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Mr. Bilbo's Ward

5. Mr. Bilbo’s Ward

I member Mr. Bilbo setting off for Brandy Hall with a pony cart he’d rented from the stable at the Green Dragon. Said he’d probably be gone a week or so, but that when he got back he expected he’d be bringing back his lad Frodo as his ward.

Now, I’d never seen Frodo, although my old Gaffer had, of course, when Frodo was just a tiny thing. I’d heard him tell of the days when Mr. Drogo and Missus Primula lived just down the Row from our place, and how they’d visit Bag End from Buckland from time to time till Frodo was seven, and how clever the lad was, and how devoted to him his folks was and all. And I’d heard the pride in Mr. Bilbo’s voice when he’d get back from a visit to Brandy Hall, when he was speaking of his young cousin Frodo, how smart he was, how much promise. And, of course, there was the Gaffer’s cautionary tales he’d tell of how Master Frodo’s mum and dad had drownded that we all got to hear, and how boats and rivers was not to be trusted. Had no idea what this Frodo Lad of Mr. Bilbo’s would be like, but had a vague idea he’d still be about ten, same as me.

I saw the tall, pale person first in Mr. Bilbo’s garden, and I thought for sure this had to be an Elf. He was a young tween, of course, but I was just a little one myself, and had no idea as how he’d had to have grown since he’d last visited Bag End with his folks. But he was so slender, his face so pale and his eyes so bright and eager in a way I’d never seen in a Hobbit afore, his expression sad and watchful, his hands so slender and like they’d never done more than handle beautiful things and all, his gaze so intent and intelligent--I just knew this must be an Elf visiting Mr. Bilbo. I knew that Mr. Bilbo went out walking to meet with Elves in the Shire, and he’d told me they often visited the Woody End and he’d sometimes meet with them on the way to Buckland; I knew Dwarves sometimes would come to visit Bag End, although I was too little at the time to remember the last time they’d done so; and I knew that the old wizard Gandalf was a frequent visitor since Mr. Bilbo’s adventure, although I’d not seen him yet, neither. So, when I saw this person in Mr. Bilbo’s garden I was sure it had to be an Elf come to speak with Mr. Bilbo when he got back from Buckland. I was in a fine dither, I’ll tell you.

But then Mr. Bilbo hisself came out of Bag End, looking for someone, and when he saw the slender stranger, he said, “Well, there you are, then. Is it as you remember? It has been years, hasn’t it, my boy?” And only then did I begin to realize this must be Master Frodo.

He wasn’t really all that tall--just the way he carried hisself and his slenderness made him look taller, it seems. But to me--even as I realized this was just another Hobbit like me--to me he seemed special and splendid, and....

...and fragile. Yes, fragile is the word. Something specially beautiful and precious and possibly easily broken and lost. And something in my heart went out to that feeling of fragile, something that said, This one, this Hobbit I will protect, because this is a beautiful Hobbit who shall not be broken if I can help it. We can’t lose this one. I can’t lose this Hobbit. I won’t lose this Hobbit. And when he looked about and saw me at the garden gate and suddenly gave me that smile of his, I felt as the Valar themselves had given me a sign. I had sworn myself then, just a lad of ten, to Frodo Baggins, and it’s a giving I will never, never, never regret.

Mr. Bilbo saw where he was looking, over at me at the garden gate, and he smiled at me, too. “Ah, our lad Sam!” he said. “Frodo Baggins, may I introduce young Master Samwise Gamgee, son of our inestimable gardener, Hamfast Gamgee, a veritable master of growing things. Now, Sam, is your father on his way?”

At that point the Gaffer hisself spoke up from further up the garden where he’d been working since sunup on pulling out some nettle plants that had taken over in the patch of garden he’d given to me to cultivate. I’d thought they was catnip and had left them grow, and only a painful encounter with the underside of their leaves had disabused me the night afore.

“Ain’t no kind of young master, that ‘un,” my Gaffer grunted, and then spat. He was wearing his long gloves to protect his arms as he pulled out the stinging nettles. “Not less’n it’s master of not knowin’ the differ’nce ‘tween nettles and herbs, like.” He was carrying a pile of the plants to set in his barrow as he’d left near the gate.

“Ah, nettles, eh?” Mr. Bilbo said as he looked them over after they was cast into the barrow. “Useful things, and young ones are quite tasty in a salad, you know.”

The Gaffer looked at him with his brows raised in disbelief. “Nettles in salad?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, but only young ones, mind you. Learned that along the way to the Lonely Mountain. One very useful bit old Balin taught me--not that I’ve had a nettle salad since, of course. And the fibers can be twisted into thread in a pinch. But when you’re starving for greenstuffs because about all that’s been packed for food is cram and jerked meats, you’ll try about anything. Ah, many was the time we’d have dandelion greens and young nettles along with our meals.”

The Gaffer gave that grunt that he gave about whenever Mr. Bilbo mentioned his adventures, what said he was half-disbelievin’ and half-curious and couldn’t quite make up his mind which--not that he truly disbelieved Mr. Bilbo’s stories, mind; but some of the things he said was so far beyond the Gaffer’s experience he just couldn’t take it all in, if you take my meaning. He knew as Mr. Bilbo had really gone with Dwarves--he’d seen them the day afore he disappeared coming up the Hill to Bag End, and he’d seen them the next morning early on heading for the Green Dragon, then Mr. Bilbo runnin’ after an hour or so later on, his waistcoat all unbuttoned and his face flustered. He was just starting to work a bit with his uncle, who did Bag End’s garden in those days, and though he was just a lad at the time, he found the garden and the smial it graced both fascinating.

But, that’s a different tale.

“I’ll stick to lettuce and cabbages, mind,” the Gaffer said.

I looked at them nettles with more interest and stowed the information away in my head for study later. I brought the pail that had the food Mum had put up into the garden, not sure if I needed to be invited since the Master and his ward was there today, not that I ever stopped to wonder when no one was there--then the garden was my dad’s and mine, you know. Meanwhile old Mr. Bilbo was telling Frodo what kinds of remedies the Elves had told him for nettle stings--seems the stings don’t seem to bother Dwarves none, though Elves know a number of ways to reduce the bumps and itching. Again, I listened, and later that day when no one was around I tried one of them on my arms, and it worked--we had the comfrey there in the herb garden, and a bit of aloe, and my arm felt much better after.

Mr. Frodo spoke up in a quiet patch amongst his uncle’s talking, and asked me, “Did your mum send that up for your elevenses?” I nodded. His voice was like him, beautiful and clear. He waited, and I saw he meant me to add on.

“She made us some bread and cheese, and some dried grapes from the arbor above our place,” I told him. “Too early for fresh grapes this year.” He nodded.

“Does she dry them on a tray in the sun?” he asked. “That is how my Aunt Menegilda does it.” I nodded. “I copied out her book of useful ideas for my Tookish aunts for Yule last year,” he said. I think I just looked up at him, surprised. Oh, I knew Mr. Bilbo read and wrote regular, but I’d never met a tween who knew how to do it afore.

“Uncle Bilbo has promised to tell me some of the dishes he learned of on his travels, and I’ll make them cookery books from Dwarvish and Elvish recipes for this Yule,” he continued. “Would you like to help me make copies? Maybe your mum would like one, too.”

I must’ve gone all red or something, and I muttered that my mum didn’t know how to read, and he got all embarrassed.

“Not to worry, Frodo my lad,” Mr. Bilbo said. “You forget that a lot of Hobbits never learn to read and write--you’re just so used to it in being true in the Hall you have no idea it’s not universal.”

I didn’t quite understand all the words he used, but thought I understood the gist of that, and filed that away to think of, too. So, over in Buckland lots of Hobbits, even working Hobbits like my Gaffer and me, learned how to read and write? I’d have loved to learn how to do that, you know. Mr. Bilbo had let me visit him in his study one day when the rain suddenly poured down out of a sky gone suddenly dark, and he’d brought me into the smial to get out of the wet. I’d been fascinated by the books, and he’d started telling me about them, what they was about, where he’d got them, and that this one was tales and that one was about healing plants in the wild, and the one with the red cover and blue spine there on his desk was the story of the Great War against the Enemy, written in Elvish, and he was translating it into our speech. He picked up one of the pages he’d written and read it to me, then opened to a page in the book and read some of it out in Elvish. It was beautiful sounding words, yet dark and frightening. And when I said that, he told me that of course it was dark and frightening, for it were a dark and frightening part of the story, with Beren fighting against Morgoth and being vanquished and put down into the dungeons.

Anyway, Mr. Bilbo said that as I’d brought our elevenses, maybe it was time for the two of them to have theirs, too, and he took Mr. Frodo back inside.

Frodo was quiet and observant, like. Late that afternoon when the Gaffer had me cutting off the dead flowers among the pansies so they’d keep blooming, he was sitting on the ground nearby, reading a book and watching me at the same time. I had been rather pleased he was there, for I liked to look at him when I could. Finally he closed the book with a blade of grass inside it, sticking out between the pages, and set it on the bench he’d sat by, and came over and asked if he could help me. “I helped in the gardens at home some,” he explained. I was surprised--someone like this special Hobbit grubbing around in gardens? But if he wanted to help, I guessed he could, as this was his garden now. Once he figured out what I was doing, he went in and got a short knife, then came out and started helping me. His hands was quick and gentle with the plants, and once I figured he weren’t going to cut any buds, too, I moved over and started with my scissors on the geraniums, doing the same with them. Then I heard him whistling. He could whistle like a songbird, and I’d never heard anything like it afore.

Soon Mr. Bilbo came out and watched. He sat down on the bench, his hands in the pockets of his waistcoat, fingering whatever he had in the right one, watching and smiling at the two of us. I would give him a glance now and then to see what he was thinking of this, his cousin there on his knees in the garden cutting off dead heads off the pansies, but it was plain he was pleased enough with what he saw. Then the Gaffer came around from the turn of the Hill where he’d been working on the yellow rose tree he was trying so hard to get over an attack of rust, and his jaw dropped. Not but Mr. Bilbo hadn’t been known to take an interest in some of the plants hisself, mind you. He’d brought back some cuttings from his adventures--plants from Rivendell--and he’d insisted on caring for them hisself for years afore he’d finally been sure they would not die if the Gaffer took care of them after that. But to see the Young Master working alongside me was a shock to the Gaffer’s system, seemed like.

Mr. Bilbo stopped him afore he could do more than sputter, though. “I’m very pleased,” he said, “to see that your Sam there has been teaching my young cousin some useful skills. And a very good job he’s been doing of overseeing Frodo’s education in how to keep the pansies blooming.”

Mr. Frodo looked up at the Gaffer rather shyly, and smiled at him, and not even the Gaffer could help being overwhelmed. “He’s letting me earn my keep, Mr. Gamgee,” Frodo said. “He’s a very good teacher.”

Later he told me that both of us had turned red with pleasure, and he thought that was a right treat, he did. Of course, he already had an idea of what was needed, but he didn’t tell us that then. But he enjoyed cleaning out dead heads, although after an hour he’d become tired and his knees would be starting to bother him, so then he’d stop and leave me to it, but there usually weren’t a lot left to cut when he’d helped like that. Then he’d go back to his book, but often he’d start reading it out loud so I could hear the story as I was working.

I didn’t work all day, of course, but I loved being with my dad in the Bag End garden, and I loved flowers. In the section that was mine to grow, I’d changed from trying to grow herbs to trying to start some of the seeds from the elven flowers. I’d also started an aloe plant there. This was a plant Mr. Bilbo said grew wild in the south, and that the Elves loved it for its soothing effects on the skin, so he’d brought a cutting from there. The aloe was thriving, but the flowers wasn’t doing so well. Oh, they’d come up okay, but then they’d shrivel and wouldn’t grow right, and I was trying to figure out why they grew where the Gaffer had them near the study window, but not here in this sunny patch.

After watching me check them for the fifth day in a row, Mr. Frodo figured out what I was worrying over, and came over and looked down at those small, valiant seedlings. He asked me about them and where I’d gotten the seeds, and after I’d explained and shown him the grown flowers near the study window and all, he sat and studied on them seedlings for quite a while, then went and looked at the ones that was growing so famously by the smial.

Suddenly he gave a laugh, and came over to me and said, “I think maybe I see the problem.” He led me to the study window and asked me to describe what it was like to him. It took quite a lot of describing for me to suddenly realize what was wrong with my little plot--too much sun! They grew by the study window shaded the hottest part of the day by nearby trees and the honeysuckle vine that was trained around the window, but I had them out under the bare sun all day long, and she was just too hot for them. Once I understood I felt like a ninnyhammer, but at the same time I was pleased with having figured it out for myself, even if Mr. Frodo had helped me see.

I went back to my bit of garden and gently dug them up, then took them over under the lilac and planted them there in a bare spot, and went back and looked at my now empty bit of plot and sighed. “I’d put sunflowers here now,” I said, “but it’s too late for them to bloom.”

“How about nasturtiums?” Mr. Frodo suggested, and I felt happier. Nasturtiums will grow about anywhere, and they don’t take too long to grow and flower, so I went to where there was nasturtiums out by the front door, found some of their big seeds lying near the plants, and brought them around and put them where the elven flowers had been.

When the Gaffer came by as I was watering the seeds, he wanted to know what had happened to the seedlings I’d started. I told him that I’d found out they didn’t do well in the full sun, and showed them where I’d moved them to and asked if he thought they’d grow there. He snorted, but it was with approval, I realized. He’d not said anything so I’d have a chance to learn for myself that some plants couldn’t grow in full sun, but if I’d not realized what was wrong soon he was going to move them hisself and then tell me what I’d done wrong. He was right pleased I’d realized what was wrong without him saying so. I didn’t tell him then that it was Mr. Frodo who’d helped me see what the matter was, for he didn’t tell me--he’d just figured it out by hisself and then helped me figure it out by myself. That was when I got sure Mr. Frodo was about the smartest Hobbit alive, next to Mr. Bilbo, of course.


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