Title: How Does Your Garden Grow
Request: “I'd love a fic about a Yule with Bilbo, maybe his first one after he returns from his Adventure, or a year or two later. Book-verse, please.”
Characters: Bilbo, Hamfast Gamgee, Holman Greenhand
Author's notes: It’s left ambiguous in canon, but for purposes of this story, Bilbo owned the land that includes Bagshot Row.
Summary: How did the Gamgees come to live in Number 3, Bagshot Row?
How Does Your Garden Grow
‘I saw Mr. Bilbo when he came back, a matter of sixty years ago, when I was a lad. I’d not long come prentice to old Holman (him being my dad’s cousin), but he had me up at Bag End helping him to keep folks from trampling and trapessing all over the garden while the sale was on.’
Hamfast Gamgee, ‘A Long-expected Party’, The Fellowship of the Ring
After many months Bag End had been set to rights, inside and out, and all was well once more on the Hill. It was a frosty cold day, and Bilbo was hanging suet-and-seeds Yule logs outside the door for the birds when he heard Holman’s apprentice racing up Hill Lane, shouting with excitement and pointing to something behind him.
At 16, Hamfast Gamgee was all arms and legs, gangly and still growing, and the apple of Holman Greenhand’s eye. When Bilbo returned to Bag End after his Adventure, he had been surprised to find that Holman had acquired an apprentice in his absence, but after observing how quickly and naturally Hamfast was catching on to every nuance of root and seed, and his respect for all growing things, it now seemed an obvious choice.
Although the boy knew every inch of the Bag End gardens, he had always stayed a respectful distance from the round green door of the Master’s home. He’d received a strict upbringing in Tighfield, and rarely spoke to ‘his betters’, as he referred to the gentry, unless spoken to -- which was why his headlong rush to Bilbo’s side and babble of words heralded something quite special.
“Mr. Bilbo, the bed! The bed’s comin’!”
Bilbo smiled with delight. “Did you see the carts, Ham? How far away are they?”
“Just down the lane, sir,” Hamfast responded, trying to catch his breath. The lad’s cheeks were red with the cold, and Bilbo was glad to see that he wore a warm jacket and bulky scarf. Holman was obviously taking good care of him. “The mattress would fill a whole room and then some, and the frame is bigger’n anything I’ve seen! What’s it all for, if you don’t terribly mind me asking?”
“You may ask anything you like, anytime,” Bilbo said. “I encourage curiosity in a hobbit.”
“My Dad wouldn’t quite agree,” the boy said quietly.
“But he’s back in Tighfield, isn’t he?” Bilbo asked, his eyes twinkling. “And you’re in Hobbiton now, and I don’t mind questions in the least. Didn’t I see you in the crowd during the auction this spring, the day I returned from Outside?”
“Yes, Mr. Bilbo.”
“And you saw the wizard, Gandalf, who arrived with me?”
Hamfast grinned. “Couldn’t hardly miss him, sir!”
“I suppose not!” Bilbo agreed. “Well, the bed’s for his use, Ham, anytime he might drop by again, or for other Big Folk who might find their way to my door.”
“Might they really?” Hamfast asked, his eyes wide.
“I don’t see why not,” Bilbo said with a chuckle. “My goodness, Middle-earth is just bursting with them! I suspect that a few might come our way now and then, and I want to be prepared next time. Ah, here we are!”
And there were the carts coming into view at last. When the deliveryhobbits brought them to a halt outside Bag End and started to bustle about, carefully unloading Mr. Bilbo Baggins’ latest oddity, Hamfast suddenly remembered where he was, and to whom he was speaking. Blushing scarlet, he stepped respectfully back a few paces.
“Beg pardon, sir, you have better things to do than listen to me rattle on. I have a message from Mr. Holman. He sends his greetings, and asks if you’d be so kind as to stop by tonight for a mug o’ Yule cheer. He says he has something he’d like to talk about.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“No, Mr. Bilbo, and it wouldn’t be my place t’ask.”
Bilbo smiled kindly at the boy. “I’ll come by after supper, Ham. Thank you for bringing the message. Wait here a moment, will you?” He went inside, and returned with a warm pan wrapped in a cloth.
“I baked more cinnamon cakes than I can eat,” he said, handing the parcel to the boy. “Take that down to Number 3, would you? Run along, now. It’s best when still warm.”
“Thank you, sir!” Hamfast said, his eyes shining. The Master was a wonderful cook, and as generous a hobbit as he’d ever heard tell of.
He turned to go, but not before lingering for a moment to admire the workmanship of the carved bed frame, and the enormous mattress that must have taken weeks to stuff with feathers and down. Very fine they were, and worthy of a wizard… or even a king, should He return. Except for the wizard he’d not seen any other Big Folk in his life, and hadn’t never planned to, but now Mr. Bilbo was saying that the Outside was full of them! How about that?
After he and the lad had eaten supper and washed up, and Number 3 Bagshot Row was set to rights for another day, Holman Greenhand heard the knock for which he had been waiting. He opened the door and greeted Mr. Bilbo, and was pleased, as always, by the firm handshake and respect shown to him by the Master of the Hill. Never putting on airs, not Mr. Bilbo, nor did he look down his nose at others, which couldn’t be said of everyone, and that was for certain.
“Come in, Mr. Bilbo, come in! You can hang your jacket on the peg, there. Good Yule to you, sir, it’s kind of you to stop by. We thank you for the cake. Here, take this chair.”
“Good Yule to you, Holman.” Bilbo took a comfortable seat by the hearth to warm his toes. He looked about, but didn’t see young Hamfast.
“The lad’s in his room, putting the Yule wreaths together,” Holman said with a warm smile. He settled himself beside the Master. “Hear you had some excitement today! Ham could barely wait to tell me every detail.”
“I do believe the thought of meeting more Big Folk someday was more intriguing to the boy than any piece of furniture, however large.” Bilbo accepted the mug of steaming wine that Holman handed him. “How is he doing? I’ve heard tell he’s already made a good number of friends in Hobbiton.”
“He has, sir. Ham’s told me how happy he is here, and I can’t deny the lad’s been good company for an old bachelor hobbit like myself.”
“Old?” Bilbo chuckled. “Holman, you’re younger than I am.”
“There’s old and there’s old, if you take my meaning, sir,” Holman said, thoughtfully sipping his wine. “I haven’t been quite myself for a spell. That’s why I was so glad to hear from Cousin Hob that Ham was looking to learn gardening, and might do well here.”
“Have you seen a healer?” Bilbo asked quietly.
“No need, Mr. Bilbo. I get around fine, and can still do for myself. It’s just that I get tired. It’s a frustrating thing, but I can’t complain.” He steered the conversation to other topics for a bit, small goings-on in the Row and how happy he was to have the Master back on the Hill. Then he put his mug down and faced Bilbo directly.
“I’m glad you like Hamfast, Mr. Bilbo. He’s a good boy, and wants to make his home in Hobbiton. It’s him that I wanted to talk with you about.”
“I’ll do whatever I can for him, Holman, you know that,” Bilbo said.
“I’m right glad to hear that sir.” Holman looked about him. “This hole is a spacious one, isn’t it? Much more than I need. It wants a family… lots of children running in and out.”
“It does,” Bilbo agreed. “Are you thinking of marrying?”
“No,” Holman said quietly, staring into the fire. “But I’ve no doubt that Hamfast will, and fill his home with young ‘uns, him being from a large family and all. Mr. Bilbo, would you consider letting him continue to live here, after I… I mean, if anything should happen to me? If he agrees, that is, and if you don’t have anyone else in mind for the place. He cares for your gardens like they was his own, just as I have. He’s a trustworthy lad, older than his years.”
Bilbo stared at him, trying to process this strange request. He noticed for the first time that Holman was thinner than just a year ago, and seemed to have lost some spark that had always energized him and filled him with a robust zest for life. He sat in silence, and Holman waited.
“Will that set your heart at ease, my friend?” Bilbo said at last.
“Then I promise you that Number 3 will be Hamfast Gamgee’s home for as long as he wishes to remain. And his family after him.” Bilbo held out his hand, and Holman grasped it firmly. “I’ll have the papers drawn up and witnessed next week.”
“Thank you, sir,” Holman said with a happy smile. “That’s a big load off my mind. How about more wine? And I have some peppermint sweets for you to take home, you’ve always liked those.”
“I have indeed,” Bilbo said. “Another mugful of that excellent vintage, Holman, then I’ll leave you to your Yule eve.”
“it is a good vintage, isn’t it?” Holman asked, pouring for both of them. “Mr. Bilbo, there’s just one more thing…”
“Yes?” Bilbo asked warily.
“About those Big Folk Ham says are coming. I hope they won’t arrive all at once, stomping about and trampling up our careful prunings.”
Bilbo grinned. “Holman, I brought a sword back from my travels, and will defend your prunings with my life.”
Holman sat back and sighed with relief.
“I’d have expected nothing less, Mr. Bilbo. You being such a fine Gentlehobbit and all.” He peered at Bilbo curiously. “What’s it like out there? Past the Bounds, I mean.”
“It’s big,” Bilbo said honestly. “Forests and mountains and towns full of folks. I’ve seen wonders no hobbit’s ever dreamed of, and that’s a fact.”
“And there was a dragon, sir? There really truly was?”
“There really was,” Bilbo said, getting to his feet. “But no need to worry, Holman, he won’t be coming to bother your prunings either. I guarantee it.”
“Well, that’s just fine, then,” Holman said, visibly relieved. He got up to see Bilbo to the door. “We’re awful glad you’re back, sir. It just wasn’t the same with Bag End sitting empty and cold. Best to stay home from now on, with folks who care, and where everything is just as it should be.”
And Bilbo did see care in his eyes, a true friendship that was as solid a ‘welcome home’ as anything he could have hoped for.
“Happy Yule to you, my friend,” Bilbo said, shaking Holman’s hand once again, “and take good care of your lad. Young hobbits can eat their way from one end of the larder to the other in no time, so be sure to let me know if you need anything.”
“Ham and I have everything we need for now, sir,” Holman said with a warm smile. ‘Thanks to you.”
** END **