sweetmeats away, saying, “No, I don’t want any: I can’t bear them now,” and then burst out crying, poor little man, and told Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid every word as it happened.
He was horribly frightened when he had done so; for he expected her to punish him very severely. But, instead, she only took him up and kissed him, which was not quite pleasant, for her chin was very bristly indeed; but he was so lonely-hearted, he thought that rough kissing was better than none.
“I will forgive you, little man,” she said. “I always forgive every one the moment they tell me the truth of their own accord.”
“Then you will take away all these nasty prickles?”
“That is a very different matter. You put them there yourself, and only you can take them away.”
“But how can I do that?” asked Tom, crying afresh.
“Well, I think it is time for you to go to school; so I shall fetch you a schoolmistress, who will teach you how to get rid of your prickles.” And so she went away.
Tom was frightened at the notion of a school-mistress; for he thought she would certainly come with a birch-rod or a cane; but he comforted himself, at last, that she might be something like the old woman in Vendale—which she was not in the least; for, when the fairy brought her, she was the most beautiful little girl that ever was seen, with long curls floating behind her like a golden cloud, and long robes floating all round her like a silver one.
“There he is,” said the fairy; “and you must teach him to be good, whether you like or not.”
“I know,” said the little girl; but she did not seem quite to like, for she put her finger in her mouth, and looked at Tom under her brows; and Tom put his finger in his mouth, and looked at her under his brows, for he was horribly ashamed of himself.
The little girl seemed hardly to know how to begin; and perhaps she would never have begun at all if poor Tom had not burst out crying, and begged her to teach him to be good and help him to cure his prickles; and at that she grew so tender-hearted that she began teaching him as prettily as ever child was taught in the world.
And what did the little girl teach Tom? She taught him, first, what you have been taught ever since you said your first prayers at your mother’s knees; but she taught him much more simply. For the lessons in that world, my child, have no such hard words in them as the lessons in this, and therefore the water-babies like them better than you like your lessons, and long to learn them more and more; and grown men cannot puzzle nor quarrel over their meaning, as they do here on land; for those lessons all rise clear and pure, like the Test out of Overton Pool, out of the everlasting ground of all life and truth.
So she taught Tom every day in the week; only on Sundays she always went away home, and the kind fairy took her place. And before she had taught Tom many Sundays, his prickles had vanished quite away, and his skin was smooth and clean again.