The Other Story
Sam straightened up and rubbed the sweat out
of his eyes with his sleeve. He tilted the battered straw hat he always
wore when working in the sun and looked down the garden; one more cut
should do it, he was nearly finished. Whistling he took a whetstone out
of his pocket and began to run it almost lovingly along the curve of
the scythe. The sun, fierce now in early afternoon, glinted on the
bright blade and Sam found himself dreaming that it was a sword, a
great cleaver of foemen in some far-off kingdom, and he not a humble
gardener but a great warrior.
‘Samwise the great, slayer of nasty horrible monsters …’
‘Hello, Sam!’ a cheerful young voice cut
through Sam’s daydreams and he looked up, startled. He smiled and waved
back at Frodo, making his way down the garden path, book in hand. As
Sam watched Bilbo’s nephew carefully closed the little gate and
strolled off down the lane, humming a song. Sam’s heart ached; how
pleasant it would be to go off for the afternoon to read in the cool
shade of some great oak….
‘Don’t be a ninny, Sam Gamgee!’ he muttered to himself, returning to his mowing.
‘You can’t read….’
As Sam cut the last sward in even strokes he
came up to the window of Bilbo’s study. He caught a glimpse of the old
hobbit's curly head, streaked now with silver. Although not as much
silver as one would think for a hobbit of his great age…
‘T’ain’t nateral, that is what I say…’ said
Ted Sandyman. The smoke-filled Common Room of the Green Dragon fell
silent, always eager to hear gossip.
‘’im lookin so young, and ‘im being so old…’
‘Better than looking so old and being so
young…’ quipped a young hobbit sitting in the window nook. There was a
roar of laughter, but not from Ted.
‘You’re too smart for your own good, young Master Peregrine. I warrant someone will clip your wings some day soon….’
The pun on the hawk-named youngster did not go unmarked by the taproom and there was another gale of laughter.
‘Oh go fiddle…’ muttered Pippin and subsided into his jug of ale.
‘Better get started on the hedge…’ thought
Sam, glancing again at the cloudless sky. But just then Bilbo put his
head out of the study window.
‘Sam! It’s too hot for that, come in and have something cold to drink…’
The head disappeared again and Sam thought to himself;
‘That’s just like Mr Bilbo, a right kind gentlehobbit…’
Sam went round to the back of the yard and
washed his hands in the water butt, splashing his burning face. He
watched the clear, cold water swirling away; what a blessing fresh
water was! He took off his battered straw hat and smoothed his curls
and brushed the grass cuttings from his waistcoat. Then he stepped
inside the open door.
The long hall was dark and empty. A cool breeze suddenly swept along the floor, lifting the mats. Sam called out;
There was no answer, so Sam walked on down the hall to the study. He looked in the door;
‘Mr Bilbo, sir?’
The room was empty. Sam gazed round it with
curiosity. He had been in Bilbo’s study many times before, of course,
but never ceased to be fascinated by it. Books, so many books! All
those words…Sam felt a pang of sadness; he could not understand any of
them. There would be stories about Elves in those books, but he could
not read them. Forgetting for a moment where he was he walked forward
to the table, strewn with maps and scrolls, and peered down at a book
lying open. There was text, not just words but strange symbols written
‘Them’s runes, I warrant….’ Sam said to
himself. Above the runes was a picture, drawn in a lively hand, of a
dragon hovering over a mountain. Sam raised his calloused weatherbeaten
hand and traced the outline of Smaug on the yellow parchment.
‘Better than the Green Dragon any day’ he
smiled to himself. Then he looked past the figure of the mountain to
other, unknown realms, their names written in Bilbo’s careful hand.
‘All those places you will never see, Sam
Gamgee’ he said, and was torn between a terrible longing to behold
wonders and a comfortable feeling of safety in the familiar Shire. But
when he looked for the Shire on the map it was hidden away up in the
left-hand corner, tiny and unimportant. And if he carried on across the
map he saw a drawing of a mansion in trees with a river, and guessed
this was a place associated with Elves.
‘Elves! Now that is something worth leaving
the Shire for…’ he said triumphantly, as if proving a point in a debate
with himself. .
‘Not Elves again!’ said Bilbo. Sam turned
around suddenly, abashed at being discovered in the study and saw the
old hobbit standing in the doorway holding a cold pitcher of ale..
‘Begging your pardon, Mr.Bilbo, I was looking
for you and…well the book was open..’ he stopped in confusion but Bilbo
bustled forward and handed him a horn beaker and poured ale into it and
‘Stop apologising, Sam my lad, Bag End is almost your home too, so much time do you spend here.’ His eye fell on the book.
‘Dreaming of dragons? ‘ he asked Sam mischievously.
‘Yes!’ said Sam, then added hastily; ‘Well, no, Elves, really..’
‘I rather thought that, Sam my lad. Most of these books are about them, or copies of books written by them…’
And Bilbo ran his hand lovingly along the
backs of the books on the shelf with a sigh. For a moment he seemed
lost in thought, then he remembered Sam and turned to him suddenly and
‘Can you read, Sam?’
‘Me, Mr. Bilbo? No, I’m not book-learned…’ said Sam, embarrassed.
‘Then’ said Bilbo decisively. ‘I will teach you….’
‘Teach me to read?’ repeated Sam dumbly, staring at Bilbo with the beaker of ale untasted in his hand.
‘Yes. It is only fitting for you to learn.’
‘But my Gaffer….’ stammered Sam.
‘What about him?’ asked Bilbo indignantly. ‘Surely he won’t mind!’
‘No, of course not…’ said Sam, imagining only too well the Gaffer’s grudging acceptance of this new threat to the old order.
‘Right, that is settled!’ said Bilbo, pouring
a second beaker full of ale for himself. ‘Come to me in the study
tomorrow morning after breakfast, and we’ll start….’
‘He’e teaching my Sam to read and write….’
Said Gaffer Gamgee with a trace of wonder and not a little doubt in his
voice. Ted Sandyman shook his head and muttered darkly;
‘That is terrible unlucky. I never knew any
good to come to folks as could read. They go mad, or as near as makes
‘Mr Bilbo means no harm’ said the Gaffer with a confidence he did not really feel.
‘..and I hope no harm comes of it….’
Every muscle in Sam’s body ached, and at
every breath he took his lungs burned. Constantly the vision of water,
clear water such as abounded in the Shire, came into his head, but he
dared not think of water, for then he knew he would go mad…. He raised
his head and looked back down the zig-zag path they had trudged along
the sulphurous clinker and it was dwarfed by the great mountain of
cinder and ash above it. Despair rose in his heart and he wondered how
they could go on.
‘We’re coming to the end of our story, Sam’
croaked a voice beside him and Sam turned to see Frodo lying with his
eyes closed and one hand tightly clenched on his chest. He used to read
like that, Sam thought suddenly, perched on a low bough of an oak tree
with a book on his chest, all that time ago in the Shire. But now in
his hand he clutched not a book but the Thing; gripped in his fist as
if to prevent it from crushing him.
‘I wonder will our story ever be written, or if it is written will it ever be read….’ Frodo said.
Sam felt his heart wrung; not just Frodo’s
weak voice and wasted face, but the dead, indifferent tone. He pulled
himself over to his master’s side and said in a voice as cheerful as he
‘Stories….have a way of being written, no matter what.’
Frodo opened his eyes and looked wearily at Sam.
‘No matter what?’ he asked doubtfully.
‘And this one is no different’ announced Sam
with an assurance he did not feel at all. ‘Just like all the great
tales, it will go on through peril and doubt, and end happily…’
Frodo was smiling now. He sat up.
‘Sam, not all the great tales end happily; remember the tale of Luthien and Beren that Strider told us….’
‘Yes, well…’ said Sam, ransacking his
exhausted mind for an argument ‘…we aren’t Elves, or great princes.
We’re hobbits, and hobbits were meant to go back home, to the Shire..’
‘Sam..’ said Frodo. Sam looked expectantly at
him, waiting for him to go on, but Frodo had stopped with the words on
his lips. He was gazing out over Gorgoroth, no longer seeing the
smoke-laden skies or smelling the sulphurous air. He saw the glittering
pool at Bywater, and the road winding past Bag End…
‘If the ending is not happy, and no-one wants
to read it, will you still promise to write the story…?’ said Frodo to
Sam, fixing his eyes, bright and feverish, upon his friend. Sam blinked
back tears; for Frodo's sake he must not cry.
'Never fear, Mr.Frodo' he said
'I'll finish your story...'
Sam paused in writing and leaned back in his
chair. Or rather, Bilbo's chair, recovered by Sam when he refurbished
Bag End after its despoilment during the War. It creaked, or perhaps it
was himself, his old bones were aching at the approach of winter. A
cold breeze blew in the open casement and Sam leaned over to close it.
Then he took the pen in his hand again and wrote an Elvish rune above
his next paragraph. He looked at it for some moments then said to
'I did not think to ever write your story, Mr. Frodo. Not without you. But a promise is a promise....'
He bent his head then and wrote in a bold but elegant hand;
'The Gardener's Tale; being an account of the life and travels of Frodo Baggins....'
Sam paused then added; '..and his Gardener, Samwise Gamgee.'