Frank Baum >> The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (page 22)

They found the ladder so heavy they could not pull it up, so the Scarecrow fell off the wall and the others jumped down upon him so that the hard floor would not hurt their feet. Of course they took pains not to light on his head and get the pins in their feet. When all were safely down they picked up the Scarecrow, whose body was quite flattened out, and patted his straw into shape again.

''We must cross this strange place in order to get to the other side,'' said Dorothy, ''for it would be unwise for us to go any other way except due South.''

They began walking through the country of the china people, and the first thing they came to was a china milkmaid milking a china cow. As they drew near, the cow suddenly gave a kick and kicked over the stool, the pail, and even the milkmaid herself, and all fell on the china ground with a great clatter.

Dorothy was shocked to see that the cow had broken her leg off, and that the pail was lying in several small pieces, while the poor milkmaid had a nick in her left elbow.

''There!'' cried the milkmaid angrily. ''See what you have done! My cow has broken her leg, and I must take her to the mender's shop and have it glued on again. What do you mean by coming here and frightening my cow?''

''I'm very sorry,'' returned Dorothy. ''Please forgive us.''

But the pretty milkmaid was much too vexed to make any answer. She picked up the leg sulkily and led her cow away, the poor animal limping on three legs. As she left them the milkmaid cast many reproachful glances over her shoulder at the clumsy strangers, holding her nicked elbow close to her side.

Dorothy was quite grieved at this mishap.

''We must be very careful here,'' said the kind - hearted Woodman, ''or we may hurt these pretty little people so they will never get over it.''

A little farther on Dorothy met a most beautifully dressed young Princess, who stopped short as she saw the strangers and started to run away.

Dorothy wanted to see more of the Princess, so she ran after her. But the china girl cried out:

''Don't chase me! Don't chase me!''

She had such a frightened little voice that Dorothy stopped and said, ''Why not?''

''Because,'' answered the Princess, also stopping, a safe distance away, ''if I run I may fall down and break myself.''

''But could you not be mended?'' asked the girl.

''Oh, yes; but one is never so pretty after being mended, you know,'' replied the Princess.

''I suppose not,'' said Dorothy.

''Now there is Mr. Joker, one of our clowns,'' continued the china lady, ''who is always trying to stand upon his head. He has broken himself so often that he is mended in a hundred places, and doesn't look at all pretty. Here he comes now, so you can see for yourself.''

Indeed, a jolly little clown came walking toward them, and Dorothy could see that in spite of his pretty clothes of red and yellow and green he was completely covered with cracks, running every which way and showing plainly that he had been mended in many places.

The Clown put his hands in his pockets, and after puffing out his cheeks and nodding his head at them saucily, he said:

''My lady fair,

Why do you stare

At poor old Mr. Joker?

You're quite as stiff

And prim as if

You'd eaten up a poker!''

''Be quiet, sir!'' said the Princess. ''Can't you see these are strangers, and should be treated with respect?''

''Well, that's respect, I expect,'' declared the Clown, and immediately stood upon his head.

''Don't mind Mr. Joker,'' said the Princess to Dorothy. ''He is considerably cracked in his head, and that makes him foolish.''

''Oh, I don't mind him a bit,'' said Dorothy. ''But you are so beautiful,'' she continued, ''that I am sure I could love you dearly. Won't you let me carry you back to Kansas, and stand you on Aunt Em's mantel? I could carry you in my basket.''

''That would make me very unhappy,'' answered the china Princess. ''You see, here in our country we live contentedly, and can talk and move around as we please. But whenever any of us are taken away our joints at once stiffen, and we can only stand straight and look pretty. Of course that is all that is expected of us when we are on mantels and cabinets and drawing - room tables, but our lives are much pleasanter here in our own country.''

''I would not make you unhappy for all the world!'' exclaimed Dorothy. ''So I'll just say Good-bye.''

''Good-bye,'' replied the Princess.

They walked carefully through the china country. The little animals and all the people scampered out of their way, fearing the strangers would break them, and after an hour or so the travelers reached the other side of the country and came to another china wall.

It was not so high as the first, however, and by standing upon the Lion's back they all managed to scramble to the top. Then the Lion gathered his legs under him and jumped on the wall; but just as he jumped, he upset a china church with his tail and smashed it all to pieces.

''That was too bad,'' said Dorothy, ''but really I think we were lucky in not doing these little people more harm than breaking a cow's leg and a church. They are all so brittle!''

''They are, indeed,'' said the Scarecrow, ''and I am thankful I am made of straw and cannot be easily damaged. There are worse things in the world than being a Scarecrow.''

21. The Lion Becomes the King of Beasts

After climbing down from the china wall the travelers found themselves in a disagreeable country, full of bogs and marshes and covered with tall, rank grass. It was difficult to walk without falling into muddy holes, for the grass was so thick that it hid them from sight. However, by carefully picking their way, they got safely along until they reached solid ground. But here the country seemed wilder than ever, and after a long and tiresome walk through the underbrush they entered another forest, where the trees were bigger and older than any they had ever seen.

''This forest is perfectly delightful,'' declared the Lion, looking around him with joy. ''Never have I seen a more beautiful place.''

''It seems gloomy,'' said the Scarecrow.

''Not a bit of it,'' answered the Lion. ''I should like to live here all my life. See how soft the dried leaves are under your feet and how rich and green the moss is that clings to these old trees. Surely no wild beast could wish a pleasanter home.''

''Perhaps there are wild beasts in the forest now,'' said Dorothy.

''I suppose there are,'' returned the Lion, ''but I do not see any of them about.''

They walked through the forest until it became too dark to go any farther. Dorothy and Toto and the Lion lay down to sleep, while the Woodman and the Scarecrow kept watch over them as usual.

When morning came, they started again. Before they had gone far they heard a low rumble, as of the growling of many wild animals. Toto whimpered a little, but none of the others was frightened, and they kept along the well - trodden path until they came to an opening in the wood, in which were gathered hundreds of beasts of every variety. There were tigers and elephants and bears and wolves and foxes and all the others in the natural history, and for a moment Dorothy was afraid. But the Lion explained that the animals were holding a meeting, and he judged by their snarling and growling that they were in great trouble.

As he spoke several of the beasts caught sight of him, and at once the great assemblage hushed as if by magic. The biggest of the tigers came up to the Lion and bowed, saying:

''Welcome, O King of Beasts! You have come in good time to fight our enemy and bring peace to all the animals of the forest once more.''

''What is your trouble?'' asked the Lion quietly.

''We are all threatened,'' answered the tiger, ''by a fierce enemy which has lately come into this forest. It is a most tremendous monster, like a great spider, with a body as big as an elephant and legs as long as a tree trunk. It has eight of these long legs, and as the monster crawls through the forest he seizes an animal with a leg and drags it to his mouth, where he eats it as a spider does a fly. Not one of us is safe while this fierce creature is alive, and we had called a meeting to decide how to take care of ourselves when you came among us.''

The Lion thought for a moment.

''Are there any other lions in this forest?'' he asked.

''No; there were some, but the monster has eaten them all. And, besides, they were none of them nearly so large and brave as you.''

''If I put an end to your enemy, will you bow down to me and obey me as King of the Forest?'' inquired the Lion.

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: Frank Baum
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