3. The Mill
Bad things come in threes, my mother always said.
Sam's disappearance was the first bad thing, and the worst. The next was the news that the Sackville-Bagginses hadn't just bought Bag End, they'd bought the Mill as well. My brother Nibs went with a cartload of wheat to be ground, and Ted Sandyman turned him away.
"We're closed," Ted told him, smirking all over his ugly face.
"Closed!" Nibs said. "We just got done threshing this lot, the first of the harvest, and we need the flour! What do you mean, closed?"
"Too bad for you, Nibs Cotton. You can take your load out to Frogmorton, I reckon they're still open there. This mill is closed, orders of the Boss."
"Boss? What Boss?"
"Boss Lotho Sackville-Baggins, the new owner," said Ted, laughing his fool head off.
My Da went right up to Bag End to talk to Lotho, but he got no satisfaction there. He came home shaking his head, more disturbed than I'd ever seen him.
"He's nothing like the other Bagginses, this Mr. Lotho isn't. He wasn't even civil, kept me standing on his front mat while we talked. Mr. Bilbo, now, or Mr. Frodo, they'd a welcome for any hobbit who came to the door – asked you in for a mug of ale and you'd sit in the parlor and discuss a matter like reasonable beings."
He was pacing up and down while my mother rolled out biscuits on the kitchen table.
"Sit down, Tom, do. Rose, get your Da a mug of beer from the cellar. Why is the Mill closed – are they doing repairs?"
I came up from the cellar in time to hear Mum exclaim, "Tearing it down? Why on earth would they tear it down? It's needed here, surely – the only other mill in the area is more than three hours away!"
"Seems it's too old-fashioned for Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins. He figures to build a big new mill with all kinds of new-fangled machinery – and he says the price will go up, too, when they get it built. To pay for all his improvements. In the meantime we can drive to Frogmorton, and he's 'Sorry for the inconvenience, Cotton.' He's not half as sorry as I am to find he's bought the place!"
So Nibs had to drive to the mill in Frogmorton, but Mum wasn't willing he should go alone. He was still in his tweens and inclined to be a little wild – she worried he would be racing other lads on the road, or get to drinking at the inn there.
"You'll have to go with him, Rose, and see he behaves. Your Da can't spare the older boys from the farm work just now, but I can make do with Marigold to help me."
Truth be told, I was glad to get away for a day. No one spoke to me of Sam, except for Marigold, but I knew they all thought he was dead. I wouldn't believe it – I wouldn't! – but it was hard to hold on to that, seeing the sadness in their eyes.
Even Marigold – she was trying hard to keep on hoping, but the Gaffer had given up. He sat in his old chair day after day, smoking his pipe and never saying a word. He wouldn't even stir to put a stick of wood on the fire, so the days Marigold came up to the farm to help out, she went home to a cold fireplace and a silent hole. The Gaffer had never been an affectionate father, quicker to cuff his children than hug them, but it was plain now how dear he had loved his youngest son.
At least I understood, finally, why he hadn’t asked me to marry him. He knew all along they weren’t staying at Crickhollow. And he said he would come back, I reminded myself. He said that.
Nibs and me left before sun-up, for Mum wanted us home that night. By the time we got to the Three Farthing Stone, we began to see other carts on the road, heavily loaded and covered with tarpaulins to protect them from the weather.
"Should we have covered the wheat?" I asked Nibs. "You think it's going to rain?"
"Don't look like it," he said, considering the sky and holding up a finger to check the wind. "Not for a day or two, anyhow."
"So why does everyone have their loads covered?"
"I dunno, sis. Maybe they're going a long way, figure they'll hit rain sooner or later."
I tried to remember if there was usually this much traffic. I didn't get away from Bywater and Hobbiton very often, but I didn't think I'd ever seen quite so many wagons on the road.
We got to Frogmorton Mill by mid-morning, and got in line behind four or five other wagons. Balbo Goodbody from Hobbiton was just in front of us, and him and Nibs amused themselves like boys do, arm-wrestling and throwing their knives at a rough target scratched on the wall of the Mill.
Come time for elevenses, I called them both over and handed out bread and cheese. Balbo had a basket of apples under the front seat of his wagon, and we made a pretty good meal.
"So when are they building the new Mill?" Nibs asked between bites.
Balbo snorted. "Haven't started tearing the old one down yet. If they get the thing built by spring they'll be doing well – it's going to be four times the size of the old one. Big, ugly monster. We'll be coming out here all winter, you watch."
"What's the point, anyway? The old Mill did the job all right; it's not like we're growing a whole lot more wheat."
"Who knows? Lotho Pimple just wants the biggest mill around, I guess. He's buying up a lot of stuff round about Hobbiton."
"What kind of stuff?" I asked.
"The Ivy Bush, for one thing. He bought that, and now the ale they're serving is like swill, watered down. Can’t hardly drink the stuff. And he's buying up a lot of food, wheat and barley, potatoes, leaf …"
I hid a smile. Trust a man to count leaf as necessary foodstuff! My father would probably agree with him, too – Da liked his pipe as well as anyone. As well as Sam did, I remembered with a pang.
"What on earth is he going to do with it all?" I asked. I wouldn't think of Sam, not now, not where people would see me, if I started crying.
"There goes some of it now," Balbo said, pointing at a tarpaulin-covered cart going by on the road. "He's selling it all outside the Shire, away South somewhere."
Then it was Balbo's turn to have his wheat ground, and Nibs went to help him unload. I wrapped up the remains of our food and watched the carts passing by. By the time we started home, I had counted fourteen carts carrying supplies South, out of the Shire.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.