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by [?]

Both little maids stared at her with their green eyes as if they wanted to understand, but gave it up, and with a whisk of their shining tails darted away, calling to her,–

“Come and play with the crabs; it’s great fun.”

Nelly was rather afraid of crabs, they nipped her toes so when she went among them; but having no feet now, she felt braver, and was soon having a gay time chasing them over the rocks, and laughing to see them go scrambling sidewise into their holes. The green lobsters amused her very much by the queer way they hitched along, with their great claws ready to grasp and hold whatever they wanted. It was funny to see them wipe their bulging eyes with their feelers and roll them about on all sides. The hermit crabs in their shells were curious, and the great snails popping out their horns; the sea-spiders were very ugly, and she shook with fear when the horrible Octopus went by, with his eight long arms waving about like snakes and his hooked beak snapping.

“Show me something pretty,” she begged; “I don’t like these ugly things. Haven’t you any flowers or birds or animals here to play with?”

“Oh yes, here are our sea anemones, yellow, red, and white, all blooming in their beds; and these lovely plants of every color which you call weeds. Then there are the coral trees, far away, which we will show you some day, and the sponges on the rocks, and many other curious things,” answered Goldfin, leading Nelly up and down to see the only flowers they had. Then Silver-tail said,–

“She will like the nautilus boats and the flying fish, and a ride on the dolphins and whales. Come and let her see that we have birds and animals as well as she.”

Up they went; and when Nelly saw the lovely red and blue creatures like a fleet of fairy boats floating over the waves, she clapped her hands and cried,–

“We have nothing so beautiful on the land! How delicate and fair they are! Won’t the wind tear them to pieces and the storms wreck them?”

“Watch and see!” answered the mermaids, well pleased at her delight; and as a gust blew by every silken sail was furled, the lovely colors vanished, and the fairy boats sank out of sight safely to the bottom of the sea.

“Our sailors can’t do that,” said Nelly; “and when our ships go down they never come up again.”

Just then some fish flew over their heads and splashed down again, while the gulls snapped at them in vain.

“Those are our birds, and here are our horses. People call them porpoises, but we call them dolphins, and have many a fine gallop on their backs,” said Goldfin, as a school of great creatures came gambolling by.

Up sprang the mermaids, and went swiftly dashing through the water with high leaps now and then, as their sea-horses reared and plunged, tossing their tails and waving their fins as if they enjoyed the frolic. Nelly did, and wished to ride longer; but a whale appeared, and her playmates went to climb on his back and hear the news from the North Sea. It was like a moving island, and they sat under the fountain as he spouted water and rolled about lazily basking in the sun after his cold voyage.

“Don’t we have good times?” asked Silver-tail, when they slid down the slippery sides of the monster and climbed up again as if coasting.

“Splendid! I like to be a mermaid and have no lessons to study, no work to sew, no nurse to scold me, and no mamma to forbid my swimming as much as I choose,” said naughty Nelly; but as she spoke and looked toward the land now far away, a little pain went through her heart to remind her that she was not a real mermaid, and still had a conscience, though she would not listen to it.