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The Price of Growing Older
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
The Price of Growing Older

Author’s note: Such loyalty as that which Sam shows toward Frodo is bred not born. The depth of it speaks of a history between the two Hobbits that begs to be written. I’ve tried to do that here. As you read this, keep in mind that I hold to the view that Hobbit children are younger developmentally than their human counterparts at the same chronological age.


~~~

It was a glorious morning, with crisp air scented by the damp smell of newly turned earth. Spring had come to the Shire at last, after a long and lingering winter, and the touch of pale sunshine was a welcome respite from the recent string of gloomy days.

Frodo Baggins stood in the doorway of Bag End and stretched from the tips of his delicate fingers to the tops of his meticulously brushed toes. Breathing deeply, he smiled, gladdened by even the muted brightness. A pregnant silence greeted him at the door to the smial and he sipped the sweet and creamy warmth of his tea with a contented sigh. The Shire was already well into waking for the day and Frodo looked forward to watching it come to life with the comings and goings of the industrious inhabitants of the row.

Stepping from the open doorway, he glanced about, suddenly realizing that no Gamgees puttered about the garden yet this morning. Frodo found that fact quite peculiar. It was hard to imagine the Gaffer not taking full advantage of such a perfect day to get an early start on the many tasks that spring envisioned.

For a moment Frodo knit his brow in worry, imagining all sorts of possible ills. But then he had to laugh at his own foolishness, remembering that Master Hamfast was on his way to the Bracegirdle farm near Tuckborough today, to purchase some special hot house seedlings for the spring garden planting. And likely his son Samwise had gone with him.

Indeed, he thought with a small smile, it will be quiet today without my little shadow around.

Sam had taken to Frodo like gravy to potatoes – a description old Mistress Proudfoot had coined, and one that Frodo found wonderfully endearing. Sam had been his dearest and most loyal companion, aside from his cousin Bilbo, since Frodo had come to the Westfarthing just a few short months ago. Sam followed the older lad about, always filled with observations and questions, a trait the Gaffer found terribly bothersome. Many were the times the elder Gamgee would give his tenacious son a cuff and set him back to task with a stern warning.

You leave Mister Frodo be and tend to yer own chores. He’s better things to do than deal with yer babbling.

Frodo adored the child and often regretted the heavy hand with which the lad’s father meted out reminders to ‘mind his place.’ Sam already knew his place apparently, and that place was at his Mister Frodo’s side…a fact that in no way bothered the younger master of Bag End. In fact, there were times the bucolic quiet of Hobbiton would have driven him mad with boredom if it hadn’t been for his small friend’s infectious sense of wonder.

Well, he’ll have a grand day with his gaffer, Frodo mused, imagining Sam’s bright eyes sparkling with delight.

Sam had been talking for weeks about going and it would be a special trip for him, a day long adventure for father and son to share. Frodo couldn’t help but smile at the thought of all the excited tales his little friend would have to relay when he returned.

Perhaps I’ll write the adventure down for the lad, Frodo mused. It’d be a special story book all his own.

The young hobbit nodded to himself, and turned to go back inside. Filled with a lazy contentment, he planned on collecting his second breakfast and a book to enjoy, along with the splendid morning, out on the garden bench. As his hand touched the door handle, he hesitated, discerning a strange sound in the quiet of the yard. Cocking his head, he listened – trying to filter out the normal sounds of a Shire mid-morning.

Yes, there it was again, a hiccup perhaps or a catching of breath. Frodo was not alone.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

Silence answered and Frodo frowned. He listened again, setting his mug on the door side bench as he stepped away from the opening. He hesitated a few feet from the smial entrance, but could hear nothing but the chatter of birds and the clatter of a wagon far off down the row.

Just as he was ready to admit his ears were playing tricks on him, Frodo heard it again – a hitching breath this time followed by a coughing sniffle. He could now tell that the sound was coming from the nearby garden shed, and it wasn’t hard for Frodo to guess what, or more likely who might be the source.

Sam, Frodo thought with a sigh, shaking his dark-curled head.

For a moment, Frodo was torn between concern for his young friend and a respect for the lad’s privacy. He knew Sam came to the shed sometimes to hide and think over problems. He’d told Frodo this not long after they’d met. In the end, though, his concern over what obviously sounded like crying won out. He eased quietly to the door, which stood just slightly ajar, and listened. The sounds were definitely coming from inside.

“Sam? Is that you in there?”

There was a hasty sniff and the scuffle of feet on the earthen floor. “Go ‘way.”

Uh oh…that doesn’t sound promising at all Frodo thought, contemplating what could make the usually respectful Sam respond in such a brusque manner. He wondered for a moment if the Gaffer had left Sam behind this morning, rather than take him along, and the lad had retreated in disappointment to one of his usual hideaways.

“Come on, Sam. It’s me…”

“P…please Mister Frodo, just g…go ‘way.” Sam’s voice was soft and broken by tears.

Frodo knew he should leave Sam alone, but found himself compelled to disregard the lad’s sobbed request. Gripping the ironwork handle, he eased the door open.

Sunlight dusted the small shed with muted light, illuminating the huddled figure that was folded into a small space between the wheelbarrow and the wall. Sam quickly covered his face with grubby fingers, but not before Frodo saw that blood mingled with the tears. He crouched down to better look at the child and worry creased his brow. Dirt streaked the lad’s rounded cheeks and though he couldn’t be sure, Frodo thought he could make out the beginnings of a bruise underneath the layer of grime.

“Sam?” He reached out to caress sandy curls, a soothing tenderness reflected in his touch and his voice. “What happened? Who’s hurt you?”

A sobbing breath answered him and the sound touched at Frodo’s heart. The lad cried easily – Frodo knew that to be true – but usually over wounds of the heart not wounds of the body. He’d seen Sam sit stoic and unflinching while his gaffer removed a barbed fishing hook from his palm, yet cry for days after accidentally destroying a nest full of baby rabbits with his hoe.

“Look at me Samwise,” he ordered, when the child showed no signs of answering.

Reluctantly the youngster complied, responding to the tone in Frodo’s voice more than the words. Sam’s bottom lip trembled as he stared up at the dark-haired hobbit, his warm brown eyes filled with tears.

With the little face tilted up, Frodo could see that Sam’s nose was bloodied, and although what he’d taken to be a bruise on the cheek turned out to be smeared dirt, a darkness under the lad’s eyes hinted at two likely shiners. He was splotched with mud and wet in a few noticeable places, and there were signs of some scrapes and scratches, but a quick assessment showed that overall he was none too worse for wear. Frodo found himself breathing a sigh of relief. Obviously the boy had been in some sort of a tussle, but it appeared that no lasting damage had been done.

“Come on now. Why don’t you come out here so I can take a look at you?”

Sam shook his head, retreating further back into the shadows, and Frodo frowned again. Such odd behavior was quite unlike the boisterous lad he was used to and it made Frodo even more determined to find out what had happened.

“I’ve some tarts left from yesterday’s tea…” he coaxed, taking the boy’s wrist in a firm hand and giving him a gentle tug. “Come in to the kitchen and share them with me. Maybe then we can talk.”

“No…no….no…” Sam protested, digging in his heels and trying to pull his hand free. “Please...Mister Frodo…”

There was fear in Sam’s voice and Frodo let him go. “What are you so frightened of Sam? Have I done something to scare you?”

“Nuh uh…”

“Who hurt you? Was it your gaffer….?”

“No!” Sam exclaimed in shock. “Ohhh no sir. N…never.”

Sam shook his head and wiped his nose on the cuff of his sleeve. Seeing the bloody stain, he fingered it nervously, staring at his dirty nails.

“Then what is it?” Exasperated, Frodo gripped the boy’s chin and forced him to look up. Blood bubbled at the lad’s nose and he sniffed trying to stop the new trickle from dripping on the front of his shirt.

“I’m runnin’ ‘way.”

Indeed, Frodo could now see a small pack tucked at Sam’s side and the telltale brown of his woolen winter coat and his bright yellow scarf wrapped into a tidy bundle. Frowning, Frodo gazed at the youngster and shook his dark-curled head.

“Whatever for, Sam?”

“Cuz I’m in real bad trouble…”

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?”

Sam answered with silence, hugging his knees, and he sniffled against the trickle of blood that still threatened to escape his nose.

“Sam?”

“I can’t say…”

Frodo sighed in exasperation as he rocked back on his heels then stood up and planted his hands firmly on his hips. He knew the young Gamgee had a stubborn streak, came by it naturally from his father, and he could see this conversation was going nowhere fast. He figured it was high time to use his authority as a master of Bag End to get to the bottom of the problem.

“Samwise Gamgee!” he admonished, giving Sam what he hoped was a stern look. “You come out here this instant and talk with me or I will pull you out and likely give you a switching besides. If you’re in trouble, hiding in Mister Bilbo’s tool shed isn’t going to help solve it. Now get out here!”

The threat didn’t sound very convincing to Frodo and for a moment he was afraid that the child was going to call his bluff.

Now Sam!”

Sam winced, ducking his head, and tried to settle back into his corner. Then his years of trained obedience took over and wiping tears on his sleeve, he grabbed his things and crawled slowly out of the cubby. He scrambled to his feet before the young master and stood there with eyes downcast, digging at the dirt with his bare toes. Sniffling, he clutched the bundled coat and pack to his chest and waited.

“There…that wasn’t so hard. Now wipe your nose, or you’ll get blood all over your shirt.”

Sam moved to draw his sleeve across his face and Frodo grabbed his arm. “Use your handkerchief, Sam, not your sleeve.”

“I din’t bring no han’kerchief…”

“No handkerchief? Well that won’t do at all. Here…” Frodo pulled out his own fine linen one, and pressed it into Sam’s reluctant hand when the lad made no move to take it. “Now lets get you inside and fixed up. Then you can tell me what trouble is so bad it’d make you take to the road without so much as a pocket handkerchief.” Frodo paused and eyed the child suspiciously. “You haven’t had any dwarves visiting you and the Gaffer lately have you?”

The hobbit lad hiccuped, and smiled in spite of his obvious unhappiness. Sam knew the story of Mister Bilbo and the dwarves, almost better than Frodo did, and the image of a bunch of them descending on Number 3 Bag Shot Row was an amusing one at best. He shook his head and Frodo laughed softly, giving him a one armed hug before taking the items from his hands. With a friendly pat on the shoulder, he guided the boy back towards Bag End.

Sam allowed Frodo to lead him toward the door of the smial. He clutched the borrowed handkerchief in his hand, not daring to touch it to his nose for fear of ruining such a fine thing. Still sniffling, he wiped at the blood with the heel of his other hand and succeeded in staining that shirt cuff as well. Hearing him still sniffling, Frodo paused at the doorway and glanced at his small charge.

“Samwise Gamgee!” he exclaimed. He slipped the handkerchief deftly from the lad’s loose grip. “It won’t do you much good if you don’t use it. Here…”

He placed the white linen over Sam’s nose, pinching gently.

“Owwww.”

“Now hold it there until the bleeding stops,” Frodo ordered.

“But id’ll get mest dup…” the lad protested.

“It’ll wash. Besides Mister Bilbo would be awfully angry if you went dripping blood all over his new hall carpet, now wouldn’t he?”

Sam nodded his head, eyes widening at the thought.

Expression softening, the older hobbit opened the door and guided Sam through. “C’mon…off to the kitchen with you. I’ve some tea water on to boil so we can wash you up a bit. And we’ll get some cold water to soak those cuffs in before they stain. Now scoot.”

Frodo herded the boy down the hall and into the kitchen. Once inside, he directed Sam to sit on the trestle bench beside the wooden table. Fixing him with a look that demanded obedience, he ordered: “Sit right there until I get back.”

Again the wide-eyed lad nodded and scooted onto the bench until his feet no longer touched the floor. Legs swinging, he held his nose and watched as Frodo wandered back out into the hall. Sam could hear the sound of Frodo muttering as he rummaged in the nearby linen cabinet. Items collected the young master of Bag End returned to the kitchen and set a towel, some washing cloths and a bar of soap onto the table.

“Hmmmm…looks like we may need some of Bilbo’s salve too,” Frodo mused, assessing the boy critically.

Sam watched as Frodo retrieved the ointment from the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. He knew that golden hued jar well, having survived many a cut and scrape due in part to the tender kindness of both the elder and younger Baggins, and the special jar of healing salve.

Made by the elves, Mister Bilbo would always tell him, daubing the mixture onto whatever wound he’d managed to obtain. Very magical. Will have you healed in no time at all.

Sam continued to watch as Frodo poured hot water from the kettle into the washing basin, then tempered it with cold water from the pump until he deemed it cool enough.

“There, all set.” Frodo turned to Sam smiling. “Now off with your shirt, so I can soak those cuffs.”

The lad struggled a moment, slipping one arm then the other out of his braces before trying to unbutton his shirt with one hand while still holding the handkerchief to his nose with the other. Awkward by nature, the act proved quite beyond the nine-year-old hobbit’s ability to manage and Frodo found himself laughing at the comical sight.

“My dear little Sam,” he murmured tenderly. “Here, let me help you.”

“Unh…a’right.”

The buttons fell to Frodo’s nimble fingers and he pulled the shirt loose from the waist of Sam’s pants and slid it off each arm in turn – noting scraped palms and mud stained elbows as he went.

“Seems you’ve had quite a tussle,” Frodo observed, taking the shirt and resting the sleeves in a second basin of cold water. “Were you fighting?”

“I tol’ you…cain’t say.” The lad’s breath hitched in his throat and his eyes filled with fresh tears.

“But I thought we could talk about anything? Isn’t that what friends are suppose to do?”

Looking away, Sam didn’t reply and Frodo shook his head at the profound stubbornness he was witnessing. “All right, have it your way. How about we see if that nose is done bleeding.”

The handkerchief was removed and when Frodo was assured that the bleeding had indeed stopped, he tossed the linen square into the cold water basin with the shirt.

With a sigh, he dipped a washing cloth into the warm water and lathered it with the soap. “Now let’s see what’s bruises and what’s dirt. Let me know if it hurts.”

Sam winced but didn’t complain as Frodo washed his face with careful strokes of the cloth. A quick exam found the nose to be tender but not broken, though Frodo figured the eyes would likely black up anyway. The face done, he cleansed the scrapes on both the hands and knees. They were scuffed pretty badly, but the elder hobbit had to admit he’d certainly seen them worse on the rough and tumble lad.

“So, you’re running away then?” Frodo asked casually, as he finished cleaning the wounds then applied a layer of the special ointment.

“Uh huh.”

“Must have been some terrible thing that you did, to make you come to that decision.”

Sam nodded, plucking nervously at a loose thread on his woolen undershirt. “Real bad.”

“Are you sure you can’t tell me?” Frodo’s words were soft and tender and he could see the lad waver in his conviction towards silence.

“It’s secret,” he whispered, brown eyes teary again.

“I won’t tell anyone?”

“Not even Mister Bilbo?”

“Not even Mister Bilbo.”

Blinking back tears, Sam hesitated a second, weighing his desire for secrecy against his desire to confide in his dearest friend.

“ Sam...”

“Well…’kay, if’n you promise…”

“I promise,” Frodo agreed.

“Y..you knowed me and my gaffer was ta leave for Tuckborough right early this morning , long a fore sun up even – ta go and pick out the seedlings an’ all,” Sam started, hanging his head to stare at his knees. “Got a good ways to Master Bracegirdle’s when da realizes he don’t have the seedlin’ money with him…he’d done gone an’ left it sittin’ on the table after we had breakfast.”

Frodo nodded, sitting beside the child on the bench.

“Ya know how da’s legs is not quite right after his fall this winter, and how ‘tis hard for him to walk all that far. Well, he weren’t lookin’ forward none to walkin’ all the way back to the Hill to git the money. But we cain’t buy no seedlings without it neither. So I tells da I’m old enough now and I figure I can go back by meself to git it for him. And I know the way.

“Da he says no at first, not believin’ I was old enough, but then he thinks ‘bout it and thinks maybe it’d be okay. ‘Go straight there ‘n’ back,’ he’d tells me. ‘No dawdling or playing. An’ be careful. ‘Tis important Samwise.’ An’ I run off straight away while da continues on to Tuckborough and I’m feeling pretty growed up and proud to help out me gaffer.”

Frodo could almost see where this story was leading but he stayed silent and let Sam continue.

“I got home well ‘nough, an’ found the coins right where da said they’d be, right there on the table. It were a lot a money too. More’n I’ve ever seen a fore bein’ that da was buying not just for hisself but for Mister Bilbo too, and Widdow Maypole and…and…well a whole bunch of others I think. I put the pouch in me pocket and run off back cause I knowed my da’d be waiting for me at Mister Bracegirdle’s…”

The lad fell silent, biting his bottom lip in obvious discomfort.

“Did you lose the money Sam?”

“Aye.” The affirmative was so soft, Frodo could barely hear it. “Or I reckon ‘cuz I were stupid, som’un took it from me.”

“Took it? Who?”

“I don’ know!” The answer was near a wail, and Sam buried his face in his hands and started to sob. “B…big lads. From Tuckborough I think. I…was resting a bit…just off the road. An’ I had to take one more peek at…at them pretty coins. I’d never seen so many all t’gether like that a fore. I was thinkin’ how it musta been like Mister Bilbo’s dr..dragon’s h…ho…”

“Horde?”

“Uh huh. An’ I was pretendin’ I was a burgler like Mister Bilbo an’ it were my treasure…an’ these big lads they seen me an’ they come up an’ they took it.”

“Oh, Sam.”

“I tried to get it back, but they kept pushin’ me and holdin’ the bag up high. I kicked one, an’…an’ he punched me an’ I fell.” Sam looked up at Frodo with helpless eyes. “A fore I could get up, they run off. I tried to follow, but they was too fast. One of ‘em threw a rock at me, an’ then they scattered off willy-nilly, all of ‘em in different directions, an’ pretty soon I didn’t know which one was the one what had the coins…an’…an’…” The lad gulped in a breath of air, then let it out in a shuddering sigh. “…I was ‘fraid of getting lost.”

“And you didn’t recognize the boys?”

Sam shook his head, wiping his nose on the back of his hand again. Frodo handed him the damp washing cloth and motioned he should wipe his face with it, which the lad did.

“Da’s gonna be so mad.”

Yes, Frodo thought, at some terrible lads who hurt his son…

“It’s not your fault, Sam,” Frodo assured, resting an arm across the lad’s shoulders and hugging him.

“But it is, Mister Frodo. If I’d a done what I were told, ‘twouldn’t’ve happened.” Sam hung his head again in shame and picked at the mud on his britches leg. “It were so much money, Mister Frodo. Taint no way my da kin pay it back. That’s why I’m runnin’ ‘way.”

“And how will your running away help…if I might ask?”

“I’m gonna get a job…in…in…” Sam paused, thinking, and when his child’s mind drew a blank, he shrugged, “…well, somewhere…then I kin pay them folks back…”

Frodo suppressed a sad smile and shook his head. “Won’t your gaffer worry about you?”

Sam shrugged again, staring at the floor. “Some, I ‘spect.”

“Oh, I’m thinking a lot more than just some,” Frodo explained. “I’m sure he’s worried sick about you already.”

“Nuh uh…he’s gonna be too mad t’ be worried.” Sam’s tone held the certainty of a small child’s conviction.

“So I can’t talk you out of your decision to go then?”

“Nuh uh.”

“That’s too bad,” he admitted.

Frodo stood up and pulled the lad’s shirt from the water where it was soaking. Rubbing some of the soap on the stains, he scrubbed out the blood with a few quick strokes of his slender hands. In his mind, a plan was already forming to delay the boy’s departure until he could figure out a way to make things right.

“I’m going to miss you, you know.”

“I’ll miss you too…” More tears and the lad covered his face with the washing cloth again.

Pity filled Frodo’s heart but he tried hard to keep it from showing on his face and in his voice.

“So, did you pack some provisions for your journey? Any food?”

“No…”

“Tsk…no food, no handkerchief…that won’t do at all.” Frodo frowned, settling the wet shirt over a chair by the fire to dry.

“How about a clean shirt? Did you bring one of those?”

“No…” Sam squeaked through renewed tears.

“Well, then I guess you’ll have to wait at least until this one is dry.” Frodo smiled at the lad and cupped his cheek in a gentle hand. “May as well have a bite of second breakfast too…just to be sure you’ve got your strength. Could be lots of walking to do before you find any work.”

“A’right,” Sam agreed. He was hungry and the plate of tarts that Frodo made suddenly appear from the sideboard was difficult to resist. Some sliced bread, soft cheese, fruit and hard-boiled eggs followed, along with other tempting tidbits from the pantry shelf.

Frodo encouraged the lad to fill a plate. Pouring him a mug of cold milk and another of weak tea, he settled with a plate of his own at Sam’s side. “There…you’d best eat up, wouldn’t want you leaving with an empty belly.”

The two of them ate, mostly in silence, and Frodo wrapped a few tarts and some eggs in a clean cloth for Sam to store in his pack.

“You’d best take these for the road,” he advised, “no telling when you’ll have the chance for another meal.” He touched the lad’s shirt to see if it was dry. “Hmmmm…. still a bit damp, I’m afraid. Wouldn’t want you to head out with it that way. The air’s still a bit chill and I just wouldn’t feel right if you caught a cold from going out with wet sleeves.”

“I don’ wanna be no bother…”

“No, of course you don’t,” Frodo agreed, nodding. “Say, why don’t you come in the study with me for awhile. I was going to read a little from one of Bilbo’s new books this morning. Why don’t I read to you for a bit, just until your shirt’s dry?”

“Um…a’right. If’n you don’ mind.”

“Not at all. Reading aloud is always so much nicer, especially with stories. Would you like another tart, just to fill up the corners while we’re reading?”

Sam nodded and took the sweet treat eagerly. Frodo knew he was already stuffed with second breakfast having – at his host’s insistence – finished off two generous plates, but he hoped the final tart would have the desired effect.

“Come on.”

Guiding the lad to the study, he nestled down with him on the settee and started to read. At first Sam was attentive, munching his treat and hanging eagerly on Frodo’s every word. But pretty soon his eyelids started to droop and he found himself trying to hide his yawns behind a small hand. Lulled by an overly full belly, the crackling of the fire and Frodo’s low melodious voice, Sam couldn’t stop himself from drifting off into exhausted sleep. Soon his tousled head lay heavily against Frodo’s shoulder and soft snores emanated from his battered little nose.

Poor lad, Frodo thought, settling the child in the crook of his arm against his side and pulling the couch quilt over them both. He gazed down at the innocent face now peaceful in slumber and smiled sadly. I’m sure the Gaffer’s frantic with worry by now. How could he not be?

Frodo knew, promise or no, he had to get to Hamfast Gamgee somehow and reunite father with son before the unfortunate situation escalated into a more serious problem. He stroked the lad’s curls absently with light fingers, and watched the play of flames in the hearth. The mantle clock ticked steadily in the quiet of the smial and the young master of Bag End frowned at his dilemma.

What to do…what to do? Frodo wondered, wracking his brain for a solution. He knew that he didn’t dare leave Sam, even now that he slept, for fear the stubborn little fellow would bolt should he awaken. But he didn’t know how long the Gaffer would wait before seeking the lad out. And if he were still at the Bracegirdle farm, it would be hours before he’d be able to walk the distance back to Bag Shot Row. By the time he returned Sam could be long gone.

“Frodo lad?”

A call from the hallway broke Frodo from his silent reverie and he smiled.

Cousin Bilbo…of course! He’d almost forgotten that the elder Baggins was still asleep, having spent the better part of that previous night immersed in a particularly intriguing translation.

He eased out from under the weight of Sam’s limp body, and lay him down on the couch, carefully tucking the quilt around the small child. Then with quiet steps, he slipped from the study, and carefully shut the door.

“Ah, there you are lad…” Bilbo began, rubbing sleep from his eyes and running fingers through his unruly mass of greying curls.

“Shhhhh…please Bilbo.” Frodo hissed, raising an index finger to his lips and motioning for him to be quiet. “Let’s step into the kitchen.”

Raising a quizzical eyebrow, Bilbo nodded and followed his heir in that direction.

“What’s this all about my boy?” he asked once they were safely inside. He glanced around the room noting dirty dishes in the dry sink, the general disarray of the room and a small shirt drying by the hearth. He cocked his head, curious. “Do we have guests?”

“Of a sort,” Frodo admitted. “It’s Samwise…he’s running away. Seems he had some trouble this morning…on the way to Tuckborough.”

Frodo quickly related the story to his cousin, who listened with beetled brows.

“Goodness me! Is he all right?” the elder Baggins questioned when the tale was complete.

Frodo nodded. “Not too worse for wear, but he’s terribly upset. He’s sure the Gaffer will be furious with him and thinks it’s better that he run away.”

“Nonsense!” Bilbo muttered. “For all his gruffness, Hamfast is a kind hobbit who loves that lad more than life itself. He wouldn’t blame the boy.”

“I know Bilbo, but try convincing Sam of that – once his mind is made up. After all, he’s a Gamgee too.”

Bilbo chuckled, shaking his head. “They’re like two peas in a pod.”

“The Gaffer’s still at Master Bracegirdle’s place, or likely somewhere between there and home by now…”

“Say no more lad,” Bilbo interrupted, nodding his head thoughtfully. “I’ll grab my cloak and walking stick and head off in that direction. I’ll bring him back straight away.”

“Oh would you Bilbo?” Frodo asked. “Thank you, yes, that would be best. I’d do it myself, but I’m so afraid Sam will bolt if he wakes up and I’m not here. I don’t want to go searching all of Hobbiton to find him. He has too many hiding spots. And if he’s determined to leave…”

“I understand completely….just fix me up a slice of bread with some cheese and a couple of those eggs if you will, my boy, while I grab my coat and staff.”

“Thank you Bilbo, you don’t know what this means to me!”

“Think nothing of it lad.”

“Though…” Frodo teased, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. “…you might want to change out of your dressing gown before you go.”

He grinned and pointed out that his cousin had just awakened and was quite undressed for wandering about down the lane.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Bilbo harrumphed, fixing the lad with a reproving gaze before heading back to his room to change.

Laughing quietly, Frodo gathered breakfast for the road, and tucked it carefully in a travel pack for his cousin. Thus provisioned for his walk and with a determined gleam in his eyes, Bilbo headed off toward Tuckborough.

***
Frodo was standing nervously in the doorway, shading his eyes against the early afternoon sun, when Bilbo and the Gaffer rode into view up the hill, having hitched a ride on a neighbor’s cart. Sam had awakened from his unplanned nap and the young master had set him to dressing and washing up for a late luncheon before he started out on the road. Frodo knew time was growing short and barring physical restraint, he wasn’t going to be able to delay the lad much longer.

Both hobbits slipped from the dray’s back, and the Gaffer tipped his hat to the driver with mumbled thanks. The young fellow nodded in acknowledgment then clicked his tongue at the ponies to start them on their way once more.

Turning from the road, the Gaffer quickened his stiff and shambling steps at the sight of Frodo standing in the doorway to Bag End. His craggy face was hard and unreadable. He stopped a few yards short of the door and pulled off his cap respectfully.

“Afternoon, Mister Frodo.”

“Master Gamgee, I’m so glad Bilbo found you,” Frodo sighed, stepping to just outside the door.

“Sam?”

“He’s washing up. I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to tie him up to keep him here.”

“He’s a’right then?” There was an edge of fear in the older hobbit’s voice and he tried to peer behind the young master and into the shadowed hallway of the smial.

“Yes, he’s fine. A bit scraped and bruised…and sporting a couple of nasty shiners…”

“I just don’t understand,” the Gaffer grumbled to no one in particular. “Why’d he go an’ try ta run off?”

“He wanted to find a job so he could pay back the money,” Frodo explained. “He’s convinced you’ll be destitute…”

“Fer a bag of coppers?” the Gaffer wondered aloud, shaking his head. “Tis true enough, we don’t got much to spare, and if the truth be told a good deal o’ the money belonged to Master Bilbo, but we’re not likely to be begging on the row for its loss. And to have it stolen…”

“Then you’re not angry?”

“Oh, I’m angry all right!” Hamfast amended, crushing his hat in his hands with frustrated fingers. “I’m right upset at m’self, for not seeing that he’s still a lad and too young for sending so far on his own. And to be sure, I’m right mad at them lads what hurt my boy. But no, not at him. I’m just so glad that he’s here, and he’s safe. Thank ye kindly, Mister Frodo, for caring for him, but I’d like to collect him now and take him on home.”

“Of course, I’ll go get him…”

Right then a squeak of dismay sounded behind Frodo. He turned to where Sam stood in the hallway, his face and hair still damp from their thorough washing. Thinking quickly, the elder hobbit snared the lad’s elbow before he could flee back into the smial.

“Come here Sam,” Frodo urged gently, pulling the resisting lad toward the door.

“You lied,” Sam accused, struggling in Frodo’s grip. “You promised you wouldn’t tell no one…”

“I’m sorry, really I am,” Frodo admitted, fighting to keep his grip on the boy while not hurting his already bruised arm, “but sometimes friends have to break promises. Especially when that promise might lead to a friend coming to harm.”

“I hate you.”

The words were barely whispered, as the angry boy tried desperately to pull away, but the sting of them burned Frodo and brought sudden tears to his eyes.

“Samwise, you c’mon out here this instant!” Hamfast’s voice boomed from the walkway beyond the door and the lad trembled at the sound.

Frightened and deflated, Sam stopped struggling and flung himself into Frodo’s middle wrapping desperate arms around his waist. He sobbed his betrayal into the older hobbit’s shirtfront and Frodo ached from a pain more intense than if the lad would have kicked him.

“Go on now,” Frodo ordered gently, pulling loose the circling arms and brushing away the child’s angry tears. Then he turned Sam by the shoulders and propelled him out the door.

Swallowing hard, the small lad eyed his waiting father then shuffled forward as if approaching his doom.

“Oh Samwise,” the Gaffer groaned in relief, stepping forward and dropping to one knee. He scooped the lad into his arms and hugged him fiercely, stroking fingers through his tangled hair. “Lan’ sakes boy, you scared me near to death. I don’t know if I should hug you or thrash you!”

“I…I…” Sam stuttered, bursting once more into tears.

“Shhhhh, lad,” the old hobbit soothed, his ire melting with his son’s tears. “It’s all right. Yer da’s here now.”

Sobs racked the child and Frodo could see that the elder Gamgee’s eyes were also wet.

“I l..lost the money, da…” Sam choked out through his tears, his small chest heaving. “I was dawdlin’ on…on…on the road, an’ some boys…”

“Mister Bilbo tol’ me already, lad,” his father soothed, stroking the lad’s back with a steady and comforting hand. “Why didn’t you just come to tell me?”

“I knew you’d be mad.”

“Mad?” the Gaffer held his son at arm’s length and gazed into his brown eyes. “‘Tweren’t your fault, Sam. If’n I’m mad it’d be at them other lads.”

“But I shoulda come right back…”

“Aye, that you should,” he agreed with a stern frown. “Still, that don’t give them lads the right to take what ain’t theirs. And mind you, I’ll be speaking with the Shirriffs about it too. And the Thain. But you shoulda come right to me an’ told me.”

“I was ‘fraid,” the child hiccuped.

“Now you listen to me and you listen good!” The Gaffer gripped his son’s shoulders firmly and gave him a gentle shake for emphasis. “Don’t you never be afraid to come to me, lad. Never, you hear. ‘Taint nothing in this world can make me stop loving you. Even were you to have spent every last copper there were in that bag on toys and candy.” He shook him once again to make his point. “You hear me Samwise?”

The boy nodded sniffing and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “But…but…how’ll we pay back Master Bilbo an’ the others…an’ buy the seedlings for the gardens...?”

“That’d be my concern, Samwise.” Hamfast wrapped the lad back in his arms. “You leave worrying about that to me.”

“But da…”

“Hush, boy,” his father admonished gently, stroking Sam’s cheek with a gnarled hand and brushing the curls from his eyes. “You’re too young to be fretting about such things yet. We’ll make due. I’ve done talked to Master Bilbo, and he’s got some extra things what need doing about Bag End. That’ll make up for what’s owed him. The rest’ll come about in its own time.”

“I can help!” Sam reminded, his face brightening through the tears. “I’m big ‘nuff to help. Honest!”

“That you are lad,” the gaffer agreed, raising to his feet and ruffling the boy’s hair. “Growing up more ev’ry day. Now lets head to home. It’s long past luncheon and I’m right hungry. We’ll have a bite and then maybe get started on some of them chores.”

“But what about the seedlings?” Sam wondered, scrubbing his face with the back of his hand.

“I figure we’d best go after them tomorrow…” the elder Gamgee admitted with a tender smile. “That is, if’n you think you’ll be up to it.”

“Oh yes, da! Yes.”

The Gaffer took his son’s small hand in his own weathered one and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“Thank ye kindly, Master Bilbo, Master Frodo, for takin’ care of m’boy,” the elderly hobbit murmured in appreciation, inclining his head to the Masters of Bag End before replacing his rumpled hat.

“Our pleasure, Hamfast,” Bilbo assured with a smile and Frodo nodded.

Moods considerably lightened, the two Gamgees headed down the road toward home. Frodo could hear Sam’s animated chatter as they disappeared from sight.

Watching from the doorway to Bag End, Bilbo placed a comforting arm across his young cousin’s shoulders and handed him the silken handkerchief from his pocket.

“Oh Bilbo,” Frodo sighed, dabbing at his moist eyes and wiping his nose, “I feel terrible, breaking a promise like that, even though I think I did the right thing.”

“You did lad,” Bilbo murmured, patting him in reassurance. “And Sam’ll come around to see it that way soon enough. Just give him a bit of time to sort things through. You’ll see that you made the right decision, Frodo my boy, in spite of how much it hurts – and so will he.”

“Guess that’s the price of growing older, huh?” he sniffed, turning to glance at Bilbo with searching eyes.

Nodding, Bilbo replied: “That it is my dear Frodo. And a painful price it can be too. Now after my adventure, with hardly half a bite to ease my aching belly, I’m famished and if my nose doesn’t deceive me, I believe I smell roast chicken on the fire…”

Linking an arm with his young cousin, the elder Baggins turned and with an encouraging smile, he led him back inside.

[Index]

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