کتاب ششم - فصل 08-02

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سه گانه ارباب حلقه ها

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کتاب ششم - فصل 08-02

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They rode back to the middle of the village. There Sam turned aside and galloped off down the lane that led south to Cotton’s. He had not gone far when he heard a sudden clear horn-call go up ringing into the sky. Far over hill and field it echoed; and so compelling was that call that Sam himself almost turned and dashed back. His pony reared and neighed.

“On, lad! On!” he cried. “We’ll be going back soon.”

Then he heard Merry change the note, and up went the Horn-cry of Buckland, shaking the air.

Awake! Awake! Fear, Fire, Foes! Awake!

Fire, Foes! Awake!

Behind him Sam heard a hubbub of voices and a great din and slamming of doors. In front of him lights sprang out in the gloaming; dogs barked; feet came running. Before he got to the lane’s end there was Farmer Cotton with three of his lads, Young Tom, Jolly, and Nick, hurrying towards him. They had axes in their hands, and barred the way.

“Nay! It’s not one of them ruffians,” Sam heard the farmer say. “It’s a hobbit by the size of it, but all dressed up queer. Hey!” he cried. “Who are you, and what’s all this to-do?”

“It’s Sam, Sam Gamgee. I’ve come back.”

Farmer Cotton came up close and stared at him in the twilight. “Well!” he exclaimed. “The voice is right, and your face is no worse than it was, Sam. But I should a’ passed you in the street in that gear. You’ve been in foreign parts, seemingly. We feared you were dead.”

“That I ain’t!” said Sam. “Nor Mr. Frodo. He’s here and his friends. And that’s the to-do. They’re raising the Shire. We’re going to clear out these ruffians, and their Chief too. We’re starting now.”

“Good, good!” cried Farmer Cotton. “So it’s begun at last! I’ve been itching for trouble all this year, but folks wouldn’t help. And I’ve had the wife and Rosie to think of. These ruffians don’t stick at nothing. But come on now, lads! Bywater is up! We must be in it!”

“What about Mrs. Cotton and Rosie?” said Sam. “It isn’t safe yet for them to be left all alone.”

“My Nibs is with them. But you can go and help him, if you have a mind,” said Farmer Cotton with a grin. Then he and his sons ran off towards the village.

Sam hurried to the house. By the large round door at the top of the steps from the wide yard stood Mrs. Cotton and Rosie, and Nibs in front of them grasping a hay-fork.

“It’s me!” shouted Sam as he trotted up. “Sam Gamgee! So don’t try prodding me, Nibs. Anyway, I’ve a mail-shirt on me.”

He jumped down from his pony and went up the steps. They stared at him in silence. “Good evening, Mrs. Cotton!” he said. “Hullo Rosie!”

“Hullo, Sam!” said Rosie. “Where’ve you been I They said you were dead; but I’ve been expecting you since the Spring. You haven’t hurried have you?”

“Perhaps not,” said Sam abashed. “But I’m hurrying now. We’re setting about the ruffians, and I’ve got to get back to Mr. Frodo. But I thought I’d have a look and see how Mrs. Cotton was keeping, and you, Rosie.”

“We’re keeping nicely, thank you,” said Mrs. Cotton. “Or should be, if it weren’t for these thieving ruffians.”

“Well, be off with you!” said Rosie. “If you’ve been looking after Mr. Frodo all this while, what d’you want to leave him for, as soon as things look dangerous?”

This was too much for Sam. It needed a week’s answer, or none. He turned away and mounted his pony. But as he started off, Rosie ran down the steps.

“I think you look fine, Sam,” she said. “Go on now! But take care of yourself, and come straight back as soon as you have settled the ruffians!”

When Sam got back he found the whole village roused. Already, apart from many younger lads, more than a hundred sturdy hobbits were assembled with axes, and heavy hammers, and long knives, and stout staves: and a few had hunting-bows. More were still coming in from outlying farms.

Some of the village-folk had lit a large fire, just to enliven things, and also because it was one of the things forbidden by the Chief. It burned bright as night came on. Others at Merry’s orders were setting up barriers across the road at each end of the village. When the Shirriffs came up to the lower one they were dumbfounded; but as soon as they saw how things were, most of them took off their feathers and joined in the revolt. The others slunk away.

Sam found Frodo and his friends by the fire talking to old Tom Cotton, while an admiring crowd of Bywater folk stood round and stared.

“Well, what’s the next move?” said Farmer Cotton.

“I can’t say,” said Frodo, “until I know more. How many of these ruffians are there?”

“That’s hard to tell,” said Cotton. “They moves about and comes and goes. There’s sometimes fifty of them in their sheds up Hobbiton way; but they go out from there roving round, thieving or “gathering” as they call it. Still there’s seldom less than a score round the Boss, as they names him. He’s at Bag End, or was; but he don’t go outside the rounds now. No one s seen him at all, in fact, for a week or two; but the Men don’t let no one go near.”

“Hobbiton’s not their only place, is it?” said Pippin.

“No, more’s the pity,” said Cotton. “There’s a good few down south in Longbottom and by Sarn Ford, I hear; and some more lurking in the Woody End; and they’ve sheds at Waymeet. And then there’s the Lockholes, as they call “em: the old storage-tunnels at Michel Delving that they’ve made into prisons for those as stand up to them. Still I reckon there’s not above three hundred of them in the Shire all told, and maybe less. We can master them, if we stick together.”

“Have they got any weapons?” asked Merry.

“Whips, knives, and clubs, enough for their dirty work: that’s all they’ve showed so far,” said Cotton. “But I dare say they’ve got other gear, if it comes to fighting. Some have bows, anyway. They’ve shot one or two of our folk.”

“There you are, Frodo!” said Merry. “I knew we should have to fight. Well, they started the killing.”

“Not exactly,” said Cotton. “Leastways not the shooting. Tooks started that. You see our dad Mr. Peregrin, he’s never had no truck with this Lotho, not from the beginning: said that if anyone was going to play the chief at this time of day, it would be the right Thain of the Shire and no upstart. And when Lotho sent his Men they got no change out of him. Tooks are lucky, they’ve got those deep holes in the Green Hills, the Great Smials and all, and the ruffians can’t come at “em; and they won’t let the ruffians come on their land. If they do, Tooks hunt “em. Tooks shot three for prowling and robbing. After that the ruffians turned nastier. And they keep a pretty close watch on Tookland. No one gets in nor out of it now.”

“Good for the Tooks!” cried Pippin. “But someone is going to get in again, now. I am off to the Smials. Anyone coming with me to Tuckborough?”

Pippin rode off with half a dozen lads on ponies. “See you soon!” he cried. “It’s only fourteen miles or so over the fields. I’ll bring you back an army of Tooks in the morning.” Merry blew a horn-call after them as they rode off into the gathering night. The people cheered.

“All the same,” said Frodo to all those who stood near, “I wish for no killing; not even of the ruffians, unless it must be done, to prevent them from hurting hobbits.”

“All right!” said Merry. “But we shall be having a visit from the Hobbiton gang any time now, I think. They won’t come just to talk things over. We’ll try to deal with them neatly, but we must be prepared for the worst. Now I’ve got a plan.”

“Very good,” said Frodo. “You make the arrangements.”

Just then some hobbits, who had been sent out towards Hobbiton, came running in. “They’re coming!” they said. “A score or more. But two have gone off west across country.”

“To Waymeet, that’ll be,” said Cotton, “to fetch more of the gang. Well, it’s fifteen mile each way. We needn’t trouble about them just yet.”

Merry hurried off to give orders. Farmer Cotton cleared the street, sending everyone indoors, except the older hobbits who had weapons of some sort. They had not long to wait. Soon they could hear loud voices, and then the tramping of heavy feet. Presently a whole squad of the ruffians came down the road. They saw the barrier and laughed. They did not imagine that there was anything in this little land that would stand up to twenty of their kind together.

The hobbits opened the barrier and stood aside. “Thank you!” the Men jeered. “Now run home to bed before you’re whipped.” Then they marched along the street shouting: “Put those lights out! Get indoors and stay there! Or we’ll take fifty of you to the Lockholes for a year. Get in! The Boss is losing his temper.”

No one paid any heed to their orders; but as the ruffians passed, they closed in quietly behind and followed them. When the Men reached the fire there was Farmer Cotton standing all alone warming his hands.

“Who are you, and what d’you think you’re doing?” said the ruffian-leader.

Farmer Cotton looked at him slowly. “I was just going to ask you that,” he said. “This isn’t your country, and you’re not wanted.”

“Well, you’re wanted anyhow,” said the leader. “We want you. Take him lads! Lockholes for him, and give him something to keep him quiet!”

The Men took one step forward and stopped short. There rose a roar of voices all round them, and suddenly they were aware that Farmer Cotton was not all alone. They were surrounded. In the dark on the edge of the firelight stood a ring of hobbits that had crept up out of the shadows. There was nearly two hundred of them, all holding some weapon.

Merry stepped forward. “We have met before,” he said to the leader, “and I warned you not to come back here. I warn you again: you are standing in the light and you are covered by archers. If you lay a finger on this farmer, or on anyone else, you will be shot at once. Lay down any weapons that you have!”

The leader looked round. He was trapped. But he was not scared, not now with a score of his fellows to back him. He knew too little of hobbits to understand his peril. Foolishly he decided to fight. It would be easy to break out.

“At “em lads!” he cried. “Let “em have it!”

With a long knife in his left hand and a club in the other he made a rush at the ring, trying to burst out back towards Hobbiton. He aimed a savage blow at Merry who stood in his way. He fell dead with four arrows in him: That was enough for the others. They gave in. Their weapons were taken from them, and they were roped together, and marched off to an empty hut that they had built themselves, and there they were tied hand and foot, and locked up under guard. The dead leader was dragged off and buried.

“Seems almost too easy after all, don’t it?” said Cotton. “I said we could master them. But we needed a call. You came back in the nick o’ time, Mr. Merry.”

“There’s more to be done still,” said Merry. “If you’re right in your reckoning, we haven’t dealt with a tithe of them yet. But it’s dark now. I think the next stroke must wait until morning. Then we must call on the Chief.”

“Why not now?” said Sam. “It’s not much more than six o’clock. And I want to see my gaffer. D’you know what’s come of him, Mr. Cotton?”

“He’s not too well, and not too bad, Sam,” said the farmer. “They dug up Bagshot Row, and that was a sad blow to him. He’s in one of them new houses that the Chief’s Men used to build while they still did any work other than burning and thieving: not above a mile from the end of Bywater. But he comes around to me, when he gets a chance, and I see he’s better fed than some of the poor bodies. All against The Rules, of course. I’d have had him with me, but that wasn’t allowed.”

“Thank’ee indeed, Mr. Cotton, and I’ll never forget it,” said Sam. “But I want to see him. That Boss and that Sharkey, as they spoke of, they might do a mischief up there before the morning.”

“All right, Sam,” said Cotton. “Choose a lad or two, and go and fetch him to my house. You’ll not have need to go near the old Hobbiton village over Water. My Jolly here will show you.”

Sam went off. Merry arranged for look-outs round the village and guards at the barriers during the night. Then he and Frodo went off with Farmer Cotton. They sat with the family in the warm kitchen, and the Cottons asked a few polite questions about their travels, but hardly listened to the answers: they were far more concerned with events in the Shire.

“It all began with Pimple, as we call him,” said Farmer Cotton; “and it began as soon as you’d gone off, Mr. Frodo. He’d funny ideas had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about. It soon came out that he already did own a sight more than was good for him; and he was always grabbing more, though where he got the money was a mystery: mills and malt-houses and inns, and farms, and leaf-plantations. He’d already bought Sandyman’s mill before he came to Bag End, seemingly.

“Of course he started with a lot of property in the Southfarthing which he had from his dad; and it seems he’d been selling a lot o’ the best leaf, and sending it away quietly for a year or two. But at the end o’ last year he began sending away loads of stuff, not only leaf. Things began to get short, and winter coming on, too. Folk got angry, but he had his answer. A lot of Men, ruffians mostly, came with great waggons, some to carry off the goods south-away, and others to stay. And more came. And before we knew where we were they were planted here and there all over the Shire, and were felling trees and digging and building themselves sheds and houses just as they liked. At first goods and damage was paid for by Pimple; but soon they began lording it around and taking what they wanted.

“Then there was a bit of trouble, but not enough. Old Will the Mayor set off for Bag End to protest, but he never got there. Ruffians laid hands on him and took and locked him up in a hole in Michel Delving, and there he is now. And after that, it would be soon after New Year, there wasn’t no more Mayor, and Pimple called himself Chief Shirriff, or just Chief, and did as he liked; and if anyone got “uppish” as they called it, they followed Will. So things went from bad to worse. There wasn’t no smoke left, save for the Men; and the Chief didn’t hold with beer, save for his Men, and closed all the inns; and everything except Rules got shorter and shorter, unless one could hide a bit of one’s own when the ruffians went round gathering stuff up “for fair distribution”: which meant they got it and we didn’t, except for the leavings which you could have at the Shirriff-houses, if you could stomach them. All very bad. But since Sharkey came it’s been plain ruination.”

“Who is this Sharkey?” said Merry. “I heard one of the ruffians speak of him.”

“The biggest ruffian o’ the lot, seemingly,” answered Cotton. “It was about last harvest, end o’ September maybe, that we first heard of him. We’ve never seen him, but he’s up at Bag End; and he’s the real Chief now, I guess. All the ruffians do what he says; and what he says is mostly hack, burn, and ruin; and now it’s come to killing. There’s no longer even any bad sense in it. They cut down trees and let “em lie, they burn houses and build no more.

“Take Sandyman’s mill now. Pimple knocked it down almost as soon as he came to Bag End. Then he brought in a lot o’ dirty-looking Men to build a bigger one and fill it full o’ wheels and outlandish contraptions. Only that fool Ted was pleased by that, and he works there cleaning wheels for the Men, where his dad was the Miller and his own master. Pimple’s idea was to grind more and faster, or so he said. He’s got other mills like it. But you’ve got to have grist before you can grind; and there was no more for the new mill to do than for the old. But since Sharkey came they don’t grind no more corn at all. They’re always a-hammering and a-letting out a smoke and a stench, and there isn’t no peace even at night in Hobbiton. And they pour out filth a purpose; they’ve fouled all the lower Water and it’s getting down into Brandywine. If they want to make the Shire into a desert, they’re going the right way about it. I don’t believe that fool of a Pimple’s behind all this. It’s Sharkey, I say.”

“That’s right!” put in Young Tom. “Why, they even took Pimple’s old ma, that Lobelia, and he was fond of her, if no one else was. Some of the Hobbiton folk, they saw it. She comes down the lane with her old umbrella. Some of the ruffians were going up with a big cart.

“Where be you a-going?” says she.

“To Bag End,” says they.

“What for?” says she.

“To put up some sheds for Sharkey,” says they.

“Who said you could?” says she.

“Sharkey,” says they. “So get out o’ the road, old hagling!”

“I’ll give you Sharkey, you dirty thieving ruffians!” says she, and ups with her umbrella and goes for the leader. near twice her size. So they took her. Dragged her off to the Lockholes, at her age too. They’ve took others we miss more, but there’s no denying she showed more spirit than most.”

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