Nothing of Note

by Primula

22: Omelettes

A comfortable morning breakfast was already waiting for him, hot and fresh when Bilbo awoke. Ponto was cheerfully humming to himself as he folded over a large omelette and slipped it onto the plate along with a large bowl of steaming spiced applesauce, all flecked with plump raisins and nuts.

"Good morning! Breakfast is one thing I can manage, even without the missus. I'll be glad to have her back this evening. Are you sure you can't stay? How you'd enjoy my little Angelica, she's such a darling.  This applesauce is her favorite."

Bilbo managed a smile for his friendly host, in spite of the earliness of the hour and not being quite awake yet. He honestly thanked him then turned his attention to shifting the sweet, hot meal from his plate to his eager stomach. While he ate, there was a continuing theme of admiration for the absent child.  Ponto even got up from the table at one point  to display a "work of art" that his clever daughter had recently produced; Bilbo nodded and made affirming sounds with his mouth full to the proud father's satisfaction. Ponto then reseated himself, considered his chair and commented on how she was beginning to outgrow the little child's seat he had made just for her.  His guest was beginning to be glad the little one was not home that day - it surely would have been worse, for then he would have had to admire her every facial expression, every word and little trick. It was easier to admire from afar, in absentia.

"Did I tell you I was helping her put in her very own garden last year? We've dug up a small row in the front, and she planted some columbine and foxglove. The foxgloves were taller than her of course, and the columbine! Such lovely colors. I think she shall be a natural gardener when she is grown. I kept the seeds from them too."

Bilbo nodded, but his mind was drifting away to his own garden, and the colors outside his own windows in the summer. As he ate, Ponto's words affected him little more than the bees humming outside a sunny window.

The morning dawning fully, the two of them washed up the dishes and readied themselves for their respective days. Ponto had to deliver and stack the wood he had cut the day before, and Bilbo wanted to continue on without delays.  He gladly accepted a burlap package as a goodbye gift, for it had been spoken of on their ride the day before; it smelled of onion and was in fact small sweet onion sets for Bilbo's own garden. This brought his mind to his other errand so after getting directions from Ponto, he bade him farewell and walked to the local Postal Office to post the Gaffer's letter.

It was still early enough that he had to wait a short bit before someone could register the letter for him and ready it for the next bag heading to Hobbiton.  He sat on the long green-painted wooden benches that ran along the front of the building while he waited, the morning sun was warm on his legs and the peaceful, comfortable sounds of the town waking to life around him was pleasant enough.  Two other hobbits also came along, observed the time and sat down to wait, speaking congenially between themselves.

He found himself eavesdropping on their conversation for lack of anything else to do. He soon discerned it was a discussion of legal matters and the items that they were posting were of a legal nature. Bilbo hadn't really spent much time studying law, it had always seemed unnecessarily convoluted and lacking in good sense when he delved into it, and his attention had invariably wandered. Always glad to take another chance to learn something new, he casually edged in with a couple side-comments until they natuarally shifted to include him.

"Can't wait for this to be over. This set should put an end to it.  Such a complainer I never had to work with! You know how land issues are always so drawn out... Still, at least it was just the default."

"Yes it was." said his friend, his head bobbing in agreement.

"Default?" asked Bilbo.

"Yes, default. You know how the laws are set up? If you don't take the time to say otherwise, things will go to their default. That is, the way it will be if you don't fuss. This fellow," he waved the paper vaguely, "he and his neighbor never took the time to fix the fences that stood between their lands, yet when the fence fell down and the goats got into his garden he goes and squawks.  But he had never set up any papers saying that fence was his neighbor's responsibility, so he couldn't complain."

"Law says if there's no fence, then your neighbor's animals can graze on your land if they've a mind to." added the other hobbit.

"Yes," he agreed and nodded at Bilbo. "That's the default. And there was no fence worth calling a fence anywhere between them. Now they've got their signatures and papers and fences and such all ironed out, at last."

"So you helped them with that?"

"Certainly! It's part of  my job, writing up and filing papers for folk in need of such things. This one's on it's way to Michel Delving to be filed there."

The other hobbit leaned forward. "It's kind of like if you never told your missus that you hate the taste of peppers, then you can't go complaining if you get peppers in every meal."

"But only if the default was everyone always eats peppers." amended his companion.

"As you say. If we all normally ate peppers every morning, noon and night, then you'd have to come out and say you don't want any peppers."

"And she'd have to agree not to serve them?" asked Bilbo.

"No, no. She'd have to do what you'd said, if it was a filed legal change. I mean, let's say you hate a pepper omelette, and want it to be a bacon one instead."

"I'd like that. Bacon is my favorite, especially with tomatoes." offered his friend.

"All right. Bacon and tomato then. You'd file a paper with witnesses saying that you weren't going to have the default peppers anymore, you were going to have bacon..."

"And tomatoes. Very nice."

"Yes, and tomatoes from then on. You'd have witnesses brought to make sure everyone knew it was really you signing it, and really what you wanted to do. Then you'd file it at the Mayor's Office so if anyone ever tried to make you eat peppers again, you could refuse and take your stand for bacon and tomato."

"You're making me hungry." his companion said.

"Well, I'm just trying to help our friend here understand, so I'm not going to pay for another breakfast anytime soon. Besides, it's your turn to buy breakfast, not mine."

"Gladly! How about go to the Thimble and get an omelette after we post these?"

"I'll take you up on that."

Bilbo considered what had been said. "Does this only work if the person is alive? I mean, if they wanted bacon instead of peppers that might be fine while they are around to eat it themselves, but can the law make their heirs eat bacon too? Or would it turn back into peppers for them?"

"Depends what kind of papers were filed. Some would only have you eat the bacon yourself,  but if you had a will drawn up that said your heirs could only eat bacon or they don't get their omelette at all..."

"Those usually only last a little while," added his friend. "After a while, they can eat their peppers again if they want to, instead of bacon, and still have their omelette."

Bilbo tried again. "But what if you wanted...someone else to eat the omelette? What if your default were a cheese, a really smelly old cheese, and you wanted your omelettes to only have sausage... even after you were gone, and no cheese."

"No cheese at all?"

"None, ever. Could I have papers that would change smelly cheese to sausage, permanently?"

"Hm. I suppose so. Is it your own sausage, or are you getting it from somewhere else?  If you decided to disown the cheese and put it away in the celler, so it wasn't in the kitchen anymore, then brought in the sausage..."

The other hobbit, whose attention was wandering looked at them askance. "What happened to the bacon and tomatoes?"

Bilbo thought about it. "I would be bringing in my own sausage, from somewhere else."

"What? Sausage?" asked the other, mildly baffled. "What happened to the peppers?"

"From an out-of-town sausage seller. I don't want the cheese. How do I get rid of it?" Bilbo asked.

"The default is cheese."

"Yes."

"So you would need official papers drawn up that specified the sausage as your choice for omelettes, with witnesses or the cheese would probably be persistant."

"Very persistant. This cheese would crawl into an omelette without help from the cook."

"Hm. I would recommend you pick your sausage right away and get it in your kitchen, or you might end up with cheese."

"Does the smelly cheese have to agree with it? With not being in the omelette, I mean?"

"No, no. The cheese is just the default. It's up to you what you fill your omelette with."

"I thought the default was peppers." interrupted the other. "Either way, I'm starving - and look - there's the window being opened now."

The two of them posted their letters, gave a "good-day" to Bilbo and headed down the road towards the waiting Inn to order a hearty breakfast.  Looking down the lane after them, Bilbo noticed more and more carts were congregating at the far end of the street where a large square of grass served as an open-air market. After posting his own letter,  Bilbo decided he would take a look at whatever the vendors had for sale before he headed out. Some flower seeds for his garden would be nice, perhaps, though he expected Hamfast had boxes of them already; there might be some new variety out this way.

He walked down the lane only pausing long enough to extend greetings to Ponto's brother, Porto who was busy enough with his morning chores at the Inn's stable that an extended visit wasn't even a consideration. Cutting back through the building to the front, he smiled to see his two lawyer acquaintances deeply and intimately involved in a huge steaming omelette that occupied the table between them, their forks plying up and down in tandem.  He stepped back onto the street and headed for the color and sound of the small market.

Upon reaching it, he stopped to peruse the greenhouse-grown early vegetables one farmer was laying out, then the spicy root bunches another had.  One had jars of preserves, another sold smoked hams and bundles of pipeweed. Hand-woven blankets, children's toys whittled from soft wood, potted bulbs with their bright blooms bobbing above them.  Much of it was good quality, but he had to bear in mind the weight of his pack, the fact he was still at least two days from home and his dwindling wallet.

He was about a third of the way along the rows when he became aware of a change in the hobbits around him. They were whispering and looking at him excitedly. Ahead of him, the vendors turned from their regular customers to straighten their wares or to pull some choice item to the front. He sighed. He'd been recognized. He had seen this reaction before, though it had lost its novelty and fun long ago. His pride was not flattered: all they saw was a walking gold-piece when they looked at him now, and all of their expectations were going to be set on his buying up half the town.  And if he didn't, then the sour grapes would set in. Then all the fawning and flattery would turn to dregs...

There would be no flower seeds then. Abandoning the rest of the market, he turned and walked back out to the main street, completely bewildering them. A couple even followed him hopefully, carrying a sample of their wares with them as they tried to get his attention. He knew how it went. If he bought something from even one of them, that seemingly fortunate individual would become the focus of all their jealousy.  The only solution was all or nothing. When he continued on without so much as a sideways glance, the pursuit reluctantly had to leave off. He reached the end of that lane and turned onto the main road out of town, glad to be out of sight and hopefully out of mind.

On towards home then! He passed the last of the neatly kept yards, the zig-zag boundary fence for Little Delving.  There was a shout behind him. He kept going at first, assuming it was only another marketer but the young hobbit who was shouting came puffing up right beside him.

"Mr. Baggins!" he gasped, "A package from...t'other Mr. Baggins....he said to... give it to you."

Bilbo's eyebrows lifted with mild surprise. He already had the onion sets. "Thank you, and please extend my thanks to..."t'other Mr. Baggins" as well."  He pressed one of his last small coins into the boy's hand, making him grin and touch his cap before he jogged back the way he had come.

Bilbo turned the small paper packet over in his hand. The writing was blocky and misspelled, but he smiled to see it.  "Angelicas Colembyne Seeds."