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The Scouring of the Shire
It was after nightfall when, wet and tired, the travellers came at last to the Brandywine, and they found the way barred. At either end of the Bridge there was a great spiked gate; and on the further side of the river they could see that some new houses had been built: two-storeyed with narrow straight-sided windows, bare and dimly lit, all very gloomy and un-Shirelike.
They hammered on the outer gate and called, but there was at first no answer; and then to their surprise someone blew a horn, and the lights in the windows went out. A voice shouted in the dark:
“Who’s that? Be off! You can’t come in: Can’t you read the notice: No admittance between sundown and sunrise?”
“Of course we can’t read the notice in the dark.” Sam shouted back. “And if hobbits of the Shire are to be kept out in the wet on a night like this, I’ll tear down your notice when I find it.”
At that a window slammed, and a crowd of hobbits with lanterns poured out of the house on the left. They opened the further gate, and some came over the bridge. When they saw the travellers they seemed frightened.
“Come along!” said Merry, recognizing one of the hobbits. “If you don’t know me, Hob Hayward, you ought to. I am Merry Brandybuck, and I should like to know what all this is about, and what a Bucklander like you is doing here. You used to be on the Hay Gate.”
“Bless me! It’s Master Merry, to be sure, and all dressed up for fighting!” said old Hob. “Why, they said you was dead! Lost in the Old Forest by all accounts. I’m pleased to see you alive after all!”
“Then stop gaping at me through the bars, and open the gate!” said Merry.
“I’m sorry, Master Merry, but we have orders.”
“The Chief’s up at Bag End.”
“Chief? Chief? Do you mean Mr. Lotho?” said Frodo.
“I suppose so, Mr. Baggins; but we have to say just “the Chief” nowadays.”
“Do you indeed!” said Frodo. “Well, I am glad he has dropped the Baggins at any rate. But it is evidently high time that the family dealt with him and put him in his place.”
A hush fell on the hobbits beyond the gate. “It won’t do no good talking that way,” said one. “He’ll get to hear of it. And if you make so much noise, you’ll wake the Chief’s Big Man.”
“We shall wake him up in a way that will surprise him,” said Merry. “If you mean that your precious Chief has been hiring ruffians out of the wild, then we’ve not come back too soon.” He sprang from his pony, and seeing the notice in the light of the lanterns, he tore it down and threw it over the gate. The hobbits backed away and made no move to open it. “Come on, Pippin!” said Merry. “Two is enough.”
Merry and Pippin climbed the gate, and the hobbits fled. Another horn sounded. Out of the bigger house on the right a large heavy figure appeared against a light in the doorway.
“What’s all this,” he snarled as he came forward. “Gate-breaking? You clear out, or I’ll break your filthy little necks!” Then he stopped, for he had caught the gleam of swords.
“Bill Ferny,” said Merry, “if you don’t open that gate in ten seconds, you’ll regret it. I shall set steel to you, if you don’t obey. And when you have opened the gates you will go through them and never return. You are a ruffian and a highway-robber.”
Bill Ferny flinched and shuffled to the gate and unlocked it. “Give me the key!” said Merry. But the ruffian flung it at his head and then darted out into the darkness. As he passed the ponies one of them let fly with his heels and just caught him as he ran. He went off with a yelp into the night and was never heard of again.
“Neat work, Bill,” said Sam, meaning the pony.
“So much for your Big Man,” said Merry. “We’ll see the Chief later. In the meantime we want a lodging for the night, and as you seem to have pulled down the Bridge Inn and built this dismal place instead, you’ll have to put us up.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Merry,” said Hob, “but it isn’t allowed.”
“What isn’t allowed?”
Taking in folk off-hand like and eating extra food, and all that, said Hob.
“What’s the matter with the place?” said Merry. “Has it been a bad year, or what? I thought it had been a fine summer and harvest.”
“Well no, the year’s been good enough,” said Hob. “We grows a lot of food, but we don’t rightly know what becomes of it. It’s all these “gatherers” and “sharers”, I reckon, going round counting and measuring and taking off to storage. They do more gathering than sharing, and we never see most of the stuff again.”
“Oh come!” said Pippin yawning. “This is all too tiresome for me tonight. We’ve got food in our bags. Just give us a room to lie down in. It’ll be better than many places I have seen.”
The hobbits at the gate still seemed ill at ease, evidently some rule or other was being broken; but there was no gainsaying four such masterful travellers, all armed, and two of them uncommonly large and strong-looking. Frodo ordered the gates to be locked again. There was some sense at any rate in keeping a guard, while ruffians were still about. Then the four companions went into the hobbit guard-house and made themselves as comfortable as they could. It was a bare and ugly place, with a mean little grate that would not allow a good fire. In the upper rooms were little rows of hard beds, and on every wall there was a notice and a list of Rules. Pippin tore them down. There was no beer and very little food, but with what the travellers brought and shared out they all made a fair meal; and Pippin broke Rule 4 by putting most of next day’s allowance of wood on the fire.
“Well now, what about a smoke, while you tell us what has been happening in the Shire?” he said.
“There isn’t no pipe-weed now,” said Hob; “at least only for the Chief’s men. All the stocks seem to have gone. We do hear that waggon-loads of it went away down the old road out of the Southfarthing, over Sarn Ford way. That would be the end o’ last year, after you left. But it had been going away quietly before that, in a small way. That Lotho-“
“Now you shut up, Hob Hayward!” cried several of the others. “You know talk o’ that sort isn’t allowed. The Chief will hear of it, and we’ll all be in trouble.”
“He wouldn’t hear naught, if some of you here weren’t sneaks,” rejoined Hob hotly.
“All right, all right!” said Sam. “That’s quite enough. I don’t want to hear no more. No welcome, no beer, no smoke, and a lot of rules and orc-talk instead. I hoped to have a rest, but I can see there’s work and trouble ahead. Let’s sleep and forget it till morning!”
The new “Chief’ evidently had means of getting news. It was a good forty miles from the Bridge to Bag End, but someone made the journey in a hurry. So Frodo and his friends soon discovered.
They had not made any definite plans, but had vaguely thought of going down to Crickhollow together first, and resting there a bit. But now, seeing what things were like, they decided to go straight to Hobbiton. So the next day they set out along the Road and jogged along steadily. The wind had dropped but the sky was grey. The land looked rather sad and forlorn; but it was after all the first of November and the fag-end of Autumn. Still there seemed an unusual amount of burning going on, and smoke rose from many points round about. A great cloud of it was going up far away in the direction of the Woody End.
As evening fell they were drawing near to Frogmorton, a village right on the Road, about twenty-two miles from the Bridge. There they meant to stay the night; The Floating Log at Frogmorton was a good inn. But as they came to the east end of the village they met a barrier with a large board saying NO ROAD; and behind it stood a large band of Shirriffs with staves in their hands and feathers in their caps, looking both important and rather scared.
“What’s all this?” said Frodo, feeling inclined to laugh.
This is what it is, Mr. Baggins, said the leader of the Shirriffs, a two-feather hobbit: “You’re arrested for Gate-breaking, and Tearing up of Rules, and Assaulting Gate-keepers, and Trespassing, and Sleeping in Shire-buildings without Leave, and Bribing Guards with Food.”
“And what else?” said Frodo.
“That’ll do to go on with,” said the Shirriff-leader.
“I can add some more, if you like it,” said Sam. “Calling your Chief Names, Wishing to punch his Pimply Face, and Thinking you Shirriffs look a lot of Tom-fools.”
“There now, Mister, that’ll do. It’s the Chief’s orders that you’re to come along quiet. We’re going to take you to Bywater and hand you over to the Chief’s Men; and when he deals with your case you can have your say. But if you don’t want to stay in the Lockholes any longer than you need, I should cut the say short, if I was you.”
To the discomfiture of the Shirriffs Frodo and his companions all roared with laughter. “Don’t be absurd!” said Frodo. “I am going where I please, and in my own time. I happen to be going to Bag End on business, but if you insist on going too, well that is your affair.”
“Very well, Mr. Baggins,” said the leader, pushing the barrier aside. “But don’t forget I’ve arrested you.”
“I won’t,” said Frodo. “Never. But I may forgive you. Now I am not going any further today, so if you’ll kindly escort me to The Floating Log, I’ll be obliged.”
“I can’t do that, Mr. Baggins. The inn’s closed. There’s a Shirriff-house at the far end of the village. I’ll take you there. “
“All right,” said Frodo. “Go on and we’ll follow.”
Sam had been looking the Shirriffs up and down and had spotted one that he knew. “Hey, come here Robin Smallburrow!” he called. “I want a word with you.”
With a sheepish glance at his leader, who looked wrathful but did not dare to interfere, Shirriff Smallburrow fell back and walked beside Sam, who got down off his pony.
“Look here, Cock-robin!” said Sam. “You’re Hobbiton-bred and ought to have more sense, coming a-waylaying Mr. Frodo and all. And what’s all this about the inn being closed?”
“They’re all closed,” said Robin. “The Chief doesn’t hold with beer. Leastways that is how it started. But now I reckon it’s his Men that has it all. And he doesn’t hold with folk moving about; so if they will or they must, then they has to go to the Shirriff-house and explain their business.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself having anything to do with such nonsense,” said Sam. “You used to like the inside of an inn better than the outside yourself. You were always popping in, on duty or off.”
“And so I would be still, Sam, if I could. But don’t be hard on me. What can I do? You know how I went for a Shirriff seven years ago, before any of this began. Gave me a chance of walking round the country and seeing folk, and hearing the news, and knowing where the good beer was. But now it’s different.”
“But you can give it up, stop Shirriffing, if it has stopped being a respectable job,” said Sam.
“We’re not allowed to,” said Robin.
“If I hear not allowed much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.”
“Can’t say as I’d be sorry to see it,” said Robin lowering his voice. “If we all got angry together something might be done. But it’s these Men, Sam, the Chief’s Men. He sends them round everywhere, and if any of us small folk stand up for our rights, they drag him off to the Lockholes. They took old Flourdumpling, old Will Whitfoot the Mayor, first, and they’ve taken a lot more. Lately it’s been getting worse. Often they beat “em now.”
“Then why do you do their work far them?” said Sam angrily. “Who sent you to Frogmorton?”
“No one did. We stay here in the big Shirriff-house. We’re the First Eastfarthing Troop now. There’s hundreds of Shirriffs all told and they want more, with all these new rules. Most of them are in it against their will, but not all. Even in the Shire there are some as like minding other folk’s business and talking big. And there’s worse than that: there’s a few as do spy-work for the Chief and his Men.”
“Ah! So that’s how you had news of us, is it?”
“That’s right. We aren’t allowed to send by it now, but they use the old Quick Post service, and keep special runners at different points. One came in from Whitfurrows last night with a “secret message”, and another took it on from here. And a message came back this afternoon saying you was to be arrested and taken to Bywater, not direct to the Lockholes. The Chief wants to see you at once, evidently.”
“He won’t be so eager when Mr. Frodo has finished with him,” said Sam.
The Shirriff-house at Frogmorton was as bad as the Bridge-house. It had only one storey, but it had the same narrow windows, and it was built of ugly pale bricks, badly laid. Inside it was damp and cheerless, and supper was served on a long bare table that had not been scrubbed for weeks. The food deserved no better setting. The travellers were glad to leave the place. It was about eighteen miles to Bywater, and they set off at ten o’clock in the morning. They would have started earlier, only the delay so plainly annoyed the Shirriff-leader. The west wind had shifted northward and it was turning colder, but the rain was gone.
It was rather a comic cavalcade that left the village, though the few folk that came out to stare at the “get-up’ of the travellers did not seem quite sure whether laughing was allowed. A dozen Shirriffs had been told off as escort to the “prisoners’; but Merry made them march in front, while Frodo and his friends rode behind. Merry, Pippin, and Sam sat at their ease laughing and talking and singing, while the Shirriffs stumped along trying to look stern and important. Frodo, however, was silent and looked rather sad and thoughtful.
The last person they passed was a sturdy old gaffer clipping a hedge. “Hullo, hullo!” he jeered. “Now who’s arrested who?”
Two of the Shirriffs immediately left the party and went towards him. “Leader!” said Merry. “Order your fellows back to their places at once, if you don’t want me to deal with them!”
The two hobbits at a sharp word from the leader came back sulkily. “Now get on!” said Merry, and after that the travellers saw to it that their ponies’ pace was quick enough to push the Shirriffs along as fast as they could go. The sun came out, and in spite of the chilly wind they were soon puffing and sweating.
At the Three-Farthing Stone they gave it up. They had done nearly fourteen miles with only one rest at noon. It was now three o’clock. They were hungry and very footsore and they could not stand the pace.
“Well, come along in your own time!” said Merry. “We are going on.”
“Good-bye, Cock-robin!” said Sam. “I’ll wait for you outside The Green Dragon, if you haven’t forgotten where that is. Don’t dawdle on the way!”
“You’re breaking arrest, that’s what you’re doing,” said the leader ruefully, “and I can’t be answerable.”
“We shall break a good many things yet, and not ask you to answer “ said Pippin. “Good luck to you!”
The travellers trotted on, and as the sun began to sink towards the White Downs far away on the western horizon they came to Bywater by its wide pool; and there they had their first really painful shock. This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world. Many of the houses that they had known were missing. Some seemed to have been burned down. The pleasant row of old hobbit-holes in the bank on the north side of the Pool were deserted, and their little gardens that used to run down bright to the water’s edge were rank with weeds. Worse, there was a whole line of the ugly new houses all along Pool Side, where the Hobbiton Road ran close to the bank. An avenue of trees had stood there. They were all gone. And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air.
Sam was beside himself. “I’m going right on, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I’m going to see what’s up. I want to find my gaffer.”
“We ought to find out first what we’re in for, Sam,” said Merry. “I guess that the “Chief” will have a gang of ruffians handy. We had better find someone who will tell us how things are round here.”
But in the village of Bywater all the houses and holes were shut, and no one greeted them. They wondered at this, but they soon discovered the reason of it. When they reached The Green Dragon, the last house on the Hobbiton side, now lifeless and with broken windows, they were disturbed to see half a dozen large ill-favoured Men lounging against the inn-wall; they were squint-eyed and sallow-faced.
“Like that friend of Bill Ferny’s at Bree,” said Sam.
“Like many that I saw at Isengard,” muttered Merry.
The ruffians had clubs in their hands and horns by their belts, but they had no other weapons, as far as could be seen. As the travellers rode up they left the wall and walked into the road, blocking the way.
“Where d’you think you’re going?” said one, the largest and most evil-looking of the crew. “There’s no road for you any further. And where are those precious Shirriffs?”
“Coming along nicely,” said Merry. “A little footsore, perhaps. We promised to wait for them here.”
“Garn, what did I say?” said the ruffian to his mates. “I told Sharkey it was no good trusting those little fools. Some of our chaps ought to have been sent.”
“And what difference would that have made, pray?” said Merry. “We are not used to footpads in this country, but we know how to deal with them.”
“Footpads, eh?” said the man: “So that’s your tone, is it? Change it, or we’ll change it for you. You little folk are getting too uppish. Don’t you trust too much in the Boss’s kind heart. Sharkey’s come now and he’ll do what Sharkey says.”
“And what may that be?” said Frodo quietly.
“This country wants waking up and setting to rights,” said the ruffian, “and Sharkey’s going to do it; and make it hard, if you drive him to it. You need a bigger Boss. And you’ll get one before the year is out, if there’s any more trouble. Then you’ll learn a thing or two, you little rat-folk.”
“Indeed. I am glad to hear of your plans,” said Frodo. “I am on my way to call on Mr. Lotho, and he may be interested to hear of them too.”
The ruffian laughed. “Lotho! He knows all right. Don’t you worry. He’ll do what Sharkey says. Because if a Boss gives trouble, we can change him. See? And if little folks try to push in where they’re not wanted, we can put them out of mischief. See?”
“Yes, I see,” said Frodo. “For one thing, I see that you’re behind the times and the news here. Much has happened since you left the South. Your day is over, and all other ruffians’. The Dark Tower has fallen, and there is a King in Gondor. And Isengard has been destroyed, and your precious master is a beggar in the wilderness. I passed him on the road. The King’s messengers will ride up the Greenway now not bullies from Isengard.”
The man stared at him and smiled. “A beggar in the wilderness!” he mocked. “Oh, is he indeed? Swagger it, swagger it, my little cock-a-whoop. But that won’t stop us living in this fat little country where you have lazed long enough. And’ - he snapped his fingers in Frodo’s face - “King’s messengers! That for them! When I see one, I’ll take notice, perhaps.”
This was too much for Pippin. His thoughts went back to the Field of Cormallen, and here was a squint-eyed rascal calling the Ring-bearer “little cock-a-whoop’. He cast back his cloak, flashed out his sword, and the silver and sable of Gondor gleamed on him as he rode forward.
“I am a messenger of the King,” he said. “You are speaking to the King’s friend, and one of the most renowned in all the lands of the West. You are a ruffian and a fool. Down on your knees in the road and ask pardon, or I will set this troll’s bane in you!”
The sword glinted in the westering sun. Merry and Sam drew their swords also and rode up to support Pippin; but Frodo did not move. The ruffians gave back. Scaring Breeland peasants, and bullying bewildered hobbits, had been their work. Fearless hobbits with bright swords and grim faces were a great surprise. And there was a note in the voices of these newcomers that they had not heard before. It chilled them with fear.
“Go!” said Merry. “If you trouble this village again, you will regret it.” The three hobbits came on, and then the ruffians turned and fled running away up the Hobbiton Road; but they blew their horns as they ran.
“Well, we’ve come back none too soon,” said Merry.
“Not a day too soon. Perhaps too late, at any rate to save Lotho,” said Frodo. “Miserable fool, but I am sorry for him.”
“Save Lotho? Whatever do you mean?” said Pippin. “Destroy him I should say.”
“I don’t think you quite understand things, Pippin,” said Frodo. “Lotho never meant things to come to this pass. He has been a wicked fool, but he’s caught now. The ruffians are on top, gathering, robbing and bullying, and running or ruining things as they like, in his name. And not in his name even for much longer. He’s a prisoner in Bag End now, I expect, and very frightened. We ought to try and rescue him.”
“Well I am staggered!” said Pippin. “Of all the ends to our journey that is the very last I should have thought of: to have to fight half-orcs and ruffians in the Shire itself - to rescue Lotho Pimple!”
“Fight?” said Frodo. “Well, I suppose it may come to that. But remember: there is to be no slaying of hobbits, not even if they have gone over to the other side. Really gone over, I mean; not just obeying ruffians’ orders because they are frightened. No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire, and it is not to begin now. And nobody is to be killed at all, if it can be helped. Keep your tempers and hold your hands to the last possible moment!”
“But if there are many of these ruffians,” said Merry, “it will certainly mean fighting. You won’t rescue Lotho, or the Shire, just by being shocked and sad, my dear Frodo.”
“No,” said Pippin. “It won’t be so easy scaring them a second time. They were taken by surprise. You heard that horn-blowing? Evidently there are other ruffians near at hand. They’ll be much bolder when there’s more of them together. We ought to think of taking cover somewhere for the night. After all we’re only four, even if we are armed.”
“I’ve an idea,” said Sam. “Let’s go to old Tom Cotton’s down South Lane! He always was a stout fellow. And he has a lot of lads that were all friends of mine.”
“No!” said Merry. “It’s no good “getting under cover”. That is just what people have been doing, and just what these ruffians like. They will simply come down on us in force, corner us, and then drive us out, or burn us in. No, we have got to do something at once.”
“Do what?” said Pippin.
“Raise the Shire!” said Merry. “Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don’t know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire. The Chief’s Men must know that. They’ll try to stamp on us and put us out quick. We’ve only got a very short time.
“Sam, you can make a dash for Cotton’s farm, if you like. He’s the chief person round here, and the sturdiest. Come on! I am going to blow the horn of Rohan, and give them all some music they have never heard before.”
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