For Dreamflower for her birthday, with many thanks for her friendship and the pleasure her stories bring me.
Lobelia eyed her husband on his return to the smial. “And what is the news in the village?” she asked.
“Cousin Bilbo has returned from Brandy Hall with that Frodo he keeps speaking of--you know, the son of Drogo and Primula, who drowned in the Brandywine ten years ago or so.” Otho was quiet for the moment, then added, “There is talk Bilbo intends to make this Frodo his heir.”
“Nonsense! I refuse to believe it! Bilbo is a Baggins, after all. He would never so flout tradition!”
“He is the Hobbit who dared to go out on an adventure--and then the gall to return again and insist on acting as if that didn’t matter,” Otho reminded her.
Lobelia shuddered with studied revulsion. “He wouldn’t dare! He knows that the whole of the family would be up in arms at such an act. Have you seen Lotho?”
“Yes--saw him near the bridge over the Water. I do wish he would choose a better companion than that Ted Sandyman--the lad is a wastrel and a bully. His father can barely get an honest day’s work out of him. Perhaps Lotho will take up with young Frodo--the lad isn’t that much younger than he is, if I remember correctly.”
“A lad who has grown up wild in Buckland? You know the talk that’s been about--the child is a thief and a ruffian, stealing from better than half the farms in the Marish by all accounts. Oh, I know that Peony speaks of it as though it were merely youthful high spirits, but I know better. Drogo Baggins was ever slightly off, with all that fanciful carving he used to do, then marrying Primula Brandybuck of all people!”
Otho gave her a jaded look. “As if you hadn’t done everything you could think of to capture his attention for yourself, my love. Oh, don’t give me such a look--you and I both know I wasn’t your first choice.”
She managed to appear quite hurt. “We all make mistakes at times. I thought he was drawn to me, and was quite taken by that thought--that is all that there ever was between us. It was nothing such as I have always known with you.”
He gave her a disbelieving glance, then turned away, hanging his jacket and summer-weight cloak on the pegs in the hall. “It’s far too warm for this jacket,” he said. “I believe I shall change to my linen ones for the rest of the season. And I cannot think what possessed me to wear a cloak on a day such as this.”
“It was rather cloudy this morning when you left the hole,” she pointed out as she led the way into the parlor where she had a light tea ready to serve him. “And how did the negotiations for the Goodchild farm there near Needlehole go?”
“He’s changing his mind yet again. I’ve almost decided not to pursue it further. I’ve just had word from young Lothario that your Cousin Evenbo Banks has taken to his bed, and may not live more than a few more months. His farm is the other side of our holdings there, and has better drainage. I might do better to work with his son. Boddo has never liked farming, after all--has done a goodly amount of delving, he has, and I’m told he’s quite good at it. If I could set him up near Threadneedle he could do right well, I believe, and I certainly could turn a good deal more coin on the land there than the Bankses have done in years. Evenbo was never the farmer that his father was. Good land for leafy vegetables there, and the hazel thickets toward the back of the farm have always been good producers. I could turn a few pigs out in that oakwood on the north side each fall to fatten on the acorns, and do a brisk sale of hazelnuts with the folk from the Northfarthing where they are more popular.”
She handed him the cup of tea she’d poured him. “That sounds very good, my dear. Now, I do believe we should go up to Bag End as soon as we can--see this lad and judge for ourselves just what kind of child he might be, and allow Bilbo to be reminded as to who his proper heirs are. We should take Lotho with us, of course.”
“We could go tomorrow, I suppose, although we might do better to go early next week. Otherwise the folk in the village are likely to see it as being too pushy,” Otho decided. “Were there any letters today?”
“Yes, one from the Council Hole in Michel Delving. It is under the doily there.” She indicated the small table on the other said of him that held a silver candlestand.
He reached for the barely visible envelope eagerly. “From Will Whitfoot. Probably about the change in deed I sent in last week putting the property there near the Longbottom estate in Lotho’s name. About time the lad learned how to manage the property he will inherit one day.”
“You always do know how to do such things properly,” Lobelia simpered admiringly.
“Well, of course I do--I am a Baggins by birth, after all.” So saying, Otho Sackville-Baggins set his cup on the tray so as to better open and peruse his correspondence.
Lobelia, on the other hand, was imagining how well Lotho would do by his tenants, and how much profit the farm would possibly bring. She would do her best to convince her son to remember his mother by purchasing her that new hat she so admired in the milliner’s shop in Michel Delving, that one with the blue ribbons and the baby’s breath adorning it. She so enjoyed coaxing such presents from the two gentlehobbits in her life.
Lotho was joined on the bridge by Ted Sandyman, who’d continued as the muscle to Lotho’s brain all these years since Lotho had first assaulted the lad, then but seven, and convinced him to give Lotho the candy stick his uncle had just bought him. Lotho had then given the stick back. He’d not wanted it himself--merely wished to prove to the younger lad he could take what he pleased when he pleased. That Ted would react by following Lotho and doing everything the older Hobbit commanded was not a reaction that Lotho had expected, although he certainly took advantage of Ted’s subservience when it suited him. It was easier to intimidate the other children of Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill when he had Ted at his shoulder, for Ted had always boasted a broader, more muscular build than Lotho himself, until the last year when at last Lotho Sackville-Baggins had finally grown taller than his father and had begun to fill out.
Right now Lotho was staring up the Hill toward the wicket gate that protected the grounds for Bag End, before which stood a trap from which old Cousin Bilbo and that lad who’d arrived with him early that morning were removing parcels of groceries. Imagine--the greengrocer was delivering Cousin Bilbo’s purchases right to his door! This was not something old Greenfields ever did for the Sackville-Bagginses. Again Lotho felt the anger that his family was not properly respected by the Hobbits of the Shire roiling in his breast. It was not right! Everyone knew that Bilbo Baggins was anything but respectable, and certainly they laughed at him both at the Green Dragon in Bywater and in the Ivy Leaf in Hobbiton as being cracked. But the simple matter was that in spite of his lack of respectability and his eccentricities--or perhaps because of them--folk liked the mad old thing! And now that he’d brought that orphan home with him folk were certain to speak better of him and how he’d finally done the right thing by the lad and honored the memory of poor Drogo and similar twaddle.
“So, the old cracked head is home again, is he?” suggested Ted.
“Yes. With that Frodo chap he’s gone on so much about all these years,” Lotho sneered. “You’d think the Sun rose and fell due to the wishes of that Frodo Baggins, to hear him tell of it.”
Ted shrugged. “Mayhaps we should greet ’im first time as him heads into the village. What you think?”
Lotho gave a cruel smile. “I do believe, Ted Sandyman, that you have the right idea there. The first time he heads into the village proper, you and I shall indeed welcome him to Hobbiton.”
Three days after Frodo’s arrival in Hobbiton Otho indicated he would agree to the proposed visit to Bag End to give the new arrival a good looking over. Lobelia, who’d been eager to see this done, insisted that Lotho stay home that day from his proposed wanderings, which did not please him, and that he dress in his best. “You must show your quality today--remind that old fool that we are his proper heirs. After all, Bag End will be yours one day!”
Lotho grumbled, but not too much. It was shortly after second breakfast they drove their trap up the Hill, Lobelia having insisted it would not do to arrive like common visitors on foot. Otho threw up his hands at the extra time needed for such nonsense, but at last he agreed and saw the pony harnessed. So it was they arrived with some ceremony at Bag End.
Lotho stayed behind his parents, not wanting as yet to become clearly identifiable to the orphan, and wanting to see his mother’s reaction to the brat. Lobelia led the climb up the steps to the wicket gate, where it was plain that Gaffer Gamgee was plying his trade by trimming the hedge, being watched by the new lad. Lotho’s mother examined Frodo, and Lotho could see her jaw clench. Obviously she felt that this soft lad could possibly be a threat to their future, but was determined to pretend that was not so. Rather than opening the gate and sweeping by the party involved in the hedge trimming, she stopped just outside it and glared at the lad.
“So,” she said, “I take it you are Frodo?”
“I beg your pardon?” the orphan replied.
“Silly child,” Lobelia said, turning her head to meet Otho’s eyes. Lotho, who was following behind them, snickered. She turned back to Frodo. “I asked,” she said particularly carefully as if she were talking to someone foolish or deaf, “if you are Frodo?”
“Of course I am Frodo,” he answered. “And whom do I have the honor of addressing, if honor it is?”
That was not a reaction Lobelia had expected, and it took her a few ticks of Otho’s pocketwatch to rally. She straightened and puffed out her chest importantly. “We are the Sackville-Bagginses, young Hobbit,” she said, her nose rising in the air and her voice rising with it. “We are part of society here, whatever you might be.”
Frodo looked at her, and his own voice took on a level of courtesy that had clearly been modeled on that shown by his formidable Aunt Menegilda Goold Brandybuck. “I see. Well, I fear I have little idea of how to act with important folk, for the only ones I’ve known with pretensions of being important in society have been my uncles, the Master and the Heir of Brandy Hall and the Thain and his Heir--, oh, and my aunts, their wives. But they are very rustic, I suppose, compared with you.”
Lotho saw his mother’s mouth working as she alternately paled and flushed, but no words would come.
The orphan continued, “I shall go in and tell my cousin that the Quality have arrived, shall I?” And without waiting for a response he turned and stalked into the smial. A moment later Bilbo arrived outside, his hand in his pocket fingering the things he kept there, looking both amused and wishing he were miles away at the same time.
“Why, Lobelia and Otho, and dear little Lotho,” he said in what was plainly a forced, bright tone. “I understand you’ve met my young ward for the first time since he was a little lad.”
“Oh, was that Frodo?” she asked. “Whoever he was, he was so rude as to be inexcusable. And, pray tell, what made you bring the child here?”
“He’ll soon be twenty-two, Lobelia, and is definitely not a child. He is a Baggins, and Drogo’s son and heir. Shall he be forced to remain forever in the wilderness of Buckland and not know what it means to live in the Shire proper, much less what it means to be a Baggins?”
“And who are you, pray, to teach anyone the meaning of being a Baggins, Cousin Bilbo? Or are you going to convince him that disappearing for a year at a time instead of settling down and marrying the way sensible Hobbits do is a right and proper way to live?”
Bilbo grew stiff, and Lotho could see the anger building up behind his eyes, but the wily old Hobbit’s words were carefully courteous. “If I had thought of marrying since I returned from my travels, it would have been vain, would it not, considering my reputation as one who had made the questionable choice to leave the Shire to begin with? And, as I am certain you know----” The words, “due to your own effort of keeping it before the Shire that I am a crackpot and eminently unsuitable due to my unpredictable nature” didn’t need to be said aloud. “----my reputation is such no Hobbitess of much worth would even consider a suit from me, save for those who knew me well before I set off for parts unknown, and those, for the most part, have all been most happily and respectably married for years.”
“Well, you could have made a good match long before you made that unfortunate journey.”
“Oh, indeed I could have done so, I suppose. Save that had I taken the one lady who made a point of throwing herself in my way, I would have deprived my dear Cousin Otho here of the most appropriate match he has made.”
Lotho found his ears twitching. His mother and Cousin Bilbo? But he was at least twenty years older than she was! Was that why his mother so hated Bilbo--because he had refused to fall in love with her? As for Lobelia, her face was darkening with a flush of anger.
Bilbo continued, “Not that I regret that journey, you know. It helped me broaden my horizons considerably, and helped put a good deal of my former studies and reading into proper perspective. There is nothing like coming to know Elves and Dwarves and even some Men personally to help one appreciate what they are truly like and their place in the outer world, after all. And, as Gandalf had predicted, the journey did prove eminently profitable, even if I chose not to accept my full share of the proceeds at the time. You must understand, having Dwarves in my debt has given me some distinct advantages.”
Lotho knew it was some of those advantages that had led his mother to so covet Bag End, for there were many gifts and embellishments to the place Bilbo Baggins had secured from the Dwarves in the intervening years she would give her eye teeth for. And it was rumored that each time they came to visit the Dwarves brought more treasure to add to the fabled hidden storerooms he was supposed to have excavated after his return.
“And will those advantages be passed on to your heir?” Lobelia asked.
Bilbo looked her up and down before turning his attention to Otho. “That,” he finally said slowly and thoughtfully, “will depend, I suppose, much on the nature said heir might display. Dwarves are a very proud people, and do not have patience for dealing with those who are purposefully rude to them. They still might acknowledge the debt and do their best to see it finally satisfied, but are likely to do so in a manner that is not intended to greatly benefit the recipient. Finding a back door into one’s smial that was not wanted, through which all of Hobbiton can freely enter, exiting again with things that just shouldn’t be missed, could be seen by the Dwarves as an excellent way of discharging the last of their debt to me.”
“And just why,” Otho asked, “did you choose now to bring that child here to Bag End?”
Bilbo was clearly losing his patience. “You and Lobelia have been complaining for years that, as the Baggins, it has been my duty to provide for the lad as my father provided for his father and uncle and aunt when it was Fosco and Ruby who’d died, leaving them orphaned while still in their minority. And now when I at last exercise my right and responsibility to do just that you would see it as questionable? The lad has been reasonably happy and well cared for among his mother’s people for years, but the time has come for him to take his place as a Baggins. He is no longer a child, and will soon enough come of an age to inherit his father’s estate. That means he needs proper guidance to see to it he will handle his responsibilities to the land and tenants he will inherit properly, and to learn how to wisely deal with investments. Do you find my handling of my own investments lacking?”
Lotho’s parents eyed one another, uncertain how to respond. It had to be acknowledged that Bilbo Baggins’s ability to invest profitably had become the stuff of legend since his return from the Wilds of Outside. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, and those who’d considered building up businesses of their own would travel from the furthest reaches of the Shire to get his advice, hoping he would invest in their enterprises. Those farms he held shares in usually produced particularly well; the carter’s business he held a half-interest in received a good deal of custom from the Great Smial and Brandy Hall as well as from most of the Boffins, Grubbs, Chubbs, and Proudfoot families about the region; and who knew exactly how many partnership agreements he held? It was rare enough that coin Bilbo used to pay for his purchases hereabouts was stamped with anything other than common Shire images of smials and plants and birds or trees. He didn’t have to use his reputed dragon treasure to live on, after all. And even then he had built up his own business as a scribe and copyist, describing it as keeping him in money for leaf.
The Sackville-Bagginses did not stay a good deal longer. At no time did Bilbo indicate he was intending to make Frodo his heir, and there was no question it was his responsibility to see the child of Drogo Baggins prepared to keep up the Baggins traditions of canny investment and wealth. The child would soon fully inherit the traditional Baggins family hole now known as Number 5, Bagshot Row, which had remained empty since his father had moved the family east to Buckland, and he reputedly also held title to homes in both Buckland and Whitwell in the East Farthing. Probably only Bilbo as family head for the Bagginses knew the full extent of the holdings Drogo and Primula had left at their unfortunate deaths, but it was likely that this young Hobbit they’d seen that day clad in simple but suitable Brandy Hall cloth was far wealthier than he imagined.
Frustrated in their attempts to appreciate all of Bilbo’s intentions at taking Frodo into Bag End at this time and determined to indulge the belief that Otho continued as Bilbo’s proper heir, the Sackville-Bagginses at last turned back down the stair and reentered their trap, going back to Sackville Place with honor satisfied, even if questions still stood as to their future status.
Lotho and Ted didn’t manage to waylay the orphan the very first time Frodo went into Hobbiton, as he went that time accompanied by Bilbo himself, someone they’d learned it did not pay to try to intimidate. Bilbo had carried a walking stick for as long as Lotho had known him, and he’d proved willing to use it on those who thought to give him sauce--never more than a single blow properly aimed at upper legs and lower behind, but always truly struck in Lotho’s experience.
But the evening of Frodo’s fifth day of residency he was sent back to the village not long after teatime, apparently on some errand by Bilbo, and he found himself confronted by two lads both more muscular than himself who blocked the road into town just beyond the turning of the Hill. “Well, if it isn’t the new lad,” drawled the older, better dressed of the two, one Frodo judged must be nearly a Hobbit grown.
Frodo looked at him, and after a moment Lotho saw signs that the lad recognized him. Lotho already recognized the orphan--he was the one who last year at the Free Fair had shamed all the older lads, cheating as he’d done and beating them all in the dancing, winning from Isumbard Took a fine penknife with a particularly nice silver casing to it, and Lotho’s own walnut burl knife, which had several more blades than the Took’s knife had boasted. But Lotho had coveted that knife, and even more he’d coveted the pocket watch the Took had first offered but that the apparent Brandybuck brat had said was too expensive to wager, and he’d wanted the seven silver pennies that Frodo had set in the circle drawn by the other lads to hold the wagered items. But all the others had declared Frodo the winner, and one of the Boffins who’d stood by had glared at Lotho, insisting Frodo be allowed to scoop up the spoils. With all the Tooks and Brandybucks there to back the stranger lad up, what was Lotho to do?
Well, now he would even the score a bit! “I understand old Mad Baggins has taken you in,” Lotho continued. “Perhaps you don’t realize just how mad he is. Let us enlighten you.”
“He likes the Dwarves, you know,” the other continued. “Big one fer Dwarves, old Bilbo is. And you know what Dwarves do, don’t ya? Dig in the hills, they does. Dig mines--deep mines. And they loves to have slaves t’do the diggin’ fer them. Best watch out as he doesn’t sell you t’them Dwarves and set you t’diggin’ up gold and treasures fer them t’enjoy.”
The orphan was watching both warily. “And you think that I would believe such things?” he asked, his voice cold. “I have known Bilbo Baggins all my life, and although he has a reputation for doing odd things, he has none for slave trading or for lying. That’s apparently not true for you two, however.”
Lotho felt the anger rising in him once more. “You don’t even know me, little boy,” he said threateningly.
The orphan straightened, and it could be seen he was taller than Lotho had realized, although he was a slender lad. And the tone of disparagement discernible in his reply itself was an insult. “You dare to call me a boy--with both of you as tall and broad as you are? Seems to me a case of the chimney pot calling the inside of the stovepipe black!”
“Where are you going?” demanded Lotho.
“Uncle Bilbo has sent me to the leafseller--he wants some Old Toby, and he forgot to pick some up when we went into the village earlier in the day. What is that to you?”
Lotho shared a look with his companion. “Oh, he wants some leaf, does he? Well, what right does he have to send a mere child to the market for something proper only to gentlehobbits? Seems to me you’d do well to give us the money he gave you for it, and go back and tell the old fellow that if he wants some Old Toby he should go fetch it himself.”
“I’ll wager as there’s some change comin’ to us for buyin’ the weed fer you,” Ted added. “Not what we’ll really give you the weed, mind you. But if’n he give you a copper, there’s some brass comin’ back fer a bag of Old Toby. And it would get me and him a cider each, it would.”
“And is that all you really want out of it--the coin for some cider or small beer?” Frodo asked, sounding unconvinced. “If that is all, then you have merely to ask and I’d give it you out of my own pocket money, But I have no authority to give you Bilbo’s coin.”
Ted sneered. “You think as we care about authority?” he asked. “Nah, we take what we like.”
“So I gathered,” Frodo said, backing up slightly and widening his stance a bit. “But I already had that worked out, considering it takes two of you to confront one of me. But I have no intention of giving you what isn’t mine to begin with.”
Ted flicked his glance sideways, saw Lotho’s cruel grin, and smiled, turning his attention back on the new lad. A slight movement of Lotho’s hand and both of them lunged forward.
It was obvious that the new lad was no coward, considering how he stood his ground. And he definitely gave as good as he got. In moments Ted was groveling in the lane, curled around himself as a result to a sturdy kick to the groin. Lotho’s shirt was now torn--there would be no keeping his parents unaware of this fight; his lip was split, his left eye was swelling shut rapidly, and his ear was ringing where he’d received a clout across it, although it was possible that Ted had managed to do that accidentally before he’d folded up on the roadway. But Lotho had more weight to him, and soon had Frodo borne down to the ground and was lying on him, pounding at the side of his chest. “You would think to say no to me, would you?” he grunted into Frodo’s ear. “You’d best realize that I am not going to allow some Brandybuck orphan to walk into Hobbiton thinking he can make folks feel sorry for him and make him welcome just because his parents used to live here. Why don’t you just go back where you came from?”
Ted staggered to his feet and came over, falling to his knees at Frodo’s head. “That wasn’t nice,” he growled, his face still covered with sweat. “Not nice at all! You foul thing!” He grabbed Frodo’s wrists and forced them up even with his shoulders. “I’ll hold ’im down, and you teach him a lesson, Lotho.”
Lotho slapped Frodo’s face with an open hand, glad to see tears springing to the orphan’s eyes. “Nobody says no to Lotho Sackville-Baggins,” he said, glaring down into the newcomer’s blazing blue eyes. “You had best keep that in mind.”
“And no one tells me what to do!” Frodo managed to say.
“Oh, is that so?” Lotho said, rising higher on his knees.
But they’d been seen. Two Hobbits coming around the Hill from Hobbiton toward the bridge over the Water to the Green Dragon in Bywater had seen them, and one shouted out. Lotho scrambled to his feet, gave Frodo a vicious kick to his shoulder, and fled into the shrubbery along the line of the Water and the Bywater Pool.
Ted, however, wasn’t finding it as easy to rise, considering the pain Frodo’s kick had left him with. The first of the two Hobbits, one of the Boffins who lived on the square, managed to catch the miller’s son by his shoulder. “It’s Ted Sandyman, all right,” he said to his Grubbs companion as the other came even with them. “That means the other was that Lotho again. And you know what that means--neither Lobelia nor Otho will admit their son is nothing but a bully, so will do their best to convince everyone that this one was the one who started it.” He indicated the lad lying in the roadway.
“Don’t recognize him,” the Grubbs said, going to his knee and looking to turn the young Hobbit’s face toward him. “That dark hair--I say, this must be Primula Baggins’s lad. Look at them eyes, will you!”
“And it’s a Baggins face,” agreed the Boffin. “And I’d say as he’s hurt. Tell you what----”
Just then there was a slam of the door to the miller’s house, hard by the mill. Sandyman the Miller came out to the gate to his sparse garden and glared over it. “What’s the row?” he demanded.
“It’s your lad--seems as Ted’s been helping Lotho at his task of devilin’ the younger Hobbits again,” the Grubbs called out.
“It’s his fault!” Ted whined, pointing with his free hand down at the lad on the ground. “He’s got Lotho’s coin, he does!”
“And how did this one get hold of coin from Lotho Sackville-Baggins?” demanded the Boffin.
Now the citizens of the Row were coming out of their holes, Hamfast Gamgee and Daddy Twofoot side by side, arrested on their way also to the Green Dragon. “And what’s this?” demanded the Gaffer. “Ted Sandyman--you been layin’ into the smaller Hobbits again?” He came closer, then stopped and straightened in surprise. “Master Frodo! You all right?”
Frodo was trying to sit up, but went white as he made to move his shoulder. “I think so,” he murmured through gritted teeth.
“No, he’s not,” the Grubbs said, shaking his head. “The other one kicked him afore he ran off into the bushes. That Lotho, I think, although I was too far away to see his face.”
“Oh, it was Lotho all right,” interrupted the Boffin. “Laying for the new lad--it’s his way, after all.”
The Gaffer had been followed out of Number 3 by his wife and daughters and younger son. He turned toward them. “Bell, if’n ye’ll bring a cup of water, and Daisy, you tend t’the bairn. Sam-my-lad, run up t’Bag End and fetch the Master. Tell ’im as young Master Frodo’s been hurt, but not too bad, you hear?”
The small lad nodded his head and ran off up the Lane to the front steps to Bag End--this was not a call one carried out at the back door, after all.
Daddy Twofoot sent one of his lads off into the village to fetch Laurel Chubbs, who was the healer Bilbo usually used. Young Frodo was carefully helped to his feet in spite of the directions of some that he not move lest he’d been badly hurt, cradling the arm whose shoulder Lotho had kicked. “I’m all right!” he kept trying to assure them.
Then Bilbo arrived, and was clucking about him like a hen with one chick. “Who was it? Lotho and Ted, eh? You’ll need to carry a walking stick to keep those two at bay, you’ll find.”
Ted’s father cleared his throat. “My lad says as yourn’s got hold of coin from Lotho Sackville-Baggins somehow.”
“What? And when and how should he have done that? He’s been into the village but once since he got here, and that was with me earlier in the day. This is the first time he has been off the Hill alone since I brought him here five days ago! And he’s not been gone long enough to do much but get jumped by Lotho and Ted.”
“Does him have coin on ’im?” Sandyman persisted.
“Well, of course. He had about twelve brass left of what I gave him earlier in the day, and the copper I gave him to fetch me some Old Toby.” So saying, Bilbo nodded to Frodo to turn out his pockets. Frodo brought out a worn coin purse that had been his father’s--several recognized it at once--and opened it, spilling twelve small brass farthings and a copper into the palm of Bilbo’s hand.
“It’s all I have on me,” he said, indicating it to the others. “And the copper belongs to Uncle Bilbo, not to me.”
Laurel Chubbs arrived at that point. “And what is this?” she asked. “That awful Lotho and this one ganging up on you are they, dearie? Well, let us get you back up to Bag End and I’ll see what damage has been done.”
The Boffin ended up sharing some of his own pipeweed with Bilbo, as the leaf seller would have closed up his stall by now there in the market. Meanwhile the miller dragged his son into their home where harsh words on not lying about the gentry could be heard, as well as a blow and a cry of pain from Ted. There were some guilty glances shared between those who stood in the lane, although all realized that the lad deserved what he was getting in this case. Unfortunately, the miller had a reputation of being harsh with his son at such times.
But as there was little left to see, the others dispersed. Laurel Chubbs and Bilbo herded young Frodo back up the hill while Bell Gamgee, having retrieved the cup in which she’d brought water for young Master Frodo, shooed her Daisy with little Marigold on her hip, May, and Sam back toward Number 3. The menfolk headed toward the Green Dragon for their evening half-pint, and the last of the curious lads and lasses returned to their evening chores.
Bilbo stood at the door to Sackville Place and rang the bell. He was most properly dressed today in his most solemn Master of Bag End attire, intent on making it plain this was business. It was Otho who answered the door, a letter in one hand.
“Bilbo? And what brings you here?”
“I wish to speak with you and Lobelia is all, Otho. Is she at home?”
Otho grudgingly led his guest into the parlor. Lobelia sat there in her wing chair, examining a shirt. “Who was at the door, Otho?” she asked, not looking up. “I swear I cannot imagine how Lotho came to do this damage to this shirt! It looks deliberately torn! And I’ll swear there’s blood on it, too!” She looked up, lifting the shirt to show him, and only then realizing that he’d not come back alone. She immediately sought to hide the shirt behind her skirts as she rose hastily to her feet. “And what brings you here, Bilbo Baggins?”
“I came to speak with the two of you about Lotho,” he said stiffly, “and to present you with the bill I was given by Laurel Chubbs for her fee in treating my ward last evening. It seems that Lotho and young Ted Sandyman were lying in wait for him, and sought to steal from him the coin I gave him to purchase some leaf for me. Apparently Frodo did seek to defend himself, but in a case of two against one, and particularly with two as well built as Lotho and Ted against someone as slight as Frodo, there was little contest. He has bruises on his face and side, and his shoulder has been dislocated. He will be wearing his arm in a sling for at least three weeks, or so Laurel says. I must say he was quite brave when she put it back in place for him, but it is badly hurt and has turned some awful colors.”
“But you can’t be certain that Lotho had any part in attacking your Frodo!” Lobelia protested.
“I can’t? He was seen by two witnesses, and Ted admitted that Lotho was involved. And as I suspect you have already seen he has his own bruises, I doubt you can deny he was indeed involved.”
It was unfortunate that at that moment Lotho hobbled into the room from the passage to the bedrooms, his eye blackened and his lip swollen. “Mother, it hurts to....” Seeing Bilbo, he stopped, uncertain.
Bilbo examined him coldly, then turned his attention back to Otho and his wife. “I give you fair warning--I will not put up with this one seeking to intimidate my lad again. If any of you wants aught of my estate when I judge myself ready to give it over, even as much as a silver spoon to match those you have already managed to acquire, you had best remember that. Do you understand me?” So saying, he held out the bill to Otho, and turned on his heel and left, leaving the door standing open behind him.
“Not a moment too soon,” Bilbo told himself as he stalked back through the village toward the Hill. “Not a moment too soon to get myself a new, proper, decent heir!”