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Something to be Thankful for ‘O Sam,’ Frodo sighed. He stared out the comfortingly round window and sighed. ‘They didn’t have a harvest celebration, because all the food was gathered.’
‘Just don’t seem like the Shire, with no celebrations,’ Sam muttered, lifting the lid of the teapot to see how it was coming along. He hadn’t any idea how he’d make it drinkable without sweetening. And it wasn’t even proper tea, but weeds gathered by Rosie and Mrs. Cotton and dried and brewed into something that was hot, at least, and had some flavour to it, even if it wasn’t tea flavour. They’d smoked their pipes after a scanty dinner, the previous evening, stuffing the bowls with more dried weeds. Pipe-weed hadn’t been seen in the Shire for months, now.
Sam poured a generous dollop of milk into one of Mrs. Cotton’s fancy china cups, dug up by Nibs from where the Cottons had hid their valuables when the ruffians had started their gatherings. At least the Cottons’ cows were giving milk. That was something to be thankful for. And they had a roof over their heads, and not a leaky roof like the Gaffer’s ramshackle shed. He found himself blinking a little, to think of his childhood home all dug up and gone. Really, he ought to be feeling more thankful. They’d made it, there and back again, just as in old Mr. Bilbo’s stories, and though they were battered and much changed, they were alive. But the Shire hardly seemed like the Shire, with the trees cut down and the streams fouled, and the hobbits thin and hungry.
He added the “tea” and watched the milk swirl in clouds, and gave it a good stir for old times’ sake. ‘Here you are, Mr. Frodo,’ he said. ‘A nice hot cup to soothe the weary heart.’
‘Thank you, Sam,’ Frodo said, taking the cup with a grateful smile, which only dimmed slightly as he sipped. He turned back to the window and sighed again.
Sam thought he heard his master murmur again, ‘No harvest celebration.’ He poured out his own “tea”, took a sip, and shuddered. At least it was hot.
‘Good tea,’ Frodo said bravely, taking another sip. ‘How fine it is to be back in the Shire, pouring out at teatime, and drinking out of proper-sized cups again.’
‘I’m that thankful,’ Sam said, untruthfully.
With the shortage of victuals there were no biscuits to go with the tea, no scones, no cakes, nothing of the sort. How was Mr. Frodo to keep up his strength and spirits without proper feeding? Why, it was nearly enough to make Sam want to pack him up again and ride with him to Rivendell. Wondrous feasting there’d been, there, after, and even before, come to think of it. ‘Farmer Cotton went out to plough today,’ he said, to make conversation. ‘He says he’s got great hopes for the winter wheat and barley, now Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin are seeing to it that all the ruffians are thrown out.’ Next summer, he thought to himself. And what are hobbits to do for bread, until then?
He shook his head. This was hardly the homecoming he’d envisioned. Why, he couldn’t ask Rosie to marry him, when there wouldn’t even be anything to be had for a wedding feast!
So sunk in his misery was he, that he scarcely noticed the excited shouting outside, until Frodo straightened his shoulders with a jerk, leaning closer to the window.
‘It’s Jolly,’ Frodo said, ‘riding at a gallop! Waving his cap and shouting as if...’
‘Ruffians,’ Sam said grimly, putting down his cup. He picked up his sword. ‘You just bide here, Mr. Frodo,’ he said. ‘I’ll see what’s what.’
‘Nonsense, Sam,’ Frodo said, pulling his cloak from its peg. ‘If trouble’s come to the Cotton farm, well, we’ll all help out. After all, they are kind enough to give us a home whilst the rubbish is being cleared out of Bag End.’ And he wouldn’t heed any of Sam’s protests, and he walked out of the Cottons’ best guest room and on down the corridor and out the front door with barely a shiver in the chill November air.
And Sam was there, sword at the ready, just in case.
‘News!’ Jolly was shouting, waving his cap in circles above his head as he pelted towards them. ‘News!’
Nibs came from the barn, a pitchfork in his hand, and Nick came carrying an axe, though he’d not been chopping wood. They were expecting trouble, too, and looking out over the field Sam saw that Farmer Cotton had unhitched the plough ponies, jumped onto the back of one of them, and was jogging them towards the house.
‘Go on in the house, Rosie,’ Young Tom said, running up panting from where he’d been mending a fence. ‘You too, Mum. If there’s ruffians about...’
But then Jolly reached them, pulling up his dancing pony, which seemed to share his excitement. He leapt down, waving his hat, with a wild yell. ‘News!’
‘What news, you daft hobbit?’ Mrs. Cotton scolded. ‘If you’ve got news, then tell it, don’t keep us in the dark!’
‘ ‘s not dark, Mum,’ Jolly chortled, ‘why, sun’s only halfway down the sky...’
‘Jolly!’ Mrs. Cotton said, putting her hands out to take hold of her son’s shoulders, and giving him a shake. ‘What news?’
Jolly was breathing hard, but he was grinning fit to split his cheeks, and the others relaxed somewhat. ‘What news?’ his mother said, a little less sharply.
There was a jingle of harness as Farmer Cotton arrived and jumped down. ‘What news?’ he said, in echo of his wife.
‘Food!’ Jolly said. ‘Storeholes and storeholes full! The ruffians didn’t send it all out of the Shire, they didn’t!’
‘What is it, lad?’ Farmer Cotton said, patting the neck of the nearside plough pony. ‘What is it you said?’
‘Food, and beer, and goods,’ Jolly said. ‘Why, the old abandoned barn at the Clayfoots’, it’s stuffed full, and not hay, neither! And word’s just come from Michel Delving, for Deputy Mayor Frodo here,’ and he gave a hasty bow to the gentlehobbit, ‘that there’s tunnels in Michel Delving stuffed full to overflowing, and while the quick post rider was still talking a messenger arrived from the Bolger to say that they’d found foodstuffs and firewood and blankets and more in the old quarries at Scary, and...’
‘O my,’ Sam said, easing his sword back into its resting place, leaving his hand free to take Rosie’s in a warm and hopeful grasp. ‘O my.’
‘You said it,’ Mr. Cotton said, and all the hobbits gathered there broke out into grins.
‘Well, well, Sam,’ Frodo said, his tired face lit with a smile. ‘It looks as if the Deputy Mayor will have the chance to preside over a harvest celebration after all.’
‘I’m that thankful, Mr. Frodo,’ Sam said. And this time he meant it.
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