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65
Seeking Advantage

For Lindelea and Armariel for their birthdays, with much love and apologies for being late.


~~~

Seeking Advantage


“Sam! Samwise Gamgee! Wait up there!” Old Odo Proudfoot hurried to catch up with the gardener for Bag End. If, of course, that was what he was now. Sancho, Odo’s grandson, had told the old Hobbit that now that Bag End was restored and Frodo Baggins had moved back into it, Frodo had invited Sam to move into the hole with his intended bride. Now, that would have caused a good many eyebrows to rise not all that long ago; but now that the Travellers had returned to the Shire and everything that had been damaged by Lotho Pimple and his bully-boys was now being set aright, it was doubtful that many people would be likely to question why the gardener and his farmer’s daughter of a new wife were to reside in the smial belonging to the Master of the Hill.

Sam had indeed stopped and turned to wait for the Proudfoot, his eyes curious as to why Odo had hailed him, although he politely kept his questions to himself. It did not do, after all, for working Hobbits to interrogate their betters. Instead he gave a deferential nod to his head. “Good evenin’, Mr. Proudfoot,” Sam said.

“And to you,” Odo responded, noting automatically that Sam had not added on sir to his greeting. “You’ve already been out this evening?” Odo asked.

“Just comin’ back from the Ivy Bush, where Mr. Frodo’s stabling his pony.”

“What? Frodo’s too good to stable his pony himself, is he now?”

Sam shook his head as he turned to glance up the Hill toward the windows of Bag End. “It’s not so much that, sir, as it is that he was right tired when he got back to Hobbiton this evenin’ from Michel Delving. I suspect as the weather’s about t’change, for his shoulder’s been achin’ more’n its usual.”

“And just why’s his shoulder aching, pray tell?”

Sam would not look at the Proudfoot. “He was injured there, is all.”

“While you were off traipsing around the wild lands?”

“Yessir. Are you wantin’ to see my Master, Mr. Proudfoot?”

“Well, yes, I am.”

“Then let’s be quick about it.” Sam lengthened his stride, and Odo had to quicken his own steps to keep up.

“You in a hurry, Gamgee?”

Sam shrugged, apparently not in the least winded. “Been off long enough, is all. Want to make certain as my Mr. Frodo is set for the evenin’ afore I head off to Bywater to see my Rosie.”

“And he can’t see to his own supper?”

Sam suddenly stopped and turned to look Odo in the face. “My Mr. Frodo is tired, as I told you, and his shoulder is achin’ on him. He works hard t’see as all as has been found what them ruffians took is give back t’them as they belongs to, and that they find out just how that Lotho Pimple got hold of so much land and property with nobody raisin’ a hue and cry about it. He just finished a long ride—alone—on his pony from Michel Delving, and he deserves some coddlin’, to my mind, at least. Yes, he could cook his own supper, but if’n I can do it for him and give him at least a bit of a rest, I will. Is that all right with you, Mr. Odo Proudfoot, sir?”

Sam’s expression was seriously grim, and Odo was truly taken aback by it. What had happened to change the once simple gardener? He’d never heard the young Gamgee answer back so stiffly, as if somehow Odo was the one being impertinent! He found himself doing his best to placate Sam. “Oh, I know that you’re only being careful for Frodo, now----” he began.

“You’d best believe that,” Sam muttered as he set off once again up the Lane to the gate to Bag End. Odo swallowed down what he’d been ready to say and hurried after as well as he might, although he had to admit to himself that Sam was far more fit than he himself was.

“Master!” called Sam as he led Odo through the green door into Bag End without either knocking or pulling at the bell cord. “Mr. Proudfoot’s here to see you!” He took Odo’s jacket and saw it and his muffler hung up alongside his own cloak.

The fire was burning low in the parlor, so Sam paused to add another log from the basket before leading the visitor to the door to Frodo’s study. There he knocked politely, although the door was already open and Frodo could be seen kneeling in front of the hearth, poking at the fire there. “It’s Mr. Odo, Master,” Sam repeated. “Says as he wishes t’speak with you.”

Frodo looked up, and Odo thought that he didn’t look particularly pleased to see company at the study door. “You will have to excuse me,” Frodo said. “One of the logs was doing its best to escape the andirons. Do come in and have a seat on the sofa there,” he added, giving a vague gesture at the indicated piece of furniture as he coaxed the offending log back into its place and returned the poker to its hook. He rose rather stiffly, rubbing the ash away on his pants leg before turning his desk chair about to face Odo and sitting down heavily. “And what can I do for you, Odo?” he asked.

“Can I bring the two of you anything?” Sam interrupted.

“A cup of tea, please,” Frodo suggested before addressing his guest, “If, of course, that is acceptable to you?”

Odo shrugged. “That would suit fine.”

“There’s some of them winter apple tarts left as Marigold brought up this mornin’, too, if’n you’d like them,” Sam said.

Frodo smiled, although Odo realized he did look a bit tired. “That does sound very good, Sam. Just one for me, however.”

“Yessir, Mr. Frodo, sir. I’ll be right back.” With that the younger Hobbit turned and left.

Odo eyed his host. “You’ll have just one?” He gave a snort. “You look as if a good wind’d just blow you away, Baggins.”

Frodo eyed him, his expression now stiff. “And this is your business? How?”

The Proudfoot refused to be repressed. “And you were just beginning to look a proper Hobbit, too. Obviously going off into the wild didn’t do you much in the way of favors.”

“I didn’t go with any thought of bettering my health, Odo.”

“You don’t appear to’ve spared much thought about what it would mean before you sold Bag End off to Lotho and left us to his tender mercies,” Odo returned, sarcasm clear in his voice.

“And how was I to anticipate what Lotho would do? Most of his crooked contracts were set to work in his favor only if I left the Shire, at which time I was in no situation to be aware of them, much less to do anything about them. Nor did I intend to sell Bag End to Lotho—I’d offered it to Ponto and Iris, after all. It was only that when Lotho arrived with a cash offer for what I’d asked of Ponto and Iris that there was nothing I could do. That he would lead Ponto and Iris into making an agreement to accept the money they’d hoped to borrow to purchase Bag End was something none of us could imagine. I am only grateful that you didn’t accept any loans from him, Odo.”

Well, Odo thought, it wasn’t because Lotho hadn’t tried to inveigle him, too, into one of his schemes. But the S-B had pushed just a little too hard, and Odo had balked—to his own saving, at least. But he wasn’t going to admit this to Frodo Baggins, of all people.

Frodo continued, “But this has little to do with why you wished to see me, I suspect. What can I do for you, Odo?”

Odo shrugged away the thought of how close he’d come to losing his own hole to Lotho Pimple, and turned to the matter at hand. “It’s this reparations fund….”

Frodo cocked his head. “The reparations fund? But you didn’t have significant losses to Lotho and his bully boys, did you? You gave up farming years ago when your father died and you became the Proudfoot, and have supported yourself primarily with farm shares and business investments, which Lotho had a good deal more difficulty interfering with. His people didn’t confiscate your property as they did that of others who were closer to me or who were more socially prominent, and a full inventory of what was taken by the Gatherers and Sharers has been returned to you, except for the two rings noted.”

“And you’re certain as no one found those and is keeping them for themselves?”

“No rings have been recovered of any sort. The only ones who still have family rings are those whose homes were not entered, such as those in the Tooklands or Buckland. Sharkey appears to have taken all rings for himself, and I don’t know if we shall ever discover what he did with them.”

“But why’d such as him want rings as were meant for Hobbits?” demanded Odo.

Frodo looked uncomfortably down at his hands. “Why indeed?” he asked darkly. Something in his tone led Odo to consider him with a degree of suspicion. The deputy Mayor continued, “As you’ve been advised, a group of jewelers and merchants have been set the task of assigning value to the confiscated rings and other missing jewelry, and when all have been assessed and the list is returned to the Mayor’s office then reparations payments will be made for them. But we seem to be receiving more and more returns each week of troves that various ruffians appear to have taken as their own share of the loot, so until such returns are no longer received the jewelry committee is finding its own hands tied, although payments on confiscated rings will be forthcoming I hope by the end of the harvest season.”

Odo gave a brief nod. “Well,” he said, “what I’d wished to ask after was not about the rings, actually. It’s really about our windows and kitchen.”

Frodo examined Odo’s face. “What about your windows and kitchen? They appeared to be in perfect condition when we passed by your place on the way to Bag End to confront Sharkey. I remember the Sun reflecting off of the panes of your kitchen windows as we passed by, after all.”

Odo felt himself squirm some. “No,” he said, “I have to admit as our windows weren’t broken by the ruffians. They seem to’ve pretty much left us alone, Mira and me.” Mira, who’d married Odo’s son Olo, had moved back into Odo’s place to serve as housekeeper for him after the deaths of Olo and his mother, leaving Number Five, Bagshot Row to her own sons, Pulgo and Sancho. “It’s only—well, it seems as Mira’s not too keen on the windows and the kitchen of our house, so I was hoping at we’d be able to get them fixed up nicer for her.”

“So? And how can I help you with that, Odo?”

“Well, if there’s money to be had for fixing things----”

“The money is to be used in repairing or replacing things that were damaged by Lotho’s Big Men, Odo, not just to fix things that aren’t really broken and that weren’t touched by them.”

Odo shrugged. “It’s Mira as wishes things better. She’s done naught for years but complain about the pump in the kitchen at our place, and has told me over and over about how much better the one at Number Five was.”

“That was installed by Pulgo, wasn’t it? As I remember it, he replaced the one here at Bag End at about the same time, although we’ve had to put in a new one now.”

“Gave out at last, did it?” Odo sneered.

Frodo took a deep breath as he shook his head. “No, the one he installed here was destroyed while the Big Men were in charge. Too bad, too, for his was truly a work of art. Your older grandson was indeed gifted in his work in crafting and installing pumps.” He smiled suddenly. “I will never forget his experiments with the things back when he was still a lad, just before he was apprenticed to that cousin of his, and how well the one he powered with a carriage wheel worked. It’s too bad that the epidemic of ague that carried off his grandmother took him and his wife, too.” He thought for a moment, then cocked his head and asked, “Why didn’t you let him put one of his pumps into your house? I know he offered to do so.”

“But he offered to do so when the one as is there now was only about five years old, and I wanted to get my money’s worth out of it before I had a new one put in.”

“I doubt he would have charged you for it, with you being both his grandfather and his family head.”

Odo shrugged. “Maybe not, but I’d paid good money for that pump as is there now.”

“And you can pay good money to have a new one crafted and installed if you wish. Tordo Watersmith made the one we have now. It’s almost as good as the one Pulgo installed here. It wasn’t the cheapest one on offer, but I doubt it will need to be replaced for many, many years.”

“But the fund paid to replace the ones for the smials along the Row.”

“Yes, but then all of the smials along the Row had been dug out on Lotho’s orders, and all of them needed to be redone from the start,” Frodo pointed out.

“If you’ll offer to have everything made new in my grandson Sancho’s place,” Odo began.

“To be strictly honest, not all was made new there or in any of the holes along the Row,” Frodo interrupted. “We found that entire panels of wall materials and whole windows and doors were intact, stuffed into the sheds Lotho and Sharkey had ordered built outside the walls of Bag End, along with stone and tiles from many of the floors and much of the furnishings that those turned out had been forced to leave behind. Yes, the fund helped pay for much of the work at rebuilding to be done, although much of it was done for free by volunteers, and particularly those who helped use the bricks to reinforce walls and new floors. But, again, this was work to restore what had been destroyed as a result of Lotho’s actions and choices, and it wasn’t done just to please the whims of someone wanting new windows made or a more modern sink.”

“But it supplied new dishes and dressers!”

“The Big Men had broken Sancho and Geli’s old dishes into fragments, and had reduced the kitchen and dining room dressers and tables to kindling, Odo. They did the same to most that was left in Number Three as well. The Gaffer did well to get as much as he did away to the new house before the Row was dug out, or he’d have hardly anything familiar and comfortable now. Indeed, the only reason I have anywhere as much as I do that is familiar is because I didn’t sell it all with Bag End—most of what Lobelia and Lotho bought from me was destroyed, too.”

“But the tiles in the kitchen floor in my place are all cracked now, and the wood’s rotting in the window frames!”

Frodo leaned forward, rubbing at his left shoulder, his patience plainly exhausted. “Odo Proudfoot, if you weren’t so tight with your own money, you would have had your windows recaulked and repainted and the shutters there repaired regularly, and broken tiles replaced long ago. It is not the fault of Lotho Sackville-Baggins that your pump is outmoded or that the wood in your windows is rotting! If you want things redone, you’d best loosen the strings on your own purse and see to it! I’m not going to let someone whose barn was burned down or whose animals were stolen and slaughtered go wanting just to see to it that your place is made smarter!”

Odo realized that Sam Gamgee waited outside the study door with his tray, having been loath to interrupt the quarrel building between himself and his host. He felt his face redden. “Well, if you refuse to help, I’ll just have to leave!” he said, rising abruptly.

“And that is supposed to chasten me, Odo? How? Oh, Sam—set the tray down there and see Mr. Proudfoot out, please. I am sorry that I cannot help you, Odo, but Cousin Lobelia left strict instructions that the resources she left to the reparations fund were intended to help those Lotho’s actions had hurt, and other than the missing rings and the trees on your property that were cut down and have now been replaced you simply didn’t suffer during the Time of Troubles. I wish you a good evening, and ask that you leave me to recover from the stress I’ve had to know dealing with the repercussions of Lotho’s deeds over the past week.”

And in short order Odo found himself on the front stoop to Bag End with the door shutting firmly behind him, and he heard the sound of the bolt being driven home.

*******


A week later there was a knock at the front door to Odo’s hole, and when he went to answer it he found his second grandson Sancho standing out there, his little lass by his side, a large wooden box in his arms. “Hello, Grandfer,” Sancho said. “Cousin Frodo asked me to bring you this. He said that you’d been wishing for one of Pulgo’s pumps to replace the one in your kitchen here, and this was found in one of the old storerooms and that perhaps it might just suit you.”

He pushed the box into Odo’s arms, and left, little Cyclamen wishing her great grandfather, “Hope you like it, Grandfer!” as they returned to the horse and wagon Sancho had left in the lane.

Inside the box Odo found a pump Pulgo had fabricated out of the old one from the hole here and the wheel to a doll’s pram back when he was a lad. On a whim he had his neighbor help him install it in the kitchen, and, stars! If it didn’t work like a wonder!

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