“During the conversation several sea-maids came swimming into the room bearing trays of sea apples and other fruit, which they first offered to the queen, and then passed the refreshments around to the company assembled. Trot and Cap’n Bill each took some, and the little girl found the fruits delicious to eat, as they had a richer flavor than any that grew upon land. Queen Aquareine was much pleased when the old sailor asked for more, but Merla warned him dinner would soon be served and he must take care not to spoil his appetite for that meal. ‘Our dinner is at noon, for we have to cook in the middle of the day when the sun is shining,’ she said.
‘Cook!’ cried Trot. ‘Why, you can’t build a fire in the water, can you?’
‘We have no need of fires,’ was the reply. ‘The glass roof of our kitchen is so curved that it concentrates the heat of the sun’s rays, which are then hot enough to cook anything we wish.’
‘But how do you get along if the day is cloudy, and the sun doesn’t shine?’ inquired the little girl.
‘Then we use the hot springs that bubble up in another part of the palace,’ Merla answered. ‘But the sun is the best to cook by.’ So it was no surprise to Trot when, about noon, dinner was announced and all the mermaids, headed by their queen and their guests, swam into another spacious room where a great, long table was laid. The dishes were of polished gold and dainty-cut glass, and the cloth and napkins of fine gossamer. Around the table were ranged rows of couches for the mermaids to recline upon as they ate. Only the nobility and favorites of Queen Aquareine were invited to partake of this repast, for Clia explained that tables were set for the other mermaids in different parts of the numerous palaces.
Trot wondered who would serve the meal, but her curiosity was soon satisfied when several large lobsters came sliding into the room backward, bearing in their claws trays loaded with food. Each of these lobsters had a golden band behind its neck to show it was the slave of the mermaids.
These curious waiters were fussy creatures, and Trot found much amusement in watching their odd motions. They were so spry and excitable that at times they ran against one another and upset the platters of food, after which they began to scold and argue as to whose fault it was, until one of the mermaids quietly rebuked them and asked them to be more quiet and more careful.
The queen’s guests had no cause to complain of the dinner provided. First the lobsters served bowls of turtle soup, which proved hot and deliciously flavored. Then came salmon steaks fried in fish oil, with a fungus bread that tasted much like field mushrooms. Oysters, clams, soft-shell crabs and various preparations of seafoods followed. The salad was a delicate leaf from some seaweed that Trot thought was much nicer than lettuce. Several courses were served, and the lobsters changed the plates with each course, chattering and scolding as they worked, and as Trot said, ‘doing everything backwards’ in their nervous, fussy way.
Many of the things offered them to eat were unknown to the visitors, and the child was suspicious of some of them, but Cap’n Bill asked no questions and ate everything offered him, so Trot decided to follow his example. Certain it is they found the meal very satisfying, and evidently there was no danger of their being hungry while they remained the guests of the mermaids. When the fruits came, Trot thought that must be the last course of the big dinner, but following the fruits were ice creams frozen into the shape of flowers.
‘How funny,’ said the child, ‘to be eating ice cream at the bottom of the sea.’
‘Why does that surprise you?’ inquired the Queen.
‘I can’t see where you get the ice to freeze it,’ Trot replied.
‘It is brought to us from the icebergs that float in the northern parts of the ocean,’ explained Merla.
‘O’ course, Trot. You orter thought o’ that. I did,’ said Cap’n Bill.
The little girl was glad there was no more to eat, for she was ashamed to feel she had eaten every morsel she could. Her only excuse for being so greedy was that ‘ev’rything tasted just splendid!’ as she told the queen.”
“‘I’m chief cook for that old horror Zog. And that reminds me, good mermaids, or good people, or good girls and sailors, or whatever you are, that I’m sent here to ask what you’d like to eat.’
‘Good to see you, sir,’ said Cap’n Bill. ‘I’m nearly starved, myself.’
‘I had it in mind,’ said the little man, ‘to prepare a regular mermaid dinner, but since you’re not mermaids—’
‘Oh, two of us are,’ said the Queen, smiling. ‘I, my good cook, am Aquareine, the ruler of the mermaids, and this is the Princess Clia.’
‘I’ve often heard of you, your Majesty,’ returned the chief cook, bowing respectfully, ‘and I must say I’ve heard only good of you. Now that you have unfortunately become my master’s prisoners, it will give me pleasure to serve you as well as I am able.’
‘We thank you, good sir,’ said Aquareine.
‘What have you got to eat?’ inquired Trot. ‘Seems to me I’m hollow way down to my toes—my tail, I mean—and it’ll take a lot to fill me up. We haven’t eaten a morsel since breakfast, you know.’
‘I think I shall be able to give you almost anything you would like,’ said the cook. ‘Zog is a wonderful magician and can procure anything that exists with no more effort than a wiggle of his thumb. But some eatables, you know, are hard to serve under water, because they get so damp that they are soon ruined.’
‘Ah, it is different with the mermaids,’ said Princess Clia.
‘Yes, all your things are kept dry because they are surrounded by air. I’ve heard how the mermaids live. But here it is different.’
‘Take this ring,’ said the Queen, handing the chief cook a circlet which she drew from her finger. ‘While it is in your possession, the food you prepare will not get wet, or even moist.’
‘I thank your Majesty,’ returned the cook, taking the ring. ‘My name is Tom Atto, and I’ll do my best to please you. How would you like for luncheon some oysters on the half-shell, clam broth, shrimp salad, broiled turtle steak and watermelon?’
‘That will do very nicely,’ answered the Queen.
‘Do watermelons grow in the sea?’ asked Trot.
‘Of course, that is why they are called watermelons,’ replied Tom Atto. ‘I think I shall serve you a water ice, in addition to the rest. Water ice is an appropriate sea food.’
‘Have some watercress with the salad,’ said Cap’n Bill.
‘I’d thought of that,’ declared the cook. ‘Doesn’t my bill of fare make your mouths water?’
‘Hurry up and get it ready,’ suggested Trot.”