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1
Tea Party

Title: Elf-Root
Author:
Soledad

Disclaimer: The characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun.

Rating: General, suitable for all.

Summary: Silver and gold were not the only things Bilbo Baggins brought back from his adventure with the Dwarves.

Beta read by Larner, thanks!


~~~

PART ONE – TEA PARTY

To say that the tea parties of Missus Rubinium Baggins were famed well beyond the boundaries of Hobbiton, or even those of the Westfarthing, would have been an understatement. They were talked about from Greenholm in the Fox Downs to Bucklebury, and from Greenfields in the North to Hardbottle and Longbottom in the South for weeks afterward. To be invited to such a party was considered a privilege, even among the ladies and lasses of the gentry, and more than one of them would give almost anything for an invitation.

But being simply of good breeding would not earn one the privilege, as the example of Lobelia Bracegirdle showed, who was never ever invited, not even after her betrothal to Otho Sackville-Baggins had been announced before the gathering of the family heads. She might one day become kin by marriage, but that did not open the doors of Missus Rubinium for her.

“I have a certain expectation of the folks who would be allowed into my smial,” she often stated, not quite saying but clearly indicating that the Bracegirdle lass did not meet those expectations.

Not that anyone would blame her. Bracegirdles in general were not very pleasant company, and Lobelia, despite her fairly young age of thirty-seven – she was a few years older than her betrothed – had raised the typical Bracegirdle unpleasantness to new heights. One shivered to think of what she might become as an old hag one day.

But why in Middle-earth, would an ignorant outsider wonder, were Missus Rubinium’s tea parties so much sought after? Well, such things had always been based upon good reasons within the shire, and especially in Hobbiton, where some of the most tradition-bound Hobbits dwelt.

Firstly, Missus Rubinium was born a Bolger, and thus she came from one of the oldest families of the gentry, and she had married a Baggins. Granted, Fosco, now a well-situated Hobbit in his late seventies and a much respected landholder in his own right, was not the Baggins. After all, he was the son of Largo, the third son of the late Balbo Baggins, and the responsibility of the family head had gone through Balbo’s firstborn, Mungo, to his son Bungo, and finally to Bilbo – who had been missing for a year by now. Still, the next in the line to become the Baggins was Longo, and Fosco himself would only come as the fifth possible choice… not that it bothered him much. He was happy enough with his wealth and position and did not want that kind of responsibility at all.

Unlike Longo, who had begun to behave as if he had already been named family head and begun living in Bag End with his family. But again, Longo had always been a particularly greedy Hobbit – and being married to a Sackville did not help to dampen his greed at all, the people of Hobbiton agreed. Why else would he have arranged a marriage between his only son and Lobelia Bracegirdle, of all lasses?

In any case, Fosco and his family were well-respected in Hobbiton, and marrying Rubinium Bolger – or Missus Ruby, as she was generally called, although she hated the shortening of her name very much – only increased that respect in his neighbours’ eyes. Rubinium came of a wealthy family, was an awesome cook and had a very strong sense of decorum – which explained why she was so choosy when picking her party guests. Being invited by her meant a certain… rank among well-to-do Hobbitesses, and it was generally agreed that her daughter, Dora, just turned forty a moon and a half ago, would follow in her path one day.

The tea party held in the comfortable smial of Fosco Baggins on the twelfth of Thrimridge in the year 1342 was a rather modest one as Rubinium’s parties went. Although held on a Sterday, as always – Rubinium was a steadfast defender of time-honoured customs, after all – the number of the invited guests was unusually low. Only five ladies had been invited and were now having tea (and cakes and tarts and custards and sandwiches and an amazing variety of other food items) in the parlour, while the gentlehobbits who had come with them from the various other settlements of the Sire had accompanied Fosco and his sons, Drogo and Dudo, to the Green Dragon for a mug of beer or two.

Admittedly, Fosco’s smial could not be compared with Bag End. After all, Rubinium had not brought half the wealth into her marriage as had the late Belladonna Took, so they could not allow for the same level of luxury as Bungo when having their home built. Nonetheless, it was a very comfortable hobbit-hole. Its entrance tunnel had panelled walls, and the floors were tiled and covered with thick, home-made rag rugs, and it had an acceptable number of bedrooms, a large bathing room, a deep cellar, several pantries, a huge kitchen with adjoining dining room, two parlours and several guest rooms. It was enough for a family of five, and visiting relatives to be properly cared for.

The smial also had a garden, not as beautiful as the one of Bag End, but pretty enough, where Rubinium and her daughter liked to work in their spare time. They did have a gardener, of course, for the heavy and dirty work, but they liked to take care of their flower beds and herb gardens with their own hands, and the result would make any gardener proud. Rubinium also kept household issues in a tight hand. She did have a maid, true, that was expected in her position, but most of the work was done by her and Dora, with the lads also having their chores in garden or stable, helping out on a regular basis.

On this particular Sterday afternoon, however, Rubinium’s maid had naught else to do but serve tea and other foodstuff and then was sent back to the kitchen ’til further notice. For the tea party of the day was about family business – well, more or less. It served to celebrate the upcoming betrothal of Asphodel Brandybuck, Fosco’s young cousin, to Rufus Burrows.

Rufus Burrows, an equally young lawyer from Bywater, was a friend of the Bagginses. As a junior partner in the law firm Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes, he was the personal lawyer for Fosco, just as his father had been before him, and Fosco and Rubinium had actually helped to negotiate the marriage between Asphodel and Rufus.

Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes was perchance the oldest and most respectable law firm in the entire Shire. While the Tooks and the Brandybucks had their own well-trained lawyers, many of the gentry – particularly those in the Westfarthing – preferred to use the services of Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes… if they could afford them, that is, for these lawyers were traditionally very expensive. They all came from very old and respectable families, after all, and a gentlehobbit had to keep up a certain quality of life.

Consequently, to marry one of the Burrowses was considered a very good match, even for a lass coming from the ruling family of Buckland. Thus Asphodel Brandybuck, a sweet-faced lass of a mere twenty-nine, with thick chestnut hair and very bright hazel eyes, was properly excited about the prospect. She tried to hide her excitement, though, knowing that Missus Rubinium would not appreciate such frivolous behaviour. She had come from Brandy Hall with her older sister, Amaranth, and the younger one, Primula, who was still but a tween. Amaranth had been a very good friend of Dora Baggins for a long time and looked up to Missus Rubinium in awe, trying to follow Dora’s example in dignified manners to the smallest detail.

The older ladies were future kin, too. Rubia Grubb, a kind but no-nonsense Hobbitess in her early fifties, was born a Burrows and was, in fact, Rufus’ older sister. She had a great sheaf of very fine, very straight brown hair – an unusual trait for Hobbits – which she plaited with ribbons and coiled on both sides of her face. Her gold-flecked, greyish-blue eyes mirrored intelligence and mild curiosity most of the time. She was a skilled copyist with a clear, steady hand, who often helped her husband, Timmo Grubb, in the copying of documents, and was also an excellent cook. They had no children of their own but raised an orphaned girl named Ivy.

Her sister-in-love, Cherryblossom, was born an Appledore, and was a few years older. She had three bairns, two lads and a lass, with Godilo Grubb, who simply called her Blossom. Which was, perhaps, not the most fortunate choice of a pet name, as Cherryblossom, while surprisingly narrow in the waist, had an enormous bosom and very wide hips and was often called ‘the Bosom’ behind her back due to the aforementioned part of her anatomy. She had straw-blonde hair and blue eyes – a definite hint of Fallohide origins – liked pretty clothes and good food, but was a poor cook herself. So much so that after the birth of their first bairn Godilo had hired Sunflower Crabtree to help out in their smial as a nurse and a maid, or else the household would have fallen into chaos.

At the moment, Cherryblossom enjoyed Missus Rubinium’s excellent tea and cakes, relieved to be free of her bairns for a while. They were nine, seven and two, respectively, and while she loved them very much, a break from maternal duties was mightily welcome… as was the newest gossip from Buckland.

“Menegilda had just given birth a week before we left Brandy Hall,” Asphodel told them over her second helping of excellent apple crumble with cinnamon and whipped cream. “They have a little lad again. Rory was so pleased.”

“They are certainly eager to breed,” commented Missus Rubinium with a slight misgiving in her voice. “Little Saradoc had barely turned two; they could have waited a little longer between two bairns.”

Amaranth shrugged… then cast her eyes down shame-facedly, knowing that a daughter of a good family was not supposed to do that. It was… well, vulgar. “Bairns come at a time of their own choosing,” she said; being somewhat trained in herb lore and the art of healing, she knew a great deal about such things. “We cannot tell them when to come.”

“Sadly, that is so,” murmured Rubia Grubb, and the others changed the topic discretely. ’Twas sad enough for poor Rubia that she could not have children of her own. She was a good mother to little Ivy, but that was not quite the same, and all knew that.

“Still no word from Cousin Bilbo then?” asked young Primula Brandybuck. “’Tis more than a year that he has been gone away with those Dwarves…”

“… And that old wandering conjuror, Gandalf,” added Missus Rubinium in dismay. “He is not the right company for any self-respecting Hobbit, Gandalf isn’t. Small wonder that Bilbo was overcome by a sudden fit of Tookishness, right after his visit, and ran away, without taking as much as a kerchief with him, leaving his hole behind in a disarray and not even speaking proper good-byes.”

“Oh, I beg you, Missus Rubinium!” said Cherryblossom. “You know as well as I do that not all Tooks have much of that wayward quality. After all, their mothers are Chubbses, Hornblowers, Bolgers, Grubbs and whatnot.”

“Or even Bagginses,” added Rubia with a grin.

“That might be so,” said Rubinium. “But Tooks are, on the whole, the most jocular and unpredictable of all Hobbits.”

“I’d like to remind you, Missus Ruby, that our mother is a Took, too,” said Asphodel primly, being a great deal less intimidated by their hostess than her older sister. “And I rather like my Tookish cousins, myself. Whatever they might be, at the very least they are not stuffy and boring.”

“Asphodel!” hissed Amaranth in mortification, while Primula was smiling to herself, for deep in her heart she did find their Baggins kin a wee bit stuffy and boring indeed.

“What?” replied Asphodel defensively. “It’s true; and if Cousin Bilbo found it necessary to run away with the Dwarves the way he did, he must have had a sound reason to do so. After all, he has always been a most reliable and respectable hobbit who valued his comfort above all else.”

“If he tarries much longer abroad, he will have to forget his comfort, though,” said Rubia Grubb, helping herself to another slice of the delicious cheese tart. “Once he has been missing for a year and a day, without any word of him and his whereabouts, his heir can request that he be declared dead and take over all his belongings.”

“And considering that his heir is Longo, you can be sure that he won’t hesitate to take the necessary steps in the moment the law allows,” commented Missus Rubinium darkly. “He has had his eyes on Bag End for years upon years, and now that Otho is to marry Lobelia Bracegirdle, they would need a nice and comfortable smial in which to start their lives together. For I don’t think that even Carmella would wish to live with Lobelia under the same roof.”

“Actually,” said Rubia, “he has already handed in the request.”

“When?” Dora and her mother asked as one.

“More than two weeks ago,” answered Rubia with a shrug.

“But Cousin Bilbo hasn’t been gone a year and a day yet… or has he?” said Asphodel uncertainly.

“Nay; but it will be that in five weeks’ time,” said Rubia, and seeing their stunned visages, she shrugged again. “I have copied the official request for Timmo.”

“Are you allowed to speak about it at all?” inquired Missus Rubinium, concerned that she might be involved in Things That Are Not Done among respectable Hobbits.

Rubia shrugged again. “Neither of our husbands was sworn to secrecy,” she said, “and you’re close kin to Bilbo Baggins. You have a right to know.”

“More so if you want to purchase some of his personal belongings during the sale the day after tomorrow,” added Cherryblossom, putting down her teacup and reaching out for another seed cake.

“A… sale?” repeated Rubinium in total shock. The thought that the old china and silver eating utensils and finest linens and furniture and everything else Bilbo and his parents had stored in that beautiful smial of theirs would be offered to any grubby hand with a few coins in it upset her greatly.

Cherryblossom nodded. “Apparently, the Sackville-Bagginses don’t want any of his things, preferring to furnish Bag End with their own. For that, Bilbo’s belongings need to be gone for Otho and Lobelia, so that they can move in right after the wedding.”

“That is…” Rubinium sought for proper words to express her outrage fully; it took her some moments to find the right ones. “That’s outrageous! How could Godilo and Timmo have agreed to that?”

Rubia Grubb rolled her eyes. “They have no choice, Missus Ruby. The day after tomorrow, Bilbo will be presumably dead, according to the law, and Longo is his closest heir. He is well within his right to do with Bag End as he pleases.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“How could you have agreed to that?” Fosco Baggins repeated his wife’s question, with less shock and considerably more outrage. “You are the lawyers of the entire family, not just Longo’s!”

Godilo Grubb, whose ancestors had been lawyers for at least eight generations – and served the Bagginses with legal aid for at least that long – spread his hands apologetically.

“We’re bound by the law, Fosco,” he answered. “I don’t like the thought any more than you do, but Longo is the closest heir, and Bilbo will be gone a year and a day in the next moon. It’s well within Longo’s right to seize Bag End and sell everything he doesn’t want to keep.”

“It might be legal,” said Fosco slowly, “but that doesn’t make it right.”

“It’s… unpleasant,” admitted Timmo Grubb with a sigh. “I wish we could find a loophole, but I fear there aren’t any.”

“There will be a sale, then?” asked Dorilac Brandybuck, who had accompanied his young cousins on their visit to Hobbiton in Rorimac’s stead, as the Master’s heir did not want to leave Brandy Hall so soon after the birth of his second son.

Godilo nodded. “I’ve hired Holman Greenhand to keep an eye on the customers.”

“The Gardener for Bag End?”

“The very same. He’s a solid, reliable Hobbit; husband to our maid, Sunflower. We know him well enough to trust him. And Sunflower’s mother, old Missus Crabtree, has taken care of the Bag End linens for years upon years, so she will know better than anyone else if something has been lifted without payment.”

“Does not Holman have that young cousin of him to help him in the garden?’ asked Timmo. “What’s his name again?”

“Gamgee,” replied Godilo. “Hamfast Gamgeee. He’s a tad stiff for such a young one, but a good sort. The two of them will have everything well in hand.”

“Can we go to the sale, Da?” asked young Drogo from his father. “I’d dearly love to have some reminder of Cousin Bilbo. We’ve always gotten along just splendidly.”

“I don’t think that putting even more coin into the Sackville-Bagginses’ purse would be the right way to honour his memory, son,” replied Fosco darkly.

“Maybe not,” allowed young Drogo, “but I loved him and miss him something fierce. I’d like to save at least some of his books. And Mum will be dying to have his tea service, I’m sure of it.”

“I can separate a few items for you to buy, if you really want them,” offered Godilo. “Longo declared that he wants nothing from Bilbo’s things; you as close enough kin do have the right to purchase before the sale.”

“I don’t know,” said Fosco slowly. “Seems a bit like grave robbery to me, it does, should Cousin Bilbo truly be dead.”

“Better you than some outsider,” replied Godilo practically. “At least you will value his things properly for the fine quality they have.”

“It’s still not right,” repeated Fosco stubbornly.

“No,” the lawyer agreed. “Unfortunately, there’s not a thing we could do to prevent it. I hate the thought of the Sackville-Bagginses dwelling in Bag End every bit as much as you do, but the law speaks clearly. We’ll have to live with this, Fosco.”

“True,” replied Fosco. “But we don’t have to like it, do we?”

“No,” Godilo said. “We don’t have to like it at all.”

~TBC~

~~~

Lobelia is said to be "well over a hundred years old" when she died after the Scouring of the Shire. I took some poetic licence there and decided that it meant over a hundred and then, which would make her five years older than Otho and about thirty-seven at Bilbo's return. The Appendices don't gave a birth date for her, so I allowed myself so much creative freedom.


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