make before. We saw to our Dismay, that the poor Creature had trodden upon a sharp Fragment of one the Vases it had broken in its mad Career thro' our Chamber.
Thus at last it paus'd from its Flight atop the roll'd-up Carpet. With a fierce Whiffle of Anger, it thrust its hind Leg forward and curv'd its elegant Neck back to meet the wounded Limb. But despite its best Efforts to Nibble the Obstacle away, we all of us could see a sharp Piece of Porcelain lodg'd in the Goat's hoof, where it could not but cause the Creature great Distress.
What success the Goat would have had, had it been left to pursue its Plan at Leisure, I know not; for a mighty flash of Lightning shot forth from the Cloud to a Point almost directly at its Feet. The startl'd Creature Sprang fourteen Feet in the Air at least, coming near to cracking its Head upon the Ceiling, and scamper'd to a Corner, where it curled on the Floor and bleated its Pain, the very Picture of uttermost Misery.
Let it not be said, Madam, that there were none among us so lacking in Charity and good Nature that we did not try to end the Creature's Agony: several Ladies and the fair Halfling himself endeavoured to approach it, but all were met with Glares and even Kicks so menacing that none dared come nigh the madden'd Animal. Even such benevolent but ineffective Attempts as these ended, however, when two or three Ladies on the other side of the Room emitted a loud Shrieking.
"The Carpet!" cried they. "It is unrolling!"
Alas, Madam! To this Point the Carpet had been quite unable to do more than roll most ineffectually about, bound up as it was with heavy Ropes. Yet by some dreadful Chance, when the Lightning had struck at the Goat's feet, the Ropes were burn'd quite away. Thus the Carpet's latest Bout of Rolling met with the Success that doubtless it long had dream'd of, and it plainly wish'd to seize this Opportunity to disgorge whatever Being had so long lain conceal'd within it.
At once some ten or eleven of the Ladies had the same thought: that the Halfling should once again be borne to Safety in the affectionate Arms of some one amongst themselves. Yet these benevolent Intentions were frustrated when the Halfling wav'd them away and bravely Advanced upon the Threat, first taking care to arm himself with the nearest Weapon that came to Hand. As this was but a Butter-knife, we many of us trembl'd for his Safety just as much as we admir'd his Courage. Naught could he do for the Moment, however, but watch and wait as the Carpet continu'd its relentless Advance.
"What will emerge from this strangely ambulatory Fabrick?" cried Amelia.
"Madam, I know not," quoth another Lady from the relative Safety of the back of the Room, "but I cannot but think it Fortunate, that the Pattern of the Carpet now slowly being reveal'd, matches so closely the decor of our other Furnishings."
Several other Ladies then join'd in the Praise of the attractive Invader, and indeed, Madam, the intricate Design was most Pleasing to the Eye. All the Ladies agreed that the Carpet must be of great Value, tho' several among 'em became involv'd in a Debate, as to whether its pattern of geometrical Shapes was more Characteristick of the Haradrim Designs of the last Century, or those of an even earlier Era. So eager were they to settle their Dispute, that they consulted several useful and curious Pattern-books in our Collection. Thus few among us were attending when at last the Carpet unroll'd completely, revealing what at first appeared to be a pile of old Clothes, intermingled with some battered Pots and Pans.
At length however the Clothes bestir'd themselves and stood, resolving into a Creature perhaps half the Height of a Man, one burden'd with a large Pack upon his Back, from which the Pots and Pans depended.
"Oh Sam!" quoth the fair Halfling, and all our Doubts as to the Identity of the Stranger vanish'd in a Moment. Those Ladies still immers'd in our Books look'd up in eager Surprise to examine this Paragon of whom we had heard so much.
Madam, the great Poets have sung of Beauty since the Morning of the World, and Beauty indeed stood before us, tho' perhaps of a Type somewhat less striking than what we had expected. We saw a sturdy Halfling, favor'd with brown-gold Curls somewhat muss'd by his late Confinement. In Body, he was bless'd with a pleasing Generosity of Flesh, one that endur'd even after a Journey of Considerable Hardship. His face was golden with the Sun and ruddy with Health and Spirits; his Nose was a pert lively kind of Snub, his Lips were a firm and shapely pink. And that, Madam, was at the Time the most that I thought might be said in his favour. Most of the Ladies were pleas'd to see the belov'd Friend of the fair Halfling now safe and sound among us. But I must confess that in these first Moments of our Acquaintance with Sam, some of us marvell'd that the surpassingly lovely Frodo should be so entranced by one who might best be call'd, in his own Country, a fine Lad.
This pleasant Addition to our Company look'd about him with some Wonder. Very rapidly his Eyes alighted upon the Goat, which had not in all this Time ceas'd its Bleats of Pain. Sam frown'd in some Concern. He set his Shoulders, and with a courteous "begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo," stepp'd off the Carpet and took the Butter-knife from his puzzl'd Master's Hand. Disregarding utterly the mysterious Cloud and its attendant Rain, Sam then strode to the Goat, and with a rapid and practic'd Motion remov'd the Fragment from its wounded Hoof.
All this took Place in utter Silence, apart from the grateful Bleatings of the Goat, and evidently the fair Halfling found this Silence just as difficult to bear as we did. "My dear Samwise!" cried he. "It is to me a Matter of both Surprise and Pleasure, the Depth of which is most difficult to express, to see that you have escap'd both the Horrors of the late Battle and the Uncertainties of a loathsome Captivity at the Hands of our Enemies."
To this eminently reasonable Remark, Sam at first made no Answer, but merely look'd at his Master with a doubtful Expression, one that could not be view'd as a sign of unqualified Approval. At the last, however, he spoke.
"Why are you talking so strange, Mr. Frodo?" quoth he. "You never used such long words afore. Leastways not unless you were reading from one of Mr. Bilbo's old books."
At this his Master looked quite out of Countenance. He glanced at the Ladies around the Room, and murmur'd as if abash'd, "Well, Sam, when in Rome . . ." (1)
"Aye," quoth his Companion, "it's roaming you've been doing too much of, begging your pardon. It won't do for you to go mixing with these foreign folk, Mr. Frodo. There'll be nothing but tears coming of it in the end, you mark my words, and . . ."
"Oh, Sam, I'm so very glad to see you," quoth Frodo, putting an abrupt End to this Tirade. For at the very Sound of his Master's warm Greeting, young Sam blush'd to the Tips of his Ears. Altho' his Looks were still stern, he could not hide a certain Softening about the Eyes, that spoke as clearly as any Words, of the Love that struggl'd with Duty in his loyal Breast.
It was at this Time, Madam, that I saw this Sam anew, and wonder'd if in my first few Moments in his Company I had been wholly blind. No, Madam: Sam was not, perhaps, exquisitely beautiful as the World reckons it. But there is a Beauty that the World does not know: a Beauty meant as a precious Gift for one Pair of Eyes alone. It is a Beauty of the Spirit that shines forth in even the most ordinary Face, at the touch of an extraordinary Love.
And so it was with Sam. For when his Master smil'd upon him, Sam's Face was transform'd, like an overcast Morning when a Ray of Sun breaks thro' the Clouds: a magic Influence that brings to Life the Land beneath, and changes in an Instant the sullen Masses of Hills into laughing Waves of green and Gold, rolling joyful toward the distant Line of the Horizon to join at last with the brilliant Sky.
I know not how it was, for neither Halfling seem'd the first to move, but somehow the Butter-knife in Sam's Grasp clatter'd to the Floor, and the Distance between him and his Master vanish'd; they took each other's Hands and stood looking one at the other in the Centre of the Room. All the Ladies smil'd in Sympathy upon the happy Pair; all, that is, save Seleta, who at that Time was for some Reason watching the Goat most closely. Indeed the Storms above the Head of this Animal seem'd to have subsided, and its Cloud now display'd a much lighter Shade of Grey than it had heretofore done. And a lucky Chance this was, for the rest of us were too occupied with observing the Halfling to attend to any further Damage this extraordinary Phenomenon might cause.
"Dear Sam," quoth the fair Halfing, clasping both of his Companion's Hands in his own, and bringing them close in his Chest, "how is't possible that you could for so long continue the Act of Respiration within a Carpet of so heavy a Weave?"
"Well, Sir," Sam return'd, "If you're asking how I could breathe, I can't say as I'd rather be in a carpet than on it. But it ain't half as bad Mr. Bilbo's old tales of barrels and such. And where there's a will there's a way, as my Gaffer always says."
At this the fair Halfling laugh'd. "However dark the Journey" quoth he, "a Way seems always to open before you. Without you I should be lost indeed." Slowly, as if not noticing what he did, he rais'd his Companion's Hands and lower'd his lovely Head to meet them.
It seem'd indeed as if the Restraint of so many Years would at that Moment be dissolv'd, and all Nature seem'd to celebrate this imminent Union; for a gentle flower-scented Zephyr floated across the Room, bearing sweet Birdsong on its Breath. Most of the Ladies were wholly absorb'd in the enchanting Spectacle presented by the two Halflings, but I saw that some, such as Seleta, took especial Note that this peculiar but delightful meteorological Manifestation seem'd to proceed from over the Head of the Goat, where the Cloud had now taken the Form of those fair-weather Puffs that sail, like a Vision of Heaven, thro' the blue Sky of the finest Mornings in Spring.
"Only observe, Madam," whisper'd one of the younger Ladies to her closest Friend, "'tis a Stratocumulus, as I hope to be sav'd."
"Nay, Madam," her Friend return'd, "'tis still a Cumulonimbus, do you not see . . ."
But her Observations abruptly ceased when Seleta gagged her by stuffing her Mouth with a large Pastry. Not a Moment too soon: for Frodo's dark Curls had fallen forward to brush his Companion's Fingers; his Lips nearly touch'd the warm rough Skin beneath them; and Sam look'd upon his Master with a fierce Devotion that could scarce be express'd in Words.
Yet at the last possible Instant the fair Halfling drew away. "No," murmured he, "the Risk is too great." He still clung to Sam's Hands, but push'd them from him till they were at arm's Length, as if the poor tormented Creature would not subject his Love to the Danger presented by a Kiss, yet could not, to save his Soul, bear to send him any further away than he could reach.
Madam, I hope you never see such Sorrow upon a human Face, as appear'd in Sam's at that Time. Yet the Expression disappear'd almost at once. "Don't you worry, Mr. Frodo," quoth he. "All's the same as it was before, no fear."
The fair Halfling responded with naught but a Smile, but a Smile so closely allied with Tears, as to speak of his Pain more clearly than if he had regal'd us all with an hour's Speech upon the Subject.
So sad was this Sight that the very Air rang with sound of Ladies blowing their Noses, and e'en the Cloud over the Goat commenced Drizzling in a most dismal Manner. I know not how many Handkerchiefs we Ladies would have gone thro' at this Time, had not Clarissa stepp'd forward. "Indeed, my dear Sir," quoth she, "you have nothing whatever to fear. For as I have endeavour'd to explain, on Occasions now too numerous to mention, what you style the Curse of Ulmo can have no Effect on your Sam."
"Madam," quoth the Halfling, half-turning toward her without releasing his Sam, "I yearn to believe you, but must confess that I see no Reason to do so. For you yourself have explain'd how the Doom of Ulmo fell upon me, on the unlucky Day when I rashly visited the Pool so clearly under that Vala's Dominion. Faced with the grand Design of such a Being, what signifies the Misery of one small Hobbit?"
"Sir!" Clarissa exclaim'd, "it is that very Design that guarantees your Happiness. For the Pool of which we are speaking was said, in the Tales of your People, to have the Power of granting Wishes: and that, my dear Sir, is precisely what has occurr'd."
"I cannot say," quoth the Halfling, with a quick Glance at Sam, "that the dearest Wish of my Heart hath once been realiz'd. I believe, Madam, that such a happy Event as you mention could not possibly have escap'd my Notice, had it occurr'd."
"Sir, this Wish may be realiz'd at any Time you please," quoth Clarissa, "tho' I must admit, that to this Point the Consequences of your Wishes have been neither expected nor welcome. For this Pool, so sacred to Ulmo, had the Power to provide what you wish'd for: no more and no less. In such a perilous Place, dear Sir, one must take the greatest imaginable Care, for one's Words will be one's Fate. 'Tis like attending an Auction of fine Art, where a single careless Word, if spoken out of Season, will condemn an innocent Bidder to a Purchase she by no Means intended to make. Thus instead of returning to her Home with some fair Picture or Tapestry, she would be burden'd with the most infernal of the Enemy's Inventions, viz., the Novelty Item: some foul Device, perchance, such as a Peppermill fashion'd after the Likeness of two Oliphaunts in the Act of Love, and inscrib'd with the dire Legend, Grinding maketh it Hot."
Several of the Ladies scream'd aloud at the very Mention of this aesthetic Horror, and one or two of the most sensitive among 'em closed their Eyes and recited some favourite Poem, the better to ward off the baneful Effects of the Enemy's most ghastly Form of Kitsch. "Madam!" cried Seleta, "Speak not of that Thing in this Place: 'tis the Chotchke of Doom!" (2)
The Halfling trembl'd and went Pale, and the Cloud over the Goat turn'd black; a fearsome roll of Thunder shook the Room. But Sam at once put a protective Arm about his Master's Shoulders and flung the other around his Waist, murmuring in his Ear some Words of Comfort we could not distinguish. With a most grateful Sigh the fair Halfling curl'd against him. And if this Weakness seems reprehensible in a Hero, I ask you this: who, Madam, would not seek such Shelter, when confronted, with no warning whatever, by an Image of Vileness such as Clarissa had just display'd before the Mind's protesting Eye?
Besides this, the Moment offer'd a most convenient Pretext for Intimacy, and while the Pretext may not have been entirely plausible, Love inquires not into Motives in such a Case. Thus they stood entwin'd, Frodo's Head resting upon Sam's Shoulder, and the Cloud once again sparkl'd in a Sunlight all its own.
Some of the Ladies, alas, failed to find Comfort quite so easily as this. "Madam," quoth the fair Amelia with Tears in her Eyes, "that was most uncall'd for."
"Let us hope," quoth the wise Clarissa, "that none will ever speak of this Thing again. Nonetheless I do not ask your pardon, for if the Halfling is to find Happiness we must put all Doubt aside that this Pool is indeed what the Wise have declar'd. Recollect, Sir, if you will," continued she, "the precise Words that you and your Sam spoke, when you stood by the Pool, and consider the extraordinary Congruence between each Wish and the subsequent Chain of Events. For the lad Sam wish'd first for your eternal Love, tho' in that familial Form by which he knew Love best: when he grew up, quoth he, you should be Married. But this bright Future was threaten'd by the sudden Advent of Ledo. Thus Sam further wish'd, Don't you touch him! he is Mine, and Mine only! He spake, 'tis true, with the innocent Fury of a Child who knew not what Heartache his Words would cause. But such Words, spoken in such a Place, could have only one Effect: to deprive you, at once and for ever, of the slightest Touch of another -- with the single Exception, when once a sufficient Number of Years had pass'd, of your faithful and adoring Sam."
A profound Silence greeted Clarissa's Words, as we all of us ran o'er the Halfing's Tale in our Minds, and realiz'd that it did indeed fulfill in every Particular the rash Wish young Sam had made. "Can it be?" whisper'd the Halfing, half-raising his Head from the sturdy Shoulder where it was nestled, his fair Brow furrowing in a peculiar Compound of Doubt, Bemusement, and Hope. "Can it truly be?"
"It can and must be," quoth Clarissa, "for it is will of Ulmo."
"But Madam," quoth Amelia, in a puzzl'd Tone, "what of the Captain? For he embrac'd the Halfling not three Hours ago, and the Curse of Ulmo hath not engulf'd him in its watery Dominion -- unless indeed he has since drown'd."
"Nay, Madam," quoth the young Lady who own'd the Elvish Device, "in such a tragic Case as the Captain's Death, one among us would certainly have receiv'd a Call informing us of the important Event." And to Seleta's great Dismay, all Order and Decorum were abandon'd, whilst fully a quarter of the younger Ladies withdrew from their Bosoms Devices of the same Kind, for the Purpose of checking their Messages. How loudly did their various Chirpings and Beepings rend the weeping Air! But the dread Report we so fear'd was nowhere to be found: for while one Lady was greatly distress'd to learn, that her Lover had chosen this Method to inform her that he wish'd in the Future to be Friends, no other Events of note had taken place.
"I rejoice to hear," cried Amelia, "that Osgiliath's Fountain of Rumour hath for this Evening subsided to a stagnant Puddle: for it can only mean, that the Captain hath kiss'd the Halfling, and quite thoroughly too, with utter Impunity."
"Perhaps," one Lady suggested, "Ulmo believ'd that the Captain was attempting to revive the injur'd Halfling by performing an impromptu Massage upon his Tonsils."
At this frank Description, which perchance exhibited all the natural Delicacy and Finesse of a Cave-Troll at a formal Dinner, the Halfling flush'd to the roots of his Hair, and Sam frown'd most severely. "My dears," quoth Clarissa hastily, "your Fears are Groundless: for this little Incident merely proves that Ulmo's Actions have preserv'd the Halfling from all Manner of amorous Encounters save one: those undertaken, at least in Thought, with Sam. For at the time when the Halfling kiss'd the Captain, he was quite lost in a Dream, and believ'd firmly that the Lover in his Phantasy was Sam. Contrariwise, when he suffer'd himself to be kiss'd by a worthy but misguided Goat, he half-suspected the Goat to be his Sam -- "
"And how you could think such a daft thing at all, Mr. Frodo, I'll never know in all my days," Sam mutter'd beneath his Breath, causing the Halfling in his Arms to enchant us all, by laughing breathlessly into his Lover's Chest.
" -- and yet when Matters came to Head," Clarissa continued, "the Halfling was quite rightly struck with Doubt. He permitted his Belief to waver, and thus the unhappy Goat hath, in the Prime of its Life, fall'n under a Cloud."
Most pitifully did the Goat bleat at this mention of its Misfortune, and some among us could not forbear feeling some Regret, that the Halfling's Concentration had thus falter'd during his Congress with this innocent and appealing Animal. But the partisans of the Captain could see a brighter Side. "How fortunate is this!" exclaim'd one of the younger Ladies. "It seems the Halfling is by no Means the universal Menace we have fear'd. For should you ever wish, my dear Sir, to preserve the Safety of a would-be Lover -- such as, to allude to an Instance entirely at Random, our gallant Captain: the Saviour of Gondor and a mighty fine Gentleman besides -- then all you need do, is to close your Eyes and think of Sam."
The Halfling star'd in Wonder at this Suggestion. "Just as I do in my Bath?" quoth he.
The Conversation at once came to a Halt as we gave to this Question the careful Consideration it deserv'd. "Indeed, Sir, we cannot say," quoth Amelia at length, "without knowing more of these Occasions; such as what you did, and what you thought, and for how long: whether, as you doz'd in the warm Water, quite alone in a silent House, you imagin'd Sam's Voice at your Side; whether the Kiss of this phantom Lover seem'd to tremble upon your Lips; whether you felt, in this enchanted State somewhere between Wakefulness and Sleep, a Touch drift across your Chest, pausing there to tease at each dark Circle of Flesh until you could scarce keep still; whether you gasp'd and buck'd and moan'd Sam's name as strong Hands at last plung'd downward and closed firm about you; whether you knew, or even car'd, if those Hands were real or a Dream as you writhed beneath their Ministrations; whether, in the Depths of a sweet Delirium that grew sweeter still with ev'ry Stroke, you . . ."
"Begging your pardon, miss," quoth Sam, "but you ask a great many questions, to my way of thinking." Without releasing his Lover, he glar'd up at Amelia. And Madam, at that moment I began to feel, that perchance the Halfling was not quite so unprotected on his perilous Journey thro' our Country as we all had fear'd. For the Fire in Sam's Eye declar'd him at once a Being whose Courage and Determination render'd his Stature a Matter of utter Irrelevance.
What great Deeds he might perform in the Future I knew not, but on this particular Evening, the bold Creature brought about an Event that I never had thought to see: he made Amelia blush. "I ask your Pardon, Sir," quoth she, making a Courtesy before him, "and can only say in my own Defence, that I spake but a single Sentence."
"And a mighty long sentence it was," quoth Sam. "Long enough for five or six sentences at home, I'll warrant, with a word or two left over to lend to a friend in need."
"But my dear Sir!" cried Amelia. "Some such Information, if perhaps not in such Detail, is essential in our present Crisis. Only then might we predict with any Certitude whether the Power of the Halfing's Phantasy hath been sufficiently strenghten'd by these useful Exercises to protect the Captain from the Consequences of any future amorous Experiment."
Several other Ladies at once concurr'd, on the Grounds that such an Investigation into the Halfling's Ablutions would do much to promote among us an Ethos of rational philosphick Enquiry. But just as the Halfling opened his Lips to oblige us, Sam mutter'd somewhat in his lovely Ear, and he laps'd at once into an obstinate Silence upon this Subject. He would say only, that the Curse had reduced his Existence to a mere Plaything of Fate, and he was most reliev'd to learn that it might by such a simple Means be brought under some Control.
"Indeed!" cried Clarissa, "'twould be shockingly impious to believe otherwise. For the Valar, my dear Sir, do not play Games with our Lives. What you call a Curse merely fulfils, as I recollect, a Wish of your own: and thus the Whole of this Matter may be said to depend entirely upon your own Will. You yourself, Sir, set out upon this Path with the very first Words you spoke by the Pool. For you ask'd, as I recollect, for Love: the Love of one Hobbit only. It was then that Sam appear'd, tho' in the unexpected -- and to a Lover, perchance disappointing -- Form of a Faunt. Can you say, Sir, that from that Time onward, you lack'd for an Instant the Love you had ask'd for?
In Response to this Question the Halfling directed a Look of earnest Inquiry at Sam, who despite the great Length of Clarissa's Explanation, and Amelia's Interruption, had fail'd to discover a convenient or appropriate Occasion to release his Master from his Embrace. Yet for some Reason Sam found it difficult to meet the fair Halfling's Eye at this Time. He blush'd profusely, and examin'd a most fascinating Spot upon the Carpet. At last he mutter'd some Words to the Effect, that he believ'd there to be at least fifty Ladies in the Room, and that this Number seem'd to him rather a large one: tho' what Relevance these Remarks had to Clarissa's simple and natural Question we none us could determine.
At Length the Halfling himself broke the awkard Silence that had descended. "Madam," quoth he, "for myself, all I can say is this: those are the very Words I spake, and I have ever after treasur'd Sam's Company as the greatest Blessing of my Life."
"My dear Frodo," quoth Clarissa. "You are not curs'd to loneliness. You are Sam's, and Sam's only, and thus shall you ever remain."
"With only a few trivial Exceptions," quoth the fair Amelia, "that do not signify; or at least, not much."
For some Moments we all of us stood in Silence and meditated upon this persuasive and welcome Interpretation of Events. All the Ladies sighed most deeply at the romantic Nature of the Tale. Even the Goat seem'd mov'd, tho' to great Sadness: it shiver'd beneath its Cloud, and gaz'd on the two Halflings like some lone Creature against whom the Gates of Paradise have just been clos'd. With one soft Bleat of Longing, it lower'd its hairy Head. Yet not once did it offer any Violence against its Rival, but merely hunker'd most unhappily upon the Floor: and by this submissive Action it seem'd to acknowledge that it hunker'd in the Presence of true Love.
As for the fair Halfling, he was still in Sam's Arms, and seem'd little inclin'd to stir or speak, lest he draw Sam's attention prematurely to the surprising Circumstance of their unusual Proximity. At the last, however, he sighed deeply, and rais'd his head, tho' he look'd not at Sam, but gaz'd most thoughtfully at an attractive Bookcase that happen'd to lie within his View.
"It seems," he observ'd, "that there are, perchance, fewer Obstacles to my Happiness than I have long believ'd."
Sam shifted from Foot to Foot, and he too seem'd absorb'd in the Study of domestic Furnishings, for he could not take his Eyes from a Writing-desk near at Hand. After a further Moment or two of agonized Silence, he clear'd his Throat, and said, "That may be."
At this, Frodo smil'd, and wasting no more Time -- for plainly quite enough Time had already been wasted -- he reach'd with his Hand and cupp'd Sam's chin, gently raising his Lover's Face until their Eyes met. Once again the gentle Zephyr I have previously noted filled the Air, and the entire Room was bath'd in the Fragrance of Flowers, but so great was the Happiness of the Lovers that they did not notice such trivial common-sense Matters as these.
No more did they notice the sudden Pounding on the front Door, tho' this Sound made all the Ladies and the e'en the Goat jump practically out of their Skins. No more did they attend in the slightest to the deep Voice from without, crying, "Open! In the Name of Captain Faramir!" Nay, Madam: so lost were they in a Dream of Bliss that they knew naught but each other.
"Perchance," quoth the fair Halfling, his soft Lips so close to Sam's, that the slightest Motion would bring them together, "there are no Obstacles at all?"
"Open this Door at once!" came Mr. Peters' indignant Voice thro' the Door. "'Tis Time for the Auction to begin!"
"Dear me," quoth the Halfling with a Start. "There is that."
"Oh, ----------," quoth Sam.
§ § §
Alas, my dear Madam! I am sure you must concur, that the fair Halfling had at this Time become entangl'd in a most unenviable Knot of Circumstance. Just as his Wait of two-and-thirty Years look'd near to its End, he was rudely summon'd to an Auction of his own Virginity. And to have such a Thing sold from underneath one, just as one trembl'd on the very Brink of giving it away, might vex even the gentlest Spirit.
Moreover, at that rapidly approaching Moment when he would be accosted by his most likely Purchaser, the Halfling would face a dreadful Choice. If he suffer'd the Curse of Ulmo to run its Course, then our most gallant Captain, the bulwark of our Nation against the Forces of Darkness, might be transform'd abruptly to a Trout, or to some such-like Being of Ulmo's realm. Now the natural Charm or Wit of such a Creature may be very great, but in a Battle with a Nazgul, or an Oliphaunt, or some fierce Chieftain among the Orcs, a Trout must be the Loser at least nine Times out of ten. For it is a remarkable Thing, Madam, how rarely Fish of any Kind have figur'd in the Annals of Military History, and by many Writers these Creatures have been dismiss'd as entirely pacific.
Yet if the Halfling avail'd himself of the Expedient suggested by the Ladies, and closed his Eyes and thought of Sam, he would preserve the Captain's Life at the Expense of his own Virtue, and surrender to Gondor the Faith and Trust he doubtless ow'd to Sam.
Which of these equally undesirable Paths the Halfling chose, must be the Theme of another Letter; and thus I beg of you, Madam, to possess your Soul in patience, for all your Questions will be answer'd in my next Missive. Many other Mysteries will be resolv'd therein, viz., how the Goat would endure its Life under a Cloud; whether the Halfling would indeed be sold; how much such a dazzling Creature might Cost; and not the least of all, why Mr. Peters insisted the Ladies open a Door, which he himself had earlier lock'd from the other Side.
Rest assur'd, my dear Madam, all shall be illuminated at the earliest possible Date. Please send my fondest Regards to your dear Mother, and be sure to give her the Box that will come with this Letter. This Parcel was sent to her by carrier Eagle from her native Country in the North, for her loving Relations have sent her two dozen bottles of that Vintage whose Fame has reach'd even to Gondor, viz., Old Winyards. And if, perchance, I found it necessary to sample some Two or Three of the Bottles, 'twas with the wholesome and virtuous Purpose of ensuring that their high Quality had been in no way affected by the the great Length of their Journey. In this, then, as in all other Matters I remain,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Notes to Letter the Fifth and a Half
1. Mrs. Cleland was here loosely translating the colloquial Dwarvish expression, "When in Lothlorien, be sure to bring a harness and plenty of lubricant." No doubt she felt the original Khuzdul might be offensive to her contemporary genteel, quendiphilic readership. Back to story.
2. The Sindarin name for the invention of the Enemy known in Westron as the Knick-Knack of Doom. This weapon, not mentioned by Professor Tolkien, sheds considerable light on Sauron's military strategy and economic policy, both of which were surprisingly advanced for his time. The Chotchke was particularly useful against the Elves, who on seeing it in the field of battle would fling themselves to the ground and weep uncontrollably, where they would of course be slaughtered by Orcs. The Orcs not only were immune to the Chotchke, but rather liked it, and they considerably boosted Barad-dur's economic stability by buying cheap reproductions of it in the thousands. The Elves wished to have all use of the Chotchke classified as a war crime under the terms of the Rivendell Convention, but Orcs taken as prisoners of war would insist under interrogation that the Chotchke was "cute," that their captors were "too bloody sensitive," and that Elves in general were "a bunch of drama queens who can't take a joke." Sauron's experiments in this brilliant form of aesthetic warfare were unfortunately brought to a premature conclusion by his defeat, but his work in the field might serve as an example to military strategists today. Back to story.
Letter the Fifth and Three-quarters
Minas Ithil, 30 Yavannie, Fourth Age 65
I thank you, Madam, for your three-and-fifty Letters; your great Passion for the Arts is evident in the mere Fact that you should find in your Day so much Time to implore others to Write. But alas! greatly as I love to indulge in experimental literary Forms, I must declare myself utterly incapable of adopting the narrative Strategy you propose: viz., to answer, within the confines of a single Page, your Questions on the outcome of the Tale.
Only consider, Madam, how very many Questions you included in your seventeenth Letter only. For you ask'd, would the fair Halfling find Happiness in the Arms of his dearly-lov'd Sam? Or would he be sold at Auction to Captain Faramir, in a surprising and possibly unwelcome Development? Would he surrender his Virginity to the same, immolating his Virtue in the Flames of the Captain's Desire? Would he tremble within the Captain's Embraces? Restrain a Cry and bite upon his Lip as the Captain sought to Ease the Passage of Love by first giving that Pleasure he sought to receive? Shudder, in combin'd Fear and Fascination, at the unexpected Strength that this courteous Gentleman fully unleash'd only on the Battlefield and the Bed of Passion? And thro' all this, would he succeed in preserving the gallant Captain from the dire Effects of the Curse of Ulmo, by thinking all the while only of his Sam?
Madam, you greatly overestimate the Power of Language, if you think so much Matter may be compress'd into so short a Space as you propose. To illustrate this Point, I shall answer as briefly as possible the Question that doubtless is the most urgent: viz., if a Halfling should at any Time be put on Sale, how much would such a Creature cost? Surely any Lady wishing to live within the Bounds of Frugality will pine for Illumination on this Point.
Yet even in a Case as simple as this, I find myself unable to oblige you without the greatest Difficulty. For so complex was the System of Currency in Use at that Time, that most Historians have despaired of communicating the details of even the simplest Transaction. Many a learned Writer has simply omitted all Mention of Trade: but if I took this Course, the Solid Core of my Meaning would be sublimated to mere airy Nonsense. I shall therefore proceed, indicating Monetary Amounts by the perhaps unsatisfactory Expedient of vague Approximations. I can only hope that you will pardon this Liberty in the interest of moving the Tale along at a reasonably rapid Pace: for there is Nothing, dear Madam, more repellent to the Genius of Narrative than an unnecessary Explication upon Matters of Finance.
-- But to my Tale. At the Conclusion of my previous Letter, Mr. Peters was pounding most vigorously upon the Door, and insisting that the Auction of the Halfling's Virginity begin at Once. Most dismay'd were we all at the Thought that he might enter and discover in our Chamber one Halfling more that might be subjected to his arbitrary Power.
Yet so pleas'd were the Halflings in their new-found Happiness, that they attended to their Danger not at all, and stood as in a Trance, helpless: like unto a forest Deer that knows naught of the ravenous Wolf lurking nigh; or the innocent Child who knows naught of the wicked Uncle scheming to steal his Inheritance; or the oblivious Lady who knows naught of the rapacious Adware tracking her ev'ry Step.
"Ladies!" cried Mr. Peters, and so Loud was the Pounding now, that we easily deduced he must be kicking at the Door with all his Strength. "Have you no Courtesy? Have you been depriv'd of the Use of your Legs? Have you lost utterly your Grasp upon financial Reality?"
At the Mention of the pecuniary Foundation of this most recent Threat, the Halfling seem'd abruptly to come to his Senses, and with some Difficulty he disentangl'd his Limbs from his Lover's. "Sam!" cried he. "Conceal yourself at once! It is bad enough that my Virginity must be sold, but my Captor hath declar'd not half an Hour ago, that he would happily sell another Halfling if he could."
"Now, see here, Sir," quoth Sam, pulling Frodo toward him with great Force, "it seems to me, if you don't mind my saying so, that there's two or three windows in this room. With some time and a good bit of rope, we might . . ."
"Alas!" cried one of the younger Ladies station'd beside the Windows, "the Alley without is quite full of the Captain's Men."
"My dear Sir!" quoth Amelia, "many Things might be accomplish'd with Time and Rope, as we learn in the amorous Treatises of the Dwarves: but Rope we have none, nor Time either, for the Door may be shatter'd at any Second. All we may now do is conceal your Person as best we can from Mr. Peters, trusting that we shall have some early Opportunity to plead your Case before the Captain." And she put her Hands firmly on Sam's Shoulders, in an Attempt to drag him to Safety, but to her obvious Surprise he remain'd as immovable as a Boulder.
"Begging your pardon," quoth he, "but I'm thinking a good stout drainpipe would do just as well as rope, and quicker too. These Men may be a sight bigger than is good for them or us, but they're naught but great clumsy creatures in the dark, to my way of thinking. We might escape those men outside if we're quick and quiet, but we surely won't if we stay here. It's not sense, Mr. Frodo."
"Open the door!" Mr. Peters all but scream'd, and so Loud was the Sound of his Kicks, that we fear'd he would break the very Room to Pieces.
"Sam!" cried Frodo in a most urgent Tone, pushing his Lover away once more, "I beg of you, I care nothing for my own suffering: and amid so many great Men much accustom'd to Violence, I am forc'd to conclude that my immediate Sale is the sole Way we might preserve our Lives and thus continue on our Quest. But I could not bear to see you put in Danger, and your Danger would be much greater than my own. I am shielded from a sudden Assault by the Curse of Ulmo . . ."
"But my dear Sir!" protested one of the younger Ladies, "you surely would not doom our gallant Captain to a watery End, when it lies within your Power to do otherwise, by fixing the Idea of your Sam firmly in your Mind whilst you suffer the Captain's embraces?"
" I have for many Years held it as a most sacred Maxim," cried the Halfling, eyeing the shuddering Door with great Trepidation, "that none other, nay, even a Creature as vicious as my Cousin Blotho, should suffer for my Curse as long it was in my Power to prevent it; and yet now that such Power lies in my Hands, I confess that I know not what it might be best to do in such a Circumstance . . ."
"Hang the curse, and give the man a good hard kick where it hurts the most, I'll warrant," mutter'd Sam.
". . . but I do know we must make haste. For you, my dearest Sam, have no Protection from these Men whatever: and there is besides one greater cause of Fear. If this Mr. Peters believes he could obtain a good Price for me, only consider how much more implacably greedy he would become, when faced with the prospective Sale of a Hobbit who is truly beautiful."
"Mr. Frodo . . ." Sam began, but whatever Observation he might have made died upon his Lips, when he work'd out the Implications of his Master's Words as they applied to the Loveliness his own Person. His Shock was so great, that for a few crucial Moments he was struck near Senseless, and so severely did he blush at this Time that he resembl'd nothing so much as a Hobbit-sized Cherry.
This near-fructified State left him vulnerable to the kind-hearted Amelia, who at once seiz'd her Advantage and dragg'd him to a dark Corner of the Room. There three other Ladies held him fast, whilst, to my great Surprise and Dismay, another drew a silk Scarf from her Bosom and bound his Wrists to a large Bureau, declaring over his Protests that this Imprisonment was for his own Good and for that of his Master. 'Tis true that a more effectual hiding Place was not to be had within the Confines of our Chamber, for when these Ladies stood before him he was safely conceal'd by their Skirts from prying Eyes. Yet I must confess, Madam, that these particular Ladies were great Partisans of the Captain, and other Reasons may have lurk'd in their Hearts besides the blameless and charitable Sentiments upon their Lips.
Before this questionable Method of protecting Sam could be made a Topic of Debate, the Pounding upon our Door redoubled, and at the frantic Urgings of Clarissa, the rest of us at once did all in our Power to seem engag'd in our usual Pursuits: some Ladies took out Books, others their Pens; some brought out Easels and Paint, others musical Instruments, whilst around a large Table a number of Ladies commenc'd a game of Poker.
The Goat lurk'd in his Corner, his Cloud once again dark with the Promise of impending Rain. Meanwhile the poor Halfling was left standing alone in the Centre of the Room as before, to gather his Courage as best he could, and by the set of his Shoulders we could easily see, that at ev'ry moment he struggl'd not to turn and look toward the Corner where Sam lay conceal'd.
"Ladies," quoth Mr. Peters from without, and his Voice was now rough with Anger, "I am waiting; and the Captain's Men will break this Door down at once, if you do not open it forthwith."
"Alas, my dear Sir!" cried Seleta, raising her Head from the Album of erotic Postcards in which she had suddenly become absorb'd. "I fear that we lack the Means to grant your polite Request."
"And what, Madam," cried Mr. Peters, could you possibly lack, in a Bower so luxurious as to make the fam'd Pleasure-Palaces of Khazad-Dum seem as Mean as a Shepherd's Cot?"
"I refer, Sir," quoth she, "to the Key; for as you surely must recollect, earlier this Evening you lock'd us in our Chambers from the Outside. Thus no matter how greatly we wish to oblige you, we could no more open this Door, than we could adorn one of the Nazgul's fell Beasts in an evening Gown and Tiara, and train it to recite Free Verse whilst its dark Master accompanied it upon the Bongos."
Many of the Ladies express'd considerable Regret that the fell Beasts could not be made useful in this Way, but we had no Leisure to discuss the Merits of Seleta's plan. For the Sound of a determin'd Jingling of Keys issued from without the Door, and at last Mr. Peters enter'd, red-faced and panting. We all assum'd his first Thought would be for the Halfling, but no such Thing occurr'd. Slamming the Door behind him, he strode to Seleta and stood before her, Eyes flashing, his Hands planted firmly upon his Hips, his bare Feet (for this Gentleman always walked unshod) spread akimbo. In short, Madam, he was the very Picture of trembling Indignation, and we all of us quail'd before his Wrath.
"Madam," quoth he, speaking to Seleta, "I would have you know, that I knew the Door to be lock'd the whole Time; I merely wanted to see whether you Ladies were paying Attention."
"Sir," quoth she, "we always do. And should there be any further such Inconsistencies in your Actions, you may rest assur'd, that we shall be the first to call them to your Notice."
Mr. Peters harrumphed doubtfully at this, as if he were perchance not entirely grateful for the Privilege. "Madam," quoth he with a Frown, "I know it is your Habit, to insert any little Incidents as come to your Attention into some fanciful sort of a Tale. What you do with your Time is of course your own Affair, but I only hope that if this Episode should figure in any future Tale of yours, you would be so good as to give a complete Account of my Motives in this Matter."
"Sir," quoth she, calmly turning a Page in her Album, "my sole Wish is ever to oblige you, but such a protracted Explanation would utterly disrupt the Pacing of my Narrative."
"Harpstrings of Felagund! Madam, would you have me look an utter Fool?"
"I assure you, my dear Sir," quoth she with a Smile, "that I shall return to the Matter at greater Length in an extended Edition of my Tale, to be publish'd at some indefinite future Date, perchance a Decade or two after the happy Conclusion of this War."
And with this Answer Mr. Peters was forc'd to be content, tho' he plainly found it little to his liking. He mumbl'd some Words to the Effect, that by the distant Time propos'd, the Story would be forgot, all the Principals in their Graves, and his Reputation in Ruins among those few Persons who continued to give Thought to the Matter.
What further Observations he might have made I know not, for from behind him there came yet more Pounding upon our much-abus'd Door. "Halls of Mandos!" he exclaim'd. "That will be the Captain."
"Sir," quoth Clarissa, "'tis most urgent that I speak with the Captain before he proceeds on this rash and dangerous Course: for if he once touches the Halfling in the way of Love, I cannot answer for his Safety."
"Madam!" cried Mr. Peters, stopping dead in his Tracks, "you do mean to tell me, that this Creature hath somehow become infected with the Elvish Disease?" (1)
"Nay, Sir, certainly not," quoth Clarissa with a shudder, "that Danger, at least, is one from which a Being wholly innocent of amorous Congress must be entirely preserv'd."
"Then I fail to see," quoth Mr. Peters, "what possible Danger can be presented to the greatest Soldier in Gondor, by a Creature arm'd with naught but Beauty and a prodigious Appetite."
"But Sir -- " quoth Amelia.
"Bells of Valmar!" cried Mr. Peters. "Will there never be an End to your Chatter? Make yourself useful, Ladies, and fetch some Refreshment for our Guests, if indeed any Refreshments remain after the Inroads this rag-tag Creature hath made into our Supplies. As for you --" and here he swept the surpris'd Halfling up into his Arms, "you must be plac'd where you can properly be seen." With that he strode across the Room, puffing with the unaccustom'd Effort, and heav'd the Halfling atop the Table where the Ladies had been playing their Game, scattering their Decks of Cards and Flagons of Brandy in ev'ry Direction.
As several of the younger Ladies scrambl'd to provide the Foodstuffs Mr. Peters had requested, Clarissa seem'd prepar'd to make some additional Remark, but Mr. Peters silenced her with a Wave of his hand. "Now you Ladies must suffer this Auction to proceed without further Complaint," he declar'd, "and compose your Souls to a just Sense of the Gratitude you owe to this House. Only consider what Luxuries are provided for you here: your own richly furnish'd Chamber, your own Books, your own Foodstuffs: even -- " added he, with a sidelong Glance at the Goat and its attendant Cloud, "-- your own Weather, tho' it lies beyond the Comprehension of a simple Man such as myself, what Use you Ladies can find for such a Thing."
"Sir," quoth Clarissa, "this Goat . . ."
"Sir," quoth Amelia at the same Instant, "our agricultural Oeconomy . . ."
"Ladies!" cried Mr. Peters, gazing beyond them with a most shock'd Expression. "Look there, in the Bathing-chamber, as I hope to be sav'd! 'Tis the Prince of Mirkwood himself, engag'd in amorous Congress with the Sons of Elrond and a most Noble Stallion! I wonder what they intend to do with that Rope?"
With a mutual Gasp of Surprise, these two Ladies rush'd at once to the Bathing-chamber to investigate this extraordinary Phenomenon. But alas for their innocent and trusting Natures! No sooner had they pass'd thro' the Door, than Mr. Peters slamm'd it shut, and lock'd it fast against them!
We were all of us much distress'd that Mr. Peters would take such a violent and deceptive Course, not to mention disappointed that the Rumour he had started was quite untrue. But he seem'd satisfied with his own Actions. "That's two dealt with!" he declar'd. "As for you," he added, turning to Seleta, "spare me your Sarcasms, for I can recite 'em myself. Doubtless you are just about to say, that you are appall'd to see your two Friends so unjustly imprison'd."
"Quite the Contrary, Sir," quoth she. "To my Mind, their sudden Confinement in a Room of sybaritic Luxury is but a small Price to pay for extending Credit to a Ruse that should not have fool'd a new-born Lamb."
To this Observation Mr. Peters responded with a Snort that may or may not have been a Laugh. "Madam," quoth he, "may I depend upon your Silence in this Matter?"
"Sir," quoth she, "I had no Plan to give a Speech on this particular Evening."
For some Reason Mr. Peters did not seem eager to accept this innocent Statement at its face Value. "Madam," quoth he, "if I hear one single Word from you this Night, I assure you, that I shall lock you in a Room alone, tie you to a Chair, and there, over a Period of several Days, read to you aloud an Epic in Verse I have myself compos'd, on the immortal Subject of Tort Reform."
At these dreadful Words the Ladies moan'd with Terror, and all the Colour drain'd from Seleta's Face. Her Expression was a Mask of Fear, and we all of us could easily see, that e'en a Spirit as wild as her own might be cow'd by the Threat of bad Poetry.
A Gentleman of Mr. Peters' Profession could not long flourish, without being an astute Student of human Nature, or at least of those two harsh Masters that so oft hold our better Qualities in Thrall: viz., Desire and Fear. He thus satisfied himself from Seleta's Looks, that she would do naught to oppose him. With one last Glare of Warning at the rest of us, he hurried to the Door, and flung it open at last.
The Hall without was throng'd with Soldiers, but these were order'd to stand Guard outside our Chamber, permitting the Auction to proceed undisturb'd. Thus the two Gentlemen who first enter'd were Bidders invited by Mr. Peters, and at that Time scarce known to us; for our House was fam'd for its Gentility and Decorum, whereas these Gentlemen, if Gentlemen they could be call'd, would not in the ordinary Way find at our House a hospitable Reception. For they belong'd to those Dregs of Humanity that sometimes gain Prominence in a Country long at War. The first was the Master of a Gambling-House on the other Side of the City: the Kind of Human Vampire who Feeds upon the Credulity of the very Soldiers engag'd to defend his Country, robbing them of what poor Pay they receive at the Risk of their very Lives.
As to the other, he was an Attorney.
Behind these two Creatures came the Captain, who would at first by no Means suffer himself to be led to a Seat at the Table, but hesitated long upon the Threshold of our Chamber. Our first Thought, upon seeing him, was that ev'ry Hour since he had left our Chamber was writ upon his Face like Years; faint blue Shadows could be trac'd beneath his Eyes, and his normal Glow of Spirits seem'd much subdu'd. He would not meet the Gaze of any Lady in the Room, nor would he speak to his strange Companions. For these Men plainly had ne'er enjoy'd the Captain's Company until summon'd to this Auction. In Short, the Captain appear'd even more distant than before, and far from anticipating the Auction with Delight, he seem'd dismay'd by the Place, the Persons, and the Occasion.
Yet his grim Mien suffer'd another Transformation when he chanced to raise his Eyes and see the Halfling standing upon the Table: a slow Flush spread across his Face, like unto the dim red Flare of Dawn louring sullen beneath the heavy Clouds of a winter's Morning. At this Sight we none of us doubted longer that the only Spell he lay under was that cast by the Halfling's Beauty. Slowly he drifted toward the Table, as if he were being pull'd by strong Ropes; and the whole Time he fix'd his Gaze upon the Halfling, scarce taking a Moment to glance at the Chair he was offer'd and sink into his Seat. He then press'd his Lips together and turn'd his Attention to the Floor. Yet his Resolution would not hold: he could not forswear all Thought of the dazzling Object above; and thus beneath lower'd golden Lashes his piercing Eyes rose to regard the Halfling steadily.
As for the Halfling, he endur'd his Situation with the Courage one might have expected; the ogling of the Gambling-master and the Attorney he regarded not at all, but the attentive Gaze of the Captain seem'd to trouble his bright Spirit; he met the Captain's Eyes and frown'd, as if not quite certain of the Nature of what he saw. And Madam, it seem'd to me of a Sudden, as the one regarded the other fully and at Leisure for the first Time, that in these Faces so very different there was nevertheless a strange Likeness, not of Feature, but of Manner. For a Moment I found myself feeling some Sympathy with those Ladies, who felt the Captain not wholly unworthy of the Loveliness he desir'd.
To this Interchange the other Members of Company seem'd utterly oblivious. "Welcome, Gentlemen, all!" cried Mr. Peters, bustling round the Table to distribute the few poor Refreshments we Ladies had been able to supply upon such short Notice: viz., several Bottles of a fine full-bodied Wine, a roast Leg of Lamb well season'd with Rosemary, a mix'd green Salad dress'd with savory Oil, and a large Basket of Crumpets serv'd with sweet cream Butter and Honey. The Gambling-master and the Attorney rooted most eagerly thro' ev'ry Dish set before them. Yet despite the repeated Urgings of his Host, the Captain took only a Glass of Wine and a single Crumpet.
"Well then, Peters," quoth the Gambling-master, leering up at the Halfling with his Mouth quite full, "you promis'd us a Marvel, and I cannot say that you lied."
The Attorney speared a Slice of Lamb and tore off a large Chunk with his Teeth, twirling the gnaw'd Remainder absently upon his Knife as he chew'd. "Indeed," quoth he, "you have found a tempting Morsel for us. Were it widely known that such Creatures could be found wandering in the Wilds of Ithilien, methinks the good Captain's Soldiery would rid our Country of the Enemy in Three Days, so eager would they be to hunt down more such tender Bits at their Leisure." Most gleefully did he cackle at this Plan, whilst the rich Juices of the Meat dribbl'd down his Chin.
For his Part, the Captain offer'd no Commentary upon this Remark: not once did he tear his Eyes from the Halfling or in the least Respect stir from his Place. Yet with a Flourish too rapid for the untutor'd Eye to follow, he drew his Weapon, snagg'd a Napkin on the Point of his Sword, and held it to the Attorney's Throat. "Sir," quoth he in a Tone of even Courtesy, "permit me to present you with this curious Accessory, one commonly to be Found at the Tables of the well-bred; you may find it useful at present."
An awkward Silence ensued, for the Captain's Action, while ostensibly undertaken in the blameless Spirit of Civility and good Will, was nevertheless as terrifying as aught we ever had seen. The Sword glitter'd in the Candlelight; Mr. Peters stood back upon his Heels; the Attorney trembl'd like an ill-set Pudding in a strong Wind.
"Sir," quoth Mr. Peters at last, in a Voice less Steady than usual, "will you have some Sweetening with your Crumpet?" Without waiting for an Answer, he held forth a large Container for the Captain's taking, and tho' the Captain succeeded in accepting this Offering in his left Hand whilst retaining his Sword with his right, he could hardly, in a polite Company, retain a threatening a Posture when encumber'd with a large Jar of Honey.
Thus Peace was restor'd: the Attorney pluck'd the Napkin from the Captain's Sword and tuck'd it beneath his Chin like a Bib, while the Captain, still gazing deep in the Halfling's Eyes, with a Flick of his Wrist flipp'd his mighty Weapon end over end and sheathed it completely a single smooth Motion. The Halfling took a deep Breath, as if there were not enough Air to be had in the Room, but did not otherwise move or speak.
No doubt Mr. Peters felt that the Moment was a propitious one to begin the Business of the Evening, for he struck smartly at a Glass with his Fork. "Gentlemen!" cried he, "You see before you a Commodity so rare that its Like is not to be had in all of Gondor."
"'Never a truer Word was spoken," quoth the Gambling-master, "for there's been neither Hide nor Hair of a Virgin in Osgiliath for these Five Years and More, unless you count the Captain's bay Gelding, and mighty miserly has the Captain been with the Favours of that Animal, eh, Captain?"
At this polite Sally the Attorney snorted into his Wine, but as the Captain said Nothing, Mr. Peters seem'd to think it safe to proceed.
"Observe," quoth he, "the supreme Loveliness of this Creature, a Halfling of the North, a Creature of Legend mysteriously made real before our Eyes. Observe, Gentlemen, his Hair: how it curls, like . . . like . . . like Hair, like . . . indeed, I cannot say what it is like, for I have not the poetical Talents of some of the Ladies in my Employ. Perhaps one of them would care to provide a Description so crucial to the Interests of this House?"
At this Time he look'd hopefully from one Lady to the next, but not one seem'd dispos'd to accept his Offer; the Silence at his Words was so heavy with our Disapproval, that it seem'd to weigh upon the very Air. When after a few Moments it became clear that the rhetorical Burden rested squarely on his own Shoulders, Mr. Peters continued as best he could. "Observe," quoth he in a determin'd Tone, "his Eyes, which are" -- and here he paus'd to take a closer View of these Organs than he had hitherto done -- "which are blue; his skin, which is white, or rather primarily white, except for those Parts which are pinkish."
"Those are the best Parts," quoth the Gambling-master, "and I would see more of them."
"No additional Views of the Merchandise will be permitted," Mr. Peters declar'd, "until the Initial Bids have been made; I will not have such rare Goods paw'd over by those who have no Intention of making a Purchase."
"As to that," quoth the Attorney, "we can all see he's a pretty Creature enough. I'll start the Bidding and gladly too, just for the Sake of a closer Look." With that, he nam'd a Price, and one so high, that despite his tone of Nonchalance, he clearly meant to assert his Position as a serious Contender for the Prize.
You may evolve, Madam, some Idea of the Size of the Attorney's Bid, if you only consider how much a Customer might have paid to purchase ev'ry Lady and Youth in the House each Evening for five Years. The Gambling-master frown'd, and as for Mr. Peters, his Eyes widen'd, he stagger'd upon his Feet, and he was forc'd to cling to a nearby Chair for Support, so greatly did this first Bid exceed his Hopes. Nay, were Cupidity made Flesh and granted the Power to dream, and were he to drowse contented all the Day long upon a golden Throne, e'en he could scarce indulge such a Vision of Wealth as the Attorney dangl'd before us.
Thus provok'd, Mr. Peters could not prevent himself from emitting a sharp Yodel of Joy. This extraordinary Sound did much to preserve the Safety of the Company, for it detracted Attention from a Noise of frantick Struggling in the Corner where Sam was conceal'd, as well as a persistent Rattle at the Door of the bathing-Chamber, where Clarissa and Amelia evidently were engag'd in a bold Attempt to pick open the Lock. So loud was the Din from these Places that surely the Captain, a Soldier train'd to note the slightest Hint of Danger, would surely have notic'd them, were it not for Mr. Peters' fortuitous Cry as well as a Roll of Thunder from the Cloud over the Head of the Goat.
This last Phenomenon drew the Attention of all the Bidders, who regarded the Goat in Silence; the Attorney started in his Chair, while Captain Faramir rais'd an Eyebrow and turn'd his Gaze from the Halfling at last to regard the Goat most closely. Only the Gambling-master seem'd determin'd to take no particular Notice. "It looks like Rain," he remark'd, picking his Teeth with his Nails.
"Mr. Peters," quoth the Captain, "I hope you have not been experimenting with the Deceptions of the Enemy."
"Never, my dear Sir!" Mr. Peters exclaimed. "'Tis merely a new Dwarvish Device, one enabling a universal Lubrication in the Event of a sudden Orgy. I am grieved to say," he added, with a Smile at the Gambling-master, "that my Dwarvish Friends have made it available exclusively to Customers at my House: else, Sir, I should surely share the Secret with rival Establishments such as yours."
The Gambling-master merely sneer'd at this meaningless Courtesy. "Oh, we do well enough with ordinary Games of Chance," quoth he, "and need no Dwarvish Vices to turn an honest Profit in this City. It's I who can help you, Peters, by taking this straggling Creature off your Hands, since you plainly can ill afford his Maintenance yourself." And with that he nam'd a Price a third again Higher than the Attorney's.
All the Ladies gasp'd at once to hear such an Amount name'd, and Mr. Peters was for a Time quite bereft of Speech. As for the Attorney, he scowl'd fiercely at seeing his Prey thus snatch'd from his Hands. "You, Sir," quoth he, "are not the only one in this City with the Wit to find Prosperity in these lean Times." With that he slamm'd down his Glass, and tripled the Gambling-master's Price.
Mr. Peters let out Sound very like the Scream of a slaughter'd Deer, and so great was his Emotion, that he collaps'd upon a Couch, where several Ladies administer'd to his fainting Spirits by fanning his fever'd Brow and offering him a Glass of Brandy, which he down'd in a single Gulp of Disbelief. Once again a roll of Thunder shook the room; the Door to the Bathing-chamber rattled frantically, and the Bureau to which Sam had been ty'd rock'd so fiercely that it seem'd like to tip over. The Gambling-master glanc'd at the Cloud and shifted most uncomfortably about: but the Captain did Nothing, behaving as one perfectly unconcern'd with the Auction's Outcome.
"I believe," quoth the Attorney triumphantly, shouting over the Thunder to make himself heard, "that the Halfling is mine; for my Friend here -- " and he indicated the Gambling-master with a disdainful Wave of his Hand, "--hath only such Wealth as he has skimm'd from the poor Remains of common Soldiers' Pay. As for the Captain, he is of a mighty House, but all Gondor knows how little his Father thinks of him. He is thus naught but a mere private Soldier, and it is out of the Question that such a Person should have enough ready Money at his Disposal to cut a Figure at an Auction such as this. I am surpris'd, Mr. Peters, that you permitted him to attend; and I demand to know at once whether he will bid or no, since you have told us we are to see nothing more of the Merchandise until all who have wish'd to bid have done so."
"Nay," quoth the Captain.
We all waited in Suspense for him to elaborate upon this succinct Remark, but he remain'd Silent, staring at some invisible Point perhaps three or four Feet from where he sat.
"Nay?" quoth the Attorney at last. "Nay what? Nay, you have the money to bid, or Nay, you have it not?"
"Sir," cried one of the younger Ladies, "you have by no Means exhausted the logical Possibilities. For your Statement contain'd many Parts to which the Captain may be responding in the Negative. He may have meant: Nay, a Soldier can bid at an Auction; or Nay, the Gambling-master hath some other source of Wealth; or Nay, Mr. Peters set out no such Rule for the Bidding; or Nay, the Captain's Father loves him dearly . . ."
"Silence, Girl," quoth the Attorney, "you know not of what you speak, particularly in that last Matter."
"Sir, 'tis true," cried she, "we know it to be the Case; for the Captain's Brother, who oft frequented this House, hath many Times told us so . . ."
"Peters," snapp'd the Attorney, "you must teach your ---------s to hold their Tongues; no one likes to hear a ---------- chatter as he ----------s her."
We all look'd at Mr. Peters, who in the Past had never permitted a Customer to make such a Remark in the House, but he merely stirr'd and look'd most unhappily at the Captain; while the Girl, who was no older than Sixteen, hung her Head and drew back to the Comfort of her Friends.
The Captain rose at last, causing the Attorney to sit back in Fear; but the Captain merely pour'd another Glass of Wine, walk'd to the Girl, and presented it to her with a Bow. "I meant," quoth he, turning back to the Table, "that there is in this very Room enough Wealth to make me a Bidder if I so choose, for the Spoils of Battle you see stor'd here, are worth more than all the Attorneys in this City put together."
At this Time Mr. Peters made the sort of Moan that we Ladies were accustom'd to hear from a Man under different Circumstances entirely: he shudder'd and wheez'd; his Face ooz'd Sweat from ev'ry Pore; his Eyes were glaz'd and slightly cross'd. Greatly we fear'd that this excess Stimulation would be more than his weak Faculties might bear, and totter his Reason from its already somewhat shaky Throne.
To all among us it seem'd that the next Instant would bring the Bid that would send the trembling Mr. Peters into the uttermost Empyrean of fulfill'd Avarice, as well as condemn the Halfling to at least one Evening in the Captain's Arms. But before the Captain could name his Price, a clear Voice spake into the Silence, and to our Surprise we realiz'd that 'twas the Halfling himself. "Sir," quoth he, addressing the Captain, "that Money, I believe, is not yours to spend. 'Tis held by you in the publick Trust: or it should be, if the mighty Gondor of which I have heard so much is govern'd by those Principles of Justice that it claims to defend."
The Captain strode toward his bold Interlocutor and stood before him with folded Arms; the Halfling stood his ground, or rather his Table, meeting the Captain's fierce Glare without in the least Flinching. "So," quoth the Captain, "it seems that you can speak, tho' your Words perchance are not so Fair as your Person. Tell me, Halfling, would you prefer to be purchas'd by one of these Gentlemen here? If so, I instantly quit all Title to you."
"Mind him not, Sir!" cried Mr. Peters; "'tis against all Order and Decorum for a mere Item such as himself to Dictate the Price to be paid for him; only fancy what Chaos would ensue if this Privilege were extended to a Joint of Beef or a Bolt of Cloth. Such a Practice would create such uncertainty among Merchants, that it would at once bring all Commerce in this Country to an immediate Halt. Permit me to explain to you some few of the simple Principles upon which our capitalist Oeconomy dependeth. The Price of a Good or Service, my dear Sir, is determin'd by six Factors, to wit . . ."
"Mr. Peters," quoth the Captain, without turning from the Halfling for a Moment, "of your Courtesy, I would hear the Halfling speak." And we all of us could hear in his Words a great Longing, like one who for many Months hath fought in the Dark without the sound of a lov'd Voice to cheer his brave but desperate Heart. Mr. Peters was utterly silenced, and the Halfling seem'd troubled for the first Time since the Auction began. "Well?" quoth the Captain. "This Attorney hath bid a goodly Price: shall it stand? The Choice, Sir, is your own."
"Sir," quoth the Halfling, "I should infinitely prefer not to be purchas'd by either of the Gentlemen who have bid. But to permit myself to be purchas'd by you, would be to do you a great Wrong."
"To do me a wrong?" quoth the Captain with a puzzl'd Frown. "What possible Wrong can you do to me?"
"Sir," quoth the Halfling. "These Spoils are entrusted to you by your Country. You are a good Man; I have seen too few of those upon my Journey. I would not have you foreswear yourself."
To this Remark the Captain offer'd no Response whatever, but gaz'd upon the Halfling thoughtfully.
"Enough of this!" growl'd the Attorney at last. "Sir, tell us whether you will bid, or no; the Hour is late, and this Matter hath taken up quite enough of my Time, with scarce even any Refreshment to repay my Pains in attending." And to emphasize this Complaint, he stack'd his Plate with some five or six Crumpets, slather'd them with Butter, and most impolitely reach'd quite across the Table for Honey to sweeten the Dish: a gross Violation of the Rules of Courtesy, Madam, that I urge you under all Circumstances to avoid.
The Halfling paid no Mind to this Greed, but look'd at the Captain gravely. "Sir," quoth he, "if what these Ladies hath told me of you be true, then surely . . ."
"For how long must we listen to the prattle of the Creature we have come to buy?" the Attorney demanded with great Impatience. "Hoy, Halfling! Make yourself useful, and sweeten my Crumpets at once!" With that, he hurl'd the Jar of Honey in the Halfling's Direction; a Breach of Decorum less welcome, if possible, in polite Company than the one I have previously noted.
For at any Gathering with the least Pretension to Civility, it is perchance the last Thing expected by any Person in Attendance, that a large Porcelain Jar should be flung at his Head; least of all one fill'd quite to the Brim with a sticky Substance that might spill at any Time, no matter how quickly and cleverly the startl'd Guest should snatch from the Air the Jar in Question. Just such a Disaster happen'd in this Case. To our great Relief, the Halfling caught the Jar before it could strike his Skull; but as he struggl'd to balance it in his Arms, it slid almost thro' his Grasp and tipp'd over, pouring a thick Stream of Honey down his Neck and Chest.
To understand what next occur'd, Madam, you must try to envision the fair Halfling just as he appear'd before us. There he stood, his Clothing much dishevell'd; his Hair falling in tangl'd Curls about his Face and Neck, his fair Skin dimmed by the flickering Candlelight to a thousand Shades of dusky Rose. He spake no Word of Protest at his Situation, yet with each Affront to his Dignity his delicate Nostrils flar'd, and his Chest, expos'd by a Shirt that lay open nearly half-way to his Waist, heav'd with a scarce-suppress'd Compound of Anger and Fear.
It is to this Picture of Beauty at Bay, Madam, that you must add the Idea of the Honey, which at once bath'd the Air of all the Room in its Scent: an Essence of Sweetness that brought to Mind a Field thick with blooming Clover warmed by the midsummer Sun. Inexorably the Liquid poured down the tense Cords of the Halfing's Neck; yet for a Moment it pooled in the soft shadow'd Hollow at the base of his Throat, where it gathered and swelled to a Mass of dark Gold. There for several Instants it clung, yet not for long; for the warm Skin beneath it stirr'd with the Halfling's startled Gasps. At length then it spill'd forth and pour'd down the his panting Breast, until each Contour of his soft Flesh was both cover'd and reveal'd by a glittering Sheen of pale Gold.
With a cry of Dismay the Halfling gaz'd down upon the lovely Scene of this Accident. He hastily bent to put the Jar down upon the Table, then stood and sought some Way to prevent the Honey's further Progress down his trembling Form. But so widely had this Liquid spread upon his heated Skin, that when he trail'd his index Finger up his Chest, the sole discernable Result of this Experiment was to drive a thick Mass of Honey up his Finger to the soft Crease where it met his Thumb.
At this Time the Captain made some Sort of a Noise, perchance somewhere between a Choke and a Cough; the Halfling look'd at him with some Perplexity, as if he would make some Excuse for his Condition. But before he could speak a Drop of Honey fell from his Finger to the Floor. Instinctively he plung'd the dripping Finger into his Mouth all the Way to the Base, closed his soft Lips about it, and slowly, with a scarce conscious Sigh of Pleasure, drew it out again: taking great Care, with busy Lips and Tongue and Teeth, to remove the last Trace of Liquid when he withdrew the Finger completely with a soft wet Sound.
"Mmmm," quoth he, and for an instant he clos'd his Eyes, and swallow'd.
At this Time there was a Thump from the Back of the Room, for the Goat had collaps'd in a dead Faint.
But before the Halfling could turn to take Note of this Incident, he open'd his Eyes to find the Captain's staring into his own, and somewhat in the burning Gaze of the Man before him made it impossible, it seem'd, for him to look away. Beneath the Coat of Honey the Skin of the Halfling's Chest darken'd; slowly this Flush spread upward along the same Path that the Honey had taken: up his Chest, up his Throat, up at last to his Face, until there glowed in his Cheeks a colour near as Dark as red Wine spill'd careless upon the Floor of a Feast.
From this profound Blush the Halfling was startl'd by a sudden Noise: for we all of us distinctly Heard Sam struggling once more to be freed from his Confinement. The Halfling's Eyes widen'd at once into an Expression of the most profound Alarm, as well they should have. For who knows what Fate Sam might suffer at the hands of the infatuated Captain, were he to be reveal'd?
Fortunately the Captain seem'd far too absorb'd in the Spectacle presented by the Halfling to pay Mind to any extraneous Noise, however deafening that Noise might have seem'd to a third Party. He open'd his Lips, yet made no Remark; he clear'd his Throat, try'd again, and at last in a low Voice spake. "Sir," quoth he, "You have been the Victim of a most unfortunate Accident."
"Sir," quoth the Halfling, "I have."
"Sir," quoth the Captain, "will you permit me to assist you?"
"Sir," quoth the Halfling, "you may."
Throughout this hastily muttered Colloquy the Pair spoke as Two wholly involv'd in some Phantasy, tho' whether that Phantasy was the Same in each Case is a most intriguing Question. They were young, Madam, and both made for Love; a Love they had been depriv'd of for far too long. The Halfling had for two-and-thirty Years pin'd for such Love in Vain; a most attractive Object stood before him; and he knew well, too, that this Man must at all Costs be distracted from the frantic Noises Sam was making.
As for the Captain, he was Subject to the Temptation presented by the fair Halfling, a Temptation made by the Honey well-nigh irresistible to any created Being not Dead from the Waist down. So overcome did he seem by some powerful Motion of the Soul, that Place, Occasion, and Company became to him as Nothing; indeed, he scarce seem'd to know who or what he was. Here in this strange Place, a Chain of Circumstance had thrown a dazzling Creature in his Path in such a Way that Nature could no longer be denied, but must burst thro' the Restraints of Reason as cold Steel will annihilate a Tissue of Cobwebs and Dust.
It was perhaps this Confluence of Reasons that explains what happen'd next. For the Captain, ignoring the Ladies' Cries of Protest and the Attorney's Yowl of jealous Rage, deliberately stepp'd forward and repeated the Experiment the Halfling had made, but with more Force. Reaching round with one Arm, he spread a mighty Hand across the Halfling's back to steady him, then from the Front drove one Finger up the Halfling's Chest, lingering over many Places beneath the Cloth of his Shirt. At this Treatment the Halfling clos'd his Eyes and bit at his Lip and shudder'd, yet not with Pain. For when the Captain murmur'd low in his Ear, Nay, look at me, he by no means struggled, but flutter'd open his Eyes in some Confusion, as if unsure what Being this was who subjected him to a Sensation so strangely combining Torment with Pleasure.
His Lips parted, but nothing came forth but a Moan, and when the Captain held up to them a Honey-drench'd Finger, the Halfling sighed, clos'd his Eyes once more, and bent his Head. For a Moment he frown'd and hesitated, as if there were somewhat he would remember; but at a Noise of gentle Urging from his Partner, he reach'd up with both Hands to hold the Captain's Wrist, and took the Finger into his Mouth.
Now 'twas the Captain's turn to Shudder, tho' Pain once more was out the Question. After a Moment he withdrew his Hand, as from a Pleasure that he would soon lose all Power to resist. Yet this Loss drew from the fair Frodo a Cry of Protest.
Nay, hush, I am here, quoth the Captain, and shifted one Hand to tangle in the Curls at the back of the Halfling's Neck, while with the other he pull'd the Halfling to him and gaz'd upon him fiercely. Whatever he saw in the Eyes of his lovely Partner, it gave him no Cause to withdraw. Their Lips touch'd, brush'd gently one against the other; the Captain started back half a Breath, and lick'd from his own Lips the Sweetness that had come from the Halfling's.
Once more the Captain paus'd to Gaze upon the Loveliness beneath him. Once more he saw Nothing in that fair Face but Surrender and Need. With a Growl of pure Want, the Captain flex'd his Fingers in the Halfling's Curls and kiss'd him hard and deep, plundering that sweet Mouth with Lips and Tongue, then bending to ravish ev'ry Part of the silken Flesh within his Reach, planting Kisses and Bites down the Halfling's Throat and leaving a trail of red Marks ev'ry Place his hungry Lips had touch'd.
"Oh," cried the Halfling, as soon as his own Lips were free, "oh . . ." -- but he could not finish: with Eyes still clos'd, he toss'd his Head back and forth as if in some Trance or Dream of Bliss. His Curls flew across his Face with each wild unbounded Motion; his Skin was beaded with Sweat. For a Time he did nothing but moan sweet Incoherencies: but when the Captain closed his Teeth in the soft Flesh just beneath the Halfling's Ear, he could no longer be silent, but cried, "Oh, oh, oh, . . ."
The next Word would surely be a Name, tho' which Name that would be, we none of us could tell. His Voice trail'd off then to scarce more than a Whisper that could be heard by none but those who stood nearest: Oh, murmured he.
Oh . . .
§ § §
Madam, I deeply regret to say that I must hastily finish this Letter, tho' it is most distressing to be forced to do so at this particular Juncture. Only imagine, Madam, our Suspense, as we wonder'd what Name the Halfling might say: for if, during his Congress with the Captain, he thought only of his Sam, then he would preserve both his Virtue and the Captain's Life. But if he fail'd in this Task, then not only would the Captain fall Victim to the Curse of Ulmo, but I greatly doubt that either Sam or the greater Part of the Ladies would ever forgive the fair Halfling for such a Lapse in his Concentration.
Much as it grieves me to leave such a Question unanswer'd, I fear I have no Choice, for I am inform'd by my Servants that our House hath been quite surrounded by Orcs. Whilst these former Servants of the Enemy are no longer so dangerous as they were in the Days of my Youth, they are still capable of much Damage, for they are much in the Habit of holding loud Parties, consuming all the Food in a House, and leaving their Laundry for others to do. (2) Thus am I compell'd to arm myself swiftly and discover what it is that they Require. If, Madam, I should by some unfortunate Chance be kill'd, or forc'd to listen to their Musick and thus driven Mad, please give my fondest regards to your dear Mother, and assure her that, even beyond the Grave, I shall ever remain,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
Notes to Letter the Fifth and Three-quarters
1. This form of sexually transmitted illness was known among men and dwarves as the "Elvish Disease," among Elves as "the Dwarvish Disease," among Orcs as "Shelob's Revenge," and among the Rohirrim as "and you keep away from that stallion next time, young man, that's not what he's for." Back to story
2. For thousands of years Middle-earth struggled with the problem of what to do with the large Orc population remaining after Sauron's defeat. The crisis was not completely resolved until the early twentieth century, when the orcs were shipped to America and housed on college campuses in special buildings marked with Greek letters. Here they were successfully mainstreamed; contributing a great deal to charity, participating in organized sports, and eventually interbreeding with the human population. Back to story
Letter the Sixth
Minas Ithil, 27 Narquelie, Fourth Age 65
I thank you for your kind Letter, as well as for your Gifts of Pen and Paper. Such Courtesies as these do much to assure me that your Actions are inspir'd by the Spirit of true Politesse that your dear Mother and I have so long sought to encourage within you. Yet it seems to me, dear Madam, that the uttermost Heights of Civility continue to elude you: that your Path yet wanders thro' the Foothills of Gaucherie, and descends on Occasion into the trackless Swamp of an outright Faux Pas.
I allude, Madam, to your Effort to have me imprison'd within my Boudoir until such Time as my Tale should be complete. Do recollect, when you next attempt such a Manoeuvre for the Acquisition of Literature, that the Delay you hope to prevent will almost certainly be prolong'd: for in such a Case an Author must expend a good Portion of her not inexhaustible Time in ridding her Home of the Orcs you have hired for the Purpose.
Nevertheless, all is well in the End, for the fresh Meat requir'd to bribe your Orcs was easily found in the trembling Person of our nearest Neighbor's Lap-dog, and we have by this Means rid ourselves at once of your Orcs and this Creature's perpetual Yapping. Thus I am dispos'd at Present to excuse your Actions as charming Evidences of the Impetuosity of Youth.
As a Promoter of the Interests of Families, I regard with Dismay any severe Punishments for the harmless Freaks and Pranks of young Persons such as yourself. You will therefore find attach'd to this letter not a Warrant for your immediate Arrest, nor a Command that you be flogg'd within an Inch of your Life, but merely a Bill for those small Expenses resulting from your Jest: viz., the Cost of Replacing the Windows upon the first and second Floors; the Fee for the Removal of Bloodstains from my Boudoir's Floor and Walls; Recompense to my Neighbour for the Loss of her Pet; and the Price of the barbecue-Sauce with which the Orcs insisted on consuming this Animal.
With this unfortunate Episode now receding ever further into the Past, we shall henceforth permit the Veil of Oblivion to conceal it from Memory's justly irritated Eye. Thus at last I may enjoy the Leisure to complete my Tale, which in Truth broke off at a most crucial Point: Clarissa and Amelia had been imprison'd within the Bathing-Chamber; Sam had been bound to Bureau with a silk Scarf. The Auction had begun; the Attorney had shock'd us all with a Bid beyond the Dreams of Avarice; and most distressing of all, the fair Halfling was being ravish'd by the Captain, despite the great Danger to the Captain presented by this most incautious Course. And we none of us could tell whether the Halfling was succeeding in his Efforts to evade the Curse of Ulmo, by thinking only of his Sam. For he seem'd in some Trance as the Captain kiss'd every Part of his panting Form: eyes clos'd, moaning with Desire, and ever on the Verge of repeating the Name of his imagin'd Lover. But whatever that Name might have been, so great was his Passion that he was unable to say any Word beyond "Oh."
Oh . . .
But before he could speak another Syllable, the Door to the Bathing-Chamber burst open and Clarissa and Amelia stood triumphant, brandishing the Hairpins wherewith they had pick'd the Lock and won their Freedom. "Nay, Sirrah!" cried Clarissa sternly, leaping toward the Captain with flashing Eyes, "touch him not!"
"Nay, Madam!" cried Seleta, starting forth from her Place, "The least Disturbance will imperil the Halfling's Concentration! Touch them not!"
"Don't you touch him, you devil!" cried Sam, fighting his Way thro' the Skirts of the Ladies and brandishing a Fist to which the chew'd remains of a Scarf were still tied. "He is mine, and mine only!"
So lost was the Captain in the Depths of his Passion, that he scarce look'd up at these Interruptions, merely half-raising his Head and peering dully about with heavy-lidded Eyes. And in truth, Madam, he was surrounded by Danger on ev'ry side: for Clarissa and Amelia leapt toward him from his Right, whilst Seleta rose to combat them from his Left; from behind him, Sam charg'd with a Howl of Anger, seizing the Butter-knife to work with it what Havoc he could.
Yet these indignant Protectors of the fair Halfling's Virtue were not quick enough to do their Will, for the true Danger lay not to the Captain's Right, nor to his Left, nor from Behind, but from before him, in a dark Corner forgotten by all. From this Place there sounded a tremendous Crash of Thunder; and lo! snorting with a Fury unseen in any Battle since the World began, tranform'd by Passion to a relentless Force of moving Hair and Rage, there arose on Hooves of Fire -- the Goat! Now fully recover'd from its recent Swoon, it knew naught but Anger at the Man attacking its Darling. Thus it lower'd its Head and charg'd, and from half-way across the Room it bounded over both Table and Halfling to land with full Force on the Captain's Chest, knocking him quite to the Ground and rearing atop him with a Bleat of Triumph.
Now the Place that Clarissa and Amelia sought to attack, and Seleta to defend, was of a Sudden quite empty, and thus when the three Ladies leapt bravely upon it they encounter'd not the Captain, but each other. These Ladies collided with a resounding Crash that knocked all three of them to the Floor in a roiling Heap of Silks, Petticoats and (doubtless only in Seleta's Case), oaths that would make a Sailor run Home to his Mother. And as these three tumbl'd about each other in misdirected Rage, the Way was clear for Sam to leap nimbly over them and land atop the Table beside his stunn'd Master.
"Sir," cried he, shaking the limp Body by the shoulders, "Sir, are you all right?"
"Oh . . . " quoth the Halfling. His Eyes were still clos'd, his Face flush'd; it seem'd he knew nothing of the Chaos about him, for he sway'd almost nerveless in Sam's Embrace.
"Sir! " cried Sam, driven near to Desperation by this mysterious Fit that seem'd to have overcome his Master.
"Oh . . ." quoth the Halfling, and his Eyes flutter'd open at last. He saw the worried Face before him and smil'd. "Oh, Sam," quoth he. "My own dear Sam."
The fair Halfling's Breast still heav'd with awaken'd Passion; the Hobbit that he lov'd was in his Arms; the Occasion requir'd neither Words nor Thought. 'Twas the Work of a Moment for him to push a Brown-gold Curl out of Sam's Eyes, tilt that dearly-loved Face, and kiss him on the Lips.
"Oh," quoth Sam.
They pull'd back just far enough that they no longer touch'd, and regarded one another solemnly.
"It was nice, that," quoth Sam.
"Yes, it was," the Halfling agreed.
Both their Mouths quirk'd upward in a shar'd Smile, as if they had just discover'd some extraordinary Secret that none but they would ever know. Sam toss'd the Butter-knife aside. "Fair sticky, you are," quoth he, glancing at his Lover's honey-covered Chest, "but that don't matter none, to my way of thinking."
With that he tighten'd his Arms about the fair Halfling and return'd the Kiss: softly at first, as if he held in his Arms some Dream that might any Moment vanish, but then with ever increasing Force: for it was no Dream that parted sweet Lips to the urgent Questing of his Mouth, no Dream that ran warm Hands over his Shoulders and down his Back. And when they broke off the Kiss, 'twas no Dream that softly chanted his Name as they Clung to each other, shaking, like two lost Creatures who have wander'd for Years thro' a cold and lightless Land, each alone and without Hope: only to find Joy in each other's Arms at last.
Lovely as this Sight was, Madam, it grew Lovelier still, for the Room at once was fill'd with brilliant Sunshine; the Cloud over the Head of the Goat dispers'd at once into mere slips and shreds of Mist. A fresh Breeze stirr'd the Curls of the two Halflings. For a Moment the Air about them was fill'd with Rainbows, and all the Ladies exclaim'd with Delight at this Beauty, so little expected as a Feature of Interior Decoration. Slowly however these extraordinary Phenomena ended; all traces of the Cloud vanish'd, and Candle-flame alone bath'd the Lovers in its lambent Glow.
Greatly were we amaz'd to see the Cloud that had haunted us for so long disappear so suddenly, and several Ladies whisper'd among themselves, that they knew not what it meant. But then Clarissa rose, shaking out her Skirts from the Disarray of her late Combat, and she smil'd upon the Company like a flaming Beacon of Reason in the Night of our Confusion.
"My dears," she declar'd, "the Curse of Ulmo is ended!"
"Madam!" cried Amelia, rising to stand by the side of her Friend, "how is't possible?"
"What in Middle-earth," demanded the Gambling-master, "is the Curse of Ulmo?"
"Do hold your Tongue, Sir," quoth Amelia with great Impatience. "Can you not see, at a climactic Moment such as this, that we have neither the Time nor the Desire to review the Backstory for Latecomers?"
"Indeed, my Dear, you are correct," quoth Clarissa, "'twould violate ev'ry known Decorum of the narrative Arts, to pause at this Time and explain a convoluted Matter that hath been extensively treated before: particularly, Sir," added she, looking upon the Gambling-master most sternly, "to indulge the idle Curiosity of a minor Character such as yourself."
At this Reproof the Gambling-master turn'd purple with Rage, and 'twas doubtless only the Intensity of his Fury that prevented him from giving it Expression in some Complaint. Hastily Mr. Peters went to his side and refill'd his Glass. "My dear Sir," quoth he, "do not mind these Ladies, who mean you nothing but Good. They speak but the Jargon of their Trade, which, tho' little known to Outsiders, hath not a Word in it that expresses any Sentiment besides varying Degrees of Admiration."
"'Tis true indeed," exclaim'd Seleta, also rising from the Floor, "for what my esteem'd Colleague just said, was that a complex and difficult Explanation could serve no Purpose for a Gentleman of your Level of Intelligence."
While the Gambling-master frown'd over this last Remark, to puzzle out whether it was a Compliment or otherwise, Amelia implor'd humbly of Clarissa to explain what Evidences she had that the Halfling truly had been freed of his Curse, and just how this desirable Event had taken Place.
All the Ladies cluster'd about her most curiously to listen. Even Mr. Peters paid Mind to her Words, for he knew when he saw it an Event that would bring Curiosity-seekers to his House for Months. But the Gambling-master only sulk'd in a Corner with his Wine, the Attorney was nowhere to be seen, and the Captain seem'd for some Reason indisposed to move from his place on the Floor. As for the Halflings, I am sure they benefited much from Clarissa's wise Words, tho' to judge from the Number of Kisses they found it necessary to exchange, they perhaps found one or two other Matters to occupy them at that Time.
"The secret, my Dears," quoth Clarissa, "lies in the Cloud; for it surely cannot have escap'd your Notice, that whenever the Love between these excellent Halflings was imperil'd, the Cloud thunder'd and grew heavy with Rain. Yet whenever their Love hover'd close to fulfilment, the Rain ceas'd, and our Chamber was bath'd in Light."
"Indeed, Madam," quoth Amelia, "I oft noted this Correspondency between the Goat's Weather and the Halflings' Sentiments, but merely thought it an Instance of the Pathetic Fallacy."
"In a Tale," Clarissa declar'd, "''tis indeed a ludicrous Fallacy to impose the Characters' Sentiments upon the Texture of Reality; for no literary Expedient could be more wildly at Variance with Nature. There is in Nature no Reason why Lovers need part in a Storm, or unite in Sunshine. Indeed, it is most unlikely that any but the most wanton Persons will Consummate their Bliss in the broad light of Day, however poetically the Sunshine in their Hearts might be represented by Sunshine upon their writhing Forms. But this particular Cloud, Madam, violated no Law of Nature, for it form'd no Part of the natural Order; 'twas a Sign of Ulmo's Will and Pleasure. Thus it storm'd when the Halflings were parted, lighten'd when they found each other, and vanish'd altogether in the very Moment when they reach'd an Understanding, when once the Reason for its Existence had pass'd.
"Indeed," continued she, "I think it possible, nay probable, that all the other extraordinary Events produc'd by the Curse revers'd themselves at the same Time. Never, alas, shall we know this for certain, since the sad Trail of the Halfling's unfortunate Victims lieth in another Country. In the mean Time, however, the Union of the Lovers hath brought about at least one happy Event: this Goat, Ladies, is free!"
So great a Favourite had the Goat become, that all the Ladies loudly cheer'd the Halflings; the fair Frodo smil'd and wav'd; whilst Sam duck'd his Head and blush'd to find himself the Subject of such enthusiastic Comment. Several of the Ladies made for them a Certificate of Appreciation commemorating the Event, and the fair Amelia propos'd that the Goat make a Speech in the Halflings' Honour.
This Plan met at first with universal Approbation; yet we soon discover'd an obstacle to its Execution. "Where," cried one of the younger Ladies, "is the Goat?"
We look'd most urgently for this belov'd Animal, yet it was nowhere to be seen. Its last known Position had been atop the Chest of Captain Faramir, and yet when we sought it there, this Place now prov'd occupied only by a beauteous unknown Youth.
"Alas!" cried Amelia, "the Goat hath vanish'd, and only this beauteous unknown Youth remaineth to Mark its Passing."
"Alack!" cried another Lady, "how shall we console ourselves for the loss of our caprine Friend, when a beauteous Youth of no more than twenty-five Years is the sole Recompense left us?
Dreadful as the Agony of our Parting from the Goat might have been, many among us nevertheless held this Youth to be an Object not altogether without Interest. His dark Hair fell half-way to his Waist in tight Ringlets of a Style that we none of us had seen before. His almond-shaped Eyes, fram'd with dark Lashes, were a lustrous Brown lit from within by the Flame of Wit; his shapely Lips were deliciously Full and spoke of Love in their ev'ry Curve.
These considerable Charms were much increased by the Fact that he sat before us just as Nature made him, with not a Shred of Clothing to conceal his Person. Such a Thing is unfortunately most unusual in a large Company, and thus he attempted to conceal himself with the ineffectual Aid of a Napkin, most especially from the fascinated Gaze of the Captain upon whom he sat. But tho' we griev'd for the Youth's wounded Modesty, so great was his Beauty, Madam, that we many of us felt his Nakedness to be one of the luckiest Circumstances of our Lives. For our Gaze could Wander at Will over muscular Limbs of the most perfect Proportions, and could rejoice in smooth Flesh of that pleasing Colour that occurs when two or three drops of Cream are intermix'd with a Cup of Coffee.
'Twas this last Aspect of the Youth's Appearance that was the Subject of some Comment among us.
"Lady preserve us!" shriek'd one of the younger Ladies. "'Tis a Southron!"
"We shall be murder'd in our beds!" cried another.
"And subjected to his extraordinary amorous Practices!" cried a third.
"When, pray, shall that be?" queried Seleta with great Interest, drawing out her Book of Appointments for the next Week.
"Captain!" cried the Attorney, from behind the large Wardrobe where he had been trembling for quite some Time, "do your Duty! Kill this Creature at once!"
So loud was the Squawking made by the Attorney that it drew the Attention of the two Halflings, who had been attempting to discover whether Kissing held the same Attractions as it had two Minutes before. At the Sound of the Attorney's Scream, however, the fair Halfling briefly open'd his Eyes and ceas'd his soft Moans, glanc'd about, and saw the beauteous Youth. "Oh, hullo," quoth he. Then he started abruptly. "'Tis you indeed!" cried he, with every Evidence of Joy. "Sir, I thought you destroy'd by the foul Creatures of the Enemy. I rejoice to see that you continue to Live. "
Captain Faramir, who had all this time been Silent -- no doubt render'd so by the Surprise of finding an extraordinarily attractive Youth atop him where before there had been but a Goat -- now found Occasion to speak.
"Sir," quoth he, addressing the fair Halfling, "are you acquainted with this surpassingly attractive Gentleman upon my Chest?"
"Just what I was going to ask myself," quoth Sam, fixing the beauteous Youth with a suspicious Stare. "Though he's not on my chest, and there's a mercy."
"If I mistake me not," quoth the Halfling, "'tis the very Haradrim Warrior who, in the midst of the late Battle, snatch'd me from certain Death at the Feet of the charging Oliphaunts. 'Tis true that he was on that Occasion wearing rather more Clothes than now. But I feel sure that I am not in Error, as I had at that Time an Opportunity to view him most closely. For when, as I earlier explain'd, the Nazgul swept down upon us and Death seem'd the most likely immediate Consequence, I . . . that is to say, we . . . that is, I . . . " and here the Halfling trail'd off, blush'd profusely, and look'd sideways at Sam with a most embarrassed Expression.
"Stars of Elbereth!" exclaim'd Clarissa in a Tone of Shock and Dismay. "Do you mean to say that you committed some Indiscretion with this dazzlingly lovely Youth? And on the basis, too, of such a very short Acquaintance? And that you thus subjected him to the Wrath of Ulmo, and condemn'd him to a miserable Existence as a Goat, albeit one bless'd by Ulmo with Mastery of the Water-ballet? Sir, I cannot approve of an Attachment form'd so rapidly -- nay, instantaneously, if I understand your Account of Events. And besides" -- and here her Looks grew stern indeed -- "this Youth is much taller than you."
"'Tis true," quoth the Halfling with a Sigh, "he is very tall indeed, and he is even more so when mounted. When mounted, that is," he explain'd hastily, "upon his Horse."
"Mr. Frodo," quoth Sam, with a look bordering on gentle Reproof, "it seems I can't leave you alone for a minute."
"Sam," quoth the Halfling, hanging his lovely Head, and looking the very Picture of Misery, "Words cannot express how very sorry . . . "
But before the fluster'd Halfling could finish, the beauteous Youth sprang to his Feet, crying "Nay!" Captain Faramir at once follow'd, drawing his Sword, but keeping it pointed at the Ground: as seem'd only sensible, for the Youth was not only unarm'd but cloth'd only in a Napkin, a Circumstance he seem'd to find most distressing.
This Nakedness at once began a great Debate among the Ladies. For some among us believ'd that the Youth's Modesty could best be preserv'd with a Gift of Clothes, but others maintain'd he could more effectually be put at his Ease if all the other Men in the Room were to strip as well. And by several Ladies this Proposal of universal male Nudity was heralded as the Commencement of a new Utopian Age: for while Clothing functions as a charming Adornment upon Ladies, upon an attractive Youth or Gentleman it is admitted by All to be wholly superfluous and a mere Encumbrance. But at Length this Scheme was rejected with some Alarm by Seleta, who observ'd that if it were to be put into Effect, the World would shudder before an unobstructed View of such Persons as the Gambling-master, the Attorney, and Howard Stern. And tho' this last Example puzzl'd many of the Ladies greatly, the appalling Spectacle that Seleta describ'd was nevertheless one all the Ladies wish'd to avoid, so we all of us bow'd to her superior Logic.
For his part, however, the Captain waited not for the outcome of this Dispute, but with his free Hand ripp'd one of our Tapestries from the Wall and gave it to the Youth. Thus protected from the Chill and the Ladies' admiring Eyes, the Youth made a brief Gesture of Thanks to the Captain. But he at once turn'd to address himself most courteously to Sam. "Nay, dear Sir," quoth he, in a strange but mellifluous Accent, "do not be Angry at your Lover; the Fault is entirely Mine."
"But -- " quoth the fair Halfling.
"Overcome by his great Beauty," the Youth continued quickly, "and by my sense of our impending Doom, I took the great Liberty, entirely on my own Initiative, of kissing this lovely Being . . ."
"But --" quoth the fair Halfling once more.
" . . . caring not, in the Heat of my Passion, whether he might be indifferent to my Charms . . . "
"But -- "
" . . . for which Action, Sir, I can only beg his Forgiveness and yours. For I was ignorant at the Time of your mutual Attachment. Such Things are held sacred my People, and I would not dream of intruding upon such a deep and long-lasting Love; particularly, Sir," -- and here he bow'd low to Sam -- "since you are the Gentleman so fortunate as to retain this fair Creature's Affections. I owe you much, Sir, for the great Favour you have done me."
"Favour?" quoth Sam, muffling with a quick Kiss his fair Lover's continued Objections to this perhaps not entirely accurate Account of the Battle. "Can't say as I remember doing you a favour, myself."
"How can you forget," exclaim'd the Youth, "your bold Action in removing so effectually the sharp Porcelain piercing my Hoof, whilst I was burden'd with a caprine Form? Such Generosity demands Recompense; I only grieve that I have but one Means to provide it." With that, he remov'd an ornate jewel'd Collar from his Neck, the very one Mr. Peters had earlier used to tie the Goat to the Table. "This heirloom of my House," quoth he, "is all that remains to me after my late Transformation; my Father hath told me, that it contains somewhat of more Value than all Five of the Provinces he rules. I beg of you to accept it as Payment for the Debt of Honour I owe."
"Well, sir," said Sam, "I'm grateful and all, but I don't see as I can accept such a thing, seeing as how the favour wasn't worth anything like it."
"Sir," quoth the Youth with a grave Smile, "I regret to say, that the Hurry of recent Events hath been such that I do not have any Change." With that he plac'd the sparkling Collar in Sam's Hands, and refus'd to hear another Word about the Matter.
We all of us greatly applauded this selfless Act, which not only repay'd what the Youth call'd his Debt, but signified his Abandonment of all Pretensions to the fair Halfling: an Act of Generosity nearly without Precedent in the Annals of Passion. For while we all of us claim to wish Happiness upon those we love, if Truth be told, Madam, there is nothing more painful than to see them find that Happiness in the Arms of another. In such a Case, even Ladies of the greatest Virtue oft have sought some convenient Means to vent their Spleen against the Winner in the Combat of Love: viz., selling her Dog to a Band of Gypsies, painting her House a violent Shade of Pink, or insinuating amongst Friends that her Hair is not her own.
Plainly the Captain was just as amaz'd as we Ladies by the Youth's Action. "Sir," quoth he, looking at the Youth with a most intent Expression. "You are aware, are you not, that you are a Prisoner among us? With this Collar you might have hop'd to corrupt some one among your Guards and purchase your Freedom."
"Sir," quoth the Youth, "I know this. I am no Fool."
For some Moments the Captain thought upon this Answer. "Then your Generosity toward these Halflings does you great Honour," quoth he at last. "I have heard many foul Rumours of the Haradrim, but your Example makes me believe them a noble People indeed."
"Many foul Rumours have I heard of Gondor," return'd the Youth, "tho' I now that I have been among you, it seems perchance that many Falsehoods hath been told on both sides. Yet it would be just as much of an Error, methinks, to conclude an entire People noble as to conclude 'em base. We of Harad are but Men. There are better and worse among us, as there are among you; and it is as Individuals that we must be judg'd. So you must judge me; just as I, Sir," -- and here the Youth gave his Captor a Look of some Defiance -- "shall judge you."
"A most just and reasonable Sentiment," quoth Clarissa with great Approbation, "for to think in Generalities is to issue an engrav'd Invitation to Error. Contrary to all Rumour, for example, not all among the Elves are so sensitive to the Arts, that they will fall into a Swoon at the sight of clashing Colours."
"Indeed!" cried the fair Amelia. 'Nor are all Dwarves so practic'd in the Art of Love as Rumour maintains; I have known some of them to be so clumsy that they knew not to which End of a Lady or Youth they must address themselves."
"Indeed!" cried Seleta, "and 'tis true as well, that some of the Ladies in this Room will on Occasion speak some Sentence betraying Symptoms of previous Thought: tho' to expect them to make a regular Practice of this would be to invite continual Disappointment."
Fortunately most of the Ladies were too occupied with observing our Guests to pay much Attention to Seleta's last Reflexion. For the Halflings were once again most charmingly absorb'd with each other, whilst the Youth continued to look boldly upon the Captain, the sparkling brown Eyes of Harad flashing upon Numenorean Grey.
The Captain was the first to lower his Gaze, and his grim Face was for some Reason lit by the Hint of a Smile, like one who hath found a great Good where he least expected it. But he said nothing of this, choosing instead to turn the Conversation toward more practical Matters. "Then, Sir," quoth he, "it is your Example as an individual Man that I shall follow in concluding this Business. For I will not hear it said that even a single Man of Harad hath outdone a Man of Gondor in Honour or Generosity."
He turn'd to Mr. Peters, who at once express'd himself eager to perform any Thing that the Captain requir'd of him, as indeed he was, for the Captain held it in his Power to shut down our House at any Time. "Sir," quoth the Captain, "I require Nothing, save that the Events of this Night be forgot as quickly as Possible. I shall not bid; nor in Truth should any have done so. For this fair Halfling is not an Article for Sale, but a Prisoner of Gondor; and it is not our Custom" -- and here he glanc'd at the beauteous Youth -- "to subject our Prisoners to any Indignities whatever. I can say nothing to excuse my previous Conduct, but must beg the Forgiveness of all present for permitting my Passion to get the better of my Judgement."
At this Pronouncement, Clarissa propos'd a general Toast in Honour of the Captain's recover'd Goodness, and all the Ladies cheer'd so loud that that the Halflings emerg'd with a Start from some urgent Business they had been engag'd in. At last they were set down from the Table, and as the Wine pass'd from Hand to Hand, several Ladies took upon themselves the Task of explaining to the Halflings all the high Sentiments in the previous Conversation, for it transpir'd that they had not listen'd to a Word.
So lively, Madam, was the Flow of Wine, Laughter, and Song, that we none of us realiz'd that the Attorney had at last summon'd the Courage to creep forth from his hiding Place, until he struck a Glass smartly with a Fork. When once he had obtain'd the reluctant Attention of the Company, he turn'd to Mr. Peters with a peculiar Expression of Triumph.
"Sir," quoth he, "The Halfling is mine!"
"Threads of Vaire!" cried Mr. Peters, downing his third or fourth Glass of Wine in as many Minutes. "I thought we were done with all that. Well, there you are, Sir; we all thought you had taken up Residence behind the Wardrobe on a permanent Basis, and I was about to start charging you Rent for the Privilege."
"Sir," quoth Amelia with some Disdain, "had you been somewhat more attentive to recent Events, you would know that the Auction is over and the Halfling free."
"Oh yes, my Dear," quoth the Attorney, chucking her under the Chin, "the Auction is over indeed, but the Halfling is not free. This Halfling was surrender'd by the Captain to Mr. Peters, and then by him legally offer'd for Sale. An Auction once begun cannot simply be cancel'd at the Will and Pleasure of the Seller; the Bids were offer'd in good Faith, and in equal good Faith the highest Bid must be accepted."
We all of us gasp'd in Horror to hear a legal Argument made in mix'd Company, and several of the younger Ladies at once fell into a Swoon. "This cannot be Justice!" cried Clarissa.
"Justice!" exclaim'd the Attorney, "A Pox upon it! What has Justice to do with the Price of Eggs in Mordor? This Auction is entirely Consonant with the Dictates of commercial Law. And when last I heard, that Law cannot simply be thrown aside at the Discretion of a mere Captain."
Most dismay'd were we by this shocking Proposal, yet even more so, when the Captain after some Thought admitted that he could do Nothing. The Attorney was correct; the Auction once begun could not be ended, and the Captain had not ready Money enough to make the Purchase himself. For the Halfling had been quite right to say that the spoils of Battle belong'd to Gondor alone, and now that the Captain's Sense of Honour had been restor'd, he could not use them for his own Purposes, even in a Case as Desperate as this. And we could think of no other Bidder with sufficient Wealth in all Osgiliath, nay, in all Gondor.
Once more we all of us fear'd for the Halfling's Safety. To see him deliver'd to the Arms of a Man so worthy as the Captain was one Thing; to see him in the loathsome Embraces of an Attorney was quite another. Let others whisper in dark Corners of the Horrors of Orcs and Balrogs, of the evil Practices current among Certified Public Accountants. Only the dark Passion of a Lawyer can engulf the very World in endless Night: 'tis a Fate so ghastly that many have chosen Death rather than suffer it.
But just as Clarissa was begging the Attorney to wait until we might send Messages to our Friends among the Dwarves, Sam stepp'd forward and look'd up at Mr. Peters with a critical Eye. "Well, Sir," quoth he, "the auction ain't over, then, as I understand it."
At this sensible and direct Question from one who would shortly be depriv'd of his Love, Mr. Peters prov'd to us at last that he had some Sense of Shame. With Tears in his Eyes, he knelt before Sam and took his Hand. "No," quoth he. "I am sorry, Sir, to say so; and would undo it all if I could."
"Seems to me you might have thought of that earlier," quoth Sam with a Snort, "though it's mighty handsome of you to admit you were a ninnyhammer, leastways, and in front of all these fine ladies too. But if it's another bid you need to get out of this mess, then I bid this, if you please." And with that he held forth the glittering jewell'd Collar that the Youth had given him.
For the second Time all the Ladies burst forth into Cheers, for it seem'd that Sam's quick Thinking had sav'd his Master. But the Attorney only sneer'd. Snatching the Collar from Mr. Peters' Hands, he held it up to the Light. "As I suspected," quoth he, "'tis Glass, and like most of the Trinkets of these Savages, utterly without Value."
And with a most unpleasant Laugh, he toss'd the Collar aside. Through the Air it spun End over End, each Facet glittering in the Light. But as I watch'd its sad Trajectory pass away from us like the Destruction of all our Hopes, I could not but notice, Madam, that a small Square of Paper dropp'd out from the Collar and commenc'd fluttering to the Ground. Just as this Paper was about to meet an untimely end in the Flame of one of our Candles, I leapt across the Table and caught it, thinking it to be the Property of the Halflings to dispose of as they would. With great Shyness -- for I much dislik'd to draw Attention to myself before the Company -- I walk'd to where the Halflings were taking Comfort in one another's Arms, and knelt before them.
"Sirs," quoth I, "I believe that this is yours."
"Thank you, my Dear," murmur'd the fair Halfling with a faint Smile, "that was kindly done."
Blushing most fiercely, I withdrew, leaving Sam to examine the Paper without much Interest. "It's a stamp," quoth he.
His Companion rais'd his lovely Head to look, and at once his Aspect was utterly transform'd; his Eyes widen'd, and he cried out sharply. "Nay!" quoth he, in a tone of delighted Disbelief, "it cannot be! It cannot be! Nay, but it is! Oh, Sam, dear Sam, that I should live to see this wondrous Day!" So great was his Joy that he kiss'd his astonish'd Companion upon the Lips, and thus for quite some Time no further Explanation could be got from him, no matter how impatiently the Attorney fum'd.
When at last the Halfling came up for Air, Clarissa implor'd him to explain the Cause of his Ecstasy.
"Madam," cried he, holding up what look'd to us like naught but a Square of maroon-coloured Paper, "this is the Star of Harad!"
"Indeed," quoth Clarissa, with the wise Nod of one who knows nothing whatever of the Subject under Discussion, but who wishes to conceal her Ignorance at all Costs.
"And what might that be," inquir'd Seleta, "when it is at Home?"
"What might it be? Why, 'tis the rarest Stamp in all of Middle-earth!" the Halfling exclaim'd. "Think, Madam! Only two other Copies of it exist, and one of those is unfortunately held by the Dark Lord in Barad-dur. As for the other, 'tis even more difficult to get at, for it is most jealously guarded by a Great-Aunt of mine in Little Delving, and she hath set her Dogs on me each Time I have attempted to visit her."
"I knew," quoth Sam, rolling his Eyes, "that there must have been some other reason why you wanted to go to Mordor."
"Oh Sam!" quoth his Master, ignoring this last Remark, "I am so very happy! To have your Love, and the Star of Harad too! It is more than I ever dar'd dream of."
"Sir -- " Seleta began, but she ceas'd her Observations, for so overcome was the fair Halfling that he kiss'd Sam once more, this Time with such passionate Abandon that he very nearly knock'd him to the Floor. She was thus forc'd to wait upon Opportunity, like a Cat at the hole of a Mouse, and when she saw the Halfling pause half a Moment to draw Breath, she at once seized her Chance. "Sir," she shouted with some Haste, "Sir! I imagine such a Stamp must be very valuable."
"Indeed, Madam, it is," quoth the Halfling, recovering his Manners to some Degree on receiving a Hint dropp'd with such tremendous Force. "I should say, on a conservative Estimate, that it is worth three Times as much as all the Treasure you see stack'd in this Room, tho' of Course such Considerations are beneath the Notice of the serious Collector."
On hearing this Information, Sam was so clearly possess'd by a sudden Idea, that one could very nearly see the Light of it shining above his Head. But then he regarded his Master with some Unease, as if he knew some extraordinary Task of Persuasion to lie ahead of him. He took his Master's Hands in his own, and kiss'd his Fingers one by one, stopping at last to admire, as it seem'd, the precious Object upon which the fair Halfling doted. "Well, Sir," quoth he, "It's a lovely thing indeed. But it seems to me we need it now for something other than to look at it in box, if you take my meaning."
At first the fair Halfling seem'd not to take Sam's Meaning at all, for he responded to this Remark with a Stare of utter Bafflement. When at last he understood that Sam intended to bid the Stamp at Auction, he at first would hear nothing of it, declaring that he would never have another Chance such as this. This Dream, he declar'd, was one he had sought for too long to abandon lightly; for the Possession of the Star of Harad would forever enshrine him in the supreme Pantheon of Philately. Besides, the Possession of such an Object would reduce to Nothing the Pretensions of his cousin Lotho, who had always maintain'd that he would obtain a Copy first.
"Sir," quoth Sam, gently but firmly removing the Stamp from his Master's Hands, "I think you need a new Hobby." And with a Combination of Kisses, Expostulation, and outright Nagging, Sam at length manag'd to convince the fair Halfling that no Stamp could provide him with Happiness sufficient to Counterbalance a Lifetime of Slavery.
This Passion for a mere Thing may seem most blameworthy; but Madam, I cannot forbear observing at this Time, that the Halfling's sad Disorder might well be suffer'd by us all. For there is no Force in the World more powerful than the Lust of the Hobbyist, when once some belov'd Object hovers within her Grasp. Therefore all such Interests are to be regarded with greater Caution than more obvious Vices such as Gambling, Politicks, or Gin. What begins as innocent Curiosity will all too often erupt into an all-consuming Passion; and many the Lady who laughs at the Philatelist, or who holds the Numismatist up to publick Scorn, will herself go without Food and Drink until she has completed her Set of collectible porcelain Figurines.
Fortunately the fair Halfling was at this Time possess'd of the only known Antidote to this Disease: viz., the Love of one utterly unaffected by it. Thus after a mere half-Hour or so of tearful Pleas, he succumb'd to the Inevitable; Sam took the Stamp, and return'd to Mr. Peters. "Sir," quoth he, "I bid this then." And he held the Star of Harad up to Mr. Peters' trembling Grasp.
For some Moments we all of us gaz'd in silence as Mr. Peters turn'd the Stamp over in his Hands, at last he look'd at the Attorney. "Do any other Gentlemen wish to bid?" inquir'd he.
So enrag'd was the Attorney that he could not reply, apart from a gnashing of his Teeth so loud that it could no doubt be heard in the Street.
"I shall take that gnashing, Sir, to be a Negative," said Mr. Peters, "and I commend to your Attention the excellent Dentist whose House adjoins my own, as you doubtless will soon be requiring his Services." Then he look'd about the Room, beaming with the kindest Expression we had ever seen. "Ladies," quoth he, "we are rich!"
With that he drain'd his Glass and flung it empty into the Fire. "SOLD!" cried he.
Once more the Room rang with our Cheers; the Wine flow'd freely; and the Prospects were fair for universal Happiness. In a most delightful Turn of Events, the Attorney storm'd from the Room in a Passion, pulling the drunken Gambling-master with him, and Mr. Peters celebrated their Departure by ordering from the lower Cellars the best Wine that we had in the House.
After taking a Glass or Two of Wine with the Company, the Captain declar'd his Intention of escorting the beauteous Youth and the Halflings to the Chambers regularly reserv'd for the Purposes of Justice, where he would hear their Cases on the Morrow -- as, he confess'd, he should have done long before, had not his Passion driven him to conceal the fair Halfling at our House. For our Part, we Ladies saw no Reason to deprive the Captain or the Youth of each other's Company, yet we would not hear of permitting the Halflings so soon to depart, arguing that such blameless Creatures deserv'd to enjoy the best Comforts that Osgiliath could provide as they awaited their Trial. To this proposal the Captain quickly agreed, stipulating only that one or two of his Men should remain to guard the House, for it was his Duty to submit the Halflings to at least some token Interrogation before they gain'd the Freedom of Ithilien.
He then made his Farewells, and seem'd only too happy to have this Time to converse with the beauteous Youth, to whom he found no End of Things to Say. For it seem'd that the Captain had long been endeavouring to learn the Language of the Haradrim. He thus siez'd this Opportunuty to increase his Fluency, and the Youth seem'd by no means averse to becoming his Captor's Tutor. In this Manner they pass'd from the Room, the Youth most patiently instructing the Captain in those Words he did not know. And to many of the Ladies it seem'd these Lessons offer'd the highest possible Testimony to the Youth's extraordinary Virtue. For he succeeded almost entirely, tho' by a supreme Effort of Will, in not Laughing at the Captain's Accent.
So pleasant an Interchange was this to see, and so bright with the promise of dawning Love, that several of the Ladies declar'd that this Youth pleas'd them near as much as the Goat, and that their Hearts, while so wounded as to require an immediate Application of Brandy, were not entirely broken by their favourite Animal's Change in Shape and sudden Accession to the Throne of Reason.
During all this Time the Halflings recover'd their Spirits at the Table. At his Lover's fond urging, Sam at once devour'd all the Foodstuffs remaining with a Speed that astonish'd and delighted us all. As he had eaten no other Meal since before the Battle, several Ladies fetch'd for his Use an additional light Collation: viz., a mug of good Ale, a roast Brisket of Beef, and some five dozen fresh Oysters, these last Items being thought for some Reason especially crucial to his Health and Spirits. And tho' Sam protested that he had never seen such Things before, and wonder'd aloud whether such Vittels, as he call'd them, were truly Meant for a Hobbit's Stomach, he nonetheless consum'd ev'ry One of them with great Relish, and did the Ladies the high Compliment of looking about for more.
Much did we rejoice in each other's Company at this Time, but at length Mr. Peters yawn'd mightily and said that the Hour was late, and that he must seek the Comfort of his Bed. But first he soundly kiss'd each one of us in Turn, declaring he had never in his Life been so well pleas'd, and that as a Token of his undying Gratitude we should all of us be supplied with as much in the Way of Pens and Paper as we could desire. Most modestly did he listen to our Thanks and Cheers at this generous Offer. And then, with all our Blessings upon him, he started for the Door.
As he stood in the Threshold of our Chamber, he turn'd to give the Halflings one final Word of Advice. "Be sure," quoth he, "to fulfil your Contract before this Evening is out. Else we shall have that blasted Attorney filing a Lawsuit on the Morrow as sure as the Sun shall rise. And I have no Doubt that when once he'd got us all in a Court-room he'd have you in his Clutches in an Hour."
We were all us quite mystified by this Remark, as we could not imagine what Mr. Peters meant by the Halflings' Contract; nor could Minds as pure as our own comprehend any Action undertaken by an Attorney. Sam express'd himself equally baffled by these Words. "I don't rightly know what you mean by a contract," quoth he. "Seems to me my Master's free, and that's what the whole business of the stamp was about."
"Free!" cried Mr. Peters. "Bond of Maedhros! I should say not! Your Master's Virginity hath been sold: sold to you, Sir; an event that can hardly have escap'd your Attention, since the Valar know you paid enough for it."
"But -- I didn't mean -- " quoth Sam.
"Now, Sir," continued Mr. Peters, taking no Notice of the Interruption, "if this Virginity is not claim'd upon the very Date of Purchase, it will be deem'd an abandon'd Property and revert back to the orginal Seller, that is, to me. And in such a sad Case, greatly as I admire your Master's Virtue, I would have no Choice but to complete the Sale to the next highest Bidder."
Sam gap'd open-mouth'd at this bald Statement of the commercial Obligation he had unwittingly incurr'd, and the fair Halfling bow'd his Head and look'd at the Floor, so that Nothing could be seen of him but bright Curls and the very Tips of his Ears, which had grown most unaccountably red. Many of the Ladies cried out in Dismay over the extraordinarily indelicate Nature of their Situation.
"Sir!" cried Clarissa, "I have studied the commercial Law of Minas Tirith for many Years, and have never in all that Time encounter'd such a Provision as you mention. It seems to me, that by every known Law relating to Real Property, a Purchaser cannot be said to have Title in any Object, unless he be perfectly free to enjoy its Use at his own Discretion. The Frequency of said Use, Sir, is no Affair of the State, whether that Use be a mere occasional Thing, or three or four Times of a Month, or so frequent that each Dawn shall find both the Purchaser and the Purchase lying exhausted upon their Bed in a tangl'd Heap of sweat-drench'd Limbs."
"See here --" quoth Sam.
"Ah, but Madam, you forget," interrupted Mr. Peters, "that it is the Halfling's Virginity that has been sold, not his Person. Now Virginity is by its Nature the most Perishable of Goods; 'tis a flickering Flame extinguish'd by the slightest Breath of Love. Thus it was decreed in Numenor of old, in the ninth and sixtieth Year of the Reign of Tar-Buggerion, that any such Purchase shall be subject to a Condition Precedent: viz., that the Buyer must take Possession before he can be invested with full Title; else he cannot know the Worth of his Purchase. Such a Condition applies to all Sales of Virginity whatever, as well as to certain other Goods prone to the sudden Loss of their entire Worth, such as fine Pastries, excessively fashionable Clothing, and Boy Bands."
"Sir," said Clarissa with a Frown, "I have no Recollection of any such Condition Precedent. Moreover you seem to be saying that Virginity may not legally be purchas'd until it is already lost."
"Precisely!" cried Mr. Peters.
At this Sam could do no more than splutter. With a worried Glance at the unhappy Halflings, Clarissa then drew Mr. Peters and several of the Ladies near me into an urgent whisper'd Conference out of their Hearing, and observ'd with some Vehemence that Love should not be forc'd to dance Attendance upon the Law in this Manner.
But Seleta surpris'd us greatly by breaking into stifl'd Laughter so Hearty that she scarce manag'd to Conceal it from the Halflings' Notice. "Madam," quoth she in the same low Tone, "your Memory does not play you false; you are a Font of Wisdom on this as on any other Subject. There is no such Condition; 'tis an Invention of Mr. Peters, and a most ingenious one as well. For without some helpful Artifice, this adoring Pair might very well wait to consummate their Union for as long as Thingol and Melian of old, who stood motionless, I believe, in a Wood for several Centuries, staring upon each other with no more Notion of what to do than two Squirrels at a Game of Tennis."
In response to these Hints from Seleta, Mr. Peters admitted that he had indeed done some Violence to his natural Ingenuousness. Clarissa confess'd herself much dismay'd, but the other Ladies in the little Conference maintain'd that there was much to be said for this Course. Tho' Prevarication of any Kind fill'd us with Horror, many among us were forc'd to admit, that two Lovers with such an establish'd Record of Diffidence would benefit greatly from some little Expedient of this Kind.
"Sir," said Seleta, "this is most cleverly done. And if ever, my dear Sir, I have complain'd of your Methods, then I have wrong'd you greatly, and implore your Forgiveness."
"Flowers of Vana!" mutter'd Mr. Peters with some Asperity, "you Ladies would do well to remember that my Business is the Promotion of Pleasure, and that other Persons beside yourselves are capable of bringing a long Tale to a gratifying Conclusion."
Then with a great Show of Indignation, assum'd for the Halflings' Benefit, he withdrew from this little Cabal, and continu'd in a much more strident Voice than before. "Mazes of Eeol, Ladies!" shouted he, "For how long will you entrammel me in a legal Argument? If you have any questions on this Matter, I suggest that you look it up in some suitable Book of Reference, such as the complete fifty-volume Edition of the Statutes of Gondor, most conveniently located in the lowest Cellars of Minas Tirith, a mere fifteen Miles away thro' Orc-infested Territory."
"See here, now," Sam began with some Heat, but he fell silent when the fair Halfling rose.
With his lovely Face still suffus'd with Blushes, as well it might be in the Midst of a Discussion containing such explicit legal Terms, the Halfling walk'd to Mr. Peters, and look'd up at him. "Sir," quoth he, "I wonder if I might prevail upon you to provide me with some few small Items."
"Sir," quoth Mr. Peters, "I shall do everything in my Power to serve you, save set you free, or release you from your Obligation to surrender your Virginity to your Servant forthwith. Yet within these few trivial Bounds, your slightest Wish will be my Command. What is't you require?"
"Towels," quoth the Halfling, "and some Soap. For it is my Purpose" -- and now he spoke in a loud Tone of great Determination, looking fiercely at a Point perhaps a Foot to Sam's Left, "to take a Bath. I must confess, that I have never felt more in need of one than now. Indeed I strongly feel that I have been depriv'd of a Bath for far too long; and that if I do not soon have a Bath, I shall perhaps go Mad; and that if there be any Person who should refuse to assist me in this simple Request, so long deferr'd -- nay, deferr'd to an Extent unknown perhaps since the Creation of Arda --" and here he paus'd, having involv'd himself in a Euphemism so opaque that the End of his Sentence had quite vanish'd in the Mists of his Rhetoric. "In short," he continued he, after recollecting his Thoughts, "in short, if any Person should refuse to assist me, in Circumstances such as these, then he cannot truly love -- that is, I would never dream of compelling -- that is -- " And once more he look'd at his Feet.
Fortunately several of the younger Ladies sav'd him from any Further Embarrassment, by silently providing him with the Items he requested.
Even so stern an advocate of Virtue as Clarissa must capitulate before such a Plea. "My dear," quoth she, "the Bathing-Chamber is just through that Door."
"Madam, I thank you," quoth the Halfling. And with a toss of his Curls, the Halfling very pointedly did not look at Sam, but strode through the Doorway that Clarissa had indicated, where he was soon Lost to our Sight.
At this Time, ev'ry Eye in the Room was suddenly fix'd upon Sam.
"Um," quoth he.
For some Moments he shifted from Foot to Foot. But of a Sudden he smil'd into the Air, as if he saw in his Fancy some Thing that delighted him Greatly. Then he recollected himself with a Start, and scowl'd at the surrounding Ladies. He lower'd his Head so that he could see none of us: a time-honor'd Method for becoming invisible in a large Company, tho' an ineffectual one; for we could see him quite plain, and see as well the little Smile that at once return'd to his Lips. Having satisfied himself in his own Mind, however, that the Indiscretion he was about to commit would be unobserv'd, he follow'd his Master thro' the Door, muttering, as he shut it firmly behind him, that he had never seen the like in all his Days.
At the Thought of the Happiness that awaited this fortunate Pair, all the Ladies sigh'd in rapturous Sympathy, and indeed, so complete was their Mental Union with the Halflings that their Bodies insensibly follow'd the Drift of their Minds, and cluster'd round the Door to the Bathing-chamber. So fix'd was our Attention upon this Architectural Feature that many among us scarce noticed as Mr. Peters took his Leave at last.
Yet he was not able to part from us without one final Word of Advice. "Dear Ladies," quoth he, sticking his Head over our Threshold one last Time, "I implore you: if you wish to eavesdrop upon the Halflings in their Bliss, prithee find some discreet Method of doing so. I will not have Scandal brought upon this House, no matter how much any Information you might obtain would gratify our Customers on the Morrow. "
Thus he left us, humming to himself over the Riches he had attain'd, as well the Happiness he had created. For by some odd Fatality this Gentleman's pursuit of Wealth invariably brought true Felicity to others; and dear Madam, in an imperfect World such as this, there can be no higher Calling.
A Lady of your firm Morals and just Sense of what is Right, dear Madam, must surely believe, that our sole Concern at this Time would be to compose some Paen of Praise to the generous Master of our House. I rejoice in the Knowledge that you are animated by such high Sentiments as these, but must confess that they never once occurr'd to us. Alas! I am thus compell'd to conclude my Narration in a Way that surely will grieve and disappoint you. For as I have observ'd on many previous Occasions, I serve the Cause of Truth; and thus I cannot conceal from your Attention that we had but one Concern: to find a Way to view what transpired within the Bathing Chamber, whilst concealing this supremely rational Quest for Enlightenment from the Halflings' Attention.
Some Ladies suggested opening the Door, but that, we realized at once, would be too indiscreet. Others of a bolder Nature propos'd climbing atop the Roof and peering thro' the Skylight, but this was judge'd too dangerous, and possibly more imprudent than the other, as a Lady absorb'd in the delightful Spectacle might lose her Balance and hurtle down into the Bath atop the startl'd Halflings.
Thus at last it was determin'd that our sole Choice was the Peep-hole behind one of the Tapestries in our own Chamber. This clever Device was design'd for the Use of such Customers as felt a Desire to see the Ladies at their Baths, or perchance to observe some Couple or Group disport themselves within; it permitted the happy Watcher both to see and to hear all that pass'd. This Expedient had but one Flaw that we could see: viz., there was room at the Peep-hole for but a single Lady.
It at once became apparent that we had reach'd a Crisis in the Affairs of our little Community, for all long'd greatly for this Prize. All agreed, that to take Turns would permit only such hasty and fragmented Views as to leave us with little Idea of what transpir'd. All agreed, as well, that if one Lady were delegated to watch alone, she could easily at some future Date put Pen to Paper and commit her Observations to a Tale, as was then much the Custom among us. Only by such a Means could all the Ladies be regaled with a complete and accurate Description of the great Climax to this night's History. Yet at this Time the Ladies look'd at each other with some Dismay, for it seem'd impossible to determine, without a protracted Battle, which Lady should have the Honor and the Responsibility of viewing the Action at first Hand.
Before the Situation could degenerate into Violence, however, Seleta stepp'd forward. "I propose . . ." quoth she.
"Yourself, Madam, naturally," quoth the good-natur'd Amelia, with a rapid Flick of her Fan.
"Nay, Madam," quoth Seleta, "that might be a cause of dispute among us, tho' I know such an Eventuality would never occur to you. For your Sweetness is well known, and you have ever been to the rest of us a dazzling Light of Courtesy and good Breeding. Never in all your Days have you been known to Gossip, or to make malicious Remarks; or to abuse Another for the imagin'd Crime of enjoying a better Fortune than yourself. Nevertheless, Madam, tho' it may shock Feelings as delicate as your own, such Things have taken place on one or two Occasions in the grand Sweep of Events that is Human History. Thus to avoid any such Cause of Scandal in our own House, I propose an Expedient less obvious than myself: this Girl." And to my great Surprise, she pointed to me.
"I, Madam?" cried I, blushing profusely as the entire Company star'd in my Direction. "But how can I describe such a wonder as the Loss of the Halfling's Virginity? I am but a Girl; I have master'd only the first seventeen Positions in the Dwarvish Craft of Love, and I nearly broke my Neck doing that. And 'tis well known that not one of my Tales hath ever been rated at more than PG-13."
"Indeed," quoth Seleta, "and most irksome it hath been to read o'er a lengthy Tale with naught in the Way of a Climax at the End, whether Narrative or any other Kind. But 'tis the very Reason why you are best suited of us all. For no Lady among us can be offended by her Exclusion when the one chosen is so manifestly unsuited to the Task before her. And the Valar know," added she, looking upon me with the severe Expression that we younger Ladies so greatly dreaded, "that you need the Practice."
For some Moments the Ladies murmured among themselves as they consider'd Seleta's Plan. At last the wise Clarissa spoke. "I know not, my dear," quoth she, "that I concur entirely with your Reasons, which seem to me to be on the cynical Side. But 'tis True that this Child was the one who sav'd the Halfling's Stamp, and thus perchance she deserves some Reward for her quick Thinking and superior Coordination. And furthermore, should she by some dreadful Chance be caught, the Lovers might be the better inclin'd to forgive her, knowing, as they do, that they owe to her their Happiness. And they would know as well -- or at least they would, after some Screaming, be brought to acknowledge -- that the meddling kind of Curiosity in which she is about to indulge stems not from any moral Evil, but from the natural Stupidity of Youth."
All the Ladies at once applauded Clarissa's Argument as a Masterpiece of both Logick and Persuasion. With no further ado I was hustl'd into Position behind a heavy Tapestry in one Corner of the Room. Greatly alarm'd tho' I was at being assign'd such a Task, my Friends would not permit me to discuss the matter, for as Seleta observ'd, Time flies on Wings of Eagles, while Controversy remains mired in the Swamp of Delay. If we did not make Haste, the amorous Phenomenon we hop'd to Record for History would have come and gone.
Very shortly, then, I was ensconced upon a Cushion behind the Tapestry; the Sounds of the Ladies in our Chamber fell away, and there I remain'd, as quiet as a Mouse engag'd in some Act of Burglary. And tho' the Air behind the Tapestry was fill'd with Dust, and presented a very great Temptation to Sneeze, I struggled mightily not to succumb. Imagine, Madam, my Dismay at my delicate Situation! For I was well aware that if I should disturb the Halflings in their Amours, or for some other Reason fail to produce a complete Account of 'em, then my dear Friends, fond of me tho' they might be, would certainly cast me out Naked into the Street, and future young Ladies at that House would learn to shudder at my loath'd Name.
Yet my Fear of this dread Outcome was almost wholly lost in a greater Terror. For I confess to you, Madam, that if my own Desire to observe the Halflings were not immediately satisfied, I felt sure I should combust upon the Spot, bringing the entire House down around me in Flames.
For some Moments I blink'd, trembling with Fear and Longing, at the Peep-hole, and so great was my Distraction that I could scarce find my Bearings. In Truth it was at first most difficult to see, for the Room was lit only by Moonbeams streaming down from the Skylight, as well as by the Flames of several Banks of Candles along the Walls, many of which had gutter'd out by this Hour in the Evening. Greatly did I fear that we were too late, and that the Halflings, unable to restrain themselves after Years of Deprivation, were rolling about on the Floor in some dark Corner out of my View.
Yet as my Eyes slowly adjusted to the Light within, I saw to my extreme Surprise, that far from being lock'd in an amorous Embrace, the Halflings had taken up Positions at quite opposite Ends of the Room. The fair Frodo sat upon an unpromisingly small Seat, indeed a mere rickety wicker Dining-chair by no Means big enough for Two, and there he turn'd over the Pages of a Book that one of the Ladies had earlier left upon a Table, and to my Surprise I saw it to be the very Book that had so strangely divided our harmonious Community when Captain Faramir first knock'd upon our Door. Meanwhile Sam was busy with some Crockery in a Corner. It soon became Evident that Sam had discover'd the few small Refreshments kept in the Chamber, and was occupying himself in the Preparation of Tea: a form of Foreplay that would be frown'd upon among the Dwarves, but that perhaps was Customary among Halflings.
I could only hope that the resourceful Sam could find some Way to make do in a Bathing-Chamber as poorly appointed as ours, and wonder'd with some Concern whether the few Appurtenances of Pleasure available would contain among 'em whatever Devices the Customs of his People requir'd for the Achievement of his Purpose. For the Room was devoted solely to the Maintenance of Health and Cleanliness. Several Pools of various Sizes were fed by hot Springs from deep within the Earth: but this Convenience is one that all Readers of Literature know to be a common Thing upon Arda, which has been bless'd by the Valar with hot Springs at Intervals no greater than fifty Paces apart. Yet most fortunate was the Generosity of the Valar in our Case, for we had few other supplies besides Water for the Comfort of Bathers, unless it were our Array of Scented Soaps, exotic Balms, soothing Lotions, and aromatic Oils.
Nor was there aught in the Room to recall the Mind to a Project of Pleasure: for the marble Columns upholding the Roof flower'd in erotic Carvings only at their very Tops. Even the Walls were Sombre, for their Frescoes dwelt upon historical Themes of the gravest Nature: viz., Turin surpris'd by Beleg in his Bath; Beren at his Ease in a Bower, toying with the nether Curls of a blushing Thingol; and Durin, mighty Father of the Dwarves, in that supreme Moment when he discover'd Position Twenty-three in the Craft of Love.
Yet in the scant Light I have mention'd, even such tedious Pictures as these could scarce be discern'd, save when the flickering Light of the Candles chanced to expose a naked Limb here, a heaving Breast there; here an Eye just fluttering clos'd, there a Mouth parted in a silent Moan of Desire.
Nor, in the midst of this dismal Plainness, did we possess a convenient Place where the Bathers might Rest after their heated Immersion, unless it were upon one of the broad Couches along the Walls. Moreover these Couches were hardly conducive to the Indulgences of the Voluptuary, for each was strewn with the most ordinary Covers of embroider'd burgundy Velvet, trimm'd with gauzy Curtains in a matching Shade, and over-hung with Mirrors fram'd in very little Gilt indeed. And should a frail Seeker of Health be fainting with the Need for an immediate Treatment, he would find, within these plush Cocoons of Velvet and Silk, scarce five or six Pillows upon which he might be brac'd, to permit his Medicine more effectually to Penetrate the innermost Depths of his Being.
It was, perchance, the severe Austerity of these Surroundings that caus'd the fair Halfling to focus with such Intensity upon his Book, and that caus'd Sam, too, to prepare the Tea as if his very Life depended upon its Perfection. At length he carried to his Master a Tray laden with Teapot, Cups, and a Platter of Muffins, Butter, and Jam; he then set down the Tray, pour'd out the Tea, and drew up another wicker Chair to join the fairest Creature that ever walked under the Stars, yet with all the seeming polite Distance of one visiting a maiden Aunt.
At that Time I fear'd Mr. Peters' ingenious Plan had fail'd of its Intent: for in making the Halflings believe they were compell'd to come to the Point at last, he had perhaps converted the Act of Love from a Delight to a Chore, and all the Kisses they had exchang'd to this Point might very well go for naught, so great was their Dread of the tiresome Task that lay ahead. And while they might deign at length to do as they had been told, I suspected they would display all the Enthusiasm of a Gentleman who has been ask'd by his Lady to perform some trivial Task, such as taking the Dog for a Walk, or picking up Things left upon the Floor.
Then, too, dear Madam, another sad Truth may lie at the Heart of this Mystery. 'Tis one Thing to kiss in a publick Place, where Propriety forbids any Act more advanc'd than some slight Writhing. 'Tis quite another to kiss where naught is forbidden whatever. For when all external Constraint is gone, both Parties must face whatever Constraint lies within their Hearts; and in the Case of the fair Halfling, those Shackles of the Soul could not but have been very strong. When a Prisoner's Cell Door is flung open at last, and he feels for the first time in Years the Light of the Sun upon his Face, he may well discover, when it comes to the Point, that he has liv'd in the Dark for so long that he fears to leave it.
Yet Love is the Key that will unlock even such a Prison as this. Thus Hope stirr'd in my Heart when Sam paus'd with his Teacup in his Hand, and look'd at his Master with a peculiarly earnest Expression. I felt sure that at any Moment he would break into some poetical Effusion revealing the innermost Sentiments of his Heart; and sure enough, he open'd his Lips to speak.
"Sugar?" quoth he.
"No, thank you," quoth the fair Halfling, without looking up from his Book.
A brief Silence ensued.
"Cream?" quoth Sam.
"Samwise," quoth the fair Halfling, slamming shut his Book, "I do not, as you know perfectly well, take either Sugar or Cream in my Tea." With that he siez'd a Muffin, split it in two, and commenc'd spreading it with Butter.
"Thought you might like to try some, Sir," quoth Sam, "seeing as how we're not in a marsh for once, or lost in the mountains, or bobbing along for days in a boat as wasn't meant to carry decent folk."
"I fail to understand," quoth the Halfling, "why a Change of Locale should bring about a miraculous Transformation in my personal Tastes. I do not take Sugar or Cream; I have never taken Sugar or Cream. I would have thought that so fix'd a Preference would be clear to a Hobbit of an Intelligence as great as your own. You have had many Opportunities to observe it. We have been on this Journey together for some five Months; before that, you were in and out of my Hole several Times a Day."
Somewhat in that last Remark seem'd to distress both Halflings, for Sam clear'd his Throat and look'd down, whilst the fair Frodo proceeded to rip his butter'd Muffin into small Pieces not much larger than Crumbs, and to push them about on his Plate.
Sam took a Sip of Tea before responding; then he look'd up, a slight Smile playing about his Lips and sparkling in his Eyes. "Sir," quoth he, "I don't see as how that muffin has done you any harm."
At this his lovely Companion made a Sound somewhere between a Choke and a Laugh. "It is the innocent Victim of my Foolishness," he declar'd. "My dear Sam, I would not know a Muffin from Horse-shoe at this Point."
Sam made as if to reach across the Table with his Hand, but tho' his Master look'd not wholly Averse to this Proffer of Peace, for the Moment he continu'd to look down. Sam thus contented himself for the Moment with a vague Pat upon the other's right Cuff, and then turn'd to more practical Matters. "Well you can't eat a Horse-shoe," quoth he, serving his Master a fresh Muffin atop the gor'd Remains of its Predecessor.
"No more can I eat this Muffin, I believe."
"Sir!" exclaim'd Sam, plainly shock'd, "don't you take on so! Those Elvish biscuits do keep us on our feet, but these ladies have given us the first proper food we've seen in weeks." Thus urg'd, the fair Halfling slowly began spreading Butter upon the Muffin, tho' 'twas plain, from the frequent Glances he cast in Sam's Direction, that no Butter had ever held less Interest for its Possessor in the entire History of Gastronomic Science.
Yet another Silence ensued, broken only when the fair Halfling inadvertently slurp'd at his Tea, and hastily mutter'd an Apology for this Breach of Decorum: he then apologiz'd for the Apology, then apologiz'd once more; and at last declar'd with some Frustration that he had no Notion of what he meant.
"That's fine, Sir," quoth Sam vaguely. Clearly casting about for some neutral Subject, he gestur'd toward the Book. "What have you been reading, then?"
"This Book?" inquir'd the Halfling with a Blush. "It is -- I scarce know what to call it: 'tis in Dwarvish, and 'tis some Sort of a Book of Instruction."
"Metalworking, then?" ask'd Sam. "Mining?"
"Neither," quoth the Halfling; "'tis a Subject more suitable to the Profession of the Ladies who reside in this House; 'tho I must confess" -- and here he paus'd, as if he knew not quite how to phrase his next Observation -- "I confess, that I am not sure whether 'tis a book of idle Tales after all, for -- well -- " He paus'd once more, open'd the Book to a Place he had previously marked, and then frown'd upon the Page with some degree of Puzzlement. "This Illustration," continued he, "makes me suspect the Book to be Fiction after all; for I know not how it is that the Gentlemen concern'd could maintain such a Position, at least for any considerable Length of Time."
Sam obligingly mov'd his Chair just behind his Master's so he could peer over his Shoulder and consult upon this most important Matter; the fair Halfling sigh'd, and lean'd back a few Inches to permit Sam a better View of the Page, tho' this Change in Position forc'd him to submit to the tragic Necessity of leaning against Sam's sturdy Chest.
"Let's see, then," quoth Sam.
"See what?" inquir'd his Master, perchance somewhat distracted by the Fact that Sam's Breath stirr'd against his Curls.
"This picture of yours," quoth Sam. "Ah, well, then," added he, when the fair Halfling silently held the Book up for his Perusal, in Hands that for some Reason shook slightly. "There's your problem, Sir; it's upside-down." And to illustrate this difficult Concept, Sam reach'd around his Master and turn'd the Book end over end, a Motion that, apparently, exhausted him so greatly that he found it essential to rest his Arms about his Master, rather than expend the Effort of returning to his previous, more distant Position.
At first the fair Halfling responded to this Change in his Circumstance by doing no more than make a soft Sound of Contentment, while leaning back into the Embrace.
Yet this promising Intimacy ceas'd abruptly when the fair Halfling jerk'd forward with a Start, as if he had suddenly recollected some previous Appointment of the greatest Urgency. "Upside-down?" quoth he. "My dear Sam! How is't you know?"
Sam clear'd his throat. "Well," quoth he, "I've heard the lads talk."
In answer the fair Halfling merely turn'd and look'd him in the Eye; a Condition Sam could endure for perhaps an entire Second before he look'd down with ev'ry Evidence of Confusion. "Also," quoth he, seemingly addressing his own Shirt-buttons, "I've met a dwarf or two, passing through the Shire in the way of Business. And I got to know them a bit, if you take my meaning."
"I am not sure," quoth the fair Halfling, "that I do."
The Silence that fell after this icy Rejoinder was so ominous, that I felt only some Hero of Legend might dare Break it.
"We've --" quoth Sam, licking at his Lips and allowing his Eyes to dart up for one nervous Moment to meet his Master's gaze, "we've -- that is, some dwarves and I, have had a bit of conversation, now and again . . ."
"During which, it seems, they found Occasion to explain the intricacies of this Position, one which assumes all Four of the Participants to possess the Flexibility of the giant Squid rumour'd to inhabit the uttermost Depths of Ulmo's Kingdom."
"Well, Sir, it's true that some of the Dwarves are quite flexible, leastways when they've been going at it for a while . . ."
"And this," demanded the Halfling, "is known to you how?"
Sam squirm'd most miserably in his Chair, but fac'd with a direct Question such as this, he could plainly think of nothing to say but the Truth. "Sir," quoth he, "I got to know them, 'tis true, though it weren't nothing but a bit of play now and again, and practice . . ."
"Practice!" exclaim'd the fair Halfling. "Practice! Practice for what? Was there, perchance, some Competition in this Sort of Thing at the Tuckborough Fair, a Competition of which I was for Years somehow kept unaware, and doubtless offer'd between the three-legged Race and the Award for the prize Pig?"
"Practice, Sir, for . . ."
But the fair Halfling seem'd deaf to all Attempts at Comfort. "Perchance," quoth he, "since I cannot pretend to be as skill'd in the Arts of Love as these Dwarves you seem so fond of, we should declare our Contract null and void, and I should surrender myself to that foul Attorney. For my Respect for your Wishes is such, that gladly will I enter a Life of Slavery, so as not to disturb you and your Dwarvish Friends in your Practice."
"Mr. Frodo --" quoth Sam, endeavouring to soothe the agitated Halfling by rubbing his Shoulders. But tho' the fair Frodo suffer'd this Familiarity, he seem'd as pliant beneath the Touch as a particularly obdurate Boulder. Without giving Sam an Opportunity to finish his Remarks, he whirl'd back to the Table and commenc'd riffling thro' the Pages of the Book, showing no Regard for its Status as a valuable Rarity.
"I only ask," cried he, with a Glare over his Shoulder that might have made an Orc-chieftan quiver in Terror, "that you take this Occasion of our otherwise unpleasant Proximity to advise me as a Friend, as to how I should comport myself when once I am at the Attorney's mercy; for it is my Understanding that some Acts of Love -- this, one, for Example -- " (and here the fair Halfling gestur'd wildly toward one of the Book's Illustrations that he had previously mark'd) " -- may be accompanied by some Pain; and while I hope that you do not, by this Time in our Journey, question either my Courage or my Endurance, I am not such a Glutton for Agony as to seek it on Purpose when it might by some Expedient be reduc'd, and thus -- " (and here the Halfling paus'd to gasp for Breath; and in Truth his Sentence had grown to such an inordinate Length, that I wonder'd greatly, Madam, whether it would end before Dawn) " -- and thus -- " (continu'd he, once his Lungs had been refresh'd with some life-giving Air) " -- and thus -- oh, Sam . . ." (and abruptly the Anger drain'd from his Face, to be replac'd by something that look'd very like pure Misery) " -- oh Sam," murmur'd he, slumping back in his Chair once more, and burying his Head in his Hands, "Practice? Practice for what? Sam, how could you?"
If such a Question is ask'd by a Lover striding angrily out the Door, it requires no Answer. If it is ask'd by a Lover throwing Crockery from across the Room, an Answer must be deferr'd until one has found a Place of Safety. But if ask'd, as it was in this Case, by Lover who has somehow fail'd to notice that he still is leaning against your Chest, it requires the very best Answer that you can give, and this Sam proceeded to do: that is, he took a deep Breath, and wrapp'd his Arms gently but firmly around the fair Halfling, and spoke.
"Practice," quoth he, "for you."
The Silence following this Remark stretch'd for so long, that I wonder'd if the fair Halfling had heard what Sam had said. Yet eventually he spoke, tho' in that cautious Tone of one who wishes to hear a full Explanation, lest he commit himself too hastily to so rash an Action as flinging himself into his Lover's Arms. "For me?" quoth he.
"Aye, Sir, for you," quoth Sam. "For you, for when you were ready. Though I'd almost stopped thinking you would be. And mayhap all these years I've been a fool and a ninnyhammer like my Gaffer's always said, but I thought . . . I always wanted, since as long as I can remember . . . well, it was plain foolishness, like wanting the sun and the stars. But, well, there ain't no harm in being prepar'd."
For some Time after this Speech naught could be heard but the gentle Musick of Water swirling thro' the Baths. But tho' the Halfling said not a Word, he did speak: speak with his Shoulders, which relax'd against his Lover; speak with his Lips, which parted in a Sigh; speak with his Eyes, which turn'd to look Sideways at Sam; and speak, at last, with somewhat that glisten'd upon his Cheek, which Sam wip'd gently away with one Finger.
"Oh, Sam," quoth the Halfling at length. "I am so sorry. It is a Wonder surpassing all the Legends of the Elves, that I manag'd to travel from Hobbiton to this Place without mishap, burden'd as I am with a Brain that would seem uncommonly small if lodg'd in the Skull of a Goldfinch."
In answer Sam merely hugg'd him closer, as Frodo took one of the rough Hands that rested on his Shoulder and twin'd the Fingers thro' his own. "Oh, Sam," quoth he, "I --" and then he turn'd his Head, and murmur'd some Words into Sam's Ear too low for me to catch.
"Aye, Sir, I know," quoth Sam. "And I you."
"I don't see why you do," quoth Frodo, "when for two-and-thirty Years, I have been as great a Fool as ever liv'd upon Middle-earth."
"No, Sir," quoth Sam, "that would be your cousin Lotho."
I do hope, Madam, that it will not Destroy your Idea of the Saviour of Middle-earth, who now is remember'd with such Reverence as to make him a Figure of Legend full as Remote as Beren or Eaerendil, if I tell you that at this Time he fell back into his Lover's Arms, and laugh'd like a mere Youth.
For some Moments they were given over wholly to this Merriment, yet 'twas a Merriment which was still, I thought, shadow'd by a Hint of Shyness, stemming from their mutual Understanding that they had yet some Business to complete. At length they subsided, and Frodo chanc'd to cast his Eyes upon the Volume which had brought so much Difficulty upon their Heads; a Book which, furthermore, by its very Nature must recall to their Minds the Terms of the awkward Contract that had brought them to this Room. Yet rather than seek some Diversion, the fair Halfling boldly rais'd the Book once more, and look'd upon the Illustration, tilting his Head this way and that to obtain a more comprehensive View.
"'Tis a most intriguing Picture," quoth he, after a Time, "whatever way you look at it."
"That it is, Mr. Frodo," Sam agreed.
"I expect," quoth the fair Halfling, "that like all Things, the Act it depicts would become somewhat easier with Practice."
"That it does, Mr. Frodo," quoth Sam, and he clos'd one Hand about his Master's, no doubt so as to be prepar'd to assist him when the Time came to turn the Page.
"To which of these Gentlemen," the Halfling inquired, "do you suppose that Foot belongs?"
"It's that second fellow from the bottom, I'll warrant," quoth Sam, "the one with his knees by his ears, so as one of the fellows atop him can get a good hard thrust in, while the other one takes him into his mouth."
This matter of Fact Explanation for some Reason made the fair Halfling shiver and swallow quite hard: and perchance because he tir'd of this Lesson, the Book fell loudly to the Table as he brought Sam's Hand to his Lips and kiss'd each Knuckle one by one. This Action, which could hardly be interpreted by even the most Diffident as a Sign of Indifference, seem'd to encourage Sam greatly, for he tighten'd his other Arm about his Master, a Position which thrust his Face into Frodo's Hair. For a moment he sigh'd into this soft Mass of dark Silk, but then he drew back to blow one Curl away, revealing a perfect Ear: all soft involuted ivory Whorls to explore with Lips and Tongue, and delicate Point to nip gently with his Teeth.
For some Moments the fair Frodo could do nothing but Sigh and shift restlessly in his Lover's Arms, tilting his Head back until it rested on Sam's Shoulder behind him. From my Angle I could see his lovely Profile, Lips parted in a soft Moan, and the elegant Curve of a Neck now Exposed to Sam's increasingly greedy Kisses. Soon the brown-gold curls of Sam's Head cover'd his Master's Neck completely, until Frodo's Moans hitch'd abruptly to a Cry, and he buck'd and toss'd back his Head under some Stimulus I could not quite see. "Sorry, Sir" quoth Sam, somewhat at a Loss for Breath, "that was too hard."
"Oh, not at all, I assure you," quoth Frodo, and with a Gasp he suddenly rais'd his Head and twisted in his Chair to face his Lover at last; and oh, Madam, never have I seen a Being more plainly ready for Love: his Eyes glow'd dark in his flush'd Face; his Lips curv'd gently upward in a Smile of Wonder; his Breath came fast, his Collar hung open to reveal a Neck mark'd with fresh Kisses. He reach'd over the Back of his Chair to frame Sam's Head in both his Hands; his Expression changed from Wonder to something like pure Intensity, and without further Ado he lean'd in and kiss'd him with a Fierceness that surpris'd me, as if he were consum'd with a Hunger that could be satisfied by nothing but Sam's Mouth.
So great was his Enthusiasm for the Task before him that several important Facts slipp'd his Mind: viz., the Fragility of the Chairs upon which they sat, and the Laws of Physics, for as he reached round Sam's Back to clasp him more closely, his own Chair tipped over into Sam's Lap, and so preoccupied was Sam that he could not prevent both Chairs from tumbling over backwards, spilling both their Occupants to the Floor in a Tangle of flailing Limbs.
When once the two Halflings sorted themselves out to some Degree, Frodo was straddling Sam's Hips and leaning over him, his dark Curls swinging over his Face. "Sam," he exclaim'd, "I am so very sorry!"
"Why?" inquired Sam. "We had to get out of those chairs sooner or later."
"But you might have been hurt . . ."
At this Evidence of Concern for his Health and Safety, Sam only smiled up at his Master. "Frodo," quoth he, "come here."
"Oh Sam," quoth the fair Halfling. "My dearest, dearest Sam. Yes I say yes I will yes." (1)
At this Time, my dear Madam, you may well expect the Account of that evening's great Events that hath long since been publish'd in Minas Tirith under my Name. For tho' I had so little expected to be the Lady chosen to give to the World the Tale of the Halflings' Amours, 'twas that Tale's Fame, and the great Applause it brought me, that made my Fortune. Indeed that Tale shall, I deem, outlive any other I wrote thereafter, saving, perchance, my Account in seven Volumes of the Amours of Manwe and Morgoth; an Account thought by some to be a very great Scandal, but that was, I must protest, the purest Effusion of religious Sentiment and Love of Truth.
'Tis that same Love of Truth that makes me confess to you to you now, dear Child, a most dreadful Secret, one that, in all the great Gulf of Years that lieth between that Time and this, hath been known to but one other Person. With Shame and Tears I must abase myself before the stern Goddess of Biography! For my celebrated Narration of the Halfling's Amours, with its steaming Baths and savory Oils, with its leather Collars and restraining Straps, with its Trampoline, Trapeze, and Rubber Tarp; with its unlook'd-for Orgy amongst some three or four of the fair Halfling's Cousins, a passing Badger, and several other odd Creatures that happen'd to be present; with its great final Cry of The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming! -- Alas!
'Twas all, 'twas all, ('tho I blush to say it) a Fiction!
-- A Fiction moreover so very distant from the Truth, that here, in a Narration so scrupulously Accurate that its very Misspellings must tremble in Fear, I must forebear from relating one Word of such egregious Falsehoods.
Doubtless a Lady of your natural Ingenuousness will wonder greatly that such a String of Lies as then I wrote should become the Toast of Minas Tirith. Yet to any Person well acquainted with the Ways of the World, it will not seem strange that the greatest of Honors should rest upon a Base so airy and insubstantial. Indeed, in any Account of the warmer Passions, a Fiction -- nay, even a Fiction as distant from Fact as the Earth from the Stars -- will to the generality of Mankind prove infinitely more pleasing than Truth.
And such would have been the case with my own Tale, or so I fear'd at that Moment in my early Youth. For Truth now compels me to declare, that the Halflings' Acts of Love on that Night illustrated in ev'ry Point the wisest Maxim in the Dwarvish Craft of Love. For lo! When Durin, mighty Father of the Dwarves, first rose from his long Sleep to look upon the World's Beauty, he spake in a voice of Thunder: The first Time, quoth he, shall never be any good, and indeed shall rarely be accomplish'd without grave Injury to one or both Parties.
Hence a true Account of the evening's events could not but Disappoint its Readers most severely. Indeed, such a plain Narration might make some among my fair Readers suppose that I brought before 'em that most Noxious Serpent in the Garden of Literature, that loathsome Parasite upon the fainting Form of Art, viz., a deliberate Parody.
Like any other Lady of pure and virtuous Mind, I shrank at that Time before the Spectre of such a dreadful Charge.
And yet one other, and greater, Consideration urg'd me to resort to the Expedient of deliberate Imposture. 'Twas this: the Love of the Halflings was, tho' so Clumsy as to be matter for Laughter, yet also so Tender as to be matter for Tears. And upon my Heart, Madam, this Sight could not but make the greatest Impression. I could not, when it came to the Point, turn a Fellow Creature's few Moments of Happiness into a Toy for the Amusement of the Idle.
Thus I resolv'd never to reveal to a Sneering and Indifferent World such a private Scene, in which the greatest Awkwardness and the greatest Tenderness were so inextricably mix'd.
Yet I was young, and in despite of this admirable Resolution, I had still to consider the Pleas of my Friends and the Precariousness of my Financial Situation. Thus when the Time came to commit this History to Paper, I did so indeed, or so it seem'd. But I submitted to my dear Friends naught but a harmless Concoction of pretty Words, taken variously from my own Fancies, the more curious Chapters of the Dwarvish Craft of Love, some few half-remembered Passages of other Ladies' Tales, and the Poesie recited to me one Day in the Street by a wandr'ing Orcish Bard. And such was the State of Taste in Minas Tirith, that this Literary Farrago seem'd to the thoughtless World a Masterpiece of Fine Writing. Greatly was it praised, tho' it contain'd no more of Truth, than the Vows of a faithless Lover, or the Excuses of a dilatory Student, or the Patriotic Effusions of any Sort of Politician.
Yet tho' the World be thoughtless, not all within it are thus. The sweet Amelia call'd my Work a pretty little Tale, and opin'd, that after some ten or twelve Years had pass'd, I might produce a Work that would do Credit to our House. The wise Clarissa, for her part, declar'd that while the Tale was perhaps not quite in all Places strictly consonant with the Dictates of Reason, it shone forth before the World as a bright Example of the Influence of True Love.
As for Seleta, she read the Tale over before permitting me to show it to the other Ladies. Naught said she, save to amend my Spelling in one or two Places, and to point out one Passage, where the Position of the Lovers would have requir'd the Nether Partner to break his Neck. After correcting this and some other small Violations of Probability and Physical Law, she suffer'd the Manuscript to leave her hands at last, and gave me a most curious Look.
"Madam," quoth I, "I hope I have not betray'd your Trust."
"Nay," quoth she, "you have done just as I wish'd, and betray'd no Trust at all."
Tho' this Lady was much inclin'd to veil her true Sentiments, I thought I caught her meaning. "Madam," quoth I, "thank you! I am indeed glad that you liked it."
Wherewith she smil'd, and kiss'd me upon the Forehead. "My dearest Girl," quoth she, whilst I strove to conceal my Blushes, "this Thing could not have been better done, had I done it myself."
And with that Approbation, dear Madam, I was well Content.
As for the fair Halfling, when in after Days my Bit of Nonsense made its way into his Hands, I am credibly informed that he laugh'd so hard that he fell quite out of his Chair.
Thus I shall return to my Tale, in that Place where both my Love of Truth, and my Respect for the Halflings' fondest and most secret Memories, may at last meet and kiss as Friends. Tho' after such a rapturous Union as they then enjoy'd, my dear Madam, there can be very little of my Tale to tell, save to mention the Fates of the primary Characters.
'Tis true that Captain Faramir suffer'd a Wound to his Feelings upon being rejected by the fair Halfling. In such a sad Circumstance, some Ladies of a romantick Disposition might think it only fitting that he should die of a broken Heart, perhaps after Pining in an interesting Way for a number of agonizing Months. But Madam, were you to encounter such an Assertion in a Tale, you would rightly conclude it to be naught by an idle Fancy. For surely you have glimps'd in the Streets of Minas Tirith our gallant Prince Faramir with his belov'd Master, on those rare festive Occasions when they might be spar'd from the Hurry of Business in his Master's Kingdom.
For the Dawn of Love we observ'd between the Captain and the beauteous Youth has long since flar'd into a broad Noon Day of Happiness. Astonishing tho' it may seem, they learn'd to forget their Passion for the fair Halfling. I purposely abstain from Dates on this Occasion, aware that the Cure of Unconquerable Passions, and the Transfer of unchanging Attachments, must vary much as to Time in different People. I only entreat you to believe, dear Madam, that exactly at the Time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a Week earlier, Captain Faramir and the beauteous Youth did cease to love the fair Halfling, and began to regard each other with the greatest Interest. (2)
Thus the Virtue of these excellent Men found its Reward in a Lifetime of Joy. And tho' many in Minas Tirith felt some Unease when the happy Pair settl'd in such a distant Country, yet our Fears for the Captain's Happiness prov'd groundless. For so delighted was the royal Family of Harad by the Goodness of the Captain's Heart, and by his great Love for their favorite Son, that they came to cherish the Captain almost as one of their Own. Indeed, so greatly did they esteem him, that after some dozen Years or so had pass'd, they affected not to Notice, or only once or twice in a Month, his barbarous Manners and his quaint Appearance.
And'tis no Secret, Madam, how -- once these first few trivial Difficulties pass'd into the Mists of Time -- this Union hath endur'd thro' the Years, and how much it hath encourag'd the Friendship of those two great Kingdoms of Men, Gondor and Harad.
As for the fair Halfling, he and his Sam left us the next Day. It had been their Purpose to leave at Dawn, but so weary were they after the protracted Labours of their Bath, that they did not even Rise until two o'clock in the Afternoon. Yet so rosy and refresh'd did they then appear, that not even Captain Faramir had the heart to berate them for their Tardiness.
With great Sorrow did we see them go, and we eas'd the Pain of our Parting by presenting them with many Gifts.
By the wise Clarissa, the fair Halfling was given a Book of her own composing, a summary Version of the great Elvish Legends. For it would be a great Shame, quoth she, if a Hero -- for such the fair Halfling plainly was -- should be as Ignorant of History as a particularly unsophisticated Duck.
By the kind-hearted Amelia, Sam was given an extraordinary Bottle of Elvish make, one strangely Light and easy to carry. It had, quoth she, the wondrous Power of remaining whole if suddenly jostl'd or dropp'd. Such a Bottle, which she term'd p'lastique, would be most useful for transporting valuable Products over long Distances, tho' in this Case it contain'd nothing more precious than Lavender-Oil. And what Use the Halflings might have for such a Gift, they alone knew, tho' Sam thank'd Amelia for it most profusely.
By Seleta the Halflings were given a detail'd Map of Mordor: for she had surmis'd, quoth she (with a sharp Look at a glittering Trinket round the fair Halfling's Neck), that they might need it. She also presented them with a crystal Phial containing some glowing Liquid.
"Let this be," cried she, "a Light unto you in dark Places, when all other Lights go out!" The fair Halfling protested that he already possess'd such a Thing, and held forth as Proof some pretty sparkling Toy he had been given by the Elves. But Seleta declar'd that the two Phials could not be more different. For the Elvish Phial contain'd but the Light of Eaerendil, while hers, which she begg'd them to keep close at Hand, contain'd somewhat far more essential to a Traveller in dangerous Country: viz., a powerful Insect-Repellent. This Gift the fair Frodo accepted with much Gratitude, for there was Nothing, he said with a Shudder, that he lik'd less than the multi-legged Vermin said to infest the Mountains in our Neighborhood, unless it were his cousin Lotho.
With many Tears on our Side, and many Thanks on theirs, they departed on their dangerous Quest, and our Hearts could find Relief from the Agony of Separation only by discussing the Halflings in exhaustive Detail the Moment they left the Room.
All the Ladies agreed that they were astonish'd by the working out of Ulmo's Curse. Yet some among us doubted that the prophecy of the Pool was entirely correct. "I must confess," quoth one of the younger Ladies, "that I do not understand how the exact Words of the Wishes might be fulfill'd: for Sam's Words requir'd, that they should be married and have many Children. Such a Series of Events would seem debarr'd to two Halflings who share, among so much else, a common Gender."
"As to that, Madam," cried another, "the Law, which hitherto has not been much of a Friend to Love, is fast keeping Pace with the needs of the Heart. For I have read that in the enlighten'd confines of Northern Mirkwood, it is now possible for two Gentlemen or Ladies to obtain, if not a Marriage, a Domestic Partnership."
"'Tis true indeed," quoth a third, "and this Arrangement would most happily entitle Sam to receive a full three-quarters of the fair Halfling's Pension, in the event of his sudden Dismemberment or Death, either Eventuality of which seems quite likely to transpire, given the many Dangers of their present wandering Way of Life."
"Yet I cannot but wonder," quoth a fourth, "whether such an Advance in the Law would be honour'd in more barbarous Countries."
"Indeed it would, Madam," quoth a fifth. "For only last Year, the supreme Council of the Rohirrim hath establish'd that any Rider may enter into a similar Partnership with his Horse."
"But even in such a Case," quoth a sixth, "how in the Name of all the Valar could they have Children?"
"Ladies! Ladies!" cried Seleta. "The Valar will do as they will; and Love will always find a Way. Never in all my Days have I heard such a pedantic quibbling Insistence upon the minutest Implications of Language! One would think, from the Nature of your Remarks, that I had fall'n into the Hands of the Enemy, and that as a Torment before my Demise I was forc'd to endure the Presence of a vile Company of Attorneys."
At this Remark several Ladies burst into Tears, and Seleta was forc'd to apologize. In Truth it was only the Passage of many Years that brought to us the surprising News that elucidated this Mystery. (3)
Regardless of our Wonder, the Happiness of the Halflings has continued to this Day. Many ignorant Persons believe that the fair Halfling left Middle-earth to go over the Sea. But I need not remind you, Madam, that this Tale is an utter Fiction. All such Rumours were put about by the Halflings themselves after the glorious Completion of their Quest, for the Purpose of discouraging the Intrusions of impertinent Autograph-Seekers. For tho' the Elves have promis'd them a Place in the last Ship to Valinor, there is no Reason for two Creatures as happy as they to depart a World that has brought them so much Joy.
My Tale is now done, and I hope, dear Madam, that it has answer'd all your Questions: most particularly the one you ask'd so many Months ago. Is't true, you inquir'd, that my Grand-papa was as Hot as Rumour now declares? Yes, my dearest Girl: your Grandfather Frodo was the fairest Creature I ever beheld. I never hope to see his Like again, tho' a sweet Echo of his Loveliness lives on in your Eyes, and in your dear Mother's.
And when your Studies are complete next Year, it is my Hope, dear Child, that you and your Mother may complete your long-plann'd Visit to the green Country of her Birth. There, in a little Place call'd Crickhollow, you may arrive on some not too distant Evening to see for yourself the incomparable Originals of the happy Pair I have here depicted. As you open the Gate of a Garden whose Flowers fill the night Air with Sweetness, Sam perchance will emerge from the House and laugh with Joy to see the Wanderers return'd. And when Sam calls within, the fair Halfling himself will come forth, his Beauty chang'd but not dimm'd by Time. He will take you and your Mother in his Arms, and ask after his old Friends in Gondor. There will be a warm Light within the House, and a Tea-Kettle singing over the Hearth; and the fair Halfling will welcome you Home at last.
Until that Time, dear Madam, I shall be happy to oblige both you and your dear Mother in any Way that will make your stay among us a happier one. For I remain, as ever, your most obedient humble Servant,
§ § §
The Letters are complete.
§ § §
Notes to Letter the Sixth
1. The profound and continuing influence of the Red Book upon Western literature may be seen in this passage, which has since been adapted by James Joyce for the final line of his great (if wholly incomprehensible) novel Ulysses. How Joyce obtained a copy of the Red Book has been a matter of considerable scholarly debate. While Pootwattle's theory of a German translation is superficially attractive, in my forthcoming article, "Molly Bloom is Big With Seed: the Entish Influence on Early Modernism" (forthcoming in the Fall 2008 edition of Spurts: A Journal of Ecology and Literature), I shall argue that both Joyce and Proust had access to a French translation of an Entish adaptation of the Red Book -- an influence which may account for the length of some of their sentences, which are quite lengthy for English or French but relatively pithy for Entish. Back to story
2. Readers of Jane Austen will of course realize that she adapted much of this paragraph for the ending of Mansfield Park. Back to story.
3. At this point Maria-Susannah's manuscript is much damaged by what looks like a wine-stain. As near as I have been able to decipher the text -- and I hasten to say that I may be completely wrong -- the next few sentences read as follows:
"I need not elaborate upon this Aspect of Ulmo's Curse, Madam, for one as closely connected to these Events as yourself; for the Secret of the fair Halfling's large Family has been so well preserv'd that I hesitate to mention it openly even in a private Letter such as this. Yet I cannot refrain from including one amusing Anecdote of the Family's History: 'tis said that Sam obtain'd his Nickname of Samwise the Brave not during his Quest as is commonly suppos'd, but during his Confinement, upon his return Home, to the Bed of Childbirth some thirteen Times."
I include this extraordinary (but highly dubious) assertion for the sake of its possible scholarly interest. Only the further progress of my researches, preferably with another translation of the Red Book, will determine whether it is apocryphal. I personally think it more likely that Sam and Frodo's children were the result of an arrangement with two somewhat formidable female Brandybuck cousins who for more than seventy years lived as a couple in a rigorously well-kept cottage in the Marish. Back to the story.