ADVENTURES OF THREE HOBBITS:
Part One (of Four): Sam and Frodo
In the summer of 1399, the year he turned nineteen, Sam Gamgee was approaching his “tweens”, that period of time between childhood and adulthood which brought, at least to the youths of the finer families of the Shire, greater freedom and the opportunity to behave irresponsibly without much censure. But it was also a time for youths to choose their trade, if they were to have one, and begin their apprenticeship. So it had been for Sam’s older brothers, Halfred and Hamson, who had each apprenticed to their Uncle Andy, the roper, in Tighfield by their twentieth year. Indeed, Hamson had remained with his uncle after reaching adulthood, and now carried on the roping business with him and his son, Anson. Halfred had removed to the North Farthing to work as a roper there. But for Sam there was never any question that he would follow his father, Hamfast the gardener, in carrying on the other family tradition. It was an apprenticeship he seemed to have begun the day his father first took him as a toddler up to the garden at Bag End. And Sam himself had known when he was still very young that he would never desire any other occupation. The long quiet days of sowing and tending gave him the peace and time he often needed to work his methodical mind around the small cares and worries of his life and his nurturing nature was gently fulfilled by tending the gardens through their seasonal rhythms
For many years now he had been a fixture not only in the garden of Bag End, where he spent most of his days with his father, but in Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole as well. While Bilbo was very glad to have young Sam working in his garden every day he enjoyed still more having the lad indoors most early mornings for a lesson or two of reading and writing. Sam was the only literate member of his family, a skill he possessed not because of any innate desire to read, but because of his love for Mr. Bilbo’s poems and tales of adventure, which Bilbo told him as a reward for scholarship. The old hobbit believed in the value of literacy and education, and felt that Hamfast’s youngest son possessed beneath his rustic exterior qualities that gardening alone could not reveal.
Frodo Baggins had been adopted by his Uncle Bilbo ten years earlier just before his 21st birthday, and had lived with him since then at Bag End. It was a quieter life than the one he had lived as an orphan in Buckland with his many Buckleberry relatives, but he did not regret spending his `tweens’ in the comparative seclusion of Hobbiton, and looked forward with satisfaction to his rapidly approaching “coming of age” at 33. Indeed, he had felt grown up for the past several years, no doubt in large part because Bilbo clearly regarded him as his companion rather than his ward.
Frodo often joined Sam in the morning to help him with his lessons. He had his own studies to pursue as well, not the least of which was learning the elvish language and he assisted Bilbo in the transcribing of poems and tales which Bilbo was compiling for possible inclusion in his great book.
One morning in mid-August Sam’s father came to the door of Bag End earlier than his usual time for fetching his son out to the garden. He brought a letter from his brother Andy that he needed read and he did not trust the task to Sam in the evening. It was common practice for Andy to correspond with the Gaffer by having one of the literate folk in Tighfield take down his letter by dictation, knowing that the Gaffer would have a willing reader in Bilbo or Frodo. The Gaffer would reply by the same process. Frodo took the proffered letter and began to read:
I hope your garden and Mr. Bilbo’s go on well. I am writing to see if you might be able to spare young Sam for two or three weeks soon. We are finally going to put in the rope bridge talked about for so many years and I need his lightness and his nimble fingers for the setting of the first ropes. If he can come send him soon as you might. I can’t spare myself or either of the lads to fetch him, but he has been here many times before and is big enough to find his own way.
Hamfast grunted and looked at Sam across the table. “Well, my boy, a change of scene will do you good, and I can manage without you well enough until September. Best leave tomorrow or the next day. Finish up your lesson now and come out to the garden.” And taking the letter from Frodo with a nod and word of thanks he left.
Sam sat still at the table, his face slowly flushing red. Bilbo, who had been listening in the kitchen, went over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, in pretence of examining his schoolwork. “A journey across the Shire, Sam” he said with an air of enthusiasm “that will be an adventure for you”. He looked at Frodo conspiratorially. “You know Frodo has been dithering for some time about visiting Brandy Hall, perhaps you can drag him part the way with you and I can finally have this old hobbit hole to myself for a bit.”
So it was settled that Sam and Frodo would set out the next morning. The plan gave some relief to Sam’s worried mind. He had never walked to Tighfield by himself but that wasn’t what bothered him most. Making ropes and tying knots was fine with him, but setting ropes high above a small river would expose him to two of the things he hated most – heights and water. It would be a long three weeks and only the prospect of a few days walking across the Shire with Frodo gave him any comfort.
For his part Frodo was not sorry to be leaving on a sudden trip. He had not visited at Brandy Hall in nearly a year, though he had been meaning to for many months. The prospect of a few noisy weeks with his aunts, uncles and cousins was rather daunting after the solitude of his life with Bilbo, but now that the plans were laid he was eager to begin the journey. He had never been to Tighfield, but Sam would know the way well enough that they should get there without any trouble. It lay far north-east of Hobbiton, on the Brackenbourn River, a tributary of the Brandywine. Frodo would have a day or two of solitary walking to Bucklebury after delivering Sam. .
Frodo agreed with Sam’s proposal that they take the less traveled paths to Tighfield, and forsake the East Road by first bearing north at Bywater to follow The Stream, (which fed Bywater Pool). When they got to Much Hemlock they would turn east for Tighfield. Narrow woodland paths and seldom used wagon roads would take them through a mix of forest, meadows and sparsely populated farmland. Frodo had never gone this way before, but Sam had on two or three occasions and the paths though seldom used were well established and easy to find. As the weather had held fine and hot for many weeks and showed no signs of breaking they agreed to camp along the way.
So they set out across Hobbiton towards the northern pathway early the next morning under a sun already shining bright and hot on the dewless fields. Sam proved an interesting traveling companion. Though he and Frodo saw each other almost every day they had never spent much time alone together, and when they did it was usually in pursuit of Sam’s studies or out in the gardens consulting on some horticultural issue.
At first Sam was mostly silent allowing Frodo to walk in quiet contemplation. But as the morning went on and they got deeper into the woods Sam began gradually to talk more and more until he was chatting away almost continuously in his own self-effacing style and treating Frodo to an almost unrelenting commentary on the flora of the Shire: the herbs that could be used cooking and for medicinal purposes, the wild root vegetables there for the taking, the bushes that would soon yield ripe berries, the noxious weeds that could ruin a garden, and on and on. All his information was interspersed with frequent references to the Gaffer’s compendious store of wisdom on each issue until Frodo found himself quite overwhelmed.
After a while Sam asked what foods they had brought for their meals. Volunteering to do the cooking he quickly settled with Frodo on the menu for that evening and began to seek out the herbs he would need for the various dishes. There were a number of delays as he strayed from their path at spots he felt likely to yield the desired plants.
During their halt for lunch, when they were no longer being exposed to continuous changes in the flora Sam treated Frodo to the gossip of his family, and of the Cottons and of all the other friends and associates of the Gamgees. With this insight into Sam’s informative and talkative nature Frodo resolved never to divulge any information to the young gossip that he did not want known by every farmer and laborer of Bywater and Hobbiton. As it was, Frodo learned more about these people than he wished to know including the state of old so and so’s lumbago, why a certain farmer’s potatoes would never be a match for the Gaffer’s, and which young hobbit of Bywater was likely to marry which. While they sat resting after their meal Sam discussed in detail how it was that the Cotton and Gamgee families were related, (but not so closely that marriage between them was prohibited), and then, blushing slightly, disclosed “and Tom Cotton, he’s my best friend, you understand, he’s going all sweet on our Marigold, which I think is a bit bold, minding how young they both are.” He paused, added fondly, “though Tom can’t ask for a better lass than Marigold,” and looked to Frodo to confirm this sentiment. But Frodo had not been listening. He was leaning comfortably back against a birch tree gazing dreamily across the fields. Gradually he became aware of the unusual silence and saw Sam looking at him expectantly.
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo” Sam said softly, blushing slightly, “sometimes I talks too much, and if I do you should just tell me to shut up. That’s what the Gaffer does. `Shut up Sam’ he says and I does. Me sisters say it too, but it don’t always work for them”, and he chuckled at the thought, then explained “I suppose I get all the quiet times I want out in the gardens, you understand, so I go on a bit when I get half the chance. Sometimes when I’m in the garden I talk to the plants, in my head like. They never talk back but they don’t tell no secrets neither.” Sam nodded to himself and smiled.
Frodo laughed. “It’s all right Sam, I like to hear your talk, but a bit of quiet is nice too and I do need it, unless you feel like steeping up some of your willow bark for that headache remedy of your Gaffer’s.” This he said in complete jest and so was surprised to see Sam’s face cloud with hurt. He patted Sam on the shoulder as he stood up and said gently “I’m only joking, Sam.”
For the rest of the afternoon Sam restrained himself as best he could; he spoke only when Frodo started the conversation and fell quiet when Frodo let it lapse. But late in the day as they walked single file along the woodland path, Frodo was amused to hear Sam humming behind him. Slowly the humming grew louder as Sam made his way through various childhood tunes. Then he began to softly sing one of Bilbo’s traveling songs. Like most hobbits Sam loved music, and he had a pleasant enough voice. Frodo slowed his pace slightly and matching his steps to Sam’s as he was overtaken, joined in the chorus of Bilbo’s song. By the final stanza the song rang out loudly and joyfully.
Frodo sighed and smiled at Sam. “Have you ever thought about it, Sam, going on a journey like Bilbo’s when you’re older, far from the Shire, to strange places on unknown adventures?”
“No, sir, I haven’t. I’ve thought of others going and bringing back their tales, as I dearly love to hear tales of adventure. But as for me going, well, there’s nowt outside the Shire that I want to see, `cepting elves perhaps, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever see the likes of them,” but he smiled fondly as he considered the possibility, “no, the Shire’s big enough for Sam Gamgee.”
* * *
They came to the village of Much Hemlock late in the evening and made their camp under an elm tree in the common field, close to The Stream. The village proper was no more than a half mile across the common. When dinner was over they set off to explore it in the failing light and came first to the local pub, the last house on the main street. It was a small, noisy establishment under the sign of a crow on a gate and they could see that the lanes of the village were now quiet under faint stars of the early nightfall; if they wanted companionship they would have to find it inside.
Hobbits have no fixed rule or law regarding drinking age, leaving the matter to the discretion of the youth’s parents or guardian. A young hobbit – that is, one obviously under the age of 24 or 25 – would not be served in a pub unless he was in the company of an adult known to be responsible for him or, at the very least, unless prior permission had been given by his guardian. The barkeepers and barmaids of the pubs of the youth’s own village were generally aware of who was and wasn’t to be served and, if the youth was unaccompanied, would impose a limit on his consumption. But as these limits would change according both to the behavior of the young hobbit and his increasing age a good deal of discretion was always left to the innkeepers and their help when dealing with unaccompanied youths, and it was not always judiciously exercised, especially on busy nights or when the young hobbit was a stranger to the village. But such considerations would not apply to Sam tonight. Though the differences between Frodo and Sam in dress and manner clearly showed they were not kin, they just as clearly suggested the relationship of young master and servant, which would give Frodo sufficient authority to consent to Sam’s being served. That this was not their precise relationship was of no matter to Frodo and, indeed, had not even occurred to Sam.
Sam had no objection to going into the pub. His dad had taken him to the Green Dragon and the Ivy Bush at home a few times on special occasions in the past year, and allowed him a half mug; and with his dad’s consent he had been treated to the same measure at Bag End when Bilbo and Frodo had drunk to health on his 19th birthday this past April. So he felt rather hopeful as he took his seat at a small table with Frodo. The barmaid hurried over, looking somewhat harried, but she was not too busy to pause and welcome strangers to her village and ask where they were from. Frodo answered the greeting and the question and ordered himself an ale. In response to Sam’s silent look of pleading he added that Sam could have half a mug of the same. The barmaid gave the young hobbit an appraising look -Sam was shorter and slighter than most lads his age and appeared considerably younger than his 19 years- but it was not her business if his master allowed him to drink so young while in his service.
Conversation was difficult in the noisy pub, so they sat mainly in silence, watching the regular patrons and listening to the local gossip and unending discussions of the weather and crops; talk which was little different from that to be had in Hobbiton or Bywater. Frodo tried to gain more information from Sam about his family in Tighfield and the roping job in particular. Earlier in the day he had noticed that this was seemingly the only topic Sam was not prepared to prattle on about. He knew that Sam had worked at his uncle’s rope walk before but he had never heard of a bridge being contemplated. Sam answered his questions with some diffidence.
“Well sir, Uncle Andy gets some of his ropeweed, for making his ropes if you understand, from Northope, on the far side of the Brackenbourn River. He grows his own ropeweed too, but not enough for a whole year, his fields aren’t big enough, and usually by spring he’s needing more. And he’s wanting to take his rope to Northope to be sold. There’s some there that takes the rope outside the Shire, to sell it to the Big Folks. Northope’s right on the border, if you remember. But the only way to get there is the ford at Brill, four miles to the east, and then five miles more back north-west to Northope. And in the winter and spring like as not the river can’t be forded, not after a heavy rain leastaways. So the rope bridge would be a help. And other folks would use it too, and they’d pay Uncle Andy for using it, which would be a help to him.”
As for the specifics of the making of the rope bridge, and why his uncle especially wanted him, Sam was even more taciturn, and Frodo did not press him.
They stayed until Frodo noticed Sam nodding in his chair and remembered that the young gardener kept earlier hours than he did and would no doubt have been in bed before the stars came fully out if he had been home. He roused Sam and they headed back to their camp, despite Sam’s protestations that he was not tired. He gave the lie to that talk, though, by falling asleep before Frodo had even got himself comfortably settled under the tree, and then he kept Frodo awake some time with his soft snoring, until that sound gradually blended with the whispering of the leaves in the breeze and Frodo was finally lulled to sleep.
* * *
The next day was very much like the first, though Sam had nearly exhausted his store of gossip, and he gave Frodo many half hours of uninterrupted silence. They had turned east, leaving the Stream behind and taking a path through a mix of farmland and small woods. For a long while Sam amused himself, and Frodo, by identifying the calls of the various songbirds, and imitating them as best he could.
Late in the afternoon they came to the Brackenbourn River. Though still many miles from Tighfield it would be an easy distance to cover the next day so they made an early halt at the first good spot for camping they came to. Sam eagerly unpacked his fishing gear and cut fishing poles for himself and Frodo. They soon had a very satisfying dinner of trout.
In the early afternoon on the third day they arrived in Tighfield. Sam led Frodo through the small village to his uncle’s hobbit house a mile or so from the Brackenbourn River. It was a snug little house tucked under the shade of a large elm tree, with a generous vegetable garden along the south side and a rope walk to the north. Two tilled fields behind grew Andy’s crop of ropeweed. Andy and Primrose had lived there all their married life. In later years a small addition to the north side had been built to accommodate Hamson and Halfred.
Primrose hurried from the garden to greet her youngest nephew with an affectionate hug that he returned somewhat shyly. “My but you’ve got yourself here quick” she said warmly, “Your uncle will be that pleased. He’s down at the river now with the lads.” Sam introduced Frodo and explained that Frodo had come out of his way to drop him off and would be carrying on to Buckland to visit with his family.
“Well, you’ll not be going on today, will you, sir!” exclaimed Primrose “you must stop here with us for the night and have a proper visit.” Frodo gratefully accepted the invitation, and then waited for Sam to propose a walk down to the river to see his uncle. But Sam seemed determined to stay at the house with his aunt. He kept himself busy first by engaging her in a minute examination of the garden and then by helping to choose and gather the vegetables for dinner.
So the late afternoon found Sam in the kitchen preparing dinner with Primrose. Frodo sat at the kitchen table, as the room did service as the dining room as well, listening to a repetition of all the Hobbiton gossip Sam had divulged on their trip and examining his surrounding with interest. Primrose had done her best to defeat the influence of the male majority of the household, in the kitchen at least. Bright paint of green and yellow dominated, pots of flowering plants stood on a shelf beneath the round window sill and the mantle, and sprays of dried ones adorned the walls. It was a very cheerful room, most especially in the morning, when the window overlooking Primrose’s garden caught the first rays of the rising sun each day.
Close to dinner time the rest of the Gamgee family returned, coming eagerly into the kitchen to identify the owners of the packs sitting by the front door. Andy welcomed Frodo and repeated his wife’s invitation to stay the night, or as many nights as he pleased. He introduced his son, Anson, whom Frodo had never met. Then Andy turned to Sam and greeted him with a hug no less affectionate than his wife’s had been. “Thank you for coming, Sam, my lad. There’s a week’s work still of making the ropes and tying them. Then you’ll have to do your bit of high work. But I hope that don’t bother you as much as it used to.” He looked at him a bit anxiously, but Sam turned to his brother and cousin without replying.
The topic was not given up, though. “Hullo Sam,” said Hamson, giving him a good-natured slap on the back “well, whether or no you still don’t like heights, there’s a bit of that work for you, and you’re the only one as can do it. We’ve all grown too big and heavy, and there’s no lad in Tighfield that can tie a better knot than you. Remember what dad always likes to say `those that has to, does.'”
Sam responded with a tight smile and went to shake hands with Anson but was pulled into great hug from him as well “Glad to see you, cousin, thanks for coming to help”.
It was a cheerful and protracted meal, quite unlike the dinners Frodo was used to at Bag End, and differing as well from those of Brandy Hall, where the adults, at least, tried to keep the goings-on below a roar. Whether this was a normal family gathering, or especially loud in honor of his and Sam’s arrival Frodo did not know, but he was glad to be shown to the quiet of his room as early in the evening as politeness would allow. Immediately after dinner Primrose had spent a good half hour bustling about with her son and nephew reworking the sleeping arrangements so that Frodo would have a private bedroom.
* * *
He woke quite early the next morning but was surprised to find only Primrose remaining in the cottage. “They’ve all been gone this past half-hour, at least, Mr. Frodo, down to the river. Now come have a bit of breakfast if you please”, and she set before him an ample plate of sausages, bacon and fried tomatoes, supplemented with toast and a bowl of porridge. She sat down rather shyly at the table with him and had a second mug of tea and some toast. “I think our Sam’s finally starting to grow, isn’t he?” she said with a smile, “but then the Gamgee lads always are a bit late in growing; they make up for it in the end, though. Oh and he was that pleased you came with him. He was a little bit quiet this morning, for Sam, but when he talked it was all about his walk here with you, he enjoyed it that much. Real kindness I call that, Mr. Frodo, going out of your way and bringing him safe across the Shire to us. “
Frodo smiled, “I enjoyed Sam’s company, too. Its good to have a companion on a long walk, and I daresay he looked after me as much as I looked after him, what with all the cooking and washing up he did.”
* * *
After his substantial breakfast Frodo took his leave of Primrose, but only after she had secured a promise from him to spend at least another night with the family on his return trip. Her directions took him to the path that led across the rocky common fields a mile or so down to the river.
Near the river the meadows sloped gently down to the riverbank, which was cut deeply by the river at the proposed location for the bridge. At the that spot the winter floods had never in living memory raised the river above the high banks and Andy could be quite confident that the bridge’s brace works would be safe from floodwaters. Elm trees stood here and there on the sloping field and the Gamgees were seated under two of them set close together, working their ropes and tying the bridge frame; that was stretched some forty feet or more along the bank’s edge, and was in the early stages of being constructed.
Andy stood with Frodo and discussed the construction of the bridge. The plan was to raise the frame in one piece. It consisted of a single rope for the feet and two “hand ropes” for either side, both tied to the foot rope with a succession of short ropes, which had to be kept to a minimum at this stage. The frame had to be sparingly made to keep its weight down, or the four of them would not be able to raise it and secure it with enough tension. Once it was securely lashed to the wooden braces that had already been set in place on the two banks Sam’s job would come – to venture out across the bridge, checking the knots and setting at least one more foot rope and adding and adjusting short ropes. Only then would the bridge be safe for the heavier hobbits to venture out on. They had another week of making the ropes and constructing the frame, and then if things went well Sam would be done in two days, then a week or so would be needed to finish the bridge for use by ordinary hobbits, who would not attempt such a height without the security of a substantial structure.
Frodo eyed the span across the river. The banks were high at this spot, and the river was at its summertime low, though still deep and running fast. The bridge would be some twenty feet above the level of the water at its highest point. More than enough to test the nerve of anyone with a fear of heights or water, he thought grimly as he went over to say goodbye to Sam. This was not the pleasant trip for lad he had assumed it to be.
“I’ll see you in about two weeks, Sam,” he said “take care of yourself”. Sam got up and stood next to Frodo to look moodily out over the river, “I’ll try,” he said quietly.