Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 57: Frauds and Flowerboxes

Bilbo was up late that night, thinking and jotting notes onto his notepad, only to scratch them out and jot down others. It was a serious situation, and the irony did not escape him that he, probably the only hobbit ever officially dubbed 'Burglar' in the history of the Shire, should be the one to be robbed.  Who would have ever thought it... It was late before he blew out his lamp, and even later before he stopped getting back up from his bed to light a candle and add another thought to his list.

The night was long;  he had restless dreams of being caught in a hedge, and all his buttons were coming off.  He scrambled among the thickly fallen leaves looking for them, but they kept slipping away... and then it wasn't his buttons that were missing but his ring.... He woke up in a mild panic, threw aside his pillow reached over to pat at the pocket of his weskit that hung by his bedside, reassuring himself that it was safely on its chain. It seemed a long time before he could relax enough to sleep again.

In the morning he awoke with thoughts already spinning. Looking over his notes with tired eyes he continued to annotate them as he sipped and blew at his tea. He made more corrections and additions in-between pouring and flipping pancakes, and by the time he had reached the washing-up stage he was feeling much better about the whole thing. Yes, here was a plan that just might work. 

Fetching his writing set, he quickly wrote out two letters, addressed and sealed them, dropping them into his hat where it sat on the entry bench. He grabbed an apple and a handkerchief, tucked them into his pocket and smoothly snagged his hat with one hand as he reached for the doorknob with his other.  He put the hat on his head, paused, took it off again to remove the letters from under it, replaced it on his head and went out to the post.

Preoccupied with his own thoughts, he skipped rapidly down the steps and had already walked a good ways along the road before he realized the blue-and-yellow skirt walking just ahead of him belonged to Daisy Gamgee, going the same way.  He increased his pace.

"Good morning, Mr. Baggins," she greeted as he came up alongside her.

"Good morning, Miss Gamgee," he replied cordially, noting the marketing basket on her arm he added "Are you going to town, then?" 

She gave a small bob of a curtsy as she walked. "Yessir, I am. Can I fetch something from market for you?"

"Eh, no, no thank you, but I do have a couple of letters that need to be posted today. Would you be so kind as to take them in for me?"

"Of course! No trouble at all," she said. Pausing, she pushed her curls back from her face and lifted the proferred letters from his hand, tucking them into the wide pocket on her apron.  He fished in his pocket and drew out a coin, a little more than was needed for the postage. She dropped it into the pocket along with the letter, and asked "Anything else I can do for you, sir?"

"No, no thank you." Then not wanting to seem too abrupt, he politely extended the conversation a little further, walking just a few more paces with her. "How is your mother?" he asked.

Daisy gave him a brief half-smile as she went. "She's doing a little better, since that healer you sent came by, thank you, sir. She still tires easy, but says her aches aren't near as bad. I'll be letting her know you've inquired?"

"Yes, yes that would be fine.  Oh. And if you could let your father know I would like to speak with him, whenever you get back, it would be much appreciated. Thank you very much." He gave a nod of farewell and touched the brim of his hat politely, then turned back towards his own home.

"Yessir, I'd be glad to," she returned over her shoulder and continued on her way. She was a dutiful lass, he had no worries that the letters would go astray.

Bilbo, seeing that he was spared the rest of the walk into town returned to his own yard. Closing the gate, he started up the steps then stopped with surprise. Sometime in the night his front windowbox had broken! He remembered now that it had been listing slightly before - now it was tipped sharply down, one end come completely off; its darkly earthen contents spilled out onto the grey flagstone below, peat and earth together; pale yellow and white roots, both old and new, were blindly groping up out of the tumble of dirt like tangles of broken thread.

He went up to it and poked at it, turning over a couple of the spoiled plants. They were crusted in dirt, wilted; broken stems hanging their heads sadly. No saving them.  He examined the wood that had come away; the small grooves of beetles and wood-borers trailing over it; inverse noodles. Feeling the ends of the wood, split with crumbly brown-white rot he found it soft to his touch. Considering its condition, it was surprising the box had held up as long as it had.  He pressed the sponginess of it, and found his thoughts turning to Lotho and others like him who rotted away with hidden weakness, eaten at from the inside, spilling out neglect and leaving a mess for others to clean up.  Bad roots, and negligence....full of vermin. He shook his head and frowned at the mental image as much as the broken box.

It would have to be fixed.

He blinked. A half-formed idea in his head suddenly gelled and he knew what he was going to do. He had considered putting in a few primulas, but only as a joke for Frodo, for when he got back. Now he was quite certain he was going to put them in and it was in earnest.  He was glad he had already sent for the Gaffer.

About an hour later, Hamfast Gamgee listened to him, then stood and looked at the ruined windowbox.  He nudged the broken end with his gnarled toes. "I'll have this fixed right as rain for you soon as I can, Mr. Baggins; though I'm afeard it will need to wait just a day or two, askin' your pardon... I'll get it swept up right away, o' course. Jus' the rebuildin' needs waitin' and as for the flowers, well sir, it's late in the season for 'em, hardly any bloomin' time left in 'em anymore. How about some nice chrysanthemums instead?"

"A day or two is fine, but not more. And I know, I know it's late for them, but I want some primulas. Only primulas. As many as you can manage, any color, in all of the windowboxes. Are there any in the greenhouses, perhaps? I would like them as soon as possible, by tomorrow if you can. I'll pay top dollar for them if that's what it takes."

Hamfast shifted his feet and seemed slightly uncomprehending. "Primulas."

"Yes, primulas."

"Primulas." the Gaffer repeated, squinting as if he hadn't heard right.

"Yes. I insist."

"You want 'em in all of the windowboxes, this late?" He twisted his cap in his hand then gestured with it at the windowbox. "If'n I can suggest, I've some truly grand mums that..."

"Primulas." said Bilbo very firmly. "No, nothing else will do. No chrysanthemums, not this time. No." he held up a hand. "I'm sure they're quite grand, but no.  Maybe later, afterwards. Not now."

The Gaffer took a breath, then just stood for a moment, opened his mouth then shut it. He opened it again, shut it, then stuck his tongue in his cheek thoughtfully.  "I'll try to find some, sir."

Bilbo was relieved. "Thank you, Gaffer - I knew I could count on you."
Hamfast pursed his lips."Yessir. Will that be all, sir?"

"Yes... but I'll let you know if anything else comes up. Thank you!"

The Gaffer nodded, took a breath again then let whatever it was he was going to say go unsaid. Instead, he bobbed in assent and shambled off around the Hill towards the gardens.

Bilbo went back inside to think and plot and eat.

He rapidly mixed up a batch of piecrust, rolling out a set of uneven circles and heaping them with apples and spices. Folding them over he set them in the oven to bake. Back at his writing desk, he rummaged in the drawers until he pulled out a nice thick sheet of creamy parchment, all flecked with dried leaves and petals. It was the most official and fancy looking paper he had, and extra large, so it would do well.  He laid it out on the table, weighed down the corners and got out his best pen and ink. 

After a few moments of ordering his thoughts, he chuckled and started writing. The rich, sweet scent of the baking apple tarts began to fill the smial.  He consulted a handful of the documents and books that he had in his den and began carefully penning what he hoped would look very much like an official Will to anyone who didn't know better. 

When the last bits of sand trickled through the slender waist of his half-hourglass, he got up and pulled out the browned tarts, setting them in a row to cool. He realized too late that he'd gotten ink on one of them and rubbed at the hot crust nearly burning his fingers. Giving up, he finally broke off the offending chunk of crust and brought the rest of it back with him, popping it lightly from hand to hand because of the heat.  As he sat down, he took a bite and sucked air in to cool his mouth, unwilling to wait for the tart to cool further. It was hungry work, translating. 

It was some time before he sat back and gave it a good look: Before him he now had a rough translation at best;  a nice mix of Dwarvish, Elvish and Westron. Very elaborate looking. He had Frodo's name in a nice prominent place in the middle, surrounded by official looking words that he knew would be gobbledygook to Lotho's eyes. If the tween managed to find anyone who could ever translate it for him, he would find an amusing (to Bilbo) rebuke regarding his behavior and character, along with bits of proverbs about honesty and some random snippets of historical events.  He penned a few flourishes to the corners, and set about copying fake signatures onto the bottom of it.

The tarts which he had wanted warm were now cold, but he ate two more of them anyway. By the time he started in on his fourth one, he had what he judged to be a reasonable facsimile of a Will, complete with assorted official-looking details.  He finished the tart and licked his fingers, making a face as he licked bitter ink along with apple syrup. He reached for his handkerchief, found he didn't have one and ignominiously had to go from room to room with his ink-blackened tongue hanging out until he found a napkin he could wipe it off on. Sometimes it was a good thing, living alone.

His dignity restored, he went back to his den.  Lacking red sealing wax, he finally had to settle for a deep orange wax that he had leftover from a scented candle.  It dribbled this carefully over the rolled parchment in a nice fat circle, and stamped it with an elaborately carved brooch that he had picked up on his travels. For a finishing touch, he affixed a couple small ribbons. Very officious.

He had a fifth tart to celebrate finishing it. Set just inside the main compartment of the desk, it looked very Legal. While he was at it, he pulled out several other things from the desk compartment and packed them away. No reason to have them rummaged through, after all.  He added various old letters and bits of scratch paper to the pigeonholes to keep it from looking empty.

The real Will he placed in a large pottery jar, sealing the wooden top with more wax both to keep out any moisture and to be able to tell that it had been left unopened.  By this time the afternoon was waning; it had been a good days work.  He tucked the jar under his arm and took up a sixth tart to eat as he walked to Farmer Cotton's place. He knew it would be safe enough there, no questions asked.