They floated quietly in the water, and Trot inquired what they were.
"Balloonfish," answered Merla. "They are helpless creatures, but have little spikes all over them so their enemies dare not bite them for fear of getting pricked."
Trot found the balloonfish quite interesting. They had little dots of eyes and dots for mouths, but she could see no noses, and their fins and tails were very small.
"They catch these fish in the South Sea Islands and make lanterns of 'em," said Cap'n Bill. "They first skin 'em and sew the skin up again to let it dry, and then they put candles inside, and the light shines through the dried skin."
Many other curious sights they saw in the ocean that afternoon, and both Cap'n Bill and Trot thoroughly enjoyed their glimpse of sea life. At last Merla said it was time to return to the palace, from which she claimed they had not at any time been very far distant. "We must prepare for dinner, as it will soon begin to grow dark in the water," continued their conductor. So they swam leisurely back to the groves that surrounded the palaces, and as they entered the gardens the sun sank, and deep shadows began to form in the ocean depths.
A BANQUET UNDER WATER
The palaces of the mermaids were all aglow with lights as they approached them, and Trot was amazed at the sight.
"Where do the lamps come from?" she asked their guide wonderingly.
"They are not lamps, my dear," replied Merla, much amused at this suggestion. "We use electric lights in our palaces and have done so for thousands of years--long before the earth people knew of electric lights."
"But where do you get 'em?" inquired Cap'n Bill, who was as much astonished as the girl.
"From a transparent jellyfish which naturally emits a strong and beautiful electric light," was the answer. "We have many hundreds of them in our palaces, as you will presently see."
Their way was now lighted by small, phosphorescent creatures scattered about the sea gardens and which Merla informed them were hyalaea, or sea glowworms. But their light was dim when compared to that of the electric jellyfish, which they found placed in clusters upon the ceilings of all the rooms of the palaces, rendering them light as day. Trot watched these curious creatures with delight, for delicately colored lights ran around their bodies in every direction in a continuous stream, shedding splendid rays throughout the vast halls.
A group of mermaids met the visitors in the hall of the main palace and told Merla the queen had instructed them to show the guests to their rooms as soon as they arrived. So Trot followed two of them through several passages, after which they swam upward and entered a circular opening. There were no stairs here, because there was no need of them, and the little girl soon found herself in an upper room that was very beautiful indeed.
All the walls were covered with iridescent shells, polished till they resembled mother-of-pearl, and upon the glass ceiling were clusters of the brilliant electric jellyfish, rendering the room bright and cheerful with their radiance. In one corner stood a couch of white coral, with gossamer draperies hanging around it from the four high posts. Upon examining it, the child found the couch was covered with soft, amber sponges, which rendered it very comfortable to lie upon. In a wardrobe she found several beautiful gossamer gowns richly embroidered in colored seaweeds, and these Mayre was told she might wear while she remained the guest of the mermaids. She also found a toilet table with brushes, combs and other conveniences, all of which were made of polished tortoise-shell.
Really, the room was more dainty and comfortable than one might suppose possible in a palace far beneath the surface of the sea, and Trot was greatly delighted with her new quarters. The mermaid attendants assisted the child to dress herself in one of the prettiest robes, which she found to be quite dry and fitted her comfortably. Then the sea-maids brushed and dressed her hair, and tied it with ribbons of cherry-red seaweed.