9. Growing Older
When I turned twelve my dad officially prenticed me to hisself. Didn’t have time for much in the way of lessons now, but on Highdays or when there wasn’t much to do I’d be allowed to go off with Mr. Frodo on his rambles like afore. Once spring came that first year Mr. Frodo was with him, Mr. Bilbo took up wandering the Shire again on his walking trips, and he’d take his lad with him usually, now he was sure he was strong enough to handle it. Mr. Frodo’d beg for me to be allowed to come with them from time to time, and once in a while the Gaffer’d let me go with them, too, once he was assured it didn’t interfere none with my work. Not even he could resist it when Mr. Frodo’d ask him special like to let me go along.
Frodo was reading and writing a good deal, and he could write a beautiful hand. Often he’d copy out books and scrolls for Mr. Bilbo he needed to send back to Rivendell or that he wanted to make gifts of for his relatives. Don’t know if old Mr. Rory or Mr. Saradoc or Mr. Paladin knew quite what to do with all the volumes they got from Hobbiton, but along with Mr. Bilbo they must have had the most diverse libraries in the Shire. And Mr. Bilbo taught Frodo how to bind the pages into books on the old worktable they kept in the old cold room in the depths of Bag End. Sometimes they’d have me help them, too, and I learned how to sew pages together and to make bindings and glue in end papers and extra pages. I wasn’t sure exactly how the correspondence with Rivendell was handled, but figured it was through the Elves they’d meet up with in the Woody End. For Frodo told me that they did meet up there with some Elves regular, and most seemed to be folks who came over special from Rivendell. Don’t know how they got into the Shire.
Then I learned they also met with Dwarves on the West Road as runs through the Northfarthing and along Buckland, and this seemed more regular than when they met with Elves. There was regular coming and going between the Iron Hills and the Lonely Mountain from what Frodo would tell me when they’d get back.
I’d spent part of the last summer in Tighfield with my brother Hamson and our Uncle Andy, seeing if I’d like to prentice alongside Ham to roping. I’d liked it well enough, and Uncle Andy said I had a right knack for it; but although I took to twisting and doing knots, I simply wasn’t ready to stay away from Hobbiton. And afore anyone knew it, I’d be out front of Andy’s place, cleaning out the flower beds, humming an Elvish song I’d learned from Mr. Frodo as I thinned the violas and deadheaded the roses. But I did ask Uncle Andy about what Mr. Bilbo had said about nettles and them being a source of fibers, and he admitted Mr. Bilbo had the right of it--you can get fiber from nettles, but it’s a tiresome job beating it out of the stems, and he favored using hemp and flax, hisself.
Ham brought me home to Bagshot Row, and I’d brought some heavy rope I’d twisted myself for the Gaffer and finer line I’d done to hang out clothes on for Mum and the girls. Uncle Andy’d sent word that if I was ever willing to give up gardening, he’d take me on in a heartbeat, but he figured my heart was with growing things and flowers, not fibers and twists. It was a good report to bring to my dad, who’d always hoped one of his boys would follow him; but he told me he’d only wanted to let me see if there was anything else I’d like to turn my hand to besides gardening.
While I was gone Frodo was getting new lessons, too, in riding. Mr. Bilbo didn’t keep a pony or coaches or nothing of that sort, but would rent what he needed from the stable at the Green Dragon the few times he needed one or the other. But he said that riding was a skill that came in handy for a gentlehobbit, so he insisted Frodo study that. Frodo took to it pretty well, once he finally got over his surety the pony wouldn’t listen to orders, and he began to meet some other tweens whose folks kept ponies at the Green Dragon or who rode the trails near Hobbiton and the Water. When we went to see my mum’s folks the other side of Bywater I got to ride the ponies Farmer Cotton kept, alongside Tom and Jolly and Nick and Nibs and Rosie, so although I never learned to ride elegant like, I suspected I could at least ride practical, and probably as good as Mr. Frodo, which turned out to be right. Mr. Bilbo even talked about maybe getting a pony for Frodo to ride regular, but Frodo just laughed--said riding was fun, but caring for the animals wasn’t what he wanted to do unless he found a special pony that he came to love. But he didn’t ever find that special pony till we was in Minas Tirith, where King Eomer, on the request of Aragorn, came up with a lovely bay gelding as caught Frodo’s eye, and he accepted it as a gift from the King and named it Strider. But that wasn’t till years later, of course. Now, I’d have loved to have had a pony, myself, but we didn’t have the wherewithal to provide for its keep.
My mum’s health hadn’t been right since she got the lung sickness that first autumn after Mr. Frodo came to Bag End. Gammer Laurel would drop in to see her about once a month, and as the third winter set in, she let us know, gentle like, that this was like to be the last winter for our mother. It were right hard to see that was true, and when she finally died as the spring was coming in it were a real wrench. Frodo would bring down soups and broths him and Mr. Bilbo fixed for her, or some of the Baggins seed cakes, or pots of mushrooms. (Mr. Bilbo had begun ordering mushrooms regular from the Marish, and I think he took especial delight in seeing his lad eating them legitimate.) And when she died they sent down flowers and foods, and Miss Dora would send over plates of cakes and basins of rich stews and loaves of white bread and pots of butter and cream.
But the best was that when I felt grief, I could count on Frodo being there for me. He wouldn’t say much, but would just be nearby, waiting to see if I needed him. And the first time I really let go and cried, he held me gentle like till I was cried out and gave me his handkerchief to use. And he told me how much she’d meant to him, how she made him feel welcome when he was new and everything felt strange, and the sweet way she had of smiling at us kids that made him remember his own Mum and how proud she’d been of him, and how when he tripped over something outside our gate one time she’d come out to check on him and had given him some of my other brother Hal’s old pants to wear while she darned the tear in the knee of his, and they’d talked of spring and summer where they’d grown up, and she’d told him of growing up on the farm, and how proud she was of all us kids, and how proud she was of me, being able to read and write and figure and knowing about history. That seemed to awe her, that I knew about things that had happened in the world afore, and how those things meant as much to Hobbits as they did to Men and Dwarves and Elves, for the world wouldn’t be as happy as it is if there hadn’t been those willing to fight the Enemy for it, or to keep off those who hate seeing folks happy.
I hadn’t thought of history afore, but I thought of it now, and I asked Frodo if when he brought books out to read out loud when I was working in the garden if he’d please bring histories mostly, for my mum. And he gave that special smile to me, that one that made me feel like the Sun had just rose and the Moon was shining in glory, and said, “Sure, Sam--I’ll be honored to do it for memory of your mother.”
The Gaffer wasn’t sure at all what to think of it. I’d be kneeling in the dirt with a trowel in my hand, pulling up weeds and throwing them into the basket I used for such things, and I’d be stopping to ask some particular question about Beren or Huor or Gondolin and such, and Mr. Frodo’d think on it, and he’d answer me back real serious. Then I’d go on weeding, and sometimes he’d get down to help me, and as we worked we’d keep up the discussion.
“Elves and Big Folks,” the Gaffer said one time, “and whether or not some plain fool ought to have hid out in a crack to kill a dragon or if it would’ve been better to face it head on! I never in all my born days heard such talk! And what all good’s going to come of answering such questions, anyway?”
“But, Dad,” I answered, “Mr. Bilbo met a dragon, although it was someone else as killed it, and with a bow and arrow, not a sword. Who’s to say as I might face one some day?”
“You, face a dragon?” he said, shocked like. “And what dragon is ever going to come into the Shire? We ain’t Elves or Dwarves to keep jools and gold settin’ around to attract such things.” He shook his head, which was a lot greyer since Mum left him. “It’s plum foolishness to plan fighting dragons when you ain’t likely to see one in all your life. It’s roots and stalks for you and me, lad, and earning our keep, and not fighting dragons.”
I wish now we had fought a dragon. Would have been cleaner and far easier than what we did do, in the end.