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The Iceberg Express (5)

2006-09-07 21:00


    For a few minutes Mary Louise felt quite lonely. Presently she asked the Polar Bear to be kind enough to land her on the nearest shore.

    At once the big kind animal trimmed in his sail and before long they entered a beautiful bay whose dark waters were dotted with the white sails of the fisher boats, and directly in front, climbing up to the sky, a high mountain on which stood a castle, where from a tall tower all night long shone a light that could hardly be told from the stars around it.

    Mary Louise jumped from the boat to the beach, and then turned to wave good-by to the Polar Bear as he sailed away to the North Pole.

    Nearby sat an old fisherman on a bench mending his net.

    "Hello, little girl," he said, as Mary Louise hesitated. "Moor your little hulk 'longside o' me an' I'll spin you a yarn!"

    Then he began to tell how, many hundred years ago, all the land around about was covered with a thick forest instead of the deep blue water of the bay.

    Then came the great giant Cormoran, who was  feet high and  yards wide, and his wife Cormelian, who was just as big, and they brought from the hills great gray rocks which they piled up, one on the other, hundreds of feet high, until they had made a mountain. And on the top of this they built their castle, where they lived until the giant's wife died and was buried under the Chapel rock.

    Then Jack the Giant Killer climbed up the mountain, and after a hard fight Cormoran was killed, and there were no more giants in the land.

    Next came the Small People, who cut down most of the forest, and built cottages for themselves, ploughed the fields and made gardens.

    But one day a great enchanter came that way, and his strange dress and long gray beard frightened the women and children, and they shut their doors in his face whenever he asked for a drink, for he had walked far and was tired and thirsty.

    At last he found the principal man of the Small People, a little old crusty fellow and very miserly. And when the great enchanter asked him for a drink of water, the Small Man told him he didn't keep a hotel for beggars. And this made the great enchanter so angry that he struck the ground with his staff, so that it made a deep hole, and then he went upon his journey.

    Soon a little spring of water bubbled up through the hole, and by and by a stream burst forth that swelled to a river, and after a time the whole land was drowned, and only the high mountain remained above the water.

    But the Small People who were buried under the water didn't die. They lived on just the same, waiting for the enchanter to return and lift the spell, and the land to rise, again with all the people on it.

    When the old fisherman had finished his story, he said, "I will take you in my boat to see the Small People deep down in the water.

    "Yes, come with me in my boat and you shall see the Wonderland under the Sea."

    As soon as the old fisherman had hoisted the sail, away they went out to sea over a wide path of moonlight like a silver road leading straight out to the sky where it dipped down to the water.

    All of a sudden Mary Louise noticed something come close up under the side of the boat, and remain there staring straight at her. She bent over until she nearly touched the water, when what she had taken for a fish appeared to be a very odd-looking little man. He was even shorter than she, very broad about the shoulders, with funny little arms and feet that were brought together at the heels, with the toes turned straight out when he stood up, making them look like a fish's tail. His eyes were big and round, without any eyelids or eyebrows. But his mouth was the funniest part, and when he opened it, he looked like a fish trying to talk. He was dressed in silvery white, shaded to blue and green.

    With a sudden nod, he pointed to the road which opened behind him down through the depths of the water until lost in the distance.

    Little Mary Louise could not take her eyes from him, and, forgetting all about the old fisherman and the boat, she bent over more and more, so as to look closer at the funny little old man, until, splash! down she went into the water. Then came a tremendous ringing in her ears and she felt her breath go and she knew nothing more until she found herself standing with the strange little fish man by the side of a splendid carriage made of a scallop shell, burnished until it shone with pearl and silver, and drawn by two beautiful gold-fish and two silver-fish harnessed with the silken threads of the finest sea-mosses, and driven by an old coachman that looked like a mackerel.

    "We are the sea-horses of the deep, And we race through the waters blue, Faster than wind and swifter than tide We gallop the ocean through."

    "Jump in," said the little old fish man; and without a question Mary Louise stepped into the carriage and sat down on the beautiful pea-green cushions.

    Then the little man got in, the mackerel-faced coachman cracked his whip, the gold and the silver fishes darted ahead, and away they went.

    Great trees waved their long branches as the carriage swept past, and odd-looking shapes came out from behind them. Huge mouths opened and shut, long arms waved about trying to catch anything in their reach, and fierce looking monsters with fishes' heads came rushing in from all sides, to stare at little Mary Louise with their great savage eyes.

    Presently the little old man stood up and bowing politely, told them that Mary Louise had never caught a fish with a cruel hook.

    Then these dreadful monsters snapped their horny jaws and swam away.

    At once the mackerel-faced coachman whipped up his team of gold and silver fishes and away they went spinning down the road again.

    At last the carriage stopped in front of a fine mansion, and Mary Louise and the little old man jumped out on the smooth beach of sparkling sand which sloped down to a glassy lake on which curious and beautiful little boats were sailing in all directions.

    Along the edge of the lake were many houses, some stately castles and some little cottages. The little cottages were covered with creeping plants abloom with red flowers and the stately castles with moss like vines. But the people. Oh dear me! They were the strangest folk! Some had very long noses and ugly looking teeth in their wide mouths, and others were so thin they looked like small sticks, and others so round that they could almost trundle themselves along like a coach-wheel. Some were dressed in the shabbiest clothes, others in splendid suits, and some covered with knobs and spikes and strange looking armor.

    "Come," said the little fish man, and he led Mary Louise into his house.

    Presently he brought out from a closet a quaintly shaped box. "It is the legend of Wonderland that a little girl shall break the spell that hangs over us. For it is deemed well-nigh impossible that a mortal child would venture beneath the water to visit us. Therefore, little Mary Louise, if I call all my people together, will you open this box and deliver us from the spell of the Great Enchanter?"

    "I will," she answered bravely, and at once the little old fish man called together all his subjects.

    As little Mary Louise looked at the box she saw printed on the cover these words:

    "If a little girl mortal Shall uncover this prize, The sea will sink And the land will rise."

    And, would you believe it, the first thing she knew after carefully opening the box, she was back in the boat with the old sailor, who was shading his eyes and looking towards a beautiful green island that had suddenly come out of the water.

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