by Silent Draco
Part 2 of 4
A week had passed, and May followed the course of the Water, meandering into June. June began to trickle down stream, and Master Hamfast watched The Road and listened for the gate with increasing concern. It was a Family Gathering, so of course there were games, and feasting, and children to fuss over, and of course the Master to see most respeckfully. But it wasn’t like good Mr. Bilbo to stay this long without some notice to … “ahh, but them’s the Sackville-Bagginses who’d want to know, and they ain’t been on good speaking terms these years past. Well, like Mr. Coleman taught me, no good getting yer nose in other folks’ beeswax, it jes’ hurts more.” Just then, to his surprise and delight, Robert Mossgrower finished the hike up Bagshot Row, puffing a bit with a filled mailbag. “Good day, Ham,” he called from the lane. “I have a packet of letter for Mr. Baggins. May I leave them in your care, to place inside? And … aha, I have post for you, from Mr. Baggins hisself.” Robert was a bit excited, because it wasn’t often that the Bywater office received post from such a place as Brandy Hall. They marveled at the lettering, the three-farthing payment stamp upon the envelope, and the wafer sealing it:
B. Baggins, Esq.
Second Smial on the North
To: Master Hamfast Gamgee
No. 3 Bagshot Row
Master Hamfast boke the seal carefully, opened the letter, and read slowly (with assistance from his Nuncle Mossgrower on the larger words. He knew them better, sure as Bob was his Uncle.)
June 2, 1388
My Dear Master Gamgee,
I do hope this letter finds you well and in good health. I wished to dissuade you of any concerns over my apparent tardiness. Henry Thornapple, a cousin of my sister-in law Primula, had invited me for a day and night’s excursion to the Inn at Bree, on the Great East Road itself! The weather appears fine, so we expect no delays in travel. I should return in good time, if the weather retains this delightful clarity, by the tenth of June.
“Well, that should be tomorrow or so, we see him walking back up the lane. Bree, eh?” asked Robert. “Well, maybe perhaps he has a bit of news from those strange parts, or a mathom to marvel at.” The postman bade his nephew farewell, and set off whistling back down the Row toward the Water. Hamfast carefully tucked the letters in an empty, capacious pocket. “Whew, and the grass all mown and up on the rick! Let me wash a bit, and then place these on Mister Bilbo’s table inside there. Then,” squinting up at the sun, “time for a bite of luncheon, and to rub Daisy’s sore feet. She’s takin’ it harder with this baby. But then, I should check the water crock, and that trough from the spring. It’s good Hill water he’ll be wanting, leastaways until he gets hisself settled in again.”
The wind shifted to the west, cooled down considerably, and drew in a raft of cloud, later that afternoon. Ham trundled his barrow of oiled cloths down to cover the hayrick, not wanting the sweet early hay to spoil. Well, he thought, perhaps Mister Bilbo will make a nice stop-over in Eastfarthing, and not get himself splashed with all this cold wet and mud.
In the morning came an unusual sound: a set of muffled hooves clop-clopping up the lane past Bagshot Row. Ham put down his sharpening, and looked out the window, peering through raindrops. It was Bilbo, cloaked and riding a shaggy pony. “Wait, Mr. Bilbo!” he called out, “I’ll …” “Nonsense!” came a laugh, “I’m already a bit damp, so I’ll stable and rub him down. No sense both of us getting watered!” Ham sighed under his breath “aye, a fine gentlehobbit, but sometimes ye wonder what with them visits to foreign type places …”
The rain slowed, turned to a dismal drizzle, and faded into a soft mist as the day trudged toward sundown. The air remained cool, and felt even colder as the damp settled in tight. Toward sunset, or on this day, a middle gloomy grey fading into slate colours, Ham head a polite tap at his door. “Master Ham, good evening,” Bilbo said politely. “It’s chilly enough that I want more than some tea and toasted muffin by the fire, something to fortify the spirits if you understand me. If Mistress Daisy may spare you for a bit, would you care to accompany me to The Green Dragon for a pint? It’s setting in to mist for a while, and I’d be glad of company to help me light the way there and back.” He raised the lantern in his left hand, already lit against the gloom. Hamfast looked over his shoulder, and saw Daisy make a quick shooing gesture; she would be fine, and Mr. Bilbo, gentlehobbit that he was, could probably use a helping hand on a bleak night like this. She had that peculiar look that he’d come to understand meant yes, and ye’ll enjoy a pint, maybe a half, and then mind him well back home, and ye back to me. Or I’ll be larning ye with the big pan.