The strangers took their seats at the table willingly enough, for they wer_ll hungry and the platters were now heaped with good things to eat. In fron_f each place was a plate bearing one of the delicious dama-fruit, and th_erfume that rose from these was so enticing and sweet that they were sorel_empted to eat of them and become invisible.
But Dorothy satisfied her hunger with other things, and her companions di_ikewise, 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 _irlish young voice, that belonged to one of the children. "We who live her_uch prefer to be invisible; for we can still hug and kiss one another, an_re 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 othe_hildish voice, gleefully.
"But I make you wash it, every time I think of it," said the mother; "for i_tands 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," sh_equested.
They came to her willingly, and Dorothy passed her hands over their faces an_orms and decided one was a girl of about her own age and the other a bo_omewhat smaller. The girl's hair was soft and fluffy and her skin as smoot_s satin. When Dorothy gently touched her nose and ears and lips they seeme_o 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 an_rees, 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 w_o; yet we hear their sweet songs and enjoy them. Neither can we see the crue_ears, for they also eat the fruit. But the fishes that swim in our brooks w_an see, and often we catch them to eat."
"It occurs to me you have a great deal to make you happy, even whil_nvisible," remarked the Wizard. "Nevertheless, we prefer to remain visibl_hile we are in your valley."
Just then Eureka came in, for she had been until now wandering outside wit_im; 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 explainin_hat Eureka was a pet and could do no harm even if she wished to. Then, as th_thers had by this time moved away from the table, the kitten sprang upon th_hair and put her paws upon the cloth to see what there was to eat. To he_urprise an unseen hand clutched her and held her suspended in the air. Eurek_as frantic with terror, and tried to scratch and bite, so the next moment sh_as 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, o_omething 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 sh_ad 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 los_ou."
"Very well, I won't touch it," decided the kitten; "but you must keep it awa_rom me, for the smell is very tempting."
"Can you tell us, sir or ma'am," said the Wizard, addressing the air becaus_e did not quite know where the unseen people stood, "if there is any way w_an 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; "bu_o do so you must enter a far less pleasant country. As for reaching the to_f the earth, I have never heard that it is possible to do that, and if yo_ucceeded 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 w_annot be contented in any other land than our own, for long. Even if w_hould come to unpleasant places on our way it is necessary, in order to reac_he 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 an_ount the spiral staircase inside the Pyramid Mountain. The top of tha_ountain is lost in the clouds, and when you reach it you will be in the awfu_and of Naught, where the Gargoyles live."
"What are Gargoyles?" asked Zeb.
"I do not know, young sir. Our greatest Champion, Overman-Anu, once climbe_he spiral stairway and fought nine days with the Gargoyles before he coul_scape them and come back; but he could never be induced to describe th_readful creatures, and soon afterward a bear caught him and ate him up."
The wanders were rather discouraged by this gloomy report, but Dorothy sai_ith 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 yo_onquer those enemies," suggested the Wizard. "Just now, my dear, there is no_ single warrior in your company."
"Oh, I guess Zeb could fight if he had to. Couldn't you, Zeb?" asked th_ittle girl.
"Perhaps; if I had to," answered Zeb, doubtfully.
"And you have the jointed sword that you chopped the veg'table Sorcerer in tw_ith," 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. "Ou_hampion told me that when he shouted his battle-cry the creatures shuddere_nd drew back, hesitating to continue the combat. But they were in grea_umbers, and the Champion could not shout much because he had to save hi_reath for fighting."
"Very good," said the Wizard; "we can all yell better than we can fight, so w_ught to defeat the Gargoyles."
"But tell me," said Dorothy, "how did such a brave Champion happen to let th_ears eat him? And if he was invis'ble, and the bears invis'ble, who know_hat 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 invisibl_harm of the dama-fruit ceases to be active, and the slain one can be plainl_een by all eyes. When the Champion killed a bear everyone could see it; an_hen the bears killed the Champion we all saw several pieces of him scattere_bout, which of course disappeared again when the bears devoured them."
They now bade farewell to the kind but unseen people of the cottage, and afte_he man had called their attention to a high, pyramid-shaped mountain on th_pposite 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 prett_ottages; but of course they saw no one, nor did any one speak to them. Fruit_nd flowers grew plentifully all about, and there were many of the deliciou_amas 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 ther_ 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. Doroth_limbed into the buggy, although Jim had been unharnessed from it and wa_razing 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 alway_he hardest to face.
"You must take to the river," was the reply. "The bears will not venture upo_he water."
"But we would be drowned!" exclaimed the girl.
"Oh, there is no need of that," said the voice, which from its gentle tone_eemed to belong to a young girl. "You are strangers in the Valley of Voe, an_o 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 gre_nd held suspended in the air before the Wizard.
"Sir," said the voice, "you must rub these leaves upon the soles of all you_eet, and then you will be able to walk upon the water without sinking belo_he surface. It is a secret the bears do not know, and we people of Vo_sually 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 th_oles of Dorothy's shoes and then upon his own. The girl took a leaf an_ubbed 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 o_im's hoofs and then upon the tires of the buggy-wheels. He had nearl_inished this last task when a low growling was suddenly heard and the hors_egan to jump around and kick viciously with his heels.
"Quick! To the water or you are lost!" cried their unseen friend, and withou_esitation the Wizard drew the buggy down the bank and out upon the broa_iver, for Dorothy was still seated in it with Eureka in her arms. They di_ot sink at all, owing to the virtues of the strange plant they had used, an_hen the buggy was in the middle of the stream the Wizard returned to the ban_o assist Zeb and Jim.
The horse was plunging madly about, and two or three deep gashes appeared upo_ts flanks, from which the blood flowed freely.
"Run for the river!" shouted the Wizard, and Jim quickly freed himself fro_is unseen tormenters by a few vicious kicks and then obeyed. As soon as h_rotted 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 hi_heek and heard a low, fierce growl. At once he began stabbing at the air wit_is sword, and he knew that he had struck some substance because when he dre_ack the blade it was dripping with blood. The third time that he thrust ou_he weapon there was a loud roar and a fall, and suddenly at his feet appeare_he form of a great red bear, which was nearly as big as the horse and muc_tronger and fiercer. The beast was quite dead from the sword thrusts, an_fter a glance at its terrible claws and sharp teeth the little man turned i_ panic and rushed out upon the water, for other menacing growls told him mor_ears were near.
On the river, however, the adventurers seemed to be perfectly safe. Doroth_nd 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 go_ut some sticking-plaster with which he mended the cuts Jim had received fro_he claws of the bears.
"I think we'd better stick to the river, after this," said Dorothy. "If ou_nknown friend hadn't warned us, and told us what to do, we would all be dea_y this time."
"That is true," agreed the Wizard, "and as the river seems to be flowing i_he direction of the Pyramid Mountain it will be the easiest way for us t_ravel."
Zeb hitched Jim to the buggy again, and the horse trotted along and drew the_apidly over the smooth water. The kitten was at first dreadfully afraid o_etting wet, but Dorothy let her down and soon Eureka was frisking alon_eside the buggy without being scared a bit. Once a little fish swam too nea_he surface, and the kitten grabbed it in her mouth and ate it up as quick a_ wink; but Dorothy cautioned her to be careful what she ate in this valley o_nchantments, 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 t_he Pyramid Mountain. There were few houses in this part, and few orchards o_lowers; 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 yo_an go."
"All right," answered the horse; "I'll do my best. But you must remember I'_ld, and my dashing days are past and gone."
All three got into the buggy and Zeb picked up the reins, though Jim needed n_uidance of any sort. The horse was still smarting from the sharp claws of th_nvisible bears, and as soon as he was on land and headed toward the mountai_he thought that more of those fearsome creatures might be near acted as _pur 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, an_im pricked up his ears and fairly flew. His boney legs moved so fast the_ould scarcely be seen, and the Wizard clung fast to the seat and yelled
"I KNOW he is," said Zeb; "but no bear can catch him if he keeps up tha_ait—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 h_rew up at the foot of the mountain, so suddenly that the Wizard and Zeb bot_ailed over the dashboard and landed in the soft grass—where they rolled ove_everal times before they stopped. Dorothy nearly went with them, but she wa_olding fast to the iron rail of the seat, and that saved her. She squeeze_he kitten, though, until it screeched; and then the old cab-horse mad_everal curious sounds that led the little girl to suspect he was laughing a_hem all.