For La Prime, Illereyn, and Virtuella for their birthdays.
Elso Twofoot led his young granddaughter Rosemary across to the Party Field. “Since you and your mum will be stayin’ with us for a time, it’s probably best as you get t’know what’s what here ’round the hill. Us Twofoots have lived here on the Row for at least eight generations, ever since the Row was dug, and we’ve always lived in Number Two. Now, that’s now the Party Tree, although it wasn’t when me old dad was young. Then the Party Tree was an oak, the largest oak, it’s said, in all of the Shire. And a fine tree it was, and quite beautiful, my granfer tol’ me, at old Mr. Bilbo’s last party, all lit up with lanterns tied on and such.”
“What happened to it?” the child asked.
Elso’s mouth went tight. “Lotho and Sharkey happened, that’s what. Lotho Sackville-Baggins what was. Bought Bag End up there,” he waved at the windows halfway up the Hill for emphasis, “from his Cousin Frodo and took t’lordin’ it over all the Shire as if it now made him King of the world. Brought in a bunch o’ Big Men as an army and tol' all the Hobbits what was then as him was the Chief and they all had t’do what him told ’em. It was a bad time, the Time o’ Troubles. They was always a-cuttin’ down trees and burnin’ down many o’ the inns and diggin’ out holes and a-tearin’ down folks’ houses just t’be mean!” He shook his head. “They even dug out the Row! Moved my granfer and all t’other side o’ the village to some awful houses built by them Men, an’ if they wasn’t terrible!”
“But Number Two is back now!”
“Yes it is, and that’s cause of the Travellers comin’ back when them did and settin’ things back t’rights. Mr. Frodo and Mr. Sam saw the holes dug back in and fixed up good as new—even better, cause now we have good floors an’ better walls ’tween rooms, or so me dad tol’ me. Anyways, Lotho hated ever’thin’ as had t’do with his Cousin Frodo and old Mr. Bilbo, so him ordered the Party Tree cut down and left t’rot. It took weeks t’have it proper cut up into lumber once Sam Gamgee was a’seein’ t’things bein’ cleaned up, like; and my dad said as the trunk was never dug out but was cut right t’the ground in the end, for it was far too big for grubbin’, don’t ya see. It was a right ol’ tree, and my dad said as Mr. Frodo tol’ him one day as it had been there since afore the Shire was the Shire, even. Mayhaps had begun growin’ in the days o’ the Kings of Cardolan an’ Arthedain, afore the days of Arvedui Last-king! Him and my dad tried countin’ the rings, as that’s how one tells how old a tree is, don’t ya know, but my dad lost count somewheres around two thousand.
“Anyways, that tree’s an Elvish tree from a place called Lórien what ain’t there no more, or so them tells me.”
“Why’s it not there no more?” Rosemary asked.
He shrugged. “Somethin’ ’bout a war down southaways,” he answered. “The Travellers, them was involved, although I can’t say proper how, but all tell as somehow Mr. Sam Gamgee an’ his Mr. Frodo was both right there at the center of it all. Anyways, it’s all long past now, and now the King’s come back and all is good, and most special as the Mayor an’ the Thain an’ the Master is all the King’s particular Friends!”
“So, what kinda tree is this?” Rosemary asked.
“It’s called a mallorn, or so the Mayor tells us. Beautiful, ain’t it?”
The little lass nodded, smiling at the silver tree with its golden leaves. “How come we got this one now?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Mr. Sam, him planted it when him got home, after the old Party Tree was took away. Just a little silver nut, it was, too! But did it grow, and fast! But, then all the new trees as was planted back then grew fast, so my dad and my granfer both tol’ me. The Mayor tol ’em both as the Lady’d blest the Shire and the trees, and him had a box o’ dust as him used t’do the blessin’ with. His Mr. Frodo come down and helped him with the plantin’, although I don’t think as Mr. Frodo did a lot o’ the work. Somethin’ ’bout him not bein’ in the best of health, there was. My old dad said as Mr. Frodo was a-holdin’ the box for Mr. Sam whilst him dug the hole for to plant that silver nut, and him opened the lid, and some of the dust was blowed out on the breeze across the field.
“Now, we’ve always had some mushrooms as’ll grow in this field, but ever since that day there’s a lot more, and some right special ones as don’t grow nowhere else in all the Shire. They grows over here, see?”
Rosemary crouched down to examine the indicated mushrooms more closely. “I never seed ones as was that kind of goldy-yellow,” she said, her little brow wrinkled by her contemplation.
“Nor have any of us, not nowhere but here in this portion o’ the Party Field,” agreed Elso. “We calls them Mr. Baggins’s Buttons, for there’s a story as Mr. Baggins lost his brass buttons tryin’ t’escape from goblins in the mountains. But I’m not certain as to which Mr. Baggins it was, whether t’was Mr. Frodo Baggins what was one o’ them Travellers, or old Mr. Bilbo, the one as used t’be called old Mad Baggins, although you’d best not ever call ’im that anywheres the Mayor or his family can hear it. They are all very protective of old Mr. Bilbo’s reputation, they are. Anyways, these are about the best mushrooms as grows anywhere in the whole Shire, but there’s rules for pickin’ ’em. You can’t take more’n a modest bowl for each one in the hole, and no more than once a week for each family. You have t’leave enough for others. Those is the rules as Mayor Sam laid down for ’em. Said as they’re a part o’ the grace offered us for Mr. Frodo’s sake, and we mustn’t trespass on that grace or we might just lose them altogether.”
“But who is Mr. Frodo?” she asked, looking up to search her grandfather’s face. "I’ve never heard tell of him.”
He straightened. “Him used t’live up there in Bag End, up high on the Hill. Was old Mr. Bilbo’s ward and heir. T’was Mr. Bilbo’s dad, Mr. Bungo Baggins, as dug out Bag End for when him got married t’Miss Belladonna Took, one o’ the Old Took’s three daughters. Mr. Bilbo never got married, so him chose his Cousin Frodo t’adopt. All as knew Mr. Frodo say as him was about the best Hobbit as they ever knew, honest, and fair as fair. Mayor Sam worked for Mr. Frodo as his gardener then, he did, and lived down on the Row with us, there in Number Three, with his sisters and his old dad, what they all called the Gaffer. A fine gentlehobbit Mr. Frodo was, my dad used t’say, always a-helpin’ anyone anywhere near the Hill as might need any aid at all. But after the Travellers come back, Mr. Sam got married to Missus Rosie, and they lived in Bag End with Mr. Frodo till him went away.”
“Where’d him go?”
He gave a twisted smile. “Can’t rightly say. At first him was as busy as Mr. Sam and Mr. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Mr. Peregrin Took, afore them was Mayor, Master, or Thain, in helpin’ make things good again. Mr. Frodo even worked as the deputy Mayor for a time, takin’ over for old Will Whitfoot, what was Mayor afore Mr. Samwise. My granfer even tol’ me as there was hopes as him would be elected Mayor hisself, but he decided not t’run after all. But him rode off one day with Mr. Sam, and although Mr. Sam come home to be the Mayor, Mr. Frodo didn’t. They say as him went with the Elves, and could do so cause of what him did in that war of theirn. Mr. Sam says as Mr. Frodo earned a good deal of grace for what him did.”
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then leaned down to whisper in her ear, “But I don’t think as him’s all gone. Oh, him don’t live there no more, and I never seen him proper, not ever in my life. But there’s glimpses of a tall Hobbit—oh, not so tall as the Master nor the Thain, mind, but tall enough—t’be seen watchin’ over the Shire from that bench up there by the door t’Bag End. Him used t’sit there most ever’ evenin’ t’watch the settin’ of the Sun and the risin’ of the Evenin’ Star. Was right fond o’ the Evenin’ Star, my dad tol’ me when I was little. And if’n anyone takes more’n their proper share of them mushrooms, them feels as if there’s someone as knows ’bout it and is sad for their greed. So you can eat one or two when you’re a-goin’ ’cross the field, an’ bring some home if’n yer grammer sends ye off t’fetch some for dinner. But don’t ever, never get greedy with ’em, see? It just ain’t right!”
When that evening her grandmother sent her off to do just that, Rosemary did her best to do as she’d been bade, bringing just enough home for each member of the family to have a modest bowl of them, and in looking up at the bench by the door to Bag End she could have sworn that a tall, slender Hobbit she’d not seen anywhere about Hobbiton was sitting there with a pipe in his hand, and that he was smiling at her in approval, although the next moment he wasn’t to be seen. But all the time she dwelt on the Row she felt safe, knowing that there was a tall, kindly Hobbit who saw to it that those on the Row were guarded, and she never had a single nightmare.