Gandalf's new robe was nearly finished. He said he could do the hemming of it himself; he carried about a needle and thread always to do mending jobs on his clothing, which frequently tore on his treks in the wild. Hugo let him do so, having much other work to do, what with last-minute jobs people brought to him. And with working on his song to improve it.
"I'm highly nervous," he confessed as he stitched at a fancy waistcoat, and Gandalf sat across from him, hemming the green robe, which was quite a handsome piece of work, after all. "It's just two days away. Are you sure our plan will work?"
Before Gandalf could reassure him, a hobbit came into the shop with a garment in his hands. Hugo laid down the waistcoat and rose.
"May I help you, sir?" he asked.
"Aye, I've nearly ripped the lining out of this jacket," the hobbit said. He was approaching middle age, with just a streak or two of grey in his thick brown curls, which framed a genial face that glowed with quiet humor, intelligence and character. "You were recommended to me heartily, Master Boffin...and besides, you are related to me, whether you know it or not. Your grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. Bungo Baggins, at your service, sir."
An hour later all three were seated about a dinner-table, merrily discussing the Mayfest. Hugo had found a low stool for Gandalf, so that his knees should not be absurdly sticking up above the table-top.
"Nearly everyone is related to each other in the Shire, Master Gandalf," Bungo was saying. "I've all manner of kinsfolk I've never met, some I never will meet, and some I wish I'd never met. I live near Hobbiton. I'm a vintner by trade, and have come down on business, largely to supply wine for the upcoming festival."
"Don't they have the Mayfest in Hobbiton, then?" Gandalf asked.
"Aye, they do, but my brother Longo sees to that one," Bungo said. "I say, these rolls are delicious, cousin. Who does the cooking for you?"
"Why, I do it all myself," Hugo said in surprise.
"You cook as well as you sew, then," Bungo said. "What a wife you would make someone."
Hugo laughed uncertainly.
"He is going to try for the hand of..." Gandalf hesitated. "Or was I not supposed to tell?"
"It's all right, you may tell," Hugo said. "I am trying for the hand of Miss Belladonna Took. The fairest and loveliest maid in all the land."
Bungo's jaw, which had been working a capital piece of roast beef, suddenly stopped in its chewing.
"Are you now?" he asked softly, after swallowing.
"Oh, I know it's foolish of me," Hugo said, his cheeks pinking brightly. "But, well, faint heart never won fair lady, as they say. And Gandalf has been helping me to fix my song, and I am far more confident now than before. You have heard of Miss Belladonna, Mister Baggins?"
"I have," Bungo said, still softly. "In fact, I have met her. I have done much business with her father."
"Is she not magnificent?" Hugo sighed. "I have not really met her, save in passing. But I have worshipped her from afar, for weeks on end. I can scarcely believe that soon I will be face to face with the most bewitching creature in all the Shire."
Gandalf looked thoughtfully at Bungo. Some of the animation seemed to have forsaken his face, and his appetite appeared to have deserted him as well. He was not even looking at his plate now.
"I don't suppose you are going to participate in the contest, Mr. Baggins?" the Wizard asked gently.
"Ah, dear me, no," Bungo said, a bit startled. "I was a pretty fair singer once, but then someone came along and invented tunes, and then I was done for, music-wise."
He chuckled mirthlessly. Hugo looked vastly relieved.
"I'm far too old for her anyway," Bungo added. "I dare say I'm a confirmed old bachelor, and likely to remain so."
"You don't look so old as all that," Gandalf said, and Hugo looked slightly alarmed. "What are you...about sixty?"
"More or less," Bungo said. "I could be Miss Belladonna's father, I'm sure. I'd best leave her to the younger fellows."
"That's not so old. And you're not at all bad to look at. You'd stand a chance...with some lady a bit older than Miss Belladonna, I'm sure," Gandalf added, looking kindly at Hugo, who blushed and looked down at his plate.
"Well, if I do, it won't be along of my singing-voice," Bungo said, with sadness in his hazel eyes. "I do knock off a bit of poetry now and then. Just trifles, you know. But I never once thought to put any to music. That's most certainly not in my department."
"I dare say you've more music in your soul than you realize, Bungo Baggins," Gandalf said. "And someday you'll find it."
"Well, you know what they say," Bungo said with a melancholy smile. "Every worm has his weak place."
"I hadn't heard that one before," Gandalf said smiling back. "I'll have to remember it."
The following day, after Bungo had picked up his repaired jacket from the tailor-shop, Gandalf excused himself, picked up his finished green robe, and followed the older hobbit out into the street. Bungo was walking with his head down and his hands stuffed in his pockets in a dejected attitude.
"It's her, isn't it," the Wizard said as he caught up with the small fellow. "You fancy Miss Belladonna also."
"Very much so," Bungo said. " But you see what I'm up against. She'd never look upon me as aught but a friend of her family."
"You know her, then,"
"I've spoken with her on several occasions. She's the first and only maiden I've ever managed to have a halfway intelligent conversation with. She's a most interesting talker, considering she's not been outside of Tuckborough. Which is likely why I'm unmarried to this day. Conversation is important to me. I don't like to waste my time in frivolous chit-chat. And I can talk with Miss Belladonna as if she were my sister...but I don't feel toward her as a brother. Not in the slightest. No...far from it."
"Perhaps she does like you," Gandalf suggested. "I dare say she likes intelligent conversation as much as you, and there aren't many hobbits here who have mastered that art as you have."
"Do you really think so?" Hope flickered in Bungo's eyes. "But...well, you've seen what I'm up against. We've had dinner with one of them just yesterday. I--"
"Hugo Boffin? He's a nice fellow, but not her sort at all. I think you are far better suited to her than he. And somehow or other, you've got to let her know it."
"But how? Really, I know naught of courting at all. I'd be wretched at it. And I couldn't carry a tune if 'twere bleeding to death...as it would indeed, if I were to get nigh it. And--"
"Perhaps I can help," Gandalf said. "You say you've written some poetry?"
"Aye. But it's two days until the Mayfest. Even if I could make tunes, there's no time to turn out anything halfway decent."
"We'll see about that. Where are you staying?"
"At the Great Smials. Which is where she lives, as you may know already. So we could do naught there, without her getting wind of it. Some of her elder brothers still live there, along with their families, and we'd have not a bit of privacy."
"Leave everything to me," Gandalf said with a twinkle.