Nothing of Note

by Primula

27: Tales and Tonics

Waking up had never seemed so hard to do. Bilbo finally climbed out of his warm bed to start a fire in his stove, opening up the shutters on the windows to let in the morning light. He was surprised to see how late in the day it was, especially considering how tired and achy he still felt.  He warmed up a kettle of water for tea and a hot porridge but nearly fell back asleep sitting at the table while they warmed.  With hot tea and porridge inside him, he was still shivering. It was only then that he had to reluctantly admit he was ill.

He hated being ill, and tried his best to hide it from everyone when he was. The word always leaked out and invariably he had to put up with the overly-protective ministrations of his neighbors, the horrible home-remedy suggestions and worst of all, the Sackville-Bagginses.  They took an ill-concealed sort of eagerness in his every turn for the worse and their company was not unlike having two vultures sitting over his sickbed.

He started a fire in the bedroom hearth and washed up a bit. The effort exhausted him;  he was grateful to climb back under the covers for the remainder of the afternoon. He only awoke enough to be vaguely aware of someone ringing his doorbell, and ended up having a strange half-dream in which he got up and put on his dressing gown to answer it. By the time he realized it was only a dream about answering it and it had in fact gone unanswered, the ringing had stopped so it was a moot point anyway.  He burrowed his aching head back into his pillow, trying to get comfortable.

The sun was westering before he got up again and slowly made his way back to the kitchen.  While he was struggling with the lid on a crock of applesauce the doorbell rang. He sighed, tied his dressing-gown snugly and peered out the side window to see who it was.  Hamfast Gamgee stood on the step, cap in hand. Bilbo opened the door partway and greeted his hard-working gardner.

Gaffer Gamgee could probably tell right away that all was not well for the Master of Bag End, but he politely averted his eyes and avoided the subject.

"My boy Sam said you were back, Mister Baggins, and right glad I am to see it. I hope your travels were good ones?"

"Yes, yes they were." Bilbo considered his state of unkempt dress as he peered around the edge of the door. He couldn't step out like this. "Won't you step in, Mister Gamgee?"

"Oh, I don't need to be doin' that now, Mister Baggins. I just wanted to let you know I got your letter and your books too. Mr. Boffin read your letter for me, he's right clever with letters you know.  Just let me know when to bring them up and they'll be here, safe and sound."

"Thank you, Gaffer. I had worried about those books arriving safely, I have to admit. I'm so pleased to hear you have them. You may go ahead and send them up to me tomorrow, after breakfast."

"Thankee, Mister Baggins. Erhmm." He cleared his throat and hesistated a moment. "Would you like a little extree help, just around the house and all for a few days, sir?" He paused, apparently afraid it was a little too forward. "It bein' Spring-cleaning and all."

Bilbo smiled. He could see right through the ulterior motive, but he was grateful for the offer, for he had been hard put to even cook his own supper for that evening. "Why yes, Mister Gamgee, that would be most welcome."

Hamfast relaxed, visibly relieved that there was no censure. "That's just fine. I'll send up my Daisy then, to help with the cooking and such, and Samwise can run any errands you need. He's a strong lad, with fast legs and he don't drop the eggs."

Bilbo's heart was warmed as he bid good-day and watched his elderly neighbor head back towards Bagshot Row. He closed the door gently and leaned on it to consider. Daisy Gamgee was a good cook.  He was in good hands then until Lobelia and Otho got wind of it. Leaving the door unlatched he finished his tea and went back to bed.  Sure enough, it wasn't long before he heard the gentle tapping at the door, the sound of it quietly opening and shutting and then movement in the kitchen. Good smells began to drift down the hallway and tickle his nose, setting his stomach to growling. The smial began to warm up as fires were lit and fed.

After a while the sounds stopped and it was quiet again. He ventured out of his bedroom to find a warm meal all ready for him and the table set. There were even a few twigs with apple blossoms on them in a vase.  After a supper of stew with lots of broth and soft bread, he felt much better. Daisy had left him a tray of food ready to carry to his bed for later and the fixings for breakfast all laid out in the kitchen before going back to her home. She tended to be a very efficient and quiet worker as was the rest of her family. He felt well-cared for, a tonic for the heart.

He suddenly realized his muddy travel clothing had gone from the hallway too. He smiled and made a mental note to give a bonus of some sort to the family when paytime came around again.  Gathering up his pack, he carried it into his study to sort.

The slim book about birds went into its rightful place on his bookshelf at last, his fat notebook on his desk to look through later. The beeswax taper had made it clear from the Towers all in one piece, much to his surprise, and he displayed it in a place of honor on the mantel where he intended it to go unlit. Likewise the stone fragment of the Elven carving was rubbed clean with a soft cloth and set up on the mantel, though he had to rearrange a few things to fit it there. His mantel tended to be cluttered with such momentos.  An extra-large pinecone fell off the end; a souvenir of an earlier trip to the foothills in the west.  He put it back up only to have it fall again. A second attempt balanced it carefully.  He willed it to stay.

Sitting down by the hearth, he leafed through the notebook. Feathers, grasses, scribbled notes. It was going to take a while to sort it all out....  Reaching into the bottom of his pack he withdrew the cattail duck and weighed it in his hands, admiring the cleverness of it.  He ought to take it out and try it on the Water...

The pinecone hit him on the head.

Setting the duck aside, he picked up the offending cone and carried it with him as he headed back towards his bedroom. "The first time you hit me on the head," he commented to it. "when that hail was coming down so hard, I thought you were the biggest hailstone ever imagined..."  He considered it a moment, unwilling to let go of that journey's memory yet.  He finally tossed it up onto a high shelf in his room among some decorative crockery where it could be seen but not be in the way. Seeing his bed so near and convenient, he fell down among the covers and slept some more.

He awoke early with a weight in his chest, a sore throat and a cough beginning. This is what you get, old fool. You sat out in the rain for who knows how long it was staring at a tree. What do you expect? I expected it to move, he answered himself.  I know what I saw. I ought to go back up there sometime and see if that tree is still there.  Can't exactly send someone else. I say, would you mind traveling clear up to the Bindbale Woods to see if there is a tree there?

He ate some of the breakfast fixings, the tea as hot as he could stand to try to steam the inside of his head, then retrieved his notebook from the study and sat at the kitchen table working on it for a while.

He was deep into a rewrite of a verse when the doorbell rang. 

There was something in the way it jangled when it was rung, something in the force of the pull that made his heart sink. Sure enough, the slightly shrill voice of Lobelia could be heard on the other side. The bell jangled again.

"Bilbo Baggins!"

He coughed,  closed his notebook and turned over the paper he had been writing and covered it all up with a kitchen towel. Rubbing an ink-stain from his fingers, he reluctantly opened the door.  Better to get it over with.

Lobelia blew in the door with her son Lotho more hesitantly entering in her wake. As always, her eyes scanned the rooms of Bag End before coming back to the owner of those rooms. He sometimes wondered if she thought one of them would go missing somehow.  What have you done with the parlour, Bilbo? he imagined her saying. Where have you hidden it?  Amused by his own thoughts, he managed a small smile of greeting.

She didn't return it, she was being solicitous. In what she must have imagined to be a "caring and worried" voice she nasally inquired after his health.

"I was so concerned when I heard you were ill, I just had to come comfort you. What are relations for but to help in times of need?"

"Of course." said Bilbo noncommittally. "But it was only a brief illness, soon overcome."

"Was it?" she raised her eyebrows and took a surprised air. "I heard you coughing just now. A terrible cough. How very sad that you are feeling so poorly. You look so tired too, and pale!  Don't you think Mr. Baggins looks a trifle pale, Lotho dear? Such bags under your eyes. I've brought some of my very special remedies."  She reached into the pocket of her apron and withdrew a small, dark flask.

"Yes, I'm sure you have. You always do when I am ill."

"How kind of you to notice," she said without any drop of gratitude in her being. "Here I take time out of my busy day just to come cheer up an invalid and to bring him my very own medicines that I paid for and made up myself and..."

"I'm not an invalid."

Her solicitous face slipped a little. She plastered it back on but it didn't quite fit straight. He could still see the ill-will leaking out around the corners.

"We've heard such tales about what you've been up to. I hate to say it, but they don't really put our communal family name in the best light. Why just day before yesterday, Opal Grubb was saying she'd heard you'd been seen singing and flapping your arms like some sort of bird out in goodness-knows-where, and she'd heard it from very reliable sources too...."

"Yes. Yes I was."


"I was singing, and flapping." he smiled at her disarmingly.

"Well." She couldn't seem to think of what else to say, but it didn't last long.  "Well. I've brought you this very special tonic and I'm sure it'll soon have you feeling right as rain. Just be sure you take two large spoonfuls on the hour until it's gone. You really do look as if you are on death's door if I must say so myself."

A cough tickled in the back of his throat. The last thing he wanted to do right now was cough. He stopped the biting reply he was about to make and swallowed. He swallowed again. He tried not breathing, to see if that would help.

Lobelia and Lotho looked a bit alarmed, then slightly smug as his face took on an odd expression and he grew red-faced.

"See? You poor thing. You are so fortunate that I was able to come right away."

Bilbo did not reply, but his cheeks puffed out and his eyes looked a little glassy. He suddenly stepped forward and mutely opened his front door. Taking the hint, Lobelia gestured to Lotho to follow and stepped out.

"I'll be sure to visit you again, often. No one ever said Lobelia wasn't good company for the sick.  Oh dear, look at you! I am just sure you are on your last legs. Hope you feel better soon!"

He shut the door behind them, dashed to the kitchen and grabbed up the towel. Wadding it up in front of his mouth as a muffler he coughed violently until the tickle finally quit. He gasped for air, then had a long drink of cold tea. What a trial that creature was. He picked up the bottle she had left behind, opened the cork and sniffed at it. It smelled positively vile. He poured it out in the compost bucket, belatedly hoping it wouldn't kill any of the Gaffer's plants if used on the garden. He didn't think she would poison him, but he didn't completely trust her either. It was an awkward situation at best.

Visit often indeed. Not if he could help it. If ever there was an impetus to get better soon, it was Lobelia.