hobbit chapter 23


Not at Home

Meanwhile, the dwarves silently sat in darkness. They ate and spoke little. At last after days and days of waiting, as it seemed, Thorin spoke:

«Let us try the door!» he said. «I must feel the wind on my face soon or die.»

So several of the dwarves got up and walked back to where the door had been. But they found that broken rock had blocked the upper end of the tunnel.

«We are trapped!» they cried. «This is the end. We will die here.»

«Come, come!» Bilbo said. «Don’t despair! I am going down the tunnel once again. The only way out is down. And I think that you all should come with me.» The dwarves agreed.

«Now please be careful!» whispered the hobbit, «and quiet! Don’t let us take any unnecessary risks!»

Down, down they went. Near the bottom Bilbo slipped on his ring and went ahead. But he did not need it: the darkness was complete, and they were all invisible, anyway. The hobbit came to the opening unexpectedly, put his hand on air, stumbled forward, and rolled into the hall! There he lay on the floor and was afraid to get up. But nothing moved. There was not a gleam of light. When at last he slowly raised his head, there was a pale white shine, above him and far off in the gloom. But certainly it was not a spark of dragon-fire.

Bilbo got up, and found that he did not know in what direction to turn. «I am sure Smaug is not at home today. Perhaps we can make a little light, and have a look round,» he thought.

«Light!» he cried. «Can anybody make a light?»

After a while the dwarves brought the torch. But they decided to wait in the tunnel for Bilbo’s report. So they sat near the door and watched.

Bilbo was climbing the great mound of treasure. Soon he stood upon the top, and still went on. Then they saw him stop for a moment; but they did not know the reason. It was the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain. So Bilbo guessed from Thorin’s description. All the time as he climbed, the same white gleam had shone before him. Now the great jewel shone with magnificent light right before his feet.

Suddenly Bilbo lifted it, shut his eyes, and put it in his deepest pocket.

«Now I am a burglar indeed!» thought he. «But I suppose I must tell the dwarves about it — some time.» Down the other side of the great mound he climbed, and the spark of his torch vanished from the sight of the watching dwarves. But soon they saw it far away in the distance again. Bilbo was crossing the floor of the hall.

He went on, until he came to the great doors at the further side, and there a draught of air refreshed him, but it almost put out his light. He peeped carefully through and saw wide stairs going up into the gloom. And still there was no sound of Smaug. He was just going to turn and go back, when a black shape swooped at him. He fell. His torch dropped and went out! «It’s only a bat, I hope!» he thought.

«Thorin! Balin! Oin! Gloin! Fili! Kili!» he cried as loudly as he could. «The light’s gone out! Someone come and find and help me!»

The dwarves waited a moment or two, and then Thorin said, «We have to go and help our burglar.»

«It is our turn to help,» said Balin, «and I am ready to go.»

Gloin lit several more torches, and then they all crept out, one by one, and went along the wall. Soon they met Bilbo.

«It was only a bat and a dropped torch, nothing worse!» he said in answer to their questions. Now the dwarves wanted to explore the hall, and they were sure that Smaug was away from home. They forgot fear and gathered gems and stuffed their pockets. Thorin searched from side to side for something which he could not find. It was the Arkenstone; but he spoke of it yet to no one.

The dwarves took down weapons from the walls, and armed themselves.

Thorin put on Bilbo a small coat of mail, made for some young elf-prince long ago. It was of silver-steel, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals. A beautiful light helmet decorated with white gems was set upon the hobbit’s head.

«Thorin!» Bilbo cried aloud suddenly. «What next? We are armed but it won’t help us kill the dragon. We are not looking for gold yet, but for a way of escape!»

«You speak the truth!» answered Thorin. «Let us go! I will guide you. I still remember the ways of this palace.» Then they gathered together, and passed through the gaping doors.

They had covered their bright mail again with their old cloaks and their helmets with their hoods, and one by one they walked behind Thorin. Up, up, the dwarves went, and they met no sign of life. Suddenly they saw an opening far above, and the air smelt sweeter.

«This is the great chamber of Thror,» said Thorin; «the hall of feasting and of council. Not far off now is the Front Gate.»

They passed through the ruined chamber. Tables, chairs and benches were overturned. Skulls and bones were on the floor among bowls and broken drinking-horns and dust. Soon they heard a sound of water. «There is the birth of the Running River,» said Thorin. «From here it runs to the Gate. Let us follow it!»

Beside the stream there was a stone-paved road. The friends ran along the road, and soon they saw the broad light of day coming through the huge arch. They were dazzled. They came to the Front Gate, and were looking out upon Dale.

Suddenly Bilbo realized that he was not only tired but also very hungry indeed.

«I suppose it is breakfast-time,» he said. «But I don’t think this is the safest place for a meal. Let’s go somewhere where we can sit quietly!»

«Quite right!» said Balin. «And I think we should go to the old look-out post at the Southwest corner of the Mountain.»

«How far is that?» asked the hobbit.

«Five hours march, I think.»

«Oh!» grumbled the hobbit. «Again we have to walk and climb somewhere without breakfast!»

«We must move away from here,» said Don. «I feel as if Smaug’s eyes were on the back of my head.»

«Come on! Come on!» cried the others. «Let us go!»

Soon they came to a deep valley among the rocks; there they rested for a while and had some biscuits and water.

After that they went on again. At last they reached the hill path. Finally in the late afternoon they came to the top of the ridge and saw the sun going downwards to the West.

Here on the rock they found a flat place open to East and South and West. «Here,» said Balin, «in the old days we always kept watchmen and that door in the rock behind leads into a guardroom. There we can stay until tomorrow.»

So they went inside. Some of them fell asleep at once, while others discussed their plans. Still they didn’t know where Smaug was.


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