A/N I seem to have made a rather embarrassing error. In the last section of the Fourth Chapter, I introduced a Sam and Violet Gamgee, whom I intended as the parents of the Sam we see in LOTR. I did this with the conviction that the names of Sam's parents were never mentioned. I then began a reread of The Fellowship and discovered in the very first chapter that not only is Sam's father named Hamfast, but that on the date of Bilbo's return to the Shire, Ham was only a "lad," much too young to be married. I have therefore deleted the last section in the previous chapter and have rectified matters in this one. Violet is now Ham's mother (Sam's grandmother). The last section of the Fourth Chapter has been deleted.

Disclaimer: See First Chapter

Fifth Chapter

Tardiness and Its Subsequent Consequences

Ham Gamgee slipped through the door on Bagshot row, but even his hobbit feet were not quiet enough to escape the sharp ears of his mother. "Hamfast!"

Ham presented a guilty countenance. "Yes, mum?"

"Just what, my young sir, do you mean by coming home at this hour of the night?" Mrs. Gamgee demanded.

"Er…" Ham shuffled his feet. "Mr. Holman was a-needing my help at the sale, to keep folks from trampling the flowerbeds." He winced in rueful memory. His best efforts had not been enough to prevent Fred Sandyman from setting a washstand in the middle of the petunias, and Old Holman's pleasure had taken the form of a box on Ham's ear.

"Are you telling me that Mr. Holman kept you until nearly eleven o'clock at night?" his mother demanded in righteous indignation.

"Er…No, mum."

"Well then?"

Ham cleared his throat. "It's Mr. Bilbo, he's come back, you see."

"Or claimed to come back," sniffed Violet Gamgee. "I had the whole thing from Mrs. Bracegirdle. A more suspicious turn of events I never heard of, not even over in Buckland."

"Yes, mum," said Ham, hopeful that the turn in the conversation meant his mother had forgotten about his own tardiness, but it was not to be. Turning a gimlet eye upon her offspring, Mrs. Gamgee ordered him to continue his explanation.

"Well, the sale was called off, on account of Mr. Bilbo coming home. And there was things, furniture and such, that was needing to be put back in their places. And Mr. Holman said I was to help." Ham paused and took a reassuring breath. "So I helped, and some of them Tooks from Tookland helped too. And when we were done, it was past teatime and nearly past suppertime, so Mr. Bilbo said we was all to go down to the Green Dragon and have something to eat on his expense. And he gave us each two gold pieces."

This was the strong point of Ham's story, and he produced one of the gold pieces and a handful of silver (which was what remained of the second) and handed it to his mother. Mrs. Gamgee stared at the money, then swung her eyes back to her son. "And so you had supper until nearly eleven o'clock at night."

"No mum," Ham admitted, blushing. "After we was done eating, Mr. Ferdy Took, being a most congenial hobbit, asked if I wouldn't stay and have half a pint with them. And so I did," he finished, a bit defiantly.

Mrs. Gamgee was torn. On the one hand, she considered Ham to be much too young for the quaffing of half pints at late hours. On the other, the Tooks were very important in the Shire, and it wouldn't do to make too much of a fuss."I suppose it didn't do any harm this once," she relented. "But see that it doesn't happen again."

"No, mum."

"And you be careful around that Bag End. Queer doings are going on up there."

"Yes, mum."

"Now go to bed."

"Yes, mum."

"And mind you're up in good time tomorrow, and no grumbling about sleep, neither."

"Yes, mum, I mean no, mum, I mean…Goodnight, mum."

If the day of Bilbo's return had been a difficult one for the travel-weary hobbit, the next weeks were no better. For one thing, there were legal tangles to be dealt with. Both Isabella Baggins and Abelard Took were required to sign in red ink an official document stating that Bilbo Baggins was alive. And then they signed triplicate copies in brown, blue, and black. Abelard was none too strong on his letters, and after this harrowing ordeal it cost Bilbo several half pints and an extremely large lunch to calm his rattled relative.

Even after Bilbo was declared legally alive, the general suspicion of the neighborhood continued. Rumors of his questionable new wealth were noisily whispered behind his back, and hard stares and cold politeness were addressed to his face. (Lobelia got in twice as many stares and five times as much whispering as anyone else, which made up for her bypassing the politeness, cold or otherwise, completely.)

And then there was the process of recovering his property. A good many things, recorded and unrecorded, had left the grounds of Bag End on the day of the auction. Bilbo, armed with the auctioneer's list and a few shrewd suspicions, spent weary hours convincing (politely and otherwise) hobbits that the things they were so possessively stowing in drawing rooms, kitchens, and linen cupboards were not theirs. Although most at last reluctantly admitted the legality of his claim, there were a few particularly difficult exceptions.

Gregory Hopincock, for example, had acquired Bilbo's very fine collection of cookery books and given the lot as a birthday present to his mother. Bilbo had to refund the money twice – once to Gregory, and once to Mrs. Hopincock. There were a few like Mrs. Bracegirdle, whose seven young children had immediately spilled blackberry jam all over the table linens she had purchased, eradicating any point in Bilbo's recovering his property. (Mrs. Bracegirdle would have gladly accepted a refund. Not giving it to her proved only slightly easier than snatching a golden cup from beneath a sleeping dragon.) And then there was Old Leroy Leaphammer.

Mr. Leaphammer was completely deaf in his right ear, and mostly deaf in his left. At the still spry age of seventy-eight, he could frequently be seen on the streets of Bywater, wandering unheedingly into the path of oncoming wagons and other traffic. His house was kept by his youngest daughter, Beulah, and its sitting room had recently been embellished by the addition of a handsome oak bookshelf, purchased at the Bag End auction.

When Bilbo entered the sitting room, Mr. Leaphammer had just finished arranging a prettily bound set of books entitled The Edible Countryside on the top shelf. "Good day, Mr. Leaphammer," Bilbo began, adopting his best businesslike manner. "I've come to see about refunding you for that bookshelf you purchased at the auction." (He had found it was best to mention the refund first and taking back the property after.)

"Eh?" said Leaphammer, blinking at him from behind square shaped spectacles. "I beg your pardon, I'm a trifle hard of hearing."

Bilbo took a deep breath. "I'VE COME TO REFUND YOU FOR THE BOOKSHELF YOU BOUGHT AT THE AUCTION."

The old hobbit gave him a look of great dignity. "My dear boy, I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about."

"THAT BOOKSHELF," shouted Bilbo, pointing, "WHICH YOU BOUGHT AT THE AUCTION OF MY THINGS. I'VE COME TO REFUND YOU FOR IT AND TAKE IT BACK TO BAG END."

"Auction? That? Nonsense. That shelf was built by my grandfather before you were born," came Leaphammer's unblushing reply.

It took a great deal more shouting, a display of the auctioneer's list, and Bilbo's getting down on his knees to point out the spot where he had carved his initials as a lad, to pry an admission out of Leaphammer. "Oh, that shelf. Beulah must have been switching the furniture again."

The shelf was solidly built and too heavy for Bilbo to manage on his own. He knew, however, that should he depart the house without it, the entire process would have to be repeated. Beulah might even move the furniture again, putting Grandfather's shelf back in the sitting room and Bilbo's in regions undiscoverable. It was a very lucky chance that just as Bilbo threw a despairing glance out the window, Ham Gamgee came trundling by with his wheelbarrow.

Mrs. Gamgee frowned uneasily at the dining room clock. Ham was late for dinner, but hobbits in general (and Ham in particular) are never late for dinner. Taking off her apron (printed with violets), she put on her hat (trimmed with violets) and walked with a stiff and stately stride across the field to Underhill. As she approached the front gate of Bag End, she could see the bent figure of Old Holman, head wreathed in smoke as he pottered with a patch of alyssum. "Mister Holman," she began in arctic tones, "my Ham is as good a worker as you'll find this side of the Shire, and it's downright shameful not to let him as works hard have a decent dinner to keep up his strength. I demand that you send him home at once."

Old Holman straightened up and took his pipe from his mouth. "Well, ma'am," he began slowly, "I'd have no objection to doin' so, if I knew where he was. I sent him over Bywater way for a barrow of compost two hours ago, 'bout the same time as Mr. Bilbo sets out every morning, and I haven't seen hide nor hair of either of them since."

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who had been sauntering down the road directly in front of Bag End, suddenly assumed a purposeful pace.

Before teatime, it was a well-known fact in Hobbiton and Bywater that Bilbo Baggins had made yet another mysterious disappearance. And this time, Hamfast Gamgee had vanished with him.

To Be Continued

Notes to most honored reviewers:

Kabuki: I hope the note at the beginning cleared up the confusion. I was trying to be clever, and I wrote myself into a hole! Thank you so much for your faithful reviews!

Slina: Yes, to your question. Sam is not only pretty young, he's not even born yet! I'm glad you're liking the story, and hope you found this update! (Well, if you're reading this, you obviously did.)

Ouatic-7: I love the Shire, too. Although I enjoy fantasy, the touch of the prosaic added by the hobbits is what really endears LOTR to me. I can't really relate to elves or even mortal heroes, much as I love them. It's the hobbits' empty stomachs and sore feet that I can truly empathize with.