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14. Aftermath

Morning came early enough, and I awoke with Mr. Frodo shaking my shoulder as the dawn was just lightening the sky. “Thank you, Sam,” he said softly, then I got up and stretched, and we rolled the blankets and went down the hill and slipped back inside, him to get a bath in afore the rest of the guests arose, and me to get my clothes and then to the kitchen. But Gandalf was afore me. Didn’t say nothing, just looked up with the question in his eyes.

“He were weeping,” I said, “and didn’t want any others to hear. I took him the blankets off my bed, and he slept the night away up near the oak atop the Hill.”

“And your own weeping?” he asked, gentle like.

“It’s over for now, I think,” I said, and he got up and said he’d assist with breakfast.

Rousing the cousins was difficult. Young Pippin wanted nothing but to roll up in his blankets and cover his head with his pillow, but his cousin Merry wasn’t having none of that. “Best get up if you want to join your mum and dad for second breakfast at the Ivy Bush,” he said. “And then presents!”

“But I haven’t had first breakfast yet,” he complained as he finally unrolled hisself.

Frodo laughed from the doorway where he was buttoning the placket on one of the new shirts May had made for him, “Then you’d best rise quickly, or the Dwarves will have it all eaten before you get there.” Now, that got the scamp moving.

After the cousins had headed off to Hobbiton and Bywater to meet with their parents, it were a bit quiet in the Smial. Bilbo turned to Dorlin and his fellows, and asked them once more if they was coming to the party, and again they said no. “We brought enough for our own feast, and once you’re gone they will blame us if we go with you now. Best the rest of the Shire thinks you’re just going off alone, don’t you think? No, we’ll remain here until you are ready to set off.” And Bilbo nodded. Didn’t think they’d have changed their minds, but wanted to give them the chance.

It were a great party, even for those of us like me who was doing a lot of watching to make sure that the guests stayed in the field and didn’t try sneaking into the smial rather than spending the whole day in partying. Frodo even smiled, and once again wasn’t short for dance partners. I saw Missus Esmerelda watching with satisfaction as he danced twice in a row with Miss Pimpernel, but then he danced two more with one of his Brandybuck cousins and then with a Bolger cousin, and then with a lass from the Marish and any number of others. Looked like his broken heart was mending at last, and his smiles didn’t seem forced. And Miss Pearl danced with a likely lad, one of the Bolgers, I thought, so looked that she was finding other companionship, too. When I was free to dance Rosie Cotton claimed me the most of the time, releasing me only to dance with my sisters. She were just a teen now, but I knew I was going to have her for my wife one day, if her dad would let me, when she and I were of age, of course.

The family feast was everything old Mr. Bilbo had planned for and more, and his speech and disappearance was enough to shock the whole pavilion, including me, as Gandalf had thrown in an extra firework to distract the crowd and hadn’t bothered to tell a soul. I stayed as near Frodo as I could for the rest of the time he was at the party, but there was little I could do to help him. When he gestured to those as was serving the ale to refill the cups at the tables I did my best to see that all was served swiftly, and that the little cakes I’d told them to hold back were now distributed, and it seemed to distract a good many. But there was a lot of “I do believe Uncle Bilbo has decided to have a little joke, and has decided to go off on another adventure. Can I interest you in a pudding?” and “Oh, but I’m sure all will be made clear in the morning--have some of this wine--it is excellent.” Finally they pulled off him for a bit, and Frodo had a second to sip at his own drink. I saw him raise his glass to Bilbo and drain it, then turn and slip out of the tent. I stayed behind to divert any who might have been of a mind to follow, but those most likely to have done so had already taken their leave, with the Sackville-Bagginses stalking out, Missus Lobelia dragging young Lotho, much against his will, behind her, shortly after the disappearance.

Took some time for the word that Mad Old Baggins had disappeared and gone off to unknown parts to circulate through the crowd who hadn’t been in the family pavilion, but it finally made its way through all and sundry, and I heard a lot of laughter and speculation as to where he was off to now as they started to leave as midnight approached.

When I was able to let those hired for the job to know it was okay to trundle those as had passed out or decided to take their rest under the tables off to their homes or the inns in barrows rented for the evening, I finally slipped up the hill myself to see how things was. The doors was locked, but Gandalf was keeping watch and let me in. He was readying his things for a hasty departure and was taking his hat as I entered. “I find I must be off,” he murmured as I came in. “Stand by him, if he’ll let you.” And he left swiftly. I found Mr. Frodo standing in the parlor, a thick envelope in his hand. He saw me enter and stuffed it into his pocket, then told me in a strained voice that he didn’t require me any more tonight, and that he really wanted to be alone.

In the morning the kitchen door was unlocked, and I went in and found all neat and tidy, so I set the fire blazing and started cooking a light breakfast. I heard knocking at the front door but decided they could wait till a more decent hour to come disturbing the Master, and started setting out plates on the table. I knew Mr. Freddy and Mr. Merry was coming back to help deal with the visitors, and they’d know if the front door was locked to come to the back, so I set out plates for them in case they got there that early, and then I made sure the fire under the boiler in the bathing room was stoked in case the Master wished to bathe afore he ate.

Apparently the first flurry of knocks wasn’t the cousins, but they appeared soon enough. “Mum says she understands,” Merry said as he entered the kitchen and filled his plate with sausages and eggs. “Apparently there was an understanding when he took Frodo that Bilbo’d remain at least till Frodo came of age, and she said he certainly kept his word. Pippin was wild to come, too, but his mother has decided this time the older cousins don’t need to have to keep an eye on him while dealing with the likes of Lobelia and Otho. My dad says he and Mum will come day after tomorrow to retrieve us, but he’s sending over the lawyer who drew up the documents of adoption and the transfer of Bag End, as well as the Mayor, to attest to the legalities of it all.”

Frodo didn’t come out of his room till just afore second breakfast. He was neatly and soberly dressed, and his hair on his head and feet nicely brushed, and he was wearing a new watch chain across his chest, on which he’d hung his silver key for his stationery box as a fob. I looked at it, and he shook his head. “He left it for me on my dresser,” he said. “It’s brand new, made just for me.”

He was a bit pale, but didn’t look ill, just sad. And he had his hand in his pocket, fiddling with something, just as Mr. Bilbo had always done as long as I’d known him. He did indeed look to be the Master of Bag End.

Once he’d eaten, he took a mug of ale and went into the parlor, then give me the signal to open the door. The first to enter, of course, was Missus Lobelia with Mr. Otho in tow, followed by a Hobbit who’d been in and out over the past two weeks and who whispered he were the Brandybuck lawyer. Frodo was showing the papers to the Sackville-Bagginses, and Missus Lobelia was quite shrill that there had to be some problem with them, until the lawyer came over and started pointing out the names and reciting the credentials of each of the witnesses; and when the Mayor arrived and agreed with him and attested that he’d seen the signing of each and every name, Lobelia was sputtering.

Then Mr. Frodo was dragged by the Mayor off to the study to sign some more documents, witnessed by the lawyer and my Gaffer, who’d just arrived, and a couple of Bolgers and a Took cousin and Mr. Saradoc’s brother Mr. Merimac, and Farmer Cotton, to finalize his title as Master of Bag End and official head to the Baggins family, and while he was gone Missus Lobelia found a box of spoons with her name on it, opened it to see what they were and to read the message, and took the meaning--and the spoons as well, of course. Otho was given the spoons and left, and as I dealt with other folk at the door I lost sight of Lobelia and her umbrella and thought as she’d left, too. Soon Frodo was back, and the Gaffer was headed off home with a barrow of seed potatoes and a few gold pieces, and bolts of fine cloth for my sisters, and tears in his eyes. Mr. Bilbo had been a good employer to the Gaffer, and I knew my dad would miss him right bad.

The visitors came, and kept coming. Unfortunately we couldn’t keep a watch on the door at all times, and all kinds of folks was slipping in as wasn’t welcomed, and we found ourselves having to check the pantries to find young local teens and tweens who were convinced that there was hidden tunnels behind the walls, all full of jewels and gold. And when Frodo’s Cousin Merimac found Miss Lobelia in Mr. Frodo’s own bedroom checking over his possessions, we shook out her umbrella and found several items from his dresser and from Mr. Bilbo’s room, and a silver pen stand from the study and a pair of small candlesticks from the parlor, as well as a ladle and salt cellar from the dining room dresser. Mr. Merry and Mr. Freddy and Mr. Merimac then physically picked her up and carried her out the door and dumped her on the stoop, tossing out the umbrella after her. Only then did she finally leave, but then only because my Uncle Andy and my brothers saw her down the lane to Hobbiton.

By the late afternoon we were all tired, and Mr. Frodo’s face was white with tension and exhaustion. When he gave the order to lock and bar the doors, Merry complied with all speed. Then we had to unlock them again in order to eject two more young treasure hunters. Many of the gifts had had their tags removed from them, but Merry found the master list and set about fixing them as best he could, including some as had been taken off some folks who had tried to take things as had been intended for others, or had been intended to remain.

The next day wasn’t much better, but by the third we’d begun to see light again. And after a week only one or two was showing up at the door a day, and then even the most persistent finally gave up. And finally the entire Shire accepted that Frodo Baggins, son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck as was, and cousin to Bilbo Baggins, was now Master of Bag End and was not going to give over to any other.


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