Nothing of Note
Chapter 58: Putting a Spin on It
The next three days went by swiftly as Bilbo quietly packed away
anything that he did not want to risk being touched. He had
gathered many small items during his years of visiting and traveling,
and his old hole was rather cluttered up with them. Still, each one
held a memory, a story or both. He wasn't willing to have them pawed
over by Lotho and his followers, no he wasn't.
He spent several more pleasant hours tending to small tasks and social
obligations, such as catching up on visitors and overdue
correspondence. He had considered this problem, the steady trickle of
visitors that came and went and realized he didn't want any of his
friends or relatives stopping by his home unexpectedly this week. The
obvious answer was to see to them as quickly as possible, assuring none
coming by when his trap was set. It had seemed a good idea,
though by the time he cycled through the last of them and washed up his
tea service for what felt like the hundredth time he was almost
regretting it. He looked at his pruny hands as he set the good
teapot back on its shelf. At least he didn't have to cook again; the
Cottons had sent him one of their very nice teacakes instead of coming
to eat of his, and he gratefully finished it off as his supper.
He was grateful that Farmer Cotton had taken the jar with the Will in
it without too many questions - he didn't even know what was in it,
only that Mr. Baggins needed it kept safe and dry for possibly a week
or two. Bilbo had seen that it was stashed on a high shelf in
Mrs.Cotton's pantry and had no worries for its safety, and been treated
to a nice ale and chicken pie besides. After this little romp was
over, he might share the tale with them - they'd probably enjoy it -
but right now he could risk no gossip, even unintentioned, and the
younger Cottons might not know to keep their parent's words from others.
The fourth day a smattering of rain had come with the dawn, softening
the earth and leaving it clear and cool; perfect for yardwork. Bilbo
was out in it as soon as luncheon was past. He had been watching
carefully for anyone hanging about the Hill, and did not fail to note
the two Grubb lads had been sauntering past with forced casualness.
Choosing his position and task carefully, he made certain he was out
where they could see him, weeding the roses near the fence. Not being
good actors, their nervous whistling and drawn out walking drew more
attention to them than was seemly. He hoped no one else wandered by,
they were being so ridiculous.
He worked in his flowers near the road, dredging up bits of clover that
were sprouting around the base of his roses. When they saw him there,
the brothers' sauntering stopped and there was a bit of whispering. The
older of the two, nudged by his sibling, stepped closer to the fence.
"Good morning, Mr. Baggins." he said, a false cheerfulness belied by a nervous tremor in his voice.
Bilbo glanced up briefly and continued weeding. "Good morning," he returned a bit gruffly and waited.
There was some more shuffling and whispering.
"Do you...stay home and take care of it... a lot?"
Bilbo grubbed around the stem of a young rosebush. He almost smiled at
this clumsy attempt at gathering information, but managed to keep a
straight face. "Sometimes. Sometimes I go out." Training his eyes
on the ground in front of his knees, he poked the clover with the tip
of his trowel. Clover certainly grew fast. Good thing it was fairly
easy to pull up. There'd been a lot of chickweed this year too.
"Are you...um... I mean, are you going out anytime soon?"
Bilbo's eyebrows raised. Even the lad seemed to realize this was too
straightforward and blunt; he backtracked trying to amend it.
"Seeing as your garden looks so nice already, I mean. It looks... like, um, you've already done all the work on it."
Not a bad recovery, thought Bilbo. Clumsy, but at least he tried.
"Why, yes." said Bilbo carefully. "I do think I'll be going out soon.
You're right, I'm nearly done here, and should be planning on a nice,
long trip. A few days at least."
"Really?" squeaked Rooty, speaking up next to his big brother. Hatch jabbed him with an elbow. "Ow!"
"That sounds really nice, Mr. Baggins." said Hatch, sounding a bit too forced. "Where will you go?"
Bilbo considered. Yes, there had been more clover than usual, and just
a few of those deep-rooted spiny weeds too. Those were the ones he
really needed to watch out for; the thorny ones that spread slowly.
Much worse than fast-spreading fluff...
"Where will I go? Oh, perhaps to Michel Delving. We'll see." He had
chosen it for its distance and could hear Hatch's muttering as he
figured traveling time on his fingers.
"That would take a long time."
"Not too long. I've been a lot further than that, you know. Perhaps in
a few days, that would be pleasant, wouldn't it? Good day, now." Bilbo,
having planted the seed of rumor in them was ready to send them
off. They would carry their news to Lotho as surely as bees
carrying nectar to their nest, and they would be watching him closely
in the next few days. He was assured they would believe him well
away when he wanted them too.
"Good day! Good day!" said the lads, walking then running down the road
as they forgot to be clandestine in their excitement. They were
off, two arrows from a bow, not even knowing they had been aimed.
He was almost amused for a moment, but considering where they were
going and why, he ripped up the rest of the clover in a sudden spasm of
resentment against Lotho and his plotting. He opened his fist and
looked at the crushed stems and dirt in his hand. No, Frodo would not
be robbed by these....weeds. Bilbo would see to that; his hands
would be on the reins for this jaunt, not theirs. He smiled and wrung
the clover into a juicy wad of greenery. He had pulled it too quickly,
and the much of the root was left behind. Slowly, old fellow, slowly,
he chided himself, time is on your side. Time is on your side. He
grubbed out the roots, and got to his feet.
Gathering the rest of the weeds into a small heap, he heard the Gaffer
came around the side of the Hill. Glancing over at him, he found
the gardener's arms were full of small peat-pots. Bilbo had to smile to
see that they most were primulas. Hamfast said no word, but began
silently pulling up the plants that he had in the other windowboxes,
setting the new ones in place gently. With a set jaw, his silent
disapproval of his Master's gardening decision was obvious - though it
wasn't in him to take it out on the plants.
Bilbo offered no response to the silent, stiff shoulders. He tidied up,
cleaned off his trowel and waited for the commentary to eventually
come. Sure enough, as soon as he reached for the doorknob it bubbled
"You know," the Gaffer said to the plants he was handling. "I'm doin'
my best with 'em, but they're just not very strong, Mr. Baggins. Not
too many blooms left on 'em. You'll have naught but leaves from 'em
The gardener's fingers eased two plants apart and fluffed the roots.
"Now," he told the plant. "I saw some right good fall mums in town,
even better than the ones I've got goin' in the greenhouse. Red,
orange, all kinds. Good an' strong. Bright. I could even put in some
late snapdragons, a spot o' kale. Would look real purty in among the...
Bilbo smiled politely but was careful not to nod.
He opened the door and stepped partway in. "Thank you, Gaffer - they
look very nice. No, I don't think I'll be wanting any other flowers
right now. Oh, and could you send young Samwise to me? I have an errand
that I think would suit him."
Behind him, Hamfast grunted an answer as the door swung shut.
When Sam arrived at the door, he was both curious and mystified to find that Bilbo was sending him
out to gather all of the dry maple-spinners he could find.
"And be sure they're dry ones!"
Sam nodded and scratched at his leg, considering. "Maple-spinners?
But what're you goin' to do with maple-spinners, Mr. Baggins, sir?"
Bilbo put up a hand to still any further questions and looked the lad
straight in the eye. "I just need them. Bring me all you can find, will
you? There's a good lad. No more questions." He patted him on the
shoulder, and got another nod. He watched with a slight smile as the
sturdy lad promptly turned and marched off like some diminutive soldier
out to fill his orders.
Knowing he was thoroughly intrigued, Bilbo was not surprised when
Sam came back again very quickly, his pocket overflowing and more of
the spinners in his hands besides.
Bilbo had him drop them into a pan. "Thank you, Sam - but I'll be
needing more. Much more. Here, see if you can fill this for me, will
"A whole bucket full?" The lad's eyes widened with surprise and he was
obviously bursting with curiosity, but he accepted the small wooden
bucket that Bilbo handed him and spent the rest of the morning until
lunchtime going from maple to maple all around the Hill and the road, gathering them
up. Bilbo was glad of his help, for he still had much to do.
While he waited for the rest of the maple-spinners, he worked on his
Carefully cutting an old leather apron, he pinned it together to form a
slipcover for the lampshade. After he had measured it carefully and
adjusted it, he stood back to admire the effect before carrying it to
He rummaged in his kitchen, pulling out each of his pots and pans and
banging on each one with a small hammer to listen to the tone.
Choosing the two with the deepest sounds, he carried them into the wine
cellar, and laid the hammer with them. Next he went out to the
shed where he selected a length of heavy chain that had come from a
broken wagon brace. Dragging it out from under a hay-tangled heap of
discarded harness bits, he ran his hands over it to pull off the
worst of the hay and dirt. He carried it back to the Hill, past the
sidelong quizzical look from the Gaffer who was working in the
vegetable beds. It joined the lamp in the den, where he
cleared a space and laid it out on the floor.
There was a knock at his door. Brushing off his hands, he padded down
the hall and opened it. Sam stood there with a brimming bucketful of
the little brown whirligigs.
"Here you go, Mr. Baggins, sir. An' if you need more, I found a whole
bunch of 'em down near the Water, just heaps! Though some of 'em are
kinda wet." He handed over the bucket and dug his hands into his
pockets. "I've got some more here, too." he said, pulling them out.
"But they're kinda crunched."
"Thank you, Sam. You did just fine, and yes I'd like the crunched ones too."
Sam emptied his pockets of spinners, putting them into Bilbo's waiting hands. "Um. Mr. Baggins, sir?"
"What are they for?"
Bilbo considered a moment. "Perhaps someday I will tell you. When
you're older," he said. He bent down to Sam's level and whispered "I'm
not sure you're ready for this particular secret."
Sam's voice dropped to a whisper too. He leaned in conspiratorially. "Is it for something magic?"
"Sort of, in a way. That's all I can tell you for now. Trust me." He
smiled and straightened up. "Here's a coin for your help, now off you
go. And don't tell anyone, all right? It's a secret. Shhh."
Sam nodded seriously. "Shhhh." he echoed and tiptoed back toward the door, though obviously unsatisfied with
the answer to his question. He started to obediently turn towards his home, then
looked back. "Will you tell me someday, then? Maybe?" he whispered.
"Perhaps someday." said Bilbo, smiling, and gently shut the door.
Bilbo took the heap of maple spinners to the table, smiling at the
thought of sharing this secret with young Sam. No, his parents would not have
been happy having their son know this particular trick. It was
one Bilbo himself had only learned by eavesdropping on older lads, back
when he was fairly young himself... not very nice lads, either.
He had only used it once himself, and for his efforts had gotten chased
through the fields by an entire group of young tweens, all seriously
bent on giving him a good drubbing.
But it had been worth it, he
grinned to himself.
He spread out some paper on the table, and settled down with a handful
of the little brown whirligigs. Holding them by the wing, he carefully
rubbed them together until the tiny little slivers came off of them. He
dropped the spent ones to the side and picked up more. It was a long
process, but after a time he had a decent little pile of the fine,
brown slivers. He carefully gathered them up into a paper twist and set
about making another little pile of the perfect itching powder.
The doorbell jangled slightly. He opened a book and turned it
upside down over the little brown-golden pile of mangled maple spinner
bits, just in case it was someone who would be coming in. He didn't
want questions. Carefully wiping his hands clean on a damp cloth, he
opened the door. Bobwhite Smallburrow's red-cheeked face greeted
him as he stood on the front step, three small packets in hand.
"Mr. Baggins, Good-day!"
"Good-day, Mr. Smallburrow..."
"I've brought some packets that came for you at the Post. The
Postmaster said you had asked for anything that came in to be brought
right away, but his lads were already out, so I told him I'd be the
extra legs. Here you go."
Bilbo accepted them with a nod and glanced at the markings while making
small talk. He was surprised but gratified they had come so quickly. It
was only three days since he had posted his request. Perhaps the silver
piece added to the letter had helped.
"Much appreciated. How's that family of yours doing, Bob? Haven't seen you around much lately."
"Just fine, Mr. Baggins. I've been a bit busy, you know. We've our
brand new little Smallburrow, all fat and pink and she's got bright
curls just like her mother. My Robin doesn't quite know what to make of
having a sister yet, though the older lads are well enough with
it. He's a handful, that young 'un. Heh. My little cock-robin,
who always wants to grow up faster than he can. Caught him trying to
get into the ale just yesterday, heh heh."
"Glad to hear it. I mean that all is well, not that he's in the ale of
course. Yes, good to hear you're all doing so well." Bilbo said it
heartily, though he had no recollection at all of their expecting
another child and only vaguely recalled the infant boy who was now
referred to as older. He covered it up with pretended
familiarity. Time simply went by much too quickly.
Bobwhite nodded cheerfully. "Well, I won't be keeping you with my
carrying on about my family, you know I can always talk about them,
thank-you-for-inquiring. Perhaps I'll see you at The Dragon? I'm
helping out with odd jobs there now, seein' as my family lives so close
by it. I mean, when you're feeling better, of course. Good-day!"
"Feeling better?" Bilbo raised his brows, then looked down at the
packets in his hand. "Oh. Yes. I'm sure I will be soon. Much better,
thank you. Good-day."
Bob touched his cap and headed down the steps. Bilbo considered the
small packets and their simple mark that indicated they had come from a
healer. He didn't anticipate too much gossip, as he had deliberately
ordered his odd items from a close-mouthed healer clear over in Waymoot
to spare questions from his usual one. He just hoped the order was
He took them to the table, and carefully opened up the first one.
Saltpeter. Yes, and the copper sulfate he had asked for. And the third
one... he peeled it open and poked at the powdery yellow substance
inside, wrinkling his nose. Sulpher. Perfect.
Turning back to the table, he finished packing up the itching powder in
paper twists and carefully wiped down the table. He tossed the bucket
of crumbled spinners into the parlour fire, made up a quick snack of
apples, summer squash and cheese then went back to his work.
Outside he heard the scraping and creaking as the rest of the old
windowbox was pulled away from the smial, followed by various shuffling
and banging noises. He peeked out the window to see the Gaffer,
two brightly whittled wooden pegs sticking out of the side of his mouth
as he carefully fit the sound pieces of wood back together
again. He took one of the pegs out of his mouth, spit the
loose shavings to the side and began tapping it carefully into place.
Nearby, the smaller wheelbarrow stood filled with compost, and several
more of the leafy little flowers he had asked for.
Content that all was proceeding well he went back to his work, though
he surreptiously scootched a stack of books across the table to block
any accidental view from outside. He didn't need questions right now.
Pulling up a chair, he sat and carefully divided the copper sulfate up
on six little papers, stirred in some salt and sulpher then folded them
over and twisted them shut. Fetching a fat handful of old candle
stubs from his stash under the sink, he melted them down in a pan and
carefully dipped each of the packets into the wax, several times.
When he was done he had a small row of oddly-shaped finger-length wax
blobs. Pleased with the result, he set them aside on the
mantelpiece for later.
Outside the scraping and banging had given way to sweeping sounds. The
Gaffer sweeping up the last of the spilled dirt, no doubt. Both Bilbo
and the Gaffer preferred his yard to be neat and tidy. He peeked out
the window again, just in time to see the wheelbarrow being rolled down
to the next windowbox. The broken one was fixed 'right as rain'
as he had said, filled with fresh soil and the flowers of various
colors. Some of them did look a little withered, but at least they were
there, and still blooming.
Taking a small bowl, Bilbo stirred some of the saltpeter and sulpher
together then dissolved the mixture in a bit of hot water. He dipped a
thick cotton twine in it, draping it around his kitchen to
dry. What anyone peeking in would think of it, he didn't know but
he couldn't think of any other way to dry it. Ah well. Let them think
what they liked....
Humming to himself he went down the hall to his room. He went to
a chest with a locked drawer. Fetching the key, he quietly opened
it. The scent of mothballs made him wrinkle his nose. He gently
moved an old travel cloak aside and then lifted a heavy packet of oiled
leather from its hiding place.
Undoing the laces, he gently lifted his
short sword, Sting, from out of its wrappings and considered the shine
of the blade, sharp and deadly as ever.
"Eh, you haven't seen much use of late, have you old friend?"
He turned it in the light, watching the reflection from the window
sliding up and down the blade. Such memories, such memories.... His
hands caressed the hilt. I am sorry to have awakened you from your
sleep, I can see the question in you. But no, we're not off, not yet.
Someday, my old friend, we will see more adventures, you and I.
Someday. But for now, no. I just need a little of your aid if
you'll allow it.
And who would have ever thought you would come to such a use? It's a
bit of a lark, I suppose, for the likes of you. Just a bit of a lark.
Not dishonourable at all.
He considered the neatly folded cloak, and the battered black scabbard
that lay in the drawer, then after a long moment sighed slightly and
shut it again.
It took some jury-rigging and a small bit of leather scrap, but by
working carefully he finally managed to suspend the blade from a length
of strong black button thread in such a way it was at an angle, as if
held. He stepped back and dangled it to examine his handiwork.
Early on in his ownership of his other treasure, he had discovered
whatever he was holding or wearing went invisible with him, but if he
dangled something by string, it would be seen. Sting must be seen. His
thoughts strayed to the Spiders, as they nearly always did when he
considered his wondrous Elf-blade. They had seen its glow of course,
not the sword itself - and, Bilbo chuckled to himself, while Lotho was
rotten he had far, far to go before he would be rotten enough to make
an Elf-blade glow.
He ran the length of thread from the end of the hall up and
over a root that bent conveniently down near the back door, then along the hall. Tying one
end to Sting and the other to a cob of dried corn, to make a handle, he
experimentally pulled on the thread down in the pantry. The sword
lifted and lowered down from the ceiling into the hall on its makeshift pulley and hung there,
rotating, gleaming slowly. Yes, it would do. He pulled it back up
into hiding near the ceiling and anchored the thread.
It was getting late. Singing an old battle song he had picked up from
Dale, he went out to water the new flowers in the windowboxes. It was
turning out to be a very good day. Yes, very good indeed.