The first paragraph was paraphrased from “The Hobbit”, of course, with a few changes.
Beta read by the most generous Larner, whom I ove my never-ending gratitude.
Beta read by the most generous Larner, whom I ove my never-ending gratitude.
PART TWO – THE SALE
Five weeks later a large notice in black and red appeared on the gate of Bag End, stating that on the twenty-second of Forelithe, on Moondei, Messires Grubb, Grubb and Burrowes would sell by auction the effects of the late Bilbo Baggins, Master of Bag End, Underhill, Hobbiton.
“Sale to commence at ten o’clock, sharp,” announced Holman Greenhand to the people who had begun to gather around the Hill right after first breakfast.
A great commotion it was, of folks of all sorts, respectable and unrespectable alike, and they seemed quite eager to begin the bidding. As it seemed likely that the sale would go on all morning, through second breakfast and elevenses and lunchtime, perchance including teatime as well, the innkeepers of Hobbiton and Bywater brought out tents to the foot of the Hill, offering food and ale to the potential buyers and making a handsome amount of coin.
Longo and Camellia Sackville-Baggins were the first ones to arrive, of course, with their son Otho and Otho’s bride, Lobelia Bracegirdle, who seemed awfully eager to get into Bag End already. Young Holman Greenhand, though (still called “young”, although he was in his early fifties, as he had come to Hobbiton at a fairly tender age to be apprenticed to the gardener of Bag End, just as Hamfast Gamgee had been apprenticed to him), who had been hired by the Baggins lawyers to keep up proper order, remained as unmovable as the Hill itself.
“Ten o’clock, Miss Lobelia, and not a moment earlier,” he said in a friendly but stern manner. “I must not open the front door before that, so have the Messires Grubb and Burrows ordered, and I answer to them and no-one else.”
Lobelia snorted in dismay. “Pah! They shall have nothing to say here soon enough.”
“That may be so,” agreed the gardener amiably, “but at the moment the smial still belongs to Mr. Bilbo Baggins, and I won’t let in none ‘fore the lawyers allow me to do so.”
Lobelia glared daggers at him. “Otho!” she said in a shrill voice that carried to the foot of the Hill, so that everyone present could hear it clearly. “Once we have the smial, I don’t want this… this person to as much as enter the gardens again!”
“Oh, worry you nothin’, Miss Lobelia,” retorted Holman with a grim smile. “I don’t intend to get anywhere near your poisonous breath. Why, it might make the very soil around the Hill infertile, it could.”
Under normal circumstances, the less than respectful manners of the gardener would have been heavily frowned upon by the gathered gentlehobbits and their wives. That was certainly not acceptable behaviour from someone of the working class towards the gentry. However, as this was Lobelia Bracegirdle being treated that way, most people present were more than willing to look the other way.
However, the Sackville-Bagginses were not the only relatives who wanted some keepsake from the “presumably dead” Bilbo Baggins. Fosco Baggins had indeed come, together with his much-respected wife and all three of his children. There was Dorilac Brandybuck with his three young cousins. Then various Tooks, Boffins, Bolgers, Proudfoots, Goolds, Burrowses, Chubbses, Grubbs, Hornblowers, Clayhangers and only the Valar could tell who else. Bilbo was known as a great collector of beautiful and valuable items, and nobody wanted to miss the chance to acquire some of his things. Even those of a small purse who did not belong to the gentry had come, as news that the Sackville-Bagginses wanted to get rid of all Bilbo’s belongings had spread quickly, and thus they hoped for a chance to make a good bargain.
At exactly ten o’clock, a horn call signalled the beginning of the sale. The Bagginses’ lawyers had, of course, come with their entire families, who wanted to buy a few nice items themselves – particularly Bilbo’s silverware and linens were in great demand… had been, indeed, ere the sale would even begin. Rufus Burrows, the only bachelor among them (albeit not much longer if Asphodel Brandybuck had anything to say about it) had offered to write the sales inventory and was now sitting at a small table, with the open inventory book and an inkwell before him, ready to go.
Old Missus Crabtree, who had taken care of the linens of Bag End for longer than anyone could remember (and Hobbits had a notoriously good memory when such important matters were concerned) stood next to him, keeping a sharp eye on all those… intruders who were about to take her master’s beautiful smial apart.
“’Tis a real shame, it is,” she muttered. “Letting those… those parasites into Mr. Bilbo’s hole… wasting all those beautiful linens and dishes on those greedy fools. Why, it makes my blood boil, just seeing them like this, flooding Bag End like ants, it does!”
She was a small, rotund little person – small even as Hobbits go – but a very principled one. She looked as if she could not swat a fly, with her round, sweet face, snow-white hair and bright, cornflower-blue eyes, but she had strong opinions and never feared to voice them, not even towards a respected gentlehobbit like the Burrows lawyer.
She was the widow of Jape Crabtree, a tailor who had been known as a “queer” person: not only quarrelsome but also loud and unpleasant most of the time, who had always felt wronged by someone and always looking out for criticism, even – or especially – when there was none. As his wife, Missus Crabtree had to learn to stand up for herself and her three children, only the youngest of which had inherited her good, resilient nature. She was a skilled seamstress herself, which had been the reason why Mr. Bungo had asked her to take the matter of Bag End’s linens in hand. Born a Goodchild, she was also considered something of a herb mistress among her kin and often helped those among the poor who could not afford the services of a healer. As her youngest, Sunflower, had married Holman Greenhand a couple of years ago, she lived with them in Bagshot Row, which, of course, gave her an excellent chance to see everything that was going on in and around Bag End.
In fact, she had considered Bag End as hers in a manner; not as her property, of course, but as her responsibility. Small wonder that she was equally saddened and outraged by the thought of having Lobelia Bracegirdle, of all people, as the new mistress of the most wondrous smial in Hobbiton.
Beyond personal dislikes, she had also other, more pressing concerns about Otho Sackville-Baggins and his future family moving into Bag End.
“Mark my words: they’ll raise the rents the day they move in,” she said darkly to Anso Twofoot, her neighbour from Number 2, Bagshot Row. “They’re the greediest hobbits in all four Farthings. We’ll have to move out, sooner or later; we’d best go a-looking for a new hole now.”
“’Twould be better in any case,” said Anso who had come out to enjoy the spectacle. “Or would you like to live in the same Hill with the Sackville-Bagginses?” he turned to Holman Greenhand who had just escorted out some over-eager customers.
“I certainly wouldn’t,” replied the gardener. “Should they truly move in, I’d move to my great-aunt Rowan’s kin in Tighfield. That would be far enough, I suspect.” He gave his mother-in-love a fond look. “You know you can always come with us, Grammer, if you want to. You’ll always have a place with us.”
The old Hobbitess gave him a loving smile. “I know that, Holman my lad. You’ve always been much more of a son to me than that ill-begotten miscreant I had the misfortune to bring into this world. But I’m not ready to give up my home just yet, so that Lobelia Bracegirdle can have free realm over the Hill.”
If anyone was shocked to hear her speak of her only son in such manner, they did not show it. Besides, most of them knew Franco Crabtree well enough to know that he was a lazy good-for-nothing who still had no shame, always willing to accept his hard-working old mother’s coin instead of going to work for his own living, so they agreed with Missus Crabtree heartily.
‘Twas unfortunate for the old Hobbitess that two of her three children were naught but trouble; for Buttercup, her eldest, was every bit as bad as Franco. The two of them lived together in a previously abandoned little hole in Haysend, doing only some work when they would starve otherwise, and avoiding everyone as far as it was possible. While Franco was more lazy than aught else, Buttercup suffered from unexplainable bouts of heavy melancholy, during which she didn’t even leave the hole and refused any help her mother – or anyone else – tried to offer them.
Thus no-one wondered that Missus Crabtree had chosen to live with her youngest and her honest, reliable husband. That way, she could help with her grandchildren, so that Sunflower could go to work for Cherryblossom Grubb and bring home some coin, thus earning their family an easier living that it would be with just Holman’s earnings. Only it appeared that with all the upcoming changes in Bag End, that living, too, was endangered now.
“But what could any of us do against the Sackville-Bagginses?” voiced his doubts Tasso Rumble. He was also a tenant of Bagshot Row since he had married Holman’s cousin Hortensia last fall. “Mr Grubb says as they have the right to do as they please, being Mr. Bilbo’s heirs and all that. I don’t know nothing about lawyerly things, but Mr. Grubb seemed awful certain of it.”
“Maybe,” replied old Missus Crabtree. “Maybe we can’t do nothing. But somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mr. Bilbo yet.”
“What do you mean?” asked Tasso Rumble. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“Presumably dead… that was the word Mr. Grubb used,” said the Grammer. “I say we shouldn’t underestimate Mr. Bilbo. He might be a Baggins, but he has a lot of Took in him, he does, and Tooks are known to be… unpredictable.”
“To put it mildly,” agreed Tasso with an exasperated shake of his head. “For him to run off with Dwarves, just like that… ‘Tis not right for a proper Hobbit, it isn’t.”
He could not continue, because his wife turned to him, hands firmly on her hips already, and gave him a quelling look, one she would usually give small Hobbit-lads caught red-handed in her pantry.
“Now you watch that tongue of yours when you speak about Mr. Bilbo, Tasso Rumble!” she scolded him. “Had he not always been a most responsible and… and generous gentlehobbit, afore… afore those Dwarves came? And if he chose to run off with them he ought to have had very good reasons to do so. Bagginses, even if they’re related to the Tooks, don’t do nothing hastily, unless they have to. 'Tis not for us to judge Mr. Bilbo, ‘specially as we don’t know nothing of his reasons… and as he’s always been most courteous to us, as if we was gentry ourselves, we ought to show at least some respect, even if he’s gone now.”
Tasso shut his mouth wisely – not that he would agree with his wife, for he still thought that Mr. Bilbo had acted unbecoming to a proper gentlehobbit, but because Hortensia could have a fearful temper if she was in righteous outrage. Holman then left them with his apprentice, that Gamgee lad, as the sale was now going on in earnest, and keeping order had become something of a challenge. Excited Hobbits with increasing amounts of ale in them could be difficult to handle sometimes.
Hortensia Rumble, albeit not officially hired for the task, appointed herself to keep an eye on Miss Lobelia, who was known for her tendency to… acquire small yet valuable objects when no-one was watching. Sunflower Greenhand, small and rotund as her mother, but with a freckled face and long, curly dark hair, followed her to do the same for Camellia Sackville-Baggins, who might be less… acquisitive than her future daughter-in-love but nearly as unpleasant and therefore not to be trusted around Mr. Bilbo’s valuables.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And thus the morning was going on, with more and more of Bilbo’s belongings coming under the hammer, and the excitement and the bidding growing in volume and intensity. Drogo Baggins, who had secured many of Bilbo’s rare books for himself “for an apple and an egg” as they say in Buckland (meaning that they were ridiculously cheap, as no-one really wanted to have them) was watching the spectacle from afar with a growing sense of unease.
It was just not right, throwing this beautiful smial, built for the very purpose to be the home of Bilbo (well, for his mother, originally) to the Sackville-Bagginses in general, and to Lobelia Bracegirdle, the most unpleasant lass in the four Farthings, in particular. Bag End was meant to be more than just the dwelling place of some greedy hag. It was meant to be something special. Even if the Sackville-Bagginses hadn’t gotten their grubby hands on it, with Bilbo gone, it would never be the same, Drogo decided sadly.
He watched things as long as he could bear it, trying to get small, personal items of little value – aside from the emotional one – that he knew Bilbo would not want to go to complete strangers… or to unpleasant relatives. When Lobelia and Otho – followed by a very determined Hortensia Rumble step by step – began to measure the rooms inside the smial to see how their own furniture could be arranged once Bilbo’s belongings were all gone, however, Drogo could not bear to watch it anymore. He and Bilbo had never been particularly close, but he had always loved and respected his cousin, and it broke his heart to see Bilbo’s home coming to such end.
He slipped out of Bag End quietly, and went down to the gate, then down to the steps to the foot of the Hill, to the narrow path that eventually led to the Greenway… or so he had been told. He had never seen the Greenway himself and had no true wish to do so. He wanted to be alone with his sorrow over the loss of his cousin whom all three of Fosco’s children liked very much, each of his or her own way. The spectacle he had left behind was beginning to make him sick. He wanted to forget it for a while, to pretend that it wasn’t happening, that things were as they had always used to be.
He filled his pipe – a beautifully carved wooden one with a stem so long that the head almost touched his toes… a gift from Bilbo’s last birthday celebrated in Bag End – and lit it, to soothe his nerves. There was nothing like a good smoke to calm a Hobbit’s nerves… well, aside from a good ale perhaps, but that was not an option right now.
There he stood, blowing the most beautiful smoke rings and letting them sail in the warm autumn breeze over the Hill – an art taught him by Bilbo himself – when he suddenly spotted them: two figures, the one small, the other one quite enormously tall, riding up the path slowly, straight towards the Hill.
Drogo squinted to see them better. They were still rather far away, but he had good eyes. The smaller one was very obviously a Hobbit, riding a pony – and a fairly well-fed and nicely bred one – but the other one was most likely a Man on a real horse.
Drogo felt excitement rising in his breast. Men did not often enter the Shire, and that was fine with most Hobbits who preferred to be among themselves. But this Man was unlike the others – well, admittedly, Drogo himself had only seen Men twice, when he had to visit Bree due to some family business, but he remembered well enough what they usually looked like, and this one was very different indeed.
As a rule, Men did not wear long, grey robes and tall, wide-brimmed, pointy hats. As a rule, they did not have long, grey beards hanging down to their waist, either; or long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of their shady hats. Neither did they carry a gnarled wooden staff in one hand when riding, which the Men of Bree did almost never, in fact. And, save from those vagabond Rangers who were said to visit the Prancing Pony in Bree from time to time, they did not wear long swords on their belts, either.
Drogo Baggins had never seen Gandalf in person, but like every single Hobbit in the Shire, he had heard about him a great deal, of course. Since the days of the Old Took, the wizard had only been in the Shire in the previous year, when he’d visited Bilbo. No-one else had seen him in the time in-between, and they could only guess (or not) at what kind of dangerous business he had been involved in during all that time. But the remarkable tales told about him gave a good description of his looks, and thus Drogo Baggins recognized him at first sight.
Recognized him, and his heart did a little leap in his breast. For if one of the two riding up to the Hill was indeed Gandalf, the Hobbit riding on his side could only be…
“Bilbo!” exclaimed Drogo happily, his beautiful pipe dropped and forgotten, most likely with a broken stem, in the grass as he began to run down the path towards the two riders.