MOON LETTERS : CREATIVE WRITING
The Farmer's Wife - by Nessime
Bamfurlong, Marish, The Shire
24 September 3018
The farmer's wife couldn't keep from smiling, a bit wistfully perhaps, as she listened to her husband recount the strange events of that afternoon to the three youngsters who sat by the wide hearth, sipping mugs of beer and listening with anxious faces to Farmer Maggot's tale.
Oh! he was relishing it now, she thought silently, but if the truth be known he would just as lief have foregone the experience--as would she. Near took the curl out of her hair, it had, seeing that great black horse lunging straight at her husband.
And it had promised to be such a pleasant evening...
The kitchen had been far too hot for a September afternoon, and she had opened the door and all the windows in hopes that a cooling breeze would find its way off of the River. She sensed movement behind her and turned to see him enter, bearing a couple of baskets filled past capacity with fresh mushrooms.
"You'll be wanting some of those with your supper," he answered in response to her raised eyebrow. "We finished off the last batch at lunch." He smiled hopefully at her. It was all she could do to keep a straight face; he had just brought the last basketful to her that morning.
"You'll have your mushrooms, never fear."
He brushed a kiss on her rosy cheek as one hand strayed to caress another ample cheek.
"Go on, now!" Mock indignation vied with a girlish giggle as she shooed him away. "There'll be time enough for that later."
She shuddered to think how close they had come to not having a later to look forward to. Listening to him now it might seem that he had already forgotten the fright he had given her. But he caught her eye when he reached that part of the story, and the look said, Don't you worry none. I'll always be right here for you.
She gifted him with one of her beautiful smiles, then continued her preparations for supper. She didn't need to hear the words to know what he was proposing to their guests, and a quick calculation told her there would still be plenty for all. A quiet word to their daughters was all that was needed, and in a short while the generously laden table was surrounded by fourteen hungry hobbits.
Mrs. Maggot sighed with relief, seeing that she had figured correctly; though the bowls and platters were soon emptied and every plate all but licked clean, every diner appeared replete. Even the dogs were content, cracking bones and gnawing rinds before the wide fireplace.
She refilled their guests' mugs one last time while her husband and sons went out to the stable, lantern in hand, to hitch the ponies to the wagon. She waited until the soft creak of the wheels halted outside the kitchen door before stepping out into the darkness of the yard. Instinct more than sight led her to where her husband sat, high in the driving-seat.
"Give this to Mr. Baggins, with my compliments," she instructed, handing a large covered basket up to him. His low chuckle told her that he knew its contents.
"Looks as though you'll be needing me to harvest more mushrooms, Mrs. Maggot."
"Time enough for that tomorrow." She laid her hand on his knee as she looked up at him. "I'm very proud of you, Will Maggot, looking out for these youngsters and all." She didn't add what they both knew; that black fellow had scared him too.
His work-roughened hand covered hers. The gentle touch gave a calm reassurance as they watched their guests emerge to throw their packs on board.
"I'll have your pipe filled for when you get home," she offered quietly, then stepped back into the light of the open door as Frodo, Pippin and Sam clambered into the wagon.
"You be careful of yourself, Maggot!" she called. "Don't go arguing with any foreigners, and come straight back!" No point in letting the youngsters know just how frightened this business had made her.
"I will!" Farmer Maggot's voice drifted back to her through the chill night air. Mrs. Maggot watched until the wagon disappeared into the gathering mist, the slow clop of the ponies' hooves gradually fading to silence. Only then did she enter the house, closing the door behind her.
It was going to be a long night...
*later that same evening
"Well, good night to you all," he had told the young travelers. "It's been a queer day, and no mistake."
So it had been, he thought, listening to the slow, steady rhythm of his ponies' hooves as they picked a cautious path along the causeway. The gentle sway of the wagon made the pale nimbi of his lanterns bob eerily above the strands of mist that crept up from the river. The chilling vapor washed across the roadway till it appeared the ponies must swim through it, their undulating croups barely visible above the murk.
Mrs. Maggot will be worriting all right, what with the night getting so thick.... He had said as much to young Mr. Merry and Mr. Frodo as he turned the wagon to head for home. Poor lass had been so frightened, yet she hadn't let on to their guests how hard it was for her to let him go out into the dark night, knowing that queer black fellow was still out there, somewhere.
'Don't you go kidding yourself none, Will Maggot. You were plenty scared yourself.' Oh, he wouldn't deny it, but there was no way he would let on to his Ella just how frightened he had been, bad enough that the hair on his toes stood straight up when that funny customer had come sniffing around Bamfurlong, looking for Mr. Baggins.
That had made him angry too, it had, being made to feel that way. It didn't help none that he'd been taken aback when the stranger had come riding that big black horse of his right up to their doorstep, bold as could be. Farmer Maggot didn't take too kindly to strangers traipsing across his fields neither, and without so much as a by-your-leave! Told that fellow so too, not that it made much difference.
Still can't get over how Grip ran off like that, yelping like a bee-stung pup, he mused, watching his team's powerful muscles ripple as they smoothly controlled the short descent from the causeway. The river-mists had succeeded in drowning the dike in their dampening waves. To any eyes that might be there to see, the farm wagon seemed to float atop the foggy banks; illuminated by the wavering lantern light, Farmer Maggot made a strangely spectral figure. The normally garrulous crickets had stilled their voices; the clip-clop of hooves was all that remained to punctuate the eerie silence.
Odd...that's how it was just a'fore he came. He found himself looking over his shoulder, peering into the fog that rose ever higher behind him, like a great wave threatening to engulf the retreating wagon. It had been uncommonly hot for a September day; the morning rains had only served to make the air sultry. Unearthly quiet it had been too, leastwise until the geese had started screaming. Of course the old gander, angered by any intrusion into his little kingdom, had always been apt to raise a ruckus when strangers came around, but this sound had been different.
The placid swish of the ponies' tails seemed at odds with his own taut nerves, and suddenly he started to laugh. The ponies' ears flicked back, surprised by the incongruity of the sound. You'd do well to give heed to the good beasts, instead of your own foolish fancies, Will Maggot! He grinned sheepishly, recalling how shaken he'd been by the sight of the darkly cloaked apparition emerging from the mist on the Ferry lane. Hardy and Old Tom had stood by patiently, unperturbed by what turned out to be Mr. Merry, come searching for his tardy friends.
The last mile to his gate went by quickly, uneventfully. Farmer Maggot drove the team directly to the barn, grateful for their steady service that night. He'd not descended from the driving seat before the figures of his sons emerged from the house.
"Ma said you should go straight in - Nate and I will take care of the team." Milo took the reins from his father, who nodded his thanks.
"Be sure to give them a good rubdown; the lads have earned it." He paused at the ponies' heads to scratch Old Tom's forehead. Your namesake would know what to make of all this now, wouldn't he? The pony, oblivious to the unspoken question, nosed about his master's pockets, hoping to find a sweeter reward. Laughing, Farmer Maggot fished about in his pockets to find the lumps of sugar he knew were still there. Hardy was given his share too before Nate and Milo led the pair into the barn, leaving Farmer Maggot alone in the dark farmyard.
He turned to see the welcoming light that streamed through the kitchen's windows. Mrs. Maggot was there, waiting for him, with a mug of sweet mulled wine to counter the chilling effect of the damp night air, and her bright smile to warm his heart.
He downed the heady brew, grateful for the warmth that coursed its way through his body. True to her word, Mrs. Maggot had his pipe filled, ready for his pleasure. He looked up into his wife's loving eyes as she handed the pipe to him; but to her surprise he stood, setting the filled pipe carefully aside before slipping his arm around her generous curves.
"Time enough for that...later..."
I drew some of the inspiration for this from these two passages:
'... most of all I want to know what was the matter with old
Maggot, and why he spoke to me like that. He sounded almost as if he was
scared, if that is possible.' (Merry, speaking about the encounter with Farmer Maggot - LotR; FotR; Book One; Chapter V; A Conspiracy Unmasked)
'Old Maggot is a shrewd fellow,' said Merry. 'A lot goes on behind his round face that does not come out in his talk. I've heard that he used to go into the Old Forest at one time, and he has the reputation of knowing a good many strange things. (LotR; FotR; Book One; Chapter V; A Conspiracy Unmasked)