The Sea Fairies

Page 18

"Where I come from, we only eat codfish when there's nothing else in the house to eat."

"How absurd!" observed one of the creatures arrogantly.

"Eat codfish indeed!" said another in a lofty manner.

"Yes, and you're pretty salty, too, I can tell you. At home you're nothing but a pick-up!" said Trot.

"Dear me!" exclaimed the first fish who had spoken. "Must we stand this insulting language--and from a person to whom we have never been introduced?"

"I don't need no interduction," replied the girl. "I've eaten you, and you always make me thirsty."

Merla laughed merrily at this, and the codfish said, with much dignity, "Come, fellow aristocrats, let us go."

"Never mind, we're going ourselves," announced Merla, and followed by her guests the pretty mermaid swam away.

"I've heard tell of codfish aristocracy," said Cap'n Bill, "but I never knowed 'zac'ly what it meant afore."

"They jus' made me mad with all their airs," observed Trot, "so I gave 'em a piece of my mind."

"You surely did, mate," said the sailor, "but I ain't sure they understand what they're like when they're salted an' hung up in the pantry. Folks gener'ly gets stuck-up 'cause they don't know theirselves like other folks knows 'em."

"We are near Crabville now," declared Merla. "Shall we visit the crabs and see what they are doing?"

"Yes, let's," replied Trot. "The crabs are lots of fun. I've often caught them among the rocks on the shore and laughed at the way they act. Wasn't it funny at dinnertime to see the way they slid around with the plates?"

"Those were not crabs, but lobsters and crawfish," remarked the mermaid. "They are very intelligent creatures, and by making them serve us we save ourselves much household work. Of course, they are awkward and provoke us sometimes, but no servants are perfect, it is said, so we get along with ours as well as we can."

"They're all right," protested the child, "even if they did tip things over once in a while. But it is easy to work in a sea palace, I'm sure, because there's no dusting or sweeping to be done."

"Or scrubbin'," added Cap'n Bill.

"The crabs," said Merla, "are second cousins to the lobsters, although much smaller in size. There are many families or varieties of crabs, and so many of them live in one place near here that we call it Crabville. I think you will enjoy seeing these little creatures in their native haunts."

They now approached a kelp bed, the straight, thin stems of the kelp running far upward to the surface of the water. Here and there upon the stalks were leaves, but Trot thought the growing kelp looked much like sticks of macaroni, except they were a rich red-brown color. It was beyond the kelp--which they had to push aside as they swam through, so thickly did it grow--that they came to a higher level, a sort of plateau on the ocean's bottom. It was covered with scattered rocks of all sizes, which appeared to have broken off from big shelving rocks they observed nearby. The place they entered seemed like one of the rocky canyons you often see upon the earth.

"Here live the fiddler crabs," said Merla, "but we must have taken them by surprise, it is so quiet."

Even as she spoke, there was a stirring and scrambling among the rocks, and soon scores of light-green crabs were gathered before the visitors. The crabs bore fiddles of all sorts and shapes in their claws, and one big fellow carried a leader's baton. The latter crab climbed upon a flat rock and in an excited voice called out, "Ready, now--ready, good fiddlers. We'll play Number 19, Hail to the Mermaids. Ready! Take aim! Fire away!"

At this command every crab began scraping at his fiddle as hard as he could, and the sounds were so shrill and unmusical that Trot wondered when they would begin to play a tune. But they never did; it was one regular mix-up of sounds from beginning to end. When the noise finally stopped, the leader turned to his visitors and, waving his baton toward them, asked, "Well, what did you think of that?"

"Not much," said Trot honestly.

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