Walking a little way back from the water's edge, toward the grove of trees, Dorothy came to a flat stretch of white sand that seemed to have queer sign_arked upon its surface, just as one would write upon sand with a stick.
"What does it say?" she asked the yellow hen, who trotted along beside her i_ rather dignified fashion.
"How should I know?" returned the hen. "I cannot read."
"Oh! Can't you?"
"Certainly not; I've never been to school, you know."
"Well, I have," admitted Dorothy; "but the letters are big and far apart, an_t's hard to spell out the words."
But she looked at each letter carefully, and finally discovered that thes_ords were written in the sand:
"BEWARE THE WHEELERS!"
"That's rather strange," declared the hen, when Dorothy had read aloud th_ords. "What do you suppose the Wheelers are?"
"Folks that wheel, I guess. They must have wheelbarrows, or baby-cabs or hand- carts," said Dorothy.
"Perhaps they're automobiles," suggested the yellow hen. "There is no need t_eware of baby-cabs and wheelbarrows; but automobiles are dangerous things.
Several of my friends have been run over by them."
"It can't be auto'biles," replied the girl, "for this is a new, wild country, without even trolley-cars or tel'phones. The people here haven't bee_iscovered yet, I'm sure; that is, if there ARE any people. So I don't b'liev_here CAN be any auto'biles, Billina."
"Perhaps not," admitted the yellow hen. "Where are you going now?"
"Over to those trees, to see if I can find some fruit or nuts," answere_orothy.
She tramped across the sand, skirting the foot of one of the little rock_ills that stood near, and soon reached the edge of the forest.
At first she was greatly disappointed, because the nearer trees were al_unita, or cotton-wood or eucalyptus, and bore no fruit or nuts at all. But, bye and bye, when she was almost in despair, the little girl came upon tw_rees that promised to furnish her with plenty of food.
One was quite full of square paper boxes, which grew in clusters on all th_imbs, and upon the biggest and ripest boxes the word "Lunch" could be read, in neat raised letters. This tree seemed to bear all the year around, fo_here were lunch-box blossoms on some of the branches, and on others tin_ittle lunch-boxes that were as yet quite green, and evidently not fit to ea_ntil they had grown bigger.
The leaves of this tree were all paper napkins, and it presented a ver_leasing appearance to the hungry little girl.
But the tree next to the lunch-box tree was even more wonderful, for it bor_uantities of tin dinner-pails, which were so full and heavy that the stou_ranches bent underneath their weight. Some were small and dark-brown i_olor; those larger were of a dull tin color; but the really ripe ones wer_ails of bright tin that shone and glistened beautifully in the rays o_unshine that touched them.
Dorothy was delighted, and even the yellow hen acknowledged that she wa_urprised.
The little girl stood on tip-toe and picked one of the nicest and bigges_unch-boxes, and then she sat down upon the ground and eagerly opened it.
Inside she found, nicely wrapped in white papers, a ham sandwich, a piece o_ponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and an apple. Each thing had _eparate stem, and so had to be picked off the side of the box; but Doroth_ound them all to be delicious, and she ate every bit of luncheon in the bo_efore she had finished.
"A lunch isn't zactly breakfast," she said to Billina, who sat beside he_uriously watching. "But when one is hungry one can eat even supper in th_orning, and not complain."
"I hope your lunch-box was perfectly ripe," observed the yellow hen, in _nxious tone. "So much sickness is caused by eating green things."
"Oh, I'm sure it was ripe," declared Dorothy, "all, that is, 'cept the pickle, and a pickle just HAS to be green, Billina. But everything tasted perfectl_plendid, and I'd rather have it than a church picnic. And now I think I'l_ick a dinner-pail, to have when I get hungry again, and then we'll start ou_nd 'splore the country, and see where we are."
"Haven't you any idea what country this is?" inquired Billina.
"None at all. But listen: I'm quite sure it's a fairy country, or such thing_s lunch-boxes and dinner-pails wouldn't be growing upon trees. Besides, Billina, being a hen, you wouldn't be able to talk in any civ'lized country, like Kansas, where no fairies live at all."
"Perhaps we're in the Land of Oz," said the hen, thoughtfully.
"No, that can't be," answered the little girl; because I've been to the Lan_f Oz, and it's all surrounded by a horrid desert that no one can cross."
"Then how did you get away from there again?" asked Billina.
"I had a pair of silver shoes, that carried me through the air; but I los_hem," said Dorothy.
"Ah, indeed," remarked the yellow hen, in a tone of unbelief.
"Anyhow," resumed the girl, "there is no seashore near the Land of Oz, so thi_ust surely be some other fairy country."
While she was speaking she selected a bright and pretty dinner-pail tha_eemed to have a stout handle, and picked it from its branch. Then, accompanied by the yellow hen, she walked out of the shadow of the tree_oward the sea-shore.
They were part way across the sands when Billina suddenly cried, in a voice o_error:
Dorothy turned quickly around, and saw coming out of a path that led fro_etween the trees the most peculiar person her eyes had ever beheld.
It had the form of a man, except that it walked, or rather rolled, upon al_ours, and its legs were the same length as its arms, giving them th_ppearance of the four legs of a beast. Yet it was no beast that Dorothy ha_iscovered, for the person was clothed most gorgeously in embroidered garment_f many colors, and wore a straw hat perched jauntily upon the side of it_ead. But it differed from human beings in this respect, that instead of hand_nd feet there grew at the end of its arms and legs round wheels, and by mean_f these wheels it rolled very swiftly over the level ground. Afterwar_orothy found that these odd wheels were of the same hard substance that ou_inger-nails and toe-nails are composed of, and she also learned tha_reatures of this strange race were born in this queer fashion. But when ou_ittle girl first caught sight of the first individual of a race that wa_estined to cause her a lot of trouble, she had an idea that the brilliantly- clothed personage was on roller-skates, which were attached to his hands a_ell as to his feet.
"Run!" screamed the yellow hen, fluttering away in great fright. "It's _heeler!"
"A Wheeler?" exclaimed Dorothy. "What can that be?"
"Don't you remember the warning in the sand: 'Beware the Wheelers'? Run, _ell you—run!"
So Dorothy ran, and the Wheeler gave a sharp, wild cry and came after her i_ull chase.
Looking over her shoulder as she ran, the girl now saw a great procession o_heelers emerging from the forest—dozens and dozens of them—all clad i_plendid, tight-fitting garments and all rolling swiftly toward her an_ttering their wild, strange cries.
"They're sure to catch us!" panted the girl, who was still carrying the heav_inner-pail she had picked. "I can't run much farther, Billina."
"Climb up this hill,—quick!" said the hen; and Dorothy found she was very nea_o the heap of loose and jagged rocks they had passed on their way to th_orest. The yellow hen was even now fluttering among the rocks, and Doroth_ollowed as best she could, half climbing and half tumbling up the rough an_ugged steep.
She was none too soon, for the foremost Wheeler reached the hill a momen_fter her; but while the girl scrambled up the rocks the creature stoppe_hort with howls of rage and disappointment.
Dorothy now heard the yellow hen laughing, in her cackling, henny way.
"Don't hurry, my dear," cried Billina. "They can't follow us among thes_ocks, so we're safe enough now."
Dorothy stopped at once and sat down upon a broad boulder, for she was all ou_f breath.
The rest of the Wheelers had now reached the foot of the hill, but it wa_vident that their wheels would not roll upon the rough and jagged rocks, an_herefore they were helpless to follow Dorothy and the hen to where they ha_aken refuge. But they circled all around the little hill, so the child an_illina were fast prisoners and could not come down without being captured.
Then the creatures shook their front wheels at Dorothy in a threatenin_anner, and it seemed they were able to speak as well as to make thei_readful outcries, for several of them shouted:
"We'll get you in time, never fear! And when we do get you, we'll tear yo_nto little bits!"
"Why are you so cruel to me?" asked Dorothy. "I'm a stranger in your country, and have done you no harm."
"No harm!" cried one who seemed to be their leader. "Did you not pick ou_unch-boxes and dinner-pails? Have you not a stolen dinner-pail still in you_and?"
"I only picked one of each," she answered. "I was hungry, and I didn't kno_he trees were yours."
"That is no excuse," retorted the leader, who was clothed in a most gorgeou_uit. "It is the law here that whoever picks a dinner-pail without ou_ermission must die immediately."
"Don't you believe him," said Billina. "I'm sure the trees do not belong t_hese awful creatures. They are fit for any mischief, and it's my opinion the_ould try to kill us just the same if you hadn't picked a dinner-pail."
"I think so, too," agreed Dorothy. "But what shall we do now?"
"Stay where we are," advised the yellow hen. "We are safe from the Wheeler_ntil we starve to death, anyhow; and before that time comes a good man_hings can happen."