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HOME AT LAST
Bilbo opened his eyes and stretched lazily. Did he want to get up now, or did he want to snuggle deeper into his lovely feather bed, and sleep another hour or so? The rumbling of his stomach decided him--it was definitely time for a bit of first breakfast.
How lovely it was to be finally home, and to have his things about him once more! It had taken him nearly three weeks to round up all those possessions of his that had somehow gone into other hands while he was gone. The unpleasantness he had suffered because of his Uncle Longo and his cousin Otho still left a foul taste in his mouth. He had been scandalized to discover that his cousin had married the deplorable Lobelia Bracegirdle while he was gone, in spite of the fact that they were not quite yet of age. He thought that far more outrageous and distasteful than his having gone off on a bit of Adventure.
And the nerve of his uncle, who--probably at the instigation of his Sackville wife Camellia--had rushed to declare him dead, in the hopes of settling young Otho and his bride at Bag End. Well, he had shown them! He was home now, and well settled in. It was time he got his life back to normal.
He put on his dressing gown with satisfaction, and padded off to the kitchen, where he filled the teakettle. Then he cut some bread for toast, and looked out a jar of marmalade, and put a couple of eggs on to boil. One thing that his journeying had taught him was a greater appreciation of all the lovely things he had taken for granted before he left, such as pocket handkerchiefs, dressing gowns, feather beds and tea.
After enjoying a light first breakfast of toast, eggs, bacon, and tea, he went to dress. It was very nice to put on his green and yellow weskit with all its brass buttons intact, even though it was a bit large for him at the moment. But he had no doubt that now he was home and getting his regular six meals a day, that he would soon fill it out properly again.
He slipped into his jacket, and looked in the mirror. He was glad to be once again looking like a proper hobbit. Today he would call on Cousin Fosco, and find out when young Dudo would be resuming his studies. It would be good to see Drogo again as well, although the lad had come of age just before Bilbo left, and was no longer his student. And he wondered if Dora had found a beau yet, and if she were planning to wed soon. After luncheon, he would call on one of his other cousins, Tollo Goodbody, to see when young Taro and Togo would be returning to him. Now that he had some experience of the Outside, he would have so much more that he could be teaching. He thought with glee of the books given him by Lord Elrond before he had left Rivendell on the return journey--soon he would be able to read, write and even converse in Sindarin. But he did not think any of his students would be interested in that. Drogo, now Drogo might have been. But he was no longer a student in any case.
By the time he dressed and then spent some time tidying up his hole, doing a bit of dusting and such, it was time for second breakfast. He had saved a lovely bit of pastry the night before to have for his second breakfast, along with some cheese and fruit. Then he cleaned up the kitchen, wiped down the table, and cheerily went out his door, turning as he did so to give a fond polish to his brass doorknob.
Old Holman Greenhand and his apprentice Hamfast Gamgee were busy in the front garden doing a bit of weeding, and Bilbo stopped for a few moments to discuss the state of the delphiniums, before going down the walk and out the gate in the direction of Hobbiton. This was the first time since his return to call upon any of his relations, and he was quite looking forward to a good hobbity chin-wag, and to catching up on all that had gone on in his absence.
He walked along the roadway jauntily, offering a wave and a greeting to the hobbits he saw in passing. Many of them affected not to see him, but he took no note of it, being in far too good a mood to notice.
He soon found himself at the home of his cousin Fosco. Fosco had a lovely dwelling, not so luxurious as Bag End, of course, part smial, part house, so well designed that one could scarcely tell where the house ended and the smial began. The door was painted a cheerful red, and instead of a knocker, there was a bell-pull to one side. Bilbo rang, and waited patiently.
The door was opened by his cousin Dora, the eldest of Fosco’s three children, and the hostess of his home, as Fosco’s wife Ruby had died a few years ago.
“Cousin Bilbo!” she exclaimed. “What a surprise! Do come in, and I shall tell Papa that you are here!”
“Thank you, Dora. It is good to see you again. How have you been?”
“Tolerably well, cousin. Please, wait here while I go let Papa know.”
Bilbo stepped into the front hall to wait, surprised that she did not simply take him with her to see her father. As he stood, looking about him to see if anything had changed, he heard a voice exclaim “Bilbo! It’s so good to see you!” He turned to see a young hobbit rushing towards him, arms outstretched.
“Drogo, my lad!”
The two hobbits embraced warmly. “I was so glad of your return, Cousin Bilbo! I never believed for one moment the claims of the Sackville-Bagginses that you were dead! But of course, as the nearer kin, their words carried a lot more weight.”
Just then Dora summoned Bilbo to her father’s study. She led him in and then departed.
“Hullo Fosco!” Bilbo greeted his cousin cheerfully.
“Bilbo.” There was a certain coldness to his tone. “Please, take a seat.”
Bilbo sat down and looked at his cousin, puzzled. He and Fosco had been fairly good friends at one time, though Fosco had withdrawn a lot after the death of his wife. But Bilbo could not understand the restraint in his voice.
Still, Bilbo went on with what he’d planned to say. “I was wondering when Dudo would like to begin his studies again.”
Fosco stared at him for a moment. “You were?” he asked flatly.
“Er, yes--he’s not of age yet, and there are still many things--”
“Dudo is studying with his Uncle Rudivar Bolger.”
Fosco sighed. “Bilbo, you can’t have imagined that life would not go on while you were gone? When you left--without a word, I might add, to any of us--we were quite worried. Fortunately that conjurer Gandalf had had a quick word with old Holman, so that we did know you were gone on a journey, and had not been stolen away by those Dwarves. We waited nearly two months for some word of you, but it was important that Dudo finish his studies.”
“Oh.” For the life of him, Bilbo could not think of anything else to say.
Fosco leaned back with a sigh. “I hate to say this, Bilbo, but I cannot see any of the family trusting you with the education of their children after this. Running off like that was completely irresponsible, and the manner of your return was not going to reassure anyone.”
“Oh.” Bilbo’s voice had grown smaller. “I see.” He sat there a moment in silence, and when Fosco did not say anything more, he rose to take his leave. “Well, I shan’t trouble you any further about it.”
He looked so very dejected, that Fosco finally relented enough to say “Still, Bilbo, we are glad to have you home alive and well, and are very happy to know you are not dead.”
“Thank you,” he said, so quietly it was almost a whisper. He turned and left, and Fosco watched him with troubled eyes.
Bilbo left his cousin’s house feeling considerably less cheerful than he had before. Truthfully, he had to admit he could understand what happened. It had been foolish to believe that he could simply take up where he had left off as though nothing had occurred.
He took himself to The Ivy Bush, where it was still a bit too early for elevenses, and treated himself to a beer, with some bread, cheese and pickles. Although this was a treat he had been looking forward to, he now found it all rather tasteless. Then he decided to go on to the Goodbodies’ and see what they had to say.
Cousin Tollo’s wife Columbine was less amiable than Cousin Fosco had been.
“Tollo is not here right now, Bilbo Baggins, but if he were he would tell you exactly what I am saying now: you have a lot of nerve coming back after such disgraceful conduct and expecting us to hand over our impressionable young tweens for you to teach as though nothing had happened! I should hope that we are better parents than to put our children into the hands of an Adventurer! Good day!”
It was a very sad Bilbo Baggins who made his way back up the Hill to Bag End. He had always enjoyed his position in the family. Most of his cousins and uncles had been eager for him to teach their children--he was good at it, and they learned well from him. And it had always been fun to come up with lessons that would challenge each child in just the right way.
But he couldn’t find it in him to regret his journey or his Adventure. He fingered the ring in his pocket. It was not every hobbit who had the opportunity to have his life touched by a bit of magic, or who could say that he had done something of such importance in the Wide World. But clearly there was a price to pay for what he had done, and his reputation and his position as family teacher was obviously the sacrifice he had made.
For the first time since he had recovered his home and belongings, Bilbo felt out of place. Among the Dwarves he had won a measure of respect for things he had accomplished; here at home, it seemed, he had lost any respect he had because of those same things.
He finally decided to go fix himself some tea. It was nearly teatime after all, when there was a knock at the door. He was not sure he wanted to answer. He always feared it would be one or more of the Sackville-Bagginses.
“Drogo, my lad!” Bilbo was glad to see him. “Do come in, come in, join me for tea!”
“I should like that, Cousin Bilbo,” he said, and followed him to the kitchen.
Bilbo bustled about, setting out another cup and saucer and plate, and searching through the larder for some extra treats. He felt very grateful for the young hobbit’s presence. “Do tell me, Drogo,” he said as he put the kettle on, “what has happened while I was gone?”
“Well, as you know, I was in Buckland when you left. I have to confess I felt myself quite envious of you, going off like that. But I do not think I should ever have had the nerve to actually do such a thing.”
Bilbo did not respond to that. It was probably true, as Drogo had no Took in him. “I was very surprised at Cousin Otho’s marriage so young.”
Drogo chuckled. “Well, thanks to you for wangling me the invitation to Brandy Hall, I extended my stay there among the Brandybucks. From what I have been told, Otho pressured his parents into signing for his early marriage as he was afraid that when I returned, Miss Lobelia would once more transfer her affections towards me.” He gave a shudder. “I could not convince either of them that I would rather remain unwed the rest of my days than be shackled to her of all people.”
“And how did you find your stay among the Brandybucks?”
“Well, as you know, Rory and Gilda had a sturdy little lad not long before you left--little Sara is nearly a faunt now, and they have another lad, born just before your return, whom they named ‘Merimac’. Saradas is betrothed to Isembold Took’s granddaughter Miradonna--she’s the daughter of Isembrand and Bluebell.”
Bilbo poured out tea for his guest. “Bluebell? Ah, she was a Bunce, was she not?”
“Yes.” Drogo took an appreciative sip. “Thank you. Let me see, what else? Oh yes, Adalgrim Took’s daughters Primrose and Peridot were visiting almost the whole time I was there. They are as thick as thieves with Mirabella and Gorbadoc’s youngest, Miss Primula.” He said this last looking down at the table, and a light blush infused his cheeks.
Bilbo raised an eyebrow, and chuckled silently. “Miss Primula is a beauty, is she not?”
Drogo glanced up, his face flaming. “She’s merely a child, barely into her tweens, Cousin Bilbo! But she seems to have developed a fancy for me, I can’t think why!”
“Can’t you?” Drogo was not the most dashing or handsome of hobbits, it was true, but he had a very keen intelligence, and his kindness and generosity made him attractive to the lasses.
“At any rate,” said Drogo somewhat glumly, “she is very young, and will probably go through many more infatuations before she comes of age.”
“Perhaps,” said Bilbo, and refrained from pursuing the subject.
“But Bilbo, I would like to hear of *your* Adventure! All the little family doings are no doubt something you wish to catch up on, but I am sure none of them are half so interesting as what happened to you! Surely the tales of you coming home with vast treasures have some little basis in fact.” Drogo looked at him with rapt attention, and something sparked in Bilbo, the wish to tell his Tale to one who wanted to be amazed. “Please, Cousin, tell me how it all happened?”
Bilbo grinned. “Well, you know, it all started one spring morning; I was standing by my door having an after breakfast pipe, when along came Gandalf. Do you know, I actually failed to recognize him at first…”
And so for the first time, but not for the last, Bilbo told his Story.
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