Part 4 out of 8
THE STORY OF PHAETHON
Phaeton, the son of the nymph Clymene, was very proud of his mother's
beauty, and used to boast of it greatly to his playmates. Tired of the
boy's bragging and conceit, one of his friends said to him one day:
"You're very willing to talk about your mother, but I notice you never
speak of your father. Are you ashamed of him?"
"No, I'm not," replied Phaethon, trying to look unabashed.
"Well, then, tell us about him. If he were anything great, you would be
willing enough to brag about him."
And because Phaethon kept quiet, all of his playmates began to jeer at
him, cruelly enough.
"You don't know your father. You've never seen him," they cried.
Phaethon would not cry before them, but there were tears of shame and
anger in his eyes as he told the story to his mother.
"Never mind, my boy," she said soothingly, "To-morrow you shall tell
them the name of your father, and that will stop their taunts. Come, let
me whisper it to you."
When Phaethon heard what she had to tell him, his eyes shone with joy
and pride, and he could scarce wait for morning to carry his news to his
mocking friends. He was first at the meeting-place, but he would say
nothing until all his playmates were gathered. Then he said, quietly,
but O, so proudly:
"My father is Apollo, the sun-god!"
For a moment there was silence; then came a burst of laughter from the
group crowded about Phaethon.
"A likely story! Who ever heard anything so ridiculous? It's quite plain
that your mother is ashamed of your father, and is trying to throw you
off the track."
Again Phaethon ran home, his cheeks burning, his eyes flashing, and
again he told his mother all that had passed.
"It's too late to do anything about it to-day," said Clymene, "but to-
morrow you shall go yourself to your father's palace, before he sets out
on his trip across the sky; and if he is pleased with you, he will give
you some proof that you are really his son."
Long before daylight the next morning Phaethon set out, and with his
mother's directions in mind, walked straight east until he came to the
dazzling palace of the sun. Had he not been a bold youth, he would have
been frightened and turned back; but he was determined to prove his
boasts, and passed on into the palace. At last, on a great golden
throne, he saw his father--surely a more glorious father than ever boy
had before. So glorious was he that Phaethon dared not approach him
closely, as the light about the throne was blinding. When Apollo
recognized him, however, he took off the crown of rays from about his
head and called to Phaethon to approach fearlessly.
As the boy stood before the throne, he was a son of whom no father, even
Apollo, needed to be ashamed; and as he hurried into his story, the sun-
god smiled at the signs of his impetuous temper.
"You're willing to own me for your son, aren't you?" finished Phaethon.
"To be sure I am," replied the sun-god; "and that your mates may never
have chance to doubt it more, I swear by the terrible Styx [Footnote:
The Styx was one of the great rivers of Hades. The oath by the Styx was
regarded as so binding that even a god could not break it without being
punished severely for his perjury. Any god who broke his oath was
obliged to drink of the black waters of the Styx which kept him in utter
unconsciousness for a year; and after his return to consciousness he was
banished for nine years from Olympus.] to give you any proof you ask."
It did not take Phaethon long to decide--he had made up his mind on the
way; and his words fairly tumbled over each other as he cried eagerly:
"Then I'll drive the sun-chariot for a day!"
Apollo was horrified, for he knew that he alone of the gods could manage
the fiery steeds; and if great Jupiter himself could not do it, what
would happen if they were placed in the power of this slight boy? He
begged Phaethon to release him from his promise, but--
"You promised, you promised!" repeated the boy. "You swore by the Styx,
and you CAN'T break your word."
This was true, as Apollo knew well; and at length, with a sigh, he
turned and called to his servants, the Hours, who stood ready to attend
him on his journey:
"Harness my steeds, and make sure that everything is right about the
While this was being done, Apollo explained carefully to his son the
dangers of the way, hoping yet to turn him from his purpose.
"The path runs steeply upward at first," he said, "and with all their
strength the horses can scarce drag the chariot. During the middle of
the day the course is high, high in the heavens, and it will sicken you
and make you dizzy if you look down. But the latter part of the drive is
most dangerous, for it slopes rapidly down, and if the horses are not
tightly reined in, horses, chariot and driver will fall headlong into
Nothing frightened Phaethon.
"You see," he explained, "it's not as if I didn't know how to drive.
I've often driven my grandfather's horses, and they are wild and
By this time the magnificent golden chariot and the six horses of white
fire were ready, and after one last plea to his son, Apollo permitted
him to mount the seat. He anointed the boy's face with a cooling lotion,
that the heat might not scorch him, and placed the crown of beams about
"And now," he said, "you must be off. Already the people on earth are
wondering why the sun does not rise. Do remember, my boy, not to use the
whip, and to choose a path across the heavens which is neither too high
nor too low."
With but scant attention to his father's advice, Phaethon gave the word
to his steeds and dashed out of the gates which Aurora opened for him.
And thus began a day which the gods on Olympus and the people on earth
[Illustration: IN VAIN PHAETHON PULLED AT THE REINS.]
The horses easily perceived that some other hand than their master's
held the lines, and they promptly became unmanageable. In vain Phaethon
pulled at the reins; in vain he called the steeds by name. Up the sky
they dashed, and then, first to the south, then to the north, they took
their zigzag course across the heavens. What a sight it must have
presented from below, this sun reeling crazily about the sky! Worst of
all, however, the horses did not keep at the same distance from the
earth. First they went down, down, until they almost touched the
mountain tops. Trees, grass, wheat, flowers, all were scorched and
blackened; and one great tract in Africa was so parched that nothing has
since been able to grow upon it. Rivers were dried up, the snow on the
mountain tops was melted, and, strangest of all, the people in the
country over which the sun-chariot was passing were burned black.
[Footnote: In this way the ancients explained the great desert of
Sahara, and the dark color of the people of Africa.] Then, rising, the
horses dragged the chariot so far from the earth that intense, bitter
cold killed off much of the vegetation which the fierce heat had spared.
Poor Phaethon could do nothing but clutch the seat and shut his eyes. He
dared not look down, lest he lose his balance and fall; he dared not
look about him, for there were, in all parts of the heavens, the most
terrifying animals--a great scorpion, a lion, two bears, a huge crab.
[Footnote: These terrifying animals which Phaethon saw in the sky were
the groups of stars, the constellations to which the ancients gave the
names of animals etc. We know the Big Dipper, or Great Bear, for we may
see it in the north any clear night.] Vainly he repented of his
rashness; sadly he wondered in what way his death would come.
It came suddenly--so suddenly that poor Phaethon did not feel the pain
of it. For Jupiter, when he saw the sun rocking about the heavens, did
not stop to inquire who the unknown charioteer was; he knew it was not
Apollo, and he knew the earth was being ruined--that was enough. Seizing
one of his biggest thunderbolts, he hurled it with all his might, and
Phaethon fell, flaming, from his lofty seat into the Eridanus River;
while the horses, whom no thunderbolt could harm, trotted quietly back
to their stalls. Clymene bewailed her son's death bitterly, and his
companions, grieved that their taunts should have driven their comrade
to his destruction, helped her to erect over his grave a stone on which
were these words:
"Lies buried here young Phaethon, who sought
To guide his father's chariot of flame.
What though he failed? No death ignoble his
Who fared to meet it with such lofty aim."
Most of the Greek myths had meanings; they were not simply fairy
stories. And while we have no means now of finding the meanings of some
of them, many of them are so clear that we can understand exactly what
the Greeks meant to teach by them. By far the most numerous are the so-
called "nature myths"--myths which they invented to explain the
happenings which they saw constantly about them in the natural world. Of
these nature myths the story of Phaethon is one.
The ancients believed that drought was caused by the sun's coming too
close to the earth; but how could Apollo, experienced driver of the sun-
chariot, ever be so careless as to drive close enough to the earth to
burn it? It was easy enough to imagine that the chariot, when it did
such damage, was being driven by some reckless person who knew not how
to guide it. But then arose the necessity of explaining Apollo's
willingness to trust such a reckless person with so great a task; and
what more likely than that the inexperienced charioteer was Apollo's
beloved son, who had induced his father to grant his rash request?
Gradually details were added, until the story took the form in which we
As the drought of summer is often brought to a close by a storm which is
accompanied by thunder and lightning, and which hides the light of the
sun, so in the story Phaethon's ruinous drive is brought to an end by
the thunderbolt of Jupiter; while the horses, trotting back home before
their time, leave the world in comparative darkness.
It must not be supposed that some one just sat down one day and said, "I
will tell a story which shall explain drought and the ending of
drought." This story, like all the others, grew up gradually. Perhaps,
one day, in time of drought, some one said to his neighbor, "The chariot
of Apollo is coming too close to the earth," and perhaps his neighbor
replied, "Some one who knows not how to guide the white horses is
driving it." Such language might in time easily become the common
language for describing times of drought; and so, at length, would grow
up, out of what was at first merely a description, in figurative
language, of a natural happening, a story, in dramatic form.
THE ENGLISH ROBIN
By Harrison Weir
See yon robin on the spray;
Look ye how his tiny form
Swells, as when his merry lay
Gushes forth amid the storm.
Though the snow is falling fast,
Specking o'er his coat with white,
Though loud roars the chilly blast,
And the evening's lost in night,
Yet from out the darkness dreary
Cometh still that cheerful note;
Praiseful aye, and never weary,
Is that little warbling throat.
Thank him for his lesson's sake,
Thank God's gentle minstrel there,
Who, when storms make others quake,
Sings of days that brighter were.
The English robin is not the bird we call robin redbreast in the United
States. Our robin is a big, lordly chap about ten inches long, but the
English robin is not more than five and a half inches long; that is, it
is smaller than an English sparrow. The robin of the poem has an olive-
green back and a breast of yellowish red, and in habits it is like our
warblers. It is a sweet singer, and a confiding, friendly little thing,
so that English children are very fond of it, and English writers are
continually referring to it.
TOM, THE WATER BABY
By Charles Kingsley
Charles Kingsley, who was born in 1819, and became Canon of the Church
of England at Chester, wrote, in addition to his interesting and
brilliant novels, The Water Babies, which is a charming fairy story for
young people. It is, however, one of those stories that can be read more
than once, and read by all classes of people.
Besides telling the delightful story of Tom, the water baby, and his
wonderful adventures on land and in water, Canon Kingsley gives in a
very amusing style accounts of many of the animals that live in and near
the water. But he brings them all into the story in such a way that they
seem to be real, living characters, and you are almost as much
interested in the stately salmon and his wife, or even in the funny old
lobster, as you would be if they were actual human beings.
As the story was written originally, there was a great deal in it for
children of much larger growth than those who will read it here. In some
respects the story resembles Gulliver's Travels, for Kingsley took
occasion to be satirical about many of the things which men and women
say, do and believe. Some of this satire children will enjoy thoroughly,
but some of it could not be understood well except by persons who have
lived in this world for many years. Accordingly, in this book, we have
thought it best to leave out some things, giving you only the story of
Tom, and hoping that when you young readers grow to manhood or womanhood
you will find The Water Babies, complete, a good story to read. You will
enjoy recalling the delight you have in it now, and will find out that
even a children's story may be so told as to keep a man thinking.
Moreover, the story was written by an Englishman for an English boy, and
there are a great many allusions to things that only English boys
appreciate or understand, and it has seemed wise to omit most of these.
On the other hand, nothing has been omitted to weaken the story of Tom,
and nothing has been added to destroy the charm of Canon Kingsley's
Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, [Footnote: A boy
would have a hard time crawling through some of our chimneys nowadays,
but years ago, when houses had open fireplaces instead of steam plants,
there was a network of huge chimneys through which a small boy could
easily work his way, brushing off the soot as he went.] and his name was
Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not
have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the
North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty
of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend. He could not read nor
write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for
there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught
to say his prayers. He never had heard of God, or of Christ, except in
words which you never have heard, and which it would have been well if
he had never heard.
[Illustration: THERE WAS A LITTLE CHIMNEY SWEEP, AND HIS NAME WAS TOM.]
He cried half his time, and laughed the other half. He cried when he had
to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when
the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when
his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had
not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise. And he
laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing halfpennies with
the other boys, or playing leapfrog over the posts, or bowling stones at
the horses' legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent fun, when
there was a wall at hand behind which to hide.
As for chimneysweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all
that for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and
stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey
did to a hailstorm; and then shook his ears and was as jolly as ever;
and thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a
master sweep, [Footnote: A master sweep was a man who had grown too
large to climb up chimneys, but who kept boys whom he hired out for that
purpose.] and sit in the public-house with a quart of beer and a long
pipe, and play cards for silver money, and wear velveteens and ankle-
jacks, and keep a white bulldog with one gray ear, and carry her puppies
in his pocket, just like a man. And he would have apprentices, one, two,
three, if he could. How he would bully them, and knock them about, just
as his master did to him; and make them carry home the soot sacks, while
he rode before them on his donkey, with a pipe in his mouth and a flower
in his buttonhole, like a king at the head of his army. Yes, there were
good times coming; and when his master let him have a pull at the
leavings of his beer, Tom was the jolliest boy in the whole town.
One day a smart little groom rode into the court where Tom lived, and
halloed to him to know where Mr. Grimes, the chimney-sweep, lived. Now,
Mr. Grimes was Tom's own master, and Tom was a good man of business, and
always civil to customers, so he proceeded to take orders.
Mr. Grimes was to come up next morning to Sir John Harthover's at the
Place, for his old chimney-sweep was gone to prison, and the chimneys
wanted sweeping. And so he rode away, not giving Tom time to ask what
the sweep had gone to prison for, which was a matter of interest to Tom,
as he had been in prison once or twice himself. Moreover, the groom
looked so very neat and clean, with his drab gaiters, drab breeches,
drab jacket, snow-white tie with a smart pin in it, and clean round
ruddy face, that Tom was offended and disgusted at his appearance, and
considered him a stuck-up fellow, who gave himself airs because he wore
smart clothes, and other people paid for them.
His master was so delighted at his new customer that he knocked Tom down
out of hand, and drank more beer that night than he usually did in two,
in order to be sure of getting up in time next morning, for the more a
man's head aches when he wakes, the more glad he is to turn out, and
have a breath of fresh air. And when he did get up at four the next
morning, he knocked Tom down again, in order to teach him (as young
gentlemen used to be taught at public schools) that he must be an extra
good boy that day, as they were going to a very great house, and might
make a very good thing of it, if they could but give satisfaction.
And Tom thought so likewise, and, indeed, would have done and behaved
his best, even without being knocked down. For, of all places upon
earth, Harthover Place (which he had never seen) was the most wonderful,
and, of all men on earth, Sir John (whom he had seen, having been sent
to jail by him twice) was the most awful.
Harthover Place was really a grand place, even for the rich North
country, and Sir John a grand old man, whom even Mr. Grimes respected;
for not only could he send Mr. Grimes to prison when he deserved it, as
he did once or twice a week; not only did he own all the land about for
miles; not only was he as jolly, honest, sensible squire as ever kept a
pack of hounds, who would do what he thought right by his neighbors, as
well as get what he thought right for himself; but what was more, he
weighed full fifteen stone, was nobody knew how many inches round the
chest, and could have thrashed Mr. Grimes himself in fair fight, which
very few folk round there could do, and which, my dear little boy, would
not have been right for him to do, as a great many things are not which
one can do, and would like very much to do. So Mr. Grimes touched his
hat to him when he rode through the town, and thought that that made up
for his poaching Sir John's pheasants.
So Tom and his master set out; Grimes rode the donkey in front, and Tom
and the brushes walked behind; out of the court, and up the street, past
the closed window shutters, and the winking weary policemen, and the
roofs all shining gray in the gray dawn. They passed through the
pitmen's village, all shut up and silent now, and through the turn-pike;
and then they were out in the real country, and plodding along the black
dusty road, between black slag walls, with no sound but the groaning and
thumping of the pit-engine in the next field. But soon the road grew
white, and the walls likewise; and at the wall's foot grew long grass
and gay flowers, all drenched with dew; and instead of the groaning of
the pit-engine, they heard the skylark, saying his matins high up in the
air, and the pit-bird warbling in the sedges, as he had warbled all
All else was silent. For old Mrs. Earth was still fast asleep; and, like
many pretty people, she looked still prettier asleep than awake. The
great elm trees in the gold-green meadows were fast asleep above, and
the cows fast asleep beneath them; nay, the few clouds which were about
were fast asleep likewise, and so tired that they had lain down on the
earth to rest, in long white flakes and bars, among the stems of the elm
trees, and along the tops of the alders by the stream, waiting for the
sun to bid them rise and go about their day's business in the clear blue
[Illustration: THEY CAME UP WITH A POOR IRISHWOMAN.]
On they went; and Tom looked, and looked, for he never had been so far
into the country before; and longed to get over a gate, and pick
buttercups, and look for birds' nests in the hedge; but Mr. Grimes was a
man of business, and would not have heard of that.
Soon they came up with a poor Irishwoman, trudging along with a bundle
at her back. She had a gray shawl over her head, and a crimson madder
petticoat; so you may be sure she came from Galway. [Footnote: Galway is
a county in the western part of Ireland. The dress here described was
the characteristic dress of the peasants of that county.] She had
neither shoes nor stockings, and limped along as if she were tired and
footsore; but she was a very tall, handsome woman, with bright gray
eyes, and heavy black hair hanging about her cheeks. And she took Mr.
Grimes' fancy so much, that when he came alongside he called out to her:
"This is a hard road for a gradely [Footnote: GRADELY, or GRAITHLY, is
an old word which meant DECENT or COMELY.] foot like that. Will ye up,
lass, and ride behind me?"
But, perhaps she did not admire Mr. Grimes' look and voice; for she
"No, thank you; I'd sooner walk with your little lad here."
"You may please yourself," growled Grimes, and went on smoking.
So she walked beside Tom, and talked to him, and asked him where he
lived, and what he knew, and all about himself, till Tom thought he had
never met such a pleasant-spoken woman. And she asked him, at last,
whether he said his prayers! and seemed sad when he told her that he
knew no prayers to say.
Then he asked her where she lived, and she said far away by the sea. And
Tom asked her about the sea; and she told him how it rolled and roared
over the rocks in winter nights, and lay still in the bright summer
days, for the children to bathe and play in it; and many a story more,
till Tom longed to go and see the sea, and bathe in it likewise.
At last, at the bottom of a hill, they came to a spring; a real North
country fountain, like one of those in Sicily or Greece, where the old
heathen fancied the nymphs [Footnote: The nymphs, according to the
ancient Greeks, were divinities in the shape of beautiful maidens, who
lived in the woods or in springs and streams.] sat cooling themselves
the hot summer's day, while the shepherds peeped at them from behind the
bushes. Out of a low cave of rock, at the foot of a limestone crag, the
great fountain rose, quelling, and bubbling, and gurgling, so clear that
you could not tell where the water ended and the air began; and ran away
under the road, a stream large enough to turn a mill; among blue
geranium, and golden globeflower, and wild raspberry, and the bird
cherry with its tassels of snow. [Footnote: These are English flowers,
but you probably know some of them. The wild geranium, for instance,
with its pinkish-purple flowers, is common in our woods. The globeflower
is of rather a pale yellow, and its petals curl in so that it looks like
And there Grimes stopped and looked; and Tom looked, too. Tom was
wondering whether anything lived in that dark cave, and came out at
night to fly in the meadows. But Grimes was not wondering at all.
Without a word, he got off his donkey, and clambered over the low road
wall, and knelt down, and began dipping his ugly head into the spring--
and very dirty he made it.
Tom was picking the flowers as fast as he could. The Irishwoman helped
him, and showed him how to tie them up; and a very pretty nosegay they
had made between them. But when he saw Grimes actually wash, he stopped,
quite astonished; and when Grimes had finished, and began shaking his
ears to dry them, he said:
"Why, master, I never saw you do that before."
"Nor will again, most likely. 'Twasn't for cleanliness I did it, but for
coolness. I'd be ashamed to want washing every week or so, like any
smutty collier lad."
"I wish I might go and dip my head in," said poor little Tom. "It must
be as good as putting it under the town pump; and there is no beadle
here to drive a chap away."
"Thou come along," said Grimes; "what dost want with washing thyself?
Thou did not drink half a gallon of beer last night, like me."
"I don't care for you," said naughty Tom, and ran down to the stream,
and began washing his face.
Grimes was very sulky, because the woman preferred Tom's company to his;
so he dashed at him with horrid words, and tore him up from his knees,
and began beating him. But Tom was accustomed to that, and got his head
safe between Mr. Grimes' legs, and kicked his shins with all his might.
"Are you not ashamed of yourself, Thomas Grimes?" cried the Irishwoman
over the wall.
Grimes looked up, startled at her knowing his name; but all he answered
was, "No, nor never was yet"; and went on beating Tom.
"True for you. If you had ever been ashamed of yourself, you would have
gone over into Vendale long ago."
"What do you know about Vendale?" shouted Grimes; but he left off
"I know about Vendale, and about you, too. I know, for instance, what
happened in Aldermire Copse, by night, two years ago come Martinmas."
"You do?" shouted Grimes; and leaving Tom, he climbed up over the wall,
and faced the woman. Tom thought he was going to strike her; but she
looked him too full and fierce in the face for that.
"Yes; I was there," said the Irishwoman quietly.
"You are no Irishwoman, by your speech," said Grimes, after many bad
"Never mind who I am. I saw what I saw; and if you strike that boy
again, I can tell what I know."
Grimes seemed quite cowed, and got on his donkey without another word.
"Stop!" said the Irishwoman. "I have one more word for you both; for you
will both see me again before all is over. THOSE THAT WISH TO BE CLEAN,
CLEAN THEY WILL BE; AND THOSE THAT WISH TO BE FOUL, FOUL THEY WILL BE.
And she turned away, and through a gate into the meadow. Grimes stood
still a moment, like a man who had been stunned. Then he rushed after
her, shouting, "You come back." But when he got into the meadow, the
woman was not there.
Had she hidden away? There was no place to hide in. But Grimes looked
about, and Tom also, for he was as puzzled as Grimes himself at her
disappearing so suddenly; but look where they would, she was not there.
Grimes came back again, as silent as a post, for he was a little
frightened; and, getting on his donkey, filled a fresh pipe, and smoked
away, leaving Tom in peace.
And now they had gone three miles and more, and came to Sir John's lodge
gates. Grimes rang at the gate, and out came a keeper [Footnote: A
keeper is a man appointed, on a large estate, to see that no one
trespasses on the grounds or poaches the game.] on the spot, and opened.
"I was told to expect thee," he said. "Now thou'lt be so good as to keep
to the main avenue, and not let me find a hare or a rabbit on thee when
thou comest back. I shall look sharp for one, I tell thee."
"Not if it's in the bottom of the soot bag," quoth Grimes, and at that
he laughed; and the keeper laughed and said: "If that's thy sort, I may
as well walk up with thee to the hall."
"I think thou best had. It's thy business to see after thy game, man,
and not mine."
So the keeper went with them; and, to Tom's surprise, he and Grimes
chatted together all the way quite pleasantly. He did not know that a
keeper is only a poacher turned outside in, and a poacher a keeper
turned inside out.
They walked up a great lime avenue, a full mile long, and between their
stems Tom peeped trembling at the horns of the sleeping deer, which
stood up among the ferns. Tom had never seen such enormous trees, and as
he looked up he fancied that the blue sky rested on their heads. But he
was puzzled very much by a strange murmuring noise, which followed them
all the way. So much puzzled, that at last he took courage to ask the
keeper what it was.
He spoke very civilly, and called him Sir, for he was horribly afraid of
him, which pleased the keeper, and he told him that they were the bees
about the lime flowers.
"What are bees?" asked Tom.
"What make honey."
"What is honey?" asked Tom.
"Thou hold thy noise," said Grimes.
"Let the boy be," said the keeper. "He's a civil young chap now, and
that's more than he'll be long if he bides with thee."
Grimes laughed, for he took that for a compliment.
"I wish I were a keeper," said Tom, "to live in such a beautiful place,
and wear green velveteens, and have a real dog-whistle at my button,
The keeper laughed; he was a kind-hearted fellow enough.
"Let well alone, lad, and ill too at times. Thy life's safer than mine
at all events, eh, Mr. Grimes?"
And Grimes laughed again, and then the two men began talking quite low.
Tom could hear, though, that it was about some poaching fight; and at
last Grimes said surlily, "Hast thou anything against me?"
"Then don't ask me any questions till thou hast, for I am a man of
And at that they both laughed again, and thought it a very good joke.
And by this time they were come up to the great iron gates in front of
the house; and Tom stared through them at the rhododendrons and azaleas,
which were all in flower; and then at the house itself, and wondered how
many chimneys there were in it, and how long ago it was built, and what
was the man's name that built it, and whether he got much money for his
[Illustration: HARTHOVER PLACE.]
But Tom and his master did not go in through the great iron gates, as if
they had been dukes or bishops, but round the back way, and a very long
way round it was; and into a little back door, where the ash-boy let
them in, yawning horribly; and then in a passage the housekeeper met
them, in such a flowered chintz dressing gown, that Tom mistook her for
My Lady herself, and she gave Grimes solemn orders about "You will take
care of this, and take care of that," as if he was going up the
chimneys, and not Tom. And Grimes listened, and said every now and then,
under his voice, "You'll mind that, you little beggar?" and Tom did
mind, all at least that he could. And then the housekeeper turned them
into a grand room, all covered up in sheets of brown paper, and bade
them begin, in a lofty and tremendous voice; and so after a whimper or
two, and a kick from his master, into the grate Tom went, and up the
chimney, while a housemaid stayed in the room to watch the furniture.
How many chimneys Tom swept I cannot say; but he swept so many that he
got quite tired, and puzzled, too, for they were not like the town flues
to which he was accustomed, but such as you would find--if you would
only get up them and look, which perhaps you would not like to do--in
old country houses; large and crooked chimneys, which had been altered
again and again, till they ran one into another. So Tom fairly lost his
way in them; not that he cared much for that, though he was in pitch
darkness, for he was as much at home in a chimney as a mole is
underground; but at last, coming down as he thought the right chimney,
he came down the wrong one, and found himself standing on the hearthrug
in a room the like of which he had never seen before.
He had never been in gentlefolks' rooms but when the carpets were all
up, and the curtains down, and the furniture huddled together under a
cloth, and the pictures covered with aprons and dusters; and he had
often enough wondered what the rooms were like when they were all ready
for the quality to sit in. And now he saw, and he thought the sight very
The room was all dressed in white,--white window curtains, white bed
curtains, white furniture and white walls, with just a few lines of pink
here and there. The carpet was all over gay little flowers and the walls
were hung with pictures in gilt frames, which amused Tom very much.
There were pictures of ladies and gentlemen, and pictures of horses and
dogs. The horses he liked; but the dogs he did not care for much, for
there were no bulldogs among them, not even a terrier. But the two
pictures which took his fancy most were, one a man in long garments,
with little children and their mothers round him, who was laying his
hand upon the children's heads. That was a very pretty picture, Tom
thought, to hang in a lady's room. For he could see that it was a lady's
room by the dresses which lay about.
The other picture was that of a man nailed to a cross, which surprised
Tom much. He fancied that he had seen something like it in a shop
window. But why was it there? "Poor man," thought Tom, "and he looks so
kind and quiet." But why should the lady have such a sad picture as that
in her room? Perhaps it was some kinsman of hers, who had been murdered
by the savages in foreign parts, and she kept it there for a
remembrance. And Tom felt sad, and awed, and turned to look at something
else. The next thing he saw, and that, too, puzzled him, was a washing-
stand, with ewers and basins, and soap and brushes, and towels, and a
large bath full of clean water--what a heap of things all for washing!
"She must be a very dirty lady," thought Tom, "by my master's rule, to
want as much scrubbing as all that. But she must be very cunning to put
the dirt out of the way so well afterwards, for I don't see a speck
about the room, not even on the very towels."
And then, looking toward the bed, he saw that dirty lady, and held his
breath with astonishment.
Under the snow-white coverlet, upon the snow-white pillow, lay the most
beautiful little girl that Tom had ever seen. Her cheeks were almost as
white as the pillow, and her hair was like threads of gold spread all
about over the bed. She might have been as old as Tom, or maybe a year
or two older; but Tom did not think of that. He thought only of her
delicate skin and golden hair, and wondered whether she was a real live
person, or one of the wax dolls he had seen in the shops. But when he
saw her breathe, he made up his mind that she was alive, and stood
staring at her, as if she had been an angel out of heaven.
No. She cannot be dirty. She never could have been dirty, thought Tom to
himself; and then he thought, "And are all people like that when they
are washed?" And he looked at his own wrist, and tried to rub the soot
off, and wondered whether it ever would come off. "Certainly, I should
look much prettier then, if I grew at all like her."
And looking round, he suddenly saw, standing close to him, a little,
ugly, black, ragged figure, with bleared eyes and grinning white teeth.
He turned on it angrily. What did such a little black ape want in that
sweet young lady's room? And behold, it was himself, reflected in a
great mirror, the like of which Tom had never seen before.
And Tom, for the first time in his life, found out that he was dirty;
and burst into tears with shame and anger; and turned to sneak up the
chimney again and hide; and upset the fender and threw the fire irons
down, with a noise as of ten thousand tin kettles tied to ten thousand
mad dogs' tails.
Up jumped the little white lady in her bed, and seeing Tom, screamed as
shrill as any peacock. In rushed a stout old nurse from the next room,
and seeing Tom likewise, made up her mind that he had come to rob,
plunder, destroy, and burn, and dashed at him, as he lay over the
fender, so fast that she caught him by the jacket.
But she did not hold him. Tom had been in a policeman's hands many a
time, and out of them, too, what is more; and he would have been ashamed
to face his friends forever if he had been stupid enough to be caught by
an old woman; so he doubled under the good lady's arm, across the room,
and out of the window in a moment.
He did not need to drop out, though he would have done so bravely
enough; for all under the window spread a tree, with great leaves and
sweet white flowers, almost as big as his head. It was magnolia, I
suppose; but Tom knew nothing about that, and cared less; for down the
tree he went, like a cat, and across the garden lawn, and over the iron
railings, and up the park towards the wood, leaving the old nurse to
scream murder and fire at the window.
The under gardener, mowing, saw Tom, and threw down his scythe; caught
his leg in it, and cut his shin open, whereby he kept his bed for a
week; but in his hurry he never knew it, and gave chase to poor Tom. The
dairymaid heard the noise, got the churn between her knees, and tumbled
over it, spilling all the cream; and yet she jumped up, and gave chase
to Tom. A groom cleaning Sir John's hack at the stables let him go
loose, whereby he kicked himself lame in five minutes; but he ran out
and gave chase to Tom. Grimes upset the soot sack in the new-gravelled
yard, and spoilt it all utterly; but he ran out and gave chase to Tom.
The old steward opened the park gate in such a hurry, that he hung up
his pony's chin upon the spikes, and, for aught I know, it hangs there
still; but he jumped off, and gave chase to Tom. The ploughman left his
horses at the headland, and one jumped over the fence, and pulled the
other into the ditch, plough and all; but he ran on, and gave chase to
Tom. Sir John looked out of his study window (for he was an early old
gentleman) and up at the nurse, and a martin dropped mud in his eye, so
that he had at last to send for the doctor; and yet he ran out, and gave
chase to Tom. The Irishwoman, too, was walking up to the house to beg,--
she must have got round by some byway,--but she threw away her bundle,
and gave chase to Tom likewise. Only my lady did not give chase; for
when she had put her head out of the window, her night-wig fell into the
garden, and she had to ring up her lady's maid, and send her down for it
privately, which quite put her out of the running, so that she came
nowhere, and is consequently not placed.
In a word, never was there heard at Hall Place--not even when the fox
was killed in the conservatory, among acres of broken glass, and tons of
smashed flowerpots--such a noise, row, hubbub, babel, shindy,
hullabaloo, and total contempt of dignity, repose, and order, as that
day, when Grimes, the gardener, the groom, the dairymaid, Sir John, the
steward, the ploughman, and the Irishwoman, all ran up the park,
shouting "Stop thief," in the belief that Tom had at least a thousand
pounds' worth of jewels in his empty pockets; and the very magpies and
jays followed Tom up, screaking and screaming, as though he were a
hunted fox, beginning to droop his brush.
And all the while poor Tom paddled up the park with his little bare
feet, like a small black gorilla fleeing to the forest. Alas for him!
there was no big father gorilla therein to take his part--to scratch out
the gardener's inside with one paw, toss the dairymaid into a tree with
another, and wrench off Sir John's head with a third, while he cracked
the groom's skull with his teeth as easily as if it had been a cocoanut
or a paving stone.
Tom, of course, made for the woods. He had never been in a wood in his
life; but he was sharp enough to know that he might hide in a bush, or
swarm up a tree, and, altogether, had more chance there than in the
But when he got into the wood, he found it a very different sort of
place from what he had fancied. He pushed into a thick cover of
rhododendrons, and found himself at once caught in a trap. The boughs
laid hold of his legs and arms, poked him in his face and his stomach,
made him shut his eyes tight (though that was no great loss, for he
could not see at best a yard before his nose); and when he got through
the rhododendrons, the hassock-grass and sedges tumbled him over, and
cut his poor little fingers afterwards most spitefully; the birches
birched him as soundly as if he had been a nobleman at Eton, [Footnote:
Eton is one of the most famous of English public schools. The young
British nobles here meet and associate with the young commoners in the
most democratic manner.] and over the face, too (which is not fair
swishing, as all brave boys will agree).
"I must get out of this," thought Tom, "or I shall stay here till
somebody comes to help me--which is just what I don't want."
But how to get out was the difficult matter. And indeed I don't think he
would ever have got out at all, but have stayed there till the cock-
robins covered him with leaves, if he had not suddenly run his head
against a wall.
Now running your head against a wall is not pleasant, especially if it
is a loose wall, with the stones all set on edge, and a sharp-cornered
one hits you between the eyes and makes you see all manner of beautiful
stars. The stars are very beautiful, certainly, but unfortunately they
go in the twenty-thousandth part of a split second, and the pain which
comes after them does not. And so Tom hurt his head; but he was a brave
boy, and did not mind that a penny. He guessed that over the wall the
cover would end; and up it he went, and over like a squirrel.
And there he was, out on the great grouse moors, which the country folk
called Harthover Fell--[Footnote: FELL is the name given, in parts of
England, to moors, or stretches of high, open country of any sort.]
heather and bog and rock, stretching away and up, up to the very sky.
Now, Tom was a cunning little fellow--as cunning as an old Exmoor
[Footnote: Exmoor is a region in Somersetshire and Devonshire, in
England. It was formerly a forest, but is now a moor, and is a favorite
resort of the deer.] stag. Why not? Though he was but ten years old, he
had lived longer than most stags, and had more wits to start with into
He knew as well as a stag that if he backed he might throw the hounds
out. So the first thing he did when he was over the wall was to make the
neatest double, sharp to his right, and run along under the wall for
nearly half a mile. Meanwhile the gardener and the groom, the dairymaid
and the ploughman, and all the hue and cry together, went on ahead half
a mile in the very opposite direction, and inside the wall, leaving him
a mile off on the outside; while Tom heard their shouts die away in the
woods and chuckled to himself merrily.
At last he came to a dip in the land, and went to the bottom of it, and
then he turned bravely away from the wall and up the moor; for he knew
that he had put a hill between him and his enemies, and could go on
without their seeing him.
But the Irishwoman, alone of them all, had seen which way Tom went. She
had kept ahead of every one the whole time; and yet she neither walked
nor ran. She went along quite smoothly and gracefully, while her feet
twinkled past each other so fast that you could not see which was
foremost; till every one asked the other who the strange woman was; and
all agreed, for want of anything better to say, that she must be in
league with Tom.
But when she came to the plantation, they lost sight of her; and they
could do no less. For she went quietly over the wall after Tom, and
followed him wherever he went. Sir John and the rest saw no more of her;
and out of sight was out of mind.
And now Tom was right away into the heather, over a moor growing more
and more broken and hilly, but not so rough but that little Tom could
jog along well enough, and find time, too, to stare about at the strange
place, which was like a new world to him.
So Tom went on and on, he hardly knew why; but he liked the great, wide,
strange place, and the cool, fresh, bracing air. But he went more and
more slowly as he got higher up the hill; for now the ground grew very
bad indeed. Instead of soft turf and springy heather, he met great
patches of flat limestone rock, just like ill-made pavements, with deep
cracks between the stones and ledges, filled with ferns; so he had to
hop from stone to stone, and now and then he slipped in between, and
hurt his little bare toes, though they were tolerably tough ones; but
still he would go on and up, he could not tell why.
What would Tom have said if he had seen, walking over the moor behind
him, the very same Irishwoman who had taken his part upon the road? But
whether it was that he looked too little behind him, or whether it was
that she kept out of sight behind the rocks and knolls, he never saw
her, though she saw him.
And now he began to get a little hungry, and very thirsty; for he had
run a long way, and the sun had risen high in heaven, and the rock was
as hot as an oven, and the air danced reels over it, as it does over a
limekiln, till everything round seemed quivering and melting in the
But he could see nothing to eat anywhere, and still less to drink.
So he went on and on, till his head spun round with the heat, and he
thought he heard church bells ringing, a long way off.
"Ah!" he thought, "where there is a church there will be houses and
people; and, perhaps, some one will give me a bit and a sup." So he set
off again, to look for the church; for he was sure that he heard the
bells quite plain.
And so it was; for from the top of the mountain he could see--what could
he not see?
And in a minute more, when he looked round, he stopped again, and said,
"Why, what a big place the world is!"
Behind him, far below, was Harthover, and the dark woods, and the
shining salmon river; and on his left, far below, was the town, and the
smoking chimneys of the collieries; and far, far away, the river widened
to the shining sea; and little white specks, which were ships, lay on
its bosom. Before him lay, spread out like a map, great plains, and
farms, and villages, amid dark knots of trees. They all seemed at his
very feet; but he had sense to see that they were long miles away.
And to his right rose moor after moor, hill after hill, till they faded
away, blue into blue sky. But between him and those moors, and really at
his very feet, lay something, to which, as soon as Tom saw it, he
determined to go; for that was the place for him.
A deep, deep green and rocky valley, very narrow, and filled with wood;
but through the wood, hundreds of feet below him, he could see a clear
stream glance. Oh, if he could but get down to that stream! Then, by the
stream, he saw the roof of a little cottage, and a little garden set out
in squares and beds. And there was a tiny little red thing moving in the
garden, no bigger than a fly. As Tom looked down, he saw that it was a
woman in a red petticoat. Ah! perhaps she would give him something to
eat. And there were the church bells ringing again. Surely there must be
a village down there. Well, nobody would know him, or what had happened
at the Place. The news could not have got there yet, even if Sir John
had set all the policemen in the country after him; and he could get
down there in five minutes.
Tom was quite right about the hue and cry not having got thither; for he
had come, without knowing it, the best part of ten miles from Harthover;
but he was wrong about getting down in five minutes, for the cottage was
more than a mile off, and a good thousand feet below.
However, down he went, like a brave little man as he was, though he was
very footsore, and tired, and hungry, and thirsty; while the church
bells rang so loud, he began to think that they must be inside his own
head, and the river chimed and tinkled far below.
A mile off, and a thousand feet down. So Tom found it, though it seemed
as if he could have chucked a pebble onto the back of the woman in the
red petticoat who was weeding in the garden, or even across the dale to
the rocks beyond. For the bottom of the valley was just one field broad,
and on the other side ran the stream; and above it, gray crag, gray
down, gray stair, gray moor walled up to heaven.
A quiet, silent, rich, happy place; a narrow crack cut deep into the
earth; so deep, and so out of the way, that the bad bogies can hardly
find it out. The name of the place is Vendale.
So Tom went to go down; and first he went down three hundred feet of
steep heather, mixed up with loose brown gritstone, as rough as a file;
which was not pleasant to his poor little heels, as he came bump, stump,
jump, down the steep. And still he thought he could throw a stone into
Then he went down three hundred feet of limestone terraces, one below
the other, as straight as if a carpenter had ruled them with his ruler
and then cut them out with his chisel. There was no heath there, but--
First, a little grass slope, covered with the prettiest flowers,
rockrose and saxifrage, and thyme and basil, and all sorts of sweet
Then bump down a two-foot step of limestone.
Then another bit of grass and flowers.
Then bump down a one-foot step.
Then another bit of grass and flowers for fifty yards, as steep as the
house-roof, where he had to slide down.
Then another step of stone, ten feet high; and there he had to stop
himself, and crawl along the edge to find a crack; for if he had rolled
over, he would have rolled right into the old woman's garden, and
frightened her out of her wits.
Then, when he had found a dark, narrow crack, full of green stalked
fern, such as hangs in the basket in the drawing-room, and had crawled
down through it, with knees and elbows, as he would down a chimney,
there was another grass slope, and another step, and so on, till--oh,
dear me! I wish it was all over; and so did he. And yet he thought he
could throw a stone into the old woman's garden.
At last he came to a bank of beautiful shrubs; whitebeam, with its great
silver-backed leaves, and mountain ash, and oak; and below them cliff
and crag, cliff and crag, with great beds of crown ferns and wood sedge;
while through the shrubs he could see the stream sparkling, and hear it
murmur on the white pebbles. He did not know that it was three hundred
And all the while he never saw the Irishwoman coming down behind him.
But he was getting terribly tired now. The burning sun on the fells had
sucked him up; but the damp heat of the woody crag sucked him up still
more; and the perspiration ran out of the ends of his fingers and toes,
and washed him cleaner than he had been for a whole year. But, of
course, he dirtied everything terribly as he went. There has been a
great black smudge all down the crag ever since. And there have been
more black beetles in Vendale since than ever were known before; all, of
course, owing to Tom's having blacked the original papa of them all,
just as he was setting off to be married, with a sky-blue coat and
scarlet leggings, as smart as a gardener's dog with a polyanthus in his
At last he got to the bottom. But, behold, it was not the bottom--as
people usually find when they are coming down a mountain. For at the
foot of the crag were heaps and heaps of fallen limestone of every size
from that of your head to that of a stage-waggon, with holes between
them full of sweet heath fern; and before Tom got through them, he was
out in the bright sunshine again; and then he felt, once for all and
suddenly, as people generally do, that he was b-e-a-t, beat. You must
expect to be beat a few times in your life, little man, if you live such
a life as a man ought to live, let you be as strong and healthy as you
may; and when you are, you will find it a very ugly feeling. I hope that
that day you may have a stout, staunch friend by you who is not beat;
for, if you have not, you had best lie where you are, and wait for
better times, as poor Tom did.
He could not get on. The sun was burning, and yet he felt chill all
over. He was quite empty, and yet he felt quite sick. There was but two
hundred yards of smooth pasture between him and the cottage, and yet he
could not walk down it. He could hear the stream murmuring only one
field beyond it, and yet it seemed to him as if it was a hundred miles
He lay down on the grass till the beetles ran over him, and the flies
settled on his nose. I don't know when he would have got up again, if
the gnats and the midges had not taken compassion on him. But the gnats
blew their trumpets so loud in his ear, and the midges nibbled so at his
hands and face wherever they could find a place free from soot, that at
last he woke up, and stumbled away, down over a low wall, and into a
narrow road, and up to the cottage door.
And a neat, pretty cottage it was, with clipped yew hedges all round the
garden, and yews inside, too, cut into peacocks and trumpets and teapots
and all kinds of queer shapes, And out of the open door came a noise
like that of the frogs, when they know that it is going to be scorching
hot to-morrow--and how they know that I don't know, and you don't know,
and nobody knows,
He came slowly up to the open door, which was all hung round with
clematis and roses; and then peeped in, half afraid,
And there sat by the empty fireplace, which was filled with a pot of
sweet herbs, the nicest old woman that ever was seen, in her red
petticoat, and short dimity bedgown, and clean white cap, with a black
silk handkerchief over it, tied under her chin. At her feet sat the
grandfather of all the cats; and opposite her sat, on two benches,
twelve or fourteen neat, rosy, chubby little children, learning their
Chris-cross-row; [Footnote: Chris-cross-row is an old name for the
alphabet] and gabble enough they made about it.
[Illustration: THE OLD DAME LOOKED AT TOM]
Such a pleasant cottage it was, with a shiny clean stone floor, and
curious old prints on the walls, and an old black oak sideboard full of
bright pewter and brass dishes, and a cuckoo clock in the corner, which
began shouting as soon as Tom appeared; not that it was frightened at
Tom, but that it was just eleven o'clock.
All the children started at Tom's dirty black figure,--the girls began
to cry, and the boys began to laugh, and all pointed at him rudely
enough; but Tom was too tired to care for that.
"What art thou, and what dost want?" cried the old dame. "A chimney-
sweep! Away with thee! I'll have no sweeps here."
"Water," said poor little Tom, quite faint.
"Water? There's plenty i' the beck," she said, quite sharply.
"But I can't get there; I'm most clemmed with hunger and drought." And
Tom sank down upon the doorstep, and laid his head against the post.
And the old dame looked at him through her spectacles one minute, and
two, and three; and then she said, "He's sick; and a bairn's a bairn,
sweep or none."
"Water," said Tom.
"God forgive me!" and she put by her spectacles, and rose, and came to
Tom. "Water's bad for thee; I'll give thee milk." And she toddled off
into the next room, and brought a cup of milk and a bit of bread.
Tom drank the milk off at one draught, and then looked up, revived.
"Where didst come from?" said the dame.
"Over Fell, there," said Tom, and pointed up into the sky.
"Over Harthover? and down Lewthwaite Crag? Art sure thou are not lying?"
"Why should I?" said Tom, and leant his head against the post.
"And how got ye up there?"
"I came over from the Place;" and Tom was so tired and desperate he had
no heart or time to think of a story, so he told all the truth in a few
"Bless thy little heart! And thou hast not been stealing, then?"
Bless thy little heart; and I'll warrant not. Why, God's guided the
bairn, because he was innocent! Away from the Place, and over Harthover
Fell, and down Lewthwaite Crag! Who ever heard the like, if God hadn't
led him? Why dost not eat thy bread?"
"It's good enough, for I made it myself."
"I can't," said Tom, and he laid his head on his knees, and then asked:
"Is it Sunday?"
"No, then; why should it be?"
"Because I hear the church bells ringing so."
"Bless thy pretty heart! The bairn's sick. Come wi' me, and I'll hap
thee up somewhere. If thou wert a bit cleaner, I'd put thee in my own
bed, for the Lord's sake. But come along here."
But when Tom tried to get up, he was so tired and giddy that she had to
help him and lead him.
She put him in an outhouse, upon soft, sweet hay and an old rug, and
bade him sleep off his walk, and she would come to him when school was
over, in an hour's time.
And so she went in again, expecting Tom to fall fast asleep at once.
But Tom did not fall asleep.
Instead of it he turned and tossed and kicked about in the strangest
way, and felt so hot all over that he longed to get into the river and
cool himself; and then he fell half asleep, and dreamt that he heard the
little white lady crying to him, "Oh, you're so dirty; go and be
washed"; and then that he heard the Irishwoman saying, "Those that wish
to be clean, clean they will be." And then he heard the church bells
ring so loud, close to him too, that he was sure it must be Sunday, in
spite of what the old dame had said; and he would go to church, and see
what a church was like inside, for he had never been in one, poor little
fellow, in all his life. But the people would never let him come in, all
over soot and dirt like that. He must go to the river and wash first.
And he said out loud again and again, though being half asleep he did
not know it, "I must be clean, I must be clean."
And all of a sudden he found himself, not in the outhouse on the hay,
but in the middle of a meadow, over the road, with the stream just
before him, saying continually, "I must be clean, I mast be clean." He
had got there on his own legs, between sleep and awake, as children will
often get out of bed, and go about the room, when they are not quite
well. But he was not a bit surprised, and went on to the bank of the
brook, and lay down on the grass, and looked into the clear, clear,
limestone water, with every pebble at the bottom bright and clean, while
the little silver trout dashed about in fright at the sight of his black
face; and he dipped his feet in and found it so cool, cool, cool; and he
said, "I will be a fish; I will swim in the water; I must be clean, I
must be clean."
So he pulled off all his clothes in such haste that he tore some of
them, which was easy enough with such ragged old things. And he put his
poor, hot, sore feet into the water; and then his legs; and the farther
he went in, the more the church bells rang in his head.
"Ah," said Tom, "I must be quick and wash myself; the bells are ringing
quite loud now; and they will stop soon, and then the door will shut,
and I shall never be able to get in at all."
And all the while he never saw the Irishwoman, not behind him this time,
For just before he came to the riverside, she had stept down into the
cool, clear water; and her shawl and her petticoat floated off her, and
the green water weeds floated round her sides, and the white water
lilies floated round her head, and the fairies of the stream came up
from the bottom and bore her away and down upon their arms; for she was
the queen of them all; and perhaps of more besides.
"Where have you been?" they asked her.
"I have been smoothing sick folks' pillows, and whispering sweet dreams
into their ears; opening cottage casements, to let out the stifling air;
coaxing little children away from gutters and foul pools where fever
breeds; turning women from the gin-shop door, and staying men's hands as
they were going to strike their wives; doing all I can to help those who
will not help themselves; and little enough that is, and weary work for
me. But I have brought you a new little brother, and watched him safe
all the way here."
Then all the fairies laughed for joy at the thought that they had a
little brother coming.
"But mind, maidens, he must not see you, or know that you are here. He
is but a savage now, and like the beasts which perish; and from the
beasts which perish he must learn. So you must not play with him, or
speak to him, or let him see you; but only keep him from being harmed."
Then the fairies were sad, because they could not play with their new
brother; but they always did what they were told. And their queen
floated away down the river; and whither she went, thither she came.
But all this Tom, of course, never saw or heard; and perhaps if he had
it would have made little difference in the story; for he was so hot and
thirsty, and longed so to be clean for once, that he tumbled himself as
quick as he could into the clear, cool stream.
And he had not been in it two minutes before he fell fast asleep, into
the quietest, sunniest, coziest sleep that ever he had in his life; and
he dreamt about the green meadows by which he had walked that morning,
and the tall elm trees and the sleeping cows; and after that he dreamt
of nothing at all.
The reason of his falling into such a delightful sleep is very simple;
and yet hardly any one has found it out. It was merely that the fairies
The kind old dame came back at twelve, when school was over, to look at
Tom; but there was no Tom there. She looked about for his footprints;
but the ground was so hard that there was no slot, as they say in dear
old North Devon.
So the old dame went in again, quite sulky, thinking that little Tom had
tricked her with a false story, and shammed ill, and then run away
* * * * *
When Sir John and the rest of them had run themselves out of breath, and
lost Tom, they went back again, looking very foolish. And they looked
more foolish still when Sir John heard more of the story from the nurse;
and more foolish still, again, when they heard the whole story from Miss
Ellie, the little lady in white.
All she had seen was a poor little black chimney-sweep, crying and
sobbing, and going to get up the chimney again. Of course, she was very
much frightened; and no wonder. But that was all. The boy had taken
nothing in the room; by the mark of his little sooty feet, they could
see that he had never been off the hearth rug till the nurse caught hold
of him. It was all a mistake.
So Sir John told Grimes to go home, and promised him five shillings if
he would bring the boy quietly up to him, without beating him, that he
might be sure of the truth. For he took it for granted, and Grimes too,
that Tom had made his way home.
But no Tom came back to Mr. Grimes that evening; and he went to the
police office, to tell them to look out for the boy. But no Tom was
So Mr. Grimes came up to Harthover next day with a very sour face; but
when he got there, Sir John was over the hills and far away; and Mr.
Grimes had to sit in the outer servants' hall all day, and drink strong
ale to wash away his sorrows; and they were washed away long before Sir
John came back. For good Sir John had slept very badly that night; and
he said to his lady, "My dear, the boy must have got over into the
grouse moors, and lost himself; and he lies very heavily on my
conscience, poor little lad. But I know what I will do."
So, at five the next morning up he got, and bade them bring his shooting
pony, and the keeper to come on his pony, and the huntsman, and the
first whip, and the second whip, and the underkeeper with the bloodhound
in a leash--a great dog as tall as a calf, of the colour of a gravel
walk, with mahogany ears and nose, and a throat like a church bell. They
took him up to the place where Tom had gone into the wood; and there the
hound lifted up his mighty voice, and told them all he knew.
Then he took them to the place where Tom had climbed the wall; and they
shoved it down, and all got through.
And then the wise dog took them over the moor, and over the fells, step
by step, very slowly; for the scent was a day old, you know, and very
light from the heat and drought. But that was why cunning old Sir John
started at five in the morning.
And at last he came to the top of Lewthwaite Crag, and there he bayed,
and looked up in their faces, as much as to say, "I tell you he is gone
They could hardly believe that Tom would have gone so far; and when they
looked at that awful cliff, they could never believe that he would have
dared to face it. But if the dog said so, it must be true.
"Heaven forgive us!" said Sir John. "If we find him at all, we shall
find him lying at the bottom."
And he slapped his great hand upon his great thigh, and said:
"Who will go down over Lewthwaite Crag, and see if that boy is alive?
Oh, that I were twenty years younger, and I would go down myself!" And
so he would have done, as well as any sweep in the country. Then he
"Twenty pounds to the man who brings me that boy alive!" And as was his
way, what he said he meant.
Now among the lot was a little groom-boy, a very little groom indeed;
and he was the same who had ridden up the court, and told Tom to come to
the Hall; and he said:
"Twenty pounds or none, I will go down over Lewthwaite Crag, if it's
only for the poor boy's sake. For he was as civil a spoken little chap
as ever climbed a flue."
So down over Lewthwaite Crag he went; a very smart groom he was at the
top, and a very shabby one at the bottom; for he tore his gaiters, and
he tore his breeches, and he tore his jacket, and he burst his braces,
and he burst his boots, and he lost his hat, and what was worst of all,
he lost his shirt pin, which he prized very much, for it was gold; so it
was a really severe loss; but he never saw anything of Tom.
And all the while Sir John and the rest were riding round, full three
miles to the right, and back again, to get into Vendale, and to the foot
of the crag.
When they came to the old dame's school, all the children came out to
see. And the old dame came out too; and when she saw Sir John, she
curtsied very low, for she was a tenant of his.
"Well, dame, and how are you?" said Sir John.
[Illustration: SIR JOHN SEARCHING FOR TOM]
"Blessings on you as broad as your back, Harthover," says she--she
didn't call him Sir John, but only Harthover, for that is the fashion in
the North country--"and welcome into Vendale; but you're no hunting the
fox this time of the year?"
"I am hunting, and strange game too," said he.
"Blessings on your heart, and what makes you look so sad the morn?"
"I'm looking for a lost child, a chimney-sweep, that is run away."
"Oh, Harthover, Harthover," says she, "ye were always a just man and a
merciful; and ye'll no harm the poor lad if I give you tidings of him?"
"Not I, not I, dame. I'm afraid we hunted him out of the house all on a
miserable mistake, and the hound has brought him to the top of
Lewthwaite Crag, and--"
Whereat the old dame broke out crying, without letting him finish his
"So he told me the truth after all, poor little dear! Ah, first thoughts
are best, and a body's heart'll guide them right, if they will but
hearken to it." And then she told Sir John all.
"Bring the dog here, and lay him on," said Sir John, without another
word, and he set his teeth very hard.
And the dog opened at once; and went away at the back of the cottage,
over the road, and over the meadow, and through a bit of alder copse;
and there, upon an alder stump, they saw Tom's clothes lying. And then
they knew as much about it all as there was any need to know.
Ah, now comes the most wonderful part of this wonderful story. Tom, when
he woke, for of course he woke--children always wake after they have
slept exactly as long as is good for them--found himself swimming about
in the stream, being about four inches, or--that I may be accurate--
3.87902 inches long, and having round the parotid region of his fauces a
set of external gills (I hope you understand all the big words) just
like those of a sucking eft, which he mistook for a lace frill, till he
pulled at them, found he hurt himself, and made up his mind that they
were part of himself, and best left alone. In fact, the fairies had
turned him into a water baby.
A water baby? You never heard of a water baby? Perhaps not. That is the
very reason why this story was written. There are a great many things in
the world which you never heard of; and a great many more which nobody
ever heard of; and a great many things, too, which nobody will ever hear
No water babies, indeed? Why, wise men of old said that everything on
earth had its double in the water; and you may see that that is, if not
quite true, still quite as true as most other theories which you are
likely to hear for many a day. There are land babies--then why not water
babies? ARE THERE NOT WATER RATS, WATER FLIES, WATER CRICKETS, WATER
CRABS, WATER TORTOISES, WATER SCORPIONS, WATER TIGERS AND SO ON WITHOUT
Am I in earnest? Oh dear no! Don't you know that this is a fairy tale,
and all fun and pretense; and that you are not to believe one word of
it, even if it is true?
But at all events, so it happened to Tom. And, therefore, the keeper and
the groom, and Sir John made a great mistake, and were very unhappy (Sir
John, at least) without any reason, when they found a black thing in the
water, and said it was Tom's body and that he had been drowned. They
were utterly mistaken. Tom was quite alive; and cleaner, and merrier,
than he had ever been. The fairies had washed him, you see, in the swift
river, so thoroughly, that not only his dirt, but his whole husk and
shell had been washed quite off him, and the pretty little real Tom was
washed out of the inside of it, and swam away, as a caddis [Footnote:
The caddis worm, while it lives in the water, builds for itself a case
of stones or grass or shells, all bound together with silk When the time
for its transformation is near, the worm seals up with silk both ends of
its case, and remains withdrawn until it is ready to emerge as a caddis
fly.] does when its case of stones and silk is bored through, and away
it goes on its back, paddling to the shore, there to split its skin, and
fly away as a caperer, on four fawn-coloured wings, with long legs and
horns. They are foolish fellows, the caperers, and fly into the candle
at night, if you leave the door open. We will hope Tom will be wiser,
now he has got safe out of his sooty old shell.
But good Sir John did not understand all this, and he took it into his
head that Tom was drowned. When they looked into the empty pockets of
his shell, and found no jewels there, nor money--nothing but three
marbles, and a brass button with a string to it--then Sir John did
something as like crying as ever he did in his life, and blamed himself
more bitterly than he need have done. So he cried, and the groom-boy
cried, and the huntsman cried, and the dame cried, and the little girl
cried, and the dairymaid cried, and the old nurse cried (for it was
somewhat her fault), and my lady cried, for though people have wigs,
that is no reason why they should not have hearts; but the keeper did
not cry, though he had been so good-natured to Tom the morning before;
for he was so dried up with running after poachers, that you could no
more get tears out of him than milk out of leather; and Grimes did not
cry, for Sir John gave him ten pounds, and he drank it all in a week.
Sir John sent, far and wide, to find Tom's father and mother; but he
might have looked till Doomsday for them, for one was dead, and the
other was in Botany Bay. [Footnote: Botany Bay was originally the name
of a settlement established in New South Wales, in Eastern Australia,
for the reception of criminals from England. Later, the name came to be
applied to any distant colony to which criminals were transported.] And
the little girl would not play with her dolls for a whole week, and
never forgot poor little Tom. And soon my lady put a pretty little
tombstone over Tom's shell in the little churchyard in Vendale.
And the dame decked it with garlands every Sunday, till she grew so old
that she could not stir abroad; then the little children decked it for
her. And always she sang an old, old song, as she sat spinning what she
called her wedding dress. The children could not understand it, but they
liked it none the less for that; for it was very sweet and very sad; and
that was enough for them. And these are the words of it:--
"When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.
"When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among;
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young."
Those are the words, but they are only the body of it; the soul of the
song was the dear old woman's sweet face, and sweet voice, and the sweet
old air to which she sang; and that, alas! one cannot put on paper. And
at last she grew so stiff and lame, that the angels were forced to carry
her; and they helped her on with her wedding dress, and carried her up
over Harthover Fells, and a long way beyond that too: and there was a
new schoolmistress in Vendale.
And all the while Tom was swimming about in the river, with a pretty
little lace collar of gills about his neck, as lively as a grig, and as
clean as a fresh-run salmon.
Now, if you don't like my story, then go to the schoolroom and learn
your multiplication table, and see if you like that better. Some people,
no doubt, would do so. So much the better for us, if not for them. It
takes all sorts, they say, to make a world.
Tom was now quite amphibious, and what is better still, he was clean.
For the first time in his life he felt how comfortable it was to have
nothing on him but himself. But he only enjoyed it; he did not know it,
or think about it; just as you enjoy life and health, and yet never
think about being alive and healthy; and may it be long before you have
to think about it!
He did not remember having ever been dirty. Indeed, he did not remember
any of his old troubles--being tired, or hungry, or sent up dark
chimneys. Since that sweet sleep, he had forgotten all about his master,
and Harthover Place, and the little white girl, and in a word all that
had happened to him when he lived before; and what was best of all, he
had forgotten all the bad words which he had learned from Grimes, and
the rude boys with whom he used to play.
That is not strange; for you know, when you came into this world, and
became a land baby, you remembered nothing. So why should he, when he
became a water baby?
But Tom was very happy in the water. He had been sadly overworked in the
land world; and so now, to make up for that, he had nothing but holidays
in the water world for a long, long time to come. He had nothing to do
now but enjoy himself, and look at all the pretty things which are to be
seen in the cool, clear water world, where the sun is never too hot and
the frost is never too cold.
And what did he live on? Water cresses, perhaps; or perhaps water gruel,
and water milk; too many land babies do so likewise. But we do not know
what one tenth of the water-things eat; so we are not answerable for the
Sometimes he went along the smooth gravel water-ways, looking at the
crickets which ran in and out among the stones, as rabbits do on land;
or he climbed over the ledges of rock, and saw the sand pipes hanging in
thousands, with every one of them a pretty little head and legs peeping
out; or he went into a still corner, and watched the caddises eating
dead sticks as greedily as you would eat plum pudding, and building
their houses with silk and glue. Very fanciful ladies they were; none of
them would keep to the same materials for a day. One would begin with
some pebbles; then she would stick on a piece of green wood; then she
found a shell, and stuck it on too; and the poor shell was alive, and
did not like at all being taken to build houses with; but the caddis did
not let him have any voice in the matter, being rude and selfish, as
vain people are apt to be; then she stuck on a piece of rotten wood,
then a very smart pink stone, and so on, till she was patched all over
like an Irishman's coat. Then she found a long straw, five times as long
as herself, and said, "Hurrah! my sister has a tail, and I'll have one
too;" and she stuck it on her back, and marched about with it quite
proud, though it was very inconvenient indeed. And, at that, tails
became all the fashion among the caddis-baits in that pool, and they all
toddled about with long straws sticking out behind, getting between each
other's legs, and tumbling over each other, and looking so ridiculous,
that Tom laughed at them till he cried.
Then sometimes he came to a deep, still reach; and there he saw the
water forests. They would have looked to you only little weeds; but Tom,
you must remember, was so little that everything looked a hundred times
as big to him as it does to you, just as things do to a minnow, who sees
and catches the little water creatures which you can only see in a
And in the water forest he saw the water monkeys and water squirrels
(they had all six legs, though; everything, almost, has six legs in the
water, except efts and water babies); and nimbly enough they ran among
the branches. There were water flowers there too, in thousands; and Tom
tried to pick them; but as soon as he touched them, they drew themselves
in and turned into knots of jelly; and then Tom saw that they were all
alive--bells, and stars, and wheels, and flowers, of all beautiful
shapes and colours; and all alive and busy, just as Tom was. So now he
found that there was a great deal more in the world than he had fancied
at first sight.
Now you must know that all the things under the water talk; only not
such a language as ours; but such as horses, and dogs, and cows, and
birds talk to each other; and Tom soon learned to understand them and
talk to them; so that he might have had very pleasant company if he had
only been a good boy. But I am sorry to say, he was too like some other
little boys, very fond of hunting and tormenting creatures for mere
sport, till they were all afraid of him, and got out of his way, or
crept into their shells; so he had no one to speak to or play with.
The water fairies, of course, were very sorry to see him so unhappy, and
longed to take him, and tell him how naughty he was, and teach him to be
good, and to play and romp with him, too; but they had been forbidden to
do that. Tom had to learn his lesson for himself by sound and sharp
experience, as many another foolish person has to do, though there may
be many a kind heart yearning over them all the while, and longing to
teach them what they can only teach themselves.
At last one day he found a caddis, and wanted it to peep out of its
house; but its house door was shut. He had never seen a caddis with a
house door before; so what must he do, the meddlesome little fellow, but
pull it open, to see what the poor lady was doing inside. What a shame!
How should you like to have any one breaking your bedroom door in, to
see how you looked when you were in bed? So Tom broke to pieces the
door, which was the prettiest little grating of silk, stuck all over
with shining bits of crystal; and when he looked in, the caddis poked
out her head, and it had turned into just the shape of a bird's. But
when Tom spoke to her she could not answer; for her mouth and face were
tight tied up in a new nightcap of neat pink skin. However, if she
didn't answer, all the other caddises did; for they held up their hands
and shrieked: "Oh, you nasty, horrid boy; there you are at it again! And
she had just laid herself up for a fortnight's sleep, and then she would
have come out with such beautiful wings, and flown about, and laid such
lots of eggs; and now you have broken her door, and she can't mend it
because her mouth is tied up for a fortnight, and she will die. Who sent
you here to worry us out of our lives?"
So Tom swam away. He was very much ashamed of himself, and felt all the
naughtier; as little boys do when they have done wrong and won't say so.
Then he came to a pool full of little trout, and began tormenting them,
and trying to catch them; but they slipped through his fingers, and
jumped clean out of water in their fright. But as Tom chased them, he
came close to a great dark hover under an alder root, and out floushed a
huge old brown trout ten times as big as he was, and ran up against him,
and knocked all the breath out of him; and I don't know which was the
more frightened of the two.
Then he went on sulky and lonely, as he deserved to be; and under a bank
he saw a very ugly, dirty creature sitting, about half as big as
himself; which had six legs and a big stomach, and a most ridiculous
head with two great eyes and a face just like a donkey's.
"Oh," said Tom, "you are an ugly fellow to be sure!" and he began making
faces at him; and put his nose close to him, and halloed at him like a
very rude boy.
When, hey presto; all the thing's donkey-face came off in a moment, and
out popped a long arm with a pair of pincers at the end of it, and
caught Tom by the nose. It did not hurt him much; but it held him quite
"Yah, ah! Oh, let me go!" cried Tom,
"Then let me go," said the creature. "I want to be quiet. I want to
Tom promised to let him alone, and he let go. "Why do you want to
split?" said Tom.
"Because my brothers and sisters have all split, and turned into
beautiful creatures with wings; and I want to split too. Don't speak to
me. I am sure I shall split. I will split!"
Tom stood still and watched him. And he swelled himself, and puffed, and
stretched himself out stiff, and at last--crack, puff, bang--he opened
all down his back, and then up to the top of his head.
And out of his inside came the most slender, elegant, soft creature, as
soft and smooth as Tom, but very pale and weak, like a little child who
has been ill a long time in a dark room. It made his legs very feebly;
and looked about it half asleep like a girl when she goes for the first
time to a ballroom; and then it began walking slowly up grass stem to
the top of the water.
Tom was so astonished that he never said a word, but he stared with all
his eyes. And he went up to the top of the water too, and peeped out to
see what would happen.
And as the creature sat in the warm, bright sun, a wonderful change came
over it. It grew strong and firm; the most lovely colours began to show
on its body--blue and yellow and black, spots and bars and rings; out of
its back rose four great wings of bright brown gauze; and its eyes grew
so large that they filled all its head, and shone like ten thousand
"Oh, you beautiful creature!" said Tom; and he put out his hand to catch
But the thing whirred up into the air, and hung poised on its wings a
moment, and then settled down again by Tom quite fearless.
[Illustration: "OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL CREATURE! SAID TOM.]
"No!" it said, "you cannot catch me. I am a dragon fly now, the king of
all flies; and I shall dance in the sunshine, and hawk over the river,
and catch gnats, and have a beautiful wife like myself. I know what I
shall do. Hurrah!" And he flew away into the air, and began catching
"Oh! come back, come back," cried Tom, "you beautiful creature. I have
no one to play with, and I am so lonely here. If you will but come back
I will never try to catch you."
"I don't care whether you do or not," said the dragon fly; "for you
can't. But when I have had my dinner, and looked a little about this
pretty place, I will come back, and have a little chat about all I have
seen in my travels. Why, what a huge tree this is! and what huge leaves
It was only a big dock; but you know the dragon fly had never seen any
but little water trees; starwort, and milfoil, and water crowfoot, and
such like; so it did look very big to him. Besides, he was very
shortsighted, as all dragon flies are; and never could see a yard before
his nose; any more than a great many other folks, who are not half as
handsome as he.
The dragon fly did come back, and chatted away with Tom. He was a little
conceited about his fine colours and his large wings; but you know, he
had been a poor, dirty, ugly creature all his life before; so there were
great excuses for him. He was very fond of talking about all the
wonderful things he saw in the trees and meadows; and Tom liked to
listen to him, for he had forgotten all about them. So in a little while
they became great friends.
And I am very glad to say that Tom learned such a lesson that day, that
he did not torment creatures for a long time after. And then the
caddises grew quite tame, and used to tell him strange stories about the
way they built their houses, and changed their skins, and turned at last
into winged flies, till Tom began to long to change his skin, and have
wings like them some day.
And the trout and he made it up (for trout very soon forget if they have
been frightened and hurt). So Tom used to play with them at hare and
hounds, and great fun they had; and he used to try to leap out of the
water, head over heels, as they did before a shower came on; but somehow
he never could manage it. He liked most, though, to see them rising at
the flies, as they sailed round and round under the shadow of the great
oak, where the beetles fell flop into the water, and the green
caterpillars let themselves down from the boughs by silk ropes for no
reason at all; and then changed their foolish minds for no reason at
all, either; and hauled themselves up again into the tree, rolling up
the rope in a ball between their paws.
And very often Tom caught them just as they touched the water; and
caught the alder-flies, and the caperers, and the cock-tailed duns and
spinners, yellow, and brown, and claret, and gray, and gave them to his
friends the trout. Perhaps he was not quite kind to the flies; but one
must do a good turn to one's friends when one can.
And at last he gave up catching even the flies; for he made acquaintance
with one by accident and found him a very merry little fellow. And this
was the way it happened; and it is all quite true.
He was basking at the top of the water one hot day in July, catching
duns and feeding the trout, when he saw a new sort, a dark gray little
fellow with a brown head. He was a very little fellow, indeed; but he
made the most of himself, as people ought to do. He cocked up his head,
and he cocked up his wings, and he cocked up his tail, and, in short, he
looked the cockiest little man of all little men. And so he proved to
be; for instead of getting away, he hopped upon Tom's finger, and sat
there as bold as nine tailors; and he cried out in the tiniest,
shrillest, squeakiest little voice you ever heard:
"Much obliged to you indeed; but I don't want it yet."
"Want what?" said Tom, quite taken aback by his impudence.
"Your leg, which you are kind enough to hold out for me to sit on. I
must go and see after my wife for a few minutes. Dear me! what a
troublesome business a family is!" (though the idle little rogue did
nothing at all, but left his poor wife to lay all the eggs by herself).
"When I come back, I shall be glad of it, if you'll be so good as to
keep it sticking out just so;" and off he flew.
Tom thought him a very cool sort of personage; and still more so, when
in five minutes he came back, and said, "Ah, you were tired waiting?
Well, your other leg will do as well."
And he popped himself down on Tom's knee, and began chatting away in his
"So you live under the water? It's a low place. I lived there for some
time, and was very shabby and dirty. But I didn't choose that that
should last. So I turned respectable, and came up to the top, and put on
this suit. It's a business-like suit, don't you think?"
"Very neat and quiet indeed," said Tom.
"Yes, one must be quiet and neat and respectable, and all that sort of
thing for a little, when one becomes a family man. But I'm tired of it,
that's the truth. I've done quite enough business, I consider, in the
last week, to last me my life. So I shall put on a ball dress, and go
out and be a smart man, and see the gay world, and have a dance or two.
Why shouldn't one be jolly if one can?"
"And what will become of your wife?"
"Oh! she is a very plain, stupid creature, and that's the truth; and
thinks about nothing but eggs. If she chooses to come, why she may; and
if not, why I go without her; and here I go."
And as he spoke, he turned quite pale, and then quite white.
"Why, you're ill!" said Tom. But he did not answer.
"You're dead," said Tom, looking at him as he stood on his knee as white
as a ghost.
"No, I ain't!" answered a little squeaking voice over his head. "This is
me up here, in my ball dress; and that's my skin. Ha, ha! you could not
do such a trick as that!"
And no more Tom could. For the little rogue had jumped clean out of his
own skin, and left it standing on Tom's knee, eyes, wings, legs, tail,
exactly as if it had been alive.
"Ha, ha!" he said, and he jerked and skipped up and down, never stopping
an instant, just as if he had Saint Vitus's dance. "Ain't I a pretty
And so he was; for his body was white, and his tail orange, and his eyes
all the colours of a peacock's tail. And what was the oddest of all, the
whisks at the end of his tail had grown five times as long as they were
"Ah!" said he, "now I will see the gay world. My living won't cost me
much, for I have no mouth, you see, and no inside; so I can never be
hungry nor have the stomach ache neither."
No more he had. He had grown as dry and hard and empty as a quill, as
such silly, shallow-hearted fellows deserve to grow.
But instead of being ashamed of his emptiness, he was quite proud of it,
as a good many fine gentlemen are, and began flirting and flipping up
and down, and singing:
"My wife shall dance, and I shall sing,
So merrily pass the day:
For I hold it for quite the wisest thing,
To drive dull care away."
And he danced up and down for three days and three nights, till he grew
so tired that he tumbled into the water and floated down. But what
became of him Tom never knew, and he himself never minded; for Tom heard
him singing to the last, as he floated down:
"To drive dull care away-ay-ay!"
And if he did not care, why nobody else cared, either.
But one day Tom had a new adventure. He was sitting on a water-lily
leaf, he and his friend the dragon fly, watching the gnats dance. The
dragon fly had eaten as many as he wanted, and was sitting quite still
and sleepy, for it was very hot and bright. The gnats (who did not care
the least for the death of their poor brothers) danced a foot over his
head quite happily, and a large black fly settled within an inch of his
nose, and began washing his own face and combing his hair with his paws;
but the dragon fly never stirred, and kept on chatting to Tom.
Suddenly Tom heard the strangest noise up the stream; cooing, and
grunting, and whining, and squeaking, as if you had put into a bag two
stock-doves, nine mice, three guinea pigs, and a blind puppy, and left
them there to settle themselves and make music.
He looked up the water, and there he saw a sight as strange as the
noise; a great ball rolling over and over down the stream, seeming one
moment of soft brown fur, and the next of shining glass: and yet it was
not a ball; for sometimes it broke up and streamed away in pieces, and
then it joined again; and all the while the noise came out of it louder
Tom asked the dragon fly what it could be; but of course, with his short
sight, he could not even see it, though it was not ten yards away. So
Tom took the neatest little header into the water, and started off to
see for himself; and, when he came near, the ball turned out to be four
or five beautiful otters, many times larger than Tom, who were swimming
about, and rolling, and diving, and twisting, and wrestling, and
cuddling, and kissing, and biting, and scratching, in the most charming
fashion that ever was seen.
But when the biggest of them saw Tom, she darted out from the rest, and
cried in the water language sharply enough, "Quick, children, here is
something to eat, indeed!" and came at poor Tom, showing such a wicked
pair of eyes, and such a set of sharp teeth in a grinning mouth, that
Tom, who had thought her very handsome, said to himself, "Handsome is
that handsome does," and slipped in between the water-lily roots as fast
as he could, and then turned round and made faces at her.
[Illustration: TOM ESCAPED THE OTTER]
"Come out," said the wicked old otter, "or it will be worse for you."
But Tom looked at her from between two thick roots, and shook them with
all his might, making horrible faces all the while, just as he used to
grin through the railings at the old women, when he lived before. It was
not quite well bred, no doubt; but you know, Tom had not finished his
"Come away, children," said the otter in disgust, "it is not worth
eating, after all. It is only a nasty eft, which nothing eats, not even
those vulgar pike in the pond."
"I am not an eft!" said Tom; "efts have tails."
"You are an eft," said the otter, very positively; "I see your two hands
quite plain, and I know you have a tail."
"I tell you I have not," said Tom. "Look here!" and he turned his pretty
little self quite round; and sure enough, he had no more tail than you.
The otter might have got out of it by saying that Tom was a frog; but,
like a great many other people, when she had once said a thing she stood
to it, right or wrong; so she answered:
"I say you are an eft, and therefore you are, and not fit food for
gentlefolk like me and my children. You may stay there till the salmon
eat you" (she knew the salmon would not, but she wanted to frighten poor
Tom). "Ha! ha! they will eat you, and we will eat them;" and the otter
laughed such a wicked, cruel laugh--as you may hear them do sometimes;
and the first time that you hear it you will probably think it is
"What are salmon?" asked Tom.
"Fish, you eft, great fish, nice fish to eat. They are the lords of the
fish, and we are lords of the salmon;" and she laughed again. "We hunt
them up and down the pools, and drive them up into a corner, the silly
things; they are so proud, and bully the little trout, and the minnows,
till they see us coming, and then they are so meek all at once; and we
catch them, but we disdain to eat them all; we just bite off their soft
throats and suck their sweet juice--Oh, so good!"--(and she licked her
wicked lips)--"and then throw them away, and go and catch another. They
are coming soon, children, coming soon; I can smell the rain coming up
off the sea, and then hurrah for a fresh, and salmon, and plenty of
eating all day long."
And the otter grew so proud that she turned head over heels twice, and
then stood upright half out of the water, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"And where do they come from?" asked Tom, who kept himself very close,
for he was considerably frightened.
"Out of the sea, eft, the great, wide sea, where they might stay and be
safe if they liked. [Footnote: Salmon live in the sea, as the otter
says, but each autumn they go up the rivers to spawn.] But out of the
sea the silly things come, into the great river down below, and we come
up to watch for them; and when they go down again, we go down and follow
them. And there we fish for the bass and the pollock, and have jolly
days along the shore, and toss and roll in the breakers, and sleep snug
in the warm dry crags. Ah, that is a merry life, too, children, if it
were not for those horrid men."
"What are men?" asked Tom; but somehow he seemed to know before he
"Two-legged things, eft; and, now I come to look at you, they are
actually something like you, if you had not a tail" (she was determined
that Tom should have a tail), "only a great deal bigger, worse luck for
us; and they catch the fish with hooks and lines, which get into our
feet sometimes, and set pots along the rocks to catch lobsters. They
speared my poor, dear husband as he went out to find something for me to
eat. I was laid up among the crags then, and we were very low in the
world, for the sea was so rough that no fish would come in shore. But
they speared him, poor fellow, and I saw them carrying him away upon a
pole. Ah, he lost his life for your sakes, my children, poor, dear,
obedient creature that he was."
And the otter grew so sentimental (for otters can be very sentimental
when they choose, like a good many people who are both cruel and greedy,
and no good to anybody at all) that she sailed solemnly away down the
burn, and Tom saw her no more for that time.
And lucky it was for her that she did so; for no sooner was she gone,
than down the bank came seven rough terrier dogs, snuffing and yapping,
and grubbing and splashing, in full cry after the otter. Tom hid among
the water lilies till they were gone; for he could not guess that they
were the water fairies come to help him.
But he could not help thinking of what the otter had said about the
great river and the broad sea. And as he thought, he longed to go and
see them. He could not tell why; but the more he thought, the more he
grew discontented with the narrow little stream in which he lived, and
all his companions there; and wanted to get out into the wide, wide
world, and enjoy all the wonderful sights of which he was sure it was
And once he set off to go down the stream. But the stream was very low;
and when he came to the shallows he could not keep under water, for
there was no water left to keep under. So the sun burned his back and
make him sick; and he went back again and lay quiet in the pool for a
whole week more.
And then on the evening of a very hot day he saw a sight.
He had been very stupid all day, and so had the trout; for they would
not move an inch to take a fly, though there were thousands on the
water, but lay dozing at the bottom under the shade of the stones; and
Tom lay dozing, too, and was glad to cuddle their smooth, cool sides,
for the water was quite warm and unpleasant.
But toward evening it grew suddenly dark, and Tom looked up and saw a
blanket of black clouds lying right across the valley above his head,
resting on the crags right and left. He felt not quite frightened, but
very still; for everything was still. There was not a whisper of wind,
nor a chirp of a bird to be heard; and next a few great drops of rain
fell plop into the water, and one hit Tom on the nose, and made him pop
his head down quickly enough.
And then the thunder roared, and the lightning flashed, and leaped
across Vendale and back again, from cloud to cloud, and cliff to cliff,
till the very rocks in the stream seemed to shake; and Tom looked up at
it through the water, and thought it the finest thing he ever saw in his
But out of the water he dared not put his head; for the rain came down
by bucketfuls, and the hail hammered like shot on the stream and churned
it into foam; and soon the stream rose, and rushed down, higher and