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The Iceberg Express (6)

2006-09-07 21:00

    The Enchanted Prince

    "Would you like to land on the island?" asked the old sailor who seemed in no wise surprised that an island should suddenly come up out of the sea.

    "Yes," gasped little Mary Louise, "it may be a wonderful place. certainly saw strange things beneath the water."

    "To be sure you did," replied the old sailor, taking it as a matter of course that a little girl should make a trip to Wonder Land under the Sea, and return safe and sound.

    But then, you know, Mary Louise may have still retained some of the charm of the little mermaid's magic comb.

    Well, anyway, the old sailor steered his boat over to the green island, where Mary Louise jumped out and after saying good-by to her sailor friend, set off to look for new adventures.

    After a while, she came to a great wood, where the trees were as big around as smoke stacks on an ocean liner.

    All of a sudden, she heard the sound of a woodman's ax, and the crackling of the branches as they fell to the ground.

    "It must be some giant cutting down a tree," she thought, and she started off in the direction of the sound, and by and by, she saw a giant beaver. He was a most wonderful sort of an animal, for he could swing an ax as well as a man. Near at hand flowed a great river, where a white water horse snorted as he dashed the spray high in the air with his forefeet.

    "Are you one of Neptune's horses?" asked little Mary Louise. "I once read a story of a little boy named Hero who rode with King Neptune in his wonderful chariot."

    "No, little girl," answered the beautiful sea horse kindly. "But I can show you some wonderful things. Jump on my back and I will take you to a strange place."

    Then away went the great Water Horse over the water and through the spray and Mary Louise wasn't the least bit afraid although she had no water wings and might have slipped of into the water.

    "Where are we going?" she asked, after a while, for by this time they were far away from the shore and going up a dark river.

    "I'm going to show you the beautiful Green Waterfall Cave," answered the big Sea Horse, shaking his mane until it seemed almost as if it were raining.

    Well, pretty soon he stopped, telling Mary Louise to bend over his back, before he swam into a big opening in a gray rock.

    "Now lift up your head," he said, and when Mary Louise looked around she saw they were in a beautiful cave. All about them were strange people, Mermaids and Water Nymphs, Water Sprites and Mermen, fishes and dolphins, and even a whale, although he wasn't very large. If he had been, he wouldn't have been there, for the entrance to the cave was just wide enough for him to squeeze through.

    Well, no sooner did they see the big Sea Horse, than they all said at once,

    "Hail to our King!" and crowded around looking curiously at Mary Louise, and one little mermaid pinched her toe.

    "This is Mary Louise," explained the great white Sea Horse. "I have brought her to our cave to see the wonders of our Water Country."

    At once the whale blew a stream of water into the air, the dolphins turned somersaults and the little mermaid who had just pinched Mary Louise's toe, stood up on a big pearly shell and sang:

    "In this river that leads to the sea, We all live happy as happy can be, The crocodile comes and opens his jaws, And the giant crab stretches out his claws, And the sword fish chases the sharp toothed shark, But here we are safe when the day grows dark, And the pale white moon looks down from the sky, And the little star winks her golden eye."

    And when she had finished, she swam up close to the big Sea Horse and picking up Mary Louise placed her in a great shell that sailed over the water just like a boat to the end of the cave where a little path ran along close to the water's edge till it came to a door.

    "Tap gently three times," said the little mermaid.

    And then, all of a sudden, it opened and there stood a great Sea Serpent.

    "What do you want?" he asked with a dreadful hiss and his breath was like steam and his long red tongue like a thin flame.

    "O wise Serpent," said the mermaid, "do not frighten little Mary Louise. She is traveling through our country and means no harm."

    "Then she may come into my kingdom," replied the great Serpent, and he glided swiftly away.

    "Do not fear him," said the little mermaid. "I cannot go with you, but you will be perfectly safe," and she closed the door and swam away, leaving little Mary Louise all alone.

    It was a strange country in which Mary Louise found herself as she followed the great Serpent who was now some distance ahead. Great trees and moss-covered rocks were on every side, and only by keeping to the narrow path was it possible to find a way through them.

    By and by the Serpent stopped at a gate in a high stone wall, which swung open slowly as he tapped upon it.

    "Now, let me tell you something," he said, leading Mary Louise to a seat beneath a beautiful tree in a large garden close by a stately castle.

    While she rested on the marble bench the great Serpent coiled himself in a ring, his head raised about two feet above the ground. He had wonderful black eyes and as he looked at her she almost fancied there were tears in them.

    "Once upon a time, not so very long ago," he began, "a young prince lived in this castle. But one day a wicked magician disguised as a poor beggar came to the kitchen door and asked for bread. Now it happened to be baking day, and the Royal Baker had just placed a thousand loaves of dough in the oven. He was tired and hot and said to the beggar in a cross voice: 'You must wait until evening.' This made the beggar man dreadfully angry, and the next minute he waved a crooked stick above his head and cried, 'Let the master of this castle and his household become snakes!' Instantly, a great change came over all who lived in the castle. The prince turned into a serpent and all the retainers became snakes."

    As he finished speaking, the poor Snake gave a low cry and hid his head in the grass. "Cheer up," said Mary Louise, for she knew at once that the serpent was the poor prince in disguise. "I have a magic ring!"

    Dear me, I forgot to mention that the Princess Mermaid had given it to little Mary Louise for a charm against evil.

    "But what can that do for me?" asked the poor serpent prince.

    "Leave that to me," replied little Mary Louise, and she turned the magic ring around three times, and, all of a sudden, a little Black Man appeared.

    "What can I do for you, little Mistress?" he asked.

    "This serpent was once a handsome prince," explained Mary Louise, "but by the magic of a wicked magician has been changed into a snake. Help him to regain his natural shape."

    "That is a hard matter," said the little Black Man thoughtfully. "I know this wicked magician. He has great power and it takes a strong charm to work against his evil power."

    And then the little Black Man ran his hand through his crinkly hair and thought for a while.

    "There is a crimson apple that grows in the Gardens of the West," he said at last, "which if eaten, enables one to regain his natural shape. But the distance is far, and the way dangerous. And the owner of the garden refuses admittance to any man. But whether he would refuse a little girl, I do not know."

    "I can but try," said little Mary Louise bravely. And when the serpent heard this, he lifted up his head and said:

    "If you will undertake this great deed for me, I will give you whatever you desire, even my castle and all my lands."

    "I would not take them from you," replied Mary Louise. "I am only a little girl." And she paused for a moment, wondering when and how she would return to her dear mother's home.

    "How may I reach the Gardens of the West?" she asked anxiously.

    "You must go down to the sea and wait for the sun to sink in the west," answered the little Black Man. "And when you see golden rays, like a bright road upon the water, call to King Neptune. I will give you a whistle made from a pearl shell on which you must blow three times, and when the King of the Sea hears it, he will come to you. But whether he will carry you across the ocean in his chariot, I know not. But you can try."

    And the little Black Man disappeared.

    "Do you think you will be able to do all this?" asked the serpent anxiously.

    "I do," replied Mary Louise, and she opened the garden gate and made straight for the great ocean, and by and by she came to the beach, where the great waves rolled and broke into foamy spray making the pretty shells glisten in the sun.

    No sooner had Mary Louise blown three times upon the magic whistle than King Neptune drove up in his beautiful chariot. His splendid horses with foamy manes raised their forefeet and snorted till the old Sea King was forced to quiet them.

    "What can I do for you, pretty maiden?" he asked kindly.

    "Oh please, Mr. Neptune, take me to the garden of golden apples. I must give one to a poor Snake Prince that he may regain his human form."

    King Neptune remained silent for a time. At last he put his hand in his great pocket and said with a sigh:

    "Here is a golden apple. It was to be a present to my wife. But it will be of greater use to this poor Snake Prince."

    "Thank you, thank you," cried Mary Louise, and running hastily back to the garden she stood before the poor miserable snake.

    "Here is the magic golden apple," she cried in a glad voice. No sooner had the serpent eaten the apple, than, all of a sudden, just as he swallowed the last piece, he changed into a handsome prince and all his retainers and servants who were snakes, you remember, regained their human form.

    "Now you shall have whatever is in my power to grant," said the prince, "even if you ask for my castle."

    "I will take nothing from you," replied generous little Mary Louise, "unless you wish to give me the ring you wear on your finger."

    "It is yours," said the prince. "May you always wear it and remember me."

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