Sam's Rose Chapter 1: Rumors

They came back, and that was all that mattered.

It was only just over a year they were away, but it was an awful year. At first I didn't even know they'd really left. Well, I knew Sam was going off to Crickhollow with Mr. Frodo, after Frodo went and sold Bag End to those Sackville-Bagginses.

The Sackville-Bagginses, Miss Lobelia and her son Lotho. That's a whole other story, that is.

But Sam - of course he would go with Mr. Frodo. He was just silly about Mr. Frodo; he was like a squire with his knight, something like that. He would have followed him to the ends of the earth, and I guess he really did. Followed him into Mordor, anyway, and that's about as near the end as I want to hear about. And he brought him out again, what's more, and back to the Shire.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm that muddled in the head these days, seems I can't tell a story straight.

They went off to Crickhollow, like I said, and I was pretty miffed. Sam and I had been keeping company several years by then, and I thought he really cared for me. I wasn't sewing my wedding dress yet, but I thought I knew who I'd be marrying, when the time came! And then that last summer before they left, it seemed like everything changed.

I couldn't put my finger on it, what was wrong. Sam still came up to the farm three or four times a week, and we walked out together, or went on picnics with my brothers and his sister Marigold. Sam made us all laugh, like he always had, reciting poems he'd made up, or singing some song he'd learned from Mr. Bilbo when he was a lad.

But it wasn't the same. He seemed to be only half with us, and where the rest of him was at, I couldn't figure out. There was an expression in his eyes, like he was looking in as much as he was looking out, if you take my meaning.

And he didn't say nothing about me coming to Crickhollow. When I first heard about the move, I thought, well, here's our chance to get married. Mr. Frodo'll be needing a housekeeper as well as a gardener, in his new house. Even if it's a lot smaller than Bag End, he surely won't expect Sam to do all the work, the gardening and cooking and cleaning, everything. So I thought, you watch, girl, Sam will speak sometime this summer. Any day now, he'll speak.

But he didn't speak, and the summer was over. The day before Mr. Frodo's birthday, he came by the farm and took me for a walk. I thought sure he'd speak then, finally, but he hardly said a word the whole time. When we got back he stopped by the big tree at the end of the lane, and put his arms around me.

"I won't come up to the house right now, Rosie," he said. "I'll just say my good-byes here, where there ain't no one watching." And he hugged me so tight, I thought he'd squeeze the breath right out of me, but I wasn't complaining, not me. And then he kissed me, just once.

"I'll come back as soon as I can, Rosie. You take care of yourself now."

And then he was gone, back along the road to Hobbiton, and it was so dark under the trees, I couldn't even see him after the first few steps. I didn't see him again till more than a year later, when he came riding into our yard on that pony, all done up in chain mail and helmet and not looking like my Sam at all.

It was only a few days after he left that Fredegar Bolger came back from Crickhollow, and my brother Jolly saw him at the pub in Bywater. He was laughing about it at breakfast next morning.

"Frodo Baggins must've had some housewarming party, is all I can say, because if you ask me, Fatty Bolger is still drunk! You should've heard the story he was telling last night."

My father looked up from his plate.

"Mr. Fredegar Bolger, is that who you're talking about, Jolly?"

"Uh, yes, Da. Mr. Fredegar. But Da, you should've heard him - what a story! He says they all took off at the crack of dawn, the very next morning after Sam and Mr. Frodo got there - Sam and Frodo and Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took, and a string of ponies, right through the Hedge into the Old Forest, if you please-"

"The Old Forest! Why that's crazy, that is! Nobody goes in there, nobody with any sense," said my mother.

"Of course not, Mum. I'm telling you, it's a crazy story, and it gets worse. So Mr. Fredegar's all alone at Crickhollow - he wasn't going into the Old Forest, not for Mr. Frodo nor nobody. He's in the house alone, and in the middle of the night the house is attacked by spooks! They come in the front door, and he runs out the back and all the way to the nearest neighbor, a mile off. Must be the most exercise he's taken in a year. The neighbors sound the alarm and the whole of Buckland is out there chasing around in the dark, looking for Mr. Fredegar's burglars. I wish I'd been there to see it!"

He flung himself back in his chair, laughing fit to bust, and I had to twist his ear to get his attention.

"Never mind Fatty and his spooks, what's happened to Sam? Did they really go in the Old Forest? Are they all right?"

"I don't know, Rose; all I know is what Fa-- Mr. Fredegar was telling us. He never said if they came out of the Forest, only that they went in."

"And did he say why?" my father asked.

"No," Jolly said, sober now. "No, he just said they took the ponies and went in at first light, and he said good-bye to them at the Hedge. Seemed like they were all afraid of something, and they left him behind to sort of guard the house. Funny person to choose for a guard, if you ask me."

"And then someone came and broke in - sounds like maybe they did need a guard," said my Da.

"Well - if you can believe any of it!" Jolly exclaimed. "But the whole thing is crazy, Da. What's to be afraid of? "

That's how innocent we were then- what's to be afraid of? This is the Shire, for pity's sake. Nothing ever happens in the Shire.

But even then, when we didn't know to be afraid, I couldn't rest; I was in a dither to know that Sam was safe. I badgered Da about it until he threw his napkin down on the table, exasperated.

"All right, Rose! I can't take time from the harvest, and I can't spare the older boys. But Nibs can drive the pony cart out to Buckland and see if he can get any news. Will that satisfy you? Likely enough he'll find it's all some prank dreamed up by Merry Brandybuck, or him and Mr. Pippin, to tease Mr. Fredegar."

But when Nibs got back, two days later, he went straight to Da without a word to me and a look on his face that froze the questions on my lips. They went in the tack room at the back of the barn and closed the door. A quarter of an hour later, Da called me in.

"Rose," he said, and cleared his throat. "Rose, my dear - my dear girl - I'm afraid it's bad news, Rosie."

I felt my knees buckling and sat down on a stool, staring at him.

"Nibs asked all round the neighborhood, and it sounds as if Mr. Fredegar's story is true after all. Crickhollow was broken into, certainly, and there's no one living there now. There was trouble of some sort, they think from the Old Forest, and they raised the alarm but they didn't catch anyone. No one has seen Sam, or Mr. Frodo and his friends, but they did find signs that someone had taken a string of ponies through the Hedge into the Old Forest. And there's no sign that anyone has come back out."