For some enemy is evidently trying to prevent us from reaching it."
"I will do that gladly," returned the Queen. "Are you ready?"
The Tin Woodman looked at Tip.
"I'm rested," said the boy. "Let us start."
Then they resumed their journey, the little grey Queen of the Field Mice running swiftly ahead and then pausing until the travelers drew near, when away she would dart again.
Without this unerring guide the Scarecrow and his comrades might never have gained the Emerald City; for many were the obstacles thrown in their way by the arts of old Mombi. Yet not one of the obstacles really existed -- all were cleverly contrived deceptions. For when they came to the banks of a rushing river that threatened to bar their way the
165 little Queen kept steadily on, passing through the seeming flood in safety; and our travelers followed her without encountering a single drop of water.
Again, a high wall of granite towered high above their heads and opposed their advance. But the grey Field Mouse walked straight through it, and the others did the same, the wall melting into mist as they passed it.
Afterward, when they had stopped for a moment to allow Tip to rest, they saw forty roads branching off from their feet in forty different directions; and soon these forty roads began whirling around like a mighty wheel, first in one direction and then in the other, completely bewildering their vision.
But the Queen called for them to follow her and darted off in a straight line; and when they had gone a few paces the whirling pathways vanished and were seen no more.
Mombi's last trick was the most fearful of all. She sent a sheet of crackling flame rushing over the meadow to consume them; and for the first time the Scarecrow became afraid and turned to fly.
"If that fire reaches me I will be gone in no time!" said he, trembling until his straw rattled. "It's the most dangerous thing I ever encountered."
"I'm off, too!" cried the Saw-Horse, turning and
166 prancing with agitation; "for my wood is so dry it would burn like kindlings."
"Is fire dangerous to pumpkins?" asked Jack, fearfully.
"You'll be baked like a tart -- and so will I!"
answered the Woggle-Bug, getting down on all fours so he could run the faster.
But the Tin Woodman, having no fear of fire, averted the stampede by a few sensible words.
"Look at the Field Mouse!" he shouted. "The fire does not burn her in the least. In fact, it is no fire at all, but only a deception."
Indeed, to watch the little Queen march calmly through the advancing flames restored courage to every member of the party, and they followed her without being even scorched.
"This is surely a most extraordinary adventure," said the Woggle-Bug, who was greatly amazed; "for it upsets all the Natural Laws that I heard Professor Nowitall teach in the school-house."
"Of course it does," said the Scarecrow, wisely. "All magic is unnatural, and for that reason is to be feared and avoided. But I see before us the gates of the Emerald City, so I imagine we have now overcome all the magical obstacles that seemed to oppose us."
Indeed, the walls of the City were plainly visible, and the Queen of the Field Mice, who had guided them so faithfully, came near to bid them good- bye.
"We are very grateful to your Majesty for your kind assistance," said the Tin Woodman, bowing before the pretty creature.
"I am always pleased to be of service to my friends," answered the Queen, and in a flash she had darted away upon her journey home.
168 Full page line-art drawing.
169 The Prisoners of the Queen
Approaching the gateway of the Emerald City the travelers found it guarded by two girls of the Army of Revolt, who opposed their entrance by drawing the knitting-needles from their hair and threatening to prod the first that came near.
But the Tin Woodman was not afraid."
At the worst they can but scratch my beautiful nickel-plate," he said.