The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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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 you.”
But Tom looked at her from between two thick roots, and shook them with all his might, making horrible faces all the while, just as he used to grin through the railings at the old women, when he lived before. It was not quite well bred, no doubt; but you know, Tom had not finished his 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 day long.”
And the otter grew so proud that she turned head over heels twice, and then stood upright half out of the water, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“And where do they come from?” asked Tom, who kept himself very close, for he was considerably frightened.