Drawing his knees tighter to his chest, Sam sunk further down into the barrel. The stink of sweet, yet sour made him gag. But, he still had it better than Merry; he could hear him sloshing around in the pickle barrel next door. Where Frodo and Pippin had ended up, Sam did not know. When everything went crazy, they had just started running. He hoped they had found more comfortable hiding places.
The sounds of angry voices drifted down the alley, and Sam broke into a cold sweat. The search was still on, and stuck in an empty barrel, he had no way to tell how long it had been since the whole thing had started. His head felt light and kind of fuzzy. It was not an altogether unpleasant experience, but one that he would have rather done without right now. I’m stuffed in a barrel, hiding to save my life, he thought as he ran his tongue around his dry mouth, of course I could do without all this. He began to think about a tall cold mug of water straight from Bag End’s well. Present circumstances being what they were, however, him getting that drink seemed remote at best.
How did I get myself into this trouble?, he pondered as he reached down to assure himself that he still had feet; they had gone numb awhile back, as had his legs and back. I’m stuck in a barrel, being chased by angry hobbits in a strange city and no way to get home. How did this happen?
The same way most trouble started: with a girl and a Took.
“Don’t forget the ink, Frodo. That is most important!” Bilbo stood at his gate shouting at his nephew as he drove off to Michel Delving for supplies. Deliveries to Hobbiton had become too slow for Bilbo; he wanted those things he needed when he needed them. He wasn’t willing to wait. And right now he needed ink. The closest town to purchase a ready supply of the stuff was Michel Delving in the west, so Frodo volunteered, and he and Sam were off, long shopping list in hand, to travel the road to that big city.
“The ink,” Frodo called back, a little irritated at his uncle right now. This would make 5 times he had been reminded about the ink. “I’ll remember.” Turning around in his seat, he hoped that his retreating back would give Bilbo the hint that no more instructions were necessary.
Opening his mouth to shout even more parting words, Bilbo promptly shut it. Frodo was a good lad, he didn’t need an old hobbit nagging at him about this and that. Let him grow up, Gandalf had told him just last month at the Birthday party, he knows what to do. Besides, he probably wasn’t listening anyway.
Walking back inside Bag End, the coolness of the front hallway washed over Bilbo, taking his thoughts to an unforeseen place. He yawned and stretched. A mid morning nap, that guilty pleasure, is just what I need right now. He padded quickly back to his room. As sleep took him, he wondered if he had reminded Frodo about the ink.
The Shire passed by them slowly as Frodo, with Sam driving the pony, traveled the main road to Michel Delving. The trip began before nine o’clock and would only take a day. They would be back at Bag End by nightfall. Smoking his pipe absently, Sam appeared to be deep in thought, so Frodo did not want to disturb him with idle chatter.
Thoughts wending their way back, Frodo frowned when the fussy words of his uncle came back to him. He loved Bilbo dearly, but sometimes he could be too particular about certain things. Like his tea, everything had to be just so: pot on the left, cups, and saucers, lined in a semi-circle on the right of the tray around the nutcake, or muffins or whatever else he was serving at that moment. Any other way was, well, just not right. And the pegs in the front hall: Bilbo first, Frodo second, guests lined up according to their arrival after that. There had been many a time when Frodo had thrown his coat up on any old peg only to find it moved to its correct place the next day. But, of all Bilbo’s idiosyncrasies, the worst was his desk. Frodo, several months after his arrival at Bag End, had had an inspired moment of helpfulness: to clean up his uncle’s study. He had put papers in neat stacks, placed his books back on the shelves and arranged all of Bilbo’s maps by size, (largest on the bottom). So pleased with his initiative, Frodo had stood grinning from ear to ear at the door to the study, waiting to unveil the newly cleaned room to Bilbo upon his return from wherever he had gone that day. The reaction he received was not the one he had anticipated. His uncle’s face was frozen with a shocked smile as he walked slowly into his study. “Well, you’ve been busy, Frodo,” and “Thank you, my boy,” was all he said. Begging urgent business he had rushed Frodo from the room and closed the door. He was in their all evening and from his position with his ear to the door, Frodo had heard him muttering about how in the world he was going to find anything now, and it was fine just the way it was before. That night, long after Bilbo had gone to bed, Frodo had peeked in to the study. It was as if he had never cleaned up at all. Books were scattered this way and that, papers across the floor, maps lying across the desk, heedless of their size. Bilbo thanked his nephew again in the morning for his wonderful cleaning job, but Frodo had never again tried to straighten his uncle’s mess. If Bilbo wanted his study knee deep in paper, well Frodo wasn’t going to touch it. His uncle was always doing that, walking around behind him, fixing, rearranging, questioning everything Frodo did. Now Frodo had to admit that when he was younger, in his gawky faze, he had been a trifle destructive and irresponsible, but he had outgrown all that. But, Bilbo refused to see it. Like this morning, while Sam was hitching the pony out front, Bilbo insisted going over the shopping list with Frodo for the third time. Frodo fidgeted in his seat just thinking about it.
“Everything OK, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked, moving a little more to the left, giving Frodo more room on the bench.
“Fine, Sam,” he answered without conviction, absently throwing his half eaten apple core out into the passing field. Why did Bilbo treat me like I was still a wee one?, Frodo thought, getting angrier with each passing moment. He was grown now, his 16th birthday over a month past, and Bilbo refused to see that he was now an adult. Technically he would not come of age for another 17 years, but he was grown up inside. He just wished everyone else, especially Bilbo, could see it. Sam did, Frodo could tell. Not so much in words, but the way they were said to him, Frodo saw in Sam a new respect for his now adult status. Sam was still his best friend, and, as far as Frodo was concerned, their relationship had not changed. Sam had called him “Mr. Frodo”, even from their first meeting. Frodo had always found that odd. Sam was several years older than Frodo, but everyone still called him Sam, or Samwise, or a few other names that Frodo would like to forget. He had asked Bilbo why this should be once, why Frodo was Mister and Sam wasn’t. His uncle answered with a cryptic, “Because you are a Baggins, my boy.” Like that explained it all. In the end it didn’t matter one whit to Frodo what Sam’s last name was; Sam was Sam and that was all he needed.
A great cracking sound split through Frodo’s daydreams. The cart listed to the left and Sam let out a string of curses he had obviously learned from his Gaffer. Jumping down, the pair went around to view the trouble.
“Blasted old cart!” Sam shouted as he kicked the broken wheel. That wasn’t exactly right. The wheel was not broken, neither was the axel. But, the pin that secured the wheel to the axel had shattered, and, with nothing to stop it, the wheel had worked its way off and down the cart went.
Frodo looked at the cart. “We can fix this, right?” He was picturing Bilbo’s face when he returned to Bag End on foot, without the ink. More fuel for the fire. He asked the question again after Sam wriggled under the cart to get a closer look at the axel.
“Could be fixed, alright,” Sam said, his voice muffled, “All we need do is lift the cart up and pop on the wheel. Then there’s the pin.”
Bending down, Frodo peered under the cart at Sam. He really had no idea how to fix their problem, he just thought by looking at it an idea would come to him. “Would a stick work?” That was the best he could come up with on short notice.
“Sure that would work, allowing it was a strong enough one, not to break again when we’re even further from home.” Sam pulled himself from underneath the cart. “Replacing the pin is not the trouble, Mr. Frodo.” Brushing the dust of the road off his clothes, he added. “This is more than a two person job, if you get my meaning.”
Squaring his shoulders, Frodo said, “We’ve got to try.” He was determined to get to Michel Delving and not disappoint Bilbo. Besides, if he walked back to Hobbiton empty handed, who could tell when Bilbo would ask him again.
Sam sighed at Frodo’s folly. He knew full well that the cart was too heavy for just one hobbit to lift, let alone hold off the ground while the wheel was placed exactly right on the axel. But, since Frodo wanted to try, he would not let him down. “Grab the wheel there and, when I give the word, slip it back on.” Hunkering down, Sam turned his back to the cart. He took one big breath, then lifted up with one swift movement. The cart rose 1 inch, 2 inches, 5 inches, but it was still not high enough for Frodo to replace the wheel. He stood there nervously waiting for his part in the cart repair. It never came. After straining all his muscles, Sam had only been able to raise the cart off the ground a foot, not even close to the right height. He let it back down with a grunt. “Sorry, Mr. Frodo.” he wheezed. A knot grew right between his shoulders and probably would remain there until his next long, hot bath. “Not up to the task, I guess.”
Frodo was not willing to give up just yet. He rolled the wheel to Sam. “Here, let me try,” he said as he took Sam’s place by the cart.
“Do you think this is a good idea, Mr. Frodo?”
“I want to try, Sam.” Slighter of build than his friend, Frodo had never acquired an interest for great physical activity. Walking the Shire, that was the extent of it. If he could do this, it would prove to Sam, and himself, he wasn’t only bookish and a daydreamer. “On three.”
Getting into position, Sam did not allow his skepticism to show. He still thought this was a bad idea, though. Holding the wheel, he said. “When you’re ready, Mr. Frodo.”
He took a deep breath. “One, two…three!” And he pulled with his entire being, believing that he could do this. The cart came up about 6 inches before it was unceremoniously dropped with a thud. Frodo felt as if his arms had been stretched out of joint. Yet, there was an exhilaration within him as well. His heart pounded and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. “Let’s try again!” And with out waiting for Sam, Frodo pulled on the cart again. Only 2 or 3 inches and the cart was dropped He didn’t even wait to catch his breath before he lifted the cart a third time, the results the same.
Standing off to the side, Sam leaned on the wheel watching. He would get it out of his system soon, he figured, and, since there was no possible way the cart would ever be lifted high enough for the wheel to be placed on the axel, he didn’t see the need to expend the energy standing there at the ready. That was energy he would need for the walk back to Hobbiton. He would just wait for Frodo to realize that, too.
Collapsing into the road, Frodo gasped air into his tortured lungs. “Are you done now, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked, slightly amused.
Frodo looked up at his friend. Instead of being angry at Sam’s lack of help, he in an instant understood how ridiculous he must have looked attempting to lift the cart alone. “That didn’t work too well, did it?”
“No, Mr. Frodo, not well at all.”
Somewhere inside him a giggle popped up, and he couldn’t deny it. As Sam helped him up it burst forth and soon others followed. Sam looked at him oddly, but Frodo could tell he, too, was holding back a giggle.
“What if we both lifted the cart?” Frodo suggested, his giggles almost under control now.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said. He had to look at his feet to stop the flow of laughter building up in his chest. This was a serious situation, them being stranded on the road. Then why did everything seem so funny all of a sudden? “Where will we be holding the wheel?”
Frodo knitted his brow seeming to contemplate that most pertinent question. Taking the wheel from Sam, he rolled it back and forth, examining it from all sides. His face brightened as an answer came. “Here!” he said, throwing his arm over the top and holding it against his body. “Right under here!”
“Your pocket would free up both hands, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, his face broken by a huge grin. Frodo’s giggles returned as he demonstrated how that would not work in either pocket, pants or jacket. “No, your back then, like a turtle carrying his shell.” Sam could hardly breath from laughing.
“Even better, on my head,” Frodo managed to sputter out, “I could balance it like this.” And he stuck his head through the spokes.
Sam gave up trying to hold back his laughter, and collapsed in a heap of giggles, his eyes filled with tears of mirth. Frodo soon joined him and the two friends lay on the dusty road by their broken cart somewhere between Hobbiton and Michel Delving and laughed themselves silly.