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King Seaphus
by [?]

The great dining hall of King Seaphus was considered by all the inhabitants of Merland–that is, all those who had been lucky enough to have seen its splendor–to be the most magnificent of its kind anywhere.

The dining table, or banquet board, as it was called, was made of mother-of-pearl. The pale, shimmery cloth was woven from the most delicate of sea-grasses. The gold and silver plates shone with a strange luster, and the goblets, fashioned of the thinnest and most exquisite pearl, gave the impression that they were strange sea lilies.

King Seaphus seated himself majestically at the head of the banquet board, and little Mary Louise was shown the place on his right. At the other end sat the Mermaid Princess. Mermen in dark green liveries served the meal. But what delighted and interested Mary Louise the most was the way in which the food was served. Instead of ordinary, everyday dishes, it appeared in little airtight boats, which the servants guided dexterously to the table, and when opened, the steam escaped in hundreds of little bubbles that took on all the hues of the rainbow. These slowly ascended through the pale green water until they reached the surface, where they probably floated off in the air, until they burst, like fairy soap-bubbles.

All kinds of delicious fish, little pink and white crabs, goldfish, luscious oysters, and, finally, coral-candy, made up the different courses of the dinner. When it was over and the coffee was served in a beautiful room adjoining, King Seaphus smoked a big cigar, which, to Mary Louise’s amazement, glowed and burned like any ordinary Havana her father smoked at home.

After King Seaphus had smoked away in perfect silence for some time, he turned to Mary Louise and asked:

“Where were you going, my dear, when you met my daughter?”

“Oh, nowhere in particular,” replied little Mary Louise quickly. “You see, I was playing on the beach when I saw the Princess, and–and–and—“

“Then I combed her hair with my magic comb,” said the Princess, coming to the relief of little Mary Louise, who was very much embarrassed by the question. You see, she was not at all accustomed to hold conversation with royalty, and to be talking to a Merman King was, perhaps, even more disconcerting.

“We took the subway,” continued his daughter, “we caught the Iceberg Express, and, well, here we are.”

“So I see,” said the King.

Mary Louise gave a giggle and, forgetting her embarrassment, exclaimed, “And just as we were safe on board, after the Polar Bear porter had told us to ‘watch our step,’ there was an awful explosion, and we found ourselves floating about in the midst of a lot of cracked ice.”

“Indeed,” exclaimed King Seaphus, “this is the second time in the last month we’ve had an accident on the Sea Bottom Subway. I must call in my Prime Minister and have an investigation begun at once.”

Pulling vigorously on a beautifully braided sea-grass rope, he awaited the coming of a page. Little Mary Louise heard the far-off tinkle of the bell, and presently the Mer-bell-boy appeared.

“Summon his most excellent self, the Prime Minister,” commanded King Seaphus.

The Mer-boy page glided away and presently appeared, deferentially escorting the Prime Minister. The latter was a very distinguished looking person. His long, white beard was parted gracefully in the center, no doubt by the action of the water as he swam up to where the King sat. As befitted so important an official, he was clad in a long, red robe, which reached nearly to the end of his fin-tail. His head was adorned with a crimson cap and tassel made of the softest velvet sea-grass.

“What is your majesty’s command?” he asked, bending low before King Seaphus. The King did not reply for a moment. He was a wise King, and thought for several minutes before he spoke. This made the Prime Minister fidget about on his tail. If he had been a Prime Minister of any land, and not of the sea, he probably would have stood first on one leg and then on the other, but, as he had no feet, he shifted about uneasily on his fin-tail until the King spoke.

“I hear there has been another wreck on the Sea Bottom Subway.”

The Prime Minister coughed, and little bubbles rose from the end of his nose, the sight of which almost caused Mary Louise to giggle aloud. But she remembered her manners in time and saved herself the mortification of such a breach of etiquette.

“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” admitted the Prime Minister, “but I understand it was not at all serious. One of the Iceberg cars was demolished, and one of the Polar Bear porters, I believe, although I am not certain at the moment, was slightly injured. None of the passengers was hurt, with the possible exception of a Star Fish, who complained of a slight pain in one of his five fingers–I forget, for the moment, which finger.”

“Is the road again in operation?” inquired King Seaphus.

“Not yet, your Royal Highness,” replied the Prime Minister, “but I have every assurance from the management that trains will be running, at the very latest, by tomorrow morning.”

“You will have to spend the night with us, then,” said the Princess, turning to Mary Louise, with a smile. “You know,” she added in a whisper, “I’m glad there was an accident; otherwise you would not have come to our castle, and we might not have grown to be such friends.”

“Don’t whisper, my daughter,” said King Seaphus. “Your mother will think, should she hear that you had been so rude during her absence, that she cannot leave home to even visit her mother for a week without your becoming demoralized.”

The Prime Minister coughed behind his hand, while the little bubbles rose again through the pale green of the sea-water. Mary Louise felt quite embarrassed, and the little Princess blushed. King Seaphus looked sternly at all three.

Just then a loud knocking was heard on the castle door. “Billows and breakers!” exclaimed the King, “what is that?”