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Kind William And The Water Sprite
by [?]

There once lived a poor weaver, whose wife died a few years after their marriage. He was now alone in the world except for their child, who was a very quick and industrious little lad, and, moreover, of such an obliging disposition that he gained the nickname of Kind William.

On his seventh birthday his father gave him a little net with a long handle, and with this Kind William betook himself to a shallow part of the river to fish. After wandering on for some time, he found a quiet pool dammed in by stones, and here he dipped for the minnows that darted about in the clear brown water. At the first and second casts he caught nothing, but with the third he landed no less than twenty-one little fishes, and such minnows he had never seen, for as they leaped and struggled in the net they shone with alternate tints of green and gold.

He was gazing at them with wonder and delight, when a voice behind him cried, in piteous tones–

“Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!”

Kind William turned round, and saw, sitting on a rock that stood out of the stream, a young girl weeping bitterly. She had a very pretty face, and abundant yellow hair of marvellous length, and of such uncommon brightness that even in the shade it shone like gold. She was dressed in grass green, and from her knees downwards she was hidden by the clumps of fern and rushes that grew by the stream.

“What ails you, my little lass?” said Kind William.

But the maid only wept more bitterly, and wringing her hands, repeated, “Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!” presently adding in the same tone, “The little fishes! Oh, the little fishes!”

“Dry your eyes, and I will give you half of them,” said the good-natured child; “and if you have no net you shall fish with me this afternoon.”

But at this proposal the maid’s sobs redoubled, and she prayed and begged with frantic eagerness that he would throw the fish back into the river. For some time Kind William would not consent to throw away his prize, but at last he yielded to her excessive grief, and emptied the net into the pool, where the glittering fishes were soon lost to sight under the sand and pebbles.

The girl now laughed and clapped her hands.

“This good deed you shall never rue, Kind William,” said she, “and even now it shall repay you threefold. How many fish did you catch?”

“Twenty-one,” said Kind William, not without regret in his tone.

The maid at once began to pull hairs out of her head, and did not stop till she had counted sixty-three, and laid them together in her fingers. She then began to wind the lock up into a curl, and it took far longer to wind than the sixty-three hairs had taken to pull. How long her hair really was Kind William never could tell, for after it reached her knees he lost sight of it among the fern; but he began to suspect that she was no true village maid, but a water sprite, and he heartily wished himself safe at home.

“Now,” said she, when the lock was wound, “will you promise me three things?”

“If I can do so without sin,” said Kind William.

“First,” she continued, holding out the lock of hair, “will you keep this carefully, and never give it away? It will be for your own good.”

“One never gives away gifts,” said Kind William, “I promise that.”

“The second thing is to spare what you have spared. Fish up the river and down the river at your will, but swear never to cast net in this pool again.”

“One should not do kindness by halves,” said Kind William. “I promise that also.”

“Thirdly, you must never tell what you have now seen and heard till thrice seven years have passed. And now come hither, my child, and give me your little finger, that I may see if you can keep a secret.”