MOON LETTERS : CREATIVE WRITING
A Legacy of Burglary - Parts 1 & 2 - By Penny Nutbrown
The Sackville-Bagginses always came back. No matter how many times they swore they'd never set foot on the place again, nor how many times Bilbo banished them from his sight, the Sackville-Bagginses always made it back to Bag End.
And Bilbo, sighing, always received them, even when they turned up unexpected, unannounced and unfriendly - just as they did one dreary afternoon in February.
It was Frodo who answered the door. Lobelia shoved past him, nearly knocking him off his feet. Ever since Bilbo had adopted the lad the previous summer, thus crushing the Sackville-Bagginses' last hopes of claiming Bag End, Lobelia had chosen to ignore the young usurper.
She spoke not a word to Frodo, but went storming down the long paneled hallway, umbrella gripped firmly in her coarse-knuckled hand, calling: "Bilbo! Bilbo Baggins! I know you're here somewhere."
Bilbo emerged from the study, a flutter of papers in his hands and ink stains upon his fingers. Bilbo disliked any interruption when he was working on his memoirs, and Lobelia made a most rude interruption indeed.
"Ah, Lobelia," he sighed, "to what do I owe the pleasure?"
Just as Frodo was closing the round green door a pimply-faced young hobbit, slightly his junior, wriggled through the narrowing crack.
"And your delightful son, Lotho, too," Bilbo remarked. "I shall soon be overcome with joy!"
"None of your sauce, Bilbo Baggins," said Lobelia. "We've important matters to discuss. Matters of justice, fairness and the Sackville-Bagginses getting what's owed them - for once!"
And with that ominous pronouncement, she stomped into the study, set herself down in Bilbo's own chair and faced him, a vision of scowling intent.
Bilbo folded his arms, leaned against the mantle and resigned himself to listening to yet another of Mrs. Sackville-Bagginses' schemes for getting her hands on his wealth. In the nearly fifty years since he'd made his remarkable return to Hobbiton, Bilbo had had to endure regular and repeated attempts by his disinherited relatives to reclaim, at least in some part, their lost legacy. Today Lobelia had prepared a list - unfurled it flowed on for yards and yards, of artifacts once belonging to Mungo Baggins and passed down to Bilbo through the laws of primogeniture.
"A most ridiculous custom," Lobelia complained. "After all, old Mungo was as much Otho's grandfather as he was yours."
She began with the parlour clock, the parlour rug, six sets of candle sticks and the very mantelpiece upon which Bilbo had settled his already-aching head into his hands. Frodo, who though but a recent resident of the Hill, had already heard many a variation on Lobelia's theme, curled up in the big armchair by the window and resumed reading Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin.
Lotho, meanwhile, was making a careful examination of the contents of Bilbo's study. He moved about the room thumbing through Bilbo's private papers, flipping through his precious books, picking up one item after another and knocking it, shaking it, turning it upside down. At last, Bilbo could tolerate it no longer.
"Lotho!" he cried just as the boy was about to upend the golden inkstand. "Leave that alone." Then Baggins the Elder appealed to his heir. "Frodo, please take Lotho outside and bury him in the garden."
Lobelia ceased her lengthy enumeration of desired family knickknacks, and looked up in alarm.
Bilbo rephrased his request.
"Go outside and play, boys, while the grownups
Well, I don't really know what the grownups are doing, but go outside and play while we do it."
It was Frodo's turn to sigh, but setting his book aside, he obliged.
"Come on, Lotho," he said, taking his cousin by his sleeve and dragging him from the room.
Sam Gamgee was not feeling himself. He had awakened that morning to find his head heavy, his eyes watering and his nose stuffy. Sam had a cold. He was not so sick that his mother would insist that he stay home by the fire drinking hot tea with honey, but he felt sufficiently punk to find his normally agreeable routine of chores tiresome. His mood brightened for a moment, when he saw Frodo round the corner of the wattle and daub fence, but then spying his friend's companion, gloom descended upon him anew. Sam thought that a cold in his nose and Lotho Sackville-Baggins in his garden was really more than any hobbit should have to bear in a day.
Frodo apologized immediately.
"I'm sorry, but I had to bring him," he explained. "He was driving Bilbo to distraction."
Sam nodded. He too was very fond of Mr. Bilbo and would have done almost anything to spare him annoyance or injury.
"I understand, Mr. Frodo," Sam said, most earnestly.
"Hullo, Sam," Lotho sneered. "Seen any oliphaunts lurking about the hedgerows today? Oh, there goes one now, on his tippy toes!"
Sam fumed. Lotho, who had the imaginative capacities of a turnip, found Sam's unshakeable belief in the existence - out there somewhere in the world beyond the Shire - of oliphaunts incredibly funny, and never missed the opportunity to tease the younger lad.
"Pick on someone your own size," Frodo warned his cousin.
"Sam is my own size," Lotho declared. "Or at least he would be if you turned him on his side instead of end to end."
Sam blushed, for even by hobbits' more generous standards in this regard, he was considered "big-boned".
"Oh, now, Sam, don't pout," said Lotho soothingly. "I didn't mean anything by it. Here, I've something for you." Lotho began rooting around in the right pocket of his coat. A curious expression of confusion and surprise, followed by recognition crossed his face. "Wrong pocket," he mumbled, and here Master Sackville-Baggins' own cheeks went pink. The left hand then dived into the corresponding pocket. "Ah, here we are now!"
Lotho held out to Sam a fistful of what appeared to be frosted hoarhound drops. Sam's eyes lit up and he licked his lips. Sam was very fond of sweets and hoarhound was his favourite.
"Go on," Lotho encouraged him, "help yourself. There's lots."
Sam, with a nod of thanks, accepted and popped one into his mouth.
Almost at once, Frodo knew that something was wrong. Sam's wide blue eyes expanded to even greater circumferences, his lips puckered up as tight as a drawstring bag, and beads of sweat appeared upon his brow.
"Sam! What is it? What's wrong?" Frodo cried in alarm.
"Blah!" Sam spat. He gasped and gagged and coughed while Frodo patted him, rather ineffectually, upon the back. "Camphor balls," Sam managed to get out at last, "rolled in confectioner's sugar."
Frodo looked over at his cousin, his eyes gone cold and steely. Then most calmly and steadily he said, "Lotho Sackville-Baggins, I'm going to tear you limb from miserable limb."
At this point, Lotho showed uncharacteristic good sense and took off running. Frodo gave chase and was within an inch of laying hold of the unpleasant little wretch's collar, when Lobelia and Bilbo, summoned by all the commotion, appeared on the garden path. Lotho hid behind his mother.
"Don't let him hurt me, Mama," he whimpered.
Lobelia waved her umbrella in Frodo's face.
"Get away from him, you young villain!"
Bilbo rushed to place himself between his ward and the sharp point of Lobelia's parasol.
"What's going on here?" he demanded to know.
"It was Lotho," Frodo declared. "He tried to poison Sam."
"Did not," insisted Lotho, shaking his head. "He's lying, Mama. Honest."
"Of course he is," said Lobelia, with a huff. "It's no more than you'd expect of a Bucklander."
"I don't know about that, Lobelia," said Bilbo, eyeing the off-colour of Sam's countenance. "Master Samwise, here, is looking rather green."
"Camphor balls," Sam explained simply, "rolled in confectioner's sugar."
Frodo appealed to his guardian. "I couldn't let him get away with that, Bilbo, could I? I had to avenge my friend. That's what you did, isn't it? You and the dwarves sought revenge against Smaug for all the wrong he'd done them."
"Mm," Bilbo mused, thoughtful. "Perhaps, but that story does not have an altogether happy ending, you know. Many people were hurt or killed and Laketown laid waste before that tale was concluded. Still, though, that was a nasty trick to play on poor Sam." Bilbo handed Sam a handkerchief, for the camphor balls had succeeded in doing what Gammer Gamgee's mustard poultice had not. "Lotho, you should apologize to Sam and beg his pardon."
"He'll do no such thing!" Lotho's mother declared. "No son of mine will lower himself to a gardener. I'll not have it."
"Then it will be one of the many things that you will not have today," said Bilbo. "For you will not have a single rug or chair, candlestick or brass button from me, Lobelia Bracegirdle. Now, I'd advise you to take this witless young hooligan of yours and leave my property before my hospitality and good humour WEAR OFF COMPLETELY!"
Once the Sackville-Bagginses had departed, Bilbo prescribed a cup of strong tea and a current bun as a cure for all the ills Sam had suffered. Sam and Frodo settled down in the warm, fragrant Bag End kitchen to have their afternoon snack, and Bilbo returned to his study. He did not remain there long, however, but returned to the kitchen scratching his curly brown head, a look of confusion upon his face.
"Have you seen my good pen, Frodo?" he asked.
"What?" said Frodo. "Do you mean the gold pen that matches the inkstand?"
"Yes," replied Bilbo, nodding. "I know that I was using it just before Lobelia turned up, but I can't for the life of me recall where I left it. I've turned my desk and the study upside down searching for the blasted thing."
"Would you like Sam and me to help you look?" Frodo asked, beginning to rise from the table.
Bilbo brushed away Frodo's offer with a wave of his hand.
"No, no. Finish you lunch. I think I'll have a bit of a lie down anyway. The Sackville-Bagginses always give me a headache. The pen will turn up. Everything always does."
Bilbo retired to his bedroom. Frodo refilled Sam's cup with milk and offered the tray of buns to his friend, but Sam showed an unusual lack of interest in food. By the expression of deep concentration upon his plain, round face, Frodo knew that Sam was giving serious thought to some issue.
"What's up, Sam?" he inquired.
"Well," said Sam slowly, considering his words carefully. "I was just remembering back to when Lotho went looking for them camphor balls in his pocket. Remember how he reached in the one pocket first and come over all queer and red in the face. Like he'd come across something that made him real nervous. Something he didn't want us to know about."
"And you think it was Bilbo's pen."
"Well, it'd make sense, wouldn't it? Lotho was in Mr. Bilbo's study when the pen went missing, and it is pure gold and worth quite a bit I'd expect."
"Why, the filthy little thief!" Frodo exclaimed.
Sam just shrugged. "I figure he comes by it natural, being a Sackville-Baggins and all - meaning no disrespect to your relations, of course, Mr. Frodo."
"None taken," Frodo mumbled, only half-listening. Then he looked up at Sam, an expression of resolute determination upon his face. "You know, of course, that we just can't let Lotho get away with this."
"What do you have in mind?" Sam asked, worried.
Frodo had been reading hero tales again, and this frequently led to a very unhobbit-like recklessness in his behaviour.
"I think we should go to the Sackville-Bagginses' house right now and steal that pen back," Frodo proclaimed.
Sam frowned. "But if we do that, then won't we be thieves too, just like Lotho?"
"Oh, no," said Frodo, shaking his head. "Not thieves, Sam, but burglars."
"There's a difference?"
"A world of difference," Frodo assured him. "There's no art to thieving, it's just grab the thing and run. Burglary, on the other hand, requires a finer touch. It takes planning and consideration; intelligence, resourcefulness and courage."
Sam frowned again. He was not certain that he possessed any of these qualities in the quantities sufficient to the task.
"I don't know, Mr. Frodo," he said. "We'd be in terrible trouble if we got caught."
"Sam," Frodo chided his friend, "do you imagine that Bilbo worried about such things when he started down that long, dark tunnel to Smaug's cave?"
"Well, no, but Smaug was just a dragon," said Sam. "We're talking about your aunt Lobelia now, Mr. Frodo, and she scares me."
Frodo smiled, though Sam had meant no humour by his remark. He held out Sam's coat and cap to him.
"I'll be right there with you," Frodo promised. "And I'd never let anything bad happen to you, Sam."
Sam was still not convinced as to the wisdom of the plan, but his devotion to Frodo was absolute. He rose from his chair and drew a deep breath.
"Well, let's get it over with," he said.
The Sackville-Bagginses occupied a modest but comfortable hole on the far side of Hobbiton. It's arc of round windows faced south and fragrant wood smoke rose from the brick chimney. The garden looked somewhat neglected, Sam noted, but all in all it seemed a pleasant-enough home and Sam could not understand why the Sackville-Bagginses always seemed so eager to abandon it.
Frodo and Sam made their approach along the box-wood hedge, being careful to remain low and out of sight. They scampered across the lawn, looking more like young rabbits than young hobbits, and hid among the tangle of faded wisteria. A sturdy, brown pony stood harnessed to a two-wheeled cart before the front gate.
"They must be going out again," Frodo whispered and Sam nodded.
Frodo stretched up and peered through the parlour window just at Lobelia stepped into her best room. He ducked down quickly, and both he and Sam pressed themselves close to the grassy wall, their breath held tight.
"Lotho!" Lobelia called. "Hurry up. I told your father we'd call for him at four o'clock and it's already ten past."
"Oh, why do I have to go?' Lotho whined.
"You're coming because I say so," said Mrs. Sackville-Baggins. "You can't be trusted a minute out of my sight. Hanging about with the Bag End gardener and fighting with that wretched boy of Bilbo's. No, I'll be keeping you exactly where I can see you from now on."
Lobelia hustled Lotho out the front door and into the cart. She snapped the reins against the pony's fat rump, and the cart began to creak and rattle along. From their hiding place, Sam and Frodo watched its slow progression down the road. When the cart disappeared around the first bend, Frodo tapped Sam on the shoulder.
"Come on," he said.
Like everyone else in Hobbiton, the Sackville-Bagginses kept the spare front door key under the doorstep. Frodo retrieved it and unlocked the door, then he and Sam slipped inside. It was dim in the hole and very quiet, the only sounds to be heard were the ticking of the parlour clock and the crackle of wood upon the fire.
"What now?" Sam whispered.
"Why are you whispering?" Frodo asked. "There's no one here but us."
"I thought it'd seem more burglarish," Sam explained, still sotto-voiced.
Frodo rolled his eyes. "Let's get looking. Otho's only over playing draughts with Ponto Bunce, so they won't be long. Now Sam, if you were that sticky-fingered little sneak Lotho Sackville-Baggins, where would you hide a gold pen?"
They spent the better part of a half-an-hour carefully, so as to leave no trace of their passing, but thoroughly searching every square inch of the hole. They looked in cupboards and drawers, chests and crates, under cheeses in the larder and behind rows of jam jars in the pantry. Otho's secret hoard of Old Toby was discovered, as were a dozen spoons which Frodo was quite certain perfectly matched an incomplete set of silverware back at Bag End. Yet of Bilbo's gold pen there was no sign until, as near to the last minute as was earthly possible, Sam triumphantly proclaimed:
"I got it!"
"Good work, Sam," said Frodo, accepting the prize and wrapping it carefully in his clean white handkerchief. "Where in the world was it?"
Sam pointed to the hall tree by the front door.
"It was still in Lotho's coat pocket."
Frodo looked up at Sam, his expression a combination of incredulity and exasperation. Sam shrugged.
"Did I mention," Frodo inquired, "that among their many shortcomings thieves have no imagination."
"I'm glad we're burglars," said Sam most earnestly.
"We'll be prisoners if we linger here much longer," Frodo remarked. "We've got what we came for and now lets get going."
Yet before they could take a single step toward the door, they heard the key rattle in the lock and saw the brass doorknob slowly turn. Panic and terror raced for control of Sam's mind, and he stood there, paralyzed, unable to think or to move. Frodo grabbed Sam by the arm and half dragged-half carried him away from the door and across the room. Frodo stuffed Sam beneath Lobelia's neatly set tea table and crawled in after. In the confined dark, they huddled close and waited.
They heard the sound of the door opening and then:
"Four o'clock is four o'clock, Lobelia," Otho Sackville-Baggins complained to his wife, "it's not a quarter-to, nor is it a quarter past. Four o'clock is four o'clock, and I trust you'll remember that in future."
"If it was such a trying ordeal for you to wait," Mrs. Sackville-Baggins snapped back, "why didn't you just walk? It's only a mile, for pity's sake."
"My lumbago, Lobelia, my lumbago. You've no notion how I suffer."
Lobelia actually snorted at this. "Hmph! I should have, it's all you've talked about these past twenty years. Lotho! put that cake down. Honestly!"
"But, Mama," Lotho whined. "I'm hungry."
"Oh, you're always hungry," said his mother, sounding annoyed. "Oh, go on, the both of you, sit down and I'll fetch the tea."
Suddenly two sets of fat knees and four large furry feet were thrust beneath the table. Frodo and Sam moved in still closer. For a moment, Sam thought that his heart was beating so hard he could feel its vibration right through to his back. Then he realized that it was not his own frantic heartbeat which he felt but Frodo's. He reached for his friend's hand and clasped it tight.
Lobelia returned to the parlour. She set the teapot upon the table, rather forcefully, and then a third set of legs had to be accommodated in the cramped quarters under the table.
"Oh, dear, what a day I've had," she sighed.
"How did it go with old Bilbo?" asked Otho.
"It didn't," was Lobelia's blunt reply. Then a smart slap was heard. "Don't grab, Lotho. Ask and someone will pass you the cake tray."
"All right," Lotho grumbled. "Pass the cake."
"Will you please, pass the cake, Mother?"
"Will you, please, please pass the cake, Mother?" Lotho parroted.
"No," said his mother, "you've had too much already."
It was hot and stuffy under the table, the air gone quite stale. Sam's back was cramping and his left foot had gone to sleep. Never in his life had Sam imagined that afternoon tea could be such as awfully long meal. Then the worst thing that could possibly have happened did: Sam's nose began to itch. His blasted cold! He felt his nasal passages contract, his eyes began to water and his muscles to spasm in that characteristic way which always precedes an explosive sneeze.
Sam was helpless to the impulses of his body and was ready to give himself up for lost when suddenly Frodo, sensing the impending eruption, pinched Sam's nose closed. The pressure inside Sam's aching head was fantastic and his lungs strained for air. He tried to pull Frodo's hand away, but Frodo held fast until all danger had subsided. The sneeze lived a short and unfulfilled life and then passed away, forever to be deprived of glory. Frodo let go of Sam's nose and Sam breathed as deep a sigh as he dared.
The Sackville-Bagginses were still discussing Lobelia's visit to Bag End.
"So you came away with nothing
again," Otho moaned.
"Well, if you think you can manage it better," his wife challenged, "then you go about it next time. I'm sick to death of dealing with that miserable old miser. Why he couldn't have had the decency to just stay dead, I'll never know."
"Decency is beyond the ilk of such as Bilbo Baggins," said Otho trying to sound thoughtful and wise. "It pains me to see the once respected name of Baggins sullied by that old scoundrel."
Though he could not see his friend's face, Sam could feel Frodo's body tense with anger. More than anyone in the world, Frodo loved Bilbo. Sam knew that it must hurt Frodo deeply to listen to Bilbo being so maligned.
"Bilbo Baggins is cracked," said Lotho, giggling unpleasantly. "Everybody says so. They say he's writing a book about his adventures. As if anyone cares about his tales of dragons and dwarves and Elves and such. Anyone with sense'd know they're nothing but lies. Bilbo Baggins is a liar as well as a miser and a cheat."
This time it was Sam who prevented their discovery. He turned quickly and clamped his hand over Frodo's mouth. Frodo's eyes spoke eloquently though his tongue had been silenced. They blazed with fury and glistened bright with tears. Sam sympathized to the marrow of his bones, but he did not remove his hand.
"As if matters weren't bad enough," Lobelia went on, "now we've that horrid Brandybuck boy to deal with. Do you realized that he actually attacked our Lotho today!"
"He nearly killed me," Lotho mumbled, mouth full.
Otho Sackville-Baggins took the news of his only son's near murder calmly enough.
"Please, pass the plum preserves," was all he said.
"Nasty, ill-bred young ruffian," Lobelia fumed. "He'll come to a bad end, that Frodo Baggins, and it'll be no more than he deserves."
As devoted as Frodo was to Bilbo, so Sam to Frodo. To hear ill will so recklessly called down upon his friend was more than Sam was prepared to take. Forgetting, for a moment, his substantial fear of the harridan, Sam reached out and gave Mrs. Sackville-Baggins' big toe a sharp pinch.
"Eek!" she cried, jumping back quickly and upsetting her chair. "There's something under the table!"
Otho and Lotho also leapt to their feet.
"A mouse," Lobelia wailed. "Or a rat. Yes, I'm sure it was a rat. Too big for a mouse. Save me! I've been bitten by a rat!"
"The Rat" himself was wishing that he had not let his temper get the better of his common hobbit-sense. It was stifling hot beneath the table, yet Sam began to tremble. Frodo put his arm protectively around the younger lad, prepared to defend him to the death if need be.
"Get the poker, Otho," Mrs. Sackville-Baggins instructed her husband. "Now, on three, I'll lift the table cloth and you smack him on the head. One, two
But Lobelia was deprived of the opportunity to demonstrate her full counting ability. For suddenly the entire tea table was propelled into the air and a band of blood-thirsty cutthroats (for such would be the tale that the Sackville-Bagginses would tell ever after) burst forth brandishing swords of glistening steel. Lobelia and Otho were both knocked clean off their feet, while Lotho stood as if rooted to the stone floor, screaming out one long sustained note.
Frodo and Sam tripped over the rug, the ottoman, the fat Sackville-Baggins cat and each other in their race toward the door. Yet despite all this, they still managed to affect their escape before any of the Sackville-Bagginses could figure out what had actually happened. The boys ran hard, down the lane, across muddy dormant fields and through the wood before collapsing, panting and out of breath, upon the settle bench in the Bag End kitchen.
Bilbo was just lifting the kettle from the hob, and he stood there a moment wonderstruck, kettle in one hand and tea caddy in the other, staring at the two boys who, between gasps for air, were laughing as if they'd just pulled off the greatest prank in hobbit history.
It was Frodo who spoke first. He rose from the bench, drew the handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket, and with a flourish presented their prize to its rightful owner.
"Your pen, my lord Bilbo," said Frodo with a bow, and Sam applauded enthusiastically.
"My word," marveled Bilbo. "Why, wherever in the world did you find it?"
Frodo and Sam burst out in simultaneous, though not completely harmonious, description of
their afternoon's adventure. Bilbo sat down on a chair and kept looking from one lad to another trying to untangle the threads of their narrative. Eventually, though, the story became clear to him and he slapped his knee and laughed out loud in sheer delight.
"Oh, I'd have given anything to have seen Lobelia's face. Eek, a mouse!" he cried, and a fresh wave of laughter overtook him.
"So you're not angry then," Frodo asked, "about us burglaring close kin?"
"I should be," Bilbo grinned. "I should be furious. I should give you both a scolding, and possibly even a hiding, but I'm not. What I am going to give you is the best cream tea you've ever had."
"With cake and raspberry jam?' asked Sam, who was discovering that adventures whet the appetite.
"With two kinds of cake, Master Samwise," Bilbo declared, "and enough raspberry jam to fill the bathtub."
"Hurrah!" cried Sam.
"Here, Master Samwise, is the key to the larder," said Bilbo, "rummage around and see what you can find. Frodo, put the kettle on. You've done me proud today, lads, and now we shall celebrate the honourable Baggins Burglary Tradition!"