"I'm talking about my pain. I don't imagine anyone could suffer more than I did with that stomach ache."
"Did you suffer long?" inquired Trot.
"Why, about seven thousand four hundred and eighty-two feet and--"
"I mean a long time."
"It seemed like a long time," answered the King. "Dr. Shark said I ought to put a mustard poultice on my stomach, so I uncoiled myself and summoned my servants, and they began putting on the mustard plaster. It had to be bound all around me so it wouldn't slip off, and I began to look like an express package. In about four weeks fully one-half of the pain had been covered by the mustard poultice, which got so hot that it hurt me worse than the stomach ache did."
"I know," said Trot. "I had one, once."
"One what?" asked Anko.
"A mustard plaster. They smart pretty bad, but I guess they're a good thing."
"I got myself unwrapped as soon as I could," continued the King, "and then I hunted for the doctor, who hid himself until my anger had subsided. He has never sent in a bill, so I think he must be terribly ashamed of himself."
"You're lucky, sir, to have escaped so easy," said Cap'n Bill. "But you seem pretty well now."
"Yes, I'm more careful of what I eat," replied the Sea Serpent. "But I was saying when Trot interrupted me, that you all belong to me, because I have saved your lives. By the law of the ocean, you must obey me in everything."
The sailor scowled a little at hearing this, but Trot laughed and said, "The law of the ocean isn't OUR law, 'cause we live on land."
"Just now you are living in the ocean," declared Anko, "and as long as you live here, you must obey my commands."
"What are your commands?" inquired the child.
"Ah, that's the point I was coming to," returned the King with his comical smile. "The ocean is a beautiful place, and we who belong here love it dearly. In many ways it's a nicer place for a home than the earth, for we have no sunstroke, mosquitoes, earthquakes or candy ships to bother us. But I am convinced that the ocean is no proper dwelling place for earth people, and I believe the mermaids did an unwise thing when they invited you to visit them."
"I don't," protested the girl. "We've had a fine time, haven't we, Cap'n Bill?"
"Well, it's been diff'rent from what I expected," admitted the sailor.
"Our only thought was to give the earth people pleasure, your Majesty," pleaded Aquareine.
"I know, I know, my dear Queen, and it was very good of you," replied Anko. "But still it was an unwise act, for earth people are as constantly in danger under water as we would be upon the land. So having won the right to command you all, I order you to take little Mayre and Cap'n Bill straight home, and there restore them to their natural forms. It's a dreadful condition, I know, and they must each have two stumbling legs instead of a strong, beautiful fish tail, but it is the fate of earth dwellers, and they cannot escape it."
"In my case, your Majesty, make it ONE leg," suggested Cap'n Bill.
"Ah yes, I remember. One leg and a wooden stick to keep it company. I issue this order, dear friends, not because I am not fond of your society, but to keep you from getting into more trouble in a country where all is strange and unnatural to you. Am I right, or do you think I am wrong?"
"You're quite correct, sir," said Cap'n Bill, nodding his head in approval.
"Well, I'm ready to go home," said Trot. "But in spite of Zog, I've enjoyed my visit, and I shall always love the mermaids for being so good to me." That speech pleased Aquareine and Clia, who smiled upon the child and kissed her affectionately.
"We shall escort you home at once," announced the Queen.
"But before you go," said King Anko, "I will give you a rare treat. It is one you will remember as long as you live. You shall see every inch of the mightiest sea serpent in the world, all at one time!"
As he spoke, the purple and gold cloth was lifted by unseen hands and disappeared from view. And now Cap'n Bill and Trot looked down upon thousands and thousands of coils of the sea serpent's body, which filled all of the space at the bottom of the immense circular room.