The ponies snorted and pawed the ground, sidestepping nervously, anxious to be off. The dwarves milled around, trying to look busy but doing nothing of importance. Everything was ready. Still, they tightened the ponies' harnesses, double-checked the baggage, and lit their pipes. Bombur was making his way out the door of the Green Dragon, arms filled with food – again. Any hobbits passing by glanced at the dwarves warily. Not one of them stopped to speak, and not one of them was a certain Mr. Baggins.

Thorin, the only one astride his pony, directed his animal to Gandalf's side and looked squarely at the wizard, who was brushing down his brown horse.

"Gandalf, this is ridiculous," Thorin muttered. "It's already ten in the morning. We should have been off long before now."

"One hour won't change the fate of your entire quest," Gandalf returned briskly, "but waiting for your burglar just might."

"And exactly how long are we to wait?" Balin asked, stepping to Thorin's side. "Another hour? Another day?"

"Until the poor bloke's done fainting?" Bofur called across the yard.

"Until he's cleaned his entire home – again?"

"Until he's fluffed all the pillows?"

"Until he's eaten all the muffins?"

The dwarves laughed and slapped each other on the back as they gathered in a circle around Gandalf and Thorin, holding the bridles of their ponies, waiting to see what would be decided.

"We've given him enough time," Thorin continued. "And we left the note on his mantelpiece. If Mr. Baggins planned on accompanying us, he would be here by now."

"But what if he's on his way?" Ori asked, sheepishly turning his small sketchbook over in his hands.

"I'm afraid I must agree with Thorin," Balin said. "As I said last night, Mr. Baggins simply isn't fit for this quest. Obviously he has realized so."

Gandalf pursed his lips, bristling, but remained quiet.

"Get on your ponies," Thorin said. "It's time we were on our way, rather than just sitting here betting on whether or not Bilbo Baggins will show up."

"Betting!" Bofur pulled his pipe out of his mouth with a smile. "What an excellent idea!"

The dwarves looked at him questioningly as they swung up onto their ponies.

"Come on, lads!" Bofur called. "Take wagers! A pouch of gold. Who says Mr. Baggins will turn up?"

Thorin shook his head but made no protest, only urged his pony forward. The others began to follow in a long line, Gandalf taking the rear. Bofur, undeterred, trotted up and down the line on his pony, taking their bets. Thorin refused to bet, muttering something that sounded like "pointless." Dwalin simply shook his bald head. Balin chuckled, reiterating his thought that while the hobbit was a fine chap, he wasn't adventure material. Bifur and Bombur thought it unlikely, though they wished Mr. Baggins might show up and bring along more food.

"He's quite obviously not coming, and I'll put my money on that!" Nori exclaimed.

"Oh, is that so?" Oin returned, tilting his ear horn towards Nori. "I wouldn't be so positive. You'll be parting with a pouch of gold when our expert burglar shows up."

Bofur rocked backwards and nearly fell off his pony, he was laughing so hard.

Gloin and Dori both shook their heads and expressed the opinion that Nori would be keeping his gold. But Ori smiled when Bofur came to him.

"I'll bet on our burglar!" he declared cheerfully. "I reckon Gandalf knows what he's doing, and Mr. Baggins was a decent fellow. He'll show up, just wait and see."

"That's the spirit, Ori!" Fili cried as he and Kili drew their ponies up alongside Ori's. "I'll place my bet on Mr. Baggins."

"And mine," Kili added, smiling. "I imagine he'll be along any minute now."

"Oh-ho, so all the young ones will bet on him?" Bofur laughed. "Very well. It's a pouch of gold if you're wrong, you know. But in the event the little bloke does show up, it's a price I'll be willing to pay."

Gandalf cleared his throat loudly. "A pouch of gold, you say?"

Bofur looked back at him and smiled. "Aye."

"Count me in, my good dwarf. That's five wagers for the hobbit."