Title: Useful Things Legibly Beautiful
Theme: Back to School
Author’s Notes: This story is dedicated to my friend and fellow calligrapher, pearltook1; Happy Birthday, Pearl!
Frodo is twelve in this story—the equivalent of a human child of about eight years old. The title is taken from this quotation by the father of modern calligraphy, Edward Johnston : “This is then the scribe's direct purpose: the making of useful things legibly beautiful.”
Summary: Young Frodo's education begins anew after the loss of his parents.
Word Count : 3,142
“Saradoc! A word with you please?”
Saradoc Brandybuck paused on his way out of the dining hall, and turned. “Yes, Uncle Dinny?”
Dinodas approached him. “Sara, would you join me this evening for a snifter of brandy? I’ve something I wish to discuss with you.”
Saradoc was surprised at the request, but nodded. “Let me have a word with Esme, and tell Frodo good-night, and I will be there in a few moments.”
The older hobbit nodded. Saradoc turned to see Esmeralda and Frodo waiting for him. “Esme, my dear, Uncle Dinny has invited me to his quarters for an evening drink and a talk.” He kissed her lightly, and then turned to Frodo, who stood close by his wife’s side. “Frodo, I’ll say good-night now, and will see you in the morning.” He bent and gave the child a hug.
Frodo gave a mute nod, and returned the embrace very briefly. Saradoc hid his disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm. They had to give him time, after all. He stood up and said, “Perhaps you will go down to Bucklebury with me tomorrow?”
Just a little interest showed for an instant in the sad eyes, and an attempt at a smile passed across the small pale face. “That would be nice, Uncle Sara.”
He watched Esmeralda lead Frodo off to their apartment, and gave his own sigh of resignation. When he had agreed to this it had never once occurred to him how long and how difficult it would be. Face it, he told himself, he had never even thought it would be necessary. A will was just a precaution that reasonable hobbits took when they had children. How on earth could he have thought it would fall upon him to take Primula’s and Drogo’s son in, in reality? He could not even remember the last time he had heard of a child who lost both parents at the same time.
Saradoc was surprised that the palms of his hands were sweaty as he approached his uncle’s door, and laughed at himself. Uncle Dinny had been his tutor for many years, but Sara was an adult now, and the Son of the Hall. There was no need to be intimidated by his old teacher. He gave a firm knock.
“Come in, Sara!”
He entered the study in which he, his brother, and his cousins had spent so many afternoons, sitting at the large oak table and gazing out the window while trying to think of something to write, or doing sums on slates. The bookshelves that lined the walls on either side of the fireplace were crammed from top to bottom with books and papers. In one corner was his uncle’s desk, also piled with papers; in the other was the cupboard where slates and chalk and parchment and paper and ink and all the other necessities of a scholar were kept. Much of it might appear haphazard to a casual observer, but Saradoc knew from experience that his uncle knew exactly where to lay his hands on any particular piece of paper or book he wanted. Drawn up around the hearth were three comfortable and overstuffed armchairs, and in the center a low round table bore a tray with a decanter of brandy and two snifters. His uncle did not rise, but gestured to one of the other two chairs. “Have a seat, Saradoc, and make yourself comfortable,” he said, and leaned forward to pour two generous tots of brandy, offering one to Saradoc.
Saradoc leaned back, taking a sniff and then a sip. It was Buckland’s own apple brandy and an excellent year as well. “Thank you, Uncle Dinny.” He leaned back. “Not that I do not enjoy your hospitality, uncle, but I do not think you invited me here just for the company.”
Dinodas chuckled. “You are astute, Sara. And not that I do not enjoy your company and conversation, but I do have something—or rather someone—that I wish to speak of with you.”
“I am afraid I do not understand, Uncle Dinny.”
“Frodo, Saradoc. Young Frodo Baggins. Are you continuing his education yourself?”
“Well…” Why had he not realised this was what his uncle wanted to talk about. “It’s so soon, Uncle Dinny. I hoped that he’d have some time to get past his grief before I thought about that. He still seems so easily upset.”
“It has been five months, Saradoc. Even for a child as bright as Frodo, that is a long time to be without any lessons. If you wish to teach him yourself, I do not object, but he is old enough to be coming to me for his lessons if you are not going to take them on yourself. I know that if Drogo had lived, he probably would have continued teaching Frodo himself—he was a fine scholar in his own right.”
Saradoc sighed. “I know how well Frodo was taught. Primula taught him his letters when he was barely out of faunthood. And he was only seven when Drogo began teaching him more advanced reading and writing. They would not wish his education to be neglected. But—“ he paused, and then continued, “I fear that it will be hard for Frodo to accept another teacher, that it will only increase his grief. I did hope it would have lessened somewhat by now.”
Uncle Dinny looked at him sympathetically. “I know you do not wish him to hurt any more than he already does, Sara. We are all fond of Frodo, and it is hard to see his pain. But think about this: he has nothing to fill his time or his days. He rarely joins in the play of his cousins, and though he is quite bright enough to read on his own—oh, I’ve seen him in the library, his nose buried in a book—he needs the structure of lessons and of work that will challenge his mind. Otherwise, what else has he to do but to brood on his loss?”
“Oh.” Saradoc had not thought of it in quite that way before.
“It’s almost his birthday. He’s going to be twelve. And Bilbo Baggins will be arriving to celebrate with him. Do you wish to explain to the Baggins why Drogo’s son is not having lessons? Bilbo is legally joint guardian with you. That would give him just the excuse he needs to take the child off to Hobbiton with him. And there would be no question of his lessons at Bag End. Bilbo was a very good teacher before his foolish expedition turned most of the Bagginses against him, and he’d have no problem teaching the lad.”
“Do you want me to tell Frodo then, that he must begin coming to you for lessons?”
Dinodas chuckled. “You were always direct. Just like your father. It would be best if we could coax Frodo into wanting to have his lessons again.”
“But how? Uncle, I have tried to coax him into interest in anything!”
“I know it has been hard, Saradoc. You and Esmeralda were suddenly parents of a grief-stricken child, and had no chance to grow into the role, as you would if you had an infant. You’ve no experience with children, not in that way. But do not forget that you have help. All of us love Frodo and will be glad to help you when there’s need.” Dinodas leaned back and steepled his fingers. “Would you object if I approached him myself? Perhaps I can pique his interest.”
“How?” Saradoc was curious. He realised now that his uncle must have had this in mind before he ever requested this conversation.
“Drogo used to show me samples of his lessons. Frodo has an excellent hand for a child of his age. I thought I might ask for his help. One of his cousins has atrocious handwriting, and I’ve had little luck in improving it.”
“You know, Uncle Dinny? That might just work. I’ll let Esmeralda know that we have spoken of this.”
Saradoc counted the visit to Bucklebury a moderate success. Frodo had appeared fascinated by the visit to the blacksmith, with whom Saradoc had business. His father had asked him to engage the blacksmith to come up to the Hall stables and check some of the new ponies. They stopped in the bakery and picked up a loaf of cramsome bread, a favorite of Frodo’s, and some teacakes. Frodo actually did not pull away when Sara took his hand as they strolled through the main street, and on the walk back to Brandy Hall they had stopped to observe the antics of two squirrels chasing about in the branches of a spreading chestnut tree, and Frodo had actually laughed a little. Perhaps time was helping.
After tea, there was a knock at the door of their apartment. Esmeralda opened it. “Why, Uncle Dinodas! Do come in!” Since Saradoc had told her what his uncle had in mind, Esmeralda was quite curious.
“Good evening, Esmeralda. You are looking as lovely as always.”
Esmeralda laughed at the compliment, and ushered the older hobbit in. “Do take some tea with us, Uncle Dinodas!”
“Perhaps a little.” He took a seat and accepted the cup Esme poured for him. “I suppose you are wondering why I called?”
Frodo was watching him curiously, and he moved a bit closer to Esme on the settee.
“Is there a special reason, uncle?” Saradoc asked. Of course he already knew the answer.
“Yes, actually. I came to ask a favour of Frodo.”
Frodo blinked. “Me?” he squeaked in surprise.
“Yes, Frodo. You see I happen to know that you have exceptionally nice handwriting, and not merely for a hobbit your age.”
“Thank you,” he responded politely. “Do you want me to write something for you, then, Uncle Dinny?”
Dinodas smiled. He was pleased to note that the child had not tried to be modest, but had accepted the compliment as the truth it was. “Not exactly. You see, your cousin Margulas has exceptionally bad handwriting. Knowing how nice yours is, it occurred to me that you might be willing to help him improve it.”
Frodo’s eyes grew wider. “But Moggie is loads older than me!”
“That is true, Frodo. He is nearly seven years older. But in spite of that, he needs your help.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“I’d like you to come along to my study tomorrow afternoon, while Margulas and his brother Marroc are having their lessons. I thought perhaps you could help Margulas with his writing, while I am working with Marroc.”
“Well, sir, if you are really sure I can help him, I will try.”
“Thank you, Frodo!” Dinodas stood to take his leave. “I will see you tomorrow afternoon after luncheon, then.”
“Yes, sir.” Frodo looked quite solemn and determined, if a bit frightened.
“Very well, then,” said Dinodas, and he bent to shake Frodo’s small hand before taking his leave.
Moggie had been somewhat surprised at his teacher’s suggestion.
“You do understand, Margulas, that this is as much for young Frodo’s benefit as your own?”
“Yes, sir.” Indeed, Moggie knew his handwriting was atrocious, and Uncle Dinny had spoken to him more than once about making an improvement. But he had bristled a little when he’d been first told of the plan to have Frodo help him with that. He’d thought at first it might just be a way to humiliate him, having a twelve year old show him up! But then Uncle Dinny explained that the hope was to get Frodo interested in taking lessons again as well. Moggie thought that quite clever on Uncle Dinny’s part; and poor Frodo had been so glum since his parents’ death. Of course, Moggie thought, he’d every right to be glum; he could not begin to imagine how dreadful it would be to have his own parents die like that! But it had been months now, and he missed how cheerful his little cousin used to be, bright-eyed and running about full of questions and mischief. Perhaps this would help get his mind off his loss.
He agreed with Uncle Dinny that there was no need to tell anyone else of the little deception—he glanced over at his younger brother Marroc, already at the old oak table, slate in hand and busy with his sums. Marroc would give it all away in an instant!
There was a hesitant rap on the study door, and Uncle Dinny called out “Come in!”
Frodo entered, padding into the room and coming over to Uncle Dinny’s side. He looked up at his cousin. “Hullo, Moggie,” he said, almost shyly, as if he didn’t see his older cousin every day at the children’s table during meals.
“Hullo, Frodo. Uncle Dinny says you are to help me improve those chicken-scratches I call my handwriting.”
Frodo nodded solemnly. Uncle Dinny made a gesture, and Moggie led Frodo over to the table, where paper, ink and quill were already laid out, alongside a large blue book, which was open to the middle.
Frodo’s eyes went straight to the book. “That’s the Family Book!”
Moggie nodded. “Uncle Dinny set me to copying out parts of it, in the hopes my writing would improve. But it hasn’t done much for me.”
“Let me see what your writing looks like, Moggie.”
Moggie obligingly picked up the quill, dipped it into the ink and began to write:
”Gormadoc Brandybuck married Malva Headstrong in S.R. 1173. They had three sons: Madoc, born 4 Thrimmidge, S.R.1175; Sadoc, born 17 Solmath S.R. 1179; and Marroc, born Overlithe, S.R. 1184…”
He stopped and looked at Frodo, who stared at what he had written, and then giggled slightly. He put his hand to his mouth and turned red. “I’m sorry, Moggie, but you were not fibbing when you said it looked like chicken scratches.”
Moggie chuckled himself. “That’s quite all right, Frodo. You see why Uncle Dinny thought I needed help.”
Frodo stared at the sentence once more, and then said, “Let me see your quill.” Moggie silently handed it over, and Frodo studied the end of it seriously. “Your quill is too pointy,” he said, “And it has a nick in it as well.” He took a little penknife out of his pocket, and laid the nib end of the quill flat on the table. He bent over it, squinting, and then took his knife and sliced off the end. Then he held it up and began to trim it precisely, stopping every so often to examine his work. “Now it is flat and slanty on the end. It is much easier to write that way.”
He dipped the quill into the ink, and recopied the sentence Moggie had written. Moggie’s eyes widened in surprise at the elegant letters. “That is beautiful!” he said in amazement.
“Thank you,” Frodo said shyly, flushing again, this time with pleasure at the compliment. In a low voice, he added, “My mama taught me to write. She always said that letters should be as pretty as I could make them.” The lad gulped and blinked, and Moggie patted him on the shoulder.
“Did she teach you how to cut the quill?”
“No, Uncle Bilbo taught me that. Papa — papa and I always wrote with copper pens. Do you have a pen? They are easier than quills if you have one.”
Moggie shook his head.
“That’s all right,” said Frodo. “Now, what you need to do, is to hold the quill at an angle, like this…then make each stroke separately…like this…”
“It seems slower,” said Moggie.
“It is at first. But it never looks like chicken scratches…”
Both lads laughed out loud. Moggie glanced over at Uncle Dinny, expecting a reprimand, but instead saw a look of satisfaction. He winked at Moggie.
After a few days of intensive practice under Frodo’s eye, Uncle Dinny assigned Moggie to write about a book he had read. “Show it to Frodo first, so that he may check your handwriting. Then I will mark it for content.”
Frodo found himself wandering about his uncle’s study, looking with longing at some of the books that were just out of his reach. Books that belonged to his uncle and that he had never seen in the big library next to Uncle Rorimac’s study on the first level. His fingers just itched to get at them, but Uncle Dinny told him those books were reserved for his students to read when they were having their lessons. The only sounds were those of Moggie and Marroc writing busily at the big oak table, and the occasional rustle from his uncle’s desk as he marked the lessons of other students.
“Frodo? I am finished.” It was Moggie.
Frodo went over and took the parchment upon which his cousin had worked so painstakingly.
A Report by Margulas Brandybuck
This is a very interesting book written by Calimac Brandybuck, Master of Buckland from S.R. 922 to S.R. 979. Before he became Master, he took a journey outside of Buckland all the way to Bree. While he was there he met many interesting people, both hobbits and Big Folks…”
Frodo sat down next to Moggie, and began to read in earnest. The only thing he had known about Calimac before was that he had started the Shire Post. He never knew that his ancestor had an Adventure, or had been all the way to Bree. He wondered if this was one of the books that only Uncle Dinny’s students could read.
Frodo gave a start. “Oh! Oh yes, Moggie! This looks much better, it really does! I think Uncle Dinny will like it.”
Moggie grinned and gave Frodo a hug. “Thank you, Frodo! You really did help a lot!”
Marroc glanced over and teased, “Oh yes! His writing’s so pretty now! All the lasses will swoon to get notes from him!”
All three gave a jump, at the sound of Uncle Dinny loudly clearing his throat. “Marroc, do you wish to write lines?”
“You’d do well to work on your own handwriting, then, and not pester your brother.”
A few moments later, the lads were dismissed. Moggie and Marroc rushed out, eager to get to their luncheons. But Frodo hung back.
“Could I ask you something?”
When Bilbo arrived at Brandy Hall two weeks later to celebrate his birthday with Frodo, he was gratified by how glad the child was to see him. The last time he’d seen Frodo had been shortly after Drogo and Primula’s funeral, and he had thought then that the lad might never smile again.
“Uncle Bilbo! Would you like to see the marks I got on my essay about Calimac Brandybuck?”