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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » The Merman and The Figure-Head » CHAPTER IV. THE BEWITCHED LOVER.
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CHAPTER IV. THE BEWITCHED LOVER.
Off to Lisbon went the brig Sea-nymph, and after her the poor merman. He stayed there as long as the ship stayed, hiding under boats and behind timbers, chased more than once, in danger of his life every hour, hardly able to get a glimpse of his idol. The wooden nymph stood straight up in her place, looking toward the city this time, because her head happened to be turned that way.
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Once a priest going across the water in a boat happened to see him. The priest took him for a demon, was dreadfully scared, and solemnly cursed him, as is the fashion of priests when they are afraid of anything. Besides, such is the approved mode of dealing with demons in those countries. The report went abroad that there was an evil spirit in the harbor. The Spanish and Italian sailors said innumerable prayers to the saints and bought little blessed candles. The Yankees and Englishmen hunted him whenever they could, for they had a curiosity to see what a live demon was like. You may imagine what a life it was for the poor merman. He was almost worn out when The Sea-nymph weighed anchor and set sail for Sicily. He followed her, of course, for he was more possessed than ever.

And yet away down at the bottom of his heart he had misgivings. When day after day went on and the nymph stood still in the same place, he could not help thinking to himself, “What if it should be a wooden image, after all!”

But when this thought came into his head he drove it away, and called himself all the names that ever were for daring to entertain such a notion about his goddess. Was she not constant? Did she not always hold out her vase toward him? He didn’t or wouldn’t think, the poor silly merman, that it was because he always swam right before her and she couldn’t hold it any other way.
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Not far from the Straits of Gibraltar the merman met his most intimate friend, who had been looking for him a long time, and had only heard of him through Moby Dick.

“My dear fellow,” said his friend, “I am so glad to see you!” and then he stopped, for he couldn’t help seeing that the other was not at all glad to see him, and he felt hurt and disappointed.

“Are you?” said the merman, coldly, and gazing after the ship sailing away from him.

“Why, of course. We’ve all been so anxious about you. Why haven’t you written? Your grandfather has tried every spell he could think of, but it all seemed of no use. The dear old gentleman is almost sick, and so miserable about you that he has had no heart to finish his work, even though the Baltic merman has come out with another pamphlet. Do come home.”

Now as his friend spoke our merman felt at once how selfish and ungrateful he had been. But his passion for his wooden nymph had so altered his nature that instead of being sorry he was only angry with himself, and pretended that he was angry with his friend.
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“I suppose I am old enough to be my own master,” he said, haughtily.

“Why, what has come over you?” said his friend. “I’m sure it was natural I should come to look for you. If I’d been lost, wouldn’t you have tried to find me?”

The merman felt more and more ashamed of himself and grew crosser and crosser. “Excuse me,” he said, coldly, “but I have business that I must attend to. I don’t choose to discuss the subject;” and he swam away after The Sea-nymph.

“But look here!” said his friend, coming after him. “I must tell you something. I’m going to be married to your youngest sister, and I want you to come and be best man. The girls are breaking their hearts about you.”

“Oh, I dare say,” said the merman with a sneer. He had always been a most affectionate brother, but now he had no room in his heart for anything but his wooden image.
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“And there’s a dear little girl next door that will be glad to see you. She’s to be bridesmaid, of course. It’s my belief she likes you. The sweetest mermaid in the sea, she is, except your sister.”

“She’s well enough for a mermaid,” said the merman, impatiently, for the ship was going farther and farther away.

“I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” said his friend, growing vexed at last. “I shall really think that absurd story of Moby Dick’s was true when he said you were in love with a wooden statue of a human being.”

“She’s not human,” snapped the merman, coloring scarlet; “she’s a nymph, an immortal.”

“Let’s have a look at her,” he said.

“You are not worthy to behold her perfections,” said the merman.

“Why, a catfish may look at a congressman,” said his friend, quoting a sea proverb. “Is she on board that ship off there? Come on;” and away he went and our merman after him. They came up with the ship, and there, as usual, stood the wooden image staring over the water.

“She’s watching for me,” said the merman.
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The friend said nothing. He swam round and round, and looked up at the figure-head through his eye-glass.

“Isn’t she a goddess?” asked our merman, impatiently.

“Goddess!” said the other. “My dear fellow, it’s only wood as sure as you are alive.”

“No merman shall insult me,” said our merman, in a passion.

“Who wants to? Do open your eyes, my dear boy, and see for yourself.”

“I do; I see how she looks at me and holds out her silver vase.”

“She’ll do as much for me,” said his friend, swimming before the ship. Our merman was wild with rage and jealousy, for he could not help seeing that she did. He drew his sword (for he wore one), made of a sword-fish blade, and flew at his friend. “Defend yourself,” he said.

“Nonsense,” said the other. “A likely story, I am going to fight you about a wooden stick. As for looking at me, she’d do the same for any old turtle.”
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The merman couldn’t but feel that this was true. But he only grew more angry. He struck his friend with all his might. There was a dark stain on the sea.

“I’m not going to fight you,” said the other, turning very pale, “for you are her brother, but I think you’ll be very sorry for this some time;” and he turned round and swam away as well as he could.

Fortunately, after a little he met Moby Dick.

“Hallo!” said the whale in a tone of concern. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing much,” said the other, for he wouldn’t tell the story.

The whale suspected the truth. He sniffed and wiped his eyes with his flipper, for he was a soft-hearted monster.

“Come with me,” said he; “I’ll take you to a surgeon.”

He carried the wounded merman to an old sea-owl who lived in a cave under the rock of Gibraltar. The old sea-owl was sitting in his door reading the newspaper when Moby Dick came rushing toward him, supporting in his flipper the hurt merman, who was too faint to swim.
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“This young gentleman has met with an accident,” said the whale to the sea-owl; “I want you to cure him.” The sea-owl laid down his paper and took off his spectacles.

“What concern is it of yours?” said the sea-owl.

“That is none of your business,” said Moby Dick. “Take him into the house and take care of him.”

“You are weakly sentimental,” said the sea-owl. “I perceive that you belong to the rose-water class. What is suffering? A mere thrilling of a certain set of nerves. It creates a sensation which we call pain. It is disagreeable. Suppose it is. Are we sent into the world only to enjoy ourselves? Enjoyment is contemptible; the desire of happiness is base, unworthy a rational being. Let us rise to more exalted feelings; let us glorify ourselves in discomfort; and if we see any one basely comfortable, let us make ourselves as disagreeable as possible, and raise him to our own platform. What possible difference does it make whether we live or die, or are cold and hungry? What odds does it make in this huge universe? Are we nothing but vultures screaming for prey? Let us cultivate silence, that I may have the talk all to myself;” and the sea-owl looked at Moby Dick in the most impressive and superior manner. “What difference, I repeat, does our happiness or misery make in the huge sum of the universal—?”
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“Look here!” said Moby Dick, “if you don’t quit talking and tend to this young man, I’ll swallow you. I don’t know as that will make much difference in the universe, but it’ll make a sight of difference to you;” and the whale opened his tremendous jaws wide and showed all his teeth.

The sea-owl took the merman into his office on the instant. He bound up his wound and attended him very carefully, for he was by no means such a fool as you would imagine from his conversation. The merman was cured before long, and made the sea-owl a handsome return for his services. The owl was just as much pleased as though the money had been a large item in the sum of the universe. He gave the merman a present of his own poems neatly bound in shark skin. He had several hundred copies in his office, for he had issued them at his own expense. They had been much praised, but some way they did not sell. The sea-owl said it was because all the people in the sea were “Philistines.” No one knew just what he meant, but when he called people by that name most all of them experienced a sort of crushed feeling, and pretended to admire the poems. Sometimes they would even buy them, but not often. Moby Dick accompanied the young merman home, and they made up a story that his hurt had been caused by a sword-fish, against whom he had run in the dark. Nobody believed him, for some way every one knew the truth, but all the members of the family’s own circle pretended to believe the tale, for they were all very high-bred people.
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It had been intended that the wedding of the professor’s granddaughter should be a very brilliant affair, but they felt so unhappy about the grandson that they resolved to invite only a few intimate friends. Moby Dick, of course, was among the number. He was too huge to come into the house, but he put his nose to the window and ate ice cream with a fire shovel for a spoon. The beautiful mermaid from next door was bridesmaid, and looked most lovely. She seemed in better spirits than any one else, and never said a word about her old playmate. Toward the end of the evening she went out into the garden that was all glittering with sea phosphorescence. She swam up to Moby Dick and said it was warm weather.
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“So it is, my dear,” said the whale, and looking with admiration at the bridesmaid, who wore white lace and emeralds.

“You came from Gibraltar, didn’t you?” said the mermaid, playing with her looking-glass, which the sea ladies carry as ours do their fans.

“Yes, where the bridegroom and I went to see after that bewitched brother-in-law of his,” said the whale, for he was vexed at the merman.

“Do you think he is bewitched?” said the bridesmaid.

The whale scratched his head, which is not vulgar in a whale.

“I never thought of it before,” he said; “but now you speak of it I shouldn’t wonder if it was so.”

The bridesmaid whispered in the whale’s ear.

“I wish you’d come with me to the old Witch of the Sea,” she said. “Won’t you, please?”
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“I’ll go to the ends of the ocean with you, miss, if you want me to,” said Moby Dick; “but what for?”

“Oh,” said the bridesmaid, looking straight in the eye which happened to be that side of the whale’s head, “I’m a friend of the family, you know. I’m very much attached to the girls and very fond of the professor. I should like to help them if I could, and I think the witch is a wise woman, and it wouldn’t do at all for the professor to go to her in his position, but it won’t make any difference to me and you. Will you come now? It isn’t far.”

“Of course I will,” said the whale. “Just sit on my head, and I’ll take you there in no time.”

Just then the bride’s sister came out into the garden.

“Are you going, dear?” she said to the bridesmaid.

“Yes, I think I shall. Mr. Dick will see me home,” said the other mermaid.

“It’s been rather forlorn,” sighed the bride’s sister. “To think of his loving a wooden thing!”
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“I suppose he had a right to if he chose,” said the mermaid a little hastily. “I’m sure it’s nothing to me.”

The bride’s sister was not angry at all. She kissed her friend good-night, and when she and Dick had gone sat down and cried a little.

“The poor dear!” she said.

Meanwhile Moby Dick and the bridesmaid were on their way to the old Witch of the Sea. She lived in a cave in a thick dark grove of seaweed. She was sitting before the door talking with a gossip of hers, one of the Salem witches, whose broomstick would carry her through the water as well as through the air. The broomstick, which was a spirited young one, was standing hitched at the door, impatiently stamping its stick part on the ground and switching the broom part about to keep off the little crabs.

“Ho! ho!” said the Salem witch. “Here’s a dainty young maiden indeed! I’m a great mind to stick a few pins in her.”

“You better hadn’t,” said Moby Dick, grimly, for he was not at all afraid of witches. “Ask the old lady any questions you like, my dear; nothing shall hurt you.”

“‘Ho! ho!’ said the Salem witch. ‘Here’s a dainty young maiden indeed!’”
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“If you would be so good,” said the mermaid, taking off her jeweled necklace and zone and holding them out to the witches, “will you tell me where the professor’s grandson is, and whether he cannot be induced to come home?”

“And what’s your interest in him?” said the Witch of the Sea, taking snuff and looking at her sharply.

“I am his sister’s friend,” said the mermaid, steadily; “otherwise it is not a matter of consequence to me whether he spends his life in the chase of a wooden image; but I am very fond of the professor, and I think it a very sad thing that he should be left alone in his old age.”

“Umph!” said the Salem witch. “Just the same, fish-tailed or two-legged, in the sea or out of it. There’s a girl in our town as like her as two peas.”

“Young lady,” said the Witch of the Sea, “I haven’t had any hand in this matter.” (But of course I can’t say this was true. I incline myself to think she had had her finger in the pie.) “I can’t undo the spell—not now. If you want to find your friend’s brother, you must go West toward the coast.”
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“Take a bee line,” said the Salem witch.

“I don’t know what that is,” said the mermaid, who didn’t know what a bee was.

“As the crow flies,” said the Salem witch.

“Crow?” said the mermaid, perplexed.

“As the mackerel swims,” said the sea witch.

“Oh, I see,” said the mermaid. “Thank you very much. Pray keep the stones. Good-night;” and she turned to Moby Dick. “You’ll go with me?”

“To be sure,” said the whale. “That’s rather a dangerous coast for me,” he thought to himself. “But never mind; if they come after me I can sink a whaler as easy as nothing. I’ll go with her. She reminds me of a whaless I used to go to school with;” and Moby Dick looked at the little slim mermaid in her bridesmaid’s dress, and heaved a sigh about a quarter of an acre in extent. “I’m your whale,” he said, cheerfully; and away they dashed at the rate of a hundred miles an hour.
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Every one in the sea knew that the professor’s grandson had fallen in love with a wooden image, and was following it about the world. The very porpoises talked about it to each other. The whole family were dreadfully mortified.

“Suppose he marries her!” said his sisters.

“We never can take her into society. A real human being would be bad enough, but a wooden one—”

“I disown him,” said the old mer professor. “I desire that no one will mention him in my hearing. If he would only come home, the poor dear boy!”

There was universal sympathy with the family. The very sophomores behaved like gentlemen for as much as a week, they were so touched with the old mer professor’s trouble.


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