The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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“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 -