Nothing of Note

by Primula


21: The Little Things

Having had an extra early start Bilbo made good time heading up the road, but as daylight approached he chose to turn off of it and cut across country a bit, heading west and slightly north where by his reckoning, he ought to find Little Delving before the day was done. Besides, by leaving the road he had little chance of being overtaken by a grouchy Mr. Todefoot, should there be any pursuit.  Not that he thought the old miser would harm him, but he would rather not deal with the unpleasantness of seeing him again.

The day had dawned somewhat misty but the mist soon burned off leaving a clear Spring day, perfect for traveling in.  By late morning he was within sight of the band of woods that marked the boundary of the Shire, and by luncheon, somewhere in the middle of them.  He figured he was back "home" inasfar as maps define such a thing.  Pausing to check the position of the sun while he was out in the openness of a small meadow, he noted a vague cart-track crossing it.  It was going nearly the way he wanted to go so he followed it along, glad to have a respite from picking his way through brush, bramble and overgrown, babbling creeks. 

After about half an hour of walking along the track he heard the sound of an axe up ahead, rhythmically chopping wood. Following the track soon led him out of the trees to the edge of a clearing and to the source of the sound: a muscular hobbit in sweaty work clothes whose wagon stood nearby partly filled with firewood that had already been sawed into lengths and split. The smell of fresh-cut wood filled the clearing, the bright yellow-white chips scattered the ground and a well-fed pony contentedly crunched the new grasses nearby.  Bilbo patted the pony, who paused to sniff his jacket for treats then went back to its grass.

Red-faced, the woodcutter paused to wipe his brow with a handkerchief. He set a new piece of wood on end and took a new grip on his axe then suddenly did a doubletake as he realized he had company. Bilbo did a doubletake right back as he realized he knew this woodcutter, and was in fact related to him.

"Ponto! Ponto Baggins - imagine meeting you here."

"Aye, Mr. Bilbo Baggins! I must say I think you are the one a-wandering! Good to see you, though I must admit a bit unexpected?" He proferred a warm, calloused hand for a firm handshake.

"Yes, I suppose it would be. I've been out walking, visiting relatives and such but hadn't expected to find one here in these woods. So good to see you.  How are your parents, and that new little one...?"

Ponto laughed a hearty, clear laugh. "Little one? She's growing fast, Mr. Baggins. My Angelica will be seven soon, and as lovely as the day is bright. She is such a beauty! My parents are fine, fine. Porto has a new job, you may or mayn't know, working the stables at the Inn in Little Delving, and Peony has been spending her days simpering and fluttering with a new beau, so my darling Angelica might have little cousins someday yet." He laughed again.

Bilbo found his laughter to be such a balm upon his heart. After the unpleasantness of the Todefoot family it washed over him like good, clean Shire water. A more honest and hardworking hobbit than Ponto Baggins would be hard to find, and he was pleased beyond telling to find him here. Besides, his pack was heavy and the prospect of a cart-ride into town was welcome news for his back and feet.

"Well good, good. I was planning on staying the night in Little Delving - will you be going that way? I can offer you a very good meal in return for a ride. And Porto is working at the Inn there?"

"The Dented Thimble! Best meals in the town, though I'd say there are other places in the Shire that best their ale. Not that you'd want to say that to the owner," he laughed, "He's a mite proud of his place, but a good soul.  He's got a right fine cook. You'll have to try their pies!  Go ahead and have a seat in the cart and rest yourself a bit. I'll have this done within the hour and then we'll head to town. I appreciate the company."

Bilbo gratefully eased his pack off of his shoulders and hefted it up to the front bench of the cart, then climbed up beside it.  Ponto managed to continue a stream of conversation and small news, surprising considering how he was swinging his axe. Bilbo climbed down after a while and helped load the split pieces into the wagon's bed, then pulled the pony's head up from the grass and led her over to the cart for Ponto to harness.

Bilbo reflected on his dwindling money and the cost of lodging. He offered a blatant hint, hoping for an offer of hospitality. "Are you expecting any other company tonight?" 

Ponto knew what he was driving at and was straightforward about it. "My missus is in Hobbiton, visiting her folks and mine, so I can't really offer you much in the way of hospitality, but if you were planning on having supper at the Inn I'd be glad have you stay with me after.  I'm expecting her back on the morrow if you need another night..." He buckled the last of the straps into place.

"Oh, no, I think I'll be heading towards home tomorrow. And I do appreciate the offer, yes, very much. I would be honored to stay with you this evening. Many thanks."

"Well then! Let's be off. It's a bit of a drive and we'll have to go slow with the laden wagon. I hope you were not in a hurry."  Ponto smoothed the pony on the cheek, tweaked its forelock out from under the bridle strap and climbed up onto the seat of the wagon. Bilbo joined him. With a gentle slap of the reins they were off. 

A pleasanter drive Bilbo could not remember having in many a season. Ponto was good hobbit company, easy and unchallenging to talk to, interested in every bit of news and the small doings of every mutual acquaintance. Ponto's parents, the aging Posco and Gilly Bunce-Baggins, lived on the edge of Hobbiton and Bilbo saw them at every family gathering, which for hobbits meant he saw them quite frequently. He had not seen Ponto much since he and his brother had taken up bachelor residence in Little Delving.  Ponto, of course, was no longer a bachelor having courted and married one of the Little Delving lasses nearly ten years hence. His marital status meant a great amount of his ambling discourse centered upon his little girl.

By the time they bumped out of the woods and along the base of the low hills that led towards Little Delving, Bilbo had heard enough about the little lass and her every mannerism and clever saying to last him for some time. In her father's eyes there had never been any hobbit-offspring so blessed with natural wit, charm, intelligence and beauty. The only one who outshone her in his esteem was her mother, who would have blushed with pleasure to hear how well her husband spoke of her outside her hearing. He spoke of her, of the plans for the spring gardens, of early onions, of lambing times and visits with faithful friends.

Bilbo basked in this good nature. Ponto's compliments, admiration and general positive view of life soothed and smoothed his ruffled composure until the ill events of the previous evening were only dimly thought of, if at all. They no longer mattered. This was what mattered. The little things, the daily caring and sharing and affections between family and friends. That was the heart of the Shire's peace, warm as a summer sun on newly budding blossoms, bringing out the beauty and the fragrance.

There was much to be valued in the love of food, of gardening, of peaceful pursuits, he thought.  We need to be reminded of it.  He was gently pulled from his lofty star-filled studies back to the good earth from which his people came, and his roots drank of it deeply.

They edged up onto the main road, then traveled eastward until they passed the zig-zag log fencing that marked the boundary of Little Delving.  Ponto eased the cart to a stop in front of a building whose windows were ablaze with light. 

"Here you go! The Dented Thimble. Remember to ask for their pie, no matter what kind they have it'll be good. I'm just up the lane, then to the left, third smial.  Have a good supper!"  He made sure Bilbo was safely down then gave him a friendly wave and headed into the early twilight.

Bilbo stepped up the single step onto the porch, then pulled open the door of the Inn.

Smoky, warm air washed over him, bringing with it a mixture of scents: baking bread, woodsmoke, pipe-smoke, candles, ale, stew...  There weren't too many people there, but as it was not a very large establishment they seemed a cheerful crowd.  Some were industriously eating their supper, others leaned on the bar visiting and sipping their ales. A few occupied themselves with minor diversions, tossing dice upon a table, playing for nuts and occasionally consuming their winnings.  He paid the Innkeeper for use of their bathing room first, eager to wash away his travel-worn stiffness and mud and found it kept warm and clean. The towels were a bit thin, but there was an entire stack of them so they served well enough.

Clean and refreshed, he chose a table in the corner of the main room nearest the fire where he could eat and write undisturbed, only half aware of the others in the room. The innkeeper's lad brought him a hot chicken stew, fresh bread, a wedge of well-aged cheese and a small pot of sweet honey-butter. He thanked him, slathered the butter over the bread and set to with the appetite of a traveler, even though he and Ponto had liberally enjoyed the contents of his pack not that long before. He followed it up with a small ale and a piece of the dried-apple and berry pie and after a sip and a nibble had to concur with Ponto's opinions of both.

The warmth and firelight, the cheerful hubbub of conversation and good food all worked together to remind him of home, and of the pleasant evenings he sometimes spent at the Green Dragon. This brought the matter of the books being shipped to Hobbiton to mind.  He drew out a small piece of parchment from the pocket at the back of his book packet and smoothed it out on the table before him. He addressed it from himself at the Dented Thimble, to Hamfast Gamgee of Hobbiton, and dated it.

Mister Gamgee,

I am finding that my travels are taking longer than expected, but intend to be home within the week. If you have not already done so, you should be receiving a small shipment of books by the hand of one Hilalard Took, Peddler by trade. He will be bringing them by my arrangement from Michel Delving.  I request that you might leave them in their packaging and store them in a dry place until such time as I may inspect their condition. I hope to bring you a few quality onion sets compliments of one Mr. Ponto Baggins of Little Delving for the vegetable garden, and will await your listing of what seed and supplies are needed next week.

Bilbo paused, thoughtfully tapping his fingers for moment. Remembering that Mrs. Gamgee had been ailing of late, he added,

My best wishes remain for you and your family. Once the spring gardens are readied to your satisfaction, I shall be pleased to arrange for an alternate gardener for the space of a fortnight that you may attend to their needs without any loss of pay. You may submit the identity of that chosen hand to me upon my return.

Bilbo Baggins

He folded it, dripped a bit of wax from the taper on the table to serve as a seal and addressed the outside to Bagshot Row and glanced out the front window of the Inn to assess the lateness of the hour.  He would have to find the postal office in the morning.  He gathered up his things and leaving the payment for the dinner on the table, headed for Ponto's home and a peaceful night's rest back within the boundaries of the Shire.