Nothing of Note

by Primula

5. Small Lands

The following morning peered over the tops of the hills to find Bilbo already stepping past the white fencing that marked the western bounds of Michel Delving. The overnight rains had given way to such a freshly-washed morning that he had wasted no time taking his leave. The half-awake Hugo blearily accepted his many thanks and claims of looking forward to seeing him again and had simply gone back to bed. Shutting Hugo's door behind him, Bilbo had almost skipped to be back on the road - much too nice of weather to waste.  Beyond the town the roadway was still rain-soft, but as long as he avoided the wagon ruts, it wasn't slippery.  His walking stick left a small series of dents in the mud, and occasionally swung through the wet grasses just to watch them bend and spring back.

How he loved the haze of vibrant green that hung among the branches and shrubs, the puffy clouds freed of their burdens of rain, the lack of travelers on the road.  Tomorrow he knew it  would be a busy market day, but today the morning road was nearly empty.  It curved gently a few times, then continued on fairly straight between the farmlands until past midday.  As the time passed he paced along, singing softly to himself, pausing now and again to just enjoy the stillness and to nibble on the dried fruit and yet another loaf purchased from the same town baker as he was leaving. When necessary, he offered brief, friendly greetings to hobbits he passed on the road and to those working in the fields alongside it.  The far-off hills didn't seem to get much closer, but he knew that was the way of longer distances. It was nothing like the taller mountains he remembered so fondly, and would be at his feet soon enough.

In the late afternoon the movement of the air died away and in the cool stillness a mist began to rise up. He pulled his coat closed around him and buttoned it nearly up to his chin. In spite of the chill, he rather liked the change.  It was one of those spring mists that reach up from the ground but never quite grasp the still-blue sky above, and he was delighted to have the time to just watch it dancing. He spent so much time watching the top of it wisping slowly in the nearly-still air that his neck became stiff.  He rubbed at it with his hand while still gazing upward, walked backwards a little, then forwards again. Like gossamer, he thought, like cream swirling in blue tea.  Shadowed as he was, the blue above looked dazzling and unusually intense. He thought of his own attempts at painting and wished he could produce such a sight on canvas, as the Elves sometimes did.

Somewhere behind him he gradually became aware of a creaking sound; cart-wheels slowly gaining on him and the patient plod of the beast that drew it. With nothing else to listen to and little to see, the plodding and creaking seemed very loud. After a time a glance back showed a misty shape that slowly became darker and more lifelike until the last of the mist that separated them gauzily drew apart.  A farm wagon, drawn by a sturdy brown-grey pony who seemed half-asleep on his feet and unheeding of Bilbo loomed up out of the mist by his side. The farmer on the seat was well-matched to his beast, shaggy and brown-grey and half-asleep also. 

"Hullo! Good afternoon!" said Bilbo.

Both man and beast startled together as the farmer's hands convulsed on the reins which he had been dangling slackly a moment before.  The pony halted, then turned its head with an accusing look to Bilbo.  The farmer was hardly better.

"Hey now, what do you mean hoving up out of the mist like that and startling a body so?"

"I'm...ehm. Please forgive me, as I did not intend to do startle you. I've been listening to your coming for a good half mile and didn't realize you hadn't seen me, but of course hearing is better than seeing in weather like this. Isn't it just a glorious white, this mist?"

The farmer briefly squinted at the mist that surrounded them. It looked the same as ever to him. "Walp, it's white anyhow. Where you headed? We don't see too many travelers out this way aside from the post and them what live here."

"I've come from Michel Delving where I was visiting a relative." This was true, in a way. Old Hugo was related after all. And in the Shire 'visiting a relative' was always a safe thing to be doing. It was what most of them did all the time, except when relatives were visiting them. "I was hoping to reach Greenholm by dark. Is it much farther?" 

"Well, you've come a fair pace, haven't you? It's not too much farther, but I doubt you'll reach it on foot now.  Why don't you go ahead and climb up? I'm going to Greenholm m'self and the pony won't mind a bit more, will you Dumplin'?"  This last part was addressed to the pony, not Bilbo of course.  Dumpling turned his head and gave Bilbo a sour look that differed with his master's opinion as the offer was accepted and Bilbo clambered up onto the seat and settled his pack in front of him.  The wooden seat creaked beneath his weight, but seemed sound enough. 

"Fungo Bolger," the farmer offered, more out of politeness than friendship.

"Bilbo Baggins," offered Bilbo in return. The farmer gave him a long, measuring look and a little twitch.


"The same."

The farmer made no further comment. He slapped the reins lightly.

"Get up, Dumplin'! Enough rest for your lazy rump now." The shaggy pony reluctantly took about three quicker steps then settled into his steady plod, which he continued without further urging or direction.  It was plain he had traveled this road many times before.  The wagon creaked and slowly bumped along the road and the mist closed in behind it.

Bilbo found himself glad of his companion's silence. Hobbits are as a rule quite garrulous compared to many other races, at least when among other hobbits, so it was unexpected that he would be allowed to peacefully watch the remainder of the mists before they began to turn patchy and to give way to a small wood.  His legs and feet were grateful for the reprieve and as the road continued on the rest of him was grateful that he had not had to try to walk it all before nightfall. 

As the darkness grew, the farmer paused only to water the pony and to light a lantern at the front of the wagon and continued on.  The woods around them fell away in a myriad of scattered, changing shadows as the lantern slowly bobbed past them on its chain. They drew out of the trees again and into the lighter evening sky, sloping down slightly to the farmlands of Greenholm. 

Greenholm was a very small town.  Hobbiton would have seemed like a bustling city to it, with all of its lights and paths and homes.  Here a single road was bordered with a mere handful of homes, and one small building served all of the communities needs from dance hall to post office to smithy. The lamps by the doors looked very lonely in the midst of so much darkness.

"You have someplace to stay the night?" asked Fungo, breaking the long silence as Dumpling slowed to a stop near the building at the center of the town.  Bilbo thought the farmer was very much hoping that he did.  He really wasn't sure, as he couldn't remember who he was related to clear out here. Had to be somebody.

"Perhaps. Can you tell me who lives over there?" He pointed randomly at a home to the left. 

"That's the Goold's place."

"Ah. Of course. And over there?" he tried the right.

"That would be the Chubb's."

"Yes! Thank you so much. I'll be staying at the Chubb's. Appreciate the ride, Mr. Bolger. Much obliged to you."

He climbed down off of the wagon with more confidence than he felt at the moment and gave a simple wave and nod to Fungo who nodded back and slapped the reins.  Dumpling knew his oats and hay were near and gave a more lively movement than Bilbo had seen out of him all day. The wagon rattled away down the road.

Left to himself, Bilbo adjusted his pack for a moment to gather himself then approached the cheerfully firelit home on the right.  He hoped the Chubbs didn't keep dogs. Bilbo's own uncle Bingo had married a Chubb. His cousin Falco was a Chubb-Baggins, if he was yet living.  Bilbo wasn't sure.  He had far too many relations and had outlived so many of them he was losing track. This being the Shire, he could be fairly certain the Chubbs would know this bit of family history as well as he did. Yes, they would have to take him in.

Not seeing a bell-pull he knocked on the door and was glad to not have a barking dog but a screeching, excited child answer the sound. The sounds of a lively family reached his ears before the door was opened and a stoutly healthy looking hobbit in work clothes looked out at him curiously. Children of assorted ages gathered behind him whispering among themselves and shoving for space to see.

"Yes sir? Can I help you?"

"Mr. Chubb? I am Mr. Baggins from Hobbiton. I have been out this way visiting some relatives and seem to have found myself rather far from home tonight..."

"Come in! Come in!" interrupted Mr. Chubb heartily. "Lacey! We've got company! Come in out of the cold, Mr. Baggins! We were just getting ready for supper! I'm sure you would like to join us! Mind the rug, it sometimes slips! Here, let me get that pack for you!"

Bilbo found himself all but swept bodily into a warm home where a large number of round, rosy children swirled around him shrieking and laughing and trying to show him their small tricks they could do.  Even later on, recounting that evening he never could tell anyone how many children there were. They never obliged by holding still long enough to be counted.

In the center of all of the motion a very plump Lacey Chubb smiled at him before turning back to her stove. She seemed aptly named, he thought, as he watched the strings on her vest and apron straining to hold between the layers of well-stored past meals that adorned her figure. Amid the babble of small questions that the children continuously asked he was seated and fed and then swept into a leather chair by the fire as if he belonged there every night.  He rather liked it. As the adults finished the evening chores, he told fanciful tales to the children and the hour grew late before he knew it.  The children were gathered up under the ample wings of their mother and sent off to sleep.

"I'm sorry we haven't extra beds!" boomed Mr. Chubb. "Children stacked like cordwood as it is.  But you are welcome to sleep here by the fire, if you would like Mr. Baggins!" His tone brooked no arguments, so Bilbo nodded in agreement. Mr. Chubb shook out a single clean blanket for him.  "Would that I had another for you, Mr. Baggins. No extra when you've so many and only a small land you know!" Bilbo took the blanket from him and thanked him.

"It's quite all right. I have another with me, and my cloak besides, see?"  His host nodded and lightly touched the thick wool of the cloak that Bilbo had lifted from the pack. He smiled briefly, but Bilbo noticed the father's gaze turn to follow the direction his numerous family had gone shortly before. It seemed a bit wistful. Only one extra blanket. Bilbo couldn't help but wonder if even it were not truly 'extra.'

"It must be hard to know they will not have much..." he began. Realizing it implied they were not being provided for properly right then he quickly amended, "...when they grow up. To have passed on to them, I mean. So many..."

"No, no!' Mr. Chubb boomed softly back. He shook his head, but smiled. "It is a small land, but it feeds us. At least I know they will be glad of what they get, for they might not get much of anything else but their mother's smile."  He gently touched Bilbo's blanket once again, then grinned and gave him a little cuff on the shoulder.

"You know what it's like. Yours must be grown by now! Waiting for their share of their inheritance I'm sure, and smiling your own smile back at you as only your own can. Am I right? They are happy for anything you give because they are yours, no matter how small it is."  Bilbo nodded back at him with a polite half-smile but didn't comment.  Mr. Chubb paused as if he were considering saying more, then suddenly bid him goodnight and went off to his own bed . The household slowly quieted then slept. In the silence embers shifted in the fireplace with a faint sound like breaking glass. The banked fire began to die down, lighting Bilbo's face deep in thought.