West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
The Gentlehobbit Instructed
Frodo's new book teaches him a lesson he won't soon forget.
"I wish to purchase a return ticket from Hobbiton to Stock by way of Frogmorton. The seven o'clock coach, if you please."
Sam eyed Frodo from where he stood by the sink with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and a leather apron over his indoor breeches. He was grating beef suet into an earthenware bowl which was already half full of flour. His expression was sceptical and mildly concerned.
"Why not catch a ride with old Applegarth, the rag-and-bone collector? He drives to Buckland and back twice weekly when the weather is fair." Sam set the grater on the draining board and plunged his fingers into the bowl, at the same time directing at Frodo a look of amused forbearance. "If you don't mind sitting by him at the front of the cart, it will save you a silver penny over the cost of the coach. You can pay him in kind or in small beer along the way. He talks nineteen to the dozen, and most of it about ashes and middens, but the fresh air will do you good. Put some colour into your cheeks."
Frodo sighed. He'd been hoping that a well-chosen passage from this stray volume on manners might divert Sam's attention from Cousin Merry's impending visit, but apparently Sam was in no mood to be edified or distracted by any subject of lesser importance than his pudding bowl and the vagaries of the rag-and-bone collector. The existence of this village luminary was a secret hitherto unknown at Bag End; however, as Frodo had come to realise as the years passed, Sam's mind was a lumber-room stuffed with all kinds of curious oddments, and there was no telling when something of interest might struggle forth into the light of day. It was remarkable.
Frodo stared at the dried out remnants of his third whortleberry scone and absently brushed a few crumbs from the book that lay spread open before him awaiting closer scrutiny. In truth, he was somewhat doubtful as to its merits. The cover was limp, the pages foxed, and the contents of no great moment to one of his age and station.
It would need to be rebacked or possibly even rebound if he were to keep it. Although he found it vaguely entertaining, it hardly seemed fit, in its current state, to be given a place on his shelves next to The Shire Landscape: A Didactic Poem, or Hints for the Enhancement of Early Education. Bilbo would never have approved. Quarter calf with a gilt-lettered spine would be just the thing, or perhaps--
"No, Sam, you don't understand," he answered, visions of marbled boards and raised bands frolicking in his head. "I have no intention of leaving Hobbiton. This is an imaginary conversation, an example of what a well-spoken hobbit might say if he were in urgent need of transport to Stock and wasn't familiar with your friend Applegarth. Do you see?"
Sam would have scratched his head if both hands hadn't been coated with flour and suet. Instead, he blended the ingredients with practiced care then began to form the mixture into balls, keeping one eye on the range where two iron pots were gently simmering and the other on Frodo.
"Ah. I suppose I do at that."
"Similarly," Frodo continued, "this hypothetical hobbit might want to make a purchase while waiting for the coach to depart, in which case he would say--" He ran his eyes down the page. "Yes, here it is. 'Excuse me, mistress, could you direct me to the nearest gentlehobbit's outfitters? I've torn a hole in my umbrella, and I fear it's likely to rain before the afternoon is out.' And the lady replies: 'Why, of course, good sir, there is nothing quite as vexing as an umbrella that allows the rain through."
Sam, who was counting the dumplings under his breath, nonetheless managed to raise an eyebrow.
"You mean Puddifoot's?" he asked at length. "It's on the west side of Market Square; or it was, the last time I went down the town. Any hobbit with eyes in his head can see it, plain as day. You won't find a better display of hats and weskits this side of the River. I bought my braces at Puddifoot's, this past Yuletide."
"And very fetching braces they are, too, as I believe I remarked only last night while I was taking them off. But what if I were an outsider who was new to the village?"
"It has but one street, me dear, begging your pardon. You'd have to be as blind as a flitter-mouse to overlook the handsomest shop in Hobbiton. Or a Bucklander maybe," he added with a wink.
Frodo felt a twinge of vexation at this trifling reminder of his gardener's fondness for digression. While Sam's tendency to stray from the beaten track was endearing upon occasion, just now it was making Frodo feel as if someone had slipped a suspect mushroom into his breakfast omelette. He ought to have chosen a book of quaint aphorisms or animal fables instead.
"All right," he replied, with practised calm. "What if this book's owner--someone other than me, that is--were to visit Michel Delving or Tuckburrow, where the outfitter's wasn't so conspicuously located?"
Sam wrapped the tag end of suet in a scrap of cloth and put it to one side. He frowned at it.
"As to that, I couldn't say. I've not been further than Tighfield, which has no outfitters that I know of, barring the woollen draper's shop. You'd be hard-pressed to find an umbrella there even for ready money. Mind you--" Sam's voice grew wistful. "It has two streets and a public house opposite the shambles where they serve the finest ale in the West Farthing. The Half Butt Inn."
For a moment, Frodo considered this tidbit and its pertinence to the matter at hand, then placed a lead weight across the pages to hold them open while he sat back to ponder further the present inscrutability of his servant.
He had been aware of Sam's need to be useful since that first, awkward day in Hobbiton, when young Sam--as bright as a button and no taller than a table leg--had hung on his arm, sharing the wisdom of his ten summers until the Gaffer had finally boxed the lad's ears and told him to 'heed his wark and let other sum heed theirs.' It had been a sharp reminder, if any had been needed, that Sam, for all his fascination with the novel and strange, spent the better part of each day in a world of which Frodo knew little by hearsay and nothing by experience.
Cousin Bilbo, who was no respecter of persons--not even Gaffer Gamgee's--had soon discovered that a green but growing shoot was flourishing in the shadow of the Hill, and had determined to do his utmost to help it along. Sam had been a willing co-conspirator in this venture for many years and a keen student of every subject, whether factual or fabulous. It was odd that he should now be averse to increasing his store of knowledge, but perhaps it was in the nature of suet dumplings to wholly engross one's concentration. Wasn't there a saying--sad as a dumpling? Sam was exasperated rather than sad, but still--
Frodo poured himself a cup of tea and added a dollop of cream. He would try a different approach in light of the current opacity of Sam's thought processes and hope not to be waylaid again.
"Then let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I have need of something rarer than a new umbrella, something that no amount of observation will help me find. If that were the case, I might be grateful to have such a trusty volume in my knap-sack."
"Aye?" Sam gazed at Frodo with surprise writ large on his features. "You're not one to be at a loss for words most times as far as I've noticed, though others might not be so glib-tongued. A map would be more to your purpose. " He stopped and shook his head. "What is it you want?"
Frodo contemplated his desires while admiring the way that Sam's hair rested attractively on his collar in tight golden whorls vibrant with life. You could see the tips of his ears, flushed from the heat of the cast iron hob, and a rosy mark on his neck where--
"A quarter pound of gum acacia?" Frodo asked around the frog in his throat. "I might fancy doing a watercolour or two of the Brandywine River as seen from the belltower in Whitfurrows. The view is splendid, or so I'm told." He smiled innocently.
Sam leaned over the top plate, face shiny and curls springing up in the steam that belched forth as he removed the lid from the enormous stew pot.
"You won't find any in the village; I know that for a verity. My Nan said it was a sovereign remedy for fever, but hard to come by and very dear. The herbalist in Frogmorton might keep it in stock." He threw a pinch of salt into the pot. "'Sides--" he glanced at Frodo over his shoulder. "I didn't know you painted. 'Tis a fine pastime for a gentlehobbit. A few pleasing landscapes on the sitting room wall would be a nice change from bare plaster."
"I don't paint," Frodo responded sharply, "and I wish you wouldn't--oh, never mind." He selected a chunk of sugar from the box and dropped it into his cup, grinding it to a powder with the crusher. "It's of no consequence. You asked me to read aloud while you made supper, but if you don't find this book of any use then I shan't bother."
Sam mumbled something to himself, but whether in assent or denial it was impossible to say. He gave the contents of his pot a brisk stir and the scent of lemon thyme filled the kitchen.
"What are you making, by the way?" Frodo asked, feeling a trace of guilt at his ill nature.
"Palatable stew." Sam began to pop the suet dumplings into the pot one by one.
"All of your stews are palatable."
"No, me dear, that's the name of it. Diced beef and pork, a faggot of sweet herbs and spices, carrots, neeps, parsley and two sliced onions. 'Tis my mam's receipt. She called it Palatable Stew on account of her sister who couldn't make one that was, if you see what I mean. Poor Aunt May never married, and Nan said it was her stew that kept the suitors from the smial. Word got out about the dumplings, I shouldn't wonder. Hard as doorknobs they were. 'Twas a shame, for she was a handsome lass."
"She didn't by any chance seek employment as cook at The Ivy Bush?" Frodo said, wrinkling his nose as he took a tentative sip of the sweet, cold tea. "Bilbo often remarked on how well-suited their dumplings were to a game of indoor skittles. I have no idea whether or not he toppled any pins with a dumpling, as I preferred to dine at The Green Dragon myself. They have a dart board in the snuggery."
Sam wiped the sticky residue from his hands with a damp cloth, and replaced the lid on the pot. There was a mound of small, knobbly potatoes waiting on the chopping board and he began to scrub their pale, thin skins. When he was done, he threw the potatoes into the second pot and clapped the lid over them as well.
"Did you never sup at home afore Mr. Bilbo set off on his travels?"
"No more than I could help," Frodo muttered into his cup. "I valued my well-being as much as the next hobbit. Bilbo was a deft hand with a rarebit or sausage and mash, but he couldn't roast a leg of mutton to save his life. I scarcely knew what a dumpling was until you came to live at Bag End, and Bilbo's plum puddings were invariably as black as that hob. Dining at The Dragon was safer."
Sam turned and gave his master a long, measuring look, as if judging the merits of a ewe at market.
"You could do with a bit of filling out and no mistake," he said at last. "Wasting away in this great owmly smial with none to do for you proper, and Mr. Bilbo gallivanting around the countryside as if a boggle were after him. There's no secret to making a good suet dumpling, as anyone who knows the manner of it can tell you--neither too wet, nor too dry, nor so big that it doesn't fit comfortably in the hand. You'd soon get its measure."
"I meant nothing by it," said Sam, voice smooth as butter in the churn.
"No, of course you didn't," Frodo answered, wiping spilled tea from his shirtfront with a napkin. "However, you're right; a bit of filling out would be delightful and we ought to begin forthwith. But supper first, I think. And as I was saying before you began your lesson on dumplings--you wanted me to read aloud."
"Aye, I did at that. What of the miller with the cabbage pot stuck fast over his noddle? That was a cheery yarn. The village lads feared they'd caught an oliphaunt or mayhap a sea serpent and were keen to give it a walloping when my old dad came by and dragged me out to see the beetles on the sparrowgrass."
"Oh yes; I'd forgotten. Perhaps we could finish it later. In the meantime, I don't suppose it would bother you if I--?" Frodo patted the volume in front of him.
Sam glanced at the yellowed pages of Frodo's book where it lay sprawled between the sugar box and the biscuit tin.
"It's a queer sort of tale, with no rhyme nor reason to it. A hobbit who forgets to buy a new umbrella when venturing as far as Stock isn't the brightest penny in the purse, is he? There's no happy ending in store for an addle-pate such as him. A packet of humbugs or a pork pie for the journey would be more in keeping."
"It's not a tale, Sam. It's a primer, written for the instruction and entertainment of the young or less happily situated. It also has, according to the title page, fifty engravings and six plates." Frodo thumbed through the pages. "Unfortunately, most of the plates are missing. It was one in a shipment of odd volumes that Master Budgit sent me from an estate sale near Michel Delving. I've been rummaging through the container since second breakfast, but I fear I'll have to return it. The books smell as if they've been stored next to the mushroom beds."
"Likely they were," answered Sam, drying his hands and setting the kettle on the hob. "A two room smial with naught but a single window the size of a pocket handkerchief and a milch goat for company is not uncommon in those parts. And there are some living by The Water who are poor as beetles, scrudged up together in holes no bigger than one of your pantries."
Frodo eyed Sam askance.
"I see," he said briskly, not wanting to dwell on damp smials with inadequate ventilation. "Well, that explains the peculiar odour. Nevertheless, I won't keep this consignment. Master Budgit will have to recognize sooner or later that I can't purchase every item he sends me; there simply isn't room for them here. He must take his chances at auction."
Sam laid a hand on Frodo's shoulder and leaned forwards for a closer look at the book, his breath tickling Frodo's cheek as he said, "Tell me their names, me dear. There might be one worth having."
Sam's fingers burned through the sheer linen of Frodo's shirt as hot as the noonday sun; they smelled of sage, basil and sweet bay, and Frodo, thinking of that first time in the garden when he had been unable to resist the lure of Sam's calm regard, felt the titles flow from his head like water. He closed his eyes and recalled the supple warmth of Sam's body pressed against his, the tight conjoining of their flesh, and Sam's silence after. What had Sam asked him?
"Ah. Yes." Frodo shook himself and studied the loose sheet of paper resting beneath his tea cup. "Your Relatives and How to Amuse Them--Merry is easily amused as long as the Old Winyards flows freely, so I don't suppose I shall need to keep that one; One Thousand Practical Receipts; several pamphlets on Shire prodigies, from the two-headed sheep of Hagg Grange to the lass who gave birth to a litter of coneys; Potato Diseases and their Prevention; and this one--The Gentlehobbit Instructed, or the Art of Polite Conversation."
"Taters?" Sam sat down at the table, his face bright with interest.
"Yes, Sam, taters--thirty-three varieties apparently, and each prone to disease of one sort or another. You won't find the book of much use; it's older than your Gaffer by a score of years, and seems to be encrusted with a colourful fungus. Rather appropriate, I thought." Frodo smoothed out the paper and squinted at his notes. "You know everything there is to know about potatoes, and more besides," he said. "How complicated can they be after all?"
Sam's shocked gasp rose loudly over the thrum of pots and the hiss of the seething kettle.
"Complicated?" Sam folded his arms and gazed back with narrowed eyes. "I don't know as they're complicated when set alongside elvish books and other outlandish fare, but there's sundry kinds of sickness to ruin a tater crop if a farmer doesn't mind his work. There's blight and brown rot, scab and blackleg, mould, scurf and--"
"I beg your pardon," Frodo hastily interjected, before Sam embarked on yet another subject quite beyond his master's comprehension. When they'd last had occasion to converse about crops, Sam had entertained him with a lengthy and inordinately complex dissertation on cabbage root fly. By the end of the half hour, Frodo had been none the wiser as to the connection between cabbage flies and turnips and feared to ask for further clarification.
"It was a thoughtless remark; I had no idea that potatoes were such fragile vegetables. They appear so--indomitable--when covered with a generous helping of gravy. Why don't I leave Potato Diseases on the kitchen table when we take ourselves to bed, and you can peruse it at first breakfast? I'll gladly give it to you, fungus or no."
Sam grunted, but his features softened.
"To hear some hobbits talk, you'd think all a fellow has to do is boil them, mash them or stick them in a stew."
"I would never be so tactless. I skimmed through One Thousand Practical Receipts earlier this morning, and was astonished at what could be done with a potato. I had no idea. I might copy out one or two favourites before returning the book to the auction-house. I fancied the lamb hotpot and potatoes baked with mushrooms." He held his breath.
"Aye, I can make those for you," Sam answered. "Now you're talking sense. A sound receipt is of more use than a lesson on summat that any fool knows already."
Frodo was not alarmed to find the coach ticket rearing its head again; Sam believed, for some mysterious reason, that the mere existence of a return ticket was an affront to Master Applegarth. However, it was possible--indeed likely--that Sam would be readily amenable to a different subject, one far removed from the coaching office.
"Don't be too hasty in judging the virtues of polite conversation. There must be something here that would appeal to you--a section on cookery, for example. Let's see--" He hunched over his book and quickly searched the table of contents before Sam's interest faded altogether. "Here we are. 'At the Market: How to purchase a goose.'"
Sam sniffed disdainfully.
"I know how to purchase a goose. If I didn't, I should think myself ready for the knacker's yard. First of all, you--"
"'When you enter the poulterer's shop'," Frodo read, "'first inspect what he has on offer, touching the breast of each bird to prove its tenderness. When the poulterer asks if he may assist you, you must answer:' yes, if you would; I wish to buy a goose.' Well, that seems fairly straightforward. 'Of course, mistress,' (or master, I suppose), 'the shopkeeper answers: 'We have a fine selection in the shop this week. Feel free to examine them at your leisure.' The lass then simpers alarmingly. 'Thank you, Master, my good husband enjoys nothing better than a plump goose'. If that's the case, why did he marry a wife who's as thin as a wafer? 'I should prefer one that's been hung to a turn. The last goose that I purchased here was dry and tough.'"
Sam poured himself a cup of cold tea from the pot, transferring it into his saucer and blowing on it out of habit.
"It can't have been a Whitwell. Whitwell geese have a rich flavour and ample fat, but Oatbartons are dry as a cake of cow dung. A lass like that needs to watch how she goes, or her husband will turn her out-of-doors. Any fool knows an Oatbarton goose when he sees it."
"What if you were visiting friends in Stock, and didn't know the quality of geese thereabouts? You would have to rely on the honour of the poulterer in spite of your better judgement."
"I should be surprised if better geese were to be found in Buckland. Whitwells are famed from the White Downs to the Marish, according to our Halfred. Any road, I don't have friends or kin in Stock."
"Why am I not surprised," Frodo murmured absently, sifting through the worm-eaten pages in pursuit of a less controversial topic. This wasn't going well; that last remark of Sam's had sounded a trifle testy.
He was nearing the end of the book and would soon be forced to resume that silly tale of the hapless miller and his cabbage pot when a new chapter caught his eye--At the Inn, or, How to Drive a Hard Bargain. This was precisely what he'd been looking for. Sam was forever complaining about the cost of food stuffs and had repeatedly accused the innkeeper at The Green Dragon of charging too much for his pints.
"Ah, splendid. Never say that well-mannered conversation is without purpose, Sam. I imagine you'll find this helpful."
Frodo cleared his throat.
"'A country inn will normally offer amenities not listed on the bill of fare. A wise and experienced patron should be aware of the customs of the house before he sets down his coin'. Very sensible. I shouldn't want to be charged for the ordinary if I'd only come in for a mug of ale and a pipe. 'If the inn's mistress asks whether the patron has a 'special request', he must be forthright, but in a manner that displays his good breeding. Never forget, oh gentle reader, that an establishment exists to serve you.' Well, that's true in one sense, but I wouldn't order poached salmon out-of-season; it would be a rude imposition. I wonder what this fellow wants that he needs to be taught how to drive a hard bargain? "
Frodo skipped a page.
"Oh, jolly good; not all of the coloured illustrations are missing." He unfolded the double plate with care, the hinge showing signs of age as tiny fragments of paper fluttered to the table. The picture, too, might have faded from years of frequent handling, but its subject was unmistakeable.
"My word; here's something you don't happen upon every day. How did Bilbo miss it, I wonder." He bent nearer to examine the page for an artist's mark. There was none.
Sam, who had been appraising the tea leaves in the bottom of his saucer, craned his neck to see what the commotion was about. His eyebrows lifted and he put down his saucer.
The plate, titled "Trimming the Buff", showed a lass with rosy cheeks kneeling in front of a stout farmer whose feet were unusually hairy even for a hobbit. He was fondling the lass's ample breasts as he lolled in his chair, clothes undone and tall yellow hat tilted to one side.
"What an extraordinary hat," was all Frodo could think to say.
"I've seen nought like it in Hobbiton. Why has she got her hand up the leg of his breeches if she's giving him a trim?"
"I don't believe she intends to tidy his foothair, Sam. The title is facetious."
Sam prodded the picture with his finger.
"He's pickled as a newt. She'll be lucky if she gets so much as a kind word with her physicking. There's politeness for you, though what they're doing doesn't seem very polite to me."
"The ability to converse in a courteous and refined manner is part and parcel of an educated hobbit's station in life. It doesn't refer to the nature of his actions, or how well he--er--performs them. Or, at least, not always." Frodo turned to the Foreword, which he had previously marked with a scrap of paper. "I ought to have read this to you earlier, as it explains the book's purpose. If a hobbit should wish to better his lot in life--"
"Once a Bracegirdle, always a Bracegirdle, as my old Dad would say. Everyone knows everyone else hereabouts and there's no use pretending to be something you're not."
"I take your point, but it never hurts to acquire some polish. Your Gaffer's animosity towards the Bracegirdles notwithstanding, this is the sort of book one would expect to find in the household of a prosperous tenant farmer who aspires to a holding of his own. Here, you see--" Frodo gestured to the first paragraph."'A virtuous gentlehobbit will conduct himself with grace and civility. Whether in shop or inn, bedroom or stable, he will eschew a coarse and vulgar manner. Breeding will out, or so our fathers have taught us, but today, with the help of this handy compendium, any hobbit can learn to master the art of polite conversation'."
"And these two," Frodo said, turning back to 'Trimming the Buff', "are unquestionably conversing, whatever else they might be doing. I should say he has the art mastered, to judge by her state of undress and the spindly jigger that's peeking out of his breeches."
Sam moved his chair closer to Frodo's and tilted his head so as to have a better understanding of the exchange.
"Look at the pawky old scoundrel checking for tenderness! He's read your chapter on how to purchase a goose and has taken the lesson to heart. She'll give him a taste of his own medicine if he pinches her, and 'twill serve him right."
"A properly trained lass would be obliged to deal more circumspectly with a fellow who oversteps the bounds. A well-chosen word or two...."
Sam chuckled. "A mump over his gob would do the trick or a hard squeeze to his cods."
"Yes, well.... I'm afraid, in that case, she would lose her livelihood."
Frodo ran his eyes down the facing page, where the conversation between the patron and his companion was set forth in such a way as to leave no doubt as to its purport. Had the circumstances been other than they were, Frodo might have enjoyed a dash of bawdy with his tea and scones, but Sam's solid presence at his side was vastly distracting.
He didn't care to read this particular passage aloud; there were areas in which Sam needed no instruction of any kind. The top shelf in Bilbo's favourite bookcase was providing all of the esoteric reading material that any two hobbits could desire. He and Sam had barely scratched the surface; it would be some time before they managed to parse it all. Apart from anything else, it was unwise to put ideas into Sam's head when supper would be ready within the hour.
"Besides," he continued, with a glance at Sam, whose eyes were currently fixed on the book, "The lass has been well paid to provide whatever services the patron requested. He won't have any trouble driving a hard bargain unless he loses his packet beforetimes, so I should say the transaction will be a success for all concerned. And I think we should clear the table, don't you? It's late."
Sam's brow was furrowed and he was gnawing his lower lip with an air of bewilderment.
"What are they saying, then?" he asked, as Frodo squirmed in his seat and wished himself on the other side of The Water. "I can't make it out with your hand half-covering the page. First off, there was a hobbit who couldn't find his way to Stock without an umbrella; then there was a lass whose wits were wanting whenever she entered a poultry shop. Why does this old codger need a lesson in how to pleasure a lass with his words? It's not words that do the trick most times. He'd find more to his purpose in that book of Mr. Bilbo's. What was the name of it? Forty Different Ways of F--"
"He already knows how," Frodo said, worried that Sam would begin to reminisce and the dumplings be burnt to pot. "He needs to be taught how to sweeten the lass."
"Sweeten? He's about to tip her the honey and--"
"Oh, very well. I'll read it to you."
Frodo chose what appeared to be a fairly innocent passage and began:
"'If the lass fails to be prompt with her attentions or inclined to idle chatter, she must be reminded of her circumstances by a delicate yet witty remark such as: 'You will appreciate, my dear, that I have very little time, and so the conversation will be entirely about me and I shall love it. The sooner we begin to transact our business, the better I shall feel'. 'Conversation' is a polite hobbit's way of referring to the deed itself, and the mention of 'time' a subtle hint that she has been paid for in advance of the outcome. If she does not make you love it, a refund should be requested after.
"A lass who is well-trained in the art of polite conversation will be only too eager to display her skills. Moreover, if she proves herself worth the cost of her hire she must be given her due. For her part, she knows that timely and dutiful service may one day raise her to the lofty status of mistress or wife, one who sits at the master's right hand at table.'"
Frodo stopped. Oh dear. This wasn't what he'd expected. He felt his cheeks flush when he noticed Sam's quizzical expression. "I'd prefer to read the chapter on buying pipeweed if you don't mind. It includes a brief history of Old Toby and the manner of its cultivation. I'm beginning to agree with you that this book has scant merit in certain respects and--"
Sam poked him in the arm and gestured to the page.
"Go on, sir. Seems to me we're getting to the heart of the matter, the pith as you might say. A dish of good, strong tea does wonders for the comprehension. I can see why you took a fancy to the work."
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that I took a fancy to it, Sam. I merely thought it curious."
He passed over several lines of text, hoping that Sam would soon lose interest and decide to make mint sauce for the early potatoes.
"Hmm. This is fairly pithy--"'The lass might ask: 'what do you require tonight, sir'? If you are familiar with the establishment, then you will say: 'the usual, my dear.' Or you might jokingly remark: 'a little friction in a special place wouldn't go amiss; I believe you can find your way there without direction.'" Frodo paused. "She already has, although I don't think he needs any further stimulation."
Sam snorted and shoved his chair back from the table. Frodo breathed a sigh of profound relief, vowing that The Gentlehobbit Instructed would most definitely be restored to Master Budgit first thing on the morrow lest Sam take it into his head to ask for it again, as unlikely as that seemed.
"She's shrewder than the fellow who couldn't see Puddifoot's for looking," Sam said, "or I miss my mark. There's nought like a cockalorum who can't keep it in his breeches."
"No, indeed. However," Frodo said, carefully folding away the illustration and closing the book's cover, "I think we've had enough for one day. Polite conversations are frightfully tedious, which you would know if you'd ever had to spend time with Cousin Lobelia."
Sam stuck his arms akimbo and glared at Frodo with eyes that would have turned a troll to stone.
"There's more in that book about putting on airs and making others do your bidding than there is about how to talk proper."
Frodo blinked, somewhat taken aback by Sam's vehemence. He stared at The Gentlehobbit Instructed, lying innocently beneath his hand, and then at Sam, and then at his book.
"If some poor farmer should wish for refinement in his speech then I don't see--" He trailed off, unsure of what he'd meant to say.
Sam stood up and began to gather the dishes onto the tray, making undue clatter with the sugar box as he clamped its lid down.
"Gentlehobbits are born to it, Mr. Frodo; it's their way. It's not their fault they can't come right out and ask for what they want. As for farmers and other folk--politeness doesn't clean the pig sty or put bread on the table. Buying a book such as that.... Well, it's a waste of silver. My dad would skin me alive if he thought that I--" Sam broke off.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I know you enjoy learning new things or I would never have--that is to say, I thought you might find it informative." He waited for a hand on his shoulder, or a reassuring word, but Sam was too busy emptying the teapot into the sink and putting the scones in the cold cupboard.
"Aye, it was at that," Sam answered. "But I've tools to clean and a plant that wants staking. You can take the pots from the hob without my help. I'll be back in short order."
"Sam, you mustn't --"
Sam shrugged on his jacket and tucked his favourite clay pipe into the pocket.
"Never you mind, sir. I understand what you were aiming at; I'll have a glance through that book on taters when I can spare the time. Tomorrow mayhap, while Mr. Merry's showing you his new reel and you won't need me in the kitchen. Our fore-elders knew a thing or two about roots; there might be summat that an ordinary hobbit can use."
He took his leather gloves from the shelf in the cloakroom and before Frodo could say anything further, was gone into the garden, shutting the door behind him.
Frodo leaned his head on his hands, wishing that he might come down with a very bad cold, and soon. He could spend a few days breathing in steam with his head under a towel and a mustard plaster on his chest to keep visitors at a distance. He could forget that Sam was upset in some obscure way that he couldn't begin to comprehend. He could pretend that he wasn't a fool and that Sam was content and hadn't called him 'sir'. He thought he'd broken him of that habit long ago.
The kitchen was stuffy and dark of a sudden; oddly quiet, too, in a way that brought to mind those bleak days after Bilbo's departure, when he had sat in the study with only a single candle burning, wondering where his life had gone.
He rubbed his eyes and thought of getting up to make a fresh pot of tea, or wash his face, or follow Sam and apologise. Instead, he remained at the table, fingering the cover of his book, and thinking that this hadn't been such a good idea. Any of it.
At last he rose and walked to the door, cracking it open for that first rush of moist air against his over-heated cheeks and the heavy, sweet smell of wallflowers blooming by the step. Sam was in the shed; Frodo could hear the clink and rattle of tools being hung in their accustomed places, the soft humming that meant Sam was happy. Sam had been quiet lately, especially in the smial.
The evening shadows lengthened on the grass, and the stir of wings above the hill, the chatter of sparrows in the hazel thicket, fell into silence. Lights glimmered from the village below, and clearly through the breathless evening there came to Frodo's ears the rush of water in the millrace, and the faint call of a herder to his homing cattle.
It was here, in the shelter of the entrance, that Frodo had watched unseen--so often that his feet must have worn a shallow groove in the flags--as Sam went about his labours in the garden year upon year. There had been many different Sams--the Sam whose his eyes had been drawn, wide with delight, to the wren's nest snug below the eaves; the staid and dutiful Sam whose face nevertheless held a mystery that captured Frodo's wandering attention and held it; and this Sam, this one, who was closing the hasp of the lock and checking his domain one last time before he turned in for the night. This one, who belonged in the green hush of the garden; his manifest annoyance with gentlehobbits and their ways bore witness to that.
Frodo sensed an indefinable something unravel, and spin away into the gathering night before he was able to stop it. If Sam had words for him, whether they were about Merry's visit or the Gaffer's disappointment, they would keep till the morrow. Frodo would ask him, first thing, if only he could think how to begin.
In the meantime, they would eat their stew and dumplings, and Frodo would read the end of the miller's tale as a peace offering and they would go to bed.
As Sam made his way up the path, Frodo flung the door wide and smiled as if nothing had happened.
"Come and wash your hands, my dear. I'll set the table."
"In spite of the herbmistress's bloodwort salve, the butcher's tub of lard, and the Master's instructions, they could in no wise remove the cabbage pot from the miller's head. Although some felt it was a well-deserved punishment for his wickedness, none could stand to hear the hollow groans from inside the pot. Then one young hobbit, more quick-thinking than his neighbours, spoke up and said 'why not take him to the blacksmith? He'll have that pot off faster than a cat can climb a tree.'
"Everyone approved of this suggestion, and the miller himself was keen to attempt any means, however painful, that might serve to reacquaint him with his ears. So the villagers, leading the miller by the hand lest he stumble, marched to the smithy like a raft of ducks heading for the pond. The smith was ready to show off his skills with the hammer; the miller placed his head on the anvil, and with one great 'crack', the smith shattered the cabbage pot into a hundred pieces. The miller was free. While some said he'd looked handsomer with the iron pot on his head, the miller was glad to see his fellow villagers and swore never to short them in their measures for as long as he lived. Nor did he, yet for the remainder of his days he suffered from a ringing in his ears and an aversion to boiled cabbage."
Sam stretched his feet to the blaze and sucked placidly on the stem of his pipe; he had shared a demijohn of cider with Frodo and was doubtless feeling as mellow as he looked. Frodo himself was half-asleep and undeniably fuddled, fingers tracing the nubby leather of the book's cover as a family of oliphaunts danced the springle-ring by the hearth.
Sam finally took the pipe from between his teeth and knocked the ashes into the fire.
"That's a grand story. It's a pleasure to hear of a miller receiving his comeuppance. Mayhap I'll tell the tale at The Ivy Bush when Ted Sandyman gets above his station."
Frodo set the book on the carpet, staring at his toes and the unkempt state of his foot hair. He hoped that Ted wasn't causing trouble among Bag End's tenants. There were times when the job of Master was horridly wearing and distasteful. If village quarrels could be solved by a strategically placed cabbage pot life would be much simpler and he would have more time for other things.
"How does he get above his station?"
"'Tis nothing, me dear. He says what he oughtn't, like his da before him."
"Don't fret yourself. It's a small matter 'twixt Ted and me. You mind your books and your lands and I'll deal with Sandyman."
Frodo looked up, prepared to defend his honour to the utmost, but was silenced by the charming and unforeseen prospect of Sam in a state of partial undress. When had this happened?
Sam must have taken off his jacket and weskit while Frodo had been reading; his shirt cuffs--soiled from dibbling in the garden--were folded back above his wrists and one hand rested lightly on the arm of the settee while the other lay relaxed at his groin, strong wrist curved protectively inwards.
This wrist, strategically placed as it was, served to draw Frodo's gaze to the mushrooming stalk beneath Sam's placket. Whilst he thought it queer that a frivolous Shire tale could be so rousing to his gardener, he knew that it would be slipshod of him not to take advantage of Sam's bit of hardware when it was so conveniently to hand.
It was then, to his subsequent regret, that an intriguing possibility wormed its way into his head. While he and Sam had been rather adventurous these past few weeks--as much as the stimulating resources of Bilbo's library and a hobbit's flexibility would allow--they had never tested the amatory potential of Belladonna Took's cherrywood settee. In Frodo's view at least, this was a regrettable oversight, and one which ought to be rectified immediately.
Before Sam could do more than widen his eyes at the sudden intrusion, Frodo had arranged himself across his lover's knees and begun to undo Sam's breeches.
"On this?" Sam said, confused and altogether delectable. The settee was hard, it was true, but as Frodo fully intended to be on the bottom this time, he didn't see why Sam should mind.
"Indeed," he answered, bending to lick the bite mark below Sam's ear, the plump lobe and the sensitive, translucent tip. "The arms let down to make a bed. Did I never show you? How remiss of me."
"A bed?" Sam murmured faintly. "Without bolster or blankets?"
"Just so, but we won't tarry long. The bedroom beckons. I'll need to remove your shirt though; it's in the way." Frodo slipped his hand under the shirt-tail, and inside the seat of Sam's drawers for a brief foray.
"In the way?" Sam echoed, his breath quickening as he curled his arm around Frodo's shoulders and they engaged in a preliminary bout of push and pull. Sam's tongue was cool and sweet as apples; Frodo took it in, wishing for another burden between his parted lips as he sucked and groaned and tugged at Sam's shirt.
"Yes, in the way. You're hard as a drover's staff. I can feel it pressing against me through the cloth when I'd rather have it pressing elsewhere without delay."
"You want a smatch of what lies below the wrapper?" Sam's eyes were bright with mischief.
"More than a taste if you don't mind. I've been hankering after you all evening, with your dumplings and your cookery lessons and your hair like ripe barley."
"Is that so?"
Frodo inserted his fingers between Sam's pleasantly rounded stomach and the cloth of his underlinens.
"Yes, that's so. You have a splendid tool--" Frodo grabbed Sam's cock and felt it settle into his palm as the haft of a well-made tool ought to do, "which is in danger of dwindling for want of someone to master it. I should like to polish it for you, if I may, and then put it to use." He stroked the sleek, velvety length, the head shiny as a ripe bullace plum, and the ruff of loose skin.
"It serves me well enough." Sam's face was oddly impassive for someone whose tool was being buffed, even if one made allowances for the cider.
"I'm sure it does. Sadly--" Frodo paused to lick the moisture from his fingers, then stood up to unfasten the cords that held the settee's arms in place. "-- I want it to serve me, unless you'd prefer it if I did the trimming."
He stripped off his shirt and breeches, and threw them in the general direction of the armchair, then lay back against the padded armrest, waiting for Sam to prove his worth.
"I'd say your mind's made up," Sam answered.
Frodo closed his eyes.
"Oh, yes, it is," he said, intent on feeling Sam's stout rod going about its business as soon as possible. There was a rustle of linen--hopefully Sam removing that blasted shirt--and then the creak of the seat and the sense of a presence somewhere in the vicinity of his nether regions. Ah, bliss. It may have been the effects of the cider or of long-delayed gratification, but he desperately needed to be fucked.
"Do I please you?" Sam asked, his voice so quiet that Frodo thought he must have misheard. Then he felt the light touch of a downy cheek, the faint brush of lips and tongue on his thigh, as Sam repeated them, "Do I please you, Frodo?"
"What? Please me?" He tried to gather his woolly thoughts, but Sam's mouth was wet and close to where he had most need of it, and Sam's breath was shivering across the head of his cock in a way that made the words catch in his throat. He could think of nothing whatsoever beyond the prickly heat coiled taut in his belly and the comfort and warmth of the strong fingers that clasped him. He writhed like a bird fouled in a net, overpowered and graceless, as Sam ran his lips back and forth along rigid, straining flesh, then lower down where smooth skin became furred softness. A blunt finger teased behind, followed by a probing tongue, and Frodo unfolded himself for this welcome intruder.
There must be something he could say to Sam at this juncture other than a fleeting 'yes, like that' or 'just there, if it's not too much bother', as if he were giving directions to the chimney sweep's lad. He groped for words, and his muzzy brain helpfully supplied them.
"You please me more than I can express," he gasped. "But the sooner we begin, the better I shall feel. A little more friction in a special place wouldn't go amiss, if you take my meaning. Be a good lad and oblige me."
The tongue retreated, and before Frodo could draw breath to complain, his cock had been abandoned to its own devices and was bobbing free and unattended. He opened his eyes and did his best to muster a glare, a feat which was uncommonly difficult when he was spread out on a hard settee, ready to play pushpin.
"Is that what you require, sir? The usual?"
"I beg your pardon?" Frodo didn't entirely understand Sam's meaning, although it was true that, whatever forms of pleasure they'd toyed with since unearthing Bilbo's private collection, there was nothing Frodo enjoyed so well as the weight of Sam covering him, the fullness inside, and the startled gasp that was the only sound Sam made as he came. Was that what Sam meant or had they both had too much to drink?
"The usual," Sam repeated.
"Yes, my dear," Frodo answered slowly, as if he were speaking to a child. "The usual would be highly agreeable. You always seem to anticipate my wishes without need for direction."
"We don't have any--"
"We don't require any. Farmer Ramsbottom's Finest West Farthing Cider is the only lubricant I need. Now stop asking questions and--'' He made a rude motion with his fist in case Sam had a speck of wax in his ears.
Thankfully, Sam always moved with dispatch once he'd made up his mind. He pushed Frodo's legs back and boldly mounted him, opening him up as neatly as he'd spit a goose. Sam was of a sturdy build all over and Frodo moaned as the pressure blossomed, and he was held, tight and breathless, between the thickness of Sam's cock and the warmth of his body.
Sam paused for a second, but when Frodo whispered a few words of encouragement and arranged his legs in a more easeful position, Sam began to thrust gently, kissing him all the while with an unhurried tenderness so precise that Frodo squirmed and bore down harder.
Sam moved more deeply then, and for long minutes there was nothing but the slide of Sam's tongue, the lazy movement of Sam's hips, and the heat flaring on the surface of his skin. Frodo rested one hand on Sam's neck, on that tender spot where tanned skin shaded into paler gold, damp curls twining about his fingers. He felt pinned by Sam's cock and Sam's fist snug around him as they rocked together, until that moment--too soon, too soon-- when his balls tightened and the heavy throb and pulse at his core forced his body upwards. The room flickered out of existence and somewhere in the blackness behind his eyelids he heard Sam's voice cry 'ah, sweeting' before he, too, came with a shudder and they fell, still joined, into darkness.
The candles had guttered, and the fire faded to a dim glow before Sam shifted, turning his back to the hearth and his face to the curve of Frodo's shoulder.
"Was that to your liking?" he asked.
"You're more than worth your hire, Sam. I think you know it."
Sam was silent, drowsy and sated no doubt, so Frodo continued.
"You wanted to put some colour into my cheeks and I believe you have. Both here and--" he gestured vaguely "-- there. I don't think brocade stuffed with horse-hair makes an appropriate surface on which to couple, do you?"
"It's what you wanted, but I can get out the chickweed salve and--" Sam sat and reached for his shirt, no doubt prepared to compound the salve posthaste should that prove necessary. Frodo touched his hand to stop him.
"Not now. I don't want grease on my clean sheets. Come to bed; it's late." He experienced a pang of discomfort as he stood; he was no longer a tween and they'd been rather vigorous in their bedsport of late. In fact, he couldn't remember ever having been pleasured so regularly in his life. Sam was a distinct asset to the household.
Sam squeezed Frodo's hand and smiled.
"You go on ahead. I'll heat a cup of milk and smoke another pipe in the kitchen, if it's all the same. I have some thinking to do. About the garden," he added. "There's summat needs fixing that I can't get my mind around."
"Whatever you like." Frodo left his clothes on the floor--Sam would tidy them away--and hobbled off to bed with a brief backward glance and a rear end burning hot as Smaug's gullet.
When he awoke before first breakfast, hung-over and utterly certain that he'd buggered things up in some way that was yet to be determined, Sam had gone from the bed--if, indeed, he'd come to it at all.
"I was chatting with my Gaffer this morning, afore you were up." Sam nudged a fresh log into position with the fire tongs and replaced the screen.
Frodo was sadly too engrossed with bills and payments to raise his head for more than a second, but he hoped the Gaffer had been able to help Sam with whatever had been troubling him last night. The Gaffer was fond of his youngest son.
"Ah." He frowned at his account book. The cost of stationary was rising at an alarming rate, and there was nothing whatsoever in the 'repairs and renewals' column for April. Where had he put the bill for the paint? He distinctly remembered sending Sam to Bywater to purchase two gallons of 'spruce oaker' for the pantries and storage rooms. "Did he bring any gossip from the village?" He drew a line through 'housecleaning'.
"That and a basket of broad beans, which I can cook for luncheon with bacon and mushrooms if you fancy them."
Frodo smiled and ticked off the column labelled 'sundries'--one superfine wool waistcoat with horn buttons and one box of white linen handkerchiefs for Sam's birthday. It wasn't customary to give gifts for a friend's birthday, but Sam would love them. He glanced at Sam, who was crouched by the club fender, leaning on the poker.
"I do fancy them, if it's not too much bother. And what do the gammers say on this fresh spring morning?" He made a note on the blotter about the missing bill, then changed his mind and pencilled a question mark next to the entry.
Gammer Bunce's spearmint chews were very tasty, but she couldn't hold her clack, as the Gaffer was fond of remarking. Of course, without it, one might never have known of Porto Bagginses eldest daughter having born a child out of wedlock.
"The gammers? Naught that concerns us. It wasn't that I wanted to speak to you about."
"What then?" Frodo laid his quill on the pen rest and folded his arms. The accounts would have to wait; clearly Sam had something on his mind. With any luck, it would be the same matter that was occupying his thoughts the day before, and Frodo wouldn't have to broach the subject to him. He didn't like to see Sam unhappy.
"You know Daddy Twofoot's nephew, the one who used to loiter in the Market hawking ribbons?"
"The one you said looked shabbier than a flay-krake?"
"Aye, that's him." Sam smiled at the memory. "He went to the hiring fair over by Michel Delving and got himself a position. He's tending the garden and keeping house for Flourdumpling's sister, Fern."
"Well, that's an improvement, surely? I didn't know he was a gardener."
"He's not; he used to hang over the wall and watch me working when he was a wee nipper, and picked up enough to impress the Mayor seemingly. She has him doing the indoor work as well, and mucking out the privy."
Sam hung the poker and tongs in their places, then came over to the desk and stood by Frodo's chair, stiff as a pike-staff. The last time Frodo had seen him look this solemn was when Farmer Proudfoot's prize ram went where it shouldn't have and died of the frothy bloat.
Sam coughed, and stuck his hands in his pockets, but not before Frodo had seen how tightly they were clenched.
"She's paying him two shillings a week for his work, indoors and out, and he has a cubby-hole of his own at the back end of the smial."
Frodo nodded and glanced at the clock. It had just gone twelve. Merry would be here in a few hours with a cart-load of baggage. He would have to be put in the blue bedroom; it was the only one with sufficient space for his fishing gear.
"She can well afford it; the Whitfoots aren't wanting for money," he answered absently. "Why do you mention it?"
"You've always paid me two shillings a week for the gardening, sir, winter and summer, even when I was prentice to my old Dad. Now I'm doing the work of two and most of the cooking and cleaning. I thought--"
"Yes?" Sam's face was a trifle pinched, and pale about the lips. Frodo touched his arm briefly. "What is it, my dear?"
"Three shillings a week and my own room would be a fair bargain."
Odd how silent the study could be, on a day when one might expect to hear the finches singing above the windows. The ticking of the clock was strangely muffled, and Frodo fancied that his heart was beating in time with it. He was still suffering the after-effects of the previous evening's overindulgence; that must be it. He would open the windows once Sam left to make their luncheon; the room was close and he couldn't imagine why he'd asked Sam to put that fresh log on the fire. The fuel bill was too much as it was.
"Your own room? If you need a wardrobe for your clothes and so forth, we can squeeze one in next to the window. It would mean taking down the portraits of Bilbo's grandparents, of course, but I'm sure that--"
Sam shook his head.
"No, sir. The small bedroom that's tucked behind the front hall would do for me. That way I can come and go without bothering you. Handy for the garden I thought."
Frodo was finding it difficult to meet Sam's eyes for some reason. He'd spent far too many hours with his bills and account books after a restless night; he was exhausted and in need of a brisk walk along the beck to clear his head. He might stop in at The Green Dragon on the way home for a mug of cider and a chop. The broad beans would keep till the morrow. Merry would enjoy sharing them.
"Yes, sir. It wouldn't look right if the villagers were to hear that I wasn't being paid a fair wage."
Frodo picked up his quill and jotted 'three shillings' on a scrap of paper and circled it neatly.
"This isn't about the miller's son, is it?" he asked, rather hoping that it was, because he would be willing to purchase his flour from the mill in Bywater and suggest that others do the same until Ted saw reason. More to the point, Frodo had always suspected that Sandyman adulterated the flour whenever he thought he could get away with it. Since it was impossible to ensure an unfortunate and abrupt encounter with a kitchen utensil, other means could be found to teach the miller and his son a lesson they wouldn't soon forget.
"No, it has naught to do with young Ted." Sam shifted uneasily. "You said last night that a worker is worth his hire. I've been thinking on those words ever since and happen you're right. I'm not of age, but the Gaffer's taught me what he knows, and I want him to be proud of me. D'ye see?"
Yes, Frodo did see, and he was surprised that he hadn't seen before now, knowing how unsettled the Gaffer had been by Sam's new status in the household and his apparent preference for dry sowing.
It was too bad he had no memory of what he might have said the night before to set Sam on this course; evidently, the night before had happened to some other hobbit--either that, or Sam had been replaced by a changeling sometime after two in the morning, when Frodo had finally gone to sleep. He might well have been a stock of bespelled wood, for all the resemblance he bore to Sam.
"Yes, I do. I gather that's what you were concerned about yesterday evening, when I left you in the study."
Frodo underlined the word 'three' and wrote 'Thursday' next to it.
"In that case," he added in a rush, "I'll pay you three shillings this coming Thursday, and you're free to move your belongings into the servant's bedroom whenever you like. I'm sorry to say that Bilbo used it as a lumber-room for many years; it's filled to the brim with mathoms and they will have to be put somewhere, but you won't be able to do it today. There's no time before Merry arrives and I'd prefer it if you didn't do it when he's here. I wouldn't want him to think--well, whatever it is he might think. You'll have to stay with me in the meantime, if that's all right; you can sleep on the truckle bed or on the floor. If you're up and out early enough tomorrow morning, Merry won't have an opportunity to come to the wrong conclusion. Or you can return to Number 3 for the duration."
He was horribly afraid that he was babbling, but the situation was most embarrassing. He'd never discussed wages with Sam; he had simply carried on Bilbo's practice of two shillings a week and allowed Sam to gradually take over the household chores. Nor had it occurred to him that Sam would ever want or need a bedroom of his own. He'd seemed perfectly content to share. It was a large bed, after all, the one in the master bedroom, especially for two hobbits lying close together.
Sam had a peculiar look on his face. He'd withdrawn his hands from his pockets and was twisting a handkerchief between his fingers. He seemed to be having some trouble gathering his thoughts.
"Yes, Sam?" Frodo asked gently.
"It wasn't my intention to imply that I didn't--that I don't--" Sam took a deep breath.
Frodo stared at his account book. The margins were half full of scribbled comments and honeysuckle vines twining and coiling their way up the page. He would have to pay attention to his proper work from hereon in. He had responsibilities to his tenants, and interests that stretched far beyond the confines of Bag End. He'd been too distracted of late.
"Oh, I thought it was," he responded absently. "Well, never mind, we'll talk of it later, when Merry's gone. There's a good lad."
He shut his book with a snap and placed the stopper on the ink bottle. Yes, definitely time for a walk. He rose to his feet, and Sam stepped out of arm's reach, obviously eager to avoid touching him.
He would have clapped the poor fellow on the shoulder or given him some other gesture of affection as he had always done, but it was awkward and might be misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he should say something, so that Sam would know he understood and concurred in his decision.
"About yesterday," he began, then changed course. "I apologise for whatever it was I said or did, but I'm glad we've been able to have this talk. You're right, as always."
He put on his jacket and dropped his favourite pipe and a pouch of Old Toby into his pocket.
"You may as well put the broad beans in the pantry. I've going to take a stroll before luncheon and possibly stop in at The Dragon for a bite to eat on the way home. I can't stop thinking about their lamb chops with rosemary jelly; the cook at The Dragon is a treasure, isn't he?" Frodo asked brightly.
Sam sighed. "I wouldn't know, sir. I prefer the taste of home cooking."
"Yes, well.... I'm sure it's better for the digestion, but needs must, eh? Oh, and Sam," he said, turning with his hand on the door knob, "Merry will have the blue bedroom. If you could see to that directly, I'd be grateful. Thank you, my dear."
He was about to make his escape into the passage, when Sam brought him up short with a final request.
"May I have a look at that book on taters?"
"Of course you may. I completely forgot to leave it on the kitchen table as I promised. I'm dreadfully sorry. It's there, by the hearth." He pointed to the pile of books that was in imminent danger of toppling into the fire basket. "You're welcome to keep it if you like; the rest will be returned to Master Budgit."
Sam clutched the book to his chest, his expression one of determination although his eyes were locked on the book's frayed and dirty binding.
"I'd rather you docked it from my wages, sir. I might give it to my Gaffer, if it's of any use."
"What a capital idea," Frodo answered, half way out the door. "On your birthday perhaps. We shall have a party in the garden if the weather cooperates and a bowl of Bilbo's special punch."
And before Sam could make any further requests, he hurried off down the passage, feeling like a bird with the wind up its tail feathers.
Sam settled the old book carefully on his lap and opened the tattered cover as if he were stepping into an adventure tale and not a treatise on potato sickness. He'd never seen such a work in all his born days, and it stirred him to his depths to have it under his hands. He stroked the faded title page, where he could just make out the words-- Potato Disease and Its Prevention, with Sundry Hints on Cultivation and Harvest by A Farmer of The Shire. Printed in Michel Delving 1305, and smiled. Some books weren't a waste of paper.
He turned to the first page.
"There are two stages to the sickness that is commonly known as potato blight," he read, pronouncing the words carefully as he'd been taught. He liked to read aloud to himself when no one was by; he enjoyed the sensation of the letters as they rolled off his tongue.
He didn't expect this book of Mr. Frodo's to be of much use to him or his Gaffer, but there might be an interesting tidbit or two tucked in amongst the dross.
"In the first stage of sickness, dark patches appear on the leaves and will spread rapidly if not attended to with all speed. In the second stage, the potatoes themselves are attacked. There is no cure for blight; however, if the leaves are cut back before the first stage has had a chance to run its course, spread of the blight to the plant's roots may be prevented. Without leaves, the potatoes will not give of their best, but will nevertheless continue to grow for a period of weeks and may then be safely harvested."
Sam stared at the words for a moment, as if giving some thought to the wisdom of the passage. There was nothing new there for an experienced grower of roots, but wisdom of any sort bore repeating. Time, effort and patience was what it took. Time, effort and patience.
"Let's see what you have to say about blackleg."
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