Now and then a dark form would shoot across their pathway or pass them at some distance, but none was near enough for the girl to see plainly what it might be. Suddenly they swam right into a big school of fishes, all yellowtails and of very large size. There must have been hundreds of them lying lazily in the water, and when they saw the mermaids they merely wriggled to one side and opened a path for the sea fairies to pass through. "Will they hurt us?" asked Trot.
"No indeed," laughed the Princess. "Fishes are stupid creatures mostly, and this family is quite harmless."
"How about sharks?" asked Cap'n Bill, who was swimming gracefully beside them, his hand clutched in that of pretty Merla.
"Sharks may indeed be dangerous to you," replied Clia, "so I advise you to keep them at a safe distance. They never dare attempt to bite a mermaid, and it may be they will think you belong to our band; but it is well to avoid them if possible."
"Don't get careless, Cap'n," added Trot.
"I surely won't, mate," he replied. "You see, I didn't use to be 'fraid o' sharks 'cause if they came near I'd stick my wooden leg at 'em. But now, if they happens to fancy these green scales, it's all up with ol' Bill."
"Never fear," said Merla, "I'll take care of you on our journey, and in our palaces you will find no sharks at all."
"Can't they get in?" he asked anxiously.
"No. The palaces of the mermaids are inhabited only by themselves."
"Is there anything else to be afraid of in the sea?" asked the little girl after they had swum quite a while in silence.
"One or two things, my dear," answered Princess Clia. "Of course, we mermaids have great powers, being fairies; yet among the sea people is one nearly as powerful as we are, and that is the devilfish."
"I know," said Trot. "I've seen 'em."
"You have seen the smaller ones, I suppose, which sometimes rise to the surface or go near the shore, and are often caught by fishermen," said Clia, "but they are only second cousins of the terrible deep-sea devilfish to which I refer."
"Those ones are bad enough, though," declared Cap'n Bill. "If you know any worse ones, I don't want a interduction to 'em."
"The monster devilfish inhabit caves in the rugged, mountainous regions of the ocean," resumed the Princess, "and they are evil spirits who delight in injuring all who meet them. None lives near our palaces, so there is little danger of your meeting any while you are our guests."
"I hope we won't," said Trot.
"None for me," added Cap'n Bill. "Devils of any sort ought to be give a wide berth, an' devilfish is worser ner sea serpents."
"Oh, do you know the sea serpents?" asked Merla as if surprised.
"Not much I don't," answered the sailor, "but I've heard tell of folks as has seen 'em."
"Did they ever live to tell the tale?" asked Trot.
"Sometimes," he replied. "They're jes' ORful creatures, mate."
"How easy it is to be mistaken," said Princess Clia softly. "We know the sea serpents very well, and we like them."
"You do!" exclaimed Trot.
"Yes, dear. There are only three of them in all the world, and not only are they harmless, but quite bashful and shy. They are kind-hearted, too, and although not beautiful in appearance, they do many kind deeds and are generally beloved."
"Where do they live?" asked the child.
"The oldest one, who is king of this ocean, lives quite near us," said Clia. "His name is Anko."
"How old is he?" inquired Cap'n Bill curiously.
"No one knows. He was here before the ocean came, and he stayed here because he learned to like the water better than the land as a habitation. Perhaps King Anko is ten thousand years old, perhaps twenty thousand. We often lose track of the centuries down here in the sea."
"That's pretty old, isn't it?" said Trot. "Older than Cap'n Bill, I guess."
"Summat," chuckled the sailor man, "summat older, mate, but not much. P'raps the sea serpent ain't got gray whiskers."
"Oh yes he has," responded Merla with a laugh. "And so have his two brothers, Unko and Inko.