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Shaping of Samwise, The: 1. Changes
The Gaffer was in a foul mood. It was partly the weather -- a late spring frost had destroyed fruit blossoms all over the Shire. Peaches would be in short supply this summer. The spring had remained chill, overcast but not rainy, and now a second frost had come during the night.
The Gaffer surveyed his blasted strawberry patch, puffing morosely on a pipe that was giving him no pleasure. A quarter acre of prime plants, the pride of his heart. He bent and picked one of the blossoms, a five-pointed star of white with a yellow center. The yellow was marred by a dark spot, sad testimony of a killed blossom..
There’d be no strawberries going to market this June, and no shortcake for tea either. He might salvage a few berries, their blossoms shielded by leaves. Enough for a basketful for Mr. Bilbo, maybe. Fond of berries, was Mr. Bilbo. But the loss of the market money was going to hurt, and no mistake. The Gamgee budget could ill spare the year’s strawberry income.
“Sam!” the Gaffer shouted. “Get out here, you young lay-a-bed!”
Sam appeared around the corner of the garden shed, a hoe over his shoulder.
“Right here, Gaffer. Just off to Bag End, sir, to hill up the potatoes.” He came to a halt beside his father, his glance taking in the strawberry patch with its tell-tale spotted blossoms. “Oh,” he said. “The frost got them.”
“Yes, the frost got them, you’re gardener enough to see that, aren’t you?” The Gaffer’s voice was bitter. “Now see that you’re gardener enough to give satisfaction to Mr. Bilbo this summer! Don’t you go mucking up the job, now I’m not standing over you every day to see it done right!”
Sam winced a little at his tone, but the Gaffer was too wound up to notice. He gave a ferocious puff at his pipe, realized disgustedly that it had gone out, and shoved it in his pocket.
“Well, get on then!” he said. “It won’t do to be getting there at lunchtime, my lad. You’d better make good at Bag End, now you’re in charge up there. We need the money and that’s a fact.”
The Gaffer stumped back past the ruined strawberries and disappeared into the garden shed. Sam stared after him, shaking his head. It was a bad blow, losing the berries. Not just the income either, Sam thought. It was a blow to his pride, like. Now his father was retired, so to speak, leaving the Bag End garden to his care, Sam had counted on the strawberry patch to give the Gaffer something to do. Something that was all his own, now that he was no longer the head gardener at Mr. Bilbo’s.
Sam continued up the hill, his mind turning to the Bag End garden. He thought he could make good there. Well, he’d been trained by the Gaffer, after all! He laughed inwardly. If that didn’t make him a gardener, nothing would. He was young for it though, there was no denying. Barely twenty-one – he wouldn’t have been put in charge at such an age, only the Gaffer’s rheumatics had got so bad, the old man really wasn’t up to it anymore.
And even at that, it was Mr. Frodo as got the job for him. Mr. Bilbo had told him that his own self. He’d called Sam into the Bag End parlor one day in February, when Sam should have been out in the orchard pruning the apple trees.
“Sam, lad, I want a word with you,” he’d said. He had seemed ill at ease, sitting at his big desk reaming out his pipe, not meeting Sam’s eyes. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to make some changes around here. Your father, well, he’s done a fine job in the garden, a fine job. But his health isn’t what it was, you know.”
Sam had sat on the edge of his chair, apprehension making him shiver in spite of the bright fire on the hearth. True enough, the Gaffer was feeling his age. He was home in bed that very minute, a hot soapstone wrapped in flannel pressed to his aching back. Sam had been working in the orchard alone, when Mr. Bilbo called him in. But this – this sounded like bad news for the Gamgees, and no mistake.
Mr. Bilbo had given him a measuring look. “Samwise, I’ve known you since you were born, and you were always an honest lad.. So I’ll just ask you now, can you manage the garden by yourself? Because it’s plain to me that the Gaffer can’t keep it up.” He shook his head, filling his pipe carefully and tamping it down. “I’m afraid the old man will kill himself trying, and I’d never forgive myself. I meant to have you take over for him when he retired, but I thought we had a few years yet.”
Sam had cleared his throat nervously. “I can do it, sir.” He looked Mr. Bilbo in the eye, wishing he could find words for what he knew was true. I’m reliable, sir, even if I am young. You can count on me, Mr. Bilbo.
And Bilbo had seemed to understand. “All right then, Sam. We’ll give you a try. “ He laughed a little ruefully. “Indeed, I am afraid I have very little say in the matter! Frodo insisted that you have your chance. He almost jumped down my throat when I said you were too young and we’d have to look for someone else.”
He’d stood up then and held out his hand. “You’ve got a good friend in Mr. Frodo, lad. Mind you don’t let him down.”
“No, sir. I won’t, sir!”
So Sam had taken over the Bag End garden. He’d run into Mr. Frodo at the Green Dragon a few evenings later and tried to thank him, but Frodo just laughed and stood him a pint. “You’ll do fine, Sam, no doubt about it. And the old place wouldn’t be the same without you pottering about outside.”
Three months later, Sam felt he had the job in hand. It was, after all, only what he had been doing since he was a little tyke following at the Gaffer’s heels. The garden routine was in his bones, and he dug and planted, weeded the vegetables and cut back the roses, with skill and deep satisfaction. In fact, it was almost too easy. He began to look for ways to make the garden even better.
Bag End was the showplace of Hobbiton, always had been. Still, there were improvements that might be made. Bring it up to date a bit. That drip irrigation system he’d heard about, now, over to Greenholm. He hadn’t seen it himself, but it sounded a good idea. Bag End had a fine deep well; should be enough water there to keep the garden growing, even in a drought. Less wasteful, too, than slopping the water around in buckets. Not that he expected a drought; it was just a good idea.
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