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5. Dorothy Picks the Princess
The words of the cold and moist vegetable Prince were not very comforting, and as he spoke them he turned away and left the enclosure. The children, feeling sad and despondent, were about to follow him when the Wizard touched Dorothy softly on her shoulder.
"Wait!" he whispered.
"What for?" asked the girl.
"Suppose we pick the Royal Princess," said the Wizard. "I'm quite sure she's ripe, and as soon as she comes to life she will be the Ruler, and may treat us better than that heartless Prince intends to."
"All right!" exclaimed Dorothy, eagerly. "Let's pick her while we have the chance, before the man with the star comes back."
So together they leaned over the great bush and each of them seized one hand of the lovely Princess.
"Pull!" cried Dorothy, and as they did so the royal lady leaned toward them and the stems snapped and separated from her feet. She was not at all heavy, so the Wizard and Dorothy managed to lift her gently to the ground.
The beautiful creature passed her hands over her eyes an instant, tucked in a stray lock of hair that had become disarranged, and after a look around the garden made those present a gracious bow and said, in a sweet but even toned voice:
"I thank you very much."
"We salute your Royal Highness!" cried the Wizard, kneeling and kissing her hand.
Just then the voice of the Prince was heard calling upon them to hasten, and a moment later he returned to the enclosure, followed by a number of his people.
Instantly the Princess turned and faced him, and when he saw that she was picked the Prince stood still and began to tremble.
"Sir," said the Royal Lady, with much dignity, "you have wronged me greatly, and would have wronged me still more had not these strangers come to my rescue. I have been ready for picking all the past week, but because you were selfish and desired to continue your unlawful rule, you left me to stand silent upon my bush."
"I did not know that you were ripe," answered the Prince, in a low voice.
"Give me the Star of Royalty!" she commanded.
Slowly he took the shining star from his own brow and placed it upon that of the Princess. Then all the people bowed low to her, and the Prince turned and walked away alone. What became of him afterward our friends never knew.
The people of Mangaboo now formed themselves into a procession and marched toward the glass city to escort their new ruler to her palace and to perform those ceremonies proper to the occasion. But while the people in the procession walked upon the ground the Princess walked in the air just above their heads, to show that she was a superior being and more exalted than her subjects.
No one now seemed to pay any attention to the strangers, so Dorothy and Zeb and the Wizard let the train pass on and then wandered by themselves into the vegetable gardens. They did not bother to cross the bridges over the brooks, but when they came to a stream they stepped high and walked in the air to the other side. This was a very interesting experience to them, and Dorothy said:
"I wonder why it is that we can walk so easily in the air."
"Perhaps," answered the Wizard, "it is because we are close to the center of the earth, where the attraction of gravitation is very slight. But I've noticed that many queer things happen in fairy countries."
"Is this a fairy country?" asked the boy.
"Of course it is," returned Dorothy promptly. "Only a fairy country could have veg'table people; and only in a fairy country could Eureka and Jim talk as we do."
"That's true," said Zeb, thoughtfully.
In the vegetable gardens they found the strawberries and melons, and several other unknown but delicious fruits, of which they ate heartily. But the kitten bothered them constantly by demanding milk or meat, and called the Wizard names because he could not bring her a dish of milk by means of his magical arts.
As they sat upon the grass watching Jim, who was still busily eating, Eureka said:
"I don't believe you are a Wizard at all!"
"No," answered the little man, "you are quite right. In the strict sense of the word I am not a Wizard, but only a humbug."
"The Wizard of Oz has always been a humbug," agreed Dorothy. "I've known him for a long time."
"If that is so," said the boy, "how could he do that wonderful trick with the nine tiny piglets?"
"Don't know," said Dorothy, "but it must have been humbug."
"Very true," declared the Wizard, nodding at her. "It was necessary to deceive that ugly Sorcerer and the Prince, as well as their stupid people; but I don't mind telling you, who are my friends, that the thing was only a trick."
"But I saw the little pigs with my own eyes!" exclaimed Zeb.
"So did I," purred the kitten.
"To be sure," answered the Wizard. "You saw them because they were there. They are in my inside pocket now. But the pulling of them apart and pushing them together again was only a sleight-of-hand trick."
"Let's see the pigs," said Eureka, eagerly.
The little man felt carefully in his pocket and pulled out the tiny piglets, setting them upon the grass one by one, where they ran around and nibbled the tender blades.
"They're hungry, too," he said.
"Oh, what cunning things!" cried Dorothy, catching up one and petting it.
"Be careful!" said the piglet, with a squeal, "you're squeezing me!"
"Dear me!" murmured the Wizard, looking at his pets in astonishment. "They can actually talk!"
"May I eat one of them?" asked the kitten, in a pleading voice. "I'm awfully hungry."
"Why, Eureka," said Dorothy, reproachfully, "what a cruel question! It would be dreadful to eat these dear little things."
"I should say so!" grunted another of the piglets, looking uneasily at the kitten; "cats are cruel things."
"I'm not cruel," replied the kitten, yawning. "I'm just hungry."
"You cannot eat my piglets, even if you are starving," declared the little man, in a stern voice. "They are the only things I have to prove I'm a wizard."
"How did they happen to be so little?" asked Dorothy. "I never saw such small pigs before."
"They are from the Island of Teenty-Weent," said the Wizard, "where everything is small because it's a small island. A sailor brought them to Los Angeles and I gave him nine tickets to the circus for them."
"But what am I going to eat?" wailed the kitten, sitting in front of Dorothy and looking pleadingly into her face. "There are no cows here to give milk; or any mice, or even grasshoppers. And if I can't eat the piglets you may as well plant me at once and raise catsup."
"I have an idea," said the Wizard, "that there are fishes in these brooks. Do you like fish?"
"Fish!" cried the kitten. "Do I like fish? Why, they're better than piglets - or even milk!"
"Then I'll try to catch you some," said he.
"But won't they be veg'table, like everything else here?" asked the kitten.
"I think not. Fishes are not animals, and they are as cold and moist as the vegetables themselves. There is no reason, that I can see, why they may not exist in the waters of this strange country."
Then the Wizard bent a pin for a hook and took a long piece of string from his pocket for a fish-line. The only bait he could find was a bright red blossom from a flower; but he knew fishes are easy to fool if anything bright attracts their attention, so he decided to try the blossom. Having thrown the end of his line in the water of a nearby brook he soon felt a sharp tug that told him a fish had bitten and was caught on the bent pin; so the little man drew in the string and, sure enough, the fish came with it and was landed safely on the shore, where it began to flop around in great excitement.
The fish was fat and round, and its scales glistened like beautifully cut jewels set close together; but there was no time to examine it closely, for Eureka made a jump and caught it between her claws, and in a few moments it had entirely disappeared.
"Oh, Eureka!" cried Dorothy, "did you eat the bones?"
"If it had any bones, I ate them," replied the kitten, composedly, as it washed its face after the meal. "But I don't think that fish had any bones, because I didn't feel them scratch my throat."
"You were very greedy," said the girl.
"I was very hungry," replied the kitten.
The little pigs had stood huddled in a group, watching this scene with frightened eyes.
"Cats are dreadful creatures!" said one of them.
"I'm glad we are not fishes!" said another.
"Don't worry," Dorothy murmured, soothingly, "I'll not let the kitten hurt you."
Then she happened to remember that in a corner of her suit-case were one or two crackers that were left over from her luncheon on the train, and she went to the buggy and brought them. Eureka stuck up her nose at such food, but the tiny piglets squealed delightedly at the sight of the crackers and ate them up in a jiffy.
"Now let us go back to the city," suggested the Wizard. "That is, if Jim has had enough of the pink grass."
The cab-horse, who was browsing near, lifted his head with a sigh.
"I've tried to eat a lot while I had the chance," said he, "for it's likely to be a long while between meals in this strange country. But I'm ready to go, now, at any time you wish."
So, after the Wizard had put the piglets back into his inside pocket, where they cuddled up and went to sleep, the three climbed into the buggy and Jim started back to the town.
"Where shall we stay?" asked the girl.
"I think I shall take possession of the House of the Sorcerer," replied the Wizard; "for the Prince said in the presence of his people that he would keep me until they picked another Sorcerer, and the new Princess won't know but that we belong there."
They agreed to this plan, and when they reached the great square Jim drew the buggy into the big door of the domed hall.
"It doesn't look very homelike," said Dorothy, gazing around at the bare room. "But it's a place to stay, anyhow."
"What are those holes up there?" enquired the boy, pointing to some openings that appeared near the top of the dome.
"They look like doorways," said Dorothy; "only there are no stairs to get to them."
"You forget that stairs are unnecessary," observed the Wizard. "Let us walk up, and see where the doors lead to."
With this he began walking in the air toward the high openings, and Dorothy and Zeb followed him. It was the same sort of climb one experiences when walking up a hill, and they were nearly out of breath when they came to the row of openings, which they perceived to be doorways leading into halls in the upper part of the house. Following these halls they discovered many small rooms opening from them, and some were furnished with glass benches, tables and chairs. But there were no beds at all.
"I wonder if these people never sleep," said the girl.
"Why, there seems to be no night at all in this country," Zeb replied. "Those colored suns are exactly in the same place they were when we came, and if there is no sunset there can be no night."
"Very true," agreed the Wizard. "But it is a long time since I have had any sleep, and I'm tired. So I think I shall lie down upon one of these hard glass benches and take a nap."
"I will, too," said Dorothy, and chose a little room at the end of the hall.
Zeb walked down again to unharness Jim, who, when he found himself free, rolled over a few times and then settled down to sleep, with Eureka nestling comfortably beside his big, boney body. Then the boy returned to one of the upper rooms, and in spite of the hardness of the glass bench was soon deep in slumberland.
Turn to the next chapter: 6. The Mangaboos Prove Dangerous