Then the hobbit stole the keys from the guards and went to unlock the dwarves’ cells.
First he unlocked Balin’s door, and locked it again carefully as soon as the dwarf was outside. Balin was most surprised and wanted to ask a lot of questions, but the hobbit just said, «No time now! You must follow me! We must all keep together. All of us must escape, and this is our last chance.»
Then he opened other cells. All went well, and they met no guards. Fortunately there was a great autumn feast that night. Almost all the king’s folks were eating, drinking and dancing. At last Bilbo and the dwarves came to Thorin’s dungeon, which was not far from the cellars.
When Bilbo whispered to him to come out and join his friends, Thorin said, «Gandalf spoke true, as usual. You are a fine burglar. Now we are all for ever at your service. But what comes next?» Bilbo saw that the time had come to explain his idea.
At first the dwarves didn’t like Bilbo’s plan at all, but in the end they had to do just what Bilbo suggested. So they followed the hobbit and crept down into the lowest cellars.
There was little time to lose. The empty barrels were standing in rows in the middle of the floor waiting to be pushed off. Soon they found thirteen barrels with room enough for a dwarf in each. In fact the barrels were too large, and Bilbo put some straw inside. At last twelve dwarves were packed. Bilbo closed holes in the sides of the barrels, and now he was left alone again.
In a minute or two elves came laughing into the cellars. They had left a merry feast in one of the halls and wanted to return as soon as they could.
So they quickly rolled one barrel and then another to the dark opening and soon all the barrels with dwarves went down.
At this moment Bilbo suddenly discovered the weak point in his plan. Of course he was not in a barrel himself, nor was there anyone to pack him in!
Now the elves were rolling the last barrel to the doors! In despair poor little Bilbo held it tightly and was pushed down with it. He fell down into the water with the barrel on top of him. He came up again clinging to the wood like a rat, but he could not scramble on top. Though his ears were full of water, he could hear the elves still singing in the cellar above. Then suddenly the trapdoors fell with a boom and their voices faded away. He was in the dark tunnel, in icy water, all alone.
At last Mr Baggins came to a place where the trees grew thinner. The dark river opened suddenly wide, and there it joined the main water of the Forest River flowing down from the king’s great doors. Then the water of the Forest River swept all the barrels away to the north bank. On the shallow shore most of the barrels ran aground. There were people on the banks. They quickly pushed all the barrels together, and when they had counted them they tied them together and left them till the morning. Poor dwarves! Bilbo slipped from his barrel, and then quietly walked to some small houses that he could see near the water’s edge. He was cold, wet and hungry.
Bilbo had to steal a loaf and a bottle of wine and a pie. He started sneezing and he left wet footprints, so the rest of the night he had to pass wet and far from a fire, but the bottle helped him to do that, and he even slept a little on some dry leaves.
Bilbo woke again with a loud sneeze. It was already grey morning. He was no longer dripping but he felt really cold. He scrambled down as fast as he could and managed to get onto the barrels. The elves started pushing the barrels with their poles down to Lake-town.
So the dwarves and Bilbo had escaped the dungeons of the king.