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18. The Fate of the Tin Woodman
Dorothy obeyed. She ran at once behind the Nome King, who was still trying to free his eyes from the egg, and in a twinkling she had unbuckled his splendid jeweled belt and carried it away with her to her place beside the Tiger and Lion, where, because she did not know what else to do with it, she fastened it around her own slim waist.
Just then the Chief Steward rushed in with a sponge and a bowl of water, and began mopping away the broken eggs from his master's face. In a few minutes, and while all the party stood looking on, the King regained the use of his eyes, and the first thing he did was to glare wickedly upon the Scarecrow and exclaim:
"I'll make you suffer for this, you hay-stuffed dummy! Don't you know eggs are poison to Nomes?"
"Really," said the Scarecrow, "they DON'T seem to agree with you, although I wonder why."
"They were strictly fresh and above suspicion," said Billina. "You ought to be glad to get them."
"I'll transform you all into scorpions!" cried the King, angrily, and began waving his arms and muttering magic words.
But none of the people became scorpions, so the King stopped and looked at them in surprise.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Why, you are not wearing your magic belt," replied the Chief Steward, after looking the King over carefully. "Where is it? What have you done with it?"
The Nome King clapped his hand to his waist, and his rock colored face turned white as chalk.
"It's gone," he cried, helplessly. "It's gone, and I am ruined!"
Dorothy now stepped forward and said:
"Royal Ozma, and you, Queen of Ev, I welcome you and your people back to the land of the living. Billina has saved you from your troubles, and now we will leave this drea'ful place, and return to Ev as soon as poss'ble."
While the child spoke they could all see that she wore the magic belt, and a great cheer went up from all her friends, which was led by the voices of the Scarecrow and the private. But the Nome King did not join them. He crept back onto his throne like a whipped dog, and lay there bitterly bemoaning his defeat.
"But we have not yet found my faithful follower, the Tin Woodman," said Ozma to Dorothy, "and without him I do not wish to go away."
"Nor I," replied Dorothy, quickly. "Wasn't he in the palace?"
"He must be there," said Billina; "but I had no clue to guide me in guessing the Tin Woodman, so I must have missed him."
"We will go back into the rooms," said Dorothy. "This magic belt, I am sure, will help us to find our dear old friend."
So she re-entered the palace, the doors of which still stood open, and everyone followed her except the Nome King, the Queen of Ev and Prince Evring. The mother had taken the little Prince in her lap and was fondling and kissing him lovingly, for he was her youngest born.
But the others went with Dorothy, and when she came to the middle of the first room the girl waved her hand, as she had seen the King do, and commanded the Tin Woodman, whatever form he might then have, to resume his proper shape. No result followed this attempt, so Dorothy went into another room and repeated it, and so through all the rooms of the palace. Yet the Tin Woodman did not appear to them, nor could they imagine which among the thousands of ornaments was their transformed friend.
Sadly they returned to the throne room, where the King, seeing that they had met with failure, jeered at Dorothy, saying:
"You do not know how to use my belt, so it is of no use to you. Give it back to me and I will let you go free - you and all the people who came with you. As for the royal family of Ev, they are my slaves, and shall remain here."
"I shall keep the belt," said Dorothy.
"But how can you escape, without my consent?" asked the King.
"Easily enough," answered the girl. "All we need to do is to walk out the way that we came in."
"Oh, that's all, is it?" sneered the King. "Well, where is the passage through which you entered this room?"
They all looked around, but could not discover the place, for it had long since been closed. Dorothy, however, would not be dismayed. She waved her hand toward the seemingly solid wall of the cavern and said:
"I command the passage to open!"
Instantly the order was obeyed; the opening appeared and the passage lay plainly before them.
The King was amazed, and all the others overjoyed.
"Why, then, if the belt obeys you, were we unable to discover the Tin Woodman?" asked Ozma.
"I can't imagine," said Dorothy.
"See here, girl," proposed the King, eagerly; "give me the belt, and I will tell you what shape the Tin Woodman was changed into, and then you can easily find him."
Dorothy hesitated, but Billina cried out:
"Don't you do it! If the Nome King gets the belt again he will make every one of us prisoners, for we will be in his power. Only by keeping the belt, Dorothy, will you ever be able to leave this place in safety."
"I think that is true," said the Scarecrow. "But I have another idea, due to my excellent brains. Let Dorothy transform the King into a goose-egg unless he agrees to go into the palace and bring out to us the ornament which is our friend Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman."
"A goose-egg!" echoed the horrified King. "How dreadful!"
"Well, a goose-egg you will be unless you go and fetch us the ornament we want," declared Billina, with a joyful chuckle.
"You can see for yourself that Dorothy is able to use the magic belt all right," added the Scarecrow.
The Nome King thought it over and finally consented, for he did not want to be a goose-egg. So he went into the palace to get the ornament which was the transformation of the Tin Woodman, and they all awaited his return with considerable impatience, for they were anxious to leave this underground cavern and see the sunshine once more. But when the Nome King came back he brought nothing with him except a puzzled and anxious expression upon his face.
"He's gone!" he said. "The Tin Woodman is nowhere in the palace."
"Are you sure?" asked Ozma, sternly.
"I'm very sure," answered the King, trembling, "for I know just what I transformed him into, and exactly where he stood. But he is not there, and please don't change me into a goose-egg, because I've done the best I could."
They were all silent for a time, and then Dorothy said:
"There is no use punishing the Nome King any more, and I'm 'fraid we'll have to go away without our friend."
"If he is not here, we cannot rescue him," agreed the Scarecrow, sadly. "Poor Nick! I wonder what has become of him."
"And he owed me six weeks back pay!" said one of the generals, wiping the tears from his eyes with his gold-laced coat sleeve.
Very sorrowfully they determined to return to the upper world without their former companion, and so Ozma gave the order to begin the march through the passage.
The army went first, and then the royal family of Ev, and afterward came Dorothy, Ozma, Billina, the Scarecrow and Tiktok.
They left the Nome King scowling at them from his throne, and had no thought of danger until Ozma chanced to look back and saw a large number of the warriors following them in full chase, with their swords and spears and axes raised to strike down the fugitives as soon as they drew near enough.
Evidently the Nome King had made this last attempt to prevent their escaping him; but it did him no good, for when Dorothy saw the danger they were in she stopped and waved her hand and whispered a command to the magic belt.
Instantly the foremost warriors became eggs, which rolled upon the floor of the cavern in such numbers that those behind could not advance without stepping upon them. But, when they saw the eggs, all desire to advance departed from the warriors, and they turned and fled madly into the cavern, and refused to go back again.
Our friends had no further trouble in reaching the end of the passage, and soon were standing in the outer air upon the gloomy path between the two high mountains. But the way to Ev lay plainly before them, and they fervently hoped that they had seen the last of the Nome King and of his dreadful palace.
The cavalcade was led by Ozma, mounted on the Cowardly Lion, and the Queen of Ev, who rode upon the back of the Tiger. The children of the Queen walked behind her, hand in hand. Dorothy rode the Sawhorse, while the Scarecrow walked and commanded the army in the absence of the Tin Woodman.
Presently the way began to lighten and more of the sunshine to come in between the two mountains. And before long they heard the "thump! thump! thump!" of the giant's hammer upon the road.
"How may we pass the monstrous man of iron?" asked the Queen, anxious for the safety of her children. But Dorothy solved the problem by a word to the magic belt.
The giant paused, with his hammer held motionless in the air, thus allowing the entire party to pass between his cast-iron legs in safety.
Turn to the next chapter: 19. The King of Ev