‘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.’