Room at the Inn
Barliman Butterbur believed that he had every right to be proud of “The Prancing Pony”. He knew that he served the finest ale for miles around to his customers, together with good honest home cooking. His rooms were comfortable and he tried to make all his guests feel at home. He even had special Hobbit rooms for his smaller customers to stay in.
Mr. Butterbur tried hard to make all his guests feel welcome; even the unpleasant Bill Ferny and those odd Southrons who came in sometimes. He even served Rangers, such as that mysterious Strider fellow, who was in his common room tonight. Truth to tell, he found Strider a bit intimidating with his grimness and those fierce grey eyes of his , but he could tell a right good tale when he had a mind to and after all, a Ranger’s coin was as good as any other.
Barliman couldn’t say, though, that he was happy about those queer fellows in black that had been asking questions of late. He was mighty glad that they he’d slammed the door on them when they came asking questions about “Baggins”, whoever he might be. The name seemed vaguely familiar somehow. Had something slipped his mind he was supposed to remember? He hoped if it had done that it wasn’t anything important. They gave him the shudders, those black men did, and poor Nob’s hair stood right on end at the sight of them. The dogs made a right racket and the geese too, while his cat had emitted blood-curdling yowls. Animals can sense if there’s something wrong about a fellow, or so his old mother always used to say and she was usually right about most things.
The Ranger, Strider, had been asking questions too. The Pony hadn’t been so full in many a moon. Four Hobbits from the Shire had just turned up and it was a long time since any of those had ventured as far as Bree. Thank Goodness, he had the special Hobbit sized rooms he could offer them!
Suddenly, Mr. Butterbur was called into the common room by a group of customers claiming that one of the Shire Hobbits, a Mr. Underhill, had gone and vanished into thin air! Now Butterbur had seen a few queer things in his life, but he knew that folks didn’t just go and vanish like that! The folk making such wild claims must have drunk a bit too much of his best ale or something.
Mr. Butterbur hurried into the common room and found Mr. Underhill there as large as life. He hadn’t vanished at all. The innkeeper warned the Hobbit good- naturedly that he ought to give notice in future if he wanted to do conjuring tricks. Now that put Butterbur to mind of something. Then it came back to him: Old Gandalf’s letter was addressed to a Mr. Baggins and the old Wizard had asked him to look out for Hobbits from the Shire, especially one who was travelling as Mr. Underhill! Gandalf would turn him into a toad for certain for this, Barliman thought, if he ever learned what had happened. It must three months ago or so now that the wizard had asked him to deliver the letter and it had clean gone out of his mind. Well, he supposed he’d better give it to Mr. Baggins, who called himself Mr. Underhill now and do his best to make amends.
Barliman picked up the letter, took a deep breath, and went with Nob to take candles to the parlour and give the letter to Mr. Underhill, or Baggins, or whatever his name really was.
The stout little fellow was annoyed, not surprisingly, but Barliman did his best to explain about how he came to forget about delivering the letter and how Gandalf had feared that Mr. Baggins might be in trouble and had asked Barliman to help him, which he’d promised to do. He also told them about those creepy black fellows who had been hanging around asking questions, which he wondered might be something to do with the trouble old Gandalf hinted about.
It was then the Ranger suddenly appeared, looming out of a corner, and nearly making him jump out of his skin. They were creepy folk too when he thought about it. Why had this Ranger asked him earlier about Mr. Baggins too? Was he in league with the queer black men in the long cloaks?
Butterbur felt he should warn the little master that taking up with a Ranger was not a good idea. You just couldn’t trust such strange wandering folk you knew nothing about.
The Ranger’s reply was tart and stung him.
'Then who would you take up with?' asked Strider. “A fat innkeeper who only remembers his own name because people shout it at him all day. Will you go with them and keep the black men off?”
Barliman reacted with horror. Well he couldn’t leave the Pony, could he? Who would look after it? He’d let Mr. Baggins stay here for a while if that would help. And who were these black men in any case? Where did they come from and what did they want?
Mr. Baggins started to give him an explanation of sorts, but the Ranger interrupted.
'They come from Mordor,' said Strider in a low voice. 'From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you.”
Mordor! Barliman turned pale and gripped the table in front of him. He didn’t know much about Mordor, but the very name struck terror in his heart. He’d heard it was a place full of fire and brimstone where evil things dwelled that might venture forth in search of the unwary and carry them off to that dread place.
Mr. Baggins noticed his dread and asked if he still wanted to help. Of course he did. He was mighty scared, but Mr. Baggins was under his roof and he was right proud of the way the Pony looked after its guests. But how could he help against the forces of Mordor?
“'Not much, Barliman, but every little helps,” said the Ranger. “You can let Mr. Baggins stay here tonight, as Mr. Underhill, and you can forget the name of Baggins, till he is far away.”
Butterbur took a deep breath; well, he could do that sure enough. There was no way he’d throw a guest out into the night, and especially not with those queer black men around! And he always forgot names even when he wasn’t trying to.
He was proud of the Prancing Pony and would look after this Mr. Baggins and his friends, or his name wasn’t Barliman Butterbur!