Chapter 15. Billina Frightens the Nome King
Now when Dorothy had entered the palace to make her guesses and the Scarecrow was left with the Nome King, the two sat in moody silence for several minutes. Then the monarch exclaimed, in a tone of satisfaction:
"Who is very good?" asked the Scarecrow.
"The machine man. He won't need to be wound up any more, for he has now become a very neat ornament. Very neat, indeed."
"How about Dorothy?" the Scarecrow enquired.
"Oh, she will begin to guess, pretty soon," said the King, cheerfully. "And then she will join my collection, and it will be your turn."
The good Scarecrow was much distressed by the thought that his little friend was about to suffer the fate of Ozma and the rest of their party; but while he sat in gloomy reverie a shrill voice suddenly cried:
"Kut, kut, kut--ka-daw-kutt! Kut, kut, kut--ka-daw-kutt!"
The Nome King nearly jumped off his seat, he was so startled.
"Good gracious! What's that?" he yelled.
"Why, it's Billina," said the Scarecrow.
"What do you mean by making a noise like that?" shouted the King, angrily, as the yellow hen came from under the throne and strutted proudly about the room.
"I've got a right to cackle, I guess," replied Billina. "I've just laid my egg."
"What! Laid an egg! In my throne room! How dare you do such a thing?" asked the King, in a voice of fury.
"I lay eggs wherever I happen to be," said the hen, ruffling her feathers and then shaking them into place.
"But--thunder-ation! Don't you know that eggs are poison?" roared the King, while his rock-colored eyes stuck out in great terror.
"Poison! well, I declare," said Billina, indignantly. "I'll have you know all my eggs are warranted strictly fresh and up to date. Poison, indeed!"
"You don't understand," retorted the little monarch, nervously. "Eggs belong only to the outside world--to the world on the earth's surface, where you came from. Here, in my underground kingdom, they are rank poison, as I said, and we Nomes can't bear them around."
"Well, you'll have to bear this one around," declared Billina; "for I've laid it."
"Where?" asked the King.
"Under your throne," said the hen.
The King jumped three feet into the air, so anxious was he to get away from the throne.
"Take it away! Take it away at once!" he shouted.
"I can't," said Billina. "I haven't any hands."
"I'll take the egg," said the Scarecrow. "I'm making a collection of Billina's eggs. There's one in my pocket now, that she laid yesterday."
Hearing this, the monarch hastened to put a good distance between himself and the Scarecrow, who was about to reach under the throne for the egg when the hen suddenly cried:
"What's wrong?" asked the Scarecrow.
"Don't take the egg unless the King will allow me to enter the palace and guess as the others have done," said Billina.
"Pshaw!" returned the King. "You're only a hen. How could you guess my enchantments?"
"I can try, I suppose," said Billina. "And, if I fail, you will have another ornament."
"A pretty ornament you'd make, wouldn't you?" growled the King. "But you shall have your way. It will properly punish you for daring to lay an egg in my presence. After the Scarecrow is enchanted you shall follow him into the palace. But how will you touch the objects?"
"With my claws," said the hen; "and I can speak the word 'Ev' as plainly as anyone. Also I must have the right to guess the enchantments of my friends, and to release them if I succeed."
"Very well," said the King. "You have my promise."
"Then," said Billina to the Scarecrow, "you may get the egg."
He knelt down and reached underneath the throne and found the egg, which he placed in another pocket of his jacket, fearing that if both eggs were in one pocket they would knock together and get broken.
Just then a bell above the throne rang briskly, and the King gave another nervous jump.
"Well, well!" said he, with a rueful face; "the girl has actually done it."
"Done what?" asked the Scarecrow.
"She has made one guess that is right, and broken one of my neatest enchantments. By ricketty, it's too bad! I never thought she would do it."
"Do I understand that she will now return to us in safety?" enquired the Scarecrow, joyfully wrinkling his painted face into a broad smile.
"Of course," said the King, fretfully pacing up and down the room. "I always keep my promises, no matter how foolish they are. But I shall make an ornament of the yellow hen to replace the one I have just lost."
"Perhaps you will, and perhaps you won't," murmured Billina, calmly. "I may surprise you by guessing right."
"Guessing right?" snapped the King. "How could you guess right, where your betters have failed, you stupid fowl?"
Billina did not care to answer this question, and a moment later the doors flew open and Dorothy entered, leading the little Prince Evring by the hand.
The Scarecrow welcomed the girl with a close embrace, and he would have embraced Evring, too, in his delight. But the little Prince was shy, and shrank away from the painted Scarecrow because he did not yet know his many excellent qualities.
But there was little time for the friends to talk, because the Scarecrow must now enter the palace. Dorothy's success had greatly encouraged him, and they both hoped he would manage to make at least one correct guess.
However, he proved as unfortunate as the others except Dorothy, and although he took a good deal of time to select his objects, not one did the poor Scarecrow guess aright.
So he became a solid gold card-receiver, and the beautiful but terrible palace awaited its next visitor.
"It's all over," remarked the King, with a sigh of satisfaction; "and it has been a very amusing performance, except for the one good guess the Kansas girl made. I am richer by a great many pretty ornaments."
"It is my turn, now," said Billina, briskly.
"Oh, I'd forgotten you," said the King. "But you needn't go if you don't wish to. I will be generous, and let you off."
"No you won't," replied the hen. "I insist upon having my guesses, as you promised."
"Then go ahead, you absurd feathered fool!" grumbled the King, and he caused the opening that led to the palace to appear once more.
"Don't go, Billina," said Dorothy, earnestly. "It isn't easy to guess those orn'ments, and only luck saved me from being one myself. Stay with me and we'll go back to the Land of Ev together. I'm sure this little Prince will give us a home."
"Indeed I will," said Evring, with much dignity.
"Don't worry, my dear," cried Billina, with a cluck that was meant for a laugh. "I may not be human, but I'm no fool, if I AM a chicken."
"Oh, Billina!" said Dorothy, "you haven't been a chicken in a long time. Not since you--you've been--grown up."
"Perhaps that's true," answered Billina, thoughtfully. "But if a Kansas farmer sold me to some one, what would he call me?--a hen or a chicken!"
"You are not a Kansas farmer, Billina," replied the girl, "and you said--"
"Never mind that, Dorothy. I'm going. I won't say good-bye, because I'm coming back. Keep up your courage, for I'll see you a little later."
Then Billina gave several loud "cluck-clucks" that seemed to make the fat little King MORE nervous than ever, and marched through the entrance into the enchanted palace.
"I hope I've seen the last of THAT bird," declared the monarch, seating himself again in his throne and mopping the perspiration from his forehead with his rock-colored handkerchief. "Hens are bothersome enough at their best, but when they can talk they're simply dreadful."
"Billina's my friend," said Dorothy quietly. "She may not always be 'zactly polite; but she MEANS well, I'm sure."