The Hobbit (Page 55)

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“These don’t sound so creditable,” scoffed Smaug. “I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider,” went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.

“That’s better!” said Smaug. “But don’t let your imagination run away with you!”

This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don’t want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don’t want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise). No dragon can resist the fascination of riddling talk and of wasting time trying to understand it. There was a lot here which Smaug did not understand at all (though I expect you do, since you know all about Bilbo’s adventures to which he was referring), but he thought he understood enough, and he chuckled in his wicked inside.

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“I thought so last night,” he smiled to himself. “Lake-men, some nasty scheme of those miserable tub-trading Lake-men, or I’m a lizard. I haven’t been down that way for an age and an age; but I will soon alter that!”

“Very well, O Barrel-rider!” he said aloud. “Maybe Barrel was your pony’s name; and maybe not, though it was fat enough. You may walk unseen, but you did not walk all the way. Let me tell you I ate six ponies last night and I shall catch and eat all the others before long. In return for the excellent meal I will give you one piece of advice for your good: don’t have more to do with dwarves than you can help!”

“Dwarves!” said Bilbo in pretended surprise. “Don’t talk to me!” said Smaug. “I know the smell (and taste) of dwarf—no one better. Don’t tell me that I can eat a dwarf-ridden pony and not know it! You’ll come to a bad end, if you go with such friends, Thief Barrel-rider. I don’t mind if you go back and tell them so from me.” But he did not tell Bilbo that there was one smell he could not make out at all, hobbit-smell; it was quite outside his experience and puzzled him mightily.

“I suppose you got a fair price for that cup last night?” he went on. “Come now, did you? Nothing at all! Well, that’s just like them. And I suppose they are skulking outside, and your job is to do all the dangerous work and get what you can when I’m not looking—for them? And you will get a fair share? Don’t you believe it! If you get off alive, you will be lucky.”

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Bilbo was now beginning to feel really uncomfortable. Whenever Smaug’s roving eye, seeking for him in the shadows, flashed across him, he trembled, and an unaccountable desire seized hold of him to rush out and reveal himself and tell all the truth to Smaug. In fact he was in grievous danger of coming under the dragon-spell. But plucking up courage he spoke again.

“You don’t know everything, O Smaug the Mighty,” said he. “Not gold alone brought us hither.”

“Ha! Ha! You admit the ‘us’” laughed Smaug. “Why not say ‘us fourteen’ and be done with it, Mr. Lucky Number? I am pleased to hear that you had other business in these parts besides my gold. In that case you may, perhaps, not altogether waste your time.

“I don’t know if it has occurred to you that, even if you could steal the gold bit by bit—a matter of a hundred years or so—you could not get it very far? Not much use on the mountain-side? Not much use in the forest? Bless me! Had you never thought of the catch? A fourteenth share, I suppose, or something like it, those were the terms, eh? But what about delivery? What about cartage? What about armed guards and tolls?” And Smaug laughed aloud. He had a wicked and a wily heart, and he knew his guesses were not far out, though he suspected that the Lake-men were at the back of the plans, and that most of the plunder was meant to stop there in the town by the shore that in his young days had been called Esgaroth.

You will hardly believe it, but poor Bilbo was really very taken aback. So far all his thoughts and energies had been concentrated on getting to the Mountain and finding the entrance. He had never bothered to wonder how the treasure was to be removed, certainly never how any part of it that might fall to his share was to be brought back all the way to Bag-End Under-Hill.

Now a nasty suspicion began to grow in his mind—had the dwarves forgotten this important point too, or were they laughing in their sleeves at him all the time? That is the effect that dragon-talk has on the inexperienced. Bilbo of course ought to have been on his guard; but Smaug had rather an overwhelming personality.

“I tell you,” he said, in an effort to remain loyal to his friends and to keep his end up, “that gold was only an afterthought with us. We came over hill and under hill, by wave and wind, for Revenge. Surely, O Smaug the unassessably wealthy, you must realize that your success has made you some bitter enemies?”

Then Smaug really did laugh—a devastating sound which shook Bilbo to the floor, while far up in the tunnel the dwarves huddled together and imagined that the hobbit had come to a sudden and a nasty end.

“Revenge!” he snorted, and the light of his eyes lit the hall from floor to ceiling like scarlet lightning. “Revenge! The King under the Mountain is dead and where are his kin that dare seek revenge? Girion Lord of Dale is dead, and I have eaten his people like a wolf among sheep, and where are his sons’ sons that dare approach me? I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows!” he gloated. “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

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“I have always understood,” said Bilbo in a frightened squeak, “that dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the—er—chest; but doubtless one so fortified has thought of that.”

The dragon stopped short in his boasting. “Your information is antiquated,” he snapped. “I am armoured above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me.”

“I might have guessed it,” said Bilbo. “Truly there can nowhere be found the equal of Lord Smaug the Impenetrable. What magnificence to possess a waistcoat of fine diamonds!”

“Yes, it is rare and wonderful, indeed,” said Smaug absurdly pleased. He did not know that the hobbit had already caught a glimpse of his peculiar under-covering on his previous visit, and was itching for a closer view for reasons of his own. The dragon rolled over. “Look!” he said. “What do you say to that?”

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