Nothing of Note
4: The Mathom-House Harp
The next morning dawned drizzly and cold. Bilbo awoke beside the cold
hearth with a stiff neck, having scattered his cushions in the
night. He slowly, creakingly clambered into an upright position
and stood near the small window, twisting his head left and right and
alternately shrugging his shoulders trying to get his neck to work
properly again. Hugo sleepily ambled in from the hall with a
bucket of kindling and seeing Bilbo's contortions, simply stopped with
the bucket swinging in his hand. When Bilbo turned and saw his
expression for a moment the notion crossed his mind that Hugo's
memory had deteriorated to the point that he didn't even know who his
Hugo nodded and grunted noncommittally at him as he shambled to the
fireplace. "'Morning." he said, as if it were something you might
scrape off of your foot. He knelt down by the fireplace to restart the
Not being a sociable hobbit in the early hours, he offered no further
comment on the strange movements of his guest. Bilbo was glad of
it as he was often not too sociable in the morning himself. In
unspoken agreement the two of them went through the morning routine and
had their breakfast without any unnecessary talking, though by the time
some hot toast, apple pie and cheese omelets had gone down the proper
gullets they were feeling considerably more ready to face the day.
Hugo had to work on the accounts for a candlemaker at the other end of
the town that day. He gathered up his papers and went on his way
entrusting the care of his home to his houseguest simply because he had
no other choice. Bilbo looked out at the cold, wet weather and
decided it was not a very good day for walking after all. Having
no reason to hurry and hoping it would be better tomorrow, he decided
to spend the day in Michel Delving's shops and at the Mathom House.
Afterwards he could return to Hugo's for one more night of hospitality
before he let his relation off the hook.
He helped himself to a generous after-meal snack, then headed out to
investigate the shops. Michel Delving had a fair selection,
really. A small book shop especially intrigued him, but he
remembered the lonely books back at Hugo's that he already could not
carry. He walked on, sampled several fruit preserves at a nearby
stand and purchasing a jar for later. He tucked it into his pocket
where it's weight made his coat sag. The loaves at the bakers
were so exceptional he had them wrap up a nice crusty one which went
into his other pocket.
By the time he had worked his way over to the Mathom House he looked
rather like some sort of walking flea market with things stuffed into
every pocket and his hands full. Having plenty of time left he
turned and walked back to Hugo's where he unloaded his prizes onto the
table, ate a few of them, picked up his packet with his notebook in it
and retraced his steps.
The Mathom House was neatly kept and perhaps the largest structure in
the town, except for the Hall. The Hall was more like a barn, really.
Used for dances in the summer and dry storage in the winter months,
always changing. The Mathom House never changed; that was one of its
strange charms for him. It took his imagination far back in time but
not in the way that his books did. Not in ways that were so far from
his own people that he really had no true connection to them. It
was a different sort of feeling, his own history that he was a part of
however distantly. It was here, where he could look at it and touch it.
He could feel its weight in his hand and be a part of the old
Shire. Nevermind that the Shire had really changed very little
over the years. He reveled in the feeling of antiquity.
It was built into a large chalky hillside. At the top grew older trees
whose roots protected it and helped support the walls inside as well;
it even had a downstairs of sorts - cellars where various items were
kept when not on display. The smaller rooms were a touch dark and
tended to run damp in the winter, but it did not stop them from
sometimes being used for small meetings or simply rented for extra
storage. He had explored them briefly the last time he was there
but had found them unpleasantly cramped for hobbit holes and had soon
emerged back into the welcome light of the main floor.
The first thing he went to see was his own mithril coat where it stood
as it had for so many years now among items that were considered
"foreign" curiosities. He briefly "visited" with it, promising it he
would be back shortly, then began working his way around the other
rooms. Everything from old-styled butterchurns to the amazingly
large saddle that was purportedly that of Bullroarer himself was given
his attention, one at a time. Thoroughly steeped in his own history, he
then stepped back into the "foreign" room as one who has saved the best
dessert for last and anticipates that first bite.
He faced his mithril coat once more. See? he told it, I told you I'd
come back again. Did you think I'd leave you here all alone after so
long? My how you sparkle.
He reached out his hand past the rope that defined its corner stand and
ran his hand gently down it, listening to the small silver sound of its
movement. Thorin. Poor old Thorin. The crystals of the
corselet shone, but to his eyes it was the amazing beauty of the
Arkenstone that shone. He remembered its heaviness in his hands,
bound in rags. The fear of being caught with it, Thorin's rage, and
Thorin's dying apology...
"Can I help you?"
Bilbo startled out of his memories to see the mathom-curator looking at
him curiously. As he turned to face him it was the curator's turn to
jump a little.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, Mr. Baggins! I didn't recognize you at first...so
good to see you again. It's been quite a long time, hasn't it? Are
there any questions I can answer for you?"
Bilbo silently considered the plump curator. A nice enough
fellow, but he wanted for a little more appreciation of what had been
entrusted to his care. Oh, he took care of the items well enough,
but he didn't care about them. He didn't know half of what was to be
learned from them and didn't seem inclined to learn. On
another day, Bilbo might have been inclined to draw him out a little,
teach him something, hoping it would spark some curiosity in him. Not
today; he just wanted time alone, with his memories.
"No, no. No questions, thank you. Except one: how long will you be open today?"
"As long as you like, Mr. Baggins. It's been a slow week and I've other
work to take care of. If it gets late, just stop by my
writing-desk and let me know when you are done and I'll lock up."
"Thank you. Most kind, most kind." said Bilbo as he turned his
attention back to the corselet and belt. After a moment, the curator
Gazing at it he found his thoughts being drawn back to his relatives.
They would inherit this, he thought. He inwardly cursed the
inheritance laws of the Shire that would allow such a lovely thing to
fall into the hands of someone who would not appreciate it...no, more
than that. A chill went through him. They would not only not
appreciate it, they would probably waste no time at all in selling it
to the highest bidder, to be taken apart, melted down. Otho had
no heart for beauty, and his son seemed to be taking after him. Money
was all he really cared about. He fought down the sudden desire to take
it off of its stand and hide it under his coat. He really needed to do
something about that. About Otho. But what? He couldn't just live
forever after all. He sighed.
He moved slowly past a handful of other odd pieces until he reached the
one that had embraced his imagination so well the previous time. The
floor harp. It was a fairly massive piece, really. Made for
someone with a much longer reach than a hobbit to play. As
before, he noted the rich red wood under the aged finish. He ran his
thumb gently over the intricate carvings. Sitting on the bench
across from it, he slipped the packet out to get his notebook. The bird
book came out with it. He paused and flipped through the vibrant
illustrations in it, looking as if they might sing right on the page.
He thought of Otho's hands turning its pages and suddenly slammed it
shut. This would not do; he needed to think on something else.
He opened his notebook and went over to the harp to see if he could
finally get a proper sketch of the carvings on it. It was Elven
in design, and the intricacy spoke of their long lives as well. He
sketched the swirling fern, the leaves and flowers on the border then a
ship that adorned the top right. It was a graceful, fanciful ship
with a swan-head at its prow. Tiny gems had once given the swan eyes,
though they were long lost. He wondered what color they had been.
His hands continued sketching, taking what his eager eyes saw and
putting it to paper. There were...waves, yes, water-waves along the
edge with fluff like feathers on the tops of them. Trees. The
detail astounded him, that he could identify ash, beech and pear
trees. Rolling hills, a stream. It rather reminded him of
home. He wondered anew where it had come from. The placard
said its former history was unknown. You would think it had always been
In the branches of the pear tree there was a bird. He was partly
through sketching it when he suddenly stopped. He knew this bird,
he was sure of it. He jumped up from where he had been kneeling
and retrieved the bird book from his packet. Striding back to the
harp, he thumbed through its pages. Sure enough, there it was. He
even held the book up to the harp as if introducing the two birds to
one another. See? Alike. You are completely alike. The harp bird seemed
almost alive, peering curiously at its flattened cousin. His
excitement grew as he read over the notes the book had about this
particular songbird. It was native to the Shire. Travelers from
other areas did not know it, and prized its song, though its colors
were somewhat drab.
Native to the Shire.
Carved on this ancient floor harp. Why that meant...the floor harp was
'native to the Shire' also? Could it be? That would solve the
mystery of how such a large, unusual and heavy instrument ever came to
be here. It was from here. Or very near to here. He looked at it with
renewed interest. The traces of fire damage; what fire, where?
Had its previous owner perished in that flame? Or some earlier house it
was kept in before the Mathom House was dug? The scratches along
one side, as if it had been dragged over something rough; an
accident in moving it here, or a desperate struggle to save it?
His imagination was quite aflame. What or whom, in this placid
Shire would have ever produced such a thing? How long ago?
Not a hobbit, and the hobbits had been here for a very, very long
Elven design in the Shire. Now, there was something else in the
Shire....well, not in it, but near to it, that was Elven and that
was where he was already bound. The Towers. Could this harp have come
from them somehow? He supposed he would never truly know so he
contented himself with deciding that yes, they had. Somehow they were
related to the Elven-towers. He had no way of knowing the facts so he
made some up instead. It would make a fine tale. Maybe even a
song. Maybe even an entire ballad. The Ballad of the Lost Elven Harp
and the Forgotten Towers. He didn't know how it would go yet but
he rather liked the forlorn sound of the title. Hm hm a hm, the Elven
harp of long-ago.. hm hm...In ages past when ruled the kings, a
long-forgotten harpist played, the firelight shone upon the strings as
cleverly his fingers strayed...
When he came back to himself, his back, legs and fingers were cramped
and he had filled several pages of his notebook with verses and notes.
If it hadn't been getting dark, he might have gone on writing for some
time. Where had the time gone? He slowly got up, stamping
some feeling back into his legs and reluctantly packing away his
notebook. Picking up his coat and hat, he gave a polite farewell nod to
the harp and the corselet and left them there in the fading light.