Tolkien watched Mallory's friend with bright eyes. Pale gold hair; intense eyes; strong, slender hands—he could see them pulling a bow, wielding a jeweled sword. Fingolfin? he thought. Ecthelion at Gondolin? He hasn't their beauty, of course. He stopped and laughed at himself. He really had to stop casting all his new acquaintances as characters in his own mythology.
"Mallory, Lord Peter, please meet my friends, Jack and Warnie Lewis."
He watched the four men as they greeted each other. Warnie heartily shook Lord Peter's hand, exclaiming, "The great detective! Jack, do you know that this fellow is a real-life Sherlock Holmes?"
"D'you know," Mallory said, "just as we were arriving, I was about to ask him how he started detecting."
"Would you tell us, my lord?" Warnie asked.
"Call me Wimsey. It's quite simple. Mallory and I knew a chap called Wooster, and he and I managed to foil a robbery of emeralds at the home of his aunt and uncle. Couldn't stop doin' it after that. Something enthralling about applyin' the brains to a knotty puzzle. Eventually became a hobit."
"A what?" Jack Lewis queried.
Wimsey raised an eyebrow. "A habit. I pick up these puzzles everywhere I go, it seems."
Mallory chortled, "No, you said hobit."
Tolkien eyed Wimsey again. He didn't seem a man to stumble over his own words. Despite the lightness of his tone, there was a tightness around his mouth and tiredness in his eyes. The man was exhausted and worried. "Shall we take seats?" he asked.
As they did, Warnie mulled over the word Wimsey had accidentally coined. "Hobit, hobit. What is it, then? What would you say a hobit is, Tolkien? You're the expert at fantastical beasts."
Tolkien smiled. "Wimsey has invented it. Let him decide."
As he'd hoped, Wimsey laughed. "Shades of the Jabberwocky. Something that goes round and makes holes. Related to a slithy tove."
The men laughed, and as they carried on talking like old friends, Tolkien scrawled on the flyleaf of a book he had in his pocket, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." He shoved the book back in his pocket and joined the conversation.
That evening, Edith found the book and shelved it. When Tolkien saw it again, he had forgotten about Wimsey, but the memory of strong elvish hands and a hobbit in a hole in the ground remained.