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Frodo leaned against the curvature in the wall and sighed, exchanging a glance with Merry, who shrugged. Only the night before, Bilbo had left the Shire for good, following his and Frodo’s shared birthday party, and for the past two hours this afternoon, Frodo and Merry had been compelled to field multitudes of visitors, some of whom were the recipients of gifts from Bilbo.
Too bad Gandalf’s not here with us, to help us out with this chaos, the newly-of-age Master of the Hill thought wryly, as he brushed his now-damp bangs out of his eyes. I wonder when he’ll return from whatever he’s doing at this moment. He sighed. I wish I could have seen Bilbo one last time before he left! For a moment, his eyes followed a few dust particles floating in the air.
At the other end of the hall, which was still cluttered with packages, parcels, and small items of furniture that their intended recipients hadn’t picked up yet, Hamfast Gamgee and his tweenage son, Samwise, were dealing with several other young tweenagers who were trying to take some items that did not belong to them. “That’ll do, lad,” the Gaffer told one hobbit firmly. “You’ll not be making off with anything as don’t have your name on it. Go!” He propelled the hobbit toward the front door and gave a look at the other hobbits who, taking the hint, reluctantly followed the first hobbit outside.
Sam closed the door and approached Frodo. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Frodo,” he said apologetically. “Seems everyone in the Shire knows Mr. Bilbo’s left.”
“It does seem that way, doesn’t it?” Wiping a few beads of perspiration off his forehead, Frodo exchanged a rueful glance with Merry and shook his head. It had been a mad afternoon, and it wasn’t even close to being over yet. Approaching the Gaffer, Frodo smiled. “Master Hamfast, I want to thank you and Sam for the help you’ve given us in dealing with our visitors. However, I can see you’re exhausted, so why don’t you and Sam go home? Merry can help me mind the shop, so to speak.” Removing a handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his forehead dry.
The Gaffer gave a tired smile. “Are you sure, Mr. Frodo?” he asked.
“Quite sure,” Frodo stated in a firm voice. “I will need help from you and Sam tomorrow, but today, Merry will give me whatever help I need in dealing with any further visitors. Before you leave, however—” He turned toward the end of the cluttered hall and picked up five large wicker baskets that stood on the floor near the entrance to the closest room, grasping them by their tightly-woven tree-bark handles. Returning to the Gamgees, he held four of them out to Hamfast and the fifth one to Sam.
“Two of these are your presents, Master Hamfast and Sam,” Frodo told them. “The other three baskets are for Daisy, May, and Marigold.” He stood straight-backed as he and Merry watched. Next to him, Merry clasped his hands in front of his waist.
Sam stared eagerly down at his own basket. Stretching out a strip of white cloth that was tied to the handle, he read, “‘For SAMWISE GAMGEE, hoping he will enjoy the book and the tablet, and find the other gifts useful.’ A book! What book, Mr. Frodo?”
“Have a look at it, and you’ll find out,” Frodo said, laughing. Beside him, Merry grinned.
His eyes shining, Sam pulled out each item and laid it on the nearby table. A hand trowel, a light-brown woollen waistcoat, a book with a light-blue leather cover, a writing tablet consisting of parchment, a quill pen, and a heavy glass bottle of ink stopped up with a light-yellow cork soon lay clustered together on the table’s smooth surface. Reverently, Sam picked up the book, rubbing his fingers over its soft leather cover and reading aloud the title.
“It’s about elves!” he exclaimed. “I wish Mr. Bilbo was here, so I could thank him!”
Frodo smiled at him. “I will pass on your thanks when I write to him, Sam. I will have to wait until I receive a letter from him before I can do that, but when I do, I’ll tell him how pleased you are with your book and your other gifts. My uncle gave you the tablet and ink so that you’ll be able to keep your hand in, now that your lessons are over.”
Turning to Hamfast, he added, “And how do you like your gifts, Master Hamfast? Yours is in the tallest basket.”
“Well, er, let me see.” Hamfast turned his attention to the tallest basket. It was almost twice as tall as the others, he noticed. Setting it on the table and stretching out the strip of cloth that Bilbo had fastened to the handle, he held its end out to his son, who grabbed it.
Smiling, Sam said, “Dad, it says, ‘For HAMFAST GAMGEE, who knows more about potatoes than just about anyone in the Shire.’ And look, Gaffer! He’s give you some taters.”
“Two sacks full, to be exact.” Grunting, the Gaffer removed the heavy, bulging burlap sacks from the basket, opened them, and ran his fingers over the potatoes that lay on top. “And that ain’t the only present he gave me. Mr. Bilbo gave me a new waistcoat, too, like yours, son. And a new spade.” He picked up a small, dark-brown clay jar. “And some ointment. Well, well, he give me that for my joints, I reckon, ‘cause they creak so much.”
“I believe you’re right, Master Hamfast.” Frodo nodded agreement. “I trust the ointment will make your joints feel better.”
“I reckon it will.” The Gaffer smiled. “Like my Sam, I wish I could thank Mr. Bilbo for my gifts. My lasses can open their gifts their own selves. Mr. Frodo, if it ain’t too much trouble, when you write to him, would you say thank’ee to Mr. Bilbo for us all?”
“I certainly will, Master Hamfast.” Frodo nodded again.
The Gaffer handed one of the lasses’ baskets to his son. “Sam, you carry that one home with yours. I’ll carry the others.” Sam nodded, grasping both handles tightly, and Hamfast picked up the other three. As they approached the entrance in the front hall, Frodo opened the round green door for them. The Gaffer looked at the new Master of Bag End. “You’ll make a good Master of the Hill, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo blushed and smiled in appreciation. “Thank you, Master Hamfast.” He turned to Sam. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Sam! You, too, Master Hamfast.”
Grinning, Sam bobbed his head and followed his father out the door, each hand grasping the handle of a wicker basket. For a moment, Frodo stood watching as they picked their way down the steps toward the gate, clutching their baskets; the breeze wafted Frodo’s dark-brown curls as he watched them. Pausing a moment in front of the gate, Hamfast looked down at his son. “As soon as we give the lasses their presents, Sam, we’d better be blocking that gate. Mr. Frodo don't deserve all that tomfoolery folks is giving him!”
Sam nodded. “How ‘bout them handcarts Mr. Bilbo keeps in his shed?”
The Gaffer nodded. “And ours. I know of some barrows we can get hold of, too, if we hurry. Come on, son; the sooner we get that gate blocked, mayhap the sooner Mr. Frodo can have some peace for the rest of this day.” Sliding the handles of two of the baskets over his right hand, he pulled open the gate and followed his son onto the road, and Frodo smiled in appreciation. Closing the door, he looked at Merry, who smiled in his turn.
“The Gaffer is right, Frodo,” Merry said. “You will make a good Master of the Hill.”
Frodo smiled ruefully. “I just hope I can be as good a Master as Bilbo’s always been. If I can manage to live up to his standard, I’ll do well.” He looked down at the various bags and boxes still littering the front hall, and then sighed. “I think I’ll have a cup of tea before the next visitors come to call. It’s not over yet.” Merry agreed, and accompanied his cousin to the kitchen.
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