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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.”
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