"There is, of course, but one princess; but she appears to us in many forms, which are all more or less beautiful."
"She must be a witch," exclaimed the girl.
"I do not think so," declared the Wheeler. "But there is some mystery connected with her, nevertheless. She is a very vain creature, and lives mostly in a room surrounded by mirrors, so that she can admire herself whichever way she looks."
No one answered this speech, because they had just passed out of the forest and their attention was fixed upon the scene before them--a beautiful vale in which were many fruit trees and green fields, with pretty farm-houses scattered here and there and broad, smooth roads that led in every direction.
In the center of this lovely vale, about a mile from where our friends were standing, rose the tall spires of the royal palace, which glittered brightly against their background of blue sky. The palace was surrounded by charming grounds, full of flowers and shrubbery. Several tinkling fountains could be seen, and there were pleasant walks bordered by rows of white marble statuary.
All these details Dorothy was, of course, unable to notice or admire until they had advanced along the road to a position quite near to the palace, and she was still looking at the pretty sights when her little party entered the grounds and approached the big front door of the king's own apartments. To their disappointment they found the door tightly closed. A sign was tacked to the panel which read as follows:
+----------------------------+ | | | OWNER ABSENT. | | | | Please Knock at the Third | | Door in the Left Wing. | | | +----------------------------+
"Now," said Tiktok to the captive Wheeler, "you must show us the way to the Left Wing."
"Very well," agreed the prisoner, "it is around here at the right."
"How can the left wing be at the right?" demanded Dorothy, who feared the Wheeler was fooling them.
"Because there used to be three wings, and two were torn down, so the one on the right is the only one left. It is a trick of the Princess Langwidere to prevent visitors from annoying her."
Then the captive led them around to the wing, after which the machine man, having no further use for the Wheeler, permitted him to depart and rejoin his fellows. He immediately rolled away at a great pace and was soon lost to sight.
Tiktok now counted the doors in the wing and knocked loudly upon the third one.
It was opened by a little maid in a cap trimmed with gay ribbons, who bowed respectfully and asked:
"What do you wish, good people?"
"Are you the Princess Langwidere?" asked Dorothy.
"No, miss; I am her servant," replied the maid.
"May I see the Princess, please?"
"I will tell her you are here, miss, and ask her to grant you an audience," said the maid. "Step in, please, and take a seat in the drawing-room."
So Dorothy walked in, followed closely by the machine. But as the yellow hen tried to enter after them, the little maid cried "Shoo!" and flapped her apron in Billina's face.
"Shoo, yourself!" retorted the hen, drawing back in anger and ruffling up her feathers. "Haven't you any better manners than that?"
"Oh, do you talk?" enquired the maid, evidently surprised.
"Can't you hear me?" snapped Billina. "Drop that apron, and get out of the doorway, so that I may enter with my friends!"
"The Princess won't like it," said the maid, hesitating.
"I don't care whether she likes it or not," replied Billina, and fluttering her wings with a loud noise she flew straight at the maid's face. The little servant at once ducked her head, and the hen reached Dorothy's side in safety.
"Very well," sighed the maid; "if you are all ruined because of this obstinate hen, don't blame me for it. It isn't safe to annoy the Princess Langwidere."
"Tell her we are waiting, if you please," Dorothy requested, with dignity. "Billina is my friend, and must go wherever I go."
Without more words the maid led them to a richly furnished drawing-room, lighted with subdued rainbow tints that came in through beautiful stained-glass windows.