FictionForest

Chapter 20 – Quox Quietly Quits

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

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When the chief nomes assembled before their new
King they joyfully saluted him and promised to
obey his commands. But, when Kaliko questioned
them, none knew the way to the Metal Forest,
although all had assisted in its making. So the
King instructed them to search carefully for one
of the passages and to bring him the news as soon
as they had found it.

Meantime Quox had managed to back out of the
rocky corridor and so regain the open air and his
old station on the mountain-side, and there he lay
upon the rocks, sound asleep, until the next day.
The others of the party were all given as good
rooms as the caverns of the nomes afforded, for
King Kaliko felt that he was indebted to them for
his promotion and was anxious to be as hospitable
as he could.

Much wonderment had been caused by the absolute
disappearance of the sixteen officers of Oogaboo
and their Queen. Not a nome had seen them, nor
were they discovered during the search for the
passages leading to the Metal Forest. Perhaps no
one was unhappy over their loss, but all were
curious to know what had become of them.

On the next day, when our friends went to visit
the dragon, Quox said to them: “I must now bid you
good-bye, for my mission here is finished and I
must depart for the other side of the world,
where I belong.”

“Will you go through the Tube again?” asked
Betsy.

“To be sure. But it will be a lonely trip this
time, with no one to talk to, and I cannot invite
any of you to go with me. Therefore, as soon as I
slide into the hole I shall go to sleep, and when
I pop out at the other end I will wake up at
home.”

They thanked the dragon for befriending them and
wished him a pleasant journey. Also they sent
their thanks to the great Jinjin, whose just
condemnation of Ruggedo had served their interests
so well. Then Quox yawned and stretched himself
and ambled over to the Tube, into which he slid
head-foremost and disappeared.

They really felt as if they had lost a friend,
for the dragon had been both kind and sociable
during their brief acquaintance with him; but they
knew it was his duty to return to his own country.
So they went back to the caverns to renew the
search for the hidden passages that led to the
forest, but for three days all efforts to find
them proved in vain.

It was Polychrome’s custom to go every day to
the mountain and watch for her father, the
Rainbow, for she was growing tired with wandering
upon the earth and longed to rejoin her sisters in
their sky palaces. And on the third day, while she
sat motionless upon a point of rock, whom should
she see slyly creeping up the mountain but
Ruggedo!

The former King looked very forlorn. His clothes
were soiled and torn and he had no sandals upon
his feet or hat upon his head. Having left his
crown and sceptre behind when he fled, the old
nome no longer seemed kingly, but more like a
beggerman.

Several times had Ruggedo crept up to the
mouth of the caverns, only to find the six eggs
still on guard. He knew quite well that he must
accept his fate and become a homeless wanderer,
but his chief regret now was that he had neglected
to fill his pockets with gold and jewels. He was
aware that a wanderer with wealth at his command
would fare much better than one who was a pauper,
so he still loitered around the caverns wherein he
knew so much treasure was stored, hoping for a
chance to fill his pockets.

That was how he came to recollect the Metal
Forest.

“Aha!” said he to himself, “I alone know the way
to that Forest, and once there I can fill my
pockets with the finest jewels in all the world.”

He glanced at his pockets and was grieved to
find them so small. Perhaps they might be
enlarged, so that they would hold more. He knew of
a poor woman who lived in a cottage at the foot of
the mountain, so he went to her and begged her to
sew pockets all over his robe, paying her with the
gift of a diamond ring which he had worn upon his
finger. The woman was delighted to possess so
valuable a ring and she sewed as many pockets on
Ruggedo’s robe as she possibly could.

Then he returned up the mountain and, after
gazing cautiously around to make sure he was
not observed, he touched a spring in a rock and
it swung slowly backward, disclosing a broad
passageway. This he entered, swinging the rock
in place behind him.

However, Ruggedo had failed to look as carefully
as he might have done, for Polychrome was seated
only a little distance off and her clear eyes
marked exactly the manner in which Ruggedo had
released the hidden spring. So she rose and
hurried into the cavern, where she told Kaliko and
her friends of her discovery.

“I’ve no doubt that that is a way to the Metal
Forest,” exclaimed Shaggy. “Come, let us follow
Ruggedo at once and rescue my poor brother!”

They agreed to this and King Kaliko called
together a band of nomes to assist them by
carrying torches to light their way.

“The Metal Forest has a brilliant light of its
own,” said he, “but the passage across the valley
is likely to be dark.”

Polychrome easily found the rock and touched the
spring, so in less than an hour after Ruggedo had
entered they were all in the passage and following
swiftly after the former King.

“He means to rob the Forest, I’m sure,” said
Kaliko; “but he will find he is no longer of any
account in this Kingdom and I will have my nomes
throw him out.”

“Then please throw him as hard as you can,” said
Betsy, “for he deserves it. I don’t mind an
honest, out-an’-out enemy, who fights square; but
changing girls into fiddles and ordering ’em put
into Slimy Caves is mean and tricky, and Ruggedo
doesn’t deserve any sympathy. But you’ll have to
let him take as much treasure as he can get in his
pockets, Kaliko.”

“Yes, the Jinjin said so; but we won’t miss it
much. There is more treasure in the Metal Forest
than a million nomes could carry in their
pockets.”

It was not difficult to walk through this
passage, especially when the torches lighted the
way, so they made good progress. But it proved to
be a long distance and Betsy had tired herself
with walking and was seated upon the back of the
mule when the passage made a sharp turn and a
wonderful and glorious light burst upon them. The
next moment they were all standing upon the edge
of the marvelous Metal Forest.

It lay under another mountain and occupied a
great domed cavern, the roof of which was higher
than a church steeple. In this space the
industrious nomes had built, during many years of
labor, the most beautiful forest in the world. The
trees–trunks, branches and leaves–were all of
solid gold, while the bushes and underbrush were
formed of filigree silver, virgin pure. The trees
towered as high as natural live oaks do and were
of exquisite workmanship.

On the ground were thickly strewn precious gems
of every hue and size, while here and there among
the trees were paths pebbled with cut diamonds of
the clearest water. Taken all together, more
treasure was gathered in this Metal Forest than is
contained in all the rest of the world–if we
except the land of Oz, where perhaps its value is
equalled in the famous Emerald City.

Our friends were so amazed at the sight that for
a while they stood gazing in silent wonder. Then
Shaggy exclaimed.

“My brother! My dear lost brother! Is he indeed
a prisoner in this place?”

“Yes,” replied Kaliko. “The Ugly One has been
here for two or three years, to my positive
knowledge.”

“But what could he find to eat?” inquired
Betsy. “It’s an awfully swell place to live in, but
one can’t breakfast On rubies and di’monds, or
even gold.”

“One doesn’t need to, my dear,” Kaliko assured
her. “The Metal Forest does not fill all of this
great cavern, by any means. Beyond these gold and
silver trees are other trees of the real sort,
which bear foods very nice to eat. Let us walk in
that direction, for I am quite sure we will find
Shaggy’s brother in that part of the cavern,
rather than in this.”

So they began to tramp over the diamond-pebbled
paths, and at every step they were more and more
bewildered by the wondrous beauty of the golden
trees with their glittering foliage.

Suddenly they heard a scream. Jewels scattered
in every direction as some one hidden among the
bushes scampered away before them. Then a loud
voice cried: “Halt!” and there was the sound of a
struggle.

 

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