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The Shaping of Samwise - by Jo Conkle

Chapter 1 Changes

The Gaffer was in a foul mood. It was partly the weather -- a late spring frost had destroyed fruit blossoms all over the Shire. Peaches would be in short supply this summer. The spring had remained chill, overcast but not rainy, and now a second frost had come during the night.

The Gaffer surveyed his blasted strawberry patch, puffing morosely on a pipe that was giving him no pleasure. A quarter acre of prime plants, the pride of his heart. He bent and picked one of the blossoms, a five-pointed star of white with a yellow center. The yellow was marred by a dark spot, sad testimony of a killed blossom..

There’d be no strawberries going to market this June, and no shortcake for tea either. He might salvage a few berries, their blossoms shielded by leaves. Enough for a basketful for Mr. Bilbo, maybe. Fond of berries, was Mr. Bilbo. But the loss of the market money was going to hurt, and no mistake. The Gamgee budget could ill spare the year’s strawberry income.

"Sam!" the Gaffer shouted. "Get out here, you young lay-a-bed!"

Sam appeared around the corner of the garden shed, a hoe over his shoulder.

"Right here, Gaffer. Just off to Bag End, sir, to hill up the potatoes." He came to a halt beside his father, his glance taking in the strawberry patch with its tell-tale spotted blossoms. "Oh," he said. "The frost got them."

"Yes, the frost got them, you’re gardener enough to see that, aren’t you?" The Gaffer’s voice was bitter. "Now see that you’re gardener enough to give satisfaction to Mr. Bilbo this summer! Don’t you go mucking up the job, now I’m not standing over you every day to see it done right!"

Sam winced a little at his tone, but the Gaffer was too wound up to notice. He gave a ferocious puff at his pipe, realized disgustedly that it had gone out, and shoved it in his pocket. "Well, get on then!" he said. "It won’t do to be getting there at lunchtime, my lad. You’d better make good at Bag End, now you’re in charge up there. We need the money and that’s a fact."

The Gaffer stumped back past the ruined strawberries and disappeared into the garden shed. Sam stared after him, shaking his head. It was a bad blow, losing the berries. Not just the income either, Sam thought. It was a blow to his pride, like. Now his father was retired, so to speak, leaving the Bag End garden to his care, Sam had counted on the strawberry patch to give the Gaffer something to do. Something that was all his own, now that he was no longer the head gardener at Mr. Bilbo’s.

Sam continued up the hill, his mind turning to the Bag End garden. He thought he could make good there. Well, he’d been trained by the Gaffer, after all! He laughed inwardly. If that didn’t make him a gardener, nothing would. He was young for it though, there was no denying. Barely twenty-one — he wouldn’t have been put in charge at such an age, only the Gaffer’s rheumatics had got so bad, the old man really wasn’t up to it anymore.

And even at that, it was Mr. Frodo as got the job for him. Mr. Bilbo had told him that his own self. He’d called Sam into the Bag End parlor one day in February, when Sam should have been out in the orchard pruning the apple trees.

"Sam, lad, I want a word with you," he’d said. He had seemed ill at ease, sitting at his big desk reaming out his pipe, not meeting Sam’s eyes. "I’m afraid we’re going to have to make some changes around here. Your father, well, he’s done a fine job in the garden, a fine job. But his health isn’t what it was, you know."

Sam had sat on the edge of his chair, apprehension making him shiver in spite of the bright fire on the hearth. True enough, the Gaffer was feeling his age. He was home in bed that very minute, a hot soapstone wrapped in flannel pressed to his aching back. Sam had been working in the orchard alone, when Mr. Bilbo called him in. But this — this sounded like bad news for the Gamgees, and no mistake.

Mr. Bilbo had given him a measuring look. "Samwise, I’ve known you since you were a baby, and you were always an honest lad.. So I’ll just ask you now, can you manage the garden by yourself? Because it’s plain to me that the Gaffer can’t keep it up." He shook his head, filling his pipe carefully and tamping it down. "I’m afraid the old man will kill himself trying, and I’d never forgive myself. I meant to have you take over for him when he retired, but I thought we had a few years yet."

Sam had cleared his throat nervously. "I can do it, sir." He looked Mr. Bilbo in the eye, wishing he could find words for what he knew was true. I’m reliable, sir, even if I am young. You can count on me, Mr. Bilbo.

And Bilbo had seemed to understand. "All right then, Sam. We’ll give you a try. " He laughed a little ruefully. "Indeed, I am afraid I have very little say in the matter! Frodo insisted that you have your chance. He almost jumped down my throat when I said you were too young and we’d have to look for someone else."

He’d stood up then and held out his hand to Sam. "You’ve got a good friend in Mr. Frodo, lad. Mind you don’t let him down."

"No, sir. I won’t, sir!"

So Sam had taken over the Bag End garden. He’d run into Mr. Frodo at the Green Dragon a few evenings later and tried to thank him, but Frodo just laughed and stood him a pint. "You’ll do fine, Sam, no doubt about it. And the old place wouldn’t be the same without you pottering about outside."

Three months later, Sam felt he had the job in hand. It was, after all, only what he had been doing since he was a little tyke following at the Gaffer’s heels. The garden routine was in his bones, and he dug and planted, weeded the vegetables and cut back the roses, with skill and deep satisfaction. In fact it was almost too easy. He began to look for ways to make the garden even better.

Bag End was the showplace of Hobbiton, always had been. Still, there were improvements that might be made. Bring it up to date a bit. That drip irrigation system he’d heard about, now, over to Greenholm. He hadn’t seen it himself, but it sounded a good idea. Bag End had a fine deep well; should be enough water there to keep the garden growing, even in a drought. Less wasteful, too, than slopping the water around in buckets. Not that he expected a drought; it was just a good idea.


Chapter 2 The Fight


June came in and the weather turned hot. Every day was fine with never a hint of rain, and the children of Hobbiton played out in the sun until they tanned as brown as toast. But as one week followed another without rain, the gardens of Hobbiton began to dry up.

The Gaffer’s strawberry bed, already stressed by the frost, was a pitiable sight. The plants were puny and yellowed, and the few blossoms that had survived produced berries the size of peas, with a bitter flavor. The Gaffer tried to pick some for Bilbo anyway, but after tasting one of the berries he dumped the basket out on the ground and went down to the pub, where he sat in a corner nursing his pint and not speaking to anyone.

At Bag End, Sam carried buckets of water to the flowerbeds and the big vegetable patch until even his strong young back ached at night. But for all his dogged persistence, he couldn’t carry water enough to keep the rose garden looking fresh, or the raspberries, or the flowering hedges. They began to look dusty, their leaves so dry they rustled like autumn in the hot breeze. All over the Shire the fields were parched and gardens withered in the heat, and everywhere the weather was the chief topic of conversation.

One evening in June, when the air at sunset was still as hot and breathless as it had been at midday, Sam walked down to Cottons’ farm to visit his sister. Marigold had been spending her summers at the farm ever since their mother died some years before. She was only a year younger than Rose, and the girls learned sewing and spinning, churning and cheesemaking, from Rosie’s capable mother. Now Marigold was skilled enough to be paid a little money as well as her keep, and both families were well-pleased with the arrangement.

Sam came up the long farm lane to find the family in an uproar. Rose knelt in the dust weeping noisily, bent over something she held cradled in her lap. Marigold hovered over her, trying to console, but crying hard herself. Even the youngest boy, Nibs, had tear tracks running down his dirty face. He wasn’t crying anymore, however, but stood with blazing eyes confronting a tall young hobbit who lounged against the barn, grinning, a slingshot hanging from his hand.

"Hullo, what’s all this?" Sam demanded. He went first to Rose, squatting down next to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. "What’s the matter, Rosie?"

Rose only cried harder, but Nibs answered shrilly, "It’s that Ted Sandyman, he’s gone and killed her pet dove that she saved from the cat last winter! And on purpose, too!"

"Of course on purpose." Ted gave a hoot of laughter . "Doves are game birds, make a fine pie. I aim to have this one to my supper, when the silly chit quits sniveling over it."

Outrage brought Sam to his feet. "You came into this yard and shot a tame dove for your supper? And the woods chock full of wild ones?"

Ted’s smile wavered at the scorn in Sam’s voice, but he stood his ground. "Doves is doves, wherever you find them. They’re game birds and always have been. You’ve et dove pie yourself, Sam Gamgee, don’t try and pretend you haven’t!"

"Not made from anyone’s pet I haven’t! Where’s your father, Nibs? He’s the one to sort this out."

"Da’s gone to market at Frogmorton with Mum and the others. There’s only us home, to feed the stock and do the milking."

Sam regarded Ted with distaste. "And you knew that, I suppose, when you came hunting tame doves in a farmyard."

Ted shoved himself away from the barn wall and came toward Rose.

"Stow it, why don’t you, Sam? The bird’s dead, and I’m taking it home for supper. Come on, Rose, hand it here!"

Rose gave a cry and sprang up, backing away from Ted with the dove clutched to her heart. Marigold ran between them, trying to push the hulking lad away from her friend, but Ted caught her by one arm and swung her out of his way. Her momentum brought her slam against Nibs, and they both crashed to the ground. Ted ignored the crying children and reached to take the bird from Rose.

Sam caught him by the collar and spun him around. "That’s enough, you great bully! Come fight someone closer your own size!"

Ted was nearly a head taller than Sam, and he laughed in his face as he plowed into him. But he’d reckoned without the strength Sam had built up in his years of heavy work in the garden, and quickly found the smaller hobbit more than he could handle. Sam’s anger added fire to his strength, and within a few minutes Ted had had enough and was running up the lane in full retreat.

Dark had fallen by the time the poor pet dove had been buried with full ceremony and many tears. Sam herded the youngsters into the house and sent them to wash up, while he bustled around the kitchen finding them something to eat. They were still sitting around the table when the farm cart rattled into the yard and the rest of the family filed in.

Farmer Cotton looked troubled when he heard the story.

"I won’t deny I’m glad you sent him to the rightabout, Sam. Ted’s a bully and a sneak, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here myself to deal with him. Aye, and he’ll be looking to get back at you now, or my name’s not Tom Cotton."

Sam grinned. "He’s welcome to a rematch any time he likes, Mr. Cotton."

The farmer grimaced. "I misdoubt he’ll have the stomach for another round, Sam. He’ll be watching for something underhand, to pay you back for trouncing him. Best watch your back, lad."

Sam laughed.

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