Title: A Useful Gift
Theme: POV challenge--Lobelia
Elements: orange, triangle, a dozen
Summary: Lobelia indulges her magpie tendencies at Bag End, shortly after Bilbo's return from his Adventure.
Word Count: 5,046
Bilbo had returned to the Shire with a pony and at least two chests of treasure a year and a day after he’d precipitously run out of Bag End without even a pocket handkerchief, afraid he’d been left behind by the very thirteen Dwarves he’d been resenting the previous afternoon. He’d changed a good deal from the responsible, predictable Hobbit he’d once been. First of all, he refused to apologize for his actions and his trespasses against Hobbit custom. Second, he no longer seemed to think he was required to be predictable. Third, he’d become perhaps too honest with others, and particularly with the Sackville-Bagginses. His Uncle Longo he now snubbed openly, furious at him for having pushed the matter of selling off Bag End’s furnishings to the point he’d almost lost it all, and with having to go about the area to purchase back some of his own possessions.
“A year and a day before you can declare someone dead, Uncle Longo,” he’d admonished his father’s younger brother. “And you barely gave me that! Were you in that much of a hurry to get Lobelia Bracegirdle out of your home?”
Longo had flushed, but couldn’t deny his nephew’s accusations. Even his Camellia, vacuous as she was, found Lobelia--and particularly a prominently pregnant Lobelia--to be a greater trial than anyone should need to deal with--plus there was the problem of the disappearing spoons. He only hoped once Lotho and Lobelia had a place of their own that problem would stop.
Bilbo continued, “Well, it would help if you would give me the money you got for those possessions you’d already sold off before the auction, you know. After all, as I wasn’t officially dead at the time, you had no right to take them then.”
Longo had refused to do so, and Lobelia, who was listening from the adjoining room, knew why, of course. After all, she was the one who’d convinced Longo to do what he’d done for the benefit of his son and heir and his son’s bride; and she was the one who’d accepted the payments for the objects promised by Longo, quietly arranging with those who’d made offers for this or that piece of furniture to come two days prior to the auction to pay her and pick up their desired purchases. Unfortunately he had caught her at it and had dragged her out, protesting the while, before all transactions had been finalized. However, even her father-ostensibly-in-love had not dared delve into her bodice where she’d stowed the moneys she’d already collected, and once back in the Sackville-Baggins hole Lotho had backed her up, and the arguments had gone on until Camellia had yelled at all of them, and demanded that her husband allow Lobelia to keep the money in order to have some peace in the smial.
Well, Lobelia Bracegirdle Sackville-Baggins, having been cheated of Bag End and the prospect of being the wife to The Baggins as well as The Sackville eventually--Longo had been promised that post by his wife’s father when he combined her last name with his own--already had plans to see to it that she and Otho would have an even better hole than Longo and Camellia’s. Teron Sackville of Warm Smial had been spending a good deal of time in Overhill. A Grubb lass from Overhill had just been found to have put the dessert before the meal, and was so far refusing to name the one who was the father of her expected child. Lobelia was doing her best to convince old Missus Laburnum Sackville, an aunt to Camellia, that her older son Teron had been dallying with the Grubb lass, and yesterday had introduced the old Hobbitess to her cousin Leander Bracegirdle, who’d offered to help Missus Laburnum to rewrite her will. That Teron had been protesting his innocence was only working to Lobelia and Otho’s advantage, for he wasn’t willing to tell his mother what he had been doing in Overhill, knowing that she disliked any idea of him racing ponies. Lobelia was feeling remarkably pleased with herself. Old Missus Laburnum’s heart was failing her, and Laurel Chubbs, who saw to her, had told the family that she might go at any time. There was a good chance, Lobelia knew, that within a few months she would be mistress of her own hole, and she would see to it that Warm Smial would be even more of a showplace than Bag End.
In the mean time, she intended for her and Otho to be there at Bilbo Baggins’s birthday party next week. As she heard the whistle of the quick-post messenger she went out as swiftly as her pregnancy allowed, hoping to find the invitation in today’s post.
As she looked through the sheaf of letters she’d been given she was startled to hear Otho behind her. “Well, did it come?”
She glanced around sharply. “Bilbo’s invitation? No, not today.”
He nodded. “It’s what I expected. He’s not likely to invite us, after all, not after he almost lost his hole, and when he’s spent much of the summer having to travel all over the West and South Farthings in order to get back those things you’d sold before the auction. That perhaps wasn’t a wise idea, Lobelia dearest.”
She snorted. “He thinks Longo was to blame--I doubt he has any idea I was involved.”
He shrugged. “Well, you know that clothes press from the main guest room--the one Porto took. That was one of the first items Bilbo was able to retrieve, I understand. And you had best believe that Porto told him about you threatening that if he didn’t come get it early you’d sell it to Bigelow. Oh, I am certain Cousin Bilbo knows precisely whom to blame.”
Lobelia hadn’t thought of that possibility. “Well, he has to invite us--you’re his rightful heir, after all.”
Again Otho shrugged. “That’s as may be, Lobelia. However, Bilbo doesn’t appear to give much care for what other Hobbits think any more. And he’s made it very clear my father isn’t welcome in Bag End.” He straightened. “Not that he’s ever appeared to care that much about me. It was Drogo Baggins he sold Number Five to, you know.”
“But you never wanted Number Five--you’re set to inherit your parents’ home.”
“Whenever that might happen,” he muttered.
But Lobelia knew that her husband didn’t really like his family’s hole, set as it was cheek-by-jowl in a row of smials along a ridge on the east side of Hobbiton. Oh, it was big enough, perhaps; but certainly not as desirable as Bag End or Warm Smial, both of which were comfortably detached from other holes. She looked about her. Other than the front parlor and master bedroom at the front and the kitchen and dining room at the rear, most of the rooms had no windows, for most opened off the passage that ran through the ridge from front door to back. Most of the bedrooms were lit by lanterns and candles. Plus it was an older home with detached privy outside beyond the back door, while baths were still taken in a copper tub in front of the kitchen fire. No real privacy at all!
No, she was intent that when her Lotho became The Sackville he should be master of a hole in keeping with the dignity of that position. And one day, she’d determined during the time she’d had free rein within Bag End, they’d own that smial, too, and she’d be known as Mistress of the Hill. And all would respect her as they did Bilbo now as the owner of the splendor not only of Bag End itself but of those beautiful gardens as well.
“We’re going to that birthday party,” she growled to her husband. “And if he doesn’t send an invitation, we’ll....”
September twenty-second dawned grey and drizzly, in keeping with the weather over the past several days. By noon it was raining steadily, and those who came to Bilbo’s party (not many, by all accounts) were wrapped securely in woolen cloaks, and all had their hoods up over their heads.
Holman Greenhand’s young apprentice Hamfast Gamgee was answering the door. As the young Hobbit opened to Otho’s ring at the bell, Lobelia could hear a murmur of voices from the parlor.
“Mr. Otho, sir?” asked the Gamgee. “Did you get an invitation then?” It was obvious by his expression that he didn’t believe anyone had considered sending such a thing to any of the Sackville-Bagginses.
“As I am Cousin Bilbo’s heir, I assumed that it must simply have been mislaid by the post,” Otho said stiffly as he assisted his young wife free of her sodden cloak. “It has been miserable weather, after all.” His face as he surrendered his and Lobelia’s wraps to the young Hobbit indicated he didn’t feel it should have been necessary to answer to mere gardener’s lads. Lobelia was proud of him.
Once free of their cloaks they moved toward the parlor, and she suddenly heard a Hobbitess asking, “And you didn’t invite Otho or that Lobelia, did you, Bilbo?”
“My supercilious cousin and his acquisitive wife? I think not, Gilly.”
So--Gilly Baggins--Posco’s wife. Lobelia’s cheeks burned at the insult. Well, she’d show them! She dragged her husband forward, directly into the middle of the room. All talk stopped, and all turned to look at them, then after a moment rather ostentatiously turned away and resumed their conversations in markedly lower tones. Bilbo, who’d been standing near the fire, came forward. “Oh, Otho--Lobelia--I’d not thought to see you here.”
“They said as they’d understood as their invites was lost by the post, Master,” Hamfast said from behind them. Lobelia turned in alarm, as she’d not realized the foolish soul had followed them into the parlor.
“Lost by the post?” Bilbo asked, turning back to his unwanted guests. “You thought....” But after searching their faces he obviously decided not to go any further. “I see. Well, I will be honest with you--after finding I’d been assumed dead and finding you, Lobelia, measuring my bedroom for the furniture you intended to install there, I assumed that you would most likely be--uncomfortable--being included in my little party. Not many agreed to come, actually, merely a dozen or so, I believe.” That proved to be true. “It’s not much of a celebration, I fear, and I suspect you will find it rather boring.”
Lobelia summoned what she believed to be her most gracious and determined tone. “Oh, I doubt that any party you should throw would prove boring, Cousin Bilbo.” So saying she dragged Otho to the settle in the corner and sat down, making it plain that they were staying.
Posco was polite as Bagginses usually were, but was not precisely friendly. His sister Prisca, who was rather afraid of Lobelia, made up for his distance with her obsequious behavior, however, which was at least somewhat gratifying. Holman and his wife Bess were assisting in the serving, and brought their toast triangles spread with ham or egg salad about, although somehow they managed to be turned away just before either Sackville-Baggins was able to obtain one; and the cup of tea Lobelia finally demanded arrived decidedly tepid while Otho’s ale flagon proved to be filled with small beer instead. Rorimac Brandybuck wouldn’t give either of them the time of day, while Adalgrim Took’s eyes followed them about the room suspiciously. Menegilda Goold Brandybuck always seemed to be moving away when Lobelia tried to approach her, while Gilly simply stared at her coldly. Of Folco and Ruby’s children only Drogo Baggins was present, with Primula Brandybuck by his side.
“And how do you find married life, Lobelia?” asked Wisteria Goodbody in a tone Lobelia considered patronizing.
“Most satisfactory,” Lobelia answered shortly. Wisteria raised her eyebrow and moved away, returning to her previous position near Ivy Groves and Fortumbald Boffin. Ivy and Fortumbald were to marry in the spring, while young Wisteria was said to have her eye on Fortumbald’s younger brother Hildibras, although they wouldn’t either one be of age for some years yet.
Farmers! Lobelia thought dismissively, turning her attention back to Bilbo.
“You promised to tell us the tale of your adventures,” Drogo said as he and Primula sat themselves on the braided rug on the floor. It was a new one--the one that had sat there was even now hidden in a storeroom hole on one of the properties south of the Three Farthings Stone Lobelia had inherited from her Bracegirdle grandmother.
“Not that we promise to believe it,” laughed Rory. He lifted his mug of ale in a salute before taking a deep draught from it.
Bilbo affected shock. “You would hear the adventures of a dissolute Baggins, then? What is the world coming to! Your sister will be most upset, Drogo.”
“Oh, Dora will come around, Bilbo--you know her. Before you know it she’ll be back to inundating you again with letters, although I’m certain they will now be laden with advice on how to possibly retrieve your good reputation.”
“Not that such a thing is possible,” Bilbo said as he raised his own mug to his lips. After sipping from it, he set it down. “Well, what can I say? Gandalf sent thirteen Dwarves here to meet me, having convinced them I was an expert burglar. I say, Rory, are you all right? Here--take this handkerchief and mop yourself up. How does the inside of your nose feel? Have done that a time or two, starting to laugh as I start to swallow some tea or such. Where was I?”
“A burglar?” Ivy’s voice was shocked. “Why on earth was he convinced you were a burglar?”
“Who? Gandalf? Oh, I’m certain he knew I’m no such thing. He told me the adventure would be profitable for me and amusing for him, and I’m sure he found it very amusing indeed--at times, at least--when he wasn’t having to save us from goblins and wargs, that is. Wargs, Hildibras? Oh, they are a type of wolf, you see--quite intelligent wolves as wolves go, and very strong and vicious. Where did I see them? Oh, but that’s getting ahead of the story somewhat, I suppose.”
“Oh, what claptrap!” Otho suddenly said. “There aren’t any such things as wargs and goblins.”
Rory and Adalgrim gave him identical glares. Fortumbald, who was a great-grandson of the Old Took by way of Isembold, who’d been almost as prolific as his father, said, “But everybody knows about Bandobras and how he knocked off the head of the Great Goblin in the battle of Greenfields.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” Otho replied. “I never believed that bit of garbage.”
“We have the club he used in the Great Smial,” Adalgrim said. “I’ve seen it there many a time.”
“And the White Wolves came over the Brandywine when I myself was a lad,” Bilbo added. “Rory’s father Gorbadoc has the skin of one of them by his bed--he and three Tooks who were visiting were able to kill it between them with their bows.”
“And my father was one of those three Tooks,” added Adalgrim. “And I helped skin the beast, for I was there at the time.”
“But no one has ever seen a goblin!” Otho persisted. “They’re only stories told by Dwarves!”
Bilbo’s voice was no longer either jovial or reasonable; it was--certain. “Well, I’ve seen goblins and managed to live to tell the tale--maybe barely, but I survived. Some of those alongside whom I fought weren’t so fortunate. We lost Thorin in the Battle of Five Armies, you see, and I was by him when he died. And, yes, Otho Sackville-Baggins, I fought. Not too well or competently, perhaps, but I fought until I was knocked unconscious. I’m lucky they managed to kill all of the wargs or I’d probably be dead indeed--in which case it would be Lobelia who’d be hosting you all here, I suppose, rather than me.” His eyes had an expression none of the others within the hole had ever seen before, slightly haunted and with a sense of purpose to them none of the guests could fully appreciate. “I’ll say this, fighting is rather overrated in tales--a nasty business indeed. I’m certainly not eager to do so again, although if it’s ever needed at least I’ll have a better idea of what I’m up against than I did before.”
“You, fight? With what?” demanded Otho.
Bilbo stood, giving his first cousin an unfathomable look. “Wait,” he said at last, and left the room, disappearing into his study, returning at last with a leather scabbard. “You want to know what I fought with?” he asked. “With this--my sword. I named it Sting for the way it pricked the great spiders in Mirkwood.” So saying, he drew the Elven blade.
There was a silence for a time before Rorimac Brandybuck commented solemnly, “It’s different from the Sword in Brandy Hall.”
Bilbo nodded. “This one was made by the Elves, and appears to be very old--much older than Bucca’s Sword, Rory. That was given Bucca of the Marish by the son of the last King; it is at least a thousand years old, although it might be as old as two and a half thousand. From what Lord Elrond hinted while I was in Rivendell, this could be well over six thousand years old. It’s hard to believe things could last that long, but then Elves aren’t mortal as we are, and their weapons have been made to last for much of their lifetimes. I’ve learned things--many things--since I left here a year and a half ago.”
He turned the blade somewhat, and the firelight flickered on it, reflected from the bright metal. “It turns blue when orcs are about,” he murmured.
“That’s what the Elves call goblins--actually yrch, but orcs is close enough, I suppose. The Elves hate goblins, and will kill all they come upon.
And Dwarves hate them even worse, I think.”
For a moment longer the solemnity held, and all remained quiet around him, not certain what they could say, for none had ever seen Bilbo Baggins in this mood before. When at last he returned the blade he’d been contemplating to its sheath, it was as if an odd lamp had been shuttered; and all present save Bilbo himself found themselves releasing their collective breath, all appearing surprised to realize they’d been holding it.
“Ah, well,” Bilbo suddenly said as he laid the sheath upon the mantel in front of the mantel clock (and Lobelia found herself wishing she’d been able to spirit it away at the time she’d stolen the rug), “so far the tale has been anything but entertaining, has it? Where was I? Oh, yes--Gandalf declaring me a burglar to the great Thorin Oakenshield--that’s where this began. Once I realized that this was what they thought me I was offended at first, but then found myself even worse offended when they told me I looked more a grocer. Well, I thought, I would show them....”
He spoke for about a half hour, and even Lotho and Lobelia remained quiet, listening as entranced as the rest; but Lobelia was now becoming advanced in her pregnancy, and the child she bore appeared to be pressing rather hard against her bladder, so at last she rose and headed for the privy. Once finished there, however, she didn’t return directly to the party, but instead opened the door into Bilbo’s bedroom. There had been a few--trinkets--she’d admired when last she’d been in this room, although Longo, having found them within her pockets (he’d had not qualms about searching those, unlike her bodice), had insisted they must be returned until the official word was granted that Bilbo had indeed been declared dead. Now she intended to have them, and perhaps have a quick search for the chests of treasure Bilbo was said to have returned with. However, she’d not counted upon the observant eyes of Bess Greenhand, who’d seen her head away from the kitchen and the party toward the bedrooms and who’d immediately fetched her husband. Together husband and wife surprised her just as she was looking to secrete a pair of silver shirt studs within her bodice, and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins found that Bess Greenhand had no such qualms about delving within a lady’s bodice as did Longo Sackville-Baggins. Then she was being marched back through the hole and made to stand before Bilbo, Bess carrying the pilfered items within her apron, which she’d folded into a bag of sorts.
“I’m sorry, Master Bilbo, sir,” Holman intoned, “but we found this ’un in the bedrooms, sir, and the missus here took these off her.” So saying, he signaled to Bess, who spilled the contents of her apron onto the surface of the great chest that stood beside his chair. All looked at Lobelia in surprise at her brazenness, including Bilbo, once he’d done a quick mental inventory of the objects Bess had retrieved.
At last he stood and lifted his eyes to examine those of his cousin’s wife. “I see,” he said coldly. He turned toward Otho. “What was that, cousin? You fear you cannot tarry longer? Ah, but I do understand.” He turned to Hamfast. “Master Gamgee--if you could get the cloaks for these two?”
Suddenly there was a flash of light outside, and all turned toward the nearest window to look out over the Westfarthing. While all had been intent on what Bilbo had to tell, they’d failed to notice how the wind had begun to blow more clouds in from the west, or how the day had grown darker as a full storm let its fury loose on the Shire. A roll of thunder boomed through the hole.
Otho looked from the storm to his wife, then to the others, inviting all to share his concern for her pregnancy. “You,” he said haughtily to Bilbo, “would send a lass in Lobelia’s condition out into a storm such as this, unprotected save for her cloak, which is still damp from the journey here from across Hobbiton?”
Bilbo examined his younger cousin’s eyes, and his own took a harder expression. “Send her out unprotected?” he echoed. “Oh, so you would accuse me of being harsh, then? I see.” He was plainly calculating, then suddenly smiled. “Oh, but how thoughtless of me--I’d neglected to give you my gifts to you for my birthday.” He looked back to the gardener’s lad. “Let me get my guests their cloaks, Hamfast Gamgee.” He slipped past Holman and Bess and went into the entranceway, and after a few moments had returned with the two cloaks and two umbrellas from the stand by the door. To give him his due, they were rather nice ones, one definitely intended for a gentlehobbit, black with a steel and oak shaft and a handle carved marvelously into the head of a duck; the other a warm orange, its handle accented by a sphere of hawk’s eye.
At the sight of these Lobelia felt her mouth open slightly in surprise, and she found she had to take herself firmly in hand to keep from blurting out the words she found herself almost saying. No, Lobelia Bracegirdle! she told herself. It doesn’t appear he’s noticed. Say nothing! Say nothing! Then she found herself doing her best to keep a smirk off her face, to continue to look as if she were upset at having been caught with so many small yet valuable objects in her possession.
“Here, Otho, Lobelia--and I thank you for coming to my party. May they give you years of service.”
Lobelia accepted the umbrella given her and pulled it to her bosom as another flash of lightning lit the Shire, hoping that the others would interpret this as shock. She allowed the thunder to sound, and widened her eyes as if in fear. “You would hold this against me, Bilbo Baggins?” she asked.
Bilbo, however, refused to feel guilty. “At least you shall have more shelter than we knew climbing the pass through the Misty Mountains east of Rivendell,” he said. “And do bear my respects to your father, Otho,” he added as he opened the door for them.
Otho wrapped Lobelia’s still damp cloak about her and fastened her brooch, for she was clinging to the orange umbrella with all her strength; he then did the same with his own. With a final glare at Bilbo he started to lead Lobelia out of the door, but stopped at the top of the stair when he realized his wife wasn’t with him. “Lobelia!” he hissed. “Don’t make a further spectacle of yourself!”
“Otho,” she whispered back, not moving her lips, “open your umbrella and come back for me--wrap your arm about me!”
“Why not use your own?” he whispered back. She didn’t answer, but glared until he did as he was directed. At a nudge from her he said rather loudly, “Come, my dear--I can see what Bilbo’s disapproval has brought you to.”
She gave him the tiniest of nods of approval as she allowed herself to be led out the door, both of them sheltering under the black umbrella. Down the steps they went and through the gate, and down the lane, turning toward the village. Once they were fully out of sight of the windows and gardens of Bag End he stopped, dropped his arm roughly away from her, and demanded, “Now, Lobelia, after that stunt you can open that ‘birthday present’ of yours Bilbo just gave you and walk by yourself.”
She stepped back under the rim of his umbrella, clutching her hands about the fabric of her own. “No, I can’t, and I won’t tell you why until we get back to our own rooms. Now, you can continue as we left Bag End.”
He looked at her stubborn expression, shook his head in disgust, but allowed her to crowd him under the black canopy, although he rather spitefully allowed the edge to move sufficiently to allow the rain sheeting off it to drip directly onto her. Lobelia didn’t appear to mind as she continued to grip that still-furled orange umbrella to her, her hands gripped possessively about it.
Longo opened the door to admit them, shifting his eyes from his son to his son’s wife. “You didn’t stay overly long, did you?” he asked. “I’m surprised you even bothered, you know.”
Otho turned the full force of his frustration on the older Hobbit. “Stay? At Bilbo’s party? Humph! Although as his proper heir not to go would have been unthinkable.” He closed the black umbrella savagely and thrust it firmly into the stand. “Come, Lobelia!” he snapped. “Put that--thing--into the stand and come with me--I have something I wish to say to you.”
Longo appeared surprised at the open anger Otho was showing to his bride, but wisely maintained his silence. Lobelia, however, was shaking her head. “Oh, no, Otho my dear one. I wish to bring it with me. You see, I will always treasure this umbrella Bilbo just gave me, and I wish to examine it more closely.”
“But you didn’t even use it on the way home!”
She gave an odd smile. “Use it? Oh, dearling, but I have used it--in fact, it’s already proven most useful indeed.
Longo’s eyebrow rose as he watched the two of them head off down the passage toward their rooms, Otho plainly furious but Lobelia clutching her new umbrella to her with possessive glee.
Once they were within the smaller room the two of them used as their private parlor and Otho had closed the door firmly against the rest of the Shire, he turned on her. “Of all the impolitic things to do, Lobelia Bracegirdle Sackville-Baggins!” he hissed. “To try to steal from Bilbo today--and then to get caught at it! We’ll never be trusted there, you know, and then you’ve lost all you sought to take!”
“Oh, no, Otho my dear,” she said, a superior smirk on her face. “Definitely I didn’t lose all!”
He looked at her with the disbelief he felt plain. She merely shifted her hold on the umbrella and ran her thumb over the fabric, which bulged oddly. “No,” she repeated, her voice full of a private satisfaction. “I did not lose all I took today. Without meaning to, Bilbo gave me several silver spoons, you see.” So saying , she walked over to the table that sat between their chairs, shoved the lamp negligently aside, and shook out the contents of the umbrella. Out fell three silver spoons, two of them sufficient to stir tea and one intended to serve out mashed potatoes or turnips.
“You see, I found them when I was collecting the money for the items your father had promised to the various people who’d made offers on Bilbo’s furniture, and I intended to bring them home that day. But when I opened the door to find him there, I hid them inside this umbrella in Bilbo’s umbrella stand--and there they’ve been ever since! Isn’t it marvelous! He’s never realized they were there the whole time he’s been back!”
Lobelia gloated over her treasures, holding the orange umbrella possessively under her arm. “No, Bilbo never even noticed, and then in his pique today he gave me this umbrella, of the half dozen or so that were there! So these are the birthday presents we deserved to get from him, the selfish old boor!” She patted the stone ball that finished the handle to the umbrella. “Oh, I shall indeed treasure this umbrella--the most useful gift I think I’ve ever received!”
Even Otho was smiling by now as he lifted up the serving spoon and turned it over, giving the orange umbrella a quick, approving glance before turning his attention to the spoon and its maker’s marks.