The valley of voices
By journeying through the glass mountain they had reached a delightful valley that was shaped like the hollow of a great cup, with another rugged mountain showing on the other side of it, and soft and pretty green hills at the ends. It was all laid out into lovely lawns and gardens, with pebble paths leading through them and groves of beautiful and stately trees dotting the landscape here and there. There were orchards, too, bearing luscious fruits that are all unknown in our world. Alluring brooks of crystal water flowed sparkling between their flower-strewn banks, while scattered over the valley were dozens of the quaintest and most picturesque cottages our travelers had ever beheld. None of them were in clusters, such as villages or towns, but each had ample grounds of its own, with orchards and gardens surrounding it.
As the new arrivals gazed upon this exquisite scene they were enraptured by its beauties and the fragrance that permeated the soft air, which they breathed so gratefully after the confined atmosphere of the tunnel. Several minutes were consumed in silent admiration before they noticed two very singular and unusual facts about this valley. One was that it was lighted from some unseen source; for no sun or moon was in the arched blue sky, although every object was flooded with a clear and perfect light. The second and even more singular fact was the absence of any inhabitant of this splendid place. From their elevated position they could overlook the entire valley, but not a single moving object could they see. All appeared mysteriously deserted.
The mountain on this side was not glass, but made of a stone similar to granite. With some difficulty and danger Jim drew the buggy over the loose rocks until he reached the green lawns below, where the paths and orchards and gardens began. The nearest cottage was still some distance away.
"Isn't it fine?" cried Dorothy, in a joyous voice, as she sprang out of the buggy and let Eureka run frolicking over the velvety grass.
"Yes, indeed!" answered Zeb. "We were lucky to get away from those dreadful vegetable people."
"It wouldn't be so bad," remarked the Wizard, gazing around him, "if we were obliged to live here always. We couldn't find a prettier place, I'm sure."
He took the piglets from his pocket and let them run on the grass, and Jim tasted a mouthful of the green blades and declared he was very contented in his new surroundings.
"We can't walk in the air here, though," called Eureka, who had tried it and failed; but the others were satisfied to walk on the ground, and the Wizard said they must be nearer the surface of the earth then they had been in the Mangaboo country, for everything was more homelike and natural.
"But where are the people?" asked Dorothy.
The little man shook his bald head.
"Can't imagine, my dear," he replied.
They heard the sudden twittering of a bird, but could not find the creature anywhere. Slowly they walked along the path toward the nearest cottage, the piglets racing and gambolling beside them and Jim pausing at every step for another mouthful of grass.
Presently they came to a low plant which had broad, spreading leaves, in the center of which grew a single fruit about as large as a peach. The fruit was so daintily colored and so fragrant, and looked so appetizing and delicious that Dorothy stopped and exclaimed:
"What is it, do you s'pose?"
The piglets had smelled the fruit quickly, and before the girl could reach out her hand to pluck it every one of the nine tiny ones had rushed in and commenced to devour it with great eagerness.
"It's good, anyway," said Zeb, "or those little rascals wouldn't have gobbled it up so greedily."
"Where are they?" asked Dorothy, in astonishment.
They all looked around, but the piglets had disappeared.
"Dear me!" cried the Wizard; "they must have run away. But I didn't see them go; did you?"
"No!" replied the boy and the girl, together.
"Here,—piggy, piggy, piggy!" called their master, anxiously.
Several squeals and grunts were instantly heard at his feet, but the Wizard could not discover a single piglet.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"Why, right beside you," spoke a tiny voice. "Can't you see us?"
"No," answered the little man, in a puzzled tone.
"We can see you," said another of the piglets.
The Wizard stooped down and put out his hand, and at once felt the small fat body of one of his pets. He picked it up, but could not see what he held.
"It is very strange," said he, soberly. "The piglets have become invisible, in some curious way."
"I'll bet it's because they ate that peach!" cried the kitten.
"It wasn't a peach, Eureka," said Dorothy. "I only hope it wasn't poison."
"It was fine, Dorothy," called one of the piglets.
"We'll eat all we can find of them," said another.
"But WE mus'n't eat them," the Wizard warned the children, "or we too may become invisible, and lose each other. If we come across another of the strange fruit we must avoid it."
Calling the piglets to him he picked them all up, one by one, and put them away in his pocket; for although he could not see them he could feel them, and when he had buttoned his coat he knew they were safe for the present.
The travellers now resumed their walk toward the cottage, which they presently reached. It was a pretty place, with vines growing thickly over the broad front porch. The door stood open and a table was set in the front room, with four chairs drawn up to it. On the table were plates, knives and forks, and dishes of bread, meat and fruits. The meat was smoking hot and the knives and forks were performing strange antics and jumping here and there in quite a puzzling way. But not a single person appeared to be in the room.
"How funny!" exclaimed Dorothy, who with Zeb and the Wizard now stood in the doorway.
A peal of merry laughter answered her, and the knives and forks fell to the plates with a clatter. One of the chairs pushed back from the table, and this was so astonishing and mysterious that Dorothy was almost tempted to run away in fright.
"Here are strangers, mama!" cried the shrill and childish voice of some unseen person.
"So I see, my dear," answered another voice, soft and womanly.
"What do you want?" demanded a third voice, in a stern, gruff accent.
"Well, well!" said the Wizard; "are there really people in this room?"
"Of course," replied the man's voice.
"And—pardon me for the foolish question—but, are you all invisible?"
"Surely," the woman answered, repeating her low, rippling laughter. "Are you surprised that you are unable to see the people of Voe?"
"Why, yes," stammered the Wizard. "All the people I have ever met before were very plain to see."
"Where do you come from, then?" asked the woman, in a curious tone.
"We belong upon the face of the earth," explained the Wizard, "but recently, during an earthquake, we fell down a crack and landed in the Country of the Mangaboos."
"Dreadful creatures!" exclaimed the woman's voice. "I've heard of them."
"They walled us up in a mountain," continued the Wizard; "but we found there was a tunnel through to this side, so we came here. It is a beautiful place. What do you call it?"
"It is the Valley of Voe."
"Thank you. We have seen no people since we arrived, so we came to this house to enquire our way."
"Are you hungry?" asked the woman's voice.
"I could eat something," said Dorothy.
"So could I," added Zeb.
"But we do not wish to intrude, I assure you," the Wizard hastened to say.
"That's all right," returned the man's voice, more pleasantly than before. "You are welcome to what we have."
As he spoke the voice came so near to Zeb that he jumped back in alarm. Two childish voices laughed merrily at this action, and Dorothy was sure they were in no danger among such light-hearted folks, even if those folks couldn't be seen.
"What curious animal is that which is eating the grass on my lawn?" enquired the man's voice.
"That's Jim," said the girl. "He's a horse."
"What is he good for?" was the next question.
"He draws the buggy you see fastened to him, and we ride in the buggy instead of walking," she explained.
"Can he fight?" asked the man's voice.
"No! he can kick pretty hard with his heels, and bite a little; but Jim can't 'zactly fight," she replied.
"Then the bears will get him," said one of the children's voices.
"Bears!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Are these bears here?"
"That is the one evil of our country," answered the invisible man. "Many large and fierce bears roam in the Valley of Voe, and when they can catch any of us they eat us up; but as they cannot see us, we seldom get caught."
"Are the bears invis'ble, too?" asked the girl.
"Yes; for they eat of the dama-fruit, as we all do, and that keeps them from being seen by any eye, whether human or animal."
"Does the dama-fruit grow on a low bush, and look something like a peach?" asked the Wizard.
"Yes," was the reply.
"If it makes you invis'ble, why do you eat it?" Dorothy enquired.
"For two reasons, my dear," the woman's voice answered. "The dama-fruit is the most delicious thing that grows, and when it makes us invisible the bears cannot find us to eat us up. But now, good wanderers, your luncheon is on the table, so please sit down and eat as much as you like."