The last year that Mr. Bilbo stayed in the Shire was a time of trial in many ways. It were plain he was restless, plain restless, and that he was staying only for Frodo. He’d go through maps and his old diaries, and he’d write in his Red Book--when he wasn’t having to deal with the Sackville-Bagginses, that is. They was getting very tired of waiting. They still didn’t know that Frodo’d been adopted as Mr. Bilbo’s heir, so they thought that when Mr. Bilbo died Mr. Otho would inherit Bag End. But it certainly didn’t look like Mr. Bilbo was intending to die any time soon. He still looked the same as when I’d first seen him, in fact, while Mr. Otho looked far older than his years. They’d come to the house almost every day, as if by sheer persistence they could convince him it was time to get as old as he was. Must have torn poor Mr. Otho right apart to see Mr. Bilbo still hale and spry as someone only sixty years old, and hisself so many years younger looking like he was so much older. Missus Lobelia was becoming even more spiteful the older she got, too. And the things she’d say about Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo! Most nasty, and a lot of them plain silly, if you ask me. But she never had a nice thing to say about either of them, not to their faces nor behind their backs.
It had looked a couple years back like maybe Mr. Frodo’d found a sweetheart, for his cousin Pearl had begun to dote on him and it looked like he was starting to dote back--but then one day it stopped dead, and nobody could say exactly what had happened to the romance. Missus Eglantine and Missus Esmerelda was both very disappointed, for they’d both set themselves on the match, apparently, long ago when both Frodo and Miss Pearl had been children. But something came between them, and I thought--and now know--that something was Missus Lobelia. I just found out a few months ago, talking with Miss Pearl, that she’d never heard the stories of how when he was a lad Mr. Frodo’d had fainting spells and that his heart had been questioned; and when she was visiting in Bag End with her family, she got waylaid at the market in Hobbiton by the Sackville-Bagginses who insisted she join them for tea, and got an earful from Frodo’s Hobbiton relations. Suddenly she was faced with an image of a Frodo who was weak and pathetic and like to die if he had to do anything strenuous, and how his children was like to have weak hearts, too, as it runs in families....
The long and short of it was that for once Missus Lobelia managed to find someone who was open to her stories and easily swayed to wavering, and she relished it and did as much damage as she could. And Miss Pearl hung back, she did, and left poor Frodo wondering what on earth he’d done wrong. The other lasses tried to fill the gap in his heart, but he was still too hurt to look at someone else.
Mr. Frodo knew that his cousin Bilbo Baggins was planning to leave the Shire, but not till he’d come of age and could own Bag End without interference from the Sackville-Bagginses, and it tore his heart right in two. He loved the old Hobbit, and he didn’t want him to go away. But neither did he want to make him stay when he knew in his heart that Mr. Bilbo was dying to see a bit of the world again afore he left it. He wanted so to go back to see the Lonely Mountain again and visit Thorin’s tomb, and see his old friends once more if he could. And he wanted to go back to Rivendell once more, and stay there and learn more about the history of the world from some of them as had lived it.
Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin, Mr. Freddy, and Mr. Folco was in and out all the time, it seemed. And Mr. Merry figured out that Mr. Bilbo was leaving and was determined to make sure that Frodo didn’t go with him. And one day when Mr. Pippin had managed to dismantle the clock that set over the fireplace in the parlor and Mr. Bilbo was right distracted by concern and fury and frustration to get it put back together, Mr. Merry sneaked into the study and read a good portion of the Red Book, which only Mr. Bilbo and Frodo (and me, part of it, when it were left out, like) had read afore. And he managed to talk Mr. Pippin into continuing doing something outrageous every day after that so as to have more chances to keep reading on in it while Mr. Bilbo was off dealing with the new crisis.
Finally Frodo figured out that each time Pippin created a new disaster Mr. Merry wasn’t around, and he laid into him about failing in his responsibility to keep Pippin’s behavior somewhere in the area of acceptable. Merry said something back, and though Merry didn’t leave, they didn’t talk for two whole days, and Frodo stayed in his room with his door shut scribbling page after page after page and locking them into the drawer in his box for his stationery.
In the middle of this a Dwarf arrived to visit, Dorlin, the son of Mr. Bilbo’s friend Dwalin. Suddenly Mr. Pippin had a new focus for his fascination, and he began to follow the Dwarf around like a puppy. By that time I’d met a few Dwarves who came to visit every few years, it seemed. Dorlin looked at the clock and its parts, which Mr. Bilbo had put all into a box as he hadn’t figured out exactly how to put it all together again, and he took it to the worktable in the cold room with several candles and lanterns lit, and he had it put back together, cleaned, oiled, and adjusted--and working--in far less than an afternoon. And when Pippin had tried to get into the midst of the work to see how it went together, the Dwarf had him settled in less than a minute with the idea he’d best look on from where his hands couldn’t reach to touch. It were a right treat to look into that room and see Pippin actually sitting still for a change!
The Gaffer had mostly given over the job of keeping the gardens at Bag End to me, as his joints just couldn’t take all the kneeling any more. Also, his love was growing his roots and vegetables rather than flowers any more, so he had mostly cared for the kitchen garden at Bag End and the hedges for the past few years anyway. I liked being my own master, and I’d spend hours longer than I needed to making sure that garden was always at its best. Dorlin, after he’d finished with the clock and he’d restored it to the parlor mantel, came out into the garden to have a smoke and look out at the sky, and he watched me for a while as I fussed over a lantern flower as had started having difficulties.
He finally spoke. “You have a feel for the earth, Master Gardener, for the earth and growing things. That is a good gift. You make it peaceful here.” I thanked him. “You and your father have made things pleasant for Bilbo and his young cousin. And I know they hold the two of you in high regard. It is an honor to watch you at work. It is not the kind of work my people tend to do well, so I can watch without fear of stealing your secrets and cheapening the effect of your labors.”
“There ain’t no secrets for growing flowers, Mr. Dorlin sir,” I said. “Just give them good soil, the right sun, some feeding from time to time, make sure the water is right, and love them, and they will bloom.”
“You love the products of your labors?” he said. “Ah, then we do have that in common, then. What one loves is always more likely to end up beautiful, whether it is cutting and setting a gem, crafting a weapon, carving a pillar or creating a goblet--or in coaxing a plant to open its blooms. You are indeed a master in your craft, as young as you are.” And he bowed deeply. “Dorlin son of Dwalin, at your service,” he said, all solemn.
“Samwise Gamgee, son of Hamfast, at yours and your family’s,” I said back, bowing back to him as best I could from my knees. And we smiled at one another. He then looked over my tools, asking me how they was used and all, and having me demonstrate. And I showed him through the garden and asked him about what it’s like to live in caverns, and how they lit them, and where they got their foodstuffs. And Merry, Pippin, and Frodo came out to see where Dorlin had got off to, and joined in the conversation, and then we was all in the kitchen drinking ale and cider and having a bit of a fry up. When Mr. Bilbo got back from business in the village he joined us, took away a mug of ale Pippin had tried to sneak for hisself and made sure he had cider instead, then did the same for Merry and me. I’d had half a mug, which was all the Gaffer would allow at my age, and I think Mr. Merry’d had a bit more than that, but we knew that Mr. Bilbo didn’t hold with teens drinking--said our brains was still growing, and it wasn’t good for a growing brain to befuddle it with liquor.
Dorlin was one of those who later came for the Party, bringing a cartful of items purchased from Dale and the Lonely Mountain folk. They didn’t have a lot to do with the Hobbiton folks, although they did go to Bywater to the Green Dragon with Bilbo, Frodo, my Gaffer, and Daddy Twofoot one night. Merry wasn’t allowed to go along, nor Mr. Freddy, who was there at the time, much less young Pippin. I was sort of in charge that evening, making sure nobody got up to no mischief or tried to get into the stuff the Dwarves had brought. Their parents and sisters would be over in a few days with the rest of the folk from Tookland, Buckland, Budgefield, and so on who was invited to the Party, although only the lads was staying in Bag End--this time with the Dwarves as house guests already, it had been decided those traveling over would stay either in tents near the Water, or they’d take rooms in the Ivy Bush or the Dragon. It were a relief for Frodo, who wasn’t too sure how he’d handle things if he had to be polite to a houseful of relatives once Mr. Bilbo was gone, for he’d let Frodo know he was going to leave in the midst of the party.
Although the parting hadn’t happened yet, Mr. Frodo was already starting to grieve--you could see it in his eyes. He’d hardly let Mr. Bilbo out of his sight for hours at a time, and then suddenly he’d be out of the smial and off into the woods on his own, or up to the top of the Hill, which had become his private place over the past few years.
I’d noted he spent a lot of time up there, sitting and reading, or at night lying on his back and watching the stars, sometimes writing or drawing or painting a bit; so I’d taken to bringing in wild flowers and covering the hill for his pleasure. There was paintbrush, daisies, strawflowers, wood anemones, violets, several different star flowers, bluebells, several different varieties of poppies, and all kinds of different blooms so that from early spring to the start of winter there was always something blooming, something alive and growing, something beautiful. Frodo reveled in beauty (that were another phrase I found in a book he’d lent me, and it’s a lovely one), and I was intent on seeing he had it around hisself.
He gave me some of his paintings and drawings from time to time, and he’d done many studies of my flowers, and of birds and trees. But my favorite was one he did of the waterworms in the jars who made their shells out of what they found around them. He would still get some every year and give them different things to make their shells out of, and after they left their shells to become flies he’d dry the shells and keep them. One had made its home out of colored rock bits. Frodo had gone about finding the most beautiful colored stones he could, then ground them against each other to make small chips, and filled the bottom of one of his jars with the chips. The shell it built was beautiful, and when the worm was still in it, Frodo did a painting of it and some others, and my brother Ham made a frame for it, and he gave it to me his last birthday afore the Party, when he turned thirty-two. He kept those shells for years, but not long afore we went on our adventure he made to throw them away. But I took them, and kept them, and once when we was in Minas Tirith I told Gimli about them and how beautiful they were, and he sent me, last year, a crystal case to put them in, to protect them. I look at them and that painting, and it reminds me of him, of how beautiful he’d made the world around him (or maybe, how love for him made us build that beautiful shell for his keeping), and how, like them worms, he’d then slipped out of the shell and gone off, to become something quite different.
Anyway, Frodo was grieving for his uncle’s leaving afore he’d even left, and I was intent on making it easier for him. The cousins had an idea what was coming up, but wasn’t sure, for Bilbo’d sworn Frodo and me to secrecy. He’d figured out I about knew everything that anyone said or did at Bag End, and he just assumed (rightly) that I already was aware of his plan. So no matter how Pippin’d beg, I wouldn’t answer him yea nor nay, and he was driven to distraction, which was a nice change, don’t you know. But I let the cousins know that after the party was over, they was to do what they could to fend off the Sackville-Bagginses and anyone else likely to try to complain. In the end Bilbo hisself let them in on the fact that, yes, he was leaving, and he had them help in tagging the special gifts he was leaving behind (although he’d already tagged theirs and had them hid in one of his closets). Pippin actually kept at it with a will, but I could see he was sometimes wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve, so I slipped him a few extra handkerchiefs to carry, which surprised and insulted him (No, he told me, it was just he had something in his eye), but at least once he had them he used them. He were so small and lonely looking right then. The Dwarves who was keeping track of the items and the tags was right gentle with the lad.
Once Gandalf got there the final preparations went at full swing. I’d done boxes of flowers for the Party field, and my sisters had made lanterns to hang in the trees, and my brother Ham sent ropes for the tents and pavilions, and Hal sent some shrubs in boxes from his nursery he was keeping. The Cottons brought over trestle tables they used during harvesting when relatives from all over the Hobbiton area would come out to help bring in the crops. Frodo helped for a while, but finally he got into the way of Daddy Twofoot, who thought of hisself as the organizing kind, and he shooed him away. So Gandalf snagged Frodo by his jacket and got him to help organize the fireworks, then gave him a poem in Sindarin to translate for he wanted to give it to Bilbo as a going-away present, or so he said. Frodo took it and a lapdesk up to the top of the hill, and sat under the oak as he read and wrote, and when I took him up tea and a plate of scones, butter, and May’s currant jelly he looked up in surprise to see me.
I didn’t have time to stay, but after a time Merry and Pippin came up, then Mr. Freddy and Mr. Folco, and there they all sat, the three teens, the lad, and Frodo, who would be of age on the morrow, singing quietly as they watched Frodo finish his translation, then copy it around the edge of a new paper, and illustrate it in the middle.
Evidently Gandalf did give that to Bilbo sometime during the next day, for when we got to Rivendell it were there, framed and hung on the wall of his room, Frodo’s picture of Turin (who looked a lot like Mr. Bilbo hisself) and the Dragon in the midst of that careful, graceful lettering.
Where Bilbo hisself was throughout the day I have no idea, but when they came down the hill and I came up from the Party Field where I’d had to redo some of Daddy Twofoot’s organizing (fool had tried to put the kitchen upwind of the main pavilion, and all the ale barrels outside it), he were in the kitchen singing with the Dwarves as they finished up preparing the meal. Frodo’d slipped off to the garden first to give the poem to Gandalf, then both came in together, stopping at Gandalf’s room for a second, then into the dining room to join us. It were a jolly meal, and I don’t think I was to ever hear so many stories told at Mr. Bilbo’s expense ever, and he laughed as hard as any, as did Frodo.
The teens was assigned the washing up, while Frodo and his uncle went out one last time to walk together, Gandalf and me following behind at a respectful distance. We didn’t hear all that was said between them, but at one point, down in the wood, they stopped in the shadows and said something, and then held one another close. They stayed that way a long time, then finally turned and walked back up the hill toward the house, their arms around one another’s shoulders. And Gandalf and I, still not saying nothing ourselves, walked behind them, still at a respectful distance.
I was to stay up in Bag End that night so as to be on hand for the morning, so once the rest of the household was in bed I followed after. But in the night I heard a noise in the hall, and got up to see Frodo slipping toward the back door, so I grabbed the two blankets from the bed and followed him. He went out and around the hill to the way he usually went up to the top, and again I followed after, but stayed away to let him have some privacy. But when I heard the sobs I went on, sat aside him, and held him to my shoulder, and I cried with him, both for I’d be knowing my own loss and for his. Finally I wrapped the one blanket about him, and the second around myself, then held him to my shoulder again till sleep took him, so I laid him down and sat near against the tree, and leaned back, watching him rest till sleep took me, too. And we stayed together there through the night.