Nothing of Note

by Primula

Chapter 63: Descendants

Mr. Egnog Banks sat at the table and looked at him with a placid expectation that reminded Bilbo strangely of the sheep he had recently seen.  Bilbo took a roll and buttered it to gain a moment to gather his thoughts, then passed the basket of rolls to his guest.

"Well. You remember that will we had drawn up recently...?"

"Of course. It's been filed. Has there been a change to it already?"

"No, no change... not really. Though I might want something like an... addition, er, amendment. I just have a few questions, if you don't mind."

"Yes?"

"What would happen in this paper, this will we've gotten all done up and signed and such, what if it were 'lost'?"

Mr. Banks set his roll down and steepled his fingers over it. "We would have another copy drawn up from the one filed in Michel Delving. It has been known to happen. Has it been, hm, lost?"

"No, no... Yes, I understand about the copy being drawn up, but let's say that copy in Michel Delving, that it were also lost?"

"A highly unlikely event, Mr. Baggins...."
"But if it were?"

The lawyer furrowed his brow thoughtfully. "I suppose if we are to entertain the notion, for a moment, though I assure you it would be most irregular..."

"Irregular, yes, but not impossible. Well?"

The lawyer's steeple folded inward, cupping the roll in his well-scrubbed fingertips. "The next step would be to call upon the witnesses that you had sign it, to testify to its original content."

Bilbo got up to fetch the teakettle and scooped some tea into the hot water. He replaced the lid, and set it on the table to steep.  "And, just bear with me now, for no doubt you will also think this idea highly irregular as you say, what if the witnesses were kept from testifying in some way?"

Egnog took a neat bite, then added more butter. "By illness, or inclement weather you mean?"

"Or even by intimidation, perhaps?"

Egnog's brow furrowed anew and he paused in chewing. He pursed his lips with distaste at the thought of such a thing but then swallowed and reluctantly answered. "If there were no copies, and no witnesses, and it came under contest, the default, that is, the next in line to inherit would be re-engaged."

"You mean it could kick back in, in spite of everything that was done before?"

"It would be an uphill battle, but it is possible if those contesting it..."

"The next of kin, you mean."

"Well, yes. If they were to prove the witnesses faulty in some way... I really don't understand this line of questioning, Mr. Baggins. I assure you that..."

"...Nothing like that would ever happen in the Shire. I know. But it is not outside the realm of possibility, and that is what I want to find out."

 Mr. Banks sighed slightly. "I concur, it is not outside the realm of, ehm, possibility as you say. But you had several witnesses..."

"Yes. I did." Bilbo waved his hand impatiently. "Now - another question for you. Let's assume the Will is fine, everything is sailing along like a duck on an spring day. Let's say I'm gone, and Frodo is living here. But then some...accident happens. Something that creates a situation in which he cannot care for Bag End, and has to... leave or something." Bilbo poured out the tea.

"I don't think..."

"Please humor me, Mr. Banks. I know you find this unlikely, but what would happen?"

The lawyer shifted in his chair uncomfortably and sipped the steaming tea as he thought. "If he were completely unable to make use of the inheritance, it would revert to the default descendants."

"My next-of-kin?"

"Er, yes."

"So," said Bilbo clanking the lid back onto the teapot. "What would fix that? Isn't there any way to make it so no matter what, the inheritance does not go to them?" He sat back and crossed his arms, waiting for an answer. He simply would not accept there was no way to keep it permanently away from them.  There had to be one...

"Ahem. Erm." said Mr. Banks, nibbling at his roll. He tapped his fingers on the table, then ran them over his lapel, tugging it straight. "The only stipulation I can think of, Mr. Baggins, would be if there were another descendant. A legitimate heir that is closer in relation to yourself, closer than Mr. Otho Sackville-Baggins and his family are. Perhaps," and here the lawyer offered a rare jesting smile, "you ought to take a wife."

Bilbo shook his head. "I know you mean that in jest, sir, but I am quite serious. If I had a proper descendant, a child then, that's the only way around it?"  He bit his lip thoughtfully for a moment. "Would it have to be a son?"

Egnog's eyebrows raised up, scrunching his forehead into several lines. "Well, eh, er, yes, a son would come first. But please don't think that I was really suggesting...."

Bilbo interrupted him, again impatiently waving the apology away. "And if something happened to that... son?" He felt his insides clenching up at the thought. "What then?"

"If a son were, erm, disabled, it would er, go to the son's heir."

"The son's heir? Not my heir?"

"Well, yes - it would by necessity begin following a, ehm, different branch of your family tree, if you will..."

Bilbo pounced on it . "Then that's the way out!"

"Eh?" The lawyer was so startled he fumbled his half-eaten roll into his lap.

"I am too old to take a wife, even if I wanted to, which I most certainly don't.  I have no children. What next? How can I procure a child without it being my own natural descendant?"

Egnog looked at him as one might a raving sleepwalker they didn't want to wake. "Well," he said, then started again. "Well, if it is not too forward to suggest it, there is legal adoption... Yes, legal adoption of a child. But they would have to have no family of their own, of course..."

Bilbo spoke carefully and clearly,  leaning forward for emphasis. "So, if I were to choose a child who was in need of a home, who had no parents of his own, and legally adopted him as a son, he would be considered my descendant?"

"Inasmuch as inheritances go, yes. I cannot say how others might see it..."

"Their opinions don't matter.  Mine does. How old would the child need to be?" Bilbo hadn't realized how intense he was getting, or that he was now half over the table, all but poking the lawyer's lapel with a forefinger.  Inwardly he was scrambling about, his thoughts in a whirl. If he could find a suitable child, he could make Frodo the legal warden of the child, and then Frodo could live in Bag End, he would have to to raise his ward, but that would take several years....

Egnog frowned slightly at the pointing finger and unobtrusively leaned away. "The law doesn't specify an age, though they are usually quite young of course."

"No age is specified?"

"No, Mr. Baggins."

Bilbo's hands fell to his side and then lifted to rumple and tug at his own hair. He felt as if a lamp had been lit, an idea seen clearly for the first time.  Why have Frodo raise the child, if he could be the "child"?

"Could the child be any age at all then, even older? Any age at all, a grown hobbit?"

The lawyer chuckled at this. "I suppose so. Yes you could even adopt a grown hobbit if you wanted to, though it is usual to want your children to at least be younger than yourself, haha..." He sobered slightly realizing that Bilbo was dead serious about it. "But younger is recommended, so they will live enough longer than you to make it worth your while."

"Younger than myself." said Bilbo, more to himself than his guest.

"Then the health of the heir, or the location of the Will would not be as much a factor - an adopted child, or, ehm, grown hobbit, would inherit the worldly estate no matter what."

Bilbo was still slightly overwhelmed by his own thoughts. "How about a tween?"

"Certainly," said the lawyer, enunciating very carefully. "Any age. I take it you have someone in mind?"

"Well, yes.  Yes, of course, the lad we drew up the Will for in the first place. But I assume the 'child' has to give permission. They can't be adopted against their will can they?"

Egnog relaxed, and picked up his forgotten roll, once more on familiar ground. He gestured with it. "When they are very young, their nearest relative gives permission. If they haven't any they are taken into the care of the head of their Farthing. I would think a tween would certainly be old enough to choose for himself."

"Yes..."

"It would mean changing his family name to be the same as yours, though. Perhaps he wouldn't want to do that...".

Bilbo just smiled and took a drink of his tea.

"There would need to be more papers drawn up, of course. There are a few fees, and more witnesses..." The lawyer trailed off with an unspoken question.

Bilbo nodded.  "No matter what the cost, or the number of papers. I just need to find some way to make this secure. I engage your most competent and useful services once more, Mr. Banks, if you accept. It appears I am going to have a child, and at my age that is quite a bit of news, eh? " He grinned suddenly. "Let me top off that mug for you. I suddenly feel like a celebration should be in order! Tell me what needs to be done."


The rolls were gone and the tea-pot empty before he was able to see his visitor to the door.  Lawmaking was harder work than he had first thought, and he waved a grateful farewell to the lawyer as he went his way.

He shut the door and then leaned back upon it with a great breath of relief. 

Adoption.

Frodo being seen as his child? It was a strange thought, and he still couldn't quite wrap his thoughts around it. Would he be considered Frodo's father then?  He rejected it outright. No. Himself as a father - no, that simply would not do. He wasn't anyone's father, in fact he did not consider himself to be fatherly at all. Maybe more like an uncle, an uncle for his young cousin.  A very old uncle. Yes, he knew how to be an uncle, if an eccentric one. Perhaps that would be all right. It suited him a little better, he shrugged his shoulders self-consciously as if feeling the fit of a jacket. A friend, a mentor, an uncle.

Yes, that he could do.