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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Merman and The Figure-Head » CHAPTER II. THE SEA KINGDOM.
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I take it for granted that all my readers have heard of mermen and mermaids. But in case any one’s education should have been neglected, I will just say that they are like human beings, only that instead of legs they have tails like dolphins, a fashion much more useful in their element, and regarded by them as much more ornamental, than the style in which people are finished on land.

The merladies are very beautiful. They have long, golden hair, and have often been seen sitting on the rocks by the seaside, combing their locks with their golden combs and holding a looking-glass. They are also said to sing in the most charming manner. I knew a Manx woman once whose mother had seen a mermaid making her toilette. She described the sea lady as wonderfully beautiful, and “singing in a way that would ravish your heart.”

“But as soon as she saw that she was watched,” said Katy, “she gave a scream like a sea eagle and dived into the water. No one ever saw her again, but I’ve heard the singing more than once when I was young.”

Concerning the kingdoms of the sea and their inhabitants Hans Anderson has written a pretty story, which I hope you have all read. The fullest account, however, that I know of the mer countries is in the Arabian Nights, Lane’s translation, where you will find the story of “Abdalla of the Land and Abdalla of the Sea.” It is a pity that the date and place of this interesting narration is left so uncertain, for to some minds it throws an air of improbability over the whole story; however, it is certainly the most authentic account of the world under the waters. So far as I know, “Abdalla of the Land” is the only person who has ever associated familiarly with mermen.

There was, to be sure, Gulnare of the Sea, who married the King of Khorassan and introduced her family to that monarch. But she was not a proper merwoman, being destitute of their peculiar appendage, and being, moreover, related to the Genii and Afrites of those parts.

But in the chronicle of Abdalla you will find much that is curious and interesting. There you may read concerning the “dendan,” that tremendous fish which is able to swallow an elephant at a mouthful; and, by the way, if you wish to descend into the sea undrowned, you have only to anoint yourself with the fat of the dendan. But the difficulty seems to be in catching this monster, who eats mermen whenever he can find them. You, however, are in no danger even if you happen to fall in his way, for he dies “whenever he hears the voice of a son of Adam.” So if you should fall in with a dendan, you have only to scream at the top of your voice and be quite safe. But concerning these wonders and many more I have no time to write, seeing that if you can get the book you can read it for yourself.

Now there are just as many mermen and mermaids along the American coasts as there are anywhere else, though they very seldom show themselves. I heard, indeed, of a sailor who had seen one in Passamaquoddy Bay, but I did not have the pleasure of conversing with this mariner myself, so I am unable to state as an absolute fact that a mermaid was seen.

If any of you are at the seaside in the summer, you can keep a sharp lookout, and there is no telling what you may see. You would find an alliance with a mer-person very advantageous if we may judge by the experience of Abdalla. Jewels in the sea are as common as pebbles with us, and in return for a little fruit a merman will give you bushels of precious stones.

You must be a little careful, however, not to offend them, for it would seem that some of them are rather touchy and apt to be intolerant of other people’s opinion in matters of doctrine and practice.

Now, not far from the Massachusetts coast, out beyond the bay, is a very beautiful sea country. There are mountains as big as Mount Washington, whose tops, just covered by the sea, are bare rock, but which are clothed around their base with the most beautiful seaweed, golden green and purple and crimson. Through these seaweeds wander all manner of strange creatures, such as human eyes have never seen, for there is no truer proverb than that “There are more fish in the sea than ever came out of it.” There are miles and miles of gray-green weed and emerald moss where the sea cows and sea horses find pasture. There, too, are the cities and villages of the merpeople, and many a pleasant home standing in the midst of the beautiful sea gardens, blossoming with strange flowers and bright with strange fruit.

The houses are grottoes and caves hollowed out of the rock, and for the most part very handsomely furnished, for there is a great deal of wealth among the sea people. They have not only all the mineral wealth of the sea, but they have all the treasures that have been lost in the deep ever since men first began to sail the waters. Their soft carpets are made of sea-green wool that the sea people comb and weave, for they are skillful in the arts and manufactures.

They have soft, lace-like fabrics woven of seaweed, silks and satins that the water does not hurt. There is no coral on our Northern shores, but they import it, and pay in exchange with oysters and looking-glasses. The sea ladies dress in the most beautiful things you can imagine, that is, when they dress at all, for in warm weather they generally make their appearance in a light suit of their own hair with a zone and necklace of pearls or jewels.

This country that I am writing about has a republican form of government, and is very prosperous and comfortable. It is a long time since any foreign power has made war upon it, and it has had time to grow and develop its resources. But at the time of which I write they had just finished a seven years’ war with the king of a country lying to the east who had tried to annex the sea republic to his own dominions. This monarch had counted on a very easy conquest because the republic kept a very small army, not big enough really to keep down the sharks. Moreover, there was a large “Peace Society” in the country, every member of which had maintained repeatedly, in the most public manner, that it was the duty of every member to be invaded and killed a dozen times over rather than lift up his hand in war against any creature with mer blood in his veins. The king thought this talk of theirs really meant something, I suppose they thought so themselves in peace-times, but when the annual meeting came, about a week after the declaration of war, only two members made their appearance, and they told each other that all the men of the society had enlisted and all the women were busy making their clothes and packing their knapsacks. The king was very much surprised to find that these peaceable soldiers fought harder than any one else, and when he was at last forced to conclude peace on the most humiliating terms, it was the ex-President of the non-resistance society that insisted on a surrender of his most important frontier fortress.

“I thought you believed in non-resistance,” said the king, greatly disgusted.

“So I do, your majesty, for other people,” said the ex-President, respectfully, and the king had to give way.

But this is not a chronicle of the politics and history of the sea country, but only of one particular merman’s fortunes. Our merman was young and very handsome, and belonged to a very distinguished family in his own state. It was said that they were in some way connected with that royal race to which belonged Gulnare of the Sea—she who married the King of Khorassan. It was whispered that the family were descended from a younger son of this pair, who had married a mer lady, and displeased both her family and his to such an extent by the marriage that they had left the Eastern seas and emigrated to the English waters, and from there into the new sea lands of the West.

All these things, if they were true, must have happened centuries before my merman was born. The legend was well known, and if it was founded on fact, the family had human blood in their veins and a cross of sea genii, for Gulnare was, as you will remember, not quite a flesh-and-blood woman. However, the humanity in them was at least royal humanity, and the King of Khorassan, as the story goes, was a very fine gentleman.

All the people of that country were fair-haired, big-boned people, with blue eyes, but the race I am writing about were black haired and dark eyed, with slender hands. They were rather delicate and slight in their appearance, and they had a peculiarly graceful way of carrying their tails, a manner quite indescribable in its elegance, but a family mark. They were rather more intellectual than their countrymen and were fond of literary pursuits and the study of magic, which in the sea land is considered as a very essential part of a gentleman’s education. It is taught only in the higher schools and colleges.

Our merman’s old grandfather (his father was dead) was Professor of Magic in the State University, and so expert in his own science that he could turn himself into an oyster so perfect that you could not tell him from the genuine article. It was said that once while in that condition he had been nearly swallowed by a member of the Freshman class. For this offence the young merman was called up before the Faculty. He apologized very humbly, and said his only motive had been to see if he couldn’t for once get the professor to agree with him. He professed himself very penitent, and was let off with a reprimand, but he said afterward that his great mistake had been in waiting for the pepper and vinegar. After this accident the professor could never be induced to repeat the performance except in a small circle of his intimate friends.

Now, there was one curious thing about this family, and one which makes me think there was some truth in the legend of their descent from Gulnare and the King of Khorassan.

All the other merpeople have the greatest objection to human beings, and shun all inhabited coasts, seaport towns and ships. But every once in a while a member of this race would show the oddest fancy for the shore and a kind of longing after human society—a longing which of course they never could gratify, for they could not live out of the water, and if they had been able to desert the sea, the forked ends of their long tails would have been of no use on land.

A few years before the family left the English coast, a younger son had actually married a human girl who went back to her friends and deserted him on the shamefully false pretence that she wanted to go to church. The poor merman went out of his wits and died, and was ever afterward held up as an example to any of the younger ones who showed any signs of similar weakness. To care anything for human creatures is counted disgraceful in mer society, and the older members of the family for the most part felt it their duty to express the greatest possible animosity to the whole human race. The old professor of magic had once said that he would swim a hundred miles to see a shipwreck if he were only sure the people would all be drowned, but he was strongly suspected of having saved a drunken sailor who fell overboard from a Cape Cod schooner. The professor himself used to deny this story with great indignation, and say it was of a piece with the slanderous invention about his family’s connection with Gulnare of the sea and her misalliance.

His grandson, however, if the story was hinted at in his presence, would look grave and say that he had never supposed the story was true, but if it were, his grandfather had only obeyed the dictates of mermanity. This was a shocking speech in the ears of the merpeople. Our young merman, however, had distinguished himself in the war, and no one cared to quarrel with him. So they contented themselves with calling him “queer,” and saying that “oddity ran in the family.”

It was the summer vacation in the sea land. All the commencements in the mer colleges were just over. All the presidents of those institutions had made their speeches in languages dead and alive, and told all their classes what an enormous responsibility rested upon them, how they were bound to “go forward,” and “to conquer,” and to “build themselves up,” and to “develop themselves,” and be “leaders of their kind,” and, in short, do something in proportion to the expense bestowed on their education. This is a way they have in sea land. But naturally in the sea they take things cooler than we can on land, and you wouldn’t believe how very little difference the advent of all these expensively got up young mermen made in the water world if you had not been there to see. Now the old mer professor hadn’t had a very comfortable time. His class that year was rather a stupid one, and with all the pains he could take and all the “coaches” they could use they hadn’t passed a very good examination in magic. One young gentleman upon whom he had thought he could certainly depend being told to make himself invisible, which is a very difficult problem, had made a mistake, used the wrong formula, and by accident transformed the whole Board of Examiners, who were not expecting any such thing, into cuttle-fishes. There was dreadful confusion for a few minutes, for the student couldn’t remember how to turn them back again, and as the spell could not be undone by any one else, the members of the board got all tangled up together, while the professor, in an awful temper, was trying to teach the young man the right formula.

“And by accident transformed the whole board of examiners into cuttle-fishes.”

But they were all undone at last, only there was one immensely wealthy old merman who was never quite sure in his mind that he had got back his own proper curly fish’s tail, and not that of some other gentleman, so that all the rest of his life he was in a puzzle as to at least half his personal identity. This incident so vexed him that he did not give anything to the college funds, as he had fully intended. This circumstance and a few other accidents had so annoyed the professor that instead of going to the North Seas with his grandson he shut himself up in the house and began to write a book. The book was in opposition to a theory put forth by a learned merman in the Baltic Sea that human beings were undeveloped mermen. The professor, however, declared that they were no such thing, but simply undeveloped walruses. He began his first chapter by saying that, while he had the highest respect for the Baltic merman’s acquirements, intellect, penetration and general infallibility, he nevertheless felt himself obliged to declare that none but an idiot or a madman could come to the conclusion of the learned man aforesaid. He (the professor) wished to lay down his platform in the beginnings and state that he differed from the opinions of the learned author on this and all other conceivable points.

“You’d a good deal better go along with me, grandfather,” said the young merman, swimming into the room where the professor was sitting with his big books all about him. “Think how nice and cool it will be among the icebergs this hot weather. Hadn’t you better come?”

“I won’t,” said the old professor, snapping and switching his tail angrily round in the water, for the houses there are full of water, as ours are of air.

“I didn’t say you would, sir,” said the young merman; “I said you’d better.”

“Did you ever know me say I would do a thing when I did?” returned the professor, angrily. “I mean, did you ever know me say I did do a thing when I would? Pooh! Pshaw! That isn’t what I mean.”

“Yes, sir!” said his grandson, respectfully.

“What do you mean by that?” said the professor, sharply. “There’s that catfish mewing at the door. Get up and let her in, do, and make yourself useful for once in your life.”

The young merman got up and opened the door for the catfish, which came swimming in, followed by two little kitten fish. These, frisking playfully around the room, soon overset the professor’s ink-stand.

“There!” said the professor to his grandson. “That’s all your fault! What did you let them in for? Open the windows and let in some fresh water, do. Scat! scat! you little torments! I don’t believe the cook has given them their dinner; she never does unless I see to it myself; your sisters forget them. No, I’m not going to the North Seas; I can’t spare the time.”

“Don’t you think you can, sir?” said the young merman. “What odds does it make about those forked creatures on land?”

“Do you know this fellow has the impudence to pretend that they are undeveloped mermen, that they’ll be just like ourselves after a series of ages when their two legs grow into one, and that our ancestors were actually of the same type as those low creatures that go about in ships? But perhaps you agree with him, sir?” said the old professor, with a look that seemed to say that if he did he might expect to be annihilated on the spot.

“Not I, sir. For aught I know we mermen may be undeveloped human beings. I’ve sometimes thought so, I have such a sort of longing for the land.”

“How dare you—?” began the old gentleman in great indignation.

“Come, come, grandfather,” said the young merman, smiling. “You are not angry with me I know; I presume you’ve felt just so yourself.”

The professor was silent, and swam thoughtfully two or three times up and down the room. The two little kitten fish went and sat on his head.

“I won’t say but I have,” he remarked at length, “but it’s best not to mention it. Where do you mean to go for your vacation?”

“I thought I should go North along the coast,” said the young merman. “I can’t help having a curiosity about the land, and if I am in a way to observe any human creatures, I may pick up some facts to support your theory that they are undeveloped walruses.”

“Any one can see that who has ever seen them floundering about in the water,” said the old professor, scornfully.

“But the men drown and the walruses don’t.”

“That’s because the men have not yet acquired the habit of not being drowned,” said the professor. “When are you going?”

“To-morrow, I thought.”

“Very well,” said the professor. “Swim away with you now, and tell the cook to feed these kittens; there they are nibbling the hair off my head.”

The next day the young merman set off on his travels. He bade good-bye to no one but his grandfather and his two sisters. His best friend was away as bearer of despatches to the secretary of state.

“I wish he wouldn’t go near the coast,” said the older sister, wistfully.

“So do I,” said the younger; “I’m afraid for him. But, sister, now honestly, don’t you wish you could see a human creature near enough to speak to?”

“No, not I,” said the elder, who had less of the family traits than any of her relations; “I wish you wouldn’t say such silly things.”

Just as the young merman was going out of the front door, he met a huge lobster coming into it, and without ringing. The young merman felt that this was a liberty in the lobster, and was sure that his grandfather would not be pleased.

“Hadn’t you better go round to the back door?” he said, quietly.

Now the lobster was no less than the old Witch of the Sea in disguise.

“Round to the back door indeed!” shrieked the lobster. “Do you know who I am, young man?”

“I beg your pardon,” said the young merman; “I had no idea you were any one in particular. The servant will admit you if you wish to see the professor.”

“I do,” said the lobster, in a huff, “but I won’t;” and she turned round and swam away.

The professor saw her out of the window. He knew who it was well enough, but he did not like the Witch of the Sea. He thought females had no business to study magic, and he said she practiced her art in a most irregular manner. Moreover, she could do two or three things which he couldn’t, so he naturally held her in contempt.

“Ahrr! you old fool!” cried the lobster, shaking her claw at him.

But the professor pretended to take no notice. “Those low-bred people always call names,” he said to himself. “What an old humbug she is, and what idiots people are to go to her for advice!”

The merman went swimming on his way, but as he swam he passed a garden. It was rather a large garden, shut in by a hedge of sea flag and tangle, with pink and white shells glittering here and there among the leaves. Behind the garden was a very lofty and spacious grotto, where lived a family with whom the professor’s household was very intimate. The merman paused a minute, for some one in the garden was singing. The singer had a voice that would have made people on land go wild to hear her. If you can imagine a wood-thrush multiplied by fifty and singing articulate music, you can have some idea of the mermaid’s voice. But in the sea every one can sing, and they don’t care much more for it than we do here for public speaking. She was singing a silly little song, but it was joined to a sweet air, and the words were of no great consequence:

“My goodman marchèd down the street,

‘Good-bye, my dear, good-bye,’ said he;

‘Good-bye, my dear;’ it might be ne’er

Would he come back again to me.

“‘Good-bye, my love,’ I said aloud;

I kept my smile, I did not cry;

‘Good-bye, my own,’ and he was gone,

And who was left so lone as I!

“It was so long, so very long,

I kept myself so calm and still;

The days went on, the time was gone,

I lost my hope and I fell ill.

“I could not rest, I could not sleep,

I hid myself from every eye;

And wearing care to dumb despair

Was changed, and yet I did not cry.

“My goodman came up the street,

And from the street he called to me;

‘Look out, my dear, for I am here,

And safe returned to comfort thee.’

“My tears fell down like summer rain,

I could not rise to ope the door,

Though once again, so firm and plain,

I heard his step upon the floor.

“I was so glad, so very glad,

I had to cry and so did he;

But wars are o’er, and now no more

My goodman goes away from me.”

“Is that you?’” called the merman when the song was done.

Just over the hedge was a little arbor covered with trailing sea-plants. As the merman spoke, two little white hands parted the broad crimson leaves of a dulse that hung over the door, then there swam out one of the loveliest mermaids in the whole sea. Her yellow hair shone like gold, and was full two yards long as it trailed on the water, for mermaids never wear their hair any other way. Her complexion was like the inside of a pink-and-white shell, and her eyes were like two clear, still pools of water, they were so pure and deep. As for the mer part of her, the dolphin’s tail, I declare it was only an additional beauty, she managed it so gracefully. I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful she was. She was a very intimate friend of the merman’s sister, and he had known her all his life—ever since they used to chase the fishes round the garden and in and out of the rocks, and make baby-houses together.

“Where are you going?” said the mermaid to the merman.

“Only North a little for my vacation trip.”

“Without saying good-bye?” said the mermaid, smiling as though she did not care a bit.

“I didn’t know you’d come home till I heard you singing, I sha’n’t be gone long; what shall I bring you?”

“A tame seal to play with, if you can remember it.”

“Tie a string round my finger,” said the merman.

“You can wear this,” she said, holding up a seal ring of red carnelian. “I found it in the garden; I suppose it belonged to some human being.”

It was a large seal ring, having two interlaced triangles cut in the stone.

“That’s a spell,” said the merman; “it will keep away evil spirits.”

“Then wear it,” said the mermaid, holding it out to him, and he slipped it on his finger.

“Good-bye,” she said; “you won’t forget the tame seal?”

“Certainly not; I’ll be home in time to dance at your birth-day party.”

The mermaid swam away to the house, turning at the door to wave her hand to her old playmate, but he did not see her. His two sisters had watched their interview from an upper window of their own house.

“He has no more eyes in his head than an oyster,” said the elder, in quite a pet.

“It would be so nice,” said the younger, with a sigh. “It would be just the thing for him.”

“Of course, and that’s the reason why he never thinks of it,” said the elder, who had more experience.


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