In an open space near the middle of the court they saw a group of courtiers and their ladies, who surrounded a lean man who wore upon his head a jeweled crown. His face was hard and sullen and through the slits of his half-closed eyelids the eyes glowed like coals of fire. He was dressed in brilliant satins and velvets and was seated in a golden throne-chair.
This personage was King Krewl, and as soon as Cap'n Bill saw him the old sailor knew at once that he was not going to like the King of Jinxland.
"Hello! who's here?" said his Majesty, with a deep scowl.
"Strangers, Sire," answered the soldier, bowing so low that his forehead touched the marble tiles.
"Strangers, eh? Well, well; what an unexpected visit! Advance, strangers, and give an account of yourselves."
The King's voice was as harsh as his features. Trot shuddered a little but Cap'n Bill calmly replied:
"There ain't much for us to say, 'cept as we've arrived to look over your country an' see how we like it. Judgin' from the way you speak, you don't know who we are, or you'd be jumpin' up to shake hands an' offer us seats. Kings usually treat us pretty well, in the great big Outside World where we come from, but in this little kingdom -- which don't amount to much, anyhow -- folks don't seem to 'a' got much culchure."
The King listened with amazement to this bold speech, first with a frown and then gazing at the two children and the old sailor with evident curiosity. The courtiers were dumb with fear, for no one had ever dared speak in such a manner to their self-willed, cruel King before. His Majesty, however, was somewhat frightened, for cruel people are always cowards, and he feared these mysterious strangers might possess magic powers that would destroy him unless he treated them well. So he commanded his people to give the new arrivals seats, and they obeyed with trembling haste.
After being seated, Cap'n Bill lighted his pipe and began puffing smoke from it, a sight so strange to them that it filled them all with wonder. Presently the King asked:
"How did you penetrate to this hidden country? Did you cross the desert or the mountains?"
"Desert," answered Cap'n Bill, as if the task were too easy to be worth talking about.
"Indeed! No one has ever been able to do that before," said the King.
"Well, it's easy enough, if you know how," asserted Cap'n Bill, so carelessly that it greatly impressed his hearers. The King shifted in his throne uneasily. He was more afraid of these strangers than before.
"Do you intend to stay long in Jinxland?" was his next anxious question.
"Depends on how we like it," said Cap'n Bill. "Just now I might suggest to your Majesty to order some rooms got ready for us in your dinky little castle here. And a royal banquet, with some fried onions an' pickled tripe, would set easy on our stomicks an' make us a bit happier than we are now."
"Your wishes shall be attended to," said King Krewl, but his eyes flashed from between their slits in a wicked way that made Trot hope the food wouldn't be poisoned. At the King's command several of his attendants hastened away to give the proper orders to the castle servants and no sooner were they gone than a skinny old man entered the courtyard and bowed before the King.
This disagreeable person was dressed in rich velvets, with many furbelows and laces. He was covered with golden chains, finely wrought rings and jeweled ornaments. He walked with mincing steps and glared at all the courtiers as if he considered himself far superior to any or all of them.
"Well, well, your Majesty; what news -- what news?" he demanded, in a shrill, cracked voice.
The King gave him a surly look.
"No news, Lord Googly-Goo, except that strangers have arrived," he said.
Googly-Goo cast a contemptuous glance at Cap'n Bill and a disdainful one at Trot and Button-Bright. Then he said:
"Strangers do not interest me, your Majesty. But the Princess Gloria is very interesting -- very interesting, indeed! What does she say, Sire? Will she marry me?"
"Ask her," retorted the King.