FictionForest

Chapter 9 – A Present for Zella

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

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Now it so happened that on the morning of that same day
when the Prince of Pingaree suffered the loss of his
priceless shoes, there chanced to pass along the road
that wound beside the royal palace a poor charcoal-
burner named Nikobob, who was about to return to his
home in the forest.

Nikobob carried an ax and a bundle of torches over
his shoulder and he walked with his eyes to the ground,
being deep in thought as to the strange manner in which
the powerful King Gos and his city had been conquered
by a boy Prince who had come from Pingaree.

Suddenly the charcoal-burner espied a shoe lying upon
the ground, just beyond the high wall of the palace and
directly in his path. He picked it up and, seeing it
was a pretty shoe, although much too small for his own
foot, he put it in his pocket.

Soon after, on turning a corner of the wall, Nikobob
came to a dust-heap where, lying amidst a mass of
rubbish, was another shoe — the mate to the one he had
before found. This also he placed in his pocket, saying
to himself:

“I have now a fine pair of shoes for my daughter
Zella, who will be much pleased to find I have brought
her a present from the city.”

And while the charcoal-burner turned into the forest
and trudged along the path toward his home, Inga and
Rinkitink were still searching for the missing shoes.
Of course, they could not know that Nikobob had found
them, nor did the honest man think he had taken
anything more than a pair of cast-off shoes which
nobody wanted.

Nikobob had several miles to travel through the
forest before he could reach the little log cabin where
his wife, as well as his little daughter Zella, awaited
his return, but he was used to long walks and tramped
along the path whistling cheerfully to beguile the
time.

Few people, as I said before, ever passed through the
dark and tangled forests of Regos, except to go to the
mines in the mountain beyond, for many dangerous
creatures lurked in the wild jungles, and King Gos
never knew, when he sent a messenger to the mines,
whether he would reach there safely or not.

The charcoal-burner, however, knew the wild forest
well, and especially this part of it lying between the
city and his home. It was the favorite haunt of the
ferocious beast Choggenmugger, dreaded by every dweller
in the Island of Regos. Choggenmugger was so old that
everyone thought it must have been there since the
world was made, and each year of its life the huge
scales that covered its body grew thicker and harder
and its jaws grew wider and its teeth grew sharper and
its appetite grew more keen than ever.

In former ages there had been many dragons in Regos,
but Choggenmugger was so fond of dragons that he had
eaten all of them long ago. There had also been great
serpents and crocodiles in the forest marshes, but all
had gone to feed the hunger of Choggenmugger. The
people of Regos knew well there was no use opposing the
Great Beast, so when one unfortunately met with it he
gave himself up for lost.

All this Nikobob knew well, but fortune had always
favored him in his journey through the forest, and
although he had at times met many savage beasts and
fought them with his sharp ax, he had never to this day
encountered the terrible Choggenmugger. Indeed, he was
not thinking of the Great Beast at all as he walked
along, but suddenly he heard a crashing of broken trees
and felt a trembling of the earth and saw the immense
jaws of Choggenmugger opening before him. Then Nikobob
gave himself up for lost and his heart almost ceased to
beat.

He believed there was no way of escape. No one ever
dared oppose Choggenmugger. But Nikobob hated to die
without showing the monster, in some way, that he was
eaten only under protest. So he raised his ax and
brought it down upon the red, protruding tongue of the
monster — and cut it clean off!

For a moment the charcoal-burner scarcely believed
what his eyes saw, for he knew nothing of the pearls he
carried in his pocket or the magic power they lent his
arm. His success, however, encouraged him to strike
again, and this time the huge scaly jaw of
Choggenmugger was severed in twain and the beast howled
in terrified rage.

Nikobob took off his coat, to give himself more
freedom of action, and then he earnestly renewed the
attack. But now the ax seemed blunted by the hard
scales and made no impression upon them whatever. The
creature advanced with glaring, wicked eyes, and
Nikobob seized his coat under his arm and turned to
flee.

That was foolish, for Choggenmugger could run like
the wind. In a moment it overtook the charcoal-burner
and snapped its four rows of sharp teeth together. But
they did not touch Nikobob, because he still held the
coat in his grasp, close to his body, and in the coat
pocket were Inga’s shoes, and in the points of the
shoes were the magic pearls. Finding himself uninjured,
Nikobob put on his coat, again seized his ax, and in a
short time had chopped Choggenmugger into many small
pieces — a task that proved not only easy but very
agreeable.

“I must be the strongest man in all the world!”
thought the charcoal-burner, as he proudly resumed his
way, “for Choggenmugger has been the terror of Regos
since the world began, and I alone have been able to
destroy the beast. Yet it is singular’ that never
before did I discover how powerful a man I am.”

He met no further adventure and at midday reached a
little clearing in the forest where stood his humble
cabin.

“Great news! I have great news for you,” he shouted,
as his wife and little daughter came to greet him.
“King Gos has been conquered by a boy Prince from the
far island of Pingaree, and I have this day — unaided
— destroyed Choggenmugger by the might of my strong
arm.

This was, indeed, great news. They brought Nikobob
into the house and set him in an easy chair and made
him tell everything he knew about the Prince of
Pingaree and the fat King of Gilgad, as well as the
details of his wonderful fight with mighty
Choggenmugger.

“And now, my daughter,” said the charcoalburner, when
all his news had been related for at least the third
time, “here is a pretty present I have brought you
from the city.”

With this he drew the shoes from the pocket of his
coat and handed them to Zella, who gave him a dozen
kisses in payment and was much pleased with her gift.
The little girl had never worn shoes before, for her
parents were too poor to buy her such luxuries, so now
the possession of these, which were not much worn,
filled the child’s heart with joy. She admired the red
leather and the graceful curl of the pointed toes. When
she tried them on her feet, they fitted as well as if
made for her.

All the afternoon, as she helped her mother with the
housework, Zella thought of her pretty shoes. They
seemed more important to her than the coming to Regos
of the conquering Prince of Pingaree, or even the death
of Choggenmugger.

When Zella and her mother were not working in the
cabin, cooking or sewing, they often searched the
neighboring forest for honey which the wild bees
cleverly hid in hollow trees. The day after Nikobob’s
return, as they were starting out after honey, Zella
decided to put on her new shoes, as they would keep the
twigs that covered the ground from hurting her feet.
She was used to the twigs, of course, but what is the
use of having nice, comfortable shoes, if you do not
wear them?

So she danced along, very happily, followed by her
mother, and presently they came to a tree in which was
a deep hollow. Zella thrust her hand and arm into the
space and found that the tree was full of honey, so she
began to dig it out with a wooden paddle. Her mother,
who held the pail, suddenly cried in warning:

“Look out, Zella; the bees are coming!” and then the
good woman ran fast toward the house to escape.

Zella, however, had no more than time to turn her
head when a thick swarm of bees surrounded her, angry
because they had caught her stealing their honey and
intent on stinging the girl as a punishment. She knew
her danger and expected to be badly injured by the
multitude of stinging bees, but to her surprise the
little creatures were unable to fly close enough to her
to stick their dart-like stingers into her flesh. They
swarmed about her in a dark cloud, and their angry
buzzing was terrible to hear, yet the little girl
remained unharmed.

When she realized this, Zella was no longer afraid
but continued to ladle out the honey until she had
secured all that was in the tree. Then she returned to
the cabin, where her mother was weeping and bemoaning
the fate of her darling child, and the good woman was
greatly astonished to find Zella had escaped injury.

Again they went to the woods to search for honey, and
although the mother always ran away whenever the bees
came near them, Zella paid no attention to the
creatures but kept at her work, so that before supper
time came the pails were again filled to overflowing
with delicious honey.

“With such good fortune as we have had this day,”
said her mother, “we shall soon gather enough honey for
you to carry to Queen Cor.” For it seems the wicked
Queen was very fond of honey and it had been Zella’s
custom to go, once every year, to the City of Coregos,
to carry the Queen a supply of sweet honey for her
table. Usually she had but one pail.

“But now,” said Zella, “I shall be able to carry two
pailsful to the Queen, who will, I am sure, give me a
good price for it.”

“True,” answered her mother, “and, as the boy Prince
may take it into his head to conquer Coregos, as well
as Regos, I think it best for you to start on your
journey to Queen Cor tomorrow morning. Do you not agree
with me, Nikobob?” she added, turning to her husband,
the charcoal-burner, who was eating his supper.

“I agree with you,” he replied. “If Zella must go to
the City of Coregos, she may as well start to-morrow
morning.”

 

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