I think this is my favourite out of my attempts to honour Tolkien by taking literally this statement from from Letters #133; ‘I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend … which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. … I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. … leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.” ‘ I hope he would not mind some prose as well.
The Last Ringbearer
“Come away, Dad, do. There’s nothing more we can do here.” Robin Gamgee tugged anxiously at his father’s arm, but Sam remained still, silent, gazing down at the mound of fresh-heaped earth at his feet.
Robin looked up at his brothers and sisters standing round. Most were weeping, but Elanor stood dry-eyed, looking at her father. Her golden hair shone, reflecting the darts of sunlight that pierced intermittently the shadow of the Mallorn branches. Rose Gamgee had been laid to rest beneath that tree, the gift of Galadriel.
Elanor moved suddenly, and the group of mourners, who had seemed frozen in their places in sympathy with their father’s immobility, began to stir too. “Come along, Dad, come into the Hole, please,” begged Elanor. She looked around for her husband, and Fastred came to stand with her. Together they urged the older Hobbit away from Rosie’s grave. But a great sob burst from Sam, and he pulled free of their guiding hands.
“Rosie-lass, my Rosie!” he cried, and tears flowed freely down his lined face. “Oh Rosie, why have you gone without me?”
At last his family managed to guide him towards Bag End, and Elanor sent her daughters ahead to boil up the kettles and make tea. Sam stumbled between his helpers, as if blind and lame. He was muttering to himself now, and his grandson Elfstan let out a stifled exclamation that brought his mother’s eye on him.
“Sssh now, let your Granddad be.”
“But Mum – I mean Mother – I mean – did you hear what Granddad said?”
Elanor waved him off and would not listen to him until all the family – all who were there at the burial, that is – were inside, and her father was seated in his comfortable chair by the fire, a cup of tea at his elbow. While everyone applied themselves to toast and jam and cake, and several grandchildren tried to encourage Sam to taste some of his favourite dainties, Elanor led Elfstan aside.
“Now, son, what did you mean? I am sorry to shush you as I did, but I had no desire to see your Granddad further upset.”
Elfstan nodded, and tears sprang to his own eyes. “Poor Granddad! It seems dreadful without Granny, mother!”
“And so it is, dear.” Elanor wiped the youngster’s tears – he was still in his Tweens, after all – and urged him to speak up.
“Well – it is what I heard, mother, though I cannot believe it. Granddad said, soft and low but I heard him plain enough, he said, ‘The day is done, and farewell to the stars.’”
“Oh!” Elanor sat down on the nearest chair, and looked across the room to where Sam now sat, staring into the fire, a piece of untasted toast in his hand and a cooling cup of tea on his side-table. “Oh, Dad.”
The summer of the 61st year of the Fourth Age was heavy with unspent thunder and shadowed with unyielding clouds. The Fairbairns stayed for a couple of weeks at Bag End with Sam, but after that Elanor began to long for her own home, and for the sight of the Downs rearing up away beyond her window. She asked Sam to come with them, but could not persuade him.
“No, no, you be off my dear, I am happy enough here for a while.” He laid his hand on the volumes of the Red Book that stood in their accustomed place beside him, always within reach. “I have young Frodo here, and he shall have Bag End after I am gone” – he waved away the protesting noises this remark brought – “I shall be along to see you all one of these days soon, don’t you worry.”
Elanor was worried, none the less. Still she and Fastred and Elfstan and the other children packed up their bags and loaded their wagon and made themselves ready for home. Only Elfstan clung to his grandfather at parting, and wept. “Granddad, Granddad.”
“Don’t take on so, me dear,” said Sam, patting his curly head kindly. “Why, I have promised to come over there and see you all, have I not?”
Elfstan looked up then, his sobbing quieted, and he spoke low so that only Sam could hear him.
“But Granddad – is it really true that the day is done?”
Sam started, and clutched at the youngster’s arm. “Who’s said that to you?”
“You said it, Granddad, not to me but I couldn’t help hearing, and I remembered the Red Book stories, and it sounded – wrong, Granddad.”
Sam smiled, and drew his grandson into his arms. “Tis not done yet, my deary – but ’tis drawing near.”
He would say no more, and Elanor came to hug her father and to give instructions to Frodo Gardner, her brother, about how Dad would like things done, and to bundle the last-minute luggage and young hobbits into the wagon. Soon they were heading away over the Water, planning to pass Bywater and meet up with the East Road after a brief stop to see Cotton’s farm once more. Sam waved to them until they were out of sight, then turned to grin at his son Frodo.
“Well lad – now we shall have some peace for a bit.” They went into the garden together, and set to work.
Summer thickened slowly into autumn, bringing some breaks in the clouds over the Shire, and a few fair days. Winter was deep and bleak that year, and Sam spent many days indoors, reading in the Red Book. As the blue skies of spring opened up above the Shire, one by one the golden leaves of Mallorn fell to rest upon Rosie Gamgee’s grave-mound, and whatever wind or breeze came by, there they lay, a golden coverlet in honour of the hobbit-woman who slept beneath. Sam went twice daily, morning and evening, to stand beside his wife, hat in hand and his grey-curled head bowed in silence. For a while Frodo Gardner came too, but gradually began to excuse himself because of the many tasks that the new season brought – digging and planting, and hobbit-children to shoo away from Bag End’s new-seeded vegetable patches. Sam did not mind; he was proud of his strong son, who bore the name of his dear lost master and whose broad hands brought wealth from the rich soil of the Shire. He was happy standing alone beside his Rosie.
Then one night in mid-April the great storm that seemed to have been building all through the winter suddenly broke. Black clouds came up from the west, like fleets of Corsair ships, Sam thought. All across the Shire the hobbits battened themselves down in their holes and little houses. The beasts stood lowing and bleating unhappily in byre and field, as the clouds rumbled above them and the spears of lightening began to flash through the gloom. Then it came at last – the rain long-expected, like cataracts out of the sky. Sam and Frodo Gardner looked out the round windows of Bag End to watch the storm, and saw the paths and roadways of the Hill flowing like small rivers, on and on down into the Water and off to Bywater Pool.
“”Twill overflow, that Pool, Dad – we shall have floods for sure.”
Sam nodded. “You know, son, ‘tis just as Mr. Bilbo used to say about Roads. These little streams flowing into the Water, and the Water off away south, and all the rivers and streams into one another, Brandywine and Bruinen, Anduin and Greyflood – all flowing together into the Sea at last.”
Frodo looked sharply at his old Dad – there was that dreaminess in his voice again, that Old Granfer Gamgee used to tell his grandchildren about. “Always a dreamer, your Dad,” he used to say.
“Come on Dad – lets draw some beer and sit cosy by the fire,” said Frodo, shuttering the windows and drawing curtains over the shutters too. Sam came willingly enough, and they had a merry evening’s talk by the bright fire – the fire where Gandalf the Wizard had once tested the Ring, though Sam did not mention this to his son. They talked instead of the land, of Sam’s other children and his grandchildren, and of Frodo’s plans for the summer. They went peacefully to bed as the winds and rain and thunder began to die away.
The next morning Frodo Gardner woke early, but found that his father was up before him. Sam was finishing his breakfast in the parlour, and piled beside him were several bags and bundles.
“Dad! What are you doing? Don’t say you are going off, just like that with never a word!”
“Not without a word, my dear son. I have been up a while, Frodo, and been to visit your mother. Do you know, after all that storm the Golden Leaves are still there, covering her as soft as satin on a baby’s cradle. That’s the Lady, Frodo; she has done this for Rosie. I know I can leave her safely here with you, Son.”
Frodo sat down across the table and looked into his Dad’s face. There it was still, the dreaming look. “Where are you going, Dad? Will you – will you come back again?”
Sam reached across and took his son’s hand. “Well, me dear, first off I’m going to see Elanor – here in this bundle is some things for her to keep.”
Frodo looked about the room, and gasped. “Dad! The Red Books – you are never taking those away!”
“Well, yes Frodo me dear. Don’t be vexed, but they are better off with Elanor. You are a worker of the soil, first and foremost, you have your Granfer’s skills in that. And I leave Bag End safe with you, I know. Elanor, and young Elfstan – why, they will know just how to care for these books and add to them over the years too, no doubt.”
Frodo nodded. “That’s right Dad, they will. But you talk as if you are going away forever, not just for a visit to Undertowers.”
Sam leaned back and fiddled with the business of lighting a pipe of Longbottom leaf, saying nothing until it was sending up smoke at a good rate. “I had a dream last night, Son. I’m not much of a one for dreams, but I knew this one, because Master Frodo – well he had it too. He told me about it often enough those last years before he went away. There was rain in it, like we had last night, but when it drew away there was a wide fair land such as I have never seen in all my journeyings, Son. Green and silver and filled with music, and I knew they were there, Mr Frodo and old Mr. Bilbo, and the lady, Son, the lady standing bright and golden as a Mallorn herself.”
Silence fell in the old parlour, except for the ticking of the clock on the mantel.
“And that’s where you are going, Dad?”
At the door of Elanor’s house in Undertowers the whole household was gathered, and a noise arose such as could only be produced by a hobbit family in a confloption. Children and grandchildren were pressing gifts upon Sam, all of which he politely but firmly refused. Some were weeping and some were silent, some were shouting and others whispered. In the midst of it all Sam stood, steady as a rock, receiving and giving out hugs and kisses.
“Dad, Dad, won’t you change your mind and stay here with us? Why must you go off in this way?”
Sam held Elanor close, and said, “My dear, my dear, we had all this out last night, and believe me I know how it looks to you. But I’ve no more choice than Mr. Frodo had, bless him. I hear voices calling me, Elanor dear, and I have to answer them. You would not have me stay to dwindle away into misery, my dear?”
Elanor shook her head, tears trickling down her cheeks and off the end of her shapely nose. “No Dad – no.”
A little apart from all this welter of emotion stood two sturdy ponies, with young Elfstan holding them by the headstalls. The harness of each was polished to perfection, and over the shoulders of one a pair of fine saddlebags held the small amount of gear that Sam had been persuaded to take with him. Slowly the old hobbit managed to make his way in that direction, a tumble of children and others crowding after him. He nodded to Elfstan. “All ready, me dear?”
“Yes Granddad, just as you said. Here is Bill XI for you to ride, and my pony is called Fatty Lumpkin – we always have one called that, too.”
Sam patted the lad’s cheek, and swung himself up onto Bill without a trace of the hesitation he had felt in his youth. Elfstan was mounted too, and a sudden hush fell on the assembly. “Well, I’m off. Take care of yourselves, my dears, and never forget me. Have a care to those books, and see that the stories of what we saw and did, and what Mr. Bilbo learned from the elves, is never lost, do you hear?” Everyone nodded. “Goodbye then,” said Sam awkwardly, and wheeled his pony before anyone could stop him. Off along the road he galloped, and Elfstan had to spur Lumpkin to a heroic effort to catch up. Behind the travellers, the household stood gazing into the West long after the dust of the ponies’ hooves had settled.
Once out of sight of Undertowers, the riders slowed their pace to make their way though the Tower Hills. Elfstan gazed up at the Towers in wonder- they had dominated his childhood, but he never tired of hearing his Granddad speak of them, telling him bits of Lore that he had gleaned from ‘Old Mr. Bilbo’ when he had been a hobbit-lad. They did not speak only of elves and of ages past, but also of the quiet lands of the Shire, of family and friends, and Elfstan was so beguiled by his Grandfather’s silver tongue that the sound and scent of the sea came upon him as a sudden shock. Raising his eyes, he looked ahead and saw the Havens, the mighty mansions of the elves of old, grey as mountains and high as the sky. “Oh, Granddad! We are there!”
Sam said nothing, and the two urged their ponies forward until they were clopping over paving-stones that had been laid before the Shire was founded, along winding lanes and straight avenues, down, down to the quays. Here the grey sea lapped endlessly against the mighty stones, and the voices of elves long departed seemed to issue from the bills of the swooping gulls. The two hobbits dismounted and tied up the ponies, then moved to stand on the very brink of the quay.
“There’s no elves here, and no boats! You’d best come home with me, Granddad,” said Elfstan fearfully. For answer, Sam pointed downwards. There, riding up and down with the swell, a boat was tethered. Elfstan cried out, “Granddad! You can’t go across the sea in that!”
A small grey boat it was, light-built and flimsy looking. Sam smiled reminiscently and patted Elfstan’s shoulder. “It won’t sink, lad – I’ll come to no harm in that, for I have travelled in such before. She has sent it, the lady, and she won’t let me drown, not now. It is time for me to go, my dear.”
Elfstan wept bitterly in spite of Sam’s encouraging words, as they shared their last embrace. Then Sam scrambled down a rope ladder to the boat, and as soon as he was seated the vessel sped off down the Gulf of Lune towards the open sea. As it went, Elfstan heard his grandfather’s voice one last time, calling; “My day here is done lad – but don’t you never bid the stars farewell – you hear?”
Elfstan reached home the next day, after a lonely night’s camp near the Havens. They all came out to meet him, and eager hands led the ponies away to the stable. Elanor looked at her son.
“Well, he’s gone,” Elfstan said.