2. The Fight
June came in and the weather turned hot. Every day was fine with never a hint of rain, and the children of Hobbiton played out in the sun until they tanned as brown as toast. But as one week followed another without rain, the gardens of Hobbiton began to dry up.
The Gaffer’s strawberry bed, already stressed by the frost, was a pitiable sight. The plants were puny and yellowed, and the few blossoms that had survived produced berries the size of peas, with a bitter flavor. The Gaffer tried to pick some for Bilbo anyway, but after tasting one of the berries he dumped the basket out on the ground and went down to the pub, where he sat in a corner nursing his pint and not speaking to anyone.
At Bag End, Sam carried buckets of water to the flowerbeds and the big vegetable patch until even his strong young back ached at night. But for all his dogged persistence, he couldn’t carry water enough to keep the rose garden looking fresh, or the raspberries, or the flowering hedges. They began to look dusty, their leaves so dry they rustled like autumn in the hot breeze. All over the Shire the fields were parched and gardens withered in the heat, and everywhere the weather was the chief topic of conversation.
One evening in June, when the air at sunset was still as hot and breathless as it had been at midday, Sam walked down to Cottons’ farm to visit his sister. Marigold had been spending her summers at the farm ever since their mother died some years before. She was only a year younger than Rose Cotton, and the girls learned sewing and spinning, churning and cheesemaking, from Rosie’s capable mother. Now Marigold was skilled enough to be paid a little money as well as her keep, and both families were well-pleased with the arrangement.
Sam came up the long farm lane to find the family in an uproar. Rose knelt in the dust weeping noisily, bent over something she held cradled in her lap. Marigold hovered over her, trying to console, but crying hard herself. Even the youngest boy, Nibs, had tear tracks running down his dirty face. He wasn’t crying anymore, however, but stood with blazing eyes confronting a tall young hobbit who lounged against the barn, grinning, a slingshot hanging from his hand.
“Hullo, what’s all this?” Sam demanded. He went first to Rose, squatting down next to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. “What’s the matter, Rosie?”
Rose only cried harder, but Nibs answered shrilly, “It’s that Ted Sandyman, he’s gone and killed her pet dove that she saved from the cat last winter! And on purpose, too!”
“Of course on purpose.” Ted gave a hoot of laughter . “Doves are game birds, make a fine pie. I aim to have this one to my supper, when the silly chit quits sniveling over it.”
Outrage brought Sam to his feet. “You came into this yard and shot a tame dove for your supper? And the woods chock full of wild ones?”
Ted’s smile wavered at the scorn in Sam’s voice, but he stood his ground. “Doves is doves, wherever you find them. They’re game birds and always have been. You’ve et dove pie yourself, Sam Gamgee, don’t try and pretend you haven’t!”
“Not made from anyone’s pet I haven’t! Where’s your father, Nibs? He’s the one to sort this out.”
“Da’s gone to market at Frogmorton with Mum and the others. There’s only us home, to feed the stock and do the milking.”
Sam regarded Ted with distaste. “And you knew that, I suppose, when you came hunting tame doves in a farmyard.”
Ted shoved himself away from the barn wall and came toward Rose.
“Stow it, why don’t you, Sam? The bird’s dead, and I’m taking it home for supper. Come on, Rose, hand it here!”
Rose gave a cry and sprang up, backing away from Ted with the dove clutched to her heart. Marigold ran between them, trying to push the hulking lad away from her friend, but Ted caught her by one arm and swung her out of his way. Her momentum brought her slam against Nibs, and they both crashed to the ground. Ted ignored the crying children and reached to take the bird from Rose.
Sam caught him by the collar and spun him around. “That’s enough, you great bully! Come fight someone closer your own size!”
Ted was nearly a head taller than Sam, and he laughed in his face as he plowed into him. But he’d reckoned without the strength Sam had built up in his years of heavy work in the garden, and quickly found the smaller hobbit more than he could handle. Sam’s anger added fire to his strength, and within a few minutes Ted had had enough and was running up the lane in full retreat.
Dark had fallen by the time the poor pet dove had been buried with full ceremony and many tears. Sam herded the youngsters into the house and sent them to wash up, while he bustled around the kitchen finding them something to eat. They were still sitting around the table when the farm cart rattled into the yard and the rest of the family filed in.
Farmer Cotton looked troubled when he heard the story.
“I won’t deny I’m glad you sent him to the rightabout, Sam. Ted’s a bully and a sneak, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here myself to deal with him. Aye, and he’ll be looking to get back at you now, or my name’s not Tom Cotton.”
Sam grinned. “He’s welcome to a rematch any time he likes, Mr. Cotton.”
The farmer grimaced. “I misdoubt he’ll have the stomach for another round, Sam. He’ll be watching for something underhand, to pay you back for trouncing him. Best watch your back, lad.”