FictionForest

Chapter 16 – The Naughty Nome

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

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Shaggy Man had said nothing during the
conversation between Queen Ann and Quox, for the
simple reason that he did not consider the matter
worth an argument. Safe within his pocket reposed
the Love Magnet, which had never failed to win
every heart. The nomes, he knew, were not like the
heartless Roses and therefore could be won to his
side as soon as he exhibited the magic talisman.

Shaggy’s chief anxiety had been to reach
Ruggedo’s Kingdom and now that the entrance lay
before him he was confident he would be able to
rescue his lost brother. Let Ann and the dragon
quarrel as to who should conquer the nomes, if
they liked; Shaggy would let them try, and if they
failed he had the means of conquest in his own
pocket.

But Ann was positive she could not fail, for she
thought her Army could do anything. So she called
the officers together and told them how to act,
and she also instructed Tik-Tok what to do and
what to say.

“Please do not shoot your gun except as a last
resort,” she added, “for I do not wish to be cruel
or to shed any blood–unless it is absolutely
necessary.”

“All right,” replied Tik-Tok; “but I do not
think Rug-ge-do would bleed if I filled him full
of holes and put him in a ci-der press.”

Then the officers fell in line, the four
Generals abreast and then the four Colonels and
the four Majors and the four Captains. They drew
their glittering swords and commanded Tik-Tok to
march, which he did. Twice he fell down, being
tripped by the rough rocks, but when he struck the
smooth path he got along better. Into the gloomy
mouth of the cavern entrance he stepped without
hesitation, and after him proudly pranced the
officers and Queen Ann. The others held back a
little, waiting to see what would happen.

Of course the Nome King knew they were coming
and was prepared to receive them. Just within the
rocky passage that led to the jeweled throne-room
was a deep pit, which was usually covered. Ruggedo
had ordered the cover removed and it now stood
open, scarcely visible in the gloom.

The pit was so large around that it nearly
filled the passage and there was barely room for
one to walk around it by pressing close to the
rock walls. This Tik-Tok did, for his copper eyes
saw the pit clearly and he avoided it; but the
officers marched straight into the hole and
tumbled in a heap on the bottom. An instant later
Queen Ann also walked into the pit, for she had
her chin in the air and was careless where she
placed her feet. Then one of the nomes pulled a
lever which replaced the cover on the pit and made
the officers of Oogaboo and their Queen fast
prisoners.

As for Tik-Tok, he kept straight on to the
cavern where Ruggedo sat in his throne and there
he faced the Nome King and said:

“I here-by con-quer you in the name of Queen Ann
So-forth of Oo-ga-boo, whose Ar-my I am, and I
declare that you are her pris-on-er!”

Ruggedo laughed at him.

“Where is this famous Queen?” he asked.

“She’ll be here in a min-ute,” said Tik-Tok.
“Per-haps she stopped to tie her shoe-string.”

“Now, see here, Tik-Tok,” began the Nome King,
in a stern voice, “I’ve had enough of this
nonsense. Your Queen and her officers are all
prisoners, having fallen into my power, so perhaps
you’ll tell me what you mean to do.”

“My orders were to con-quer you,” replied Tik-
Tok, “and my ma-chin-er-y has done the best it
knows how to car-ry out those or-ders.”

Ruggedo pounded on his gong and Kaliko appeared,
followed closely by General Guph.

“Take this copper man into the shops and set him
to work hammering gold,” commanded the King.
“Being run by machinery he ought to be a steady
worker. He ought never to have been made, but
since he exists I shall hereafter put him to good
use.”

“If you try to cap-ture me,” said Tik-Tok, “I
shall fight.”

“Don’t do that!” exclaimed General Guph,
earnestly, “for it will be useless to resist and
you might hurt some one.”

But Tik-Tok raised his gun and took aim and not
knowing what damage the gun might do the nomes
were afraid to face It.

While he was thus defying the Nome King and his
high officials, Betsy Bobbin rode calmly into the
royal cavern, seated upon the back of Hank the
mule. The little girl had grown tired of waiting
for “something to happen” and so had come to see
if Ruggedo had been conquered.

“Nails and nuggets!” roared the King; “how
dare you bring that beast here and enter my
presence unannounced?”

“There wasn’t anybody to announce me, replied
Betsy. “I guess your folks were all busy. Are you
conquered yet?”

“No!” shouted the King, almost beside himself
with rage.

“Then please give me something to eat, for I’m
awful hungry,” said the girl. “You see, this
conquering business is a good deal like waiting
for a circus parade; it takes a long time to get
around and don’t amount to much anyhow.”

The nomes were so much astonished at this speech
that for a time they could only glare at her
silently, not finding words to reply. The King
finally recovered the use of his tongue and said:

“Earth-crawler! this insolence to my majesty
shall be your death-warrant. You are an ordinary
mortal, and to stop a mortal from living is so
easy a thing to do that I will not keep you
waiting half so long as you did for my conquest.”

“I’d rather you wouldn’t stop me from living,”
remarked Betsy, getting off Hank’s back and
standing beside him. “And it would be a pretty
cheap King who killed a visitor while she was
hungry. If you’ll give me something to eat, I’ll
talk this killing business over with you
afterward; only, I warn you now that I don’t
approve of it, and never will.”

Her coolness and lack of fear impressed the Nome
King, although he bore an intense hatred toward
all mortals.

“What do you wish to eat?” he asked gruffly.

“Oh, a ham-sandwich would do, or perhaps a
couple of hard-boiled eggs–”

“Eggs!” shrieked the three nomes who were
present, shuddering till their teeth chattered.

“What’s the matter?” asked Betsy wonderingly.
“Are eggs as high here as they are at home?”

“Guph,” said the King in an agitated voice,
turning to his General, “let us destroy this rash
mortal at once! Seize her and take her to the
Slimy Cave and lock her in.”

Guph glanced at Tik-Tok, whose gun was still
pointed, but just then Kaliko stole softly behind
the copper man and kicked his knee-joints so that
they suddenly bent forward and tumbled Tik-Tok to
the floor, his gun falling from his grasp.

Then Guph, seeing Tik-Tok helpless, made a grab
at Betsy. At the same time Hank’s heels shot out
and caught the General just where his belt was
buckled. He rose into the air swift as a cannon-
ball, struck the Nome King fairly and flattened
his Majesty against the wall of rock on the
opposite side of the cavern. Together they fell to
the floor in a dazed and crumpled condition,
seeing which Kaliko whispered to Betsy:

“Come with me–quick!–and I will save you.”

She looked into Kaliko’s face inquiringly and
thought he seemed honest and good-natured, so
she decided to follow him. He led her and the
mule through several passages and into a small
cavern very nicely and comfortably furnished.

“This is my own room,” said he, “but you are
quite welcome to use it. Wait here a minute and
I’ll get you something to eat.”

When Kaliko returned he brought a tray
containing some broiled mushrooms, a loaf of
mineral bread and some petroleum-butter. The
butter Betsy could not eat, but the bread was good
and the mushrooms delicious.

“Here’s the door key,” said Kaliko, “and you’d
better lock yourself in.”

“Won’t you let Polychrome and the Rose Princess
come here, too?” she asked.

“I’ll see. Where are they?”

“I don’t know. I left them outside,” said Betsy.

“Well, if you hear three raps on the door, open
it,” said Kaliko; “but don’t let anyone in unless
they give the three raps.”

“All right,” promised Betsy, and when Kaliko
left the cosy cavern she closed and locked the
door.

In the meantime Ann and her officers, finding
themselves prisoners in the pit, had shouted and
screamed until they were tired out, but no one had
come to their assistance. It was very dark and
damp in the pit and they could not climb out
because the walls were higher than their heads and
the cover was on. The Queen was first angry and
then annoyed and then discouraged; but the
officers were only afraid. Every one of the poor
fellows heartily wished he was back in Oogaboo
caring for his orchard, and some were so unhappy
that they began to reproach Ann for causing them
all this trouble and danger.

Finally the Queen sat down on the bottom of the
pit and leaned her back against the wall. By good
luck her sharp elbow touched a secret spring in
the wall and a big flat rock swung inward. Ann
fell over backward, but the next instant she
jumped up and cried to the others:

“A passage! A passage! Follow me, my brave men,
and we may yet escape.”

Then she began to crawl through the passage,
which was as dark and dank as the pit, and the
officers followed her in single file. They
crawled, and they crawled, and they kept on
crawling, for the passage was not big enough to
allow them to stand upright. It turned this way
and twisted that, sometimes like a corkscrew and
sometimes zigzag, but seldom ran for long in a
straight line.

“It will never end–never!” moaned the officers,
who were rubbing all the skin off their knees on
the rough rocks.

“It must end,” retorted Ann courageously, “or
it never would have been made. We don’t know
where it will lead us to, but any place is better
than that loathsome pit.”

So she crawled on, and the officers crawled on,
and while they were crawling through this awful
underground passage Polychrome and Shaggy and
Files and the Rose Princess, who were standing
outside the entrance to Ruggedo’s domains, were
wondering what had become of them.

 

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