FictionForest

Chapter 22 – The Joking Horners

L. Frank BaumOct 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 fore
head,” 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 topknot.

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 wig-gles
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, bee,
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, bee! 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.

 

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