Part 2 out of 4
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 tight.
"Yah, ah! Oh, let me go!" cried Tom.
"Then let me go," said the creature. "I want to be quiet. I want
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
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
moved its legs very feebly; and looked about it half ashamed, like
a girl when she goes for the first time into a ballroom; and then
it began walking slowly up a 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 diamonds.
"Oh, you beautiful creature!" said Tom; and he put out his hand to
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.
"No!" it said, "you cannot catch me. I am a dragon-fly now, the
king of all the 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 gnats.
"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 on it!"
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 short-sighted, 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 the
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; which is a very clever rope-dancer's trick, and neither
Blondin nor Leotard could do it: but why they should take so much
trouble about it no one can tell; for they cannot get their living,
as Blondin and Leotard do, by trying to break their necks on a
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
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
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 he cocked up the two whisks at his tail-end, 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 just 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
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 squeaking voice.
"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 gray suit. It's a very business-like suit, you
think, don't you?"
"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, nor Houdin, nor Robin, nor Frikell, nor all
the conjurors in the world. 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 St. Vitus's dance. "Ain't I
a pretty fellow now?"
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 before.
"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 their poor brothers'
death) 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 about the times when he lived
under the water.
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 and 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 he 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 creatures, 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.
And if you don't believe me, you may go to the Zoological Gardens
(for I am afraid that you won't see it nearer, unless, perhaps, you
get up at five in the morning, and go down to Cordery's Moor, and
watch by the great withy pollard which hangs over the backwater,
where the otters breed sometimes), and then say, if otters at play
in the water are not the merriest, lithest, gracefullest creatures
you ever saw.
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.
"Come out," said the wicked old otter, "or it will be worse for
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 education yet.
"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 bogies.
"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 out 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
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
"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. 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. All, 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 little rough terrier doors,
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
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 full.
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 made 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 leapt
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 life.
But out of the water he dared not put his head; for the rain came
down by bucketsful, and the hail hammered like shot on the stream,
and churned it into foam; and soon the stream rose, and rushed
down, higher and higher, and fouler and fouler, full of beetles,
and sticks; and straws, and worms, and addle-eggs, and wood-lice,
and leeches, and odds and ends, and omnium-gatherums, and this,
that, and the other, enough to fill nine museums.
Tom could hardly stand against the stream, and hid behind a rock.
But the trout did not; for out they rushed from among the stones,
and began gobbling the beetles and leeches in the most greedy and
quarrelsome way, and swimming about with great worms hanging out of
their mouths, tugging and kicking to get them away from each other.
And now, by the flashes of the lightning, Tom saw a new sight--all
the bottom of the stream alive with great eels, turning and
twisting along, all down stream and away. They had been hiding for
weeks past in the cracks of the rocks, and in burrows in the mud;
and Tom had hardly ever seen them, except now and then at night:
but now they were all out, and went hurrying past him so fiercely
and wildly that he was quite frightened. And as they hurried past
he could hear them say to each other, "We must run, we must run.
What a jolly thunderstorm! Down to the sea, down to the sea!"
And then the otter came by with all her brood, twining and sweeping
along as fast as the eels themselves; and she spied Tom as she came
by, and said "Now is your time, eft, if you want to see the world.
Come along, children, never mind those nasty eels: we shall
breakfast on salmon to-morrow. Down to the sea, down to the sea!"
Then came a flash brighter than all the rest, and by the light of
it--in the thousandth part of a second they were gone again--but he
had seen them, he was certain of it--Three beautiful little white
girls, with their arms twined round each other's necks, floating
down the torrent, as they sang, "Down to the sea, down to the sea!"
"Oh stay! Wait for me!" cried Tom; but they were gone: yet he
could hear their voices clear and sweet through the roar of thunder
and water and wind, singing as they died away, "Down to the sea!"
"Down to the sea?" said Tom; "everything is going to the sea, and I
will go too. Good-bye, trout." But the trout were so busy
gobbling worms that they never turned to answer him; so that Tom
was spared the pain of bidding them farewell.
And now, down the rushing stream, guided by the bright flashes of
the storm; past tall birch-fringed rocks, which shone out one
moment as clear as day, and the next were dark as night; past dark
hovers under swirling banks, from which great trout rushed out on
Tom, thinking him to be good to eat, and turned back sulkily, for
the fairies sent them home again with a tremendous scolding, for
daring to meddle with a water-baby; on through narrow strids and
roaring cataracts, where Tom was deafened and blinded for a moment
by the rushing waters; along deep reaches, where the white water-
lilies tossed and flapped beneath the wind and hail; past sleeping
villages; under dark bridge-arches, and away and away to the sea.
And Tom could not stop, and did not care to stop; he would see the
great world below, and the salmon, and the breakers, and the wide
And when the daylight came, Tom found himself out in the salmon
And what sort of a river was it? Was it like an Irish stream,
winding through the brown bogs, where the wild ducks squatter up
from among the white water-lilies, and the curlews flit to and fro,
crying "Tullie-wheep, mind your sheep;" and Dennis tells you
strange stories of the Peishtamore, the great bogy-snake which lies
in the black peat pools, among the old pine-stems, and puts his
head out at night to snap at the cattle as they come down to
drink?--But you must not believe all that Dennis tells you, mind;
for if you ask him:
"Is there a salmon here, do you think, Dennis?"
"Is it salmon, thin, your honour manes? Salmon? Cartloads it is
of thim, thin, an' ridgmens, shouldthering ache out of water, av'
ye'd but the luck to see thim."
Then you fish the pool all over, and never get a rise.
"But there can't be a salmon here, Dennis! and, if you'll but
think, if one had come up last tide, he'd be gone to the higher
pools by now."
"Shure thin, and your honour's the thrue fisherman, and understands
it all like a book. Why, ye spake as if ye'd known the wather a
thousand years! As I said, how could there be a fish here at all,
"But you said just now they were shouldering each other out of
And then Dennis will look up at you with his handsome, sly, soft,
sleepy, good-natured, untrustable, Irish gray eye, and answer with
the prettiest smile:
"Shure, and didn't I think your honour would like a pleasant
So you must not trust Dennis, because he is in the habit of giving
pleasant answers: but, instead of being angry with him, you must
remember that he is a poor Paddy, and knows no better; so you must
just burst out laughing; and then he will burst out laughing too,
and slave for you, and trot about after you, and show you good
sport if he can--for he is an affectionate fellow, and as fond of
sport as you are--and if he can't, tell you fibs instead, a hundred
an hour; and wonder all the while why poor ould Ireland does not
prosper like England and Scotland, and some other places, where
folk have taken up a ridiculous fancy that honesty is the best
Or was it like a Welsh salmon river, which is remarkable chiefly
(at least, till this last year) for containing no salmon, as they
have been all poached out by the enlightened peasantry, to prevent
the Cythrawl Sassenach (which means you, my little dear, your kith
and kin, and signifies much the same as the Chinese Fan Quei) from
coming bothering into Wales, with good tackle, and ready money, and
civilisation, and common honesty, and other like things of which
the Cymry stand in no need whatsoever?
Or was it such a salmon stream as I trust you will see among the
Hampshire water-meadows before your hairs are gray, under the wise
new fishing-laws?--when Winchester apprentices shall covenant, as
they did three hundred years ago, not to be made to eat salmon more
than three days a week; and fresh-run fish shall be as plentiful
under Salisbury spire as they are in Holly-hole at Christchurch; in
the good time coming, when folks shall see that, of all Heaven's
gifts of food, the one to be protected most carefully is that
worthy gentleman salmon, who is generous enough to go down to the
sea weighing five ounces, and to come back next year weighing five
pounds, without having cost the soil or the state one farthing?
Or was it like a Scotch stream, such as Arthur Clough drew in his
"Where over a ledge of granite
Into a granite bason the amber torrent descended. . . . .
Beautiful there for the colour derived from green rocks under;
Beautiful most of all, where beads of foam uprising
Mingle their clouds of white with the delicate hue of the
stillness. . . .
Cliff over cliff for its sides, with rowan and pendant birch
boughs." . . .
Ah, my little man, when you are a big man, and fish such a stream
as that, you will hardly care, I think, whether she be roaring down
in full spate, like coffee covered with scald cream, while the fish
are swirling at your fly as an oar-blade swirls in a boat-race, or
flashing up the cataract like silver arrows, out of the fiercest of
the foam; or whether the fall be dwindled to a single thread, and
the shingle below be as white and dusty as a turnpike road, while
the salmon huddle together in one dark cloud in the clear amber
pool, sleeping away their time till the rain creeps back again off
the sea. You will not care much, if you have eyes and brains; for
you will lay down your rod contentedly, and drink in at your eyes
the beauty of that glorious place; and listen to the water-ouzel
piping on the stones, and watch the yellow roes come down to drink
and look up at you with their great soft trustful eyes, as much as
to say, "You could not have the heart to shoot at us?" And then,
if you have sense, you will turn and talk to the great giant of a
gilly who lies basking on the stone beside you. He will tell you
no fibs, my little man; for he is a Scotchman, and fears God, and
not the priest; and, as you talk with him, you will be surprised
more and more at his knowledge, his sense, his humour, his
courtesy; and you will find out--unless you have found it out
before--that a man may learn from his Bible to be a more thorough
gentleman than if he had been brought up in all the drawing-rooms
No. It was none of these, the salmon stream at Harthover. It was
such a stream as you see in dear old Bewick; Bewick, who was born
and bred upon them. A full hundred yards broad it was, sliding on
from broad pool to broad shallow, and broad shallow to broad pool,
over great fields of shingle, under oak and ash coverts, past low
cliffs of sandstone, past green meadows, and fair parks, and a
great house of gray stone, and brown moors above, and here and
there against the sky the smoking chimney of a colliery. You must
look at Bewick to see just what it was like, for he has drawn it a
hundred times with the care and the love of a true north
countryman; and, even if you do not care about the salmon river,
you ought, like all good boys, to know your Bewick.
At least, so old Sir John used to say, and very sensibly he put it
too, as he was wont to do:
"If they want to describe a finished young gentleman in France, I
hear, they say of him, 'Il sait son Rabelais.' But if I want to
describe one in England, I say, 'He knows his Bewick.' And I think
that is the higher compliment."
But Tom thought nothing about what the river was like. All his
fancy was, to get down to the wide wide sea.
And after a while he came to a place where the river spread out
into broad still shallow reaches, so wide that little Tom, as he
put his head out of the water, could hardly see across.
And there he stopped. He got a little frightened. "This must be
the sea," he thought. "What a wide place it is! If I go on into
it I shall surely lose my way, or some strange thing will bite me.
I will stop here and look out for the otter, or the eels, or some
one to tell me where I shall go."
So he went back a little way, and crept into a crack of the rock,
just where the river opened out into the wide shallows, and watched
for some one to tell him his way: but the otter and the eels were
gone on miles and miles down the stream.
There he waited, and slept too, for he was quite tired with his
night's journey; and, when he woke, the stream was clearing to a
beautiful amber hue, though it was still very high. And after a
while he saw a sight which made him jump up; for he knew in a
moment it was one of the things which he had come to look for.
Such a fish! ten times as big as the biggest trout, and a hundred
times as big as Tom, sculling up the stream past him, as easily as
Tom had sculled down.
Such a fish! shining silver from head to tail, and here and there a
crimson dot; with a grand hooked nose and grand curling lip, and a
grand bright eye, looking round him as proudly as a king, and
surveying the water right and left as if all belonged to him.
Surely he must be the salmon, the king of all the fish.
Tom was so frightened that he longed to creep into a hole; but he
need not have been; for salmon are all true gentlemen, and, like
true gentlemen, they look noble and proud enough, and yet, like
true gentlemen, they never harm or quarrel with any one, but go
about their own business, and leave rude fellows to themselves.
The salmon looked at him full in the face, and then went on without
minding him, with a swish or two of his tail which made the stream
boil again. And in a few minutes came another, and then four or
five, and so on; and all passed Tom, rushing and plunging up the
cataract with strong strokes of their silver tails, now and then
leaping clean out of water and up over a rock, shining gloriously
for a moment in the bright sun; while Tom was so delighted that he
could have watched them all day long.
And at last one came up bigger than all the rest; but he came
slowly, and stopped, and looked back, and seemed very anxious and
busy. And Tom saw that he was helping another salmon, an
especially handsome one, who had not a single spot upon it, but was
clothed in pure silver from nose to tail.
"My dear," said the great fish to his companion, "you really look
dreadfully tired, and you must not over-exert yourself at first.
Do rest yourself behind this rock;" and he shoved her gently with
his nose, to the rock where Tom sat.
You must know that this was the salmon's wife. For salmon, like
other true gentlemen, always choose their lady, and love her, and
are true to her, and take care of her and work for her, and fight
for her, as every true gentleman ought; and are not like vulgar
chub and roach and pike, who have no high feelings, and take no
care of their wives.
Then he saw Tom, and looked at him very fiercely one moment, as if
he was going to bite him.
"What do you want here?" he said, very fiercely.
"Oh, don't hurt me!" cried Tom. "I only want to look at you; you
are so handsome."
"Ah?" said the salmon, very stately but very civilly. "I really
beg your pardon; I see what you are, my little dear. I have met
one or two creatures like you before, and found them very agreeable
and well-behaved. Indeed, one of them showed me a great kindness
lately, which I hope to be able to repay. I hope we shall not be
in your way here. As soon as this lady is rested, we shall proceed
on our journey."
What a well-bred old salmon he was!
"So you have seen things like me before?" asked Tom.
"Several times, my dear. Indeed, it was only last night that one
at the river's mouth came and warned me and my wife of some new
stake-nets which had got into the stream, I cannot tell how, since
last winter, and showed us the way round them, in the most
charmingly obliging way."
"So there are babies in the sea?" cried Tom, and clapped his little
hands. "Then I shall have some one to play with there? How
"Were there no babies up this stream?" asked the lady salmon.
"No! and I grew so lonely. I thought I saw three last night; but
they were gone in an instant, down to the sea. So I went too; for
I had nothing to play with but caddises and dragon-flies and
"Ugh!" cried the lady, "what low company!"
"My dear, if he has been in low company, he has certainly not
learnt their low manners," said the salmon.
"No, indeed, poor little dear: but how sad for him to live among
such people as caddises, who have actually six legs, the nasty
things; and dragon-flies, too! why they are not even good to eat;
for I tried them once, and they are all hard and empty; and, as for
trout, every one knows what they are." Whereon she curled up her
lip, and looked dreadfully scornful, while her husband curled up
his too, till he looked as proud as Alcibiades.
"Why do you dislike the trout so?" asked Tom.
"My dear, we do not even mention them, if we can help it; for I am
sorry to say they are relations of ours who do us no credit. A
great many years ago they were just like us: but they were so
lazy, and cowardly, and greedy, that instead of going down to the
sea every year to see the world and grow strong and fat, they chose
to stay and poke about in the little streams and eat worms and
grubs; and they are very properly punished for it; for they have
grown ugly and brown and spotted and small; and are actually so
degraded in their tastes, that they will eat our children."
"And then they pretend to scrape acquaintance with us again," said
the lady. "Why, I have actually known one of them propose to a
lady salmon, the little impudent little creature."
"I should hope," said the gentleman, "that there are very few
ladies of our race who would degrade themselves by listening to
such a creature for an instant. If I saw such a thing happen, I
should consider it my duty to put them both to death upon the
spot." So the old salmon said, like an old blue-blooded hidalgo of
Spain; and what is more, he would have done it too. For you must
know, no enemies are so bitter against each other as those who are
of the same race; and a salmon looks on a trout, as some great
folks look on some little folks, as something just too much like
himself to be tolerated.
"Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things
We murder to dissect.
Enough of science and of art:
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives."
So the salmon went up, after Tom had warned them of the wicked old
otter; and Tom went down, but slowly and cautiously, coasting along
shore. He was many days about it, for it was many miles down to
the sea; and perhaps he would never have found his way, if the
fairies had not guided him, without his seeing their fair faces, or
feeling their gentle hands.
And, as he went, he had a very strange adventure. It was a clear
still September night, and the moon shone so brightly down through
the water, that he could not sleep, though he shut his eyes as
tight as possible. So at last he came up to the top, and sat upon
a little point of rock, and looked up at the broad yellow moon, and
wondered what she was, and thought that she looked at him. And he
watched the moonlight on the rippling river, and the black heads of
the firs, and the silver-frosted lawns, and listened to the owl's
hoot, and the snipe's bleat, and the fox's bark, and the otter's
laugh; and smelt the soft perfume of the birches, and the wafts of
heather honey off the grouse moor far above; and felt very happy,
though he could not well tell why. You, of course, would have been
very cold sitting there on a September night, without the least bit
of clothes on your wet back; but Tom was a water-baby, and
therefore felt cold no more than a fish.
Suddenly, he saw a beautiful sight. A bright red light moved along
the river-side, and threw down into the water a long tap-root of
flame. Tom, curious little rogue that he was, must needs go and
see what it was; so he swam to the shore, and met the light as it
stopped over a shallow run at the edge of a low rock.
And there, underneath the light, lay five or six great salmon,
looking up at the flame with their great goggle eyes, and wagging
their tails, as if they were very much pleased at it.
Tom came to the top, to look at this wonderful light nearer, and
made a splash.
And he heard a voice say:
"There was a fish rose."
He did not know what the words meant: but he seemed to know the
sound of them, and to know the voice which spoke them; and he saw
on the bank three great two-legged creatures, one of whom held the
light, flaring and sputtering, and another a long pole. And he
knew that they were men, and was frightened, and crept into a hole
in the rock, from which he could see what went on.
The man with the torch bent down over the water, and looked
earnestly in; and then he said:
"Tak' that muckle fellow, lad; he's ower fifteen punds; and haud
your hand steady."
Tom felt that there was some danger coming, and longed to warn the
foolish salmon, who kept staring up at the light as if he was
bewitched. But before he could make up his mind, down came the
pole through the water; there was a fearful splash and struggle,
and Tom saw that the poor salmon was speared right through, and was
lifted out of the water.
And then, from behind, there sprang on these three men three other
men; and there were shouts, and blows, and words which Tom
recollected to have heard before; and he shuddered and turned sick
at them now, for he felt somehow that they were strange, and ugly,
and wrong, and horrible. And it all began to come back to him.
They were men; and they were fighting; savage, desperate, up-and-
down fighting, such as Tom had seen too many times before.
And he stopped his little ears, and longed to swim away; and was
very glad that he was a water-baby, and had nothing to do any more
with horrid dirty men, with foul clothes on their backs, and foul
words on their lips; but he dared not stir out of his hole: while
the rock shook over his head with the trampling and struggling of
the keepers and the poachers.
All of a sudden there was a tremendous splash, and a frightful
flash, and a hissing, and all was still.
For into the water, close to Tom, fell one of the men; he who held
the light in his hand. Into the swift river he sank, and rolled
over and over in the current. Tom heard the men above run along
seemingly looking for him; but he drifted down into the deep hole
below, and there lay quite still, and they could not find him.
Tom waited a long time, till all was quiet; and then he peeped out,
and saw the man lying. At last he screwed up his courage and swam
down to him. "Perhaps," he thought, "the water has made him fall
asleep, as it did me."
Then he went nearer. He grew more and more curious, he could not
tell why. He must go and look at him. He would go very quietly,
of course; so he swam round and round him, closer and closer; and,
as he did not stir, at last he came quite close and looked him in
The moon shone so bright that Tom could see every feature; and, as
he saw, he recollected, bit by bit, it was his old master, Grimes.
Tom turned tail, and swam away as fast as he could.
"Oh dear me!" he thought, "now he will turn into a water-baby.
What a nasty troublesome one he will be! And perhaps he will find
me out, and beat me again."
So he went up the river again a little way, and lay there the rest
of the night under an alder root; but, when morning came, he longed
to go down again to the big pool, and see whether Mr. Grimes had
turned into a water-baby yet.
So he went very carefully, peeping round all the rocks, and hiding
under all the roots. Mr. Grimes lay there still; he had not turned
into a water-baby. In the afternoon Tom went back again. He could
not rest till he had found out what had become of Mr. Grimes. But
this time Mr. Grimes was gone; and Tom made up his mind that he was
turned into a water-baby.
He might have made himself easy, poor little man; Mr. Grimes did
not turn into a water-baby, or anything like one at all. But he
did not make himself easy; and a long time he was fearful lest he
should meet Grimes suddenly in some deep pool. He could not know
that the fairies had carried him away, and put him, where they put
everything which falls into the water, exactly where it ought to
be. But, do you know, what had happened to Mr. Grimes had such an
effect on him that he never poached salmon any more. And it is
quite certain that, when a man becomes a confirmed poacher, the
only way to cure him is to put him under water for twenty-four
hours, like Grimes. So when you grow to be a big man, do you
behave as all honest fellows should; and never touch a fish or a
head of game which belongs to another man without his express
leave; and then people will call you a gentleman, and treat you
like one; and perhaps give you good sport: instead of hitting you
into the river, or calling you a poaching snob.
Then Tom went on down, for he was afraid of staying near Grimes:
and as he went, all the vale looked sad. The red and yellow leaves
showered down into the river; the flies and beetles were all dead
and gone; the chill autumn fog lay low upon the hills, and
sometimes spread itself so thickly on the river that he could not
see his way. But he felt his way instead, following the flow of
the stream, day after day, past great bridges, past boats and
barges, past the great town, with its wharfs, and mills, and tall
smoking chimneys, and ships which rode at anchor in the stream; and
now and then he ran against their hawsers, and wondered what they
were, and peeped out, and saw the sailors lounging on board smoking
their pipes; and ducked under again, for he was terribly afraid of
being caught by man and turned into a chimney-sweep once more. He
did not know that the fairies were close to him always, shutting
the sailors' eyes lest they should see him, and turning him aside
from millraces, and sewer-mouths, and all foul and dangerous
things. Poor little fellow, it was a dreary journey for him; and
more than once he longed to be back in Vendale, playing with the
trout in the bright summer sun. But it could not be. What has
been once can never come over again. And people can be little
babies, even water-babies, only once in their lives.
Besides, people who make up their minds to go and see the world, as
Tom did, must needs find it a weary journey. Lucky for them if
they do not lose heart and stop half-way, instead of going on
bravely to the end as Tom did. For then they will remain neither
boys nor men, neither fish, flesh, nor good red-herring: having
learnt a great deal too much, and yet not enough; and sown their
wild oats, without having the advantage of reaping them.
But Tom was always a brave, determined, little English bull-dog,
who never knew when he was beaten; and on and on he held, till he
saw a long way off the red buoy through the fog. And then he found
to his surprise, the stream turned round, and running up inland.
It was the tide, of course: but Tom knew nothing of the tide. He
only knew that in a minute more the water, which had been fresh,
turned salt all round him. And then there came a change over him.
He felt as strong, and light, and fresh, as if his veins had run
champagne; and gave, he did not know why, three skips out of the
water, a yard high, and head over heels, just as the salmon do when
they first touch the noble rich salt water, which, as some wise men
tell us, is the mother of all living things.
He did not care now for the tide being against him. The red buoy
was in sight, dancing in the open sea; and to the buoy he would go,
and to it he went. He passed great shoals of bass and mullet,
leaping and rushing in after the shrimps, but he never heeded them,
or they him; and once he passed a great black shining seal, who was
coming in after the mullet. The seal put his head and shoulders
out of water, and stared at him, looking exactly like a fat old
greasy negro with a gray pate. And Tom, instead of being
frightened, said, "How d'ye do, sir; what a beautiful place the sea
is!" And the old seal, instead of trying to bite him, looked at
him with his soft sleepy winking eyes, and said, "Good tide to you,
my little man; are you looking for your brothers and sisters? I
passed them all at play outside."
"Oh, then," said Tom, "I shall have playfellows at last," and he
swam on to the buoy, and got upon it (for he was quite out of
breath) and sat there, and looked round for water-babies: but
there were none to be seen.
The sea-breeze came in freshly with the tide and blew the fog away;
and the little waves danced for joy around the buoy, and the old
buoy danced with them. The shadows of the clouds ran races over
the bright blue bay, and yet never caught each other up; and the
breakers plunged merrily upon the wide white sands, and jumped up
over the rocks, to see what the green fields inside were like, and
tumbled down and broke themselves all to pieces, and never minded
it a bit, but mended themselves and jumped up again. And the terns
hovered over Tom like huge white dragon-flies with black heads, and
the gulls laughed like girls at play, and the sea-pies, with their
red bills and legs, flew to and fro from shore to shore, and
whistled sweet and wild. And Tom looked and looked, and listened;
and he would have been very happy, if he could only have seen the
water-babies. Then when the tide turned, he left the buoy, and
swam round and round in search of them: but in vain. Sometimes he
thought he heard them laughing: but it was only the laughter of
the ripples. And sometimes he thought he saw them at the bottom:
but it was only white and pink shells. And once he was sure he had
found one, for he saw two bright eyes peeping out of the sand. So
he dived down, and began scraping the sand away, and cried, "Don't
hide; I do want some one to play with so much!" And out jumped a
great turbot with his ugly eyes and mouth all awry, and flopped
away along the bottom, knocking poor Tom over. And he sat down at
the bottom of the sea, and cried salt tears from sheer
To have come all this way, and faced so many dangers, and yet to
find no water-babies! How hard! Well, it did seem hard: but
people, even little babies, cannot have all they want without
waiting for it, and working for it too, my little man, as you will
find out some day.
And Tom sat upon the buoy long days, long weeks, looking out to
sea, and wondering when the water-babies would come back; and yet
they never came.
Then he began to ask all the strange things which came in out of
the sea if they had seen any; and some said "Yes," and some said
nothing at all.
He asked the bass and the pollock; but they were so greedy after
the shrimps that they did not care to answer him a word.
Then there came in a whole fleet of purple sea-snails, floating
along, each on a sponge full of foam, and Tom said, "Where do you
come from, you pretty creatures? and have you seen the water-
And the sea-snails answered, "Whence we come we know not; and
whither we are going, who can tell? We float out our life in the
mid-ocean, with the warm sunshine above our heads, and the warm
gulf-stream below; and that is enough for us. Yes; perhaps we have
seen the water-babies. We have seen many strange things as we
sailed along." And they floated away, the happy stupid things, and
all went ashore upon the sands.
Then there came in a great lazy sunfish, as big as a fat pig cut in
half; and he seemed to have been cut in half too, and squeezed in a
clothes-press till he was flat; but to all his big body and big
fins he had only a little rabbit's mouth, no bigger than Tom's;
and, when Tom questioned him, he answered in a little squeaky
"I'm sure I don't know; I've lost my way. I meant to go to the
Chesapeake, and I'm afraid I've got wrong somehow. Dear me! it was
all by following that pleasant warm water. I'm sure I've lost my
And, when Tom asked him again, he could only answer, "I've lost my
way. Don't talk to me; I want to think."
But, like a good many other people, the more he tried to think the
less he could think; and Tom saw him blundering about all day, till
the coast-guardsmen saw his big fin above the water, and rowed out,
and struck a boat-hook into him, and took him away. They took him
up to the town and showed him for a penny a head, and made a good
day's work of it. But of course Tom did not know that.
Then there came by a shoal of porpoises, rolling as they went--
papas, and mammas, and little children--and all quite smooth and
shiny, because the fairies French-polish them every morning; and
they sighed so softly as they came by, that Tom took courage to
speak to them: but all they answered was, "Hush, hush, hush;" for
that was all they had learnt to say.
And then there came a shoal of basking sharks' some of them as long
as a boat, and Tom was frightened at them. But they were very lazy
good-natured fellows, not greedy tyrants, like white sharks and
blue sharks and ground sharks and hammer-heads, who eat men, or
saw-fish and threshers and ice-sharks, who hunt the poor old
whales. They came and rubbed their great sides against the buoy,
and lay basking in the sun with their backfins out of water; and
winked at Tom: but he never could get them to speak. They had
eaten so many herrings that they were quite stupid; and Tom was
glad when a collier brig came by and frightened them all away; for
they did smell most horribly, certainly, and he had to hold his
nose tight as long as they were there.
And then there came by a beautiful creature, like a ribbon of pure
silver with a sharp head and very long teeth; but it seemed very
sick and sad. Sometimes it rolled helpless on its side; and then
it dashed away glittering like white fire; and then it lay sick
again and motionless.
"Where do you come from?" asked Tom. "And why are YOU so sick and
"I come from the warm Carolinas, and the sandbanks fringed with
pines; where the great owl-rays leap and flap, like giant bats,
upon the tide. But I wandered north and north, upon the
treacherous warm gulf-stream, till I met with the cold icebergs,
afloat in the mid ocean. So I got tangled among the icebergs, and
chilled with their frozen breath. But the water-babies helped me
from among them, and set me free again. And now I am mending every
day; but I am very sick and sad; and perhaps I shall never get home
again to play with the owl-rays any more."
"Oh!" cried Tom. "And you have seen water-babies? Have you seen
any near here?"
"Yes; they helped me again last night, or I should have been eaten
by a great black porpoise."
How vexatious! The water-babies close to him, and yet he could not
And then he left the buoy, and used to go along the sands and round
the rocks, and come out in the night--like the forsaken Merman in
Mr. Arnold's beautiful, beautiful poem, which you must learn by
heart some day--and sit upon a point of rock, among the shining
sea-weeds, in the low October tides, and cry and call for the
water-babies; but he never heard a voice call in return. And at
last, with his fretting and crying, he grew quite lean and thin.
But one day among the rocks he found a playfellow. It was not a
water-baby, alas! but it was a lobster; and a very distinguished
lobster he was; for he had live barnacles on his claws, which is a
great mark of distinction in lobsterdom, and no more to be bought
for money than a good conscience or the Victoria Cross.
Tom had never seen a lobster before; and he was mightily taken with
this one; for he thought him the most curious, odd, ridiculous
creature he had ever seen; and there he was not far wrong; for all
the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful
men, in the world, with all the old German bogy-painters into the
bargain, could never invent, if all their wits were boiled into
one, anything so curious, and so ridiculous, as a lobster.
He had one claw knobbed and the other jagged; and Tom delighted in
watching him hold on to the seaweed with his knobbed claw, while he
cut up salads with his jagged one, and then put them into his
mouth, after smelling at them, like a monkey. And always the
little barnacles threw out their casting-nets and swept the water,
and came in for their share of whatever there was for dinner.
But Tom was most astonished to see how he fired himself off--snap!
like the leap-frogs which you make out of a goose's breast-bone.
Certainly he took the most wonderful shots, and backwards, too.
For, if he wanted to go into a narrow crack ten yards off, what do
you think he did? If he had gone in head foremost, of course he
could not have turned round. So he used to turn his tail to it,
and lay his long horns, which carry his sixth sense in their tips
(and nobody knows what that sixth sense is), straight down his back
to guide him, and twist his eyes back till they almost came out of
their sockets, and then made ready, present, fire, snap!--and away
he went, pop into the hole; and peeped out and twiddled his
whiskers, as much as to say, "You couldn't do that."
Tom asked him about water-babies. "Yes," he said. He had seen
them often. But he did not think much of them. They were
meddlesome little creatures, that went about helping fish and
shells which got into scrapes. Well, for his part, he should be
ashamed to be helped by little soft creatures that had not even a
shell on their backs. He had lived quite long enough in the world
to take care of himself.
He was a conceited fellow, the old lobster, and not very civil to
Tom; and you will hear how he had to alter his mind before he was
done, as conceited people generally have. But he was so funny, and
Tom so lonely, that he could not quarrel with him; and they used to
sit in holes in the rocks, and chat for hours.
And about this time there happened to Tom a very strange and
important adventure--so important, indeed, that he was very near
never finding the water-babies at all; and I am sure you would have
been sorry for that.
I hope that you have not forgotten the little white lady all this
while. At least, here she comes, looking like a clean white good
little darling, as she always was, and always will be. For it
befell in the pleasant short December days, when the wind always
blows from the south-west, till Old Father Christmas comes and
spreads the great white table-cloth, ready for little boys and
girls to give the birds their Christmas dinner of crumbs--it befell
(to go on) in the pleasant December days, that Sir John was so busy
hunting that nobody at home could get a word out of him. Four days
a week he hunted, and very good sport he had; and the other two he
went to the bench and the board of guardians, and very good justice
he did; and, when he got home in time, he dined at five; for he
hated this absurd new fashion of dining at eight in the hunting
season, which forces a man to make interest with the footman for
cold beef and beer as soon as he comes in, and so spoil his
appetite, and then sleep in an arm-chair in his bedroom, all stiff
and tired, for two or three hours before he can get his dinner like
a gentleman. And do you be like Sir John, my dear little man, when
you are your own master; and, if you want either to read hard or
ride hard, stick to the good old Cambridge hours of breakfast at
eight and dinner at five; by which you may get two days' work out
of one. But, of course, if you find a fox at three in the
afternoon and run him till dark, and leave off twenty miles from
home, why you must wait for your dinner till you can get it, as
better men than you have done. Only see that, if you go hungry,
your horse does not; but give him his warm gruel and beer, and take
him gently home, remembering that good horses don't grow on the
hedge like blackberries.
It befell (to go on a second time) that Sir John, hunting all day,
and dining at five, fell asleep every evening, and snored so
terribly that all the windows in Harthover shook, and the soot fell
down the chimneys. Whereon My Lady, being no more able to get
conversation out of him than a song out of a dead nightingale,
determined to go off and leave him, and the doctor, and Captain
Swinger the agent, to snore in concert every evening to their
hearts' content. So she started for the seaside with all the
children, in order to put herself and them into condition by mild
applications of iodine. She might as well have stayed at home and
used Parry's liquid horse-blister, for there was plenty of it in
the stables; and then she would have saved her money, and saved the
chance, also, of making all the children ill instead of well (as
hundreds are made), by taking them to some nasty smelling undrained
lodging, and then wondering how they caught scarlatina and
diphtheria: but people won't be wise enough to understand that
till they are dead of bad smells, and then it will be too late;
besides you see, Sir John did certainly snore very loud.
But where she went to nobody must know, for fear young ladies
should begin to fancy that there are water-babies there! and so
hunt and howk after them (besides raising the price of lodgings),
and keep them in aquariums, as the ladies at Pompeii (as you may
see by the paintings) used to keep Cupids in cages. But nobody
ever heard that they starved the Cupids, or let them die of dirt
and neglect, as English young ladies do by the poor sea-beasts. So
nobody must know where My Lady went. Letting water-babies die is
as bad as taking singing birds' eggs; for, though there are
thousands, ay, millions, of both of them in the world, yet there is
not one too many.
Now it befell that, on the very shore, and over the very rocks,
where Tom was sitting with his friend the lobster, there walked one
day the little white lady, Ellie herself, and with her a very wise
man indeed--Professor Ptthmllnsprts.
His mother was a Dutchwoman, and therefore he was born at Curacao
(of course you have learnt your geography, and therefore know why);
and his father a Pole, and therefore he was brought up at
Petropaulowski (of course you have learnt your modern politics, and
therefore know why): but for all that he was as thorough an
Englishman as ever coveted his neighbour's goods. And his name, as
I said, was Professor Ptthmllnsprts, which is a very ancient and
noble Polish name.
He was, as I said, a very great naturalist, and chief professor of
Necrobioneopalaeonthydrochthonanthropopithekology in the new
university which the king of the Cannibal Islands had founded; and,
being a member of the Acclimatisation Society, he had come here to
collect all the nasty things which he could find on the coast of
England, and turn them loose round the Cannibal Islands, because
they had not nasty things enough there to eat what they left.
But he was a very worthy kind good-natured little old gentleman;
and very fond of children (for he was not the least a cannibal
himself); and very good to all the world as long as it was good to
him. Only one fault he had, which cock-robins have likewise, as
you may see if you look out of the nursery window--that, when any
one else found a curious worm, he would hop round them, and peck
them, and set up his tail, and bristle up his feathers, just as a
cock-robin would; and declare that he found the worm first; and
that it was his worm; and, if not, that then it was not a worm at
He had met Sir John at Scarborough, or Fleetwood, or somewhere or
other (if you don't care where, nobody else does), and had made
acquaintance with him, and become very fond of his children. Now,
Sir John knew nothing about sea-cockyolybirds, and cared less,
provided the fishmonger sent him good fish for dinner; and My Lady
knew as little: but she thought it proper that the children should
know something. For in the stupid old times, you must understand,
children were taught to know one thing, and to know it well; but in
these enlightened new times they are taught to know a little about
everything, and to know it all ill; which is a great deal
pleasanter and easier, and therefore quite right.
So Ellie and he were walking on the rocks, and he was showing her
about one in ten thousand of all the beautiful and curious things
which are to be seen there. But little Ellie was not satisfied
with them at all. She liked much better to play with live
children, or even with dolls, which she could pretend were alive;
and at last she said honestly, "I don't care about all these
things, because they can't play with me, or talk to me. If there
were little children now in the water, as there used to be, and I
could see them, I should like that."
"Children in the water, you strange little duck?" said the
"Yes," said Ellie. "I know there used to be children in the water,
and mermaids too, and mermen. I saw them all in a picture at home,
of a beautiful lady sailing in a car drawn by dolphins, and babies
flying round her, and one sitting in her lap; and the mermaids
swimming and playing, and the mermen trumpeting on conch-shells;
and it is called 'The Triumph of Galatea;' and there is a burning
mountain in the picture behind. It hangs on the great staircase,
and I have looked at it ever since I was a baby, and dreamt about
it a hundred times; and it is so beautiful, that it must be true."
But the professor had not the least notion of allowing that things
were true, merely because people thought them beautiful. For at
that rate, he said, the Baltas would be quite right in thinking it
a fine thing to eat their grandpapas, because they thought it an
ugly thing to put them underground. The professor, indeed, went
further, and held that no man was forced to believe anything to be
true, but what he could see, hear, taste, or handle.
He held very strange theories about a good many things. He had
even got up once at the British Association, and declared that apes
had hippopotamus majors in their brains just as men have. Which
was a shocking thing to say; for, if it were so, what would become
of the faith, hope, and charity of immortal millions? You may
think that there are other more important differences between you
and an ape, such as being able to speak, and make machines, and
know right from wrong, and say your prayers, and other little
matters of that kind; but that is a child's fancy, my dear.
Nothing is to be depended on but the great hippopotamus test. If
you have a hippopotamus major in your brain, you are no ape, though
you had four hands, no feet, and were more apish than the apes of
all aperies. But if a hippopotamus major is ever discovered in one
single ape's brain, nothing will save your great-great-great-great-
grandmother from having been an ape too. No, my dear little man;
always remember that the one true, certain, final, and all-
important difference between you and an ape is, that you have a
hippopotamus major in your brain, and it has none; and that,
therefore, to discover one in its brain will be a very wrong and
dangerous thing, at which every one will be very much shocked, as
we may suppose they were at the professor.--Though really, after
all, it don't much matter; because--as Lord Dundreary and others
would put it--nobody but men have hippopotamuses in their brains;
so, if a hippopotamus was discovered in an ape's brain, why it
would not be one, you know, but something else.
But the professor had gone, I am sorry to say, even further than
that; for he had read at the British Association at Melbourne,
Australia, in the year 1999, a paper which assured every one who
found himself the better or wiser for the news, that there were
not, never had been, and could not be, any rational or half-
rational beings except men, anywhere, anywhen, or anyhow; that
nymphs, satyrs, fauns, inui, dwarfs, trolls, elves, gnomes,
fairies, brownies, nixes, wills, kobolds, leprechaunes,
cluricaunes, banshees, will-o'-the-wisps, follets, lutins, magots,
goblins, afrits, marids, jinns, ghouls, peris, deevs, angels,
archangels, imps, bogies, or worse, were nothing at all, and pure
bosh and wind. And he had to get up very early in the morning to
prove that, and to eat his breakfast overnight; but he did it, at
least to his own satisfaction. Whereon a certain great divine, and
a very clever divine was he, called him a regular Sadducee; and
probably he was quite right. Whereon the professor, in return,
called him a regular Pharisee; and probably he was quite right too.
But they did not quarrel in the least; for, when men are men of the
world, hard words run off them like water off a duck's back. So
the professor and the divine met at dinner that evening, and sat
together on the sofa afterwards for an hour, and talked over the
state of female labour on the antarctic continent (for nobody talks
shop after his claret), and each vowed that the other was the best
company he ever met in his life. What an advantage it is to be men
of the world!
From all which you may guess that the professor was not the least
of little Ellie's opinion. So he gave her a succinct compendium of
his famous paper at the British Association, in a form suited for
the youthful mind. But, as we have gone over his arguments against
water-babies once already, which is once too often, we will not
repeat them here.
Now little Ellie was, I suppose, a stupid little girl; for, instead
of being convinced by Professor Ptthmllnsprts' arguments, she only
asked the same question over again.
"But why are there not water-babies?"
I trust and hope that it was because the professor trod at that
moment on the edge of a very sharp mussel, and hurt one of his
corns sadly, that he answered quite sharply, forgetting that he was
a scientific man, and therefore ought to have known that he
couldn't know; and that he was a logician, and therefore ought to
have known that he could not prove a universal negative--I say, I
trust and hope it was because the mussel hurt his corn, that the
professor answered quite sharply:
"Because there ain't."
Which was not even good English, my dear little boy; for, as you
must know from Aunt Agitate's Arguments, the professor ought to
have said, if he was so angry as to say anything of the kind--
Because there are not: or are none: or are none of them; or (if
he had been reading Aunt Agitate too) because they do not exist.
And he groped with his net under the weeds so violently, that, as
it befell, he caught poor little Tom.
He felt the net very heavy; and lifted it out quickly, with Tom all
entangled in the meshes.
"Dear me!" he cried. "What a large pink Holothurian; with hands,
too! It must be connected with Synapta."
And he took him out.
"It has actually eyes!" he cried. "Why, it must be a Cephalopod!
This is most extraordinary!"
"No, I ain't!" cried Tom, as loud as he could; for he did not like
to be called bad names.
"It is a water-baby!" cried Ellie; and of course it was.
"Water-fiddlesticks, my dear!" said the professor; and he turned
There was no denying it. It was a water-baby: and he had said a
moment ago that there were none. What was he to do?
He would have liked, of course, to have taken Tom home in a bucket.
He would not have put him in spirits. Of course not. He would
have kept him alive, and petted him (for he was a very kind old
gentleman), and written a book about him, and given him two long
names, of which the first would have said a little about Tom, and
the second all about himself; for of course he would have called
him Hydrotecnon Ptthmllnsprtsianum, or some other long name like
that; for they are forced to call everything by long names now,
because they have used up all the short ones, ever since they took
to making nine species out of one. But--what would all the learned
men say to him after his speech at the British Association? And
what would Ellie say, after what he had just told her?
There was a wise old heathen once, who said, "Maxima debetur pueris
reverentia"--The greatest reverence is due to children; that is,
that grown people should never say or do anything wrong before
children, lest they should set them a bad example.--Cousin
Cramchild says it means, "The greatest respectfulness is expected
from little boys." But he was raised in a country where little
boys are not expected to be respectful, because all of them are as
good as the President:- Well, every one knows his own concerns
best; so perhaps they are. But poor Cousin Cramchild, to do him
justice, not being of that opinion, and having a moral mission, and
being no scholar to speak of, and hard up for an authority--why, it
was a very great temptation for him. But some people, and I am
afraid the professor was one of them, interpret that in a more
strange, curious, one-sided, left-handed, topsy-turvy, inside-out,
behind-before fashion than even Cousin Cramchild; for they make it
mean, that you must show your respect for children, by never
confessing yourself in the wrong to them, even if you know that you
are so, lest they should lose confidence in their elders.
Now, if the professor had said to Ellie, "Yes, my darling, it is a
water-baby, and a very wonderful thing it is; and it shows how
little I know of the wonders of nature, in spite of forty years'
honest labour. I was just telling you that there could be no such
creatures; and, behold! here is one come to confound my conceit and
show me that Nature can do, and has done, beyond all that man's
poor fancy can imagine. So, let us thank the Maker, and Inspirer,
and Lord of Nature for all His wonderful and glorious works, and
try and find out something about this one;"--I think that, if the
professor had said that, little Ellie would have believed him more
firmly, and respected him more deeply, and loved him better, than
ever she had done before. But he was of a different opinion. He
hesitated a moment. He longed to keep Tom, and yet he half wished
he never had caught him; and at last he quite longed to get rid of
him. So he turned away and poked Tom with his finger, for want of
anything better to do; and said carelessly, "My dear little maid,
you must have dreamt of water-babies last night, your head is so
full of them."
Now Tom had been in the most horrible and unspeakable fright all
the while; and had kept as quiet as he could, though he was called
a Holothurian and a Cephalopod; for it was fixed in his little head
that if a man with clothes on caught him, he might put clothes on
him too, and make a dirty black chimney-sweep of him again. But,
when the professor poked him, it was more than he could bear; and,
between fright and rage, he turned to bay as valiantly as a mouse
in a corner, and bit the professor's finger till it bled.
"Oh! ah! yah!" cried he; and glad of an excuse to be rid of Tom,
dropped him on to the seaweed, and thence he dived into the water
and was gone in a moment.
"But it was a water-baby, and I heard it speak!" cried Ellie. "Ah,
it is gone!" And she jumped down off the rock, to try and catch
Tom before he slipped into the sea.
Too late! and what was worse, as she sprang down, she slipped, and
fell some six feet, with her head on a sharp rock, and lay quite
The professor picked her up, and tried to waken her, and called to
her, and cried over her, for he loved her very much: but she would
not waken at all. So he took her up in his arms and carried her to
her governess, and they all went home; and little Ellie was put to
bed, and lay there quite still; only now and then she woke up and
called out about the water-baby: but no one knew what she meant,
and the professor did not tell, for he was ashamed to tell.
And, after a week, one moonlight night, the fairies came flying in
at the window and brought her such a pretty pair of wings that she
could not help putting them on; and she flew with them out of the
window, and over the land, and over the sea, and up through the
clouds, and nobody heard or saw anything of her for a very long
And this is why they say that no one has ever yet seen a water-
baby. For my part, I believe that the naturalists get dozens of
them when they are out dredging; but they say nothing about them,
and throw them overboard again, for fear of spoiling their
theories. But, you see the professor was found out, as every one
is in due time. A very terrible old fairy found the professor out;
she felt his bumps, and cast his nativity, and took the lunars of
him carefully inside and out; and so she knew what he would do as
well as if she had seen it in a print book, as they say in the dear
old west country; and he did it; and so he was found out
beforehand, as everybody always is; and the old fairy will find out
the naturalists some day, and put them in the Times, and then on
whose side will the laugh be?
So the old fairy took him in hand very severely there and then.
But she says she is always most severe with the best people,
because there is most chance of curing them, and therefore they are
the patients who pay her best; for she has to work on the same
salary as the Emperor of China's physicians (it is a pity that all
do not), no cure, no pay.
So she took the poor professor in hand: and because he was not
content with things as they are, she filled his head with things as
they are not, to try if he would like them better; and because he
did not choose to believe in a water-baby when he saw it, she made
him believe in worse things than water-babies--in unicorns, fire-
drakes, manticoras, basilisks, amphisbaenas, griffins, phoenixes,
rocs, orcs, dog-headed men, three-headed dogs, three-bodied
geryons, and other pleasant creatures, which folks think never
existed yet, and which folks hope never will exist, though they
know nothing about the matter, and never will; and these creatures
so upset, terrified, flustered, aggravated, confused, astounded,
horrified, and totally flabbergasted the poor professor that the
doctors said that he was out of his wits for three months; and
perhaps they were right, as they are now and then.
So all the doctors in the county were called in to make a report on
his case; and of course every one of them flatly contradicted the
other: else what use is there in being men of science? But at
last the majority agreed on a report in the true medical language,
one half bad Latin, the other half worse Greek, and the rest what
might have been English, if they had only learnt to write it. And
this is the beginning thereof -
"The subanhypaposupernal anastomoses of peritomic diacellurite in
the encephalo digital region of the distinguished individual of
whose symptomatic phoenomena we had the melancholy honour
(subsequently to a preliminary diagnostic inspection) of making an
inspectorial diagnosis, presenting the interexclusively
quadrilateral and antinomian diathesis known as Bumpsterhausen's
blue follicles, we proceeded" -
But what they proceeded to do My Lady never knew; for she was so
frightened at the long words that she ran for her life, and locked
herself into her bedroom, for fear of being squashed by the words
and strangled by the sentence. A boa constrictor, she said, was
bad company enough: but what was a boa constrictor made of paving
"It was quite shocking! What can they think is the matter with
him?" said she to the old nurse.
"That his wit's just addled; may be wi' unbelief and heathenry,"
"Then why can't they say so?"
And the heaven, and the sea, and the rocks, and the vales re-
echoed--"Why indeed?" But the doctors never heard them.
So she made Sir John write to the Times to command the Chancellor
of the Exchequer for the time being to put a tax on long words; -
A light tax on words over three syllables, which are necessary
evils, like rats: but, like them, must be kept down judiciously.
A heavy tax on words over four syllables, as heterodoxy,
spontaneity, spiritualism, spuriosity, etc.
And on words over five syllables (of which I hope no one will wish
to see any examples), a totally prohibitory tax.
And a similar prohibitory tax on words derived from three or more
languages at once; words derived from two languages having become
so common that there was no more hope of rooting out them than of
rooting out peth-winds.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, being a scholar and a man of
sense, jumped at the notion; for he saw in it the one and only plan
for abolishing Schedule D: but when he brought in his bill, most
of the Irish members, and (I am sorry to say) some of the Scotch
likewise, opposed it most strongly, on the ground that in a free
country no man was bound either to understand himself or to let
others understand him. So the bill fell through on the first
reading; and the Chancellor, being a philosopher, comforted himself
with the thought that it was not the first time that a woman had
hit off a grand idea and the men turned up their stupid noses
Now the doctors had it all their own way; and to work they went in
earnest, and they gave the poor professor divers and sundry
medicines, as prescribed by the ancients and moderns, from
Hippocrates to Feuchtersleben, as below, viz.-
1. Hellebore, to wit -
Hellebore of AEta.
Hellebore of Galatia.
Hellebore of Sicily.
And all other Hellebores, after the method of the Helleborising
Helleborists of the Helleboric era. But that would not do.
Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles would not stir an inch out of his
encephalo digital region.
2. Trying to find out what was the matter with him, after the
But they found that a great deal too much trouble, as most people
have since; and so had recourse to -
Boring a hole in his head to let out fumes, which (says Gordonius)
"will, without doubt, do much good." But it didn't.
A ram's brain boiled in spice.
Oil of wormwood.
Water of Nile.
Good wine (but there was none to be got).
The water of a smith's forge.
Salts and senna.
Bucketings with cold water.
Kneeling on his chest till they broke it in, etc. etc.; after the
medieval or monkish method: but that would not do.
Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles stuck there still.
Champagne and turtle.
Red herrings and soda water.
The Saturday Review.
A carriage with outriders, etc. etc.
After the modern method. But that would not do.
And if he had but been a convict lunatic, and had shot at the
Queen, killed all his creditors to avoid paying them, or indulged
in any other little amiable eccentricity of that kind, they would
have given him in addition -
The healthiest situation in England, on Easthampstead Plain.
Free run of Windsor Forest.
The Times every morning.
A double-barrelled gun and pointers, and leave to shoot three
Wellington College boys a week (not more) in case black game was
But as he was neither mad enough nor bad enough to be allowed such
luxuries, they grew desperate, and fell into bad ways, viz. -
5. Suffumigations of sulphur.
Herrwiggius his "Incomparable drink for madmen:"
Only they could not find out what it was.
Suffumigation of the liver of the fish * * *
Only they had forgotten its name, so Dr. Gray could not well
procure them a specimen.
Valentine Greatrakes his Stroking Cure.
Parr's Life Pills.
Exorcisms, for which the read Maleus Maleficarum, Nideri
Formicarium, Delrio, Wierus, etc.
But could not get one that mentioned water-babies.
Madame Rachel's Elixir of Youth.
The Poughkeepsie Seer his Prophecies.
The distilled liquor of addle eggs.
As successfully employed by the old inquisitors to cure the malady
of thought, and now by the Persian Mollahs to cure that of
Geopathy, or burying him.
Atmopathy, or steaming him.
Sympathy, after the method of Basil Valentine his Triumph of
Antimony, and Kenelm Digby his Weapon-salve, which some call a hair
of the dog that bit him.
Hermopathy, or pouring mercury down his throat to move the animal
Meteoropathy, or going up to the moon to look for his lost wits, as
Ruggiero did for Orlando Furioso's: only, having no hippogriff,
they were forced to use a balloon; and, falling into the North Sea,
were picked up by a Yarmouth herring-boat, and came home much the
wiser, and all over scales.
Antipathy, or using him like "a man and a brother."
Apathy, or doing nothing at all.
With all other ipathies and opathies which Noodle has invented, and
Foodle tried, since black-fellows chipped flints at Abbeville--
which is a considerable time ago, to judge by the Great Exhibition.
But nothing would do; for he screamed and cried all day for a
water-baby, to come and drive away the monsters; and of course they
did not try to find one, because they did not believe in them, and
were thinking of nothing but Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles;
having, as usual, set the cart before the horse, and taken the
effect for the cause.
So they were forced at last to let the poor professor ease his mind
by writing a great book, exactly contrary to all his old opinions;
in which he proved that the moon was made of green cheese, and that
all the mites in it (which you may see sometimes quite plain
through a telescope, if you will only keep the lens dirty enough,
as Mr. Weekes kept his voltaic battery) are nothing in the world
but little babies, who are hatching and swarming up there in
millions, ready to come down into this world whenever children want
a new little brother or sister.
Which must be a mistake, for this one reason: that, there being no
atmosphere round the moon (though some one or other says there is,
at least on the other side, and that he has been round at the back
of it to see, and found that the moon was just the shape of a Bath
bun, and so wet that the man in the moon went about on Midsummer-
day in Macintoshes and Cording's boots, spearing eels and
sneezing); that, therefore, I say, there being no atmosphere, there
can be no evaporation; and therefore the dew-point can never fall
below 71.5 degrees below zero of Fahrenheit: and, therefore, it
cannot be cold enough there about four o'clock in the morning to
condense the babies' mesenteric apophthegms into their left
ventricles; and, therefore, they can never catch the hooping-cough;
and if they do not have hooping-cough, they cannot be babies at
all; and, therefore, there are no babies in the moon.--Q.E.D.
Which may seem a roundabout reason; and so, perhaps, it is: but
you will have heard worse ones in your time, and from better men
than you are.
But one thing is certain; that, when the good old doctor got his
book written, he felt considerably relieved from Bumpsterhausen's
blue follicles, and a few things infinitely worse; to wit, from
pride and vain-glory, and from blindness and hardness of heart;
which are the true causes of Bumpsterhausen's blue follicles, and
of a good many other ugly things besides. Whereon the foul flood-
water in his brains ran down, and cleared to a fine coffee colour,
such as fish like to rise in, till very fine clean fresh-run fish
did begin to rise in his brains; and he caught two or three of them
(which is exceedingly fine sport, for brain rivers), and anatomised
them carefully, and never mentioned what he found out from them,
except to little children; and became ever after a sadder and a
wiser man; which is a very good thing to become, my dear little
boy, even though one has to pay a heavy price for the blessing.
"Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong."
WORDSWORTH, Ode to Duty.
What became of little Tom?
He slipped away off the rocks into the water, as I said before.
But he could not help thinking of little Ellie. He did not
remember who she was; but he knew that she was a little girl,
though she was a hundred times as big as he. That is not
surprising: size has nothing to do with kindred. A tiny weed may
be first cousin to a great tree; and a little dog like Vick knows
that Lioness is a dog too, though she is twenty times larger than
herself. So Tom knew that Ellie was a little girl, and thought
about her all that day, and longed to have had her to play with;
but he had very soon to think of something else. And here is the
account of what happened to him, as it was published next morning,
in the Water-proof Gazette, on the finest watered paper, for the
use of the great fairy, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, who reads the news
very carefully every morning, and especially the police cases, as
you will hear very soon.
He was going along the rocks in three-fathom water, watching the
pollock catch prawns, and the wrasses nibble barnacles off the
rocks, shells and all, when he saw a round cage of green withes;
and inside it, looking very much ashamed of himself, sat his friend
the lobster, twiddling his horns, instead of thumbs.
"What, have you been naughty, and have they put you in the lock-
up?" asked Tom.
The lobster felt a little indignant at such a notion, but he was
too much depressed in spirits to argue; so he only said, "I can't
"Why did you get in?"
"After that nasty piece of dead fish." He had thought it looked
and smelt very nice when he was outside, and so it did, for a
lobster: but now he turned round and abused it because he was
angry with himself.
"Where did you get in?"
"Through that round hole at the top."
"Then why don't you get out through it?"
"Because I can't:" and the lobster twiddled his horns more fiercely
than ever, but he was forced to confess.
"I have jumped upwards, downwards, backwards, and sideways, at
least four thousand times; and I can't get out: I always get up
underneath there, and can't find the hole."
Tom looked at the trap, and having more wit than the lobster, he
saw plainly enough what was the matter; as you may if you will look
at a lobster-pot.
"Stop a bit," said Tom. "Turn your tail up to me, and I'll pull
you through hindforemost, and then you won't stick in the spikes."
But the lobster was so stupid and clumsy that he couldn't hit the
hole. Like a great many fox-hunters, he was very sharp as long as
he was in his own country; but as soon as they get out of it they
lose their heads; and so the lobster, so to speak, lost his tail.
Tom reached and clawed down the hole after him, till he caught hold
of him; and then, as was to be expected, the clumsy lobster pulled
him in head foremost.
"Hullo! here is a pretty business," said Tom. "Now take your great
claws, and break the points off those spikes, and then we shall
both get out easily."
"Dear me, I never thought of that," said the lobster; "and after
all the experience of life that I have had!"
You see, experience is of very little good unless a man, or a
lobster, has wit enough to make use of it. For a good many people,
like old Polonius, have seen all the world, and yet remain little
better than children after all.
But they had not got half the spikes away when they saw a great
dark cloud over them: and lo, and behold, it was the otter.
How she did grin and grin when she saw Tom. "Yar!" said she, "you
little meddlesome wretch, I have you now! I will serve you out for
telling the salmon where I was!" And she crawled all over the pot
to get in.
Tom was horribly frightened, and still more frightened when she
found the hole in the top, and squeezed herself right down through
it, all eyes and teeth. But no sooner was her head inside than
valiant Mr. Lobster caught her by the nose and held on.
And there they were all three in the pot, rolling over and over,
and very tight packing it was. And the lobster tore at the otter,
and the otter tore at the lobster, and both squeezed and thumped
poor Tom till he had no breath left in his body; and I don't know
what would have happened to him if he had not at last got on the
otter's back, and safe out of the hole.
He was right glad when he got out: but he would not desert his
friend who had saved him; and the first time he saw his tail
uppermost he caught hold of it, and pulled with all his might.
But the lobster would not let go.
"Come along," said Tom; "don't you see she is dead?" And so she
was, quite drowned and dead.
And that was the end of the wicked otter.
But the lobster would not let go.
"Come along, you stupid old stick-in-the-mud," cried Tom, "or the
fisherman will catch you!" And that was true, for Tom felt some
one above beginning to haul up the pot.
But the lobster would not let go. Tom saw the fisherman haul him
up to the boat-side, and thought it was all up with him. But when
Mr. Lobster saw the fisherman, he gave such a furious and
tremendous snap, that he snapped out of his hand, and out of the
pot, and safe into the sea. But he left his knobbed claw behind
him; for it never came into his stupid head to let go after all, so
he just shook his claw off as the easier method. It was something
of a bull, that; but you must know the lobster was an Irish
lobster, and was hatched off Island Magee at the mouth of Belfast
Tom asked the lobster why he never thought of letting go. He said
very determinedly that it was a point of honour among lobsters.
And so it is, as the Mayor of Plymouth found out once to his cost--
eight or nine hundred years ago, of course; for if it had happened
lately it would be personal to mention it.
For one day he was so tired with sitting on a hard chair, in a
grand furred gown, with a gold chain round his neck, hearing one
policeman after another come in and sing, "What shall we do with
the drunken sailor, so early in the morning?" and answering them
each exactly alike:
"Put him in the round house till he gets sober, so early in the
That, when it was over, he jumped up, and played leap-frog with the
town-clerk till he burst his buttons, and then had his luncheon,
and burst some more buttons, and then said: "It is a low spring-
tide; I shall go out this afternoon and cut my capers."
Now he did not mean to cut such capers as you eat with boiled
mutton. It was the commandant of artillery at Valetta who used to
amuse himself with cutting them, and who stuck upon one of the
bastions a notice, "No one allowed to cut capers here but me,"
which greatly edified the midshipmen in port, and the Maltese on
the Nix Mangiare stairs. But all that the mayor meant was that he
would go and have an afternoon's fun, like any schoolboy, and catch
lobsters with an iron hook.
So to the Mewstone he went, and for lobsters he looked. And when
he came to a certain crack in the rocks he was so excited that,
instead of putting in his hook, he put in his hand; and Mr. Lobster
was at home, and caught him by the finger, and held on.
"Yah!" said the mayor, and pulled as hard as he dared: but the
more he pulled, the more the lobster pinched, till he was forced to
Then he tried to get his hook in with his other hand; but the hole
was too narrow.
Then he pulled again; but he could not stand the pain.
Then he shouted and bawled for help: but there was no one nearer
him than the men-of-war inside the breakwater.
Then he began to turn a little pale; for the tide flowed, and still
the lobster held on.
Then he turned quite white; for the tide was up to his knees, and
still the lobster held on.
Then he thought of cutting off his finger; but he wanted two things
to do it with--courage and a knife; and he had got neither.
Then he turned quite yellow; for the tide was up to his waist, and
still the lobster held on.
Then he thought over all the naughty things he ever had done; all
the sand which he had put in the sugar, and the sloe-leaves in the
tea, and the water in the treacle, and the salt in the tobacco
(because his brother was a brewer, and a man must help his own
Then he turned quite blue; for the tide was up to his breast, and
still the lobster held on.
Then, I have no doubt, he repented fully of all the said naughty
things which he had done, and promised to mend his life, as too
many do when they think they have no life left to mend. Whereby,
as they fancy, they make a very cheap bargain. But the old fairy
with the birch rod soon undeceives them.
And then he grew all colours at once, and turned up his eyes like a
duck in thunder; for the water was up to his chin, and still the
lobster held on.
And then came a man-of-war's boat round the Mewstone, and saw his
head sticking up out of the water. One said it was a keg of
brandy, and another that it was a cocoa-nut, and another that it
was a buoy loose, and another that it was a black diver, and wanted
to fire at it, which would not have been pleasant for the mayor:
but just then such a yell came out of a great hole in the middle of
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