The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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“Dear me!” said the little girl; “why, I know you now. You are the very same little chimney-sweep who came into my bedroom.”
“Dear me!” cried Tom. “And I know you, too, now. You are the very little white lady whom I saw in bed.” And he jumped at her, and longed to hug and kiss her; but did not, remembering that she was a lady born; so he only jumped round and round her till he was quite tired.
And then they began telling each other all their story—how he had got into the water, and she had fallen over the rock; and how he had swum down to the sea, and how she had flown out of the window; and how this, that, and the other, till it was all talked out: and then they both began over again, and I can’t say which of the two talked fastest.
And then they set to work at their lessons again, and both liked them so well that they went on well till seven full years were past and gone.
You may fancy that Tom was quite content and happy all those seven years; but the truth is, he was not. He had always one thing on his mind, and that was—where little Ellie went, when she went home on Sundays.
To a very beautiful place, she said.
But what was the beautiful place like, and where was it?
Ah! that is just what she could not say. And it is strange, but true, that no one can say; and that those who have been oftenest in it, or even nearest to it, can say least about it, and make people understand least what it is like. There are a good many folks about the Other-end-of-Nowhere (where Tom went afterwards), who pretend to know it from north to south as well as if they had been penny postmen there; but, as they are safe at the Other-end-of-Nowhere, nine hundred and ninety-nine million miles away, what they say cannot concern us.
But the dear, sweet, loving, wise, good, self-sacrificing people, who really go there, can never tell you anything about it, save that it is the most beautiful place in all the world; and, if you ask them more, they grow modest, and hold their peace, for fear of being laughed at; and quite right they are.
So all that good little Ellie could say was, that it was worth all the rest of the world put together. And of course that only made Tom the more anxious to go likewise.
“Miss Ellie,” he said at last, “I will know why I cannot go with you when you go home on Sundays, or I shall have no peace, and give you none either.”
“You must ask the fairies that.”
So when the fairy, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, came next, Tom asked her.
“Little boys who are only fit to play with sea-beasts cannot go there,” she said. “Those who go there must go first where they do not like, and do what they do not like, and help somebody they do not like.”