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to find and devour!”

He thought for a while, then said, “Don’t repeat this to anyone, but I think if my plebeian tastes became public knowledge, the Brahmins would condemn me as a philistine.” Then he startled Dorothy by suddenly laughing very loudly. “But I digress,” he continued. “I know all these tangential musings aren’t really germane to our balloon discussion, but I really needed to talk to someone—especially to a fellow Midwesterner!—and this little tête-à-tête was just what the doctor ordered. You see, because I’m alone all the time, I crave conversation—any kind of conversation, from frivolous persiflage to earnest and intelligent discourse. I hope you can forgive me.” He peered at her face from beneath lowered eyelids. “Anyway, enough of these peripheral matters. The point is, I’d much rather go back to good old pedestrian Omaha and work with a circus again—maybe even become an impresario, like P. T. Barnum! Now, if you’ll help me sew the silk together, we’ll begin work on our balloon.”

Chapter 21 “The Balloon”

Forcing herself to overcome the inertia of quietly sitting and listening to Oz’s strange but poignant confessions, Dorothy now stood and, without responding, accepted the needle and thread he held out to her. Then, as he carefully cut strips of green silk into the proper shape, she punctiliously sewed them together. It took three long days to bring their efforts to fruition, but when they were finally finished they had a bag of silk more than fifty feet long. Then Oz painted it with a thin coat of glue to make it airtight.

Realizing they’d need a basket to ride in, Oz sent the soldier in the green uniform to fetch a large clothesbasket. When the aide-de-camp returned, Oz used strong ropes to tie the basket to the bottom of the balloon. Next Oz sent word to his people that he was going up into the clouds to attend a conference of the world’s most eminent Wizards. The news propagated rapidly throughout the City, and all of Oz’s adherents, as well as many of his detractors, came to see their reclusive, enigmatic Wizard and the wonderful balloon.

Oz ordered a few functionaries to take the balloon outside, in front of the Palace, and, overcoming their natural indolence, the sluggards managed to lackadaisically carry out his request. The assembled proletariat gazed upon the large, sun-drenched green balloon in awe from behind a cordon of green-uniformed police officers. A group of young girls struggled with the breeze to display a flimsy sign with the words Good-bye, Oz blazoned across it. A passel of the City’s business magnates and political luminaries stood beside the basket.

The Tin Woodman, having sedulously chopped a large pile of wood into small, neat pieces, now made a fire of them. Oz held the bottom of the balloon over the flames so that the rising hot air would be caught inside the silken bag. Gradually the balloon swelled out and rose into the air until finally the basket barely touched the ground.

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