Chapter Four: Hawthorn

Genre: Humor/General

Summary: Pre-Fellowship. Samwise, Bag End's faithful gardener, gets stuck in a hawthorn bush. Young Master Frodo helps him out of his prickly predicament.

Hawthorn: (noun) A shrub or tree of the rose family that has thorns, white or pink blossoms, and small, colorful fruits.

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Springtime was a probably the most wonderful time of year in the Shire. The flowers were all in bloom and their sweet scents wafted through the hobbit holes on fresh breezes. Everything was bright, colorful and beautiful, from the vibrant green grasses to the bright flowers that grew with wild abandon to the yellow ribbons that decorated the curly hair of the hobbit lasses. Every day, almost as soon as the sun was up (though never before breakfast time, of course) the fields were full of cheery young hobbits playing silly games or just basking in the golden sunlight, the soft grass tickling their bare feet.

Although the Shire was full of beauty in spring, one place in particular simply teemed with it: Bag End, the hobbit hole of Bilbo Baggins. Despite what some might say about the eccentric old hobbit, no one could deny that his gardens were superb. Undoubtedly they were tended by a gardener who had a passion for his craft, who poured his heart and soul into his work to create such a beautiful haven.

"I hate spring!"

Samwise Gamgee was the gardener of Bag End, or one of them at least. He was currently hoeing the small herb garden, trying to hack away the weeds that were threatening to choke his precious herbs until they shriveled and died. Angrily he dug at them with the hoe, nearly taking a chunk out of his rosemary bush. Normally his Gaffer would be there to help, but the old Gaffer had gone into town for the day to buy some supplies. Sam was alone in the garden, alone with the weeds and the hot sun and the biting bugs. With a growl, he sank his hoe into the earth again, tearing at the infernal weeds with a vengeance.

For Sam, springtime was not a time for relaxation and hours playing in the cheery sun. For Sam, springtime was a time for extra work, long days toiling under the relentless heat of the sun, and a sore back from bending over all day picking stupid weeds out of the ground. While other hobbit lads and lasses were trying to decide whether the large, fluffy cloud above them looked more like a fish or a bird, Sam was hoping the cloud was full of rain so that his freshly planted geraniums wouldn't have to be watered by hand. It wasn't that he didn't like gardening. On the contrary, he loved it. He just wished sometimes that he could have time to play with his friends and enjoy the beauty of spring, instead of spending all day toiling in the garden and learning to hate things like caterpillars or ladybugs that threaten to eat his carefully tended flowers and plants.

"And stay away, you nasty things!" he said when he dumped a wheelbarrow full of weeds and dead branches into the mulch pile. He paused with his elbow leaning on the handle of the wheelbarrow, pulling a dirty, stained, wrinkled handkerchief out of his pocket. The handkerchief did little for his sweat-drenched forehead; it was already so wet with past sweat that it could barely soak up anything new. With a sigh, he heaved the wheelbarrow into its proper position and headed back into the garden.

"That durn hawthorn bush'll need pruning as well," he muttered to himself, passing a large shrub decorated with small pink and white blossoms. A few small fruits peeked at him from beneath lush, vibrantly green leaves, only serving to remind him of his growling stomach. He groaned as he reached for his pruning shears, wishing he could just take one day, just one little day off.

From somewhere behind him, Sam heard a door open. There were light footsteps coming down the path, and a small voice shouted, "I'm going out to play in the garden, Uncle Bilbo!"

Sam scowled and sent a dirty glare toward the main part of Bag End. Of course Master Frodo was at leisure, when was he ever not? He could actually enjoy the garden for its beauty, not for its hard work. Sam clipped away haphazardly with the shears, taking off a few bright flowers.

"I think the flowers are supposed to stay on," a voice said, accompanied by a high-pitched child's giggle.

"Yeah, well, perhaps I thought they'd look better on the ground," Sam said, not looking away from the bush. His face was red, partly from the midday heat, but also from embarrassment that young Frodo had caught him making blunders in the beautiful garden.

"Uncle Bilbo likes flowers in vases in the house, but he's never put them on the floor," Frodo said thoughtfully. "Maybe I will put some on the floor of the hallway." He came forward, standing right beside Sam, and reached out to pick a particularly large, particularly bright pink flower.

"Be careful," Sam warned, and the hand withdrew quickly . "There's thorns in there'll make your fingers bleed till next Thursday."

"Will you cut me a flower, then?" Frodo requested.

"Take one off the floor. The rest should stay on the bush. They look best that way," Sam said shortly, wishing Frodo would go away and leave him to his work. Frodo bent down and picked up the three white flowers that Sam had accidentally chopped off in his anger. He examined them closely, then, apparently satisfied, skipped away, presumably to litter the floor of Bag End with them.

Sam continued pruning until the bush was at a satisfying size and shape. Then he kneeled down to gather the chopped off leaves and branches, groaning at the ache he felt in his lower back. Surely it was time for tea, wasn't it? Alas, no, Sam saw that the sun was still too low in the sky for it to be tea time, or even lunchtime yet. It felt so much later than that…

With a great sigh, Sam rose again, his arms full of the prickly, thorny branches. He tossed them into the wheelbarrow, eyeing the angry red scratches he had accumulated with distaste. All in the name of gardening, he thought bitterly. The wheelbarrow was heavy now, full of branches as well as other weeds he had stopped to pick along the way. He wielded it a little unsteadily and tried to compensate for the uneven weight by leaning to his left, towards the hawthorn bush. The front wheel turned slowly and squeaked shrilly, as if it needed oiling. Yet another task to add to the list, Sam thought with another sigh, cringing at the high-pitched squealing of the wheel. The muscles in his arms tensed under the short sleeves of his light cotton tunic and the wheelbarrow moved slowly forward.

Suddenly, a rock in the ground knocked the wheel off-balance and making it lean hard right. Sam leaned farther left, hoping it wouldn't spill over. He didn't want to have to gather all those thorny branches again and get even more scratched up.

But he had leaned too far, Sam realized too late. The wheelbarrow had been leaning right when it hit the rock, but Sam's attempt to save it caused it to quickly tip in the other direction. Sam, still holding resolutely to the handles, toppled over with it.

Directly into the freshly pruned, brightly decorated, and very thorny hawthorn bush.

Sam let out a yell that reverberated over all of Bag End. Bilbo, sitting at his desk in his study, glanced up sharply, muttered to himself, and bent over his book again, his quill scratching away at the cream white paper. Frodo, who had been arranging his three white flowers outside the door to Bilbo's study, looked up too, frowning in concern. He recognized the yell as belonging to the gardener Sam. He hoped Sam wasn't hurt. Feeling scared, Frodo hurried out of the house and down the garden path, looking right and left for any sign of Sam.

"Sam! Sam! Where are you, Sam? Don't be afraid, I'm here to help!" Frodo yelled, hoping against hope that he wasn't too late to save the poor gardener from some horrific fate.

"You stupid bush, let me go! I'm sorry for pruning you, all right, but you needed it! You bloody bush, let me out of here!" came Sam's strangled cries from the direction of Bilbo's large hawthorn bush. Frodo dashed off and found Sam struggling in the midst of the bright green leaves, white and pink flowers, and small bright fruits. The wheelbarrow was tipped over, its contents mingling with the dirt path, the bush, and Sam's kicking legs.

"Sam, are you all right? Stay still, I'll help pull you out!" Frodo said, kneeling beside the bush.

"Mister Frodo, is that you? Help me! Get me out of here!" Sam bellowed, his face hidden beneath branches. His legs began kicking again and his arms thrashed about wildly, looking for something to hold onto so he could pull himself out of his botanical prison.

"Just stay still for a second, Sam, I'll get the shears! I can cut you out of here!" Frodo said, looking frantically around for Sam's pruning shears.

"They're in the toolbox, beside the wheelbarrow. Hurry, Mister Frodo, these thorns really hurt!" Sam yelled.

Frodo seized the large wooden box and pulled it towards him. The shears were, luckily, right on top. Otherwise it would have taken him all day to look through the endless contents of the box and locate them. After warning Sam to stay very still, Frodo took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and began cutting away. Branches, flowers, leaves, and fruit fell away from him with each hack of the shears. Soon, Sam's lower body appeared, follow by his torso and arms. After a bit of wriggling and maneuvering, Sam managed to expose his face to daylight again. He took a great gulp of air, glad he was free. Frodo gasped when he saw the scratches that covered Sam all over. Some of them were bleeding, most were just very red and painful-looking.

Sam clasped Frodo's outstretched hand and allowed himself to be pulled up by the younger hobbit. Besides sweat and dirt, Sam was also covered with leaves, flower petals, squished fruit, and especially scratches thanks to the sharp thorns that covered the stems of the flowers. He scowled and tried to brush himself off a little, which only aggravated the painful scratches and turned his scowl into a wince.

"Are you all right, Sam?" Frodo asked worriedly, shifting from foot to foot. Sam looked up, glaring angrily.

"Does it look like I'm all right? Them folks are right, you Bagginses sure are queer folk. Standin' there askin' if I'm all right when I'm standin' here bleedin' all over the place…" Sam continued to mutter to himself while he inspected one of his arms, trying to stem the flow of blood from a particularly painful scar.

"I bet Uncle Bilbo will know what to do! Come with me, Sam, he'll help you!" Frodo insisted, pulling on Sam's arm.

"Let go, Mister Frodo, that hurts!" Sam cried out, and Frodo immediately let go, his eyes wide and fearful.

"I'm so sorry, Sam, I wasn't thinking!" Frodo apologized.

"Obviously," Sam snorted. Frodo continued to watch him while Sam pulled his dirty handkerchief out of his pocket and applied pressure to the bleeding scratch. The kerchief looked as though it might have once been clean and white, but it was now a yellowish color due to the sweat and streaked with dirt and now, blood.

"You can use mine," Frodo said quietly, pulling his own clean kerchief out of his pocket and offering it to Sam. The gardener glanced up and hesitantly accepted it.

"Thanks," he grunted, wiping up more blood.

Frodo fell silent, much to Sam's pleasure. He was able to clean himself up in peace, although having those large blue eyes silently watching him was more than a little disconcerting. Finally he looked up, frowning at Frodo.

"Don't you have somewheres you need to be gettin'?" he asked pointedly. Frodo shook his head. Sam sighed and wiped up the last few drops of blood that remained on his dark brown skin. He handed the kerchief back to Frodo, who held it between his thumb and pointer finger by the corner and looked afraid to touch it.

Sam turned to look at the hawthorn bush and groaned inwardly. The once beautifully pruned hawthorn bush looked as though it had been attacked by some sort of evil bush-eating monster. Those branches that hadn't been cut off by Frodo's hapless hacking were bent and broken from Sam falling through them. The battered flowers had lost many of their petals and the fruit littered the ground, some squashed and most not even ripe yet. Now they would never get the chance to age into maturity and were to be nothing more than bird food.

"Too bad about the bush. It was one of Bilbo's favorites," Frodo said, shrugging indifferently. To him it was just a bush, nothing to fret over. For Sam it meant failure. His Gaffer would be sorely disappointed in him, that was for sure.

Frodo bent over and picked up one of the undamaged fruits. He peeled away the outer part and bit into the sweet juicy inside. Grinning, he offered the other half to Sam.

"Hungry?" he asked. Sam shook his head, but Frodo shoved the little fruit right under his nose. His stomach growled loudly, making Frodo giggle. "Oh, go on, Sam. Just try it."

His eyes rolled heavenward, Sam took the fruit and put it in his mouth, chewing it quickly only to get Frodo to close his mouth and leave him alone. To his surprise, the fruit tasted good and provided his dry mouth with desperately craved-for moisture. The sweet aftertaste made him want more. This time when Frodo shoved a peeled fruit under his nose, he took it gladly and popped it into his mouth. Frodo crouched on the ground and began gathering fallen fruit, peeling them one by one and setting them aside. Sam helped himself to one or two (or three) before kneeling beside the younger hobbit to help him gather the fruit.

"Aren't they good, Sam?" Frodo asked, grinning at the gardener. Sam grunted in reply, unwilling to admit that Frodo was right but not about to refute the statement. He plucked a particularly large one off a branch that hung right in front of his face, peeled it with nimble fingers, and ate it hungrily.

"I reckon that's enough, Mister Frodo. I've got to be gettin' back to work, and you should run off and play with your friends afore it gets too late and they all go inside for lunch and tea," Sam suggested after they had both eaten their share of fruit.

Frodo's eyes suddenly seemed sad when he looked at Sam. "I haven't got so many friends to play with, Sam. They all say I'm a strange Baggins and that I ought to stay in my hobbit-hole with Uncle Bilbo."

"Nonsense, Mister Frodo, you must have some friends," Sam argued.

"Well, my cousins, Merry and Pippin, don't think I'm so strange, but they live far away. Most of the hobbits in these parts think Bilbo and I are very strange and they don't want to be around us," Frodo answered. "That's why I like to watch you work, Sam. You don't tell me to go away like they do."

Sam suddenly felt rather ashamed of himself for growing annoyed so easily around Frodo. He should have guessed that the boy stayed around the house so much because he knew what folk said about the Baggins family. Rich he may be, but money didn't change the fact that Bilbo was a strange character. Always telling crazy stories about dragons and trolls and such, no wonder people tried to stay away. But Sam knew that Bilbo was really a kind old man, and Frodo really wasn't that bad.

"You can watch me garden any time you like, Mister Frodo. If you'd like, I can teach you how to do a few things so you can keep Bag End looking pretty even when me or my Gaffer have to go away," Sam said. Frodo's eyes lighted up at the suggestion.

"Do you mean it, Sam?" he asked hopefully.

Sam smiled kindly and reached out to ruffle the curly brown hair that adorned Frodo's head. "I most certainly do."

The two hobbits shared friendly smiles, saying nothing for the time being. Suddenly their moment was interrupted by a shout.

"Samwise Gamgee!" came an angry voice. "I leave you alone for one day and this is what I find? What have you done to the poor hawthorn bush?"

Sam turned around quickly to find the Gaffer standing in the pathway, his hands on his hips and his eyes blazing. Sam's face immediately turned a bright red and he opened his mouth, prepared to apologize, but Frodo beat him to it.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Gamgee, but this is all my fault. You see, I was pestering Sam more than I should have been, and I tried to take the wheelbarrow away from him. It was too heavy for me, and I fell into the hawthorn bush. Sam had to cut away the branches to get me out," Frodo explained quickly, glancing for an instant at Sam with amused eyes before looking at the older hobbit with a look of total seriousness. Sam gaped at him in amazement as he delivered the lie perfectly.

The older Gamgee faltered and his gaze softened. He knew better than to chastise the favored nephew of his employer, so instead he smiled kindly at the young child. "Well then, that's different. Maybe you should go inside now and leave the gardening to us Gamgees."

"Yes, Mr. Gamgee. I'm terribly sorry," Frodo said. He turned around, flashed a mischievous grin at Sam, before scampering down the path towards the front door of Bag End. As his Gaffer gathered the discarded fruit peels and piled them into the wheelbarrow, muttering something under his breath, Sam shook with silent laughter. Shaking his head, he lifted the pruning shears and began to try to salvage the hawthorn's appearance, making a mental note to express his gratitude to Frodo for helping him escape a lecture.

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End