the old man began to unload: there were great bundles of fireworks of all sorts and shapes, each labelled with a large red G.
That was Gandalf’s mark, of course, and the old man was Gandalf the Wizard, whose fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it. To them he was just one of the ‘attractions’ at the Party. Hence the excitement of the hobbit-children. ‘G for Grand!’ they shouted, and the old man smiled. They knew him by sight, though he only appeared in Hobbiton occasionally and never stopped long; but neither they nor any but the oldest of their elders had seen one of his firework displays—they now belonged to the legendary past.
When the old man, helped by Bilbo and some dwarves, had finished unloading. Bilbo gave a few pennies away; but not a single squib or cracker was forthcoming, to the disappointment of the onlookers.
‘Run away now!’ said Gandalf. ‘You will get plenty when the time comes.’ Then he disappeared inside with Bilbo, and the door was shut. The young hobbits stared at the door in vain for a while, and then made off, feeling that the day of the party would never come.
Inside Bag End, Bilbo and Gandalf were sitting at the open window of a small room looking out west on to the garden. The late afternoon was bright and peaceful. The flowers glowed red and golden: snap-dragons and sun-flowers, and nasturtiums trailing all over the turf walls and peeping in at the round windows.
‘How bright your garden looks!’ said Gandalf.
‘Yes,’ said Bilbo. I am very fond indeed of it, and of all the dear old Shire; but I think I need a holiday.’
‘You mean to go on with your plan then?’
‘I do. I made up my mind months ago, and I haven’t changed it.’
‘Very well. It is no good saying any more. Stick to your plan—your whole plan, mind—and I hope it will turn out for the best, for you, and for all of us.’
‘I hope so. Anyway I mean to enjoy myself on Thursday, and have my little joke.’
‘Who will laugh, I wonder?’ said Gandalf, shaking his head.
‘We shall see,’ said Bilbo.
The next day more carts rolled up the Hill, and still more carts. There might have been some grumbling about ‘dealing locally’, but that very week orders began to pour out of Bag End for every kind of provision, commodity, or luxury that could be obtained in Hobbiton or Bywater or anywhere in the neighbourhood. People became enthusiastic; and they began to tick off the days on the calendar; and they watched eagerly for the postman, hoping for invitations.
Before long the invitations began pouring out, and the Hobbiton post-office was blocked, and the Bywater post-office was snowed under, and voluntary assistant postmen were called for. There was a constant stream of them going up the Hill, carrying hundreds of polite variations on Thank you, I shall certainly come.
A notice appeared on the gate at Bag End: no admittance except on party business. Even those who had, or pretended to have Party Business were seldom allowed inside. Bilbo was busy: writing invitations, ticking off answers, packing up presents, and making some private preparations of his own. From the time of Gandalf’s arrival he remained hidden from view.
One morning the hobbits woke to find the large field, south of Bilbo’s front door, covered with ropes and poles for tents and pavilions. A special entrance was cut into the bank leading to the road, and wide steps and a large white gate were built there. The three hobbit-families of Bagshot Row, adjoining the field, were intensely interested and generally envied. Old Gaffer Gamgee stopped even pretending to work in his garden.
The tents began to go up. There was a specially large pavilion, so big that the tree that grew in the field was right inside it, and stood proudly near one end, at the head of the chief table. Lanterns were hung on
Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson
Mats Strandberg Sara B. Elfgren