The Hobbit (Page 66)

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It was very dark, and the road after a while, when he left the newly made path and climbed down towards the lower course of the stream, was strange to him. At last he came to the bend where he had to cross the water, if he was to make for the camp, as he wished. The bed of the stream was there shallow but already broad, and fording it in the dark was not easy for the little hobbit. He was nearly across when he missed his footing on a round stone and fell into the cold water with a splash. He had barely scrambled out on the far bank, shivering and spluttering, when up came elves in the gloom with bright lanterns and searched for the cause of the noise.

“That was no fish!” one said. “There is a spy about. Hide your lights! They will help him more than us, if it is that queer little creature that is said to be their servant.”

“Servant, indeed!” snorted Bilbo; and in the middle of his snort he sneezed loudly, and the elves immediately gathered towards the sound.

“Let’s have a light!” he said. “I am here, if you want me!” and he slipped off his ring, and popped from behind a rock.

They seized him quickly, in spite of their surprise. “Who are you? Are you the dwarves’ hobbit? What are you doing? How did you get so far past our sentinels?” they asked one after another.

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“I am Mr. Bilbo Baggins,” he answered, “companion of Thorin, if you want to know. I know your king well by sight, though perhaps he doesn’t know me to look at. But Bard will remember me, and it is Bard I particularly want to see.”

“Indeed!” said they, “and what may be your business?”

“Whatever it is, it’s my own, my good elves. But if you wish ever to get back to your own woods from this cold cheerless place,” he answered shivering, “you will take me along quick to a fire, where I can dry—and then you will let me speak to your chiefs as quick as may be. I have only an hour or two to spare.”

That is how it came about that some two hours after his escape from the Gate, Bilbo was sitting beside a warm fire in front of a large tent, and there sat too, gazing curiously at him, both the Elvenking and Bard. A hobbit in elvish armour, partly wrapped in an old blanket, was something new to them.

“Really you know,” Bilbo was saying in his best business manner, “things are impossible. Personally I am tired of the whole affair. I wish I was back in the West in my own home, where folk are more reasonable. But I have an interest in this matter—one fourteenth share, to be precise, according to a letter, which fortunately I believe I have kept.” He drew from a pocket in his old jacket (which he still wore over his mail), crumpled and much folded, Thorin’s letter that had been put under the clock on his mantelpiece in May!

“A share in the profits, mind you,” he went on. “I am aware of that. Personally I am only too ready to consider all your claims carefully, and deduct what is right from the total before putting in my own claim. However you don’t know Thorin Oakenshield as well as I do now. I assure you, he is quite ready to sit on a heap of gold and starve, as long as you sit here.”

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“Well, let him!” said Bard. “Such a fool deserves to starve.”

“Quite so,” said Bilbo. “I see your point of view. At the same time winter is coming on fast. Before long you will be having snow and what not, and supplies will be difficult—even for elves I imagine. Also there will be other difficulties. You have not heard of Dain and the dwarves of the Iron Hills?”

“We have, a long time ago; but what has he got to do with us?” asked the king.

“I thought as much. I see I have some information you have not got. Dain, I may tell you, is now less than two days’ march off, and has at least five hundred grim dwarves with him—a good many of them have had experience in the dreadful dwarf and goblin wars, of which you have no doubt heard. When they arrive there may be serious trouble.”

“Why do you tell us this? Are you betraying your friends, or are you threatening us?” asked Bard grimly.

“My dear Bard!” squeaked Bilbo. “Don’t be so hasty! I never met such suspicious folk! I am merely trying to avoid trouble for all concerned. Now I will make you an offer! !”

“Let us hear it!” they said.

“You may see it!” said he. “It is this!” and he drew forth the Arkenstone, and threw away the wrapping.

The Elvenking himself, whose eyes were used to things of wonder and beauty, stood up in amazement. Even Bard gazed marvelling at it in silence. It was as if a globe had been filled with moonlight and hung before them in a net woven of the glint of frosty stars.

“This is the Arkenstone of Thrain,” said Bilbo, “the Heart of the Mountain; and it is also the heart of Thorin. He values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will aid you in your bargaining.” Then Bilbo, not without a shudder, not without a glance of longing, handed the marvellous stone to Bard, and he held it in his hand, as though dazed.

“But how is it yours to give?” he asked at last with an effort.

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“O well!” said the hobbit uncomfortably. “It isn’t exactly; but, well, I am willing to let it stand against all my claim, don’t you know. I may be a burglar—or so they say: personally I never really felt like one—but I am an honest one, I hope, more or less. Anyway I am going back now, and the dwarves can do what they like to me. I hope you will find it useful.”

The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder. “Bilbo Baggins!” he said. “You are more worthy to wear the armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in it. But I wonder if Thorin Oakenshield will see it so. I have more knowledge of dwarves in general than you have perhaps. I advise you to remain with us, and here you shall be honoured and thrice welcome.”

“Thank you very much I am sure,” said Bilbo with a bow. “But I don’t think I ought to leave my friends like this, after all we have gone through together. And I promised to wake old Bombur at midnight, too! Really I must be going, and quickly.”

Nothing they could say would stop him; so an escort was provided for him, and as he went both the king and Bard saluted him with honour. As they passed through the camp an old man, wrapped in a dark cloak, rose from a tent door where he was sitting and came towards them.

“Well done! Mr. Baggins!” he said, clapping Bilbo on the back. “There is always more about you than anyone expects!” It was Gandalf.

For the first time for many a day Bilbo was really delighted. But there was no time for all the questions that he immediately wished to ask.

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