They had not proceeded far when they came to a clearing among the bushes, and here Merla paused.
Trot and Cap'n Bill paused, too, for floating in the clear water was a group of beautiful shapes that the child thought looked like molds of wine jelly. They were round as a dinner plate, soft and transparent, but tinted in such lovely hues that no artist's brush has ever been able to imitate them. Some were deep sapphire blue; others rose pink; still others a delicate topaz color. They seemed to have neither heads, eyes nor ears, yet it was easy to see they were alive and able to float in any direction they wished to go. In shape they resembled inverted flowerpots, with the upper edges fluted, and from the centers floated what seemed to be bouquets of flowers.
"How pretty!" exclaimed Trot, enraptured by the sight.
"Yes, this is a rare variety of jellyfish," replied Merla. "The creatures are not so delicate as they appear, and live for a long time--unless they get too near the surface and the waves wash them ashore."
After watching the jellyfish a few moments, they followed Merla through the grove, and soon a low chant, like that of an Indian song, fell upon their ears. It was a chorus of many small voices and grew louder as they swam on. Presently a big rock rose suddenly before them from the bottom of the sea, rearing its steep side far up into the water overhead, and this rock was thickly covered with tiny shells that clung fast to its surface. The chorus they heard appeared to come from these shells, and Merla said to her companions, "These are the singing barnacles. They are really very amusing, and if you listen carefully, you can hear what they say."
So Trot and Cap'n Bill listened, and this is what the barnacles sang:
"We went to topsy-turvy land to see a man-o'-war, And we were much attached to it, because we simply were; We found an anchor-ite within the mud upon the lea For the ghost of Jonah's whale he ran away and went to sea. Oh, it was awful! It was unlawful! We rallied round the flag in sev'ral millions; They couldn't shake us; They had to take us; So the halibut and cod they danced cotillions."
"What does it all mean?" asked Trot.
"I suppose they refer to the way barnacles have of clinging to ships," replied Merla, "but usually the songs mean nothing at all. The little barnacles haven't many brains, so we usually find their songs quite stupid."
"Do they write some comic operas?" asked the child.
"I think not," answered the mermaid.
"They seem to like the songs themselves," remarked Cap'n Bill.
"Oh yes, they sing all day long. But it never matters to them whether their songs mean anything or not. Let us go in this direction and visit some other sea people."
So they swam away from the barnacle-covered rock, and Trot heard the last chorus as she slowly followed their conductor. The barnacles were singing:
"Oh, very well, then, I hear the curfew, Please go away and come some other day; Goliath tussels With Samson's muscles, Yet the muscles never fight in Oyster Bay."
"It's jus' nonsense!" said Trot scornfully. "Why don't they sing 'Annie Laurie' or 'Home, Sweet Home' or else keep quiet?"
"Why, if they were quiet," replied Merla, "they wouldn't be singing barnacles."
They now came to one of the avenues which led from the sea garden out into the broad ocean, and here two swordfishes were standing guard. "Is all quiet?" Merla asked them.
"Just as usual, your Highness," replied one of the guards. "Mummercubble was sick this morning and grunted dreadfully, but he's better now and has gone to sleep. King Anko has been stirring around some, but is now taking his after-dinner nap. I think it will be perfectly safe for you to swim out for a while, if you wish."
"Who's Mummercubble?" asked Trot as they passed out into deep water.
"He's the sea pig," replied Merla. "I am glad he's asleep, for now we won't meet him."
"Don't you like him?" inquired Trot.
"Oh, he complains so bitterly of everything that he bores us," Merla answered.