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Chapter 14 The Dragon Defies Danger

  • Although the journey through the Tube was longer, this time, than before, i_as so much more comfortable that none of our friends minded it at all. The_alked together most of the time and as they found the dragon good-natured an_ond of the sound of his own voice they soon became well acquainted with hi_nd accepted him as a companion.
  • "You see," said Shaggy, in his frank way, "Quox is on our side, and therefor_he dragon is a good fellow. If he happened to be an enemy, instead of _riend, I am sure I should dislike him very much, for his breath smells o_rimstone, he is very conceited and he is so strong and fierce that he woul_rove a dangerous foe."
  • "Yes, indeed," returned Quox, who had listened to this speech with pleasure;
  • "I suppose I am about as terrible as any living thing. I am glad you find m_onceited, for that proves I know my good qualities. As for my breath smellin_f brimstone, I really can't help it, and I once met a man whose breat_melled of onions, which I consider far worse."
  • "I don't," said Betsy; "I love onions.
  • "And I love brimstone," declared the dragon, "so don't let us quarrel over on_nother's peculiarities."
  • Saying this, he breathed a long breath and shot a flame fifty feet from hi_outh. The brimstone made Betsy cough, but she remembered about the onions an_aid nothing.
  • They had no idea how far they had gone through the center of the earth, no_hen to expect the trip to end. At one time the little girl remarked:
  • "I wonder when we'll reach the bottom of this hole. And isn't it funny, Shagg_an, that what is the bottom to us now, was the top when we fell the othe_ay?"
  • "What puzzles me," said Files, "is that we are able to fall both ways."
  • "That," announced Tik-Tok, "is be-cause the world is round."
  • "Exactly," responded Shaggy. "The machinery in your head is in fine workin_rder, Tik-Tok. You know, Betsy, that there is such a thing as the Attractio_f Gravitation, which draws everything toward the center of the earth. That i_hy we fall out of bed, and why everything clings to the surface of th_arth."
  • "Then why doesn't everyone go on down to the center of the earth?" inquire_he little girl.
  • "I was afraid you were going to ask me that," replied Shaggy in a sad tone.
  • "The reason, my dear, is that the earth is so solid that other solid thing_an't get through it. But when there's a hole, as there is in this case, w_rop right down to the center of the world."
  • "Why don't we stop there?" asked Betsy.
  • "Because we go so fast that we acquire speed enough to carry us right up t_he other end."
  • "I don't understand that, and it makes my head ache to try to figure it out,"
  • she said after some thought. "One thing draws us to the center and anothe_hing pushes us away from it. But—"
  • "Don't ask me why, please," interrupted the Shaggy Man. "If you can'_nderstand it, let it go at that."
  • "Do you understand it?" she inquired.
  • "All the magic isn't in fairyland," he said gravely. "There's lots of magic i_ll Nature, and you may see it as well in the United States, where you and _nce lived, as you can here."
  • "I never did," she replied.
  • "Because you were so used to it all that you didn't realize it was magic. I_nything more wonderful than to see a flower grow and blossom, or to get ligh_ut of the electricity in the air? The cows that manufacture milk for us mus_ave machinery fully as remarkable as that in Tik-Tok's copper body, an_erhaps you've noticed that—"
  • And then, before Shaggy could finish his speech, the strong light of da_uddenly broke upon them, grew brighter, and completely enveloped them. Th_ragon's claws no longer scraped against the metal Tube, for he shot into th_pen air a hundred feet or more and sailed so far away from the slanting hol_hat when he landed it was on the peak of a mountain and just over th_ntrance to the many underground caverns of the Nome King.
  • Some of the officers tumbled off their seats when Quox struck the ground, bu_ost of the dragon's passengers only felt a slight jar. All were glad to be o_olid earth again and they at once dismounted and began to look about them.
  • Queerly enough, as soon as they had left the dragon, the seats that wer_trapped to the monster's back disappeared, and this probably happened becaus_here was no further use for them and because Quox looked far more dignifie_n just his silver scales. Of course he still wore the forty yards of ribbo_round his neck, as well as the great locket, but these only made him look
  • "dressed up," as Betsy remarked.
  • Now the army of nomes had gathered thickly around the mouth of the Tube, i_rder to be ready to capture the band of invaders as soon as they popped out.
  • There were, indeed, hundreds of nomes assembled, and they were led by Guph,
  • their most famous General. But they did not expect the dragon to fly so high,
  • and he shot out of the Tube so suddenly that it took them by surprise. Whe_he nomes had rubbed the astonishment out of their eyes and regained thei_its, they discovered the dragon quietly seated on the mountainside far abov_heir heads, while the other strangers were standing in a group and calml_ooking down upon them.
  • General Guph was very angry at the escape, which was no one's fault but hi_wn.
  • "Come down here and be captured!" he shouted, waving his sword at them.
  • "Come up here and capture us—if you dare!" replied Queen Ann, who was windin_p the clockwork of her Private Soldier, so he could fight more briskly.
  • Guph's first answer was a roar of rage at the defiance; then he turned an_ssued a command to his nomes. These were all armed with sharp spears and wit_ne accord they raised these spears and threw them straight at their foes, s_hat they rushed through the air in a perfect cloud of flying weapons.
  • Some damage might have been done had not the dragon quickly crawled before th_thers, his body being so big that it shielded every one of them, includin_ank. The spears rattled against the silver scales of Quox and then fel_armlessly to the ground. They were magic spears, of course, and al_traightway bounded back into the hands of those who had thrown them, but eve_uph could see that it was useless to repeat the attack.
  • It was now Queen Ann's turn to attack, so the Generals yelled "For—war_arch!" and the Colonels and Majors and Captains repeated the command and th_aliant Army of Oogaboo, which seemed to be composed mainly of Tik-Tok,
  • marched forward in single column toward the nomes, while Betsy and Polychrom_heered and Hank gave a loud "Hee-haw!" and Shaggy shouted "Hooray!" and Quee_nn screamed: "At 'em, Tik-Tok—at 'em!"
  • The nomes did not await the Clockwork Man's attack but in a twinklin_isappeared into the underground caverns. They made a great mistake in bein_o hasty, for Tik-Tok had not taken a dozen steps before he stubbed his coppe_oe on a rock and fell flat to the ground, where he cried: "Pick me up! Pic_e up! Pick me up!" until Shaggy and Files ran forward and raised him to hi_eet again.
  • The dragon chuckled softly to himself as he scratched his left ear with hi_ind claw, but no one was paying much attention to Quox just then.
  • It was evident to Ann and her officers that there could be no fighting unles_he enemy was present, and in order to find the enemy they must boldly ente_he underground Kingdom of the nomes. So bold a step demanded a council o_ar.
  • "Don't you think I'd better drop in on Ruggedo and obey the orders of th_injin?" asked Quox.
  • "By no means!" returned Queen Ann. "We have already put the army of nomes t_light and all that yet remains is to force our way into those caverns, an_onquer the Nome King and all his people."
  • "That seems to me something of a job," said the dragon, closing his eye_leepily. "But go ahead, if you like, and I'll wait here for you. Don't be i_ny hurry on my account. To one who lives thousands of years the delay of _ew days means nothing at all, and I shall probably sleep until the time come_or me to act."
  • Ann was provoked at this speech.
  • "You may as well go back to Tititi-Hoochoo now," she said, "for the Nome Kin_s as good as conquered already."
  • But Quox shook his head. "No," said he; "I'll wait."