Книга Ozma of Oz. Содержание - 16. Purple, Green, and Gold

“Perhaps you will, and perhaps you won’t,” murmured Billina, calmly. “I may surprise you by guessing right.”

“Guessing right?” snapped the King. “How could you guess right, where your betters have failed, you stupid fowl?”

Billina did not care to answer this question, and a moment later the doors flew open and Dorothy entered, leading the little Prince Evring by the hand.

The Scarecrow welcomed the girl with a close embrace, and he would have embraced Evring, too, in his delight. But the little Prince was shy, and shrank away from the painted Scarecrow because he did not yet know his many excellent qualities.

But there was little time for the friends to talk, because the Scarecrow must now enter the palace. Dorothy’s success had greatly encouraged him, and they both hoped he would manage to make at least one correct guess.

However, he proved as unfortunate as the others except Dorothy, and although he took a good deal of time to select his objects, not one did the poor Scarecrow guess aright.

So he became a solid gold card-receiver, and the beautiful but terrible palace awaited its next visitor.

“It’s all over,” remarked the King, with a sigh of satisfaction; “and it has been a very amusing performance, except for the one good guess the Kansas girl made. I am richer by a great many pretty ornaments.”

“It is my turn, now,” said Billina, briskly.

“Oh, I’d forgotten you,” said the King. “But you needn’t go if you don’t wish to. I will be generous, and let you off.”

“No you won’t,” replied the hen. “I insist upon having my guesses, as you promised.”

“Then go ahead, you absurd feathered fool!” grumbled the King, and he caused the opening that led to the palace to appear once more.

“Don’t go, Billina,” said Dorothy, earnestly. “It isn’t easy to guess those orn’ments, and only luck saved me from being one myself. Stay with me and we’ll go back to the Land of Ev together. I’m sure this little Prince will give us a home.”

“Indeed I will,” said Evring, with much dignity.

“Don’t worry, my dear,” cried Billina, with a cluck that was meant for a laugh. “I may not be human, but I’m no fool, if I AM a chicken.”

“Oh, Billina!” said Dorothy, “you haven’t been a chicken in a long time. Not since you – you’ve been – grown up.”

“Perhaps that’s true,” answered Billina, thoughtfully. “But if a Kansas farmer sold me to some one, what would he call me? – a hen or a chicken!”

“You are not a Kansas farmer, Billina,” replied the girl, “and you said – ”

“Never mind that, Dorothy. I’m going. I won’t say good-bye, because I’m coming back. Keep up your courage, for I’ll see you a little later.”

Then Billina gave several loud “cluck-clucks” that seemed to make the fat little King MORE nervous than ever, and marched through the entrance into the enchanted palace.

“I hope I’ve seen the last of THAT bird,” declared the monarch, seating himself again in his throne and mopping the perspiration from his forehead with his rock-colored handkerchief. “Hens are bothersome enough at their best, but when they can talk they’re simply dreadful.”

“Billina’s my friend,” said Dorothy quietly. “She may not always be ‘zactly polite; but she MEANS well, I’m sure.”

16. Purple, Green, and Gold

The yellow hen, stepping high and with an air of vast importance, walked slowly over the rich velvet carpets of the splendid palace, examining everything she met with her sharp little eyes.

Billina had a right to feel important; for she alone shared the Nome King’s secret and knew how to tell the objects that were transformations from those that had never been alive. She was very sure that her guesses would be correct, but before she began to make them she was curious to behold all the magnificence of this underground palace, which was perhaps one of the most splendid and beautiful places in any fairyland.

As she went through the rooms she counted the purple ornaments; and although some were small and hidden in queer places, Billina spied them all, and found the entire ten scattered about the various rooms. The green ornaments she did not bother to count, for she thought she could find them all when the time came.

Finally, having made a survey of the entire palace and enjoyed its splendor, the yellow hen returned to one of the rooms where she had noticed a large purple footstool. She placed a claw upon this and said “Ev,” and at once the footstool vanished and a lovely lady, tall and slender and most beautifully robed, stood before her.

The lady’s eyes were round with astonishment for a moment, for she could not remember her transformation, nor imagine what had restored her to life.

“Good morning, ma’am,” said Billina, in her sharp voice. “You’re looking quite well, considering your age.”

“Who speaks?” demanded the Queen of Ev, drawing herself up proudly.

“Why, my name’s Bill, by rights,” answered the hen, who was now perched upon the back of a chair; “although Dorothy has put scollops on it and made it Billina. But the name doesn’t matter. I’ve saved you from the Nome King, and you are a slave no longer.”

“Then I thank you for the gracious favor,” said the Queen, with a graceful courtesy. “But, my children – tell me, I beg of you – where are my children?” and she clasped her hands in anxious entreaty.

“Don’t worry,” advised Billina, pecking at a tiny bug that was crawling over the chair back. “Just at present they are out of mischief and perfectly safe, for they can’t even wiggle.”

“What mean you, O kindly stranger?” asked the Queen, striving to repress her anxiety.

“They’re enchanted,” said Billina, “just as you have been – all, that is, except the little fellow Dorothy picked out. And the chances are that they have been good boys and girls for some time, because they couldn’t help it.”

“Oh, my poor darlings!” cried the Queen, with a sob of anguish.

“Not at all,” returned the hen. “Don’t let their condition make you unhappy, ma’am, because I’ll soon have them crowding ’round to bother and worry you as naturally as ever. Come with me, if you please, and I’ll show you how pretty they look.”

She flew down from her perch and walked into the next room, the Queen following. As she passed a low table a small green grasshopper caught her eye, and instantly Billina pounced upon it and snapped it up in her sharp bill. For grasshoppers are a favorite food with hens, and they usually must be caught quickly, before they can hop away. It might easily have been the end of Ozma of Oz, had she been a real grasshopper instead of an emerald one. But Billina found the grasshopper hard and lifeless, and suspecting it was not good to eat she quickly dropped it instead of letting it slide down her throat.

“I might have known better,” she muttered to herself, “for where there is no grass there can be no live grasshoppers. This is probably one of the King’s transformations.”

A moment later she approached one of the purple ornaments, and while the Queen watched her curiously the hen broke the Nome King’s enchantment and a sweet-faced girl, whose golden hair fell in a cloud over her shoulders, stood beside them.

“Evanna!” cried the Queen, “my own Evanna!” and she clasped the girl to her bosom and covered her face with kisses.

“That’s all right,” said Billina, contentedly. “Am I a good guesser, Mr. Nome King? Well, I guess!”

Then she disenchanted another girl, whom the Queen addressed as Evrose, and afterwards a boy named Evardo, who was older than his brother Evring. Indeed, the yellow hen kept the good Queen exclaiming and embracing for some time, until five Princesses and four Princes, all looking very much alike except for the difference in size, stood in a row beside their happy mother.

The Princesses were named, Evanna, Evrose, Evella, Evirene and Evedna, while the Princes were Evrob, Evington, Evardo and Evroland. Of these Evardo was the eldest and would inherit his father’s throne and be crowned King of Ev when he returned to his own country. He was a grave and quiet youth, and would doubtless rule his people wisely and with justice.

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