FictionForest

Chapter 14 – The Long-Eared Hearer Learns by Listening

L. Frank BaumOct 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

During this time Ruggedo, the Metal Monarch and
King of the Nomes, was trying to amuse himself in
his splendid jeweled cavern. It was hard work for
Ruggedo to find amusement to day, for all the
nomes were behaving well and there was no one to
scold or to punish. The King had thrown his
sceptre at Kaliko six times, without hitting him
once. Not that Kaliko had done anything wrong. On
the contrary, he had obeyed the King in every way
but one: he would not stand still, when commanded
to do so, and let the heavy sceptre strike him.

We can hardly blame Kaliko for this, and even
the cruel Ruggedo forgave him; for he knew very
well that if he mashed his Royal Chamberlain he
could never find another so intelligent and
obedient. Kaliko could make the nomes work when
their King could not, for the nomes hated Ruggedo
and there were so many thousands of the quaint
little underground people that they could easily
have rebelled and defied the King had they dared
to do so. Sometimes, when Ruggedo abused them
worse than usual, they grew sullen and threw down
their hammers and picks. Then, however hard the
King scolded or whipped them, they would not work
until Kaliko came and begged them to. For Kaliko
was one of themselves and was as much abused by
the King as any nome in the vast series of
caverns.

But today all the little people were working
industriously at their tasks and Ruggedo, having
nothing to do, was greatly bored. He sent for the
Long-Eared Hearer and asked him to listen
carefully and report what was going on in the big
world.

“It seems,” said the Hearer, after listening for
awhile, “that the women in America have clubs.”

“Are there spikes in them?” asked Ruggedo,
yawning.

“I cannot hear any spikes, Your Majesty,” was
the reply.

“Then their clubs are not as, good as my
sceptre. What else do you hear?’

“There’s a war.

“Bah! there’s always a war. What else?”

For a time the Hearer was silent, bending
forward and spreading out his big ears to catch
the slightest sound. Then suddenly he said:

“Here is an interesting thing, Your Majesty.
These people are arguing as to who shall conquer
the Metal Monarch, seize his treasure and drive
him from his dominions.”

“What people?” demanded Ruggedo, sitting
up straight in his throne.

“The ones you threw down the Hollow Tube.”

“Where are they now?”

“In the same Tube, and coming back this way,”
said the Hearer.

Ruggedo got out of his throne and began to
pace up and down the cavern.

“I wonder what can be done to stop them,”
he mused.

“Well,” said the Hearer, “if you could turn
the Tube upside down, they would be falling
the other way, Your Majesty.”

Ruggedo glared at him wickedly, for it was
impossible to turn the Tube upside down and
he believed the Hearer was slyly poking fun
at him. Presently he asked:

“How far away are those people now?”

“About nine thousand three hundred and six
miles, seventeen furlongs, eight feet and four
inches–as nearly as I can judge from the sound
of their voices,” replied the Hearer.

“Aha! Then it will be some time before they
arrive,” said Ruggedo, “and when they get here
I shall be ready to receive them.

He rushed to his gong and pounded upon it so
fiercely that Kaliko came bounding into the cavern
with one shoe off and one shoe on, for he was just
dressing himself after a swim in the hot bubbling
lake of the Underground Kingdom.

“Kaliko, those invaders whom we threw down
the Tube are coming back again!” he exclaimed.

“I thought they would,” said the Royal
Chamberlain, pulling on the other shoe. “Tititi-
Hoo-choo would not allow them to remain in his
kingdom, of course, and so I’ve been expecting
them back for some time. That was a very foolish
action of yours, Rug.”

“What, to throw them down the Tube?”

“Yes. Tititi-Hoochoo has forbidden us to throw
even rubbish into the Tube.”

“Pooh! what do I care for the Jinjin?” asked
Ruggedo scornfully. “He never leaves his own
kingdom, which is on the other side of the world.”

“True; but he might send some one through
the Tube to punish you,” suggested Kaliko.

“I’d like to see him do it! Who could conquer my
thousands of nomes?”

“Why, they’ve been conquered before, if I
remember aright,” answered Kaliko with a grin.
“Once I saw you running from a little girl named
Dorothy, and her friends, as if you were really
afraid.”

“Well, I was afraid, that time,” admitted the
Nome King, with a deep sigh, “for Dorothy had a
Yellow Hen that laid eggs!”

The King shuddered as he said “eggs,” and Kaliko
also shuddered, and so did the Long-Eared Hearer;
for eggs are the only things that the nomes
greatly dread. The reason for this is that eggs
belong on the earth’s surface, where birds and
fowl of all sorts live, and there is something
about a hen’s egg, especially, that fills a nome
with horror. If by chance the inside of an egg
touches one of these underground people, he
withers up and blows away and that is the end of
him–unless he manages quickly to speak a magical
word which only a few of the nomes know. Therefore
Ruggedo and his followers had very good cause to
shudder at the mere mention of eggs.

“But Dorothy,” said the King, “is not with this
band of invaders; nor is the Yellow Hen. As for
Tititi-Hoochoo, he has no means of knowing that we
are afraid of eggs.”

“You mustn’t be too sure of that,” Kaliko warned
him. “Tititi-Hoochoo knows a great many things,
being a fairy, and his powers are far superior to
any we can boast.”

Ruggedo shrugged impatiently and turned to the
Hearer.

“Listen,” said he, “and tell me if you hear any
eggs coming through the Tube.”

The Long-Eared one listened and then shook
his head. But Kaliko laughed at the King.

“No one can hear an egg, Your Majesty,”
said he. “The only way to discover the truth is to
look through the Magic Spyglass.”

“That’s it!” cried the King. “Why didn’t I
think of it before? Look at once, Kaliko!”

So Kaliko went to the Spyglass and by uttering a
mumbled charm he caused the other end of it to
twist around, so that it pointed down the opening
of the Tube. Then he put his eye to the glass and
was able to gaze along all the turns and windings
of the Magic Spyglass and then deep into the Tube,
to where our friends were at that time falling.

“Dear me!” he exclaimed. “Here comes a dragon.”

“A big one?” asked Ruggedo.

“A monster. He has an electric light on the end
of his tail, so I can see him very plainly. And
the other people are all riding upon his back.”

“How about the eggs?” inquired the King.

Kaliko looked again.

“I can see no eggs at all,” said he; “but I
imagine that the dragon is as dangerous as eggs.
Probably Tititi-Hoochoo has sent him here to
punish you for dropping those strangers into the
Forbidden Tube. I warned you not to do it, Your
Majesty.”

This news made the Nome King anxious. For a few
minutes he paced up and down, stroking his long
beard and thinking with all his might. After this
he turned to Kaliko and said:

“All the harm a dragon can do is to scratch with
his claws and bite with his teeth.”

“That is not all, but it’s quite enough,”
returned Kaliko earnestly. “On the other hand, no
one can hurt a dragon, because he’s the toughest
creature alive. One flop of his huge tail could
smash a hundred nomes to pancakes, and with teeth
and claws he could tear even you or me into small
bits, so that it would be almost impossible to put
us together again. Once, a few hundred years ago,
while wandering through some deserted caverns, I
came upon a small piece of a nome lying on the
rocky floor. I asked the piece of nome what had
happened to it. Fortunately the mouth was a part
of this piece–the mouth and the left eye–so it
was able to tell me that a fierce dragon was the
cause. It had attacked the poor nome and scattered
him in every direction, and as there was no friend
near to collect his pieces and put him together,
they had been separated for a great many years. So
you see, Your Majesty, it is not in good taste to
sneer at a dragon.”

The King had listened attentively to Kaliko.
Said he:

“It will only be necessary to chain this dragon
which Tititi-Hoochoo has sent here, in order to
prevent his reaching us with his claws and teeth.”

“He also breathes flames,” Kaliko reminded him.

“My nomes are not afraid of fire, nor am I,”
said Ruggedo.

“Well, how about the Army of Oogaboo?”

“Sixteen cowardly officers and Tik-Tok! Why, I
could defeat them single-handed; but I won’t try
to. I’ll summon my army of nomes to drive the
invaders out of my territory, and if we catch any
of them I intend to stick needles into them until
they hop with pain.

“I hope you won’t hurt any of the girls,” said
Kaliko.

“I’ll hurt ’em all!” roared the angry Metal
Monarch. “And that braying Mule I’ll make into
hoof-soup, and feed it to my nomes, that it may
add to their strength.”

“Why not be good to the strangers and release
your prisoner, the Shaggy Man’s brother?”
suggested Kaliko.

“Never!”

“It may save you a lot of annoyance. And you
don’t want the Ugly One.”

“I don’t want him; that’s true. But I won’t
allow anybody to order me around. I’m King of the
Nomes and I’m the Metal Monarch, and I shall do as
I please and what I please and when I please!”

With this speech Ruggedo threw his sceptre at
Kaliko’s head, aiming it so well that the Royal
Chamberlain had to fall flat upon the floor in
order to escape it. But the Hearer did not see the
sceptre coming and it swept past his head so
closely that it broke off the tip of one of his
long ears. He gave a dreadful yell that quite
startled Ruggedo, and the King was sorry for the
accident because those long ears of the Hearer
were really valuable to him.

So the Nome King forgot to be angry with Kaliko
and ordered his Chamberlain to summon General Guph
and the army of nomes and have them properly
armed. They were then to march to the mouth of the
Tube, where they could seize the travelers as soon
as they appeared.

 

Leave a Reply