Author of The Giant Horse of Oz, King Kojo, etc.
Originally published in the King Comics issues 66 and 67, Oct. and Nov. 1941.
The King and Queen of Plumpieland sat rocking placidly in the courtyard of Sturdicastle. The plum crop was gathered and ready for shipment and all the Plumpielanders were in excellent health and spirits, as well they might be. In this lush and lavish land everything grows seven times faster and larger than in neighboring countries, so that its flowers, fruits, vegetables and livestock are in constant demand, while its treasury overflows with good gold plumducats. It goes without saying that Plumpielanders live largely and well, and anyone weighing less than three hundred pounds is considered downright weak and puny.
The one difficulty in all this bigness was to find a husband whose fortune, importance, and poundage would match that of the royal princess, Vera Big! Queen Plumpsie and King Plumpadore had given the matter much thought and invited many titled visitors to Sturdicastle. But one glimpse of their big, beautiful four-hundred-pound daughter sent the young princes fairly galloping back to their homelands. Not her father's wealth nor half the kingdom would tempt them to wed this gorgeous, gigantic maiden. Only one royal visitor (and he, it must be admitted, had come unbidden) tarried to court the princess in real earnest. Tall, thin and waspish, a king in his own right, Tumbo had persisted in his attentions, but to no avail.
The rulers of Plumpieland were terribly impressed by his retinue, rank and the importance of Timbertonia, his mountain kingdom. The princess, however, regarded him with dislike if not positive aversion. The peasants of Plumpieland shared her distrust, muttering darkly that Tumbo was a wizard as well as a king, for strange tales had come filtering down from the goat herds on the mountain. After a month of frowns and rebuffs, Tumbo had taken himself off, and though he had promised to return and win the princess in spite of herself, nothing further had been heard of him. At first the King and Queen had been rather dashed to have Vera refuse so powerful a monarch. There did seem some danger of her not marrying at all, but the princess was so sweet-tempered and such a big help around the castle they did not worry too long, and it was of her they were talking on this bright summer morning. As they pondered a suitable birthday present for the dear child, a sudden darkening of the sky made them glance upward. Overhead soared a huge bird, casting its shadow over the entire courtyard. Before the royal couple could stir, a fiery ball dropped from its beak, exploding with such force that both rockers were blown backward and the Queen's plumpoodle was hurled into the fountain. By the time Plumpadore had got to his feet and rescued the Queen and her plumpoodle, servants and courtiers had come running from every direction.
"What was it? What happened? Have we been bombed?"
"By a bird? Nonsense!" croaked Foozle, the Wise Man of Plumpieland. "Beware, stand back there! Don't touch anything!" Then having frightened everyone else off, the old sage, with all his seven chins aquiver, leaned down and pulled a thin sheet of metal from the smoldering powder where the fiery ball had struck the earth. Letters, blackly burnt, spelled this menacing message:
"Rack and ruin! Oh my, hi-pie, what'll we do, Foozle?" wailed the King, beating his fat hands together.
"Do as it says," advised the Wise Man. "Fetch a king and have him wed the princess at once."
"What king?" roared Plumpadore dismally.
"Why not Tumbo?" proposed Foozle craftily. "Dispatch a courier immediately! We'll just have time to bring Tumbo back before nightfall."
"Right!" agreed Plumpadore. At this moment, however, the princess herself rushed out. When she heard the news, she put her left foot down so hard on her father's right he limped for weeks afterward.
"I won't do it!" declared Vera Big. "I'll not marry that wretch, even to save Plumpieland."
"Now look!" One of the guards, reading the message over Foozle's shoulder, plucked him sharply by the sleeve. "It does not say Tumbo or any special king, so why not find a king the princess will marry?"
"Where are there any?" groaned Plumpadore, hopping 'round on one foot and punctuating his hops with little moans.
"Well," explained the guard backing uneasily away from the princess, "there's a poorish kingdom to the south of here called Rockbottom, with a bachelor king, name of Jonathan, and as nice a fella as if he weren't no king at all. I met him one day a-hunting."
"All right, then. Fetch this Jonathan!" commanded Plumpadore. "Surely," he wheezed, turning pleadingly to his daughter, "surely you'll make some sacrifice to save your poor old father and the country?"
"That," said Vera stoutly, "depends on Jonathan."
Looking very glum, the guards marched off to the south. And, looking very determined, the princess marched back into the castle.
"Here! I say now, what is the meaning of this?" Suddenly set upon by two tremendous Plumpielander guards, King Jonathan, who'd been snoozing comfortably beneath an oak tree, woke with an indignant start and jerked about in an effort to free himself. "Unhand me, ruffians!" he panted angrily. And taking a long breath, he tried to whistle for help. But a huge hand was clapped over his mouth. Pushing King Jonathan ahead of them and followed by thirty more of Plumpadore's henchmen, the two guards set off at a run for the border. It was useless for anyone to struggle with these five-hundred pounders, so King Johnny, being somewhat of a philosopher, bore it all with what grace he could.
"Stop pulling back, can't ye? `Tis a great honor as awaits y'r Majesty," grunted Terry Blee Blue, the guard on the right.
"Aye, come along or we'll be late for the wedding," urged Notso Blue, the guard on the left.
"Oh, so this is an invitation to a wedding!" muttered Johnny, relieved to think it was nothing worse.
"In a manner, yes," admitted Terry Blee Blue grimly. So, hustled and dragged along in the midst of the guards, the puzzled young monarch arrived about noon at Sturdicastle. In the courtyard, against a bank of ferns and flowers, stood the bishop, the King, the Queen, and all the courtiers. As it was Jonathan's first glimpse of his enormous neighbors, he was completely overcome and too astonished to speak a word.
"I trust your Highness will pardon the suddenness of this summons," began Plumpadore, advancing pompously. Pulling down his frayed sleeves as the guards cautiously released him, King Johnny met the sovereign's gaze with a stern and calm disapproval. "Fact is," Plumpy stuttered, throwing caution and etiquette to the winds, "we've had dark and threatening tidings this morning. Unless our royal daughter marries a king before dark, Plumpieland is as good as ruined. And, er--er, you, sir, being the nearest and most eligible-" Plumpadore hesitated a little as he noted the plain and shabby coat of Rockbottom's ruler, "--er, you have been chosen for this great honor."
"Hm-mmmm!" King Johnny rubbed his chin more than dubiously. "And where is your royal daughter?"
"Here!" Emerging from the castle, Vera Big trod majestically out into the courtyard. To hide his alarm, Johnny bowed.
"And does the princess agree to this marriage?" he asked gravely.
"If there is no other way to save Plumpieland, yes," said Vera Big, peeping from under her lashes at the tall, handsome stranger and beginning to think marriage might not be such a hardship after all.
"May I ask who threatens this fair kingdom with ruin and so on?" Folding his arms, Johnny looked inquiringly `round. So Foozle, who'd felt left out up to now, hurried forward with the blackened sheet of metal, explaining in short breathless sentences how it had been dropped into the courtyard. Johnny read the message carefully twice through. "It says here that Vera Big must marry before dark tonight. Well then--" The King of Rockbottom smiled cheerfully and handed the message back to the Wise Man. "Let there be no dark tonight. No dark tonight, no rack and ruin! Am I clear? Light all the lamps in the streets and on the highways, all the candles in cottages and in the castle. Keep them burning till morning."
"Why, that--why that is a superb solution!" Relief swept the lines of worry from Plumpadore's round face. "Guards! Guards!" he shouted. "Ride through the towns and villages. See that fires are lit at sundown, keep processions with torches marching on top of the city walls!"
"This is taking a dreadful chance, if you ask me." Foozle wagged his head dismally, disgusted to think he had not thought up such a trick himself. "When a message comes by magic, heed it well, say I!" Noting the King and Queen were beginning to waver, King Johnny rubbed his chin hard and then spoke again.
"Let the princess marry by all means," he urged heartily, "but let her marry one of her own countrymen. Rockbottom is small and unimportant and I myself am neither rich nor famous enough for her Plumpieland Highness.
Is there no one in the country you fancy, my dear?" Astonished by this frank question, the princess unconsciously glanced at a stalwart young courtier standing near her father. Quick to catch this glance, Johnny strode confidently forward. "Now this young nobleman seems to me in every way a desirable husband for your royal daughter."
"But you forget he is not a king," faltered Plumpadore, avoiding Vera's pleading eye.
"Oh, that's soon remedied!" Johnny snapped his fingers airily. "All your Majesty need do is abdicate and name this--er--"
"Dukeof Wopping," grinned the enormous youth, edging closer to Vera Big.
"--wopping duke as your successor," proceeded Johnny gaily. "Then Wopping marries the princess today. Tomorrow he abdicates and you have your kingdom back. How's that?"
"Why--why, it's WUN-derful!" exclaimed Plumpadore. "You agree to abdicate tomorrow, my dear Wopping?"
"Absolutely!" cried Wopping, seizing Vera's big hand. Well, after that things happened so fast even Johnny was surprised at the forces he had set in motion. First and foremost and in the presence of the entire court, Plumpadore abdicated and placed his crown on the duke's head. Then, moving forward ponderously, as became the Bishop of Plumpieland, this dignitary performed the royal marriage. The new King had just set a large kiss upon the cheek of his bride when a clatter of hoofs announced a new arrival in the courtyard. It was Tumbo, dressed with extreme care and accoutered with great elegance.
"I have only just heard the shocking news," cried Tumbo, dismounting with more speed than grace. "May I offer my services in this dark hour? Only a king can save you from this impending disaster, I understand."
"A king has saved us; two kings, in fact," announced Plumpadore with a sidelong glance at Johnny. "And one as you see, has just married my daughter."
"Mm--married your daughter!" Aghast, the ruler of Timbertonia stopped in his tracks, aware for the first time of the bluff and confident figure standing so proudly beside Vera Big, a figure moreover wearing the Crown of the Realm.
"I have just abdicated in my son-in-law's favor," murmured Plumpadore with a bland wave of the hand. "Have some cake, my dear Tumbo, or perhaps a glass of wine?"
"Wine!" With a strangled oath that made the great ladies of the court clap their hands to their ears, Tumbo leaped on his horse and galloped furiously away. King Jonathan, after congratulating the happy pair, was about to make a more discreet exit when Plumpadore bore anxiously down upon him.
"Wait! Wait! I must know you better," puffed the ex-king of Plumpieland, clutching Johnny by the sleeve. "I believe Tumbo was at the bottom of this whole affair! How else would he have heard so soon or arrived so opportunely to save us?"
"I agree with you," declared Johnny, readily enough. "Whether the King of Timbertonia is a wizard or not, he could easily have camouflaged an airplane to resemble a gigantic bird, and dropping a small bomb from its bill would be a simple matter indeed. Since the fellow could not win your daughter by fair means, he quite evidently resorted to fowl!"
"Ha, ha, HA!" roared Plumpadore, laughing so hard he fairly gasped for breath. "I never met a cleverer fellow than yourself."
"I thank your Majesty," smiled Johnny, who was of the same opinion as the King. "But now I must really be gettting back to Rockbottom. I left, as you doubtless will recall, in a great hurry, and there are matters there requiring my attention."
"Not yet! Not yet!" implored Plumpadore. "Stay at least till tomorrow. Wopping may refuse to abdicate, you know, and then where would I be?" he whispered fearfully.
"Very well off," grinned Johnny, "but I believe you alarm yourself needlessly. Yon duke is as honest as plum cake and you will never have cause to regret this day. Nor will you, come to think of it, ever enjoy another day like this. Since you are not a king today, come visit me in Rockbottom and we'll be as carefree as a couple of commoners."
"You are simply full of splendid ideas," beamed Plumpieland's ex-ruler. He snapped his fingers for the royal coach and when it arrived he stepped in, pulling Johnny after him. In the confusion and hilarity following Vera Big's wedding, they rolled off unnoticed, and never in his large and luxurious life had Plumpadore spent a gayer afternoon and evening. A bit of fishing, a spot of hunting, supper in the shabby game room of Rockbottom's old castle, with barrels of good ale and a roistering chorus of hearty huntsmen to sing the country's songs!
"I'll be back," promised Plumpieland's ex-king as he climbed regretfully into his coach next morning. "I'll be back, and SOON!"
He was, too, for thus began a friendship between two kings and two countries as unlike as butter and salt. Yet how well these two ingredients go in a sauce.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 28, 1917.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, January 28, 1917.
The Forgetful Poet
Mr. G. Ography has sent us a picture this week. He says it represents a country. How many of you can find it on the map?
And of course we could not do without a few riddles from the Forgetful Poet.
A word meaning to be patient,
Two plus two and after that
An animal well known--
Will give a word you've often heard
But seldom used, I'll own!
My first's a part of the body,
A part that begins with K.
My next is used when we depart.
My third we always say
Referring to a woman,
And my last is 5 plus 3,
And adding all together you
Will have the whole of me.
Last week's answers were: Bread, orange, calendar, and Delaware River.
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2002 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.