Morning-Glories and Other Stories/Goldfin and Silvertail

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Little Bessie lay in a rocky nook,
   Alone, beside the sea,
Where the sound of ever-rolling waves
   To her ear came pleasantly.
Her face was dark with a gloomy frown,
   Tears on her hot check lay;
For a wilful, unkind little girl
   She had been that livelong day;
And had stolen here, to the quiet shore,
   To sigh and sob alone.
And to wonder how and why and where
   Her happiness all had flown.
As thus she lay, with half-closed eyes.
   Low voices reached her ear.
And laughter gay that seemed to flow
   Like ripples sweet and clear.
She looked above, she looked below
   And saw with wondering glee
Two little mermaids on the rocks,
   Both singing merrily.
One combed her long and shining hair,
   All wreathed with sea-weed bright;
The other caught the falling spray
   That leaped into the light.
Friendly and fair both faces seemed,
   With smiling lips and eyes,
And little arms and bosoms white
   As sea-foam when it flies.

But Bessie wondered more and more,
   And Bessie's check grew pale;
For both the mermaids bore below
   A graceful little tail,—
One, bright with silver scales, that shone
   In every fin and fold;
The other, brighter, stranger still,
   All glittering with gold.
"Come hither, little mermaids, pray,"
   Cried Bessie, from her nook,
"I will not touch or trouble you,—
   I only want to look."
The startled mermaids glanced at her.
   And whispered long and low;
At last, one to the other said,
   "Dear Goldfin, let us go."
Then, gliding from their rocky seat.
   And floating through the sea,
They reached the nook where Bessie lay,
   And looked up smilingly:
"Now, ask of us whate'er you will.
   We'll surely grant it thee,"
Bright Goldfin said unto the child,
   Who watched them silently.
And Bessie answered with delight,
   "You seem so blithe and gay,
And I'm so sad and lonely here,
   Make me a mermaid, pray."
"Ah! choose again: that is not wise,"
   Cried Goldfin, earnestly;
"I have no spell to change your heart,
   And sadder it may be.
Our home is strange and wild to you;
   Think what you leave behind,—
Sunshine and home, and, best of all,
   A mother, dear and kind."
But Bessie only frowned and cried,
   "You gave the choice to me.
I'm tired of sun and home and all,
   So a mermaid I will be."

Then bitter, salt sea-drops they gave,
   From out a hollow shell;
And garlands fair upon her head,
   They laid, with song and spell.
A cloud arose, like sudden mist;
   And, when it passed, the child
Found herself, by drop and garland,
   Changed to a mermaid wild.
With timid haste she glided down
   Into the cold, cold sea;
And bid her playmates show her where
   Her future home would be.
Down deep into the ocean went
   The mermaids, one and all,
O'er many a wondrous hill and dale,
   Through many a coral hall.
The child's heart in the mermaid's form
   Beat fast with sudden fear;
For all was gloomy, strange, and dim
   Beneath the waters clear.
She missed the blessed air of heaven;
   She missed the cheerful light,
She feared the monsters weird, who looked
   From caverns dark as night;
Her food was now sea-apples cold,
   And bitter spray she drank;
Her bed was made on barren rocks,
   Of sea-moss, rough and dank;
Strange creatures floated far and near,
   Or crawled upon the sand;
And soon she longed with all her heart
   For the green, summery land.
Here Bessie lived; but daily grew
   More restless than before,
And sighed to be a child again,—
   Safe on the pleasant shore.
She often rose up to the light,
   A human voice to hear;
And look upon her happy home,—
   That now seemed very dear.

And children, wandering on the sands.
   Saw, rising from the sea,
A little hand that beckoned them,
   As if imploringly.
They often saw a wistful face
   Look through the spray and foam;
And heard a sobbing voice that cried,
   "O mother! take me home."
So, drearily, Poor Bessie lived,
   Till to a merman old,
She one day went, when most forlorn,
   And all her sorrow told.
"If you would find your happiness,"
   The merman answering said,
"Forget yourself, and patiently
   Cheer others' grief instead.
Watch well the lives of your two friends.
   The simple difference see;
And you will need no other help,—
   No other spell from me."
Then Bessie watched with heedful eyes.
   Wondering more and more,
That she had never cared to mark
   That difference before;
For Silvertail, though fair to see.
   Was wilful, rude, and wild.
"Ah! yes," sighed Bessie, while she looked,
   "As I was, when a child."
She led an idle, selfish life.
   Darkened by discontent;
And left a shadow or a tear
   Behind, where'er she went
But Goldfin, with her loving heart,
   So cheerful and serene,
Left smiles, kind words, and happy thoughts
   Wherever she had been.
No little fish but came to her
   To heal its wounded fin;
No monster grim but opened wide
   His cave to let her in.

The rough waves grew more mild to her,
   Though cruel to great ships;
The sea-gulls stooped in their wild flights,
   To kiss her smiling lips.
She helped the coral builders small
   To shape their little cells,
And in the diver's dangerous path
   Laid heaps of pearly shells;
She guided well the fisher-boats
   Through many a stormy gale,
And lured away the angry winds
   From many a tattered sail;
She scattered pebbles on the beach,
   And sea-weed on the sands,
To gladden children's longing eyes,
   And fill their little hands.
These things she did with patient care,
   Forgetful of herself,
Till in the sea she was more loved
   Than mermaid, sprite, or elf;
While all the joy to others given
   Came back unconsciously,
To cheer and brighten her own life,
   Wherever she might be.
"Ah! now I know why I am sad,"
   Cried Bessie, at the sight,
"When I am good, as Goldfin is,
   My heart will be as light."
And henceforth Bessie daily grew
   More cheerful and content:
In generous acts and friendly words
   Her happy days were spent.
No longer lonely seemed the sea,
   So full of friends it grew;
Nor longer gloomy, for the sun
   Shone through the waters blue.
No more she wept beside the shore,
   But floated daily there;
And hung gay garlands on the rocks,
   That once were brown and bare,

Softly singing, as she looked
   With dim eyes through the foam:
"When I have learned my lesson well,
   I may be taken home.
Till I can rule my heart aright,
   And conquer my own will,
I'd wait and work and hope and try.
   Dear mother, love me still."
As thus the little mermaid cried,
   There came a sudden gleam;
A cold drop fell upon her check,
   And chased away the dream.
With wondering eyes did Bessie gaze
   About on every side,—
The rocks whereon the mermaids sat
   Were covered by the tide;
The great waves, with a solemn sound,
   Came rolling slowly on;
The fresh winds played among her hair;
   And all the dream was gone.
But Bessie long remembered it:
   The lesson did not fail;
And all her life she followed well
   Goldfin, not Silvertail.