MOON LETTERS : CREATIVE WRITING
OF WIZARDS AND GARDENERS - by Penny Nutbrown
A year to the day after the Baggins adoption, Gandalf the Grey appeared on the doorstep of Bag End. He had come to visit his old friend Bilbo Baggins, and to meet Bilbos chosen heir.
As usual, Gandalf arrived unexpected and unannounced. Frodo returned home for tea that afternoon, and there sitting opposite his cousin at the kitchen table was this tall, grey-robed stranger. Frodo had heard tell of Gandalf, of course, and knew of his role in Bilbos great adventure. However, it is one thing to admire a character in a story, and quite another to have the legend itself ask you to pass the pickled beetroot!
At first, Frodo was overwhelmed by the imposing presence of the wizard, but as the days passed he began to see beyond the gruff exterior to the kind, gentle, good-humoured soul that dwelt within. It was not long before Frodo forgot his fear, and instead came to feel for Gandalf an affection nearly as great as that which he felt for Bilbo.
Sam, though, continued to be wary of the wandering conjurer .
"I dont know as its a good idea," Sam warned Frodo, "to get too chummy with someone who could, on a whim like, turn you into a rat or a toadstool or a serving of treacle pudding! Respectfully speaking, I wonder at Mr. Bilbo. My Gafferd take on something awful if I were changed into anything unnatural. Hed box my ears certain!"
"Providing that you still had ears, of course," Frodo teased, and Sam went pale at the very thought.
It was more than just Gandalfs reputed magical powers, which so unsettled poor Sam. There were also the eyes. More than once, Sam had looked up from some chore and found Gandalf staring at him intently from beneath those bushy brows. It seemed to Sam then, almost as if Gandalf were sizing him up, judging his worth. Sams gaze would meet the wizards and the young hobbit would have to look away, unable to bear the questions those ancient eyes were asking.
But really, day to day, Sam had little to do with the Baggins houseguest. Gandalfs visit to Bag End could not have come at a better time, from Bilbos point of view. To mark his approaching centennial, Baggins Senior had decided to write his memoirs. He was, after all, the most widely-travelled hobbit in known history, and he felt he owed it to posterity to leave a record of his remarkable life.
"Besides, it will upset the Sackville-Bagginses no end," laughed Bilbo, "and that is as good a reason as any, for doing it!"
Having Gandalf appear at precisely this moment seemed absolutely providential. Bilbo enlisted his former travelling companion in the considerable task of documenting the facts of their quest to the Lonely Mountain. Although, from the bits of their conversations (arguments really) which he sometimes overheard, Sam wondered if the Hobbit and the wizard had indeed made the same journey.
"No, no, no! It was Bombur, not Bofur, who fell in the enchanted stream."
"It was Bofur, I tell you. I remember it well."
"Remember it! How could you? You werent even there. If youll recall, you abandoned us at the door to Mirkwood, leaving us to make our way as we could. Why, if you hadnt left us, poor Bombur
mightnt have fallen in the blasted stream in the first place!"
Sam, meanwhile, was busy with a project of his own. Early in the spring, the Gaffer had concluded that his apprentice now had enough practical experience, and common sense, to manage one of the Bag End gardens by himself. He assigned Sam the little west side garden. From sowing to harvest the wellbeing of this patch of earth rested entirely in Sams plump, calloused hands.
Sam was eager to do a good job, not only to merit his fathers faith in him, but also for the sake of the garden itself. Sam had always felt a kinship with all that was green and growing, but his connection to this small bit of ground (which bore nothing more grand than hollyhocks and hearts-ease) was particularly strong. He looked forward to spending time in its company, and tended it with great devotion. He watered it when it was dry, supported it when it wavered, worried about it in bad weather, and carried it with him in his heart wherever he was.
After his mother and the Gaffer, and Frodo, Sam loved his little garden more than anything in the world.
Sam was in the west garden on the afternoon that the troubled occurred. At first, it seemed just another disagreement over details between Mr. Bilbo and Gandalf. Sam hadnt meant to eavesdrop, but the study windows were open and the voices raised, and Sam was close by weeding back the overzealous mint. He could not help but hear.
"I won it in a riddle contest," said Mr. Bilbo , sounding annoyed. "You know that!"
"I know thats what you told me," the wizard said, in a tone that implied he thought there was still more to the story.
This greatly offended Mr. Bilbo.
"Are you calling me a liar, here in my own house!"
"Why are you so angry?" asked Gandalf suspicious. "Come now, Bilbo, out with it. What really happened there, in Gollums cave?"
Sam had given up even the pretense of working. He sidled up closer to the window, being careful to remain out of sight. Sam knew that he should not be listening to what was obviously a private exchange, but somehow he could not help himself.
Suddenly Mr. Bilbo cried out in a voice that chilled poor Sam to the marrow.
"Its mine! What does it matter how it came to me? It came to me. It is my own!"
Sam had only been a little lad the first time the Gaffer had brought him up the Hill to Bag End. Sam remembered it well, bouncing along in the wheelbarrow with the Gaffers tools and a load of flower pots. Throughout the years of their acquaintance, Sam had seen Mr. Bilbo in any number of humours: congenial, grumpy, bored, vexed (usually with the Sackville-Bagginses), tipsy, hungry, angry. But never until that moment had Sam ever seen him so near to true madness.
Gandalf made a move toward his friend, but the old hobbit stormed past him. Across the room, down the hall and out the front door went Bilbo, nearly colliding with Frodo on the doorstep.
"Bilbo!" said Frodo, startled. "Where are you going? Why, Bilbo, whatever is the matter?"
"Questions, questions, always questions," Bilbo snapped. "Youre just like all the others. Watching. Waiting. Looking for your chance. Well, Im on to you. I am! Youll not have it. For all your sweet ways and claims of affection. I know what youre after, and youll not have it. Never! Never!"
Sam could do nothing but stand helplessly by as Mr. Bilbo ranted and raged. To the end of his days, Sam would never forgot the look of confusion and hurt on Frodos face. The scene lasted maybe a minute, probably less.
"Get out of my sight. Get out!" Bilbo cried, and Frodo fled.
"Frodo!" Sam called, but Frodo didnt stop. He ran, stumbling, blinded by tears. Sam pumped his short, sturdy legs hard, desperate to catch him. Frodo made for the old oak and climbed to the sanctuary of his treehouse. Sam followed him up.
"Oh, Frodo!" he said.
On the floor, in the far corner of their flet, Frodo sat huddled, his knees hugged close to his chest and his head down upon his folded arms. He was crying.
"Oh, please, Mr. Frodo, dont cry," Sam implored.
He came and sat by Frodo. Sam longed to do something, anything, to comfort his friend. He made an attempt.
"There now, Mr. Frodo," said Sam, "dont carry on so. Mr. Bilbos got a burr between his toes about something, thats all."
Frodo looked up. His eyes were red and his cheeks tear-streaked. It grieved Sam greatly to see him so unhappy.
"What did I do, Sam?" Frodo asked .
Sam shrugged, shook his head, then sighed.
"I dont know, Mr. Frodo. Nothing, probably. Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Gandalf were having an argument before you showed up. I heard em. Mr. Bilbo was real upset."
"But I dont understand," Frodo sobbed.
"Well, I dont rightly myself," Sam admitted. "Sometimes grownups are just like that. They fly off the handle, and there just dont seem no rhyme nor reason for it."
"What if he sends me away?" said Frodo.
Sam could not believe his ears.
"Oh, now, youre just being silly Mr. Frodo," he exclaimed. "Why, if I had to take to the road every time the Gaffer had a fit of the temper, Id be all the way to the Misty Mountains by now! Grown-ups can be puzzling, theres no doubt, but they dont send you away just cause they get angry."
Frodo looked into Sams eyes.
"Sometimes they do," he said, and Sam realized that in this Frodo, the orphan, spoke from experience.
A strange feeling came over Sam then, as if his heart was both breaking and growing at the same time. It was an actual physical ache, and yet oddly - Sam drew strength from the pain.
"Listen to me, Frodo, " said Sam, resolved. "No ones going to send you away, ever. I wont let em!"
Frodo actually laughed through his tears, little Sam was so fierce. Sam took this as an encouraging sign.
"Come now," Sam said, his tone gentle once more. "Itll all have blown over by now, and Mr. Bilbo will be wondering where you are and worrying. Its peculiar, but thats how grown-ups are. "
Frodo wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
"Youll come with me?" he asked.
"Wherever you go," Sam promised.
Sam Gamgee might never be counted among the very wise, but he had some understanding of the mercurial moods of his elders. Mr. Bilbos storm had indeed blown over, and he was now very much wondering and worrying about his young cousin. He was at the front gate looking anxiously up and down the road. Seeing the boys at last, he swung the gate open and rushed to them. Frodo hung back a moment, uncertain. Bilbo held out his arms, and the need to both be comforted and reassured drew the lad into the embrace.
Bilbo stroked Frodos hair and gently touched his cheek. He took Frodos face in his hands and looked into his eyes.
"Come, my boy," he said, " There are some things we need to talk over. No secrets between us, Frodo, eh? Come."
Bilbo took Frodos hand and led him inside. He shut the door behind them. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. He felt clean wore out, as he put it to himself, and he longed for the solace of his garden.
It was indeed a day for the unexpected. For there, hunkered down on the grass in the center of Sams neatly tended little patch was none other than Gandalf. His head was bent over his hands, and he was cradling something in his cupped palms. It was a sparrow. The wizard was not holding it. The creature remained in his hands of its own volition.
The bird was so very quiet, quite calm. Sam held his breath tight, his whole body frozen. Sam had heard many tales of Gandalfs remarkable abilities that he could still the waters of a raging river with the wave of his hand, that he could transform himself into a bear or an eagle, that he could call the moon to pass over the sun. And then, of course, there were the fireworks. But this small miracle was enough for Sam. His eyes went from the little feathered body to the wizards face with its expression of gentle concentration.
"Well, Ill be ," said Sam .
At the sound of his voice, the sparrow startled, and, with a great deal of twittering and fluttering of wings, took flight. Gandalf looked over at the young hobbit and smiled. Sam came and stood before him. Arranged so, they could see right into each others eyes.
It was Gandalf who spoke first.
"Youre doing a fine job here, Master Gamgee," he said , gazing about him. "It is a good garden."
Sam knew that he should acknowledge the compliment, but strangely it seemed more fitting to stay silent. The wizard did not seem to mind.
"I envy you, you know," he sighed. "You are always able to watch over your charge. Alas, I am often called away from the lands I tend."
"I didnt know you were a gardener too, Mr. Gandalf," said Sam.
This made Gandalf laugh, but his laughter held a trace of bitterness.
"There is much you dont know, Samwise. But then, there is much that I dont know either. There are so many uncertainties in the world, even here in the quiet of the Shire, among you dear silly hobbits. If I did not believe this before today, I do now."
Gandalf looked toward Bag End. At that moment, he did not seem a great and fearsome sorcerer to Sam but an old man, tired and somewhat sad.
"Isnt there someone who could lend a hand, sir?" asked Sam. "You know, look after things for you when you have to be away?"
"It would be a great responsibility," the old man replied, " and there are few who willingly take on the cares of others."
"Well, I wouldnt mind helping you, Mr. Gandalf," Sam offered. "That is, if I could be of any use."
Gandalf looked long at the hobbit, but this time Sam did not turn away. He gazed up at the wizard openly, all of himself there to be seen. Gandalf nodded.
"Not yet, Master Samwise," he said, "but some day, perhaps. Some day I may entrust you with a very great care, but for now I think it is enough that we both keep watch."
Sam frowned, he did not understand. He was about to ask Gandalf what he meant, but then he remembered the old saying:
Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards
for they are subtle and quick to anger.
Sam knew he hadnt the wit for subtleties, and hed had enough of anger for one day. He held his peace.
Leaning upon his staff, Gandalf rose. He paused for a moment , placing a great, strong hand upon Sams curly yellow head. Then he turned and left.
Frodo came out to the garden a short time later. Sam made a study of his friends face, looking for any further signs of distress. Sam noted that Frodo was a little pale and seemed tired, but otherwise he appeared to be quite himself again.
"Its all right, Sam," he said, conscious of the younger lads concern. "Bilbo and I had a good talk, and I understand some things better. I cant tell you much about it now, but some day I may. For now, its enough I know that Bilbo does care for me and Bag End is my home."
"Well, of course it is, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "I could have told you that!"
"I think you did, dear Sam," Frodo laughed. Then he lay his hand upon
Sams. Sam smiled. They understood each other.
Gandalf took leave of Bag End the next morning. Both Bilbo and Frodo were greatly disappointed. Sam, too, was sorry to see the wizard go.
"Ill even let Bofur fall in the enchanted stream," Bilbo teased, "if only youll stay out the month!"
"A tempting offer, Im sure," said Gandalf, "but Ive other concerns beyond your autobiography. There are questions that need answering, my dear Bilbo. Alas, these answers are not to be found while smoking pipe-weed by your comfortable fire."
Gandalf knelt before his old friend, and held Bilbos hands between his own for a moment. Then he turned to Frodo. The young hobbit threw his arms about the wizards neck and hugged him.
"Come back soon," he said.
Last Gandalf bid farewell to Sam.
"Tend to your charge well, Master Gardener," he said, looking not to the tidy rows of cabbages nor to the brightly-coloured summer annuals, but to Frodo standing with Bilbo at the gate.
And all at once Sam realized the meaning of the wizards words. He looked up into Gandalfs eyes.
"I will, sir," he said.
The old man nodded. He climbed up onto his cart, touched his hat in parting, shook the reins and then he was off.
The three hobbits watched at the gate as the cart dipped down into the little hollow, climbed the next hill and finally disappeared over the other side. Bilbo sighed heavily, shook his head, then returned to his study. Frodo remained for a long time staring out at the empty road.
"Hell be back, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "Some day when we least expect him, there hell be pointy hat, bushy eyebrows and all!"
Frodo smiled wistfully.
"I know. Its just that I hate it when people leave."
"Your aunt Lobelia being the exception to that, I trust," Sam remarked.
This made Frodo laugh.
"What a blessing, Sam, I still have you."
"Well, I dont know about the blessing part," said Sam modestly, "but have me you certainly do. Now, how about we pop over to Number 3 for elevenses? Mam was baking gingerbread when I left, and you know how much you like my mams gingerbread."
"All right, Sam."
Frodo opened the gate and stepped out onto the road. Sam followed him. They made their way together.