Water Sprite by
Louisa M. Alcott
Down in the deep sea lived Ripple, a happy little water sprite. She
lived in a palace of red coral, with gardens of sea-flowers all round
it, the waves like a blue sky above it, and white sand full of jewels
for its floor. Ripple and her mates had gay times playing with the
sea-urchins, chasing flying-fish, rocking in the shells, and weaving
many-colored sea-weed into delicate clothes to wear.
But the pastime Ripple loved best was to rise to the light and air, and
float on the waves that rocked her softly in the sunshine, while the
gulls stooped to tell her news of the great world they saw in their long
flights. She liked to watch little children playing on the shore, and
when they ran into the sea she caught them in her arms and held them up
and kissed them, though they saw and felt only the cool water and the
Ripple had one sorrow; for when tempests came and the waves rolled
overhead like black clouds, ships were often wrecked, and those whom the
angry sea drowned came floating down, pale and cold, to the home of the
water sprites, who mourned over them, and laid them in graves of white
sea-sand, where jewels shone like flowers.
One day a little child sank down from the storm above to the quiet that
was never broken, far below. Its pretty eyes were closed as if asleep,
its long hair hung about the pale face like wet weeds, and the little
hands still held the shells they had been gathering when the cruel waves
swept it away. The tender-hearted sprites cried salt tears over it, and
wrapped it in their softest sheets, finding it so lovely and so sad they
could not bury it out of sight. While they sung their lullabies Ripple
heard through the roar of wind and water a bitter cry that seemed to
call her. Floating up through foam and spray she saw a woman standing on
the beach with her arms outstretched, imploring the cruel sea to give
her back her little child.
Ripple longed so much to comfort the poor mother that power was given
her to show herself, and to make her soft language understood. A slender
creature, in a robe as white as foam, with eyes as blue as the sea, and
a murmuring voice that made music like falling drops of water, bent over
the weeping woman and told her that the child was cared for far below
all storms, and promised to keep the little grave beautiful with
sea-flowers, and safe from any harm. But the mother could not be
comforted, and still cried bitterly,—
"Give him back to me alive and laughing, or I cannot live. Dear sprite,
have you no charm to make the little darling breathe again? Oh, find
one, find one, or let me lie beside him in the hungry sea."
"I will look far and wide and see if I can help you. Watch by the shore,
and I will come again with the little child if there is any power in
land or sea to make him live," cried Ripple, so eager to do this happy
thing that she sprang into the ocean and vanished like a bubble.
She hurried to the Queen in her palace of pearls and told her all the
"Dear Ripple, you cannot keep your promise, for there is no power in my
kingdom to work this spell. The only thing that could do it would be a
flame from the sun to warm the little body into life, and you could
never reach the fire spirits' home far, far away."
"But I will!" cried Ripple, bravely. "If you had seen the poor
mother's tears and heard her cries you would feel as I do, and never let
her watch in vain. Tell me where I must go; and I will not be afraid of
anything if I can only make the little child live again."
"Far away beside the sun live the fire spirits; but I cannot tell the
road, for it is through the air and no water sprite could live to reach
it. Dear Ripple, do not go, for if any harm comes to you I shall lose my
sweetest subject," said the Queen,—and all the others begged her to
stay safely at home.
But Ripple would not break her promise, and they had to let her go. So
the sprites built a tomb of delicate, bright shells, where the child
might lie till she came to make him live again; and with a brave good-by
Ripple floated away on her long journey to the sky.
"I will go round the world till I find a road to the sun. Some kind
friend will help me, for I have no wings and cannot float through the
blue air as through the sea," she said, as she came to the other side of
the ocean and saw a lovely land before her. Grass was green on all the
hills, flowers were budding, young leaves danced upon the trees, and
birds were singing everywhere.
"Why are you all so gay?" asked Ripple, wondering.
"Spring is coming! Spring is coming! and all the earth is glad," sang
the lark, as the music poured from its little throat.
"Shall I see her?" asked Ripple, eagerly.
"You will meet her soon. The sunshine told us she was near, and we are
hurrying to be up and dressed to welcome her back," answered a blue-eyed
violet, dancing on her stem for joy.
"I will ask her how to reach the fire spirits. She travels over the
earth every year, and perhaps can show me the way," said Ripple, as she
Soon a beautiful child came dancing over the hills, rosy as dawn, with
hair like sunshine, a voice like the balmy wind, and her robe full of
seeds, little leaves, dewdrops, and budding flowers, which she scattered
far and wide, till the earth smiled back at the smiling sky.
"Dear Spring, will you help a poor little sprite, who is looking for the
fire spirits' home?" cried Ripple,—and told her tale so eagerly that
the child stopped to hear.
"Alas, I cannot tell you," answered Spring, "but my elder sister Summer
is coming behind me, and she may know. I long to help, so I will give
you this breeze, that will carry you over land and sea and never tire. I
wish I could do more, but the world is calling me, and I must go."
"Many thanks, kind Spring," cried Ripple, as she floated away on the
breeze. "Say a kind word to the poor mother waiting on the shore, and
tell her I do not forget."
Then the lovely season flew on with her sunshine and song, and Ripple
went swiftly over hill and dale till she came to the place where Summer
lived. Here the sun shone warmly on early fruit and ripening grain; the
wind blew freshly over sweet hay-fields and rustled the thick branches
of the trees. Heavy dews and soft showers refreshed the growing things,
and long bright days brought beauty to the world.
"Now I must look for Summer," said Ripple, as she sailed along.
"I am here," said a voice, and she saw a beautiful woman floating by, in
green robes, with a golden crown on her hair, and her arms full of
Ripple told her story again, but Summer said with a sigh of pity,—
"I cannot show you the way, but my brother Autumn may know. I, too, will
give you a gift to help you along, good little creature. This sunbeam
will be a lamp to light your way, for you may have a gloomy journey
Then Summer went on, leaving all green and golden behind her, and Ripple
flew away to look for Autumn. Soon the fields were yellow with corn and
grain; purple grapes hung on the vines; nuts rattled down among the dead
leaves, and frost made the trees gay with lovely colors. A handsome
hunter, in a russet suit, came striding over the hills, with his hounds
about him, while he made music on his silver horn, and all the echoes
This was Autumn, but he was no wiser than his sisters, and seeing the
little sprite's disappointment he kindly said,—
"Ask Winter; he knows the fire spirits well, for when he comes they fly
down to kindle fires on the hearths where people gather to keep warm.
Take this red leaf, and when you meet his chilly winds wrap it round
you, else you will be frozen to death. A safe journey and a happy end;"
and with a shrill blast on his horn Autumn hurried away, with his
hounds leaping after him.
"Shall I ever get there?" sighed poor Ripple, as the never-tiring breeze
flew on, till the sky grew dark and cold winds began to blow. Then she
folded the warm red leaf about her like a cloak, and looked sadly down
at the dead flowers and frozen fields, not knowing that Winter spread a
soft blanket of snow over them, so they could lie safely asleep till
Spring woke them again.
Presently, riding on the north wind, Winter came rushing by, with a
sparkling crown of ice on his white hair, and a cloak of frost-work,
from which he scattered snow-flakes far and wide.
"What do you want with me, pretty thing? Do not be afraid; I am warm at
heart, though rude and cold outside," said Winter, with a smile that
made his pleasant face glow in the frosty air.
When Ripple told what she was looking for, he nodded and pointed to the
"Far away up there is the palace, and the only road is through cloud and
mist and strange places full of danger. It is too hard a task for you,
and the fire spirits are wild, hot-tempered things who may kill you.
Come back with me, and do not try."
"I cannot go back, now that I have found the way. Surely the spirits
will not hurt me when I tell why I have come; and if they do give me the
spark I shall be the happiest sprite in all the big sea. Tell the poor
mother I will keep my word; and be kind to her, she is so sad."
"You brave little creature! I think you will succeed. Take this
snowflake, that will never melt, and good luck to you," cried Winter, as
the north wind carried him away, leaving the air full of snow.
"Now, dear Breeze, fly straight up till we reach our journey's end.
Sunbeam shall light the way; Redleaf shall keep me warm, and Snowflake
lie here beside me till I need it. Good-by to land and sea; now away, up
to the sun!"
When Ripple first began her airy journey, heavy clouds lay piled like
hills about her, and a cold mist filled the air. Higher and higher they
went, and darker grew the air, while a stormy wind tossed the little
traveller to and fro as if on the angry sea.
"Shall I ever see the beautiful world again?" sighed Ripple. "It is
indeed a dreadful road, and but for the seasons' gifts I should have
died. Fly fast, dear wind, and bring me to the sunshine again."
Soon the clouds were left behind, the mist rolled away, and she came up
among the stars. With wondering eyes she looked at the bright worlds
that once seemed dim and distant when she saw them from the sea. Now
they moved around her, some shining with a soft light, some with
many-colored rings, some pale and cold, while others burned with a red
Ripple would gladly have stayed to watch them, for she fancied voices
called; faces smiled at her, and each star made music as it shone in the
wide sky. But higher up, still nearer to the sun, she saw a far-off
light that glittered like a crimson flame, and made a fiery glow. "The
spirits must be there," she said, and hurried on, eager to reach her
Up she flew till straight before her lay a broad path that led to a
golden arch, behind which she could see lovely creatures moving to and
fro. As she drew nearer, the air grew so hot that the red leaf
shrivelled up, and Ripple would have died if she had not quickly
unfolded the snowflake and wrapped herself in that cool cloak. Then she
could safely pass under the tall arch into a strange place, where the
walls were of orange, blue, and purple flames, that made beautiful
figures as they flickered to and fro. Here the fire spirits lived, and
Ripple saw with wonder their crowns of flame, their flashing eyes, the
sparks that popped from their lips as they spoke, and how in each one's
bosom burned a little flame that never wavered or went out.
She had time to see no more, for the wild things came dancing round her;
and their hot breath would have burned her if she had not pulled the
snow-cloak over her head and begged them not to touch her, but to take
her to the Queen.
Through halls of many-colored fire they led her to a spirit more
brilliant than the rest; for a crown of yellow flames waved on her head,
and under the transparent violet of her robe the light in her breast
shone like a star.
Then Ripple told how she had been round the world to find them, and,
thanks to the seasons, had come at last to ask the magic spark that
would make the little child live again.
"We cannot give it," said the Queen; "for each of us must take something
from our bosom-fires to make up this flame, and this we do not like to
do; because the brighter these souls of ours burn, the lovelier we are."
"Dear, warm-hearted spirits, do not send me away without it after this
long, hard journey," cried Ripple, clasping her hands. "I am sure if you
do this kind thing your souls will shine the brighter; for every good
act makes us beautiful. Give me the spark and I will do anything I can
As she spoke, the cloak fell back a little, and the Queen saw the chain
of jewels Ripple wore.
"If you will give me those lovely blue stones that shine like water I
will give a little of my bosom-fire for the child; because you are a
brave sprite, and it is hard to be cruel to you."
Gladly Ripple gave her the necklace; but, alas! as soon as the Queen's
hand touched it the jewels melted like snow, and fell in bright drops
to the ground. Then the Queen's eyes flashed, and the spirits gathered
angrily about Ripple, while sparks showered from their lips as they
spoke angrily to her.
"I have many finer ones at home, and if you will give me the flame I
will bring all I can gather in the sea, and each shall have a necklace
to remember the kind deed you have done," she said gently, as they
hovered about her, looking ready to burn her up in their wrath.
"We will do it," said the Queen; "but if the jewels you bring melt like
these, we shall keep you a prisoner here. Promise to come back, or we
shall send lightning to find and kill you, even at the bottom of the
Ripple promised, and each spirit gave a spark, till the golden flame was
made, and put into a crystal vase, where it shone like a splendid star.
"Remember! remember!" cried the fierce imps as they led her to the arch
and left her to travel back through mist and cloud till far below she
saw the beautiful blue sea.
Gladly she plunged into the cool waves and sunk to her home, where her
friends hastened joyfully to welcome her.
"Now come," they said, "dear, brave Ripple, and finish the good work you
have begun." They gathered round the tomb, where like a marble image lay
the little child. Ripple placed the flame on his breast and watched it
sparkle there while the color came slowly back to the pale face, light
to the dim eyes, and breath through the cold lips, till the child woke
from his long sleep and looked up smiling as he called his mother.
Then the spirits sang for joy, and dressed him in pretty clothes of
woven sea-weed, put chains of shells on his neck and a wreath of
water-flowers on his head.
"Now you shall see your mother who has waited so long, dear child," said
Ripple, taking him in her arms and feeling that all her weariness was
not in vain.
On the shore the poor woman still sat, watching and waiting patiently,
as she had done all that weary year. Suddenly a great wave came rolling
in, and on it, lifted high by arms as white as foam, sat the child
waving his hands as he cried to her, "I am coming, mother, and I have
such lovely things to show you from the bottom of the sea!"
Then the wave broke gently on the shore and left the child safe in his
happy mother's arms.
"O faithful Ripple, what can I do to thank you? I wish I had some
splendid thing, but I have only this little chain of pearls. They are
the tears I shed, and the sea changed them so that I might offer them to
you," said the woman, when she could speak for joy.
Ripple took the pretty chain and floated away, ready for her new task,
while the child danced gayly on the sand, and the mother smiled like
sunshine on the happy sprite who had done so much for her.
Far and wide in all the caves of the sea did Ripple look for jewels, and
when she had long necklaces of all the brightest, she flew away again on
the tireless breeze to the fire palace in the sky.
The spirits welcomed her warmly as she poured out her treasures at the
feet of the Queen. But when the hot hands touched the jewels, they
melted and fell like drops of colored dew. Ripple was filled with fear,
for she could not live in that fiery place, and begged for some other
task to save her life.
"No, no," cried the spirits fiercely. "You have not kept your promise
and you must stay. Fling off this cold cloak and swim in the
fire-fountains till you get a soul like ours, and can help us brighten
our bosom sparks again."
Ripple sank down in despair and felt that she must die; but even then
was glad to give her life for the little child's. The spirits gathered
about her, but as they began to pull the cloak away, underneath they saw
the chain of pearls shining with a soft light, that only brightened as
they put their hands upon it.
"Oh, give us this!" they cried; "it is finer than the others, and does
not melt. Give us this and you may go free."
Ripple gladly gave it, and, safe under the cloak, told them how the
pearls they so proudly divided to wear were tears which, but for them,
would still be flowing. This pleased the spirits, for they had warm
hearts as well as hot tempers, and they said, smiling,—"Since we may
not kiss you, and you cannot live with us, we will show our love for you
by giving you a pleasant journey home. Come out and see the bright path
we have made."
They led her to the gate and there she saw a splendid rainbow arching
from the sky to the sea, its lovely colors shining in the sun.
Then with thanks and good-by, happy little Ripple flew back along that
lovely road, and every wave in the great ocean danced for joy to welcome