The weather conspired against them the next day, for it rained in the morning. Ham Gamgee went off to Budgeford anyway, but since Mistress Bell could not do laundry (she did the laundry for the Bagginses as well), she sent both Marigold and Sam up to Bag End to play.
Bilbo had started Sam on his letters, and now Frodo had taken up the task. Merry was a voracious reader, there being at Brandy Hall, a spectacular library. Merry could see straight away that Sam didn’t read as well as he did, and he pretended to stumble over a few words, so the older boy wouldn’t feel bad. Marigold wasn’t the least bit interested in reading, and drew pictures of flowers and bugs and farm animals with some colored pencils.
Then Frodo tried to teach them their numbers. Sam frankly couldn’t see the point of knowing much more than counting. His father didn’t have his numbers – why should he?
“Don’t you want to know how much to charge for a job of work?” Frodo asked. `If you don’t know how much your supplies cost you, and what your time is worth, how do you know what to charge a customer so that you make a little money? It costs money to feed the pony. Even if you grow hay and oats for the pony, there is a value to your time in growing the hay and oats.”
“I never thought of it that way, Mr. Frodo.”
“That’s why Bilbo does your father’s accounts for him. So that Master Ham gets value for his service.”
Merry was amazed. He thought money was something that lived in chests in a closet. “How do you know all this, Fro?”
“Brandybucks are very good money managers,” Frodo said. “Saradoc used to make me keep his books for him. Where do you think Brandybuck money comes from?”
“The mail carrier?”
Frodo laughed. “No, I’m afraid money doesn’t come in the mail, even for Brandybucks. You have tenant farmers who lease land from you. And you have your own goods you raise and sell. If you don’t have some numbers, you won’t know what to charge for your goods, or how much to pay for something.”
“Is that what my Dad does?”
“The Master of Buckland doesn’t just sit around and drink and smoke all day,” Frodo said. “He’s got a large household he’s responsible for.”
“My granddad sits around and drinks and smokes,” said Merry.
“Yes, but your father doesn’t. He works.”
“My dad works,” Sam reminded them all.
`Oh,” said Merry. This was sounding interesting. “So if you buy something and sell if for less than you bought it, you lose money.”
“Yes. Or if you borrow money from someone and they charge you interest, you have to pay back more than you borrowed. That’s what the Sackville Bagginses do down in the South Farthing – they lend money to poorer people and charge them outrageously for the use of the money.” The Sackville-Bagginses were universally despised, but they had to be tolerated, because they were kin.
It was during this session that Frodo managed to wheedle out of Sam what had caused the fight between him and Ted. Sam was a poor liar and finally admitted it. This was out of Merry’s hearing, for he was busy helping Marigold draw pictures. Frodo tried not to be amused by young Sam defending the Baggins’ honor, but he couldn’t help marching him to Bilbo to say what had happened. Bilbo didn’t help things by shaking Sam’s hand and laughing. But then he sobered and suggested that Sam should pick his battles carefully, just in case.
Then Frodo and the children played a numbers game for a while – each boy was given an imaginary job and had to price the job based on what it would cost him in supplies, hired help and time. When it was explained to him that way, Sam caught on quickly and was Merry’s superior in that regard. Marigold decided she would play as well and placed a price on her drawings. She was paid handsomely by Bilbo by way of a poppy seed cake and a copper penny.
The rain persisted throughout the morning. Growing a little weary of book learning, the children decided they would play. The boys wanted to be great elven warriors slaying goblins, like out of Bilbo’s stories. They repaired to the wine cellar, which was perfect place for goblins to hide, with its many barrels and racks. Marigold, being a girl, was relegated to the role of goblin, but she soon wearied of being slain and started to cry. Frodo interfered and said sternly. “You will all take turns being the goblin. Everyone will be a goblin for ten minutes each and there will be no more crying.” That worked for a while, then the children decided they would all be goblins and Frodo was the elf warrior. Being sadly outnumbered, he was born down by a trio of goblins who threatened to tickle the daylights out of him. By then it was lunch.
The weather cleared. After lunch, Sam said he had to go do some chores around his own house, and Merry went with him. They weeded the gardens under Master Hamfast’s care, mucked out the pony’s stable, cleaned the harness, and painted over some new plastering at #3 Bagshot Row (hobbit holes need constant maintenance to keep out the ground water). Even Dash busied himself hunting and killing mice in the hay barn.. By the time evening came around, Merry Brandybuck was head to little furry feet filth, paint, sawdust, sweat and was quite aromatic from having mucked out the pony’s paddock and the sheep pens as well. But he had two coppers from Hamfast Gamgee for his efforts, as did Sam, for Ham was a fair minded employer and he paid honest wages for honest work.
Frodo filled a bathtub (many trips from kitchen to bath with a copper kettle) and dumped Merry into the tub. Finally, after much soap and scrubbing, a clean child emerged from the filth.
Bilbo presided at his dinner table with his heir and his guest and even poured Merry a glass of very diluted wine (hobbit children might take a little wine now and again on special occasions, much like their tea – very watered down). Merry could hardly taste the wine, but it made him feel very grown up because he had a wine glass in his hand and his opinion was being asked about on this or that subject. Afterwards, they walked down to the Ivy Bush. It wasn’t that Bilbo preferred the ale at the Bush, since he had the finest cellars in Hobbiton, but it was the society he was after. A good mix of Hobbiton folk gathered at the Ivy Bush, the working families and the gentry as well. Merry was quite comfortable at taverns, since there were a good few out his way and hobbits very often brought their children to the local inns. He did notice that some people eyed him suspiciously when they found out he was a Brandybuck.
“Why do they look at me funny, Frodo?” he wondered.
“Hobbiton folk tend to be a little narrow minded,” said Frodo. “They’re good people, all in all, but Buckland is a fair distance away and there are many folk who don’t go that far east.”
He noticed a sullen, red-headed boy sitting with an equally sullen red-headed hobbit. The boy had a sullen looking mongrel dog at his feet. The hobbit raised his glass to Bilbo, but in a sneering fashion.
“Who is that?” Merry wondered.
“Sandyman the Miller,” said Frodo. “And that’s Ted.”
Ted. The boy Sam routinely pounded. He looked like he needed pounding too. Ted had caught sight of Merry and as Merry wormed his way through the crowd to go stand by Ham (who was holding court by the fireplace – he was a much respected authority on many subjects), Ted snaked out a hand and caught Merry’s wrist.
“We’ll have no Buckland scum up here, you little snot,” he said under his breath. Ted was used to being feared by all, except Sam, and Merry looked like a likely victim.
“You’re a very brave chap to threaten me in public,” Merry replied in an even tone. ” I should think a great big boy like yourself would have more courage and talk to me in private. Or are you afraid a Brandybuck can’t take on the likes of you?”
Ted was rocked back on his heels. Most of the Hobbiton children were afraid of him, but he’d never met a Brandybuck before. His grip tightened.
“We’ll see about you,” he said. Merry took hold of Ted’s thumb, twisted it just ever so slightly and bent it back – it was a trick one of his relations had shown him when Merry complained of his cousin Berilac’s bullying.
The pain was excruciating. Ted resisted crying out, but he let go of Merry.
No one saw the exchange. Despite his bold words, Merry was terrified. Ted looked like a boy who could harbor a grudge for a long time.
The next day was fine and it looked like the weather would hold. Sam came by early to collect Merry, for most of the Gamgees were on their way down to the Cotton farm on the South Lane. Mistress Cotton would be putting up preserves and all the children would go down to pick berries, while Mistress Bell and the two older girls would help the farmer’s wife cook up the berries and dish them into jars.
The Cottons had a boy Sam’s age, whose name was Tom. There was a pair of twins, Rosie and Jolly, and two younger ones as well. Each child had a pail, and while many berries were eaten and smeared on many round little faces, there was quite a lot for the women to do in the kitchen. After that, Ham and Farmer Cotton moved some cows from one pasture to another, with the help of Farmer Cotton’s good sheep dogs (even Dash liked this work) and the three boys, Tom, Sam and Merry. Merry liked this idea of work. He liked purpose and the companionship of amiable folk and he thought he might approach his father when he got home to see if he couldn’t have some little jobs to do here and there.
It was while Sam and Merry were walking up the lane towards a little oak grove to look for mushrooms that Ted Sandyman struck. He had spied on them all morning, resenting the happy children laughing and throwing berries at each other. Ted was never invited on these outings, why should some interfering Brandybuck be allowed to partake of the fun? Ted and two of his cronies stepped out of the bushes when Sam and Merry were quite alone. Ted had his dog with him.
“I told you we’ll have no Brandybucks up this way,” Ted said. Sam’s hands curled into fists.
“Three to two,” he said. “Are you afraid of me, Ted? Is that why you brought them two?”
“That eye hasn’t healed, Sam.”
“We’ll see who doesn’t heal.”
Sam was very concerned. He could probably take Ted again, and maybe one of the other boys. But Merry was only 8 and these boys were quite large.
It was the dog that settled it. Ted touched the beast’s head and pointed at Dash. Before anyone could interfere, the mongrel hurled himself at the puppy. To Merry’s horror, the beast seized his beloved Dash in his jaws. Dash emitted a bone chilling shriek.
Sam knew how to break up a dog fight – he seized the cur by its hindlegs and swung it off the ground. It released Dash, who rolled away and lay still. Sam dropped the mongrel which ran to hide behind Ted.
Merry was crying and holding his puppy. Sam turned to face his enemy.
“What good did that do, settin’ the beast on a puppy?” he said and he too went to Dash As soon as he bent down to inspect the dog’s wounds, Merry was on his feet. His face black with fur and streaked with tears, he glowered at Ted Sandyman.
“You’re very brave in a crowded tavern and when you set your dog on people. Let’s see how brave you really are.” At least that’s what he was trying to say between sobs.
Ted was beside himself with joy. This would be an easy victory.