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 de-clare 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 or-ders 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.