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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.
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