Nothing of Note

by Primula

41: Law and Love

A clear morning sun found Bilbo already up and sorting papers in his parlour in preparation for the Michel Delving lawyer's arrival. Sipping his after-breakfast tea, he scanned over ledger and notes then satisfied he had done all he reasonably could ahead of time, put on his hat and went out into the morning for a walk.

As he came around the Hill he found the Gamgees all out in their yard, working on the cleaning and sorting that always comes after a journey.  Bilbo nodded good morning to them around the dripping laundry that had just been hung up and continued on past to the nearby field. The large tree there sported a handful of children building a small smial out of the branches it had shed over the winter, pulling up handfuls of the long green grasses for a childish thatching.  Summer was nearing and the berry-bushes had shed their blossoms, birds had completed their courting and now spent their times flying busily back and forth to feed newly hatched chicks. Even the mild heat of the sun spoke summer to him, warming his shoulders as he walked. He tipped his hat slightly to shade his eyes. It looked to be a very promising season indeed.

He was just coming back around the other side of the Hill when he noticed a neatly dressed hobbit he did not recognize going up the steps to his own front door. He stepped up his pace, and arrived only mildly winded just at the other was turning away from the unanswered bell.

"Hullo! Good morning! You must be the lawyer, Mr. Banks, from Michel Delving?"

The hobbit looked him up and down somewhat impassively then extended an inkstained hand. "Yes. Banks. Mr. Egnog Banks at your service. You must be, hm, Mr. Baggins." It wasn't a question, but Bilbo clasped the proferred hand and answered it anyway.

"Yes! So good of you to come. I was just out for my morning walk. Let's go in, shall we?" He opened the round green door and they gestured for his guest to precede him. In the entry, Mr. Banks hung his hat on the nearest peg and followed Bilbo's lead into the parlour where all of the papers and a large plate of sliced spice cakes lay ready on the table.

The lawyer settled himself at the table and reached for a thick piece of the fragrant cake while Bilbo fetched the teapot. Once both of them were comfortably equipped with refreshments, he opened his satchel and pulled out a neat leather notebook to write in. He leaned forward.

"Now, Mr. Baggins. Tell me what service I may be to you."

Bilbo swallowed a bite of cake and brushed away crumbs. "First, I need to know if I understand right. Regarding inheritance. If something were to happen to myself, the default  - is that the right term? - is that my nearest relative inherits, yes?"

"Yes, the default." He cleared his throat somewhat noisily and looked down at his opened his notebook. "I took the, hm, liberty of researching your family tree from the records in Michel Delving. It appears one Mr. Otho Sackville-Baggins would be your heir. Do you agree with this?"

"Unfortunately, yes. And one thing I was curious about regarding him, as we're on the subject: what would happen if Otho had already... passed on?"

Mr. Banks smoothed out a napkin. "The inheritance would follow his family, going to his own heir."

Bilbo grimaced. "Lotho."

"Mm?"

"His son. Now. What I would like to do is draw up some sort of paper that would change all that. I would like to leave clear instructions that I have a different heir."

"A Will. That would be a legal will regarding your estate. Yes, I can do that for you. Not common, to have a complete change, but not unknown. Once it is drawn up, it will need to be registered in Michel Delving, of course. That requires a, hm, fee." Mr. Banks looked up from his notebook questioningly.

Bilbo met his gaze steadily. "Fees are not an obstacle. Tell me, does the new heir need to be a relative?"

"No, though it makes a more smooth transition. Is the person you have in mind, hm, unrelated?"

Bilbo took a sip of tea. "No, I just wondered. Law is somewhat unfamiliar to me. It's a moot point anyway as the lad I have in mind is a cousin."

"Very well. Let me show you what, hm, will be needed...."


The morning crawled into early afternoon somewhat tediously. Once the basics were established, that Frodo would be made the official heir of nearly all material goods and land, and assorted details worked through, the lawyer gathered up his papers to have the official copy drawn up on official paper. Bilbo bid him good-day and looked over his own list of witnesses he needed to gather to sign it when it was done. Seals would need to be affixed in both Hobbiton and Michel Delving, and assorted fees handed out all around. It seemed an awful lot of bother, he thought, but still it was a relief. He was intrigued by the way it could be made so very specific, the way a person could say so-and-so inherits one brass button and his brother gets the other! He shook his head, watching Mr. Banks walking down the lane to the Inn. What a way to make a living.
 
The weather had apparently decided it was close enough to summer to behave as such, and the following week was as warm and sunny as any hay-farmer could wish. Bilbo marked on his Engagement Tablet the days it would take for the papers to be finalized, and drew up his list of witnesses but didn't ask any of them about it yet. Plenty of time for that when the papers were at hand. He knew it would stir up the wagging tongues, and that would invariably lead to the S-B's descending upon him once again.

He was out in his yard carefully dribbling a brown concoction that the Gaffer called "compost tea" onto his best flowers one morning when Lobelia came by for her weekly visit, carrying her sun-parasol. He knew 'visit' was a loose term, as she only rarely came in the yard or offered much in the way of pleasant conversation, but walked by and 'looked things over.' He glanced up at her and shifted slightly so his back was toward the road,  giving her little more thought until she spoke.

"Bilbo Baggins!" There was an acerbic edge to her voice that grated across the golden afternoon like a rasp.

He sighed and continued dribbling tea on his plants. "Good morning, Lobelia."

"Don't you Good-Morning me in that tone of voice. Such discourtesy to your own family.  Picked up in other parts, no doubt. Whatever are you doing there?"

He held his breath for a moment. Once he felt he could trust his own voice he answered evenly "Feeding the flowers some tea. Is there something I can help you with?"  She was in a fine fettle and he wasn't sure he felt like humoring it.

"Tea? On flowers?" She sniffed.

"Yes, I find they get a bit peckish in the afternoons and good tea and a little sweet biscuit by their roots perks them up considerably, unless they prefer ale." he added. "As I said, is there something you need?"

"Nonsense. Did that gardener of yours tell you to do that? Why isn't he doing it himself?"  When he didn't reply she continued on anyway. "Don't you pay them a good wage to take care of this yard? Can't say I think much of them, if they take your money and leave you to do all the work!" She thumped the fence with her parasol.

Bilbo restrained himself from another sigh. "I work with the flowers because I enjoy working with the flowers." He shut his mouth and stopped. Why was he telling her anything at all? He needn't make any justifications for his activities to her.

She sniffed again. "Well, I think it's disgraceful. They are paid servants, and they should be doing their job if they're using up all that money. You are far too free with the family gold, you know. It won't last forever. I walked by that home of theirs earlier and they were all just sitting around in their yard."

"They were sorting seeds into packets and hanging their wash."  He bit his tongue on her calling his money the 'family gold.' He sometimes wondered if she thought out how to needle him or if it came naturally.

Yes, Lobelia seemed to be in some sort of high dudgeon that morning. He couldn't help but wonder what she was wanting to purchase with his money this time, and wasn't able to.  She tended to take offense easily, so it was hard to say.

"So they told you, no doubt. You are much too easy to trick, Mr. Baggins. Someday, when this Hill is my Otho's, you can bet they won't be pulling the wool over my eyes that way."  She snapped her parasol shut and marched away.  Bilbo was sufficiently grateful that she was so suddenly gone that he didn't register the direction her march had taken her.  It was only when Bell Gamgee came to him, walking carefully up the steps to the front porch a hour later that he found out what damage had been done.

Having seen her from the window, he answered the timid tap on his door right away. She rarely came to his door.

"Mrs. Gamgee! What a surprise. Please, do come in out of the sun. What can I do for you?"

She seemed agitated, wringing the corner of her apron in her hands. "Mr. Baggins, I do hope you will forgive me for intruding on you this way..."

"Not an intrusion at all. Here, please sit down."

She allowed herself to be gently drawn in and seated near the entry"...but, well, Mrs. Sackville-Baggins came by our home earlier today... and I needed to speak with you."

"She did, did she? I noticed she was in a rare mood." He looked at her sharply. "What did she say?"

Bell looked at her hands, clenching them together. "That, that your health wasn't as good as it appeared, begging your pardon..."

He brushed it away with a small wave of a hand. "Yes, yes. She often says that but it isn't true. Don't worry."

"Thank you, sir. She was quite adamant about it. I'm sorry, Hamfast doesn't know I came to you, so please don't blame him if I speak out of turn. She also said..." Bell paused, and to Bilbo's great distress he saw her lip quiver as if she would cry. He quickly patted his pocket for a clean handkerchief.  "She said...that my, my own Hamfast wasn't working hard enough for his pay, and that..."

"Now, Mrs. Gamgee.You know he's earned every penny he has..." Where was that handkerchief?

She glanced up at him and tremulously continued. "She said that, that, when Bag End is hers she's going to....to kick us out of our home, Mr. Baggins. She says she won't keep us on as gardeners anymore, and...and.... what will we do? It's our home, Mr. Baggins...the children...."

Bilbo saw a need for the handkerchief just as he located it in his other pocket and pulled it out. He gently tucked it into her hands without comment. She gratefully dabbed at her eyes. Inwardly he seethed that Lobelia had brought any distress down on Bell and her family. It was one thing to be spiteful to Bilbo himself, but to target others...

"Please don't let it trouble you, Mrs. Gamgee...Here now. Let me set you at peace. First of all, Bag End does not belong to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. No matter what she says, nor how often she says it. You and your family are welcome to stay in your own home, with full employment. No one is sending you away." He looked at her hands clenching the handkerchief. "I beg you not take her words to heart like this. She frequently has a sharp tongue, and I regret greatly that it has hurt you."

He hesitated a moment. The legal situation was incomplete, but it might bring her some comfort.  After teetering on the verge for a moment he decided to go ahead and share it with her. He knelt down by the chair and tried to catch her eye. "Now, I'm going to tell you something to raise your spirits, but you mustn't tell any others just yet. I need it to be a surprise for them. Can you do that for me?"

She dabbed at her eyes one more time, then her lips formed a determined line. She nodded, and he knew she meant it.

He lowered his voice. "Good. I've been working with a hobbit who knows law of late. A lawyer-fellow. I'm having some papers drawn up that will bring changes as to who inherits Bag End. Even if something were to happen to myself. So you need not worry, things will be changing soon, but you and your family are assured both your home and your employment. Just keep it under your hat for now, as it isn't ready to announce."

Her face brightened and she nodded conspiratorially to him. "I won't tell a soul" she whispered. Then she paused. "Not even my Hamfast?"

Bilbo considered. No, it wouldn't be right to expect her to keep anything from him. "Hamfast is fine. Just no one else...please."

She nodded, clutching the handkerchief. "As you say. You've so comforted me, Mr. Baggins. I am sorry that I..."

He held up a hand. "Now, no more of the apologies."

She nodded again and managed a small, tremulous smile. "May I ask one thing?"

"Certainly. Ask anything you like."

She spoke so softly he almost missed it. "Who?"

"Who what?"

"Who...will be the new...owner of Bag End if it isn't Lobelia and her family? If it isn't too forward to ask? Who will be living here?"

His own quandary made him flounder."I...was thinking, planning...hoping to bring someone here... It's rather in the air, so to speak." He looked at her, then out the still-open door at the bright-blooming yard. He could hear crickets singing in the garden. He took a breath but let it out unspoken, unsure how much to say.

"You're lonely." she said. He looked up from where he knelt at her hazel-green eyes and was completely surprised at the unexpected gentleness and sympathy that he saw there. The look of a mother to a hurting child. It took him so off-guard, something inside his heart unexpectedly released.

"Yes. Yes, I am. But I don't understand it." 

She looked at his eyes and waited. He looked down at his own knees where the tile of the floor pressed into them.  "I've always been content, all these years... There's a lad, in Buckland, a cousin. At first I thought it would just be something of a novelty, bringing him here."

He glanced back up at her and took courage that she was still intently listening. "A 'good deed,' to give him a home, to maybe take him in for a bit. We've always gotten along well. But something happened...to me. I am quite unsettled. When I left him there in Buckland this last trip, it felt as if I were being torn somehow. As if I were leaving...a part of my heart behind. I know it sounds like silly poetry, too sentimental by far..."

"No, no it doesn't. Not to me."

Her gentle voice was a balm on his turmoil. "...Yet that was what it felt like, and I haven't been able to think of another expression for it. It isn't just a 'good deed' anymore, not for me. I want him here...and I am somewhat unsettled by that shift. I cannot seem to keep my mind from it. I don't even know if he will be willing to come, and it has quite taken away my peace, the wondering...."

Unexpectedly, she reached out and took his hands in hers. Her hands were thin, dry and warm, like silk and paper. "Mr. Baggins. Of course you are feeling this way. Don't you know when you love someone?"

He looked up from her hands and furrowed his brow. "Love?"

She smiled and released his hands, sitting back in the chair. "Yes, love. When you care so much about someone they never quite leave your thoughts, when all you want is to be with them, when you miss them every time you are apart. Parents and children, friends...there are many kinds of affection. I think your old heart has been captured by this young lad. You want to care for him, and take him in. You want to give him a home."

"I fear it sounds too much like taking in some stray kitten."

She laughed lightly. "No, nothing of the sort. Trust me, I've been around a few days also, Mr. Baggins. I've taken in many a stray, and this is much more. I can see it. Forgive me if I have overstepped my bounds, being so candid with you. Perhaps I have become too used to mothering, if I begin to mother those above myself."

"No forgiveness needed. Instead, I thank you." He bowed slightly, and put out a hand to help her up. She took it and stood, then allowed him to escort her the short distance to the door.

She paused on the front step. "Be of good cheer, Mr. Baggins. I'm sure it will all work out in the end." He had the impression if he were Sam, she would have patted his cheek.

"Yes, I do hope so."  He watched her slowly stepping down and out the gate. Turning, he went back inside to mull over the conversation. He had set out to comfort her and been unexpectedly comforted himself. No wonder her family was so devoted to her, he thought, if she can do as much for them.

With a heart-ache eased, he turned his attention back to the rest of his day's work.