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Written for the LOTR Community The Hobbit 75th Anniversary Celebration. For SpeedyHobbit for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter, with my profound thanks.
"Dark for dark business. There are many hours before dawn." "An Unexpected Party," The Hobbit.
Dark for Dark Business
Hamfast Gamgee sat at one of the tables near the stack of ale barrels, a large mug recently filled from one of them in his hand, watching the festivities about him with eyes somewhat brightened by the ample food and drink he’d enjoyed. In all of his seventy-five years he didn’t think he’d seen any party quite like this one! Ah, but it had been quite the day, he had to admit to himself. Old Mr. Bilbo was eleventy-one now. Just imagine—eleventy-one years old, not that he looked a day past sixty in the Gaffer’s eyes. Hard to imagine that his Master had come of age before Hamfast himself had gotten out of nappies, not even considered a proper faunt yet!
Somehow the thought of that fact gave the old fellow pause. Gaffer Gamgee gave a shiver and took an ample swallow from his mug. Perhaps it would be better to put that observation behind him—well behind him!
Well, today young Master Frodo came of age himself, and that was a good thing. Hamfast’s own son would serve a good Master, one who was thoughtful, considerate, and perhaps one of the most responsible of Hobbits the Gaffer had seen in a month of Sundays. Sam would certainly never have to even consider working for those awful Sackville-Bagginses, thank the stars! No one should ever have to consider doing that! And tonight his Sam was sitting in the family pavilion, seeing to the serving of the meal and keeping an eye on things. The family Steward, old Mr. Bilbo had called him. Something mighty important, to be the Steward, or so the Gaffer understood it to be. An honor, a great honor. And his Sam had it all written down, what to do, when to do it. He’d be telling other Hobbits what to do and how to do it so that the Masters’ family was all fed and kept happy. Hamfast shook his head at the thought of it. If only his Bell could have been there to see their Sam all dressed up almost as fine as the Young Master himself, ordering others in the serving of the family supper.
And tonight the Gamgees didn’t have to serve nobody themselves—they were honored guests, they were, just as much so as old Flourdumpling himself, or any Brandybuck or Took! He smiled up at the Boffin lass who came by with a pitcher of ale and topped up his drink, and accepted another pheasant pasty from Mags Broadbelt from the Ivy Bush. Nobody in the Shire made a better pheasant pasty than Missus Mags, and that was certain!
He sipped at the ale, and thought of trying some of the wine as well. He’d never been much for wine, that being considered more proper for them of the gentry, after all. But tonight he felt almost like one of the gentry himself, and he just might try some on principle. Certainly both old Mr. Bilbo and young Master Frodo appeared to enjoy it well enough. Might it make him try something unusual, something like quoting poetry as those two tended to do? He laughed to himself at the thought of it. But it would be acceptable to try wine tonight of all nights, on this day when he was the guest rather than the employee. He took a bite of his pasty and waved a hand at the young fellow who walked about with a pitcher of wine and a tray of goblets. “Let me try some o’ that,” he said.
Ah, he wasn’t certain about the taste, although he figured he could, given time, grow accustomed to it. Still, the wine made him feel particularly warm inside, warm and expansive. Yes, he could come to appreciate wine as much as a good beer or fine ale! The warmth offered by the wine reminded him, somehow, of the fireworks he’d seen earlier in the evening.
Now, those fireworks—they were truly something! They were something to remember for years, something to tell his grandchildren about. True, his Hamson’s two children had seen them, too, although they weren’t more than a faunt and a bairn in arms; but so far there were no others, and he was certain Half, Daisy, May, Sam, and Goldy would all have quite the passle of little ones amongst them one day, and he would be able describe those glorious fireworks for them at length. He imagined just how wide their eyes would be when he described how that dragon firework had burst into sparkles over the Water with such a flash and a bang----
Everyone in the Party Field jumped, their eyes swiveling to the pavilion where Bilbo and Frodo’s chosen relatives had gathered for the family feast, all aware that that final flash and bang had happened there within the tent, apparently right under the boughs of the great oak that grew there. From within the tent they heard a growing babble of voices in an increasing tide of dismay and shock. There were cries of fear and of outrage to be heard, and strident demands for explanations.
The tent flaps at one of the side entrances blew outward, apparently driven by the winds of anger that had begun to blow within the canvas walls. The Gaffer’s fascinated eyes were fixed upon it with astonishment, wondering just what kind of trick his Master might have played on his kindred. From the sounds of it, most of them didn’t find it particularly funny, although it must have been eminently diverting.
“Ah, Hamfast, my good fellow—there you are!”
Old Mr. Bilbo’s voice could be heard beside him, although how the old Hobbit might have managed to get behind him and creep upon him unseen Hamfast Gamgee couldn’t begin to imagine.
Bilbo’s voice continued, “Well, that’s given them all something to remember me by if anything could. Well, as the Dwarves said so long ago, Dark for dark business. There are many hours before dawn. I must away and quickly, for I intend to be halfway to Buckland before the Sun comes up!”
The Gaffer looked over, hoping to catch his Master’s eyes, but realized that he could see no one there. Was this what wine did—make one seem to hear the voices of those who weren’t really there after all? He seemed to feel a pat on his shoulder such as Mr. Bilbo had been wont to give him from time to time, and then there was nothing there at all, no more feeling of the presence of Bilbo Baggins.
Almost immediately the main flaps of the family tent parted as the first guests came stomping out led by Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, and Hamfast could see her stowing some of the pewter forks and spoons used at the dinner into her reticule as she complained shrilly to her husband and lout of a son as to the insult given them all by Bilbo Baggins that night. She was followed closely by some of the more snooty of the Sackvilles and Bracegirdles, and then the Thain and his party. Probably a good thing that Missus Lalia hadn’t come with her son that evening, the Gaffer thought wryly. Whatever his Master had done, it had them right upset! He looked up toward the door of Bag End and could see that Wizard Gandalf opening it and going inside while the wicket gate at the bottom of the stairs to the gardens surrounding Bag End swung shut with a decided bang of its own.
Hamfast sat, nursing that glass of wine and nibbling at the last of his pasty and some bread and cheese for quite some time until the bulk of the guests from the family feast came out calling for their carriages or ponies. At last Sam appeared looking tired and annoyed.
“What happened in there?” the Gaffer asked.
“You don’t really want to know, Dad,” Sam assured him. “Old Mr. Bilbo, he’s really gone and done it this time, and I doubt as his family will forgive him ever for it, not that he cares none. He’s had his joke and is gone now, and they’re still tryin’ t’ demand explanations from my Mister Frodo, who ain’t got none as they want to hear.” The younger Gamgee looked about the party grounds. “Dark for dark business, I suppose, as Mr. Bilbo used to say. I’d say as it’s time t’ put them barrows as was hired into service, considerin’ as how many Hobbits I see here and there under the tables, sleepin’ it off. Well, I’d best be to it, then. It’s part of what stewards is supposed to see to, after all. Night, Dad.”
Gaffer Gamgee set his glass and plate neatly on the table where he’d been sitting, and stretched the stiffness out of his joints as best he could before making his way across to the base of the Hill and his own yellow door to Number Three.
There was a cart now at the upper lane near the low place in the hedge at the back of the gardens to Bag End. It was the cart them Dwarves had come in. Must be getting ready to leave now—they’d said as they’d not be lingering beyond the Party, after all. Hamfast hoped that his Master had said goodbye to them. Apparently Dwarves didn’t mind traveling after dark much more than Mr. Bilbo himself.
As he closed the gate to his small front garden behind him, Hamfast stopped briefly to rub at his back. It was time, he decided, to retire and give the gardens of Bag End over completely—or almost completely—to his Sam. Sam was the true gardener in the family, after all, the one as truly loved flowers as much as the Gaffer himself loved taters and other root vegetables. Yes, let Sam take over the gardens, with his old dad to oversee things as needed.
Eleventy-one years! And still didn’t look a day past sixty! If only he, Hamfast Gamgee, felt half as spry as appeared Mr. Bilbo Baggins, Esquire!
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