A/N This story takes place near the very end of The Hobbit, when Bilbo returns home from his adventures and finds that he has been Presumed Dead.
Disclaimer: If you think it belongs to Tolkien, it probably does.
"Going once, going twice, sold! To Mr. Ernie Proudfoot for seven and fifty." The auctioneer banged his gavel, and two sturdy hobbits stepped up to carry away the lovely walnut bureau.
"Carefully now, lads! Don't put a scratch on it!" Mr. Proudfoot, comfortably stout, puffed alongside his new purchase.
"Coming up, lot sixty-eight," the auctioneer continued, "a set of the finest table linens you ever saw. Not a stain on 'em, ladies and gentlehobbits, and as pristine white as the new fallen snow. Mr. Baggins always was a hobbit as took good care of his linens, for all he was a bachelor. Now, who will give me two and fifty?"
The reason for this most surprising activity in the usually quiet yard of Bag End was this: Bilbo Baggins had disappeared. Just over a year ago, on a bright May morning, Mr. Hugo Bracegirdle (resident of Underhill) had seen Mr. Baggins running in a most hobbit-like way down the lane, without a hat or a walking stick, and looking most particularly flummoxed. That was the last definite sighting of Bilbo any hobbit could claim. There were rumors that he had been seen in Bywater that same day in company with a number of suspicious characters. And it was a well-known fact that the day before his disappearance, a good many other suspicious characters (or perhaps the same ones) had been seen making their way up the lane to Bag End.
But the long and short of the matter was, Bilbo Baggins was Presumed Dead. Most hobbits who knew next to nothing about the business went further and assumed that he had come to a Bad End.
"But what can you expect?" asserted Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the silk daisies on her hat nodding wisely. "Blood will come out. Not that I have anything to say against dear Bungo, may his soul rest in peace, but it must be remembered that his mother was a Took."
It was Lobelia who had petitioned Messrs. Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes to begin legal proceedings on Bilbo's affairs, and it was Lobelia and her new husband Otho who were now measuring the rooms to see where their own furniture would best fit. (They had made a very low offer on Bag End and gotten it because no one else had bid. This was partly due to respect of the Sackville-Bagginses' position as Close Relatives of the Deceased, and largely due to respect for Lobelia's long memory and acid tongue.)
"I think the blue chair would look well in this corner," decided Lobelia. "Although it's a shame that Ernie Proudfoot bought that bureau. It would have been quite attractive across from the fireplace with the silver tea service arranged on top of it. I do think they might have left some of the furniture in the hole for the Rightful Purchasers. It would have been nicer to keep it in the family as heirlooms, don't you think?"
Otho, who was crawling along the far wall with a measuring tape, grunted his assent.
"And I do think it perfectly dreadful the way the Tooks came crowding in here at the crack of dawn, as if they had some special right to get first peek at the goods. They've been nudging up the prices, too, just on purpose to be aggravating, I don't doubt. After all, even if Beladonna was a Took, the owner of this hole has always been a Baggins." She dusted her hands on her purple jumper and went to poke through the kitchen to see if any stray silver had been overlooked by the auction house.
Outside, the linens had gone to Mrs. Shoreditch, another resident of Underhill, and several hobbits were eagerly vying for a handsome grandfather clock. The auctioneer had just coaxed the bid up to eight, when two peculiar figures standing by the gate were spotted.
The one was a Big Person, and therefore naturally odd – his floppy, pointed hat, long white beard, and dusty grey cloak excited only passing curiosity. The really interesting one was the much shorter companion, who was, in fact, just the height of a hobbit. But surely no hobbit had ever been so tan and weathered looking, or had such an air of the long traveler about him! Furthermore, he was a great deal thinner than any hobbit ought to be, and there was a fierce look to his mouth as he watched the crowd milling around the yard.
Suddenly, the not-quite-hobbitlike stranger shoved open the gate and strode into the yard. "Would someone mind telling me," he demanded in a loud voice, "what all of you are doing at my house?"
A shocked silence fell over the entire scene. Everyone stared in consternation at the brash fellow, and hoped that someone else would politely, but firmly, ask him to leave.
And then Abelard Took stumbled forward, nearly gibbering in excitement. "Bless me!" he cried. "It's Bilbo Baggins!"
To be continued…
Note: Bilbo is the son of Bungo Baggins and Beladonna Took.
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