"No mermaid ever catches cold or suffers pain in the water."
"Is Cap'n Bill a mermaid now?" asked Trot.
"Why, he's a merMAN, I suppose," laughed the pretty princess. "But when he gets home, he will be just Cap'n Bill again."
"Wooden leg an' all?" inquired the child.
"To be sure, my dear."
The sailor was now trying his newly discovered power of swimming, and became astonished at the feats he could accomplish. He could dart this way and that with wonderful speed, and turn and dive, and caper about in the water far better than he had ever been able to do on land--even before he got the wooden leg. And a curious thing about this present experience was that the water did not cling to him and wet him as it had always done before. He still wore his flannel shirt and pea jacket and his sailor cap; but although he was in the water and had been underneath the surface, the cloth still seemed dry and warm. As he dived down and came up again, the drops flashed from his head and the fringe of beard, but he never needed to wipe his face or eyes at all.
Trot, too, was having queer experiences and enjoying them. When she ducked under water, she saw plainly everything about her as easily and distinctly as she had ever seen anything above water. And by looking over her shoulder she could watch the motion of her new tail, all covered with pretty iridescent pink scales, which gleamed like jewels. She wore her dress the same as before, and the water failed to affect it in the least.
She now noticed that the mermaids were clothed, too, and their exquisite gowns were the loveliest thing the little girl had ever beheld. They seemed made of a material that was like sheeny silk, cut low in the neck and with wide, flowing sleeves that seldom covered the shapely, white arms of her new friends. The gowns had trains that floated far behind the mermaids as they swam, but were so fleecy and transparent that the sparkle of their scales might be seen reaching back of their waists, where the human form ended and the fish part began. The sea fairies wore strings of splendid pearls twined around their throats, while more pearls were sewn upon their gowns for trimmings. They did not dress their beautiful hair at all, but let it float around them in clouds.
The little girl had scarcely time to observe all this when the princess said, "Now, my dear, if you are ready, we will begin our journey, for it is a long way to our palaces."
"All right," answered Trot, and took the hand extended to her with a trustful smile.
"Will you allow me to guide you, Cap'n Bill?" asked the blonde mermaid, extending her hand to the old sailor.
"Of course, ma'am," he said, taking her fingers rather bashfully.
"My name is Merla," she continued, "and I am cousin to Princess Clia. We must all keep together, you know, and I will hold your hand to prevent your missing the way."
While she spoke they began to descend through the water, and it grew quite dark for a time because the cave shut out the light. But presently Trot, who was eagerly looking around her, began to notice the water lighten and saw they were coming into brighter parts of the sea. "We have left the cave now," said Clia, "and may swim straight home."
"I s'pose there are no winding roads in the ocean," remarked the child, swimming swiftly beside her new friend.
"Oh yes indeed. At the bottom, the way is far from being straight or level," replied Clia. "But we are in mid-water now, where nothing will hinder our journey, unless--"
She seemed to hesitate, so Trot asked, "Unless what?"
"Unless we meet with disagreeable creatures," said the Princess. "The mid-water is not as safe as the very bottom, and that is the reason we are holding your hands."
"What good would that do?" asked Trot.
"You must remember that we are fairies," said Princess Clia. "For that reason, nothing in the ocean can injure us, but you two are mortals and therefore not entirely safe at all times unless we protect you."
Trot was thoughtful for a few moments and looked around her a little anxiously.