The Valley of Romance

Before the travelers lay one of the most beautiful valleys they had
ever seen. Gently sloping hills led down to green fields. Through the
middle of the valley flowed a stream that looked like a shimmering
blue ribbon stretched out on a green carpet. On the near bank of the
stream, in the very center of the valley, stood a castle. Its spires,
turrets, and towers were so delicately formed that they glistened like
lace-filigree in the sunlight.

Twink’s eyes glowed. “Isn’t it just the most beautiful sight you ever
saw!” she exclaimed.

“It certainly is elegant,” admitted the Shaggy Man. “But what we want
to know is, what kind of folks live in it.”

“Oh, I’m sure they must be very happy and contented,” said Twink. “They
just _must_ be to live in a place like that.”

“Then we are going to visit the castle?” asked Twiffle a bit doubtfully.

“It seems the only thing to do,” replied the Shaggy Man. “I admit I
have no idea where we are, and there is just the possibility that
whoever lives in that castle may be able to help us get to Oz, or at
least give us directions to the Deadly Desert.”

Tom was already on his way, running happily down the green slope toward
the stream and the castle.

A ten-minute walk in the bright sunlight brought the little group of
adventurers to the doors of the castle. So far they had seen no living
persons. Birds sang in the trees, and once a white rabbit had bounded
across Tom’s path, but there were no signs of human beings.

The Shaggy Man stepped forward and knocked boldly on the heavy door.
Instantly it swung silently open. As the adventurers stepped inside,
Twink gasped and even the Shaggy Man, accustomed as he was to the
splendour of Ozma’s Royal Palace, was impressed with the magnificence
of his surroundings.

The floor and walls of the castle were of the whitest alabaster,
polished so that the creamy depths of the stone mirrored the luxurious
furnishings, casting a luster that enhanced the woven richness of the
deep-hued draperies in the paneled walls.

Who had built such a castle? Each of the travelers tried to picture
in his own mind the kind of people who might live here. Would they be
friendly or unfriendly, helpful or dangerous?

Still there was no sign of people. The only sound that broke the
stillness of the foyer in which Shaggy and his friends stood was the
tinkling of water as it flowed from a small fountain in the center
of the room. This fountain was fashioned like an ordinary drinking
fountain, the stream of water that rose from it being not more than
three or four inches in height. Around the rim of the alabaster
fountain was a metal plate with writing inscribed upon it.

Her curiosity aroused, Twink advanced to the fountain and read:

This is a Phontain.
Any visitors are
requested to speak
their messages into it.
Signed: Rex Ticket & Regina Curtain.

“What in the world can it mean?” whispered Twink. Her companions had
gathered about her and were reading the metal plate with wonder.

“Rex and Regina,” ventured the Shaggy Man, “are King and Queen–that’s
Latin. So evidently the head-folks of this castle are King Ticket and
Queen Curtain. Hmmmm–certainly odd names for a King and Queen.”

“A Phontain–and we’re supposed to talk into it!” sniffed Twiffle with
disgust. “Whoever heard of such nonsense!”

“Well,” observed the Shaggy Man, “I’ve heard of babbling brooks, so why
not a talking fountain that will carry our words?”

“A phoney fountain, I suppose,” said Tom, grinning.

Shaggy stooped over the Phontain and spoke clearly and distinctly:

“This is the Shaggy Man of Oz speaking. In behalf of my friends, Twink
and Tom of the United States of America, Twiffle, late of the Isle of
Conjo, and myself, I request an audience with King Ticket and Queen
Curtain.”

Almost immediately a red neon sign lighted up over two large double
doors at the opposite end of the foyer. The sign flashed the single
word “ENTRANCE.”

“I guess this is where we go in,” remarked the Shaggy Man as he walked
to the door and pushed the large metal handle.

They were in a small, brightly lighted theater containing about one
hundred seats. On the stage, seated on two thrones, were a man and a
woman–evidently King Ticket and Queen Curtain.

All about the King and Queen on the stage there was a bustle of the
most frenzied activity. There sounded the clash and clatter of hammers,
the ripping of saws and the whirring of drills and bits. Perhaps
fifteen or twenty men were hard at work knocking together and erecting
a bewildering array of scenery. Calmly seated about the stage on
three-cornered stools, their sewing baskets at their sides, were a
number of ladies sewing on costumes. Others were apparently sewing
together large pieces of canvas. Still other ladies were engaged in
painting artistic pictures on the canvas which was then stretched on
wooden frameworks to serve as backdrops for the stage.

After Shaggy and his friends had watched this display of industry for
several minutes, they advanced down the middle aisle of the theater.

The King and Queen had been doing no actual work. They merely issued
directions to the others who seemed not to pay them the slightest heed,
but continued with their tasks.

King Ticket looked up. “Well,” he said to the Shaggy Man, “you
certainly took your time getting here. It was at least three minutes
ago that you announced yourselves on the Phontain.”

“Do you mean you really heard us through that water fountain?” asked
the Shaggy Man.

“Water hath a limpid tongue with which to lave the naked ear,” said
King Ticket in a voice which was meant to be impressive. “Of course we
heard you through the Phontain. There are Phontains in all the rooms
of the Castle–even in the theater, here–which repeat messages when we
speak into them.”

Twink thought this was much nicer than telephones which rudely jangling
bells, although probably not as private.

“You didn’t think,” commented Queen Curtain, as though she had read
Twink’s thoughts, “that we would use ordinary means of communication,
such as telephones, in the Valley of Romance, did you?”

“Oh,” said the Shaggy Man, “is this the Valley of Romance?”

“It is, and since you are from the Land of Oz,” said King Ticket, “you
must surely have heard of the Valley of Romance.”

The Shaggy Man reflected. It seemed he could recall Ozma mentioning
something about some such valley, but he couldn’t remember anything
that she had said about it.

“How far are we from the Land of Oz?” asked Twiffle.

“Dear me!” exclaimed King Ticket staring at Twiffle. “For a moment I
thought you were real!”

“I am real,” stated Twiffle with dignity. “I just don’t happen to be
made of flesh and blood and bones, that’s all.”

“And as for the Land of Oz,” remarked Queen Curtain meditatively, “it
is indeed very far away–over the stream and over the hill–far, far
away to the desert, and then over that, too. In fact, it isn’t even in
the Valley of Romance, so that means it must be quite some distance
off. Too far even to think of,” she added as though to say that closed
the subject.

The Shaggy Man shrugged. Evidently these two weren’t going to be of
much help to the travelers in finding their way back to Oz. Well, they
would make a lunch of the apples he carried in his pockets and then
continue on their journey.

Shaggy and his friends made themselves comfortable in the deeply
upholstered seats in the front row of the theater. Shaggy divided the
apples between Twink, Tom, and himself. He offered several to King
Ticket and Queen Curtain, who refused them rather disdainfully.

Shaggy and his friends ate in silence while they watched the activity
on the stage. Not one of the busily working men and women seemed even
to be aware of the presence of the strangers.

Finishing his apples, the Shaggy Man arose and said, “Looks like you
folks are getting ready for quite a play. What’s the name of it?”

Unexpectedly one of the workers on a ladder stopped his task of
hammering together a bit of framework for the scenery and replied
to Shaggy’s question: “That we won’t know until the curtain goes up
tonight. Tonight’s the First Night of this new play, and I shall be in
charge.” The fellow added impressively, “For I am the First Knight of
the Realm, you know.”

“No,” replied the Shaggy Man, “I didn’t know.” Shaggy was a little
angry for he thought the man was making fun of him.

“Oh, yes,” Queen Curtain went on placidly. “He is the First Knight of
the Realm–in fact all these people are Lords and Ladies of the Royal
Theater.”

“And do you always build your own scenery and make your own costumes?”
asked the Shaggy Man.

King Ticket shifted uneasily on his throne. “Yes, and it always seems
to turn out rather badly. I suppose all we were really meant to do was
to enjoy the magnificent performances on the stage. And,” the King
brightened, “that is all we truly have any desire to do. That is a
full life for us and quite enough–to sit in the theater and watch
great drama unfold. What need have we for any lives of our own, when
the stage is a world in itself and therein we are content to dwell.”
The King’s voice gently subsided to a whisper, and his eyes stared
dreamily into space.

Queen Curtain took up the story. “During the performances Lord Props
and Lady Cue help the actors, although none too well, I must admit.
Lord Props seldom gets things right: when a gun shot is called for
there is very likely to be a bell ringing. Once when the scene required
a bowl of goldfish, Lord Props actually managed to cram a whole live
lobster into a soup tureen. Lady Cue does, however, manage to do a bit
better with her cues. She is seldom more than two lines behind the
actors.”

“How long do your plays run?” asked Shaggy.

“Night after night after glorious night for years and years and
years–sometimes as long as we can remember there has been the same
wonderful play for us to see on the stage at night,” said the King who
had awakened from his dream.

“And what do you do the rest of the time?” queried the Shaggy Man.

“Nothing–nothing but sleep,” answered King Ticket. “Why should we? We
have the glorious stage for our lives.” The King looked about him at
the work going on.

“Who are your actors?” asked Tom.

For a moment King Ticket seemed embarrassed. Then he replied vaguely
with a wave of his hand as if to dismiss the matter as of little
importance: “Oh, just actors–you know, the usual thing, leading man,
leading lady, villain, comedian, and so forth.”

“Come,” said the Shaggy Man, “we’re wasting time here. We should be on
our way if we ever hope to reach the Land of Oz.”

Queen Curtain looked up. “You won’t stay for dinner and the theater?”

“No, thank you,” replied Shaggy. “We have a long journey ahead of us
and we really must be going on our way now.”

With this, Shaggy and his friends walked up the aisle toward the door
by which they had entered the theater. King Ticket had been staring
intently at the Shaggy Man and now he whispered something in a low
voice to Queen Curtain. The Queen considered for a moment and then
nodded her head.

Twink and Tom, who were directly behind the Shaggy Man, stopped and
stared at each other. They were only half way up the aisle. The Shaggy
Man had been only a step ahead of them.

Now he was gone–vanished completely!

Twink and Tom were utterly bewildered at their friend’s disappearance.
They didn’t know what to do next.

Twiffle turned to King Ticket and Queen Curtain on the stage and
demanded: “Where is the Shaggy Man?”

King Ticket looked up innocently. “Why, has he gone somewhere?”

“Certainly he has gone somewhere,” said Twiffle, who was becoming
angry. “And you had better tell us where. Don’t forget that the Shaggy
Man is an important personage of the Land of Oz. If anything happens to
him you will be sorry.”

“Pooh!” sniffed King Ticket. “We know all about the Land of Oz and its
silly girl ruler, Ozma. But your famous Shaggy Man had not even heard
of the Valley of Romance. What can anyone in Oz do? They don’t even
know of our existence.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” declared Twiffle with more courage
than he felt.

“Anyway,” continued King Ticket musingly, “the Land of Oz is vastly
over-rated. Why, as far as I know, there isn’t a single theater in all
the country!”

“And so,” began Queen Curtain quietly, “why don’t you children just
make yourselves comfortable until dinner time? Then you may join us for
the meal and afterwards you shall be our guests in the Royal Box to
witness the performance of our new play.”

Twiffle was aroused now. He climbed right up on the arm of King
Ticket’s chair. “We don’t want your dinner. We don’t want to see your
play. All we want is the Shaggy Man and then we shall continue our
journey.”

“Tut, tut,” admonished King Ticket. “What a violent disposition the
little puppet has.”

“I am afraid,” said Queen Curtain, “that you really have no choice. You
must stay here until we are ready for you to depart. After all, you
came of your own accord, you know.”

Twiffle was silent. He was at a loss to know what to say or do. Twink
and Tom felt suddenly alone and a little bit frightened, now that the
Shaggy Man was gone. Even in the brief time they had known him, they
had grown very fond of him, and had come to rely upon him.

Seeing this, Twiffle returned to stand by the children and said: “Never
you mind. We’ll find the Shaggy Man all right. Perhaps it would be wise
to remain here tonight as these people wish us to do. That will give us
a chance to find out what they have done with Shaggy.”

This was said in a whisper, to which Tom answered: “Well, I could enjoy
a good meal. We haven’t had anything to eat but fruit since yesterday.”
Actually Tom was as worried about Shaggy as Twink, but, being a boy, he
didn’t want to let the girl know.

Twink was indignant. “I’m surprised at you, Tom! The idea of talking
about food when we’ve just lost our best friend! But I suppose Twiffle
is right.”

“Good!” said King Ticket. “Then that is settled and you will be with us
for dinner and the theater!”

“Gosh!” exclaimed Tom, “do you suppose he heard everything we said?”

“I don’t have any doubt of it,” replied Twiffle calmly. “Therefore we
might as well converse in our ordinary voices.”

“You were indeed fortunate to have arrived just in time for the opening
night of our new play,” said Queen Curtain pleasantly. “I am sure you
will enjoy it immensely. Tell me, have you children seen many plays?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Tom, “we have seen lots of our school plays, and
last Christmas Twink and I had important parts in the Christmas
pageant.”

“Well, then, you will certainly enjoy yourselves tonight,” said the
Queen, smiling happily at the children. “We will work only about an
hour more. Then everything will be in readiness. That will give us
plenty of time to tidy up, dress in our finest, and enjoy the dinner
and the play to the utmost.”

The hour passed swiftly. The children apparently were engrossed in the
work going on, on the stage, but actually their thoughts were busy
puzzling over the mystery of what had happened to the Shaggy Man.

“Lady Cue will show you to your rooms, children,” announced Queen
Curtain, rising from her throne. The Lords and Ladies were putting away
their tools and sewing. A tall, thin, worried-looking woman, sewing
basket on her arm, stepped down a short flight of stairs from the stage
and smiled rather absent-mindedly at Twink and Tom.

“You will come with me, I think?” she said hesitantly.

Twink and Tom looked at Twiffle, who nodded, and all three followed
the tall lady who was proceeding uncertainly up the aisle.

Outside the theater, Lady Cue led Twiffle and the children up a broad
staircase leading to the second floor of the castle. Here there was a
long corridor, with smaller corridors leading off of it, each with many
doors opening into various suites and rooms. Lady Cue had advanced only
a short distance down the main corridor when she stopped uncertainly
before a door and turned to her charges.

“This is a door,” she said, “but do you think it is the right one?”

“I’m sure we wouldn’t know, Madame,” replied Twiffle. “After all, you
live in this castle and should know all about it.”

Lady Cue sighed. “Of course, of course. I forgot for the moment that
you are the strangers. Well, we shall have to do our best to find the
right door.”

“Haven’t you been in any of these rooms?” asked Tom curiously.

“_In_ them?” asked Lady Cue vaguely. “Oh, I must have since I live
here, you know. Once inside the rooms I am sure I would be able to find
my way with no trouble. But outside them it is most confusing. How is
one to know what is _inside_ when one is _outside_?”

Lady Cue looked at them beseechingly and wandered down the corridor to
another door exactly like the one she had just left. She stared at this
one for several minutes, then boldly opened it a crack and peered in.

“Oh, Goodness! I beg your pardon,” she said to someone in the room,
hastily closing the door. “Well,” she said, “that’s one that isn’t the
one. The First Knight of the Realm is in there pressing his breeches
for tonight’s performance.”

“The First Knight of the Realm presses his own clothes?” asked Twink.

“He does, he does,” asserted Lady Cue wagging her head. “I did it for
him once, but somehow the creases ran zig-zag and he looked like he was
corrugated. It is my opinion, though,” Lady Cue added in a confidential
whisper, “that he wears a poor quality garment.”

Lady Cue turned and started off down one of the smaller corridors.
Twink, Tom, and Twiffle followed her, at which Lady Cue stopped and
looked at them with a puzzled expression. “Did you wish to see me?” she
asked.

“You were taking us to our rooms,” reminded Twiffle.

“I was?” exclaimed Lady Cue greatly surprised. “Well, then you just
show me where your rooms are and I will be glad to take you to them.”

“But you were supposed to show _us_ to our rooms,” said Tom.

“I was? Oh, dear, this is confusing,” said Lady Cue.

“Have you no idea where our rooms are, Madame?” asked Twiffle.

“I wouldn’t say that,” replied Lady Cue. “I did have a very good idea,
but it seems I mislaid it somewhere. There are so very many rooms you
know–and any one of them might be yours, if only there weren’t so many
other people in the castle. That’s what we must be careful about, you
know. You will want your very own rooms, won’t you? I don’t think you
would want to share rooms with someone else, would you, maybe?”

All the time they were wandering from corridor to corridor while Lady
Cue became more and more unsure of her bearings.

At last she stopped and said hopelessly, “You’ll have to pardon me, my
friends, but I am afraid I am lost. I haven’t the faintest idea where
we are.”

“What shall we do?” asked Twink.

“I have it,” said Lady Cue. “I will pin my handkerchief to this door,”
and she indicated a door opposite them, “so that we can’t get more
lost. Whenever we pass this door with the handkerchief on it, we will
know exactly where we are.”

“And where will that be?” asked Twiffle.

“Why, where the handkerchief is, of course,” replied Lady Cue. With
that Lady Cue reached in her pocket and pulled out a large linen napkin
that bore traces of food on it.

“Oh, dear,” she exclaimed. “I seem to have picked this up at luncheon.
How thoughtless of me.” She advanced to the door, and removing a large
safety pin from the front of her dress, carefully pinned the napkin to
the door.

“Whose rooms are these?” asked Twiffle.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” replied Lady Cue.

“Why not open the door and find out?” pursued Twiffle.

“Why not?” echoed Lady Cue as she turned the knob and pushed open the
door. They all stepped inside. There was no sign of any occupants
of the room. The closets were all empty and there were no personal
articles about. The suite consisted of a large, beautifully furnished
living room, with doors leading to two comfortable bedrooms with baths.

“Why can’t we use these rooms?” asked Twiffle.

“What a wonderful idea,” exclaimed Lady Cue. “Then we won’t have to
hunt any longer for your rooms, because these will be your rooms. But
are you sure it’s all right? It sounds much too simple.” And with a
worried look the poor lady started to take down the napkin from the
door.

“No, no,” said Twiffle. “Leave the napkin there. Then you will be able
to find us again. Remember now–just look for the napkin on the door
and you’ll know which is our room.”

Lady Cue nodded and extracted a large, old-fashioned watch from the
depths of her sewing basket. She squinted at it, and said, “You have
just one-half hour to prepare for dinner. I will call for you and take
you to the–the–oh yes, the dining room. That,” she confided, “is
where they are serving dinner tonight.” With that the befuddled Lady
Cue closed the door, only to find she was still in the room. So, she
opened it, stepped outside, and then carefully closed it again.

Twink, Tom, and Twiffle, in spite of their troubles, burst out
laughing. If anything went right with the play tonight they were sure
it wouldn’t be due to Lady Cue’s efforts.

While Twiffle waited patiently, the children bathed, scrubbed their
faces and hands, and reappeared much refreshed and quite ready for the
dinner that had been promised them.

Twink was fascinated with the long rows of books on one side of the
luxuriously furnished room, but she hardly had time to do more than
glance at a few pictures, when there came a gentle rapping on their
door.

Twiffle opened it. There stood Lady Cue. Her dress was on backwards and
she had forgotten to do her hair. Solemnly she counted Twink, Tom, and
Twiffle–one, two, three. “Is that right?” she asked them anxiously.
“Were there just three of you? So often when I count I have something
left over. This time it seems to come out even. That’s very odd.”

“Three would be odd,” muttered Twiffle. Fortunately Lady Cue didn’t
hear him, or she might have become even more confused. She was
already on her way through the corridors, so the children and the
clown followed her. After several false starts, and wandering through
a number of corridors, they finally found their way to the great
staircase.

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