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´╗┐Title: Pond and Stream
Author: Ransome, Arthur, 1884-1967
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Pond and Stream" ***

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http://www.freeliterature.org



POND AND STREAM

By

ARTHUR RANSOME

Author of "The Stone Lady"

NATURE BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

With illustrations by Frances Craine


LONDON

ANTHONY TREHERNE & COMPANY, LTD.

12, YORK BUILDINGS, ADELPHI, W.C.

1906



FOR MOLLY



CONTENTS.

   I. About the Book
   II. The Duck Pond
   III, Stream and Ditch
   IV. Lake and River
   V. Our Own Aquarium



[Illustration]



I

ABOUT THE BOOK


This is a book about the things that are jolly and wet: streams,
and ponds, and ditches, and all the things that swim and wriggle
in them. I wonder if you like them as much as they are liked by
the Imp and the Elf? You know all about the Imp and the Elf, do
you not? Those two small jolly children, who live in a little
grey house in a green garden, and know the country and all the
things in it, almost as well as they know each other? The Imp and
the Elf love everything that is wet. They paddle in the streams,
and build dams, and make waterfalls, and harbours, and sail
boats, and do all the other things that every sensible person
wants to do. And they love all the fishy people who live in the
water, and the beasts that crawl in the mud, and the birds that
hop from stone to stone in the stream.

At home they keep a big glass tank on one of the bookcases in the
study. And that is the aquarium. It is a kind of indoor watery
home for the people whom they meet when they mess about in the
duck-pond, or the becks that trickle down the valley. You know
what a beck is? The Imp and the Elf are north country children,
and they would not understand you if you called the beck a
stream.

I will tell you about some of the guests who come to stay with
us, and live in the watery tank. But they must be talked about at
the end of the book. For just now I want to tell you about the
ponds and streams from which they come, and the things that have
happened to us there, and all the other things that you will want
to know, and the things the Imp and the Elf, who are sitting side
by side in my big chair, say must be told to you.



II

THE DUCK POND


The Duck Pond is far away at the other side of the village. We
walk a mile down over the fields, till we come to the village,
and then we go through a little cluster of grey houses, past the
tavern with the the picture of the prancing Blue Unicorn hanging
out over the door, past the little grey church with the red tiled
roof, past the farmyard by the smith's, where there is always a
large sized piebald pig grunting in the yard, and out again into
the fields. And then, on the left hand side of the road, we come
to three stacks, a horse trough, and a piece of commonland.

The common is rough and untidy, with clumps of gorse and thistles
and nettles. There is usually a spotty pony chewing the grass,
and a goat with naughty looking horns and a grey beard. A tiny
donkey with an enormous voice is tethered to a stake in the
ground. There is a crowd of geese, who throw out their long necks
in vicious curves, and hiss at strangers and sometimes frighten
them. They do not hiss at us. Perhaps they know that we would not
be very frightened if they did. The Elf likes this last part of
the walk, because she loves to imagine she is a goosegirl in a
fairy tale, who drives geese, until she meets a noble Prince, who
finds out that really she is a Princess all the time. Some days
the Imp is quite ready to pretend to be the Prince, and act the
whole story. But other days he is in a precious hurry to get to
the pond, and the poor Elf has to be a goosegirl without a
Prince, and that is a poor business. She soon tires of it, and
runs after us across the common.

Long before we reach the pond, we hear the quaack, quaack of the
ducks, and see them waddling along with their bodies very near
the ground by the muddy edges of the water, flopping hurriedly
first on one leg and then on the other. When we get near them we
can see that as they lift their feet they turn their toes in in a
manner that shows they have not been at all properly brought up.
But then without warning they throw themselves forward along the
water, and swim, looking, suddenly, quite graceful. Everything
looks quite graceful in its proper place, and almost everything
looks silly when it is anywhere else. Even swans, who are the
most beautiful of all birds in the water, look as ungainly as can
be when they walk along the ground. And if you put a fish, who
swims beautifully in the pool, out on the dry land, he just flops
and dies, and that is not a pretty sight at all.

The duck pond is very big and round. One bank of it is covered
with dark trees that overhang and make green pictures of
themselves in the water when the wind is still. And partly under
the trees, and partly at one side of them, the bank is high and
over-hanging and sandy, and in the sand there are little holes
where the sandmartins have their nests. The sandmartins are
rather like swallows, only instead of building clay nests under
the roof edges of a house, they bore holes with their beaks in
banks of earth, and make their nests inside them. A very, very
long time ago, we used to do just like them, burrowing into the
ground, making a passage with a cave at the end of it, and living
there under the earth. There are some of these old homes of ours
still left in some parts of the country. The Imp and the Elf are
fond of the sandmartins, because they are always in a hurry like
themselves. It is fine to see them fly swift and low over the
pond, and flutter at the mouth of the hole, and then vanish into
it, like mice into a crevice in the wall.

But the birds who matter most of the Duck Pond People, are, of
course, the Ducks. There are brown ducks, and white ducks, and
speckly ducks, and broods of golden ducklings, that the Elf is
fond of watching. The little ducklings waddle about just like
their mothers, opening and shutting their dirty yellow flat bills
that are always far too large for their bodies. They look like
bundles of grey fluff, with crooked legs and waggly necks.

[Illustration]

Often we lie flat on the green grass by the side of the pond,
when the sun is high and hot, and white clouds and a blue sky are
reflected in the water of the pond. We lie lazily and watch the
ducks swimming about, looking for their food. We see them plunge
in from the flat shelving mud, and swim out like a mottled fleet
of boats. They move their heads to this side and to that, and
suddenly plunge them down into the water, into the rotting leaves
and mud that lie at the bottom of the pond. And then, as they
swing their head up again, we see that something is going down
inside. And sometimes when the thing is big, a young and lively
frog, or a wriggling worm, we see it hanging out of the duck's
bill, waiting to be flung about, and gulped at, until, at last,
it goes politely down.

Ducks swim just like men in canoes, striking out first on one
side and then on the other, as if someone inside the duck were
driving her along with strokes of a paddle. As we lie on the
bank, we can watch the strong neat stroke, and see how the feet
turn up to be drawn back ready to strike out again, just as a
good oarsman feathers his oars. The really most amazing thing
about a duck, though, is to see it when it comes out of the
water. You would think it would be wet. But no, it looks quite
neat and dry, though it has only just come from swimming and
diving its head in the muddy pond. The Imp and the Elf always
used to be puzzled at that. And their old nurse had a habit of
saying to them:--"Why, to scold you is like pouring water on a
duck's back; it does no manner of good." And one day they said to
me, "Why does it do no manner of good to pour water on a duck's
back?" I did not know then, so we hunted in a wise book and there
was the reason, and when we watched a duck a little more
carefully than usual we saw the book told the truth. The ducks
keep oil in a hidden place in their tails, and oil their feathers
with it. That is what they do when they preen themselves. That is
how they manage to be always dry. For water will not stay on
anything that is oiled, and really, it is just as if the ducks
made their feathers into mackintoshes against the wet.

All the time that we are resting after the walk and watching the
ducks, we are keeping a look out for other of the Pond People;
and pretty soon we are sure to see some of them. The pond is full
of floating weed, the tiny round-leaved duckweed, floating in
green patches even in the middle of the pond, and the dainty
white crowfoot, near the banks. There is more duckweed than
anything else, and sometimes it is like a green carpet floating
on the water. As we lie on the bank, we see a sudden movement in
the duckweed, and something pushes its way up through the weed,
like a stick that has been held down at the bottom, and then
loosed of a sudden, so that it leaps up to the surface of the
water. The whole length of the Imp wriggles with excitement. It
may be a frog, or it may be a newt. There never was such a pond
as this for frogs, and we can nearly always find a newt, if we
want to see one.

Early in the year, about March, when we come over the common to
the pond, the Imp carries an empty jampot, with a piece of string
fastened round the rim of it, and looped over so as to make a
convenient handle. The Elf carries a little net, made of a loop
of strong wire, with the ends of it forced into a hollow bamboo,
and a circle of coarse white muslin stitched to the metal ring.
As soon as we are well on the common, the Imp runs on ahead, and
long before we catch him up we hear him shouting by the edge of
the pond, "Here it is. Here! Here!" And we find him pointing
eagerly to a big mass of pale brownish jelly lying in the water.
Big frogs lie about in the shallows, and flop off into the deeper
parts of the pond, as soon as our shadows are thrown across the
water. It is at this time of the year that the frogs do their
croaking. As the Elf says, "they are just like the birds, and
sing when they have their little ones by them." For that great
mass of jelly is made up, though you would not think it, of
hundreds of little black eggs, each in a jelly coat, and each
with a chance of growing up into a healthy young froglet.

When we have poked the net under the jelly, and after a little
struggling scooped some of it out on the bank, we can see the
black dots that are eggs quite plainly. The stuff is so slippery
and hard to hold that we can see that even the birds and water
things must find it difficult to manage. We rather think that the
jelly helps a little in keeping the tiny black eggs from being
gobbled before they have had time to grow up. But in spite of its
slippery sloppiness, we get a little of it inside the jampot, and
when we have dipped the jampot in the pond to give the eggs some
water, and dropped in a wisp of weed, that loses its wispiness as
soon as it can float again, we set off on our way home, planning
all sorts of things for little frogs, and making frog tales. Frog
tales, the Elf says, are best in summer, "they make you feel so
cool." But they are not at all bad in the spring when the Imp
holds the jampot up so that we can all see in, and wonder which
black spot holds the young frog prince, and which the frog
esquire.

If we liked, of course, we could come day after day to the pond,
and watch the eggs change and grow in the water. We sometimes do
this; but it is so much easier to watch them at home, that we
take some of the jelly away in the jampot every year, and put it
into a big bell jar set upside down, with sand in the bottom of
it, and plenty of water and green weed.

After a day or two the little black spots in the jelly become
fish-shaped, and give little wriggles from time to time, and at
last come out and away from the jelly, small wrigglers, that swim
about, and fasten under the weed in waggling rows.

The wriggler has a great deal to do yet before turning into a
frog. The tail part of him becomes clearer, like a black thread
with a fine web at either side of it, and the head of him becomes
fatter and rounded, like a black pea, and we can see feathery
things hanging out from behind it, which are called gills. Until
it grows lungs of its own, like any respectable frog, the
wriggling, black-headed creature breathes with these. The tail
grows bigger and bigger from day to day, and flaps like anything,
driving the little black tadpole (for that is what we call it)
through the water in the bell jar, as if it were a little boat,
swimming under water, with a busy paddle behind.

[Illustration]

One day, about this time, when we are looking at the tadpoles in
the jar, where it stands on the long bookcase in the study, the
Imp says, "I say, Ogre, isn't it time we saw the blood moving?"
And then I bring a little microscope, all bright gilt, out of its
case in the cupboard. We catch one of the little tadpoles, and
lay it on a slip of glass, and look at it down the long tube of
the microscope. The tail of it looks huge instead of tiny, and
all over it, inside it, we can see little pale blobs running to
and fro; and those are the tadpole's blood. The blobs look like
wee fishes swimming in narrow canals all over the tadpole's tail.
When the Elf has looked as well as the Imp, we let it slip back
from the slip of glass into the bowl, and see it flap away, as
merrily as before.

The tadpole grows fast now, and soon two little hindlegs sprout
out, and the forelegs follow them, and the little creature looks
like a frog with a tail, and a very big tail at that. And then
the tail begins to shrink, and every day the tadpole is more like
a frog, and more like a frog, until, at last, the tail goes
altogether, and there in the bell jar is a baby froglet, who is
quite ready to crawl out of the water on a floating piece of
cork, and begin life as a land and water gentleman instead of a
mere fish.

That is the way the frog young ones grow up. Their mother does
not bother about them at all. They have to do everything for
themselves. And they do it very energetically. So that as soon as
they begin to turn into frogs, we take them back to the pond and
let them go; for if we kept them we should soon have them hopping
all over the house. A house is no place for a little wet frog. He
wants a pond or a muddy brook, and plenty of duckweed to hide
under.

The duckweed in the pond is stirred by other things besides
frogs, as I have told you already. The Elf and the Imp would be
very angry with me, if I did not tell you all about the newts.
For they are the most exciting of all the watery things that are
not simple fishes. They are like water lizards, or like tiny
water dragons, with four legs and a waving tail.

The Imp has a very particular admiration for the he-newts, and a
fairy story to explain how it is that they dress in more gorgeous
colours than their wives. Here is the story: Once upon a time
there were two brown newts who lived in a pond. One was a he, and
the other was a she, and neither of them knew which was which, or
who ought to obey orders. So they swam about, and presently poked
their noses up through the water-weed, and explained their
difficulty to a gay old Kingfisher, who was sitting in his
rainbow cloak on a bough that hung over the water. They both
asked the question at once. Only one of them asked about a dozen
times, and went on asking, and the other asked just once very
angrily, and then said nothing more. So the Kingfisher, who was
clever, knew which was which. "Why, you are the he," said the
Kingfisher to the angry one, and he took a brilliant feather from
his breast and gently stroked the newt from his head to his tail.
And then a queer thing happened. A fiery crest appeared all along
its back, and its body became emerald and spotted gold; and the
little she-newt clapped her hands to see her handsome husband,
and now she always does exactly what he tells her. That is all.

Well, you know, in a way that story is true, for the he-newt does
really wear those vivid colours and that fiery crest along its
back for just one season in the year. He wears them when he is
making love to his little brown lady. He makes love gallantly--
fighting his rivals like the noble little water dragon that he is.

Newts are not any more easy to keep at home in a bowl than little
frogs. They grow up from eggs, just like tadpoles, only instead
of losing their tails and changing into frogs they keep their
tails to swim with, and remain newts. They are not easy to keep
because they are very clever at climbing. Once we did catch two
of the brown lady newts, and the Imp fell splosh into the
duckweed just as he was reaching out trying to catch a he. He
caught the he all right, but then we had to go home best foot
first, for the Imp was a lump of muddy wetness. He chattered all
the way home all the same, and as soon as he had changed his
clothes we all worked together, rigging up the old tadpoles bell
jar with a fresh sandy bottom, and good clear water, and a
floating island of cork, and a lot of duckweed. Then we emptied
the jam pot full of newts into the bowl, and saw them swim gaily
about examining their new home. We left them and had our tea.
When we came back we looked at them again, and saw a very
beautiful thing. Two of the newts had shed their skins. You know
how sometimes, walking on the moor, we come across snakeskins,
like hollow transparent snakes, when we can be sure that an adder
has passed that way and left his old coat behind, and slipped
gaily off in brighter clothes. Well, that was exactly what the
newts had done. There were the newts swimming about, and there
were their old skins, like pale, grey films, floating in the
water. We could even see the shapes of their tiny feet and hands
in the transparent filminesses.

That was all very well, but next morning, as I was getting ready
to come down to breakfast, there was a shriek and clatter on the
stairs, and presently the Imp, very red, came bumping in at my
door to say that all the newts had vanished from the bowl, and
that the housemaid had just met one as she was coming downstairs
with a can of water. She had stepped over the newt on the edge of
the landing, had seen it, and dropped the water-can over and over
down the stairs. Would I please come? The Imp held out his pocket
handkerchief with something wriggling in it. "You have got it?" I
said. "Yes," said the Imp solemnly, looking back towards the
door, "but don't let her know." We ran down over the bedraggled
stair carpet and saw the water-can under the coat-stand, and the
housemaid crying on a chair, explaining how she had seen an evil
thing with four legs to it sitting on the landing. The cook was
watching her, with arms akimbo, saying "Ah, me," and "Poor dear,"
now and again.

[Illustration]

We ran on into the study, where we found the Elf feeling under
the bookcases and tables, looking everywhere for the lost guests.
We never saw the others again. But we took the one the Imp had
caught back to the pond, and, as we put it in, made a vow not to
keep newts again. They are the most escapable things we have ever
tried to keep. Besides, they look jollier in the pond, and are
probably very much happier. As the Elf said, "We should try to
think how we should like it if other things collected us." It
certainly would not be pleasant to be bottled up in muddy water
for the little newts to see. It is far best to leave them alone,
and, when we want to see them, to come quietly over the common to
the edge of the pond, when we may easily see half-a-dozen
water-dragons run out from the soft mud, and swim, with quick,
hasty flaps of their tails, and jerky paddlings of their arms and
legs, out into the depths of the pool.

When we lean out over the pond and take a handful or a netful of
the duckweed, and pull it to pieces on the bank, we find some of
the most daintily-shaped snails fastened among the mass of tiny
pale stems. The Imp and the Elf always think that they are like
very wee snakes, coiled round on themselves in little flat coils.
And really they are just the same shape as those stone snails
that were once alive, that grown-up people call ammonites. There
is a fairy story about those stone snails that shows how other
people beside the Imp and the Elf have thought them like
serpents. Up in the north country there was an abbey by the sea,
and in the abbey a saint lived called Hilda. And all the
countryside was made dangerous for foot passengers by crowds of
poisonous snakes. The folk of the country asked the saint to help
them; for they could not walk abroad without fear of being
bitten. They could not let their children out alone, because of
the deadly things. So the saint summoned all the serpents to the
abbey and, standing on the abbey steps, she turned them into
stone, and as they stiffened they coiled up in flat circles like
the little snails we find among the duckweed stems. That is the
story, but we know now that these stones that they find are
really snails that lived thousands of years ago, and have
gradually been changed into stone. The duckweed snails are fine
things for keeping water clear and pure, and the Imp and the Elf
always have a few of them in their aquarium to prevent the water
from growing green and stagnant and unhealthy. But you shall hear
all about that in the last chapter of the book.

These round snails are very small, but the duck-pond is full of
living things even smaller than they. When we scoop a jampot full
of water out of it, and hold it up to the light we can often see
wee round emerald balls rolling round the pot. They are so small
that we can only see them if we look very carefully, "I should
not think there can be any things smaller than those," said the
Elf one hot afternoon as she blinked at the jampot in the
sunlight. But there are. Why, even inside those wee round rolling
balls there are tinier balls rolling and moving round, and these
are quite alive, too. And, far, far smaller than these, there are
little things in the pond, so little that we really cannot see
them at all unless we put them under a microscope. The Duck Pond
is like a little world of its own with ducks for giants, and
newts for dragons, and all the tiny folk and the little snails
for ordinary citizens.

But though so many of the ordinary citizens are so small, it is
quite easy to grow rather fond of them. We hardly ever leave the
Pond without the Imp or the Elf saying beggingly, "Let's wait
till we see just one more water boatman." And then, of course, we
wait, and crane our necks over the pond, and take no heed of the
quacking of the ducks, or even of the splash of a young frog as
he flops into into the water. All our six eyes and our three
heads see nothing and think of nothing except the thing we want.
And when we see him, what do you think he is? A little dark
beetle with a pale ring round him, shaped like a tiny boat, comes
up to the surface for air, and waits a moment, and then goes
quickly off again, this way and that, rowing himself with two of
his legs that are stronger than the others, and stick straight
out from his body, like oars from a boat. He is the water
boatman, and somehow he is so brisk and jolly that we think he
must get more fun out of the pond than any other of the pond
citizens. And that is why we always want to see him last, before
we walk off over the parched common, and leave the quacking of
the ducks to grow fainter and fainter behind us. We like to think
of the water boatman cheerily rowing about and diving among the
reflections of the trees. He is a fine person to invent stories
about during the walk home.



III

STREAM AND DITCH


"You can have more fun with a running stream than with a pond,"
says the Imp. And that is because the galloping water, that leaps
and runs over the pebbles, seems to do things to you all the
time, while the water in a pond just stays still and lets you do
things to it. A thousand games can be played with moving water;
at every game it is as fresh as if no one had played with it
before.

The Imp spends some of his jolliest mornings at the side of the
beck, that flows down from the moorland, through a little wood
not far from the house. Up on the moor it is a tiny stream,
except when the big rains come, and then it is a streak of
foaming white in the mist on the hillside. But, when it has left
the heather and bracken and drops through the wood, it is like a
little swift flowing river, with shelving rocky sides, and
boulders in mid stream, and tiny waterfalls and pools and weirs.
Below the wood it flows out through the meadowland of the valley,
growing wider, and moving slower as it goes. Often as the Imp has
been playing with the leaping water, and I have been sitting near
by among the shadowy leaves of the trees, hazels and rowans, that
swing over its channel, I have heard him sing over to himself the
words of a poem which he knows. It is all about a stream.

     "I come from haunts of coot and hern,
        I make a sudden sally,
     and sparkle out among the fern,
        To bicker down a valley.

     "I chatter over stony ways
        In little sharps and trebles,
     I bubble into eddying bays,
        I babble on the pebbles.

     "I wind about, and in and out,
        With here a blossom sailing,
     And here and there a lusty trout,
        And here and there a grayling."

This is not all the song, but only his favourite verses.

The Imp builds stone on stone across the stream, and makes a
bridge with a dozen piers, and flat stones laid across. Or he
sets a row of big stones in the stream, so that the water gushes
between them. Then he piles little stones against them, and fills
the joints with moss and earth until he makes a solid dam, so
that the stream rises up and up, deeper and deeper, unable to go
any farther, until at last it overflows the top of the dam and,
rushing down, pulls everything to pieces beneath it. That is
really exciting. It is exciting, too, to make little canoes of
folded paper, and put a pebble in for ballast, and let them shoot
the rapid, as if there were Red Indians inside, skilfully guiding
with carved and painted paddles. These are only a few of the
running water games.

In a little hollow of the stream, below the waterfalls, where the
falling water has churned out a basin for itself, we sometimes
see a trout, silvery bellied, and dark of back, with spots along
his sides. But the place where we go to look for fish and other
water folk is farther down the stream, below the wood and
moorland. The beck is tamer down there, and has given up leaping
from ledge to ledge, but flows quietly and smoothly, with a
rippling song of its own, over a broad pebbly channel between the
green meadows.

Footpaths cross the meadows, and where they come to the brook,
bridges have been made by simply laying a huge flat slate stone
from bank to bank across the water. One of our favourite ways of
picnicking is to take our basket of food across the meadows and
camp in the long grass close by one of these bridges. For then we
get the best of everything. The best of the meadow things, purple
orchids, and kingcups, like enormous buttercups twice gilded, and
the delicate butterfly orchids, who are rare indeed, with their
pale green spikes, with the white flowers tinted with green,
fluttering round them. There is plenty of the little blue
forget-me-not growing in clumps close to the water, and ragged
robin, with his touzled pink petals close under the meadow hedge.
And, best of all, perhaps we see a blue flash, and then another
blue flash, and then another, and we know that there is a dragon
fly shooting about over the water, and among the water plants,
like a small azure comet. Sometimes, when he hovers over a
flower, we can see him, but we can never see his wings. They move
too fast. And when he is flying about, we can see nothing but the
blue glittering flash that shows that he is there.

[Illustration]

The best of the water things, too, we get. For lying on the banks
of the stream, even while we are eating our sandwiches, we can
see the caddises in the muddy shallows, and sometimes a water
shrimp, and often a shoal of minnows. And, when the stream is
low, the Imp can crawl along, from one side of the bridge to the
other, under the big slate, putting his feet and hands on the
stones left dry by the water. And that is fun indeed. The Elf and
I lie flat on our fronts on the stone bridge, and hang our heads
over the edge, and look backwards up the tunnel. And we see the
Imp start in at the other end, and come crawling under like a rat
in a wet hole. We see his hands and feet clawing about for stones
to rest on, and the Elf shouts to him, "There is a stone
there--no, there--there, stupid!" and sometimes he finds the
stone, and sometimes he does not. We hear him grunt with hotness
and excitement. And usually we hear him splash, as one leg or the
other slips from its resting-place into the water. And then out
he comes, mightily panting, at our end of the bridge. Somehow,
with a great pull, he tumbles round on to the bank. And then,
because one foot is wet he must take his shoe and stocking off.
And if one shoe, why not the other? And if the Imp is allowed to
take his shoes and stockings off, why not the Elf? And so, in
about three minutes, there are two pairs of stockings and two
pair of shoes neatly laid out on the bank, and two small people
paddling in the stream, playing for a little, just for the joy of
feeling the water stream past their ankles, and then searching
about and looking for the little folk of the stream and talking
about them, and asking all sorts of questions.

The first and easiest of all the small water folk for people
like the Imp and the Elf to find are the caddisworms. Do you know
a stonefly when you see one? A long brown-winged dirty-looking
fly; you must often have seen one skimming along a brook, and
settling on the pebbles that the water has left partly dry. A
caddisworm is the thing that is some day going to be a stonefly,
just as caterpillars are one day going to be butterflies or
moths, and just as Imps and Elves are some day going to be
grown-ups. That is all very well. But it does not tell you what a
caddisworm is like. This is how the children find one. They
paddle to a shallow part of the stream, where it flows under
grassy banks, a place where the bottom is a little muddy, instead
of being covered with small round pebbles. Then they stand and
look into the water, up stream, for the ripples flowing from
their ankles make it impossible to see into the water clearly if
they look the other way. Then, searching carefully over the
bottom, they look for anything small that moves. Presently they
see something. It may be a little bundle of tiny sticks, or some
pieces of dead grass, or a couple of irregularly shaped twigs,
moving crookedly over the sand or mud. And they know that they
have found a caddisworm. One or other of them, usually the Imp,
dives a hand down into the water and catches it, which is very
easy to do, for caddisworms are leisurely people, and do not move
much faster than snails. It is lifted out of the water and held
out, looking like a little bundle of sticks in the palm of his
paw. But while we watch something comes jerkily out of the end of
the bundle--a black head and six busy legs, and soon the caddis
is crawling along as fast as it can, dragging its house behind
it. For the bundle of sticks is really a log house that the
caddis has built for itself. He builds it about his own body all
round him, adding stick by stick in the neatest, cleverest
manner. He builds with anything he can find, and it is often
possible to make him a present of a twig, and see him use it up
as a new log in the walls of his house. Nothing comes amiss to
him. If the stream he lives in is full of little snails, he is
quite ready to cover his home with their shells. Beads, twigs,
pieces of grass cut short, flat seeds, scraps of paper, anything
you can think of, he will somehow manage to make useful. The odd
part of it is that instead of bringing the bricks to his house,
or the logs, or whatever you like to call them, he goes in his
house to look for each brick, and, when he has finished his
building, he carries his home about with him.

As the Imp puts the caddis back into the water he sometimes sees
a sudden stirring of the mud, as if someone had poked a pencil in
and pulled it quickly out again, bringing a puff of fine sediment
up into the water. In the place from which the puff came is a
water-shrimp, who is far harder to catch than the caddis, for he
is one of the nimblest of the little dodging water-folk. It takes
the Imp ten minutes and a lot of splashing before, if he is
lucky, he can catch one in the hollow of his hand. Then it lies
in a little puddle of water in his palm, whirling itself about,
and thrashing into ripples the waters of its prison. It is very
like a seaside shrimp, only smaller. It is pale, muddy brown,
and looks as if it had been made of tiny napkin rings slipped
over each other like a little curly telescope, with active legs
and busy feelers.

Sometimes as the children paddle up the stream they see a brown
cloud in the water, darting up and up before them in swift
swimming jerks. "Minnows!" they shout, and "Minnows, Ogre, look!"
and watch the shoal of little fishes flashing through the water
just out of reach of them. From moment to moment one of them
turns half over in the water, with a flash of silver as he turns.
And sometimes, when the Imp and the Elf are not paddling, and we
are all three of us lying on the bank, we see the shoal swim
slowly past us, and watch the minnows fling themselves right out
of the water after the tiny flies that play over the surface of
the stream. Then it is as if a clever juggler were hidden under
the water and were throwing little curved knives up from the
bottom of the stream to twist and sparkle in the air, and then
fall plosh, plosh, into widening circles of ripples. Minnow after
minnow leaps out of the water, turns and falls, and the ripples
of the different splashes cross one another and cut the water
into a thousand thousand glittering points of light.

[Illustration]

Sometimes we hear a bigger splash than is made by a minnow, and
looking up the stream we see something swimming strongly through
the water, a double trail of ripples flowing out on either side
of him. Just the nose of him is above water, and sometimes he
goes under altogether. The thing swims to a flat stone in the
middle of the stream that makes a kind of island, and suddenly we
see it fling itself up out of the water and sit on its hindlegs
on the stone, briskly washing its nose with its fore-paws.
"Water-rat," whispers the Imp to the Elf, and we do not move so
much as a hair, any of us. The brown, blunt-nosed rat sits up on
the stone and pulls its paws over its head and throws them back
again, like the neat-minded gentleman he is, Presently he thinks
he hears a noise, an ominous something, and the paws are suddenly
still for a moment, and the round head cocked on one side. His
head is so blunt and so near his body that one would scarcely
think he had a neck at all if he were not able to look this way
and that way and this way again, in the smallest part of second.
Ah, he sees us. For another instant he stays dead still,
wondering perhaps if we have seen him, and then off he shoots
again into the water, swimming now on the bottom of the stream
and now once more driving his nose along the surface until
suddenly he slips under the bank and we cannot see him at all.
When we lean over the bank, just where he disappeared, we find a
hole, which is the doorway of his home. Here he lives in the
moist bank under the over-hanging ferns, close to the water which
is as good as land to him. Here he lives and has a merry time to
himself, doing nobody any harm, except the waterplants, from whom
he takes his dinners.

A little farther down the stream a broad deep ditch crosses the
meadows to join it. The ditch is deep, and the water in it moves
so slowly that it is almost still. Weeds and grasses grow from
the bottom of the stream, and are only just bent over by the
current, and the moist edges of the ditch are full of sunken
holes, where the cows have thrust their feet into the mud. The
whole of the ground by the side of the ditch is rich with
flowers, but so swampy that they are difficult to reach, except
at a few places. But very often the Imp and the Elf, when their
shoes and stockings are once off, make up their minds to despise
mud, and wade through the grasses close to the edges of the ditch
to look for sticklebacks. And really, when I think of sticklebacks,
I agree with the children that it is worth more than muddy ankles
to get a look at them. For the sticklebacks are very fine fellows
indeed, the little soldiers of the water-people, tiny fishes, who
carry spears set upright on their backs, spears that are strong
and well pointed, too, as the Imp found when he took hold of a
stickle between his finger and thumb.

[Illustration]

The sticklebacks are like the newts of the duck-pond in quite a
number of ways. Not to look at, of course, for one has legs while
the other has fins; but in several of their habits. In the
love-making times, when the he-newts show their gorgeous coats,
the stickleback lords put on a brilliant uniform of glittering
green and scarlet and gold. Like the he-newts, they battle
between themselves, and more than once we have watched a noble
skirmish in the deep water under a tussock of grass. We have seen
the stickleback lords dash at each other again and again, trying
to rip each other up with their sharp spears, and, at the last,
we have seen the conqueror sailing proudly away, even more
gorgeous than before.

The Imp loves the sticklebacks because they are so bold and jolly
and move so quickly and so jerkily that it is hard to follow
them. But the Elf loves them for quite another reason. She loves
them because they are homely. Most of the water people, like the
frogs and newts, take no bother at all about their eggs, but just
leave them to themselves without ever caring whether they hatch
or no. But the stickleback is as careful as a blackbird, and
builds a little nest for the eggs down among the weeds on the
bottom of the ditch, and stays there watching and guarding till
they hatch out into little stickles. That is why the Elf loves
sticklebacks. They do look after their children a little.

Later in the year we see the shoals of little sticklebacks, not
so big as pen-nibs, who have left their nests in the ditch, and
are swimming away to see the world for themselves. Often we lie
on the bank and tell each other stories about them. And all these
stories begin: "Once upon a time there was a little stickleback,
one of a shoal," and all the stories end: "So the little
stickleback drove his enemy away in a fright, and swam back to
his nest glowing with colour and pride." For, of course, by the
time the story is finished the little stickleback has grown into
a big stickleback and has a nest of his own.

Besides the sticklebacks and minnows there are a great many other
fishes among the water-folk, but we do not meet them so often,
and most of them live in bigger places than the stream or the
ditch, or even the duck-pond. Sometimes, though, in the pebbly
part of the stream we meet a loach, a little brown speckled fish
with a flat head and little suckers like the horns of a snail
sticking out all round his mouth. We see him slip along in the
water under the shadowy side of a stone. If he does not come out
at the other end we know he is resting there, and then if we can
make the stone move without muddying the water, we may see him
flit from his hiding place, _zig-zag_ among the pebbles, looking
for a new stone where he may shelter.

And then, too, when the stream flows nearer to the sea, which is
only four miles from our house, you know, we find some other
water people who are very pleasant indeed. The sea spreads inland
in a broad pale sandy bay, with marshland grown over with sparse
reedy grass, and covered with pools of salty water, and channels
full of sandy mud. The stream flows out into this bay, and at
some times of the year, when we walk up from the bay along its
banks, we see stones that look as if they were heads, with a
waving mass of black hair flowing from them down the current.
When we look closer, we see that the black hair is a mass of tiny
eels. Little black wriggling water snakes they look like, though
they are nothing of the sort, and we sometimes remind each other
of the tale of the Gorgon's Head, with all its snaky crop.
Sometimes we have caught a little eel or two, and kept them in a
big jar; but they are not such adaptable guests as the tadpoles,
and we do not think we make them very comfortable. The Imp loves
to watch them, and finds it hard to believe that these are eels,
really eels, like the big twisting creatures he sees when he
leans over the side of the boat, when we go rowing on the lake.
You shall hear about those eels in the next chapter.

But, do you know, I believe our dearest of all the water people,
are not really water things at all, but birds? There are two of
them, that belong to the stream, and I expect I shall be scolded
by the Imp and the Elf for putting them at the end of the
chapter. I shall have to explain that I meant it as an honour to
them. They are birds; and one of them lives up the stream, where
it is a wild little beck, falling from rock to rock in the wood
on the moorland side, and the other hops from stone to stone in
the shallows of the brook, where it flows more peacefully through
the flat green meadows. The one is the dipper, and the other is
the water wagtail.

The dipper is a little brown fellow, with a white front and
throat, and a jovial little shout of his own. Very often, as we
climb up through the wood, with the noise of the thousand tiny
waterfalls swishing in our ears, we meet the dipper, perched on a
stone by the side of one of the pools, looking as if he were
making a careful map inside his head of everything he can see at
the bottom of the water. As soon as he notices us, there is a
brown flash in the air, and he is up, and over the next fall, and
perched on a stone by the pool above. When we have climbed
painfully up over the slippery rocks and the soft green earth
with the help of hands and knees, and little trees, and clumps of
heather, we find him sitting there, as gay and fresh as ever, and
perfectly ready to dart up stream again. But sometimes we have
been able to watch him, and see him dive into the pool; for he
can swim under water as if he were fish and not a bird at all. He
can swim round and round the bottom of the pools as easily as he
can fly. The Imp thinks him a very fortunate person; for he can
do everything. He can swim under water, he can hop about on land,
and he can fly in the air. And when you can do all those three
things, there is not much else left to want, is there?

The other bird is as dainty and spruce a little fellow as you can
imagine. All dark and white he is, looking like a pale and tiny
magpie, with a long tail. His tail gave him his name, and I have
been told a story about that. Here it is:--Once upon a time there
was an old wise man, and he set himself to write a huge book
about all the birds that ever are. So he went out with a lot of
pens and ink and paper, and lived in a hut at the edge of the
meadows, just sheltered by a wood. He told all the birds he knew
what he was about, and they told all the others. So that they all
came--albatrosses, and sparrows, and thrushes, and penguins, and
blackbirds, and guillemots, and seagulls, and flamingoes, and
peewits, and ostriches, and kingfishers--and fluttered and
chattered in a huge crowd in the meadows by the hut. One by one
they perched on a log in front of the old man, and he wrote down
what they were like, and what were their names, and all about
them. And this all worked very well until he came to the
wagtail, when he could not think of a name for it. He put his
head on one side and looked at the little mottled bird, and he
said, "Well, my life, I do not know what to call you," and the
little bird wagged its tail. The old man scratched his head, and
said, "Well, you little speckled thing, what am I to call you?"
and the little bird wagged its tail. The old man grunted and
groaned, and made all the noises we all make when we are stuck
over a very simple thing. He could not think of what to write,
and he kept dipping his pen in the ink, and scratching his head
with the other end of the penholder; and all the time the little
bird wagged its tail. Its wagging muddled the old man worse than
before, and he said angrily, "You do nothing but wag your tail,
wag your tail, wag--your--tail" and suddenly he found that he had
written down wagtail without thinking. And the little bird has
been called a wagtail ever since.

[Illustration]

"And it does wag its tail all the time," says the Elf. It really
does. We see it flit about the shores of the stream, first a
little this way, and then a little that, and every time it
perches its tail wags up and down, up and down, like a tiny
see-saw that has lost its other end.

Sometimes late in the summer we see yellow wagtails by the
stream, and they are even prettier than the grey ones, the very
daintiest of little fairy birds. But in autumn, both the grey
wagtails and the yellow ones fly away over seas like the
swallows, and we do not meet them by the stream side till next
year.



IV

LAKE AND RIVER


One month in every year the Imp and the Elf and I go to stay in a
farmhouse close by the shores of a lake, that is bigger than the
biggest pond you have ever seen. Out of the lake flows a river,
that is bigger than the biggest stream. But when we go there we
always feel very much like we do when we go over the common to
the duck pond, or follow the beck from the woodland to the
valley. Only, now, instead of lying on the bank at the side of
the water, we go in a boat, and row out with the water lapping
round us. It is as if we were in an enormous ship of our own, and
quite safe, for the boat is so broad in the beam that not even
the Imp or the Elf could tumble out if they tried.

Of course we are pirates, and Sir Francis Drakes, and vikings,
and other sea rovers, from time to time. I often find that I have
been a villainous pirate mate, when, for all I knew, I had been
peaceably reading a book in the stern, and we none of us know
when we set out in the morning what manner of gay adventures we
shall fashion for ourselves upon the water. But, if I were to
tell you about all that, I should have no room left in which to
write of the water folk, and that would never do.

This is a chapter mainly about the lake things, and they are very
like the pond and stream people, only bigger. You remember the
little eels we used to find in the stream, clustered like massing
black hair below the stones in the running water? Often, when we
are floating on the lake, where the bottom is sandy, and not so
deep that we cannot see it from the boat, we look over the
gunwale and see long brown slimy eels, with silver bellies,
twisting along the ground below. Sometimes we drop a worm exactly
over an eel, and watch it fall like a curling coral in the water
until the eel shoots at it, and gulps it in. Eels are really very
like water snakes, but they are fish, with fins just like the
trout, and funny little snoutheads, that make us think of pike.
Pike are the ugliest and wickedest-looking of all the fish. Big
and hungry they are, with evil eyes and long snouts, and mouths
set full of teeth that point back down their throats, so that if
a little trout or a hand once got inside it has not much chance
of escape. The pike lie under the thick weeds round the shores of
the lake, and among those rushes that rise out of the water like
a forest of green spears. Then when a shoal of big minnows or
small perch float by the pike darts out, and there is one perch
or one minnow the less in the frightened shoal of little fish.
Pike do not like perch very much, because a swallowed perch means
a sore pike. For those gay perch with their scarlet fins and
golden bodies barred with olive green are not defenceless at all.
The fin that runs down their backs is built on firm, sharp spikes
that they can lift when they want, and no perch is mild enough to
let himself be swallowed without lifting his spines and tearing
the throat of the swallower.

As we row on down the lake, watching the reflection of the boat
rocking in the ripples, and the reflections of the hills and the
trees on the shore of the lake we sometimes hear a long whistling
cry, and a curlew swings high over our heads from one side of the
valley to the other, like a pendulum-bob without a string, his
long curved beak stretched out far before him. And sometimes when
the weather is going to be stormy we hear a shrill shriek
repeated again and again, and see a white cloud of seagulls lift
from the marshy shores and flap away and back and settle again.
And more than once we have seen wild duck, and a drake in a
gorgeous shimmer of colour fly across the marshland by the head
of the river. Half-way down the lake there is a little rocky
island, where we have often seen the yellow wagtails, and on a
promontory opposite a kingfisher has his nest in a deep hole in
the rock. We row the boat close up to the nest, and look at the
pile of fishbones outside the hole. The Kingfisher is a fisher as
well as a king, and lives on the fish that he catches. It is fine
to see him fly across in the sunlight from the rock to island,
from the island to the rock, "Just like a rainbow without any
rain," as the Elf says, for he is the most gaily coloured of the
birds. "Because he is the king," says the Imp. And indeed his
kingly robes are very splendid--blue, and green, and red, and
white, and orange--as fine a cloak for a monarch as you could
wish to see.

There is another fishing bird whom we are always glad to see. He
is bigger than I do not know how many Kingfishers put together,
and though he is not brightly coloured he is very beautiful. He
is a heron, and herons are like the storks of Hans Andersen's
fairy stories. He is a grey bird, tall and thin, with a black
crest lying back from the top of his head. His legs are long, and
he is fond of standing on one leg by the edge of the water, or on
a stone at the end of some little promontory, tucking the other
leg up in the air, and watching the water with his head on one
side, ready at any moment to dive his long beak into the lake and
snatch a little fish out of it. When he flies he crooks his long
neck back on his shoulders and hangs his legs straight out
behind, so that it is impossible not to know him when you see
him.

In the little harbour, where our boat is kept, there are often so
many minnows that when we look into the water it seems as if the
bottom were made of moving tiny fish. People who are going to
fish for perch often catch the minnows dozens at a time in nets
in their boathouses, when the water is shallow, and the minnows
swim up into the shadows of the boats. And there are caddises
there too, if we choose the right places to look for them.

As we walk down through the fields from the farm to the
boathouse, the Imp and the Elf leaping for joy in themselves, and
the sunshine, and the cool wind, and the blue hills, we plan what
we shall do with the day, and where we shall go, and whom of the
lake people we shall try to see. And one morning or other, as we
leave the farmyard, the Imp cries out, "I say, Ogre, isn't to-day
the day for a picnic down the lake?" And the Elf says, "Yes. Say
yes, Ogre, do," and in three minutes we are all as happy as
pioneers arranging an expedition. After lunch we start, and by
that time the sandwiches are cut, and the bun-loaves, and the
marmalade, and the tea (hot and corked up in a bottle), and the
mugs, and everything else are all packed into two baskets by the
jolly old farmer's wife, and we go off together, the Imp and the
Elf carrying one basket between them, while I carry the other.

We run the boat out of the boathouse, and when we have settled
down, the Elf and the baskets in the stern, and the Imp lying
flat on his stomach in the bows, we slip away down the lake
rippling the smooth waters, and leaving long wavelets behind us
that make the hills and trees dance in their reflections. We
glide quietly away down the lake, looking up to the purple
heather on the moors, and the dark pinewoods that run right down
to the water's edge, and watching the fishermen rowing up and
down trailing their lines behind them, or casting again and again
over the waters of the little rocky bays that break the margin of
the lake. That is one way of being interested in the water
people; to want to catch them on a hook at the end of a line, but
it is not our way. We think of the water folk as we think of the
fairies, as of a strange small people, whom we would like to
know.

[Illustration]

We row down the lake, lazily and slowly, past rocky bays and
sharp-nosed promontories, and low points pinnacled with firs. The
hills change as we row. At the head of the lake they are rugged
and high, with black crags on them far away, but lower down the
lake they are not so rough. There are fewer rocks and more
heather, and the hills are gentler and less mountainous, until at
last at the foot of the lake they open into a broad flat valley,
where the river runs to the sea. A little more than half way down
there is an island that we can see, a green dot in the distance,
from our farmhouse windows, and here we have our tea.

We run the boat carefully aground in a pebbly inlet at one end of
the island. We take the baskets ashore, and camp in the shadow of
a little group of pines. There is no need to tell you what a
picnic tea is like. You know quite well how jolly it is, and how
the bun-loaf tastes better than the finest cake, and the
sandwiches disappear as if by magic, and the tea seems to have
vanished almost as soon as the cork is pulled from the bottle.

As soon as tea is over we prowl over the rockinesses of the
little island, and creep among the hazels and pines and tiny oaks
and undergrowth. Do you know trees never look so beautiful as
when you get peeps of blue water between their fluttering leaves?
When we have picked our way through to the other end, we climb
upon a high rock with a flat top to it, and heather growing in
its crevices; and here we lie, torpid after our tea, and pretend
that we are viking-folk from the north who have forced our way
here by land and sea, and are looking for the first time upon a
lake that no one knew before us. The Imp tells us a story of how
he fought with a red-haired warrior, and how they both fell
backwards into the sea, and how he killed the other man dead, and
then came home to change his wet clothes, long, long ago in the
white north. And the Elf, not to be beaten, has her story, too,
how she rode on a dragon one night and saw the lake--this very
lake--far away beneath her, like a shining shield with a blue
island boss in the middle of it. And how the fiery dragon flapped
down so that she could pick a scrap of heather from the island,
and how here was the very heather that she picked. And then I
tell them stories, too, of the old times, when the great fires
were lit on the crests of the hills, as warning signals to people
far away. And so the time slips away, and we suddenly find that
we are ready to row on again to have just one peep at the river.

All round the low end of the lake there are tall reeds growing
and bulrushes, and there is soft marshy ground that make damp
islets among the reeds. As we row down we are nearly sure to see
one or two big white birds with proud necks swimming slowly along
the reeds. Sometimes we have seen them rise into the air with a
great whirring of wings and splashing of water, and then sink
again on the surface of the lake, beating up a long mane of foam
as they fall. These are the swans, and on one of the islets in
the reeds they have a nest; more than once, when I have been here
earlier in the year, I have seen the mother swan sitting white
and stately on her home, and then the little grey cygnets break
out of the eggs and swim with their parents, looking so fluffy
and dirty and odd that the Imp and Elf can hardly believe that
some day they will turn out to be tall swans like the big white
birds they love, who swim through the water like the ships of a
fairy queen.

[Illustration]

The river flows away out of the lake through a broad opening in
the reeds. We row in there, and then let ourselves drift, just
guiding the boat with gentle strokes of the oar, until we leave
the reeds behind us, and move on the running river between green
banks, thick with bush and rough with rocks. Here on the banks we
sometimes see the remains of a dead fish half pulled to pieces.
We know what that means, "The otter," says the Imp, and we stare
about with eyes wider than before, doing our best to imagine in
very stir in the bushes or under the banks that we can see his
dark body, like a beaver, for he can swim in the water and dive
like a fish, and run along the bank as well. But we have never
seen him, though we know that he is there. And otters are growing
fewer and fewer. Every year men and women with dogs come to hunt
them and kill them. Some day there will be no otters left at all.

We wait in the river till the evening, and then set out to row
the long way back again. As we row up the river into the lake
again we can see the trout rising in big circles of ripples, and
hear the peewits screaming on the marshland. It is odd how we
seem to notice sounds at evening that we should not at other
times. Everything seems so quiet that little noises seem to
matter. When we hear the frogs croaking we do not think how loud
they are, but only how silent is everything-else. It is evening
now, when we row round the promontory at the low end of the lake,
and already we are wondering if we shall get home before the owls
begin to call. Long ago the Imp and the Elf should have been
asleep in bed.

The lake is very still, and the sky is less brilliant than it
was. The sun has dropped below the hills, and their outlines are
clear against the rose of the sunset. The Imp and the Elf say
nothing, but listen for the night noises, and watch the sky
working its miracles in colour. This evening is a new dream world
for them, and they are wondering whether the water people are
awake or asleep. "There never is a time when everything goes to
bed, is there?" says the Elf, sleepily, as we lift her out of the
boat. And as the two of them go off to bed, very happy and very,
very tired, we can hear the long kr-r-r-r-r-r of the nightjar in
the pinewoods up the hills, and below us in the woods at the head
of the lake two owls are answering each other.



V

OUR OWN AQUARIUM


It is quite a long time since the Imp and the Elf first started a
guest-house for the water people. One day, when the Elf was very
small, and I was showing her pictures in a book, and telling her
about the sticklebacks, and the minnows, and the loaches, and the
caddisworms, and all the rest of them, she sat silent for a long
time, and then said suddenly, "I want to ask him," and wriggled
down from my knee and went off to find the Imp. Presently they
came back together. "We want to have some caddises for our own,"
they said, and I understood that the Elf had thought it only fair
to consult the Imp before asking me about them for herself.

That very day we began to plan the guest-house. At first it was
to be no more than a jam pot, with mud in the bottom of it for
the caddises. Then we thought that perhaps even a caddis would
like a house a little bigger than a jam pot, or even than a big
marmalade jar. Even caddises crawl. The next bigger thing to one
of the big marmalade jars that they have in the nursery is a
basin. And basins are no use at all. They tip over if you lean on
their edges to look at anything that is crawling about inside.
There was nothing for it but to plan something new. And, if we
were to have something made on purpose, if we were to have a
really big home for caddises, there was no reason why we should
not plan it bigger still and be able to keep minnows in it, or
goldfish, or even a smallish eel.

So we spent a splendid afternoon planning the guest-house, and
next morning walked over the fields to the village with a lot of
scribblings in our hands. The scribbles were to explain what sort
of a guest-house we wanted. We walked straight through the
village to the glazier's shop. A glazier is a man who comes and
mends windows when tennis-balls have gone through them and broken
them. This glazier was very nice and kind. He let the Elf and the
Imp climb up and sit on his table, while he looked over our
scribbles, and then took a big sheet of paper and made a neat
drawing himself. He made what he called a plan, and what he
called an elevation, and then he drew a real picture of what the
guest-house was to be, and put a curly fish with a winking eye
swimming about in the middle. This picture he gave to the
children, so that they could think about the guest-house while it
was being made. He promised that we should have it in a week's
time.

It was a fortnight before it came. That is the way of glaziers
who are leisurely but very clever. For though the guest-house was
so long in coming, it was splendid when it came. It had four
sides made of glass, with wooden pillars at the corners, painted
green. It was like a house whose windows had spread all over the
walls. And it was so big that the Imp could easily stand in it
with both feet, a good way apart, too. We filled it with water
and it did not leak. There was a tube hidden in the bottom of it
with a tap at the side, so that we could let the water out and
put fresh water in without having to take out the fish. That was
important, as we did not want to disturb our guests, and all the
water-folk want their water changing from time to time.

We found a fine place for the Aquarium on one of the broad
bookshelves in the study, and as soon as we had fixed it there we
set about furnishing it and filling it with guests. We covered
the bottom with sand, and put some big stones in it with holes in
them to make hiding-places for the fish. Then we set off for the
duck-pond with three jam pots and two small nets. We did not
bother to play with the geese that day or even to look at the
donkey. We went straight to the edge of the pond and began
pulling some of the green duckweed out on the banks. We put a
good deal of it into one of the pots, and then searched through
a lot more, looking for those little round flat snails that I
told about in the second chapter. We wanted plenty of them,
because they keep the aquarium healthy, and the water sweet and
fresh. As soon as we had plenty of duckweed and plenty of snails,
we went on over the fields to the beck. And here we got
half-a-dozen caddisworms and a water-shrimp, and some minnows. We
let the shrimp go, because he does not live well except in
running water. But the others we carried home with us in the jam
pots, which we had to pretend into triumphal carriages. For we
were bringing home our first guests.

The Imp and the Elf sat on high chairs in the study till bed-time
watching the caddises crawl about on the mud, and the minnows
flit in and out among the stones. And before they went to bed
they said goodnight, very solemnly, to the water people. For it
is always best to be polite, even if the water-people do not
understand. And, as the Elf said, "Perhaps they do."

Next morning the carrier stopped on his way from the station with
a big can that had come by train from London; and in the dark
depths of the can we could see golden flashes. For I had written
to town for half-a-dozen golden fish to come and stay with the
minnows.

And after that the guest-house was always full. From time to time
new guests came, and others went away, let loose again in the
duck pond or the stream. Always the guests are changing. Someone
sent us a little water-tortoise for a present, and we kept him
with us for a little while, and then put him in the pond to see
life on his own account. We have had little eels from the stream,
and sticklebacks (but these are quarrelsome folk), and tadpoles,
and loaches, and carp, who are like greenish goldfish, and
long-bodied gudgeon, and silvery roach. Every morning, after
breakfast, before setting out walking, the children come into the
study and feed the guests with worms, and ants' eggs, and
crumbled vermicelli.

[Illustration]

The guest-house is like a little water world where we can see the
smaller water-folk living in their own way. It is a beautiful
little world, with its clear water, and green weed, with the
little fishes swimming under the roots of the weeds, and darting
among the crevices of the stones. And it is a little world that
is not very difficult to manage. We have to be careful not to
overfeed the guests, and yet we must be sure that they have
enough to eat. We have to keep the water clear, changing it every
other day, pouring fresh water in at the top and running out the
old through the tap at the bottom. It is a little world that
anyone can manage who loves the water-folk well enough to take
plenty of trouble with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now, do you know, we have come to the end. There is such a
lot to write about the things that are jolly and wet that the Imp
and the Elf say I have missed out half the things that ought to
be put in, and I know that I have missed out a very great deal
more than that. But if you really care for the water-folk you
will find out the best of all the things that cannot be written
here by going to the stream side, or the pond side, or the side
of the lake and making friends with the water-people for
yourself.





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