XXXVII. Sam's Gift
“What have you there, Sam?” Bilbo asked, as young Samwise shyly entered the front gate of Bag End, bearing a peck basket full of some mysterious dark-colored objects.
“Hullo, Mister Bilbo,” Sam said. “I...well, I found these. On top of Bag End. Not sure what they're called...but I dug 'em up out of the ground. See, I was trimmin' the grass around the big tree like my old Gaffer told me, and I hit my toe on a big root. That's when I noticed there was somethin' clingin' to it, like. So I picked it up and it sorta came open...and it smelled so nice, I thought it might be good to eat. And so I took a taste of it, and it was delicious. Better than mushrooms even. I think it's some kind of mushroom, but I never seen the like of it before.”
“Sam, you shouldn't be eating those, lad,” Bilbo said. “They might be poisonous.”
“Well, I ate one, and I didn't die, sir,” the boy chuckled a little. “See, I had this feelin'...well, it was like somebody was a tellin' me there was more, and to go get a basket and dig for 'em. So I went home and begged one of my mum, and then started diggin' with this little trowel. And there was lots of 'em, hangin' on to the roots and all. I'd like for you and Mister Frodo to have 'em, sir. Taste one. They're like nothin' you ever tasted before.”
“They were clinging to the roots, you say?” Bilbo said, picking one up and sniffing at it.
Sam nodded. “You know what they are, sir?”
“I've seen something like them in Rivendell,” Bilbo said. “They looked a bit different from these—much lighter in color. But they grew on the roots of trees, and had to be dug up, like potatoes. And they smelled and tasted wonderful. They're called truffles, in the common tongue. We sometimes had them in our dinner. They are rare and hard to find, and so bring a high price in the marketplace. So we didn't have them so often. And yet...you found all these, on the roots of the tree atop Bag End. That's a pure wonder, that is...”
“Aye, it is,” Sam agreed. “Uh...where's Mister Frodo?”
“Off by himself once more,” Bilbo sighed. “He was in one of his moods, and went off without telling me where he was going. Yesterday was the anniversary of his parents' deaths, and he's been out of sorts for the past three days. What can I say, he's twenty-eight years old, and he'll do what he will.”
“Aye, I noticed that. That's why I wanted to give these to him. I thought they might cheer him a mite, don't you think, Mister Bilbo?”
“They might, at that. Here, let me try one.”
And Bilbo nibbled at one of the truffles, and his eyebrows went up.
“I say, these are better than the light-colored ones,” he declared. “And to think they grow atop Bag End! I wonder how long they've been there?”
“You don't think...She had aught to do with it, do you sir?” Sam said.
“She?” Bilbo looked blank for a moment. “Oh...you mean...”
“Aye. Her.” Sam glanced toward the fairy-ring. “Mayhap she caused 'em to grow there? 'Cos I did feel a, a pull like someone was tellin' me to look there. It was most powerful, it was.”
Bilbo put a hand to his chin.
“I think you may be on to something, my lad,” he said. “Well. I dare say they could do him no harm, at that. I much doubt she'd lead him into something that would be harmful to him. So I tell you what, dear lad. Let's divide these up, you take some for yourself, and--”
“I want you and Mister Frodo to have 'em, sir,” Sam exclaimed. “They were on your property, after all.”
“But you found them, and you did all the work of digging them up.”
“I'll just take one for each of us,” Sam said. “And you and Mister Frodo take the rest. I don't think my old Gaffer would like for me takin' so many anyhow. I--”
And he paused as he saw Mister Bilbo looking toward the gate, turned around and there was Mister Frodo.
“Hullo, Sam,” he said, although he did not look very glad to see the boy. “What have you there?”
“They're...what're they called again, Mister Bilbo?”
“Truffles,” Bilbo replied. “Sam found them, Frodo-lad, and wanted us to have them. Take a whiff of these, my lad. They smell delightful, what?”
Frodo sniffed. “They're nice,” he admitted. The gloomy aspect of his face seemed to lighten a little as he breathed in the fragrance once more.
“Taste one, Mister Frodo,” Sam said eagerly. “You won't believe the taste of 'em.”
Bilbo held out the truffle he had bitten into. “Have a nibble,” he said with twinkling eyes.
“You're not having me on, are you?” Frodo said with a little frown at the unsightly brown lump.
Bilbo grabbed it from him and took a big bite. “Mmmm,” he murmured rolling his eyes up. “This is what the Powers must have for breakfast.”
Frodo smiled a bit sheepishly, and took the truffle and bit into it. The look on his face was something to see, almost comical in its amazement.
“They're all for you—and Mister Bilbo,” Sam said, thrilled that he had managed to snap Mister Frodo out of his funk.
“Nay, you must take some too, Sam,” Frodo said, and for several minutes they argued the point until finally Sam agreed to take half for himself and his family.
After the boy had gone home, Bilbo and Frodo took the basket and went inside and down to the cold room to put it away. As they came back up, Frodo looked back with a puzzled frown between his eyebrows.
“To think they were there all this time,” he said, “and we didn't know it. Do you suppose...”
“What, dear lad?” Bilbo said, although he was reasonably certain of what his nephew was going to say.
“That this was Her doing. You know who I mean.”
“'Tis all right to say her name, lad.”
“It was, wasn't it. Her doing.”
“And if it were?”
“You may have my share, Bilbo,” Frodo said sulkily. “I want no gifts from Her.”
“She broke her promise,” Frodo said blinking hard. “And I'll accept no bribes from her, only to have her let me down again.”
Bilbo sighed. “'Twas not a gift from her, lad. 'Tis from Sam.”
“But if she put them there...or caused them to grow...”
“Sam it was that found them. And gave them to you. Because he was concerned, and wished to cheer you.”
“But nothing. Now let's leave off this nonsense and enjoy what's given while we can, what say?”
“Very well, uncle. You know best, I suppose.”
“Damned right I do. Now how about a game of chess.”
Frodo smiled then. It was as if someone had suddenly pulled up the shade in a dim room.
“You know, I bet those would be good in an omelet,” he said as they went to retrieve the chessboard from the closet. “We could try it out tomorrow morning.”
“Why wait till tomorrow?” Bilbo beamed.
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