Chapter 22. The Joking Horners
It was not long before they left the passage and came to a great cave, so high that it must have reached nearly to the top of the mountain within which it lay. It was a magnificent cave, illumined by the soft, invisible light, so that everything in it could be plainly seen. The walls were of polished marble, white with veins of delicate colors running through it, and the roof was arched and fantastic and beautiful.
Built beneath this vast dome was a pretty village—not very large, for there seemed not more than fifty houses altogether—and the dwellings were of marble and artistically designed. No grass nor flowers nor trees grew in this cave, so the yards surrounding the houses carved in designs both were smooth and bare and had low walls around them to mark their boundaries.
In the streets and the yards of the houses were many people all having one leg growing below their bodies and all hopping here and there whenever they moved. Even the children stood firmly upon their single legs and never lost their balance.
"All hail, Champion!" cried a man in the first group of Hoppers they met; "whom have you captured?"
"No one," replied the Champion in a gloomy voice; "these strangers have captured me."
"Then," said another, "we will rescue you, and capture them, for we are greater in number."
"No," answered the Champion, "I can't allow it. I've surrendered, and it isn't polite to capture those you've surrendered to."
"Never mind that," said Dorothy. "We will give you your liberty and set you free."
"Really?" asked the Champion in joyous tones.
"Yes," said the little girl; "your people may need you to help conquer the Horners."
At this all the Hoppers looked downcast and sad. Several more had joined the group by this time and quite a crowd of curious men, women and children surrounded the strangers.
"This war with our neighbors is a terrible thing," remarked one of the women. "Some one is almost sure to get hurt."
"Why do you say that, madam?" inquired the Scarecrow.
"Because the horns of our enemies are sharp, and in battle they will try to stick those horns into our warriors," she replied.
"How many horns do the Horners have?" asked Dorothy.
"Each has one horn in the center of his forehead," was the answer.
"Oh, then they're unicorns," declared the Scarecrow.
"No; they're Horners. We never go to war with them if we can help it, on account of their dangerous horns; but this insult was so great and so unprovoked that our brave men decided to fight, in order to be revenged," said the woman.
"What weapons do you fight with?" the Scarecrow asked.
"We have no weapons," explained the Champion. "Whenever we fight the Horners, our plan is to push them back, for our arms are longer than theirs."
"Then you are better armed," said Scraps.
"Yes; but they have those terrible horns, and unless we are careful they prick us with the points," returned the Champion with a shudder. "That makes a war with them dangerous, and a dangerous war cannot be a pleasant one."
"I see very clearly," remarked the Scarecrow, "that you are going to have trouble in conquering those Horners—unless we help you."
"Oh!" cried the Hoppers in a chorus; "can you help us? Please do! We will be greatly obliged! It would please us very much!" and by these exclamations the Scarecrow knew that his speech had met with favor.
"How far is it to the Horner Country?" he asked.
"Why, it's just the other side of the fence," they answered, and the Champion added:
"Come with me, please, and I'll show you the Horners."
So they followed the Champion and several others through the streets and just beyond the village came to a very high picket fence, built all of marble, which seemed to divide the great cave into two equal parts.
But the part inhabited by the Horners was in no way as grand in appearance as that of the Hoppers. Instead of being marble, the walls and roof were of dull gray rock and the square houses were plainly made of the same material. But in extent the city was much larger than that of the Hoppers and the streets were thronged with numerous people who busied themselves in various ways.
Looking through the open pickets of the fence our friends watched the Horners, who did not know they were being watched by strangers, and found them very unusual in appearance. They were little folks in size and had bodies round as balls and short legs and arms. Their heads were round, too, and they had long, pointed ears and a horn set in the center of the forehead. The horns did not seem very terrible, for they were not more than six inches long; but they were ivory white and sharp pointed, and no wonder the Hoppers feared them.
The skins of the Horners were light brown, but they wore snow-white robes and were bare-footed. Dorothy thought the most striking thing about them was their hair, which grew in three distinct colors on each and every head—red, yellow and green. The red was at the bottom and sometimes hung over their eyes; then came a broad circle of yellow and the green was at the top and formed a brush-shaped top-knot.
None of the Horners was yet aware of the presence of strangers, who watched the little brown people for a time and then went to the big gate in the center of the dividing fence. It was locked on both sides and over the latch was a sign reading:
"WAR IS DECLARED"
"Can't we go through?" asked Dorothy.
"Not now," answered the Champion.
"I think," said the Scarecrow, "that if I could talk with those Horners they would apologize to you, and then there would be no need to fight."
"Can't you talk from this side?" asked the Champion.
"Not so well," replied the Scarecrow. "Do you suppose you could throw me over that fence? It is high, but I am very light."
"We can try it," said the Hopper. "I am perhaps the strongest man in my country, so I'll undertake to do the throwing. But I won't promise you will land on your feet."
"No matter about that," returned the Scarecrow. "Just toss me over and I'll be satisfied."
So the Champion picked up the Scarecrow and balanced him a moment, to see how much he weighed, and then with all his strength tossed him high into the air.
Perhaps if the Scarecrow had been a trifle heavier he would have been easier to throw and would have gone a greater distance; but, as it was, instead of going over the fence he landed just on top of it, and one of the sharp pickets caught him in the middle of his back and held him fast prisoner. Had he been face downward the Scarecrow might have managed to free himself, but lying on his back on the picket his hands waved in the air of the Horner Country while his feet kicked the air of the Hopper Country; so there he was.
"Are you hurt?" called the Patchwork Girl anxiously.
"Course not," said Dorothy. "But if he wiggles that way he may tear his clothes. How can we get him down, Mr. Champion?"
The Champion shook his head.
"I don't know," he confessed. "If he could scare Horners as well as he does crows, it might be a good idea to leave him there."
"This is terrible," said Ojo, almost ready to cry. "I s'pose it's because I am Ojo the Unlucky that everyone who tries to help me gets into trouble."
"You are lucky to have anyone to help you," declared Dorothy. "But don't worry. We'll rescue the Scarecrow somehow."
"I know how," announced Scraps. "Here, Mr. Champion; just throw me up to the Scarecrow. I'm nearly as light as he is, and when I'm on top the fence I'll pull our friend off the picket and toss him down to you."
"All right," said the Champion, and he picked up the Patchwork Girl and threw her in the same manner he had the Scarecrow. He must have used more strength this time, however, for Scraps sailed far over the top of the fence and, without being able to grab the Scarecrow at all, tumbled to the ground in the Horner Country, where her stuffed body knocked over two men and a woman and made a crowd that had collected there run like rabbits to get away from her.
Seeing the next moment that she was harmless, the people slowly returned and gathered around the Patchwork Girl, regarding her with astonishment. One of them wore a jeweled star in his hair, just above his horn, and this seemed a person of importance. He spoke for the rest of his people, who treated him with great respect.
"Who are you, Unknown Being?" he asked.
"Scraps," she said, rising to her feet and patting her cotton wadding smooth where it had bunched up.
"And where did you come from?" he continued.
"Over the fence. Don't be silly. There's no other place I could have come from," she replied.
He looked at her thoughtfully.
"You are not a Hopper," said he, "for you have two legs. They're not very well shaped, but they are two in number. And that strange creature on top the fence—why doesn't he stop kicking?—must be your brother, or father, or son, for he also has two legs."
"You must have been to visit the Wise Donkey," said Scraps, laughing so merrily that the crowd smiled with her, in sympathy. "But that reminds me, Captain—or King—"
"I am Chief of the Horners, and my name is Jak."
"Of course; Little Jack Horner; I might have known it. But the reason I volplaned over the fence was so I could have a talk with you about the Hoppers."
"What about the Hoppers?" asked the Chief, frowning.
"You've insulted them, and you'd better beg their pardon," said Scraps. "If you don't, they'll probably hop over here and conquer you."
"We're not afraid—as long as the gate is locked," declared the Chief. "And we didn't insult them at all. One of us made a joke that the stupid Hoppers couldn't see."
The Chief smiled as he said this and the smile made his face look quite jolly.
"What was the joke?" asked Scraps.
"A Horner said they have less understanding than we, because they've only one leg. Ha, ha! You see the point, don't you? If you stand on your legs, and your legs are under you, then—ha, ha, ha!—then your legs are your under-standing. Hee, hee, hee! Ho, ho! My, but that's a fine joke. And the stupid Hoppers couldn't see it! They couldn't see that with only one leg they must have less under-standing than we who have two legs. Ha, ha, ha! Hee, hee! Ho, ho!" The Chief wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes with the bottom hem of his white robe, and all the other Horners wiped their eyes on their robes, for they had laughed just as heartily as their Chief at the absurd joke.
"Then," said Scraps, "their understanding of the understanding you meant led to the misunderstanding."
"Exactly; and so there's no need for us to apologize," returned the Chief.
"No need for an apology, perhaps, but much need for an explanation," said Scraps decidedly. "You don't want war, do you?"
"Not if we can help it," admitted Jak Horner. "The question is, who's going to explain the joke to the Horners? You know it spoils any joke to be obliged to explain it, and this is the best joke I ever heard."
"Who made the joke?" asked Scraps.
"Diksey Horner. He is working in the mines, just now, but he'll be home before long. Suppose we wait and talk with him about it? Maybe he'll be willing to explain his joke to the Hoppers."
"All right," said Scraps. "I'll wait, if Diksey isn't too long."
"No, he's short; he's shorter than I am. Ha, ha, ha! Say! that's a better joke than Diksey's. He won't be too long, because he's short. Hee, hee, ho!"
The other Horners who were standing by roared with laughter and seemed to like their Chief's joke as much as he did. Scraps thought it was odd that they could be so easily amused, but decided there could be little harm in people who laughed so merrily.