Written for the July "Summertime" challenge at the LOTR Community LiveJournal site. Beta by RiverOtter.
Sancho Proudfoot found his older brother in the dooryard, the old pump from the kitchen of their smial in his hands. “Watcher doin’, Pulgo?” he asked.
“Lookin’ at this here pump,” the older lad said.
“Why?” the younger one persisted.
“Tryin’ ter find out as how it works.”
“’Cause I just want to know.”
Sancho started to ask again, but thought better of it, considering Pulgo’s expression. Unlike their mum, Pulgo did not take well to being asked Why? multiple times in a short period, and the smaller lad found himself remembering a bit too well the last thumping he’d had from his brother.
Apparently assured he’d quelled that next Why? with a look, Pulgo turned his attention back to the pump. “I needs t’take it apart,” he muttered to himself.
Sancho couldn’t help himself. “Why?”
“T’see as how it looks inside,” Pulgo explained. “But Dad’s not likely to let me use his tools, and Grandfa won’t let me touch Cousin Belo’s....” Belo Boffin, a second cousin twice removed on their dad’s side and a third cousin once removed on their mum’s, lived in Overhill, and worked installing and repairing well pumps, which meant he also dealt in pipes and other plumbing repairs. Pulgo, who had a fascination for turning wheels and things that go thump, tended to follow Cousin Belo around when he came to Hobbiton, and spent much of his time when visiting in Overhill in Belo’s shop, examining the pumps he was building and repairing. The last time he’d been there and had disassembled one, however, old Odo had about relieved him of at least three layers of hide, making it obvious that if he touched any of Cousin Belo’s wares or pumps or tools again he’d do more. As for his dad--well, since the last time Pulgo had borrowed (and lost) two hammers, a small tin of nails, another of screws, and a driver while trying to build a playhouse down near the Water, Olo had taken to locking his tools up in the smaller storeroom, and it was as much as Pulgo’s life was worth to be caught pilfering the key to that.
“Where can I work on this?” he wondered aloud. “I mean, Cousin Belo’s already said as he don’t want it; but you know Grandfa--him don’t want me workin’ on things like pumps.”
At that moment they heard the slam of the side gate to the gardens of Bag End, which they could see from the dooryard in which the two of them stood. “Now, you finish them herb beds, lad,” they could hear the Gaffer calling to his son Sam, who worked with the old Hobbit. “But afore that--well, this latch’s workin’ loose. Ye’ll have to fetch some tools from the shed there to tighten it up, although I’ll have to suggest t’ Mr. Bilbo as he should think a’ replacin’ the whole gate. Wood’s goin’ soft, it is. Well, get to it, lad--want them herb beds clean o’ weeds when I gets back, hear?”
A moment later they watched him descending the Lane toward Sandyman’s mill and turning off into Hobbiton proper. Probably heading into the market square for supplies, or maybe he’d turn off to Bywater to fetch that new set of shovels that had been ordered last week.
The two lads stared that way, and then a smile broke out on Pulgo’s face. “I know as where I can work on this!” he said. “Come on!” So saying, he led his little brother through the gate and up the way to the Lane up to Bag End.
Sam looked at the two Proudfoot lads with uncertainty. “And why must you be a-workin’ on this pump here, in our workshed?” he asked.
Pulgo gave a great sigh. He and Sam were almost of an age, Sam being but a year older than he; but he felt the gardener’s son was too stodgy by half. “I told yer, Sam--Grandfa won’t let us work on it at home, and anyways we don’t have no tools.”
“Yer dad’s got some right good tools,” Sam pointed out.
Pulgo shrugged. “Mebbe him does, but he won’t let me use them.”
“’Cause I lost some of his.”
“Well, whatever tools is here ain’t mine, you’d best member, Pulgo Proudfoot, so I can’t see as I can let you use them.”
“I only lost my dad’s ’cause I took ’em off. I won’t lose these, I promise Sam. I won’t even take ’em out of the shed.”
It took some persuading, but at last Sam agreed to let them work in the shed. “But if’n you don’t put the tools right back where you found them,” he warned, “I’ll most like thump the both of you.”
Pulgo slowly nodded his agreement, for he knew that Sam Gamgee didn’t utter idle threats. “I promise,” he repeated, and at last took the pump on into the shed.
He had the pump taken to bits in an hour’s time; it took him four more over the next three days to put it back together. It took him even longer to take it apart again, replace the damaged leather and a few parts with what he found there in the shed, to get it working again. He and Sancho took it out to the well in Bag End’s garden to try it, using some of the extra pipe the Gaffer had squirreled away in the shed against whatever needs for such things as Mr. Bilbo might have in the future. Once he was certain that the pump now worked, Pulgo set himself to study on how it might be bettered.
“Mum said as her elbow was a-hurtin’ her with all the pumpin’ as needed doin’ with this one as it was then,” he explained to Sam and Sancho as he carefully replaced the pipes back where he’d found them under Sam’s watchful eye. “There has to be a way to make it easier to pump.”
Sancho was barely listening. He was playing with the wheel for the garden wagon that the Gaffer had been rebuilding, two of its spokes having given way. The old Hobbit had it slipped over a metal rod he had suspended between two large clamps to simulate the axle for the wagon, and Sancho was enjoying setting it spinning and watching the spokes melt into a blur before his eyes. “Here, Pulgo,” he called, turning away from the workbench to call his brother over. “Looka this!”
“Look at what?” Pulgo called back.
“This!” Sancho said, pointing at the spinning wheel. “The wood bits--they disappear!”
“Things don’t just disappear,” Pulgo objected as he came over.
Sancho’s face was going stubborn. “Do too,” he insisted. “Cousin Bilbo disappeared when him wore his magic ring--him told me. An’ these disappear, you spin the wheel fast.”
Pulgo watched as his little brother demonstrated, at last admitting, “Well, I guess as yer right, Sancho-lad. They do seem to disappear, don’t they?”
Sancho, vindicated, gave a satisfied smile as he reached out to give another push to get the speed of the wheel faster once more. “Told yer so,” he said. One more slap and the wheel was fair humming.
Suddenly the older Proudfoot lad went still. “That’s it!” he whispered. “That’s it--how to make the pump better--a wheel!”
It took a few days to find a wheel they might use, Sam having made it very plain that if they messed with the one for the garden wagon he’d thump them twice as hard. But Ned Boffin’s little sister had a doll pram of which she’d been very proud when younger, but now rarely used; and one evening after supper Pulgo slipped over to their smial and went into the garden shed where it was kept and--borrowed--a wheel from it. He hurried up to Bag End with it, spying through the hedges to see where Cousins Frodo and Bilbo might be, finding them sitting together on the bench outside the front door, smoking their pipes and talking quietly. “And the stars, Frodo--you can’t believe how beautiful the stars looked as we camped one night at the top of the pass, coming back to Rivendell. They are so much clearer up in the mountains, you see.”
“Maybe because you’re closer to them?” Frodo asked, after blowing out a lovely smoke ring.
“That just might be it, my boy. Of course, we didn’t see them at all when we were going to the Lonely Mountain, for it was storming then when we were climbing up the pass. Now, that crossing was miserable--truly miserable. I tell you, lad--the time for adventures is when the weather is good.”
Pulgo could hear Frodo laughing as he carefully made his way to the back gate and quietly let himself through it, hurrying to let himself into the workshed so he could put the wheel in the area where he was keeping his pump and the parts he was gathering.
The next day he was looking to attach the wheel to the pump in place of the lever handle, finally enlisting Sam, whom he’d found to be very clever, to figuring a way in which the rod could be attached allowing it to actually be lifted up and down. “Well,” Sam finally said after studying the problem for a while, “if you use somethin’ here to allow this length to move back an’ forth like, and put a peg here toward the rim of the wheel, it could be used to lift and plunge the main pump rod. But you’ll need a ring on the end of the rod and some kind o’ bushin’ to get it to work, don’t you see?”
Pulgo worked on the problem for four days, finally finding the best materials late on the afternoon of that fourth day and then working hard to get it all put together, intent on trying it out the next day. However, he’d reckoned without his grandfather....
“Where’s yer brother?” Odo demanded of little Sancho as the family sat down to tea.
Sancho gave his grandfather a sidelong look. First time he’d heard his mother call he’d told Pulgo, then left him, knowing that as intent as his big brother was there’d be no way of getting him to leave Cousin Bilbo’s workshed until he was convinced he had the pump together and ready to test. Fortunately his parents weren’t paying much attention to Olo’s dad.
“And you should have heard that Lobelia!” his mum was saying to his dad. “‘Well, Mr. Griffo Boffin,’ she says, ‘if you think as my son would scrump apples from your orchard you’re plain silly. He’s of age now, you see, and far too old to be scrumping to begin with. And he’s no thief!’ As if Cousin Frodo and Sam Gamgee hadn’t caught her precious Lotho and that Ted Sandyman trying to steal two birds off Matt Silverwater as sells roasted chickens on the edge of the market, and as if every merchant in Hobbiton hadn’t lodged complaints at one time or another about the two of them.”
“And as if she weren’t as big a thief as her lump of a son,” Olo agreed. “Still say as she’s the one what nicked your silk kerchief as I bought you at the last Free Fair. Yours is gone, and suddenly she’s got one what’s just the same as the one what’s missin’? Tell me as that don’t sound suspicious. And Bilbo’s not the only one as has said silver spoons always seem to go missin’ whenever Missus Lobelia comes a-callin’.”
“I asked you, Sancho--where’s Pulgo?” Odo persisted.
“Dunno, Grandfa,” Sancho answered.
“But he said as he’d be a-lookin’ after you,” his grandfather said. “You mean as he’s been lettin’ you run about unwatched?”
Sancho, stung with concern for his brother, insisted, “No, Grandfa, him’s been keepin’ a good eye on me. Been sayin’ as I must stay by him and not run off, him has.”
“Then why weren’t you by him today?”
“You was? Then where is he now? You just said as you didn’t know as where he is, after all.”
Sancho was caught now! His parents were now looking at him with interest, too, the gossip about Missus Lobelia forgotten for the moment.
“Yes, Sancho dearest, just where is Pulgo?” asked his mother in a tone of voice that didn’t allow for lies or evasions.
Sancho’s eyes darted from his grandfather to his mother. At last he said, “At Bag End.”
“Bag End? What’s the lad doin’ at Bag End?” demanded Odo. “Won’t be standin’ for anyone as lives in this hole spendin’ time with old Mad Baggins, after all! It’s not respectable, I tell you!”
“Oh, him’s not in the hole with Cousin Bilbo--him’s in the workshed.”
“And just what’s a Proudfoot doin’ in the workshed for Bag End?”
“Working?” suggested the child.
A few moments later he was being dragged by his ear out of the smial and up the road to the Lane and Bag End. “Baggins!” Odo was calling.
The Gaffer came to the front gate and looked down at where Odo stood in the lane with little Sancho by the ear. “The Masters ain’t here, Mr. Proudfoot, sir--gone t’the Great Smials for a meetin’--be home termorrer.”
“Where’s my grandson?” Odo demanded.
Hamfast paused, uncertain, looking from Odo’s round face to that of the small child who stood, obviously reluctantly, beside him. Odo followed the gardener’s gaze to look down to Sancho’s screwed-up expression and flushed, finally letting go of the lad’s ear. “Not Sancho here--his brother. This one says as Pulgo’s been workin’ in the workshed.”
“How come as a Proudfoot’s workin’ here in the workshed for Bag End?” asked the Gamgee, echoing the question Odo had put to Sancho back in the Proudfoot hole.
“That’s what I want to know!” Odo returned, heading up the steps, pausing once to glare at Sancho to let him know he was to follow.
They found Sam kneeling down to work beneath the bedroom window for the young master, weeding tool in hand, a basket beside him. That he’d been active here and there about the gardens was evident by the state of the blooms, for all about him the garden was looking splendid; the roses ran riot over the fence, and the other flowers along the path were in full bloom. When his father stopped by him, the younger gardener looked up, the smile he started to give the Gaffer fading rapidly as he noted who followed him.
“You know sommat about this one’s grandsons muckin’ about in the workshed here?” the Gaffer asked.
Sam rose, facing his father squarely. “Yessir,” he answered. “But they’ve not been doin’ aught wrong, Dad. They’ve been workin’ on a pump, seein’ as how it works and findin’ out if’n there’s aught that might be done to make it better for their mum. Pulgo’s said as afore it was replaced just workin’ it made his mum’s elbow hurt. I’ve seen to it as they only work in the one place and leave all else alone, and that they clean the tools and leave ’em where they belongs.”
“But you’re out here and young Pulgo’s in the shed alone?”
“Once I was sure as he’d do as I said and not touch nothin’ as didn’t have to do with him, I went about my own work, Dad. I’m not lettin’ it get in the way of my own chores, Gaffer.”
There was the slightest twitch to the Gaffer’s mouth that let Sam know that his father was actually proud of him, so he lifted his chin a bit higher. “That’s all and well, son,” the gardener said. “However, it seems as old Mr. Odo here don’t want his grandsons a-hangin’ out here at Bag End.”
A small but decisive nod from Odo confirmed this.
“That’s too bad, Mr. Odo, sir. They’ve been good’uns to have about, and are tryin’ t’make things maybe better for their mum, after all.”
“I just bought a whole new pump for the smial--we don’t need the old one fixed nor ‘made better,’ no matter what these pups think,” Odo declared querulously. “You take me to Pulgo now.”
Hamfast Gamgee stiffened. “Mr. Odo, sir, not meanin’ any disrespect nor nothin’ like that, but this is my son as you’d be orderin’ about, and right now he’s doin’ the work as I set him. I will take you to the workshed.”
Realizing he’d overstepped his bounds, Odo gave a terse nod for the Gaffer to lead the way.
They found Pulgo standing near the workbench, the pump standing upright against a slab of wood lying on the ground. As the door creaked open he called, “Sancho, that you? Come look--it works perfect!” So saying, he slapped the wheel into a faster spin.
“So--this is what you’ve been up to--wastin’ time workin’ on pumps, have you?” demanded the Proudfoot family head.
Pulgo froze, then turned slowly about. “You don’t seem to worry none about Cousin Belo a-workin’ on pumps, Grandfa,” he said, his face wary. “Maybe Dad could prentice me to him. I like workin’ on such things, you see.”
“But you’re my grandson, and I don’t want my family gettin’ into such business.”
“Why not? ’Tis honest work, isn’t it? Honest and needful? And I’ve come up with a way as won’t hurt Mum’s elbow so much. Look!”
But Odo’s temper was up, and he clouted the lad alongside the head, causing him to lose his grip on the pump and for it to fall clattering to the floor of the shed. “I don’t want you wastin’ time on the likes of this, nor spendin’ time here at Bag End. It’s not respectable, hanging about Mad Baggins’s place, you see? And we’re respectable folks, us Proudfeet! Now, you get yourself home, and you’re on water rations for the rest of the day!”
In moments the three Proudfoots were gone, and the Gaffer was left to pick up young Pulgo’s pump and lean it neatly against the wall. He was disturbed to see such a scene acted out here in his Mr. Bilbo’s workshed, but who was he to question the actions of gentlehobbits like Mr. Odo? But he would never have shamed his sons that way when they were only thinking of ways to make things better for their mother. His face grew sad as he thought of his lost Bell, wishing she were here to see what a responsible group of children as she’d given birth to, and especially their Samwise. Ah, well--what was done was done. With that thought in mind he went out of the shed and fastened it shut behind him.
It was three days before Pulgo slipped away again, sneaking up to Bag End around the far side of the hill and into the gardens over the low place in the hedge. Once he found Sam sharpening the edge of a trowel near the entrance to the shed he whispered, “Sam--yer dad--him didn’t get rid of my pump, did he?”
Sam was startled as he swung around. “Mr. Pulgo? What you doin’ here? Your gaffer’ll be angered if’n you come here again, you know.”
“So what? He’s wrong, and we both know it. My pump--your dad didn’t take it apart nor throw it away, did he?”
After a brief pause Sam shook his head. “No, that he didn’t. It’s not his, after all, so him wouldn’t think to try to get rid of it. Fact is, he thinks it’s a good design and that you were doin’ good to think on what might help your mum like you was. It’s still in there. But he doesn’t want you gettin’ into trouble with Mr. Odo, so he doesn’t want you comin’ up here no more.”
“Did he tell Cousin Bilbo about it?”
“Mr. Bilbo? Nah, no reason to do that. But he will if’n he catches you about again.”
“He didn’t catch me the last time, so I’ll make sure he doesn’t catch me now. Come look at how I made the pump better.”
There was no question the pump appeared to work right well--except when it stopped midway through a turn and the wheel froze until Pulgo managed to work the joint he’d made free. “Gonna have to talk to Cousin Belo ’bout this,” the lad admitted. “Mebbe him’s got a better idea of how to fit it together.”
“You goin’ to Overhill to talk with him?”
“No. The Sandymans are havin’ a pump put in at last, so he’s workin’ there at the Mill. Not that old Sandyman the Miller’s pleased to put coin in a Boffin’s hand, mind. I’d show the pump to Ted--him likes a good piece of machinery, after all; but him’d just steal the design.”
Sam shook his head. “Ted Sandyman--actually work if’n he don’t need to? Not him. But he would try and steal the pump isself, I’m thinkin’.”
Pulgo nodded his head thoughtfully.
Sam didn’t see him for three or four more days, and he suspected Pulgo was spending some time down at the Mill helping Mr. Belo and running his questions past him. Sam was kept very busy, for Mr. Bilbo was readying for a visit from the Brandybucks, and they’d undoubtedly do a good deal of eating out here in the gardens during the visit. The summer was growing warm now, and he had to spend a good deal of care seeing to it that the flowers were all properly watered. Could maybe do with that pump of Pulgo’s, he thought to himself as he carried a pail back to the furthest reaches of the place from the well.
Then Pulgo was back, and with a good deal of pipe. “Where’d you get that?” Sam asked him.
“Nicked it off Cousin Belo’s wagon--he’ll not miss it, not now, at least. I’ll put it back afore him goes back to Overhill again. Been stayin’ with Cousin Ned Boffin, you see. Makes it right close for me to get at his wagon and the extra pipe.”
“But you’ll get into terrible trouble if’n you’re caught borrowin’ pipe as ain’t yours,” Sam pointed out. “And your gaffer’s already angered at you, if’n I might say so as perhaps oughtn’t.”
“Grandfa’s always upset about somethin’ or other,” Pulgo explained reasonably. “He’ll get over it--him always does. Can I try the pump in the well in the new cold room there in Bag End, do you think? I got the pipe to use down the well, you see.”
“Why not the well in the garden?”
“Where the Gaffer might catch me? You know as well as me if’n him catches me he’ll feel honor-bound to send me off home with a bug in my ear. But he wouldn’t think of me usin’ the well in the new cold room.”
Again it took a good deal of convincing, but once he’d made some changes to the pump at last Sam allowed him into the smial, escorting him to the new cold room. It took a good deal of caution to slip the pump and pipe and the fittings through the kitchen, but at last Pulgo had what he needed all gathered there, and with Sam’s help had the well cover moved enough to slip the carefully fitted together pipe down it. Once the pump was in place he got it spinning, and if it didn’t work like a wonder. Sam was as thrilled as Pulgo was to find out how well it worked, actually.
“I was thinkin’ the other day as how good it would be to have a pump of some kind there in the far end of the garden,” he commented. “Wonder how we could get some pipe out there?”
“That’d be a good test,” Pulgo agreed. “But we’ll need more pipe, mebbe enough as Cousin Belo’d notice.” He thought on it, but suddenly he became determined. “Well, I’m goin’ t’try it. We’ll try it tomorrow. That’s when Cousins Bilbo and Frodo go marketin’, and the place’ll be empty.”
But the Bagginses weren’t to be gone all day after all. “You can’t go in there,” Sam told Pulgo and Sancho when they turned up just after elevenses carrying a good deal of pipe and a lantern with them. “Mr. Griffo Boffin’ll be here this afternoon--sent a message early about it.”
“Griffo? Comin’ here? What about?” Pulgo asked, frustrated. “We gotta do this today, for Cousin Belo’s about done and will be leavin’ tomorrow early. I gotta get all the pipe back on his wagon tonight!”
“Well, how do you think as we could get pipe pushed through the ventilation shafts out into the orchard and Mr. Bilbo or Mr. Frodo not notice?” Sam asked. “They’re both very observant.”
“Them home now?” Pulgo asked.
“No--not now. Shouldn’t be home for an hour--just soon enough to be ready once as Mr. Griffo arrives. They’ll be hurryin’ their marketing to get back in time.”
“Can you offer t’help them fix luncheon so’s they won’t come in the cold room?” Pulgo asked. “I know as you help some with cookin’ when they’re in a rush and all.”
That was true. “I suppose,” Sam said uncertainly.
“Then we’ll get the pipe in the cold room now afore them come home, and figger out how to get it through the ventilation shaft,” Pulgo decided. “Come on, Sancho, pick up that end again--we need to hurry.”
By the time Cousins Bilbo and Frodo got back a good deal had been done. Pulgo’s grandfather was off to Michel Delving on business, and their dad and mum were visiting in Bywater and shouldn’t be back until dark. Pulgo was certainly old enough to keep an eye on his little brother for a day, and was a reasonable cook; his parents had no reason to worry about them.
“Been talkin’ t’Mum and Dad,” Pulgo said to Sam as he shoved pipe out through the ventilation shaft, northeastward toward the entrance to Bag End’s orchard. “I’m past old enough t’be prenticed, I am, and I want to be prenticed t’Cousin Belo. Dad’s angered at Grandfa for bein’ so hard on Sancho and me, so him’s thinkin’ on it serious. As for Mum--she’s all for it, too. I mean, you’ve been prenticed t’your dad and all; why can’t I be prenticed, too? I can’t wait to get out from under Grandfa’s thumb!” He stopped to fit another section of pipe onto the piece he’d been threading through the shaft, then continued with his shoving.
Sam made a noncommittal grunt, then said, “I’d best get out of here and check on whether old Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo are back yet.”
“Good thinkin’,” Pulgo noted, pausing to add still another length. “Best get on with you, then.”
Sam got the kettle on and began gathering things for a light luncheon. It wasn’t likely that on such a hot day either Baggins would be terribly hungry or want anything heavy. By the time they arrived home he had the kitchen table set and most of the luncheon ready, sitting on the kitchen dresser with a light cloth over it to discourage flies, while a clutch of eggs was still boiling.
“You’ve been preparing luncheon for us?” Mr. Bilbo observed, touched. “How thoughtful, Sam. Thank you!”
“Here, Master,” Sam was saying to Frodo. “Let me take them things as go in the cold room. You’d best get changed--what is it as you’ve got on your shirt sleeve and waistcoat? Tomatoes? Get them changed and give ’em to me, and I’ll set them to soak afore I take them down to May to launder for you.”
“I slipped on a spill at the market,” Frodo explained, examining the stain. “Seems that Ted Sandyman was caught trying to slip away with a basket of tomatoes Farmer Cotton had beneath the table at his stall and got caught, dropping a few on the ground once Tom and Jolly got hold of him. Nick seems to have lifted up one of the ones that were damaged and ground it into Ted’s face, and threw the rest down. Then along I come, and if I didn’t step right on it and go sliding!” He looked down at his right leg. “I got it on my trousers, too, I fear.” He suddenly paused as if listening. “What’s that?” he asked.
Sam paused, too, realizing the sound Mr. Frodo had heard was from the cold room. “I don’t know, Master,” he said. “Maybe somethin’ from down the lane. Mr. Belo’s supposed to be almost done with the new pipin’ as was being put into the miller’s place, or so I understand.” The back door was open, and the conversations from down the hill were carrying remarkably well today.
Frodo shook his head. “It sounded closer than that.”
“Never mind, Frodo,” Bilbo said. “Just hurry down to your room and get changed--Griffo will be here before we know it at this rate. And Sam, thank you for all your help here in the kitchen today. It was so wonderful to find I don’t have to put together something when I need to be ready once Griffo gets here.”
Sam grunted uncomfortably. Once he was certain Mr. Frodo was on his way to change he slipped into the cold room to settle the eggs, cream, and butter. “You’d best be quiet a time,” he hissed at Pulgo. “They’re home, and Mr. Bilbo’s in the kitchen, and Mr. Frodo’s already heard you. He’s off changin’ his clothes, so you’re safe for now. But you never know with Mr. Frodo.”
Pulgo and Sancho were both shivering with cold when Sam finally came back to tell them that all was now clear. The pipes were properly situated within the well, and all appeared to be in place between the well head and the ventilation shaft. “We’ll have to find a way to replace the screen for the shaft after,” Pulgo said as he went out. “I suspect as it broke when I pushed the pipe against it. Now, we’ll go out and attach the pump mechanism to the end of the pipes so we can try it out. Once we’re ready to start pumping we’ll whap on the pipes to let you know, and you can tell us after if’n you saw anything that seemed to be workin’ wrong in here.”
Wanting mostly only to get them out of Bag End without them being seen, Sam agreed, and hurried them out and through the kitchen into the garden. Relieved, he closed the door after the two young Hobbits and leaned back against it, wiping his forehead. Just then, however, he heard a knock at the door and then felt a push against his body. He straightened rapidly, and turned, yanking the door open and expecting himself to be facing one of the two lads, but instead finding himself face to face with his father. “Yes, Gaffer?” he asked nervously.
“I was comin’ t’see as where you was at, son.”
“I been helpin’ see to luncheon for Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo,” Sam explained. “They was in the village doin’ the marketing, you know.”
“Well, you’d best get yourself out here and finish the trimmin’ of the hedge by the back gate. Looks awful, only a third a’ the way done as it is.”
As the Gaffer went back out Sam sighed, “Sweet roses and asters--the hedge! I’m lucky, I suppose, as he didn’t put me on bread and water for a week!”
As quickly as he could he put the kitchen to rights, then hurried out to find where he’d set his clippers, and went to finish the back portion of the hedge, forgetting he was to watch to see what was happening in the cold room between the well head and the ventilation shaft. Meanwhile, back at the entrance to the orchard Pulgo was attaching the pump wheel to the pipe he’d threaded out of the cold room and making a far better examination to see it fitted properly than he’d done between the well and the shaft. Once all appeared to be in place and working he picked up a large stone and whacked the protruding pipe about three times, and then started turning the wheel.
“Otho Sackville-Baggins, will you please hurry! If you don’t, that Griffo will be there before we arrive, and the stars alone know what he will tell Bilbo.”
“Probably just what he told us the other day,” Otho muttered as he checked to see his cuffs were straight and his studs properly fastened.
“But he’s likely to exaggerate, and who knows where that might lead? He doesn’t like our Lotho, after all.”
In an even lower tone Otho muttered, “Seems no one likes our Lotho. Wonder why that is?”
Lobelia had managed to hear that. “Because they are all jealous of him, of course, Otho. After all he’s the brightest, most handsome young Hobbit his age.”
“Except for Frodo Baggins, of course,” Lotho whispered to himself, and fortunately Lobelia didn’t appear to have heard that. He had to admit that his son and heir had earned the reputation of being a thief, liar, and bully; and he could no longer deny, even to himself, that all of Hobbiton and Bywater and half of Overhill might just be right about Lotho. But what to do about it now was the question. Not that picking up an unwanted (and unwatched) item here and there bothered him overmuch--that was what had brought his attention to Lobelia Bracegirdle to begin with, after all. Lobelia had come with her aunt to a tea at Cousin Iris’s home intended to announce the impending marriage of her cousin Ivy Groves to Fortumbald Boffin, and he’d gone in company with his mother Camellia. Why his mother at that time in her life had demanded he go with her everywhere he didn’t know, but as she’d aged she seemed to grow increasingly dependent on his presence.
There was a moment when he’d reached for his spoon in order to stir a lump of sugar into his tea, only to realize it had disappeared; a glance at the lass next to him showed she was hastily stowing it into her rather oversized reticule. Now, this was a lass worth the watching, he decided, and he wondered if he were to set anything else--interesting--within reach whether she would repeat the action. She did--she pocketed a fine linen handkerchief that had been embroidered by Primula Brandybuck in silk thread, a tin watch fob, and a stone figure of a turtle that had sat originally on the other side of him. Otho had, over the course of his life, admired a good number of items that belonged to others; but as a Baggins he had never had the nerve to do anything about it other than to purchase the item that had caught his attention if he could persuade its owners to part with it. To see someone who simply took what caught her eye was refreshing.
Within a year they’d been married, with Lotho arriving not as long after the marriage as might be considered quite proper, perhaps; and apparently their marriage had been successful. There were days, however, like today when he wondered if his life might possibly have turned out--more pleasant--had he married someone like Primula Brandybuck.
There were some compensations--maybe Bilbo’s unexpected return from places unknown had foiled Longo’s attempt to get them moved into Bag End; but Lobelia had managed to convince a relative that the rightful heir to her smial had been behaving improperly with a certain young Hobbitess; by the time it became known that the one putting the dessert before the meal was quite a different Hobbit who lived in the Eastfarthing the relative’s will was rewritten in Lotho’s favor and had been executed, giving Lotho and Lobelia quite a comfortable hole near the Commons in Hobbiton and leaving the rightful heir having to beg room in his younger brother’s smial until he could afford to purchase or excavate one of his own.
Now, however--now they were headed for Bag End (where they were definitely not wanted) to try to keep Bilbo (who was not inclined to believe them at the best of times) from believing whatever story Griffo Boffin was likely to tell him about what their Lotho and Ted Sandyman might have done in and around his orchard and fields (tales that were most likely all too true--not that he would even dream of admitting that to Bilbo).
“Are you putting down roots or something, Lotho Sackville-Baggins?” Lobelia demanded, plainly at the end of her patience.
“I am coming, my dear wife,” he answered, giving his comfortable chair a longing look--he’d rather be sitting there with a cup of porter by him, looking over the account books to see how much his various farms were bringing him than having to traipse up to Bag End and face Bilbo Baggins and Griffo Boffin, with young Frodo watching.
No, he thought morosely to himself as he set his hat upon his head and closed the door after his wife and himself, it doesn’t appear this afternoon will be in the least way pleasant.
“Pulgo! Pulgo! Where are you?”
They’d not been turning the wheel very long before Pulgo and Sancho heard their mother calling.
“Pumps and handles!” exclaimed Pulgo. “They ought not to be home for hours yet! What for’s Mum callin’ for me now?” He paused in his labors, looking from the pump wheel to the place where the pipes emerged from the ventilation shaft, to the carved stone screen that lay in pieces at the bottom of the slope where it had fallen when the pipe had pushed it out of place, then to the wheel again, his little brother, then back toward where his mother’s voice was approaching up the lane. Finally he said, “You stay here, see? Stay here and turn the wheel and make the pump work, understand? I’ll go an’ see what Mum wants.”
Sancho nodded as Pulgo turned away. “What’cha gonna tell her, Pulgo?”
“Don’t know as yet. Mebbe convince her as I’ve just been scrumpin’ in the orchard here.”
“But the apples ain’t ripe!”
“There’s still some cherries, right?” So saying, Pulgo hurried to the cherry trees and grabbed a few of the fruits, then turned to the break in the hedge. “Stay put and make sure as the pump works, hear?” At Sancho’s nod he hurried off--and didn’t come back....
Sancho smiled once his brother was gone. He’d been wanting a go with the wheel, but so far Pulgo hadn’t allowed him even to touch it. He loved wheels, Sancho Proudfoot did, and had thoughts to follow their dad into the carting business. Let Pulgo play with holes in the ground and mud and pipes and handles and pumps and all--Sancho would get to spend his time traveling about the Shire in the warm sunshine, and would get to smell the fresh air and the scent of growing crops and good cooking smells emerging from the holes and houses he passed. And wheels were important to carting, they were. With that in mind he took the handle his brother had fastened to the rim of the wheel and began turning it.
Oh, but it wasn’t easy, not like the smaller wheel from the garden wagon he’d played with in the workshed. There was a rod on the back attached to a swivel that had to be forced up and down. This was hard!
But he’d show Pulgo he could do it. It took determination, but he got the wheel turning, and once it was, it was fairly easy to keep it going. Could he make it go faster? Faster still? He worked hard, and soon had it going pretty quickly. Water was finally beginning to gush out of the spigot his brother had fashioned. But the spokes weren’t blurring--he’d have to work harder if he wished them to blur....
Griffo had already arrived by the time they made it to the green door of Bag End. Drat it all! She’d known they’d arrive too late! But it appeared that Griffo wasn’t there to make a report on Lotho’s doings after all--he and Bilbo were discussing the sale of excess apples to the Green Dragon to be made into cider.
This was most distressing--and boring. Lobelia had no interest in business at all, after all. Her father had been devoted to it, and her brother shook his head at her own disinterest, of course. But Lobelia hated business, for it had always been used by her father as an excuse for whatever it was he’d failed to procure for her that she’d wanted. “No, Lobelia, my love, you can’t have a new dress now--business is down, and I haven’t the money for it. A new bracelet? Whatever for? Business is down, you see. And why, when you have a drawer full of hair ribbons, do you feel you need more? Business is down, don’t you understand? We can’t afford them now!” Not, she’d noticed, that he ever stinted himself. The day after he’d denied her a new dress he’d come home with a new hat for himself; and when he’d insisted her mother didn’t need a new reticule he’d come home with two fine--and expensive--leather change purses for himself, one in green and one in a cheerful golden brown, to carry with different waistcoats.
“If you have any of the winter kingsgolds,” Griffo was saying over his tea and seedcakes, “they make a marvelous cider. I have twelve trees of them. Those at the Dragon are begging for them.”
“Most of our trees here are pippins, as you know, Griffo, but I do have an Elf’s silverapple tree in the far corner that has had a bumper crop this year.”
“And the two Jonathan’s are both bearing well,” Frodo added. “The Gaffer and I had to thin them a bit the other day, they were so covered with developing fruit.”
She gave Otho a sour glance that he didn’t even notice, so intent was he on following the flow of business and varieties of apples. As for Frodo and Bilbo, they were making a point of ignoring her anyway. Businesshobbits! she thought with disgust. Well, what she’d really like to be doing here, now that she’d found she wasn’t having to protect her Lotho’s reputation, was to have a good search around Bilbo’s rooms--and perhaps that Frodo’s as well. He’d been wearing a fine golden cravat to a wedding in Overhill recently, and it would look so nice on her Lotho--and would undoubtedly be far better disposed were it to find itself in Lotho’s wardrobe. Realizing none of the others were paying her the least attention, she got up as quietly as only a Hobbitess intent on leaving the room unnoticed could, and slipped down the passage toward the kitchen.
Unfortunately, while shut in the cold room finishing up the connections between the pipes going vertically down the well and those going out almost horizontally out through the ventilation shaft, Pulgo hadn’t managed to make a good connection at one point. The joint pieces he’d “borrowed” from Cousin Belo’s cart weren’t meant for this gauge pipe at all, and there were three of these he’d used. The one closest to the well head he’d managed to jam together tightly enough it didn’t leak, and the same with the one coming directly off the pipe going out the ventilation shaft, which was at eye-height to him. But the one where the low horizontal shaft from the well reached the one following the line of the stone-lined wall up to the hole--that one was rather loose, and although it held at first the vibration of the pump wheel turning was loosening it, and eventually some of the water leaked out at that point. Once Sancho took over the turning of the wheel the fitting began to become looser, for Sancho was short enough he’d place more pressure on the handle when the it was turning toward it’s lowest position, which would put more pressure on the pipe as it went through the ventilation shaft, causing the vertical pipe to move more up and down, further loosening the lower joint. And the faster Sancho turned the wheel, the looser the connection became, causing the water to flow more rapidly.
A pool was forming on the slate floor of the room--a pool that was widening with each turn of that wheel Sancho Proudfoot was seeking to make go so quickly as to cause the spokes to blur.
“I don’t know what I’m to do with you, Pulgo Proudfoot!” fumed the lad’s mother. “You know as your grandfa don’t want you anywhere near Bag End, scrumpin’ or no. And what for are you after Bag End’s cherries? Ours ain’t good enough for ye?”
“But, Mum,” he protested. “It’s not like that at all!”
“You tryin’ now to say as ye aren’t scrumpin’, child? There, with those cherries in yer pocket?”
“Mum--I was up speakin’ with Sam Gamgee....”
“Sam Gamgee? How is it as ye’re speakin’ with Sam when you come from the orchard while him’s trimmin’ the back hedge? Got yerself some kind a’ speakin’ tube or somethin’ like?”
Sam was trimming the hedge? But, then, who was keeping an eye on things inside the cold room itself? Pulgo couldn’t think what could go wrong, but was old--and experienced--enough to know that even when all caution was taken things still managed to break down or to have unexpected consequences. His mother had dragged him back to their hole and was forcing him inside. “Grandfa’s not here, is he?”
“No, him’s not back--shouldn’t be back till tomorrow at the earliest. But that’s neither here nor there, young Hobbit. I won’t have yer scrumpin’, not when I work my fingers to the bone to see to it as plenty a’ good food is set on the table afore ye! And as, since we live in yer grandfa’s hole, I have t’put up with all his rants and raves, I won’t be havin’ you go against his rules. Sure as the Sun rises in the east, he’ll be a-blamin’ me fer not teachin’ you discipline.”
The problem was, she was right, and he knew it.
The small pool of water in the cold room was spreading, and was pushing on the wooden door frame. At last a bit of grout, there at the bottom where the caulking had been finished rather hurriedly, gave way, and a thin trickle worked its way under the door into the kitchen.
My, if the pause in Bilbo’s study hadn’t proved profitable! Lobelia hadn’t dared touch his silver inkstand; but she’d found a fine steel pen with a gold nib closed away in a box in the second drawer; and a fine pipe of cherry wood, one beautifully carved and with a silver rim about the bowl, in the same drawer. She suspected it was intended as a gift for Frodo for their shared birthday, as it had obviously never been used and certainly wasn’t of Hobbit manufacture. This would be perfect to give to Otho for Yule--if she didn’t decide to give it to Lotho instead. On second thought, it would probably be best to give it to Otho, for Otho rarely took her gifts to him out of their hole, suspecting that if they were recognized folks would begin lodging protests.
Then she’d found seven gold and silver coins in a tray in the upper drawer. She’d only taken two--if all seven were gone he’d be less likely to think he might have spent them all and forgotten about it. No, mustn’t get too greedy! And there was a broken watch chain she’d found. That he’d likely have forgotten about already, and she was certain it was gold and of Dwarf workmanship. That could bring her a pretty penny once she got it to Needlehole during their trip south to visit all their family holdings in the Southfarthing--Cousin Gunto never asked embarrassing questions.
Now to get back to the bedrooms and see what she could take from there--and she was determined to get that fine gold-colored cravat for her lad! She turned toward the kitchen--no, wait! It might be worthwhile to pause in the dining room and check out the dresser there....
Sancho was determined to get the wheel going so fast he could get the spokes to blur together. If he tried just a little harder....
A small pool was gathering within the kitchen, lying almost invisible on the top of the smooth tiles of the floor. A bit later in the day, once the Sun was westerly enough to shine in through the window, there’d be an extra sparkle on its surface. But for now it remained unseen, unnoticed as Lobelia, her pockets and umbrella both heavier from additional items removed from the dining room, finally entered the room, intent on the passageway beyond it that led to the bedrooms. Unwittingly she stepped into the pool, and her feet went sliding on the slick tiles, and down she fell, landing on her left hip, hearing something break as she landed on the contents of that pocket. Meanwhile her right foot struck the doorframe to the new cold room, loosening more of the caulking; and suddenly cold water gushed through the gap and soaked her skirts. Lobelia gave a shocked cry of dismay, alerting the Hobbits in the front parlor.
“What was that?” Griffo asked, alarmed when the thump and squawk were heard.
Bilbo glanced swiftly around the room and noted immediately that Lobelia had absented herself. “I let my vigilance down!” he muttered. “Now what’s she taken?”
Otho noted with surprise--and growing distress once he realized his older cousin’s suspicions--that his wife was missing, and recognized it must be she they’d heard from further back in the smial. He hoped she’d not taken much as yet. This was likely to prove a most uncomfortably embarrassing visit, he feared!
As for Frodo, all that could be seen in his eyes was the concern he felt for someone who had apparently fallen or something. The four of them rose and headed back through the smial toward the kitchen where they found Lobelia Sackville-Baggins sitting in a circle of soaked skirts on the glistening floor of the kitchen, her eyes alarmed and her sleeve wet where she’d fallen again trying to get up.
Bilbo stopped at the sight of his discomfited distant cousin by marriage, taking in the sodden condition of her clothing and her growing embarrassment and fury, and began to laugh. “And what have we here?” he finally asked. The umbrella lay where it had slid a few feet from her, the blade of a carving knife protruding from it. He circled about her carefully and bent down, picking up the umbrella by its point and shaking loose the fork as well, not to mention a pair of pickle tongs he’d had from his Tookish grandmother. “It appears, Lobelia, that a number of things from my dining room dresser found your umbrella an irresistible place in which to hide.”
“Aren’t you going to help me up?” she demanded.
“Oh, but we will, I suppose,” he said thoughtfully, “although I do intend to search your pockets. Although,” he added, looking at where the gold nib of the pen she’d taken protruded from her bodice, “I suppose I’d best send for Mistress Rumble to assist us. That looks to be a rather unfortunate place to have hidden that, Cousin.”
“And you did this on purpose!” she said accusingly as Griffo and Otho between them raised her to her feet.
“What? Leave a pool of water on the kitchen floor? Not likely, and you know it! Frodo, will you see if you can find if the kitchen pump is leaking?”
Frodo also carefully skirted Lobelia, checking the floor and pulling open the door that allowed access to the pipes leading to the pump. “No,” he reported, “there’s no water anywhere about on this side of the room, Uncle. Nor do I see anything obviously wet or out of place that might have held that much water.”
Griffo looked down. “I say, Bilbo, the water’s getting deeper here, and it’s not from the drips from her skirts. I can’t tell where it’s coming from.”
Frodo was back, his bright eyes examining the growing pool. “The cold room,” he decided. “It’s coming from the cold room.” So saying, he opened the door and looked inside. “What in the Shire...?” he began as he examined the floor, which was now awash. “The whole room is full of water, and the water is rising. What shall we do now?”
“How is the cold room getting filled with water?” demanded Bilbo. He nudged his younger cousin out of the way and looked in. He saw the forgotten lamp that burned low on a shelf in the corner, glimmering on the surface of the water that covered the floor. He spotted that the well cover was not seated properly, then saw the pipes rising out of it, then running to the far wall, toward the ventilation shaft. “And what is this?” he asked himself. He turned toward the back door out into the garden. “Best send Sam to look around the entrance to the orchard--that’s where that shaft comes out if I remember correctly. Well, my boy, you’d best be sharp and look into this for me! Go with him.”
Odo Proudfoot gave his unwanted visitor and kinsman a disgruntled look. “And why should I listen to you about where to place the lad for prenticing?” he demanded.
“Well, considering how much water had filled my cold room, I’d say Pulgo has a feel for the work, and Belo has need of a good apprentice, after all,” Bilbo assured him with equanimity. “And I must say that he managed to help foil the loss of a good many items from Bag End, although it was really too bad about the pipe I’d planned to give Frodo for our birthday. I’d say you have reason for recognizing your grandson’s abilities.”
Olo was looking at Bilbo with some trepidation. “And you mean it--you aren’t angry with the lads?”
“Angry? When I’d just found Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, pockets, umbrella, and bodice filled with items she was trying to filch, sitting in a pool of cold water? Oh, I don’t think so, Olo. And it was a masterful job he made of it; and all, I’m assured, intended to ease his mother’s elbow. You have raised quite a thoughtful, resourceful lad, the lot of you. I’m proud of him and hope the same is true of you!”
A month later, as he headed out with a box filled with his possessions and clothing to begin his apprenticeship with Cousin Belo in Overhill, Pulgo Proudfoot smiled and waved at Bilbo and Frodo as they returned up the lane from a visit to the farm at Whitwell with Paladin Took and his family. “Thank you!” he called. “And thank Sam, too, for me!” he added, turning more as the wagon pulled past them. “I’ll see you about Yule, I’m thinkin’!”
Sam, looking down from beyond the hedge at Bag End, gave a deep sigh of relief to see the wagon disappear, then put thoughts of Pulgo out of his mind as he hurried to open the back gate so the two Bagginses wouldn’t have to hop over the low place in the back corner. “There you are, Masters. Come in, come in--I have the fires lit and a nice supper cookin’ for the two of you.”