“Hello…and who might you be?”
Brown eyes, big as saucers, peered out from the garden hedge. A shy smile rounded the lad’s rosy cheeks and giggling he ducked back into the greenery. Frodo Baggins grinned, cocking his head to one side as he peered into the leaves. The boy was young, maybe eight or nine, chubby-cheeked and very dirty as hobbit lad’s his age generally were.
Frodo set aside his book with a gentle laugh. “Come now, I know you’re there. You may as well come out.”
The shrubbery rustled and Frodo could hear the sound of a small body scraping against the bushes. He could see the child’s face, still watching him from the shadows. Laughing again at the small hobbit’s earnest expression, Frodo motioned him out with a crooking of his finger.
“Come on…I won’t bite,” Frodo coaxed. Then remembering a packet of sweets in his pocket, he asked: “Would you like a taffy?”
Rustling again and the sandy-haired child crawled cautiously from the bushes. He pushed himself to his feet and stood before the dark-haired hobbit expectantly. Frodo held out the paper wrapped candy, and the child took it with a grubby hand. His pudgy fingers opened the wrapping, smoothing out the bright colored paper on his palm. He popped the chewy square into his mouth then folded the paper and tucked it away in his pocket.
“My name’s Frodo,” the elder hobbit offered with an easy smile. “What’s yours?”
“Sam,” the boy mumbled around a mouthful of sticky candy. The piece was a little too big and he had to work hard to keep it all in his mouth as he chewed.
“Well I’m pleased to make your acquaintance Sam. Do you live near here?”
The small hobbit nodded, still chewing. He glanced at the book that Frodo had laid aside in the grass. Crouching down, he reached out one ragged-nailed finger to touch the gilded corners. He looked at the elder hobbit with questioning eyes and managed to swallow the candy, wiping a trickle of sticky saliva off of his chin with his shirtsleeve.
“What’s it about?” he asked. “Is it a story?”
“It’s a history,” Frodo explained, “boring stuff really. And no good pictures in it at all I’m afraid. Do you like stories?”
“Oh yes!” Sam admitted eagerly. “Master Bilbo….he tells me some…sometimes…”
“Yes, I like his stories too,” Frodo agreed.
“My Da says you’re Mister Bilbo’s hair…what’s that mean?”
“Heir,” Frodo corrected with a laugh. “That means I’ll be staying with him at Bag End from now on.”
“Well, for a long time anyway,” the older hobbit explained.
Sam turned to the book again and touched the letters on the cover, tracing the lines. Frodo could see him trying to make them into words in his head.
“Can you read Sam?” Frodo asked, watching the small hobbit trace each letter with a careful fingertip.
The boy shook his head “no” but his face brightened with childish delight. “I’m learnin’ my letters, and I can write my name…Mister Bilbo showed me how…wanna see?”
“Sure,” Frodo encouraged, “let’s see.”
Sam leaned down and carefully drew three letters in the dirt, his tongue pressed firmly between his lips in concentration.
“S…” he toned as he drew each one, “A…M…” The little hobbit grinned with pride. He glanced up at Frodo seeking approval with soft brown eyes.
Frodo smiled gently and nodded. “Very good.”
“Samwise!” a gruff voice called from the road to the Row and Sam jumped in surprise.
Frodo recognized it as Hamfast Gamgee – the Gaffer – his cousin’s gardener.
‘So the boy must be his son,’ Frodo thought.
“Uh oh…” the boy murmured, hopping to his feet. “Coming Da! G’bye Mister Frodo. Thank you for the candy.”
“You’re welcome Sam. Here.” Frodo laughed handing him another piece. “Come back tomorrow and we’ll read a story together if you like.”
The little hobbit nodded, shoving the candy in his pocket, and waving he turned to go.
Sam ran to where his father stood in front of Master Bilbo’s gate. He smiled brightly, glancing over his shoulder.
“Where’ve you been lad?” the Gaffer questioned, taking his young son’s upper arm gently and piercing him with a stern look. “Didn’t I tell you to stay by the gate while I had a word with Mister Bilbo?”
Sam nodded sheepishly, glancing over his shoulder again to peer into the garden. He could see Mister Frodo walking over and he shuffled his feet nervously. “Um…I only went in the garden…to see…um…”
“Were you disturbing Mister Frodo?”
The lad looked down, avoiding his father’s gaze.
“Please don’t be angry with him Master Gamgee,” Frodo asked, coming to the lad’s defense. “He really was no bother.”
“That’s very kind of you Mister Frodo,” the Gaffer replied, placing a hand on his son’s tousled head. “He’s a good lad, my Sam, but he can be a pest when he has a mind to be.”
“No, really,” Frodo assured smiling. “He was quite a young gentlehobbit. We had a nice talk.”
The Gaffer nodded, a father’s pride touching at the corners of his mouth. “Well, he’s good for running errands and the like – so if you need something fetched, you give him a holler. He’s with me most days, there being no one at home now to watch him.”
“Thank you,” Frodo smiled. “I may indeed.”
“And if he’s bothering you, you give him a cuff and tell him to go about his business.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, but I’ll keep it in mind.” Frodo couldn’t imagine the sweet and bright-faced child as being anything but a joy.
“Well, good day to you sir,” the elderly hobbit spoke, gathering his tool bag and raising it to his shoulder. “Come along Sam.”
“G’day Mister Frodo,” Sam called, waving with a chubby hand.
“Go on, Samwise, I’ve things to do lad,” the Gaffer ordered, gently swatting the boy’s backside to start him on his way.
“See you tomorrow Sam,” Frodo called with a wave and a smile.
Tomorrow, and many more days after that.