hobbit chapter 20


On the Doorstep

At the end of the third day they finally landed. Horses with provisions and the ponies for their own use were waiting for them. They packed what they could on the ponies, but none of the men of the town wanted to stay with them even for the night so near the Mountain. So the dwarves and Bilbo spent a cold and lonely night and their spirits fell.

The next day they continued their journey. There was no laughter or song. The land about them looked depressing. There was little grass, and soon there was neither bush nor tree. They came to the Desolation of the Dragon.

They reached the Mountain which lay dark and silent before them. They made their first camp near a height called Ravenhill. Thorin sent out an expedition to explore the land to the South where the Front Gate stood. For this purpose he chose Balin and Fili and Kili, and with them went Bilbo. They marched under the grey and silent cliffs to the feet of Ravenhill. There the river turned from the Mountain to the Lake, flowing noisily. Looking down they saw in the valley the grey ruins of ancient houses, towers, and walls.

«Once there was Dale,» said Balin. «The mountain’s sides were green with woods.» They went on and saw the dark opening in a great cliff-wall — the Front Gate. Out of it the waters of the Running River ran; and out of it too there came a steam and a dark smoke.

«Let us return!» Balin said.

«The dragon is still alive and in the halls under the Mountain then,» said the hobbit.

So they went back to the camp. They were alone without hope of further help. They were at the end of their journey, but it seemed, they were very far from the end of their quest.

But Mr Baggins was not as sad as the others. He often borrowed Thorin’s map and looked at it, thinking over the runes and the message of the moon-letters. He made the dwarves begin the dangerous search on the western slopes for the secret door. They moved their camp then to a long valley, walled with lower spurs of the Mountain. On this western side there were fewer signs of the dragon’s feet, and there was some grass for their ponies. From this western camp, day by day they searched for paths up the mountain-side. If the map was true, somewhere high above the cliff at the valley’s head must stand the secret door. Day by day they came back to their camp without success.

But at last unexpectedly they found it. Fili and Kili and the hobbit went back one day down the valley. Suddenly Bilbo saw rough steps going upwards. So he and the dwarves found traces of a narrow track, leading to the top of the southern edge, and it brought them at last to a narrow shelf. Looking down they saw that they were at the top of the cliff at the valley’s head and were gazing down on to their own camp below. Silently, clinging to the rocky wall on their right, they went in single file along the shelf, till the wall opened and they turned into a little steep-walled bay, grassy-floored, still and quiet. At its inner end a flat wall rose up. It was smooth and straight.

They were absolutely sure that they had found the door at last. They beat on it, they pushed at it, they begged it to move, and nothing happened. At last they had to return to the camp.

There was excitement in the camp that night. In the morning they prepared to move once more. Only Bofur and Bombur were left behind to guard the ponies and the food. The others went down the valley and up the newly found path, and so to the narrow shelf. Each of them had a rope wound tight about his waist, and so at last they reached the little grassy bay. There they made their third camp, hauling up what they needed from below with their ropes.

Meanwhile some of them explored the shelf beyond the opening and found a path that led higher and higher on to the mountain; but they were afraid to go very far that way.

The others who were busy with the secret of the door had no more success.

They had brought tools of many sorts from Lake-town, and at first they tried to use these. But when they struck the stone their tools broke.

Bilbo sat and thought looking at a large grey stone which lay in the centre of the grass.

«Tomorrow begins the last week of autumn,» said Thorin one day.

«And winter comes after autumn,» said Bifur.

«And next year after that,» said Dwalin. «What is our burglar doing for us?»

Bilbo heard this — the dwarves were on the rocks just above the place where he was sitting. «Good Gracious!» he thought, «What can I do?!»

That night he was very miserable and hardly slept. The next day Bilbo sat gloomily in the grassy bay looking at the stone. He had a feeling that he was waiting for something. «Perhaps the wizard will suddenly come back today,» he thought. Soon he saw the orange ball of the sun sinking towards the level of his eyes. He went to the opening and there was a thin new moon above the rim of Earth. At that very moment he heard a sharp crack behind him. There on the grey stone in the grass was a huge thrush, nearly coal black, with pale yellow breast. Crack! It had caught a snail and was knocking it on the stone. Crack! Crack!

Suddenly Bilbo understood. He stood on the shelf and called the dwarves. When they came, Bilbo quickly explained everything. The sun sank lower and lower, it sank into a cloud and disappeared. The dwarves groaned, but still Bilbo stood almost without moving. The little moon was dipping to the horizon. Evening was coming on. Then suddenly a red ray of the sun escaped through the cloud. A gleam of light came straight through the opening into the bay and fell on the smooth rock-face. The old bird, who had been watching from a high perch, gave a sudden trill. A piece of rock split from the wall and fell. A hole appeared suddenly about three feet from the ground. Quickly, the dwarves rushed to the rock and pushed — in vain.

«The key! The key!» cried Bilbo. «Where is Thorin?» Thorin ran up.

«The key!» shouted Bilbo. «The key that went with the map! Try it now while there is still time!»

Then Thorin stepped up and drew the key on its chain from round his neck. He put it to the hole. It fitted and it turned! Snap! The gleam went out, the sun sank, the moon was gone. Now they all pushed together, and slowly a part of the rock-wall moved. Long straight cracks appeared and widened. The door slowly, without a sound, swung inwards. Deep darkness lay before their eyes.


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