Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Neptune—enraged over the antics of the mermaid, Aquanis, dumped her in Freddie Funk's bathtub—and his troubles began!
NEPTUNE, son of Saturn and conspirator against Jupiter, smashed his trident angrily in the sea bottom and cursed. His chariot halted and the graceful dolphins that drew it toward the courts drifted idly in the green water. "Damn it!"
"Nep" shouted so loud that the dolphins jerked in their harnesses and he sat down again ungracefully. He howled louder and with great emotion. "Damn it, Strider, I told you to get rid of that girl, Aquanis."
Strider, dwarfish court attaché, wriggled a fin nervously, and stuttered in a manner so befitting one of a low position.
"I'm—I'm so sorry, your majesty. But this girl, Aquanis, is—well—I'm afraid she's out of control."
Neptune's statuesque body stiffened.
"By the gods, man," he howled and almost fell over, "for a month this greentailed wench has made eyes at every young man in my navy. Now she must go, and if you can't do the job, I'll handle it myself."
"But—your majesty!" Strider squirmed on his fish half and looked miserable. "Aquanis is a most lovely young lady. It would be a mistake to do away with such beauty."
Neptune considered the angles for a moment and then a salty grin split his lips.
"We won't have to kill her," he said slowly. "We'll pawn her off on an Earthling for a while. I never did like those weak sailers of ships. Perhaps a touch of Aquanis' deviltry will put salt in their brine. Maybe she is just what some Earthling needs to give him an appreciation for the better..."
"But how?" Strider, almost groveling before the master now, hoped he wouldn't figure in the task of disposing of Aquanis.
If the truth were known, he, like most other men in Neptune's green sea kingdom, had fallen head over fin in love with the gorgeous little court hussy. Her floating bronze hair, lakelue eyes, and pouting coral lips had him on his ear, or tail, most of the time.
Neptune laughed. It was a booming, deep laugh that sent a school of small sea creatures scurrying from under the green coral that shelved his city.
"How? I'll take her to Earth myself. I haven't been up since the World's Fair and that fountain in Grant Park is the 'nuts.' Verily! Chicago is the place. Aquanis will fit in well there."
He jerked the long thongs in his hand and the dolphin team darted forward again, thrashing the sea wildly in an effort to please their speed-loving god, Neptune.
FREDDIE FUNK rounded the corner at Michigan Avenue on all sixteen and whistling loudly, approached the gay splash of paintings along the outer wall that bordered Wacker Drive. Freddie Funk was happy this sunny spring morning. The outdoor art show brought in a few extra greenbacks and his pocketbook had been empty for a long time.
Still whistling badly off-key, he found an empty spot against the sun-splashed wall, opened his folder of paintings, and arranged them carefully around the stall. He stepped back a few feet, tipped his curly thatched head to one side and examined the display with approving gray eyes.
"Pretty bad, aren't they, son?"
Freddie Funk turned grimly and found himself staring into the eyes of a strong old man with a thick, weedy-looking beard. He framed a scorching reply.
"If you're referring to my work...?"
He hesitated and his mouth dropped open widely. The hefty old character had a booth next to his own. But the paintings! There must have been two dozen of them. The most beautiful reproductions of undersea life he had ever seen.
"Golly!" His eyes narrowed slightly with respect. "You've done some fine work."
The old gent stood up and made a low sweeping bow.
"I do only my humble best," he said. "Just the scenes that are most familiar to me."
Freddie Funk had forgotten his own smelly collection of alley paintings.
"Familiar?" There was something strangely familiar about the old man himself. The tough-hided face, rope-like hair, green eyes that looked straight through Freddie, gave him that feeling that he was drowning in them.
"I'd say you'd have to be a fish to get paintings like those."
Green-Eyes smiled and bent over his small box of paints and art material. When he straightened again, he held a long drawing pencil toward Freddie with a promising gesture.
"Here," he said wryly, "try it, and you might be surprised."
Freddie Funk took the pencil gravely. Bending to look for its hidden qualities, he felt a sudden gust of wind from the river. Was it his imagination, or did water hit his face in a salty mist?
His head jerked upward and eyes spilled open in surprise. Green-Eyes had vanished—vamoosed. Gone as though the river had reached over the wall and swallowed him into it.
The paintings were still there, but Lord, what a change. He stared at them in disbelief. Where before there had been fine-colored fish and undersea fauna, now he found only ugly green streaks running up and down the canvasses.
Completely unnerved by the trying experience Freddie Funk arose hurriedly, gathered his belongings, and beat a hasty retreat to the Avenue. This time he did not whistle. A look of fright that could only be eclipsed by a glimpse of death itself, had settled in grey lines across his handsome face. Freddie Funk's long legs carried him with surprising haste toward the apartment studio on Wabash. In his right hand he still clutched the drawing pencil that Green Eyes had thrust toward him.
TRY as he might, Freddie could not throw from his mind memories of the strange afternoon. He still toyed with the thoughts of the old man's familiarity. Sitting before the drawing-board, he picked up the drawing pencil that had been bequeathed him by the stranger. He made a few experimental lines across a clean sheet of paper. The point moved slowly. In fact it moved of its own. accord.
He felt a force exercising itself as the lead traveled in delicate lines and circles against the paper's clean surface. This pencil was drawing something without his help. He held on tightly and let it work.
No one, Freddie thought, could ever buy a sketching pencil like this one. He watched with pretended disinterest as the point switched about under his fingers. Slowly a face appeared. Then a lovely neck and a smooth sheen of long hair. He blushed and felt that he should hide his head as the upper part of the girl came out on the paper. A slim shaded mid-section that was calculated to start tears of emotion in the eyes of the strongest male.
Two perfect unveiled breasts appeared. They left so little to the imagination that for the first time in his artistic life, Freddie Funk shivered with anticipation at the work on his drawing-board.
But the pencil wasn't finished. It dipped down and started to draw the lower portion of the dream girl. This time the blush turned to a frown. An expression of distrust and faint disappointment worried Freddie's forehead. The completed drawing was before him. The pencil seemed to relax and wilt a bit in his sweaty fingers. It had completed a picture of the most perfect mermaid his mind had ever conceived.
He sat back quietly admiring the work. He tried to believe that this girl was from his own mind. It was no use. Why not admit it? She had all the wild abandon and perfection that had been given to the paintings Green-Eyes had exhibited on Wacker Drive.
Freddie Funk sighed. He uttered the wish of any strong man. The thing that Neptune had planned on. Looking straight into the paper eyes of the mermaid he said lustily,
"I'd give up a square meal any day to have a look at the real product. Golly, but I wish she were real!"
STARTLED, Freddie jumped to his feet. Stumbling over his chair, he sprawled full length across the carpet. He lay very still.
There was a loud gurgle of water from the bath adjoining his room. Then little human sounds of excited bewilderment. Sitting up cautiously, Freddie tried to bring his wits into a compact working group.
He stood up slowly and sidled toward the bath. At the door he hesitated.
There was a girl in Freddie Funk's bathtub.
He pushed the door open a little more and peeked in with all the terrible guilt in his soul bursting up in masculine curiosity. It wasn't a nice thing to do, but she had no business being there in the first place.
There she sat in the tub, water around her waist. Her eyes were green in a gentle sort of way that at once made it his favorite color. Her skin was as white and pure as milk. Her hair, like burnished copper, swept down about her shoulders until she was almost hidden beneath it.
"H'lo," she said, and two rows of sparkling teeth flashed between red lips. "Come on in. The water's fine."
She shook her head and the silken hair fell away, taking his breath from him.
"How...?" He stammered and stopped again abruptly.
"Don't stand there like a blue-nosed shark," she cried in mock anger. "Can't you see I need a towel?"
She did, but definitely. Round firm hillocks of marble had only partly retreated behind her drifting hair. Trying not to stare, Freddie retrieved a towel from the hook and tossed it to her.
"How did you get in here?" He tried to tone his voice at an angry level. "If the landlady finds out..."
She laughed mockingly.
"You wished for me," she reminded him, and retreated into the folds of the big bath towel. "Are you disappointed?"
Freddie Funk remembered the drawing. Then the lower half of her must be fish! His brain started to whirl.
"A mermaid?" She winked solemnly. "Well, there's one way of finding out."
He blushed furiously and stared at the soapy veil of water that hid her body from the waist down.
"Look, I'm just a nice young guy trying to figure things out. Don't get me wrong."
"Then I'll just have to show you myself." A devilish little grin parted her lips.
A spray of water hit Freddie Funk squarely in the face, and he saw a green scaly tail flip in abandon as she flopped it above the water.
He turned pale. "Don't ever do that again," he begged.
"Then will you believe I'm a mermaid?"
"BUT how...?" He sat down weakly on the dressing-table chair beside the tub, and dried his face. "I mean—well—things like this just don't happen."
"My, aren't you the funny person!" He had a strange feeling that she was laughing at him. "Well, it's like this. My name is Aquanis. It seems that Neptune is getting too old. He can't stand the sight of a pretty young thing twisting his navy around her fingers. He decided to send me here where someone can appreciate my beauty, and at the same time his navy can be rid of temptation."
She wriggled her shoulders enticingly and leaned toward him.
"So," Freddie scowled, "without considering the complications that might arise from setting a mermaid down in the middle of my bathtub, he pawned you off on me."
Aquanis started to weep softly.
"Oh dear! No one seems to want me around. Don't you think I'm beautiful?"
She started to draw the towel away from her shoulders.
"No! Don't, please! You're too darn nice, that's the trouble." In his anxiety for her feelings, he stood up and patted her comfortingly on the back. Little bumps of gooseflesh came up on his arm from the warmth of the contact, and he stopped hastily. "Now everything's all right. Just don't cry."
She brushed a small hand over her eyes to wipe away the last tear. The sun came through again.
"Then you do like me?" she pouted.
"Like you!" He grinned. "Kid, you're all right. And now how long since breakfast? You must be getting hungry."
"I could stand a bite," Aquanis admitted. "Can you get fresh ones around this strange place?"
His chin dropped.
"Fresh what?" He knew with a terrible certainty what the answer would be.
"Why silly! Fresh fish, of course! I could just eat my tummy full of tiny fresh sea horses right this minute."
Freddie Funk turned his head away, collected his scattered brain cells and asked:
"Would raw perch do?"
"I never tasted them," Aquanis admitted. "They might be good."
He gulped hurriedly and retreated to the door, then turned toward her with a sickly smile.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said. "Anything else?"
"Oh, yes!" she fairly squealed in anticipation. "After my tummy's full, I want to go everywhere and find out what kind of a city this is. Nep says it's quite a 'joint,' whatever he means by that."
Freddie left the apartment hurriedly.
The fish store down the street was still open. Feeding the mermaid Aquanis was only the beginning of his problems.
Freddie Funk's mind was functioning with remarkable clarity when he returned to the apartment. Aquanis had made herself at home in the tub, and was stretched out glamorously in a pose that would have made Homer himself follow Ulysses over the brink in search of the mermaids.
FREDDIE FUNK went on a shopping tour at Marshall Field's. He had been fortunate enough to sell a very prosaic painting to an unsuspecting art collector. He was also unwise enough to tell Aquanis of his luck. At her bidding, he was humbly following a chic little clerk through a blush-building array of feminine apparel.
"A long evening gown," he heard himself muttering. "Red, and very long, if you please."
When it arrived, he snatched it up hurriedly and paid the price.
"And did you wish anything else?" The feminine creature that hovered over him made the misery worse.
"Just—well, if you can give me one of those—those things..." He made a subtle little twin motion with his hands, trying to think just what size Aquanis might take.
The clerk nodded understandingly.
"What size does your wife take?" She said wife in a tone that made him feel like hiding in the woodwork.
He muttered something vaguely under his breath, pointed to a silky wisp that hung from a counter, and packed it quickly out of sight in his pocket. With a heavy, curiously thumping heart, Freddie started for home.
Aquanis had combed her hair out into flashing sunlight while he was gone. He tossed the packages across the threshold and closed the door hurriedly as she cried out in delight. He could hear interesting little giggles as she wriggled into the new luxuries.
"Does the—er—thing-a-ma-jig fit?" He tried to sound casual. Aquanis giggled again, then laughed a low pleased laugh.
"You'll be surprised," she answered. "Come in."
She was seated on the small chair as he opened the door. The long crimson gown covered every last inch of those embarrassing fins and scales. Hair fell about" her shoulders crowning a face more lovely than he had ever seen.
"You're lovely! Almost as though....”
She bit her lip and smiled dimly.
Freddie crossed the room in a stride and picked her up in his arms. Aquanis cuddled her head against his shoulder happily.
"You do like me?" she asked in a worried voice.
Something like a shiver passed through Freddie, and he carried her into the studio.
"You poor kid," he said, "We're going to have a good time even if..."
"Even if I'm not like other people." She tried hard not to cry.
"Even if everyone in town wonders why I have to carry you everywhere I go. I sort of like it."
AQUANIS was startled by the lights on State Street. She wondered with wide green eyes at the size and beauty of the city. At the Chez Paree and the Ivanhoe Freddie tried to carry her around as casually as possible, only to find himself the object of much curious attention from other patrons. Although others were startled at this sleek young man who carried his lady in red like a knight of old, they soon forgot and stared with envy at the little mermaid with the hidden rudder.
At one o'clock he broke down under the load and sat her down in Grant Park beside the great colored fountain. For a long time Aquanis snuggled close to him, her lips buried against his neck. Freddie Funk had forgotten she was a mermaid. The night was very warm. Aquanis suddenly felt confined and uncomfortable in the folds of the gown.
"I'm going swimming," she announced calmly.
Freddie stiffened in fright.n
"Oh, no!" he said. "You really shouldn't."
"The fountain is so pretty," she said, and pouted. "If anyone comes by, I'll just sit still and they'll think I'm part of it."
Freddie thought of the slim body under the thing-a-ma-jig, and shook his head.
"You don't know much about Chicago," he said.
She started to wriggle away from him.
"I'll scream, and when someone hears me, I'll flip up my gown and show 'em I'm a fish."
Freddie considered the problem carefully.
"You're a devil," he said grimly. "But if you must, all right. Please duck under if someone comes too close."
"I promise." She wriggled out of the warm clothing and flipped into the water.
"Oooh!" she said, letting it cover her shoulders. "It feels good. Come on in."
Freddie shivered at the thought. "No thanks," he said. "I'd rather not."
"Nope. I want to sleep in my own bed tonight. Never did like the jail."
Aquanis stretched out in the warm water and leaned her elbows on the side of the pool. She put her lovely head against her hands and looked at him questioningly.
"All these other girls we saw tonight," she said thoughtfully. "Do you like them?"
"They're nice," he agreed. "Just so -so."
"Gee," she sighed, "I wish I were like them. You'd like me then, wouldn't you?"
"I like you..." His voice trailed off then, dropped into his shoes. Heavy footsteps burst from the bushes beside the walk.
"SO!" the blue uniform howled, swinging his night stick threateningly. "Caught you, didn't I?"
"Caught who?" It was Aquanis, her silvery voice filled with curiosity.
"Just what I thought," the policeman bellowed. "A lady in the fountain. Come out of there, Miss, before I come in after you."
He pushed Freddie aside roughly and approached the pool's edge. Aquanis sat up, her soaked hair leaving little but a lack of modesty to clothe her.
"The water's nice," she said. "Please come in."
The policeman gulped and turned away, not too hurriedly.
"Sure and I'll give you just one minute to come out of there. Just one minute." Under his breath he added "A naked woman in the pool, is it, O'Shannagon? Did you have too much beer this night?"
A brilliant thought was collecting in Freddie Funk's mind. He could smell the faint aroma of ale wafting to him from O'Shannagon's lips. Hoping that Aquanis would be clever enough to catch his plan, he turned upon the bewildered policeman.
"Officer," he announced solemnly, "I believe you've been drinking."
"Young man!" O'Shannagon said, and burped loudly.
"What did I tell you?" Freddie turned to Aquanis, winking slyly. "I'll bet he even thinks you're a girl."
"Silly," she said. "He's just drunk enough to think I'm a fish."
O'Shannagon had suffered enough, and turned on them furiously.
"I'm running ye both in," he roared.
Then his eyes popped wide open, closed tightly in disbelief, and opened again reluctantly. Those two beers had sure done some funny things. The girl in the fountain had flipped the lower part of her body above the shallow water. He stared aghast at a long green tail, complete with scales and fins.
"Sure and I'm seein' mermaids," he moaned. "By the Shade of Saint Patrick, I am drunk." The night-stick dropped from his limp hand. He twisted on his heel and rushed away across the lawn.
IT WASN'T with too gentle a touch * that Freddie Funk assisted his mermaid sweetheart from the water fountain. He stood guard by the clump of bushes that bordered the walk, while with some difficulty she again donned the evening gown and other flimsy essentials. There was a certain amount of forgiveness in Freddie Funk's heart as he carried her back across the park with the burnished hair drifting down around his shaking shoulders.
He hailed a cab and they were soon back at the studio. Locking the door quickly he breathed a sigh of relief. For the time-being they were safe from O'Shannagon and his ilk.
With Aquanis once again installed in her porcelain throne, Freddie sat down just outside the bathroom door. All the problems of the world were on his shoulders. He knew from the splashing water and gurgling laughter that Aquanis was once more enjoying her almost perpetual bath.
This was a hell of a predicament. He couldn't go around the rest of his life carrying her in his arms. Suspicions were bound to arise on all sides after the novelty had worn off. Horrible visions arose in Freddie Funk's mind. He dreamed of the day when through some crazy trick of fate he might slip on a banana peel and unveil the whole horrible secret. The fish peddler was already growing suspicious of Freddie's insatiable appetite for fish. Desperately he stood up and started to pace the floor. The sounds in the bathroom had quieted and he wondered for a moment if she were still there.
"Aquanis," he called softly. No answer. He went to the door and listened. She was sobbing pitifully. He turned away, and with heavy shoulders and a drooping heart, walked to the drawing-board. For the first time he realized that he was in love with a red-head mermaid. He sank down in the chair and brushed something akin to a crocodile tear from his eye.
Suddenly the sad droopy look on his face brightened and his shoulders straightened. There on the drawing board before his eager eyes was the same beautiful drawing of Aquanis that he had created with the magic pencil. The same image that had brought the girl living and breathing into his bachelor domain. More than that, the magic pencil was still lying on the table where he had cast it aside after being startled by that first embryonic splash from the bathroom.
Why, if he had created this gorgeous creature with a few simple lines of a pencil, couldn't he return her to Neptune by erasing what he had drawn?
A LUMP gathered in his throat and stuck there. No amount of gulping would wash it away. To send her back now would be a little less than murder. Most terrible yet, murder of someone he had learned to love dearly.
"Aquanis," he called softly.
This time she heard him and the sobbing stopped.
"Yes," she answered in a very quivery little voice.
"You're not very happy here, are you?"
"Oh, darn it!" Her voice was filled with returning spirit. "The top half of me is delirious with joy, but the bottom half seems—so—unnecessary."
Freddie's brain was thinking over an idea that would put modern science to shame. His brow clouded and little furrows of mistrust dug their way across his forehead. "Well, maybe...."
"Listen, kid," he shouted. "Are you game to try something?"
The voice that came back through the door sounded anything but game.
"Just—just so long as you don't send me away."
He picked the pencil up hurriedly and said in a not too confident voice.
"Tell me if it hurts."
Leaning over the drawing board, he erased just the tiniest section of her tail fin. A loud cry of surprise came from the tub.
"Did it hurt?"
Aquanis giggled. Evidently she was still hidden under the water and had experienced some queer emotion that startled her but brought no pain. Beads of perspiration popped out on Freddie's cheeks. With quick little jerking motions of his arm, he erased the entire lower part of her fish body, and left only the lovely head and undulating smoothness of her upper half on the paper.
A SCREAM of protest came from the bathroom. "Oh my goodness, Freddie," in a voice filled with bewilderment, "there's only half of me here."
He couldn't stop now.
"Just sit tight," he shouted hoarsely, "everything is going to be all right."
Now she was laughing at him.
"But how can I sit?" she cooed sarcastically. "There's nothing to sit on."
FORTUNATELY for Freddie, and more fortunate for Aquanis, Freddie Funk had studied well the more subtle proportions of the human body. With his head close to the drawing board, he sketched below the already completed part of her body, a pair of long graceful legs attached to rounding hips that were almost beautiful enough to sway even on canvas. Dexterously, he completed a newer and much more enticing Aquanis. A perfect creature, much more suited to the life of sidewalks and Chicago night life.
Before he looked up from the board, Freddie knew the penciled operation had been a complete success. Little squeals of laughter and the sound of wet pattering feet on the floor beyond the door told him that his happiness would soon be complete.
He dropped the pencil, rushed to the door and threw it open. A startled cry fell from the girl's lips.
He realized immediately that although she was very attractive, it would be more convenient right now if he could give her an extra pair of arms. The two which she had were busily and hopelessly attempting to conceal an entire consignment of newly acquired charms.
With a happy gulp, he blushed to the color of an over-ripe tomato, and stumbled back to the drawing board. Hastily he sketched the necessary clothing around his ex-mermaid's body.
"There!" he said. "Can you come out now?"
He turned momentarily to find her standing in the doorway blushing modestly under the new housecoat.
"What are you drawing now?" she asked.
He grinned happily. Aquanis tripped lightly across the room and leaned over his shoulders. Freddie Funk was sketching a flowing, satiny wedding-gown, complete with lace veil, wedding-ring and corsage.