Little Tad stood on the back porch of the pretty white cottage where he, his mother and daddy, and his dog, Jock, were spending the warm, beautiful days of summer. And, by the way, we must not forget to mention Arabella Ann.
Arabella was the cook. Tad could always coax a cookie from Arabella, and she made the nicest turnovers that any five-year-old boy could wish for.
Just now, however, he wasn't thinking of either cookies or turnovers; he was thinking of something else. He had overheard a friend of Arabella telling her about an echo that could be heard from the seashore near the house. Now Tad liked to know about everything, and he wondered what an echo could be. So that night, when his mother had tucked him into bed, he said, "Please, Mother, tell me. What is an echo?"
"An echo, little son," repeated Mother. "Where did you hear about an echo?"
"I heard someone telling Arabella about one that could be heard from the seashore," replied Tad.
"0h, I see," laughed Mother. "Well, Tad, an echo is a fairy, and a fairy usually lives in a big, empty cave or building."
"A fairy. Oh! Mother, did you ever see one? What do they look like? And what do they do?" cried Tad.'
"Answer to question one," replied Mother with a smile. "No, I never saw an echo. No one can, we only hear them. What do they do? Whenever anyone calls out near his home they always answer by repeating just what is said."
"But that is rude," objected Tad.
"Oh no," gravely answered Mother, "because they do it in such a nice, friendly way."
"I wonder," Tad remarked, his eyelids beginning to droop, "I wonder if I were to go down by the seashore, and sit very still, if an echo fairy wouldn't just happen along."
"I'm afraid not, lad," his mother said as she darkened the room. "Now sleep tight and pleasant dreams."
The next morning, Tad and Jock stood outside. "I think, Jock," Tad said reflectively, "that we might go down and look for one of the echo fairies. Don 't you?" he gravely asked. Jock replied in the affirmative by briskly wagging his tail. Jock was such a comfortable companion; he always agreed, no matter what was proposed.
So the two set forth, quite forgetting to mention their destination. They soon reached the seashore, but didn't know just where they would find the fairy. They wandered on and on. At last it was Jock who found her. He paused to bark at a saucy red squirrel, who at once began to scold him soundly. Tad didn't notice this, for as Jock barked, from somewhere back of them came the sound of more barking.
"It's the echo fairy, Jock," cried Tad. "You found her. You found her."
Then Tad called as loudly as he could, and at once the sound came back to him, sweetly and clearly, as only a fairy could send it. Tad called and called, but still the fairy didn't seem to grow tired or impatient.
"Oh Jock," cried Tad, "How I wish she would come out so we could see her! Perhaps if we keep very still, she will think we are gone and come out. Let's try it."
So the small boy and the big dog curled up under a willow tree and waited. They kept very still. It seemed a long time; it was quite warm and soon the small boy's head began to nod. It was almost more than he could do to keep awake.
Then something happened, for coming toward him, under the trees, was the prettiest little creature that one could wish to see. She was so tiny, no larger than one of Tad 's toy soldiers, and was dressed all in russet brown. On each shoulder were wings of a delicate shade of green, her head was covered with golden curls, and on her feet she wore tiny, golden slippers.
Tad was sure this was the echo fairy and he didn't dare move for fear she would disappear, but when she came near, she waved her wand, then said gaily: "Well, Tad, so you and Jock were waiting to see me. I am the echo fairy."
"Oh! I knew you were, I was sure of it, cried Tad, "and we thought you might come if we waited. You don't mind, do you?" he asked.
"Why should I?" laughed the fairy, as she saw the anxious look on the small face. "I knew you were here; if I had not been willing for you to see me, you wouldn't have."
"But tell me," said Tad, "are there many echo fairies, and are they all as pretty as you?"
Again the fairy laughed, and her laughter sounded like the ringing of silver bells. "Yes, there are many of us," she told him, "and we all look alike. If you were to see any of the others, you couldn't tell us apart."
"What are the other fairies called?" Tad wanted to know.
"They are called Echo; we all have the same name. Now I am going for a ride. Would you like to come? You may if you wish."
"I don't see anything to ride in," Tad told her. "And where are you going?"
In answer, Echo placed a golden flute to her lips and sounded a clear, sweet note.
Tad's eyes were large and bright with wonder. What a splendid time he was having! Then he saw a big turtle swimming toward them through the waves.
"Oh! what a big turtle," he exclaimed. "I never saw one so large as that."
The fairy smiled: "That is our steed," she told him. "What a nice ride we shall have."
Tad looked at her in astonishment. "Why, I can't go with you, I am too big.,'
"You must leave all that to me," Echo told him, "and trust me."
Then she touched both Jock and Tad lightly with her wand; they at once began to grow smaller till they too were the size of the fairy. How queer it did seem, and the turtle, who all this time had been quietly waiting, looked larger than ever. He was so large that Tad was just a little afraid of him, until he saw a merry twinkle in his eyes as he looked at them.
Echo took Tad by the hand and started for the water, but still Tad hung back. "I'll get wet," he cried, "and both Jock and I may be drowned."
But the fairy smiled and said again: "You must trust me. I will see that both you and Jock get safely back."
Then all three climbed upon the back of the turtle, who slowly swam out to sea. All at once he dived, and Tad found, to his surprise, that both Jock and he could breathe just as easily under the water as above it.
What marvelous things Tad saw! They passed large fish, who looked at them curiously; some of them came up quite close; they saw enormous caves, all hung with beautiful seaweed. The floors of these caves were strewn with stones of all colors, and all through them could be seen numberless little fishes, playing together as happily as little children do.
Once they passed something that loomed large and dark. This, the fairy told Tad, was a shipwrecked vessel. Tad knew all about shipwrecks, for Arabella Ann 's brother was a sailor, and when he came to visit her he often told Tad marvelous tales of shipwrecks and foreign lands.
All this time the turtle was swimming along, guided by the fairy, who would touch him lightly with her wand whenever she wanted him to turn.
"We had better go back now," the fairy said to Tad. "We have come quite far enough."
She turned the turtle around and they started back, but just then something happened. The turtle stopped and refused to go farther. "I must have something to eat before I make the return journey," he said firmly, and in spite of all the Echo could and did say, he refused to take them back before he ate his dinner.
"Oh dear, what shall I do," grieved the fairy. "I simply must get home soon and I must also see you and Jock safely back. How dreadfully selfish of the turtle. I will never trust him to carry me about in the water again. Let us walk on and see if we can't find someone who will help us."
As they walked along the ocean floor Tad said, "Please tell me, Echo, why is it that Jock and I can breathe under the water? And why don't we get wet?"
Echo held out her wand. "It is this," she told him. "When I touched you with this, you became the same as I. As soon as we return I am going to change you both back as you were."
Just then they walked around a big rock and saw before them a large castle.
"Oh, here is where the ripple fairies live," cried Echo with relief. "I am quite sure they will help us."
"Who are the ripple fairies?" asked Tad. "And what do they do?"
"They are the ones who on still days make the ripples that you see on the surface of the water," replied Echo. "But let us find out if any are at home. It is time we were starting back."
She knocked on the door as she spoke. It was opened by a fairy about the size of Echo, only this one was dressed all in green, and Tad just couldn't decide which he considered the more beautiful.
"Oh, Ripple," cried Echo. "I am so glad you are at home, we are in a lot of trouble. I do hope you will help us."
"Of course I will, "laughed Ripple, "that is, if I can. But who is this with you?" she asked, giving Tad and Jock a welcoming smile.
"These are two little friends of mine," replied Echo. "I brought them for a ride." And then she told how badly the turtle had treated them.
"That was very naughty of him," responded Ripple. "I am going to tell my sisters about it and we shall have to punish him. But come inside, and I will try to find some way to help you."
Tad, Jock and Echo went inside and Tad looked about him wonderingly; they were in a large room and here were more of the colored stones he had noticed in the caves. They sat down on a huge pile of soft sea-moss, and watched with much interest the tiny goldfish which flitted here and there, darting from one corner to another and peeping out curiously from behind curtains of sea-weed at the strange guests.
Just then the ripple fairy entered the room. "Our chariot will be ready in a moment," she said. "But I wish you might stay longer, for there are many wonderful places down here that I am sure Tad and Jock would like to see."
"I know there are," replied Echo, "but I must return as soon as possible, for I must have Tad and Jock back before they are missed."
Tad was wondering what the chariot would be like when it drew up before the open doorway. It was an immense pearl, shaped like a boat, and attached to it by ropes of seaweed, were six beautiful goldfish, driven by a tiny fairy, about half the size of Ripple. She gave them a friendly little greeting, then quickly disappeared.
"You will soon be home now," Ripple said. She had climbed into the chariot with them and carried a wand with which to guide the goldfish, who were restless and eager to start.
How short the journey seemed to Tad! He thought they had only just started when the ripple fairy stopped the chariot in the shallow water at the exact spot where they had embarked on the turtle's back.
They climbed out and watched her as she drove away with a merry smile and a friendly wave of the hand.
"Well, Tad, did you and Jock have a good time?" the echo fairy wanted to know.
"I did," replied Tad, "and I am sure Jock enjoyed it too. Didn't you, Jock?"
Jock jumped up and down and barked such a funny little bark; he was so very, very tiny.
The echo fairy laughed and extending her wand, touched each of them with it, then quickly disappeared in the direction of the cave where she lived.
The sunlight, falling on Tad's eyes awakened him. He sat up and looked all about. Jock was standing close beside him, whining softly.
"Oh! Jock," cried Tad, "didn't we have a nice time? I just know it wasn't all a dream. Let's hurry home now, so I can tell Mother about it."
They started off, then paused as Tad noticed the ripples in the sunlight, on the surface of the water.
"See, Jock," he cried, "Those are the ripple fairies, aren't they?"
Jock put his head on one side in a very wise way, one of his ears standing straight up; then he wagged his tail and barked assent. And as he did so, from the hillside behind them, came sweet and distinct the reply of Echo.