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Of Potatoes and Elves - by Penny Nutbrown

"Mad Baggins has gone and adopted himself an heir!"

Up until that afternoon, when Ted Sandyman had come running down the lane with the news, Sam Gamgee would have figured he was the happiest young Hobbit in the Shire.

For nearly a year, Sam had been helping his father with the gardens at Bag End. The Gaffer, for that was what everyone called Hamfast Gamgee, was getting on a bit and found stooping hard. Sam was a spry lad, though shaped like a well-stuffed bolster, and a handy worker, so long as no thinking was required. As an apprentice, the Gaffer figured Sam’d do.

Sam, himself, could not have been better pleased. True, his father made a hard master, seldom satisfied and never complimentary, but the gardening trade suited Sam well. He enjoyed the company of all that was green and growing, and he enjoyed the company, too, of Mr. Bilbo, who treated his gardener’s son more as favourite nephew than servant. Though, if what young Sandyman said was true, then things would soon change at Bag End.

"Mad Baggins has adopted an heir," Ted said again, still panting from his long run.

"That’s ‘Mr. Baggins’ to you," said the Gaffer, looking up from his hoeing and shaking a gnarled finger at the miller’s son. "And you should be more respectful of your elders. Now, what’s this you’re on about?’

Sam leaned upon his spade.

"It’s that Frodo Baggins," Ted eagerly resumed. "The one whose mother pushed his father in the Brandywine river and they both drowned!"

"None of that!" the Gaffer cried. "We’ll have no talk of pushing or pulling. As I’ve said before to your father on this matter, boats is tricky things, and what happened to the Drogo Bagginses was a tragical accident, nothing more."

Ted paid the Gaffer little mind, but continued his account. "He’s done it all up legal, Mad ..‘Mister’ Baggins has — in red ink! Frodo’s his heir in all things now, and he’s bringing him to live at Bag End!"

The Gaffer took the news calmly. He resumed weeding the cabbages.

"Well, all I have to say," he said, "is if Mr. Bilbo has adopted that poor orphan then he’ll never do a kinder deed."

Ted hoped to get more of a rise from Sam.

"I guess that’s an end to reading and writing lessons for you, Sam, and tales of Elves and dragons."

Sam shrugged.

"Elves and dragons," the Gaffer muttered. "Cabbages and potatoes are better suited to the likes of us. I know Mr. Bilbo meant it kind, teaching you your letters, but what’s the good in educating a Hobbit above his station? And you’ve got plenty to learn about gardening yet … Such as a spade’s for digging with, not leaning on!"

Blushing, Sam quickly resumed his work.

"Ah, well," the Gaffer sighed, "you’ll have more time for your chores in future, Sam, now Mr. Bilbo has a boy of his own."

Neighbours on the Hill expected Mr. Bilbo’s new heir to be odd, for not only was he a Baggins, but he’d been raised in Buckland, and everyone knew that folk in that part of the Shire were strange. "Comes from living so close to the Old Forest," Hobbitonians would say and nod knowingly. The Gaffer, with his long-standing connection to Bag End, was treated to many a pint down at ‘The Ivy Bush’ in exchange for his views on Mr. Bilbo’s latest startling behaviour. The Hobbit youngsters, too, were eager for news of the adoption, and Sam could have held forth among his mates as his father did. However, on the subject of his employer’s ‘nephew’, Sam had nothing to say, but he would shrug and kick at the dirt with his wooly big toe. Ted Sandyman called him soft, and laughed at Sam’s long face.

It was late in the evening when the Bagginses arrived home, and so it was not until the following morning that Sam met Frodo. Sam was trimming the hedge that separated the front garden from the road, he was hunched over, snipping away furiously, his back to the path, and someone said.

"Good morning."

Sam turned around slowly.

The lad who stood before him was tall, for a Hobbit, and well-dressed in a clean white shirt and plum-coloured waistcoat. Curling brown hair tumbled into clear blue eyes. He was fine-featured and fair, in fact he greatly resembled Mr. Bilbo, but there was something peculiar about him. Something…, Sam searched for the word, something … elvish. Or at least, what Sam imagined Elves were like, for he’d never actually seen one. Gazing at this elf-lad, Sam felt fat and stupid and as ordinary as cabbages.

"I’m Frodo Baggins," Bilbo’s heir said, extending his hand. Sam’s own hands were dirty from digging and scratched by thorns. He did not reach out in response. "But I suppose you already figured that." The hand retreated to the awkward comfort of young Baggins’ trouser pocket. "You’re Sam Gamgee, the apprentice gardener — but, then, of course, you know that too." Sam just stood there. "What are you doing?"

"Trimming the hedge," Sam mumbled, and turned back to his work. Frodo stood for a while watching him. Sam said nothing more, but kept his eyes on his task.

"Bag End is very nice," Frodo said, at last. "I’d always heard that it was, but I’ve never been here before. Actually, this is the first time I’ve ever been away from home …I mean from Buckland." Sam’s shears snipped away busily. "Of course someday I’m going to travel all over, see the Misty Mountains and the White City — have adventures just like Bilbo did. Bilbo said that you wanted to see the Elves someday. I’m learning to speak Elvish. Perhaps we could travel together — to Rivendell, or even Mirkwood or Lothlorien. How would that suit you, Sam?"

"The Gaffer says potatoes’d suit me better than Elves," was Sam’s reply. "And if you don’t mind, sir, I’ve a dozen rows of ’taters yet to dig today."

With that, Sam stomped off sullenly.

The Gaffer was known throughout the neighbourhood for the superior quality of his potatoes. It was his greatest source of pride. He had devoted a considerable amount of the Bag End kitchen garden to the cultivation of these roots, and had erected a solid fence around the garden’s entire circumference, so dear was his treasure to him. Sam was under strict orders to find and save each spud as if it were a precious jewel.

Actually, the work did Sam good. There were few things which gave him greater pleasure than having his hands in the rich dark Shire earth. The weight which had been pressing down upon his heart began to ease.

It was just after four o’clock when the Sackville-Bagginses came to call. Sam saw them from the potato patch, striding up the lane with great purpose — Otho, Lobelia, and trailing behind their son Lotho who had once laughed at Sam for believing in oliphaunts. Sam had never forgiven him. Mr. Bilbo and Frodo were taking tea in the front garden and studying Bilbo’s map collection when the Sackville-Bagginses arrived. Relations were not friendly between Mr. Bilbo and these, his closest kin. Otho and Lobelia had never forgiven their cousin for turning up alive that time, nearly fifty years before, and depriving them of their inheritance. Now with his adoption of an heir, Mr. Bilbo had again spoiled their plans. Sam expected fireworks, and he was not disappointed.

At that distance, Sam could not make out all that was said, but he heard a good deal about ‘the laws of primogeniture’, ‘ancestral rights’ and ‘plans to seek legal counsel’. For his part, Mr. Bilbo declared that so long as he was master of Bag End, no Sackville-Baggins would again darken the door, then he ordered them off the property. Lobelia shook her umbrella in Frodo’s face and called him a ‘conniving young baggage’. Otho assured Frodo that the matter was ‘not settled’, and at the gate Lotho turned back and shouted to Frodo,

"Go back where you come from, you don’t belong here!"

Mr. Bilbo’s normally jovial round face was scarlet. Frodo, though, Sam thought, looked quite pale. Mr. Bilbo didn’t seem to notice this. He was going on about NO TRESSPASSING signs, and guard dogs, and perhaps even digging a moat around Bag End.

"Anything to keep those blasted Sackville-Bagginses out!" he shouted, going inside the hole.

Frodo slumped down in one of the basket chairs, and dropped his head into his hands. Sam drew nearer. Frodo looked up — his eyes were bright with unfallen tears. Sam was getting ready to say something, though he’d no idea what.

"Confound it all, Samwise Gamgee, look what you’ve done!"

Sam whirled around quickly. There in the center of his much-prized potato patch, was the Gaffer. He was wrestling with Daddy Two-foot’s best brood sow, who was determined to eat as much of the season’s harvest as was mortally possible. Both lads ran to the Gaffer’s aid. After much pushing and pulling, coercion and cussing, they managed to get the pig to the other side of the garden fence. The Gaffer slammed the gate and bolted it, he turned to his son.

"Of all the addle-pated ninny hammers," he fumed, "Sam Gamgee, you are the worst!" Sam hung his head. His face flushed hot as his hands went cold. "Just look at this field. Look at it! The crop’s ruined! What possessed me to take you on as apprentice when I’ve known you for a fool all your life!"

Sam bit his lower lip and fought back the stinging tears that threatened to flood his eyes. He felt ashamed and embarrassed, and he wished he could just disappear. Then suddenly Frodo cried out,

"It was me!" Sam stared at Frodo, open-mouthed and incredulous. "Not Sam. I left the gate open. I didn’t think. I’m sorry."

For a moment, the Gaffer stood there, as dumbfounded as his son, but Hamfast Gamgee was never at a loss for words for long.

"Well, see here, young master," said the Gaffer, modifying his tone somewhat. "I don’t know how things are done in Buckland — though I’m sure it’s queer enough, but around here, we close gates. There’s reasons for gates and fences, Mister Frodo, and one of them reasons just walked out of here full of my ‘taters! Ah, well, come, Sam, let’s see what can be saved of this mess."

As he followed his father through the trampled clay, Sam looked back over his shoulder. Frodo stood by the gate. He nodded to Sam. Sam dipped his own head in acknowledgement. They understood each other.

The next morning, Sam found Frodo high in the branches of a great oak tree reading a book with a gold dragon tooled upon its green leather cover.

"Good book?" Sam called up to him.

"Pretty good," Frodo replied, laying the volume aside.

"Want to go berrying?" Sam asked, holding up two pails.

Frodo smiled and started down the tree.

They walked perhaps two miles, through unshorn fields of green and gold, making toward the wood. There, where the long grass gave way to the straggling beginnings of the forest, wild blackberries grew in abundance. This had long been a favourite place of Sam’s, his secret place that he’d never shared with anyone, until now. For a time, they worked in easy silence. The warmth of the late-summer sun felt comforting on the back of Sam’s neck, and he breathed deep, filling his nostrils with the mixed aromas of sweet berries and dying pine. At last he spoke.

"I’ll go with you."

"Mm?" Frodo looked up.

"I’ll go with you, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "When you go to Rivendell and Lorien, when you go to see the Elves, I’ll go with you. That is ..if you still want me to."

Frodo looked long at Sam, he smiled and nodded.

"Yes," he said. "All right … Only, let’s not go right away, Sam. Let’s just stay here — for awhile longer."

Sam understood. "That’s fine by me, Mr. Frodo."

They resumed picking berries. A tender stillness held the air, and Sam needed nothing more or less than what he had.

"I’m very glad, Frodo," he said, at the last. "I’m very glad you’ve come."


The End

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