With fast beating hearts they all rushed forward and, beyond a group o_tately metal trees, came full upon a most astonishing scene.
There was Ruggedo in the hands of the officers of Oogaboo, a dozen of who_ere clinging to the old nome and holding him fast in spite of his efforts t_scape. There also was Queen Ann, looking grimly upon the scene of strife; bu_hen she observed her former companions approaching she turned away in _hamefaced manner.
For Ann and her officers were indeed a sight to behold. Her Majesty'_lothing, once so rich and gorgeous, was now worn and torn into shreds by he_ong crawl through the tunnel, which, by the way, had led her directly int_he Metal Forest. It was, indeed, one of the three secret passages, and by fa_he most difficult of the three. Ann had not only torn her pretty skirt an_acket, but her crown had become bent and battered and even her shoes were s_ut and slashed that they were ready to fall from her feet.
The officers had fared somewhat worse than their leader, for holes were wor_n the knees of their trousers, while sharp points of rock in the roof an_ides of the tunnel had made rags of every inch of their once brillian_niforms. A more tattered and woeful army never came out of a battle, tha_hese harmless victims of the rocky passage. But it had seemed their onl_eans of escape from the cruel Nome King; so they had crawled on, regardles_f their sufferings.
When they reached the Metal Forest their eyes beheld more plunder than the_ad ever dreamed of; yet they were prisoners in this huge dome and could no_scape with the riches heaped about them. Perhaps a more unhappy and homesic_ot of "conquerors" never existed than this band from Oogaboo.
After several days of wandering in their marvelous prison they were frightene_y the discovery that Ruggedo had come among them. Rendered desperate by thei_ad condition, the officers exhibited courage for the first time since the_eft home and, ignorant of the fact that Ruggedo was no longer King of th_omes, they threw themselves upon him and had just succeeded in capturing hi_hen 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 wa_ined with sharp and jagged rocks," said she, "and not only was our clothin_orn to rags but our flesh is so bruised and sore that we are stiff and lam_n every joint. To add to our troubles we find we are still prisoners; but no_hat we have succeeded in capturing the wicked Metal Monarch we shall forc_im to grant us our liberty."
"Ruggedo is no longer Metal Monarch, or King of the nomes," Files informe_er. "He has been deposed and cast out of his kingdom by Quox; but here is th_ew King, whose name is Kaliko, and I am pleased to assure Your Majesty tha_e is our friend."
"Glad to meet Your Majesty, I'm sure," said Kaliko, bowing as courteously a_f the Queen still wore splendid raiment.
The officers, having heard this explanation, now set Ruggedo free; but, as h_ad no place to go, he stood by and faced his former servant, who was now Kin_n 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," replie_uggedo; "so I came here to get it, not wishing to disturb Your Majesty."
"You were commanded to leave the country of the nomes forever!" declare_aliko.
"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 an_tuffing them into his many pockets. They were heavy things, these diamond_nd rubies and emeralds and amethysts and the like, so before long Ruggedo wa_taggering with the weight he bore, while the pockets were not yet filled.
When he could no longer stoop over without falling, Betsy and Polychrome an_he Rose Princess came to his assistance, picking up the finest gems an_ucking them into his pockets.
At last these were all filled and Ruggedo presented a comical sight, fo_urely no man ever before had so many pockets, or any at all filled with suc_ choice collection of precious stones. He neglected to thank the young ladie_or their kindness, but gave them a surly nod of farewell and staggered dow_he path by the way he had come. They let him depart in silence, for with al_e had taken, the masses of jewels upon the ground seemed scarcely to hav_een disturbed, so numerous were they. Also they hoped they had seen the las_f the degraded King.
"I'm awful glad he's gone," said Betsy, sighing deeply. "If he doesn't ge_eckless and spend his wealth foolishly, he's got enough to start a bank whe_e 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. Perhap_ou'll know him by that."
"The only person we have seen in this cavern," said Ann, "has run away from u_henever we approached him. He hides over yonder, among the trees that are no_old, and we have never been able to catch sight of his face. So I can no_ell 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 thes_littery golden ones?" asked Betsy.
"Because he finds food among the natural trees," replied Kaliko, "and _emember that he has built a little house there, to sleep in. As for thes_littery golden trees, I will admit they are very pretty at first sight. On_annot 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 t_refer real trees to the imitation ones. But come; let us go there and fin_im."
Shaggy started for the green grove at once, and the others followed him, bein_urious 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 mad_f twigs and golden branches woven together. As they approached the place the_aught a glimpse of a form that darted into the hut and slammed the door tigh_hut after him.
Shaggy Man ran to the door and cried aloud:
"Who calls," demanded a sad, hollow voice from within.
"It is Shaggy—your own loving brother—who has been searching for you a lon_ime 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 o_he nomes, named Kaliko, in Ruggedo's place, and he has promised you shall g_ree."
"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 close_oor.
"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 remembe_hat mother thought you were beautiful."
"She was right! I am sure she was right," wailed the prisoner. "But Rugged_anted to injure me—to make me ugly in the eyes of all the world—so h_erformed a wicked enchantment. I went to bed beautiful—or you might sa_andsome—to be very modest I will merely claim that I was good-looking—and _akened the next morning the homeliest man in all the world! I am so repulsiv_hat when I look in a mirror I frighten myself."
"Poor Brother!" said Shaggy softly, and all the others were silent fro_ympathy.
"I was so ashamed of my looks," continued the voice of Shaggy's brother, "tha_ tried to hide; but the cruel King Ruggedo forced me to appear before all th_egion of nomes, to whom he said: 'Behold the Ugly One!' But when the nome_aw my face they all fell to laughing and jeering, which prevented them fro_orking at their tasks. Seeing this, Ruggedo became angry and pushed me into _unnel, closing the rock entrance so that I could not get out. I followed th_ength of the tunnel until I reached this huge dome, where the marvelous Meta_orest 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 ma_e."
"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 dea_rother 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 calle_ut: "Brother, put a mask over your face, and then none of us can see wha_our 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 _an's face. But he can use mine."
Saying this he took from his pocket his own handkerchief and went to the doo_f 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, an_hen you must tie it over your face."
The door slowly opened, just far enough for the Ugly One to thrust out hi_and and take the handkerchief and the knife. Then it closed again.
"Don't forget a hole for your nose," cried Betsy. "You must breathe, yo_now."
For a time there was silence. Queen Ann and her army sat down upon the groun_o rest. Betsy sat on Hank's back. Polychrome danced lightly up and down th_eweled paths while Files and the Princess wandered through the groves arm i_rm. 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 Ugl_ne to step forth.
Betsy might have laughed aloud had she not remembered how sensitive t_idicule Shaggy's brother was, for the handkerchief with which he had maske_is features was a red one covered with big white polka dots. In this tw_oles had been cut—in front of the eyes—while two smaller ones before th_ostrils allowed the man to breathe freely. The cloth was then tightly draw_ver 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 an_rayed. His silk stockings had holes in them, and his shoes were stub-toed an_eeded blackening. "But what can you expect," whispered Betsy, "when the poo_an has been a prisoner for so many years?"
Shaggy had darted forward, and embraced his newly found brother with both hi_rms. The brother also embraced Shaggy, who then led him forward an_ntroduced him to all the assembled company.
"This is the new Nome King," he said when he came to Kaliko. "He is ou_riend, and has granted you your freedom."
"That is a kindly deed," replied Ugly in a sad voice, "but I dread to go bac_o the world in this direful condition. Unless I remain forever masked, m_readful 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 o_agic, and learned a good many enchantments that we nomes know nothing of."
"Perhaps Ruggedo himself might break his own enchantment," suggested Ann; "bu_nfortunately we have allowed the old King to escape."
"Never mind, my dear Brother," said Shaggy consolingly; "I am very happy t_ave found you again, although I may never see your face. So let us make th_ost of this joyful reunion."
The Ugly One was affected to tears by this tender speech, and the tears bega_o wet the red handkerchief; so Shaggy gently wiped them away with his coa_leeve.