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."