The Water Babies

Illustrated Online Children's Book by Charles Kingsley

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so they said, If it has blown up once, that is all the more reason that it should not blow up again. And they were few in number: but they only said, The more the merrier, but the fewer the better fare. However, that was not quite true; for all the flapdoodle-trees were killed by the volcano, and they had eaten all the roast pigs, who, of course, could not be expected to have little ones. So they had to live very hard, on nuts and roots which they scratched out of the ground with sticks. Some of them talked of sowing corn, as their ancestors used to do, before they came into the land of Readymade; but they had forgotten how to make ploughs (they had forgotten even how to make Jews’ harps by this time), and had eaten all the seed-corn which they brought out of the land of Hardwork years since; and of course it was too much trouble to go away and find more. So they lived miserably on roots and nuts, and all the weakly little children had great stomachs, and then died.
“Why,” said Tom, “they are growing no better than savages.”
“And look how ugly they are all getting,” said Ellie.
“Yes; when people live on poor vegetables instead of roast beef and plum-pudding, their jaws grow large, and their lips grow coarse, like the poor Paddies who eat potatoes.”
And she turned over the next five hundred years. And there they were all living up in trees, and making nests to keep off the rain. And underneath the trees lions were prowling about.
“Why,” said Ellie, “the lions seem to have eaten a good many of them, for there are very few left now.”
“Yes,” said the fairy; “you see it was only the strongest and most active ones who could climb the trees, and so escape.”
“But what great, hulking, broad-shouldered chaps they are,” said Tom; “they are a rough lot as ever I saw.”
“Yes, they are getting very strong now; for the ladies will not marry any but the very strongest and fiercest gentlemen, who can help them up the trees out of the lions’ way.”
And she turned over the next five hundred years. And in that they were fewer still, and stronger, and fiercer; but their feet had changed shape very oddly, for they laid hold of the branches with their great toes, as if they had been thumbs, just as a Hindoo tailor uses his toes to thread his needle.
The children were very much surprised, and asked the fairy whether that was her doing.
“Yes, and no,” she said, smiling. “It was only those who could use their feet as well as their hands who could get a good living: or, indeed, get married; so that they got the best of everything, and starved out all the rest; and those who are left keep up a regular breed of toe-thumb-men, as a breed of short-horns, or are skye-terriers, or fancy pigeons is kept up.”
“But there is a hairy one among them,” said Ellie.
“Ah!” said the fairy, “that will be a great man in his time, and chief of all the tribe.”