As they gazed upward at the great mass of tumbled rocks that covered the steep incline, Dorothy gave a little groan and said:
"That's going to be a ter'ble hard climb, Scarecrow. I wish we could find the dark well without so much trouble."
"Suppose," said Ojo, "you wait here and let me do the climbing, for it's on my account we're searching for the dark well. Then, if I don't find anything, I'll come back and join you."
"No," replied the little girl, shaking her head positively, "we'll all go together, for that way we can help each other. If you went alone, something might happen to you, Ojo."
So they began the climb and found it indeed difficult, for a way. But presently, in creeping over the big crags, they found a path at their feet which wound in and out among the masses of rock and was quite smooth and easy to walk upon. As the path gradually ascended the mountain, although in a roundabout way, they decided to follow it.
"This must be the road to the Country of the Hoppers," said the Scarecrow.
"Who are the Hoppers?" asked Dorothy.
"Some people Jack Pumpkinhead told me about," he replied.
"I didn't hear him," replied the girl.
"No; you were asleep," explained the Scarecrow. "But he told Scraps and me that the Hoppers and the Horners live on this mountain."
"He said in the mountain," declared Scraps; "but of course he meant on it."
"Didn't he say what the Hoppers and Horners were like?" inquired Dorothy.
"No; he only said they were two separate nations, and that the Horners were the most important."
"Well, if we go to their country we'll find out all about 'em," said the girl. "But I've never heard Ozma mention those people, so they can't be very important."
"Is this mountain in the Land of Oz?" asked Scraps.
"Course it is," answered Dorothy. "It's in the South Country of the Quadlings. When one comes to the edge of Oz, in any direction, there is nothing more to be seen at all. Once you could see sandy desert all around Oz; but now it's diff'rent, and no other people can see us, any more than we can see them."
"If the mountain is under Ozma's rule, why doesn't she know about the Hoppers and the Horners?" Ojo asked.
"Why, it's a fairyland," explained Dorothy, "and lots of queer people live in places so tucked away that those in the Emerald City never even hear of 'em. In the middle of the country it's diff'rent, but when you get around the edges you're sure to run into strange little corners that surprise you. I know, for I've traveled in Oz a good deal, and so has the Scarecrow."
"Yes," admitted the straw man, "I've been considerable of a traveler, in my time, and I like to explore strange places. I find I learn much more by traveling than by staying at home."
During this conversation they had been walking up the steep pathway and now found themselves well up on the mountain. They could see nothing around them, for the rocks beside their path were higher than their heads. Nor could they see far in front of them, because the path was so crooked. But suddenly they stopped, because the path ended and there was no place to go. Ahead was a big rock lying against the side of the mountain, and this blocked the way completely.
"There wouldn't be a path, though, if it didn't go somewhere," said the Scarecrow, wrinkling his forehead in deep thought.
"This is somewhere, isn't it?" asked the Patchwork Girl, laughing at the bewildered looks of the others.
"The path is locked, the way is blocked, Yet here we've innocently flocked; And now we're here it's rather queer There's no front door that can be knocked."
"Please don't, Scraps," said Ojo. "You make me nervous."
"Well," said Dorothy, "I'm glad of a little rest, for that's a drea'ful steep path."
As she spoke she leaned against the edge of the big rock that stood in their way. To her surprise it slowly swung backward and showed behind it a dark hole that looked like the mouth of a tunnel.
"Why, here's where the path goes to!" she exclaimed.