FictionForest

Chapter 9

L. Frank BaumJul 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The strangers took their seats at the table willingly enough, for they
were all hungry and the platters were now heaped with good things to
eat. In front of each place was a plate bearing one of the delicious
dama-fruit, and the perfume that rose from these was so enticing and
sweet that they were sorely tempted to eat of them and become invisible.

But Dorothy satisfied her hunger with other things, and her companions
did likewise, resisting the temptation.

“Why do you not eat the damas?” asked the woman’s voice.

“We don’t want to get invis’ble,” answered the girl.

“But if you remain visible the bears will see you and devour you,”
said a girlish young voice, that belonged to one of the children. “We
who live here much prefer to be invisible; for we can still hug and
kiss one another, and are quite safe from the bears.”

“And we do not have to be so particular about our dress,”
remarked the man.

“And mama can’t tell whether my face is dirty or not!” added the other
childish voice, gleefully.

“But I make you wash it, every time I think of it,” said the mother;
“for it stands to reason your face is dirty, Ianu, whether I can see
it or not.”

Dorothy laughed and stretched out her hands.

“Come here, please–Ianu and your sister–and let me feel of you,”
she requested.

They came to her willingly, and Dorothy passed her hands over their
faces and forms and decided one was a girl of about her own age and
the other a boy somewhat smaller. The girl’s hair was soft and fluffy
and her skin as smooth as satin. When Dorothy gently touched her nose
and ears and lips they seemed to be well and delicately formed.

“If I could see you I am sure you would be beautiful,” she declared.

The girl laughed, and her mother said:

“We are not vain in the Valley of Voe, because we can not display our
beauty, and good actions and pleasant ways are what make us lovely to
our companions. Yet we can see and appreciate the beauties of nature,
the dainty flowers and trees, the green fields and the clear blue of
the sky.”

“How about the birds and beasts and fishes?” asked Zeb.

“The birds we cannot see, because they love to eat of the damas as
much as we do; yet we hear their sweet songs and enjoy them. Neither
can we see the cruel bears, for they also eat the fruit. But the fishes
that swim in our brooks we can see, and often we catch them to eat.”

“It occurs to me you have a great deal to make you happy, even while
invisible,” remarked the Wizard. “Nevertheless, we prefer to remain
visible while we are in your valley.”

Just then Eureka came in, for she had been until now wandering outside
with Jim; and when the kitten saw the table set with food she cried out:

“Now you must feed me, Dorothy, for I’m half starved.”

The children were inclined to be frightened by the sight of the small
animal, which reminded them of the bears; but Dorothy reassured them
by explaining that Eureka was a pet and could do no harm even if she
wished to. Then, as the others had by this time moved away from the
table, the kitten sprang upon the chair and put her paws upon the
cloth to see what there was to eat. To her surprise an unseen hand
clutched her and held her suspended in the air. Eureka was frantic
with terror, and tried to scratch and bite, so the next moment she was
dropped to the floor,

“Did you see that, Dorothy?” she gasped.

“Yes, dear,” her mistress replied; “there are people living in this
house, although we cannot see them. And you must have better manners,
Eureka, or something worse will happen to you.”

She placed a plate of food upon the floor and the kitten ate greedily.

“Give me that nice-smelling fruit I saw on the table,” she begged,
when she had cleaned the plate.

“Those are damas,” said Dorothy, “and you must never even taste them,
Eureka, or you’ll get invis’ble, and then we can’t see you at all.”

The kitten gazed wistfully at the forbidden fruit.

“Does it hurt to be invis’ble?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Dorothy answered; “but it would hurt me dre’fully to
lose you.”

“Very well, I won’t touch it,” decided the kitten; “but you must keep
it away from me, for the smell is very tempting.”

“Can you tell us, sir or ma’am,” said the Wizard, addressing the air
because he did not quite know where the unseen people stood, “if there
is any way we can get out of your beautiful Valley, and on top of the
Earth again.”

“Oh, one can leave the Valley easily enough,” answered the man’s
voice; “but to do so you must enter a far less pleasant country. As
for reaching the top of the earth, I have never heard that it is
possible to do that, and if you succeeded in getting there you would
probably fall off.”

“Oh, no,” said Dorothy, “we’ve been there, and we know.”

“The Valley of Voe is certainly a charming place,” resumed the Wizard;
“but we cannot be contented in any other land than our own, for long.
Even if we should come to unpleasant places on our way it is
necessary, in order to reach the earth’s surface, to keep moving on
toward it.”

“In that case,” said the man, “it will be best for you to cross our
Valley and mount the spiral staircase inside the Pyramid Mountain.
The top of that mountain is lost in the clouds, and when you reach it
you will be in the awful Land of Naught, where the Gargoyles live.”

“What are Gargoyles?” asked Zeb.

“I do not know, young sir. Our greatest Champion, Overman-Anu, once
climbed the spiral stairway and fought nine days with the Gargoyles
before he could escape them and come back; but he could never be
induced to describe the dreadful creatures, and soon afterward a bear
caught him and ate him up.”

The wanders were rather discouraged by this gloomy report, but Dorothy
said with a sigh:

“If the only way to get home is to meet the Gurgles, then we’ve got to
meet ’em. They can’t be worse than the Wicked Witch or the Nome King.”

“But you must remember you had the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman to
help you conquer those enemies,” suggested the Wizard. “Just now, my
dear, there is not a single warrior in your company.”

“Oh, I guess Zeb could fight if he had to. Couldn’t you, Zeb?” asked
the little girl.

“Perhaps; if I had to,” answered Zeb, doubtfully.

“And you have the jointed sword that you chopped the veg’table
Sorcerer in two with,” the girl said to the little man.

“True,” he replied; “and in my satchel are other useful things to
fight with.”

“What the Gargoyles most dread is a noise,” said the man’s voice.
“Our Champion told me that when he shouted his battle-cry the creatures
shuddered and drew back, hesitating to continue the combat. But they
were in great numbers, and the Champion could not shout much because
he had to save his breath for fighting.”

“Very good,” said the Wizard; “we can all yell better than we can
fight, so we ought to defeat the Gargoyles.”

“But tell me,” said Dorothy, “how did such a brave Champion happen to
let the bears eat him? And if he was invis’ble, and the bears
invis’ble, who knows that they really ate him up?”

“The Champion had killed eleven bears in his time,” returned the
unseen man; “and we know this is true because when any creature is
dead the invisible charm of the dama-fruit ceases to be active, and
the slain one can be plainly seen by all eyes. When the Champion
killed a bear everyone could see it; and when the bears killed the
Champion we all saw several pieces of him scattered about, which of
course disappeared again when the bears devoured them.”

They now bade farewell to the kind but unseen people of the cottage,
and after the man had called their attention to a high, pyramid-shaped
mountain on the opposite side of the Valley, and told them how to
travel in order to reach it, they again started upon their journey.

They followed the course of a broad stream and passed several more
pretty cottages; but of course they saw no one, nor did any one speak
to them. Fruits and flowers grew plentifully all about, and there
were many of the delicious damas that the people of Voe were so fond of.

About noon they stopped to allow Jim to rest in the shade of a pretty
orchard, and while they plucked and ate some of the cherries and plums
that grew there a soft voice suddenly said to them:

“There are bears near by. Be careful.”

The Wizard got out his sword at once, and Zeb grabbed the horse-whip.
Dorothy climbed into the buggy, although Jim had been unharnessed
from it and was grazing some distance away.

The owner of the unseen voice laughed lightly and said:

“You cannot escape the bears that way.”

“How CAN we ‘scape?” asked Dorothy, nervously, for an unseen danger is
always the hardest to face.

“You must take to the river,” was the reply. “The bears will not
venture upon the water.”

“But we would be drowned!” exclaimed the girl.

“Oh, there is no need of that,” said the voice, which from its gentle tones
seemed to belong to a young girl. “You are strangers in the Valley of Voe,
and do not seem to know our ways; so I will try to save you.”

The next moment a broad-leaved plant was jerked from the ground where
it grew and held suspended in the air before the Wizard.

“Sir,” said the voice, “you must rub these leaves upon the soles of
all your feet, and then you will be able to walk upon the water
without sinking below the surface. It is a secret the bears do not
know, and we people of Voe usually walk upon the water when we travel,
and so escape our enemies.”

“Thank you!” cried the Wizard, joyfully, and at once rubbed a leaf
upon the soles of Dorothy’s shoes and then upon his own. The girl
took a leaf and rubbed it upon the kitten’s paws, and the rest of the
plant was handed to Zeb, who, after applying it to his own feet,
carefully rubbed it upon all four of Jim’s hoofs and then upon the
tires of the buggy-wheels. He had nearly finished this last task when
a low growling was suddenly heard and the horse began to jump around
and kick viciously with his heels.

“Quick! To the water or you are lost!” cried their unseen friend, and
without hesitation the Wizard drew the buggy down the bank and out
upon the broad river, for Dorothy was still seated in it with Eureka
in her arms. They did not sink at all, owing to the virtues of the
strange plant they had used, and when the buggy was in the middle of
the stream the Wizard returned to the bank to assist Zeb and Jim.

The horse was plunging madly about, and two or three deep gashes
appeared upon its flanks, from which the blood flowed freely.

“Run for the river!” shouted the Wizard, and Jim quickly freed himself
from his unseen tormenters by a few vicious kicks and then obeyed.
As soon as he trotted out upon the surface of the river he found
himself safe from pursuit, and Zeb was already running across the water
toward Dorothy.

As the little Wizard turned to follow them he felt a hot breath
against his cheek and heard a low, fierce growl. At once he began
stabbing at the air with his sword, and he knew that he had struck
some substance because when he drew back the blade it was dripping
with blood. The third time that he thrust out the weapon there was a
loud roar and a fall, and suddenly at his feet appeared the form of a
great red bear, which was nearly as big as the horse and much stronger
and fiercer. The beast was quite dead from the sword thrusts, and
after a glance at its terrible claws and sharp teeth the little man
turned in a panic and rushed out upon the water, for other menacing
growls told him more bears were near.

On the river, however, the adventurers seemed to be perfectly safe.
Dorothy and the buggy had floated slowly down stream with the current
of the water, and the others made haste to join her. The Wizard
opened his satchel and got out some sticking-plaster with which he
mended the cuts Jim had received from the claws of the bears.

“I think we’d better stick to the river, after this,” said Dorothy.
“If our unknown friend hadn’t warned us, and told us what to do, we
would all be dead by this time.”

“That is true,” agreed the Wizard, “and as the river seems to be
flowing in the direction of the Pyramid Mountain it will be the
easiest way for us to travel.”

Zeb hitched Jim to the buggy again, and the horse trotted along and
drew them rapidly over the smooth water. The kitten was at first
dreadfully afraid of getting wet, but Dorothy let her down and soon
Eureka was frisking along beside the buggy without being scared a bit.
Once a little fish swam too near the surface, and the kitten grabbed
it in her mouth and ate it up as quick as a wink; but Dorothy
cautioned her to be careful what she ate in this valley of enchantments,
and no more fishes were careless enough to swim within reach.

After a journey of several hours they came to a point where the river
curved, and they found they must cross a mile or so of the Valley
before they came to the Pyramid Mountain. There were few houses in
this part, and few orchards or flowers; so our friends feared they
might encounter more of the savage bears, which they had learned to
dread with all their hearts.

“You’ll have to make a dash, Jim,” said the Wizard, “and run as fast
as you can go.”

“All right,” answered the horse; “I’ll do my best. But you must
remember I’m old, and my dashing days are past and gone.”

All three got into the buggy and Zeb picked up the reins, though Jim
needed no guidance of any sort. The horse was still smarting from the
sharp claws of the invisible bears, and as soon as he was on land and
headed toward the mountain the thought that more of those fearsome
creatures might be near acted as a spur and sent him galloping along
in a way that made Dorothy catch her breath.

Then Zeb, in a spirit of mischief, uttered a growl like that of the
bears, and Jim pricked up his ears and fairly flew. His boney legs
moved so fast they could scarcely be seen, and the Wizard clung fast
to the seat and yelled “Whoa!” at the top of his voice.

“I–I’m ‘fraid he’s–he’s running away!” gasped Dorothy.

“I KNOW he is,” said Zeb; “but no bear can catch him if he keeps up
that gait–and the harness or the buggy don’t break.”

Jim did not make a mile a minute; but almost before they were aware of
it he drew up at the foot of the mountain, so suddenly that the Wizard
and Zeb both sailed over the dashboard and landed in the soft
grass–where they rolled over several times before they stopped.
Dorothy nearly went with them, but she was holding fast to the iron
rail of the seat, and that saved her. She squeezed the kitten,
though, until it screeched; and then the old cab-horse made several
curious sounds that led the little girl to suspect he was laughing at
them all.

 

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