Chapter 9. The Scarecrow Plans an escape
Tip slipped away from the girls and followed swiftly after the Soldier with the Green Whiskers. The invading army entered the City more slowly, for they stopped to dig emeralds out of the walls and paving-stones with the points of their knitting-needles. So the Soldier and the boy reached the palace before the news had spread that the City was conquered.
The Scarecrow and Jack Pumpkinhead were still playing at quoits in the courtyard when the game was interrupted by the abrupt entrance of the Royal Army of Oz, who came flying in without his hat or gun, his clothes in sad disarray and his long beard floating a yard behind him as he ran.
"Tally one for me," said the Scarecrow, calmly "What's wrong, my man?" he added, addressing the Soldier.
"Oh! your Majesty—your Majesty! The City is conquered!" gasped the Royal Army, who was all out of breath.
"This is quite sudden," said the Scarecrow. "But please go and bar all the doors and windows of the palace, while I show this Pumpkinhead how to throw a quoit."
The Soldier hastened to do this, while Tip, who had arrived at his heels, remained in the courtyard to look at the Scarecrow with wondering eyes.
His Majesty continued to throw the quoits as coolly as if no danger threatened his throne, but the Pumpkinhead, having caught sight of Tip, ambled toward the boy as fast as his wooden legs would go.
"Good afternoon, noble parent!" he cried, delightedly. "I'm glad to see you are here. That terrible Saw-Horse ran away with me."
"I suspected it," said Tip. "Did you get hurt? Are you cracked at all?"
"No, I arrived safely," answered Jack, "and his Majesty has been very kind indeed to me."
At this moment the Soldier with the Green Whiskers returned, and the Scarecrow asked:
"By the way, who has conquered me?"
"A regiment of girls, gathered from the four corners of the Land of Oz," replied the Soldier, still pale with fear.
"But where was my Standing Army at the time?" inquired his Majesty, looking at the Soldier, gravely.
"Your Standing Army was running," answered the fellow, honestly; "for no man could face the terrible weapons of the invaders."
"Well," said the Scarecrow, after a moment's thought, "I don't mind much the loss of my throne, for it's a tiresome job to rule over the Emerald City. And this crown is so heavy that it makes my head ache. But I hope the Conquerors have no intention of injuring me, just because I happen to be the King."
"I heard them, say" remarked Tip, with some hesitation, "that they intend to make a rag carpet of your outside and stuff their sofa-cushions with your inside."
"Then I am really in danger," declared his Majesty, positively, "and it will be wise for me to consider a means to escape."
"Where can you go?" asked Jack Pumpkinhead.
"Why, to my friend the Tin Woodman, who rules over the Winkies, and calls himself their Emperor," was the answer. "I am sure he will protect me."
Tip was looking out the window.
"The palace is surrounded by the enemy," said he. "It is too late to escape. They would soon tear you to pieces."
The Scarecrow sighed.
"In an emergency," he announced, "it is always a good thing to pause and reflect. Please excuse me while I pause and reflect."
"But we also are in danger," said the Pumpkinhead, anxiously. "If any of these girls understand cooking, my end is not far off!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the Scarecrow; "they're too busy to cook, even if they know how!"
"But should I remain here a prisoner for any length of time," protested Jack, "I'm liable to spoil."
"Ah! then you would not be fit to associate with," returned the Scarecrow. "The matter is more serious than I suspected."
"You," said the Pumpkinhead, gloomily, "are liable to live for many years. My life is necessarily short. So I must take advantage of the few days that remain to me."
"There, there! Don't worry," answered the Scarecrow soothingly; "if you'll keep quiet long enough for me to think, I'll try to find some way for us all to escape."
So the others waited in patient silence while the Scarecrow walked to a corner and stood with his face to the wall for a good five minutes. At the end of that time he faced them with a more cheerful expression upon his painted face.
"Where is the Saw-Horse you rode here?" he asked the Pumpkinhead.
"Why, I said he was a jewel, and so your man locked him up in the royal treasury," said Jack.
"It was the only place I could think of your Majesty," added the Soldier, fearing he had made a blunder.
"It pleases me very much," said the Scarecrow. "Has the animal been fed?"
"Oh, yes; I gave him a heaping peck of sawdust."
"Excellent!" cried the Scarecrow. "Bring the horse here at once."
The Soldier hastened away, and presently they heard the clattering of the horse's wooden legs upon the pavement as he was led into the courtyard.
His Majesty regarded the steed critically. "He doesn't seem especially graceful!" he remarked, musingly; "but I suppose he can run?"
"He can, indeed," said Tip, gazing upon the Saw-Horse admiringly.
"Then, bearing us upon his back, he must make a dash through the ranks of the rebels and carry us to my friend the Tin Woodman," announced the Scarecrow.
"He can't carry four!" objected Tip.
"No, but he may be induced to carry three," said his Majesty. "I shall therefore leave my Royal Army Behind. For, from the ease with which he was conquered, I have little confidence in his powers."
"Still, he can run," declared Tip, laughing.
"I expected this blow" said the Soldier, sulkily; "but I can bear it. I shall disguise myself by cutting off my lovely green whiskers. And, after all, it is no more dangerous to face those reckless girls than to ride this fiery, untamed wooden horse!"
"Perhaps you are right," observed his Majesty. "But, for my part, not being a soldier, I am fond of danger. Now, my boy, you must mount first. And please sit as close to the horse's neck as possible."
Tip climbed quickly to his place, and the Soldier and the Scarecrow managed to hoist the Pumpkinhead to a seat just behind him. There remained so little space for the King that he was liable to fall off as soon as the horse started.
"Fetch a clothesline," said the King to his Army, "and tie us all together. Then if one falls off we will all fall off."
And while the Soldier was gone for the clothesline his Majesty continued, "it is well for me to be careful, for my very existence is in danger."
"I have to be as careful as you do," said Jack.
"Not exactly," replied the Scarecrow; "for if anything happened to me, that would be the end of me. But if anything happened to you, they could use you for seed."
The Soldier now returned with a long line and tied all three firmly together, also lashing them to the body of the Saw-Horse; so there seemed little danger of their tumbling off.
"Now throw open the gates," commanded the Scarecrow, "and we will make a dash to liberty or to death."
The courtyard in which they were standing was located in the center of the great palace, which surrounded it on all sides. But in one place a passage led to an outer gateway, which the Soldier had barred by order of his sovereign. It was through this gateway his Majesty proposed to escape, and the Royal Army now led the Saw-Horse along the passage and unbarred the gate, which swung backward with a loud crash.
"Now," said Tip to the horse, "you must save us all. Run as fast as you can for the gate of the City, and don't let anything stop you."
"All right!" answered the Saw-Horse, gruffly, and dashed away so suddenly that Tip had to gasp for breath and hold firmly to the post he had driven into the creature's neck.
Several of the girls, who stood outside guarding the palace, were knocked over by the Saw-Horse's mad rush. Others ran screaming out of the way, and only one or two jabbed their knitting-needles frantically at the escaping prisoners. Tip got one small prick in his left arm, which smarted for an hour afterward; but the needles had no effect upon the Scarecrow or Jack Pumpkinhead, who never even suspected they were being prodded.
As for the Saw-Horse, he made a wonderful record upsetting a fruit cart, overturning several meek looking men, and finally bowling over the new Guardian of the Gate—a fussy little fat woman appointed by General Jinjur.
Nor did the impetuous charger stop then. Once outside the walls of the Emerald City he dashed along the road to the West with fast and violent leaps that shook the breath out of the boy and filled the Scarecrow with wonder.
Jack had ridden at this mad rate once before, so he devoted every effort to holding, with both hands, his pumpkin head upon its stick, enduring meantime the dreadful jolting with the courage of a philosopher.
"Slow him up! Slow him up!" shouted the Scarecrow. "My straw is all shaking down into my legs."
But Tip had no breath to speak, so the Saw-Horse continued his wild career unchecked and with unabated speed.
Presently they came to the banks of a wide river, and without a pause the wooden steed gave one final leap and launched them all in mid-air.
A second later they were rolling, splashing and bobbing about in the water, the horse struggling frantically to find a rest for its feet and its riders being first plunged beneath the rapid current and then floating upon the surface like corks.