They were beautifully dressed and wore many sparkling jewels.
"Her Majesty is awaiting the strangers, Princess Clia," announced one of these. "You are asked to enter at once."
"Come, then," said Clia, and once more taking Trot's hand, she led the girl through still another arch, while Merla followed just behind them, escorting Cap'n Bill. They now entered an apartment so gorgeous that the child fairly gasped with astonishment. The queen's throne room was indeed the grandest and most beautiful chamber in all the ocean palaces. Its coral walls were thickly inlaid with mother-of-pearl, exquisitely shaded and made into borders and floral decorations. In the corners were cabinets, upon the shelves of which many curious shells were arranged, all beautifully polished. The floor glittered with gems arranged in patterns of flowers, like a brilliant carpet.
Near the center of the room was a raised platform of mother-of-pearl upon which stood a couch thickly studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls. Here reclined Queen Aquareine, a being so lovely that Trot gazed upon her spellbound and Cap'n Bill took off his sailor cap and held it in his hands.
All about the room were grouped other mother-of-pearl couches, not raised like that of the queen, and upon each of these reclined a pretty mermaid. They could not sit down as we do, Trot readily understood, because of their tails; but they rested very gracefully upon the couches with their trailing gauzy robes arranged in fleecy folds.
When Clia and Merla escorted the strangers down the length of the great room toward the royal throne, they met with pleasant looks and smiles on every side, for the sea maidens were too polite to indulge in curious stares. They paused just before the throne, and the queen raised her head upon one elbow to observe them. "Welcome, Mayre," she said, "and welcome, Cap'n Bill. I trust you are pleased with your glimpse of the life beneath the surface of our sea."
"I am," answered Trot, looking admiringly at the beautiful face of the queen.
"It's all mighty cur'ous an' strange-like," said the sailor slowly. "I'd no idee you mermaids were like this, at all!"
"Allow me to explain that it was to correct your wrong ideas about us that led me to invite you to visit us," replied the Queen. "We usually pay little heed to the earth people, for we are content in our own dominions; but, of course, we know all that goes on upon your earth. So when Princess Clia chanced to overhear your absurd statements concerning us, we were greatly amused and decided to let you see with your own eyes just what we are like."
"I'm glad you did," answered Cap'n Bill, dropping his eyes in some confusion as he remembered his former description of the mermaids.
"Now that you are here," continued the Queen in a cordial, friendly tone, "you may as well remain with us a few days and see the wonderful sights of our ocean."
"I'm much obliged to you, ma'am," said Trot, "and I'd like to stay ever so much, but mother worries jus' dreadfully if we don't get home in time."
"I'll arrange all that," said Aquareine with a smile.
"How?" asked the girl.
"I will make your mother forget the passage of time so she will not realize how long you are away. Then she cannot worry."
"Can you do that?" inquired Trot.
"Very easily. I will send your mother into a deep sleep that will last until you are ready to return home. Just at present she is seated in her chair by the front window, engaged in knitting." The queen paused to raise an arm and wave it slowly to and fro. Then she added, "Now your good mother is asleep, little Mayre, and instead of worries I promise her pleasant dreams."
"Won't someone rob the house while she's asleep?" asked the child anxiously.
"No, dear. My charm will protect the house from any intrusion."
"That's fine!" exclaimed Trot in delight.
"It's jes' won-erful!" said Cap'n Bill. "I wish I knew it was so. Trot's mother has a awful sharp tongue when she's worried."
"You may see for yourselves," declared the Queen, and waved her hand again.