“Tell us a story, Dad,” pleaded Folco.

Peony’s eyes sparkled. “Please?”

Bungo Chubb scratched his chin and pursed his lips in the mock-stern manner he affected when teasing his children. He waited till the clattering of dishes being put away in the kitchen ended, and his wife Daisy came to join them. She loved story-time too.

“Very well,” said Bungo, “what shall it be?”

“Mad Baggins!” crowed Folco.

“And his magic ring!” added Peony.

“Go on,” said Daisy. “I love that one!”

“Alright,” said Bungo, “I will.

“Once upon a time, there was a respectable Hobbit whose name was Bilbo Baggins. He lived in a fine Hobbit-hole, very well provided for after his parents passed away. He never had to do a day’s work in his life, and never got married, so it’s hardly surprising that he went a little queer.

“You see, respectable Hobbits don’t go off on adventures. We stay here in the Shire, do our fair share of work, and live at peace with the world. But Mr. Baggins, he was of a different sort. Got it from his Took ancestors, they say. Tooks were always going off to visit Elves, sail in boats and travel off to distant lands. Came back with all kinds of strange and marvellous things. To be fair to them, if they didn’t, we’d never have the tea and coffee that we like to drink, and sugar would be harder to come by. But still, a respectable Hobbit is always neat and tidy, and stays at home here in the Shire.

“So, one day, Mr. Baggins was just standing at his own front door, smoking his pipe, when along comes the Wizard, Gandalf.”

“Did Gandalf bring fireworks?” asked Folco, his blue eyes wide with interest.

“Not on this occasion,” answered Bungo, “though I have it on the best authority that his fireworks were of the highest quality. Why, at Mr. Baggins’s Eleventy-first birthday party, he had one that turned into a fiery dragon and swooped down on some mischievous Hobbit lads who were a-teasing of the lasses.”

“I wish I’d been there to see it!” declared Peony, bouncing on her bed with excitement.

“It was a wonderful night,” said Daisy. She reached over to tousle her little girl’s hair.

Peony giggled.

“But that was long after the time I’m speaking of,” said Bungo, with an authoritative wag of a calloused finger. “The Wizard came to Mr. Baggins’s home and do you know what he said?”

They’d heard it before, but Bungo loved the way they got all excited when he did his impression of the Wizard. He drew out the suspense for as long as he could, enjoying the looks of awe on his childrens’ faces. Then he pulled his face into the lofty expression he imagined Gandalf had used to impress Mr. Baggins. In a deepened voice, he declaimed, “‘Come with me, and I’ll take you on a wonderful adventure,’ said the Wizard.

“‘But I don’t want to go on an adventure,’ said Mr. Baggins,'” he added in a squeaky voice, affecting a silly grin. “‘I’m a respectable Hobbit, and respectable Hobbits don’t go on adventures. They stay at home here in the Shire.’

“‘Fiddlesticks!’ said the Wizard, and snapped his fingers right under Mr. Baggins’s nose!

“Well, even though the Wizard was six feet tall, he had so offended Mr. Baggins that he felt obliged to put Gandalf in his place. ‘Excuse me,’ he said indignantly…”

“Dad, what does ‘indignant’ mean again?” asked Peony.

“Remember the time your brother pinched your arm?” asked Daisy.

“Yes,” said Peony.

“You were indignant,” said Daisy.

“Was Mr. Baggins crying?” asked Folco. “Peony was crying when I pinched her arm.”

“Indignant is when you’re annoyed at someone for doing something bad,” said Bungo. “Or rude.”

“Oh,” chorused the children.

“So Mr. Baggins said, ‘Excuse me, Gandalf, but I’m not going on some silly adventure with people who go wandering around the Shire snapping their fingers under peoples’ noses. And that’s final!’

“‘You’re very brave for a Hobbit,’ said the Wizard. ‘I am a Wizard, you know.’

“‘I’m not going,’ said Mr. Baggins. ‘Not for all the tea in Khand.’

“‘There’s no tea where we’re going,’ said the Wizard. ‘Or coffee, or cake, or anything nice. It’ll be dark, dangerous and very uncomfortable.’

“‘That’s why I’m not going,’ said Mr. Baggins.

“‘But there will be gold, and jools, and many wonderful things. Magical things. And all you have to do is come with me,’ said the Wizard. ‘And my friends.’

“‘Who are your friends?’ asked Mr. Baggins.

“‘You’ll meet them tomorrow,’ said the Wizard.

“‘Well, nobody knows what kind of spell the Wizard cast on Mr. Baggins, but he was never the same after that. Why, the following day, he ran out of his house all the way to the Green Dragon to meet the Dwarves and they all rode away on ponies.”

“Oooh,” chorused the children.

“No one knows what adventures befell Mr. Baggins while he was away…”

“For a year and a day,” said the children.

“But he came back with ten ponies laden with gold, silver, jools, pearls and shiny brass buttons for his weskit,” said Bungo. “And he had a magic ring. Every once in a while, if he saw someone coming that he didn’t like, he’d put it on and poof! He’d disappear. And he was mad as mad could be. Always telling stories of dragons, Elves, and the Big Folk. He said there was a man who turned into a bear!”

The children giggled.

“And he really believed it. He wasn’t just teasing, like I do sometimes. He was cracked. But he was kind. Sometimes he would come in the night to a Hobbit in need. Now he didn’t like to be bothered, so he’d get his magic ring, put it on, and sneak over to their homes in the night. He would knock on the door, wait till they opened it and poof! He would appear with a bag of gold.”

“Did he bring them jools, Dad?” asked Folco.

“Sometimes,” said Bungo, “but it was mostly gold.”

“What sort of gold, Dad?” asked Peony.

“Bright shiny gold coins,” said Bungo. “But some people were jealous of his wealth, and wanted some for themselves. He was always having to outwit them so that only the people he liked got his gold.

“One time, a burglar came to break into his house while he was away, but he came back sooner than expected. He put on the magic ring…”

“And poof! He disappeared!” said Folco.

“He did indeed, and do you know what he did next?”

“He sneaked up on the burglar!” said Peony, with a grin.

“Yes, he did,” said Bungo. “He sneaked right up to him and said, ‘Hello.’ Just like that. And the burglar jumped right up in fright and hit his head off a beam in the ceiling!”

Laughter rang out in the little room as the children imagined the scene.

“Well, hitting his head knocked the burglar right out, and Mr. Baggins felt sorry for him,” Bungo said, “so he laid him on the sofa and made him a nice cup of tea. When the burglar woke up, he was surpised that Mr. Baggins hadn’t gone straight for the Shirrifs.

“‘Are you sorry for breaking into my house?’ asked Mr. Baggins.

“‘Yes, I am,’ said the burglar, and do you know what Mr. Baggins did?”

“He gave him a bag of gold,” said Folco.

“Yes, he did. Cracked, he was, but he was kind,” said Bungo. “So if you’re very good, Mad Baggins will come and give you each a bag of gold.”

“Or if he feels sorry for you,” said Peony.

“I suppose so,” said Bungo, “you never could tell with Mad Baggins. Now go to sleep.” He leaned over to kiss the top of his son’s head, then got up to kiss his daughter goodnight. “Goodnight, children.”

He waited for his wife to join him, then blew out the candle that lit the room and left the door ajar so the light from the lamp in the hallway could be seen.

“Mad Baggins!” said Daisy. “What a silly fellow!”

“Yes indeed,” said Bungo, “oh, he was cracked, but he was kind.”

The End.

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