In the spring of 1389 by the Shire Reckoning Bilbo Baggins wrote to his young nephew (or, more accurately, his first cousin both once and twice removed) Frodo Baggins of Buckland proposing to adopt him and make him his heir. They had discussed the matter before, of course, but Bilbo felt that the formality of a letter was needed to do the job properly. Out of courtesy, he also wrote for permission to old Rory Brandybuck, head of Brandy Hall where Frodo lived, and Frodo’s nominal guardian. But Bilbo had resolved from the start that he would abide only Frodo’s wishes in the matter and that Rory had best echo them or risk a public test of his will against Bilbo’s. Rory had taken only the most casual interest in Frodo’s welfare since the lad had been stranded with his Buckland relatives in the Hall almost 9 years earlier (after his parents drowned in the Brandywine River) and so it surprised no-one that Rory’s letter of consent reached Bilbo even before Frodo’s.
Now Bilbo stood in the entrance of Brandy Hall watching Frodo say farewell to all his cousins, aunts and uncles. At 20 Frodo was a great favorite among his little cousins and they had gathered around him for a final farewell swing above his head. The first into the air was little Meriadoc Brandybuck, 7 years old, and a terror of the Hall. “Don’t go Frodo” he cried as he was set none too gently on his feet. “Mum says you ought to stay here with us Brandybucks where you really belong, and not go traipsing across the Shire to Hobbiton to live with queer old Bilbo.” Frodo laughed and said before he swung the next child into the air “but I am a Baggins, Merry, and Hobbiton was once my home”. His arms ached by the time he got to the final swing and he was dizzy from bending, lifting, turning and swooping each child. Only as he placed the last little hobbit boy on floor did he realize it was Merry back for a second turn. He ruffled Merry’s hair “stay away from Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms” he told him and swinging his pack onto his back gave a last shout of farewell and was gone.
The journey across the Shire to Bag End took several days on foot, but both hobbits were fond of walking and despite the difference in their ages were amiable and comfortable companions. Spring had come to the Shire early that year and Frodo and Bilbo halted frequently to enjoy the snow drops and crocuses dotting the grassy fields and breathe in the fragrance of the cherry, peach and plum blossoms. They arrived at Bag End late on the evening of the third day and after a hasty supper and quick wash up were soon in bed. Frodo was given a splendid room just off the main hall, with a view of Hobbiton out of a round front window.
* * *
He awoke late on his first morning at Bag End to the sound of Bilbo talking in the dining room. The high piping voice of a hobbit-child answered. Bilbo seemed to be recounting one of his adventures with the dwarves, of many years ago. Occasionally he would stop and repeat a word. There would be a pause until the hobbit child would either politely ask Mr. Bilbo to go on or respond querulously. Bilbo could then be heard slowly spelling a word. It came to Frodo that Bilbo was giving the child a lesson.
Frodo got up, dressed and went into the dining room where he found a little hobbit boy of not more than eight or nine years seated next to Bilbo at the table. His curly close-cropped brown hair shone in the light through the window and his round, brown eyes widened at the sight of Frodo. He quickly put down the seed cake he had been eating, ducked his head and put his hands in his lap
“Good morning Frodo my lad”, said Bilbo, “you have caught Sam and me at our morning studies. He is learning to spell and having a difficult time with “elves”, though it is one of his favorite words. Samwise Gamgee this is my nephew, Frodo Baggins.”
“At your service Mr. Frodo” said Sam as boldly as he could. His voice was higher than ever and his eyes met Frodo’s then glanced away. There was an air of wistfulness about him. “Pleased to meet you Sam”, said Frodo, smiling. The child looked familiar. Frodo sat down across the table and studied the young visitor while Sam hesitantly picked up his quill and began copying out. His ears and cheeks flushed red under Frodo’s scrutiny. Sam’s brown face and rough brown hands belied many hours labour in the spring sun, and his patched but clean clothes many hours of use and mending. While some of the patches were neatly and expertly done the newer ones were less evenly stitched. The hems of Sam’s overlong pants brushed his ankles as he swung his legs beneath his chair. Evidently Sam was not the first owner of these pants.
Frodo was reminded of Bilbo’s birthday party of the past September. It seemed he had given every hobbit child between the ages of four and twelve years a piggy back ride around the party field that day, and he now remembered this young boy particularly as a boisterous and good natured lad who had had too much to eat and drink before his ride, and on Frodo’s final jog down the sloping field with him almost lost all he had taken in. They had sat together on the field for a few minutes while Sam’s stomach had settled and then Sam had politely thanked him and run off into his mother’s arms.
“Sam has been coming regularly for a lesson and a bit of second breakfast since Yuletime, haven’t you lad,” said Bilbo.
“Yes, Mr. Bilbo, and my gaffer says now as its spring I can come still so long as I’m out in the garden with him by 10 o’clock, and so long as I minds me manners and all.”
“So you have told me before, and you always have minded your manners – too much for my liking. But then your spirits have not been what they were, have they?” replied Bilbo gently.
“No, Mr. Bilbo” whispered Sam. He fingered the buttons on his rough tunic and ran the back of his arm across his eyes.
Bilbo sighed, “Sam’s mother died late last fall,” he said, “and so he’s come to see me this past winter, whenever he’s felt lonely on those cold wet days when his dad’s been busy far afield and he can’t go with him.” He squeezed Sam’s shoulder gently and ruffled his hair.
“Ah Sam,” said Frodo, shifting his chair around the table till he was next to the small boy. “I know how you feel, I lost my mum and dad both when I was twelve. It’ll get better, and you have your gaffer still, and maybe a brother or sister or two?”
“Two brothers and three sisters and I’m the youngest next to Marigold. My brothers works with Uncle Andy, as makes ropes at Tighfield. My sisters spend most days at the Cottons, but I likes to help me dad in Mr. Bilbo’s garden most days. Sometimes I go to the Cottons for a spell if me dad’s away and all. Or Mr. Bilbo will keep me, like he said, if I promises to study.” He gave Bilbo a fleeting smile and picked up the quill he had laid down during his short speech.
Bilbo chuckled to himself. He told Frodo he had once admonished Sam for not concentrating on his letters, because the child had insisted that it would be much easier if Mr. Bilbo simply told him his tales of his adventures rather than made him learn to read them himself. His and Sam’s compromise had been the story punctuated by spelling words Frodo had heard from his bedroom. If Sam studied very hard Bilbo would reward him by teaching him a poem or a song.
There was a loud knock on the front door and Sam scrambled from his seat to open it. Hamfast Gamgee stood on the threshold, his hands already caked with dirt and his brow sweaty from several hours work in his own garden. “Come along Sam” he said by way of greeting to his son “out to the garden with you or you’ll soon be made too fine for an honest day’s work with all this learning out o’ books.
“Not much chance of that”, replied Bilbo, as the Gaffer stepped into the dining room. “You could no sooner keep Sam out of a garden than you could keep yourself out of the Ivy Bush, Master Hamfast” he said pointedly. “Come and say hello to my nephew Frodo, he arrived late last night. You have met him more than once, before, I daresay”. The Gaffer bowed to Frodo, “at your service, Mr. Frodo”.
Sam quickly slipped his paper and pen into a leather folder, tucked it away into its cubby-hole in Bilbo’s desk and then carried his empty tea mug and plate into the kitchen. He trotted on his sturdy brown legs to his father’s side and took his hand. “Good-bye Mr. Bilbo, Mr. Frodo!” he hesitated, “should I … should I come for tea today, Mr. Bilbo?” He glanced at Frodo.
“Of course you shall, and have a good visit with Frodo here. He has many young cousins at Brandy Hall and I’m sure he misses them already. You shall help him to not feel so homesick”. Sam ducked his head, red about the ears again and tugging on the Gaffer’s hand, pulled him out of Bag End.
Frodo spent the morning indoors with Bilbo and that afternoon went on a foray into the neighborhood. He could see Sam and his gaffer at the far end of back garden of Bag End, planting potatoes in the well-tilled soil. Sam seemed engrossed in the task patting the earth lovingly onto a row of potatoes and rocking back on his heels to observe the results with a smile. He looked up and watched a flock of birds fly overhead. The Gaffer, turning from his own row and catching Sam idle spoke sharply to him and gestured angrily to the end of the garden row where a sack had been left. Sam hurriedly fetched it for his father and was rewarded with more angry words.
For the rest of the afternoon Frodo strolled about the environs of Hobbiton and Bywater, greeting everyone he met and stopping to talk with those he knew. Seeking out faintly remembered paths and fields he contemplated the change in his fortunes Bilbo’s letter had brought. Though his Brandybuck relatives had all been fond of him he had never felt under the wing of any particular aunt or uncle and had often felt under the foot of too many of them. When he accepted Bilbo’s offer his cousins of a similar age, looking forward to the even greater freedom the advent of their “tweens” would bring them, wondered at Frodo’s willingness to submit himself to the watchful eye – and sharp tongue – of his uncle. But Frodo was weary of feeling adrift in Brandy Hall. If his uncle intended to keep a watchful eye on him then he was sure Bilbo’s informed guidance would do him far more good than had been done by all the years of benevolent freedom bestowed by the Brandybucks. As well, he was looking forward to again being regarded as Frodo Baggins of Hobbiton and not a misnamed Brandybuck of Buckleberry.
* * *
Frodo returned to Bag End at 5 o’clock that afternoon and had only just begun helping Bilbo get tea ready in the kitchen when there was a loud knock at the door. He opened it and found the Gaffer standing there. “Afternoon, Mr. Frodo,” he said. “I’m just delivering my Sam for an hour or two while I gets a mug at the Ivy Bush” he turned and shouted “get yourself up here Sam, stop your lollygagging” to his son, who was carefully latching the gate. Nodding to Frodo he turned back down the walk and ruffled Sam’s hair as he went by. “You be good now Sam” he said in a voice which suggested he thought Sam would be anything but. “Yes sir, I’ll be ready when you comes to fetch me.” Sam stopped at the threshold and gazed silently up at Frodo, then ducked shyly by him and into the kitchen. There he set about removing as best he could the evidence of Bilbo’s garden from his hands and face with the wash basin of warm water Bilbo had poured for him.
“Well, Sam my lad” cried Bilbo when the child was done, “what news of my garden?” and with that Sam was off. “We put all the taters in today Mr. Bilbo, up at the end of the garden. That winter frost really has carried off them two rose bushes you was so fond of, but the Gaffer says he can get cuttings from our garden, if you wish”. Sam went on in this vein with hardly a pause for a breath for the next ten minutes while he helped to set the table. He didn’t wind himself down until tea was actually on the table. Then he began to eat with such enthusiasm Frodo felt he understood why Sam’s Gaffer was more than willing for his son to be given tea by Bilbo, rather than take it at home.
With Sam otherwise occupied Frodo had the chance to talk uninterrupted with Bilbo. He told him where he had wandered to that day, and reminisced about the changes in Hobbiton and Bywater that had been wrought in the nine years of his absence. He had, of course, been to Hobbiton many times since his parents’ deaths, but usually for parties or celebrations when he had come with many relatives, and been too caught up in the festivities to have time for quiet exploration. The occasions when he visited with Bilbo on his own had been spent primarily at Bag End, aside from brief forays when by choice he avoided those special paths and places of his childhood. But today he had sought them out.
Telling Bilbo of his wanderings Frodo found himself becoming unexpectedly melancholy. Though he had thought of his parents frequently since their deaths he had suppressed any memories, as best he could, of the larger life left behind in Hobbiton. Those memories had returned vividly that afternoon. His chest felt tight and he was aware of a catch in his voice as he told Bilbo how changed his parent’s old hobbit hole now was under the occupancy of a family of Proudfoots.
Sam put down his knife and fork and studied Frodo solemnly.
* * *
After they had washed up – Frodo noticed with amusement how well Sam knew the proper place of every piece of crockery and cutlery – Bilbo announced “well Sam, I expect your father will be along for you shortly as its beginning to get dark, so why don’t you mend the fire for me while you wait. I have some things I would like to show Frodo”. Sam set the fire to rights and climbed up on the sofa in the sitting room. Hugging his knees to his chest, he listened to the quiet murmurs of Frodo and Bilbo in the study and was soon asleep.
Bilbo got out his Red Book and showed Frodo how his stories were coming along. They spent some time reading and discussing the poems he had written since Frodo’s last visit. When Frodo went to put more wood on the fire he realized how late Hamfast was in fetching his son. Sam was snoring gently on the sofa, still clutching his knees to his chest, looking chilly in his thin shirt and tunic. Frodo covered him with his own cloak from the hook in the entrance hall.
Bilbo, coming up and putting his arm around Frodo’s shoulder said “you know it’s partly due to this little lad that I finally made up my mind to have you come and live with me. I’ve had my eye on you for a long time my boy, but I could never quite resolve to share Bag End with someone else after these many years of solitude. But young Samwise, my frequent visitor, showed me that Bag End is now too big and empty for just me, and I’m grateful to him for doing so. We shall have a splendid time together, Frodo!” They stood together, looking down at Sam as he slept peacefully, his face no longer puckered with concern and his brow smooth. Frodo guessed it was not solely for his own comfort that Bilbo encouraged Sam’s visits.
Bilbo turned with sudden annoyance toward the now dark window “where is that Hamfast! It’s gone 8 o’clock and he’ll have Sam up an hour before dawn tomorrow. The boy’s not had his supper yet!”
Sam woke at the sound of his name and looked at the darkened window. “Me Gaffer’s not coming, is he?” he said softly, hugging his legs even tighter and for a moment resting his brow on his knees.
“No, Sam” sighed Bilbo “I suppose you had best get yourself home though, no doubt he went straight home to your sisters and is waiting for you there.”
“Me sisters are stopping at the Cottons for a few days, dad maybe forgotI didn’t go, too, after his mugs at the Ivy Bush, and all.”
“Come on, Sam” said Frodo “I’ll walk you home”. Sam said nothing, but looked at Bilbo apprehensively.
“The Gaffer has made it very clear that Sam is to walk home on his own if he chooses to stay late at Bag End” explained Bilbo, looking away.
Sam climbed down from the sofa. He handed Frodo’s cloak to him and fetching his own from the solitary low hook by the door and fastened the tie with fumbling fingers. “G’night then, Mr. Bilbo, Mr. Frodo” he whispered, and opened the door. The night breeze ruffled his thick brown hair and blew open his cloak; he seemed to tremble from the cold.
“Wait a minute, Sam” said Frodo “the Gaffer can’t complain if I’ve a mind for an evening stroll and happen to be going your way, can he?” A smile briefly brightened Sam’s face. He waited while Frodo fastened his cloak and then ran ahead to open the gate for him. While Sam latched the gate Frodo walked on slowly and, feeling Sam bump gently against him as he caught up, reached down and took Sam’s small, rough hand into his own.
* * *
When they reached Bagshot Row the path widened to allow room for a bench set against the hill and overlooking Hobbiton. Sam darted forward to sit near one end, leaving room for Frodo. With some hesitation Frodo joined him. This small, sad child was nothing like his merry, wild Brandybuck cousins and he wasn’t sure he wanted his own spirits tested too much tonight. “Won’t your dad be worried about you, Sam?”
“Like as not he’s fallen asleep by the fire and won’t wake up ‘til I get home, so its no matter when I does.” He paused, and added in a soft voice “my mum used to wake him up if he fell asleep after supper, but now I do”. They sat quietly for a few minutes; Sam shivered in the night breeze and edged up against Frodo. Taking a deep breath, as if gathering his courage, he blurted “will I always miss me mum?”
“I would think so, Sam” said Frodo slowly, “because you loved her very much and she must have loved you with all her heart, parents do you know. But after a while it won’t hurt in your heart so much anymore, and after much longer you can be happy when you remember her and not always so sad”.
At odd times during the day Frodo had tried to recollect Sam of that sunny afternoon of Bilbo’s last birthday party. He could now clearly see Sam in his mind’s eye as he got up from the grass and ran off towards his mother. She hadn’t seen him at first, her attention being drawn by the festivities further away. Frodo had been struck by how thin and careworn she looked. But when she heard Sam’s merry shout and turned to greet him a new vigor had possessed her, and though Sam nearly bowled her over when he jumped into her arms she’d laughed gaily and then hugged him with a strange intensity.
“Why don’t you go with your sisters to the Cottons, Sam?” Frodo asked.
Sam took a deep breath and spoke haltingly. “When me mum died I was down at the Cottons, Mr. Frodo, sitting in the kitchen having my elevenses, they was looking after us and all, when me mum took so poorly, if you understand me. And then me gaffer came in to the kitchen, he’d just walked down from our house, and he was that upset and then I knew me mum was dead.” He paused to steady his voice, “but they’d never let me say my good-bye to her – they’d promised when they taken me to the Cottons that I could see her just one last time and then I didn’t. So I can’t never sit in that kitchen without it feeling as it just happened.” He swallowed hard and whispered “sometimes I do though, so’s I can visit with Mrs. Cotton, she’s that nice to me.” He sighed and looked high up at the stars as if to keep the tears from running down his cheeks.
Frodo put his arm around Sam’s shoulder and the boy shifted closer.
Sam rubbed his eyes on his sleeve. “And me gaffer needs me, doesn’t he, with me sisters and brothers gone all the time, to keep him company, and make his tea in the morning like me mum used to, and such. Sometimes when he’s right sad I’m in the way, so I goes up to Mr. Bilbo’s or out in my bit of garden that my dad’s given me for my own. But mostly he needs me with him. And now you’ve come to keep Mr. Bilbo company, so perhaps I’ll just keeps to me garden as need be.” He looked up at Frodo, his cheeks glistening in the moonlight.
Frodo drew Sam onto his lap and rested his cheek against the boy’s curly head. “Oh Sam”, he said, “Bilbo will still be needing you, and so will I, I think. At Brandy Hall I had at least a dozen little cousins about your size, so you must come and spend time with me, and show me how you keep Bilbo’s garden”.
Sam heaved a great sigh and passed his sleeve over his eyes. “Mr. Bilbo says some day Bag End will be yours, and me gaffer says I’m to be a gardener like him when I grows up, so I s’pose one day I might keep your gardens at Bag End?”
“That you shall, Sam” Frodo laughed, giving him a little squeeze, “that, you shall.”
They sat quietly for a while longer. Someday, Frodo thought, he would tell Sam how he had seen him with his mother at the party field, and remind him how tight his mother had hugged him, but tonight it seemed Sam was burdened with too many worries for that bittersweet memory to be a gift. Instead he began to tell Sam stories of when he had been a little boy like him, about living in Hobbiton and about his parents. He remembered things he had not thought of in years and felt even more strongly how glad he was to be back.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell stories about my mum like that Mr. Frodo, not without crying” said Sam wistfully.
“It’s taken me a long time, Sam, to tell them out loud. I think you are the first I have ever told many of these things to. Mostly I kept them to myself, and I did cry, too, for many a long time” It was Frodo’s turn to rub his eyes.
“But your folks have been dead for near nine years, I heard Mr. Bilbo say so. How can I stand to feel like this for years and years?” Frodo felt him trembling.
“Oh Sam, you have a stout heart, I can feel it, and it will make you brave and strong when you need to be.” Why Frodo said this he did not know; he had known this small, forlorn hobbit child only a day, but somehow he felt it to be true.
“My dad don’t think so, Mr. Frodo. He tells me I cries too much. I try not to but I always has. Even before my mum took poorly, I did, when I hurt myself playing or the other kids teased me. But my mom never minded, she said it gave her an excuse to hug her littlest boy”. His halting voice dropped to a whisper, “but I doesn’t dare let my dad see me cry”.
Sam sobbed then, and Frodo wrapped his arms tighter around him, not knowing what else to say or do. After a time Sam’s tense body relaxed and his breathing eased. They studied the stars in silence. When the freshening breeze made Sam shiver with real cold Frodo realized that even his arms snug around the boy were not enough to keep him warm. It was very late. Frodo was weary.
“Come on, Sam” he said, “its time both of us got home”.
* * *
When they got to the end of the fence at Number Two Bagshot Row Sam gave Frodo’s hand a tug to make him stop. “Please, sir” he whispered “I can see my dad through the window, asleep in his chair and all. Let me go in alone so as he don’t know I didn’t come alone”.
“See you tomorrow, Sam” Frodo whispered, and watched the small boy walk on silent hobbit feet up the path to the door and ease himself inside. Through the window Frodo saw the Gaffer start awake as Sam walked up to him. Frodo caught the anger in his voice, but not the words. Sam took a quick step back, narrowly avoiding the cuff aimed at his head. The Gaffer eased himself down into his chair again and passed his hand wearily across his face. Tentatively Sam went up to his father and took his hand. The Gaffer pulled his son into his arms and held him tight.
Frodo sighed and turning to leave was surprised to find Bilbo standing in the shadows not far away. No doubt he had been gone far too long for his uncle’s liking. “Come along, Frodo my lad”, he said “it is indeed late, and time you as well were home.” Putting his arm around Frodo’s shoulders they fell in to step together.