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The Iceberg Express (2)

2006-09-07 21:00

    The Coral Palace

    "Why, the ocean is full of cracked ice!" exclaimed Mary Louise, as she and the mermaid rose to the surface and looked about them. "I wonder what it was that caused such a tremendous crash?"

    "Perhaps the Whale Ice Trust is after a big ice supply," replied the mermaid with a laugh. "The ocean depths are no longer a quiet place since this dreadful hot weather set in. Just the other day I heard the King of the Mermen say that they were about to send a note of protest to Neptune for violating the laws of Merland!"

    "I don't know much about it," said Mary Louise, "except that it's very inconvenient to have one's voyage disturbed in such a way. What are we going to do now?"

    "How would you like to visit the Court of the Mer King?" asked the mermaid.

    "Oh, lovely!" cried Mary Louise. "I've never met any kinds, although I've read about them in fairy stories."

    "Come along then," said the mermaid. "Follow me straight down, for I think we are not very far from the Coral Palace, where King Seaphus holds court."

    Placing the palms of her hands together diving fashion, she gave her pretty tail a kick-off, and away she went, head downward, through the water.

    Mary Louise followed her example, somewhat surprised at the ease with which she executed this difficult maneuver.

    In a short time they found themselves on the bottom of the ocean. In the distance could be seen the dim outline of a magnificent castle of pink and white coral. Leading up to it was a wide highway, flanked on either side with beautiful sea-grass, and dotted here and there, like milestones, stood columns of beautiful coral. Banks of exquisite mother-of-pearl rose at intervals along the way; water plants of various hues grew in wild profusion.

    "Why, it's very much like the earth," exclaimed Mary Louise, "only one doesn't walk, and its not dusty, and——and it's not hot and sunny!"

    "No, indeed!" said the mermaid. "But sometimes we have a pest of water gnats that are worse than mosquitoes, and we have to put up netting on our bedroom windows to keep them out."

    As she finished speaking they approached the door of the castle, on which she knocked with a flap of her finny tail. It was immediately opened by a merman dressed in the uniform of a court page. "What can I do for you, Your Highness?" he asked, bowing low.

    "Why, are you a princess?" asked Mary Louise in surprise, turning quickly to the mermaid and forgetting for the moment that they were on the steps of a real merman's castle.

    The little mermaid only laughed in reply, and taking Mary Louise by the hand led her through the coral doors to King Seaphus.

    His Majesty was seated on a throne of pearl, studded with many precious stones. A long emerald robe fell from his shoulders and on his head rested a magnificent crown set with glittering jewels, which gleamed and sparkled in the dim light of the royal chamber.

    "Ah, my daughter, whom have you here?" he asked, leaning from the throne and gazing intently at little Mary Louise. "Methinks she is a mermaidized mortal!" At which the King laughed loudly, for he was very fond of coining words and was busily engaged, when his state duties did not interfere, in compiling a new dictionary.

    "You are right, Father Seaphus," replied his beautiful daughter. "Let me introduce little Mary Louise."

    The King rose graciously and extended his royal right hand. Mary Louise made a low curtsey, finding it much easier now that she was a mermaid to perform this little act of graciousness on account of the flexibility of her tail.

    Legs, of course, are indispensable for walking; but, then, in these days of new inventions, when the air is invaded by wing, and the earth traversed by wheels, and the depths of the waters by mechanical fins, walking may soon become a lost art! Something like this may have flitted through her mind, but she only answered in a trembling voice, "How do you do, Your Majesty!"

    "You are welcome, 'Mermaid Mary,' to our Kingdom of the Sea," he replied. "I hope you will enjoy your stay with us." So saying, he gallantly lifted his gold crown as little Mary Louise made another curtsey.

    "Let us dress for dinner," said the mermaid.

    They swam quickly upstairs between two balustrades of lovely coral to her bedroom.

    It was just like fairy-land; at least, it seemed so to little Mary Louise, as she looked about the pretty room. In one corner stood a beautiful bed of mother-of-pearl, hung with varied colored sea grass for curtains. Sea moss made it as soft as down. In fact, it seemed almost softer to Mary Louise, who by this time was very sleepy. She rested her tired little body upon the cushions and in a few short seconds was sound asleep. The princess mermaid looked at her with loving eyes, while she sang very low and sweetly:

    "Sleep, little sister, for when you awake, We'll have a fine dinner of fishes and cake!"

    I think the mermaid took somewhat after her royal father for she often spoke in rhyme, which she composed as she talked, while his great delight, as has been mentioned before, was to coin a new word for his dictionary.

    Leaving Mary Louise to her slumbers, the princess mermaid sat herself down before her mirror and combed her hair. Presently, she went over to her wardrobe and took out a beautiful shimmery pink shawl. What it was made of I cannot tell, except that it shivered and quivered with little colors like a rainbow. Perhaps it was made of changeable sea-silk.

    At any rate, Mary Louise, who at that moment opened her eyes, thought it was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.

    "Is it really for me? Is it really?" she asked with a cry of delight, as the mermaid came toward her.

    "Of course it is, my dear," replied the mermaid princess," and as soon as you have put it on, and combed your hair——you needn't wash your hands and face, you know——the banquet will be ready."

    Mary Louise clapped her hands and hopped, or, rather, flopped about, so happy was she to receive such a gift in the depths of the sea.

    When she was dressed in the lovely shawl, and a beautiful mother-ofpearl comb fastened in her hair, the princess mermaid declared she looked "too sweet for anything!" Then they floated down, arm in arm, to the great dining hall. King Seaphus

    The great dining hall of King Seaphus was considered by all the inhabitants of Merland——that is, all those who had been lucky enough to have seen its splendor——to be the most magnificent of its kind anywhere.

    The dining table, or banquet board, as it was called, was made of mother-of-pearl. The pale, shimmery cloth was woven from the most delicate of sea-grasses. The gold and silver plates shone with a strange luster, and the goblets, fashioned of the thinnest and most exquisite pearl, gave the impression that they were strange sea lilies.

    King Seaphus seated himself majestically at th head of the banquet board, and little Mary Louise was shown the place on his right. At the other end sat the Mermaid Princess. Mermen in dark green liveries served the meal. But what delighted and interested Mary Louise the most was the way in which the food was served. Instead of ordinary, everyday dishes, it appeared in little airtight boats, which the servants guided dexterously to the table, and when opened, the steam escaped in hundreds of little bubbles that took on all the hues of the rainbow. These slowly ascended through the pale green water until they reached the surface, where they probably floated off in the air, until they burst, like fairy soap-bubbles.

    All kinds of delicious fish, little pink and white crabs, goldfish, luscious oysters, and, finally, coral-candy, made up the different courses of the dinner. When it was over and the coffee was served in a beautiful room adjoining, King Seaphus smoked a big cigar, which, to Mary Louise's amazement, glowed and burned like any ordinary Havana her father smoked at home.

    After King Seaphus had smoked away in perfect silence for some time, he turned to Mary Louise and asked:

    "Where were you going, my dear, when you met my daughter?"

    "Oh, nowhere in particular," replied little Mary Louise quickly. "You see, I was playing on the beach when I saw the Princess, and——and——and——" "Then I combed her hair with my magic comb," said the Princess, coming to the relief of little Mary Louise, who was very much embarrassed by the question. You see, she was not at all accustomed to hold conversation with royalty, and to be talking to a Merman King was, perhaps, even more disconcerting.

    "We took the subway," continued his daughter, "we caught the Iceberg Express, and, well, here we are."

    "So I see," said the King.

    Mary Louise gave a giggle and, forgetting her embarrassment, exclaimed, "And just as we were safe on board, after the Polar Bear porter had told us to 'watch our step,' there was an awful explosion, and we found ourselves floating about in the midst of a lot of cracked ice."

    "Indeed," exclaimed King Seaphus, "this is the second time in the last month we've had an accident on the Sea Bottom Subway. I must call in my Prime Minister and have an investigation begun at once."

    Pulling vigorously on a beautifully braided sea-grass rope, he awaited the coming of a page. Little Mary Louise heard the far-off tinkle of the bell, and presently the Mer-bell-boy appeared.

    "Summon his most excellent self, the Prime Minister," commanded King Seaphus.

    The Mer-boy page glided away and presently appeared, deferentially escorting the Prime Minister. The latter was a very distinguished looking person. His long, white beard was parted gracefully in the center, no doubt by the action of the water as he swam up to where the King sat. As befitted so important an official, he was clad in a long, red robe, which reached nearly to the end of his fin-tail. His head was adorned with a crimson cap and tassel made of the softest velvet sea-grass.

    "What is your majesty's command?" he asked, bending low before King Seaphus. The King did not reply for a moment. He was a wise King, and thought for several minutes before he spoke. This made the Prime Minister fidget about on his tail. If he had been a Prime Minister of any land, and not of the sea, he probably would have stood first on one leg and then on the other, but, as he had no feet, he shifted about uneasily on his fin-tail until the King spoke. "I hear there has been another wreck on the Sea Bottom Subway."

    The Prime Minister coughed, and little bubbles rose from the end of his nose, the sight of which almost caused Mary Louise to giggle aloud. But she remembered her manners in time and saved herself the mortification of such a breach of etiquette.

    "Yes, Your Royal Highness," admitted the Prime Minister, "but I understand it was not at all serious. One of the Iceberg cars was demolished, and one of the Polar Bear porters, I believe, although I am not certain at the moment, was slightly injured. None of the passengers was hurt, with the possible exception of a Star Fish, who complained of a slight pain in one of his five fingers——I forget, for the moment, which finger."

    "Is the road again in operation?" inquired King Seaphus.

    "Not yet, your Royal Highness," replied the Prime Minister, "but I have every assurance from the management that trains will be running, at the very latest, by tomorrow morning."

    "You will have to spend the night with us, then," said the Princess, turning to Mary Louise, with a smile. "You know," she added in a whisper, "I'm glad there was an accident; otherwise you would not have come to our castle, and we might not have grown to be such friends."

    "Don't whisper, my daughter," said King Seaphus. "Your mother will think, should she hear that you had been so rude during her absence, that she cannot leave home to even visit her mother for a week without your becoming demoralized."

    The Prime Minister coughed behind his hand, while the little bubbles rose again through the pale green of the sea-water. Mary Louise felt quite embarrassed, and the little Princess blushed. King Seaphus looked sternly at all three.

    Just then a loud knocking was heard on the castle door. "Billows and breakers!" exclaimed the King, "what is that?"

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