Are you people able to see your way, or shall I turn on more light?"
"Oh, we can see very nicely, thank you; only there's nothing to see but ourselves," answered Betsy.
This was true. The dragon's big eyes were like headlights on an automobile and illuminated the Tube far ahead of them. Also he curled his tail upward so that the electric light on the end of it enabled them to see one another quite clearly. But the Tube itself was only dark metal, smooth as glass but exactly the same from one of its ends to the other. Therefore there was no scenery of interest to beguile the journey.
They were now falling so gently that the trip was proving entirely comfortable, as the Jinjin had promised it would be; but this meant a longer journey and the only way they could make time pass was to engage in conversation. The dragon seemed a willing and persistent talker and he was of so much interest to them that they encouraged him to chatter. His voice was a little gruff but not unpleasant when one became used to it.
"My only fear," said he presently, "is that this constant sliding over the surface of the Tube will dull my claws. You see, this hole isn't straight down, but on a steep slant, and so instead of tumbling freely through the air I must skate along the Tube. Fortunately, there is a file in my tool- kit, and if my claws get dull they can be sharpened again."
"Why do you want sharp claws?" asked Betsy.
"They are my natural weapons, and you must not forget that I have been sent to conquer Ruggedo."
"Oh, you needn't mind about that," remarked Queen Ann, in her most haughty manner; "for when we get to Ruggedo I and my invincible Army can conquer him without your assistance."
"Very good," returned the dragon, cheerfully. "That will save me a lot of bother--if you succeed. But I think I shall file my claws, just the same."
He gave a long sigh, as he said this, and a sheet of flame, several feet in length, shot from his mouth. Betsy shuddered and Hank said "Hee-haw!" while some of the officers screamed in terror. But the dragon did not notice that he had done anything unusual.
"Is there fire inside of you?" asked Shaggy.
"Of course," answered Quox. "What sort of a dragon would I be if my fire went out?"
"What keeps it going?" Betsy inquired.
"I've no idea. I only know it's there," said Quox. "The fire keeps me alive and enables me to move; also to think and speak."
"Ah! You are ver-y much like my-self," said Tik-Tok. "The on-ly dif-fer-ence is that I move by clock-work, while you move by fire."
"I don't see a particle of likeness between us, I must confess," retorted Quox, gruffly. "You are not a live thing; you're a dummy."
"But I can do things, you must ad-mit," said Tik-Tok.
"Yes, when you are wound up," sneered the dragon. "But if you run down, you are helpless."
"What would happen to you, Quox, if you ran out of gasoline?" inquired Shaggy, who did not like this attack upon his friend.
"I don't use gasoline."
"Well, suppose you ran out of fire."
"What's the use of supposing that?" asked Quox. "My great-great-great-grandfather has lived since the world began, and he has never once run out of fire to keep him going. But I will confide to you that as he gets older he shows more smoke and less fire. As for Tik-Tok, he's well enough in his way, but he's merely copper. And the Metal Monarch knows copper through and through. I wouldn't be surprised if Ruggedo melted Tik-Tok in one of his furnaces and made copper pennies of him."
"In that case, I would still keep going," remarked Tik-Tok, calmly.
"Pennies do," said Betsy regretfully.
"This is all nonsense," said the Queen, with irritation. "Tik-Tok is my great Army--all but the officers--and I believe he will be able to conquer Ruggedo with ease. What do you think, Polychrome?"
"You might let him try," answered the Rainbow's Daughter, with her sweet ringing laugh, that sounded like the tinkling of tiny bells. "And if Tik-Tok fails, you have still the big fire- breathing dragon to fall back on."
"Ah!" said the dragon, another sheet of flame gushing from his mouth and nostrils; "it's a wise little girl, this Polychrome.