Title: Holewarming Gift
Theme: June Bug
Author's Notes: This story refers back to one of my early stories, "A Conspiracy of Hobbits"
Summary: Lobelia and Lotho discover a present Pippin left behind for them when Frodo departed for Buckland.
Word Count: 1,493
Frodo wakened to the muffled sound. What in the world?
He got up and padded down the hall. It was coming from Gandalf's room. He sighed. He should have known.
Pippin was bouncing on the Big bed again.
"Oops." He stopped bouncing and looked sheepishly at his older cousin. "Sorry if I woke you."
"But not sorry for the bouncing!" Frodo laughed. "Come on, let's go get ready for tea."
As Pippin left, he looked back over his shoulder. Good thing Frodo did not notice that the window was propped slightly open. Or the plate of honey hidden under the bed. Or the jar of ants with the lid slightly askew. He was leaving the Sackville-Bagginses a very nice little homecoming present, he thought.
(From Chapter 20 of "A Conspiracy of Hobbits" by Dreamflower)
Lotho bolted out of a sound sleep at the sound of his mother's shrieking. Her voice, shrill and penetrating at the best of times, was as angry as he had ever heard it. Where was she? He hastily threw on a dressing gown and opened the door to the corridor. Her wordless screams were coming from the kitchen, and he headed that way rapidly. He really hated being awakened this way!
As he neared the kitchen, the screeching was supplemented by several loud "thwacks!". He opened the kitchen door to see his mother jumping around and hitting the floor with the broom.
"What in the world is wrong, Mother?" he shouted.
Breathing heavily, Lobelia stopped screaming, and pointed a shaking finger at the floor. There was a long black line of tiny ants marching across the kitchen from the door in which Lotho stood. He looked down, and then back, and could now see them snaking behind him down the passage. "Ants!" he said in shock. He turned and shook his head; this was not merely a few ants; this was an infestation.
In the week since they had moved into Bag End, they had managed to alienate the Gamgees. The Gaffer had refused to come out of retirement, citing his "joints", and he also refused to allow his daughter, Marigold, to continue doing housework and laundry, saying it wouldn't be "proper" since her brother no longer worked there. Lobelia had responded with threats, and Lotho had attempted bribery, and then waylaid Marigold on the path to the village and tried to charm her. Her response had infuriated him. "Mr. Lotho, I know you are rich and important. But no respectable lass would work for you, with your eyes that are always staring where they shouldn't. And Sam may not be here now, but he'll be back one day, and my other brothers would come right back if they knew you was up to your old tricks! I won't be back up to Bag End while you're there, and I'll make sure all the other lasses know why!" and she had darted around him and hurried down the path without looking back at him.
Where would they find anyone else who would know how to get rid of these ants? He'd never heard of Bag End having such a problem before.
His mother had finally stopped screeching and swatting, and stood leaning on the broom, panting, her hair askew. He went over and took her by the elbow and led her to the front parlour, sitting her down in the chair by the hearth. The parlour, thankfully, seemed to be ant-free for the time being.
"I'll bring you a cup of tea, Mother," he said.
She looked up and nodded, completely exhausted from her assault on the ants.
He returned to the kitchen, and put the kettle on. Even more ants were marching across the kitchen floor, and some had begun trying to crawl up the worktable in the middle of the room. He saw another line of them heading for the gap beneath the larder door, and sighed. He used the broom to disrupt the lines and swept as many as he could out the back door. When the kettle sang, he prepared a tray. He was able to get to the sugar bowl before an enterprising ant scout got into it, and took the tea tray to his mother. Then he went back to the corridor where he had seen the ants coming.
They were still marching along the passage, coming from beneath two of the bedroom doors and one of the mathom rooms. He stomped down the hall, and flung open the first door; there was only a single line of ants on the doorframe. The same thing went for the mathom room. The other bedroom was the last one, the one that Old Baggins had altered for that blasted vagabond wizard to use as a guest room. There were a lot of ants coming out from under that door. He opened it more cautiously, then jumped back and slammed it. The room was thoroughly infested with ants.
What could they do? He wasn't about to eat humble pie before those Gamgees. Maybe there was someone else in the village.
Over her vociferous objections (until he pointed out that they could hardly live with the ants), Lotho took his mother down to The Ivy Bush and engaged a room for them to stay until the ants could be removed. Once he had installed Lobelia in the room and had breakfast sent to her (just breakfast; they had missed first breakfast already and it was now time for second breakfast). He then went and ordered breakfast for himself in the common room, and set to discover if there was anyone who could help rid them of the ants. It was humiliating, as it became the topic of conversation for the entire room.
"Pour boiling water down the mound," opined a carpenter. "T'won't no more of 'em come in."
"Won't get rid of 'em as is already there!" said another. Lotho did not even notice when the serving maid placed his breakfast before him.
"Don't know what the world is a-coming to," said the elderly Twofoot who lived on Bagshot Row, and was a neighbour of the Gamgees. "T'weren't never no ants, nor any other sort of critter in Bag End when the Gaffer and Sam was there to take care of things. Mr. Frodo ought not never gone off to Buckland and took Sam away!"
Lotho turned nearly purple with anger, as he tried to keep his temper. He needed help and could not afford to antagonize anyone else.
"How're they a-getting in?" asked another. "Peppermint oil 'll keep 'em out."
"Only way I know of," said a travelling tinker who was passing through. "is to smoke 'em out. Smoke 'll do it every time."
"I don't wish to burn my hole down!" exclaimed Lotho indignantly.
"Won't burn down if it's done right," responded the tinker. He stood up and tossed a coin on the table. "Well, I'm off; need to be in Overhill by teatime."
As he left, waving a cheerful farewell to the room at large, the tinker passed Ted Sandyman coming in as he was passing out.
Lotho sat with his elbows upon the table, his breakfast growing cold, clutching his hair in both hands. This was a calamity. Was there no one who could help him?
Sandyman came over, an expression of concern on his face. "Mr. Lotho, is summat the matter?"
"He's been invaded by ants, up to Bag End," said Daddy Twofoot cheerfully. "Needs somebody as can help him get shed of 'em."
"I could smoke 'em out for you, Mr. Lotho," said Sandyman.
Hope dawned on Lotho's face. At least Sandyman wasn't hostile to him; quite the contrary, he'd been of much use to Lotho in the past. "Do you know how to do that?"
The miller nodded. " 'Bout ten years gone, give or take, we had a problem in one of the storehouses by the mill. 'O course, the smoke ruint all the wheat, but it got rid o' the ants. Still got all the smudge pots we had to use back then."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Lotho looked with distaste at his cold breakfast, and signaled for a new one. "And one for my friend Miller Sandyman," he added magnanimously.
Ted Sandyman did indeed know how to smoke the ants out. Of course, it was nearly three weeks before Bag End could be cleaned of all the smell of smoke. Lobelia had to engage one of Ted's cousins to help with the cleaning. Carnation Sandyman was an ill-favoured and bad tempered lass with a mercenary streak, who ended up being paid an exorbitant fee for her work--even more than Lotho'd paid Ted for the smoking. Admittedly, she did work hard and well for her wages, but she didn't like Lotho or Lobelia, or even Cousin Ted. But he was family, and pennies was pennies.
She didn't think there was any need to inform her temporary employers of the cause of the invasion when she found the sticky plate and the empty jar beneath that Big bed. She made sure the window was closed, and she placed a small saucer of peppermint oil on the sill, just in case. Mr. Frodo Baggins had always been polite to her and never mocked her for her looks like she recalled her cousin and Lotho doing. And she recalled all too well Mr. Frodo's cousins' reputation for pranks. If this didn't smack of that Brandybuck or the young Took or both, she'd be mighty surprised. And she recalled the old wizard's fireworks with fondness.
Once the room was as clean as she could get it, and thoroughly aired out, she closed the door with a smile.
(A/N: Having dealt with an ant invasion ourselves this summer, I've spent much time looking up various ways to deal with them. Thankfully, our invasion was not nearly so bad as the one Pippin inflicted on the S-Bs!)