The Golden Tulips of the Painted Desert

Mr. Toad, feeling the pinch of poverty because Badger put him on a strict allowance goes Searching for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Marley is feeling disappointed because Death Valley has no Saguaro cactuses – the kind that look like they have arms. Chuck the guardian Dodo bird arranges for Marley help Mole and him rescue Toad from the desert heat and from the crazed Stromboli.

The Golden Tulips of the Painted Desert

by

Tonton Jim

“Where are the cactuses with the funny arms?” From the backseat of Mom and Dad’s SUV, Marley stared hard at the passing emptiness. She asked herself for the tenth time, “This is the Death Valley desert?”

“Oh, I don’t think we’re going to see any of those here in this desert,” said her father. “But, just think, we’re going to be below sea level. Imagine that, Marley.”

“Will we be able to look up at whales?”

“Um, no. It doesn’t work that way.”

The day after Marley’s father announced the weekend mini-vacation, she’d promised the know-it-all boy in her class a real photo of the cactus with arms. So far, she hadn’t seen any cactuses at all, just scrubby little bushes that looked like they could use a shower. After driving for about an hour more, they arrived at their Furnace Creek resort. The one-hundred-and-ten-degree heat hit her the second she opened the door of the air-conditioned SUV. It felt like a too warm invisible blanket had been thrown over her. As she walked to their room she could feel the heat on every part of her body. Of course, the first thing she and her family did was to put on their bathing suits and sunscreen and head off to the pool.

Later that day, as the sun made long shadows, she asked her mother’s permission to walk to the top of the hill behind the motel. She wanted to take her father’s binoculars and her camera and search around for that special cactus. She just knew they really did exist and weren’t cartoon silliness. But even with her valid reason, her mother said, “No.”

“I promise not to get lost.”

“Umm, I know you won’t, but…” Her mother hesitated because she didn’t want to say that her main fear was rattlesnakes. “Why don’t you stay on the hotel grounds and tomorrow your father and I will take you on a desert hike, before it gets too hot.”

Knowing where the hotel grounds ended and the barren desert started was easy. The hotel grounds flourished with green grass, trees and shrubs. Outside of the hotel property, almost nothing grew, certainly nothing green. So, Marley walked to the edge of the green lawn. She put the binoculars to her eyes and searched and searched. There was not a single tall with arms cactus out there in the tan dirt flatness, not a cactus to be seen. In fact, there were hardly any plants at all. Her disappointment smothered her as much as the heat. Not wanting to cry – sweat already dripped down her face – she sat down in the scruffy grass, knees up and her face buried between them. She heard her mother call her name, but she wasn’t going to move – not for dinner, not for her mom or dad, not for anyone.

She felt a finger tap her on her shoulder. Without raising her face, she said, “Go away, I hate this place.”

“Oh,” said the familiar voice of Chuck, her guardian dodo bird, “I had high hopes you’d be able to help us.”

Marley looked up and immediately felt better. Forty degrees cooler, in fact. But being by the banks of the Storybook Land Grand Canal always felt cooler.

“Help you? Of course, I will, but how?”

“Toad, the dear, dear creature, has done it again. Come inside and we’ll explain it to you over a nice cup of hot chocolate and some dodonuts.”

They walked up the grassy slope to Toad Hall. Marley noticed ladders against the stately brick mansion and some workmen on the roof. As they drew close to the front door, she glanced through the window and could see the backs of the comfy chairs by the fireplace. Chuck led the way in while saying, “I bring glad tidings. Marley has agreed to help us.” And then, he headed straight to the kitchen while Marley continued into the sitting room.

Badger, Mole, and Ratty stood up from their chairs by the fire and turned to face Marley. Their expressions clearly showed their pleasure at seeing their old friend again.

“Lassie, that is good news, indeed. I myself would gladly go after the errant animal, but unfortunately, I must stay here and oversee the workmen.”

“I’d go,” said Ratty, “but I must stay home to oversee the plumbers. River water has leaked into my basement.”

“It’s canal water,” said Mole softly and then, joyfully, to Marley, “It’s wonderfully nice of you to pay us a visit, and especially on this day. We have visiting royalty.”

“Aye, the queen of the fairies,” said Badger as he headed to the front door. “We mustn’t keep her majesty waiting. Come along at once. As we walk and row, I’ll explain what the daft Toad has done this time.”

Ratty shouted in the direction of the kitchen, “We’re off to see Queen Mab and to ask Tinker Bell to help us with some fairy dust. Join us when you can.”

“Right-o,” answered the voice of Chuck.

As they walked down the front lawn of Toad Hall toward the boathouse on the canal, Badger explained, “You see, lassie, it all started because of Toad Hall being in such bad repair.”

“It takes a lot of money to maintain these old mansions,” said Ratty.

“So, in order to pay for the repairs,” said Badger, “I had to put Toad on a strict allowance, for you well know what a wastrel he can be.”

“I’ve heard stories,” replied Marley who hadn’t read the book but had seen the cartoon movie.

“They’re all true.” Ratty shook his head. “The things he’s wasted good money on.”

“Things like cars, caravans, and even airplanes?” asked Marley.

“Aye, lassie, plus the timeshare beachfront condo far above the Arctic Circle, where he never goes, I might add.”

“Can’t say as I blame him,” said Mole.

“Anyway, you can plainly see that he had to be put on a very strict allowance.”

“Poor Toad,” said Marley.

“With so little spending money, he soon descended into poor spirits and became desperate to find another source of income,” said Ratty.

“That’s when that blighter showed up at the front door selling treasure maps,” said Badger. “Toad gave him all the coins he had in his pocket plus his father’s gold watch in exchange for a map to a goldmine.”

“The silly animal should’ve realized that no one sells something valuable for a gold watch and a pocketful of change,” said Ratty. “But the worse part is that Toad really believes he has a map to the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. It’s suppose to exist somewhere in the Painted Desert.”

“Where’s that?” asked Marley who was unfamiliar with gold mines, lost or found.

“Remember the frontier town where you caught the riverboat?” asked Mole.

“Yeah, I sure do,” said Marley.

“Well, you go to that town, take a right, and that leads you to the town of Rainbow Ridge which is right next to a mountain and on the other side of that mountain is the Painted Desert and somewhere in that vast wasteland is where Toad has gone off to.”

They had reached the boathouse and docks where Badger and Ratty climbed into a boat and took up oars. Marley and Mole climbed into the boat and sat facing the rowers.

“The map Toad bought is as phony as the pictures of his beachfront condo,” said Badger.

“We’re worried poor Toad won’t ever give up searching for a gold mine that simply doesn’t exist,” said Mole, “and so, we will go there, find him, and persuade him to come home.”

“Won’t he be awfully disappointed?”

“Can’t be helped,” said Badger. “But he’ll listen to you. He respects you like a parent.”

Marley could see that they were rowing to the long and thin island in the middle of the Grand Canal that the Storybook folk called Kensington Gardens. She knew that the fairies, and the pixies as well, like to promenade on the island. She didn’t know of any living quarters on the island fit for a queen. As their boat glided nearer to the island, she could see a cloud of buzzing pinpoint lights.

“Ahoy!” shouted Chuck.

Marley turned her head to see Chuck rowing in their wake. He had a chain of dodonuts around his neck. She waved but he couldn’t wave back without letting go of his oars. By the time they had secured their rowboat to the island dock, he caught up. Marley took his dock lines, secured them, and extended her hand to Chuck’s to help him out of the boat. This he accomplished awkwardly. Not only are dodo birds extinct and flightless, but they also mostly lack athletic grace. They make up for this by being just about the nicest flightless birds one would ever meet, much nicer than penguins.

“I brought us some hot cocoa. It’s in that tall round container.”

To save Chuck the effort and embarrassment of having to reach into the boat with his short arms, Marley jumped down and handed up to him what looked like to her a large thermos bottle.

“It’s something to admire, is it not?” He received the thermos from her hands. “The White Knight just invented it. It does a wonderful job of keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.”

“He invented that? We have those back in my world.”

“I know. But I hadn’t the heart to tell him that. He’s a very proud knight.”

With the boats secured, and a piece of dodonut in one hand and a cup of cocoa in the other, they walked single file on the lamppost lit walkway. Ahead of them, at the very end of the island, a glowing cloud of fairies and pixies seemed to be their intended destination.

“Does the fairy queen have a castle to stay in?” asked Marley.

“Not here, but the fairies pitch a grand tent and set up an outdoor throne for her and her court,” replied Badger.

Truth to tell, Marley had never seen much more of the fairies than their intense glow. Even when playing Bubble-ball and they expanded themselves into fearsome athletes, she could just barely see their bodies and certainly not their faces, though she could see the blur of their vibrating wings. Needless to say, she held few expectations of seeing regal elegance. And she was right.

If it weren’t for Chuck describing the royal scene set in front of their eyes, Marley wouldn’t have had a clue. She could see the pin-points of light lining up in two rows with one solitary light at the head. She imagined that she could hear some sort of buzzing coming from the pretty little scene. But that was just her imagination fueled by her curiosity. Even with her vivid imagination she certainly didn’t expect Chuck’s next words.

“Oh my, the fairies and pixies are all het up about something. Dear me, this is bad news. Queen Mab has ordered Tinker Bell to leave the royal presence. The queen told her to go put on pants.”

“Pants?” asked Marley.

“Yes, pants. Queen Mab insists that her subjects dress in a modest fashion, and, well, Tinker Bell does like to show off her legs.”

“Does that mean she can’t help us?”

“Afraid so, our little winged friend has gone into hiding and is sulking. But perhaps the queen might suggest a replacement.” Chuck cleared his throat, looked at where the queen sat on her throne, and quietly said, “Queen Mab, I humbly beseech a favor of you.”

They listened as closely as they could, but only Chuck understood the queen’s reply. They could see him nod his head as he listened. His expression brightened as much as a dodo bird’s expression could.

“Wonderful. She has a replacement for us; a fairy by the name of Nimphidia. Now, as per the custom, she is relating Nimphidia’s heritage. Oh my, it is quite an esteemed heritage, dating all the way back to the Elizabethan era.”

The others, not as fascinated by fairy family history, munched dodonuts and sipped cocoa. Fortunately, just as they drank the last of the cocoa in the thermos, Chuck turned to them and said, “Excellent! We shall leave immediately. Mole, good fellow, are you ready?”

 

After rowing through the not-so-secret tunnel canal and after Nimphidia sprinkled fairy dust on our three heroic rescuers, they entered the frontier town. At the far end of the street they could see a riverboat docked, white smoke drifting out of its chimneys.

“I wonder if that steamboat just arrived?” asked Marley.

“Just arrived and not leaving,” said Mole. “Because it would be nice to see Bee again.”

“Oh my,” said Chuck. “I think I do see someone familiar. Oh, well, perhaps he’s learned to be a better person.”

That hopeful and kind wish caused Mole and Marley to start looking around. Marley saw him first and exclaimed, “Stromboli!”

“I don’t think he’s spied us, yet,” said Mole quietly. “Perhaps we may be able to sidle past him.”

Stromboli, standing on the back step of his caravan, now a medicine wagon, was so involved in selling bottles of medicine having no value whatsoever, that he didn’t see our rescuers duck down an alley. From there they hurried down a side street and made their way to the other end of town and the road to Rainbow Ridge. It was a dusty road, but lucky for them no dust-kicking-up horses or wagons traveled that rutted lane, as of yet.

“Would anyone be much interested in singing a hiking song?” asked Mole.

“That is an excellent idea,” said Chuck. “However, when we look back at this adventure, we’ll probably refer to it not as a hike we took but as the time we saved Toad from the burning desert.”

“So, we should sing a mining song?” asked Marley.

“Exactly so,” replied Chuck. “You wouldn’t happen to know any, would you?”

“Well, kind of. There’s that song the seven…”

“Mining engineers of ordinary statue,” filled in Chuck wanting to save Marley an embarrassing false step.

“Whatever you want to call them, it is ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho’, they go,” sang out Mole.

“No,” said Chuck. “I do believe they sing, ‘hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go.’ Though it might be said that the song is not appropriate since we are not truly going off to work for we are not professional rescuers. We’re just doing this out of the charity of our good hearts.”

“Marley, have you ever heard this delightful ditty?” Mole cleared his throat, tilted his face upward and sang out, “Happy trails to you, I hope we meet again.”

“Hold on,” said Chuck. “That song would be better sung at the end of our adventure.”

Marley, who had lost all interest in singing a song, hiking, mining, or in farewell, shouted out, “Hey! I see some buildings up ahead. Do you think it might be Rainbow Ridge?”

It was undeniably Rainbow Ridge. All the houses had been painted all the colors of the rainbow, and then some. The trunks of the palm trees lining the road leading into town had also been painted. The first ones, painted white didn’t look too weird, but the ones closer to town painted in rainbow colors, definitely did.

“Why on earth did they paint the tree trunks?” asked Mole.

“Maybe because they had paint left over from painting their houses?” suggested Marley.

Mole beamed with pleasure, Chuck nodded his head in satisfaction. Each of them knew that Marley was the brightest child they’d ever met, and it pleased them to hear her prove it every so often.

As they entered the main street of the town, they pointed out the houses not painted in one of the seven colors of the rainbow but in exotic colors the names of which they did not know. But here they are anyway, Candy Apple Red, Neon Yellow, Sparkly Orange, Royal Velvet Purple, Indigo Ink, Vibrating Violet, and Green Plaid in a Can.

The first town person they met, Mole couldn’t help but to point out, “Your town is called Rainbow Ridge, but the town citizens have painted their houses in more than just the seven colors of the rainbow. Shouldn’t you call your town, ‘All The Colors One Could Possibly Dream Of Ridge’?”

“Nope,” said the townee, “Take a gander up there.”

Mole’s, Marley’s, and Chuck’s eyes followed the direction pointed out by the townee’s finger. Each of them wondered how they could’ve missed seeing the steep and tall ridge rising just behind the town. After all, the ridge did contain, in layers, just the seven colors of the rainbow.

“Oh,” said Mole. “Well, then, could you direct us to a desert supply store, one with reasonable prices.”

“Yep, it’s just over there.” Again, the townee pointed to where he wanted our heroes to look.

“There?” asked Mole. “In the center of town?”

“Nope, in the center of town is our main street. Collodi’s Badlands Survival Supplies store is kind of off to the side there.”

Not wanting to quip and jest all day and intrigued by the mention of a good friend’s name our heroes rushed over to Collodi’s store. They were also pleased to see a large sign in the window advertising “Reasonable Prices (my reason, not yours)”. As they walked in, Signoir Collodi looked up from the journal on the counter and laid down his pen.

“My friends, what a delight to see you here, especially in such a barren place.”

“Begging your pardon,” said Mole, “but this town looks extremely colorful to us.”

“Eh, what’s colorful isn’t natural, and vice versa. So, you’re here to make an expedition to rescue your friend, Mr. Toad?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“When he walked into my store, with just one look I knew someone would have to go and save the poor soul. He showed me his map, and I showed him a dozen I had just like his. I sell them to tourists for entertainment purposes only. But he wouldn’t believe me and off he went with only half of the supplies he needed to survive out there.”

“Mr. Collodi, excuse me for asking: But why are you here?” asked Marley

“My doctor advised me to come to the desert for my health.”

“Was your health bad?”

“No, just my doctor. I’m selling out and going home just as soon as you return from your mission of mercy. Now, the first article needed for survival in the burning hot Painted Desert are hats.”

After the three had picked out hats – straw life guard hats with built in sunglasses – signor Collodi supplied them with canteens, medical kits, and so many other things that Marley wondered how they would ever carry so much stuff.

“Not to worry,” he said. “I will rent you a donkey. You can pick him up at the stable near the end of town. It’s right after the dodonuts shop.”

With their arms full of the necessary supplies they exited the shop. With Chuck leading the way they quickly headed to the dodonuts shop. If Chuck hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to the shop, one of them might’ve noticed a medicine wagon pulling into town. Stromboli certainly noticed them. Dodo birds being a rare and extinct bird Chuck always gets instant recognition, except for Thanksgiving when he likes to disguise himself as a pilgrim. But more importantly, Stromboli saw what store our heroes had just come out of. He tied his horse’s reins to a post and walked into Collodi’s shop. This time, he told himself, he better not sell me nothing funny.

“Stromboli, my favorite scoundrel. How’s business?”

“The medicine business is not so good. People nowadays don’t care enough about being in good health.”

“Do you mean to tell me you can’t find enough fools willing to pay an E ticket for a bottle of sugar water? What a shame.”

“Hey! My medicine is lots more than just sugar water. I add something special, my secret special stuff.”

“I have a suspicion your secret ingredient is gunpowder from the fire crackers I sold you. But be that as it may. What service can I provide you with?”

“I saw some good buddies of mine leave this store. Maybe they’re going to the Painted Desert to go find something; maybe something valuable like gold. I think I should go help them. I got a horse and wagon. Maybe I can help them haul the gold ore back to town. Eh? What do you think?”

“I think you need a map and some supplies.”

“What for I need a map? I’ll just follow my good friends. Heh-heh.”

“Those three forgot to buy the map, but they’re looking for their friend, not for the lost gold mine. Mr. Toad, on the other hand, did have a map to…” signor Collodi leaned forward and whispered, “the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

“He did? Mr. Toad? The green fellow? Oh, I see now. I need to find the Toad fellow first, and I can find him and the gold if I have the same map. That’s some smart thinking.”

Not only did Stromboli buy a map, but also the following survival-in-the-burning-hot-desert supplies: Sun Screen (a window shade mounted on a tripod); Water finding wands (looked like a forked stick); Bad water detectors (flashcards of cow skulls next to pools of smoking water); and jars of instant water (just add water).

Signor Collodi helped him load his purchases into the medicine caravan wagon. Stromboli climbed aboard and urged his horse to, if not run, at least break into a quick step cantor. The horse ignored the repeated rein slaps and began his usual ambling pace.

 

“Well, we’re lost,” said Mole. “We haven’t even found the desert much less Toad.”

Shortly after leaving town they had come upon a sign: “Shortcut to the Painted Desert”. It seemed like a good idea at the time, so they’d left the rutted dirt road and followed a narrow hiking trail up into the hills. Now, after walking uphill for what seemed a long time, they’d reached a fork in the mountain trail they’d been walking. In fact, their present trail split into four different directions, though the fourth might not have been an actual trail. At least, not a trail meant for creatures their size; maybe for backpacking mice on vacation.

“The donkey seems to want to go in that direction,” said Marley pointing to the only trail that lead downhill.

“Hmm, that way, unfortunately, is to where we have already come,” said Chuck. “I do believe he wants to go home.”

“My dad found the Death Valley Desert,” said Marley, “and he said it was below sea level, and we’re high in the hills so we should pick the trail that takes us to below sea level.”

“Brilliant!” said Chuck. “Now all we have to do is decide which one of these uphill trails is most likely to sooner or later start downhill.”

They carefully considered each trail and were about to take a vote when up the trail marched a line of desert tortoises, each with a paint can on its back. The first tortoise halted. He glared at our heroes and their donkey.

“Road hogs,” he said. “Have you nothing better to do than to stand in everybody’s way?”

“Excuse me,” said Marley, “but are you desert tortoises?”

“Obviously.”

“And are those cans of paint on your backs?”

“Again: obviously. Now, move aside.”

Marley pulled on the donkey’s tether, while Chuck and Mole pushed on its rear. When they had cleared the way, the column of tortoises resumed their march.

“Why are you carrying cans of paint on your backs?” asked Marley.

The second in line tortoise replied, “We taking this paint to the Painted Desert.”

Our heroes considered this for a silent moment and then Chuck said, “Now that I’ve given it some thought, it does seem oh so obvious.”

They fell in line behind the tortoises and though the pace was slow, they did eventually arrive at an overlook. Before them lay the vast and mostly painted Painted Desert.

“In its own way, it is very pretty,” said Mole.

“Not to complain,” said Chuck, “but the desert paint seems to have faded and peeled here and there. Needs a bit of a touch up with the brush,” said Chuck.

“I suppose that’s why the tortoises are bringing in more paint,” said Marley.

To save time and because they could now see their destination, they moved in front of the tortoises. But before darting ahead, Marley asked them, “Have any of you seen Mr. Toad?”

“A green fellow? Wears a vest?” asked one of the tortoises.

“Yes!” said Marley with premature joy.

“We saw him back in Rainbow Ridge. He raced ahead of us. If you want to know where he is now, you should ask the Saguaro cactuses. They’re pretty sharp fellows.”

Marley might’ve missed the pun, but she got the point – finally, she would see some real two-armed cactuses. “Where will we find them?”

“Why in the Saguaro cactus forest, of course.”

“Where might we find that?” asked Mole.

“Go through Balancing Rocks Pass, leave the Paint Pot Geysers to your left and leave the bad water to your right and then straight ahead for a spell.”

Encouraged by having a clue in the mystery of Toad’s disappearance, our heroes bravely charged down the downhill trail. The donkey quick stepped behind them. At Balancing Rocks Pass, the donkey had to be pulled and pushed into the narrow pass. Above them teetering boulders rolled back and forth on rocking slabs of stone. Halfway through the dangerous pass, the donkey, seeing that there was no point in turning back, raced ahead. Ahead of them, they could see they would have to avoid being spray painted by the Paint Pot Geysers and tempted by the cool looking water of Bad Water. Even before they made their way through and by those landmarks, Stromboli had arrived at the Saguaro Cacti forest.

 

He, being in his wagon, had to bypass the narrow shortcut trail and stick to the rutted road. Whoever had blazed the shortcut trail obviously didn’t know the meaning of short, though they might’ve learned what cut meant seeing as they had to cut away a lot of the bushes along the way.

His horse didn’t think it a good idea to try to go through the Saguaro forest. The sharp needles of each cactus arm looked painful enough, but several of the cactuses had open mouthed mean looking expressions. Stromboli climbed down from the wagon’s driver bench seat and for the first time unfolded his map. In fact, this was the very first time he referred to it. On the map the cactus forest seemed to go on for quite some distance. His eyes searched the map for some indication of where the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine might be. According to the map the cactus forest lay to the west. He nodded his head and murmured, “Uh-huh.” Indicating the mountains to the east, were several zig-zag lines. Again, he murmured, “Uh-huh, okay, I see them over there.” And under each peak of the zig-zag lines was a tiny drawing of a windmill. There must’ve been about one hundred peaks drawn on the map, each with a windmill, some with two. “What for they got so many windmills on this map?” He looked at the map’s key and read, “Each windmill represents a possible location of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”

Stromboli slapped his forehead. He threw down the map and jumped up and down on it. He screamed, “Collodi!” Shamefully, he began to use fowl language, which made him sound like an angry chicken. After a while, he calmed down or ran out of angry energy, and simply stared at the mountains to the east. He wasted a few moments feeling sorry for himself and feeling greatly disappointed. His eyes watered up and he told himself he wasn’t going to cry. But tears made him a liar, or at least sadly misinformed. Then, from behind him and in the cactus forest, he heard a voice, Maybe, the voice was singing, or trying to. It sounded more like croaking. He walked into the forest of spiny arms and trunks and when he could see the out-of-tune singer, he paused behind a giant Saguaro.

I’m a Latin lover ‘cause I love to chat in Latin

It’s spoken everywhere but seldom in Manhattan.

There’s a Latin word I am called, Bufo Bufo!

Its toney tone makes me enthralled, Bufo Bufo!

Stromboli clapped his hands wildly. He put together his thumb and forefinger brought them to his mouth and kissed them. “Bellissimo!”

Oddly enough Toad didn’t act surprised by this sudden appearance of a villainous character. He simply turned to Stromboli and bowed.

“Hear that, my friends,” said Toad to the surrounding Saguaros all of whom held both arms up. “I’m appreciated by the true lovers of opera. Oh, happy, happy, day!”

Stromboli looked around to see who else was there. No one, just the Saguaros each with a bird hole for a mouth and bent arms held up. He studied Toad, taking note of Toad’s wild expression: eyes wide open, a great grin, and sweat pouring down his face.

“Say, that’s pretty good. You out here in the desert under this burning sun with no sun hat, and you so happy talking with your cactus friends.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! I’ll shout it a thousand times. I’m ever so happy. And do you know why I’m so happy?”

“Because you found some plants to talk to?”

“No, the reason I’m so over-the-moon joyful…” Toad turned to the Saguaros, two of which now held their arms to their bird-hole mouths as if they wished Toad wouldn’t say anything more. “Should I tell him? Do you think this is a trustworthy fellow? Of course, he is! Just look at the fine fellow.”

“Yeah, that’s me. I’m a fine fellow. Everybody trusts me, you bet-cha.”

“Then I’ll tell you my secret. Listen closely now… I’ve found the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine!”

“You did? Say that’s wonderful. You certainly are a lucky fellow. And now I tell you something special. You are a super lucky fellow because extra lucky for you, I got a wagon full of gold mining supplies.”

“That is good fortune! You know, my donkey didn’t believe me. No, he didn’t. He ran away, back home, he went. Took all my food and water with him. But who needs that stuff when one has such wonderful friends, the Saguaros!  And now, I have another friend.”

“That’s great. Things are really going your way. Now, my friend, why don’t you calm down a bit. The way you’re jumping about in this heat, you might croak. Come over to my wagon and we’ll get you started on the way back to my… I mean, your gold mine.”

“Splendid!” Toad climbed on the wagon driver’s bench. Stromboli joined him and took up the reins. He slapped the reins on the horse’s back. Slowly the wagon began rolling toward the mountains. Toad sang out, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

“Say, maybe you ought to save your voice a bit. You know, all the great opera singers, all the time they save their voices, you bet-cha. They never sing unless someone pays them.”

“Save my voice! But why! Soon I’ll be rich and I’ll never have to save anything ever again. Rich, rich, rich! Come on! Sing along with me.”

“No, it’s better you sing solo.” And then Stromboli muttered to himself, “So low I can’t hear you.”

 

Marley, Chuck, and Mole left the Paint Pot geysers to their left and the undrinkable bad water to their right and came to the road that they should’ve stayed on to begin with. Someone, probably a Dutch mining engineer, had helpfully put up a sign post with two arrow shaped signs. The first read, “Rainbow Ridge, not so near, now” and the second, pointing in the opposite direction, read, “Saguaro Cactus Forest, not so far now”. Our heroes started down the road to the Saguaros. The donkey, who knew how to read, turned in the direction of Rainbow Ridge. He was politely encouraged to rejoin the rescue mission.

“I sure wish I’d remembered to bring my camera,” said Marley while pulling on the donkey’s tether.

“Oh, my dear girl,” replied Chuck who along with Mole was encouraging the donkey by pushing on its rump, “No one from your world is allowed to take home photos of our world.”

“Simply not allowed,” added Mole. “Nor souvenirs of any kind.”

“Well, what can I take home with me?”

“Moral lessons,” said Chuck. “Though they can be fairly heavy at times.”

“And pleasantly vague memories,” said Mole. “They’re not so heavy being vague and all.”

Marley nodded her head but began thinking about something else. She dropped the tether and her two friends stopped their pushing and came around to the front of the donkey.

“We’re doing more work making this donkey come along with us than if we just carried the stuff ourselves,” said Marley.

Mole and Chuck looked at one another, and said in unison, “Right.”

They unloaded the donkey. Chuck suggested eating most of the food supplies – nothing but dodonuts – but saving a few for Toad. Marley suggested leaving some of the water by the signpost and each of them taking a canteen and she’d carry an extra one for Toad. They shared a dodonut with the donkey and then sent him on his happy way homeward.

Fortunately, for our heroes the Saguaro forest was just minutes down the dusty road. Unfortunately, they arrived a little while after Toad and Stromboli had left. Too late to hear Toad croaking out a song, and definitely too late to hear Stromboli muttering.

“Well, here’s the forest,” said Mole who had a habit of saying things that others could see perfectly well for themselves.

“It looks just like I thought it would,” said Marley. “Oh, I really wish I could show that know-it-all boy a picture of this. Look, they’re all have one arm up as if they were saying hello.”

Indeed, all the Saguaro cactuses did have one arm up as if waving hello. Their other arm they held down to their hips though they really didn’t have much in the way of hips. Chuck and Mole looked at the Saguaros and then turned away to join Marley in staring at the road leading to the nearby mountains.

“It’s a shame that the Saguaros can’t tell us if Toad’s been here,” said Mole. Behind our heroes’ backs, all the Saguaros put both arms down, akimbo, that is, held their elbows out and hands on the hips like an angry babysitter. Marley turned around, noticed their new arm positions, and wondered about this.

“I think…” she said mostly to herself. To the Saguaros she put the question, “Can you tell us if Mr. Toad has been here and if so which way has he gone?”

None of the Saguaros moved an arm. Marley turned around and gave them a moment to compose themselves which they did. When she’d turned around again, all the Saguaros had one arm pointing to a spot on the mountain.

“There!” shouted Marley. “That’s where he’s gone. To that ridge halfway up that mountain.”

“Hmm, that makes sense,” said Chuck. “Toad is searching for the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine and right where Marley and those cactuses are pointing I think I see a dead tree that looks a little like a windmill.”

“You’ve really good vision,” said Mole.

“Well, maybe, but I’m not eagle eyed,” said Chuck smiling shyly.

“Quite obviously not, you’re a dodo bird.”

They waved goodbye to the Saguaro cactuses and began the walk on the dusty dirt road to the mountains. Behind their backs the cactuses each raised an arm to say goodbye. After a little while, Marley and Mole could also see the dead tree shaped like a windmill. Chuck, meanwhile, paid attention to some things in the road. He pointed to them.

“These road apples look fresh.”

Marley and Mole looked down at what he was pointing to.

Marley said, “Bleegh.”

Mole said, “Those are most horrible looking apples I’ve ever seen. And they smell something awful.”

“No, no, no,” said Chuck. “Road apples are just a polite name for horse droppings.”

“Well, if the horse dropped it,” said Mole, “I most certainly won’t be picking it up for him or his mare.”

“Look at this,” said Marley. “These lines in the dirt. These must be wagon wheel tracks.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said Chuck. “I’ll wager that a horse drawn wagon has been this way. Furthermore, it is very probably Stromboli’s.”

“Now, now, now,” said Mole. “We can’t assume he’s the villain in every minor adventure we’re involved in. What kind of example would we be setting for Marley? We should have solid proof and maybe a signed confession.”

“It is him,” said Marley, “There’s his medicine wagon.”

Stromboli had parked his horse and wagon behind a house sized boulder but not in the shade and far from the thin flow of water in the creek flowing down from the highlands. Marley petted the horse on its muzzle while Chuck and Mole freed it from its harness. The horse neighed its thanks and hurried over for a long cool drink.

“Hear that?” asked Mole.

“It almost sounds like The Sound of Music song,” said Marley.

“Except that it doesn’t sound like music,” said Mole, “It sounds like…”

“Toad!” said all three.

 

The slightly crazy from too much sun and heat Toad stood on a rock about fifty yards above the struggling Stromboli who was beginning to feel a little crazy himself. Toad being a natural hopper had been lightly hopping his way up the steep and rocky hillside. Stromboli, on the other hand, struggled to pull himself up and over each rock face. He paused to drink from his canteen and wipe his sweaty forehead. He glared at Toad who looked ready to belt out another song. He silently mouthed, “No, no, don’t you dare sing another note.”

Toad, facing away from the hillside, threw back his arms and sang out, “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening; In the lane snow is glistening.”

“Please, have pity for a poor man. I beg of you, don’t sing another note.” Tears began to roll down his face.

“A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight; Walking in a winter wonderland.” Toad looked down at the poor miserable man and shouted, “I can’t help it! I have a song in my heart and must share my joy with the world!” Again, he held his arms out and sang, “In the meadow we can build a snowman.”

Stromboli began climbing again. He muttered to himself, “I’m going to stuff him in a sack and I’m going to take that sack all the way down to the lowest level of that mine and then I’m going to pile lots of rocks in that mine shaft and I’ll never hear him croak again. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.” Then he shouted, “Hey, Toad! Is it much further?”

“Goodness no. In fact, I’m standing at the entrance to the cave. Keep climbing, I’ll sing while I wait for you.” Toad danced about on the rock ledge and sang, “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears; it’s a world of hopes, a world of fears. There’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware, that it’s a small, small world!”

Stromboli scrunched up his face in pain. He put his hands over his ears and then he screamed, “Hey, Toad! Are there any sacks up there?”

“Sacks? I don’t think so, just this coil of rope.”

“That’ll do,” Stromboli murmured.

“Here, I’ll throw it down to you.”

“No! I’ll get it when…” He said this too late. With tears streaming down his face, he watched as the coil of rope sailed far off to his left and further down the rocky hillside.

“Oops! Oh, well, it’s not far down. I’ll sing you a song while you climb down and get it.”

As Stromboli climbed down and over to the rope, each note of Toad’s singing drove him a bit further over the edge – so to speak. By the time he’d reached the rope, his eyes bulged out and his mouth stretched into an evil grin. At the same time he’d picked up the rope and held it lovingly against his chest, our heroes finished their climb to where Toad stood on the rock singing out to the desert below.

“Mr. Toad,” said Marley as her head appeared over a boulder she’d climbed.

“Marley! How wonderful it is you’ve come to join me. And Chuck and Mole as well. Splendid! Of course, you’ll all get a share. Including the capital fellow down there twisting that rope into a noose.”

“Hmm, Toad,” said Chuck, “That’s Stromboli and he’s looking a bit murderous at the moment.”

“Yes, perhaps we ought to get you into the shade of this mine shaft,” said Mole.

“And have a drink of water,” said Marley, “a big drink of water.”

“Yes, do come in. This, my friends, is the lost gold mine of that Dutchman fellow. See, he planted a tulip garden in front of his wonderful mine.”

Two rows of gold colored tulips decorated the entrance to the mine. Though, how the Dutchman managed to grow tulips in the desert remains a bigger mystery than the lost gold mine.

To their immense relief, they entered the coolness of the lightless mine shaft. Where the shaft extended to was impossible to see. Marley handed Toad a canteen. Chuck broke off a link of dodonuts. Mole soaked a rag with water and wiped it across the poor creature’s brow.

“Now, Toad,” said Mole, “you simply must come back with us. It’s unhealthy for you to be wandering about under the heat of the sun.”

“Leave my gold mine? No, that’s impossible. Don’t you see? I found it. I really, really found it.”

“Yes, you did,” said Marley. “And we all know it’s finders-keepers. You know about the finders-keepers’ law, don’t you?”

Toad shook his head. Mole and Chuck nodded their heads as if Marley had said the wisest thing in the world.

“Well, now that you found it, you must go into town and sign a keepers’ paper. That way everybody will know you’re the keeper and they won’t try to find it… away from you.”

“That’s right, Toad,” said Mole. “You need to come with us and file a finders-keepers claim.”

“Yes, I do believe you’re right. Let’s climb down the mountain and start at once. Just let me gather up some of these gold nuggets and we’ll be on our way.”

Marley looked down the ‘nuggets’ Toad stuffed into his backpack. Mole and Chuck bent over to examine them, looked at each other, and shook their heads.

“Rocks,” whispered Marley to Mole and Chuck.

“Plain ordinary rocks,” said Mole. “Poor fellow. He’s going to be so disappointed when he snaps out it.”

Chuck who had gone a few steps outside of the tunnel, now came back in and asked, “Toad, old boy, would there happen to be another way out of this mine?”

“There might be. I haven’t fully explored it. Why?”

“Run! It’s Stromboli and he’s looking crazy mean!”

One look at the wide eyed, grinning, and rope twisting man approaching the mine shaft’s entrance was all it took to get our heroes to run into the absolute darkness of the tunnel. Mole took out his flashlight – moles being an underground creature seldom go anywhere without a flashlight. They hurried down the tunnel hoping for a place to hide or another way out. But all they found ahead of them was another mine shaft, one that had twin iron rails on its floor. They followed the tracks until they found a couple of mining carts. Marley and the others pushed on the one in front to get it rolling and they hopped in. Looking back, they could see Stromboli pushing the second cart.

Mole turned his flashlight to illuminate the track and tunnel ahead of them. The cart began to pick up speed.

“We’re going downhill and faster!” shouted Mole.

“Faster to where?” asked Marley.

“Working in a coal mine,” sang Toad. “Going down, down. Oops, almost slipped down.”

“Oh, dear,” said Chuck, “Toad hasn’t fully recovered.”

“We’re saved!” shouted Mole, “I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“How do we slow down?” asked Marley.

The question of how to slow down immediately became a question of how to land as the cart sailed out of the tunnel’s second entrance and into thin air. Looking down they could see just below them a lake of clear water. The cart skidded and skittered across the lake’s surface like a stone skips across still water. Behind them they heard a scream as Stromboli leapt out of his cart while still in the air. He fell into the water making a large splash.

“It’s a good thing this cart can float,” said Chuck.

The car had stopped skipping across the water and came to a rest a short swim from the shore.

“Do we all know how to swim?” Chuck looked around to see everyone nod yes. “Good. Into the water everyone.”

Toad, the last one to climb out of the cart, let himself down into the water and sank to the bottom.

“Mr. Toad!” cried out Marley. “He needs to let go of his backpack!”

Marley and Mole dove down to find the struggling Toad just a few feet underwater. All he had to do was shake off the backpack and he’d rise to the surface. Marley and Mole each grabbed one of Toad’s arms and pulled him away. They rose to the surface.

“My gold!” he sputtered. “I must get my gold back.”

“Toad,” said Marley softly, “I hope you’re not too disappointed, but you went a bit bonkers in the desert. That’s not gold, just rocks.”

“What?” Stromboli stopped swimming toward them. “That’s not gold? I had to listen to all that awful croaking and for what? A sack full of rocks?”

“Afraid so, old bean,” said Chuck. “But if it makes you feel better, I think, Toad is over his fits of singing now.”

“Hey, maybe he didn’t search so good in the mine. Maybe, I’ll go back and find something he missed.” Stromboli swam away from them.

On shore, they shook themselves dry. They could see the rooftops of Rainbow Ridge not too far off.

“I’m awfully sorry you’re not going to be rich,” said Marley.

“Yes, it’s a great disappointment,” said Toad. “All I have to show for all that, are these odd rocks I’ve stuffed into my pockets.”

Toad pulled out a handful of round and brown objects that looked a lot like rocks. Mole and Chuck peered at them.

“Toad,” said Chuck. “Those aren’t rocks. Those are tulip bulbs.”

“Tulip bulbs? You mean, if I plant these in my garden, I’ll have tulip flowers?”

“Yes, you certainly will,” said Chuck. “Do you feel a bit less disappointed now?”

“Not really.”

Marley shook an angry finger at Toad. “You shouldn’t be disappointed because you still have what’s really important in life, friends who love you.”

Toad hung his head down. “You’re right. Thank you, Marley. Thank you all for coming to rescue me.” He looked up, brightened by a happy thought. “I’ll reward each of you with a beautiful golden tulip.”

 

“Marley.”

She looked up to see her father.

“I know you’re disappointed not to see any Saguaro Cactuses out here, but you really should come and eat something.”

“Okay, Dad.” She rose to her feet and took her father’s hand. They walked across the lawn toward the dining room.

“I found a place where we can see a Saguaro cactus. I did a web search on my laptop and wouldn’t you know it – there’s a few back in L. A.”

“There is?”

“Yes, in a place called a botanical garden. I think we can stop on the way home and have a look at them.”

“Have they got arms?”

“They sure do. Arms like this.” Her father held his arms up like the Saguaro cactuses had back in the Painted Desert. “Some look like they’re being held up by bandits, and others have their arms more in front, like this, like they’re holding a child in their arms.” He picked up Marley and held her in his arms in that funny position.

Marley giggled and said, “I’m sure glad you’re not a cactus.”

THE END

It’s a Small World (After All). Words and music by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman