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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.
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