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Shaping of Samwise, The: 6. Friends
Sam found Farmer Cotton in the barn with his boys, sharpening scythes and generally getting things ready for the harvest.
“Looking for Marigold, Sam? She’s up at the house; the girls are churning today.”
Sam wasn’t looking for Marigold, but it crossed his mind that he’d better arrange for her to stay at the farm through the winter this year. He’d miss her at home, but money would be tight for the Gamgees now.
“I’ll go up and see her before I leave, Mr. Cotton. Could I have a word with you, please sir?”
“Of course, Sam. Where the others can’t hear, you mean?”
Sam hesitated. What difference would it make; the story would be all over Bywater by afternoon anyway. The lads might as well hear it from him.
“No need for that, sir. The thing is, I’ve been turned off. Mr. Bilbo wants someone older to do the garden. I thought maybe you could use another hand, with the harvest and all.”
The Cotton family, young and old, stared at him in shock. Tom whistled.
“Laws, Sam, what’d you do? I thought you were Mr. Bilbo’s fair-haired boy.”
Twelve-year-old Nick snickered. “Nah, that’s Mr. Frodo, dimwit!”
“You know what I mean, squirt!” Tom caught his brother and deposited him head-first in a pile of hay. “No, seriously, Sam, why’d he turn you off? I thought you were set for life at Bag End!”
“Place got flooded out, yesterday. The irrigation valves all round the smial were open, and with the ground so wet from the rain we’ve had – everything was afloat when they got home from Buckland. Mr. Bilbo says I was careless, left the valves open. But I didn’t.”
He met Mr. Cotton’s eyes. “I didn’t, sir! Those valves have been closed for a week, ever since the rain began! I don’t know how they could’ve got opened again.”
“Aye, that’s just the trouble with these new-fangled jimcrackers, Sam – you never know where you are with them! You would’ve done better to haul your water in a bucket, then you’d still have your job, lad. Ah well, we can use your help here, right enough, if you don’t mind working the old-fashioned way.”
The farmer laughed and clapped him on the back, but his hearty joking wore on Sam’s nerves. He’d lost Mr. Bilbo’s trust and Mr. Cotton’s respect, seemingly. He took a whetstone from the shelf on the barn wall and started sharpening one of the scythes.
He wanted to lose himself in the work, forget for a while, but it was not allowed. The conversation flowed around him, speculation on who would be named gardener at Bag End, and what the new man would do.
“Bet he tears out all your irrigation tubes first off, Sam,” said Tom. “Just in case they start running again when he doesn’t want ’em, and land him in trouble. There’s all your work wasted, you watch.”
“Bet he uses ’em for bean poles!” Nibs said with a laugh. Sam kept his stone moving along the scythe blade in a steady rhythm and said nothing.
“Will Mr. Bilbo have you come back as assistant, Sam?” the farmer asked.
“That’s what he said.”
“Aye, Mr. Bilbo’s a fair man. Well, just do your work steady-like when you go back, lad. No more flights of fancy, mind! The old ways are best, when all’s said.”
Sam nodded, his face expressionless.
Halfway through the morning Rose came in with a jar of raspberry switchel. Work stopped, and the lads shouted each other down explaining Sam’s presence. Rose looked at him with pity, and he felt a wild desire to smash his fist through a wall. He went back to work without taking anything to drink. He couldn’t have swallowed it anyway.
At mid-day they went back to the house for noon dinner. The instant he walked in the door, Marigold flung herself into his arms. “Oh Sam, they say you lost your job, they say Mr. Bilbo sent you away!” She stared up at him, her eyes wide. “Oh Sam, is the Gaffer very angry with you?”
He hugged her hard. His little sister. Glory, how he missed her when she wasn’t home! How he would miss her this winter.
“The Gaffer’s weathering it, Mari. We’ll get through it. How would you like to stay here this winter?”
“Not come home, you mean? But why, Sam?” He shrugged, but she understood. “To save money, you mean. You lost your job, so now I can’t come home all winter! Oh Sam, it’s not fair!”
He stroked her hair helplessly. “I thought you liked it here, Marigold. With the other young ones, Rose and all. And Mrs. Cotton to look after you.”
“It’s all right for the summer. It’s fun, I guess. But that doesn’t mean I never want to come home!” She sounded angry now. “Rose says it’s all because of that stupid irrigation thing you put at Bag End, that’s how come Mr. Bilbo turned you off. It ran water all inside the smial and filled it right up to the windows. And now I can’t go home because of you! I hate you, Sam!”
She burst into tears and spun away from him with a swirl of skirts, out of the room. Sam stood where she left him, her voice echoing in his ears.
Mrs. Cotton came into the room in time to hear Marigold’s words. She laid a hand on Sam’s arm, saying, “Never mind, Sam, she’ll get over it. She’s upset, but you know she loves you. And she’s welcome to stay the winter with us, as long as you need, till you and the Gaffer have things sorted out.”
Sam sighed and ran his hand over his face, suddenly very tired. “Thank’ee, Mrs. Cotton. You and Mr. Cotton have been real friends to us Gamgees, ever since my mother died.”
“Aye well, Sam, you’re a good lad, and Marigold’s a good lass. This is a sharp lesson for you and no mistake, but you’ll be more careful in future, I don’t doubt. You were full young to be in charge up there, and I told Mr. Cotton so from the first.”
She went into the dining room, and Sam gazed after her. So Mrs. Cotton, too, thought he had failed at Bag End. There was no one who believed in him, seemingly.
His appetite gone, Sam wandered out into the yard. He stood leaning against a tree, staring at the ground and tearing a leaf into narrow strips, trying not to think. He heard footsteps hurrying along the farm lane, but he didn’t look up. There was no one he cared to see right now. The steps came to a halt in front of him, and there was a long silence. Finally he looked.
”The Gaffer told me I’d find you here. Oh Sam, I can’t tell you how sorry I am about all this. I’ve been arguing with Bilbo all morning, but I just can’t get through to him.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Frodo.”
He wished Frodo would go away. Mind you don’t let him down, Mr. Bilbo had told him, back in February. Well, he had let him down, right enough. Now he didn’t know how to face him. He plucked another leaf from the tree and began tearing it.
“No, it’s not all right! Sam, stop destroying that leaf and listen to me!” He caught Sam’s wrist. “You didn’t leave those valves open, old lad; don’t you think I know that? That flood wasn’t your fault. Bilbo will realize that sooner or later, but I’d like to make it sooner. Now help me think!”
For the third time in two days, Sam found himself fighting back tears. “You believe me, Mr. Frodo? I didn’t leave them open, I never did!”
“Of course I believe you! If I ever caught you in a lie, Sam, I -- well, I think I’d watch for the sun to fall out of the sky! You said you closed those valves and that’s all I need to know. But they were open again yesterday; that’s how you found them, right?”
“That’s right, Mr. Frodo, every valve all round the smial. But none of the others were open, not in the rose garden or anywhere. Just the ones by the smial.” He made a face. “That’s odd, now I come to think of it. Like it was done a-purpose, to flood the place.” He shook his head as though to clear it. “No, that’s a mad idea. Who would want to flood out Bag End? Everyone likes Mr. Bilbo!”
“Not everyone, Sam. Though I can’t quite picture Lobelia skulking around the garden, opening water valves! Lotho, now….” He didn’t finish, as if he didn’t like where his thoughts were taking him.
But Sam’s thoughts were still caroling Frodo’s faith in him. It was like the sun coming up in the dead of night, finding a friend who still believed in him. He had never known how badly you could need a friend.
When work ended that evening, Sam lingered.
“Could I borrow your wagon for a while, Mr. Cotton?”
“Aye, Sam, whenever you need it. What’s on your mind?”
“It’s the parlor carpet from Bag End, sir– it’s that wet and muddy, but -- if I washed it out in Bywater Pool, I thought, and laid it out flat to dry – well, it’s worth a try, any road. Mr. Bilbo always set a store by that bit of carpet.”
“Well, hitch up the wagon and go fetch it, Sam, and we’ll see what can be done. Might be Mrs. Cotton can tell you how to go about cleaning it, and you can lay it out to dry on the threshing floor. We’ll not be needing that for awhile yet.” But as Sam turned to go into the stable, the farmer caught him by the shoulder.
“I’m glad to see you don’t hold a grudge, Sam. You’re a good lad.”
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