A few days later there was another guest at Bag End. I had finished my lesson with Mr. Frodo and looked out the window and saw there was a huge shadow on the lawn. It was one of those very bright days one gets as the summer lets go and the rains and winds and storms prepare to set in. I got up to try to see what was making the strange shadow, and saw a Big Folk for the first time in my life. He was so tall, I felt he was as big as the oak in the field down the hill and across the road. He wore grey robes, and had a grey beard and hair like silver and eyebrows that stuck out like anything. And his hat was blue, and tall and pointed. In his hand he carried a staff with an end that looked like a knot of roots, and around his neck hung loose the ends of a silver scarf. He was looking down at my bit of garden and the nasturtiums, and he was smiling large as hisself.
Mr. Bilbo looked up from where he was working on his book and asked what had caught my attention, and Mr. Frodo looked up from where he was cleaning up the papers I’d left on the table where we worked. I couldn’t answer, but pointed out the window. Suddenly old Mr. Bilbo was up and dancing around with pleasure, calling out, "Gandalf!" and hurrying for the door. And I found out that there was indeed a wizard named Gandalf the Grey.
Mr. Frodo was as shy as I was about this guest, for he’d never seen the wizard, neither, although he told me later he’d heard all kinds of stories about him, and some of them from his Brandybuck cousins and the Sackville-Bagginses not pleasant nor flattering.
Mr. Bilbo led the wizard into Bag End and brought him into the study--and suddenly, as he looked at Frodo and me he stopped still and looked at us with a funny gaze in his eye, like he was seeing us but something else as well, something that was a big surprise, a mixed sort of surprise. He blinked several times, and for a second he looked at Frodo and--what? What could I call it then? Hadn’t seen that look afore, and didn’t know what to think about it. Today, I know the word--compassion. He looked at Frodo, and he had compassion in his eyes--just for a moment. Then he looked at me, and I knew that look, for I’d seen it growing in the eyes of Mr. Frodo as he looked at his Uncle Bilbo; but didn’t understand it at all now, not toward me. Why was he looking at me with respect? Then he smiled and laughed and said, "Why, Bilbo--I stay away for a year or two and find suddenly you have a family! What on earth has happened here?"
Gandalf stayed for several weeks, and it quickly seemed like there had always been a wizard in the garden. He liked to spend the days outside where he could stand without worrying about hitting his head on beams and chandeliers. He and Mr. Bilbo’d get into competitions to see who could make the most smoke rings--only Gandalf’s would change colors suddenly, or would take on other shapes than rings, or would dart through the shrubbery like living things afore suddenly they’d just fade away the way smoke rings do. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him.
Then the weather changed, and the wet came. He and Mr. Bilbo would stay holed up in the study for hours on end, talking. He brought letters with him from people Mr. Bilbo had met on his travels, and together they’d talk of how the world was changing outside the Shire. Frodo and I were doing our lessons in the parlor, but we could hear the voices from the study, and now and then we’d hear talk of goblins in the mountains, of Dwarves traveling freely from the Lonely Mountain to the Iron Hills, of how the Shadow was growing again south and east, of Eriador and Arnor and Rangers and hints of Gondor and Rohan and Mirkwood the Great. And Bilbo spoke of how he’d met Elves now and then in the woods of the Shire heading west, west to the Grey Havens and beyond, going out of Middle Earth. And Gandalf would sigh, and say that the Third Age was coming to an end, and that if there was a Fourth Age it would be a different world altogether.
And now and again I’d catch Gandalf looking at Frodo with a puzzled look on his face, or that look of compassion. He began to talk to the lad, and to quiz him of what he knew of the outer world or what his childhood had been like in Brandy Hall. The shyness Frodo’d felt had started to melt away, and soon the wizard was telling him the most outrageous stories of what the Old Took had been like and some things Mr. Bilbo had never told him about hisself yet, while Frodo told him about his discoveries in Hobbiton and about the worms who made shells of pebbles or sticks or beads, and the caterpillars and their cocoons; and he told how he’d taught little Merry how to swim and watched over the other young ones from Brandy Hall swimming in the Brandywine, and how some of the others and he, when they were still teens, used to set up raids on the pantries of Brandy Hall, of his reading, of his studies in Elvish, and how he was helping to teach me, and the like.
Then Gandalf made a point of talking to me. I didn’t know how to act, really, but he was insistent I just be myself. He asked me about what Mr. Bilbo and Frodo had been teaching me, and about the elven flowers he’d seen growing under the lilacs, and which flowers I’d planted myself in the garden, and what I knew about Elves and the outer world. He got down one of Mr. Bilbo’s books of tales and read to us out of it, reading the story of Luthien and Beren One-Hand. And when I asked what a Balrog was, he shivered as he said it was a demon of the ancient world, and with luck I’d never have to meet one.
One day when it was fair and I was helping the Gaffer clean up some of the damage in the garden from the rain, I overheard Gandalf and Bilbo talking in the kitchen, talking about Frodo.
"Of all my assorted cousins, old and young, he’s the best of the lot," Mr. Bilbo was saying.
"And on what do you base this assessment?"
"He has spirit, a fine intelligence and curiosity, and a will of iron. I don’t think he knows yet just how strong his will is, but I’m beginning to see glimpses of it. To come through his childhood as fine as he is, after all he’s been through, he had to have a strong will. I’ve a strong suspicion he’ll do great things one day--maybe even make Mayor."
Gandalf laughed. "Mayor?" he said. "I’ve been expecting you to become Mayor for decades, my friend."
"Hmmph. Not likely. Who would vote for old Mad Baggins? And you can be assured as surely as that is how I am known throughout Hobbiton and Bywater, that if I dared to run Lobelia Sackville-Baggins would make certain the entire Shire would know just how mad I am. Not, of course, that they don’t already gossip about it.
"But as for my lad there--he’s quite a different sort from me. Has compassion, deep compassion. Probably from seeing his parents die when he was at such an impressionable age. And a love of beauty, and for our people. And intelligent? I must tell you the story of his history of farm raids in the Marish when he was a teen." And he told how he led the other lads in setting up raids, how he’d get them cooperating and the littler lads involved with the diversions, and how he’d finally been caught one too many times in Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms. And the peals of laughter I heard from the wizard were enough to rock the Hill.
"But why have you let this fine mind languish so long in Buckland, Bilbo?" he finally asked when the laughter passed.
Mr. Bilbo sounded disgusted. "I let myself be persuaded that my passion for adventures and study would work against the boy, Gandalf. But they were coming close to killing that fine lad with kindness, kindness not mixed with understanding. I’m hoping that he’s outgrown it, but he was fragile as a child." And there was the word I knew what I’d wanted to use when I was first seeing Frodo in the garden at Bag End--fragile. "Too close a hand kept on him after his parents died, not letting him do much of anything, followed by not watching him at all in his late teens, and then back to swaddling him in wool again when the least hint of the old troubles looked to be returning. I finally had to get him out of there. He was eating his heart out from enforced idleness and lack of sheer empathy. Oh, they loved him, right enough; but they didn’t know how to encourage him at anything."
"He looks happy enough now, Bilbo."
"He’s happier, certainly--and healthier as well. I encourage him to walk as much as he can, and to swim in the Water, and to assist young Sam when he wishes. And he’s not only showing an aptitude for study, but for teaching as well. Gaffer Gamgee is bragging how I’m teaching his son to read and write, ‘not meaning anything ill from it, mind you;’ but the one who’s doing the lion’s share of the instruction is Frodo himself, who’s finding himself reveling in the fine mind the gardener’s lad has."
"A very fine lad indeed, young Samwise. Not aptly named at all, though, I fear. ‘Half-wise’ indeed! Very intelligent child. And he, too, will be a force to be reckoned with one day." Now that, I must say, was one thing I’d never looked to hear about myself. I was smart enough to learn to read and write and all--but a force to be reckoned with one day? How did he figure that? I was a gardener’s lad, and one day would be a gardener myself, I reckoned. And I doubted that "fine mind" Mr. Bilbo spoke of. But it was nice, I’ll admit, to hear such compliments.
There was silence for a while, and I was thinking of moving to the next bed when Gandalf spoke again.
"Bilbo, I’ve spoken of the Shadow that is rising again. I have a feeling that just as so many of your folk have gone on to quiet glory in the past, that in the time to come something will draw more into the affairs of the outer world, perhaps these two likely lads." Again there was a silence. Finally he added, "I don’t know for certain what’s coming--Eru alone knows to what end this age will come--but things look very black, very black indeed. Yet hope I am finding hidden in odd corners, in the vale of Imladris, and hints of it here in the Shire. Hidden, in some unfathomable manner, in the hearts of two Hobbit lads."
"I don’t want any grief falling on my Frodo," Mr. Bilbo said with a fervor I agreed with. "I wouldn’t let the Brandybucks kill him with kindness, and I’m not going to loose him to the ungentle mercies of the outer world if I can help it."
"When his time comes, will you be the next to pad him in wool, Bilbo?" There was such a note of--gentleness--in the wizard’s voice. And then he said, "What about a cup of tea, my friend, and tell me about this plan you have for improving the yield of potatoes in the Westfarthing?"
"Oh, it’s not my idea--it’s due to observations and experiments run by my dear friend and employee, Gaffer Gamgee. One of the truly knowledgeable about growing roots, and a canny mind in his own right." And I could hear the noises of Bilbo setting the kettle on the hob and preparing to scald the teapot.
I stole off then, thinking on what I’d heard.
The grey wizard stayed a week longer, and began to watch the lessons Frodo was giving me. I was right proud to show him how I could read, and then he asked me questions about what I’d read and what I’d thought about it. I was surprised to hear myself telling him just what I thought.
We’d been reading about Turin and Nienor, how he’d loved this girl he’d found who had no memory of who’d she’d been, and he married her and all, only for it to come out she was his sister who’d been trying to find him to give him a message of warning, but got caught by agents of the Enemy and had a spell of forgetfulness put on her. Then both of them got real tragic and allowed themselves to die, because brothers and sisters ain’t supposed to love each other that way.
Well, I thought it was a right shameful thing for them to let themselves die like that. It were an honest mistake, right? And they’d not seen each other since they were bairns and all, and she’d lost her memory like. How was they to know they was brother and sister? And I told Gandalf that, that they ought to have been allowed to just apologize and have the marriage set at naught or something like, for it weren’t their fault, after all. I thought it was all just plain wasteful, don’t you see? Gandalf had a smile on him; I could tell Frodo was surprised and a bit embarrassed and all; and Mr. Bilbo, who was listening to all this, was trying his best not to laugh out loud.
Now, mind you, I was still just a little one, and I didn’t know about what it was the folk who is married do with one another, you know, when they’re alone and all. Had no idea as that was how babes is born. Still thought mums just ended up having babies because they were married now, and that dads and mums just got together because they loved one another and thought they’d help each other out. Now I know I was a rank innocent if there ever was one. But it seemed that Gandalf agreed with me about Turin and Nienor, and he told me that I was obviously a very practical and straightforward thinker, and he also felt their reaction was a bit too dramatic. Didn’t know what "dramatic" meant, but got the gist of what he was saying, and I just nodded my head sagely. (I liked that sentence when I read it for the first time--"He nodded sagely." I thought it was right poetical when Mr. Frodo explained what it meant, and I always tried to nod my head sagely after that. Not only practical--I was trying to be above myself, too. Ah, Samwise Gamgee, not a ninnyhammer, maybe, but you had a tendency toward the pompous even then.)
Now don’t ask me how we’d went from "The Boy and the Fox" to Turin and Nienor so quick--I don’t rightly remember. I think, actually, that this was from a book of Elvish stories Mr. Bilbo hisself had written up and bound for Frodo when he was younger, for Frodo also really loved tales of Elves and the old days even when he was little. So Mr. Bilbo had tried to tell some of them in short chapters and simple words. Both Mr. Bilbo and Frodo knew I was really keen on stories of Elves, so after we finished the other book of tales Mr. Frodo must have brought this old book of his out to try me on next. However it was, I was loving to read those tales and was a fair way through the book by that time.
Afore he left, Gandalf had him a long talk with Mr. Bilbo about not letting Frodo go back to live in Brandy Hall, how he was to watch out for him and all; and how maybe they start teaching me about breeding ponies or cows. They was in the study again, and Mr. Frodo had gone off to Bywater to have fittings for a new suit for Yule. I’d dumped some weeds into the compost pile for the Gaffer, and then had come into the Smial to finish doing some figuring practice for Frodo. They’d had the door open, but then Gandalf walked out into the hall to see where I was, give me a look and a nod, then went back in and shut the door. When they came out, Mr. Bilbo looked a bit perturbed and was saying something soft, and he had his right hand in his pocket, fiddling with what he had there like he always did. Gandalf looked right serious, and said, "You’ll do what you please, I know; but such things are best used absolutely as little as possible. You have no idea what mischief some of them get up to."
I looked up, for I thought he was speaking about us lads.
"You’ve no right to nag me about things as if I had no experience at all, or as if I were no older than Samwise there," Mr. Bilbo said, his face angered like I’d never seen.
Gandalf stopped and turned to him, suddenly very stern, stern and frightening, like he was being totally serious for the first time since I’d met him. "I beg to disagree, Bilbo Baggins. I, unlike you, know by what craft such things came to be. Do not presume to know more than I about the focus of my tasks here in Middle Earth."
Mr. Bilbo just backed up, but although there was surprise at this way of speaking from Gandalf, the anger was still there at the corners of his face.
Gandalf looked at him with that stern, truly wizard gaze for a few seconds till the old Hobbit dropped his eyes and mumbled what sounded like an apology, but one he didn’t fully mean. Only then did Gandalf turn away and sweep into the guest room where he’d been staying.
Bilbo’s anger died away, but when the wizard came out with his small bundle, they spoke rather stiff and formal for several minutes afore it all seemed to die away and they were friends again. Mr. Gandalf looked a bit sad, but brightened up when Frodo came back in.
"Good!" he said, "I’ll have a chance to give you a proper goodbye then. I must be off now, so I’ll wish you a fine Yule, although I know it’s months early. You will keep up with your studies in Elvish, won’t you, Frodo? I have a feeling it will stand you in excellent stead one day."
Frodo was right sad to see the wizard go, but promised to keep practicing his Sindarin, and then he was agreeing to it to make sure I have a bit of stock keeping added to my studies, and he blushed and I didn’t understand why. Oh, but I was an innocent! I stood up with my slate and my chalk in my hand to say goodbye, and felt a bit out of place.
Then the old wizard did something I’d never have expected in my life--he knelt down to look me in my face and said, soft and low, and as solemn as if I were an adult being charged to care for a child, "And you, my fine young gardener, I’ll tell you this: you will be charged with safeguarding the hope of Middle Earth one day. I see you are full worthy of it. Promise me this, to never lose your master. You will not understand the meaning of what I say fully for many years, and I hope indeed that things will never come to the point I now foresee. But it is very, very important that you realize you must never, never lose your master."
And, looking into his eyes, seeing how serious and concerned he was, I knew first that he was speaking of Frodo, and second that this was what I’d already seen when I first saw what I’d thought of as an Elf in the garden, and I nodded, and answered him just as low and solemn: "I already made myself that promise, sir." And he gave me a searching look, a deep searching look, then he rose and straightened, and then he bowed to me! Then he turned to Mr. Frodo, and he bowed to him, too. Frodo was surprised, but he bowed back, low and solemn.
Then the wizard looked at us both with a look of care on his face, then a smile that lit his eyes, and he took Mr. Bilbo by the shoulder and led him down the passage to the door, saying, "And you, my dear, beloved friend, you take excellent care of these two scholars of yours. And I hope they continue to be honest in their convictions for you." And he and Mr. Bilbo were laughing again as he took his hat from the hooks and his staff from where it stood against the wall. They said something more as they went out the doorway together. Gandalf went down the steps to the lane, then turned and looked up at us all, for Frodo and I’d come to look out the door on either side of Mr. Bilbo, and he gave one more deep and reverential bow to all three of us, then turned and walked decidedly away. And suddenly we had lost sight of him as he made his way swiftly toward the east.