Tom promised to let him alone, and he let go.
“Why do you want to split?” said Tom.
“Because my brothers and sisters have all split, and turned into beautiful creatures with wings; and I want to split too. Don’t speak to me. I am sure I shall split. I will split!”
Tom stood still, and watched him. And he swelled himself, and puffed, and stretched himself out stiff, and at last—crack, puff, bang—he opened all down his back, and then up to the top of his head.
And out of his inside came the most slender, elegant, soft creature, as soft and smooth as Tom: but very pale and weak, like a little child who has been ill a long time in a dark room. It 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 catch it.
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