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by [?]

They played all the afternoon, had an oyster supper, and went early to bed to get a good nap before midnight, because the moon was full and they hoped the Wonder-tree would bloom before morning.

Nelly liked the quiet now; and the soft song of the sea lulled her to sleep, to dream of sailing in a nautilus boat till a dreadful cuttle-fish came after her and she woke in a fright, wondering to find herself lying on a bed of wet weeds in a great shell.

“Come away; it is time, and a lovely night,” called the mermaids, and with several new friends they all hurried up to watch the buds open when the moon kissed them.

The sea shone like silver; the stars seemed to float there as well as in the sky, and the wind blew off the shore bringing the sweet smell of hay-fields and gardens. All the sea people sang as they lay rocking on the quiet waves, and Nelly felt as if this were the strangest, loveliest dream she had ever dreamed.

By and by the moon shone full upon the Wonder-tree, and one by one out popped the water-babies, looking like polliwogs, only they had little faces and arms instead of fins. Lively mites they were, swimming away at once in a shoal like minnows, while the older mermaids welcomed them and gave them pretty names as the tiny things came to peep at them and dart between the hands that tried to grasp them. Till dawn they kept in the moonlight, growing fast as they learned to use their little tails and talk in small, sweet voices; but when day came they all sank down to the bottom of the sea, and went to sleep in the shell cradles made ready for them. That was all the care they needed, and after that they had no nursing, but did what they liked, and let the older ones play with them like dolls.

Nelly had several pets, and tried to make them love and mind her; but the queer little creatures laughed in her face when she talked to them, darted away when she wanted to kiss them, and stood on their heads and waggled their bits of tails when she told them to be good. So she let them alone, and amused herself as well as she could with other things; but soon she grew very tired of this strange, idle life, and began to long for some of the dear old plays and people and places she used to like so much.

Every one was kind to her; but nobody seemed to love her, to care when she was good, or wish to make her better when she was selfish or angry. She felt hungry for something all the time, and often sad, though she hardly knew why. She dreamed about her mother, and sometimes woke up feeling for baby, who used to creep into her bed and kiss her eyes open in the morning. But now it was only a water-baby, who would squirm away like a little eel and leave her to think about home and wonder if they missed her there.

“I can’t go back, so I must forget,” she said, and tried to do it; but it was very hard, and she half wished she was a real mermaid with no heart at all.

“Show me something new; I’m tired of all these plays and sights and toys,” she said one day, as she and her two playmates sat stringing little silver and rosy shells for necklaces.

“We are never tired,” said Goldfin.

“You haven’t any minds, and don’t think much or care to know things. I do, and I want to learn a little or make some one happy if I can,” said Nelly, soberly, as she looked about the curious world she lived in and saw what a dim, cold, quiet place it was, with the old mermen turning to stone in their nooks, the lazy mermaids rocking in their shells or combing their hair, and the young ones playing like so many stupid little fishes in the sun.