Chapter 1: Duffer- an unskillful golfer
Fic: Golfing Fever, Chapter 1/5
Title: Golfing Fever, Chapter 1/5
Warnings: innuendo, golf- lots and lots of both...
Disclaimer: Only borrowing Tolkien's wonderful characters. I promise to return them unharmed.
Summary: Golfing fever sweeps through Hobbiton, with unexpected consequences.
A/N: I am not a golfer, so any errors will I hope be forgiven. I relied heavily on my dad (who is a passionate devotee of golf and little knew to what end I was asking him so many questions!) and a wonderful reference book entitled, The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms: from 1500 to the Present. All the odd words and phrases for the equipment, etc. are in fact actual ones that were used at some point in golfing history. Many of the golfing conventions we take for granted today (such as eighteen-hole golf courses) did not exist originally, so I felt free to make the Hobbiton links a twelve-hole course, for example. Match play was the rule, and courses were often played backward and forward, so that the same green was used both for teeing off and putting out.
“If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even to Old Took’s great-granduncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.” The Hobbit
Mr. Frodo Baggins of Bag End, Hobbiton, had never considered himself the jealous sort. Indeed, if asked, he would have said that on the contrary he was an eminently rational, levelheaded hobbit who led a peaceful and well-ordered existence. He had everything he needed, after all: his beautiful smial; his friends; his books. Jealousy was a messy emotion, as he’d discovered in his salad days, and it no longer had a place in his life; and besides, no hobbit of sense would ever allow his heart to rule his head.
Or so Frodo, in his complacence, believed. But in the summer of 1407, when the Four Farthings Golf Challenge came to Hobbiton, Frodo discovered, to his surprise, that his heart did in fact have quite a lot to say about certain matters.
Duffer- an unskillful golfer
It began one glorious autumn morning in 1406- during breakfast in the Bag End kitchen, as it happened. Frodo was contentedly sipping his tea and eating a blueberry scone, while his gardener and friend Sam Gamgee did the washing up. Sam was wearing an apron tied about his nicely rounded middle, and humming a little under his breath, as he was wont to do when he was feeling particularly pleased with life. Frodo liked the sound of Sam’s humming; it gave him a warm feeling inside, like sipping a steaming mug of hot chocolate in front of a cozy fire on a snowy winter’s evening.
“You’re certainly in a good mood this morning, Sam,” Frodo commented as he drizzled honey on a piece of scone already dripping with butter. “I take it your golf game went well yesterday?”
“Aye, sir, that it did,” Sam replied, beaming as he scrubbed at a frying pan. “Lowered my personal best by two strokes, and, if you can believe it Mr. Frodo, ‘twas all due to my putting.”
Sam was a fairly recent convert to the delights of golf, having been introduced to the sport by his friends Jolly and Tom Cotton the previous year. Sam, like Jolly and Tom and their father Farmer Cotton, had become an enthusiast, and the four hobbits played together on the Hobbiton links- a twelve-hole golf course built some years earlier by the Honorable Company of Hobbiton Golfers- as often as their busy lives would allow.
Frodo derived considerable amusement and enjoyment from Sam’s golfing exploits, recounted to him afterward in thrilling detail, and filled with descriptions of flubs, hooks and slices, bogies, eagles and birdies, and even a memorable hole-in-one (on the par 3, 4th hole) that had led to Sam’s name being inscribed on a roll in the clubhouse of the Honorable Company of Hobbiton Golfers (or HCHG as it was more commonly known).
Though Frodo himself never played, he had no objection to Sam’s hobby, for anything that gave pleasure to Sam and brought that happy sparkle to his eyes was fine by him. He gave Sam the odd afternoon off to play in fine weather, and the previous Yuletide he had even presented Sam with two featherie balls, a gift that had left his gardener nearly speechless with gratitude, for the feather-stuffed leather golf balls were extremely dear and beyond the means of all but the most well-to-do hobbits.
“Lowered your score two strokes with your putting?” Frodo said now. “Well done, Sam! All that practicing is starting to pay dividends, I see.”
A few weeks earlier, Sam had (with Frodo’s blessing) set up a little putting green in a secluded spot in the garden. He had (in his spare time only, of course, for Sam was the most conscientious of employees) been diligently pitching and putting in an attempt to improve his short game which, as he often told Frodo, was ‘a right bear’.
“The plain truth is, sir, ‘tis owing more to Mr. Mungo Chubb-Baggins than to my practicing,” replied Sam, with that forthrightness that Frodo so admired.
“My cousin Mungo? What has he to do with it?” Frodo was surprised. He knew Mungo, of course. A distant cousin, a prominent member of the Honorable Company of Hobbiton Golfers, and a tolerable enough fellow if one could overlook that fact that he rarely conversed on any topic other than golf. Bilbo had found Mungo a dead bore, but then Bilbo had found golf a dead bore, and had always referred to it as ‘a good walk spoiled’, much to the annoyance of the HCHG members, whose passion for golf knew no bounds.
“Well, Mr. Frodo, it happened that me and Jolly ran into Mr. Mungo and his brother Mr. Bulbo at the links yesterday as they was about to tee off. Seeing as how there was only the two of them and the two of us, they asked us if we might like to join them and play as a foursome. Since you ain’t a golfer yourself,” continued Sam as he rinsed the frying pan in a basin of water, “maybe you don’t know, but Mr. Mungo’s been the HCHG club champion these three years running. Being invited to play with him and Mr. Bulbo was an honour me and Jolly never expected nohow. And they were both that kind as to give me and Jolly their advice while we played. Mr. Mungo, now he’s a born teacher. He helped me make a small change to my grip on my putting cleek, sir, and it worked a right charm.”
Frodo smiled at Sam, and calmly buttered another piece of scone. “Then how fortuitous for you and Jolly to have arrived at precisely that moment, Sam. It really was very considerate of him to help you, but then Mungo has always seemed like a decent sort to me.”
“That he is, Mr. Frodo,” Sam replied with sincere admiration, drying his hands on his apron, “that he is.”
The talk drifted away from golf to the all-important matter of what Sam should make Frodo for his elevenses. But in the light of later events, Frodo looked back on that conversation and wondered, with the utmost astonishment, how he could have been so blind. Why had no warning sounded in his heart, no premonitory chill snaked down his spine, at the fateful words ‘Mungo Chubb-Baggins’? How could he have sat there, like a complete dunderhead, calmly- calmly!- buttering his scone, as if nothing of importance had been said?
For, from that day forward, the words ‘Mungo Chubb-Baggins’ began to creep like some invasive weed into the garden of Sam’s conversation. “Mr. Mungo says…” was part and parcel of any golf discussion, and that accidental meeting at the links became the first of many games that Sam and the Cottons played with Mungo Chubb-Baggins and his brother Bulbo.
But alas for poor Frodo, he had been that blind, oblivious to the signs of trouble afoot, only sometimes wishing that Sam might perhaps not mention Mungo quite so often, or rattle on about grips and shafts and strokes, words that were featuring in some rather odd and compelling dreams he’d been having of late.
And then one day, about a month before the Four Farthings Golf Challenge, which was to be held on the first of Wedmath, the scales finally fell from Frodo’s eyes, and his heart, that heart that he had been so certain was firmly under his control, made its desires most emphatically known.
Frodo was in his study that never-to-be-forgotten day, hunched over his writing desk working on the monthly accounts (one of Frodo's obligatory, and dreaded, duties as the Master of Bag End), when a soft knock came on the study door, and Sam’s voice could be heard saying, “I’ve brought your tea, Mr. Frodo.”
Frodo raised his eyes from contemplation of the seemingly endless rows of figures marching across the pages of the ledger, and sighed with relief. Any interruption in the tedium of balancing the accounts was most welcome, but especially one that involved food and Sam (and perhaps not even in that order). Frodo slammed the ledger shut, hopped down from his stool and hastened to open the door.
A smiling Sam, all golden and glowing from his morning’s work outdoors, was standing on the other side, tea tray at the ready, and as he carried it into the study, Frodo had the odd notion (not for the first time) that the sunshine came in with him, too.
“I reckoned you’d be a mite peckish, sir, seeing as how ‘tis your account day,” said Sam as he set the tray down on the table. And indeed he’d brought a veritable feast: tea sandwiches (cucumber and tomato), a leek pie and a plum tart. Frodo’s mouth began to water as he sat down at the table, while Sam set out the plates and cups and utensils, and even a small vase filled with fragrant summer blossoms to brighten the room. He poured Frodo a cup of tea prepared exactly the way he liked it, with a generous splash of milk and a dollop of his favourite linden blossom honey, and handed it to him.
“You’re quite right. I am starving,” Frodo said as he accepted the cup with a grateful smile, thinking (as he frequently did) what a treasure Sam was. “Those dratted accounts require more energy than tramping across a field in plough.” He sipped his tea. “Ahh,” he sighed happily. “Perfect, Sam, as always. Now sit down and pour yourself a cup, and tell me how the wide world outside is faring while I’m locked up in here adding and subtracting numbers.”
So, with a shy smile, for Frodo knew that Sam still felt awkward about sitting down at the table with his master, he did. Once the pressing matters concerning the garden and the state of the pantry had been addressed, Sam inevitably turned the conversation to the upcoming Four Farthings Golf Challenge.
The Challenge was to be held in Hobbiton for the very first time in its long and glorious history, and it was less than a month away now. As a result, golfing fever had infected nearly all the residents of Hobbiton (save a few old gaffers and gammers, Sam’s father among them, who warned that no good would come of a golf tournament in Hobbiton; but no one listened to them).
Hobbits who had hitherto exhibited not the slightest interest in the game could be heard debating the merits of a shaft made of ash versus one made of hazel, or discussing, as avidly as they would their family tree, the prospects for the various golfers expected to participate. As the Challenge drew nearer and nearer, hardly any other topic was discussed in the inns and marketplace (or even, for that matter, over the dinner table).
“Well, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam as he stirred his tea, “I know the odds are against it, but I reckon Mr. Mungo has a real chance to win. O’course, he’ll be playing against the likes of Sancho Took and Falco Bramble, who won the last two Challenges, but he’ll give ‘em both a run for the Silver Jug, you see if he don’t. He knows the course inside and out, which they don’t, neither of ‘em being from Hobbiton, and the way he handles a club- oh sir, I’ve never seen aught like it.”
An icy trickle of unease skittered down the back of Frodo’s neck at the sound of Sam’s voice. He had only ever heard Sam speak with such hushed reverence about Elves. But, now that Frodo thought about it, it occurred to him that this wasn’t the first time he had heard that particular note of reverence when Sam mentioned Mungo Chubb-Baggins. He wondered that he had never noticed it before.
“He’s poetry in motion, Mr. Frodo, sheer poetry in motion. His grip… his stance… his swing…” Sam appeared to be in the throes of some powerful emotion, Frodo realised with growing alarm. His eyelids were half-closed, his hands extended in front of him and positioned as if he held something tight clasped between them; a slight smile curved his shapely lips.
Frodo went cold as Sam continued in a low, confiding voice, “He’s offered to give me golf lessons, Mr. Frodo, regular-like, if you can believe it. Imagine me, Sam Gamgee, taking private lessons from the HCHG club champion. I don’t rightly know what I’ve done to deserve such kindness.” There was a glimmer of tears in Sam’s eyes, and his lower lip actually trembled.
And suddenly, to his utter horror, Frodo could imagine it, for an unbidden image rose into his brain with hideous clarity: it was Mungo Chubb-Baggins, a lascivious smile upon his face, and he was giving Sam lessons all right, but they had nothing whatsoever to do with golf. Mungo was pressed up close behind Sam, his arms reached around him, and his hands were gripping… Oh no, no, no, no… He frantically tried to banish the terrible image from his mind.
“That’s- that’s lovely, Sam,” Frodo gabbled, wishing Sam would stop talking, wishing Sam had never brought up the blasted Challenge, wishing even more that Sam had never, ever set eyes upon a golf club, but had been locked up somewhere (Frodo’s bedchamber, perhaps) and made to swear never to go near a golf links under any circumstances or even to allow the thought of golf to cross his mind.
But Sam, far from stopping, talked on. “And oh Mr. Frodo, I think Mr. Mungo might be thinking of asking me to serve as his caddie for the Challenge.”
“His- caddie?” echoed Frodo. When had the sun gone behind the clouds, and the study become so cold? When had Sam, his Sam, turned into the most desirable hobbit in the whole Shire? The truth that had been staring him in the face, if he’d only had the wits to see it, struck Frodo squarely between the eyes like a hard hit featherie: he was in love- completely, madly in love- with his gardener, and had been for months, possibly years. And that messy emotion, jealousy, was gnawing at his insides like a mouse in a grain bin.
“Aye, Mr. Frodo, his caddie,” said Sam, completely unaware of the cataclysmic event that had just occurred. “And oh, sir, it would be such an honour to be a caddie for a player in the Challenge.” He hesitated. “So I was wondering if, maybe, you’d be willing to put in a good word for me with Mr. Mungo?”
The imploring look Sam gave him would have melted a heart of stone, but Frodo was discovering that his heart- that treacherous organ- was made of something far more impervious than any rock. Imploring look or no, honour or no, Sam Gamgee was not serving Mungo Chubb-Baggins as his caddie- or anything else, for that matter (especially anything else for that matter)- not if Frodo Baggins had anything to say about it.
The idea that popped into his brain right then ought to have appalled him. And it would have appalled the old Frodo- the rational, levelheaded one who had used to exist. But the new Frodo, the one whose heart was firmly in control, only gave Sam an apologetic look, and said, “Well, of course, I would, Sam, but you see, I’m planning on playing in the Challenge myself, and I’m counting on you to caddie for me.”
Dear cousin Merry,
I need you to do a favour for me, and no questions asked. Please send my golf clubs, a goodly supply of Featheries, and my golfing clothes along to me as soon as you can- yesterday if possible. I may as well tell you that I am entering the Four Farthings Golf Challenge. Yes, yes, I realise I swore that I would never be caught dead entering the tournament, but desperate times call for desperate measures, cousin. And no, I am not going to tell you what it is all about.
And if either you or Pippin dare to turn up at Bag End between now and the day of the Challenge, I shall have Gandalf turn you into toads the next time he visits.
All shall be revealed in time, I promise.
Frodo signed his name with a flourish, and blotted the paper. There was a determined glint in his eyes as he folded the letter and sealed it with wax. Sam Gamgee was about to discover exactly how Frodo Baggins played golf- and it wasn’t by the rules.
End of Chapter 1 - Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Scrambler- a player who plays some erratic golf but can achieve good results by bold recovery play
Sam helps Frodo prepare for the Four Farthings Golf Challenge.
Illustration by Aina Baggins.
Purposeful was really the only word that could be used to describe Sam Gamgee ever since Frodo had declared his intention of entering the Four Farthings Golf Challenge. Sam had been understandably shocked that Frodo- who had hitherto demonstrated not the slightest interest in playing golf- was now apparently golfing-mad. He had also (though it pained Frodo to admit it) been visibly disappointed that he would not be caddying for Mungo Chubb-Baggins. Frodo’s occasional and mild references to having learnt the game growing up in Buckland had led Sam to the conclusion that his master was the veriest duffer. As a consequence, Sam’s dreams of caddying for the Four Farthings Champion had suffered a severe blow with Frodo’s decision.
But Sam was nothing if not resilient, and when Frodo had suggested that perhaps it might be wise to put in some practice time on the links between now and the tournament, Sam had taken up the idea with a zeal that he had only ever demonstrated (to the best of Frodo’s knowledge) in the eradication of pests from the vegetable garden.
“That’s a fine idea, Mr. Frodo,” he’d said, looking quite struck. “’Tis a quiet time in the garden now, waiting on the harvest to begin, and I’d be right glad to go with you if you like. I ain’t a crack golfer like Mr. Mungo, but I could maybe give you a hint or two that’d be helpful.”
“Why, Sam,” Frodo had replied, as if that had not been precisely what he had been hoping Sam would say, “that’s very thoughtful of you, and I would be most grateful.” Sam had blushed most fetchingly and protested that it was the least he could do.
Accordingly, they had settled on a morning two days hence for Frodo’s first practice round, and if he lived to be two hundred, Frodo would never forget the expression on Sam’s face the first time he watched his employer attempt to hit a golf ball.
They had set out bright and early that morning for the Hobbiton links. It was an easy walk from Bag End to the course that had been set up in some unfarmed land to the north and east of the Hill. Sam was carrying Frodo’s golf clubs that had arrived posthaste from Brandy Hall (accompanied, to Frodo’s great amusement, by an indignant note from Merry, who had waxed rhapsodic on the topic of secretive cousins who enjoyed tormenting their relations).
Sam was in a chipper mood, chatting away animatedly to Frodo about the different holes on the course and how best to play them. Sam had obviously formed some idea after setting eyes on those clubs (which had been fashioned by Fosco Broadbelt, the most famous clubmaker in the Shire) that Frodo was not as much of a novice at the game as he had assumed. Frodo said nothing to disabuse Sam of the notion as they walked single file up the narrow path that led to the first hole; he would find out soon enough how mistaken he was.
Arrived at the teeing ground for the par 4, 1st hole, which was (to Frodo’s intense relief) free of witnesses to what was about to transpire, Sam set down Frodo’s clubs. “Well, sir,” he said cheerfully, pulling a small leather pouch out of his pocket, “I’ll fetch some sand from the tee-box, while you choose your club. I’d recommend using a grass-club rather than a play club, Mr. Frodo. Mr. Mungo always does; he says you should use a driver with more loft on this hole, and I reckon he knows best.”
Any slight remorse Frodo was feeling at the deception he was about to perpetrate vanished at the words ‘Mr. Mungo’ which had rather the same effect on him as waving a red flag in front of a bull. He took up his golfing bag, and randomly pulled a club out of it. “Will this do, Sam?” he asked, holding out the club for inspection as Sam returned from the tee-box after filling the pouch with sand.
A frown creased Sam’s brow. “You’ve got a niblick there, Mr. Frodo,” he pointed out gently. “That won’t do at all for a tee shot. It’s meant for hitting out of the rough.”
“It won’t? Perhaps you’d better select a club for me, Sam. I’m completely hopeless at remembering which club is which, I’m afraid.”
“All right, sir, soon as I make your tee.” The cheerful note had quite gone from Sam’s voice, and his brow remained furrowed as he poured Frodo a little pyramid of sand upon which to set his ball. When he was done, Sam pulled a long-handled wooden club from the bag and handed it to Frodo, along with a featherie. “Here you are, Mr. Frodo. Now, this hole plays from the left to the right a bit. You don’t want to hit your drive straight down the middle.”
“I’ll do my best, Sam,” Frodo replied as he carefully perched his featherie on top of the sand pyramid, and then took his club in such an unorthodox grip that Sam’s brow furrowed even more deeply. Frodo stood to one side of the ball, waggled the club head behind it a few times, and then swung with all his might. He missed the ball completely, and stumbled forward, propelled by the wildness of his swing.
There was a hastily stifled exclamation from Sam as he lunged forward and grabbed hold of Frodo’s shirtsleeve to prevent him from falling. “Whoops!” Frodo exclaimed, “That was a near thing. Thank you, Sam.” Sam only nodded, and dropped his hand; he appeared incapable of speech.
Frodo took up his stance again, and swung. This time he scuffed his drive, slamming the club head into the ground; the club fell right out of his hands. “Oh dear, I really am out of practice,” he said as he stooped to pick up the club. Sam made a strange, choking noise. His eyes were rather bulging out, but not, Frodo decided, unattractively.
Frodo whiffed the ball two more times before finally striking it, and had Sam not noticed that the ball- which Frodo had foozled quite severely- was heading straight toward a group of hobbits approaching the links, and rushed off in a panic shouting, “Fore! Fore!” at the top of his lungs, Frodo expected he might still be standing there frozen in place on the 1st hole, a look of appalled incredulity on his face, as a reproach to duffers everywhere.
“I reckon you weren’t exaggerating, Mr. Frodo,” Sam commented carefully when he returned from retrieving Frodo’s ball, “when you said you ain’t a very experienced golfer.” He looked rather pale beneath his tan, and was wiping his sweating brow with a handkerchief; but then, the summer day was quite hot. As a consequence, his shirt clung to his sturdy torso in the most delightfully distracting way.
“Well, you did tell me not to hit it straight down the middle, Sam,” Frodo said, tearing his eyes away (with some difficulty) from the hint of a coppery nipple that could be seen through Sam’s damp shirt. “But perhaps I’ll drive better if you show me how to hold the club properly. I never can quite get my fingers positioned correctly.”
“All right, sir,” Sam said, setting his jaw as one prepared to do his best under the most trying circumstances, “But, begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, I’ll have to put my arms about you, if you don’t mind me making so bold.”
“Not at all, Sam,” Frodo replied with the utmost courtesy, while his heart danced a little jig of joy at the success of its scheme.
Nearly every waking moment since had been devoted to practicing golf, or talking about golf, or planning stratagems for the tournament. Frodo suspected even Sam’s nighttime hours were being sacrificed to thoughts of golf. There were dark circles under his eyes that denoted a lack of restful repose. Frodo recognised them well; he wore a matching pair.
For this new, purposeful Sam aroused in Frodo feelings so powerful that by the time he retired each evening, they were crying out for relief. Add to this their insistent clamouring when he awoke in the middle of the night after one of those compelling dreams he’d been having, and sleep was proving elusive indeed. Frodo sometimes wondered, a bit hysterically, if Sam would be pleased to know how assiduously Frodo was employing his suggestions for improving his grip on his club.
The fact of the matter was, Frodo had never realised until now how extremely erotic (there really was no other word for it) golf could be. Playing golf in Buckland at the Brandy Hall links, where Frodo was dragged not quite kicking and screaming by Merry and his Uncle Saradoc whenever he visited, was a business-like and serious affair- not to mention a highly competitive one- and Frodo had never once considered the more interesting implications of such common golf customs as addressing the ball or waggling the club head.
But playing with Sam? Well, suffice it to say that when Sam addressed a ball or waggled his club head, the last thing on Frodo’s mind was golf.
“Try again, Mr. Frodo.”
It was now but three days before the Challenge, and Frodo and Sam were standing on the green for the 11th hole (par 5) of the Hobbiton links. Frodo was making his third attempt to hole his ball, after hooking his tee shot into deep rough, taking several strokes to get the ball back on the course, and then, once clear, pitching it clean over the green and into the rough on the other side. By the time Frodo had finally got the featherie onto the green with his niblick and within putting distance of the hole, he had given up counting his strokes; but Sam, with grim determination, was tallying them on a piece of parchment, as he had every painfully inept round Frodo had played over the past three weeks.
He had to give Sam credit, thought Frodo as he lined up the head of his putting cleek behind the ball. He’d have given up on himself long ago. Sam must surely think there had never been such an incompetent golfer in the history of the Shire. Frodo drew the club back a little ways then stabbed at the ball awkwardly. It bounced half a dozen feet to the right, away from the hole, and trickled to a halt.
Ill-suppressed laughter rose from the party of hobbits waiting impatiently to one side for their turn to tee off. Frodo cast a covert look at Sam, and could see that the tips of his ears were bright red. But Sam, exhibiting a self-control that was truly masterful (and did the most amazing things to Frodo’s insides), only cast a repressive look at the amused hobbits before turning back to Frodo.
Frodo had inevitably made himself the laughingstock of Hobbiton with his golf, for one morning he and Sam had encountered Lotho Sackville-Baggins (an eight handicap and inordinately proud of the fact) and Ted Sandyman on the links. That duo had wasted no time in spreading far and wide (and in lurid detail) the horrors they had observed- including one particularly memorable shot in which Frodo had managed to hit his ball backward, knocking Lotho’s golf cap clean off his head.
“Pay them no never mind, sir, and remember what I’ve been telling you about keeping your eye on the ball,” said Sam, as they walked over to Frodo’s ball. Frodo took up his position behind it. “If you point with your chin to the right, your stroke will go to the right. And you need to follow through, not stab at the ball that way. You’ve been chunking something awful today, sir. I reckon ‘tis because your grip’s gone all funny again.” Sam stepped close to Frodo and reached around him. “Begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo,” he murmured as he did every time he made so bold (as he always put it) as to put his arms around his master.
As if Frodo could possibly mind the feel of Sam’s strong arms about him; or his callused hands on top of Frodo’s own, gently moving them to the correct position on the golf club; or his warm breath on the back of Frodo’s neck, stirring the curls at the nape. Frodo’s sole complaint was that Sam always insisted on keeping his body a respectful inch or two away from Frodo’s when he corrected his stance or grip. Frodo would much have preferred to feel that lovely round hobbit belly pressed up against his… “I’m sorry?” He had completely missed Sam’s comment.
“I said, sir,” Sam repeated with a weary sigh, stepping back and letting his arms drop, much to Frodo’s disappointment, “you should try again now.”
Really, he was tormenting poor Sam most unmercifully. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to give him some small reward for his patience. So Frodo focused his attention on the golf ball (instead of where he wanted to focus it), gently swung back the cleek, and followed through exactly as Sam had instructed. The ball rolled forward and dropped neatly into the hole.
“Oh, well done, Mr. Frodo!” Sam exclaimed, clapping his hands, and the smile that lit his face was so overjoyed that Frodo felt a pang of guilt at his deception- but only a pang. Mostly he felt an overwhelming desire to run and tackle Sam to the ground and ravish him, right there on the 11th green. He wondered what the waiting hobbits would do. Probably tee up and drive their balls right over him and Sam; golfers, in his experience, never allowed anything to get in the way of their game. So, with regret, he decided against ravishing Sam (at least for the time being), retrieved his featherie from the hole, and contented himself with admiring Sam’s nicely rounded backside as he marched up the hill to the teeing ground for the 12th and final hole, Frodo’s golf bag slung over one broad shoulder.
“Now Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, a hint of desperation in his voice, “tell me what the Twelfth Rule of Golf is.”
It was the night before the Challenge, and Sam and Frodo were sharing a late supper in the Bag End kitchen. Sam was quizzing Frodo one final time on the rules under which the tournament would be conducted. He had been testing Frodo almost daily on these rules, and there had been times, Frodo had observed with guilty amusement, that he had appeared on the verge of apoplexy at the answers he received.
Frodo closed his eyes and scrunched up his face as if he was deep in thought. He knew perfectly well what the Twelfth Rule of Golf was. All twelve of the immutable, ancient, revered Rules of Golf as set down by the Most Ancient and Revered Bullroarer Society, the organization that sponsored the Four Farthings Golf Challenge, had been drummed into his head by his Uncle Saradoc from the time he was a lad and had first set foot on a golf links.
“The Twelfth Rule? Um, let me see now. Is that the one that says ‘he whose ball lies farthest from the hole shall have it handled first’?” Frodo offered tentatively.
Sam went a most becoming shade of scarlet. “Mr. Frodo,” he began in a strangled, long-suffering voice.
“Oh dear, did I get it wrong again? I’m very sorry, Sam.” Frodo picked up a sheet of parchment from the table and scanned it. “Oh yes, of course. How could I have forgot. It should be ‘he whose ball lies farthest from the hole is obliged to play first.’” He reached across the table and patted Sam on the arm consolingly. “I’m such a trial to you, Sam. I don’t know how you put up with me. But only think, it will all be over tomorrow.”
Sam rested his elbows on the table, and his head in his hands. His fingers clutched at his curly brown locks. He muttered something under his breath that Frodo did not quite catch, but might have been ‘thank Eru’. “Mr. Frodo,” he began again, “I- I-“
Sam let out a pent-up sigh, and sat up. “I reckon I’ve prepared you as best I can, sir, and seeing as how tomorrow is like to be a long, tiring day, maybe we should both retire early and get a good night’s sleep.” Frodo’s heart leapt about in his chest at Sam’s words then stilled as Sam went on, “I’ll run along home now, if that’s all right with you, sir, and leave you to your rest.”
“Of course, Sam, if you think it’s best.” Frodo could not quite disguise the disappointment he was feeling. For a moment there, he had hoped that Sam meant for them to retire together. Of course, a good night’s sleep wouldn’t have been in the running in that event, but what did that matter?
“I do think it’s best, Mr. Frodo.” Sam pushed back his chair and rose from the table, leaving his supper half-eaten; this was an unusual action for any hobbit, but an unprecedented one for a hobbit whose Gaffer had impressed upon him since he was a fauntling that he must never, ever leave the table until his plate was wiped clean.
Frodo rose, too. “I’ll see you to the door, Sam.” Sam looked so weary and downhearted that Frodo’s own appetite fled, and his conscience (which until this moment had been thoroughly cowed into submission by his heart) rose up and smote him. I will make it up to you tomorrow, dearest Sam, he vowed, and every day thereafter, if you’ll let me.
Without speaking, the two hobbits left the kitchen and walked down the hallway to the back door. There they halted, and stood staring at each other in an awkward silence. Frodo was the first to break it. “Thank you for all your help these past days, Sam. I hope you know how much I appreciate it. I’ll do my best tomorrow to make you proud of me.”
“There’s naught to thank me for,” Sam replied quietly. He straightened his shoulders and held his head high. “And I hope you know, Mr. Frodo,” he said, sounding a bit fierce, “that whatever happens tomorrow, I’ll be right proud of you, sir, and honoured to carry your clubs.”
“Oh Sam.” Frodo was deeply moved by Sam’s words and the devotion they reflected, a devotion he was not at all sure he deserved under the circumstances. Had there ever been such a hobbit as Samwise Gamgee? At that moment, Frodo could almost pity Mungo Chubb-Baggins. In the face of Sam’s many perfections, how could he have resisted? The temptation to fling his arms around Sam, confess everything and drag him off to his bedchamber was nearly overwhelming. But he contented himself with placing a chaste kiss on Sam’s smooth cheek. It felt soft and warm beneath his lips, and tasted of sunshine. “My dear Sam. And I will be honoured to have you carry them for me.”
Sam appeared dumbfounded by Frodo’s action. He put a hand up to his cheek and touched the spot that Frodo had kissed. “Mr. Frodo, I wish- I mean I hope- that is, do you-“ he floundered to a stop. “Good night, sir,” he said, almost desperately, and fled.
What with one thing and another, Frodo did not, in fact, get a very good night's sleep that night.
End of Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Misread- to read (a green or putt) wrongly
The day of the Four Farthings Golf Challenge dawns, and tensions mount.
Illustration by the generous and talented Aina Baggins.
The first of Wedmath dawned fair and warm, and the weather-wise of Hobbiton cast a look at the sky and smiled with relief. The Challenge would be played under sunny skies.
Frodo and Sam had arranged to meet by the garden gate just after sunrise, and Frodo’s heart rejoiced at the sight of Sam walking up the lane toward him, bathed in the radiance of the early morning light (or perhaps, Frodo thought sentimentally, it was the morning being bathed in the radiance of Sam), and heralded by the sweet songs of the birds in the hedgerows. Sam was dressed in his very best waistcoat, shirt and trousers- the ones reserved for events such as weddings, burials, Bilbo’s Party, and (apparently) golf tournaments- and he was obviously freshly scrubbed and washed, for the hair on his head and feet was still damp, and combed into tidy ringlets. He appeared tired but clear-eyed, and he smiled at Frodo as he drew near, displaying none of the nerves or worry that Frodo had half expected.
“Oh sir!” was Sam's effusive greeting to his master as they met in the center of the lane. “Don’t you look a picture!”
Frodo was wearing (to his private humiliation) a pair of bright blue and canary yellow plaid plus-fours along with a matching canary yellow waistcoat, blue and yellow striped cravat, and bright blue jacket. Of the several golfing outfits that Frodo possessed, and kept at Brandy Hall, Merry had sent the gaudiest of the lot (needless to say, Frodo strongly suspected this had been a deliberate retaliation for his letter; he couldn’t quite blame his cousin under the circumstances). When he had studied himself in the cheval glass in his bedroom after dressing, he had winced, and felt a desire to cover his eyes from the awful sight. The sincere admiration in Sam’s eyes, however, was a balm to his wounded sensibilities. And surely, if Sam thought Frodo looked a picture in such a ridiculous outfit, all his hard work over these past weeks must have had some effect? After all, didn’t they say that love was blind?
“Why thank you, Sam,” he replied, beaming at his caddie. “You look a picture yourself, if I may say so.”
Sam blushed and ducked his head, and quickly changed the subject, though Frodo would have been more than willing to expand further on the topic, and describe how the moss green of Sam’s waistcoat brought out the colour of his eyes, and the cut of his trousers showed his figure to its best advantage (especially in certain areas).
“I’ve got your clubs all cleaned and polished, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, hefting the leather bag slung over his shoulder, “and I’ve oiled and chalked your balls. They’ll stand out a treat in the rough now.”
Perhaps Frodo should have been hurt by Sam’s implication that he would be hitting his shots into the rough, but his recalcitrant mind had immediately seized on the words ‘oiled’ and ‘balls’; words which (in his opinion) really oughtn’t be used in the same sentence at such a moment- or, come to think of it, any moment that didn’t take place in a bed. He wondered if he and Sam would be missed if they failed to show up for the Challenge and retired instead to his bedchamber to explore the intriguing possibilities of those two words. And then he remembered Merry and Pippin, who were undoubtedly on the prowl for him already, eager for that explanation Frodo had promised. His intrepid cousins wouldn’t hesitate to barge into Bag End- not to mention Frodo’s bedroom- in search of him, and without so much as a by-your-leave, either. And Frodo had no desire for his cousins to witness any exploration of intriguing possibilities that might be occurring when they did.
He sighed, and resigned himself to the inevitable. “Thank you, Sam,” he said again. “Well, let us be off. There’s a golf tournament to be played.”
As they walked the now-familiar route across the verdant fields to the golf links, they joined a veritable stream of hobbits heading in the same direction: on foot; on pony back; or in traps and carriages. Up ahead, Frodo could see that a large white tent, sporting several colourful banners that were fluttering in the breeze, had been erected near the 1st teeing ground, and there were already vendors hawking food and drink moving through the crowds, and (of course) doing a brisk business. The atmosphere appeared festive, and it looked as if virtually the entire population of Hobbiton and beyond (save the aforementioned skeptical gaffers and gammers) was turning out to watch the tournament.
Frodo and Sam were stopped numerous times along the way to the links. They exchanged greetings with friends and relatives, all of whom, it seemed, had been talking to Lotho and Ted, to judge by the number of times Frodo was wished ‘good luck’ in the sort of overly-hearty tones that were generally used when one was about to have a tooth extracted.
Eventually Frodo and Sam arrived at the links, however, and they went straight into the tent to join the other entrants, who were milling about in varying states of panic and nerves. In the center of the tent stood a tall wooden plinth, and set atop it was a gleaming, highly polished silver jug with an ornately chased handle. There was a large crowd of hobbits clustered around it, chattering excitedly to one another.
“Oh Mr. Frodo, look! It’s the Challenge trophy- the Silver Jug!” Sam exclaimed in awestruck tones. He hurried away to join the crowd, and gaze with reverence upon the names of the legendary past Champions that were inscribed upon the famous trophy.
Frodo was about to follow him when a hand fell on his shoulder, and a familiar voice said in his ear, “Good morning, Frodo.”
It was his uncle, Saradoc Brandybuck, resplendent in the scarlet morning coat, primrose coloured vest and shiny black top hat that betokened a member of the Most Ancient and Revered Bullroarer Society. “Good morning, Uncle Sara,” Frodo greeted him, smiling affectionately at the older hobbit. “It’s very good to see you, sir; I was hoping you would be here today.”
Saradoc looked astonished. “My dear boy, as if I would miss the opportunity to see you play in the Four Farthings Challenge. Why, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Merry told me you had entered. When I think of all the years I bullied and badgered you to play in it, and you refused. I thought this day would never come. Whatever induced you to change your mind, Frodo?”
“Oh well, as to that, Uncle, I’m the Master of Bag End now, you know, and it is the first time the Challenge has been played in Hobbiton,” Frodo prevaricated. The truth would be a sad disappointment to his uncle, who had once, after observing Frodo sink a putt from 40 feet away on a downhill green, thrown his clubs into a pond in a fit of pique and vowed never to play again (needless to say, he was seen on the links the very next day with damp clubs and a chastened expression). “I really do feel it is my duty to support the event.”
“Ah, I see,” Saradoc nodded his head sagely. “And very proper, too, Frodo. Bilbo taught you well. But my boy, what I can’t understand are the odds. Are you aware that they have you listed as a rank outsider?” Wagering on the Challenge was a long and honoured tradition, and the oddsmakers were hovering just outside the tent, holding their slates covered with cryptic markings, and shouting out the odds on the different players. “I can’t understand it. But I’m delighted to say that I got odds of 100-1 on you. Best wager I ever made in my life.”
“Pippin and I can’t understand it either, Father.” It was Merry, coming up to join them, Pippin close by his side. “But then there have been some very peculiar stories circulating at the Green Dragon, cousin Frodo.” Merry gave Frodo a significant look, and Frodo looked blandly back at him, refusing to be drawn out in front of his uncle.
However, Frodo could tell from the familiar, stubborn set of Merry’s chin that he wasn’t about to let Frodo get away without some sort of explanation. “Uncle Sara, would you excuse us?” he asked his uncle politely, bowing to the inevitable.
“Of course, my boy. As a matter of fact, I need to find Paladin and have a word with him before the draw begins. I shall see you later, Frodo.”
As soon as his father had gone, Merry grabbed Frodo’s arm and drew him into a corner of the tent. “Now what’s this all about, Frodo?” he demanded. “First I receive a mysterious letter from you about entering the Challenge- the sort of shock you shouldn’t just spring on a fellow, you know- and then Pip and I start hearing rumours that Frodo Baggins, the most talented natural golfer in the history of the Shire, doesn’t appear to recognise one end of a golf club from the other. You’ve got some explaining to do, cousin.”
Frodo glanced around. Sam had finally managed to tear himself away from the Silver Jug, and had the demeanour of a hunting hound casting about for a scent on a windy day. Any moment now, he would locate his quarry- Frodo- and run him to ground. “I haven’t time to explain everything, Merry, not right now. It’s complicated, and it involves Sam.”
“Sam?” exclaimed Merry and Pippin as one. They exchanged mystified glances.
“Yes, Sam. He hasn’t the least idea that I am- er- ‘the most talented natural golfer in the history of the Shire’, and he mustn’t find out quite yet, not until the tournament starts at any rate. Promise me you won’t say a word to him. You see, it’s all part of this plan I made to keep Sam out of the clutches of… Oh dear, here he comes now. Please, just promise me Merry, and you, too, Pippin,” Frodo pleaded. “It’s important, or I wouldn’t ask you.”
Merry studied him, and slowly nodded his head. One of the things he loved best about his cousin, Frodo thought gratefully, was how quick on the uptake he was. He could see that, while Pippin was looking thoroughly confused, Merry was looking thoughtful, glancing from him to Sam and back again. “All right, cousin, I promise,” Merry said. “But a full accounting will be necessary, Frodo. Don’t think you can escape us forever. Oh, hullo, Sam.”
“Morning, Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin,” Sam said politely. “I see you’re entered in the tournament, Mr. Merry,” he added, for Merry was wearing an outfit similar to Frodo’s, but in a virulent green plaid that made Frodo feel considerably better about his own attire. “The very best of luck to you, sir.”
“Thank you, Sam. I haven’t a hope of winning, of course, but I might make it through the first couple of rounds, if I don’t get paired with,“ he shot a quick look at Frodo, “certain players.”
“It’s not fair!” Pippin protested, clearly not for the first time, for Merry rolled his eyes. “I’m a better player than Merry, but they won’t let me enter because of my age, even though my father is the President of the Society. I can only caddie for Merry.”
“’Tis a right honour to carry the clubs for a golfer in the Challenge, Mr. Pippin,” said Sam austerely, giving the young hobbit a stern look.
“Yes, but that’s easy for you to say, Sam; you’ll be caddy- ow!” Pippin grabbed his foot and hopped up and down in pain; Merry had trod hard upon it.
Fortunately, Sam didn’t appear to have noticed Pippin’s near-slip. “Mr. Frodo,” he said with a hint of anxiety, “they’ll be announcing the draw in a few minutes.”
And indeed, the crowd had grown, and hobbits were congregating at the far end of the tent, where a large sheet of parchment had been affixed to the tent wall. The four hobbits joined the crowd as Paladin Took, the Honorary President of the Most Ancient and Revered Bullroarer Society, and dressed in the same scarlet, primrose and black as Saradoc Brandybuck, mounted a wooden box, and loudly cleared his throat.
“Good morning, good morning,” he said, and the crowd settled into silence. “Let me welcome you to the Four Farthings Golf Challenge. As I’m certain you are all aware, it was on this glorious day in 1157 that my ancestor Bandobras ‘the Bullroarer’ Took slew the goblin king Golfimbul at the Battle of the Green Fields by knocking off his head with a wooden club. The Bullroarer achieved a great victory for the Shire that day, but perhaps more importantly (and despite any claims to the contrary by Breelanders), he also invented the great game of Golf.” Cheers went up from the crowd.
“This year, for the very first time, the Challenge is being held in Hobbiton, and I extend my thanks to the Honorable Company of Hobbiton Golfers for being our hosts.” Even more cheers this time, and loud applause. “In a moment, the pairings for the first round of the Challenge will be drawn, and the tournament will begin. On behalf of the Most Ancient and Revered Bullroarer Society, I want to wish all the competitors good luck, and fair play in accordance with the Rules. And may the best Hobbit win.” He stepped down amidst wild applause, and joined Saradoc and the other members of the Most Ancient and Revered Bullroarer Society in front of the parchment, upon which the initial pairings would be written down, and the winners of each match added as the tournament progressed.
While the anxious entrants waited with bated breath, hoping for an easy draw in the first round, the thirty-two golfers were divided into two flights of sixteen, and paired off. Frodo was assigned to the first flight with Merry (who gave his cousin a resigned look, as if he had expected as much), Lotho Sackville-Baggins, and Falco Bramble. Mungo Chubb-Baggins (to Frodo’s relief) was in the second flight, along with Sancho Took.
“Oh, Mr. Frodo,” Sam whispered, biting at his lip as the tension grew almost palpable. “I’m that nervous. What if you draw Falco Bramble in the first round?”
“Relax, Sam.” Frodo reached for Sam’s hand without conscious volition, and took it in a comforting clasp. Sam didn’t even appear to notice; his attention was riveted on Paladin Took. But as the names of the golfers were drawn out of a hat one by one by the Thain and read aloud, Frodo barely heard. He was aware only of how perfectly Sam’s hand fit in his, and how badly he’d like to lead him away, to someplace quiet and private, someplace where they could finally-
“Frodo Baggins.” Frodo started at the sound of his own name, and released Sam’s hand, flushing slightly. Paladin was holding up a small piece of parchment. “And…” he reached into the hat again, “Ferdibrand Took!”
Sam breathed a sigh of relief, and Frodo’s heart swelled with love. Dear Sam, dearest, sweetest, most optimistic Sam; even after witnessing first-hand so many demonstrations of Frodo’s golfing ineptitude, he still believed there was a chance that Frodo could do well. Ferdibrand Took, standing a short distance away, clearly thought he had got the better end of the draw. He was smiling broadly, and shaking hands with his friends.
“I reckon we could have fared much worse, Mr. Frodo,” commented Sam as the final pairing was announced, and the crowd began to disperse, buzzing like a hive of bees. He and Frodo headed toward the exit, following behind Merry and Pippin. “I’ve seen Mr. Ferdibrand Took play, and while he can drive a goodly distance off the tee, he’s got a tendency to hook to the right, and he overclubs his approach shots.”
Before Frodo could even open his mouth to reply, a voice- a most unwelcome voice indeed- intervened.
“Hullo, Frodo,” the voice said with positively disgusting cheerfulness. “Hullo, Sam.”
Frodo stopped dead, as if he’d walked into a wall. He was face to face with Mungo Chubb-Baggins.
In all the hours he and Sam had spent at the links practicing, they had never once encountered Mungo Chubb-Baggins; and Frodo suspected that it was less by accident than by Sam’s careful selection of times and days when he knew Mungo would not be playing. He supposed that Sam didn’t wish Mungo to witness how much of a duffer Frodo was, and he couldn’t honestly blame him. Had he been in Sam’s place, he’d undoubtedly have behaved in exactly the same way. But it was, of course, inevitable that he would meet Mungo at the tournament; even so, the shock was great- if not quite for the reason Frodo might have expected.
In Frodo’s mind, Mungo Chubb-Baggins had, over the past few weeks, assumed the aspect of a monster of depravity. Frodo had even convinced himself that Mungo (whom he had not seen in some little while) was possessed of a decided squint, one that lent his countenance a villainous leer.
But the hobbit in front of him appeared neither depraved nor villainous. He had brown curly hair, brown eyes, a portly figure clad in orange plaid plus-fours, a green waistcoat and an orange jacket (giving him rather the appearance of an animated pumpkin), and a pleasant smile; and there was not the slightest trace of a squint to be found. He looked… well, nice. Like exactly the sort of hobbit with whom one would be happy to play a round of golf, and then join at the local tavern for a post-game ale or two; after which he would go his separate way, without the idea of seducing one’s gardener having ever crossed his mind.
Unlike Frodo, Sam was clearly delighted to see Mungo, and shook his hand vigorously. “Mr. Mungo, I’m right glad to see you, sir,” he said with (in Frodo’s opinion) an excess of enthusiasm. That little mouse of jealousy began to gnaw busily away at Frodo’s insides once more.
While Sam and Mungo exchanged a few words about the tournament, Frodo scrutinized their faces. But he could not discover any evidence of emotion stronger than friendship between the two hobbits, no matter how closely he observed them. They shared no longing glances; or significant gestures; or words pregnant with hidden meaning. For the first time, Frodo began to feel unsure. Was it conceivable that he been making a mountain out of a molehill all this time? Did Mungo not, in fact, have designs upon Sam? Did Sam feel appreciation solely for Mungo’s expertise as a golfer?
“Well, Frodo, so you’ve got our Sam to caddie for you, you lucky fellow. You’ve cut me out, you know. I was planning to ask him to caddie for me,” Mungo said as he turned from Sam to Frodo, still smiling pleasantly.
‘Our Sam’? Frodo could practically feel the hackles rising on the back of his neck at the implication that his Sam was somehow to be shared. “You’ll need to be quicker off the mark next time, Mungo,” he replied, and no matter how hard he tried to force his mouth into a pleasant smile, it refused to cooperate, but remained stubbornly fixed in a grimace.
Sam was blushing furiously as Mungo replied with a laugh, “Oh, I expect Sam is well content with his lot, eh, Sam?” And he winked. Yes, he most decidedly winked. Sam turned even redder if that was possible, and looked as if he wished he was anyplace else.
Frodo was now thoroughly confused. Those certainly didn’t sound like the words of a disappointed lover.
“Mungo, dear, it’s nearly time. You should be out at the practice tee warming up, not standing here gabbing,” said a scolding voice from behind Frodo. A pretty young hobbit lass with long auburn curls emerged out of the crowd like a whirlwind, and she grabbed Mungo by the hand.
Frodo recognised her: it was Pansy Bunce, with whom he had once danced at the Brandy Hall Yuletide ball. She had been an energetic dancer, as Frodo recalled, with a tendency to lead. She began unceremoniously to drag Mungo away; he went without resistance, a moonstruck look upon his face as he gazed at her. “Best of luck in the tournament today, Frodo,” Pansy called over her shoulder as they hurried away.
“Mr. Mungo and Miss Pansy were handfasted on Overlithe, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, beginning to recover from his embarrassment, and watching the departing hobbits with a fond expression. “And a right fine couple they make. But then, I reckon that ain’t news to you, sir, seeing as how he’s your cousin.”
Frodo was reeling with shock. “I had no idea.” I thought he was in love with you, Sam, and oh dear, oh dear, I have made the most complete cake of myself. But joy was welling up inside Frodo like a fountain, fizzing and bubbling. He had made a cake of himself, yes, but Sam, his Sam, was free. Frodo wanted to dance. He wanted to sing. He wanted to grab Sam and twirl him about and then pull him close and kiss him. He stretched out his arm… But Sam (alas) was talking, and didn’t appear to notice.
“Well, sir,” Sam was saying, “Mr. Mungo did bend my ear a time or two about Miss Pansy while we was playing. But a hobbit in love needs to do that, don’t he- talk about his beloved, I mean, to someone as is willing to listen.”
“He d-does?” There was a certain look in Sam’s eyes as he spoke- a look such as Frodo had never seen there before. A warm, intimate glow in those velvety brown depths that set Frodo’s heart to pounding and other parts of him to stirring in ways that were (unfortunately) completely inappropriate under the circumstances. But maybe, if they waited until everyone else had left the tent…
“Aye, that he does,” said Sam with a thoughtful nod. “Come on, Mr. Frodo. Miss Pansy was right; we should be out at the practice tee.” And taking Frodo by the elbow, Sam steered him out of the tent.
Frodo sighed (something he seemed to be doing with distressing frequency these days) as his hopes were dashed once more, but he went as unresistingly as Mungo had. And the look upon his face, could he have but seen it, was equally as moonstruck.
End of Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Crack- first class or champion golfer
The Four Farthings Golf Challenge gets underway. What will Sam make of Frodo's deception?
We're into the tournament now, and I thought an explanation of match play might be helpful for the non-golfers out there (I certainly needed it explained to me!) Match play is decided hole by hole (rather than total score over all the holes), and the golfer who wins the most holes wins the match. Let's say (for absurdity's sake) that Tiger Woods and I were playing a match over 12 holes. If he won the first 7 holes, he would be the winner seven-up and the match would end there, because even if I won the remaining 5 holes, he would still have won more holes than I. I, as the loser, would be said to have lost seven-down. Clear as mud? Okay, on to the tournament...
Frodo stood beside Sam in the gallery and watched as the entrants in the Challenge teed off. Five of the pairings in the tournament had gone thus far, and one other remained before he and Ferdibrand Took would be called onto the teeing ground to begin their match.
The tournament had started with the ‘Striking of the Golfimbul’, an ancient ceremony performed, as tradition held, by the Thain. Paladin Took hit the symbolic goblin head straight and true (if not quite as far as his illustrious forebear; he never had been a long driver, even in his youth), to the enthusiastic appreciation of the watching hobbits. Then he doffed his top hat, bowed extravagantly to the gallery, and declared the tournament open.
And so the Four Farthings Golf Challenge, at long last and after weeks of fevered anticipation and preparation, was underway.
Sam watched the proceedings with the keenest interest, for this was his very first Challenge and the golfers playing were, for the most part, unknown to him. As they teed off, one by one, he gave Frodo the benefit of his opinion on their golfing merits (or lack thereof) in a running commentary that Frodo found most enjoyable.
“Now, Mr. Frodo, did you see how Mr. Merry let his weight fall forward as he swung the club?” observed Sam, demonstrating. “You don’t want to be doing that. You stand straight, and don’t let your hips get out of line.” Frodo, staring at Sam’s hips as he thrust them forward and back again, completely lost track of the point of Sam’s demonstration. “It weren’t a bad drive when all’s said and done,” Sam concluded, “but it might have been better.”
“Oh, um, ah, hmm…” replied Frodo, vaguely.
When Falco Bramble, who had won the Challenge the previous year in Tookland, hit his featherie with a mighty crack, and sent it flying a good 200 yards before it rolled to a halt on the fairway, Sam said, impressed, “Well, I reckon I can understand why he’s a Champion. Did you see, Mr. Frodo, the way he followed through? Smooth as butter. No wasted motion at all.”
Frodo wondered suddenly what thoughts would be going through Sam’s mind when he watched Frodo follow through in a few minutes, no longer in that herky-jerky way that so distressed him, but rather as ‘smooth as butter’. Would he be overjoyed to discover the truth? Or would he, perchance, feel quite the reverse?
Now that the moment of truth had arrived, Frodo was plagued with doubt. A niggling voice- the voice of his conscience that refused to be squelched any longer- made itself heard, saying severely: You’ve been deceiving Sam for weeks, and made a proper fool of him, haven’t you. It will serve you right if he is hurt, or angry, or resentful- or all three.
So intent, as a result of his panicked jealousy, had Frodo been on keeping Sam away from Mungo, so determined had he been to get Sam’s arms around him (in the hope that Sam would discover there was nowhere else he would rather have them) that he had never actually contemplated this possibility until now. His heart scoffed at the idea that Sam- generous, sweet-tempered, forgiving Sam- would be anything but delighted to learn the truth about Frodo’s golfing ability. Bah! retorted his conscience scornfully. You weren’t exactly right about Mungo, were you now?
The moments that followed were uncomfortable ones indeed for Frodo, as his head and heart argued, and the matter was still undecided when a voice called out, “Frodo Baggins and Ferdibrand Took to the teeing ground, please.”
It was time.
Frodo and Sam followed Ferdibrand Took and his caddie onto the green. And oh, how Frodo wished that his conscience had kept its doubts to itself. What, after all, could he do about it now? He had no choice but to go forward with his plan, and trust that his heart had the winning side of the argument.
As Shire golfing etiquette decreed, Frodo, hand on breast, bowed politely to his opponent and wished him good fortune in the match, a courtesy returned in kind. Ferdibrand (who was looking rather green around the gills, a colour that did not complement his salmon pink plus-fours in the least) had won the honour of teeing up first, through the drawing of lots. His nerves clearly got the best of him, for he hooked his drive sharply to the right (‘There, what did I tell you, sir,’ Sam murmured into Frodo’s ear. ‘He’s a hooker, right enough’) and into the whins that lined the fairway. Ferdibrand groaned aloud in self-disgust, and hit the ground with his club, earning a sharp reprimand from a member of the green-committee who did not appreciate his carefully nurtured grass being abused in such a manner. With a muttered apology, Ferdibrand, looking thoroughly dispirited by his poor beginning, handed his club to his caddie and made way for Frodo.
It was now, at last, Frodo’s turn. A low murmur ran through the gallery gathered at the perimeter of the green. This was a moment that many of them had been waiting for all morning (if not for days).
“Ready, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked. He looked a trifle pale but calm as he opened his sand bag, and bent to the task of tee making.
Given the inner battle currently being waged by his heart and mind, Frodo felt surprisingly calm himself as he accepted his driver and a featherie from Sam. He set the featherie on the tee, just so, and straightened. Attempting to banish everything from his mind save the business at hand (no easy task), he took up his stance beside his ball. Then he settled his toes firmly into the soft turf, and adjusted his hands on the grip, overlapping his fingers as Sam had shown him countless times. But it simply wasn’t the same without Sam’s deft, warm fingers covering his, placing them gently into the correct position; or his sturdy body standing so close to Frodo’s own that he could almost feel that lovely round hobbit belly pressing up against his… Oh dear. Frodo forced his thoughts away from Sam and back to golf.
The low murmuring of the gallery died away and silence reigned as Frodo addressed his ball and waggled the head of his grass-club behind it- once, twice, thrice. Many of the watching hobbits looked as if they were prepared to dive for cover, if necessary.
“Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. Frodo,” came the soft encouraging words from behind him.
Frodo nodded, to let Sam know that he had heard him. And then, with his eyes firmly fixed on the ball, and his hips perfectly in line, and with a motion even smoother than butter, Frodo swung his grass-club.
Saradoc Brandybuck had always claimed that Frodo’s golf swing was an object of such beauty that it could make a grown hobbit cry. Certainly, there was an audible gasp from Sam, and from the other knowledgeable golfers who were watching. As fluid and graceful as a swallow diving over a field was Frodo Baggins as he raised the club high over his shoulder and brought it swiftly down again in a blur of motion. The head of the club connected with the ball with a solid thwack! The brilliant white featherie (so devotedly oiled and chalked by Sam) flew up and away as if it had indeed sprouted wings, soaring, soaring, soaring out over the ground, and landing at last on the fairway a good 225 yards away. It was by far the longest drive any player had yet hit.
“Oh, well struck, Frodo!” cried Saradoc Brandybuck, standing at the forefront of the gallery, and there was a round of applause from the appreciative (if somewhat bewildered) hobbits. Ferdibrand Took’s mouth was hanging open in utter shock. The easy first round victory he had been anticipating had vanished, right before his very eyes.
But Frodo, lowering his club, cared only for the reaction of one hobbit. With no little trepidation, he turned to look at Sam. And if he lived to be three hundred, he would never forget the expression on Sam’s face as their eyes met.
“Oh Mr. Frodo,” Sam breathed, tears of joy sparkling in his eyes. “Oh sir, you can play golf, and no mistake.”
Frodo watched as Sam cleaned the head of the grass-club with a rag, carefully removing every last grain of sand or speck of dirt. He was waiting for Sam to say something, to ask questions or demand explanations for the deception that Frodo had played upon him. But Sam, to Frodo’s bewilderment, uttered not one word as he shook out the rag, put it back in his pocket and stowed the club in Frodo’s bag. He appeared all business as he slung the bag over his shoulder and briskly led the way from the green onto the fairway, walking in the direction of Frodo’s ball, a barely discernable white dot in a distant sea of green. Frodo simply could not understand Sam’s silence. He had expected to be pelted with questions, for Sam had never been what one might call reserved. Perhaps Sam was waiting for Frodo to broach the topic instead. Biting his lip, he trailed behind Sam, feeling baffled and uncertain.
Under normal circumstances Frodo would have been most content to remain where he was and admire the flexing of Sam’s truly splendid backside and shapely calves as he strode along; but he quickened his steps until he was pacing by Sam’s side, in order that he might surreptitiously study him and try to gauge his mood. Sam appeared to be deep in thought: his mouth was slightly pursed; his curly brown head was slightly bent; his eyes were fixed on the ground. Try as he might, Frodo could not decipher his expression. The tension, as he imagined what might be going through Sam’s mind, was nigh unbearable. Now that the initial joy of discovering that Frodo was not, in fact, a complete duffer had passed, was Sam beginning to realise how badly he had been deceived?
Finally, just when Frodo was certain he could bear the silence not a moment longer, Sam glanced over at him. He opened his mouth. He spoke. “I’ve been doing some thinking, Mr. Frodo,” said he, stroking his chin in a thoughtful manner, while Frodo’s pulse began to gallop like a runaway pony, “and I reckon you should use your jigger for this next shot. What do you think, sir?”
His- jigger? Here Frodo’s mind had been working overtime, imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios, and Sam had only been trying to decide which golf club Frodo should use?
“Sam…” Frodo began weakly, feeling an urge to clutch dramatically at his blue and yellow chest.
“Aye, sir?” Sam gave him an enquiring look. “Is summat amiss? Do you reckon maybe a mid-spoon club would work better? I’d say the grass ain’t high enough to warrant it, Mr. Frodo, but if you don’t agree...”
“Sam…” Frodo began again then gave it up. He sighed. “A jigger will do just fine.”
Apologies and explanations would, it appeared, simply have to wait. While the tournament was in progress, there was apparently no room in Sam’s mind for any discussion that didn’t relate to golf.
But upon further consideration, Frodo decided that it was probably for the best. If the apologies and explanations went as Frodo envisioned, they would hopefully lead to other developments, ones that had absolutely no place on a golf links- well, not in the middle of a tournament, at any rate. The links (and Sam, of course) had been central to several of those compelling dreams Frodo had had recently, and he was by no means averse to trying out the ideas with which his sleeping mind had so thoughtfully blessed him.
Frodo had once played an entire golf game at Brandy Hall using only his putting cleek. Not, as his relations believed, because he was trying to handicap himself and give the others a chance to win (although he still won the game by several strokes), but because he found the endless discussion and debate over club selection and ball placement that went on to be an utter bore. “Choose a club and get on with it,” was what he was often tempted to say, “and the sooner we can return to the Hall and have our tea.”
He discovered, however, that club selection and ball placement when discussed and debated with Sam Gamgee were far from boring. While there was not perhaps quite the same level of enjoyment as when he and Sam had practiced together (there being, alas, no opportunity for Sam to put his arms about Frodo during a tournament), Frodo still found much to enjoy.
There was, for example, the attractive way Sam’s mouth pursed and his brow wrinkled as he contemplated Frodo’s clubs, his hands on his hips. And the expressive (not to mention suggestive) way those hands moved as he gave Frodo his considered opinion on the best club to use, and demonstrated the why and how for good measure. And last (but certainly not least), there was the mouth-drying way those well-cut trousers clung to Sam’s buttocks and thighs as he crouched or knelt or even (on one memorable occasion) stretched out flat upon the ground to study the lie of Frodo’s ball and the grain of the grass. Golf had certainly never been so enthralling before, and as the match with Ferdibrand progressed, Frodo sometimes became so enthralled that he had little to contribute to the discussion other than ‘of course, Sam’ or ‘whatever you think is best, Sam’ or, simply, ‘hmm’.
Indeed, the glow of admiration in Sam’s warm brown eyes when Frodo hit one of his spectacularly long drives, or chipped his featherie to within inches of the hole, or sank an especially tricky putt, put an entirely new complexion on the game of Golf. He wished that he had had the sense years ago to take Sam with him when he travelled to Buckland, but he vowed never to allow such a foolish omission to happen again.
So inspired was Frodo by his discussions with Sam, that he marched to a seven-up victory over Ferdibrand Took, losing not a single hole (an almost unheard-of achievement in the Challenge). Word of Frodo’s impressive performance spread like wildfire around the links, and by the time Frodo holed his ball on the 7th green to win the match, a large gallery of hobbits had gathered to watch, expressing their appreciation for his skill with enthusiastic applause.
A crestfallen but impressed Ferdibrand Took congratulated Frodo after the match, saying with a rueful shake of his head, “Best round of golf it’s ever been my privilege to witness, Frodo. But for the life of me, I don’t understand where Lotho got the impression you couldn’t play golf.”
“I have no idea, Ferdibrand,” Frodo replied, careful not to make eye contact with Sam, lest he begin to laugh.
A crowd of admirers surrounded Frodo as he made his way back to the tent to rest and await his next match. They praised him effusively, lauding his swing and his short game with phrases like ‘sheer perfection’ and ‘best I’ve ever seen’.
But the words he cherished most were the simple ones spoken by Sam, as he slid Frodo’s cleek back into the bag after he holed his final putt: “Well played, Mr. Frodo,” he said, “Very well played indeed.”
As Frodo prepared to tee up for his second match, against his cousin Lotho Sackville-Baggins, he was the focus of all eyes- and not because of those blinding blue and yellow plus-fours. Mr. Baggins, the golfing aficionados proclaimed, was a stylist, a shotmaker and a swinger of the highest order, equally proficient with a niblick, brassie, spoon or cleek. While the odds makers were looking a mite sickly at the appearance of this unexpected dark horse, Saradoc Brandybuck was beaming, both with pride in his nephew’s first match victory and (it must be confessed) satisfaction over those 100-1 odds he had got.
To his mortification, Lotho was completely overmatched playing with his cousin- that very same cousin whose golf game he had taken such relish in ridiculing in the Green Dragon. He could only watch (with grudging admiration, it is true) as Frodo outdrove, outpitched and outputted him. Lotho lost the match six-down, managing to tie Frodo on only one hole- a feat of which he was later rather proud; poor Ferdibrand Took, after all, hadn’t even managed that much.
Frodo could not repress a slightly ignoble feeling of satisfaction at trouncing Lotho so thoroughly. Sam (who made no attempt to hide his satisfaction as Ted Sandyman was forced to eat every unkind word he’d said about his master’s golf game within Sam’s hearing) was blunt and matter-of-fact: “Mr. Lotho’s a rabbit, Mr. Frodo,” he said scornfully as he brought Frodo a post-match cup of tea and a plate filled with fruit and biscuits. “He only got into the tournament because Mr. Otho is Vice-President of the HCHG.”
“In all fairness, Sam, I only got into the tournament because the Master of Bag End is an honorary member of the HCHG,” Frodo pointed out apologetically as he accepted the cup from Sam. “I’m afraid they weren’t best pleased with me when I took one of the remaining spots.”
“Well, but you’re a crack golfer, Mr. Frodo,” Sam protested. “Of course you’d be welcome in the tournament.”
Frodo had to smile. Sam appeared to have forgot completely the tentative, “Are you certain you really want to do this, sir?” he’d asked Frodo after that infamous first practice round several weeks earlier.
If Frodo felt some satisfaction at trouncing his cousin Lotho, he felt none whatsoever at his five-up defeat of his cousin Merry, whom he faced in the next round. He had never enjoyed beating his friends, but Merry was philosophical about the fact that he could do little better than Lotho Sackville-Baggins.
“It’s not as if you don’t beat me every time we play at Brandy Hall, even when you’re only using a putting cleek,” he said with a resigned shrug. “I’m quite happy to have made it as far in the tournament as I did.”
“Honestly, Frodo,” Merry added with fond exasperation as Frodo attempted to apologise for having beat him, “you are without a doubt the least competitive hobbit I’ve ever known. Do you think Falco Bramble or Sancho Took would be apologising for beating me? If you’re going to win the Challenge, cousin, you’re going to have to be a bit less soft-hearted.”
Frodo supposed that Merry had a point. He never had been the competitive sort, and certainly not about golf. But then he recalled how he had felt and acted when he had feared Sam might be in love with Mungo Chubb-Baggins. Perhaps, he thought wryly, he was not quite so uncompetitive as Merry believed.
Frodo’s next match, the match that would determine the winner of the first flight, was with Falco Bramble, the famous Champion from the North Farthing. Falco was the odds-on favourite to win the Challenge for the second year in a row, and had made short work of his opponents thus far, including Bulbo Chubb-Baggins who, while not quite in his brother’s class, was considered a first-rate golfer.
Falco displayed all the confidence of one whose name was already inscribed upon the Silver Jug as he took a few practice swings to loosen up before taking the honour and teeing off first. He was jesting and laughing with his caddie, and appeared to have not a care in the world. If he believed Frodo Baggins was any sort of competition for him, he most certainly did not show it.
Sam had a considering look in his eyes as he watched Falco tee up and hit his drive, a drive that travelled no more than 180 yards and earned him but tepid applause from a gallery that had expected to see a greater display of hitting power from the Champion.
“Mr. Frodo,” Sam said in a low voice as Frodo prepared to tee up, “that Falco Bramble ain’t taking you seriously. Did you see that drive he hit? Why, ‘tis plain as a pikestaff he didn’t put his whole heart into it. You need to play aggressive-like this match, sir, right from the very start. See if you can’t get up a hole or two real quick.” Sam added in a tone of voice quite as reverential as any he had used when mentioning Mungo Chubb-Baggins, “He’ll not catch you, Mr. Frodo.”
In the face of such a tribute, it was all Frodo could do not to drop both club and featherie, and throw himself into Sam’s arms. Instead, he took out his pent-up emotions on his golf ball, and hit his drive so hard and so far that even the Champion stared in disbelief.
Falco Bramble was at first shocked, and then undeniably panicked, when Frodo immediately got him two-down, following up that first spectacular drive with another such on the second hole. Trailing his opponent was a most unaccustomed position for the Champion to be in, and he was never able to recover his composure or, in fact, win even a single hole. Frodo maintained his two-up lead with a display of golfing brilliance under pressure that had his Uncle Saradoc wiping his eyes with a primrose-coloured handkerchief, nearly overcome with emotion, while Merry and Pippin hooted and clapped and jumped up and down in their enthusiasm. When Frodo holed his birdie putt on the 11th green to win the match, pandemonium ensued. It was the biggest upset, old timers said, in the history of the Challenge.
There was the honest respect of one fine player for another (and, perhaps, a touch of something else?) in Falco Bramble’s eyes as he shook Frodo’s hand after the match. “It would be an honour to play a round with you any time you like, Mr. Baggins,” he said warmly, holding on to Frodo’s hand far longer than was strictly proper. “You’ll find the links out by Greenfields, where I live, challenging but fair.”
Frodo’s response was politely non-committal; Sam, he noticed, with a leap of his heart, did not appear best pleased either by the invitation or the excessive handholding, and was eyeing Falco Bramble with dark suspicion, as if he had designs on the mushroom patch in Bag End’s garden.
“Greenfields,” snorted Sam a short time later as he and Frodo wended their way back to the tent once more. “Why would you need to go a-travelling all the way to Greenfields to play golf, Mr. Frodo? There ain’t no better course in the Shire than our own, right here in Hobbiton.”
Frodo meekly agreed.
While Frodo was achieving the greatest upset in Challenge history, it was a different story in the second flight. The two best players in that flight, Mungo Chubb-Baggins and Sancho Took, advanced to the finals, as expected. Theirs was a hard-fought, closely contested match that went to a playoff, but in the end, it was Mungo who earned a one-up victory that sent the partisan crowd into a state of delirious excitement, and Pansy Bunce leaping into her lover’s arms with a shriek that was probably heard in Bywater.
Sam, standing in the gallery with Frodo, Merry and Pippin to watch the playoff, was damp-eyed and beaming as he watched Mungo and Pansy embrace. “I’m that happy for him,” he said to Frodo, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “There’s not a hobbit in the Shire deserves to win more than Mr. Mungo.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Sam,” Frodo replied, although, truth to tell, he felt a little hurt. Did this mean that Sam would be rooting for Mungo to win the Challenge, even though he was caddying for Frodo?
“Now Mr. Frodo,” continued Sam, sounding all business again, “let’s get you back to the tent. You need to rest up, sir, and have a bite to eat. A nice cup of tea, and a slice of meat pie- but only a small slice, mind. You don’t want to eat too much right before a match. And while you’re resting, I’ll give your shoulders a good rub. They must be aching something awful with all the swinging you’ve done today.”
Sam took Frodo’s arm in a gentle grasp, and began to lead him through the crowd, casting stern looks at anyone who attempted to engage Frodo in conversation. “My master needs peace and quiet so’s he can prepare for his match,” he said severely to the most importunate of the hobbits. “Gabsters, the lot of’em,” he muttered under his breath. “Don’t have the sense to know that what you don’t need right now is them flapping their gums at you.”
“Dear Sam,” Frodo began, wanting Sam to know that he could never have got this far without him, “if I win the Challenge-“ But he didn’t get the chance to finish for Sam interrupted him.
“If?” Sam halted, and turned Frodo to face him. “Now Mr. Frodo, there ain’t no ‘if’ about it. You’ve got to think positive, sir. You’re the best golfer in this tournament, aye, even better than Mr. Mungo, and don’t you go forgetting it.”
There was a fire in Sam’s eyes as he spoke, and it lit a corresponding fire within Frodo’s breast. The world fell away as he and Sam locked eyes, and he had a feeling that for once, Sam’s mind was not entirely focussed on Golf.
The contest between Frodo Baggins and Mungo Chubb-Baggins for the Four Farthings Golf Challenge of 1407 was long remembered in Hobbiton, and indeed became a part of Shire golf legend and lore. Those who could claim to have been there on that glorious summer day were certain of a spellbound audience whenever they recounted the tale of how the two golfers vied for the Silver Jug.
The Sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon and the shadows lengthen across the fields as the two hobbits stepped onto the teeing ground. They bowed politely to the appreciative gallery and then to each other and, now that Frodo knew Mungo had no designs upon Sam, but preferred (for some unaccountable reason) the charms of Pansy Bunce, he was able to wish Mungo good fortune and actually mean it.
It was clear from the start that they were quite evenly matched. Neither Frodo nor Mungo could gain an advantage over the other, and they were all square after the first four holes. Frodo had the greater length off the tee, but Mungo made up for his lack of power with his deft touch, his canny approach shots and his putting accuracy.
It was on the par 3, 5th hole that Frodo went one-up with a brilliant drive that left his featherie just inches from the hole. Mungo immediately retaliated and won the par 5, 6th hole with an equally brilliant chip shot that he sank from at least 30 feet away for an eagle. Whenever one of them seemed to have an edge, the other would rise to the challenge; neither would give an inch.
The tension was at fever pitch, with a rapt gallery oohing and aahing at every display of the two golfers’ skills. But when it came down to nerves, Frodo appeared to have the edge, for a few small cracks appeared in Mungo’s composure. The pinpoint accuracy of his shots started to go slightly awry, and he had to scramble to recover. As they arrived at the par 4, 12th and final hole, they were still all square, but Mungo, taking the honour, suffered a severe case of the yips: he hooked his drive into the whins on the left, while Frodo’s tee shot, struck straight and true, landed smack in the middle of the fairway.
Pansy Bunce was in tears as her lover, after mopping his perspiring brow with a pocket-handkerchief, prepared to take his second shot. It was a very bad lie indeed, but Mungo employed his niblick to good effect, and managed to hit the ball out of the whins and onto the fairway, with a chance to hold par. But Frodo was in even better position, and the buzz through the gallery as he prepared to take his second shot was that Frodo Baggins was going to win the Challenge, and on the very last hole, too.
And then Disaster struck, and Luck, that intangible of any sport, made its presence known.
Frodo, after one of those enjoyable discussions with Sam, had selected a mid-spoon club for his second shot, intending to lay his featherie up just short of the green. There was a sand trap craftily positioned right at the front of the green; many a hobbit had come a cropper in that trap during the Challenge. Indeed, even a hitter like Frodo would find it nearly impossible to carry his ball safely over the trap onto the green from his current position. Mungo’s mishit had made the match Frodo’s to win, and he did not intend to take any foolish risks.
Frodo took up his stance beside the tee and went through the familiar routine of settling his feet, adjusting his grip and addressing the ball. With that exceptional ease and grace that never failed to elicit an admiring sigh from his caddie, Frodo raised his club high, and began his downswing. And that is when Disaster struck: before the head of the club even made contact with the ball, the pitched twine that bound the head of the club to the handle snapped. The club head broke apart from the handle, and the featherie that ought to have been soaring out over the fairway remained untouched on the ground by Frodo’s toes, looking surprised.
There was a groan of disappointment from the gallery, and cries of oh, no and what terrible luck. Merry and Pippin were hugging each other for consolation while Saradoc pulled out his primrose handkerchief once more, but the tears he mopped up now were not tears of joy. Even Mungo was shaking his head sadly, for no true competitor wished to win this way, and Frodo’s misfortune would cost him dearly.
Frodo stared in disbelief at the broken club in his hand while Sam’s voice, reciting the Eleventh Rule of Golf, echoed dully in his brain: If you draw your club in order to strike and proceed so far in the stroke as to be bringing down your club, if then your club should break in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke. Frodo would be assessed a stroke when he hadn’t even touched the ball.
Mungo was now virtually assured a victory in the Challenge.
Stunned, Frodo turned to Sam, and the expression on his face nigh broke Frodo’s heart. He looked absolutely stricken: white-faced and on the verge of tears.
“Oh, sir,” Sam whispered, twisting his hands together in his distress. “I ought to have checked the club more carefully. I might’ve noticed the whipping was loose. ‘Tis all my fault. Oh, Mr. Frodo…“
It was on the tip of Frodo’s tongue to utter some platitudes; to tell Sam not to blame himself for it was nobody’s fault; to tell him that it really didn’t matter if Frodo won the Challenge, it was more than enough that he had made it into the final round.
The platitudes never left his lips. For of course it did matter. It mattered to Sam, and if Frodo lost the Challenge because of a broken club, Sam would forever blame himself, whatever Frodo said.
It seemed a very long time ago indeed that Frodo had formed his desperate plan to win Sam away from Mungo Chubb-Baggins. In his imagination, he had pictured himself sweeping to a glorious victory in the Challenge and holding aloft the gleaming Silver Jug while Sam (his beautiful brown eyes swimming with tears) gazed at Frodo with adoration, blind to the presence of anyone else. A despondent Mungo, after one look at Sam’s face, slunk away to lick his wounds in private, realising that Sam’s heart belonged to Frodo for ever and ever.
What a fool Frodo had been. That image had since been replaced by another, far better one, and in his mind Frodo could now see it quite clearly: he and Sam sitting together in the Bag End study on a rainy day, the sort of rainy day that made outdoor work impossible, and a cozy fire and a glass of wine to chase away the chill indispensable. Frodo was reading to Sam from a book (Elvish love poetry, of course) while Sam listened with a dreamy expression on his face and the Silver Jug resting on his lap. He was polishing the already spotlessly gleaming trophy with a soft cloth and tender loving care. He was even (when he thought Frodo wouldn’t notice) delicately tracing with one gentle finger the outline of Frodo’s name where it was engraved on the Jug. Sam looked so happy, so content as he sat there by the fire…
By the Bullroarer, Frodo thought now, as a thrill, a positive thrill of determination coursed through him from the tips of his curls to the tips of his fingers and toes, Sam was going to have that Silver Jug to polish with tender loving care, or his name wasn’t Frodo Baggins.
“Sam,” he said aloud in such a determined voice that Sam’s eyes opened wide and his mouth formed an astonished ‘O’. “Hand Me My Mashie.”
“But Mr. Frodo,” began Sam, alarmed, “you can’t seriously be thinking-“
“Sam,” Frodo said imperatively, for once uninterested in discussing club selection, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist. My mashie, please.” He held out his hand.
Without another word, Sam did as he was told.
“What is Frodo doing?” Pippin exclaimed to his cousin in horror. “Sam’s handing him a mashie! Has Frodo lost his senses? He should be using a driver, Merry. He’s underclubbed for sure. He’ll never make it over that sand trap and onto the green from here with a mashie.”
“He’s not going for the green, Pip, he’s going for the hole,” Merry said. “And Frodo knows he won’t be able to control his shot well enough with a driver, not with the pin placed the way it is. He’s got to put backspin on the ball and stop it from running right off the green into the rough.”
Merry’s father shook his head. “It’s a brave but foolish attempt, Merry,” said Saradoc. “Not even Frodo is a good enough golfer to make that shot.”
Merry smiled a little as he studied his cousin. There was an old Shire expression used to describe the kind of look on Frodo’s face right now- the eye of the Tyger. Well, he had never thought to see a Tyger lurking in Frodo’s gentle blue eyes, but one was certainly there now, and it was ready to pounce.
“Oh, I don’t know, Father,” Merry replied thoughtfully. “If you ask me, Tyger Baggins knows precisely what he’s doing. You just wait and see.”
Bandobras Took could not have had a more resolute gleam in his eyes as he faced the Goblin King at the Battle of the Green Fields than Frodo Baggins did as he walked over to his ball, mashie at the ready. Frodo glanced one final time toward the distant putting green and the white flag that marked the hole, gauging the distance, and then stepped into position, prepared to take his shot. He settled his feet, adjusted his grip, and addressed the ball.
Sam, Frodo thought as he put every iota of skill and strength he possessed into his swing, my dearest Sam, this is for you.
Every hobbit in the gallery was holding his breath as Frodo struck his ball, and the featherie soared up and over the fairway, shining brightly in the waning light. A great cheer went up as it became clear that Frodo’s ball was in fact going to fly straight over the feared sand trap and land safely on the green. The cheering rose to a tremendous roar as the gallery witnessed the most improbable sight any of them could have imagined: the ball stopped just past the pin, spun backwards and rolled straight into the hole, as if it were being pulled on a string.
“By the Valar that lad can play Golf!” cried an overwrought Saradoc Brandybuck, throwing his top hat into the air with a whoop of joy. “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes!”
“He did it! He did it! He did it!” Merry and Pippin were chanting, holding hands and dancing each other around in a circle. “Frodo did it!”
A short distance up the fairway, Mungo Chubb-Baggins, waiting to take his third shot, watched in amazement as Frodo’s ball went in the hole. He was shaking his head in disbelief. As the pandemonium in the gallery died down, all eyes turned to Mungo to see what he would do. He stood for a long moment as if paralysed, and then stooped to pick up his ball from the ground. Frodo’s last shot had simply been too good; Mungo knew he had no chance to win. Taking a deep breath, he picked up his ball, conceding the match, and the tournament, to his opponent.
Frodo Baggins, the longest shot on the board, had won the Four Farthings Golf Challenge.
Frodo barely had time to comprehend what had happened when he was seized in a crushing embrace. It was Sam, a jubilant, giddy Sam, who lifted Frodo right off his feet and began twirling him around in a circle, saying over and over into his ear, “Oh Frodo, oh Frodo, oh Frodo!”
Frodo, finding nothing whatsoever to object to in Sam’s behaviour, wrapped his arms tightly around Sam’s neck, laughing and hanging on for dear life and oh, at last, he knew the perfect bliss of Sam’s lovely round hobbit belly, pressed up against his-
But then arms were pulling at him, and voices calling his name, and Frodo had (most reluctantly) to let go of Sam. There were his uncles Saradoc and Paladin, and Merry and Pippin, and the Cottons, and Fatty Bolger, and Falco Bramble, and many many others. They were slapping Frodo on the back and wringing his hand and crying and laughing all at the same time as they congratulated him. There was his cousin Mungo, too, making his way through the crowd that stepped back respectfully to let him pass, and he embraced Frodo with real affection, and said, “It was an honour to lose to you, cousin Frodo. I’ve never seen anything like that last shot you made. You won the match fair and square.”
“Thank you, Mungo,” said Frodo, returning the embrace, and thinking that Mungo really was a very good sort after all.
Then Merry and Pippin hoisted their cousin up onto their shoulders, and began carrying him at a trot through the jubilant crowd, back to the tent where the presentation of the Silver Jug would be made. And Frodo, bouncing along high above the crowd, bright red with embarrassment, but laughing nonetheless, looked all around, trying to find Sam, so that he might share this wonderful, ridiculous moment with him, but he couldn’t see him anywhere. Nor could he find him later, under the tent, when Paladin Took, beaming with delight, presented him with the Silver Jug and crowned him Champion. As Frodo held the Jug high over his head, to the cheers of the crowd, he looked in vain for Sam, Sam whom he had been certain would be right there at the forefront of the crowd, Sam whom he had planned to bring up to stand beside him and take the bow that he so richly deserved.
But Sam was nowhere in sight. It was as if he had simply vanished.
Oh Sam, Frodo thought, frantic with worry, Sam, where are you?
End of Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Twosome- A pair of golfers playing together in a stroke competition
All's well that ends better.
Frodo hurried down the narrow path toward Bag End, the Silver Jug clutched to his chest. It was nearly full dark now, and the stars were faintly shining and the Moon poking his head over the tops of the hills.
The moment that the ceremony and presentation of the Silver Jug had concluded, Frodo had dashed into the crowd to search for a still-missing Sam. His progress, however, was continually impeded by hobbits who desired to engage Frodo in that most tiresome (in Frodo’s opinion) golfing ritual of them all: the post-game reenactment. Every few feet, or so it seemed, he was stopped and requested to recount (and in excruciating detail) how he had hit every single drive, chip and putt.
While Sam was who knew where, in who knew what sort of predicament, Frodo was being quizzed about his grip, his swing, and, inevitably, how he had managed to make that nearly super-hobbit final shot using, of all things, a mashie. He very much doubted (and certainly had no intention of putting the idea into anyone’s brain) that advising them to think of Sam Gamgee while they were swinging their club was particularly useful advice.
He fended off such importunate hobbits and their questions as best he might, thinking that the only post-game reenactment that interested him required his large, comfortable feather bed for its setting and Sam (preferably a naked Sam) to help him with the reenacting. Frodo had absolutely no desire whatsoever to talk about his grip with anyone else- particularly not Falco Bramble, whom Frodo discovered watching him from across the tent with a Tygerish gleam in his eyes. Frodo somehow felt certain that any discussion of grips with the Champion might begin with golf, but end someplace else altogether. Averting his eyes, he bolted like a hare being hotly pursued by a whippet, and ran smack into Merry who, it transpired, had been looking for him.
His cousin, after assuring a persistent Frodo at least half a dozen times that he had not set eyes on Sam since the match ended, then attempted to persuade Frodo to accompany him to the Green Dragon, where an impromptu celebration was being planned. Pippin and Fatty had already set out for the Dragon while Merry had been deputised to find Frodo and bring him along.
“You’ve got to come, Frodo; you’re the guest of honour,” urged Merry, seeing that Frodo was less than enthusiastic about the idea. “Besides, you might run into Sam. Perhaps he’s already there with his friends, getting a head start on the celebrating.”
Sam, down at the Dragon without Frodo? Sam, laughing and celebrating with his friends, and not with Frodo? It was the most lowering thought, and Frodo’s face must have reflected his feelings, for Merry said with sympathetic amusement, “Oh Frodo, you’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Frodo protested feebly although he knew it was futile; Merry had always been able to read him better than almost anyone else.
“Don’t you?” Merry raised his eyebrows in patent disbelief. “All right, cousin, have it your way,” he said, “but you can’t fool me. I saw the way you were looking at Sam during the tournament. Now won’t you come along to the Dragon with me? For one thing, you still owe me that explanation about what you've been up to lately- although,” he added with a grin, “I think I’ve a pretty good idea. For another, if Sam is there, you can toss him over your shoulder, carry him away to your lair and have your wicked way with him. And after watching you make that last golf shot, dear Frodo, I’ve no doubt you’re capable of doing it, too.”
There was something undeniably compelling about the idea of carrying Sam off to Bag End to have his way with him (wicked or not), but Frodo stood firm. “I’m sorry, Merry, but you’ll have to make my excuses to Pippin and Fatty and everyone else. I hate to be a wet blanket, but I’m awfully tired, you know, and I want my supper and a good night’s sleep.” A good night’s sleep? repeated his conscience sarcastically. “But do order a few rounds on me, and tell the innkeeper to put them on my account. And if you-” he said, his throat tightening so that he could hardly force the words past his lips, “if you see Sam there, tell him that I- have taken to my bed and gone into a decline- was looking for him.”
Frodo had then made good his escape, with one last wary glance over his shoulder to be certain that Falco Bramble wasn’t following behind him, and set off across the moon-silvered fields toward home, longing for the peace and quiet of his beloved smial, where he could think undisturbed. Surely if he applied his levelheaded, rational mind to the problem, he could figure out what had happened to Sam.
He hugged the gleaming Silver Jug to him as he went, as if it could make up for the lack of Sam; but the sad truth was that hard cold metal was no substitute for that lovely round hobbit belly that had at long last (if for far too short a time) been blissfully pressed up against him. And who knew if Frodo would ever experience that bliss again?
Perhaps it was a result of the darkness, and the eerie shadows cast by the rising Moon, but far from behaving rationally or levelheadedly, Frodo’s mind began to run riot, producing the most dire solutions possible to the mystery of Sam’s whereabouts (including one dramatic scenario involving Pansy Bunce and a bound and gagged Sam that made him break out in a cold sweat).
A far more likely scenario, Frodo decided (once he’d managed to dislodge the Pansy-and-bound-Sam idea from his brain) was that Sam’s father had been suddenly taken ill, and Sam had had to rush home to Number 3 to be with him. Perhaps even now, Sam was sitting at the Gaffer’s bedside, cradling his hand tenderly between his own, while tears ran down his cheeks and his father uttered in failing accents, “Take good care o’Daisy, May and Marigold, Samwise, and Mr. Frodo, too, o’course. Mind ee clean and polish his clubs every day, lad.”
But of course, that was absurd; the Gaffer felt at least as strongly on the topic of Golf as Bilbo had. “I don’t hold with such an unnatural practice,” he’d said in the days leading up to the Challenge to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. “Grown hobbits chasing balls over the fields and whacking at ‘em wi’ sticks. What is our Shire coming to, I ask ee?”
This poignant scenario was succeeded by others, equally improbable, until, by the time the comforting greenness of Bag End’s front door hove into view, if someone had told him that Sam had been snatched up by a fire-breathing Dragon and carried off, Frodo would have simply called for his trusty steed (had he owned one, that is), leapt into the saddle and galloped off in pursuit.
The first thing Frodo noticed when he stepped over the threshold of Bag End were his golf clubs, leaning against the wall and neatly arranged in their leather bag, the heads of the clubs protected by the (rather lumpy, it is true) bright blue wool covers that Sam had knit for them.
The second thing Frodo noticed when he stepped over the threshold of Bag End was a smell, coming from the direction of the kitchen. A delicious smell. The best smell in all of Middle-earth (well, save for the intoxicating mix of sweat and soil and sunshine that was Sam Gamgee). It was the smell of frying mushrooms.
Frodo’s stomach, which had no respect whatsoever for the severity of the situation, growled in a demanding sort of way. It knew what it wanted all right, but Frodo (feeling at that moment an absolutely un-hobbity lack of interest in the demands of said stomach) sprinted down the hall, still clasping the Silver Jug to his heaving breast, and burst into the kitchen.
And there was Sam, standing at the stove, stirring the mushrooms with a long wooden spoon. His apron was tied about his nicely rounded middle, and he was humming a little under his breath. He looked up from his frying pan as Frodo came in, and smiled. “You’re back, Mr. Frodo,” he said in the cheerfullest voice imaginable, “and just in time, sir. Your supper’s nearly ready, and I’ve heated water for your bath and laid out your clothes.”
“Sam,” cried Frodo, ignoring this little speech, “what are you doing?”
Sam’s brow wrinkled in that attractive way it had as he considered Frodo’s question. He obviously thought he’d already provided the relevant information. “Like I said, sir, I’m preparing your supper.”
Frodo set the Silver Jug on the kitchen table, and sank weakly onto the bench. “But Sam,” he asked, bewildered, “the ceremony, the Silver Jug… why weren’t you there? I looked everywhere for you and couldn’t find you.”
“Why, but Mr. Frodo, where should I be but here?” Sam sounded surprised. “That Silver Jug’s a fair sight and no mistake, but it ain’t about to make your supper, nor draw your bath neither.”
As Frodo continued to sit dumbfounded, unable to say a word, Sam continued, “I reckon it did cost me a pang, sir, not to see you standing up in front of all them hobbits holding the Silver Jug, but I said to myself, ‘Samwise Gamgee, Mr. Frodo played his heart out today, now didn’t he? He don’t need for you to gawp at him while he gets that trophy. No, what he needs is for you to have a nice hot supper and a nice hot bath waiting for him when he gets home’. I’d have told you I was leaving, sir, but it were nigh impossible to get next you, and any road, I was certain you’d figure out where I’d gone.”
Frodo set his blue elbows on his blue and yellow knees, and covered his face with his hands. His shoulders began to shake, and peculiar sounds to emanate from him.
“Mr. Frodo!” cried Sam in alarm, abandoning the mushrooms (after removing them from the heat first, of course; even at a moment such as this, he would never allow Frodo’s mushrooms to overcook), and hurried over to kneel in front of Frodo. “You’re crying!” He sounded horrified. “Oh sir, you’re overtired, right enough. Perhaps you ought to go straight to bed.”
Frodo raised his head. There were indeed tears running down his cheeks- but they were tears of mirth, and helpless giggles were erupting from him like steam from under the lid of a boiling kettle.
Sam sat back on his heels as astonishment replaced alarm. “Mr. Frodo! Are you- are you laughing?”
“Oh S-sam,” Frodo stuttered between giggles, “I’m s-sorry S-sam, b-but you h-have n-no idea the th-things I’ve b-been imagining. A-and all the t-time…” He dissolved into a fit of giggles again and only with difficulty regained enough breath to continue, “W-when I c-couldn’t f-find y-you, I th-thought m-maybe you had b-been k-kidnapped b-by P-p-pansy B-b-bunce and sh-she was h-holding you f-for r-r-ransom, b-bound and g-gagged, until I g-gave the S-s-silver J-j-jug t-to M-m-mungo.”
“As if she could, Mr. Frodo!” Sam sounded indignant, even hurt, at the very idea that he could be kidnapped, and by a mere lass at that.
“Y-you w-wouldn’t s-say th-that if y-you’d ever d-danced with h-her, S-sam,” Frodo gasped, recalling that Yule ball at Brandy Hall.
Sam’s face underwent the most extraordinary series of contortions as he struggled for control. But it was too much; he fell back with a thump on his splendid backside, and began to laugh. He laughed and laughed, until he was clutching at his aching sides, and helpless tears were streaming down his cheeks, too.
“Oh sir! Oh, Mr. Frodo!” Sam wiped his streaming eyes with his apron. “You are a caution and no mistake. Where ever did you get such ideas, Mr. Frodo? I never knew you for a fanciful hobbit.”
At these words, Frodo sobered, as if Sam had poured a jug of cold water over his head (as perhaps he ought to have done long ago, and brought Frodo to his senses). “I never knew myself for a fanciful hobbit until a few weeks ago,” he confessed ruefully. “But I do seem to have been making up for lost time, haven’t I? Oh Sam, dear Sam, I owe you such an apology.”
“An apology, sir?” Sam sat up, looking puzzled.
“Yes,” said Frodo, determined that Sam was going to hear the entire improbable tale from start to finish. And once that necessary (if awkward) duty was over, they could at last… But there he was, getting ahead of himself again. Oh dear, what had he been about to say? An apology. But Sam was down there on the floor, watching him with that exceedingly fetching look of puzzlement on his face, the one that wrinkled his brow and crinkled the corners of his warm brown eyes, and the kitchen floor had featured in one of those compelling dreams…
“Come, Sam dear,” Frodo said with a truly valiant effort. “I can’t apologise properly while you are on the floor. Sit up here, please.” He patted the empty space beside him on the bench.
Sam clambered to his feet and dusted off the seat of his trousers, and such was the state of Frodo’s mind at that moment, that he wasn’t even distracted by the sight.
Sam took a seat beside Frodo, turning slightly toward him while keeping a respectful distance, and said, “I’m sure you don’t owe me no apologies, Mr. Frodo.”
“Not even for deceiving you about my golf game all these weeks, and leading you to think that I hadn’t the foggiest notion how to play?” Frodo asked. “It was wrong of me, Sam, and I ought never to have deceived you that way.”
“Mr. Frodo…” began Sam.
“No, Sam, I know what you are going to say, that it isn’t necessary for me to apologise, but I simply can’t agree. Now please don’t interrupt, dear Sam, for I feel I shall go mad if I can’t finish this soon, and get on with... well, never mind. Now where was I? Oh yes. Sam, I ought never to have deceived you that way, and-”
“But sir…” began Sam yet again.
“Sam…” Frodo warned.
“…I weren’t deceived. Leastways not these twelve days past.”
For the second time that day, Frodo was reeling, and the way his mouth was hanging open, he was afraid he bore rather a marked resemblance to a particularly unattractive fish on display in the Bywater market; but there was no helping it. He was (as Sam would have said) fair gobsmacked.
“What did you say?” he finally managed to utter in a faint voice.
Sam’s ears were bright pink. “I said, Mr. Frodo, I weren’t deceived about your golf game.”
“But- but-” said Frodo, unable to contribute anything more intelligent to the conversation, so stunned was he by Sam’s unexpected revelation. How in Middle-earth had Sam discovered the truth? Why hadn’t he said anything?
“’Twere an accident I found out, Mr. Frodo. You had me fooled right enough at the start,” Sam added, seeming to have guessed at least part of what Frodo wanted to ask. “It happened this way, sir: do you recall that day you asked me if I’d mind running down to Milo Bracegirdle’s shop in Bywater to fetch you some ink?”
Frodo nodded, for of course he recalled it quite well. He had in fact sent Sam off to Hobbiton or Bywater on several occasions on some completely unnecessary errand or other in order to have a little privacy to practice his golf- really practice, that is. He had feared that, when it came time for the actual tournament, his golf game would not be up to the task after so many days of mishits and peculiar grips. And that would have been a disaster, when the entire point of his deception was to dazzle Sam on the day of the Challenge with the brilliance of his golfing, and make him realise that, by comparison, Mungo Chubb-Baggins was nothing but the merest hack. So while Sam was away on one of those spurious errands, Frodo would grab his clubs and hasten to Sam’s little putting green, or the roof of Bag End, for some sorely needed practice.
“Well, sir, I set out for Bywater right enough,” Sam continued, “but I hadn’t got halfway there when I recollected that you’d bought half a dozen bottles of ink just last month. Even Mr. Bilbo couldn’t use up six bottles of ink in one month, Mr. Frodo. I thought you must surely have forgot all about them bottles, and decided there weren’t no need for me to go to Bywater after all.”
Frodo felt his cheeks begin to heat, realising what must have happened. “Oh Sam, don’t tell me…”
“Aye, sir. I was cutting across the Party Field on my way back, like I always do, when something came whizzing by my head. Nearly caught me a right nasty blow on my noggin, it did, and gave me such a start. It were followed by another, and then another, and I realised they was conkers. At first I reckoned it must be some little ‘uns hiding up in the Party Tree, throwing them and making sport of me. Oh, I was in a proper temper, ready to give them the sharp edge of my tongue for their sauce, only there weren’t no little ‘uns to be seen when I went and looked. Then another conker went flying past, and when I peeked through the branches- I saw you, Mr. Frodo.” An expression of perfect reverence settled over Sam’s features at the memory. “There you was with your head down, a-standing on the roof of Bag End in the sun with a line of conkers laid out, swinging your golf club like I never imagined I’d ever see one swung.”
“And you never breathed a word? Oh but Sam, why ever not? Weren’t you even, well, curious as to what I was about?”
“It were plain as a pikestaff you didn’t want me to know, sir, else you’d not have sent me off to Bywater for ink- which, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, sounding a bit severe, “I fetched for you, though wasting your coin that way didn’t sit right with me.” Frodo attempted to look contrite at his spendthrift ways, but failed. “Besides,” continued Sam, “it weren’t my place to ask. I’ve always trusted you, Mr. Frodo, ever since I was a lad, and I reckon that if you’d wanted me to know you’d have told me.”
“Oh Sam.” Frodo hadn’t thought he could possibly love Samwise Gamgee any more than he already did. He was wrong. He only marvelled that there wasn’t a long line of hobbits trailing after Sam wherever he went, gazing upon him with adoration in their eyes. But, though it was hard to believe, it appeared that there were, in fact, any number of hobbits even blinder than Frodo had been. Thank Eru for that, he thought fervently.
But Sam apparently wasn’t finished with his revelations. “And,” he added, flushing a little but steadfast as he met Frodo’s eyes, “it meant I could keep on putting my arms about you, Mr. Frodo, like I’d always dreamt, but never dared hope to do.”
“Oh Sam. Did you really dream of putting your arms about me?” Frodo’s heart actually gave a little flutter. He wondered what other dreams Sam might have had, and if they had been compelling ones. He would have to ask.
“I did,” Sam averred, “and if it weren’t for Mr. Mungo, I reckon I’d never have got up the nerve to do that much, even when you asked me if I’d help you adjust your grip on your club. But he kept telling me not to be so shy and try to let you know how I felt, even if I couldn’t do it in words.”
“Mungo said that?” Frodo was beginning to think he’d grossly undervalued Mungo Chubb-Baggins. He was far more than simply a ‘decent sort’. He was a positive prince among hobbits.
“Aye. You see, Mr. Mungo and me used to talk of an evening sometimes, down at the Green Dragon. I met him there one night, months ago, Mr. Frodo. He was sitting alone at a table, and such a sad sight I reckon I’ve never seen. The poor lad was drowning his sorrows, for he’d been in love with Miss Pansy for ever so long, but he never thought he’d stand a chance with her. Well, I sat down with him and we got to talking and he let the whole story out. By then I’d had a few pints myself, and I let slip that there were a hobbit I loved, too, but I didn’t reckon as I’d ever stand a chance with him either, him being so fine and handsome and kind and wise and good…” Sam’s eyes glazed over, and he appeared to lose track of what he’d been saying.
Recognising the signs, Frodo (though he would have been more than happy to let Sam continue in this vein for an indefinite period of time) thought it best to steer him back on course.
“…with eyes the colour o’periwinkles and skin soft as a rose petal and…”
“Sam?” Frodo said, then again more loudly as he got no response, “Sam? You were saying? About Mungo?”
Sam started and flushed. “Sorry, sir,” he said, wiping his perspiring brow with his sleeve. “Got a bit carried away there. Mr. Mungo. Right, sir. Well, I never mentioned the hobbit by name, but Mr. Mungo figured out who it were quick enough, and after that night, we’d meet up from time to time for a few pints and a chat- trying to keep each other’s spirits up, as you might say.
“And then one night a few months ago, Mr. Mungo come into the Dragon looking like he’d just won the Silver Jug. He’d finally got up his nerve and asked Miss Pansy for a dance at a party at Great Smials, like we’d been discussing. Well, it turned out she felt the same way about him, and she’d just been waiting for him to speak. And now there they was, sweethearts at last. Ever since, he’s been urging me to do the same. Well, not ask you for a dance maybe, but try to show you how I felt. I couldn’t work up the nerve nohow, Mr. Frodo, until you up and decided to play in the Challenge, and asked me to be your caddie. I admit, sir, I were a bit disappointed at first, not knowing that you was the best golfer in the Shire, but when you suggested going out to the links for a bit of practice, it come to me that maybe I’d found a way to do like Mr. Mungo said.”
“But Sam, even after you discovered the truth, you seemed so downhearted and tired. I hadn’t a clue you had cottoned to my deception,” said Frodo, astounded as revelation continued to pile on revelation.
Sam flushed more deeply. “It were cruel hard, Mr. Frodo, being that close to you, and all these feelings running through me while I held you, never knowing if you felt the same or if you was coming to like having my arms about you as much as I liked having ‘em there. Oh sir, there was times ‘twere all I could do to keep my mind on golf for the feel of your hands under mine, and the scent of your curls in my nose. Not to mention them golf rules, and the way you’d repeat ‘em to me. They put such ideas into my brain, sir, you’ve no idea. Then there was the dreams. Oh, I was having such dreams- when I could even catch a few winks, that is.”
Frodo’s heart fluttered again, wildly. “Were they compelling dreams, Sam?” he asked hopefully.
“Compelling? Well, I don’t know as I’d use that word exactly, Mr. Frodo,” Sam replied, smiling a little, “but I reckon you might call ‘em that. They woke me up in the middle of the night often enough, that’s for certain.”
Frodo beamed. “And to think,” he said, wondering, “all that time, I was jealous of Mungo.”
Sam goggled. “Jealous? Of Mr. Mungo?”
It was time at last to confess the humiliating truth. “Yes, Sam, of Mungo. You see, I didn’t know a thing about Pansy until today, and I thought that you and Mungo were-” Frodo made a vague gesture with one hand, unable to say the words aloud, for they now seemed so utterly, utterly absurd.
“You thought me and Mr. Mungo was… But Mr. Frodo, you can’t really have believed that- that- he and I was- was-” Sam appeared as incapable of saying the words aloud as Frodo was, and stammered to a halt.
“I’m afraid I could and I did,” Frodo said ruefully. “It was the way you talked about him, Sam, as if you thought he was the sun, the moon and the stars all wrapped up in one. It made me quite frantic with jealousy. Oh Sam, I never understood how much you’d come to mean to me, how much I loved you, until that awful day you told me that you thought Mungo wanted you to be his caddie for the Challenge. And then… well, I was afraid I was going to lose you before I’d ever have a chance to tell you how I felt. So I decided to enter the Challenge so that you wouldn’t be able to caddie for him.”
“Then all that pretending not to know how to play…” Sam choked out, as if his throat was somehow obstructed.
“Was to keep you close to me, Sam, and away from Mungo, in the hopes that once you’d put your arms about me, you’d want to keep them there always,” Frodo confessed. “It was the only thing I could think of to do.”
“Oh Mr. Frodo, ain’t we a pair. Both wanting the same thing, but neither of us brave enough to say it out loud.” Sam shook his head. “But we’re talking now, ain’t we, and I’ll tell you straight out, sir, so’s you don’t ever doubt it again: there’s only ever been one hobbit I think is the sun, the moon and the stars all wrapped up in one, and it sure as the Shire ain’t Mungo Chubb-Baggins.”
There was really nothing for it in the face of this declaration but for Frodo to lean forward, arms outstretched, eyes blazing with Tygerish intent…
Frodo seized Sam by the shoulders, yanked him to him without the least finesse, and kissed him hard, full on those warm, shapely lips. Sam, seeming to think that pouncing was a fine thing indeed, wound his arms around Frodo’s slender waist, and kissed him back, just as hard.
They were kissing, Frodo thought in amazement, at long last they were actually kissing, and it was… and Sam was…
Frodo completely lost the train of his thought then, and he had no interest whatsoever in getting it back.
While it was true that the kitchen had featured in several of Frodo’s compelling dreams (and perhaps Sam’s, too), Frodo did not intend for their first time to take place on the kitchen floor, the kitchen table or the kitchen bench (upon which he found himself pushing Sam down- or perhaps Sam was pulling him down). No, their first time was going to take place in his large, comfortable feather bed that he had once believed to be the perfect size for one rational, levelheaded and (he now knew) lonely hobbit, but had always clearly been meant to be shared- with Sam.
Resolutely therefore (as befitted the Four Farthings Champion), he disentangled himself from Sam (with some difficulty, it is true), got up from the bench, and pulled a protesting Sam to his feet.
“Come on, Sam dearest,” he said, holding tight to his love’s hand, “let’s go to bed.” But then he hesitated, as Merry’s idea came back to him. Could he do it? Could he pick Sam up in his arms and carry him all the way to his bedchamber? What if he dropped him? How humiliating (not to say painful for Sam) that would be-
An impatient Sam, who must have held a similar conversation with Merry (but had no such qualms), took Frodo into his strong arms, picked him up (blue and yellow plus-fours and all) and carried him out of the kitchen and down the hall to Frodo’s bedchamber. He even managed to break into a run. It was a thrilling moment- if not perhaps quite as thrilling as those that soon followed.
The Moon, peering into a bedchamber through a round window encircled by fragrant blooming roses of palest ivory tinged with a blush of pink, was expecting to cast his glow about the room with his silvery rays. It was his job, after all. But his services, it seemed, would not be needed this night. For this bedchamber was filled already with radiance brighter than any he could shed. He looked more closely, wondering if he had at last discovered where his brother the Sun hid each night, but it was not the Sun at all: simply two hobbits, radiantly in love, entwined upon a large, comfortable feather bed. He hid for a few moments behind a convenient cloud, wondering what to do, and then returned to look again, for it was, indeed, a most beautiful sight.
Frodo heaved a happy sigh. He had heaved several happy sighs already, and would undoubtedly heave many more, for how could he help himself? He was lying in his large, comfortable feather bed with Sam, a Sam entirely devoid of clothing (as was Frodo himself, of course), and they had enjoyed a lengthy and entirely satisfactory post-game reenactment in which Frodo had demonstrated both his grip and his stroke, and then Sam, as was only fair, had got the chance to demonstrate his. Now, in the afterglow (which, Frodo thought sentimentally, seemed to light up the entire room), Sam lay spooned around Frodo with his lovely round hobbit belly pressed up against Frodo’s bare bottom, and for a wonder neither Frodo’s head nor his heart, which finally appeared to be in perfect accord, nor any officious hobbit (lurking unsuspected under the bed) had popped up and cruelly prevented it from remaining there.
Frodo squirmed backward a little, the better to enjoy the sensation, and Sam tightened his arm about Frodo’s waist and heaved a happy little sigh of his own.
There was silence for a minute or so- the silence of two hobbits sharing perfect understanding and bliss- and then Frodo heard a rumble of laughter shake Sam’s really quite magnificently muscular chest.
“What? What it is it, Sam-love?”
“I was just remembering something, Mr-"
If there was one teeny tiny weed in the garden of perfect understanding and bliss that he and Sam now shared, it was Sam’s continued and excessive use of honorifics when addressing Frodo. Frodo had wondered if, under the circumstances, it was appropriate for him to order Sam never to use the words ‘Mr.’ or ‘sir’ again in conjunction with the word Frodo, but he had discovered that there were in fact much more effective and satisfactory ways of dealing with the vexing problem. He employed one of them now.
“Mmmph… Frodo,” Sam corrected himself. “Sorry, s- I mean, my dear.”
My dear… Frodo heaved yet another happy sigh as Sam went on, “I was just remembering that day we was at the links practicing, and Mr. Lotho and that Ted Sandyman was there, and you knocked Mr. Lotho’s cap clean off his head with your featherie. You did that a’purpose, didn’t you, M- Frodo?”
Frodo laughed, remembering. “I did. And I was quite proud of that shot, Sam dear. It was rather tricky to execute, you know.”
“Oh Frodo, you are a wonder and no mistake,” said Sam, kissing Frodo on the shoulder (which was the nearest available spot). “Now I’ve been thinking,” he went on in an enthusiastic voice, “and did you know that there ain’t never been a golfer as has won the Silver Jug more than three times? And the last to do that was Sancho Boffin, nigh on fifty years ago. But I reckon you could easily win it a dozen times, M- Frodo, the way you play. Why, if the winter’s a mild one, which my Gaffer’s rheumatics tell him it will be, we could practice right on through ‘til spring. Come next year’s Challenge, there’ll not be a hobbit who can touch you.”
There was another silence, but this one, alas, was not of perfect understanding and bliss, and this was, Frodo was very much afraid, no teeny tiny weed but rather a large one, in fact. “Sam…” he began.
But Sam, it appeared, already knew what he was going to say. “You don’t mean to play in the Challenge again, do you, my dear.” He sounded disappointed, but resigned.
Frodo wiggled around until he was facing Sam, and looked at him contritely. “I’m very sorry, my dearest Sam. But no, I don’t mean to play in it again. I hope you can be content with seeing my name inscribed on the Silver Jug only once. You are going to be dreadfully disappointed in me, Sam, but the truth is, I don’t really like golf very much. I never have. I’ve always rather subscribed to Bilbo’s viewpoint, you see: Golf is a good walk spoiled. I enjoyed my games with you very much indeed, and I promise to play with you any time you like, but I shan’t enter the Challenge again.”
“Oh Frodo, and you the most talented natural golfer in the history of the Shire.”
Frodo pushed Sam back into the pillows and propped himself up on that magnificently muscular chest. “Only the most talented natural golfer?” he asked, a teasing gleam in his eyes. “I’d rather hoped…” But he became distracted by the sight of one of Sam’s coppery nipples, and never finished his sentence.
Sam grinned. “Well, I’d need a bit more evidence, you might say, before I could rightly judge if you was the most naturally talented in other areas, my dear.”
“Then by all means, let me provide it without further delay.” Frodo bent his head and flicked out his tongue, while his hand got busy further down, practicing his grip.
While Sam later protested that he still wasn’t quite convinced, and would need even more evidence, privately he had no doubts whatsoever about Frodo’s natural talent in this area, too.
Several months later…
It was raining, the sort of rain that made outdoor work impossible, and a cozy fire and a glass of wine to chase away the chill indispensable.
Frodo and Sam were in the study, settled in front of the cozy fire. On a nearby table sat a bottle of Old Winyards, and two crystal goblets half-filled with wine that glowed a rich ruby red in the light of the fire.
It was Frodo’s dream come to life.
Well, not quite.
Frodo had taken down a leather-bound volume of Elvish love poetry, with every intention of reading a poem or two to Sam; but the book had been tossed aside early on in the proceedings, and now lay open and face down on the rug (an indignity to a fine binding of which Bilbo would not have approved) in the midst of a pile of discarded clothes.
Sam did have a dreamy expression on his face as he sat in his armchair by the fire, but the Silver Jug was not on his lap. Indeed, there would have been no room for it had it wanted to be there, for that space was otherwise occupied, and by something (a naked something) that Sam far preferred to have resting there: Frodo.
The Silver Jug was, in fact, nowhere in sight. It was, as it had been since its return from having Frodo’s name engraved upon it at the silversmith’s shop in Bywater, in the parlour, enjoying pride of place on the mantlepiece. To be sure, Sam polished it with a soft cloth and tender loving care every week (sometimes even twice a week), but he carried it into the kitchen to do so. Nor did he delicately trace with one tender finger the outline of Frodo’s name where it was engraved on the Jug; for it was more satisfying by far to trace (delicately and tenderly and with all his fingers) the silk and satin curves and lines of Frodo himself.
From time to time, it is true, Sam would steal away unnoticed to the quiet parlour, where he would stand before the beauty of the gleaming trophy and relive in private that momentous day (and night). And he would feel a slight pang at the thought that the name of Frodo Baggins, the most talented natural golfer (among other things) in the history of the Shire, would only ever appear upon it once. But then he would recall that next year’s Challenge was to be held out by Greenfields, where Falco Bramble lived, and decide that perhaps it was just as well. He hadn’t liked the way the great North Farthing Champion looked at Frodo- not one bit.
And he did have that momentous day to remember, didn’t he- and many more besides, for in the months since the Challenge, he and Frodo had compared compelling dreams, explored intriguing possibilities, and even played golf together- including one truly memorable evening on the links that had forever redefined for Sam the meaning of the phrase ‘hole-in-one’, but had not, alas, led to either of their names being inscribed on a roll in the clubhouse of the HCHG.
And Frodo? As he sat nestled in Sam’s arms by the fire, listening to the rain beating on the window and Sam’s loving heart beating beneath his cheek, he smiled. Imagination was a wonderful thing, and so were dreams. But reality was better- far, far better. His smile widened. Why, he had even carried Sam to their bedchamber, just the other night. With some trepidation it is true (though not so much as Sam felt, to judge by the look on his face) and he had staggered a little (for Sam did outweigh him by a bit). But by the Bullroarer, he’d done it.
He was a Champion, after all.