Also I must confess that I can't get across the ditch, for my body is too heavy and clumsy for me to jump the distance. I can stretch my neck across, though, and you will notice that I've nibbled the hay on the farther edge -- not because I liked it, but because one must eat, and if one can't get the sort of food he desires, he must take what is offered or go hungry."
"Ah, I see you are a philosopher," remarked the Scarecrow.
"No, I'm just a Hip-po-gy-raf," was the reply.
Polychrome was not afraid of the big beast. She danced close to him and said:
"If you can stretch your neck across the ditch, why not help us over? We can sit on your big head, one at a time, and then you can lift us across."
"Yes; I can, it is true," answered the Hip-po; "but I refuse to do it. Unless --" he added, and stopped short.
"Unless what?" asked Polychrome.
"Unless you first allow me to eat the straw with which the Scarecrow is stuffed."
"No," said the Rainbow's Daughter, "that is too high a price to pay. Our friend's straw is nice and fresh, for he was restuffed only a little while ago."
"I know," agreed the Hip-po-gy-raf. "That's why I want it. If it was old, musty straw, I wouldn't care for it."
"Please lift us across," pleaded Polychrome.
"No," replied the beast; "since you refuse my generous offer, I can be as stubborn as you are."
After that they were all silent for a time, but then the Scarecrow said bravely:
"Friends, let us agree to the beast's terms. Give him my straw, and carry the rest of me with you across the ditch. Once on the other side, the Tin Soldier can cut some of the hay with his sharp sword, and you can stuff me with that material until we reach a place where there is straw. It is true I have been stuffed with straw all my life and it will be somewhat humiliating to be filled with common hay, but I am willing to sacrifice my pride in a good cause. Moreover, to abandon our errand and so deprive the great Emperor of the Winkies -- or this noble Soldier -- of his bride, would be equally humiliating, if not more so."
"You're a very honest and clever man!" exclaimed the Hip-po-gy-raf, admiringly. "When I have eaten your head, perhaps I also will become clever."
"You're not to eat my head, you know," returned the Scarecrow hastily. "My head isn't stuffed with straw and I cannot part with it. When one loses his head he loses his brains."
"Very well, then; you may keep your head," said the beast.
The Scarecrow's companions thanked him warmly for his loyal sacrifice to their mutual good, and then he laid down and permitted them to pull the straw from his body. As fast as they did this, the Hip-po-gy-raf ate up the straw, and when all was consumed Polychrome made a neat bundle of the clothes and boots and gloves and hat and said she would carry them, while Woot tucked the Scarecrow's head under his arm and promised to guard its safety.
"Now, then," said the Tin Woodman, "keep your promise, Beast, and lift us over the ditch."
"M-m-m-mum, but that was a fine dinner!" said the Hip-po, smacking his thick lips in satisfaction, "and I'm as good as my word. Sit on my head, one at a time, and I'll land you safely on the other side."
He approached close to the edge of the ditch and squatted down. Polychrome climbed over his big body and sat herself lightly upon the flat head, holding the bundle of the Scarecrow's raiment in her hand. Slowly the elastic neck stretched out until it reached the far side of the ditch, when the beast lowered his head and permitted the beautiful fairy to leap to the ground.
Woot made the queer journey next, and then the Tin Soldier and the Tin Woodman went over, and all were well pleased to have overcome this serious barrier to their progress.
"Now, Soldier, cut the hay," said the Scarecrow's head, which was still held by Woot the Wanderer.
"I'd like to, but I can't stoop over, with my bent leg, without falling," replied Captain Fyter.
"What can we do about that leg, anyhow?" asked Woot, appealing to Polychrome.