At once they saw before them the room in the cottage, with Mayre's mother asleep by the window. Her knitting was in her lap, and the cat lay curled up beside her chair. It was all so natural that Trot thought she could hear the clock over the fireplace tick. After a moment the scene faded away, when the queen asked with another smile, "Are you satisfied?"
"Oh yes!" cried Trot. "But how could you do it?"
"It is a form of mirage," was the reply. "We are able to bring any earth scene before us whenever we wish. Sometimes these scenes are reflected above the water so that mortals also observe them."
"I've seen 'em," said Cap'n Bill, nodding. "I've seen mirages, but I never knowed what caused 'em afore now."
"Whenever you see anything you do not understand and wish to ask questions, I will be very glad to answer them," said the Queen.
"One thing that bothers me," said Trot, "is why we don't get wet, being in the ocean with water all around us."
"That is because no water really touches you," explained the Queen. "Your bodies have been made just like those of the mermaids in order that you may fully enjoy your visit to us. One of our peculiar qualities is that water is never permitted to quite touch our bodies, or our gowns. Always there remains a very small space, hardly a hair's breadth, between us and the water, which is the reason we are always warm and dry."
"I see," said Trot. "That's why you don't get soggy or withered."
"Exactly," laughed the Queen, and the other mermaids joined in her merriment.
"I s'pose that's how we can breathe without gills," remarked Cap'n Bill thoughtfully.
"Yes. The air space is constantly replenished from the water, which contains air, and this enables us to breathe as freely as you do upon the earth."
"But we have fins," said Trot, looking at the fin that stood upright on Cap'n Bill's back.
"Yes. They allow us to guide ourselves as we swim, and so are very useful," replied the Queen.
"They make us more finished," said Cap'n Bill with a chuckle. Then, suddenly becoming grave, he added, "How about my rheumatics, ma'am? Ain't I likely to get stiffened up with all this dampness?"
"No indeed," Aquareine answered. "There is no such thing as rheumatism in all our dominions. I promise no evil result shall follow this visit to us, so please be as happy and contented as possible."
Just then Trot happened to look up at the glass roof and saw a startling sight. A big head with a face surrounded by stubby gray whiskers was poised just over them, and the head was connected with a long, curved body that looked much like a sewer pipe.
"Oh, there is King Anko," said the Queen, following the child's gaze. "Open a door and let him in, Clia, for I suppose our old friend is anxious to see the earth people."
"Won't he hurt us?" asked the little girl with a shiver of fear.
"Who, Anko? Oh no, my dear! We are very fond of the sea serpent, who is king of this ocean, although he does not rule the mermaids. Old Anko is a very agreeable fellow, as you will soon discover."
"Can he talk?" asked Trot.
"And can we understand what he says?"
"Perfectly," replied the Queen. "I have given you power, while you remain here, to understand the language of every inhabitant of the sea."
"That's nice," said Trot gratefully.
The Princess Clia swam slowly to one of the walls of the throne room where, at a wave of her hand, a round hole appeared in the coral. The sea serpent at once observed this opening and the head left the roof of glass only to reappear presently at the round hole. Through this he slowly crawled until his head was just beneath the throne of Queen Aquareine, who said to him:
"Good morning, your Majesty. I hope you are quite well?"
"Quite well, thank your Majesty," answered Anko; and then he turned to the strangers. "I suppose these are the earth folks you were expecting?"
"Yes," returned the Queen. "The girl is named Mayre and the man Cap'n Bill."
While the sea serpent looked at the visitors, they ventured to look at him.