Nothing of Note

by Primula

39. Jiggidy-Jig
 
Bilbo reached Hobbiton as the afternoon shadows were just starting to stretch their arms over the road to meet with the slowly drifting Water. As he came down the last stretch of lane, the Cotton family on their way to visit a relative for dinner all cheerfully filed to the side to let his cart trundle past. Little Rosie pulled wet fingers out of her mouth and waved at him. Yes, he was home again. The square was scattered with hobbits beginning to pack up the days work, packaging their purchases, fetching last-minute groceries or just sitting on the benches, basking in the late sun.  Some waved and offered passing greetings, a few glanced at him then turned to speak to their companions in low tones.

He turned the cart and pony in at the Green Dragon's stables, his pony as glad to be back as he was. Too weary to even think of cooking supper at home, he went in the familiar doorway of the Inn and settled somewhat heavily at a small table.

"Mr. Baggins! Haven't seen you for a while. Off on a bit of trip? What'll it be?" the Innkeeper's older son, whose name he never could remember, stood at his elbow, leaning over to swipe a damp cloth across the surface of the table and to drop a clean, folded napkin in front of his customer.

Bilbo ignored the blatant hint for information on where he had gone. He noted his waiter was only a little older than his Frodo. "Whatever the special is today is fine. A cold drink also, something mild."

"Yessir." The server was only mildly disappointed. Where he worked he heard everything eventually, and it would only be a matter of time until someone else would be bending his ear and filling him in on Mr. Baggin's latest excursion no doubt. He thought Bilbo a bit of an odd bird, but kind, and he knew he was generous with his tips. His feet did not falter to bring the dinner as quickly as he could.

Bilbo sat at the table, closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. His Frodo. Why was he thinking like that? He had no claim to the lad, not really. Who was he, to think he could just yank some other hobbit out of his home... He sighed. It felt like the still wooden chair beneath him was faintly swaying and bumping along, a memory of the ongoing motion of the cart in the past hours. As soon as the fragrant, well-laden plate was placed before him, he tucked into the hot shepherd pie, buttered squash and cool ale, washing away the hunger and the dust. It had been a long road home; it was never as pleasant coming back as it was going out.

With a warm meal inside he finally felt a little more up to visiting, but it was still early enough in the evening that there weren't many others there to join in.  The small talk with the other patrons petered out fairly soon when he was not forthcoming about his own personal affairs and soon settled into the all-too-familiar circle of well-trodden topics, the small doings of neighbors and relatives. After a few laps around the peaceful but uninteresting conversational track, he bid them good-evening and rose to walk home.

He checked #3 on his way, but there was no sign of the Gamgee family having returned yet.  He did notice several of the apple tree saplings still in their burlap wrappings in the yard. They were embedded in heaps of wet sawdust from the Mill and were standing at odd angles in a row along the fence - an empty water bucket and a small shovel in their midst - like bunch of lanky strangers loitering together. Poor old Hamson. He had told Hamson that he only needed to plant as many as he was sure of, the locations for some being matters of dispute. Apparently the younger Gamgee was not sure of many locations at all. There would be plenty for the Gaffer when he got back.

Up the smooth stone steps he lifted his feet, home at last. He had barely had time to drop his pack and pull off his dusty coat before the bell rang and the Post delivered a large stack of correspondance all tied together with green twine. The somewhat winded lad who brought it lingered hopefully until a small coin was pressed into his hand then skipped back down the steps. Bilbo winced slightly as his front gate banged shut none too gently. He shook his head over how much could pile up in such a short time of being gone. Still, it was good to be home, yes it was.

Dropping the packet on the table, he worked his way along the side of the smial, trotting along the hall and ducking into each room to open windows, then started a small fire in the parlour's hearth and set a kettle to heat. Poking at the crackling twigs, he reached up and fished a tin down from the shelf above the kitchen mantle. Sprinkling some spices from it onto the new coals helped chase away the musty scent of disuse that seemed to linger whenever he was gone. The smoke whiffed past him with the scent of overdone raisin-toast.

While the water was heating he fetched the packet of letters to the kitchen table and pulled the twine loose. He spread his letters out on the table to sort through all of them. Fetching his pen and ledger, he decided to get as much of it as he could out of the way before retiring for the evening.  A letter from Dora, billing for the apple trees, two birthday party invitations, a tea-party invitation,  the grocer's bill, the bill from the stables... The usual things...ah, and a note from that lawyer.  Setting the rest aside in neat stacks, he slit open the small envelope and unfolded a closely lettered, somewhat sterile card that indicated Mr. Egnog Banks, Attorney at Law, would be arriving in Hobbiton Thursday next.  Hm, he thought,  a lttle less than a week then.  He considered his empty pantry and household in general disarray - there was work to be done.

The water was steaming hot. He pulled off the kettle and splashed it into a wide basin for a quick washing up. The washcloth steamed as he wrung it out, and the amount of dust that came away on it when he laved his face made him wonder what he must have looked like at the Dragon. It felt wonderful. He hung the cloth to dry and emptied the basin into the sink, then started a second kettle for tea.

Much refreshed, he opened Dora's note. Scanning over her carefully-spaced rows of handwriting, he soon found the gist of it to be that Home is Where the Heart Is and that she had heard he was traveling again. She thought he traveled too much and was never shy about letting him know it. He tossed it into the wastebasket and reached for the bills, only stopping to light a lamp and close the windows back up as the evening began to settle over the Hill.

By the time the paperwork was done he was stiff, yawning and a little peckish. Latching the door, he banked the fire and padded down the hall to his bed. At the larder he paused to get a small bedtime snack, and surveyed the general emptiness of the shelves. He really had been neglecting things here - tomorrow must be a baking day. Perhaps two baking days were in order. Yes, that would be the way of it. Nodding to himself in agreement, he took up a small plate with a rather dry end of a loaf on it and continued down the hall.

His bedroom seemed strangely big to him, huge in fact. As he dressed for bed he couldn't help but think of Frodo, back in Buckland. Why, this second wardrobe alone was larger than that room back there. He measured out the width of it as best he remembered. Yes, Frodo's entire bedroom could fit inside the second wardrobe.  Amazing. He started to close the shutters on the bedroom window, then swung them back open. The moon was just starting to rise, and the evening was somewhat mild. It would disperse the last of the stuffiness inside.

He hung his coat up and took down his yellow dressing gown, laying it out where it would be ready in the morning. He smoothed out the fabric, ruminating. Why had he been so reluctant to bring up the idea of more than a summer visit? Was it cowardly?  In his heart of hearts he had to admit he was afraid his offer would have been rejected. Why would a young, bright hobbit want to come live with a stuffy old bachelor?  He had never been in such a position before, usually he was the one in any transaction who got to choose whether something would happen or not.  He had never really had to extend himself in this way, taking such a risk of being unwanted. Not by someone he cared for. It was not a little frightening. 

"Oh, Bilbo, you silly old thing," his imagination chided him in Frodo's voice. "Why would I want to go halfway across the Shire from my friends just to live with some strange old relative all by myself?"

He shook his head to shake away that thought and got dressed for bed. Well, Bilbo comforted himself,  it might not be that bad. No sense in imagining doom. And better to have things ironed out with that lawyer-fellow first anyway. No sense in getting up any hopes when I'm not sure about the details of it myself. There was planning to be done.

He climbed into bed and pulled the covers up, shivering slightly as he waited for the sheets to warm. Crickets sang outside his window, but it seemed very quiet. He blew out the candle and lay in the dark, watching the slight movement of moonshadowed leaves on the floor, fluttering in their faint pool of white. Somewhere out there, a tiny bit of moonlight would be coming into a very small room.

And, he smiled, the room would probably be unoccupied.

"Goodnight, Frodo." he whispered softly, and drifted off to sleep.