The Aristocratic Codfish

: The Sea Fairies

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 fishe
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


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


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. "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. "What's it all about?"

"I composed it myself!" said the Fiddler Crab. "But it's highly

classical, I admit. All really great music is an acquired taste."

"I don't like it," remarked Cap'n Bill. "It might do all right to

stir up a racket New Year's Eve, but to call that screechin'


Just then the crabs started fiddling again, harder than ever, and as

it promised to be a long performance, they left the little creatures

scraping away at their fiddles as if for dear life and swam along

the rocky canyon until, on turning a corner, they came upon a new

and different scene.

There were crabs here, too, many of them, and they were performing

the queerest antics imaginable. Some were building themselves into a

pyramid, each standing on edge, with the biggest and strongest ones

at the bottom. When the crabs were five or six rows high, they would

all tumble over, still clinging to one another and, having reached

the ground, they would separate and commence to build the pyramid

over again. Others were chasing one another around in a circle,

always moving backward or sidewise, and trying to play "leapfrog" as

they went. Still others were swinging on slight branches of seaweed

or turning cartwheels or indulging in similar antics.

Merla and the earth people watched the busy little creatures for

some time before they were themselves observed, but finally Trot

gave a laugh when one crab fell on its back and began frantically

waving its legs to get right-side-up again. At the sound of her

laughter they all stopped their play and came toward the visitors in

a flock, looking up at them with their bright eyes in a most comical


"Welcome home!" cried one as he turned a back somersault and knocked

another crab over.

"What's the difference between a mermaid and a tadpole?" asked

another in a loud voice, and without a pause continued, "Why, one

drops its tail and the other holds onto it. Ha, ha! Ho, ho! Hee,


"These," said Merla, "are the clown crabs. They are very silly

things, as you may already have discovered, but for a short time

they are rather amusing. One tires of them very soon."

"They're funny," said Trot, laughing again. "It's almost as good as

a circus. I don't think they would make me tired, but then I'm not a


The clown crabs had now formed a row in front of them. "Mr.

Johnsing," asked one, "why is a mermaid like an automobile?"

"I don't know, Tommy Blimken," answered a big crab in the middle of

the row. "WHY do you think a mermaid is like an automobile?"

"Because they both get tired," said Tommy Blimken. Then all the

crabs laughed, and Tommy seemed to laugh louder than the rest.

"How do the crabs in the sea know anything 'bout automobiles?" asked


"Why, Tommy Blimken and Harry Hustle were both captured once by

humans and put in an aquarium," answered the mermaid. "But one day

they climbed out and escaped, finally making their way back to the

sea and home again. So they are quite traveled, you see, and great

favorites among the crabs. While they were on land they saw a great

many curious things, and so I suppose they saw automobiles."

"We did, we did!" cried Harry Hustle, an awkward crab with one big

claw and one little one. "And we saw earth people with legs, awfully

funny they were; and animals called horses, with legs; and other

creatures with legs; and the people cover themselves with the

queerest things--they even wear feathers and flowers on their heads,


"Oh, we know all about that," said Trot. "We live on the earth


"Well, you're lucky to get off from it and into the good water,"

said the Crab. "I nearly died on the earth; it was so stupid, dry

and airy. But the circus was great. They held the performance right

in front of the aquarium where we lived, and Tommy and I learned all

the tricks of the tumblers. Hi! Come on, fellows, and show the earth

people what you can do!"

At this the crabs began performing their antics again, but they did

the same things over and over, so Cap'n Bill and Trot soon tired, as

Merla said they would, and decided they had seen enough of the crab

circus. So they proceeded to swim farther up the rocky canyon, and

near its upper end they came to a lot of conch shells lying upon the

sandy bottom. A funny-looking crab was sticking his head out from

each of these shells.

"These are the hermit crabs," said one of the mermaids. "They steal

these shells and live in them so no enemies can attack them."

"Don't they get lonesome?" asked Trot.

"Perhaps so, my dear. But they do not seem to mind being lonesome.

They are great cowards, and think if they can but protect their

lives there is nothing else to care for. Unlike the jolly crabs we

have just left, the hermits are cross and unsociable."

"Oh, keep quiet and go away!" said one of the hermit crabs in a

grumpy voice. "No one wants mermaids around here." Then every crab

withdrew its head into its shell, and our friends saw them no more.

"They're not very polite," observed Trot, following the mermaid as

Merla swam upward into the middle water.

"I know now why cross people are called 'crabbed,'" said Cap'n Bill.

"They've got dispositions jes' like these 'ere hermit crabs."

Presently they came upon a small flock of mackerel, and noticed that

the fishes seemed much excited. When they saw the mermaid, they

cried out, "Oh, Merla! What do you think? Our Flippity has just gone

to glory!"

"When?" asked the mermaid.

"Just now," one replied. "We were lying in the water, talking

quietly together when a spinning, shining thing came along and our

dear Flippity ate it. Then he went shooting up to the top of the

water and gave a flop and--went to glory! Isn't it splendid, Merla?"

"Poor Flippity!" sighed the mermaid. "I'm sorry, for he was the

prettiest and nicest mackerel in your whole flock."

"What does it mean?" asked Trot. "How did Flippity go to glory?"

"Why, he was caught by a hook and pulled out of the water into some

boat," Merla explained. "But these poor stupid creatures do not

understand that, and when one of them is jerked out of the water and

disappears, they have the idea he has gone to glory, which means to

them some unknown but beautiful sea."

"I've often wondered," said Trot, "why fishes are foolish enough to

bite on hooks."

"They must know enough to know they're hooks," added Cap'n Bill


"Oh, they do," replied Merla. "I've seen fishes gather around a hook

and look at it carefully for a long time. They all know it is a hook

and that if they bite the bait upon it they will be pulled out of

the water. But they are curious to know what will happen to them

afterward, and think it means happiness instead of death. So finally

one takes the hook and disappears, and the others never know what

becomes of him."

"Why don't you tell 'em the truth?" asked Trot.

"Oh, we do. The mermaids have warned them many times, but it does no

good at all. The fish are stupid creatures."

"But I wish I was Flippity," said one of the mackerel, staring at

Trot with his big, round eyes. "He went to glory before I could eat

the hook myself."

"You're lucky," answered the child. "Flippity will be fried in a pan

for someone's dinner. You wouldn't like that, would you?"

"Flippity has gone to glory!" said another, and then they swam away

in haste to tell the news to all they met.

"I never heard of anything so foolish," remarked Trot as she swam

slowly on through the clear, blue water.

"Yes, it is very foolish and very sad," answered Merla. "But if the

fish were wise, men could not catch them for food, and many poor

people on your earth make their living by fishing."

"It seems wicked to catch such pretty things," said the child.

"I do not think so," Merla replied laughingly, "for they were born

to become food for someone, and men are not the only ones that eat

fishes. Many creatures of the sea feed upon them. They even eat one

another at times. And if none was ever destroyed, they would soon

become so numerous that they would clog the waters of the ocean and

leave no room for the rest of us. So after all, perhaps it is just

as well they are thoughtless and foolish."

Presently they came to some round balls that looked much like

balloons in shape and were gaily colored. They floated quietly in

the water, and Trot inquired what they were.

"Balloonfish," answered Merla. "They are helpless creatures, but

have little spikes all over them so their enemies dare not bite them

for fear of getting pricked."

Trot found the balloonfish quite interesting. They had little dots

of eyes and dots for mouths, but she could see no noses, and their

fins and tails were very small.

"They catch these fish in the South Sea Islands and make lanterns of

'em," said Cap'n Bill. "They first skin 'em and sew the skin up

again to let it dry, and then they put candles inside, and the light

shines through the dried skin."

Many other curious sights they saw in the ocean that afternoon, and

both Cap'n Bill and Trot thoroughly enjoyed their glimpse of sea

life. At last Merla said it was time to return to the palace, from

which she claimed they had not at any time been very far distant.

"We must prepare for dinner, as it will soon begin to grow dark in

the water," continued their conductor. So they swam leisurely back

to the groves that surrounded the palaces, and as they entered the

gardens the sun sank, and deep shadows began to form in the ocean