Chapter 4. THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM
After the Wizard had wiped the dampness from his sword and taken it apart and put the pieces into their leathern case again, the man with the star ordered some of his people to carry the two halves of the Sorcerer to the public gardens.
Jim pricked up his ears when he heard they were going to the gardens, and wanted to join the party, thinking he might find something proper to eat; so Zeb put down the top of the buggy and invited the Wizard to ride with them. The seat was amply wide enough for the little man and the two children, and when Jim started to leave the hall the kitten jumped upon his back and sat there quite contentedly.
So the procession moved through the streets, the bearers of the Sorcerer first, the Prince next, then Jim drawing the buggy with the strangers inside of it, and last the crowd of vegetable people who had no hearts and could neither smile nor frown.
The glass city had several fine streets, for a good many people lived there; but when the procession had passed through these it came upon a broad plain covered with gardens and watered by many pretty brooks that flowed through it. There were paths through these gardens, and over some of the brooks were ornamental glass bridges.
Dorothy and Zeb now got out of the buggy and walked beside the Prince, so that they might see and examine the flowers and plants better.
"Who built these lovely bridges?" asked the little girl.
"No one built them," answered the man with the star. "They grow."
"That's queer," said she. "Did the glass houses in your city grow, too?"
"Of course," he replied. "But it took a good many years for them to grow as large and fine as they are now. That is why we are so angry when a Rain of Stones comes to break our towers and crack our roofs."
"Can't you mend them?" she enquired.
"No; but they will grow together again, in time, and we must wait until they do."
They first passed through many beautiful gardens of flowers, which grew nearest the city; but Dorothy could hardly tell what kind of flowers they were, because the colors were constantly changing under the shifting lights of the six suns. A flower would be pink one second, white the next, then blue or yellow; and it was the same way when they came to the plants, which had broad leaves and grew close to the ground.
When they passed over a field of grass Jim immediately stretched down his head and began to nibble.
"A nice country this is," he grumbled, "where a respectable horse has to eat pink grass!"
"It's violet," said the Wizard, who was in the buggy.
"Now it's blue," complained the horse. "As a matter of fact, I'm eating rainbow grass."
"How does it taste?" asked the Wizard.
"Not bad at all," said Jim. "If they give me plenty of it I'll not complain about its color."
By this time the party had reached a freshly plowed field, and the Prince said to Dorothy:
"This is our planting-ground."
Several Mangaboos came forward with glass spades and dug a hole in the ground. Then they put the two halves of the Sorcerer into it and covered him up. After that other people brought water from a brook and sprinkled the earth.
"He will sprout very soon," said the Prince, "and grow into a large bush, from which we shall in time be able to pick several very good sorcerers."
"Do all your people grow on bushes?" asked the boy.
"Certainly," was the reply. "Do not all people grow upon bushes where you came from, on the outside of the earth."
"Not that I ever heard of."
"How strange! But if you will come with me to one of our folk gardens I will show you the way we grow in the Land of the Mangaboos."
It appeared that these odd people, while they were able to walk through the air with ease, usually moved upon the ground in the ordinary way. There were no stairs in their houses, because they did not need them, but on a level surface they generally walked just as we do.
The little party of strangers now followed the Prince across a few more of the glass bridges and along several paths until they came to a garden enclosed by a high hedge. Jim had refused to leave the field of grass, where he was engaged in busily eating; so the Wizard got out of the buggy and joined Zeb and Dorothy, and the kitten followed demurely at their heels.
Inside the hedge they came upon row after row of large and handsome plants with broad leaves gracefully curving until their points nearly reached the ground. In the center of each plant grew a daintily dressed Mangaboo, for the clothing of all these creatures grew upon them and was attached to their bodies.
The growing Mangaboos were of all sizes, from the blossom that had just turned into a wee baby to the full-grown and almost ripe man or woman. On some of the bushes might be seen a bud, a blossom, a baby, a half-grown person and a ripe one; but even those ready to pluck were motionless and silent, as if devoid of life. This sight explained to Dorothy why she had seen no children among the Mangaboos, a thing she had until now been unable to account for.
"Our people do not acquire their real life until they leave their bushes," said the Prince. "You will notice they are all attached to the plants by the soles of their feet, and when they are quite ripe they are easily separated from the stems and at once attain the powers of motion and speech. So while they grow they cannot be said to really live, and they must be picked before they can become good citizens."
"How long do you live, after you are picked?" asked Dorothy.
"That depends upon the care we take of ourselves," he replied. "If we keep cool and moist, and meet with no accidents, we often live for five years. I've been picked over six years, but our family is known to be especially long lived."
"Do you eat?" asked the boy.
"Eat! No, indeed. We are quite solid inside our bodies, and have no need to eat, any more than does a potato."
"But the potatoes sometimes sprout," said Zeb.
"And sometimes we do," answered the Prince; "but that is considered a great misfortune, for then we must be planted at once."
"Where did you grow?" asked the Wizard.
"I will show you," was the reply. "Step this way, please."
He led them within another but smaller circle of hedge, where grew one large and beautiful bush.
"This," said he, "is the Royal Bush of the Mangaboos. All of our Princes and Rulers have grown upon this one bush from time immemorial."
They stood before it in silent admiration. On the central stalk stood poised the figure of a girl so exquisitely formed and colored and so lovely in the expression of her delicate features that Dorothy thought she had never seen so sweet and adorable a creature in all her life. The maiden's gown was soft as satin and fell about her in ample folds, while dainty lace-like traceries trimmed the bodice and sleeves. Her flesh was fine and smooth as polished ivory, and her poise expressed both dignity and grace.
"Who is this?" asked the Wizard, curiously.
The Prince had been staring hard at the girl on the bush. Now he answered, with a touch of uneasiness in his cold tones:
"She is the Ruler destined to be my successor, for she is a Royal Princess. When she becomes fully ripe I must abandon the sovereignty of the Mangaboos to her."
"Isn't she ripe now?" asked Dorothy.
"Not quite," said he, finally. "It will be several days before she needs to be picked, or at least that is my judgment. I am in no hurry to resign my office and be planted, you may be sure."
"Probably not," declared the Wizard, nodding.
"This is one of the most unpleasant things about our vegetable lives," continued the Prince, with a sigh, "that while we are in our full prime we must give way to another, and be covered up in the ground to sprout and grow and give birth to other people."
"I'm sure the Princess is ready to be picked," asserted Dorothy, gazing hard at the beautiful girl on the bush. "She's as perfect as she can be."
"Never mind," answered the Prince, hastily, "she will be all right for a few days longer, and it is best for me to rule until I can dispose of you strangers, who have come to our land uninvited and must be attended to at once."
"What are you going to do with us?" asked Zeb.
"That is a matter I have not quite decided upon," was the reply. "I think I shall keep this Wizard until a new Sorcerer is ready to pick, for he seems quite skillful and may be of use to us. But the rest of you must be destroyed in some way, and you cannot be planted, because I do not wish horses and cats and meat people growing all over our country."
"You needn't worry," said Dorothy. "We wouldn't grow under ground, I'm sure."
"But why destroy my friends?" asked the little Wizard. "Why not let them live?"
"They do not belong here," returned the Prince. "They have no right to be inside the earth at all."
"We didn't ask to come down here; we fell," said Dorothy.
"That is no excuse," declared the Prince, coldly.
The children looked at each other in perplexity, and the Wizard sighed. Eureka rubbed her paw on her face and said in her soft, purring voice:
"He won't need to destroy _me_, for if I don't get something to eat pretty soon I shall starve to death, and so save him the trouble."
"If he planted you, he might grow some cat-tails," suggested the Wizard.
"Oh, Eureka! perhaps we can find you some milk-weeds to eat," said the boy.
"Phoo!" snarled the kitten; "I wouldn't touch the nasty things!"
"You don't need milk, Eureka," remarked Dorothy; "you are big enough now to eat any kind of food."
"If I can get it," added Eureka.
"I'm hungry myself," said Zeb. "But I noticed some strawberries growing in one of the gardens, and some melons in another place. These people don't eat such things, so perhaps on our way back they will let us get them."
"Never mind your hunger," interrupted the Prince. "I shall order you destroyed in a few minutes, so you will have no need to ruin our pretty melon vines and berry bushes. Follow me, please, to meet your doom."