Nothing of Note
Chapter 62: Aftermath
Early the following morning peering down at his plate, the thought of
eggs for breakfast was enough to make Bilbo lose his appetite. The
pervasive smell of sulpher still seemed to be everywhere in spite of
his having opened the windows in the night to aired it all out as best
he could. He hoped the stink would dissipate soon. He set the eggs
aside and reached for his plate of muffins instead. He frowned over
them as he ate - even his jam seemed to have the lingering flavour of
rotten eggs. How did dragons ever live with their own stink? They must
Still, in spite of the aftermath and a shortened night of sleep, he had
enjoyed a generous helping of satisfaction - yes, very generous - and
that must count for something. He smiled; how he had enjoyed watching
Lotho limping down the road! Yes, all the fuss and bother had been well
worth it, truly it had been. He brushed a few crumbs from the
table and dabbed his finger into a bit of spilled jam, licking it off
his finger as he set about cleaning up all the papers and mess that yet
littered his home.
He bent to gather up a stack of letters that had slipped across the
floor and wondered to himself as he tapped them, methodically
straightening their corners; How long would it be before Lotho
discovered that his hard-won paper was a fake? Or would he? Would
he really keep it to himself, or would it end up in other hands? He
tapped the edges of the letters a hard final rap and tied a ribbon
around them before realizing that they were the garbage letters he had
put out as props. He pulled the ribbon back off and dropped them in the
He didn't really think Lotho would pass it around; to do so would be to
have to explain how he came by it. And besides, the tween was haughty
enough to think himself very clever, therefore he would assume it was
real... hm. Still, it would stand a bit of watching, to see.
He cleaned out the fireplaces quite thoroughly and gave everything a
good sweeping, then went to the hall and gently lowered his blade to
restore it to its proper place. The cool metal seemed to fit in his
hand so well.
"Well, old fellow, what a time that was, eh? Not that frightening young
riffraff is your type of work, but I appreciated it all the
same." He smoothed a finger along the coolness of the hilt, just
feeling the familiar weight and balance of it for a few moments, then
shook himself out of his reverie and lovingly wrapped it up, lacing it
tight and snugging it into its place with the old, faded cloak.
With a silent farewell, as a parent might give to their sleeping child, he slid the drawer shut and locked it.
As he was placing his red lamp back into its accustomed place and
opening shutters he noticed the light growing outside the window. The
morning really was moving on apace - he best get going on the last part
of his plan before it grew too late. Leaving the shutters half
opened, he quickly went down the hall to retrieve his pack from where
he had dropped it the previous night. Slipping it on, he grabbed up his
hat and walking stick. If he hurried, he would still have plenty of
time to get around the far fields and come in from the other side of
town before there were many folk about on the roads.
He stuffed a bit of spending money in his coat pocket and headed for
the back door, but stopped with is hand on the knob as he remembered
the itching powder. A close call; he had almost been caught in his own
trap. He trotted back to the kitchen for a wet rag that he could
carefully wipe it all up with, and that accomplished, tossed it aside
to head out into the morning. Even though he knew he hadn't got
any of it on him, he itched for a while just thinking about it.
He scratched the phantom itch on his shoulder, then his side, then his
leg... it seemed to keep moving.
Keeping moving was one of his goals, of course, but he was thinking of
his feet rather than itches. He scratched a couple more times then
forgot about it as he cut through the back ways rapidly as he could,
ducking through two orchards and climbing a short fence to reach the
far end of the main track without being seen. Puffing slightly, he
lightly jogged along a long hedge, crossed another dew-wet field and
finally rejoined the path as it curved back towards Hobbiton proper
from the east.
He paused to mop his reddened brow with his handkerchief and to catch
his breath. There. Now he could be seen. He began walking at a
more typical pace for any passer-by to witness. Passing a
watering trough, he dabbled his fingers in the mud at the edge of it
and lightly spattered his own breeches and the edges of his coat.
Wouldn't do to be too clean if he had been traveling, after all...
Hoping to attract some small notice, he struck up a cheery walking
tune, whistling and singing as he went lest the few folk up and about
should miss him. He knew there was a home coming up just past
this hedge. Ah yes, he imagined them telling their friends, I
saw old Bilbo Baggins just this morning. Looks like he's been off on
another one of his journeys again, he was just coming back....
He came out of his self-congratulatory reverie as he rounded the hedge
to find a fat ewe curiously staring at him from her picket in the
neatly kept yard. She took a bite of the tall weeds she was
apparently there to chew down and ground them placidly in her teeth. No
hobbits were anywhere to be seen. He paused and glanced
around. Just when he needed an audience... Well, there would be
plenty of others as he came in towards the market. He nodded to the
sheep, who dribbled weed-juice without comment, and continued on.
Humming and swinging his walking stick he made a point of greeting
anyone he saw, even when it was only small children, or in one case
just someone's backside sticking out of an overgrown bush they were
trimming. The sun was rising up towards the treetops by the time
he reached the market square and it was already busy. He had figured it
would be, though it wasn't a major marketing day; the local vendors and
farmers had their customary stalls set up, overflowing as they were
with the harvest-time produce. Most were watched over by
whichever family member they could most spare from the farm
chores. Harvest time was always busy.
Entering from the east, Bilbo decided to make a point of purchasing
something from one of the first stalls he came to, which happened to be
"Fine day for traveling, isn't it?" he commented to the sandy-haired
fat-faced hobbit who remarkably resembled one of his own wares.
"Eh?" he replied. "Traveling? No further than I have to. Fine cheese
this, good choice. Let me get your change for you... No, wouldn't want
to go a-walkin' any more, these cheeses are heavy enough...
"Yes, I suppose they are. Good thing you didn't have to carry them
clear from Michel Delving! It's quite a distance, I can tell you. Well,
good-day." Bilbo took his change and the small round cheese he had
purchased and began weaving his way through the various folk, very
slowly progressing back towards his home, greeting and making small
talk as he went.
He had just chosen three small but firm cucumbers when he heard one of the voices he had been surreptitiously listening for.
He smiled at the hobbit-lady who was meticulously wiping the garden
soil from the rest of her cucumbers with a bit of sacking, restacking
them as if they were fine china, all the while tracking the voices
behind him. "Fine day for traveling, but how glad I will be to be
home," he said to her as she took his coin. "I'm sure these cucumbers
will taste extra good after a long walk." She nodded at him
somewhat bemused, and turned to help another customer as he tucked them
in his large coat pocket Bilbo glanced around casually trying to
see where they were....
Ah. There. Both of the Grubb boys and their mother, Opal, too. Very good.
He studied them for a moment. They all looked very tired, as if they
hadn't had nearly enough sleep, the boys especially. He wondered why
the boys were dressed as they were, their clothing appeared far too big
for them, belted around their waists and draping from their shoulders
voluminously. Young Rooty was tripping over the hem of his breeches as
they caught on his toes. Their hair appeared to be strangely matted
As he approached them the lad's eyes grew wide. One went pale, the
other blushed a bright red and both of them shied away from him,
"Eeeya." squeaked Rooty and half-turned as if he would have began to
run, then stopped and hid behind his brother instead. Hatch was little
comfort or cover for him as he himself was busy trying to hide behind
Opal was uncomprehending of their strange behavior and was quick to
smack the nearest one a slap on the shoulder, a hen pecking her chick
back into line. "Mind your manners!" she whispered and turned to Bilbo.
He nodded to her. "Good morning, Mrs. Grubb."
"Good morning - I'm so sorry, Mr. Baggins, I don't know what's gotten
into them. And here they've already been grounded - they're having to
spend the entire day with me where I can keep an eye on them after they
ran off to gracious-knows-where last night, right when we had dinner
guests too, and then the come into my clean house hollering that
they're being eaten by bugs! Bugs!
Can you imagine! What are my guests going to think of me as a
housekeeper or a mother, if my children are ridden with fleas or lice
or gracious-knows-what! Ach! So what am I to do with them?"
"I don't know," said Bilbo mildly. "What did you do with them?"
"Why, I had a houseful of guests and a dinner to tend, Mr. Baggins, I
didn't do a thing! I gave them over to Mr. Grubb to deal with, of
course, they're his sons,
after all, and sometimes just as worthless around the house, I say.
Gracious! And the hollering we all heard coming from that bathing-house
after he got them in there, such a racket, you'd think he was killing
them, and that before he'd even given them a strapping."
The boys hung their heads, their ears burning red at their mother
gossiping about them out in the square this way. Bilbo almost would
have felt sorry for them if he hadn't been enjoying their fate so much.
He hoped they would at least think twice before ever following someone
into burglary again.
"Well, they do look nice and clean this morning, Mrs. Grubb. Positively glowing with cleanliness."
She glanced over her sons critically. "They should, nigh on had their
hides scrubbed off. Kept us all up late enough with the hollering and
splashing and then having to air out their bedding and wash their
clothes and all. I doused both of them good with mayonnaise in their
hair too, to get rid of it. And nightmares too! And then we had to find
clothes for them to wear to market this morning, with their own all
still being wet and all. Good thing Mr.Grubb had plenty of extras.
Where would they go picking up lice and such like that, I'd like to
Bilbo met Hatch's eyes. "Oh, you never know. A louse can be a
persistent nuisance, Mrs. Grubb, you never know where you might find
one, especially the larger varieties." He looked back up at their
mother. "I do hope the rest of your day goes better."
"Well, it should, I should hope to shout. Kind of you to say so, Mr.
Baggins..." her thoughts came away from her own troubles long enough to
take in his own mud-spattered coat. "Oh, have you been away? I didn't
"Just a bit of a jaunt, before the season gets colder you know. It's
been fine traveling weather and I didn't want to let the opportunity go
"Really! Well, I'd love to hear about it..."
"Oh, nothing happening that's worthy of note, no, nothing of note
really. I can see you have your hands full with your family obligations
right now, so I'll bid you a Good-day, Mrs. Grubb," he said politely,
and left them with a smile.
He continued on past a lad hawking birdhouses made from hollow gourds,
dodged around a small wagon of corn and another of squash. He had just
about given up on the idea of finding out Lotho's fate when Otho
Sackville-Baggins came around the wagon's end, several of the small
yellow squash balanced in his hands, as well as a basket of pears on
one arm and a bunch of onions tucked under his other. Bilbo perked up
more than he normally would have at the sight of them and watched with
interest as Lotho trailed in behind.
Like the Grubbs, Lotho appeared to have slept very little. he had an
untidy, rumpled look and his father wore a frown deeper than his usual
day-to-day one. Otho's arms were filled, but Bilbo noted that he didn't
use his son as a packhorse as was his usual habit. In fact, he didn't
even speak to him.
Lotho limped along behind with a loose shirt, his hair matted down, his
bright red hands and legs thoroughly smeared with his mother's home
remedy, his ankle bound in strips that appeared to have once been one
of Lobelia's aprons. He scratched feebly. Bilbo remembered Offal's
comment that it was a remedy a person wouldn't want to smell, and as he
came nearer he had to agree. It had to have some sort of fish oil in it
to be quite that rank - and the crushed seeds and cucumber bits in it
made it look exceptionally grotesque. Gnats circled the unfortunate
tween, attracted to the scent and he waved his arms ineffectively at
them. Neither of the relatives appeared to be in a mood to visit even
if Bilbo had been one they normally would converse with - but he had
seen enough to be content for now.
Well, perhaps one small jab. He walked up to them where they stood by the squash wagon.
"Good morning, Otho. Fine idea, squash. Must be a good price. I've been walking so long I'm famished, so everything looks good."
Otho grunted a greeting at him. "What do you care what price they are?" he said, scowling slightly. He turned away.
This being de rigeur for Otho,
Bilbo was unfazed. He stepped past them and picked up a squash,
pretending to examine it, then glanced at Lotho as if just noticing him
for the first time.
"Good heavens. Whatever happened to you?" he asked him.
He had to give credit to Lotho for keeping his face fairly unreadable.
There was a scowl and a twitch, but little else to show what he was
thinking. "Nothing my real family can't cure." he replied, "We can't afford fancy doctors, after all, but my mother...."
"Hush up." cut in Otho.
Lotho went silent, but managed to look briefly gloating and frightened
at the same time., stemming any further contemptuous replies. Ah,
thought Bilbo, he's shaken, but he still thinks his prize is real
"Well. I do hope you recover soon; no doubt Lobelia's doctoring is exactly what you need. Good day."
Turning back to the waiting farmer's wife who had been trying to appear
uninterested in this exchange, he chose two long yellow summer squash
and tucked them under his arm. He didn't really need any; his own
gardens were overflowing with vegetables but it seemed the right thing
to do after walking right up this way. "Thank you, they look very
nice." he told her politely.
He found himself toying with the notion of following Lotho as he
trailed back the other way with his father, or going by the S-B's home
itself but decided it would be much too unusual to go without comment.
Since when did he go calling on Lobelia? He took his change and
turned to the Hill once more.
Smiling suddenly at the memory of Lotho's frantic nighttime
departure, he paused on the fringe of the market to purchase a pair of
well-dressed hens as an accompaniment for the battered onions that he
had used the previous evening. Some onion and sage stuffing would be
just the ticket. Would go well with his squash too. All it took
was the right ingredients to make a pleasant thought.
His arms full, he headed home and cheerfully took himself straight to
his kitchen. The chickens were stuffed and set to roasting for dinner,
and the squash sliced up and layered with butter and pepper, ready to
bake. He had began wiping down the kitchen when he noticed the
breadbox Louey had pilfered the night before and realized he needed to
give thought to getting the rest of the cleaning done before someone...
The doorbell jangled politely.
He quickly whipped away the towel he had tucked in his shirt to keep
his weskit clean. Who could it be? Hopefully only a delivery - he
wasn't ready for company yet.
"Just a minute. Coming!" he said as he shot his wet rag straight across
the kitchen into the basin and trotted for the door. It better not be
Otho... or the Gaffer. He wasn't sure what he was going to say about
that windowbox yet... He opened it.
The lawyer, Mr. Egnog Banks, stood at his door. His brown coat, shiny
pocketwatch chain and brown waistcoat, topped with a perfectly matching
brown hat made Bilbo suddenly feel very untidy.
"Mr. Banks! Good morning..." he fumbled, he could feel his cheeks growing warm.
The lawyer removed his hat. "I came as soon as I could, once I received your, hm, letter Mr. Baggins." he said. "May I come in?"
"Oh, of course, of course! Come right in. Please, let me hang up your
hat and coat. Have a seat. I'll have tea on in a just a moment."
Mr. Banks stepped in over the rumpled floor mat and looked askance at
the papers that still lay scattered about the parlour, the damp rag
that had wiped up the itching powder laying on the floor where Bilbo
had dropped it that morning. He sniffed slightly and wrinkled his nose
but made no comment. Going to the parlour as indicated, he pulled out a
seat, wordlessly removed a large pinecone from it and sat down to wait.
In his business it was often wisest to simply hold his tongue.
Confidentiality was part of what made his profession successful.
Bilbo, who had just swung the kettle over the fire to heat, winced
slightly to himself. He had forgotten about the pinecone, which he had
placed there on the off-chance Lotho might have a seat; he was quite
grateful that Mr. Banks had not ended up sitting on it instead. He
fetched down a pair of mugs, a small plate of soft butter and a basket
of rolls then seated himself across from his waiting caller.
"I apologize for the disarray. But I am very pleased to see you."
"Hm. Pleased to be of service, Mr. Baggins. How can I be of help?"