Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
8. The Hungry Tiger
The first thing Dorothy did was to rush into the embrace of the Scarecrow, whose painted face beamed with delight as he pressed her form to his straw-padded bosom. Then the Tin Woodman embraced her--very gently, for he knew his tin arms might hurt her if he squeezed too roughly.
These greetings having been exchanged, Dorothy took the key to Tiktok from her pocket and wound up the machine man's action, so that he could bow properly when introduced to the rest of the company. While doing this she told them now useful Tiktok had been to her, and both the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman shook hands with the machine once more and thanked him for protecting their friend.
Then Dorothy asked: "Where is Billina?"
"I don't know," said the Scarecrow. "Who is Billina?"
"She's a yellow hen who is another friend of mine," answered the girl, anxiously. "I wonder what has become of her?"
"She is in the chicken house, in the back yard," said the Princess. "My drawing-room is no place for hens."
Without waiting to hear more Dorothy ran to get Billina, and just outside the door she came upon the Cowardly Lion, still hitched to the chariot beside the great Tiger. The Cowardly Lion had a big bow of blue ribbon fastened to the long hair between his ears, and the Tiger wore a bow of red ribbon on his tail, just in front of the bushy end.
In an instant Dorothy was hugging the huge Lion joyfully.
"I'm so glad to see you again!" she cried.
"I am also glad to see you, Dorothy," said the Lion. "We've had some fine adventures together, haven't we?"
"Yes, indeed," she replied. "How are you?"
"As cowardly as ever," the beast answered in a meek voice. "Every little thing scares me and makes my heart beat fast. But let me introduce to you a new friend of mine, the Hungry Tiger."
"Oh! Are you hungry?" she asked, turning to the other beast, who was just then yawning so widely that he displayed two rows of terrible teeth and a mouth big enough to startle anyone.
"Dreadfully hungry," answered the Tiger, snapping his jaws together with a fierce click.
"Then why don't you eat something?" she asked.
"It's no use," said the Tiger sadly. "I've tried that, but I always get hungry again."
"Why, it is the same with me," said Dorothy. "Yet I keep on eating."
"But you eat harmless things, so it doesn't matter," replied the Tiger. "For my part, I'm a savage beast, and have an appetite for all sorts of poor little living creatures, from a chipmunk to fat babies.
"How dreadful!" said Dorothy.
"Isn't it, though?" returned the Hungry Tiger, licking his lips with his long red tongue. "Fat babies! Don't they sound delicious? But I've never eaten any, because my conscience tells me it is wrong. If I had no conscience I would probably eat the babies and then get hungry again, which would mean that I had sacrificed the poor babies for nothing. No; hungry I was born, and hungry I shall die. But I'll not have any cruel deeds on my conscience to be sorry for."
"I think you are a very good tiger," said Dorothy, patting the huge head of the beast.
"In that you are mistaken," was the reply. "I am a good beast, perhaps, but a disgracefully bad tiger. For it is the nature of tigers to be cruel and ferocious, and in refusing to eat harmless living creatures I am acting as no good tiger has ever before acted. That is why I left the forest and joined my friend the Cowardly Lion."
"But the Lion is not really cowardly," said Dorothy. "I have seen him act as bravely as can be."
"All a mistake, my dear," protested the Lion gravely. "To others I may have seemed brave, at times, but I have never been in any danger that I was not afraid."
"Nor I," said Dorothy, truthfully. "But I must go and set free Billina, and then I will see you again."
She ran around to the back yard of the palace and soon found the chicken house, being guided to it by a loud cackling and crowing and a distracting hubbub of sounds such as chickens make when they are excited.
Something seemed to be wrong in the chicken house, and when Dorothy looked through the slats in the door she saw a group of hens and roosters huddled in one corner and watching what appeared to be a whirling ball of feathers. It bounded here and there about the chicken house, and at first Dorothy could not tell what it was, while the screeching of the chickens nearly deafened her.
But suddenly the bunch of feathers stopped whirling, and then, to her amazement, the girl saw Billina crouching upon the prostrate form of a speckled rooster. For an instant they both remained motionless, and then the yellow hen shook her wings to settle the feathers and walked toward the door with a strut of proud defiance and a cluck of victory, while the speckled rooster limped away to the group of other chickens, trailing his crumpled plumage in the dust as he went.
"Why, Billina!" cried Dorothy, in a shocked voice; "have you been fighting?"
"I really think I have," retorted Billina. "Do you think I'd let that speckled villain of a rooster lord it over me, and claim to run this chicken house, as long as I'm able to peck and scratch? Not if my name is Bill!"
"It isn't Bill, it's Billina; and you're talking slang, which is very undig'n'fied," said Dorothy, reprovingly. "Come here, Billina, and I'll let you out; for Ozma of Oz is here, and has set us free."
So the yellow hen came to the door, which Dorothy unlatched for her to pass through, and the other chickens silently watched them from their corner without offering to approach nearer.
The girl lifted her friend in her arms and exclaimed:
"Oh, Billina! how dreadful you look. You've lost a lot of feathers, and one of your eyes is nearly pecked out, and your comb is bleeding!"
"That's nothing," said Billina. "Just look at the speckled rooster! Didn't I do him up brown?"
Dorothy shook her head.
"I don't 'prove of this, at all," she said, carrying Billina away toward the palace. "It isn't a good thing for you to 'sociate with those common chickens. They would soon spoil your good manners, and you wouldn't be respec'able any more."
"I didn't ask to associate with them," replied Billina. "It is that cross old Princess who is to blame. But I was raised in the United States, and I won't allow any one-horse chicken of the Land of Ev to run over me and put on airs, as long as I can lift a claw in self-defense."
"Very well, Billina," said Dorothy. "We won't talk about it any more."
Soon they came to the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger to whom the girl introduced the Yellow Hen.
"Glad to meet any friend of Dorothy's," said the Lion, politely. "To judge by your present appearance, you are not a coward, as I am."
"Your present appearance makes my mouth water," said the Tiger, looking at Billina greedily. "My, my! how good you would taste if I could only crunch you between my jaws. But don't worry. You would only appease my appetite for a moment; so it isn't worth while to eat you."
"Thank you," said the hen, nestling closer in Dorothy's arms.
"Besides, it wouldn't be right," continued the Tiger, looking steadily at Billina and clicking his jaws together.
"Of course not," cried Dorothy, hastily. "Billina is my friend, and you mustn't ever eat her under any circ'mstances."
"I'll try to remember that," said the Tiger; "but I'm a little absent-minded, at times."
Then Dorothy carried her pet into the drawing-room of the palace, where Tiktok, being invited to do so by Ozma, had seated himself between the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. Opposite to them sat Ozma herself and the Princess Langwidere, and beside them there was a vacant chair for Dorothy.
Around this important group was ranged the Army of Oz, and as Dorothy looked at the handsome uniforms of the Twenty-Seven she said:
"Why, they seem to be all officers."
"They are, all except one," answered the Tin Woodman. "I have in my Army eight Generals, six Colonels, seven Majors and five Captains, besides one private for them to command. I'd like to promote the private, for I believe no private should ever be in public life; and I've also noticed that officers usually fight better and are more reliable than common soldiers. Besides, the officers are more important looking, and lend dignity to our army."
"No doubt you are right," said Dorothy, seating herself beside Ozma.
"And now," announced the girlish Ruler of Oz, "we will hold a solemn conference to decide the best manner of liberating the royal family of this fair Land of Ev from their long imprisonment."