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85
Change in Guard

For RiverOtter--a special gift for her birthday, and betaed by her! Love always!


~~~

Change of Guard


Hamfast Gamgee approached the front door of Bag End and removed his hat, self-consciously running his other hand through his unruly greying hair before reaching for the bell chain. He hoped his appearance was seen as sufficiently appropriate that it gave no offense, for he was afraid his errand just might do so. Steeling himself, he gave the chain a decided pull, wincing at the aching in his elbow due to the movement.

After a few moments the door opened a crack, and a wary eye peered out. He heard a wordless sigh of relief, and the opening widened to show the Master’s kin, that Mr. Fatty Bolger, stood there.

“Oh, good, it’s you, Gaffer. I hope you took no offense, but the relatives have been that bad, you know.”

The Gaffer had to chuckle at that, for there was no question they had been that bad--and worse. “I do understand, Mr. Bolger, sir.”

“And did you need something for the gardens?”

That recalled the gardener to his errand. “For the gardens? Oh, but I’m sorry--no. No, Mr. Bolger sir, I need t’speak with the Master’s all.”

“But Cousin Bil--no, wait.” The Master’s kin stopped and gave a nod, reminding himself, the Gaffer thought, of the facts of the new order of things here on the Hill. “Yes--you want to see the Master. He’s down in the study.” So saying, Mr. Fredegar stepped aside courteously to allow the gardener to enter, waving his hand vaguely to indicate the direction of the Master’s current position while he saw to it the bolt was securely driven home. “That Lobelia is driving us rather mad--she must have been here with one ruse or another to try to get inside Bag End at least six times today.”

The Gaffer had been keeping a surreptitious watch on the Sackville-Bagginses, and knew Missus Lobelia had actually made eight approaches to the place, once being driven away by Sam, who’d rather cleverly managed to stumble as he pushed his barrow by her while she was trying unsuccessfully to hide behind the lilacs, pouring steer manure for the vegetable gardens on her feet. She’d given a most unlady-like screech and retreated back out the side gate to the satisfaction of all the residents on the Row.

Now he waited for Mr. Bolger to show him down the corridor--it wouldn’t do for the likes of him to wander freely through a fine place such as Bag End when there was one here to serve as a proper escort! Mr. Fredegar, having satisfied himself that the door was properly secured, turned and seemed surprised to find Hamfast Gamgee still standing patiently, again had to apparently rethink matters, colored some, and led the way down the hallway to perform a proper introduction. He knocked at the open study door, announcing, “Frodo--Mr. Hamfast is here to see you.”

Well, the Gaffer found that covered proprieties nicely enough!

Frodo Baggins turned from the desk and nodded rather warily. The Gaffer was pleased to see he was dressed well enough today to have satisfied Master Bilbo, with one of his better waistcoats over his linen shirt, the chain of his new pocket watch hanging properly across his chest, his hair neatly brushed (although it did appear Master Frodo had been running his fingers through it on the right side, a habit he’d shared with old Mr. Bilbo). He rose gracefully, his feet apart and his knees slightly bent, almost defensively, the gardener judged. Well, that was understandable enough, considering the assaults on the smial and on Frodo himself that had been made in the few days since the Birthday and old Mr. Bilbo’s inexplicable disappearance.

“Yes, Master Gamgee--you wished to speak with me?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Frodo sir.” That young Master Frodo would address him as had old Mr. Bilbo pleased the Gaffer.

“I see. Then--why don’t we both sit down?” Frodo indicated the sofa. The Gaffer wasn’t positive that accepting that particular seat was quite proper to his position, but then it was true the young Master was rather new at the business of being full Master of Bag End and the Hill. He sat down rather stiffly, continuing to hold his hat between his hands.

“How is it I can help you, Gaffer?”

“Well, it’s this way, Mr. Frodo, sir--as you should know well enough, I’m not gettin’ any younger, not any more’n was the old Master. And my joints--them hurt me somethin’ fierce at times.”

“I see,” Frodo said a bit uncertainly, his attention fixed on the gardener’s hands, where the knuckles had become decidedly knobbly lately.

“So, I was thinkin’ as it might be best if’n I was t’give over my position fully t’my Sam. Oh, I know as he’s still but a tween and but a lad in the eyes of most, but you ’n’ me. we both know as he’s been doin’ most of the work in the gardens for at least the last few years. If’n I didn’t think as him could handle it--or if’n you was to object--I’d think twice about it. But, y’see, sir....” He found his explanation petering out.

Frodo was nodding thoughtfully. “I see, and believe me, I do understand. Bilbo and I have both seen how much harder it’s become for you to spend hours kneeling down and then trying to straighten up afterwards. If you feel your health would suffer, who am I to seek to convince you to continue working? And I do wish you to know that Bilbo left a fund to provide you with a pension to be paid quarterly, intended to start whenever you expressed an interest in cutting back in your work here. He did not wish for you to be forced to work when it might indeed not be to your best interests just to provide for food on your table. He--and I--have both appreciated your work and dedication over the years since you took over for old Holman Greenhand, after all. Oh, and would you like some tea? I could have Freddy fetch some----”

“Oh, no, sir, Master Frodo, sir. That’s not necessary, you see. I must be gettin’ back down t’Number Three, sir, and lettin’ my Sam know as he’s now the proper gardener for Bag End and not but the gardener’s lad no more.” He felt his joints pop as he straightened to stand upright. “I know as him’s been your man since him was but a little’un and you first come here t’Bag End. He’ll do ye proud, just you wait ’n’ see!”

Frodo’s expression relaxed. “Oh, I’m certain of that, Gaffer.”

“T’tell the truth, sir, him’s twice the gardener as I ever was.” He forestalled Frodo’s protestations with a wave of his hat. “No, I mean it, sir. My Sam has a true feel for flowers--much better’n me, you see. And as the years’ve gone on, my first love’s the more for me root vegetables, and taters in especial. All I ever knew o’ flowers I learned from Cousin Holman and even from old Mr. Bilbo, who learned it from his own dad ’n’ mum. But flowers is in my Sam’s blood, flowers and a love of beauty. You c’n give him the flowers, and share your own love of beauty more’n me. Let me look at turning the earth more profitable, and let him fill it with color and scent. Oh, I’ll come up and help with the veg’tables as is needed an’ all; but him’s the one what should be in charge.”

He found himself leaning forward confidentially. “An’ truth be told, Master, him’s been directin’ what’s t’be planted where for quite some time now, not me! Oh, I make a show of tellin’ him t’spade this bed, er that’un, and t’get the weedin’ done and all; but it’s him as has truly made the decisions for ever so long, if’n you’ll believe it! Nah, ’tis best as I just let him be the gardener in name him’s been in deed these last five years ’n’ more.

“An’ more’n that, him’s been doin’ it all t’best please you. If’n I was t’suggest some plant ner bush be moved or pruned and him had the least inklin’ as ye’d prefer’t otherwise, him’d just go right deaf on me--and then if’n him wasn’t right all along on how it was best t’let it be!” He realized he was smiling proudly. “You accept him as the gardener, and ye won’t never regret it, Master Frodo, sir.”

Frodo’s face and eyes were alight. “There I must admit you are undoubtedly right, Master Gamgee, sir.”

The Gaffer searched the Baggins’s eyes, looking for hidden meaning, but found none. No, Master--Mr. Frodo--he meant it honestly.

Frodo continued, “I’m positive I will never regret it--never, to my dying day. I will miss seeing you up here every day, but I will always know you are there and helping with the vegetables and quietly inspiring your son to your own standards of excellence. And I do thank you--for myself and for Bilbo, who always respected you so.”

As he returned down the Lane to Bagshot Row, Hamfast Gamgee went with a far lighter heart. He’d not want for anything, he knew, between the promised pension and what the young Master would pay his Sam. And he was convinced that Mr. Frodo would indeed never regret it, not to his dying day.



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