Chapter 14. Dorothy Tries to be Brave
Meantime the Chief Steward had returned to the throne room, where he said to the King:
"You are a fool to waste so much time upon these people."
"What!" cried his Majesty, in so enraged a voice that it awoke Billina, who was asleep under his throne. "How dare you call me a fool?"
"Because I like to speak the truth," said the Steward. "Why didn't you enchant them all at once, instead of allowing them to go one by one into the palace and guess which ornaments are the Queen of Ev and her children?"
"Why, you stupid rascal, it is more fun this way," returned the King, "and it serves to keep me amused for a long time."
"But suppose some of them happen to guess aright," persisted the Steward; "then you would lose your old ornaments and these new ones, too."
"There is no chance of their guessing aright," replied the monarch, with a laugh. "How could they know that the Queen of Ev and her family are all ornaments of a royal purple color?"
"But there are no other purple ornaments in the palace," said the Steward.
"There are many other colors, however, and the purple ones are scattered throughout the rooms, and are of many different shapes and sizes. Take my word for it, Steward, they will never think of choosing the purple ornaments."
Billina, squatting under the throne, had listened carefully to all this talk, and now chuckled softly to herself as she heard the King disclose his secret.
"Still, you are acting foolishly by running the chance," continued the Steward, roughly; "and it is still more foolish of you to transform all those people from Oz into green ornaments."
"I did that because they came from the Emerald City," replied the King; "and I had no green ornaments in my collection until now. I think they will look quite pretty, mixed with the others. Don't you?"
The Steward gave an angry grunt.
"Have your own way, since you are the King," he growled. "But if you come to grief through your carelessness, remember that I told you so. If I wore the magic belt which enables you to work all your transformations, and gives you so much other power, I am sure I would make a much wiser and better King than you are."
"Oh, cease your tiresome chatter!" commanded the King, getting angry again. "Because you are my Chief Steward you have an idea you can scold me as much as you please. But the very next time you become impudent, I will send you to work in the furnaces, and get another Nome to fill your place. Now follow me to my chamber, for I am going to bed. And see that I am wakened early tomorrow morning. I want to enjoy the fun of transforming the rest of these people into ornaments."
"What color will you make the Kansas girl?" asked the Steward.
"Gray, I think," said his Majesty.
"And the Scarecrow and the machine man?"
"Oh, they shall be of solid gold, because they are so ugly in real life."
Then the voices died away, and Billina knew that the King and his Steward had left the room. She fixed up some of her tail feathers that were not straight, and then tucked her head under her wing again and went to sleep.
In the morning Dorothy and the Lion and Tiger were given their breakfast in their rooms, and afterward joined the King in his throne room. The Tiger complained bitterly that he was half starved, and begged to go into the palace and become an ornament, so that he would no longer suffer the pangs of hunger.
"Haven't you had your breakfast?" asked the Nome King.
"Oh, I had just a bite," replied the beast. "But what good is a bite, to a hungry tiger?"
"He ate seventeen bowls of porridge, a platter full of fried sausages, eleven loaves of bread and twenty-one mince pies," said the Steward.
"What more do you want?" demanded the King.
"A fat baby. I want a fat baby," said the Hungry Tiger. "A nice, plump, juicy, tender, fat baby. But, of course, if I had one, my conscience would not allow me to eat it. So I'll have to be an ornament and forget my hunger."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the King. "I'll have no clumsy beasts enter my palace, to overturn and break all my pretty nick-nacks. When the rest of your friends are transformed you can return to the upper world, and go about your business."
"As for that, we have no business, when our friends are gone," said the Lion. "So we do not care much what becomes of us."
Dorothy begged to be allowed to go first into the palace, but Tiktok firmly maintained that the slave should face danger before the mistress. The Scarecrow agreed with him in that, so the Nome King opened the door for the machine man, who tramped into the palace to meet his fate. Then his Majesty returned to his throne and puffed his pipe so contentedly that a small cloud of smoke formed above his head.
Bye and bye he said:
"I'm sorry there are so few of you left. Very soon, now, my fun will be over, and then for amusement I shall have nothing to do but admire my new ornaments."
"It seems to me," said Dorothy, "that you are not so honest as you pretend to be."
"How's that?" asked the King.
"Why, you made us think it would be easy to guess what ornaments the people of Ev were changed into."
"It IS easy," declared the monarch, "if one is a good guesser. But it appears that the members of your party are all poor guessers."
"What is Tiktok doing now?" asked the girl, uneasily.
"Nothing," replied the King, with a frown. "He is standing perfectly still, in the middle of a room."
"Oh, I expect he's run down," said Dorothy. "I forgot to wind him up this morning. How many guesses has he made?"
"All that he is allowed except one," answered the King. "Suppose you go in and wind him up, and then you can stay there and make your own guesses."
"All right," said Dorothy.
"It is my turn next," declared the Scarecrow.
"Why, you don't want to go away and leave me all alone, do you?" asked the girl. "Besides, if I go now I can wind up Tiktok, so that he can make his last guess."
"Very well, then," said the Scarecrow, with a sigh. "Run along, little Dorothy, and may good luck go with you!"
So Dorothy, trying to be brave in spite of her fears, passed through the doorway into the gorgeous rooms of the palace. The stillness of the place awed her, at first, and the child drew short breaths, and pressed her hand to her heart, and looked all around with wondering eyes.
Yes, it was a beautiful place; but enchantments lurked in every nook and corner, and she had not yet grown accustomed to the wizardries of these fairy countries, so different from the quiet and sensible common-places of her own native land.
Slowly she passed through several rooms until she came upon Tiktok, standing motionless. It really seemed, then, that she had found a friend in this mysterious palace, so she hastened to wind up the machine man's action and speech and thoughts.
"Thank you, Dor-oth-y," were his first words. "I have now one more guess to make."
"Oh, be very careful, Tiktok; won't you?" cried the girl.
"Yes. But the Nome King has us in his power, and he has set a trap for us. I fear we are all lost." he answered.
"I fear so, too," said Dorothy, sadly.
"If Smith & Tin-ker had giv-en me a guess-ing clock-work at-tach-ment," continued Tiktok, "I might have de-fied the Nome King. But my thoughts are plain and sim-ple, and are not of much use in this case."
"Do the best you can," said Dorothy, encouragingly, "and if you fail I will watch and see what shape you are changed into."
So Tiktok touched a yellow glass vase that had daisies painted on one side, and he spoke at the same time the word "Ev."
In a flash the machine man had disappeared, and although the girl looked quickly in every direction, she could not tell which of the many ornaments the room contained had a moment before been her faithful friend and servant.
So all she could do was to accept the hopeless task set her, and make her guesses and abide by the result.
"It can't hurt very much," she thought, "for I haven't heard any of them scream or cry out--not even the poor officers. Dear me! I wonder if Uncle Henry or Aunt Em will ever know I have become an orn'ment in the Nome King's palace, and must stand forever and ever in one place and look pretty--'cept when I'm moved to be dusted. It isn't the way I thought I'd turn out, at all; but I s'pose it can't be helped."
She walked through all the rooms once more, and examined with care all the objects they contained; but there were so many, they bewildered her, and she decided, after all, as Ozma had done, that it could be only guess work at the best, and that the chances were much against her guessing aright.
Timidly she touched an alabaster bowl and said: "Ev."
"That's one failure, anyhow," she thought. "But how am I to know which thing is enchanted, and which is not?"
Next she touched the image of a purple kitten that stood on the corner of a mantel, and as she pronounced the word "Ev" the kitten disappeared, and a pretty, fair-haired boy stood beside her. At the same time a bell rang somewhere in the distance, and as Dorothy started back, partly in surprise and partly in joy, the little one exclaimed:
"Where am I? And who are you? And what has happened to me?"
"Well, I declare!" said Dorothy. "I've really done it."
"Done what?" asked the boy.
"Saved myself from being an ornament," replied the girl, with a laugh, "and saved you from being forever a purple kitten."
"A purple kitten?" he repeated. "There IS no such thing."
"I know," she answered. "But there was, a minute ago. Don't you remember standing on a corner of the mantel?"
"Of course not. I am a Prince of Ev, and my name is Evring," the little one announced, proudly. "But my father, the King, sold my mother and all her children to the cruel ruler of the Nomes, and after that I remember nothing at all."
"A purple kitten can't be 'spected to remember, Evring," said Dorothy. "But now you are yourself again, and I'm going to try to save some of your brothers and sisters, and perhaps your mother, as well. So come with me."
She seized the child's hand and eagerly hurried here and there, trying to decide which object to choose next. The third guess was another failure, and so was the fourth and the fifth.
Little Evring could not imagine what she was doing, but he trotted along beside her very willingly, for he liked the new companion he had found.
Dorothy's further quest proved unsuccessful; but after her first disappointment was over, the little girl was filled with joy and thankfulness to think that after all she had been able to save one member of the royal family of Ev, and could restore the little Prince to his sorrowing country. Now she might return to the terrible Nome King in safety, carrying with her the prize she had won in the person of the fair-haired boy.
So she retraced her steps until she found the entrance to the palace, and as she approached, the massive doors of rock opened of their own accord, allowing both Dorothy and Evring to pass the portals and enter the throne room.