Tom had never opened his lips; so he was very much taken aback indeed.
“Yes; every one tells me exactly what they have done wrong; and that without knowing it themselves. So there is no use trying to hide anything from me. Now go, and be a good boy, and I will put no more pebbles in your mouth, if you put none in other creatures’.”
“I did not know there was any harm in it,” said Tom.
“Then you know now. People continually say that to me: but I tell them, if you don’t know that fire burns, that is no reason that it should not burn you; and if you don’t know that dirt breeds fever, that is no reason why the fevers should not kill you. The lobster did not know that there was any harm in getting into the lobster-pot; but it caught him all the same.”
“Dear me,” thought Tom, “she knows everything!” And so she did, indeed.
“And so, if you do not know that things are wrong that is no reason why you should not be punished for them; though not as much, not as much, my little man” (and the lady looked very kindly, after all), “as if you did know.”
“Well, you are a little hard on a poor lad,” said Tom.
“Not at all; I am the best friend you ever had in all your life. But I will tell you; I cannot help punishing people when they do wrong. I like it no more than they do; I am often very, very sorry for them, poor things: but I cannot help it. If I tried not to do it, I should do it all the same. For I work by machinery, just like an engine; and am full of wheels and springs inside; and am wound up very carefully, so that I cannot help going.”
“Was it long ago since they wound you up?” asked Tom. For he thought, the cunning little fellow, “She will run down some day: or they may forget to wind her up, as old Grimes used to forget to wind up his watch when he came in from the public-house; and then I shall be safe.”
“I was wound up once and for all, so long ago, that I forget all about it.”
“Dear me,” said Tom, “you must have been made a long time!”
“I never was made, my child; and I shall go for ever and ever; for I am as old as Eternity, and yet as young as Time.”
And there came over the lady’s face a very curious expression—very solemn, and very sad; and yet very, very sweet. And she looked up and away, as if she were gazing through the sea, and through the sky, at something far, far off; and as she did so, there came such a quiet, tender, patient, hopeful smile over her face that Tom thought for the moment that she did not look ugly at all. And no more she did; for she was like a great many people who have not a pretty feature in their faces, and yet are lovely to behold, and draw little children’s hearts to them at once because though the house is plain enough, yet from the windows a beautiful and good spirit is looking forth.
And Tom smiled in her face, she looked so pleasant for the moment. And the strange fairy smiled too, and said: