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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.
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