Friday, March 2, 2018

Tom The Water-Baby

       Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep. He could not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught to say his prayers. Tom and his master, Mr. Grimes, set out one morning for Harthover Place, where they were to sweep the chimneys. Mr. Grimes rode the donkey in front, and Tom and the brushes walked behind.
       Old Mrs. Earth was still fast asleep; and, like many pretty people, she looked still prettier asleep than awake. The great elm-trees in the gold-green meadows were fast asleep above, and the cows fast asleep beneath them; nay, the few clouds which were about were fast asleep likewise, and so tired that they had lain down on the earth to rest, in long white flakes and bars, among the stems of the elm-trees, and along the tops of the alders by the stream, waiting for the sun to bid them rise and go about their day's business in the clear blue overhead.
       Tom never had been so far into the country before; and longed to get over a gate, and pick buttercups; but Mr. Grimes was a man of business, and would not have heard of that.
       Soon they came up with a poor Irishwoman, trudgingalong with a bundle at her back. She had a gray shawl over her head, and a crimson madder petticoat. She had neither shoes nor stockings, and limped along as if she were tired and footsore; but she was a very tall, handsome woman, with bright gray eyes, and heavy black hair hanging about her cheeks. And she took Mr. Grimes's fancy so much, that when he came alongside he called out to her, "This is a hard road for a gradely foot like that. Will
ye up, lass, and ride behind me?"
       But, perhaps, she did not admire Mr. Grimes's look and voice; for she answered quietly, -
       "No, thank you; I'd sooner walk with your little lad here."
       "You may please yourself," growled Mr. Grimes, and went on.
       So she walked beside Tom, and asked him where he lived, and all about himself, till Tom thought he had never met such a pleasant-spoken woman.
       And she asked him, at last, whether he said his prayers; and seemed sad when he told her that he knew no prayers to say.
       Then he asked her where she lived; and she said far away by the sea that lay still in bright summer days, for the children to bathe and play in it; and Tom longed to go and see the sea and bathe in it.
       At last they came to a spring, bubbling and gurgling, so clear that you could not tell where the water ended and the air began.
       There Grimes stopped, got off his donkey, and clambered over the low road-wall, and knelt down, and began dipping his ugly head into the spring; and very dirty he made it.
       Tom was picking the flowers as fast as he could. The Irishwoman helped him. But when he saw Grimes actually wash, he stopped, quite astonished; and when Grimes had finished, and began shaking his ears to dry them, he said, 
       "Why, master, I never saw you do that before."
       "Nor will again, most likely. 'Twasn't for cleanliness I did it, but for coolness. I'd be ashamed to want washing every week or so, like any smutty collier-lad."
       "I wish I might go and dip my head in," said poor little Tom. "It must be as good as putting it under the town-pump; and there is no beadle here to drive a chap away."
       "Thou come along," said Grimes. "What dost want with washing thyself?"
       Grimes was very sulky, because the woman preferred Tom's company to his; and he began beating him.
       "Are you not ashamed of yourself, Thomas Grimes?" cried the Irishwoman, over the wall.
       Grimes seemed quite cowed, and got on his donkey without another word.
       "Stop!" said the Irishwoman. "I have one more word, Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be. REMEMBER"
       How many chimneys Tom swept at Harthover Place I cannot say: but he swept so many that he got quite tired, and lost his way in them; and coming down, as he thought, the right chimney, he came down the wrong one, and found himself standing on the hearth-rug in a room the like of which he had never seen before.
       The room was all dressed in white: white window-curtains, white bed-curtains, white chairs and white walls, with just a few lines of pink here and there.
       The next thing he saw was a washing-stand, with ewers and basins, and soap and brushes, and towels; and a large bath full of clean water. And then, looking toward the bed, he held his breath with astonishment.
       Under the snow-white coverlet, upon the snow-white pillow, lay the most beautiful little girl that Tom had ever seen. Her cheeks were almost as white as the pillow, and her hair was like threads of gold spread all about over the bed.
       She never could have been dirty, thought Tom to himself. And then he thought, "And are all people like that when they are washed?" And he looked at his own wrist, and tried to rub the soot off, and wondered whether it ever would come off. "Certainly I should look much prettier, if I grew at all like her."
       And looking round, he suddenly saw, standing close to him, a little, ugly, black, ragged figure, with bleared eyes and grinning white teeth. He turned on it angrily. What did such a little black ape want in that sweet young lady's room.'' And behold, it was himself reflected in a great mirror, the like of which Tom had never seen before.
       And Tom, for the first time in his life, found out that he was dirty; and burst into tears with shame and anger; and turned to sneak up the chimney again and hide, and upset the fender, and threw the fire-irons down, with a great noise.
       Under the window spread a tree, with great leaves, and sweet white flowers, and Tom went down the tree like a cat, and across the garden towards the woods.
       The under-gardener, mowing, saw Tom, and threw down his scythe, and gave chase to poor Tom. The dairy-maid heard the noise, jumped up and gave chase to Tom. A groom ran out, and gave chase to Tom. Grimes upset the soot-sack in the new-gravelled yard, and spoilt it all utterly; but he ran out, and gave chase to Tom. The ploughman left his horses at the headland, and one jumped over the
fence, and pulled the other into the ditch, plough and all; but he ran on and gave chase to Tom. Sir John looked out of his study-window (for he was an early old gentleman), and he ran out, and gave chase to Tom. The Irish-woman, too, was walking up to the house to beg; she must have got round by some by-way; but she threw away her bundle, and gave chase to Tom likewise.
       Tom ran on and on, and when he stopped to look around, he said, "Why, what a big place the world is;" for he was far away from Harthover, having left the gardener, and the dairy-maid, and the groom, and Sir John, and Grimes, and the ploughman all behind him.
       Through the wood he could see a clear stream glance, and far, far away the river widened to the shining sea, and this is the song Tom heard the river sing: 

"Clear and cool, dear and cool,
By laughing shallow, and dreaming pool;
Cool and clear, cool and clear.
By shining shingle, and foaming wear;
Under the crag where the ouzel sings.
And the ivied wall where the church bell rings,
Undefiled, for the undefiled;
Play by me, bathe in me, mother and child.

Strong and free, strong and free,
The floodgates are open, away to the sea ;
Free and strong, free and strong.
Cleansing my streams as I hurry along ;
To the golden sands, and the leaping bar.
And the taintless tide that awaits me afar,
As I lose myself in the infinite main,
Like a soul that has sinned and is pardoned again.
Undefiled, for the undefiled ;
Play by me, bathe in me, mother and child.

       Then he fell asleep and dreamed that the little white lady called to him "Oh, you're so dirty; go and be washed;" and then he heard the Irishwoman say: "Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be.'' And all of a sudden he found himself, between sleep and awake, in the middle of the meadow saying continually, "I must be clean, I must be clean." And he went to the bank of the brook and lay down on the grass and looked into the clear water, and dipped his hand in and found it so cool, cool, cool; and he said again, "I must be clean, I must be clean." And he put his poor, hot, sore feet into the water; and then his legs. "Ah," said Tom, "I must be quick and wash myself."
        And all the while he never saw the Irishwoman: not behind him this time, but before.
       For just before he came to the river-side, she had stepped down into the cool, clear water; and her shawl and her petticoat floated off her, and the green water-weeds floated round her sides, and the white water-lilies floated round her head, and the fairies of the stream came up from the bottom, and bore her away and down upon their arms; for she was the Queen of them all ; and perhaps of more besides.
       "Where have you been?'' they asked her.
       "I have been smoothing sick folk's pillows, and whispering sweet dreams into their ears; opening cottage casements, to let out the stifling air; coaxing little children away from gutters and foul pools; doing all I can to help those who will not help themselves: and little enough that is, and weary work for me. But I have brought you a new little brother, and watched him safe all the way here."
       But Tom did not see nor hear this, for he had not been in the water two minutes before he fell fast asleep, into the quietest, sunniest, coziest sleep that he ever had in his life. The reason of his delightful sleep is very simple: the fairies had taken him.
       Ah, now comes the most wonderful part of this wonderful story. Tom, when he woke, - for of course he woke; children always wake after they have slept exactly as long as is good for them, ‚ -found himself turned into a water-baby.
       And now happened to Tom a most wonderful thing; he came upon a water-baby.
       A real, live water-baby, sitting on the white sand, very busy about a little point of rock. And when it saw Tom, it looked up for a moment, and then cried, "Why, you are not one of us. You are a new baby! Oh, how delightful!"
       And it ran to Tom, and Tom ran to it, and they hugged and kissed each other for ever so long, they did not know why.
       At last Tom said, "Oh, where have you been all this while?"
       "We have been here for days and days. There are hundreds of us about the rocks."
       "Now," said the baby, "come and help me, or I shall not have finished before my brothers and sisters come, and it is time to go home."
       "What shall I help you at?"
       "At this poor, dear little rock; a great, clumsy boulder came rolling by in the last storm, and knocked all its head off, and rubbed off all its flowers. And now I must plant it again with sea-weeds, and I will make it the prettiest little rock-garden on all the shore."
       So they worked away at the rock, and planted it and smoothed the sand down round it, and capital fun they had till the tide began to turn. And then Tom heard all the other babies coming, laughing and singing and shouting and romping; and the noise they made was just like the noise of the ripple.
       And in they came, dozens and dozens of them, some bigger than Tom and some smaller, all in the neatest little white bathing-dresses; and when they found that he was a new baby, they hugged him and kissed him, and then put him in the middle and danced round him on the sand, and there was no one ever so happy as poor little Tom.
       "Now then," they cried all at once, "we must come away home, we must come away home, or the tide will leave us dry. We have mended all the broken sea-weed, and put all the rock-pools in order, and planted all the shells again in the sand, and nobody will see where the storm swept in last week."
       And this is the reason why the rock-pools are always so neat and clean; because the water-babies come in shore after every storm to sweep them out, and comb them down, and put them all to rights again.

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