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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.
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.
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