Nothing of Note
Chapter 56: Hedge Row
Bilbo didn't really care why Lotho was there, at least not at first.
His only thought was how awkward it would be to have him come tromping
through the hedge just as the troublesome lad was talking with someone;
he was sure it would be misunderstood as if he were skulking in the
bushes to eavesdrop. At least if he stayed where he was and just
waited for them to move on he had some passing chance of going
unnoticed. He slowly eased down to his knees among the mouldering,
somewhat prickly leaves of the previous year. A dusty, shallow ditch
ran beneath the lowest branches; he edged into it.
Without thinking, his hand strayed to his pocket, his fingers following
down the familiar chain to the smooth, rounded weight at the end of it.
He rubbed his fingers over the soft gold, trying to decide if he should
just lay low, keep quiet and hope Lotho moved on soon or use his ring.
His thumb slid around the smooth perimeter of it, the heat of his hand
warming it and giving it a sense of life. It would be the least risky
route, but at the same time he didn't like the way it tired him,
somehow, when he used it and had taken to using it rarely if at all; so
he hesitated, listening. His hand slowly drew back out of his
pocket - for now he would hope the hedge was sufficient cover.
Ever so slowly he lowered himself again until he was nearly prone under
the shadow of the hedge. The smell of the dust, the dry leaves and
slightly damp earth filled his nostrils strongly and made him grimace
as he tried to breathe quietly.
Peering up through the leaves and branches, he could see very little of
the hobbits on the road, only traces of movement. Bits of sky flecked
through above him, layers of leaves. He hoped they would see as little
of him. His main preoccupation was with a root that seemed determined
to bore into his ribs, and he quietly shifted, then shifted again -
until he heard Frodo's name. He stilled completely, the root
mostly forgotten, and strained to hear what was being said. The breeze
whispered in the leaves all around him, muddling the faint
conversation. He was too far away.
Recalling the other thing his ring had always seemed to do for him, his
hand went to his pocket once more, this time with purpose, and after a
moment of caressing the smooth circle, he slipped it on.
All around him, the leaves and sky went somewhat dim, as if a light
mist had sprung up from the ground. The hedge-shadow intensified. And
so did the sounds around him.
"I'm the one who has to live with it, everyday," Lotho was saying.
"Every morning, it's Lotho why didn't you this, and Lotho, why can't
you that? She acts like, like we should do something about it, but then
she doesn't. And my da, doing his staring thing all the time, breathing
and breathing like some old bull in a pasture but he won't open his
mouth and do something about it."
There was a murmuring of consent, or agreement, from more than one
throat. Bilbo wondered if Ivy were there, with her chaperone. Realizing
he now couldn't be seen except for a very faint shadow, he carefully
raised himself to his knees to peer through the bushes. No, all of the
legs he could see were clad in breeches, and at least one was fairly
young, too. Four of them then, counting Lotho.
"It should have been your family's," said one of them. A vaguely familiar young voice that Bilbo tried to place.
"Not it should have been - it was!" said Lotho. "It was ours, we had
the rights to it. My da is next of kin to that old windbag, and he
never did nothin' to deserve being treated like that. My family
has waited and waited for him to go and die and he just keeps on
"It ain't right, is it?" said another, the youngest one.
"Rooty!" said the first, mildly shocked. "He can too be alive..."
"No, I mean that he just....well, I wasn't..." stuttered the first.
Ah, thought Bilbo. Rooty. That would be Beetroot "Rooty" Grubb then,
and his older brother, Hatch. Opal Grubb's youngsters who lived next
door to the S-B's. He didn't know them well, but they hadn't
seemed the kind to so caught up in Lotho's tirades - then again, they
had grown up with him nearby, no doubt listening to their mother's
gossip as well.
I'll have to listen to judge what manner of rot might have infected them, he thought. Hopefully it's not catching.
"You sounded like...like you wanted him to..." Hatch was saying.
"He's right," cut in Lotho. "He's got no right to just keep on living
and living and living like that, he should have... " Lotho hesitated,
apparently realizing what he was implying. It was to his credit that
even he shied away from it. "...moved someplace else by now. Gone away
on one of his brain-cracked trips and not come back or something. Moved
in with those foreigners he likes so much."
"Yeah. What's he need with all that room, all by himself anyway?" asked Hatch rhetorically. "Why can't he get lost?"
"And stay lost." muttered Lotho.
"He keeps his treasure there," offered Rooty. "I heard ma talking about it. He has all kinds of treasure in there."
"I heard he has other things in there too," said the third hobbit,
speaking for the first time. "Stuff from his trips. Strange stuff, from
"Like what?" asked Rooty, fascinated.
"I heard, well, I heard he has dwarf-weapons. So sharp they could shave
the hair right off your foot if you even held it wrong. If you cut the
head off a chicken with it, it wouldn't even know it had been cut, it
would just keep walkin' and walkin' until it's head fell off..."
"Stop it, Louey." said Hatch. "Even if he does have somethin' like
that, he wouldn't use it on chickens. He'd probably just... I don't
"I heard he has Dwarves that stay there." said Louey's voice, hushed.
"In the wine-cellar, 'cause they like it dark. One of the chimneys
really goes to their metalworking thing. Forge. They only come out
after dark, with their faces all hidden in hair, and their sharp, sharp
Lotho cut in again. "No matter what's in there, even if it's a whole
family of Dwarves, they're no better than rats in a pantry. If
they're there, they don't belong there - they're squatters, on my
"Yeah." said Hatch. "But maybe you could at least, I don't know... get
some of the treasure? I mean, if you can't have the smial, maybe you
could still have some of the money?"
"No, that brat from Buckland gets that too," said Lotho. "Baggins is mad, I tell you."
"Which one?" asked Rooty.
"Both!" Lotho said, and spit on the side of the road, thankfully away
from where Bilbo lay. "Both of 'em. But old Bilbo is the worse one. And
that Frodo-thing, sitting by him day after day, acting like he enjoys
listening to the old bag."
"Old bag. Baggins. Heh. Good one, Lotho." snickered Louey.
Lotho was not amused. He sounded sharp. "All those stories about him,
some of them are true you know. He has strange folk in his house, all
the time. Dwarves, conjurers. Why do you think they talk in ways we
can't understand, huh? My ma says it's to keep us from understanding
them. On purpose. Conspiring, that's what he's doing, on how to keep
all the treasures for himself and his strange friends. He's not a
proper Hobbit - there's something queer about him. And you notice how
he never gets older? It isn't natural."
"I heard he had...." Louey's voice sank to stage-whisper. "Magic. Magic
from the Elves that makes it that way. They gave him books of magic.
And there's dragon-magic too."
"Dragon?" asked Hatch. "What do you mean?"
"You know... You remember how he talks about slaying a dragon once? A
real one? Well, I heard that dragons can't really die...all the way,
dead, I mean. They can't. They come back. And he kept a piece of it..."
"Of the dragon?" Rooty sounded slightly shaken
"Yeah....a piece of it, like a souvenir. And it's...not dead..."
"The piece isn't dead?"
"What part is it?" Hatch was morbidly fascinated.
"It would have to be pretty small, I'd think." said Rooty. "Like an ear..."
"Yeah. Or an eyeball, or a claw. He keeps it hidden, and talks to it
sometime when no one else is there. And he has a magic sword that the
dwarves made for him too, that moves all by itself... it goes around
the rooms at night, all silent in the dark, stabbing anyone who tries
to sneak in...."
"Louey, you're scarin' Rooty." said Hatch. He turned to the older tween
for reassurance. "It's probably just treasures, isn't it Lotho?"
"Well, he gets all that money from someplace." said Lotho. "And he
spends and spends it. My ma said he was trying to use it all up, so we
couldn't have any of it."
"That's mean!" two of them chorused.
"It's selfish!" said Lotho. "And now he's giving it all to that creature just to keep it away from us. I'd bet on it."
Bilbo seethed quietly, ineffectually clenching at a double-handful of
earth and leaves in his anger. Tiny dusty-grey roly-polys scattered
from the trenches his unseen fingers had dug, burrowing into the earth
or rolling into miniscule armored balls.
Lotho was working himself up into a righteous dudgeon. "I'm not going
to just sit here and let it happen either. I'm going to do something
"But what can you do about it?" asked Louey.
"I saw that Frodo-thing leaving this morning. Old Bilbo is all by himself now."
"The only thing that's making it all go to Frodo is that piece of paper that says it's supposed to be that way, right?"
"Yeah...I think so."
"That's what my ma said," confirmed Hatch. "And she knows."
"So, if we can get old Bilbo out of the way somehow, and get into Bag End, we can get that paper, right?"
"Get the paper?"
"Take it, you idiot. Take it and get rid of it. If there's no paper,
then there's no will. If there's no will, there's no proof that Bilbo
didn't just make it all up! Don't you see? If there's no will saying
someone else is the heir, then it goes to the next of kin again!"
"Your da," said Rooty.
"Exactly! And I'm not about to let some stupid piece of paper stop me.
Us, I mean. My family. We'll get what is rightfully ours, if I have to
take every paper in that place to get it."
"But, what will you do with it? If you ruin it, won't they just make
another one?" This from Hatch, apparently the more logical of the lot.
Lotho paused. Apparently this hadn't occurred to him. "Well, if we
can't destroy it, maybe we can... change it or something. Make is say
something different. Then we can put it back. And if that doesn't work,
and it's gone, who can prove anything anyway? Maybe it was all a rumor,
or his madness again. Everyone in the Shire knows he's cracked."
"But if Frodo comes back..." started Hatch hesitantly.
"Who's to say he isn't cracked too? Imagining he was going to get to stay there, just like that."
Bilbo looked down at the confused roly-polys, who kept unrolling and
rolling again every time he moved. He couldn't believe what he was
hearing. Invisible or not, the hedge began to feel like a trap to him;
his emotions were running high and he wanted to move. He wanted to...
he wasn't sure what... something! He desperately wished they
would leave, or stop talking, decide it was a foolish notion and they
wouldn't even dream of it, but he had to know what they were
thinking and planning now. Even if they did leave, he would have to
follow. He would have to know what to expect.
"But getting it, that would mean, well, going in without his permission."
"Of course it would, dimwit, do you think he's just going to open up
the door and let us get it, and serve us tea while we're at it?"
"No. Of course not. But..." Hatch faltered.
"There's music that comes out of that place sometimes, when no one is home I heard. Strange music, and..." said Louey.
"Are you with me or not?" said Lotho. "I'm beginning to think all you Hornblowers are about as skittery as a nest of quail."
"No we aren't," said Louey, his pride stung. "But... I don't know how..."
"Well I do. Now you listen up. All we have to do is wait for old Bilbo
to leave his home. He's always going off, you know. When he does,
we just go in!"
"But what about the Gamgees?" asked Hatch.
"The Gamgees are always watching it when he's gone. I tried to get some
peas from his garden once, and Fastred boxed my ears for it."
"You should've ducked quicker." said Lotho without sympathy. "Your ma is friends with them, right?"
"Have her invite them over for tea, or supper or whatever. Tell 'em
they're needed to fix something that's broken, right away. You can come
up with something. As soon as they're gone, Rooty can run an
invitation over to Bag End and we're set."
"Oh, yeah. You're pretty smart, Lotho."
"He should be in charge of something, like being the Mayor, I think." said Louey admiringly.
"Oh, wouldn't that be great! If Lotho was the Mayor, and lived at Bag
End and had all that money and everything." Rooty said enthusiastically.
"Which I won't if you don't listen up." said Lotho. "And if I'm not in Bag End, then my friends won't be there either."
"Your friends? Like us?" asked Rooty.
"Be quiet Rooty." said Hatch."Right. So Mr. Baggins leaves, and then we
have Rooty here get the Gamgees out. Then what? How do we find it?"
"It's not like he's expecting someone to take it," said Louey. "It's probably just in his desk."
"We'll find it." said Lotho grimly. "If we have to knock out the walls
to do it. You'll help me. Hatch will keep lookout by the door, and
Rooty will be our lookout by the road."
"What will we do with it? When we get it, I mean? Throw it in the fire?"
"Nothing! You don't do
anything with it. You just give it to me, you understand? If we have
to, we'll send it with Rooty and he can hide it until later. But if you
try to make off with it yourself, it'll be my hand boxing your ears
this time, and a lot worse. But," and here his voice took on a
strangely oily tone. "If it works, then I'll share some of that
treasure with you."
Bilbo had clenched his hands so hard that they hurt. Though he was
careful to remain silent, inside he was a roiling confusion of anger,
offense and strangely, amusement at the audacity of Lotho. I will
not be robbed, he thought fiercely, nor will Frodo. As he considered
it, yes, it was the sheer audacity of what Lotho was proposing that hit
him so strongly. Robbery, forgery, trespassing, deceit - and all of it
justified with his own self-righteous, unfounded 'insult'? He had
known the lad was up to no good, but he was amazed that such drastic
things would even be considered, much less plotted out to this extent.
Still, they were young. And... yes, and... they were looking to beard the old fox in his den, were they?
The tangle of his confusion settled into a determined knot. He
considered them again. Lotho was the oldest of the lot. The two Grubbs
weren't even into their tweens. Louey Hornblower appeared to be closer
to Lotho's age, but still no more than a croney, as Frodo would call
him. Followers to be bribed with promises of sweetmeats and titles of
rank. Quick to imitate, and quick to fall away.
Yes, they were young. And they were afraid of him. He had seen that
too. What would be stronger, their loyalty to Lotho or their fear of
Mad Baggins? He took the knot of cooling anger in his breast and turned
it to strategy, a plotting of his own.
By the time Lotho and his group had completed their whispering and
plotting and gone their way, Bilbo already had the beginnings of a plan
of his own hatching out. He knelt in the shadowy hedge and listened to
their footsteps fading, considering many things.
Grateful that he was finally able to remove the ring, he pulled it from
his finger and reentered the world of color and light. It seemed so
heavy sometimes. He briefly considered its beauty in the afternoon sun,
then dropped it back into the darkness of his pocket. His thirst,
nearly forgotten in the involuntary eavesdropping, came back with a
vengeance and he thought longingly of the cool ale at the Dragon but
no, he would head straight home. He had work to do.
He clambered up from the ditch, dusting leaves and dirt from his hands.
Something squiggled agaist his hand and he flapped it with involuntary
surprise, sending the last of the roly-polys shooting helplessly back
into the mould. Carefully poking his head through an opening in
the hedge, he checked the road. No one was to be seen, and the
way remained empty of onlookers all the way back to Bag End.