But I and my companions would like the assistance of your Army, and if you help us to conquer Ruggedo and to rescue my brother from captivity we will allow you to keep all the gold and jewels and other plunder you may find."
This prospect was so tempting that the officers began whispering together and presently Colonel Cheese said: "Your Majesty, by combining our brains we have just evolved a most brilliant idea. We will make the Clockwork Man the private soldier!"
"Who? Me?" asked Tik-Tok. "Not for a sin-gle sec-ond! I can-not fight, and you must not for-get that it was Rug-ge-do who threw me in the well."
"At that time you had no gun," said Polychrome. "But if you join the Army of Oogaboo you will carry the gun that Mr. Files used."
"A sol-dier must be a-ble to run as well as to fight," protested Tik-Tok, "and if my works run down, as they of-ten do, I could nei-ther run nor fight."
"I'll keep you wound up, Tik-Tok," promised Betsy.
"Why, it isn't a bad idea," said Shaggy. "Tik- Tok will make an ideal soldier, for nothing can injure him except a sledge hammer. And, since a private soldier seems to be necessary to this Army, Tik-Tok is the only one of our party fitted to undertake the job."
"What must I do?" asked Tik-Tok.
"Obey orders," replied Ann. "When the officers command you to do anything, you must do it; that is all."
"And that's enough, too," said Files.
"Do I get a salary?" inquired Tik-Tok.
"You get your share of the plunder," answered the Queen.
"Yes," remarked Files, "one-half of the plunder goes to Queen Ann, the other half is divided among the officers, and the Private gets the rest."
"That will be sat-is-fac-tor-y," said Tik-Tok, picking up the gun and examining it wonderingly, for he had never before seen such a weapon.
Then Ann strapped the knapsack to Tik-Tok's copper back and said: "Now we are ready to march to Ruggedo's Kingdom and conquer it. Officers, give the command to march."
"Fall--in!" yelled the Generals, drawing their swords.
"Fall--in!" cried the Colonels, drawing their swords.
"Fall--in!" shouted the Majors, drawing their swords.
"Fall--in!" bawled the Captains, drawing their swords.
Tik-Tok looked at them and then around him in surprise.
"Fall in what? The well?" he asked.
"No," said Queen Ann, "you must fall in marching order."
"Can-not I march without fall-ing in-to it?" asked the Clockwork Man.
"Shoulder your gun and stand ready to march," advised Files; so Tik-Tok held the gun straight and stood still.
"What next?" he asked.
The Queen turned to Shaggy.
"Which road leads to the Metal Monarch's cavern?"
"We don't know, Your Majesty," was the reply.
"But this is absurd!" said Ann with a frown. "If we can't get to Ruggedo, it is certain that we can't conquer him."
"You are right," admitted Shaggy; "but I did not say we could not get to him. We have only to discover the way, and that was the matter we were considering when you and your magnificent Army arrived here."
"Well, then, get busy and discover it," snapped the Queen.
That was no easy task. They all stood looking from one road to another in perplexity. The paths radiated from the little clearing like the rays of the midday sun, and each path seemed like all the others.
Files and the Rose Princess, who had by this time become good friends, advanced a little way along one of the roads and found that it was bordered by pretty wild flowers.
"Why don't you ask the flowers to tell you the way?" he said to his companion.
"The flowers?" returned the Princess, surprised at the question.
"Of course," said Files. "The field-flowers must be second-cousins to a Rose Princess, and I believe if you ask them they will tell you."
She looked more closely at the flowers. There were hundreds of white daisies, golden buttercups, bluebells and daffodils growing by the roadside, and each flower-head was firmly set upon its slender but stout stem. There were even a few wild roses scattered here and there and perhaps it was the sight of these that gave the Princess courage to ask the important question.