FictionForest

Chapter 22 – Kindly Kisses

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

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“Won’t you be dreadful sorry to leave this lovely
place?” Betsy asked the Ugly One.

“No, indeed,” said he. “Jewels and gold are cold
and heartless things, and I am sure I would
presently have died of loneliness had I not found
the natural forest at the edge of the artificial
one. Anyhow, without these real trees I should
soon have starved to death.”

Betsy looked around at the quaint trees.

“I don’t just understand that,” she admitted.
“What could you find to eat here.”

“The best food in the world,” Ugly answered. “Do
you see that grove at your left?” he added,
pointing it out; “well, such trees as those do not
grow in your country, or in any other place but
this cavern. I have named them ‘Hotel Trees,’
because they bear a certain kind of table d’hote
fruit called ‘Three-Course Nuts.’ ”

“That’s funny!” said Betsy. “What are the
‘Three-Course Nuts’ like?”

“Something like cocoanuts, to look at,”
explained the Ugly One. “All you have to do is to
pick one of them and then sit down and eat your
dinner. You first unscrew the top part and find a
cupfull of good soup. After you’ve eaten that, you
unscrew the middle part and find a hollow filled
with meat and potatoes, vegetables and a fine
salad. Eat that, and unscrew the next section, and
you come to the dessert in the bottom of the nut.
That is, pie and cake, cheese and crackers, and
nuts and raisins. The Three-Course Nuts are not
all exactly alike in flavor or in contents, but
they are all good and in each one may be found a
complete three-course dinner.

“But how about breakfasts?” inquired Betsy.

“Why, there are Breakfast Trees for that, which
grow over there at the right. They bear nuts, like
the others, only the nuts contain coffee or
chocolate, instead of soup; oatmeal instead of
meat-and-potatoes, and fruits instead of dessert.
Sad as has been my life in this wonderful prison,
I must admit that no one could live more
luxuriously in the best hotel in the world than I
have lived here; but I will be glad to get into
the open air again and see the good old sun and
the silvery moon and the soft green grass and the
flowers that are kissed by the morning dew. Ah,
how much more lovely are those blessed things than
the glitter of gems or the cold gleam of gold!”

“Of course,” said Betsy. “I once knew a little
boy who wanted to catch the measles, because all
the little boys in his neighborhood but him had
’em, and he was really unhappy ’cause he couldn’t
catch ’em, try as he would. So I’m pretty certain
that the things we want, and can’t have, are not
good for us. Isn’t that true, Shaggy?”

“Not always, my dear,” he gravely replied. “If
we didn’t want anything, we would never get
anything, good or bad. I think our longings are
natural, and if we act as nature prompts us we
can’t go far wrong.”

“For my part,” said Queen Ann, “I think the
world would be a dreary place without the gold and
jewels.”

“All things are good in their way,” said Shaggy;
“but we may have too much of any good thing. And I
have noticed that the value of anything depends
upon how scarce it is, and how difficult it is to
obtain.”

“Pardon me for interrupting you,” said King
Kaliko, coming to their side, “but now that we
have rescued Shaggy’s brother I would like to
return to my royal cavern. Being the King of the
Nomes, it is my duty to look after my restless
subjects and see that they behave themselves.”

So they all turned and began walking through the
Metal Forest to the other side of the great domed
cave, where they had first entered it. Shaggy and
his brother walked side by side and both seemed
rejoiced that they were together after their long
separation. Betsy didn’t dare look at the polka
dot handkerchief, for fear she would laugh aloud;
so she walked behind the two brothers and led Hank
by holding fast to his left ear.

When at last they reached the place where the
passage led to the outer world, Queen Ann said, in
a hesitating way that was unusual with her:

“I have not conquered this Nome Country, nor do
I expect to do so; but I would like to gather a
few of these pretty jewels before I leave this
place.”

“Help yourself, ma’am,” said King Kaliko, and at
once the officers of the Army took advantage of
his royal permission and began filling their
pockets, while Ann tied a lot of diamonds in a big
handkerchief.

This accomplished, they all entered the passage,
the nomes going first to light the way with their
torches. They had not proceeded far when Betsy
exclaimed:

“Why, there are jewels here, too!”

All eyes were turned upon the ground and they
found a regular trail of jewels strewn along the
rock floor.

“This is queer!” said Kaliko, much surprised. “I
must send some of my nomes to gather up these gems
and replace them in the Metal Forest, where they
belong. I wonder how they came to be here?”

All the way along the passage they found this
trail of jewels, but when they neared the end the
mystery was explained. For there, squatted upon
the floor with his back to the rock wall, sat old
Ruggedo, puffing and blowing as if he was all
tired out. Then they realized it was he who had
scattered the jewels, from his many pockets, which
one by one had burst with the weight of their
contents as he had stumbled along the passage.

“But I don’t mind,” said Ruggedo, with a deep
sigh. “I now realize that I could not have carried
such a weighty load very far, even had I managed
to escape from this passage with it. The woman who
sewed the pockets on my robe used poor thread, for
which I shall thank her.”

“Have you any jewels left?” inquired Betsy.

He glanced into some of the remaining
pockets.

“A few,” said he, “but they will be sufficient
to supply my wants, and I no longer have any
desire to be rich. If some of you will kindly help
me to rise, I’ll get out of here and leave you,
for I know you all despise me and prefer my room
to my company.

Shaggy and Kaliko raised the old King to his
feet, when he was confronted by Shaggy’s brother,
whom he now noticed for the first time. The queer
and unexpected appearance of the Ugly One so
startled Ruggedo that he gave a wild cry and began
to tremble, as if he had seen a ghost.

“Wh–wh–who is this?” he faltered.

“I am that helpless prisoner whom your cruel
magic transformed from a handsome man into an ugly
one!” answered Shaggy’s brother, in a voice of
stern reproach.

“Really, Ruggedo,” said Betsy, “you ought to be
ashamed of that mean trick.”

“I am, my dear,” admitted Ruggedo, who was now
as meek and humble as formerly he had been cruel
and vindictive.

“Then,” returned the girl, “you’d better do some
more magic and give the poor man his own face
again.”

“I wish I could,” answered the old King; “but
you must remember that Tititi-Hoochoo has deprived
me of all my magic powers. However, I never took
the trouble to learn just how to break the charm I
cast over Shaggy’s brother, for I intended he
should always remain ugly.”

“Every charm,” remarked pretty Polychrome, “has
its antidote; and, if you knew this charm of
ugliness, Ruggedo, you must have known how to
dispel it.”

He shook his head.

“If I did, I–I’ve forgotten,” he stammered
regretfully.

“Try to think!” pleaded Shaggy, anxiously.
“Please try to think!”

Ruggedo ruffled his hair with both hands,
sighed, slapped his chest, rubbed his ear, and
stared stupidly around the group.

“I’ve a faint recollection that there was one
thing that would break the charm,” said he; “but
misfortune has so addled my brain that I can’t
remember what it was.”

“See here, Ruggedo,” said Betsy, sharply, “we’ve
treated you pretty well, so far, but we won’t
stand for any nonsense, and if you know what’s
good for yourself you’ll think of that charm!”

“Why?” he demanded, turning to look wonderingly
at the little girl.

“Because it means so much to Shaggy’s brother.
He’s dreadfully ashamed of himself, the way he is
now, and you’re to blame for it. Fact is, Ruggedo,
you’ve done so much wickedness in your life that
it won’t hurt you to do a kind act now.”

Ruggedo blinked at her, and sighed again, and
then tried very hard to think.

“I seem to remember, dimly,” said he, “that a
certain kind of a kiss will break the charm of
ugliness.”

“What kind of a kiss?”

“What kind? Why, it was–it was–it was either
the kiss of a Mortal Maid; or–or–the kiss of a
Mortal Maid who had once been a Fairy; or–or the
kiss of one who is still a Fairy. I can’t remember
which. But of course no maid, mortal or fairy,
would ever consent to kiss a person so ugly–so
dreadfully, fearfully, terribly ugly–as Shaggy’s
brother.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Betsy, with
admirable courage; “I’m a Mortal Maid, and if it
is my kiss that will break this awful charm, I–
I’ll do it!”

Oh, you really couldn’t,” protested Ugly. “I
would be obliged to remove my mask, and–when you
saw my face, nothing could induce you to kiss me,
generous as you are.”

“Well, as for that,” said the little girl, “I
needn’t see your face at all. Here’s my plan: You
stay in this dark passage, and we’ll send away the
nomes with their torches. Then you’ll take off the
handkerchief, and I–I’ll kiss you.”

“This is awfully kind of you, Betsy!” said
Shaggy, gratefully.

“Well, it surely won’t kill me,” she replied;
“and, if it makes you and your brother happy, I’m
willing to take some chances.”

So Kaliko ordered the torch-bearers to leave the
passage, which they did by going through the rock
opening. Queen Ann and her army also went out; but
the others were so interested in Betsy’s
experiment that they remained grouped at the mouth
of the passageway. When the big rock swung into
place, closing tight the opening, they were left
in total darkness.

“Now, then,” called Betsy in a cheerful voice,
“have you got that handkerchief off your face,
Ugly?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, where are you, then?” she asked, reaching
out her arms.

“Here,” said he.

“You’ll have to stoop down, you know.”

He found her hands and clasping them in his own
stooped until his face was near to that of the
little girl. The others heard a clear, smacking
kiss, and then Betsy exclaimed:

“There! I’ve done it, and it didn’t hurt a bit!”

“Tell me, dear brother; is the charm broken?”
asked Shaggy.

“I do not know,” was the reply. “It may be, or
it may not be. I cannot tell.”

“Has anyone a match?” inquired Betsy.

“I have several,” said Shaggy.

“Then let Ruggedo strike one of them and look at
your brother’s face, while we all turn our backs.
Ruggedo made your brother ugly, so I guess he can
stand the horror of looking at him, if the charm
isn’t broken.”

Agreeing to this, Ruggedo took the match and
lighted it. He gave one look and then blew out
the match.

“Ugly as ever!” he said with a shudder. “So it
wasn’t the kiss of a Mortal Maid, after all.”

“Let me try,” proposed the Rose Princess, in her
sweet voice. “I am a Mortal Maid who was once a
Fairy. Perhaps my kiss will break the charm.”

Files did not wholly approve of this, but he was
too generous to interfere. So the Rose Princess
felt her way through the darkness to Shaggy’s
brother and kissed him.

Ruggedo struck another match, while they all
turned away.

“No,” announced the former King; “that didn’t
break the charm, either. It must be the kiss of a
Fairy that is required–or else my memory has
failed me altogether.”

“Polly,” said Betsy, pleadingly, “won’t you
try?”

“Of course I will!” answered Polychrome, with a
merry laugh. “I’ve never kissed a mortal man in
all the thousands of years I have existed, but
I’ll do it to please our faithful Shaggy Man,
whose unselfish affection for his ugly brother
deserves to be rewarded.”

Even as Polychrome was speaking she tripped
lightly to the side of the Ugly One and quickly
touched his cheek with her lips.

“Oh, thank you–thank you!” he fervently cried.
“I’ve changed, this time, I know. I can feel it!
I’m different. Shaggy–dear Shaggy–I am myself
again!”

Files, who was near the opening, touched the
spring that released the big rock and it suddenly
swung backward and let in a flood of daylight.

Everyone stood motionless, staring hard at
Shaggy’s brother, who, no longer masked by the
polka-dot handkerchief, met their gaze with a
glad smile.

“Well,” said Shaggy Man, breaking the silence at
last and drawing a long, deep breath of
satisfaction, “you are no longer the Ugly One, my
dear brother; but, to be entirely frank with you,
the face that belongs to you is no more handsome
than it ought to be.”

“I think he’s rather good looking,” remarked
Betsy, gazing at the man critically.

“In comparison with what he was,” said King
Kaliko, “he is really beautiful. You, who never
beheld his ugliness, may not understand that; but
it was my misfortune to look at the Ugly One many
times, and I say again that, in comparison with
what he was, the man is now beautiful.”

“All right,” returned Betsy, briskly, “we’ll
take your word for it, Kaliko. And now let us get
out of this tunnel and into the world again.”

 

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