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(Written for the occasion of my own 60th birthday.)
Ten Years After There and Back Again
Bilbo stood on the front step. "Good night, Chop! Thank you for coming!"
His cousin Adalgrim turned and waved; little Esmeralda occupied his other arm. His daughters and wife were already in the waggon, and Periwinkle was eyeing her husband impatiently.
Adalgrim went down the path to the gate, and Bilbo turned to Drogo. "Won't you stay and have a snifter of brandy with Siggy and me?"
"Thank you, no, Bilbo. Dora wants to go check on Dudo; since little Daisy came along Laurel has had less time to attend on her husband. I should escort Dora home and I might as well stay once I'm there."
Bilbo drew his eyebrows together disapprovingly. "Dudo takes advantage of you all. And he runs poor Dora ragged."
Drogo shook his head. "His health really is poor, Bilbo. You know that's true."
"I know that even in poor health your brother does not need to take such advantage of you all. He is not nearly so helpless as he thinks."
Drogo changed the subject. He loved and respected Bilbo very much; he was his favorite older cousin as well as Family Head. But Dudo was his brother and it made him uncomfortable to defend him to Bilbo. "At any rate it is time to take our leave." He hugged his older cousin. "Thank you very much for my gift!" He held up a book bound in grey leather. "I look forward to reading it." He embraced Bilbo briefly. "Happy birthday again, Bilbo!"
Dora came up behind them. "Thank you very much for inviting us, Cousin Bilbo! And thank you for the lovely stationary." She too embraced Bilbo. "Many happy returns! It was a lovely party."
They started to leave, and then Drogo turned. "By the way," he said, "do you know when the Brandybucks will be leaving Hobbiton?"
"Uncle Gorbadoc means to herd his clan east after elevenses tomorrow. I am sure you can catch Primula at The Ivy Bush in the morning if you wish to farewell her." There were far too many Brandybucks for Bilbo to host them all at Bag End. And most of his Took relations had not stayed over.
Dora tugged on her brother's arm. "Come along, Drogo!"
As the green door closed behind them, Bilbo turned to his study and the Took relation who had stayed over. Sigismond and Malva and their children had actually come a few days early; Bilbo had enjoyed having little Rosamunda and Ferdinand about. They loved his stories and their childish laughter was nice to have around the hole. But they too, would be heading back to the Great Smials in the morning.
Siggy was ensconced in one of the armchairs by the hearth, thumbing through a book when Bilbo entered.
"Myrtle went to check on the children, and then she plans to retire for the night. So it is just the two of us again."
Bilbo smiled and went to the cabinet near the study door and took out a little key. Normally it was not kept locked, but with children in the hole it seemed a wise precaution-- especially today when there had been so much running in and out and so many children and tweens. "Care for a snifter of brandy? Buckland's finest apple brandy-- Uncle Gorbadoc's gift for me this year."
Siggy laughed. "I noticed that you gave him a bottle of Old Winyards."
"Tit for tat," Bilbo chuckled, as he poured the brandy into two snifters. He crossed the room and handed a snifter to Siggy as he took the armchair across from his cousin. He raised the glass. "To sixty!"
"To sixty!" responded Siggy, as they sipped to the toast. "Now we are both the same again. But I am still the older!"
"By a month!" Bilbo laughed. When they had been children, that month had loomed much larger in their minds than it did now, and was sometimes the subject of childhood arguments when Siggy attempted to assert his authority as the "older" cousin.
"Looks like more than a month now," said Siggy, studying his cousin's face closely. "You look a lot younger than I do."
Bilbo chuckled. "I don't think so, Siggy! Or if I do, it's the bachelor life. I don't have a wife and children to give me grey hairs."
Siggy smiled. "Perhaps that's it. Or perhaps it was your Adventuring that's kept you young."
"You know, I will never understand why Gandalf chose me for his burglar. I am quite sure one of you Tooks would have been a much better choice."
"My father may have been a Took, but my mother was a Bunce, who can be every bit as er, well..."
"Stodgy?" Bilbo said with an arch of his brow.
"Conventional. Yes, as conventional as the Bagginses. But the Bilbo I remember was every bit as adventurous and curious as those of us who had the Took surname! Remember the time we helped Chop steal Gandalf's fireworks? Or the time we went to the Woody End with little Rory to search for Elves?"
"Or the time the two of us tried to knock out all our teeth in order to collect farthings for them?"
Siggy stifled a guffaw. "I will never forget the look on your father's face when he finally understood what we were doing!" There was a brief silence as the cousins enjoyed their brandies and their pipes. Finally, Siggy said, "What happened, Bilbo? You became so serious and set in your ways. We were all completely shocked when you took off with those Dwarves and Gandalf."
Bilbo was quiet for a moment. "You know why I became so serious."
"The Fell Winter," said Siggy. "It was hard on all of us."
"But you were in the Great Smials. You had plenty of other people to help one another with the difficulties. We were on our own here, and it was a very solemn time. Afterwards, I decided to put my childhood behind."
"But then Gandalf came along..." Siggy prompted. "You know, we were all so worried about you. But I will never forget the look on Longo's face-- or Otho's for that matter-- when you came back right in the middle of things! And Lobelia! My word! Her eyes were fairly bulging out of her face!"
Bilbo laughed. "It's funny now, thinking back, but it wasn't funny then! All I had been looking forward to was a nice rest in my own hole. To come back and find that Bag End was being auctioned off bit by bit, with my hole destined to fall into young Otho's hands was almost more than I could bear!"
They sat in companionable silence for a while, smoking their pipes simply relaxing together. Bilbo looked at Siggy and wondered-- he had not thought of it before, but his cousin was right. Sixty was scarcely middle-aged, yet he saw more lines of worry on Siggy's face than his own. And he recalled earlier in the evening Rory Brandybuck's comment that the two of them looked much the same age. Perhaps, he thought, I will be one of those 'well-preserved' hobbits who excite so much envy among their contemporaries. He was not sure if it was a compliment or not; thinking about it left him unsettled.
Siggy studied Bilbo's face, and thought how little it had changed outwardly-- and yet he could see a much more profound change in his closest friend. The Tookish sense of mischief and curiosity that had been nearly snuffed out of Bilbo by the trials of the Fell Winter had returned; there was once more a twinkle in his eye that Siggy had sorely missed. And yet in other ways he was more solemn and serious even than he had been before he left, concerning himself with ancient histories and questioning traditions that had long been unquestioned in the Shire. He was more learned than he had been-- although always of a scholarly bent as had been his father before him, he studied things that weren't really considered any of a hobbit's business, and spoke of strange ideas, such as the notion that something of a hobbit lived on after death, as a person, and not merely in the memory of his loved ones.
Every now and then, Siggy would get the notion that perhaps his cousin might take off into the blue again one of these days. But, no, Bilbo seemed far too happy now as Master of Bag End. Surely one Adventure was enough for a lifetime.
"Well, I am going to take my rest, now, Bilbo." Siggy rose and Bilbo did, too. "I am sure that Malva will want to get an early start home. The children get fractious when they are away from home too long, you know!"
"I will see you in the morning, then," said Bilbo.
And as Siggy made his way to his guest room, Bilbo went to check the locks and bank the fires. It had been a long day.
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