Authors: L. Frank Baum
Tags: #Young Readers, #Fantasy
A low, fierce growl greeted him. The Treasure Chamber was pretty dark, although the moonlight came in through some of the windows, but the boy had brought with him the low brass lamp that lighted the corridor, and this he set upon a table beside the door before he took time to look around him.
The Treasure Chamber was heaped and crowded with all the riches the Boolooroo had accumulated during his reign of two or three hundred years. Piles of gold and jewels were on all sides, and precious ornaments and splendid cloths, rare pieces of carved furniture, vases, bric–a–brac and the like, were strewn about the room in astonishing profusion.
Just at the boy's feet crouched a monstrous animal of most fearful aspect. He knew at a glance it was the terrible Blue Wolf, and the sight of the beast sent a shiver through him. The Blue Wolf's head was fully as big as that of a lion, and its wide jaws were armed with rows of long, pointed teeth. His shoulders and front legs were huge and powerful, but the rest of the wolf's body dwindled away until at the tail it was no bigger than a dog. The jaws were therefore the dangerous part of the creature, and its small blue eyes flashed wickedly at the intruder.
Just as the boy made his first step forward, the Blue Wolf sprang upon him with its enormous jaws stretched wide open. Button–Bright jammed the sofa–pillow into the brute's mouth and crowded it in as hard as he could. The terrible teeth came together and buried themselves in the pillow, and then Mr. Wolf found he could not pull them out again—because his mouth was stuffed full. He could not even growl or yelp, but rolled upon the floor trying in vain to release himself from the conquering pillow.
Button–Bright paid no further attention to the helpless animal, but caught up the blue–brass lamp and began a search for his umbrella. Of course he could not find it, as it was not there. He came across a small book bound in light–blue leather which lay upon an exquisitely carved center–table. It was named, in dark–blue letters stamped on the leather, "The Royal Record Book," and remembering Ghip–Ghisizzle longed to possess this book, Button–Bright hastily concealed it inside his blouse. Then he renewed his search for the umbrella, but it was quite in vain. He hunted in every crack and corner, bumbling the treasures here and there in the quest, but at last he became positive that the Magic Umbrella was not there.
The boy was bitterly disappointed and did not know what to do next. But he noticed that the Blue Wolf had finally seized an edge of the sofa–pillow in its sharp claws and was struggling to pull the thing out of his mouth; so, there being no object in his remaining longer in the room where he might have to fight the wolf again, Button–Bright went out and locked the door behind him.
While he stood in the corridor wondering what to do next, a sudden shouting reached his ears. It was the voice of the Boolooroo, saying "My Key, my Key! Who has stolen my golden Key?" And then there followed shouts of soldiers and guards and servants, and the rapid pattering of feet was heard throughout the palace.
Button–Bright took to his heels and ran along the passages until he came to Cap'n Bill's room, where the sailorman and Trot were anxiously awaiting him.
"Quick!" cried the boy. "We must escape from here at once, or we will be caught and patched."
"Where's the umbrel?" asked Cap'n Bill.
"I don't know. I can't find it. But all the palace is aroused, and the Boolooroo is furious. Come, let's get away at once!"
"Where'll we go?" inquired Trot.
"We must make for the open country and hide in the Fog Bank or in the Arch of Phinis," replied the boy.
They did not stop to argue any longer, but all three stepped out of the little door into the street, where they first clasped hands so they would not get separated in the dark, and then ran as swiftly as they could down the street, which was deserted at this hour by the citizens. They could not go very fast because the sailorman's wooden leg was awkward to run with and held them back, but Cap'n Bill hobbled quicker than he had ever hobbled before in all his life, and they really made pretty good progress.
They met no one on the streets and continued their flight until at last they came to the City Wall, which had a blue–iron gate in it. Here was a Blueskin guard, who had been peacefully slumbering when aroused by the footsteps of the fugitives. "Halt!" cried the guard fiercely.
Cap'n Bill halted long enough to grab the man around his long neck with one hand and around his long leg with the other hand. Then he raised the Blueskin in the air and threw him far over the wall. A moment later they had unfastened the gate and fled into the open country, where they headed toward the low mountain whose outlines were plainly visible in the moonlight.
The guard was now howling and crying for help. In the city were answering shouts. A hue and cry came from every direction, reaching as far as the palace. Lights began to twinkle everywhere in the streets, and the Blue city hummed like a beehive filled with angry bees. "It won't do for us to get caught now," panted Cap'n Bill as they ran along. "I'm more afeared o' them Blue citizens ner I am 'o the Blue Boolooroo. They'd tear us to pieces if they could."
Sky Island was not a very big place, especially the blue part of it, and our friends were now very close to the low mountain. Presently they paused before a grim archway of blue marble, above which was carved the one word, "Phinis." The interior seemed dark and terrible as they stopped to regard it as a possible place of refuge.
"Don't like that place, Cap'n," whispered Trot.
"No more do I, mate," he answered.
"I think I'd rather take a chance on the Fog Bank," said Button–Bright.
Just then they were all startled by a swift flapping of wings, and a voice cried in shrill tones,
"Where are you, Trot? As like as not I've been forgot!"
Cap'n Bill jumped this way and Button–Bright that, and then there alighted on Trot's shoulder the blue parrot that had been the pet of the Princess Cerulia. Said the bird,
"Gee! I've flown Here all alone. t's pretty far, But here we are!"
and then he barked like a dog and chuckled with glee at having found his little friend.
In escaping the palace, Trot had been obliged to leave all the pets behind her, but it seemed that the parrot had found some way to get free and follow her. They were all astonished to hear the bird talk—and in poetry, too—but Cap'n Bill told Trot that some parrots he had known had possessed a pretty fair gift of language, and he added that this blue one seemed an unusually bright bird. "As fer po'try," said he, "that's as how you look at po'try. Rhymes come from your head, but real po'try from your heart, an' whether the blue parrot has a heart or not, he's sure got a head."
Having decided not to venture into the Arch of Phinis, they again started on, this time across the country straight toward the Fog Bank, which hung like a blue–grey cloud directly across the center of the island. They knew they were being followed by bands of the Blueskins, for they could hear the shouts of their pursuers growing louder and louder every minute, since their long legs covered the ground more quickly than our friends could possibly go. Had the journey been much farther, the fugitives would have been overtaken, but when the leaders of the pursuing Blueskins were only a few yards behind them, they reached the edge of the Fog Bank and without hesitation plunged into its thick mist, which instantly hid them from view.
The Blueskins fell back, horrified at the mad act of the strangers. To them the Fog Bank was the most dreadful thing in existence, and no Blueskin had ever ventured within it even for a moment.
"That's the end of those short–necked Yellowskins," said one, shaking his head. "We may as well go back and report the matter to the Boolooroo."
It was rather moist in the Fog Bank. "Seems like a reg'lar drizzle," said Trot. "I'll be soaked through in a minute." She had been given a costume of blue silk in exchange for her own dress, and the silk was so thin that the moisture easily wetted it.
"Never mind," said Cap'n Bill. "When it's a case of life "n" death, clo's don't count for much. I'm sort o' drippy myself."
Cried the parrot, fluttering his feathers to try to keep them from sticking together,
"Floods and gushes fill our path— This is not my day for a bath! Shut if off, or fear my wrath."
"We can't," laughed Trot. "We'll jus' have to stick it out till we get to the other side."
"Had we better go to the other side?" asked Button–Bright anxiously.
"Why not?" returned Cap'n Bill. "The other side's the only safe side for us."
"We don't know that, sir," said the boy. "Ghip–Ghisizzle said it was a terrible country."
"I don't believe it," retorted the sailor stoutly. "Sizzle's never been there, an' he knows nothing about it. "The Sunset Country" sounds sort o' good to me."
"But how'll we ever manage to get there?" inquired Trot. "Aren't we already lost in this fog?"
"Not yet," said Cap'n Bill. "I've kep' my face turned straight ahead ever since we climbed inter this bank o' wetness. If we don't get twisted any, we'll go straight through to the other side."
It was no darker in the Fog Bank than it had been in the Blue Country. They could see dimly the mass of fog, which seemed to cling to them, and when they looked down, they discovered that they were walking upon white pebbles that were slightly tinged with the blue color of the sky. Gradually this blue became fainter until, as they progressed, everything became a dull gray.
"I wonder how far it is to the other side," remarked Trot wearily.
"We can't say till we get there, mate," answered the sailor in a cheerful voice. Cap'n Bill had a way of growing more and more cheerful when danger threatened.
"Never mind," said the girl. "I'm as wet as a dishrag now, and I'll never get any wetter."
"Wet, wet, wet! It's awful wet, you bet!"
moaned the parrot on her shoulder.
"I'm a fish–pond, I'm a well; I'm a clam without a shell!"
"Can't you dry up?" asked Cap'n Bill.
"Not this evening, thank you, sir; To talk and grumble I prefer,"
replied the parrot dolefully.
They walked along more slowly now, still keeping hold of hands, for although they were anxious to get through the Fog Bank, they were tired with the long run across the country and with their day's adventures. They had no sleep and it was a long time past midnight.
"Look out!" cried the parrot sharply; and they all halted to find a monstrous frog obstructing their path. Cap'n Bill thought it was as big as a whale, and as it squatted on the gray pebbles, its eyes were on a level with those of the old sailor.
"Ker–chug, herk–choo!" grunted the frog. "What in the Sky is THIS crowd?"
"W–we're strangers," stammered Trot, "an' we're tryin' to "scape from the Blueskins an" get into the Pink Country."
"I don't blame you," said the frog in a friendly tone. "I hate those Blueskins. The Pinkies, however, are very decent neighbors."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that!" cried Button–Bright. "Can you tell us, Mister—Mistress—good Mr. Frog—eh, eh, your Royal Highness, if we're on the right road to the Pink Country?"
The frog seemed to laugh, for he gurgled in his throat in a very funny way. "I'm no Royal Highness," he said. "I'm just a common frog, and a little wee tiny frog, too. But I hope to grow in time. This Fog Bank is the Paradise of Frogs, and our King is about ten times as big as I am."
"Then he's a big "un, an" no mistake," admitted Cap'n Bill. "I'm glad you like your country, but it's a mite too damp for us, an' we'd be glad to get out of it."
"Follow me," said the frog. "I'll lead you to the border. It's only about six jumps." He turned around, made a mighty leap and disappeared in the gray mist. Our friends looked at one another in bewilderment.
"Don't see how we can foller that lead," remarked Cap'n Bill, "but we may as well start in the same direction."
"Brooks and creeks, How it leaks!"
muttered the parrot.
"How can we jog To a frog in the fog?"
The big frog seemed to understand their difficulty, for he kept making noises in his throat to guide them to where he had leaped. When at last they came up to him, he made a second jump—out of sight, as before—and when they attempted to follow, they found a huge lizard lying across the path. Cap'n Bill thought it must be a giant alligator at first, it was so big, but he looked at them sleepily and did not seem at all dangerous.
"O, Liz—you puffy Liz—Get out of our way and mind your biz," cried the parrot.
"Creep–a–mousie, crawl–a–mousie, please move on! We can't move a step till you are gone."
"Don't disturb me," said the lizard. "I'm dreaming about parsnips. Did you ever taste a parsnip?"
"We're in a hurry, if it's the same to you, sir," said Cap'n Bill politely.
"Then climb over me or go around, I don't care which," murmured the lizard. "When they're little, they're juicy; when they're big, there's more of 'em; but either way there's nothing so delicious as a parsnip. There are none here in the Fog Bank, so the best I can do is dream of them. Oh, parsnips, par–snips, p–a–r–snips!" He closed his eyes sleepily and resumed his dreams.
Walking around the lizard, they resumed their journey and soon came to the frog, being guided by its grunts and croaks. Then off it went again, its tremendous leap carrying it far into the fog. Suddenly, Cap'n Bill tripped and would have fallen flat had not Trot and Button–Bright held him up. Then he saw that he had stumbled over the claw of a gigantic land–crab, which lay sprawled out upon the pebbly bottom.
"Oh, beg parding, I'm sure!" exclaimed Cap'n Bill, backing away.
"Don't mention it," replied the crab in a tired tone. "You did not disturb me, so there is no harm done."
"We didn't know you were here," explained Trot.
"Probably not," said the crab. "It's no place for me, anyhow, for I belong in the Constellations, you know, with Taurus and Gemini and the other fellows. But I had the misfortune to tumble out of the Zodiac some time ago. My name is Cancer, but I'm not a disease. Those who examine the heavens in these days, alas! can find no Cancer there."
"Yes we can, sir, Mister Cancer!" said the parrot with a chuckle.
"Once," remarked Cap'n Bill, "I sawr a picter of you in an almanac."
"Ah, the almanacs always did us full justice," the crab replied, "but I'm told they're not fashionable now."
"If you don't mind, we'd like to pass on," said Button–Bright.
"No, I don't mind, but be careful not to step on my legs. They're rheumatic, it's so moist here."
They climbed over some of the huge legs and walked around others. Soon they had left the creature far behind. "Aren't you rather slow?" asked the frog when once more they came up to him.
"It isn't that," said Trot. "You are rather swift, I guess." The frog chuckled and leaped again. They noticed that the fog had caught a soft rose tint and was lighter and less dense than before, for which reason the sailor remarked that they must be getting near to the Pink Country.
On this jump they saw nothing but a monstrous turtle, which lay asleep with its head and legs drawn into its shell. It was not in their way, so they hurried on and rejoined the frog, which said to them, "I'm sorry, but I'm due at the King's Court in a few minutes, and I can't wait for your short, weak legs to make the journey to the Pink Country. But if you will climb upon my back, I think I can carry you to the border in one more leap."
"I'm tired," said Trot, "an' this awful fog's beginnin' to choke me. Let's ride on the frog, Cap'n."
"Right you are, mate," he replied, and although he shook a bit with fear, the old man at once began to climb to the frog's back. Trot seated herself on one side of him and Button–bright on the other, and the sailor put his arms around them both to hold them tight together.
"Are you ready?" asked the frog.
"Ding–dong!" cried the parrot.
"All aboard, let 'er go! Jump the best jump that you know."
"Don't—don't! Jump sort o' easy, please," begged Cap'n Bill.
But the frog was unable to obey his request. Its powerful hind legs straightened like steel springs and shot the big body, with its passengers, through the fog like an arrow launched from a bow. They gasped for breath and tried to hang on, and then suddenly the frog landed just at the edge of the Fog Bank, stopping so abruptly that his three riders left his back and shot far ahead of him. They felt the fog melt away and found themselves bathed in glorious rays of sunshine, but they had no time to consider this change because they were still shooting through the air, and presently—before they could think of anything at all—all three were rolling heels over head on the soft grass of a meadow.