SINK OR SWIM?
Ariel and her sisters were getting ready for the day, in their dressing room, when Flounder swam in. Aquata bristled. "Ariel! This is supposed to be a Lady's dressing room!"
Ariel blushed and swam to Flounder. "You're not supposed to come in here, silly!", she whispered to her little fish friend.
"I'm sorry", apologized Flounder; "I was just wondering if we can go out exploring after breakfast and I couldn't wait to ask you."
Ariel smiled and brushed her long red hair. "I don't know if I can; Daddy mentioned something about a guest arriving, last night, and we were supposed to do something with them. I'll find out at breakfast and then I'll let you know. Now, scoot!"
Flounder nodded, happily, and swam off.
Ariel soon found out who the "guest" was, at breakfast. Triton smiled at his girls, as he explained. "As I told you last evening; a dignitary from Sea-city will be arriving at noon today, and I want all of you to make her feel welcome."
The Princesses looked at each other, with curiousity.
"She is a niece of the Duke, and about Attina's age, I believe. Her name is Doris; she's a very well-mannered young lady, so I want you to be on your best behavior."
"Yes Father", they answered.
"Try to make her feel at home; I'm sure that she'll be a little uncomfortable at first, but I know that you will become friends in no time. She'll be staying the week; Aquata; I want you to show her to the guest-room in our wing."
"Yes, Father", answered the oldest girl.
Arista whispered to Andrina, "Doris? Isn't that a sea-slug?", she snickered.
The family's guest arrived on time, and the Princesses got their first look at her when she stepped out of the conch-shell carriage. Doris was a little taller than any of them; with a thin, "vogueish" figure. She had jet-black hair, cut as short as a man's; small dark eyes; a long elegant nose, and small thin lips.
Arista instantly felt like the new guest was looking down on them, with a superior sneer. "Well; aren't we someone special", she whispered.
The Princesses came forward to greet her, and Doris gave a restrained smile. "Thank you! I'm sure that I'll have a wonderful time while I'm here!", she answered with a crisp, clear voice.
Blenny, one of the royal guards, started to take her clam-shell suitcases, when Doris frowned at him. "I can take them myself; I can assure you."
Blenny bowed and backed away, as Triton coughed into his fist. "Yes;...Aquata will see you to your room. After you become settled, perhaps you would like my daughters to show you around the palace?"
"That would be most gracious!", returned Doris.
Aquata led their guest into the palace; with the other girls straggling behind. Adella gave Ariel a questioning look; Ariel shrugged.
Doris gazed around her, with a penetrating stare. "This is good work; how much did it cost?"
Aquata looked confused, "I beg your pardon?"
"The palace. What did it cost to build?", clarified their guest.
Aquata stuttered, "Well,...I don't know, to tell the truth. I've never really thought about it. Maybe you can ask Father."
"I guess that I will; seeing that you don't know", answered Doris.
They soon arrived at the guest room. Doris inspected here, as well. "Nice furnishings. Tasteful and not gaudy. I like it."
Aquata tried not to smile. "We're glad it pleases you. Just make yourself at home." The girls started to leave.
"Oh; I will need a messenger mackerel, as soon as possible", stated Doris.
She sighed at their blank stares. "I must keep up with the clam market; there's a lot of buying going on, right now."
Aquata nodded. "Oh. Okay. I'll tell Father about it."
"You do that", answered Doris.
The girls left, and Arista started laughing. "Oh boy! Is she a strange one! So sophisticated!"
Aquata shrugged. "I guess she's just well-educated. There's nothing wrong with that."
Ariel looked at her sisters. "You know,...seeing that Doris is gonna need a little time to get settled, ...I was wondering if I could,..."
",...sneak off for a while", finished Arista.
"It won't be for long!", promised Ariel, "Me and Flounder found this really neat cave!, and it's got lot's of pretty stones in the wall!"
"I don't see why she can take off whenever she pleases, while we've got to stay and look after Miss Sophisticated!", answered Arista, hotly.
Aquata sighed. "Okay, little sister. You can go exploring. But I want you back an hour before dinner." Arista started to speak, but Aquata broke her off, "You can all take a break. I'll look after Doris."
"Thanks Aquata!", squealed Ariel; and off she swam to find Flounder.
Ariel returned on time; much to Aquata's surprise. She was excitedly telling of her "adventure", even as they entered Doris's bedroom, to take her to dinner. "The colors were as beautiful as the sky above!", gushed the girl.; "pale blues and reds!"
Doris approached them, with an eyebrow raised. "You let the young one run off and do whatever she pleases?"
Ariel smirked. "I'm just three years younger than you!"
Doris smiled back. "I'm simply attributing your impractical lifestyle to your immaturity. Frankly; I would have expected you to have dropped these childhood endeavers, by now."
Ariel laughed. "Maybe I like my childhood endeavors!"
Aquata floated between them, with a forced smile. "It's time for dinner! Come along now, Ariel! This way, Doris." Aquata gave her youngest sister a "Be nice, this is a guest!" glare. Ariel smiled and puffed at her curl, as she joined her sisters leading Doris to the dinner table.
Doris sat on the opposite end of the table from the King; with his daughters on either side. The dinner was superb, and Doris chatted with Triton like she had known him all of her life. The King was quite impressed by her maturity.
"I've taught my girls social manners, of course, but it still takes them a while to become comfortable with strangers."
Doris chuckled. "I've noticed. Being involved in my own business; I've quickly learned how to deal with people."
Triton smiled. "That's quite an accomplishment for one so young."
",...And a girl?", continued Doris. "I've noticed that none of your daughters has a job, yet. Getting involved in a business is a wonderful introduction to adult responsibilties."
"Well;...my girls have kept the palace neat. They've all baby-sitted, and Aquata is learning about governing."
Doris sniffed through her nose. "Baby-sitting is hardly a career field. I was trading in clams, by six. Could it be that you're stifling their business education because they happen to be women?"
Triton forced down a chuckle and sipped on his sea-tea. "No;....they aren't interested in business, right now."
Doris smiled through thin lips. "Perhaps that is because you never taught them otherwise. Raising them to be nice houswives and mothers; without a brain of their own. Obediant to their husbands."
Ariel feared her father would explode with rage; he laughed instead. "I don't think Arista or Ariel can be forced to do anything! Business is good and well, Doris; but it's not for everyone. Being a wife and a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs that I can imagine."
"That's easy for you to say; being a man", laughed Doris.
"Like it or not, Doris; men and women are different. I think a female is naturally inclined to motherhood, and caring for her family."
"I'm not surprised at that statement", returned Doris. "You have the typical attitudes of the domineering male sex."
Ariel's mouth dropped. How could Daddy stand such talk?
"I think you have a lot to learn, Doris", answered the King, gently. "You will find that living happily involves more than dealing in the clam market."
"It involves picking up after your husband, and raising seven children and being a good wife", continued Doris.
"Perhaps", said the King. "But remember; the husband has duties to his wife and children, too. He can neglect his responsiblities no more than his wife can."
Doris had no quick answer for this, so she smiled through thin lips and sipped her tea.
After a moment of silence, Ariel ventured to speak. "Flounder and I found a wonderful cave today, Daddy. would you like to hear about it?"
The King smiled, lovingly, at his daughter. "Of course I would, dear."
Ariel grinned at her rememberance, "It's near the starfish colony; out by that big coral bed. Flounder told me about how beautiful it was, and when I saw it, I couldn't believe my eyes! All these see-through rocks of different colors! They were sparkling in the sunlight and shaped with sharp bends that broke the light up into rainbows!"
"Faceted", corrected Doris, dryly.
Ariel ignored the remark. "There were pinks and blues and purples, all mixed together and clustered; poking out of the cave wall. I wanted to take one home, but they were stuck tight and wouldn't come out."
"They were probably quartz or topaz; hardly worth the effort to extract", added Doris.
Ariel looked angrily at the girl, "I don't care what they were worth! They were beautiful and that's what's important!
"Now Ariel; be polite to our guest", urged her father.
"Yes, Daddy", sighed Ariel.
"Actually, I've dabbled a bit in the gem market, myself", confirmed Doris.
"That's interesting", said Triton, as he poked a sea-fruit with his clam-fork; "please tell us about it."
Doris sipped her tea, "I'm sure that your daughters wouldn't be interested in it; it involves capitalism and profit-taking for self-realization of finianicial goals."
Triton nodded, as he ate his fruit; then he chuckled. "I dealt a little in the gem market, myself, when I was a lad. I used to collect seashells! I had quite a collection, too. Still do, as a matter-of-fact."
Doris rolled her eyes up.
"The pride of my collection is a blue nautilus shell; you've seen it; haven't you girls?"
Ariel grinned, joyfully, "Yes, Daddy! It's beautiful! And it's really blue too!"
"Blue nautilus shells are very rare", agreed Aquata.
"Will wonders never cease,..." sniped Doris, dryly.
Ariel blushed with anger. "May I be excused, Daddy? This dinner has made me ill!"
Triton nodded. "Certainly, dear. Go lie down for a while, and I'll have Otto fix you a drink to sooth your stomach."
"Thank you, Daddy", answered Ariel, and swam to her room.
Triton came to see her, after dinner. The girl was watching the young fish playing, from her balcony.
"I'm glad to see you're feeling better", said her father, as he cupped her head, lovingly.
Ariel put her hand on his. "Thank you, Daddy. I felt better as soon as I got away from that,...Doris."
"It's not like you to keep ill-feelings for someone."
Ariel looked at the young fish. "I'm sorry; but I can't help it. Doris makes me so angry; treating you with such rudeness!"
"Remember, dear; manners and respect for others must be taught; no one is born with them. Doris was either never taught, or else she has chose to ignore what was taught to her."
"You want me to be nice to her, don't you?"
Triton smiled. Ariel smiled up at him. "Okay. I'll try."
The next day, the Princesses were to show Doris the palace gardens. Although Ariel wanted to shy away from her, the young woman sought her out and manuvered her away from her sisters, and into the hall.
"Ariel; I know that you dislike me."
"How could you tell that?", answered the girl, dryly.
Doris put a firm hand on Ariel's shoulder. "I don't want you to feel that way. My point of view is simply,...different from your's. I wasn't raised with a silver clam-spoon in my mouth, like you. I had to learn how to be a success."
"You did wonderfully", said Ariel and started back to her sisters. Doris swam in front of her.
"My parents had a motto in raising me: Success-by-six. I was planning for my career when other children were playing hide-and-seek."
"Did you ever play hide-and-seek?", asked Ariel.
"I did not participate in games which yeilded nothing in return", laughed Doris.
"But games are,...fun! Games make you happy!", answered Ariel.
"Making money makes me happy. Being a success is fun to me. You see, Ariel; I have studied the practices of a land called America. It is governed by Humans."
Ariel's curiousity awoke. "Humans?"
"Yes. These Humans have taught me very valuable lessons. There are many losers, Ariel; but only one winner. Looking out for yourself; being better than everyone else, is the greatest goal in life, and nothing, and no one, can stand in your way of achieving it."
"That sounds so cold", whispered Ariel.
"It's life; my child. Only the strong survive. You must do everything in your power to win. No one likes a loser. Losers will never gain anything. Losers are worthless. You must learn to be a winner."
"I prefer being who I am", answered Ariel. She tried to swim around Doris. "May I get by?"
"I've tried to help you. You can't remain a child forever", said Doris, with a smile.
"I'm sorry for you, Doris. You never had a chance to be a child." Ariel swam back to her sisters, as Doris followed; smiling and shaking her head.
Aquata grinned, diplomatically, as Doris swam in. "Well,...Doris! Shall we escort you to the royal gardens? They're really lovely right now; the sea-fans are in full bloom!"
"I would prefer to see your father's accounting office", answered their guest.
"Accounting,...office?", mumbled a dazed Aquata.
Doris smiled. "You know. Where your Daddy keeps paper with numbers on them. And squid pens. Scribble, scribble?"
"Uh,...business. Yes!,...sure!", answered Aquata. "This way!"
Aquata led the group to Triton's study room. Doris quickly found the King's book-keeping for the royal finances and began reading through them.
Ariel looked, questioningly, at her big sister, "Do you think we should be letting her look at those books? Those are Daddy's personal books."
Aquata shrugged. "Father said to show her anything she wanted. If she wants to see books with rows of numbers, I guess she can."
Doris seemed to be pleased by what she read. She shut Triton's book, with a smile, and put it back on the shelf. "Perhaps I was wrong to look at your father's private books", stuttered Doris, "Please don't tell him; I would be very embarressed."
"Oh; we won't!", agreed Aquata, cheerfully. "Would you like to see the royal gardens, now?"
"Sure. Why not", laughed Doris.
The next evening, at supper, Doris seemed beside herself with good humor. Ariel noticed that she didn't challenge her father once on anything he said. Her messenger mackerel swam in, during the main course, and whispered in their guest's ear. Doris chuckled with satisfaction. Soon afterwards, a merman counselor of the King swam into the room, bowed to Triton, and told him something in his ear. Ariel saw that her father seemed upset. She swam up to him, in concern.
"Is something wrong, Daddy?", she asked, anxiously.
Her father turned his head so only she could see his face. "I'm afraid I've gotten some bad news", he said; but he was smiling, and he winked at his daughter. Ariel swam back to her chair; a little confused.
Doris was bubbling over with mirth. "I'm afraid I'll have to cut my visit short. It's been lovely, but I've got businesses to attend to."
Triton rose. "I'm sorry to hear that you must leave us so soon. I'll arrange a carriage to take you home."
"Oh; there's no need for that, your Majesty. I've already got a carriage waiting." Doris swam up to the King, with a smile. "Our attitudes about life are certainly different. Perhaps your method of helping everyone before yourself; being content with coming in second (or sixteenth) is the most successful one. How would I know? I'm just a girl." Doris bowed and swam over to Ariel.
The tall girl looked down at her, with a grin, "I think you'd better learn how to be an adult now,...or else starve." She turned and waved at the group. "Goodbye everyone!" She swam out the door and disappeared.
Aquata stared after her, with her mouth open, "She sure was in a hurry to leave!"
"Good riddance", added Arista; then hung her head, "Sorry, Father!"
Ariel looked at her father, with puzzlement, "What's going on, Daddy?"
Triton sat back down and chuckled. "When did Doris read my accounting books?"
Aquata gasped, "Yesterday! How did you know?"
"She asked me if she could see them on the first day, but I put her off", explained Triton. "That's why she was here."
"I don't understand. Why would Doris want to see your accounting books?", asked Ariel.
"You saw what kind of person she is. Her family is always looking for ways to improve their finiancial situation. Doris was sent to read my books, in order to find any tips, or knowledge that would help them."
"That's terrible!", gasped Aquata.
"Yes. Isn't it? I decided to change my records a little bit. I put a note on the last page about the royal treasury being almost gone and about how desperate I was. I wrote that I had put all of what remained of our money into the pink-clam market, in hopes that it would go up and save us.'
"What did Doris do?", asked Ariel.
"She sold off all of her pink clam holdings. That would make the price drop."
"She was trying to ruin us!", growled Arista.
Triton nodded, "If we were hurt; her family would gain."
"If you knew how she was, Daddy, why did you invite her here?", asked Ariel.
Triton smiled and hugged his little girl. "You are a bright one. All of you are. I invited her here; not to teach her about Atlantica, but to teach you about people like her."
Ariel smiled with understanding. "You knew how she was all the time, and wanted us to see!"
Triton nodded. "Pearl was very undisiplined, before she realized her mistakes; Doris is too disiplined. There's nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, and strive to be the best; but it shouldn't rule your life until you have no joy in living. Remember: There is always time for play, and being a child."