The Lost Princess of Oz/Chapter 8
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Chapter 8: The Mysterious City
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There they sat upon the grass, their heads still swimming from their dizzy flights, and looked at one another in silent bewilderment. But presently, when assured that no one was injured, they grew more calm and collected, and the Lion said with a sigh of relief, "Who would have thought those Merry-Go-Round Mountains were made of rubber?"
"Are they really rubber?" asked Trot.
"They must be," replied the Lion, "for otherwise we would not have bounded so swiftly from one to another without getting hurt."
"That is all guesswork," declared the Wizard, unwinding the blankets from his body, "for none of us stayed long enough on the mountains to discover what they are made of. But where are we?"
"That's guesswork," said Scraps. "The shepherd said the Thistle-Eaters live this side of the mountains and are waited on by giants."
"Oh no," said Dorothy, "it's the Herkus who have giant slaves, and the Thistle-Eaters hitch dragons to their chariots."
"How could they do that?" asked the Woozy. "Dragons have long tails, which would get in the way of the chariot wheels."
"And if the Herkus have conquered the giants," said Trot, "they must be at least twice the size of giants. P'raps the Herkus are the biggest people in all the world!"
"Perhaps they are," assented the Wizard in a thoughtful tone of voice. "And perhaps the shepherd didn't know what he was talking about. Let us travel on toward the west and discover for ourselves what the people of this country are like."
It seemed a pleasant enough country, and it was quite still and peaceful when they turned their eyes away from the silently whirling mountains. There were trees here and there and green bushes, while throughout the thick grass were scattered brilliantly colored flowers. About a mile away was a low hill that hid from them all the country beyond it, so they realized they could not tell much about the country until they had crossed the hill. The Red Wagon having been left behind, it was now necessary to make other arrangements for traveling. The Lion told Dorothy she could ride upon his back as she had often done before, and the Woozy said he could easily carry both Trot and the Patchwork Girl. Betsy still had her mule, Hank, and Button-Bright and the Wizard could sit together upon the long, thin back of the Sawhorse, but they took care to soften their seat with a pad of blankets before they started. Thus mounted, the adventurers started for the hill, which was reached after a brief journey.
As they mounted the crest and gazed beyond the hill, they discovered not far away a walled city, from the towers and spires of which gay banners were flying. It was not a very big city, indeed, but its walls were very high and thick, and it appeared that the people who lived there must have feared attack by a powerful enemy, else they would not have surrounded their dwellings with so strong a barrier. There was no path leading from the mountains to the city, and this proved that the people seldom or never visited the whirling hills, but our friends found the grass soft and agreeable to travel over, and with the city before them they could not well lose their way. When they drew nearer to the walls, the breeze carried to their ears the sound of music—dim at first, but growing louder as they advanced.
"That doesn't seem like a very terr'ble place," remarked Dorothy.
"Well, it LOOKS all right," replied Trot from her seat on the Woozy, "but looks can't always be trusted."
"MY looks can," said Scraps. "I LOOK patchwork, and I AM patchwork, and no one but a blind owl could ever doubt that I'm the Patchwork Girl." Saying which, she turned a somersault off the Woozy and, alighting on her feet, began wildly dancing about.
"Are owls ever blind?" asked Trot.
"Always, in the daytime," said Button-Bright. "But Scraps can see with her button eyes both day and night. Isn't it queer?"
"It's queer that buttons can see at all," answered Trot. "But good gracious! What's become of the city?"
"I was going to ask that myself," said Dorothy. "It's gone!"
The animals came to a sudden halt, for the city had really disappeared, walls and all, and before them lay the clear, unbroken sweep of the country. "Dear me!" exclaimed the Wizard. "This is rather disagreeable. It is annoying to travel almost to a place and then find it is not there."
"Where can it be, then?" asked Dorothy. "It cert'nly was there a minute ago."
"I can hear the music yet," declared Button-Bright, and when they all listened, the strains of music could plainly be heard.
"Oh! There's the city over at the left," called Scraps, and turning their eyes, they saw the walls and towers and fluttering banners far to the left of them.
"We must have lost our way," suggested Dorothy.
"Nonsense," said the Lion.
"I, and all the other animals, have been tramping straight toward the city ever since we first saw it."
"Then how does it happen—"
"Never mind," interrupted the Wizard, "we are no farther from it than we were before. It is in a different direction, that's all, so let us hurry and get there before it again escapes us."
So on they went directly toward the city, which seemed only a couple of miles distant. But when they had traveled less than a mile, it suddenly disappeared again. Once more they paused, somewhat discouraged, but in a moment the button eyes of Scraps again discovered the city, only this time it was just behind them in the direction from which they had come. "Goodness gracious!" cried Dorothy. "There's surely something wrong with that city. Do you s'pose it's on wheels, Wizard?"
"It may not be a city at all," he replied, looking toward it with a speculative glance.
"What COULD it be, then?"
"Just an illusion."
"What's that?" asked Trot.
"Something you think you see and don't see."
"I can't believe that," said Button-Bright. "If we only saw it, we might be mistaken, but if we can see it and hear it, too, it must be there."
"Where?" asked the Patchwork Girl.
"Somewhere near us," he insisted.
We will have to go back, I suppose," said the Woozy with a sigh.
So back they turned and headed for the walled city until it disappeared again, only to reappear at the right of them. They were constantly getting nearer to it, however, so they kept their faces turned toward it as it flitted here and there to all points of the compass. Presently the Lion, who was leading the procession, halted abruptly and cried out, "Ouch!"
"What's the matter?" asked Dorothy.
"Ouch — Ouch!~ repeated the Lion, and leaped backward so suddenly that Dorothy nearly tumbled from his back. At the same time Hank the Mule yelled "Ouch!""Ouch! Ouch!" repeated the Lion and leaped backward so suddenly that Dorothy nearly tumbled from his back. At the same time, Hank the Mule yelled "Ouch!" almost as loudly as the Lion had done, and he also pranced backward a few paces.
"It's the thistles," said Betsy.
"They prick their legs."
Hearing this, all looked down, and sure enough the ground was thick with thistles, which covered the plain from the point where they stood way up to the walls of the mysterious city. No pathways through them could be seen at all; here the soft grass ended and the growth of thistles began. "They're the prickliest thistles I ever felt," grumbled the Lion. "My legs smart yet from their stings, though I jumped out of them as quickly as I could."
"Here is a new difficulty," remarked the Wizard in a grieved tone. "The city has stopped hopping around, it is true, but how are we to get to it over this mass of prickers?"
"They can't hurt ME," said the thick-skinned Woozy, advancing fearlessly and trampling among the thistles.
"Nor me," said the Wooden Sawhorse.
"But the Lion and the Mule cannot stand the prickers," asserted Dorothy, "and we can't leave them behind."
"Must we all go back?" asked Trot.
"Course not!" replied Button-Bright scornfully. "Always when there's trouble, there's a way out of it if you can find it."
"I wish the Scarecrow was here," said Scraps, standing on her head on the Woozy's square back. "His splendid brains would soon show us how to conquer this field of thistles."
"What's the matter with YOUR brains?" asked the boy.
"Nothing," she said, making a flip-flop into the thistles and dancing among them without feeling their sharp points. "I could tell you in half a minute how to get over the thistles if I wanted to."
"Tell us, Scraps!" begged Dorothy.
"I don't want to wear my brains out with overwork," replied the Patchwork Girl.
"Don't you love Ozma? And don't you want to find her?" asked Betsy reproachfully.
"Yes indeed," said Scraps, walking on her hands as an acrobat does at the circus.
"Well, we can't find Ozma unless we get past these thistles," declared Dorothy.
Scraps danced around them two or three times without reply. Then she said, "Don't look at me, you stupid folks. Look at those blankets."
The Wizard's face brightened at once.
"Why didn't we think of those blankets before?"
"Because you haven't magic brains," laughed Scraps. "Such brains as you have are of the common sort that grow in your heads, like weeds in a garden. I'm sorry for you people who have to be born in order to be alive."
But the Wizard was not listening to her. He quickly removed the blankets from the back of the Sawhorse and spread one of them upon the thistles, just next the grass. The thick cloth rendered the prickers harmless, so the Wizard walked over this first blanket and spread the second one farther on, in the direction of the phantom city. "These blankets," said he, "are for the Lion and the Mule to walk upon. The Sawhorse and the Woozy can walk on the thistles."
So the Lion and the Mule walked over the first blanket and stood upon the second one until the Wizard had picked up the one they had passed over and spread it in front of them, when they advanced to that one and waited while the one behind them was again spread in front. "This is slow work," said the Wizard, "but it will get us to the city after a while."
"The city is a good half mile away yet," announced Button-Bright.
"And this is awful hard work for the Wizard," added Trot.
"Why couldn't the Lion ride on the Woozy's back?" asked Dorothy."it's a big, flat back, and the Woozy's mighty strong. Perhaps the Lion wouldn't fall off."
"You may try it if you like," said the Woozy to the Lion. "I can take you to the city in a jiffy and then come back for Hank."
"I'm—I'm afraid," said the Cowardly Lion. He was twice as big as the Woozy.
"Try it," pleaded Dorothy.
"And take a tumble among the thistles?"asked the Lion reproachfully. But when the Woozy came close to him, the big beast suddenly bounded upon its back and managed to balance himself there, although forced to hold his four legs so close together that he was in danger of toppling over. The great weight of the monster Lion did not seem to affect the Woozy, who called to his rider, "Hold on tight!" and ran swiftly over the thistles toward the city. The others stood on the blanket and watched the strange sight anxiously. Of course, the Lion couldn't "hold on tight" because there was nothing to hold to, and he swayed from side to side as if likely to fall off any moment. Still, he managed to stick to the Woozy's back until they were close to the walls of the city, when he leaped to the ground. Next moment the Woozy came dashing back at full speed.
"There's a little strip of ground next the wall where there are no thistles," he told them when he had reached the adventurers once more. "Now then, friend Hank, see if you can ride as well as the Lion did."
"Take the others first," proposed the Mule. So the Sawhorse and the Woozy made a couple of trips over the thistles to the city walls and carried all the people in safety, Dorothy holding little Toto in her arms. The travelers then sat in a group on a little hillock just outside the wall and looked at the great blocks of gray stone and waited for the Woozy to bring Hank to them. The Mule was very awkward, and his legs trembled so badly that more than once they thought he would tumble off, but finally he reached them in safety, and the entire party was now reunited. More than that, they had reached the city that had eluded them for so long and in so strange a manner.
"The gates must be around the other side," said the Wizard. "Let us follow the curve of the wall until we reach an opening in it."
"Which way?" asked Dorothy.
"We must guess that," he replied. "Suppose we go to the left. One direction is as good as another." They formed in marching order and went around the city wall to the left. It wasn't a big city, as I have said, but to go way around it outside the high wall was quite a walk, as they became aware. But around it our adventurers went without finding any sign of a gateway or other opening. When they had returned to the little mound from which they had started, they dismounted from the animals and again seated themselves on the grassy mound.
"It's mighty queer, isn't it?" asked Button-Bright.
"There must be SOME way for the people to get out and in," declared Dorothy. "Do you s'pose they have flying machines, Wizard?"
"No," he replied, "for in that case they would be flying all over the Land of Oz, and we know they have not done that. Flying machines are unknown here. I think it more likely that the people use ladders to get over the walls."
"It would be an awful climb over that high stone wall," said Betsy.
"Stone, is it?" Scraps, who was again dancing wildly around, for she never tired and could never keep still for long.
"Course it's stone," answered Betsy scornfully. "Can't you see?"
"Yes," said Scraps, going closer. "I can SEE the wall, but I can't FEEL it." And then, with her arms outstretched, she did a very queer thing. She walked right into the wall and disappeared.
"For goodness sake!" Dorothy, amazed, as indeed they all were.