I told Bilbo of Bonny the next day, and showed him what I'd written.
I was remembering the way he had used his influence in the town to insist on Bonny's getting a decent burial, and how he went and put flowers on her grave once a week. It incited some rather nasty gossip. I can remember dear Lobelia taking my uncle to task about it. I was eavesdropping when she came over one day and started giving him the business: Just what did he think he was doing? Hadn't he done enough to set tongues wagging as it was? What would folks think? Now if he wished to, er, consort with, um, laundresses, it was his business, of course, but couldn't he have the goodness to be a bit discreet about it? How much embarrassment was she expected to endure on his account? She went on and on. He sat there calmly, letting her have her say out, and what was going on in his mind I can only imagine. I was seething, myself, and hoped Bilbo would tell her off good...and all the while another secret, shameful part of me was in sympathy with her, and hoping my uncle would listen to "reason."
Then I heard him say, "Of course I'm not 'consorting' with Mistress Tansy. Where in blazes do you hear such twaddle? I believe in looking out for my employees, that's all, and would strongly advise you to do the same, for one never knows how it will pay off in the end. She's worked for us a good long time, and now she's gone and lost a daughter, and surely you, being a mother, should understand what that's like better than a fuddy-duddy old bachelor like me. But I know well enough how I'd feel if I were to lose my Frodo-lad, and if it's worse to lose a child of your own body, then I don't see how the poor creature will ever get through it. I imagine precious few in this benighted town will extend any sympathy toward her, so somebody ought to do it. I'm sorry if the truth isn't interesting enough for you and your friends, Cousin, but I'm afraid that's really all about it."
Lobelia said something too low for me to understand, as though it had occurred to her that I might be listening, but I'm certain I heard my name. Then I heard Bilbo say, "I AM thinking of Frodo, thank you very much for your concern for my sweet lad. I wasn't aware you thought so highly of him, my dear. Please accept my apologies for thinking wrongly of you. Now if you'll excuse me, I've important things to do. Give my regards to your husband and your boy!"
Then evidently she forgot to lower her voice, for I heard her well enough. "Well!" she sniffed. "Very well then, Bilbo Baggins. Have it your own way. I suppose I've wasted my time, but no one can say I didn't try. If you will insist on making a spectacle of yourself and, and dragging our good name through the mud, then I suppose I cannot stop you. But if that, that lad of yours starts picking up your absurd notions and ends up embarrassing you before the town, donāt say I didn't tell you so! Well, what can I say, every family has a black sheep, it seems. But when that boy ends up disgracing you before one and all, maybe then you'll think twice about the consequences of your actions. I can only hope it won't be too late. We'll just see!"
And with that she stormed out, unaware that I had slipped into the kitchen, scooped up a generous cupful of white flour and secretly deposited it into her umbrella, which she had left standing by the front door.
As I handed it to her and sweetly bid her good-day, she grabbed it and said, pointing a very plump forefinger, "And as for you...you may tell that 'uncle' of yours this for me..." She drew a breath and looked as though she had forgotten exactly what sort of devastating parting-shot she wished to deliver, laying the tip of the finger to her lips for a moment. Then she hastily collected herself and pointed at me once more saying, "He's made his bed, now he may lie in it!"
"I will tell him," I said with my most charming boyish grin, noting with satisfaction that it had begun to rain considerably harder outside, and that would make an even more wonderful mess of the flour once it was nicely distributed over her head and shoulders.
I didn't tell him, however. But I did start going with Bilbo to put the flowers on Bonny's grave.
"Are you terribly disappointed in me, uncle?" I asked as we sat out on the terrace after lunch, playing chess. It had been a while since we had played chess. We had played it frequently during my convalescence. We were pretty evenly matched; I could beat him at it, and he could beat me. I could even beat Gandalf once in a while, although he may have been letting me win. Lord Elrond was a different matter; I never could beat him. I felt I had scored a great victory when one of our games ended in a stalemate. Galendur never will play chess with me, because, as he so elegantly put it, he knows I could kick the piss out of him and he can do without the embarrassment of losing to some little woolly-toed runt of a hobbit. (He didn't really say "runt," of course, but that was how I heard him, and was a bit put-out for a while.) I have taught Dķnlad, however, and he is quite good at it. He is a smart boy, and I'm proud of him. I'll probably have to teach Lyrien someday as well, if Seragon doesn't beat me to it, for she dearly loves games. Although whether or not she can sit still long enough to become a good chess player remains to be seen.
"How's that?" Bilbo looked blankly at me. Seems he had been studying his next move.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Bilbo, you'll leave your queen wide open," I said. I don't know why I told him that. Trying to make up for my bad behavior, I suppose.
"Yes, so I will," he murmured, removing his fingers from the pawn. At least, I refrained from pointing out a particularly good move to him. "Disappointed about what, my lad?"
"About...well, you know. That I slipped out to meet Bonny. After you told me to have naught to do with her, and everything. That."
"Yes. I mean...well, I shouldn't have done it. You took me in and everything...and I went against your wishes. I--well, I..."
"I never supposed you were perfect, Frodo-lad, nor expected you to be," Bilbo said, looking sharply up from the board at me. "And you did naught that I wouldn't have done myself had I been considerably younger and a lusty wench had thrown herself at me in such a fashion. Do you mean to tell me you've been eating your heart out about that all this time? Do not tell me that, my dear boy, or I may have to hurt you."
"No, I hadn't thought of her in years. I was discussing something with Galendur yesterday, I don't quite remember what, and somehow or other she came up. And I remembered how you went out and put flowers on her grave and all. That was really very good of you, Uncle."
"Bah," he said as he neatly captured my knight. "I did it to spite Lobelia, is all. Goodness had naught to do with it."
"Sure you did," I chuckled. Then I said more seriously, "The thing is, I was rather embarrassed myself until Lobelia came and gave you such a dressing-down. But then after that...well, I was proud, and I started going with you to the grave. I wanted to be like you."
"Did you now?" Bilbo beamed up at me. "Your move, my lad."
"Yes, I know. I didn't tell you what she said, did I? She said you made your bed, now you might lie in it. Just as she was leaving."
"Ha! Originality was never exactly her strong point, was it."
"I have to wonder about that saying. 'You've made your bed, now lie in it'--seems to me that when you make the bed, that's when you've had done with lying in it for a while. In order to lie in it, one usually un-makes the bed, yes?"
"Good point," I had to admit.
"There was another saying she was fond of, that I also never could quite work out. She'd look me straight in the eye, point that finger and say, 'The trouble with you, Bilbo Baggins, is that you've always wanted to have your cake and eat it too.' That always used to puzzle me. I wondered..."
"What was the use of having a cake if you couldn't eat it?" I grinned at him. "I've often wondered about that one too."
"Precisely. Ah. It wasn't for naught that we had the same birthday, eh, lad? Speaking of cakes."
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it," I said with a wink.
"I should say not...considering that you were eavesdropping," he said winking back. I chuckled.
"So how should I punish you then?" he said as I captured his pawn. "Shall I have you do the cooking all next week? Seeing as how neither of us won that bet?"
"I could let you win this game," I suggested.
"Piffle. I can beat you on my own," he said as he took my rook.
"Not this time," I grinned as I captured his queen. He gasped in baffled indignation. "You're not on your toes, uncle dearest. And no, you can't castle your king now, he's under attack."
"Sticklebats! How in blue blazes did that happen?"
I won the game. And I made supper. We took it outside, as usual, while the peacock perched on the terrace rail, watching. I fed him bits of bread as we ate, grinning to myself at how horrified dear Lobelia would have been to observe such a spectacle. Bilbo shook his head thoughtfully.
"That's the first dog with feathers I've seen in all my life," he marveled. I laughed.
"That's what Galendur said once," I said, "or something along those lines."
"Poor Bonny," Bilbo said after a while, thoughtfully poking at his heap of crab-salad. "She was a rare bird, herself. Did as she liked without caring what anyone thought. Now a lad could get by with that, perhaps. At least, if he had enough money to pull himself out of a scrape. But a lass? Doesn't work that way."
"Why do you suppose that is?" I said with my mouth half full. I would have been more than happy to drop the subject of Bonny altogether, and was sorry now that I had brought it up at all. But once Bilbo gets a topic lodged in his brain, there isn't much diverting him from it.
"Simple enough. Lasses are the ones that have the babes. So they must behave themselves if they expect to stay respectable, while a young fellow may sow a wild oat or two and folks would look the other way...so long as it wasn't their daughters he was sowing into, of course. No, it's hardly fair, but it's the way of things, and not likely to change. Still it's a sad thing, how she ended. It's like you said in your poem--you weren't so different. You're a rare bird yourself, though in a far different way. It's my guess that you were the first that showed a bit of tenderness to her, judging from the poem."
"I can't say as I showed her much while she was living," I said in a very low voice. Maybe I should have just come right out and told him I didn't want to discuss her any more. But I didn't. "Not that I was rough exactly. But...well, I sometimes think if I hadn't confronted her with what I saw, maybe she wouldn't have ended up as she did."
"Tut! There you go again. Taking what others do upon yourself. You didn't exactly force yourself upon her, now did you?"
"Ha! Hardly. It was closer to the other way around. She tempted me beyond my strength. Not that I blame her for that--I liked it well enough, while it was going on. More than well enough. It was afterwards that didn't feel so good. Rather like when you eat something that tastes delicious, but it doesn't sit well with you later on. Yet each time it's offered, you can't resist, and are willing to endure the sour stomach afterward. Maybe I blamed her a bit for that as well, and at the same time, loved her for the sweetness of the dish. Galendur said she was trying to rope me into wedding her and making a respectable hobbitess of her, or some such. Do you think that's what she was after, uncle?"
"I couldn't say," Bilbo said a little sadly. 'Who could blame her, if she was? Respectability is not so easy to come by for some folks, who are compelled to try anything they can to attain it, when they haven't the coin to buy it. But perhaps you shouldn't regret having known her so deeply, my dear boy. Maybe in some roundabout way she was good for you. She found her way into your poetry, after all, and opened a closet in you that maybe you didn't know was there. Perhaps everybody we know becomes a part of us, both their good and their bad. Even when they pass through our lives but briefly, they leave things behind in our souls that might do us a world of good if we choose to use them thus. Yes, of course it's all the better if we surround ourselves with good folks, and so we should. But sometimes the not so good ones come barging in whether we invite them or not. Sometimes it's the good and respectable ones that strike us as dull as ditch-water, and the ones flaunting gay and gaudy colors who attract us more. We can shun them, of course, and in some instances it's best to do so. Some folks it would be far wiser to shut your door against them, and not let them tramp through and leave their mess where it can only do you harm. But sometimes we will be foolish and let them in, and then it's up to us to decide what to do with the clutter they leave, to throw out the bad and keep the good, and not the other way around. Wouldn't that be much better than berating ourselves for failing to shut them out? Or as Lobelia might have said, no use crying over spilt milk."
I grinned a little. "I should say so," I said. ....Yes, I would have missed out on so many wonderful things here on the Island if I had done the wise thing and shut some of them out. In fact, I dare say I would never have found peace and joy myself. What if I had done as you advised me and avoided Rķannor? Do you think she would have found the Door then? Or what if I had not gone to Galendur's that day after he and Tilwen fell out? Or if I had refused to go to the light-house when Rūdharanion boarded himself up there? Or had stayed home when Aredhel requested an 'audience' with me at Gandalf's? Or if I had killed Gollum when I had every reason to do so? Or, if you had? What if you had not looked after Mistress Tansy and set me the example of taking care of one's servants? You are absolutely right, Bilbo dear. One must keep and use the beautiful things people leave behind and throw the ugly ones in the trash and forget about them."
"The trick is knowing whom to shut out and whom to let in," Bilbo mused. āNo easy matter. Sometimes we must just listen to our hearts instead of our heads. Perhaps that's where the Divine speaks to us."
"Well, in Bonny's case, I listened to neither, but only to a part that never should be listened to,ā I said sourly. "Unfortunately, like a barking dog, it cannot be ignored for long."
Bilbo laughed loudly, and I wished I found it as amusing. Then he sobered.
"A pity it's so much easier said than done to muzzle the pesky beast," he said. "But enough of that for now. Shall we have another game? I don't think I can let the evening go by without winning at least one."
"We may be up all night," I said. After I had cleared up the table and put the dishes in the tub to soak, I brought out the chessboard, along with our pipes, saying, "You can be white this time, Uncle."
"I'll stick with the black," he said. "When I've the white, I get all confused and forget what's mine and what's yours. Perhaps the black suits my darker temperament. White is in keeping with your purity and divine wisdom."
"Right," I laughed aloud, and began setting up the pieces. We played well into the dusk, and he won the game, since I could not concentrate for thinking of the things he had said. I told myself I had best treasure them, for he would not be around much longer to leave his articles of loveliness in my soul, and I had better keep and arrange them as best as I could. They would be all I would have to remind me of how he had lived in my house and I in his.
As we finished the game and I was putting away the pieces, he yawned hugely and looked pensively about him, at the stars gathering over the waves, the lingering colors of the aurora, the jasmines shyly opening and mingling their perfume with that of the roses and frangipani, the peacock perched sleeping in the cherry-tree beside the terrace steps...and the sign made by Leandros hanging over the front door: The House of Joy and Delight. Indeed!
"Wouldn't you say," Bilbo observed, yawning once more, "that this is a mighty fine and cosy bed we have made here for ourselves, my dear lad?"
"I would have no other," I said.