“They took off their clothes and bathed in the river, which was shallow and clear and stony at the ford. When they had dried in the sun, which was now strong and warm, they were refreshed, if still sore and a little hungry.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter VII – Queer Lodgings
“He’s not said a thing, but you can see it’s bothering him.” Bofur said, quietly. The Company was lounging in the warm sun beside the river while their clothes dried. The sun felt good on their bare skin, and they were all looking forward to smelling a bit less like Goblin caves. Thorin and Dwalin were sharing the last of their pipe-weed, Kili was tending to his arrows, and the rest of the others were idly throwing little stones into the water or napping… Bilbo had wandered off a little bit to turn his clothes so they dried evenly.
“Who, what?” Dori asked, looking around. Everyone else also looked confused.
“Well… Bilbo.” Bofur was surprised no one else had noticed, “He’s lost his shiny brass buttons.” Everyone looked over at the Hobbit, who was neatly straightening his clothes so they wouldn’t dry wrinkled. He ran his hand over the front of his green vest, sighing.
“He’s still got one left.” Balin pointed out, “But I can see what you mean.”
“Don’t stare.” Bofur warned, and everyone quickly looked elsewhere as Bilbo began to meander back, pausing to skip a stone here and there… he had a good arm.
“He had, five buttons?” Bofur guessed, trying to remember. “I was thinking I could carve him some, but buttons are tricky things… they take time…”
Kili nudged Fili with his toe, the blond brother cracked an eye open, looking up at his younger brother.
“You think we could make a button for Bilbo?” Kili asked, and Fili nodded, closing his eyes to resume his nap.
“We’ll do one.” Kili volunteered with a grin.
“I think I still remember how to do buttons…” Dori mused, stroking his short gray beard, “I used to make the loveliest knotted buttons… I’ll do one.”
“I’ll do one.” Dwalin’s gruff voice broke in unexpectedly, the tattooed Dwarf looked away from their curious expressions, puffing on his pipe as though he hadn’t said anything.
“So that’s settled.” Bofur smiled, thinking how pleased Bilbo would be to have his vest closed again. He was a creature of comfort, and he had precious few out on this adventure. A few buttons to make himself look dapper again would likely keep his spirits up. Bofur remembered how sad the hobbit had seemed when he was leaving them just before the Goblins attacked… no. They couldn’t afford to have him unhappy, and hand made buttons would help him feel like he was one of them… not that anyone had any question of that after how he’d faced down Azog… and Bofur smiled. He’d just figured out why Dwalin had volunteered to do one of the buttons.
No one seemed to be in much of a hurry, but eventually Dwalin put on his boots (and nothing else) and wandered over to the base of the Carrock, where he stomped on some Warg bones he’d spotted earlier. He came back with a few pieces, and began whittling them idly… Dori pulled a row out of the bottom of Ori’s cardigan and began twisting and knotting the wool into a shape, occasionally tutting at himself and unknotting bits he’d got wrong…. Fili and Kili wandered away from the group to throw small rocks at larger rocks until they had gathered a few pretty rock chips to work with, the young brothers sitting knee-to-knee and each carefully chipping at one, occasionally exchanging chips… and Bofur himself found a piece of driftwood that was firm and solid in the middle and began carving it into pieces. He knew from experience that he would ruin one or two before he got one that didn’t split.
When they were all dry and rested, and Thorin’s ribs had been declared bruised but not broken, they all dressed themselves and Gandalf led them on.
Fili and Kili shared a smile with Bofur as they caught sight of Bilbo absentmindedly make as if to button his vest buttons, then drop his hand with a sigh.
They had a good few days in Beorn’s home, though the clever animals took a little getting used to. They all ate well, and they slept well all together in the great hall, and all in all it was a wonderful rest in a place of safety after all they had been through already.
Fili and Kili had broken both the stone buttons they were working on, so they’d had to start over with fresh rock chips, and Dori had to start over several times when the button began to turn out uneven, Dwalin wouldn’t let anyone see his button of Warg bone but he whittled away at it whenever he thought nobody was watching. Bofur had, predictably, broken the first two buttons, but had a very good feeling about the third. He’d gotten a different piece of wood and this one seemed much closer-grained and less likely to split when he drilled out the button holes.
Bilbo had spent his time talking to the animals and exploring the gardens. It was good to see the little hobbit, who’d been so homesick in the mountains, looking happy again.
The last night before they were to leave, Bofur and Dori were sitting by the fire, putting the finishing touches on their buttons. Bofur was using a little beeswax he’d taken from one of the candles to seal his wooden button, while Dori had used layer after layer of pine pitch to seal his knotted wool button until it was hard and smooth and rounded and reminded Bofur of things he’d found encased in amber back in his mining days.
Bofur held his button up to the fire, proud of it. It was a handsome button of solid red heartwood, a flat disc with a distinct rim and two even holes in the middle.
Kili saw the two of them admiring their buttons and brought his and Fili’s button over. The young dwarf was beaming with pride, he sat down in front of the fire with them and handed Bofur his button for examination. It was a square button with rounded edges of a pale green stone, the two holes set on the diagonal. The brothers had spent a long time passing it back and forth, shaping and polishing it, and the care they had taken showed. Bofur nodded his approval and handed it back.
Dwalin came over and sat beside them.
“Yours is done too?” Kili asked, and the taciturn warrior nodded back.
“Then let’s get Bilbo over here.” Bofur grinned, getting his flute out. After a moment of thought, he began to play a tune he was sure he hadn’t played since the Hobbit joined the Company. The others gave him a strange look, but he winked at them, stomping his boots to the beat, and got the singing started.
Within moments Bilbo had crept over and was sitting nearby, eyes wide as he hung on every word.
“Works every time.” He said, grinning at the other Dwarves, then motioned Bilbo over into their circle in front of the fire. Bilbo sat on the floor beside them.
“We noticed you’d lost your buttons…” Bofur started, and Bilbo laughed self-consciously, smoothing his hand down his green vest.
“Oh, you know…” He said, “Buttons, pocket handkerchiefs… things you learn to do without on an adventure.”
Impatient with the gradual proceedings, Dwalin grabbed the Hobbit’s hand, shoved his button into it, and walked away.
“What’s this?” Bilbo looked at the barrel-shaped piece of polished bone in his hand, turning it over, eyebrows raising as he saw the holes through it.
“A button?” he asked, surprised. Kili and Dori handed their buttons over too, and so did Bofur. Bilbo looked the buttons over, examining each one.
“You made these…” He trailed off.
“Got to keep our Burglar happy.” Bofur smiled at him, “We don’t want you throwing yourself to the Wargs in despair, again…” he teased, and Bilbo smiled back, at all of them, cradling the buttons to his chest.
Bilbo turned to one of the dogs who was laying nearby, “Excuse me, might it be possible for me to get a needle and thread?” He asked politely, and the dog immediately jumped up and bounded away.
“I don’t think I’d ever get used to that.” Dori said, shaking his head, and wandered off to make sure his things were packed for their departure in the morning.
Bilbo began examining his new buttons one by one, and Bofur described the making of each one. Soon the dog had returned with a needle and thick black thread, and Kili joined Thorin, Gandalf, Fili, and Beorn who were discussing travel preparations.
Bofur lay back on the floor before the fire, playing a quiet tune on his flute, since he already had it out. Bilbo took off his coat and vest, and, after deciding the order he wanted them in, firmly sewed each button on.
Bilbo put his vest back on, buttoning it up and smiling down at his round middle that was covered again.
“They don’t quite match, anymore…” Bofur noticed, wondering if that would bother the Hobbit, but Bilbo just smiled bigger.
“I think I like them better this way.” he confessed, “They suit me… the me I am now, on this adventure.”
“How so?” Bofur was curious.
“Well…” Bilbo thought for a moment, trying to get his thoughts sorted, “Back before, my life was like my buttons… plain brass buttons all the way down, same respectable thing day after day… Now I never know what will be coming next…” He looked down at his buttons, touching them one by one, “Wargs, or woods, or stone giants, or…”
He poked at Dori’s knotted wool button… “hmmm… not sure what that one might be.” Bilbo laughed a little at himself, “Regardless, these were made for me by my friends, and that alone is enough to make them perfect.”
“I’m glad you like them.” Bofur hadn’t expected such an insightful answer. He raised his flute to his lips to play another tune.
“But what I’m wondering is…” Bilbo said, “You played that song earlier to make me come over… how did you know I would?”
“Because you always do.” Bofur grinned, lowering the flute from his mouth, “You never sing, but you’re always right there listening when we’re singing.”
“That’s true…” Bilbo said, laughing at himself, a little embarrassed.
“Why don’t you sing?” Bofur asked, quietly, looking up at the Hobbit from where he was laying on the floor.
“First off, I don’t know the words…” Bilbo admitted, “And I always try to listen and learn, but you don’t sing the same songs over again very often… and… and you’re always singing about treasure and mountains and lost homes… and other things I know nothing about…”
“What do hobbits sing about?” Bofur asked.
“Oh, silly things mostly.” Bilbo said, laying down so the two were stretched out beside one another in front of the fire. “Young love, and good harvests, bragging about your ancestors…and a great many of them making fun of people.”
“Tell you what…” Bofur said, nudging Bilbo’s leg with his foot and raising his flute to his lips again, “You teach me a Hobbit song and I’ll teach you a Dwarf song, fair trade?”