Nothing of Note
20: Only the Best
The inside of the home was neat enough, but had a shabby feel to it.
Mrs. Todefoot merely glanced up at him before
going back to her work. Their brief acquaintance at her door apparently
was all he would get in the way of greeting. The smell of chicken
roasting filled the small
kitchen, and something bubbled on the stove. Bilbo was glad the noise
of their entry had hidden his stomach growling. He was surprised
to see there was a
dog after all, but it was hardly a threat. The elderly dog lay under
the table, so unmoving he wasn't sure if it was alive at first; it
lifted it's head partway up, gave him a clouded uncaring look and
dropped it back to the floor.
"Beryl, this is Mr. Bilbo Baggins!" Hardno announced a bit too loudly to
his wife. Her eyebrows went up slightly. "He's going to be staying with
us for dinner, and gets only the best, of course!"
Bilbo was no fool, and Hardno was no actor. Bilbo could see this hobbit
was a sour old miser and his only reason for letting this "guest" stay
at all was no doubt the tales that circulated around the Shire
regarding Bilbo's wealth. If he hadn't been so hungry and tired, he
would have turned around and left right then, but having no other
lodging available he reluctantly had to play along.
"Yes, yes." He said, with equally false cheerfulness and flattery. "I
am so pleased to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Todefoot. You are most
kind to allow me to share your meal. I am sure it will be the best in
the Shire, or anywhere around it and look forward to sampling your cooking. While I wait, I
will be glad to bathe the weariness of my travels away to be able to
grace your table more appropriately."
They just looked at him.
"Do you have a bathing room I could make use of while the food is
cooking?" he asked more straightforwardly. Apparently the
courtesy of his speech was wasted on them.
Mrs. Todefoot went back to cooking, leaving her husband to deal with
it. Mr. Todefoot frowned, then remembered who he was speaking to.
The false smile crawled across his face again and clung under his nose
like a parasite. "Of course! Nothing but the best for our guest.
We'll set some water to heating right away."
"Very good. Then I shall wait by the fire until it is ready. Thank you."
He turned to the sitting room adjoined the kitchen. The hearth was
cold. Hardno followed him in. "The fire in the stove heats the house
well enough for us, Mr. Baggins. If you're going to be wanting an extra
fire and baths, you'll be making it up for us?" It was a question
yet not a question. Bilbo knew what he meant.
"Yes, I'll be willing to pay you a fair price for the water and
wood." He sat in the chair, very pointedly making no move to
start the fire himself. Hardno hesistated and his smile flickered
badly, but he moved to set the wood in the fireplace. He blew on the
small sparks until they caught, grumbling all the while.
"Takes a lot of time to get wood, you know. Hard work too. Time that
has to be taken away from other jobs. Then it has to be chopped too. My
son, now he knows how to keep warm; good hard work warms him up just
The implication was obviously that his guest was lazy as well as greedy
and demanding. Bilbo ignored it, determined to be pleasant but not to
bend. "Thank you for the fire. It is most welcome. Might I also
have something to drink while I wait?"
Hardno stiffened again. "There's the well, right outside. Just go 'round the corner."
Bilbo laughed hollowly at him, as if he had just told a joke. "No, no
my dear fellow. Something warm of course. I am sure the very
best you can offer would include something warm to drink on a cool
His host turned so Bilbo couldn't see his face and addressed his wife
in a slightly strangled tone. "Some tea for our guest, he needs
something warm to drink. Price of tea has been pretty high lately, so
I hope he will enjoy it." He abruptly went outside, the old dog
following him. Bilbo sighed. After being alone for several days it was
annoying to have to deal with temperamental hobbits like this.
Seems every town had at least one. Maybe that was why they lived out
here, so far from town - no one wanted anything to do with them.
Sad, really, but self-inflicted and Bilbo had little pity or patience
Mrs. Todefoot came with a cup and handed it to him without comment. He
took it and thanked her. It was a welcoming warmth to his cold
hands. He sipped it carefully, then looked at it more closely. It
was tea, sure enough but so weak as to have almost no flavor at all -
she must have simply waved a tea-ball through it to color it. He toyed
with asking for cream, but decided to leave it be. At least it
was warm. No reason to harrass more than was necessary.
He fed the fire to keep it going and finished the 'tea'. "Is my bathing water ready?" he asked.
She took a cloth and pulled a large kettle off of the stove. "Follow
me." she said. He followed her to a room at the end of a short
hall. "Here," she said with barely concealed irony, "The very
best." She left him there and went back to the kitchen.
The bathing room was cramped, cold and musty. He decided to stick
with only the most necessary repairs and poured the kettle into a small
washbasin, laving his face and hands, then using the single washing
cloth to take care of his feet. He poured it out and returned to the
sitting room. The smell of the chicken was making his mouth water and
he was glad to see her getting ready to serve it up.
With a rush of cold air, father and son came in the door. The son
directed a look his way, but Bilbo couldn't tell if he was surprised at
Bilbo sitting there, or at the fire which was now crackling merrily as
Bilbo had stacked on a generous amount of wood.
"Ma, got another one!" he held up a dark object that dangled. She turned to see, then made a face.
"Well, you can be the one to dress it then. I've already done my part
for today, and we have two hens roasting already. Why'd you go and do
Bilbo looked curiously from his place by the fire, then he heart
contracted within him as he realized what the boy was holding. One of
the brown and white seabirds hung from his hand, limp and dead.
"Aw, it was goin' after the chicken feed and wouldn't shoo. I chucked a rock at it. Didn't mean to kill it..."
"They make good enough eating," interrupted Hardno, "not like them
gulls. No sense letting it go to waste. You'll dress it after we're
done with dinner." The boy opened his mouth. "No arguin'!"
Hasno took the bird back outside. Bilbo sat and stared at the
flames, trying to erase the pathetic look in its dead eyes from his
mind. It was just a bird. Yet he sorrowed inside, remembering their
glossy necks and bright looks in the tower. It was well that Mrs.
Todefoot was slow on serving the meal - he needed that time to mourn.
They finally gathered at the table where two roast chickens sat upon a
platter, along with a bowl of boiled potatoes, a bowl of boiled eggs
and a pan of cornbread. More of the weak tea was poured and they set
to. Bilbo was starved, and though he knew the farmer was begrudging him
every bite, he ate heartily. Hardno talked a little about the
market he had been at that day, mostly to comment dourly that no one
appreciated how much work it was to raise the best chickens in the
Shire. He added comments about how expensive everything was nowdays and
how everything wore out too soon, and mostly how no one truly
appreciated the value of things.
Bilbo chewed, not really listening too closely. His host was an
unimaginative bean counter. It was not the honest gold-lust that
Dwarves had, who could tally values within an inch; it was a mean,
scrabbling sort of gold-lust, the kind that profits from anothers
misfortune or tries to gain more by trickery. Like
scavenger-birds, except worse as they might even create the accidents
Hardno rebuked his son for reaching for more chicken. Can't he see they
have a guest and food is expensive and so on. The son obviously
resented it, but was ignored. His father continued in his monologue,
gloating to his family about having gotten rid of some elderly hens by
slipping them into a lot that had been sold that morning. They nodded
as if this were very clever; Bilbo kept his thoughts on such matters to
The unpleasant meal wound to a close fairly quickly with almost no
leftovers. Bilbo went back to the sitting room and fed another log to
the fire pretending to not notice Hardno's grimace when he did
"Well now, I have two favors that I must yet ask of you, Mr. Todefoot.
For tonight I must have a warm place to sleep, and I require it be in
the house, not the stable. For tomorrow, I am in need of
provisions for the road as I still have many miles to go."
Mr. Todefoot opened and shut his mouth. "I'm not a grocer nor an
Innkeeper, Mr. Baggins and this is no Inn. We haven't any extra
Bilbo shifted, then pulled a wallet from his pocket and tilted it,
deliberately making the coins clink together. He eyed his host. It had
the desired effect.
"....but I'm sure we can work something out." He turned to his son, who
was running his finger around a bowl in the kitchen and licking it off.
"Hasno! Mr. Baggins will be taking your room tonight."
"But, da..!" began Hasno, silenced by a stern look from both of his parents.
"No, no," said Bilbo, who didn't even want to know what the boy's room
looked like, the bird-killer. "I'll not need his room. I'd prefer to
just sleep here by the fire, if you don't mind."
This brought relieved smiles all around. "Not at all, Mr. Baggins. That would be fine."
"Now, about those provisions."
"Only the best! Only the best. Beryl here will fill your pack with only the best we have, of course."
"Only the best." said Bilbo drily. "Yes. And I shall be glad to watch her do so, lest she need any help or suggestions."
They were unhappy with this but nodded, Hardno went to his wife and
after speaking softly with her for a couple moments returned more
cheerfully. "As you say. But once it is packed, I will need you to
settle our score before we retire. I'm sure you'll be wanting an early
start, and that way you won't need to wait for us."
It seemed very solicitous, but Bilbo knew they really were afraid he
would slip away in the night without paying them. He went along with
it. "Of course. Now let's see what we can fill my poor, empty pack
with, shall we?" He went into the kitchen with it in his hand,
opened it up and set it on the table. Then he pulled up a chair and
waited to see what would happen.
"Hasno, come with me. The chickens need to be watered and readied for
night, and you still have that bird to clean. I'll be back."
Father and son went out. Bilbo mildly gazed at Mrs. Todefoot. She
seemed uncomfortable, but set about filling his pack. He watched
without much comment, and was quite surprised to see what she put in.
She really did put in the best, pulling items from deep within her
cupboards. She gave him seasoned chicken jerky, jam, a packet of
cornbread, a small pot of sweet butter, tea, dried fruits, a pouch of
candied nuts, several carefully wrapped boiled eggs, and even a small
bottle of wine. As she continued to tuck even more things in, his brow
furrowed. She even added two reasonably nice cloth napkins. She
was so generous he was suspicious. Was she doing it hoping her husband
wouldn't find out? It seemed entirely out of character. The pack was
stuffed to the brim and would be heavy to carry, but he wouldn't be
going hungry for a long time if these were in fact to be its contents.
What was the catch?
Mr. Todefoot returned. He looked at the filled pack, gave his wife a
look, then turned to Bilbo with another of his artificial smiles
plastered between his nose and chin.
I really wish he wouldn't do that, thought Bilbo, it's most disturbing. I'd rather have an honest frown...
"Does it meet with your approval, Mr. Baggins? Only the best!"
Bilbo quirked his eyebrows questioningly, sensing something odd going
on. "Only the best," he agreed. "She was very generous, in fact. I
doubt my old pack has been so well filled in many a day. I am most
"Are you? That's fine, just fine. Fine...yes, fine..."
Enough dithering. Bilbo got straight to the point. "What price are you asking for these provisions, Mr. Todefoot?"
"Well, it is only the very best, as you agreed. Considering the way
prices have been at the market lately, and the long winter... and then
there's the water and wood, and dinner o' course, and lodging...."
Bilbo was not inclined to indulge his dickering for very long. He chose
a fair price then stuck to it until the farmer was obliged to give in.
The starting sum had been nothing short of astronomical, but it had not
been unexpected. As it was, Bilbo still felt he was paying too much for
what he was getting but was willing to pay it just to be done with the
matter. He silently counted the coins into Hardno's eager hand. The
payment done, they took their leave of him very quickly more than once
mentioning his need to be on his way bright and early.
Probably counting and recounting it in their room, thought Bilbo.
He hadn't been offered any bedding, so he pulled a rug over to the
fireside and used his own blanket and cloak. It would do. He had added
so much wood to the fire to spite Hardno that it was almost too warm,
but after a while he dropped into an uneasy sleep.
He didn't know what it was that woke him up, but suddenly he was
looking at the red embers of the fire and listening in the dark
for...something. There. A soft stealthy sound of movement, back in the
kitchen. He didn't recall the old dog coming back in. It was so
small it made him wonder if their kitchen had rats, or some other
vermin. There was a small bumping-shuffling noise and something that
sounded to him very much like his pack carefully being moved off of the
table, where it had still stood. The sound moved down the hall,
away from the room he was in.
Now fully awake he considered what to do. His host was up to
something,he was sure of it, and nothing honest he would bet. His hand
slipped into his pocket and fingered a concealed chain, following it
down to a familiar smooth weight. He didn't like using his ring,
though he couldn't put words to why, it just... it was like being
pulled, somehow, when he did....It wore him out in an undefinable
way. He carried it with him for safekeeping, but rarely ever put
it on. Except at times like this.
It slipped onto his finger and the world changed to shadows. He got up
and checked the table. Sure enough, the pack was gone. He quietly
slipped down the hall.
In their room, Hardno and Beryl were bending over the pack, quietly
taking out everything that had been put in. Beryl took out the beeswax
taper he had brought from the tower and fingered it At least she
had the decency to look unhappy about what they were doing. Her husband
had a smug look about him that galled his guest. He dug deeper into the
pack as if looking for something, pulled the notebook partway out and
looked at it curiously for a moment then put it back.
Beryl gathered up the foodstuffs into a basket and after a pause added
the taper to it, then covered it with a heap of clothing to hide it.
Hardno took the now nearly empty pack and began filling it back up from
a stack of small pieces of wood that lay ready at hand. Once the pack
was nearly filled with wood, he added a small canteen of water and
topped it off with the packet of cornbread so it appeared to be full of
"Water and wood." he whispered to her with an ugly smile. "Just as he agreed."
"What if he tells the town...?" she whispered back.
He waved it away. "Everyone knows he's daft. He said he'd pay for water
and wood, and that's what we gave him, right? We only gave him what he
asked for. If he wants to fill his pack with it, that's his
affair." He tightened the top and gave it back to his wife. "You
be sure to put it back just like it was. We'll send him off early, he
won't even look at it until he's well away, and then who would believe
Bilbo was seething. Of all the underhanded, lowdown, trollish...
He was glad he'd kept his wallet with him or no doubt it would have
been likewise emptied. Probably what Hardno was digging into the bottom
of it for.
He stepped well back to allow her to pass him with the pack. She
furtively carried it back, set it on the table, then slipped back to
her room. Bilbo considered what to do. Keeping the ring on, he
settled himself into the corner and waited as they whispered together,
then climbed back into their bed and blew out the candle. Once their
breathing had evened out, he set to work.. First, the pack.
In the kitchen, he slipped off the ring so he could see better, then
set about removing all of the wood from his pack. He opened the kitchen
cupboards and placed wood where the food would have been. For good
measure, he added several of the pieces of firewood from the sitting
room as well and filled the frying pan and teakettle with twigs and
wood-ash. Once the pack was empty, he put the ring on once more
to slip into their bedroom and retrieve the basket of food. He'd paid
for it, it was his. What a way to have to spend a night, burgling a
The concealing old clothes were lifted off and he carried the basket
back to the kitchen. Transferring the contents back into his pack was
quickly done. The empty basket was filled with more wood from the
woodpile plus the bones from the chickens that had been consumed that
evening and taken back to the room where he covered it up with clothing
Mission completed, he put the ring back on its chain in his pocket,
gathered his cloak and blanket up and hefted the pack onto his
shoulders. Enough was enough. He'd had a meal and a little sleep
and now he had provisions. No more reason to spend even one minute with
these fools. He unlatched the door and went straight out into the misty
night. It was still a good three hours before dawn and the
starlight barely showed him where the driveway lay but he didn't
hesitate to set out. By the time he was back on the main road he had
walked out the worst of his anger and offense, and began to chuckle to
think of what their breakfast would be like in the morning.
Only the best, of course. Only the best.