Authors: L. Frank Baum
Tags: #Young Readers, #Fantasy
Author of the Emerald City of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Ozma of Oz, The Road to Oz, The Land of Oz, etc.
Illustrated By John R. Neill
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THE oceans are big and broad. I believe two–thirds of the earth's surface is covered with water. What people inhabit this water has always been a subject of curiosity to the inhabitants of the land. Strange creatures come from the seas at times, and perhaps in the ocean depths are many, more strange than mortal eye has ever gazed upon.
This story is fanciful. In it the sea people talk and act much as we do, and the mermaids especially are not unlike the fairies with whom we have learned to be familiar. Yet they are real sea people, for all that, and with the exception of Zog the Magician they are all supposed to exist in the ocean's depths.
I am told that some very learned people deny that mermaids or sea–serpents have ever inhabited the oceans, but it would be very difficult for them to prove such an assertion unless they had lived under the water as Trot and Cap'n Bill did in this story.
I hope my readers who have so long followed Dorothy's adventures in the Land of Oz will be interested in Trot's equally strange experiences. The ocean has always appealed to me as a veritable wonderland, and this story has been suggested to me many times by my young correspondents in their letters. Indeed, a good many childred have implored me to "write something about the mermaids," and I have willingly granted the request.
L. FRANK BAUM.
"Nobody," said Cap'n Bill solemnly, "ever sawr a mermaid an' lived to tell the tale."
"Why not?" asked Trot, looking earnestly up into the old sailor's face.
They were seated on a bench built around a giant acacia tree that grew just at the edge of the bluff. Below them rolled the blue waves of the great Pacific. A little way behind them was the house, a neat frame cottage painted white and surrounded by huge eucalyptus and pepper trees. Still farther behind that—a quarter of a mile distant but built upon a bend of the coast—was the village, overlooking a pretty bay.
Cap'n Bill and Trot came often to this tree to sit and watch the ocean below them. The sailor man had one "meat leg" and one "hickory leg," and he often said the wooden one was the best of the two. Once Cap'n Bill had commanded and owned the "Anemone," a trading schooner that plied along the coast; and in those days Charlie Griffiths, who was Trot's father, had been the Captain's mate. But ever since Cap'n Bill's accident, when he lost his leg, Charlie Griffiths had been the captain of the little schooner while his old master lived peacefully ashore with the Griffiths family.
This was about the time Trot was born, and the old sailor became very fond of the baby girl. Her real name was Mayre, but when she grew big enough to walk, she took so many busy little steps every day that both her mother and Cap'n Bill nicknamed her "Trot," and so she was thereafter mostly called.
It was the old sailor who taught the child to love the sea, to love it almost as much as he and her father did, and these two, who represented the "beginning and the end of life," became firm friends and constant companions.
"Why hasn't anybody seen a mermaid and lived?" asked Trot again.
"'Cause mermaids is fairies, an' ain't meant to be seen by us mortal folk," replied Cap'n Bill.
"But if anyone happens to see 'em, what then, Cap'n?"
"Then," he answered, slowly wagging his head, "the mermaids give 'em a smile an' a wink, an' they dive into the water an' gets drownded."
"S'pose they knew how to swim, Cap'n Bill?"
"That don't make any diff'rence, Trot. The mermaids live deep down, an' the poor mortals never come up again."
The little girl was thoughtful for a moment. "But why do folks dive in the water when the mermaids smile an' wink?" she asked.
"Mermaids," he said gravely, "is the most beautiful creatures in the world—or the water, either. You know what they're like, Trot, they's got a lovely lady's form down to the waist, an' then the other half of 'em's a fish, with green an' purple an' pink scales all down it."
"Have they got arms, Cap'n Bill?"
"'Course, Trot; arms like any other lady. An' pretty faces that smile an' look mighty sweet an' fetchin'. Their hair is long an' soft an' silky, an' floats all around 'em in the water. When they comes up atop the waves, they wring the water out'n their hair and sing songs that go right to your heart. If anybody is unlucky enough to be 'round jes' then, the beauty o' them mermaids an' their sweet songs charm 'em like magic; so's they plunge into the waves to get to the mermaids. But the mermaids haven't any hearts, Trot, no more'n a fish has; so they laughs when the poor people drown an' don't care a fig. That's why I says, an' I says it true, that nobody never sawr a mermaid an' lived to tell the tale."
"Nobody?" asked Trot.
"Nobody a tall."
"Then how do you know, Cap'n Bill?" asked the little girl, looking up into his face with big, round eyes.
Cap'n Bill coughed. Then he tried to sneeze, to gain time. Then he took out his red cotton handkerchief and wiped his bald head with it, rubbing hard so as to make him think clearer. "Look, Trot; ain't that a brig out there?" he inquired, pointing to a sail far out in the sea.
"How does anybody know about mermaids if those who have seen them never lived to tell about them?" she asked again.
"Know what about 'em, Trot?"
"About their green and pink scales and pretty songs and wet hair."
"They don't know, I guess. But mermaids jes' natcherly has to be like that, or they wouldn't be mermaids."
She thought this over. "Somebody MUST have lived, Cap'n Bill," she declared positively. "Other fairies have been seen by mortals; why not mermaids?"
"P'raps they have, Trot, p'raps they have," he answered musingly. "I'm tellin' you as it was told to me, but I never stopped to inquire into the matter so close before. Seems like folks wouldn't know so much about mermaids if they hadn't seen 'em; an' yet accordin' to all accounts the victim is bound to get drownded."
"P'raps," suggested Trot softly, "someone found a fotygraph of one of 'em."
"That might o' been, Trot, that might o' been," answered Cap'n Bill.
A nice man was Cap'n Bill, and Trot knew he always liked to explain everything so she could fully understand it. The aged sailor was not a very tall man, and some people might have called him chubby, or even fat. He wore a blue sailor shirt with white anchors worked on the corners of the broad, square collar, and his blue trousers were very wide at the bottom. He always wore one trouser leg over his wooden limb and sometimes it would flutter in the wind like a flag because it was so wide and the wooden leg so slender. His rough kersey coat was a pea–jacket and came down to his waistline. In the big pockets of his jacket he kept a wonderful jackknife, and his pipe and tobacco, and many bits of string, and matches and keys and lots of other things. Whenever Cap'n Bill thrust a chubby hand into one of his pockets, Trot watched him with breathless interest, for she never knew what he was going to pull out.
The old sailor's face was brown as a berry. He had a fringe of hair around the back of his head and a fringe of whisker around the edge of his face, running from ear to ear and underneath his chin. His eyes were light blue and kind in expression. His nose was big and broad, and his few teeth were not strong enough to crack nuts with.
Trot liked Cap'n Bill and had a great deal of confidence in his wisdom, and a great admiration for his ability to make tops and whistles and toys with that marvelous jackknife of his. In the village were many boys and girls of her own age, but she never had as much fun playing with them as she had wandering by the sea accompanied by the old sailor and listening to his fascinating stories.
She knew all about the Flying Dutchman, and Davy Jones' Locker, and Captain Kidd, and how to harpoon a whale or dodge an iceberg or lasso a seal. Cap'n Bill had been everywhere in the world, almost, on his many voyages. He had been wrecked on desert islands like Robinson Crusoe and been attacked by cannibals, and had a host of other exciting adventures. So he was a delightful comrade for the little girl, and whatever Cap'n Bill knew Trot was sure to know in time.
"How do the mermaids live?" she asked. "Are they in caves, or just in the water like fishes, or how?"
"Can't say, Trot," he replied. "I've asked divers about that, but none of 'em ever run acrost a mermaid's nest yet, as I've heard of."
"If they're fairies," she said, "their homes must be very pretty."
"Mebbe so, Trot, but damp. They are sure to be damp, you know."
"I'd like to see a mermaid, Cap'n Bill," said the child earnestly.
"What, an' git drownded?" he exclaimed.
"No, and live to tell the tale. If they're beautiful, and laughing, and sweet, there can't be much harm in them, I'm sure."
"Mermaids is mermaids," remarked Cap'n Bill in his most solemn voice. "It wouldn't do us any good to mix up with 'em, Trot."
"May–re! May–re!" called a voice from the house.
"You an' Cap'n Bill come in to supper."
The next morning, as soon as Trot had helped wipe the breakfast dishes and put them away in the cupboard, the little girl and Cap'n Bill started out toward the bluff. The air was soft and warm and the sun turned the edges of the waves into sparkling diamonds. Across the bay the last of the fisherboats was speeding away out to sea, for well the fishermen knew this was an ideal day to catch rockbass, barracuda and yellowtail.
The old man and the young girl stood on the bluff and watched all this with interest. Here was their world. "It isn't a bit rough this morning. Let's have a boat ride, Cap'n Bill," said the child.
"Suits me to a T," declared the sailor. So they found the winding path that led down the face of the cliff to the narrow beach below and cautiously began the descent. Trot never minded the steep path or the loose rocks at all, but Cap'n Bill's wooden leg was not so useful on a downgrade as on a level, and he had to be careful not to slip and take a tumble.
But by and by they reached the sands and walked to a spot just beneath the big acacia tree that grew on the bluff. Halfway to the top of the cliff hung suspended a little shed–like structure that sheltered Trot's rowboat, for it was necessary to pull the boat out of reach of the waves which beat in fury against the rocks at high tide. About as high up as Cap'n Bill could reach was an iron ring securely fastened to the cliff, and to this ring was tied a rope. The old sailor unfastened the knot and began paying out the rope, and the rowboat came out of its shed and glided slowly downward to the beach. It hung on a pair of davits and was lowered just as a boat is lowered from a ship's side. When it reached the sands, the sailor unhooked the ropes and pushed the boat to the water's edge. It was a pretty little craft, light and strong, and Cap'n Bill knew how to sail it or row it, as Trot might desire.
Today they decided to row, so the girl climbed into the bow and her companion stuck his wooden leg into the water's edge "so he wouldn't get his foot wet" and pushed off the little boat as he climbed aboard. Then he seized the oars and began gently paddling.
"Whither away, Commodore Trot?" he asked gaily.
"I don't care, Cap'n. It's just fun enough to be on the water," she answered, trailing one hand overboard. So he rowed around by the North Promontory, where the great caves were, and much as they were enjoying the ride, they soon began to feel the heat of the sun.
"That's Dead Man's Cave, 'cause a skellington was found there," observed the child as they passed a dark, yawning mouth in the cliff. "And that's Bumble Cave, 'cause the bumblebees make nests in the top of it. And here's Smuggler's Cave, 'cause the smugglers used to hide things in it."
She knew all the caves well, and so did Cap'n Bill. Many of them opened just at the water's edge, and it was possible to row their boat far into their dusky depths.
"And here's Echo Cave," she continued, dreamily, as they slowly moved along the coast, "and Giant's Cave, and—oh, Cap'n Bill! Do you s'pose there were ever any giants in that cave?"
""Pears like there must o" been, Trot, or they wouldn't o' named it that name," he replied, pausing to wipe his bald head with the red handkerchief while the oars dragged in the water.
"We've never been into that cave, Cap'n," she remarked, looking at the small hole in the cliff—an archway through which the water flowed. "Let's go in now."
"What for, Trot?"
"To see if there's a giant there."
"Hm. Aren't you 'fraid?"
"No, are you? I just don't b'lieve it's big enough for a giant to get into."
"Your father was in there once," remarked Cap'n Bill, "an' he says it's the biggest cave on the coast, but low down. It's full o' water, an' the water's deep down to the very bottom o' the ocean; but the rock roof's liable to bump your head at high tide ."
"It's low tide now," returned Trot. "And how could any giant live in there if the roof is so low down?"
"Why, he couldn't, mate. I reckon they must have called it Giant's Cave 'cause it's so big, an' not 'cause any giant man lived there."
"Let's go in," said the girl again. "I'd like to 'splore it."
"All right," replied the sailor. "It'll be cooler in there than out here in the sun. We won't go very far, for when the tide turns we mightn't get out again." He picked up the oars and rowed slowly toward the cave. The black archway that marked its entrance seemed hardly big enough to admit the boat at first, but as they drew nearer, the opening became bigger. The sea was very calm here, for the headland shielded it from the breeze.
"Look out fer your head, Trot!" cautioned Cap'n Bill as the boat glided slowly into the rocky arch. But it was the sailor who had to duck, instead of the little girl. Only for a moment, though. Just beyond the opening the cave was higher, and as the boat floated into the dim interior they found themselves on quite an extensive branch of the sea. For a time neither of them spoke and only the soft lapping of the water against the sides of the boat was heard. A beautiful sight met the eyes of the two adventurers and held them dumb with wonder and delight.
It was not dark in this vast cave, yet the light seemed to come from underneath the water, which all around them glowed with an exquisite sapphire color. Where the little waves crept up the sides of the rocks they shone like brilliant jewels, and every drop of spray seemed a gem fit to deck a queen. Trot leaned her chin on her hands and her elbows on her lap and gazed at this charming sight with real enjoyment. Cap'n Bill drew in the oars and let the boat drift where it would while he also sat silently admiring the scene.
Slowly the little craft crept farther and farther into the dim interior of the vast cavern, while its two passengers feasted their eyes on the beauties constantly revealed. Both the old seaman and the little girl loved the ocean in all its various moods. To them it was a constant companion and a genial comrade. If it stormed and raved, they laughed with glee; if it rolled great breakers against the shore, they clapped their hands joyfully; if it lay slumbering at their feet, they petted and caressed it, but always they loved it.
Here was the ocean yet. It had crept under the dome of overhanging rock to reveal itself crowned with sapphires and dressed in azure gown, revealing in this guise new and unexpected charms. "Good morning, Mayre," said a sweet voice.
Trot gave a start and looked around her in wonder. Just beside her in the water were little eddies—circles within circles—such as are caused when anything sinks below the surface. "Did—did you hear that, Cap'n Bill?" she whispered solemnly.
Cap'n Bill did not answer. He was staring with eyes that fairly bulged out at a place behind Trot's back, and he shook a little, as if trembling from cold. Trot turned half around, and then she stared, too. Rising from the blue water was a fair face around which floated a mass of long, blonde hair. It was a sweet, girlish face with eyes of the same deep blue as the water and red lips whose dainty smile disposed two rows of pearly teeth. The cheeks were plump and rosy, the brows gracefully penciled, while the chin was rounded and had a pretty dimple in it.
"The most beauti–ful–est in all the world," murmured Cap'n Bill in a voice of horror, "an' no one has ever lived to—to tell the tale!"
There was a peal of merry laughter at this, laughter that rippled and echoed throughout the cavern. Just at Trot's side appeared a new face even fairer than the other, with a wealth of brown hair wreathing the lovely features. And the eyes smiled kindly into those of the child. "Are you a—a mermaid?" asked Trot curiously. She was not a bit afraid. They seemed both gentle and friendly.
"Yes, dear," was the soft answer.
"We are all mermaids!" chimed a laughing chorus, and here and there, all about the boat, appeared pretty faces lying just upon the surface of the water.
"Are you part fishes?" asked Trot, greatly pleased by this wonderful sight.
"No, we are all mermaid," replied the one with the brown hair. "The fishes are partly like us, because they live in the sea and must move about. And you are partly like us, Mayre dear, but have awkward stiff legs so you may walk on the land. But the mermaids lived before fishes and before mankind, so both have borrowed something from us."
"Then you must be fairies if you've lived always," remarked Trot, nodding wisely.
"We are, dear. We are the water fairies," answered the one with the blonde hair, coming nearer and rising till her slender white throat showed plainly.
"We—we're goners, Trot!" sighed Cap'n Bill with a white, woebegone face.
"I guess not, Cap'n," she answered calmly. "These pretty mermaids aren't going to hurt us, I'm sure."
"No indeed," said the first one who had spoken. "If we were wicked enough to wish to harm you, our magic could reach you as easily upon the land as in this cave. But we love little girls dearly and wish only to please them and make their lives more happy."
"I believe that!" cried Trot earnestly.
Cap'n Bill groaned.
"Guess why we have appeared to you," said another mermaid, coming to the side of the boat.
"Why?" asked the child.
"We heard you say yesterday you would like to see a mermaid, and so we decided to grant your wish."
"That was real nice of you," said Trot gratefully.
"Also, we heard all the foolish things Cap'n Bill said about us," remarked the brown–haired one smilingly, "and we wanted to prove to him that they were wrong."
"I on'y said what I've heard," protested Cap'n Bill. "Never havin' seen a mermaid afore, I couldn't be ackerate, an' I never expected to see one an' live to tell the tale."
Again the cave rang with merry laughter, and as it died away, Trot said, "May I see your scales, please? And are they green and purple and pink like Cap'n Bill said?" They seemed undecided what to say to this and swam a little way off, where the beautiful heads formed a group that was delightful to see. Perhaps they talked together, for the brown–haired mermaid soon came back to the side of the boat and asked, "Would you like to visit our kingdom and see all the wonders that exist below the sea?"
"I'd like to," replied Trot promptly, "but I couldn't. I'd get drowned."
"That you would, mate!" cried Cap'n Bill.
"Oh no," said the mermaid. "We would make you both like one of ourselves, and then you could live within the water as easily as we do."
"I don't know as I'd like that," said the child, "at least for always."
"You need not stay with us a moment longer than you please," returned the mermaid, smiling as if amused at the remark. "Whenever you are ready to return home, we promise to bring you to this place again and restore to you the same forms you are now wearing."
"Would I have a fish's tail?" asked Trot earnestly.
"You would have a mermaid's tail," was the reply.
"What color would my scales be—pink, or purple?"
"You may choose the color yourself."
"Look ahere, Trot!" said Cap'n Bill in excitement. "You ain't thinkin' o' doin' such a fool thing, are you?"
"'Course I am," declared the little girl. "We don't get such inv'tations every day, Cap'n, and if I don't go now I may never find out how the mermaids live."
"I don't care how they live, myself," said Cap'n Bill. "I jes' want 'em to let ME live."
"There's no danger," insisted Trot.
"I do' know 'bout that. That's what all the other folks said when they dove after the mermaids an' got drownded."
"Who?" asked the girl.
"I don't know who, but I've heard tell—"
"You've heard that no one ever saw a mermaid and lived," said Trot.
"To tell the tale," he added, nodding. "An' if we dives down like they says, we won't live ourselves."
All the mermaids laughed at this, and the brown–haired one said, "Well, if you are afraid, don't come. You may row your boat out of this cave and never see us again, if you like. We merely thought it would please little Mayre, and were willing to show her the sights of our beautiful home."
"I'd like to see 'em, all right," said Trot, her eyes glistening with pleasure.
"So would I," admitted Cap'n Bill, "if we would live to tell the tale."
"Don't you believe us?" asked the mermaid, fixing her lovely eyes on those of the old sailor and smiling prettily. "Are you afraid to trust us to bring you safely back?"
"N–n–no," said Cap'n Bill, "'tain't that. I've got to look after Trot."
"Then you'll have to come with me," said Trot decidedly, "for I'm going to "cept this inv'tation. If you don't care to come, Cap'n Bill, you go home and tell mother I'm visitin" the mermaids."
"She'd scold me inter shivers!" moaned Cap'n Bill with a shudder. "I guess I'd ruther take my chance down below."
"All right, I'm ready, Miss Mermaid," said Trot. "What shall I do? Jump in, clothes and all?"
"Give me your hand, dear," answered the mermaid, lifting a lovely white arm from the water. Trot took the slender hand and found it warm and soft and not a bit "fishy."
"My name is Clia," continued the mermaid, "and I am a princess in our deep–sea kingdom."
Just then Trot gave a flop and flopped right out of the boat into the water. Cap'n Bill caught a gleam of pink scales as his little friend went overboard, and the next moment there was Trot's face in the water among those of the mermaids. She was laughing with glee as she looked up into Cap'n Bill's face and called, "Come on in, Cap'n! It didn't hurt a bit!"