La Villa di Padrone Rospo

Or: Boss Toad’s Town

Marley insults her teacher’s pick for a class play. Challenged to write a better one, she suffers writer’s block. Chuck arrives to enlist her help in fetching back Mr. Toad from the bright marquee lights of the nearly big Main Street, U. S. A.

He, of the croaking voice, plans on starring in a French opera, Pas Beau Crapaud de Crapaud Taudis. Worse yet, he’s mortgaged Toad Hall to finance it.

Marley politely convinces Toad that he would make a better actor than a singer and a play would be superior to an opera. But what play? Fortunately, the talented signore Collodi appears with swarms of pixies and fairies and a half-finished playscript. After a short detour of a court trial – Marley serves as the prosecutor – all ends well with Marley gaining an appreciation of the difficult task a teacher has in producing a class play.

La Villa di Padrone Rospo

or

Boss Toad’s Town

by

Tonton Jim

A gust of night wind drove raindrops against Marley’s bedroom window and though not loud, it distracted her from her homework task. Truth to tell, it didn’t take much to distract her because while she wanted to write the best play ever, she didn’t have the smallest of clues of where to begin.

Once again facing the dreaded blank paper, she frowned and lay her head down on the desk. Perhaps if she closed her eyes for a little while, an idea would pop into her head. Just as she began to feel comfortably relaxed and worry free, she heard something make a “plop” sound against her window. She opened her eyes, raised her head, and sensed that something was outside her window. Upon opening the window – one of the old-fashioned kind that raised up and lowered down – she couldn’t help but notice a very large beak hooked onto the window sill. And below that beak was hung the head and body of a dodo bird. It had to be Chuck because he was the only dodo bird she knew.

Reaching down to grab onto his hands – Chuck’s unique anatomy made him the rarest of extinct birds, a type known as a large bill impossibility – Marley struggled to pull his rotund body into the room. With some effort the rescue was accomplished and the rather bedraggled bird stood in a puddle of water.

“Terribly sorry to disturb you on a night like this,” said Chuck, “but I just had to tell you a story. Am I interrupting anything important?”

“Just my homework.”

“That’s important, you know.”

“I’m stuck. I don’t know what to write and I have to write a play because I told the teacher the play she wanted us to act in was dumb. She asked me if I could write a better one and I told her yes which was a big mistake because now I have to write the dumb thing and Mom says I have to do it or I can’t watch any TV.” Marley sat at her desk and propped her tired and discouraged head against an arm.

“Well, it’s quite fortunate that I’ve come when I did. Oh, by the way, could I trouble you for a towel?”

Marley fetched a towel and while her friend dried himself a question occurred to her. “You weren’t going to try to fly right through my closed window, were you?”

“No, no, no,” he replied, “I had planned on hooking my beak on the top of your window frame and with my foot knocking lightly and politely on the glass. Unfortunately, a rather strong gust of wind blew me right against your window. It’s a frightfully dark and stormy night out there. That said: You’ll enjoy our fine weather in Storybook Land ever so much more.”

“Are we going there? I’d really like to but I have to write this stupid play.” Marley sat again at her desk looking very discouraged.

“Here’s the best part of my news. After you finish helping us you’ll return in plenty of time to write your play, and though I make you no promises, I think you’ll have something to write about.”

“Do you? If you can, that’ll be fantastic. But how will I get there?”

“With the greatest of ease. Just open your copy of The Further Adventures of Marley in Storybook Land and we’ll dive straight into the story.”

“I don’t have that book. It’s probably still back in Room Six’s coat closet.”

Chuck looked around the room until he spied Marley’s backpack. He went over and opened its top flap. “Mind if I have a look? Ah, here it is.”

“Where’d that come from? I didn’t put it there.”

“Probably not, but good books do have a dear habit of staying with one. Now, for the fun part. Open it and look closely at the title page.”

She took the book from his hands and opened it to the title page expecting to see the familiar illustration of Toad Hall and standing in front of it, her friends, Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, Mr. Mole, and Mr. Ratty. But something was wrong or, to be more precise, someone was missing.

“What happened to Mr. Toad?”

“Oh, lassie,” said Badger, “the foolish beastie has gone and done a daft thing.”

Marley wasn’t too surprised to find herself now standing in front of Toad Hall and her friends. The same thing had happened to her in her last adventure and that turned out well.

“The silly fellow,” said Ratty rather heatedly, “has run off to become an actor. He’s been seduced by the bright lights of Main Street.”

“He has a dream,” said Mole, “of becoming a great play-actor on the stage.”

“Isn’t having a dream of doing something like that,” asked Marley. “a good thing?”

“Aye, dreams are fine,” said Badger. “But he is having to pay dearly for his dream, for he has signed up for some very expensive acting, dancing and singing lessons.”

Except for Mole, who left them to go fetch the mail from the mailbox, they followed Chuck into Toad Hall. Upon entering, Chuck went straightaway to the kitchen while Marley and the others sat in the comfy chairs facing the fireplace. Mole entered with several letters and advertising flyers in his paws. He sat down and began looking through them while Marley’s friends brought her up to date.

“You see,” said Ratty, “A little while back, a door-to-door acting school salesman knocked on the front door and it wasn’t long before the bounder had the star-struck animal enrolled in…”

“Professor Stump’s University of the Cesspian Arts!” Badger finished Ratty’s sentence with an expression of great distaste.

Mole quietly said to Marley, “We strongly suspect he isn’t a real professor. He doesn’t seem to spell very well.”

“He spells well enough on his bills,” said Badger. “I will not pay another cent to that blighter. Let him come here and try to collect.”

“Here’s another bill, I think,” said Mole who still held the letter close to his eyes and glasses.

“Give it to me,” said Ratty, “I’ll rip it to shreds.”

“Hold on,” said Mole, “it’s not a bill. It’s a copy of a bank’s loan contract. It appears that Toad has agreed to put up Toad Hall as a guarantee for a rather large loan.”

“Heavens to Loch Nessie!” shouted Badger. “The foolish, foolish animal.”

“His poor father must be rolling in his grave.” Ratty said this and then buried his face in his paws.

“I wonder what he wants the money for?” asked Marley. “We should go ask him.”

Horrified, Badger and Ratty stared at her. Evidently, they were speechless, because their dropped open mouths said nothing. Chuck entered from the kitchen with a tray of glasses of milk. Around his neck hung a chain of dodonuts. He stood in front of Marley and she broke off a half of the tasty treat and took a glass of milk. Chuck took the tray over to Badger.

“She’s right, you know.” Chuck said. “We really should go to Main Street and discover just what mischief our dear friend has gotten himself into.”

“We?” asked Badger more as an expression of outrage than a question. “We should leave the safe confines of Storybook Land to put ourselves at the mercy of those oversize beasts?”

“I shudder at the mere thought, old boy,” said Ratty as he helped himself to a dodonut.

“It’s a big world out there,” said Badger.

“It’s okay, really,” said Marley. “The world may be a great big place but I feel safe in my…” Marley just then remembered that in Storybook Land it was rude to say the word, ‘little’. “…well, my not very large part of it.”

“Oh, lassie, it’s not the size of the world that concerns us. It’s the size of those who live in it. We’re normal size folk, and those big-worlders are…”

“Weeds,” said Ratty forcefully. Badger nodded his agreement.

“None the less,” said Chuck. “We must be stalwart in our attempt to help save the poor creature. Otherwise, it would mean our bonds of friendship are as flimsy as spiderwebs.”

“You’re right,” said Marley. “I’ll go.”

“Me, too,” said Mole.

Chuck leaned down to say softly in Marley’s ear, “And maybe we’ll have an adventure you can use in writing your play.”

Badger slowly rose from his comfy chair. “Aye, I’m afraid you have the right of it. Regardless of the danger or the discomfort to ourselves, we must try to save our poor witless friend.”

“I’ll go pack a few things,” said Ratty.

“There are some Eastside folk who might aid us,” said Chuck. “I’ll go have a word with them. And then, I’ll meet up with you on the banks of the canal.”

Marley went along with Badger, Mole, and Ratty to the dock where the three animals readied two rowboats for the trip down the canal and pass Pinocchio’s Italian village, pass the Snow Queen’s town, and finally, pass the palace of the mermaids. And then, beyond those Eastland towns, through the dark tunnel leading to the outside world.

Alone and not followed by anyone, Chuck approached them. As he settled into a rowboat, Marley couldn’t help but ask, “Aren’t any of the Eastland folk going to help us?”

“Oh, the ones we will be most in need of are quite eager to come along. They’ll be joining us shortly, probably just after we pass under the arch of the giant bridge. So, now that you’ve heard the good news, climb aboard, I’ll man the oars, let’s cast off and be on our way.”

Marley settled into the aft thwart, the rear seat, of the little wooden craft. The dodo bird did man the oars and began stroking. They followed in the wake of the others’ rowboat. The calm water of the canal gave a sense of peace and security, and it so relaxed Marley she felt comfortable enough to ask her guardian a personal question. “You said man the oars, but you’re a bird.”

“Quite right, you are. But you see, there’s also the expression, ‘all hands on deck’ and as you can see I do have hands.”

Marley wanted to ask if all dodo birds had hands or if he were the only one, but that seemed a question far too personal.

As if he’d read her mind, Chuck continued with his explanation. “Yes, I’m the only dodo with hands. It’s the way my creator drew me.”

“Oh.” Marley thought about this for a moment and then asked, “Drew you? But you’re more than just a drawing.”

“You’re absolutely right. I only exist because my creator’s creator wanted me too. Very probably for your sake. Oh, look behind you. As promised, our escorts have arrived.”

Marley looked behind, and in the subdued light of Storybook Land’s always setting sun, she could see the pinpoint glows of the fairy light. As a swarm, they followed in the wakes of the rowboat. Though the little lights glowed prettily above the water, Marley felt unsure as to how they were going to be of any use in fetching back the errant Toad.

“Wait and you’ll see,” said Chuck.

They soon passed by the villages. Ahead lay the dark tunnel and beyond that the great big wide world. In the tunnel the pixies flew ahead and their little lights served to guide the two boatloads through the winding and lightless tunnel. Nobody talked, but Marley called to the other boat, “How long does this go on?” her words echoed along the tunnel walls.

“Donna know, lassie” said Badger softly but easy to hear nonetheless.

Marley waited and looking past Chuck who was rowing and facing her, she peered in the darkness ahead of their boats. At first, she couldn’t tell for sure, but ahead might be a lighter shade of darkness, and then she could perceive the special light of a twilight evening. Then after reaching the definite end of the tunnel walls and ceiling, there was a twilight sky above, an embankment on her left, and to her right, a stone wall reaching into the sky higher than the tallest downtown building she’d ever seen.

“What’s that?” she asked.

The dodo, evidently not impressed with the immensity over to his side, simply said, “Cinderella’s castle. It’s a handsome structure, when seen from the right perspective, of course. Anyhow, now you can see how the fairies took us through their secret waterway passage and so, finally, we’re in the almost big world.”

Along the embankment, an occasional boulder created tall rocky cliffs, impossible for a landing. But further along the shore a sloping garden ended at the water’s edge with a not too steep faux dirt embankment, and there they managed to find a spot at which to beach the boats.

While the fairies buzzed around in the general direction of the street and plaza, Marley and the Storybook heroes had to struggle through a thick forest of double overhead flowers. Marley wondered if she and her friends were having this much trouble crossing a garden, what troubles awaited them in the almost big world?

Giant wheels on giant vehicles loomed on the street in front of them. This almost big world frightened each of them, except Chuck. While the others gaped at the terrifying busses and motorcars, he looked up at the fairies.

“It’s a good thing they came along to show us the way,” said Marley.

“Oh, they’re not done yet, my dear child,” said Chuck.

The pin-point lights of the fairies flew in a cloud like swarm just above their heads.

“My friends, have I ever mentioned in passing that all magical flying creatures, fairies and pixies included, belong to a special society? It’s sort of like a club where they get together for potlucks and socials and such. And all members of that club, The Frequent Flyers of Storybook Land, are entitled to ask other members for special favors. Well, as it so happens, I’m a member.”

“You’re a flightless bird. How’d you get in?” asked Ratty rather rudely.

Taking no offense – Chuck never did – he pleasantly said, “I’m an honorary member.” He looked up at the cloud. “Okay, my fellow winged creatures, a little fairy dust, if you please.”

Descending from the cloud of fairies rained down tiny sparkles which landed on our heroes. At first, Marley felt a little dizzy, then suddenly she realized that she was just the right size for this big world.

“Of course, you are,” said Chuck. “Except we’re all four fifths size compared to the real big world.”

“Why four fifths?” asked Mole.

“Because Main Street is built to four fifths of what exists in the real world,” replied Chuck.

“If this is the four fifths’ version of the real world,” grumbled Badger, “then I should be bigger than Ratty and Mole; badgers are, you know.”

“If that were so, then Marley would be much bigger than any of us,” said Mole, but Badger wasn’t cheered by this logic.

“Look!” shouted Marley. “Here comes a double-decker bus. Can we ride upstairs?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Chuck. “Has everybody an ‘A’ ticket?”

Marely didn’t, but Mole gave her one and they all scampered up the stairs and found seats on the mostly empty bus. The fairies, though, didn’t pay and snuck aboard by flying to the upper level.

“Do we know where to get off?” asked Ratty.

“Toad wrote us something about being in an opera,” said Mole, “so I imagine that we should ask the driver to drop us off at an opera house.”

As the double-decker bus moved down the main street of Main Street, the friends noted the beauty of all the cute storefronts, each decorated in an outline of white light bulbs, and each with colorful window displays offering dresses, suits, books, toys, gadgets, candy, ice cream, and other delights. At the far end of the street they could see a plaza and above that, the train station. The street circled around the plaza and when their bus reached it, they passed by a fire station, the city hall, the Hotel Marceline, and then the opera house which had a sign high above its entrance reading, “Opera House”.

“Here’s our stop,” said Marley as she led the others down the stairs.

After getting off the bus, and while walking to the opera house, Marley noticed a tunnel beneath the train track embankment. She pointed to it and asked, “Where does that go?”

Except for Chuck, her friends shuddered. Badger said in a quiet voice dramatically full of dread, “That leads to the bigger big world. Let us hurry past it.”

Though no one occupied the ticket booth, the doors to the opera house theatre opened when pressed, so they, including the swarm of fairies, all entered. They crossed the richly carpeted foyer, and into the theatre auditorium. It was dark and the stage lit by a single spotlight on none other than their friend, Mr. Toad.

Hidden in the darkness, they paused before advancing. Also hidden in the back row of seats were four shadowy figures, carelessly slouched in their seats. Each of them wore a sleeveless Levi jacket, on the back of which was embroidered the words, “Wicked Weasels”. Marley could just make out that one of them held a large white sack marked with the word, “moola”. With their eyes adjusting to the darkness, they could see also on the stage someone sitting at a piano, and next to Toad, just out of the spotlight, a man dressed in a black robe and wearing a mortar board hat. “That must be the professor,” whispered Mole.

The professor nodded his head, the piano player began playing, and Toad began singing. Marley wanted to put her hands over her ears, but that seemed a rude thing to do – just as rude as the Weasels who were sniggering and poking one another, some with hands clasped over their mouths to keep from laughing out loud.

“I’ve heard enough,” said Badger as he led his friends down the aisle. Toad stopped singing and peered into the darkness. Then his expression brightened and he shouted, “My friends, my good, good, and dear friends. How wonderful of you to drop in.”

Marley hadn’t, at first, noticed the tiny glow of light floating near Toad’s head. But it zoomed straight up the aisle they were walking down. She turned her head to see it join the other glows of light. Chuck whispered to her, “That’s the fairy, Tinkerbell. She’s quite a free spirit, that one.”

With Badger standing in front of him, they gathered at the foot of the stage and looked up at the beaming Toad. The professor called out to the person at the piano, “Take five, Brubeck,” and then he walked over to stand next to Toad. He didn’t look too pleased to see Toad’s friends there.

“Toad,” said Badger sternly, “We have received a most distressing letter from a bank. It reads that you, you foolish animal, have pledged Toad Hall as a guarantee for a very large loan.”

“But, Badger,” protested Toad, “Don’t you see? I had to have that money to pay for the opera’s production. It’s going to be a big hit. It’ll make simply oodles of money and I’ll pay back the loan easy-peasy.”

“Heavens to Loch Nessie!” Badger slapped his forehead. “You’ve already spent all the money!”

“Afraid so, old chap,” said the professor. “We had to pay in advance for the sets, the costumes… all the many things a four star production requires. So, yes, the moola is all gone.”

“No, it isn’t!” cried out Marley. “One of the weaselly characters back there had a large sack labeled ‘moola’.” She turned to point out the particular Weasel and said sack, but all she and her friends could see were the backs of the Wicked Weasels as they fled out of the auditorium.

“After them!” shouted Ratty leading the charge of our heroes up the aisle. The Professor waited until Toad climbed down from the stage and then he took off in the opposite direction, presumably to make his escape via a back entrance.

Outside on the street, the Weasels ran to a nearby double-decker bus and hopped on. Our heroes burst from within the opera house followed by a cloud of fairies and saw the bus pulling away. While her friends ran after the bus yelling for it to stop, Marley halted in front of four police persons playing saxophones. They continued playing as she gestured and shouted, “Stop those skinny guys. They’ve stolen Mr. Toad’s money!”

Even though the police carried their saxophones in one hand while their other hand held whistles to their mouths, they soon caught up (they had longer legs) with Marley’s friends. The bus driver, in no particular hurry, stopped at the bus stop just short of the hub. The police ran up to the bus just in time to catch the bus driver who the Weasels had thrown off. The bus jerked into quick acceleration and screeched to a stop by the pond near to the gates of Frontierland. Police and animals could see the four skinny Weasels run from the bus and into some bushes.

Flying across the plaza, a cloud of fairy lights led the pursuers to where the Weasels were last seen. The police and Marley and her friends searched through the bushes but found no trace of the four.

“What are those fairies doing?” asked Marley while pointing to a cloud of fairies hovering over the nearby pond.

“They seem to be interested in those four reeds sticking out of the water,” said Mole.

Now the others joined Marley and Mole in staring at the suspicious looking reeds. Badger, though, soon cast his eyes on the police persons who seemed hopelessly inactive. Rather gruffly he asked, “Are you going to just stand there gawking? Wade on out there and arrest those felons.”

“Suspects, you mean,” replied a police woman. “And we can’t go out there. One of us will have to go back to the station house and fetch our water rescue equipment.”

“That’s absurd!” shouted Ratty. “We don’t want them rescued we want them arrested.”

“Perhaps I should have a word with the fairies,” suggested Chuck. He waved a winged arm and they all flew over to him. “Good fairies, perhaps you can solve this standoff. I should think a little of your floating fairy dust will do the trick.”

“What trick is that?” asked Marley. Chuck just nodded his beak while watching the cloud of fairies approach the four reeds. Marley watched as strings of fairy dust floated down into the reed tubes. First the reeds rose out of the water, followed by the sucking mouths of the Weasels, and then their heads and throats, and then, most amazingly, their no-longer-bone-skinny bodies but completely round balls with little arms and feet sticking out. These balls with heads floated just above the water, just out of reach of the police. Fairies pushed the ball Weasels to the shore, where each police person handcuffed one.

Toad went up to the Weasel holding the sack of moola and attempted to take it from his hand, but a police person stopped him. “Sorry, but that’s evidence. We’ll have to take it to the station where it will be held until after the trial.”

It was a strange parade down the main street of Main Street: a line of four police persons, each with a saxophone in one hand, and in the other a handcuffed balloon of a Weasel floating in the air. Bringing up the rear, were four dejected animals, then a concerned Marley, and then a rather sanguine Chuck (guardian dodo birds seldom look dejected or worried).

They parted ways at the Opera House: the police with their floating captives in tow proceeded to the police station and jail; Marley and her friends entered the theatre and settled into chairs on the stage.

“Toad,” said Badger, “this is a fine mess. How will you ever pay back the bank? The trial may take weeks and we won’t be getting your money back until after those scoundrels are found guilty.”

With all eyes on the poor heartbroken Toad, his friends waited for an answer or at least a cheerful thought to lighten the dark gloom. He looked up at them, opened his mouth to say perhaps how truly sorry he was but something lying on a chair caught his eyes.

“It’s the libretto,” he said brightly.

“A what?” asked Marley.

“A libretto is the story that the opera tells, only without the singing,” explained Chuck.

“Well, if it’s without Toad croaking out songs,” said Ratty, “it might be worth something.”

Badger took the libretto from Toad’s hands, sat down, and began skimming it.

“Yes, it might,” said Marley. “An opera without singing must be just like a play and plays make money, don’t they?”

“Well, a good play just might,” mused the Mole. “Toad, tell us about the story in the libretto.”

“Oh, it’s quite smashing,” he said. “It’s called, Pas Beau Crapaud de Crapaud Taudis. The professor told me it’s French for, Handsome Toad’s Magnificent Palace. And in it I play the dashing and oh, so brave cavalier, having all sorts of marvelous adventures, and in the end, the king rewards me with a beautiful palace.”

“Um, Toad, old boy,” said Chuck, “I’m awfully sorry to tell you this, but that libretto’s title doesn’t mean what the professor told you. It actually translates as…” Chuck paused and spoke even softer, “Not Beautiful Toad of Toad Shack”.

Toad’s mouth hung open. Except for Badger, his friends looked upon him with pity which for some creatures is even worse than being laughed at. Badger looked up from his reading, and broke the awkward silence by saying, “This is intolerable! Toad, this time, you have really gone and done it. This whole libretto is nothing more than a vile joke to be played on you. Here, in the opening scene, you are a dim-witted criminal, not a heroic soldier, and you are to be placed in stocks and pelted with rotten fruit.”

“Pelted with rotten fruit?” Toad’s voice carried nothing but misery and disbelief.

“Yes. And it gets worse. Afterwards you are locked in a dungeon until you are tricked into making an escape disguised as a washer woman.”

“A washer woman?” Toad could now barely croak out those words.

“Yes. A chained-up washer woman who is forced to wash all of the king’s palace’s bedsheets with nothing but her tears. Toad, you’ll look an absolute fool! What would’ve your father said if he knew what you have done and were on the verge of doing? Not only are you about to lose the Toad family estate, but you were about to become the laughing stock of nearly everyone in all the lands.”

The poor heartbroken creature, buried his face in his hands and began sobbing. Marley went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Chuck stood on his other side, while Mole pulled out a handkerchief to offer to the miserable animal.

“Well, maybe we can write our own play,” said Marley.

“I think that’s a brilliant idea!” said Chuck.

“Yes,” said Mole. “Toad can be the star and we can all be in it.”

“We’ll need a new title, of course,” said Ratty.

“I have a suggestion,” said a familiar voice coming from the darkness in the back of the theatre. Our heroes all turned to peer into the darkness out of which emerged…

“Signor Collodi!” shouted Marley.

“Good to see you, old fellow, but what brings our Eastland neighbor to the bright lights of Main Street?” asked Badger.

“Every once in a while, I feel the need to embiggen myself in this almost life size little town. I was escorted and enlarged by these charming pixies.”

Indeed, a swarm of tiny lights flew past him and joined the fairies who had settled in, perching on the front row seats.

“My suggestion is to call your play, La Villa di Padrone Rospo.”

“Ooh, that sounds pretty,” said Marley. “What does it mean?”

“Rospo is Italian for toad. And a padrone is a boss, such as the boss of a city or an organization.”

“Interesting. Would you be of the mind to tell us the plot?” asked Badger.

“Certainly, or at least I can tell you most of the story. It begins with Padrone Rospo who is the mayor of a charming little Tuscan village and who likes to walk the streets of his town singing loudly…”

Enthused by the thought of a new starring role, Toad excitedly interrupted and said, “…and the townspeople love me. Even though they are poor and live wretched lives, they love my singing and want to build for me a grand opera house.”

Toad looked around expecting to see approval and admiration beaming out from his friends. Needless to say, he didn’t.

“Toad, be quiet!” said Badger who then turned to signor Collodi. “It’s a bonny title for a play, and you say it takes place in an Italian village. So, for the scenery we’ll be needing some paint and some canvas. Toad, Ratty, you come with me and we’ll see what credit I have at the hardware store. You others can go off somewhere quiet to help signor Collodi finish his play.”

They parted ways at the theatre’s entrance. The Hotel Marceline just across the plaza seemed to offer the best place to sit and dream up a play. They entered the lobby and found seats by a fireplace. After ordering hot cocoa and chains of dodonuts, they settled down to business.

“Do go on with describing the plot,” said Chuck.

“That’s not much more to add,” said signor Collodi. “but as I was saying: Padrone Rospo loves to sing as he walks through the streets of the town escorted by a file of loyal but deaf city guards. His singing voice, however, is terrible. It wakes babies who can’t stop crying for hours, birds won’t sing their pretty songs within the city walls, cows who hear him stop producing milk, chickens won’t lay…

“I think we get the picture,” said Mole. “But why doesn’t anyone simply tell him that his voice is… well, unpleasant?”

“They would love to,” replied signor Collodi. “But he is reputed to have a fiery temper. And everyone is afraid of him and his deaf soldiers. Even so, the townspeople get so desperate they begin to secretly plot a sinister solution. And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.”

The treats arrived. They silently sat in their comfy chairs lit by the flickering of the fireplace’s dancing flames and thought and thought and then thought some more. Then Signor Collodi with an expression of friendly curiosity looked at Marley.

“So, my brave mountain climbing child, have you a great desire to be an actress in this play?”

“I’d like that very much,” she replied. “But what could I do?”

“Ah, a role for a young girl. Let’s see. Ah, I know. You can be the lost gypsy girl left behind by a caravan of gypsies.”

“I’d like that.” She took a sip of her drink. “And then, I could be the only one who is brave enough…”

“And sweet enough,” added Chuck.

“…to tell Padrone Rospo that maybe his singing isn’t so hot. But then he’d be really sad.”

“To complete the story,” said signor Collodi, “you must come up with a solution that will provide a happy ending for all.”

“Well, like what just happened with the opera,” said Marley, “Padrone Rospo could become an actor in a play instead of a singer in an opera.”

“Better make that a silent actor,” said Mole.

“In a silent movie,” added Chuck.

“Excellent!” said signor Collodi. “I think we have the makings of a hit play. Congratulations, my friends.”

 

Our troupers and playwriters began rehearsal even before the backdrop scenery had a lick of paint on it. Sitting in chairs on the stage each of the actors read through the script. Satisfied with how it sounded, they removed the chairs and began bodily going through each scene.

While they did this, the pixies and fairies sat in the front row (on top of the seat backs) and paid close attention. However, their level of attention remained a mystery and unknowable to those on stage owning to the tiny winged creatures’ size. Chuck might have known – being in the club of winged creatures gave him a special understanding of them – but from backstage, his eyes and attention focused only on Marley as she made her entrance in Act Three, scene one.

Badger, Mole, and Ratty stood on the bare stage as if they were waiting for someone. Marley entered the stage. If she’d been wearing a costume, the audience would’ve immediately recognized her as a poor little gypsy girl. If the scenery had been finished, the audience would’ve known the actors to be loitering in a street in a small Italian town. Marley slowly walked up to Badger with her hand held out.

“Please, kind sir,” she begged, “a coin for a poor gypsy girl who has been accidently left behind by a roving band of gypsies.”

Badger shook his head, no, and rudely motioned for her to go away. She next approached Mole and said, “Please, kind sir.”

Mole smiled kindly at her and started to reach into his waistcoat pocket, but signor Collodi, standing in the front of the stage with a script in his hand, frantically waved his arms. Mole looked at him and then back at Marley and sadly shook his head, no.

Just as she was about to approach Ratty, singing – or rather croaking – erupted from offstage. Toad entered the stage, singing loudly. Following him and holding a boom as if it were a rifle, Chuck marched as best as his bird legs would allow. Just after the happily singing Toad passed the crowd of three townspeople, Badger dropped to his knees acting like he was going to be sick, Mole put his hands over his ears, and Ratty fell to the floor, lying on his back with his arms and legs sticking up as if he’d died on the spot.

“A little less hamming it up, please,” called out signor Collodi.

The still singing Toad then came up to Marley who smiled at him. He stopped singing and smiled back at her.

“What’s your name, poor and lost looking gypsy girl?”

Marley, about to give her line, turned her head to the back of the theatre. The four police persons, each still carrying their saxophone, marched down the aisle. When they reached the stage, all eyes stared wonderingly at them.

“You lot are hereby summoned to court,” said one of the police, “for the express purpose of prosecuting the alleged criminals, to wit: the four Wicked Weasels.”

After a moment of stunned silence, Badger asked, “What about Professor Stump? He’s as vile a villain as should ever appear in a court of justice.”

“We haven’t found him yet,” said the police person, “Now, come along. We can’t keep her honor waiting.”

“The fairies, pixies, and I shall await your return,” said signor Collodi. “Tinkerbelle wants to show me a dance routine she’s created.”

With Marley and her friends led boldly by Badger, they made their way through the crowd of the already packed court room. The judge had already taken her seat on high and held her gravel ready to bang down. The four Weasels, their guilty eyes downcast, sat silently in the dock. However, no lawyer nor anyone sat at the table for the defense. The evidence, the bag labelled “moola”, sat on a small table near the judge’s bench. The bailiff instructed our heroes to sit in front as befitted the plaintiffs in the case.

“We’ll return to that matter in a moment,” said the judge. “Now then, who will speak for the plaintiffs?”

Badger, looked left and right at his friends, and then he looked at the judge and was about to say or ask something when she said, “Okay then. Who among you has graduated from second-grade? How about you?” The judge pointed her gravel at Marley.

“I’m a third-grader, your honor.”

The judge looked over at the bailiff who after a moment of thought said, “She may be overqualified with a third-grade education and all.”

“I haven’t finished third-grade.” Marley volunteered this wanting to be helpful, but not actually wanting to take up lawyering.

“Good,” said the judge, “if there’s one thing that this court cannot abide it is a know-it-all over-educated lawyer. That takes care of your side, now where is the lawyer for the defense?”

“The cavalry has arrived, yur honor.” Everyone turned to the back of the courtroom and none could help but stare in wonder at what had just entered. A cowboy hat almost as big as his torso perched on the man’s head. The lower half of his face and all of his neck were hidden by a bushy red beard. Above his eyes rode bunny sized red eyebrows. He wore a yellowish suede vest over a red work shirt, and covering the front of his Levies were furry pinto colored chaps. The spurs on his boots jingled as he approached the judge’s bench.

“But, heh, heh, don’t ya be aworrying, I left ma shootin’ irons, in the foyer.”

The judge stared down at the strange sight in her courtroom and then she sighed. “Whatever.” She banged her gravel and announced, “Let the trial begin. Bailiff, read the charges.”

“These suspicious looking felons are charged with bus driver shoving, driving a bus without a license, and the theft of theatre funds.”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, such vile crimes and such obviously guilty looking suspects. Okay, defense, of course you’re going to plead guilty, aren’t you?”

“No, ma’am. These boys have gots a powerful innocent air to ‘em. For the sake of their dearly departed mama’s I gots to plead, not guilty.”

“So, you’re bound and determined to waste the time of this court. Fine, so be it. Bailiff, call the first witness for the plaintiffs.”

“I call J. Thadeus Toad, esq. to the witness stand.”

Mr. Toad confidently walked over to the bailiff, raised one hand, and swore to tell the truth. He then took his place in the witness box.

The Weasel’s lawyer stood and asked, “Mr. Toad, is it yur far-fetched claim you paid cold hard cash to these honest straight-shooters, these worthy patrons of the theatre?”

“I most certainly did,” replied Toad.

“Oh, cum on. Do you expect any level-headed lovers of the cesspian arts to believe that hog wash? You do know, don’t you, that an opera requires a fair bit of singing? So, okay, let’s hear you warbled out a tune or two.”

“Hey, that’s unfair!” shouted Marley.

The judge smiled down at her and said, “Then, young lady, you must declare, ‘I object’ but it doesn’t really matter what you object to, I’m sure to agree.”

While Marley and the judge glared at the Weasel’s lawyer, he returned to the table for the defense and poured a full glass of water. This he gulped down so fast that water ran down the hairs of his beard. Puzzled by something – perhaps the strands of red beard that had come loose from the cowboy-lawyer’s face – Marley stared at him.

“That’s a fake beard!” Marley shouted. Her friends jumped to their feet. The bailiff ran over to the defense table and pulled the fake beard off revealing…

“Professor Stump!” shouted Toad and several others.

“Arrest him!” shouted the judge. The bailiff roughly seized the professor’s arm and led him out of the courtroom. The Weasels sank lower in their seats. The judge banged her gravel a few times, turned a fierce look on the Weasels, “He’s guilty as can be, so you four must be as well.” She banged her gravel again. “I find for the plaintiffs. This trial is over. Take them away.”

Marley’s friends rushed over to congratulate her. Chuck told her, “Well, done, Marley.”

When their collective hugging and back slapping celebration calmed down a bit, with the same thought in mind, they turned to the table upon which sat the evidence, the bag of moola.

“Ut-ut,” said the bailiff, “No touchy, we’ll be needing that evidence for the professor’s trial.”

“Oh?” said Toad, “And when will that be?”

“Oh, now, let’s see. First, the judge is scheduled for a nice long vacation, and then it’s my turn, so, I’m thinking, very probably in six weeks or so.”

“That long?” croaked Toad. “But that’s all the money in the world I have. How am I going to pay back my loan?”

“We heard that.”

Toad and the others turned away from the evidence table and turned around to see three men in suits. Each carried a briefcase. None of the faces held a smile, in fact, they looked as if they’d never smiled in all of their lives.

“Who are you?” asked Badger.

“We’ve bankers.”

Marley and the others drew in their breaths and took a step back.

“You have to the end of the week to make a payment on the loan, good day.” The bankers turned and walked away.

“What’ll we do?” asked Toad.

“We’ll just have to rush to put the show on,” said Marley. “Come on, Mr. Toad, we can do it!”

“Well spoken, lassie,” said Badger.

“To the theatre!” said Ratty who led the way out of the courtroom.

Mole quietly said to Marley, “Ratty has always wanted to act in a play. He’s very eager to be in this one. You see, he has a distant cousin who made quite a name for himself in the moving picture business.”

They exited the courtroom and into the twilit street. The lampposts, as always, glowed ghostly white. A horse drawn carriage clopped by. Looking up the main street of Main Street, the store windows shined brightly with illuminated displays. Across the plaza, the Opera House was lit up as well, its white lit marquee advertising the theatre’s latest production which our heroes could now read.

Winged Wisps of Wonderland?” Badger read this aloud and he and the others halted in their tracks.

“What happened to La Villa di Padrone Rospo?” asked Toad.

They hurried across the street and to the front doors where the ticket taker held up a hand to stop them. “Sorry, this show is sold out. But don’t worry, the next showing will begin in a short while.”

“It’s okay, you can let them in.” Signor Collodi walking across the lobby came up to them, as the ticket taker stood aside.

He led them inside the theatre, while whispering, “We didn’t know how long the trial would last, so the fairies, pixies and I went ahead and put on our musical. You’re just in time for the big finale.”

He swung open the doors and they silently filed into the darkened room. Ahead of them, across the rows of seats, the stage, dimly lit and with a backdrop of scenery showing a nighttime scene of a pretty park lake, looked and sounded completely empty of performers.

“Aren’t they wonderful?” asked signor Collodi. “Such graceful dance moves, such precision, and such heavenly voices.”

“I can’t hear anything,” said Marley.

“I can’t see any singers or dancers,” said Mole.

“No? That’s very honest of you.” Signor Collodi smiled in his philosophic way. “Everyone in the audience pretends they can hear and see our minute performers. Rather than go to a show they can enjoy, they all want to show their neighbors just how much they appreciate the latest fad,” said signor Collodi. “This is the second sold out show today.”

“Second?” asked Marley. “We’ve been gone that long?”

“Someday, maybe on your birthday, I’ll present you with a Storybook watch,” said Chuck. “Time, here in our lands, follows some very unique rules.”

Signor Collodi turned away from them and began clapping and yelling, “Bravo! Bellissima!” The audience explored into applause and cheering. Marley looked at her friends who shrugged and began clapping loudly. Some members of the audience threw flowers on the stage.

After enough of the theatre crowd had exited, signor Collodi led the others to the stage. With the stage lights off, Marley could see one pinpoint of light remaining on stage. Chuck looked at that light as it flew toward him.

“Excellent performance, Tinkerbell,” he said. The tiny light flew to his ear or to where one might suppose a bird to have an ear. Chuck cocked his head as if listening to something important.

“What about our show?” asked Toad.

“Sorry,” said signor Collodi. “But the theatre owner wants to stick with this show which is, as you can see, a smash hit.”

“Oh,” said Marley, “I suppose that means our show can’t go on and we won’t be able to make enough money to save Toad Hall.”

“Hold on,” said Chuck. “Tinkerbelle says that the fairies and pixies will lend Toad the money to pay back the bank.”

“That’s wonderful!” shouted Marley. “Hear that, Mr. Toad? Your home will be saved.”

“That’s wonderful, alright,” said Toad. “Still, I was hoping to, you know.”

“Be in a play of our own,” said Ratty looking as unsatisfied as Toad.

“Maybe, after we return to Eastland,” said Marley, “we can put on the show there. We can build a stage or something on your front lawn, and all your friends and neighbors can come see it.”

“Another brilliant idea!” said Chuck. “Well, let’s away to the castle moat. I believe Tinkerbell has enough fairly dust to ensure our return to normal size.”

This was something Marley had forgotten. In comparison to the normal sized world of Storybook Land where no one was little, they, in this Main Street world had become giants.

Even though Chuck believed Tinkerbell’s cache of fairy dust enough to do the job of getting everyone right sized and home again, a cloud of fairies and pixies flew along as our heroes strolled down the Main Street sidewalk toward the castle moat. By the edge of the moat water, they looked down at the two tiny boats. A cascade of sparkles descended upon their heads and in a twinkling, Marley and her four friends shrank down to the right size. Badger, Ratty, and Toad headed to one of the beached boats, while Mole volunteered to come along with Marley and Chuck. But before they climbed in, Chuck paused while a tiny light hovered near his head.

“Hold on,” he said. “She says the fairies and pixies have a special treat for us. She says we won’t have to row back through the dark tunnel. In fact, we won’t have to row at all.”

“We won’t? But how will we…” Marley stopped talking when she spied emerging out of the water, two balls of light like the ones used in Bubble-ball games, only much larger, as large as Toad’s home. The tiny magical creatures guided these luminescent balls over to above the boats. Sparkles descended from the balls forming long strings that attached to the boats.

“Ooh,” said Marley as the boats lifted from the surface of the water and into the air. At tree top level she could look down the main street of Main Street. Seconds later, she could look down at the spires of the castle. “It’s so beautiful.”

“It certainly is,” said Mole.

“Marley, my darling girl, when you return to your home and bedroom, do you have a play in mind for your teacher?” asked Chuck.

“Hmm.” After considering her guardian dodo bird’s question for a moment with her face scrunched up by the effort of serious thinking, she brightened. “I know! I’ll write a play about how the pixies and fairies and me saved Mr. Toad’s home. And I’ll put all my Storybook friends in it.”

“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Chuck. “But casting the play might be a bit difficult for a third-grade class, tiny winged creatures and all.”

“I suppose I could limit it to just the courtroom and leave out the fairies and pixies.”

“That would be practical,” said Chuck. “Perhaps that’s what your teacher was thinking when she wrote her play for your class to perform. Perhaps she had to be practical.”

“I know you’d be wonderful in any play ever written,” said Mole, “but, maybe, your classmates could only handle a simple play.”

“So, do you think I should tell my teacher I understand now how hard it is to write a play, and I’m sorry I was so rude?”

Mole and Chuck nodded, yes. For a few moments and in a peaceful silence, they gazed down at Storybook Land’s canals, villages, and homes.

“Look! Just below us. There’s my home!” exclaimed Mole.

“It looks like a door to a hole in the ground,” said Chuck.

“You live in a rabbit hole,” replied Mole.

“Begging your pardon, but that rabbit hole is just the entrance to my world. Oh, I have a sparkling idea! Marley, you must come visit me, someday.”

“I’d like that.” Marley yawned and stretched her arms. She shut her eyes and wished that all her dreams could be as beautiful as floating in the twilight sky above Storybook Land.

THE END