FictionForest

Chapter 3 – Letters in the Sand

L. Frank BaumJul 19, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Walking a little way back from the water’s edge, toward the grove of
trees, Dorothy came to a flat stretch of white sand that seemed to
have queer signs marked upon its surface, just as one would write upon
sand with a stick.

“What does it say?” she asked the yellow hen, who trotted along beside
her in a rather dignified fashion.

“How should I know?” returned the hen. “I cannot read.”

“Oh! Can’t you?”

“Certainly not; I’ve never been to school, you know.”

“Well, I have,” admitted Dorothy; “but the letters are big and far
apart, and it’s hard to spell out the words.”

But she looked at each letter carefully, and finally discovered that
these words were written in the sand:

“BEWARE THE WHEELERS!”

“That’s rather strange,” declared the hen, when Dorothy had read aloud
the words. “What do you suppose the Wheelers are?”

“Folks that wheel, I guess. They must have wheelbarrows, or baby-cabs
or hand-carts,” said Dorothy.

“Perhaps they’re automobiles,” suggested the yellow hen. “There is no
need to beware of baby-cabs and wheelbarrows; but automobiles are
dangerous things. Several of my friends have been run over by them.”

“It can’t be auto’biles,” replied the girl, “for this is a new, wild
country, without even trolley-cars or tel’phones. The people here
haven’t been discovered yet, I’m sure; that is, if there ARE any
people. So I don’t b’lieve there CAN be any auto’biles, Billina.”

“Perhaps not,” admitted the yellow hen. “Where are you going now?”

“Over to those trees, to see if I can find some fruit or nuts,”
answered Dorothy.

She tramped across the sand, skirting the foot of one of the little
rocky hills that stood near, and soon reached the edge of the forest.

At first she was greatly disappointed, because the nearer trees were
all punita, or cotton-wood or eucalyptus, and bore no fruit or nuts at
all. But, bye and bye, when she was almost in despair, the little girl
came upon two trees that promised to furnish her with plenty of food.

One was quite full of square paper boxes, which grew in clusters on
all the limbs, and upon the biggest and ripest boxes the word “Lunch”
could be read, in neat raised letters. This tree seemed to bear all
the year around, for there were lunch-box blossoms on some of the
branches, and on others tiny little lunch-boxes that were as yet quite
green, and evidently not fit to eat until they had grown bigger.

The leaves of this tree were all paper napkins, and it presented a
very pleasing appearance to the hungry little girl.

But the tree next to the lunch-box tree was even more wonderful, for
it bore quantities of tin dinner-pails, which were so full and heavy
that the stout branches bent underneath their weight. Some were small
and dark-brown in color; those larger were of a dull tin color; but
the really ripe ones were pails of bright tin that shone and glistened
beautifully in the rays of sunshine that touched them.

Dorothy was delighted, and even the yellow hen acknowledged that she
was surprised.

The little girl stood on tip-toe and picked one of the nicest and
biggest lunch-boxes, and then she sat down upon the ground and eagerly
opened it. Inside she found, nicely wrapped in white papers, a ham
sandwich, a piece of sponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and
an apple. Each thing had a separate stem, and so had to be picked off
the side of the box; but Dorothy found them all to be delicious, and
she ate every bit of luncheon in the box before she had finished.

“A lunch isn’t zactly breakfast,” she said to Billina, who sat beside
her curiously watching. “But when one is hungry one can eat even
supper in the morning, and not complain.”

“I hope your lunch-box was perfectly ripe,” observed the yellow hen,
in a anxious tone. “So much sickness is caused by eating green things.”

“Oh, I’m sure it was ripe,” declared Dorothy, “all, that is, ‘cept the
pickle, and a pickle just HAS to be green, Billina. But everything
tasted perfectly splendid, and I’d rather have it than a church
picnic. And now I think I’ll pick a dinner-pail, to have when I get
hungry again, and then we’ll start out and ‘splore the country, and
see where we are.”

“Haven’t you any idea what country this is?” inquired Billina.

“None at all. But listen: I’m quite sure it’s a fairy country, or
such things as lunch-boxes and dinner-pails wouldn’t be growing upon
trees. Besides, Billina, being a hen, you wouldn’t be able to talk in
any civ’lized country, like Kansas, where no fairies live at all.”

“Perhaps we’re in the Land of Oz,” said the hen, thoughtfully.

“No, that can’t be,” answered the little girl; because I’ve been to
the Land of Oz, and it’s all surrounded by a horrid desert that no one
can cross.”

“Then how did you get away from there again?” asked Billina.

“I had a pair of silver shoes, that carried me through the air; but I
lost them,” said Dorothy.

“Ah, indeed,” remarked the yellow hen, in a tone of unbelief.

“Anyhow,” resumed the girl, “there is no seashore near the Land of Oz,
so this must surely be some other fairy country.”

While she was speaking she selected a bright and pretty dinner-pail
that seemed to have a stout handle, and picked it from its branch.
Then, accompanied by the yellow hen, she walked out of the shadow of
the trees toward the sea-shore.

They were part way across the sands when Billina suddenly cried, in a
voice of terror:

“What’s that?”

Dorothy turned quickly around, and saw coming out of a path that led
from between the trees the most peculiar person her eyes had ever beheld.

It had the form of a man, except that it walked, or rather rolled,
upon all fours, and its legs were the same length as its arms, giving
them the appearance of the four legs of a beast. Yet it was no beast
that Dorothy had discovered, for the person was clothed most
gorgeously in embroidered garments of many colors, and wore a straw
hat perched jauntily upon the side of its head. But it differed from
human beings in this respect, that instead of hands and feet there
grew at the end of its arms and legs round wheels, and by means of
these wheels it rolled very swiftly over the level ground. Afterward
Dorothy found that these odd wheels were of the same hard substance
that our finger-nails and toe-nails are composed of, and she also
learned that creatures of this strange race were born in this queer
fashion. But when our little girl first caught sight of the first
individual of a race that was destined to cause her a lot of trouble,
she had an idea that the brilliantly-clothed personage was on
roller-skates, which were attached to his hands as well as to his feet.

“Run!” screamed the yellow hen, fluttering away in great fright.
“It’s a Wheeler!”

“A Wheeler?” exclaimed Dorothy. “What can that be?”

“Don’t you remember the warning in the sand: ‘Beware the Wheelers’?
Run, I tell you–run!”

So Dorothy ran, and the Wheeler gave a sharp, wild cry and came after
her in full chase.

Looking over her shoulder as she ran, the girl now saw a great
procession of Wheelers emerging from the forest–dozens and dozens of
them–all clad in splendid, tight-fitting garments and all rolling
swiftly toward her and uttering their wild, strange cries.

“They’re sure to catch us!” panted the girl, who was still carrying the
heavy dinner-pail she had picked. “I can’t run much farther, Billina.”

“Climb up this hill,–quick!” said the hen; and Dorothy found she was
very near to the heap of loose and jagged rocks they had passed on
their way to the forest. The yellow hen was even now fluttering among
the rocks, and Dorothy followed as best she could, half climbing and
half tumbling up the rough and rugged steep.

She was none too soon, for the foremost Wheeler reached the hill a
moment after her; but while the girl scrambled up the rocks the
creature stopped short with howls of rage and disappointment.

Dorothy now heard the yellow hen laughing, in her cackling, henny way.

“Don’t hurry, my dear,” cried Billina. “They can’t follow us among
these rocks, so we’re safe enough now.”

Dorothy stopped at once and sat down upon a broad boulder, for she was
all out of breath.

The rest of the Wheelers had now reached the foot of the hill, but it
was evident that their wheels would not roll upon the rough and jagged
rocks, and therefore they were helpless to follow Dorothy and the hen
to where they had taken refuge. But they circled all around the
little hill, so the child and Billina were fast prisoners and could
not come down without being captured.

Then the creatures shook their front wheels at Dorothy in a
threatening manner, and it seemed they were able to speak as well as
to make their dreadful outcries, for several of them shouted:

“We’ll get you in time, never fear! And when we do get you, we’ll
tear you into little bits!”

“Why are you so cruel to me?” asked Dorothy. “I’m a stranger in your
country, and have done you no harm.”

“No harm!” cried one who seemed to be their leader. “Did you not pick
our lunch-boxes and dinner-pails? Have you not a stolen dinner-pail
still in your hand?”

“I only picked one of each,” she answered. “I was hungry, and I
didn’t know the trees were yours.”

“That is no excuse,” retorted the leader, who was clothed in a most
gorgeous suit. “It is the law here that whoever picks a dinner-pail
without our permission must die immediately.”

“Don’t you believe him,” said Billina. “I’m sure the trees do not
belong to these awful creatures. They are fit for any mischief, and
it’s my opinion they would try to kill us just the same if you hadn’t
picked a dinner-pail.”

“I think so, too,” agreed Dorothy. “But what shall we do now?”

“Stay where we are,” advised the yellow hen. “We are safe from the
Wheelers until we starve to death, anyhow; and before that time comes
a good many things can happen.”

 

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