Книга Ozma of Oz. Содержание - 6. The Heads of Langwidere

6. The Heads of Langwidere

They walked slowly down the path between the rocks, Tiktok going first, Dorothy following him, and the yellow hen trotting along last of all.

At the foot of the path the copper man leaned down and tossed aside with ease the rocks that encumbered the way. Then he turned to Dorothy and said:

“Let me car-ry your din-ner-pail.”

She placed it in his right hand at once, and the copper fingers closed firmly over the stout handle.

Then the little procession marched out upon the level sands.

As soon as the three Wheelers who were guarding the mound saw them, they began to shout their wild cries and rolled swiftly toward the little group, as if to capture them or bar their way. But when the foremost had approached near enough, Tiktok swung the tin dinner-pail and struck the Wheeler a sharp blow over its head with the queer weapon. Perhaps it did not hurt very much, but it made a great noise, and the Wheeler uttered a howl and tumbled over upon its side. The next minute it scrambled to its wheels and rolled away as fast as it could go, screeching with fear at the same time.

“I told you they were harm-less,” began Tiktok; but before he could say more another Wheeler was upon them. Crack! went the dinner-pail against its head, knocking its straw hat a dozen feet away; and that was enough for this Wheeler, also. It rolled away after the first one, and the third did not wait to be pounded with the pail, but joined its fellows as quickly as its wheels would whirl.

The yellow hen gave a cackle of delight, and flying to a perch upon Tiktok’s shoulder, she said:

“Bravely done, my copper friend! and wisely thought of, too. Now we are free from those ugly creatures.”

But just then a large band of Wheelers rolled from the forest, and relying upon their numbers to conquer, they advanced fiercely upon Tiktok. Dorothy grabbed Billina in her arms and held her tight, and the machine embraced the form of the little girl with his left arm, the better to protect her. Then the Wheelers were upon them.

Rattlety, bang! bang! went the dinner-pail in every direction, and it made so much clatter bumping against the heads of the Wheelers that they were much more frightened than hurt and fled in a great panic. All, that is, except their leader. This Wheeler had stumbled against another and fallen flat upon his back, and before he could get his wheels under him to rise again, Tiktok had fastened his copper fingers into the neck of the gorgeous jacket of his foe and held him fast.

“Tell your peo-ple to go a-way,” commanded the machine.

The leader of the Wheelers hesitated to give this order, so Tiktok shook him as a terrier dog does a rat, until the Wheeler’s teeth rattled together with a noise like hailstones on a window pane. Then, as soon as the creature could get its breath, it shouted to the others to roll away, which they immediately did.

“Now,” said Tiktok, “you shall come with us and tell me what I want to know.”

“You’ll be sorry for treating me in this way,” whined the Wheeler. “I’m a terribly fierce person.”

“As for that,” answered Tiktok, “I am only a ma-chine, and can-not feel sor-row or joy, no mat-ter what hap-pens. But you are wrong to think your-self ter-ri-ble or fierce.”

“Why so?” asked the Wheeler.

“Be-cause no one else thinks as you do. Your wheels make you help-less to in-jure an-y one. For you have no fists and can not scratch or e-ven pull hair. Nor have you an-y feet to kick with. All you can do is to yell and shout, and that does not hurt an-y one at all.”

The Wheeler burst into a flood of tears, to Dorothy’s great surprise.

“Now I and my people are ruined forever!” he sobbed; “for you have discovered our secret. Being so helpless, our only hope is to make people afraid of us, by pretending we are very fierce and terrible, and writing in the sand warnings to Beware the Wheelers. Until now we have frightened everyone, but since you have discovered our weakness our enemies will fall upon us and make us very miserable and unhappy.”

“Oh, no,” exclaimed Dorothy, who was sorry to see this beautifully dressed Wheeler so miserable; “Tiktok will keep your secret, and so will Billina and I. Only, you must promise not to try to frighten children any more, if they come near to you.”

“I won’t – indeed I won’t!” promised the Wheeler, ceasing to cry and becoming more cheerful. “I’m not really bad, you know; but we have to pretend to be terrible in order to prevent others from attacking us.”

“That is not ex-act-ly true,” said Tiktok, starting to walk toward the path through the forest, and still holding fast to his prisoner, who rolled slowly along beside him. “You and your peo-ple are full of mis-chief, and like to both-er those who fear you. And you are of-ten im-pu-dent and dis-a-gree-a-ble, too. But if you will try to cure those faults I will not tell any-one how help-less you are.”

“I’ll try, of course,” replied the Wheeler, eagerly. “And thank you, Mr. Tiktok, for your kindness.”

“I am on-ly a ma-chine,” said Tiktok. “I can not be kind an-y more than I can be sor-ry or glad. I can on-ly do what I am wound up to do.”

“Are you wound up to keep my secret?” asked the Wheeler, anxiously.

“Yes; if you be-have your-self. But tell me: who rules the Land of Ev now?” asked the machine.

“There is no ruler,” was the answer, “because every member of the royal family is imprisoned by the Nome King. But the Princess Langwidere, who is a niece of our late King Evoldo, lives in a part of the royal palace and takes as much money out of the royal treasury as she can spend. The Princess Langwidere is not exactly a ruler, you see, because she doesn’t rule; but she is the nearest approach to a ruler we have at present.”

“I do not re-mem-ber her,” said Tiktok. “What does she look like?”

“That I cannot say,” replied the Wheeler, “although I have seen her twenty times. For the Princess Langwidere is a different person every time I see her, and the only way her subjects can recognize her at all is by means of a beautiful ruby key which she always wears on a chain attached to her left wrist. When we see the key we know we are beholding the Princess.”

“That is strange,” said Dorothy, in astonishment. “Do you mean to say that so many different princesses are one and the same person?”

“Not exactly,” answered the Wheeler. “There is, of course, but one princess; but she appears to us in many forms, which are all more or less beautiful.”

“She must be a witch,” exclaimed the girl.

“I do not think so,” declared the Wheeler. “But there is some mystery connected with her, nevertheless. She is a very vain creature, and lives mostly in a room surrounded by mirrors, so that she can admire herself whichever way she looks.”

No one answered this speech, because they had just passed out of the forest and their attention was fixed upon the scene before them – a beautiful vale in which were many fruit trees and green fields, with pretty farm-houses scattered here and there and broad, smooth roads that led in every direction.

In the center of this lovely vale, about a mile from where our friends were standing, rose the tall spires of the royal palace, which glittered brightly against their background of blue sky. The palace was surrounded by charming grounds, full of flowers and shrubbery. Several tinkling fountains could be seen, and there were pleasant walks bordered by rows of white marble statuary.

All these details Dorothy was, of course, unable to notice or admire until they had advanced along the road to a position quite near to the palace, and she was still looking at the pretty sights when her little party entered the grounds and approached the big front door of the king’s own apartments. To their disappointment they found the door tightly closed. A sign was tacked to the panel which read as follows:

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