Tales of Old Japan
Lord Cuttle-Fish's Concert
DESPITE the loss of the Monkey's liver, the Queen of the World under the Sea, after careful attention and long rest, got well again, and was able to be about her duties and govern her kingdom. The news of her recovery created the wildest joy in the Under-world, and from tears and gloom and silence, the caves echoed with laughter, and the sponge-beds with music. Every one had on a "white face." Drums, flutes and banjos, which had been hung up on coral branches, or packed away in shell boxes, were taken down, or brought out, and right merrily were they thrummed. The pretty maids of the Queen put on their ivory thimble-nails, and the Queen again listened to the sweet melodies on the harp, while down among the smaller fry of fishy retainers and the scullions of the kitchen, were heard the constant thump of the shoulder-drum, the bang of the big drum, and the loud cries of the dancers as they struck all sorts of attitudes with hands, feet and head.
No allusion was openly made either to monkeys, tortoises, or jelly-fish. This would not have been polite. But the Jelly-fish, in a distant pool in the garden, could hear a merry mocking song which he felt to be directed against himself.
But none of these musical performances were worthy of the Queen's notice although as evidences of the joy of her subjects they did very well. A great many entertainments were gotten up to amuse the finny people, but the Queen was present at none of them except the one about to be described. How and why she became a spectator shall also be told.
One night the Queen was sitting in the pink drawing-room, arrayed in her queenly robes, for she was almost recovered and expected to walk out in the evening. Everything in the room, except a vase of green and golden colored sponge-plant, and a plume of glass-thread, was of a pink color. Then there was a pretty rockery made of a pyramid of pumice, full of embossed rosettes of living sea-anemones of scarlet, orange, gray, and black colors, which were trained to fold themselves up like an umbrella, or blossom out like chrysanthemums, at certain hours of the day, or when touched, behaving just like four o'clocks and sensitive plants.
All the furniture and hangings of the rooms were pink. The floor was made of mats woven from strips of mother-of-pearl, bound at the sides with an inch border of pink coral. The ceiling was made of the rarest of pink shells wrought into flowers and squares. The walls were decorated with the same material, representing sea-scenes, jewels, and tortoise-shell patterns. In the alcove was a bouquet of seaweed of richest dyes, and in the nooks was an open cabinet holding several of the Queen's own treasures, such as a tiara which looked like woven threads of crystal and a toilet box and writing case made of solid pink coral. The gem of all was a screen having eight folds, on which were depicted her palace and throne-room, the visit of Toda, and the procession of the Queen, nobles, and grandees that escorted the brave archer, when he took his farewell to return to earth.
The Queen sat on the glistening sill of the wide window looking out over her gardens, her two maids sitting at her feet. Presently the sound of music wafted through the coral groves and crystal grottoes reached her ear.
"How wonderful this is!" exclaimed the Queen, half aloud. "What strange music is it I hear? It is neither guitar nor drum nor singing. It seems to be a mixture of all. Harken! It sounds as if a band with many instruments were playing, and a chorus were singing."
True enough! It was the most curious music ever heard in the Under-world, for to tell the truth the voices were not in perfect accord, though all kept good time. The sound seemed to issue from the mansion of Lord Cuttle-fish, the palace physician. The Queen's curiosity was roused.
"I shall go and see what it is," said she, as she rose up. Then she recollected, and exclaimed: "O, no, it would not be proper for me to be seen in public at this hour of the evening, and if it is in Lord Cuttle-fish's mansion, I could not enter without a retinue. No, it would be beneath my dignity."
Curiosity, however, got the better of the Queen and off she started with only her two maids who held aloft over her head the long pearl-handled fans made of white shark's fins. She had decided to go incognito.
"Besides," thought she, "perhaps the concert is outside, in the garden. If so, I can look down and see from the great green rock that overlooks it, and my lord the King need not know of it."
The Queen walked over her pebbled garden walk, avoiding the great high road. The sound of the drums and voices grew louder as she advanced, until when she reached the top of a green rock back of Lord Cuttle-fish's garden, the whole performance was open to her view.
It was so funny, and the Queen was so overcome at the comical sight, that she nearly fell down in her merriment. She utterly forgot her dignity, and laughed till the tears ran down her face. She was so afraid she would scream out, that she nearly choked herself with her sleeve, while her alarmed maids, though meaning nothing by their acts but friendly help, slapped her on the back to give her breath. And this is what she saw.
There, at the top of a high green rock all covered with barnacles, on a huge tuft of sponge, sat Lord Cuttle-fish, playing on three musical instruments at once. His great speckled head, six feet high, like a huge bag upside down, was bent forward to read the notes of his music book by the light of a wax candle, which was stuck in the feelers of a prickly Lobster, and patiently held. Of his six pulpy arms one long one ran down like the trunk of an elephant, fingering along the pages of a music book. Two others were used to play the guitar. The small double drum was held by one arm on his shoulder and neck, while still another arm curled up in a bunch, punched it like a fist. Below him was a bass drum, set in a frame, and in his last arm was clutched a heavy drumstick which pounded out a tremendous noise. There the old fellow sat with his head bobbing, and all his six cuppy arms in motion, his rolling blue eyes ogling the notes, and his mouth like an elephant's, screeching out the words of the song.
All this time, in front of Lord Cuttle-fish, sat the Lobster holding up the light, and nodding his head in time to the music.
But the audience, or rather the orchestra, was the funniest part of all. They could not be called listeners, for they were all performers. On the left was the lusty red-faced Bream with its gills wide open, singing at the top, or rather at the bottom, of its throat, and beating time by flapping its wide fins. A little Gudgeon, just behind silent and fanning itself with a blue flat fan, had disgracefully broken down on a high note. Next on the right was a long-nosed Gar-fish singing alto, and proud of its slender form. In the foreground squatted a great fat Frog with big bulging eyes, singing bass, and leading the choir by flapping his webbed fingers up and down, with his frightful cavern of a mouth wide open. Next, sat the stately and dignified Mackerel, rather scandalized at the whole affair, who kept very still, refusing to join in. At the Mackerel's right fin, squeaked out the stupid flat-headed Globe-fish with her big eye impolitely winking at the servant-maid just bringing in refreshments; for the truth was, all were very thirsty after so much vocal exercise.
Just behind the Herring, with one eye on Lord Cuttle-fish and one on the coming refreshments, was the Skate. The truth must be told that the entire right wing of the orchestra was very much demoralized by the smell of the steaming tea and eatables just about to be served. The Tortoise though continuing to sing, impolitely turned its head away from Lord Cuttle-fish, and its back to the Frog that acted as precentor. The Sucker, though very homely and bloated with fat, kept on in the chorus, and pretended not to notice the waiter and the tray and cups. Indeed, Madame Sucker thought it quite vulgar in the Tortoise to be so eager after the cakes and wine.
Suddenly the music ceased to the relief of all the hungry ones. Lord Cuttle-fish kicked over his drum, unscrewed his guitar, and packed it away in his music box. He then slid along to the refreshment table, and actually amused the company by standing on his head and twirling his six cuppy arms around in the air like a windmill.
At this Miss Mackerel was quite shocked, and whispered under her fan to the Gar-fish, "It is quite undignified! What would the Queen say if she saw it?" not knowing that the Queen was looking on.
Then all sat down on their tails, propped upright on one fin, and produced their fans to cool themselves off. The Lobster pulled off the candle stump and ate it up, wiped his feelers, and joined the party.
The liquid refreshments consisted of sweet and clear saké, tea, and cherry-blossom water. The solids were thunder-cakes, egg-cracknels, boiled rice, radishes, macaroni, lotus-root, and sweet potatoes. Side-dishes were piled up with flies, worms, bugs and all kinds of bait for the small frythe finny brats that were to eat at the second table. The tea was poured by the servants of Lord Cuttle-fish.
The Queen did not wait to see the end of the feast, but laughing heartily, returned to her palace and went to sleep.
After helping himself with all the cups of his arms out of the tub of boiled rice, until Miss Mackerel made up her mind that he was a glutton, and drinking like a shoal of fishes, Lord Cuttle-fish went home, coiled himself up into a ball, and fell asleep. He had a headache next morning. But the concert and feast had done the Queen more good than all her medicine.
The text came from:
Fairy Tales of Old Japan. London: George G. Harrap & Co., 1911.