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10
New Master



10: New Master

Sam examined the room that had been Frodo’s at Brandy Hall with interest, noting the comfortable bed, bookshelves almost as full as those in Bag End, collection of colored stones carefully displayed on shelves fitted inside the window frame, warm quilt softened and faded from years of use, pictures done by Merry over the years tacked to the walls, double portrait of Drogo and Primula Baggins over the dresser, the cheerful rag rug on the floor. He looked through the titles of the books, seeing many familiar ones and a few he found sparked his own interest. He examined the narrow desk and opened its front and its drawers, examined those books on the shelf below it. He sat in Frodo’s chair, looking out the window at the view with which Frodo had been familiar.

He walked through the gardens and the paddocks and the barns, and looked at the poultry pens and the sties for hogs. He was shown Frodo’s favorite place to sit in the Master’s private garden, and Merry took him up on top of the ridge into which the Hall was dug to see the place to which Frodo would retreat when angry or upset or just needing privacy. He walked along the river and was shown the places where Frodo swam or would just sit daydreaming, reading, or writing and drawing. He was shown the place where Primula and Drogo Baggins would enter a rowboat to float down the river under the stars and talk, and followed the river’s course to the bay where they would usually finish their evening, and was shown where the body of Primula was found.

Mac showed him the old mill building where it seemed all the lads would go to plan mischief. Sam smiled as they entered it. “Yes, I can see him likin’ a place like this,” he said, feeling the enchantment the building held for lads. He walked to its center and looked around and about, peering upwards as much as along the floor. There was the remains of a loft area opposite the door with a high window where the miller could examine the millwheel from above. “Bet as he used to spend a fair amount of time up there,” he said, “just lookin’ off into the distance. Had a better head for heights than I ever had.”

Mac laughed. “That he did, you know.” He looked out the door. “Used to be that large stream there went right by the mill here, but our Dad told us it changed its bed about a hundred twenty years ago after a big storm at the end of winter. They spoke of digging a canal to bring it back, but decided against it.”

A few of the great gears remained, and Sam examined them, running his hand over the teeth and examining the rods they’d turn. “Millstones were here?” he asked, pointing to a raised basin-shaped structure. At Mac’s nod Sam knelt to examine the place where the flour had rolled into the sacks while the mill wheel turned. There was a bit of a hollow under it that caught his interest, and reaching into it he found a small stone, circular and flattened on each side, with a hole driven through the center. It was of a soft green color, and translucent. He and Mac examined it together.

Mac smiled gently. “Looks just like something he’d like, doesn’t it?”

Sam nodded. Finally he looked up. “Would you mind if I kept it?” he asked.

“Go ahead.”

Sam held the green disk in his right hand and turned it between his fingers, and finally put it into his vest pocket. In after years when thinking he would often put his hand into that pocket and roll it briefly between his fingers, an act that would put others in mind of the two previous Masters of Bag End, both of whom, however, had been rolling something quite other between their own fingers when they’d placed their hands in their vest pockets.

When it was time to look at the hole where Frodo’s family had lived for a time near the river, Saradoc and Esme, escorted by Merry, guided Sam, Rosie, and Pippin to the place. The hill into which the smial had been dug wasn’t particularly high, and the entrance was actually a bit sunken. As Merry unlocked the door Sara explained, “No one was certain why Gart decided to dig a smial here, for at least once ever ten years, or so it seems, there will be a particularly heavy rain and the Brandywine will rise and cover this area, from about a mile upstream to a half mile downstream and roughly from that line of trees on the other side of the river to a few hundred feet that way. It’s never been all that deep, mind you; but with the smial here somewhat sunken it tends to be about knee deep inside for as long as it lasts.

“Had my father realized that Gart was selling the place to Primula and Drogo he’d have put a stop to it. Gart had spoken of selling it as a summer place for someone who fished the river, which would have been bad enough. Primula truly ought to have known better, for she’d seen the river overflow its banks on occasion, and she knew about how far it tended to overflow to, after all. Also, she knew Gart well enough to have realized that if he was offering them such a bargain it must have been quite different from what it seemed. But when the two of them saw the place they fell in love with its placement and the view of the river.”

They now entered the hole, through the narrow entrance to the parlor on one side and the study on the other. The floor was of tile in the entranceway and laid bricks throughout much of the rest; but these were overlaid by a layer of silt in most places. The paneling and plaster on the lower walls was often warped and badly stained, save in the kitchen where up to the waist on most grown Hobbits the wall was surfaced with carefully laid stone. Here the grout holding the stonework in place was often washed away near the floors, and many of the lower stones had slipped out of their places and lay on the floor near the walls.

Yet the view from the windows, particularly on the side toward the river, was indeed charming; and Sam recognized the leaves of many wildflowers near to the hill, flowers which would make the surrounding landscape even more lovely when seen from inside. Esme explained, “Primula immediately planted a lovely garden with roses and honeysuckle and so on around the smial; but the first flood two years after they moved in drowned much of what she’d planted, although a few of the bulbs came back. Then we had a second flood only three years later, and shortly after that she lost the last bairn she carried. It was then they bought the hole in Whitfurrow and moved there. They never tried to sell this hole, though, and renamed it from River Place to Drogo’s Folly.

“Primula had been amazed that the paneling and plasterwork had been recently done when they first looked at the place. Well, looking at it now, you can imagine why Gart redid it just before he looked to sell the smial.”

There were four bedrooms, and it was easy to guess which had been Frodo’s at one time. An old table stood there near the cracked window, and by it stood a wobbly chair. Bricks held up a board wide enough to serve as a narrow cot at need, and on it lay a very old mattress ticking stuffed with dried leaves and grasses, now beginning to fall into dust.

Merry examined the room. “I knew Frodo still had a key to the place,” he murmured, “but had no idea he was coming in here from time to time. I wonder how many times when he’d disappear from the Hall he was actually hiding out here?”

“There was the other hole, also--the one Drogo was having constructed on the ridge further from the river and upland from the Hall,” his mother added. “They were planning to go back and forth between the Eastfarthing and Buckland. Drogo never truly felt comfortable staying in the Hall, you know. Just not enough privacy for him, and Primmie recognized this need for privacy. He may have appreciated the full table the Hall afforded, for he was one Hobbit who truly enjoyed his meals; but when he sat down in the evening to speak with his wife and tell stories to his son he resented it when he was interrupted by his wife’s sisters just knocking to enjoy her company just because they were walking down the passage and decided to stop in and talk for a time. I think Frodo inherited that love of privacy of his from the Baggins side.”

Pippin asked, “Who drew the portraits of Frodo’s folks in his room in the Hall?”

“Aunt Asphodel,” Sara answered. “She was also a gifted artist, and when she recognized the talent in Frodo when he was small she began training him.”

On the fifth day Sam and Rosie indicated they would leave on the morrow, and that night they talked quite long with many of the older denizens of the Hall and heard still more tales of the days when Frodo was a part of the household. Sam at last withdrew from the rest and went into the library where he began examining the books and identifying which had been copied and bound by his Master. There Merry and Pippin joined him, sitting quietly and watching him for a time, and finally tentatively joining him in his search, with Merry also identifying those books Frodo had read the most in the days before he left the Hall for Hobbiton and Bag End.

After first breakfast the next day the Gamgees called for their ponies, and with many hugs and warm goodbyes they mounted up, Sam took his daughter before him inside his Elven cloak, and the three set out for Hobbiton once more. Never again, however, would Sam hold back from visiting Meriadoc Brandybuck in his own home. The Hobbit who’d once balked at going further from home than he’d ever been now felt welcome in Buckland, no longer considering its inhabitants to be in any way odd or queer, seeing them instead now as friends.

A week after they returned to Bag End Sam found himself having to go to Michel Delving to take a few more of Lobelia’s deeds to Will Whitfoot for the reparations fund. He found Will alone in the Council Hole, reading through a marriage contract between a Banks and a Cotman from the Northfarthing. He looked up and smiled as Sam entered. “Good to see you, Sam,” Will said. “Frodo gave me that book there and indicated it would be excellent for me to discuss a few of the chapters with you.”

Sam recognized the volume that lay on the corner of the Mayor’s desk--The Planning and Management of the Shire Farm. “So,” he said, “that’s what become of it then? I’d wondered. Not that I don’t have it pretty much memorized. Old Mr. Bilbo bought it the first spring after Mr. Frodo come to stay with him, for Gandalf had said as I needed some education in the raisin’ of stock.” He found a smile had managed to make its way to his face at the memory. “I was pretty innocent in the knowledge of breedin’ and how it was done, you see.”

“Well, you were just a young lad at the time, weren’t you? You were what--ten or so?”

“Yes sir, Will. I was just that when he come to Bag End.”

“Well, Frodo said as you were expert at the cultivation of root vegetables and the planning of kitchen gardens, so I was thinking to discuss this with you. I’m looking to retire to the family farm when this term is over. I have no intention at all to serve another term as Mayor--never intended to do so the last time, as you know. So, tell me, Sam--how would you handle looking for one to train up to succeed me?”

“Mr. Bucca up to it, do you think?”

“Bucca has absolutely no interest in becoming Mayor--none whatsoever. If I even considered suggesting the idea he’d flee the Shire in terror, I think. Says as he has no head for understanding contracts at all, although I do know that at least he was wise enough never to enter into one with any of the Bracegirdles or Lotho. Although I do believe one offered by Benlo or Bartolo would be safe enough.”

“I’d never of thought as I’d find myself respectin’ a Bracegirdle, Will, but I find I even like Mr. Benlo, even as abrupt as he is. Actually quite an honorable soul from what I can tell. Don’t know about Mr. Bartolo--only know as he’s always shown jealousy of Frodo, which certainly ain’t warranted. After all, his place there in Hardbottle’s quite fine by all accounts.”

“Yes, and Delphinium has made it very beautiful with its own gardens and so on. Seems the Bagginses always manage to find time to see to the gardens, or to find the perfect one to care for them. But you look deep enough into Bartolo you’ll see as she’s left her mark on him. He’ll never quite be comfortable doing anything that isn’t honorable. May say what’s bothering him a bit too easily; but he’ll never actually do anything. But you’ll find many throughout the Shire as envies Bag End and its gardens.

“Now, show me what Benlo has brought this time.”

Will and Sam examined the first of the deeds, and Will quickly learned Sam had already read it and was interested in learning more, what the language meant and how it was that this deed compared to the illegal ones Lotho and Timono had managed to put together. After having fetched one of these from Everard’s section of the room, Will opened it and began pointing out the differences in the language and how unusual language usage could indicate actual intent. He soon found his attention caught by Sam’s expression as he went through more of the deed and began to appreciate how the wording had been carefully chosen to mask the fact Lotho was actually insisting the former owner of the property complete an inordinate amount of work before he could expect to receive full payment.

“This ain’t hardly fair,” Sam said, straightening. “Lotho paid him only a quarter of its worth and so wrote this as he didn’t have to pay no more until a new well’s dug, a new bit of thatching’s put on the roof, a new barn’s put up, and a new drive of gravel’s laid.”

“You caught all that, did you?” Will said, smiling. “Well, as this place is a smial and not a house, you can imagine as how the demand for thatching was met by Pelto. We’ve voided this contract and awarded Pelto monies received as recompense for the stress as it gave him. But a good deal of damage was done to it by those Big Men as tried to stay there during the Time of Troubles, and Pelto’s hard put to prepare it for sale a second time.”

Sam nodded his understanding.

The gardener agreed to accompany Will back to the house for tea, and Mina was glad to add the extra plate at the table. Young Dianthus was staying on in Michel Delving for a time, working on improving her reading and writing. After the meal was over Sam sat by her at the table and listened to her read, now and then pointing out how this combination of letters was pronounced like this and this other one sounded like that. Dianthus was thrilled, for all of a sudden some of what her mother and grandmother had tried to teach her made sense, and soon with Sam’s tutelage and encouragement her fluency began to improve. Within an hour she had gone through a far greater amount of the book she was reading than she’d ever managed previously.

After she’d stowed the book back into her room she confided, “Did you know as we’re going to have another bairn in the family in a few months, Mr. Samwise? Mummy just told us. I’m happy, and I hope as this time it’s another lass. I’d love having a sister--after all, I have two brothers already.”

Sam laughed. “I hope as it’s not too terrible long afore my Elanorelle has a new little brother or sister herself, although it’s not come to that as yet.” He took a deep breath. “After all, I promised Frodo as I’d fill Bag End with life and family, and my Rosie and me look to keep that promise, you know.”

The lass’s expression had become solemn. “Do you miss him, too, Mr. Samwise?”

His own face saddened. “Yes, I do, lass, terrible bad at times. But at least I know as he now has the chance to become as he was afore, and hopefully more than he was, if you take my meanin’. He has the finest healers aside him, and old Mr. Bilbo for company, and old Gandalf for teachin’ and the showin’ of the way. He won’t always find his shoulder achin’ and his head a-poundin’. I hope as they’ll finally clean out whatever it is as makes the bite on his neck keep comin’ up infected so as it’ll finally heal. I hope as he’s so surrounded by beauty as he’ll member us here always with hope and love and not just with longin’. And I hope as his Light’ll shine and be appreciated by all as sees him, not like here where a full half or more looked on him with envy or without understandin’.”

“Yes, I hope so, too,” Dianthus agreed. “And I hope as he finds what he needs to fill up the emptiness, like.”

As they finally bade farewell to the gardener and saw him headed over to the stable to fetch his Bill, Will and Mina found themselves exchanging glances. Well, Will thought, maybe I’ve managed to find that replacement as I’d been looking for. Frodo tried to tell me before as Sam was a good candidate for the job, and it appears he was indeed right.

Sam, as he checked the girth on Bill’s saddle and mounted up, thanked Pease for caring for the pony and gladly paid his stabling fee, then rode out of Michel Delving toward Hobbiton with a song on his lips, unaware of the fact those he passed listened to the Elvish words of the hymn to Yavanna he sang with curiosity and admiration for how well he sang it.

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