4. The Party Cometh
Sam found himself once again late in gathering the pay. Well, it was April! So much to do! To weed, to water, to plant, to prune! And Mr. Bilbo was too busy to recall the existence of a measly assistant gardener. "Ohhh Sam, I don't why I try anymore, Sam," the Gaffer had reminded him while crawling his way to the Green Dragon. "You were always hopeless, you worthless son of mine…"
The Gaffer had left some time before and even then wind had been coughing: a storm was about to break, black clouds had turned day to night and there were rumbles in the distant hills. In fact, Sam noticed there had been an awful lot of black clouds hovering over Hobbiton lately, almost as though gathering to something Evil… he smacked himself for thinking such a queer thing. Since he could do no more gardening, he stood, ears pounding from the pressure in the air, intending to march through Bad End's door for his Gaffer's pay.
Before he could, however, he heard Master Bilbo from some open window: "Frodo, are those PARTY invitations done yet? I've got to invite the whole Shire, y'know… oh, no, you don't have to write to all of them; 'skip' a few to hurt their feelings. Your pick!" Bilbo cackled.
Sam fell backwards onto the rose bushes. He had to get out of here… he should not have heard that… His heart beating wildly, he scrambled out of the yard. A party? Oh my! Oh perennials! He could not not tell someone… he would explode. Or maybe it was just the storm's pressure. He fought his way through the wind and hail to the Green Dragon.
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
At the bar, peg legs leaning to the side, the Gaffer took a swig from his mug. "Ye-es, I've been working for the Bagginses for sixty years. And now that worthless son of mine has uprooted sixty years of my labor." He shook his wrinkly head; everyone leaned in. The Gaffer was, for all purposes, a permanent resident of the Dragon and every word of his was heeded as a lad heeds where his mother puts the sweets. The Gaffer was as old as the wind, as ancient as the hills; he knew all.
"Them Baggins is cracked, mm'hm. Downright unnatural-ated," said Will Fatbelly. There was murmuring and farting of agreement.
"I seen 'im once disappear; just disappear!" cried Ted Candyman. The other drinkers looked at him and booed. "Ruffian!" one called. "Stirring up unnatural talk!" shrilled another. The bartender had Candyman squeezed out the round window amidst his "No! No!" protesting. The bartender wagged his head: "I won't have troublemakers in my tavern; I just won't"
The Gaffer continued with his warble as though nothing had happened. "We-ell he does act unnatural, but he at least stays out of water, and that would be throwing the last cake into the fire, if you take my meaning."
Suddenly the door opened, wind howling through and rain tearing in; Mr. Fatbelly spilled beer in his eye. Lightning cracked, showing a black figure in the doorway.
"Mister Bilbo…" the figure panted. "Is gonna have party… whole Shire invited." Everyone flew to his feet, gasping, gobbling, yodeling. The Gaffer pulled his peg legs back on (he lost his real ones in the War) and staggered over to Sam, putting his arm around his shoulder. "Tell us everything, Sam. Make me proud. I knew I could count on you, Sam. Why, you're like a son to me."
"I am your son."
The Gaffer nodded. Sam told all; amid the rapt attention and praise he received he felt a warm glow. When the Gaffer told him to keep them informed, Sam did not refuse because for the Gaffer's approval he would do anything. Except, perhaps, wade into a lake.
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
Next day Sam was hard put to keep his promise to the Gaffer. He still needed to collect the pay, so before second breakfast, he crept into Bad End, back down the hallway (this time lit by spider-shaped lamps) and back to the dining room where he heard a quill scratching and a calculator clicking. He stood breathlessly in the doorway until he heard Mr. Frodo say in a cruel singsong: "What do you want, Sam?"
"It's what the Gaffer wants, if you follow me, Sir." Sam trembled further into the door. Frodo was alone, figuring expenses or something. On the chandelier long white fang-things hung, tinkling from the breeze that emitted from the open window.
"Oh, yes, his pay," Frodo continued in that singsong. The young Baggins stood and felt along the table and walls, opening secret compartments and closing them with a mutter. At last he reached into the curtains and pulled out a roll of taped-together monies; he snagged a few off and pushed them into Sam's hand – and even as he did so, he caught Sam by the ear.
"Sooo," hissed Frodo, twisting the ear. "I suppose you've been spying; oh yes, I've seen you slinking around. Know all about the Party, don't you, noser. All about the hundred fireworks, all about the twenty tons of cakes, all about the thousands of special-ordered presents…"
"No, Sir, oww, not all of that! Oww."
"I will release you, Sam, if you promise to tell no one."
"I won't, Sir, that is, I will, Sir, I mean--"
"You are so slow, honestly, I don't know why I bother." Frodo released the gardener's assistant.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry; I know how stupid I am! I'll try to tell nobody."
"I'll be watching you, Sam. One peep and you'll be as dead as a pony in a Dragon's mouth."
Sam, when back in the poisonous rosebushes, found concentrating difficult, partially due to his torn ear; but also it was due to his great confusion, having promised two different things. He sighed.
A few minutes later he looked up, wiping dirt on his pants, to see a half-dozen fervent faces looking back at him.
"Hey man," said the leather-clad lad, Mr. Merry. "What's this? They say at the Dragon there's gonna be a Party. Is it true?"
"Yeah man!" Pip squeaked from somewhere.
Sam stood and gulped.
"C'mon! Tell us," belched Flabby Bolger.
"No! I don't know anything!" Sam hastily began clipping the gingkoes.
"You do soooo!" Pippin squealed again.
"Tell us, man." Merry kicked open the gate with a leather boot.
"I'm cool too!" Pippin followed close behind, kicking the already open gate. They filed in.
"Tell us," a young Grubb wheedled as he stomped on the grass. Sam dumbly shook his head.
"Tell us." Merry sliced a chunk from a palm tree with his pocketknife.
"No! I know nothing!"
"Yeah! Teeell us!" Pippin threw rocks onto the carnivorous flowers who weakly cried out as their lives were flattened. Folco Boffin tore off a fence post and beat the rosebushes while Flabby uprooted the potted plants and ate them.
"Nooo!!!" Sam clutched his head, weeping. "I'll never tell! I'll never tell you that Mr.-Bilbo-is-having-a-party-with-about-a-hundred-fireworks-twenty-tons-of-cakes-thousands-of special-ordered-presents-and…" Sam gasped and quickly clamped his hands over his mouth.
The nephews froze, and then dropping all defenseless plants (though Pippin threw one last rock) ran down the lane. Pippin took off for Tookland, Merry for Buckland, but since there was no Grubb, Bolger, or Boffinland, the others ran into Hobbiton screaming PARTY, PARTY!
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
By next morning the only midget in the Shire who did not know of Bilbo's coming Grand Birthday Party of Special Magnificence was Ted Candyman and only because he was trapped in the dumpster outside the Green Dragon.
It was little surprising that right before elevensies the Sackville-Bagginses had arrived at Bad End from Sackville.
They came up the lane, their three nostrils taking in snuff. Otho S-B reached his walking stick over the gate and somehow with a single sweep opened all of its locks; thus they invited themselves in. Sam Gamgee, peeking out of the mutilated rosebushes where he had been busy bandaging, cried: "Hey! Mr. Bilbo will see no visitors – I mean, he's out!"
"Out? Fiddlesticks! He will see us. Out of my way, Gamgee, you penniless bumpkin!" Otho battered Sam aside, Lobelia S-B following to do likewise with her umbrella. Young Lotho S-B looked conceitedly down his nose at the felled gardener and away again. It wasn't worth it.
Otho swung his stick at the door. "Bilbo! OPEN UP!" Lobelia, meanwhile, strangled the bell string.
"Should I check the windows?" asked their son. But he needed not to. The door cracked open and Otho crammed his stick in ere it could be re-shut.
"Bilbo! How's the health?" The S-Bs had never forgiven Bilbo for his unnatural vitality. Otho himself was sagging and all the powder of Umbar and hair dye of Ered Luin could not disguise it… Still, Otho and Lobelia hoped Bilbo would drop dead one of these days since one could not push too many unnatural buttons at once and hold them all down.
Bilbo opened the door wide, his mustaches quivering. "Still kickin' " He cackled and performed a double back-flip down the hall. The S-Bs took the opportunity to barge in. They looked around for dust or a cobweb to criticize, but finding none grew only more irritated.
Bilbo cartwheeled back over to stand before Lobelia and Otho; at the same time Frodo came in from hidden corridor only to find himself face-to-face with Lotho. Frodo's stare at his archenemy was as cold as the ice of Helcaraxë. At his entrance, Otho's lip curled and Lobelia sniffed. Even if Bilbo managed to die, Frodo, his adopted heir, would still have to be taken care of – yes, this young mongrel had cheated Otho and his son out of the inheritance. This was Bilbo's greatest offense, and it could be speculated that Bilbo's merciless taunts to his disinherited heir had added several lines around Otho's face.
Otho said to Bilbo: "We were out on a little, normal stroll and could not help but stop by." Sackville was fifty miles away.
"Lovely!" Bilbo sharpened his fingernails with a filer.
"You are certain your health is good? These things can creep up on you, you know," Otho paused to cough into his kerchief. "Looking after a home this big can be stressful. If ever you need to retire someplace smaller…"
"Maybe," cut in Frodo, "he has someone to help him. If he indeed needed help."
"Children, especially strange, orphaned children, should not speak out of turn." Frodo, though not o'age yet at 32, was certainly no child, and he made some rude gestures at the S-B. Otho turned again to Bilbo but Bilbo was gone. So he took some snuff and turned his ruthless eyes to Frodo, whose hands had dropped.
"Now what is this about a Grand Party? When is it to be and for what purpose?"
Frodo smirked. "For Bilbo's birthday. He'll be 111 y'know. And know what else? I don't think you're invited."
Otho's face pinkened up to his dyed hair roots.
"You insolent boy!" Lobelia just only did not knock off Frodo's nose with her umbrella. "Not that I expected decency here. Even with the noble name of Baggins one can fall, cohering with the likes of Bilbo or the mad Tooks or those worthless waste Gamgees."
"I happen to think very well – yes, more than some people with high names – of the Gamgees. In fact, they are worth more than 3 Sackvillers times the cube of pi."
No one was more shocked at this statement than Sam, who was recovering consciousness on the walkway. Frodo meant anything with sincerity as long as it contradicted the S-Bs.
Otho, for his part, looked ready for brutal murder – suddenly he yelped, jumping into the air, holding his backend. Lobelia shrieked and waved her hands as though to ward off unseen pokes. Lotho took up his father's walking stick and swung it around; it was snatched from him to float in midair and snap in half.
The S-Bs stumbled out the door into the lawn. Frodo felt a pumping pulse in the air and a powerful hum; a beam of blue light shot from nowhere and the mailbox, an inch from Otho's fleeing head, was caught in the beam and vaporized. "Drat!" said a bodiless voice.
When the S-B's had disappeared down the hill, Frodo shut the door to Sam's gaping face. Bilbo stood beside him once again, guffawing and twirling Precious around the tip of his pinky. In his other hand was his staff on which the Eye of the Monkey still smoked.
"Sorry you missed, Uncle Bilbo."
"Just a spot of bad luck; we'll get 'em next time." Bilbo slapped his knee and snapped his fingers, after he had put Precious safely away in an old leather snuffbox. Bilbo had turned Bad End inside out for his ring after the Pippening and had at the last moment of despair found Precious humming innocently in the bathtub. ("Trying to make a break for the sea, eh? Weeell…") Bilbo kept the ring within reach ever since.
Frodo was not thinking of Presh; he thought of yesterday when he had told Bilbo of Sam's treachery and had suggested several horrible punishments (like hanging him by his ears while plucking out his toe hairs one by one) – but Bilbo, oddly, had not seemed interested. Now as Frodo looked at his older relation he felt a new admiration for the deviousness of Bilbo's mind. Bilbo had known Sam would blab it all (he could not keep a secret). No, Bilbo had not wanted the Party to be kept clandestine; it was his intention to work the Shire into a frenzy before the Party commenced. He was going to milk out to the very last ounce a cruel anticipation till all the Shirefolk excited themselves to death. Oh yes, to death.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.