"And there was the Elven-king, high on his throne! " Bilbo paused and looked at Frodo and Sam, to see what effect his words were having on his audience.
Frodo had rested his chin on his hands, his elbows pressing the pages of a book that was lying forgotten in front of him. A dreamy smile was on his face. Next to him on the kitchen bench sat Sam, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He gulped in awe and impatience to hear how the story would go on. Bilbo smiled, pleased with the fascination he had created. For a brief moment he thought of breaking up the story, just to tease the boys and heighten expectation, but the sight of Sam almost unable to keep his seat made him change his mind and go on.
"Stern he looked, yet beautiful – though I wasn’t in much of a mind to mark that – and he spoke in dark, but gentle tones. ‘Let them be kept in our dungeons until they be ready to speak to us of what brings them here – but see to it that they be given food and drink, such as they need!’ Well, that’s kind enough, I thought, but I really didn’t expect the dwarves to appreciate it and as to what their business was, I knew they wouldn’t tell him that in a hundred years!"
Bilbo had just taken a deep breath to tell of his daring rescue and escape – he had planned to make it especially dashing this time for the sake of Sam – when a knock at the door, which stood wide open to let in the scented May-evening breezes, turned everybody’s attention in that direction. There stood the Gaffer, cap in hand, wiping his brow with his sleeve.
"Beggin’ your pardon, Sir, and Master Frodo", with a nod in the direction of each as he addressed his greetings to them, "but work’s all done for today and we need to get home, Sam and me, as there’s some chores waiting for us there. I hope the silly little rascal didn’t annoy you, Mister Baggins, Sir, I told him to help with the dishes, not sit around gawping! – Yes, you I mean, close your mouth, you look like a fish – and get on your feet, if we don’t get through with weeding our potato patch soon, we’ll have nowt but bindweed for supper come winter!"
Sam jumped from his seat and ran to his father, stopped half-way remembering to bow to Bilbo and Frodo, and said "Good bye, Sir, I must go, you see. Sorry I keep on bothering you , Sir, but I so love your stories – and I would’ve so loved to hear if you got out of that scrape, Sir!"
Frodo chuckled, and Bilbo waved his hand in a way that said everything was alright.
"You’re not bothering anyone Sam – honest, Master Gamgee, I enjoy having the boy here, listening to my stories – he makes a wonderful audience – I hope we’ll have you back soon, Sam, and then you’ll hear the next part of the tale. But not to leave you in too much suspense till then: well, you can see I got out alright, can’t you? For otherwise I wouldn’t be here, would I? Think about that on your way home! Good bye!" Bilbo winked and waved, and Frodo called out ‘Good bye’ from his corner as the two bustled out through the open door.
"And for you it’s back to your book, now!" said Bilbo to Frodo, trying to sound as stern as the Gaffer, but not being quite so convincing at it.
With a grin Frodo turned his attention to the book, a grammar of Sindarin, but after a moment he looked up again and said, "Sam’s a curious little chap, isn’t he? The way he’s thrilled by anything to do with elves and dragons, not what the Gaffer taught him, I’d bet. And then, sometimes he seems quite bright, though most of the time you’d think he’s doing his best to honour the family name of "halfwit"."
"He’s as bright as you could wish, I grant you." said Bilbo, "He’s an adorable little fellow. I’m quite taken with him. I intend to teach him to read and write sometime soon. It’s not in the family, so there’s no way he’s going to learn it unless someone’s to snatch him away from the potato field once in a while and keep his mind as busy as his hands usually are."
"But do you think that makes sense? I mean, it probably won’t be of any use to him, and his family won’t like it. He’ll just get into trouble, I fear. And who knows if it won’t be too much for his mind?"
"My dear Frodo, learning things always makes sense. Teaching a person to use his mind is like giving him the ability to walk, to get to places on his own, it’s just terribly important – that is, if you can see that this person has the kind of mind that’ll take kindly to the exertion. Sam has that, I’m sure as can be. That his family won’t entirely approve is indeed very likely. But if he gets into trouble, he’ll get out of it again, as well. Some trouble can’t be helped. It comes with getting some learning!"
"Then I’ll have a companion at this study-table in the future." Frodo looked genuinely pleased.
Bilbo, looking at Frodo, was beaming with pride and happiness. He was thinking how most people he knew would have reacted with indignation or jealousy at being expected to share the attention and appreciation of their closest relation with the gardener’s son – and it would even have been an understandable reaction in a young boy – but his nephew here was one in a million; a thought that occurred to him not for the first time!
But he said only: "Well, one thing’s for sure, Frodo Baggins – there’s nothing of the Sackville-Bagginses’ part of the family in you! I’ll vouch for that any day of the year!" And they laughed heartily at the absurd idea of being related to that particular branch of the family.
The next day the Gaffer came back to the Bag End garden, and Sam came skipping alongside him. They found Bilbo and Frodo just finishing their breakfast in the garden, where they had carried a table and chairs in full view of a cheerful riot of columbines and the first glories of peonies opening in the increasing warmth of the morning sun. They exchanged greetings and Bilbo asked the Gaffer to send Sam inside sometime later that day. Sam’s eyes lit up with expectation of the story to be continued. But Bilbo’s main plan was to start Sam’s lessons right that day – putting off things was not his habit.
"Well, Sir, I’ll try." said the Gaffer, partly suspecting that it was not some urgent housework Sam was needed for inside, "but if there’s one, there’s hundreds of seedlings we mean to put in the earth today and I really need Sam for that. He’s as good as any old master gardener at it, all gentle and careful, not breaking stem or root, and the stuff he puts in always starts growing like crazy!" He ruffled Sam’s hair affectionately as he said this. Sam grinned from ear to ear with pride at the Gaffer’s praise.
Bilbo’s look showed he was duly impressed and he waved them off cheerfully. "Right, you two go ahead then, and Sam can just pop in any time he wants!"
He and Frodo started to clear away the breakfast things and went back inside to have another look at the Sindarin grammar, which seemed to Frodo to be one of those mysteries which remain unfathomable to mortals.
Shortly before elevenses Frodo shut his book and said, "Please, couldn’t I go and have a look at how the Gaffer and Sam are getting on? I’d love to see them setting the seedlings in the earth."
And as an afterthought he added, "I could bring them a basket of muffins, so it wouldn’t look like I’m prying on them."
"Yes, go ahead, go ahead!" answered Bilbo happily, "Your mind’s not on grammar today anyway. Looks like instead of turning Sam into a scholar, I’ll have you turning into a gardener. Not that I’d mind, though – people that know how to grow things are always worth having in plenty."
Frodo got the muffins and went into the garden. He found Sam and the Gaffer at the far end of the kitchen garden, planting the front of a border with minute bundles of seedlings. He looked on for a minute, unnoticed by the two eager workers, then said, "Sorry to interrupt you! I was thinking you might like to take a break and have a couple of muffins!"
They looked up, nodded and said thanks, they’d gladly accept, and all three went back to the bench that stood leaning against the kitchen wall, sat down and began munching the muffins.
"What are those plants you were putting in just now?" Frodo asked.
"They be lobelias, Sir!" answered the Gaffer, "real cute little things, make nice blue puffs on the outline of a border, Sir!"
Frodo almost choked on the bite of muffin he had just taken when he heard this. At the name "lobelias" his mind immediately made a connection of "real cute little blue puffs" to that rather terrifying aunt of the same name. He did his best to hide the laugh and succeeded with the help of the cough coming on as a result of choking.
At least the Gaffer didn’t seem to notice anything and politely offered to pat his back. Frodo signalled that this wasn’t necessary and apologized, then cleared his throat and asked what other plants they were putting in today.
The Gaffer told him a number of plant names and in answer to further questions from Frodo described what they looked like and where they were best put. Yet, at times it seemed to Frodo that the Gaffer was beginning to think they were a lot of mighty stupid questions and that he was hard put to it to believe that anyone really did not know all these things. So Frodo stopped asking, and, having eaten his muffins, the gaffer excused himself. Seeing that Sam was still nibbling his, he only told him to come along when he’d have finished, and went back to work.
"I guess I looked incredibly stupid just now, didn’t I?" Frodo said smilingly to Sam.
Sam shook his head violently. "Not at all, Sir! I didn’t know a few of them things myself!"
Sam’s apparent lack of self-consciousness was encouraging.
"Do you like gardening?" Frodo asked.
"Oh, yes, Sir!" replied Sam with enthusiasm, "It’s so strange and so beautiful to see all that life, coming from such tiny seeds most often, and how it changes and blossoms and fruits, if you know what I mean. It’s a good deal of work, to be sure, but you see what you get of it right soon – and I’m quite good at it, too!"
Frodo looked at him with amazement and admiration. "The Gaffer’s a good teacher, it seems", he said, and then, "I hope you didn’t get into trouble yesterday – he seemed a bit upset."
"No, that was nothing. You should see him when he’s really upset, Sir, quite a thunderstorm then. But he’s never really badly angry, it all just looks worse than it is – bark’s worse than the bite, as they say, you see – all for the best of us young fry."
"It’s good you take it like that." Frodo said, laughing. Sam’s cheerfulness was infectious, and Frodo was now doubly looking forward to sharing his lessons with him.
"Well, Sir, I’d best be joining me Gaffer again now, if you’ll excuse me!" Sam said with a contented grin on his face, "And thanks for the muffins!"
Frodo watched as Sam hurried back to the end of the garden where the Gaffer was busy raking and loosening the ground. Without much talk the two fell into their habitual rhythm of the Gaffer preparing the ground and Sam putting the seedlings in. Frodo smiled, noting how Sam’s face showed the care he bestowed on his work. After a few more minutes he got up and went back inside to resume his studies.
A good part of the day passed with lessons and chores, meals and conversation, but nothing further was seen of Sam and the Gaffer. Both Bilbo and Frodo were about to give up hoping Sam would still join them today, but late in the afternoon, when preparations for supper were under way there was a knock at the kitchen-door and at Bilbo’s cheerful call of "Come in", Sam poked his head round the doorframe.
"Good evening, Mr Bilbo and Master Frodo! Sorry about looking in so late, but you said to come any time, and now the Gaffer’s gone home, work’s all done, so I asked him if I could pop in here for a little while. He told me not to wonder if you’d rather shush me off, it being so late and all, and I won’t, but I wanted to ask at least if I might still pay you a visit, Sir."
He stopped to catch his breath after this little speech that had been delivered at quite a good pace, and reddening slightly about the ears with the realization of his daring in thus bouncing in on the Master of the House, he waited for the answer.
"Come in, by all means!", Bilbo said, eagerly waving his arm for Sam to enter, "We were just starting plans for supper, and you can join us, when it’s ready. How long did the Gaffer allow you to stay?"
Sam looked a little abashed. "Oh, I didn’t mean to interrupt your meal, Sir. And I guess I’ll be expected back before dark, though the Gaffer didn’t say specifically."
"Well, in that case the question’s settled", Bilbo said, "We’ll have supper together, and then we’ll see about some other things."
"Do stay, please!" Frodo said, "We might have some more of Uncle Bilbo’s story then. I’m waiting to hear the rest of it just as much as you are."
The doubtful little frown that had been sitting on Sam’s face melted into a broad smile, as the idea of hearing the rest of Bilbo’s story presented itself to him in all its splendour.
"Alright, then, Sir!" he replied joyfully, "if you let me help with the cooking and all, that is."
Thus it was agreed, and the three went to peeling potatoes, chopping carrots and frying some pork chops with a will, and amid much talk and laughter the meal was cooked and then eaten, the dishes were washed and stored away, and then all settled round the kitchen table again. Bilbo lit his pipe and started puffing contentedly, pretending not to notice the two expectant young faces looking at him from across the table.
"Oh, come on, then, Uncle Bilbo, let’s hear how your adventures went on! You know we’re waiting for it." Frodo said finally.
Bilbo looked at them and smiled. "Hmmh, yes, adventures. I thought so." He frowned slightly as if deep in thought. "Where was I? Sam, do you remember where I stopped the other day?"
"Certainly, Sir!" came the eager answer, "You were in the Elven King’s hall, and you were thinking how you might help the dwarves to escape. Because escape you did, Sir, only I don’t know how."
"Ah, yes, very good! That’s indeed where we were, the Elven King’s hall, and I was invisible and thinking and thinking what could be done to get us all out of there."
Bilbo drew another puff or two from his pipe and then launched into the story of how he explored the Elvish palace as an invisible visitor, and how he finally found a way to free all the dwarves, who had been taken prisoner by the Elves for trespassing and disturbing the peace. Not before he had reached the lake town of Esgaroth and all the dwarves were successfully freed from their uncomfortable travel conveyance did he pause in his storytelling. At that point he stopped, took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
"Really, I’m getting all hoarse with so much talking. There should be other ways to let people know your story, I daresay."
Frodo guessed what was coming and said nothing, but Sam, fearing for the end of story as much as for Bilbo’s well-being, sprang to his feet and said, "Let me get you a glass of water, Mr Bilbo, or a mug of ale, maybe! You’ll feel better soon, and then you can go on with what happened when you came to Esgaroth."
"No, no, not just now, Sam, my lad!" exclaimed Bilbo, laughing. "No, you see, there IS a way to know about all kinds of stories, even when there’s no one to sit and tell them to you."
Sam gave him a look of confusion at this.
"Why, you could READ about them, Sam! Most stories are in books, you know, where everybody can find out about them any time they want to. My story is also in a book – well, almost. I’m writing it down, only I haven’t quite finished yet. But it will be in a book, and it will still be there, when I’m not here anymore, and the story will go on being told by that book. Now, what do you say to that, doesn’t that sound marvellous?"
The look of confusion had not left Sam’s face.
"Well, Sir, I guess so, but…but I can’t read, Sir."
"Yes, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it? But I could teach you, Sam. I’ll show you how it’s done – what do you think, would you like that?"
Sam’s eyes grew wide. "Do you really mean that, Sir?" he asked.
"Why, certainly!", said Bilbo enthusiastically.
Sam’s expression melted into a broad smile. "Oh, I’d certainly love to learn to read, Sir!" But then a little frown came across his brows. "But, well, I’m not so sure if it’d be right and proper, Sir, if you know what I mean. There’s no one can read in the Gamgee family as far as I know. That’s for the better folk, my grandmother used to say, and those as has time on their hands, Grandfather would add – if you pardon my saying so, but it were their words."
Bilbo looked serious for a moment. At length he said, "Tradition can be a very good thing, Sam. But sometimes it’s also good to try a new thing. Like when you try some new seed. Sometimes it’s surprising how much good can come of something you never expected to be worthwhile."
As he said that, Bilbo’s face took on a dreamy look, and Frodo, seeing it, knew he was thinking of an experience of his own that had proved more worthwhile than he would have ever expected.
Sam scratched his head. "Two years ago the Gaffer crossed those two different kinds of beans, and Grandfather said that was the silliest idea he’d ever heard about. But last year we had a great harvest of the new seeds and Grandfather wouldn’t stop eating the beans and praising the Gaffer for the greatest gardener of the Shire. Would that be sort of what you mean, Mr Bilbo?"
"Hmmmh? Oh, yes, that’s it, Sam!" said Bilbo, waking from his reverie at the sound of his name.
"I see," said Sam, "I guess in that case I’d really love to give it a try, Sir."
"Brilliant!" said Bilbo, "Let’s start right away, shall we?"
He took a piece of paper and wrote Sam’s name on it. "This says ‘Sam’", he explained, "There’s a sign for each sound."
And he went on to explain how all words were made up of single sounds and that there were signs for all the sounds and Sam at first looked at him with wide-eyed amazement, but soon understood all that was being said and began to think that this whole reading and writing wasn’t so difficult after all. After a little while, however, the long day’s work began to show and he became very tired. He stifled a yawn once or twice and found that although he did his best to pay attention, Bilbo’s words became more and more blurry to his mind.
When they had studied for about half an hour, Frodo shut the book he had been reading – or it might be said, that he had been holding while listening to Sam’s lesson – and said, "Don’t you think it’s getting rather late, Uncle Bilbo? Sam will be missed at home, they’ll be ready to go to bed in Bagshot Row, I’ll wager."
It was as though Bilbo was called back from another world. "Huh? Oh, yes! Late, that’s right! High time for bed." And with a smile he gently ruffled Sam’s hair. "Been a long day for you, lad. But we made a good start, I think, right? And next time I get carried away and keep you beyond your bed-time, you just tell me so! When I talk about writing I forget all else, it seems."
Sam smiled and got up. "Thank you, Sir, it was very interesting and I think I’ve understood most of what you told me. It’s awfully kind of you to take all this trouble and I hope you won’t find me too stupid for all these difficult things. If you don’t mind, we can go on some other time, any time you say, Mr Bilbo!"
"We’ll be busy for some time yet, Sam! Just you come back tomorrow or the day after, as soon as you can spare an hour. I’ll be here, and when there are some pressing duties to prevent me, I’ll tell you beforehand. Now try to remember what I’ve told you today, and then we’ll continue from where we stopped. Good night! And give my regards to the Gaffer!"
"Thank you, and good night, Mr Bilbo!" said Sam. Frodo had got up and said, "I’ll walk Sam to the gate, Uncle Bilbo."
He opened the door and he and Sam walked out into the cool night air. It was now completely dark, and the air was fragrant with the scent of lilac.
"How did you like your first lesson?" asked Frodo when they were halfway down the path.
"It didn’t sound all as difficult as I thought it would, Master Frodo, but there seems to be a lot more to it than I’d expected, too." Sam answered. "Do you know – I mean, I wonder – how long is it going to take until I’ll have learned to read and write?" he asked. He sounded a little worried.
Frodo gave a soft, friendly laugh that soothed Sam’s misgivings. "It takes quite some time, Sam. Did you expect to learn all in a day? I don’t remember how long it took me, I was such a little hobbit when I first started to learn, but it must have been months and months." And in a more serious tone he added, "Just don’t think that you’re stupid when you don’t understand something first time round!"
They had reached the gate and stood there for a moment. Sam turned his beaming face up to Frodo. "I won’t and I’ll be patient, Master Frodo! Thank you very much – and good night!"
Frodo smiled and nodded, and opening the gate, wished him a good night. Sam darted out of the Bag End garden down into Bagshot Row, and could be seen as a small black shadow rushing toward No 3, the only house in the lane where there was still a light gleaming from the windows.
Sam was back the next day for his lesson and the day after that and regularly for many days. Sometimes he would come in the mornings, sometimes the afternoon or even in the evening. He enjoyed learning, remembering the shapes of the different signs and practising writing them out. Frodo would normally sit at the kitchen table, which served as a study-desk, with them, reading, writing or solving some odd-looking mathematical problem. When Sam came in and all greetings had been exchanged, he would settle in the place on the kitchen bench that was now ‘his’, cast an admiring look at whatever work Frodo was doing and wait until Bilbo had made sure that his nephew would be usefully occupied during Sam’s lesson. Bilbo always seemed in a flurry of enthusiasm. Frodo knew how happy it made his uncle to be able to pass on knowledge, and now that there were two pupils with such differing demands on his scholarly talents he was eagerness personified and his eyes shone with a radiance Frodo otherwise only knew from the times Bilbo talked about his adventures. Sometimes Bilbo would get distracted from the core of the lesson and start rambling about linguistic theories that left Sam gaping with bewilderment. The first time that had happened he had been somewhat scared by the complicated matters he was hearing. He had looked at Frodo with raised eyebrows, but Frodo had answered with a wry smile and a wink that had told Sam not to worry, and henceforth Sam just marvelled uncomprehendingly at Bilbo’s vast scope of knowledge when the latter started off on one of his digressions.
Sam much preferred the mornings for his lesson, for then he could be certain that Frodo would be sitting next to him. In the afternoons and evenings it could happen that Frodo was out on a walk or visiting some friends, and Sam felt a little abashed at having Bilbo’s undivided attention. And there was another good thing about having Frodo next to him. Bilbo sometimes set Sam a task of reading or writing something and went off to refill his pipe or got lost in his own thoughts. Now, when he came to a point he didn’t know himself, Sam would look questioningly at Frodo, who would then mouth the word Sam couldn’t read or scribble the sign Sam had forgotten on his own paper for Sam to see.
May turned into June and Sam made good progress and soon had learnt to read and write all the letters of the alphabet. Bilbo now gave him stories and poems and songs to read and to copy into a little book he had made for him. When it was a poem Sam knew, he was overjoyed to see it written out, and when it was one he hadn’t heard before, he was thrilled to learn it.
One fine June morning a knock at the kitchen door surprised Bilbo and Frodo, who were busy cleaning away breakfast things. This was early even for Sam. They exchanged an amused look at Sam’s impatience for learning, which had kept them impressed for the past few weeks, and Bilbo called out for their young visitor to come in.
Instead of Sam’s eager young face, however, they saw the Gaffer’s – and it wore a decidedly angry expression. Cap in hand, he tried to suppress the agitation in his voice as he greeted his landlord. "Mr Bilbo, Sir, and Master Frodo." He nodded, but seemed unable to muster a smile.
"Beg pardon for interrupting, Mr Bilbo, but I need a word with you!", he went on.
Bilbo saw that something serious was the matter, and said earnestly, "Of course, Master Gamgee, come in! What do you want to talk about?"
The Gaffer cleared his throat, looked at Frodo, then down at the floor. Frodo excused himself on some urgent business and went out into the garden.
"It’s about Sam.", the Gaffer continued, his voice shaking with barely controlled anger, "I was looking for him this morning, and went searching for him in the orchard, and I found him sitting under a cherry tree – with this!" He extended Sam’s writing-booklet toward Bilbo.
Bilbo nodded. "Hmmh, I see."
"I asked him what he was doing there. He started stammering something. I told him I could see he was reading a book, only how he came to know how to do it in the first place was what I couldn’t figure. He told me you’d been teaching him to read and write for quite some time now. And that you thought it would do no harm to do that. Well, Mr Bilbo, Sir, Sam still is my son, and it’s not for you to tell him what is alright to do and what isn’t, with all due respect, Sir! What were you thinking to teach him to read and write, Sir? That’s what I want to know! No one in the Gamgee family can read or write and we are none the worse for it! Many in the family have been servants to the Bagginses for generations, and proud of it, and others are craftsmen, well respected wherever you go in the Shire. We needn’t be ashamed of nothing, Sir! And here you go, putting ideas into the head of that poor lad, ideas above his station, that’ll make him look down on us, and on everything he is – and on all he ever might be. Or were you thinking to make a gentlehobbit of him, once he’d have got all that learning into his head? I don’t think so, Mr Bilbo! And what’s he supposed to do, now he’s too good to be a servant and not good enough to be a master? One thing’s for sure, Mr Bilbo, Sir, he can’t stay here. I’ll have him apprenticed to my brother to be a ropemaker. I’d have hoped to make him a gardener one day, to continue what I’ve begun, but now I think what he needs most is to get away from here, from all the stories and ideas you’ve been putting into his head. Maybe it’s not too late, yet. Staying with my brother and learning an honest craft might put his mind back straight again. I just wanted to let you know, Sir."
The Gaffer bowed his head slightly and seemed about to turn and go.
Bilbo looked crestfallen. He was stunned by what he had heard, and now that the Gaffer was finished he struggled for words.
"Please, Master Gamgee, wait! At least hear me out before you go! We’ve been good friends all these years, haven’t we? How – how can you think I’d do anything that might cause harm to Sam? I love the lad dearly and only meant for the best, I assure you!"
"Aye, I’m sure you meant no harm, Sir. But harm is what you’ve done!"
"But, Master Gamgee, surely a little reading and writing can’t do any harm. So he’s the first in the family – what of it? The knowledge could even come in handy for a gardener, too. Why, he could keep notes to help memory along and preserve new things you’ve discovered for many others to learn. Think it over, Master Gamgee, in quiet at home, try to look at it from a different angle. I’m sure you’ll understand, once your anger has calmed down!"
Bilbo tried to show an encouraging smile, but felt far from certain about what he was saying himself.
The Gaffer looked at the floor for a moment, then faced Bilbo again.
"I believe you meant well, Mr Bilbo, and I bear you no grudge! I hope things may stay between us what they were! I’ve always been proud to be in your service, Sir, and have the greatest respect for you. But Sam goes to stay with my brother next week, to be apprenticed as a ropemaker. He can’t stay here with all those stories and adventures and poems any more!"
With that he bowed and went out, leaving Bilbo devastated to think what had come of his idea of teaching Sam to read and write.
In the meantime, Frodo had been strolling in the garden, wondering what could have put the Gaffer in such a state of mind. When he saw the Gaffer marching back down the garden lane towards Bagshot Row in a determined stride and with only a very slighty improved expression on his face, he hurried back inside to ask Bilbo what had happened. The look of disappointment and sadness on Bilbo’s face was frightening.
"Uncle Bilbo! What on earth happened? I’ve just seen the Gaffer leave. He didn’t seem in much better mood than when he came. And now to look at you – what has happened?"
Bilbo, looking straight into the emptiness ahead, stumbled forward to find a chair. Frodo drew one forth for him and helped him to sit down.
When he had sat down he said in a small voice, "Frodo, dear, I’ve made a terrible mistake, it seems! When the Gaffer found out about my teaching Sam to read and write, he was furious! He told me I’d as much as ruined Sam’s life by this. He’s going to send the boy away from my pernicious influence, to live with his brother and become a ropemaker! It doesn’t seem I can change his mind whatever I say. I tried to make him see it wasn’t at all what he feared, but he just wouldn’t listen. Oh, those confounded, narrow-minded folk of Hobbiton! – What can I do to make him see how wrong he is?"
Frodo had sat down next to Bilbo and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"You couldn’t know he would feel that way about it, Uncle Bilbo! And you’re quite right, there’s no way reading and writing could ruin anybody’s life. I’m sure he’ll come to see that in time."
"But then it’ll be too late. He’s going to send poor Sam off to his brother."
"Does he mean to send him away so soon?"
Frodo looked down, a saddened furrow on his brows.
"Poor Sam – he’ll hate to leave Hobbiton, and he doesn’t like rope-making at all. He told me so once. All he wants to be is a gardener!"
"And it’s all my fault! Why am I so impetuous? I just should have asked the Gaffer first. Oh, what’s to be done?"
"Try not to worry so much, Uncle Bilbo! Wait until tomorrow – maybe a good night’s sleep will change the Gaffer’s opinion, who knows? Now, let me make you a cup of tea and have a little something to eat, that’ll strengthen your spirits! And then maybe have a quiet pipe in the garden? The world will look much different then, you’ll see!"
So it was done, and Frodo kept Bilbo company in silence for his smoke in the garden. Bilbo did begin to feel a little reassured after that, but still sounded very sad when he said he’d now best go to his study and do some work. Frodo agreed that this was a good idea, but remained seated alone outside for a while.
When he finally stood up it was not to go into the house. He walked toward the gate and out of the Bag End garden, for a walk, as he told himself, but also, such was the hope at the back of his mind, to find Sam!
He did not have to walk far. Turning in the direction opposite Bag Shot Row he came to a stretch of pasture with a handsome group of trees at the far end. Behind it lay corn fields and a path into Hobbiton that Frodo meant to follow. As he approached the end of the pasture, however, he heard heavy sobs from behind the trunk of an elm tree. He went up to the tree and looking round to the back of the trunk he saw Sam sitting there, with his knees hunched up under his chin, sobbing violently.
"Sam!" he said softly, but Sam didn’t hear him. He sat down next to him. "Sam!" he said again, touching Sam’s shoulder gently. This time Sam heard. He looked up, tears streaming down his smudgy cheeks. When he recognized Frodo he tried to gulp down the next sob.
"Oh, Master Frodo, something terrible has happened!" he stammered in a small voice.
"I’ve heard, Sam." Frodo said softly, "yes, it’s quite bad."
"The Gaffer is so angry about my reading and writing – he’s never been as angry as that!"
New sobs coming on, Sam bent forward and buried his head in his arms. Frodo put an arm around his shoulder and waited for Sam to find his speech again.
"And now he’ll send me to Uncle Andy and he’ll teach me how to be a ropemaker – I don’t want to be a ropemaker, Master Frodo, I want to be a gardener, and – and – I want to stay here with my folks, and with – with Mr Bilbo and with you, Sir!"
"Hush, now, Sam! Don’t fret so much! Who knows, maybe the Gaffer will change his mind. I’m sure he would much rather have you stay with him. He’s so proud of you and your gardening!"
Sam stopped crying for a minute and looked up at Frodo in wonder. But then he shook his head, and, fighting back another sob, said, "I don’t know, Master Frodo. He’s awful determined. He said – he said he’d sooner bait one of them dragons himself, than have me hear about it one more time from Mr Bilbo!"
Frodo couldn’t help smiling briefly at that. Then he gave a small sigh and pressed Sam’s shoulder reassuringly.
"What if I tried talking to him – maybe it would help somehow – what do you say to that, Sam? Should I go and try if he won’t change his mind after all?"
Sam swallowed and nodded, but couldn’t say anything.
"Alright, then, Sam." Frodo said, trying to sound a little cheerful and confident. "Let’s see what I can do." And after a short pause he added, "I’d much prefer it if you could stay here with us, too, you know!"
Sam looked up, his tearful eyes wide. His breathing had calmed so much now that Frodo could assume the worst crying to be over. He looked at him and smiled.
"Do you want to stay here a little longer? Or shall I walk you somewhere, to some friend of yours maybe?"
"Thank you, Master Frodo!" Sam said, his voice sounding almost firm again, "But I think I’d most like to stay here for a while. With no one around to ask questions, if you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean, Sam." Frodo said and rose. "I’ll try to find the Gaffer."
He smiled and nodded at Sam, who rubbed his eyes and slowly nodded back. Then Frodo turned and went back towards the Hill to seek the Gaffer. As he left, he could hear Sam sniffing and crying softly once more, but the violent sobbing seemed to be over.
Frodo walked down Bagshot Row with some trepidation. Stopping outside number three, he took a deep breath and knocked gently.
"Who is it?" came a grumbling voice from within.
"It’s Frodo, Master Gamgee. May I come in, please?" said Frodo in a clear and quiet voice.
"Why on earth… ? Alright, come in if you want to!"
Frodo opened the door, went in, and closed the door behind him. The Gaffer was alone. He sat on a chair by a large table, seemingly not doing anything, and remained seated when Frodo entered.
"It’s because of Sam I need to talk to you, Master Gamgee." Frodo began when he had closed the door. "I heard you mean to apprentice him to your brother in Bywater."
"And I suppose you’ve also heard why I mean to do that?" the Gaffer asked gruffly.
"Yes. Yes, I’ve heard. But I know, too, that you don’t want to do that, really. I know how much you love Sam, and how proud you are of him. To send him away, that – well, it would make him terribly unhappy. I’ve come to ask you to have some more patience with him, to – to accept his love for the things Bilbo is teaching him. He will stop learning, if you want him to, and Bilbo won’t insist on teaching him, I’m sure of that. But to become a gardener is the dream of Sam’s life. And isn’t it your dream, too? Why would you insist on spoiling it for him, and for you?"
The Gaffer was looking down at the empty table in front of him.
"You don’t know about this sort of thing, Master Frodo." he said, "for the likes of us to get ideas into their heads – it’s dangerous, that’s what it is. It’ll be for his own good, he’ll notice that soon enough."
"It doesn’t look as if it were much for your good, Master Gamgee."
The Gaffer looked up, suddenly agitated.
"That’s where you’re right, Master Frodo, t’isn’t for me own good, that’s certain. It’s breaking my heart to let Sam go – he’s my son, and I love him better than me own life – and that’s why I have to see to it that he has a chance to make a good life later!"
Frodo remained silent for a moment, then he said, "His best chance to make a good life later will be in teaching him to become a good gardener, like you, because that is what he loves and what he wants."
The Gaffer didn’t respond, but only looked down at the table again.
Frodo drew out a chair for himself and sat down next to Gaffer. He looked at the bent figure before him.
"Master Gamgee, Sam loves you more than words can tell. Nothing Bilbo or anybody else could tell or teach him could change that. Even if he read through all of Bilbo’s library and learnt all the poems about all the dragonslayers by heart, he’d still want nothing so much as to be the gardener you’re teaching him to be. He’s been learning his letters for almost four weeks now, and he’s making excellent progress. Has he ever shown the slightest change in his behaviour to you, or in his work?"
The Gaffer slowly shook his head, still looking down at the table.
"Then take his liking of these things as one of the traits of his odd little self, and let him have the joy of it! Sam’s an amazing chap, and takes much after his father – I doubt that anything could spoil him."
The Gaffer raised his eyes and looked into Frodo’s face. He smiled a little crookedly and said, "Yes, he is amazing, isn’t he? And odd. He fits in with you and Mr Bilbo, if you don’t mind my saying so."
Frodo laughed softly.
Serious again, the Gaffer continued, "And I guess you’re right, I’m overdoing it. Probably t’isn’t all making such a change on him, after all. But I fear for him, you see – I fear for him!"
Both were silent for a moment.
At last the Gaffer said, "Very well, Master Frodo. Brother Andy is not going to have a new apprentice. And if you think it means so much to him, all that reading and writing and stories of heroes and what not – well then, let him go on with it."
He had lowered his eyes again as he said the last sentence and could not see Frodo’s face lighting up with joy. Then he suddenly looked up again and met Frodo’s eyes.
"But you take good care of him, see to it that he doesn’t get his head turned with all the new stuff and with knowing things – promise me, Master Frodo!"
Frodo, serious once more, returned the glance and said, "I’ll take care of him, Master Gamgee. Reading and writing won’t turn his head, I promise."
The Gaffer nodded and smiled. Frodo rose to go.
"Thank you, Master Gamgee!" he said simply, then added, "May I tell Sam that he doesn’t have to go to Bywater after all? I left him by the pasture woods a short time ago, very unhappy he was – I’ll send him home to you!"
The Gaffer said it was alright, and Frodo, having said good-bye, left to find Sam once again.
Frodo returned to the little wood at the end of the pasture and found Sam where he had left him. He wasn’t crying any more, but his face looked very sad and brooding.
"Hello Sam!" Frodo called out to him. Looking up at him Sam’s eyes widened. The confident sound of Frodo’s voice promised good news.
Frodo stopped by the elm tree, and unable to hide a broad and happy smile, said softly, "It’s alright, Sam. It turned out the Gaffer didn’t mean to send you away after all. He told me so, when he wasn’t so angry anymore. Actually he never really was angry – just afraid for you, Sam. You’ve given him quite a fright with your book, playing the philosopher in the orchard!"
It took a moment for Sam to understand what he heard Frodo say. Then his face lit up, he jumped up from the ground and taking Frodo’s hands began a small kind of dance on the spot where he was standing, saying, "Honest, Master Frodo? Really and truly honest? I’m to stay here? He isn’t angry with me anymore?"
Frodo laughed, nodding and shaking his head in turn.
"That’s right, Sam, he isn’t angry! And you can even go on with your lessons! Isn’t that wonderful? But let’s go home now! Go home, and make up with your Gaffer right and proper, will you?"
At the news that he might even continue learning from Bilbo his face was beaming even more. He agreed to go home to the gaffer right away and the two of them slowly began to walk back across the pasture.
They had been walking for a minute or two, Sam constantly prattling about how he would love to go on learning with Frodo, and how glad he was he didn’t have to be a ropemaker now, when all of a sudden Sam’s face fell. He stopped short and said in an angry tone, "He shouldn’t have got so mad in the first place! Why did he threaten to send me to uncle? He knows I’d have hated to go. He wanted to punish me real bad – when I never had done anything wrong!"
"No, Sam, he didn’t mean to punish you at all!" Frodo said, looking aghast at Sam’s outburst. "He tried to do what he thought was best for you. I told you that he was afraid for you, afraid that learning all that Bilbo is teaching you could get you in some kind of danger!"
Sam still scowled. Curling his toes in the grass he said nothing at first, then, sulking, almost snapped, "You can talk, Master Frodo, you don’t know what it’s like when your Gaffer gets angry, and so much the better for you!"
Frodo looked horrified for a second, then a sadness overshadowed his face and he looked down. Raising his eyes again after a moment, he looked at Sam and said, "I wish I knew what it’s like, Sam – I wish I knew!"
Sam looked wonderingly at him. Frodo sat down on the grass where they were standing, and hugged his knees. Sam sat down next to him, eyeing him curiously as Frodo just stared ahead of him.
When Frodo noticed Sam’s look, he returned it and tried to smile.
"He was afraid for you, for your well-being, for your future. So afraid that he reacted a bit too strongly, but he soon saw that, and now it’s alright again."
He paused and fought to keep up the smile as he said, "No one has ever been afraid for me in that way, Sam. Oh, the folks at Buckland would worry that I should break my neck falling off a horse or get into trouble for some silly mischief, but it was more because they had a responsibility toward me – do you know what I mean?"
Sam nodded, his eyes wide with awe.
Frodo continued, "Bilbo – I’m sure he would have cared – only he really doesn’t need to, now – he’s quite glad, I think, I’m grown up enough to not cause any such fears for him any more."
He laughed, though it sounded a little cheerless, but then became serious again.
"You are very, very lucky, Sam! Sometimes I think I’d trade places with you any time." He smiled more cheerfully now. "Only, then I remember that I would be a terrible disappointment for the Gaffer as a gardener."
Sam giggled and Frodo laughed.
Then Frodo rose and pulled Sam up.
"We’ll not think about it any more, shall we? I’m truly glad you’ll be staying with us now, and Bilbo will be beside himself with joy when he hears the trouble is all over and he can go on filling your head with lore of Elves and Dragons. And you understand the Gaffer now, don’t you?"
Earnestly, Sam said, "I do, Sir! And, if I may say so, I think I understand you, too!"
Frodo smiled and said softly, "Lets go home!"