The fat man glanced at all the sober faces before him and burst into a rollicking laugh. Perhaps I should say it was half laughter and half a chuckle of merriment, for the sounds he emitted were quaint and droll and tempted every hearer to laugh with him.
"Heh, heh -- ho, ho, ho!" he roared. "Didn't expect me, I see. Keek-eek-eek-eek! This is funny -- it's really funny. Didn't know I was coming, did you? Hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo! This is certainly amusing. But I'm here, just the same."
"Hush up!" said a deep, growling voice. "You're making yourself ridiculous."
Everyone looked to see where this voice came from; but none could guess who had uttered the words of rebuke. The rowers of the boat were all solemn and silent and certainly no one on the shore had spoken. But the little man did not seem astonished in the least, or even annoyed.
King Kitticut now addressed the stranger, saying courteously:
"You are welcome to the Kingdom of Pingaree. Perhaps you will deign to come ashore and at your convenience inform us whom we have the honor of receiving as a guest."
"Thanks; I will," returned the little fat man, waddling from his place in the boat and stepping, with some difficulty, upon the sandy beach. "I am King Rinkitink, of the City of Gilgad in the Kingdom of Rinkitink, and I have come to Pingaree to see for myself the monarch who sends to my city so many beautiful pearls. I have long wished to visit this island; and so, as I said before, here I am!"
"I am pleased to welcome you," said King Kitticut. "But why has Your Majesty so few attendants? Is it not dangerous for the King of a great country to make distant journeys in one frail boat, and with but twenty men?"
"Oh, I suppose so," answered King Rinkitink, with a laugh. "But what else could I do? My subjects would not allow me to go anywhere at all, if they knew it. So I just ran away."
"Ran away!" exclaimed King Kitticut in surprise.
"Funny, isn't it? Heh, heh, heh -- woo, hoo!" laughed Rinkitink, and this is as near as I can spell with letters the jolly sounds of his laughter. "Fancy a King running away from his own ple -- hoo, hoo -- keek, eek, eek, eek! But I had to, don't you see!"
"Why?" asked the other King.
"They're afraid I'll get into mischief. They don't trust me. Keek-eek-eek -- Oh, dear me! Don't trust their own King. Funny, isn't it?"
"No harm can come to you on this island," said Kitticut, pretending not to notice the odd ways of his guest. "And, whenever it pleases you to return to your own country, I will send with you a fitting escort of my own people. In the meantime, pray accompany me to my palace, where everything shall be done to make you comfortable and happy."
"Much obliged," answered Rinkitink, tipping his white cap over his left ear and heartily shaking the hand of his brother monarch. "I'm sure you can make me comfortable if you've plenty to eat. And as for being happy -- ha, ha, ha, ha! -- why, that's my trouble. I'm too happy. But stop! I've brought you some presents in those boxes. Please order your men to carry them up to the palace."
"Certainly," answered King Kitticut, well pleased, and at once he gave his men the proper orders.
"And, by the way," continued the fat little King, "let them also take my goat from his cage."
"A goat!" exclaimed the King of Pingaree.
"Exactly; my goat Bilbil. I always ride him wherever I go, for I'm not at all fond of walking, being a trifle stout -- eh, Kitticut? -- a trifle stout! Hoo, hoo, hoo-keek, eek!"
The Pingaree people started to lift the big cage out of the boat, but just then a gruff voice cried: "Be careful, you villains!" and as the words seemed to come from the goat's mouth the men were so astonished that they dropped the cage upon the sand with a sudden jar.
"There! I told you so!" cried the voice angrily. "You've rubbed the skin off my left knee. Why on earth didn't you handle me gently?"
"There, there, Bilbil," said King Rinkitink soothingly; "don't scold, my boy. Remember