For a long time the dwarves stood in the dark before the door and debated, until at last Thorin spoke:
«Now is the time for our Mr Baggins to earn his Reward.»
«If you mean it is my job to go into the secret passage first, say so! I will go. Now who is coming with me?»
Nobody wanted to go with the hobbit. They were scared. Dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk who really like money.
So Bilbo went alone. It was a passage with smooth floors and smooth sides, going down to some distant end in the blackness below.
The hobbit slipped on his ring and crept quietly down, down, down into the dark. He was trembling with fear. But he was already a very different hobbit from the one that had started the journey long ago.
He went on and on, till the door behind had faded away. He was all alone. Soon he felt hot. As he went forward he saw a red light. He began to sweat. He heard gurgling noise of some huge animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
At this point Bilbo stopped. He was really frightened. But after a short halt he went on and saw the great hall of the ancient dwarves right at the Mountain’s root. There lay Smaug, a huge red-golden dragon. He was fast asleep.
Under the dragon and about him, lay piles of precious things, gold, gems and jewels.
Smaug lay, with wings folded, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his long pale belly covered with gems and gold. Behind him there were axes, swords and spears hanging. Bilbo’s heart was filled with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed at the gold beyond price and count.
Suddenly, almost against his will, he grasped a great two-handled cup, as heavy as he could carry, and looked up at the dragon. Smaug moved a wing, the rumble of his snoring changed.
Then Bilbo ran. But the dragon did not wake. The little hobbit rushed back up the long tunnel and soon he safely came out.
The dwarves were really excited. They were passing the cup from hand to hand and talking of their treasure. Suddenly they heard a tremendous noise in the mountain. The ground beneath them trembled.
Smaug woke up from an uneasy dream. There was a strange smell in his cave. And he couldn’t see the cup. Thieves! Such a thing had not happened since first he came to the Mountain! Smaug was furious. He thrust his head in vain at the little hole, and then he rushed towards the Front Gate. He wanted to catch the thief and kill him. He flew into the air and settled on the mountain-top in the green and scarlet flame. The dwarves crouched against the walls of the grassy terrace. They hoped to escape the frightful eyes of the hunting dragon.
«Quick! Quick!» Bilbo whispered. «The door! The tunnel! It’s no good here.» So they were going to creep inside the tunnel when Bifur cried: «My cousins! Bombur and Bofur — we have forgotten them, they are down in the valley!»
«We cannot leave them,» said Thorin. «Where are the ropes? Be quick!»
At any moment Smaug could find them near the cliff’s edge pulling the ropes. Finally Bofur came up, and still all was safe. Then Bombur came up, and still all was safe. And then they lifted some tools and stores. Just then the dragon came. They had just time to rush back to the tunnel, when Smaug came from the North. He licked the mountain-sides with flame, beat his great wings with a noise like a roaring wind. The ponies screamed with terror, burst their ropes and galloped off. The dragon swooped and turned to pursue them, and was gone. «That’ll be the end of our poor beasts!» said Thorin.
They crept further down the tunnel, and there they lay until dawn came through the crack of the door.
Smaug guessed from the ponies, and from the traces of the camps which he had discovered, that men had come up from the river and the lake; but he didn’t notice the door. He had hunted in vain till the dawn chilled his rage and then he went back to his golden couch to sleep.
When morning came the dwarves debated long on what they should do next.
«Now I will make you an offer,» said Bilbo. «I have got my ring and will creep down and see what Smaug is going to do. Maybe something will happen.»
The dwarves accepted the offer eagerly. Now Bilbo had become the real leader in their adventure. He had begun to have ideas and plans of his own. When midday came he got ready for another journey down into the Mountain. The sun was shining when he started, but it was as dark as night in the tunnel. «Old Smaug is tired and asleep,» he thought. «He can’t see me and he won’t hear me. Cheer up Bilbo!» He had forgotten or had never heard about dragons’ sense of smell.
Smaug certainly looked fast asleep, when Bilbo peeped once more from the entrance. But Smaug was only pretending to sleep! He was watching the tunnel entrance! Hurriedly Bilbo stepped back. Then Smaug spoke.
«Well, thief! I smell you and I hear your breath. Come on! Take something again!»
But Bilbo answered, «No thank you, O Smaug the Tremendous! I did not come for presents. I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were really as great as tales say. I did not believe them.»