Coming of Age: Part Two - by pippinsqueak
Before Merry left and at Frodo's invitation Sam had resumed his practice of going to Bag End in the mid-morning before he began his work in the garden for the day. The cold wet weather of autumn and late rising sun made him start his day later than his usual summertime hours. When Merry had still been at Bag End the cousins would normally just be finishing the washing up from breakfast when Sam arrived. But after Merry left, and though Sam kept regular hours he often interrupted Frodo at his breakfast, and increasingly arrived before he had even begun. The day came when Sam's knock on the door was not answered. He rang the bell to no avail, then plodded out to the garden. An hour or so later Frodo came out in his housecoat, tousle-haired, bleary-eyed and seemingly half awake.
"I missed you this morning, Sam, did you come by before I was up?"
"Begging your pardon, but I did Mr. Frodo, though I'm sure I wasn't any earlier than usual."
"No, I'm sure not, it's hard to get up these days." He looked at the sun nearing its zenith in the late October sky and said unenthusiastically "I suppose I'd better go in and make myself a late breakfast".
Sam looked at Frodo anxiously, "Should I come back with you now, sir?"
Frodo hesitated; he had not intended to invite Sam in, but he knew if he didn't then likely he would spend the entire day alone, as he certainly had no plans to go visiting. "All right, Sam" he said, overcoming his reluctance and then, while he still had the will to propose it said "if you ever come by in the morning and I'm not up then come in and get me up, would you. These cold, dark mornings make me sleep late". He attempted a joke "I must be getting old."
* * *
Two days later when there was no response to his persistent knocking and bell ringing at the front door Sam followed Frodo's instructions and let himself in. A quick check of the hobbit hole gave no sign that Frodo was up so he knocked softly on his bedroom door. There was no answer. He knocked more loudly, and then louder still to no response. Hesitantly he opened the door a crack and peeped in. Frodo's bed was empty. It hadn't been slept in and was strewn with discarded clothing. Sam swung the door wide and stood stunned for a moment, thinking the worst, blinking back tears and trying to talk himself out of panic and sudden grief. "He can't have packed his things and gone, he'd a-never done that, not without telling me good-bye or leaving a note - a note." With that thought Sam stumbled back out to the entrance hall and saw what he had not noticed before, because he saw it every day - Frodo's cloak and pack hanging from their usual pegs by the front door. A final sob escaped him in his relief. Furiously he wiped his eyes, and cursing his foolishness thought hard for a moment before trotting down the hall to Bilbo's bedroom. He eased open the door, then steadied himself against the door jam in relief. Bilbo's bed, set against the far wall under the round window, held Frodo, curled up deep in sleep, snoring softly. His face was pale and peaceful in the thin gray October light seeping through the curtains. Rain ticked gently against the window. In the grate the fire had burned down to ashes hiding only the faintest glow. The room was chilly.
Sam stood and looked about curiously for a moment as he calmed himself. Once or twice Bilbo had sent him to fetch a book from his bedroom and it seemed little changed from those times - the knick knacks on the mantle over the fireplace, the paintings and maps on the walls, the worn and comfortable furniture, and the bookcases nearly filled with a treasure of books - they were all Bilbo's.
Quietly Sam padded in, drew back the curtains and woke Frodo with quiet cheerful words. Frodo sat up and looked about bemusedly as he slowly remembered why Sam would be in the bedroom. "Thank-you for waking me, Sam" he finally said "did you find me all right, I don't think I told you I've been sleeping here."
"I worked it out after I saw your room empty and all, Mr. Frodo". Sam tried to sound nonchalant but Frodo caught the strain in his voice and saw his damp cheeks and flushed face. "That didn't startle you did it, Sam?"
Sam reddened. "Well, just for a minute I thought you'd a-gone and left, to follow Mr. Bilbo if you understand, so that was a bit of a shocker and that's a fact, but then I saw your things, by the front door as always, and I looked for you here.
Frodo smiled "I sleep better in Bilbo's room these days."
Sam nodded and went to the grate to build up the fire. When he turned around Frodo had slipped back under the covers. "I'll just go make some breakfast, shall I Mr. Frodo, and bring you a nice mug of tea to help you get yourself out of bed on this cold morning." He took Frodo's silence for agreement.
It took over a quarter of an hour to restore the kitchen to some semblance of order and make the tea. Sam started fires in the stove and the dining room grate (neither had been banked properly for the night) and tidied the kitchen as best he could without the aid of warm water.
Dimly through a half sleep Frodo heard Sam come quietly into the bedroom, place a mug of tea on the bedside table then pick up the pile of books jumbled on the floor by the bed and stack them on the table. Through half-open eyes Frodo watched Sam hesitantly sort through the clothes strewn haphazardly on the foot of the bed and fold them neatly across the back of Bilbo's bentwood chair. Finally he forced himself to sit up. "You don't have to do that, Sam".
"I know, sir, I'm just waiting for you to wake up a bit more so as you can tell me what you'd like for your breakfast."
Frodo sighed, he wasn't hungry, it seemed he was never hungry anymore. "I don't really care Sam. I don't know what I've got in the pantry anyway. Why don't you surprise me."
Sam went out but returned almost immediately to set a pitcher of warm water on the bureau next to the washbasin. "The water's nice and warm Mr. Frodo, come have a wash before it cools" he said cheerfully, then trotted out, leaving the door ajar.
Frodo eased himself back under the covers, and lay with his eyes shut listening to the rain and wind, trying summon up a vision of Bilbo safe and warm in some far off inn or tavern. Feet softly padded down the hallway towards his door and stopped. Lying still he half opened his eyes, but no curly brown head appeared around the doorway, and after a pause the feet padded quietly away. Frodo stared at Bilbo's framed map of the Shire on the opposite wall, with all his favorite hiking paths marked neatly in red ink. He could choose any of them and in his mind hike through the Shire with Bilbo, but today his imagination brought only gloomy scenes of naked, rain dripped trees, and brown fallow fields under gray sullen skies. Frodo closed his eyes and heard Sam walking more noisily down the hall this time. He tapped on the door and came in. "I never brought you a towel, Mr. Frodo, you'll be wanting one for your wash up." He placed it on the bureau and then stood patiently watching Frodo.
Frodo looked balefully back at him but Sam didn't budge. "Is there anything else I can get you, Mr. Frodo?" he asked innocently
All right Sam, I'm up, I'm up!" Frodo heaved himself out of bed. Sam smiled and went out
* * *
After that day Sam went to Bag End every morning. More often than not he would find Frodo either still asleep or lying half awake. Sam's gentle waking of him was a contrast to Bilbo's who'd had little tolerance for Frodo's inclination for late rising and when the mood struck him had roused his nephew with a series of loud bangs on the door and even a shout or two if need be. But Sam would come quietly in and use gentle words and the soft sounds of tidying up to ease his young Master out of his sleep.
He built the fires, made the tea and cooked breakfast. Afterwards Frodo would give him a lesson of reading and writing, though for himself he seemed to have lost interest in studying Elvish or reading any of Bilbo's books from his large collection. Much of his time he spent sitting lost in thought or making only the most superficial pretence of reading. After his lesson Sam did the washing up. There was little work in the garden as the wet October drearily advanced (Sam's father did not go into the garden at all now the cold autumn months had set in), so he gradually extended washing up the crockery to include general cleaning of the kitchen and dining room and then sweeping all the rooms, and dusting. Finally he added floor scrubbing to the itinerary when he had to wash down the entrance hall after muddying it especially badly on his arrival one very wet morning. Before Frodo quite knew how it happened Sam was spending almost the entire morning straightening up Bag End and tending to him.
Many afternoons when he didn't have extra chores at home Sam would go down to the Cotton's farm to visit with his best friend Tom. Often Frodo walked with him as far as Bywater, and then carried on with a solitary hike for an hour or two. Occasionally he would visit with one or other of his relations in the area, but their company was tiresome for his fretful spirits. He had no patience for gossip or feigned concern for Bilbo that was nothing more than curiosity for the details of his going and the questionable state of his mind. Frodo had a few young friends in the area but it was impossible to match his mood to theirs except with an effort he was unwilling to make. His spirits were best soothed by his quiet solitary walks along familiar paths.
* * *
After breakfast one Friday in mid-November Frodo gave Sam the pay packet for his father and said "I have something for you as well, Sam, and I've spoken to your Gaffer about it already so you needn't worry your head." He held up another pay packet, "this is for getting me up in the morning and helping to take care of me and Bag End."
Sam blushed and looked hurt. "I don't want paying for that, Mr. Frodo," he said softly, "I do it because I want to, so as to help you out and all, through the first sad winter of Mr. Bilbo being gone. Besides, whether I work inside or out on a day don't matter, so there shouldn't be no extra pay."
"No, that won't do, Sam, as you well know. I've had a closer look at Bilbo's records and as I say I spoke to your dad. He and Bilbo had arranged that he'd be paid the same every week of the year, and not get more for the long summer hours of work, or less for the short winter ones. It made it easier for both of them to do it that way. So if there's no work to do in the garden in the winter then your time is your own, Sam, and not owed to me."
"And if I spend it inside with you then that's my choice and I don't expect no pay for it," he replied softly. Frodo was almost amused by the stubborn look on his young gardener's face.
"I've never doubted that, Sam, but I don't want your dad to decide that if you've got enough idle time to be spending all your mornings with me then perhaps you should be looking elsewhere for some winter work."
Sam had no answer to this and Frodo slipped the envelope across the table to him. "Just because I'm paying you doesn't mean I appreciate your help any less," he said diffidently, "I'm paying you to make sure you can keep coming, because I need you around here."
Finally Sam smiled, "well, that's all right then, Mr. Frodo and I thank-you." His eyes brightened as he picked up his own pay packet.
"What will you do with all your riches, Sam?" Frodo teased him, feeling happier than he had for many weeks.
"Well, sir" replied Sam, his smile broadening, "the Yuletime's coming up, and my little sister Marigold has been pestering our Gaffer for some material for a new dress. So I'll just save up and buy it for her, but I'll get something nice for meself as well so she can make me a fine pair of pants to go with that jacket Mr. Bilbo gave me. And then me dad, well, now I can stand him a mug on a Friday night, `stead of him always treating me. May and Daisy will take some pondering, but like as not there's a little summat they've been wanting and Marigold will tell me what it is." He grinned at Frodo, tucked the envelope carefully in his pocket and rubbed his eyes.
* * *
December inherited the rains of November. Bywater Pool threatened to overflow its banks and flood the smials that ran alongside it. But Bag End high on the Hill and Bag Shot Row but a little lower were in no danger. At times the rain eased but during even these brief respites the clouds ran ragged across the sky and always the gloom of heavy overcast returned to weigh down the Shire. When the rain and mists didn't obscure his view Frodo could stand at the parlour window overlooking Hobbiton and take in the dull gray scene of pallid houses, muddy paths and barren fields.
His days began to repeat themselves in a comforting routine. Sam got him up and about every morning and gave him breakfast, whether he wanted it or no, and then he would sit with Sam and read for a time. Frodo was so oblivious to the days of the week that it was some time before he realized his young servant had stopped observing the weekends. When he finally mentioned it Sam was apologetic. "Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, but it seems to me that it don't make no difference what the day of the week is, you still need to be got up and Bag End still needs to be kept, or else Mondays will be a fright, if you take my meaning. So if it's all the same to you I'll come every day." So Frodo acquiesced. He seldom saw anyone but Sam and knew he should not allow himself to go days without seeing even him. Bag End was closing around him and he was content to stay inside surrounded by the trappings of his life with Bilbo.
Sam was a comfort and torture combined. Talkative by nature he had at first tended to rattle on almost compulsively about Bilbo. When it got to be too much Frodo would have to gently chastise him for doing so but usually just the look on his master's face as he turned away was enough to stop Sam short in the middle of reminiscence and sadden him more than the memories.
Still Sam had to talk about Bilbo sometimes, especially when he and Frodo were reading together after breakfast - Sam would want a passage in a poem or story explained or to discuss a point of interpretation. He was slowly reviewing the material he and Bilbo had covered in the last few years (he hadn't the heart or the confidence to start anything new) and so all his comments were rich with what Bilbo had said or felt about the things Sam wanted to discuss. Frodo was familiar with almost everything Sam had read. He was a voracious reader and Bilbo had chosen and suggested material for him since the day he arrived at Bag End, and then had spent hours discussing it with him. As time went on Frodo let Sam follow his inclination to wander in his talk about Bilbo, and allowed himself to be reminded of their daily life now gone, but he found he could not yet trust himself to join in with Sam's sad remembering. Gradually, Sam talked more and more openly of Bilbo, taking Frodo's silence and composure as at least not disapproval.
One day while straightening up in the study Sam interrupted Frodo in a letter he was writing to ask if he could look through the many rough drafts of poems, both Bilbo's own and translations from the Elvish, that the old hobbit had left behind. Sam was familiar with much of it; Bilbo had been happy to show him work of that sort, though material reserved for the Red Book he had treated much more guardedly. With Frodo's permission Sam gathered what he wanted and for the next few days Frodo watched without comment as he sorted through the papers after his breakfast and copied out poems in his neatest hand.
One morning Frodo noticed Sam muttering to himself more than usual, and was surprised to see him throw down his pen in a temper and crumple the work he had been writing out.
"Noodles!" Sam exclaimed, wiping his eyes with his sleeve, "what a fool you are Sam Gamgee."
"Problems, Sam?" Frodo asked mildly (from watching Sam and his father bicker from time to time in the garden - a new and surprising aspect of their relationship which had emerged as Sam had entered his `tweens - he knew an even tone was best).
"I'm trying to copy out one of Mr. Bilbo's favorite poems in Elvish, I'm that fond of it too, and I can hear him reciting it so clear in my head its like he's sitting here next to me still. And then I go and cry a great tear on it and ruin it - my old dad's right, I am nowt but a weeping willie. And I don't even know if I've got the right poem in Elvish, neither." He began to haphazardly shuffle all of Bilbo's papers together.
"Let me see it, Sam, perhaps I can help." Frodo smoothed out Sam's work - he had neatly copied out the poem in the Common Tongue on one half of the page, and started the Elvish in an awkward hand on the other. "You've got the right poem," Frodo said, "but why are you copying out Elvish when you can't read it?"
"Well, I was thinking one day I might, and it being one of Mr. Bilbo's favorite poems and all, I just wanted a copy of it, to remember him by. That's what I've been doing these past few days, copying out the poems Mr. Bilbo loved best, making myself a little book of sorts, to keep for always, as a remembrance, if you understand." He blushed. "And I hope that's all right. Only I haven't got any books at home, but I'd dearly love to have just this one little collection."
Frodo continued smoothing out Sam's work. It had never occurred to him that Sam owned no books. "Of course it is, and when you're done with the papers, leave them out for me, and I'll get them into the proper order they deserve. Bilbo always meant to do it, but he hardly ever found the time and when he did the new ideas from reading through distracted him so much that he didn't get it done."
After that day Frodo searched through Bilbo's desk in earnest, and he began to organize all that he found. To Sam he seemed quieter even than usual, but calmer as well - sad but somehow content. Sometimes he could tell what Frodo was reading by the tunes he had taken to humming softly to himself.
* * *
One day in early December Sam arrived at Bag End to find a large burlap sack in the entrance hall full of clothes Bilbo had left behind. He found Frodo in what he still thought of as Bilbo's bedroom, because though Frodo slept there all his own things had remained in his room - until this day. Sam saw the closet now held Frodo's clothes and many of his possessions from his room were dispersed around Bilbo's, on the walls and mantelpiece and in the bookcases.
"Goodness, Mr. Frodo, but you've been hard at it!" Sam said, standing at the threshold in amazement. "I could have helped if you'd waited a bit for me".
Frodo turned from the wall where he had been hanging a painting from his room. "That's all right, Sam, its something I wanted to do on my own. I stayed up late last night and got up early this morning as well." His eyes were bright in his tired face.
"It looks wonderful, Mr. Frodo, and if you'll pardon me saying it, this is where you belong, this bedroom, if you understand. It's the finest one in Bag End and meant for the Master and no mistake." Sam looked around appreciatively. "I don't know how you've done it Mr. Frodo, but you've made it your own room and left it Mr. Bilbo's at the same time. It feels wonderful!" Sam stood with a thoughtful, puzzled look while Frodo adjusted the painting and then he burst out with sudden understanding. "I know what it feels like. It puts me in mind of when my brother Halfred went off to my Uncle Andy's for his apprenticeship. I missed him that much, but he gave me some of his clothes he'd grown out of before he left and I wore them all the time, even if they was too big for me. And after a while they felt like my clothes, but like Hal's at the same time, and then it seemed I wasn't sad any more when I wore them - they was just a comfort."
Frodo looked up from the bookcase where he was kneeling, fitting his own books in among Bilbo's. "That must be it, Sam" he said with a small smile, "I think its finally beginning to feel that way for me."
* * *
As the Yuletime drew near Frodo began to think in earnest of going to Brandy Hall for a visit. Merry had written him, reminding him and urging him to come and Frodo knew that this was better than the alternative- to stay alone at Bag End and provide further proof for the gossips of Hobbiton of his strangeness - perversely attractive though that might be. Sam approved of his plan when he learned of it. "That's right Mr. Frodo. You need to get away from Bag End. I come and go every day, and while I'm here I can't help but think of Mr. Bilbo and I miss him, but then I'm with you, too and that's a comfort." He reddened. "But when I leave I can just put that sorrow away, if you understand, and I get on with things. You're here all the time, and it still sorrows you because you never get a proper rest from it. You need to be around them that can be a comfort to you."
Frodo tentatively settled to leave the following Saturday, but he did not speak of it again and as the day drew near he made no preparations to go and Sam never mentioned it. The weather had been unusually cold and clear for many days and Frodo planned, when he went, to go on foot by the East Road and overnight in either Frogmorton or Whitfurrows, depending on how he got on. When Saturday came he woke before Sam arrived and by the strange soft brightness of his room supposed it to be very late, until he glanced out the window and saw several inches of snow on the ground and more falling steadily. There hadn't been a snowfall in Hobbiton for years and Frodo found himself welcoming the rare event that would delay his departure.
He put on his cloak and went outside to look at the strange landscape, just in time to see Sam trotting up the lane astride a fat brown pony. The beast, snorting mistily into the cold air as Sam reined it in, seemed invigorated by the cold weather and oblivious to the snow gathering on its heavy winter coat. Sam hopped down and looped the reins around the gatepost. His cheeks were flushed with the cold and his eyes shone as he turned to take in the vista of Hobbiton below. "Snow, Mr. Frodo, ain't it a lovely sight. I can't help but feel glad about it, though I'm sure when I see in the spring how many tender plants its carried off I won't be so pleased. But here it is to be enjoyed."
"It is beautiful indeed Sam, but what's all this, then?" asked Frodo, gesturing towards the pony, though he knew very well.
Sam patted the pony's neck affectionately and brushed the snow from her muzzle. "This is Biscuit, leastaways that's what Tom and me call her, she's one of the Cotton's ponies. I thought you'd rather ride than walk to Buckland, what with the snow and all, so I fetched her for you. She don't do much of anything this time of the year except eat Farmer Cotton's hay, so he said he'd be that pleased to let you have her for a week or two, and save him her feed." Frodo laughed. He walked down to the pony and she turned to him, stretching out her neck and seeking the hand Frodo held out to pat her.
* * *
Sam helped Frodo pack after breakfast and by late morning he was ready to go. Biscuit stamped her feet impatiently and shivered the snow from her back as Sam hung the bags behind the saddle. He held the reins while Frodo mounted then handed them up. "She's a fine pony, Mr. Frodo, won't give you no trouble at all, but she likes to trot if you'll let her and she won't say no to an apple for a treat at the end of the day."
Frodo looked down at his young servant's earnest face and saw in it Sam's pride at having secured his master a pony mingled with sorrow that he was leaving.
"Have a safe journey, Mr. Frodo," Sam said.
"Thank-you, Sam," suddenly Frodo felt ready to be off. Hobbiton was laid out below him, so foreign and lovely through a veil of snowfall that he felt as though he had already left Bag End behind.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone, Sam, probably a fortnight or so." The pony snorted and tossed her head and Frodo laughed at her eagerness. "I'll be back before the middle of January."
"I know you will, Mr. Frodo, and I'll be watching for you. Have a happy Yule."
"Yes, a happy Yule to you and your family, Sam." Frodo looked up and tried to envision the lands beyond the Shire. "And a happy Yule to you Bilbo, wherever you may be," he added and he looked at Sam and smiled.
Sam smiled back, "aye, Mr. Frodo, a happy Yule to Mr. Bilbo."