Nothing of Note
50: Gossip's Race
Three days later as the sun began its climb into a somewhat hazy summer
sky, Bilbo and Frodo packed up their two large baskets of
food for themselves and to share, gathered up a clean tablecloth and
headed for the field below the Hill to join in on the monthly town
Bilbo scuffed his feet thorough the last of the dew. It promised
to be a warm day, a bit humid but fair. He figured it wouldn't be uncomfortable if there
was enough shade to be had.
"Whoop. You're dragging the tablecloth." said Frodo behind him. He
looked down and gathered up the trailing end where it was bumping along
behind him over the grass. Carefully leaping over the small ditch
that bordered the field, he tried not to stumble over the berm of dried
grasses that yet lay where they had been cut. The goats hadn't had time
to eat their way this far down the road yet.
He turned to place a steadying hand on Frodo's arm as the lad struggled
up after him, lugging the larger of the baskets. "Looks like we're not
the first ones here."
"Still, I don't really see why we needed to be here so early. Breakfast is barely past."
"All the better. I've arranged for us to have a table set up in a nice shady place, and
don't want anyone else to get to it first. It's going to be a long day,
and the early bird gets the worm and all that."
"I can't say I've ever been too interested in worms." Frodo replied. He
shifted the weight of the basket to his other arm and then bent to pick
up the soiled tablecloth tail that was trailing once again. "But
if you really think this rising with the birds is worth the effort..."
"It is. Just over there. Ah, I see someone's been here before us but not to steal our seats. Daisy's work, most likely."
Frodo smiled at the wooden picnic table. It sat, weathered silver in the morning
sun right next to the leafy hedge. The later hours would shade it
nicely. A bright, clean tablecloth has already been smoothed into place over the top
and a vase of Bilbo's own roses, lifting from a froth of primulas and
sweetpeas shone from the exact center. Next to them a small
basket overflowed with fruit and vegetables from his own garden. Bilbo
dropped his basket down on the bench and sniffed the flowers
"Ahh. Very nice. And it looks like we don't need a tablecloth after all."
"Just as well." said Frodo wryly, setting down his own burden and
examining the browned end of the one they had brought with them.
He sat down at the table, leaned on one elbow and looked around the
green, his curls glowing chestnut in the morning sun. Bilbo sat and
rummaged through the basket to pull out a couple of books and some
notepaper he had brought along to pass the time, watching the youth
from the corner of his eye. It was hard to believe he had ever
been so young, he thought. Where had the years gone?
Like many of the Shire's larger towns, Hobbiton held an informal picnic
for anyone who cared to come at the end of each month, at least
during the warmer months; families came from around nearby area mostly, each
bringing their own provender and sometimes extra to share if they
could. Children ran about shouting with their mouths full of food and
their hands covered in grass and dirt and if the weather was favorable
they might continue until past their bedtime.
Bilbo only rarely attended the picnics. They had seemed more a social event
for those with growing families to him, but this time it looked to be a
perfect way to informally introduce much of the town to his young
cousin that they had heard so much about but knew very little of.
He knew the gossips would be busy as bees over clover in having him
there. But this time it was that very buzz that he hoped to feed and
direct a bit, so it was for the good.
For the first hour there were not too many others there, and he and
Frodo passed the time in companionable reading and writing. Other
hobbits began to arrive, in pairs, in handfuls or in large family
groups and the visiting and small talk of the day began.
Frodo seemed uncomfortable with the socializing at first, aware that he was being put on
display. For the most part he stayed near the table where Bilbo sat,
sharing the savoury chicken pie, fruit and cakes that they had brought
and making small conversation. He and Bilbo were viewed curiously from
afar by many that came to settle themselves upon whatever bit of grass
seemed the most sweet to them, and not so afar from others who boldly came up to greet them and to surreptiously eye Frodo.
Bilbo made no bones about introducing him, being sure they all knew
that he was a legitimate relative and well-approved of. Frodo
kept his own thoughts on this affair to himself, responding politely
only when necessary.
"Mr. Baggins!" said yet another well-aproned lady, two smudged children
clinging to her skirts and a small babe in her arms. "It's such a nice
surprise to have you here today. And such a fine day for a picnic,
"Why, yes, Mrs. Hornblower. It is a very fine day. May I introduce my cousin, Frodo Baggins?"
"Oh, most pleased to make your acquaintance. How very nice that you can
come spend some time here in Hobbiton. I do trust you are enjoying your
"Very much, thank you." said Frodo somewhat neutrally. "Pleased to make your acquaintance also."
"And are you staying long?"
Frodo glanced at Bilbo. "At least until the end of this month, ma'am."
"You're staying at Bag End, then?"
"Yes ma'am." Frodo said. How many times had he said that now?
"He 's staying with me," said Bilbo in his firm and friendly manner.
"Of course, seeing as Bag End will be his own home someday." He
watched the now expected voiceless flutter at this. "He is a Baggins,
"But of course! How pleasant that must be...." Her further comment was
drowned out as the babe in her arms suddenly awoke and began to squall.
"I'm sorry. If you'll excuse me..."
They watched her move on, towing the smaller ones in her wake. Frodo looked at Bilbo.
"They're all asking the same thing, just in different ways." he said a touch wearily.
"Yes. It's as I expected. That's why we're here. I am sorry that it
can't be a more enjoyable time for you. Of course, you don't have to sit here with
me the whole time you know. I expect they might ask the same of me even if you
were simply somewhere hereabout. You ought to walk around."
Frodo looked out, around the green. "What about the Sackville-Bagginses?"
"I haven't seen them yet, but I would be most surprised if they don't
show up now that we're here. Even if they weren't planning on it,
they'll be along once word reaches them. Now, go on. Stretch your legs
a bit while you can. We've still several gossipers to go."
"You don't encourage me with that news. But all right...just a bit..." He gave Bilbo a half-smile and wandered along the hedge.
And so it continued. The late morning was already drawing on into an early warm afternoon before
the Sackville-Bagginses arrived. They came onto the green very
pointedly as far away from Bilbo's table as they could get and still be
in the soft part of the close-mown grass. Seeing as this placed them on
the eastern side, their late arrival and choice of seat meant there
would be no shade for them at all. Bilbo's carefully chosen spot
afforded more and more shade as the afternoon heat came on, and he
wondered how long it would be before their pride would melt in the heat
enough to seek out the shade on "his" side.
Frodo had wandered somewhat aimlessly for a time then drifted back to
their table to read a little and answer more repetitious questions as
they were asked of him. The two of them were enjoying a break in
the flow of questioning when the SB's settled in. Bilbo chewed on
slices of apple and sharp cheese, watching as the various known gossips
casually flitted across the green, bobbing from family to family like
bees gathering nectar, all with the goal of reaching Lobelia.
He nudged Frodo. "Watch this, Frodo-lad. You see that lady over there,
with the striped green apron? She's one of the mainstay gossips I mentioned
to you. And that one over there in the brown also. That's Opal
Grubb, Lobelia's neighbor. A third one is way over there, with the
orange-and-rust. See? Yes, that one. Now watch them. Lobelia is over to
that side, and they all want to talk to her. But they don't want to be
too forward about it, so they can't just run an honest footrace. Watch
now, see how they work their way along? Bet you that last berry tart
that the one in brown gets there first."
Frodo considered them, but seemed too weary to be able to
enjoy the jest. "I suppose. Are they also wanting to talk to Lobelia about
Bilbo looked at him sharply. "Probably. You and me both. What else? We
can't stop their tongues. But you needn't be fretting, and you
can't give out on me yet. Buck up, now; we've still much of the day
left." He reached over and tipped up the lad's chin until he met
his eyes. "When all is said and done, it's character and
reputation that will win out. The whole town knows Lobelia is sour. And
if you can stick it out just a little longer, your own character will
outshine her sourness. They just need time. Let your worries go. It
isn't worth it." He lowered his hand and gave him a small,
Frodo took a breath and slowly let it out. "I'm sorry, Bilbo. You're
doing your part, and I'll try to do mine." He managed a slight smile
back. "You were saying about the
Bilbo relaxed. "That's more like it. Now, watch carefully, for a berry
tart hangs in the balance and I'm likely to get it if you aren't
sharp! Look, the brown one is getting ahead. See? I thought she
Frodo considered them for a moment. "The orange one is having trouble getting away from her children, I think." he said.
"Yes, she needs to take a lesson from the green one and just dump them on their da."
"How can you do that, Bilbo?"
"Do what? Dump children on their da?"
Frodo smiled. "No. How can you just...not let it matter to you that they're all talking about you that way?"
Bilbo finished his apple slices thoughtfully. "I'll have to think on
that." He crunched the apple and reached for the rest of the cheese slices.
"I remember that I used to care
about what they said. I used to care quite a lot, but that was before my
Adventure." He quirked an eye at his cousin. "Perhaps by the time I had seen so many other things in this wide
world, their small opinions just didn't seem so big anymore. They
change all the time anyway."
The lad still looked a bit too concerned, and
Bilbo searched for the words to convey his conviction, to erase that
shadow in his eyes. "It's like a sport to them, telling tales about
others. You and I just happen to be some of the characters in
their tales right now. They're just telling stories, and we are in them. It will change to someone else after a while and
you know what? The Shire and Hobbiton and even Bag End will still be
exactly the same as it was before they ever started talking. They're
just... noise, a wind going past. Mayflies. Cut-flowers. It really
doesn't matter. The only time someone's opinion about you should matter
is when it comes from someone who really knows you, really, truly does. Someone you can trust to tell you the truth. All the
others shouldn't bear any more weight than a butterfly's wing, and
should bother you just as much."
Frodo silently met his eyes, then looked out over the sunlit green again, but
his shoulders had relaxed. Bilbo followed his gaze. Lobelia sat, small
in the distance, with her yellow skirts puffed out around her and
looking for all the world like a butter pat melting in the sun. Her
umbrella popped up as a sun parasol. "The queen bee. The worker-bees
will reach her soon enough."
Frodo had to smile again at that. "They're still working at it. Though
I think your brown one is falling behind. The green one will get there
Bilbo was glad he was willing. It wasn't always easy to make light
of something. Sometimes it could be much harder than being serious.
"Perhaps she will. Is it a bet then?"
"Perhaps." Frodo smile lingered a moment. "I'll try to do as you said,
to not let it bother me. I'm just not used to being the subject of
tales, I guess. At least not from hobbits I hardly even know."
"Your skin will thicken in time. After a while you'll wonder that you ever let them trouble you."
"I hope so."
"Aha - there goes the orange one." Bilbo pointed. "She's trying to make
up for lost time. See? She's pretending she needs to borrow something
at the other side or some
such... see how she's going along with a purpose, but not quite towards
Lobelia? Good strategy. I don't think it'll quite be enough
though. The others will still be closer."
Frodo joined in the game. "I say the green one will be there first."
"I still say the brown."
"Green is nodding her head, moving away from that group...."
"Where? Ah, yes, I see."
"Go on, Green, you can do it. Two more families.... "
"Go, Brown...good lass, yes, pass that one by with a simple smile and
wave, keep on... No, no, don't let that one stop you with her jams..."
"Come on, Green. Come on. You don't really need to say more than 'Good afternoon' do you? What are you talking about? Move on!"
"No, no more jams, Brown. Keep your eye on the goal. Yes, look at Lobelia. Good, good... make your exit..."
"Green, why are you still standing there? Lobelia is so close and you
only need to get past this last family! Uh oh, watch out, here comes
Bilbo thumped the table. "Brown, Orange is coming up from behind! Don't
let her trump you. Go on, now. Go on - yes! Nod, smile, say goodbye.
Good job. Now amble, amble. Amble faster."
"Green, don't you see her? Yes, there she is. Orange is right there. Move! Good, good. Walk faster, can't you?"
"Quick, someone intercept Orange, anyone! Yes, oh good. Well done,
child. Good intercept. Hold her skirts tighter." Bilbo grinned. "I
think I'm going to have that tart."
"Not yet you aren't... Go, Green... No, no, don't look at Brown. Look
at Lobelia. Yes, pretend you don't see Brown there...."
"Brown, don't stop! No, that tipped basket can just stay tipped. To Lobelia, quick!"
Both Bilbo and Frodo were now about halfway up from their seats. There
was only about three yards left and both of their chosen gossips were
on a slow collision course of sorts.
"Green!" said Frodo.
"Brown!" said Bilbo
"Agh!" they both said together as Green and Brown met and began exchanging
pleasantries with each other, mere yards from Lobelia while the Orange
one swept past them to victory, a medium-sized child still towed along
in her skirts.
Frodo and Bilbo looked at one another. They looked at the honey-crusted berry tart.
Bilbo picked up a knife. "Split it?"
Frodo grinned, took the knife from him and carefully cut the tart in
two. He licked berry syrup from his fingers. "That was fun."
"Much better than agonizing over it." agreed Bilbo, picking up the half
he perceived to be ever-so-slightly larger. "A little honey does
wonders to remove the sting."