The Hobbit (Page 5)

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This was Thorin’s style. He was an important dwarf. If he had been allowed, he would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not known already. But he was rudely interrupted. Poor Bilbo couldn’t bear it any longer. At may never return he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel. All the dwarves sprang up, knocking over the table. Gandalf struck a blue light on the end of his magic staff, and in its firework glare the poor little hobbit could be seen kneeling on the hearth-rug, shaking like a jelly that was melting. Then he fell flat on the floor, and kept on calling out “struck by lightning, struck by lightning!” over and over again; and that was all they could get out of him for a long time. So they took him and laid him out of the way on the drawing-room sofa with a drink at his elbow, and they went back to their dark business.

“Excitable little fellow,” said Gandalf, as they sat down again. “Gets funny queer fits, but he is one of the best, one of the best—as fierce as a dragon in a pinch.”

If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch, you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit, even to Old Took’s great-grand-uncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.

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In the meanwhile, however, Bullroarer’s gentler descendant was reviving in the drawing-room. After a while and a drink he crept nervously to the door of the parlour. This is what he heard, Gloin speaking: “Humph!” (or some snort more or less like that). “Will he do, do you think? It is all very well for Gandalf to talk about this hobbit being fierce, but one shriek like that in a moment of excitement would be enough to wake the dragon and all his relatives, and kill the lot of us. I think it sounded more like fright than excitement! In fact, if it had not been for the sign on the door, I should have been sure we had come to the wrong house. As soon as I clapped eyes on the little fellow bobbing and puffing on the mat, I had my doubts. He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!”

Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce. As for little fellow bobbing on the mat it almost made him really fierce. Many a time afterwards the Baggins part regretted what he did now, and he said to himself: “Bilbo, you were a fool; you walked right in and put your foot in it.”

“Pardon me,” he said, “if I have overheard words that you were saying. I don’t pretend to understand what you are talking about, or your reference to burglars, but I think I am right in believing” (this is what he called being on his dignity) “that you think I am no good. I will show you. I have no signs on my door—it was painted a week ago—, and I am quite sure you have come to the wrong house. As soon as I saw your funny faces on the door-step, I had my doubts. But treat it as the right one. Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert. I had a great-great-great-grand-uncle once, Bullroarer Took, and—”

“Yes, yes, but that was long ago,” said Gloin. “I was talking about you. And I assure you there is a mark on this door—the usual one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that’s how it is usually read. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It’s all the same to us. Gandalf told us that there was a man of the sort in these parts looking for a Job at once, and that he had arranged for a meeting here this Wednesday tea-time.”

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“Of course there is a mark,” said Gandalf. “I put it there myself. For very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal.”

He scowled so angrily at Gloin that the dwarf huddled back in his chair; and when Bilbo tried to open his mouth to ask a question, he turned and frowned at him and stuck out his bushy eyebrows, till Bilbo shut his mouth tight with a snap. “That’s right,” said Gandalf. “Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet. Now Bilbo, my boy, fetch the lamp, and let’s have a little light on this!”

On the table in the light of a big lamp with a red shade he spread a piece of parchment rather like a map.

“This was made by Thror, your grandfather, Thorin,” he said in answer to the dwarves’ excited questions. “It is a plan of the Mountain.”

“I don’t see that this will help us much,” said Thorin disappointedly after a glance. “I remember the Mountain well enough and the lands about it. And I know where Mirkwood is, and the Withered Heath where the great dragons bred.”

“There is a dragon marked in red on the Mountain,” said Balin, “but it will be easy enough to find him without that, if ever we arrive there.”

“There is one point that you haven’t noticed,” said the wizard, “and that is the secret entrance. You see that rune on the West side, and the hand pointing to it from the other runes? That marks a hidden passage to the Lower Halls.” (Look at the map at the beginning of this book, and you will see there the runes.)

“It may have been secret once,” said Thorin, “but how do we know that it is secret any longer? Old Smaug has lived there long enough now to find out anything there is to know about those caves.”

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“He may—but he can’t have used it for years and years.”

“Why?”

“Because it is too small. ‘Five feet high the door and three may walk abreast’ say the runes, but Smaug could not creep into a hole that size, not even when he was a young dragon, certainly not after devouring so many of the dwarves and men of Dale.”

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