FictionForest

Chapter 21 – A Bashful Brother

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

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With fast beating hearts they all rushed forward
and, beyond a group of stately metal trees, came
full upon a most astonishing scene.

There was Ruggedo in the hands of the officers
of Oogaboo, a dozen of whom were clinging to the
old nome and holding him fast in spite of his
efforts to escape. There also was Queen Ann,
looking grimly upon the scene of strife; but when
she observed her former companions approaching she
turned away in a shamefaced manner.

For Ann and her officers were indeed a sight to
behold. Her Majesty’s clothing, once so rich and
gorgeous, was now worn and torn into shreds by her
long crawl through the tunnel, which, by the way,
had led her directly into the Metal Forest. It
was, indeed, one of the three secret passages, and
by far the most difficult of the three. Ann had
not only torn her pretty skirt and jacket, but her
crown had become bent and battered and even her
shoes were so cut and slashed that they were ready
to fall from her feet.

The officers had fared somewhat worse than their
leader, for holes were worn in the knees of their
trousers, while sharp points of rock in the roof
and sides of the tunnel had made rags of every
inch of their once brilliant uniforms. A more
tattered and woeful army never came out of a
battle, than these harmless victims of the rocky
passage. But it had seemed their only means of
escape from the cruel Nome King; so they had
crawled on, regardless of their sufferings.

When they reached the Metal Forest their eyes
beheld more plunder than they had ever dreamed of;
yet they were prisoners in this huge dome and
could not escape with the riches heaped about
them. Perhaps a more unhappy and homesick lot of
“conquerors” never existed than this band from
Oogaboo.

After several days of wandering in their
marvelous prison they were frightened by the
discovery that Ruggedo had come among them.
Rendered desperate by their sad condition, the
officers exhibited courage for the first time
since they left home and, ignorant of the fact
that Ruggedo was no longer King of the nomes, they
threw themselves upon him and had just succeeded
in capturing him when their fellow adventurers
reached the spot.

“Goodness gracious!” cried Betsy. “What has
happened to you all?”

Ann came forward to greet them, sorrowful and
indignant.

“We were obliged to escape from the pit through
a small tunnel, which was lined with sharp and
jagged rocks,” said she, “and not only was our
clothing torn to rags but our flesh is so bruised
and sore that we are stiff and lame in every
joint. To add to our troubles we find we are still
prisoners; but now that we have succeeded in
capturing the wicked Metal Monarch we shall force
him to grant us our liberty.”

“Ruggedo is no longer Metal Monarch, or King of
the nomes,” Files informed her. “He has been
deposed and cast out of his kingdom by Quox; but
here is the new King, whose name is Kaliko, and I
am pleased to assure Your Majesty that he is our
friend.”

“Glad to meet Your Majesty, I’m sure,” said
Kaliko, bowing as courteously as if the Queen
still wore splendid raiment.

The officers, having heard this explanation, now
set Ruggedo free; but, as he had no place to go,
he stood by and faced his former servant, who was
now King in his place, in a humble and pleading
manner.

“What are you doing here?” asked Kaliko sternly.

“Why, I was promised as much treasure as I
could carry in my pockets,” replied Ruggedo;
“so I came here to get it, not wishing to disturb
Your Majesty.”

“You were commanded to leave the country of the
nomes forever!” declared Kaliko.

“I know; and I’ll go as soon as I have filled my
pockets,” said Ruggedo, meekly.

“Then fill them, and be gone,” returned the new
King.

Ruggedo obeyed. Stooping down, he began
gathering up jewels by the handful and stuffing
them into his many pockets. They were heavy
things, these diamonds and rubies and emeralds and
amethysts and the like, so before long Ruggedo was
staggering with the weight he bore, while the
pockets were not yet filled. When he could no
longer stoop over without falling, Betsy and
Polychrome and the Rose Princess came to his
assistance, picking up the finest gems and tucking
them into his pockets.

At last these were all filled and Ruggedo
presented a comical sight, for surely no man ever
before had so many pockets, or any at all filled
with such a choice collection of precious stones.
He neglected to thank the young ladies for their
kindness, but gave them a surly nod of farewell
and staggered down the path by the way he had
come. They let him depart in silence, for with all
he had taken, the masses of jewels upon the ground
seemed scarcely to have been disturbed, so
numerous were they. Also they hoped they had seen
the last of the degraded King.

“I’m awful glad he’s gone,” said Betsy, sighing
deeply. “If he doesn’t get reckless and spend his
wealth foolishly, he’s got enough to start a bank
when he gets to Oklahoma.”

“But my brother–my dear brother! Where is he?”
inquired Shaggy anxiously. “Have you seen him,
Queen Ann?”

“What does your brother look like?” asked the
Queen.

Shaggy hesitated to reply, but Betsy said: “He’s
called the Ugly One. Perhaps you’ll know him by
that.”

“The only person we have seen in this cavern,”
said Ann, “has run away from us whenever we
approached him. He hides over yonder, among the
trees that are not gold, and we have never been
able to catch sight of his face. So I can not tell
whether he is ugly or not.”

“That must be my dear brother!” exclaimed
Shaggy.

“Yes, it must be,” assented Kaliko. “No one else
inhabits this splendid dome, so there can be no
mistake.”

“But why does he hide among those green trees,
instead of enjoying all these glittery golden
ones?” asked Betsy.

“Because he finds food among the natural trees,”
replied Kaliko, “and I remember that he has built
a little house there, to sleep in. As for these
glittery golden trees, I will admit they are very
pretty at first sight. One cannot fail to admire
them, as well as the rich jewels scattered beneath
them; but if one has to look at them always, they
become pretty tame.”

“I believe that is true,” declared Shaggy. “My
dear brother is very wise to prefer real trees to
the imitation ones. But come; let us go there and
find him.”

Shaggy started for the green grove at once, and
the others followed him, being curious to witness
the final rescue of his long-sought, long-lost
brother.

Not far from the edge of the grove they came
upon a small hut, cleverly made of twigs and
golden branches woven together. As they approached
the place they caught a glimpse of a form that
darted into the hut and slammed the door tight
shut after him.

Shaggy Man ran to the door and cried aloud:

“Brother! Brother!”

“Who calls,” demanded a sad, hollow voice
from within.

“It is Shaggy–your own loving brother–who has
been searching for you a long time and has now
come to rescue you.”

“Too late!” replied the gloomy voice. “No one
can rescue me now.

“Oh, but you are mistaken about that,” said
Shaggy. “There is a new King of the nomes, named
Kaliko, in Ruggedo’s place, and he has promised
you shall go free.”

“Free! I dare not go free!” said the Ugly One,
in a voice of despair.

“Why not, Brother?” asked Shaggy, anxiously.

“Do you know what they have done to me?” came
the answer through the closed door.

“No. Tell me, Brother, what have they done?”

“When Ruggedo first captured me I was very
handsome. Don’t you remember, Shaggy?”

“Not very well, Brother; you were so young when
I left home. But I remember that mother thought
you were beautiful.”

“She was right! I am sure she was right,” wailed
the prisoner. “But Ruggedo wanted to injure me–to
make me ugly in the eyes of all the world–so he
performed a wicked enchantment. I went to bed
beautiful–or you might say handsome–to be very
modest I will merely claim that I was good-
looking–and I wakened the next morning the
homeliest man in all the world! I am so repulsive
that when I look in a mirror I frighten myself.”

“Poor Brother!” said Shaggy softly, and all the
others were silent from sympathy.

“I was so ashamed of my looks,” continued the
voice of Shaggy’s brother, “that I tried to hide;
but the cruel King Ruggedo forced me to appear
before all the legion of nomes, to whom he said:
‘Behold the Ugly One!’ But when the nomes saw my
face they all fell to laughing and jeering, which
prevented them from working at their tasks. Seeing
this, Ruggedo became angry and pushed me into a
tunnel, closing the rock entrance so that I could
not get out. I followed the length of the tunnel
until I reached this huge dome, where the
marvelous Metal Forest stands, and here I have
remained ever since.

“Poor Brother!” repeated Shaggy. “But I beg you
now to come forth and face us, who are your
friends. None here will laugh or jeer, however
unhandsome you may be.”

“No, indeed,” they all added pleadingly.

But the Ugly One refused the invitation.

“I cannot,” said he; “indeed, I cannot face
strangers, ugly as I am.”

Shaggy Man turned to the group surrounding him.

“What shall I do?” he asked in sorrowful tones.
“I cannot leave my dear brother here, and he
refuses to come out of that house and face us.

“I’ll tell you,” replied Betsy. “Let him put on
a mask.”

“The very idea I was seeking!” exclaimed Shaggy
joyfully; and then he called out: “Brother, put a
mask over your face, and then none of us can see
what your features are like.”

“I have no mask,” answered the Ugly One.

“Look here,” said Betsy; “he can use my
handkerchief.”

Shaggy looked at the little square of cloth and
shook his head.

“It isn’t big enough,” he objected; “I’m sure it
isn’t big enough to hide a man’s face. But he can
use mine.

Saying this he took from his pocket his own
handkerchief and went to the door of the hut.

“Here, my Brother,” he called, “take this
handkerchief and make a mask of it. I will also
pass you my knife, so that you may cut holes for
the eyes, and then you must tie it over your
face.”

The door slowly opened, just far enough for the
Ugly One to thrust out his hand and take the
handkerchief and the knife. Then it closed again.

“Don’t forget a hole for your nose,” cried
Betsy. “You must breathe, you know.”

For a time there was silence. Queen Ann and her
army sat down upon the ground to rest. Betsy sat
on Hank’s back. Polychrome danced lightly up and
down the jeweled paths while Files and the
Princess wandered through the groves arm in arm.
Tik-Tok, who never tired, stood motionless.

By and by a noise sounded from within the hut.

“Are you ready?” asked Shaggy.

“Yes, Brother,” came the reply and the door was
thrown open to allow the Ugly One to step forth.

Betsy might have laughed aloud had she not
remembered how sensitive to ridicule Shaggy’s
brother was, for the handkerchief with which he
had masked his features was a red one covered with
big white polka dots. In this two holes had been
cut–in front of the eyes–while two smaller ones
before the nostrils allowed the man to breathe
freely. The cloth was then tightly drawn over the
Ugly One’s face and knotted at the back of his
neck.

He was dressed in clothes that had once been
good, but now were sadly worn and frayed. His silk
stockings had holes in them, and his shoes were
stubtoed and needed blackening. “But what can you
expect,” whispered Betsy, “when the poor man has
been a prisoner for so many years?”

Shaggy had darted forward, and embraced his
newly found brother with both his arms. The
brother also embraced Shaggy, who then led him
forward and introduced him to all the assembled
company.

“This is the new Nome King,” he said when he
came to Kaliko. “He is our friend, and has granted
you your freedom.”

“That is a kindly deed,” replied Ugly in a sad
voice, “but I dread to go back to the world in
this direful condition. Unless I remain forever
masked, my dreadful face would curdle all the milk
and stop all the clocks.”

“Can’t the enchantment be broken in some way?”
inquired Betsy.

Shaggy looked anxiously at Kaliko, who shook his
head.

“I am sure I can’t break the enchantment,” he
said. “Ruggedo was fond of magic, and learned a
good many enchantments that we nomes know
nothing of.”

“Perhaps Ruggedo himself might break his own
enchantment,” suggested Ann; “but unfortunately we
have allowed the old King to escape.”

“Never mind, my dear Brother,” said Shaggy
consolingly; “I am very happy to have found you
again, although I may never see your face. So let
us make the most of this joyful reunion.”

The Ugly One was affected to tears by this
tender speech, and the tears began to wet the red
handkerchief; so Shaggy gently wiped them away
with his coat sleeve.

 

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