1: Mad Baggins in the Spring
It was Spring again. He was sure of it. His 98th spring to be exact, so he'd had lots of practice. Bilbo unlatched the shutters, swept his hand across the fogged west window and smiled out the dripping little space he had cleared. The plants outside looked the same as they had the day before, but he still "felt" it. Spring had come. Heading into the kitchen, he stirred up the banked fire and placed a fresh kettle of water on to heat for tea, then trotted down the hall to his wardrobe to choose a sufficiently springlike attire to suit his mood for the day.
By the time the kettle was singing, he was dressed and poking around in the pantry for a breakfast cake to go with his eggs. His daffodil-colored waistcoat and green woolen trousers were just the ticket to shake off the doldrums of a wet and muddy winter, and especially if topped off with a good warm plate of eggs inside. How cheering to think of winter receding away, even though by all accounts it had not been a very bad one. The ice-fringed mud and grey skies were wearisome to look at, and he had spent most of the preceding months indoors, entertaining visitors, studying and writing in his book. Mostly the former.
In winter he found his large, warm and generally luxurious (by local standards) hole all too often attracting every relative in the Shire and others who could not even pretend to be remotely related. It seemed that everyone wanted to enjoy his hospitality, his large fireplaces and especially his pantries. He had given up on trying to keep up with all of their prodigious appetites himself and finally hired a cook to come restock his shelves thrice weekly, and even then there were times he was hard put to fill every plate. While the expense was not really a burden to him and the songs were merry, he had grown tired of forever entertaining. It felt as if he never really had enough quiet time to himself, time to just think, and dream and write. Time to learn new things, or to explore.
He had vague memories of being very much like the hobbits that filled his entryway, his kitchen and his parlor. Content to hash and rehash the same tales of small doings in the Shire, they never strayed beyond the unmarked boundaries of their minds. While he enjoyed a good talk as much as the next fellow, he sometimes found their topics too well-trodden, and longed to say "Look here, we've already talked about that last week and the week before, and now here it comes again. Let's turn off the path, shall we? Let's see what's over that ridge, over there!" But they never would. He had tried it, from time to time. Their reactions, for the most part, were incomprehesion and even a little fear. They did not want to leave their pathways, whose conclusions they knew by heart. They were comfortable the way it was.
Yes, he had a few who enjoyed a good romp through the imagination. All younger than himself by a great deal. They would come to listen to him and to ask questions until their elders pulled them away or distracted them with a sweet. As to the older ones, the worst of the lot were the Sackville-Baggins of course; it seemed they were forever showing up at his home though all they did was eat his provender and inquire after his health. Only a very few of his relations showed any real spirit, and when he thought about it, only one that was anything like a close relative. His family was insufferably dull at times.
All these thoughts and more went through his mind as he washed up from breakfast and made his plans for the day. He set down his tea mug on the rack with a thump and also set down a resolve that he would not entertain any visitors today. It was warmer outside, he could see it. Still chilly, yes, but at last he could have the freedom to leave a visitor out on the front step and know that they would not freeze to death. And if they did, well, they should have brought a thicker coat. No amount of cheerfulness would sway him, no excuses or obligations would make their way past him this day. No, they would not. He would be steadfast. He would enjoy the peace indoors and the warmth, what there was of it, outdoors. Yes, outdoors.
Sure enough as he was packing up a snack and tucking it into the largest pocket of his favorite out-and-about coat, the bell rang on his door. He squared his shoulders and opened it. Two hobbits, Mssrs. Bump and Green, stood on his doorstep with tenative smiles of greeting that faded as he gave them a sharp up and down appraisal. Young Mr. Bump took breath to say something but it never came.
"Nope." said Bilbo peering at them closely, as if they were strange specimens. "Not related to me. Not a bit of Baggins in those faces. I can tell. Good morning."
He shut the door.
He waited silently inside, pressing his ear to the door to listen to them. They muttered between themselves in confusion. He heard the welcome sound of their fading footsteps and grinned a little, congratulating himself on the success of it. He headed back down the hall to select a walking stick when his doorbell rang again.
He frowned, finished choosing his walking stick and returned to the door. He opened it. On the step stood the Mrs. Goodbody and her tweenaged son, Offal. He remembered them well, for Offal had consumed vast quantities of sausages the last time they had visited, to the point that the others were betting on whether or not his stomach would explode. The younger hobbit had a hungry look.
"Mr. Baggins!" said Mrs. Goodbody brightly. "Fine day..."
"No, it isn't." replied Bilbo, as if stating a very obvious fact. "There are two hobbits on my doorstep, and it quite blocks my view. Not a fine day at all. Good morning."
He shut the door.
Again, he listened for a moment as she worked up a good head of steam and began righteously blustering to her disappointed son. He reached over and threw the latch for good measure, knowing they would undoubtably hear it. They did. The voices retreated to the roadway and passed off to the right, finally fading from his hearing as he sifted through the hats on the shelf for his brown walking hat, the one that kept his ears warm. It was up there somewhere. The shelf in the hall tended to be a catch-all for anything that had no other place to go. He paused to fetch a small jug of cider from the kitchen to fill his canteen with.
To his irritation, he heard footsteps once again approaching his door. He didn't know who it was and he no longer cared. He only had a few moments to think of what to do...
The bell rang.
He reached up and scooped his hand across the shelf, scoring a rather heavy decorative chain. It was meant to hold back the heavy winter drapes in his bedroom, but he immediately saw other potential in it. Ah yes, and those! And that! Draping the golden chain around his neck, he leaned over and rapidly jammed his feet into the dusty dwarvish boots that had been left behind by another sort of visitor. He reached up and jammed three hats, one on top of another onto his head, grabbed the small hatchet that sat near the door for chopping kindling and opened the door.
The visitor on his doorstep was the sharp-nosed Mrs. Proudfoot clutching a basket. He never did find out what her errand was coming to his home.
"G..." was all she got out of her throat.
"Mrs. Proudfoot!" exclaimed Bilbo, trying not to trip over the unfamiliar boots. "I was just about to sit down to my daily lesson of Dwarvish. The hatchet works so well on the seedcakes..." he paused to swig a drink straight out of the cider jug. "Would you care to join me?" He waggled his eyebrows at her.
"B..." she said.
He shut the door.
This time he was hard pressed to not guffaw so loudly she would hear him, though she beat such a hasty retreat he was really in no danger of it. He pulled off the boots, chain and multiple hats, located his own singular brown one and decided to leave by the back door. Tongues would wag, he chuckled to himself, yes they would but what was one more tale about him? At least he would have a little peace to enjoy the early springtime.