For a considerable distance the way led straight upward in a gentle incline, and the wanderers made such good progress that they grew hopeful and eager, thinking they might see sunshine at any minute. But at length they came unexpectedly upon a huge rock that shut off the passage and blocked them from proceeding a single step farther.
This rock was separate from the rest of the mountain and was in motion, turning slowly around and around as if upon a pivot. When first they came to it there was a solid wall before them; but presently it revolved until there was exposed a wide, smooth path across it to the other side. This appeared so unexpectedly that they were unprepared to take advantage of it at first, and allowed the rocky wall to swing around again before they had decided to pass over. But they knew now that there was a means of escape and so waited patiently until the path appeared for the second time.
The children and the Wizard rushed across the moving rock and sprang into the passage beyond, landing safely though a little out of breath. Jim the cab-horse came last, and the rocky wall almost caught him; for just as he leaped to the floor of the further passage the wall swung across it and a loose stone that the buggy wheels knocked against fell into the narrow crack where the rock turned, and became wedged there.
They heard a crunching, grinding sound, a loud snap, and the turn-table came to a stop with its broadest surface shutting off the path from which they had come.
"Never mind," said Zeb, "we don't want to get back, anyhow."
"I'm not so sure of that," returned Dorothy. "The mother dragon may come down and catch us here."
"It is possible," agreed the Wizard, "if this proves to be the path she usually takes. But I have been examining this tunnel, and I do not see any signs of so large a beast having passed through it."
"Then we're all right," said the girl, "for if the dragon went the other way she can't poss'bly get to us now."
"Of course not, my dear. But there is another thing to consider. The mother dragon probably knows the road to the earth's surface, and if she went the other way then we have come the wrong way," said the Wizard, thoughtfully.
"Dear me!" cried Dorothy. "That would be unlucky, wouldn't it?"
"Very. Unless this passage also leads to the top of the earth," said Zeb. "For my part, if we manage to get out of here I'll be glad it isn't the way the dragon goes."
"So will I," returned Dorothy. "It's enough to have your pedigree flung in your face by those saucy dragonettes. No one knows what the mother might do."
They now moved on again, creeping slowly up another steep incline. The lanterns were beginning to grow dim, and the Wizard poured the remaining oil from one into the other, so that the one light would last longer. But their journey was almost over, for in a short time they reached a small cave from which there was no further outlet.
They did not realize their ill fortune at first, for their hearts were gladdened by the sight of a ray of sunshine coming through a small crack in the roof of the cave, far overhead. That meant that their world--the real world--was not very far away, and that the succession of perilous adventures they had encountered had at last brought them near the earth's surface, which meant home to them. But when the adventurers looked more carefully around them they discovered that there were in a strong prison from which there was no hope of escape.
"But we're ALMOST on earth again," cried Dorothy, "for there is the sun--the most BEAU'FUL sun that shines!" and she pointed eagerly at the crack in the distant roof.
"Almost on earth isn't being there," said the kitten, in a discontented tone. "It wouldn't be possible for even me to get up to that crack--or through it if I got there."
"It appears that the path ends here," announced the Wizard, gloomily.
"And there is no way to go back," added Zeb, with a low whistle of perplexity.
"I was sure it would come to this, in the end," remarked the old cab-horse. "Folks don't fall into the middle of the earth and then get back again to tell of their adventures--not in real life. And the whole thing has been unnatural because that cat and I are both able to talk your language, and to understand the words you say."
"And so can the nine tiny piglets," added Eureka. "Don't forget them, for I may have to eat them, after all."
"I've heard animals talk before," said Dorothy, "and no harm came of it."
"Were you ever before shut up in a cave, far under the earth, with no way of getting out?" enquired the horse, seriously.
"No," answered Dorothy. "But don't you lose heart, Jim, for I'm sure this isn't the end of our story, by any means."
The reference to the piglets reminded the Wizard that his pets had not enjoyed much exercise lately, and must be tired of their prison in his pocket. So he sat down upon the floor of the cave, brought the piglets out one by one, and allowed them to run around as much as they pleased.
"My dears," he said to them, "I'm afraid I've got you into a lot of trouble, and that you will never again be able to leave this gloomy cave."
"What's wrong?" asked a piglet. "We've been in the dark quite a while, and you may as well explain what has happened."
The Wizard told them of the misfortune that had overtaken the wanderers.
"Well," said another piglet, "you are a wizard, are you not?"
"I am," replied the little man.
"Then you can do a few wizzes and get us out of this hole," declared the tiny one, with much confidence.
"I could if I happened to be a real wizard," returned the master sadly. "But I'm not, my piggy-wees; I'm a humbug wizard."
"Nonsense!" cried several of the piglets, together.
"You can ask Dorothy," said the little man, in an injured tone.
"It's true enough," returned the girl, earnestly. "Our friend Oz is merely a humbug wizard, for he once proved it to me. He can do several very wonderful things--if he knows how. But he can't wiz a single thing if he hasn't the tools and machinery to work with."
"Thank you, my dear, for doing me justice," responded the Wizard, gratefully. "To be accused of being a real wizard, when I'm not, is a slander I will not tamely submit to. But I am one of the greatest humbug wizards that ever lived, and you will realize this when we have all starved together and our bones are scattered over the floor of this lonely cave."
"I don't believe we'll realize anything, when it comes to that," remarked Dorothy, who had been deep in thought. "But I'm not going to scatter my bones just yet, because I need them, and you prob'ly need yours, too."
"We are helpless to escape," sighed the Wizard.
"WE may be helpless," answered Dorothy, smiling at him, "but there are others who can do more than we can. Cheer up, friends. "I'm sure Ozma will help us."
"Ozma!" exclaimed the Wizard. "Who is Ozma?"
"The girl that rules the marvelous Land of Oz," was the reply. "She's a friend of mine, for I met her in the Land of Ev, not long ago, and went to Oz with her."
"For the second time?" asked the Wizard, with great interest.
"Yes. The first time I went to Oz I found you there, ruling the Emerald City. After you went up in a balloon, and escaped us, I got back to Kansas by means of a pair of magical silver shoes."
"I remember those shoes," said the little man, nodding. "They once belonged to the Wicked Witch. Have you them here with you?"
"No; I lost them somewhere in the air," explained the child. "But the second time I went to the Land of Oz I owned the Nome King's Magic Belt, which is much more powerful than were the Silver Shoes."
"Where is that Magic Belt?" enquired the Wizard, who had listened with great interest.
"Ozma has it; for its powers won't work in a common, ordinary country like the United States. Anyone in a fairy country like the Land of Oz can do anything with it; so I left it with my friend the Princess Ozma, who used it to wish me in Australia with Uncle Henry."
"And were you?" asked Zeb, astonished at what he heard.
"Of course; in just a jiffy. And Ozma has an enchanted picture hanging in her room that shows her the exact scene where any of her friends may be, at any time she chooses. All she has to do is to say: 'I wonder what So-and-so is doing,' and at once the picture shows where her friend is and what the friend is doing. That's REAL magic, Mr. Wizard; isn't it? Well, every day at four o'clock Ozma has promised to look at me in that picture, and if I am in need of help I am to make her a certain sign and she will put on the Nome King's Magic Belt and wish me to be with her in Oz."
"Do you mean that Princess Ozma will see this cave in her enchanted picture, and see all of us here, and what we are doing?" demanded Zeb.
"Of course; when it is four o'clock," she replied, with a laugh at his startled expression.
"And when you make a sign she will bring you to her in the Land of Oz?" continued the boy.
"That's it, exactly; by means of the Magic Belt."
"Then," said the Wizard, "you will be saved, little Dorothy; and I am very glad of it. The rest of us will die much more cheerfully when we know you have escaped our sad fate."
"I won't die cheerfully!" protested the kitten. "There's nothing cheerful about dying that I could ever see, although they say a cat has nine lives, and so must die nine times."
"Have you ever died yet?" enquired the boy.
"No, and I'm not anxious to begin," said Eureka.
"Don't worry, dear," Dorothy exclaimed, "I'll hold you in my arms, and take you with me."
"Take us, too!" cried the nine tiny piglets, all in one breath.
"Perhaps I can," answered Dorothy. "I'll try."
"Couldn't you manage to hold me in your arms?" asked the cab-horse.
"I'll do better than that," she promised, "for I can easily save you all, once I am myself in the Land of Oz."
"How?" they asked.
"By using the Magic Belt. All I need do is to wish you with me, and there you'll be--safe in the royal palace!"
"Good!" cried Zeb.
"I built that palace, and the Emerald City, too," remarked the Wizard, in a thoughtful tone, "and I'd like to see them again, for I was very happy among the Munchkins and Winkies and Quadlings and Gillikins."
"Who are they?" asked the boy.
"The four nations that inhabit the Land of Oz," was the reply. "I wonder if they would treat me nicely if I went there again."
"Of course they would!" declared Dorothy. "They are still proud of their former Wizard, and often speak of you kindly."
"Do you happen to know whatever became of the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow?" he enquired.
"They live in Oz yet," said the girl, "and are very important people."
"And the Cowardly Lion?"
"Oh, he lives there too, with his friend the Hungry Tiger; and Billina is there, because she liked the place better than Kansas, and wouldn't go with me to Australia."
"I'm afraid I don't know the Hungry Tiger and Billina," said the Wizard, shaking his head. "Is Billina a girl?"
"No; she's a yellow hen, and a great friend of mine. You're sure to like Billina, when you know her," asserted Dorothy.
"Your friends sound like a menagerie," remarked Zeb, uneasily. "Couldn't you wish me in some safer place than Oz."
"Don't worry," replied the girl. "You'll just love the folks in Oz, when you get acquainted. What time is it, Mr. Wizard?"
The little man looked at his watch--a big silver one that he carried in his vest pocket.
"Half-past three," he said.
"Then we must wait for half an hour," she continued; "but it won't take long, after that, to carry us all to the Emerald City."
They sat silently thinking for a time. Then Jim suddenly asked:
"Are there any horses in Oz?"
"Only one," replied Dorothy, "and he's a sawhorse."
"A sawhorse. Princess Ozma once brought him to life with a witch-powder, when she was a boy."
"Was Ozma once a boy?" asked Zeb, wonderingly.
"Yes; a wicked witch enchanted her, so she could not rule her kingdom. But she's a girl now, and the sweetest, loveliest girl in all the world."
"A sawhorse is a thing they saw boards on," remarked Jim, with a sniff.
"It is when it's not alive," acknowledged the girl. "But this sawhorse can trot as fast as you can, Jim; and he's very wise, too."
"Pah! I'll race the miserable wooden donkey any day in the week!" cried the cab-horse.
Dorothy did not reply to that. She felt that Jim would know more about the Saw-Horse later on.
The time dragged wearily enough to the eager watchers, but finally the Wizard announced that four o'clock had arrived, and Dorothy caught up the kitten and began to make the signal that had been agreed upon to the far-away invisible Ozma.
"Nothing seems to happen," said Zeb, doubtfully.
"Oh, we must give Ozma time to put on the Magic Belt," replied the girl.
She had scarcely spoken the words then she suddenly disappeared from the cave, and with her went the kitten. There had been no sound of any kind and no warning. One moment Dorothy sat beside them with the kitten in her lap, and a moment later the horse, the piglets, the Wizard and the boy were all that remained in the underground prison.
"I believe we will soon follow her," announced the Wizard, in a tone of great relief; "for I know something about the magic of the fairyland that is called the Land of Oz. Let us be ready, for we may be sent for any minute."
He put the piglets safely away in his pocket again and then he and Zeb got into the buggy and sat expectantly upon the seat.
"Will it hurt?" asked the boy, in a voice that trembled a little.
"Not at all," replied the Wizard. "It will all happen as quick as a wink."
And that was the way it did happen.
The cab-horse gave a nervous start and Zeb began to rub his eyes to make sure he was not asleep. For they were in the streets of a beautiful emerald-green city, bathed in a grateful green light that was especially pleasing to their eyes, and surrounded by merry faced people in gorgeous green-and-gold costumes of many extraordinary designs.
Before them were the jewel-studded gates of a magnificent palace, and now the gates opened slowly as if inviting them to enter the courtyard, where splendid flowers were blooming and pretty fountains shot their silvery sprays into the air.
Zeb shook the reins to rouse the cab-horse from his stupor of amazement, for the people were beginning to gather around and stare at the strangers.
"Gid-dap!" cried the boy, and at the word Jim slowly trotted into the courtyard and drew the buggy along the jewelled driveway to the great entrance of the royal palace.