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Full Online Book HomeShort StoriesLord Cuttle-fish Gives A Concert
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Lord Cuttle-fish Gives A Concert Post by :excelbru Category :Short Stories Author :William Elliot Griffis Date :November 2011 Read :1470

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Lord Cuttle-fish Gives A 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 well. The news of her recovery created the wildest joy all over 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 struck or thrummed with the ivory hashi (plectrum). The pretty maids of the Queen put on their ivory thimble-nails, and the Queen again listened to the sweet melodies on the koto, (flat harp), while down among the smaller fry of fishy retainers and the scullions of the kitchen, were heard the constant thump of the tsutsumi (shoulder-drum), the bang of the taiko (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 the refrain, "The rivers of China run into the sea, and in it sinks the rain."

Now in the language of the Under-world people the words for "river," and "skin," (or "covering,") and "China," and "shell," and "rain," and "jelly," are the same. So the chorus, which was nothing but a string of puns, meant, "The skin of the jelly-fish runs to the sea, and in it sinks the jelly."

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 quite 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, grey 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 shell-nacre, 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 tokonoma, or raised space, was a bouquet of sea-weed 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 (Euplectella), and a toilet box and writing case made of solid pink coral. The gem of all was a screen having eight folds, on which was depicted the palace and throne-room of Riu Gu, 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. The sound of music wafted through the coral groves and crystal grottoes reached her ear.

"O medzurashi gozarimasu!" "(How wonderful this is!)" exclaimed the queen, half aloud. "What strange music is this? It is neither guitar, nor hand, nor shoulder drum, nor singing. It seems to be a mixture of all. Hear! It sounds as if a band with many instruments was playing to the accompaniment of a large choir of voices."

True enough! It was the most curious music ever heard in Riu Gu, 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. Suddenly 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 won't do for me, it's beneath my dignity," said her majesty to herself as she went over to touch her anemones, while her maids fanned her, seeing their mistress flushed with excitement, and fearing a relapse.

Curiosity got the better of the queenly lady, 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.

"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 Kai Riu O need not know of it."

The Queen walked over her pebbled garden walk, avoiding the great high road paved with white coral rock, and taking a by-path trimmed with fan-coral. The sound of the drums and voices grew louder, until as 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 and got the hysterics, laughing so heartily. 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 to death with her sleeve, while her alarmed maids, though meaning nothing by their acts but friendly help, slapped her back to give her breath.

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 warty 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, one to grasp the handle and pinch the strings, and the other to hold the ivory stick to strike the strings. The tsutsumi (small double drum) was held on his shoulder and neck, while still another arm curled up in a bunch, punched it like a fist. Below him was a another, a bass drum, set in a frame, and in his last leg, or arm, was clutched a heavy drum-stick, which pounded out tremendous noise, if not music. 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 song, which was made up of puns on 'tortoises,' 'monkeys,' 'jelly-fishes,' 'livers' and 'shell,' though the real words made an entirely different sense.

All this time, in front of Lord Cuttle-fish, sat the lobster holding up the light, like the kurombo, or black fellows who hold candles at the end of long-handled candle-sticks on the stage of the theatres so that the people may see the faces of the actors.

But the audience, or rather the orchestra was the funniest part of all. They could hardly be called listeners, for they were all performers. On the left was the lusty red-faced tai fish with its gills wide open, singing at the top, or rather at the bottom, of his throat, and beating time by flapping his wide fins. Just back of him was a little gudgeon, silent and fanning himself with a blue flat fan, having disgracefully broken down on a high note. Next behind, on the right, was a long-nosed gar-fish singing alto, and proud of her slender form, with the last new thing in folding fans held in her fin. In the fore-ground squatted a great fat frog with big bulging eyes, singing base, 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 who was rather scandalized at the whole affair, and kept very still, refusing to join in. At the mackerel's right fin, squeaked out the stupid flat-headed fugu fish with her big eye impolitely winking at the servant-maid just bringing in refreshments; for the truth was, she was thirsty after so much vocal exercise. The fugu was very vain and always played the coquette around the hooks of the fishermen who always liked to eat her because she was so sweet, yet her flesh was poison.

"How strange it is that men will angle after that ugly hussy, when she poisons them," was the oft-repeated remark of the gar-fish.

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 suppon, (tortoise with a snout like a bird's beak,) though he continued to sing, impolitely turned his head away from Lord Cuttle-fish, and his 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 her tray and cups. Indeed, Madame Sucker thought it quite vulgar in the tortoise to be so eager after the cakes and wine.

In truth the concert had been long, and all were thirsty and ready for a bite and a drink.

Suddenly the music ceased, and the long clatter on the drum announced the end. Lord Cuttle-fish kicked over his drum, unscrewed his guitar, and packed it away in his music box. He then slid along on his six slippery legs to the refreshments, and actually amused the company by standing on his head, and twirling his six cuppy arms around.

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 (rice beer) tea, and cherry-blossom water. The solids were thunder-cakes, egg-cracknels, boiled rice, daikon radishes and macaroni, lotus-root, taro, and side-dishes piled up with flies, worms, bugs and all kinds of bait for the small fry--the finny brats that were to eat at the second table. The tea was poured by the servants of Lord Cuttle-fish. These were the funniest little green kappas, or creatures half way between a monkey and a tortoise, with yellow eyes, hands like an ape, hair clipped short on their heads, eyes like frogs, and a mouth that stretched from ear to ear Poor creatures! they were only too happy to know that though they looked like monkeys their livers would not do for medicine.

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 an omeshi gurai, (rice 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.


(The end)
William Elliot Griffis's short story: Lord Cuttle-Fish Gives A Concert

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