The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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He could not get on. The sun was burning, and yet he felt chill all over. He was quite empty, and yet he felt quite sick. There was but two hundred yards of smooth pasture between him and the cottage, and yet he could not walk down it. He could hear the stream murmuring only one field beyond it, and yet it seemed to him as if it was a hundred miles off.
He lay down on the grass till the beetles ran over him, and the flies settled on his nose. I don’t know when he would have got up again, if the gnats and the midges had not taken compassion on him. But the gnats blew their trumpets so loud in his ear, and the midges nibbled so at his hands and face wherever they could find a place free from soot, that at last he woke up, and stumbled away, down over a low wall, and into a narrow road, and up to the cottage-door.
And a neat pretty cottage it was, with clipped yew hedges all round the garden, and yews inside too, cut into peacocks and trumpets and teapots and all kinds of queer shapes. And out of the open door came a noise like that of the frogs on the Great-A, when they know that it is going to be scorching hot to-morrow—and how they know that I don’t know, and you don’t know, and nobody knows.
He came slowly up to the open door, which was all hung round with clematis and roses; and then peeped in, half afraid.
And there sat by the empty fireplace, which was filled with a pot of sweet herbs, the nicest old woman that ever was seen, in her red petticoat, and short dimity bedgown, and clean white cap, with a black silk handkerchief over it, tied under her chin. At her feet sat the grandfather of all the cats; and opposite her sat, on two benches, twelve or fourteen neat, rosy, chubby little children, learning their Chris-cross-row; and gabble enough they made about it.
Such a pleasant cottage it was, with a shiny clean stone floor, and curious old prints on the walls, and an old black oak sideboard full of bright pewter and brass dishes, and a cuckoo clock in the corner, which began shouting as soon as Tom appeared: not that it was frightened at Tom, but that it was just eleven o’clock.
All the children started at Tom’s dirty black figure,—the girls began to cry, and the boys began to laugh, and all pointed at him rudely enough; but Tom was too tired to care for that.
“What art thou, and what dost want?” cried the old dame. “A chimney-sweep! Away with thee! I’ll have no sweeps here.”
“Water,” said poor little Tom, quite faint.
“Water? There’s plenty i’ the beck,” she said, quite sharply.
“But I can’t get there; I’m most clemmed with hunger and drought.” And Tom sank down upon the door-step, and laid his head against the post.
And the old dame looked at him through her spectacles one minute, and two, and three; and then she said, “He’s sick; and a bairn’s a bairn, sweep or none.”
“Water,” said Tom.