Nothing of Note

by Primula

11: Baggins According to Baggins

Bilbo shifted the cushion under him and gazed into Mr. Brockhouse's warm fire, then over to the waiting faces of the farmer and his wife. Their eyes looked bright in the firelight. Inside he was feeling a bit mixed as to how to present them with a "Mad Baggins" tale.  He was well aware of his nickname in Hobbiton, and how many things that were perfectly innocent had been taken and exaggerated by others. It was a two-edged reputation, for he had to admit he sometimes delighted in shaking up their placidity when the tales were just of oddity or fun. But he also knew there were worse tales out there, tales that were born of fear of the unknown by hobbits that had no better task to occupy them.  Darker tales about...him. That were wholly untrue. He was glad that the one this farmer had mentioned had been an innocent one.  Should he gratify his hosts with a fanciful tale of oddity, which was what they wanted, or should he seek to defend his own sanity and disappoint them?  All of these factors and more were weighed rapidly in his mind as he took one more puff on his pipe then drew breath to speak.

"Well," he began, "I can't say I know Mr. Baggins real well, but I have seen him a time or two. Handsome enough fellow for his age. He's quite old, you know, but it hasn't changed him much." His own reflection in his dressing room mirror at home came to mind, and he smiled to himself. 

"How does he dress?" asked Mrs. Brockhouse. "Does he really have a weskit all of golden thread?"

Her husband looked at her askance. "Leave it to a woman to want to know about his clothes first." he snorted with cheerful tolerance.

Bilbo considered for a moment. "No, can't say I've ever seen any golden weskit. But his buttons are nice and bright, and he nearly always has a hat when he goes out.  Dresses pretty much like anyone else, I suppose..." seeing the somewhat disappointed look on her face he amended slightly, "...though I'm no expert on fashions and I'm sure I may have simply missed it. He has been known to dress in a Dwarvish style. They say he has entire rooms just for clothing."  This was true in a way - he had two very large closets. Let her have her dreams. In her drab farmhouse so far from other towns she might be needing them, however small they may be.

"Entire rooms! Just for clothing!" she exclaimed to her husband, no doubt thinking on her own modest lodging and wardrobe.

"Eh, what's he need so many clothes for?" said the farmer. "He's only got one body, ain't he?" He dismissed the topic with a slight wave of his hand. "What happened with that pig? Does he really ride one?"

Bilbo reflected how tales could change, and grow. "Yes indeed, there was a pig. But he had no harness...just a collar, and it was only ridden once."  He did not add that it was not himself who had ridden it, but a boy whom he had been helping to get his stubborn animal to move. "It was quite a sight, though, and yes, right through the main square!" The boy had enjoyed Bilbo's suggestion that he try surprising the animal that way, but look at the form the tale had taken.  He noted the slight disappointment in them again. They needed a tall tale. Something to think on and talk about with their friends later.  They didn't want truth.  Truth wasn't nearly as interesting.

"Let me tell you a little about his last birthday party, shall I? It was quite a sight. You may or may not have heard how he often mixes with...foreign folk, as you say, Dwarves and even Elves at times."

They nodded, all ears, but looked uncomfortable. "Eh," muttered Gulbo. "Bad luck they are. What does he have to do with them? And Dwarves - now that's a greedy lot. Wonder that they don't steal him blind."

"He..." learns from them, thought Bilbo. He loves their music, their memories, their tales. He loves their languages, their poetry... He continued.

"He...never was the same after he came back all those years ago, you know.  Always singing strange songs, inviting strange travelers into his very own home, right there in Hobbiton. Most unusual. No one else does it."

"Oh, I heard about that! He come back from the dead, didn't he? Right powerful strange, eh? I would think that that would addle anyone."

"Dead?" his wife said in astonishment. "How could he come back from bein' dead? That can't be right."

"I heard he was dead." her husband replied firmly. "Plumb dead. Dead and gone. And then just as they was fixin' to hand over his belongings to his kin, here he comes alive again, and walks and talks and everything!  And he had gold with him, he'd brought it from foreign parts, no one knows where, some say he stole it from them Dwarves and that's why they keep comin' back, to find their missing gold."

"Well, I don't know if he was truly dead or not, but he certainly was changed." said Bilbo. His old ways certainly died that year... he paused again then caught himself. He had to smile at the thought of the Dwarves visiting him only to regain their gold, remembering the rich gifts that Gloin had left with him.

"And yes, he did have gold with him. I've even seen it! Or, some of it, that is...They say he's free enough in spending it, so he must have plenty. Shares with some who are needing it.  There are those who say it fills his cupboards, but I can't see why anyone would keep their gold, if they had any, in a cupboard."  He smiled. This last tale he had heard through his gardener's boy.

"Maybe his dishes are gold." offered Mrs. Brockhouse. "If he has golden dishes he would keep them in his cupboard, wouldn't he? I would bet that they're gold." She nudged her husband. "Imagine Gulbo, golden dishes!"

"Golden dishes. That would be treat to eat off of now, wouldn't it?" agreed Bilbo amiably. "Though if he had stolen them from Dwarves, why would they be coming to his home as friends and staying under his roof so peaceably? They sing songs, long into the night but seem friendly enough."

The Brockhouses were not ready to let the Dwarves off so easily.  "Maybe they're just wanting to steal it back quiet-like. One piece at a time," theorized Gulbo. His wife nodded. This seemed logical to them.

"Maybe." Bilbo replied noncommittally. "At his last birthday he had some Dwarves there. They say it snowed food and rained drink, and that most of the drink was stuff the Dwarves had brought with them. Strange wines from far away. Strange songs. There were some hobbits there too, of course."

"Did with the Dwarves?" asked Mrs. Brockhouse. She shuddered with a sort of mildly repulsed fascination at the thought.

"Oh, not really that I know of. But they enjoyed watching. Dwarves can cut quite a caper when they've a mind to, but my, how they stomp! Very loud it was. There were tales told by the fireside that would tighten your curls, tales of far-off places, the great mist-covered mountains and giant Eagles and dark woods filled with strange and magical things, tales of...."

Their eyes were getting wide and a little fearful. He suddenly realized he needed to pull back. "Of course that's all hearsay... child's tales, I'm sure." Ah, to be such a child...

"What I'd like to know is what he's like, when you see him at the market or out walking or such." said  Mrs. Brockhouse.  "I pictured him a bit...wild-eyed, and unkempt, I guess. He hasn't a wife, has he?"

"No, no wife. But he seems to keep his household well enough for a bachelor. Neat and clean enough, I suppose, and generous with others. He's been known to teach the children in the town odd things and to stir up their imaginations..."

"What a wicked thing to do!" she interjected. "Why do their parents let them speak to him if he stirs them up? He doesn't...catch them or... anything, does he?"

Bilbo was a bit nonplussed at this turn. Catching children indeed! What rubbish hobbits could come up with sometimes.  He struggled to hide his offense, lest he give himself away. "No, I should hope not! Never heard of any child coming to harm. He's gentle as a fly.  The people in Hobbiton completely trust him."  He hoped this last part was true, though he honestly doubted it. "And he knows people all over the Shire."

"And he's been seen all over the Shire, I heard." said Mrs. Brockhouse, as if telling a great secret. "And..." her voice dropped to a half-whisper "..even outside it!"

"That's right." said her husband. "We've heard of him being seen just about anyplace you can think of.  Odd places too.  Why does he drift around like that? Seems like a daft thing to do. Makes a body nervous, not knowing if he'll go and pop up on some road when they're traveling alone.  Maybe that's where he gets that gold of his, eh? Maybe he's a-robbin' innocent travelers!"

Bilbo spluttered slightly and tried to cover it with a cough. "Not too likely, I'd think. Shirefolk don't carry much gold, do they?"

"But Dwarves do, I've heard tell, and even..." he gestured westward.

"Elves?" said Bilbo. They both jumped slightly.

"Now, Mr. Bracegirdle, keep your voice down. Said to be bad luck, speaking of them. They can hear it if'n you speak of them, even from afar off. We don't need none of them coming around this place.  I suppose you don't know that, bein' from inside the Shire and all, but out here we sometimes get strange travelers, you know.  We have a neighbor-boy who heard some of night. He followed 'em clear out to..." he gestured west.  "Bad luck been with him ever since."

"I see." said Bilbo. "I do apologize.  Now, as I was saying, I don't think old Mr. Baggins would go robbing honest folk, though I have heard tell that he robbed some rather nasty folk once who deserved it. Trolls, I hear!"

"Trolls!" said Mrs. Brockhouse. "He robbed Trolls!" She was all a-flutter. Even Gulbo looked a bit surprised at this turn.

"Yes he did. Not in the Shire of course.  Further out. Got their wallet, he did. But he got caught."

"Caught! Is that how he ended up being dead, then?"

"No..well, in a way you could say so.  I'm sure he never tried it again."

"I should think not!" she said.  "Goodness. Such tales!"

Her husband stood up and stretched, tapping out his pipe. "Quite an earful, Mr. Bracegirdle, I must agree!  We're glad you could share it, espcially as you must be worn out with travel.  But it's gettin' late and we need to get you settled in the barn -  Aster, dear, did you get those blankets, oh, thanky..."

Mrs. Brockhouse looked a touch disappointed to have the tale-telling end, but Bilbo was glad enough to be off the hook.  He gratefully gathered up the other half of the blankets and with polite good-nights to his hostess, followed his host across the yard and into the side-door of the small wooden barn.

The lantern lit the way into a dusty warmth.  Though it was spring, there was still plenty of hay heaped, filled with the scent of the previous summer. Two huge wooden bins heaped with dry corn-on-the-cob flanked the few stalls. Bilbo was made very comfortable in an empty box stall, setting his pack into the hay-wisped manger.  He slipped the farmer two small silver coins for the bed-and-board and thanked him for his hospitality.

"No problem, Mr. Bracegirdle. You seem a good, sensible hobbit. Nothing like that Mad Baggins - why if he were to show up at my doorstep, I wouldn't let him into my house, nosirree." He folded his arms. "If he ever showed up out here with his foreign ways and golden whatnots we wouldn't be takin' the likes of him in... Well. Hope you will be comfortable. Goodnight, then."  Apparently having finished having his say, he stumped away, shutting the door against the outside as he went.  Left to himself, Bilbo curled up in the blankets and hay with such mixed feelings and thoughts he couldn't tell if he was more amused or offended. He finally decided he was both, and let it go.  He wondered about the neighbor-boy who had heard Elves... perhaps tomorrow he could find out something about him.  He sighed and nestled down, allowing sleep to take him as the rain pattered on the roof.