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The Hobbit (Page 56)

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“Dazzlingly marvellous! Perfect! Flawless! Staggering!” exclaimed Bilbo aloud, but what he thought inside was: “Old fool! Why, there is a large patch in the hollow of his left breast as bare as a snail out of its shell!”

After he had seen that Mr. Baggins’ one idea was to get away. “Well, I really must not detain Your Magnificence any longer,” he said, “or keep you from much needed rest. Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars,” he added as a parting shot, as he darted back and fled up the tunnel.

It was an unfortunate remark, for the dragon spouted terrific flames after him, and fast though he sped up the slope, he had not gone nearly far enough to be comfortable before the ghastly head of Smaug was thrust against the opening behind. Luckily the whole head and jaws could not squeeze in, but the nostrils sent forth fire and vapour to pursue him, and he was nearly overcome, and stumbled blindly on in great pain and fear. He had been feeling rather pleased with the cleverness of his conversation with Smaug, but his mistake at the end shook him into better sense.

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“Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!” he said to himself, and it became a favourite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb. “You aren’t nearly through this adventure yet,” he added, and that was pretty true as well.

The afternoon was turning into evening when he came out again and stumbled and fell in a faint on the ‘doorstep’. The dwarves revived him, and doctored his scorches as well as they could; but it was a long time before the hair on the back of his head and his heels grew properly again: it had all been singed and frizzled right down to the skin. In the meanwhile his friends did their best to cheer him up; and they were eager for his story, especially wanting to know why the dragon had made such an awful noise, and how Bilbo had escaped.

But the hobbit was worried and uncomfortable, and they had difficulty in getting anything out of him. On thinking things over he was now regretting some of the things he had said to the dragon, and was not eager to repeat them. The old thrush was sitting on a rock near by with his head cocked on one side, listening to all that was said. It shows what an ill temper Bilbo was in: he picked up a stone and threw it at the thrush, which merely fluttered aside and came back.

“Drat the bird!” said Bilbo crossly. “I believe he is listening, and I don’t like the look of him.”

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“Leave him alone!” said Thorin. “The thrushes are good and friendly—this is a very old bird indeed, and is maybe the last left of the ancient breed that used to live about here, tame to the hands of my father and grandfather. They were a long-lived and magical race, and this might even be one of those that were alive then, a couple of hundreds of years or more ago. The Men of Dale used to have the trick of understanding their language, and used them for messengers to fly to the Men of the Lake and elsewhere.”

“Well, he’ll have news to take to Lake-town all right, if that is what he is after,” said Bilbo; “though I don’t suppose there are any people left there that trouble with thrush-language.”

“Why what has happened?” cried the dwarves. “Do get on with your tale!”

So Bilbo told them all he could remember, and he confessed that he had a nasty feeling that the dragon guessed too much from his riddles added to the camps and the ponies. “I am sure he knows we came from Lake-town and had help from there; and I have a horrible feeling that his next move may be in that direction. I wish to goodness I had never said that about Barrel-rider; it would make even a blind rabbit in these parts think of the Lake-men.”

“Well, well! It cannot be helped, and it is difficult not to slip in talking to a dragon, or so I have always heard,” said Balin anxious to comfort him. “I think you did very well, if you ask me—you found out one very useful thing at any rate, and got home alive, and that is more than most can say who have had words with the likes of Smaug. It may be a mercy and a blessing yet to know of the bare patch in the old Worm’s diamond waistcoat.”

That turned the conversation, and they all began discussing dragon-slayings historical, dubious, and mythical, and the various sorts of stabs and jabs and undercuts, and the different arts devices and stratagems by which they had been accomplished. The general opinion was that catching a dragon napping was not as easy as it sounded, and the attempt to stick one or prod one asleep was more likely to end in disaster than a bold frontal attack. All the while they talked the thrush listened, till at last when the stars began to peep forth, it silently spread its wings and flew away. And all the while they talked and the shadows lengthened Bilbo became more and more unhappy and his foreboding grew.

At last he interrupted them. “I am sure we are very unsafe here,” he said, “and I don’t see the point of sitting here. The dragon has withered all the pleasant green, and anyway the night has come and it is cold. But I feel it in my bones that this place will be attacked again. Smaug knows now how I came down to his hall, and you can trust him to guess where the other end of the tunnel is. He will break all this side of the Mountain to bits, if necessary, to stop up our entrance, and if we are smashed with it the better he will like it.”

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“You are very gloomy, Mr. Baggins!” said Thorin. “Why has not Smaug blocked the lower end, then, if he is so eager to keep us out? He has not, or we should have heard him.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know—because at first he wanted to try and lure me in again, I suppose, and now perhaps because he is waiting till after tonight’s hunt, or because he does not want to damage his bedroom if he can help it—but I wish you would not argue. Smaug will be coming out at any minute now, and our only hope is to get well in the tunnel and shut the door.”

He seemed so much in earnest that the dwarves at last did as he said, though they delayed shutting the door—it seemed a desperate plan, for no one knew whether or how they could get it open again from the inside, and the thought of being shut in a place from which the only way out led through the dragon’s lair was not one they liked. Also everything seemed quite quiet, both outside and down the tunnel. So for a longish while they sat inside not far down from the half-open door and went on talking.

The talk turned to the dragon’s wicked words about the dwarves. Bilbo wished he had never heard them, or at least that he could feel quite certain that the dwarves now were absolutely honest when they declared that they had never thought at all about what would happen after the treasure had been won. “We knew it would be a desperate venture,” said Thorin, “and we know that still; and I still think that when we have won it will be time enough to think what to do about it. As for your share, Mr. Baggins, I assure you we are more than grateful and you shall choose your own fourteenth, as soon as we have anything to divide. I am sorry if you are worried about transport, and I admit the difficulties are great—the lands have not become less wild with the passing of time, rather the reverse—but we will do whatever we can for you, and take our share of the cost when the time comes. Believe me or not as you like!”

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