FictionForest

Chapter 11

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

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Another breathless climb brought our adventurers to a third landing
where there was a rift in the mountain. On peering out all they could
see was rolling banks of clouds, so thick that they obscured all else.

But the travellers were obliged to rest, and while they were sitting
on the rocky floor the Wizard felt in his pocket and brought out the
nine tiny piglets. To his delight they were now plainly visible,
which proved that they had passed beyond the influence of the magical
Valley of Voe.

“Why, we can see each other again!” cried one, joyfully.

“Yes,” sighed Eureka; “and I also can see you again, and the sight
makes me dreadfully hungry. Please, Mr. Wizard, may I eat just one of
the fat little piglets? You’d never miss ONE of them, I’m sure!”

“What a horrid, savage beast!” exclaimed a piglet; “and after we’ve
been such good friends, too, and played with one another!”

“When I’m not hungry, I love to play with you all,” said the kitten,
demurely; “but when my stomach is empty it seems that nothing would
fill it so nicely as a fat piglet.”

“And we trusted you so!” said another of the nine, reproachfully.

“And thought you were respectable!” said another.

“It seems we were mistaken,” declared a third, looking at the kitten
timorously, “no one with such murderous desires should belong to our
party, I’m sure.”

“You see, Eureka,” remarked Dorothy, reprovingly, “you are making
yourself disliked. There are certain things proper for a kitten to
eat; but I never heard of a kitten eating a pig, under ANY cir’stances.”

“Did you ever see such little pigs before?” asked the kitten. “They
are no bigger than mice, and I’m sure mice are proper for me to eat.”

“It isn’t the bigness, dear; its the variety,” replied the girl.
“These are Mr. Wizard’s pets, just as you are my pet, and it wouldn’t be
any more proper for you to eat them than it would be for Jim to eat you.”

“And that’s just what I shall do if you don’t let those little balls
of pork alone,” said Jim, glaring at the kitten with his round, big
eyes. “If you injure any one of them I’ll chew you up instantly.”

The kitten looked at the horse thoughtfully, as if trying to decide
whether he meant it or not.

“In that case,” she said, “I’ll leave them alone. You haven’t many
teeth left, Jim, but the few you have are sharp enough to make me
shudder. So the piglets will be perfectly safe, hereafter, as far as
I am concerned.”

“That is right, Eureka,” remarked the Wizard, earnestly. “Let us all
be a happy family and love one another.”

Eureka yawned and stretched herself.

“I’ve always loved the piglets,” she said; “but they don’t love me.”

“No one can love a person he’s afraid of,” asserted Dorothy. “If you
behave, and don’t scare the little pigs, I’m sure they’ll grow very
fond of you.”

The Wizard now put the nine tiny ones back into his pocket and the
journey was resumed.

“We must be pretty near the top, now,” said the boy, as they climbed
wearily up the dark, winding stairway.

“The Country of the Gurgles can’t be far from the top of the earth,”
remarked Dorothy. “It isn’t very nice down here. I’d like to get
home again, I’m sure.”

No one replied to this, because they found they needed all their
breath for the climb. The stairs had become narrower and Zeb and the
Wizard often had to help Jim pull the buggy from one step to another,
or keep it from jamming against the rocky walls.

At last, however, a dim light appeared ahead of them, which grew
clearer and stronger as they advanced.

“Thank goodness we’re nearly there!” panted the little Wizard.

Jim, who was in advance, saw the last stair before him and stuck his
head above the rocky sides of the stairway. Then he halted, ducked
down and began to back up, so that he nearly fell with the buggy onto
the others.

“Let’s go down again!” he said, in his hoarse voice.

“Nonsense!” snapped the tired Wizard. “What’s the matter with you,
old man?”

“Everything,” grumbled the horse. “I’ve taken a look at this place,
and it’s no fit country for real creatures to go to. Everything’s
dead, up there–no flesh or blood or growing thing anywhere.”

“Never mind;. we can’t turn back,” said Dorothy; “and we don’t intend
to stay there, anyhow.”

“It’s dangerous,” growled Jim, in a stubborn tone.

“See here, my good steed,” broke in the Wizard, “little Dorothy and I
have been in many queer countries in our travels, and always escaped
without harm. We’ve even been to the marvelous Land of Oz–haven’t
we, Dorothy?–so we don’t much care what the Country of the Gargoyles
is like. Go ahead, Jim, and whatever happens we’ll make the best of it.”

“All right,” answered the horse; “this is your excursion, and not
mine; so if you get into trouble don’t blame me.”

With this speech he bent forward and dragged the buggy up the
remaining steps. The others followed and soon they were all standing
upon a broad platform and gazing at the most curious and startling
sight their eyes had ever beheld.

“The Country of the Gargoyles is all wooden!” exclaimed Zeb; and so it
was. The ground was sawdust and the pebbles scattered around were
hard knots from trees, worn smooth in course of time. There were odd
wooden houses, with carved wooden flowers in the front yards. The
tree-trunks were of coarse wood, but the leaves of the trees were
shavings. The patches of grass were splinters of wood, and where
neither grass nor sawdust showed was a solid wooden flooring. Wooden
birds fluttered among the trees and wooden cows were browsing upon the
wooden grass; but the most amazing things of all were the wooden
people–the creatures known as Gargoyles.

These were very numerous, for the place was thickly inhabited, and a
large group of the queer people clustered near, gazing sharply upon
the strangers who had emerged from the long spiral stairway.

The Gargoyles were very small of stature, being less than three feet
in height. Their bodies were round, their legs short and thick and
their arms extraordinarily long and stout. Their heads were too big
for their bodies and their faces were decidedly ugly to look upon.
Some had long, curved noses and chins, small eyes and wide, grinning
mouths. Others had flat noses, protruding eyes, and ears that were
shaped like those of an elephant. There were many types, indeed,
scarcely two being alike; but all were equally disagreeable in
appearance. The tops of their heads had no hair, but were carved
into a variety of fantastic shapes, some having a row of points or
balls around the top, others designs resembling flowers or vegetables,
and still others having squares that looked like waffles cut
criss-cross on their heads. They all wore short wooden wings which
were fastened to their wooden bodies by means of wooden hinges with
wooden screws, and with these wings they flew swiftly and noiselessly
here and there, their legs being of little use to them.

This noiseless motion was one of the most peculiar things about the
Gargoyles. They made no sounds at all, either in flying or trying to
speak, and they conversed mainly by means of quick signals made with
their wooden fingers or lips. Neither was there any sound to be heard
anywhere throughout the wooden country. The birds did not sing, nor
did the cows moo; yet there was more than ordinary activity everywhere.

The group of these queer creatures which was discovered clustered
near the stairs at first remained staring and motionless, glaring with
evil eyes at the intruders who had so suddenly appeared in their land.
In turn the Wizard and the children, the horse and the kitten,
examined the Gargoyles with the same silent attention.

“There’s going to be trouble, I’m sure,” remarked the horse.
“Unhitch those tugs, Zeb, and set me free from the buggy,
so I can fight comfortably.”

“Jim’s right,” sighed the Wizard. “There’s going to be trouble, and
my sword isn’t stout enough to cut up those wooden bodies–so I shall
have to get out my revolvers.”

He got his satchel from the buggy and, opening it, took out two deadly
looking revolvers that made the children shrink back in alarm just to
look at.

“What harm can the Gurgles do?” asked Dorothy. “They have no weapons
to hurt us with.”

“Each of their arms is a wooden club,” answered the little man, “and
I’m sure the creatures mean mischief, by the looks of their eyes.
Even these revolvers can merely succeed in damaging a few of their
wooden bodies, and after that we will be at their mercy.”

“But why fight at all, in that case?” asked the girl.

“So I may die with a clear conscience,” returned the Wizard, gravely.
“It’s every man’s duty to do the best he knows how; and I’m going to
do it.”

“Wish I had an axe,” said Zeb, who by now had unhitched the horse.

“If we had known we were coming we might have brought along several
other useful things,” responded the Wizard. “But we dropped into this
adventure rather unexpectedly.”

The Gargoyles had backed away a distance when they heard the sound of
talking, for although our friends had spoken in low tones their words
seemed loud in the silence surrounding them. But as soon as the
conversation ceased, the grinning, ugly creatures arose in a flock and
flew swiftly toward the strangers, their long arms stretched out
before them like the bowsprits of a fleet of sail-boats. The horse
had especially attracted their notice, because it was the biggest and
strangest creature they had ever seen; so it became the center of
their first attack.

But Jim was ready for them, and when he saw them coming he turned his
heels toward them and began kicking out as hard as he could. Crack!
crash! bang! went his iron-shod hoofs against the wooden bodies of the
Gargoyles, and they were battered right and left with such force that
they scattered like straws in the wind. But the noise and clatter
seemed as dreadful to them as Jim’s heels, for all who were able
swiftly turned and flew away to a great distance. The others picked
themselves up from the ground one by one and quickly rejoined their
fellows, so for a moment the horse thought he had won the fight with ease.

But the Wizard was not so confident.

“Those wooden things are impossible to hurt,” he said, “and all the
damage Jim has done to them is to knock a few splinters from their
noses and ears. That cannot make them look any uglier, I’m sure, and
it is my opinion they will soon renew the attack.”

“What made them fly away?” asked Dorothy.

“The noise, of course. Don’t you remember how the Champion escaped
them by shouting his battle-cry?”

“Suppose we escape down the stairs, too,” suggested the boy. “We have
time, just now, and I’d rather face the invis’ble bears than those
wooden imps.”

“No,” returned Dorothy, stoutly, “it won’t do to go back, for then we
would never get home. Let’s fight it out.”

“That is what I advise,” said the Wizard. “They haven’t defeated us
yet, and Jim is worth a whole army.”

But the Gargoyles were clever enough not to attack the horse the next
time. They advanced in a great swarm, having been joined by many more
of their kind, and they flew straight over Jim’s head to where the
others were standing.

The Wizard raised one of his revolvers and fired into the throng of
his enemies, and the shot resounded like a clap of thunder in that
silent place.

Some of the wooden beings fell flat upon the ground, where they
quivered and trembled in every limb; but most of them managed to wheel
and escape again to a distance.

Zeb ran and picked up one of the Gargoyles that lay nearest to him.
The top of its head was carved into a crown and the Wizard’s bullet
had struck it exactly in the left eye, which was a hard wooden knot.
Half of the bullet stuck in the wood and half stuck out, so it had
been the jar and the sudden noise that had knocked the creature down,
more than the fact that it was really hurt. Before this crowned
Gargoyle had recovered himself Zeb had wound a strap several times
around its body, confining its wings and arms so that it could not
move. Then, having tied the wooden creature securely, the boy buckled
the strap and tossed his prisoner into the buggy. By that time the
others had all retired.

 

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