The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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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 disappointment.
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-babies?”
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 feeble voice:
“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 way.”
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