First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Underwater Publishing
Copyright © Don Good 1982 - Original Version
© Underwater Management 2016 - This version
© Underwater Management 2016 - Illustrations
All rights reserved
A CIP catalogue for this book is available from the British Library.
No part of this publication may be reprinted, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or utilised in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Underwater Publishing
Don Good has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely co-incidental
Typesetting and Print Management by Biddles
Book cover by Erick Sulaiman
‘Ambrose’ by Billie Hastie
‘Gambio’ by Rose Wilkinson
‘Cosimo Cosette' by Lleucu Williams
‘Coralis Citizen - The Little Critter’
by Heather Shaw
‘Dena the Hatcheck girl’ and ‘Doldrum’
by Becca Woolmer
‘Mayor Caleb’, ‘The K-Fay’, ‘Cousin Cecil’,
‘Butler Porpoise’, ‘Mick The Rule’ and ‘Boiling Pink’
by Erick Sulaiman
All the characters were created by Don Good and described in his manuscript ʻAmbrose and the Mermaid, an Underwater Fableʼ. The manuscript was found intact 23 years after the authorʼs death, but with sketches of only 3 characters. Don had set a precedent for the style of the illustrations, but others had to be found to continue. Heather Shaw was provided with a copy of the manuscript on yellowing pages typed on a manual typewriter. From this she was able to visualise the entire book, sketching and painting what she saw in her ‘mindʼs eye’. These concept characters were given to illustrators who developed them and produced the final artwork.
You can read more about the
illustrators and the characters on the website: www.underwaterpublishing.com
Chapter 1 The Great Adventure
Chapter 2 The Dark Threat
Chapter 3 Angel of Mercy
Chapter 4 Hunt for Clues
Chapter 5 Our Beloved Mayor
Chapter 6 A Witness is Silenced
Chapter 7 Evening of Suspense
Chapter 8 The Grand Rescue
Chapter 9 Unforeseen Disaster
Chapter 10 Tunnel of Love
Chapter 11 Trap-door of Fate
Chapter 12 Voice of the Turtle
Chapter 13 Flight from Danger
Chapter 14 Death of a Potentate
Chapter 15 The Enchantment
Chapter 16 A Secret is Revealed
Chapter 17 Outbreak of the Pollution Wars
Chapter 18 Love Will Find A Way
Chapter 19 The Election
Chapter 20 The Final Chapter
List of illustrations with their captions
1) Butler Porpoise
‘‘Bread and water’’ he said condescendingly.
2) Dena the hatcheck girl
‘Dena looked like an Arabian Nights princess’ ‘As Dena danced she soon began to sing softly, almost to herself, and the song she was singing was the song of the Coralei.’
‘All his worldly possessions he carried in his travelling bag. He had a pair of striped pyjamas and a few darned socks’ ‘He was feeling tired before he’d even started. He began to wonder whether he could actually complete this quest.’
4) Madame Cosimo Cossette
‘she moved forward again, in the slow, sinuous movement of the dance.’
5) Mayor Caleb
‘Uncle Caleb was immensely proud of his home. For a country frog he had achieved great eminence.’ ‘He was highly respected by the creatures of the North Sea community.’
6) Cousin Cecil
‘....take Cecil away, and see that he goes to sleep in his own bed’
‘His other friend was a diminutive Ragworm called Jimmy, who also shared his home.’ ‘Perched on his shoulder was a sea anemone that used Gambio’s shell as a mobile home....... a colourful creature called Annie.’ ‘He was very old and short-sighted. Some said he was blind. But others said that he only saw what he wanted to see.......often in the fourth dimension, Gambio would dream that he was young again, a bright young thing, spending his time playing on the sea bed, without a care in the world’
‘Doldrum, a creature of great beauty. She is directly descended from one of those early Mermaids’
9) The K-Fay
‘Some way ahead, along the underground tunnels, they were preparing an ambush.’
10) Boiling Pink
‘Come out and fight, you little pipsqueak!’
11) Mick The Rule
‘Mick the Rule, was not so easily scared.’
12) Coralis citizen - The Little Critter
‘It was a great moment for everyone. The atmosphere was electric. A new dawn had come. Hope was born anew.’
‘Oh, come from the wastes
Of the frozen north,
Oh, speed from the south
And the sun;
Oh, come for the love of the Coralei -
The soft sweet song of the Coralei -
Come home -
My beautiful one.’
There is a place of mystery and imagination that lies hidden beneath the waves of the North Sea. It is quite unknown to many people, even today. Although eight European countries surround the spot, and more than twice that number of European rivers flow into it, nobody knows where to find it.
Deep down within the European waters of the continental shelf, some 100 fathoms below the surface, legend tells of a fabulous city, nestling in the fertile valleys of the seabed, roughly in the centre of the North Sea.
Of course, it is only a legend! But some people have believed it. In recent times, two different people, on separate occasions, have gone in search of it. They hoped to find this fabulous city, which others tell of, flourishing under the sea.
These adventurous souls set out on their quest from the English east coast, and succeeded in discovering the place for themselves. They were the only two that ever did — and it was not because they were particularly clever. Indeed, it was more by accident than design, for they did not know where it was, or what to expect when they saw it. They relied solely upon the legend, tall stories and hearsay from others to guide them, so they were more than lucky to stumble upon it.
But, that was not all. When they finally reached their goal, they each gained a great treasure... They discovered their own individual pathways to happiness, and learnt the secret to the meaning of life, as well. So, for them, it was more than a happy chance. It was a date with destiny.
This is the story of one of them. He also caught up with the other one, during the course of his adventurous journey — although neither returned to prove it.
What he found delighted heart and eye, gave him moments fraught with danger and suspense, sweetened him with romance and favoured him with fame and fortune.
Although he faced a seemingly hostile environment, which kept most souls at bay, this adventurer swiftly adapted, and soon grew accustomed to it. Indeed, he became more at home here than he was in the place where he was raised.
His story starts on dry land…on the solid ground of the celebrated English east coast, where he began his sweet life as a twinkle in his mother's eye. It was the same area his forerunner had come from... A favoured spot for encouraging dreams and dreamers, and for fostering the courage and the spirit to strive somehow to make one's dreams come true.
What’s more, our adventurer had one practical advantage over you and I, which prepared him, in a most useful way, for what lay ahead of him.
He was born with gills.
The Great Adventure
Somewhere along the shingle banks and sandbanks of the English east coast you can find a spot called the Round Pond. It lies a little way inshore, yet within earshot of the waves of the North Sea, encircled by green fields and a ring of stately trees. This is really a magic spot, an enchanted part of nature that brings peace and contentment to anyone lucky enough to find it.
But, usually, it lies hidden from prying eyes.
When the sun rises over the silver sea along this coastline, it plays a trick of the light, causing the coastal fields and hedgerows to merge together, so that the Round Pond vanishes from sight. It disappears all day; only at sunrise or sunset can you see it.
You can tell how kind the welcome is for those who are fortunate enough to visit this place. For, when those icy fingers of Boreas, the North Wind, lay hold of the land, or a Southerly gale blows fiercely from the Essex Marshes, and, turning east by north, blasts the hapless Suffolk countryside, it is then that we see how benign and sheltered is the haven of the Round Pond. Even this inclement weather is turned away at its peaceful boundaries and, more often than not, the inhabitants are left undisturbed by the troubles outside.
Life was bliss for all the creatures who lived there. Everybody knew everyone else, they were all good friends, there was great trust among them and no one ever made any bad assumptions about one another. Very little could ever alter the constant happiness and joy. Passing visitors made kind comments, such as, ‘Everybody is always smiling here and so friendly.’ The Round Pond had a reputation for making visitors immediately feel at home. They often did not want to leave. This little haven could be described as paradise on Earth by some. But then again, it would not suit everyone; for instance, it would not be big enough for the two-legged land crabs.
In this tranquil atmosphere a baby frog was lovingly raised by his father and mother, and given a good start in life. His parents were diligent in their task and worked together. Mr and Mrs Greenback wanted their son to do well in the world. They felt that there was no need for him to suffer the hardships and struggles which had been their lot before they found the haven of the Round Pond.
At the same time, they realised that their dream of a happy life for him would come to nothing if he turned out to be misguided and idle. So, they taught him to appreciate his home, to be glad that he was a European frog and to be keen to improve his fortune by his own good efforts.
Most important of all, they felt, was to nurture within him worthy sentiments. He might not understand properly, at first, the need for this. But, having absorbed this knowledge, it would strengthen him in later life, when he would have to stand alone, on his own two feet, and would find himself in need of sound thinking and a good character.
Mr Greenback chose what he thought was a distinguished name for his son. A name that he hoped would inspire him to do great deeds. He named him Ambrose Greenback.
Meanwhile, his mother, Mrs Greenback, a gentle soul who was devoted to her family, managed to persuade his father to include a second name in his Christening — or naming ceremony — which would bring to mind the constant need for the right approach to life's troubles. He was christened Ambrose Hope Greenback. It was a touching thought.
In a serene atmosphere, the young frog passed his carefree days, until he had grown in strength and favour and blossomed into a comely youth.
Bright-eyed and intelligent, he was full of fun and loved adventure. However, he never boasted; in fact, he was often quite shy and modest, being a humble creature at heart, accustomed to a quiet and well-ordered life. This added greatly to his charm and fetching ways. He soon became the apple of his mother's eye and his father’s pride and joy. He was their dream child.
Ambrose had a fantastic relationship with his parents. Whilst slightly strict, they were very communicative and always willing to take time to explain things to him. When they wanted him to do something differently, they did not force him to do their bidding; instead, he was given a choice, but they always managed to make their preferred choice sound like the best choice. He never needed to fear being reprimanded, for disagreements were always sorted out with a long discussion to gently ease Ambrose over to his parents’ point of view. Soon he developed his own ability to go through all options and make wise choices of his own. He was rewarded with fewer long discussions, which, although not really a punishment, could take hours and so could become somewhat boring for a young frog. The thought now automatically popped into his green head: Do I really want to have to talk about this for hours later on?
Who could have guessed what would happen next to their dream? Even in the quiet corners of the Earth, nobody escapes from sorrow. It is written in the Good Book that everybody must eat from the fruit of the Tree of Opposites, and taste the knowledge of both good and evil, before they die. So we must be brave!
Now Ambrose had to be brave. One day, quite suddenly and without warning, Ambrose's mother died in her sleep. The little frog felt the first pangs of grief.
At first, it was simply a surprise. All his relatives spoke in whispers. He could hardly understand it. He missed her terribly. But somehow he was able to accept that it was a normal process in life. His mother had often explained that eventually our bodies just wear out and can’t continue.
Ambrose's father took him along to see Sweet Chloe. 'If anything should happen to me, Sweet Chloe will look after you,' he said.
His words concealed an odd feeling, a premonition. Not long afterwards, Ambrose's father failed to return home. An anxious wait followed. Then two hedge sparrows found him.
He had been run down by a car, and now lay motionless on the highway.
A closer look revealed that his soul had departed from his body. It was terribly sad. It had happened far from the kind shelter of the Round Pond. What could two small sparrows do? They said a prayer for his peaceful passage and moved his poor remains to the quiet shade of the grassy verge, out of the way of the heedless traffic.
Ambrose faced a double burden of sorrow early in his young life. He was weighed down with his grief. The worthy sentiments taught to him by his wise parents stood him in good stead. He clasped them tightly. What else could he hold on to? Then, it happened; Sweet Chloe came to him and showed him a way to live up to his name, Ambrose Hope Greenback.
It is hard to describe Chloe. She was immensely tall, but loveable, like human women. She had long chestnut-red hair, tied back, which fell down to her waist, and wore a short, shimmering dress of light apple green, which finished above her knees. She wore no shoes or stockings. She laughed easily and often. Everybody loved her. She was so cheerful. She was kind to all the wild creatures. What was strange about her was her ability to suddenly appear, and then to disappear again just as suddenly. One moment she was there, the next moment she had vanished!
Nobody knew where she came from. So far as any creature could remember, she had always been there, somewhere near, along the banks of the Round Pond. Ambrose's father once told him that Chloe was a spirit, a nature spirit. She was the Spirit of the Round Pond, he had said. Ambrose was too young to know what he meant. To him, Chloe was Chloe. He trusted her. She was his friend.
When Ambrose had become a poor orphan, without family of his own, playing alone along the banks of the Round Pond, Sweet Chloe came to see him more often. She would tell him stories of all the wonders that could be found in the wide world beyond the boundaries of the Round Pond. They were fascinating tales that moved his feelings. He longed to travel. From these casual conversations there grew within him a fervent desire to go forth and seek his fortune in the world outside.
It was not long before Ambrose learnt something that fired his enthusiasm, and made him want to begin his travels.
It was the news that in his family there once lived an Uncle Caleb, who also wanted to see the world. A long while ago, he left the Round Pond and set off alone to seek his fortune overseas.
He heard the news from distant cousins, who lived on the other bank and did not visit very often. They said they never found out what happened to Uncle Caleb. They thought he might have perished; they imagined him lying sick, alone and miserable, gasping his last breath among unfriendly strangers.
It was disappointing for Ambrose. Then he heard that the migrating seabirds often brought back stories from distant parts. To his joy he found that the sea-birds could tell him what had happened to Uncle Caleb. They said they knew where he lived, and that he had succeeded in finding a rich fortune. He had become a prominent citizen in a great city across the sea. He had created an honourable life for himself, and all the other creatures looked up to him.
When Ambrose also heard that he had a son who was about the same age as Ambrose, Cousin Cecil, he was determined to go and find his relatives, no matter what dangers lay ahead.
The seabirds gave Ambrose his address. Two storm petrels offered to fly on ahead, across the North Sea, and pass on a message via other creatures, saying that Ambrose was leaving the Round Pond and hoped to join his uncle and cousin in the great city of Coralis when the moon was full in May.
The timing was a bold guess by Ambrose. Most likely, it would take him much longer. The great city was said to be located in the North Sea basin, and lay hidden deep down beneath the waves. Why, he might never be able to find it!
But he was going to have a good try. He thought that he would just keep going and hope that he got there!
He said his goodbyes and set off on his long journey with his heart in his mouth. All his worldly possessions he carried in his travelling bag. He had a pair of striped pyjamas and a few darned socks, which was very little when you come to think of it. The bag was half empty, yet it seemed rather heavy to Ambrose. He was feeling tired before he’d even started. He began to wonder whether he could actually complete this quest.
He had not gone far before Sweet Chloe appeared, walking at his side. Ambrose heaved a sigh of relief. Chloe spoke softly to him, calming his fears. Her voice had a soothing effect on Ambrose. He could feel that she believed in his venture and was confident that he would get there. She was more confident than he was.
'When you reach the seashore,' she said, 'swim away from the land until you are surrounded by water. Then stop and look up at the sky. You will notice the bright star, Stella Polaris, twinkling above you in the distance. Keep heading towards it. That is the way you want to go. Sooner or later you will reach the big, ancient city of Imperial Coralis, lying beneath the waves. It was built in the days of the empire, when the city was very rich and the buildings very grand and beautiful. It is a republic now, but everyone still calls it Imperial Coralis. You will see the creatures around you who are going there, or coming from there. They will tell you where it is.’
Sweet Chloe embraced Ambrose. She told him to take care and promised that the bright star would watch over him. Then she vanished. Ambrose was on his own now. He was setting out on a great adventure.
It was just as Sweet Chloe had said it would be. Ambrose swam out into the North Sea and there he found, twinkling overhead, the bright star that Sweet Chloe had mentioned. All he had to do was follow that twinkling light. It was really quite easy. He just had to keep going in the direction of the star.
He looked so tiny. A forlorn and diminutive figure surrounded by so much water, such a vast expanse of sea. His little head was bobbing up and down, buoyed up with hope.
Every so often, he would look up at the bright star overhead to make sure it was still there — still watching over him. Yes! It was still twinkling overhead. Why, it seemed to him that, every time he looked up, that great star nodded and winked at him!
How could that be? The star, a great, Heavenly body, was winking at him, a small and timid creature? But, just in case, and so as not to appear impolite, Ambrose winked back.
Day followed night and night followed day. It began to seem as though he was doomed to swim forever. When would the end be in sight? Maybe he had misunderstood? Was he expected to keep on swimming until he dropped to the bottom from sheer exhaustion?
There was no hope of his swimming back to the shore he had left behind. It was too far away now. Somehow, he had to keep swimming — and hoping! Hoping for the moment when the sea creatures would appear and tell him that he had arrived in Coralis. Oh, what a joy that would be!
Ambrose wondered whether he would ever again see a friendly face, somebody he once knew. His hand ached from holding onto his bag, so he took off his tie and his belt, knotted these together, and then lashed his bag to his waist. Both his hands were now free for swimming. It was a relief.
The angels must have been watching over him, that was what Ambrose believed. He just had to keep that thought in his mind and keep believing, above all else, in order to take his mind off how tired he was and just to keep going. But Ambrose really did believe that he could not do this fantastic journey on his own. The angels his parents had told him about must be watching over him right now, keeping him safe.
At that moment, the sun shone out of the clouds. Then Ambrose caught sight of a school of dolphins with their satchels on their backs. They were hurrying by, heading straight for their college under the sea. They did not have much time to stop and talk. They were going to Coralis, they told him. These were really well-educated mammals; they were in their second year at the University of Coralis, and were keen to get ahead.
Ambrose became aware that the sea all around him was alive with creatures, of all shapes and sizes, coming and going. He could not keep up with those young and sophisticated dolphins, but that did not matter now. He knew the way. The shoals of fish and scurrying creatures were all coming to the same spot, near the surface, and then taking a turn downwards into the depths.
He waved goodbye to his friend Stella Polaris, not visible at that moment, but somewhere overhead, and dived down among the fish, heading for that great city, Imperial Coralis.
Deep down among the valleys of the seabed lay the long straight lines of coral and limestone which marked out the route to the centre of the citadel. Ambrose followed the stream coming in from the south and passed through the outlying districts.
It was quite a distance, but even here, in the outskirts, he was amazed to see so many creatures, so much bustling and ceaseless activity.
As they approached the central part of the metropolis, he noticed the sudden blaze of light. High above his head, one hundred twinkling phosphor lamps streamed their light upon this multitude of hurrying creatures. He was delighted and bewildered by it all.
In the strange glow of the North Sea basin, little Ambrose stood upon the great steps of the majestic Terminus Building, with its huge portals and its balcony over the entrance, and wondered what to do. He was a stranger in a strange place. But he did not realise how conspicuous he was, at that moment, with the dazzling phosphor lamps shining upon him.
Suddenly, he became aware of a pair of sharp eyes staring at him quizzically with evident amusement. The owner of the eyes was a young and insolent fellow with a debonair look about him. He was seated in a magnificent coral and mother of pearl, beautiful silvery carriage drawn by six white seahorses.
Ambrose was impressed. He must be a creature of note, he thought to himself. You can imagine how surprised he was by what followed next. The young fellow leant forward, opened the door, and stepped out of the carriage. Then, with an extravagant bow and a flourish of his hand, he cheerfully said, 'Cousin Ambrose! Welcome to Coralis, the home of the free!’
So this was his Cousin Cecil! Ambrose nearly fell over his bag trying to get into the carriage. What a stroke of luck that Cecil had recognised him! Indeed, Cousin Cecil had been looking out for Ambrose ever since receiving the message from the storm petrels that he was on his way.
Cecil explained confidentially to Ambrose that he had a little call to make before he took Ambrose back to his 'ancestral home’, as he called it. It was a business call and would only take a few moments, he said.
He asked the driver to turn the carriage off the main avenue. Then the seahorses were driven at breakneck speed through a number of back streets. They arrived at a brightly lit building adorned with colourful sea anemones. Cecil whispered something to the driver who then drove away. This was a bit strange, Ambrose thought, considering Cecil said they would only be a few moments. The sound of music came from the bright interior. 'This is one of the most exclusive clubs in town,' said Cecil. 'You could not get in here without my personal recommendation, so you are lucky. It is called the Mermaid Cavern. Here you will see some genuine city nightlife! So follow me — and do as I do.'
Ambrose had not much practice in the ways of polite society. At the Round Pond, where he had come from, creatures were homelier and easy-going. Nobody tried to interfere with anybody else without a very good reason. If they did so, that would be fighting talk, and they would soon regret it. So, when Ambrose followed Cecil through these august portals and an elegant flunkey with tentacles grabbed his travelling bag, Ambrose hung on like grim death.
He had not brought his bag all this way across the wild sea, to have some stranger whisk it out of his hand! He refused to let go. He dug his heels into the sandy floor and tugged his hardest; the flunkey, in pursuit of his duty, tugged harder than ever, using all his tentacles, showing increasing signs of alarm. Both became highly excited and grew red in the face with exasperation.
This unseemly tussle might soon have produced an awful scene. Fortunately, Cecil realised what was happening and, not wishing to be delayed himself, decided that something must be done to put an end to it.
In a loud whisper that everybody could hear, Cecil spoke confidentially to Ambrose, persuading him to let the flunkey have the bag. It was an old Coralis custom, he assured him. In any case, Ambrose would get the bag back when he left the Mermaid Cavern. The flunkey only wanted to mind it for him.
Ambrose reluctantly handed it over, hoping they would not look inside and see his only pair of pyjamas and his darned socks. Then he followed Cecil across the foyer, beneath the swinging lanterns, and they passed through the hanging seaweed curtains which led to the inner room.
What met his gaze filled him with awe. Inside, it was like a great hall or huge ballroom, absolutely crowded with all manner of creatures. They were engaged in animated conversation or listening avidly to others; seated, standing, or lying about with the attitude of revelers, reclining on sponge mats stretched out on the sandy floor. They all seemed to be having such a good time, drinking seaweed wine from spiral cones.
This great cavern was brilliantly lit by lamps hidden in crystal chandeliers, which hung in clusters from the high-domed ceiling. Around the walls were smaller caves, screened by gleaming limestone stalactites, drooping down from the lower ceiling around the edges. All were in different colours.
Behind these cheerful partitions, Ambrose later discovered tables had been tastefully laid. Guests were seated and enjoying intimate candle-lit suppers. In other alcoves were family groups, holding birthday and reunion parties. Ambrose felt that this place must be the most popular resort and meeting place in Coralis. Everybody seemed to be coming here!
'Cousin Ambrose,' said Cecil, turning back, as though he were receiving his thoughts. 'I am sure you must be wondering why this place is called the Mermaid Cavern. In the dim and distant past, it belonged to the mermaids. They founded it. Alas,' he added, shaking his head, 'there are very few mermaids left here now. They've all been carried off by generations of medical students! But don’t worry, I will introduce you to Doldrum, a creature of great beauty. She is directly descended from one of those early mermaids.’
They had just reached one of the alcoves on the far side of the great cave when Cecil greeted a party of cockles he appeared to know very well. One of them was dealing out a hand of cards to the others seated at the table. These gamblers appeared to be playing for high stakes. Cecil sat down at the table, without thinking about Ambrose, and asked for a hand of cards for himself. When he held out his stake money they refused it. He had to go through his pockets to find double the amount.
Soon after Cecil began playing, he completely forgot about Ambrose and everything else. So, Ambrose sat alone at a nearby table, quite happy just to gaze around him at the fascinating throng of lively creatures on all sides.
There was a lull in the energetic conversation. Some of the fish began to move away from the centre of the room. Ambrose noticed that the sandy floor was raised up at this central part, making a higher platform — a stage, perhaps?
A turtle wearing a bow tie stood up at one of the tables and clapped his hands in a peremptory manner. ‘Your kind attention, my lords and lady fish,’ he said, with a slight lisp, 'Cosimo Cosette and her dancers, the Laughing Flappers, will now dance the Coralei!’
A number of well-manicured flippers were extended and clapped in warm anticipation. There was a general buzz of expectancy.
Then Ambrose heard the strangest reed music he had ever heard in his brief life. It began with a slow melting rhythm, coiling and uncoiling in an undertone, and rising from a subdued murmur to a sweet plaintiff note.
There was an unusual quality about this haunting melody. It seemed to creep under coverlets and inside coats, and to insinuate its presence into the hearts and feelings of all who stopped to listen.
'My lady and gennemum fish!' cried the turtle with the bow tie. 'Here comes Madam Cosimo Cosette, the last of the mermaids!'
Then Ambrose noticed a sea-moss curtain half drawn at the end of the room and, emerging through these curtains, the beautiful gleaming body of a real mermaid. Her hands were on her hips and her splendid tail seemed to be supporting her upright form. She was a sparkling figure, moving sinuously from side to side with the music, rippling back and forth with the rhythm of the reeds.
Lithely, she came forward to the centre of the room. Sweet and supple were her movements. She cooed softly to the tune of the pipes, gently coaxing all the attention of her audience towards her own radiant form. Then she stood still in the arena, pausing a moment while she took her hands from her hips to begin a rippling motion, which sped all the way up from her tail to the tips of her fingers. Her whole body seemed to be quivering. Then she moved forward again, in the slow, sinuous movement of the dance.
Ambrose gazed at her, entranced. The dance was like magic to him. Her beauty was beyond belief. As she came near, she saw his expression. Perhaps there was something about this naive young frog that appealed to her. Whatever it was, the beautiful Cosimo delayed, for a moment, as she drew level with Ambrose. Then she took a purple sea anemone from her hair, gave it a little kiss, and tossed it into Ambrose's hand. Ambrose caught it. He was so startled his mouth dropped open and a look of unbelieving horror spread over his face, followed by a deep flush.
Instantly, there was a burst of laughter from those who had watched this spectacle. Cosimo turned away, hiding her smile at his confusion. Poor Ambrose, he hung his head, blushing with shame and dismay. How he longed for the sandy floor to swallow him up. Tears filled his eyes. He thought of his mother and his father, remembering how kind they were, their friendly ways. He longed to go home. The Round Pond seemed to him to be the sweetest and the nicest place in the whole world.
Suddenly, Cecil called out his name, bringing him back to Earth with a bump! He looked in Cecil's direction. To his amazement he saw that Cecil was sitting there playing in his shirt and underpants. He had taken off his trousers! Furthermore, the man sitting opposite Cecil was wearing two coats. At that very moment, he was putting Cecil’s trousers on over his own. Cecil left his seat and came across to Ambrose. He whispered, ‘Dear cousin, I am in a tight spot. But if I keep on playing I have a good chance of winning. Lend me your coat, there's a good fellow.’
Always obliging, Ambrose lent him his coat. Then Ambrose followed Cecil back to the gaming table, sitting closer to see the game.
No sooner had Cecil picked up a new hand, when he whistled, then swore aloud and threw down his cards. 'Blast!' Cecil exclaimed in dismay. His luck had vanished. The creature sitting opposite him picked up Ambrose's coat and put it on himself, over his and Cecil’s coats.
Cecil whispered to Ambrose, ‘What hard luck! I only needed one more round. One more hand and I can win back everything I have lost. I can feel it inside my head. But I must have the stakes to put down, otherwise they simply won't play with me. So, be a good chap — lend me your trousers, there's a good fellow.'
Ambrose was horrified. Whatever else he was, Ambrose certainly was not a fool. The chances of Cecil winning anything did not seem even remotely likely. However, he liked Cecil and he might have yielded for friendship's sake, as he knew it meant a lot to him. But the prospect of losing his pants in a strange city, and walking about in his underwear, was too embarrassing to bear thinking about. So, he flatly refused.
Having no acceptable stake he could offer, Cousin Cecil was obliged to leave the game. Cecil stood up from the gaming table and sat down beside Ambrose. He indicated his overwhelming thirst, so Ambrose called a waiter who, at Cecil's suggestion, fetched two of the spiral cones containing a heady liquid popularly known as Nereid's Milk. Cecil swallowed both, in rapid succession.
When he spoke he sounded a trifle fuddled. 'If you could s-sh-shee your way c-clear to changing your mind, my dear c-cousin, perhaps I could win back some of my closh — er, clothes.’
But Ambrose was firm. ‘Not with my trousers,’ he declared emphatically.
The hard facts of his situation seemed to help Cecil focus his mind on the subject. ‘My friend, we are in trouble. We have got a lot of thinking to do — which always makes me thirsty. Set up two more cones, there's a good chap, and we will solve this thing together. Two heads are better than one, eh?'
As soon as the two fresh cones arrived full of Nereid's milk, Cecil leant forward and swallowed them rapidly, one after the other.
‘That's better!’ he exclaimed. ‘Now, the way I see it, you will have a lot of explaining to do, cousin, won't you?’
‘I don't see what I need to explain,’ said Ambrose. ‘Frankly, if I gave up my pants, I might be in that position. For when it comes to explaining how I came to be walking about like that, I might find this outside my powers of reasonable explanation.’
‘Ah, I don't mean that, dear boy,’ said Cecil. ‘What I am thinking of is explaining our predicament to my pop — your uncle Caleb. How are you going to do this without giving me away or getting me into trouble? It’s not going to be easy. He already believes I can do no wrong, so he will blame you for tonight's escapade. It will make a bad impression on him, and I did so want you and him to hit it off together,’ said Cecil.
‘Well, I am not sacrificing my slacks, whatever he thinks,’ said Ambrose adamantly.
Suddenly, Cecil brightened up. ‘I've got a brilliant idea,’ he said. ‘Set up two more cones and I'll tell you. Thinking makes me thirsty.’
But, this time, Ambrose took a firm hand. ‘Only one cone,’ he told the waiter. When Cecil had gulped down the fresh supply of Nereid’s milk, he revealed his simple but brilliant plan. He could use Ambrose's travelling bag as a stake!
Cecil was so convinced this was the answer that he would not listen to any of Ambrose's objections. He used all his powers of persuasion. He was certain he would win this time. Third time lucky! There was no risk of losing the bag. His hour had come! He could win back all his clothes again — and Ambrose's coat. It would be a fitting end to a perfect night out. It would make Ambrose's first visit to the great city a memorable occasion. It could not fail.
Ambrose was not as confident as Cecil. But his friend's entreaties were so touching and piteous that he felt sorry for Cecil and was unable to refuse him. Weakly, he gave way, hoping for the best.
Flourishing the cloakroom ticket for Ambrose's bag, Cecil spoke confidently to his gaming companions, hinting darkly of the family jewels the bag contained, which Ambrose had covered a long journey to bring to his uncle. Uncle Caleb was a well-known citizen in Coralis, since he had been elected to be the mayor of Coralis, and no one could doubt his importance. And so, Cecil convinced the other players that they might be losing something priceless if they did not deal him another hand and accept Ambrose's valuable bag as his stake.
Alas, no amount of wishful thinking can guarantee any enterprise. As might be expected, it all ended in miserable failure. It left poor Cecil wringing his hands in despair, it lost poor Ambrose all his worldly possessions, and it sent Cecil's gaming companions on their way in exultant mood to collect Ambrose's bag, which they fondly imagined contained something akin to the crown jewels.
Ambrose forgot his own losses in his sympathy for his wretched new friend. He ordered another cone of Nereid's milk, which Cecil hastily swallowed, and then fell fast asleep with his head on the table.
As Cecil began to snore gently, Ambrose became aware that all eyes were being drawn to the swaying chorus line moving harmoniously in the centre of the Mermaid Cavern. It was like a kind of finale. It drew the attention of the entire audience.
The troupe of dancers on the raised sandy stage were dancing together in a single swaying line, arm linked with arm, legs kicking out in perfect synchronisation. As they danced they sang together, raising their young voices in the dulcet tones of a well-loved refrain.
These were not mermaids; or, if they were, they were only trainee mermaids. In any case, they all had perfectly good legs; indeed, some of these female creatures had more than two legs. But what was remarkable about them was their baby faces, their lively expressions and the perfect unison of their dancing and singing.
Furthermore, they were singing the words of the song of the beautiful mermaid, Cosimo Cosette, but now, the whole thing was being drawn out and gathered up into the refrain of a favourite and well-loved chorus.
Clearly, these were the celebrated Laughing Flappers mentioned earlier by the announcer. They accompanied Cosimo, the last of the mermaids, dancing in the chorus line after Cosimo's great solo performance.
What were the words they were singing? It was certainly a song that the audience knew well and loved dearly, for, at this moment, the audience were taking up the chorus again, joining in the singing with the dancers in a great surge of swelling sound rising to the roof.
Ambrose strained to catch their words. He knew that he would have to carry Cecil home on his back and face the wrath of Uncle Caleb. And he would have to ask someone where they live, because he had no idea of the way, and Cecil, who was out for the count, did not look like being of much help. Furthermore, it was already the early hours of the morning — nearly nine hours since Ambrose had first arrived in this great city; all the respectable citizens, including Uncle Caleb, must now be tucked up in bed.
But Ambrose simply could not leave without discovering the words of that haunting tune and recalling once again, and forever, the beautiful mermaid Cosimo, who had stolen his heart away.
The Laughing Flappers echoed that sweet song at this very moment; Ambrose knew full well that he would simply die if he did not succeed in discovering the actual meaning of the words they were singing… The words he’d first heard sung so intimately by that mysterious and fascinating ladyfish, Madam Cosimo Cosette. Here, at last, he heard them, clearly and unmistakably, and before he started for his uncle’s home with the somnambulant Cecil, these words were engraved on Ambrose's heart:
Soft are the arms of Arne,
Calm are the lips of the sea goddess
In the glow of a Triton's charm.
‘Oh, come from the wastes
Of the frozen north,
Oh, speed from the south
And the sun,
Oh, come for the love of the Coralei —
The soft, sweet song of the Coralei —
My beautiful one!
'Wild as the foam on the windswept sea,
Bold as the fearsome shark,
Handsome is he who hears my love call,
Deep fathoms away, in the dark.
‘Oh, come from the wastes
Of the frozen north,
Oh, speed from the south
And the sun,
Oh, come for the love of the Coralei —
The soft sweet song of the Coralei —
My beautiful one.'
This fiction is an underwater saga written for entertainment of children of all ages from six to sixty years (and older).
It is an imaginative tale of a country frog called Ambrose, who leaves the peace of his home at the Round Pond on the Essex marshes to seek his fortune in the world outside.
The early scenes from this story occurred to me suddenly some thirty-eight years ago. They appeared in my mind, clad in vivid colours, with complete sequences unfolding before me.
The brilliant world rising up before my inner eyes, caused by this flashing inspiration, excited my imagination. I could immediately visualise it as some epic moving-picture — either live-action or animated, or both — with memorable words and music, powerful nostalgic songs and lively dancing. Or I could write it simply as a great yarn, like the classic tales of our literature.
I would add a further dimension to the story by including hidden insights into the secret corners of life, which would delight those who had the ‘eyes to see with’. With a gentle irony, I would illuminate the foibles of our everyday lives, to amuse and delight my adult readers, so that, at bedtime, when they had the task of reading aloud to their young ones, this would be a story that everyone, young and old alike, could enjoy.
This book is designed to encourage children to find the answers themselves to the meanings of any words or phrases they do not know. I encouraged my own children in this way. They stopped asking me for answers and learnt to find them themselves, promoting independence and confidence within them.
Unfortunately I had to put it aside to attend to the pressing necessity of earning a living. Fearing that I might lose or forget my inspiration, I carefully recorded it in a series of shorthand notes, which I temporarily entitled The Underwater Ballet.
Although some sequences were detached and lost, most of these notes have been preserved to this day, which, together with the memory of the original inspiration, I have developed and compiled in this volume.
The title of the work has been changed to Ambrose and the Mermaid, An Underwater Fable. I believe I have succeeded in producing what is essentially a tale of imagination, with a strong story and a cheerful setting, appealing, I hope, to all ages.
All for One and One for All
Underwater Management would like to thank everyone who made this project possible, the members of our team for their time and creative input, especially for the concept of the book cover and illustration development. The Rowanvale Books team, thank-you for your support and enthusiasm, to all the staff involved, especially Sapphira White for the great editing. Hev ‘Big Brat’ Shaw, for believing and helping on all stages. The Cardiff Illustrators Society for finding some of the illustrators. All the illustrators for having faith and vision and for giving your time and creative energy. Thank-you to Lisa Kitcher at the Daily Echo Newspaper for not giving up! Thank-you to Maria for the encouragement, Edu, Judith and Carmen for their valued opinions and Fernando for his honest input. Thank-you to Phoenix for the technical help. Thank-you to family members who had to put up with the ‘tappety tappety’ noise of a laptop in bed, long into the small hours, on a regular basis and most importantly, sincerest apologies to ‘Mr T’, who had to have reduced walking time during the preparation months.
Citadel = A smaller part of the city of which it is the defensive core
Clandestine = Executed with secrecy
Comely = Good looking or attractive
Degeneration = The evolutionary decline or loss of a function,
characteristic, or structure in an organism or species.
Deuced = Devilish or confounded
Diminutive = Small or tiny
Enmity = A feeling of hostility
Forlorn = Miserable
Hatcheck girl = female cloakroom attendant
Meritorious = Praiseworthy
Peremptory Manner = Assertive
Pinioned = To bind ones hands together
Purgatory = Any condition or place of temporary punishment or
Sea-anemone = Animal that looks a bit like a plant and lives in the sea
Somnambulant = Walking when asleep
Stalactite = An icicle-shaped mineral deposit, usually calcite or
aragonite, hanging from the roof of a cavern, formed from the dripping of mineral-rich water.
Terminus Building = A building on the boundary or city limit
There’s the rub = A difficulty or impediment
For any other words, you will have to follow the ‘go-ahead’ example of the Coralis students and look them up.
Remember: ‘Nobody is idle in busy Coralis’!