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by [?]

“We take care of ourselves. All the sea is our home, and we do as we please. Come, come, and see how gay it is!” called Silver-tail, the other mermaid, tossing bubbles like a juggler till the air was full of them as they sailed away on the wind.

Now, if Nelly had not been angry with her good mamma just then, and ready for any disobedience, she would never have been so naughty, or have gone to play with such strange friends. She was very curious to see how they lived, and be able to relate her adventures when she came back, as she was sure she would, all safe and sound. So she dropped her clothes on the rock and splashed into the green pool below, glad to show off her fine swimming. But Goldfin and Silver-tail caught her and bade her drink the spray they held in their hands.

“Sea water is salt and bitter; I don’t like it,” said Nelly, holding back.

“Then you cannot be like us. Drink, and in a moment see what will happen!” cried Goldfin.

Nelly swallowed the cold drops and caught her breath, for a dreadful pain shot through her from her head to her feet, while the mermaids chanted some strange words and waved their hands over her. It was gone in an instant, and she felt like a cork floating on the water. She wondered, till glancing down she saw that her little white legs were changed to a fish’s tail of many colors, which gently steered her along as the waves rippled against her breast.

“Now I am a mermaid,” she cried, and looked into the pool to see if her eyes were green, her face pale, and her hair like curly brown sea-weed.

No; she had her child’s face still, with rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and yellow curls. She was not disappointed, however, for she thought it a prettier face than the moony ones of her new playmates; so she laughed and said gayly,–

“Now you will play with me and love me, won’t you?”

“What is love?” asked Silver-tail, staring at her.

“Why, when people love they put their arms round one another and kiss, and feel happy in their hearts,” answered Nelly, trying to explain the beautiful word.

“How do you kiss?” asked Goldfin, curiously.

Nelly put an arm round the neck of each, and softly kissed them on their cold wet lips.

“Don’t you like it? Is it sweet?” she asked.

“I feel that you are warmer than I, but I think oysters taste better,” said one; and the other added,–

“Mermaids have no hearts, so that does not make us happier.”

“No hearts?” cried Nelly, in dismay. “Can’t you love? Don’t you know about souls and being good, and all that?”

“No,” laughed the mermaids, shaking their heads till the drops flew about like pearls. “We have no souls, and don’t trouble about being good. We sing and swim and eat and sleep; is not that enough to make us happy?”

“Dear me, how queer they are!” thought Nelly, half afraid, yet very anxious to go with them and see more of this curious sea-life of which they had spoken. “Don’t you care about me at all, and don’t you want me to stay with you a little while?” she asked, wondering how she should get on with creatures who could not love her.

“Oh yes, we like you as a new playmate, and are glad you came to see us. You shall have our bracelets to wear, and we will show you all kinds of pretty things down below, if you are not afraid to come,” answered the mermaids, dressing her in their garlands and necklaces, and smiling at her so sweetly that she was ready to follow as they swam away with her far out on the great billows that tossed them to and fro but could not drown or harm them now.

Nelly enjoyed it very much, and wondered why the fishermen in their boats did not try to catch them, till she learned that mermaids were invisible and were never caught. This made her feel very safe, and after a fine game of play she let her friends take her by the hand and sink down to the new world below. She expected to find it very gay and splendid, with sea-coral trees growing everywhere, palaces of pearl, and the ground covered with jewels; but it was dim and quiet. Great weeds fanned to and fro as the water stirred them; shells lay about on the sand, and queer creatures crawled or swam everywhere.