"Mummercubble is never contented or happy for a single minute."
"I've seen people like that," said Cap'n Bill with a nod of his head. "An' they has a way of upsettin' the happiest folks they meet."
"Look out!" suddenly cried the mermaid. "Look out for your fingers! Here are the snapping eels."
"Who? Where?" asked Trot anxiously.
And now they were in the midst of a cluster of wriggling, darting eels which sported all around them in the water with marvelous activity. "Yes, look out for your fingers and your noses!" said one of the eels, making a dash for Cap'n Bill. At first the sailor was tempted to put out a hand and push the creature away, but remembering that his fingers would thus be exposed, he remained quiet, and the eel snapped harmlessly just before his face and then darted away.
"Stop it!" said Merla. "Stop it this minute, or I'll report your impudence to Aquareine."
"Oh, who cares?" shouted the Eels. "We're not afraid of the mermaids."
"She'll stiffen you up again, as she did once before," said Merla, "if you try to hurt the earth people."
"Are these earth people?" asked one. And then they all stopped their play and regarded Trot and Cap'n Bill with their little black eyes.
"The old polliwog looks something like King Anko," said one of them.
"I'm not a polliwog!" answered Cap'n Bill angrily. "I'm a respec'ble sailor man, an' I'll have you treat me decent or I'll know why."
"Sailor!" said another. "That means to float on the water--not IN it. What are you doing down here?"
"I'm jes' a-visitin'," answered Cap'n Bill.
"He is the guest of our queen," said Merla, "and so is this little girl. If you do not behave nicely to them, you will surely be sorry."
"Oh, that's all right," replied one of the biggest eels, wriggling around in a circle and then snapping at a companion, which as quickly snapped out of his way. "We know how to be polite to company as well as the mermaids. We won't hurt them."
"Come on, fellows, let's go scare old Mummercubble," cried another; and then in a flash they all darted away and left our friends to themselves. Trot was greatly relieved.
"I don't like eels," she said.
"They are more mischievous than harmful," replied Merla, "but I do not care much for them myself."
"No," added Cap'n Bill, "they ain't respec'ful."
THE ARISTOCRATIC CODFISH
The three swam slowly along, quite enjoying the cool depths of the water. Every little while they met with some strange creature--or one that seemed strange to the earth people--for although Trot and Cap'n Bill had seen many kinds of fish, after they had been caught and pulled from the water, that was very different from meeting them in their own element, "face to face," as Trot expressed it. Now that the various fishes were swimming around free and unafraid in their deep-sea home, they were quite different from the gasping, excited creatures struggling at the end of a fishline or flopping from a net.
Before long they came upon a group of large fishes lying lazily near the bottom of the sea. They were a dark color upon their backs and silver underneath, but not especially pretty to look at. The fishes made no effort to get out of Merla's way and remained motionless except for the gentle motion of their fins and gills.
"Here," said the mermaid, pausing, "is the most aristocratic family of fish in all the sea."
"What are they?" asked the girl.
"Codfish," was the reply. "Their only fault is that they are too haughty and foolishly proud of their pedigree."
Overhearing this speech, one codfish said to another in a very dignified tone of voice, "What insolence!"
"Isn't it?" replied the other. "There ought to be a law to prevent these common mermaids from discussing their superiors."
"My sakes!" said Trot, astonished. "How stuck up they are, aren't they?"
For a moment the group of fishes stared at her solemnly. Then one of the remarked in a disdainful manner, "Come, my dear, let us leave these vulgar creatures."
"I'm not as vulgar as you are!" exclaimed Trot, much offended by this speech.