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“Very neat and quiet indeed,” said Tom.
“Yes, one must be quiet and neat and respectable, and all that sort of thing for a little, when one becomes a family man. But I'm tired of it, that's the truth. I've done quite enough business, I consider, in the last week, to last me my life. So I shall put on a ball dress, and go out and be a smart man, and see the gay world, and have a dance or two. Why shouldn't one be jolly if one can?”
“And what will become of your wife?”
"Oh! she is a very plain, stupid creature, and that's the truth; and thinks about nothing but eggs. If she chooses to come, why she may; and if not, why I go without her; and here I go.”
And as he spoke, he turned quite pale, and then quite white.
“Why, you're ill!” said Tom. But he did not answer.
“You're dead,” said Tom, looking at him as he stood on his knee as white as a ghost.
“No, I ain't!" answered a little squeaking voice over his head. “This is me up here, in my ball dress; and that's my skin. Ha, ha! you could not do such a trick as that!”
And no more Tom could. For the little rogue had jumped clean out of his own skin, and left it standing on Tom's knee, eyes, wings, legs, tail, exactly as if it had been alive.
“Ha, ha!” he said, and he jerked and skipped up and down, never stopping an instant, just as if he had Saint Vitus's dance. “Ain't I a pretty fellow now?”
And so he was; for his body was white, and his tail orange, and his eyes all the colours of a pea
cock's tail. And what was the oddest of all, the whisks at the end of his tail had grown five times as long as they were before.
“Ah!” said he, “now I will see the gay world. My living won't cost me much, for I have no mouth, you see, and no inside; so I can never be hungry nor have the stomach ache neither.”
No more he had. He had grown as dry and hard and empty as a quill, as such silly, shallowhearted fellows deserve to grow.
But instead of being ashamed of his emptiness, he was quite proud of it, as a good many fine gentlemen are, and began flirting and flipping up and down, and singing:
‘My wife shall dance, and I shall sing,
So merrily pass the day;
To drive dull care away.” And he danced up and down for three days and three nights, till he grew so tired that he tumbled into the water and floated down. But what became of him Tom never knew, and he himself never minded; for Tom heard him singing to the last, as he floated down:
“To drive dull care away-ay-ay!” And if he did not care, why nobody else cared, either.
But one day Tom had a new adventure. He was sitting on a water-lily leaf, he and his friend the dragon fly, watching the gnats dance. The dragon fly had eaten as many as he wanted, and was sitting quite still and sleepy, for it was very
hot and bright. The gnats (who did not care the least for the death of their poor brothers) danced a foot over his head quite happily, and a large black fly settled within an inch of his nose, and began washing his own face and combing his hair with his paws; but the dragon fly never stirred, and kept on chatting to Tom.
Suddenly Tom heard the strangest noise up the stream; cooing, and grunting, and whining, and squeaking, as if you had put into a bag two stockdoves, nine mice, three guinea pigs, and a blind puppy, and left them there to settle themselves and make music.
He looked up the water, and there he saw a sight as strange as the noise; a great ball rolling over and over down the stream, seeming one moment of soft brown fur, and the next of shining glass: and yet it was not a ball; for sometimes it broke up and streamed away in pieces, and then it joined again; and all the while the noise came out of it louder and louder.
Tom asked the dragon fly what it could be; but of course, with his short sight, he could not even see it, though it was not ten yards away. So Tom took the neatest little header into the water, and started off to see for himself; and, when he came near, the ball turned out to be four or five beautiful otters, many times larger than Tom, who were swimming about, and rolling, and diving, and twisting, and wrestling, and cuddling, and kissing, and biting, and scratching, in the most charming fashion that ever was seen.
But when the biggest of them saw Tom, she darted out from the rest, and cried in the water
language sharply enough, “Quick, children, here is something to eat, indeed!” and came at poor Tom, showing such a wicked pair of eyes, and such a set of sharp teeth in a grinning mouth, that Tom, who had thought her very handsome, said to himself, “Handsome is that handsome does,” and slipped in
between the water-lily roots as fast as he could, and then turned round and made faces at her.
“Come out,” said the wicked old otter, “or it will be worse for you.”
But Tom looked at her from between two thick roots, and shook them with all his might, making horrible faces all the while, just as he used to grin through the railings at the old women, when he lived before. It was not quite well bred, no doubt; but you know, Tom had not finished his education yet.
“Come away, children,” said the otter in disgust, “it is not worth eating, after all. It is only a nasty eft, which nothing eats, not even those vulgar pike in the pond.”
"I am not an eft!” said Tom; “efts have tails.”
“You are an eft,” said the otter, very positively; “I see your two hands quite plain, and I know you. have a tail.”
“I tell you I have not,” said Tom. “Look here!” and he turned his pretty little self quite round; and sure enough, he had no more tail than you.
The otter might have got out of it by saying that Tom was a frog; but, like a great many other people, when she had once said a thing she stood to it, right or wrong; so she answered:
"I say you are an eft, and therefore you are, and not fit food for gentlefolk like me and my children. You may stay there till the salmon eat you” (she knew the salmon would not, but she wanted to frighten poor Tom). “Ha! ha! they will eat you, and we will eat them;" and the otter laughed such a wicked, cruel laugh—as you may hear them do sometimes; and the first time that you hear it you will probably think it is bogies. :,"What are salmon?" asked Tom.
“Fish, you eft, great fish, nice fish to eat. They are the lords of the fish, and we are lords of the salmon;" and she laughed again. “We hunt them up and down the pools, and drive them up into a corner, the silly things; they are so proud, and bully the little trout, and the minnows, till they see us coming, and then they are so meek all at once; and