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Chapter 3 Letters in the Sand

  • 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:
  • "What's that?"
  • 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."