FictionForest

Chapter 3 – The Ork

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

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The eyes that regarded them, as the creature stood
dripping before them, were bright and mild in
expression, and the queer addition to their party made
no attempt to attack them and seemed quite as surprised
by the meeting as they were.

“I wonder,” whispered Trot, “what it is.”

“Who, me?” exclaimed the creature in a shrill, high-
pitched voice. “Why, I’m an Ork.”

“Oh!” said the girl. “But what is an Ork?”

“I am,” he repeated, a little proudly, as he shook
the water from his funny wings; “and if ever an Ork was
glad to be out of the water and on dry land again, you
can be mighty sure that I’m that especial, individual
Ork!”

“Have you been in the water long?” inquired Cap’n
Bill, thinking it only polite to show an interest in
the strange creature.

“why, this last ducking was about ten minutes, I
believe, and that’s about nine minutes and sixty
seconds too long for comfort,” was the reply. “But last
night I was in an awful pickle, I assure you. The
whirlpool caught me, and –”

“Oh, were you in the whirlpool, too?” asked Trot
eagerly

He gave her a glance that was somewhat reproachful.

“I believe I was mentioning the fact, young lady,
when your desire to talk interrupted me,” said the Ork.
“I am not usually careless in my actions, but that
whirlpool was so busy yesterday that I thought I’d see
what mischief it was up to. So I flew a little too near
it and the suction of the air drew me down into the
depths of the ocean. Water and I are natural enemies,
and it would have conquered me this time had not a bevy
of pretty mermaids come to my assistance and dragged me
away from the whirling water and far up into a cavern,
where they deserted me.”

“Why, that’s about the same thing that happened to
us,” cried Trot. “Was your cavern like this one?”

“I haven’t examined this one yet,” answered the Ork;
“but if they happen to be alike I shudder at our fate,
for the other one was a prison, with no outlet except
by means of the water. I stayed there all night,
however, and this morning I plunged into the pool, as
far down as I could go, and then swam as hard and as
far as I could. The rocks scraped my back, now and
then, and I barely escaped the clutches of an ugly sea-
monster; but by and by I came to the surface to catch
my breath, and found myself here. That’s the whole
story, and as I see you have something to eat I entreat
you to give me a share of it. The truth is, I’m half
starved.”

With these words the Ork squatted down beside them.
Very reluctantly Cap’n Bill drew another biscuit from
his pocket and held it out. The Ork promptly seized it
in one of its front claws and began to nibble the
biscuit in much the same manner a parrot might have
done.

“We haven’t much grub,” said the sailor-man, “but
we’re willin’ to share it with a comrade in distress.”

“That’s right,” returned the Ork, cocking its head
sidewise in a cheerful manner, and then for a few
minutes there was silence while they all ate of the
biscuits. After a while Trot said:

“I’ve never seen or heard of an Ork before. Are there
many of you?”

“We are rather few and exclusive, I believe,” was the
reply. “In the country where I was born we are the
absolute rulers of all living things, from ants to
elephants.”

“What country is that?” asked Cap’n Bill.

“Orkland.”

“Where does it lie?”

“I don’t know, exactly. You see, I have a restless
nature, for some reason, while all the rest of my race
are quiet and contented Orks and seldom stray far from
home. From childhood days I loved to fly long distances
away, although father often warned me that I would get
into trouble by so doing.

“‘It’s a big world, Flipper, my son,’ he would say,
‘and I’ve heard that in parts of it live queer two-
legged creatures called Men, who war upon all other
living things and would have little respect for even an
Ork.’

“This naturally aroused my curiosity and after I had
completed my education and left school I decided to fly
out into the world and try to get a glimpse of the
creatures called Men. So I left home without saying
good-bye, an act I shall always regret. Adventures were
many, I found. I sighted men several times, but have
never before been so close to them as now. Also I had
to fight my way through the air, for I met gigantic
birds, with fluffy feathers all over them, which
attacked me fiercely. Besides, it kept me busy escaping
from floating airships. In my rambling I had lost all
track of distance or direction, so that when I wanted
to go home I had no idea where my country was located.
I’ve now been trying to find it for several months and
it was during one of my flights over the ocean that I
met the whirlpool and became its victim.”

Trot and Cap’n Bill listened to this recital with
much interest, and from the friendly tone and harmless
appearance of the Ork they judged he was not likely to
prove so disagreeable a companion as at first they had
feared he might be.

The Ork sat upon its haunches much as a cat does, but
used the finger-like claws of its front legs almost as
cleverly as if they were hands. Perhaps the most
curious thing about the creature was its tail, or what
ought to have been its tail. This queer arrangement of
skin, bones and muscle was shaped like the propellers
used on boats and airships, having fan-like surfaces
and being pivoted to its body. Cap’n Bill knew
something of mechanics, and observing the propeller-
like tail of the Ork he said:

“I s’pose you’re a pretty swift flyer?”

“Yes, indeed; the Orks are admitted to be Kings of
the Air.”

“Your wings don’t seem to amount to much,” remarked
Trot.

“Well, they are not very big,” admitted the Ork,
waving the four hollow skins gently to and fro, “but
they serve to support my body in the air while I speed
along by means of my tail. Still, taken altogether, I’m
very handsomely formed, don’t you think?”

Trot did not like to reply, but Cap’n Bill nodded
gravely. “For an Ork,” said he, “you’re a wonder.
I’ve never seen one afore, but I can imagine you’re
as good as any.”

That seemed to please the creature and it began
walking around the cavern, making its way easily
up the slope. while it was gone, Trot and Cap’n Bill
each took another sip from the water-flask, to wash
down their breakfast.

“Why, here’s a hole — an exit — an outlet!”
exclaimed the Ork from above.

“We know,” said Trot. “We found it last night.”

“Well, then, let’s be off,” continued the Ork, after
sticking its head into the black hole and sniffing once
or twice. “The air seems fresh and sweet, and it can’t
lead us to any worse place than this.”

The girl and the sailor-man got up and climbed to the
side of the Ork.

“We’d about decided to explore this hole before you
came,” explained Cap’n Bill; “but it’s a dangerous
place to navigate in the dark, so wait till I light a
candle.”

“What is a candle?” inquired the Ork.

“You’ll see in a minute,” said Trot.

The old sailor drew one of the candles from his
right-side pocket and the tin matchbox from his left-
side pocket. When he lighted the match the Ork gave a
startled jump and eyed the flame suspiciously; but
Cap’n Bill proceeded to light the candle and the action
interested the Ork very much.

“Light,” it said, somewhat nervously, “is valuable in
a hole of this sort. The candle is not dangerous, I
hope?”

“Sometimes it burns your fingers,” answered Trot,
“but that’s about the worst it can do — ‘cept to blow
out when you don’t want it to.”

Cap’n Bill shielded the flame with his hand and
crept into the hole. It wasn’t any too big for a grown
man, but after he had crawled a few feet it grew
larger. Trot came close behind him and then the
Ork followed.

“Seems like a reg’lar tunnel,” muttered the sailor-
man, who was creeping along awkwardly because of his
wooden leg. The rocks, too, hurt his knees.

For nearly half an hour the three moved slowly along
the tunnel, which made many twists and turns and
sometimes slanted downward and sometimes upward.
Finally Cap’n Bill stopped short, with an exclamation
of disappointment, and held the flickering candle far
ahead to light the scene.

“What’s wrong?” demanded Trot, who could see nothing
because the sailor’s form completely filled the hole.

“Why, we’ve come to the end of our travels, I guess,”
he replied.

“Is the hole blocked?” inquired the Ork.

“No; it’s wuss nor that,” replied Cap’n Bill sadly.
“I’m on the edge of a precipice. Wait a minute an’ I’ll
move along and let you see for yourselves. Be careful,
Trot, not to fall.”

Then he crept forward a little and moved to one side,
holding the candle so that the girl could see to follow
him. The Ork came next and now all three knelt on a
narrow ledge of rock which dropped straight away and
left a huge black space which the tiny flame of the
candle could not illuminate.

“H-m!” said the Ork, peering over the edge; “this
doesn’t look very promising, I’ll admit. But let me
take your candle, and I’ll fly down and see what’s
below us.”

“Aren’t you afraid?” asked Trot.

“Certainly I’m afraid,” responded the Ork. “But
if we intend to escape we can’t stay on this shelf
forever. So, as I notice you poor creatures cannot fly,
it is my duty to explore the place for you.”

Cap’n Bill handed the Ork the candle, which had now
burned to about half its length. The Ork took it in one
claw rather cautiously and then tipped its body forward
and slipped over the edge. They heard a queer buzzing
sound, as the tail revolved, and a brisk flapping of
the peculiar wings, but they were more interested just
then in following with their eyes the tiny speck of
light which marked the location of the candle. This
light first made a great circle, then dropped slowly
downward and suddenly was extinguished, leaving
everything before them black as ink.

“Hi, there! How did that happen?” cried the Ork.

“It blew out, I guess,” shouted Cap’n Bill. “Fetch it
here.”

“I can’t see where you are,” said the Ork.

So Cap’n Bill got out another candle and lighted it,
and its flame enabled the Ork to fly back to them.
It alighted on the edge and held out the bit of candle.

“What made it stop burning?” asked the creature.

The wind,” said Trot. “You must be more careful, this
time.”

“What’s the place like?” inquired Cap’n Bill.

“I don’t know, yet; but there must be a bottom to it,
so I’ll try to find it.”

With this the Ork started out again and this time
sank downward more slowly. Down, down, down it went,
till the candle was a mere spark, and then it headed
away to the left and Trot and Cap’n Bill lost all sight
of it.

In a few minutes, however, they saw the spark of
light again, and as the sailor still held the second
lighted candle the Ork made straight toward them. It
was only a few yards distant when suddenly it dropped
the candle with a cry of pain and next moment alighted,
fluttering wildly, upon the rocky ledge.

“What’s the matter?” asked Trot.

It bit me!” wailed the Ork. “I don’t like your
candles. The thing began to disappear slowly as soon as
I took it in my claw, and it grew smaller and smaller
until just now it turned and bit me — a most
unfriendly thing to do. Oh — oh! Ouch, what a bite!”

“That’s the nature of candles, I’m sorry to say,”
explained Cap’n Bill, with a grin. “You have to handle
’em mighty keerful. But tell us, what did you find down
there?”

“I found a way to continue our journey,” said the
Ork, nursing tenderly the claw which had been burned.
“Just below us is a great lake of black water, which
looked so cold and wicked that it made me shudder;
but away at the left there’s a big tunnel, which we
can easily walk through. I don’t know where it leads
to, of course, but we must follow it and find out.”
“why, we can’t get to it,” protested the little girl.
“We can’t fly, as you do, you must remember.”

“No, that’s true,” replied the Ork musingly. “Your
bodies are built very poorly, it seems to me, since all
you can do is crawl upon the earth’s surface. But you
may ride upon my back, and in that way I can promise
you a safe journey to the tunnel.”

“Are you strong enough to carry us?” asked Cap’n
Bill, doubtfully.

“Yes, indeed; I’m strong enough to carry a dozen of
you, if you could find a place to sit,” was the reply;
“but there’s only room between my wings for one at a
time, so I’ll have to make two trips.”

“All right; I’ll go first,” decided Cap’n Bill.

He lit another candle for Trot to hold while they
were gone and to light the Ork on his return to her,
and then the old sailor got upon the Ork’s back, where
he sat with his wooden leg sticking straight out
sidewise.

“If you start to fall, clasp your arms around my
neck,” advised the creature.

“If I start to fall, it’s good night an’ pleasant
dreams,” said Cap’n Bill.

“All ready?” asked the Ork.

“Start the buzz-tail,” said Cap’n Bill, with a
tremble in his voice. But the Ork flew away so gently
that the old man never even tottered in his seat. Trot
watched the light of Cap’n Bill’s candle till it
disappeared in the far distance. She didn’t like to be
left alone on this dangerous ledge, with a lake of
black water hundreds of feet below her; but she was a
brave little girl and waited patiently for the return
of the Ork. It came even sooner than she had expected
and the creature said to her:

“Your friend is safe in the tunnel. Now, then, get
aboard and I’ll carry you to him in a jiffy.”

I’m sure not many little girls would have cared to
take that awful ride through the huge black cavern on
the back of a skinny Ork. Trot didn’t care for it,
herself, but it just had to be done and so she did it
as courageously as possible. Her heart beat fast and
she was so nervous she could scarcely hold the candle
in her fingers as the Ork sped swiftly through the
darkness.

It seemed like a long ride to her, yet in reality the
Ork covered the distance in a wonderfully brief period
of time and soon Trot stood safely beside Cap’n Bill on
the level floor of a big arched tunnel. The sailor-man
was very glad to greet his little comrade again and
both were grateful to the Ork for his assistance.

“I dunno where this tunnel leads to,” remarked Cap’n
Bill, “but it surely looks more promisin’ than that
other hole we crept through.”

“When the Ork is rested,” said Trot, “we’ll travel on
and see what happens.”

“Rested!” cried the Ork, as scornfully as his shrill
voice would allow. “That bit of flying didn’t tire me
at all. I’m used to flying days at a time, without ever
once stopping.”

“Then let’s move on,” proposed Cap’n Bill. He still
held in his hand one lighted candle, so Trot blew out
the other flame and placed her candle in the sailor’s
big pocket. She knew it was not wise to burn two
candles at once.

The tunnel was straight and smooth and very easy to
walk through, so they made good progress. Trot thought
that the tunnel began about two miles from the cavern
where they had been cast by the whirlpool, but now it
was impossible to guess the miles traveled, for they
walked steadily for hours and hours without any change
in their surroundings.

Finally Cap’n Bill stopped to rest.

“There’s somethin’ queer about this ‘ere tunnel, I’m
certain,” he declared, wagging his head dolefully.
“Here’s three candles gone a’ready, an’ only three more
left us, yet the tunnel’s the same as it was when we
started. An’ how long it’s goin’ to keep up, no one
knows.”

“Couldn’t we walk without a light?” asked Trot. “The
way seems safe enough.”

“It does right now,” was the reply, “but we can’t
tell when we are likely to come to another gulf, or
somethin’ jes’ as dangerous. In that case we’d be
killed afore we knew it.”

“Suppose I go ahead?” suggested the Ork. “I don’t
fear a fall, you know, and if anything happens I’ll
call out and warn you.”

“That’s a good idea,” declared Trot, and Cap’n Bill
thought so, too. So the Ork started off ahead, quite in
the dark, and hand in band the two followed him.

When they had walked in this way for a good long time
the Ork halted and demanded food. Cap’n Bill had not
mentioned food because there was so little left — only
three biscuits and a lump of cheese about as big as his
two fingers — but he gave the Ork half of a biscuit,
sighing as he did so. The creature didn’t care for the
cheese, so the sailor divided it between himself and
Trot. They lighted a candle and sat down in the tunnel
while they ate.

“My feet hurt me,” grumbled the Ork. “I’m not used
to walking and this rocky passage is so uneven and
lumpy that it hurts me to walk upon it.”

“Can’t you fly along?” asked Trot.

“No; the roof is too low,” said the Ork.

After the meal they resumed their journey, which Trot
began to fear would never end. When Cap’n Bill noticed
how tired the little girl was, he paused and lighted a
match and looked at his big silver watch.

“Why, it’s night!” he exclaimed. “We’ve tramped all
day, an’ still we’re in this awful passage, which mebbe
goes straight through the middle of the world, an’
mebbe is a circle — in which case we can keep walkin’
till doomsday. Not knowin’ what’s before us so well as
we know what’s behind us, I propose we make a stop,
now, an’ try to sleep till mornin’.”

“That will suit me,” asserted the Ork, with a groan.
“My feet are hurting me dreadfully and for the last few
miles I’ve been limping with pain.”

“My foot hurts, too,” said the sailor, looking for a
smooth place on the rocky floor to sit down.

“Your foot!” cried the Ork. “why, you’ve only one to
hurt you, while I have four. So I suffer four times as
much as you possibly can. Here; hold the candle while I
look at the bottoms of my claws. I declare,” he said,
examining them by the flickering light, “there are
bunches of pain all over them!”

“P’r’aps,” said Trot, who was very glad to sit down
beside her companions, “you’ve got corns.”

“Corns? Nonsense! Orks never have corns,” protested
the creature, rubbing its sore feet tenderly.

“Then mebbe they’re – they’re – What do you call ’em,
Cap’n Bill? Something ’bout the Pilgrim’s Progress, you
know.”

“Bunions,” said Cap’n Bill.

“Oh, yes; mebbe you’ve got bunions.”

“It is possible,” moaned the Ork. “But whatever they
are, another day of such walking on them would drive me
crazy.”

“I’m sure they’ll feel better by mornin’,” said Cap’n
Bill, encouragingly. “Go to sleep an’ try to forget
your sore feet.”

The Ork cast a reproachful look at the sailor-man,
who didn’t see it. Then the creature asked plaintively:
“Do we eat now, or do we starve?”

“There’s only half a biscuit left for you,” answered
Cap’n Bill. “No one knows how long we’ll have to stay
in this dark tunnel, where there’s nothing whatever to
eat; so I advise you to save that morsel o’ food till
later.”

“Give it me now!” demanded the Ork. “If I’m going to
starve, I’ll do it all at once — not by degrees.”

Cap’n Bill produced the biscuit and the creature ate
it in a trice. Trot was rather hungry and whispered to
Cap’n Bill that she’d take part of her share; but the
old man secretly broke his own half-biscuit in two,
saving Trot’s share for a time of greater need.

He was beginning to be worried over the little girl’s
plight and long after she was asleep and the Ork was
snoring in a rather disagreeable manner, Cap’n Bill sat
with his back to a rock and smoked his pipe and tried
to think of some way to escape from this seemingly
endless tunnel. But after a time he also slept, for
hobbling on a wooden leg all day was tiresome, and
there in the dark slumbered the three adventurers for
many hours, until the Ork roused itself and kicked the
old sailor with one foot.

“It must be another day,” said he.

 

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