Flies and Spiders
They walked in single file. The path was narrow and winding. There were black squirrels in the wood. There were queer noises too; but what made the noises they could not see. They saw dark dense cobwebs, often stretched from tree to tree. There were none stretched across the path, though.
The forest seemed endless, and they began to hate it. But they had to go on and on. The nights were the worst. But in the complete darkness they could see eyes. They slept all closely together, and took turns to watch; and when it was Bilbo’s turn, he could see pairs of yellow or red or green eyes in the distance, and then they slowly faded and disappeared and slowly shone again in another place. «Insect eyes» he thought, «not animal eyes.»
Bilbo was always hungry, for they were extremely careful with their provisions. They once shot a squirrel with an arrow, but when they roasted it, it had a horrible taste, and they shot no more squirrels. They were thirsty too, for they had very little water, and in all the time they had seen neither spring nor stream. And then they saw that their path was blocked by running water. It flowed fast and strong, and it looked black. They remembered that Beorn had warned them against it, so now they only thought of how to cross it without wetting themselves. Bilbo looked ahead and suddenly cried:
«There is a boat against the far bank!»
«How far away is it?» asked Thorin.
«Around twelve yards,» answered Bilbo.
«We can’t jump it,» said Thorin.
«Can any of you throw a rope?» asked Bilbo.
Fili thought he could; so he took the rope in his hand, and then flung it across the stream.
«Not far enough!» said Bilbo who was looking forward. «Try again. I don’t think that the magic is strong enough to hurt you, if you just touch a wet rope.»
Fili picked up the hook. This time he threw it with greater strength.
«You have thrown it right into the wood on the other side now. Draw it back gently,» said Bilbo.
Fili pulled the rope back slowly, and soon the boat was close to them.
«Who’ll cross first?» asked Bilbo.
«I will,» said Thorin, «and you will come with me, and Fili and Balin. After that Kili and Oin and Gloin and Don; next Ori and Nori, Bifur and Bofur; and last Dwalin and Bombur.»
«There aren’t any oars. How are you going to push the boat back to the far bank?» asked the hobbit.
«Give me another rope and another hook,» said Fili. Then he threw the rope into the darkness ahead and as high as he could. The hook got stuck in the branches. «One of you,» said Fili, «should pull on the rope that is stuck in a tree on the other side. One of the others must hold the hook that we used at first, and when we are safe on the other side he can hook it on, and you can draw the boat back.»
In this way they were all soon on the far bank safe across the enchanted stream. But then something bad happened. Out of the gloom a deer ran into the dwarves and bowled them over. Then it prepared for a leap. High it jumped. But Thorin was quick: he shot into the leaping beast. They heard how the deer fell down.
Just then Bilbo cried: «Bombur is drowning!» It was only too true. Bombur had only one foot on the land when the deer sprang over him. He stumbled and fell into the water.
They could still see his hood above the water when they ran to the bank.
Quickly they threw a rope with a hook to him. His hand caught it, and they pulled him to the shore. He was wet from hair to boots, of course, but that was not the worst. When they laid him on the bank he was already fast asleep; and fast asleep he remained in spite of all they could do.
Suddenly on the path ahead appeared some white deer. Before Thorin could cry out three of the dwarves had leaped to their feet and loosed off arrows from their bows. None found their mark. The deer turned and vanished in the trees, and in vain the dwarves shot their arrows after them.
«Stop! Stop!» shouted Thorin; but it was too late, the excited dwarves had wasted their last arrows, and now the bows that Beorn had given them were useless.
They were a gloomy party that night, and the gloom gathered still deeper on them in the following days. They were carrying the heavy body of Bombur. In a few days there was practically nothing to eat or to drink.
Two days later they came to a valley filled with oaks. «Is there no end to this damned forest?» said Thorin. «Somebody must climb a tree and have a look round.»
Of course «somebody» was Bilbo, because he was the lightest. Poor Mr Baggins had never had much practice in climbing trees, but they lifted him up into the lowest branches of a huge oak, and he had to climb up.
In the end Bilbo got to the top. His eyes were almost blinded by the light. He saw all round him a sea of dark green; and there were everywhere hundreds of butterflies. But he could see no end to the trees and the leaves in any direction.
He climbed down full of despair. His report soon made the others as miserable as he was.
«The forest goes on for ever and ever and ever in all directions! What shall we do?» they cried.