"Why?" asked the boy.
"If you think of some dreadful thing, it's liable to happen, but if you don't think of it, and no one else thinks of it, it just can't happen. Do you see?"
"No," answered Woot. "I won't be able to see much of anything until we escape from this enchantment."
But they got out of the invisible strip of country as suddenly as they had entered it, and the instant they got out they stopped short, for just before them was a deep ditch, running at right angles as far as their eyes could see and stopping all further progress toward Mount Munch.
"It's not so very wide," said Woot, "but I'm sure none of us can jump across it."
Polychrome began to laugh, and the Scarecrow said: "What's the matter?"
"Look at the tin men!" she said, with another burst of merry laughter.
Woot and the Scarecrow looked, and the tin men looked at themselves.
"It was the collision," said the Tin Woodman regretfully. "I knew something was wrong with me, and now I can see that my side is dented in so that I lean over toward the left. It was the Soldier's fault; he shouldn't have been so careless."
"It is your fault that my right leg is bent, making it shorter than the other, so that I limp badly," retorted the Soldier. "You shouldn't have stood where I was walking."
"You shouldn't have walked where I was standing," replied the Tin Woodman.
It was almost a quarrel, so Polychrome said soothingly:
"Never mind, friends; as soon as we have time I am sure we can straighten the Soldier's leg and get the dent out of the Woodman's body. The Scarecrow needs patting into shape, too, for he had a bad tumble, but our first task is to get over this ditch."
"Yes, the ditch is the most important thing, just now," added Woot
They were standing in a row, looking hard at the unexpected barrier, when a fierce growl from behind them made them all turn quickly. Out of the invisible country marched a huge beast with a thick, leathery skin and a surprisingly long neck. The head on the top of this neck was broad and flat and the eyes and mouth were very big and the nose and ears very small. When the head was drawn down toward the beast's shoulders, the neck was all wrinkles, but the head could shoot up very high indeed, if the creature wished it to.
"Dear me!" exclaimed the Scarecrow, "this must be the Hip-po-gy-raf."
"Quite right," said the beast; "and you're the straw which I'm to eat for my dinner. Oh, how I love straw! I hope you don't resent my affectionate appetite?"
With its four great legs it advanced straight toward the Scarecrow, but the Tin Woodman and the Tin Soldier both sprang in front of their friend and flourished their weapons.
"Keep off!" said the Tin Woodman, warningly, or I'll chop you with my axe."
"Keep off!" said the Tin Soldier, "or I'll cut you with my sword."
"Would you really do that?" asked the Hip-po-gy-raf, in a disappointed voice.
"We would," they both replied, and the Tin Woodman added: "The Scarecrow is our friend, and he would be useless without his straw stuffing. So, as we are comrades, faithful and true, we will defend our friend's stuffing against all enemies."
The Hip-po-gy-raf sat down and looked at them sorrowfully.
"When one has made up his mind to have a meal of delicious straw, and then finds he can't have it, it is certainly hard luck," he said. "And what good is the straw man to you, or to himself, when the ditch keeps you from going any further?"
"Well, we can go back again," suggested Woot.
"True," said the Hip-po; "and if you do, you'll be as disappointed as I am. That's some comfort, anyhow."
The travelers looked at the beast, and then they looked across the ditch at the level plain beyond. On the other side the grass had grown tall, and the sun had dried it, so there was a fine crop of hay that only needed to be cut and stacked.
"Why don't you cross over and eat hay?" the boy asked the beast.
"I'm not fond of hay," replied the Hip-po-gy-raf; "straw is much more delicious, to my notion, and it's more scarce in this neighborhood, too.