FictionForest

Chapter 15 – The Dragon Defies Danger

L. Frank BaumOct 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Although the journey through the Tube was longer,
this time, than before, it was so much more
comfortable that none of our friends minded it at
all. They talked together most of the time and as
they found the dragon good-natured and fond of the
sound of his own voice they soon became well
acquainted with him and accepted him as a
companion.

“You see,” said Shaggy, in his frank way, “Quox
is on our side, and therefore the dragon is a good
fellow. If he happened to be an enemy, instead of
a friend, I am sure I should dislike him very
much, for his breath smells of brimstone, he is
very conceited and he is so strong and fierce that
he would prove 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 me conceited, for that proves I know my
good qualities. As for my breath smelling of
brimstone, I really can’t help it, and I once met
a man whose breath smelled 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 one another’s
peculiarities.”

Saying this, he breathed a long breath and shot
a flame fifty feet from his mouth. The brimstone
made Betsy cough, but she remembered about the
onions and said nothing.

They had no idea how far they had gone through
the center of the earth, nor when 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, Shaggy Man, that what is
the bottom to us now, was the top when we fell the
other way?”

“What puzzles me,” said Files, “is that we are
able to fall both ways.

“That,” announced Tik-Tok, “is because the world
is round.”

“Exactly,” responded Shaggy. “The machinery in
your head is in fine working order, Tik-Tok. You
know, Betsy, that there is such a thing as the
Attraction of Gravitation, which draws everything
toward the center of the earth. That is why we
fall out of bed, and why everything clings to the
surface of the earth.”

“Then why doesn’t everyone go on down to
the center of the earth?” inquired the 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
things can’t get through it. But when there’s a
hole, as there is in this case, we drop 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 to the 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 another thing pushes us away from it.
But–”

“Don’t ask me why, please,” interrupted the
Shaggy Man. “If you can’t understand 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 in all Nature,
and you may see it as well in the United States,
where you and I once 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. Is anything more
wonderful than to see a flower grow and blossom,
or to get light out of the electricity in the air?
The cows that manufacture milk for us must have
machinery fully as remarkable as that in Tik-Tok’s
copper body, and perhaps you’ve noticed that–”

And then, before Shaggy could finish his speech,
the strong light of day suddenly broke upon them,
grew brighter, and completely enveloped them. The
dragon’s claws no longer scraped against the metal
Tube, for he shot into the open air a hundred feet
or more and sailed so far away from the slanting
hole that when he landed it was on the peak of a
mountain and just over the entrance to the many
underground caverns of the Nome King.

Some of the officers tumbled off their seats
when Quox struck the ground, hut most of the
dragon’s passengers only felt a slight jar. All
were glad to be on solid 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 were strapped to the
monster’s back disappeared, and this probably
happened because there was no further use for them
and because Quox looked far more dignified in just
his silver scales. Of course he still wore the
forty yards of ribbon around 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, in order 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. When the
nomes had rubbed the astonishment out of their
eyes and regained their wits, they discovered the
dragon quietly seated on the mountainside far
above their heads, while the other strangers were
standing in a group and calmly looking down upon
them.

General Guph was very angry at the escape, which
was no one’s fault but his own.

“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 winding up 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 and issued a command to
his nomes. These were all armed with sharp spears
and with one accord they raised these spears and
threw them straight at their foes, so that 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 the others, his body
being so big that it shielded every one of them,
including Hank. The spears rattled against the
silver scales of Quox and then fell harmlessly to
the ground. They were magic spears, of course, and
all straightway bounded back into the hands of
those who had thrown them, but even Guph could see
that it was useless to repeat the attack.

It was now Queen Ann’s turn to attack, so the
Generals yelled “For-ward march!” and the
Colonels and Majors and Captains repeated the
command and the valiant Army of Oogaboo,
which seemed to be composed mainly of Tik-
Tok, marched forward in single column toward
the nomes, while Betsy and Polychrome cheered
and Hank gave a loud “Hee-haw!” and Shaggy
shouted “Hooray!” and Queen Ann screamed:
“At ’em, Tik-Tok-at ’em!”

The nomes did not await the Clockwork Man’s
attack but in a twinkling disappeared into the
underground caverns. They made a great mistake in
being so hasty, for Tik-Tok had not taken a dozen
steps before he stubbed his copper toe on a rock
and fell flat to the ground, where he cried: “Pick
me up! Pick me up! Pick me up!” until Shaggy and
Files ran forward and raised him to his feet
again.

The dragon chuckled softly to himself as he
scratched his left ear with his hind 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 unless the enemy was
present, and in order to find the enemy they must
boldly enter the underground Kingdom of the nomes.
So bold a step demanded a council of war.

“Don’t you think I’d better drop in on Ruggedo
and obey the orders of the Jinjin?” asked Quox.

“By no means!” returned Queen Ann. “We have
already put the army of nomes to flight and all
that yet remains is to force our way into those
caverns, and conquer the Nome King and all his
people.’

“That seems to me something of a job,” said
the dragon, closing his eyes sleepily. “But go
ahead, if you like, and I’ll wait here for you.
Don’t be in any hurry on my account. To one
who lives thousands of years the delay of a few
days means nothing at all, and I shall probably
sleep until the time comes for me to act.

Ann was provoked at this speech.

“You may as well go back to Tititi-Hoochoo now,”
she said, “for the Nome King is as good as
conquered already.”

But Quox shook his head. “No,” said he; “I’ll wait.”

 

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