by Tonton Jim
Only one little lemon tree in the corner of the backyard provided shade for the cat and a perch for a few house wrens. It made Marley sad when she thought about it and especially when she, from her upstairs bedroom window, looked down upon the lonely and puny tree.
Marley’s mother walked past the bedroom, glanced in, and noticed her little girl staring out the window. She came over to stand behind her. “There used to be a grand valley oak tree there, but it had to be cut down just before we bought the place.”
“There probably used to be a grandkid treehouse in that grandfather tree,” said Marley. “When’s the lemon tree going to be big enough for a treehouse?”
“Oh, I don’t think lemon trees ever get that big.”
“Why didn’t you buy a big oak tree?”
“It’s a bit difficult to plant a big tree there, but maybe we could start with small one.”
“How long would we have to wait before it grew big enough for a treehouse?”
“Darling, that would take a lifetime.”
“That’s too long.”
“Your father and I pray you’ll have a long, long life – full of wonderful things. You just need to wait for each wonderful thing to come along in its own time.”
Such loving words did little to console Marley. All that afternoon she let herself become sulky and sorry for herself. Within her grew resentment of the too small lemon tree – in spite of the delicious lemonade made from its fruit. But after dinner she watched her favorite Friday night television shows and let the bad feelings fade to nothing. Or did she? Saturday morning, while at a garage sale she asked her mother to buy her a birdhouse. This she placed on one of the thin branches of the lemon tree. With its already heavy load of ripe lemons and now the birdhouse the branch bent downward like a drawn back bow ready to release an arrow. Instead, the quivering branch snapped.
Marley’s father came out to judge the damage. He picked the lemons from the end of the broken branch and put them into the basket held by Marley. The birdhouse had fallen to the ground when the branch cracked. It hadn’t broken in two so he bent the branch back and taped it while saying, “Maybe it’ll heal. Meanwhile we’ll have to ration our lemonade.”
His little joke didn’t cheer Marley much. She followed him inside, gave the basket of lemons to her mother and then went back outside. A bird in the tree flew away at her approach. She looked down at the birdhouse for a moment. Suddenly, she kicked it.
Marley turned to find Chuck the dodo bird standing next to her. Just seeing her old friend and guardian angel dodo bird brightened her and filled her with delighted expectation of an adventure. She also looked forward to the dodonuts and hot cocoa served at Toad Hall.
“Not today,” said Chuck as he led the way to Toad Hall’s garden behind the mansion. “At least, not right away. We need to sit in on Toad’s negotiations with a certain Lord Tarzan.”
Indeed, there on the garden patio and seated at a round table under the shade of its umbrella were Toad, Mole, Ratty, and the world-famous man of the jungle, Tarzan. Except to Marley’s eyes he didn’t look quite right. His spotted loin cloth looked right. His buff and muscular body looked right. His wrap around sunglasses looked almost right. And though he sat on a chair same as the others, Marley had a feeling that when he stood up he’d be…
“The same height as we other folk of this land,” whispered Chuck. “It’s the law of the land. We like even our visitors to be equal.”
Marley nodded and then she noticed Badger standing in the open doorway to the kitchen. With his stern expression and his arms crossed against his chest, he looked immoveable.
“What’s that in Mr. Badger’s hand?” she whispered.
“The deed to Toad Hall. He’s terribly a-feared Toad will trade away a mansion for a treehouse.”
Tarzan put down his cup. With a practiced flourish he whipped off his sunglasses and leaned forward and closer to Toad’s smiling face. “Okay, enough chit-chat, let’s get down to brass tacks. Of which, my palatial treehouse is full of – genuine brass tacks, that is. Brass tacks and wood paneling in each of the richly appointed rooms, all of which, I remind you, have tremendous tree views. Quite simply, what I am offering you is the chance of the lifetime.”
“It’s sounds delightful,” replied Toad. “And I assure you that my Arctic Circle beachfront condo is equally richly appointed. I remember quite well, the salesman often pointing out how many rich appointments he had.”
“You don’t say? Hmm, well, it’s just a condo,” said Tarzan leaning back and returning his sunglasses to his narrowed eyes. “Isn’t there something else you could sweeten the deal with? Say a trunk full of E-tickets?”
Toad looked thoughtful for a moment and then his face beamed out joy and inspiration. “What would you say to a genuine golden tulip?”
“Gold did you say? Well now, that does sound interesting. Let me see how big they are. It might take more than one.”
The moment Tarzan and the others stood up to go examine the golden tulips, Marley felt that something wasn’t quite right. Being the same height as her friends made Tarzan look like a miniature version of the beefy hero she knew from movies and cartoons – and that was just wrong.
“It’s the law, I’m afraid. Can’t be helped.” said Chuck as they followed the others over to the flower bed.
Standing by the flower bed Tarzan stroked his chin and stared down at the tulips. “They look a bit sickly to me.”
Each tulip had its stalk bent over with the gold colored flower touching or resting on the dirt of the flower bed. They did look a bit out of sorts.
“That’s just because the flowers being solid gold weigh so much, it’s near impossible for the poor plant to hold them up,” said Toad. “Here, touch one.”
“I have a better idea.” Tarzan got down on his knees and lowered his face so as to bring his mouth next to the tulip flower. Then he bit it. He drew his face back and he could see, as well as could the others, the teeth marks on the petals. “It’s gold alright. Make it three tulips and we got a deal.”
“Tell you, what,” said Toad, “Let’s agree to two and I’ll throw in a fully-grown breadfruit tree.”
“Whole wheat or white bread?”
“Both, and it also produces Hawaiian sweet rolls.”
After recommending to the man in the loin cloth Collodi’s Arctic Expedition shop on Main Street, the others followed Toad to the Toad Hall library. Except for Chuck – he headed off to the kitchen to make hot cocoa.
They marched confidently into Toad Hall’s large library room. There a magnificent collection of books, rare and comic, would surely provide them with the answer they sought.
“Where is this treehouse located?” asked Ratty.
“In Tarzana,” replied Toad squinting at the scrawled address Lord Tarzan had written down.
“This atlas doesn’t appear to list any such place,” said Mole. Fearing that poor Toad had been swindled, everyone’s face expressed their worry. Except for Badger who smugly smiled and nodded his head.
“Perhaps that’s its nickname or its old name,” suggested Marley who once tried to locate The Aloha State on a map of the U. S. A.
Her friends looked at her with admiration in their eyes. Of course, they thought, that’s its old name.
“We need to look in an old atlas,” said Mole as he led everyone to the dustiest corner of his library. From its dustiest shelf, he pulled out the dustiest book. With great effort he carried it over to a library table and turned its yellowed pages to the index where he indeed did find Tarzana listed. Carefully, he turned the pages to the cited page.
“Look!” said Ratty peering over Mole’s shoulder. “It’s located in this very large island in the northern Atlantic Ocean.”
“Spot on,” said Toad. “Now, the next part of the address reads, ‘Forty bends up the Tarzana River.’.”
They followed Toad’s green finger as the traced the course of Tarzana’s only river. They gasped when he halted his finger at a large blank spot on the map. Together they read aloud, “Unexplored territory, darkest part of deep in the dark Tarzana.”
“What do they mean by ‘deep in the dark Tarzana’?” asked Marley.
“Perhaps they hadn’t paid their electric bill?” Mole looked around to see if anyone thought much of his idea.
“Nonsense and stuff,” said Toad. “This is a very old book, and they probably used candles back then.”
“Perhaps they didn’t pay their candle bill,” suggested Marley.
“Whatever the case,” said Badger, “the fact remains: we have an extremely difficult and dangerous voyage ahead of us.”
Having made what preparations they could for the unknown terrors that awaited them, they gathered on Toad Hall’s front lawn. There they waited for the cloud of fairies to appear under the middle arch of the Grand Canal giant bridge.
“I’m surprised Mr. Badger is coming along,” whispered Marley to Chuck and Mole.
“He’s relishing the thought of being able to tell Toad, ‘I told you so’.” Chuck said this quietly and Mole nodded his agreement.
“It’s dear Ratty, we should keep a watchful eye upon,” said Mole. “A peculiar look came into his eyes when Mr. Tarzan described the river his treehouse overlooks.”
“Oh,” said Marley who knew Ratty was very sensitive about folks reminding him that his home was actually a canal-side home and not a riverside one.
After a short wait, a cloud of tiny lights much like a swarm of fireflies, drifted down and just above the water of the canal. Badger led the way to the canal side, but not to the boat dock. Marley wondered about this knowing that leaving Storybook Land and entering the nearly big world just outside of it usually involved a long boat ride through a night dark tunnel. She watched as a rain of sparkling dust floated down from the cloud of fairy lights. Each mote of sparkle dust landed upon the water and continued to sparkle as it sank into the water. The rain of fairy dust stopped. Everyone on shore waited. Then, from under the dark water of the canal, a bubble of light erupted on the water’s surface. It continued to rise into the air and became a sphere with ropes hanging down to a suspended basket.
“We’re going to ride in fairy dust balloons!” said the delighted Marley.
“The fairies grew tired of the dank tunnel as well,” said Chuck.
Soaring above Storybook Land and by the spires of Cinderella’s castle was again a beautiful experience. However, to Marley’s disappointment, they landed just outside of the frontier town. There, the fairies sprinkled them with their special blend of fairy dust and they became the proper size for the nearly big world.
“I kind of hoped we’d travel to the treehouse in balloons,” said Marley to the others as they walked down the dirt street of the frontier town riverport.
“It would’ve been bonny,” said Badger. “But fairy balloons donna las’ very long.”
“We’ll be boarding a ship for the rest of our voyage,” said Chuck.
“And you’ll have a reunion with an old friend,” said Mole.
Marley wondered about whom Mole was hinting, and she wondered how long they’d have to wait at the river front dock because the riverboat wasn’t anywhere in sight, just an old-style sailing ship. They reached the boarding ramp to that ship where Toad called out, “Ahoy, the captain of the Columbia. Permission to come aboard.”
Up above them and standing with her back to them, a young woman turned around, put her hands on the gunnel and beamed with surprised joy as she shouted, “Marley!”
“Bee!” shouted Marley.
“It’s Captain Bee now. But, oh, what the hay, that’s just for the crew. I’m still just plain old Bee. Are you going to be my passengers? That’s so wonderful! Hurry, come aboard. I just know we’ll going to have a swell adventure together – no ghosts this time, I hope.”
While Bee had been talking, our adventurers clambered up the boarding ramp and assembled in front of the joyful captain.
“Like my uniform? It’s early nineteenth century merchant seaman – boring. Though the top hat has a certain style to it, better than the crazy admiral look, anyway. Hey, you remember Sorc? He’s onboard, too. He got thrown off the riverboat. I mean really thrown off. We had to fish him out of the water.” Bee turned around and shouted, “Hey, Sorc! Front and center!”
The others watched as the lean faced sorcerer from the sultan’s palace left the card game being played on the foredeck and walked towards them.
“Would you believe he’s my ship’s surgeon? Don’t get sick is my recommendation.”
“Really, Princess,” Sorc replied, “I must protest. I do my best under these primitive circumstances.”
“And I appreciate your efforts. You do a great job with the band aids.” Bee turned to the others. “So, where are we off to? I bet it’s somewhere really interesting, isn’t it?”
“Do you know where Tarzana is?” asked Marley.
“Hmm. Oh, I know! That’s San Fernando Island’s old name. It’s up north – exactly halfway between the green island and the ice island. We sail east, turn left in the mid-Atlantic and then go north until we reach the one-oh-one parallel. Ooh, I just knew we’d be going somewhere exotic.”
During the voyage from the frontier village located somewhere on the mighty river of North America, halfway across the wide ocean and all the way up to the mouth of the Tarzana River, Bee entertained them with the Sultan’s family history. As the reader might remember, Bee had forty sisters and each of them had multiple children – so that added up to a lot of history. As soon as the ship had cast off and Bee began her stories, all the crew put wax plugs into their ears. Also missing from Bee’s captive audience was Badger who’d become seasick and helplessly collapsed onto a coil of rope.
By the time the ship dropped anchor at the Tarzana river mouth, the eyes of our heroes had long since glazed over. When they heard the splash of the anchor hitting the water, they blinked. With a sigh of relief, they realized they’d reached the end of their sea voyage and the beginning of their river trip. Not Badger though, he just moaned.
“The crew will have the ship’s launch in the water in no time,” said Bee who then looked down at the pitiful Badger. “And I’ll have them hoist this poor creature into the boat.”
“Oh goodness no,” replied Bee. “We’ll just row you into port where you can hire one of those river cruising steam launches.”
“They look very familiar,” said Marley as she stared at the boats lining the city wharf, each thirty feet in length and with a brightly colored canopy.
“At least, we won’t have to row them,” said Mole. “They appear to have little steam engines.”
“They’re powered by steam?” asked Ratty. “I hope they have enough steam to get us to the treehouse.”
“If not, we can always stop at a steam station,” said Toad. “One with clean restrooms and cold drinks, I should hope.”
On the dock Bee bade them farewell. They sadly waved to her, each of them silently thinking that listening to more of Bee’s family history might be slightly better than facing the awaiting horrors of the deep in the dark Tarzana River. But then the sound of laughter and applause caused them to turn around. A crowd of costumed men and women stood before a make shift stage on which stood a similarly attired man.
“He’s telling jokes to those people,” exclaimed Marley. “Who are they? They’re all wearing the same kind of clothes and hats.”
“They’re jungle cruise skippers,” said Mole while pointing to a large dockside sign.
“Cruise the Tarzana River on one of our comedy cruises,” read Ratty aloud.
“Oh, good-oh,” said Toad. “We can hire one of those boats and be comically entertained as we steam off to my new deluxe vacation home.”
Except they couldn’t. Not one of the skippers wanted to take them that far upriver.
“Forty bends upriver? Not on your life. None of us ever go past twenty bends in the river,” said the only skipper who did more than just shake his or her head.
“Why not?” asked Marley. “What are you afraid of?”
“There’s two fierce tribes up that way. The Naties and the Rosies. They do terrible things to one’s head. The Rosies want to shrink people’s heads, and the Naties want to inflate heads with fluff.”
“Oh,” said Marley. Mole and Ratty exchanged nervous glances. Chuck looked thoughtful as only a guardian angel Dodo bird can. Badger smugly smiled and nodded his head. He turned to tell Toad, “I told you so,” but Toad had wandered off. They found him standing on a nearby pier apparently casting a buyer’s eye at a not too rundown canopied boat. Before Badger could reach him, a man, dressed in a general’s uniform, emerged from the boat and shook Toad’s hand.
“Stop!” yelled Badger as he took a firm, cross armed stance in between Toad and the boat seller. “This wayward creature has not a penny to his name. So, my good man, you might as well abandon all hope of selling this vessel to him.”
“Oh, money isn’t the only way to acquire this fine craft,” said the man. “As the sign says: For sale or trade.”
“Trade?” Toad stepped around Badger. “What sort of thing would you consider in trade?”
“Not a thing,” replied the man. “A task. All you’d need to do, is contract to do the mail delivery route for the upper stretch of the Tarzana River.”
“That’s all?” asked Toad his face brightening with a wide smile. He stuck out his hand and said, “It’s a deal!”
The first stretch of the Tarzana River was wide and calm. Several sandy beaches lined the shores. One of them seemingly the domain of sleepy-eyed alligators sunning themselves on the white sand. Though, some of the more ambitious scaly beasts had set up little booths to sell shoes and purses to the tourists.
“Marley, would you like me to buy you one of those alligator purses?” asked Toad as he steered the boat close along the beach.
Marley looked doubtful. “I wonder where they get the material for the purses?”
“Probably from that plastics factory across the river,” said Chuck.
Eventually the river narrowed and the tree lined banks hovered close by. Around each bend of the river some new sight surprised them. Sometimes they could only wait with bated breath at what they would see until the next bend of the river answered the mystery. On one sunlit bank of the river, they saw a dozen oddly shaped and multicolored sheets hanging from a clothes line.
“They don’t quite look like sheets, though,” said Ratty. “They have splits in the middle.”
“They kind of look like giant swim trunks,” said Marley “Big enough for elephants.”
Chuck and Mole exchanged worried looks. Their worst fears were confirmed when on the riverbank they all saw a sign reading, “Optional clothing beach”.
“Marley turn around and face the other way,” said Chuck. “I’d be a fine guardian dodo bird if I let you see naked elephants.”
While Marley turned around to look at the less interesting riverbank, the others waved to the sunning and bathing elephants who waved back. Badger, who had relapsed back into sea-sickness, raised himself to peer over the boat’s gunnel, took one look at the trunkless elephants, moaned, and sank back down in the bilge.
“You know,” said Marley a little crossly, “I’ve been to the zoo and none of the animals there wear any clothes.”
Mole, Toad, and Ratty exchanged puzzled looks and then Ratty said, “What a strange place your real big world is – just imagine, a zoo full of naked animals.”
They didn’t have long to ponder the embarrassment of those clothes deprived zoo animals because as they approached the next bend of the river they spied a small billboard on the right bank of the river. It read, “Black and Bland, Headhunters”. Now that caused them to exchange worried looks and each of them ducked low in the boat with just their eyes peering over the gunnel. Slowly, they rounded the river bend. They heard angry voices and then saw the angry faces: two men behind a large desk, each yelling into a phone. Upon seeing the river craft cruising upstream, each man put down the phone and stared.
“Hey, any of you have the resume to head up a large corporation?” yelled one of the men.
Our heroes shook their heads. The two men glared at them. One of them muttered, “Losers.” He and his partner quickly went back to yelling into their phones.
“Whew,” said Toad, “that was a close escape.”
“From what?” asked Marley.
“From corporate headhunters,” answered Chuck. “You see…”
But Chuck didn’t have time to finish his explanation. Fifty yards ahead of their boat a man burst out of the jungle and dove into the river. He reached midstream and then seeing their approaching boat frantically waved an arm. Toad slowed the boat so Marley and the others could pull him out of the water. With their help he flopped over the boat’s side and collapsed onto his back. Mole poured him a mug of warm cocoa.
“Thank you,” he gasped. “But you must turn around. You don’t know the horrors that lie ahead.”
“A treehouse I should hope,” said Toad.
“Yes, yes, that too,” the man said. He sat up. “I’m Colonel Kurtz of the Tarzana Postal Service. I was sent upstream to re-establish the mail service, but I was captured first by the Natie tribe and then by the Rosi tribe. Oh, the horror, the horror.”
“Did they try to shrink your head?” asked Mole.
“Or stuff it full of fluff?” asked Ratty.
“Yes, it was nightmarish,” Kurtz said. “Oh, the horror, the horror.”
“You’ve already said that,” Toad’s tone was curt and rude. “I’m not in the least frightened, and I’ll thank you not to frighten my friends.”
“Are the tribes really that bad?” asked Marley.
“Yes, they are. You must turn around.”
“Can’t do that, old bean,” said Toad. “We going upriver to take possession of my newly acquired treehouse.”
“That’s been surrounded by the Naties who don’t want the Rosies to take it.”
“I should say not,” said Toad. “I must remember to thank the Naties for their service.”
“My advice is to stay away from both tribes,” said Kurtz. “And if you insist on continuing upriver, then I bid you farewell.”
With that exclaimed he jumped up and dove over the side of the boat. Marley watched him swim not to shore but right down the middle of the river. She turned to her friends who with the exception of Chuck looked more than a little apprehensive. Toad though maintaining a brave face had slowed the boat to a ghostly drift up the river. Now the tall trees on either side arched over their heads and hid the blue sky. No one said a word and nothing around them made a sound. Even so each of them felt as if something was out there, hidden behind the green wall of bushes and trees.
“I hear something,” whispered Marley.
“Yes, I do too,” said Ratty. “It sounds like low moaning.”
“Not moaning, though,” said Mole, “more like a chant saying…”
“We know,” said Marley, “They’re chanting, ‘we know… parables.’.”
“Parables?” asked Toad. “We know parables? That’s what they’re chanting? That’s perfectly absurd. And I do wish they’d stop that awful racket. If it’s one thing I absolutely will not put up with, it’s chanting.”
“Look!” cried Marley. She pointed to the riverbank but whatever was there had vanished before the others could see it.
“What was it?” asked Mole.
“A man standing in the shadows. He looked a little like…”
“Yes, go on. He looked like what?” asked Ratty.
“George Washington.” Marley said this quietly already losing confidence in what she’d seen.
“Oh my,” exclaimed Mole, “Whatever shall we see next?”
“My treehouse!” shouted Toad. He sped up the boat and brought her alongside a small dock nestled between two giant roots. The towering tree had many giant roots at its base. They were almost as large as the trunks’ three main branches and those were as thick around as the boat. Stairs led up from the dock to the branches and then more stairs and ladders led upward until they disappeared in the leaves and branches far above the river.
“That’s the biggest tree I’ve seen,” said Marley.
Toad left the tying up of the boat to the others. He raced ashore and up the first set of stairs.
“Marley,” said Chuck, “when you said the mysterious man looked like George Washington, what exactly did you mean?”
“Well, he had on one of those white wigs, a pale face, and he was wearing those funny kind of clothes they wore back then.”
“That’s very curious,” said Mole.
From high above them they heard Toad shout down, “What ho! It’s even better than I dreamed!”
“Can you see any sign of the Naties or Rosies from up there?” shouted Ratty.
“No,” said Toad, “but from up here I can barely see you fellows. Leaves and branches, you know, in the way.”
Marley and Chuck helped poor Badger off the boat. Once he’d placed both of his feet upon the dirt of the shore, he began to recover. He thanked them and looked up into the branches of the giant tree. “Heavens to Loch Nessie! It does exist.”
“Ho-ho,” cried Toad, “Come on, you fellows. Wait till you see the parlor.”
They climbed the stairs to join Toad and indeed they were impressed greatly by the large first room which was actually more of a deck since it had little in the way of walls and was roofed with thatched grass and leaves. Comfortable chairs awaited them and these Marley and four of her animal friend settled into. Meanwhile, the excited Toad shouted out excited reports from far above. Badger murmured, “Maybe I was wrong. It looks like Toad made a good bargain for this place and I canna tell the for-once fortunate creature, ‘I told you so’.”
Along with the others Ratty nodded his agreement, but he rose from his comfy chair to wander over to the side of the parlor and its low wall closest to the river. He rested his elbows on the railing and gazed down at the slow-moving water of the Tarzana River. A real river he told himself. Perhaps he could build a riverside home in between two of the giant roots close to the water and with a dock just big enough for one rowboat.
Chuck, ever alert for Marley’s sake, kept his ears attentive to the silence of the jungle. It wasn’t long before he’d heard the faint sound of a chanted, “Know no non-sense, know no non-sense, know no non-sense”. He rose from his comfy chair and moved over the parlor’s railing facing the heart of the jungle. He stared at the wall of leaves and bushes.
“I think we’re going to have some visitors,” he said.
The others quickly rose from the comfy chairs and joined him. They looked and then saw the bushes shake a bit. Figures began to emerge.
“They all look a bit like George Washington,” said Marley.
The strangely dressed men looked up at the newcomers to their neighborhood. Each of them held a flashlight in one hand which they held just under their face. At an unseen signal they switched on the flashlights. But only a few of the flashlights worked. Those that didn’t were being impatiently clicked off and on and shook violently. One of the men whose flashlight had worked sighed and said, “Oh, very well. Just leave it.” He then looked up at our heroes and said in a deep voice, “We are the Illuminati. Have you brought our supplies?”
“Are you Mr. Wisehead?” shouted down Toad.
“Be it known I am Wisehead of the Illuminati.”
“Good-oh. Your supplies are in the boat. I’ll be down in a trice. The post master general said you need to sign for everything delivered and received.”
“Illuminati?” Mole asked of the others. “Those must be the Natie tribe everybody has been going on about.”
“Yes, but we heard them chanting, ‘We know parables’ not ‘No, no, non-sense’.”
“That must’ve been the Rosies we first heard,” said Mole.
“Yes, quite right,” said Chuck. “And I’m pretty sure that these Illuminati are chanting, ‘Know no nonsense’ and not…” Chuck looked at his friends puzzled faces and dropped his attempt to make sense of it all. “But the important thing is that they appear to be no threat to our well-being even though they might be in some sort of conflict with the Rosies.”
Everyone, though still puzzled, nodded their heads and followed Toad down the stairs to meet Wisehead at the dock. He had helped himself to one of the boxes in the boat, opened it, and was now handing out batteries to his fellow tribesmen.
“Excuse me, Mr. Wisehead,” said Marley. “But are you fighting some kind of war with the Rosies?”
“You must mean the Rosicrucian. And yes, we have our differences, deep philosophic differences.”
“By philosophic differences,” began Mole, “do you mean you’re fighting a war of words?”
“Yes, of course, with words. Before we arrived everything here was dark, deeply dark. But now, through the power of supreme logic, we have bestowed illumination upon this dark land. Unfortunately, we’d been shadowed by the Rosicrucian who wished to pollute our logical minds with foolish superstitions.”
“You don’t say.” Toad handed Wisehead a clipboard and a pen. “Well, I’m sure that you fellows will sort it out. Sit around the campfire, chew things over, hash it thoroughly out, and before long you’ll all be best mates. And when you do, you’ll all be invited over for an afternoon tea in my treehouse.”
“Your treehouse?” asked Wisehead. “This is not your treehouse. It belongs to the Supreme Knower, and we intend to build an observatory on its highest branch. The Supreme Knower wants us to pay close attention to the cosmos.”
Toad gaped at Wisehead and then sputtered, “Now see here, old bean…”
“Stop!” yelled a man emerging from the jungle. He, also, was dressed much like George Washington. He was followed by a few dozen of similarly dressed men. “Hear the parable of how this tree and its treehouse belong to the Rosicrucian.”
The men behind him began to chant, “We know parables.”.
Wisehead’s men lined up behind him and began to chant, “Know no nonsense.”.
Toad, in between the two groups, put his hands to his ears and began to mutter, “No, no, no…”.
The chanting grew in volume. Toad screamed and ran into the jungle. Both the Naties and Rosies followed him. Their chanting and Toad’s screams grew dim. Marley and friends stared at the green wall of the jungle plants.
“Well, that certainly explains what happened to the unfortunate Colonel Kurtz,” said Badger.
“Shouldn’t we go after him?” asked Marley.
“Aye,” said Badger, “the lassie is right. Ratty and I will track Toad down and convince him that his treehouse isn’t located in the best of neighborhoods. Come on, Ratty.”
But Ratty had wandered off to where the giant roots lay near to the river. Badger and the others watched their friend as he began drawing outlines of windows and doors on the roots.
“Ratty seems preoccupied, but I’ll go with you,” said Mole. “Chuck and Marley should stay here in case Toad finds his way back. They can summon us back using that gong.”
Mole pointed to a brass gong, large as a dining room table, hanging from a branch far above their heads. He turned to Marley and Chuck and said, “Kindly keep an eye on Ratty. I do believe the river has completely captivated him.”
Marley and Chuck wished Mole and Badger good luck in their search for Toad. After waving good-bye they turned to climb the stairs to the treehouse’s kitchen. Chuck was in the mood to make some hot cocoa. But before they put a foot on the first step, they heard a deep voice say, “That’s a relief. It was getting much too noisy around here.”
Marley and Chuck looked to the source of the voice and then looked at each other.
“I hadn’t noticed that this tree had a mouth,” said Chuck.
“Me neither,” replied Marley. She addressed the tree’s mouth, “You can talk?”
“Yes, I can talk the talk. I just can’t walk the walk.”
“Oh,” said Marley.
“That was a joke, you know,” said the tree. “I don’t speak to many people and when I do it always surprises them and it sometimes scares them, so I like to lighten the mood with a little humor.”
“It was sort of funny,” said Marley.
“Thank you. I spoke to you because you seem like a very nice person. Much nicer than that Tarzan fellow who loaded up my branches with all his treehouse rooms.”
“You don’t like having a treehouse built on you?”
Marley thought about this for a minute and shook her head. “I guess not. But you’re a giant tree and can easily hold up a treehouse.”
“A little treehouse perhaps, but Tarzan wouldn’t stop adding rooms. And now, those two tribes want to move in. What a nightmare.” The tree caused all its branches to shake and all its leaves to quake and that made a lot of noise, actually. “I shudder to think of all those people living on top of me.”
“I guess that would be way too much weight.”
“I just knew you’d understand. By the way, do you think you could convince your friend to give up moving into my roots?”
“Oh, that’s Ratty. All right, I’ll go get him.”
Marley, fascinated by the thought of talking to a tree, eagerly ran off to fetch Ratty. She found him nestled between two of the smaller giant roots. Right away she saw his body and head frozen in a trance, totally focused on the river. But it wasn’t the river. She glanced in the direction Ratty stared. Across the river a snake head had its eyes focused on Ratty.
“Are you okay?” asked Marley.
“Huh? Oh, hi, Marley. Yes, I’m fine. Python and I were just having a chat. Seems that this used to be his home.”
“Before Tarzan and the others showed up,” added Python.
“I suppose you know the tree, then,” said Marley. “I mean talked to the tree and were his good neighbor.”
“But of course.” Mr. slithered off the far side riverbank and into the water. “Morton and I are old friends, though after I moved away we fell out of touch. A bit hard for him to write or call.”
“That’s his name? Morton?” asked Marley who’d been curious as to what to call her new friend.
“Morton Bay Fig is his full name.” The snake came out of the water. His head, as big as Marley’s upper body, was followed by an equally thick and very long body.
“Mr. Fig wants to talk to my friend, Ratty.”
“I shall join you for a joyful reunion. But excuse me if I don’t accompany you on the ground.” Python slithered over the roots and onto a branch. “I prefer taking the high road, so to speak.”
Marley and Ratty took the direct route to the side of the tree where Mr. Fig’s mouth and eyes faced. That meant climbing over several large roots. Python, indeed did take the high road, slithering along the branches until he reached one from which he could hang down his head and face his old friend.
After the snake and the tree exchanged warm greetings, Marley introduced Python to Chuck, and Ratty to Mr. Fig.
“Ratty, what’s this I hear about you wanting to burrow into my roots?” asked Mr. Fig.
“It’s just a notion I had. You see the river is so beautiful and resting between your roots is such a peaceful way of viewing it I thought it would be ever so lovely to build a vacation home there, but Python explained to me how that would hurt you, so I’m sort of thinking not.”
“I see,” said Mr. Fig. “The river is beautiful and my roots do make for a lovely resting spot, but what about your home? You do have a nice one, don’t you?”
“I certainly do, but you see I’m a river-rat, and my home is by a canal. The other Storybook folk sometimes make fun of me for that.”
“Most unfortunate. But your canal does connect to rivers and eventually to the seven seas, does it not? So that makes it part of all the waters on earth, does it not?”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course, I am. I’m a wise old tree. But tell you what. I have a gift for you. Marley, hold out your hands, palms up.”
Marley did as the tree requested and felt something roundish and soft plop into her palms. She held it up for all to see. “What is it? A fig?”
“Don’t eat it. Think of it as a seed protection device. Keep it safe until you return to Storybook Land. There you must plant it by Ratty’s home.”
“It’ll take a while before it becomes near as big as you,” said Ratty.
“You’ll be surprised how fast the young do grow,” said Mr. Fig. “Soon, you’ll be nestled in between its roots. Just don’t burrow into them. It hurts.”
“Mr. Fig,” said Marley, “that takes care of Ratty and your roots, but what about the treehouse and Mr. Toad.”
“And those irritating Naties and Rosies,” added Mr. Fig who then sighed. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“I have a suggestion,” said Python. “Morton, how are Mr. Fuji’s apples this year? Do you think he’ll let us have a couple of bushels?”
Hotly pursued by the two warring tribes, Toad fled blindly through the jungle. He was desperate to escape their non-stop arguing and especially their chanting. But every time he’d thought he’d run free of them, a dozen or so would suddenly pop up in front of him each armed with a debate clinching statement. Not that that mattered to Toad. Frankly, he couldn’t tell a Natie opinion from a Rosi viewpoint, and he was long past caring.
“I just want to go home,” he weeped.
“Toad, over here!” shouted Badger from outside of the circle of arguing men that had poor Toad surrounded. “Crawl between their legs. There’s a good fellow. Just a little farther. Now, let us run like the wind.”
Badger, Mole, and Toad did run as fast as they could through the green maze of the jungle. Leaping over rotten logs and dodging around tree trunks they ran toward the river – animals can sense where the nearest water is. The two tribes of men followed them closely.
“Here they come,” said Python. “Now, is everybody ready? Morton, do you remember your lines?”
“I certainly do.”
“Marley, Chuck, Ratty: are you ready with the apples?”
Marley shouted, “Yes, we’re ready as can be!”
Badger, Mole, and Toad burst out of the jungle and into the clearing created by the canopy of the giant tree’s branches and leaves. Toad headed straight for the boat. Badger and Mole turned to face the two tribes about to surround them with their clinching arguments. Suddenly the body shaking deep voice of the tree halted everyone when he said, “Stop!”
Everyone froze where they were, even Toad who had been trying to start a fire in the steam engine’s boiler. Several of the tribesmen pointed at the tree trunk. All the men of both tribes dropped open their mouths when Morton next said, “I am the Tree of Knowledge.”
The tribesmen began to excitedly talk among themselves until Python’s head appeared in front of them. Hanging down from a branch Python slowly moved his head from side to side. His tongue flickered out. The men grew quiet. Watching the snake head’s motion hypnotized each of the men and all their eyes locked onto Python’s mystical stare as he commanded, “On your knees Illuminati and Rosicrucian.”
Immediately the tribesmen dropped to their knees. Toad climbed out of the boat and joined Badger and Mole who stood near to the giant tree trunk. Mole nudged Badger and pointed up at Marley who was partially hidden by leaves. She seemed to be holding something in her hand and not greatly bothered by the sight of a very large snake in the tree who held everybody in hypnotic silence until he hissed, “I am the serpent servant of the Tree of Knowledge. I have a gift for each of you, the gift of knowledge.”
Marley, Chuck, and Ratty began tossing down Mr. Fuji’s apples. The men eagerly reached up to catch them, though a few clumsy hands had to pick theirs up from the ground.
“Take a bite,” commanded Python.
Each man did.
“Now, listen to the wisdom of this: Neither of your tribes is to move into the treehouse. Instead you will send small work parties to dismantle the treehouse. You do not need to build an observatory to study the cosmos. Remember: Just small work parties. Do you understand?”
Most all of the men nodded their heads and a few not shocked into muteness mumbled, “Yes.”
“I can’t hear you!” Morton sang out.
A chorus of men’s voices answered with, “Yes, yes, of course,” and “Whatever you say,” and other contrite words of agreement.
Python nodded his head and said, “Now go! And remember to send a small work party first thing tomorrow morning. Oh, one last thing. Tell the workers to bring their own lunches. We’re just about out of apples.”
There were enough apples to give a boat load of happily homeward bound heroes a tasty snack as they steamed downstream. Even Toad was content with the ways things turned out. True, he’d lost his jungle vacation home for which he’d paid two golden tulips and a breadfruit tree. But Mr. Morton Bay Fig had given him several figs. These Toad had been instructed to plant in his garden. Not only would they grow into talking trees, but they would also sing – but not dance, of course. When grown as tall as Toad was, though still quite young, the trees could sing choral songs and put on performances. Toad dreamed of selling many tickets.
As they steamed back down the Tarzana, Chuck remembered the elephant bathing spot on the river. By pointing out some interesting looking plants and flowers on opposite riverbank, he tricked Marley into looking the other way. Mole and Ratty noticed this.
“That was clever,” remarked Ratty. “Though I wonder what great moral message was learned by Marley in this adventure.”
“Hmm, I do believe it was something like: Don’t build really heavy treehouses in trees; they have feelings, too,” replied Mole.
“That’s a bit odd sounding for a moral lesson,” said Ratty. “How about this: Listen to the trees.”
“I don’t think trees talk in her world.”
“No?” Ratty shook his head. “That’s a very strange world she lives in.”
“Quite. But she did say the lemonade is delicious there.”