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The Shaping of Samwise  by jodancingtree

Changes

The Gaffer was in a foul mood. It was partly the weather -- a late spring frost had destroyed fruit blossoms all over the Shire. Peaches would be in short supply this summer. The spring had remained chill, overcast but not rainy, and now a second frost had come during the night.

The Gaffer surveyed his blasted strawberry patch, puffing morosely on a pipe that was giving him no pleasure. A quarter acre of prime plants, the pride of his heart. He bent and picked one of the blossoms, a five-pointed star of white with a yellow center. The yellow was marred by a dark spot, sad testimony of a killed blossom..

There’d be no strawberries going to market this June, and no shortcake for tea either. He might salvage a few berries, their blossoms shielded by leaves. Enough for a basketful for Mr. Bilbo, maybe. Fond of berries, was Mr. Bilbo. But the loss of the market money was going to hurt, and no mistake. The Gamgee budget could ill spare the year’s strawberry income.

“Sam!” the Gaffer shouted. “Get out here, you young lay-a-bed!”

Sam appeared around the corner of the garden shed, a hoe over his shoulder.

“Right here, Gaffer. Just off to Bag End, sir, to hill up the potatoes.” He came to a halt beside his father, his glance taking in the strawberry patch with its tell-tale spotted blossoms. “Oh,” he said. “The frost got them.”

“Yes, the frost got them, you’re gardener enough to see that, aren’t you?” The Gaffer’s voice was bitter. “Now see that you’re gardener enough to give satisfaction to Mr. Bilbo this summer! Don’t you go mucking up the job, now I’m not standing over you every day to see it done right!”

Sam winced a little at his tone, but the Gaffer was too wound up to notice. He gave a ferocious puff at his pipe, realized disgustedly that it had gone out, and shoved it in his pocket.

“Well, get on then!” he said. “It won’t do to be getting there at lunchtime, my lad. You’d better make good at Bag End, now you’re in charge up there. We need the money and that’s a fact.”

The Gaffer stumped back past the ruined strawberries and disappeared into the garden shed. Sam stared after him, shaking his head. It was a bad blow, losing the berries. Not just the income either, Sam thought. It was a blow to his pride, like. Now his father was retired, so to speak, leaving the Bag End garden to his care, Sam had counted on the strawberry patch to give the Gaffer something to do. Something that was all his own, now that he was no longer the head gardener at Mr. Bilbo’s.

Sam continued up the hill, his mind turning to the Bag End garden. He thought he could make good there. Well, he’d been trained by the Gaffer, after all! He laughed inwardly. If that didn’t make him a gardener, nothing would. He was young for it though, there was no denying. Barely twenty-one – he wouldn’t have been put in charge at such an age, only the Gaffer’s rheumatics had got so bad, the old man really wasn’t up to it anymore.

And even at that, it was Mr. Frodo as got the job for him. Mr. Bilbo had told him that his own self. He’d called Sam into the Bag End parlor one day in February, when Sam should have been out in the orchard pruning the apple trees.

“Sam, lad, I want a word with you,” he’d said. He had seemed ill at ease, sitting at his big desk reaming out his pipe, not meeting Sam’s eyes. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to make some changes around here. Your father, well, he’s done a fine job in the garden, a fine job. But his health isn’t what it was, you know.”

Sam had sat on the edge of his chair, apprehension making him shiver in spite of the bright fire on the hearth. True enough, the Gaffer was feeling his age. He was home in bed that very minute, a hot soapstone wrapped in flannel pressed to his aching back. Sam had been working in the orchard alone, when Mr. Bilbo called him in. But this – this sounded like bad news for the Gamgees, and no mistake.

Mr. Bilbo had given him a measuring look. “Samwise, I’ve known you since you were born, and you were always an honest lad.. So I’ll just ask you now, can you manage the garden by yourself? Because it’s plain to me that the Gaffer can’t keep it up.” He shook his head, filling his pipe carefully and tamping it down. “I’m afraid the old man will kill himself trying, and I’d never forgive myself. I meant to have you take over for him when he retired, but I thought we had a few years yet.”

Sam had cleared his throat nervously. “I can do it, sir.” He looked Mr. Bilbo in the eye, wishing he could find words for what he knew was true. I’m reliable, sir, even if I am young. You can count on me, Mr. Bilbo.

And Bilbo had seemed to understand. “All right then, Sam. We’ll give you a try. “ He laughed a little ruefully. “Indeed, I am afraid I have very little say in the matter! Frodo insisted that you have your chance. He almost jumped down my throat when I said you were too young and we’d have to look for someone else.”

He’d stood up then and held out his hand. “You’ve got a good friend in Mr. Frodo, lad. Mind you don’t let him down.”

“No, sir. I won’t, sir!”

So Sam had taken over the Bag End garden. He’d run into Mr. Frodo at the Green Dragon a few evenings later and tried to thank him, but Frodo just laughed and stood him a pint. “You’ll do fine, Sam, no doubt about it. And the old place wouldn’t be the same without you pottering about outside.”

Three months later, Sam felt he had the job in hand. It was, after all, only what he had been doing since he was a little tyke following at the Gaffer’s heels. The garden routine was in his bones, and he dug and planted, weeded the vegetables and cut back the roses, with skill and deep satisfaction. In fact, it was almost too easy. He began to look for ways to make the garden even better.

Bag End was the showplace of Hobbiton, always had been. Still, there were improvements that might be made. Bring it up to date a bit. That drip irrigation system he’d heard about, now, over to Greenholm. He hadn’t seen it himself, but it sounded a good idea. Bag End had a fine deep well; should be enough water there to keep the garden growing, even in a drought. Less wasteful, too, than slopping the water around in buckets. Not that he expected a drought; it was just a good idea.

. The Fight

June came in and the weather turned hot. Every day was fine with never a hint of rain, and the children of Hobbiton played out in the sun until they tanned as brown as toast. But as one week followed another without rain, the gardens of Hobbiton began to dry up.

The Gaffer’s strawberry bed, already stressed by the frost, was a pitiable sight. The plants were puny and yellowed, and the few blossoms that had survived produced berries the size of peas, with a bitter flavor. The Gaffer tried to pick some for Bilbo anyway, but after tasting one of the berries he dumped the basket out on the ground and went down to the pub, where he sat in a corner nursing his pint and not speaking to anyone.

At Bag End, Sam carried buckets of water to the flowerbeds and the big vegetable patch until even his strong young back ached at night. But for all his dogged persistence, he couldn’t carry water enough to keep the rose garden looking fresh, or the raspberries, or the flowering hedges. They began to look dusty, their leaves so dry they rustled like autumn in the hot breeze. All over the Shire the fields were parched and gardens withered in the heat, and everywhere the weather was the chief topic of conversation.

One evening in June, when the air at sunset was still as hot and breathless as it had been at midday, Sam walked down to Cottons’ farm to visit his sister. Marigold had been spending her summers at the farm ever since their mother died some years before. She was only a year younger than Rose Cotton, and the girls learned sewing and spinning, churning and cheesemaking, from Rosie’s capable mother. Now Marigold was skilled enough to be paid a little money as well as her keep, and both families were well-pleased with the arrangement.

Sam came up the long farm lane to find the family in an uproar. Rose knelt in the dust weeping noisily, bent over something she held cradled in her lap. Marigold hovered over her, trying to console, but crying hard herself. Even the youngest boy, Nibs, had tear tracks running down his dirty face. He wasn’t crying anymore, however, but stood with blazing eyes confronting a tall young hobbit who lounged against the barn, grinning, a slingshot hanging from his hand.

“Hullo, what’s all this?” Sam demanded. He went first to Rose, squatting down next to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. “What’s the matter, Rosie?”

Rose only cried harder, but Nibs answered shrilly, “It’s that Ted Sandyman, he’s gone and killed her pet dove that she saved from the cat last winter! And on purpose, too!”

“Of course on purpose.” Ted gave a hoot of laughter . “Doves are game birds, make a fine pie. I aim to have this one to my supper, when the silly chit quits sniveling over it.”

Outrage brought Sam to his feet. “You came into this yard and shot a tame dove for your supper? And the woods chock full of wild ones?”

Ted’s smile wavered at the scorn in Sam’s voice, but he stood his ground. “Doves is doves, wherever you find them. They’re game birds and always have been. You’ve et dove pie yourself, Sam Gamgee, don’t try and pretend you haven’t!”

“Not made from anyone’s pet I haven’t! Where’s your father, Nibs? He’s the one to sort this out.”

“Da’s gone to market at Frogmorton with Mum and the others. There’s only us home, to feed the stock and do the milking.”

Sam regarded Ted with distaste. “And you knew that, I suppose, when you came hunting tame doves in a farmyard.”

Ted shoved himself away from the barn wall and came toward Rose.

“Stow it, why don’t you, Sam? The bird’s dead, and I’m taking it home for supper. Come on, Rose, hand it here!”

Rose gave a cry and sprang up, backing away from Ted with the dove clutched to her heart. Marigold ran between them, trying to push the hulking lad away from her friend, but Ted caught her by one arm and swung her out of his way. Her momentum brought her slam against Nibs, and they both crashed to the ground. Ted ignored the crying children and reached to take the bird from Rose.

Sam caught him by the collar and spun him around. “That’s enough, you great bully! Come fight someone closer your own size!”

Ted was nearly a head taller than Sam, and he laughed in his face as he plowed into him. But he’d reckoned without the strength Sam had built up in his years of heavy work in the garden, and quickly found the smaller hobbit more than he could handle. Sam’s anger added fire to his strength, and within a few minutes Ted had had enough and was running up the lane in full retreat.

Dark had fallen by the time the poor pet dove had been buried with full ceremony and many tears. Sam herded the youngsters into the house and sent them to wash up, while he bustled around the kitchen finding them something to eat. They were still sitting around the table when the farm cart rattled into the yard and the rest of the family filed in.

Farmer Cotton looked troubled when he heard the story.

“I won’t deny I’m glad you sent him to the rightabout, Sam. Ted’s a bully and a sneak, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here myself to deal with him. Aye, and he’ll be looking to get back at you now, or my name’s not Tom Cotton.”

Sam grinned. “He’s welcome to a rematch any time he likes, Mr. Cotton.”

The farmer grimaced. “I misdoubt he’ll have the stomach for another round, Sam. He’ll be watching for something underhand, to pay you back for trouncing him. Best watch your back, lad.”

Sam laughed.


Sam's Great Idea

Near the end of June, Sam begged a day off and made the long walk to Greenholm. He would see this new irrigation system for himself. In the spring it had sounded like an interesting novelty, but as the drought wore on, it began to look like the salvation of the Bag End garden. And if it worked at Bag End, maybe the Gaffer would let him install it in the Gamgee strawberry patch as well.

The irrigated garden in Greenholm was flourishing, in contrast to the parched landscape Sam had been walking through all morning. The householder was a middle-aged hobbit who had been tinkering with “inventions” most of his life, to the disdain of his neighbors. He was delighted to have a sympathetic audience for once, and explained the workings of the “drip system” to Sam in minute detail. By the time he left for home that evening, Sam was on fire to try it at Bag End.

The Gaffer, predictably, was scornful. “Don’t tell me, lazybones! Too idle to haul water in buckets, that’s your trouble! Running water in tubes all through the garden beds, I never heard the like. Lot of tomfoolery, that -- one fool to think it up and another fool to do it!”

He was sitting on the bench outside their front door, a wet towel draped around his neck and his feet soaking in a basin of water. Even after sundown the heat was stifling. “A ninnyhammer, that’s what you be, Sam Gamgee! But you’ll never get any such jiggery past Mr. Bilbo!”

Bilbo, however, listened with interest when Sam presented the idea to him. “Now lad, let me make sure I understand. The tubes run along the garden beds, and water drips out through little holes? How do you control the flow of water, stop it from flooding the beds?”

“Well, see, Mr. Bilbo, it’s a gravity feed, like. Each run of tubing has a little valve, and when the valve is closed no water can go through. You only open it when you need to get water to the plants.”

They were standing in the garden, and Bilbo fingered the dry leaves of his favorite Pride of the West rosebush. It had put out hundreds of buds early in the summer, but the drought had brought all to nothing. The buds were shriveled now, hanging limply from brittle stems. If the drought continued, the bush itself might well die.. Bilbo walked around the rose garden, feeling leaves and snapping off dry twigs. All the bushes were in bad shape.

By the time he got back to where Sam stood waiting, his mind was made up. “Go ahead, Sam. Let’s try this irrigation system of yours – and put it in the rose garden first of all.”

It was the talk of Hobbiton for the next month. A very few people saw merit in the idea, but general opinion held that it was but one more example of Bilbo’s well-known eccentricity.

“More money than sense, he’s got,” Old Noakes remarked to the Gaffer as they sat over their mugs at the Ivy Bush one evening.

The Gaffer snorted. It went much against the grain for him to criticize Mr. Bilbo, but “I never thought our Sam would talk him into it,” he said morosely.

That remark made the rounds, naturally, and confirmed most people in the belief that Bilbo had at last gone completely batty. To put Sam Gamgee in as gardener, young as he was, was bad enough, but to allow him to introduce such an unheard-of novelty was proof enough of Bilbo’s mental crackup.

Sam himself was eager to explain the new system to anyone who would listen. He hung about the blacksmith shop, talking incessantly, as the long tubes were fashioned, and the harried smith finished them in record time just to be rid of him. He hauled them back to Bag End in a borrowed farm cart, with most of the youngsters of Bywater and Hobbiton following behind, trying to snag just one to use as a horn.

When he came to actually lay out the system in the garden, he had a steady stream of onlookers, till he felt like the chief attraction at the Mid-year Fair. To his surprise, even Ted Sandyman turned up to watch him install the tubes around the smial, and hook them up to the gravity feed from the well. Mindful of Farmer Cotton’s warning after the business of Rosie’s dove, Sam kept a sharp eye on Ted, and checked out the garden carefully after he left. But everything appeared to be in order, and he decided Ted had just been curious, like the rest of the neighborhood.

It was all in place before the end of July. Sam opened the first set of valves and sent the water flowing into the rose garden. Bilbo and Frodo were on hand for the big moment, and Sam was proud (and secretly relieved) when everything worked exactly as he had said it would. The dry earth around the bushes turned dark and soft with moisture, and Sam thought he could almost see the roses soaking up the life-giving water.

Very good, Sam,” said Bilbo. “Come in and have a drink.”

They went into the kitchen, and with great ceremony Bilbo opened a bottle of Old Winyards. Sam’s eyes widened when he saw the label, but Bilbo filled his glass with a flourish, saying, “It’s a great day that saves my roses from the drought, and only the best wine will do for a toast. Here’s to the garden!”

“And here’s to the gardener!” Frodo added, with a laugh and a glance at Sam.

Sam blushed and drained his glass. “I’d better be getting back to it. Thank’ee, Mr. Bilbo.”

Over the next few days, the garden began to perk up as the tubes brought water to every corner. By mid-August, several of the late-blooming roses had set new buds, and Bilbo went round every evening and cut a few for his bud-vases. The entire garden was thriving again, and hobbits began to “drop in” even from villages ten miles away, to see the miracle.

There was some jealousy, of course. The drought continued, and it was hard for people whose gardens were cracking in the heat to really enjoy the sight of Bag End, wreathed in green and blooming like a jungle. But however sour their faces, everyone had to admit that Sam’s irrigation system was a success. A few even began to think of installing one in their own gardens.

The last week of August, Bilbo and Frodo set off on a visit to Buckland.

“We’ll take the pony cart,” Bilbo told Sam. “Then we’ll walk back at the end of the week, and Rory Brandybuck can drive the cart back when he comes for my birthday next month.

“Mind you have the garden all in order, Sam. When we get back from Buckland, we’ll have to get right on to preparations for the party.”

Sam nodded with a thrill of anticipation. Various odd packages, and some whole cartloads of mysterious bundles, had been arriving at Bag End all summer. He knew it was all to do with The Birthday – Bilbo’s and Frodo’s both – but it had nothing to do with him. His job was the garden.

Now that the party was getting close, however, it would have to do with him. It was going to be an outdoor event, and there would be plenty of work for the Bag End gardener. Even as he hitched up the pony and saw them off the next morning, his mind was running on what needed to be done, to have things ready for their return.

He worked like ten hobbits all that day, and went to bed almost too tired to get undressed. He had been asleep only a few hours when something startled him awake. He lay in the dark, his heart racing. A second boom of thunder crashed apparently right over his head, and lightning lit the room. There was a moment of breathless silence, then the rain pounded down. The drought was over.

He rolled out of bed and struggled into his clothes. The irrigation tubes –he had to shut them off! The way the rain was coming down, the garden would be a lake if irrigation water was added to what was pouring out of the sky. He ran all the way to Bag End, sliding in mud as he fought his way up the hill. The wind battered him, seeming to come from every direction at once, and flashes of lightning revealed trees that bucked and swayed as though shaken by giants.

The garden was already awash, the rain coming too fast for the ground to soak it up. Sam slipped and slid as he felt his way along the tubes, fumbling in the dark to find the valves that would shut off the flow from the well. They were stiff and hard to turn, the rain was chill, and by the time he had them all closed he was trembling with cold and fatigue, and his hands ached all the way up to his shoulders.

He closed the last valve, cut off the gravity feed, and staggered down the hill. Home at last, he left his muddy garments in a heap on the floor and wrapped himself in a blanket, falling into bed oblivious to the storm which still crashed all around the smial. He didn’t wake until full day, when the Gaffer pounded on his door, impatient for breakfast.

The thunder and lightning had stopped, but the rain still beat down, obscuring any view from the windows. Sam could hear its sharp tattoo on the rain hood that protected the chimney, and a savage wind sent occasional puffs of smoke down into the room. Breakfast over, he settled down next to the fire with a book.


“H’ain’t you got nothing else to do?” the Gaffer demanded irritably.

Sam sighed. “Nothing I can do in this weather, Gaffer. Hark at that wind! There’ll be plenty for me to clear up when the storm’s over, so just leave me read in peace for a bit.”

The storm held for four days, and Sam cooked their meals and washed up the dishes, and sat by the fire with his book. It was the last peace he was to know for some time.

Disaster

Bilbo and Frodo came up the Hill at sunset. They had taken their time walking from Buckland, and entirely missed the rain. Buckland had still been in the grip of drought, and they were surprised to find the Water running high, almost up to the boards of the bridge, and puddles in the ruts of the road.

They came to Bag End the back way, through the garden. Everything was green and lush, the tomatoes cascading out of their supporting cages, loaded with fruit, the late planting of lettuce forming clumps the size of their heads.

Sam came out of the garden shed.

“Hullo, Sam!” Frodo hailed him. “Don’t you ever go home?”

“Just going now, Mr. Frodo. It’s good to see you back, you and Mr. Bilbo, sir. Would you like some tomatoes for your supper?”

“Yes please, Sam,” Bilbo said. “You bring them in, will you, Frodo? I’m going straight in and get this pack off my back. I could do with a mug of tea after that trek.”

Sam went back in the shed for a basket, and Frodo followed him over to the vegetable patch. Suddenly they heard Bilbo shouting from inside the smial. They stared at each other for a startled moment, then ran toward the shouts.

Bilbo stood just inside the back door, up to his ankles in water.

“What in thunderation is all this?” he roared. “Where did all this water come from?”

Sam gave a horrified yelp and vanished around the corner of the smial. Frodo took Bilbo by the arm and led him over to the kitchen table.

“Come on, Bilbo, let’s get this pack off you first. Then we’ll see what this is all about.” He helped his uncle, then slipped off his own pack, leaving them both on the table out of the wet. They started going through the smial, from room to room.

Muddy water stood ankle-deep everywhere. In the study several books had been left on the floor, and Bilbo picked them up with a groan, setting them on the study table, soaked and filthy. The blankets on the beds were dragging in the water, and Frodo bundled them up and piled them on the table as well. A pillow had gotten on the floor somehow – he fished it out and added it to the pile.

“Good thing we have plenty of extra bedding,” Bilbo growled. “But it’s going to be a job restoring those books, if it can be done at all. I only hope this flood didn’t get into the parlor!”

There was some reason for hope, as the parlor had a tight door which was always kept closed. When they opened it, however, they saw that the parlor was inches deep like all the rest.

Bilbo swore, and Frodo stared at him – it was a matter of pride with Bilbo that he never sank to profanity. “If you can’t express yourself in plain Westron, my boy,” he liked to say, “you’ve a poor command of language!” But Bilbo swore now, fluently, and bent down to lift a corner of the parlor rug. It was made of heavy silk, woven in a raised pattern of leaves and flowing vines, a beautiful thing. Now it was beautiful no longer, waterlogged and coated in mud, ruined.

Bilbo swore again and splashed on into the room, collapsing into a chair. His face was pasty and his hands trembled, and it occurred forcefully to Frodo that his uncle was, after all, one hundred and ten years old.

“Just sit still, Bilbo,” he said, “I’ll get you some brandy.”

He was in the kitchen opening the bottle when Sam waded in. He looked almost as distraught as Bilbo.

“It was those dad-blasted irrigation tubes, Mr. Frodo! Open they were, all round the smial, and with the ground as wet as it was from the rain we’ve had this past week – we’ve had a mort of rain, Mr. Frodo, while you was away. But how those valves come to be open, I don’t know! I shut them tight a week ago, when the storm first hit. I don’t understand it at all, and that’s a fact! But the ground couldn’t hold no more water, seemingly, so it all flooded inside.”

Sam leaned against the fireplace, looking ready to cry. Frodo got out another glass.

“Here, lad, you’d better have a drink yourself, you look as if you need it. Then get some mops and buckets and we’ll start cleaning this mess up. I’ll be in the parlor with Bilbo.”

By the time Sam brought his buckets into the parlor, Bilbo was looking better. All the same, Frodo wouldn’t let him help, but sent him into the study with a gentle shove.

“You go get a bit more brandy, Bilbo, and then just sit down and think how to clean up your books. Sam and I will bail the water out of here.”

Even working together, the job took hours. They started by scooping up water and flinging it out the windows, but that was backbreaking and slow. Finally they opened the front door and went from room to room pushing the water ahead of them with the mops, sending a tide of dirty water sloshing up against the walls, but eventually driving it out of the smial. Everything was still filthy and dank, but at least they were no longer wading.

Last of all, they bundled up the ruined carpet. Sam dragged it out the door, and Frodo pumped a bucket of clean water and began to wash the floor. Bilbo came and stood in the doorway, contemplating the wreck of his parlor, his face grim. In a few minutes Sam returned, his arms full of kindling, and set about building a fire on the hearth.

“This ought to dry things out a bit, Mr. Bilbo,” he said. He sounded calm enough but it took him several attempts to strike a spark, and Frodo saw that his hands were shaking.

When the fire was going, Bilbo came into the room and sat down. “Thank you, Sam. Now perhaps you will explain to me how this happened.” His tone was very dry, and Frodo looked at him in surprise. Surely Bilbo wasn’t blaming Sam for the flood?

But apparently Bilbo was. His eyes rested on Sam with none of his usual good humor, and Sam seemed to shrink under his gaze.

He faced Bilbo, though, meeting his eyes with his customary directness. “I don’t know, Mr. Bilbo, sir, and that’s the truth. The valves for the irrigation tubes were open, all round the smial – I’ve shut them all now, of course! But those valves have been closed for a week, sir, ever since the drought broke. I don’t know how they came to be open today.”

Bilbo received this in silence, swirling the brandy in his glass. Sam stood before him like a prisoner in the dock, awaiting judgment.

Finally Bilbo said very quietly, “Or perhaps you just forgot to close the valves by the smial, Sam?”

The question hung in the air, and Frodo stared at his uncle in disbelief. Did Bilbo think Sam was lying?

“ I’m afraid you’re a mite young for this job after all, Samwise. You needn’t come to work tomorrow.” Bilbo raised his eyes to Sam’s stricken face and his voice softened a trifle. “When I’ve found someone to take on the garden, someone a bit older, you can come back as his assistant. I think I’ve been expecting too much of you at your age.”

Sam had gone very pale, and Frodo bit back a protest. This wasn’t the time; he’d tackle Bilbo later. It would do no good to set himself against his uncle, not that he wanted to. He only wanted to make him see reason. It wasn’t in reason to blame Sam for the flood.

Tears stood in Sam’s eyes, but he bore himself with unexpected dignity. “Very well, Mr. Bilbo, sir. I’m very sorry, sir.” He went out, shutting the door softly behind him.

Frodo opened his mouth, but Bilbo raised a hand to silence him. “Not tonight, my boy. We’ve had enough for one day. Whatever you have to say can wait till morning.”


The Aftermath

At breakfast next morning, Frodo quarreled with Bilbo for the first time in his life.

“After all, Bilbo, you told him yourself to put that irrigation system in! It’s hardly fair to put all the blame on Sam, when it doesn’t work out.”

Bilbo concentrated on decapitating his soft-boiled egg, chipping around the top with his spoon and lifting it off with care. His face was set.

“Frodo, that was an expensive carpet. Worth more than the entire contents of the Gamgees’ smial, I would imagine. And that’s only the worst of the damage! Sam’s carelessness has cost me rather dear.” He began to eat his egg. “Comes to that, my boy, it’s cost you, as well. You would have inherited that carpet someday.”

Frodo was pouring milk into his tea, but at this remark he slopped the entire contents of the milk jug over the table. He swore vehemently and tried to mop up the spilled milk with his napkin, gave that up as hopeless and jerked open the sideboard drawer for a tea towel.

Bilbo took the towel from him and sopped up the milk. “Get yourself a fresh cup, lad, and calm down. I don’t mean to ask Sam to pay for the carpet, you know!”

“No, I know you wouldn’t do that. But you’ll turn him out of the garden, and that’s worse, in a way. Sam will be lost without that garden. And he’s done a good job, hasn’t he, until now?”

“Until now, yes. But ‘now’ is a rather large exception, Frodo! Bag End six inches deep in dirty water – the legs of all the furniture in the place will have to be cleaned and rewaxed, after standing in that, plus the bottom of every wall – we’ll need new wallpaper in the bedrooms, and have to refinish the bottom of the paneling in the other rooms – not to mention the carpet totally wrecked—“

Frodo jumped up and paced around the room. “ I don’t understand you, Bilbo! You’ve always been so good to Sam – for years you practically ran a one-child school for him here! Now you talk as if the only thing that matters is that ridiculous rug.”

“Ridiculous, is it, my lad?” The anger in Bilbo’s voice took Frodo aback. “To you, perhaps. But I set a great store by that ‘ridiculous rug’, let me tell you! That carpet was a wedding gift to my mother, and there aren’t many things in this hole that I value more highly! It’s been in the Bag End parlor for over a hundred years. Until now -- and now it’s ruined by the plain negligence of Samwise Gamgee!”

He pushed his plate away, leaving his breakfast half eaten, and Frodo stooped to put an arm around him.

“I’m sorry, Bilbo, I shouldn’t have spoken so -- I didn’t know it meant so much to you. But honestly, is it fair to blame Sam?”

“Well, who else then? He admits the valves were open all around the smial – who else would have opened them? I don’t say he did it on purpose, but he was careless, Frodo! I don’t want a careless gardener -- I’m fond of my garden. It was a mistake on my part to put Sam in that position, at his age.”

And though Frodo argued all morning, he could not budge Bilbo from that. Sam could come back as assistant, when a new gardener was found. Until then, there was no place for him at Bag End.

“I gave the lad his chance, Frodo, because you insisted on it. But he’s not ready for that kind of responsibility, and there’s an end to it!”

*****

Breakfast at the Gamgees’ was more subdued. Sam had waited till morning to break the news to the Gaffer. He felt he needed one more night of peace, before his father’s wrath burst over his head. He sat by his window most of the night, unable to sleep, unable to think. He felt numb, but somehow he kept having to wipe tears off his face.

As it turned out, the Gaffer took it more quietly than he’d feared.

“Said all along you was too young,” he said glumly, stirring sugar into his tea. Sam stood by the fireplace, frying pancakes. “Better go easy on the food there, Sam. Save some of that lot for supper. First the strawberries frosted out, and now this! Going to be thin pickings around here, I’m thinking.”

“I’ll go round to Farmer Cotton’s this morning, Gaffer. See if he’ll hire me on. Ought to be plenty of work right now, with harvest coming on.”

Sam didn’t mention Bilbo’s promise to let him come back as assistant, when the new gardener was named. He supposed he’d have to come to that – not much chance of casual farm labor when winter came. Bilbo was always generous to those who worked for him, finding employment for them through the hungry winter months. But just now Sam felt he couldn’t face being an assistant again at Bag End, where he’d been in charge these past six months. The happiest months of his life.

There was a lump in his throat the size of a walnut, and his eyes were watering. “Drat this smoky fire anyway!” he said fiercely, scrubbing at his eyes with his shirtsleeve.

Friends

Sam found Farmer Cotton in the barn with his boys, sharpening scythes and generally getting things ready for the harvest.

“Looking for Marigold, Sam? She’s up at the house; the girls are churning today.”

Sam wasn’t looking for Marigold, but it crossed his mind that he’d better arrange for her to stay at the farm through the winter this year. He’d miss her at home, but money would be tight for the Gamgees now.

“I’ll go up and see her before I leave, Mr. Cotton. Could I have a word with you, please sir?”

“Of course, Sam. Where the others can’t hear, you mean?”

Sam hesitated. What difference would it make; the story would be all over Bywater by afternoon anyway. The lads might as well hear it from him.

“No need for that, sir. The thing is, I’ve been turned off. Mr. Bilbo wants someone older to do the garden. I thought maybe you could use another hand, with the harvest and all.”

The Cotton family, young and old, stared at him in shock. Tom whistled.

“Laws, Sam, what’d you do? I thought you were Mr. Bilbo’s fair-haired boy.”

Twelve-year-old Nick snickered. “Nah, that’s Mr. Frodo, dimwit!”

“You know what I mean, squirt!” Tom caught his brother and deposited him head-first in a pile of hay. “No, seriously, Sam, why’d he turn you off? I thought you were set for life at Bag End!”

“Place got flooded out, yesterday. The irrigation valves all round the smial were open, and with the ground so wet from the rain we’ve had – everything was afloat when they got home from Buckland. Mr. Bilbo says I was careless, left the valves open. But I didn’t.”

He met Mr. Cotton’s eyes. “I didn’t, sir! Those valves have been closed for a week, ever since the rain began! I don’t know how they could’ve got opened again.”

“Aye, that’s just the trouble with these new-fangled jimcrackers, Sam – you never know where you are with them! You would’ve done better to haul your water in a bucket, then you’d still have your job, lad. Ah well, we can use your help here, right enough, if you don’t mind working the old-fashioned way.”

The farmer laughed and clapped him on the back, but his hearty joking wore on Sam’s nerves. He’d lost Mr. Bilbo’s trust and Mr. Cotton’s respect, seemingly. He took a whetstone from the shelf on the barn wall and started sharpening one of the scythes.

He wanted to lose himself in the work, forget for a while, but it was not allowed. The conversation flowed around him, speculation on who would be named gardener at Bag End, and what the new man would do.

“Bet he tears out all your irrigation tubes first off, Sam,” said Tom. “Just in case they start running again when he doesn’t want ’em, and land him in trouble. There’s all your work wasted, you watch.”

“Bet he uses ’em for bean poles!” Nibs said with a laugh. Sam kept his stone moving along the scythe blade in a steady rhythm and said nothing.

“Will Mr. Bilbo have you come back as assistant, Sam?” the farmer asked.

“That’s what he said.”

“Aye, Mr. Bilbo’s a fair man. Well, just do your work steady-like when you go back, lad. No more flights of fancy, mind! The old ways are best, when all’s said.”

Sam nodded, his face expressionless.

Halfway through the morning Rose came in with a jar of raspberry switchel. Work stopped, and the lads shouted each other down explaining Sam’s presence. Rose looked at him with pity, and he felt a wild desire to smash his fist through a wall. He went back to work without taking anything to drink. He couldn’t have swallowed it anyway.

At mid-day they went back to the house for noon dinner. The instant he walked in the door, Marigold flung herself into his arms. “Oh Sam, they say you lost your job, they say Mr. Bilbo sent you away!” She stared up at him, her eyes wide. “Oh Sam, is the Gaffer very angry with you?”

He hugged her hard. His little sister. Glory, how he missed her when she wasn’t home! How he would miss her this winter.

“The Gaffer’s weathering it, Mari. We’ll get through it. How would you like to stay here this winter?”

“Not come home, you mean? But why, Sam?” He shrugged, but she understood. “To save money, you mean. You lost your job, so now I can’t come home all winter! Oh Sam, it’s not fair!”

He stroked her hair helplessly. “I thought you liked it here, Marigold. With the other young ones, Rose and all. And Mrs. Cotton to look after you.”

“It’s all right for the summer. It’s fun, I guess. But that doesn’t mean I never want to come home!” She sounded angry now. “Rose says it’s all because of that stupid irrigation thing you put at Bag End, that’s how come Mr. Bilbo turned you off. It ran water all inside the smial and filled it right up to the windows. And now I can’t go home because of you! I hate you, Sam!”

She burst into tears and spun away from him with a swirl of skirts, out of the room. Sam stood where she left him, her voice echoing in his ears.

Mrs. Cotton came into the room in time to hear Marigold’s words. She laid a hand on Sam’s arm, saying, “Never mind, Sam, she’ll get over it. She’s upset, but you know she loves you. And she’s welcome to stay the winter with us, as long as you need, till you and the Gaffer have things sorted out.”

Sam sighed and ran his hand over his face, suddenly very tired. “Thank’ee, Mrs. Cotton. You and Mr. Cotton have been real friends to us Gamgees, ever since my mother died.”

“Aye well, Sam, you’re a good lad, and Marigold’s a good lass. This is a sharp lesson for you and no mistake, but you’ll be more careful in future, I don’t doubt. You were full young to be in charge up there, and I told Mr. Cotton so from the first.”

She went into the dining room, and Sam gazed after her. So Mrs. Cotton, too, thought he had failed at Bag End. There was no one who believed in him, seemingly.

His appetite gone, Sam wandered out into the yard. He stood leaning against a tree, staring at the ground and tearing a leaf into narrow strips, trying not to think. He heard footsteps hurrying along the farm lane, but he didn’t look up. There was no one he cared to see right now. The steps came to a halt in front of him, and there was a long silence. Finally he looked.

Frodo.

”The Gaffer told me I’d find you here. Oh Sam, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about all this. I’ve been arguing with Bilbo all morning, but I just can’t get through to him.”

“That’s all right, Mr. Frodo.”

He wished Frodo would go away. Mind you don’t let him down, Mr. Bilbo had told him, back in February. Well, he had let him down, right enough. Now he didn’t know how to face him. He plucked another leaf from the tree and began tearing it.

“No, it’s not all right! Sam, stop destroying that leaf and listen to me!” He caught Sam’s wrist. “You didn’t leave those valves open, old lad; don’t you think I know that? That flood wasn’t your fault. Bilbo will realize that sooner or later, but I’d like to make it sooner. Now help me think!”

For the third time in two days, Sam found himself fighting back tears. “You believe me, Mr. Frodo? I didn’t leave them open, I never did!”

“Of course I believe you! If I ever caught you in a lie, Sam, I -- well, I think I’d watch for the sun to fall out of the sky! You said you closed those valves and that’s all I need to know. But they were open again yesterday; that’s how you found them, right?”

“That’s right, Mr. Frodo, every valve all round the smial. But none of the others were open, not in the rose garden or anywhere. Just the ones by the smial.” He made a face. “That’s odd, now I come to think of it. Like it was done a-purpose, to flood the place.” He shook his head as though to clear it. “No, that’s a mad idea. Who would want to flood out Bag End? Everyone likes Mr. Bilbo!”

“Not everyone, Sam. Though I can’t quite picture Lobelia skulking around the garden, opening water valves! Lotho, now….” He didn’t finish, as if he didn’t like where his thoughts were taking him.

But Sam’s thoughts were still caroling Frodo’s faith in him. It was like the sun coming up in the dead of night, finding a friend who still believed in him. He had never known how badly you could need a friend.

*****

When work ended that evening, Sam lingered.

“Could I borrow your wagon for a while, Mr. Cotton?”

“Aye, Sam, whenever you need it. What’s on your mind?”

“It’s the parlor carpet from Bag End, sir– it’s that wet and muddy, but -- if I washed it out in Bywater Pool, I thought, and laid it out flat to dry – well, it’s worth a try, any road. Mr. Bilbo always set a store by that bit of carpet.”

“Well, hitch up the wagon and go fetch it, Sam, and we’ll see what can be done. Might be Mrs. Cotton can tell you how to go about cleaning it, and you can lay it out to dry on the threshing floor. We’ll not be needing that for awhile yet.” But as Sam turned to go into the stable, the farmer caught him by the shoulder.

“I’m glad to see you don’t hold a grudge, Sam. You’re a good lad.”

Frodo Again

It was bound to draw onlookers, when Sam drove the farm wagon to the edge of Bywater Pool and dumped Bilbo’s carpet into the water. He hadn’t thought of that, hadn’t expected to have half the village for an audience.

He’d driven to Bagshot Row right after work and loaded the sodden carpet into the wagon.. When he went inside, intending to eat before he drove back, he found that the Gaffer had recovered the use of his tongue, and more than made up for his silence of the morning. Sam ducked out of the smial with his ears ringing, a hunk of bread in his hand. He ate it as he drove, but his stomach was still growling when he finished. He wished he had eaten dinner at noon.

Now he waded waist deep in the pool, dragging the carpet back and forth, trying to agitate it enough to dislodge the mud. Ted Sandyman and eight or nine others were lounging on the benches in front of the Green Dragon, enjoying the spectacle.

“Haven’t you had enough water yet, Sam Gamgee? I hear you flooded Bag End till the water ran out the windows, and old Bilbo nearly drowned in his bed!”

“Maybe he did drown! Anyone seen Mad Baggins today?” That was Ted, halfway through his second pint and feeling witty. His cronies feigned deep concern.

“Why, no, hasn’t been into Bywater, has he? Better send someone up to Hobbiton, make sure he got out alive!”

Sam stood still long enough to call, “Just you keep a civil tongue in your head, Sandyman! Pity you lot haven’t got anything better to do than watch other people work.”

“Oh aye, Sam, you’re a hard worker, we all know that,” Ted retorted. “Only you lost your garden, didn’t you, so you’re not a gardener any more. What are you now, a washerwoman?”

This raised a roar of laughter which broke off abruptly as someone came out of the pub, and the boisterous hobbits recognized Frodo Baggins. A couple of them even stood up, muttering “Evening, Mr. Frodo,” in embarrassed tones. Ted pretended not to notice him, leaning back against the wall and taking a long pull at his tankard.

Frodo went directly to the pool’s edge.

“What are you doing, Sam?”

“Just trying to get the mud out of this carpet, Mr. Frodo. Thought maybe I could salvage it for Mr. Bilbo.”

Frodo’s mind flashed back to the scene at breakfast, Bilbo’s angry words. Here was Sam’s “negligence” – up to his waist in Bywater Pool, taking the abuse of every idle lout in the village, trying to save Bilbo’s precious carpet. Frodo didn’t know whether to swear or cry. In point of fact, he did neither, but waded into the pool.

“Here, lad, you take one side and I’ll take the other.”

Sam spluttered in protest. “Mr. Frodo, this is no job for you! Get out, do – you’ll ruin your clothes in this muddy water!”

Frodo only laughed at him, and tugged at the carpet as though to drag it out of his hands, so Sam had to dig in his heels to avoid being pulled right off his feet. And Frodo’s laughter was so contagious that soon Sam was laughing too, and a couple of the watching hobbits – the ones who had said “Good evening” to Frodo – waded in to help them, so by the time the carpet was rinsed clean, there were four sets of hands to float it in to shore and lift it into the cart.

Frodo took a deep breath and tried to wring out his shirt without taking it off. “Well, after that, I think we all deserve a bite to eat, don’t you agree?”

He led the way into the Dragon, dripping wet as they were, and they all four sat down with much hilarity to a late supper. And though a few of the patrons ragged Sam about the flood at Bag End, the teasing was good-natured now, and he felt himself once more among friends.

Frodo insisted on riding back to Cottons’ with him. He helped him spread out the wet carpet and waited while Sam rubbed down the pony and put away the wagon. When all was in order, they put out the lantern and started back to Hobbiton by moonlight.

Sam broke the silence. “Thank’ee, Mr. Frodo. You shouldn’t a done it, mind, but I’m that thankful you did.”

“You would have stood by me, Sam, if I were in trouble.” They walked awhile without speaking. “I still want to know how those valves got opened,” Frodo said. “Could they have slipped open on their own, do you think?”

“No, Mr. Frodo, I wouldn’t think so. They’re pretty stiff, takes a bit of muscle to move them.”

“Then someone must have opened them, there’s no way around it. But who?”

“You don’t really think Mr. Lotho …”

“It does seem a bit farfetched, doesn’t it? He’s spiteful, but what would be the point? Unless it’s just jealousy, someone whose garden died in the drought? Or – Sam, is there anyone who’s got a grudge against you?”

Sam stood still, wondering why he hadn’t thought of that before. He remembered Ted watching him as he laid out the irrigation tubes. Ted Sandyman would know how to flood Bag End.

“You’ve thought of someone. Who is it, Sam?”

Sam shook his head. “Well, not Mr. Lotho, anyway! Aye, I think I know who did it, Mr. Frodo, but I don’t know just what to do about it.” He gave a short laugh. “I could beat him up, I suppose, but I did that already. It’s that started the trouble, seemingly."

And Sam would say no more, walking in silence with his hands jammed in his pockets, thinking.

Reprieve

“We’ll have tents set up all over the field, my boy, and the main pavilion here by the tree – in fact, I think we’ll put the pavilion around the tree, that way we can hang lanterns from the branches. What do you say to that?”

Bilbo was in a fine state of excitement. Relieved to see him in good spirits again, Frodo willingly let himself be dragged round the field, enjoying his uncle’s delight in all the preparations. The Party was getting close.

“I think we’ll have some steps cut into the bank right here, and put in a gate – rope off the field, you know – we’ll have to keep everyone out while we’re setting things up, or it will be a madhouse,” Bilbo went on.

Frodo saw his chance. “Let Sam do that, the steps and the gate.”

Bilbo harrumphed. “Now, lad, don’t start that again! I haven’t got over that flood yet, if you have. I’ve had enough of young Gamgee to do me for awhile.”

“Bilbo, I told you –“

“Yes, yes, you told me you think the miller’s son was tampering with the water, though why he should traipse all the way up here from Bywater to muck about in my garden, I don’t know. But you can’t prove it, Frodo! Just because Sam told you so -- ”

“Sam didn’t tell me! Sam won’t say anything about it! I got the story out of Farmer Cotton --” Frodo struggled to speak pleasantly, not raise his voice. “Sam caught Ted Sandyman bullying the young Cottons when their parents were away, and he ran Ted off the place. Cotton says Ted was determined to get back at Sam somehow, and flooding Bag End is just the sort of trick he’d like.

“Bilbo, honestly, you could at least talk to Farmer Cotton yourself!”

At that moment, a farm wagon came up the road and stopped in front of Bag End. Sam was driving, and young Jolly Cotton sat beside him. Bilbo groaned. “Now what?” he demanded.

Sam jumped down and came to meet them. “Mr. Bilbo, sir, I’ve brought your carpet back. We cleaned it, sir, the Cottons and me. I wish you’d take a look at it.”

Sam was plainly unsure of his welcome. His ears were red with embarrassment, and he didn’t look Bilbo in the face, seemed in fact to be talking to his feet. Bilbo stared at him for a moment, and his provoked expression gave way to pity.

“Very well, lad. Show me what you’ve done with it.”

Sam and the Cottons had done a good job. The carpet was rolled up neatly in the wagon, clean and soft, smelling of the fresh air. Bilbo unrolled a few feet of it, examining it closely. Finally he smiled.

“That’s wonderful, Sam. A bit faded, maybe, but then it’s a hundred years old, that’s only to be expected. I wouldn’t have thought you could get it clean at all.”

He nodded decisively. “Lay it down in the parlor for me, will you, Sam? You and your young friend here. Then stop back and see me, I’ve got a job of work for you, if you want it.”

So Sam went back to working for Bilbo, though his exact position was unclear. He roped off the Party field, and put in the gate, and cut the steps. Then he tidied up the garden, which was rather unkempt, with a couple of weeks of neglect following the heavy rain. But Bilbo called him in each morning and told him exactly what to do that day, and there was nothing said about naming him gardener again.

A few days later, Gandalf arrived at Bag End, a gaggle of excited hobbit children prancing behind him. Bilbo and several dwarves, who seemed to have moved in while Sam was working at Cottons’, went out to help the wizard unload his cart, and Sam dropped his rake and came over to help. But Bilbo waved him away, and Sam returned to his garden chores feeling that he was still in disgrace.

However that might be, he soon had something else to think about. After Gandalf came, no one saw much of Bilbo. Frodo took over the final arrangements for the Party, and Bilbo stayed inside Bag End.

“He’s all took up with that there wizard, and there’ll be no good comes of it,” said the Gamgee’s next-door neighbor. He was leaning over the fence in the twilight, smoking his pipe and enjoying a gossip with the Gaffer.

The Gaffer rumbled agreement. “I mind my cousin Holman, him that was gardener before me up to Bag End – he said ’twas that wizard sent Mr. Bilbo off with the dwarves, years and years ago. And now the wizard’s back, and a pack of dwarves as well. I just hopes Mr. Bilbo’s not fixing to go off again!”

Sam was lying on the grass, drifting toward sleep – he’d been running errands all day, and he was about tuckered out. The Gaffer’s remark stung him awake, and he sat up with a start.

“You don’t think he would, do you, Gaffer? Go off again? He’s eleventy-one, after all, and he’s been settled down here all these years – and there’s Mr. Frodo –“

The Gaffer regarded him gloomily. “All the more reason, maybe. Might be getting restless again, mightn’t he? And he doesn’t have to worry about them Sackville-Bagginses trying to take Bag End, does he, with Mr. Frodo here.”

That made too much sense for Sam’s peace of mind. From his earliest memory, Mr. Bilbo had been a fixture in his world, as much as the Hill itself. He couldn’t imagine Bag End without him.

He was still fretting about it the following morning as he hammered tent-pegs in the Party field, setting up the kitchen tents. A contingent of cooks would be coming in, the day before the Party.

Just the Gaffer’s way, it was, to be looking for bad news. Mr. Bilbo wouldn’t leave Bag End at his time of life, it stood to reason. Sam hoped he wouldn’t. You’d never find a kinder, more fair-minded master than Mr. Bilbo.

It didn’t occur to him that Bilbo hadn’t been very fair-minded about the flood. In fact, Sam had almost come around to the common opinion that the flood was his own fault. True enough, he hadn’t left the water valves open! That was Ted Sandyman’s doing; he’d stake his life on it.

But it was his own doing, putting in the irrigation tubes. Farmer Cotton was right; he should’ve been content to do things the old way.

The day of the Party came at last, and Sam was nearly run off his feet, too busy to worry about whether Bilbo meant to go off again. Bilbo and Frodo stood by the gate welcoming guests, and it fell to Sam to keep order inside the field. There were cooks and waiters, musicians and jugglers, brought in from the far ends of the Shire, all intent on doing their own jobs, and getting in each other’s way.

Sam made sure the cooks had enough water, and stopped the water-carriers from trampling the flowers going back and forth to the well. He led the musicians to the north end of the field, where a large area had been left open for dancing., and chased a few inquisitive tweenagers away from Gandalf’s cart, loaded with fireworks for later in the evening.

Finally the guests were all inside, and Bilbo found him and sent him running: tell the cooks it’s time lunch was served, tell the musicians to strike up a country dance, go find young Pippin Took, whose mother somehow lost him in the crowd.

He found Pippin clambering around among the branches of the Party Tree, his pockets full of Gandalf’s smallest firecrackers, carefully tucking one in each lantern. Sam collared the young miscreant and hauled him back to his mother, then went back to the tree and checked each and every lantern hanging from the branches, shuddering at what Mr. Bilbo would have to say to him, if a firecracker should go off when the lanterns were lit.

By the time he finished, he was badly in need of a mug and a sit down. He parked himself where he could watch the dancing -- he had never danced, himself, but he did like to watch. He’d barely finished his ale when Frodo came by, in high spirits, and catapulted him right into the middle of the dancers. When he caught his balance, Rosie Cotton seemed to have her arms around him, and he thought maybe he’d try dancing after all.

He rather forgot his responsibilities after that. When the music stopped, Rosie looked a bit flushed, and he thought he’d better get her something to drink. When she suggested that he must be hungry, he remembered that he hadn’t eaten since elevenses, and they wandered off together to have dinner.

They were still sitting at one of the tables, Sam thinking that he’d never realized what good company Rosie was, or how witty he was himself, when Bilbo got up to make his speech. Sam and Rosie laughed and applauded with the rest, whispered to each other at his puzzling, “I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve”, and nearly jumped out of their skins when Bilbo disappeared in a blinding flash of light.

That brought Sam back to earth with a bang. He wanted to run over to Bag End at once, try to find Mr. Bilbo. But Rosie had burst into tears, and when he looked up at the head table, Mr. Frodo was still sitting there, not seeming at all alarmed. So Sam stayed where he was, rubbing Rosie’s back and murmuring comforting nonsense to her until she calmed down. As he listened to the babble of shock and outrage around him, he began to feel amused.

Mr. Bilbo had gone off again, seemingly – and Mr. Gandalf had something to do with it, to judge by that flash of light! But Mr. Frodo didn’t look surprised or upset, only a little sad, so it must have been planned this way. Mr. Bilbo had gone to find some more adventures, and Sam understood slowly that the spectacular Birthday Party was the old hobbit’s farewell to the Shire, and a last joke on the Shire’s staid, sober inhabitants.

He started to grin, looking around at the expressions of outraged propriety. Mr. Bilbo had the last laugh, and good for him!

Then it dawned on him that he would probably never see the old adventurer again, and his amusement vanished. He put his head down on his arms and cried like a child, and it was Rosie’s turn to rub his back and speak softly to him.

Frodo is Master

It was a fortnight since Bilbo left. The Party field was empty now, the grass still flattened here and there where the tents had been, and one blackened patch of turf where some fireworks had lit the grass and been quickly stamped out. The burnt-out lanterns were gone from the branches of the Party tree.

The youngsters of Hobbiton were still playing with the toys that Bilbo had handed out, and their elders hadn’t tired talking about his disappearance, with a flash and a bang, right at the end of his speech.

And that tale should last out the winter, Sam thought with a reminiscent grin. That Mr. Gandalf was a proper joker, when you got enough ale in him.

Sam was standing on a ladder in the orchard, picking the late apples. He was sorry the wizard hadn’t stayed longer. Mr. Gandalf could tell some wonderful stories, if you caught him in the right mood. He’d told Sam a few on previous visits, when he came outside to smoke his pipe and found Sam working in the garden. As good as Mr. Bilbo for stories, was Mr. Gandalf.

Merry Brandybuck was still at Bag End, though. A good thing Mr. Merry had been on hand the morning after the Party, with all the commotion over Mr. Bilbo’s farewell gifts! Half the neighborhood had turned up on the doorstep, clamoring for presents, and poor Mr. Frodo had had his hands full.

Sam carried his sack of apples down the ladder and emptied it into a crate, moved the ladder to another tree and began to climb.

He was glad Mr. Merry had stayed on. He was a good sort – cheerful, lived up to his name, but kept his head when it counted. Sam hoped he would cheer up Mr. Frodo. Mr. Frodo had seemed a bit low-spirited since the Party. Restless, too, like he was worried about something. Missing Mr. Bilbo, probably. Sam missed the old hobbit himself.

That had been the worst of the flood, having Mr. Bilbo turn against him. Mr. Bilbo had been – oh, a hero to him, with his adventures, and his knowledge of Elves and all. And in another way, he’d been almost like a beloved grandfather. When Sam was a little tyke, running after the Gaffer in the garden, his short legs straining to keep up, Mr. Bilbo would appear beside him out of nowhere, and take his hand.

“You just come along with me, my lad; I’ve got some bread and honey for you in the kitchen.” And over his shoulder, as he led Sam away, “It’s all right, Master Hamfast, I’ll take care of him.”

Then Sam would sit in one of the big kitchen chairs, his legs dangling, licking the honey off his slab of bread while Mr. Bilbo told him stories. Old tales about the Elves, Mr. Bilbo told, or sometimes stories of his own adventures with Smaug, and the Dwarves, and the Battle of Five Armies.

His father had thought the world of Mr. Bilbo, even letting him teach Sam to read and write. Not that the Gaffer had liked that idea much! There weren’t many young hobbits in the village who knew their letters, but Mr. Bilbo had made sure Sam did. Even now, Sam’s chief treasure was the book of old tales Mr. Bilbo gave him for his own, when he proved he could read every story in it. His enjoyment of the stories was no whit the less because he had read them before.

Sam’s hands were quick and sure, picking the apples and stowing them in his sack. The Party had put him behind, getting them picked.

It had gone to Sam’s heart when Mr. Bilbo turned against him. It wasn’t only losing his job, it was Mr. Bilbo thinking he’d lied, when he said he’d closed the valves. That hurt, that Mr. Bilbo thought Sam would lie to him.

Well, he’d forgiven him, seemingly, and put him back to work. That was something. Sam would rather work at Bag End than anywhere, even if another gardener would be coming in over him. He loved Bag End, never wanted to leave it. He sighed. Nothing to be done about it now, but he wished he had never heard of irrigation tubes!

He was moving the ladder again, munching an apple as he worked, when Frodo waved at him from the other side of the hedge.

“Hoy, Sam! Take a break, will you? I want to talk to you.”

“Right, Mr. Frodo. Half a minute!”

He pulled the apple sack off his shoulder and mopped his sweaty face with the kerchief he wore knotted round his neck. Stuffed that in his pocket, and ran his fingers through his hair, dislodging a couple of twigs, and went to look for Frodo.

He found him sitting in the shade of the grape arbor, two mugs of ale on the bench beside him. “Here, Sam, you’re probably ready for a drink. Don’t you stop for lunch, old lad?”

Sam gulped the ale gratefully; he hadn’t noticed how thirsty he was. Wiping his mouth on his hand, he said, “Well, I’m behind, like, Mr. Frodo, because of the Party, you know. I meant to ask you, can I hire on a couple of lads to help me get the apples in? I don’t think I’ll be able to get all of ’em before they fall – and they’ll get bruised and that, if they hit the ground.”

“Yes, of course, Sam. Hire on whatever help you need. Are you done with that mug? Come on, let’s walk around a bit.”

He flung his arm over Sam’s shoulders and they strolled around the garden. One rosebush was still blooming in defiance of the season, as if making up for lost time. There was a riot of chrysanthemums along the path, shaggy copper-colored ones jostling for space with small-flowered yellows and whites. The tomatoes were gone from the vegetable patch, but there were still rows of kale and parsnips.

Frodo stopped at the garden shed, looking in the open door. It was swept clean and meticulously tidy, the tools well-oiled and hanging on pegs, flowerpots and buckets and glass cloches arranged neatly on shelves.

“It all looks pretty good, Sam. I’d say your first year running the garden has been a success.”

Sam stared at him in silence, and Frodo sighed, leaning against the shed, his hands in his pockets.

“Sam, I’m sorry Bilbo reacted the way he did about the flood. I didn’t agree with him – you know that – and I feel badly about it.

"I talked to Farmer Cotton, and he told me about that business with Ted Sandyman. And I got Bilbo to talk to him, too, and he was convinced, finally, that you weren’t to blame. He thought as I did, that it was probably Ted , though that might be hard to prove.

“I wanted Bilbo to tell you, Sam, but he left it to me. To be truthful, I think he was ashamed. He’d always been so fond of you, from the time you were a little lad, and then to misjudge you so completely!

“Anyway, Bag End is mine now, and I want to make it official. I’d like you to come back as gardener, and you can find yourself an assistant, one of the young Cottons, or whoever you like. But you’re in charge, Sam.”

Sam’s happiness filled him like light, and he could feel his own smile, almost too big for his face.

“Thank’ee, Mr. Frodo,” he said, his voice husky. Then he had another thought.

“Do you want me to rip out the irrigation tubes, Mr. Frodo?” he asked hesitantly.

Frodo looked surprised. “No, of course not! The irrigation was a good idea, and there’ll be other years when we don’t get enough rain. Leave them in.

“Sam, I don’t know how to say this. It’s not just that I can trust you with the garden, it’s more than that. It’s the way you stopped Ted bullying the Cotton youngsters, the way you went and cleaned Bilbo’s carpet, even when he was being unjust to you …” He smiled and shrugged, meeting Sam’s eyes.

“Don’t ever change, ” he said.

Sam thought how Frodo had stood his friend through all this long year. Got him his chance as gardener in the first place, and believed in him when nobody else did. He remembered Frodo wading into Bywater Pool, in full view of that rabble at the Green Dragon. And now he was named gardener again, he had his place in the world, and it was Frodo gave it to him.

Suddenly, more than anything, he longed to do something for Frodo, to serve him somehow. If they were in one of the old tales, he would have knelt, then and there, and offered his sword! He almost laughed, thinking of the look on Mr. Frodo’s face, did he suddenly kneel down here on the path.

Ah, well, he had no sword -- and he was no warrior, neither, just a plain hobbit. A gardener. But all the same --

All the same, he thought, I’m Mr. Frodo’s man from here on out. Mr. Frodo will never lack a friend, while Sam Gamgee lives.


the end





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