For Claudia and all others whose birthdays I'd not managed to honor. Please forgive me--it's been a difficult last few months.
Old Gaffer Gamgee sat in the public room at the Green Dragon, a mug of their finest ale in between his hands as if it were warming them. Opposite him sat one of his great nephews from Tighfield, sent to Michel Delving to file sales agreements on a good deal of rope from Andy’s ropewalk. Before he returned to the Northfarthing he’d stopped by the Cotton farm in Bywater ostensibly to visit kin there and to carry greetings, but in reality he’d wanted to hear firsthand what actually had happened back in November when cousin Sam and his Master and Frodo Baggins’s kin returned from wherever it was they’d gone.
“And they were really gone for over a year?” he asked yet again.
“Haven’t I told ye so at least four times?” asked the Gaffer. “Oh, it’s gone they were, and more’n one was thinkin’ them all dead. Did ye have them Big Men there in Tighfield, too?”
“We had two as visited the village a fair amount, but they couldn’t do a good deal to us. It was them Gatherers and Sharers as give us all fits. They was stealin’ ever’thin’ as they could get their greedy hands on, and the early winter was hard on many. We did all we could to see as no one starved, ye must understand, until the wagons arrived from Scary with provisions. I’ll tell ye this, no one was expectin’ Yule to be anywheres near merry until them wagons arrived.”
Hamfast nodded. “Them Gatherers and Sharers took almost all as we had. Me and Marigold, them emptied the hole, and moved us into that awful pile o’ bricks them called a house over the other side o’ the village. Awful place it was! And them dug out the old hole and ruined my taters!” The offense of the act of destroying his garden still stung. “But the Travellers—them is havin’ the hole redug, them is, and I should be movin’ home in a week or two, them tells me.” He shook his head. “No Hobbit should ever find hisself havin’ t’move out of a sound hole into a drafty house as is more drafts than house, ye unnerstand.”
His great nephew indicated his appreciation for the sentiment. “So you’s been stayin’ with the Cottons?” he asked.
“What?” asked the Gaffer. “Cain’t ye speak up none? Young folks today just keep mumblin’,” he commented to the world at large.
The question was asked again, more slowly and distinctly, and the old Hobbit answered, “Yessir, we’s been stayin’ with Cousin Tom and Lily, me’n Marigold and Sam, and his Master, and Mr. Fredegar Bolger’n his sister as well. Can’t rightly say why, but even though Bag End wasn’t dug out whole as was Bagshot Row, still it’s takin’ far longer t’set it at rights than one’d think necessary. Them Big Men took mauls t’the stonework and threw knives’n axes at the walls, my Sam tells me. There was terrible damage inside, them all says. Mr. Frodo, just mention it t’the gentlehobbit and him goes all quiet’n pale, him does. Good thing as him’s doin’ ol’ Flour Dumplin’s job or him’d fret hisself to death, I’m thinkin’.”
“And it’s true as that Lotho Pimple’s dead? Really dead, murdered by the Big Men?”
The Gaffer’s face grew grim once he understood the question. “Oh, that him is. That Sharkey, curse his ugly face and worse disposition, him had Mr. Lotho killed. Bragged about it, him did! Them hasn’t found the body yet, neither. That Sharkey was hintin’ as his Worm-fellow might of et him. Oh, yes,” he added with relish at the sight of the younger Hobbit’s fascinated revulsion, “all tells me as him said so right out loud, there on the doorstep t’Bag End! And then, if’n ye can believe it, that Sharkey tried t’kill Mr. Frodo right then and there, right in front of ever’one! Ye should hear Mr. Ned Boffin and Mr. Griffo talkin’ of it. Them was there t’see the whole thing, and them still can’t believe what them saw. If’n Mr. Frodo’d not been a-wearin’ old Mr. Bilbo’s mail shirt as him brought back ages ago, him’d of been dead an’ gone, too!”
“An’ did the Hobbits do in that Sharkey?”
“No, twasn’t Hobbits as did him in—twas that Worm-fellow, it was. Sharkey was provokin’ him somethin’ terrible, my Sam tells me, and that Worm-fellow, him just snapped and killed Sharkey. An’ that’s when Mr. Ned Boffin and two o’ the Tooks as had their bows ready let go! That poor Worm-fellow fell dead on the steps, him did. Mr. Frodo, gentle soul as him is, still grieves. Says as the Worm didn’t need t’die, as him was terrible provoked and didn’t do no harm t’nobody as was there. Only if’n him did kill Mr. Lotho, I figgers as him had it comin’.”
“One thing as I just don’t unnerstand,” the nephew said, “was why folks round heres didn’t stand up to ol’ Pimple t’begin with. It all could have been stopped from the beginnin’ had those Hobbits round these parts just told him No! right aways!”
“You try tellin’ someone No! when him’s got a passle of Big Men with knives and clubs a-loomin’ over you,” the Gaffer growled. He took a mouthful of ale, grimaced, and spat to one side. “You’d be talkin’ out of the other side of yer mouth had you been here with all of the Chief’s Big Men all round you, beatin’ on those as tried sayin’ no an’ threatenin’ yer family,” he muttered, shivering slightly. “My Daisy an’ my May, them was plum terrified fer me an’ Marigold, an’ begged us not t’ even try sayin’ no. The Mayor tried sayin’ no, an’ look at where it led him! An’ I seen Cap’n Freddy Bolger when them brought him out of the Lockholes, member.”
The door to the Dragon opened, and a cold breeze blew through the common room. All turned to see who’d come in. There were a number of Hobbits, including Sam Gamgee, two of the Cotton lads, old Tom and his Lily, and a few Hobbits the nephew didn’t recognize at all. One was taller than most Hobbits, and was far, far too thin for his build. There was a feeling to him as if he’d lost a good deal of substance, the Hobbit from Tighfield decided. By his side was a lass, one whose hair was shamefully short.
Then he realized that everyone in the common room was rising to his feet, including the Gaffer. Realizing his great nephew wasn’t rising to the occasion, Hamfast leaned over and cuffed him on the shoulder. “Stand up!” he hissed. “That’s Cap’n Freddy hisself, that is. Him’s a hero—led those as sought to take back what was ours fer months, him did! Spent months in the Lockholes fer it, too. We rise to honor him—many’s the hole as would be empty now hadn’t him an’ others not raided the Big Men’s stores to get food fer them whose homes was emptied of ever’thin’ as keeps body and soul together! Stand up, lad—ye’ll not see many heroes here in the Shire, but yer seein’ one today!”
And as those who’d accompanied Fredegar Bolger took their seats at a large table in the corner, someone began singing the lay of Captain Freddy, and how he’d popped the Pimple!