Residing in Ozma's palace at this time was a live Scarecrow, a most remarkabl_nd intelligent creature who had once ruled the Land of Oz for a brief perio_nd was much loved and respected by all the people. Once a Munchkin farmer ha_tuffed an old suit of clothes with straw and put stuffed boots on the fee_nd used a pair of stuffed cotton gloves for hands. The head of the Scarecro_as a stuffed sack fastened to the body, with eyes, nose, mouth and ear_ainted on the sack. When a hat had been put on the head, the thing was a goo_mitation of a man. The farmer placed the Scarecrow on a pole in his cornfiel_nd it came to life in a curious manner. Dorothy, who was passing by th_ield, was hailed by the live Scarecrow and lifted him off his pole. He the_ent with her to the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz gave him som_xcellent brains, and the Scarecrow soon became an important personage.
Ozma considered the Scarecrow one of her best friends and most loyal subjects, so the morning after her visit to Glinda she asked him to take her place a_uler of the Land of Oz while she was absent on a journey, and the Scarecro_t once consented without asking any questions.
Ozma had warned Dorothy to keep their journey a secret and say nothing t_nyone about the Skeezers and Flatheads until their return, and Doroth_romised to obey. She longed to tell her girl friends, tiny Trot and Bets_obbin, of the adventure they were undertaking, but refrained from saying _ord on the subject although both these girls lived with her in Ozma's palace.
Indeed, only Glinda the Sorceress knew they were going, until after they ha_one, and even the Sorceress didn't know what their errand might be.
Princess Ozma took the Sawhorse and the Red Wagon, although she was not sur_here was a wagon road all the way to the Lake of the Skeezers. The Land of O_s a pretty big place, surrounded on all sides by a Deadly Desert which it i_mpossible to cross, and the Skeezer Country, according to the map, was in th_arthest northwestern part of Oz, bordering on the north desert. As th_merald City was exactly in the center of Oz, it was no small journey fro_here to the Skeezers.
Around the Emerald City the country is thickly settled in every direction, bu_he farther away you get from the city the fewer people there are, until thos_arts that border on the desert have small populations. Also those farawa_ections are little known to the Oz people, except in the south, where Glind_ives and where Dorothy has often wandered on trips of exploration.
The least known of all is the Gillikin Country, which harbors many strang_ands of people among its mountains and valleys and forests and streams, an_zma was now bound for the most distant part of the Gillikin Country.
"I am really sorry," said Ozma to Dorothy, as they rode away in the Red Wagon,
"not to know more about the wonderful Land I rule. It is my duty to b_cquainted with every tribe of people and every strange and hidden country i_ll Oz, but I am kept so busy at my palace making laws and planning for th_omforts of those who live near the Emerald City, that I do not often fin_ime to make long journeys."
"Well," replied Dorothy, "we'll prob'bly find out a lot on this trip, an_e'll learn all about the Skeezers and Flatheads, anyhow. Time doesn't mak_uch diff'rence in the Land of Oz, 'cause we don't grow up, or get old, o_ecome sick and die, as they do other places; so, if we explore one place at _ime, we'll by-an'-by know all about every nook and corner in Oz."
Dorothy wore around her waist the Nome King's Magic Belt, which protected he_rom harm, and the Magic Ring which Glinda had given her was on her finger.
Ozma had merely slipped a small silver wand into the bosom of her gown, fo_airies do not use chemicals and herbs and the tools of wizards and sorcerer_o perform their magic. The Silver Wand was Ozma's one weapon of offense an_efense and by its use she could accomplish many things.
They had left the Emerald City just at sunrise and the Sawhorse traveled ver_wiftly over the roads towards the north, but in a few hours the wooden anima_ad to slacken his pace because the farm houses had become few and far betwee_nd often there were no paths at all in the direction they wished to follow.
At such times they crossed the fields, avoiding groups of trees and fordin_he streams and rivulets whenever they came to them. But finally they reache_ broad hillside closely covered with scrubby brush, through which the wago_ould not pass.
"It will be difficult even for you and me to get through without tearing ou_resses," said Ozma, "so we must leave the Sawhorse and the Wagon here unti_ur return."
"That's all right," Dorothy replied, "I'm tired riding, anyhow. Do you s'pose, Ozma, we're anywhere near the Skeezer Country?"
"I cannot tell, Dorothy dear, but I know we've been going in the righ_irection, so we are sure to find it in time."
The scrubby brush was almost like a grove of small trees, for it reached a_igh as the heads of the two girls, neither of whom was very tall. They wer_bliged to thread their way in and out, until Dorothy was afraid they woul_et lost, and finally they were halted by a curious thing that barred thei_urther progress. It was a huge web—as if woven by gigantic spiders—and th_elicate, lacy film was fastened stoutly to the branches of the bushes an_ontinued to the right and left in the form of a half circle. The threads o_his web were of a brilliant purple color and woven into numerous artisti_atterns, but it reached from the ground to branches above the heads of th_irls and formed a sort of fence that hedged them in.
"It doesn't look very strong, though," said Dorothy. "I wonder if we couldn'_reak through." She tried but found the web stronger than it seemed. All he_fforts could not break a single thread.
"We must go back, I think, and try to get around this peculiar web," Ozm_ecided.
So they turned to the right and, following the web found that it seemed t_pread in a regular circle. On and on they went until finally Ozma said the_ad returned to the exact spot from which they had started. "Here is _andkerchief you dropped when we were here before," she said to Dorothy.
"In that case, they must have built the web behind us, after we walked int_he trap," exclaimed the little girl.
"True," agreed Ozma, "an enemy has tried to imprison us."
"And they did it, too," said Dorothy. "I wonder who it was."
"It's a spider-web, I'm quite sure," returned Ozma, "but it must be the wor_f enormous spiders."
"Quite right!" cried a voice behind them. Turning quickly around they beheld _uge purple spider sitting not two yards away and regarding them with it_mall bright eyes.
Then there crawled from the bushes a dozen more great purple spiders, whic_aluted the first one and said:
"The web is finished, O King, and the strangers are our prisoners."
Dorothy did not like the looks of these spiders at all. They had big heads, sharp claws, small eyes and fuzzy hair all over their purple bodies.
"They look wicked," she whispered to Ozma. "What shall we do?"
Ozma gazed upon the spiders with a serious face.
"What is your object in making us prisoners?" she inquired.
"We need someone to keep house for us," answered the Spider King. "There i_weeping and dusting to be done, and polishing and washing of dishes, and tha_s work my people dislike to do. So we decided that if any strangers came ou_ay we would capture them and make them our servants."
"I am Princess Ozma, Ruler of all Oz," said the girl with dignity.
"Well, I am King of all Spiders," was the reply, "and that makes me you_aster. Come with me to my palace and I will instruct you in your work."
"I won't," said Dorothy indignantly. "We won't have anything to do with you."
"We'll see about that," returned the Spider in a severe tone, and the nex_nstant he made a dive straight at Dorothy, opening the claws in his legs a_f to grab and pinch her with the sharp points. But the girl was wearing he_agic Belt and was not harmed. The Spider King could not even touch her. H_urned swiftly and made a dash at Ozma, but she held her Magic Wand over hi_ead and the monster recoiled as if it had been struck.
"You'd better let us go," Dorothy advised him, "for you see you can't hur_s."
"So I see," returned the Spider King angrily. "Your magic is greater tha_ine. But I'll not help you to escape. If you can break the magic web m_eople have woven you may go; if not you must stay here and starve." With tha_he Spider King uttered a peculiar whistle and all the spiders disappeared.
"There is more magic in my fairyland than I dreamed of," remarked th_eautiful Ozma, with a sigh of regret. "It seems that my laws have not bee_beyed, for even these monstrous spiders defy me by means of Magic."
"Never mind that now," said Dorothy; "let's see what we can do to get out o_his trap."
They now examined the web with great care and were amazed at its strength.
Although finer than the finest silken hairs, it resisted all their efforts t_ork through, even though both girls threw all their weight against it.
"We must find some instrument which will cut the threads of the web," sai_zma, finally. "Let us look about for such a tool."
So they wandered among the bushes and finally came to a shallow pool of water, formed by a small bubbling spring. Dorothy stooped to get a drink an_iscovered in the water a green crab, about as big as her hand. The crab ha_wo big, sharp claws, and as soon as Dorothy saw them she had an idea tha_hose claws could save them.
"Come out of the water," she called to the crab; "I want to talk to you."
Rather lazily the crab rose to the surface and caught hold of a bit of rock.
With his head above the water he said in a cross voice:
"What do you want?"
"We want you to cut the web of the purple spiders with your claws, so we ca_et through it," answered Dorothy. "You can do that, can't you?"
"I suppose so," replied the crab. "But if I do what will you give me?"
"What do you wish?" Ozma inquired.
"I wish to be white, instead of green," said the crab. "Green crabs are ver_ommon, and white ones are rare; besides the purple spiders, which infest thi_illside, are afraid of white crabs. Could you make me white if I should agre_o cut the web for you?"
"Yes," said Ozma, "I can do that easily. And, so you may know I am speakin_he truth, I will change your color now."
She waved her silver wand over the pool and the crab instantly became snow- white—all except his eyes, which remained black. The creature saw hi_eflection in the water and was so delighted that he at once climbed out o_he pool and began moving slowly toward the web, by backing away from th_ool. He moved so very slowly that Dorothy cried out impatiently: "Dear me, this will never do!" Caching the crab in her hands she ran with him to th_eb.
She had to hold him up even then, so he could reach with his claws stran_fter strand of the filmy purple web, which he was able to sever with one nip.
When enough of the web had been cut to allow them to pass, Dorothy ran back t_he pool and placed the white crab in the water, after which she rejoine_zma. They were just in time to escape through the web, for several of th_urple spiders now appeared, having discovered that their web had been cut, and had the girls not rushed through the opening the spiders would hav_uickly repaired the cuts and again imprisoned them.
Ozma and Dorothy ran as fast as they could and although the angry spider_hrew a number of strands of web after them, hoping to lasso them or entangl_hem in the coils, they managed to escape and clamber to the top of the hill.