The hill of papers never failed to give Sam the same measure of dread as had his first sight of the Mountains.
“Or a pinch of it, leastways.”
Sam flexed his back and uncorked his ink, after a solid ten minutes of contemplating on the addressees.
Since receiving the mayoralty from Will Whitfoot, the letters brought in by postmen had risen fearsomely, two armfuls a week. Sam had never been good at stringing together words, least of all with a pen. He considered it a deep and elusive art that but a few bright and industrious hobbits like Mr. Bilbo or Mr. Frodo could rightly claim mastery of. Sam was satisfied to produce a dry minimum of words that could get his meaning across.
The fact was, precious few of the letters stacked tidily on his desk each week had to do with his dubious title of Mayor. Most of them were owed to his prominence as a cultivator of flora. Sam’s prime concern was nurturing the countryside back from Saruman’s deliberate demolition, and his change of hat from Gardener to Mayor changed that not a bit.
He sifted through the batch. Mr. Brownfoot wanted his goat to free range, while his lawn-conscious neighbor did not. Mr. Boffin of Frogmorton gave his weekly sampling of advice on the fostering of tomatoes. And Mrs. Dorris Hornblower had rabbits in her cabbages again. Finally he held an envelope emblazoned with RECONSIDER, the final R smudged to the edge. He sliced it with his letter-opener, and a fat yellow parchment fell out, spelling out in great detail why reconsidering was his only choice. He scanned it:
…Remember the Sort of hobbit he is and the Sort he’s traipsed with before… you will realize you are making a mistake!
The he was old Martimus Chubb, holder of a number of fertile weed plantations, and a hobbit of renowned Inhospitable Proclivities. Once he had chased a postman a whole mile down Bywater with a dustpan for disturbing a late first breakfast. And common knowledge among the local lads was that he sat by his kitchen window and flung live embers at passersby who dared tread beside his pampered rose hedge.
But what young Ordin Burrows was on about (and indeed going on about for the last month in Sam’s post) was Martimus’ son, Adulfus. The young Chubb had been unseen, or vanished, as his friends claimed, for a considerable number of weeks. Martimus, true to his character, was not cooperative with Adulfus’ inquiring friends – he barred them from coming in, saying Adulfus was off visiting or he was ill, and a vast array of other excuses, typically ending in their being chased off the property.
Ordin Burrows was going so far as to suggest, since after all, Adulfus was not on the best of terms with his father, that was the open fact at all the taverns; well, he suggested actions which were unspeakable. Sam stamped out those repulsive thoughts. It seemed obvious to him that Adulfus had at last gone too far in his parental defiance and was put under strict supervision – or even run off – and the family was hushing it up. Even as Mayor, and First Shirriff by extension, Sam had no right to intrude into the Chubbs’ affairs, and that should have put the matter on the shelf. The problem was to convince Burrows.
Sam wrote in his round slow hand a two-sentence reply. He knew he’d receive another extensive letter in three days.
He squinted to make out his own words. It was suddenly awful dark for so early in the evening. He would need light to finish. He no sooner coaxed the ancient desk’s drawer open and gripped a candle stick when… crack… BOOM?!**!!
Little Pippin’s shrieks and Merry’s whoops followed immediately. Sam’s hand retracted and his elbow clipped hard on the drawer.
The windowpane drummed. Beyond it light flickered, coupled with a teasing rumble. Baby Hamfast wailed two rooms over. Rosie’s hush-hush reached his ears clearly as his study’s door flew open and Rose-lass sprung in. One flash of yellow curls and blue skirts and she was under his desk.
Nursing his elbow, Sam pushed aside his papers and scooted out his chair to peer under the desk.
He clicked his tongue. “Can this be? My Rose-lass is too brave to be teased by a little thunder.”
In a manner of speaking, that was true. All the Gamgee children took shelter in their parents’ room during storms, all but Rose. She’d sleep straight through them.
Her yellow hair spilling around her face, she wagged her head. “No!” she mouthed. “I’m hiding.”
“Why is that?” he whispered.
“Someone was looking in the window.”
He blinked. “What?”
“I saw someone in the window.”
“Rose, there will be no fibbing in this house. Are you telling Sam-dad the truth?”
“Yes, Dada, I saw him!” Her eyes were wide and obstinate.
“Well, then, Sam-dad will consider it.”
Sam felt a small unpleasant stir in his gut. He was reminded of the Black Riders long ago prowling about Hobbiton, and how he, Frodo, and Pippin had just by luck eluded them; they’d been so careless and clueless. Even beyond the sniffing and the black faceless hoods, most awful had been the Riders’ dreadful piercing call, one that never should have fouled the pure air of the Shire. The memory sent convulsions down his spine.
But that was absurd! No lurker of any mischief could rightly be compared to them.
Still, it remained, Rose had never been so insistent about an untruth before…
The door rang. His heart jumped, then settled slowly back into place. Hamfast still cried heartily from the nursery.
“I’ll answer, Rosie!” Sam yelled.
He peeked back under the desk. “Will you come along, lass? We may find out who your specter is.”
Rose shook her head in an equivocal yes-no.
Sam corked his inkbottle; he hadn’t much wanted to deal with Ordin anyway. The bell yammered again. He dashed out of the room. Likely it was a marm caught in the storm on her way back from marketing. Little Rose shadowed him. She liked visitors, but only if she saw them, and they didn’t see her.
At the next firm ring, Sam suspected the bell had tore from the chain. “I’m coming! I’m coming…!” He opened the door.
A blast of wet air. Curtains and curtains of rain obscured even his proud white fence. Nothing moved and he heard only relentless drumming of rain on the hillside. He squinted through the water avalanching over the lintel and made out a very broad nose. He looked up into a pair of familiar dark eyes.
He yelped and widened the entrance. “Good heavens, Mr. Gimli! Come in! What brings you here? Come in, quickly!”
“Thank you, Master Samwise. I had hoped to!” His breath was a mist. Gimli ‘hemmed and said louder, as though to the fence’s benefit, “He’s taken care of it all!”
“It all…?” Sam started. Gimli shook his head, showering him with water.
Sam stepped aside and Gimli scooted in and closed the round door. He took great care to wipe his boots on the mat, looking apologetically at the small pond he brought onto Mistress Rose’s immaculate floor.
And there they stood, drinking in the other’s appearance. It had been a long fourteen years since their parting by Isengard.
Sam recalled the tears spilling down his cheeks as he rode off with Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others. Legolas and Gimli had stood back, waving goodbye, for as long as Sam was able to watch them over his shoulder.
Gimli had said they ‘may yet meet at times.’ Sam had clung to these words, and now here he stood in Bag End’s front hall. What Gimli was thinking Sam could not guess. Suddenly the dwarf seized his hand and pumped it, beaming.
“You are a sight! A small ways rounder, excepting, but my dear hobbit, quite unchanged!”
Gimli had changed, though in a subtle manner. The ruddy hair had gone grey around the edges. His face had a careworn wrinkle more, and perhaps, now that he had settled down, the hardships of the War and the Quest had finally caught up with him. Yet the coal black eyes held a deeper reservoir of sparkle, and he still possessed in profusion a trait that had always impressed Sam – an amiable and unquashable dignity.
“You’ve not lost your magnificence at all, dear Gimli!”
Gimli still clamped his hand warmly, retracting his arm at last only to smack his forehead.
“Forgive me, I’m in a distracted state. Have you a back door?”
“Yes,” said Sam. “There’s a cellar, not a door proper, but…”
“Excellent! Mind you unlocking it?”
“It’s not likely to be locked.” Sam performed a mental headscratch. “But I can check it.”
“I’ll check, Dada!”
And Rose was gone before Sam had even time to think to introduce her.
He felt as though he had a thousand questions to ask, several more hundred things he could say, but could think of not one. Meanwhile, Gimli was a through and through dripping dwarf and his sopping beard was a sorry sight. Sam gave himself a silent scolding for not offering sooner for Gimli to hang his cloak and hood onto a free hook.
Gimli gladly complied, first easing down two seam-bulging, clanking rucksacks. Under his cloak he wore a splendid blue shirt with gold buttons and diamonds embedded in the collar. He then pat down his beard (laced with many a gold ring and sapphire), and lastly removed his mud-weighted boots, revealing red stockings not all too cleaner.
“There’s a fire in the parlour,” Sam fussed. “You’ll be dry as any before Mistress Rose has her supper laid out… here she is! Rosie, we’ve a visitor. This is Master Gimli… and Gimli, Mistress Rose.”
Rosie walked in, baby Hamfast hiccupping over her shoulder. Her lips parted at the sight of the saturated but fabulously arrayed dwarf.
Gimli bowed low, nose almost scraping the tiled floor.
“At your service, Lady Rose.”
Rosie curtsied, with (Sam thought) a comely blush on her cheeks. “I am pleased to meet you at last, sir. My Sam’s spoken highly on your appreciation of ale and warm food.”
“In no detail is he mistaken,” said Gimli, giving another, though smaller, bow. As he rose, he gave Sam a laudatory nudge, and Sam blushed in his turn.
“Well, now, who is this lad?” Gimli kept at a curious, but drip-safe distance.
“Hamfast Gamgee,” said Rosie proudly, turning the hiccupping bundle to face him.
“Aa,” said Hamfast. He stretched his chubby fists toward the dazzling beard.
Gimli grinned. “He has an astonishing likeness to his father already.”
“Yes, all the boys do,” sighed Rosie. “Save Pippin, quite the face of his Grandad Cotton.”
“All of them, then?” Gimli jabbed Sam with another nudge.
Sam was without words. Rosie unsuccessfully hid a giggle.
The dwarf then looked down at the mud and water he had shed. “I apologize for this unwholesome intrusion, Lady Rose. Bring me a mop and I shall remedy this mess.”
Rosie shook her head. “No need, Master Gimli, thank ‘ee. Please change into something dry.” Her eyes said, a guest mopping? Unthinkable! “Sam, you were showing him to the guest room?”
“Yes, of course…” Sam attempted to lift one of Gimli’s rucksacks and found with an oomf he could not.
“Easy there, lad.” Gimli took it up with his right arm, and pulled up the other rucksack with his left.
“Come into the dining room when you’re ready.” Rosie turned, her intent on the kitchen.
“Did you come alone?” Sam said as they followed her out. But Gimli hadn’t the chance to answer; they did not even reach the hallway.
For a moment, Sam thought the door had burst and let in the storm – the floor shook, the air thrummed with pounds, booms, and squeals. They almost found themselves mowed over by three streaks of curly hair.
“Dada! Rose said! Rose said!” Merry panted.
“Is that ‘im, Dada?” Pippin squeaked.
“Can we see your axe? Can we?” Merry shrilled. He ran after Pippin and Pippin ran after Merry, all around the dwarf. Goldy was too small to know what the commotion was about and clapped her hands and toddled along with her older brothers all the same.
Elanor had deserted her stove-watching duties and in alternations gasped and gaped.
Rosie’s attempts to round up her brood failed. It would have been simpler to make the storm mind. She turned to her husband, who only grinned. Her expression turned horrorstruck.
Gimli looked immensely pleased; he added to the commotion with his wall-shaking laughs. He tried to answer their rapid-fire questions, saw it was a loss, and instead whispered loudly, “How many Gamgees have we? Five now… or was that six?”
Sam had thought the tumult in his hole had reached its peak, but he was mistaken. The floor pounded again and the children ran aside. A roar like a hurricane swept into the front hall. It was bounding toward the master of Bag End.
Sam planted his feet before the onslaught and extended a finger. He shouted, “Sit, Legolas!”
All the children snapped into silence.
Gimli’s eyes bulged. He turned around, looked right, left, then cautiously around Sam. There, panting and grinning, bottom planted firmly on the tile floor, was a bearish specimen of a dog. It sat almost the hobbit’s height. It wafted its nose the dwarf’s way, thumping its brush-like tail.
Gimli’s wide eyes pinched shut and he slapped his knee, laughing so hard the dog retracted its tongue and cocked its head. The children stared.
“Pray… don’t tell me…” the dwarf sputtered. “I’m the cat!”
Rosie and Sam had a silent exchange.
“Frodo-lad named him, you’ll have to take it up with him,” Sam said.
Rosie seized the opportunity. “Now, children, let Master Gimli get to his room.”
Merry, Pippin, and Goldy may or may not have heard. They stood idle now, their exclamations replaced by wordless round mouths of awe.
Suddenly the dog Legolas woofed and padded out the front hall. From the hallway, Rose-lass shouted, “Dada! Dada! Look who came through the cellar! No-o, Legolas!”
A distant something crashed to the floor. Another much nearer crash followed it – Gimli could no longer bear it. His rucksacks shed behind him, he had doubled over, red-faced, at the mercy of his mirth.