Title: Proper Propriety
Topic: Two Sides: Is it proper to invite one's servant to a social occasion?
Author's Notes: For Celeritas for her writing anniversary. Perhaps a bit late, but heartfelt for all that. Beta by RiverOtter.
Summary: Aunt Dora Baggins is surprised when she realizes Samwise Gamgee is to attend the family supper at the Party.
Word Count: 1980
Dora Baggins examined the front door of Bag End with satisfaction. Obviously it had just been freshly repainted, and the brass of the doorknob had been brightly polished, as had the fob at the end of the bell pull. “Excellent!” she said to herself. “Bilbo is obviously making certain that the place is ready for whatever guests might make their way into the hole during the party. Only right and proper, seeing that our Frodo is coming of age on that day!” She almost hated to touch the bell pull, knowing she might possibly mar its smudge-free state. Then she chided herself for being a silly, at which she gripped it firmly and gave an authoritative pull. She could hear the bell inside tinkle cheerfully, and a moment later the door was opened by the gardener’s lad, that Samwise Gamgee.
Sam’s wary expression melted swiftly once he was certain who it was at the door. “Miss Dora!” he said, drawing the door open fully and stepping aside. “Do come in. Although I must tell you as old Mr. Bilbo ain’t here—gone off to Michel Delving on business, you understand. My Mr. Frodo, now he’s here. He’s in the dinin’ room, seein’ to the silver.”
“And you are helping to prepare for the party Thursday next?”
“As I can, of course, ma’am. But today I’m only helpin’ out in the kitchen some, what with all the things as there is t’do twixt now and then. Need t’get back out in the garden, though. The last time as that Missus Lobelia was here, if she didn’t trample the lilies outside the study window, tryin’ t’peer inside and make certain if’n Mr. Bilbo weren’t hidin’ there on her. Shall I see you through to the dinin’ room, Miss Dora?”
“If you will, Master Gamgee.”
He flushed at that, closing the door after her and throwing the bolt. “In case them awful Sackville-Bagginses drop by again—they haven’t been givin’ the Masters a bit of peace, what with all their tryin’ to find out if’n the rumors of Mr. Bilbo writin’ them out of his will is true,” he explained as he wiped his hands on the toweling he had girt about his waist as an apron. “If you’ll come this way?” So saying, he led the way past the second parlor and study door to the dining room.
Dora Baggins had to admit young Samwise was turning out very well. He was already beginning to fill out, and had a sturdier physique than had his rather wiry father. His face was pleasant, his expression responsible, and when he smiled others had to smile in response. And there was no question that he was devoted to her nephew’s welfare. One had only to see him accompanying Frodo about the village on errands, or to hear him standing up to whatever snide comments that terrible Ted Sandyman might fling Frodo’s way, to know that he was Frodo’s man, plain and simple. And he was even more gifted with flowers than his father, which was saying a lot! She simply could not imagine a better one to serve the needs of their beloved Frodo!
He knocked at the door to the dining room, which was open. “Mr. Frodo, sir—it’s Miss Dora come to see you.”
Frodo turned. He was neatly dressed in a dark green shirt under a tapestried waistcoat in greens and maroons with a few golden flowers here and there. What a difference, she thought, from how she’d first seen him on his arrival from Buckland, then in sturdy but relatively plain Hall cloth. Over his good clothes he wore one of Bilbo’s aprons for protection, and he had a polishing cloth in one hand and a silver ladle in the other. “Aunt Dora? How wonderful! Do come in! Oh, but Sam, are you able to go into the village for me and fetch five more fresh hens from the poulterer? It appears that we will need more to feed the Dwarves when they arrive. I paid them already this morning when I went in to give them the order, so don’t allow old Sourloam to convince you it’s to be paid again. Speak to his daughter if you can—Jonquil has a better memory for things like that than does old Marcho.”
“Certainly, Master,” Sam said, knuckling his forehead. “As soon as I’ve seen to them lilies as Missus Lobelia stepped on this mornin’, sir. And is there aught else as I should see to about the pavilions for the Party?”
“I don’t think so at the moment. Bilbo has most of it well in hand, it appears, so I’ve decided to leave the pavilions to him for the moment. He should be home in a few hours at any rate. And have you heard whether Hamson and Halfred will be coming? Where will they be staying?”
“Hamson’s brood’s to stay with the Cottons, and Half will be at Number 3 with the Gaffer and us. Half will be bringin’ a number of bushes and trees in tubs to set up here and there around the Party Field, and Moro Burrows has promised some fine green ribbon to make bows about them. Should be right festive, if’n you take my meanin’.”
“It sounds delightful. And, remember—you will be eating in the family pavilion with us, so be certain you wear your new waistcoat.”
“Yessir, Mr. Frodo. I won’t disappoint you, you can count on that. If’n you’ll excuse me, Master, Miss Dora.” Again he knuckled his forehead and gave a brief inclination of his head. “I’ll be about what needs doin’, then.” And with that he was gone off toward the kitchen, removing the towel as he walked. Within a minute they heard the back door to the smial close behind him as he went out.
“Samwise Gamgee is to eat in the family pavilion?” asked Dora Baggins, feeling alarmed. “Is it right to invite one’s servant to a social occasion? And, after all, he is not related!”
Frodo appeared surprised. “What’s the harm, Aunt Dora? The Gamgees are all but family to Bilbo and me, after all. I mean, they are up here every day for one reason or another. And Sam isn’t exactly a servant—he’s the gardener’s lad and as such is a craftsman in his own right, and does at least as much if not more to see to the upkeep of the place as does his father.”
“But he’s been in seeing to the kitchen----”
“He volunteered to do that because he knew I was busy with polishing the silver and that I must meet with Ponto and Iris just after tea. His sisters Daisy and May are both about the place, too—we hired them for the day to help prepare the guest rooms for the Dwarves, after all. But they aren’t servants—just the ones we usually hire to help with what we can’t see to ourselves when it’s needed.”
“Will they be in the family pavilion for supper, too?”
“What? And why? They aren’t family, and have no interest in being about when family business is seen to. But Sam has agreed to help make certain that all is properly served to those who attend the family meal, so deserves to be allowed to eat with us, don’t you think? How will he be able to keep an eye on things to direct the servers if he’s made to eat elsewhere? And I’ll wager he has a better idea of what various members of the family are up to than even you do. He’s very observant, and quite the quick study, you’ll find.”
“But—a servant—all right, an employee, if you will—is not on the same level as a member of the family! After all, he is a working Hobbit.”
Frodo’s face had gone pale, and his cheeks were growing quite pink. “I will remind you that Bilbo and I both serve as copyists, and that Cousin Porto is trained as a lawyer, as are a number of our Took and Bracegirdle relations. Are we to exclude them or the Goodbodies, who are our bankers of discretion, from the family meal when they are indeed relatives simply because we utilize their services? And most of the apples for the pies to be served that are beyond what can be offered by our own orchard are coming from that of our cousin Griffo Boffin—does that make him a mere tradesman to be paid off and not invited at all?”
He set the ladle down on the table, and laid the cloth over the pot of silver polish. “This is a party to which we’ve invited at least half the Shire, after all. Most of those who will attend practice a trade or profession of one kind or another, and most are folk whose services we utilize on a regular basis. Many are farmers in whose farms we hold farmshares, and others have businesses in which Bilbo or I have invested—and the greater part of those are related to us. Face it, Aunt Dora—we Bagginses are well connected throughout the Shire, from Greenholm to Buckland, and from the northern marches to the Brandywine to the south; and our relations cover every level of society. Are we not to invite the Bunces, who have many who hire themselves out to work as servants, when they are related to us through the Goolds? Are we to exclude the Burrowses just because they help excavate and build most of the homes within the Shire?”
Dora could feel herself flushing. “It’s only, my dear lad, that we are Bagginses, after all. What will people think when they see the gardener’s lad at the family supper?”
“That we are taking good care of the steward for our property,” Frodo responded rather stiffly. “Bilbo had asked Master Hamfast to serve as steward that night and direct the serving, but he refused—said he’s too old for keeping track of servers. And I assure you that as Cousin Mello Boffin’s family has been hired to serve us at table in the family tent, it is not as if they are truly servants, either; and it will be at their table that Sam will be sitting. It’s not as if we were settling him at the Baggins table as if he were my brother, after all—although I might consider that for the future!”
By the time Dora left Bag End, she had a good deal to think on. Samwise Gamgee—steward for the Bagginses of Bag End? But, on consideration, that did help her accept that he would be attending the family dinner, now that Frodo had put it that way. To be the steward for a family of such importance in the history of the Shire as the Bagginses? It brought to mind the stories that she used to read secretly at night when she couldn’t sleep in the days she’d spent a good deal of time at Bag End with Uncle Bungo and Aunt Belladonna.
“The old Kings—they had Stewards, didn’t they?” she murmured to herself as she walked home again. “And they were even considered lords of the realm, if I recall correctly.” And it was with a song Aunt Belladonna used to sing about the Faithful Steward of Gondor on her lips that Dora Baggins returned to her own hole. Not, of course, that there really was a Gondor, after all—that was just a story. Just a story, but one she’d always loved, not that she’d admit it to Bilbo.
With that thought, she closed the door behind her and went in search of a good cup of tea, and maybe a seed cake or two.