Chapter 23. Peace is Declared
"Come with me to my dwelling and I'll introduce you to my daughters," said the Chief. "We're bringing them up according to a book of rules that was written by one of our leading old bachelors, and everyone says they're a remarkable lot of girls."
So Scraps accompanied him along the street to a house that seemed on the outside exceptionally grimy and dingy. The streets of this city were not paved nor had any attempt been made to beautify the houses or their surroundings, and having noticed this condition Scraps was astonished when the Chief ushered her into his home.
Here was nothing grimy or faded, indeed. On the contrary, the room was of dazzling brilliance and beauty, for it was lined throughout with an exquisite metal that resembled translucent frosted silver. The surface of this metal was highly ornamented in raised designs representing men, animals, flowers and trees, and from the metal itself was radiated the soft light which flooded the room. All the furniture was made of the same glorious metal, and Scraps asked what it was.
"That's radium," answered the Chief. "We Horners spend all our time digging radium from the mines under this mountain, and we use it to decorate our homes and make them pretty and cosy. It is a medicine, too, and no one can ever be sick who lives near radium."
"Have you plenty of it?" asked the Patchwork Girl.
"More than we can use. All the houses in this city are decorated with it, just the same as mine is."
"Why don't you use it on your streets, then, and the outside of your houses, to make them as pretty as they are within?" she inquired.
"Outside? Who cares for the outside of anything?" asked the Chief. "We Horners don't live on the outside of our homes; we live inside. Many people are like those stupid Hoppers, who love to make an outside show. I suppose you strangers thought their city more beautiful than ours, because you judged from appearances and they have handsome marble houses and marble streets; but if you entered one of their stiff dwellings you would find it bare and uncomfortable, as all their show is on the outside. They have an idea that what is not seen by others is not important, but with us the rooms we live in are our chief delight and care, and we pay no attention to outside show."
"Seems to me," said Scraps, musingly, "it would be better to make it all pretty—inside and out."
"Seems? Why, you're all seams, my girl!" said the Chief; and then he laughed heartily at his latest joke and a chorus of small voices echoed the chorus with "tee-hee-hee! ha, ha!"
Scraps turned around and found a row of girls seated in radium chairs ranged along one wall of the room. There were nineteen of them, by actual count, and they were of all sizes from a tiny child to one almost a grown woman. All were neatly dressed in spotless white robes and had brown skins, horns on their foreheads and three-colored hair.
"These," said the Chief, "are my sweet daughters. My dears, I introduce to you Miss Scraps Patchwork, a lady who is traveling in foreign parts to increase her store of wisdom."
The nineteen Horner girls all arose and made a polite curtsey, after which they resumed their seats and rearranged their robes properly.
"Why do they sit so still, and all in a row?" asked Scraps.
"Because it is ladylike and proper," replied the Chief.
"But some are just children, poor things! Don't they ever run around and play and laugh, and have a good time?"
"No, indeed," said the Chief. "That would be improper in young ladies, as well as in those who will sometime become young ladies. My daughters are being brought up according to the rules and regulations laid down by a leading bachelor who has given the subject much study and is himself a man of taste and culture. Politeness is his great hobby, and he claims that if a child is allowed to do an impolite thing one cannot expect the grown person to do anything better."
"Is it impolite to romp and shout and be jolly?" asked Scraps.
"Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't," replied the Horner, after considering the question. "By curbing such inclinations in my daughters we keep on the safe side. Once in a while I make a good joke, as you have heard, and then I permit my daughters to laugh decorously; but they are never allowed to make a joke themselves."
"That old bachelor who made the rules ought to be skinned alive!" declared Scraps, and would have said more on the subject had not the door opened to admit a little Horner man whom the Chief introduced as Diksey.
"What's up, Chief?" asked Diksey, winking nineteen times at the nineteen girls, who demurely cast down their eyes because their father was looking.
The Chief told the man that his joke had not been understood by the dull Hoppers, who had become so angry that they had declared war. So the only way to avoid a terrible battle was to explain the joke so they could understand it.
"All right," replied Diksey, who seemed a good-natured man; "I'll go at once to the fence and explain. I don't want any war with the Hoppers, for wars between nations always cause hard feelings."
So the Chief and Diksey and Scraps left the house and went back to the marble picket fence. The Scarecrow was still stuck on the top of his picket but had now ceased to struggle. On the other side of the fence were Dorothy and Ojo, looking between the pickets; and there, also, were the Champion and many other Hoppers.
Diksey went close to the fence and said:
"My good Hoppers, I wish to explain that what I said about you was a joke. You have but one leg each, and we have two legs each. Our legs are under us, whether one or two, and we stand on them. So, when I said you had less understanding than we, I did not mean that you had less understanding, you understand, but that you had less standundering, so to speak. Do you understand that?"
The Hoppers thought it over carefully. Then one said:
"That is clear enough; but where does the joke come in?'"
Dorothy laughed, for she couldn't help it, although all the others were solemn enough.
"I'll tell you where the joke comes in," she said, and took the Hoppers away to a distance, where the Horners could not hear them. "You know," she then explained, "those neighbors of yours are not very bright, poor things, and what they think is a joke isn't a joke at all—it's true, don't you see?"
"True that we have less understanding?" asked the Champion.
"Yes; it's true because you don't understand such a poor joke; if you did, you'd be no wiser than they are."
"Ah, yes; of course," they answered, looking very wise.
"So I'll tell you what to do," continued Dorothy. "Laugh at their poor joke and tell 'em it's pretty good for a Horner. Then they won't dare say you have less understanding, because you understand as much as they do."
The Hoppers looked at one another questioningly and blinked their eyes and tried to think what it all meant; but they couldn't figure it out.
"What do you think, Champion?" asked one of them.
"I think it is dangerous to think of this thing any more than we can help," he replied. "Let us do as this girl says and laugh with the Horners, so as to make them believe we see the joke. Then there will be peace again and no need to fight."
They readily agreed to this and returned to the fence laughing as loud and as hard as they could, although they didn't feel like laughing a bit. The Horners were much surprised.
"That's a fine joke—for a Horner—and we are much pleased with it," said the Champion, speaking between the pickets. "But please don't do it again."
"I won't," promised Diksey. "If I think of another such joke I'll try to forget it."
"Good!" cried the Chief Horner. "The war is over and peace is declared."
There was much joyful shouting on both sides of the fence and the gate was unlocked and thrown wide open, so that Scraps was able to rejoin her friends.
"What about the Scarecrow?" she asked Dorothy.
"We must get him down, somehow or other," was the reply.
"Perhaps the Horners can find a way," suggested Ojo. So they all went through the gate and Dorothy asked the Chief Horner how they could get the Scarecrow off the fence. The Chief didn't know how, but Diksey said:
"A ladder's the thing."
"Have you one?" asked Dorothy.
"To be sure. We use ladders in our mines," said he. Then he ran away to get the ladder, and while he was gone the Horners gathered around and welcomed the strangers to their country, for through them a great war had been avoided.
In a little while Diksey came back with a tall ladder which he placed against the fence. Ojo at once climbed to the top of the ladder and Dorothy went about halfway up and Scraps stood at the foot of it. Toto ran around it and barked. Then Ojo pulled the Scarecrow away from the picket and passed him down to Dorothy, who in turn lowered him to the Patchwork Girl.
As soon as he was on his feet and standing on solid ground the Scarecrow said:
"Much obliged. I feel much better. I'm not stuck on that picket any more."
The Horners began to laugh, thinking this was a joke, but the Scarecrow shook himself and patted his straw a little and said to Dorothy: "Is there much of a hole in my back?"
The little girl examined him carefully.
"There's quite a hole," she said. "But I've got a needle and thread in the knapsack and I'll sew you up again."
"Do so," he begged earnestly, and again the Hoppers laughed, to the Scarecrow's great annoyance.
While Dorothy was sewing up the hole in the straw man's back Scraps examined the other parts of him.
"One of his legs is ripped, too!" she exclaimed.
"Oho!" cried little Diksey; "that's bad. Give him the needle and thread and let him mend his ways."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the Chief, and the other Horners at once roared with laughter.
"What's funny?" inquired the Scarecrow sternly.
"Don't you see?" asked Diksey, who had laughed even harder than the others. "That's a joke. It's by odds the best joke I ever made. You walk with your legs, and so that's the way you walk, and your legs are the ways. See? So, when you mend your legs, you mend your ways. Ho, ho, ho! hee, hee! I'd no idea I could make such a fine joke!"
"Just wonderful!" echoed the Chief. "How do you manage to do it, Diksey?"
"I don't know," said Diksey modestly. "Perhaps it's the radium, but I rather think it's my splendid intellect."
"If you don't quit it," the Scarecrow told him, "there'll be a worse war than the one you've escaped from."
Ojo had been deep in thought, and now he asked the Chief: "Is there a dark well in any part of your country?"
"A dark well? None that ever I heard of," was the answer.
"Oh, yes," said Diksey, who overheard the boy's question. "There's a very dark well down in my radium mine."
"Is there any water in it?" Ojo eagerly asked.
"Can't say; I've never looked to see. But we can find out."
So, as soon as the Scarecrow was mended, they decided to go with Diksey to the mine. When Dorothy had patted the straw man into shape again he declared he felt as good as new and equal to further adventures.
"Still," said he, "I prefer not to do picket duty again. High life doesn't seem to agree with my constitution." And then they hurried away to escape the laughter of the Horners, who thought this was another joke.