"The Jolly Giraffe of Jomb"
By L. Frank Baum
Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Secret of the Lost Fortune, The Visitors from Oz, etc.
He was young and tender in the days when Varg the Bull saw him approaching over the grassy plain from the South, but the sight of the strange animal set all the herd quivering with nervous dread. Even the great Varg was disturbed in mind, and gathered the young heifers about him that they might be carefully guarded in case of danger. For, to the wild, danger lurks in every unknown thing.
The stranger approached without fear, his long neck erect, his dainty head turned first this side and then that to allow his big brown eyes to examine the mo-tionless cattle that awaited him. When he saw their attitude of fear he stopped and laughed merrily, drooping his head to his knees and then raising it high to laugh again.
The heifers drew sighs of relief, but the forehead of Varg the Bull wrinkled into a frown.
"Well, well," said little Umpo, squatting down so that his eyes were scarce above the level of those of the bull; "to think that you - the Lord of the Plains - should fear a harmless giraffe!"
"Are you a giraffe?" demanded Varg, looking at the strange creature with much astonishment.
"What else should I be, eh? Is there any animal on earth like me?" asked the other, with a wink.
"I have never seen anyone like you before," answered Varg, cautiously. "Will you fight?"
Umpo laughed again, with much amusement.
"No, indeed!" said he; "for you could kill me with one blow of your hoof, or one stab with your great horns. Fight? Why should I fight? Not that I am a coward, you understand, but that nature made me helpless. So let us be friends. This is a beautiful country. I will live here, and enjoy it with you. But I will acknowledge no chief, mind you, having no tribe of my own. I am the one giraffe in all Jomb, and 1 prefer death to being ruled by any not of my kind."
Now this was a frank speech, and a fair one, and it appealed to the justice of Varg the Bull. So he made fair answer. "You are welcome," said he, "so long as you show respect for our common laws. And I will not ask to rule you in any way. But there are others with whom you must make peace here."
"And who are those?" asked the smiling giraffe.
"The river bank is the domain of the hippopotami," said Varg.
"I will make them my friends," declared Umpo.
"And the strip of forest yonder, is ruled by Slythe the Red Panther."
"1 do not care for panthers," replied Umpo, with a shrug of his tall shoulders. "But never mind! We shall be friends."
"And beyond the forest is the desert of sands, where Feathro the Ostrich holds sway."
"Good!" cried Umpo, again laughing; "the ostriches will love me, I promise you."
"Then," said Varg, "have no fear while you are in the Land of Jomb, for you may wander undisturbed from the river to the desert. It is a favored country, indeed, where peace and plenty reign. And, being your own master, there is but one common Law which you will need to respect: Never touch the Sacred Mimosa Tree, or destroy a single leaf or branch - as you value your life."
Umpo the Giraffe gave a start of surprise at this and looked grave for the first time.
"The Sacred Mimosa Tree? What is that?" he asked.
"It is the tree that brings us all good luck," answered Varg. "Come; I will show it you, that you may make no mistake, but ever respect it as we of Jomb do."
He led the way across the grassy plain, followed by all the herd; and Umpo ambled beside him, chattering pleasantly and laughing in a frank, jolly way that won the approval of the grave Varg and all his people.
After an hour's brisk trot they came to a tall, wide-spreading mimosa that stood quite separate from all the other trees, in solitary state. It was almost in the centre of the narrow plain, and midway between the river bank and the strip of forest land. Beautiful in grace and dignity was the splendid tree, and its slender branches bore thick masses of green and glossy leaves. The large, deep-green leaves were at the top, and protected the delicate young shoots that spread underneath.
Umpo looked at the leaves longingly. They have always been the favorite food of giraffes, and the wanderer had not met with many mimosa trees while on his travels.
"This is the Sacred Tree that gives good luck and health and fortune to every animal in our land," said Varg, bowing his head in lowly fashion. "If it is injured in any way, troubles of many kinds will quickly overtake us. The one great Law of the tribes of Jomb is to guard it reverently. To pluck or destroy one leaf means death to the culprit." Umpo laughed.
"I wish for luck!" he cried. "Therefore the Sacred Tree shall be as sacred to me as to any animal in all Jomb."
"It is well," answered Varg, and straightway trotted back to his feeding grounds again.
Umpo wandered on to explore the extent of his new home, and it surely seemed that the young giraffe had little difficulty in making friends with all the tribes. His appearance doubtless surprise them, for never had such a creature been seen or even heard of before in that country; but for this very reason they looked upon him with favor, as a credit to the community, and he was so harmless in appearance and so merry in his ways that he became a welcome visitor wherever he chose to roam.
Also he was playful in disposition and loved to indulge in mischievous though harmless pranks; and with all his seeming helplessness he was quite indifferent to danger.
He would leap upon the broad back of a hippopotamus and let the huge beast swim the river for hours, while he stood upright and enjoyed the ride. The bearer would sometimes sink under the surface of the water and give Umpo a ducking; but he could swim, too, although not well, and always managed to reach the bank in safety. He laughed at the joke, instead of being angry, and the hippopotami were always glad when their jolly friend came to the river bank.
With the ostriches, also, Umpo had much mischievous fun. He would give a sudden, shrill cry to fill their timid hearts with terror and make them hide their heads deep within the sands. And then, while they stood thus, he played leap-frog with them, vaulting over their bodies with great nimbleness and laughing at the shudders they gave as his hoofs rested upon their broad backs.
It was with Slythe the Panther that Umpo had most difficulty in forming a friendship; for Slythe was of fierce nature and treacherous disposition, and his sleepy red eyes had a way of looking at the giraffe that made the stranger both uneasy and anxious.
"It is peace between us," the Panther would say, purring, as he lay crouched along a limb in his forest lair. "Go your way, Umpo, and fear not."
But Umpo was not entirely satisfied. "These meat-eaters are not to be trusted," he said to himself, "and if Varg the Bull and Pask the Hippopotamus and Feathro the Ostrich had not given me their protection, I am quite sure Slythe the Panther would eat me for his breakfast."
And therein lay the truth of the whole matter; for Slythe dared not prey upon one who was a favorite with all the other animals of the Land of Jomb; yet he longed most passionately to eat the giraffe.
Umpo grew rapidly, and became tall and graceful and very beautiful to look upon. His sleek coat was of fawn color upon the back and sides, dotted with gorgeous orange-red spots; but his breast was white as snow. His eyes, full, dark and brilliant, shone like cut-jewels.
But, although the animals admired his beauty, it was his genial disposition that most won them.
There were several groups of tropical trees scattered over the plain, and upon the juicy leaves of these the giraffe daily fed, reaching with his long neck even to the top branches. A few straggling mimosas were among these trees, but Umpo soon stripped the branches of every leaf, and grieved because there were no more.
When he became especially hungry he would visit the Sacred Tree and feast his eyes upon its luscious foliage; but he was loyal to his friends and respected his promise and left the great mimosa tree undisturbed.
Slythe watched him from his high perch near the edge of the forest; and as Umpo longed for the mimosa leaves so Slythe longed for Umpo. Indeed, his mouth watered every minute the jolly giraffe was in sight, and he licked his fierce chops and tried to think of some way to secure his prey without making the other animals his enemies.
At last the thought came to him.
One evening Umpo gazed upon the Sacred Tree and left the marks of his hoofs upon the soft ground underneath. Next morning all the young leaves of the tree were gone, and the branches were broken and mangled.
Slythe came bounding toward Varg the Bull and cried out: "Come quickly! Great trouble is upon the land. Bad luck will surely overtake us, for Umpo the Giraffe has despoiled the Sacred Tree to satisfy his wicked appetite!"
Varg came, and was angry with a mighty anger.
"The Jolly One shall die!" he said.
"I crave the right to kill him," cried the Red Pan-ther, quickly; "for am I not the executioner?"
To them they summoned from the river Pask the Hippopotamus, and from the desert Feathro the Ostrich, and the four chiefs of the Land of Jomb examined the hoof-marks and decided that the giraffe was the guilty one and must by punished by death as the Law provided.
Umpo was lying in the shade of a clump of trees that morning, his long neck stretched along the grass. And suddenly a Voice fell upon his ears, saying: "Your enemy threatens you, and danger is near. But do not lose heart. Be brave and of good cheer, and all will be well!"
While he thought upon this message, and wondered what it could mean - never guessing that the good Fairy of his race had spoken - a great clamor arose across the plain. And presently the four chiefs came tramping toward him, followed by a vast concourse of other animals. And now, indeed, Umpo realized that danger threatened him.
So, when all the beasts had gravely surrounded him and he had cast a glance into Varg's threatening eyes, the giraffe but raised his head to yawn as if half asleep, saying: "Welcome, friends! What may I do for your pleasure?"
"You may die the death of a traitor!" roared Varg, sternly; "for you have broken the one great Law, and despoiled the Sacred Tree."
"Nonsense!" returned the giraffe, lightly; and then slowly he rose to his feet and laughed in their fierce faces.
"A traitor must die, it is true; if, in fact, the Sacred Mimosa has been despoiled," said he. "But I am not the traitor, friends; so let us look elsewhere for the culprit."
Slythe lashed the ground angrily with his strong tail.
"I myself saw you eat of the leaves and break the branches," he growled.
"The Lord of the Forest lies as easily upon the plain as within his lair," Umpo answered, scornfully. "Good friends, I am hungry this very moment, and when you came near I was just wondering where I might get a breakfast."
The animals thronging about him exchanged uneasy glances with one another. Umpo, it seemed to them, did not appear to act as a culprit. Moreover, the Red Panther was not considered especially trustworthy. But Varg said:
"Enough! The word of a Chief is better than that of an outcast and a stranger in our land. Who else feeds upon the mimosa other than this long-necked one? Who else would violate the one great law? His very nature condemns him. Therefore will we give the giraffe to Slythe the Panther for punishment. Is it not just, my friends?" he added, turning to the other Lords.
"It is just," answered Pask the Hippopotamus. But as he turned away a tear glittered in his small eye.
"It is the Law, and Umpo must suffer," sighed Feathro the Ostrich, and his tone was exceedingly sad.
"Ah, well," said Umpo, raising his head proudly and gazing full at his relentless judges; "if you are determined upon my death I choose to be executed within the dark forest where Slythe rules. And I invite every one present who has been my friend to follow us and witness the deed, that you may know full justice is done."
This request surprised the assembled beasts, for it is their nature to wish to die alone and unwatched; but the Unseen Voice had again spoken to Umpo, although no ears but his own had heard the sound.
Slythe's cruel lips were grinning with joy as he marched away; but the animals followed with solemn tread.
When they reached the edge of the forest Slythe stopped; but the giraffe said, quietly: "Not here, my master," and pressed forward among the trees.
The Panther glowered upon him with sullen fury.
"Wait," he cried.
"Not so," answered Umpo, still walking on. "Surely I may choose the place of execution!" And at his word the animals followed after, forcing Slythe to proceed.
Suddenly the Jolly One paused in the thick of the wood.
"What a heap of dead leaves is here!" he said. "Let us scatter them, friends, and see what they chance to hide."
With a snarl of rage Slythe bounded forward; but Varg, who had been watching the giraffe closely, got in the Panther's way and stopped him.
"Have peace!" he commanded, sternly. "What can you have to fear in your own forest, Slythe?"
But even as he spoke the giraffe had scattered the dead leaves, and underneath them all saw, as eagerly they stretched their heads forward, the branches of delicate green which had been torn from the Sacred Tree.
The secret was out, then.
Slythe the Panther, in his anxiety to ruin Umpo, had himself despoiled the tree and hidden the stolen leaves.
A roar of rage burst from the assembled animals.
The sound, grim and menacing, aroused the astonished Slythe. Crouching low, he made a mighty bound toward the high branches of a nearby tree, seeking to escape. But even while he was poised in midair the head of the giraffe shot out and struck the flying body a sharp blow that hurled the panther to the ground again.
He fell at the feel of Varg, and instantly the furious bull gored the wicked one. And Feathro the Ostrich struck the Panther a blow with its foot, and Pask the Hippopotamus trampled the body of the traitor deep into the ground.
Then they heaped the place with dead leaves, after which Varg said, more gently than was his wont:
"The punishment is complete. Let us go away."
And now the strangest event of that eventful day occurred. For as the army of beasts drew near to the Sacred Tree they saw, with inexpressible wonder and awe, that every broken leaf and branch had been replaced by some magic power, and the great Mimosa swayed in the soft breeze as graceful and perfect in shape as ever before!
And all knew by this sign that Umpo the Giraffe was under the protection of the Fairies of his race.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, June 9, 1918.
Some More Puzzles
The Forgetful Poet was so busy packing his trunk that he had only time for one verse. (Perhaps it's just as well.) He says one word will answer all the blanks. I asked him if it was blank verse, and he was quite offended. The warm weather does make one captious, does it not? Well, anyway, here's his poem:
She wore a dress of beauteous ------,
The little girl I mention;
The window ------ was up,
That's how 'twas brought to my attention.
I saw her sitting on another day
Beneath a tree
Enjoying there the pleasant ------
In sweet complacency.
The ------s of night were falling,
As I saw the girl once more,
This time beside the lamp ------
She sat reading 'bout the war!
Last week's answers were railroad tie, a bagpipe, hornpipe, firedog, clothes horse, a magpie and a crane.
[Answers next time.]
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