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by [?]

“I wish I were a sea-gull or a fish or a mermaid; then I could swim as much as I like, and not have to stay on this stupid dry land all day,” said Nelly, as she sat frowning and punching holes in the sand one summer morning, while the waves came murmuring up on the beach, and a fresh wind sang its pleasant song.

The little girl loved to bathe so well that she wanted to be in the water all the time, and had been forbidden to go into the sea for a day or two because she had a cold. So she was in a pet, and ran away from her playmates to sit and sulk in a lonely spot among the rocks. She had been watching the gulls fly and float, with their white wings shining as they dipped down or soared away in the sunshine. As she wished her wish a very large one swept down upon the sand before her, and startled her by saying in a hoarse tone, as she stared at its bright eyes, the red ring round its neck, and the little tuft on its head,–

“I am the King of the gulls, and I can grant any one of your wishes. Which will you be,–a fish, a bird, or a mermaid?”

“People say there are no mermaids,” stammered Nelly.

“There are; only mortals cannot see them unless I give the power. Be quick! I don’t like the sand. Choose, and let me be off!” commanded the Great Gull, with an impatient flutter of its wide wings.

“Then I’ll be a mermaid, please. I always wanted to see one, and it must be very nice to live always in the water.”

“Done!” said the gull, and was gone like a flash.

Nelly rubbed her eyes, and looked about her rather scared; but nothing had happened to her yet, and she was just going to complain that the bird had cheated her, when the sound of soft voices made her climb the rock behind her to see who was singing down there.

She nearly fell off again when she spied two pretty little creatures floating to and fro on the rocking waves. Both had long brown hair, green eyes as clear as crystal, pale faces, and the sweetest voices Nelly had ever heard. But the strange thing was that each little body ended in a shining tail,–one all golden, the other all silver scales. Their little breasts and arms were white as foam, and they wore bracelets of pearls, strings of rosy shells about their necks, and garlands of gay sea-weed in their hair. They were singing as they rocked, and throwing bubbles to and fro as if playing ball. They saw Nelly in a moment, and tossing a great rainbow-colored bubble toward her, cried gayly,–

“Come and play, little friend. We know you, and have often tried to make you see us when you float and dive so bravely in our sea.”

“I long to come; but it is so deep there and the waves are so rough that I should be dashed on the rocks,” answered Nelly, charmed to see real mermaids at last, and eager to go to them.

“We came for you. The King-gull told us to call you. Slip off your clothes and spring down to us; then we will change you, and you can have your wish,” said the mermaids, holding up their arms to her.

“My mother said I must not go into the sea,” began Nelly, sadly.

“What is a mother?” asked one little sea-maid, while the other laughed as if the word amused her.

“Why, don’t you know? Don’t you have fathers and mothers down there?” cried Nelly, so surprised that she forgot her wish for a moment.

“No; we are born of the moon and the sea, and we have no other parents,” said Goldfin, the shining one.

“How dreadful!” exclaimed Nelly. “Who takes care of you, and where do you live? Without fathers and mothers you cannot have any home.”