The Sea Fairies/Chapter 22
Aquareine was thoughtful for a time. Then she drew from her finger a ring, a plain gold band set with a pearl of great value, and gave it to the little girl. "If at any period of your life the mermaids can be of service to you, my dear," she said, "you have but to come to the edge of the ocean and call 'Aquareine.' If you are wearing the ring at the time, I shall instantly hear you and come to your assistance."
"Thank you!" cried the child, slipping the ring over her own chubby finger, which it fitted perfectly. "I shall never forget that I have good and loyal friends in the ocean, you may be sure."
Away and away they swam, swiftly and in a straight line, keeping in the middle water where they were not liable to meet many sea people. They passed a few schools of fishes, where the teachers were explaining to the young ones how to swim properly, and to conduct themselves in a dignified manner, but Trot did not care to stop and watch the exercises.
Although the queen had lost her fairy wand in Zog's domed chamber, she had still enough magic power to carry them all across the ocean in wonderfully quick time, and before Trot and Cap'n Bill were aware of the distance they had come, the mermaids paused while Princess Clia said, "Now we must go a little deeper, for here is the Giant's Cave and the entrance to it is near the bottom of the sea."
"What, already?" cried the girl joyfully, and then through the dark water they swam, passing through the rocky entrance, and began to ascend slowly into the azure-blue water of the cave. "You've been awfully good to us, and I don't know jus' how to thank you," said Trot earnestly.
"We have enjoyed your visit to us," said beautiful Queen Aquareine, smiling upon her little friend, "and you may easily repay any pleasure we have given you by speaking well of the mermaids when you hear ignorant earth people condemning us."
"I'll do that, of course," exclaimed the child.
"How about changin' us back to our reg'lar shapes?" inquired Cap'n Bill anxiously.
"That will be very easy," replied Princess Clia with her merry laugh. "See! Here we are at the surface of the water."
They pushed their heads above the blue water and looked around the cave. It was silent and deserted. Floating gently near the spot where they had left it was their own little boat. Cap'n Bill swam to it, took hold of the side, and then turned an inquiring face toward the mermaids. "Climb in," said the Queen. So he pulled himself up and awkwardly tumbled forward into the boat. As he did so, he heard his wooden leg clatter against the seat, and turned around to look at it wonderingly.
"It's me, all right!" he muttered. "One meat one, an' one hick'ry one. That's the same as belongs to me!"
"Will you lift Mayre aboard?" asked Princess Clia.
The old sailor aroused himself, and as Trot lifted up her arms, he seized them and drew her safely into the boat. She was dressed just as usual, and her chubby legs wore shoes and stockings. Strangely enough, neither of them were at all wet or even damp in any part of their clothing. "I wonder where our legs have been while we've been gone?" mused Cap'n Bill, gazing at his little friend in great delight.
"And I wonder what's become of our pretty pink and green scaled tails!" returned the girl, laughing with glee, for it seemed good to be herself again.
Queen Aquareine and Princess Clia were a little way off, lying with their pretty faces just out of the water while their hair floated in soft clouds around them. "Goodbye, friends!" they called.
"Goodbye!" shouted both Trot and Cap'n Bill, and the little girl blew two kisses from her fingers toward the mermaids. Then the faces disappeared, leaving little ripples on the surface of the water. Cap'n Bill picked up the oars and slowly headed the boat toward the mouth of the cave.
"I wonder, Trot, if your ma has missed us," he remarked uneasily.
"Of course not," replied the girl. "She's been sound asleep, you know."
As the boat crept out into the bright sunlight, they were both silent, but each sighed with pleasure at beholding their own everyday world again. Finally Trot said softly, "The land's the best, Cap'n."
"It is, mate, for livin' on," he answered.
"But I'm glad to have seen the mermaids," she added..
"Well, so'm I, Trot," he agreed. "But I wouldn't 'a' believed any mortal could ever 'a' seen 'em an'--an'--"
Trot laughed merrily. "An' lived to tell the tale!" she cried, her eyes dancing with mischief. "Oh, Cap'n Bill, how little we mortals know!"
"True enough, mate," he replied, "but we're a-learnin' something ev'ry day."