A Little Hobbit's Big Birthday by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

Bilbo and Sigismond are five, Adalgrim is fifteen (or 3 and 9 in Man-years).

The little hobbit sobbed in his mother’s arms as she sat on the edge of his little bed and rocked him back and forth.

“Mama, it hurts,” he whimpered.

“I know, Bilbo, my lamb,” Belladonna dropped a kiss on her son’s feverish forehead, and wondered if Bungo had found the healer at home.

Bilbo sniffled. “It’s not fair, Mama. I was going to be five.”

She felt tears prick her own eyes, even as she was tempted to chuckle. “Why Bilbo, dearest, you will still be five!”

“It won’t count if I can’t have a birthday like Siggy’s.” He sniffled again. Then he gave another little cry. “Oh, Mama, it really hurts!” He clamped a hand to his ear.

Just then the door to her son’s room opened, and Mistress Rose entered, followed by Bungo. The healer carried her satchel, and crossed briskly over to Bilbo’s bed.

“Why, Master Bilbo,” she said, “your papa tells me that you’re not feeling well.”

He looked up at her and nodded. He liked Mistress Rose. “My ear hurts! It hurts bad!” The tears ran down his chubby little cheeks.

Belladonna reluctantly handed her son over to the healer, and stood, giving her husband a questioning look. She thought he would have brought old Mistress Cowslip. Rose Greenhand* was rather young; she had only come of age and finished her apprenticeship a few months ago.

Bungo just shrugged. Mistress Cowslip and her new apprentice had been out delivering a babe.

Bella gave her son a worried look.

“Now, Bilbo-lad,” the healer was saying, “tell me how it hurts.”

“It hurts a lot all the time. And then it hurts worse sometimes, like someone stuck a knife in it.”

The healer turned and looked at Bilbo’s parents. “Mr. Baggins, if you’d bring the lamp a mite closer, sir? I need to look in his ear.”

Bungo crossed the room, and took up the small night lamp, holding it near. It was difficult getting just the right angle to avoid casting shadows, but after a moment, they found a way, and Mistress Rose peered into Bilbo’s left ear.

After a brief inspection, she gave a nod, and Bungo put the lamp down.

Carefully, she laid the lad back in his bed, and drew her pendulum--a disk of amber on a silk cord--over her head, and suspended it over him, watching the patterns it made. Finally, she placed it back around her neck, and took a small boiled sweet from her pocket, which she placed in Bilbo’s mouth. He looked surprised, and his sorrowful little face brightened at the unexpected treat.

“It’s what I feared. He’s an infection in his ear. He probably got some water in his ears while bathing--that’s the usual cause.”

She stood up. “I have some witch-hazel oil. If you would warm it just a bit for me, please Mistress Baggins, I will put three drops in his ear. Then he should lie on his right side for a quarter of an hour, and let it work. Then we’ll turn him to his left side, and put a clean, folded flannel beneath the ear, and let him sleep that way until morning. I’ll give him a bit of willow-bark tea, laced with chamomile and honey, as well.”

Bilbo was watching and listening with wide eyes. He made a face at the mention of willow-bark.

Opening her satchel, she handed Belladonna a small bottle of the witch-hazel oil. “If you would, ma‘am? It shouldn’t be hot--just warm. And I’ll need hot water for the tea if it‘s not too much trouble?”

“Certainly, Mistress Rose.” Bella was feeling a good deal better about things--Mistress Rose seemed to be very confident, and competent. She took the witch-hazel oil, and turned to go to the kitchen.

As she padded down the passageway, the door to the best guest bedroom opened, and she looked up startled.

“Father! I am sorry--did we wake you?” She did not think that Bilbo’s crying was loud enough to disturb the guests. Bungo’s sister Belba and her husband Rudigar had also come to stay.

Gerontius stepped out into the hallway with her. “No, my dear. At one hundred and five, sleep comes a good deal more lightly than when one is younger. I’ve been awake for a while. Is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid little Bilbo woke up with a terrible earache. The healer is with him now,” she gestured apologetically with the witch-hazel bottle.

He looked at it with understanding. “Ah! Warm oil in the ear!”

He fell into step beside her, and she sighed. “Father, I forget how many times you must have gone through similar experiences!”

“Yes. Well.” Gerontius chuckled. “Twelve children do give a hobbit a bit of experience!”

She sighed as they entered the kitchen. “I am afraid I’ll never know. I fear that Bilbo is destined to be our only little chick. But at times like this, I am rather glad--it would be so hard to have to go through over and over. Not only is he in pain, but his little heart is broken, for he fears that his birthday is spoiled.” She searched in the cabinet for a small saucepan in which to warm the oil. The fire in the stove had been banked for the night, and it took a few minutes to coax it to life. In the meantime, she filled the teakettle with water, and put it on as well.

“A fifth birthday is a momentous occasion, Bella. He’s leaving his faunthood behind, after all. But his birthday is not until the day after tomorrow. Surely he will feel better in time.”

“But tomorrow is just as important to him. He remembers Siggy’s birthday last month. He was to get his gifts in the morning, and then in the afternoon help me with preparing the gifts he would be giving at his party. And Siggy and his parents were to arrive tomorrow as well--he’ll be upset not to be able to greet them.” She checked the temperature of the oil. “I need to take the oil to Mistress Rose; perhaps by the time I return the kettle will be a-boil, for she wishes to prepare Bilbo some tea as well.”

Gerontius made a face. “Willow-bark, no doubt.” He smiled and kissed his daughter on top of the head. “Take the oil; I will bring the water when it is ready. And then perhaps you will join me for a cup of chamomile tea and perhaps a little bite to eat?”

She smiled at him. “Thank you, Father!”

It was after midnight when the family saw the healer out. Mistress Rose left instructions to repeat the warm oil treatment again after first breakfast, and she left another dose of the willow-bark tea. “He should be able to be up and around after luncheon, but he should play quietly, and avoid overexcitement. If his ear gives him anymore stabbing pain or if his fever comes back, please call me again.”

Bella and Bungo exchanged a glance. It was going to be very hard to avoid overexcitement with guests in the hole.

Bilbo was feeling a bit better in the morning, and not particularly happy to have the warm oil treatment repeated, for it meant he had to lie still for it to do its work. He was fretting, as well, about the guests who were due to arrive. Bell finally got him to drift off to sleep after he turned on his other side, another clean flannel beneath his ear to catch the drainage. She sang softly, as she worked on her mending, and soon his eyes drifted shut.

Her respite was short-lived. He had not been asleep five minutes, when she heard knocking at the door, and voices in the front hall.

She bit her lip in vexation, as Bilbo’s eyes popped open. “Siggy!” he exclaimed, starting to sit up.

“Lie back down, son,” she said firmly. “If your cousin is here, Papa will come and tell us soon.”

Bilbo subsided, though he grumbled about “not fair”, but Bella let it pass. A bit of crossness was to be expected from the lad under these circumstances.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the door opened, and Bungo ushered in Bilbo’s Uncle Hildibrand, his little son Sigismond clinging to his hand.

“Siggy wished to see you, Bilbo,” his father said.

Bilbo looked at his cousin sadly. “Hullo, Siggy. I’m sorry I can’t play with you.”

Siggy walked over to the bed. “I’m sorry your ear hurts. Does it hurt dreadfully?”

Bilbo shook his head. “It did last night--ever so dreadfully. But it just hurts a little bit today.”

“We brought you a present. Uncle Bungo says we may give it to you after luncheon.”

“That’s nice.” Bilbo heaved a sigh. Presents would not be much fun if he was stuck in bed.

Uncle Hildibrand held out his hand. “Come along, Siggy. Let’s let Bilbo get some rest so he can feel better.”

Bilbo was cranky and restless, and Bella was glad to give over the watching of him to his father after elevenses. She had not had the chance yet to greet her brother and sister-in-law, nor check on her other guests, and she needed to prepare luncheon, although she would have some help with that--the Widow Cottar often came in to help the Bagginses for special occasions.

She found that her in-laws had arrived. Bungo’s parents, Mungo and Laura, lived on the opposite side of the hill, with Bungo’s younger sister Linda, who had only just come of age, and his youngest brother Bingo, who was still two years short of his majority. Belba and Rudigar, who lived in Budgeford, had already arrived the day before. But Bungo’s brother Longo was away in the Southfarthing with his Sackville wife, Camellia. Bella was just as glad. Bungo and Longo did not get on well, and Bella thought that Camellia was an insufferable prig.

Laura embraced her daughter-in-law. “So, Bella, I hear our dear little byrding is laid up?”

Belladonna sighed. “Yes. He had a horrid earache last night, and he’s not quite over it yet. The healer wished him to have a quiet day, and not to get overexcited.” Her tone was dryly rueful, and her mother-in-law gave a chuckle.

“Rather a difficult task with his fifth birthday, of all things, and a hole full of company, my dear!”

Between the help of her in-laws and the Widow Cottar, luncheon was soon on the table in the big dining room, though Bungo took his on a tray with his son in the lad’s room.

Bilbo was still downcast, for this day was not going at all the way he had thought it would.

“Siggy got to have his presents after second breakfast.” he told his father. He was at least eating, his father thought, watching as his son took a large bite of his potatoes.

“Well, I think that you will have your presents after luncheon,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Bilbo looked up from his plate, a smile lighting his face. “Really, Papa?”

“Really and truly. We shall put on your dressing gown, and we shall go into the front room, and you shall have your five presents.”

“Because I’m going to be five!”

“That’s right. But you must be very good--the healer said you must be quiet today, understand?”

“Yes, Papa!”

When Bilbo had finished his lunch, Bungo used a flannel and washed his son’s face, and helped him into his dressing gown. He was going to carry Bilbo, but the lad gave him a stern look. “I can walk, Papa! I’m going to be five!” So his father took his hand and led him into the front room. Bella sat in her chair by the hearth, and she took Bilbo into her lap. He looked about the room.

He gave a grin to Siggy, who sat on his mother Myrtle’s lap on one of the settees. His Grandfather Gerontius sat on one side of her, and his Uncle Hildibrand on the other. Grandpapa Mungo and Grandmama Laura sat on the other settee with Aunt Linda. Someone had brought extra chairs in from the study, and Aunt Belba and Uncle Rudigar sat in those, while Uncle Bingo stood by the window. His Papa stood by the hearth, beside Mama’s chair.

Bungo handed his son the first package, flat and rectangular, wrapped in yellow fabric, and tied with a green bow. Bella helped the lad to open it: it was a book, and Bilbo’s eyes grew wide, for he did love stories. He opened it and looked at the first page, with its marvelous pictures.

“Oh, thank you Papa and Mama!”

Then Gerontius stood up, and brought to him a round box. It was of red and yellow striped pasteboard. Bilbo took off the lid, and looked within.

Inside were several tiny carved figures and little buildings, cunningly painted--it was a toy farm.

Bilbo took out a cunningly carved brown cow, and looked at it in delight. “Thank you, Grandfather!” He reached up his arms and gave Gerontius a hug.

Gratified, the Old Took returned to his seat.

Mungo and Laura leaned forward. “Bilbo, we have something for you as well,” said Laura. And Mungo turned to his youngest son. “Bingo, if you would, please.”

Bingo grinned, and came over behind the settee. “Close your eyes, Bilbo!”

Bilbo shut his eyes tightly, and then put his little hands over them. He could hear someone approach, and he heard a little thump. He bit his lip. “Can I open them now?”

He heard a chorus of voices, saying “Yes!” so he took his hands down and looked--

It was a rocking pony! Just the right size for a lad of his age, painted dapple grey, with a mane and tail of black yarn, and a painted on saddle of red. His eyes grew large, and a huge grin split his face.

“Oh! Oh!”

Mungo grinned back at his grandson. “Your Uncle Bingo and I built him, and your Grandmama and Aunt Linda painted him, and put on the mane and tail. Do you like him?”

“Oh!” Bilbo was reaching longingly from his mother’s lap. “Oh!”

Belladonna laughed and bent to her son’s ear. “What is the proper thing to say, son?”

He turned back to look at her, stricken that he had forgotten his “big lad” manners. Quickly he turned to his grandparents. “I like him ever so much, Thank you!” He turned to his mother. “Can I play with him?”

She smiled. “But Bilbo, that is only three presents. Don’t you want your other two?”

At this reminder, he straightened up and nodded. There was so much to remember!

Bungo reached over and ruffled his son’s unruly brown curls, and then nodded to his sister Belba. She came over and handed Bilbo a soft parcel wrapped in brown paper and string. “Happy Birthday, Bilbo-lad.”

With his mother’s help, Bilbo pulled loose the string and pulled the paper away. It was a stuffed puppy, made of blue gingham, with eyes of black buttons. Bilbo gave it a hug. “Thank you, Auntie!” he said.

And now Myrtle pushed Siggy off her lap, and gave him a push in Bilbo’s direction. He had a muslin bag in his hands, and he went over to Bilbo, giving a rueful look at the pony, and the other items next to the chair. He held the bag out reluctantly. “Here, Bilbo. I hope you still like it.” It was obvious that he felt his present was not good enough.

“Thank you, Siggy,” Bilbo took the bag and looked inside, and then smiling, reached in and pulled out a leather ball. “Oh, this is splendid, Siggy! It’s just like the big lads have!”

Reassured, Siggy grinned back at his cousin, blushing bright red. “I’m glad you like it!”

“Oh, I do! I do! Mama--can we play with it?”

“Not inside the smial, Bilbo. And you are not dressed for going outdoors. Playing ball will have to wait for another day. Perhaps you and Siggy may play with your new farm on the carpet. Or you might take turns on the pony--as long as you do not gallop him--for remember that Mistress Rose said you were to be quiet and rest today.”

For a moment, Bilbo’s face grew stormy, but then he thought better of it. If he grew angry, his parents might send him back to bed, and that would be dreadful. “All right, Mama,” he said sadly.

Soon Siggy and Bilbo were spread out on the hearth-rug, joined by Uncle Bingo, and having a splendid time setting up the little farm. It had ponies, cows, sheep, pigs--even tiny chickens and ducks. There was a small dog and cat. There was a little barn, and a small cottage, and carved figures of a farmer and his wife and three children. There were clever notched sticks that could be joined to make a fence, and even a little oval mirror to represent a pond. A little wagon with wheels that rolled could be attached to one of the ponies. It was all very cunning, and the two lads and the tweenager played happily until nearly teatime.

Bilbo was to take tea in his room, and Siggy was allowed to join him, with Aunt Linda to keep them company. But when tea was finished, Bilbo’s mother summoned him.

“Bilbo, would you like to see the gifts you will be giving on your birthday tomorrow?” Belladonna had already chosen most of the items from the mathom room, but it would scarcely be right to distribute them without the byrding having some inkling of what he was giving.

Bilbo gave a squeal of delight, and followed his mother to the mathom room. There was a large array of items, set out on a small table, and Bella explained for whom each gift was intended.

“What do I have for Siggy? It should be something good!”

Bella pointed to the box of building blocks, which Bilbo had lost interest in lately. He looked at it, and his brow furrowed. “Mama, could I give him something else?”

“Why what would it be, Bilbo dear?”

“Could I give him my spinning top?”

Bella looked at him in surprise. That was one of his favorite toys. “But Bilbo, you like that toy. Are you sure?”

“Mama, he gave me a splendid ball! I should give him something good!”

She grinned at him and hugged him tightly. “Yes, dearest, you most certainly may. I am very proud of you.”

Bilbo blushed. “Mama?”


“What about your present?”

She smiled. “You will have to talk to your Papa about that. I am sure he will find something. It must be a surprise, you know. We’ll find Papa now, and he can show you.”
His mother turned him over to Bungo, who gave his son a conspiratorial wink, and led him into the master bedroom. Reaching up to the top of the wardrobe, he took down a small box, and handed it to his son.

“See if you think Mama will like that, son.”

Curiously Bilbo lifted the lid. “Oh Papa! It’s so pretty! Mama will like that, I think!”

The two of them inspected it for a moment, and then Bungo returned it to the top of the wardrobe. “Until tomorrow, then, right, my lad?”

Bilbo nodded vigorously. He was sure that his mama would love that present.

After supper, also eaten in his room, Bilbo was checked over by his anxious parents.

“My ear doesn’t hurt much at all any more,” he said anxiously. He was eager to be better, for tomorrow would be so exciting, and he did not want to miss it.

But his cheeks were a bit flushed, so his parents gave him a cup of willow-bark tea, though not so much as the night before, and he was tucked up in the bed, and his father read a story to him from his new picture book.

“Wake up, Bilbo!” said his mother. “Happy Birthday!”

Bilbo sat up instantly. “I’m five! I’m five years old now!”

“Yes, my chick, you are! Suppose we get you dressed, and you may come and have first breakfast, and then we will greet your guests as they arrive?”

“Oh yes, Mama!” And he suffered himself to be dressed in his brand-new snowy white shirt with leaves embroidered on the yoke, and in his best dark green velvet breeches that buttoned at the knees, and his yellow weskit and his little jacket that matched the breeches.

He looked at himself doubtfully. He was sure Mama would tell him not to get dirty in his good clothes, but she did not say any such thing, leading him instead to the dining room. With so many guests, breakfast was being served there rather than the kitchen.

She fixed him a plate from the sideboard, of eggs and fried potatoes and sausages and bacon and toast, and she poured his little mug with fruit juice. A smaller table had been placed in the corner, and Siggy was already there, and eating, when Bilbo joined him.

They had barely finished when the knocking on the door let them know the first of the guests had arrived. As they jumped up from the table, a lad appeared in the dining room door. He was about fifteen years old, with the coppery hair of the Tooks, and a mischievous glint in his green eyes.

“Chop!” both the five year olds exclaimed, and rushed to give him a hug.

He swung Bilbo into the air. “Happy Birthday!”

Belladonna came over and dropped a kiss of greeting on his head. “Adalgrim,” she said to her nephew, “I am sure that Bilbo and Siggy would love to show you Bilbo’s new ball.”

“Aunt Bella!” he grinned, and gave her a look which showed her that he knew quite well that he had been put to child-minding, and that he didn’t really mind.

And so with a small cousin tugging him by either hand, he allowed himself to be dragged off to Bilbo’s room, where he admired the pony and the farm and the book and the stuffed puppy, and they retrieved the ball and went outside.

They began a game of catch on the front lawn, and were soon joined by some of the other guests, including a few more Tooks and some Goodbody cousins from Bilbo’s Baggins side. And after awhile Bilbo’s Uncle Bingo and Cousin Fosco also joined them.

As the front garden grew crowded, tables were brought out, and food set out to serve for second breakfast and elevenses.

After elevenses, the gifts were brought out a placed upon the table, and Bilbo’s parents stood beside him, as he passed them out. Siggy was very happy with the spinning top, and Belladonna was speechless at the beautiful silver necklace with a sapphire pendant. Finally, she bent down and hugged Bilbo, while looking up with shining eyes at her husband.

And then with luncheon, the party truly began! Even more food and drink was brought out, and a magnificent cake.

Bilbo was allowed to shed his jacket and weskit after the presents had been passed out, and soon was running about with the other children again. Bingo and Fosco offered to serve as “ponies” and race with the younger children upon their shoulders.

Laura came up to her daughter-in-law. “I am glad that Bilbo seems to be over his earache,” she said.

“Oh, so am I, Mother Laura! He would have been so disappointed.”

The food flowed most of the day, and after what would probably have been considered teatime, the children began to slow down a bit. Grandfather Gerontius was ensconced on the bench by the front step, and he soon had gathered a small crowd of young hobbits for story-telling.

“Have I ever told you of the birthday present I had of my friend Gandalf the Wizard? He gave me these diamond shirt studs--they are magic, for they will not come undone unless I say so!” He shot out a sleeve, to show a pair glittering at the cuff. “Here, Bilbo-lad, as you are the byrding, see if you can unfasten this.”

Bilbo immediately set to. Although young, he was as nimble-fingered as most hobbits, yet the studs stayed determinedly fastened. He gave a scowl of frustration. “I can’t, Grandfather!”

Gerontius grinned, and drew his wrist up before his face. He whispered a few words, and then held his arm out once more. “Now try.”

Bilbo gave him a skeptical look, and then tried again. They popped open easily. The children’s eyes all grew very wide. The Old Took replaced them, and fastened them once more, whispering again, and none of the children could hear or understand.

Bungo was watching with an amazed expression. Hildibrand, who stood next to him shook his head. “I’ve seen Father do that trick many times since old Gandalf gave them to him, and I can’t explain it any other way than magic.”

“Well, it’s uncanny, that’s all I’ll say. Although it must be handy not to worry about losing them.”

It wasn’t much later after this, as his grandfather told another story, this one about his Great-Uncle, the Bullroarer, that Bilbo drifted off to sleep in his grandfather’s arms.

His father took him into the smial, to tuck him up, and soon his son was joined by his cousin Siggy, who had also succumbed to sleep. With so many guests, there would be sharing of beds this night. Bungo and Hildibrand turned, to see young Adalgrim in the doorway.

“I’m a bit sleepy myself, Uncle--may I sleep with them tonight?”

And so, the when the Moon rose, he could peek in the window, and see three young hobbits all snugly a-slumber.


*Yes, this is Rose Cotton’s great-grandmother.

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